Monday, July 04, 2005

Rebuttal to a Christian Website

Since engaging with a friend in theological discussion, I've done some reading on Christianity. Numerous times I see terrible arguments for proof of God or similar. Here's a site that bundles a number of problems: I'll simply respond to the little bullets.

As an opening statement: I have no problem with Christianity per se nor most Christians. My point is that faith is arational and alogical: it arrives outside of the confines of logic and rationality. No problem here: love is usually the same way. I adhere to an idea of One Way, Infinite Paths.

"First, here is a classic mis-definition. Faith DOES NOT mean jumping to a conclusion without examining the evidence. It means trusting in that of which you don't have full knowledge. When a man sits in a chair for the first time, he doesn't know with no doubts that the chair will hold his weight. He observes the chair, judges it sound based on what he sees and his past experience, then sits down. He has faith that the chair will support him. Everyone exercises faith every day. The question is whether the evidence upon which that faith is based is sound. "

But that's what Hume called a matter of habit. We have "faith" that the law of gravity will constantly be in operation. But Hume demonstrated that that was not epistemologically ironclad: it did not guarantee certainty. We only accept that solid things will remain solid or similar preconceptions as a precautionary measure and because testing to the contrary would require endless work.

These aren't quibbles. What about when a chair is broken and you didn't notice it happen? Or when memory deludes one and there is no chair? People have had memories of being raped by their father in brutal detail that were demonstrated conclusively to have never happened. I am sure that everyone here can remember numerous times when they made mistakes and were sure they hadn't.

Of course, this point does literally zero to advance their argument. If one wanted to, one could look at the chair and test it to the best of one's knowledge, one simply doesn't. But the notion that the Bible is inerrant, that Jesus (despite being biologically dead) can project salvation outwards, that miracles are possible, that the God of the Old Testament exists... these are all things founded on almost untestable principles, and usually resting on circular logic (the Bible is the Word because the Bible says so; we accept what it says because it is the Word). They could be true and they could be false, but accepting them as 100% certain truth that one can cavalierly spew in every forum (in a way no person would accept a chair's sturdiness) is not to exercise a faith based on one's experience, it is to buy whole hog a dogma.In contrast, Buddhism's principles can (often) be tested and are based on some sort of outgrowing, developing logic (reincarnation being an exception): I refer people to the UC Davis article on the Dalai Lama, for one.

We have ZERO direct knowledge of God to ground our discoveries on, not just a little.

"Then, we are asked to produce some "evidence of the 'supernatural'". The Bible has eyewitness accounts of supernatural phenomena. Eyewitness accounts are considered admissible in a court of law. The eyewitness' testimony is judged as trustworthy based upon their grasp of the facts."

And those eyewitnesses are allowed to be cross-examined to see if they were lying, insane, wrong or inconsistent. These eyewitnesses are long dead, had vested interests in seeing miracles that conformed to their existing prejudices, cannot be cross-examined, and are not necessarily trustworthy.

To continue in the eyewitnesses vein: The court system asks eyewitnesses to look at who they think did it in a lineup of similar individuals. Nobody simply accepts what somebody tells them unless they have good reason to do so.There's a fundamental difference between "I think this person killed the deceased" and "I think I saw Jesus' face in the clouds". For one, usually these "miracles" are not replicated... which they would have to be to overturn existing scientific theory. For another, the statements are about drastically different sets of evidence and matters.

"The interesting thing is even the skeptics agree that the Bible contains historically accurate data, unless it refers to a miracle or an unexplainable wonder. Those are the parts they deny. (By the way, the definition of supernatural is: "not explainable by known natural forces or laws", NOT unobservable.)"

But the "skeptics" only believe this because we can verify the historical aspects (which are still often skewed: like, the idea that the Earth is 4000 years old or that Adam's children lived for 900 years). The supernatural aspects, on the other hand, ask us to partially or completely eliminate theories that explain FAR more than the Bible can ever hope to (did any rocket scientist use the Bible to calculate trajectories?), and further buy into a whole set of fundamentally arational dogma based on laughable evidence.

Remember that historians think that pagan myths, such as the Amazons, are probably true, but few of them believe Zeus truly raped mortal women.

I like how they don't cite a source for the definition.

Meanwhile, from 2000 Houghton Mifflin I get:

Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.
Of or relating to a deity
Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous.
Of or relating to the miraculous.***

In any respect, even if a scientist saw something she could not explain (what a Christian would call a miracle), she would assume that there is an explainable phenomenon at work and do the empirical work to find this out. Clearly a sensible Christian could agree that "miracles" are mis-identified as such when they are not (for example: I'm sure Christians wouldn't think that the "kamikaze" winds that repelled the Mongols were actually sent by the Shintoist's Heaven).

I cannot prove a negative: that is a logical impossibility. A Christian must prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that there are things that could not be explained without reference to the Judeo-Christian God. I eagerly await such proof, especially given how judiciously these Christians ignore miracles cited in other societies.

"Dan does a reasonable job in presenting the Christian belief of justification. Everyone has sinned at some point in their life. No reasonable person would deny that fact. The righteousness that God requires was satisfied by Jesus Christ. He never sinned. By believing in Him, His righteousness is imputed to us through His sacrifice on the cross. That is the belief of Christianity."

This is in response to this argument: "So, you can commit genocide, perform terrorist acts, dismember children, etc., etc. and as long as you ask _forgiveness_ sometime before you die, no problem. That sounds like a pretty poor system of morals to me." I challenge anyone to explain how in God's name ( ;] ) that is a response.

"Rod asks how one can commit heinous crimes and still be forgiven. If God is a holy God, then He cannot have sin in His presence. Think of a glass of purified water. If there was a filter that could purify water to 100%, then how much sewage would it take to make that water impure? Half the glass? A drop? No matter how small or how large the amount of sewage added, the water is no longer pure. No matter how small or how big the sin, God would not be holy if He allowed it in His presence. (James 2:10)"

And this is STILL not a response. The point is, can someone do as many horrible things as they can and then just say "Hey, I'm sorry, God" and come into the Kingdom of Heaven? Two paragraphs failed to answer this grotesquely simple point.Mind you, I believe in the power of redemption and forgiveness. I think people are very willing to judge others without noticing the complex holistic reality that is at work in every human. And I think that, given true sorrow and real work at trying to atone, one can deserve redemption. And all living beings, no matter how heinous, deserve compassion. But I believe this as a human act, Christians believe this only possible thanks to Jesus. Sorry, I won't sell myself short.

"This is where Dan may blur his message. True, the Bible doesn't describe God as "fair". The Bible presents God as an all-loving father. However, most people fail to realize that He is also a holy God and a God that demands justice. He wouldn't be loving if He didn't demand such. God is a just God, and all sin must be judged. However, He knew we couldn't meet His perfect standard, so much like a loving father who pays the fine for his adolescent son, He sent His Son to live the perfect life, then take our penalty in our stead. This satisfies His requirements for justice and allows us the opportunity to again come into fellowship with Him."

The original comment was this: "Isn't there a basic contradiction here? How could he be "all-loving", but not fair? Isn't that like a parent who claims to love a child, but dishes out punishment solely on whether the child expresses a particular belief? How could that remotely be called "all-loving"?" Again: I challenge anyone to explain how this is remotely responsive. Why would an "all-loving" God demand that people believe in him? If I were to be dealing with someone that refused to believe I existed or thought I was black or something, I would still help them. And I do not have the benefit of infinite patience and power.

The fact is that either God is a jealous god who does not want you to worship idols and demands you turn to his Son for salvation or God is a loving force who wants to give humans as many chances as possible and certainly wouldn't punish, say, someone in sub-Saharan Africa who's never heard of Jesus for not having faith. I cannot see a rebuttal to this point.

">> Sounds pretty much like a petty dictator.

This is just an ad-hominem attack. I don't think Rod would like his surgeon to compromise if he was undergoing open heart surgery. Nor would he like an airline pilot to compromise on a safety checklist before his flight took off. Absolutes are important. If God would allow some evil to exist, which should it be? One can quickly see the futility of this argument."

A) That's a patent IRRELEVANCY to determining if two people, both ethical individuals, could believe two different things, say, about God. To say that God would let evil into his presence by letting Mohandas Gandhi into Heaven but not a Christian serial murderer truly begs the question.
B) As Bakunin makes clear, allowing oneself to listen to or accept the authority of the savant is NOT the same as following a dictator. If the pilot were to start flying straight into the ground, a reasonable libertarian would try to take control of the plane. If the heart surgeon were to amputate on her knee, the same libertarian would ask the surgeon what the hell was going on. The fact that God allows no compromise still makes him sound like a petty, petty dictator.

"Again, how much sin does it take to make the pure impure? Hitler's sins were heinous, and Jesus does say that those who face judgment will be punished in degree of their sin (Luke 20:47, Matthew 11:27), but if God is all-powerful, He is powerful enough to forgive anyone's sins. That is provided they receive the remedy provided for them."

What power does it require to forgive someone's sins? "I accept your apology." What the hell does this even mean?

"I often find it interesting that the non-believer has a certain set of ethics; but I often wonder on what are they basing them? Hitler did what was legal in Germany at that time. Was he still right?"

Because the law does not make things right. Meanwhile, look at Paul's letter to the Romans and see if Paul would have condoned the Holocaust on the basis that Hitler was the head of state. It's not too hard of a sell to call Paul an explicit statist... not surprising, given that he set up the authoritarian, doctrinaire Catholic Church that supported the Nazi Holocaust.

We don't base the ethics on ANYTHING. We base it on our personal standards. But those standards can actually be judged against something besides a pile of paper. What would happen if every Bible were deleted and burned? Would ethics disappear?

I follow the standard the Dalai Lama sets: Ethics should be concerned with reducing suffering.

"Of course not, but why? Ultimately, to have an ethical standard that transcends all governments or man-made institutions, one has to look above mankind. That again brings us to God. The Nuremberg trials that convicted many Nazis for war crimes argued the same. They had committed crimes against God and man."

No, it doesn't. Kant's categorial imperative would do just fine: The Nazis wouldn't have justified their own soldiers being put into the gas chambers; ergo, they were being immoral.Ethics can be external from mankind (some notion of "Good" we try to reach) and still be subjective, because ethics have to do with people. Rocks cannot have ethics. And Christians who believe everything is either the work of God or the Devil can't have it either.

Or perhaps someone could find one's own emotional and intellectual response without even pointing out a broader notion of ethics that lies beyond humanity. One could point to Randian-style "objective" ethics found in human nature.

"Dan is in error on a couple of points: God does not relent (change His mind) as humans think of it. He is unchanging or immutable (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). When passages of scripture speak of God as "changing His mind", it is only from the human point of view. God knew the Ninehvites would repent, so He tells them they face judgment unless they do. Whether he is "fair" is not in question. God is just, even if we don't see all the parameters in which He's dealing. Again, a child may complain that a scolding parent "isn't fair", but when he reaches adulthood, he understands the reasoning for the punishment was the child's own good"

Or it could easily be the fact that people's dogma changed and thus they adjusted the myths they had made up around it. In fact, it sounds like a much more plausible explanation.

Many child abusers say it was for the child's own good and yet it ends up being, umm, abuse. The point is that this must be tested. I only very rarely, with very clear evidence, let someone else do whatever they please because I trust their better judgment.

"No one would want a God that looks away at sin. Rod demonstrates that himself when he complains of Hitler being able to be forgiven. Though we don't deserve to enter His presence, He has provided a way for us.. by allowing the righteousness of His Son to be imparted to those who accept Christ. Thus, God sees us with the purity of Jesus, and with His righteousness, we can enter His presence."

But "sin" is not not following Jesus Christ. Let us return to Buddha or Mohandas Gandhi. Assuming that our notions of them are right, were they good people, and do they deserve to go to Heaven? If the Christians say no, they're doing so on the basis of circular logic and making an inhuman principle. This is all massively fallacious obfuscation.

"What Rod says would be true... if we hadn't been told otherwise. This is the thought of which most unbelieving people are the most afraid: that an all-powerful God is personally interested in YOU. That is what the Bible is all about. Ironically, this idea is also the most comforting, if you know Him. Jesus is the source of refuge and protection for the believer, or the point of judgment for the non-believer. "

We have been told otherwise by books written, translated and interpreted by human eyes and hands. The only way around the circular logic is to say that the Bible is inerrant... but that in turn means that one has to believe in the God in the Bible, so the circle returns again in staggered form. It could all be true, but it would be true as an accident.

Now mind you, I believe that human beings matter in the universe, but I may be wrong. We'd have to find out. And the Bible will not do the job.

"Though we believe Jesus does live, we also believe he "was marred more than any man" (Isaiah 52:14) and still felt the agony of torture and death. More than that, He gave up His privileges as God to live forever as a man. (Philippians 2:6-7)"

Sounds like a Bodhisattva, who continues to walk the path of samsara until all souls are into nirvana. (And Hindus were speaking of transmigration of the soul when the Jews were in short pants).


Post a Comment

<< Home