Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Letter To Christians

Dear Christian,

I have recently heard you talking about some "God" who created the universe and a guy named Jesus who loves me and who can grant me everlasting life in paradise. As I am always interested in ways to live forever in eternal bliss, I am very interested in learning more about your religion. However, I've also heard many other people talking about other ideas concerning "God" and life after death. I certainly don't want to follow teachings that are not correct and live my entire life following false notions. So, before I ascribe to your religious views of existence, I have a few simple questions that need to be answered. Please indulge me.

Now from some preliminary research I have conducted, I learned that your knowledge of "God" and his ways comes from a collection of books called the Bible. This Bible you claim to be the word of god, as it was revealed to men who then wrote it down for the rest of us. Please answer me this, Why do you believe this? Why do you believe the Bible to be the word of God?

Now, you might say "because it says it is." But this is obviously not sufficient. As I have learned in my research, there are other books that claim to be the word of god. For instance, there is this religion called Islam, and the core of its teachings come from a book called the Quran. Now these Muslims, as they are called, believe the Quran to be the word of God, as it was revealed to a prophet named Muhammad, who then had it written down.

Now see, here is the funny thing. After doing some brief examinations of the two texts, it turns out they say very different things about God, what he is, and what he wants from us. Now it seems obvious that, since they say contradictory things, they can not both be the word of god. We really have three options: Option 1-- the Bible is true and the Quran is false, Option 2-- The Quran is true and the Bible is false, or option 3-- the are both false. Now obviously, you hold on to option 1, believing the bible to be true and the Quran false. My question is why? What criteria did you use to determine the authenticity of the Bible and the falsehood of the Quran? Such information would be greatly helpful.

But maybe I should pose the question a bit differently, a bit more hypothetical. Since both books contain a lot of historical events and earthly happenings that might detract from our dialogue and I don't want to get side-tracked into irrelevant arguments, lets create a parallel hypothetical argument to pose our question.

Imagine that I am a nomadic wanderer living six thousand years ago. One day, while going to a well to retrieve some water, two strange men come up to me. They introduce themselves and strangely enough, they both claim to be prophets who have received divine revelations from god, and they are charged with spreading the word to all the people. We'll call them "Prophet A" and "prophet B."

Always wanting to know the truth, I implored each man to tell me what god had said to them. After listening to each man in turn, it became apparent that what each man said was the complete opposite of the other. If one said god was a cat, the other would say he was a dog. If one said that we must love each other, the other said we must hate. Seeing that what they claimed god said to them was completely contradictory, I knew that both could not be telling me the truth. One of three options had to be true. Option 1--Prophet A was telling the truth and Prophet B was lying, Option 2--Prophet B was telling the truth and Prophet A was lying, or Option 3--both prophets were lying.

Here is where I ran into my problem. I did not know how to determine which one was being truthful, if either. What criteria should I use to determine which one was a true messenger from god? What criteria would you use?

PS.

On a nother note, It seems that there might be some flaws in believing such a book as the Bible to be the word of god. Here is another hypothetical.

One day your roommate locks himself in his room. He does not come out for forty days. When he finally does emerge, all shaggy haired and wide-eyed, he has with him a big stake of paper. He then tells you that for the last forty days God had been talking to him, laying down a new covenant with man. Apparently God had changed his mind on the whole "Jesus thing" and had new rules for us to follow. Your roommate had been typing everything God said on MS word and he just got done printing it out. Now let me ask you this. Would you believe him?

It seems that the majority of people, would say absolutely not. Most would laugh and think him to be crazy. Yet if we think about it, one would have more reason to believe the roommate then the Bible. With the Bible, many of the books are anonymous, or we are unsure about their authorship, while you know for sure that your roommate has written this new covenant. Secondly, you don't know anything about the people who wrote the bible. Even if we assume that the books were written by those that they are claimed to have been written by, we know nothing of these people. None of us lived in the times when the bible was being written. None of us personally knew any of these authors. How do we know their character? How do we know if they are to be trusted? How do we know that those who wrote the Bible were not' a bunch of very seedy and opportunistic con men? In comparison, you would know your roommate. He is your friend. You would know something of his character and thus would be able to judge whether or not he was a trustworthy person or not. This information could help you decide whether or not you give credence to his claims of talking with God.

Since it appears that we would have more reason to believe the roommate, yet most of us would not, it seems odd that one would believe in the Bible, which you have less reason to.

PSS.

Another thing before you go. Doesn't it seem odd that God, if he exists as you say, being all powerful and whatnot, would use the method of revealed religion in order to communicate his message? For one thing, we know humans lie. Therefore, how am I supposed to know whether or not someone is telling the truth when he claims to be speaking for god? Surely if God reveals himself to a man, it is a truly wonderful thing to behold. But, when that man then goes and tells another man of his revelation, it is no revelation to that man. It is simply the word of a fellow man, who he knows to be fallible and often deceitful. It is no revelation to him. He seems justified in being extremely guarded against such messages.

Also why use such an imperfect means of communication as language. So much meaning can be lost or misinterpreted through human language. And when the word is translated into other languages, even more can be lost. Also, a large segment of humanity cannot read, or cannot read the language of the bible, or maybe live in remote regions of the earth where knowledge of the bible might not exist. If god had a message that was so important for humanity, seeing that one's adherence to it or failure to adhere to it decides his fate between eternal bliss and eternal damnation, with a message so important, why would he chose to communicate it in such an imperfect way? Why not just reveal himself simultaneously to all of mankind instead of a select few?

PSSS.

These are just some philosophical problems I have with the idea of revealed religion that I need to have answered adequately before I even begin to examine the actual contents of the Bible. If you can please answer these questions for me, then we can move on to the questions I have about the actual contents and merits of what the book says.

45 Comments:

  • Well Icarus, it doesn't seem like many Christians are lining up to answer your philosophical questions. They are good questions. I think, honestly, the problem lies in the religious presupposition that the Christian AND the Muslim both espouse, right off the bat: namely, God can be defined with one definition, usually their own! Maybe, once the historical and cultural relativity is stripped away, they are both right (as far as the universals within their religions are concerned.

    The idea that one is right and the other is wrong is very adolescent ... for the Christian and the Muslim, and very reflective of humanity's developmental stage. Our species is in the adolescent stage ... as our religion shows.

    By Blogger sA, at 9:06 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 3:24 AM  

  • Those are tough questions Icarus, but I would like to give them my best. I'll admit right off the bat I don't understand how everyone gets an opportunity to know God when so many are people who are illiterate or deprived of any contact with someone who can share God's message.

    I would like to commend you for recognizing the differences between Islam and Christianity. It may seem obvious, but a great effort is underway to blur the lines distinguishing the gods of the different religions. We Christians DO NOT worship the same God as muslims. This is not being 'adolescent' it's just examining God's characteristics from the Quran and the Bible. God is not the center of a wheel, the spokes of which extend to Hindus, Mormons, Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Buhdists alike. How could Allah give eternal paradise to people who blasphemed his name by calling Jesus God? Another difference between Islam and Christianity I found out by talking to Arzhang - Muslims have no idea if they're going to paradise or not. They can do all the good works they want, but there is no guarantee. Christians know because Jesus said: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Does that sound like the same God talking?

    One reason I have faith in the Bible is that it accurately made some 300+ prophesies about Jesus and what would happen to him. As a simple example, the prophet Isaiah predicted that the soldiers would cast lots for Jesus' clothing. Making predictions like that is fairly convincing, especially when it is done repeatedly. I think this is called 'historicity' of the Bible if you want to Google it. I don't really know if the whole thing is infallible through the ages (meaning that everything is exactly as it was at its inception) but I do know these types of prophesies aren't made by mortal men. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism made plenty of predictions which interestingly enough never panned out.

    I guess I take the gospels at face value, knowing that Jesus was a man on this earth, died and did rise again. If it were not true, there would be a lot of evidence against the Ressurection, but there isn't. As an example, Muslims are taught that Christ's body was stolen from the tomb... but there's no evidence in history to really support this claim! So if Jesus really was the man the gospel tells us He is, I really cannot help but believe He is God. If I were not to believe the gospel's account of Jesus' life, it would have to come from a substantial number of sources outlining why the gospel is false and in what parts etc. It is simply not enough to say that the disciples wrote years after their encounter with Christ - that is not enough to invalidate the gospels. I know there have been efforts to invent evidence against the life of Jesus and his miracles, but nothing that stands up to scrutiny.

    I know this becomes a bit preachy here, but I do consider myself a very reasonable, logical man. However, I believe more than anything that Jesus is God. I know it because of the change it has made in people's lives, and the way that Jesus offers forgiveness to anyone no matter how wretched their lives have become. At some point it does become something beyond what can be proven, what can be logically deduced. This doesn't mean we should abandon our God-given ability to analyze, but it does mean that if it could be outright proven there would be no need for faith.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 3:28 AM  

  • Icarus,

    As you know I am a Christian and would like to get involved in your very thoughtful discussion. I'll be back with more, but I would start by asking you a question:

    How do I know you are sincere in your desire to know the answers to these questions? How do I know you are not some kind of con man who is trying to deceive your readers. How do I know that your whole blog is not some elaborate attempt to deceive as many people as possible into believing lies>

    How do I know? Well, I don't really, but I have to ask myself a couple of question. 1) What would be the point of your deceiving others and 2) is there anything in your record that indicates you might be deceitful.

    To the first question I would say you would have nothing to gain other than bostering your own beliefs. But the problem is you seem too sincere in your search for truth to be deceitful. For one thing you appeal to logic too much. Bad idea if your intent is to mislead others. For another your writing is too straightforward and readable. You don't erect straw men, you don't use convoluted structure, you don't change the subject.

    Good sense tells me you are sincere.

    Now, consider the writers of the Old Testament. Most of what they do is praise God and encourage others to honor him and tell them what bad things are going to happen if they don't. What could they possibly personally gain from doing that? The prophets/writers of the Old Testament were notoriously abused. What would be the point if they weren't sincere?

    I think the principle is the same.

    Gary

    By Blogger Gary B, at 9:16 AM  

  • I agree with Matthew. And I agree that Islam and Christianity cannot both be true. Islam says Jesus was just a prophet. Christianity says Jesus is God. Big fundamental difference there which cannot be reconciled. Calling it adolescent to say they are mutually exclusive just reveals great ignorance about what the religions teach and is also an appeal to snobbery.

    There is a good a very readable series of books by Lee Strobel which take on the challenges to Christianity from the standpoint of evidence and logic. The first of his books is called "The Case for Christ" which covers the issue of whether the historical and biblical record of Jesus is credible. The second is "The Case for Faith" which takes on broad objections to Christianity like objections to the doctine of hell and so forth. His latest is "The Case for the Creator" which takes on the subject whether the universe needed a Prime Mover. I'm reading that one now.

    The point is there is a lot of critical analysis out there of some of the questions you have.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 9:40 AM  

  • What would be a better way of communicating truth than language? That's the way we do it. When your wife says, "How do you get to the mall?", you don't go into a pantonmime. You don't start gesturing and gesticulating. You tell her with words.

    Besides, the Bible does say that God communicated with us in ways besides written language. For one he communicates evidence of his divine power and wisdom through creation. For another he has communicated to us through Jesus his Son. Of course, the willfully skeptical have found reasons to reject both sources of evidence.

    Write his name on the sky? He has pretty much done that. Send a member of his family as ambassador as a gesture of good will. He did that, too.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 2:20 PM  

  • I'm probably addressing your points in a dyslexic way, but I'm writing things as I have time and as they pop into my mind.

    As far as comparing two religions, you wouldn't just do it off the top of your head. You would listen to the claims of both, study the teaching and examine the evidence for believing one over the other.

    One thing you would look at is the evidence for divine intervention in the founders of the religions. History says Jesus worked miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead and even rose from the dead himself. History says over 500 people saw him after his resurrection. Paul encountered the risen Christ in broad daylight in front of witnesses. Mohammed on the other hand is said to have gone into a cave and seen visions of God. There were no witnesses and no external evidence.

    Christianity as founded by Jesus is a belief system based in love and giving, which somehow managed to supplant the Jewish religion which was so firmly entrenched in the Jewish culture. Islam spread itself initially through warfare.

    The Bible was written by more than thirty people over a period of 1500 years. The Koran was written by Mohammed and seems in parts to draw from the Old Testament.

    Christians experience changed lives, overcoming destructive thought patterns, behaviors and addictions. Muslims basically become devout, but rarely testify to changed lives. Genuinely Christian countries historically are blessed by God. Strict Muslim countries do not experience the same kind of blessing, but almost seem to be under some kind of curse.

    These are just some of things you might consider when comparing the two religions.

    You seem to be searching for some kind of airtight mental reason to accept or reject Christianity. Although reason is definitely involved in the investigation of ultimate truth, in the final analysis faith is needed. Why? Because God is not going to become some kind of microbe in a test tube for us in our infinite wisdom and reasoning ability to "discover." He does give us a lot of convincing evidence, but, ultimately, belief in God is a matter of humility, of confessing we are not God. That's not going to happen right after you have congratulated yourself for being so smart you figured out God is real. It doesn't work that way.

    Think about it. For you to deduce beyond a shadow of a doubt with nothing but your intelligence that God really exists, wouldn't that make you God, too, or something very close?

    By Blogger Gary B, at 3:02 PM  

  • In response to Matthew,

    You said..."I believe more than anything that Jesus is God. I know it because of the change it has made in people's lives, and the way that Jesus offers forgiveness to anyone no matter how wretched their lives have become."

    This does not really give you valid reasons to believe in the authenticity of the Bible. Just because a system of belief can have a major impact on someone's life does not mean that it is neceessarily accurate. Maybe Jesus had some really good and wise ideas on how one should live their life, you no doubt would agree with that. being wise doesn't mean that the claim of divinity must be true. Benjamin Franklin had some good ideas on how to live a prudent life, but I wouldn't think him divine.

    Maybe Jesus's teachings, along with the suppurt the church community can give, is the reason why converting to Christianity can have such a strong effect on changing people's lives. Maybe not, but it certainly isn't a proof that the Bible is true.

    I also have to take issue with your assertion that there should be a lot of evidence against Jesus' ressurection. What kind of evidence would you expect? I think it is a bit too late for DNA evidence. The thing is, the accounts we have of Jesus' ressurection are very suspect. Not only are they written a decent amount of time after the fact, but they are written by his followers, not a particulary unbiased source. Perhaps if we had other eyewitness accounts from non-followers, people that wouldn't necessarily have an agenda, the claim would hold more water.

    An old saying is very important here...extrodinary claims require extrordinary evidence. If I said I had a hamster, you would probably believe me on face value. You have no reason to believe I'm lying. Owning a hamster is a very common thing. But, if I said I had a hamster that could levitate and speak German, I doubt you would believe me. Such a thing goes against what you know of how the world works. As far as you know hamsters cannot levitate or speak. To believe such a claim you would require extrodinary evidence. You'd want to see it levitate with your own eyes, and even then you would probably want to conduct experiments to prove I wasn't somehow making it float.

    The same goes for the gospels. If someone is going to write that Jesus did miraculous things such as raising Lazerus from the dead, walking on water and well, being god in the flesh, I'm going to require more evidence than the word of a few of his followers.

    Really, you seem to have it backwards. You are assuming the gospels are correct and you require evidence to prove them worng. You should see the gospels sceptically, given their grand claims, and require extrordinary evidence to prove them right.

    Didn't David Coresh(sp?) of Waco Texas fame believe he was Jesus reborn? He had followes locked up in his Branch Davidian complex and I'm sure they would have testified to seeing all sorts of divine and miraculous things he did. You wouldn't believe them on face value though. You would want a lot more proof.

    I don't doubt Jesus existed or that he was crucified. Those things sem very plausable, therfore I don't require a great amount of evidence to believe they happened. I'll take the word of the apostles on that. But when they make other claims that are out of this world, such as a virgin birth and jesus' ressurection and ascention into heaven, I'm not going to take the word of people who have a vested interest in propegating a certain agenda.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 9:34 PM  

  • icarus, please remove this note once you've read it, as i have on occassion unintentionally cluttered up people's blogs with loose correspondence (sorry gang- my bad.)

    anyway, i've been a bit behind and just read your open letter. i want to respond to it, but it's gonna take me a minute or two to get the responses as straight as the questions!

    back in a flash...

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 7:40 PM  

  • Excellent post, I really enjoyed reading it, you are a talented writer. I loved how you brought of the credibility of the bible and the Quran. How do we know that the people who wrote these weren't people suffering from severe Hallucinations. Personally I don't think we should let these two books have such an influence on the world if we cannot even verify there credibility as "dictations from god to man". @ matthew: remember these book were written at different times by different groups of people, and in the Quran it calls Jews and Christians "people of the book" it clearly acknowledges their existence as something other than muslim.

    By Blogger StaticCompost, at 7:59 PM  

  • Icarus,

    I think you might be helped by considering the Lord, Liar or Lunatic question, which asks if Jesus wasn't God and Lord then who was he.

    Was he just a good teacher and wise person. The problem with that is he claimed to be more than just a good teacher and wise person, he claimed to be the Son of God, he claimed to be divine life. So if he was only a good teacher he wasn't even that because he was a liar.

    But if he was a liar how can that jibe with the high morality he taught and demostrated his whole life? It can't. Why would a liar teach the things Jesus taught?

    So was he deluded? A lunatic? Mental health experts have studied Jesus and say he manifests no symptoms of any know mental illness. His thinking is clear and consistent, he doesn't babble, he doesn't appear separated from reality. In fact, just the opposite. He appears extremely connected to reality.

    So if he isn't a liar and isn't a lunatic then the only alternative is he is who he said he is--God, Savior and Lord.

    But was he just a myth then? There is too much colaboration from the Gospels, from secular historians and from other eyewitness accounts that there was a historical figure named Jesus who worked miracles and taught devotion to God. To say it is all a myth is just not plausible.

    Is it partially a myth then? Was Jesus just a good teacher and all the quotes attributed to him about being divine just added later by zealous followers? Again this, according to history, is not plausible. The Christian creeds of Jesus' divine person and resurrection were in common use much too early to formed from legend. The disciples really believed them.

    Further one has to ask why would these disciples be willing to die for a Leader whom they knew didn't resurrect when he said he would. No, some of them died for him because they saw him after he resurrected.

    Again, all of this is in "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 10:44 AM  

  • icarus, thanks for putting it out there.

    as i read your post a couple more times, i began to ask some questions of my own. this was not originally my intent, but as will often happen (with me anyway), the writing and sharing of ideas took me somewhere else.

    the big question i need to ask is are these rhetorical questions, carrying with them an implied answer or lesson to be learned from them, or are you seeking answers? as a fellow sojourner, i embrace the quest for truth, but the questions posed in your post feel more like they are telling christians something rather than asking christians something. the tone feels a bit like a case being presented rather than one guy asking another guy what he believes and why.

    so anyway, having said that, i’m going to take a three of four shots at addressing the things that i feel you are asking in your post. (being that there are, in my opinion, three of four big issues or fundamental questions, i know that there is no way i can address them all in one comment.)

    firstly, i concur with both you and matthew: islam and christianity are very different. however, i’m not sure that they are essentially different the way prophet A and prophet B are. these two holy men seem to be diametrically opposed to each other on every issue:

    “you say black, i say white; you say ‘bark’ i say ‘bite’; you say shark…”
    (freddie mercury- bicycle race, 1978)

    i think that if we want to discuss essentials, we need to conclude that both faiths are essentially the same, in that they both hold as their number one tenet the holy oneness of God. as this is the case, there may very well be a fourth option which poses that both the Quran and the Bible contain truth amidst some ideas that distract or detract from that truth. st augustine has been attributed with the saying ‘all truth is God’s truth’. however, that doesn’t really help if we are locked into an ‘either/or’ argument. in most cases, we don’t want to consider this notion because doing so places us in the position of having to discern truth from distraction. the distractions within the Quran are probably very different from the distractions within the Bible, and the result is probably that we start drawing equal signs between things that are not related and ultimately miss the point.

    what is the point?

    the point is that, in order to be God rather than a god, God must be holy, perfect and in all ways pure and just. because of our natural propensity to fall short of that holiness due to our own free will, the relationship between ourselves and God is severed. it has to be. the holy can never come in contact with the unholy without being diminished or besmirched somehow, and being that God has to be perfect, there can be no direct contact with fallenness.

    here is an example which might explain what i mean. my most recent pet peeve is public washrooms that have those noisy hand-dryer things. not only do these things announce to everyone in the outside world that your business is concluded and you are about to emerge fresh and no-longer preoccupied, but they fail to protect your nice clean hands from the bacteria left on the handle of the door by others who fail to wash theirs. paper towel provides a convenient, albeit temporary, countermeasure which addresses the physical reality that, no matter how well you have washed your own hands, no matter how pure they are, they will still be unclean the moment they come in contact with the filthy handle of the door. holiness personified cannot come in contact with something unholy and remain the same, any more than i can open the door without getting my hands dirty all over again.

    where this little analogy breaks down, of course, is the place where we acknowledge that

    1)the only way for God to remain holy in the presence of the unholy is for the lesser, unholiness to be destroyed upon coming in contact with holiness personified. the filthy door handle is not destroyed when i, in all my sanitary splendour, come in contact with it. i guess i’m not God.

    2)in spite of the fact that people use their freedom of will to make rebellious, heartbreaking decisions- decisions which simply renew our unholiness, God still desires a relationship with them. the same cannot be said about my relationship with the handle of the public washroom door, no matter how recently sanitized or desanitized it is. i guess i’m not God.

    so, apart from both faiths being in agreement about my not being God, if the oneness and holiness of God are essentials, then islam and christianity agree on the essentials. furthermore, if the inherent (or at least inherited) unholiness of humankind is the place where the relationship between created and creator breaks down, then islam and christianity agree on the essentials. we cannot say that their theologies are as opposite as those of prophet A and prophet B. it is not in the essentials that they disagree.

    where they differ most greatly is in their solutions to the essential problem of the fractured relationship between God and his crowned of creation.

    islam has, as a doctrine, five ‘pillars’ or means of grace, if you will. because i remember things best if they are conceptually connected to something that i have with me, anything having five anythings becomes related to a human hand and a nursery rhyme if possible:

    this little piggy went to market
    this little piggy stayed home
    this little piggy had roast beef
    this little piggy had none
    this little piggy went ‘wee wee wee wee’ all the way home.
    (please, any muslims out there… don’t be mad- it is my memory that is the problem!)

    ‘went to market’ - pilgrimage to mecca.

    ‘stayed home’ - prayer and devotion

    ‘had roast beef’ - inviting others to enjoy bounty of God’s goodness- almsgiving

    ‘had none’- fasting

    ‘wee wee wee wee’ - proclaiming oneness of God and the prophethood of muhammad.

    christianity has the redemption of humankind made possible by one perfect sacrifice (the symbolic death of one pure offering in place of the death/destruction that would result from an unholy people coming into relationship with a holy God as described above- christians hold to the death of Christ as an ongoing atonement for all who would accept this solution offered by God through Jesus, whom they hold as God’s son.)

    it is not that christianity objects to any of the five pillars. hardly- they’re an awesome way to structure one’s life. they do much to bring harmony between people because of the essential selflessness that is inherent in them. really, apart from the prophethood of muhammad (who hadn’t even been born yet at the time that much of scripture had already become canon) the pillars seem fine. the essential difference is one of sufficiency: the pillars encourage greater harmony among people, but apart from the ‘proclaiming God’s oneness’ bit they aren’t anywhere near sufficient to bring unholy creatures into the presence of a holy God.

    sin brought death and it is only by the death of one without sin that mortality can be countermand. living a good life lashed to the pillars of islam falls short of addressing the inescapable reality of being embroiled in a condition of the soul that we are powerless to reverse- it might be compared to trying to wash white pants, previously used for cleaning car parts, in sweet-smelling calgon bathwater before putting them on for your own wedding.

    (end of part 1)

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 4:38 PM  

  • In response to Gary's first post.

    In your first post you seem to be equating sincerity with truth. Since the writers of the Bible have nothing to gain from decieving others, you see what they write as being sincere, meaning that they actually believe what they say is true. Let,s assume that this is correct. Let's assume that the writers of the old testament were sincere, or for that matter Jesus was sincere when he said he was the son of god. What does that mean?

    If I said that I was god, and I was sincere, I really believed I was, would you believe me? I'm sure that the believers of other religions such as islam and hinduism will also say that the original authors were sincere. Do you believe them? Just because someone is sincere in what they say, does not make what they claim true.

    Many people believed the Earth was the center of the universe, they sincerely believed this, but they were wrong, what they said was not true. How do we know that, while they were sincere in what they believed and what they taught, the authors of the old testament were not simply wrong?

    And again, that is all assuming they are sincere, and have nothing else to gain from their pronouncements, which is very debatable.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 2:25 PM  

  • In response to Gary's third post.

    You are correct, language is the main source of communication between humans. But this can hardly be a case for God's use of it. Just look at how often miscommunication happens between humans. People lie, the decieve, they misinterpret, they aggrandize, they spin, they ignore, they edit, they forge, they slander, they libel.

    Words are mushy. They have multiple meanings, they depend on context, they depend on stress, and emphasis. The simple fact that there are so many languages creates the problem of translation. If God were going to communicate trough language why do it only in a few languages?

    You make a good point with the creation being a form of communication. That's basically the Diest view and it holds some water, but that only supports the idea of a god, not necessarily the god of Christianity or Islam or whatever.

    If god wanted to communicate with man, things that or of such importance (how to choose between eternal bliss and eternal damnation) wouldn't he use a form of communication that is much more universal and unalterable than language.

    Why not simply appear out of the heavens, and communicate with each man in his soul. Or take us all up to Heaven where he could lecture us and then send us back down. I mean this is God we are talking about, nothing is out of his power. Yet, given that, he choses to communicate with us in the form of dreams and visions? In writings written by man? Things that are very alterable, very interpritable and very easily forged by frauds.

    A revelation is only a revelation to the man who truth is revealed to. When that man tells another what happened to him, then that is just one man telling another man a story. The second man has no obligation to belive the first. He has to guard himself against lies, which he knows are very prevelant in human communication. Why would't god simply give revelation to all men at once instead of this highly questionable way.

    Of all the possible ways for god to communicate these important truths to man, language would have to be one of the worst ones. I would expect more from the master of the universe.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 2:47 PM  

  • In response to Gary's fourth comment.

    In regards to divine intervention in the founders, you say that "History says Jesus worked miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead and even rose from the dead himself. History says over 500 people saw him after his resurrection. Paul encountered the risen Christ in broad daylight in front of witnesses." Well, I wouldn't say that history tells us this.

    The accounts of Jesus's miracles and the witnesses comes from the gospels, the very writings in question. How do we know that these events actually happenned? How do we know that they were witnesses by 500 people? We don't have eye-witness accounts from these 500 observers. What we have is the author of the gospel telling us so, and we are just supposed to believe him.

    You cannot look within the book in question to determine its authenticity. For example, if there was a book of World War 2 history and it said that Hitler was a god and he performed miracles, you wouldn't say it was authentic because the book said that Hitler performed these miracles before 1000 Germans. You would look for outside, unbiased evidence.

    The gospels, as well as most of the books of the Bible weren't written for history's sake. They are not unbiased factual accounts written to preserve historical accuracy. They are written by followers of Christ and they are written for specific purposes. They have an agenda they are trying to put across through their writing. Isn't it possible that they stretch the truth, make things up, and write accounts in a way that puts their cause in a positive light?

    I also think your description of Christians and Muslims is very simplified. To say that all Muslims only become devout and that the religion doesn't change their lives is a very broad assumption, maybe if you have some scientific survey results that can back up this claim it can count. To say that all chritian recieve great benifits from their religion is also a broad assumption. Besides, I think I addressed this issue before. Just because you recieve good benefits from a religious doctrine doesn't mean that what it says about god is correct.

    It is very possible that Christianity simply has some very practicle and wise moral rules that together with a strong church community help a person succeed in living a good life. This does not, however, mean that everything the Bible says must be true.

    As far as Christian counrties versus Muslim countries, again, you cannot put all the success or failure on that one factor. There was also a period of time called the dark ages when the Chritian religion was very powerful, and people did't live very prosperous lives. Maybe the fact that many Christian countries are thriving is because they are Western countries influenced by the enlightenment. Maybe it's freedom, democracy, capitalism and the seperation of religion from government that has made them "blessed." And maybe many of those Muslim countries are not so hot because they are dictatorial, corrupt, not free and generally have a heavy dose of religious influence on their governments.

    And now we come to it. "Faith." Most Christians won't even try to defend their religion with appeals to evidence or logic, but go strait to "faith." But tell me, what is that? What is "faith?" To me, "faith" means believeing in something for no reason. Believing in something even though you don't have a good reason.

    You say we won't be able to prove god exists, but we should still believe in him. Now tell me, why is this? If we don't know for sure that god exists, than we are not believing in him because of truth or factuality. Then why are we believing in him? Maybe we believe because we want there to be a god, we hope there is one. Maybe we are afraid of the idea that there isn't one. Maybe we're afraid that what we've believed to be true our whole life isn't true. Maybe it's a comfort thing, as it is nice to know there is a god who is in control of everything and he has a plan for everything. Maybe it's our hope for a life after death and the fear that there ien't. Maybe it's the need to know that justice will be delivered, if not in this life, then in the next.

    While, sure, it would be nice if there was a god, who was in control and had a plan, and there was a life after death, but just because it would be nice, and I hope it is true, does not mean i should go ahead and assume it is, and believe it is.

    And no, I don't think that knowing god to exist would make me like god. I know that trees exist, and that doesn't make me like a tree.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 3:51 PM  

  • in response to your psss (?) icarus, a nice little idea occured to me which i'd like to pass on in place of a lengthier comment (although i just read what i have typed following this intro and it's plenty lengthy... sorry dude):
    the Bible could be compared to a map or travel guide that leads us to God.

    a travel guide is not magically going to take you to another place, nor is reading it the same as travelling abroad. it is a guide which attempts to open up the destination point for the reader. it gives the reader some hints as to how to get the most out of their journey- how to effectively make the journey, through rich memories drawn from experience, part of life from then on. a Bible is not going to magically transport one into the presence of God, and reading it is not a replacement for a relationship with God. reading it is a means by which people can approach God and enter into a relationship with God that affects the rest of their life and beyond.

    the thing about the travel guide analogy is that there are many travel guides published for popular areas. cosmic connections are, these days, a popular area and there are many 'holy writings' published.

    okay, fine. when someone whom we do not know writes a book about brazil- this is going to be our destination for the purpose of this analogy- we do not (among people i know, anyway) check with interpol or some other international organization to determine whether the profile of the author is truthful- whether the author of the guide has, in fact, been more than a casual observer of the country of brazil. we defer our responsibility in this area to the publishers of the guide, presuming that they have a screening process that ensures the integrity of the books they publish- we even ask people who are familiar with travel in general which resources are the most informative and reliable.

    and let's face it: there are some travel guides out there that have a lot of the general milieu summarized, but are replete with inconsistencies, poorly worded directions and badly cartographed maps. they claim to be user-friendly guides, but are, in fact, frustratingly user-hostile.

    so what do we do when we want to go to brazil? first, we ask everyone we know if they've been there. if we find someone who has, we ask them about brazil and about their personal experiences with brazil, recognizing that talking about or reading about brazil is very different from actually going there. we watch t.v. shows. we go do websites (speaking of credibility issues... woah- don't get me started) and with our friend's help (or the help of a good travel agent- one who makes it their business to know how to get someone to brazil)we set up our connections... or we think about the conversation for days and end up setting up the connection all by ourselves via the net. then, having decided upon the direction and timeframe of our trek, we start reading the guides in preparation for the trip.

    but the real lifechange comes when we actually arrive there, having done everything we could to prepare ourselves, only to discover that no amount of preparation could approximate what it actually feels like to be there.

    i think that experiencing God is like this.

    the trick(?) is to find someone who is experiencing God (in the analogy-the friend who has been to brazil) and open the dialogue face to face.
    ***
    i read something today that reminded me of this dialogue. it was written by a guy who writes books about separate regions of brazil based on comparisons between different travel guides and fictions, but using one particular guide as his foundation for his many journeys there. his name is philip yancey- the book i was reading is called 'rumours'

    "of course, an invisible God cannot be examined or tested. most definitely, God cannot be quantified or reduced. as a result, many people in societies advanced in technology go about their daily lives assuming that God does not exist. they stop short at a world that can be reduced and analyzed, their ears sealed against rumours of another world. as tolstoy said, 'materialists mistake what limits life for life itself.'"

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 7:39 PM  

  • by the quick way, faith is not believing things for no reason or believing things for no good reason, it is believing things unseen. there's a big difference.

    thank God or the cosmos or whatever that our faculty of reason doesn't rely upon our physical senses or the empirical methods we use to somehow observe and categorize reality. there is room there for experience that goes beyond that which is immediately physically perceptible.

    one of the things that i regularly pray for and about as a worship leader in our church is that people's awareness of the presence of God would be piqued. i mean, the doctrine of God's omnipresence wouldn't really be acknowledged if we were to then pray that God would somehow 'come here.' the problem is our own spiritual disability- caused by our fallenness-(see big long earlier comment)which keeps us from being able to sense that presence.

    the movie 'contact', based on the book by carl sagan, has some pretty cool things to say about reality, reason and experience.

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 8:52 PM  

  • Interesting analogy with the Brazil trip. But the problem comes in when you go through all those motions, hop on the plane and then after a 10 hour flight you realize "Hey, there is no Brazil."

    The Bible as a guide would be a better position, but that's not really the position most believers take. To them the Bible isn't some loose guide, but an infallable recording of the word of god. And to hold that position you have to back it up.

    To believe something to be true you need to have a good reason, evidence, logical necessity, something, to the extent that most reasonable doubt is put aside. For example I believe this reality is really reality. While it's possible that I'm just plugged into the matrix, this possibility seems so improbable that it is disregarded. So you don't have to have 100% proof to believe something reasonably.

    But again, you do have to have good reason, evidence and the doubts must be very minuscule and improbable. And of course you should always leave room for the rare instance where the little doubt turns out to be true. I believe reality exists, but I am able to admit that there's a small chance we could be in a matrix like system.

    As far as the Bible and the god it speaks of, I just dont think there is very much reason and evidence to believe it is true. In fact I believe the opposite, that there is much more reason and evidence that points toward it being incorrect. Be that as it may, I don't rule out the possiblity of the Bible being true, it's possible, but in my estimation, not enough likelyhood for me to "believe" it and follow its teachings. I certainly couldn't believe it "with all my heart and soul" as the bible urges.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 2:39 AM  

  • being that your blog is called 'the flights of icarus goodman' i find the whole idea of a ten hour (or nineteen year) flight only to discover there is, in fact, no brazil a tragedy of classical proportion.

    but it's a little off.

    (please ignore the chill that seems to exude from online text no matter how hard some of us try to overcome it through relational fuzzies like 'man' and 'buddy'... there IS a heart behind the words here, and that's probably the only reason why these words might matter)

    you never got there, man. you never actually set foot in brazil. if i recall correctly something you wrote awhile back, you went 'through all those motions' and even hopped on the plane- but then during the ten-hour flight you started to read other travel guides.

    these new guides were ones that you hadn't read before leaving- ones that pushed hard to convince you that there was no brazil, illustrated with characatures of buffoons who are such bad travellers that it wouldn't really matter where they were going for readers young and old to be resolute in their desire to avoid at all costs any destination these travellers might promote. problem was, these travellers looked familiar and at times you had even felt like one of them and so the doubt grew.

    eventually, you had had enough and, having fashioned wings of wax during the flight, stepped out of the plane somewhere over the ocean. with the wind in your ears and a plane moving off in the distance, your focus- upon being free of the plane and its destination- was upon the wonder and joy of flight, recognizing that to fly too close to the sun might melt your wings and to fly too close to the water might restrict both your vision and your freedom to experiment with flight itself. (ie jonathan livingstone seagull by richard bach)

    at least, that's how it sounded to me (recognizing that this brazil/flight analogy was convenient, but has probably gone as far as it's going to go! LOL)

    while at university i lived next door to a 'new-age' bookstore, from which i procured a bunch of fun books: lao tzu's "tao of life"; swami prabhavananda's "bhagavad-gita"; "the gospel according to zen- beyond the death of God"; baigent, leigh and lincoln's "the holy blood and the holy grail" (a resource for don brown's davinci thing) and others. add to these the stuff i've read since (figured i'd quit with the cheesey name-dropping)and you have many voices carrying on a dialogue which shapes and reshapes your perspective, sometimes daily.

    there was a passage of scripture that resonated within the caverns of my mind that i was so eager to fill up, and essentially bathed the place with light enabling me to see the faces that were engaged in the dialogue even now:

    'see to it that no one holds you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.' (col 2.8)

    the word 'hollow' is probably the most important word in that verse other than the name of Christ. what it says to me is that pure intellectual reasoning will inspire and develop the mind, but might be comparable to misering (?) in that eventually mortal life in the physical realm is done and everyone is once again leveled.

    the 'you can't take it with you' thing.

    now that's fine because life was full of ideas and experiences that make us undeniably rich in many ways, and if this is the proverbial 'it' and all that we've experienced is reduced to what we had the chance to pass on to others- if that is our immortality- then great.

    but if there is, in fact, something more than spiritual sea below us to which we eventually come to land, then we have spent the whole of our physical existence on the hollow- chasing, as solomon said, after wind.
    ***

    by the way, i just want to clarify that in my long and painfully exhausted analogy, brazil is not heaven, it's a personal relationship with God.

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 11:43 AM  

  • In response to Gary's 5th comment.

    No mental health expert has ever analyzed Jesus. He's been dead for a good while now. Instead, maybe you are saying that these mental health experts have examined the actions of Christ as presented in the writings of the gospels. Again, how do we know that what these men wrote is what actually happened? Maybe Jesus was crazy and they just downplayed that in the writings.

    Even still the Terrie Schiavo case presents a good lesson here. You can probably find "experts" to back any position. So I'm sure there are mental health experts out there who would hold the exact opposite opinion on Jesus' sanity. But really that is all beside the point.

    The dichotomy you present appears to be false. A person could easily be a teacher of some good moral values and some not so good. People also don't always practice what they preach. So it is very possible that Jesus taught the moral values that he did while being false about his claims to divinity (if he ever made any). Maybe he wasn't lying, maybe he really thought he was god, but was just mistaken. I don't think that a few mental health professionals reading second hand accounts is a good basis for proving whether or not someone is the son of god.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 12:02 AM  

  • yeah, i read you on the second-hand account thing... problem is if we desire to draw anything from any aspect of the past (whether our desire is to draw vicarious spiritual insight or to simply learn from historic happenings) we are stuck with second-hand accounts. otherwise the presumption is that only the people who have written in their own words, or have somehow personally documented their philosophical, theological or theosophical notions and experiences have anything for us.

    it would be great to go to the source on everything, but even if we are reading paul's letters, (which are first-hand accounts of his ideas as resulting from relationship and experience, combined with civilization as it existed in 1st C rome and personal spiritual moments of 'enlightenment') we are still reading translations of his writings.

    paul's letters (along with the correspondence attributed to peter)are probably the most immediate writings contained in the bible following the passion of the Christ. the gospels came, as has been pointed out somewhere here i think, a bit later. this is especially evident in john's gospel which states its purpose over and over again: that you would believe. he draws all sorts of connections together in posing his argument for the divinity of Christ to the jews.

    i just finished reading dante's inferno. it was really fun and interesting and all that, but there were still some questions in my mind concerning word choice, as dante was writing in 13-14th century italian and i was reading a 20th century english translation. i read a lot of the commentary material etc in order to gain an understanding of what the poet was saying, and although i wished that i had access to the poet himself, or to his original versions of his epic, i had to eventually step back and acknowledge that the translators don't flippantly translate from the original texts because of their commitment to the work and to the message of the work.

    it could be considered a bit intellectually snobby to presume that everything needs to happen first-hand or it is of no lasting spiritual or cultural merit.

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 1:33 PM  

  • Very well put. I cannot believe in something that is just word of mouth and has been proven false by science several times around.

    Thought I am curious to what makes people hold on to these beliefs.

    By Anonymous Yvonne, at 1:48 PM  

  • First off, not everything must be first hand accounts. It's a matter of deciding something's believability. If someone writes an account of a historical event of which he was not present, and there was no other account of it, we would look at several factors to decide its believability. One, we would look at the events he transcribed. Are they common events that agree with our knowledge of history and reality? Or, are they mystical events that are contradictory to what we have observed in reality. If the latter, more scepticism is called for.

    We also look at the author, his historical setting, cultural setting, politcal setting, in order to understand any influences and possible motivational factors that could help shape his view on the subject and possibly cast a bias onto his account. For example, it would probably make a big difference whether the writer was a native american or a colonist when it comes to his view on the conquest of america.

    Another argument is about authorship. I don't know if Plato actually wrote The Republic, so does that make it suspect and useless? No, because a book like that does not derive its authority from the author. It doesn't matter if Plato wrote it or my next door neighbor. The author isn't important, the ideas are. It presents logical arguments and conclusions. The clarity of the logic is what provides its authority, if the logic is bad, then it is useless.

    With the bible on the other hand, the authorship is extremely important. It doesn't attempt to derive authority from arguments. Instead it dictates. It gains its authority because it is supposedly god who is doing the dictating through some person. So the character of the author is extremely important, for if the divine word is suppsoed to have come to Moses, yet it wasn't moses who wrote the book, then what authority does any of the book hold?

    Everything is to be taken with a little grain of salt. And we should always take into account historical contexts of the authors. But the main thing is the old saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." If some old manuscrpt claims that the egyptians invaded syria, I'm probably going to give it the benefit of the doubt. If some old manuscript claims to be the word of god, and speaks about the sun standing still, people rising from the dead, and fire resistent prophets, I'm going to require a bit more evidence to swallow that.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 3:19 AM  

  • "Or, are they mystical events that are contradictory to what we have observed in reality."

    two things:
    you speak as though mystical reality is pure conjecture. i find that disappointing, as mystical experience, without being relativistic, is experience that takes place inside and works its way out, rather than the other way 'round. there is still a reticence towards anything emotional or spiritual, although these are crucial human endowments that require intentional growth and development probably to greater degree than intellect.

    emotional intelligence was a big buzzword a few years ago, coinciding with the publication of a number of great books (which came first, it's hard to say- chicken or egg?) including 'emotional intelligence' by daniel goleman. the book scientifically explores the apparent paradox of (e.g.) the brilliant man who fails again and again at maintaining longterm relationships due to an inability to acknowledge the emotional element of his person, concluding that 'modern man' (didn't say anything about postmodernity, which i believe is a whole nother, albeit related, comment) is emotionally unschooled and underdeveloped and therefore unsuccessful.

    because spirituality is buried even deeper in the north american success model, i suspect we're even worse at giving it appropriate attention and expression. however, to deny its existence might be comparable to a man who, being born blind, refuses to acknowledge that sight is possible simply because he hasn't experienced it.

    the other problem is the 'contradictory to observed reality' bit- although having considered the (forgive the sanctimonious cliche there- it just seemed to be the straightest comparison i could think of) blindness analogy, it feels like i've already expressed this idea- we cannot conclude that something doesn't exist simply because we haven't experienced it personally, can we?

    my personal experience, with regard in particular to the bible and its role in the Christian faith is not contradictory to 'real life' or observations of reality that are part of my spirituality. sure, my life is viewed and interpreted through the lens of scripture, but these scriptures do not contradict life in the western world (except for the contradictions that are indicative of humankind's abandonment of the principles extolled there.)

    let's not jump all over the bible, citing literal interpretations and perceived contradictions or events etc that are literal in nature as reason to abandon the ideas and principles that dance behind them the way the colours of a raoul dufy painting dance behind the details rather than be confined to their lines. much of the bible is poetic or otherwise figurative, and, like most poetry, the words are most deeply understood by those who have let experience be coloured by them or reflected in them. the difference is that the experience of writing was not simply intellectual or aesthetic, it was also mystical.

    and here we are full circle, once again trying to sort out whether the mystical is real. eventually we basically have to embrace our spirituality or embalm it.

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 11:37 AM  

  • Wow. This is an amazing dialogue. Challenging questions, good responses. I wish I had an elegant and thoughtful comment, but I'm afraid to muddy the water.

    What I can say? My experience supports the conclusion that faith in Jesus' divinity; belief that his sacrifice forgives my sin, has freed me from my own self-destructive ways.

    I'm still on the journey, still learning., but I'm back on the "plane to Brazil."

    ~Jason

    By Blogger Jason Silver, at 3:40 PM  

  • I don't have time to address everything you said, but I will try to address some of your points.

    I was not equating sincerity and truth. I was just saying there is no reason to believe the the writers of the Bible were being insincere. They had nothing materially to gain. Mohammed on the other hand used his religion as a motivation to rally warriors to physically conquer others. He had a motivation to be insincere.

    So were the writers of the Old Testament simply mistaken? Maybe. But then you have to explain how 30 writers from all walks of life writing over a period of 1500 years could make something mesh so well.

    Why doesn't God just show himself in the sky? If he did, we'd incinerate. But it's not his style. In his view, we already have plenty of reason to believe in him.

    The gospels are not the only history texts which testfy of Jesus. There are secular records including the works of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish-Roman secular historian. These confirm the gospels.

    I disagree with your definition of faith. Faith is not believing something for no reason. It is believing something because you have EVERY reason EXCEPT actually seeing that thing you believe in.

    Is there ample evidence for God? Yes, just study anthropic science a bit. This is laid out in "The Case for a Creator" and other texts.

    Is there ample evidence Jesus lived and said the things he did? Yes, again, read "The Case for Christ."

    Is there ample evidence that the gospels accurately depict Jesus? Yes, again, it's all in "The Case for Christ."

    By Blogger Gary B, at 5:52 PM  

  • Icarus,

    You can be skeptical till the sun goes down. But that doesn't get you anywhere, either. The questions will still be there.

    Like, Where did we come from?

    Please don't say evolution. That, science is telling us more and more clearly every year, is a fraud and a joke.

    My guess is whatever you believe is the answer to this question, the evidence for God, Christ and creation are stronger, and thus you may actually believe something that takes more faith to believe than the Christian alternative. But you said you didn't think much of faith.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 6:01 PM  

  • Jollybeggar,

    You said "we cannot conclude that something doesn't exist simply because we haven't experienced it personally, can we?"

    No, of course not, but that's not what I'm saying. For example, we cannot conclude that a giant pink space panda does not exist simply because we have not seen one either, but we certainly don't have the evidence to conclude the opposite either, that one does exist, simply because it is possible. The correct view , it would seem is to acknowledge the possibility of its existence while assuming it does not , until such time that evidence of its existence comes to the front.

    I acknowledge the possibility of Christian belief (or muslim belief, whatever) being true, but at the same time I assume they are inccorect because, in my opinion there is more reason and evidence pointing to that conclusion than to them being right.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 10:19 PM  

  • To Jason,

    We can only follow what we think to be truth, and if Christianity is what you sincerely believe to be the truth than of course you must follow that path. And, if following that path leads to happiness, well then more power to you man. But, I would caution you not to look at the effects of following a moral and ethical system such as Christianity and from that, conclude that every facet of its teachings are correct.

    Like I said earlier, perhaps Christianity simply maintains some very universal and good ethical guidelines. This does not necessarily make the rest of its assertions correct. Take the wisdom literature of proverbs, these are mostly pretty secular, common sense sayings such as you might think Benjamin Franklin saying. You can accept the wisdom of these teachigs without accepting the divine claims of Christ.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 10:30 PM  

  • To Gary,

    I disagree that the writers of the Bible didn't have motivations to be insincere. As leaders of a small nation of people surrounded by other nations, all struggling to survive and grow, a national religion was a common feature of them all. It binds the people together, helps them explain why bad things happen, and gives them a sinse of control over their destiny. If they sacrifice and obey the laws of their god, then no harm will come to them, they will be vicotrious in battle and prosperous. When something bad happens, such as babylon destroying Jerusalem, religion explains it by saying it is punishment for disobeying god's commands, and of course it provides hope by saying that the jews are god's chosen peple and they will eventually be restored .

    I also disagree that the Bible does mesh together very well. Different books can present drastically different views of god. But even so, the Bible is probably much more cohesive than it originally was because it was often edited through those 1500 years, so that earlier writings would jive better with latter ideas. But I don't want to get into the details of the bible. The main thrust of this post is to discuss the idea of revealed religion itself and whether or not this method of divine communication is a viable way for man to learn about god and if so how one determines who god is truely speaking through.

    I also don't claim to know everything. When confronted with a situation where the answer alludes me I simply plead ignorance. For instance, the nature of the universe, whether you believe it was created by a god or simply always existed, either way you are confronted with the situation where something must always exist. Infinite existence boggles my mind, as I'm sure it does everyone else, as mortal humans we simply don't seem able to comprehend this concept. But I'm ok with not knowing what I cannot.

    Maybe evolution is correct maybe it is not, either way, it is science (reason, logic, objective evidence) that will bring us closest to the truth. Sometimes it strays onto theories that turn out to be incorrect but eventually faslehood is highlighted and expunged. If evolution is incorrect, then as you said, science will show it be false.
    But I think that science is the way to discover the truth about our origins, not legends and myths such as adam and eve or Prometheus and Epimetheus.

    I also don't doubt that there was a historical Jesus or that the depictions in the gospel are pretty accurate as far as what Jesus did and said. But I guess I just think like Thomas, I need to see the scars in his hands. If Christianity is correct, then I think I have plenty of good reason(endowed by god as my main tool of living) to doubt the accounts of the Bible. If God is going to condemn me to eternal damnation for simply excersizing the tools he gave me, well I wouldn't call that god just.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 11:14 PM  

  • in the spirit of presenting outside works that most likely present our arguments in much clearer and coherent ways, I want to recommend everyone read the Age of Reason part I and II by Thomas Paine. It can be found here... http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/thomas_paine/age_of_reason/index.shtml

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 12:16 AM  

  • well this has sure been fun. i don't think i've ever seen a blog with over thirty comments to one post- and so much dialogue! well done, my friend.

    hey listen, i agree with gary b when he says "You can be skeptical till the sun goes down. But that doesn't get you anywhere, either. The questions will still be there." because they will.

    as an optimistic realist who holds to the pursuit of truth and of his own happiness, do you draw happiness from unresolvable discourse like this? i'm just wondering because it feels like we're all getting a little drunk on our theosophical homebrew.

    the problem with dialogue like this is that people have trouble listening to each other. i mean, we're great at locking in on things to refute, but when positions are held as strongly as the ones expressed here i think that we sometimes forget about our own quest for truth (spiritual or otherwise... truth is truth regardless of its color) and become recruiting officers for our 'side' of the issue.

    when i was in school i wrote a little song in math class:
    ***

    from where i sit it's all the same
    why can't i just be free?
    because no matter what you say
    you'll never make me see
    as you speak your voice rises
    in your determination to rescue me
    from the 'other side'
    sure my eyes are open
    so to your reason they are blind

    but let me try
    try to make you understand
    it's nothing personal
    it's just the way i am
    i've seen too much
    consistent inconsistency
    too many things are said
    by those lacking credibility

    a surrogate shepherd
    performs a three-point scream
    mopping sweat from his brow
    he tells of a dream
    how darkness and terror
    invaded his head
    causing some thrashing about on the bed
    apparitions wielding financial prophecy
    tormented his temples chanting 'bankruptcy'
    and so to the faithful he beckons today
    that if they truly would follow
    they must join him in his crusade

    nothing is heard
    nothing is felt
    only thoughts of the lunch buffet
    and of loosening the bible belt

    please- don't get on the defensive
    i didn't mean to wound your pride
    i just wanted you to see my side
    there there
    sit back and take it easy
    if it will make you feel better
    you can say a little prayer for me.

    so now we're in it, one on one
    and it's your turn once again
    ***

    i think i'm done for awhile... i still have to drive home.

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 1:10 AM  

  • Icarus, I've read The Case for a Creator and I think it's right up your ally. Logical and reasoned arguments pointing to order and structure that make up our universe. I wish everyone would read it so that even hardcore Darwinists and atheists would know why some people aren't buying evolution just yet.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 2:57 AM  

  • Hey Icarus,

    This is randomonious blathering, so apologies up-front. :)

    I agree completely: 'We can only follow what we think to be truth.' We're all doing that, right?

    I've read two of those "Case for..." books, and they're pretty good, albeit evidence based-- more modern than post-modern.

    But in the end, after looking at the evidence I could find-- for-and-against, after considering my personal experience and the experience of those around me, there was only one thing left to do. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and jumped.

    Christianity works for me. Maybe it's just a great system, like you say. Cool, 'cause I'm benefiting from it. Maybe it's dire truth. Great! Then I'm on the right track. If it's bunk, I just die in the end and my flesh rots. But living for myself and my own pleasure always comes up disappointing somehow. Not everyone finds it this way, but I have. If it's all about ME, then actually, it's not about much.

    I get a lot of fulfillment from investing in what I consider 'God-business.' You know, Jesus' stuff like feeding the hungry, helping the poor, forgiving hurts and freeing people for absolutely no self-reason! I want to do more of that.

    Ultimately I made a choice and there's no sense following a choice, then changing direction upstream. I'm committed to it to the end because it's reasonable to me, because I can't absolutely know that it's nonsense, as you say. It's not a giant pink panda to me.

    Obvious question, but have you read the whole Bible?

    ~Jason

    By Blogger Jason Silver, at 8:47 AM  

  • by way of endorsements (?) i would definately jump onto the lee strobel's 'case for creator' bandwagon, although i agree with jason- it is more modern than postmodern in its perspective and approach.

    for a more pomo spin, try 'finding faith' by brian d mclaren...

    or there's always 'the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy' (LOL)

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 11:32 AM  

  • Congratulations Icarus! You made it into the top 3 for the "Fearless Philosophy Blog Post of the Month." This is a new award I give out each month to the best blogpost based on originality, strong supportable opinions, overall quality, and logical reasoning.

    Check out my blog to see my comments on your article and see where your post placed.

    By Blogger Stephen Littau, at 3:42 PM  

  • Icarus,

    You presume that the Bible has been significantly altered over the centuries when in fact all the evidence says the opposite.

    First, the Bible is the most richly represented ancient text we have. There tens of thousands of Bible artifacts dating back to 200BC.

    Second, comparing all these different sources allows a Biblical reconstruction that identifies discrepencies, because they stand out. Even so, the texts still show remarkable consistency and only minor differences. No major Christian doctrine is put into question by any discrepancy.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls, when discovered, were 1000 years older than any other Old Testament textual artifact we had, yet there were no significant differences between the DSS and the newer texts, *proving that the Old Testament had not been changed during that 1000 year period.*

    Historical scholars will tell you that there is every reason to believe that the Old Testament we now have is extremely close to that of the original.

    So your theory that the Bible has been changed over the centuries is one that is refuted by all the archeological evidence we have. In other words, it is something that you accept by faith, with no evidence to support it.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 9:30 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 9:55 AM  

  • Icarus,

    Arrgh. I pressed the publish button instead of the review button. Could you delete my previous post? It is full of typos. This one has been corrected.

    GB
    ---

    I didn't mean to change the subject, but you had made some offhanded points (such as presuming the Bible has been significantly edited), which needed to be addressed.

    As to revealed religion being viable, in my experience it is very viable. But it is not going to be revealed in exactly the same way scientific facts are because science observes the natural while God is supernatural. So while the evidence for God might be natural, reaching out to him in a personal way requires a supernatural step, that is faith.

    As an analogy let's say your wife left for the day and was not to be back until evening. She cleaned and straightened the house and left before you. You go off to work and later come home for lunch. You see your wife's car in the driveway. The front door is unlocked. You enter and see her purse on the table, her sweater on the chair and the door to your bedroom open. You hear rustling in the bedroom. All the evidence points to believing your wife has come home. So you take a step of faith and say, "Honey, is that you?" You hear her reply, "Yes." Realize that in all this you really had not seen your wife until you called to her, but for some reason you did.

    Now suppose the same things had happened except you didn't see her car, purse or sweater. Would you have believed your wife was home? Possibly. Possibly not. You may have thought you had caught a thief.

    My point is you have to take in all the evidence and see where that leads you. I believe very strongly that all the evidence overwhelmingly supports the belief that a supernatural creator made us all. However, just like your wife in the analogy, you are not going to discover him until you follow all the evidence to its conclusion. If you had run out of your house in fear a thief would injure you, you would have missed your wife. In the same way, if you fail to interpret the evidence correctly, you may miss God.

    C.S. Lewis said, since we are natural and God is supernatural, the only supernatural way for him to communicate with us would be via an inner supernatural sense, a still, small voice that tells us deep within, "There is something more." This we all have, though Objectivists arbitrarily toss it in the pile with emotions feelings.

    So I would ask your question in another way. How should God reveal himself to us, from a supernatural world to a natural worlds, without us making other inevitable errors? For example if one day there was discovered a huge inscription on the moon visible from telescopes which read, "I am God. Worship and obey me," I guarantee you that many people would still be skeptical, because some people will always willfully reject the supernatural.

    So though all the evidence may tell your mind, yes, you should believe your wife (God) is home (exists) your heart still has to decide to take a step of faith based on the evidence. As long as you categorically reject the existence of the supernatural (as Objectivists do) and categorically attempt to explain all evidence of it as always having a natural origin, you will never make contact. But doing so is not a triumph of intellect, but one of will. It's sort of like insisting on being able to see with your eyes tightly shut.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 10:09 AM  

  • Icarus,

    If they're right, let's meet in Hell for a quick Brandy and a cigar!

    All I can say is that the majority of people in the world -- a majority that obviously does not include us -- have a deep-seated need (whether it's learned or inherent I can't guess) to believe in some 'giant hand' manipulating this world and in some gleaming existance after this one.

    You can argue and cajole and bitch and moan and it's unlikely you will change even one mind or do a bit of good . . . but, if you cause one person of faith to loose his or her faith you might damage a life. Without their faith, there are some people who will 'crumble.'

    By Blogger Whymrhymer, at 12:23 PM  

  • Whymrhymer makes a good point. Nine out of ten people in the world are theists--Could 90% of people be wrong on such a basic issue? If so, what massive error of evolution brought that about!?

    Also, Whymrhymer, don't kid yourself. *Everybody* lives by faith to some extent. What differs is what they have faith in. For example, if you really study the science, believing in evolution takes much more faith than believing in God, since all recent discoveries refute it. But that doesn't stop those who want to believe in it from doing so.

    By Blogger Gary B, at 6:04 PM  

  • gary b,

    That is interesting that such a large number of people have this need to believe in an active God -- I certainly can't explain it!

    On your statement that "*Everybody* lives by faith to some extent," you're right and wrong. Just to live you need to have faith in something but not everyone has faith in the supernatural -- which is what we were discussing. I'm a living example of that, as is Icarus. As far as Darwin's theory -- if it's conclusively proved wrong, it's no big deal -- people who believed in it will have to adjust their views to the new findings.

    Incidently, I may not be a theist but find that religious principles are, for the most part, wonderful. The guys who wrote the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and etc. were brilliant social engineers and great storytellers.

    By Blogger Whymrhymer, at 10:54 PM  

  • hey whymrhymer and icarus-
    not much for brandy, but i'd join you for a glass of guinness and that cigar this side of hell- i think that it will probably mean more in a place where our physical senses command so much of our understanding of reality anyway.

    the darwinian red herring has been a flashpoint since the idea was introduced, but i like your thinking concerning the role of theories in our life's journey.

    anyway, after reflecting a bit on the energy that was exchanged last week in our little party here, i punched out an idea or two.

    hey icarus- congratulations on winning your virtual award... when does the cheque come- of is that another matter of faith? LOL

    http://e-pistles.blogspot.com/2005/05/us-and-them.html

    By Blogger jollybeggar, at 4:53 PM  

  • Icarus and all others who have commented, thank you for a healthy discussion. I had planned to leave my own comment; however, due to it being rather long I decided to post it on my own blog site. It will save you from having to clean up the tomatoes and rotten cabbage that gets thrown.

    By Blogger T. F. Stern, at 9:38 PM  

  • I'm sorry I havn't been able to respond to the latest comments but apparently God was upset with me and decided to crash my hard drive. After 4 days of hair-pulling computer surgery, and losing everythign on my PC, I'm finally back up an running.

    Just a few things. One, yes 90% of people could be wrong, and that statistic probably supports this, how often are so many people right?

    Second, I agree Whymrhymer, that many people aren't prepared to leave their religion. I like to compare it to people that are plugged into the Matrix. Morpheus couldn't "unplug" those who were older because their minds had become so dependent on their assumption of reality that their minds wouldnt be able to accept that it was all false. Same with many people and religion, that's why you have to hit them when they are young, it is the same tactic that religions use, indoctrinate the kids, and it will make it very hard for them to escape.

    I don't attack religion because I think it is entirely without merit. As I have said before, most religious people are very good, moral people, and their religion intills them with very good, if basic, values. I attack it because I simply think it to be false, and not needed to live an ethical life.

    This post was all about revealed religion as a theorectical concept, attempting to show that there is no reliable basis on which to believe these "Holy Texts." I hope to make future posts examining the actual ethics and morals of Christianity as well as a closer look at faith, since everyone seems to have their own definition of the term.

    I want to thank everyone for contributing to what has become a very interesting discussion.

    By Blogger Icarus Goodman, at 8:21 PM  

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