Society

Paridigm Shift – Human Responsibility and Neuroscience

I came across an incredible article the other day, which perfectly sums up my thoughts on human responsibility. I remember this topic was something I wrestled with when I was a Christian long before I started to experience any serious doubts. It’s often conflated with the ‘free will vs. determinism’ debate, but the subject of human responsibility or blameworthiness is a slightly different issue.

Here’s the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/308520/?single_page=true

I hope you get a chance to read it, as it’s well worth your time. This topic has important implications for our justice system, as well as for society as a whole.

The crux of the issue is whether humans can truly be blamed for their actions. Or more specifically, whether a person’s actions can make them worthy of punishment. I take the stance that the writer of the article, neuroscientist David Eaglemen takes: vengeance and retribution should play no part in our justice system. Rather, we should be placing our emphasis on creating a healthy, and safe society. It is not necessarily an argument against incarceration or all forms of punishment. Rather it is a call for a progressive philosophy of justice which takes into account the scientific evidence which suggests that our decisions are inseparable from our biology and cognitive makeup.

I have been familiar with mental illness for as long as I can remember. My mom is paranoid schizophrenic, and one of the most amazing people I know. She did not choose to have her brain malfunction. The traditional view of human responsibility cannot explain things like her illness. Our minds are intimately connected to our physical brains. We cannot remove ourselves from the causal chain.

Eaglemen goes into many examples, from those who suffer from Tourette’s to people who have become violent as a result of brain tumors. It reminds me of what Neuronotes wrote a while back about how brain injuries can affect a person’s moral character and lead to violent, uncompassionate behavior. The point is clear: we cannot look at another person and accurately predict that we would act differently in the same situation since we don’t have that person’s genes or brain. It’s apples and oranges. Those of us who are mentally stable should be profoundly grateful that we weren’t dealt the same biological hand as a psychopath; who did not choose to have a messed up brain.

Does anyone deserve pain? I would say no; regardless of what that person has done or how evil a person is perceived to be. Does that mean we never inflict pain on other humans? No. Sometimes it is necessary. The point is, all pain inflicted should have a purpose. Punishment for the sake of retribution or vengeance is a lingering relic of past assumptions about libertarian free will that are demonstrably false, and should have no place in our justice system.


Image from Wikimedia Commons, modified by myself.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Bible

Hell? No!

Back in October of last year, I made waves among my Christian friends when I announced that I no longer believed in Hell. I was still a believer at that time, but stopped believing sometime between the end of that month and early November. I announced it with a nearly-exhaustive 13,000 word article, which dissected every aspect of the topic, and addressed every single verse used to support the doctrine. I shared the article on Facebook and Twitter; much to the dismay of some family members and friends. The article got the attention of one of my pastors, who even indirectly addressed me during a sermon (most people probably didn’t catch what we going on.) I didn’t have a problem with that (it was good natured;) it was just a weird time for me as I had never been controversial before. One of my two writers left the Christian website I was running immediately after learning of my change in beliefs. I was suddenly labeled as a heretic by some. I think I got more negative reaction from that change in opinion than I got when I announced I was leaving the faith.

Desite the negative reactions, there were a few people who actually changed their mind on the issue after reading the article; including the other writer for my website. Many people weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong, but no one actually tried to disprove my reasoning. At most people would quote verses to me; all of which I covered in-depth in the article. I think it ended up getting around 600 views (I haven’t checked in a while) and a lot of shares on social media. I was pretty happy about that. I felt it was my calling to get the word out that God was truly good and would simply burn people to death instead of burn them forever (yeah, I know, still sounds evil.)

You can read it here: Why I No Longer Believe The Bible Teaches Hell

I came to this view after following my gut and discovering what the Bible reallys says. I was watching a television show; a sketch comedy called Studio C (the best show on television btw,) and for some reason that night I was trying to reconcile the idea that all of these wonderfully funny and seemingly nice people were most likely on their way to eternal torment in Hell. So after the show I decided to look up different views on Hell and stumbled across some great articles on a view called annihilationism, which I described in my article. I researched the topic for over a month, devoting nearly all of my free time to the study of it. I researched all of the arguments against the view, as well as the Greek and Hebrew words used by the biblical writers. I studied the history of the doctrine, and the views of surrounding religions at the time the Bible was being written.

I’ll go ahead and list the fifteen core points, each of which I explore in detail in the article itself. If you are interested in my reasoning and the evidence, it’s all there. The numbers all correspond in the article so you can examine individual parts of the argument if you choose to. Keep in mind that I had written this from a Christian perspective, not a secular one.

15 Reasons I Stopped Believing In Hell

1. Scripture never once warned people of eternal torment, but always warned of destruction.

2. The English word translated “hell” does not occur in the original manuscripts.

3. The Old Testament contains no teachings on or allusions to eternal misery in the afterlife.

4. The NASB and ESV bibles (the two most popular translations among conservative Christians) both contain a mere 13 occurrences of the word hell; all in the New Testament, translating not one, but three different Greek words.

5. There is no evidence that the apostles ever preached or taught about hell or alluded to a place of eternal misery; and Jesus only spoke of it twice to unbelievers.

6. The doctrine of eternal torment is based on the idea that man possesses an immortal soul; which is never taught in the Bible.

7. Not only is hell built on man’s presumed immortality, but it is also built on the assumption that the soul is always conscious (important when discussing the period of time between death and the final judgment.)

8. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (used to support hell) cannot be taken literally without creating conflict with the rest of Scripture.

9. Metaphors such as “unquenchable fire” and “worms that never die” clearly refer to the shame of death and destruction as seen in Isaiah 66:15-24; which Jesus alluded to.

10. By the time the lake of fire is introduced in Revelation 20, it is far too late for it to have had any direct influence on the prior meanings of words.

11. The eternal fire is said to have been prepared for Satan and his angels.

12. The lake of fire is to be viewed figuratively.

13. The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can only be understood as figurative language, and therefore does not contradict annihilation.

14. When the Bible refers to things as being eternal, it is referring to effect, rather than process.

15. The lack of common knowledge about even basic aspects of the doctrine of hell lead me to believe that it is not a commonly scrutinized doctrine; nor one that is taught in detail to churchgoers.

Here are a few other articles I had written about this topic, including other aspects of the argument against ECT which you may find interesting as well:

Defining Death

Proportional Punishment

50 Questions For Those Who Believe In Eternal Torment


Image by omar omar via Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Life

A New Experience

The other day I got a chance to check out the local Unitarian Universalist church in my area. For those who are not familiar, Unitarian Universalist churches are pretty much open to people of all beliefs. It’s a very Humanist-esque philosophy of embracing religious and nonreligious alike, without discrimination or dogma. I’ve always been heavily involved in evangelical Christian churches, and since my deconversion, have missed the community and social value of church. I figured that if I could meet even one or two people with similar thoughts on life, I would be better off than the state of social semi-isolation (at least from anyone who thinks like me) I had been in prior.

I was unsure of what to expect, but wanted to keep an open mind. I couldn’t help but think it would be an odd experience. After all, these are the type of people Sunday School teachers warn you of. You know, social liberals who seek to unite people of varying cultural backgrounds for the purpose of promoting shared values, such as love and compassion, must necessarily be the Devil’s henchmen (or so the fundamentalist logic goes.) I had forgot to bring a prayer shawl to defend me against the demons, so I knew I was going in for battle a bit unprepared.

As I expected, it was a very small congregation; maybe fifteen people. More of a small group than a church. The building itself was small, yet inviting, with a traditional church appearance on the inside. There were pews and hymnals, and a room with tables set up for snacks and conversation afterward. Most of the members seemed to be over forty if I had to guess. There was a couple who were probably in their thirties with a young child. I was the second youngest there, next to the child from my estimate.

Before the service began, I was greeted by a pleasant lady with a wonderful British accent. She asked a few typical questions, including how I found out about the church. She mentioned to me that they often have people speak, but they mix it up some weeks. This week, they were planning on playing two TED talks, and discussing them afterward. Now, in all my years of going to church I’ve never seen a TED talk on a Sunday morning. I thought that was pretty cool. A church that likes science and research . . . I could get used to this!

The service began with a man on a piano playing traditional hymns and singing. The songs had no explicit spiritual meaning that would lend itself to a specific religion, although the hymnbooks contained some Christian songs. I enjoyed the group singing, and found it refreshing, although I do enjoy a good worship band. There was something nice about the simplicity. The person playing and singing had a pleasant demeanor and was moderately skilled.

Between songs a few rituals were observed, which I found interesting. I appreciate the church’s use of ritual, as it is one underestimated aspect of religion that can serve to bond people together. Community singing and recitation can be powerful psychological tools. They also have certain traditions, such as the lighting of a chalice, and a recitation that goes along with that, which affirms positive, universal values.

After a couple of songs, the lady with the British accent introduced the video, which was played via the young couple’s laptop hooked up to a projection screen. The first talk was about our misconceptions about stress and how they might be doing more harm than stress itself (!) It was very interesting, and entertaining. The lady who gave the talk was not only a engaging speaker, but very attractive as well (being cute never hurts.) Here it is, if you have time to watch it:

After the video, we discussed the topic as a group (one of the advantages of being a small church.) Even though it was my first time, I felt comfortable enough to share my thoughts here and there. The discussion was interesting, and I enjoyed the participatory nature of it, as opposed to the usual disconnect I am accustomed to at the much larger churches.

After the short discussion of the first video, we watched the second. Now what is so interesting about this one is that it is given by the twin sister of the lady who gave the first talk. But they didn’t tell us until halfway through, so it was a surprise for sure. The second sister is a video game developer, and she talked about the benefits of gaming. While some of the benefits may be overemphasized, I think the main point is certainly valid, that gaming can be a very positive aspect of our lives. I’d imagine moderation is the key. Here’s that video:

The first sister (the one who talked about stress), from what I was told, has suffered from constant migraines her entire life. But what is crazy is that the second sister suffered a concussion/brain injury a few years ago that gave her constant migraines as well for a period of time. What a rough turn of events!

During the video, I might mention as well, there were certain things the speaker asked us to do, such as shake hands with someone for six seconds, or count backwards from one hundred, etc. That made it fun and light hearted, in addition to the fact that the talk was about games.

After that talk, we again discussed the topic of the video. We shared thoughts on gaming, most not being gamers, but a few mentioning certain phone app games they got sucked into. I personally have been somewhat of a gamer in the past, but never a serious one. I haven’t played video games in probably six months, and should probably dust off my PS3 sometime.

After service, I had a nice, short discussion with the lady with the British accent and another lady. They were very pleasant to talk to. It was quite an odd experience talking openly about my atheism/Humanism in a church. But it felt very natural, as all of us had equal respect for belief and nonbelief. I think many of the members are Deists or Christian Universalists, but they told me that there are several professing atheists in the group, so nonbelief is not a problem. The lady with the British accent said that her husband is what she calls a “Christian Atheist”, that is, he enjoys Christian religion but doesn’t believe. I found that fascinating and cool.

We all went into the room with tables and snacks, and I sat down at a table with three other men. I had some great conversation with them, as we discussed our religious pasts, current beliefs and philosophies, etc. We shared a good deal in common, although we each had our own particular thoughts on whether there was some sort of God (basic Deism) and what that meant, or the nature of reality as a whole. It was nice to have that type of open, respectful dialogue that could never work at an Evangelical church. We hit several topics that never come up at church: atheism, a critical view of theodicy, and a positive appreciation for Eastern religious thought (something I always find fascinating.)

I really enjoyed my experience there, and plan on going again next week. I could see this being a good place for me. Who would’ve guessed? If there is a similar church in your area, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind, and check it out at least once. You never know until you try.


Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Philosophy

Finding Common Ground – My Changing Thoughts on Informal Dialectics

I’ve been doing a lot of philosophical soul searching lately, and am in the process of reevaluating my approach to writing and conversation. It has been noted that when someone leaves their religion, they often become bitter; at least for a season. For some this season can last for months, for others it can take years, and for some the negative outlook may never be replaced.

Since I left Christianity, sometime between mid-October and early November last year, I have dealt with my share of bitterness and angst. Most of this has not been directed against people, but can be seen in my negative, deconstructionist approach to writing. I don’t insult Christians (at least intentionally) or try to mock them, nor have I tried to take anyone away from the faith; but I have engaged in what could be construed as intellectual warfare against my former belief system. My purpose has never been to attack Christianity, but there is not much of a practical difference between running a blog devoted almost exclusively to criticizing a belief system and the former. I’m sure this deconstructionist attitude serves a psychological purpose (such as increasing confidence in one’s new worldview), but I am not convinced it is a healthy or beneficial outlook to have for sustained periods of time.

I feel like I am heading in the right direction. And I attribute this to several factors, including the positive influence of non-dogmatic Christian and non-Christian friends both online and in person. They have reminded me that most of us hold core values in common, even if we differ with regard to approach or beliefs. I would also credit a conscious decision of mine to shift from negative to positive studies. This includes increased study of subjects such as humanism, philosophy, psychology, etc. as opposed to my previous areas of study such as biblical criticism and religious philosophy. The old native american proverb comes to mind: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, the one I feed the most.”

Lately I’ve been reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. His thoughts on humility and non-dogmatism are insightful and inspiring to me, I will quote him at length here.

My list of virtues contained at first but twelve ; but a
Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was
generally thought proud ; that my pride showed itself fre-
quently in conversation ; that I was not content with being
in the right when discussing any point, but was overbear-
ing, and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by
mentioning several instances ; I determined to endeavour
to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the
rest ; and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive
meaning to the word.

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of
this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the
appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct
contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all p0sitive
assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to

the old laws of our Jiinto, the use of every word or expres-
sion in the language that imported a fixed opinion ; such as
certainly, undoubtedly, &c., and I adopted instead of them,
I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine, a thing to be so or so ;
or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted
something that I thought an error, I denied myself the
pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing
immediately some absurdity in his proposition ; and in
answering I began by observing, that, in certain cases or
circumstances, his opinion would be right, but in the
present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference,
&c. I soon found the advantage of this change in my
manners ; the conversations I engaged in went on more
pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my
opinions, procured them a readier reception and less con-
tradiction ; I had less mortification, when I was found to be
in the wrong ; and I more easily prevailed with others to
give lip their mistakes and join with me, when I happened
to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence
to natural inclination, became at length easy, and so
habitual to me, that perhaps for the last fifty years no one
has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to
this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it prin-
cipally owing that I had early so much weight with my
fellow-citizens, when I proposed new institutions or altera-
tions in the old ; and so much influence in public councils,
when I became a member ; for I was but a bad speaker,
never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of
words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally
carried my point.

(The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, p. 102-103)

His words definitely resonated with me, as I have long been in the habit of dogmatically asserting my opinions. I am also prone, as he was, to pride and arrogance. This post is my first attempt at reversing that trend since I left Christianity. I have in the past been better at avoiding dogmatic expressions, but have found that there has been a correlation between increased devotion to my studies and lack of patience with those who hold contrary opinions.

When a dispute arises, or someone expresses a contrary belief to our own, we generally look for objective justification of our opinions. What I mean is that, in order to bolster our arguments, we appeal to things which seem to carry universal epistemological weight. For instance, if I disagree with a Christian, I will usually appeal to the rules of logic in an attempt at making a reductio ad absurdum argument (reducing an opponent’s view to absurdity).

While this is a totally acceptable and honest approach to argumentation, it will not likely endear the other person to me. I think there is a time and place for such argumentation, but it may be true that we generally overestimate it’s beneficiality in informal discourse. Rather than trying to beat someone over the head with logic or science, maybe we should not be worried about the other person’s opinion at all. Maybe, a more pragmatic approach is worth considering.

Instead of trying to prove or disprove my or another’s opinion by appealing to objective justification, I find it tempting to approach conversation by primarily appealing to common values and opinions. What I mean is that finding commonality may have more pragmatic value than focusing on contrary opinions. If someone wishes to discuss a topic with me, in which we do not have an opinion in common, it may be better to know at the outset what the purpose or goal of discussing the topic is. If the goal is to learn more about the opposing perspective, or to solve some problem, then I think the topic is worth engaging respectfully. However, if the person initiating the conversation is not sincerely interested in the contrary opinion, and there is no problem to be solved, then it is probably not worth engaging in.

I don’t think both sides must be sincerely interested in the opposing viewpoint, but I do think there needs to be mutual respect and an absence of dogmatic statements if the conversation is to avoid dissolving into dispute. I think the burden is especially on the initiator to have proper motives. I imagine myself being on the receiving end of questions on a sensitive topic. In the ideal scenario I would state clearly that I do not wish to debate, but would be willing to share my perspective respectfully if the other person was sincerely interested in what I have to say. On the other hand, if I were the initiator, I would only bring up a sensitive topic if I were sincerely interested in the other person’s perspective and willing to refrain from directly contradicting the person or acting in an otherwise provocative manner. I would also not speak openly about a controversial topic unless I knew the audience held similar opinions or is interested in mine.

This applies to writing as well. There is more liberty when writing an article or blog post to a non-specific audience than there is in conversation. After all, I am not compelling anyone to read what I write, and those who do are most likely interested in the topic. There is a greater freedom in writing to address controversial subjects. But when this is done, there are still reasons to presume that tact is important.

Firstly, insulting or accusing another person in writing is arguably worse than doing so in conversation. This is because the person is not present to respond.

Secondly, mocking or insulting groups of people or their view is likely to agitate and cause unnecessary stress both for the writer and the respective group.

Thirdly, a dogmatic or condescending approach is likely to antagonize those who are prone to dispute. It is likely to make people feel as if their intelligence is being called into question or that the writer is arrogant or prideful.

The fourth vice of writing would be a negative preoccupation with the flaws in opposing viewpoints. This can lead those of contrary opinion to feel attacked and can lead to defensive reactions.

All of these things seem, upon reflection, to be hindrances to the development of an intellectually open society. I am most guilty of dogma, condescension and preoccupation with the flaws of opposing viewpoints. Knowing this, I hope to improve the tone of my writing and conversation by avoiding these vices. I hope that I can continue to learn from others and be less concerned with ‘winning’ arguments (a futile endeavor) and more concerned with valuing the thoughts and opinions of everyone and respectfully contributing to public discourse.


Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Philosophy

Is Christianity Self-Evident? – Refuting Presuppositional Apologetics

There are some facts that are so obvious no one will likely question them (e.g. ‘the sun produces heat’); but most need to be proven true before they are accepted as such. Even a prima facie truth (one that appears true at first sight) can and should be scrutinized and rejected if found false; although the burden of proof lies on those who are skeptical.

Most theories become facts only after gaining nearly universal acceptance, at least within the field of study they belong to. This requires proof. We expect evidence to be presented for claims when less than an overwhelming majority of people hold them. This does not mean beliefs with less support are false (or that the majority is always correct), but they need to be supported by a convincing argument before people will rely on them. If we weren’t so picky we would believe everything, no questions asked, and accept all theories on everything (ALIENS! BIGFOOT!)

It seems that many Christians, especially presuppositionalists, present Christian beliefs as self-evident truth. They assume that the burden of proof is on those who don’t believe; despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence of God. The hypothesis of God’s existence is unfalsifiable, as Christians are often quick to point out (e.g. the argument made in the popular movie God’s Not Dead). Because of this, the burden of proof should be on those who present it as factIf we did not require proof for unfalsifiable claims, we would be forced to accept all religions as true, since their beliefs in the supernatural are likewise unfalsifiable. Presuppositionalists should be consistent and acknowledge that their epistemology (theory of knowledge) necessarily leads to subjectivism.

Beyond the foundational question of God’s existence, Christianity (at least in the way it is most represented) is a complicated and comprehensive belief system; not just simple belief in a deity. If you believe the wrong thing about God (i.e. God doesn’t want people to stop sinning) you would likely not fit in at any church. So the question of self-evidence is not whether most people believe in a deity, but whether the entire belief system of biblical Christianity is prima facie truth.

Examining the Prevalence of Christianity

As mentioned before, the most important gauge of self-evident truth is whether an overwhelming majority of people accept it. If Christianity truly were self-evident, it would naturally follow that the majority of people in the world would be Christians. But this is not the case. In a 2012 study, Pew Research Center found that 31.5% of people in the world identify as Christians (keep in mind that Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. all fall under the umbrella of ‘Christianity’). Christians represent less than 5% of the populations of 38 countries, and they represent less than 0.5% of the populations of Morocco, Somalia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Yemen, Mauritania, Cambodia, Maldives, Turkey, Bhutan, Comoros, and Nepal. If the “truth” of Christianity is prima facie, one would have to assume that roughly 99.5% of people in the countries listed above are rejecting an obvious, self-evident truth.

The study goes on to say that “nearly nine-in-ten Christians (87%) are found in the world’s 157 Christian-majority countries.” Is God more self-evident in Christianized countries? Here’s a novel thought: religious people generally hold their beliefs because they are a part of their culture, not because the truth of their religion is self-evident. Christianity is not a part of Morocco’s culture; therefore it is not surprising that less than 0.1% of people in Morocco are Christians. It would seem that evangelism of these countries would not be needed if Christianity were self-evident. Wouldn’t it just be stating the obvious? If everyone has knowledge of God in their hearts, why do many act woefully ignorant of the fact and need to hear the gospel before they can be saved?

02_majority

In response many Christians will say that people reject God because they are either blinded, depraved, selfish, sinful, arrogant, or all of the above. The assumption is that non-Christians do not reject Christianity out of sincere ignorance, but rather make a conscious decision knowing full well that what they are rejecting is the truth. Of course, not all Christians believe this, and many sympathize with skeptics. But the presuppositional apologist cannot see things that way, as it would undermine his epistemology.

The Doctrine of Biblical Infallibility and Presuppositionalism

This belief in the self-evidence of the Christian God originated in the writings of Paul; specifically passages like Romans 1:18-23. The presuppositionalist takes the view that, regarding those who do not believe: “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . . So they are without excuse.” This is the basis of presuppositional apologetics. It is rooted in the belief in biblical infallibility (a doctrine I argued against here). If the Bible was not assumed by some to be infallible, this claim would not be taken seriously by anyone. The apostle Paul couldn’t objectively prove his unfalsifiable hypothesis of universal knowledge of God in the first place, and neither can the presuppositionalist.

But where exactly does this belief in biblical infallibility come from? We would never assume any writing to be beyond dispute unless there were some motive to do so. This belief is again unfalsifiable, and no one can prove that the Bible is absolutely true in all matters. The motive is obvious: without an infallible Bible, Christianity would have to fight battles over the reliability of texts that contain discrepancies, or are historically dubious. There would be no authority in Protestantism without the doctrine of biblical infallibility. The Catholic church has their belief in church infallibility, and rejects a strict doctrine of biblical infallibility/inerrancy. That allows them to have authority. Religion has always been, and always will be about establishing unquestionable authority. If you get enough people to believe in the authority of a religious text or institution, you can set clear dividing lines between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’ based solely on obedience and conformity to the established authority.

Are All Beliefs Equally Subjective?

The presuppositionalist tries to make the case that everyone has presuppositions that inform their worldview, and the ones that are held by Christians are no less subjective or unjustified than the ones held by atheists. While it is certainly true that everyone operates on presuppositions, this does not mean that all presuppositions are equally justified.

If I presuppose for example, that science is more reliable than the Bible, am I committing a subjective fallacy? I think not. Science has rigorous methodologies and theories undergo intense scrutiny. The results of scientific development are plain to see. If we abandoned it, civilization would quickly start to regress. I doubt many people would be willing to ignore all scientific findings, choosing instead to rely on the Bible as their only information about the world. If we reversed this, and civilization abandoned the Bible, would we regress to the same degree as if we abandoned science? I think not. I would suggest that humanity would not be significantly worse off if the Bible was no longer read.

I would encourage presuppositionalists who think their beliefs could never possibly be proved wrong by science to put their money where their mouth is and not appeal to science for anything. I personally, along with most atheists have chosen not to live according to the Bible, and so I don’t appeal to the Bible in my daily life. Presuppositionalists will still appeal to science in other areas of their lives, yet treat it as untrustworthy when it conflicts with the Bible.

Even more damning to this view is the fact that the Bible has been proven to be incorrect in many instances. Whether it be the mistaken authorship of the Book of Enoch, or many other well-documented internal and historical discrepancies and contradictions. The Bible cannot be inerrant or infallible given the sheer amount of evidence to the contrary, so the question becomes whether we can know if the Bible is reliable in the important details. And the truth is that we can’t know. The Bible may have some truth or it may not, but Christians have no objective methodologies for developing their doctrines. If they did, mainstream denominations would be creating updated Bibles which remove the unreliable information. Of course they don’t because that would undermine certain church doctrines, and open theology up to the possibility of new interpretations and doctrines. The average pastor will never admit that there is unreliable information in the Bible because it would undermine the authority of the church.

In my opinion, an atheistic worldview that is based on scientific truths is a justified presupposition. While a Christian worldview based on the Bible is an unjustified presupposition which ignores evidence. People are entitled to hold that view, but to claim that atheistic presuppositions about scientific methodologies and Christian presuppositions about the Bible are equally subjective is incredibly tendentious.

The Holy Spirit Factor

Presuppositional apologetics was born out of Calvinist theology (the belief that God chooses who will be saved and blinds everyone else). What makes it so difficult to reason with a Calvinist is that they believe they have access to a hypothetical entity (the Holy Spirit) which enables them to believe, while everyone else is just blinded by sin and depravity. This exempts Christians from the burden of proving their claims; after all, no one can be convinced unless God opens their eyes.

The belief in this entity (the Holy Spirit) is based on teachings found in the Bible. The belief in the Bible can only come through the work of the Holy Spirit, say Calvinists. The reasoning is entirely circular. Calvinists cannot present any evidence for the existence of the Holy Spirit, so it is clear that they learned about it because it is taught in the Bible.

Belief in the Bible > belief in the Holy Spirit > belief in the Bible

Conclusion

Despite the claims of presuppositional apologists, Christian beliefs are not self-evident, and this means that they should not be accepted as fact unless they are proven true. I do not think they have been, so it seems to me that Christianity is more appropriately understood as a belief, or a faith, than indisputable truth that is beyond scrutiny.


Image by dhester via Morguefile.com. Used under Morguefile License.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Evil, Pain, Suffering, Theodicy

Everything Happens For A Reason

‘Everything happens for a reason’ they say. God is love and never gives us more than we can handle. God has His hand in everything. No matter what we are going through, He is there. He can do miracles. Nothing is impossible with God.

Here’s a story that you may or may not have heard before. It’s the story of Kelly Anne Bates via wikipedia:

On 17 April 1996 Smith presented at a police station and said that he had accidentally killed his girlfriend during an argument in the bath, claiming that she had inhaled bathwater and died despite his attempts to resuscitate her. Police attended Smith’s address and found Bates’ naked body in a bedroom. Bates’ blood was found in every room of the house, and a post-mortem examination revealed over 150 separate injuries on her body. During the last month of her life she had been kept bound in the house, sometimes tied by her hair to radiators or chairs, and at other times with a ligature around her neck.[1][2] William Lawler, the Home Office pathologist who examined her body, said: “In my career, I have examined almost 600 victims of homicide but I have never come across injuries so extensive.”[3] The injuries included:[1][2][3]

  • scalding to her buttocks and left leg;
  • burns on her thigh caused by the application of a hot iron;
  • a fractured arm;
  • multiple stab wounds caused by knives, forks and scissors;
  • stab wounds inside her mouth;
  • crush injuries to both hands;
  • mutilation of her ears, nose, eyebrows, mouth, lips and genitalia;
  • wounds caused by a spade and pruning shears;
  • both eyes gouged out;
  • later stab wounds to the empty eye sockets;
  • partial scalping.

The pathologist determined that her eyes had been removed “not less than five days and not more than three weeks before her death”.[3] She had been starved, losing around 20 kg in weight, and had not received water for several days before her death. Peter Openshaw, the prosecutor in Smith’s trial, said: “It was as if he deliberately disfigured her, causing her the utmost pain, distress and degradation … The injuries were not the result of one sudden eruption of violence, they must have been caused over a long period [and] were so extensive and so terrible that the defendant must have deliberately and systematically tortured the girl.”[1] The cause of death was drowning, immediately prior to which she had been beaten about the head with a shower head.[3] Openshaw said: “Her death must have been a merciful end to her torment”.[7]

The problem of suffering is one of the most common arguments against God. But it’s still one of the most devastating. Here is why:

God is omnipotent according to Christianity. This means he has all power. No force can stop him. What he wants to do, he can do without any hesitation. Whether Satan is at work or not, God ultimately is in charge and in control.

God is also the creator of all things according to Christianity. He designed our bodies. This means every nerve that sends pain signals to our brains was created by him. Psychopathic people were born that way because God allowed them to be, or created them that way. Torture techniques are only effective because God allows the pain.

I want you to think about Bates’ suffering. Her pain and agony. Picture yourself as a father or mother, watching this happen. Picture yourself having the power to stop it, and not doing anything.

If everything happens for a reason, why would I ever want to find out the reason for this, or live with the Being whose purpose and plan it was? Who’s really in charge here?

A popular argument to explain suffering and evil goes something like this: ‘true love cannot exist without free will, and free will cannot exist without evil, therefore God is good because He created free will’. The premise of the argument is built on the hypothesis that evil is necessary for free will to exist, and that God is limited by this fact. But if this were true, God would not be all-powerful, since the assumption is that He could not have created free will without evil being a necessary side effect. But an omnipotent God most certainly could have created free will without evil, unless we are willing to deem Him subservient to a hypothetical external law.

The only way to rationalize the existence of suffering is to conclude that God wanted it to exist. Anything less would make Him an impotent divine consequentialist. This is why I don’t believe I could ever again call God ‘good’, since he must have wanted rape, murder and torture to exist for the sake of rape, murder, and torture. An omnipotent God cannot claim that it is the ‘lesser evil’ when He sets the rules to begin with. He could’ve created a better world right here, without suffering, and still allowed free will and true love, because nothing is impossible for him. To say he couldn’t would be an insult to his omnipotence.

A common response is that God did create a place like that called Heaven, but that does not eliminate the fact that God still wanted this type of suffering to exist, even temporarily. Add Hell on top of that, and you’ve got a God with a serious sadistic streak. If Kelly Anne Bates did not accept Christ, then she is in Hell, where she will burn forever according to Christianity. What good father would knowingly let their child be blinded, scalded, tortured, stabbed and drowned, then throw them in fire where they would burn forever?

Not one I would ever want to have a personal relationship with.


Image by freeparking via Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Inerrancy

How 1 Enoch Destroyed My View of Biblical Infallibility

The issue that ultimately tipped me over the edge and caused me to change my beliefs a few months ago was the relationship between a collection of pseudepigraphical Jewish intertestamental writings called the Book of Enoch and the Bible. Some of the biblical writers (Jude and 1-2 Peter in particular) based their theology off of traditions paralleled in it. If anyone doubts the connection, read this article:  http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/the-book-of-enoch-as-the-background-to-1-peter-2-peter-and-jude/

Example A is 1 Peter 3:18-20, which cannot be adequately explained without the story chronicled in the Book of Watchers (earliest section of 1 Enoch). Trust me, I tried very hard. Yet I knew enough about the story of the Watchers to know what was clearly being alluded to.

The writer of 1 Peter says that Jesus was:

“…put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (1 Pet. 3:18-20 NRSV)

The Greek word here for “spirits” (pneuma) is never used anywhere else in the Bible to refer to humans in all 383 occurrences. So this obviously could not be referring to Jesus preaching to men in Hell as is often thought, or even to wicked men before the flood (as some suggest this passage means that Jesus went back in time to preach to them). It must refer to either angels or demons based on the biblical usage of the word.

In short, the Book of Enoch contains the story of angels who left the heavenly realm, came down and had sex with women on earth, which led to the birth of the nephilim (described as giants as tall as trees), the offspring of humans and angels. The wickedness of the angels and nephilim led to the flood, in which the nephilim were wiped out and the disobedient angels were imprisoned. The nephilim were believed to have survived as demons upon death due to being part-angel.

So either an angel or nephilim-turned-demon could be described as a pneuma and both were disobedient before the flood when Noah was building an ark. And Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 both mention angels being bound and imprisoned as they are in the Book of Enoch. So we have “spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah” in the Book of Enoch. Seems the only logical conclusion is that the writer of 1 Peter based his theology off of Enochic traditions. This troubled me deeply as a Christian. How could I trust anything written in the books if they are pulling from sources such as these?

Then Jude 14-15 directly quotes 1 Enoch 1:9:

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.””

Now we have a dilemma. From this quotation we could conclude that either:

a) This was a real prophecy of Enoch recorded in the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Enoch contains prophecy. This is a problem because the Book of Enoch is incredibly strange (not to mention containing a differing view of how sin entered the world). The evangelical community would just as soon accept the Book of Mormon as they would the Book of Enoch. It would also mean that for 2000 years or so the church has neglected an inspired book of Scripture.

b) This was not a real prophecy of Enoch and the writer of Jude was in error. This would mean that the Bible is fallible.

I chose b. And there is a significant reason why I chose it. We know that the Book of Watchers (the section of 1 Enoch that was quoted) was written sometime around 200 BCE, far removed from the antediluvian patriarch Enoch. So it is impossible for the Book of Enoch to have been written by Enoch himself. Therefore, when the writer of Jude claimed that it was a prophecy of Enoch, he was wrong.

Some have tried to argue that Jude was not quoting The Book of Enoch, but rather a prophecy of his that just happened to be included in the book. I find this explanation highly improbable. Could an oral or written quote from Enoch really have survived by transmission through Noah’s family and on through their descendants for 1700 years or so until 200 BCE, get written down in Enoch, then written down a couple centuries later in Jude with Jude having no intention of referencing the Book of Enoch? And why would God make such a theory look so improbable if that is the case? Another reason to doubt this is because the entire book of Jude is filled with allusions to the Book of Enoch, which means that he probably was quoting directly from it. Also, Jude alludes to the Assumption of Moses as well, which shows that he had no problem referencing extra-biblical sources, and thus there is no reason to assume he wasn’t quoting 1 Enoch here.


Image by Roy via Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.