God Hides In The Shadows Of Ignorance

19 03 2008

An Agnostic doesn’t know if God exists but allows that it could be true. An Atheist doesn’t know if God exists, allows that it could be true, but very strongly doubts it because there is no evidence to support such an assertion.

People of faith, in contrast, admit that they have no evidence for the existence of God but proudly extol the virtues of said faith and devoutly insist that He certainly must exist. That of course is the very essence of faith, a belief in something without any evidence thereof. This seems to me a debatable virtue to be sure, for if there was evidence for God then faith would by definition cease to be faith; it would be knowledge.

The Bible tells us essentially that God and his existence is beyond our understanding. I nearly agree except I would phrase it differently. It is only in the realms beyond our understanding that God can exist.

Throughout history humans have cited God as the explanation for anything we have not understood. Gravity, celestial activity, the weather, illness, etc. were all believed to be controlled by the whims of one or more supernatural beings. However, as our knowledge and understanding of the natural world has grown, our need to use God as the default explanation has diminished markedly. Advancements in all areas of science have filled in many of the fundamental gaps in knowledge leaving fewer and fewer scraps upon which a belief in God can be nourished.

So as God is no longer required to move the stars or cure infection He is instead relegated to the extremes of philosophy and existence. The primary domains still vague enough to support the existence of a deity are the origins of the universe, the origins of life, and (of course) death. In every other context where God’s domain has been encroached by scientific inquiry God has ceded His territory without challenge, almost as if He were not there at all. Given such an appalling and unequivocal track record some still cling to their faith and insist that a belief in God should remain respected and unchallenged even though He only remains plausible in the areas of mankind’s remaining ignorance.

The problem for me is that a blind faith in God is not an entirely benign belief. Putting aside religious conflicts, societal repression, systemic bigotry, and pedophile priests, there remains a serious problem with the persistence of faith in a world that is rapidly outgrowing such antiquated means of universal explanation. The success of human beings as a species hinges on our ability understand and in turn adapt to our environment. Unfortunately for many generations the default answer for anything unknown has been “therein lies God” even though that doesn’t actually explain anything. Worse still, many otherwise intelligent and inquisitive people cease their critical contemplations when faced with the faithful assertion that “God did it”.

Fortunately scientists, often in defiance of the religious dogma which dominates most cultures, have advanced our understanding of the natural world and as a result humanity has benefited in improved health and quality of life. Unfortunately the vast majority of politicians who control public policy and the areas for research funding are still functioning under the constraints of faith and often make decisions reflecting such bronze age thinking.

What to do about it? Dispensing with religion seems unlikely given the tenacious grip it has on most of the population. Staying informed on issues and being willing to debate all spurious faith based claims is a good starting point. But of all the options available I think the best course of action is to simply keep asking questions. Question the religious assumptions of the faithful of all stripes. Of course they will defend their faith, the point is not about convincing a person that their particular religion is wrong (and who knows, one of them might just be right) but about reasonable questions that implicitly show that the faithful also have the right to entertain doubt.

Religions are adept at parlaying a lack of evidence into a mirage of proof of God. Conversely they can expertly cast doubt on any inconvenient data or facts to give their congregations the intellectual fig leaf necessary to maintain faith. Truly critical thinking however is the one thing that organized religions fear most. When members begin to ask their own questions that beget more questions that beget more questions…then the artifice of religion starts to crumble. For those who may even shed the doctrine and dogma, there awaits a new sense of wonder to replace the previous certainties of their faith. Perhaps someday, once the blinders of faith are completely removed from all, we will realize the greater potential humanity holds.

Imagine…

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11 responses

19 03 2008
Reverand

I find the points here interesting but misplaced. Organized religions do not fear “truly critical thinking” as you put it. The aim of science is different than religion and the two should remain separate. Science cannot explain why the universe began, why we are here, etc. You are quick to point out that religion (for example, the Bible) is often wrong on scientific things. Of course they are, because they were inspired by God but written by people who at the time of writing were ignorant of current scientific theories. The aim of the Bible is not to show how the universe began, but to show the “whys” of existence.

19 03 2008
SuperJesus

Obviously I don’t give much credibility to the “Non-overlapping magisterium” argument. The Bible and other religious texts clearly attempt to explain the origins of the universe, there are no asterisks indicating this passage is to be disregarded as a metaphor or this passage is to be read literally. The question boils down to is your holy scripture the unerring Word of God or is it just a collection of fables from ancient story tellers? If it is the former then your God is lacking basic knowledge of his own creation, and if it is the latter then why would you choose to grant authority to such ancient flawed texts?

19 03 2008
rustedangel

I like playing the devil’s advocate on your blog. If the question reads

“is your holy scripture the unerring Word of God or is it just a collection of fables from ancient story tellers?”

I imagine that the enlightened faithful person would answer; “both.” Is that a contradiction? Sure, but the idea is “limited writer, unlimited source.” It is worth noting that much of Islam (and many hardcore christians..) actually don’t buy into this. That’s where the problem crops up. On the other hand, if religion is your version of humanism, I don’t have a problem with it.

SJ is correct to point out, however, that literal interpretation is fatal. Or silly. Or both.

19 03 2008
SuperJesus

Fundamentalists who take a strict literal reading of holy scripture certainly have more intellectual integrity, but because of their radical beliefs they are far more terrifying in their beliefs than your everyday average religious moderate who cherry-picks from his or her religious texts.

If a large portion of one’s holy book is self contradictory, morally repugnant, or provably wrong then on what grounds does one still follow the “good parts” under the assertion that those passages are God’s will but all of the “bad parts” aren’t?

And to be clear I’m not talking about Pantheism or Humanism here. 🙂

16 09 2008
Kristine

Super,

I was drawn to this article, as you know, because you referenced it in your comment to me under another post (titled “Church Confesses Darwin…”). I think I said what I wanted to say in the other post but will make a few observations about this post.

You say, “there are no asterisks indicating this passage is to be disregarded as a metaphor or this passage is to be read literally.”

First, I would not suggest that anything used metaphorically was done so with the intent that it be “disregarded.” Obviously, it was written with purpose and intent. Also, you are well aware that the Bible was not only written in a different time period, but in very different language and a very different culture. (What means one thing to us may have had a completely different meaning to them.) Much is misunderstood and sometimes completely lost in translation.

We may look at it and not understand where the figurative or metaphorical style of the writing comes into play, but those who knew the language and lived in that time and culture easily understood much of this.

And for what they did not understand they were inspired to relay in a fashion that got across and underscored the spiritual and practical message at hand. (Again the Bible is a spiritual guide not a science book.)

The Bible states in Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

You presume God must know nothing because he does not reveal all. I remind you that it is us who know virtually nothing. Assuming you are an agnostic (I don’t really know your story) you believe there is a possibility God exists. If it is possible, why do you repeatedly imply “He” is the one who knows nothing?

It seems you think you must know a lot, or even more than those in Biblical times. But their knowlege, intellect and reasoning could probably make your head spin. They were not fools just because they lived long ago.

You state that people who have faith do so “blindly” and that they admit there is no evidence for God. For you to say they believe blindly indicates that you believe you are not blind, or not as blind as them, because you think you can very well see that they are blind. They see, however, that you are blind because the things of God are clearly evident to them.

I do not think Christians say there is no evidence that God exists. What they are saying is that there is no evidence in the five senses realm that can be universally accepted by the natural man (unspiritual).

Again, the Bible states in Corinthians: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Not everybody is attuned to the spiritual side of life and some more than others. That does not mean things spiritual do not exist.

You also imply that for everything we do not understand we attribute to God. Do Christians fall into this trap? Yes they do. Humans were designed (coded) to seek God. And they will do their utmost, whether right or wrong in their attempt. Any error on their part does not negate God or His Word. And if God does exist, everything does trace back to Him in some way, anyway.

Also, you seem to have problems with flawed Christians, i.e. bringing up pedophile priests, etc. That is the one of the first weapons wielded by those who seek to disprove Christianity. What about the flawed agnostics and atheists? Maybe you are under the impression Christians are not fallible human beings like everyone else.

What about all the good that Christians are doing all over the world? What about the COUNTLESS Christian groups, individuals and organizations that step in and reach out to the starving, destitute, abused, sick, crippled, hurting and lonely people all over the world when and where NOONE else will. Truth be told Christians do more to help others than ANY other group of individuals in the world.

16 09 2008
SuperJesus

Wow Kristine, lots to cover here.

I presume God must know nothing not because he does not reveal all but because what he is presumed to have revealed in the Bible is nothing more than could be attributed to someone living thousands of years ago. I leave it as extra credit if you can find anything, and I mean anything in the Bible that someone ignorant of basic mathematics and science couldn’t have thought up on their own. You can’t be suggesting to me that your perfect God mistakenly thought the value of Pi was 3 as it is inferred in 1 Kings 17:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2? Even the Egyptians were closer at the same time yet I suppose it could have been one massive rounding error or a really appalling typo.

Which brings us to the “God’s true words were lost in translation” argument. He’s all powerful but he’s in desperate need of a good editor and a xerox machine. If the true meanings were lost in translation then how is it you presume such divine authority in quoting any passage from the Bible since you have no way of knowing if one passage is correct or not? Apparently the passages you like are God’s word and the ones that are obviously silly, criminally insane, or ridiculous are mistakes. But am I to understand you’re asserting divine insight so that you know which passages are legitimate and which are not? I think the book might say such claims are blasphemous (unless the book is wrong in which case they aren’t). It’s all very confusing to me.

Now I don’t know what evidence you presume to possess that is outside of the 5 senses other than the warm feeling of contentment you get when you imagine God is near. I submit that humans were not designed to seek God but it is apparent they have evolved to seek explanations, and in the absence of evidence they will make up something to fill the gap. In this case God was the perfect catch all for everything from lightening and floods to birth and death. Luckily not all people were content with that since “God Did It” really doesn’t explain much and I doubt we would be where we are now if we were all so complacent.

Pedophile priests are simply convenient to point to because they pretend to be so virtuous and yet they abuse this pretense to gain access to children to abuse. It is sickening on a level that is difficult to comprehend and I find it equally sickening when others of faith defend or dismiss these men who deserve little more than to be executed for such horrific violations of children and trust. They are stark evidence that the Church is not all that it pretends to be.

As for good Christians doing good things, I don’t doubt they are out there making a difference, but that is not evidence for God. I do think the Red Cross and even the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation do great good around the world and all without the prerequisite submission to someone else’s imaginary man in the sky.

17 09 2008
Kristine

Super,

I won’t attempt to defend God’s journalistic and editorial skills. The longevity of the scriptures attests to the quality and accuracy of His work through the hands of the men in whom he divinely inspired and trusted to reveal His will.

You can bring up this point and that in argument against the Bible, but from experience I have seen that these apparent errors in scripture are refutable by those who have more insight into the original texts and understanding of the contexts. I have so far never seen anything challenged in which someone of greater knowledge of the scriptures cannot counter. I am not the person who has a handle on every minute detail in the Bible. I never will be.

But of you want to discuss mathematics we can. How about the law of probability?

Christ was considered a “nobody” in his time. Looked down upon both because of his very modest occupation as a carpenter (there was a great disparity between social classes back then) and thought of as a lawless lunatic by the most respected members of society. His ministry is even believed to have lasted much less longer than the short span of 3 years as is commonly believed in mainstream theology. So for all accounts and purposes this is a man (“nobody”) who suddenly arose out of dust.

Yet he made this impossible statement as recorded in the Bible: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Now, I’m not a mathematician, but if you can enlighten me I am interested in knowing. What were the chances of those simple words from an uneducated man of such humble means coming to pass? Not only in his time but also lasting the span of over 2,000 years and with no end in sight.

It cannot be denied that NOTHING has prevailed against his church–Christianity is stronger than ever. Open your eyes; there is no indication that Christianity is going away because of our newfound scientific knowledge. And his church WILL continue to prevail.

Seriously, do the REAL math (not guesswork) on that probability, if you can, and get back to me. Then I’ll make the effort to embark on a journey with you to study the accuracy of your claim about the value of Pi.

As for the organizations most are Christian based or are comprised of Christians doing the actual hands on work. Yes there are some other groups out there it cannot be denied, but the overwhelming bulk of them are Christian.

17 09 2008
SuperJesus

Kristine, asking me to calculate the possibility that Jesus would rise up from his humble beginnings would be like me asking you to calculate the probability that Harry Potter could become an expert at flying his Nimbus 2000 broom in just a few days. Forgive me but it is all so much fiction and every bit as silly as that.

As for your statement that “errors in scripture are refutable by those who have more insight into the original texts and understanding of the contexts. I have so far never seen anything challenged in which someone of greater knowledge of the scriptures cannot counter.” Using the scripture to defend the scripture is circular logic. The Bible is the unerring word of God because it says so in the Bible. Right. I’ve seen what passes for knowledge in explaining away the Pi error (<a href=”http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v17/i2/pi.asp”like this one for example) and it boils down to “c’mon, they didn’t mean 30 cubits, they meant to say 30.32 cubits. Then it all works out!” Ah yes, such knowledge is not that of the intellectually honest man.

If there are so many people out there who know so much about the “true” meaning of the Bible and its correct translation don’t you think one of them might put together that ultimate corrected version of the Bible so that we could all get the story straight and not continue living incorrectly in God’s eyes because our version of His instruction manual has errors and typos? Honestly, you must be joking. Which version of the Bible or any other holy book should we use as our baseline, or should we just start from scratch and make it all up as we go along…like they did the first time.

17 09 2008
Kristine

Super,

As for what is fiction or not, Harry Potter is fiction; I was never referring to him or the likes of such a weak analogy (no offense intended). Christ actually lived and breathed and made the prophetic statement I cited. Taking all factors into consideration the mathematical probability of his words coming to pass is infinitely negative. (Especially on such an enduring and global basis.) Yet it has indeed come to pass.

I’m not sure where you see the “silliness” in that unless it is a subconscious effort to discount the possibility there may have been something real, truthful and powerful behind his claim. You are the one who wanted to get into mathematics and probability to discredit scripture; I certainly never expected you or anybody could actually make the calculation.

You say, “If there are so many people out there who know so much about the ‘true’ meaning of the Bible and its correct translation don’t you think one of them might put together that ultimate corrected version of the Bible.”

I will have to turn that back around at you and say that the reasoning, logic and sources of knowledge you yourself use to base your opinions and points of view on are themselves limited and often errorneous. So how can you use it to discredit another’s? Historians, scientists and archeologists cannot unravel the NONBIBLICAL mysteries of the past, whether written or physical. Yet you expect somewhere along the line we should have the scriptures “all figured out.”

You also use natural knowledge to defend against the existance of God (a spiritual entity), based on what you can physically see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and reason with the neuron connectors in your brain. Talk about circular logic!

Here’s what is happening. You are using a very limited knowledge base to try to discredit another limited knowledge base. It just doesn’t work except in the shadows of your own mind. You are poking holes in the credibility of your own views with the weapons you use.

As I stated from the start it is a futile attempt to prove or disprove the existance of God in the natural realm. It is a spiritual matter.

Again, from corinthians: “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

Yes, it has been very interesting talking with you. I appreciate the time you have taken to dialog. You are very intelligent and bring up a lot of important considerations. I will check out those links I did not get a chance to yet and will also be checking your site for new posts. Good stuff!!

17 09 2008
SuperJesus

I’ll try to keep this short since I seem to write a chapter each time. I intend no offense but I regard the Bible as fiction. There may be grains of history scattered throughout and some philosophical truths here and there but my original challenge stands, I don’t believe you you can find anything in the Bible that someone ignorant of basic mathematics and science thousands of years ago couldn’t have thought up on their own. There is no evidence of divinity in the Bible (except that it insists it).

Furthermore, if I cannot disprove something that is beyond sensation then how is it you insist you can? If Spirituality is beyond our senses then you, by definition, cannot perceive it any more than I can. Because it was written in a book sadly proves nothing unless you assert that, per Corinthians, you are not a natural man or woman.

I would be interested in hearing about some of these NONBIBLICAL mysteries that historians, scientists and archeologists cannot unravel. That said, if they are non-biblical I’m not sure in what context they are relevant in the present conversation since we’re discussing the credibility of the claim that the Bible is the word of an all knowing God. It’s your point to make, so I’ll let you make it.

17 09 2008
Kristine

Super,

I don’t know how we ever got this far in the conversation.

As stated, the bible is NOT a science or math book and not intended to be. But since you bring it up again there are complex mathematical schemes woven throughout scripture that even the various writers themselves did not understand at the time they were writing it. Also, there are statements in the Bible about realities of nature that humans had no scientific knowledge of at the time. (Those issues are a topic for another discussion. And as a note: I am not saying that proves the scriptures to be true.)

You say there is no evidence of divinity but that is your private interpretation based on what you believe divinity to look like. Apparently, others do see it.

Contrary to your statement, I am NOT insisting nor trying to prove the Bible is true or that God exists and don’t think I made any such claims. My point from the start was that humans simply do not have the depth of mental capacity and knowing to prove that God DOES NOT exist or that if he did that would not choose to reveal his heart to human beings in whatever manner he chose and on his terms.

You are the one who made the assertions such as “evolution proves there is no God” and that God “exists only in the shadow of our ignorance.” You simply do not have the qualifications or tools to make a truthful determination on that matter. You could be right or wrong, but it would be guesswork and not based on your knowledge or ability to comprehend the reality of it.

As for perception of spiritual things… there is much spiritual phenomenon that has taken place in the world on many different levels. It is not all fiction. Not everyone will witness or experience these things. You may believe it does not exist because you have not seen it but that does not mean it actually does not exist. As in the realm of physics, because you simply cannot see or understand something does not mean it does not exist. In all areas of life, much is hidden. Not everyone has the same spiritual inclinations.

As for “nonbiblical mysteries,” a mystery is basically that which is not yet known or fully understood. I don’t think I really need to give you an elaboration, the world is obviously so full of unknowns on countless topics including ancient civilizations.

We obviously have opposite opinions on whether or not God exists. I don’t think we will be able to reconcile them. Better people than us have tried!!! That is probably something we can both agree on. 🙂

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