278 thoughts on “Open Conversation Part 4”

  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. @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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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