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From Theistic Evolution to Apostasy

23 Jul

For much of my evangelical Christian life, I held a Theistic Evolutionary view of creation. I’ll confess that I didn’t always adhere firmly to this view. Sometimes I wavered and veered into a fairly conservative Creationist point of view. Nevertheless, I could never entirely shake free of the realization that evolution had lots of empirical support. Moreover, I realized this long before I ever read my first book about evolution.

What, you may wonder (or maybe not), does a theistic view of evolution look like? Let me state up front that I can only describe what my view was; I cannot and do not claim to speak in any way for other theistic evolutionists. My view of theistic evolution was pretty simple and consisted of these points:

  • The first section of Genesis (say, the first eleven chapters) should not be read as literal accounts; they were literary constructions intended to recognize and respectfully memorialize through poetic imagery God’s activity in the universe. As for the rest of Genesis, I’ll shamefacedly admit that I took much of it literally.
  • Evolution was the process that God designed to create and sustain life on earth.
  • The Original Sin of Adam and Eve was pride; maybe Eve sinned first, maybe she didn’t – what mattered was that Adam and Eve ruptured, in some indefinite way, their relationship with God. The consequences of that rupture were death, evil, suffering, etc., that catastrophically affected all of creation, as well as humankind. Before their Fall, the universe was perfect.

As you can see, this view was long on Christian theological concepts and extremely short on evolutionary ones. I will not bore you with the details regarding how and why I came to learn more about evolution. Suffice to say that, as I became more familiar with the basic ideas, I realized that evolution and theology did not mesh very well.

The first point above, understanding Genesis as a literary rather than a literal account, was not and is not particularly problematic. It is, in fact, the right position. My difficulty was my inability to reconcile the second and third points with a realistic, albeit fairly basic, view of evolution.

The first problem I had was accepting that a perfect God deliberately established a very imperfect process to sustain life. One of the reasons evolution is imperfect is because, while it is not random, it is inefficient. Species do not travel a straight path of development, nor do they inevitably progress from less perfect ways of being toward better ways of being. Each mutation that takes hold and becomes a regular feature of a species shuts off many possible developmental pathways and slightly narrows the options for future developments. Many of the paths that are taken eventually lead to extinction. Many more species have withered and died than have survived and thrived throughout the earth’s history. That’s a lot of wasted effort. It’s difficult to call such waste “perfect” in any way. How could such a process have been the plan of a perfect God?

Another imperfection in the evolutionary process is the fact that species have evolved to devour each other. Predator-prey relationships are violent and they were going on long before human beings entered the stage. Many animals are eaten alive by their predators and their deaths are often slow and agonizing. Why would God establish an inefficient, violent, painful system for sustaining life on earth? Neither of those characteristics is consistent with the activities of a loving, perfect God.

All of this leads to the second problem I had with theistic evolution, namely, blaming humankind for all the woes of the world. If suffering, death and extinction are inevitable components of the evolutionary process, then it follows that the doctrine of Original Sin makes no sense. Firstly, as I’ve already noted, there is no way that humankind can be held responsible for bringing suffering and “evil” into the world. The world is not imperfect because people did something really bad and messed up what had been a perfect place and a perfect way of life. Humans evolved into a world that was already filled with suffering and other forms of imperfection, such as hurricanes, floods and Ice Ages. Secondly, death is not a punishment for sin; death has always been part of the cycle of life and evolution on earth. If humans are not responsible for suffering and evil, and death is simply a natural process rather than a punishment, then what need is there for atonement and redemption? Once I reached the right conclusion to that question, that there is no such need, I only needed a short, quick mental step to advance from discarding theistic evolution to discarding theism in its entirety.

– the chaplain

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50 responses to “From Theistic Evolution to Apostasy

  1. Daniel

    July 23, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    With all due respect, your conclusion is non sequitur. You’re using a physical phenomenon to reach a metaphysical conclusion.

    I would challenge you thusly: If all existence is nothing more than the interaction of matter and energy, then there can be no knowledge, no science. Practical science is predicated on the philosophy of science, but that philosophy is itself not physical. Ideas, reason, logic… are all held to be a part of reality, but they deny any sort of physical description. In fact they require some semblance of personhood to exist, and personhood itself resists a reductionist, naturalist description.

    The concept that metaphysical concepts such as logic and persons are as fundamental to existence as empirical things is why I remain a theist.

    Respectfully yours,
    Daniel

     
  2. The Exterminator

    July 23, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    You might have to write the De-conversion Primer, based on this post.

    Still, it’s much easier to blame all that mutual devouring on Adam & Eve than it is on some god — or worse, on nobody. It must be someone’s fault. Otherwise, all creatures would be great pals, happily eating Honey Nut Cheerios together.

    Of course, the oats might not be too happy about that.

     
  3. FossilRabbit

    July 24, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Daniel (commenter above),
    With absolutely no respect due: what the hell are you talking about?
    Theists are the only ones reaching “metaphysical conclusions.” The rest of us are firmly planted in a reality FULL of physical description.
    And keep your paws off my “personhood.”

    Chaplain – I never tire of hearing how people came to see things differently after some reasonable contemplation. Thank you for your story.

     
  4. The Exterminator

    July 24, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Daniel:
    Your comment wasn’t published yet when I left mine, so I’ve just seen it. FossilRabbit has done an excellent job of responding to you, so I’m not going to add much.

    But you do seem to resort to a lot of big, meaningless words — at least in the way that you’ve strung them together — to hide the fact that you have absolutely nothing intelligent to say about chappy’s post. It seems as if you’re responding to an essay you’ve read somewhere else, rather than what she has written here. Why did you bother to comment? What were you trying to prove?

    By the way: In my experience, whenever any Christian says “with all due respect,” it’s a clear signal that he or she is about to be disrespectful — and probably condescending, too. Your error here is that it’s pretty damn stupid to adopt an attitude of condescension when the author of this post and most of the commenters, as well, are probably far more skilled at expressing their ideas than you are. Of course, I only have that handful of drivel you wrote to go by, but I’d suggest you drop the smug veneer and reread the post. You might actually learn something.

     
  5. DB

    July 24, 2008 at 5:22 am

    I find this and a few other of your deconversion (or whatever the word is) stories rather interesting. Since I can’t remember when/if I truly believed anything, I can hardly remember what it was like living with those views…if that makes sense. It is really interesting to hear why someone who had the faith (assumption) and how they came to this realization.

     
  6. athinkingman

    July 24, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Thanks for this. I found myself thinking: “Why hadn’t I thought like this years ago?” I too would have described myself as holding a theistic evolutionary position when an evangelical, and thanks to you, I can see that it doesn’t make sense. I found this post really useful.

     
  7. yunshui

    July 24, 2008 at 9:26 am

    If I may step in in my role as interpreter for a moment, I believe what Daniel is trying to say is: “Science doesn’t know everything.” Which is fair enough – it doesn’t. Annoyingly, what he is also saying is, “Look at me, I know lots of big words, aren’t I clever,” which rather diffuses the meat of his argument.

    Daniel, philosophical navel-gazing is all very well, indeed, it’s the foundation of all religion. However, since the Chaplain is using the basic Abrahamic model of God (let’s call it God v1.0), her argument that his existence is unsupported by evolutionary evidence holds up – God v1.0 interacts with the world, is responsible for its creation and ongoing maintenance, talks to people and causes miraculous occurrences – he’s a measurable, testable hypothesis, and as such, fails.

    You seem to be positing a rather nebulous God v1.1, or maybe v2.0, who exists on a plane of pure metaphysics. Keep that up if you like, but don’t then come round telling me that he made the world, loves me personally and wants me to go live in heaven with him.

     
  8. bullet

    July 24, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I have to disagree with any suggestion that logic and science are not natural and cannot exist without people.

    1 + 1 = 2

    the area of a circle is &#960 r&#178 (i hope that html works)

    These two statements are true regardless of the existence of a mind to “discover” or define them and there are many, many more.

    Logic and science are the most natural things in the world.

     
  9. bullet

    July 24, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Dammit

    pi r squared

    grrr….

     
  10. Daniel

    July 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    When I say, ‘With all due respect’, I do sincerely mean that. I apologize if what I said was construed otherwise, but I have no hidden contempt for the poster or what he is saying. Disagreement yes, but contempt, no.

    What I’m trying to express are:

    #1 – The reality of evolution is not sufficient reason to reject Theism. You can make a defeating case against young-earth special creation, but to go beyond that is non sequitur.

    #2 – The reality of non-physical things such as reason and logic is sufficient reason to reject Naturalism.

     
  11. John B. Richardson

    July 24, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Chaplain, I find it very interesting that you always had some attachment, even if it was vague, to evolution in any sense. Growing up, my mother, a headstrong and passionate evangelical, would use examples of the absurdities of evolution that would make Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron jump up and down for joy. I grew up thinking that “time” was some sort of magical concept scientists used for their purposes so they would never have to deal with a Creator God. “Time” could solve anything, scientists say – according to my mother, not scientists. Just give a salt and pepper shaker “time,” she laughed, and they might randomly grow feet and walk away (given what we know now about quantum physics, this might not be so absurd :P).
    Evolution, as you can imagine, hardly stood a chance in my head. It wasn’t until some of my teachers at Bible college hesitated about certain questions while teaching Genesis that I had to …
    … okay, I can’t finish this thought, my wife is in early labour :P

     
  12. the chaplain

    July 24, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Daniel:

    Re: #1:
    It appears that we both agree that evolution defeats YEC. You may also agree with me that a deistic deity is not disproven, or even argued against, in my post. If you read the post carefully, you’ll notice that I argued, based on the way evolution and nature actually work, against the perfect, omnibenevolent god posited by theism. Additionally, I’m pretty sure you know that the theistic god of the Abrahamic religions is not at all the same thing as a deistic god and would not confuse the two.

    Turning my attention back to theism, I pointed out in the post that a perfect god would not create such a grossly inefficient system as evolution for initiating and sustaining life. Moreover, I pointed out that a loving god would not create a system of life that requires the violence, suffering and death that are evident throughout nature. This violence, suffering and death emerged in nature long before humankind emerged. Therefore, it is wrong to hold humankind responsible for it, as the doctrine of Original Sin does. If humankind is not responsible for suffering, death and the like – in short, evil – then humankind has no need for redemption. Therefore, there is no need for a sacrificial atonement. Once all of that stuff is removed, the remainder of the Christian Salvation, Resurrection and Eternal Life story has no foundation. Where’s the non sequitur?

    Re: #2:
    The term “natural” is not interchangeable with, equivalent to, or identical with the term “physical,” nor are Naturalism and Materialism interchangeable, equivalent or identical philosophies. Non-material phenomena exist alongside of physical phenomena in nature and can be explained without resorting to supernaturalism, dualism and the like.

     
  13. PhillyChief

    July 25, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Daniel’s assertion that logic, reason, even thought itself is “metaphysical” or “non-physical” is simply a naked assertion. The only way you can come by such a conclusion is through irrational belief which rejects any possibility that these things are functions of our physical brains. Such a thing can not be proved in any way, which is why it’s called a naked assertion.

    This is yet another example of god of the gaps. Because we can’t yet point to a spot in the brain or any such definitive physical source for particular brain functions such as logic, reason, love, or even that awesome memory of the time in college where you got that blonde from Aesthetics class to… well, any particular memory one might have in the brain, theists claim those things are magical, metaphysical, and non-physical. It’s a bunch of crap. Compare case studies where people’s personalities, intelligence, memories, and general thinking have changed due to physical trauma with say people with alzheimers, strokes, or any physical trauma or deficiency whose situations changed due to metaphysical treatment (ie – prayer, ritual sacrifice, charms, etc).

    So if anyone should be invoking the term non sequitur, it should be us in reference to Daniel’s metaphysical, non-physical nonsense.

     
  14. Evo

    July 25, 2008 at 2:48 am

    I’m kind of a Norse Mythology Evolutionist myself. Thor’s hammer is not to be taken literally.

     
  15. Edward Sylvia

    July 25, 2008 at 7:36 am

    If Scripture is the Holy Word of an INFINITE God then it too must resist a reductionist description.

    The narratives of the Bible have a deeper complexity of meaning then meets the eye. The human race is in intellectual obscurity as to the nature of the Holy Word’s expanded meanings within its literal sense.

    This is why the Lord has promised to return “with the clouds.” One may take this literally and believe that the Second Coming will take place on an overcast day, or elevate the natural meaning of these words to their psycho-spiritual equivalent, and understand that the Lord’s return is not a physical event, but His clearing up the obscure ideas we have about ultimate reality and the divine scheme.

    These new ideas are now being made available to the world.

    TheGodGuy

     
  16. Ordinary Girl

    July 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

    This is why the Lord has promised to return “with the clouds.” One may take this literally and believe that the Second Coming will take place on an overcast day, or elevate the natural meaning of these words to their psycho-spiritual equivalent, and understand that the Lord’s return is not a physical event, but His clearing up the obscure ideas we have about ultimate reality and the divine scheme.

    Or I could believe that he’ll come when enough hippies get together in one spot and smoke enough weed to cause a gigantic stink cloud. Or, I could believe that he’ll come back when we emit enough CO2 to cause the earth to be covered in smothering clouds of sulfuric acid. Or, I could believe that he’ll come back when the clouds all look like they have sad bunny eyes, or…

    If can interpret the scriptures any way you see fit, then what good are they? If God is perfect, why do his communication skills suck so much?

     
  17. Ric

    July 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    If we put TheGodGuy and Daniel in the same room, how long would it take for them to say something meaningful (besides things like ‘Let us out’ or ‘Feed us’ or ‘We have to go to the bathroom’?

    Once in my younger days of religious experimentation I tried to do an Original Sin, but my girlfriend didn’t want to. I assured her she wouldn’t be responsible for my suffering, but couldn’t convince her. We only did metaphysical things after that.

     
  18. the chaplain

    July 25, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Ric – Your girlfriend wouldn’t let you eat an apple?

     
  19. Ric

    July 25, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Metaphorically speaking…

     
  20. PhillyChief

    July 25, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Or perhaps he’ll only come when the skies are filled with these kinds of clouds, which I fear there are those in every religion who think this is true and would like to make that happen.

     
  21. The Exterminator

    July 26, 2008 at 2:37 am

    Edward Sylvia’s term paper: Grade F

    If Scripture is the Holy Word of an INFINITE God then it too must resist a reductionist description.
    The writer fails to demonstrate that “Scripture is the Holy Word of an INFINITE God.” His capitalization of “INFINITE” is unnecessary and weakens, rather than strengthens, the word he has chosen to emphasize. What does he mean by the term “reductionist description”? In fact, do those two words have any meaning at all when strung together?

    The narratives of the Bible have a deeper complexity of meaning then meets the eye. The human race is in intellectual obscurity as to the nature of the Holy Word’s expanded meanings within its literal sense.
    This paragraph is bloated but meaningless. His use of the idiom “meets the eye” is extremely inapt when describing “a deeper of complexity of meaning,” which would normally be sensed through the mind rather than the eye. The student fails to demonstrate how “a deeper complexity of meaning” can be distinguished from ordinary “complexity”? Can the entire collective of the world’s people be in “intellectual obscurity”? What exactly does the writer want to convey by his use of that term? And what exactly are “the Holy Word’s expanded meanings within its literal sense”? It appears that the writer has just opened the dictionary at random and picked adjectives and nouns to cobble together into sentences. Also: The student, despite his alleged inside track with his god, doesn’t know the difference between “than” and “then.”

    This is why the Lord has promised to return “with the clouds.” One may take this literally and believe that the Second Coming will take place on an overcast day, or elevate the natural meaning of these words to their psycho-spiritual equivalent, and understand that the Lord’s return is not a physical event, but His clearing up the obscure ideas we have about ultimate reality and the divine scheme.
    What does the student mean by “return ‘with the clouds'”? Have the clouds gone somewhere, and are they due back? How do words have a “psycho-spiritual equivalent”? Once again, it appears that the student is hunting through the dictionary to find impressive vocabulary that is nevertheless inappropriate because it has no actual meaning. If the “Lord’s return” is not a physical event, what kind of event is it, and why does he need clouds at all? What exactly makes an idea “obscure” as opposed to “clear,” and wouldn’t an appearance “with the clouds” tend to obscure things rather than clarify them? It appears that the writer may know, at least subliminally, that his own writing is, itself, completely obscure. This paragraph is an excellent example of an “obscure idea,” so it is possible that the student is trying to write a parody; however, he seems far too earnest to have intended that. What’s the difference between “reality” and “ultimate reality”? Is the “ultimate” version more real? In what way? The student does not say. Is he implying that current reality is not real? How would he know anything, then, if his own reality isn’t real? This is an idea that is poorly thought through. And, finally, does the writer believe that his god has a “scheme”? The word “scheme” often carries the connotation of a plan that’s underhanded, sneaky. Does the god referred to in the essay know that the student is talking about him that way?

    These new ideas are now being made available to the world.
    This is an important paragraph, and is weakened considerably by being phrased in the passive, rather than the active, voice. The student should have stated exactly who it is that is making the new ideas available. Is it the student himself? The identity of the active agent in this sentence is unclear.

    Summary:
    Edward Sylvia has failed to attain competency in even the rudiments of English composition. His punctuation, capitalization, and grammar are acceptable, but they are used to present muddy ideas that make little sense overall. His word choice reflects a good vocabulary but a lack of understanding of the meanings of the words he uses. In this persuasive writing assignment, he fails to include examples, facts, details, and other evidence to support his arguments. For these reasons, I cannot recommend that Edward Sylvia be promoted to the 9th grade.

     
  22. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 10:43 am

    In regards to your first point, it is for this reason that I am not a theistic evolutionist (though, I am no YEC by any means). However, you must be careful with your terms. You say how could a “perfect” God create such an “imperfect” world, but how high do you raise the bar for perfection? If a perfect world is only one in which it is as equally as perfect as the perfect God that created it, then the perfect world would necessarily have to be equal to God. Since, if we can still speak from a biblical point of view, there is a great distinction between deity and creation (or from general experience, I think it is safe to say that a created thing is not equal to it’s creator), we must reject the idea that the world was or could be created as perfect as God. If it was not created as perfect as God, then it must be prone to error and flaw–it must be imperfect. I’ve seen this argument used as a theodicy before, but I hope you understand my point.

    In regards to your second point (again, since you are speaking of the incompatibility of trying to reconcile evolution with the God of the Hebrew-Christian Bible, I will speak from a biblical perspective), one must have an understanding of federal headship–a very common idea in Hebrew thought. It is easy to see the confusion of how in the world Adam and Eve’s sin could effect the entire world from a more individualistic Western perspective. However, for a Jew, it makes sense. Adam was the federal head, or representative if that is easier to understand, of all of the created order . Therefore, when he “fell”, all of creation felt the effects because he was in charge of everything as the federal head (cf. his commissioning to care for the Earth, Gen. 1:28-30). Remember the battle between David and Goliath? Each army would send out a representative (federal head) for the entire army to do battle. Whichever “individual” won, the respective army was the victor. Again, this doesn’t make much sense in our Post-Enlightenment (individualistic) world, but this made sense in the Hebrew worldview and it therefore made sense that the Bible would say that Adam’s sin effected everything in the created world.

    I hope that helps clear some things up.

     
  23. Ric

    July 26, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Ex –

    Nicely done. I would have simplified it though, and just noted that Sylvia and his ilk are quite similar to stroke victims suffering aphasia. They speak, and think they are making perfect sense, but what comes out of their mouths is gibberish, and they can’t understand why no one understands what they’re saying. Of course I’m not exactly the analytical type like you guys… :)

     
  24. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Buddingtheologian:

    Thanks for your comment. You said, “If a perfect world is only one in which it is as equally as perfect as the perfect God that created it, then the perfect world would necessarily have to be equal to God.” That’s your definition, not mine. You’re arguing against a straw man of your own construction, not anything that I said. Still, your contention that a perfect God couldn’t do any better than to create a world that “must be prone to error and flaw” is amusing.

    Believe it or not, I actually was aware of the notion of Federal Headship. It may have been a useful idea in the case of David and Goliath; maybe we should have tried something like it in Iraq. ;) But, it’s idiotic as a model for determining the fates of all humankind (and all creation) for all of eternity.

    In the case of David and Goliath, the defeated army could bide its time and make plans to stage another battle. Or, they and their descendants could try to negotiate better terms for their enslavement or whatever other prices they paid to the victors. The arrangements made during the battle were not irrevocable for all eternity. In the case of Adam and Eve, the rest of humankind, and all of nature, is supposedly paying an eternal price for their single defeat. Their descendants cannot renegotiate the terms of the settlement (God doesn’t negotiate) and they can’t possibly win a battle against a perfect, almighty Creator who, unfortunately for us, happens to be arrogant enough and petty enough to hold a grudge for a long, long time and to exact the penalty for that grudge for just as long. But, never forget, he’s perfect! And, above all, loving!

    Bottom Line: Federal Headship is an excuse that theologians retroactively built into their creation myth to justify what would be, if it were true, a huge injustice. As you said, “this made sense in the Hebrew worldview and it therefore made sense that the Bible would say that Adam’s sin effected [sic] everything in the created world.” Fortunately for us, the grossly unjust, imperfect God-Monster of Judeo-Christianity and Islam is simply a figment created by the theologians’ own imaginations.

     
  25. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Sorry about that, I wasn’t trying to create a stawman. Your implicit premise is that a perfect God must (necessarily) create (or at least start in the case of theistic evolution) a perfect creation in order to be consistent with His character (hence your comment: “How could such a process have been the plan of a perfect God?”). It appears that you were denying theistic evolution because it would be inconsistent with a perfect God, and I was trying to show that a “perfect” creation is ontologically impossible. Now, if you were arguing that TE and God are incompatible on moral grounds (not ontology), then my whole point is pointless and indeed a stawman. Just be careful using the word “perfect”, or at least qualify it to be more clear. Of course, I could just learn to read better…stupid public education system *shakes fist*.

    Glad to know you know what federal headship is. I decided to explain in case others reading didn’t know what it was. I used David v. Goliath as an example since it is a well known story and easy to understand. Your contention with the severity of God’s punishment – as you put: “irrevocable for all eternity” – is because you do not differentiate between God and humankind. Yes, human-human relationships may be renegotiated, but in the God-human relationship, the rules are set by God (the creator-creature distinction I mentioned in my first post). The one rule was, “If you eat of the tree, you will die” and all creation was touched by Adam’s failure because of his responsibilities (Gen. 1:28-30). We are offended by the severity (depth and breadth) of God’s punishment because we do not realize what it means to offend an infinite God.

    However, the punishment was not irrevocable as you so put because God sent Jesus to suffer the punishment we deserve. This is why Christians are so adamant about preaching the Gospel. From the Christian perspective, all humans are damned, and Jesus is the way that God offered to save humankind. Humans cannot renegotiate the terms in the God-human relationship and indeed they do not have to because God already has through Jesus Christ.

    Federal Headship would be more common in cultures that value the whole over the individual, such as many middle eastern cultures and most everywhere else except the West. It is hard to see later theologians from the individualistic West putting a concept rooted in collectivist cultures into scripture. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not really. And as for God being arrogant and petty, I doubt I can change your mind about that because it is a conclusion inherent in your system. Wow, I didn’t realize how quickly this just because a theodicy, but it just did (“shake and bake–that just happened”). There is evil (and imperfections), therefore a loving (and perfect) God can’t exist.

     
  26. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    buddingtheologian:

    I don’t want to beat the idea of perfection into ground, but I don’t agree with your assertion that a perfect creation would have to be perfect in the same way that God is perfect. For the sake of argument, I’ll stipulate that God is perfect and holds whatever attributes are required for perfect God-ness. Why couldn’t such a God create a creation that would be perfect in whatever attributes are required for perfection as a creation? In fact, I thought that Genesis reported that he had done so: Genesis 1 says repeatedly that God saw what he had made and said that it was good. Why would he say that if it wasn’t actually good, if it could have been better? A creation that would not be prone to errors and flaws would be better than one that is.

    Why is such a perfect creation ontologically impossible? Are you saying that God-ness is the only form of perfection possible? If so, wouldn’t a perfect being be frustrated by only being able to create imperfect stuff? Why would such a being bother making anything at all? When you get right down to it, a perfect god who can only make less-than perfect stuff is an ontological impossibility, as well as an oxymoron.

     
  27. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    buddingtheologian:

    You said, “And as for God being arrogant and petty, I doubt I can change your mind about that because it is a conclusion inherent in your system.”

    What system are you talking about? Atheism is not a system, as systems, by definition, are comprised of more than one component. Non-belief in God is a solitary idea, not a whole system of thought; it is an idea that is compatible with many philosophical systems.

     
  28. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    buddingtheologian:

    You noted that God established the parameters of divine-human interactions. In other words, might makes right. At least you’re honest about it.

    I was waiting for you to bring up Jesus and the Plan of Salvation: “the punishment was not irrevocable as you so put because God sent Jesus to suffer the punishment we deserve. This is why Christians are so adamant about preaching the Gospel. From the Christian perspective, all humans are damned, and Jesus is the way that God offered to save humankind. Humans cannot renegotiate the terms in the God-human relationship and indeed they do not have to because God already has through Jesus Christ.”

    How can Christians be willing to accept the sacrifice of an innocent in their stead? How can they not find the notion of substitutionary atonement morally repugnant? If I fuck up, I’ll be adult enough to accept the consequences of my actions and won’t expect anyone else to suffer them on my behalf. That’s what it means to be morally responsible. As for God’s part in the bargain, requiring that an innocent serve the sentence for the damned is not justice. Even worse, God demanded a human sacrifice! He didn’t renegotiate the rules, he upped the ante. Bulls, goats and doves were no longer adequate to appease him, even though he’d gotten plenty of those in the centuries before Jesus arrived on the scene Oh, no. The only thing that would appease God from that time forward was a live human being! That’s not holy – it’s reprehensible!

    And don’t tell me that Jesus’ willingness to take my “sins” on himself justifies the exchange. It does not. If my son committed murder and I offered to serve his prison sentence, or even take the death penalty in his place, neither a judge nor society nor the victim’s loved ones would see my substitution as an act of justice; they’d see it as a gross injustice that allowed a murderer to go free. Why wouldn’t a similar standard apply to an offense committed against God? And if God sets the rules, why doesn’t he just suspend the sentence completely? The innocent Sacrificial Lamb gets to keep on living and the damned get to live too; it’s a win-win solution. Or is God unable to change the rules? Is that another limitation on his perfection?

    In the end, we have a god who cannot help creating less-than-perfect stuff, and a god who can only repair his damaged creation through thoroughly unjust and immoral means. If such a God existed and did everything the Bible says he did, and planned to do everything the book of Revelation says he plans to do, he would only be worthy of scorn, not worship.

     
  29. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    the chaplain:

    Hey, we agree on something! Mazel tov! I don’t think a perfect creation needs to be perfect as God is perfect either and I don’t think I was arguing for it (sorry if that was unclear in any of my previous posts). Indeed, I thought that that was one of your implicit premises in your rejection of TE. That is, that the evolutionary process isn’t perfect enough to have been started by a perfect God. I thought you were using “perfect” synonymously, so I adopted that idea to try to show that even then, the world would have to be imperfect. Hmm…I need to work on being more clear and concise.

    The question at the root of this all is this: What does a perfect creation look like? You seem to have an idea of what that is which is why TE cannot measure up. You don’t have to describe what your idea of a perfect creation would be, but I just want to point that out.

    As for my closing comment, I probably could have done without, but I felt I should say something about your comments against God’s character. The system I was referring to (and system was probably a poor choice of words to begin with), was your entire worldview. Ideas do not take place in a vacuum. You came to your conclusion about the non-existence of God because of the system which developed before that conclusion was made that made that conclusion coherent with the system, just as I likewise have a system which makes the existence of God coherent. In order to “prove” that God is neither petty nor arrogant, I would eventually have to dismantle your entire system which led to those conclusions (not saying that I can, but that is what I would have to do). Or, more simply, we’re not on the same foundation, and until we could get there, we would both be arguing into the wind.

     
  30. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    buddingtheologian:

    You said: “You came to your conclusion about the non-existence of God because of the system which developed before that conclusion was made that made that conclusion coherent with the system.”

    Sorry to disappoint you, but, as regular readers of this blog know, I never intended to be an atheist. I arrived at atheism after a heart-wrenching examination of evidence for and against Christianity. I began my search from a position of seeking to reinforce my faltering faith, not from within some atheistic philosophical system of thought. As it turned out, the evidence led me away from faith rather than toward it.

     
  31. bullet

    July 26, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    …I tried to do an Original Sin,…

    I poked a badger with a spoon.

     
  32. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    I do not think might makes right. I think that God’s ability to establish parameters of divine-human interactions is based in the authority inherent in Him being the creator. I understand that accepting authority as inherent and not earned (though might or other means) is completely foreign to the American mind, and I doubt that I could convince you otherwise (for the same reason I can’t prove to you that God isn’t arrogant and petty). Ultimately, you have created your own system of justice, whether by yourself or through good ole utilitarianism, which is contrary to the description of God found in the Bible. So you throw God out because he doesn’t fit your system. This is what you are bound to, and as a Christian, I am bound to throw out the system that is contrary to God.

    Oh, I did not plan on bringing Jesus and salvation into it, things just worked out that way. As for all that you said regarding the sacrifice of Jesus, I can only agree. The idea of a substitutionary atonement is crude. I can only repeat Paul’s words that the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks (that is, those who seek wisdom through mere human effort). The Gospel is not an “easy way out”. I know my failures and indeed the Gospel constantly reminds me of them and for that reason, I can only thank God for what He accomplished in Jesus.

    You said: “And if God sets the rules, why doesn’t he just suspend the sentence completely?” I say: because of God’s justice and it is only because of his mercy and grace that Jesus came at all.

     
  33. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    the chaplain:

    Aye, but you don’t have to intend to be an atheist for it to be a system. In your search to reinforce your faltering faith, whether consciously or not, you began forming your system that ultimately made the non-existence of God the conclusion. Having a system is not a bad thing, it is just one of those things that needs to be examined. Though, I would say, never give up searching for the truth. You thought you had it once in Christianity, but you rejected it and now you think you have it in Atheistic-naturalism (is that a better “system” to refer to what you believe?). Do not then think you have all the answers, but continue to search. I will do likewise.

     
  34. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    buddingtheologian:

    I agree that we both need to continue searching for answers. I know that I’ve got a lot to learn yet.

    It’s funny that you mentioned “good ole utilitarianism” in reference to my system of justice. In my opinion, utilitarianism has some merits, but it is far from being the cornerstone of my view of ethics and justice. Your statement that my allegedly utilitarian system of justice “is contrary to the description of God found in the Bible” is interesting. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus is a prime example of utilitarian justice: the sacrifice of the one for the good of the many. Are you sure you want to stick with the position that utilitarianism is contrary to God’s character as described in the Bible?

     
  35. the chaplain

    July 26, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    bullet:
    Is there a penalty for poking a badger? Does it matter whether you use a spoon instead of a stick or a taser gun?

     
  36. buddingtheologian

    July 26, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    the chaplain:

    I think I meant to say something about whether you made your own system of justice or if it was socially constructed (hence the utilitarianism). Probably a poor choice of words on my part.

    The substitutionary atonement has elements of utilitarianism per se, but the difference is that the SA is not a social contract the way Utilitarianism is (at least, in my understanding of it which probably needs work). There also the basic presuppositions which it is founded on, etc…

    This was fun. You give a good fight and I hope I was a good opponent as well. :)

     
  37. brotherutoy

    July 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Yup, the Genesis account is not to be taken literally. It’s not a statement of facts to be taken unquestioningly. It’s a book of faith, a fruit of reflection of the early unsophisticated Jews, who, out of the culture they grew up with, had concluded that indeed, the God who is present with them in their flight from Egypt is the same God who is present in the universe since the vey beginning of time. Now, for a modern-time atheist to read the book of Genesis without considering the original intention of the Genesis writer, the intended readers of this book, the message it hopes to impart and the cultural milue from which the book was produced, it is sure as there’s water in the sea that any unbeliever would find it absurd. Just as how we read Aesop’s fables and believe in the “lessons” they carry, we’re not about to put our faith on the part where the animals assumed anthropomorphic qualities and began involving themselves on a moral debate.
    To end, why do we always try to interpret the Bible using our modern value system, our cultural backgrounds, our contemporary philosophies, our present-day baggage? The ancient Jews knew nothing about Bertrand Russell’s conceptual analysis nor on WVO Quine’s ontological relativity (niether do I). These guys just wanted to write how awesome their God is.

     
  38. The Exterminator

    July 26, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    Oh, Brother.

    Just as how we read Aesop’s fables and believe in the “lessons” they carry, we’re not about to put our faith on the part where the animals assumed anthropomorphic qualities and began involving themselves on a moral debate. To end, why do we always try to interpret the Bible using our modern value system, our cultural backgrounds, our contemporary philosophies, our present-day baggage?

    Once you start interpreting the bible as if it were one of Aesop’s fables, why not just admit that it is one of Aesop’s fables (actually an anthology of fables), except that it’s loaded with repugnant morals and a total disdain for learning, and was written by — and for — an ignorant and bloodthirsty group of tribes who who had nothing to offer the world except superstition and their own self-righteousness? And then, why not admit further that the culmination of all that horror and smugness and nonsense was Christianity, an amalgam of biblical as well as other mythological tales, with an equally disgusting moral code and an even greater emphasis on avoiding knowledge and human achievement of any kind?

    And then, once you grant that, why “believe” in it, or its god, at all?

     
  39. monodentate

    July 27, 2008 at 4:23 am

    I enjoyed reading your post as it hits some of the points I have thought over endlessly in previous years as a devout Christian. While I generally take a naturalistic approach to human kind presently, I don’t really agree with some of your conclusions. For example, your idea of perfection is purely subjective and tagging predator-prey relationships as inherently imperfect may be somewhat of a leap in logic. Even still, God is not always portrayed in the canonical biblical texts as a kind, benevolent being. Surely one need not go far in order to read stories involving commands on God’s part for the extermination of entire groups of people. Anyways, going back to my original point, devout Christian faith and a belief in evolution is most definitely reconcilable in a theistic evolutionary perspective. Of course, this necessitates an interpretation of the bible that is NOT literal — this much is clear. However, the approach to evolution simply answers how we came to be, but not why — which is where the Genesis account comes into play. For example, it is plausible that when God breathes life into Adam, that this is referring to human consciousness, awareness, and spirituality. Thus, this may have been that point that we as humans were chosen to be in the love, kindness, and judgment of the almighty. If we consider that the long path towards an “Adam” was that of natural selection (something perhaps that we can attribute to God), this does not necessarily refute the first chapters of Genesis — and can in fact augment them. There are certainly some passages in the bible that require a literal interpretation to hold the foundations of the faith altogether. Geneseo, however, is not one of those books and in fact goes nicely with our current understanding of science and the history of our species.

     
  40. noamgr

    July 27, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Well I haven’t had time to read the ENTIRE discussion. But Daniel, in what sense are logic and thought “Metaphysical” or “non-physical” phenomena? this assumption of yours (erroneous it seems to me) leads you into a cascade of further erroneous conclusions.

    I point this out because I often find that many theists’ arguments are erroneous in this or a similar manner. I can only assume this is a result of the educational system failing at teaching kids about logic and argumentation from an early age.

    This isn’t taught (properly) at ANY middle/high school (or where it is, it is not mandatory), when it seems to me these are much needed skills that are as important as are those of basic mathematics, science, language and literature.


    http://noamgr.wordpress.com

     
  41. the chaplain

    July 27, 2008 at 9:02 am

    Monodentate:

    Thanks for joining the discussion. For the sake of argument, I’ll concede that predator-prey relationships are “perfect” and, therefore, do not constitute evidence against God’s perfection. I also notice that you are claiming that God is not omnibenevolent, or all-loving, so the violence of predator-prey relationships does not present a theological dilemma for you.

    Okay, I’ll concede, for the sake of argument, that God is not all-loving. That position is consistent with the scriptures. You said yourself that “one need not go far in order to read stories involving commands on God’s part for the extermination of entire groups of people.” This statement is consistent with the Calvinist position that some people are elected and others are not. How do you reconcile that doctrine with John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life? Does the word “whosoever” really mean “whosoever” or not? If some people are not elected and can’t do anything to change that fact, then the word “whosoever” is misleading, if not an outright lie.

    Furthermore, what’s with all the evangelism, if God already knows who will be saved and who won’t be? What’s with the stuff about “believing” in Jesus to be saved? Has God elected people or not? If he has, then why does their belief-state matter? Or, to look at it from the other end, what about some poor sucker who believes in Jesus but is not one of the elect? He won’t get into heaven anyway, will he? Or is it the case that only those who have been elected will believe? If so, I ask again, what’s with all the evangelism? If God’s already elected someone for heaven, he’ll get that person inside the pearly gates.

     
  42. PhillyChief

    July 27, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Yes, it’s not to be taken literally, except for those parts which support your viewpoints, then most definitely it should be taken literally.

     
  43. monodentate

    July 27, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    The Chaplain:

    I completely agree with you regarding the reconciliation of the God Jehovah as presented in Old Testament documents to the presentation of Jesus in the New Testament (The Gospels particularly), as do many others who have the sense to look at the biblical scripts with even a grain of scrutiny. This is a huge problem in Christianity that many followers conveniently ignore. How can the seemingly blood-thirsty and jealous God of the Old Testament be the very same God that ” so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, etc. etc.” There is no simple justification except that one might say that the New Testament was written by individuals who either met Jesus himself, or indirectly knew him through people who have had contact with him when he lived on earth. In contrast, the Old Testament is written by a people going through cycles of intense hardships and prosperity. This image of a mysterious and strict God made sense to them, but it is only only one side to God. Truth be told, it is much more easier to see certain portions of the old testament as folklore, but I suppose it is not impossible to reconcile it with the new testament if needed. For the most part, though, I take a very skeptical view of the entire Bible in its current form.

     
  44. PhillyChief

    July 27, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    If you honestly took “a very skeptical view of the entire Bible in its current form” or in any form, you’d see there’s far more than just the one possibility that “the New Testament was written by individuals who either met Jesus himself, or indirectly knew him through people who have had contact with him when he lived on earth”, like:
    • it’s a complete work of fiction
    • it’s fiction based on a legend (like King Arthur)
    • it’s a fictional embellishment of fantastic proportion

    As long as we’re being skeptical and all.

     
  45. noamgr

    July 27, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Realistically, Jesus seems more like the embodiment of a movement/school of thought rather than an actual historical figure. A mythical “hero” that represents the ideals of Christianity… or what it was at the moment (a Jewish man’s Buddhism?).

    This is not unprecedented… in fact it’s the norm: from Roman/Greek Paganism to Viking mythology. Just because Christianity is a religion that is still practiced I don’t see why it should be seen as an exception to the rule.

    The invention and re-invention of Jesus can and has been tracked by many scholars all through early christianity. Which Jesus is the right Jesus? Are any? I don’t see why Jesus or the god of the Old Testament should be regarded any differently than Odysseus, or Odin, or any other (Well, obviously I understand why it is… but logically it shouldn’t be).


    http://noamgr.wordpress.com

     
  46. dogrescuer

    July 27, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    God’s existence cannot be proved nor disproved.

    It is not pointless to endlessly argue over a point that cannot be won by either side.

    Philosophy is about getting the last word. Unfortunately, everyone wants the last word. It’s like an internet forum, only more professional, more expertly argued.

    “I know not. ”

    I’m a practical atheist and a theoretical agnostic (and a closet searcher for God and other Answers).

     
  47. dogrescuer

    July 27, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    But of course we all know that for all ["practical"] intents and purposes, God is dead.

    Can someone tell me where the we are right now in western philosophy? Are we past postmodernism?

     
  48. the chaplain

    July 27, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Noamgr: Thanks for your comment. I doubt that we’ll ever know the truth about who Jesus was, if he ever was. The one thing I do know about him is that the guy described in the Bible is not historically accurate.

    dogrescuer: I agree, God’s existence can’t be proved or disproved. At least, not yet. Whether science will find a feasible way to test the hypothesis in the future remains to be seen. The point of my post was simply to describe one of several thought processes that led me away from god-belief, not to argue about his existence, per se. As for where western philosophy is now, your guess is as good as mine. It may even be better.

     

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