Open Conversation Part 4

Sorry I’ve been away for a little while, guys. Just been really busy. I’ll try to jump back in again soon. 🙂

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278 thoughts on “Open Conversation Part 4”

  1. Nate, Thanks so much for offering us this open conversation platform. I feel a connection with this community and have learned a lot since I became active here. You are most generous.

    I’d like to make a suggestion. You can assign a number of comments per post page, Go to your Settings, then Discussion. Under “other comment settings” check the box that says “Break comments into pages with (add number) top level comments per page.”

    This way you don’t have to keep adding Parts 1,2, 3, 4, etc., when the comment count gets lengthy and loads slowly. Thanks again. Hope all is well with you and yours.

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  2. It’s gorgeous outside today. Blue skies, ambers, reds and golds dancing in the cool breezes. Ahhh, Fall. ❤ Also, I've been giving Arch a hard time over on Violetwisps' latest post. He's already threatened to zap me with a lightening bolt in the name of God. 😀

    http://violetwisp.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/the-snarling-and-fanged-beast/

    Have also been active on Charles' latest post today. As you know, he's a fairly new deconvert going through some challenging times.

    http://skepticjourney.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-other-side-of-the-brick-wall-moving-on/

    Hope you're having a nice Sunday, Zoe.

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  3. Hi everybody! My son, who is 11, just asked me what I thought about a video called The Thaw. I said, “It is sad.” It features teenage Christians making statements about how they are tired of Christianity being frozen out of public schools in the U.S. He said, “Ok, but what do you think about the points they made? There are churches everywhere. How is it not a Christian nation?” I briefly explained the difference between a democratic and theocratic government, and the provision for separation of church and state in our Constitution. I told him that just because many people believe in a certain religion, that doesn’t mean they get to base the government, at least overtly, on it.

    This was all a little heavy, given that I am going on little sleep. He is an atheist, and I have made it a point to empower him to think critically and not default to atheism because his parents are non-believers. I wish I could say the same for Christian parents. There must be some out there who try to not indoctrinate their kids, but I am sure they are in the minority.

    I told my son that those kids believe what they have been told, but they don’t have all the information. He said, “Aren’t atheists indoctrinated too?” I know some Christians see it that way. In spite of what Kathy said, truth is relative. Without the solid, grounding presence of science and reason, what would separate us atheists from the other brainwashed folks out there? I know science does not prove or disprove the existence of a deity, but it does provide a stark contrast to nonsensical stories in religious texts. When Christians have tried to convert me, I might have crossed the line into folly were it not for common sense anchoring me to reality. Those rocks in my back yard? I bet they’re over 6000 years old, not because I’ve had them tested, but because I understand the basics of geology and dating methods.

    I am so grateful for other atheists speaking out and speaking up, and for access to scientific information. Even when we know better, it is difficult to resist the pressure Christians put on us. I am grateful that I have answers for my son. Without other atheists, and sites like this one, I would not have the wisdom to know I have to teach him how to figure it out for himself. That does not seem like indoctrination to me.

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  4. Gliese, would you add this comment (or a variation thereof) to the latest posting on my blog? I think it would add much to the topic. Once you read it, I think you’ll understand. Thx.

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  5. Hope everyone had a nice weekend. Just read a good article on the topic of polytheistic origins: link

    The author of the article, Carolyn Hyppolite, also has a book which looks very good: link – I am thinking about buying it.

    Reading her Amazon bio, here are a few quotes worth repeating:

    [Quotes Psalms 135] I had read this psalm about once a month for several years. But that morning, I read it as if I had never read it before. I saw it for what it was–the ethnocentric war chant of a tribal people cloaking their mythic imperialist history with the robe of divine sanction. God was not good; just the God of Israel. That was not the day I walked away. It would take me many such moments of cognitive dissonance to realize that the silent wall that I prayed before was nothing but a cold, silent wall.

    I live a fairly decent life. However, it did dawn on me one day that I had been both foolish and arrogant to imagine that there is a God who would listen to my relatively minor supplications when he clearly has and continues to ignore the much more dire pleas of so many billions.

    But if God does not answer prayer, if he not did inspire the Bible, if this was the only life I had to live, what had I been doing with myself? I had tragically spent some of the best years of my life chasing an illusion.

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  6. Don’t Panic!

    Just because I believe in God (not the deist kind nor am I an agnostic), doesn’t mean I believe in the trappings of Christianity, Judaism or organized religion (and it isn’t as organized as people thing — just observe the schisms and splinters). I might even be mistaken as an atheist in some circles.

    Here’s my problem: Though I would like to believe in Christianity and redemption, the provenance of the New Testament has not been established. In fact, it seems to have been created from a whole cloth by ‘theologians’ of the Roman Catholic Church in the Fourth Century by the direction of Emperor Constantine (who had some sort of ‘vision’ of victory as an incentive) by taking word-of-mouth tales from superstitious illiterates as ‘tradition’ and writing up a bunch of books and letters based on… well… nothing much at all. Now I see that there are some here who reference those in the late first century as having seen some of the original writings, but I really don’t think that’s good enough. Among many of the disturbing features of the belief system is that there doesn’t seem to be much viable history that supports that Jesus even existed. Maybe he’s just Mythra. How can we really know? It doesn’t help that we’re pretty certain that some of those books and epistles are forgeries. And it also doesn’t help that some spurious phrases have been inserted, changing the original meaning (if there were any).

    Now some people talk about faith, but faith is a filler: It is the evidence of the things (not yet) seen, and not support for some delusion which has no basis in fact. There must be some supporting evidence that there’s any sort of consistency of faith in the real world. Are people truly healed by the laying on of hands? Fine. Show us a quadriplegic whose limbs have spontaneously reappeared. People raised from the dead? We’d like to have direct evidence of that from the coroner. You can’t just pass things off in a vacuum as being products of ‘faith’. We’ve had far too many false prophets for that. Is it religion or rip-off. The predominance of evidence suggests rip-off.

    So here’s the challenge: Will someone give me something to work with here? I’d like science, history, linguistics, archeology — you know — something solid so the faith can be built. You have a willing but skeptical participant here.

    Having said that, I think most of the arguments have already been lost to the atheists: They more often than not have the ‘right’ of it. I’m not certain that’s the whole picture, but the raving foaming at the mouth ‘Christians’ just don’t have what it takes to overcome the bulk of evidence that refutes their belief system. And for heaven’s sake, as if that’s enough, the ‘Christians’ have such silly obviously pagan practices as Christmas and Easter. And who says the ‘Sabbath’ is on Sunday? Did they really get that out of the Bible? Really? Unfortunately, those who reject Christmas and Easter to keep the Sabbath (and also keep ‘the Feasts of the Lord’) fall into terribly obvious cult territory.

    So you atheists out there who are on the defensive are taking the wrong approach: The Scripture says ‘Prove all things’. You make the Christians do that. Why should the burden of proof fall on you to prove them wrong? What is this? Table top fusion? (That was a bust.) The burden of proof is on the Christians, and so far, all we seem to have is opinion. Where are the facts? (Not just lining up facts for proof texting and ignoring the devastating facts that puncture and deflate your whole theory.)

    This is not benign.

    There’s money involved. People’s lives are involved. People’s welfare is involved. This isn’t trivial. The whole of society is engaged. It’s really quite an important question.

    And after that, there’s another question: Who’s in charge? (Or the corollary question: Who died and left you as God?) That’s right: Who has the authority to lead everyone into redemption? I’m not seeing a lot of qualifications here: Just a lot of posturing and narcissistic sociopathic egos making claim to being ‘God’s Apostle’ and / or ‘God’s Prophet’ and / or ‘God’s Evangelist’. Apostle means ‘one sent forth’ and, like the Azazel goat, some of these old goats should be sent out and tossed over a cliff to be sure they don’t come back, as according to Jewish tradition.

    Of course I’m ticked. I’ve been in a series of cults (by no fault or reason of my own — but that’s a story which can wait for later, if ever). I’ve seen what the religious psychopaths do to people first hand, and it’s not pretty. Some of them should be executed, others should be on meds (potassium cyanide springs to mind). The damage they do….

    So if you’re up to it, why don’t we all engage in ‘finding truth’.

    If there is any.

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  7. @Black Ops Mikey:

    Speaking just for myself, I think you’ve posted a very thoughtful … and challenging … comment. I totally agree that the “proofs” of Christianity are most definitely lacking.

    It will be interesting to read the answers/reactions of those who contribute to this blog.

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  8. Mikey, this is just my observation, but I think most of the Christians that comment here are not the fundamentalist type ( I am thinking of Brandon, UnkleE and Ryan ) and would not necessarily share your concerns about proof. They share our views about the humanness of the bible, but feel it is inspired in a vague sense. They admit that the problem of evil is troubling. I think they also accept the theory of evolution, but perhaps in a guided sense.

    So here’s the challenge: Will someone give me something to work with here? I’d like science, history, linguistics, archeology — you know — something solid so the faith can be built. You have a willing but skeptical participant here. ~ Black Ops Mikey

    Most everyone here is willing to look at any available evidence that Christians want to bring forward. I think the best theists can do at this point is god-of-the-gaps. They are focusing on the unknowns and applying agenticity to them. Such as human consciousness, fine-tuning for life and first cause arguments.

    Here’s my question to theists who use these god-of-the-gaps arguments: Why stop there? Why not apply agenticity to ALL unknown mysteries?

    Dreams come from the Sandman.
    UFOs come from Aliens.
    Apparitions come from Ghosts.
    Black holes come from Warlocks.
    Love comes from Cupid.
    Good luck comes from Leprechauns.
    etc…

    These might sound silly, but all they are lacking is 2000 years of apologetics and a strong following.

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  9. “I live a fairly decent life. However, it did dawn on me one day that I had been both foolish and arrogant to imagine that there is a God who would listen to my relatively minor supplications when he clearly has and continues to ignore the much more dire pleas of so many billions.”

    These “arguments” are so common among unbelievers, and they are actually good points to consider.. the problem is that assumptions are made, based on bias and then.. “voila”.. THE question is “answered”! And no one thinks twice about the bias/ lack of objectivity that is present.

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  10. These “arguments” are so common among unbelievers, and they are actually good points to consider.. the problem is that assumptions are made, based on bias and then.. “voila”.. THE question is “answered”! And no one thinks twice about the bias/ lack of objectivity that is present.

    what kind of psycho babble is that?
    makes no sense.
    jeezzzuuusss you are stoooppiiiid!

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  11. I agree, Paul. As usual, her comment is just a bunch of words thrown together in an effort to say something “profound.” She should quit trying … it’s never going to happen!

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  12. @Black Ops Mikey

    Your comment made me smile for some reason. A few considerations are worth mentioning.

    1) Fine tuning is still a huge problem for naturalism and seems to favor theism. The multiverse is the contrived solution of the fine tuning problem which lacks hard evidence and falsifiability (of course God leaves no hard evidence either, but God is not a scientific idea). Additionally, I think naturalism is incompatible with an infinite multiverse because if we have doppelgangers “out there” our conscious experience could not be of a single spacetime universe. That’s a problem for naturalism because if a finite multiverse exists, I don’t think it gets rid of the fine tuning problem and the vast majority of universes are uninhabitable. Fine tuning is consistent with teleology (goal-directedness).

    2) Physicists have proved that inflationary spacetime is noneternal which means there was a beginning. You basically have two major gods to choose from. 1) an eternal self-existing natural law seeding the universe by a quantum fluctuation (which by chance has only happened one time in 15 billion years), 2) an eternal self-existing personal being that creates with purpose, i.e., theism.

    3) Conciousness. The Hard Problem of Consciousness. Enough to make any honest naturalist waffle.

    4) The Naturalness of Religion Thesis I think tilts in favor of theism over atheism. It doesn’t matter how evolution produced religion (i.e., by adaptation or spandrel), it’s amazing that it was there so early and ubiquitous in the history of humanity. Even now the majority of humanity is religious somehow, but on naturalism’s account it didn’t have to be that way.

    5) The origin of and particular shape that Christianity took is well explained by Jesus having actually resurrected. (This could be expanded at length).

    6) Paul seemed to genuinely believe his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and does not use religion for personal gain unlike Muhammad and Joseph Smith.

    7) The pre-Pauline creed is good evidence that belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not develop as a legend and was part of the earliest testimony.

    8) Jesus predicted and warned of the downfall of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple in 70 AD.

    9) Love, joy, peace, longing for justice, longing for perfection, hate of evil, these are all signs pointing towards theism. Not proof, but pointers that don’t need to exist in and of themselves.

    -Brandon

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  13. Hi Brandon,

    1) I’ve never found fine-tuning to be all that persuasive. Until we have other universes to compare against, we simply have no idea how likely or unlikely any of the parameters of our particular universe might be.

    2) Yes, there seems to have been a beginning for our particular “era” of space time, but what data exists that could suggest what may have caused it or preceded it?

    3) This point, as well as the first two, seem to boil down to “god of the gaps” to me.

    4) I don’t think the natural development of religion is amazing at all. We are pattern-seekers, and we tend to see agency in all kinds of natural phenomena. We are also intelligent enough to know that we’re going to die, and most of us really don’t want to. Nor do we want to have to say “good-bye” to our loved ones forever. Seems like a perfect storm for generating religious/supernatural belief to me.

    5) Yes, and a red-suited man who lives in the North Pole with flying reindeer easily explains the stories about Santa Claus too.

    6) I agree that Paul genuinely seemed to believe, but he also never knew Jesus personally. This means there’s little difference between Paul and guys like Billy Graham or Pope Francis.

    7) I think you might need to back that up a bit more. To say the resurrection didn’t develop as a legend is a pretty big claim that would be hard to prove, considering the dates for NT documents, including Paul’s epistles.

    8) Did he? Hard to make this claim considering the dates of the gospels.

    9) I think these are just human qualities. Other mammals, especially primates, seem to possess many of the same attributes.

    Beyond this, we could add all the numerous problems with Christianity: the problem of evil, the discrepancies in the Bible, the hiddenness of God, the horrifying morality in the OT, failed and misused prophecies, etc.

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  14. @Neuro —

    Thanks for the pagination suggestion. I’ve actually tried it before, but it didn’t work out right for some reason. Perhaps whoever built this particular theme didn’t integrate it properly… I’m not sure. But that’s why I finally went to just creating new posts.

    There are some chatroom plugins available, but I’d have to go to self-hosting, and I’m not ready for that yet. I hope to figure out a better solution at some point, though. For now I just appreciate everyone’s continued interest! 🙂

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  15. Nate what are you doing up so late?!

    Well, I thought I would offer a quick response because I foresee this post getting ravaged tomorrow while I’m at work, but I’m hoping for some engaging discussions.

    1) As I understand it, the fine tuning problem in physics is not based on probabilities. Maybe it is with apologists, but not physics. It’s the fact that arbitrary physical constants exist in the first place that just happen to allow for life to have evolve (Anthropic Principle). This combined with a beginning of all things is a concern for naturalism. The universe looks designed at least in part for a span of human existence until the earth is destroyed and there’s basically no way around this without invoking a Platonic godlike natural law or an appeal to mystery. Naturalism, like all worldviews, has weaknesses and this is one of them. That’s why physicists are scrambling to make the multiverse happen.

    2) You are right there is no data, so the naturalist options are to make an appeal to mystery or develop some philosophical belief about it like eternal self-existing godlike natural laws.

    3) The Hard Problem states that science will never fill in the gap, so an unnatural explanation may actually be appropriate here.

    4) It seems to me, and maybe I just haven’t thought this out or I’m biased, that the ubiquity of religion is a problem for naturalism. Mainly because it just didn’t have to be this way. IDK, it’s a weaker point on this list.

    5) Well, this is a serious scholarly argument which I’ll have to lay out in more detail some other time. No serious scholar is arguing for Santa Claus, that’s dismissive.

    6) The point of this argument is to say that it’s far more difficult to argue that Paul evangelized for personal gain than the cases of Islam and Mormonism. We could argue that the latter two originated for worldly gains, whereas Paul seemed genuine. It’s not proof positive of Christianity, but it separates it out from these other religions as part of a cumulative case.

    7) Legend has a specific meaning in terms of historical development. The pre-Pauline creed dates too early for resurrection to be legend. In fact, NT scholars trace this creed back to the Jerusalem apostles which means skeptical accounts of the origin of Christianity have more difficulty. Take for example skeptical NT scholar Bart Ehrman who thinks that the disciples hallucinated. That is a compromise from skeptics a century ago claiming the resurrection was a legend. A compromise is a compromise, again, not proof positive of Christianity though.

    8) The gospels are dated this late because of Jesus’ prediction! This is methodological naturalism.

    9) True maybe some of these qualities are to some extent expressed in nonhuman primates, but my point is really just a weak point, the idea that these are signs of a Creator. They can easily be interpreted as such, but they don’t have to be.

    Beyond this, we could add all the numerous problems with Christianity. . .

    I agree with you, these are legitimate problems that deserve serious thought and discussion. Because this conversation is already so long, I’ll just acknowledge this and leave it for now!

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  16. 3) The Hard Problem states that science will never fill in the gap, so an unnatural explanation may actually be appropriate here.

    lol… Really, Brandon? Never?

    What a silly thing to say.

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  17. Arch, you left an article in Part 3 about a guy who destroyed the 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma and he said (basically) the devil made him do it. Turns out he was a devout Christian.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/man-who-destroyed-oklahoma-10-commandments-monument-was-devout-christian/

    Sadly,

    “Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin promised to rebuild the monument, saying that “the people of Oklahoma will not stand for acts of violence against the Capitol or its monuments. This monument was built to memorialize the historical significance of the Ten Commandments in guiding our own laws and lives.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/man-who-destroyed-oklahoma-10-commandments-monument-was-devout-christian/

    What Governor Mary Fallin fails to realize is that women are listed as property of men in the 10th Commandment, and that the “ethical” parts of the 10 Commandments were only intended to be practiced within Yahweh’s tribes. Murder, stealing, raping little girls was OK to do to tribes outside of Yahweh’s tribes if he commanded it. Not to mention that the Pentateuch is fictional. Disturbing that people who promote “historical significance” know little about it.

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  18. Hi Brandon,

    I share your interest in having engaging discussions and I realize it is difficult to engage too many comments at once so I will try to keep mine short. About a month ago we discussed divine inspiration and I found your views to be unique and intriguing.

    I would be very interested in discovering whether a creator deity exists or not (regardless of whether it still exists or what characteristics it may have). You’ve brought up several mysteries of science, but I hesitate to go as far as you have and say that an invisible agent is responsible. Yes, we happen to be very fortunate to be on a planet that is in a good location from it’s host star and the center of the galaxy. But, doesn’t it seem odd that a creator deity would create upwards of 100 billion galaxies just to create one that was suitable for life?

    Or if the creator deity had set out to create human consciousness, doesn’t it seem odd to go about it by evolving myriads of organisms with ultimately more and more complex brains while having many offshoot versions go extinct? Also, if consciousness is not physical, how do you explain people going unconscious for physical reasons?

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  19. Thanks for the reply, Brandon. And thanks even more for not being offended by anything I wrote, since my tone was probably a little more brusque than usual. Yep, I was up late and just typed something out quickly. 🙂

    Since your points cover so much ground, I’ll just focus on the first two for now. I think Dave’s comment about your first point is very good, and you’re right to mention that our existence is actually just a tiny blip in the history of the universe so far. Those are some of my main problems with it.

    For instance, what level of organism is required for us to think that the universe must have been designed? Would Neanderthals have been advanced enough? And do you suppose Jesus’ sacrifice would apply to them as well, or are they too similar to mere animals? What about Homo erectus or Homo habilis? Does their existence also suggest a creator? What about even more primitive species like cats? If a universe existed where the highest form of life was a cat, does it still suggest a creator?

    It’s very possible that we are not the most evolved species to ever live in this universe. Or even if we are, it’s very possible that another more advanced species could one day evolve. Perhaps some “alien” god created the universe for an alien species, and we’re just the “cosmic accidents” — the house cats — sitting in our own little forgotten corner of the universe. I suppose that would explain the problem of evil quite well…

    Plus, even if we don’t know why the universal constants have the values they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re arbitrary. Granted, I’m no physicist, so I could easily be wrong about all of this. But it seems to me that these issues do still boil down to a problem of probabilities. We don’t really know what values are possible for each parameter, and I think that causes big problems for fine-tuning.

    To your second point, about what preceded the Big Bang, I think it’s really hard to make any assumptions. The real driving force behind all of these questions is “why is there something rather than nothing?” And sure, that’s really puzzling. But maybe it’s an assumption for us to even think that “nothing” is the default position. Conceptually, we all know what “nothing” is, but it’s impossible to demonstrate it. In a very real way, “nothing” doesn’t actually exist.

    Anyway, it’s definitely interesting stuff.

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  20. Is an ‘appeal to mystery’ the same thing as saying, “We don’t know?” I think it is better to say we don’t know how a phenomenon works than attributing it to a deity. What is wrong with admitting we don;t know? I’m willing to bet that even with as much as we know, we still know very little.

    I think we’re physical organisms, capable of thoughts from which gods arise. Gods exist because we think them into existence. If a huge asteroid slammed Earth and mankind disappeared, so too would all the deities we’ve dreamed up.

    Of course, I can’t prove any of this, and it doesn’t matter to me. For whatever reason, we exist.

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  21. For instance, what level of organism is required for us to think that the universe must have been designed? Would Neanderthals have been advanced enough? And do you suppose Jesus’ sacrifice would apply to them as well, or are they too similar to mere animals? What about Homo erectus or Homo habilis? Does their existence also suggest a creator? What about even more primitive species like cats? If a universe existed where the highest form of life was a cat, does it still suggest a creator?

    This is what I’ve been trying to say, just not nearly so well and definitely not as graphically. At what point was anything evolved enough to be culpable? I’m not saying that people aren’t culpable for their actions, just wondering at what point that actually happened and why humans think they are accountable to a god for them rather than each other.

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  22. at times I’m still struck by why we’re even discussing the god of the bible. It’s all just a bunch of garbles, vague and contradictory claims of people.

    claims – that is all.

    My real question to christians isn’t about the origins of the universe, even though I am fascinated by that topic, but is “why do you put so much stock into the claims of the authors of an old book?”

    the signs we have discovered on earth do not mesh with the creation timeline line in the bible. There are disparities and even atrocities attributed to god. There are so many christian sects who disagree with other sects, that the bible cant be believably said to paint a clear picture of “god’s plan,” and this doesnt even touch on all the various other religions with various gods and various plans…

    why?

    why is the bible believable and trustworthy?

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  23. ISIL is fighting for territory to create and theocratic state, much like the Israelites did with Canaan. ISIL is brutally killing people, taking spoils and taking the women as concubines – much like the Israelites did with Canaan…

    ..yet we find it to be evil in regard to ISIL. Chrstians find it evil when speaking about ISIL, yet defend it when talking about Israel.

    why is that?

    is it that the events themselves are not evil to the christains, but only events not approved by their god?

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  24. 6) Paul seemed to genuinely believe his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and does not use religion for personal gain unlike Muhammad and Joseph Smith.
    7) The pre-Pauline creed is good evidence that belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not develop as a legend and was part of the earliest testimony.

    I think this point would carry more weight if Paul actually mentioned anything about a physical resurrection. It is not clear in 1 Cor. 15 if the appearances to Peter and the other disciples were physical or not. I also find it odd that the geographic location of the empty tomb was not maintained as a sacred place.

    Paul strikes me as a very charismatic sort of fellow. I think his motivating factor was his great idea that the Christ (messiah) was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. To a devout Jew like Paul he would have been turned off by the idea of riches or selfish gain. I think there are actually lots of people who have demonstrated self-sacrifice for their cause, I am thinking of human rights activists, slavery abolitionists, non-violence advocates like Ghandi, etc.

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  25. genuine belief in something does not make that something genuinely true.

    Paul didnt see the resurrection and we dont even know whether he claimed to have seen the crucifixion. Even if we say the resurrection account was not legend, it’s still quite a leap to say it was fact.

    How long after the death of christ did paul convert? how long does it take for events to be embellished?

    remember, these were superstitious people living in a time where information and education were much more than a finger click away.

    today, if someone came up to you and told you that someone awoke from the dead and flew into heaven, would you believe them? what if they showed you an empty tomb that they claimed was his? surely you’d be convinced then… or, you’d be extremely skeptical. in this case, which makes the most sense; skepticism or belief?

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  26. remember, these were superstitious people living in a time where information and education were much more than a finger click away. ~ William

    It was also a very tumultuous time period living under the oppression of the Romans. I can’t say whether I would fair much better living in that period. Anything that resembled hope of casting off Roman authority would have been appealing.

    Some scholars think that Mark’s story of the legion demon being cast out by Jesus into the pigs is a sly reference to the legion that was encamped in Jerusalem after the siege and destruction of the temple.

    “Since the fall of the city a few months earlier [in 70 C.E.], Jerusalem had been occupied by the Roman Tenth Legion [X Fretensis], whose emblem was a pig. Mark’s reference to about two thousand pigs, the size of the occupying Legion, combined with his blatant designation of the evil beings as Legion, left no doubt in Jewish minds that the pigs in the fable represented the army of occupation. Mark’s fable in effect promised that the messiah, when he returned, would drive the Romans into the sea as he had earlier driven their four-legged surrogates.” – William Harwood, Mythology’s Last Gods

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  27. Dave,

    I’ve only got a few minutes, so this is a quick reply then I will come back later.

    . . . doesn’t it seem odd that a creator deity would create upwards of 100 billion galaxies just to create one that suitable for life?

    That’s a good question. I do not think an omnipotent creator needs to demonstrate efficiency. Only beings with limited resources need to be efficient. Also, there could be other reasons for a vast universe. There could be alien civilizations. Or, in the Judeo-Christian tradition nature serves to demonstrate divine characteristics like power and glory.

    . . . doesn’t it seem odd to go about it evolving myriads of organisms with ultimately more and more complex brains while having many offshoot versions go extinct?

    Extinction is not a bad thing in evolution, it actually opens up niches and is thought to “drive” adaptations. There were many mass extinctions in earth’s history, many of which wiped out the majority of species. Genetic evidence suggests the human population bottlenecked down to several thousand individuals some 50,000 years ago which means we nearly became extinct ourselves! But, in theistic thinking evolution is simply the way the Creator chose to create.

    I see what you mean, could there be a rationale for creating via evolution? Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought. If we think evolution is governed by deterministic laws (i.e., above the quantum level) then it would be an astounding genius feat to set the initial conditions and laws knowing that the universe would produce intelligent creatures. From that perspective, it’s a testament to the Creator’s knowledge and power.

    Also, if consciousness is not physical, how do you explain people going unconscious for physical reasons?

    Consciousness is clearly linked to physical processes like you say. But, being linked to physical processes does not tell us the ultimate nature of something. I guess I would say the Hard Problem makes it intellectually tenable to think consciousness has a metaphysical part. Of couse, this is debatable. There are even Christian theologians right now who are exploring “soulless” theologies.
    -B

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  28. and what science tells us about evolution does not jive with the biblical account of creation. In order for a christian to say that evolution is right and the bible is also right, they have to deviate from their sacred text and they have to make passages mean something other than what they say.

    It also demonstration that such individuals do not place a complete faith in the biblical authors, but see the reasonableness of the scientific method. But seeing the lack of reason in the bible is such places, why still maintain that the parts you cant verify are reasonable even if many of the verifiable parts are not?

    This looks too much like picking and choosing, which doesn’t necessarily make it incorrect, it just makes it difficult for me to see how one could ever be consistent with a theology.

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  29. Brandon,

    That’s a good question. I do not think an omnipotent creator needs to demonstrate efficiency. Only beings with limited resources need to be efficient.

    I wasn’t really implying inefficiency. It’s just evidence that supports randomness over design. The design of so many galaxies with the purpose of getting one star system just right is akin to using a shotgun to snipe at someone a mile away. Of course, perhaps there are numbers of created beings throughout the universe as you say.

    I see what you mean, could there be a rationale for creating via evolution? Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought. If we think evolution is governed by deterministic laws (i.e., above the quantum level) then it would be an astounding genius feat to set the initial conditions and laws knowing that the universe would produce intelligent creatures. From that perspective, it’s a testament to the Creator’s knowledge and power.

    I’m curious, is this what you believe? That everything was pre-programmed from the beginning and then the creator deity just pushed “go”? Or do you think that this deity makes an on-going effort to manipulate the natural laws so that things turn out a certain way? I’m not really drawing any conclusions from this, just curious.

    I guess I would say the Hard Problem makes it intellectually tenable to think consciousness has a metaphysical part.

    I think it is tenable to say that this is a difficult mystery to solve. What does it really mean to say that something has a metaphysical part?

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  30. Nate,

    Yep, I was up late and just typed something out quickly.

    Me too! I’m actually horrible about sounding weird or pointy and going off topic when I don’t type slow and carefully. You wouldn’t believe how long it takes me to write some of these responses!

    . . . Would Neanderthals have been advanced enough [to think the universe was designed]?

    I wish I knew the answer. It is thought that intentional burial represents the oldest form of religious practice and the earliest species known to do this is Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 to 1.3 MYA). I’m not sure anthropologist can say much about specific beliefs until writing was invented. So, exactly what they believed is unclear. But, why did this religious behavior develop? Supposing it was adaptive and that’s the reason it developed, why would nature be such a way that religion was adaptive? I think Richard Dawkins would just say asking this kind of “why” question is pointless and just dismiss it. But, to me it can be interpreted as a sign of something larger. Definitely not an airtight logical proof, but is an odd feature that I interpret as favoring theism.

    If a universe existed where the highest form of life was a cat, does it still suggest a creator?

    I honestly don’t know!

    Perhaps some “alien” god created the universe for an alien species, and we’re just the “cosmic accidents”. . .

    What’s interesting here is the question, why would a creator deity chose to create in such a way that accidents even occur? I do not think a tri-omni creator deity would allow conscious life to be an accident. Other theisms may allow for carelessness or limitations in foresight or power, but not tri-omni. This means if a tri-omni creator deity exists then suffering, decay, and death were intentional features of this universe.

    . . . it seems these issues do still boil down to a problem of probabilities. We don’t really know what values are possible for each parameter, and I think that causes big problems for fine-tuning.

    Oh I see something. Thinking that the physical constants are set in a probabilistic manner is presupposing a randomizing process. That’s what we are curious about here, whether the constants were set by a randomizing process or by intention. A multiverse could support a randomizing process because universes have differing physical constants. However, a singular universe seems to better fit with intention. It looks like they were selected by intention, and of course, this is just a more sophisticated version of the argument from design. The major difference is there is no equivalent to evolution to refute this AfD. That’s why naturalists want a multiverse. It gives them a refutation.

    I hope that helped peel back some layers of thought!

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  31. @gliese2475

    What is wrong with admitting we don’t know?

    I agree with you here, gliese. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Everyone has mystery in their worldview. Theists must say that some of the reasons God allows evil to exist are mystery. Some naturalists say the beginning and ultimate nature of reality are mystery. This is just how worldviews work I think.

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  32. Nate and Ruth,

    And do you suppose Jesus’ sacrifice would apply to them as well, or are they too similar to mere animals?

    Sorry, I didn’t see this for some reason.

    Different theologians give different answers to this kind of question. My personal view is that at some point hominids were developed enough to be culpable. How does God treat them? Paul talks about divine forbearance until Christ. Then, the atonement can work both retroactively and in the present.

    Another thing is, it’s possible that animals are also redeemed in the new creation. It’s not as if they are inferior to us, it’s just that our capabilities give us more responsibility and stewardship.

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  33. Dave,

    I think this point would carry more weight if Paul actually mentioned anything about a physical resurrection.

    It’s at least debatable if he was or not. I’ll admit that I’ve waffled on this issue since reconverting. At first I agreed with you, then I stopped caring and thought maybe God used some internal phenomenon in the disciples. Now I think one of the errors of this thinking is taking pieces of Paul and trying to understand what happened when there are plenty of other clues in the NT and other scholarly arguments, not just “it says so” claims.

    I also find it odd that the geographic location of the empty tomb was not maintained a sacred place.

    I have a few ideas here. For one, Jesus told the disciples to leave Jerusalem when the signs appeared because that meant it was about to be destroyed. Then, around 70 AD the Romans under Titus showed up and laid siege to Jerusalem. If you read accounts, it was a living nightmare: starvation, cannibalism, men who tried to escape had their stomachs sliced open because the Romans suspected they might have swallowed a jewel. . . The Romans broke through and slaughtered 600,000 to 1,000,000 Jews. It was said they crucified so many people, there was no wood left to hang anyone.

    All that to say, the Christians were gone because Jesus had predicted this and also the razing of the temple. The Romans burned the temple and the gold melted onto stones, so they had those carried away. Then, they razed it literally not leaving one stone left on another. It’s still in this condition after nearly 2000 years.

    Second, who knows when the Christians came back to Jerusalem. It would not be difficult for the memory to be lost. Also, consider that tombs that were venerated had corpses in them. This may be another reason to not care to preserve the memory.

    I think there are actually lots of people who have demonstrated self-sacrifice for their cause. . .

    Absolutely. And, this can only be taken as an indicator that they sincerely believed their view, not necessarily that the belief is true. But, religions that benefit their founders with sex, money, and power are suspect for being con artistry and not based on sincere belief.

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  34. Dave,

    I’m curious, is this what you believe? That everything was pre-programmed from the beginning and then the creator deity just pushed “go”?

    That’s certainly where I lean. I don’t think God uses genuinely noticeable miracles very often. I would say if we were sniped by a shotgun from half a mile away, it would require an exceptional marksman and maybe some backwind. But, this is child play for a truly omnipotent being.

    I think it is tenable to say that this is a difficult mystery to solve. What does it really mean to say that something has a metaphysical part?

    To be 100% honest me suggesting it has a metaphysical part stems from my worldview rather than common philosophical ground. It’s a top-down idea. What it means for me is that there is some way to preserve human identity after death and I think our deepest identity relates to our consciousness and freedom.

    That said, I like to bring up consciousness when discussing naturalism because if the Hard Problem is correct, it’s just as mysterious as a beginning of spacetime and matter. I think some of the best naturalist suggestions for consciousness are that it could be an emergent phenomenon, but many naturalists seem to hate this because it goes against their favored view of reductionism. In fact, emergentism has been accused of being metaphysical in some discussions!

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  35. Brandon,

    That’s certainly where I lean. I don’t think God uses genuinely noticeable miracles very often. I would say if we were sniped by a shotgun from half a mile away, it would require an exceptional marksman and maybe some backwind. But, this is child play for a truly omnipotent being.

    I wasn’t saying the target would be difficult to hit, just that the method was strange. Like using 100 billion rounds of ammo to finally get one that hits the mark.

    To be 100% honest me suggesting it has a metaphysical part stems from my worldview rather than common philosophical ground. It’s a top-down idea. What it means for me is that there is some way to preserve human identity after death and I think our deepest identity relates to our consciousness and freedom.

    I guess I just don’t see how something meta-physical can be said to actually exist. If we discovered a hidden dimension that contained “souls” connected to our brains then we would just expand our use of the word physical to include the new dimension. Sorry to be blunt, but hoping that our identities can be preserved after death seems to me like just wishful thinking.

    If a universe existed where the highest form of life was a cat, does it still suggest a creator? I honestly don’t know!

    Maybe the creator deity wants to create something much more sophisticated than homo sapiens and we are just another step on the long road to the ultimate creation.

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  36. Dave,

    I wasn’t saying the target would be difficult to hit, just that the method was strange. Like using 100 billion rounds of ammo to finally get one that hits the mark.

    Oh I see. It is a little strange! But, it won’t be strange for too much longer. 500 million years and the oceans will boil and life on earth will be no more.

    Sorry to be blunt, but hoping that our identities can be preserved after death seems to me like just wishful thinking.

    Isn’t it human to wish for something like this? I guess there are some people who wish to die forever like Hitchens. Maybe it’s not human. Well, really my hope has a basis in my belief in resurrection. So, it’s not quite a pipedream, just a belief based on a belief. This may look like a pipedream to naturalists, but it’s the norm for theists.

    Maybe the creator deity wants to create something much more sophisticated than homo sapiens and we are just another step on the long road to the ultimate creation.

    Like the technological singularity! 🙂 Maybe this is right, I mean I think before the Big Freeze or whatever disintegrates reality in the future is far enough in the future that a few interesting things could pop up. We only took 4 billion years, what could happen in 100 billion?

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  37. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for your reply. There are a couple of things that I didn’t state very well the first time around, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to re-ask them.

    With neanderthals, my question isn’t so much if they believed in gods (though that is an interesting question), but if their level of development was enough to suggest that a God exists. In other words, I’m trying to figure out what level of complexity is complex enough to suggest that God is real. Most Christians believe that humanity is the pinnacle of creation, that God created all of this with humans being the focus. He wanted us to love him, right? And according to the Bible, he put the rest of creation under our authority.

    But we know from evolution that it took a very long time for us to arrive on the scene. And there were a number of other types of humans too that have since gone extinct.

    It seems that some of these other human groups, like neanderthals and denisovans, were also pretty intelligent. They weren’t too unlike us, and many of us actually still carry their DNA today. So wouldn’t God have been interested in them as well? And if he was, why allow them to go extinct?

    I don’t know if what I’m driving at makes much sense. I’m having trouble wording it. But I think the history of evolution is hard to square with a God whose primary focus was to bring about humanity, because there have been other types of humans along the way who didn’t last. And if they didn’t, maybe we won’t either? Maybe a more advanced race is God’s actual focus?


    Secondly, when I referred to us as being “cosmic accidents,” I didn’t mean literal accidents. I just meant that in the same way we assume God’s purpose is not centered around cats, perhaps it’s not really centered around us either. Perhaps there’s a more advanced species somewhere that is his true focus.

    Not that I believe any of that, of course. It’s just one of the reasons I have trouble thinking a god must exist simply because we do.

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  38. Brandon, thanks for all of your honest answers. I agree with you, it is natural for us to wish we could continue living after death. It all just seems a bit far-fetched to me. Along with programming and starting the big bang, your creator deity creates a spiritual realm with these “souls” that are ready to be plugged in to the first hominids that are developed enough to be culpable. Then all of these hominids live out their lives and these developed “souls” are saved for a future reincarnation. Then, I suppose, we all become enlightened and live happily ever after 🙂 It sounds like a cool sci-fi plot, and for what it’s worth I hope you’re right. What will we do once we have entered eternity? Will they let us program our own big bangs and repeat the soul incubation cycle? 🙂

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  39. Nate,

    Thanks for expounding your thoughts, I can see more clearly where you are coming from now.

    Believe it or not, I think I agree with you on all of your thoughts. There doesn’t seem to be a point in evolutionary history where we can say “This is the pinnacle” or “This level of complexity requires intentional creation”. I think the biblical authors could see that humanity really does have dominion over the world whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. We can chop down forests, herd animals, slay beasts, create kingdoms, enslave each other, and so on. This can be interpreted one of two ways though. The first is the Religious Right saying, “God gave us the world to do with whatever we want”. We can exploit nature and bleed it dry. The other interpretation is saying that we have authority for the purpose of stewardship. Like in Jesus’ parables where the master leaves servants in charge until his return. In this interpretation of human authority, God is calling humanity to care for the world and while it doesn’t directly prohibit the exploitation of nature or establish animal welfare both of which are more modern issues, these can be derived from the deeper principles of love and justice which are available to all of humanity by conscience. Christians, secular humanists, Buddhists, whoever, we all have a conscience.

    It’s still not to use our authority for good. There are conflicts of interest for example. When is it OK to create arable land if we know it will cause species to go extinct? Or, maybe there are ways ecologists can intervene and save species by transplanting them. Is that ethical? So, it’s a very difficult endeavor to use our authority for good.

    Ultimately, I don’t think we are the sole focus of the creation. Modern theologian NT Wright criticizes the distancing between heaven and earth that leads to inaction and disengagement as if our sole purpose is to go to heaven. Wright sees the arc of scripture as saying it’s our job to engage with earthly problems and hope for a future new creation which is not on an ethereal plane, but rather a new physical creation maybe even built from the matter of the old creation. Just like Jesus’ body was transformed from a cursed existence to a new creation, so too will all of creation in the future.

    Maybe what I’m doing is confusing the Anthropic Principle (the idea that it looks like the universe was made for humans) with a deeper and more generic fine tuning problem. Why should there be these clunky, arbitrary physical constants? There are several potential solutions out there there, and the major ones are: 1) they were randomly assigned by reality by the multiverse generating laws and 2) they were intentionally assigned at least in part to allow for the existence of intelligent, free creatures like humans. Neanderthals went extinct, but they were also given the gift of life. We are in the same situation, soon to become extinct. So with regards to extinction there is no favoritism.

    I guess the ultimate point here (sorry for being so verbose) is that a generic fine tuning problem like this bothers physicists and philosophers, and currently there is no airtight solution, but theism could be interpreted from it.

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  40. Dave,

    . . . your creator deity creates a spiritual realm with these “souls” that are ready to be plugged in to the first hominids that are developed enough to be culpable.

    I’m not sure about a spiritual realm like this. I think of the soul as generically being whatever our identity is that can exist after death. That doesn’t mean it has to be metaphysical, I mean it could be an emergent property of our brains that gets entangled with some sort of exotic matter. I’m speculating here, but just for the purpose of pointing out that the traditional narrative is not necessary, there are ways to preserve the fundamental meaning of soul without magic.

    Me saying this should go to show you how sympathetic I am to naturalism and how I prefer to stay away from magical narratives when I can. I try to stick with natural and minimalist narratives when I can, obviously I can’t with something like the resurrection.

    What will we do once we have entered eternity?

    Play video games, have cat farms, space travel, all the fun things and none of the boring things. No waiting in lines or paying bills. 🙂

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  41. Brandon,

    I’m not very persuaded by the list you’ve provided above. I’ll respond to a couple of issues I see:

    Fine tuning: this argument has become even less persuasive to me after digging into the details on it and actually finding out that several apologists are very outspoken about the difficulties in this argument. Hans Halvorson has a very recent paper which expresses one of the issues: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11004/ . You can also see a video here where he explains some of the paper in layman’s terms (along with other issues): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDwpTcSEjak . I’ve listed several other issues with the argument here: https://truthiselusive.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/is-the-universe-fine-tuned-for-life/

    Your parenthetical statement here I think says a whole lot: “(of course God leaves no hard evidence either, but God is not a scientific idea)” Scientific idea or not it is definitely a hypothesis about the facts about reality. And if neither multiverse nor God leave hard evidence then I have a hard time claiming belief in either one. Both are options (as well as others), but with no empirical evidence I don’t see claiming with any strong confidence that either are true. In fact I think this is actually even more damning to the God option given that if he really does want a personal relationship with his creation (which multi-verses wouldn’t) then lack of emprical evidence is a much bigger problem for that option. Also some cosmologists say that if inflationary cosmology is correct (and it does have strong support) then that would make the existence of multi-verses even more likely.

    Islam and Mormonism: I really like your method of eliminating these religions based on people using them for personal gain. That’s one reason why I eliminate Judaism and Christianity (unless you are suggesting Marcionism), because the Old Testament clearly shows that the Israelites used their religion for their personal gain, even enough to justify genocide. Not proof positive as you say, but it separates them out in my mind.

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  42. Brandon, I think perhaps you were being facetious in your response to Dave’s question about what we will do in eternity — especially since the “fun things” you mentioned would be totally foreign to those who died during the first centuries after JC.

    So if you don’t mind, I’d really like a serious response. Considering all the people who have died in god’s good graces and thus are (or will be) in the eternal heaven, what do you truly think it will be like? Some say, everyone will be “changed.” Does that mean only in physical form? Or does it include personalities/identities? It would seem the latter would need to stay the same since so many believe they will recognize loved ones. But if “personality” remains the same, how can we be certain that the same conflicts and differences between people would not be present in heaven as well? Is everyone just going to go around with a happy face?

    I never thought much about this question when I was a believer — mainly because the parameters were never discussed. I just “accepted” I was going to a “better place” when I died. But now, as I think about it from a more realistic point of view, it has become an area of curiosity.

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  43. Brandon,

    Me saying this should go to show you how sympathetic I am to naturalism and how I prefer to stay away from magical narratives when I can. I try to stick with natural and minimalist narratives when I can, obviously I can’t with something like the resurrection.

    So really the only “magic” you believe in is a creator deity programming the big bang and Jesus coming back to life? I’m sure you don’t want to limit yourself, but would these two cover your main supernatural beliefs?

    I would be very impressed by a god that had the ability to create everything by only pre-programming the big bang. It would require an incredible amount of foreknowledge. Like knowing an almost infinite number of chess moves before starting the game. That’s pretty cool.

    Dave wrote: What will we do once we have entered eternity?

    Brandon wrote: Play video games, have cat farms, space travel, all the fun things and none of the boring things. No waiting in lines or paying bills.

    Nan wrote: Brandon, I think perhaps you were being facetious in your response to Dave’s question about what we will do in eternity.

    He was, but I was also being facetious when I asked it. I am interested in Nan’s more serious questions though too.

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  44. Hey Howie,

    One of the problems in discussing this I’m finding is that there are different fine tuning arguments. I agree with Sean Carroll’s and Halvorson’s criticism. They are criticizing arguments put forth by apologists like Hugh Ross. There are two other fine tuning arguments and one fine tuning problem. The fine tuning arguments are 1) Deductive logical argument used by William Lane Craig’s and 2) a weaker argument that I am suggesting. Then, the fine tuning problem is just how physicists and philosophers see fine-tuning as frustrating, clunky, not elegant, and possibly suggesting intention which leads them to propose the multiverse as a solution. Back to what I’m suggesting, or at least if I haven’t been throughout this blog, what I am now! To me, a weaker argument is that arbitrary physical constants are more consistent with intentional design compared to a lack of arbitrary physical constants.

    Now, this weaker argument would lose clout if we proved a TOE, but so far this has eluded us.

    And if neither multiverse nor God leave hard evidence then I have a hard time claiming belief in either one.

    I respect your epistemology. I think maybe one of our core differences is I’m more open to interpret reality in a subjective way.

    Also some cosmologists say that if inflationary cosmology is correct (and it does have strong support) then that would make the existence of multi-verses even more likely.

    The way I understand it is that inflationary cosmology may suggest the universe is much larger than what we can observe, that beyond our event horizon lies vastly more spacetime and matter. But, whether these other inflationary bubble universes (within the total universe aka multiverse) actually have different physical constants does not depend on proving inflationary cosmology. It’s a separate issue.

    I really like your method of eliminating these religions based on people using them for personal gain.

    I think almost any idea can be exploited for personal gain. And, you could hypothesize this about ancient Israel. Certainly religions including Christianity have been guilty of using ideas to exploit others. I’m thinking of televangelists who get rich, etc.

    What really interests me about Paul is that whether or not he was a conman is important for the credibility of Christianity. I don’t think we can positively establish this credibility by examining Paul’s life. But, I think we can at least not discredit Christianity because of Paul. That’s what I think makes Paul different from Muhammad and Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard. They all stood to gain enormously from their religious claims which raises suspicion of con artistry at the very origins of these religions and the foundations of their belief come into question.

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  45. Hi Nan,

    Maybe one important distinction is that the final state is not heaven, rather it is a new physical creation. Why is this an important distinction? Maybe it’s not, but NT Wright argues that belief in an ethereal, distant heaven has effects on us in the present such as leading to disengagement of the world. Realistically, I am sympathetic to the Critical Theorists and sociologists who say religion helps us cope with suffering. But, I am also sympathetic to Wright’s view and see religion as challenging us to be ethical and stewards of our abilities for the sake of the present world.

    From here I’ll just refer to the final state – the new creation. One significant feature is its design will lack suffering, decay, and death. These are parameters that God does not have to use in designing a new creation. This also means that there will be no temptation or evil. However, this is very important: A loss of moral agency does not mean a loss of freedom to act. A loss of moral agency just means that there will be no actions which can meaningfully harm.

    Take all the fleeting joy that we experience here and all the good: like at weddings and births, true love, companionship, justice, beauty, learning, satisfaction, contentment, peace, and more. This will be the norm in the new creation. God will no longer seem distant, but his glorious presence will be obvious.

    We will not be a uniform crowd doing repetitive motions. We will be doing some kind of work that brings us joy and means a great deal to the new creation. There will be other creatures like animals. They may in fact be animals of the old creation, redeemed. The scenery will be absolutely breathtaking and interesting and we can explore and have curiosity without fear.

    We will build things and worship God and work together in harmony without fear, without suffering. We will have no memory of evil. We may remember that we came from an old creation, and have a few select memories, but I don’t think it will be anything that will be painful. There will be no painful memories of the past.

    I think Jesus will be there and we will know him and honor him for his accomplishment.

    I hope this represents a serious answer to you questions.

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  46. Hey Brandon,

    I was going to respond to your other stuff, but your recent response to Nan hit on a significant reason the Christian message is a no-go for me.

    God will no longer seem distant, but his glorious presence will be obvious.

    That’s how I understand the Christian concept of heaven as well – and judgment day is the same – that there will be no question of God’s existence. This concept concedes that it is definitely possible for God’s existence to be obvious, and we are told that God wants a relationship with all of us here while we are on earth yet he has “his reasons” for not making his existence obvious. Free will is usually the answer, and then there are other answers, but somehow in heaven those reasons aren’t an issue any longer. The concept of a God who is fully capable of having his existence be obvious, wants a relationship with all of us, but also remains so hidden is very problematic for me.

    (oh and by the way, I definitely preferred the whole video games response 😉 )

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  47. I like your view of the “new earth” Brandon. While I don’t believe in it, I can say that is sounds like a truly awesome place. I’ve got my fingers crossed! 🙂

    But one of the problems I have with it is the idea that God can create people so that they have free will without the ability to sin or cause damage. If he can do that, why didn’t he do it in the first place? I know this is something you’ve thought about too, so I suppose the problem of evil is a big sticking point for you?

    To me, while it sounds great, it also sounds like the sort of thing a person would make up. It’s “super-earth.” It takes all the good things we like about life, pushes them to extremes, and eliminates all the bad things in life. Of course it’s appealing, but it’s the perfect example of “too good to be true.”

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  48. Dave,

    So really the only “magic” you believe in is a creator deity programming the big bang and Jesus coming back to life? I’m sure you don’t want to limit yourself, but would these two cover your main supernatural beliefs?

    Yeah, those are the two that I’m most confident in, and then there’re things like Jesus’ miracles, some of which could be providential and not metaphysical. Everything else, all the miracle claims throughout history, I’m less convinced by. Theologian Craig Keener has compiled a book on miracle reports and sorted them by level of evidence. Some of them do sound plausible to me. Keener also develops a theology of miracles in which he suggests that God usually uses miracles for very specific purposes like spreading faith into new areas. This is a double edge sword though because many “new areas” tend to be less developed and less scientific thus more suspicious for legends and exaggerations. There is a handful of reports I find plausible like this Indian patriarch went to protest the Christian faith who had a limp arm. He was angry and he raised his arm to say something and suddenly it worked. He was stunned! His entire clan converted to Christianity afterwards.

    We know that randomized controlled trials of prayer do not show difference. To me this makes sense because it doesn’t fit with the theology of miracles in the NT and if it did, it might make God look like pagan deities who would bless their worshippers if they prayed and sacrificed. Jesus is clear that God gives good gifts to those who ask and have faith, but the caveat is that God’s plan may not align with our plans. We are only observing a few pixels in a gigantic painting. Of course, this kind of response makes God elusive and it is quite unsatisfying to our rational skeptical minds, but I think that’s the conclusion of Christian theology.

    BTW, I love your chess analogy.

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  49. Howie,

    The concept of a God who is fully capable of having his existence be obvious, wants a relationship with all of us, but also remains so hidden is very problematic for me.

    I agree with you, this is troubling. Not only this, but the freewill solution isn’t very convincing. Just thinking out loud. . .

    Let’s take a case of someone who has a strong faith and does not think God is hidden. Even for this person I do not think God is literally speaking to them. So, the kind of relationship God wants is not the same as a human relationship. It’s different. Considering these individuals, the hiddenness problem might better be thought as a question of why would God selectively reveal his presence? It’s a question of divine election.

    This is something I’ve been troubled by because it could be seen as God showing favoritism. But the more I think about it, there could be reasons for it. At least I don’t think it is clearly unfair. I think anyone who is elected has more responsibility, as in the Parable of the Talents where the servant given more is expected to do more. So, I think election is not about loving the elect, rather it is about loving the world through the elect, i.e., for God so loved the world. . . And, Paul says the elect are like God’s hands and feet on earth and expected to do good works in love. I should say this doesn’t mean God does not expect the non-elect to do good. We are all endowed with conscience and mind. But, I think the church itself is supposed to be a sign that God is love. It’s very disappointing to me that it doesn’t always do this.

    Another thing is that questioning God’s election choice is in some ways bringing up a version of the problem of evil, because would not it be a good thing for everyone to know God? If it’s a good thing, then why won’t a powerful and good God do this? In these terms, any answer we try to give will be a theodicy. When is the last time you heard a convincing theodicy, Howie? Theology tends to converge at theodicy which might be why the oldest Hebrew myth pretty much is a theodicy!

    Another way we could frame the hiddenness problem is in terms of epistemology. Like, why would God not be accessible by hard evidence? To me this is a question of design. Why design things this way? Again, this seems to converge on the a version of the problem of evil as well, because we could say that a design in which God gave us hard evidence would be better than a design without it. So, it’s kind of questioning God’s moral character.

    I could talk about theodicies, but instead let me just suggest something I’ve come to believe. I think the essence of faith is not believing that God exists, rather it is trusting in God’s goodness and holiness. Because the real problem we face when we consider if God exists is whether he could be good and truly worthy of worship. The prototype of this faith is Abraham. He trusted that God would follow through with his promise to give him an heir despite Sarah’s advanced age and the couple’s infertility. Then, he trusted that God would provide an animal to sacrifice before he took Isaac on the mountain and bound him. It was all trust in God’s character.

    I definitely preferred the whole video games response

    🙂 can I just add one more: no traffic.

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  50. “He trusted that God would follow through with his promise to give him an heir despite Sarah’s advanced age and the couple’s infertility. Then, he trusted that God would provide an animal to sacrifice before he took Isaac on the mountain and bound him. It was all trust in God’s character.”

    Aren’t you glad you weren’t Isaac looking up at this father as his father raised the knife? Abraham was planning on killing his son. So much so that an angle had to stop him.

    What a horrible nightmare to put a child through. As I read your child-like description of trust, my instincts to be naturally repulsed kicked in. Why is it that so many believers never look at this through the eyes of this child? Knowing what we know now about the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences, this should never be promoted as something to admire.

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  51. Nate,

    If he can [create people so that they have free will without the ability to sin or cause damage], why didn’t he do it in the first place? I know this is something you’ve thought about too, so I suppose the problem of evil is a big sticking point for you?

    I remember this was our first conversation on the blogosphere and it was really thought-provoking!

    Yes, this is still a problem for me. It is questioning whether this is a good design which questions whether God is good. As much as I dislike going down the theodicy pathway, maybe I can offer an insight. One thing that might be important to consider is the sequence of creating – from this world to a new creation. A sequence like this suggests that there is some objective that this world can achieve which the new creation cannot achieve. For philosophical reasons, we both agree it is not freewill. Here is a consideration: if we are willing to say God is limited by logical possibilities, then it may be that the objective achieved by this world logically requires moral agency. In other words, God may be logically constrained to first make a world with moral agents to achieve his goal and then make a new creation.

    Some criticism of this theodicy is: can omnipotence really be constrained by logic? If God is not constrained by logic, then I think the only route left is to appeal to mystery by saying that we just don’t know God’s reason.

    There’s give and take here. The Hebrew creation myth gives us a theodicy then the story of Job gives us an anti-theodicy and they are held at tension. This tension requires believers to trust in God’s character.

    To me, while it sounds great, it also sounds like the sort of thing a person would make up. It’s “super-earth.” It takes all the good things we like about life, pushes them to extremes, and eliminates all the bad things in life.

    I totally agree with you! I mean there’s certainly no hard evidence for this I can think of, so maybe that really is how it came about. Maybe God even intended it to be this way. From the Christian perspective, it comes largely from a vision of John of Patmos found in Revelation 21.

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  52. I’ve been following along here. Much of what is being said is way over my pay grade but, Brandon, you said this:

    God may be logically constrained to first make a world with moral agents to achieve his goal and then make a new creation.

    Logically constrained by what or whom? If nothing is impossible with God how can he be constrained logically or otherwise?

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  53. Victoria, I can see that you view the binding of Isaac as child abuse and this invokes moral outrage in you. I don’t view the binding of Isaac as child abuse, however. There’s nothing intrinsic to binding that fits the definition of abuse. We hold kids down to give them medicine or to stop them from fighting each other. Also, the story is not clear as to whether Isaac resisted. Some commentators think that Isaac was perfectly willing to be bound and this represents his faith. Plus, Isaac was never harmed. Abraham had faith that God would provide a lamb and this is evident by him telling his traveling companions that he and Isaac would both be back after worshiping and he even told Isaac that God would provide before going up the mountain. Finally, we should take note that Isaac remained faithful to God which suggests that whatever happened on the mountain could not have been so horrifying that it made him hate his father or his religion. In all, I see no good reason to think this is child abuse.

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  54. Brandon, your followup answer doesn’t surprise me. Many Christians are often desensitized to antisocial behaviors condoned and commanded by their god. Had Abraham tried to pull this stunt today, he be sitting in a high security mental health facility or prison.

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  55. Ruth,

    Logically constrained by what or whom?

    Great question! One answer is that God created certain laws (logic, morality) and then chooses to uphold these which is a self-imposed limiting of power. This relates to the Euthyphro dilemma: is an action good because God commanded it, or does God command it because it is good? Well, if God created moral law, then there is no dilemma, both are true in a sense. I think the more fundamental question is your second one:

    If nothing is impossible with God how can he be constrained logically or otherwise?

    Some philosophers think God is constrained by logic. They would say: God cannot make evil be good and God cannot make falsity be truth. Other philosophers think that omnipotence really means anything is possible. I’m still not entirely sure which camp I am in. It’s complicated to think of all the consequences of holding either position as a theist.

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  56. Brandon, your words, “I see no good reason to think it’s child abuse” remind me, starkly, of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous. Those parents – who spanked their children repeatedly (because of what they read in my least favourite fiction) and believing it was for their children’s own good – thought it wasn’t child abuse either.

    It really is quite chilling that you would write such a thing.

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  57. Carmen, I would be interested to know if you have a convincing case that the binding of Isaac meets criteria for child abuse. It would also be helpful for you to make a case assuming atheism is true, and also make a case assuming theism is true. I’m hoping that by trying to understand the story in this way you won’t have a chilling reaction any longer.

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  58. Brandon, we don’t need to think like lawyers here. Common sense will do nicely. Common sense tells me that the story of simulated child sacrifice is morbid, cruel and yes, ABUSIVE.
    Please do use yours.

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  59. From Carol Delaney, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology,
    Stanford University

    Was Abraham Ethical? Should We Admire His Willingness to Sacrifice His Son?

    Excerpts:

    “”And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham.’ And he said: ‘Behold, here I am.’ And [God] said, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.””

    When I first heard this story as a child, I was outraged. What kind of God would ask such a thing? And what kind of father would be willing to do it? It is certainly enough to strike the fear of god into you—and also fear of the father. (Perhaps that was part of its intention.)

    Even as a child I was very suspicious of the various interpretations given to me—especially those that tried to convince me it was really a story about love. (Quite a strange way of showing it.) I always felt they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes—the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing—and I no longer trusted them.

    Only much later did I realize that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael the firstborn and then Isaac. But he had banished one into the wilderness and here he is ready to sacrifice the other. When God referred to his “only” son, why didn’t Abraham retort, “But I have two sons”? When God said “whom thou lovest,” why didn’t Abraham say, “But I love both”? He argued with God to try to save a few good men in Sodom and Gomorrah. Why then didn’t he do anything to try to save his son?

    Abraham is revered not for putting an end to the practice (child sacrifice) but precisely for his willingness to go through with it. That is what makes him the father of faith, the foundation of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—albeit interpreted in mutually exclusive worldviews.

    But why is the willingness to sacrifice rather than the protection of the child the model of faith in these traditions?

    Why should such an act be pleasing to God? What kind of God would find that pleasing? Why is faith not demonstrated by the love, care and protection of the child (and other people)? Why should faith first require allegiance to God and only secondarily to fellow humans?

    The outrage I felt as a child and the punishment I received when I expressed it no doubt etched the story on my brain or soul. But it went underground until I had a child. What could ever motivate someone to sacrifice their child?

    Today, people who hear voices—even those who claim they hear God speaking to them—are labeled as insane.

    ————————————-

    Brandon: “I think the essence of faith is not believing that God exists, rather it is trusting in God’s goodness and holiness. Because the real problem we face when we consider if God exists is whether he could be good and truly worthy of worship.”

    God: “Kill to prove your love for me.”

    Brandon: “IF THE CREATOR TELLS YOU TO DO SOMETHING YOU BETTER DO IT.”

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  60. Brandon, I was following along with all of your comments until you got to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Wouldn’t it be better to give your creator deity the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe it was not involved in that narrative? What if the story was written by someone long after the lifetimes of Abraham and Isaac who used their names in an illustration to show that child sacrifice was not desirable?

    I really think you’ve given your worldview much more consideration than the majority of believers. I wonder if you would consider expanding on this:

    One thing that might be important to consider is the sequence of creating – from this world to a new creation. A sequence like this suggests that there is some objective that this world can achieve which the new creation cannot achieve. For philosophical reasons, we both agree it is not freewill. Here is a consideration: if we are willing to say God is limited by logical possibilities, then it may be that the objective achieved by this world logically requires moral agency. In other words, God may be logically constrained to first make a world with moral agents to achieve his goal and then make a new creation.

    Do you have any theories on what the objective or goal would be for a “first world” coming before a “new world”? Also, do you have any theories on the creation method of this new world? Will it be instantaneous or will it involve another pre-programmed evolutionary process? I am not making any points right now, just curious.

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  61. Brandon,

    I know you were talking to carmen and Victoria, but I’m fairly certain a legal case could be made that what the Biblical character Abraham allegedly did to the Biblical character Isaac would constitute child abuse by today’s standards. I realize child sacrifice was fairly common among the so-called Pagan religions so perhaps Abraham wouldn’t have thought it odd for his God to make such a request. And perhaps since children were considered property such terms as abuse didn’t apply to them. For instance, a child that dishonored his/her parents could be stoned to death. We, with our evolved sense of morality would scream out at the top of our lungs that this is child abuse. Surely none of us would condone that as a punishment.

    The CDC’s definition of child abuse is as follows:

    Child Maltreatment: Definitions

    Any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.
    Acts of Commission (Child Abuse)

    Words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child. Acts of commission are deliberate and intentional; however, harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence. Intentionality only applies to the caregivers’ acts-not the consequences of those acts. For example, a caregiver may intend to hit a child as punishment (i.e., hitting the child is not accidental or unintentional) but not intend to cause the child to have a concussion. The following types of maltreatment involve acts of commission:

    Physical abuse
    Sexual abuse
    Psychological abuse

    I’m interested to know your personal view, Brandon. I don’t know if you have children. Let’s assume for the sake of argument you do. Do you think that binding your children and laying them on an alter would not in some way scar them? Would you do that to your child?

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  62. Brandon,

    can I just add one more: no traffic.

    Now I’m definitely in. 😉

    Another way we could frame the hiddenness problem is in terms of epistemology. Like, why would God not be accessible by hard evidence?

    Actually I see the hiddenness problem as a very simple epistemology problem – when things can’t be found that have more of a likelihood to be found given the way they are described then it makes more sense to conclude that they aren’t there at all. I’ve always used this same logic toward many other religions and I don’t see a reason to make Christianity an exception to that.

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  63. Lots of good stuff.

    I know Brandon’s getting inundated, so I’ll just say a couple of quick things.

    First of all, I get what Brandon’s saying about the Abraham/Isaac thing, and it’s similar to how I used to see it. I no longer see it that way though, and a large part of that is because I’m now a father of 3 children.

    I think the narrative makes it clear that Abraham was ready to carry out the sacrifice, even if he initially assumed that God would change the decree, raise Isaac from the dead, or provide some other means of escape. But he put Isaac on the altar and was bringing the knife down before he was stopped — all because he heard a voice in his head. Pretty shaky grounds for something with such dire consequences. It also suggests that if Satan had gotten to Abraham first, done a few tricks for him, or given him a few blessings, then Abraham would have done anything Satan had commanded. After all, in this story, God commands Abraham to kill his own son — something that should instinctively have been considered immoral — and Abraham is willing to do it. In other words, Abraham’s “great faith” was merely grounded in “might makes right.”

    And had I been Isaac, I know I never would have looked at my dad the same way again. How could you ever trust a guy that was ready to kill you for the voice in his head?

    Anyway, Brandon, you also said this:

    if we are willing to say God is limited by logical possibilities, then it may be that the objective achieved by this world logically requires moral agency. In other words, God may be logically constrained to first make a world with moral agents to achieve his goal and then make a new creation.

    I’m willing to say that God could be limited by logic, yet still be considered “omnipotent.” The whole “can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” thing. So maybe for his ultimate goal, he needed to put us in a world that gives us the ability to choose evil. Does this satisfactorily answer natural disasters? Or random accidents, like a kid drowning, etc?

    Also, should we wonder how worthwhile God’s ultimate plan is if it requires so much evil and suffering? If he eventually plans to equip us with “perfected” bodies of some kind that eliminate our desire to sin, but went this route first to weed out those who won’t make the cut, is such a thing really worth it? Should it be such a big deal if some people make it to the cosmic country club who really may not make the grade?

    Or could he perhaps lower his standards just a bit? Simply forgive people for who they are, whether they’ve done any penance or not?

    I know these are hypotheticals that we can’t know the answers to, but I still think they’re worth consideration. In fact, I really identified with this statement:

    I think the essence of faith is not believing that God exists, rather it is trusting in God’s goodness and holiness.

    It’s actually because I have such a high opinion of God’s morality that I don’t find Christianity believable.

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  64. Reading Neuro’s and Carmen’s condemnation of “child abuse” by God is typical liberal hypocrisy. I have no doubt that both of you are “pro choice”.

    Neuro said: “Had Abraham tried to pull this stunt today, he be sitting in a high security mental health facility or prison.”

    In the future, if we are around long enough, this generation will be looked upon as some of the worst barbarians in history for what we legally do to unborn human beings, our very own children. That you support that and yet condemn God for bringing His people closer to Him by strengthening their faith isn’t surprising at all.

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  65. Kathy, while this is an “open discussion” thread, I don’t want it to be sidetracked into the abortion debate right now. That’s not going to go anywhere productive, whereas the current conversation is very interesting at the moment. If you’d like to comment on something a bit more “on point,” you’re more than welcome.

    Thanks 🙂

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  66. Nate, it’s not a “sidetrack” to abortion.. abortion is used as an example to show a lack of objectivity when atheists address God.

    I do see how it could turn into a debate over abortion, but again, that would be due to a blatant lack of objectivity. Many legally aborted babies do feel pain, this is scientific fact.
    I don’t know how this can be acceptable, yet when our Creator exercises His sovereign right, (a right we don’t have) and it’s a constructive act of bringing His Creation closer to Him, that’s “horrible” and “child abuse”.

    This is just more proof of how biased thinking influences atheist’s beliefs. There is no objectivity. Atheists here or anywhere NEVER make comments that acknowledge the sovereign rights of a Creator. Instead the atheist is constantly judging God. Again, this is ultimately an issue of pride.. an unwillingness to humble ourselves before our Creator.

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  67. No, Kathy. Here’s the issue. First of all, no one here is “pro-abortion.” No one likes to see fetuses aborted. It’s a terrible situation. However, it’s also a complicated one. That’s really all that anyone who is “pro-choice” is acknowledging. It’s a complicated issue that is best left between a woman, her partner / family, and her physician.

    It’s still a sidetrack, because no one is claiming abortion is a moral act, whereas Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac is considered a noble example of faith among many believers. Very different scenario, so let’s please keep the conversation on track and leave the abortion discussion for a later date.

    Thanks

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  68. I never claimed that anyone “likes” abortions. That is “sidetracking”. You say it’s “complicated”.. yet God isn’t? His purpose and reasons wouldn’t be? Again, you’ve proven my point.

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  69. God may be complicated, but the description “without evil” is not. Any being that commands someone to kill their child to show how much they love said being does not match the “without evil” description.

    And when you remind yourself that this is a narrative passed down by mortals instead of being communicated directly by a divine being, it becomes even clearer.

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  70. Nate, this conversation is so far over her head that bringing up the subject of abortion is the only way she knows how to contribute. That, and her incessant accusations related to “objectivity” and “liberal thinking.”

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  71. God was testing Abraham’s faith… his belief in God AND His goodness. Just as anaivethinker pointed out.. Abraham indicated that he believed no harm would come to Isaac, that Isaac would come back with him. What Abraham was demonstrating besides his faith and trust, was his reverence for God… and this is what is blatantly lacking of atheists.. from an objective point of view. There isn’t even a hypothetical acknowledgement of the sovereignty of a Creator. And that reveals THE problem, I believe.

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  72. Kathy, this puts the cart before the horse.

    You’re taking the Bible — a book that includes the Abraham/Isaac story, as well as commands of genocide and rape; a book that sanctions slavery and misogyny; a book that contains questionable history, science, and contradicts itself in places; and was written by and passed down by anonymous writers from long ago — and you’re accepting its claims simply because God (if he exists) would be sovereign. Therefore, you have to accept anything that God says, even if it seems immoral or crazy.

    Instead, you should recognize that the Bible was written by men that you don’t know, who could be fallible. And you should examine what it says to see if it stands up to scrutiny. Instead of accepting it without question because “God is sovereign” — ask if a wholly-good God would act in such a way and write such a book. Analyzing the Bible and questioning its claims is not questioning God, nor is it ignoring his sovereignty. It’s questioning the people who wrote the Bible. That’s all it’s doing.

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  73. The story of Abraham and Isaac, is a thematic connection pointing to the sacrifice of YHWH’s son, and his plan for redemption. It was meant to lead His people to understanding, and show them their Mashiach. Notice the similarities in the two stories…

    They were both ” only begotten son”s
    They both carried the wood for the sacrifice
    They both went willingly without a fight
    The both rose on the third day
    The ram that was caught in the thicket, was caught by his horns… Crown of his head…by a thicket of thorns, just like Yahusha.
    They traveled 50 miles to go to mount Moriah, which is where Yahusha was crucified. When they were on their way up the mountain, Isaac questioned his father about the sacrifice, and he said “my son, YHWH will provide a lamb”.

    This is a really short explanation, cause it is so late, but hopefully you get the point. This is not just a crazy story about some tyrant demanding sacrifice. It is much more than that.

    I know I’ve been absent for a while, but with all the fall feasts and winter around the corner…things got busy! Glad to see your all still here!

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  74. Hope everyone is well 🙂

    I’ve just moved to the country from the city, for a job as a social worker. I’ve rented a little cottage out of the town I am based in. When I stand outside in the evenings I am surrounded by vineyards and a little way down the track are some orange trees.

    I moved up here last Friday and started work on the Tuesday. Quite a big transition, thank God my parents were a great in helping with the move. They even drove up sat with the bed, since prior to that I was swagging it.

    One thing that strikes me about this place is the silence. But I like it. It’s nice to come back to after a day in town. I have no tv. My evenings are taken up by gym and reading. I have a great landlord, really nice bloke. I can see his house from where I am. Very close, which is good. The town is small, but the organisation I work for covers a number of towns. I’ll be seeing more of them soon.

    I’m telling you this to give you a picture where I am.
    Last night coming home from gym I walked into a spiderweb. The web belonged to a red back spider, which I found out later, but since it was dark this was not yet known. The red back managed to climb across my shirt. By the time I turned on the light it was making its way across my front.

    After a bit of jumping around to get my shirt as far away from me as possible, and muttering get some foul language…

    I squashed it, after noticing it’s bright red stripe.

    Why do female red back spiders have a red back?
    Why should we be able to see it?

    Traits like this lead me to think about whether there is a painter behind the creatures 🙂

    All the best

    Ryan

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  75. Hi Ryan, seems to me the red backs are the dangerous ones, eh?

    Sounds like you’re in a lovely location; gotta love all those vineyards – keeps the wine cheap!

    Best of luck at your new job!

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  76. Brandon, I too would be interested to know if you have children, as it’s clear that for you (and others) the point of this mythological tale is that god is the supreme ruler and his edicts are always to be obeyed, without question. It is assumed (by the devout) that he always has a plan. I have heard John Piper’s ‘take’ on this same theme, which is one of, “It’s right for god to slaughter women and children whenever he pleases – he’s god and can do whatever he wants”. Nice guy.

    Sorry, but I have grave concerns about people who believe this chit. Here’s why: Sometimes they act on it.

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  77. I’m off to work and want to wish a happy Hallowe’en to all my spooky friends in cyber space! It ought to be great fun at school today!!

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  78. Sounds like a nice place Ryan. I would love to visit Australia one day. New Zealand looks amazing too.

    Laurie, that’s an interesting take on the story of Abraham and Isaac. What do you mean by “they both rose on the third day”?

    Nate, you wrote:
    “If he eventually plans to equip us with “perfected” bodies of some kind that eliminate our desire to sin, but went this route first to weed out those who won’t make the cut, is such a thing really worth it?”

    I was under the impression that Brandon thought everyone was going to be in the “new creation”, possibly even animals, but perhaps I’m mistaken.

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  79. Oh, you may be right Dave. Though I would then really have to wonder why it wasn’t done that way to begin with.

    @Laurie,
    Personally, I think the Jesus story borrows from Abraham and Isaac more than the other way around. Regardless, this still doesn’t suddenly make it all okay. We now just have two pretty horrible instances of child sacrifice.

    As a side note, I’m also curious about your reference to both rising on the 3rd day. Also, how do you make the Mt Moriah connection between the two of them? As I understand it, there’s some disagreement about what Genesis meant with this reference. Some scholars think this actually was referring to an area near the Amorites — probably some mountains near Shechem. But even if it really does mean Mt Moriah, Chronicles says that Solomon built the temple on Mt Moriah, so Jesus couldn’t have been crucified there. And the Bible makes no parallel between the two places. So while they may have been near one another (though I don’t believe the Abraham/Isaac story even happened), I don’t think it ties together quite as tightly as your comment suggested.

    This is not just a crazy story about some tyrant demanding sacrifice. It is much more than that.

    Emphasis on “not just” 😉

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  80. Ryan, great to hear from you! Sounds like things are going pretty well for you in your new digs, aside from spider attacks! The redback sounds pretty nasty, so I’m glad you avoided being bitten!

    @carmen —
    Hope you have a fun day at school! Happy Halloween 🙂

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  81. @Laurie “They were both ” only begotten son”s”
    well, that’s not true, he had another son.
    and “The both rose on the third day.”
    uh, where did you get that from? as far as i can see there is no mention of that in the buybull.
    do you just make this up as you go along? perhaps you can claritfy.

    @Carmen “Sorry, but I have grave concerns about people who believe this chit. Here’s why: Sometimes they act on it.”
    yes, indeed they do Carmen, just google “god told me to kill my child”. it seems to happen a lot.

    I watch a lot of Christian television and on every program without exception, someone will say, “god spoke to me and told theem to do this or that” or “the holy spirit told me to do this or that” usually it’s to ask for money.

    yesterday on the jim bakker show, that fraud jim bakker said “god told me a child will be beheaded this Halloween.” whaaaaaaat? well, today is Halloween, so, let’s keep our fingers crossed god was wrong.

    insanity that anyone thinks that any thought that pops into their head is “god inspired”.

    if I believed that the whole meaning and purpose of my life was to worship and love a being so vile, and if I didn’t comply I would be eternally punished, I truly would think my life was not worth living.

    Portal, glad to hear you are working out at a gym,
    it is important to keep our “cute little figures”.

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  82. lol, after my comment posted I see that I’m not the only one questioning the “rose on the third day” thing Laurie posted. I hope she can clear that up for us. seems I’m not the only one puzzled by that.

    I agree with Nate that “I think the Jesus story borrows from Abraham and Isaac more than the other way around.”

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  83. I will add, about this whole “Jesus story borrowing from….” business. The way I was taught to study the Bible was to interpret the OT through the NT lens. So nearly every story could be contorted to point toward Jesus. I had volumes written in a diary from my “quiet time” and Bible study time where I used a lot of Bible stories, especially Adam and Eve and Abraham and Isaac, always with the backdrop of the cross.

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  84. Kathy,

    for the record, and I’ve said this before here, I do not support abortion and I believe it is the taking of a human life.

    The abraham and isaac story is interesting. Abraham didnt really kill isaac, but he was going to. God doesnt like child sacrifices, but he commanded one to be done – even if he stopped abraham, his command must have been confusing and seemed like a contradiction at first – why didnt abraham assume the test was in regard to to morality instead of blindly following commands that seemed contrary to morality?

    But you seem to agree that killing children is wrong, since you condemn abortion. If you’re upset by the inconstancy you perceive from those who condemn child abuse but are “pro-choice” then surely you dont want to be inconsistent by being “pro-life” while un-objectivley condoning the murder of children by the israelites, right?

    I think nate is exactly right when he says questioning the bible is questioning the human authors – not god. God can do what he likes, but then so can people. If he wants to only speak directly to certain people, then that’s his prerogative; but people can tell the truth about whether god said something to them or what he said to them or they can lie about it or they can just be mistaken about it. How do I know they’re correct?

    When I see errors regarding science, internal consistency and historical errors, it makes me even more skeptical regarding the things I cannot verify, like heaven, hell, and whether god actually had a part in any of it.

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  85. re: The NT borrowing from the OT.. this is certainly a possibility. But again, you have to ask, what does this option mean? It means that again, the authors of the NT were all liars.. the entire story of Jesus was made up.. and so detailed that it has “hidden” similarities for us to seek out that will “verify” the lie. What an elaborate scam! This IS what atheists are insisting. And the claim that they “believed” the lie fails badly.. all of that couldn’t be written based on that assertion. The only way that could be true is if they were merely scribes.. copying text. And that was not the case.. they were authors, stating facts.

    Nate, you said:

    “Kathy, this puts the cart before the horse.

    You’re taking the Bible — a book that includes the Abraham/Isaac story, as well as commands of genocide and rape; a book that sanctions slavery and misogyny; a book that contains questionable history, science, and contradicts itself in places; and was written by and passed down by anonymous writers from long ago — and you’re accepting its claims simply because God (if he exists) would be sovereign. Therefore, you have to accept anything that God says, even if it seems immoral or crazy.

    Instead, you should recognize that the Bible was written by men that you don’t know, who could be fallible. And you should examine what it says to see if it stands up to scrutiny. Instead of accepting it without question because “God is sovereign” — ask if a wholly-good God would act in such a way and write such a book. Analyzing the Bible and questioning its claims is not questioning God, nor is it ignoring his sovereignty. It’s questioning the people who wrote the Bible. That’s all it’s doing.”

    First, Nate, I want to point out this statement you made in your previous comment..

    “God may be complicated, but the description “without evil” is not. Any being that commands someone to kill their child to show how much they love said being does not match the “without evil” description.”

    Your beliefs of the incident.. that 1) God wanted/ intended for Isaac to be killed.. and 2) that it was for God’s “ego”.. to see how much Abraham loved God..

    .. these 2 assumptions just further show your bias Nate. Anaivethinker had made several points that counter those beliefs. And also, as well as you know the Bible, you would know that the scripture does NOT support your assumptions/ interpretations. Name the passages that do if you disagree. The entire context of the Bible supports my explanation.. not yours.

    And then in your last comment, you continue to make the same kinds of assumptions.. again, based NOT on the entire context of the Bible, but on the simple wording.. without any context.

    It’s the same old thing(s) Nate.. no objectivity.. no context applied.. and no fair odds applied.

    It’s about objectivity and the odds/ probabilities of what you are asserting. Just like the Tyre prophecy. 99% of the prophecy’s fulfillment is NOT in dispute.. and that 99% amazingly beat the odds.. yet you dismiss all of that, and, again, ADD your own word (all) of Tyre.. and declare no fulfillment. This, again, shows a blatant lack of objectivity.

    My questions to you and all atheists here..

    Do you believe objectivity is important?

    And

    Would you want to know if you weren’t being objective?

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  86. And also,

    No where in my comments do I insist that we should believe the Bible because of God’s sovereignty. You misunderstood again.. (just like your claim that I insinuated that liberals “like” abortions).
    I’m merely asking for objectivity.. the context for many of your arguments are “if God were real”.. so, what I’m looking for and not seeing is the ACCURATE context.. if God were real, He’d be SOVEREIGN.. I haven’t seen that acknowledgment.

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  87. I can admit that if god were real, and if he were supreme power and authority, that he would indeed be sovereign. I dont have a problem admitting that.

    How is anyone taking scripture out of context, could you be more specific?

    If assumptions are bad in your opinion, and I’m assuming they are, why do you assume the authors of the bible were always telling the truth?

    You seem to scoff at the idea that they could be wrong because of the things nate pointed out, but then you seem to be saying that they can be completely trusted in their supernatural claims, because they say some things that turn out to be true – like names of places and some people. You seem to ignore the parts where they’re wrong, though.

    For instance, Jeremiah 50 and 51 has jeremiah predicting that the median empire would destroy babylon. Can you show where they did? I can show where the Persians took it without destroying it.

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  88. The NT riffing off the OT doesn’t mean the NT writers were lying. You have to remember that the stories had been circulating for a while before they were written down, so some of these connections may have been made by other people than the gospel writers. Furthermore, it’s natural for people to take similar stories and work to find the “connections” between them. I think Jesus of the NT was probably based on a real person who had followers but was killed by the Roman authorities. His followers, who eventually viewed him as the Messiah, had not expected the Messiah to die. But as time went by, his death could be explained by passages like Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, some of the Psalms, and characters like Joseph (didn’t die, but was persecuted) and Isaac.

    Earlier in this thread, Laurie talked about Isaac and Jesus having the “rise on the 3rd day” and “Mt Moriah” things in common, but it’s not clear that they actually did have either of those things in common. I don’t believe Laurie was lying at all. And I imagine she has some reasoning for her statements. But it’s possible that she’s simply assumed some connections that weren’t really there. Nothing nefarious in that — it’s easy to do.

    Secondly, you obviously missed my last series on Tyre if you think 99% of that prophecy was fulfilled.

    And to your points about Abraham and Isaac, please tell me where my understanding is off. Here’s the passage:

    Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
    — Genesis 22:10-12

    And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[d] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
    — Genesis 22:15-18

    It’s clear to me, from this passage, that the purpose of the test was to see if Abraham loved God more than his own son. Whether or not God actually intended for Isaac to be killed is irrelevant — as far as Abraham knew, that was the command he had been given. It’s good if you’re uncomfortable with all this. You should be. Would you kill your daughter if a voice in your head told you to?

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  89. and to follow off nate’s point, let’s say you did something wrong and the president or your preacher (which ever you respect more) killed your daughter as punishment to yo – do you that’s just, or unjust?

    I think that if i did something worthy of death, then it should be my death that pays not anyone else’s and certainly not a child.

    nevertheless, god is said to have done this very thing to david’s son. of course, god didnt tell us that he did that, whoever wrote the Samuel said that god did that.

    and if i told you that god wanted you to blow up the white house, would you do it? I’d hope not, but if you refused, would that be you rejecting god or rejecting my claims about what I said that god said? I feel like the answer is obvious.

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  90. I wasn’t going to wade into this with you, Kathy, because I’m pretty drained. But okay, hypothetically speaking the God of the Bible would be sovereign.

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  91. Brandon,

    Thank you for your detailed response to my question about the afterlife. Sorry for the delay in
    responding. Rough last couple of days. 😦

    The bible (Revelation) does say there will be a new earth (you: “new physical creation”) so that’s a point we can agree on, even though I think many believers are more in tune with the “ethereal, distant heaven” perspective.

    I would say you’re also correct about the absence of death, temptation, and evil. And of course, the presence of “God” (in whatever form that will be) is a given.

    Now, as to the rest of your description, I’m curious where you get much of this information. For example, you wrote: “We will not be a uniform crowd doing repetitive motions.” How do you know that? I don’t see any indication of that in John’s description of the afterlife.

    You talk about scenery. Again, the only description that John offers is that of the “new Jerusalem.” He does talk about the river of the water of life and the tree of life
    with its twelve kinds of fruit
    , but nothing else. To me, your description of the scenery sounds like wishful thinking.

    Also, you discuss building things … ? And while you say there will be no memory of evil (which makes sense), you add that there will be a “few select memories.” What are those memories … recognition of loved ones? Where does this idea originate?

    IMO, I think believers create their own version of the afterlife — much of it based on what
    their particular spiritual leader teaches or what they want it to be like. When you
    consider what’s actually included in the bible, there really isn’t a whole lot to go on except
    for the fact that “God and the Lamb” will be there. Yes, John does offer a description of the
    city with its many precious jewels, but there is little to no discussion of what actual life
    will be like — except worshiping.

    (BTW, speaking of the city, exactly who are the 12 apostles whose names will be on the 12 foundations? Will Judas be one of them?)
    _________________

    Just an added note — in the process of writing my book, I became more and more convinced the promises within the bible are exclusively for the Hebrew/Jewish people. Jesus (Yeshua) was a Jew. He practiced Jewish customs and taught Jewish doctrines in Jewish synagogues. His followers were Jews and he was looked upon by many as a Jewish leader. For some (not all) in the Jewish world, he was seen as the long-awaited Jewish messiah and the fulfillment of Jewish “prophecies.”

    While Gentiles want to believe they are included in these promises, in reality, this was all Paul’s doing and was against the teachings of Jesus. Jesus clearly stated he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. While Christian apologists have tried to remedy this through various explanations of what Jesus really meant, the words are there. He also told the apostles: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.”

    So, looking at it from an unbiased perspective and uninfluenced by Christian teachings, I believe the bible is a story written to and about the Jewish people. It talks about their struggles to gain land, it discusses their religious practices and tendencies, and it offers a promise of better days. It is not, and never has been, a book for “the world at large.”

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  92. (BTW, speaking of the city, exactly who are the 12 apostles whose names will be on the 12 foundations? Will Judas be one of them?)- nan

    i would bet matthias took his place. the real question is paul. will paul be represented if he’s an apotsle?

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  93. I think your points are excellent, Nan. One question though — you mentioned the “limited commission” that Jesus gave. What thoughts do you have on the “great commission”?

    And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
    — Matt 28:18-20

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  94. Nate, do we know what “nations” Jesus was referring to? Were they nations at-large or the Jewish people? One of the definitions of nation is “The people who live in a nation or country.”

    Since the gospels were written after Paul made his claims about who Jesus was, I’m unable to put much credence into much of the contents I do feel fairly certain that Jesus said and did some of the things that were reported (especially as related to the Jewish people). But when it gets into prophecies, claims, and other areas that Christians cling to, my doubt level is a “10.”

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  95. William, Paul was an apostle only because he claimed to be one. He was most definitely not among the original 12. Why do you say Matthias?

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  96. My questions to you and all atheists here.. Do you believe objectivity is important? And would you want to know if you weren’t being objective? ~ Kathy

    Before I answer, here is my definition of objectivity: “Being without bias and uninfluenced by personal feelings when considering a claim or hypothesis.”

    Yes, I do feel objectivity is important and yes, I would want to know if I was not being objective. I also understand that it may be impossible to completely rid oneself of all bias and personal feelings. Being aware of our own bias’ is certainly helpful. We also need to try and look at things from a variety of perspectives.

    One of the reasons for my deconversion was that I felt I was not being objective. I felt I should examine the claims of Christianity as an outsider (a different perspective). I made a point of reading books by both Christian and secular authors so that I could see both points of view. I also read apologetic material from other religions so I could see their point of view on different issues.

    so, what I’m looking for and not seeing is the ACCURATE context.. if God were real, He’d be SOVEREIGN.. I haven’t seen that acknowledgment. ~ Kathy

    If the Christian God was real, then, yes, he would be sovereign. This means he could do whatever he wants. He could kill people, he could tell people what to do, he could punish us, etc. since after all, he created us. It is my opinion, however, that the Christian God is not real.

    If the Muslim God was real, then, he too would be sovereign. He could do whatever he wants. He could be harsh at times and loving at other times. He could be angry at people who think of him as a trinity. He could desire strict, devout followers over reformed, free-spirited followers. It is my opinion that the Muslim God is also not real.

    It is my opinion that all man-made gods are not real. That is my current position, but it is not a closed case in my book. I am open to new ideas, perspectives and most importantly evidence.

    Kathy, if you want to reach the folks on this blog I think you should adopt a different approach. This is just my humble opinion, you can take it or leave it. Rather than making accusations you should do some research on a topic and then present an argument in a rational manner so we can all read it and consider it. Rather than trying to shame us into agreeing with you, just present us with information that you found convincing. I think you’ll find that everyone here is very friendly ( with a few exceptions 🙂 ) and enjoys discussing alternative viewpoints.

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  97. Dave, that comment makes me wonder how long you’ve been following. We ALL started out being friendly to Kathy – that didn’t work either. Just sayin’ 🙂

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  98. Ah, no Dave – optimism is a GOOD habit! Believe it or not, I share it!

    P.S. I like your diplomacy, too! (I just don’t share THAT)

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  99. “I think your points are excellent, Nan. One question though — you mentioned the “limited commission” that Jesus gave. What thoughts do you have on the “great commission”?”

    Nate, a few years back I was reading some research about the Great Commission and I can’t remember which biblical scholar it was, but I do remember it being repeated by Bart Erhman during a Stanford lecture I watch where he mentioned that it is understood among scholars that the Great Commission was an embellishment — not showing in earlier manuscripts. This would explain the counterparts with regard to “limited commission”. I am still looking for the original sources, but came across this opinion comment on a Christian forum. It lists several of the counterpart scriptures.

    One of the most famous passages in the Bible is Mark 16:15 repeated and embellished in Matthew 28:19-20. It is known as the “Great Commission”. In it Jesus directs his disciples to,“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Simply tacked on to the end of the gospel probably by a mid-second century scribe, these are the words that over time launched a million missionaries. Although it appears nowhere else in the New Testament, the Great Commission does have its counterparts in Luke 24:47-48 and Acts 1:8. But, these commissions have little in common which indicates that they were created by the individual evangelists and cannot be traced back to Jesus22b.

    The Great Commission is expressed in the writer’s language and reflects his concept of a world mission for the church. Jesus, if he actually existed, probably had no idea of launching a world mission and certainly was not an institution builder. Jesus in fact contradicts the Great Commission in Matthew 10:5-6 where he instructs the twelve disciples to, “Go nowhere among the gentiles, and enter no town of the Samarians, but go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. He contradicts it again in Matthew 15:24 when he tells the Canaanite woman that, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

    The three parts of the commission – 1) make disciples, 2) baptize, and 3) teach – constitute the program adopted by the infant movement probably in the early second century, and therefore cannot be seen to reflect direct instructions from Jesus himself. Instead, they are framed in language characteristic of the individual evangelists and express their views of how the mission of the infant church is to be understood. In addition, can you imagine how long it would have taken twelve men living in a three-mile-an-hour world to successfully complete such an assignment? But not to worry because in Matthew 10:23 Jesus invalidates the Great Commission by telling his disciples,“You shall not finish going through the cities of Israel until the son of man comes”. He does it again in Matthew 16:28 where he assures his followers that “There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom”.

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  100. Glad you posted this, Victoria. Looked up the scripture in Matthew 10:23 (NRSV) and it definitely seems to clarify what constitutes “all nations.”

    “you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel …” (emphasis mine).

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  101. Dave,

    Wouldn’t it be better to give your creator deity the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe it was not involved in that narrative? What if the story was written by someone long after the lifetimes of Abraham and Isaac who used their names in an illustration to show that child sacrifice was not desirable?

    Ultimately, I don’t see any problem with the story, and I’m going to post something about this later. There are plenty of people who think this story is fictional, even theists. But, this would not detract from the theological points that it makes. And, yes, some commentators have interpreted it as God declaring an end to child sacrifice, but I’m not sure that’s the main point. Some theologians have even argued that Jesus’ sacrifice was done to put an end to all sacrifices. Well. . . maybe it accomplishes this in a sense, but is that the central meaning? That’s certainly not what the NT writers thought.

    Do you have any theories on what the objective or goal would be for a “first world” coming before a “new world”? Also, do you have any theories on the creation method of this new world? Will it be instantaneous or will it involve another pre-programmed evolutionary process?

    I agree with the NT writers about the purpose of this world – to determine who desires and is willing to align themselves with God’s purpose. Whoever rejects this will be destroyed in a “second death” which I take to be irreversible annihilation (i.e., not eternal conscious suffering).

    As for how the new creation will be made. . . I’m not sure. Maybe there is a factor that is important to consider which is, considering that our identities must carry over, how important is it that consciousness and memory be part of this identity? Like, if I (my identity) am in the new creation, should I have memories of the old creation and the process we’ve gone through? It seems to me that this does make a difference. If we reincarnate with total amnesia, our identity is meaningless. If we had amnesia and were told that we came from an old creation, that would be a little better. But, it seems like preservation of identity though some memories and a continuity of consciousness is important. This would suggest that the new creation must be non-evolutionary with respect to our identities.

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  102. Nate,

    Does this satisfactorily answer natural disasters? Or random accidents, like a kid drowning, etc?

    Certainly not, that’s a good point to think about. The biblical theodicy for these natural evils is different, but it does closely relate. The Hebrew creation myth gives the theodicy for natural evils (suffering, decay, death) – it is due to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. With science and literary criticism we now know that the Hebrew creation myth is not historical and that we evolved and that these natural evils have existed since the beginning of earthly life and are basically encoded into the natural laws since the Big Bang itself. If there was a creator deity, he encoded these natural evils in the universe at the beginning. Pretty big problem!

    The only way to square off a perfectly good God with natural evils is to think that these are really a curse or a punishment for something. But, who is being punished? I hold to the “retroactive fall of humanity” theodicy which says that the collective of humanity is responsible. The major problem with this theodicy is that it doesn’t seem appropriately distributed. For example, if this were distributed how we think it should, then only after doing evil would someone experience natural evil. Murderers should be the ones getting cancer and so on. However, clearly this is not the case. There are children getting cancer who we do not think are culpable at all. (This is the evidential problem of evil). And, what about Job? Job’s three friends all thought he was suffering because he had sinned. They thought Job just needed to confess and repent and God would stop allowing Satan to harm him. But, out of the whirlwind God rebuked Job’s friends and said that Job was NOTsuffering because of his sin. The story of Job stands out as a powerful anti-theodicy. It ends up saying that we cannot comprehend God’s reason for this seemingly unjust distribution of the curse.

    So, there is a balance between theodicy and anti-theodicy. Job tells us that innocent suffering does occur in this cursed world and it tells us that suffering can be God testing us. But, does the suffering of an innocent child represent a test? Certainly not for the child. Also, Paul says that suffering can be good for building endurance and character. But, again, can an innocent child build these? I don’t think so.

    Innocent suffering that does not seem to have any understandable point (i.e., as a test or building endurance) is the best formulation of the evidential problem of evil. What could possibly be the purpose of allowing an innocent to suffer?

    Apologists will tend to give one of two answers. On the one hand, they will say that all of humanity is sinful by nature and no one is truly innocent, therefore God is justified to do anything – have mercy or curse. The problem with this is that it is not biblical because we know Job was righteous yet suffered, we know Jesus was righteous and yet suffered and died, plus it just doesn’t make sense to think that children are responsible for their actions until they mature into their conscience and are taught ethics. The second response is that God has a reason but we just don’t know it. This is an anti-theodicy.

    Let’s just take a step back. Suppose there really is a creator deity that was omnipotent and omniscient. The deity would foreknow that we would be analyzing this problem. The fact that we are sitting here analyzing the problem would not be an accident. What would be the point of designing it so that this problem would arise? The very design of the universe calls into question God’s moral character. But, what does that sound like? It sounds like the story of Abraham. Something that appears to question God’s moral character is the place where we are asked to have faith. So this design is intentional. Christians are called to trust that God has a sufficient reason, yes, even for allowing some children to get cancer.

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  103. 22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

    3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

    6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

    “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

    “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

    8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.”

    First, note verse 4… “on the third day..” Isaac rose from the alter on the 3rd day.

    22:1 God “tested” Abraham.

    The question then is what was the test for? later it states, to see if he feared God.

    “fear” also means “reverence”.. these do not necessarily mean “love”. They are evidence of BELIEF.

    When Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide a sacrifice, this clearly indicates that he ALSO believes that God is GOOD.. and will provide a substitute.

    This is the context that you overlook, Nate. Context is key. Just as objectivity is key.

    I’ve stated several times that the OT is about the importance of obeying God. And that’s what Abraham did. And he was blessed. The NT focuses on God’s love and His GOODNESS.

    This is the overall context of the Bible. And it supports the Christian narrative. It does NOT fit your/ the atheists narrative that God would allow children to die for the benefit of His ego.

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  104. To everyone,

    I am requesting that we at least look at the story of Abraham in its context. We can approach it as literature, not concerned with whether it is historical, but rather with its meaning. We can do this with any story or movie. I think this is fair approach and is much less loaded than typical theist versus atheist exchanges.

    First, God (the literary character who is the creator deity) promises to make Abraham a nation as numerous as the stars. The problem is that Abraham and Sarah cannot conceive. Time passes on and eventually they lose all hope. They decide that in order to produce an heir, Abraham will have to copulate with another woman. With this, Hagar bears a son, Ishmael. To their utter astonishment, God tells Abraham that Ishmael is not the heir God promised. (Say what?!) Sarah is advanced in age and they knew that biologically she was not capable of conception. But, Abraham trusted God and somehow Sarah gets pregnant. Isaac is born to them.

    Now with that backdrop which is very important to put things in context, we arrive at God’s request that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Think about what Abraham would have thought at hearing this request. It sounds absolutely absurd! God’s request seems to undercut God’s original promise to Abraham and the miracle of Isaac’s birth, so it was totally absurd. Was God trying to play a trick on Abraham? There are clues in the story that Abraham was sure that God would reverse this request. When they arrive at the mountain, Abraham tells his traveling companions that he and Isaac will return. Then, when Isaac notices they do not have an animal, Abraham ensures him that God will provide one. This suggests that Abraham trusted in God’s character. He believed that he would follow through and this would require a reversal of the request.

    Abraham follows through even to the point of binding Isaac and picking up the knife. It is only at this point that God stopped him. Now, Nate, if God is sovereign, then there is no way Satan could have averted God’s plan to stop Abraham at the last minute. As for the allegations of child abuse, there is no indication in the text that Isaac experienced physical or mental suffering. We can’t reason from the text that Isaac suffered from this episode. It’s entirely possible that he knew what was coming and did this willingly. We just don’t have enough data from the text to tell either way.

    But, the point is this: it’s not as if God just willy nilly asks Abraham to do evil. What he asks Abraham to do has a very specific meaning and context. I don’t want to get too much into the command to exterminate the Canaanites but I want to say the same applies here. If you really read the text and try to understand it, you find that God is using the Israelites as an instrument of judgment against the Canaanites for their sin. Similarly, they were brought out of Egypt by miracles, so this should let them know that they are really being told to do this by God. This is not the whim of a modern day terrorist, but has a specific context.

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  105. Nan,

    No problem about any delay, I understand that we have lives outside of blogging. 🙂 Thanks for your response.

    IMO, I think believers create their own version of the afterlife. . .

    Yes, I agree! I mean I am just imagining the best I can what the best reality will look like. It may far exceed my imagination and be stranger than my thoughts could reach. If we read Isaiah 65 we see that the prophet’s vision of the new creation is that people live longer and infants don’t die and predation ceases. Well, we’ve already got the first two with modern medicine. And, with John of Patmos, we are getting a vision full of symbols. These represent the reality of the new creation, but the new creation does not exist yet. So, even from a scriptural standpoint, we have very little to understand what it will be like.

    So, looking at it from an unbiased perspective and uninfluenced by Christian teachings, I believe the bible is a story written to and about the Jewish people.

    With all due respect, it’s impossible to be unbiased and certainly to be totally uninfluenced by Christian teachings especially if you live in the US (Pacific Northwest is no exception). Everyone is biased and the scary thing is, most of our biases we cannot see. Your interpretation of the bible is not privileged over other interpretations just because of your irreligious leanings.

    That said, I do understand your concern. Nate had a good point with the Great Commission. The term, all nations (Greek = ta ethne) really does mean all nations. Of course there are ways to wiggle out of this. You can say it’s false or doesn’t represent what Jesus said or it was added later or whatever and find some way to cut it out. But, it’s pretty consistent with what the disciples actually did. Whether or not they were supposed to Judaize all nations is another question. Jesus never addressed this question to my knowledge. So, we can’t say whether Jesus would have supported the Judaizers or whether Jesus would have supported Peter and Paul.

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  106. Of course, you’re right, Brandon. None of us are truly unbiased. However, when I said “uninfluenced by Christian teachings,” I did mean it just that way. I was taught, as most other believers, that Christianity is an offshoot of the Jewish religion. Numerous scholars have underscored this via scripture, opinion, apologetics, etc.

    However, since leaving the church and investigating Christian teachings from “the outside,” I have come to the conclusion that, as I’ve stated many times before, it is Pauline Christianity that exists today.

    As I’m sure you know, most Jewish people do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. Why do you think that is? Could it perhaps be based on teachings that took place over the hundreds of years before Jesus?

    As for the “great commission,” just because certain disciples believed Paul’s fairy tale does not devalue Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:23.

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  107. Brandon, your view of God is becoming a bit odd. Are you saying that God does things that seem counter-intuitive to what we’ve been pre-programmed to think is moral in order to test our faith and trust in him?

    You wrote: “The very design of the universe calls into question God’s moral character. But, what does that sound like? It sounds like the story of Abraham. Something that appears to question God’s moral character is the place where we are asked to have faith. So this design is intentional. Christians are called to trust that God has a sufficient reason, yes, even for allowing some children to get cancer.”

    Instinctively we think genocide is wrong and we think killing kids is wrong. For the sake of examining your theory, let’s say that this instinct is pre-programmed by God. Now we are all given this “test” to see if we question God’s goodness when he commands things that run in opposition to these moral instincts. So basically your God’s goal is to weed out all of the souls that fail the “Abraham test” and stick to their original instincts. These souls become annihilated. The ones that are able to pass the test, like Abraham, by compromising their instincts (I would even say warping their thinking) are given the keys to the kingdom.

    Please give this some consideration and let me know if I am misrepresenting.

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  108. Kathy,

    Like others, I will admit that if the God of the Bible existed He would be sovereign. That is a ridiculous concept for you to try to get atheists to care about. Why would we care about the sovereignty of an entity in which we do not believe? It’s a non sequitur, in my opinion.

    I tried having an actual conversation with you, and for whatever reason, you didn’t respond to me much. That’s fine, except that I decided to go and live my life instead of getting more frustrated trying to get through to you.

    Last night, my son asked me if he could read to me from the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I thought that was a fantastic idea. He should have access to information about all religions. He knows the basic tenets of Jainism. Do you? I have explained the concept of the Christian creation stories, as well as panspermia theory to him. Have you considered this theory of how life on Earth may have begun? If not, how can you say you are being objective?

    Does being objective mean studying Christianity exclusively until we come to believe it is true? I think it is more objective to consider others religions too, which I have, and not give Christianity undue emphasis.

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  109. Gliese, make your case.. which religion gives a more compelling explanation for our existence.. please don’t send me on a wild goose chase with a list of links.. don’t recommend a pile of books.. there’s plenty of space here to give your reasons for why I should look at another particular religion/explanation. I’ve never closed my mind.. it’s been open, and that’s why I can explain WHY Christianity is the answer.. and not the FSM. If you want to waste time looking into the fsm as a possible explanation, that’s entirely your prerogative.. and please feel free to share what compelling evidence you might find.

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  110. Kathy,

    I don’t care why we exist. I didn’t say I had any compelling evidence from any religion about why we are here. That is exactly the point – if I had encountered compelling evidence from any religion explaining our existence, I would, by definition, be compelled to accept it. What is clear is that the planet exists. Life arose somehow, and science takes it from there. Christianity is your answer, not mine. We’re not even asking the same question. In fact, I’m sure we don’t exist in the same world.

    I am not looking for an explanation, from you or anybody else, about why we are here. I don’t want to change what you believe about that. If your faith works for you,, great! It doesn’t work for me. By your works, you shall be known, apparently. From what I can see, your faith isn’t working for you either, unless spewing negative energy is something to which Christians aspire. If you strive to be frustrated with most of humanity, then you’re successful. I’d rather be a well-adjusted failure.

    Even though I don’t need to know why we are here, I think what we do with our moments, our lives, is important. I strive to bring joy and comfort to people’s lives. The overriding feeling I get from you is that my atheism is unacceptable to you. and that no matter who I am or what else I do, my entire being is wasted because I don’t believe in one god among thousands. This is absurd.

    If I could believe just to make you happy, what kind of integrity would I have? Sometimes I wish I could. I think it is very unlikely to happen. If it does, I will gladly proclaim it. I won’t get there by force or out of shame. It’s not stubbornness or pride – it is who I am. If you knew me at all, you would not say I am prideful, as you are wont to claim all atheists are.

    I don’t think for a minute that I am going to change you. In my better moments, I can use conversations like this to change my behavior.

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  111. Gliese,

    I haven’t been making any specific comments to you except in response to your comments to me. I don’t have any problem at all with what you believe, it seems that the opposite is the case. You are bothered by my belief in God and my arguments that I put forth to support my belief.
    If this were your facebook page or a blog about knitting.. I could see where you’re coming from, but this is a blog with a heading that makes a claim of the importance of truth and finding it. And it insinuates that God is not where truth leads. I’m just here to argue that in an honest open way. And that means that if I feel, based on actual words and actions, that people aren’t applying objectivity, I’ve got to state that. How else can truth be found if not through honesty and objectivity? It can’t.

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  112. Dave,

    “Yes, I do feel objectivity is important and yes, I would want to know if I was not being objective. I also understand that it may be impossible to completely rid oneself of all bias and personal feelings. Being aware of our own bias’ is certainly helpful. We also need to try and look at things from a variety of perspectives.”

    First, that’s what objectivity is.. looking at things from a variety/ all perspectives, but WITH honesty (that part is key). Seeing something from another perspective is one thing, acknowledging that perspective with honesty, is quite another. That’s what I’ve witnessed here I believe, most can see the other perspective, but they can’t acknowledge the truth of it.. to others and even to themselves.. instead they get angry and offensive.

    The other thing is that, yes, ridding ourselves of all bias is hard.. but bias and objectivity are two different things. I have a bias for conservative beliefs.. but I can still be objective when considering points.. we all can. We don’t have to give up our bias.. it just has to be set aside in order for honesty AND the truth to prevail. That you tried to put forth somewhat of an excuse for not being completely objective because we can’t completely rid ourselves of bias seems to support the idea that you haven’t been applying true objectivity. Because, again, bias and objectivity are two different things.. that can coexist just fine if honesty is also included. Bias isn’t the problem, honesty is the problem. True objectivity can’t exist without honesty.

    Several people have stated in response to my comment, that yes, if God exists, they acknowledge His sovereignty. But that isn’t the point. I was pointing out that it was MISSING before.. which demonstrated a lack of objectivity when arguments were addressed. When discussing God and His words or actions, this was never acknowledged. It was always as if God was just another human being, expected to behave and respond as just another human being… not the Creator of everything.. which if applying objectivity, that’s the context that has now been “formally” acknowledged.

    “Kathy, if you want to reach the folks on this blog I think you should adopt a different approach. This is just my humble opinion, you can take it or leave it. Rather than making accusations you should do some research on a topic and then present an argument in a rational manner so we can all read it and consider it. Rather than trying to shame us into agreeing with you, just present us with information that you found convincing. ”

    Dave, I had asked you if you believed objectivity was important and if you would want to know if you weren’t being objective. Are you referring to my accusations of lack of objectivity? Because that’s the only accusations I’ve made and also lack of honesty which are the same thing.

    And I’ve stated that you all are liberals, which no one seems to like.. but no one has responded to my request to show that they aren’t liberals by espousing non liberal beliefs.

    I honestly don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’m giving valid arguments. And I’m pointing out what I feel is lack of objectivity and honesty based on specific words and actions of those I’m making the accusation against… so, again, this has become about me.. instead of THE debate about “finding truth”. And this is why I leave… I’m just really tired of going around in circles all the time.. really tired.

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  113. “so, again, this has become about me.. instead of THE debate about “finding truth”. And this is why I leave… I’m just really tired of going around in circles all the time.. really tired.”

    You made it about yourself (the one who claims to be enlightened) while believing Paul’s accusations in 2 Corinthians 6 — regarding unbelievers in your god — that we are “darkness, lawless, wicked, and unrighteous.” I’ll add to the list — in your words, that we are not objective and honest. I guess that falls into the above categories that Paul mentioned.

    Kathy, you appear to be playing psychological games with us, so please stop trying to act like you’re being persecuted. We have been trying to explain to you why we left Christianity, and chose not to lower our ethical / moral standards by worshiping a god who has the behavior of the worst of dictators who wants total obedience without questioning and subjects his faithful to cruel, inhumane tests of faith even though he supposedly claims to already know the outcome.

    @Dave, you brought up an excellent point when addressing Brandon regarding Abraham. While he may not have intended to come across as expecting us go against our empathic instincts, that is exactly what sects of Christianity teach when they promote the Bible as being the word of God. As devout believers, Christian can become desensitized to the suffering of Others (unbelievers in the biblical god), and justify (godly) antisocial behavior as clearly seen in scripture.

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  114. “I’ve just moved to the country from the city, for a job as a social worker.”

    @Ryan, congratulation on your new place and job — oh, and bed. 😀

    Glad you didn’t get bit by the redback spider. Did you notice if it was male or female? In the moment of panic, I’m sure you didn’t, lol. Apparently, only the female bite is poisonous to humans. Redbacks rarely leave their webs so humans are not likely to be bitten unless a body part such as a hand is put directly into the web, and because of their small jaws many bites are ineffective.

    The “painted” bright red colors are believed to serve as a warning to potential predators like you. 😉

    Welcome back, and I wish you the best on your new journey.

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  115. Kathy, when you make generalized statements about atheists, you are addressing me. I don’t have a problem with what you believe, but rather your style of approaching engaging in discussions with a group in which I belong. I don’t care if you want to worship the Almighty Sock Monkey, but don’t expect me to go along with it, no matter how much you believe.

    You accuse us of dishonesty, but I am stating the truth as I see it. You say we are not objective, yet many of us strive to be as objective as we can be. What would satisfy your requirement for objectivity? Does it involve immersion in the Bible and Christian culture until we become convinced it is true? I think that in order to satisfy your requirements for objectivity, one would have to already be biased in the direction of thinking there is any more truth in the Bible than anywhere else. That is biased. As I have previously stated, I have given Christianity much more consideration than any other belief system. It didn’t convince me of its truth. Do you propose I keep pounding it into my head until I do believe? That’s not objectivity – it’s indoctrination.

    I don’t think being objective is the same as willingly suspending disbelief. That is for fiction, to help us act as if something were real. I’ve read the Bible, gone to church, been as open-minded as I could be, and yet I remain a non-believer. Where was your god then? Did I not do it well enough? I gave your god what benefit of the doubt I could muster. That’s fair, isn’t it? What else would you have me do?

    I’ve moved on, but if something happens that changes my mind, I will change what I believe. I’m not going to twist my mind to believe something that doesn’t make sense to me, especially when I have investigated it thoroughly enough already. That just doesn’t make any sense.

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  116. Nan,
    Sorry, I need to be more clear that I trust that you have done your scholarly work trying to be as unbiased as possible, and that’s how you came up with your conclusion.

    Don’t you think this is Petrine and Pauline Christianity? It seems that Peter came to the same conclusions as Paul in Acts and in the Petrine epistles. Of course, you can find some way to argue against Acts and say the Petrine epistles are pseudonymous as modern scholarship proclaims.

    At the very least I think you would have to conclude that there is a case for the Peter and Paul in broad agreement about Gentiles and not requiring them to adopt the rituals of Judaism.

    Oh and BTW Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple which precludes properly conducting the rituals of Judaism. In fact, it was destroyed by the wrath of God as judgment. Check into “partial preterism” if you haven’t done so!

    As I’m sure you know, most Jewish people do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. Why do you think that is?

    The historic mission to the Jews. . . almost certainly succeeded with stunning success. This is needed to help explain the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and there is also good archeological evidence as well. Please go to a book store and read chapter 3 of The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark which gives all the evidence, largely by sociological reconstructions. That whole book is a gem.

    It wasn’t until the anti-Semitism of the Reformers that we get more of a divide. Also, Reformed Judaism may water down the idea of a Messiah, I’m not entirely sure.

    If you listen to Michael Brown’s conversion story which I think can be found on YouTube he was raised Orthodox and he explains kind of how he converted when he learned about Messianic prophecy and how the Orthodox Rabbis rationalized this prophecy.

    There are a number of reasons why they reject Jesus now. I highly doubt most Reformed and Orthodox Jews reject Jesus because of an informed conclusion. They just totally reject prophecy at all. It’s all just retrofitted vague meanderings. Also, people have a negative perception of Christianity because of the Religious Right political movement. Etc.

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  117. Dave,

    Are you saying that God does things that seem counter-intuitive to what we’ve been pre-programmed to think is moral in order to test our faith and trust in him?

    Not so much that God does things counter-intuitive, but may design sort of walls that require us to have faith analogous to Abraham. To some people it may seem like counter-intuitive actions. But, each person has their own walls. Most people are totally unaware that an intellectual problem of evil even exists. But, despite this they live in the human condition and experience suffering. Their suffering makes them question God and there’s no way to sit there and figure everything out. The only way is to trust and hope in God.

    For those of us who are cerebral and trying to understand if we can infer something about the world to figure out what a creator deity would be like, we are the ones that hit the wall of the problem of evil. I think this is all the same type of wall. There is no perfectly satisfactory solution, but the creator deity would know that this would be the case. So, it would be an intentional design. This is why I think for those of us who are cerebral, the first step is thinking there is a possible way for God to be good, for there to be reasons for allowing this existence to be this way. I personally think that it’s more important than arguments for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity. Of course, they work together and depending on the what matters to the person. There are others like Howie who is more concerned about a lack of hard evidence and really much less concerned about evil. Howie also does not seem to self-identify as an atheist, but as a possibilian, which I take to be more of an agnostic view. Others that self-identify as atheists are chiefly concerned with evil in my experience.

    Please give this some consideration and let me know if I am misrepresenting.

    Well, it’s not really about going against our instincts or moral intuitions. It’s more about when we hit a wall that is unclear and that questions God’s character, we are given a choice to trust.

    Abraham’s situation was highly specific to him because of God’s promises, the improbability of Isaac’s birth, and also he was in a culture in which human sacrifice may have been acceptable in the first place. That doesn’t mean he regularly practiced human sacrifice. That just means he may have NOT had the visceral reaction that we modern humans have. So, it was sort of unclear what God was getting at, it seemed absurd, but ultimately it required that Abraham trust in God’s goodness.

    With the genocide, this situation is also highly specific to their culture. And, it follows a pattern of divine judgment that even falls upon Israel (i.e., Babylon, Rome in 70 AD). To dissect out the morality of the conquest commandment is a long undertaking but clearly the modern reader is most offended by God’s request that even Canaanite children be killed as part of this judgment. (I can also give an example of an ancient Jewish reader from the 1st century BC who was equally concerned – Philo of Alexandria, and also a early Christian who rejected the Old Testament – Marcion). Of course the adults in Canaan we can at least imagine that they had built up their iniquities for 400 years of culture until and had fallen under divine judgment. The children on the other hand are not guilty of their parent’s iniquity. So, why have them killed? Is it even possible that God could have a reason? That’s basically the question that is the wall for the modern reader.

    Again, this is for cerebral people who study the Old Testament. We have to come to terms with this wall. If we cannot imagine a way, then ultimately we do not trust God in an analogous way of Abraham (i.e., it’s only analogous, not a recapitulation).

    But, even for people who are less cerebral, like I said, we all experience hardship in this life and if we believe in God or are considering this belief, we will run into some kind of similar wall.

    I think it even gets more complicated. . . but at least I hope this helps explain what I think a little better!
    -Brandon

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  118. I will be on vacation for the next week and without computer!

    Thanks to everyone for good discussion, and I apologize for not being as engaging as I could. That’s something I need to work on.

    Please be safe and well and I’ll leave you with an important message to consider when you’re getting into a complex subject matter:

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  119. @gliese“By your works, you shall be known, apparently. From what I can see, your faith isn’t working for you either, unless spewing negative energy is something to which Christians aspire. If you strive to be frustrated with most of humanity, then you’re successful. I’d rather be a well-adjusted failure.”

    lol, so true, so true.

    @N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ Kathy, you appear to be playing psychological games with us, so please stop trying to act like you’re being persecuted.

    exactly right, this is nothing but a silly childish game with her.

    Kathy keeps hitting on our dishonesty,
    in essence she is calling everyone of us liars, but it is Kathy that lies.
    it’s Kathy that lacks objectivity.

    I’d love to slap that idiot right up side her ignorant fat face. goddamn bitch.

    Kathy, you truly are a miserable fuck with no life.

    (btw, god told me to say that, I can’t be held responsible, just doing the lord’s work,)

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  120. Neuro said:

    “You made it about yourself (the one who claims to be enlightened) while believing Paul’s accusations in 2 Corinthians 6 — regarding unbelievers in your god — that we are “darkness, lawless, wicked, and unrighteous.” I’ll add to the list — in your words, that we are not objective and honest. I guess that falls into the above categories that Paul mentioned.

    Kathy, you appear to be playing psychological games with us, so please stop trying to act like you’re being persecuted. ”

    I’m not the one playing games Neuro, you all are playing the games but what makes it even worse is that you’re playing games with yourself as well. Refusing to be honest and objective is a game within yourself. It’s simple denial.

    Examples of lack of objectivity:

    1) I never claimed to be “enlightened”.. I claim to have beliefs that I can adequately defend.
    You have different beliefs.. why is it that me expressing my beliefs equals claims of “enlightenment” but somehow that’s not the case with you? What’s the difference exactly?

    2)So it seems that any Christian who doesn’t believe Paul is a false apostle believes that all non believers are “darkness, lawless, wicked, and unrighteous.” I’ve never made those claims Neuro. And again, this is an issue of context.. Paul was talking mainly about the people of his day. He’s not talking about you specifically and because I agree with Paul that doesn’t mean I believe those things about you. I believe non believers are lost. No matter how “good” you try to be, without Christ you will still be lost.

    You can’t attach words and beliefs to me that I never stated Neuro, and then accuse me of playing games.. that’s YOU playing games, not me. That’s you who is lacking objectivity.

    “We have been trying to explain to you why we left Christianity, and chose not to lower our ethical / moral standards by worshiping a god who has the behavior of the worst of dictators who wants total obedience without questioning and subjects his faithful to cruel, inhumane tests of faith even though he supposedly claims to already know the outcome.”

    Look at my recent comments, I’ve addressed these unsupported claims against God, reasonably and with detail. Have you addressed my responses? Nope. But instead, you accuse *ME* of “playing games”. This seems like very biased judging to me.

    I’m not trying to “act” like the persecuted one.. I’m just spending a lot of time defending myself when it’s not why I’m here.. you all make it about me because you don’t want to address the actual points.. at least with Nate, he just leaves.. he is above the personal attacks when he doesn’t have a response.

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  121. Kathy, if this were my blog and you used “objectivity” one more time, I would ban you forever!!!

    It wouldn’t be so bad if you knew what you were talking about, but you don’t. And this is proven every time you post something. You just go around and around with your words and say nothing.

    Nate doesn’t just “leave.” He actually has a life besides this blog. Even so, when he posts something, it has substance and value. You may not agree or like what he says, but he spells things out clearly and concisely ((as do many others on this blog).

    One more thing — you accuse Neuro of playing games. It takes one to know one.

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  122. Kathy –

    How, PRECISELY, is it that you are “good” – with Christ – again? I don’t think you’ve enlightened us on that bit yet.

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  123. “One more thing — you accuse Neuro of playing games. It takes one to know one.”

    And I am not one. 😉

    Kathy, you have repeated over and over that we were not being objective and that we were not being honest. Translation: we are lying. You lumped us all in one category and claimed that we were destroying America. You have made many accusations and this is why I think you are playing psychological games, a.k.a. trolling.

    “I claim to have beliefs that I can adequately defend.”

    After over 6,000 comments and 4 or was it 5 Kathy posts? — you have not adequately defended your beliefs. Instead, you’ve spent more time telling us repeatedly that we are unable to be objective and honest. That’s troll vocabulary. I’ve met many fine Christians. You are not one of them. You are not a Christian, period. You’re a troll.

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  124. “A trollis an individual “who constructs the identity of sincerely wishing to be part of the group in question, including professing or conveying pseudo-sincere intentions, but whose real intention(s) is/are to cause disruption and/or to trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement.”

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  125. Truly sad. No matter how much I point out what you all are doing wrong, it doesn’t matter one bit. You all continue to do it in complete ignorance.

    No points about the actual argument/ debate.. just personal attacks WITHOUT any kind of actual evidence to back it up.

    This is what I meant by.. “That’s what I’ve witnessed here I believe, most can see the other perspective, but they can’t acknowledge the truth of it.. to others and even to themselves.. instead they get angry and offensive.”

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  126. most can see the other perspective, but they can’t acknowledge the truth of it.

    Whose truth, Kathy? Yours?

    You have been provided valid information, references, quotes, evidence, and more (much of it from your reverenced bible) and yet you continue to berate those who have responded to you and tell them they “lack objectivity,” they are speaking from a “liberal” mindset, they “lack perspective,” they are not being “honest,” etc., etc.

    I think I speak for others when I say we are not angry or offensive. We’re just tired of providing you with OUR viewpoints and having you dismiss them out-of-hand because they don’t agree with your philosophy on life, religion, and/or god.

    You’re right, Kathy. It is truly sad …

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  127. As I’ve mentioned before, Kathy reminds me of the trying little sh*t in the class who desperately seeks attention – even if it’s by annoying/insulting behaviour.

    Pathetic, really.

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  128. Wait..am I understanding this correctly? Kathy wanted us to “objectively” hypothetically come to a conclusion about a hypothetical God and now, because we all pretty much say we see her side of it even though we don’t agree, now she’s saying that we’re still not being objective? Ugh!

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  129. I know, Ruth. My brain caved in upon itself a while ago, trying to make sense of it all. I’m much better now.

    Kathy, I surrender. I just had to watch a video of a Dean Martin roast of Lucille Ball just to get some kind of working perspective again. Sadly, I’m not even kidding. I would think it would be an empty victory for you, but I imagine I’m wrong. Congratulations! You’ve managed to alienate another human being on the planet.

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  130. Brandon, have a nice vacation. No need to apologize, I thought you were very engaging.

    I have some ideas for a theodicy. It doesn’t exactly line up with Christian theology, but it does solve a lot of issues. I’ll wait till your back from vacation to lay it out. Have fun!

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  131. Dave, I had asked you if you believed objectivity was important and if you would want to know if you weren’t being objective. Are you referring to my accusations of lack of objectivity? Because that’s the only accusations I’ve made and also lack of honesty which are the same thing.

    Yes, Kathy, those would be the ones. When you tell people that they are being dishonest it is a personal assault.

    You wrote: “I honestly don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
    I’d like to believe you. I think if we are nice to people they will be more willing to discuss things with us. That’s been my experience anyway.

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  132. …at least with Nate, he just leaves.. he is above the personal attacks when he doesn’t have a response.

    Hi guys. Had a busy weekend (work and kids’ soccer games). Sorry for the absence, but I can assure you, it’s not because I had nothing to say! 😉

    @Brandon —
    Enjoy the vacation! When you get back, I wouldn’t mind discussing a bit of what you said about the OT’s commands of genocide. I agree that such actions may have fit within that ancient culture better than they do ours, but whose fault is that? You’d think that if the Judeo-Christian god is real, then societies should have started off much better (morally-speaking) than where we are today. All he had to do was speak to all people the way he did Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Instead, he seems strangely concerned with one specific group of people at the expense of all others — just like all the other tribal gods were.

    Anyway, we can dig into it more when you get back. Thanks!

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  133. Kathy,

    You asked, again,

    “Gliese, make your case.. which religion gives a more compelling explanation for our existence.. please don’t send me on a wild goose chase with a list of links.. don’t recommend a pile of books.. there’s plenty of space here to give your reasons for why I should look at another particular religion/explanation. I’ve never closed my mind.. it’s been open, and that’s why I can explain WHY Christianity is the answer.. and not the FSM. If you want to waste time looking into the fsm as a possible explanation, that’s entirely your prerogative.. and please feel free to share what compelling evidence you might find.”

    Zoroastrianism. This is my number 2 answer, as my number 1 answer has been given to you many times, which is “none of the above.” You wont accept that answer, so I will give my number 2, “Zoroastriansim.”

    The religion is older the Christianity. This is the religion that much of Christianity was based off of. It also heavily influenced the Pharisees in the NT. Pharisee means “Persian” and is close to the Persian language of farsi. Before Isael’s exposure to the Persians, they didnt talk about heaven and hell as Christians do, and even the devil or satan was portrayed much differntky in the OT.

    So I say “Zoroastrianism” because the Pharisees and Christians borrowed heavily from it. They even have a virgin birth and martyrs.

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  134. “And it insinuates that God is not where truth leads.” – Kathy

    I think you keep missing the point that the god you’re talking about is only one of many other claimed gods. You seem to ignore that even within Christianity, there are countless sub-sects that don’t agree on much at all beyond a bible and a god (or 3 gods).

    So how is accepting your version of god and your version of biblical interpretation objective? Can you lead us down that path so that we might be able to understand where you’re coming from?

    Otherwise, since I am familiar with the bible already, we may just keep speaking past one another. From my perspective, you’re the main one lacking objectivity – and before you ask again, I’ve pasted your own words many times. We don’t have to argue over who’s more objective or not, I suggest it’s better to discuss the facts and points instead of getting off topic to say that my adversary isn’t objective and then add, “I rest my case.”

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  135. Kathy,

    I’d really like your response to this,

    you said,

    “It was always as if God was just another human being, expected to behave and respond as just another human being… “ – Kathy

    See, here is an example where I think you’ve been missing the points given to you. You keep saying, “god said this,” or, “god did that,” etc but god never wrote anything down. Even if you’re right, god told someone top wrote something down and then have it copied and translated a bunch, so it ends up still only being the author’s claims about a god.

    Also, when we try to validate these author’s claims, we can see what characteristics say god has and then we can place them next to what they say god does – do they match? Many of us say no.

    Is killing a baby to punish the father just? Is it loving or merciful? It is wrathful, that is true, but still a wrath that is void of mercy and justice.

    This is just one example, but I am sure you know there are more that could be given.

    How is what I’ve just said un-objective or un-true?

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  136. “And I’ve stated that you all are liberals, which no one seems to like.. but no one has responded to my request to show that they aren’t liberals by espousing non liberal beliefs.” – Kathy

    Oh, I get it now. Kind of like how you’re an idiot and haven’t shown intelligence yet?
    That was mean and uncalled for, but besides the fact I was being light hearted and not serious, but it also illustrates how pointless your name calling is.

    What are liberal beliefs in your opinion and how have I expressed them?

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  137. “And this is why I leave… I’m just really tired of going around in circles all the time.. really tired.” Kathy

    Then stopping taking us around in circles. You leave, after direct questions are agoven to you, and you return without addressing them. And you havent shown where anyone was un-obejctive but yourself. Copying and pasting a sentence and then claiming it unobjective doesn’t make it so. I highly recommend, again, that you do take a break and step back and re-read all the threads you’ve commented on in the context they were made. I’d suspect that you may learn a lot a bout yourself if you’re as objective as you claim.

    “No points about the actual argument/ debate.. just personal attacks WITHOUT any kind of actual evidence to back it up.” – Kathy

    What do you mean? are you denying the fact that most people respond to you while simultaneously pasting your own comments? I must say, when you say such things it makes you appear very dishonest.

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  138. William, I was just reading about Matthias and it seems, yes, he’s considered by most to be the 12th apostle, although he was not technically chosen by God or Jesus but rather by the remaining 11 apostles casting lots. And it seems he was never mentioned again after this. Under these circumstances, to me, it becomes an open question as to who the 12 apostles really are … in God’s eyes and as referenced in John’s Revelation.

    Of course, some would argue that Paul was the 12th apostle (with which I personally strongly disagree), but again, he was not chosen by Jesus. Rather, he appointed himself.

    Your points about Zoroastrian are excellent! It has been shown by numerous scholars that Christianity is almost entirely based on this Persian religion.

    And, as you said, the beliefs in heaven, hell, and satan did not develop among the Jewish people until after they were exposed to Zoroastrianism. Although ha-satan is used in the OT, it is not the fearsome entity seen in Christianity today. This “evil one” was developed after the Persian captivity by the apocalyptic writers — who were greatly influenced by Zoroastrian beliefs. I go into considerable detail about this in my book. 😉

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  139. nan, I got you. Discussing the bible is difficult sometimes. I dont know if we’re discussing it based upon what it says (like a book review), or if we’re discussing as a believer would, or if we’re discussing as a believer would while pointing the inherent problems with that view, or discussing it as what most likely took place….

    But I’m with you now.

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  140. William, I often use the bible and scripture when discussing it with believers because this is their reference point.

    During the course of writing my book, I did considerable study and research on the history behind several of the more popular doctrines within Christianity. What I learned is that history often does not agree with many (most) of the traditional teachings.

    Since most Christians (Kathy included) do not go to these same lengths to learn about their faith, they are unable to accept anything except what they have been taught. Even if they actually read their bibles, the discussions could be so much more productive, but statistics show that only 1 in 5 Americans read the bible on a regular basis (Huffington Post).

    As has been evidenced on this blog, this ends up with many of us banging our heads against the wall in frustration. This is not to say every contributor falls into this category because some have proven themselves very knowledgeable and the discussions has been lively. Too bad the one who comments the most is not one of them.

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  141. Kathy doesn’t have a clue what’s in the bible,
    she used to argue with me that jews never had slaves,
    and when I showed her the bible verse,
    she said that was man’s idea not god’s,
    even though the passage starts of with and the lord spoke to moooooses and said, yadda, yadda, yadda, go get you some slaves.
    then she said, those people wanted to be slaves.

    she is just a silly twit, she won’t respond to any of the questions William has presented her, she’s just going to say, ” you dishonest liberals have no objectivity”.

    the dumb bitch has been doing this for years,
    she has no intention of learning anything,
    because when she dropped out of high school after getting her racist whore ass plowed and pregnant,
    she thought she knew everything then and hasn’t bothered to learn anything new except how to lie about her income to get food stamps.

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  142. here you will see Kathy being a liar. she’s bitching at Russell brand for “attacking capitalism”, (which he is not).

    the hilarious irony is, the entire time Kathy was on food stamps she was attacking govt handouts.

    see what a lying, stupid, hypocritical whore she is.

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  143. Back!

    @Dave:

    Thanks, I am very curious to hear your idea for a theodicy.

    @Nate:

    I agree that such actions may have fit within that ancient culture better than they do ours, but whose fault is that? You’d think that if the Judeo-Christian god is real, then societies should have started off much better (morally-speaking) than where we are today.

    I understand what you are saying, I think maybe where I veer off in thinking is that the ancient environment was so radically different, that certain things had to be done differently. This is not an excuse for genocide, but I do think it explains certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. Even if it’s true that the environment changes what makes up justice, I don’t think this is the reason for the genocide command. By all accounts it served as divine judgment on a people who had built up their sinful culture for hundreds of years.

    I’m thinking more of examples like the rape law stating that if a man rapes a woman, he must marry her. To us, this is absolutely absurd! This is not justice at all. However, if Tamar, a Bronze Age princess, represented the feelings of ancient women, they would have perceived this law as appropriate justice for their culture. Of course, as time goes on, the law must update to reflect new realities, but the spirit of the law to say that rape is wrong and deserves justice is what does not change.

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  144. Welcome back Brandon,

    When I have some time I’ll write down my idea for a theodicy (luckily I still remember it). For the moment I wanted to respond to a couple things you wrote last time.

    For those of us who are cerebral and trying to understand if we can infer something about the world to figure out what a creator deity would be like, we are the ones that hit the wall of the problem of evil. I think this is all the same type of wall. There is no perfectly satisfactory solution, but the creator deity would know that this would be the case. So, it would be an intentional design. This is why I think for those of us who are cerebral, the first step is thinking there is a possible way for God to be good, for there to be reasons for allowing this existence to be this way. I personally think that it’s more important than arguments for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.

    I guess what worries me about this approach is that, for me anyway, I would have to re-define my definition of good in order to make the creator deity “good”. To think that things like genocide or asking someone to sacrifice their son on an alter could ever be justified seems backwards. A simpler solution IMO is to absolve the creator deity of these commands and lay the blame on humans.

    Of course the adults in Canaan we can at least imagine that they had built up their iniquities for 400 years of culture until and had fallen under divine judgment. The children on the other hand are not guilty of their parent’s iniquity. So, why have them killed? Is it even possible that God could have a reason? That’s basically the question that is the wall for the modern reader.

    Not only is the commanding of death to children questionable, but the method is also harsh because the Israelites had to be the ones butchering the people. This would leave mental scars for life. Try to imagine what it would be like entering a house and plunging a sword through all of the family members – or having to chase down a kid that ran out the back door and chopping him down. I really think you should reconsider your position on some of these Old Testament stories.

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  145. I’m thinking more of examples like the rape law stating that if a man rapes a woman, he must marry her. To us, this is absolutely absurd! This is not justice at all. However, if Tamar, a Bronze Age princess, represented the feelings of ancient women, they would have perceived this law as appropriate justice for their culture. Of course, as time goes on, the law must update to reflect new realities, but the spirit of the law to say that rape is wrong and deserves justice is what does not change.

    Okay, Brandon, I wanted to hug you a few minutes ago. Now I want to kick you in the shins. j/k

    You and I have gone over this. Yes, the ancient culture was different. But, as a woman, I submit to you that at no time ever has any woman wanted to marry her rapist. As the ancient culture was different that meant that women were completely dependent on men. Either their father or their husband. Any woman who had been deflowered was undesirable for marriage. So her alternatives were to live with her parents until they died or to marry her rapist if she ever had any hope of having children. That’s what they were good for and if they didn’t have children they were shamed. Tamar likely believed that this was appropriate justice because it was law not that it was the law because it was appropriate justice. That is a significant distinction.

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  146. Appreciation Theodicy

    First some disclaimers: as with most ideas I have I am sure that someone else has already thought of this and I fully recognize that. Second, all of this is hypothetical and does not represent something I believe, although I do think it is plausible if several assumptions I’m about to make are true.

    Assumptions: We are in a universe that was created by a deity. This first creation is a “stepping stone” and a new creation will follow. (Yeah, those are some big assumptions)

    I’ll be using Brandon’s concept of a deity that was able to program everything prior to the big bang and was not actively involved in shaping the evolution of lifeforms. I go a step further and say that it has not been involved in any way whatsoever – no revelations and no miracles.

    Since the creator deity is able to foresee what would happen in a perfect universe it does not create a perfect universe. The only way to create beings that actually appreciate the deity and appreciate a perfect universe is to first let them experience a universe like this one. All of the mysteries, questions, random suffering and evidence for natural evolution are intentional. We are supposed to be agonized by the uncertainties of our existence. This is all so we can one day appreciate the new creation where the deity will finally reveal itself. Uncertainty will be replaced with certainty. Death will be replaced with eternal life. Suffering and disease will be no more. We will only retain our memories of this place as a reminder of what life used to be like. This life is not a moral test that we must pass – it is a realization of what life is like without a god.

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  147. This life is not a moral test that we must pass – it is a realization of what life is like without a god.

    Are we in….hell? 😉

    Seriously, Dave, that is interesting and I saw a similar comment yesterday on another post. That, if there is a deity, it created evil and suffering so the we would know what good even is.

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  148. Interesting concept, Dave. I don’t guess there would be any reason to believe in such a deity or concept, because as one of its primary parameters, it leaves no evidence. But I can’t think of a problem beyond that so far…

    Brandon,
    You said:

    I think maybe where I veer off in thinking is that the ancient environment was so radically different, that certain things had to be done differently. This is not an excuse for genocide, but I do think it explains certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. Even if it’s true that the environment changes what makes up justice, I don’t think this is the reason for the genocide command. By all accounts it served as divine judgment on a people who had built up their sinful culture for hundreds of years.

    But why was the ancient environment so radically different? I’ve heard other Christians say that much of the OT seems barbarous to us because God had to meet those people where they were.

    Why?

    If the Christian god created humanity, then he was starting with a clean slate. And if we’re to believe the stories in Genesis, he started out wanting a relationship with mankind — and that seems to have continued even after the Garden, since he talks directly to Cain. If God is that involved, why would mankind have turned after false gods and developed such heinous practices? Who would choose to worship a hunk of stone or some imaginary being, if they’re already communicating with an actual god? That’s one of the reasons these stories are so hard to believe.

    Christianity can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim “every knee will bow” and that God is “all powerful” while simultaneously claiming that humanity was so, so terrible that God couldn’t pull them out of it right away. That doesn’t work if he was involved from the beginning, unless he created man to be depraved. But Christianity doesn’t really want to claim that either, because it gives God culpability…

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  149. Dave,

    To think that things like genocide or asking someone to sacrifice their son on an alter could ever be justified seems backwards. A simpler solution IMO is to absolve the creator deity of these commands and lay the blame on humans.

    This solution is definitely appealing, I won’t deny that! There’s a similar solution out there that you may have heard of. Some modern theologians are arguing that these genocide commands were hyperbole within the context of Ancient Near East wartime language. Paul Copan is one such example and he’s written a few books on this subject. He argues that these totalizing commands were hyperbole for fight the combatants and take the Promised Land. There is also good reason to think that this is partly what God wanted since Deuteronomy mentions “dispossess” the land so often.

    But, blaming humans is definitely a good option. Although, this solution sort of tarnishes God’s predictive power. He would know that someone would lie and place this in the bible, so why not play the chess game to prevent this from occurring?

    Honestly, when I first reconverted I was more in the Copan camp. I think a few things changed my mind. First was the realization that it sort of fits into the bigger picture of the problem of evil. Is the fact that children die of brain cancer any less bad than God requesting children’s lives in this conquest mission? Also, historically it just became more and more difficult to think that the command contained hyperbole with respect to women and children. Take for example Numbers 31. God has Israel avenge against some city-states and in the process they leave alive Midianite women and children. When Moses learns of this, he is infuriated and has them killed. Secondly, God gives separate wartime rules of engagment for city-states outside of the Promised Land and these are to have their women and children spared! Thirdly, the Hebrew word herem means to devote something to God. So, God was saying judge the evil, judge the culture, even take the children and devote their souls back to me.

    Ultimately, I’m just not sure that blaming humans for fabricating the command is any more satisfying than incorporating the questionable aspect of the command into the problem of evil or trying to understand a sort of plausible reason to have the women and children killed during this judgment.

    This would leave mental scars for life.

    It certainly could do this. Maybe this is why they left the Midianite women and children alive. I’m not sure what their method of execution would be, but I think they understood enough about human biology to make execution quick and relatively painless. Just like they slaughtered animals by cutting their neck vessels leading to rapid unconsciousness. It’s a humane method of slaughter. Of course, it’s absolutely offensive of me to even compare these two. I recognize this as I sit here and type it. My point is, it’s not as if they tortured their victims. It was a religious act. It was herem.

    I imagine the Israelite warriors struggled with this whole ordeal. They were afraid to attack Jericho. They didn’t want to carry out herem. God forbade murder but wanted this herem and they had to square with this. If God is good, then this command is justified and serves a high purpose. If not, they are mistaken and need a new deity. But, they also had something else in their memory. Something extremely important to weigh. Something that the author of Deuteronomy stresses frequently. God had just delivered them by great wonders, so they knew of his power and care. If God demanded herem, they had a choice to trust him or not. One thing is for certain (as any good paragraph ends), God doesn’t just deal out his chosen people an easy life, not them, not us.

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  150. Dave, I don’t want to give you the impression that I think I have any sort of definite solution to these problems. I wrestle with them. But, I suppose what I have learned on my reconversion journey is that when I wrestle with God, I feel like there is an option to trust. Of course, that depends on having confidence that there is a possible way in which God is justified. Justified to allow humans to taint scripture or justified to demand herem or justified to request Abraham to do something absurd. Some way at the very least.

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  151. Ruth,

    Okay, Brandon, I wanted to hug you a few minutes ago. Now I want to kick you in the shins. j/k

    That sounds like something my wife would say to me minus the j/k. 🙂

    Believe it or not, I totally agree with you and think you’ve made an important distinction. It probably felt more like a “best of the worst” option to them. Really the justice part of the law was more of a patchwork that was specific to their reality. And, I think the justice aspect being a patchwork is also how our law codes works. I doubt incarcerating the rapist removes all of the torment of rape victim. I mean it’s better than the rapist going free, but it still does not rectify things like, say, returning a stolen item would.

    Do you think the distinction you have drawn changes whether the ancient idea of justice for this offence was good or bad within its context?

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  152. Brandon,

    I doubt incarcerating the rapist removes all of the torment of rape victim. I mean it’s better than the rapist going free, but it still does not rectify things like, say, returning a stolen item would.

    I don’t think the two things are comparable. In a violent crime like rape there is no way to ever give the victim back the thing that was taken. Dignity, honor, trust, safety aren’t something a rapist can ever give back. There really is no restitution for it. You are right that incarcerating the rapist would never remove the torment of the victim. Now imagine having to marry your rapist. How much more torment would a person endure? If they were violent enough to rape to begin with I doubt their violence ends there.

    Do you think the distinction you have drawn changes whether the ancient idea of justice for this offence was good or bad within its context?

    I do. The law could have stated that the woman was owed the benefits of a wife without having to actually be a wife. Or better yet, the law could have stated that if a woman had been raped she was just as clean as she ever was before she was raped. Why couldn’t she have still been considered pure enough to marry? You see all of this boils down to the virginity of the woman. As if that was all her worth – tied up in a neat little hymen. Why make virginity of females so…important? It all comes down to property rights and in the end the woman is still treated as chattel.

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  153. Yeah. Sadly, the “marry your rape victim” law makes sense in a misogynistic culture. And the stories about ethnic cleansing make sense in a very tribal culture. When trying to decide what best explains the OT stories, I think the simplest explanation is that they had no divine guidance at all.

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  154. Brandon,

    But, blaming humans is definitely a good option. Although, this solution sort of tarnishes God’s predictive power. He would know that someone would lie and place this in the bible, so why not play the chess game to prevent this from occurring?

    We could ask this same question about Hell. Since you don’t believe in an actual Hell, why would the creator deity allow certain passages to be placed in the bible that lead so many people to believe in an eternal place of torment?

    Perhaps the Bible was not intended to become an object of worship as it almost is today. Perhaps the books that made it into the Bible should be regarded in the same way that evangelicals regard the Apocrypha. Then the blame can be laid back on humans for expecting too much from a book written by men and canonized by men.

    Is the fact that children die of brain cancer any less bad than God requesting children’s lives in this conquest mission?

    Yeah, I see the problem here. I guess you could blame humans once again via the retroactive fall of humanity theodicy, but that’s not really satisfying. Why punish someone who’s hardly begun to live? This seems like a major flaw in the design of the grand chess player. Either the deity is not concerned with being benevolent or is not all-powerful or has a mysterious reason to let some children suffer and die without giving them the chance to “be willing to align themselves with God’s purpose and avoid annihilation”. This is the problem I realized my appreciation theodicy also suffers from – if an infant dies it does not have the chance to experience this universe. Do these children have no souls? Or do they have souls, but are for some reason exempt from whatever the purpose of this life is? I don’t really see an acceptable solution to this.

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  155. Yeah. Sadly, the “marry your rape victim” law makes sense in a misogynistic culture. And the stories about ethnic cleansing make sense in a very tribal culture. When trying to decide what best explains the OT stories, I think the simplest explanation is that they had no divine guidance at all.

    Exactly, Nate. The question is why it was such a misogynistic culture to begin with and many Christians(I am not saying you are one of them, Brandon) believe that this is the way their God intended it to be and are still today trying to live by these antiquated misogynistic texts.

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  156. “Exactly, Nate. The question is why it was such a misogynistic culture to begin with and many Christians(I am not saying you are one of them, Brandon) believe that this is the way their God intended it to be and are still today trying to live by these antiquated misogynistic texts.

    Especially since we now understand that the offspring are profoundly affected (gene expression and brain development — even in utero) by the way females (the very ones who give birth to the whole species) are treated in society. This has also been observed in troops of baboons.

    The hub of 3 major religions have never learned to get along with each other, even within their own tribes — and have never been at peace.

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  157. Nate,

    Who would choose to worship a hunk of stone or some imaginary being, if they’re already communicating with an actual god? That’s one of the reasons these stories are so hard to believe.

    I definitely agree with you! I think much of what we read is stories that have creative theological additions. That doesn’t mean that God did not literally speak with some humans in the course of history, but rather this was extraordinary. From my worldview, these cultures must have rejected what God offered them, whatever that rejection looked like, and they adopted their worship around these stones. This became canonized in the culture and their children inherited their ancestor’s folly. They adopted further abhorrent practices like temple prostitution and child sacrifice which may have been major factors in God’s wrath on them.

    Christianity can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim “every knee will bow” and that God is “all powerful” while simultaneously claiming that humanity was so, so terrible that God couldn’t pull them out of it right away. That doesn’t work if he was involved from the beginning, unless he created man to be depraved. But Christianity doesn’t really want to claim that either, because it gives God culpability. . .

    I agree with you on this too. I think saying that God can’t just fix something in a flash is not really understanding the idea of omnipotence. There must be a reason for this kind of historical arc, this moral progression. However, I also think the narrative of moral progress is illusory to some extent. If we take a modern human and insert them into an ancient environment, they would revert. Likewise, if we take an ancient and bring them here, I think they would assimilate just like any other human is capable. Whatever historical arc was created must have been intentional if an omnipotent being created it.

    If we asked the ancients, why does humanity have a sinful nature, they wouldn’t say it was because God created it this way. They would say that it was inherited from Adam and Eve. But, we know this isn’t true now because of science. This is one of the reasons I have adopted the “retroactive fall of man” theodicy which would answer this same question by stating that our sinful nature (whatever that means) is something that humanity is all responsible before because God created a broken world because he foresaw all of humanity’s sin. It was retroactive in that sense. And, it was a curse for sin, which is something a wholly good being is entitled to do.

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  158. Brandon,

    I have adopted the “retroactive fall of man” theodicy which would answer this same question by stating that our sinful nature (whatever that means) is something that humanity is all responsible before because God created a broken world because he foresaw all of humanity’s sin. It was retroactive in that sense. And, it was a curse for sin, which is something a wholly good being is entitled to do.

    If I was a masterful programmer and created an army of robots that were free to make choices and it turned out that every single robot made choices that I deemed were bad – who’s fault would that be? If I knew they were going to do this and decided to insert errors into the programming as a punishment would this be an example of perfect justice?
    I’m just thinking out loud…

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  159. Hey Brandon,

    I’ve been following along some but haven’t had much time to jump in. I’m struggling to try and put together some of the ideas you have taken on. I held some of these ideas myself when I was a Christian, so whatever I write here is written both to you and myself.

    You and I have talked about and agreed that a correct worldview is not easy to come by but that the best we can do is to try and rule out certain things that cause logical cognitive dissonance – some of the ideas you express here caused that for me back when I was a Christian.

    Your language is hard to parse but I do see some expression of justification for the horrors of the bible. I’ll talk about the genocides (most notably and clearly stated in I Samuel 15:3) because that one hits home the most for me.

    If there is a morality that is objective and Jehovah does exist and he actually did command these things as written then I believe Jehovah is a god that every human being should both fear and detest – if I were to believe in objective goodness and evil, and the existence of gods, then I would instead be searching for the correct god that truly does represent goodness and not be wasting my time with a god that is described as tribal and frankly quite scary for any human to look upon. Genocide is objectively scary – there is no doubt about that. It objectively creates suffering for 100% of the group that is selected including toddlers and babies. If objective morality exists I can’t see a way to fit that together with genocide being commanded by a being that is good.

    We have modern day examples of genocide – Darfur, Rwanda, and the Holocaust come to mind. Toddlers and babies being hacked with machetes, toddlers being led to be burnt alive. I can’t see how these things could be objectively moral today or 3000 years ago no matter how bad a nation had become.

    You’ve expressed your experience of God leading you out of cursing. I don’t see how saying words like shit or fuck could be anywhere near the horrors of genocide. Expressing a morality that declares curse words as off limits but somehow allows in genocide seems broken to me.

    There are so many other options than justifying the horrors of the bible, some of them exist in other beautiful religions like Jainism, and some of them even still affirm Christianity -> if you haven’t read Thom Stark’s “Human Faces of God” I highly recommend it. The only difference I have with Thom is that I can’t get myself to see enough evidence in the world to come to his conclusions. But that’s different than the logical cognitive dissonance that belief in objective morality along with a justification of genocide would lead me to.

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  160. Just want to say that I’m really enjoying this conversation. Howie’s last comment is especially good, and I’d like to second it. There are two other things from Brandon’s comment that I’d like to address as well:

    That doesn’t mean that God did not literally speak with some humans in the course of history, but rather this was extraordinary. From my worldview, these cultures must have rejected what God offered them, whatever that rejection looked like, and they adopted their worship around these stones. This became canonized in the culture and their children inherited their ancestor’s folly. They adopted further abhorrent practices like temple prostitution and child sacrifice which may have been major factors in God’s wrath on them.

    So if God speaking directly to people was a very rare occurrence, how could other cultures reject what God offered them? It would seem that he wasn’t offering them anything at all. It doesn’t make sense to be angry at idolaters if they’ve never been exposed to the real God. Paul addresses this a bit in Romans 2 when he says that the attributes of God are clearly seen in nature. In other words, he believed that our existence was evidence of God. But that’s a far cry from knowing what such a god would want. And it’s misguided to condemn people for serving “false” gods — after all, they were simply responding to the same evidence that Paul was pointing to. Since they couldn’t explain our existence, they began to believe that gods were responsible. Having no direct communication from any, they did the best they could in filling the gaps with mythology. Why would this be a sin? Instead, it seems to be an effort to find god.

    There must be a reason for this kind of historical arc, this moral progression. However, I also think the narrative of moral progress is illusory to some extent. If we take a modern human and insert them into an ancient environment, they would revert. Likewise, if we take an ancient and bring them here, I think they would assimilate just like any other human is capable. Whatever historical arc was created must have been intentional if an omnipotent being created it.

    I think my biggest question is why is the arc there at all? If God didn’t communicate with man very much early on, then any barbarism that came about is on his shoulders. That’s why I don’t think Christians can argue that the Old Law was harsh because God was “meeting them where they were.” They never had to be in that spot to begin with.

    I have to echo Howie a bit and wonder why you still hold to Christianity at all. To me, the overwhelming evidence points to this scenario: humanity developed through evolution; there was no deity standing by to guide us toward moral behavior; morality seems to have arisen through the same instincts we see in other social animals, which would explain why it was heavily influenced by “might makes right” for so long; the depiction of God in the Bible (especially OT) seems to fit this notion as well, since that god is so petty and tribal; sometimes bad things happen in life because there’s no supreme being up there holding all the strings.

    You understand all these criticisms — you often state them more eloquently than those of us who are non-believers. So I’m puzzled as to why you still hold to Christianity. I’ve gotten the impression a couple of times that you sort of view faith as believing in something even when the evidence is stacked against it. Is that a fair assessment?

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  161. Ruth,
    I agree with much of what you are contending with a few important exceptions. When you say, “The law could have stated that the woman was owed the benefits of a wife without having to actually be a wife.” The ancient’s were inventive and there were laws that could have been used. For example, if a married man died, it was his brother’s duty to take his wife and have children with her (Genesis 38:8, story of Onan). Also, each Israelite village had to store food as welfare for widows and orphans. So, it’s not as if there couldn’t have been some sort of marriage arranged or welfare for living needs. There must have been something else going on, which brings us to your thesis: “Why couldn’t [the rape victim] have still been considered pure enough to marry?” This could be the explanation. Let’s just run with this idea.

    We need to keep in mind that this was pre-Enlightenment and pre-scientific era. They might have thought that having intercourse with someone impure was like having intercourse with someone infected with HIV. That’s the best modern analogy I can think of. They might have actually believed something like this. Tamar was a princess (daughter of King David), so she had financial security. Why is it then that she cried out, “No. . . for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other you did to me.” (2 Samuel 13:16). Did she really believe that the only thing that could restore her purity was marrying Amnon? Maybe. If she really did believe this, then the law was good, it protected her interest.

    But, I see what you are saying. Why not change the cultural conditions which oddly enough makes this law protect women’s interest? Why not decree a law to change the culture from the inside? I mean this is a legitimate question that really touches on the “moral progress” idea that Nate and I are talking about. I’m going to try to think about this further in a response to Nate.

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  162. Dave,

    Since you don’t believe in an actual Hell, why would the creator deity allow certain passages to be placed in the bible that lead so many people to believe in an eternal place of torment?

    You are correct, this could be human input misrepresenting the deity. Part of me thinks that a better explanation is that humans are just not coming to the correct interpretation. There are just so many philosophical reasons and scriptures which support annihilationism like when Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in [Gehenna]”. So, I think the questionable meaning of hell is not as strong of a case for human misrepresentation of God as commands for genocide or questions like, does God condone slavery, and is God a misogynist? I wouldn’t say these questions are necessarily not problems of interpretation as is hell, but at least they seem to be greater problems for us.

    I guess you could blame humans once again via the retroactive fall of humanity theodicy, but that’s not really satisfying. Why punish someone who’s hardly begun to live? This seems like a major flaw in the design of the grand chess player. Either the deity is not concerned with being benevolent or is not all-powerful or has a mysterious reason to let some children suffer and die without giving them the chance to “be willing to align themselves with God’s purpose and avoid annihilation”. This is the problem I realized my appreciation theodicy also suffers from – if an infant dies it does not have the chance to experience this universe. Do these children have no souls? Or do they have souls, but are for some reason exempt from whatever the purpose of this life is? I don’t really see an acceptable solution to this.

    This is a good line of thinking. I agree that children dying is not punishment for their sins. Really, the retroactive fall theodicy says that not even all adults actually die because of their own sin directly. Occasionally we speed up the process by smoking or taking risks or whatever, but the fact that disease and death are part of the design is because of our collective sinning.

    The real problem you raise is that children die before they are able to align themselves with God’s purpose. They suffer and die before they can choose. This is something I want to challenge for the sake of our analysis. I realize this seems like an unlikely and surprising place to challenge, but let’s try it. I have memories of when I was a kid having to make a choice when my conscience was convicting me. . . You know, maybe it does not matter what level of cognitive function we have: our memory, training, knowledge, experience, conscience, health, and so on. . . God, being omniscient, knows exactly what aligning with his purpose looks like for each person, no matter where they are. Of course, there needs to be some adequate level of input for God to judge, so the important question is, at what time/age can there be adequate input for God? What if this level of input is attainable at the precise moment an infant becomes conscious to the experience of pain? In this way, no human can consciously experience pain without also being able to align with God in some way that is meaningful to God even if it’s not obvious to us as a grand moral choice.

    The more I think about it, the weirder the idea of moral culpability really is. For example, the “age of accountability” seems to be a pure construction. It is an age which we arbitrarily judge that most people are developed to make meaningful moral decisions. They can choose to give to charity or to steal. But, think about it. These are morally meaningful to us. What is God perceiving that we are not? Other things like this are legal ages of responsibility: 18 for tobacco, 21 for alcohol, 18 for military, 18 don’t need legal guardian, 35 to be POTUS, etc. Again, these are pure constructions, but based on the limits of who we want to operate freely in our societies. They are morally meaningful to us, but God is omniscient and whatever is meaningful to him may be radically different and more inclusive.

    This also helps with another problem. Apologist William Lane Craig has suggested that the Canaanite children all went to heaven. This has been received as extremely offensive and I can see why. By this logic, why don’t we kill all of our children so they’ll all go heaven? Wouldn’t that be good? They can go to heaven and we’ll sacrifice ourselves and go to hell. But, if children don’t just automatically warp to heaven, this kind of offensive suggestion cannot be made.

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  163. Hi Brandon,

    I know you’re still trying to catch up to everyone’s comments, so I hate to throw a response in so soon, but there was something I wanted to mention about your latest comment to Dave.

    I think your suggestion of God having a way to judge someone’s “alignment” (for lack of a better word), even when very young, is interesting. But I don’t completely agree that the ages we set on things are solely constructs. I think a certain amount of maturity is required for someone to make an informed decision.

    For instance, if I found a scrap of paper with a doodle on it, I’d likely throw it away. However, if I found out it was a doodle from Picaso, then it suddenly becomes a thing of great value. Or if I found out it was something one of my children had drawn for me, then it would hold even greater value (for me).

    In the same way, I think very young children can disobey their parents or break some other rule, but since they don’t understand the full consequences of it (including any potential spiritual consequences), it’s hard to hold them accountable to it. The Bible seems to support this in some passages — one of them being when God didn’t allow the Israelites over 20 to enter into the land of Canaan. He seems to have decided that those younger than that weren’t culpable.

    Anyway, just something I thought of while reading. Talk to you soon. 🙂

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  164. Nate,
    That was good criticism, let me revise and draw out something.

    I don’t completely agree that the ages we set on things are solely constructs. I think a certain amount of maturity is required for someone to make an informed decision.

    I think you are correct about this, I was going too far by calling them “pure constructions”. I work in the healthcare industry and there is the idea of informed consent and the idea of competency (being in the right mind). It’s a big issue for things like end-of-life decisions. So, I agree with you that these are based on reasonable judgments that we have to make as a society and not just made of thin air.

    The Bible seems to support this in some passages – one of them being when God didn’t allow the Israelites over 20 to enter into the land of Canaan. He seems to have decided that those younger than that weren’t culpable.

    When I started typing that thing up last night, I was wondering what kind of bible passages would interact with it. Definitely moral culpability seems to be part of reality. My dad told me a story once. When I was a child maybe 2 years old I had a toy fire truck. He was lying on a couch and I ran the fire truck off of a table next to the couch and it fell on his head! Apparently that hurt pretty bad! I have no memory of the actual event. Am I morally culpable? I don’t think so, because I can’t even form lasting memories about this to be part of my identity. For all I know, it’s just a story. So, moral culpability develops over time and this idea could be used to determine who is punished and not as in the case of the Israelites. But, this idea does not rule out something deeper like our lives being somehow aligning or not with God’s purposes. What I am questioning is whether this could be something that does not necessarily require a milestone in cognitive development. It could be individualized. Take for example someone that is mentally retarded. Because American Protestantism has driven into us that we need to accept a propositional statement as true, this means we need to understand it. What about the mentally retarded folks? What about those who cannot reach a level of understanding we deem appropriate? Like engaging in a bible class, then confessing in front of the congregation and being baptized and becoming a disciple. Are those who cannot do this how we want in our little scheme just robots doomed to rot in the soil and never resurrect? I don’t think so! I think based on their abilities, their particular level of cognitive development, they are able to align with God in a way that is meaningful to God even if we cannot perceive it.

    I suppose what makes an idea like this attractive is two things. First, if children and pre-human hominids became conscious of the experience of pain at the same time they were able to meaningfully align with God, then their actual experience of pain is, in that sense, no different than an adult Homo sapiens who lives consciously and with moral culpability and who develops cancer late in life and succumbs to this horrible disease. Second, it allows God to fairly judge the Canaanite children who were apparently just innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of herem. God could request their lives and judge their hearts fairly, otherwise they never consciously experienced pain thus were not harmed by anyone. Also, children’s rejection of God’s purpose to whatever extent they were able to, has contributed to the retroactive fall.

    I guess it’s getting complicated. *Sigh* I feel like talking about theodicy just sounds contrived no matter how one puts it. I wish it weren’t this way. . .

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  165. Dave,

    If I was a masterful programmer and created an army of robots that were free to make choices and it turned out that every single robot made choices that I deemed were bad – who’s fault would that be? If I knew they were going to do this and decided to insert errors into the programming as a punishment would this be an example of perfect justice?

    This is totally legitimate thinking out loud! Christopher Hitchens used to say something similar: “This God created us sick and commanded us to be well” and heavily criticize this scheme as immoral. Definitely many versions of Christianity are quick to emphasize what Paul calls our “sinful nature” that we have somehow inherited from our fall.

    Quick side bar, because I love little side bars, in the 2000’s there was a raging debate among evangelicals about the atonement. One camp was arguing for “penal substitution atonement” and their reasoning was ultimately that it generated an experience, i.e. guilt followed by appreciation, that they thought this was the authentic Christian experience. They argue that we need ideas to generate this experience and that it is what God wants. Side bar over.

    I seriously question this kind of interpretation of “sinful nature” just like you and Hitchens. Now, I will say this. I do think that our default state is to be selfish and think we are the center of the universe. We have to consciously transcend ourselves to love our neighbors. I really resonate with postmodern author, David Foster Wallace. If you have 20 minutes of free time, I highly recommend listening to his speech, This is Water, on YouTube. I think that underlying this “sinful nature” aka our egocentric hedonistic state, is something that is more free. We are free to allow ourselves to become robots and revert to this state. We are free to try and live consciously, to try to align ourselves with a higher purpose, that I ultimately think is God’s purpose.

    I think a perfectly good deity is entitled to make a world like this, so long as deep down we have some degree of freedom, even if it finds itself difficult to express because of our individual weaknesses.

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  166. Howie,
    I think your criticism is helpful and I’m not just saying this to flatter you. I think your comment draws out something that may not be well understood. When I first got into theodicies for these acts (i.e., theodicy meaning justification for God), I was highly resistant to them being labeled as genocide. I would argue till we were blue in the face that this was not really genocide. That was years ago, now I think that’s a battle that’s not worth fighting because it definitely looks like the modern conception of genocide and fits certain definitions of genocide. Now, I’ll say regardless of this label, I want to draw an important distinction from my worldview.

    This distinction would be that not all genocides are the same. In 1 Samuel 15:3, YHWH requests Saul to avenge the Amalekite culture just like YHWH had requested the Israelites to do the same to the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20:17. I am no Hebrew scholar, but to my understanding it’s the same root word here, herem, which is translated as “utterly destroy” or “annihilate” but it carries a deeper meaning. It means to devote something entirely to God. The Arabs in Darfur and the Nazis did not have a sanction from God that they were doing the right thing to devote something to God. They were involved in ethnic cleansing for human purposes like politics and evil ideologies, not asked to judge a culture for God’s purposes. Keep in mind that the Israelites and King Saul were resistant to take on God’s command here, and I’m not sure the young men pulling the trigger in Darfur or the cold Nazi who pulled the lever in the gas chamber were resistant. It seems to me they would have to really be on board with their ideology to kill these people. But, the Israelites and Saul resisted. Why would an author construct this aspect of the story? If anything, the author is writing in God’s favor, not the Israel tribe and not for tribalism. Also, keep in mind that Israel itself was judged. They were captured by Babylon. And, what about the first century holocaust? Jesus’ coming as the Son of Man was prophetic language for God’s judgment on Israel in 70 AD in which perhaps a million Jews died in Jerusalem and not in a pleasant way – starvation, crucifixion, war. No one seems to be spared by God’s judgment, whether it’s by one nation coming up against another nation by an act of genocide, or it is by the natural course of decay and death. A nice, quite death while sleeping is still ultimately a result of human sinning according to biblical thinking.

    What I am ultimately questioning in my challenge of secular views of the bible is the idea that God is not sovereign and cannot be justified to judge certain groups of people in this way. Israel is not spared, nor are you and I. Otherwise, would I just throw up my hands and say there is really not something wrong with the world that is worthy to be judged? If there is such a thing as punishment and justice, and a wholly good deity exists, then these kinds of actions, even destroying entire cultures, should not be surprising.

    But, I also understand the allure of chalking these problems up to human misrepresentation as Thom Stark does. This is how I wanted to solve the problem when I first started in the theodicy business. But, it seems to add on even more problems than it solves like I mentioned to Dave.

    Anyway, I hope I this at least gives you more of an insight into some of the distinctions that theists try to make. And, I hope it’s not just my hypoglycemia typing along here, cuz I have not had lunch yet.

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  167. Dave, here is the video I was referring to. I thought it’s worth posting because I think this is basically the idea of “sinful nature” but discovered by someone who was not a Christian:

    He also goes into other interesting areas in the speech.

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  168. @Brandon.
    One of the most ridiculous exercises is for someone like you to argue over the validity/justification of the character Yahweh and his actions in the Old T as if they really happened.
    The Pentateuch is fiction and thus to continue in a frame of mind that it has any basis in historical fact is utterly ridiculous.
    It is no better than arguing the pros and cons of Harry Potter and his sidekicks as if they were real people.

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  169. Nate,

    So if God speaking directly to people was a very rare occurrence, how could other cultures reject what God offered them? It would seem that he wasn’t offering them anything at all. It doesn’t make sense to be angry at idolaters if they’ve never been exposed to the real God. Paul addresses this a bit in Romans 2 when he says that the attributes of God are clearly seen in nature. In other words, he believed that our existence was evidence of God. But that’s a far cry from knowing what such a god would want. And it’s misguided to condemn people for serving “false” gods — after all, they were simply responding to the same evidence that Paul was pointing to. Since they couldn’t explain our existence, they began to believe that gods were responsible. Having no direct communication from any, they did the best they could in filling the gaps with mythology. Why would this be a sin? Instead, it seems to be an effort to find god.

    These are great points that really constrain what I mean by “these cultures must have rejected what God offered them”. There really needs to be something that is universal, part of the human condition. One of these I think is the conscience. I’m not at all opposed to the conscience being a natural product of evolution. Regardless of its source, humans still do things that are unconscionable through desensitizing themselves and giving into selfish passions. Another thing that seems to be universal is our religious impulse which I think you recognize to some extent by saying that the ancients created myths and wanted to find gods. I don’t think creating mythologies is really a bad thing. There seems to be some deep truths to many mythologies. But, what if one created something that was evil or had an evil message? What about creating a stone figure and saying that if you worship this it will bless you? That to me seems to be a perverted expression of the religious impulse. I think the biblical analogy of marriage is particularly useful here. Sex is not inherently evil, but sex in certain contexts is evil such as infidelity.

    So, I could say this simply by saying that God gives humanity some universals to go on, but instead we nearly universally disregard them and pervert our cultures. Idolatry becomes canonized in cultures and children must be systematically desensitized and indoctrinated, brainwashed if you will, to believe the lies and worship something that was created by human hands. This even happens today. The new child sacrifice is spending too much time at work for the sake of money or prestige at the expense of spending time with one’s own children.

    I like that you referenced Romans here, because I think Paul’s idea resonates with what I am saying. Paul starts in Romans 1:18 by saying that there is something about nature that cultures ought to recognize there is something powerful and divine out there that cares about our behavior, yet the Gentiles disregarded this idea, and as punishment God gave them up to idolatry and their degrade passions. Then, in chapter 2 Paul starts addressing the Jews saying that they will not escape God’s judgment even though they have been entrusted with the truth. One of my favorite parts that seems to be overlooked is this:
    “[The Gentiles] show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.” (Romans 2:15-16)
    This is amazing because Paul affirms that God has extended something universal that is not necessarily in the form of a propositional truth, rather something within our minds as humans. Our conscience, our desires, our secret thoughts, our choices. We as humans are all able to align ourselves with God’s purpose even if we don’t know that we are doing it or if it can be expressed in propositional truths about specific historical events.

    The thing with the Canaanites is that their culture seems to have crossed a line. Humans are free to make their cultures, just as individuals are free to create their lives and meanings. Once they cross a certain line and anger God, they are judged. The writer of Deuteronomy says:
    “When the LORD your God thrusts [the Canaanites] out before you, do you not say to yourself, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to occupy this land’; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4)
    At some point evil becomes so prevalent and it spreads from parents to children, that God will judge the entire culture. And, no one seems to be spared as if they were special somehow, not even Israel itself.

    I think my biggest question is why is the arc there at all? If God didn’t communicate with man very much early on, then any barbarism that came about is on his shoulders. That’s why I don’t think Christians can argue that the Old Law was harsh because God was “meeting them where they were.” They never had to be in that spot to begin with.

    Well, let me push back on this idea of a moral progression. Steve Pinker has a book about the decline of violence, but it’s amazing that the twentieth century has been the bloodiest ever. Millions upon millions slaughtered in our times. Have we progressed morally? We have the abolition of slavery, yet sex trafficking is running rampant. Modern slavery is predatory loans and society taking advantage of people to the point of making them indentured servants. Think of higher education. I still have a huge outstanding debt owed to a big bank from my medical school loans. Even if I didn’t want to be a doctor, there is absolutely no way for me to pay off my debt any other way. I am an indentured servant to society. No, not a chattel slave, but this was prohibited by the Mosaic Law. This was what we abolished, but let’s not pretend that our societies don’t have huge problems. We simply trade problem for problem or give the illusion that a problem is solved when really it’s just whitewashed and shifted into some other domain. Humans are still humans, inventing ways to do evil, and there is no such thing as moral progress. David Foster Wallace talks about modern society as being totally disconnected and we live in our own personal prisons of hedonism because we have lost what the ancient societies got better than us. Our economies depend on this incessant desire staying alive, but it comes at the cost of us wanting more and more and it ends up bringing a deep sense of emptiness and loneliness that causes us to want to escape through mind-numbing entertainment and drugs. There is no such thing as moral progress. It’s just a fantasy that we like to think is true because it’s pleasant.

    I’m commuting 60 miles total a day so that I can live with my wife, but I feel horribly guilty for burning up that much fossil fuel. I had to make a judgment: risk my marriage or contribute to the rising CO2 levels. Why am I stuck here in this morally progressed society having to make a choice about my wife or the future or human civilization? That to me is beyond messed up, but thank you so much morally progressed society that blesses me with a thankless 80 hour work week and lets me buy some cool new shoes or binge on Netflix. Thank you morally progressed society. (Diatribe over)

    I know that’s kind of a weird response, but I hope it begins to challenge the notion of moral progress.

    You understand all these criticisms – you often state them more eloquently than those of us who are non-believers. So I’m puzzled as to why you still hold to Christianity. I’ve gotten the impression a couple of times that you sort of view faith as believing in something even when the evidence is stacked against it. Is that a fair assessment?

    The weirdest part of the whole situation is that I think I recognize how weird the situation is. I don’t think faith is believing in something that has evidence stacked against it. The more I look into it, I don’t think my reconversion started with arguments for the truth of anything. It started with thinking to myself, “You know. . . maybe I’m missing something. . . maybe this thing can be good and I’m just misunderstanding where it can.” It started when I got into criticisms of modern evangelicalism and I could hear the voices from within saying something appealing. Then, there was this thinking. Here we are on this orb of dirt hoping there is some kind of meaning to life and death. What if this guy, Jesus really did resurrect? Is that any less probable than the fact that I exist here? At some point it hit me hard and I just believed. I’ve systematically tried to determine where my faith comes from. Do I believe because of an argument? I’ve determined that it can’t be because I can refute all of them. Arguments are necessary, but they are like snakes eating field mice. When the field mice population all dies out, the snakes die of starvation leaving a heap of snake skeletons. That’s the problem with arguments, they are necessary, but in the end they are dead. I think I had to make a decision to trust that the light on the inside comes from God and is not reality playing a trick on me. Those things are what I think make up faith.
    -B

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  170. Brandon, oh my. I became depressed after reading your post. It does seem apparent to me that you see the world as a glass half empty, or perhaps even empty. Did you count the cost before you went to med school? Perhaps if you had lived in a Nordic or Scandinavian country where their society looks after each other rather than depending on ancient superstitions, you might be faring better, no?

    If infidelity happens in a relationship, I don’t label it as evil. When I was a Christian, I did. I’m not justifying people giving in to certain impulses, but when I sought to understand these evolutionary impulses humans can have, such as what is known as the Coolidge Effect, I gained a better understanding as to what may be one of the main causes that drive people to commit adultery.. Just imagine if Jesus had actually taught biology and sex education rather than guilt men and state they had already committed adultery if they so much as looked upon a woman with lust in his heart.

    Sex trafficking has been around since biblical days because the bible devalued females. In Numbers 31, for example, Yahweh though nothing about commanding his faithful servants, such as Moses, to kill all the men, women who were not virgins, and boys, but keep the girls for themselves. Not to mention, stealing their property. Girls were unclean for much longer than boys. You think that doesn’t affect the psyche of a society?

    Pinker’s analysis was sound, but I think that the more we shed our archaic traditions that was intended for another age, the better off we will be as a species. In other words, the more secular we become and the less religious, the more likely we will depend on each other rather than outdated belief systems that tend to be tribal and controlling.

    “According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire). The correlation holds internationally, as well.

    For the first time in recorded history, women are finally being treated as human beings, not chattel.

    Children now have greater access to education at younger ages. We have gained a better understanding of how to prevent attachment disorders which can lead to antisocial behavior. Many countries are now paying for women and men to take time off work to bond with their children, without the fear of losing their jobs. You see this in your more secular countries, i.e., Nordic and Scandinavia. These countries tend to be the most peaceful.

    Brandon, there is a lot of good happening in this world. Take for instance

    1) Fewer people are dying young and more are living longer. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of children who died before their fifth birthday dropped by almost half. Measles deaths declined by 71 percent, and both tuberculosis and maternal deaths by half again. HIV, that modern plague, is also being held back, with deaths from AIDS-related illnesses down by 24 percent since 2005.

    2) Fewer people suffer from extreme poverty, and while you might not see it in your most religious countries, more people report they are happier. fewer people in abject penury than at any other point in human history, and middle class people enjoy their highest standard of living ever. 721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981.

    3)War is becoming rarer and less deadly.

    4) Rates of murder and other violent crimes are in free-fall.

    5) There’s less racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the world. Over the centuries, humanity has made extraordinary progress in taming its hate for and ill-treatment of other humans on the basis of difference alone. Indeed, it is very likely that we live in the least discriminatory era in the history of modern civilization. It’s not a huge prize given how bad the past had been, but there are still gains worth celebrating.

    6) Equality is expanding

    Yes, we have problems because many cultures still promote the same hierarchical, tribal, xenophobic environments (as seen in biblical times) that affect neurotransmitters, which affect the brain and behavior, thus profoundly affecting society. We know that when people are in power for too long, they have less empathy and less compassion for the poor. So we definitely need to implement preventative measures.

    I suggest you read the paper by Robert Sapolsky, “Peace Among Primates”. As I said before, if baboons can do it — so can we. Though not perfect, we have human models and significant evidence that we are living in a better time than ever in recorded history. But if people are conditioned to see humans as innately evil and depraved, in need of redemption, then how do you expect humanity to be prosocial if that’s how they view their fellow citizens?

    Garbage in, garbage out. I challenge you to see the glass half full. 😉

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  171. Neuro, you truly have it backwards.. I’ll just ask you this..

    If it’s atheists and non religious governments who “truly” care about others how do
    you explain the fact that conservatives (Christians mostly) give more than liberals to help the needy? Christians look after one another here.. the charities that help the needy in this country are overwhelmingly Christian. But you neglected to mention that.

    Those Nordic countries might appear to have the “answer” but their policies will fail in the end.. the govt. cannot run or sustain an economy and be the caretakers of society. It has never worked in the past and there’s no reason to believe that it’ll suddenly work now. Taxation is always the “answer” to the solve the problems in that type of govt. and there’s a limit to that.. and it’s at that point that it fails to work.. leaving EVERYONE, except the rich liberal elite of course, much much worse off than anything a free market has ever seen.

    ” Just imagine if Jesus had actually taught biology and sex education rather than guilt men and state they had already committed adultery if they so much as looked upon a woman with lust in his heart. ”

    Teaching biology and sex ed is better than the lessons that Jesus taught? Following His teachings would leave you not even needing those other things.

    And you took the lust lesson out of context.. it’s about addressing what is in our hearts.. which again, is far more superior than the superficial “wisdom” that says anything is ok as long as you’re “protected”. Society is NOT getting better with this kind of liberal mindset taking over.

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  172. “Children now have greater access to education at younger ages.”

    As if Christians are against education.. what exactly do you base this on??

    “Many countries are now paying for women and men to take time off work to bond with their children, without the fear of losing their jobs. You see this in your more secular countries, i.e., Nordic and Scandinavia.”

    You see this in private companies right here in this country! Another incorrect biased assumption that only govt. can take care of society.. it’s actually truly scary.. please read up on some actual, UNREVISED history.

    “These countries tend to be the most peaceful.”

    Based on what?

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  173. ““According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire). The correlation holds internationally, as well.”

    And this always makes me shake my head.. the “God loving” states are also the southern states, where it’s much cheaper to live. Those northern states have high costs of living.

    And why are the southern states “God loving” states? Because those with humility tend to be believers. Those who are wealthy tend to “believe” in their money.

    Also, here’s the thing I’ve noticed with liberals.. they are the ones who are so obsessed with money/ material things. That seems to be the basis for their happiness.. their “quality of life” seems to be based on the size of the house and the make of the car. And they just can’t imagine anyone being happy without those things. You won’t find happier people than Christians.. particularly “poor” Christians.. people who understand what true happiness is about. Those poor have all their needs met.. they don’t “need” a big house or fancy car.. and they are truly happy. And those Christians who do have those things don’t pity those who don’t have those luxuries. Christians don’t feel sorry for people who are in a “lower class”. We understand that that’s not what it’s all about.

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  174. Brandon, looks like you’ve caught up on your replies today – and your beard looks fuller 🙂 Lots of good discussions here today and lots to think about.

    I guess I’ll start by backing up my comparison between hell and other difficult passages. You wrote:

    You are correct, this could be human input misrepresenting the deity. Part of me thinks that a better explanation is that humans are just not coming to the correct interpretation. There are just so many philosophical reasons and scriptures which support annihilationism like when Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in [Gehenna]”.

    Surely you are also aware of the passages that speak of eternal torment. The majority of Christians believe in hell over annihilationism. So one has to ask why these passages would be allowed in – I mean wouldn’t your deity be aware that it was all going to get misinterpreted? Torturing someone infinitely for finite crimes is repulsive and seemingly unjust – wouldn’t your deity be concerned about repulsing people away from the bible and appearing unjust?

    Now I would like to try and understand this position you’ve taken on infants being able to align themselves with the creator deity at the time they are able to first feel pain. Right now the idea seems a bit crazy to me, but maybe that’s because I’m not really sure what you’ve meant by the statement “aligning with God’s purpose”. How can a baby whether in the womb or out have any kind of thoughts about a deity? If it feels pain (like when trying to squeeze out of an almost too small passage) won’t the only response (ouch!) be the one that it has been designed or evolved to have? The baby usually comes out crying (unless it can’t breath due to a wrapped cord) because that is it’s natural response. I can’t imagine that it would be able to think “holy crap this hurts I must be in a godless universe” or “holy crap this hurts but whoever invented this situation has the right to do so”.

    Here’s what I think the bigger issue is: Lack of clear purpose to this life in a universe made by a creator. Any one of us could have been a stillborn or a miscarriage. According to your theory we could have been judged then. I’m assuming you think that the judgment at that stage would be the same as the judgment at any stage. So, under this worldview, what’s the point of living out all of these lives?

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  175. @ Kathy

    “Those Nordic countries might appear to have the “answer” but their policies will fail in the end.. the govt. cannot run or sustain an economy and be the caretakers of society. It has never worked in the past and there’s no reason to believe that it’ll suddenly work now. Taxation is always the “answer” to the solve the problems in that type of govt. and there’s a limit to that.. and it’s at that point that it fails to work.. leaving EVERYONE, except the rich liberal elite of course, much much worse off than anything a free market has ever seen.”

    Wow, didn’t know you’re an economic and social policy expert now.

    I would listen to you because of your great education from which college? or bible college?

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  176. Hey Arkenaten,

    You’ve said this several times before, “The Pentateuch is fiction and thus to continue in a frame of mind that it has any basis in historical fact is utterly ridiculous.” And I always mean to ask you, do you have any links to support this?
    Everything I’ve heard about the first five books is always lead off with the “Probably.” Do you have something more concrete?

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  177. @kathy

    Not all opinions are the same Kathy, and if I found you honestly trying to “find truth” or be objective I would have already done so.

    Haven’t you realized? The number of people actually engaging you is actually dwindling down. Feel free to think that you have out debated us while the most of us simply regard talking to you as playing chess with a pigeon – it simply push all the pieces away and walk on the board as though it won.

    So what is left perhaps would just be childish insults lol – and tbh just like arch said – it’s rather mindless fun jab.

    Case in point – I’m gonna find it a bit difficult to discuss the finer points of macro economics with someone who never even graduate from high sch (if st paulie is to be believed) – boom

    This is not meant as an insult to those who never had formal education though – I have many good friends who don’t, and we discuss politics, religion and philosophy. However, none of them exhibit the same snobbishness and cocksureness when talking unlike you. Humility babe, will serve you well.

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  178. Hi Victoria, just catching up 🙂

    The “painted” bright red colors are believed to serve as a warning to potential predators like you. 😉

    The question though, is why do they have warning signs at all? 😉

    Welcome back, and I wish you the best on your new journey.

    Thanks! hope your week is off to a good start

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  179. Hey Ryan, I hope things are faring well for you. Still liking the new place?

    The question though, is why do they have warning signs at all? 😉

    Evolution? Females have brightly colored markings. Perhaps it serves more than one purpose — to also attract a mate, much like certain species of male birds sporting brightly colored feathers to attract their mates.

    I do understand the point you are trying to make, though. God sure is a busy guy, focused on important things like painting spiders backs. No wonder he’s always MIA. 😀

    Good to see you again. Stay cool.

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  180. Here’s what I think the bigger issue is: Lack of clear purpose to this life in a universe made by a creator. Any one of us could have been a stillborn or a miscarriage. According to your theory we could have been judged then. I’m assuming you think that the judgment at that stage would be the same as the judgment at any stage. So, under this worldview, what’s the point of living out all of these lives?

    After reading this paragraph I wrote last night I think I need to explain myself better. First, we need to look at both of these options: This version of a deity we’ve been discussing could either judge us the same way at any point in our lives, or it could judge us differently based on our current “alignment”. If the judgment would always be the same, then the question I asked becomes valid: What is the purpose of living out all of these lives? Our fate would be the same whether we die at 90 years or only 9 minutes. On the flip side, we would be judged based on our current alignment to the deity and I’m wondering, Brandon, if you think this scenario would be unfair? Our fate would be determined based on the timing of our death (which we are usually not in control of). Brandon, what if you had died in a car accident during your time as an atheist? Would you have been annihilated?

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  181. kathy,

    if the humble southern. god fearing states don’t care as much about money, then why are they the primary ones who complain about giving money to others while the richer, more prideful states are primarily the ones who argue for giving people money, like welfare for example?

    Did you see where someone finally answered your question about which religion had the most credentials? Zoroasterism. Did you respond to it?

    and really, religious and non-religious can both be loving, giving, humble people just like they can both be the opposite as well. I have yet to see one specific group who out “goods” another.

    – the bible tells you to trust in god and not man.

    – the bible was written by men who said god told them to write something

    – according to the bible, you shouldn’t trust the bible since it came from man.

    I still do not understand how you argue so much for a religion that is based solely on the claims of men.

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  182. kathy/brandon/believers,

    do you think that terms like “justice,” “mercy,” “love,” “fairness,” etc are terms that are easily understood, or do you think these terms are vague and difficult to define and understand?

    I ask, because we see the bible use these terms to define god, but when we are told that god commanded genocide, that he killed david’s baby for david’s sin, that he would appear to some but then hide from many others, believers often then seem to suggest that we may not fully understand those terms.

    and the next question is, how do you know whether you actually understand something in the bible or not? what’s literal vs figurative? what’s allegory and what’s literal truth? what was added or amended and what did god actually want to be preserved? what are the big points and what are the little ones, and so on?

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  183. The weirdest part of the whole situation is that I think I recognize how weird the situation is. I don’t think faith is believing in something that has evidence stacked against it. The more I look into it, I don’t think my reconversion started with arguments for the truth of anything. It started with thinking to myself, “You know. . . maybe I’m missing something. . . maybe this thing can be good and I’m just misunderstanding where it can.” It started when I got into criticisms of modern evangelicalism and I could hear the voices from within saying something appealing. Then, there was this thinking. Here we are on this orb of dirt hoping there is some kind of meaning to life and death. What if this guy, Jesus really did resurrect? Is that any less probable than the fact that I exist here? At some point it hit me hard and I just believed. I’ve systematically tried to determine where my faith comes from. Do I believe because of an argument? I’ve determined that it can’t be because I can refute all of them. Arguments are necessary, but they are like snakes eating field mice. When the field mice population all dies out, the snakes die of starvation leaving a heap of snake skeletons. That’s the problem with arguments, they are necessary, but in the end they are dead. I think I had to make a decision to trust that the light on the inside comes from God and is not reality playing a trick on me. Those things are what I think make up faith.

    Brandon, this paragraph you wrote really helps me see where you’re coming from. I’m going to refrain from pointing out the things I disagree with. I can respect your decision to rely on other methods rather than just reasoning/arguments. Do you feel that faith is equivalent with hope? or is it more of a trust in your gut instincts? For me, using either of these methods, if I try to imagine that a deity exists and created our universe – I find myself hoping it is a better one than the one described in the bible.

    We’ve been discussing the genocide commands for a while, maybe we could move to something I find even more troubling. Brandon – what are your thoughts on the passages where Yahweh punishes someone other than the one who committed the crime being punished for? These include: David’s baby being killed for David’s sin, Egyptian firstborns being killed for their pharaoh’s stubbornness and 70,000 men being killed for David taking a census. Doesn’t this look more like the way humans would think rather than a perfect divine judge?

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  184. “What if this guy, Jesus really did resurrect? Is that any less probable than the fact that I exist here?”

    yes, it is very much, less probable.

    look around you. We can see many people in existence. out of all those people in existence, how many have you witnessed resurrect?

    how many virgins have you seen give birth?

    so, as it turns out, the probability of existence and the probability of resurrection are not at all the same or comparable.

    we may as well ask, “since it is a fact that i exist, why couldn’t it be a fact that i am god?” just making comparisons or strange ratios does not make them valid.

    if one were to believe in Christianity because they find it appealing and comforting, then cool; but it’s no more cool than anyone believing in their other religion for same reasons.

    “could be,” and “what if” can be asked forever about anything. It could be that the bible is just a bunch of garbage horded by men. What if the god of the bible is just as imaginary as zeus seeing as how the invisible and the imaginary really do look very similar?

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  185. “and really, religious and non-religious can both be loving, giving, humble people just like they can both be the opposite as well. I have yet to see one specific group who out “goods” another.”

    Perhaps this is true. I know of a lot of caring Christians, but they usually always give the credit to their god. Any good they do is because of god. Any bad they do is became of them. So when they see other people doing good they don’t see the good in humanity, and that is why I take issue with fundamentalism.

    I can speak for myself that when I left Christianity, I became a better person. I no longer saw humanity as evil or depraved. As the gentleman in this video states around the 3 minute marker, I believe in humanity and human rights.

    If you haven’t see the video yet, this is an excerpt from the documentary series “The Norden”. American pastor Marty McLain, an evangelical from Georgia, visits the secular Nordic countries. I really love the part where he’s interviewing the clergy, and I think that they have a very positive take on their faith. Love and Unity. The evangelical pastor appears to be stunned that they would be inclusive and embrace diversity without judgement. If you’re interested in the full documentary, it’s listed in the “more” section below the except video on YT.

    I doubt religion or belief in god will ever be eradicated, but I hope it becomes less toxic (globally) and promotes love and unity, as seen in peaceful Nordic countries.

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  186. “what are your thoughts on the passages where Yahweh punishes someone other than the one who committed the crime being punished for? These include: David’s baby being killed for David’s sin, Egyptian firstborns being killed for their pharaoh’s stubbornness and 70,000 men being killed for David taking a census. Doesn’t this look more like the way humans would think rather than a perfect divine judge?” – dave

    yes, and if we were to read about a person doing these things, would we think to ourselves, “now that was a wise and merciful and just individual?”

    I think we’d view such a person with disgust and contempt. Look at ISIS – they’re basically doing what Israel was commanded to do, yet no one thinks they’re okay or should be left alone. we view them with horror and define them with words like “evil,” “crazy” and “reprehensible.”

    really, if we just take a step back and really look at it all….

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  187. Neuro, i see your point. I think most believers pick and choose much of what they follow and also how the understand the bible. true devotees I think constantly try to seek out a better understanding, at least I did.

    I began to alter my interpretations of the bible based on my understanding – I know this sounds confusing, but i would have certain things that became benchmarks and absolutes in my mind, like Love, the greatest commandment, for example.

    To truly love as god would want, one would eventually have to love sincerely and do right because god wanted it, but also because it was right and because you loved.

    while i do think there are those christians that are the way you describe, I think there are also those christians who genuinely love and help others, even if that christian does not agree with the other person’s lifestyle.

    and to be fair, surely there are non-religious jerks, who can be selfish and cruel, in the world too.

    people are people afterall.

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  188. “I think there are also those christians who genuinely love and help others, even if that christian does not agree with the other person’s lifestyle.”

    Yes, of course, that goes without saying, really. Same with there also being jerks. people are people who’ve had difference life experiences that wired their brain and affect their gene expression, and so on. My point was that they generally don’t (are taught) to not take credit for their nurture their altruistic behavior..

    I considered myself a good person when I was a believer, but I am a better person without all the baggage that comes with an all-knowing, vengeful, jealous god who created a hell, having full awareness from the very beginning that most humans, throughout the history of humankind, would end up there. I cannot, in good conscience, worship such a deity.

    You brought up a great point about ISIS and acts committed at the command of Yahweh. Jesus wanted us to bow down and worship this god (his father) who’s behavior was that of madmen.

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  189. William, I should note that when I said that I believed I was a good person, I probably should have used the term “prosocial”. I think that after leaving Christianity, I found a sound balance between selfishness and selflessness.

    “Prosocial behavior, or “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another” is a social behavior that “benefit[s] other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering. These actions may be motivated by empathy and by concern about the welfare and rights of others, as well as for egoistic or practical concerns. Evidence suggests that prosociality is central to the well-being of social groups across a range of scales. Empathy is a strong motive in eliciting prosocial behavior, and has deep evolutionary roots.

    Prosocial behavior fosters positive traits that are beneficial for children and society. It may be motivated both by altruism and by self-interest, for reasons of immediate benefit or future reciprocity. Evolutionary psychologists use theories such as kin-selection theory and inclusive fitness as an explanation for why prosocial behavioral tendencies are passed down generationally, according to the evolutionary fitness displayed by those who engaged in prosocial acts. “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosocial_behavior

    One of the main problems I see with fundamental Christianity and the RCC theology (and other authoritarian religions) is that they pick and chose who has human rights and who doesn’t, and what sin is and isn’t based on their interpretation of archaic books.

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  190. Victoria,

    I became depressed after reading your post. It does seem apparent to me that you see the world as a glass half empty, or perhaps even empty. Did you count the cost before you went to med school? Perhaps if you had lived in a Nordic or Scandinavian country where their society looks after each other rather than depending on ancient superstitions, you might be faring better no?

    Some European countries do indeed have better social justice than the US and they also happen to be more post-Christian than the US, but proving causation (the more post-Christian, the more socially progressive without bankrupting the country) is actual quite difficult.

    If infidelity happens in a relationship, I don’t label it as evil. . .

    I see you are on board with the new sexual revolution, but why try to justify this by nature?

    . . . the bible devalued females.

    Feminist theologians would disagree.

    Pinker’s analysis was sound, but I think that the more we shed our archaic traditions that was intended for another age, the better off we will be as a species. In other words, the more secular we become and the less religious, the more likely we will depend on each other rather than outdated belief systems that tend to be tribal and controlling.

    Pinker’s analysis was sound, but it was limited. The sentence you quoted does not support your thesis. It could be that poor oppressed people find comfort in religion, as in the Deprivation Theory of religious conversion, rather than secularization leading to prosperity.
    __________________________________

    Women no longer treated as “chattel”? I agree in so far as women suffrage has been great progress, and the dissolution of gender roles is good.

    People live longer? New problem: cancer and dementia rates are increasing, end of life care is draining our economy and creating difficult ethical problems in our ICUs. A few long ICU stays could build a new hospital in Africa.

    Fewer people suffer from extreme poverty? We can thank technology and the economic machine (Smith’s invisible hand) and not moral progress. Any society that produces more raises the standard of living of its constituents. And, why are the Western nations not helping the starving nations? Why did I meet starving children in Haiti? I’m sure they are all over the place while we drive our gas guzzlers, go to the movies, and drown ourselves in mindless entertainment to forget about the problems of the world. Even your beloved European nations don’t seem to be helping. In fact, historically Europe is to blame for Haiti’s situation for abusing them for so long. Now, the US sends more foreign aid to Haiti than Haiti’s own GDP, but the standard of living is very low.

    War is becoming rarer and less deadly? Are you diminishing the oceans of blood from the last century? What about ISIS and the Ukraine-Russia conflict? Boko Haram? Chemical attacks in Syria. These are just the ones that are currently happening.

    Suicide bombers, school shootings, online bullying, social isolation, the American dream that is made unreachable for the sake of the economic engine, Robin Williams hung himself, hackers stealing nude photos, NSA surveillance, TSA patting you down at the airport, 911, overworking, jealousy, keeping up with the Jones’, football and boxing and MMA causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) but the players get paid so much that they are willing to keep going for short term gain knowing they will have a short life those slaves to money and prestige, obsession with sports and stupid inane entertainment just to escape the suffering of this reality, denial, just cold denial, carbon dioxide being released at epic proportions and no nation will relent because their economy is dependent this, drugs, drug cartels, immigration problems, child abuse, elder abuse, lack of respect for elders, hate of government, and that little feeling of powerlessness that creates nearly universal apathy to engage in politics or almost anything until the millennial generation tweets and games their way out of their parent’s basement to inherit the wealth of the boomers and spend it on more mindless entertainment while African orphans suffer from hunger because their parents died of AIDS and Ebola. But, it’s OK so long as the there is brain-sucking, soul-sucking dopamine-inducing entertainment pleasure and masturbation and a little more of me me me me me, egocentricism, family-centrism, and nationalism, either this or the dopamine infusion that comes from feeling just that much more superior because one is progressive, feminist, pro-choice, fiscally liberal, listening to vinyl with thick-rimmed glasses drinking espresso. . . oh the superiority please give it to me because me. Me. Me. Me. “Me”. And, Me.

    What about the cold, frightening meaninglessness of our existence and our imprisonment in our minds as we stare at these brightly lit screens slowly imprinting on our retinas arguing relentlessly because we both don’t know. Isn’t it a little disappointing, can’t you feel it in drop in your stomach and heart, that we sit here and argue about things that are lost to us. Like two ants arguing about what on top of a tree while we chew on some borate crystals. At least it was eco-friendly as if that will matter in 500 million years.

    And, we’ll never get off this rock because space travel is far too dangerous. That’s what Hollywood is not telling us. We are destined to come to end as a species because the sun’s evolution will finally put earth on death row and walk it down the green mile with our heads held down because we love life and our demise is at hand. Yours, mine, his, hers, its, whatever, we are all on a one way trip to disintegrate into nothing. So, why do anything at all? Please tell me. Why do absolutely anything at all? To get a little burst of dopamine from winning an argument or feeling superior? I’ll tell you what that dopamine burst is worth. Zilch, it’s worth writing a note on paper, wadding it up, and tossing it into a black hole.

    But wait. The world is still dark. But, there is hope.

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  191. I was going to comment, but I’ve slit my wrists…

    Okay, bad attempt at a joke — sorry.

    I see what you’re saying, Brandon, but I truly don’t think things are that bad. And I’m the atheist! 🙂

    Yes, there are problems in the world. Some very big, terrible problems. But the world has always been full of those. There have always been people who are willing to cheat, steal, murder, rape, etc. And there have always been meaningless ways to spend one’s time. I really think it’s hard to argue that there’s no moral progress.

    Yes, the 20th century saw some horrible things: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, nuclear fall-out. But it also saw some really great things: women’s rights, civil rights, the New Deal, Johnson’s Great Society, incredible medical breakthroughs, the end of the Cold War, etc. I think the mass deaths we witnessed speaks more to our technological advancements than it does our morality. Since before the Enlightenment, it seems we’ve been on am ever-increasing slope of moral progress. More and more, we come to see that even those who are very different from us are owed the same freedoms and opportunities. The world is not perfect, and it takes a lot of work to improve things. But I think it’s pretty clear that we’re slowly doing that improvement.

    Again, it’s true that you can find many terrible things that are still going on today. But when has that not been the case? And groups like ISIS and Boko Haram stand out because the rest of us have moved on from such petty, brutal, tribal, ethno-centric thinking. But if you could send them back in time 1500 years, they really wouldn’t stand out. Ebola stands out… but it’s nothing compared to the Black Plague.

    Things aren’t perfect, but they’re slowly getting better.

    As far as meaning is concerned, why should I worry about any kind of “ultimate” meaning? The only point of view I can experience is my own. As long as my life is meaningful to me and those I care about, why should I get all worked up over questions of eternity?

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  192. Back to our earlier conversation:

    I don’t think creating mythologies is really a bad thing. There seems to be some deep truths to many mythologies. But, what if one created something that was evil or had an evil message? What about creating a stone figure and saying that if you worship this it will bless you? That to me seems to be a perverted expression of the religious impulse.

    I want to come back to the evil message idea — first, I’d like to talk about the stone figure. Why would it be evil to worship a stone figure? Does that hurt anyone?

    I actually think the writers of the Bible show a misunderstanding of idolatry anyway. Maybe I’m wrong in this, but I find it hard to believe that any idolaters actually believed the stone idol was a real god. I think they viewed it as a symbol, just as many churches today have stained glass windows depicting Jesus or certain scenes from the Bible. Or just like the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro. Those things are representations of a deity or a belief — no one thinks they’re the actual god.

    And if that’s all idols were — a symbol for god(s) — why should God be upset with that? What’s evil about it? Once again, I think it’s a sign of their yearning for answers.

    As for evil, you mentioned elsewhere that our conscience may be the standard that God gave us for evil. You may be right — I’ve wondered this myself, especially when I was leaning more toward deism.

    So if our conscience is the moral foundation God has given us, why did we ever need anything else? Why give the Jews a separate law that was so hard to follow? And with this understanding, what are we to make of the OT stories we’ve been talking about (genocide, etc). If they feel wrong and violate our conscience, what does that mean? Do we listen to our conscience and violate the law, or follow the law and violate our conscience? If it was okay for the Jews to follow the law at the expense of their conscience, why would the same not be true of pagans? Why should any “evil” in their religious practices have given them pause?

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  193. Dave,

    . . . wouldn’t your deity be concerned about repulsing people away from the bible and appearing unjust [about hell]?

    I think the problem of hell was one of the launching points in my days of atheism/agnosticism. But, a serious study shows that annihilationism is at least equally interpretable. I would go further though. Perhaps the only real “eternal torment” passage comes out of the end of Revelation, a book filled to the brim with figurative language. From this we can gather that if anything, the deity wants people to take scripture more serious and popular beliefs less seriously. Just like the deity would not want us to judge a black man with dreadlocks before seriously getting to know him.

    . . . I’m not really sure what you’ve meant by the statement “aligning with God’s purpose”.

    Yes, it’s a good time to attempt to fill out the meaning of “align with God’s purpose” which as it stands is about as vague as me telling you, “Go there”. Let me start by getting us to think about the concept of specificity. Think of something with little specificity. Like going to a grocery store after work to buy something. Now something more specific. Like going to the Walmart on avenue M and 46th street at 6:30PM after working to pick up a frozen pizza and root beer for dinner tonight. I think the first characteristic of God’s purpose is that it is highly specific to our individual situations. There are things which God wants you to do and things he wants you to overcome. Your life is not mine, your weakness may not be mine. Second, I think it’s dynamic, that is specific to time and place.

    God can’t expect a severely autistic person to run for the presidency. We all have unique challenges that God wants us to overcome for the sake of the world. I mean “align with God’s purpose” really boils down to loving, seeking forgiveness, living in harmony, selflessness, wisdom, effort, humility, and so on but as they apply to our specific situations.

    Here’s what I think the bigger issue is: Lack of clear purpose to this life in a universe made by a creator.

    I see what you mean. I guess there is no instruction manual reading: “Dave, wake up in the morning, shower, make a cup of Joe, kiss your spouse, donate $40 to the local food bank, and call your parents today”. But, I think listening really hard, seeking, striving, being conscientious and self-examination are key to making some kind of sense of it. Who do you need to love? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to mend things with? What irks you and ruins your day that you need to overcome? What is the most important thing in your life that might take over and eat you? Do you need to reprioritize? Is there something that you love so much that if you lose it, you would die?

    Those are just some ideas.

    How can a baby whether in the womb or out have any kind of thoughts about a deity? If it feels pain (like when trying to squeeze out of an almost too small passage) won’t the only response (ouch!) be the one that it has been designed or evolved to have?

    . . . let’s take a human and just strip them of some cognitive function and ask ourselves, do they lose value and purpose? A scientist develops dementia. Do you absolutely need the faculty of memory to build a purpose for yourself? Or, a stroke victim cannot use language, global aphasia. Are they amoral beings from here on out? Let me skip additional examples to suggest that there is a tiny part of us, independent of many cognitive faculties, that houses desire. What is it that we would do if we could and what will we do with what we can based on what we know at the time? By asking such a confusing rhetorical question, I am suggesting that at the moment in which you could consciously experience pain, you also had that little fire in you that is your desire and choice that, if given enough power, would radically change the world even make a whole new one. The ability to consciously experience pain is an extremely important distinction which I think separates out human pain from animal pain. Do you remember having the cord wrapped around your neck? I doubt it. You were not conscious enough and the fire had not been given anything to look to choose any sort of alignment. So long as the conscious experience of pain coincides with this fire, there is absolutely no such thing as a wasted life. And, maybe we can’t detect this fire just like it’s difficult to understand a demented patient or a babbling infant who is blooming into consciousness, that beautiful gift.

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  194. All of the problems we are experiencing pale in comparison to our history.

    “I see you are on board with the new sexual revolution, but why try to justify this by nature?”

    Hardly. But I chose to educate myself on the whys rather than stoop down to Iron/Bronze age thinking and calling it sin and evil. Having that mindset will only exacerbate the problem and create unnecessary shame. Just imagine a god who would actually teach its creation about the hormonal fluxes and neurochemical soup that affect couples, as well as our unconscious urges to diversify our gene pool. When you educate regarding those urges and drives, you can curtail the guilt that religion and even society wants to place on people. These urges are perfectly normal.

    “Why did I meet starving children in Haiti?”

    Right after the earthquake the US allocated $379 million in aid and sent in 5000 troops. The US ultimately sent 22,000 military members to Haiti. It allocated nearly $2.7 billion dollars for Haiti earthquake relief and reconstruction. Roughly $1.6 billion went for relief and $1.140 billion for reconstruction.

    However, of $379 million in initial US money for Haiti, most was not really money going directly, or in some cases even indirectly, to Haiti. The Associated Press documented as early as January 2010 that thirty three cents of each of these US dollars for Haiti was actually given directly back to the US to reimburse ourselves for sending in our military. The US almost totally bypassed the elected government of Haiti and sent less than a penny of each dollar of aid to the government. Forty two cents of each dollar went to private and public non-governmental organizations like Save the Children, the UN World Food Program and the Pan American Health Organization. http://www.haitiaction.net/News/BQ/1_4_12/1_4_12.html

    That was apparently some arrangement made between the U.S. Government and Haiti.

    But to say that Western nations are not helping the starving nations because they are too busy entertaining themselves does not line up to the data. According to The World Giving Index, Australia was ranked #1, Ireland 2, Canada 3, New Zealand 4, United States 5 Netherlands 6, United Kingdom 8, Paraguay 9 Denmark 10. In other words, Brandon, 9 out of 10 of the most charitable countries in the world came from Western countries.
    http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/worldgivingindex2012web.pdf

    “Are you diminishing the oceans of blood from the last century?”

    You saw the chart. War and death from war has dropped significantly since the last century.

    ” end of life care is draining our economy and creating difficult ethical problems in our ICUs. A few long ICU stays could build a new hospital in Africa.”

    Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), compared those who reported a lower level of religious support and those with the highest level of religious support. What they found was that people who reported the highest religious support from religious communities were about a third as likely to receive end-of-life (EoL) hospice care, over two and half times more likely to receive some form of aggressive — and expensive — EoL service (like being put on a ventilator or pursuing additional chemotherapy), and five times more likely to die in a hospital ICU in their last week of life.

    Furthermore, patients who self-reported the highest levels of “religious coping” during their final days were 11 times as likely to receive aggressive EoL treatments and 22 times more likely to die in the ICU compared to those with lower levels of religious coping. These terminally ill EoL patient costs account for over $600 billion in health spending every year. So the drain on families, hospital facilities and insurance companies is coming from your most religious — it’s not across the board.

    I would think that you’d be grateful that you have a reliable car, rather than complain about having to drive 60 miles to get to work. I would think that you’d be grateful that you have a higher education, rather than complain about your student loans which you took out knowing that you would go in debt. I would think you’d be grateful that you have a home and a loving wife, rather than complaining that you are stuck having to make a choice about your wife or the future or human civilization? Solutions to your situation can be found if you sincerely wanted to make that happen. I would think that you’d be grateful that you have a job. You complain you have a thankless 80 hour work week, but you were aware of the demanding hours you’d have to work as a physician, yet you chose that profession. Many people don’t have a job, or a car, or their health, or a loving partner, or a home much less a TV to watch Netflix on. I’m sure they would gladly trade places with you.

    When I’m involved as an advocate online, unlike you, it’s not about the “cold, frightening meaninglessness of our existence and our imprisonment in our minds”. My life is far from ideal — far from it, but I still find joy in being a part of humanity and this planet, I call my home. I have hope for humanity, and I also hope you get to feeling better, Looks like your right amygdala (negative emotions) has been working overtime.

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  195. Victoria, you’re response tells me that you don’t understand what I was getting at. Why such hostility? Did you notice that I took myself out of the situation? I opened up just a tiny bit and you invalidate me and pour salt on my wounds without even knowing my situation. I am complaining and unappreciative of my wife and stupid for not calculating the cost of medical school? This is not advocacy, it feels like hatred. I can’t respond to anything else.

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  196. For someone who claims to have a direct line to the creator of the universe, you do not come across as a light to the world. As Nate and I have stated, the world is not bad as you make it out to be. I’m sorry if you felt offended, it wasn’t my intention. Again, I hope you get to feeling better.

    “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1Thessalonians 5:18

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  197. Let’s clarify some things. I have never said I have a direct line with God. I am working on my reply to Nate which includes the part where I celebrate the accomplishments of humanity just like I did in my reply to you albeit briefly. But, most importantly, you need to know that I am just fine from the standpoint of my life situation, it is you that hurt me. Your consolation feels empty when followed by a hateful statement: “you do not come across as the light of the world”.

    Victoria. You don’t have to hate me. You can let it go. You have the power to just let it go. I value your friendship, and I value your ideas and efforts. It would make me very happy to be your friend.

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  198. I didn’t see brandon’s post as depressing, but as a contrast to claims that humans are better off now as opposed to our more superstitious past.

    Good, bad; it is often in our outlook that determines which it is that we see. at least, that’s what I took from brandon’s comment.

    it makes me want to say then that we should focus on the reliability and believably of old superstitious books like the bible. we can argue over what point in time was best or worse and we argue over what the best moral state is to be in, but none of those things would have anything to do with whether the bible is true or not in its supernatural claims.

    brandon, to me, the bible is a book of human claims. If man wrote the books and letters of the bible, and if other men copied those books and letters, and if other men canonized selected and sorted volumes of accepted or rejected books and letters, and if other men translated those works while other men told you about that cannon before and while you read it for yourself, how has your faith not originated and been completely dependent on the claims and works of men?

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  199. Well – I think both sides have made some good points, but I don’t think we are going to reach any kind of resolution on the issue of whether the world is going uphill or downhill.

    Brandon, I think the issue of moral progress or lack thereof is important to you. We all understand that now and some of us don’t see things quite as bleakly as you do, but you do raise some good points. However, if you are attempting to “depress us” into a state of pessimism so that we end up hoping for something better – I think that is a bad approach. I realized early on that I how I “feel” about something has no bearing on whether or not it is true.

    Take evolution for example – wouldn’t we all feel more special if we were just created as is? But this feeling has no bearing on whether evolution happened or not.

    I’ll be back later to comment on some of the other things we’ve been discussing.

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  200. Brandon,

    I mean “align with God’s purpose” really boils down to loving, seeking forgiveness, living in harmony, selflessness, wisdom, effort, humility, and so on but as they apply to our specific situations.

    Thanks for explaining that more thoroughly. By this definition anyone here could be “in alignment” regardless of their beliefs about religious claims and such, am I right? So I could be agnostic about a deity’s existence, but still be “saved” because I’ve practiced the things you’ve mentioned? Using this view, all sorts of people from different religions could end up in heaven, please correct me if I’m misinterpreting.

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  201. “But, most importantly, you need to know that I am just fine from the standpoint of my life situation”

    Well that’s good to know Brandon. Your comments didn’t reflect that, though. Over the last year, when dealing with subject just like this one on Nate’s blog, you do tend to focus quite extensively on evil and sin, and I was basing some of my counter on two of your comments about how the times we are living in has played a major role in making you so miserable, yet you consciously made those life choices. In other words, chit happens, but it’s not always the fault of others. Own it.

    You tend to focus on archaic solutions to bring about prosocial behavior. It’s one thing to bring awareness about social ills and offer education with effective solutions, but telling people that they should obey laws, and live up to unrealistic expectations to appease a so called perfect god, does not address the root causes of antisocial behavior.

    Many religiously indoctrinated people (primarily evangelicals/fundamentalist) see humanity as broken in need of redemption requiring a bloody sacrifice of a so-called perfect being. Your posts emulated this.

    You wrote in a previous comment: “Regardless of its source, humans still do things that are unconscionable through desensitizing themselves and giving into selfish passions.”

    Yes they do and science has discovered the underlying causes, and I’ve shared this data with you numerous times. Brandon, Iron/Bronze age labeling (sin, evil) and its archaic solutions (get right or get left) don’t work.

    You wrote: “Paul starts in Romans 1:18 by saying that there is something about nature that cultures ought to recognize there is something powerful and divine out there that cares about our behavior, yet the Gentiles disregarded this idea, and as punishment God gave them up to idolatry and their degrade passions. Then, in chapter 2 Paul starts addressing the Jews saying that they will not escape God’s judgment even though they have been entrusted with the truth. One of my favorite parts that seems to be overlooked is this:
    “[The Gentiles] show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.” (Romans 2:15-16)

    Yet all of this is counter to what we understand with regard to behavior that can bring harm to oneself or to others (antisocial). Paul did not bring education. Instead he used fear tactics — “God’s judgement and punishment”. The threat of fear and punishment does not reverse antisocial or “immoral” behavior. We have plenty of studies with experiments showing this to be the case. Also, there are many organic causes for antisocial behavior that your god never once addressed in that archaic book you promote.

    Fear of an angry god who threatens judgement and punishment does not repair damage to the prefrontal cortex (which is often ireversible) that can cause antisocial behavior.

    Fear of an angry god who threatens judgement and punishment does not reverse attachment spectrum disorders in children that can cause pons dysfunction (brain stem), and mental disorders and antisocial behavior..

    Fear of an angry god who threatens judgement and punishment does not reverse hormonal-neurotransmitter imbalances that can lead to changes in the brain, thus a direct cause to antisocial behavior.

    The promotion of fear and punishment is an archaic application that has negative long-term ramifications such as increasing gray matter volume in the right amygdala (negative emotions), causes toxic stress which atrophies the hippocampus, and does not address the core problems that may require medical intervention and rehabilitation. If you want to make positive, permanent changes to society, you do not do it by promoting fear and the threat of punishment.

    “Why, then, do we punish children? We do so for two main reasons. The first is that punishment looks like it works even though it doesn’t. Because the child is inhibited in your presence, it’s easy to think they would be inhibited in your absence. Punishment produces politeness, not morality. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-our-way/201401/punishment-doesnt-work

    So rules and threats were written in an unholy book, clearly at the hands of humans, promoting a totalitarian, all-seeing god who gets angry —- making people think that a god was watching them 24/7. People never really mature if they are indoctrinated to believe that the only reason for their prosocial behavior is because a god is watching their every move.

    “Research tells us that punishment is ineffective. Psychologists are in agreement that punishment does more harm than good. Thousands of studies and years of practice show what punishment does teach – fear, aggression and avoidance. People who are punished do not quickly learn to stop a behavior. What they quickly do learn is next time don’t get caught, or let’s just avoid the whole situation if at all possible.” http://help4teachers.com/punishment.htm

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  202. what if you punished and educated?

    scare tactics are interesting to me too. is it bad to instill fear when fear is appropriate? I know that the term fear can be relative, but if told someone that they’d burn their hand if they touched a hot stove, wouldn’t the fear of burning your hand be good reason not to touch a hot stove, because it’s a true and certain effect?

    I suppose that believers view god similarly. to them, it’s not terrible scare tactics to instill a fear of hell, because to them, hell is real, and hell is place to fear. to them, and in that regard, spreading fear and educating are the same.

    i’m just thinking out loud and not discounting anything anyone has said.

    brandon, I am very curious though, could you comment on your faith? I am specifically interested in knowing whether you think your faith is in god or in man, and if in god, then how, since you must first trust the men who claimed to speak for god, before you can trust in the god that they claimed to speak for?

    The bible is not a direct message from god to man, even if it is true.

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  203. @Brandon ” Your consolation feels empty when followed by a hateful statement: “you do not come across as the light of the world”.

    oh, boo hoo, another poor persecuted Christian. lol.

    hey Brandon, guess what, you don’t come across as the light of the world. far from it.
    too bad you got your feelings hurt when victoria put a pin in the balloon of your ego.

    she never said she hated you, you put those words in her mouth.

    Brandon, “You can let it go. You have the power to just let it go.”

    so condescending.

    why are Christians always such asses?

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  204. Brandon, in reference to what Dave states, I think it’s worth noting that morality is neither man-made, nor exclusive to us, but a consequence of evolution. Morality is older than religion. Science now proves (through brain scans) that humans derive pleasure from merely anticipating helping others. Humans are fundamentally social animals with innate morality.

    “To illustrate his findings, De Waal shared some findings of his research, starting with the position of humans in the evolutionary chain. Humans descend from a long line of group-living primates. DNA now proves we are more closely related to chimpanzees than gorillas. However, most scientists still prefer to believe otherwise. Is it because they are uncomfortable about the aggressive side of chimpanzees?

    This is also portrayed in popular culture – take the recent blockbuster Planet of the Apes. De Waal points out that although chimps do fight and kill each other, they also reconcile (and need eye contact during reconciliation just like humans); they care for each other in social groups; they laugh and use facial expressions (the subject of De Waal’s first book in 1982, Chimpanzee Politics) in much the same way that we do; and like humans and other apes, they commonly show empathy.

    Empathy starts with synchronisation, which is ancient and exists throughout nature: fish do it, birds do it and humans do it. We are the most synchronised beings on earth – dancing, walking, even following our leaders. Yawn contagion exists in humans and chimps, and yawning is related to empathy.

    Psychology (one of the subjects De Waal teaches) tends to view empathy one-sidedl, while De Waal sees empathy as the synchronisation of two channels: the primary/emotional channel (we mirror another’s physical behavior, sad/sad, happy/happy, cry/cry – human babies do this from birth) and the cognitive channel (perspective taking, self/other distinction, and the ability to offer consolation).

    Like humans, chimps recognise themselves in a mirror. But is this true of other empathic animals? Elephants display strong prosocial behavior, as a film of adult elephants rescuing a stranded baby elephant proved.

    Conclusion: Morality is deeply seated in primates. It is emotionally driven, involving ancient brain areas and gut feeling. Fairness and justice are innate to humans, and we developed morality as a means of survival. ~ Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal — Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates.”

    Again, I suggest you read Peace Among Primates, with emphasis on the subtitle “Left behind”. From this example, you will see the behavior of humans and what happens when the dynamics of a baboon troop culture changes. You will see, in it’s most basic form, just how man-made the bible is regarding the necessary environments that help promote prosocial behavior.

    Note that the alpha male baboons, the ones who died from eating tainted meat, emulate some of the behaviors that cause social dysfunction as seen in our time as well as throughout history. It resembles OT culture, Yahweh and his chosen patriarchs as well as cultures today that tend to be dysfunctional.

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  205. “what if you punished and educated?”

    William, fear of certain things can be a good thing, and life saving, which is why we evolved a right amygdala. To avoid predators or situations that could cause injury or death.

    I am talking about the kind of fear tactics and punishment that is promoted in the bible and often in society, and which have been shown, consistently to not promote positive and permanent behavioral changes.

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  206. But, I think listening really hard, seeking, striving, being conscientious and self-examination are key to making some kind of sense of it. Who do you need to love? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to mend things with? What irks you and ruins your day that you need to overcome? What is the most important thing in your life that might take over and eat you? Do you need to reprioritize? Is there something that you love so much that if you lose it, you would die?

    This is all good advice and can be applied to our lives whether or not a creator deity actually exists. I really see no problems with what you believe, Brandon, in this regard. You’ve already rejected the more distasteful aspects of Christianity that promote simply believing in something improbable and that those who don’t believe get tortured eternally. Also, the more personal nature of the judgments made by your deity is more appealing than the ones that cheap believers espouse who think that everyone not in church on Sunday is going to roast.

    If I believed in a creator deity I would have a similar view – that the desire of the deity would be for us to listen to our own conscience and help each other out. Where I would differ is in regard to the Bible. I would blame humans for anything that looked too human. I would probably adopt a much broader view and include all human writings across all religions and say that anything that resembled altruistic thinking and self improvement was “inspired” and anything that resembled our more baser instincts was “uninspired”.

    If… IF…. If there is a god out there. That’s the question I am most puzzled by.

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  207. yes i see, but research also shows that the religious often find things in the bible to be true, and therefore beneficial to be fearful of.

    and at times I think there are grey areas as to what is justified fear and fear mongering.

    I agree with you, I just also recall being a believer. true, once I saw these things I departed religion, but for whatever reason others do not. and again, i wast discrediting or arguing with anyone, just thinking out loud.

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  208. @Brandon —
    4) The Naturalness of Religion Thesis I think tilts in favor of theism over atheism…it’s amazing that it was there so early and ubiquitous in the history of humanity.” – REALLY?! You find it amazing that with lightening and thunder coming from the sky, it would be “amazing” that a proto-human would anthropomorphize it? I would find it “amazing” if they DIDn’t!

    5) The origin of and particular shape that Christianity took is well explained by Jesus having actually resurrected.” – Which was witnessed by no one? had you said, “well explained by stories of Jesus having actually resurrected,” we might have had some point of agreement.

    6) Paul seemed to genuinely believe his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and does not use religion for personal gain unlike Muhammad and Joseph Smith.” – There’s far more to “personal gain” than monetary compensation – in Smith’s case, it was access to all of those gullible teenaged girls – in Paul’s, I can just imagine the dopamine rush he got everytime he led his flock in the direction his Greek oratory skills wanted them to go – you know, kinda like you’re trying to do —

    8) Jesus predicted and warned of the downfall of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple in 70 AD.” – He actually named the date? Really? Where?

    9) Love, joy, peace, longing for justice, longing for perfection, hate of evil, these are all signs pointing towards theism. – What a foolish statement – those are merely qualities that humans evolved that allowed them to survive and pass on their genes to future generations, no gods need apply.

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  209. “8) Jesus predicted and warned of the downfall of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple in 70 AD.”

    and let’s not forget that in actuality, jesus was said to have said, as he we have nothing he wrote himself. also, the “quotes” that we have are believed to have been written far after his death.

    we dont know what god thinks, we know what some guys said that god thinks.

    we dont know what god said, we know what some guys said that he said.

    we dont know what god did, we know what some guys said that he did.

    we dont know that god is, we just know that some guys said that god is.

    to have faith in the god of the bible, you must first have faith in the men that wrote and assembled the bible. faith originates with man.

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  210. Dave, I agree with the mindful, prosocial comments that Brandon has written about, but I do think that people who may struggle with negative thinking, such as what Brandon has admitted to in past posts on other blogs, appears to cause him to project. It’s the biblical terminologies he often uses like evil, sin, judgement and punishment that I take issue with.

    In previous posts (not here) he’s commented that he needs to believe in god (believe he is being commanded by god) to love others. If his belief helps him in this way, than I see no issues. He was raised a fundamentalist, taught that humans were depraved. He seems to believe he is incapable of loving humanity on his own accord. Brandon stated that his god help him overcome things in his life he deemed as immoral, but that doesn’t make them actually immoral. Only to him.

    Brandon wrote: “Is there something that you love so much that if you lose it, you would die?”

    I would ask Brandon — Do you love your god so much that if you lose it you would die? I hope you get my point.

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  211. why are Christians always such asses?

    Paul, that was a cheap shot. I think you should save your shock-and-awe tactics for someone more worthy. Personally, I think Brandon has done a fine job of fielding a lot of questions from quite a few people. Oh well, I guess we all have our own way of trying to make a point. I just don’t see the value of degrading each other.

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  212. But it does nothing to help the situation or further the conversation. Whatever, as long as Brandon can ignore it and see that some here appreciate his input.

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  213. Paul, I can understand why Brandon may have felt offended by me bringing up gratitude. I didn’t intend for it to offend him but was a reminder that it would be beneficial, well being wise, for him to apply, in his circumstances, what he states below:

    “But, I think listening really hard, seeking, striving, being conscientious and self-examination are key to making some kind of sense of it. Who do you need to love? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to mend things with? What irks you and ruins your day that you need to overcome? What is the most important thing in your life that might take over and eat you? Do you need to reprioritize.”

    Regardless of what he may think I think of him, I do care. I just don’t sugarcoat..

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  214. Hi, Laurie! Missed you! I hope your myth-based holidays went well. I’m afraid I’m even later to the party than you – for some reason, I didn’t get any emails of comments to this particular blog entry, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

    You said earlier, regarding the Abe/Ike similarities to the “Christ” story:
    This is not just a crazy story about some tyrant demanding sacrifice. It is much more than that.

    I’m thinking, not really – when I very first read the Abe/Ike story, the similarities popped out at me as patently obvious. After the second temple was destroyed, the Jews had lost all hope of surviving the Roman captivity, for that’s what it was – Rome, with it’s power and multinational empire, was greater than any Babylonian army could ever have been. It’s not a coincidence that the first Gospel wasn’t written until after that destruction – to give the Jewish people hope.

    What Jew, of the time of the Roman occupation, having been thoroughly versed in the Torah, was not aware of the story of Abe and Ike? The legend of “Jesus” was modeled to fit the ancient story, which also explains Yeshua’s ability – in the fables – to “prophecy” the destruction of the temple, the story of him doing so was never written until AFTER that destruction.

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  215. Yo, Kathy!
    When Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide a sacrifice, this clearly indicates that he ALSO believes that God is GOOD.. and will provide a substitute.” – No, it doesn’t at all, Kathy – Abe would have had no reason to believe a substitute would be provided. In fact (22:12), it isn’t until Abe has extended his knife to little Ike’s throat, that the angel says that NOW his god knows that Abe truly fears him. See, in those days – and I think Laurie can back me up – the Jews had no concept of an afterlife, when you died, you died. Abe was a hundred the year Ike was born (21:5), which would likely make him 112 at the time of the sacrifice. So Abe was so fearful of losing what little he had reason to believe was the rest of his life, for the ENTIRE life of his son! A real sweetheart!

    Oh, and what did Jake say when his sons murdered all of the inhabitants of Schechem? “What have you done to me?” The whole family was full of sweethearts like that!

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  216. @william

    do you think that terms like “justice,” “mercy,” “love,” “fairness,” etc are terms that are easily understood, or do you think these terms are vague and difficult to define and understand?

    I think these terms are abolutely understandable depending one’s experience. I think it’s a huge mistake to try to work out a theodicy (justification for God) by saying that we don’t understand terms. I mean humans created language and it references something in the real world, in our experience.

    . . . how do you know whether you actually understand something in the bible or not?

    I think the bible is like any other historical document, if we want to try to understand the author’s intended meaning, we must use the best evidence available. Interpreting the bible has been called hermeneutics and there are principles to it. One principle is using context clues. Another is interpreting the bible with the bible, or an author with the same author. For example, if there is something that could mean different things, we should try to fill out the meaning using the same author’s material that is more clear. If that’s not possible, then we try to find a clear stable reference to build our interpretation. This is “interpreting the less clear passages with the more clear passages”. There are many hermeneutical principles such as this one.

    Some people are resistant to using external evidence, but I am not. I’m happy to compare Pauline writings to stoicism. I’m happy to compare the creation myth in Genesis against Ancient Near East creation myths. These are the environments in which the text was written, and it ought to provide insight into what it meant to original readers, which I take to be important for what it should mean to us today.

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  217. Dave,

    Thanks for your positive words, it means a lot.

    Do you feel that faith is equivalent to hope? Or is it more of a trust in your gut instincts? For me, using either of these methods, if I try to imagine that a deity exists and created our universe – I find myself hoping it is a better one than the one described in the bible.

    I think faith and hope are very similar. They do overlap somehow. Maybe the distinction I would draw is that hope has more to do with the future and faith is about something in the present. Christian faith seems to have two major dimensions to it – believing God exists and trusting in him. And, these are very different human endeavors. The former seems to be taken for granted by the scriptural authors. But, the latter seems to be the most important aspect. It’s the only thing I can think of that scripture says pleases God. I love the fact that you find yourself hoping for a better world. I mean, no matter what your worldview is, I think this is something core to humanity.

    . . . what are your thoughts on the passages where Yahweh punishes someone other than the one who committed the crime being punished for? These include: David’s baby being killed for David’s sin, Egyptian firstborns being killed for their pharaoh’s stubbornness and 70,000 men being killed for David taking a census. Doesn’t this look more like the way humans would think rather than a perfect divine judge?

    I find all of these difficult to talk about to be honest. The one about David’s census is much different from the others. The commentary I am reading (Oxford) suggests that the census was really a military conscription that was not supposed to occur or that broke purity laws which puts it on the heads of all involved. 2 Samuel 24 even says that God’s anger was against all Israel even though David ultimately takes responsibility for what happened since he sort of incites the folly from the top down. No matter what is going on here, there seems to be some implicit meaning that the modern reader is not privy to.

    I’m not sure theodicy for David and Bathsheba’s firstborn or the Egyptian firstborns will look significantly different than one for the Canaanite conquest. David and Bathsheba’s firstborn died of a natural illness, so it’s no different than many infants died in those days. The difference is that his or her death had special significance as punishment for the parents whereas other times it is not really punishment directed at the parents but just an effect of the retroactive fall. I mean ultimately, to me the important thing is that God is fair to the children and that no life is wasted, and I can imagine a way in which God is sovereign over life and death and treats everyone impartially not wasting even a second of life even though it appears like life is unfair.

    I understand that doing theodicy incites a gut level reaction that kind of makes you want to argue with against the theist. I get this too and want to argue with the theist! Theodicy, even if it is intellectually convincing, just does not satisfy the heart. I think this may be a place where the modern reader is left in the dark on purpose and is asked to have faith in there being a satisfying theodicy. Maybe if we saw the workings behind the curtains, we would not be so unsatisfied. But, I’m still not sure that saying it is just human input makes it much better (as I’ve said), because the judgment of nations and individuals and cultures runs from the first to the last page of the bible.

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  218. Dave,

    So I could be agnostic about a deity’s existence, but still be “saved” because I’ve practiced the things you’ve mentioned? Using this view, all sorts of people from different religions could end up in heaven. . .

    Actually yes! That’s what I get out of the first half of Romans 2 and also I like the story where Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” in Mark 10:17ff notice that he never talks about propositional belief or ontological belief but does talk about actions.

    I’ll be back tomorrow! Good night all!

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  219. …we are all on a one way trip to disintegrate into nothing. So, why do anything at all? Please tell me. Why do absolutely anything at all?

    Wow, Brandon! If this is what your mind goes through on a daily basis, no wonder you hide behind an imaginary protector! All of those woes you’ve listed – why do you suppose your god hasn’t done anything about that? Maybe you haven’t prayed hard enough – after all, ask, and it shall be done, right?

    Why do absolutely anything at all?” – Because WE are the only hope we have.

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  220. Brandon,

    So I could be agnostic about a deity’s existence, but still be “saved” because I’ve practiced the things you’ve mentioned? Using this view, all sorts of people from different religions could end up in heaven. . .

    Actually yes! That’s what I get out of the first half of Romans 2 and also I like the story where Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” in Mark 10:17ff notice that he never talks about propositional belief or ontological belief but does talk about actions.

    I think this is a very nice view that you hold. It still seems like wishful or hopeful thinking, but I like it anyway. I wish more Christians would adopt this view. I think it would help erase some of the bitterness and hard feelings that exist.

    I don’t really see a need to further discuss any of the difficult bible passages or theodicy issues because ultimately you’re saying that belief in these things is not a requirement of your deity. However, it is a fun way to pass the time. Brandon, I’d like to put the ball back in your court because you’ve been playing a lot of defense. Is there anything you’d like to discuss? Or should we take a break? I’ll leave it up to you.

    Like

  221. Come on, ratamancueO, no one would die for a lie, that’s how we can all be sure that Islam is true, and that Jim Jones was a great prophet… or whatever it was that he said he was.

    and those heaven’s gate people… dont believe them? well, maybe you dont know that they died for their beliefs, so… true. .

    plus, look at all those people who die for crime and their drugs, and we all know that crime and drugs are real, so there you go.

    Like

  222. I liked this especially, Ratamacue —
    “Martyrdom has always been a proof of the intensity, never of the correctness, of a belief.”
    — Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931)
    I summarizes what we had tried telling Kathy for 3 or 4 months.

    Like

  223. sup? not much. just wondering where in the world wide web you are, setting the christians straight. I could use a few good laughs and you never fail to provide. send me a link.

    that last group over at colorstorm, they are about as thick as it gets. a real bag of door knobs.
    too bad I’m not allowed to comment. dadgummit!

    Like

  224. Well, that explains why you lost track – I’m still over there. He hasn’t banned me outright, but he suspends all of my comments in “Moderation,” and deletes the ones he doesn’t want his disciples to hear.

    Like Kathy, he never debates, he just flings scripture at everything I say, like a monkey flings poo. In an earlier post, one of his butt-monkeys made the comment that we can’t believe the words of Man, who is evil always, and CS agreed with her – and that’s when I had him. Now, everytime he tells me what “God said,” I remind him that it is only Man who said that his god said ANYthing, and he, himself agreed that Man’s word can’t be trusted, so …

    I also told him that the only reason he has a blog, is to get the dopamine rush that comes when his sycophantic butt-monkeys kiss his ass (though I used more gentile terms), and he chose not to allow that comment to go though.

    He also likes to think he has one-upped me when he hurls such scripture at me as, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” which I believe is from Job, a case of their god tooting his own horn. I reply that I was there – that every atom in my body, as well all of his own, were there in the Big Bang, which he had previously maintained that his god created – so not quite the checkmate he had hoped for. He didn’t allow that one to publish either.

    I’m also making friends with his favorite butt-monkey – Wally – who has wound up “Liking” a lot of my comments, and I know it pisses CS off when one of his minions seems to be consorting with the enemy. Anything that pisses him off, just tickles me plumb to death —

    Sorry you got banned – seems like I just can’t take you anywhere —

    Like

  225. BARRY ADAMSON! I know you’re out there lurking, I just saw your “LIKE” on one of my comments – show yourself!

    Still determined to cover yourself in ink?

    Like

  226. Eagle eyes Arch.

    Victoria had accused you of having a poor memory, but it seems pretty good on these matters.

    Like

  227. Yes, well, I’m sure that Neuro had her reasons, however subjective they may have been. I can neither confirm or deny whatever it was we were we talking about —

    Liked by 1 person

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