belief

Unwell

 

moon

I’m not crazy.  I’m just a little unwell.  I know, right now you can’t tell.   Matchbox 20

Dear Russell & Friends,

My oldest son and I joke that the best thing for writer’s block is to write about it.  Perhaps that’s why the musician strums and plunks, the sculptor abstracts, and the poet zooms into the mundane.  One week ago I took the first two pills of a z-pack, the five day course of needless antibiotic that I sometimes retreat to after several days of sore throat, low grade fevers, and general crumminess.  Whether it was placebo effect, anti-inflammatory property or response to a true bacterial bronchitis I do not know.  I do know that the rest of the week felt progressively better.  And that I was able to take two hour naps with vivid, forgotten dreams. Unwell.  Why can’t I be thankful in the interregnum?  Why must illness remind me of health?  I can’t be alone.

This season has been more of intake and thought than output.  I’ve read more, written more in my journal, and prayed more on long runs that I hadn’t been capable of in some time.  I lost two colleagues in sudden death.  In career, in family, in calling I’ve been asking that classic middle-age question:  what do I want to be, who do I want to be, when I grow up?

One concept that came back to me was you.  This is only my second foray into digital life.  The first was a blog called The Breakfast Table that neither Russell nor I can find even with the internet wayback machine. I abandoned that blog as the cognitive load of corresponding with strangers was more than I could handle. What is different ten years later?  I have not Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  There is just a friend who no longer believes, his family who may, and many people like him.  There is just my family and me who do believe, and a deep desire to find the intersection.  I need something that will last past fifty even though I am more aware than most that I may not.  You see, I’m an oncologist.  I have more experience than many with those who live with an awareness of the end.  And more recently with those who live life fully with no idea that today’s dawn is their last.

First rule of writer’s block rambling?  Keep it less than 500 513 words.  So, what?  I’m reading Francis Schaeffer, Thomas Paine, Isaiah and Leo Tolstoy.  I’m thinking of the 2,000 people who follow this blog and the 6 people who joined Charity Miles.  I’m thinking of why this effort matters to me and why it is okay to pause and grow and even to decay.  I’m thinking of fifty and how not to fail.  I’m thinking of a book called failure at fifty that I’ve been writing in my head.  All chapters start with an “f” word of more than four letters.  I need help with one for career.  More soon, I hope.  Just a little unwell.

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: Russell, his telescope & the 2015 blood moon

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Hi Pascal,

This is a response to some things that jumped out at me from your Digestion post. I loved it! I did want to clear up some things and hopefully get some clarification from you as well. I’ll jump right in… 🙂

Trusting David Hume on wisdom?

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.

For reference, here’s the quote I used in the post your responding to called Faith – is it good or bad? Why do we disagree?

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume

To be honest, I’m not surprised you’d object to the notion that Hume was supremely wise (though I’m not promoting that idea), but I am a little surprised that you’d object to the point of the quote. Perhaps you’re not but I was uncertain. Maybe you can clarify? I actually think you do try to proportion your belief to the evidence.

I saw the video you linked and I’ve read of Hume’s ideas in several philosophy books and YouTube videos. The Science Wars – What Scientists Know and How They Know It covered his philosophy pretty well and I researched him in the group of potential past thinkers that I was considering using for my blog name before we started. There are reasons I didn’t pick him. I’m also curious about why, specifically, you don’t consider him wise. I will probably agree with you. I don’t see him as any kind of authority on wisdom but I wouldn’t reject something he said because I don’t agree with all his views. While I’m not putting him up as an authority, it seems like your rejecting him as someone who could have any truth in what he would say about wisdom. I’m wondering what specifically you disagree with concerning the quote, not the man. If you imagine someone else saying it (the Pope, your pastor, Paul, a 15-year-old anti-theist), would it change how much you accept or reject the quote? For me, it would not (1 Thess, 5:21 in light of the belief that it is we who interpret what we believe is good). If it would for you, would you mind trying to explain why? If not, why does it matter whether or not you think he’s a generally wise person?

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so. … Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.

I agree. I was trying to point that out in my post. I think we’re on the same page here, with some caveats I’ll add in a moment. 🙂 Maybe I failed to accurately represent concerns on this point.

The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

Contemporary only, no. Though this isn’t just about Aristotle’s logic. Some logic dealing with reasoning is contemporary and also poses a conflict with faith.

Insoluble, yes (as I see it), with some definitions of faith, at least.

Aristotle formed explanations using his logic and those of his tutors. We now know some of his conclusions were wrong, but it isn’t the conclusions I’ve been pushing for, but rather, the best process of reasoning. His process is superior for finding true beliefs than that of some faith-based processes because he essentially said, “This is what I think is going on, but I don’t really know. When trying to understand the world, we should consider theories. But, really, it’s the facts that matter; and if the facts change, our theories should too.” The modern versions are even better than Aristotle’s, but his views represented a better version for obtaining truth (in my opinion) than those promoted by the author of Hebrews. As I mentioned, I heard you react by stating you don’t trust Hume on wisdom (I’m not promoting his wisdom one way or the other beyond the word “wise” which was in his quote), but I’m not sure if you actually disagree with the point of his quote or not. If so, what part do you disagree with? Is it bad to do as you seem to try to do, i.e. to proportion our beliefs to the evidence (to not believe things more strongly than the relative weight of the evidences call for)?

While Aristotle’s methods are not incompatible with the versions of reasoning we sometimes call faith (e.g. trust, confidence, hope, etc.), they are incompatible with the versions of faith-based reasoning that promote confidence in things we desire to believe in order to preserve other strongly desired beliefs which are based on weak evidence – especially since faith doesn’t promote passing those beliefs through a fallacy filter. Do you agree or disagree? Remember that I’m not saying this is the type of faith you hold. Only that it is the type of faith promoted by much of scripture. For example, the author of Hebrews promotes a view of reasoning based on faith (confidence in things we hope for even if they can’t be backed up with more substantial evidence) that is in opposition to many of Aristotle’s 13 fallacies. The Bible promotes this form of reasoning as a virtue and makes it the basis for salvation. It’s a key part of the central dogma of the Gospel and most other religions which essentially say, “reason this way.” But that way seems opposed to modern critical thinking, does it not?

I found this dialogue from 3:25 to 5:32 in the video relevant to the topic of the flaws in our senses and reasoning about objective truth and the best way to get there. I’m doubtful about his later conclusion that all reality might be accessible through experimentation, but I agree that we shouldn’t give up pushing the limits of discovery by assuming there are limits that may not actually be there if we look harder. I think you’ll like David Brin.

And this quote is from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fallacies/

Being able to detect and avoid fallacies has been viewed as a supplement to criteria of good reasoning. The knowledge of them is needed to arm us against the most enticing missteps we might take with arguments—so thought not only Aristotle but also the early nineteenth century logicians Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill.

So, Aristotle valued the process of reasoning more than any conclusion, distrusted his senses, and promoted steps for reasoning that at least tried to identify and account for logical fallacies or biases (the non-intuitive flaws in our reasoning). Since most faith-based systems of reasoning lack at least one of these steps, I still believe the religious-faith descriptions usually quoted are not based on what we currently believe to be the best form of reasoning if we prioritize true beliefs. We can’t know how much the author of Hebrews knew about this process of reasoning. It’s speculation, so it wasn’t my point. The degree to which we believe that the author also likely had exposure to this process of reasoning is the degree to which we cannot excuse the author from unknowingly promoting a less-accurate method. If the author did know it well and understand it, he rejected it intentionally, preferring faith-based reasoning.

The author likely had reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection which he thought were sufficient evidence for his confidence levels. But he promotes that others without the same level of experiences still believe it with a confidence that is out of proportion with their experiences because he believes doing so can begin to sanctify them. It doesn’t matter how one arrives at the belief (what process of reasoning one uses or how flawed it is), only that the conclusion is confidence in Jesus. The conclusion matters more than the processThat’s the problem and that’s the conflict I’m driving towards. It’s why faith systems promote high confidence in that conclusion to children from an early age, and why the steps of reasoning that work this way are less likely to lead to true beliefs (the crossword puzzle framework is already set and life experiences are interpreted within that light, constructing a world view based upon that foundation whether or not it’s true). It also justifies the beliefs of all religions who follow the same faith-based process, right?

Wisdom vs Intelligence – a future topic

…would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

Yes, it would be a good topic. I have some ideas that come immediately to mind but I’ll keep this response short(ish). I do think it’s wise to keep confidence in proportion to the evidence and it wouldn’t matter to me who the concept came from. Do you actually disagree? To be clear, you know I count subjective experience as evidence, right?

The argument from authority – science vs religion

No, I’m not arguing from the authority of a person (qualifications are always debatable, especially when we disagree with the person in a significant way), but the application of the concept. I used to do this much more before I learned about the argument from authority and still took all Bible concepts as divine and objectively authoritative.

When I present and idea, it’s the idea I’m ultimately standing on, not the opinion of the person who communicated the idea. The idea and it’s application are much more relevant than the authority of the people that spawn it (and Hume wasn’t the first to use the concept I mentioned). There are no true authorities in science (to me) in the same way we typically mean it. The reason I say this is that the authority-weight assigned to a scientist only extends as far their ability to accurately interpret the data. We may sometimes trust interpretations from people that we can’t easily verify, but only proportionally to the degree for which it’s been tested by other people, peer-reviewed to remove some bias and mistakes, etc. Essentially (as you know), it is constrained and the body of science seeks to retest, re-interpret, and revalidate that data, so there is self-correction baked into the process (unlike a long-dead “authority’s” voice in an ancient sacred text).

Biblical faith did not always acknowledge reasoning that could have helped people like me

My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s not my thesis that the author of Hebrews did or did not fully understand Aristotelian logic. I don’t know the degree to which the author did and we can’t really say with confidence how much understanding was there. The description of faith doesn’t seem to have been the best way to come to true beliefs even then (because they could have known better at that time due to the socratic philosophers that preceded them). Either they knew of it and rejected it, or they didn’t understand it properly and rejected it, or didn’t know it well (ignorance). I don’t know which of the three is right, but I think it’s likely one of the first two options. I was just hoping to point out that the concepts of Aristotelian logic were not used when promoting faith-based reasoning.

My point was not about why the author didn’t use Aristotelian logic (due to ignorance, rejection, etc.), That was close to two millennia ago and we can’t know. We’ve learned much more since then about better methods for plugging some of the holes in our reasoning, but we still promote the view of faith as offered in Hebrews, primarily based on that argument from authority. My thesis was that there is now a better way of reasoning if we hope to increase our odds of reaching more true beliefs and fewer false ones – and we can each choose to use it or not. Those of us who come to confidences based on Aristotle’s and now science’s methods of reasoning cannot get to the same place as those who use faith-based reasoning unless we have a strong personal experience or see other compelling objective evidence. Faith-based reasoning leads to certainty in any belief that we believe comes from divine authority (see other religions). So a larger percentage of people achieve certainty in necessarily false things. Our belief about the origin of a belief being divine is subject to our flawed reasoning and almost always has a simpler explanation, so we shouldn’t hold high confidence that it actually does have a divine cause (faith says otherwise).

Clearing up other potential misconceptions

Switching gears a bit, I disagree with there  nothing new under the sun. New arrangements happen all the time. New and novel concepts are formed. It’s just far less likely than most of us commonly imagine.

Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.

I think we all would like to live longer, and that desire isn’t the problem. I don’t have an expectation to live hundreds of years, which is what I think your correcting here. I’ve said I believe it is within our capacity through scientific exploration to allow some of our descendants to live hundreds of years, and the degree to which we stop searching now is the degree to which they continue in extreme suffering and earlier death that could have been avoided by our attitude toward science now. I know your aware of senescence and you very likely agree. Some worms may outlive us due to our tinkering.

I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in. Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Amen (with a maybe, I hope so, on the God parts)! 🙂

Sign-off

The kids are available to play now (movie is over) so I’m going to enjoy them. Please forgive the redundancies (that’s what happens when I don’t have uninterrupted time) and typos. 🙂

It’s always a pleasure discussing these things and I truly can’t wait to hang out again.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

 

Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.

Love,

Pascal

Do You Know Your Purpose? Is Your Personality Related to Your Beliefs about God?

Wow – recovery from a coma!

What a crazy week. Thank you, Pascal and friends, for your prayers. I added my own to the mix. I’m so glad J’s (CC’s) brother is doing better! The girls and I have been sad about my brother-in-law’s situation but we’ve been having a blast together, with many giggles while we await J’s return. In the meantime, I wanted post about something J and I discussed just before she found out her brother was in a coma and had to leave. But first…

Do you struggle to find fulfillment?

When I was a believer, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose in my time on Earth. I knew my future lay in designing software tools to help myself and others increase and live-out their faith. Since then I’ve been deeply interested in imagining myself at the end of life, looking back and taking stock of which things I’m glad I spent my time on vs other things that I wish I hadn’t. Life seems more real, precious, and fleeting now. That has as much to do with having children that I know will eventually suffer and die (likely without me by their side) and my recent focus on metacognition as it does on spiritual matters and a loss of confidence in eternity.

Time is a most precious resource and I desperately want to use it wisely (to find that minimal set of things which satisfies my soul’s purpose, or at least my mind’s estimate of such). In addition to time with my amazing wife and children, which is always well-spent, I’ve been in a deep struggle to find that right choice of career alignment – the optimal challenge and purpose that drives enthusiasm and productivity towards a noble cause – one that’s practical, within my skill-set, and in-line with interests. On the list are many things ranging from teaching STEM in high-school or college to going back for a PhD to further science in some small corner of one or more of the intersections of theoretical computer science, artificial intelligence, software simulation, genetics, math, biomechanical engineering, the philosophy of science, or some subspecialty of physics.

I’m certainly not claiming to possess the mental prowess to accomplish these goals or do them well, but I know my interests. I love learning for its own intrinsic value, and I’m not afraid of difficult challenges if they align with my goals and provide time and support for my family. Your goals will vary, but I wonder if you feel like your on the right track or if, like me, your looking for something more.

Do you know your personality type?

My work and family life, with J (CC) in medical school, doesn’t allow time for further education at the moment. However, I also have a list of things that require no further formal degrees yet seem very fulfilling. I’ve sifted through many and found very few that my future self might deem to have been more valuable than extra time with my children.

In my research I recently came across a test similar to one I’d taken about 15 years ago. It is a modified version of the Myers Briggs test – the old one was over 100 questions but this one was much shorter and took less than 5 minutes to complete. I took it because I wanted to see if the results could help me narrow in on some subset of my possible career or hobby deviations that would be more natural for my personality than others. After taking the test, the descriptions of my personality type were shocking in their accuracy. I recognize that confirmation bias plays a role here, but other personality types do not describe me as well. This isn’t astrology.

I did learn a few things to think about when considering my future goals. I actually have an idea of what to do next. Perhaps I’ll share that another time. Something at least as important came out of the test. I learned about my wife and she learned a little more about me. I’ve since ask her, Howie, Vance (aka Toad), and Vance’s spouse to take the test and I’ve learned quite a bit about them as well.

The main reason for this post is to learn more about you. One of the primary goals of the blog is to increase our understanding of ourselves, one another, and the universe (any deities included). The hope is that understanding will lead to compassion and love. Personality type tools are not perfect and some people don’t like being put into such a box. They can be useful though, and I think they’re worth a shot. Only you can determine if they’re accurate for you or not.

My wife and I have learned quite a bit about each other through reading the details about our types that relates to how we tend to handle our careers, relationships, friendships, parenting styles, and the overall strengths and weaknesses that accompany our personalities. Also, after reading about INTJ’s (my wife did not get this type) I now understand how some people can be strong atheists – something I had trouble accepting before. That personality type seems particularly capable of such reasoning.

Personality may be correlated with belief in a higher power

The other intriguing reason for this post is a question based on a pronouncement made by one of the sites that interprets the personality type results. It says my main personality type, INTP (read about it here or here), is:

one of the types least likely to believe in a higher spiritual power

I googled INTP’s (my main personality type) to see if many of them believed in a higher power. The main answers I saw were from Reddit threads, and I think these say more about the base-rate of the Reddit audience concerning religion than they do about the general population of INTPs and faith. However, very few INTP’s held a religious belief on those threads.

My wife, however, has a personality type that is:

most likely of all types to believe in a higher spiritual power

You can probably complete the test in less than 5 minutes by opening this link.

Once you’re done, check out what your results means by clicking here and here, and then please drop back by and comment. We’d all benefit from learning more about each other. I’m specifically curious about the following:

  1. What type did you get and do you feel the descriptions in the links above are fairly accurate for you?
  2. Do you believe in a higher power? Some descriptions discuss this and I’m interested to see if there is a general correlation between personality and faith in the readers of our blog.

I’ll go first.

  1. INTP (with INFP as a close second) – yes, they seem accurate, especially INTP.
  2. INTP says I’m among those least likely to believe in a higher spiritual power. I don’t hold a positive belief in a higher power but I’m still drawn to the idea and searching for one.

This goes for you, too, Pascal! I can’t wait to learn more about you my friend! 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Letter to our Firstborn

Morning Study

Mrs. Pascal and I celebrated our first born son last night with his two brothers and our church family.  His real name is Caleb and here is the letter we read to him.  Blessings – – Pascal  1:16

Dear Caleb,

As we gather with our church family to celebrate your coming graduation, your Mom and Dad are pleased to write a brief letter with our thoughts. Just nineteen years ago we were talking about and praying about your name. The family joke has always gone that we chose Caleb because it had only two letters more than the abc’s and we wanted to start life out simple for you. But, being joke – – that wasn’t the real reason. Here’s the real reason for your name, found in God’s word in the book of Numbers.

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Num 14:24

That was our prayer for you and prophesy over you when we gave you a name. And that is what we thank God for today – – that we have seen him say yes to that prayer and to fulfill that prophecy in your life. Yes Caleb, you have a different spirit. Yes Caleb, we have dedicated you, evangelized you, brought you to God’s house, baptized you, and discipled you. Now we see that you do follow Christ fully. There is no greater joy. Are we proud of you for working hard and for graduating from High School? Yes. Are we proud of your diligence and ambition going forward to college and the beginning of your adult life? Of course. But here is where our pride most lies:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. Jer 9: 23-24

We don’t know if time and age will bring you wisdom, might, or riches. Those are good things, but not the first thing. Our desire as you move forward is for you to boast in the Lord and in knowing him. Then our pride is well placed. Our arrow well launched.

With Much Love,

Your Mom & Dad

Three Questions from a Pastor

My wife is at a bachelorette party this weekend so I get our enchanting little giggle boxes all to myself! These girls are the biggest joys in my life and these are definitely my favorite times! The one-year-old just went down for a nap and the four-year-old (who has just earned the right to watch one episode of her favorite new show) and I are planning a dance party when the little one wakes – so my time for this post is very limited.

The pastor of the church that is doing “The Table” event discussing Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (which we’ve been blogging about here, here and here) emailed me three honest questions. I do have an immediate response to each of these but (as you know) I tend to get long-winded and my girls have my day! I also know that my opinions are flawed and your perspective is incredibly valuable. So, I wanted to open these questions up to all of your input – believer or nonbeliever. Please respond with whatever thoughts you have. Here are the questions…

  1. Where do you see the New Testament to be inaccurate historically?
  2. Do you believe in a historical Jesus? If no why?
  3. What are some of the contradictions you see in Scripture?

I’ll put my thoughts in the comments as I have time in the next few days. Her show is almost over – time to party! 🙂 If you have kids, hug them in person or long-distance today!

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Positive Assertion #1 – I Love My Wife

What would I like to see from you?  More positive assertions.  You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters.

Good morning, my friend. On this Easter day, many of us will be reflecting on what we view as God’s righteous plan of love for us. Others, like my wife and I, may experience mixed feelings of joy and sadness at the loss of this belief. The loss of comfort and hope and once anchored our lives. Are there powerful notions of hope and love that have made it through the fire of doubt about the Bible? Yes!

For me, the answer is my wife and children. You. Our friendships with the active community of readers on this blog – some of whom have since become sincere friends in person. Today, my thoughts are on my bride, CC – the one I call J. I’m honestly tormented by how my doubts have affected and will impact my family, yet I can’t imagine going through them alone. I can’t put into words how deeply my failure to fulfill my vow to be J’s spiritual leader has hurt me (I did not and do not take that vow lightly), but I must briefly tell our readers more about her and the impact she’s had on me.

So thoroughly does she have my heart that I truly believe it is unconditional. I know here so deeply, what she hopes for, feels, who she is and who she wants to be, that as I consider her and how my actions might affect her, the lines between us blur. As we’ve walked through doubt together, the struggle has carved us together into something strong, fused together by these graphene rods of mutual support where we’ve push against each other so long.

J is as righteous, intelligent, beautiful and driven today as I’ve ever seen her, despite our attached roving anchors that each struggle for purchase. She’s a medical student, a mother of two sweet girls, a brilliant writer with a quick wit and intellect, a deeply compassionate person with a hilarious sense of humor and the brightest and warmest smile I’ve ever seen. Everything about her style and her physical appearance is mesmerizing to me. I can stare at her face for hours while swimming in the warm fuzzies. She lights up the room and I can see how her arrival and warm welcome causes our children’s hearts to soar. She’s simply enchanting. She loves our sweet daughters and she makes me proud of her character and choices on a daily basis. She makes me better in so many ways, and her spirit forces me to consider and love others more deeply. As we head off to church to celebrate Easter from our perch of heavy skepticism, I can only hope that there is a God that cares for all of us as deeply as I care for J. I absolutely love her.

Go hug your spouse or closest human and tell them your heart. Whether you’re a Christ-follow or not, let it be that “love is risen” today.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

P.S. I can’t share a picture of J due to a potential loss of anonymity, but here’s our youngest. You can extrapolate from there because she looks just like J, but shorter and fatter. 🙂

image

Trusting the Bible – Ex-nihilo, The 10 Commandments, And The Tapestry

Greetings, my friends!

Pascal, I just read your Counting Threads post and I wanted to respond as soon as possible. I actually wanted to write something last night to smooth things over a bit after my last post and our difficult breakfast conversation, but I fell asleep. We went to the early service at your church today. I want to reassure you of our friendship despite the tough spot where we ended breakfast the other morning, and my rather direct questions in my last post. I don’t want to push you into a corner or make you feel pressure. Seriously. I know that I did that without thinking about it and I’ll probably do it again. I apologize. Your beliefs are valid for you, and I’m very glad that you care enough to express your reasons to those who disagree.

I also want to apologize for working so hard to keep my last post, Is The Bible Trustworthy?, under 3000 words that I didn’t go back and add the soft touches that I normally try to add. As I mentioned at breakfast, I usually write the facts first, and then go back and fill in my emotions about those facts. Writing is a very dangerous medium for communicating about such closely-held, heartfelt worldviews, especially for me, because I often forget to communicate my heart effectively. You can judge how quickly I rushed through a post by two things. The typos, and how soft the direct statements feel. If I made it sound like an interrogation, that means I didn’t go back through to turn my computer voice into my human voice. I think that sometimes has an impact on how my writing is perceived. I’ll work on it, and I’ll try to use more emoticons, as P3 wisely pointed out. 🙂

I’m not going to try to restrain the length of this post. Honestly, it’s not that I can’t be concise. I actually specialize in concise, simple phrases for marketing and content at work. It’s just not my goal here. This is an online record, and here’s to hoping my posterity has a super-computer to parse the relevant info directly into their brain whenever they want it. I know that you presently lack this computer, and for that, I also apologize. 🙂

Okay, so where are we? I’m sorry that I pressed you and I apologize if I said something that made you feel that your position was misrepresented in some way. That happens often in such dialogues and I want to at least try to avoid it. I can tell you make an effort to do so with me. I understand your anger over our last two communications, even if I don’t share it. I readily admit to feeling a bit challenged at breakfast – and feeling like I needed to take time to clarify my position. Your latest post seems to confirm that. So, here we go.

Are the 10 Commandments the best moral system?

I think our issues at breakfast started when you made a statement, or perhaps asked a question about the 10 commandments. I don’t want to misrepresent you, and science shows us that my memory of the conversation cannot be fully relied upon since it’s been a few days. I will refrain from saying what you said and instead state what I think I heard. I believe the gist of the challenge was that you believed the 10 commandments were the best moral guide and do I agree? Please clarify if that’s not what you meant. I responded in person with three things that make it difficult for me to accept that the 10 commandments are the best moral guide. I actually started by saying that I think there are better ones but then I backed up from that because it depends on what we mean. We started by agreeing that the first 3 (I said maybe the first 4) are not very relevant to the skeptic, but the last 6 are. Here are the three things I mentioned (as I recall them) in no particular order about the 10:

  • It’s not just 10. There are something like 613 commandments (I read that somewhere, I didn’t count them all, haha) and it is not clear to me that the other 603 were significantly less important.
  • The other 613 commandments include many things that are not moral.
  • The 10 commandments that we traditionally think of are not the only set of 10 commandments listed in the Bible.

When you pulled out the Bible and asked where this second set was and I couldn’t remember the verse, I can see why you’d question my understanding of the Bible. I said the last commandment in the section was something like, “You shall not boil a baby goat in it’s mother’s milk.” Yes, I do know about sanitary laws in the Old Testament and I understand the reasons for many of them. I’m not offended by your response that I don’t understand scripture because my comment made it sound like it wasn’t taught to me well. That’s a very fair question. You asked me several times at breakfast, “Russell, who taught you the Bible?” Your question is a good one and it deserves an answer.

Who taught me the Bible

I grew up hearing storybook lessons on cassette tape and hearing sermons and Bible lessons from my grandfather, the evangelist with a Bible degree. I also went to church with my parents until about age 7 or so. My father, the missionary and pastor with a Bible degree, taught me some as a child, then my mother. I listened to and read the Bible growing up and attending many different churches and Bible studies from ages 16-24. I took 5 Bible courses in college including focused studies from Seminary accredited teachers in Old Testament Studies and prophecies, Minor Prophet studies, New Testament, Studies on the life and teachings of Paul, and on Romans. I taught Bible studies and read popular books about the Bible. I had commentaries, learned some Hebrew, and built tools to help people memorize Bible verses. I studied the Bible daily and read it through multiple times (Old and New Testament). I referenced the Strong’s Concordance very regularly. I memorized over 300 verses and passages, some of them long. I prayed for people regularly with them, lead people to faith along the Roman road, and read apologetics books to learn to defend and share my faith in a secular world. My bible was heavily highlighted and circled.

Who taught me? Many people. My experiences ranged from the fundamentalist, Young Earth Creationists, to the liberal arm of many different denominations. My Christian route went from Pentecostal, to Baptist, to Catholic, to Non-denominational, to Church of Christ, to Episcopalian, to Methodist, back to Baptist, to Church of Christ, to Lutheran, to Presbyterian, to non-denominational again, and finally again to Baptist. Along the way I had studies of comparative religions, and delved into other non-Christian schools of thought for a time in high-school, including shintoism, taoism, buddhism (mainly Zen) and others. In my 20’s I spent a decent amount of time studying Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, traditional Judaism, Hinduism and Islam to understand where our beliefs differ so I could communicate with them.

I studied the Bible and wrote in journals and read books on journaling and how to study the Bible. I experienced many different methods (slow, deep exegesis and quick daily messages). Each led to reflection, self-evaluation, change, and magnification, and worship. I taught the Bible so I could learn it better. I led as many Church of Christ ministries as Baptist ones. When I accepted the role as president of the Baptist Student Ministry at my college I actually had my eyes set on seminary after a few years because I wanted to learn as much about God’s love letter as I could in this short life. Since my college didn’t offer any more than 5 Bible classes total, I actually dropped out of my major and left school to dedicate more time in Bible study and local mission work (planning to come back to school in a few years to aim for seminary). That’s why I graduated so much later in life. It may sound like a crazy idea to you now, but college degrees just didn’t matter much to my family at the time and the Bible and its message were of ultimate, eternal importance.

So, who taught me the Bible? Like most people, it’s many “who’s.” I learned from many people. Do I think I understand the Bible any better than you or any Bible scholar or self-taught student of the Bible? Absolutely not. Do I admit of my own blindspots? Yes! Definitely. In fact, I know I have the wrong interpretation in many areas, I just don’t know which ones they are. I know I was taught wrong and still hold a many incorrect interpretations, so I’m definitely not claiming superiority here. It’s also been over eight years since I’ve read it all the way through. I fear overcommitting to the wrong view, which is why I’m generally a skeptic and an agnostic. I know enough to know how little our best scholars know compared to the working-class people at the time that these events took place. I would never say that I understand the Bible correctly. We all seek for a coherent concept of God based on our interpretations of the verses. We wiggle things around in our minds until they fit. Even now, I feel that I’m learning. I’m just doing it in a different way than you are. A way that is comfortable and natural for me. 🙂

For years now I’ve felt I read it differently than my believing friends. It’s not that I don’t see the bigger picture, or the tapestry as you put it. It’s just that I also see problems. Contradictions or conflicts jump out at me so very easily. I’m not looking for them. I just can read far without noticing them. A friend may read the flood account and notice something new about God’s providence. I notice that some animals came 2 by 2, and others came 14 by 14, depending on whether they were clean or not. I just read things the way my mind is wired and the way I’m taught in my field. I can’t turn that off. You say the Bible understands you. I remember what that feels like. But that was before I was cursed? with reading it objectively. When I tried to make my faith stand up to reason, my personal attempt failed. Yours may fair better. The faith of many others has.

Am I just rejecting fundamentalism?

As you can read in Not an outsider, I experienced life through the filter of the Bible. My views were sometimes firm, but they were often held loosely depending on the topic and how close I felt it was to the core message of Christianity. I can understand how one would want to assume that if someone is rejecting their faith, they’re really rejecting the extreme versions of the faith that should be rejected. I do not think that is the case for me, though I do of course admit that I could be wrong. It’s really not that I’m rebelling against a 6000 Year Old Earth. That is not the whole of my cognitive dissonance. There is so much more that is claimed by the Bible that must be accepted, even in the liberal interpretations that I was familiar with. I’m not just rejecting the extreme versions of Christianity. I’m rejecting all of them that I’ve heard and can make sense of. Some of the more moderate/liberal/progressive interpretations are definitely compatible with science and help me maintain cognitive resonance, but they also leave me unable to trust the Bible enough to believe the core claims – which is why we’re in this apparent circle.

I started with belief in fundamentalism or conservatism. But as I grew and my reasoning matured, I held some of those views as less relevant to the core faith and left them as an open question. I actually haven’t read anything from N.T. Wright in Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today or in Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues that I didn’t agree with at some point in my faith journey. When even the more moderate claims seemed unlikely, I felt myself slipping down a slope that had no ledge to grasp. Now I’m at the bottom of the abyss staring up at a ledge of confidence far above and no obvious way to scale the torn web of what I used to think were valid arguments for belief. You may have given up a few paces, maybe not. It’s still unclear to me. I hope you find your footing. As much as I’d like company, I’d much prefer you safe and confident in your worldview, your answers about eternity, your support system for grief, and your reasons for denying yourself for the sake of others.

Am I just rejecting some other false doctrine?

I’d like to answer what I think is behind your question, am I rejecting the Bible as it was meant to be understood, or am I rejecting some false version that should be rejected? Might it really be that I just lack the proper understanding what the authors meant? To this I say, absolutely. That’s why I’m blogging. That’s why I’m still engaged in Christianity, still go to church, and blog things like Calling All Christians – Help An Atheist Believe. It’s why I opened my last post (Is The Bible Trustworthy?) with the idea that my goal is not challenging you, but finding a way to get to where you are. I need the understanding and the proper reasoning to get there. I hope my interpretation of the Bible is wrong and that I can find a coherent version of a God that I can believe is likely to exist. I don’t want to lead my family astray. I want to be the spiritual leader they need. With that said, the problem I mentioned in Inerrancy? is that we can’t know the author(s)’ intents. Nobody should have great confidence that they have it right in all cases, or that they ever truly properly understand the Bible. I suspect you agree. I’m just looking for a version that is coherent. If you know of one, please show it to me. I think that’s where our friendship is headed. Maybe not to finding such a version, but to exploring options to see if there is a place where we can both comfortably land.

Back to the 10 commandments

So, what about my statement about the things that didn’t sit well with me regarding the perfection of the 10 commandments, specifically the statement about there being two different places where the 10 commandments were mentioned (and they weren’t the same commandments)? Again, I completely get why this made you feel attacked in some way, and like I must not understand scripture. I was calling into question a book that you love and that hurts. I don’t want to hurt you. I do want to avoid what I did for the first several months of our friendship, which was holding in my honest thoughts to the point that you had little idea what I actually struggled with. If I can be honest, my friend, I think that the future will hold much more of this. We’ll need to decide in many situations if we place more value on honesty or peace, and I know you said you yearn for the struggle. I suspect that I will be bringing up answers to your questions about my doubts that will challenge the way you see scripture. As long as you can expect that and try to be prepared for it, I think it will help you not feel attacked personally. Remember that I validate your beliefs, I just don’t hold them myself. I want to be able to share why that is.

You’ll recall from my text I sent just after breakfast that the verses I was referring to but couldn’t remember were here in Exodus 34.

This tells that God will actually write on the stones this time. You can compare the story (the second writing of the 10 commandments on the tablets, this time being written by God rather than by Moses) to that told in Deuteronomy 10 which leaves out the actual commandments. Deuteronomy 5 is another version of Exodus 20. In the Exodus account the verses are followed with many other laws that must be obeyed. The writers in the Exodus 34 version say that God calls it a covenant in that version, which doesn’t explicitly happen right around those verses in the commonly accepted Deuteronomy 5 version or in the Exodus 20 version. Some of the same verses are included (don’t worship another God, don’t make idols, don’t work on the seventh day, etc.), but others also make it in that don’t seem all that relevant for modern morality. Edit: I edited the rest of this paragraph a bit to clear up some poor wording and clarify my interpretation. I knew the passage well enough to know that there’s significant wiggle room. It could have been (and very likely was, given what’s said about the event in Deuteronomy 10) talking about the words which were to follow (which aren’t recorded in the story), but the wording was a little confusing. That’s basically all I meant. As an example, the chapter has God introducing the words as the “covenant,” giving some commandments in verses spread about in 12-26 (some of which were in the original 10 commandments), asking Moses to write “these words,” and then affirming the covenant with “these words” – implying the words that were just spoken. There are more than 10 rules there, but they could be combined easily enough. At a surface reading, the laws given right there could easily be interpreted to be 10 commandments, though we both agree they aren’t. Taken in full context with the other tellings, it’s clear there are only one set of 10 commandments. I think I was wrong to suggest they might be. I do think that the whole thing odd, especially since only Moses and God (who describes himself in an unusual way) were present. And, if I understand your position, neither of us are convinced that Moses existed. Is Exodus 34 a point to get hung up on or a reason to doubt the Bible? Not at all. I just thought it worth bringing up when discussing the divinity of the perfect ethical system I thought you were proposing. In retrospect, it wasn’t. The goodness of any set of rules will stand or fall on its own. 🙂

So why did I mention the Exodus 34 version (I couldn’t remember the verses) at breakfast? It was all off the top of my head in response to why I doubt the divinity of the 10 commandments. I don’t spend time thinking about this stuff, but I have a sense of some things that cause me, as a skeptic, to doubt the Bible. From that point in the conversation I felt like things derailed a bit because the focus was on who taught me the Bible wrong.

The issue with the law of the covenant is a bit dubious to me. The way the story is told does not support the hypothesis that this religion in question is reporting the truth – but rather that they are trying to justify their laws using a divine authority. That’s my personal assessment and I hope it doesn’t upset you. I as myself why God would change the commandments (or make it seem as if they’d been changed) between those two passages? Do the differing versions support the hypothesis that it is divine? If we didn’t already believe in Christianity (pretend it was another religion we were being introduced to) would there be any obvious way to distinguish the 10 commandments and subsequent laws, as far as divinity is concerned, from the many other societal laws such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Egyptian 42 Commandments called the MA’AT – Right and Truth, (see my post called Who Was Right for a refresher)? In each of these other cases we would probably put the weight of evidence on the side of the laws not being divine. In other words, it would seem more likely that the rulers were either, mistaken or intentionally using divine authority to give weight to the laws. And those laws seem to have predated the Jewish ones. There are many more laws for other cultures developed since then that also claim divine inspiration. Even some modern constitutions do. I need to know what sets the Jewish laws apart in such a way that the weight of evidence is actually on it being divinely inspired, especially if we don’t know who wrote the books and can’t find much of the evidence that we’d expect to find if the claims were true?

Moving on. We can discuss this more later (J just cut out 1000 words of this). 🙂

Great verse!

Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?

Haha. Yes. When I read this I immediately thought, Proverbs 17:28. It was one of my memorized verses, along with the verse before. Here they are together in NIV (the version I grew up with).

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

I spent many many hours praying for wisdom, patience, humility, the fruits of the spirit and an even-temper. Perhaps it has shaped me and perhaps it’s my nature, but I managed to end up with the last one, at least. 🙂

The 10 commandments – a good place to start or the Best set of ethics?

We talked about ways to live and why I thought the ten commandments provided a good start, acknowledging that the anchor of authority was the Hebrew God.

Ah. See, I think I misunderstood you at breakfast. What I thought I heard you say was the the 10 commandments were more than just a good place to start, but were the best set of ethics. That’s why I felt the need to provide an explanation for why I doubted their divinity and ultimate superiority to some other systems. If you just meant to say they’re a good place to start when evaluating how to live, I’m fine with that. 🙂

You said there were two incompatible versions of the ten commandments.  I blanched.

What I meant to say (and what I remembered saying, but I could definitely be mistaken) was that there seems to be more than one set of verses that appear to be the 10 commandments, and that casts doubt on the ultimate superiority of the rest of the laws which are already in question (including the main 10 and the rest of the Bible – it’s all on the same foundation).

Russell, who taught you the Bible?!?!

I asked who had taught you how to study the Bible.  I truthfully admitted that I had not been taught and suggested that the same might be true for you.  And then we left.

Haha. Yes. I do remember hearing, “Russell, who taught you the Bible?!?!???!” a few times after I mentioned the second set of the 10 commandments. 🙂 At the end you did suggest that you might be projecting. I answered this above, so we’ll leave it at that. 🙂

N.T. Wright – Simultaneously a fan and Not a fan

You quoted him again in your last post and he’s come up in a few others. I’m partway through Wright’s book called Surprised by Scripture, which you just finished. Immediately after you recommended him I read his book called Scripture and the Authority of God (hoping to find a way to justify trust in the Bible). I did not. I’m finding the first few chapters of Surprised to be very full of logical problems. I respect Wright very much. His writing, intellect, faith, and calling are all high-quality. I want him to be right (giggle). Right now, I can’t find the justification I’m looking for in his reasoning. I think he is right to believe as he does, just as I think you are, but his reasons, unfortunately (at least so far), are unconvincing to me. Despite his scholarship and renown, he seems to be somewhat (and by self-proclamation) unexercised in formal science and doesn’t appear to have a firm grasp on many of the subtler logical fallacies that plague us and our first century counterparts. I’ll save this for another time, but I appreciate you pointing me to him.

Scratching the surface of biblical doubt…

The second chapter is titled, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?”  From the faith perspective that I grew up in, even the question is disrespectful.  To doubt a literal Genesis and a young earth was to doubt Jesus, the resurrection and everything else precious.

This is part of the dichotomy that I now see as false.  If Genesis is not literal, can scripture still be inerrant, infallible, God-breathed (inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness?

I think we’re getting to it now. 🙂 This is exactly where I and many of our readers are. But it’s much more than your statement is pointing to. It’s not about Genesis, and specifically not about YEC. Bringing up YEC is effectively pointing to a strong position that many don’t support. What you seem to be saying, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that not only is it not “literal” in the traditional since, it’s metaphorical to the extent that Adam and Eve did not exist as the first humans. That leaves a lot of room for questions to creep in. Many of us have found that once you get there, those issues are just the beginning. You doubt that a man named Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. You haven’t responded to my and CC’s questions yet, or Howie’s follow-up comment, but you may doubt that at least some laws and conquests recorded in the Old Testament were actually commanded by God. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

I would never say that inerrancy vs non-divine is a true dichotomy. God can make a book that errs. I completely agree that the Bible could still be true, inspired, and some version of the God we read about it in it could exist. I just can’t muster confidence in such a God if significant and foundational Bible claims are false.

Does wisdom provide compelling evidence of divinity?

1)  The scripture was useful to me in recognizing, but not acting upon my anger in sin.  I was able to find solace in 1 Corinthians 13, reminding me that love is patient and kind.  If I dwelled in anger, that would work against the call to love.

2)  The scripture was useful to me in correcting my errant path.  I turned back (repented).

3)  The scripture was useful to me for training in righteousness.  Training implies a perpetual preparation.  I am hopeful that I’ll become more like Christ with age, maturity, and constant use.  Scripture will be my measure.

I completely agree with this. You are extremely Christ-like and easy to love. However, I found that scripture being useful does not demonstrate that it is divine or infallible in its entirety. I don’t think anyone is saying that none of it is useful to us in the ways you’re mentioning, but nothing in your response makes Biblical claims stand out from the claims of any other religious text regarding how they shape the way we live. Not that saying this diminishes your character or my appreciation of you by one iota.

You are braver than I

4)  I don’t believe in a literal Adam or a six day creation.  That is not surprising for my skeptical colleagues, but what about for the loved sisters and brothers with whom I’m about to fellowship?  It would be very surprising, perhaps threatening, for some.  Like our Taco Tuesday, it could provoke anger.  I should be careful.

I admire and respect you so very much for this.

Metaphorical language

5)  I think in metaphorical language.  If Genesis is the story of transition from prehominid woman to humans in recorded civilization then what value does it have?  Is there still a creation?  Yes.  Is there still a creator?  Yes.  Does the creator communicate with his creations?  Yes.  Can these creations worship themselves as in Romans 1?  Yes.  Is there a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy?  Yes.  Much deeper.

I think the issue I have with this interpretation is that it casts doubt on the narrative. Not that it disproves it. It makes it less likely for various reasons we can go into later (many of them are referenced in the other 42 reasons I listed in Why I Am Not A Christian). I’ll leave aside what you might mean by “creations worshiping themselves” once again. I touched on this before but I don’t think I heard an acknowledgement or response from you. I probably buried it in a long post. Essentially, I think Paul is redefining worship to mean something other than what we express to deities, so it feels like a caricature. I, as I hope you know by now, completely agree that there is a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy. I’m not sure we’ve connected here yet, despite our multiple conversations about it. This comment seems to imply that you think I’m saying logical fallacies are the root problem of nature. I’m still a little doubtful that I’ve successfully communicated my position with the problem I mentioned. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Let’s talk Multiverse! Now I’m happy! 🙂

6)  You know that I love studying science and even practice it in an applied manner.  The m-verse doesn’t solve a problem for me. The m-verse doesn’t expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen.

Yes. You know science well, my friend. I would never question that. You even sat through a few of Sean Carroll’s videos, posts and books. I’ve loved accompanying you on the journey. I’m still one audio course behind and have about thirty related videos and blog posts to share with you at some point. 🙂

As for the multiverse, I’m not sure which multiverse theory you’re referring to. We both know there are several categories of Multiverse theories. I don’t think any of them require the universe to be ultimately discrete. In other words, the quantum math works within the framework we set upon it based on observations and theory. The universe can definitely be continuous (ultimately infinite) despite our inability to measure below the plank-length. Based on what I understand right now, I don’t think anyone can assert that we don’t have (or can’t imagine) plausible hypotheses that expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen. I’ll try to find some for you if you like. 🙂

The m-verse can not redefine nothing.

There is an assumption that we have the correct definition of nothing. From my readings and lectures on infinity and nothing, the concept (like most concepts) is profound and much more nuanced and complicated than we imagine. The truth is, we simply have no frame of reference for it. What is the default state of nature? That is the question. We cannot assert it is the absence of all possible relationships, states, fluctuations, etc. We just don’t know that.

Quantum fluctuation is not nothing.

Actually, it’s as close to nothing as we know to exist and it might actually be the empty set of all possible states that could possibly exist. I’m not claiming one way or another. Anyone who is, is doing so to fulfill a need to support their world-view. Nothing can’t even be described except for the absence of all things. Virtual particles in a quantum foam don’t exist, they just have potential. I’m not arguing that this is the ultimate nothing. Far from it. I’m just saying that we can’t say otherwise with any authority. This may not satisfy our philosophical rhetoric about nothing that we’ve been taught, be we have no reason to think such a nothing is possible in the default state of some ultimate reality, much less what the rules might be that would govern such a state, or if our paradigm of rules and sequences even makes sense in that reality.

Also, on this point, here’s another thing that isn’t nothing. A God; a supernatural environment that this God exists in; etc. A being is not nothing so the argument is vacuous in my assessment. What is more likely? A random fluctuation that led to our universe, or a complex, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being with a will and desire to create a universe for us? With this question, we cannot make an assertion that is backed up by evidence, but Occam’s Razor supports the former (not that I have complete confidence in Occam’s Razor applied to logic outside our universe, or even some places inside of it). If something must be eternal, there’s not a compelling reason to think that thing must be a complex mind rather than a default state of existence that has the potential to be in some kind of fluctuation (enter the quantum foam as one possible state of this that we can observe).

I find it intellectually coherent to say that our observable universe began with low entropy because God created it with order.

Low entropy is not order. Low entropy is disorder. If it had zero entropy it would be order. It also would never evolve. It needed some disorder built into the system to form what we see today. As far back as we look, we see or infer entropy. There are both order and disorder in the universe now, just as there were both as far back as we look. This doesn’t conflict with the concept of a God; nor does it support or require a God of Order to explain it – at least to me. 🙂 (This sentence was a train wreck that J fixed with a semicolon. Grammar genius) (She added that part).

I still find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner.

I agree that it is compelling, which, as you know, is one reason I’m on the fence about the existence of something we might consider a God or prior mind (should I mention it now? Why not… iMultiverse :)). However, if we take this further and say that a beginning demands a beginner, we’re committing the composition fallacy. That’s the false notion that you can apply to the whole of a system what is required by parts of that system. It may be the case, we can’t know one way or the other and we have no universes we can definitively compare ours with.

Ex nihilo nihil fit

First, our universe may yet be flat. The world of cosmology is ever-changing on these topics and I’m doing my best to keep up with the multiple hypotheses. A zero state universe would not violate Ex nihilo nihil fit. Second, neither God, nor the description of the Universe in Genesis 1 represents the philosophical nothing that many assume must have existed (something we can’t really fathom). Third, nothing comes from nothing is not very relevant for convincing me to Christianity for two reasons.

  1. A creation event doesn’t directly and exclusively promote the Biblical claims; it could be any kind of previous state (another God, the God described in some version of the Bible, a multiverse, a simulation, and on and on we could go).
  2. Nothing comes from nothing is honestly irrelevant to me as a philosophy for demonstrating the truth of a God-claim because we don’t need a good understanding of the ultimate first cause. All we need is an explanation for the cause immediately prior to our state of the universe. You know I’m going to point to iMultiverse here, too. 🙂

So, I’m not challenging your belief here. I think you are right to find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner if that works for you. I’m just saying that it isn’t compelling to me and want you to have a little hint about why that is. If someone believes, they can use Ex nihilo nihil fit to promote their existing belief. If not, it often doesn’t help get someone to belief, although I’m sure there are exceptions. I could be a deist. 🙂

The untruth behind myth, or when trust becomes unobtainable

7)  So my view of scripture has changed.  It no longer bothers me to consider that the creation story in Genesis was a myth (story to teach truth:  not a fiction).

Okay. This is where we differ. The first definition I find for myth in Google is, “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” The second is, “a widely held but false belief or idea.” In neither case is the story likely to be true. Useful, perhaps, but useful for what? Eliciting a cultural behavior of some kind, usually. I actually loved Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. It was fascinating and really resonated with me. I’ve long believed in a transcendent that is similar to how he describes it in the book and there is a sort of truth there. However, I didn’t feel that the stories were true beyond the meaning they had for the people. With the Bible and our conversation now, we’re talking about justifying belief in an ultimate reality. That is an issue wholly separate from the meaning we might get from such a belief. It may resonate within us, but it may be no more real than any of the beliefs in the Power of Myth.

If someone tells us a story as if it happened, but the events behind that story did not actually happen, the story they told us was, in fact, a lie, or perhaps a misunderstanding – but not a truth. They were untrustworthy about their story and their future trust is in question. There may be truth in the metaphor, but it should be clear that it is a metaphor. If some of the Bible authors weren’t who it lead us to believe they were and if some of events they claimed occurred didn’t actually happen, how can you and I be confident in which ones are right? How can we gain enough confidence to believe the supernatural claims that, without the assumption of divine authority, are more likely to have been mistaken, made up, etc.?

Did God supernaturally intervene to create Eve from Adams ribs? Sounds like that was probably a metaphor. Did God supernaturally flood the world to kill everyone except Noah and those on the Ark? Was it metaphor? Did God supernaturally harden Pharaoh’s heart and send plagues on Egypt? Metaphor? Did the Exodus happen? Metaphor for the small band that left captivity and want to shape their history and consolidate their wisdom and community through story? Were the laws and commandments supernaturally given by God to Moses on a Mountain? Metaphor? Were the killings commanded by God? How much scripture is better interpreted as a metaphor, or something that is important for story but didn’t actually happen, and what impact does it have? Where does it end? What can we trust?

You’re Wright quote from Surprised by Scripture was good, but didn’t include the answer. His answer seems to be that we can’t know, so we should just trust. Asking too many questions and looking too closely at the tapestry may reveal the work of an unskilled artist who learned as the ages passed, but couldn’t start over afresh. What should we trust if we weren’t brought up in the religion but instead evaluated it now as people who are new to these claims from another religion? These are what I ask myself. I cannot trust. Perhaps I could if it weren’t for the other 42 random but mostly independent reasons I’ve listed in Why I’m Not A Christian. But I can’t make those go away either.

Missing the threads for the tapestry (like missing the trees for the forest)?

You quoted me saying “N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.”

I disagree with you.  I’m not angry and I don’t plan to revisit that place often.

Okay. That’s fair. But that’s my key issue. If I can’t trust the Bible, I can’t believe what it says about Jesus. That’s it. I’ve explained why. I’m not upset at all. I just want to be clear where that leaves me. I need an answer for the Inerrancy? post and related issues.

I feel that you have been counting threads and missing the tapestry.

If someone came to you and said this tapestry they loved was directed by God, would you look at it closely? If you saw perfection, it may validate the perfection of the one that created it. If not, it doesn’t mean there’s no way that the creator was perfect, but it also does not give evidence to validate the claim that its creator was perfect. Please don’t misunderstand. Again, I do not believe I have missed the tapestry. I’ve been staring at this tapestry for years at many different levels. I can see why you think I’ve missed it since I see it differently than you, and it’s certainly possible that I have. But I agree that we disagree here. It sounds like you still think I’m reading the Bible wrong because I wasn’t taught how to read it. Maybe. Show me what it’s supposed to look like that I haven’t seen.

In the scientific method, the question matters.

Well said. 🙂 What, in your opinion, are the right questions that Buddhism missed? I want to make sure I’m asking the right questions as well.

Why hold that the Bible is trustworthy?

You quoted me saying: “If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself?”

My non-biblical reason is pragmatic.  With scripture I have the tools to criticize my own heart, to overcome my own biases and to change.  I have the tools to turn (repent) when I’m wrong and the instruction to pursue humility and patience – – difficult character traits.

I want you to know that I deeply respect and identify with your answer. However, I also want you understand that, to me, it doesn’t answer why you think the Bible is without error. It can be meaningful and cause self-evaluation and a heart-change without being wholly true or divine. So I’m not connecting the dots. If you’re willing, please take the time to explain how this answers the question, or rephrase it in a way that might be better for me. The question is driving at how we can trust the Bible so much that we take its word in supernatural claims. It’s not about whether the Bible has some use in how we see the world or govern our ethics. All religious beliefs provide that and we don’t think they’re all divine.

Another possible misinterpretation of The Problem?

You also quoted me saying, “How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?”

I don’t elevate the problem you reference above to The Problem.  On that we fundamentally disagree.

I’m not sure how you interpreted this, so I can’t confirm that there’s a disagreement here. I want you to know, as I tried to explain in Small Bites (response) and Clarifying “The Problem”, that what I’m talking about isn’t the root of all evil. Human’s are perfectly capable of evil regardless of their worldview or meta-cognition. We both knew this before we read The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology and The Lessons of History. I only capitalize The Problem because it’s a blog post title, not because it’s the only problem plaguing us. 🙂

I just think our logical fallacies and cognitive biases (especially those I highlighted in The Problem) are so deceptive, pervasive, and hidden that it’s worth highlighting whenever possible. If we’re not walking around continually aware of them, we’re subject to them without knowing it and we’re digging our own grave in terms of objectively justifiable (and more likely true) beliefs. I actually suspect we are in complete agreement about the problem I mentioned. It seems that you (due to your faith) just posit an additional problem that I (due to my skepticism) think is unwarranted and unnecessary to explain things. I mean that in the most general and nicest and possible way.

We know for certain, as well as we can know anything, that the problem of hidden, unintuitive logical and cognitive biases dealing with perception I’m referencing exists. Christianity adds to that by declaring there is an additional problem of fallenness and a curse from God due to the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve who we think might have been a myth. I think that problem may exist, but I would need a compelling reason to believe that it does exist. The forces of natural selection and our resulting hidden fallacies (bread for survival and reproduction rather than truth) are sufficient to explain our nature without requiring a curse from God. We both agree that the problem I’m referring to exists, right? And the biblical fall might exist. I could be wrong and I don’t want to speak for you, but I think you’d agree with those two statements. In any case, I think you’re trying to apply The Problem to more than I’m trying to apply it to. Does that make sense?

As our favorite historian says, “Every vice was once a virtue.” Our evolution bread us for self-preservation. The Moral Animal taught us about familial circles and the genetic drive to favor preserve and protecting those with a larger Hamiltonian R value (more closely related). Couple those qualities with those hidden fallacies (and motivated reasoning) and you have all the ingredients necessary for man-made woes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more, but I’m not personal drawn to the conclusion that a supernatural curse and a fall from a state of perfection (a state that doesn’t look like ever existed) is necessary to explain our nature. Unless you’re only running off of photosynthesis, historical records show you were eating, evolving, adapting, competing, and killing to survive all the way back to single-celled life – much earlier than the hominids that would have received the curse and subsequent “fall.” The natural explanation makes more sense to me.

Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills is still the book I think is most essential for understanding me and is most descriptive of what I mean by the problem. Chapter 12 is a great 30 minute review if you ever want a refresher. 🙂

How to muster confidence that supernatural Bible claims are true?

You quoted me saying, “If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?”

If I believe God created, and have no dissonance in accepting mechanisms of a bang, abiogenesis, and evolution writ large, then cognitive resonance and coherence results.

Hey! I have no dissonance there either! Yay! 🙂 If we could stop there at deism I would be whole. I can’t quite make it there, though, and the world pushes us further – towards a specific God-claim. To claims like the set of those made in the Bible, which lead to many problems. I guess you know I’m going to say that your response doesn’t seem to explain how to have confidence about which parts to believe. You seem to believe (please correct me if I’m misinterpreting) that God created and communicated his Word in the Bible, but much of the Bible may not mean what it appears to say (either through the corruption of man, carelessness, misinterpretations of God’s will, or other methods, errors may have slipped in). Some major themes are written normally but science has forced us to believe they are allegorical. How can I know which parts to trust, and how can I justify trusting in any of the supernatural claims (resurrection, etc.)?

Hey! Just over 8000 words! I. Am. So. Sorry. I’ll give an air hug to anyone who actually reads all this. 🙂

I hope this post didn’t upset you too much, other than the length, of course. I’m very much looking forward to time together. See you at Détente!

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell