Never Mind The Bedrocks – part 2.

In Never Mind The Bedrocks – part 1 I began to get into the discussion concerning evolution vs. creationism. To summarise the previous post, I made the following points: Intelligent Design is creationism in disguise, and it is not science. There is overwhelming evidence that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old; that life has existed in many and varied forms over hundreds of millions of years; and there is excellent scientific data concerning the origins of the solar system. I have also said that there is a near-phobic Fundamentalist Christian response to evolution and science in general, and that some of the claims made by Christians of this stripe are completely insupportable either by Biblical teaching or social observation.

I’m going to carry on now by looking at the use – the dangerous use – of the concept ‘need’.

This idea cuts to the very heart of the debate. It’s right in the middle of a Dawkins statement with which I agree – “You do not require God to explain the complexity of the natural world” – and implied in a statement with which I do not agree – “Christianity exists to answer the question of our origin”.

Let’s take the latter first, because it impinges on the former. The response in both cases boils down to the same answer: You require God to explain the existence of God.

At first glance this seems tautological. It is not. It is the same philosophical point as is made in the statement “I see a chair before me, therefore chairs exist.” So this is the first hurdle to overcome in a fundamental (not Fundamental!) miscommunication between Science and Christianity. I know no Christian, none at all (and, not to boast or anything, but I know several hundred), who is a Christian because they said “I find the Darwinian theory of speciation abhorrent: I will therefore become a Christian, since it offers an alternative.” Christianity is not in the business of explaining humanity’s origins: Christianity is in the business of explaining humanity’s relationship to God. The committed (as opposed to nominal) Christians I know are almost infinitely more concerned with their relationship to Christ than their relationship to primates. So that is my first objection, my first perception of a category error in the debate: Christianity takes as its symbol a fish not because it spends endless hours worrying about whether or not fish were the ancestors of all land animals but because the letters of the word ‘fish’, in Greek, could be rearranged to form the word ‘Christ’. Evolutionary science and Christianity have completely different focal points.

I should take this opportunity to expand on this point, and to answer the criticism that could be made of my ‘chairs’ analogy: “Yes, but we can all see chairs. We don’t have to have faith in them”. (My comments here, I hope, will also go some way to answering the charge that there is no ‘evidence’ that supports the adoption of a religious position). It is not the case that there is no evidence in favour of the existence of God, or more specifically the Christian God: it is simply the case that all the evidence that does exist is anecdotal. This is an important distinction. It is a question of subjectivity. If someone says to you “I believe in buses because I rode on one once”, that is a rather different statement to “I believe in buses because it comforts me to believe in buses”. In neither instance can you see a bus to prove the assertion that buses exist; but we must surely have to take the former argument for their existence rather more seriously than the latter. This is where Dawkins, in The God Delusion, comes badly unstuck. In it he takes the Bible (in my analogy, a bus timetable) and arguments of the latter, consolatory type and concludes that there is no such thing as a God. He dismisses arguments of the former type as mere delusion. And while I make no claim for the objectivity of the former claim, there is something more compelling than Dawkins is willing to admit in the similarity of millions of shared God-experiences of the type to which Christians routinely refer. In other words, if millions of people say they have ridden on buses, and the descriptions of those rides overwhelmingly agree, it is more persuasive a position to conclude that buses may exist in the manner described by people who believe they have ridden on them than to conclude that these people have, in their millions over two thousand years, invented the same delusional experience.

Note that I am only talking, at this point, about the Christian God. If we broaden the terms of our engagement to incorporate God as a divine figure alluded to in other world religions (in the Middle East there are nearly a billion believers in trains, while in India they have many forms of taxi) then the case for the existence of public transportation becomes almost overwhelming (I fear I may be enjoying this metaphor too much!). But all the evidence is still subjective, i.e. it is not susceptible to wilful replication under laboratory conditions. This is the great disconnect between the scientists and the religious. “If you wish to convince me of the existence of God, then show Him to me,” says the scientist – and despite what certain Fundamentalist groups might say, that is not an unreasonable position. But the scientists do not appear willing to accept the utter reasonableness of the religious person’s response: “God is greater, holier, and far more powerful than I. How on earth do you expect me to instruct Him to do anything?”

Architeuthis Dux, seen live in the wild for the first time

For many years Architeuthis Dux, the Giant Squid, was an animal for which a great deal of subjective evidence existed in the form of anecdotal reports and eyewitness observations – but the animal was not formally known to science until examples washed ashore and they could be scientifically examined, thus demonstrating with unarguable solidity the reality of their existence. It was only in 2005 that the first live Giant Squid were filmed and photographed at a depth of 3,000 feet 600 miles off the coast of Japan. The position of the Giant Squid now is that it is an accepted scientific reality. The Christian is in a similar position, though, to one of the old squid eyewitnesses before the animal was formally identified by science. And he faces the same problem: he knows what he saw and he also knows science will not accept it unless it is presented with an example to dissect and examine. And that is completely fine. That is how science is meant to operate. It is also why Dawkins says he is not an atheist so much as a teapot agnostic. His problem is that someday, like a fisherman walking along a beach in Japan or New Zealand, he might stumble across something that forces him to rethink his whole position on the existence of something he had not hitherto believed in.

Exactly the same problem about evidential presentation reoccurs with miracles. “If such a thing happened,” says the scientist, “then it ought to be replicable.” But the mistake here is that the scientist, while perfectly capable of studying it, sees the process of the miracle itself as the thing to replicate, while the religious person has to try to explain that it is not possible to replicate the deliberate interference of a supernatural entity in the natural order of things. In other words, scientists will never have a miracle to dissect until God steps in and performs one under laboratory conditions. And God is not subject to the whims of the scientists who would wish such a thing. Therefore, it might be truer to say that the problem is one of definition: the scientist sees the purported miracle as an exceptional process working in the natural world, while the believer sees the miracle as an act of Divine Will. And obviously the latter cannot be replicated by man, thus enabling the sceptical scientist to conclude that there are no such thing as miracles. Essentially, the scientist wants to study a by-product while ignoring the actual source of the phenomenon. Given that the source is not replicable, is it any wonder that the by-product remains absent?

However, that is something of a digression. Let us return to something on which Dawkins and I are in agreement. In fact let’s take two things, because they connect: “There ought not to be unchallengeable ideas at the centre of a religion” and “Atheism is a religious position that has no bearing on one’s patriotism or citizenship.” The connection here is in the spirit of inquiry. And let us be quite clear: the Bible does not condemn this. Job is a prime example. Job asked God some awfully big questions and, in what must count as one of the most terrifying conversations in the whole of recorded history, received some awfully big answers in return. Here is the point: Job was not instructed not to ask. Job was perfectly entitled to ask what was going on. Christ’s disciples regularly queried what He was up to. The idea that “why?” or “why not?” are not permissible questions to direct at the doctrines central to the Christian faith is untrue. It is also dangerous. It encourages precisely those abuses of authority in Christian leaders that detractors of religion gleefully highlight, and by which Christian followers are embarrassed and horrified.

Questions are important. Questioning one’s spiritual leaders helps to ensure that heresy in both thought and deed is avoided; questioning God, as Job discovered, is a route to revelation. And I can think of few better pathways to understanding Christianity than to ask “What does the Bible mean when it says this?” It is by interrogating the Bible, God and my fellow Christians that my Christianity grows. This is why I say there are no Great Unchallengeables. Everything is up for discussion. It has to be. Otherwise, wilful ignorance is all that’s left, and I can’t imagine God being impressed at the deliberate atrophying of the critical faculties He intended us to put to good use. Douglas Adams, much though I adore The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, was dead wrong when he said “There are some things you can’t ask about religion. Why not? Because you just can’t!” I can think of no honest question that dishonours God or Christianity by the asking of it – and I speak as someone who, at one stage, was pretty convinced that if God existed then He was a despicable sadist. This is not a position I now hold, as you can probably tell (!), but I am fairly sure God was not offended by my asking Him to demonstrate that He was something other than the cruel and callous manipulator I thought Him to be.

Neither of these positions has had any effect on my patriotism (such as it is) or my ability to function as a citizen of my country. (I’m from Northern Ireland, by the way, where if anything overly-enthusiastic endorsements of a particular religious perspective have caused nothing but trouble – or Troubles). Patriotism is about sensing one belongs, and being willing to defend that sense of belonging both for other people (‘dying for one’s country’) or oneself (‘killing for one’s country’). Citizenship is about participating in a society and abiding by the ethics it endorses – and although my religion informs my ethical position the two things are not coterminous, which was Bush Sr’s mistake. Human beings have an inherent moral sense – what we call the conscience. It unarguably exists, and though I might believe (as I do) that its existence is an argument in favour of a moral God, such a belief makes no difference to the manner of its operation. In other words, you don’t have to be a Christian to know the difference between right and wrong.

This ties in, again, to the American fetish for a single unified society, united in its beliefs – ‘One Nation Under God’. Bizarrely, in a country where one of the most damning political epithets is ‘socialist’, there is a marked intolerance for independent belief. Good Americans, in this regard, are independently wealthy but not independent thinkers.

As a Christian, I believe in heaven and hell, and I believe in the Great Commission whereby Christ instructed His followers to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations. I believe in the need for salvation, because I believe Hell to be a catastrophic reality from which people need to be saved. For those reasons, I believe ‘One Nation Under God’ to be a good thing, because to me it is exactly the same as having written ‘One Nation Saved From Eternal Destruction’. But I also believe that there is a big difference between saying “You ought to believe this” and “You must believe this”. Whatever free will we have in the matter of faith, it is not up to governments to legislate, or majority opinion to enforce, any one position on anyone. As the Bible makes clear repeatedly, God desires to be loved by His creations, and you cannot order someone to ‘love’ anything. (Where love does exist, incidentally, it cannot be proven to exist scientifically!)

However, once again having surpassed 2,000 words on the topic, I think it’s time to take a breather. But this discussion will continue in ‘Never Mind The Bedrocks – part 3’, in which I intend to look at Adam and Eve, what it means to be human, a common misconception concerning Cartesian philosophy, the problem of speciation, the religious imagination, and the concept of wonder. Stay tuned, folks!

 

A V3 pulls a suburban service over the calm waters of Starlingford Lough

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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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14 Responses to Never Mind The Bedrocks – part 2.

  1. Russ says:

    The presence of conscience and love, like faith, also cannot be proved in a lab, as the evidence for these is also anecdotal.
    Ok, with love you could say that the evidence was increased heart rate, release of endorphins, etc, but could these be more by-products of love than love itself?
    Just thinking out loud again!
    Looking forward to Part 3.

  2. Cristian says:

    The fact that there are millions of people with similar God-experiences does NOT make a compelling argument for the existence of God.

    Here’s why:

    1. Because many millions of people will see these lines as having a different length http://missleaman.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/optical-illusions-2/

    2. Because there are far more simple, more elegant and therefore more likely interpretations of people’s God experiences. Delusion, even shared delusion, is a far more likely explanation because science has proven the mechanism behind it to exist and understands it, just like it has proven and understands the mechanism behind optical illusions. As a hint, the theory is that a similar experience added to a similar cultural bias (the bible, the church and other sources create this) should lead to the same account.

    3. The argument provided aims to conclude that the probability of God’s existence is higher than Dawkins would admit, and backs this conclusion by the existence of multiple agreeing ‘eye-witness’ accounts.

    The first step to understanding why this is not compelling is to construct more just analogies for it: The argument is not similar to someone attesting the existence of a chair or a bus based on anecdotal evidence or individual experiences.

    Multiple accounts from people that tell about their experience of a wooden support with a flat surface upon which you can sit would indeed sway the probabilities in favor of the chair’s existence. However, the existence of the chair and the existence of the bus here does not challenge any of the established laws of physics. Both are quite compliant notions.

    Worded fairly, the argument would be brought closer to Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy which incidentally makes the case that the probability of God is as low as the probability of a teapot in orbit. But here is how I would have liked the analogy to read: If multiple people all say they have sat in a chair and were instantly transported to Saturn’s orbit would this not increase the likelihood of the magical chairs existence? (I would refer them to a specialist, wouldn’t you?) If multiple people all said they had been abducted by aliens and had sex experiments performed on them while riding in their UFO, would this attest to the existence of UFOs? The last one is an actual case, but let’s take another hypothetical: If you believed in witchcraft as a supernatural power that is responsible for all things unexplained, and then, for the first time encountered fire, would you not find in it proof of witchcraft?

    • starlingford says:

      Hi Cristian

      I am not trying to ‘prove’ the existence of God. I am simply arguing that subjective evidence may still count as evidence even though it is not replicable. As regards the laws of physics – remember that we are dealing with an entity who operates outside time and space as we comprehend them. Even bringing in multiverse-based arguments (there are different universes, with potentially very different fundamental constants) indicates that ‘the laws of physics’ are a highly circumscribed set of rules that you can probably circumvent in the right circumstances (Membrane transmigration, for example).

      And if, incidentally, lots of reliable witnesses were saying that they had been transported to Saturn on a magical chair, and this experience had changed how they lived their lives on a daily basis, and that change continued regardless of whether or not anyone actually believed them – then I would not be so quick to call a specialist. This reminds me of the argument Father Callahan has with the boy’s parents in “‘Salem’s Lot” (an excellent book if you haven’t read it).

      I can’t – and I know I can’t – *prove* the existence of God. I believe He exists, and in the manner described by the Bible, not because of an inherent cultural bias, or because it was how I was raised, or because it comforts me to use religion as a crutch: I believe because I experience a relationship with a recognisable Person. But that’s me, and I know I cannot reproduce that experience for anyone else.

      As far as leaping to the supernatural explanation for everything – I don’t do that (even though I believe in the existence of the supernatural – God, angels, demons, etc.) even for things that I *know* science can’t fully explain – like electromagnetism, gravity, genes (for which a single agreed-upon definition has yet to be found) and so on. But as I mentioned in regard to miracles: supernatural events are a result of Will, not physics, and it is not therefore surprising that physics does not provide us the tools to dissect these encounters.

      • Cristian says:

        Hi Gavin,

        If there is one confusion that tried to avoid at all costs in my last message it is surely the one which I have not been able to avoid. You never tried to ‘prove’ the existence of God and I would never have expected you to do such a thing. In fact, I avoided the verb “to prove” as well I could, only ascribing it to science.

        I almost agree with the second sentence in your message: ‘I am simply arguing that subjective evidence may still count as evidence even though it is not replicable’ However, you seem to be arguing that because subjective evidence counts as evidence even though not replicable (eye witness testimony counts in court for example) then subjective evidence of the supernatural should count as evidence in a similar proportion.

        I am trying to explain why subjective evidence of the supernatural does not or should not count very much. This is simply a question of likelihood or probability. In fact I may have expressed myself incorrectly but I did not make the mistake of placing God within the realm of physics. My point was quite opposite: magical chairs are a far better metaphor for God than chairs are exactly because magical chairs do not abide the laws of physics as we know them. It was not my interest to say if magical chairs live by alternate laws or no laws at all, it was simply that they do not abide the ones science has established to this point. I then go on to say that things that do not abide by the laws of physics demand tons more evidence (subjective or objective) than things that do. It is simply the ‘extraordinary claims’ argument.

        As for Salem’s lot, I do have the book and have been planning on reading it for some time. You would be interested to know that other books you have inspired me to read include: ‘Of Mice and Men’ ‘Catch 22’ and Stephen King’s ‘On writing’. I have certainly enjoyed them, and hopefully come away with something though I tend to doubt it when I’m having trouble getting simple messages across.

      • starlingford says:

        Hi Cristian

        It seems neither of us quite managed to say what we wanted to say, and on top of that I may well have misread your reply, so there’s no need to start beating yourself up just yet! The problem is that this topic requires an unbelievably careful use of language, and as soon as you slip up then you wind up with miscomprehension abounding…

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Very well: I would place the literally billions of subjective experiences into that category, simply because of the sheer number of them. There is an old military adage of which I am very fond: “Quality may beat quantity, but quantity has a quality all of its own”. Even if only a fraction of those claims turn out to be genuine, even if you weed out the nominal claims and claims explained by other explicable phenomena, you are still left with an enormous number of them, coming from every people and every age. The sheer weight of them is enough for me, tentatively, to consider them ‘extraordinary’.

        However, I wonder if this isn’t in some way heading up a blind alley. You talked about ‘likelihood’ and ‘probability’. These are mathematical functions that are, in this case, being used to describe the operation of the universe (“a universe in which God exists is less likely than one in which He doesn’t”). But we have already said that physics and ‘the rules of the operation of the universe’ do not apply in this instance, therefore we must consider the possibility that statistical probability is going to be inappropriate to the circumstance too. Apart from anything else, the tools used to generate the probabilities are based in science which, as we’ve already said, probably isn’t of much use anyway. Isn’t statistical probability just Yuri Gagarin, observing the external universe for the first time, saying “I looked all around me and didn’t see God” writ large?

        Regards,
        Gavin

        PS I’m glad you’re enjoying the books!

      • SS says:

        Gavin,

        Its nice to meet a religious person who is open to discussion about their religion/belief without taking offence. You’ve said about taking seriously the large amount of subjective evidence for a personal god, a christian god. How does that comper with large amount of subjective evidence for all of the other gods. From Ra, thoir, braham, even Buddha(who isn’t a god) millions around the world attest in good faith to being visited/touched/healed etc etc. if your evidence is admissable then surely all that is too.

        SS

      • starlingford says:

        Hi SS

        I cannot begin to tell you how much it saddened me to read your opening line. That is no reflection on you, but rather on organised Christianity. Why should it be in any way unusual to meet a religious person who can discuss their religious belief without taking offence? Why is offence a default setting so much of the time? And why must religious persons themselves produce some of the most spiteful and hateful comments online? I see it all the time in the comments beneath ‘religious’ Youtube videos. So thank you that you consider me open to discussion: I hope I am, and I hope never to flame on this or any other subject, and long may the discussions continue!

        Your question is a good one. You are right, of course, to point out that as a Christian I do not believe in Thor, Ra or Brahma. My point was simply to argue in favour of Theism as a valid perspective. Progressing from Theism to Christianity is a different argument. However, I do like a comment made by C.S. Lewis (who, if you’ve been following this blog, you will know to be something of a theological hero of mine) when he said:

        “Anyway, if you take the sacrificial idea out of Christianity you deprive both Judaism and Paganism of all significance. Can one believe that there was just nothing in that persistent motif of blood, death, and resurrection, which runs like a black and scarlet cord through all the greater myths — thro’ Balder & Dionysus & Adonis & the Graal too? Surely the history of the human mind hangs together better if you supposed that all this was the first shadowy approach of something whose reality came with Christ — even if we can’t at present fully understand that something.”

        In other words, theism is itself mankind groping in the dark for the Light of the World as yet unrevealed (at least in pre-Christian times). My belief is that Christ occupies a culminatory moment in the relationship of mankind to God – a culmination that is neither addressed nor attested to in other current world religions; and awaited but not yet consummated in those before.

        Does that answer your question?

        Regards,
        Gavin

  3. SS says:

    Gavin,
    (just read over my previous post ……….its clear i can’t spell or type, or both)
    Not sure why offense is the default setting, i general find that i know more about a persons religion than they do (yourself excluded) and i think that puts them on the back foot, with offence being the easy escape to difficult questions.

    Not sure you answered that question. If you are taking subjective evidence for the proof of god simply on the quantity of it then you would have to believe other religions (and phenomenon(ufos,fairies))as well as your own religion. As most of these religions state that they are the only one who is correct(you can’t believe in them all!!!) then the majority of subjective evidence must be discarded. If you have to discard most of it then your arguemnt for keeping this evidence (based on the amount of it) as admissible in this discussion does become rather shaky.

    You did say earlier that you believed god to be all powerfull, all knowing and all present. Does that not conflict with the idea of humankind having free will? As soon as a god with these powers created the earth he/she knew exactly what would happen on its surface from start to finish, as a result of the way it was created.

    Enjoying the discussion.

    SS

    • starlingford says:

      Hi SS.

      I don’t know about ‘offense being the easy option’. I hope you’re wrong; I fear you may be right…

      As far as the quantatitive argument goes: like I say, it’s an argument in favour of theism more than anything else. The reason it is important is that first of all it facilitates Christianity insofar as someone who believes in God is open to the possibility of a god existing. Secondly, I believe revelation to be an ongoing and individual process – I suspect most and perhaps all people will have some form of ‘encounter’ with God. How they *interpret* that experience is of course up to them. Some may understand it to be God as I understand Him. Some may understand it in a completely different way (whether those people go to Heaven is another, and very difficult, question). Some may dismiss it entirely as simply ‘something odd’. (I hesitate to reference specific examples, but Terry Pratchett may describe an encounter of this last type here: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4087520.ece).

      So – not pluralism, then, but not a claim to exclusive revelation either. Does that make sense? Quantity works for theism; theism is a necessary precursor to Christianity; Christianity is (I believe) the mechanism by which God wishes to make Himself best known to those who love Him.

      As for free will…boy, you know how to pick your questions! My understanding is that God, as we have already said, operates by a radically different set of rules – and that includes temporal awareness. While we see time as progressing in a linear fashion from the past through the present into the future, God, operating outside time, perceives everything as an eternal ‘now’. Which means He didn’t know things in advance, because there was no ‘advance’: He can see now what we are doing in the future (from the perspective of our own timelines). Does that make sense? God didn’t know things because of the way the earth was created: He knows things because He is omnipresent in time as well as space and could observe all things happening simultaneously.

      Gavin

  4. SS says:

    Gavin,

    So if i am right in my interpretation in what you are saying. Lots of people experience god inside their own heads but interpret it in different ways. Thats an interesting way of looking at the phenomenon of belief/faith. Presumably none of these people can interpret what god is showing them incorrectly (never mind dismissing it as something odd)because that would indicate that god did not communicate perfectly(which would be impossible under the omnipotent creator postulation). How then is it that religions have very specific and conflicting rules?

    An explanation for what occurs in the brain during revalation is discussed in this program http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2003/godonbrain.shtml. Not sure how easy it is to get a hold of.

    Lets move on to free will. An omnipotent creator cannot create free will in the same way that he/she could not create a rock too heavy for himself/herself to move. Could not create a being more powerful than themselves. To do so would remove their omnipotence as such we are fated to live out our lives entirely as god planned from the start of god is not omnipotent, to my mind it cannot be both.

    SS

    • starlingford says:

      Hi SS

      Sorry for the long delay in getting back to you. My father was seriously ill over Christmas and so my attention has been elsewhere.

      Regarding your first point concerning perfection/imperfection of understanding God: Your thesis has not included a very important and fundamental factor, namely, the ability of people to Muck Things Up. A perfect God communicates perfectly: an imperfect person may well receive imperfectly. Think of it as a radio transmission. If the receiver is not correctly tuned, or is afflicted by static, then however pure the original transmission it will not necessarily be received with its original purity. You are aware, I’m sure, of the game ‘Chinese Whispers’. It is entirely possible for something to be missed or misheard, resulting in an erroneous message: it is equally susceptible to being wilfully manipulated, which is where I suspect most of the ‘abuses of religion’ come from. God’s perfection is, in that sense, irrelevent, since it is a matter of choice for the individual as to how they interpret (and relay) the original message.

      As for free will…I’m not sure how omnipotence conflicts with it. I cannot see any fundamental philosophical divergence between the two. I think we have free will. God’s existence is independent of our belief in Him (if no one believed in Him, that wouldn’t mean He didn’t exist). Whether we choose to believe in Him or not has no bearing on His character, either – including His omnipotence. God *could* force us all to acknowledge Him. But just because He does not *choose* to force us does not mean He is incapable of doing so. More than omnipotence, God (it seems to me) excercises *restraint*, and of His own volition.

      So I guess I would say that your disbelief in God does not challenge a) His existence, b) His character, c) His authority or d) His desire to communicate with you.

      (As regards your other two examples – God cannot make such a rock in the same way that He cannot make a square triangle. God cannot make sense out of nonsense. In the same way, God cannot make a being more powerful, for a couple of reasons: a) there is nothing more powerful than God, nor can there be even in principle, and b) God is infintely sovereign, and cannot therefore create an entity which would usurp His authority. Incidentally, the most powerful created being in the universe *did* mount a rebellion against God. We call him Satan, and his ultimate destruction, following his ejection from Heaven ‘hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky / with hideous ruin and combustion down / to bottomless perdition’, is both inevitable and inescapable.)

      Regards,
      Gavin

      • SS says:

        Gavin,

        Sorry to hear about your Dad, hope he is on the mend.

        Surely no matter how imperfect the person, how mentally flawed, how deep seated his beliefs. If a perfect communicator tried to communicate his/her message would get through with 100% clarity and if the perfect communicator wished the idea to be passed he would communicate it insuch a way that the person was ‘taught’ the idea and would be able to pass it on with 100% clarity. So to use your metaphor regardless of how badly tuned or the amount of static, a perfect communcation would be heard crisply and clearly with no distortion. A perfect communicator cannot fail to get their idea across perfectly regardless of the receiver and also get that idea across in a perfectly transportable manner.

        On to free will :0): i was not saying that god existence depended on our belief like Om (diskworld, i’ll try to explain again)
        During the creation of humankind the omnipotent creator knows every aspect of that creation from every molecule and cell of every being that will ever exist, he/she knows how every decision will be made and how every action will turn out and does so at the point of creation. The omnipotent creator would also know that any changes made during that creation could change the course of events. The creator would be in complete control of the entire future of humankind at the point of creation. How can free will be granted without the removal of that knowedge which is required to keep the creator omnipotent. If the knowledge is not removed then humankind only treads a preordained path.

        I’m hoping that that is a clearer explanation of my point. My rock metaphor was poor, i admit it, for a being that can create universes weight is meaningless.

        My disbelief in a christian god stands along side my disbelif in faries, ghost, the soul, thor, reincarnation, the efficacy of reiki and homeopathy,witchcraft, spells, trolls, and even the flying spagetti monster (even though we’ve all been touched by his noodly appendages :)) There is no repeatable evidence that i have seen. I’m constantly looking for some because i would love there to be a god and a soul and we all have eternal lives but regardless about how nice it would be to allow myself to believe i can’t without evidence. As for his character/authority i’m not concerning myself becuase i have no reason to believe. His desire to communicate can’t be all that strong because i’ve been looking and listening and so far……………nothing……which is a shame.

        On a side note i’ve always wondered how angels rebelled as i thought they had no free will? and why does the christian god allow lucifer to exist when presumably he/she could wink him out of existance or even make him never have existed? seems an odd choice to let him hang around being evil, unless that was the plan all along.

        Hope you nad your family have a good new year i look forward to your answer.

        SS

      • starlingford says:

        Hi SS

        Thanks for your good wishes concerning my Dad. He does seem to be on the mend 🙂

        As regards the ‘perfect communicator’ argument…I’m afraid I don’t agree with you. You seem to be suggesting that God is perfectly capable of making Himself understood even if the recipient of said communication is not listening or determinedly avoiding Him. The relevent Bible verse is ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’: what you seem to be suggesting is something much more akin to ‘Behold I break down the door with a battering ram and stand in your hallway whether you want me to or not’. God could, I suppose, do that: but He doesn’t, since to do so would be to violate our free will in accepting Him or not. God can make Himself unmistakeable, I have no doubt, but, in the words of CS Lewis “He can only woo, He cannot ravish.”

        On to free will (and you are a fellow Discworld fan! Sounds like ‘Small Gods’ is a favourite of yours 😉 ). First of all, can we just clear up a slight apparent confusion of terminology? ‘Omnipotent’ means ‘all-powerful’; ‘Omniscient’ means ‘all-knowing’. I think sometimes you mean the latter when you use the former.

        Anyway, your thesis seems to be that God, being omnipotent and omniscient at the moment of creation, could so order it that it retained a perpetual perfection. However, it is the evidence of disorder that is the evidence for free will, and free will in turn means that God is not in control. Is that about right?

        It’s a good question. There are a couple of points to make in answer to it. First of all, as I said before, God knowing stuff ‘at the point of creation’ may be something of a misdirection. God knows everything NOW because everything happens NOW. To God, the moment of creation is NOW. Christ is dying on a cross NOW. The moment of apocalypse is NOW. The heat death of the universe is NOW. All times are NOW, and when you escape the linear interpretation of time questions of ‘when God knew stuff’ become meaningless. (On a slight tangent, one of my favourite Groucho Marx quotes: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana”).

        In any case, your question of free will seems to me to have two entirely separate components: free will as an individual, and free will as a species. I think we possess the former but not the latter. I think humanind’s path is preordained – Christ’s return, Armageddon, all that stuff is, I think, going to occur, though I have absolutely no idea when and I resist, very strongly, the idea possessed by some rather frightening American sects that it’s my responsibility to try and hurry it up. So in that sense I think humanity, as a species, does not have free will. However, I think that I myself have free will. I think there is a very simple way to demonstrate this. I am a Christian. I sin. I sin by choice, from time to time: I do things I believe to be in my self-interest regardless of their moral status and the condemnation of God in the matter. I sin.

        Now, as a Christian I voluntarily submit to the judgement of God. (That is not to say that anyone escapes the judgement of God: my point, rather, is that I know myself to be under judgement and willingly acquiesce to it in humility and faith). If God used His omnipotence in the manner you recommend, then He would not allow me to sin. The fact that He does permit my rebellion indicates that I have free will, since I could equally choose not to rebel but to follow His will. Of course sin grieves God, is a rebellion against Him, but He does not prevent me from behaving in that way if I wish. The choice is mine. My morality is my responsibility.

        As regards your desire to find God… I pray that he might reveal Himself to you. If you are asking me why He has not yet done so, I can offer no answer. I confess my ignorance.

        I am equally ignorant with regards your last, excellent question. Why does God permit the Devil to act as he does? I have no answer for you. I can, at least, assure you that angels do have free will, since the rebellion if fully 1/3rd of them evidences it. However, as for why Satan is permitted to continue acting in his trademark destructive manner…I have no answer for you, since your question is a variation on another, even more difficult one: Why does a God of love permit pain and suffering among those whom He purports to love? Since Satan is an agent of that pain and suffering, that is where your question ends up. I’m afraid I have no answer for you, but there is a great deal that has been written on the topic. You might like to start by reading CS Lewis’s ‘The Problem of Pain’ and seeing where the bibliography takes you.

        Hope you are having a great New Year,
        Regards,
        Gavin

      • SS says:

        Hi Gavin,

        Starlingford looks great, but i have as always a question? the boats sit on top of the waterare aren’t you tempted to cut their keels off so they sit under the water 🙂

        Yes, I’m a great lover of the discworld for many years now. What a shame about Terry Pratchett 😦

        Back to the debate. God when communicating already knows if you will be able to hear his message clearly. He knows how well you ‘recieve’ and he perfectly judges the ‘clarity’ of his message so in every instance he knows if his call will be understood and crucially has the knowledge and ability to up the ‘clarity’.

        If the message is not understood it is because god did not want it to be heard.

        I would say that my having a desire to find god is putting it a bit strongly. I do not believe due to a lack of any proof. It would be a nicer universe if there was a big Dad/Mum in the sky to look after us and let us live forever but no proof exists that has been put before me. All there is is anecdotal evidence, just as there is for alien abduction and yetis(although they are analysing some strange fur found in the himalyas, so i am willing to be proved wrong).

        A there was a god whose existance could be proved, it would end religious strife across the world but if he/she does exists he/she hides and lets untold horrors be commited in his/her name, this does not sound like a caring god, a teacher god or a loving parent of a god. Sounds quite the opposite.

        How can human kind have a fate but individuals not, if men and women exercise their free will then there cannot be a fated destination for human kind.

        I’m reading stephen king and various (true life)special forces books at the moment but might get around to C.S. Lewis after that.

        Really enjoying this debate.

        Stewart

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