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Blog - Sylvia

I had a long discussion on Saturday 8th July 2007 with Sylvia, a Christian friend of almost 30 years standing, on “my doubts”. Useful though these discussions are, they suffer from a number of general defects. I’ve rehearsed these as a preamble1 which raises important general issues, though I think we touched on some of these questions on the day.

I have to add that on this particular topic, I feel that I suffer a disadvantage. I’m not a militant atheist, but (I think) one who has believed and would believe again if it were intellectually possible for me to do so. Also, my wife and most of my dearest friends are committed Christians. Most of them are intellectually fairly robust, but I still have to be careful2. So, because I don’t weigh in with the usual atheist swagger, I can appear to cavil somewhat, to be a fence-sitter, to ask too much, or to be “over-complicating things”.

The bottom line of all this is that I agreed to write it up Saturday’s discussion. It’s probably ended as a partisan piece, with my side of the argument polished up and expanded. But it will, I hope, be something sufficiently clear and concrete to be taken further.

Summary responses from Sylvia:

  1. Why she is still3 a Christian.
  2. What should4 God have done?
  3. Psychology5.
So, away we go.
  1. Reasons for belief: We discussed the evidential reasons why one might believe the claims of Christianity, and decided that Christian belief should be maintained for the same sort of reasons that one might believe anything else, namely intellectual conviction. Not that this is sufficient in itself – the response of the heart being required - but it is a pre-requisite. We must have discussed the role of faith, but I cannot remember anything concrete. Some Christians claim divine visitations or other miraculous interventions which we both rejected as relevant to the present age.
    Sylvia’s Responses6,7.
  2. The Holy Spirit: We discussed the work of the Holy Spirit. Sylvia thought that his role was primarily in the practical outworking, but on the intellectual side might be involved in our reading of Scripture. I have an issue with this – if the Holy Spirit is the author of truth, and guides the reader, why are there so many disagreements8 in the interpretation of Scripture even amongst conscientious fundamentalists? Anyway, I admitted that the Scriptures had “come alive” for me – though there are other explanations9 for this phenomenon than the direct activity of the Holy Spirit.
    Sylvia’s Response10.
  3. Supernaturalist versus Naturalist Worldviews: The point of the introduction of the Holy Spirit into the discussion was in the context of why we should adopt a Supernaturalist worldview, if we do. One response to my current predicament (if it is one) is that it’s an artifact of an ultradispensationalist approach to the divine plan. While not denying that “spiritual things” are going on today, ultradispensationalism parks all evidential supernaturalist happenings prior to AD 70-ish, with the exception of a lot of them scheduled to happen in the future. For me this raises the issue of why we should have a supernaturalist11 worldview at all. Put crudely, this then reduces to an inference to the best explanation of why certain claims are made in a bunch of old books. Now I don’t deny that the old books are often manifest works of genius (when viewed sympathetically), nor that some very clever people (including some geniuses) have been Christians. My complaint is that other books are, or have been, seen in the much same light by their adherents, and maybe justifiably so. After all, the “viewed sympathetically” rider above is crucial. I imagine most people coming to the Bible for the first time find much of it incomprehensible, boring or false. Those of us with no vested interest in the Scriptures of other religions presumably have the same immediate reaction when reading their holy books, assuming we’ve ever bothered to open them. Yet these books have, in their own cultural tradition, been the inspiration of people of equal genius. My present view (not a very remarkable one) is that “life, the universe and everything” is so complicated and difficult to fathom that there’s an irresistible urge for an individual to latch on to some book or religion that tells him what it’s all about. In Graeco-Roman times that was, it seems, Homer, used not just for religious matters, but for tips on shipbuilding and other practical matters. Of course, it helps if this source of all knowledge is written in fine poetry or prose. Or, failing that, if the translation into one’s own language is so written. The Koine Greek of the NT was seen as barbarous by renaissance scholars in comparison with Attic, but after Tyndale, Coverdale and later polishers had applied their literary skills, the barbarisms have disappeared. We don’t get the same buzz if the NT is translated into Gangsta Rap (unless, presumably, we’re particularly spiritually inclined Gangsta Rappers, should such beings be possible).
    Sylvia’s Responses: Closed System12, Supernaturalism13.
  4. Evolution and purpose: I think the argument was that, if there’s no God, and evolution is true (though the two are allegedly not mutually incompatible), then nothing has a purpose and isn’t that a shame. My response to that is twofold. Firstly, if that’s how things are, then that’s how things are, and we ought to face up to it. Secondly, the fact, if it is one, that there’s no ultimate purpose or permanence to what we do just focuses us on the here and now (together with our memories).
    Sylvia’s Response14.
    Which led on to …
  5. If in this life only: Over dinner we briefly touched on Paul's claim that if we (Christians) have hope for this life only, we are of all people most miserable. Why is this? Why, if there is no resurrection, should we "eat, drink and make merry, for tomorrow we die"? My claim was that this is because (at least in Paul's day) being a Christian involved sacrifices that only make sense in the light of resurrection rewards. Mike (Sylvia's husband) claimed that he had nothing to be miserable about, and that the issue is more to do with Christ not being raised if the dead in general cannot be raised, and the consequent failure of the plan of redemption. We also discussed why the resurrection was "foolishness to the Greeks". I think we agreed that this was most likely because the (neo-)Platonists thought body and encumberance to the soul, and so resurrection - finding oneself back in the body having successfully escaped from it - was hardly something to be desired15.
  6. Is the Biblical account of the Flood a problem?This was introduced as an example of something that in itself is hard to believe, but is accepted as part of the package. Talking of packages …
  7. The religious supermarket: We agreed between ourselves that Christianity is the best on religion on offer at the religious supermarket. However, I’d make two points on this. Firstly, it rests on our profound ignorance of the subtleties of the alternatives. Secondly, maybe the supermarket doesn’t stock the correct one, or such a thing hasn’t been manufactured yet, or, as materialists believe, looking for religious answers is a mistaken blind-alley.
    Sylvia’s Response16.
  8. What honour-killings have to say about Islam: This topic was introduced by Sylvia, probably along the “by their fruits shall ye know them” lines. Any religion that encourages people to do such things cannot have much going for it. There are two responses to this. Firstly (not mentioned at the time) Christians (maybe falsely so-called) have done some pretty horrible things in the name of Christianity – you know, the inquisition, the crusades and all that – yet we on the inside know that these are aberrations. So, maybe honour killings and suicide bombings are aberrations of Islam; as their more moderate and educated adherents tend to claim. Secondly, honour features a lot in all cultures that give a high place to family dynasties. For some reason it’s always the naughty daughters that take the brunt of the outraged sensibilities, rather than the naughty sons. And honour features in cultures, such as the Cosa Nostra, not otherwise known for claims to moral probity. So, I suspect honour killings have no necessary connection to Islam.
  9. God, Freedom and Immortality (by Jonathan Harrison): This 700-page book had been read by Sylvia's father, and Sylvia wondered whether I'd heard of it. I hadn't17.

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17


Footnote 1: (Face-to-face Discussion)

What’s wrong with face-to-face discussions? They are certainly fun, but I can think of at least three impediments to their being efficient methods of arriving at the truth.

  1. Firstly, there is a general problem with all face-to-face discussions. While they may be of psychological impact, and are useful in resolving clearly-defined problems, in general where matters are complex they are too unstructured for either side to be satisfied that the argument was prosecuted properly. It is my view that any issue of any complexity can only be prosecuted successfully when written down, so that the lines of argument can be clearly followed up after the event and replayed to test for errors. Face to face, you often find yourselves energetically discussing some point the relevance of which to the fundamental topic (whatever than was) is hard to establish. Whereas a causal chain of the discussion can sometimes be reconstructed, a logical chain is more difficult to discover because it often does not exist.
  2. Secondly, memories of face to face discussions fade so quickly. Yesterday, I had a good idea of what was said; today, on Tuesday, much less so. This may, of course, infect any subsequent write-up. Being the partly-remembered record of a ramble, it may betray all the problems of the original event; which is why I don’t think we should proceed this way, but should start from a structured argument that can then be interrogated for errors.
  3. Finally, when we next meet, we’ll have the same discussion again, or a variant thereof, or some other random tangent. It would be so much better if such discussions were cumulative so that progress could be made. Of course, it may be that on such fundamental issues no progress can be made. We just agree to disagree. Even if the foundational structure of belief is revealed, it still comes down to a choice of whether to accept or reject the pivotal propositions on which a world-view rests. But at least the points of decision would be clear1.
A few of further points.
  1. I’m assuming that the discussion is about a matter of fact rather than of opinion, so that it is worth debating. Of course, extempore debates can be had just for the thrill of it all, as a test of skill or rhetorical flourish. In such cases the last thing the successful debater wants is for the debate to be picked over and all the fallacies exposed. I don’t think we have such a situation here.
  2. Of course, a write-up has to start from a certain perspective, which may unfairly represent the points at issue, but this can be pointed out and corrected in the next round.
  3. In the case where the participants to the debate have at one time held virtually identical opinions, the possibility of continually talking past one another ought to be slim.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 1.1: (Tractatus Reprise)

It is an open question how valuable my "documentary" approach is. It demands a lot of both writer and reader, and it may force the writer to be more explicit than he/she is ready to be. It forces into the open ignorance and incoherence that is hidden if one's beliefs are not exposed to public scrutiny.

I tried this approach back in 1989, and documented and circulated my position in brief. I did receive quite a lot of feedback, but much of it was contradictory (in that different people determined my critical error to be in different places) and none very cogent, to my mind. I then greatly expanded the document, which was further circulated in 1990 to a subset of friends, as well as to John Polkinghorne (Web Link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Polkinghorne)), John Habgood Web Link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Habgood,_Baron_Habgood) and Paul Helm (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Helm)), from whom I received further interesting but not very useful feedback. It has been sitting on my website since 2001 (note that an updated version is being prepared here1).

Since the early 1990s I’ve received little feedback from those whose opinions I seek, though I have to admit that I’ve parked the issue somewhat and have only fairly recently re-opened it. I did receive a verse-by-verse commentary from someone in my Mensa Philosophical Discussion Group, which I admittedly didn’t pay as much attention to as I ought.

I intend to review all this in the near future, to see what impact formal training in philosophy has had on my thoughts. While the objections to belief I think most cogent are discussed in some detail in the document alluded to above, I have started to write a short-list2, currently in draft form.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 1.1.1

This document constitutes my philosophical thoughts on the validity of Christianity. Its name and format are modelled on a well-known (and, of course, infinitely superior) work by Ludwig Wittgenstein. So as not to deceive the unwary, this evaluation is reluctantly negative. I am not a scoffer, so the evaluation is a serious one. However, I cannot see how Christianity or any other religious system can be made to work without either intellectual compromise or denuding the religious system of content.

The text of this document has not had a major overhaul in almost the last ten years, so my ideas have probably moved on somewhat in the interim. Readers may find the style rather inclined towards ex cathedra statements. This is because the document was written as an attempt to structure my views on these subjects rather than to seek to justify them in exhaustive detail. The web-based format does allow expatiation ad infinitem, and I will seek to progress in that direction in due course.

The document revolves around 20 basic assumptions into which my argument is broken down. I'm not yet happy that these are the best 20 and that there are no redundancies. However, given the whole document is geared around these fundamental tenets, I feel reluctant to change them until I have a clearer idea of how the structural change would affect the entire argument. So, we're stuck with them until inspiration strikes.

These 20 primary points of the argument, together with 4 appendices, are as below.

  1. The world is open to investigation.
  2. Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience under the interpretation of reason.
  3. No knowledge is certain.
  4. The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.
  5. Truth is related to simplicity.
  6. It is important for our beliefs to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.
  7. Christianity is a public statement about the world, not merely a private religion.
  8. The claims of Christianity are based on historical experience.
  9. The Bible is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.
  10. Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant, Bible to validate it.
  11. Biblical claims are to be validated in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.
  12. From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable, but not inerrant, document.
  13. There are problems with the Biblical model of the world & its history.
  14. Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity.
  15. There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview.
  16. A worthwhile reconstruction of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.
  17. Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith.
  18. It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose.
  19. Pascal's wager is not to be accepted.
  20. It is better to remain silent than to make a pretence at knowledge.


Appendices
  1. Acts 28 Dispensationalism.
  2. Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus.
  3. Spiritual Beings in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
  4. Non-theistic Ethics.


To find out more about each statement, click on the hyperlink to the underlying document, where the statement is broken down into more detail and, where possible, justified.

For a concatenation of the whole document in topic-title sequence, follow this link.

Please address any criticism of or suggested improvements to this paper to theo@theotodman.com.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 1.1.2: (Problems with the Christian Worldview)

Introduction

As always, this note will start off as a brain-dump, which I’ll tidy up and segregate into hyper-linked topics in due course. Note that while this caveat persists, this note (which has been whacked out in a couple of hours, and shows it) is in DRAFT, and cannot be taken to represent my considered views. As it’s hidden down a long chain of hyperlinks, maybe no-one will notice it until I’ve had the opportunity to tweak it a bit.

I’ve admitted that I have “problems” with Christianity. So, what are my “problems”? I need to address this question from at least three angles.

  1. Firstly, the issues themselves, focusing on the most critical ones, and
  2. Secondly, providing some form of alternative explanation of the pro-Christian data.
  3. Finally, I suppose, I ought to give an account of the alternative life-stance that I do espouse.
I’ve always maintained that our most fundamental beliefs are held as an interconnecting matrix, though with some form of hierarchy of belief. That’s what I tried to describe in my Christian Tractatus (updated version in progress). So, this statement of issues (and of the alternatives) can’t really be viewed in isolation. However, if I try to expand on all this here, I’ll be repeating what I’ve said elsewhere. This summary will have to remain simplistic.

A final preliminary point is that not all Christians (the more zealous may accuse these of being Christians “falsely so-called”) will find all of my objections to be real issues2. However, the versions of Christianity I have “problems” with are those that posit an active God and a supernaturalist worldview. Weaker versions, it seems to me, make no practical difference to our lives, and confuse issues by using supernaturalist terminology with a naturalist meaning.


Issues

So, what are the issues? I’ll list them with elaborating footnotes to be provided in due course.
  1. Origins: This encompasses the 7-day creation, the creation of Adam, the Fall, and the Flood.
  2. The Place of Man: there is no saltation between homo sapiens and the great apes; just a difference of degree. Adam was not created from the dust, but evolved from an ape-like ancestor. There was no fall from initial righteousness.
  3. Life: Christianity appears to be committed to vitalism. Matter (“dust”) has to have the breath of life breathed into it in order to be alive. There is a division amongst Christians who think about the matter at all into tri-partists - who believe in body, soul and spirit - and bi-partists who believe in body and spirit only (the soul being a sort of fusion of the two). I’ve allowed that the bi-partists win the day, and not objected to souls here. Biology seems to view life as nothing more than the right sort of complexity and organization in matter, with no absolute divide between animate and inanimate entities, and the detailed rejection of vitalism by demonstrating how living tissues and organisms work is one of its major triumphs.
  4. Miracles: the contemporary evidence against them is so strong that I accept Hume’s analysis – we need to be more certain that there has been no dissimulation, distortion, confusion or error in transmission of the ancient testimony than we are of the initial improbability of a miracle occurring. This is a purely empirical matter, but all contemporary evidence suggests that miracles are very unlikely.
  5. Cosmology: Just where did Jesus ascend to, and where did Elijah’s chariot of fire go? Just what sort of place, if it is one, is heaven? What are the “new heavens and the new earth”, wherein righteousness will dwell? What is their relation to the old heaven and old earth?
  6. Spiritual Beings: There is no good evidence for the existence of angels, demons, and so on.
It may be that it is possible to make an accommodation for all these objections, as liberal Christianity has done, but in general the supporters of the “strong” versions of Christianity won’t have any of it – probably for good reason: such a version of Christianity is hardly worth believing in, and is nothing but muddle and equivocation.

It is worth pointing out that there are some aspects of Christianity that often feature in popular objections that I don’t take issue with, either because I reject the objections, or because the tenets objected to are not properly part of Christianity. A brief summary:

Firstly, those popular objections I don’t think cogent:
  1. The Universal Sinfulness of Mankind. This is an obvious empirical fact, but has other explanations than the fall of Adam.
  2. Theodicy: I expect a good account of the consistency of the evil we find in the world with the goodness of God can be made out, by appeal to sin, free will and Satan, if we had reason to accept the existence of all of these.
  3. Biblical Scepticism: I reject over-zealous skepticism about the general reliability of the Bible, and doubts about the existence and general character of Jesus as described therein. However, I don’t think the New Testament always uses the Old in the manner of a good Bible student, but ignores the context in the manner of the expository approach of the time.
  4. Horrid Things Done by Christians: Sadly, these are just what would be expected given the universal sinfulness of mankind.
Secondly, those items that are part of orthodox Christianity, but which may not me properly Bible-based, and so their rejection isn’t relevant to the rejection of Biblical Christianity:
  1. Souls: Popular Christianity has it that the Christian is committed to mind/body dualism. However, there is a growing band of Christian materialists, who stress bodily resurrection and deny the possibility (or at least the fact / desirability) of disembodied existence for human beings, and maybe a case for this view can be made out from the Bible. I think the empirical evidence for the correlation of brain activity to psychological experience is so strong, that no-one these days would introduce a dualist account without their religion obliging them to do so. That isn’t to deny that the possibility of sentient matter isn’t a great mystery that is currently unexplained, despite a great industry directed at it. But some problems are hard to solve, or even conceptualise. Maybe I should promote this to a real objection, because I’m not convinced that resurrection of the very same individual makes sense in the absence of a continuing immaterial substance (given, ex hypothesi, that there is no continuing material substance). However, I’m not yet sufficiently confident of this for it to bear the necessary weight.
  2. Eternal Torment for the Wicked: this would be a damnable doctrine, but it is not clear that the Bible teaches it.

Alternative Explanations

And what alternative explanation can be given? This is highly complex, as there are so many plots and sub-plots. Also, it cannot be incumbent on the unbeliever to give a precise alternative account of the origin of what he sees as myth. Who knows precisely how the Greek myths arose, but does this ignorance mean that it’s incumbent on us to believe in them. The reason I may have for feeling an obligation to provide an alternative account of Christianity is that it is (even to the contemporary western mind) not quite so ridiculous as the Greek myths. Also, it is a worldview I myself have espoused and a good many intelligent contemporaries also espouse. I excuse myself from having to give an alternative account of the other religions that satisfy the second point on account of the failure of the first: I am profoundly ignorant of them, and even if I wasn’t, think that experience “from the inside” is necessary before pouring on the scorn.

I suppose my alternative account would be along the lines of “religious progress”. An initial propitiatory, tribal account of the relation of the individual / society to God was improved upon, firstly within the propitiatory framework of animal sacrifice, ultimately seeing that such actions can’t work, and by refining the concept of God. I think it’s a suggestion of genius to see these sacrifices as “types and shadows”, leading up to the one true sacrifice of Jesus. But this doesn’t make this suggestion correct. Just why does God need propitiation in the first place? As for Jesus’ own views, I don’t subscribe to the “mad, bad or God” trichotomy that C.S. Lewis proposes. It’s not likely that Jesus directly claimed to be God (despite the suggestions in John), but it is likely that he acted out the role of Isaiah’s suffering servant. I would have to say that in this he was mistaken, but this doesn’t make him mad or bad.

I need to add a footnote on probabilities, maybe using the game of Cluedo (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluedo)) as a springboard. The basic idea is that if we deny that Colonel Mustard did it, we don’t have to believe that Professor Plumb did it. There are many alternatives. The most likely suspect isn’t thereby guilty. We can be assured that p(it is not the case that Colonel Mustard did it) = 1 – p(Colonel Mustard did it). If Colonel Mustard didn’t do it, then even though each of the alternatives has low initial probability, yet one of them must be true. Say I bought 1,000,000 tickets for yesterday’s lottery. Then, presumably, the odds on my winning the lottery were greater than the odds on any other entrant. Yet I still didn’t win it, and was unlikely to have done so. I mention this because I’ve recently read a somewhat silly paper asking whether it’s rational for Christians to believe in the Resurrection (of Jesus). The “pro” author thinks there are four sensible alternatives, and picks them off one by one. So Jesus must have risen from the dead. This reasoning is fallacious.

My personal worldview

… to be supplied: not because I’ve not got one … it can probably be deduced from my Christian Tractatus … but because I haven’t got round to writing up a quick summary yet. We don’t live in a vacuum, and it’s all very well being negative. However, ab initio, this is a very complex and creative task, which is why the alternative “package deal” approach is so much more popular (though maybe the “don’t know, care less” approach wins the day in the popularity stakes).

Note last updated: 24/08/2013 13:48:00


Footnote 1.1.2.2: (The Church as Guardian of the Truth)

The problem is exacerbated by the general ultra-protestant claim that the Church “lost it” immediately after the apostolic period and started promulgating all sorts of false doctrine. We have no reliable historical tradition of correct interpretation, the rediscovery of the full truth having to await an early 20th century East Ender. I expect this explains why the reformation protestants didn’t reject patristics, or at least accepted (or took into consideration) those Church Fathers most consonant with their own position. Otherwise, the (non-) believer is left very much to his/her own judgment – both as to the reliability of the old books, and to the reliability of those who might help to interpret them.

Interestingly, I have some fairly extensive correspondence with the Prior of Parkminster from the early 1980s on this issue, which I hope to make available on-line in due course. Naturally, his view was that the moderating influence of the Church is required to maintain order. I might accept this if we could both agree who “the Church” is, and if the opinions of the various branches of the Church weren't so often obviously wrong.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 2: (Circumspection)

This point requires explanation sometime, but may already be clear to the sympathetic reader. Why are the most important issues not discussed in families? Because we have to go on living with one another.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 3: (Why still a Christian?) (CORRESPONDENT)

Why I am still a Christian! (if I am honest)

  1. The reason I am still a Christian after all these years is because I like it! It appeals to me on an emotional and psychological level.
  2. It is good for me. It makes me want to try to do my best – not because I think I’m going to get something out of God at the end of it, but as a response to His love for me.
  3. I believe it is the right choice out of the choices available.
  4. I don’t dwell too deeply on the inconsistencies and problems. I just presume they must have an explanation. Sometimes I discover what the explanation is, and sometimes I don’t. This doesn’t stop me accepting the whole package though. I assume that it is my intellect, understanding or experience which is lacking, not a lack in the package.
Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 3.1: (Why still a Christian? T1)

Believers in any system can go along with all four of your points, so nothing distinguishes any of these as reasons for believing in Christianity as against any of the alternatives. (Sylvia’s Response1).

In detail, point by point:

  1. We have a duty not to believe comfortable falsehoods. I need to spell this out. Basically, it’s the assumption that there’s such a thing as the ethics of rationality; and the more rational we are the greater our duty to act rationally and constrain our beliefs to be in accord to what we perceive to be true. So, the fact that you like a particular body of doctrine is no good reason for believing it, nor do you have good reason to reject unpalatable truths simply because they make you uncomfortable. (Sylvia’s Response2).
  2. Again, we shouldn’t believe falsehoods simply because the consequences are good. (Sylvia’s Response3).
    • Some philosophers have disagreed with this, or at least they have argued that the populace should be taught to believe things that the guardians know to be false because it “it’ll be good for them”, make them happier, make society more cohesive, and so on. This goes back to Plato’s Republic, and his Myth of Er.
    • Sometime I need to consider whether such approaches might be implied by consequentialist systems of ethics, though I doubt it. The prudential consequences of believing falsehoods are in general bad, but maybe an element of self-deceit is all that keeps us going through the difficult times.
    • The motivating aspect (“response to God’s love”) makes this response specific to theistic belief-systems. I’m not sure if this makes much difference, but I’ll consider it further some time.
  3. A couple of issues here:
    • Firstly, if you knew that your particular package was the truth, this would underwrite the above two items. It is logically prior to them, and they can only kick in if this point is satisfied. Strictly, the first two items are only relevant to whether you want to remain a Christian, not whether you should remain one.
    • However, and this relates to the response to the Religious Supermarket thread, the fact that something is the best on offer doesn’t mean you should believe it. I may be as likely as anyone else to win the lottery tomorrow (assuming I enter), but this doesn’t mean that I should believe that I will win it. If no “choice on offer” has high intrinsic probability, we should just suspend belief (and don’t bring Pascal’s Wager5 into this!).
  4. This is a very important issue.
    • Ignoring problems with a paradigm will mean we don’t make a paradigm-shift when it is rational to do so.
    • Adopting this approach may put stumbling-blocks in the way of others. Saying that the only authentic form of Christianity is X, when X involves believing absurdities, may lead Y not to believe Z (= X less the absurdities), when he might otherwise have believed Z.
    • More concretely, maybe God has been speaking to us in a condescending manner, in accord with the understanding of the people at the time, in order to explain some timeless truths. So that while the underlying truths remain firm, the mode of presentation needs to be modified from age to age.
    • For instance, say there was no such person as Adam, so there was no literal Fall. However, it might still be true that mankind, the universe and the animal kingdom are “sinful”, or fall short, both on account of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the idea that evolution, not being purpose-driven, builds on whatever materials are to hand with a very short-term view, so doesn’t come up with the best abstractly-considered “back to the drawing board” design.
    • Now this is less tidy and secure than having an inerrant message all worked out for us, but if there is no such inerrant message, and attempting to persuade oneself of the opposite involves attempting to believe things that are plain false, then what alternative is there? Maybe it’s part of growing up? (Sylvia’s Response6).
    • Finally, I think some of us have a duty to be able to explain things, because of our impact on others. (Sylvia’s Response7).
      If you are known to be a person of intelligence and integrity, people will tend to assume that you have an answer to the most obvious problems, rather than that you are blithely going on your way regardless. They will thereby not be worried, because someone else has the answers. For instance, many aren’t worried by the scientific objections because “many scientists are believers”. But you’ll find that most of these many scientists aren’t fundamentalists, but have come to some sort of accommodation as that described above.
(Sylvia’s Response8).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:15:50


Footnote 3.1.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

These were not arguments as to whether anyone should be a Christian, but a description of why I am still one! (Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 13:33:36


Footnote 3.1.1.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S1T1)

The note is private.


Footnote 3.1.2: (Why still a Christian? T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

I agree! Christianity is eminently rational, as many highly educated people will testify to! (Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 13:33:36


Footnote 3.1.2.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S2T1)

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Footnote 3.1.3: (Why still a Christian? T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

No, but if something is true and the consequences are good, so much the better. (Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 13:33:36


Footnote 3.1.3.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S3T1)

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Footnote 3.1.5

Pascal's Wager is not to be accepted.

  1. There is an argument, known as Pascal's Wager, to the effect that although we are unsure whether there is a God or not, we still ought to believe in him on the basis of expected reward (using "expected" in the probabilistic sense of V * p, where V = "value of outcome" & p = "probability of occurrence of outcome").
  2. The argument proceeds as follows. Since the gain obtained if our belief in the Christian God turns out to be well placed is infinite (eternal bliss) whereas the loss incurred by believing in vain is finite (loss of some pleasure during a finite life), we are being rational to believe however low the probability of our belief being correct is taken to be, because our expected gain is infinite, whereas our expected loss is finite.
  3. This argument is fallacious for several reasons.
  4. The reason I have stressed this point is because religion is for many an insurance policy, and many seem to accept the Wager on this basis. It would be easy to slide from belief to this position. To do so would be to evade all the issues.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 3.1.6: (Why still a Christian? T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

But lots of grown-ups are Christians, and many of them highly intelligent and educated, etc, etc!! I have never felt that I am attempting to believe things that are obviously false. I am 100% sure that Christianity is a very rational and logical worldview. The issues that this is dependent upon can be discussed elsewhere if you like! (Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 13:33:36


Footnote 3.1.6.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S4T1)

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Footnote 3.1.7: (Why still a Christian? T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

But everyone has different problems. I see no point in pointing out a problem that I may have had, or still have, when someone else may not have this problem at all! In your case, you have listed 4 popular objections that you don’t have a problem with. That is good, as I can now ignore these!! (Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 13:33:36


Footnote 3.1.7.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S5T1)

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Footnote 3.1.8: (Why still a Christian? T1S6) (CORRESPONDENT)

I am not sure that basing what we think on what the majority thinks is a good idea. I often find that I think quite differently to the majority on lots of issues! Thus if lots of scientists aren’t fundamentalists, that’s up to them. There are also ‘lots’ of scientists who are fundamentalists. Just because there may be statistically more scientists who believe in a certain way than others doesn’t prove that they are right. The ones that are fundamentalists are still qualified scientists!!! Whatever you may think of the “Young Earth” Creationists group, you can’t accuse them of being unintelligent. Their arguments against evolution are rather difficult to explain away. As you know, I don’t go along with their view of Creation, but I do accept their very well thought-out arguments against evolution. I don’t know if you have heard of “Reasons To Believe”. Their website is at this Web Link (http://www.reasons.org/) Defunct. I have a lot of time for this organisation, although again, I don’t go along with their Creation model of the day-age theory. They have evangelised large numbers of highly academic people - scientists, philosophers, and so on, by explaining science in terms of the Christian worldview. They take on board all modern science and accept it, apart from the theory of evolution – which, of course, is still only a theory because, as you know, it is not possible to prove it. You have to put your faith in it. Just recently I was invited to attend an evening in London entitled “Solving the Mystery of Adam” presented by Dr Fazale Rana. He has a PHD in chemistry, has published over 15 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and delivered over 20 presentations at international scientific meetings so far! I never went, but perhaps we should have attended this together. I’m sure it would have been interesting!

(Theo’s Response1).

Another point regarding scientific objections is that secular and atheistic scientists really don’t have their own views all tied up logically and rationally either! The same accusations can be made against many scientific contentions as can be made against religious contentions. Over the years I have been struck by many examples of this I have come across. However, for illustration only, here is the latest quote I’ve come across:

The atheist biologist Richard Lewontin admits “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism”. He continues “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”

Need I say more?!!! (Theo’s Response2).

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 3.1.8.1: (Why still a Christian? T1S6T1)

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Footnote 3.1.8.2: (Why still a Christian? T1S6T2)

The quotation from Lewontin strikes me as obviously polemical. See teachersparadise.com (Web Link (http://www.teachersparadise.com/ency/en/wikipedia/m/me/methodological_naturalism.html) Defunct). There are lots of other citations of this quote worth following up.

One (wiki.cotch.net (EvoWiki) - Web Link (http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/Lewontin_on_materialism) Defunct) points out that Lewontin isn’t talking about evolution at all, but about astronomy. Maybe this is along the lines of Lewis Wolpert’s “The Unnatural Nature of Science”. The extract almost immediately preceding the oft-quoted out-take is :

"With great perception, Sagan sees that there is an impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world, an impediment that is almost invisible to most scientists. Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face. Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn't even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one's prejudice.”

I say “almost immediately” because what appears to be a brief, obscure and irrelevant swipe at the doctrine of the Trinity intervenes.

To be continued …

Note last updated: 21/09/2017 23:48:29


Footnote 4: (Thinking God's Thoughts After Him) (CORRESPONDENT)

I have sometimes tried to run through how I might have approached things if I were God! Of course, God is presumed to be all-loving, all-righteous, immortal, etc, etc.
I have wondered:

  1. How would I have made sure all humans believed I existed?
  2. How would I make known to them what I was like?
  3. How would I have revealed my overall plan to them?
  4. If I had become human, how would I have made it clear to everyone I was God?
…And other similar questions. Without much in-depth thinking, I came to the conclusion I didn’t have any better way of doing things!

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 4.1: (Thinking God's Thoughts After Him. T1)

This is an interesting and difficult set of question to answer. The questions themselves requires a bit of motivation, which I’ll attempt to supply in the absence of anything specific from the questioner! Then I’ll attempt to answer the questions one at a time.

Firstly, what is the point of these questions? I think the intention is to ask what we would expect to find if God exists and had the intentions the Bible (on the Evangelical and many other interpretations) represents him as having. That is, if I dislike what are alleged to be God’s means of revelation (and, possibly, plan of salvation), did God have any alternatives that avoid these objections and which would have been consistent with his aims? Not that I would expect God to organise himself around my foibles, but the assumption at this point of the argument (adopted “for the sake of the argument”) is that there’s something counter-intuitive about the Biblical revelation and / or the divine plan that requires defence. And this defence is that there was no obvious alternative that God had, or at least none that would not be open to even greater objections.

Now to the questions themselves. Follow the hyperlinks for responses:

  1. How would I have made sure all humans believed I existed?
  2. How would I make known to them what I was like2?
  3. How would I have revealed my overall plan3 to them?
  4. If I had become human4, how would I have made it clear to everyone I was God?

Note last updated: 28/08/2007 14:51:22


Footnote 4.1.2: (Revelation)

How would I make known to them what I was like?

The response to this question risks being repetitious of the previous one, so I’ll be brief. Maybe I’ll partition these responses better in a later update!

As said before, I agree that General and Special Revelation is a good approach. However, also as said before, General Revelation is marred by what “the people of the book” see as the Fall (what non-theists would see as a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics, though maybe the two views are not incompatible – though the idea that the laws of thermodynamics changed at the Fall of Adam seems strange to me, given that these laws are – as far as we know – applicable throughout the universe). (Sylvia’s Response2). And Special Revelation to a particular people leads to a log-jam while they get on with things. So I might have set a few more hares running. (Sylvia’s Response3).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:00:29


Footnote 4.1.2.2: (Revelation. S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

As far as we know!! But we don’t know everything!! (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:00:29


Footnote 4.1.2.3: (Revelation. S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

This is a bit vague!!

Apart from appearing in person to every individual all the time, what else would work? And even if He did this, He would still be rejected by some!! After all, Satan and all his angels did, and they are in the presence of God. As said before, it is not seeing God that matters. What matters is accepting Him and His salvation and His love, and ultimately loving Him in return. (Theo’s Response).

I believe God did reveal Himself fully to the Spiritual creation before us, but it failed. The spiritual beings had no problem with whether God existed, but Satan just didn’t like playing 2nd fiddle. There are only hints of this in Scripture, but there is enough there to consider this a possibility.

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:00:29


Footnote 4.1.3: (The Great Plan of God)

How would I have revealed my overall plan to them?

If I had a specific plan that couldn’t be deduced from the natural world as such (ie. my plan involves non-natural events, or at least events that belong to human society), then I’d have to tell them (assuming I wanted them to know). So, I’m happy with Special Revelation as a concept, and am insistent that there would need to be such. The question is, what form would it take, and how would I deliver it?

As said before, as I know how useless human beings are at following instructions, I’d have a number of contingency plans in case the message wasn’t transmitted by the appointed messengers.

I’d either have overridden the humanity of my authors and revealed facts that couldn’t possibly have been known (so as to authenticate the rest of the narrative) (Sylvia’s Response2) or I’d have worked with the natural limitations of the authors, and expected people to interpret the narrative, warts and all, in that light. This is a matter of interpretation, and the latter approach seems the more likely to me. If I’d intended a middle ground – an inerrant but (as far as “non-spiritual” matters are concerned) non-revelatory account, I’d have made sure the mode of interpretation was clearer (Sylvia’s Response3) so as not to cast stumbling-blocks in the path of conscientious thinkers (or would have put a stop in the mouths of fundamentalists who want an easy exegetical life (“just look it up in the book”).

Additionally, I wouldn’t have given my plans for the end times in such an impenetrable code that no-one can understand them, but so that an army of exegetes can be happily but uselessly employed writing mutually incompatible interpretations. (Sylvia’s Response4) Edward de Bono (in a rare moment of non-repetitive insight) advises those thinkers who want to have a large following to “be obscure”, then a large high-priest cult of interpreters will arise, and there will be lots of academic jobs to go round (I’m not sure who he had in mind here, but philosophers like Hegel, Heidegger or Wittgenstein fit the bill nicely).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:29:17


Footnote 4.1.3.2: (The Great Plan of God. S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

If they were overt scientific facts, and made very clear, then the Scriptures may have been rejected on such grounds by previous societies who hadn’t yet discovered them!! However, something suitably vague, like “he suspends the earth over nothing” (Job 26:7) would be OK! (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:29:17


Footnote 4.1.3.3: (The Great Plan of God. S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

How?

(Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:29:17


Footnote 4.1.3.4: (The Great Plan of God. S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

Beautifully expressed!! There is no accounting for what people want to spend their time doing! However, I am pretty sure that when the end-times do in fact arrive, the people living then will understand the prophecies pretty well as they unfold. As for me, until the temple is rebuilt I will not be getting excited! (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 07:29:17


Footnote 4.1.4: (The Incarnation)

If I had become human, how would I have made it clear to everyone I was God?

This is interesting for a number of reasons. I’ve always found something rather odd about the bald “Jesus is God” approach (where the “is” is the “is” of identity), and I’m not sure the doctrine of the Trinity makes logical or metaphysical sense (after all, the doctrine was developed and made explicit in Aristotelian philosophical jargon that few philosophers would use for other purposes). John says “the Word” was God (OK), and the Word became flesh (OK – but what does this mean, what degree of accommodation to humanity is required … this has always been a matter of great dispute, and who the heretics are is not something we (in the absence of ecclesiastical authority) can say for certain). It’s Thomas who (appears to) make it explicit that Jesus is God, appearing to equate Jesus with both YHWH (“my Lord”) and Elohim (“my God”) - and presumably John shares this view, as no-one contradicts Thomas; there’s also the usual interpretation of the “I am” passages. But I’ve always thought that speculation on the constitution of the deity ought to have a big “keep out” sign attached to it, so worries on this count don’t feature highly on my list of concerns. This is just the sort of area one would expect to be confused about.

I would expect that some sort of miracles would be a necessary form of authentication, and I’m happy that these would be of the prophesied variety. (Sylvia agrees). What I’ve not been happy about is that the prophesies (to me) don’t seem to be in the Berean spirit (ie. if we “consider to whom spoken, … what goeth before and what commeth after, and all that, we’d accuse the NT writers of wrenching Scripture out of context). Which, of course, the Jews do accuse the NT writers of doing.

Islam, which denies Jesus deity though accepts him as a prophet and expects his return, has obviously phoney miracles attributed to Jesus (eg. Speaking in the cradle, converting model birds made from mud into living ones). Presumably these were “pious frauds” then current in the Christian community that Muhammad encountered. The Biblical miracles attributed to Jesus are on the whole much more plausible, in that they are useful and non-destructive (Sylvia agrees). The only odd one that immediately springs to mind is “Legion” – casting out demons into swine - though maybe if the thought of pigs as revoltingly unclean beasts came more readily to mind, it wouldn’t seem so odd.

There’s an interesting parallel between Islamic responses to Christian complaints (about alleged Scripture abuse) and Christian responses to Jewish complaints. Islam accuses both Christians and Jews of “adulterating the Scriptures” (where there is a disagreement between the Koran and the Bible). The early Christians adopted the same approach with respect to the Jews (ie. where a quotation seems a bit squiffy, “the original text” was in agreement). However, an extant (rather than conjecturally reconstructed) inerrant (or at least reliable) OT text was later seen as an important part of the authentication of Christian claims, so this line was dropped in favour of taking a “sensus plenior” approach – the OT text had a surface reading and also a deeper spiritual significance that the inspired NT writers could see. It seems to me that there’s a more natural interpretation. Popular Christianity in the 7th century was replete with nonsense, some of which Muhammad picked up and took as “Gospel”. Similarly, in the first century, pious Jews had lots a whacky exegetical techniques for reading issues of their own day into the Scriptures (the pesher approach (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesher))) and the NT writers followed suit.

Be all this as it may, I suppose the fundamental question is whether we should find Jesus’ miracles surprising. I’d say probably not (Sylvia agrees), though I’m glad that the fanciful ones (Jesus walking on a sunbeam, turning naughty children into pigs, or saying “I’m the Messiah, you know” from the cradle) didn’t find their way into the NT. Such miracles would be doubly implausible (ie. not just on general principles).

I suppose also, I might have been a bit more explicit – even if public announcements would have led to a prompt stoning, I might have explained maters in some detail to my inner circle, but Jesus just seems to have left clues (or what were taken to be clues when recollected later).

(Sylvia’s Response1)

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 4.1.4.1: (The Incarnation. S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I understood from this section that you had no suggestions as to how to make it clear to everyone that you were God other than those the Lord Jesus actually used. As it was, there were a number of attempts on His life before His crucifixion simply as a result of the claims He did make. Therefore it cannot be argued that He should have made Himself clearer.

(Theo’s Response)

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17


Footnote 5: (Psychology) (CORRESPONDENT)

Much of what we believe and put our faith in comes down to our psychological make-up. At the end of the day we are either happy with our belief system and carry on, or we aren’t and we don’t. Obviously, each believer/non-believer thinks they are “right” or they would change their views.

As said previously, I don’t think anyone is ever persuaded to believe something merely by intellectual arguments. There is an emotional response involved – the level of this probably varies from person to person, depending on their personality.

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 5.1: (Psychology. T1)

We’ve partly covered this before under the “why still a Christian” banner. You make three assertions:

  1. Belief has an element of psychological motivation: while this may be so, is this necessarily as it should be? Is it rational to believe something because we are inclined to for psychological reasons? Normally, we have to say “no”. I can be as “inclined” as I like to believe that a certain horse is a winner, or a certain (testable) scientific theory is true, but this doesn’t make the world conform to my hopes. Usually, I’ll be woken up with a bump. However, in certain areas of interest, no amount of information will settle the matter. One of the books that has influenced me the most is "Ayer (A.J.) - Language, Truth and Logic". I now realise that a lot of what Ayer says is unsupportable, but I still accept the general tenor – that those things about which no amount of empirical or logical evident can settle are to be treated with grave misgivings (though are not literally “meaningless” as Ayer maintained in the 1920s). Of course, some matters are demonstrably either true or false (or at least are so beyond reasonable doubt), but this still doesn’t force people to go where logic leads. Take the example of Sabattai Zevi (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbatai_Zevi)), a 17th century Jewish pseudo-messiah. He eventually realised the game was up and converted to Islam, but some of his followers continued to believe in him (and some still do today). (Sylvia’s Response2).
  2. Everyone thinks they are right: well, yes, it’s part of the logic of belief that you accept the truth of the proposition believed. In fact “I believe X but X is false” has a name in philosophy – it’s “Moore’s Paradox” (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_paradox)). There are some odd mediaeval tags along these lines of “credo quia absurdum est”, falsely attributed to Tertullian, see the Wikipedia entry (Web Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credo_quia_absurdum)) which debunks this fideist approach; see also the longer 2000 article from Classical World (Web Link (http://www.tertullian.org/articles/sider_credo.htm)). But it’s no way to carry on, and few sensible people have done so. Now, without the emotional commitment or other pig-headedness we are sometimes persuaded of the error of our ways, again usually because failing to do so leads to unpleasant consequences. If I’ve got on the wrong train, it’s only sensible to get off, or I’ll get further and further from my destination.
  3. People aren’t persuaded by purely intellectual arguments: this is the same again, but maybe there’s a double-meaning in “persuade”. Someone can think an argument sound, yet not like the conclusion despite accepting the premises. So they are not psychologically persuaded (eg. A mother may not accept the guilt of her son despite being presented with all the evidence; the correct response would be to accept the guilt, but not reject the person).
(Sylvia’s Response3)

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 5.1.2: (Psychology. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

This was just an observation, not a statement as to whether it is rational or irrational. Some people need far fewer facts on which to base their beliefs than others. Perhaps this depends on their level of intelligence? In which case, people with very high IQs probably struggle more than those closer to the norm. The higher the IQ, the more the questioning. However, as you say yourself, you could reach the stage where you would never believe anything, as nothing is 100% verifiable. You have to reach your own comfort level.

(Theo’s Response1)

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17


Footnote 5.1.2.1: (Psychology. T1S1T1)

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Footnote 5.1.3: (Psychology. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

This section was a final summing up, trying to point out that everything in life does not hang upon reason and rationality alone. Many important things don’t – e.g. falling in love, appreciating a sunset, enjoying music, and so on. These are important, but depend upon emotion, based upon reason. God is a God of Reason, but He is also a God of Love. If you try to have one without the other, I think you end up with an imbalance.

(Theo’s Response1)

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17


Footnote 5.1.3.1: (Psychology. T1S2T1)

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Footnote 6: (Reasons for Belief) (CORRESPONDENT)

God repeatedly says we need faith. Why? Maybe because He knew He had created us in such a way we would question Him, why we exist, what the meaning of life is, etc - and also that He gave us the capacity to argue any point of view. He gave us the intellect to do this. Humans are very good at justifying anything they think or do. It is psychology (again!) As a result He knew we would have to have faith to accept Him. It is no good to say that if He had made Himself and His character more obvious, there would have been no need for faith. That’s not true, as people do not necessarily believe things, even if they see them or experience them.

I would say that for many people faith in God does not start with intellectual conviction, but often it is an emotional response at an important stage in their life. This is then backed up later with intellectual arguments, which ensure that the faith continues. I think it is seldom, if ever, that someone is “argued” into faith by intellectual arguments. The person they hear the arguments from is usually more important than the arguments themselves.

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 6.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1)

There are two important questions here:-

  1. Why does God demand faith?
  2. Where does faith arise from and why does it persist?
My answers:
  1. I could understand why God would want trust, but this isn’t the same as faith, which itself isn’t the same as belief. Trust applies in situations where we have few doubts about ontological matters, only about the character of the one depended on. Beliefs are usually only held where we’re confident that the proposition believed in is true, whereas we can have faith in something we believe is most likely false (in extreme cases, a leap of faith into the dark). (Sylvia’s Response1). Also, belief isn’t necessarily saving (witness the testimony of “the Epistle of Straw”) – the demons belief, and tremble (it is said). They just aren’t on the right side. (Sylvia’s Response2). I have no problem with the story of Christianity, if only I thought we had good reason to believe it. I don’t wish it false, I just don’t think it true – and my emotional reaction is neither here nor there. In case we lose track of what my objections are, there are at the following link. (Sylvia’s Response4)
  2. I may agree with you about the origins of faith, but as said before, this is neither here nor there. The question is, however we come by a belief or a (faith-stance) what are good reasons for retaining it when the emotional rush has subsided. (Sylvia’s Response5). Maybe most people (despite Aristotle’s definition of man as a “rational biped”) aren’t very rational, and are excused from examining their beliefs in any detail, so can carry on believing because they respect Pastor so-and-so, but for some of us that option isn’t open. We have greater responsibility.
There’s more on faith in the following Note.

(Sylvia’s Response7)

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 08:47:02


Footnote 6.1.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I can’t think of a rational example of having faith in something we believe is most likely false. (Theo’s Response1).

I have expanded on faith in the section “Ensuring people believe”.

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 08:47:02


Footnote 6.1.1.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1S1T1)

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Footnote 6.1.2: (Reasons for Belief. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

Absolutely! See section on “Ensuring people believe”.

Note last updated: 14/09/2007 16:48:00


Footnote 6.1.4: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

There are plenty of good reasons to believe Christianity. How about:

  1. Conversion experiences and other Christian testimonies – particularly those people who change dramatically as a result. (Theo’s Response1).
  2. Information in the Scriptures. (Theo’s Response2).
  3. Existence of the Jewish nation. (Theo’s Response3).
  4. Prophecies in Scripture fulfilled (over 100 referring to Christ). (Theo’s Response4).
  5. Facts recorded in the Bible before they were known.
Did you ever read “The Bible Myth or Message”?!! (Theo’s Response5).

Again, I presume here that you are thinking of your “6 issues” that you specified at the beginning. These are issues that prevent you thinking it is true. If these were removed, would you then accept it, or would you have to have further positive reasons to accept it? (Theo’s Response6).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 09:47:31


Footnote 6.1.4.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T1)

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Footnote 6.1.4.2: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T2)

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Footnote 6.1.4.3: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T3)

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Footnote 6.1.4.4: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T4)

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Footnote 6.1.4.5: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T5)

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Footnote 6.1.4.6: (Reasons for Belief. T1S3T6)

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Footnote 6.1.5: (Reasons for Belief. T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

It is logical. It is rational. It makes sense. The whole “package” hangs together very nicely and makes sense of the whole world, why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing. I see intelligent design everywhere. I see the Creator’s hand wherever I look, and in every experience. Without becoming sentimental, everything in this world is amazing if you try looking at it without taking it all for granted. In people I see a desire to love and be loved. Babies in Romanian orphanages have died through simple lack of love. Their physical needs have been taken care of, but they have had no other attention, no love, and they have withered and died. Why is this? I am not aware that animals have ever died through lack of love. Some older people lose the will to live after they have lost a lifetime partner, and they seemingly give up, and die. Again, I am not sure that this has been observed in animals. God is love, and He created us in His image, which includes the capacity to love. I just cannot believe that love evolved!! Yes, sin entered the world, so it is not perfect. But I can see what it would be like if it were perfect. It would be wonderful. That is what heaven will be like, I believe.

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:01:55


Footnote 6.1.5.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1S4T1)

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Footnote 6.1.7: (Reasons for Belief. T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

Yes, some people may put rather too much faith in their Pastor or mentor. But there are some Christians who, while respecting their ministers, do actually think for themselves! Maybe Mike & I have met a disproportionate number of them, for the obvious reason that the Open Bible Trust attracts such people. In addition, there are all sorts of highly capable, intelligent and well educated people who are Christians – see the Reasons To Believe website for example, as mentioned earlier. You can’t assume that any rational person, after examining their beliefs in detail, will come to the conclusion that Christianity is false! (Which is what you almost seem to be implying here.) There is at the end of the day a rational choice to be made. Some dwell on the reasons against belief, some dwell on those that support it. As said before – God gave us free will to choose as we please.

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:01:55


Footnote 6.1.7.1: (Reasons for Belief. T1S5T1)

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Footnote 7: (Faith) (CORRESPONDENT)

This is crucial to any religion. Everything follows on from this. There has to be a starting point. For me, the bottom line of my faith used to be the Bible. I accepted it as inspired, authoritative, etc without question, as a result of faith. Everything else followed on logically from there for me. Now I would say my bottom line is acceptance of the Person of Christ, God manifest in the flesh. To me, acceptance of Christ as fully God is of paramount importance. Again, much of Christianity follows on very logically from this one step of faith.

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 7.1: (Faith. T1)

We need to distinguish metaphysics from epistemology. Metaphysics relates to what there is, epistemology to how we know about what there is. So, your original approach might be right epistemologically (ie. you come to know about Christ through the Bible) but is wrong metaphysically (the metaphysical basis of your faith is Christ, not the Bible that proclaims him). So far so good.

But what’s the epistemological basis now? Is this still the Bible? (Confirmed as “Yes” by Sylvia).

The disciples and some others met Jesus the man, and Paul thought he’d met the risen Christ. Yet you haven’t met either, as far as I know (I certainly haven’t). So, what’s the basis for believing in Jesus as Messiah (and so on) rather than someone else? Now, obviously no-one believes in a Messiah they know to be false (though some will believe in Messiahs known to be false, but not so known or accepted by them). Presumably it’s because you like the stories in the Gospels and the arguments in the Epistles. Or is it some indubitable extra?

I find the whole area of faith hard to tackle. If we only believed things with an intrinsic probability > 0.5, we’d miss out on a lot of truths, and be tossed about by doubts. But the necessity of faith doesn’t license us to believe what we like.

When I dealt with this before, I had this1 to say …

(Sylvia’s Response2).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:52:19


Footnote 7.1.1

Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith.

  1. Faith is a critical item in the evaluation of a reasoned response to the postulates of Christianity.
  2. Faith and belief are not necessarily equivalent. Beliefs, whether considered or casually acquired, are optional. Faith has an element of inner compulsion about it (most Christians would say it was a gift of the Holy Spirit) and is closely related to trust.
  3. It should be noted, however, that the New Testament vocabulary does not distinguish between "faith" and "belief" (both terms being covered by pistis), presumably because it has no time for the dispassionate holding of views. However, I will try to preserve the distinction between these two expressions in what follows.
  4. Faith should not be a blind leap in the dark. In particular, though it may go beyond the evidence, it should not go against it.
  5. Another way of looking at faith is to invoke the probabilities discussed earlier in this paper. There, we stated that no knowledge is certain, but only has a certain probability of being true. One could define a reasonable belief (expressed by proposition p, probability of truth p) as one with p > 0.5, so that it is more rational to believe the proposition than its negation (not-p, probability 1-p).
  6. There is an element of similarity between this understanding of faith and the classic New Testament definition in Hebrews 11:1, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen".
  7. A convincing reason needs to be sought for why Christian belief has to be built on faith (contrasted with sight rather than with deeds).
  8. The common assumption that all beliefs are held by faith (ie. are uncertain, though not necessarily with probability of truth < 0.5), and therefore that those who exercise faith cannot be criticised for irrationality, ignores the probabilities.
  9. I have sought to demonstrate that the objections facing traditional Christianity are many and cogent. Hence, its probability as a world view is very low and the amount of faith required to sustain it is very high.
  10. The New Testament speaks of faith as a gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. How are we to deal with the view that the Holy Spirit confirms the truth of Christianity in the hearts of believers and that this conviction is of more significance than any external evidence that might be adduced pro or con ?

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 7.1.2: (Faith. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I’ve included quite a lot on faith under “Reasons for Belief”, but as it’s important, here’s some more!

To have faith is, partly, making a decision and sticking to it. You have all the facts (or as many as are available) and act on that. It is a rational and logical act, but backed up with emotion in many cases. We all exercise faith in multitudes of things throughout our lives. We couldn’t function without it. (Theo’s Response2).

For example, I think I know what you are like fairly well. I think that you are honestly re-visiting your Christian faith. Because of this, I would love to help! I am exercising faith in what I believe to be true! If I thought you were merely interested in engaging in (yet another) interesting philosophical discussion with no particular goal other than the enjoyment of exchanging intellectual views on various topics, then I probably wouldn’t bother very much! I’d probably be in the middle of writing my next booklet instead! So, my faith in your honesty motivates me to do something. Someone might argue, but supposing I am wrong in my assessment of you? That is where my faith comes in! It is the same in many areas of life. It is a great motivator, and actually, we can’t live life without it. God is only requiring of us what we do very naturally in all other areas of our life. I do not believe He has required of us any unreasonable or irrational quantities of faith. Only that similar to what we exercise all the time in living our lives. (Theo’s Response3).

Having once taken this step of faith, everything follows on – at least for me it has! In my case, I like to think that it continues to be a rational and logical decision based on facts that I have come across throughout my life. Everything I read, every person I meet, every experience I have, or hear about from others, is all fitted into my overall worldview. (Theo’s Response4).

You may think I must have cocooned myself against opposing views. However, I have read some non-Christian literature over the last 35 years (!) including Dawkins. I found him unconvincing. I have regularly read the Guardian Weekly for many years, and could therefore have been indoctrinated into all sorts of humanistic and atheistic beliefs if I so wished! In fact, it’s the Guardian that often includes scientific articles revealing wrangling between different eminent scientists who cannot agree on their views of evolution, or whatever, at all! You know my particular interest in the Creation v Evolution debate, so we won’t go there again (for now) but in pursuing this I read a variety of books putting forth all sort of non-Christian views. Although they contained some interesting insights, they never made me stop and think, gosh, I’ve had it wrong all my life! Rather the opposite! I would have to exercise impossible amounts of faith to believe in evolution, Islam, etc. because for me the facts don’t add up. For Christianity, they do. (Theo’s Response5).

Having faith in other people is similar to having faith in God. We trust that they are as they appear to be. It could be that they are not. But until we find out to the contrary, we carry on believing. It is the same with God. My understanding of the facts about the world (General Revelation and Special Revelation) lead me to the logical and rational conclusion of faith in Jesus Christ, God and man, death, resurrection, ascension, salvation, righteousness and everlasting life. (Theo’s Response6).

If we do not trust that other people are as they appear to be, we would be unable to form relationships with them. We would always be wondering what they are really like. It is the same with God. We could always remain wondering what He is really like, rather than accepting, in faith, how He has revealed Himself. (Theo’s Response7).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:52:19


Footnote 7.1.2.2: (Faith. T1S1T1)

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Footnote 7.1.2.3: (Faith. T1S1T2)

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Footnote 7.1.2.4: (Faith. T1S1T3)

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Footnote 7.1.2.5: (Faith. T1S1T4)

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Footnote 7.1.2.6: (Faith. T1S1T5)

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Footnote 7.1.2.7: (Faith. T1S1T6)

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Footnote 8: (The Holy Spirit)

No doubt much ink has been split on the interplay between the Holy Spirit and the reader of Scripture, and no doubt sin comes in as the spoiling factor somewhere. I suspect that even if the Holy Spirit is involved in guiding our interpretation, we can never know it in any particular instance, whatever we may feel at the time. Just think of those times a wonderful wheeze has occurred to you that sober reflection showed to be incorrect.

Sylvia’s Response.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 9: (Living Words)

Why do some texts mean so much to us at certain times? This is a complex matter. It has something to do with things that are worth saying being said well. And it may have something further to do with “hidden depths”. The less prosaic a passage is, the more it is open to us to read into it what we will. No doubt this goes some way to explaining Bible students’ enthusiasm for the Book of Revelation.

Many of the quotable quotes from Shakespeare have both these qualities about them. For instance, Prospero’s speech in The Tempest - Act iv. Scene 1:

“Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, And our little life
Is rounded with a sleep”.

I’m not sufficiently expert to take this much further here, but this should probably be taken as an ultimately pessimistic approach to the permanence of all we know. It is an important and sensible thought well said, and I cannot read it without a thrill and tears welling. I think it’s the alliterative “little life” that does it.

However, I’ve no idea what Shakespeare means by “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”. I’m aware that “on” is not a misprint for “of”. While grammatically less problematical, this reading would indeed have been an utterly obscure utterance. I presume the text as written means that we have unfulfilable or insubstantial hopes. But do these dreams continue in the sleep of death, and are they any more substantial there?

The thought of death as sleep needs to move on to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Act III , scene 1, where he contemplates suicide:

“… To die, to sleep;
To sleep? Perchance to dream! aye, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, …”

This seems more straightforward. Shakespeare seems to be saying that if we weren’t afraid of the unknowns of death, should the occasion warrant it we’d do away with ourselves in the ancient Roman way rather than endure the indignities of life. Because we don’t know what’s beyond death, we cling to any form of life in a cowardly way in the sense of Ecclesiastes 9:4 “better a live dog than a dead lion”, rather than go boldly into the “undiscovered country”.

This could lead naturally on to Hebrews 2:15 where Christ is said to “…release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”. Shakespeare clearly doesn’t have Hamlet make this connection, maybe because he doesn’t believe it. It would also immediately stiffen Hamlet’s resolve and spoil the play. The terrors of death had been painted in such lurid colours by the mediaeval mind that it would hardly be cowardly to be reluctant to go there. It would only be brave, rather than rash, if you though there was nothing ultimately to fear. This may be Shakespeare’s point, but it’s unclear (to me).

Incidentally, I find Ecclesiastes very Shakespearean, though the influence if any was clearly in the opposite direction!

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 12:14:24


Footnote 10: (Holy Spirit.) (CORRESPONDENT)

I believe that we have to let the Holy Spirit help us in our practical outworking, and that we have to let Him help us understand the Scriptures. We can “quench” the Spirit, ensuring He can’t work with us. God never forces anyone to do anything, and as I believe the Holy Spirit is God, He will only help us if we allow Him to. This may partly be the reason there are so many disagreements over the interpretation of the Scriptures.

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 10.1: (Holy Spirit. S1T1)

We seem to be going round in circles here. Presumably few exegetes think they are “quenching the Spirit”, so they must logically believe that those exegetes who disagree with them are doing so (if the Spirit is not the author of confusion). This is all very comforting, but all but at most one of the mutually contradictory exegetes must be deluded as to the Spirit’s enlightenment. (Sylvia’s Response1).

I’m trying to remember what the point of this leg of the discussion was. I think my original thought (not explicit in the discussion as written up, but I’ve mentioned it elsewhere) was that our ordinary empirical knowledge and logical faculties are what we should use in evaluating Christian claims (with the Bible, Church tradition, historical records and so on being treated as any other sources of evidence without initial prejudice or favouritism). A possible objection to this approach might be that the Holy Spirit might enlighten the elect to see things that the benighted infidel is impervious to. (Sylvia’s Response2). In my days as a rather ineffective evangelist, I used to get this as a (sometimes well-intentioned) response – God hasn’t touched me, I just can’t see the light. I’d argue (contrary to the Calvinists) that you decide on the truth-conditions of Christian claims in the same way as those of any other claims. As we’ve previously remarked, such an intellectual assent wouldn’t make anyone a Christian, but it’s probably a necessary first step (along the lines that you can’t go along with something you believe to be false). But often there’s the exhortation to “accept Christ and all these worries will eventually sort themselves out …”. But what actually happens is that people get on with their Christian lives and forget about all this. (Sylvia’s Response3). And (as you’ve said, though maybe not intended in this sense), the emotional and psychological investment becomes so great that it’s too difficult to go back. Often it’d involve losing all your friends, all the things you’re involved in, so better not even think about it. (Sylvia’s Response4).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:29:17


Footnote 10.1.1: (Holy Spirit. S1TS1) (CORRESPONDENT)

Probably the fact that we are all sinners and do not understand everything perfectly leads to differences.

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 14/09/2007 19:16:19


Footnote 10.1.1.1: (Holy Spirit. S1TS1T1)

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Footnote 10.1.2: (Holy Spirit. S1TS2) (CORRESPONDENT)

I do believe salvation is a two way thing. God moves (the Holy Spirit). We move. Then God moves. Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that when we believe we are sealed with the Holy Spirit Who is a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. I do not believe we can break this seal. Once indwelt by the Holy Spirit He can help us with our spiritual understanding.

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:22:05


Footnote 10.1.2.1: (Holy Spirit. S1TS2T1)

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Footnote 10.1.3: (Holy Spirit. S1TS3) (CORRESPONDENT)

That may be true for some, but not for me! One of the joys of being a Christian is studying the Scriptures to find out more about the Lord. There’s enough there to last a lifetime! However, you are right in that many Christians, sadly, do not study the Bible or consider the doctrines very deeply.

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:22:05


Footnote 10.1.3.1: (Holy Spirit. S1TS3T1)

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Footnote 10.1.4: (Holy Spirit. S1TS4) (CORRESPONDENT)

Rather than losing all their friends I think a lot of care and concern and attention would be shown. Certainly that would be the case in the Salvation Army where we now attend. They don’t study their bibles in great depth, but they certainly show Christian love and concern, and give support when it is needed. (Theo’s Response1).


However, would this not be more of a barrier to re-conversion to Christianity! How would fellow-philosophers react if you decided to “return to the fold”? (Theo’s Response2).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 10:22:05


Footnote 10.1.4.1: (Holy Spirit. S1TS4T1)

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Footnote 10.1.4.2: (Holy Spirit. S1TS4T2)

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Footnote 11: (Weak Supernaturalism)

By “Supernaturalism”, I mean a strong version beyond the humble “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

Interestingly:-

  1. In its context (Hamlet to Horatio) this refers to Duncan’s ghost whose real existence (even if non-fictional) a card-carrying ultradispensationalist would deny; and
  2. Additionally, Shakespeare was (probably) an atheist.
So, I’m not terribly interested in deistic speculation on what, if anything, caused the big bang (assuming, as I do, there to have been such an event).

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 12: (Christianity as a Closed System) (CORRESPONDENT)

If you like it from the inside, and it is self-consistent, why look elsewhere? I could spend a lifetime looking elsewhere, only to find I was right to start with! I’m well aware that if I had been born in an Islamic country I would probably be a Muslim! If Christianity is the correct religion though, the “system” allows for such people!

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 12.1

It depends what you mean by “self-consistent” and “inside”. Somebody (maybe Francis Schaeffer) came up with the idea that “all truth is God’s truth”. This would imply that there’s no “inside” within which a religion can be self-consistent. It needs to be consistent with the whole of realty. Now, if it is inconsistent with what the majority of “experts” claim to be true, there are a number of options, though they basically reduce to two:

  1. Deny the expertness of the experts. (Sylvia’s Response1)
  2. Reinterpret the recalcitrant doctrine to make it consistent with expert opinion.
This is exemplified in the standard Christian responses to the Theory of Evolution, which (however much there may be difficulties, loose ends, areas for further research, and so on) is the working hypothesis of almost all those with jobs in the life sciences, namely
  1. Reject the theory – this is the approach of most fundamentalists (I have for review a newsletter “Questions and Answers” published by the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which wheels out a collection of smiley-faced scientists (mostly from Northern Ireland) who have “problems” with evolution, with some examples and testimonies. I’m looking forward to investigating these. An interesting point is, where these objections convincingly answered, would they say “it’s a fair cop” or would they just keep their heads down? Another issue of “Questions and Answers” supports the “Biblical” teaching on hell. Ho hum. (Sylvia’s Response2)
  2. Adopt a “theistic evolution” approach (the approach of the vast majority of educated people who would label themselves “Christian”, at least outside the US). (Sylvia’s Response3)
“Looking elsewhere” seems to suggest looking for a better religious package, but maybe you should look on a different shelf altogether (if not in a different supermarket). (Sylvia’s Response4)

When you say that Christianity “allows” for those born in Muslim countries, just how does it do this? I imagine most evangelical Christians would (if pressed) say they’re on their way to hell along with all the others who are not evangelical Christians. And what about those Muslims born into Muslim families in the UK? No doubt there’s a tidy answer somewhere, I’d just like to know what it is. (Sylvia’s Response5)

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 12.1.1: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

As stated elsewhere, the “experts” disagree amongst themselves, not just among minor points, but major ones too. Also, many highly intelligent scientists are Christians, particularly in the US, as you say below. However, I don’t think we should be swayed in our views simply by appealing to the numbers of intelligent people that believe this or that. As you say yourself, we need to come to our own conclusions, based on the facts as far as we know them. I’ve always assumed you have read plenty of books explaining the problems of evolution in detail, but perhaps I am wrong in that assumption? If you haven’t, it might be worth reading a good one! (I have one I rather like!)

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 12.1.1.1: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S1T1)

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Footnote 12.1.2: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

As stated in another place, the theory of evolution is only a theory. It can never be proven. It has to be accepted by faith just as much as Christianity has to be, and for me, more so. Just because the media (and many scientists) keep on referring to it as a fact, it is not. Society is just as brainwashed with this theory, as people may think it is by Christianity (or other religions). Accepting the theory of evolution is a mindset that is adopted, after considering the facts as presented by the world as we see it today. Just because the (atheistic) experts would like it to be a fact does not make it so! (see quote from an atheistic scientist elsewhere who admits this!) Creation is the alternative. Theistic evolution is a compromise.

(Theo’s Response3).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 12.1.2.3: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S2T1)

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Footnote 12.1.3: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

This is to be expected as Europe is so much more secular and humanistic than America. It doesn’t make educated Europeans right and educated Americans wrong!

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 12.1.3.1: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S3T1)

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Footnote 12.1.4: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

Why? You have said yourself that Christianity is the best offer available! Also, since you don’t disagree with the fact that adopting Christianity not only tends to change people for the better, and consequently society for the better, this is another good reason for accepting it. If we can not be absolutely sure about anything in this life, surely accepting the one that produces the best people and the best society would be a very rational decision to make?

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 12.1.4.1: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S4T1)

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Footnote 12.1.5: (Christianity as a Closed System. T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

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Footnote 12.1.5.1: (Ensuring People Believe. S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

You have asked about, or mentioned, faith in a number of places. I will stick to your method, and comment on your points as they crop up, although it would perhaps be better to collect it all together under a “faith” section.

Everything isn’t secretive! General Revelation isn’t secretive. It’s rather blatant! The Scriptures tell us rather a large number of things about God, His plan, His purpose, and so on. That’s not secretive! God does not play hide-and-seek! He came in Person to see us, and look what happened! How else could He sensibly reveal Himself? He had prophesied He would come. He came and did exactly what was prophesied. He died as prophesied, without a bone being broken. Then he rose from the dead, as mentioned in Josephus’ writings. He has talked face to face with selected humans – Adam, Eve, Moses, Abraham, and possibly others. Elsewhere you pointed out yourself that the demons know perfectly well He exists, but that they choose to oppose Him. It is not believing that He exists that leads to salvation. That is taken as read. I guess He considers it pretty obvious He exists! So God is not in the business of proving His existence to His Creation. Human beings however have the ability to deny the obvious if they wish. Do you believe in the Holocaust? Do you believe that man has landed on the moon? Some people don’t, and no matter how much evidence they are presented with they are still not convinced! (Theo’s Response).

Faith is important, but not so that we can believe that God exists, as that is taken as a given in the Scriptures. The Bible begins, “In beginning, God …. “. Faith is important because if salvation were by grace only, everyone would get in! If salvation were by works only, no-one would get in. If it is by grace through faith, then only those who love God will get in. And God’s bottom line is love. I believe human beings were created for this reason. 1 Corinthians 13:13 is very pertinent “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” If God’s ultimate purpose is to end up with a Creation filled with beings that love one another and love Him, then as love by definition is voluntary, He had to come up with some sort of process by which to achieve this. As you rightly deduce, I do not believe in hell, (and, yes, I don’t believe the Scriptures teach this, along with a growing number of Christians) and I believe those people who reject God will merely cease to exist, thus also receiving what they want. Why would God want to force people to live for ever, trying to love Him against their will? It doesn’t make sense, and is not rational. (Theo’s Response).

However, as you also possibly know, I do not believe the only people that receive eternal life are those that are “saved”. Romans 2:14-16 refers to the law of conscience, Revelation 20:13 refers to a judgement according to works, and John 5:28,29 also refers to this. This is where those that have never heard the message of salvation are covered. God is a righteous judge. I believe those who have lived their lives according to their conscience, and lived good lives, possibly in accordance with their own religion, (or worldview, if you like) may well be granted eternal life as well. This is where God’s grace comes in. As said before, no amount of good works or conscientiousness will ever be perfect, so grace has always to be involved. (Theo’s Response).

As you say elsewhere, being faithful is different to having faith. You use the example of the divorce courts, saying that as we find faithfulness so difficult even when we can see someone, why does God require this of us? Faithfulness is remaining true. Having faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour is a decision we make. We accept that He is God, died for our sins, rose again and ascended into Heaven and is alive today. Yes, remaining faithful for life may be difficult for some. However, if we truly love someone in the Scriptural sense as well as the warm, fuzzy sense then this is again a commitment, a decision we make. In the same way we can remain faithful to God – it is a decision that we stick to. Our faith can be strengthened (or weakened) by what we read, who we mix with, and how we choose to interpret our life experiences. (Theo’s Response). Ultimately, we are all free to choose exactly as we wish – another thing that I believe God granted us – free will! (Theo’s Response).

As you have probably gathered, I think the whole subject of faith is really important, and we can go into this in more detail if you like!

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 20:16:48


Footnote 13: (Supernaturalist versus Naturalist World Views) (CORRESPONDENT)

I guess any believer must have a “supernaturalist” worldview, as presumably belief in God comes into this category. Things like miracles, for example, may be difficult for us to comprehend, but acceptance of them is one of those things which I feel is a logical step once a person has started on the road of faith. It is very easy to accept miracles if you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God! I have never seen any point in trying to argue whether miracles took place or not. People either believe they did, or they don’t! The reasons are often thought up after having believed!

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 13.1: (Supernaturalism)

Spinoza is the classic test case here. He thought that there was just one substance, which he labelled “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature). He’s variously evaluated as a “God intoxicated man”, a pantheist, or an atheist. His philosophy is all wrong, of course, but it’s a noble effort at escaping from Cartesian dualism. So, it may just about be possible to be a naturalistic believer, it you think the natural and supernatural coincide. (Sylvia’s Response1)

However, this is an unusual position. But it does raise a question about God’s relationship to the world. God is said to have created the physical (and spiritual) universe(s), and to be distinct from it/them. He is also said to maintain them in existence. (Sylvia’s Response2). What does this mean exactly? Is God intimately involved with everything that happens – so that he actually causes all the horrors deliberately, or has he set things in motion and then retreated to a safe distance, tinkering with things as and when necessary?

Do you think Christians ought to have a view on these matters, or is this a no-go area? (Sylvia’s Response3). Answers to such questions will affect what we think a miracle is. If the laws of nature a reflection of God’s faithfulness (as is sometimes said – though this is bizarre – are we supposed to imagine God thinking to himself, as the plane full of missionaries plummets out of the sky, “well I’m only being faithful …”?), then he’s just as involved in the ordinary run of things, which are all miracles, just ones we’re used to. But if God leaves the natural world to it, in normal circumstances, then we should see the particular hand of God in miracles.

The trouble with miracles is that we aren’t keen to believe those of other religions, or noxious variants of our own. Too many miracles are a bad thing, as are the wrong sort. (Sylvia’s Response4)

Things I’ve previously had to say on miracles are covered here5 and here6 (and probably lots of other places besides!).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 17:22:34


Footnote 13.1.1: (Supernaturalism. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

What is Cartesian dualism? Is it different to dualism? Is this believing that we are both physical and spiritual at the same time? Romans 7 & 8 refer to the new nature and the old nature – you no doubt remember all about this! Is this dualism?

(Theo’s Response1).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 19:39:22


Footnote 13.1.1.1: (Supernaturalism. T1S1T1)

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Footnote 13.1.2: (Supernaturalism. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

Presumably you are referring to Colossians 1:17 here? “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Also, Hebrews 1:3 says “The Son …. sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

(Theo’s Response1).

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Footnote 13.1.2.1: (Supernaturalism. T1S2T1)

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Footnote 13.1.3: (Supernaturalism. T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

I’m not sure Christians ought to have a view on this!! I’ve thought about this before, but admittedly not in any great depth. I haven’t got anything earth shattering to add to what these verses say! I pretty much take them at face value. In other words, God as Creator is responsible for holding it all together. At some point, it seems, He will decide not to do this any longer, and perhaps we will then have the opposite of the big bang! I have no idea what Isaiah 34:4 is talking about, but it sounds pretty drastic if you take it literally!!! The point is, if you start off accepting God is Creator, then it is logical to expect Him to be able to do what He likes with His Creation. (Theo’s Response1).

What horrors are you thinking of? There are some obvious ones in the OT, or are you referring to modern times? (Theo’s Response2).

He certainly set things in motion, and He certainly hasn’t “retreated to a safe distance”!!!! He has had a direct hand in many human activities throughout history, as the Scriptures testify. It’s just that from the human perspective “nothing” may happen for a hundred years, two-hundred years, or more, and then people living in those times may accuse God of not being involved. That is why God made sure we had the Scriptures to explain His plan and purpose. As the Scriptures say, 1000 years is as a day to God, so I deduce from this that time is totally irrelevant to God. Just like an hour or two passing is nothing to us. (Theo’s Response3).

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Footnote 13.1.3.1: (Supernaturalism. T1S3T1)

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Footnote 13.1.3.2: (Supernaturalism. T1S3T2)

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Footnote 13.1.3.3: (Supernaturalism. T1S3T3)

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Footnote 13.1.4: (Supernaturalism. T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

Yes. God usually leaves the natural world alone, so then it is quite clear when a miracle occurs! I accept the miracles described in the Bible because of my acceptance of the Scriptures as the inspired word of God. However, as you have pointed out yourself, it doesn’t include crazy and ridiculous things happening. Most of them are of an understandable and sensible type. Most of them have a specific purpose and meaning, and the vast majority were used with His chosen nation Israel. Gentiles in the Acts period often reacted the totally wrong way when confronted with miracles. The Jews, having had the Scriptures for guidance for hundreds of years merely asked what they signified. Jews seem to have far less problems with the miraculous than Gentiles! (Theo’s Response1).

Like you, I am sceptical that any miracles occur today. If they actually did occur, I am absolutely convinced that the media would have got hold of at least one by now, and shown it off everywhere! As in Jesus’ time, it would have to be a totally convincing one – not a back-ache cure. As the purpose of miracles was to convince the Jews to believe, I can’t see why we should expect any miracles any more, which in my view is why there aren’t any now. I’m sure you know all this already, but I thought I might as well say it anyway! (Theo’s Response2).

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Footnote 13.1.4.1: (Supernaturalism. T1S4T1)

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Footnote 13.1.4.2: (Supernaturalism. T1S4T2)

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Footnote 13.1.5

Anything of a miraculous nature should be accorded a very low a priori probability, otherwise it would not be categorised as a miracle.

  1. For example, it is a priori very improbable that a statue bled, shed tears or did anything else that is not normally associated with a statue. Hence, we might assign such statements a probability close to 0.
  2. The alleged view of David Hume, that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, would appear to be tautological and, therefore, to say nothing about the world. Hume is alleged to define a miracle as an impossible event, rather than as one that is merely very improbable, because according to Hume no amount of evidence is sufficient to establish a miracle.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 13.1.6

The problems with the Biblical world view that have not already been covered above are mainly associated with the miraculous, in that contemporary so-called miraculous happenings are almost universally considered to be dubious.

  1. In this respect, the standard world view has so changed since New Testament times that, instead of miracles justifying a set of beliefs, miracles themselves now require justification within a system they formerly justified. They have become liabilities.
  2. As we saw in a previous section, the wickedness and folly of man (as the Bible itself witnesses) is such, and the negative evidence of common experience so great, that it is difficult to imagine testimony sufficient to establish any miracle beyond reasonable doubt.
  3. This apart, I think it is true to say that the world of the various Biblical stories, with the possible exception of that of the antedeluvians, is recognisably our own, at least as normally understood in the West. This is particularly true of the Acts & Epistles.

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Footnote 14: (Evolution and Purpose) (CORRESPONDENT)

If there is no ultimate purpose or permanence, why does everyone behave as if there is? Animals behave without aim and purpose, by instinct. They don’t plan, they just exist. Human beings don’t. We are aware of time passing. We think about yesterday, and we think about the future. Many people think there might be something after death. Many want to be remembered after their death. We are so different to animals, to me it doesn’t make any sense unless we were created like this for a reason. I certainly could never believe that this feeling of purpose evolved.

Theo’s Response1

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Footnote 14.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1)

(Sylvia’s Introductory Comment1)

I’ve a feeling I’ve covered this before in my “Discussions with Simon”. It may be best to leap in here, and follow the links up and down as you wish. (Sylvia’s Response3)

Basically, it’s almost certainly incorrect to think of a huge divide (other than one of degree) between homo sapiens and the great apes (and possibly dolphins). (Sylvia’s Response4). It’s not just instinct for animals – some animals have culture, in that they learn how to do things from their parents or conspecifics. They may have a learning instinct, but so do human beings (for language in particular). Elephants mourn their dead. Chimps are able to deceive one another and seem to have a sense of self. And so on. Now, the matter of degree may well be huge, but not something that can’t be explained by brain-size and complexity.

And surely all these human traits you mention have survival value. They have enabled homo sapiens to conquer the earth. (Sylvia’s Response5).

And do all people think what they do has any ultimate purpose or permanence. Normally, they will be happy if they can leave their family well-provided for, as one would expect from an evolutionary perspective. (Sylvia’s Response6). It’s only intellectuals (or other high achievers) that worry that their heaps will one day be dispersed and no one will care. (Sylvia’s Response7)

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Footnote 14.1.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I suspect you expect me to disagree with this section fairly strongly, and so I will not disappoint you! I have tried to be tactful and hope I have succeeded!!

Note last updated: 14/09/2007 20:26:53


Footnote 14.1.3: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

I have done this, and it seems to me that everything can be interpreted in the light of evolution, given that you accept evolution by faith. This seems very similar to the Christian who can interpret everything in the light of Christianity, given that you accept it by grace through faith!!! (Theo’s Response1).

To the evolutionist, it seems very sensible to say things like:

“There’s no necessary connection between the origins of a trait and its current use. Presumably the skills we have that enable us to solve abstract mathematical puzzles (or financial ones) evolved for other reasons”

However, to non-believers (in evolution that is), this presumption appears absurd!!! Also, there is no evidence for this. I presume you made it up!!! (Theo’s Response2).

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Footnote 14.1.3.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S2T1)

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Footnote 14.1.3.2: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S2T2)

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Footnote 14.1.4: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

I would say it is almost certainly correct to think there is a huge divide! Not that I have it all at my fingertips these days, but I have read enough to convince me of the huge gulf between man and the animals. Perhaps we have just read different books, or perhaps we just look at the information we read through different coloured lenses! It is probably pointless going through any details, as I presume you have done this, and so have I!!! (Theo’s Response1).

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Footnote 14.1.4.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S3T1)

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Footnote 14.1.5: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

The “brain size” bit is not an explanation. I remember the sizes of brains, and whether they indicated greater or lesser intelligence, being hotly disputed by different evolutionists! (mainly because some skull they had turned up was the “wrong” size to fit into their predetermined evolutionary framework!!). (Theo’s Response1).

No doubt brain complexity has contributed to the huge difference between man and the animals. I wonder why man’s brain is so complex in comparison??!! I have a great explanation for that (!)– but I’m not convinced that evolutionists do. Ultimately the evolutionary explanation for everything comes back to survival of the fittest, and yet thousands of creatures around today have survived despite having hardly any brains at all!! The logical conclusion is that man didn’t really need to evolve a complex brain at all. He would have survived just as well as the monkeys have. It has always struck me what a limited and illogical explanation this is for everything. It seems far more rational to me to accept that an infinitely complex being created lesser beings, but gave them part of His complexity in order to allow them to choose to love Him if they wished. (Theo’s Response2).

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Footnote 14.1.5.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S4T1)

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Footnote 14.1.5.2: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S4T2)

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Footnote 14.1.6: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

Animals don’t leave their family well provided for, and yet they have survived too!! Some species eat each other – so how come they survived? As commented above, everything can be “expected from an evolutionary perspective” given that you are a believer in evolution. If you are not, it appears irrational. It is very similar to a person who questions Christianity who considers accepting the fact that miracles happened to be irrational!!! (Theo’s Response1).

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Footnote 14.1.6.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S5T1)

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Footnote 14.1.7: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S6) (CORRESPONDENT)

No it’s not! Lots of ordinary people, and primitive people, bury their dead and care about the “after life”. Tell me one animal that does this! (Theo’s Response1).

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Footnote 14.1.7.1: (Evolution and Purpose. T1S6T1)

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Footnote 15: (Resurrection)

Of course, there were disagreements amongst the Greeks on this issue, as on everything else. Aristotle had a different view of the soul, as the Form of the body, rather than as some immaterial substance that could separate from the body. So, maybe resurrection wasn’t foolishness to all the Greeks. However, Aristotle (who antedated the development of the doctrine) might have had logical objections. One of my research interests is to investigate whether resurrection is metaphysically possible. That is, is a resurrected or reincarnated being a deceived simulacrum of that which died, or that very being itself. Assuming apparent resurrections or reincarnations to be possible, of course.

Sylvia’s Response: Christ’s Resurrection1; Metaphysics2

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Footnote 15.1: (Resurrection of Christ) (CORRESPONDENT)

This follows on nicely from faith, but for me it is satisfactorily proven by psychology! It just doesn’t seem credible to me that so many thousands of people became Christians so swiftly immediately after Christ’s death if there was no resurrection. Neither does it seem credible that the twelve would maintain this as a fact until their dying days (as martyrs) if it were not true. They would have to have all been crazy, collectively! I wouldn’t die for something that hinged upon something I knew was false.

Theo’s Response1

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Footnote 15.1.1: (Resurrection of Christ. T1)

There are several points to be made here. The first is that, as we saw in the Sabbatai Zevi incident, people can believe almost anything if they have enough emotional commitment. Huge numbers of Americans believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. People have false memories of all sorts of horrors that never took place, and forget things that did. Now, giving some psychological account of how the disciples could have believed something that wasn’t true may sound a bit like a just-so story. (Sylvia’s Response2). But just how are we to explain what happened so long ago in a very different culture? Clearly, they didn’t go to their deaths for something they knew to be false. That the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead is undeniable, and it is unlikely that they colluded in some fabrication. Nor would false beliefs make them benighted fools. But the resurrection accounts aren’t quite like ordinary sightings. There’s something odd about them; people aren’t immediately sure, think it’s someone else, have to have their eyes opened; some doubt. (Sylvia’s Response3)

The fact that faith is so important is an invitation to wishful thinking, or going beyond the facts. (Sylvia’s Response4). Those who knew Jesus, and had been so thoroughly influenced by him, and loved him, couldn’t conceive of him just being dead. Theological and political considerations are also influential.

Now, clearly something happened to the body, but whatever this was, it was a short term thing. No body could possibly be produced years or even months later, so suggestions that “if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, someone would have produced the body” aren’t very convincing. Some pious (and stupid) Jews might have thrown it into the Valley of Hinnom; (Sylvia’s Response5); there are all sorts of possibilities (Sylvia’s Response6). (and yes, one of them is that the resurrection did in fact occur, but we have to balance all the probabilities). (Sylvia’s Response7)

I’m not saying that this is how things were, but possibilities like this have to go in the pot with all the other possibilities. (Sylvia’s Response8). If your faith in the resurrection rests on alleged psychological impossibilities, then I don’t think your psychology is up to much. (Sylvia’s Response9).

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Footnote 15.1.1.2: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I don’t think I could explain the fact of the resurrection any better than Josh McDowell in “The Resurrection Factor” – but I see you have already read this and dismissed it!! It is recorded in Scripture as a fact, and testified to by hundreds of people as a fact. He appeared to over 500 people after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6) many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote Corinthians. Thousands of Jews (including the hostile Pharisees) were converted after the resurrection. I expect they went to see those who could testify first-hand that they had seen the risen Christ. This is another occasion where how you view the Scriptures makes such a difference. For me, as I believe them to be inspired & authoritative, I don’t accept that they would be so misleading on such an important point. God would not let such a mistake be made – not that I think He allows any mistakes in the Bible!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.3: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

Thomas, when he actually saw Jesus, immediately recognised Him and said “My Lord and my God”. Thus He could be recognised instantly if He wished. However, there does seem to be something different about Him. At first Mary thought He was the gardener. The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Him until He revealed Who He was. Also He entered through a locked door when He came to see the disciples when Thomas was with them. When He was on the shore, and the disciples were fishing, they didn’t realise Who He was. Peter was the first to realise it was the Lord. Christ’s resurrection body obviously looked real, and was real, as He ate and He spoke. However, it was different, as He walked through locked doors, and ascended into heaven in front of them. It sounds similar to the angels who have visited men. They appeared when necessary, and looked like ordinary men. They also could eat and speak. So although it all sounds very odd to us, it is consistently odd in the same ways. Also, although it happens several times throughout Scripture, it does not happen very often – and usually for very particular reasons. For these reasons, I can accept it (apart from the “inspiration” argument), as although it is strange and unusual, it is not over-the-top, bizarre, and happening every day for absolutely no reason. For God to move in such ways on the odd occasion over a period of (lets say) 6,000 years, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.4: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

But this is just what you do with the theory of evolution!! (as pointed out previously). Any logical argument against evolution is countered by justifying it in terms of making assumptions, presumptions, and, dare I say it, exercising faith! And this has been admitted to by the atheistic biologist I quoted from earlier!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.5: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

It would be a tricky job extracting the body from an experienced Roman guard – an invitation for death if ever there was one!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.6: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

But none of them very convincing when you look at all the details! “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morison comes to mind as well. Presumably you’ve read this too? He set out to prove in a book that the resurrection couldn’t possibly have taken place, and ended up believing it!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.7: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S6) (CORRESPONDENT)

Out of all the options this one is definitely the most probable (!) when you take into account inspiration of Scripture, psychology, prophecy, testimonies, conversions of previously hostile Pharisees, and so on.

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.8: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S7) (CORRESPONDENT)

I spent some time considering all the options when I read the two books mentioned, but came to the conclusion above (strange to say!!!).

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.1.1.9: (Resurrection of Christ. T1S8) (CORRESPONDENT)

Psychology is part of what helps to prove it to me (plus what I have added above). The train of events described in the Scriptures have “the ring of truth” to me. Despite your example of Zevi above, it didn’t sound very instantaneous or long-lived to me. Also, he converted to Islam in the end!!! He turned out to be rather a hypocrite! Strange to say, this didn’t happen with Christ, nor with His disciples. They went to rather horrible deaths with their faith. Zevi died in comfortable obscurity.

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.2: (Resurrection (Metaphysics)) (CORRESPONDENT)

How can you investigate whether resurrection is metaphysically possible? The only evidence we have for it is in the Bible, if we believe it!

Theo’s Response1

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Footnote 15.2.1: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1)

I didn’t explain what I meant by “metaphysical possibility”. There are various forms of possibility. We usually mean practical possibility – it’s not practically possible for me to get to New York from Billericay in 30 minutes. But it is physically possible. Now it’s not physically possible to get to Alpha Centuri in a second, because that would break a law of nature (nothing can travel faster than light). But it is still metaphysically possible (the laws of nature might have been different … or at least we think they might, though there might be something deep about space and time that means certain things we think are possible aren’t). Then there are things that aren’t even metaphysically possible, that is, they are impossible whatever the laws of nature might be (I need to think of one of these … maybe something being red and green all over simultaneously, given what it is for something to have a coloured surface – and excluding the case where, looked at from different angles, something reflects light differently, so can look as though it’s red and green all over). Then there are things that are not even logically possible, because they involve a contradiction (it’s not logically possible to find the greatest prime number because it can be proved that there’s no such thing).

My research is into the persistence conditions of human beings (ie. “us”). Something persists if it continues to be the same thing from one time to the next. This seems to require three things; that it continues to exist, that it remains of the same sort, and that it remains the same exemplar of that sort. The second of these requirements may be the contentious one – can the very same thing change its sort? That is, even in a magical world can a frog turn into a prince? Or is the situation better described as a frog ceasing to be and a prince popping into existence in its place.

So, investigating what it is for us to persist first involves deciding (or, better, determining) what sort of thing we are. It seems obvious that we are human beings, but many Christians have thought that we are really immaterial and eternal souls temporarily wedded to human bodies (or maybe even to human beings). Some have said that we are “persons” that, while not souls, are still separable from human beings. My thesis is that human persons are temporal stages of human beings. (Sylvia’s Response1)

Once we know what sort of thing we are, we can then determine our persistence conditions; what is it for one human being to remain the same human being over time. The question is, can the same thing (one of us) really survive a period on non-existence and “come back” in a different body. (Sylvia’s Response2). I’m not saying is this physically possible (ie. could it be done), but, even if something like it could be done, would it really be the real thing? Or would it just look like the real thing. Even if the resurrection body is of the same sort as the body that died (and it’s not clear that it is), is it the same exemplar of that sort, or an approximate look-alike? This raises the same sort of issues as teletransportation, which I’ve discussed elsewhere3.

Presumably the idea behind resurrection is that we are self-conscious beings, and that this consciousness can hop from one infrastructure to another (Sylvia’s Response4) (or, on the dualist account, inhabit one body, then another). It seems empirically likely that our consciousness arises from brain activity. If that brain is destroyed and replaced by another (or some other consciousness-producing engine) is that the persistence of a single consciousness or the replacement of one consciousness by another qualitatively similar to it. The fact that one consciousness is qualitatively similar to another doesn’t make it the same (in the sense of “identical to”) – reduplication experiments combined with the logic of identity as an equivalence relation seem to forbid this. (Sylvia’s Response5)

I’m not sure what the Christian commitments are on all this. Do you have any idea? (Sylvia’s Response6). Does the Christian have any responsibility to consider whether they might be believing in absurdities7, or can they just say “it’s in the Bible and I’ll leave the details up to God”. (Sylvia’s Response8). I’m interested to know what the ontological commitments of Christianity are. Are Christians committed to the (deeply unfashionable) mind/body substance dualism? (Sylvia’s Response9)

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 15.2.1.1: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean separation of mind and body?

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.2.1.2: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

How can you research this? There is no evidence, apart from the information given to us in the Scriptures, as I said before!

(Theo’s Response).

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Footnote 15.2.1.3: (Teletransportation)

A Case Study - “Beam me up Scottie”: There are two obvious supposed mechanisms for teletransportation:

  1. Transferring both matter and information; or simply
  2. Transferring information, utilising local matter.
I gather that in the show itself, it's plasma that's transmitted, but as this is unlikely to get to its destination without causing havoc, the information-only transfer is more reasonable. However, even in the plasma-transfer case, I'm unconvinced that I'd survive, for two reasons:
  1. Some things (eg. bicycles) can survive disassembly and re-assembly, but only if they are disassembled into recognisable parts. If a bicycle is disassembled into iron filings and latex goo, and then re-manufactured, we might be reluctant to say it's the same bicycle.
  2. As a matter of empirical fact, fundamental particles are not distinguishable, so the labelling cannot be undertaken even in principle. If it doesn't matter which particle fits where, provided they are of the right sort, the case seems to collapse into the information-transfer variant.
We now turn to the information-transfer case. My main worries initially here have to do with the possibility of duplicates. We all know that a counterfeit, however well done, isn't the same as the original. The logic of identity is constraining. A thing is identical to itself and to nothing else, so if a thing is identical to two "other" things, these "two" must be identical to one another. Given that my two beamed-up versions aren't identical to one another, at least one of them can't be identical to me. And, since they are exactly similar, why choose one rather than the other? So, neither is me. Both are exactly similar to me, but identity is to be distinguished from exact similarity. This situation is similar to the case where the "original" human being isn't destroyed. This sort of thought experiment is referred to as the branch-line case. Canonically, it's where I've only a few days left to live (because the scanner has done me a mischief). Would I be happy in the knowledge that my duplicate would go on and on, and take up with my partner and career where I left off? Is this as good as if I survived? Not likely, unless we’re Parfitian saints! Note, however, that the case is tendentiously described (ie. as teletransportation) to lead to this seemingly obvious conclusion. The "main line" candidate would be perfectly happy that his rival back home was about to perish.

Philosophers split into two main camps in response to these situations (though - jumping ahead a little - even if perdurantism is true, we still might not have the teletransportation of a persisting individual, because of the wrong sort of causal link leading to a lack of forward continuity of consciousness, or even of physical continuity). So there are multiple bifurcations, but we keep things simple here and just follow those who think that I either survive or have what matters in survival:-
  1. 4-dimensionalists (Perdurantists): A thing is really a 4-dimensional worm through space-time, which consists in a set of instantaneous 3-D stages. In this situation, where multiple teletransportations occur, all copies are me. They are different 4-D worms, but they share all their pre-beaming-up stages. There were always at least 2 people present.
  2. 3-dimensionalists (Endurantists) claim that while I'm not identical to the beamed-up person, yet I have what matters in survival.
Note that there's a modal argument to the effect that even in the usual case where only one copy is beamed up, and the original is destroyed, because there might have been multiple copies, this means that identity isn't preserved even in the case where there's only one teletransportation-result created. This seems to lead to paradox. Imagine the situation - I'm beamed up and think I've survived, and am then told that the machine has malfunctioned and produced a duplicate, and hence, contrary to my experience, I haven't survived after all! Unfortunately, some philosophers go along with a "closest continuer" theory of identity across nasty cases of fission or fusion. I'm identical to (or even “survive as”) the continuer that most closely continues me, either psychologically or physically, according to taste. How can my survival depend on what happens to someone else, the thought goes? While this does seem odd, in fact you can’t trust the feelings of the teletransportees – for even if multiple copies are made, they all subjectively feel like the original.

There are two questions outstanding.
  1. Do I survive the transfer? And, if I don’t,
  2. Does it matter that I'm not identical to the post-beamed person?
I’m here ignoring the (as it seems to me) illogical “survival without identity” option.

We have seen that it is possible that it appears to me that I survive, yet I do not. On the endurantist view, the logic of identity means that I cannot trust my experience. So, it seems possible that the person “waking up” is not me. I never wake up – in the sense that I lose consciousness, but never experience a re-awakening - but someone else with my past in his memories is created in my stead.

So, is survival what matters? Well, on the perdurantist view, it’s not even sufficient for me to have what matters. Imagine the case where the machine goes haywire and 1,000 exactly similar teletransportees are created. All these share my pre-teletransportation stages, so are all me (except that “I” was always 1,000 co-located individuals – and maybe more – who knows how often the machine may go wrong in the future!). In this case 1,000 individuals would be squabbling over the same friends, relations, job etc, and that might be rather a nuisance. However, this isn't fundamental to whether I do or don't survive. If I'm a violin virtuoso or a body-builder, I might not find it much fun surviving as a brain in a vat, but that would just be tough. The standard philosophical test is the "future great pain test". I believe that the future continuant will be me, whether I like it or not, if I'm as terrified of that continuant being tortured as I would be if I were to be tortured in the normal course of events. Our BIVs would be even more upset at the prospect of torture-simulation being fed into their brains than at the loss of their beautiful bodies. Our fears have to be moderated by logic, however. But this is no worse than ignoring a revivalist rant on Hellfire. If I’m not identical to a particular teletransportatee, I won’t survive, and if I don’t survive I won’t feel anything. I may have a moral obligation not to land others in a pickle, but it won’t be the selfish problem of avoiding landing myself in one.

I can imagine fissioning, by the bungled-beaming-up process, into 1,000 continuants, none of which (on a 3-D view) is identical to me, but all of whom seem to themselves to continue my first-person perspective. I can imagine (just about) going into the machine, and coming out again 1,000 times (when the life-histories of the 1,000 then start to diverge). While the psychologies of the 1,000 are initially identical, they are not connected to one another, though they are each connected continuously to the pre-beamed-up person. So, if even one of them were to be threatened with torture, I'd be terrified if I thought that that one (even amongst all the others) would be me, in the sense that my experience continues into that body.

But, do I survive? I don't think I do, for reasons given above. It’s not that I reject perdurantism, it’s just that even accepting perdurantism there’s too radical a discontinuity. It's clear that a duplicate, looking backwards, wouldn't be able to tell apart the situation from the normal one of (say) just having woken up after a dreamless sleep. However, I imagine it's possible (even in a supposedly successful teletransportation) for there to be nothing it's like for me after the beaming - it's as though I never woke up, though someone else woke up thinking he was me. This would be a tragedy but, we'd never know about it, because (on this hypothesis) I wouldn't be around to tell the tale, and my duplicate would claim everything was fine (he remembered going to bed and waking up, as it were).

This worries me slightly about our every-night bouts of unconsciousness. How do I know that “the me” that wakes up is “the same me” that went to sleep, and would it matter if it wasn't? Was my mother right in saying “it’ll be all right in the morning”, in the sense that I’d have no further experience of the current problem, or indeed of anything at all? Is this worry parallel to beam-me-up case? Or is sleep a pain-free death?

I suspect the answer to these questions is that for a physical thing to persist, there needs to be appropriate physical continuity, and this continuity guarantees its persistence (though this intuition is a bit of a feeble response). On the assumption that my brain supports my conscious experience, this is enough to reassure me that, as it's the same continuing brain in my skull overnight, it's the same me that's conscious in the morning. I don't have the same reassurance in the case of beaming-up. So, I wouldn't go in for it, even if it came to be seen as a cheap form of transportation.



Footnote – December 2009

There’s a 10-minute animated cartoon - John Weldon's "To Be" – that discusses the question of teletransportation. It’s presently on U-Tube at Web Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdxucpPq6Lc). In it, a mad scientist invents a teletransportation device as a means of free travel. The necessity of destroying the original is discussed, initially to avoid overpopulation, and then to prevent disputes at to who is who. The branch-line case, where the original is destroyed five minutes after the replication, also features. There, it is clear that the original is a different individual to the teletransportee, and clings to life. Destroying the original is (in retrospect) murder – but what’s the difference between this situation and the one where the original is immediately destroyed? There’s obviously the anticipatory angle – in the “normal” case, the original thinks of the situation as one of travel, and no-one thinks that identity is not preserved in the process, whereas in the branch-line case the confusion is exposed, and the original knows that the teletransportee is a clone. So, maybe the branch-line case is clearly a case of murder, whereas the “normal” case is a case of accidental homicide where the perpetrator is unaware that he’s killed someone?

The twist in the tail is that the heroine, overcome with guilt after the branch-line case (which she’d originally just thought of as a logical demonstration) – and now understanding the metaphysics of teletransportation – thinks she can now (a) atone for her crime, (b) escape the guilt and (c) escape her creditors by being herself teletransported. For (a) she dies and is cloned and (b) / (c) the teletransportee is a different individual to the orignal, so why should this individual have any moral connection to the other? There seems to be something fishy about this, but maybe it’s perfectly sound reasoning.

In the animation, the original and the teletransportee get muddled up (after all, both look alike and think alike), so for practical purposes we are in a situation similar to Locke’s “amnesiac drunkard” case – society has to find the drunkard guilty for his forgotten crimes (in that case because of the possibility of dissimulation); so, maybe the possibilty of dissimulation or devious intent (as in the animated case) would for practical purposes mean that the teletransportee would inherit the moral and legal baggage of the original – and surely they would, or the prctical consequences of people routinely escaping their debts would be grave.

Yet, metaphysically, it’s no different from escaping your debts by committing suicide, because the teletransportee is not the same individual. And, I think the Branch-line case shows that it’s not the same person either, unless we allow the non-substance term “Person” to have multiple instances – as immediately post teletransportation, both the original and the teletransportee would seem to be the same person (however this is defined non-substantially) even though they would rapidly diverge into two different persons. Just as in the case of suicide, society has in the past tried to show that you “can’t really escape” – because of the prospect of Hell, so in the teletransportation case the same myth would be propagated. The teletransportee would be deemed to inherit the moral baggage of the original and, if not up to speed on the metaphysics, would think rightly so. But the original would have escaped for all that!

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 15.2.1.4: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

I have no idea how resurrection will work, just as I have no idea how a computer works! Or how a rocket into space works, or lots of other things! The fact that I don’t know though, doesn’t mean to say it won’t work!!! (Theo’s Response).

However, I do know what I believe about body, soul and spirit!! It is rather a simple mathematical equation in Genesis 2:7 i.e. body + breath (spirit) = living being (soul). Thus a living body is a soul, and dead body is a dead soul. This can refer just as well to animals as to humans. We don’t have souls, we are souls. When we die, the breath (spirit) leaves us and goes back to God (from whence it came). This, again, ties up with the anti-evolution argument. I don’t believe in “spontaneous generation” whereas, at some point, evolutionists have to accept life came into being all on its own. (rather miraculous really!!) I believe this life-force, breath, or whatever you want to call it, comes from God. Once it has gone, we are dead. (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 15.2.1.5: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S4) (CORRESPONDENT)

What are “reduplication experiments”? Sounds like Star Trek!!!

(Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 15.2.1.6: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

Most of what I know about resurrection and the body appears in 1 Corinthians 15, and I’m sure you’ve read this many times before. However, as said above, I am quite clear on body, soul and spirit. We have a body, and we are given life, and the combination makes us a living soul. However, understanding the resurrection body is another matter. Presumably if God tried to explain it to us we wouldn’t understand. Just like, to use a very familiar analogy, if we didn’t know we get oak trees from acorns, we would never guess!! They are one and the same, and yet they are not. Also, I was a baby once, then a girl, now a woman, and in the distant future, an old one! I have always been “me”, but I haven’t always looked the same, acted the same or thought the same – so what makes me me? Not very easy to answer really!! I am constantly changing, very slowly, just like everyone else. The resurrection body may just continue this changing process, but how this will happen I have no idea. I do think that it will be like Christ’s resurrection body though, so we have a small inkling of what it will be like.

(Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 15.2.1.7: (Physical Continuity)

In addition to considering just what contiguity and causal conditions a physical object needs to satisfy in order to persist, I need to consider a jumble of related issues:

  1. Intermittent Objects: can things go in and out of existence? Does the disassembled bicycle still exist in a dispersed state?
  2. Mereology: is the content of any disconnected region of spacetime a thing?
  3. What do decisions here have to say about the possibility of resurrection or reincarnation? Is a physicalist able, even in principle, to allow the possibility of disembodied survival, resurrection or reincarnation, given the need for a continuing physical substance to which the individual is identical? Some Christians are physicalists, and Van Inwagen has (as a wild speculation - see "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Possibility of Resurrection") God miraculously swapping out and preserving our corpses so he can resurrect the same individuals in due course. I need to consider (but expect to reject) such suggestions.

This is mostly a place-holder. Currently, just see the categorised reading-list (if any).

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 15.2.1.8: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S6) (CORRESPONDENT)

As you have pointed out, many educated people who consider themselves fairly intelligent are Christians, and do consider the rationality or otherwise of what they believe. I don’t feel that I have been called upon to believe anything absolutely ridiculous as a Christian - or even slightly ridiculous come to that! The whole thing just fits together and makes such a lot of sense to me, whenever I rethink any part of it. I would still contend there are much greater problems with other worldviews. When you believe that God speaks directly to mankind in the Scriptures, a lot of your problems disappear!

(Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 15.2.1.9: (Resurrection (Metaphysics). T1S7) (CORRESPONDENT)

I’m not sure what mind/body substance dualism is. I have explained above what the Scriptures say about body, soul and spirit. Is this dualism or not?

(Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 16/09/2007 21:08:38


Footnote 16: (Religious Supermarket) (CORRESPONDENT)

I touched on this above under “Christianity as a closed system”. If we are happy with the status quo, why change? I don’t know a lot about other world religions. All I know is that whenever I’ve heard bits and pieces of alternatives, they have never grabbed me, and made me think perhaps I’d better look into it in depth. I have read more about Islaam than any of the others, and that certainly has no appeal. I suppose I’d rather spend my time fruitfully within a system which I am happy with, then spend a lot of time looking at others that may ultimately be blind alleys. I guess if I ever had any qualms that Christianity might not be right, then I might have spent more time looking at the other world religions. However, I doubt very much whether “the correct one hasn’t been manufactured yet”! On the assumption there is a God, I am sure He would have revealed Himself in one way or another after all this time!!! (which of course to my mind He has – He did it straight away as soon as He had created Adam!)

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 16.1: (Religious Supermarket. T1)

A few points here:

  1. I wasn’t really recommending looking around, though maybe our views of the apparent folly of other religions are coloured somewhat by ignorance. Imagine what their views (or even those of most English people) of Christianity are – “something to do with Father Christmas”. All the great world religions have been developed at one time or another by serious seekers after truth and meaning, variously developed, misunderstood and corrupted over the ages.
  2. Of course, none of this makes any of them correct. Everyone seeks an off-the-shelf product (all convinced that the one manufactured in their locality is the best one), when maybe none of them fits the bill. All this stops us really thinking for ourselves, and acting for ourselves. (Sylvia’s Response1)
  3. As we’ve discussed earlier2, there are potentially two sorts of revelation – General and Special. Maybe there is no Special Revelation, and we’re supposed to determine what’s what using our natural intelligence and cooperative powers as a species. The end result might be (as materialists believe) that there’s no “life after death” – in fact why in the natural run of things would anyone expect any such thing, other than from the fact that we’re “programmed” (by natural selection, I’d say) to want to continue surviving (given that an organism that doesn’t struggle for survival will fail). There seems nothing to switch off this desire to survive when the desire can no longer be satisfied, but this may just be a “bug”. Some religious people (eg. Buddhists, and the Sadducees) seem to accept (or even long for) annihilation at death. Annihilationism is often seen as being “unfair” – “what about those who’ve had miserable lives, don’t they deserve to have their books balanced in an afterlife”. This is the natural (though not necessarily correct) reading of the parable “the Rich Man and Lazarus”. Now evangelical Christianity rejects this view in general – it’s only the saints who get their books balanced, the rest get infinitely more woe. Even believers in conditional immortality still don’t have the books balanced for the majority of mankind. So, resurrection doesn’t provide a general solution to the problem of injustice, because the majority either don’t experience it, or wish they hadn’t.
(Sylvia’s Response3)

Note last updated: 14/09/2007 22:24:58


Footnote 16.1.1: (Religious Supermarket. T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

But surely as God made sure a book was written to tell us all about Himself and His plan it would be irrational to ignore it, and make up our own view! And He has managed to make sure that apart from Christianity, Islam also accepts the Scriptures as holy, and Judaism reveres the Old Testament. So we have three major faiths accepting much of the same writings. Many other people also accept that the Bible is an extremely important collection of ancient writings – so why not go the whole way and accept them for what they say they are? Far more rational to my mind than thinking we, ultimately, all evolved from a rock!

(Theo’s Response1)

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 14:31:12


Footnote 16.1.1.1: (Religious Supermarket. T1S1T1)

The note is private.


Footnote 16.1.2: (Ensuring People Believe)

How would I have made sure all humans believed I existed?

Well, we first of all need to consider what God is alleged to have done. It appears to be two-fold.

  1. A General Revelation to all mankind.
  2. A Special Revelation to a particular people, who were to act as a channel to all.
I have two problems with this, though before explaining and investigating these, I will first note that the problems for a “conditional immortality” view of the human person, combined with a view that “you can’t be judged for unbelief if you’ve never had the opportunity to believe”, make this combined approach much more sensible. However, these “soft” doctrines themselves are not held by staunch evangelicals, who presumably believe the “hard” versions (eternal conscious torment for all who have not explicitly confessed Christ) because they think they are either directly Scriptural, or logical consequences of Scriptural teaching. What we can deduce from this is that we all have a tendency to reject interpretations we find abhorrent, even at the cost of not being “true to Scripture” (we simply leave the “difficult” verses on one side and hope the Lord will reveal their true meaning to us one day.

Taking this a bit further, the “fire and brimstone” approach is so abhorrent that anyone with any human sympathy will do anything to weasel out of accepting that Scripture teaches it. Take the mystic Julian of Norwich. One of her most famous sayings, along with the vision of the walnut in the hand of God – representing the whole universe and showing how insignificant it is compared to God – is “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. I’ve not investigated Julian’s theology, but I gather that she believed in hell, but believed that the souls of the wicked went through it in some way. Now I think this collection of thoughts is rather wonderful, and that if the soul is immortal then something like it must be true if the justice of God is to be maintained.

However, it might be pure wishful thinking and Ian Paisley and his cohorts may be correct to bark at people that they (if unbelievers) are in danger of such suffering, and that the blood of their friends and relatives are on their hands if they don’t bark at them in their turn. But who can believe such stuff? The argument seems to be that the cost to Christ was infinite, and the reason was that the cost was infinite is that the penalty was infinite, and if the penalty isn’t covered, then it must be paid, and as there are only a finite number of people, then the penalty for each is infinite. But it seems to me that, if this is the game, then God set it up and it’s unjust by ordinary standards to imprison people in a game they didn’t ask to play and make them pay an infinite price for losing. We can always wheel out the trump card that God makes the rules, but then God isn’t good because he’s good, he’s good because he’s God, whatever he does. But this God doesn’t seem to e the God of the Bible.

So to we will reject the immortality of the soul and eternal conscious torment for all who fail to explicitly believe in Christ. This leaves us with questions about Special and General Revelation. Is this what we’d expect?

Well, it does seem to be what’s claimed by the world religions. Unfortunately, it’s always their Special Revelation that’s the true one, and all other supposed Special Revelations are taken to be variously distorted versions of this, or extrapolations from General Revelation.

Take General Revelation first. This is that the characteristics of God – is power and goodness – are exemplified by the things that are made (ie. by nature). Well, it’s certainly true that looking at the vastness of the universe, it would be surprising if its creator turned out to be a creature within it. But I don’t suppose any culture has believed that, though they may have thought that God or gods temporarily took the form of a created thing for the purposes revelation, a view that Christianity seems to share, though taking a better exemplar than most. The trouble is that the creation appears different to different cultures depending on their circumstances – whether they are subject to droughts, floods, earthquakes; whether they live in a desert or enjoy a green and pleasant land. Their God tends to follow suit. (Sylvia’s Response1). Consequently, natural revelation leads to a right muddle. In addition, God’s goodness is more manifest in the green and pleasant lands (apart from in the dark Satanic mills) than in the deserts.

So, despite the rather fanciful “witness of the stars”, I think that General Revelation is too vague to be of much value except that it shows God to be big. (Sylvia’s Response2). But it’s far from clear that all the attributes of God are manifest simultaneously, and there are obvious concerns that the facts imply that if God is all loving, then he’s not all powerful, and vice versa. The normal response is that we need faith to see behind the surface features, but this just denies the effectiveness of General Revelation, if there is one. What nature does show is that the world is in a mess (with or without mankind making things worse), but there are more natural explanations than the Fall for this. Even those pretty stars in the sky are often the remnants of explosions that have consumed whole galaxies. The heavens proclaim the glory of the Lord best if you’re ignorant of what the heavens are, and treat it all as a firework display inaugurated for our benefit. (Sylvia’s Response3).

But maybe, the world being as it is, God’s stuck as far as General Revelation is concerned. Maybe if I was God, I’d have placed some tighter constraints on the appalling horrors (natural and man made) that occur so that my goodness was a little more obvious. Or I could make my existence obvious by theophanies. Just why is everything so secretive? Why is faith so important? After all, it’s difficult enough to be faithful to someone you can see exists, as the divorce-courts testify, so why does God have to play hide and seek in order to test mankind, if that’s what’s going on? Why does salvation have to be by grace through faith, rather than purely by grace (or maybe “through love”)? (Sylvia’s Response).

The supposed Special Revelations contradict one another so cannot all be true. We’ve discussed the Religious Supermarket before, and my contention that there’s little a priori reason to expect that any of these pretenders to the title is the true one. However, I’m willing to believe that if there is a true one currently on offer, it is Christianity. (Sylvia’s Response6).

So, we can assume that the Special Revelation God adopted was to school up a single nation in his ways in preparation for sending his Son. It would be difficult to describe this plan as anything other than a disaster, and it’s the genius of Christianity to see that this disaster was expected – indeed planned - all along. Except it would have been a worse disaster from a salvation-historic point of view if the vessels of wrath hadn’t been so recalcitrant, but no doubt God would have worked something else out, and the Romans rather than the Jews would have got the blame.

Alternatives open to God are just what liberal theologians allege to have been the case. God implants a religious sense in all men, in some – the prophets, ascetics, mystics, pious, the good people and so on – more than others; and this sense is worked out in the various human contexts. While there is no specific salvation-event on this view, it has the advantage that the gentiles are not left hanging about in darkness for millennia waiting for the Jewish or Christian missionaries to get round to
them.

Another alternative open to God (one that I think in fact obtains, if there is any Special Revelation at all) is to use the human authors with all their failings and ignorance (though they will usually be people of “special” insight), and to speak to the people in ways they can understand. I’m not sure at present whether the root of my “problems” with Special Revelation are with the Bible itself, or with the fundamentalist interpretation of it. (Sylvia’s Response7). Genesis 1 seems to me to be so obviously poetic that I don’t think it was even intended to be taken literally by its human author (though I wouldn’t be worried if he had had that intention; God could work with that). (Sylvia’s Response8).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 19:39:22


Footnote 16.1.2.1: (Ensuring People Believe. S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

Does it? Who are you referring to? There are lots of evangelical Christians in African countries!!! (Theo’s Response)

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 19:39:22


Footnote 16.1.2.2: (Ensuring People Believe. S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

Creation also shows incredible power, imagination, beauty, intelligence, rationality, logic, and a longing to love and be loved. I add the last, because this is a rational reason for creating human beings the way they are. (Theo’s Response)

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 19:39:22


Footnote 16.1.2.3: (Ensuring People Believe. S3) (CORRESPONDENT)

I don’t pretend to know a lot about cosmology, but why do you say you have to be ignorant of what the heavens are to think they proclaim the glory of the Lord? What does it matter if explosions have consumed whole galaxies? We have no evidence of life in any other part of the universe. They just show how infinitely powerful and vast God is, and how insignificantly small we are. (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 20:16:48


Footnote 16.1.2.6: (Ensuring People Believe. S5) (CORRESPONDENT)

Then what’s stopping you?!!!!! I know. The six issues that you raised! All of which I have convincing answers to!!! But I presume you must have gone into the answers to these issues before – or am I wrong here? (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 20:16:48


Footnote 16.1.2.7: (Ensuring People Believe. S6) (CORRESPONDENT)

Have you ever read any good books supporting the authority and inspiration of Scripture, on the inerrancy and infallibility, on the canon of the OT and the NT and the Apocrypha and so on. I have always presumed that you have. I know you have read books opposing this! “The Origin of the Bible” talks about all these issues, plus many others, and includes a variety of authors writing on their speciality subjects, including FF Bruce, Carl Henry, J I Packer and R K Harrison. I read it a long time ago, but remember thinking it was well worth reading. (Theo’s Response).

Do you read books by Christian philosophers? If you do, do you find them unconvincing? (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 20:16:48


Footnote 16.1.2.8: (Ensuring People Believe. S7) (CORRESPONDENT)

I agree that Genesis 1 is very poetic, and beautifully balanced. Have you ever read Wiseman’s view of Genesis? I gave details of this in my booklet “Theories of Creation”, but perhaps you haven’t read it!! I have always been rather struck with Wiseman’s view, which is basically “Creation revealed in six days”. It avoids all unnecessary problems with science and concentrates on the Bible at literature instead. Although he is probably wrong on some points (aren’t we all) I think it is well worth reading. It solved some of the problems I had with Genesis! (Theo’s Response).

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 20:16:48


Footnote 16.1.3: (Religious Supermarket. T1S2) (CORRESPONDENT)

I’ve covered this elsewhere already, but just a short recap. Everyone is resurrected, but not everyone gets eternal life. Some get everlasting death. Like you did, I believe in conditional immortality, and I don’t believe the Scriptures teach hell exists. Those that reject Christ just cease to exist. This seems rational, as why would they want to live forever in a world where everyone else loves God and wants to serve Him? I have also covered those that never heard the gospel etc elsewhere, so I won’t go into this again here.

(Theo’s Response1)

Note last updated: 15/09/2007 14:31:12


Footnote 16.1.3.1: (Religious Supermarket. T1S2T1)

The note is private.


Footnote 17: (Jonathan Harrison)

However, I subsequently looked up "God, Freedom and Immortality" by Jonathan Harrison, who is a recognized philosopher who has published in all the recognized philosophical journals from 1952 – 2004, and I have four of his papers. The only reference to this book I could find was a review in 2001, though I couldn’t find the text of this review. I presume the review (by Louis Pojman, a conservative Christian) was negative.

The book’s available second-hand on Amazon at £24.99, with a summary as follows:-

Synopsis
This text offers a comprehensive treatment of the Philosophy of Religion. Its overall conclusions are that, though there is no reason to suppose there is a God, doing something that is not quite believing in god, who, as some mystics think - neither exists nor does not exist, may be valuable for some people.

This sounds rather condescending, and may be a misunderstanding on the part of the person who provided the synopsis for Amazon. It would be interesting to know why the law of excluded middle fails for the existence of God.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46



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