Atheists and Thinkers

“The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.”

— Albert Einstein [1]

Quotes from two atheists demonstrate an unattractive and arrogant elitism for which there is no credible reason.  Guy P. Harrison said, “…atheism is not a conscious act of turning away from all gods. It is simply the final destination for those who think.” Ernest Hemingway concurred, “All thinking men are atheists.” Many similar quotes from so-called “new atheists,” echo these sentiments.  Such statements are deluded, egocentric and, with all due respect, stupid.  I define “stupid” as willful ignorance.  I suppose we have all been stupid from time to time, but such statements qualify since they are made in spite of facts to the contrary.

Perhaps a teeny history lesson is needed here.  Religious thinkers have existed in every age.  Historically, they laid the foundations for today’s science and philosophy and founded nations.  Can “thinkers” be “believers?”  Below, I provide a list of such people who, in the opinion of most, are “thinkers.”  For the sake of brevity, I have confined my list to the 20th and 21st Centuries.  These are men and women who, though some may not believe in a “personal God” have acknowledged a “higher power.”  To this power they attribute some role in the design and creation of the universe and the origin of life.

Winston Churchill

Helen Keller

Albert Einstein

R. Buckminster Fuller

Leo Tolstoy

Wernher Von Braun

Francis Collins

C. S. Lewis

Ravi Zacharias

John Lennox

Lord Kelvin

Max Planck

Simone Weil

Arthur Compton

Freeman Dyson

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.

Karl Barth

Hans Kung

Edith Stein

G. K. Chesterton

Gertrude Himmelfarb

William Lane Craig

Francis Schaeffer

Nelson Mandela

Dallas Willard

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rudolf Bultmann

Antony Flew

Reinhold Niebuhr

This is certainly not an exhaustive list.  But the question remains: were these men and women thinkers or not? Of course, a similar list could be compiled for atheist thinkers.  But, then again, I would not be so blind and bold to say otherwise.  It is estimated that 40% of working scientists are believers.  Yes, they are a minority, but a large one.  But here’s the pertinent query: can they do science without thinking? I think not.

Will this tiny article put a stop to such foolishness?  Not if those who make such inane statements continue to ignore the facts.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Those who disparage theists for believing in God without evidence ignore ample, overwhelming evidence.  Off the cuff, I can only think of five reasons for such statements:

  1. They can’t handle the inconvenient truth.
  2. They have invented their own exclusive standards and definitions for “thinkers.”
  3. They arbitrarily decide that theists can get lucky sometimes but can’t really think.
  4. They believe they have a corner on intelligence.
  5. They need to get out more.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

You can read about more theist thinkers here and here.

[1] Goldman, Robert N., Einstein’s God—Albert Einstein’s Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God (Joyce Aronson Inc.; Northvale, New Jersy; 1997).


Filed under Apologetics, Atheism/Theism, Bigotry, Culture Wars, Faith, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Intelligence, Mind, Persuasion, Philosophy, Religion, Ridicule, Science, Theism, Thinking

21 responses to “Atheists and Thinkers

  1. Arrogance on both sides is extremely offensive. At times I am caught trying to apologize for or back peddle something a believer has rashly said. Basically my policy is; if you want to be heard you must first listen. Showing a little respect goes a long way.

  2. eggplantinspace

    Well I dont know about disparaging remarks such as getting out more, but the rest presents n interesting and convincing argument.

    However, I think there is a subtle difference here.

    When a theist “believes”, they cannot acknowledge the alternative could be true.

    When an atheist “believes”, they accept they could be wrong, but believe it to be highly unlikely and ultimately unimportant.

    Now before you disagree, consider the british bus campaign, sponsored by Dick the Doc himself, the jesus of atheism, Richard Dawkins.

    The bus reads “There’s PROBABLY no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”

    This subtle doubt is proof of the scientific approach of accepting the world doesnt have enough information. It is not a weakening of position however, and atheists still adamantly believe that churches, religion and doctrine is based on nothing.

    From my point of view, I think you have mixed up the definition of God.
    If you tell me that God means a begining, a creator, then I’m listening.
    If you tell me that God means omnipresent, all-caring, loving, devoted father, who listens to our prayers, I say the evidence tells us otherwise

  3. dwhitsett

    Dear Eggplantinspace (love the name!)
    Thanks for your comment. I really didn’t mean to be disparaging. I think folks on both sides of the question can get a little isolated from each other. The “get out more” comment can certainly apply both ways.
    “God” meaning a “beginning” a “creator” is what quite a few folks on the list believe. It’s a good beginning and a basis for further discussion and investigation.
    The bus campaign you mention is interesting to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Dr. Dawkins use the “probably” word elsewhere. I’m not sure what comfort that gives. Of course I would say, “There probably is a God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life!”
    So, what kind of a God am I talking about? Ultimately, the second kind you mentioned. But there’s a lot more to Him than that.

  4. eggplantinspace

    Well, to be honest DW, I think if believers said “God probably does exist, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”, I think there would be a lot less problems in the world.

    The problem is they say “God does exist, and you must follow these rules to get close to him”. Now even this would be okay, except the rules change according to who you listen to.

    And every once in a while you get the “My god is better than your God” thing, and thats when the real trouble starts.

    I’m with Mark here. At times the arguments get so silly and arrogant, and yes things do get said in it’s heat. We should listen more.

    I am always surprised at how many religious books an atheist has to read to properly form an argument, compared to how few books a fundamentalist will read.

    If you say only the Bible, or the Koran has truth, and the devil is contained in everything else, then you simply cannot read anything. I think therein lies a major chunk of the issue.

    In the end, the real reason Dick the Doc does his thing so vehemently, is because of these rather odd zealots at the other end of the spectrum.

  5. dwhitsett

    Dear EIS,
    Thanks once again for your thoughtful response. I’m going to admit something to you (don’t tell anyone) but I get a bit angry sometimes with the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris and get sarcastic in my response. In reality, that probably doesn’t persuade anyone. My friend Bob Odle made an excellent comment about this on my post, “Dawkins at it Again.” My reaction is to do a better job of being like Christ in my responses. You are so right, “We should listen more.”
    I think if we are going to enter this debate on any level we need to read all we can on both sides of the issue. Otherwise, our ignorance soon becomes obvious. In my case, time is the issue…too much to do, too little time. But I do try to stay informed on both sides of the controversy.
    If one is truly searching for the possibility of God, it is recommended that one read about other concepts of God or gods and see what makes more sense. If there is a God, then He is out there to be found just like Paul told the Athenians, “…He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children’” (Acts 17:26-28). He was sneered at then (vs. 32) and we must expect the same now.
    It seems to me that the search for God is different from other scientific pursuits in that we are speaking of an invisible spirit. We deduct His existence from His tracks, so to speak. But, according to His self-description, we are never going to lay eyes on Him. This kicks the pursuit into the additional realm of philosophy.
    Not all “fundies” are odd zealots but “them what is” sure make it difficult on the rest of us. In fact, we are the heir of all kinds of craziness down through the ages and it is difficult for us to distance ourselves from them.

  6. eggplantinspace

    I have to share this with you, because I only found out about it today. (and by the way it’s nice to going to hell).

    Its a stone tablet, telling part of the story of Gilgamesh. This is widely regarded as one of the first story books ever.

    This tablet dating back to 600-700bc, before the bible tells the story of the flood. The details are remarkably similar to the Bible’s story of the flood, except that the Bible story is clearly a story about morality.

    This is important, because it shows us that the old testament at least was probably a collection of stories and myths handed down through the years

    The Bible, and the Roman acceptance of Christianity, I believe was a remarkable turning point from polytheism to monotheism.

    Its main goal was to show us that we should respect power, but only if it is just and fair. That our leaders should be moral people, and that we should strive to be moral also.

    This at the time was a really important lesson, and a worthy one. It is certainly the overwhelming influence on the stories and letters chosen by Paul and Constantine.

    Perhaps it is true that some of these lessons are still necessary today. I believe that as time has gone on, we require a new modern standard of morality, and that the Bible is too inflexible to adapt. I am not a believer however, and see things from a purely practical point of view.

    For me it is easy to drop the Bible or the Koran (which also has a flood tale by the way) for something more appropriate.

    When I say more appropriate, I mean that is more modern and real to today’s world. That deals with the rolls of religion, the rights of the individual and its interaction with the rights of the community they live in. That treats women equally, that doesn’t promote slavery, that at least considers the natural (or unnatural) problems and rights of homosexuals. That talks about demacracy.That considers the problems of over-population. That deals with the irony of greed and business. And that deals with science’s roll in our lives.

    This last one is particularly hard, because as you touched upon, I definitely believe that God cannot be explained scientifically. I have always believed that the two were too different to join. Most scientists will admit they dont know what happened before the big bang, and that God could fit there.

  7. eggplantinspace

    Im sorry, I read that back and it didnt say what I meant.

    I meant to say It is very nice to have a conversation like this without being told I’m going to hell.

    I missed a couple words out. Sorry

  8. dwhitsett

    Dear EIS,
    I’m not sure why people have a problem with the Bible recording the same incidents as other ancient accounts. Of course it is a collection of stories but why does that take away from its accuracy and authority?
    The Bible reveals God and His actions in History. We come to know something about the one who created us and His desires for us to live holy lives. His requirements of us are very simple: “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
    These lessons are necessary today because humans, in their basic natures, have not changed. Really, nothing is new, so why do we require a new standard? Who is to decide what is more appropriate?
    I would suggest a more careful reading of Scripture. It certainly deals with the role of religion, the rights of the individual and the equal, but separate, roles of the genders. It does not promote slavery, it simply deals with it, insisting on humane treatment and respect. In respect to homosexuality, it condemns the practice of it as wrong simply because it is unnatural. It condemns greed and insists on ethical business practices. Since the role of science is to discover and catalogue our natural world, there is no conflict until it drifts into “scientism.” The role of the scientist is discovery, not speculation. When they speculate they move from the realm of science into philosophy. The difficulty is, when it comes to moral codes, who will decide what is more appropriate? How will they decide?
    Now, scientists are considering the possibility of more than one “big bang.” That, plus the origin of matter, energy and life, will likely remain mysteries. How will we account for these plus the obvious design of it all? The atheist says, “It is all the result of a series of accidents.” The theist says it is the result of a creator who exists outside of the constraints of time and space.

  9. eggplantinspace

    Hmmm, you say so much that is interesting.

    The issue with the Bible is difficult. For you, who believes in God’s influence on the reading, the re-writing and the editing of the Bible, this retelling or reimagining of the stories is perfectly fine and never digresses it from being a Godly tome.

    For me, I believe the Bible is a collection of folklore compiled for convenience by some smart people who believed in a way we could all live together to face ever-growing problems caused by increasing numbers and limiting resources.
    The moral messages inside are useful and important and help a world in need of understanding their significantly changing circumstances. It also more specifically gave Rome a new hope of stability at a time when its pagan religion was falling apart.

    I can see where your argument comes from, and I am sure you can see mine clearly enough. This is the problem though. I look and say my version is far more likely. You look and say that your version holds hope and love and compassion. Maybe you’re an optimist and I’m the pecimist?

    I do believe that we are living in a different world now. I believe we can better specify our worlds moral obligations, and do so with a bill of rights, a constitution, a legal system etc etc.

    I believe that the Bible doesn’t adequately answer the inherrant problems caused by todays over-population, or other societal problems such as abortion, poverty, drug abuse, gang culture, the internet, corporate irresponsibility, paedophillia, terrorism, racism, sexism, social prejudice and religious hatred.

    We may interpret answers from the Bible, but they aren’t specific enough for me. I believe that just as we did in the past, collecting a group of modern stories (such as Roe vs Wade for example) and formulating a set of values based on history, on the present and on where we think we are going is a reasonable response to the problems we face today.

    I can see why people hang on to the Bible lessons. They are considerably better than nothing, but I think at times they are stretched to fit problems that were simply unimaginable.

    Unfortunately therin lies another problem, because you can justifiably answer that if God has given us a book of rules, then our use of it to cover all circumstances is also from Gods will.

    My answer to that would be that as the Bible (I dont mean to single out the Bible here) stretches to fit all new situations it cannot deal with them directly, so its meaning gets splintered and churches fracture until you dont know what is faith and what is fantasy.

    So we have TV evangelists saying things about Haitians that Jesus would never have approved of. We have vigilante groups of Christians killing doctors like the Klu Klux Klan did in the 50’s, and we have tragic cults burning themselves to death.

    These aren’t your fault. I don’t mean to imply they are. I have read a little of your stuff now and know how hard you try to remain reasoned and how you stay away from the zealots.

    We should ask ourselves, what would make us change our minds? For my part, I dont know exactly. I would look at a miracle and figure it a trick to be solved. People talk about enlightenment, or God speaking to them. I am not sure if that would work on me. I would probably think I’m insane.

    Perhaps we should really be asking the far more pertinent question. Does it really matter what we believe so long as we are respectful to each other?

  10. dwhitsett

    The Bible is a collection of manuscripts by many different authors writing over a period of 1600 years. These are the well-known facts. They were preserved by the people to whom they were written and to whom they applied. There was no conspiracy…except, perhaps, on the part of God. If you wish, you can order a copy of How We Got the Bible, by Neil Lightfoot as an excellent introduction to the subject.
    You are right, the world is different in so many ways. I would still say that humans with their basic needs and aspirations are fundamentally the same. We have not changed in essence. That is why the moral teachings of Scripture remain relevant. We can write documents and make laws but it is the heart that must be changed. God’s word has the power to change hearts; laws and constitutions are unable to do so.
    The Bible deals with all the matters that you mentioned but not necessarily specifically. Each thing you mentioned has a principle that covers it. Humans are crafty and creative and can come up with new ways to hurt each other. But for each of these problems, a God-given principle is the solution. These are not stretching the Bible. Simply being respectful of our fellow-humans, as you pointed out, takes care of most of the problems you mentioned.
    I would say that the Bible does deal with all situations directly. For example, I don’t have to find a passage that says, “You shall not cheat your shareholders,” because many principles cover this. Most of the rest of the items you mention have a direct application from Scripture.
    So much of what the TV evangelists say comes out of their own “thinking” not out of the Bible. You know that is true since you know “…that Jesus would never have approve of…” such nonsense. The practices vigilantes and nut-cases and brainwashed cultists fall into the same category.
    You are exactly right about miracles…it would take a whopper to change the minds of people who don’t want to believe. Even in the time of Christ they didn’t work. You ask, “Does it matter what we believe as long as we respect each other?” Well, if we are simply talking about this life, maybe not. But if we are talking about living in such a way that pleases God, makes the world a better place, provides for healthy relationships, gives meaning and purpose to this life and leads us to eternal life, then it is essential we live as our Creator has specified.

  11. eggplantinspace

    I am enjoying this discussion.

    I didn’t mean to suggest a conspiracy, merely enthasising that the stories within the old testament at least are far from acurate compared to their original writings. They may have been given a moral significance that was not there on the original telling.

    I’m not suggesting either that that is a bad thing, merely in my opinion a human thing.

    I have no doubt that Paul believed in what he was doing. I am not so convinced that Constantine was, but then that doesn’t matter much either.

    As for my afterlife. If there is a benevolent Christian God, I have lived a decent life, I am prepared to take my chances. If there isn’t, I am fine, since I have always been happy, and I believe I’ve been good. I can pass away in good conscience. These are my choices and I am happy with them.

    I want to try to give you an example of where the Bible fails to be specific, so you understand why I think the idea of God in this day and age does not give us a complete moral picture.

    In the case of homosexuality, there are two possibilities. One, that a person is naturally homosexual. This as you know is said by most homosexuals, and should be considered. If someone is genuinely naturally homosexual, then clearly God has allowed them to be. That being the case they should be treated with the same respect as everyone else.

    Possibility two is that homosexuality is an unnatural act, this is what you have said the Bible believes. If it is wholly unnatural then we must ask what has caused people to turn to this life. Perhaps it is societal, their upbringing maybe, abused as a child perhaps. In which case we should have the utmost sympathy and show them even more compassion surely.
    Perhaps it is chemical, people talk about anti-biotics in the water supply, perhaps something has “turned” them gay. Once again we should ask ourselves how we should react. If someone loses their leg we dont punish them for it or call it immoral.
    Perhaps it is psychological, they need to rebel in some way, show their individuality, maybe they are unbalanced. Once again we should have much sympathy for their situation. A madman has little control over his actions.

    As we discuss the reasons for homosexuality, we see that nothing is black and white, and that issues become very difficult and fractured. The Bible simply doesn’t tell us enough of how we should react or behave in the light of such a varied array of possibilities.

    The law does, however. It is very clear, and changes to suit the world it governs. It is for this reason why I suggest a constitution as a possible guide to modern moral values more suitable to today than the Bible.

    It has a proper procedure, if a value is questioned, allowing it to be changed. It is reflective of the world we live in, and also identifies a people, its moral values and standards.

    I think this is why with the US Constitution in particular, religious leaders have gone to great lengths to connect God with it.

    I am sure I read in the Bible however a passage that suggested Laws and Governments should be followed only until the second coming, and only if it doesnt interfere with the laws of God. Which seems sort of incongruous to the constitution.

    Likewise I have a gut feeling God would not want his name or reference on money. Jesus told people to give their money back to its owners, as it wouldn’t be needed when following him, i think.

    I would object to a constitution not being able to change a heart though. I think we have seen african americans go through a major sea-change in the last 100 years, and I believe there has been a change of heart from the white community. Not all whites admittedly, but a significant number.

    I hope that helps clarify my position a little.

  12. dwhitsett

    You say the Bible we have today is not accurate? I’m not sure how you could be sure of this without access to the original writings. If this is your opinion, that is one thing, but if you state it as fact then some proof would be needed. I suggest you obtain a copy of “How We Got The Bible” by Neil Lightfoot and then see what you think.
    You say you are prepared to take your chances? Have you considered the eternal consequences of making the wrong choice? If you are happy with these choices, then why delve further into the subject? A good life is not a sinless one…we have all sinned. “A decent life,” is not enough. There is only one way to be with God for eternity and that is to be sinless. The only way for a human to be sinless is for righteousness to be imputed through Christ.
    The Bible does not fail to be specific. In what way is it incomplete? Your examples fail to demonstrate this.
    Homosexuals should be loved and respected like any other human…we are all flawed. It is not the cause or the propensity that is immoral but the practice of homosexuality that is sinful. To compare the practice of homosexuality to losing a leg misses the point entirely. There is nothing wrong with losing a leg in any definition. The Bible tells us exactly how we should react or behave in all possibilities. There are overarching principles that apply in each situation.
    Again, who will make these decisions about what to keep and what to throw away? Humanists have not been able to come to an agreement, so who do you suggest?
    Considering the moral standards of the Bible, what do you want to change and why? Would it to be to accommodate the growing immorality of Western culture?
    The change in racial relations has been as a direct result of principles laid down by men like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose philosophy was strongly Bible-based. A very strong argument could be made that only Christ can bring about the changes that have been made and those still needed. The constitution reflected hearts which had already been changed.

  13. eggplantinspace

    OK, lots to talk about there, I’ll try to take them step by step.

    Proof that the Bible is not accurate. Erm. Ok.

    The point I was trying to make of the flood story is that the same story was told thousands of years before the bible was written. I appreciate that you may believe that the story of God telling Noah is the “true” telling, but how can you know that. The tablets found in Iraq date back to 700bc. What evidence is there that the Old testament was written before that.

    Ok, I’m reading that back, and yes, I will look into the book you mention. To be honest, I bring this part up merely to say why I think what I think based on what I have learnt, I appreciate you have given me a reference, but I would appreciate a reasonable brief explanation as to what proof you have that the Bible is the written word of God. Your personal reasoning if you will.

    The problem I have with this idea of homosexuals being able to stop themselves practicing homosexuality, is that it is a totally unnatural act to them. Not the homosexuality, you understand (in my opinion), but the not behaving that way.

    If someone told you that you were perfectly natural with your heterosexuality, but you were never allowed to have sex, you would ask why? And then if they told you that God says its a sin, then you would say Why would God give me a sex drive then? You could be justified in thinking this God chap is a bit mean.

    You are right.
    Humanists haven’t decided who should make the decisions of what stays and what goes.

    Having said that, constitutions around the world, combined with parliamentary process and law making have done it for us. Years and years of representative people amongst us discussing issues of the day have given us a moral framework, and the legal system fine tunes it to individuals.

    Nobody can justifiably claim they dont know what they should and should not be doing according to the laws that govern a country. Is that not the very essence of a moral standard, complete with a system to punish people that fail. It’s not perfect but as a set of guidelines, the Bible isn’t either.

    There are ambiguous aspects within its moral code such as the homosexuality question above, and you may say its unambiguous, but even within the christian faith there are a variety of different interpretations of the true word. Jesus himself talked ambiguously suggesting that people need to work at trying to understand him. So really, to suggest its all clear is a little unfair.

    The big difference with the Bible, is that God holds the right to judge until after ones life. Which we have never seen, so have no personal experience of it.

    I have been too-ing and fro-ing with writing about the Growing Immorality of Wesern Culture. It’s a nice phrase, and one I’ve often used myself. As I think about it though I can see why other people I have argued with (different issues obviously) have struggled defending it too. It is odd to be on the other foot now, but then thats part of why we do this, to practice our arguments to establish conviction, and to learn new ideas.

    I will just say that our fathers considered us increasingly immoral, as did their fathers, and yet as we go back in time we see terrible acts of immorality much much worse that today. Empire building and destroying people and culture, raping and pillaging, theft, debauchery, incest, investing in other peoples poverty, slavery, child labour, lots of things that today we would consider terribly immoral.

    Maybe there is an ever-changing face of morality, rather than things getting increasingly immoral. To be honest, I’m not totally happy with that argument either, but I think there is something there about how standards are percieved. After all at one time It was morally acceptable to stone your wife, it isnt now. Morality changes over time. Maybe the morality of the world should change with its people.

    Like I say, I’m not totally comfortable with this argument, but I find it very interesting, and am enjoying being on the other side of the coin for a change.

    I think that is the real essence of why I enter into these types of conversations. They are fundamentally interesting questions.

    In the end, your religion affects me, just as my lack of it affects you. It seems only reasonable to try to understand you and your beliefs so we can get along in the future. Its not so much that I question myself, although if I don’t question myself sometimes then I feel I’m doing it wrong, but that better understanding you and your beliefs means a much better understanding of my world.

    I consider that a worthy reason to talk.

    I very much liked your closing argument about the constitution only reflected hearts that have already been changed. The question of course is what changes hearts.

    As an atheist I would say empathy. To learn what someone else goes through, to sit in their shoes, to suffer how they suffer. And then to stand up and shout.

    You will tell me I’m sure that we get our empathy from God. I cannot refute that.

    I just want to switch positions for a second. Using that empathy I just mentioned. Imagine for a second you were an atheist talking to me, as a believer.

    When you look at my archaic rules, when you hear about spirit worlds and reincarnation, and virgin births, all of which would make you think I am totally mad for believing in it. How can you possibly give me the time of day? How can you possibly take the time to listen to these ideas, no matter how noble or moral they appear to be?

    Now as we switch back, and you look at a muslim or a sikh or a hindu or a jew or a taoist or a bahai or a rastafarian or a kannushi, how do you give them the time to listen to their beliefs in the way I try to give you.

    I dont mean to question your belief or suggest that you are being obtuse. The fact that we are still talking means we most both be getting something out of this, and we both appear to be giving a little too. You have so far been anything but stubborn and obtuse, and for that I thank you. Most christians I engage wih on here wont listen to anything but their own voices. It’s their blogs so fair enough, but I don’t hang around them much.

    I just want to show you how hard it is for an atheist to believe in anything other than a vague general concept of a creator, and some wont even accept that.

    I also want to show you why some atheists appear so angry, frustrated and over-zealous. They simply cant get over the idea that whilst believers are generally nice people, they are either crazy or brainwashed. Some would argue dangerous. Certainly when you look at the terrible acts done under the name of islam recently, it would be difficult to refute.

    I like to listen, I like to talk things through, and I have only met a few “crazies”, and feel confident you aren’t one of them, so I become interested. Hence why I’m here.

  14. dwhitsett

    Dear Mr. Fallen,
    Are you saying that Old Testament is flawed or inaccurate because it relates some of the same stories, principles, precepts and concepts of other ancient books? Why is that a reasonable conclusion? And, by the way, “thousands of years” may be a wee exaggeration.
    I believe the Bible to be the written word of God for the following reasons:
    Its cohesion. The theme, from the start to finish, is that of redemption. This theme is consistent though written over a long period of time by many authors from many backgrounds. It is the story of creation, man’s rejection of his Creator and the Creator’s provision of a means of being reconciled to Him.
    It’s accuracy. It is impossible to verify many stories and other things in the Bible. In those areas that can be verified, however, the Bible proves historically, geographically, and scientifically accurate.
    It’s impartiality. In contrast with other ancient accounts, the Bible exposes its characters for what they are, flawed human beings. Abraham lies, Noah gets drunk, Moses loses his temper and disobeys God, David commits adultery, Elijah wimps out…on and on we could go.
    It’s authentic uniqueness. In contrast with other ancient holy books, the Bible is believable. It stands apart from the others in tone, content, reality, etc. A side-by-side comparison makes this conclusion inescapable.
    It’s indestructibility. It has withstood all attempts to eradicate it. Thousands of ancient manuscripts make it the best attested-to book of the ancient world. You will read about this in the book I recommended.
    There are a host of other reasons, but these will do for a start.
    Regarding homosexuality, according to Scripture and, if you ask me (I know you didn’t) common sense, it us unnatural to take what God intended for one use and utilize it for another. There is an obvious, natural sexual intercourse between men and women ultimately utilizing the correct anatomy. The rest is unnatural…but then, that’s just me and Scripture.
    What are the ambiguous aspects within the biblical moral code? It is certainly not ambiguous about homosexuality…indeed, it is very clear. Regarding different interpretations: I hear this all the time but no one ever gives me an example. Let me ask you to give me an example of a passage regarding morality that has multiple interpretations, then we can talk about it. Also, give me an example of Jesus talking ambiguously. It’s hard to discuss these things when I really don’t know what you are referring to.
    Morality has not changed but the types of punishments have. Could you give me the passage you are referring to about stoning one’s wife? The purpose for stoning, as I recall, was for immorality – which was not tolerated by Yahweh as Israel was a theocracy. So, the sin is not ambiguous but the punishment has changed.
    I believe there are many reasons for hearts being changed and empathy is a strong reason. God calls for justice over and over and justice requires, among other things, empathy. But there are also other reasons for a change of heart. To finally understand that the God who created us also loves us and wants our lives to be as good and fulfilling as possible and also wants us to have eternal life…to the extent that he would allow His son to die for us is a big heart-changer. Such a conviction brings about a solid change of heart and a desire to return that love in the way we live. I can’t think of a stronger motivation. Jesus did exactly as you described. He suffered and experienced life as we live it so that we can know that He knows. If you have a Bible you might read Hebrews 2:15-18 and 4:15 – this will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
    As a Christian, I wouldn’t talk about reincarnation anyway. But it is true that theists accept the concept of a spiritual realm. If you came to believe in the possibility of God, then we could talk about the other things. In my case, I have considered most of their books and claims – I owe them enough respect to examine what they say. This is not optional for Christians. If you want to read some more, I recommend 1 Peter 3:15 (in a modern translation, please) and Colossians 4:5-6.
    Are the “rules” archaic? In what sense? How so? Just because they are ancient does not make them archaic. To the contrary they are outstandingly relevant since the basic needs and nature of humans has not changed.
    In regard to the anger of the atheists, as you look at that list in the post you responded to, do you think these people are crazy or brainwashed? The charge is unjustified. That’s why it is puzzling. Furthermore, to place all religious people in one box is an amazing generalization. I am not seeking to defend religion per se. The differences between them are stark! I will, however, seek to defend faith in one God and His Son. I cannot speak for the adherents of Islam, but I know most of them are not radical jihadists, but peaceful, reasonable people. To condemn any group for the actions of a few who, of their own volition, purport to act in the name of that group is unjust and misguided. Do they really reflect the true beliefs of that particular religion? That is the question we should ask before making a blanket condemnation that may be wholly unwarranted.
    I want you to know that I respect your decision to not believe in a God. I can, in fact, understand why one would choose this path. In my own case, I was agnostic for a short period when I was in university. I was just getting one side of the question from the majority of my professors. But then I found out there was an alternative view. It seemed to me that it took more of a “leap of faith” to not believe than to believe. I have certainly had my share of doubts and questions, even to this day. Nevertheless, I find belief in God to make far more sense than the alternative.
    Thank you for being open to reason and further consideration. It is refreshing.
    Dwight Whitsett

  15. eggplantinspace

    You sounded a little reactive there, I dont mean to annoy you, and If you are then I apologise.

    I tried to order that book, but got no luck in my local bookstore, so I will get round to ordering it online.

    I just want to touch on the point about thousands of years. Perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration, but the flood tablet was found in a collection of tablets in King Ashurbanipal’s tomb 631bc. They relate to the story of Gilgamesh who ruled during 2700bc, but they are more likely written during Gudea’s time 2144-2124bc.

    The truth is that some of the chapters of the Gilgamesh tale were discovered connected to Gudea’s time, but a much more complete recount (including the flood tablet) is found in Ashurbani’s tomb. Since earlier and later chapters were found in 2000bc, we can assume that the flood story is also that old. Thats what I meant by thousands. I perhaps should have just said 2000.

    Its interesting that you noted the Bible has a theme. If I were editing the Bible, deciding which scriptures to include and which to leave out, I would be very tempted to create a theme. I would also be tempted to ensure the characters are believable, well rounded, have flaws. I would edit and alter stories to suit my theme and I would ensure that geographic and historical references were as accurate as I could make it. I’m not saying I know this is what Constantine and his council did, I’m saying that I would have done it.

    I’m not saying the Bible is flawed because of it, but merely that its message may have been altered and adjusted. In fact I would argue that this is a reasonable thing to do over such a large period of time, and with its importance during Constantine’s time.

    Lets be honest, interpretation of the bible has been a problem ever since it was finalised. Take “Original Sin” for example. Not mentioned in the original texts of the Bible, but instead an idea pushed forward by St Augustine of Hippo (354-430ad) and then later refined by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

    I mean ambiguous too as in (I hate quoting scripture) Matthew 13:10-14. In it Jesus is asked why he speaks in parables. He effectively says some people will get it and some people wont. He is saying he talks in a way that some people will fail to understand. That to me seems the very nature of ambiguity. (I would also say that the fact we both have a different view as to what he means shows its ambiguity)

    In the end though I want to give you a link to a guy who expresses this much better than I can

    Once again I would say that he has read and studied the Bible a lot more than I have, and even he comes to a different conclusion, suggesting that the Bible must be inherantly ambiguous.

    I dont want to hammer against the Bible to be honest as I have always felt it had a very important purpose, but I do think that your claim that its believable is a bit of a stretch. As an atheist I simply dont see how a story featuring virgin births and spirits and miracles can be considered believable. I have never seen any of these things today, and have not heard many confirmed reports of them in recent times.

    As for what God intended and turning it to another use. That sort of sticks in my throat a little. You could argue that turning atoms into nuclear energy is against what god intended, or the creation of plastics, or even genetically modified foods. You can argue that farming is not what God intended, or IVF or medicine. There are literally thousands of things you can argue are not what God intended, but to do so suggests we knew Gods final intent.

    In the end I go back to this idea of what is “natural”. In my opinion, if there is a christian style God, then he has created all of us, and knows exactly what we’re up to. He has given some people these “needs” for a reason, and we shouldn’t judge him or them for it. We wont know why God has done this, and it can’t be our place to assume we do.

    Look at me arguing interpretation! Lol… you have led me down an interesting path.

    I felt you were defending the bible when I mentioned stoning. I was not, I wanted to give you something around the time that was accepted as a right, that is different now. The purpose of which was to back up my still not totally convincing argument about moral standards changing over time, and having a moral compass or rulebook that changes with the people.

    As for Archaic principles. I was trying to show you how I as an atheist see all these religious manuscripts with the same eye. They are old and out of date. They don’t reflect todays society well enough, and we can do better.

    I hate that I am singling out the Bible, but in Corinthians 14:34-35, it talks about women’s place in Churches, and it is an undeniably sexist comment that would not be accepted in a modern set of moral standards

    My comments about religion as a whole (and I accept they are all very different, and also that you are not defending them all) is that to a non-believer we see all these books as a variety of fact-based fiction. That for us to say one book is justified but another is not, simply doesnt make much sense when they relate to a benevolent God or Gods of which we consider unprovable, ultimately unknowable.

    That is not to say they have no value, or that they dont speak to us. There are many books that speak to us, warn us of futures, describe our past. Some of the most important books in history, that teach us about ourselves are works of fiction.

    We group believers up as to an atheist they are all unseperable. They believe in something unproven. Its as if they believe in the Moon God. There is nothing wrong with it per say, its just not something we can believe in.

    I mention this only to try to show you how we see faiths.

    Let me try to explain this another way. How most christians (I am careful not to assume you see them this way) see people from other faiths, in particular the more cultish religions, pagans, moonies etc, grouping them together as devil worshippers, or people who have strayed from the true path or crazies, is how atheists see all christians, muslims and jews alike.

    Its because of this that any act by any religious or pseudo religious organisation is grouped in as being a faith act. Its not particularly fair, but it is the only thing a true atheist can do.

    If you don’t believe there is a God and all those that do believe are somehow imbalanced or have been unreasonably persuaded, then you have no choice but to dismiss all faiths with the same brush, as all faiths are equally as wrong at their heart.

    It’s not surprising Dick the Doc puts them all together. He doesnt really have a choice, You simply cant say that there is no God, but this religion over here is less daft as that one over there.

    I have looked into many religions, and if I’m honest, the writing of Confucius are my personal favourites, very peaceful and respectful. I have read many books and have always been fascinated by belief, and yet I havent been persuaded that a deity exists in a benevolent or omni-present form.

    Finally I wanted to get a quote for Dick the Doc’s book, but I cant really be bothered to look through his book again to find it. Instead I’m leaving you a link to his wikipedia page.

    “In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist…”

    In actual fact what the Doc goes on to say is that in science a “law” is never fully proven. It always has a tenet that if broken down will disprove the law completely. So if I throw an apple into the air and it doesnt come down then I can disprove gravity, sort of thing.

    His argument about God has always been, if God comes down and says hi, and proves himself as this benevolent all-powerful deity, it will break the tenet and disprove his theory.

    I’m not saying God should do that. If God really does exist in the way you suggest he does, then I’m sure he wouldn’t bother dealing with Dick the Doc. Theres plenty of time for that later.

    I’m just saying that he is and has always been accepting that he can be proved wrong, in this lifetime, on this planet. It is something, he points out, that believers in religion cannot claim themselves.

    Dick the Doc may well be an arrogant charlatan, that likes to wind people up, but he is also smart enough to stick to this same story and never stray away from his base. There is room for doubt, just as some of those people you mentioned in your blog would agree.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t call the Doc a theist.

    As far as I am concerned, I am willing to accept that God as a begining is plausible. I cannot say in what way God affected us originally, and I wouldnt accept he/she affects us personally. I cant even agree that we were a conscious decision. There was a begining, and it could have been God that did it. Just like the Doc though, that doesnt make me a believer.

    Thats why the Doc has issue with agnostics. An agnostic says there isnt enough information to form an opinion. Dick says an atheist is someone who thinks there isnt enough information to be sure, but all the information there is says there is no God.

    I am glad that we have believers though. I am happy that we have discussions on moral values and religion. I think as the internet opens up the world we see more and more opinions coming out, and thats a good thing. It would concern me if everyone was an atheist. I would worry we had entered some “1984” scenario, where all thought was monitored.

  16. dwhitsett

    Dear Mr. Fallen,
    Well, I guess I am reacting to what you put forth, but not in an annoyed way. No apology needed. Just friendly debate from my side and I hope I have not annoyed you either.

    Not to be too picky about the “thousands of years” comment but if they were written around 2144 and Genesis was written around 1446 to 1404 BCE, then that amounts to less than a thousand years. The main point, however, is that this discussion is highly speculative. In fact, a great deal of what we have discussed is speculative and the speculation will just continue ad infinitum.

    Regarding the editing of the Bible, the evidence of the earliest manuscripts we can find (over five thousand of them – complete and fragmentary) is that, apart from some scribal alterations, the text has not been edited. Here’s a Wikipedia link:
    If someone edited the Bible to make it “believable,” why not the same process for all ancient writings? Were the Jews just craftier than the others? Again, this seems like a conspiracy theory.

    Your mention of “original sin” is a case in point. It is not in the Bible, period. Therefore it is irrelevant to our discussion. The problem is, again, not the Scripture, but speculation about it and apart from it.

    Is Jesus being ambiguous in Matthew 13:10-14? Read further. He says that people do not understand because, as Isaiah prophesied, “…the heart of this people has become dull.” Everything is ambiguous to the dull-hearted. I read your reference to the work of Robert Price. He seems to believe in God and the Bible but that the former had little to do with the latter. After two readings, I can’t see his point (maybe I’m the one with the dull brain). One of his conclusions is, to put it delicately, interesting, “…that the whole Bible cannot be taken as equally authoritative.” Who gets to decide? What is authoritative and what is not and who is the arbiter? Mr. Price? And, what is the “important purpose” of it? Who would believe the miracles if they occurred today? You already mentioned in another post that such things would immediately be considered trickery.

    As for what God intended as natural or unnatural, let’s be consistent here. Nothing specifically has been said in the Bible about nuclear energy, plastics, genetically altered food and IVF. Medicine is mentioned as is farming. God has said rather clearly, however, what is natural and unnatural sexually. Now, you and I may not like what He said, but there it is regardless. Heterosexuality is natural…homosexuality is not. It really doesn’t matter what I like…I don’t get to decide. What “needs” has God created? Aren’t human needs common to us all? What is a “need” and what is a desire? Is the compulsion to set things on fire a need or a desire? Is the compulsion to abuse children a need or desire? Is the compulsion to have sex with an animal a need or desire? Are these “needs” given to some people for a reason? What would that reason be?

    If people change we might have an argument for moral standards changing. But I need you to tell me what human changes point to the need for a change in morals. My position is that people are the same as they have always been. Show me how they are not and we will have a basis for further discussion. Specifically how are the moral standards of Scripture not reflecting today’s society well enough? You say, “We can do better.” Really? Tell me how.

    I’m with you regarding passages in the Bible regarding women’s roles. It seems sexist to me also. Nevertheless, it is easy to prove that Christianity has exalted women even though it defines roles for men and women in ways I would not have chosen. In the end, it has nothing to do with morality anyway. I never said that I like everything in Scripture, but if it is the word of God, it is for the best.

    Some believers tend to group all atheists together with terrible men and women who have done great harm in the world. This is an ignorant position. To do likewise with theists is also ignorant. To pigeonhole people may be convenient but it is ultimately self-defeating. You have already seen that I am different from many other theists. So, you have begun to address me and my beliefs specifically. It may be difficult and time-consuming, but that’s the way it must be done if progress is to be made. Theists such as me believe God exists for some very logical reasons even though it is impossible to prove absolutely that someone invisible and outside of time exists. If the search for God is limited to the empirical, no one will believe. If it can be conceded that there may be a spiritual realm, the deadlock between theist and non-theist can be broken.

    As long as “Dick the Doc” crams every person of faith in the same slot he will continue to make the same ignorant mistakes. You simply cannot make your point by blowing up everyone in the proximity of your bomb. That’s a terrorist tactic worthy of the same contempt as all such tactics. A terrorist says, “I’ve got to show these infidels how wrong they are, so I’ll blow up thirty or forty of my own people to get one of them. It doesn’t work. In fact, it will backfire. Thinking people will see through it.

    Confucianism, as you know, has no deity so that would be a logical choice for you. But if you are looking for a philosophy that exalts women you will have to look further. Peaceful and respectful perhaps, but not toward women.

    If Dawkins really believes that he could be proven wrong, his writings do not reflect it. His Wikipedia page says, “In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.” False belief? Deluded? Strong contradictory evidence? No room for doubt here. What is beyond doubt is that, short of coming down and kicking his butt (and I’m not sure that would be enough), no sign would be sufficient for him or any one else who is held captive by the five senses.

    I like the way William Lane Craig puts it (you can see more here: “Most philosophers would agree that if God’s existence is possible, then he must exist. So the whole question is: Is God’s existence possible? The atheist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God exists. He has to say that the concept of God is incoherent, like the concept of a married bachelor or a round square. But the problem is that the concept of God just doesn’t appear to be incoherent in that way. The idea of a being which is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good in every possible world seems perfectly coherent. And so long as God’s existence is even possible, it follows that God must exist.”
    And so the dispute continues. Craig goes on to say, “…the very presence of the debate in academia is itself a sign of how healthy and vibrant a theistic worldview is today.”

    Peter, please forgive me if my answers begin to come more slowly. My work is quite demanding and my personal life is full of obligations (aged parents, debilitated wife, etc). I enjoy our discussions so I will answer but it might be days instead of hours that I get back to you. Regards, Dwight

  17. eggplantinspace

    Ok, point taken about the thousands of years, and I acceed the contentious nature of the details. I would like to agree there is dispute and so neither of us can claim a truth.

    Editing of the bible. Oddly, I suspect yes is the answer. I think Constantine was a very clever man, and I think he found a way to encompass the pagan religions into christianity over his tenure in charge. I am not arguing his belief. He obviously believed in the Bible, but he also understood a need to consolidate.

    I think the Bible and more specifically the moralistic messages in the Bible have been fine tuned, hence my interest in Gilgameths flood, which made it perfectly appropriate to its time, and still holds some resonance today.

    The speculation or interpretation of original sin is precisely what I mean when I refer it as ambiguous. People have talked about “original sin” for 1700 years now. If the idea had no merit, it would have been ignored and dismissed. It hasnt been, but that doesn’t mean its true. Its not in the Bible text, but clearly theologians believed there was a subtext for it.

    For these learned christians there was confusion as to the exact meanings of the Bible. They interpreted it in different ways. That is the very definition of ambiguity.

    The difference between a need and a desire. Thats awkward. You do realise philosophers have been talking about this one for a very long time. Most define a need as something you must have to live. Such as food, air, water, shelter, warmth.

    Sex would constitute a desire, however fulfilling a sexual imperative, a maternal clock some call it, is one of the many problems with this simple definition.

    The trouble I have is that homosexuals claim this sexual desire just as much as the heterosexual equivilents. Both, according to their experiences are equally as valid. You say God tells us one is natural, and the other unnatural. One is acceptable and the other not. You tell me that the Bible, the word of God, has decided this.

    You claim that to stop a homosexual doing something that is natural to them is moral. You say I may not like it. You are right, I don’t, and it is one of the reasons why I don’t accept the Bible is the most appropriate moral compass.

    I can see where we are heading here, so i’ll jump there and see if we can agree.

    You believe that God sets our moral compass, and we mustn’t falter from this. That everything that has happened to people since the Bible is irrelevant.

    I argue that the Bible’s interpretation has changed over the years, that the Bible is ambiguous, and that it’s source and compilation may have been manipulated to suit certain needs at the time.

    I believe that a set of moral standards should reflect the needs (desires?) of the people, and should change and adjust as people change and adjust.

    You suggest this is not a moral compass, but a consistant yielding to a gradually immoral public.

    I’d like to say we can agree somewhere in the middle, but I don’t see how you can move from your position. It is the big question, the need for religion in society, and the respect it deserves. As an atheist I accept this, but I must also accept that other religions have moral compasses too. And choosing what is right and wrong is very difficult.

    It is why I struggle to find a solution, but instead turn back to my original tenet, which is that the Bible is no longer the best moral compass. My alternative might not be perfect, but it at least covers all people, from all denominations, and all points of view. It accepts guidelines based on experiences and adjusts according to changing times.

    I know you have maintained the idea that people haven’t changed in the last 2000 years. I think they have significantly changed. I think we believe in substantially different things now, such as equality for women. I think our world has changed significantly from agriculture to the internet to our current population problem. I think genetically we have mixed much more. I think we have achieved so much and learnt so much about our world. I think people have choice on how to live their lives in a way we never had back then. All of these things contribute to a different person, a different world.

    I know you will counter-argue that people still have the same needs, the same desires, but even some of these have changed. Family sizes have significantly dropped since those times. This is in part to do with contraception, but it is also to do with the fact that mortality rates are so much lower now, the need to procreate is not as strong.

    Needs and desires. Keep going back to that don’t I. It’s not on purpose I promise.

    Dawkins uses harsh words it’s true. I think he makes his thoughts rudely clear. He cannot be unclear with so many people baying for his blood, but he also has to leave room for the doubt of the unknown future. I always get the feeling that he enjoys bombasting zealots, but underneath it, he has enough rhetoric and detail to get the truth of his point across.

    By the way, I kind of like being someone “captured by the five senses”. I think its a poetic way to put it. I’m not sure its exactly what I am, the essence that philosophers argue about so often has merit.

    I think to answer the much trickier question of the soul, even as a vessel to describe our passion rather than some ethereal equivilent, we have yet to learn enough for a proper explanation. For me, spiritualism’s strongest case lies in the concept of the soul.

    It isn’t a case for Christianity, however. Just as the argument for “God as the creator” isn’t an argument for Christianity.

    About the ontological argument for Gods existence by the process of thought.

    Decartes said in effect what I think about something is true of that thing. Thats complicated, but Decartes was all about perception. He is saying if he percieves something, then it is true. Even if the thing is an abstract idea, such a God. And since Decartes clearly percieved God, then God must exist.

    The only problem with using Decartes, is that he comes from the point of view that nothing can be proven to exist, and therefore the only thing you have to go on is your own perception, or rather his own perception. In his world God exists. In his world though, we exist only because he percieves us to exist.

    Decartes has always been a fascination to me, because his thinking brings everything back to basics. He takes the world from one point of view only, and argues successfully albeit futilely that nothing can ever be known. Modern creationists use this to say that if nothing can be known, then why not assume God did everything rather than nature/time/space etc.

    I love reading about Decartes, he helped a lot with our understanding of perception, and made us double check every theory before and since. You will still hear his “I think therefore I am”, coming out in Universities around the world, closely followed by “Yes, but you cant know that, you cant know I’m not a figment of your imagination.”

    I don’t know the world is a figment of my imagination, true. So what, it doesn’t help me understand anything about God, it just makes me think I’m reading too much. I don’t believe you are a figment of my imagination. A leap of faith perhaps, but one I am happy to take. I believe you are a real person with different ideas, experiences and imaginings to me. It is precisely why I reject Decartes argument about God existing because I imagine him to exist.

    Anyhow, Kant wasn’t a fan either. In fact a lot of modern philosophers aren’t that amused by it. The other problem with the ontological argument is that it presumes the thinking of an item, say, becomes a property of the item. In effect, it allows for the abstract to be connected as a tangible part of the item.

    If I have a broom, and i change the head, and then I change the handle, so there is nothing left of the original item, is it the same broom.

    Many argue yes, because it is still mine. That my “ownership” of it is still a property. Others argue, that ownership, or any abstract idea cant be a property.

    Thinking about a God, therefore God must exist only works if the “thinking” of it is a property. Kant didnt agree. i don’t think I do either. It’s a great swing from religion though.

    I would argue that the reason we have so much more debate about theology is partly to do with the rise of creationism in the US and religious terrorism in the east, partly to do with Darwins birthday and other milestones, but mostly to do with the opening up of the subject by the internet, and specifically the anonymity it allows.

    I too consider it healthy though.

    Finally Robert Price. I think his essay is interesting, but I mostly put it in to first ask you a few questions I didnt know how to ask, and also to show you about the differences in interpretation you get from reading the same book. Once again going back to this idea of Bible ambiguity.

    I’ve tried to move the conversation along a little, as I think its good to keep things moving. Don’t worry about replying, just whenever is good.

  18. dwhitsett

    Dear Mr. Fallen,
    Let’s both save ourselves some time here. Let me say this with all due respect and, hopefully, not in a negative way: I really don’t have time to respond to unsupported speculation. To establish your premises of an edited, fine-tuned Bible, you would need to produce some evidence in some form. To suspect is not to establish. There is no proof that Constantine set the canon of scripture, consolidated or edited it in any way; Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, not withstanding.
    Concerning original sin, we have both agreed that it is not in the Bible. Just because something has been discussed and debated for a long time does not mean that it has merit. Again, it is the result of unsupported speculation, not the ambiguity of Scripture. Speculations are, by their very nature, ambiguous else they would cease to be speculative. But we are not talking about extra-scriptural speculations but Scripture itself. To be clear, there are many things in Scripture open to speculation. But your point is that the Bible is morally ambiguous and you have yet to demonstrate this.
    Scripture is powerfully relevant because the needs and desires of humanity have not changed. All the things you mention, equality for women, genetic mixing, the internet, world population, the explosion of knowledge have not changed basic human nature. To change a person’s environment or context does not change a person’s basic humanity. You say it has but how so? In what way? You must demonstrate this.
    Other than the sexual standards of Scripture, what other moral teaching do you have a problem with?
    On a side note, when I argue for equality for women, I do so from Scripture. The main supporters of Christ were women. Most of the fellow-workers Paul praises are women. Galatians 3:28 screams equality.
    Your statement regarding the practice of homosexuality is interesting. “You say I may not like it. You are right, I don’t, and it is one of the reasons why I don’t accept the Bible is the most appropriate moral compass.” So, do you accept and abide by other man-made laws you don’t like?
    You also write, “I believe that a set of moral standards should reflect the needs (desires?) of the people, and should change and adjust as people change and adjust.” This is dangerous! Who gets to decide what adjustments should be made and by what authority? Mother Teresa? Gandhi? Hitler? The Dalai Lama? Parliament? Congress? Does the majority decide? The “intelligentsia?” The current dictator? No human or group of humans has the authority, credibility or capability of making these decisions. It is a choice between God and anarchy.
    You write, “I’d like to say we can agree somewhere in the middle, but I don’t see how you can move from your position.” But where is this middle? Who gets to decide where it is? How can I move from my position if I don’t know where to go? The moral standards of scripture do exactly what you say by providing the “…best moral compass.”
    Your suggestion that some moral code might be invented by someone or a group that would cover all points of view is impossible. Based upon whose experiences shall we make these adjustments? It seems to me your alternative is not only imperfect, it is impossible.
    Sorry to be so long in answering.

  19. eggplantinspace

    I have not taken offense, and I dont mind if you take a while to respond. Its your blog and wordpress will let me know if you reply.

    I’m willing to move on past the editing of the Bible, but as a final reposte I would like to say that I cannot know for sure the Bible was edited, in the same way you cannot know for sure it wasn’t. This is merely opinion.

    I think that the fact that a large chunk of the New Testament is written by one person suggests there was favouritism in the decision as to what went in and what didn’t go in. With that said I’ll move on.

    I was suggesting that since “original sin” is not in the Bible, and yet people still talk about it with biblical context suggests that the Bible has either been misread or misunderstood. The Bible by definition has ambiguity.

    The fact that some factions of the christian faith believe in one thing, female priests say for example wheras others believe something else, suggests that there is still more confusion both in its meaning and its morality.

    I’m saying there are many subtly differing interpretations of the Bible. The fact that there are so many factions of the christian faith all of which read and follow the Bible mean there is some confusion as to what was originally meant.

    You may argue that morally they are all the same, but we can both name factions that claimed to be christian and follow the Bible, that have very different ideas to the mainstream belief structure, and have performed some totally unethical acts.

    I know you dont want me to tar everyone with the same brish, but you cant have it both ways. The Bible’s message is either clear, or it isn’t.

    Either lots of people read the Bible differently, hence the Bible has inherent ambiguity, or people read the Bible the same way in which case the acts of these zealots must be blamed on the Bible directly.

    And before you argue that a crazy man can read the Bible, but it doesnt stop him being crazy and doing crazy things. This is precisely the problem we are currently arguing about movies and video games and music having an influence on people. If the Bible is the word of God it is bound to have a much stronger influence than a Rambo film or a Silent Hill video game.

    I am willing to accept it isn’t the Bible that makes them do these things and say these things, but then I am an atheist and so don’t believe the Bible has any theistic power.

    As for people changing or not changing. I can see your argument, even though I dont agree. I hope you can see mine even though you also dont agree with me. It is a very definite difference in our thinking.

    For me I see changes in our humanity everywhere from over popultaion to the internet to organ donorship to abortion. I think we have had to develop our humanity to take in the new technologies and different practices and have had to change our thinking radically, creating new moral guidelines that were never envisaged 2000 years ago. As I have said, however, I can see why the basic concepts of love, support, family and shelter have always stayed with us, so I am very happy to agree to disagree on that,

    As for who decides the moralistic rules we abide by. Oddly yes, I believe in people. Maybe not one single person, but in the history of man we have always successfully found a way to govern ourselves.

    We have established an advanced set of laws which have developed and changed over time. Whenever there has been a law based upon an immoral concept the governing body has been thrown out either by the people, or through a set of wars with their neighbours. Its not perfect, as I have mentioned before, but it has succeeded.

    Right across the world we have all established certain things to be immoral, such as murder, and robbery, rape and child abuse. We learnt them over time and over experience. We were developing them before the Bible and continued to develop them after the Bible. Our Moralistic values continue to change as they always have and always will.

    The Bible is in my opinion a snapshot of a particular time that clearly acted as a catalyst in this development, but we have moved on and to me clinging to old values the Bible held such as equality is no longer appropriate.

    As a final note. I do indeed follow all laws whether I like them or not, but I am inclined to campaign against those I dont agree with. I have the argument fully accepting I can be wrong, but also passionately arguing my view point. I believe I’m smart enough to know when I’m beaten.

    As an example, I had enough hope and naivety to believe the invasion of Iraq was justified on the basis of humanitarian grounds. I believed and defended the action, hoping that we had learnt our lesson from doing nothing in Rwanda. It turned out, nothing was learned and that we never began a campaign to defend the defenseless around the world.

    I lost the argument. I got it wrong. I accept I get things wrong.

  20. dwhitsett

    Dear Mr. Fallen
    Since our last exchange, my father has died, so I have been tied up with details. Still have a lot of details to sort out in the settling of his affairs. Thank you for your patience.

    If you mean by ambiguity that the Bible doesn’t answer every possible question, I would agree. But when it comes to morality, the Bible is clear and definite, not ambiguous.
    Re: Original Sin. Of course, it is always the case with speculations such as “original sin.” It is not what is clear that causes controversy but the deductions and speculations about the Bible.

    The division among Christians is shameful and counterproductive. I could not agree more. On the surface it must seem to be the fault of Scripture. A look below the surface will tell a different story. Again, it is not what the Bible says that divides Christians, but what it does not say. In the essentials unity is possible. In the non-essentials and speculations there should be freedom to believe what one wants. Over it all, agape should prevail. Sadly, people love their “groups” more than they love unity.

    You are right, I don’t want you to lump everyone together. So, in the interest of fairness, let’s discuss some New Testament passages you deem “unclear.” These should be passages regarding “essentials.” Give me an example or examples of differing interpretations so we can discuss them.

    To say that the horrendous and unethical conduct of “zealots” is either of the two choices you gave is to eliminate the real reasons for these acts: utter rebellion by evil men and women or…in the best case…abject ignorance. Otherwise, it would be helpful to expose a bona fide link between Scripture and their acts.

    Your argument about the influence of movies and video games proves the point. It is crazy people who use them as an excuse. The influence of Scripture is overwhelmingly for good in spite of the attention given to the crazy few.

    You don’t believe the Bible has any theistic power? Of course you don’t. It would be contradictory for you to think otherwise.

    Even if I agreed that changes in context demand different moral guidelines, the question remains: who will be the arbiter of these changes?

    You mention overpopulation, organ donorship, abortion and technology as changes demonstrating the need for different standards. How? Why? I see these changes in human context as well, but what adjustments do they call for and who will decide? You write, “…in the history of man we have always successfully found a way to govern ourselves.” As you think back over history you’ll have to agree that this is not always the case. The great upheavals of history are largely a result of the failures of human systems. The reasons for the decay of great civilizations and their overthrow always amount to moral failure. Empires don’t improve, they crumble in on themselves.

    You write, “Right across the world we have all established certain things to be immoral, such as murder, and robbery, rape and child abuse. We learnt them over time and over experience. We were developing them before the Bible and continued to develop them after the Bible. Our Moralistic values continue to change as they always have and always will.” Here are a few words to consider, Aztecs, (and other indigenous peoples of the Americas). Fascism. Communism. Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, India, exploitive Capitalism. These are only a few nations, systems and philosophies that seem to contradict your statement. In some cultures of the world the things you mentioned are accepted. If we have learnt, we have not learnt very well.
    I’m not sure what you mean by the statement, “…we have moved on and to me clinging to old values the Bible held such as equality is no longer appropriate.”

    I am old enough to have been wrong about a lot of things. At first, I was so certain about most things. The longer I live the more hesitant I am to become dogmatic. Maybe I am wrong this time. Maybe you can help me see the light.

    There is a basic disadvantage to our discussion. We don’t know each other. I would like to know all about you and then perhaps I could get inside your head and understand why you think the way you do. In the meantime, all the best to you and yours.

  21. Pingback: Science and Religion in Competition? | Whitticisms

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