Religion Challenge Part 3: Hitchens Video (continued)

(This is an ongoing conversation that I had last year with some Christian friends of mine. We agreed to examine and comment on the various resources that supposedly support our respective positions. You can find a link to the entire series below)

This article continues the conversation posted in yesterday's blog.

Response by Kristen and Brent (10/8/2009)


First, to accept Christianity and reject the 1000s of alternative religions is only to say that
other religions grasped part of the truth, but we differ in significant points
about who God is and what He demands. If you’re willing to grant that there is a
God, then we can shift the focus of the debate to whether Christianity got it
right. But to argue that the 1000s of gods that have come and gone somehow
supports the atheist position is like arguing that there are 1000s of kinds of
toothpaste at the supermarket, and I don’t know which to choose, so I think I
won’t brush my teeth. The fact that there are 1000s of other religions is
actually much more difficult for the atheist to explain than the Christian. God
says the evidence of His existence is all around us – it’s in the order and
beauty of nature, it’s hard-wired into our psychology. We are made in His image.
He gave us rational minds to understand the order in the universe He created for
us. He gave us a desire to seek him. He gave us a conscience to recognize His
moral code, and the free will to make moral choices. Other religions recognize
these basic truths about who God is, but only get it part right. The atheist is
forced to maintain the position that the vast majority of the human race
throughout history and in most cultures who believe(d) in God, including since
the advance of modern science, have succumbed to a widespread delusion.


Secondly, you, Hitchens, and Maher cite a number of sins of Christians as evidence of the immorality of
Christianity. I think this point is significant enough to deserve a separate
post in the future, but let me say for the time being that judging Christianity
based on those that claim the name, but do not live according to its tenets is
like dismissing democracy because the Soviet Union claimed to be a democracy.


Third, you assert that the Bible was written by anonymous authors. This is simply not true. Nearly half of the New
Testament books include the author’s name in the text: “I Paul, write this
greeting in my own hand.” (I Corinthians 16:21). Most are letters: “Simon Peter,
a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of
our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” (II
Peter 1:1). There are a few books of the bible that we genuinely don’t know the
author, but for most of them the author has been well established by biblical
scholars.


Fourth, you accuse Christians of cherry-picking parts of the bible they like and ignoring the
uncomfortable parts. Of course, you are doing the same cherry-picking to support
your points. I did not say that you can slice the bible any way you want it, but
that many people do read into it what they want, especially when they take
specific passages of our context. The same is true of the U.S. Constitution, but
the varying interpretations do not make the original document meaningless. We
agree with you 100% about not cherry-picking. Context is vital to a proper
understanding of the bible. Each passage must be understood in the immediate
context of the passages surrounding it, the context of the book in which it was
written, and the context of the larger themes of the bible. Each book must also
be understood in its historical context and in the context of the author’s
purpose for writing. The bible contains books of history, books of law, books of
poetry, books of prophesies, books of wisdom and instruction, and books that mix
several of these elements. Many of these books use highly poetic or symbolic
language. Jesus spoke in parables. To read those parables literally would be to
miss the larger point. On several occasions in the gospels, Jesus had to explain
the meaning of the parables to the disciples who didn’t get it. For some
passages in the bible, the meaning is clear from the context; for others,
Christians disagree on the proper interpretation. The standard should be what
the text says, understood in its proper context, not what we want it to say.
When you rely on the text itself and the larger context of the bible as your
guide, you’ll substantially narrow the space for disagreement. When in doubt,
Christians should remember Jesus’ answer when he was asked which is the greatest
commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the
second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets
hand on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Any interpretation that
doesn’t flow from love for God and love for others simply isn’t biblical.


Fifth, you assert that faith and reason are by definition contradictory, and quote Webster. However, the
definition of faith that you cite from Webster is the second definition of eight
that Webster offers. The full list is below (
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith):
Confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
Belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith
with someone concerning honesty.

A system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
The obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking
faith.

The observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who
proved his faith during our recent troubles.

Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or
saved.

The first and third through eighth definition clearly do not talk about faith as a blindly ignoring
evidence. Even the second definition hinges on how you define proof. We’ve said
at the outset of this discussion that we cannot provide conclusive “proof” of
the existence of God (if we could, we’d be making millions on a book tour).
However, we can offer evidence and rational argument to support our position.
Yes, with most of the evidence, there are alternative explanations for the
evidence, but just because you can offer an alternative explanation of the
evidence, doesn’t mean the first is untrue, or even that the two explanations
are incompatible.


The example that Webster chooses for its second definition of faith is enlightening: “He had
faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.” Does any scientist
start out blindly guessing at hypotheses, and then perform experiments to
validate those blind guesses? I suppose a few scientists may be gifted with
extraordinary intuition that they rely on when formulating their hypothesis, but
I suspect most rely on their reason and experience. For example, if the data
from an experiment didn’t fit the current theory, the scientist proposes a new
hypothesis that he/she thinks will explain the data better. The scientist acts
on faith that this hypothesis is correct, but sets up some sort of experiment
that can offer evidence to support or refute the new hypothesis. If enough
evidence exists to support that hypothesis, then it becomes a theory, and
eventually a law, but even the most well-supported laws in science are still
only tentative, because a new theory could come along that may better explain
the available evidence. Hence, all scientists are acting on faith. They either
accept the foundational theories of science as true and develop and test
hypothesis to explain other phenomenon within that larger theoretical framework,
or the really brash ones act on faith that some element of current scientific
theory is wrong, and they can provide a better hypothesis to explain it. In both
cases, the method is the same – a scientist proposes a hypothesis on faith and
then seeks evidence to support or refute it. This is not a blind faith, but one
that constantly seeks to exposes its articles of faith to the rigors of testing
and evidence. I’ve elaborated more on the point of how a science requires faith
in unproven assumptions in a separate post entitled “Why Science Does Not Rest
on as Firm a Foundation as You Might Imagine.”


This has been Kristen’s and my approach with respect to our faith in God. Neither of us blindly accepted the faith of our parents. Instead
we both went through a long period of searching. This was the method of the
author of Ecclesiastes (likely King Solomon): “I devoted myself to wisdom and to
study and to explore all that is done under heaven” (Ecc 1:13). This is the
method of any Christian seeking to know God more. Faith is not the absence of
questions or the absence of doubt, but the persistence of belief when we don’t
get all the answers we’d like. Why would God give us rational minds if His
intent was for us not to use them? Faith is knowing that we will never have all
the answers, but trusting in the one who has proved himself faithful many times.


Sixth, I argued that many scientists and intellectuals have looked at the evidence and concluded that there is a God.
You assert this to be false without evidence. Here’s the
evidence:


Many of the Founders of early science were Christians: (http://scibel.com/scibel/materials_myths_few_scientists_true_christians.html):
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes
(1597-1650), Robert Boyle(1627-1691), Isaac Newton (1642-1726), and Louis
Pasteur (1822-1895).

Ironically, two of the key Darwinists the atheist Richard Dawkins identifies in the twentieth
century were David Lack (1910-1973) who became a Christian in his late 20’s, and
R A Fisher (1890-1962) who regularly preached in his Cambridge college chapel.
In genetics, of course, whilst Darwin’s skeptical cousin Francis Galton was
pronouncing that the “priestly mind was not conducive to science” the
breakthrough in his chosen area of genetics was being made by an Austrian Monk
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884).

Even Copernicus and Galileo, who you are so quick to cite for their conflicts with
the Church, did not see their scientific theories in conflict with the bible,
but only objected to the Church’s interpretation of the natural order. See:
http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html

For more lists of scientist who were Christians, see: http://www.tektonics.org/scim/sciencemony.htm#app1

Twentieth Century scientists, who are/were Christians (http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1999-04/923600959.Sh.r.html):
Arthur Eddington, an important mathematical cosmologist, was a Quaker.
Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest, proposed the Big Bang theory.
Henry F. "Fritz" Schaefer is one of the foremost theoretical chemists of our day.
William Phillips was co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Francis Collins (the director of the U.S. Human Genome Project)
Rustum Roy, one of the world's foremost materials scientists, holds three chairs at the
Pennsylvania State University.
Those who claim that evolution is incompatible with theism should remember that Augustine
of Hippo, the 5th-Century bishop and philosopher, "scooped" Darwin by suggesting
that God created the universe with built-in organizing principles through which
all forms of life and non-life developed. This is the position of most theists
in science.


Insofar as one exists, the "official position" of SCIENCE on this question is that science and religion
are two different ways of knowing and two different areas of inquiry. They
should be kept separate, and there is no necessary influence of one upon the
other. Many (or most) working scientists hold this view. The cynic may suggest
that this view simply avoids controversy, but by and large it is honestly-held;
for example, Stephen J. Gould's Rocks of Ages: Science & Religion in the
Fullness of Life.


While some of the individuals noted above were unorthodox in their religious beliefs, most
accepted the basic tenets of the Christian faith as true (not just accepting a
generic creator God). You can argue that all of these individuals got it wrong.
You could argue that some of them don’t have all the scientific evidence that we
have in the 20th century, but that doesn’t address the 20th century scientists
I’ve cited. But it is simply not intellectually credible to argue that no one
who takes and honest look at the evidence can still believe in God. You have to
ignore too great a mass of evidence to make this argument. I would dare you to
read Augustine, Kant, or C.S. Lewis and argue that these guys put aside their
rational minds in order to believe in God.


Lastly, you argue that the Christian idea of your sin being taken away by the punishment of another is just borrowed from other ancient
beliefs. Here, you’re part right, but this actually bolsters the Christian
claim. The tradition of piling the sins of the people on a goat and driving that
goat into the wilderness came from the Jewish tradition on the Day of Atonement.
See Leviticus Chapter 16 for God’s institution of that tradition and also
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scapegoat for the origin of the word “scapegoat.” The New
Testament (specifically Hebrews 10:1-18) tells us that God established this
tradition in the Old Testament as a foreshadowing of the final, perfect
sacrifice for sins.


______________________________________________________________

Response by Adam (10/11/2009)



But to argue that the 1000s of gods that have come and gone somehow supports the atheist position
is like arguing that there are 1000s of kinds of toothpaste at the supermarket,
and I don’t know which to choose, so I think I won’t brush my
teeth.


There is a huge problem with your logic here. The more appropriate analogy would be if the supermarket
sold thousands of different kinds of x-ray glasses that let you see unicorns. It
would be pointless to try to figure out the right one if you couldn't first
prove there were unicorns. That is absolutely a reason not to bother with trying
on the glasses.


The fact that there are 1000s of other religions is actually much more difficult for the
atheist to explain than the Christian.


My jaw just hit the floor :-). This is complete proof of how easy it is to 1) Start a religion and 2) Get people to fall in line. You can see
the modern examples of this in Scientology and Mormonism. I can't see how you
could take that any other way. Even if one of them was valid, logic dictates
that the vast majority of these are false (both the Greek polytheism and
Christian monotheism can't be valid) so we
know that man made
the vast majority of the religions on Earth. Given our history of creating
religions, I can't fathom how you can argue that this is a point for
belief.


The atheist is forced to maintain the position that the vast majority of the human race throughout
history and in most cultures who believe(d) in God, including since the advance
of modern science, have succumbed to a widespread delusion.


Forced? See the previous answer. Once again, we both discount at least 99% of the religions
that have come and gone. I just went one more religion than you did. This has
nothing to do with science. It has only to do with the fact that all of these
religions bring different Gods and beliefs to the table so therefore they are
mutually exclusive.


Secondly, you, Hitchens, and Maher cite a number of sins of Christians as evidence of the
immorality of Christianity. Let me say for the time being that judging
Christianity based on those that claim the name, but do not live according to
its tenets is like dismissing democracy because the Soviet Union claimed to be a
democracy.


That isn't quite the point. The point is that the book advocates a whole lot of evil. Is it all evil?
Of course not. And the usual argument is "that's because people do not read it
the right way". Baloney! The book says what it says. And at no point did I say
that Christianity is immoral. You can't argue that the words of the Bible have
advocated so much hatred and bigotry in our world. And it wasn't a result of
people taking anything out of context.


Third, you assert that the Bible was written by anonymous authors. This is simply not true. Nearly half of the New Testament books include
the author’s name in the text.


Actually it is completely true. The authors were the people that wrote it all down. Once again, I'll reference your book "The Case
for Christ". May I remind you that these were the best and the brightest
Christian scholars out there. The opening
interview of the book admits
clearly that the authors of the bible are unknown and that the book was
written
decades after Jesus died (if he even lived). Worse, the scholar said
that the oral history would be accurate because the message was so important
that they would keep repeating it back to each other instead of writing it down.
If the authors lied, they could have said that Santa Claus was an apostle and it
wouldn't matter. Even if there were letters from the apostles (and there aren't)
it wouldn't give an ounce more credibility to their (often contradictory)
stories. So at the end of the day a handful of men wrote down the events that
they did not witness, nor were they able to talk to the people that supposedly
did witness it. Nobody wrote
anything down during
the lifetime of Jesus or the apostles. And yet the believers put science on
trial? And may I remind you that the oldest known copy of the bible does not
even mention a resurrection.


The scientist acts on faith that this hypothesis is correct, but sets up some sort
of experiment that can offer evidence to support or refute the new hypothesis.
If enough evidence exists to support that hypothesis, then it becomes a theory,
and eventually a law, but even the most well-supported laws in science are still
only tentative, because a new theory could come along that may better explain
the available evidence.


For the life of me I can't understand why believers make these statements about science.
First, scientist do not use "faith" or "assumptions". It is what you said - the
search for truths. It does not set out to disprove or prove religion. It only
becomes a problem when it contradicts religion. It drives me bonkers when people
say ridiculous things like "your science doesn't know everything". Of course it
doesn't. So what? It isn't a world view or a belief system. It doesn't ask me to
believe or disbelieve anything. It doesn't tell me that gays shouldn't marry. It
doesn't tell me how to treat my slaves or that women are possessions.


It is a sunday morning right now. As I write this I am watching a special on the human family tree. Scientists have a
better understanding now than ever of where we came from. They do not care what
the mythology of the various religions tell them - they just want the truth. And
in ten years they will know more than they do now. What's on the other channels?
Holy men telling us their version of God's word. The contrast breaks my heart.


I'll say it again - you found "truths" by looking in your heart. So did all of the other followers of all of
the religions that you know aren't true. Faith is belief in the absence of
evidence. The apostles demanded proof that of the resurrected Jesus - why
wouldn't you want the same proof that they demanded? Hell, they saw all of the
miracles and
still didn't believe. Look, you believe what you believe. That's
fine. But you aren't helping your cause by belittling science or making science
into something that isn't (a belief system).


Fourth, you accuse Christians of cherry-picking parts of the bible they like and ignoring the uncomfortable parts. Of course, you are doing
the same cherry-picking to support your points.


Nonsense. First, I can certainly cherry-pick the bible to pick out the horrific/awful things. It isn't my belief system. These passages have
been used to do horrible things and that continues to this day. And all of this
stuff about context and interpretation is meaningless. It is vague and
contradictory and this is a big part of the reason why so many different
churches have resulted from the same text. At the end of the day you still read
it how you read it. I can find passages that say being gay is ok and others that
say it isn't.


Any interpretation that doesn’t flow from love for God and love for others simply isn’t biblical.


Completely not true. Notice how different the God of the Old Testament is from the God of the New Testament. The
OT God is angry, jealous, and vengeful. The early Christians knew that this
wouldn't sell well when compared to the other Gods of the day so they reinvented
him for the NT. Once again, the book says what it says. Your statement is your
own interpretation.


Those who claim that evolution is incompatible with theism should remember that Augustine
of Hippo, the 5th-Century bishop and philosopher, "scooped" Darwin by suggesting
that God created the universe with built-in organizing principles through which
all forms of life and non-life developed. This is the position of most theists
in science.


I'm not sure what your point is about the Christian scientists. Of course there are Christian
scientist. Back in the day you had no choice but to be Christian. There is
example after example of scientists jailed or executed for blasphemy. And as I
said earlier, it wasn't like the scients of that day and today are out to
disprove religion. Also keep in mind that the Christian scientists of 500 years
ago did not have the benefit of knowing what we now know (not that they could be
anything but Christian anyway).


But look at the bigger picture. The Romans were one of the advanced civilizations on
Earth until Christianity came to town. At that point all progress stopped and
their civilization actually went backwards. It took centuries just to get back
to where they were before they started building churches. It wasn't until the
last 100 years that scientists were allowed to work without religion looking
over their shoulder.


I'm also not sure what your point is about Augustine. First, he believed this even though it
contradicts the Bible. It was his
interpretation.
Second, the church didn't feel that way and wouldn't admit to evolution until
the
20th century. Some churches still do not accept it. Darwin was a devout
Christian and sat on his findings for twenty years because he feared what it
would to to those that believe. He was right. Science and religion are not
exclusionary if the latter is willing to admit that much of its history isn't
historically accurate. Once you start doing that, where do you stop? And this is
the tap dance that the holy men will do from not wntil the end of time. Science
doesn't concern itself with religion but religion will always need to concern
itself with science and this is why science is slandered the way it is.


Lastly, you argue that the Christian idea of your sin being taken away by the punishment of another is just
borrowed from other ancient beliefs. Here, you’re part right, but this actually
bolsters the Christian claim. The tradition of piling the sins of the people on
a goat and driving that goat into the wilderness came from the Jewish tradition
on the Day of Atonement.


Sure, but that wasn't the point of what I said. The point is that Christians claim to
have a better system of morals, yet the base of this belief is that someone else
paid for your sins? That is pretty crappy, I think.


Moreso, I can't fathom how you think that this would bolster the validity of Christianity. The OT was an oral tradition that was passed around
for centuries. Part of that tradition (and many others that pre-dated
Christianity) is that the messiah would one day come and this is the reason that
so many men claimed to be that person. It is also the same reason that the
authors of the NT (whoever they were) had to have Jesus fit the part of what was
predicted and why Jesus then had to go and do silly things like raise the dead
that were mentioned in the OT. We also know for a fact that throughout the first
millenium man made Jesus into who he is today (particularly the belief in the
holy trinity).

Link to this page
Link to the entire series

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Tags: apologists, atheism, debate

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