I’d like to burn some very typical straw men. Hopefully, in the debate over Christianity, these unnecessary issues can be avoided.
Creation - Neither Genesis nor any of the scriptures demands that the earth and universe is only 6- to 10- thousand years old. The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) could mean long periods of time. The words “there was morning and there was evening, the first day” could be translated “there was beginning and ending, the first (yom)”.
(BTW, the narrative moves to the surface of the earth in Genesis 1:2. While stars were certainly already in existence, their light was not visible on the surface of the earth until the opaque early atmosphere cleared).
Adam and Eve – While scripture does indicate they were specially created, there are gaps in the biblical genealogies that could place Adam and Eve back 60- to 90-thousand years. This would also predict increasing discovery of a common DNA originating between east Africa and the Mesopotamia.
(BTW, the word for “rib” means “side”. The story of Eve’s creation could mean God created her from Adam for symbolic purposes. I speculate a biopsy, of sorts, from the side, with a few million variations to the DNA producing a female. )
Talking Snakes - A boa constrictor with vocal cords is not in view here. That image comes largely from medieval art. The “serpent” in the garden was intelligent and used for evil. One can only speculate what sort of being it was (perhaps one no longer extant).
The Flood – The fact that a great flood is found in various cultures indicates that it happened. Two questions emerge: which account is most accurate and whether the flood was global or local.
I’m of the opinion that the flood was regional rather than global for several reasons. First, while the flood was universal in effect, it was only regional in extent due to human’s not having moved much beyond the Mesopotamia at the time. A global flood was unnecessary.
Secondly, language like “under all the heavens”, “all the earth”, etc. are most likely from the perspective of the observer, i.e. a flood from horizon to horizon. “Mountains” could be translated “hills” with rain and water “covering” (or running over) them rather than submerging them.
Thirdly, this would mean there were not polar bears and penguins, etc. on the ark, but only animals indigenous to the region and of special relation to man.
Fourthly, a global flood would have torn the ark to pieces, no matter how well built. And it certainly would not have landed anywhere near its original location.
Fifthly, the scripture itself said a “large wind” was used in the evaporation process. Such a wind would have virtually no effect in a global flood.
Finally, if the flood were only regional why not just have Noah, his family, and whatever animals needed, hike out of the area and be safe? Why a big specifically-built ark? I think because God often operates via symbols teaching important truths or significance, i.e. salvation in Christ or deliverance through troubled waters (trials).
Use of Metaphor – The scriptures use metaphor and other literary devices. One need only utilize common exegetical analysis and context to determine what any author meant as literal or metaphorical (and on a case-by-case basis).
Inerrancy – If there are consequential or factual errors in the Bible that does not mean Christianity is false. However, I find it remarkable how well the Bible holds up to scrutiny and that there are plausible answers to discrepancies. Personally, I hold to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.
Hell – is not a place of torture (external) but of torment (internal). There are many descriptions of hell in the scriptures. The “fire” is most likely not the chemical combustion we’re familiar with. It, combined with all the other descriptions, reduces to separation from God and the judgment of God.
This does not make hell more tolerable (that’s not possible). But it does dispel hillbilly theology that has poor souls swatting flames for eternity! Christ depicted conversation taking place “in the flames”. No person could have a conversation while on fire! On our familiar planet, one is in mindless torture if burning.
It is, however, a profound tragedy to be eternally separated from God. It is a “spiritual chaos” one enters when the intact “self” survives the physical body. There are indications that some kind of body could exist in hell.
Heaven – is a remarkably physical place. It is not ethereal or immaterial. It is a combination of a “new heaven and new earth”. We will live on earth in physical bodies that are “spiritual” which nonetheless have access to one another and continued exploration of the universe without many of the limits of current bodies affected by entropy, etc. Christ’s resurrected body could be touched and he ate food, etc. This describes the redeemed, resurrected body.
This is not to be confused with an intermediary state which is not physical. At death, one goes either into the very presence of God to await the resurrection of the body, or in a state of chaos to await final judgment.
“God will not allow anything to happen in your life that you can’t handle” – False! Scripturally, there are plenty of things that happen that one cannot handle! Devastating things! The accurate teaching is that nothing will happen that God’s grace will not get one through.
“You must become like children” - Christ said to “humble yourself like a little child”. It does not mean to be naïve, ignorant, gullible, or irrational.
Pascal’s Wager – This is not an argument for God nor necessarily addressed to atheists. Pascal used a popular gambling motif to shake the French laity out of spiritual complacency and to at least move them in the direction of God.
Further, the Wager, as it is commonly used, is not allowed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He said if Christ was not risen, then the jig is up! Christianity is false! He did not say believe it anyway “just in case” or because it provides a positive way of life.
I hope these internal considerations provide food for thought.
Learning how to overcome over-certainty should be our top priority as atheists. He is a good example of a regular guy.
I mean think about it. Certainty is created through perception. If we tweak with perception, we ought to be able to find a way through. It is all about figuring out what works though...
Any time we run into people who are certain, we should take the time to see what kind of perception alteration is possible. If we do it in a more methodical and documented manner, we may be able to get a breakthrough.
RE: "He is a good example of a regular guy." - if true, that's scary, and does not bode well for the world.
The truth, Nate, is that over the past 2000 years, waiting for him to get back to us, Christianity has morphed into something that Yeshua, if he ever existed, would no longer recognize.
If he ever actually DOES pop back in, he's really gonna be pissed! But other than wilting a fig tree and whipping a few money changers, I'm not clear on how much damage he'd be likely to do.
For me... when I was christian the bible was never "literal." The only thing we seemed to take literally was the story of Jesus Christ as depicted in the gospels. However, it is amazing how flimsy such a faith was. All it took for me to lose faith was to discover the truth about the gospels: 1. There were many more than the 4 in the bible and most were rejected for political reasons. 2. The gospels were written by unidentified men who had never met Jesus. 3 (and perhaps most devastating to my religious faith) The new testament as we know it was compiled over a century after the death of Jesus and by a group of elite Roman men who squabbled over political reasons to decide what was going to be "true" and "false" and these men were meeting at The Council of Nicea, putting the new testament together like it was mosaic made of cut-out magazine pictures, with no divine guidance at all... and plenty of disgusting political agendas. Who are these politicians to reject or affirm gospels based solely on political agendas?
Pretty devastating to an intelligent person of who's only information that leads to a "divinity" of Christ was now unrealiable.
Even the IDEA of the divinity of Christ was decided at the Council of Nicea!
What Christian's faith can survive realization that everything you thought you knew about Jesus was a cheap political propaganda fest... unless that person was willing to do feats of mind contortionism that belongs in the circus!
That's kind of how my thought process was, too. Once you find out some things about church history and archaeology, then what *can* you base your faith on? Personal experience, like everyone else in every single religion? You can't do that, because how will you know that your personal experience is real and correct, and everyone else's is wrong? Once you get rid of the bible being literal (which is pretty easy), then it's all just a slippery downhill slope.
That is very, very sad, Sky! You rejected a big straw man! That is totally false information on canonization, especially Nicea - which had nothing to do with canonization or "deciding " the deity of Christ.
From your post, I think you would find A General Introduction to the Bible by Geisler and Nix very interesting. The bibliography alone is worth a look. It lists the best resources in these areas from liberal to conservative.
The Council of Nicea took place in 325 A.D. by the order of the Roman Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine. Nicea was located in Asia Minor, east of Constantinople. At the Council of Nicea, Emperor Constantine presided over a group of Church bishops and leaders with the purpose of defining the true God for all of Christianity and eliminating all the confusion, controversy, and contention within Christ’s church. The Council of Nicea affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and established an official definition of the Trinity—the deity of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit under one Godhead, in three co-equal and co-eternal Persons.
Bingo! That's exactly what I was talking about... and that was what became the death-blow to any vestige of my faith that was left. Basically... if an emperor and his political cronies decided Jesus was God and it wasn't agreed on before that... how can I know it's true?
Sky - and it wasn't just on the whim of an emperor, such as Nero fiddling while Rome burned, it was at the insistence of an emperor desperate to find some uniting force to hold his empire together.
Basically, the same motivation prompted the decision to make Yahweh the god of the Israelites, after their emergence from Egypt (if indeed that happened), and the compilation and publication of the Old Testament after the Babylonian Conquest - unification through a shared belief system.
hey Archaeopteryx, can you post this in the other one, it is something worth exploring too, whether or not Constantine believed in the religion or not, because this is hotly being debated in the field at the point.
Skycomet, we started another thread on this because this historical topic has a lot of stuff that is worth exploring. Feel free to come on over to it. http://www.thinkatheist.com/forum/topics/the-council-of-nicea-and-h...
Oh yes! The history of the development of Early Christianity is fascinating instead of terrifying... once you shed your Christian shackles and look at it as a pure dispassionate academic.