Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

Separating Caesar from the Church

June 21, 2018


Everyone has a hierarchy of values. Whatever is at the top of your hierarchy of values is your God, says Jordan Peterson. Although he hesitates to call himself a Christian, he has a good understanding of the Bible and its positive impact on society and people, individually. This particular statement rings with the purity of truth.

Jordan Peterson has been much in the news and was recently interviewed on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley. The topic was: Do we need God to make sense of life? The atheist psychologist, Susan Blackmore, was his counterpart. The podcast (linked above) is worth a listen.

Jordan Peterson also claimed in the course of the discussion that the first pronouncement of the ideal of the separation of church and state came from Jesus when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

Modern Christians (many of them) seem to think that the separation of the church and state is a bad thing. A common assumption seems to be that the “wall of separation” between the church and state is a way for politicians to keep Christians out of politics and to keep politics from being influenced by Christians. What do you think?

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Suicidal Nation

June 14, 2018

What is going on in our modern, American world? School shootings and suicides have risen precipitously over the last few decades. Where is the meaning and purpose that we need to sustain us? It seems to be getting lost, drowned out in our clamorous, busy, preoccupied and spiritually vacant lives. Though we enjoy access to knowledge, comforts, pleasures and riches like no generation on earth has ever experienced, it seems our lives are more vacuous than ever.

Perspective

LOS ANGELES – SEP 11: Anthony Bourdain at the 2016 Primetime Creative Emmy Awards – Day 2 – Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

I recently read an article in USA Today by Kristen Powers in which she cited a statistic that suicides are up 30% since 1999. In the article, she quotes an author who says that “despair … isn’t always caused by our brains. It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live.” I don’t know if there’s any research or professional opinion to back that up. The author is a journalist who wrote a book. That doesn’t necessarily make the author an expert. Still, I personally think there is some merit to the point.

Kristen Powers went on to assert her opinion that “we are too busy trying to ‘make it’ without realizing that once we reach that…

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Evidence of a Beautiful Mind

June 12, 2018

Sunrise over Hawaii by Miriam Higgs

Everyone recognizes beauty. That is undeniable. Everyone recognizes beauty in nature. Nature is virtually saturated in beauty from mountain peaks, to ocean shores, to barren Antarctica and the desert landscapes, to the starry host and the living cell. We recognize beauty in things we see, in things we hear, words that are spoken and in the personalities of exceptional people.

We see beauty in human art, and that beauty is usually produced by effort and design. The beauty in art is rarely produced unintentionally. Art, itself, is an intentional activity. If “art imitates nature” (Aristotle), then our proclivity toward art suggests that nature is also the product of intentionality.

Just as human art reveals something of the personality and character of the artist, nature reveals something of the personality and character of its Creator.

Beauty has a certain objectivity to it. While people disagree may differ on whether certain things are beautiful, no one denies that beauty exists and that some things are beautiful. Further, there are some things that nearly all people agree are beautiful.

If beauty wasn’t, to some degree, objective it could not be taught by experts in universities. The study of beauty includes principles of symmetry and asymmetry, color palate, texture and many other things that these experts agree make good art. A principle that is not the least important is the meaning behind the art, not just for the artist, but for the viewer of the art.

Virtually no one disagrees that these are objective truths, self-evident in quality and character. The fact that people will disagree over what is beauty, or what is most beautiful, doesn’t negate the universality of the idea of beauty – beauty does exist, we can recognize it and we can replicate it.

Beauty is hard to explain on the basis of naturalism. What sort of function does beauty supply? And why does it persist? The more advanced human civilization becomes, the more we insist that beauty be incorporated into our world, the more we desire it and the more we seek to make things beautiful. The best explanation for the source of beauty is a Beautiful Mind of which we are but images.

Diamonds and Coal and the Pressures of Life

June 8, 2018


Diamonds and coal are made from the same substance, carbon.[1] They are both formed by heat and pressure, but the results are very, very different. Coal is for burning as a source of energy, though it is not a very clean source of energy fuel. Coal is full of impurities.

Diamonds are among the hardest substances. They can be used in industrial applications for cutting metal and similar uses because they are so hard and immutable. Coal is soft and combustible. It is dirty rubs off everywhere.

Diamonds are clean, pristine and have very few, if any, impurities. They are translucent, rare and beautiful. Diamonds are highly valued, while coal is something we would rather not use if we had other choices, even for burning up in a fire.

Would you rather be a diamond or a lump of coal?

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Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Erhman – Part 6 – Postscript

May 27, 2018


I have taken some time in previous blog articles to summarize my comments about an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris. Ehrman talks about his early induction to a fundamentalist Christian world and losing his faith. He talks about the issues with biblical interpretation that led him away from belief.  I provide some comment on issues that factor into loss of faith, and the most recent articles address a modern view of miracles that avoids wrestling with evidence of the resurrection, and an observation that I share with others: that atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible similarly (two sides to the same coin).

On way to summarize Bart Ehrman’s story is the rejection of a rigid, wooden Christianity that imposes (or tries to impose) a “literal” meaning to everything in the Bible.  For Erhman, this is an all or nothing proposition.  Either it is all literally true, or it is all literally false.

As many people have noted, this is a false dichotomy.  It fails to appreciate nuance, different genres in the Bible, the significance of symbolic, metaphoric and allegoric meanings, context, and many other things.  It is the position of someone insisting that the Bible be read in a certain way and read through a particular lens, rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

When we approach the Bible, or any literature, with our own assumptions and presuppositions, we have already begun to dictate where we will end up. Ehrman originally approached the Bible with the assumption that it was all literally true (whatever “literally” meant to him and the people who influenced him). Ehrman now approaches the Bible with the assumption that it is all literally false, and that colors the way he reads it.

Harris’ example of Hume’s standard for determining the proof of a miracle comes back to mind.  If we set the bar “exceedingly” high, as Hume says we should, we rig the analysis, from the start, to discount every miraculous claim.  That the standard we have set is impossible to meet is the ultimate point.

This way of approaching a subject doesn’t seem very scientific or scholarly to me.  Yet, Harris is a scientist.  Erhman is a scholar.  While skepticism is a useful tool, it needs to be employed with a dose of humility, and the same skepticism should be applied to the “hermeneutics of skepticism” employed by the skeptic.

When the interview starts, Harris talks about people failing to use skeptical scientific tools.  Harris is, generally, referring to the scientific method. The scientific method is primarily a skeptical approach, demanding proof.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach.  The danger, however, is that we sneak all kinds of presuppositions into our scientific approach which, by their very nature, will dictate outcomes.  This really is not what the scientific method, in its purest form, is meant to be.

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Sam Harris Podcast Interviews Bart Ehrman – Part 5 – Atheists & Fundamentalists May Be Two Sides of the Same Coin

May 27, 2018


This blog piece is a continuation in a series of articles commenting on the podcast interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris. We trace Bart Ehrman’s early fundamentalist experience through the “loss” of his faith and the fundamentalism that still informs Ehrman’s view of the Bible, albeit not from a believing position anymore. I explore some factors from Ehrman’s story that may explain his turn away from belief in God, and the “exceedingly high” bar skeptics set for miracles that allows them to discount the Bible without seriously considering the evidence.

Ehrman suggests, reasonably, that the resurrection is the foundation for Christian belief, but he and Harris quickly gloss over the evidence. From the resurrection, the discussion turns to focus on heaven and hell.  Erhman remarks that, when he was a fundamentalist Christian, he believed in a literal heaven and a literal hell.  He described a literal hell with traditional fire and brimstone.

I have noted, as have other people in the past, that atheists and agnostics often take the same literal approach to scripture as “fundamentalists” do.  This is an example of what I mean by that. It’s possible that hell is literal fire and brimstone, but it’s possible it isn’t. That isn’t only way to interpret scripture.

Many Christian scholars do not believe that hell is literally fire and brimstone.  They make a good case that the language is metaphoric, rather than literal.  One of the hallmarks of a fundamentalist (as with an atheist or agnostic) interpretation of the Bible is the lack of nuance and distinguishing when a provision has metaphoric import.

Of course, sometimes a text might be taken literally and metaphorically, and a text may have literal meaning and metaphoric meaning that are both appropriate.  A fundamentalist, though, tends to want to read everything literally, and atheists and agnostics do the same thing.

The result for the fundamentalist is a kind of belief that ignores evidence to the contrary, and for the atheist the result is total rejection of the Bible.  The fundamentalists and the skeptics, in this way, approach Scripture in the same way. This leads to a false dichotomy: we either must accept everything (regardless of the evidence) or accept nothing (in spite of the evidence).

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Sam Harris Podcast Interview of Bart Ehrman – Part 4 – Setting the Bar Exceedingly High

May 26, 2018


I have written three articles summarizing some observations I have from an interview of Bart Ehrman, the agnostic New Testament scholar, by Sam Harris, the atheist, about Christianity. In those articles, I cover Bart Ehrman’s story about losing his faith, the fundamentalism that continues to color the way Ehrman reads the Bible and the dangers of social influence as a substitute for a deep, personal relationship with God.

I covered in the first article the rather ironic claim that Harris makes about approaching a familiar subject from a new angle. When an atheist interviews an agnostic on the subject of Christianity, I don’t know what new angle he is talking about! They both come from the same angle of unbelief.

When Sam Harris asks Ehrman to describe what Ehrman, as “an informed believer” would have said was the strongest argument for Christianity, I had to chuckle. Ehrman replied that the proof of the resurrection would be the strongest argument. With that I agree. As Paul said, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, our preaching and faith is useless, and we are to be pitied.[1]

For the proof, Ehrman states only two facts: the empty tomb, and the followers of Jesus who claimed to see Jesus alive after the resurrection. Ehrman doesn’t expound on these “minimal facts”, other than to note that Paul eludes to a list of people in 1 Corinthians who claimed to see Jesus alive, risen from the dead, including 500 people at one time.

These two facts are certainly on the short list of key factors scholars evaluate in considering the historicity of the resurrection, but they are not the only facts to be considered. Even skeptical scholars, like Ehrman, admit a few more. (See Previewing the Minimal Facts Critique of the Resurrection.)

Before any real discussion of the proof (or what the proof really is), Sam Harris immediately jumps in to refute the resurrection by reference to David Hume. Hume of course is the 18th century philosopher who urged a standard of proof for miracles that, in Sam Harris’s own words, is “a bar that is exceedingly difficult to get over”. By reference to Hume, Harris says that the proof of a miracle has to be so strong that believing in anything other than a miracle would, itself, would require belief in the miraculous.

Of course, I have heard this all before. This is a type of a priori position that discounts and dismisses miraculous claims without really taking a hard look at the evidence. In essence, the position is that miracles can’t happen. They don’t happen. Therefore it didn’t happen. This “exceedingly” high bar that Sam Harris speaks about is arbitrary, but Ehrman glosses over that point by saying that “believers have a different standard of proof”. This is entirely true, but it doesn’t really address the issue.

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