William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

From Paganism To Christianity To Deism To Malleism

Lon Chaney, Jr undergoing species reassignment surgery.

Lon Chaney, Jr undergoing species reassignment surgery.

Pagans—the word is not an insult—believed that God was immanent. If you’ve seen Star Wars, you have it. “The Force” was God, and The Force was everything. To quote that most eminent of authorities, “The Force is a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power”. Since people are part of existence, they are part of God. God was not a separate entity.

Of course, Pagans had more than God-as-all-that-exists; they also had created superior beings, i.e. the gods. But these gods were not God, only poor fractured creatures like us, subject to whim, emotion, calamity, even destruction.

Christianity intervened and explained that God was not immanent, but transcendent. God is not the universe: God created and creates and sustains, at every moment, the universe. Without God, not only could the universe (defined as all that exists, which includes, if they do exist, multiverses and the like) not come into existence, it could not continue existing even for fraction of fraction of a second without His constant, loving attention.

People are part of creation, but are not part of God. People owe to God a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid for the gift of their existence. With Pagans, Christians taught sin exists.

Then came the Deists, who kept the idea of God the creator but married to it the Pagan conception of God as merely superior being. God wasn’t part of everything, but He started the whole shebang rolling. Perhaps, though only every now and then, He checked up on his creation, but largely He was content to let things unfold by the rules He specified. God was not particularly interested in people. Where God came from was left vague. Sin began to disappear.

Finally we arrive at atheism, which isn’t anything. Saying, “I believe there is no God” is not a working philosophy. It doesn’t get you anywhere. But since we all need a working philosophy, one was invented; rather, it is now in the process of being invented. Since (mostly in the West) it is young, this working philosophy is still in its rebellious phase, and is now nothing more than petulant whatever-Christians-like-we-dislike reactions. This will pass.

Our task is to investigate this new metaphysics. It is the question of the new millennium. For a rough neologism, I suggest Malleism, meant to imply malleability, infinite changeability: I’m also fond of the mal- prefix. This atheistic, scientism-derived philosophy is the belief that we are gods, from which it follows we are in charge of our own creation, which is to say, us.

Malleists hold that reality outside humans exists as those in thrall to scientism say it does. Missiles and baseballs and electrons fly along paths dictated by the laws of physics, laws which arose out of nothing or “chance.” But we operate on rules we ourselves invent. Malleism is not scientism, though it relies on it. Scientism is paganism sans immanence. Nature is blind, uncaring, indifferent. But notice that Nature still exists and is spoken of as if it is a creature. Nature is all there is, and it operates on its (her?) own rules.

Except, somehow, we are above Nature. And superior, both beholden and not beholden to it. This explains the push to insist on the one hand that our bodies are subject to determinate physical forces, and therefore we do not have free will, but on the other hand—nobody knows how—some of us have risen above these forces to tell the world that we do not have free will and that we would make better choices if we only realized we cannot make choices.

We are what we say we are. If I, a man, insist I am a woman, then I am a woman. If I say I am married to a playground ride, then I am married to a playground ride. If I say I may kill myself whenever I displease myself, then I may. If I want to be given a child, then I must have one. Whatever I desire, I must have and must be given. And may my enemies be damned for disagreeing. Sin, except for disagreement, is entirely absent.

The anger over opposition arises naturally, as it would in a god unhappy over a missed sacrifice and who thus sends a raucous thunderstorm as punishment. Since we are gods, our authority over ourselves is absolute, and therefore unquestionable. So how, then, do we get along with the other gods? I have no idea.

Of course, no philosophy is free of influence from what came before. Paganism is still tooling along, as is Deism and even Christianity. But none of these will be the dominant metaphysics or religion. Something like Malleism will be. But what?

111 Comments

  1. Not all those whom you describe as “malleists” do believe reality exists outside the mind. Those who believe in scientism as well do, but there are a large portion that don’t believe reality even exists, that we create our own reality and that reality should not be constrained by rules (though technically, they would be rules of our own making—a detail). You ask why Malleism will rule—check out the Garden of Eden. Two individuals were given a rule and broke it. Started out with the first two people.

    Now, there’s an interesting problem if we insert evolution. Humans are part of evolution, or they ‘re aliens. Assuming we are not aliens, we evolved something nothing else on the planet appears to have—an imagination. Which supposedly makes us superior and gives us a “moral” responsibility to save the planet which the imagination allowed us to believe we could destroy. Except there is nothing in the theory that I can find that explains how this happened. You can attribute “self-interest” as the reason not to destroy the planet, althought technically, it’s “societal interest” because you need only care about your “x” years on the planet, but the theory does not hold. It’s an interesting, contradictory idea that we somehow became gods of a planet that evolved with us as part of it. (I, of course, am going with us being aliens because that solves so many things, it’s so much easier. 🙂 )

  2. “Pagans—the word is not an insult” Of course it is. See:
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pagan

    “People owe to God a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid for the gift of their existence.” Is something that cannot be repaid really a debt?

    “If I say I may kill myself whenever I displease myself, then I may.” And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee…

    “This atheistic, scientism-derived philosophy is the belief that we are gods, from which it follows we are in charge of our own creation, which is to say, us.” This looks like a null set to me.

    “some of us have risen above these forces to tell the world that we do not have free will and that we would make better choices if we only realized we cannot make choices.” They are called Calvinists.

  3. Sander van der Wal

    June 27, 2014 at 9:11 am

    So, what we have nowadays is all people behaving as the nobility in Europe during the Middle Ages. And look, the nobility in those days were Roman Catholics. Seems to me that philosophy worked very well indeed.

  4. Pagan is an insult in some situations, but if a person identifies as being pagan, it wouldn’t be. (Kind of like the “n” word—if blacks use it, it’s okay. If white’s do, it’s an insult. I know this is not rational, but it is how things seem to be at the moment.)

    Plucking out one’s eye is theoretically not an absolute road to leaving the planet (though in Biblical times, it would have close) as is suicide. If one believes that every single aspect of the Bible is literal, could be a problem. On the other hand, if one believes God to be rational, it looks more like a non-literal command designed to explain why one should not run about carrying ideas and actions that are anti-God, even if removing them comes at great cost. Denying God is worse than losing the eye.

    I was waiting for Calvinism to come up!

  5. Sander, I don’t believe you have your history correct. But that’s just an opinion, buttressed by what my wife, who did her graduate work in Medieval history says.

  6. I’ll quote from she who must be obeyed: “there have always been corrupt people. As far as the Medieval aristocracy goes, many were devoutly religious and truly moral people. And there were many who deserted both their religious faith and their political responsibilities. There was an order, in which all, from kings down to serfs had obligations and responsibilities and could be deposed if they didn’t fulfill these. Unfortunately then, as now, practice does not always match standards.”

  7. Briggs, I’m not entirely happy with your etymology. Malleable means changeable, true. But that implies being able to be guided by the hammer of good influences and teaching, which these new atheists are not.

  8. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 27, 2014 at 11:10 am

    we evolved something nothing else on the planet appears to have—an imagination.

    Not so. All animals — at the very least, all those that can be trained — possess imagination; that is, the ability to combine the sense impressions from multiple channels (which arrive in the brain at different times) into a single “image” (a/k/a “phantasm” or “ymago”) by means of the common sense, to store those images in memory, and to manipulate those images by imaginationproper. The whole are called the inner senses or perception, and the phantasm is sometimes called a percept.
    What makes man different is intellect and free will, collectively known as reasoning or intellect in general. It reflects on the images or percepts and abstracts (pulls out) from them concepts or “universals,” which it evaluates as “good” or “bad,” much as all animals do with the estimative power of the imagination.
    The distinctions between sensation, imagination, and intellection are radical, that is, they go to the root. The urge to poop belongs to sensation, and is not a matter for the intellect, except in that the intellect may determine that this is not an appropriate time and place to indulge that urge. (http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/06/wtf.html) Some wags call that “free won’t.”
    The sheep perceives a wolf and esteems it an enemy and so flees as its instinct requires of it. But a man may perceive a wolf and conceive of the possibility of killing or trapping it and selling the skin for a profit at the annual rendezvous. He may flee or fight as seems best. His will is political rather than instinctive.

    “If I say I may kill myself whenever I displease myself, then I may.”
    And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee…

    Either that or one acquires an appreciation for the role of hyperbole in Hebrew rhetoric.

    I was waiting for Calvinism to come up!

    A friend of mine, who was raised and remains Dutch Reformed, commented one time that Dawkins is a Calvinist.

  9. “What makes man different is intellect and free will …”

    Surely the same arguments that are used for man also apply to many animals. Even a dog will hold it in until walkie time. This must be free will, or possibly free willie.

    “Either that or one acquires an appreciation for the role of hyperbole in Hebrew rhetoric.”

    There is a third possibility, which is that I am surrounded by concrete thinkers.

  10. “The sheep perceives a wolf and esteems it an enemy and so flees as its instinct requires of it. But a man may perceive a wolf and conceive of the possibility of killing or trapping it and selling the skin for a profit at the annual rendezvous. ”

    A may may even conceive of the possibility of trapping it alive and training it to help him hunt.

  11. Rarely have I seen anyone so misunderstand what people of different beliefs actually believe. I am an atheist, but do not recognize myself at all in your description of atheism. I do, on the other hand, see the projections of your own beliefs, and insecurities with them, on atheism, which is no more, and no less, than a conviction that there is no God, at least not any God I’ve heard of.

    JMJ

  12. JMJ: Why is it that someone who does not believe in God needs any kind of designation other than “someone who does not believe in God”? Why is there a specific word describing this? There’s no word for people who don’t believe in aliens, no word for people who don’t believe in unicorns, etc. Why did the lack of belief in God warrant a title of its own?

  13. Your description on atheism is shockingly lacking in logic. Just because you believe in god and all the traits you ascribe therein does not make it so. Atheism isn’t a “belief”. It’s a shorthand way to state I don’t believe all those stories I hear about god. I suppose if there were large groups of adults that believed in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus there would follow a need to come up with a similar word to describe ones non belief in those.

  14. The sheep perceives a wolf and esteems it an enemy and so flees as its instinct requires of it. But a man may perceive a wolf and conceive of …

    Somehow the sheep’s instinct doesn’t apply when it comes to sheep dogs. Maybe their instinct is good at measuring the distance between relations.

    If you were to come face to face with a wolf in the wild, you may find it to your advantage to do all that perceiving, conceiving and contemplating while doing your best to imitate the sheep by trying to be somewhere else (sans the wolf) lest you end up on the short end of Darwin’s theory.

  15. This was an interesting argument for why atheism is a belief:
    http://www.rzim.eu/the-scandanavian-sceptic-or-why-atheism-is-a-belief-system

  16. Sheri,
    “Why did the lack of belief in God warrant a title of its own?”

    I don’t think that those without belief came up with the word atheist, or its Greek original, anymore than the polytheistic Romans called themselves pagans. It is another insult term applied to the godless by the religious of all stripes. I believe that you are religious, Sheri, so the question is: why do you need such a term?

  17. Sheri, I can recommend all youtube clips of NonStampCollector.

  18. For historical accuracy, it was Judaism, not Christianity, that “intervened and explained that God was not immanent, but transcendent.”

  19. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Sheri,

    There’s no word for people who don’t believe in aliens, no word for people who don’t believe in unicorns, etc. Why did the lack of belief in God warrant a title of its own?

    The easy supposition is that it arose in opposition to the ubiquity of theism and its influence on society and individuals. In all things there are opposition, nowhere more so than in human interactions.

    Unicorn myths don’t evoke the same sort of power and ultimate authority of God(s). UFOs might evoke more power and potential authority, but they don’t have the same foundational cultural influence for one, and most UFO believers don’t claim that extraterrestrial aliens created the universe and all in it — L. Ron Hubbard fans a notable possible exception.

  20. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Briggs,

    Finally we arrive at atheism, which isn’t anything. Saying, “I believe there is no God” is not a working philosophy. It doesn’t get you anywhere.

    In and of itself, no.

    But since we all need a working philosophy, one was invented;

    Begs the question that not all working philosophies were invented. Otherwise, it’s all but indisputable that we work best within some framework of ideals and perceived truths.

    … this [new] working philosophy is still in its rebellious phase, and is now nothing more than petulant whatever-Christians-like-we-dislike reactions.

    When some Christians get to arguing whose cafeteria has got the best spread, it’s time to break out the popcorn and rootbeer.

    Even more fun to insist on using the word “moral” with the kind of atheists whom you fittingly call Malleists. I must say your coinage has won me over. Though I really wish you’d put down the yard-wide paint brush you’re using to apply it.

    This will pass.

    It will almost certainly change, same as it has been doing — by increments, over time, with branchings, rejoinings, revisitings. See your own words: infinite changeability.

    This atheistic, scientism-derived philosophy is the belief that we are gods, from which it follows we are in charge of our own creation, which is to say, us.

    Yah well, I can argue from an agnostic perspective without so much as cracking open the book of empiricism: If there are no God(s) then We must be They for all intents and purposes. Is there any other logical argument I could make from those stated premises?

  21. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    DAV,

    If you were to come face to face with a wolf in the wild, you may find it to your advantage to do all that perceiving, conceiving and contemplating while doing your best to imitate the sheep by trying to be somewhere else (sans the wolf) lest you end up on the short end of Darwin’s theory.

    One of life’s little ironies is that atheists will never know that they are right. The only thing death holds for them is the possibility of finding out they were wrong.

  22. Scotian: I don’t need such a term. There are people now who wear the title with pride, so I suppose that why the title continues. It was derogatory at first and then people decided to wear it.

    Hans Erren: Thanks, but I rarely do YouTube.

    Brandon: Ron Hubbard’s religious followers definitely believe in aliens, as do some other “religious:” groups. It’s all in the definition.

    Did anyone read my link or should I post some of it here to facilitate the understanding of a possible rebuttal to “atheism is not a belief”? It at least had some potential.

  23. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Sheri,

    Ron Hubbard’s religious followers definitely believe in aliens, as do some other “religious:” groups. It’s all in the definition.

    I know they believe in DC-3 flying aliens. I just don’t know if they believe those aliens created the whole universe or not. It’s just a panspermia argument otherwise.

    Did anyone read my link or should I post some of it here to facilitate the understanding of a possible rebuttal to “atheism is not a belief”? It at least had some potential.

    I read it. It got really good starting here: Proving Too Much

    Much other good stuff, but here is my money quote:

    Many philosophers and thinkers recognise the problem and are honest enough to admit if you dismiss God, you lose many other things, too.

    Listen to these words from atheist Llewelyn Powys:

    It is not only belief in God that must be abandoned, not only all hope of life after death, but all trust in an ordained moral order … We must be prepared to take our bearings without a compass and with the slippery deck of our life-vessel sliding away under our feet. Dogmatic nihilists, profoundly sceptical of all good, we are put to our resources like shipwrecked seamen. We have no sense of direction, and recognise without dispute that all beyond the margin of our own scant moment is lost.

    Now, an atheist reading those words will likely take a very different meaning from them than a theist. Which is very much what this debate is all about. And also very much why atheists and theists are often so unfortunately unsettled with each other.

  24. One of life’s little ironies is that atheists will never know that they are right. The only thing death holds for them is the possibility of finding out they were wrong.

    Wouldn’t that be one of death’s ironies?

    Nothing like a pleasant surprise to brighten the worst day of your life. Is there life after death? Most certainly but it doesn’t include those who have died. Or so I’ve heard.

  25. Brandon: Thank you for reading. It’s an interesting argument.
    I don’t know if Scientology address where everything came from or just how we arrived on earth. Rumor was you had to pay to find out and I really wasn’t interested.

    Agreed that atheists and theists would take the words very differently. There was a posting once on a skeptic (of everything, not just AGW) site that pointed out that the atheist (self-identified, not my label) did not steal, cheat, lie, was married, etc. Not believing in God did not mean not believing in any morality. With some people, however, that is exactly how “no God” gets interpreted–no rules. Live for today, etc.

    I’ll be the first to admit that many religions yield exactly the same results and that very bad things are done in the name of religion (see Iraq….). It’s just that the absence of any kind of religious beliefs seems to lead to very bad behaviours. It’s tough to say which has had to most damaging effects. I’m still betting on the religion side as being more beneficial. That may just be me, of course.

  26. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    DAV,

    Wouldn’t that be one of death’s ironies?

    I thought to phrase it that way, but if atheists are right, nobody finds out. I can safely assume, I think, that we’re real and alive here. And thus, you may see the depths to which I have self-examined my navel lint and concluded that I really don’t know much of anything.

  27. Brandon Gates

    June 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Sheri,

    Thanks for sharing that link. It’s one of the better short and sweet write-ups I’ve seen on the topic.

    Not believing in God did not mean not believing in any morality.

    Yes, and the argument continues that taking God out of the equation means that we, our individual selves, are responsible for defining our own moral code. Such highly moral atheists take their self-assigned responsibility quite seriously. And laudably so, sez me.

    It’s tough to say which has had to most damaging effects. I’m still betting on the religion side as being more beneficial. That may just be me, of course.

    Or it may very well not be just you. I do agree that it’s hard to know which is least damaging. Or conversely which is most beneficial. Set aside for a moment that objectively defining benefit/detriment here is well nigh impossible in and of itself.

    What I personally look for in a person is not their beliefs — on anything; be it (not)God(s), politics, economics, who’s going to win the World Series or which prime time netwok sit-com is the best one. Most of those things come right down to opinion and/or desire.

    I look for how people express their beliefs, opinions and desires. Is what they’re saying logical? Do they allow for the possiblity of being wrong? If someone points out a weakness in their argument, do they consider it? In sum, do they appear to be arguing in good faith?

    Note that “facts” don’t need to be part of this. You can tell an honest person without a shred of external evidence other than their own words …. unless they’re very very good liars. Which few of us really are.

  28. Nullius in Verba

    June 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    “Why did the lack of belief in God warrant a title of its own?”

    Originally, because it was persecuted, and the persecutors needed a label for the ‘crime’.

    Nowadays, because unlike unicorn belief, religion attracts special privileges and rule-exceptions in society. That’s a political question, and is part of a political disagreement. Atheism is a handy name for the philosophy held by one side in that conflict.

    “Did anyone read my link or should I post some of it here to facilitate the understanding of a possible rebuttal to “atheism is not a belief”? It at least had some potential.”

    I read it. Atheism is a belief in many senses, but not the one relevant to the argument in which the claim is usually applied.

    But even if it was, what difference would it make?

  29. Sander van der Wal

    June 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

    @Bob Kurland

    Which is what I meant. There are responsible people and there are nutters. They will all believe something. That believe might be the reason for their behaviour, or it might not. For a bunch of people you might find a correlation, but for everybody personally?

    @Sheri

    The piece doesn’t show that Atheism is an organised belief system. People believe for instance in Naturalism, and as a result they do not believe in gods doing specific things, like creating universes or setting moral codes. For the same reason Theism and Deism aren’t belief systems. You don’t believe that god created the universe and set all the different moral codes all Theists might believe in, but that god created the universe and set a specific set or moral codes, and no other.

    So, you belief system can be categorized as theistic, or atheistic, but Theism or Atheism are not belief systems.

  30. Sheri, it’s faster to write and say “athiest.” If that’s like the “n” word to you, I’m sorry. 😉

    JMJ

  31. Nullius in Verba

    June 28, 2014 at 4:44 am

    “The piece doesn’t show that Atheism is an organised belief system.”

    I’m not sure that was the point. I think the piece was taking aim at the common atheist argument that one should generally need positive evidence for something before one believes in it, to which the theist response is to demand positive evidence for atheism, to which the atheists respond that atheism is not a ‘belief in something’ that requires evidence – it’s the default non-belief in things without evidence.

    So the piece is putting forward numerous arguments for atheism being a “belief”, which in many ways it obviously is. It’s a belief in a particular state of affairs. You know what people are talking about when they use the word ‘atheist’. And so on.

    It doesn’t need to claim atheism is a single coherent belief system to work, only that it is a ‘belief in something’ of the sort we need positive evidence for before we believe it.

    But I don’t think it’s what the argument is really about. The sort of interactive personal deity that most religious people believe in and which the political atheists are primarily opposed to is something for which there *is* positive evidence of non-existence, and the other sort of non-interacting evidence-free Deist deity is not really the target. Even Dawkins has said he’s technically agnostic on the existence of such a deity. So even if you insist that the non-existence of deities is something you have to prove, so what?

  32. Why the framing Briggs? Suggesting that atheism is a new thing whereas it as been around in Europe since the 17th century. And if you look in asia even two millennia longer.

  33. Brandon Gates

    June 28, 2014 at 5:23 am

    Even Dawkins has said he’s technically agnostic on the existence of such a deity.

    I only recall seeing him say it once. I’m sure he’s on record with it many times. Dawkin’s biggest problem as I see it is that he comes across as such a virulent critic of religion that his agnosticism gets lost in the polemic. I think a reasonable label (and I hate labels) is that he’s an anti-theist, not an atheist.

  34. Nullius in Verba

    June 28, 2014 at 5:52 am

    “I only recall seeing him say it once.”

    Me too.

    “Dawkin’s biggest problem as I see it is that he comes across as such a virulent critic of religion that his agnosticism gets lost in the polemic. I think a reasonable label (and I hate labels) is that he’s an anti-theist, not an atheist.”

    Dawkins’ biggest problem is that there is a common social taboo against criticising other people’s religion, which he doesn’t just break himself but is actively trying to get rid of in society generally. Even people who are not particularly religious still feel and follow the taboo, so his stridency in breaking and opposing it at every opportunity grates with many people on *both* sides. ‘Anti-theist’ is certainly a good descriptive term – I doubt he’d object.

  35. Dawkin’s biggest problem is that he is Dawkins.

  36. Brandon: Agreed with most of what you said, especially about looking at the expression of beliefs.

    Nullius in Verba: “What difference would it make?” Sounds like HIllary Clinton there. I don’t know that it makes any difference. Does it matter if we give people the title of “ancient alien researcher” when there are no ancient aliens?
    I do like your idea of “anti-theist”, which in many cases seems much more accurate. It’s a matter of using precise language, I think.

    Sander: Nullius answered on the “organized” part. I am curious how you define “atheistic”.
    Also, what terms then would you use for the different “theistic” beliefs? Maybe just give them a name of their own with no reference to the “theistic” or “atheistic” adjectives?

    Jersey: You can use any short-cut for writing that you like. It does not offend me, but it may lead to misunderstandings on the part of the reader. Depends, as noted above, on how precise we want language to be. (The “n” word was just an example. It had no personal meaning to me.)

    Thank you for reading the link and commenting. Sorry I doubted you guys. 🙂

  37. Nullius in Verba

    June 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    “Does it matter if we give people the title of “ancient alien researcher” when there are no ancient aliens?”

    ‘Paleo-xenologist’? No, I don’t think so. Just because there’s a word for something doesn’t always mean it’s a thing.

    I don’t think you have to positively prove that Earth has not been visited by intelligent extraterrestrials in ancient times not to believe in them, and I think you would need positive evidence of them to be presented before accepting them. I don’t know of any. Most of the evidence offered in their favour is either an assumption than ancient humans were stupid and ignorant and couldn’t have done what they apparently did, or is about observable parallels in the human tendency towards storytelling and mythmaking. Modern-day sci-fi stories show the same patterns of human motivations and behaviours as the ancient tales of Gods and Goddesses and Heroes and Demons. The Gods of ancient religions look remarkably like the aliens of sci-fi. Offered the choice between the hypotheses that the aliens of sci-fi are real and were once mistaken for Gods, or that both arise out of humanity’s long-standing propensity to tell itself stories, I’ll pick the latter as the more likely. If there really were ever alien visitors, they wouldn’t look or behave like sci-fi movie monsters on a low special-effects budget!

    The other thing to note about the parallel is that scientists, including atheist ones, do like their sci-fi! And will happily suspend belief and discuss the physics of teleporters and warp drives as if they are real. It’s another human universal, and a sign they’re not always as sensible and sophisticated as they like to claim. I’ve even seen some discuss the Prime Directive as a moral precept to be taken into account in international relations.

    Personally, I’ve nothing against it. If somebody wants to translate the works of Shakespeare into Klingon, I’ve got no objection, and no criticism to make. But I can also see how somebody could get twitchy if Trekkies and Stargate fans were given a seat at the table in government or in society, advising as experts on moral choices for all the rest of us, on the basis of their sci-fi beliefs. (Scientology would be even worse.) We don’t want to outlaw belief, but neither do we want to give them special privileges and control over society because of them. It should be OK, (if impolite,) for people to say they think it’s a load of rubbish. And we shouldn’t have people having to seek armed protection or go into hiding after having criticised it, or have people kill themselves and other people because they’re taking part in fictional wars.

    The hardline atheists belong to a faction that is a bit too intolerant of freedom of belief and freedom of speech for my taste. I find arguing theology (or Star Trek physics) to be an interesting and enjoyable exercise in logic, but I don’t care deeply about the outcome, and I don’t want to upset any of the people who do care, trying to reinforce the fabric of their worldview. It’s just a game to me, but it isn’t to everyone. But at the same time, I understand what the more political atheists are talking about.

    “I do like your idea of “anti-theist”, which in many cases seems much more accurate. It’s a matter of using precise language, I think.”

    That was Brandon. I can’t claim credit.

  38. Sander van der Wal

    June 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    @Sheri

    A belief system is atheistic if there are no gods, supernatural entities, involved in creating and/or maintaining reality.

    Theistic beliefs have nameas already, so keep using them. If a particular argument is about their theisticness compared to somebody else’s deisticness or atheisticness, these terms can be added for clarification.

  39. Sander van der Wal

    June 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    @Nullius in Verba

    Atheism is technically a belief, but it is not a belief system. A belief is the assumption that a certain proposition is true, or is false. A belief system is a coherent set of propositions and axioms.

    In particular, atheists believe that all propositions stating that one or more gods exist, are false. And that is it. To be a atheist you do not need to believe anything else.

  40. Nellius: What you wrote makes sense, especially since you noted that some atheists can be hardline and try to stamp out all religions. (I’d love to see Shakespeare translated into Klingon!)

    I had missed Brandon’s comment, so Brandon, I liked the “anti-theist”.

    Sander: I can see your point, but I am wondering how many people would differentiate between having a belief that is atheistic and simply calling someone an atheist. It might be too subtle.

  41. Nullius in Verba

    June 28, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Sheri,

    ” (I’d love to see Shakespeare translated into Klingon!)”

    You can check it out here – use the ‘Look Inside’ feature to see an extract.

  42. The attempt to label atheism as a belief is just the ongoing attempt by theists to reverse the burden of proof. If I were to state the Pythagorean theorem result you might ask for proof and if I were to respond that you were a believer in apythagorism you would find this an unacceptable response. Or if you don’t like that: if you were to claim to have found Captain Kidd’s treasure but then lost it again you would be hard pressed to call me an akiddist if I did not believe you.

    The word atheist meaning without god is similar to the word infidel meaning without faith. They are both terms of insult. Yes, some groups have appropriated these words, the first one anyway, which I think is a mistake. Another thing that I should point out is that all agnostics are atheists although not all atheists are agnostics. This point is often overlooked.

    It is true that real belief systems are often, either essentially or incidentally, atheistic, i.e. without god. Twentieth century Communism is incidentally atheist as part of its opposition to the established churches. Contrast this to the highly religious but also communistic settlements of the Massachusetts Bay colony and Plymouth and Virginia before it. The communism was only relaxed after a large fraction of the settlers starved to death. An example of essential atheism is carpentry. No one has an active belief in god when sawing lumber and theism does not inform the practice.

    I read, skimmed really, your link Sheri. It is much too smug for my liking.

  43. Scotian I take your point as atheism not being a belief system, soundly argued. On the other hand, those who profess atheism replace it with scientism (as does our dear Dr. Dawkins), a belief that science (or upper-case Science) explains all that needs to be explained about the world. So the argument is not really about atheism but about scientism as a replacement for theism.

  44. Brandon Gates

    June 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Nullius in Verba:

    Dawkins’ biggest problem is that there is a common social taboo against criticising other people’s religion, which he doesn’t just break himself but is actively trying to get rid of in society generally. Even people who are not particularly religious still feel and follow the taboo, so his stridency in breaking and opposing it at every opportunity grates with many people on *both* sides.

    Except I don’t see that it is a common social taboo except maybe the injunction against discussing politics and religion at dinner parties — which is a too-narrow definition of “social”, IMO. “Reality” tee vee has made it cool to talk and act not much better than trailer trash. Petty, facile and vacuous are the new erudite.

    Dawkins is erudite. But “kids these days” think acerbic means mild. He comes off like a demagogue in translation, which Athens vaulted into dubious legitimacy by giving rabble-rousers the leverage to influence binding public opinion polls. However, a stark-raving lunatic with influence isn’t necessarily any less unhinged from reality than the guy on a street-corner soapbox bloviating into a bullhorn.

    New Atheism sometimes sounds like New McCarthyism to me. I don’t like that one bit.

    ‘Anti-theist’ is certainly a good descriptive term – I doubt he’d object.

    I take it that Dawkins wants to take the stigma out of being an atheist. I think that’s a very important message for atheists. However, you’ve confirmed my worst fear in agreeing with my assessment. The best way to advocate one’s position is to be for the position, not against the opposition. Pro-atheism plays so much better than anti-theism, but it has to be more than just the book title … it has to be the book itself.

    Balance in all things of course. I’m not saying never criticise. But calling belief in God(s) delusional sounds retaliatory. It may well be true in many cases, but the broad-sweeping nature of that thesis is unsettling. I don’t see that it’s constructive. As someone who has been an outspoken voice on the subject of race being essentially meaningless from a genetic perspective, I’d expect Dawkins to be a bit more discerning with his memetics as well.

    Personally, I’d like society to call itself humanist — not secular humanist — humanist. It’s our one universal commonality, right here in the present. I’m for all people. How hard is that, really.

  45. Kurland,
    Hey, don’t get me going about scientism as I’ve already exhausted that topic with Briggs and YOS. Well, I’ll say one thing. I don’t believe that Dawkins, or anyone else for that matter, thinks that science explains all that needs to be explained about the world. It is what Pinker called a boo word, much like the word atheism itself. It is invariably trotted out when someone has failed to give the gods their proper due before sawing that piece of lumber. There are many ways to call out bad science without using yet another loaded term.

  46. The original Mr. X

    June 28, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Scotian, where on Earth are you getting this idea that “atheism” is a term of abuse? Plenty of people are perfectly happy to self-describe as atheists, and perfectly happy to be so described by others.

    As for scientism, of course nobody’s going to self-identify as a scientism-believer, any more than anyone’s going to self-identify as a racist or a bulverist. Loopy ideas are rarely if ever explicitly articulated by the people who hold to them, because once they’re articulated it becomes clear how ridiculous they are. The proof that someone holds to such a loopy idea comes from their actual actions, rather than their self-identification. If somebody treats members of other races markedly differently to how he treats members of his own race, it’s reasonable to conclude that he is in fact a racist, no matter whether he thinks of himself as such. Similarly, if somebody denigrates non-scientific disciplines and tries to shoe-horn the scientific method into answering questions which are in reality beyond its competence, it’s reasonable to conclude that he believes in scientism, whether or not he applies the label to himself.

  47. Well, Scotian, here are some names who believe science explains everything (or nearly everything–I haven’t seen what their exceptions are): Atkins, Dawkins, Ladyman, Pinker (despite his protestations). See (and links therein)

    what scientism is and is not

  48. Mr. X,
    “Plenty of people are perfectly happy to self-describe as atheists, and perfectly happy to be so described by others.”

    Masochism is common as well. What is your point? Where did I get the idea? Well I read a lot of history and I’ve lived a full life.
    Scientism as racism? My you are desperate.

    Kurland,
    “Well, Scotian, here are some names who believe science explains everything…”

    According to YOS mathematics is an exception and none of the people you name has trouble with that. I’ve seen the links and others like them. They all confirm what I’ve long claimed, which is that the sin of the eminences listed is really that they have ignored the no trespass signs put up to prevent scientific incursion. Scientific claims can be false, junk, and even pathological in individual cases but scientism is a boo word.

  49. Scotian, Idon’t understand your arguments other than you don’t believe there are people who say (despite quotes given in the links) that science can explain everything…well, it’s your privilege, but I don’t find it convincing… it’s a ’tis , ’tisn’t thing and that convinces me more than ever it doesn’t pay to argue on the internet.

  50. Scotian, I should add, what I would find more convincing is a quote from any of the persons named that cited something that couldn’t be explained by science.

  51. Nullius: I should have known! Klingon Shakespeare. I’ll add that to my list of books to work on acquiring!

    Scotian: I have no idea what your “essential atheism is carpentry” and why no one has an active belief in god while sawing lumber.
    Sorry you found the link smug.
    I would disagree that there are few if any people who think science explains all that needs to be explained about the world. Science often seems to seek ways to actively remove God or replace God with a theory such as evolution that takes God out of the picture (unless you think evolution was God’s method of creation).
    Is masochism a belief system, since you threw that idea in? People self-describe as such, whether or not it’s considered a mental illness.

  52. Nullius in Verba

    June 28, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    “I take it that Dawkins wants to take the stigma out of being an atheist. I think that’s a very important message for atheists. However, you’ve confirmed my worst fear in agreeing with my assessment. The best way to advocate one’s position is to be for the position, not against the opposition.”

    Taking the stigma out of being an atheist is a part of it, but not the whole story. He wants to take the stigma out of being against religion (‘the opposition’).

    People can be and are against all sorts of things. People are against pollution, and corporate capitalism, and the banks, and corrupt politicians, and communists, and environmentalists, and drug dealers, and fornicators, and mp3 download pirates, drunks, and smokers, rich people and poor ones, and homosexuals wanting to get married, or people who want to stop them, and guns, and gun control, and a million and one other things. Religion is just another political interest group. Why can’t you be against religion? Why can’t you talk about it like some people talk about Capitalism, or others talk about Communism? (McCarthy wasn’t wrong about Communism. They were just a bit too careless about evidence and proof.) Why are the rules different?

    However, the rules *are* different. The USA does have separation of Church and State, and limits the influence of religion over government. But Dawkins lives in a country where the head of State is also the head of the Church, where bishops sit in the upper house of Parliament by right, and where, for a long time, any public debate on major moral issues of the day on the state media tended to have a religious representative, to put the Church’s position. He lives in a country where offenses against ‘political correctness’ such as public criticism of Islam, for example, can get you arrested. That ought to be unthinkable. But it’s not, because it’s a religion – and all religions are peaceful and moral and admirable by definition, and you might upset somebody if you criticise their beliefs. Religions are different.

    And it’s very annoying, to somebody who regards religions as much the same as a belief in fairies and talking animals (!), to see them granted so much power over the rest of society. They get angry about it.

    Personally, I’m not bothered by it. Society has its little oddities and anachronisms, this is far from the worst thing going on to be making a fuss about, and everybody has false/unjustified beliefs and massive ignorance about most stuff – it’s the way humans are wired. We all live in glass houses on this. It’s not worth getting wound up about – it only creates more conflict. So I don’t usually bother, except for the interesting philosophy.

    But I do understand what the New Atheists are talking about, and yes, they do really mean it, and feel that angry about it. Nor does arguing with them about the philosophy in this way really help – it’s not convincing and it just prolongs the conflict. But it’s no use me offering advice to either side – the partisans are all well dug-in, nobody is listening any more and it’s all just going to carry on.

    C’est la vie.

  53. Kurland,
    “that science can explain everything”.

    Speaking of quotes since it would be an enormous amount of work for me to search your link in the detail required, maybe you can quote where this claim was made. I think that something very different is said, that science is the best method we have to learn fundamental truths and unlike YOS Atkins would include mathematics. Sure, religious people may disagree but name calling will not resolve the issue.

    “convinces me more than ever it doesn’t pay to argue on the internet”.

    Yet here we are. It must be boredom. 😉

    Sheri,
    Do you think about God when sawing lumber? It must be distracting. Do they call you lefty? 😉

    ” Science often seems to seek ways to actively remove God or replace God with a theory such as evolution that takes God out of the picture “.

    And there we have it folks. The no trespass sign was ignored. How dare they.

  54. Scotian: I can multitask, I use a hand saw frequently, and I am ambidextrous (with both hands attached and all five fingers on each hand). 🙂

    The no trespass sign was ignored when creationists wanted their theory taught in science. I guess there are a lot of no trespass signs out there.

  55. Sheri,
    “The no trespass sign was ignored when creationists wanted their theory taught in science. ”

    You mean instead of science. The Trojan horse aspect of this tactic was apparent to all. There are no lack of forums for religion.

  56. Sheri,

    The no trespass sign was ignored when creationists wanted their theory taught in science. I guess there are a lot of no trespass signs out there.

    Back when I was going door to door, a guy answered the door with a loaded double-barrelled shotgun. Gave us a good butt-chewing for ignoring the “NO SOLICITORS” sign on his front gate. And then what a lying polygamous con-artist Joseph Smith, Jr. was (which is true). Somehow he ended up letting me give him a copy of the Book of Mormon.

  57. Nullius in Verba,

    Taking the stigma out of being an atheist is a part of it, but not the whole story. He wants to take the stigma out of being against religion (‘the opposition’).

    There’s some merit to that, but “religion” is not monolithic, any more so than atheism is. The difference comes down to individual people, and how they express their faith or lack thereof.

    Religion is just another political interest group. Why can’t you be against religion?

    Mmmm, look at the conflation of religion and politics in the first sentence, and the potential 1st Amendment violation in the second.

    It’s a good question, but I think the better one: is why can’t one be against religious intrusion into law? Very many religious organizations, and individual adherents, in the US understand the protection afforded them by the 1st Amendment, and don’t seek to be politically active about things they know to be overtly religious.

    Someone who is “against religion” period full stop would offend them, and possibly cause them some fear.

    Why can’t you talk about it like some people talk about Capitalism, or others talk about Communism? Why are the rules different?

    Mine is a commentary on style and substance, not topic. I’m concerned about it in the US across the board. Democrat/Republican partisan warfare has all but shut down our government for the past five years. Look around. Are we a happy nation? Are we screaming at each other across partisan lines because we’re unhappy, or is it the other way ’round?

    What if someone decided to stop screaming? Then someone else and so on.

    McCarthy wasn’t wrong about Communism. They were just a bit too careless about evidence and proof.

    Yeah, just a bit. And now you show understanding of why some politically activist atheists give me the jitters. As do radical ideaolgues in general — no matter what their special interest, or if it’s an interest I generally support like political secularism.

    And it’s very annoying, to somebody who regards religions as much the same as a belief in fairies and talking animals (!), to see them granted so much power over the rest of society. They get angry about it.

    And many get really pissed off when someone compares their Deity to a pink unicorn. And there are more of them. Not too bright.

    Personally, I’m not bothered by it.

    You’re a rarity in terms of people I see talking about it online. I’d hazard a guess that most citizen atheists and agnostics aren’t terribly bothered by it either. It’s the loud noisy fringes on either sided of the atheist/theist shouting match that give all the rest a bad name. Most Americans I know personally are fundamentally good people. You wouldn’t know it from watching the news or reading blogs.

    We all live in glass houses on this. It’s not worth getting wound up about – it only creates more conflict. So I don’t usually bother, except for the interesting philosophy.

    You understand me perfectly. Taking a genuine interest in what someone else believes, even if you don’t always agree, is also a good way to reduce suspicion and foster some trust.

    But it’s no use me offering advice to either side – the partisans are all well dug-in, nobody is listening any more and it’s all just going to carry on. C’est la vie.

    I feel your pain. But individual little contributions here and there can help. I know for sure that if everyone just gives up then we truly are all lost.

  58. Dawkins eloquently proves that the god of the bible is not “good”.
    Truth hurts.

  59. Sander van der Wal

    June 29, 2014 at 6:42 am

    @Brandon Gates

    If the President of the United States must declare that he’s a Christian, otherwise people won’t vote for him, I cannot see Christians needing to worry about Atheism taking over the place. Those few Atheists in the USA make a lot of noise because they are the ones on the short end of politics.

  60. Hans, I’ll grant that like a con-man or side-show barker, Dawkins is “eloquent” but he is misinformed, and very often incorrect. With respect to his opinion about the God of the Old Testament (an anti-semitic Marcionist heresy) you might want to read
    Should We Shun the God of the Old Testament.

  61. But Bob, even the god of the new testament is not “good”: read the apocalypse.

    Evil is gradual and circumstantial, not binary, so a “final judgement” is bogus.

  62. Nullius in Verba

    June 29, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Bob,

    I read your link with interest, but I don’t understand how it helps.

    You cite CS Lewis’s suggestion that scripture might not be literally true, but you’re not clear on whether you’re supporting this explanation or not.

    You mention the Marcion heresy that the God of the OT was an evil demiurge and not the true God, and state that Tertullian and Augustine refuted his arguments, but give no hint or reference as to what those arguments were. Are they valid? Do they counter the ‘evil’ bit or merely the ‘demiurge’ bit?

    You guess imagery was an important part of the message. So were these descriptions of events only imagery? Like parables, and not to be taken literally? How are we supposed to know this? And how can we tell the difference between the bits to be taken literally and the the bits to be taken as myth? (Without getting into circular morality.)

    You suggest that in the war-like ancient middle east a God who did not smite your enemies was not a God worth worshiping. I’m guessing you mean that the people back then thought so, rather than that it is true. But there are episodes where the Israelites sat down in peace with their neighbors, and it was apparently God who told them they were wrong and insisted that they slaughter them. Numbers 31, for example, which is the culmination of the very strange story of ‘Balaam and the talking donkey’. The story seems to alternate peculiarly between Balaam being some sort of holy prophet and being wickedly disobedient. Balak the Midianite king fears the approaching Israelite army, having seen what they just did to the Amorites, and calls on Balaam to curse them with God’s power, but Balaam refuses, saying they are the chosen people, blessing and praising them instead. So the Midianites instead make peace, invite them to their pagan parties, and some young Israelite men even invite the Midianite women back to their tents afterwards. All very friendly and love-your-neighbor. But the pagan parties proved to be an error, and so God inflicts a plague until they agree to slaughter the Midianites, and then gets angry because they only killed the Midianite men, so they go out and kill all the women and young boys too, and take the virgin girls ‘for their own’. Quite what the young boys did to deserve this isn’t made clear, but we’re told that Balaam is also killed for his ‘wicked advice’ to the king, although as far as can be determined from the text, all of it was prophecy inspired and permitted by God. (And see if you can figure out why the angel God sends to assassinate Balaam forgives him and lets him live.)

    It seems to me that there are all sorts of other ways God could have dealt with this. He could have patiently explained that they weren’t to join in with the pagan rituals and asked them to stop. He could have brought the Midianites over to the worship of God. He could have told them to move on and leave the Midianites behind. He could have just killed those who were guilty with his plague. He’s not ‘smiting their enemies’ – the Midianites at the time were trying their best to be friendly. It doesn’t fit.

    It is true the ‘love thy neighbor’ message appears in the OT, but the word ‘neighbor’ doesn’t apply to everyone. In the OT, it is interpreted as other members of the Jewish community. With the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus corrects this to refer to those who help us in our need. Either way, it’s not a big theme in the OT. A phrase or two here and there is not sufficient to explain all the other stuff.

    And the phrase “then these bloody deaths are secondary in achieving what God wills” is quite unpleasant. No they’re not. Every death matters, and the means don’t justify the end. God could have done it a different way.

    And Benedict’s summary doesn’t really answer the question, either. So it’s a “journey” towards Christ – but why take that particular route? Since God’s power is infinite he could have done it another way. It wouldn’t be beyond him to lead people there within a couple of generations, even via indirect persuasion. Christian missionaries have achieved that in more recent times, so I’m sure God could have. Or he could have implanted the knowledge and understanding directly into every human brain, by divine inspiration, and then leave people to make their free choices in full knowledge of what it all actually meant and why. For that matter, he still could. Why do it this way? Why intervene so directly in the past, and then change methods, and then in the modern era apparently vanish entirely?

    It’s not hard to invent plausible explanations, I can think of half a dozen without trying, but that’s the point: they all have to be invented. There’s no evidence for them. There’s no clear explanation in scripture, or by the Church. And they all depend on undocumented limitations on God’s power or freedom of action, which goes against a lot of the more recent theology, (although again, the OT God often seems to be strangely limited).

    On the whole, I feel it best not to try. Admit you don’t know, but express your confidence there must be a good reason, and concentrate on the important bits. Don’t get dragged into arguments about it, because without being armed with true knowledge you cannot defend it, and the unguided attempt only makes things worse. It’s a genuine problem for the believer, but not one I think you’re supposed to solve, so don’t let it lead you astray.

    And as for people who use it to strike you on the cheek, take the opportunity to turn to them the other cheek also: shrug and cheerfully agree, and point out all the other problems with the OT they’ve missed. It’s wonderfully disarming. 🙂

  63. Scotian: You are correct there is a difference. Science seeks to destroy religion or at minimum, make it irrelevant. At least the religious groups were willing to share the stage concerning origin of the universe. Religion allows science in and may even embrace much of it. Science seems to generally insult and dismiss religion. Yes, I can see the difference.

    Sander: The Presidential candidate does not have to declare himself Christian to get elected. And being Catholic or Mormon is generally a strike against the candidate. As always, the candidate chooses the most popular view of the time and pretends to hold it.

    Hans Erren: Whether or not God is good depends on who is defining good. If someone raised in a home that advocated for violent overthrow of all beliefs outside of their own is asked, then their beliefs are true and good, all others evil. Most would disagree with this definition of good. Atheists and non-believers use very narrow descriptions based on their own biases when interpreting good in the context of religion. There’s no evidence that the atheist/non-believer definitions are correct except in the minds of those making the claims.
    Where does the proof exist that evil is “gradual and circumstantial”? I’ve not seen any argument to that effect. I’m sure you have one for me to peruse.

  64. Nellius: The “God could have done it differently” argument? Okay, let’s say he allows people just to wonder about and keeps hoping things will work out. Or he removes all rules and we can do as we wish. Or created only believers and a large number of commenters on this blog are never born. Actually, this blog cannot exist either. If there is only good, is there really “good”? I maintain there is no such term is people can only believe in a certain way. What one person finds desirable, athoner finds offensive. No one can define and defend “the right way” God should have done something. They just say it could have been done, but it’s because they don’t like the idea of God and are trying to prove God is a jerk.

    I believe the flood indicates the OT God was fairly powerful, as do the plagues on Egypt.

    Yes, love they neighbor did not apply to the “pagans” and if there’s any question as to why, read today’s newspaper for what happens when you love the people trying to kill you.

    Since God is the one who introduced death, I fail to see how we can decide when a death is appropriate. If God ordered people killed, that would appear to be his right. No where in the Bible does it say death can be at the wrong time or place. That belief is outside of religion.

  65. Thank you NinV for your thoughtful comment. I was beginning to despair of learning anything from people who were set in their opinions, but you have given me some food for thought. I’ll chew on what you said, digest it and then maybe have something worthwhile to say. (Please don’t follow the digestive process to its ultimate conclusion!).

  66. Sheri you are redefining good, but I inherited the “knowledge of good and evil”, are you now suggesting that Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden because of the wrong reason? Can’t humans tell good from evil anymore?

  67. Sheri,
    “Science seems to generally insult and dismiss religion.”

    I’ve never seen this and I have read a great many books on science. Maybe you feel its very existence is an insult.

    “At least the religious groups were willing to share the stage concerning origin of the universe.”

    Some do, but not the ones that push for creationism in biology class. It was a long hard slog to get evolution even a mention in high school textbooks, then the only mention was to disparage it, and now that realistic descriptions are finally appearing it is all about balance. Right, and there is swamp land in Florida I’m interested in as well.

  68. Nullius in Verba

    June 29, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Sheri,

    “No one can define and defend “the right way” God should have done something.”

    I’m not saying otherwise. I’m just pointing out that God could have done it in many other ways, and he picked that way. So is that actually the right way, and our modern sensibilities about slaughtering helpless women and children are wrong? Did right and wrong change somewhere along the way? Or is there, as CS Lewis seemed to think, a conflict between the inerrancy of the Bible and the Goodness of God? I’m not saying which it is, I’m just asking.

    “Yes, love they neighbor did not apply to the “pagans” and if there’s any question as to why, read today’s newspaper for what happens when you love the people trying to kill you.”

    I don’t need to. Jesus himself knew that very well. So did the early Christian martyrs. I thought that was the whole point.

    ” If God ordered people killed, that would appear to be his right.”

    ?!!

    I think I will just raise my eyebrows at that one and say nothing.

  69. Briggs writes:
    “Christianity intervened”

    However I think even the Christ would blush at such a suggestion.
    Perhaps He would say “Judaism intervened” since as it seems obvious,
    He is Jewish. (Isaiah 49:6, see verses 1-12) http://biblehub.com/isaiah/49-6.htm
    🙂

  70. No, Hans, I am not saying Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Evil for the wrong reason. Their disobedience which did result in them acquiring the knowledge of good and evil. I’m not sure one can argue they were “zapped” with infinite knowledge of good and evil, however. It did seem God had to guide them and humanity for a very long time. Also, there was nothing in the Bible that said God’s commands were evil–at least not that I recall. They were always called good. Remember, too, that it was mostly they gained the knowledge of evil, since up until the point of disobedience, they knew only good (or they knew only one thing, if you want to go with you need evil to know good).

    Can’t humans tell good from evil anymore? That’s an interesting question. One supposes they can but choose to go with evil in many cases. Also, humans are notorious for revising God’s definitions of good and evil to suit their purposes. One sees it all the time and the Bible was full of people who knew what God wanted and failed to deliver it.

    I am unclear as to why people think God had no right to tell people to go into war and take out certain groups of people. Would you have preferred he just took care of it? I’m guessing you would. Why would that be better than God having his people remove the threat? Either way, it was His idea and the removal of said persons was necessary or it seems unlikely there would have been a command to wipe out the enemy.

    Scotian: Considering I have a science degree and a religious belief, it seems unlikely I consider science an insult.

    You and I read very different literature. That’s okay.

    I can find you a realtor for that swamp land in Florida. Better yet, I can get a big chunk of beautiful land in the heart of the west at a very reasonable price.

  71. Sheri, so you are saying a war crime is not a war crime when god orders it.
    So 9-11 is therefore also a good thing because the assasins were totally convinced of gods will.
    Also: When somebody hears a voice that gives the order to kill your own children that has to be good?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYvcc8ui3CM

  72. Sheri,
    “I am not saying Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Evil for the wrong reason.”

    A Freudian slip?

    “One sees it all the time and the Bible was full of people who knew what God wanted and failed to deliver it.”

    Did they or was the invocation of God’s wrath a way of understanding why bad things happen to good people? Many of the rituals may have been invented after the fact. Doesn’t the book of Job address this issue.

    “Considering I have a science degree and a religious belief, it seems unlikely I consider science an insult.”

    This is a very odd statement. You must know the answer to this question without calculating probabilities or are you asking what probability that I would assign to this intersection? From my experience I would have to say that the possession of a science degree, of unknown providence especially, has very little effect on the odds. Thus I would focus on the religious belief as having the greatest effect but even this is scant evidence. No, I will go with the nature of the comments that you have made on this blog, but will leave it with the non numerical probability of “likely”.

  73. Scotian: Spellcheck, not Freud. Or maybe Freudian back to the movie “in The Garden of Good and Evil”? Pick one–though I personally never put much stock in Freud.

    Not sure what you mean with the reference to Job. As for invoking God’s wrath as a means of understanding why bad things happen to good people, I don’t see it. It’s much more likely people knew what not to do and did it anyway. The evidence for this is everywhere. People who do stupid things and mess up their lives.

    Interesting how you analyzed my science and religion and decided to assign your own value to the likelihood that I find science an insult. You did this without anything other than the comments I make on this blog? Sorry, small sample size, limited input and a biased investigator. You’ll have to make a better case. I used the word “unlikely” but since that was apparently confusing, let me rephrase. I have a degree in science (of unknown providence) and religious beliefs and I do not find science an insult.” Clearer now?

    Hans: Most definitions of “war crimes” are nothing that God would ever order. Torture, etc. Killing “innocent people”, maybe if we thought they were innocent and God did not. God only ever told one person to sacrifice their own child, at least on record, and God intervened and stopped the killing (I skipped your video, went with the original text but in English of course). These questions are not really relevant, since Biblically, God pretty much stopped direct contact with people after Christ came into the picture. Yes, there are some reports by people who say they have spoken to God, but these need to be scrutinized carefully. “God told me to do this” is a really questionable defense. As in the case of 9-11, totally being convinced God wants you to do something and that actually being the case are two very different things.

  74. Nullius in Verba

    June 29, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    “Most definitions of “war crimes” are nothing that God would ever order. Torture, etc. Killing “innocent people”, maybe if we thought they were innocent and God did not. God only ever told one person to sacrifice their own child, at least on record, and God intervened and stopped the killing”

    1. Hell.
    2. The Midianite boys I mentioned above. (Oh, and Isaac, of course.)
    3. God didn’t intervene for Jephthah’s daughter.

  75. Sheri,
    Blame it on autocorrect, I always do.

    “Not sure what you mean with the reference to Job.” Are you not familiar with the Book of Job? In biblical times misfortune, even bad health, was God’s punishment for misdeeds. Then it was demons and witches but now we rarely think that way and thus misinterpret biblical passages.

    “Interesting how you analyzed my science and religion and decided to assign your own value to the likelihood that I find science an insult.”

    It seemed to be what you were asking me to do and I had to use the resources at hand, but I am glad to see that I was wrong. Still, some of your statements are difficult to reconcile.

    Sheri & NiV,
    With regards to Isaac, what do you think of the interpretation that in earlier versions of the story he was sacrificed and not spared?

  76. NV: Hell is not a war crime. It is the outcome of choosing to deny God exists. If you drive off a cliff because you don’t believe in gravity and you die, it’s on you.
    Midianite boys–still thinking on that one.
    Jephthah’s daughter–God did not tell Jephthah to kill his daughter. That was Jephthah’s idea. It was against the laws to engage in human sacrifice (religious law). So God had nothing to do with the choice Jephthah made.

    Scotian: I will try to be more clear in the future.
    Job was being tested as to his faith. Yes, he was a part of an object lesson for Lucifer, but he was rewarded later on for his faithfulness. I am not familiar with the idea that misfortune was always attributable to God’s punishment. Is this where the Christian Scientists got their ideas?

    In regards to Isaac, I have gone with the generally accepted idea he was spared. Otherwise, there was a violation of the law and it makes no sense that God would condone human sacrifice in any cases.

  77. Sheri,
    “I am not familiar with the idea that misfortune was always attributable to God’s punishment.”

    No, well the Catholic Church is. See the RC introduction to Job at:
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?bk=Job&ch=

    “Otherwise, there was a violation of the law and it makes no sense that God would condone human sacrifice in any cases.”

    It was a common practice among the Canaanites and the early Hebrews which is why the story exists. Remember that the current bible is a composite edited by later scholars about 2500 years ago. One of a number of reasons to consider the possibility of an original sacrifice is that Abraham descends the mountain without Isaac. See Genesis 22:19
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/22

    I don’t pretend to know the truth of the matter but it is intriguing.

    “It is the outcome of choosing to deny God exists.”

    Is this official church doctrine? I thought it was more complicated than that but then I don’t know which church you belong to or what doctrines you support. You do seem to do a lot of speaking for God.

  78. Brandon Gates

    June 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Hans,

    Dawkins eloquently proves that the god of the bible is not “good”.

    Is the argument you’re referring to readily viewable online in textual form?

    Sander,

    If the President of the United States must declare that he’s a Christian, otherwise people won’t vote for him, I cannot see Christians needing to worry about Atheism taking over the place.

    US Christians are not you, and do not have your point of view. And as I apparently must keep repeating, not all people who are religious share the same views nor have the same emotions.

    Those few Atheists in the USA make a lot of noise because they are the ones on the short end of politics.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease. But the wheel cannot apply grease to itself. Don’t be a wheel if you don’t want someone else to choose what kind of grease to apply.

    In other words: choose your own grease, and apply it yourself. I speak in general, not just to you, and not just to non-theists.

    Sheri,

    Whether or not God is good depends on who is defining good.

    I emphatically enthusiastically completely absolutely agree.

    Atheists and non-believers use very narrow descriptions based on their own biases when interpreting good in the context of religion. There’s no evidence that the atheist/non-believer definitions are correct except in the minds of those making the claims.

    Which is one of many reasons I consider morality to be both subjective and relative. I don’t see any evidence that anyone one person or group of people have a monopoly on being Absolutely Correct on moral questions.

    I don’t rest on evidence, or lack thereof, to make that argument however. I consider it potentially quite hazardous to do so.

  79. Scotian:
    It depends on which church you ask if they feel hell is the result of choosing to deny God exists. I don’t speak for God, I relate that which was written down as a guidebook. Kind of pointless to discuss religion if you have to spend all of you time saying “as I see it, the Bible God gave us, that the church may or may not have been faithful to, and we may or may not be interpreting correctly, it really slows down discussion and becomes confusing. If you find this omission disturbing or problematic, then perhaps a discussion is not really a good idea.

    Yes, it’s interesting to research and check out ideas like did Abraham sacrifice Isaac or not. Several of the points presented here I have not researched in years and going back and re-researching them is always beneficial.

    Brandon: I agree. Many religions just use different language to describe the same thing. For some reason this is very bothersome to some denominations. I am always amazed at how similar various religions actually are.

  80. Nullius in Verba

    June 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

    “NV: Hell is not a war crime. It is the outcome of choosing to deny God exists.”

    Hell is a prison in which God keeps his enemies. Satan didn’t deny God’s existence. And dropping someone in a lake of burning brimstone doesn’t sound like it’s covered by the Geneva Convention.

    “Midianite boys–still thinking on that one.”

    Consider the Egyptian firstborn, then. Only the ruler sinned, but God sent something to kill the children, that could only be propitiated and kept out of a house by the blood of a sacrificed lamb spattered on the doorway. Interesting servants, he has.

    “Jephthah’s daughter–God did not tell Jephthah to kill his daughter.”

    Didn’t say he did. But God could have let him off, couldn’t he? I would have.

  81. NiV, what you say has much force IF you ignore an argument I made in the linked post: if there is heaven/afterlife, then what happens here on earth is relatively unimportant, i.e. can be weighed in the balance against an eternity of living with God. If it is necessary for an Exodus to show the mighty power of God, then the Egyptian first born would be sacrificed but be in heaven. ( By the way, there’s a science fiction series, Roma Eterna, by Robert Silverberg, that posits what would happen if the Jews did not leave Egypt…not a nice world.) If you don’t believe in Heaven, then I grant nothing much makes sense.

  82. NV: God is not bound by the Geneva Convention. We made that one up. Again, Hell is a choice. If you chose to ignore gravity, there are consequences. Should God keep everyone from driving off cliffs when they take a corner too fast? Which rules should God ignore the breaking of and which should he do as Obama and suspend other parts?

    God had nothing to do with Jephthah’s actions. There’s nothing stating God held Jephthah to his promise. It was entirely up to Jephthah as far as I can tell.

    The first born of Egypt is too complex to answer here. Maybe sometime later. It has to do with the “eye for eye” rule in the OT, the Pharaoh having killed first born in trying to make sure Moses never grew up, and there were numerous warnings about the consequences of continued disobedience. The OT was indeed more violent than what we are comfortable with today, but that was the result of disobedience to God. I understand people don’t like this. However, if we look at God as the Adult and we as children, how many times do we have behaviours appropriate only to adults? The rules don’t apply equally to children and adults in life. It’s not really that much different.

  83. Brandon Gates
    29 JUNE 2014 AT 8:26 PM
    Hans,

    Dawkins eloquently proves that the god of the bible is not “good”.
    Is the argument you’re referring to readily viewable online in textual form?

    Here:
    http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.nl/2008/12/richard-dawkins-god-of-old-testament.html

  84. Sheri,
    “The first born of Egypt is too complex to answer here. Maybe sometime later. It has to do with the “eye for eye” rule in the OT …”

    It is much simpler than that. Child sacrifice was practiced among the Semitic peoples of the levant and sacrifice of the first born was the ultimate expression of faith, reserved for hard times in order to turn away the wrath of God. Your first born belongs to me is a common sentiment in the bible. It is even reflected in the numerous stories where the second born inherits. Later on when child sacrifice was rejected (the reason for the story of Isaac) the loss of a first born was considered the ultimate punishment of a vengeful god.

    Hell as gravity? A colourful analogy I suppose but not very convincing. I take it that you reject the Calvinist interpretation.

  85. The anology was that certain actions have certain outcomes. I’ll try to come up with something better later today.

    Yes, I reject the Calvinist interpretation.

  86. Sheri,
    You mean something better than claiming that your debate opponents are going to hell? I should hope so.

  87. Nullius in Verba

    June 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    “if there is heaven/afterlife, then what happens here on earth is relatively unimportant, i.e. can be weighed in the balance against an eternity of living with God.”

    That’s an interesting argument, which can of course be used by anyone. Should I murder a person, it doesn’t matter, because the loss of their Earthly life is minor compared to eternity in heaven, and indeed if I kill an innocent before they have a chance to sin, it guarantees them that heaven. Likewise, theft is OK as it is no loss compared to the treasures stored up in heaven, and indeed, saves the person from the sin of wealth. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, thus I can help people to get into heaven by removing their riches, which surely the ultimate in generosity, and so on.

    Some people have indeed used such arguments to justify their crimes. But I don’t think it works that way. Whether or not the scales of justice are re-balanced in the next life for the victim, the sinner’s sin still applies only to what is done in this world. Or else there would be no sin, since all its consequences would be cancelled out.

    “If it is necessary for an Exodus to show the mighty power of God, then the Egyptian first born would be sacrificed but be in heaven.”

    Would it not have been better to have all the Egyptians fall into a magical sleep for three days, after which they wake up with no memory of the Israelites who have simply moved out? Wouldn’t that have shown his power just as well? Better, in fact, since it demonstrates his subtlety, gentleness, forgiveness, etc.? Or have a rain of glue stick the Egyptians to the ground while Moses and his people run away? Or brick up the doors and windows of every Egyptian house overnight, which again gives sufficient time for the Israelites to get away? Or for a herd of fast horses to turn up? Or summon a magical whirlwind amid thunders and lightnings to lift them bodily from Egypt and carry them all to the promised land in a single night? Or simply for some stranger to ride into town with five cartload of gold and buy them out of bondage?

    There are a thousand other ways it could have been done without hurting anybody – a lot of them much more impressive. Why kill their children? To show off?

  88. Scotian: No, not something better than claiming my debate partners are going to Hell. First, I have no idea who is going to Hell and who is not, so that alone means I can’t make the claim. I can only relate that Hell is meant for those who reject God. Since you’re still breathing, there’s always a chance. God gets the final decision.

    Okay, if there is a law and you break it, is sending you to jail a bad thing? Try to visualize Hell in the same terms. If you reject the idea that a speed limit is valid and drive 60 mph through a school zone, you go to jail. We accept things like that as “fair”. If you blow up buildings and kill people, you are executed. We could debate capital punishment, but the fact is people have used it for centuries.

    Oh, as for the vengeful God, I still tend to think of things in terms of consequences, rather than vengeance, but let’s say it was the act of a vengeful God. God said vengeance was His. I’d be foolish to say that God was never vengeful.

    NinV: God could have just made little robots that wondered about surrounded by butterflies and lived happily ever after. Oh wait, that’s how it started out. So you would have preferred a reprogramming and return to bliss rather than an object lesson on when Father God says not to do something, don’t. If you could drug your children and make them mindless robots, would you?
    Killing their children was the only thing that made an impression–they ignored all the previous plagues. Guess a God-given lobotomy would have been okay. They would have been much happier and better behaved and no violence would have occurred. Maybe feed them “Soma” or some other happy drug?

  89. Sheri,
    “Okay, if there is a law and you break it, is sending you to jail a bad thing?”

    In many cases yes. See http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent-ebook/dp/B00505UZ4G/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

    “God gets the final decision.” That’s a relief.

  90. “People are part of creation, but are not part of God. People owe to God a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid for the gift of their existence.”
    – W. M. Briggs

    …versus…

    “Given his necessary perfections, if there is a best world for God to create then it appears he would have no choice other than to create it. For, as Leibniz tells us, ‘to do less good than one could is to be lacking in wisdom or in goodness.’ Since it is strictly impossible for God to be lacking in wisdom or goodness, his inability to do otherwise than create the best possible world is no limitation on his power. But if God could not do otherwise than create the best world, he created the world out of necessity, and not freely. And, if that is so, it may be argued that we have no reason to be thankful to God for creating us, since, being parts of the best possible world, God was simply unable to do anything other than create us. … [Leibniz’s reasoning] cannot avoid the conclusion that God is not sufficiently free in creating, and is therefore not a fit subject of gratitude or moral praise for creating the best.
    – William L. Rowe, Can God be Free?, 2006

  91. Scotian: Let me try again: If you murder your neighbor, kill his dog and burn his house to the ground, is sending you to jail a bad thing?

  92. Brandon Gates

    June 30, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Sheri, if I may cut in. There’s a difference between a life sentence for murder and an eternal sentence for murder. Especially given that all murders are rectified by the resurrection. Respectfully, the argument doesn’t hang together.

  93. Sheri,
    Your analogy has drifted somewhat given that the initial claim was that the denial of God was enough to sent a person to hell. Thus you must claim in analogy that the mere questioning of government authority is enough to send a person to jail. This used to be a common practice and in many parts of the world it still is. In fact I suspect that the supposed touchiness of God as expressed in the Bible and the touchiness of rulers is related.

  94. Nullius in Verba

    June 30, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    “Okay, if there is a law and you break it, is sending you to jail a bad thing? Try to visualize Hell in the same terms.”

    I was thinking more Hieronymus Bosch…

    ” If you could drug your children and make them mindless robots, would you?”

    No. If somebody you knew had drugged their children to be obedient robots, would you offer them an apple containing the antidote?

    “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” Genesis 3:22-23.

    Who is this “us”?
    And if they were my kids, I’d give them the fruit from the tree of life, too. Wouldn’t you?

    Who wants kids who don’t know right from wrong? Who wants their kids to die?

    “Killing their children was the only thing that made an impression–they ignored all the previous plagues.”

    Not exactly. Have you read the story? “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord.” Exodus 10:1-2.

    And there wasn’t a better way of doing that?

  95. Brandon: Of course there’s a difference between the two sentences. One is for breaking man’s law, one is for breaking God’s law. God’s is more serious. (I’m not sure what you mean by murders are rectified by the resurrection and why that somehow changes the fact the a person committed a murder.)

    Scotian: It is not necessary that my claim be “equal”. It’s an analogy. What is legal in one state may not be in another, yet people don’t run around claiming it’s wrong to send someone to jail in Wyoming for possession of marijuana and not in Colorado. Prostitution is legal in Nevada and no where else (unless I missed that bit of news). The crimes don’t have to match. God said denial was grounds for being sent to Hell. It’s His rule in His “state”. My analogy does not have to use an “equal” law here to be valid.

    Nellius: Hieronymus Bosch……Okay, might work for me.
    If your child were Hitler, would you want him to live forever? Son of Sam? Stalin?
    Adam and Eve did not know right from wrong because there was no reason to. Until Satan entered, there was no “wrong”.
    The only answer I will give you for the questions on killing the firstborn is that God had knowledge of the full situation, we have what is recorded. If you read the story of a woman killing her husband and going to jail, you might conclude that was the correct outcome. If you read he beat her, that might change. If you read she was abused as a child, that might enter. If you found that she killed in self-defense but could not prove it. There is no way to know if there was “a better way” because we were not there and we do not know the full details of what was going on. Also, this comment presupposes that your idea of “better way” actually is. It’s not clear how a human being reading a book about history and God can possibly know there was a better way. Why do we allow women to kill abusive husbands while they sleep instead of just leaving? That would certainly be a better way. Yet we make excuses for why it’s okay to kill someone instead of leaving.

  96. Sheri,
    You’ve lost me completely. I don’t see that you’ve actually presented an argument. Analogies are never valid but they do have to make sense and thus illustrate an argument. I don’t see that you have an underlying argument, just assertion based on scripture.

  97. RE: “Why is it that someone who does not believe in God needs any kind of designation other than “someone who does not believe in God”? Why is there a specific word [“atheist”] describing this?”

    ANS: The term “atheist” has ancient origins. The word is, or is derived from, a word the ancient Romans applied to Jews (considered by Rome to be a special case) and then the early Christians as a derisive classification — because they did not believe in the many pagan Gods. In historical context, the first “atheists” were basically the early Christians as the Jews were exempted as a special case.

    Basically, the early Christians refusal to honor the Roman gods was considered a very serious affront that threatened the empire — if the Romans permitted their gods to be insulted by this subclass of Roman citizenry the wrath of the Gods upon Rome was perceived as a very serious risk. Thus the early Christians were considered a very serious threat to the integrity of Rome by potentially invoking the wrath of the Roman gods upon Rome itself. Also, refusal to honor the living god-emperor (at least those that claimed deity status while still alive) was also considered treason. Hence the persecutions of the early Christians.

    The Jews & their monotheistic religion were recognized by Rome as pre-existing the founding of Rome itself. In this regard Rome respected their ancient origins and effectively “grandfathered” [to apply a modern term] the Jews into the Roman empire & society & tolerated their monotheistic beliefs as their ancient status was not perceived as invoking the ire of the Roman Gods.

  98. RE: “…that Hell is meant for those who reject God…”

    THEN RE: “…Your analogy has drifted somewhat given that the initial claim was that the denial of God was enough to sent a person to hell. …”

    FACT: Technically,
    IF one accepts the Bible/New Testament as “Gospel Truth,”
    THEN the ONLY unforgivable sin is the denial of the Holy Spirit/Ghost.

    See: Mark 3:22-30 & Matt 12:31-32
    e.g.: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/unpardonablesin.html
    and http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/holyghost.html which reminds us that the “Holy Spirit/Ghost” is the third person of the Trinity.

    The ‘three-in-one’ nature of the “Trinity” curiously mirrors the pre-existing & then-contemporary pagan arrangement known as the Capitoline Triad & Archaic Triad, for which info is readily found on-line.

    Which is one example of how so much of Christianity appears patterned on earlier & then-contemporary major pagan religious themes & story plotlines…which Justin Martyr in his First Apology conceded outright during the Christian persecutions (Justin Martyr asserted that Christians ought not be persecuted because the Christian religion was not only not fundamentally different from the pagan religions but that in fact the devils, knowing of what was to come, pre-emptively created those pagan religions to confuse when the real religion arrived. Like it or not, that remains the official explanation that is not to be confused with the obvious alternative: That Christianity was the next iteration in an ongoing line of derivative religions instituted by charismatic cult leaders at opportune times).

    Justin Martyr’s First Apology is also readily found on-line. And it is still considered authoritative by the Roman Church.

  99. Isn’t it curious that so many believers cannot perceive or have great difficulty perceiving an atheist as someone that is basically wholesome & morally upright…except for not believing in a particular god?

    Consider how many preachers are secret atheists:

    http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP08122150.pdf

    http://www.clergyproject.org

    …and many many more….

  100. Ken: Yes, rejecting God is the one unforgivable sin (I’m not Catholic and don’t count suicide as unforgivable.)
    Where did I state I believed in the Trinity? That’s a problematic belief that I have questioned since childhood. Or at least questioned the way I was presented with the idea–further research did not really uphold that idea (I am aware that some groups could churches as cults if they don’t believe in the trinity. I disagree with that assessment.)
    I won’t argue that Christians had a bad habit of adopting pagan rituals and trying to “Christianized” holidays by using the same dates for their celebrations. Bad behaviour on the part of practioners does not make the doctrine wrong, just poorly practiced.

    Scotian: Sorry I lost you. At this point I have no idea how to find you.

    Ken: I actually knew a person in college who was going to be a Methodist minister and was an atheist. I suppose that’s not really much different from many politicians. Just seems odd to pick a vocation where you try to convince people of something you don’t believe. I wondered if it paid well or what.

  101. Sheri,
    That’s all right. I don’t like to discuss individual beliefs, only religion in the abstract and since I never reveal my own beliefs on line it is best to move on. For those who think they can read between the lines, don’t as you will almost certainly be wrong. The argument’s the thing and I like to play devil’s advocate. So, until next time, cheers.

  102. NiV, I’ve been considering whether and what to respond to your latest comment. I’ll only say that you are making a ridiculous argument–according to your version of my comment I’d endorse euthanasia or, in the limit kill all babies at birth after they’re baptized, so that they’re sure to reach heaven. The decision about when death occurs is not ours but God’s, and not for any good end that we see. Further, you persist in taking a literal view of the Old Testament, not taking into account the era in which the books were written and the audience to whom they were addressed. You cherry pick all nasty bits and ignore the noble and good. I stick by Pope Benedict XVI’s judgment that the Old Testament is deficient, but it is a road to the New Testament and the Revelation of Our Lord. I don’t intend to have any further discussion with you on this because it’s getting nasty, and I don’t want to jump into that pool.

  103. Forgot to add one point–if I were a better biblical scholar, I could probably argue you down, but I’m not, and will only say your arguments at this point lack cogency and force.

  104. Nullius in Verba

    July 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Bob,

    As I explained earlier, it’s not my wish to upset anybody. I regard it as an exercise in logic. This is what the OT says. These are the implications of that argument. These are the alternative interpretations and explanations from which to pick. The idea of putting them forward is to see if you have a good counter or additional background I haven’t thought of or didn’t know. If you don’t, that’s OK.

    As I also said earlier, I don’t think it’s a good idea (from a believer’s point of view, at least) to try to resolve the problem (and it *is* a problem, as has been noted by many hundreds of theologians before you, without any clear resolution) without true knowledge of the solution. Unguided attempts only make things worse – because they tend to run into people like me, who have been trained to pick apart arguments and details and find their flaws. Maybe a better biblical scholar would be able to argue me down, or maybe a better biblical scholar would know not to try. I don’t know. But don’t feel bad about not having done so. It was a good attempt.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think you can or should deduce much about God from these stories. They have more to do with narrative patterns – literary devices, motifs, tropes, cliches, whatever you want to call them – aimed at delivering a particular moral message. They are much more like parables than they are literal history. For example, there is the pattern of the pious man challenged with a difficult religious duty, and how his devotion to God is so strong that he will sacrifice his most valued possessions, even his children, to perform it. It’s heroic. The pattern repeats, over and over, with only minor variations on the characters and situations. They are morality tales, warnings, and lessons – about obedience, duty, and sacrifice.

    The particular duties required and sacrifices asked are based in the culture of the people who told them, and yes, by modern-day moral standards they’re often quite unpleasant, as no doubt they would regard our modern morals and ways. Moral rules change gradually over time, like languages do. And like a lot of morality tales for children, they tend to be quite blunt and unsophisticated – they generally haven’t thought through all these subtle theological/moral/practical implications such as I’ve been going into here. But the motivations and motifs are still recognizably human. As I noted earlier, there’s a remarkable resemblance to many of the literary motifs and devices in both classic fairytales and modern scifi/fantasy literature. All stories tend to work the same way.

    So I wouldn’t worry too much about God appearing to be evil in a lot of these stories – although I suppose it’s no comfort if the alternative is that a lot more of it is fictional than you might have supposed. I think the idea is that you have to look through the surface detail of the story to identify the moral message at its heart. Sometimes it might be one that’s no longer relevant in today’s society, or that needs a good deal of translation. But I’m sure there are lessons still to be learned, and looking past the literal meaning is the only way to find them.

  105. Don’t know what Bob may think, but your answer sounds patronizing and condescending to me. Like “you poor little thing—you believed a fantasy, I burst your bubble and now I’m trying to let you down easy”. Was that what you going for?

  106. Nullius in Verba

    July 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    Sheri,

    No. It was to explain, as I said, that there’s nothing personal in it. I’m just exploring the implications of what is written in the OT and the arguments people are putting forward to try to defend it.

    The problem with this is that while it’s just an interesting debate for me, some people are by their declared beliefs passionately invested in its defense, and are being pushed into various highly immoral stances (in my view) to do so. That’s uncomfortable for everyone, and Bob’s bailed because he’s finding it unpleasant.

    I offered my own theory as an alternative way of thinking about it that retains the moral messages without getting caught up in the problems inherent in biblical literalism. This is – as I understand it – actually pretty standard Christian doctrine nowadays: the Bible isn’t asserting the sun was created on the fourth day as a scientific/historical *fact*. It’s an allegory for a more spiritual message, such that the underlying moral can be true even while the literal words are not. Did a Good Samaritan *really* rescue a traveler beaten by bandits? No of course not – it was a made-up analogy to explain the definition of the word “neighbor”. And it’s the same with all those other OT stories. This is an explanation that can work for both believers and non-believers. The former can look for the underlying messages which are inspired by God. The latter can read it as a collection of wise sayings and fables, like those of Aesop.

    Given that this is the explanation sometimes given by the Church itself to get round the issues of biblical literalism, I don’t see how it can be patronizing. I’m just extending it a bit.

    But again, when people are deeply invested in a particular belief and interpretation of it, saying anything that doesn’t fit that belief will be perceived as an attack on it. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about that.

    That said, yes, as an atheist, I think the stories are obviously made up – basically a fantasy. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you otherwise. You will need to come to terms with the fact that I hold my view, just as I must come to terms with the fact there are people still here in the 21st century who hold yours. There’s room in this world for both, I hope.

    Since we’ve given up on the debate now, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  107. I will agree to disagree. Your idea of “a little bit” is very interesting. I’m sure I would not like to see “a lot”.

    There’s room for both, obviously, since we are both here. I’m not objecting to your lack of belief, but rather the way you express your lack of belief. I’d be very sheltered or naive if I thought everyone believed the same thing.

  108. Nullius in Verba

    July 2, 2014 at 12:54 am

    ” I’m not objecting to your lack of belief, but rather the way you express your lack of belief.”

    In what ways should I be allowed to express my lack of belief? (Just curious.)

  109. Brandon Gates

    July 2, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Sheri,

    Of course there’s a difference between the two sentences. One is for breaking man’s law, one is for breaking God’s law. God’s is more serious.

    Why bother with man’s laws at all then? That was the bit about render unto Ceasar I never could get. Moses wouldn’t have heard of it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by murders are rectified by the resurrection and why that somehow changes the fact the a person committed a murder.

    Resurrection doesn’t undo the act, but it does undo the result. The non-theistic view of this is that it devalues human life. What if this life is the only one we get?

  110. NinV: My objection with your expression is that is tends to sound like “You poor little deluded creatures. I am so much smarter and wiser than you because I don’t believe those silly fairy tales.” Granted, you tried to say the “fairy tales” had value, but it still comes across as you think people who are religious are believing in fairly tales and you’re too smart for that.

    It got me to wondering if in the future, historical events people don’t like or don’t believe will be viewed the same way: The Holocaust never happened. It’s just a story they tell to try and frighten people about governments. WWI never happened. We all know wars could never get that big. WW2 never happened. It’s just a story to try a frighten people into arguing and resisting authority. Or adding stories, like in 2020, there was a huge gathering of all the people’s of the earth to celebrate Gaia and give thanks to the governments of Earth for saving us from our excesses.

    Brandon: Looks like I fell asleep during the sermon on how resurrection undoes murder. Yes, it does reunite families (including murdered loved ones), but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks murder is not such a big deal because of this and people who think resurrection devalues this life. This life was given to people for a reason. Tossing it out because it’s not “important” would be slapping God in the face, I would think.

  111. The original Mr. X

    July 2, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Brandon:

    “Resurrection doesn’t undo the act, but it does undo the result. The non-theistic view of this is that it devalues human life. What if this life is the only one we get?”

    Maybe you should ask a supporter of one of the twentieth century’s atheistic regimes, and see how much they value human life.

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