The Life of a Dog

This is reality in a universe without God: there is no hope; there is no purpose. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s haunting lines:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

What is true of mankind as a whole is true of each of us individually: we are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then our life is not fundamentally different from that of a dog.
— William Lane Craig

I heard this quote recently, and I immediately thought, it’s also not fundamentally different from that of a god. If God is the “uncaused first cause,” then his life has no higher purpose. There is no “reason” for him to exist. In fact, when you really get down to it, the best reason for God to exist is to explain our own existence. Doesn’t that minimize his importance when you look at it that way? So many of the arguments for God really come down to saying:

We’re so magnificent and complex, we simply can’t be an accident! There must be some reason for our being here! So if we exist, God must exist.

Talk about arrogance! We think so highly of ourselves that we insist the Universe was created for us. But this insistence creates an interesting problem. It claims that we’re so amazing, we deserve to have a higher power interested in us. But this higher power doesn’t deserve the same thing?

If our lives are empty and meaningless without God, what does it say about God’s existence? Wouldn’t his be just as meaningless and empty?

On the other hand, if we say his existence isn’t meaningless because he infuses it with his own meaning and purpose, why couldn’t that same thing be true of us? Instead of having a purpose given to us, we make our own.

Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience answered the issue this way:

You know, to put it simply, I guess this whole line of argument really just seems like wishful thinking to me. Am I missing something? Do you think the “higher purpose” argument is convincing to many people?

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170 thoughts on “The Life of a Dog”

  1. Acceptance is the key. Why bust a gut looking for something to somehow ”justify” our existence?

    Why create myriad religious infrastructures to enforce this belief?
    If there is a creative force it should be smart enough to let us know: “Cooo eee. Who’s your daddy?”

    We’re here. How cool is that?

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  2. I like turning the argument to make God’s life also meaningless. Very nice.

    But I didn’t understand the closing of your post. I think many people are comforted by thinking of having the purpose of being a loyal son or daughter, either to their parents or a god. Some not, of course.

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  3. Oh, come on Zande, God is interested in things. You haven’t read the Bible, have you? He’s absolutely obsessed with sex and death!

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  4. Ruth, our dog has more purpose and enjoys it more than I could ever hope to. I think you’re right. WLC must not have a dog. 🙂

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  5. Thanks Ruth! A whole lot of planning by my wife and a little bit of luck and we have a dog that has been remarkably easy. He’s been a great addition to our family! The four of us (as well as many of our neighbors) fell in love with him right away. 🙂

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  6. “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise”.
    ~~ Douglas Adams ~~

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  7. Why bust a gut looking for something to somehow ‘justify’ our existence?” – Because, oh ye-who-has-gazed-on-Medusa, we are the species that asks, “Why?”

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  8. Well, since ‘straight is the gate, and narrow the way, and few there be that find it’, obviously God has a purpose, and that purpose is to fill up Hell.

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  9. I have come to think that people like having answers. Most people like absolutes. Gray areas, while at times are nice, are also unknown. We are more satisfied with certainty. Like arch said, we are a species that asks, “why,” and we are also a species that seeks an answer to that question.

    I now believe that religiously minded people like god because it is an answer in their mind. In their mind god is a boundary; and answer that nothing exists beyond. They like god because they think it is an absolute answer.

    It’s just an imagined answer, which creates many more answers if they’d only see them.

    I don’t think people talk about god or think about god or believe in god because we’re hardwired to think about a god or creator, but we do it because we’re hardwired to seek out answers and we try to make sense of things.

    What’s interesting to me is that god was created by the need and compulsion to answer life’s mysteries, and it is also what led most of us out of religion once we discovered god doesn’t adequately (or at all) answer the questions we have.

    Good post, nate.

    It is interesting to think that god has no purpose if he has nothing higher that gives him purpose. It’s also interesting that dogs would not have purpose since they could live for their “higher” masters or for their creator too. And really, if a dog cant have a purposing even when living for their higher masters, then how does living for our higher master give us purpose?

    I’d rather my purpose be real over imagined, but to each their own, i suppose.

    The “dogs have no purpose” analogy seems to be created by a person who wants an absolute answer so badly, that they pretend there are no more questions.

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  10. I’m currently rereading Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Face of God – if any of you have read it, trust me, there’s a lot to be gained from a second read.

    The book indicates that even though there are many different authors – I can’t put a number on it, as many are in dispute – written in many different places, by men of widely-varying occupations, over the span of a thousand years, there is an eerily consistent theme that runs through the book – Humankind gradually distances itself from their god.

    We see, in Genesis, Adam disobeying god; later, in the Sodom and Gomorrah episode, Abraham questions the judgment of god; and just two generations later, Jacob actually fights with god. Before anyone – Ark – jumps the gun and says that those characters were fictional, granted, but as do our own fictional characters, they represented the prevalent thinking of the time they were written, and that of the writers, hence it was irrelevant to my point that the characters were real or not – first published in 1938, Superman later went on to fight Nazis in WW II, for example.

    Deuteronomy 31:17-18 and 32:20 have god saying, “I shall hide my face from them, I shall see what their fate will be.” And apparently, he does – we see, throughout the OT, a gradual diminishing of god in the picture. Shortly after descending the mountain, the people complain that the actual presence of a god in their midst is too terrifying – they beg Moses for an intermediary to relay their god’s words to them (Ex. 20:19) – which really opens the door for whichever priest was selected, to tell them anything he wanted to tell them, and say it was straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

    God tells Noah he’s going to destroy all of the people on earth – Noah doesn’t argue. God tells Abe he’s going to destroy the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abe tries to bargain with him (unsuccessfully), to save them. Moses, on the other hand (Ex. 32:10-14), actually argues his god out of destroying the people. The power of humans is increasing.

    And the miracles change as Man takes over. Joseph was the first to perform one – he foretold futures through dreams – but he was quick to assure everyone that it wasn’t his own doing, it was his god’s. Although a number of miracles were performed through Moses, Moses controls the timing, the execution, and the drama of these events, to the extent that he must continually remind everyone that it is his god from whom they come. Finally, Moses alters a miracle – god has instructed Moses to speak to a rock, and water will come out, Moses taps it with his staff instead, and STILL water comes out! Granted, Moses was sent to his room without his supper, and not allowed to cross over to the promise land, but he changed a miracle! Joshua called down a miracle on his own (the sun standing still), while Sampson had his own “magical” power inside him – and so we go from god, to through god, to embodied within man (presumably with god’s permission)..

    This god had, from the beginning of the tale, been the ultimate ruler of the people, but it wouldn’t be long after Moses, that the Israelites decided they’d rather be ruled by a king, like everyone else, and selected Gideon, who declined the offer (Judges 8:22-23), saying, “I shall not rule over you….Yahweh will rule over you.” Old Yah then instructs the intermediary, the prophet Samuel (1 Sam., 8:4-7), to find Israel a king, saying, “…they have rejected me from ruling over them” and goes off and sulks.

    Even Gideon (Judges 6:13) was eventually compelled to say, “If Yahweh is with us….where are all His miracles that our fathers told us about….?

    I won’t go through the entire book, suffice to say that as the Bible progresses, its god takes an ever-diminishing role in the affairs of humans – by the time we reach Ezra, HE determines what, when and where, the miracle will be – when we arrive at the time of Esther, there is no mention of a god in her story anywhere.

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  11. I second that, Nan.

    Great comments all around — thanks everyone! But William’s comment in particular really resonated with me. And I’m fascinated by the line of argument that arch just laid out. Sounds like an excellent book — going to add it to my “must read” list now.

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  12. I think I do (did?) find the idea of a “higher purpose”… comforting, or some such.

    However, purpose and meaning are constructs imposed by sentient beings–are they not? Therefore it seems to me that the very notion of a higher “purpose” or “meaning of life” is actually question begging.

    Time to find my own…

    To me, it seems a burden and freeing at the same time. I’m still working through it.

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  13. Funny that WLC mentions a dog. I posted the following comment a few months ago, and later in one of my own posts (Meaning and Purpose):

    ————————
    I’ve been thinking lately about how I used to think that the only things that had meaning were things that would outlast me, or even better were eternal. From a Christian perspective, this included anything that was loving towards others (since in Christianity, souls are eternal), especially sharing the gospel (since that could influence a person’s eternal destination). It has been a major paradigm shift to realize that I am truly temporary.

    But then I thought about how many Christians simultaneously own pets and believe that their pet has no soul. Yet they enjoy the pet tremendously, even knowing it will live only a relatively short time. They find meaning in the enjoyment of a temporary relationship and interaction. A light bulb started going off in my head.
    ————————

    I would love to be able to enjoy life like a (well-treated) dog does! But instead I’m stuck with blowhards like WLC telling me I should feel purposeless without an imaginary friend. Done with that.

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  14. Thanks for noticing!

    Actually, if I let my hair grow out, it would look something like Dickens’ doo.

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  15. Pope Francis has declared that evolution and the Big Bang are real and God is not ‘a magician with a magic wand’ – in contradiction to the creationist theory apparently endorsed by his predecessor.

    Speaking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope put an end to the so-called ‘pseudo theories’ of intelligent design and creationism, theories that seemed to be supported by Pope Benedict XVI in a 2005 interview.

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  16. In general, there is no difference between the life of a dog, a god or man except in the sense that as far as we can tell, man is the only creature that creates a god and ends up fearing his gods. Silly cretans we are.

    arch, the pope has decided to muddy the waters for believers it seems.

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  17. Hey Nate-
    I don’t know how convincing the higher purpose argument is to people – it’s not a conversation I’ve had often. One thing I’ve found myself thinking lately is, if there is no ultimate purpose and we are all free to make up our own purpose, then what’s to stop me from defining my purpose as believing the stories about Jesus and passing those along to as many as I can? Many people may feel uncomfortable or offended by me trying to convince them of my beliefs, but why is their discomfort more important than my discomfort and being offended by being told I can’t share my beliefs in that way? It would seem to me, if there isn’t any purpose and, when all is said and done, nothing and no one will be remembered by anything, then it really matters not at all what I do or how you feel about what I do. I might be wrong. But, so what? There’s no benefit to being right, is there?
    Just some thoughts, probably not clearly laid out.

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  18. For what it’s worth Josh, I’m not bothered by you sharing your beliefs. I have other thoughts on your comment but I’ll leave it at that for a few reasons.

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  19. Josh, from my perspective — defining your beliefs and “sharing” them with others is one thing. “Convincing” others of those beliefs is something far different.

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  20. josh, i guess in the long term nothing matters, but in the short term many things matter.

    I dont mind sharing your beliefs – I do that as well. I dont mind you trying to convince other you’re right – i do that too (that I’m right, not you).

    I think we are all better off with open and honest exchanges, adequate time given to self reflection and evaluation, to keep pressing forward, etc, etc.

    And True, if you find purpose in teaching others about jesus, then I guess that’s your purpose. Now we must ask, does our having a purpose make the object of that purpose true and does that even matter? Am I being consistent and does that matter?

    Why do we believe or disbelieve and how do they correlate to courage and/or fear and objectivity and/or bias?

    Josh, seek the promised land, and as long as that land be truth, then fight for it.

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  21. SPG-
    That’s what I mean. I think, if I’m being intellectually honest, and I say I believe there is no purpose or meaning to life other than what we make it, then I couldn’t oppose you doing that.

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  22. Hi Josh,

    Great to hear from you! Hope all is well. 🙂

    I agree with what most of the others have said. There’s really nothing wrong with you talking about what you believe is true — all of us who comment here do the same thing.

    Many people may feel uncomfortable or offended by me trying to convince them of my beliefs, but why is their discomfort more important than my discomfort and being offended by being told I can’t share my beliefs in that way? It would seem to me, if there isn’t any purpose and, when all is said and done, nothing and no one will be remembered by anything, then it really matters not at all what I do or how you feel about what I do.

    Sure, one person’s discomfort is really no different than any other’s — except to those particular individuals. The thing is, there are societal costs to everything I do. A skinhead is free to spout hate and ignorance, but he can expect to face certain consequences for that. I’m free to talk about my thoughts on religion, but if I don’t respect other people’s boundaries, there will be consequences.

    Since the world works this way, we all find ways to work around one another. None of these societal rules depend on whether or not our existence extends beyond this life; nevertheless, we find them very important. Similarly, if I stub my toe, that’s unlikely to have any long-lasting ramifications, but for several seconds, I’m very concerned by it.

    In other words, things don’t have to be eternal to be important. In a billion years, humanity may be long extinct with no sentient beings left to know we were here. But that shouldn’t stop us from living now, nor should it cause us to think our lives are meaningless now.

    It’s kind of like the lyrics from that Flaming Lips song:

    All we have is now –
    All we’ve ever had was now
    All we have is now
    All we’ll ever have is now

    Now is all that matters. It’s all that mattered in 1820; it’s all that mattered in 30,000 BCE, and it’s all that will matter in 3811.

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  23. what’s to stop me from defining my purpose as believing the stories about Jesus and passing those along to as many as I can?” – if you can hold an audience, Josh (which I doubt), I say go for it!

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  24. Hi Josh,

    You said:

    if there is no ultimate purpose and we are all free to make up our own purpose, then what’s to stop me from defining my purpose as believing the stories about Jesus and passing those along to as many as I can?

    I don’t know how else to ask this except to just ask it: Is this an acknowledgement that it is you who is giving your life purpose by doing this and not some higher being? For most Christians it is, they believe, God/Jesus who gives their life purpose – they don’t even think they can give their own life purpose. At least that was my experience.

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  25. ruth is right, most xtians I know say that god gives them their purpose,
    and that purpose is to spread the good news of the gospel of jeeezzzusss Christ..
    the say without god, life has no meaning.

    I’m not saying I know all xtians to believe this,
    but the shitload I do know, that’s what they say.

    truly sad if you ask me.

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  26. Hey Nate-
    I used to think what you wrote supplied a pretty good answer to the question I asked. The more I’ve thought about it, tho, the more that answer seems to just be a bit of smoke and mirrors. It sounds nice to say now is all we have and that just because there is no higher purpose doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful lives. And, it certainly feels like we have meaningful lives, regardless of whether or not there actually is a higher meaning. However, this seems disingenuous, especially coming from people who hold rationality and logic in the highest regards. What is more irrational than to pretend life has meaning when it actually has none? If we came into existence randomly, and we will go out without so much as a memory, then creating meaning now for the purposes of a happier life seems almost the same as creating religion to give higher purpose. It is an illusion to stomach the stark reality. And, it is inconsistent with the rational, logical way many claim to look at reality.

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  27. But it’s not an illusion, Josh. My life has an extreme amount of meaning to me, even if it never mattered to anyone else.

    A piece of cake doesn’t last forever, but can’t it still be enjoyable?

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  28. Josh, I honestly do understand your point about the smoke and mirrors because I used to think the same thing even for a few years after leaving Christianity. In some respects you are actually correct, but I think this topic also results in some miscommunication due to semantics.

    When I talk about meaning in life my definition of meaning is not “ultimate meaning”. While you might think “how could there be such a thing as temporal meaning in life?”, I would actually say that this doesn’t match with everyday usage of the word. When someone says “that drawing which my son made is very meaningful to me” do you think they mean that it has some ultimate eternal meaning? Of course not. It’s another way of saying that it gives me a tremendous and wonderful feeling and is yet another of many reasons to enjoy the life we have.

    I watched the birth of both my daughter and my son, and Josh, let me tell you – if you ever have that opportunity don’t stay out of the delivery room! I have tingles up my spine right now thinking about it. And watching my kids take their first steps, and so many other milestones, I can’t even describe the meaning that gives me. Is that meaning derived from some source outside of myself? – perhaps. I don’t see why I would care. Nothing William Lane Craig says could rob me of that wonderful experience no matter what my worldview is.

    But yes, without some kind of ultimate meaning outside of humanity I can see how people could be discouraged especially when difficult life situations arise. I’ve always thought that this is why many philosophers have slipped into depressive states. While I love philosophy and deep questions, I made the decision many years ago to enjoy the wonders of life, family and friendships no matter what worldview I land on.

    Another thought I have on meaning is that I am actually agnostic about whether or not there is “ultimate” meaning, and even without a God I believe there could be ultimate meaning. I don’t claim this to be true, but I also don’t see any logical reason to think that isn’t possible. Think Taoism, or even the movie Contact (and it was a movie, so we know it has to be true 😉 ).

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  29. Interestingly, Howie – and I’m not saying this behind your back, Josh, feel free to jump in – but I’m sensing a change in Josh from when I first met him last year on Nate’s site. He was a very laid back Christian in those days, more accepting – now he’s more intense and critical. I could be wrong, Josh, but that’s how I see it. Has anything significant happened over the past year?

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  30. @ Josh,

    I guess you are right regarding purpose being easily made up. But perhaps you are being a little bit extreme on it’s application. Just like what SPG said, what if my purpose is to kill all atheists? Should I therefore be allowed to pursue what I think my purpose is?

    I would have thought that the answer is obvious – you are free to practice whatever you want until your actions impede my freedom. Well you can be pedantic and start arguing that if that is the case there is no true freedom.

    Then I would say you are purposely being obtuse and just trying to be funny when all other reasonable interpretation of the word should be able to accommodate the scenario I’ve just mentioned.

    @ Arch

    You know this sounds almost like my wife. When she was faced with all the doubts and charges that I put to Christianity (i lost my faith first before I started to tell her and educate her on all the falsehood in Christianity), she started to become more irritable, critical and generally a pain to talk to.

    Whenever i point out to her that she’s being unreasonable, she would simply say that “oh I thought we are godless, and I can sin whenever I want”.

    She did eventually mellowed down and back to her normal loving self. Talking to her about those times she did reveal to me that it was a defense mechanism for her back then, and she was purposely trying to interpret what I said in an extreme and unfair way.

    Perhaps something similar is happening to Josh? Btw Josh apologies if I am wrong. Not trying to psychoanalyze you but merely sharing my experience. In any case, I guess you can have a free pass at my own personal motivation haha. Not that you will need it though. Haha you’re deft a nice guy =)

    cheers mate

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  31. Hi Josh, nice to see you on Nate’s blog again.

    You wrote, “However, this seems disingenuous, especially coming from people who hold rationality and logic in the highest regards. What is more irrational than to pretend life has meaning when it actually has none?”

    If we give something meaning than it has meaning to us and possibly even to others. If I assign a purpose to my blog comment, like..

    The purpose of my comment is to communicate with Josh and show him that it is rational to give purpose and meaning to our own lives.

    ..doesn’t this appear to be a rational purpose for my blog comment? In other words, just because my comment will not last forever does not mean it has no meaning right now.

    In contrast, imagine if I started pretending that there was a reader on Nate’s blog named Daniel and I started addressing him in my blog comment. Imagine that I decided Daniel was catholic and started to argue against Catholicism. Is this equally rational? Doesn’t this appear to be irrational? What if I tried to get all of you to talk to Daniel too? What if I told everyone that Daniel would install a virus on their computer if they did not believe in him? Now, there may very well be a reader on Nate’s blog named Daniel who is a catholic. But, unless Daniel reveals himself to us I think it would be irrational for me to start writing to him or guessing what his characteristics are. [I know this could spin off into a discussion on origins and belief in ancient texts, but hopefully the point about assuming that Daniel exists and giving him characteristics and speaking to him remains relevant.]

    I do understand the point you were trying to make. Life can seem rather pointless if we focus on our possible extinction millions or billions of years from now. Personally, I am rather optimistic about human ingenuity and ways we can thrive in the future, but that’s another topic. For my own life, one of the purposes I have given myself is to be a good dad. I don’t feel this is an illusion because my kids are real. Does this make sense?

    In closing, why does adding infinite time to a purpose impact whether the purpose is valid or not?

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  32. My daughter called me yesterday to tell me what Pope Francis said, and I thought,, “I LOVE this Pope!” I said, “Well,, you know,, the Catholics aren’t the really crazy Christians. Wait… what? What about the Crusades, the Inquisition? Never mind. Can the Pope get fired?” How can Catholics let this fly? What do the evangelicals think about what the Pope says?

    It seems like the Catholics are standing in a shrinking puddle.

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  33. Hey Arch-
    I might be a little more intense in the last couple comments, and I’d agree I am being critical on this point. However, I don’t think critique or intensity goes against the spirit of the conversation on Nate’s blog. I’ve read the responses since yesterday, and they just don’t wash. And, you don’t have to go out millions of years to see the consequence of temporal meaning. Some say their meaning is to be a good parent. What happens if, God forbid, you child dies? Your meaning is gone. Do you then assign meaning to something else? Your job? What if you lose it? A support group for grieving parents? What if it never gets going or fizzles out? I’m taking the conversation to extreme conclusions because the reality is many, many people face those extreme conclusions. These things which we assign meaning to can be lost in an instant. Reassigning meaning to something else to make up for the loss is in essence conceding that meaning is illusory and transient. That is, without any higher meaning that, for the sake of argument, never goes away.

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  34. Even without going to extremes we can see the consequences of temporal meaning. If my meaning is to be a good parent and my instruction or lack of leads to something bad happening to my child, what then? Even if it is not fatal or “serious” I still face the consequence of not being a good parent in that instance. And there will be many if not hundreds of those instances in a child’s life. This forces the parent to continually redefine what it means to be a good parent. Well, I don’t have to always be right. Well, I can be right on just the important things and still be a good parent. We constantly move the bar to account for our failures. Same with someone who finds meaning in being good at their job. There will be countless instances of failure and poor decisions. We again continually change the criteria for what it means for us to be good at our job.

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  35. But Josh, even if your purpose is to serve God, you’re not going to always do it perfectly. Does that mean you shouldn’t serve God at all (assuming he’s real, etc, etc)? And yes, all parents are going to make mistakes with their children. Should they just stop trying to raise them at all?

    You’re right that parents who lose their children often feel like their purpose is gone. That’s pretty understandable, and it explains why people who have lost children can sometimes engage in self-destructive behavior, even suicide. It’s hard to blame them.

    However, those who manage to keep taking it a day at a time, while never getting over the loss, do eventually find other things to live for. Other purposes.

    What’s wrong with that?

    We all want our lives to mean something. Is it more important to mean something to a large number of people who never knew you (like the way Thomas Jefferson means something to us today), or to mean something to the people you actually care about and interact with?

    Your life is comprised of many different relationships, and those relationships have value. Cosmic value? No, probably not. Not even value to some random guy living in Pakistan. But they have value to you and the other people in those relationships. And isn’t that enough? I mean, do you really care whether or not the random guy in Pakistan knows and cares about you and your relationships?

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  36. Reassigning meaning to something else to make up for the loss is in essence conceding that meaning is illusory and transient.

    Sure, in an “ultimate” kind of way. But you shouldn’t discount your own valuation of things. Throughout your entire life, you will find meaning in certain things. For you, your life is “eternity,” since it’s the entirety of your existence. So in a way, anything that you find meaningful is meaningful in an ultimate sense.

    I don’t know if that makes sense or not…

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  37. “Reassigning meaning to something else to make up for the loss is in essence conceding that meaning is illusory and transient.”

    no more than stubbornly holding on to only one grand meaning through a relationship” that is only imagined.

    I can have just a much of a relationship with Anne Frank as anyone can with god – the biggest difference being that Anne actually wrote her own book.

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  38. Hey Josh,

    Some say their meaning is to be a good parent. What happens if, God forbid, you child dies? Your meaning is gone. Do you then assign meaning to something else? Your job? What if you lose it? A support group for grieving parents? What if it never gets going or fizzles out? I’m taking the conversation to extreme conclusions because the reality is many, many people face those extreme conclusions.

    I see your point here, but even many Christians who lose those things which are precious to them feel “lost” or have to find a substitute to fill the void. They will say the Jesus fills this void but it’s nearly impossible to fill a hole left by a visible, live, and interactive meaningful person or thing with something invisible and elusive.

    So my response would be that one’s life probably shouldn’t have just one meaning. People, including Christians, are not very well-rounded and at risk for meaninglessness when they become too one-dimensional.

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  39. Josh,

    Stay away from guns and knives please! 😉 Seriously though, I think you are mixing a few things together, so let’s work together and solve it:

    1) First your argument was that there could not be any meaning in life: I say it depends on your definition of meaning. I agree that with pure naturalism (which I am agnostic about, but will assume it for the argument) there is no cosmic and no ultimate meaning. We are agreed on this point.

    2) Could there be temporal meaning? You haven’t totally answered this. We’ve given several examples of where the word “meaning” is used in rational ways and is not tied to cosmic or ultimate meaning. Do you disagree here? From your responses I think you actually agree with us, but where you disagree is on my next point:

    3) Without ultimate and cosmic meaning we may as well kill ourselves. I’m talking in extremes here but this is essentially the gist of your argument. My answer to this is that it is dependent on the person’s perspective. If absolutely every single waking second of a person’s live is entirely shitty then I could see how a person like this wouldn’t want to live. But as Nate has mentioned even people who have tragedies in life and decide to continue on end up finding other reasons to continue living and end up feeling all the better for it. This is simply about personal perspective and personal desires and you’re argument is not really proving that we are being irrational it is just proving that you have different desires than we do (actually I’d bet your desires aren’t as different as you think, and that you’d continue on even if your worldview changed). You have a desire to have ultimate meaning otherwise life doesn’t seem desirable to you, and we have realized that even without ultimate meaning we still have a desire to continue living and enjoying the beautiful things in the lives we have here – probably the only conscious moments we will have.

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  40. …and if you live for god and then when you die… nothing?

    you wouldnt be alive to realize it, but that would mean your entire life was for a false purpose – how is that better that living for your kids and then finding something else to live for if they died?

    I dont think purpose is just one thing – even for the believer. How many believers only read their bibles, only go to church and only pray in their down time? believers are people too, they live for their god but they also live for their families and friends and even for themselves.

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  41. Oh absolutely, Powell – Josh IS a nice guy, and he doesn’t have to agree with me on religion, for me to consider him so. I’ve just perceived what I believe has been a personality change over the past year, and was really mentioning it to see if it was my imagination, or if anyone else noticed it too. True, I could have addressed Josh, but often we don’t notice changes when they’re happening to us. Actually, I was, more than anything, concerned to know if everything was OK, or if anything unpleasant had happened to him. He disappeared for a time, then reappeared – which is not uncommon (still looking for CaptainCatholic!) – so I was curious about the interval.

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  42. In other words, just because my comment will not last forever does not mean it has no meaning right now.” – actually, Dave, I was in a discussion the other day, and it’s kinda spooky to think about, but these comments of our will still be out there somewhere, long after we’re gone – unless of course someone decides to discontinue the internet, but with that Pandora’s box open, I don’t see it closing again.

    Life can seem rather pointless if we focus on our possible extinction millions or billions of years from now.” – sad to contemplate, but I don’t think we’re due to last anywhere nearly that long, unless we get over the idea, collectively, that we own the Earth – we only lease it from our descendants. When Earth has had enough of us, it will let us know in no uncertain terms.

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  43. My greatest concern, Josh, was not that you disagree with any of us here, it’s whether or not you’re OK – if you are, then great, let’s argue debate!

    Reassigning meaning to something else to make up for the loss is in essence conceding that meaning is illusory and transient. That is, without any higher meaning that, for the sake of argument, never goes away.

    I had a dog once, and later, I also had a cat. Both were gifts from people I cared about, and yes, I did attach a great deal of meaning to them. When, after many years, they died, I never had another dog or cat – those animals, though now gone, live on in my memories of them, and still have meaning and always will as long as I have those memories. Meaning isn’t necessarily transient nor temporary unless we choose it to be – there are many things, as well as ideas and philosophies, that once meant a great deal to me, but as I grew, I set them aside, so in that sense, I suppose that yes, they were transient.

    Assuming you’re heterosexual, surely you’ve fallen out of love with a girl, at least once in your life, and possibly even found yourself wondering what you ever saw in her. Meaning IS transient, in the sense that our priorities are often fluid, subject to change, and I’m OK with that – in my mind, it’s part of the growth process. Belief in an invisible entity that dispenses ultimate justice simply doesn’t afford me the security that it seems to provide for you – THAT, for me, is illusory – I prefer to attach meaning to something more tangible, however temporary.

    The only actual meaning that any living creature, plant or animal, has, is to survive and propagate – anything more, we must find for ourselves. But considering the art, the music, the literature, the scientific discoveries that Humankind has achieved, I’d say we’re pretty good at that.

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  44. Arch-
    I totally appreciate your concern, and thank you very much for it 🙂
    I’m not trying to be obstinate. I just had to jump into this conversation because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. *I am not suicidal, nor am I condoning that anyone take their life or that of another 🙂 I just think that assigning meaning to things in our lives is just as illusory as many claim my belief in God is. I hear what you all are saying – children and pets and jobs are “real” – if people assign meaning to them at least that meaning has a tangible object. However, I have many reasons to believe in God (though, I know those don’t wash around here) and to assign meaning to Him and to following Him as the purpose for my life. I may be wrong. The flip side, though, is that the meaning that is applied to things in this life we know for certain won’t last. It ends either when we lose that thing, or when we die. In time, it will be forgotten and have served no particular purpose. Anyway, I don’t want to drag this out. I also don’t want to keep worrying people that I’m going to swan dive off the nearest building 🙂 I surely am not. This is just something that I have thought a lot about, and I think there’s a disconnect between criticism of applying meaning and purpose to God and communicating about Him, when that person also applies meaning to transient things that ultimately will have no meaning or purpose. It looks to me, if I look at it from an atheistic/naturalistic perspective, like the same thing. Therefore, the criticism is unwarranted. Both provide meaning and purpose. Both lead individuals to favor certain actions and people over others. I haven’t heard or read anything to persuade me they are different.

    I’m sure that’s still somewhat unclear.

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  45. …and I think there’s a disconnect between criticism of applying meaning and purpose to God and communicating about Him, when that person also applies meaning to transient things that ultimately will have no meaning or purpose.

    Actually, I think I get what you’re saying here. We are all entitled to assign meaning to whatever we want. I think, though, that this is a criticism of a criticism. What I mean by that is that the WLC’s of the world seem to think that there can be no purpose apart from their God thereby criticizing the claim to the contrary. And those of us who don’t believe in a god or gods take a bit of exception to that and say that absolutely our lives can have meaning and purpose. So we’re not criticizing anyone for assigning purpose to God, per se. We’re criticizing the notion that apart from God there can’t be purpose. It may seem a small distinction but certainly not one which is insignificant.

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  46. Josh, this latest comment seems ok to me – if you find meaning and joy in something that possibly doesn’t exist I think that’s fine. There could be caveats to all that, but I want to remain a bit focused. Can you explain exactly what I’ve said in my comments that is irrational? Because I’d like to adjust if anything is. The definition I am using of “meaning” when it relates to life is giving a reason to continue living. I don’t think it’s irrational to claim that there are things in my life that cause me to want to continue living. I think you just have a different definition of meaning than I do in this discussion.

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  47. Ruth-
    I don’t think it’s a small distinction. I’d just say, apart from God there is no lasting or ultimate purpose. I obviously don’t think that necessarily drives people to feel they need to end their lives. I just think it is a stark concept if you step back and think about it. It leads me, at least, to think about how hard it would be for me to accept that there truly is no meaning beyond what I give to the things in my life.

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  48. Howie-
    I think the way you define meaning is different than the way I was defining it. I don’t see a problem with you saying what you said. See my previous comment to Ruth about the way I was defining meaning, and how that impacts how I would see the world if I truly believed there wasn’t ultimate purpose. That is all. 🙂 Thanks for clarifying the semantics – I do think that’s important.

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  49. Ok Josh, I’m cool with that. I don’t usually do this, and I especially don’t want to now because you are one of the coolest theists I know, but you threw some harsh words at us so I’m gonna throw them back at you. You said this yesterday:

    However, this seems disingenuous, especially coming from people who hold rationality and logic in the highest regards. What is more irrational than to pretend life has meaning when it actually has none?

    Then after reading several of our responses where at least 2 of us were very clear that our definitions of the word meaning were different than yours, you said:

    I’ve read the responses since yesterday, and they just don’t wash.

    I took this to mean that our responses were irrational. I’m taking your latest response as conceding that you really don’t have a claim that we are irrational just that we have different perspectives, desires and needs.

    Please don’t take my comment as an attack – you’re one of the few theists online that I’d love to have a beer with.

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  50. Howie-
    I don’t take it as an attack. My comments yesterday were about a philosophical point. What I am conceding now is that people can apply meaning to things, and that provides them with a sense of purpose in life. I wouldn’t argue that. In, fact that was my original point. However, I do think it covers up the deeper reality that there really isn’t any reason to continue living the life we live without ultimate purpose. It’s like Sisyphus – we continue to push the rock up the hill even though we “know” that, at the end of the “day” the rock is just going to roll back down the hill. No progress will have been made. I think, from a larger picture perspective, this can’t be argued. Only from a personal, subjective perspective can we claim otherwise. I know people disagree, and I’ve read the responses and I don’t think they wash. And, I’m only saying it because there doesn’t seem to be any way around it from my perspective. We apply meaning in order to have a reason to go on in life. That’s fine, and I wouldn’t want to intentionally urge someone to give this up. However, for the sake of overarching philosophical conversation, the meaning we apply to things is subjective, transient, and ultimately serves no purpose. All it does is make us feel better.

    So, I think there are two discussions. One in which I think you are right about dealing with the semantics. There, I can concede your points. However, on a larger scale I wouldn’t concede those same points.

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  51. It’s like Sisyphus – we continue to push the rock up the hill even though we ‘know’ that, at the end of the ‘day’ the rock is just going to roll back down the hill. No progress will have been made.

    I know this will seem like I’m trying to be funny, but in truth, I’m just trying to show how it’s possible to see things through different perspectives. We can’t know the mind of Sisyphus – he may well attach meaning to the act of moving rocks, or even to how WELL he can move one, seeking to improve his efficiency with each subsequent move – it could well be that at the end of the day, he feels that he GETS to do it all over again, not that he HAS to.

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  52. Josh – yeah, I don’t disagree with you there. It’s very important to me that I’m not disingenuous – it’s just something I take a bit of pride in. I know I’m irrational and say irrational things all the time and want to be corrected, and I’m sure I’m disingenuous at times also, but disingenuous really isn’t something I want to be. So I’m looking for clear correction from you on my stuff if you think it’s wrong and I really would adjust if it sounds correct.

    So yes, I’d actually agree with you that from a philosophical perspective, if strict naturalism really is true then, external of conscious living beings, there is no reason to continue living.

    But the difference though is that we all do agree that there are conscious living beings, I am one of them, and I know of others that are close to me. I have my own reasons why I want to continue living, and I know there are others who love me that also want me to continue living. So there are reasons both within me and external of me, but outside of that I agree with you. For me those are more than enough reasons, but I understand that everyone is different and that there are others who have this need for more.

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  53. I’m trying to understand the two different definitions being used for meaning and purpose.

    On the one hand we have “Why should I continue to live?”. This would be a question for all conscious beings that have a choice to end their existence. An eternal deity would wonder “Why should I continue to exist?”

    On the other hand we have “What am I for? What is my role or function?” This is where the atheists and agnostics say “to survive” or “I have no ultimate role in the cosmos” or “I create my own role or function” and the Christians say “to worship and glorify my creator forever”. I’m not sure what an eternal deity would answer when posed this question.

    Am I on the right track, Josh? Is it the second version here that you are talking about?

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  54. external of conscious living beings, there is no reason to continue living.” – but consider this also, Howie – external of conscious living beings, there is no place for a god to dwell.

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  55. Arch, is your point that he is defined as a conscious living being also?

    Maybe that relates to Nate and Dave’s point that given that god is defined as a conscious living being he would also suffer from the same question we are asking ourselves – what is his purpose/meaning beyond himself? I think the theist response is that God by definition has purpose in his nature. I’m not really sure what that would even mean, so I steer a little clear of that discussion.

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  56. I think the theist response is that God by definition has purpose in his nature

    Yeah, it’s to be entertained with the drama humans are living out.

    Wouldn’t He be so bored without us?

    Take a look at the Old Testament — it’s drama, after drama, after drama. He didn’t know whether or not He could trust Abraham until Abraham started to cut up his teen son for sacrifice. He didn’t foresee that Saul would be a putz until he was and then reacted with violent anger (if you’re going to set the stage for drama, you should keep your cool — it isn’t like you can’t expect people to fail when you’ve set them up to do so).

    And there’s nothing like the drama of a divorce: God had it with Israel (I wouldn’t want to be married to her) — He seems to have had unreasonable expectations, particularly since He never gave them the Holy Spirit, they had no faith and were doomed to fail before they ever started.

    Drama, drama, drama.

    I could go on, but you can probably come up with more on your own (I’ve only read the Bible 7 times, for heaven’s sake — some of you have more background than I do).

    So, yes, it does look as if God has a purpose in His nature — at least the Old Testament God (the bipolar transformation of which has a great deal of fascination): Sort of a kid with ants playing with a magnifying glass.

    Of course, then we have Jesus who said very clearly that if you only ask the Father in his name, it would be granted. There are caveats, of course — I mean, you can’t bow down to graven images, for heaven’s sake, or take His Name in vain (there are lots of other rules), but the promise stands.

    Now for you Christians in good standing, how’s that working out for you? Is it like the movie, “God Isn’t Dead” where you’re dying of cancer, but it’s OK because you just feel that Jesus loves you? You’re going to die anyway, but the dopamine levels are elevated because you anticipate heaven and the love of Jesus so much that you don’t feel the pain? Or you get a high from the Chri$tian Mu$ic with those guys with long hair who should know that it a shame because the Apostle Paul said so? And what’s with the being unequally yoked committing fornication? Is that OK? Anyway, is God answering all your prayers because you ask in Jesus’ name (a ‘NO!’ answer doesn’t count, sorry).

    And maybe that’s it. Maybe God’s purpose is to teach people how to increase their dopamine levels so they won’t have so much pain.

    It’s a gift.

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  57. Well, I just don’t know about that, but it is interesting that Christian guys are supposed to be the bride of Christ. I suspect that heterosexual Christian men don’t think about that much: To be a man member of Jesus’ harem.

    I wonder how that works.

    Is it going to be like the Book of Esther where a guy will be picked out one night and another another night? Will you have to wait a long time before joining Jesus in bed for all eternity.

    I’m not being blasphemous here. After all, the Bible does say rather explicitly ‘bride of Christ’.

    You know, enquiring minds want to know.

    And maybe some guys are uncomfortable with that, but it is what it is, if it is.

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  58. Speaking of dopamine —

    Yes, I know, Nate – you had a thread going with literally thousands of comments, and now it’s like a ghost town over here, and I feel badly about that. But the truth is, we’re dopamine whores, Nate – we’re all over at VioletWisp’s No Such Thing As Conversion thread, defending atheism from a theist, biker-looking guy with a foot-long gray beard, a shiny bald head, and the manners of a Mike.

    So…Loyalty? – Dopamine, with a side of adrenalin? Gotta go, Nate –!

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  59. exactly right, the bride of Christ,
    jeezzuuuusss gonna nail every man, woman and child on his wedding night.
    these people gonna be soooo luuuuuccckkkkyyyyy,
    cause according to scripture,
    jeeezzzuuusss is well hung.

    I’ve been saying that for years but no one ever believes me.

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  60. Fell right into my trap as planned.

    The catch here is that the 144,000 to be Jesus’ bride are all virgins. That would rule out fornicators, married people (or divorced people) and the prepubescent.

    Jesus is thought to be on the short side — under 5’2″ maybe less. And he is said to be not that handsome: Not having a desirable visage.

    For those who are sensitive to such things, he has a beard.

    And he’s kinda old, having a white beard and being 2,000 years or so old.

    Also has scars. You know, from the nails and being beaten.

    The irony is that he probably doesn’t want gay guys, even if they qualify to the above requirements, although his affectionate connection to John is suggestive….

    Anyway, if you were to make it, expect lots of competition. 144,000 isn’t exactly a small number for a harem.

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  61. Jesus is thought to be on the short side — under 5’2″ maybe less.

    How Jesus is pictured, and how he more likely REALLY looked:

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  62. Hmm, the whole bride of Christ thing… Makes you think twice about those two disciples known as the “sons of thunder”…

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  63. Hi Nate, ok, Ark’s last comment seems to indicate that he’s grown weary of me commenting on his blog, so I’ll respond to your last couple of comments here, (cuz I do think they are good ones…)

    You said, “At least for me, it’s not that I reject the Christian God because he’s a despot — he could certainly be a despot and still be quite real. It’s that the Bible portrays him as a despot while describing him as loving, merciful, etc. That’s a contradiction. It seems like a believable mistake for people to make long ago, when human sacrifice was still practiced on occasion and when gods were tribal. So it’s either just a myth, or this is an untrustworthy god. If he were real, I would believe in him, but I like to think I’d have the strength of character not to worship him just as I hope I wouldn’t have been a “good Nazi” under Hitler.

    This is one of the most common criticisms of the God of the Bible, which I personally find rather interesting when compared to the amount of times I’ve heard people complaining about the theistic beliefs in a figure like, say, Kali, who dances around with a necklace of human skulls around her neck… (nobody seems threatened or offended by that for some reason, so interesting why certain “imaginary gods” are so much more of a threat than others….)

    But does the Bible really portray God as a “despot”..?

    First, yes, in the Bible, God kills people. Directly. Lots of them. If for yourself, that fact means God is automatically a despot, regardless of whatever additional qualifiers or nuances might be found upon further examination, then I suppose it’s a moot point to discuss. Personally, I would suggest that the fact that the God of the Bible is portrayed as having ultimate power, ultimate moral authority, and does in fact exercise that power/authority at times He of His choosing where He goes so far as to prematurely end the lives of certain people whose behavior He has found particularly egregious, does not mean He is a “despot”, but rather, a King/Ruler/Authority. We all understand this to be almost a conditional aspect to considering any being as a “god”, yet then it is used to then disqualify that being as an “acceptable God”..?

    The question of course becomes one of asking whether or not God was justified in killing the people He killed. Like you said, it could very well be that God was NOT just, or good, or loving, but simply a blood thirsty, power-hungry freak who fancies creating people simply for the sake of killing them off willy nilly. And as you said, that is not how the Bible describes Yahweh, so what’s the Truth? Is the Bible lying, or are our perceptions perhaps a little off?

    Part of my response to Ark earlier included a description of my coming to believe in a literal interpretation of the verses in Genesis 6. I wasn’t including that to be “cheeky” or cute, but to explain something that was in fact a very serious and gut-wrenching part of my process in coming to accept the entirety of the Bible as being true, and literally so, not just as “allegory” or “mythology”….

    I did a great deal of looking into the whole question of the Nephilim, and was rather amazed to come out the other side having discovered that this belief in “angels having offspring” was actually totally ubiquitous during the time when even the New Testament was written. All the “church fathers” believed it, and not even as some “bizarre theory”, but it was so universally accepted it wasn’t even something that was often mentioned, let alone debated. I find that very interesting. Anyhow, the point of correlation is that it very much does tie into the so-called “genocidal” God as alleged to be murdering scores of innocent people in the flood and later in the conquest of Canaan. If God was in fact not murdering hapless human inhabitants, but actually cleansing the land from “Nephilim tribes”, (human/angel hybrids) then, you may very reject the idea outright, but in the very least you have to reconsider the charge of God being a mass-murderer of humanity. Mass murderer of hybrid beings perhaps, but then, who has the authority to decide which creations were “valid” and thus deserving of preservation, and which ones were wholly and utterly aberrations, worthy of being erased by the Creator’s hand? I would say God has that right. Anyhow, I wasn’t trying to be facetious whatsoever, although I realize how much it could’ve come across that way…

    However, there ARE plenty of other examples where the Bible describes God suddenly and violently killing people in various ways, whether it was Korah being swallowed up by the earth, or all the Egyptians suffering under the plagues in Egypt, or even the Israelites dying in the desert over time, instead of being allowed to enter the Promised Land. In every case, God has the right to determine when and how people die, because He is God, but does that automatically infer that He is tyrannical, or unloving, or unforgiving..? Somehow we have come to the place of believing that the two are absolutely inconsistent, that the only way an all powerful God could be loving was if He never enacted immediate judgement on anyone, for any reason. I’m not sure where this reasoning comes from, but I would suggest it could use a little questioning…

    The bottom line is, because He is God, and we are not, there are going to be instances on this side of eternity where we, as finite beings, are simply not privy to “the whole story” anyhow. It’s a little strange, don’t you think, for us to reject there being a God who is beyond us, because we are not actually functioning on the exact same level as He is, in every way, knowing everything ourselves, and understanding everything He does to the degree that He does. It’s basically like saying, “I reject God because I reject the idea that He could possibly understand something better or to a degree that I do not…”

    I find that funny as well, because I encounter this kind of attitude in my own children all the time, yet their insistence that they know all they need to know about a given situation doesn’t convince me that humans can be quite limited in their scope and comprehension of certain things, and at times I simply have to tell them, “Well, I’m your Dad, and that’s how it’s gonna be, cuz you don’t understand everything about this issue yet…”

    The main reason I don’t believe in God actually just comes from lack of evidence.

    I suppose evidence differs depending on who is demanding it, and what is allowed to “qualify” as evidence. If it has to fit in your test tube, or be some kind of personal experience whereby you saw the face of God with your own two eyes, then that is a rather limited arena…

    So let’s look at it like this. Most Christians say that God wants a relationship with people, and Jesus was sent as a sacrifice so we could mend that relationship that was severed in the Garden of Eden. When asked why God appears so hidden, it’s said that if God made himself known to us, it would wreck our free will.

    However, God supposedly made himself known to a number of people in the Bible, and Hebrews 11 still says that these were all people of faith. Even Moses still had the ability to disobey one of God’s commands, which led to him being left out of Canaan. Solomon interacted with God, but supposedly fell away and served other gods later in life.

    So the idea that God can’t reveal himself without circumventing free will is not supported by the Bible.”

    This was the main thing I wanted to respond to, because I think your whole point here is really just based on a faulty definition, or faulty wording, or faulty something…

    You seem to be equating the phrase “Made Himself known to”= “Made someone believe and put faith in”.

    To be “known to” someone else, simply means they know about you, know who you are, know you exist. Well, the Bible says that Satan fully knows that God exists, yet he does anything but love and serve and put his faith in God!

    I don’t know where you heard such an argument like “If God made Himself known to us, if would violate our Free Will”. The Bible sure doesn’t make that argument. It actually says that God makes Himself “known” to us all the time, in many ways. It says that even that thing we today call a “conscience” is in fact a sort of “echo of God’s law” written on the heart of every person. I would say that this itself is one of the strongest evidences of God that exists in the universe.

    I have yet to hear an atheist, or deist, or mystic, or someone who believes in “panspermia” or whatever, give any sort of viable explanation as to why there exists an innate sense of morality within mankind. Sure, you will hear plenty of rambling circular thought-bombs talking about “situational ethics” and how “morality is evolving” and so and so forth, but truly, upon any amount of serious inspection, they implode, fall flat, disintegrate.

    Even the staunchest of atheists isn’t going to be found spouting off something about “transitional ethics” if say, their child was just murdered…. They are going to feel a visceral and concrete sense of true, definitive violation of a moral absolute, because that’s exactly what has occurred.

    Anyhow, I suppose I’m rabbit-trailing onto the topic of moral absolutes (probably because these discussions always seem to get there eventually), when I meant to address your comment about Hebrews 11. Basically it’s pretty simple. Yes, God made Himself known to people, and in turn, many of those people responded with faith. Some did for a while, like Solomon, but his heart turned away and he did in fact embrace some pretty nasty, pagan gods and practices. (a lot of Christians in fact don’t realize how messed up Solomon was by the end of his life…)

    But… Solomon and Moses don’t exactly hold to the comparison you were making, because yes, you are correct in saying that faith in God doesn’t mean we aren’t still capable of disobeying Him, but the essence of true Faith isn’t moral perfection, but simply Trust. God did indeed prevent Moses from entering into the land of Canaan, because of his disobedience earlier, BUT, it’s very interesting to read elsewhere in the same book of Hebrews where it explains how when we look back to guys like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and then later Moses, how they were all “promised” that land (hence the term, “the Promised Land”…) yet none of them actually received it. Abraham lived there, but never possessed it, never owned it, never gave it as an inheritance either, so did God not make good on His promise? But then Hebrews explains what it all means, what the entire Abrahamic covenant itself was all about! It wasn’t about land at all, in the temporal, earthly sense. It was about “entering His rest”, meaning the hereafter, the “New Jerusalem”, the ultimate, eternal “Promised Land”, what is so often referred to as “heaven”… So basically, yes, Moses disobeyed, and there was a “temporal consequence” to that action, yet it didn’t nullify Moses’s saving Faith overall, and in the end, God’s sovereignty used it to keep Moses OUT of the physical land of Canaan, to serve as a sign, a proof, to those Israelites who would later misunderstand and misinterpret the covenant made to Abraham, losing sight of the Kingdom of God, and making it all about themselves and their desire to establish an earthly kingdom, apart from God’s reign….

    Remember what the Israelites did when they saw the mountain consumed with fire, and the voice of God thundering down on them…? They saw God in a spectacle that few people ever will in their lifetimes, yet somehow it wasn’t enough to coerce them into belief, into true, trusting faith…

    Faith is not merely a consequence of what “evidence” and experience goes in, but on the condition of the heart, the willingness to submit and be humbled before someone beyond our control, beyond our ability to critique and judge for ourselves in every case. It means forgoing the desire to think we ourselves should have every right to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, as it were…..

    Wow that was long. Sorry, but there ya go. Response in earnest! Thanks for reading, if you got this far….

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  64. “Faith is not merely a consequence of what “evidence” and experience goes in, but on the condition of the heart, the willingness to submit and be humbled before someone beyond our control, beyond our ability to critique and judge for ourselves in every case. It means forgoing the desire to think we ourselves should have every right to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, as it were…..”

    It’s funny. I am willing to submit and be humbled, as I have demonstrated in my life. It is completely clear to me that there are many powers greater than myself. I do not think we have the ability or the right to know everything there is to know. I have experienced some very strange phenomena, for which I have no good explanation.

    Yet I do not believe in a god. Why is it too much to ask for a deity to have shown concretely that he or she exists, to me, before I believe? Why is it that the requirement for faith is specifically NOT concrete evidence? It would seem so much simpler for a god to just make it clear that he or she exists, be rightfully believed in, and get on with it.

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  65. Stranger than Fiction,

    You said,

    “This is one of the most common criticisms of the God of the Bible, which I personally find rather interesting when compared to the amount of times I’ve heard people complaining about the theistic beliefs in a figure like, say, Kali, who dances around with a necklace of human skulls around her neck… (nobody seems threatened or offended by that for some reason, so interesting why certain “imaginary gods” are so much more of a threat than others….)”

    I’m not sure it’s that we’re all accepting of kali, but more that we’re less affected by kali where we live. The god of the bible is all around us and also the god we grew up with – so he’s the one that’s “in range” so to speak.

    Regarding whether or not god is portrayed as a despot, I don’t really care what we call him, but the bible does say that god is just and loving and merciful. Sure, it also says he’s wrath and vengeance as well, and I do not think that these descriptions have to be contradictions, but I do think in some of the descriptions, the nature of god is contradicted.

    Just a few examples,

    1) God killed David’s baby to punish David for a crime David committed. To you, is that just? Even Ezekiel 18: 19-21 seem to say it is unjust.

    2) God commanded the slaughter of Canaanites so that the Israelites could have their land. This slaughter included women and children. In some instances the young girls were spared, as long as they were virgins, for the Israelites’ use. Is this just, righteous or merciful? It’s similar to what ISIL is doing now – is that okay? And you say the god of the bible was right but that ISIL is wrong, then are you saying that the actions themselves aren’t wrong, and that an action is only right or wrong if god says it is?

    You also said this,

    “The bottom line is, because He is God, and we are not, there are going to be instances on this side of eternity where we, as finite beings, are simply not privy to “the whole story” anyhow. It’s a little strange, don’t you think, for us to reject there being a God who is beyond us, because we are not actually functioning on the exact same level as He is, in every way, knowing everything ourselves, and understanding everything He does to the degree that He does. It’s basically like saying, “I reject God because I reject the idea that He could possibly understand something better or to a degree that I do not…””

    Isn’t it also interesting that people are more merciful than god? I cannot think of anyone, under any scenario, that I would like to torture for eternity. I cannot fathom killing random babies because I want their parent’s homes and virgin sisters for myself. God requires people to ask for forgiveness before he gives it, often people forgive without a word or any prerequisite – but I digress…

    I think the real bottom line is that what you know of god is merely unsubstantiated claims from other men. These men wrote the bible, claiming to speak for god. Other men translated it and copied it, and edited it, etc – all men, not even angel/human hybrids – ordinary men. Why base your faith on their claims?

    Evidence isn’t hard to grasp as a concept. What evidence did the apostles have? Or Elijah, or Gideon or Moses, or pick one… Now, what have we, but an old book of claims with scientific errors like, “a seed must die before it will grow,” and confusions on where birds came from (water or earth – gen 1 & 2) and the list goes on. We have evidence, but from my perspective it’s not in the bible’s favor.

    And you said this,

    “It actually says that God makes Himself “known” to us all the time, in many ways.”

    It may help if he did it in a real and tangible way, like he did with those people in hebrews 11, where they knew, without a doubt, that he was real. Now you may be thinking, “I know without a doubt,” but you don’t, you only believe, and there is a difference. How do you know? Because of the bible or because a feeling in your heart? How about knowing the same way you know you have a real father and mother? Because you see them for real?

    And morality is very likely something we’re born with. Humans aren’t the only ones who show it, but all animals who live in communities and groups exude it… you’re not suggesting they read the bible too? If it looks like scientific answers you’ve heard or read “fall flat” it could be that you haven’t really read up on the subject or adequately thought it through. Are you suggesting that morality (as the common def. goes) doesn’t make sense? I think it does.

    “Remember what the Israelites did when they saw the mountain consumed with fire, and the voice of God thundering down on them…? They saw God in a spectacle that few people ever will in their lifetimes, yet somehow it wasn’t enough to coerce them into belief, into true, trusting faith…”

    I do remember. It is something that only did they not trust after walking through the read sea, after leaving the plagues and now after seeing the burning mountain that they did not trust. And not only did they still not trust, they also thought that golden calves were just as powerful – which in reality could be a hint that those afore mentioned miracles (that cant be repeated) weren’t as grandiose as the book claimed…

    man, it’s just that it’s a claim about that god, and then that claim changes some when the israelites encounter other influences like the Persians and it’s all just a bunch of claims in an old compilation of books that the Catholics put together…

    why do you find it believable?

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  66. “And Yahweh passed before him and called out : Yahweh, Yaheweh, merciful and gracious god, long-suffering and abundant in kindness and truth, keeping faithfulness for thousands, bearing iniquity, transgression, and sin, though he does not utterly excuse, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third [generation] and on the fourth.
    ~~ Exodus 34:6-7 ~~

    Nothing despotic about that, is there –?

    And why “thousands?” Why not billions, or millions, such as we have today? Unless that number is all of which Bronze Age authors could conceive. But wait – this is god! Surely HE would know, wouldn’t he? And supposedly it IS in his words!

    I really don’t have time for this – you swat one down, and another one pops up! It’s like cockroaches!

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  67. (you seem to have plenty of time for it when no one is challenging your hysterical lobs…)

    I’m not sure I follow the point you are trying to make. It seems you understand that verse in Exodus to essentially be saying that “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children” (or simply “punishes the guilty”, in other versions…) to mean some kind of murder/death/kill type of enactment. It’s not saying that God kills the children of the guilty, unto the third and fourth generation (cuz really, how would that even be possible, if he instantly smote the first generation of children, how would they make more children..?) There are many types of “punishment”, and in essence it is talking about consequences for sin, as a sober reality, and this verse really is a pretty stark reminder how so many of the decisions I make do in fact impact the lives of my own children, and their children, etc… Consequences are real, and the verse is simply pointing to that as an example of a way in which God does meet out types of punishment. But this doesn’t contradict the statement about God being merciful and gracious, because in fact the scripture says that the punishment for sin is death, and if God wasn’t inclined to mercy, He’d have simply wiped us all out a long time ago. Yet we’re still here, so, if there is a God, He seems to have spared us all from annihilation…

    However, your picking on the term “thousands” as some kind of glaring irrationality is rather absurd. It’s a literary device, simply meaning “lots”. Not quite the embarrassment to the concept of divine authorship you seem to think it is…

    But anyhow, “I really don’t have time for this”… (?) Funny how I keep hearing that. First it’s haughty challenges about how “no thinking person could explain Christianity, or even attempt to make a rationale presentation of this genocidal God” etc., and then as soon as you present something to chew, anything to show that it’s not the fish-in-a-barrel shootout you think it is, suddenly everyone’s got better things to do and resort to even more angst-filled, straw-man arguments….

    I can’t help but wonder if it really isn’t just the idea itself of there being a God who has the “right” to kill us where we stand, if He chooses to do so, that doesn’t sit well with us…? It prompts such indignant resistance…

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  68. Oh yeah … that loving, tender, gracious “God who has the ‘right’ to kill us where we stand.” Just the kind of god that makes my heart sing.

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  69. you seem to have plenty of time for it when no one is challenging your hysterical lobs…

    I had things to do, I got them done – now that really IS strange behavior, isn’t it?

    First it’s haughty challenges about how “no thinking person could explain Christianity, or even attempt to make a rationale presentation of this genocidal God” etc., and then as soon as you present something to chew, anything to show that it’s not the fish-in-a-barrel shootout you think it is, suddenly everyone’s got better things to do and resort to even more angst-filled, straw-man arguments….

    I never said any of that – you really should look into those meds —

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  70. @Truth…..

    When one acknowledges that the Pentateuch is fiction, – and it is, how on earth does any of this make a blind bit of sense?

    In fact , all we have to do is take two things from the OT to completely rubbish your entire tome.
    Moses and Noah ( flood).

    Accept these as fictitious then your whole delicious delusion collapse like a house of cards.
    Unless ….you are able to provide verifiable evidence that overturns the findings and conclusions of virtually the entire non-evangelical scientific and scholarly world?

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  71. stranger than fiction,

    the bible is an old book of claims that superstitious men made, at best – why place so much stock into those claims? In other words, we don’t have anything that god said, but only things that people said that he said.

    is killing a man’s baby just, if the baby was killed to punish the father for a crime the father committed?

    Is slaughtering toddlers and baby boys just or merciful when done so that one group can take the land, homes, positions and virgin girls of another group (similar to what ISIL is doing now)?

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  72. Hi truthisstrangerthanfiction, let me be the first to welcome you to Nate’s blog. Do you have a shorter name / nickname that you’d like to be called? I’d like to respond to a few of your points:

    1. You made a point that we all have an inherent moral conscience and that this is very good evidence for a god.

    This case is laid out pretty well by C.S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity”. I do have a few concerns about it though. First, it appears to me that there is no universal agreement on a large portion of moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, alcohol consumption, smoking, eating animals, death with dignity, stem cell research, fornication, divorce, polygamy, women’s rights, etc. Second, it appears the things that we do agree on (murder and torture) could be explained naturally by preservation of the species. In other words, instincts (like empathy) that help a species survive have a better chance of proliferating than destructive instincts. Third, it appears that some humans are born that do not have these empathic instincts (I am thinking of psychopaths) which is fortunately a small number, but would indicate a deviation from the universality of this moral “conscience”.

    2. You made a point that Yahweh, as described in the old testament, has supreme authority and that claims that he is “despotic” have no relevance because he is in control and has the right to do so.

    I think when atheists make claims like this they are trying to point out internal contradictions within the texts, not necessarily saying that they “don’t like him”. I mean if you don’t believe someone exists it would be silly to not like them. Does anyone dislike Thor?

    As William pointed out there are several instances in the Bible when judgments by Yahweh appear to be “unfair”. This would be in contradiction to other portions of the Bible that say he is “fair” in a very utmost sense. Killing David’s baby for David’s sin, killing 70,000 men when David took a census, killing the firstborns in Egypt for pharaoh’s stubbornness – these are cases when a judgment is given to those who did not commit the crime (i.e. unfair).

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  73. Hi strangerthanfiction,

    Sorry I didn’t get a chance to reply sooner. And let me echo Dave’s question about whether or not there’s a shorter name you’d like to go by? 🙂

    Several other people have already asked you questions that are similar to what I would have asked, so I’ll try to stay very brief.

    First, if there really were human/angel hybrids, why should we assume it wouldn’t be just as immoral to slaughter them as it is humans?

    Secondly, as a couple of have already pointed out, the way these individuals were destroyed is pretty terrible, and it’s hard to white-wash it. I used to view these things similarly to how you’ve laid it out (as you can see from this golden oldie), but I’ve since come to view it differently: I agree that God (if he exists) would be beyond our understanding in many ways. However, terms like “loving, merciful, just” are pretty easy to understand. And events like a global flood, commands of genocide, and punishing people for someone else’s crimes are also easy to understand — and the two categories don’t really mesh together.

    If the Bible is an accurate portrait of God, then I want to know that, even if I don’t like it. But as William pointed out, the Bible was written by men (anonymously, for the most part) and compiled by men, and it appears to have a number of faults. So when I see these potential contradictions in the character of the god it describes, I don’t say “well, who am I to judge God?” and accept their claims. Instead, I become very skeptical of what they’re saying.

    And that relates to my final point as well. I agree with you that knowledge of god’s existence and faith are not quite the same thing. However, it’s very hard to have real faith in a being that can’t be shown to exist.

    Thanks again for the conversation, and welcome to my blog! 🙂

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  74. I wasn’t trying to imply that you specifically said those things, I was admittedly making a generalization about the kinds of responses I’ve been receiving from atheists in general as of late….

    But now that you mention it, gee… “You should look into those meds”.. You’re so clever. I never would’ve thought of simply accusing someone else of mental illness as an attempt at discrediting them…. 😉

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  75. You’re so clever. I never would’ve thought of simply accusing someone else of mental illness as an attempt at discrediting them….

    It’s certainly a reasonable explanation, as would be being under ten.

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  76. BTW, not interested in discrediting you, only in understanding the reasons, in the 21st century, for your belief in any religion that involves magic.

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  77. “magic”……

    How much of what you and I experience every day and now accept as completely normal and mundane, do you think would be completely mind-blowing to someone from say, a hundred years ago, to the degree that they would perceive them as “magical”…?

    How is it then that you cannot hardly conceive of the possibility that there are now, even still, a great many facets to the universe we live in which our “advanced” human minds have barely began to comprehend…?

    So much of the supposed conflict between “science” and “magic” can be quite easily overcome by bridging the gap created between the two largely created by semantics.

    One person might call it “the magical fire-less oven”, and someone else just “the microwave”…

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  78. Well, when your god’s magic reaches the point where there’s a common term for it, drop me a line. Meanwhile, please give those meds some serious consideration —

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  79. Why do you imagine that a “common term” for something must exist before the thing itself can exist?

    I suppose under this line of thinking there was no such thing as gravity until human beings were able to come up with a common term for it… 🙂

    (but I’m curious, do you regard everyone with a different understanding of the world than your own as being deserving of pharmaceutical incapacitation, or just the ones whose mental fallacies involve a supreme being whose moral precepts conflict with your own…?)

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  80. Why do you imagine that a ‘common term’ for something must exist before the thing itself can exist?” – I need proof of existence before I can generate much of an interest ion it, a common term generally follows.

    (but I’m curious, do you regard everyone with a different understanding of the world than your own as being deserving of pharmaceutical incapacitation, or just the ones whose mental fallacies involve a supreme being whose moral precepts conflict with your own…?)” – just the ones whose mental fallacies involve a supreme being, regardless of it’s moral precepts.

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  81. It appears that truth&fiction is only speaking to arch. Hmm..

    What kind of strange magic are you using Arch?

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  82. What kind of strange magic are you using Arch?

    When magic enters the equation, reason exists in disgust.

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  83. “I need proof of existence” – well, there is now very good evidence for how a solar system with planets is formed. I’m really blown away by this photo. A perfect example of science in action. First, the theories and computer simulations and now, visual confirmation.

    A star forms when a cloud of gas and dust collapses under its own weight. As the embryonic star comes together, it spins, and the excess gas and dust flatten out into a surrounding disk like a pizza. All that stuff in the disk starts to form particles that then clump together, accumulating until they eventually form asteroids, comets, and planets. As those budding bodies grow, they plow through the remaining material in the disk, creating the gaps and rings seen in the new ALMA image.

    http://www.wired.com/2014/11/alma-planetary-formation/

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  84. yes, stranger than fiction, I can imagine hat many things that we now know would have been beyond the comprehension of ancient man, and that he would likely have thought them miracles or magical.

    But this doesn’t prove that magic or miracles exist, in fact it really points to the opposite.

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  85. But this doesn’t prove that magic or miracles exist, in fact it really points to the opposite.

    Exactly, William! I’ve said it before, the supernatural is merely the natural, unexplained – people saw events, eclipses, etc., that they couldn’t explain, and these became “miracles.” Add to that blatant fabrications – global flood, Red Sea parting, pillars of fire and dust, and voila, a god is born!

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  86. and don’t forget, why should gawd allow everyone on earth to become an angel/human hybrid except for noah and his bratty children before he decided to do something about. that’s not love.

    why have a “chosen people” and consider the rest disposable trash? that is not love, that’s bullshit.

    Face it you ignorant believers, it’s all bullshit and you know it,
    you’re all just afraid of dying, so you fabricate truths to make the fairy tale seem real.

    fuck you all, assholes, believe if you want, but dont’ expect anyone else to give a shit about it. we don’t fucking have to. it doesn’t apply to us.

    your relationship with jesus is your problem, not ours.

    I’m fucking sick of you phony bullshit Christians and I’m ready to start giving those of you thinking that the rest of us are to tow the line for your fantasies “HELL ON EARTH”.

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  87. Good point William.

    Stranger, you wrote:

    How is it then that you cannot hardly conceive of the possibility that there are now, even still, a great many facets to the universe we live in which our “advanced” human minds have barely began to comprehend…?

    I can conceive that it is very possible that there are many more mysteries of reality that are yet to be discovered. These are unknown phenomena, just like quantum mechanics used to be unknown. This is very different from “magic” or “miracles” which I take to mean that there are invisible agents at work behind the scenes. I see this as jumping to a conclusion. It may be fun or comforting to believe in invisible beings, but it’s not something that can currently be supported scientifically.

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  88. …and, just to reiterate, many things that were once thought to be the direct hand of god like, hurricanes, lightning, earthquakes, rainbows, plant orbits, etc, have all been found to have very physical and natural explanations – hence no one now says, “god creates the lightning when he’s angry” or anything like that.

    I would imagine that most other things that are currently unexplained, will be found to have explanations that are also physical and natural.

    should arch be reposting everyone’s comments to stranger than fiction so the he’ll respond to them?

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  89. Nate. Yeah, it’s really amazing. I’ve seen several CG simulations of this, but to see a real photo is remarkable.

    I think it is particularly damning to those holding to a special creation worldview that think God created the earth, sun, moon and stars at the same time. Obviously, there are stars that are both older and younger than our own host star – the same goes for galaxies. Now, thanks to the ALMA telescope, we can see that there are planets out there that are still in the early formation stage. To see that other planets are currently evolving and at the same time think that our own earth was “poofed” into existence would be extreme special pleading.

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  90. there was a city that was growing up fast. Businesses moving in and population growing. As the population grew, the sheriff had been afraid that the crime rate would also grow – but it did not, which was a good sign.

    Despite the good fortune, the sheriff was not satisfied and would not be content until the crime rate was zero. The mayor told him that he had set unreasonable expectations, but even so, the sheriff put new measures in play and the crime rate reduced to record lows, although the sought after zero still wasn’t reached.

    The sheriff was dismayed and worked feverishly to devise a way to reach a crime rate of zero, something everyone else realized was unattainable.

    After trying everything he knew to do, and unable to accept “good enough” he decided to try one last measure. He instructed the city road crews to erect new traffic signs in improper places; stop signs where there was no intersection, interstate speed limit signs in residential areas, etc – he would then wait for the citizens to obey those signs and then pull them over and ticket them.

    he pitched this idea to the city counsel but they didn’t understand, “wont this create more law violations…” and, “how will this reduce the crime rate…”

    The sheriff replied, “it’s not just about reducing the crime rate, it’s about stopping crime, at any level, and ensuring our citizens know what’s right and what’s wrong.”

    “But if you install official signs, then how can you cite the people who obey and follow those signs?”

    “because they should know when the signs are legitimate and when they’re not, regardless of who put them there,” the sheriff said.

    “But law abiding citizens, who try to do what’s right, typically follow the signs. what sense does it make to install a sign, that you know people will obey and follow, and then punish them for obeying and following a sign you put in their path?”

    – – –

    the signs for evolution, for the universe, and for history and archaeology were all put there by god, if god were real. Does it make sense for god to punish people for following those signs? Many in the religious world do not only think it makes sense, they think it’s just and merciful.

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  91. Great analogy William! I think you just out-Arked Ark, though why anyone would want to do that, I’ve no idea —

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  92. Here’s three really broad questions I’ve been thinking about

    Where does our ability to reason come from?

    Where does our self awareness come from?

    Are we actually more self aware than other creatures on this planet?

    I’d like to read people’s thoughts on this 🙂

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  93. Also, what separates humans from animals?

    Why is it that we are the only creatures on this planet that document other lifeforms?

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  94. Hi portal, I will attempt to answer some of your questions.
    what separates humans from animals?
    Do you mean to suggest we are plants? Last I checked we were animals.

    Where does our ability to reason come from?

    Why must it come from somewhere? A survey of the human family gives a result of a great majority that are unable to reason.

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  95. Hey Makagutu,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond

    If humanity are just animals, then why are humans the only forms of life on this planet (and as far as we know this universe) that have built bridges out of (human engineered) material, printed words, built factories, written laws, and painted landscapes that reflect and draw on the natural world they see.

    What other life form do this?

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  96. And may I add, what animals out there reword their responses –

    I find it strange that we are a exception to every other animal that humanity has collected/domesticated/bred and classified.

    What other life forms* do this?

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  97. Hey Ryan,

    Something that really stands out to me is language. I think that really sets us apart and paved the way for a lot of things. Think about what our existence would be like if we did not have language. What would our thoughts consist of if there were no words to think with?

    Aside from our ability for higher reasoning we share a lot in common with animals. There are animals that are capable of building things (beavers, birds). There are animals that work together (bees, termites, ants). There are animals that are capable of expressing emotions (dogs, monkeys). There are animals that use names for each other (dolphins).

    I think a lot of animals are just as self-aware as we are. Where does this self-awareness come from? That is the harder question to answer. If I had to go out on a limb and take a guess – I think our self awareness is a bit of an illusion of sorts. Kind of like how a table looks like a hard surface, but at the atomic level you could sail right through it, I think our thoughts are lots of little brain synapses / neural activity that only become thoughts when they are combined by the trillions. I think a lot can be learned by looking at the difference between being awake and asleep. I’m no expert on this, so I’ll stop there.

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  98. Hi Dave,

    I hear what your saying, and I do think that other animals express their own forms of language.

    I mean, communication also extends to vibrations, colours and smells (grasshoppers, birds, snakes, bears ect).

    But has any of these animals on this planet, despite their diverse abilities, managed to have mapped out the DNA of other animals?

    Why do we as humans seem so alien?

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  99. Only humans catagorise animals and chemically preserve for years, not to eat, but to study….

    That’s really weird,

    If that’s animal behaviour…then it’s exclusively human, and shares no commonality with any other animal on earth.

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  100. Some social psychologists consider one measure of self-awareness, the ability to recognize oneself in the mirror. Apes have been found to be able to do that. Some birds, for example have been found to attempt to court the image they see, while others peck aggressively at it.

    Regardless of our ability to explain it, or any of the other items on your list, there’s no reason to cram a god into that gap.

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  101. Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Why do we go to such great lengths to try and figure things out? Good question Ryan.

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  102. Why is it that we are the only creatures on this planet that document other lifeforms?

    Until we are able to interpret whalesongs, I can’t say that we are. For all we know, they are reciting word-of-mouth history/fables, much as ancient Hebrews did for thousands of years before some Bronze Age priests got the idea of writing it down. And there was certainly a time, slightly more than three thousand year ago, out of a possible 3 million, when we couldn’t do that either.

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  103. And may I add, what animals out there reword their responses –

    Until we can understand their languages, we will never know. And they do have languages – for example, I grew up around cardinals, because of their beauty, they quickly became my favorite bird. As a child, I learned to imitate their call. I am surrounded by them where I live now, but the call of these birds is entirely different from that of the ones I grew up with – clearly, though the exact same species but separated by distance, they have evolved a different language, just as Mak’s native tongue is Luo, and mine, English.

    I have a question for you Portal – for how long have we NOT been able to do all of these magnificent things, versus how long we have? If you had visited this planet from another world only a hundred thousand years ago – a mere drop in the bucket of Time – what would you have reported back to your multi-tentacled friends, to have been Earth’s dominant species? And upon what basis would you have arrived at that conclusion?

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  104. portal,

    As much as the things you mention are astounding, the human person believes she is special because of the things they have done. Many are the times I wish I could explain why we do these things.

    Have you sat by a muddy riverbed to listen to the singsong of frogs when the water is disturbed.

    Every time I read about this exceptionalism, I wonder if the person asking this question has asked themselves how many times we try to copy the method of construction as used by the ant in constructing an anthill or a beehive.

    And am tempted also to enumerate the many things that humans do that would make other animals blush. We are animals, the difference is only in degree not in kind.

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  105. Anthropologists tell us that there was a time, little more than a hundred thousand years ago, when the entire human population on earth was divided between two small groups, of roughly a thousand persons each, huddled on the Southern and Eastern coasts of Africa, living on fish and crustaceans – how successful would we have seemed then as a species, as seen by outside observers? What odds would they have given, that one day we would dominate the planet and fly to the moon?

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  106. And am tempted also to enumerate the many things that humans do that would make other animals blush.

    Mark Twain once wrote, “Man is the only animal that blushes – or has any need to.

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  107. It’s all about uncommitted cerebral cortex. So far in this discussion, the porpoise and the octopus have been ignored. They set a pretty high standard for intelligence and as for communication, we haven’t even begun to understand the porpoise.

    If you really want to understand consciousness, then it might be useful for you all to read “A User’s Guide to the Brain” by Dr. John Ratey. If you want to understand the brain tools humans use, then you should get your own copy of “Your Natural Gifts” by Margaret Broadley, describing the 19 inherited talents. If you want to understand morality, it will be quite useful to acquire “Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Revels about Morality” by Dr. Laurence Tancredi.

    Of course, things go wrong with the human brain. That’s the way it is with extremely complex technology. If you want to understand that, you should take a peek at “Shadow Syndromes” by Dr. John Ratey and Dr. Catherine Johnson. Or you could just buy the DSM5.

    For the ultimate understanding of modern corporate culture (along with the religious Cult Corporate), you can’t go wrong in reading “Moral Mazes” by Robert Jackall, supplemented by “Without Conscience” by Dr. Robert Hare and “Snakes in Suits” by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare. If you want to guard against the described human aberrations, then you can’t go wrong with “Life Code” by Dr. Phil. If you want to recover from said aberrations, then follow the advice of Janja Lalich and Madelein Tobias in “Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships”.

    Until you all have an opportunity to absorb these resources, there is little point for further discussion because we won’t have any common ground to hold meaningful discourses (only opportunities to render factless opinions).

    Oh, and by the way, if you want to have religious discussions, you’d better learn the material in “Why Faith Fails: The Christian Delusion” edited by John W. Loftus.

    I know, I know. Nobody reads any more. It feels more intelligent to think you’re multitasking over the Internet when in fact too much exposure actually significantly reduces attention span and concentration, but hey! If it feels like you’re making progress and feeling brilliant, then optimizing the dopamine levels is all that counts, right?

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  108. Hey Ryan,

    I think you have some great questions. I thought a lot of the responses were similar to the things I’d say. Regarding differences between animals and humans, here is a book I have on my reading list that may give you more good info: “The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals”. I’ve seen it recommended by others online. Also, I’ve heard from online courses that our frontal lobe of our brain is a major distinction from other animals which may be a large source of differences, but I’m no expert. I’ve also read a lot of articles indicating that the many things which we thought long ago were unique to humans have recently been found to exist in some other species, and that is still something that is changing as we continue to learn and investigate. But obviously there seems to be clear differences at least in magnitude, but I wonder sometimes if it is only in magnitude and not in specific categories of function. Our recent addition of a puppy into our home has actually given me more of a respect for similarities rather than differences, but again that’s not saying there are no differences.

    All of the questions you’ve listed are active fields within science and philosophy, so as Black Ops suggested you’ve gut a multitude of books to get you at least a start at some answers. Some of the details within these questions that we don’t have definitive answers to yet are just that – i.e. “questions that we don’t have definitive answers to yet”. 🙂

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  109. Every week that goes by, it seems that scientific research finds that our animal friends (especially our domestic companions) have a lot more than we’ve given them credit for.

    Just HOW did that cat dial 9-1-1 when its owner was in severe distress? If you think about it, the feline would have to know some how to knock the phone off the hook and then use its little kitty paws to press 9, then 1 and then 1.

    Of course we could say that the cat was just practicing self-preservation because if the owner died, who’d take care of the cat?

    Just sayin’.

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  110. Great book suggestions, Mikey — thanks!

    Ryan,
    I agree that you’ve posed some good questions; however, we need to remember that we’ve discovered a number of links between us and the other animals. While our intelligence (and opposable thumbs) have helped us advance technologically, other humans, like Neanderthals and Denisovans, would likely be as advanced if they hadn’t died off. So we may not be as much of an aberration as it would initially seem. If all the links between us and chimps were still around, we might not feel quite so special. :/

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  111. Neanderthals and Denisovans, would likely be as advanced if they hadn’t died off

    Watched an interesting BBC documentary last week that offered some interesting theories as to why that happened – one of which, feminists are not going to be too crazy about. According to the documentary, Neanderthals had occupied Europe for centuries before Cro-Magnon arrived and basically had the home court advantage. But socially, they were isolationists, operating in small bands of 20-30 and not being particularly social, even among other groups of their own species, whereas our species was more gregarious. Thus, when new ideas came along, they spread quickly among our species, whereas among Neanderthals, new ideas and/or inventions remained within the tribe.

    The second, and equally important reason, was the division of labor – women staying home, raising children, picking berries and digging for edible roots meant that even when our guys came home empty-handed with stories about the one that got away, they at least had SOMEthing to eat, even if it wasn’t meat.

    That process led to the idea of barter – services for services – among the various tribes, then to bartering goods for goods, and ultimately to an economic system that the anti-social Neanderthals lacked.

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  112. That’s really interesting.

    And since we’re on the subject, I was surprised a couple of years ago when I found out that most of us actually have some Neanderthal DNA.

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  113. Aren’t the Neaderthals a kinder, gentler, peace keeping, family oriented, rational being?

    Those with their DNA just don’t fit in to modern society.

    They must be killed off to make way for progress.

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  114. most of us actually have some Neanderthal DNA – Some more than others, my son-in-law, for example —

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  115. Aren’t the Neaderthals a kinder, gentler, peace keeping, family oriented, rational being?” – Clearly you haven’t met my son-in-law. Think King Kong on steroids, with a toothache —

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  116. You didn’t say that your son-in-law had Neaderthal DNA.

    And even if he did, it’s clear the homo sapiens DNA is winning out.

    The anger / warrior genes have an evolutionary advantage in the survival of the fittest and natural selection.

    One wonders though, if your daughter’s choice in husbands was natural selection or something else entirely.

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  117. Just remember, once again, that alcoholism is a sex linked inherited trait of a disorder of the liver making it improperly metabolizing alcohol — from DNA inherited through the mother.

    On the other hand, insanity is genetic: It’s passed from the children to the parents.

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  118. One wonders though, if your daughter’s choice in husbands was natural selection” – I don’t recall de-volution being mentioned in “On the Origin of Species,” but it may have been implied.

    insanity is genetic: It’s passed from the children to the parents.” – Whether genetic or simply contagious, it definitely flows upward. I was the poster boy for mental health until I became a parent, and the outcome should be obvious to everyone. Can I get an “Amen!” Neuro?

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  119. Nate and Ryan,

    nate said,

    “Ryan,
    I agree that you’ve posed some good questions; however, we need to remember that we’ve discovered a number of links between us and the other animals. While our intelligence (and opposable thumbs) have helped us advance technologically, other humans, like Neanderthals and Denisovans, would likely be as advanced if they hadn’t died off. So we may not be as much of an aberration as it would initially seem. If all the links between us and chimps were still around, we might not feel quite so special. :/” – nate

    but let’s also be aware that although most humans use technology, it was a few who created that technology, and the majority merely benefit from their genius. the vast majority of us are essentially trained monkeys who have been taught how to turn on and turn off certain devices. We can mimic mathematical formulas but the vast majority of people could not derive those formulas from scratch.

    I suggest we’re not as advanced we think we are.

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  120. What’s really frightening, William – Nate’s poop not withstanding – is the thought that if any global disaster struck, and we lost all modern technology, we wouldn’t have the basic survival skills that our ancestors had. We’d have to learn it all over again. How many do you know – without the aid of modern conveniences – can make fire from scratch? Keep food from spoiling without refrigeration? And how many would die before we figured it all out?

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  121. I ran across something, Nate – assuming you’ve put away your poop for the moment – that might interest you, since you and Mike were having a go-’round involving unfulfilled biblical prophecies:

    Faking a prophecy of the city of birth: The 8th century BC Jewish sage ‘Micah’ writes about Assyrian invaders and a series of skirmishes in Samaria. He predicts (quite incorrectly as it turns out) that a ruler will arise from David’s Bethlehem and conquer Assyria.

    What does Micah actually say? The Massoretic (Hebrew) text of Micah 5.2, translated, says:

    “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah who is little among the clans of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be a ruler in Israel.”

    ‘Bethlehem Ephrathah’ here refers to the clan who are descendants from a man called Bethlehem, the son of Caleb’s second wife Ephrathah referred to in 1 Chronicles – it does not refer to a town at all!

    Undeterred, Matthew subtly alters the quoted text in his own story (2.6):

    “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means the most insignificant of Judah, for out of you will come forth a ruler in Israel.”

    What Matthew has done is change the reference to a clan, to a reference to a city – but who would notice!

    This is from “‘Matthew,’ A Gospel for Messianic Jews.”

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  122. From the same source:

    Matthew maintains that ‘Isaiah’ had prophesied that Jesus would be born of a virgin:

    “Behold, a virgin will be with child, and will bring forth a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel,”
    – Matthew 1.23.

    Matthew’s source is the Septuagint (Isaiah 7.14). But the Greek-speaking translators of this version of Hebrew scripture (prepared in 3rd century BC Alexandria) had slipped up and had translated ‘almah’ (young woman) into the Greek ‘parthenos’ (virgin).

    The Hebrew original says: ‘Hinneh ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel.’

    Honestly translated, the verse reads: ‘Behold, the young woman has conceived — and bears a son and calls his name Immanuel.’

    The slip did not matter at the time, for in context, Isaiah’s prophecy (set in the 8th century BC but probably written in the 5th century BC) had been given as reassurance to King Ahaz of Judah that his royal line would survive, despite the ongoing siege of Jerusalem by the Syrians. And it did. In other words, the prophecy had nothing to do with events in Judaea eight hundred years into the future!

    Yet upon this doctored verse from Isaiah the deceitful scribe who wrote “Matthew” was to concoct the infamous prophecy that somehow the ancient Jewish text had presaged the miraculous birth of the Christian godman.

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  123. And:

    Faking a reason for the trip to Egypt:

    Only Matthew tells the story of the holy family rushing off to Egypt to escape the murderous intent of Herod the Great. And yet Herod was a firmly established ruler who skillfully stayed on the winning side at Rome over four decades. He also had full-grown male heirs to succeed him.

    The notion that Herod would be “afraid” that the baby of an obscure Nazareth carpenter would supplant him is laughable. According to Luke the blessed trio returned immediately to Nazareth without any concern for the wrath of the Jewish king. But the Egyptian connection is vital to Matthew’s purposes – he has in mind a literary vignette in which Herod plays the part of “Pharaoh”, infants are killed, and “Israel” (=”Jesus”) is rescued.

    Matthew this time quotes the venerable “Hosea”, though without giving his source:

    “So he got up and took along the young child and its mother by night and withdrew into Egypt, and he stayed there until the decease of Herod, for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet, saying: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ ” (2.14,15)

    Perhaps if Matthew had admitted that he was selectively quoting from Hosea 11.1 informed listeners would have known that the reference is not a prophecy at all. Hosea is lamenting the ‘degenerate vine’ of Israel of his own day, unlike the chosen people at an earlier time:

    “When Israel was a boy, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

    “Israel” and “son” here mean the Jewish people. In other words, the connection of the Hebrew exodus with Jesus is completely spurious – but it makes a good story.

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  124. Sounds like a great book, arch! I’m familiar with the issues surrounding the flight to Egypt and the virgin birth, of course. And I had read once that the reference to Bethlehem in Micah was a bit suspect as well, but I didn’t know the details of that one. Thanks for sharing!

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  125. “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails” makes the same points and many more.

    No one seems interested in the fact that the Catholics wrote the New Testament and may have done so based only on the word-of-mouth tales (tradition) of superstitious illiterate peasants. There does seem to be a dearth of provenance for the New Testament, and, worse, it isn’t really clear at all that history supports even the existence of Jesus at all.

    Now mind you, I would like to believe. I grew up with this stuff. Western Civilization is built on the Bible for better or worse. Nevertheless, I find it disturbing that no one seems to be able to address these problems in a credible manner.

    So now, just to keep things interesting, I present a moral / ethic dilemma for the nominally godly — and it’s not trivial because it keeps popping up in modern media:

    We all know the story of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. OK, OK, maybe not, since you might know them by the more familiar Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They risked their lives and refused to bow down to the golden idol of the king… but what if… what if… instead they had to face the prospect of living and watching their parents tortured and killed off. Or their children (if any). If this sounds familiar, just countenance the latest Star Trek (Into Darkness) where a man kills himself by blowing up a secret Federation facility so his daughter with a rare disease can be cured and live. Or dozens and hundreds of other scenarios played out in Arrow, Person of Interest, etc etc.

    Now then.

    What does God expect of a Christian? And yeah, I already know I John 1 where Christians have an advocate to have their sins forgiven. But really, that’s just a cop out. Would you really divulge national secrets which may cause the death of hundreds (or even millions) just so you can save your mother (son, daughter) — like that drama with parents compromising themselves to save their children (interestingly enough, the President was willing to allow his son to die to keep his oath of office, but his wife, the first lady was not so stalwart. And people died).

    Now given what I see of diversity amongst Christians (I’m not sure there is such a thing as a monolithic ‘Christianity’ — it’s a hodge-podge confused mess of divergent beliefs), I have doubts that anyone could give a good account of themselves based on uncompromising principle — particularly in the case of abortion after a case of rape.

    So is there anyone who would say as a ‘Christian’, “I won’t compromise because it would dishonor God and I will let my loved ones be tortured and die”? Or will everyone to a man cop out? “It’s so much more loving,” you know, like the Corinthians who let a man who committed fornication with his father’s wife (stepmom) stay in the congregation (if you remember, the Apostle Paul had him kicked out on principle).

    Is there an adequate answer?

    Besides the deafening silence, that is.

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  126. If I were a Christian, I would suspect the stock response you would get is, “Well, god let HIS son be tortured and die, what makes you think YOUR child is any better?”

    Of course since I’m not, my own response to that would be that if one is to believe the NT, after three days in the ground, his own kid was alive and well, and within a time period that no one seems to agree on, was back home with daddy, sipping cognac in front of the celestial fireplace. Then too, there’s the whole, he let his son be tortured and die as a sacrifice to himself, after rules that he didn’t have to make, were broken, thing —

    I’m currently re-reading “The Hidden Face of God,” by Friedman, and he makes some very interesting and insightful points. He demonstrates that from Genesis onward, a theme runs through the OT, whereby the god of the Bible gradually steps back and relinquishes control of things to humans, finally disappearing altogether, as in the Book of Esther, where he’s never even mentioned. The NT breaks the continuity of that theme, indicating a different mindset at work entirely. It would be like you’ve just finished reading a book by Charles Dickens, and started a sequel to, say, “A Tale of Two Cities,” but written by Mark Twain – the style is so different, it’s jarring.

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  127. Yes, of course: The Cheshire God, gradually disappearing until what’s left of His grin just disappears, while the caterpillar keeps asking, “Who are You?” The explanation I’ve heard is that the people didn’t want God around and He didn’t much like their sins and violence anyway, so He just became a disappearing deadbeat dad.

    And then…

    This is the foremost thing that bothers me about Christianity: the way it does not resolve to anything concrete.

    What does the bible’s god REALLY want people to do? Does bible-god want people to keep Saturday sabbaths and annual holy days, or does he not? Does bible-god want people to sacrifice animals on altars or does he not? Does bible-god want people to tithe or does he not? Does bible-god want people not to eat pork and shellfish, or does he not care what you eat? Does bible-god want women’s head’s covered or is he okay either way? Should we hate our enemies, like David said (Psalm 139:21-22), or should we love our enemies, like Jesus said (Matt. 5:43-45)?

    The gospel writers, Jesus, and Paul, all played very fast and loose with their treatment of “scripture” (the old testament), interpreting it in ways that often had little if any connection to what the biblical writer they were quoting actually meant to say. They cherry-picked which parts they felt were valid and which parts they felt were not. The same is true today. One of the reasons why there are 42,000+ different sects of Christianity is because people can’t agree about how bible-god wants people to live, worship, and believe.

    Instead of converging, the bible is so contradictory that even people who believe it can all be rationalized can’t agree on the correct way to rationalize it. They wind up coming away with divergent ideas about what bible-god wants. There is no statement about biblical “teaching” that can be made, though it may be backed up with the most compelling Scripturally-supported logic, which, from a different point-of-view, cannot be repudiated as dead wrong in favor of a alternate doctrinal position, which can also be backed up with an equally compelling scripturally-supported logic. Any attempt to rationalize the various rationalizing logics and points-of-view will leave you with absolutely nothing. You will be forced to draw the conclusion that there is no bible-god. But people don’t usually attempt to do this. Instead, they spend their whole lives going around in ideological circles, adopting at one time one point-of-view, at another time another point-of-view from a limited set of more or less contradictory points-of-view. When christians see others doing this, they call it “situational ethics.” When they do the same thing, they don’t even notice.

    Of course, there’s another issue: Where the Bible is fairly clear, Christians just plain choose to be confused because they let their emotions (lusts) get in the way and flat out don’t do what it says because it doesn’t feel right to them with their socially conditioned consciences. The foremost example of this is the movie, “God’s Not Dead” starring Hercules and Clark Kent / Superman from Smallville. Now Scripture is clear about “flee fornication”, “be not unequally yoked with unbelievers”, “know you not it is a shame for a man to have long hair”, but here we are: These upstanding Christians are living together with unbelievers and the men are sporting long hair. I mean, if I were familiar with the Bible and had never heard of Christianity, I’d be really confused. And given that the protagonist of the morality play finally came to realize that his girlfriend of 6 years was manipulating him to do what SHE wanted and believed, you just have to wonder, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Jeez, it’s enough to make you want to use those darn euphemisms.

    I’m personally finding all of this chaotic and irrational without much of an excuse. Maybe all of Christianity needs to repent, reinvent itself and present solidarity were “we are not divided, all one body we”, but then those cultmeisters may not be able to cash in on the Chri$tian Mu$ic and take the loot to live in mansions and have expensive nice things.

    What??!??!!!

    Is it all about the money?!

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  128. know you not it is a shame for a man to have long hair

    If you’re not confused enough, look up a Jewish sect known as the Nazarites, who believed it was a sin for a man to cut his hair.

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  129. Hi Nate, I read this before, but decided not to comment and get involved in the argy bargy that follows. I haven’t read all the comments, but I thought it may be worthwhile now the dust has settled to offer a more charitable explanation of Craig’s comments, not to have an argument, but to offer an alternative.

    1. I think pointing out the possible meaningless of life is worth doing, not because we think human beings are “so magnificent and complex, we simply can’t be an accident!” (after all, one of the strong and most criticised features of the evangelical faith of people like Craig is human sin), but because we are human and we have aspirations and we mostly want our lives to be meaningful.

    2. I don’t think this is in any way an argument for the existence of God, but an argument why the question of the existence of God is worth investigating seriously.

    3. You ask why God’s life isn’t meaningless, but this isn’t a logical consequence of Craig’s statement. The reason why our life is meaningless without God (he is arguing) is because it is short and leads to nothing except other lives which ditto. The reason why life with God is meaningful (he is arguing) is because it goes on and is part of something bigger and lasting. So is God’s life, so his life is meaningful for the same reason.

    Now I’m not sure that I agree with the logic of this (a short happy life has at least some meaning, in the pleasure we have for that time), but I think you have misunderstood the logic.

    4. In the end, the question still is whether it is true or not.

    Thanks.

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  130. You seem to have mellowed a bit, E, since last we tangled met, and seem now to be willing to admit that each coin has two sides. Congrats!

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  131. Thanks Arch, I don’t think I’ve changed, I think I always was willing to let each person hold their own beliefs. I think we tangled more over apparent facts, but I can sometimes be clumsy and pushy. I’m glad if I have come across better, I hope that is the real me. Thanks.

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  132. Hi UnkleE,

    Just a quick question:

    “The reason why life with God is meaningful (he is arguing) is because it goes on and is part of something bigger and lasting. So is God’s life, so his life is meaningful for the same reason.”

    Don’t really agree with this part – just because something is eternal doesn’t make it meaningful.

    While part of something bigger and lasting would imply that God will need to create things to be meaningful. By Himself His own life would have no meaning as well.

    So going by this logic I would argue that Nate’s assertion still stands.

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  133. Hi Powell, I guess it depends on your definition of meaningful, something neither Craig nor Nate nor I have done (as far as I am aware). But giving eternal life to many billions of people seems sort of meaningful to me.

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