Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


Astronomy and Faith

hand-of-god-nebula.jpg

“Our explorations have produced a vast archive of remarkable astronomical images… The riches are too many for choices, the revelations beautiful and dreadful. Who can look at these images and not be transformed? The heavens declare God’s glory.”

-Chet Raymo, from Skeptics and True Believers

“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”) plan.”

-Arno Penzias, Nobel prizewinning physicist

“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?”

-Psalm 8:3-4

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Knockgoats

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:32 am


The so-called “fine-tuning argument”, which the quote from Penzias hints as, is faulty for at least three reasons:
1) We do not, in fact, know what variations of the fundamental constants would allow life to develop. Physics is simply not capable of calculating all the consequences of particular settings of these constants.
2) Even if we did know this, we would have no way of assigning probabilities to the values being within the ranges that permit life. To assign probabilities, we must know the set of possible values, and have a way of determining what subsets are equiprobable.
3) Even if we did, and it turned out that the probability of the constants having life-permitting values is small, all this would tell us is that we live in an improbable universe – not that it was designed, let alone that it was designed for life. Whatever the probability of the universe permitting life to exist, the probability of it permitting me to exist must surely be smaller. Am I therefore entitled to conclude that the universe was designed for this purpose?



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Michael Thompson

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:03 am


interesting points KG
Questions
For theists, How is the fine tuning argument any different than IDs we cant explain it, therefor God did it, God of the gaps argument?
For nontheists, If everything has a natural cause, what was the first cause? Please don’t come back with the question what caused God? I am not trying to argue for Gods existence here, I am just curios what your opinions are, thanks
MT



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Kathryn

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:27 am


MT, theistic evolution is different from Intelligent Design in several important respects. TE supporters believe the physical bodies of all living things, including humans, originated by evolution, whereas ID supporters believe evolution is not a sufficient mechanism.
For theistic evolutionists, the fining tuning argument is a pointer, rather than a proof, to the existence of a God. ID proponents feel the complexity of certain biological features and the amount of information encoded in the natural world are proof of a mastermind Intelligence.
TEs assume God’s existence from rational faith (usually in the Bible as the inspired word of God, not because of the findings of science); ID seeks to prove the Intelligence’s existence scientifically and claims it does this without reference to any religious text.
On a related note, the two have philosophical differences about what constitutes science: TE argues for methodological naturalism (the belief that looking at the natural world via the scientific method cannot give you supernatural answers, even though there may in fact be a supernatural reality). ID, on the other hand, does not adhere to this philosophical position and is therefore able to argue from the gaps.



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Knockgoats

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:29 am


For nontheists, If everything has a natural cause, what was the first cause? – Michael Thompson
According to quantum mechanics, as I understand it (which is not far – I don’t have the maths), it is not the case that everything has a natural cause: virtual particles pop in and out of existence willy-nilly, radioactive decay is predictable only statistically. It has been speculated that the entire universe is an uncaused quantum-mechanical fluctuation. If a good explanation of its existence is ever forthcoming (there certainly isn’t one now), it will surely come from physics and not theology. Whether or not it does, the “first cause” argument is certainly invalid, for the reason you hint at: if an uncaused cause is disallowed, that must apply to God as to anything else.



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Knockgoats

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:40 am


Kathryn,
Why do you think it rational to consider the Bible “the inspired word of God”? It is full of nonsensical claims and prohibitions, and
the God depicted therein is a repulsive monster of evil, from drowning almost everyone and everything, to slaughtering the firstborn of Egypt, to threatening unbelievers with eternal torment.



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Ray Ingles

posted October 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm


Michael Thompson – Human brains don’t like infinite regressions. But the idea of an “uncaused cause” is just as counterintuitive.
The surface of the Earth has no edge, yet is finite. Before we understood that the Earth was a spheroid, this would have been seen as inherently contradictor
y. Either you’d come to an edge, or it went on forever, right? I just figure we haven’t had the right insights to make sense of the origins of the universe..
. yet.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:54 pm


MT, I like the way you think: “For theists, How is the fine tuning argument any different than IDs we cant explain it, therefore God did it, God of the gaps argument?”
I’ll go a step further…
How is maintaining a spiritual reality that parallels the physical world, just to explain our experiences that seem to transcend the physical, not also a “spirit of the gaps” argument? Is it not possible that all of the properties we normally associate with “spirit” are simply emergent qualities of a complex universe? A universe that, in all of our human understanding, we have barely scratched the surface of?
Just consider the inherent wierdness of the quantum level. If sub-atomic events unfolded on scales that we could percieve, we would probably be forced, in our ignorance, to invoke some sort of spirit realm to explain them. How did my wife run only one errand, and yet she got groceries and picked up the dry cleaning? Answer: she followed two different paths and performed both tasks at the same time! To prove it, there is food in the fridge and starched shirts in my closet. The only problem is that if I open the fridge and observe the groceries, my shirts revert back to being at the cleaners. And if I open the closet and observe my shirts, the groceries “wave function” collapses back to the grocery store. What kind of twilight-zone world is this? These exact situations are encountered when the fundamental building blocks of matter are studied — blurring the line between science and philosophy.
But even if one is a strict physicalist, there is no way around these “____” of the gaps arguments. For instance, no single mind can observe every particle of matter during it’s entire natural history. So even the uniformity of nature itself is an assumption made to enable the systematic study of nature. Why isn’t the entire scientific enterprise based on a “law-of-the-gaps” arguement?



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Knockgoats

posted October 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm


So even the uniformity of nature itself is an assumption made to enable the systematic study of nature. Gordon J. Glover
It’s an assumption, but a falsifiable one: if the stars were to start falling out of the sky, fossil rabbits turned up in the Precambrian, apples began floating upwards, the dish ran away with the spoon, someone came along who could turn water into wine or walk on water, or the dead started coming back to life… we would have to abandon it.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted October 15, 2009 at 4:38 pm


“It’s an assumption, but a falsifiable one: if the stars were to start falling out of the sky, fossil rabbits turned up in the Precambrian, apples began floating upwards, the dish ran away with the spoon, someone came along who could turn water into wine or walk on water, or the dead started coming back to life… we would have to abandon it.”
I don’t think the uniformity of nature is a falsifiable assumption. In order to falsify it, you would have to demonstrate that a specific phenomenon had no possible material explanation. But unless we can claim to have infinite knowledge of the cosmos, how can say this? We are still so ignorant of the cosmos. And yes, I agree that according to this definition, nothing could be falsified — so parsimony obviously plays a role. But how far one strethces parsimony is governed by one’s faith commitments.
Consider again my quantum example. Rather than abandon the uniformity of nature, scientist have a mutlitute of “qunatum interpretations” – and no way to know which one is right, or if any of them are right. A superstitious person might just say that the particles are possessed by little spirits and they are therefore free agents. But we side with uniformity because of parsimony.
In fact, every time we discover that the universe bahaves strangely (in a non-uniform way that we could not expect nor predict), nobody suggests that we abandon the principle of the uniformity of nature. Instead, we simply modify the details or recognize that we don’t fully understand them yet. You can’t abandon a foundational assumption, and you can’t replace something with nothing. So we simply recognize that while the uniformity of nature is absolutely necessary, it still has limits because of our finite knowledge.



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Knockgoats

posted October 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm


Gordon J. Glover,
Popper himself, I think, pointed out that strictly speaking, no single hypothesis is ever falsifiable. One can always dream up a way of saving a preferred assumption. Nonetheless, if any of the scenarios I have suggested were to come about, this would not resemble in any way whatever anything science has yet discovered – can you name a single well-confirmed event that has actually suggested the uniformity of nature even might have to be abandoned? All the scenarios I mention would certainly gravely undermine confidence in science, and strongly suggest either the nonuniformity of nature, or interference by a superhuman intelligence. I think you have misunderstood the status of the different interpretations of quantum mechanics: all of them are consistent with the mathematics of the theory, which has never in any way threatened the hypothesis of the uniformity of nature.



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Mere_Christian

posted October 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm


Dude, that’s like so anthropic.
Way cool.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted October 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm


KG,
I see your point. But even if one of those events did happen as you said, scientists as a whole would not abandon the uniformity of nature. They would not say, “we were wrong all of this time. The universe has is a whimsical and unpredictable place where anything can happen.” I just don’t see that. I think at that point, their philosphical committment to materialism would demand that there be some rational explanation for the observed phenomena. This is where people would turn to their respective philosophies.



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:08 pm


Knockgoat — you asked about the Bible and its disturbing elements — but recognize that the Bible is also one of the earliest (if not the earliest) records we have to the gradual emergence of ideas about human dignity and worth, love and grace, and etc. Even in the harsh, ANE-steeped world of its earliest books (ie the Pentateuch) are radical contrasts with prevailing notions of the time on the role of humans, the roles of the sexes, the equality of social classes, and etc. In Genesis 1-2 alone we find the idea that humans are created as good stewards of creation beloved of God, while surrounding ANE culture was seeing humans as having been created to be menial slaves for the gods (see Enuma elish). And slowly, gradually, and in so many ways it just gets better from there.
The Bible is only a problem if we see it as a flat and frozen dictation from God (or as a divine editorial supervision of human authors so strong as to directly control what they wrote and did not write). If we instead see it as the progressive witness of a human community to the movement of God in its midst over the ages, culminating (as we Christians believe) in its remembrance of the life and way of Jesus, most of those sorts of problems melt away. No, this is not acceptable to fundamentalism, but have you ever seriously considered non-fundamentalist Christian approaches?



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Michael Thompson

posted October 16, 2009 at 12:40 am


Thanks for your replies!
Some interesting discussion going on, I feel my brain is gonna explode, pondering all of this. we got some good thinkers here!



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 5:40 am


Gordon J. Glover,
We’ll have to agree to differ on what scientists would do in that hypothetical case, since there’s no way to find out. I will point out that the “commitment to materialism” is itself a product of experience: many early geologists thought they could use “divine revelation” as a guide to what they would find (hence, they went looking for evidence of a global flood, but most were honest enough to admit they didn’t find it); most pre-Origin biologists thought that homologies were evidence of divine design decisions; in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many scientists involved themselves in experiments in contacting the dead; and even very recently, tests of the power of prayer (with negative results in those trials with adequate controls) and homeopathy (likewise) get into the peer-reviewed literature. So methodological naturalism (or materialism if you insist – but that word has several other meanings) is not essential to science – it’s just that non-naturalistic hypotheses never seem to lead anywhere useful, and scientists don’t want to waste their time.



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Albert the Abstainer

posted October 16, 2009 at 6:09 am


Knockgoats makes an excellent point about non-naturalistic hypotheses. You can make as many as can be imagined, and it is a waste of cycles.
That does not mean that mythic tales and religious traditions have nothing to contribute; they just have nothing to contribute to science. In the visual arts, (think Michelangelo), literature (Homer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky), and music (Gustav Mahler), and many other of the humanities, much is contributed via religious and mythic themes.
It is well and good to lock the door of scientific research from religious hypotheses, and impoverishing to attempt to banish religion and myth in the humanities.
Where things become difficult is in the political arena and where people express the religious impulse in ways that are harmful. The question is: How do we temper dangerous and destructive expression of the religious impulse, (think 9/11), while encouraging forms of expression which advance the human condition.



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 6:29 am


Scott Jorgenson,
As I understand it (I’m no expert), most non-fundamentalist Biblical scholars date the earliest parts of the current text of the Bible (although not the myths they contain) to the 5th century B.C.E., after the Babylonian captivity; and many consider the more “progressive” ideas in it to have been borrowed from Zoroastrianism. It would also post-date the teachings of Mahavira and Gautama Siddhartha in India, although not the writings supposedly derived from these teachings. So such ideas were around across a wide area, doubtless as a result of the growth of cities and increasing inter-cultural contacts. (Some, indeed, go back much further, to at least the 24th century B.C.E. reform programme of Urakagina of Lagash, who apparently claimed “The widow and the orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful man”.) All the guff about the “movement of God” just distorts the understanding of their history.
I don’t see the NT, with its blood-curdling threats of eternal torment, its pathological attitude to women and sex, its implicit condonation of slavery, its insistence that all human beings are hopeless and evil without the intervention of the divine dictator, and the ludicrous and disgusting doctrine of vicarious atonement, as an improvement on the OT. Compared to rather earlier Greek and Indian thought, it comes off very poorly.
have you ever seriously considered non-fundamentalist Christian approaches?
I was brought up as a non-fundamentalist Christian. I realised it was all nonsense by the age of 12, and have seen no reason whatever to revise that view. Have you ever seriously considered Pastafarianism? It’s far more credible than the Trinity and the (necessarily false) doctrine of the hypostatic union.



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Knockgoats

posted October 16, 2009 at 6:47 am


Albert the Abstainer is right that religious themes are prominent in the arts. However, you don’t need to believe in a myth to use it artistically: Renaissance painters and sculptors used themes from Graeco-Roman religion as well as Christianity, but I doubt whether many of them believed in Zeus, or the divine parentage of Heracles.



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:02 pm


Knockgoats — As I think I said before, I’m sorry to see you so locked-in and hostile. “Pastafarianism”, really. Dawkins is giving you New Atheists unwise advice when he commends the language of scorn and ridicule. Rather such rhetoric just speaks for itself.
Incidentally, while some biblical scholars are pure late-daters who would place all the written text after the return from exile, the majority view is still that much of it (meaning sources not just traditions) is exilic and pre-exilic, going back to the divided kingdoms and in a few cases perhaps the time of David and Solomon (eg roughly the J source). Deuteronomy appears to date at least to the time of the reforms of Josiah, for example, due to the allusions from Samuel-Kings (and interestingly Deuteronomy follows the biblical arc toward love and grace, by itself apparently retelling and moderating certain earlier laws from Exodus). Late-dating purists are in the minority because they don’t have a simple answer for that and many other observations. Anyway, I don’t expect you’ll receive this with any more respect either.
Hoping to find you less bombastic in the future, respectfully,
Scott



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Knockgoats

posted October 17, 2009 at 6:55 am


Scott Jorgenson,
My reference to Pastafarianism was simply in response to your own, completely unmotivated question about whether I have considered “non-fundamentalist Christian approaches”. There is absolutely no reason to take these any more seriously than Pastafarianism. Indeed, as I pointed out, the latter is far less absurd than doctrinally orthodox (including non-fundamentalist) Christianity, since it is not actually necessarily false, as the doctrine of the hypostatic union is.
As for scorn and ridicule, I know from numerous commenters on Pharyngula that it was precisely these that led them to question their Christianity. Religious belief has for far too long been treated as something that must be treated with respect, however dangerous, unpleasant or ridiculous it may be. I was quite capable of arriving at this view without any advice from Dawkins. Sure I’m hostile to Christianity: it has done and is doing immense harm, as well as being utterly ludicrous. In combating it, I will use rational argument, or scorn and ridicule, as seems to me appropriate.
With regard to OT dating, I did say “the earliest parts of the current text of the Bible”. I did not mean to imply that there were no earlier written sources. When you talk of “the time of David and Solomon”, though – you are surely aware that there is no clear extra-Biblical evidence for their existence?



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Knockgoats

posted October 17, 2009 at 6:57 am


Dawkins is giving you New Atheists unwise advice when he commends the language of scorn and ridicule. – Scott Jorgenson
As Dawkins says: “Oh please, Brer Fox, don’t throw me in that briar patch!”



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 17, 2009 at 2:24 pm


Knockgoats — Actually, the Tel Dan stele is widely accepted, not by all but by most scholars, as a fairly clear extrabiblical reference to David. There is other archaeological evidence as well (eg the gates at Hazor and Gezer and etc seeming to correspond with Solomon’s building campaign mentioned in Samuel-Kings). Again, biblical minimalists will disagree, but they remain a minority view. Most biblical scholars today accept the historical existence of a united monarchy founded by a king named David and roughly corresponding to the general biblical attestation.
It seems to me that you may again be repeating a common creationist/fundamentalist mistake, to suppose that it is “either/or” — ie that if some biblical narratives are myth (eg Genesis 1-11) that therefore there is no history in the Bible. As a historical document, overall the Bible is far better attested than something like the Book of Mormon for example.
You said you’d recognized the faith to be nonsense by the age of 12. Perhaps that was an immature recognition. I certainly have changed my childhood views. Above all, I’ve come to see that these issues are far too metaphysical to be so childishly cocksure about. But that is something that, as far as I can tell, most of the New Atheist movement seems to suffer from. In my opinion, you would be better served to follow the examples of Michael Ruse and Eugenie Scott.



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Knockgoats

posted October 17, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Scott Jorgenson,
I specified “clear extra-Biblical evidence”: there is none. As you say, the Tel Dan stele reference is disputed; and the gates at Hazor etc. are now generally recognised to be ninth century B.C.E. (too late to be linked to either David or Solomon); and show no convincing evidence of common design. Hector Avalos, a renowned biblical scholar and archaeologist who began as an evangelical Christian and became an atheist as a result of his studies, has recently written How Archaeology Killed Biblical History, arguing that there is practically nothing historical in the OT. Even William Dever, who long championed the historicity of Samuel, Kings, and I think one other book, has recently said: “Originally I wrote to frustrate the Biblical minimalists; then I became one of them, more or less.”.
You said you’d recognized the faith to be nonsense by the age of 12. Perhaps that was an immature recognition. I certainly have changed my childhood views. Above all, I’ve come to see that these issues are far too metaphysical to be so childishly cocksure about.
I have changed many of my views; there has been absolutely no reason to change that one. There is no evidence whatever for the existence of any god, any more than there is for that of werewolves, ghosts or leprachauns: all these things might exist, but it is just as irrational to believe in the first as in any of the others. Many of the doctrines of Christianity are ludicrous and/or morally repulsive, and the existence of the God of doctrinally orthodox Christianity is logically impossible.
I notice, by the way, that while I have kept strictly to attacking ideas on this blog – admittedly in trenchant terms – you are unable to refrain from insulting me personally, as is Dan. Why would that be, do you suppose?



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm


Knockgoats — First, I am sorry to have attacked you personally. I think ideas can be discussed in less charged terms than you regularly use and have used on this blog from the get-go. Your refusal to disavow such tactics in discussing your ideas about the Christian faith I do find aggravating. But that does not excuse me from using restraint myself, whether directed against your ideas or your person. So I apologize.
As for the biblical minimalists, theirs is an outlying view. When and if their ideas attain scholarly consensus, then I will go along, but until then as a non-specialist myself I must follow the majority view across all the experts in the relevant fields (as I do in evolution and Earth history). And that majority view accepts the Tel Dan stele as an authentic reference to the House of David insofar as that goes; and sees the Hazor etc gates as possibly Solomonic or at least Omride (which is still pretty far back) and, in any case, of probably common design.
I think that is a fair assessment of the current majority opinion, which is neither minimalist nor maximalist. Which of course is not to say that everything about David and Solomon in Samuel-Kings is thus verified! The Bible, like most literature of that place and time, and whether in Samuel-Kings or elsewhere, is nowhere interested in recording history in the strictly modern sense, with the modern concern for documentary accuracy, as such would be foreign to the ANE mindset. However, majority mainstream scholarship does see varying degrees of historicity in its witness, ranging from mythic in Genesis to fairly historical by the later kings (say post-Josiah), and David and Solomon occupy that graduated gray area in between.



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 17, 2009 at 5:56 pm


Knockgoats — Just as a brief followup, I was curious about the William Dever quote you gave and chased it down to this fascinating little BAR article: “Losing Faith: Who Did and Who Didn’t”. I particularly liked the closing statement by Bart Ehrman:
“Historical scholarship calls into question certain beliefs and can call into question faith. But it can’t resolve any faith
issues. There are historians who agree with everything that I think about the historical Jesus, about the New Testament,
about the development of Christian doctrine, and yet they’re professors in theological seminaries training pastors. If you ask
them, they will say, “Yes, Jesus is God. Historical scholarship doesn’t determine what we believe.” So I think what’s important
is that people engage in historical scholarship. It’s better to have a knowledgeable faith than an ignorant faith, and it may be
that it will change faith, but it’s not necessarily going to lead somebody to agnosticism.”
Just to tie this comment thread (which perhaps has ratholed on David and Solomon) back to the broader context of this blog: I think Ehrman’s statement applies across the board, to biblical scholarship, archaeology, history, paleontology, geology and astronomy. Ultimately, it comes down to what we make out of each field, and reasonable people have gone both ways.
(Here’s a PDF of the article if you’re interested: http://creation.com/images/pdfs/other/5106losingfaith.pdf. I have no idea who “creation.com” are, but apparently they’ve been given permission to host a PDF of this article on their site. I couldn’t find the article itself on the BAR site.)



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Knockgoats

posted October 18, 2009 at 5:14 am


Scott Jorgenson,
First, thank you for your apology. In response, I will try to make my language less aggressive, without resiling from any of the views I have put forward.
Second, I made an error above: Avalos’s book is The End of Biblical Studies; How Archaeology Killed Biblical History is the title of a recent talk on the same subject.
As far as the state of play with respect to historicity is concerned, it is clear that there has been a more-or-less monotonic shift toward the minimalist view throughout the past century, as Near Eastern archaeology has developed. In such a climate, any fragment of possible evidence for historicity (such as the Tel Dan stele) is seized upon with avidity by those who desperately want to believe (for professional as much as religious reasons) that the Bible is useful as a historical source for times earlier than those when it was written. Neither David nor Solomon appears in the diplomatic correspondence of the time, and Dever (according to Avalos) now only considers one of the gates to be Solomonic – by an odd coincidence, the one he excavated!
I think Ehrman’s statement applies across the board, to biblical scholarship, archaeology, history, paleontology, geology and astronomy. Ultimately, it comes down to what we make out of each field, and reasonable people have gone both ways.
I disagree profoundly. Certainly intelligent people have gone both ways, but at many levels, Christianity is completely unreasonable. Not one in a hundred educated believers would be such if they had not been raised in a predominantly Christian culture, and in most cases, indoctrinated as children. Over the past three centuries one part of Christianity after another (as it had been for most of its history) has been discarded among people of intelligence and education: BioLogos is part of a desperate (and in my view doomed) attempt to cling on to the last fragments. I’m not clear what you mean about paleontology, geology and astronomy: are you claiming that reasonable people can, in the 21st century, be YECs?
“Yes, Jesus is God. Historical scholarship doesn’t determine what we believe.” – Ehrman quoting an unnamed theologian.
Well it should. We should (and that is a moral should) adapt our beliefs to the evidence. Consider the consequences of failing to do so: cases such as anti-vaccination fanatics, those who refuse to accept that HIV causes AIDS or that human activities are changing the climate, holocaust deniers. There is no evidence whatever that Jesus is God, and in fact, this is logically impossible: a man cannot be God, because “man” and “God” have incompatible attributes.



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Knockgoats

posted October 18, 2009 at 7:29 am


Scott Jorgenson,
Thanks for the interesting link – by the way, clicking on it doesn’t work – you need to remove the period at the end. this should work, for anyone else interested: http://creation.com/images/pdfs/other/5106losingfaith.pdf. However, I have to wonder how closely you read it, since it seems complwetely to support my position that faith is unreasonable. Of the two who continue to believe in God, Strange, the Christian, says his faith is not about propositions, but is based wholly on private experiences: he compares it to falling in love. But one thing we know about people in love is that they are not reasonable! Moreover, this kind of reliance on uncheckable private experience is extremely dangerous morally: Peter Sutcliffe, a notorious British serial killer, experienced the voice of Jesus telling him to go forth and kill prostitutes. Schiffman, the Orthodox Jew, says:
“we know that we can’t explain evil, especially after the Holocaust. Any person who says that he can give an explanation for the Holocaust is crazy. So the bottom line is that we all go along living
with the fact that this horrible thing happened and we can’t explain it.”
So, Schiffman admits that there is abundant evidence against the existence of a loving God – and goes on believing it anyway! By what possible definition is that “reasonable”?
I note also that both the unbelievers, Ehrman and Dever, wish they could believe – but are too intellectually honest to do so. Could there be a neater demonstration that studying Biblical history and Near East archeology will tend to make you an unbeliever if you are reasonable, but not if you are not?



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Scott Jorgenson

posted October 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm


Knockgoats — I do say that reasonable people have gone both ways, but by “reasonable” I merely mean incorporating reason within their cognitive framework to the extent that they can accept rather than deny well-established empirical data, and accept rather than deny well-established inference and theory based upon that data and concerning the empirical world. I do not, by “reasonable”, mean what you seem to mean: limiting one’s assent only to those propositions which are firmly established by empirical data and inference. In other words, by “reasonable” you seem to mean predominantly directed by reason, while I merely mean incorporating reason within a broader framework which may include intuition, hope, aesthetics, and etc (all informed by reason, of course).
In most circles, Christianity has never claimed to be something accessible purely or predominantly through reason. There are reasons for what we believe, but there are also fair objections to those reasons (all of the objections metaphysical and none, in our judgment, decisive). And so ultimately reason is just one, by itself inadequate, mechanism in the path to faith. This should not be seen as a special plea, since other things in life are also not adjudicated purlely rationally — things like appreciation for art and music, and how we relate to those people closest to our hearts. None of these are purely or predominantly rational, though they can be informed by evidence and thus can be, in the sense of the word in which I use it, reasonable. I remember believing in the reality of a certain young woman’s reciprocal feelings for me, before the full and compelling evidence of that existed. This woman has now been my wife for many years. So it is with faith during this life: a supra-rational thing, or at least that is how it has been in my experience.
Regarding the effects of upbringing on that experience: yes, I agree that the culture — family and societal — in which one is brought up does have significant effect. We fool ourselves if we think we are rational actors working upon blank slates. Of course, my upbringing in a largely Christian, Western, culture, in a family with a Christian mother though not a believing father, does not fully explain why I took more after my mother’s way in this regard than my father’s; and it certainly does not explain why I continue in my belief now that I am grown and consciously introspective about it. The observation about upbringing and surrounding culture is, for that matter, a two-edged sword which can also be used to “explain” all manner of other values and beliefs, including atheism itself (a largely post-enlightenment Western, European, experience, curiously enough). Why do I value science and scientific method? Why do I value education and the “life of the mind”? Why do I value wilderness and the natural world? To some degree, in each case, I have to admit it was because I was brought up that way, which certainly does not cast aspersion or suspicion on any of those values. But upbringing does not explain why we persist even in adulthood.
As to whether I consider YEC and, more generally, strict inerrant biblical literalism, reasonable: no, not by the definition I’m using. At one time those systems of thought were reasonable. But the accumulated careful work of scholars and professionals in many scientific, historical, and biblical fields of study has revealed well-established data, theory and inference which are no longer possible to incorporate within those systems. But the same has not happened with TE and moderate/liberal Christianity, which accepts those findings within their fields and merely rejects the metaphysical extensions and applications of those findings toward atheism. So yes, scholarship is corrosive to a literalist kind of conservative faith, as you noted from that BAR article. Did you notice that both Dever and Ehrman, the two non-believers in that article, indicated having come from a fundamentalist background? But this does not mean it is corrosive to every kind of faith, as demonstrated but the other 2 scholars in the article; people such as Biologos, myself, and many of the other commenters on this blog; and as the survey numbers in the article’s sidebar suggest (where a significant proportion of professors remain believers, but almost none of them as literalists).
Looking over this response now, I realize it has gotten quite long, so I’m going to wrap it up here. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep commenting here as I have a busy week coming up and will be offline for the following week. Best regards to you, and thank you for accepting my apology and moderating the tone of your language.



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Knockgoats

posted October 19, 2009 at 8:35 am


Scott Jorgenson,
I do not, by “reasonable”, mean what you seem to mean: limiting one’s assent only to those propositions which are firmly established by empirical data and inference.
Not quite: rather, adapting the confidence of belief in propositions and the willingness to act on them to the weight of evidence and argument.
In most circles, Christianity has never claimed to be something accessible purely or predominantly through reason.
It’s an official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that monotheism, at least, can be arrived at by unaided reason. At least some Protestant theologians also maintain this.
I remember believing in the reality of a certain young woman’s reciprocal feelings for me, before the full and compelling evidence of that existed.
Fine: as you say, we are not and cannot be creatures of pure reason. However, if you were to go on believing in reciprocation despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and acted on that belief, you would be a stalker. I claim that theists do indeed hold and act upon their faith in a loving god despite overwhelming contrary evidence – and Schiffman appears to agree with me.
The observation about upbringing and surrounding culture is, for that matter, a two-edged sword which can also be used to “explain” all manner of other values and beliefs, including atheism itself (a largely post-enlightenment Western, European, experience, curiously enough).
Largely, but not entirely: atheism is older than Christianity, in both Greece and India at least. We do not know how many atheists there were for most of the history of Christianity (or Judaism or Islam), because declaring your atheism would have been extremely dangerous. It is arguable that, pre-Origin, atheism was far less defensible than it became once it had been shown that the appearance of design does not imply actual design (although philosophers such as Hume and Kant had already criticised the argument from design).
Why do I value science and scientific method?
Could this have anything to do with the fact that they demonstrably work? Notice that they are now valued across a very broad range of cultures – by the better educated, at least.
But upbringing does not explain why we persist even in adulthood.
So how is it that most of those brought up as Christians remain Christians, most of those brought up as Muslims remain Muslims, most of those brought up as Hindus remain Hindus – and indeed, most of those brought up without religion remain non-religious? I’m not claiming by any means that all atheists have come to their unbelief after deep thought; at present, though, the proportion who have done so will be larger than for believers, simply because, even in most of Europe, belief remains the default option.



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