CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One thing I like about apologetics (both for theism and atheism), despite its bad reputation for cherry-picking facts, indulging in ad hominems and breeding false confidence, is that it focuses entirely on what is to me the most interesting question in the academic study of religion: the cognitive status of religious truth-claims. There's certainly a place for more phenomenological, descriptive studies of particular religious experiences, religious history and so on, but generally scholars in religious studies refrain from advancing arguments for the truth of any particular belief or belief system.

Denys Turner wants that to change: "[this is] how I envision Theology being done within the university-as argument between traditions of truth-claim in contestation over the truths they make claim to."

William J. Abraham has issued a similar challenge to religious scholars:

"We need more than armchair possibilities and thought experiments; we need actual claims advanced in some detail and with some care...Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured, the relevant epistemic considerations they deem appropriate, the precise arguments they think straighten their case, and the way they propose to handle standard defeaters and objections...Thus it is up to Moslems to advance the claims of Mohammed; it is up to Mormons to argue the case for Joseph Smith...Indeed, it is the mark of a serious theological tradition derived from divine revelation to own up to this responsibility and explain itself in public...Let each tradition speak for itself and say its piece. In turn, let critics be free to develop whatever objections they deem relevant." (Crossing the threshold of divine revelation, p.153)

So what does Turner think of the so-called 'new atheism' which is creating such headaches for thinking Christians? Apparently, not much:

"Unhappily today...atheists are in practice mostly runts, being intellectually under-weight and having little of interest to contribute to family life, not even decent levels of disagreement. There is in fact an important role for the university theologians in the re-education of atheists in what it would be worthwhile having them around to deny, because, even looking at it from their point of view, the superficiality of their negations gets them nowhere near a proper denial of God, but often little beyond the abandonment of an infantile fairy tale: so that they are not even very good atheists. Likewise, there is far too little in common between what a Flew or a Dawkins tells us does not exist and what any theologians claim does exist for their denials to offer any real theological stimulus, so that there is a certain lopsidedness to the theological argument. The atheistical challenge being so generally lackadaisical, the consequence is that hardly anyone really argues about God any more, not even theologians much." (Fields of Faith, p.35)

And lest you be tempted to think that this is just a brash, dismissable outburst, try reading his Faith, Reason and the Existence of God for a mental workout. I have to admit that, having just started doing further reading in the more sophisticated theologians such as Miroslav Volf, Robert Adams and Robert Jenson, Turner seems to be right about the current state of discussion between theists and atheists. There are a few exceptions, such as Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods or Nicholas Everitt's The Non-Existence of God. But it's clear that there's still a long way to go before atheists can lay claim to a serious, intellectual vital tradition with a clear atheist identity, especially in a time when a theologian like Volf can appropriate Nietszche as the preferred dialogue partner for a major work on Christian ethics!

Romans 8:11 and Bodily Resurrection

For previous installments in the “Is Richard Carrier Wrong About ....” series, check the post and links, here. In this installment, we turn to Carrier's exegesis of a specific Pauline passage. According to Richard Carrier, one of the most problematic Pauline passages for his two-body resurrection theory is Romans 8:11:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11.

The reference to the Spirit giving life to the Christian's mortal body seems a clear statement that the existing, mortal body will be transformed into the resurrection body. This is highly problematic for Richard Carrier's theory that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body, but in the creation of a new body, entirely disconnected from the old one.

A Past or Future Event?

To avoid this result, Carrier argues that Romans 8:11 does not refer to the resurrection at all, but only to God's present work in the lives of Christians. According to Carrier, “the context does seem to be our present life, not the resurrection.” The Empty Tomb, page 149. Further, “although Paul does eventually turn his mind to the future, and links our present with it, his discourse up to then is about what is happening to us in the present: God gives life to our bodies now, bodies that will die because they are mortal (the only reason to describe our bodies as such), but because the Spirit in us 'is life' (the entire point of Paul's line of reasoning), we will live—though here he does not specify how. His point throughout is that we must not have any concern for the worldly things that will pass away, meaning everything of flesh.” Id. page 149-50.

Carrier's position is not novel. Pheme Perkins advocated a similar position in Resurrection, New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection. Page 270. Long before Professor Perkins, John Calvin expressed a similar view. Despite the pedigree of the idea, the better understanding of Romans 8:11 is that it refers to the future bodily resurrection of Christians, explicitly stating that it is the present body that will be raised from the dead at the resurrection. This passage, in other words, torpedoes Carrier's theory.

A problem with Carrier's understanding of Romans 8:11 is that the making alive of mortal bodies is stated in the future, not the present, tense. The reference is literally “to make alive” and is in the future tense. Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, at 365. See also Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, page 476 (noting that the Greek for “give life” is in the future tense). In other words, Paul is saying that the Spirit “will make alive” our mortal bodies at some point in the future. This is something that will happen, not that is happening or has happened.

This is especially significant because in the same passage Paul refers to the presence of Christ making “the spirit alive because of righteousness.” This is stated in the present tense. The Spirit has made the Christian alive in the present sense, but there is something that remains to be done. Something that will occur in the future. Although the indwelling Spirit has made Christians alive in a sense, it will also make the Christian's "mortal body” alive at some point in the future. Carrier appears to equate the future event with what has already been accomplished.

Similar Pauline Passages?

Carrier refers to two other Pauline passages that speak of the giving of the Spirit as being related to things occurring in the present. The first is Ephesians 2:1-7:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Eph. 2:1-7.

This passage offers little support for Carrier's reading. As an initial matter, it does not speak about what happens to our “mortal bodies.” Moreover, it uses the past tense to refer to what God has accomplished whereas in Romans 8:11 Paul uses the present tense to refer to the making alive of mortal bodies. In Eph. 2:5, God “made us alive,” with the perfect tense pointing to “the completed action with a continuing result.” F. Rienecker & C. Rogers, op. cit., page 525. In Eph. 2:6, God “raised us up with” Jesus and “seated us with Him.” Both verses 5 and 6 are aorist indicative, meaning they are past actions. In Rom. 8:11, God “will give life to our mortal bodies.” The tense is future, meaning this is something that has not happened yet but will. This suggests the general resurrection at the Parousia. As stated by Joseph Fitzmyer, “The fut. tense express the role of the vivifying Spirit in the eschatological resurrection of Christians.” Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, page 491.

Next, Carrier refers to Colossians 2:13.

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions....

Colossians 2:13.

Carrier's use of this passage suffers from similar deficiencies as the previous one. It uses the aorist indicative (indicating the past tense). Moreover, it does not refer to God's actions on “our mortal bodies.” While in Col. 2:13, Paul writes about God giving life to the Christian believer in a sense other than the resurrection of the body, the tense is aorist and the mood indicative, meaning this is something that has been accomplished. God “made you alive," whereas in Romans 8:11 God “will give life” to the mortal bodies. The two differences, therefore, are when the action happens (in the past versus the future) and to what it happened (the person versus the body).

Jesus' Resurrection and Our Own

Carrier does not adequately explain Paul's close association of Jesus' resurrection with that of the Christian's: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” v. 11. Because Paul has linked the making alive of mortal bodies with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, it would seem natural to conclude that he refers to the resurrection of the body. Not according to Carrier. Carrier claims that the point of comparison is not with the resurrection of Jesus, but with “the giving of the Spirit.” Id. at 149.

More accomplished scholars, however, recognize that that Paul links Jesus' resurrection with that of the Christian in Romans 8:11.

[T]he emphatic repetition of 'him [God] who raised Christ from the dead,' as a way of identifying the indwelling Spirit, is probably intended as a deliberate reiteration of the closeness between Christ's resurrection and ours—his being the ground of ours, as Paul has made abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

Gordon D. Fee, God's Empowering Presence, page 552.

Fee's point is well taken. Paul twice states that the Spirit's raising of Jesus from the dead just before explaining that the same Spirit will give life to the mortal bodies of Christians. The role of the Spirit is obviously important, but Paul uses the specific example of the Spirit's role in raising Jesus from the dead because he is introducing the resurrection of Christian bodies to his train of thought.

Furthermore, in other passages where Paul compares God's raising of the Jesus from the dead to the state of Christians, he clearly is referring to resurrection. These passages are much more instructive as to Paul's meaning in Romans 8:11 than those offered by Carrier.

* 1 Cor. 6:14 -- “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Note that God “will also raise us up” is stated in the future tense, as in Romans 8:11, but not in the verses provided by Carrier.

* 2 Cor. 4:14 -- “knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.” Again, the raising of the Christian is stated in the future tense.

* 1 Thess. 4:14-- “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” The “will bring” Christians up with Jesus is also stated in the future tense.

These three verses link Jesus' resurrection, an event that has happened, with the resurrection of the Christians, stated in the future tense. This is the same pattern as in Romans 8:11 substantively and grammatically and unlike what is found in the examples offered by Carrier.

In conclusion, it appears there is no good reason to read this passage in the way Carrier suggests. Paul refers to the resurrection of the "mortal bodies" of Christians at a point in the future. This directly contradicts Carrier's theory that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body but in the elimination of the old body and the creation of a new one. Paul believed that the mortal body the Christian currently possess will be given life, freed from the bondage of death.

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On the comment section Mike asks this question: "Why did Jesus have to die?" He sites his own blog "Journey of an Ex Christian:"

Monday, December 31, 2007

Why did Jesus have to die?
The Bible and traditional Christian theology tell us that Jesus had to die because humanity was lost in original sin. Jesus' death and resurrection paid the price that we would have had to pay for our sins, and all we have to do is truly accept his gift.

First let us set up some definitions.

God: Omniscient, Omnipotent, Non-Temporally bound being who created all things.
Jesus: Emanuel (God with us), Son of God and also God himself. See the Gospel of John chapter 1.
Humanity: Creations of God, originally good, but defiled by our original sin through Adam and Eve.

I recently re-read the story of the drawbridge operator who sacrificed his son to save the lives of those on the train.

The Drawbridge Keeper

I'm sure it's not a true story, but it can be moving nonetheless. It's usually told as an allegory for God having to sacrifice Jesus in order to save us all. The major problem as pointed out in the above link, is that Jesus' death was not an accident and that is where it breaks down as an allegory. This story made me think of another problem, but it's a problem with both stories.

God is, as stated above, an omniscient, omnipotent, non-temporally bound being who created all things. I guess this ties into the first problem. Before god had even created Adam and Eve he knew that Jesus would have to die on the cross to redeem all of humanity. He knew about all of the atrocities, all the suffering, and all the pain that his children, all of us, not just Jesus, would suffer.

Why did it have to happen? Essentially, it looks like God set Adam and Eve up to fail.

Why? I don't have an answer, but I'd sure like one. It is to that end that all of my non-intercessory prayer will go.
Posted by Questioning Christian at 8:04 AM

The problem here is that he is being led astray by a bad rendition of the doctirne of atonement. This is a rendition that is actually not doctrine at all but devotional ism. He is drawing upon folksie chruchified explanations grounded in nineteenth century reactions to liberalism and aimed at evoking an emotional response from the common man. He is not dealing with the true theological issues of the faith. The draw bridge thing is not from a creed or a council, or the bible, it is a peice of preacherly devoitionalism. While I don't claim the following article is perfect, I think it offers a theologically informed alternative to understanding the atonement.

The short answer: He didn't have to, God could choose any method, he chose the most emotionally powerful and evocative symbol to demonstrate his love.

This is from my article "An Analysis of Atonement without civil or financial analogies."

There's an old atheist argument that goes like this: So what if Jesus was crucified? what's the big deal? There re much worse ways to suffer. Crucification is bad but it is far from the worst thing that can happen to you. So why was it a sacrifice, I mean after all he is God, what would it matter to him if he dies? And he got to come back."

It occurs to me there re some resins for this kind of chaotic thinking, but also one big hidden premise. Before launching into that analysis, however, I would like to comment on the inadequacy of Christian understanding.

First, most Christians try to answer this out of a need for piety. They do not give a theological answer, they give a pious one. The pious answer can't be understood by modern people, they lack pious feelings, so it just makes it worse. The pious answer of course is to try and mount up the pain and make it seem so very much worse. O. Jesus suffered in hell and he suffers every minute and he's still suffering and he felt all the agony in the world. Of course it doesn't really say that anywhere in the Bible. While I think this is true, and while my pious side feels the prier sense of reversions and gratitude to our savior for this work, we can't use this to answer the question because modern impiety can't understand the answer. They just hear us reiterating their hidden primes.

The other Christian answers are Propitiatory atonement, Substitutionary, or Moral government. These are the tree major ways of looking at the atonement. Propitiation means to turn away anger. This answer is also incomprehensible t moderns. God is so very angry with us that he can't stand the sight of us, he hats to stick Jesus between himself and us so he will see Jesus and turn away his anger. This just makes God seem like a red faced historical parent who couldn't comprehend the consequences of his creation when he decided to make it. Substitutionary atonement says Jesus took our place, he received the penalty our sins deserved. This comes in two verities. One is financial translation, Jesus paid the debt. the other is closer to moral government, Jesus was executed because he stepped in and took the place of the guilty party. Both of these are also problematic, because they really allow the guilty to get off Scott free and God persecutes an innocent person. The thing is in real life you could not go down to the jail and talk them into letting you take another prisoner's place. We can harp on how this is a grace so fine we can't undersigned it in the natural mind, and relapse into piety again singing the praises to God for doing this wonderful act, but it wont answer the atheist's questions.

I realize that the view I hold to is a little known minority view. I know I'm bucking the mainstream. But I think it makes a lot more sense and tells us why there was an atonement. Before getting into it, however, I want to comment upon the atheist hidden premise. The explicit premise of the atheist argument is that atonement works by Jesus suffering a whole lot. If Jesus suffers enough then restitution is made. But wait, restitution for what? For our sins? Then why should Jesus suffer more than we do or more than our victims do? Why do atheists seem to think that Jesus must suffer more than anyone ever has for the atonement to work? It's because the hidden premise is that God is guilty and the atonement is the time God pays for his own mistakes. Jesus has to suffer more than anyone to make up for what God has done, inconveniencing us by creating us.

The sickness of the modern mind can scarcely comprehend Christian theology now. I wonder if it isn't too late and we are just past the day when people in the West can really be saved?

I mean consider the idea that usually accompanies this argument: well he is God after all, a little torture and death can't hurt him. In the old days, when we had a culture that ran on Christian memories, people said how great that God would do this for us when he didn't have to! Now the argument is "Of course he had to, it's the least he can do, after all I didn't asked to be born, so I'm entitled to whatever goodies I can get in compensation." That's why I think the hidden premise is to blame God; its as though they are saying God has to suffer more than anyone to make up for the suffering he caused as creator. This sort of attitude is very troubling.

In any case, my view is the Participatory atonement. It was embraced by several church fathers and modern theologians supporting it are mentioned below:

I.The Atonement: God's Solidarity With Humanity.

A. The inadequacy of Financial Transactions

Many ministers, and therefore, many Christians speak of and think of Jesus' death on the cross as analogous to a financial transaction. Usually this idea goes something like this: we are in hock to the devil because we sinned. God pays the debt we owe by sending Jesus to die for us, and that pays off the devil. The problem with this view is the Bible never says we owe the devil anything. We owe God. The financial transaction model is inadequates. Matters of the soul are much more important than any monetary arrangement and business transactions and banking do not do justice to the import of the issue. Moreover, there is a more sophisticated model; that of the sacrifice for sin. In this model Jesus is like a sacrificial lamb who is murdered in our place. This model is also inadequate because it is based on a privative notion of sacrifice. The one making the sacrifice pays over something valuable to him to appease an angry God. In this case God is paying himself. This view is also called the "propitiation view" because it is based upon propitiation, which means to turn away wrath. The more meaningful notion is that of Solidarity. The Solidarity or "participatory" view says that Jesus entered human history to participate in our lot as finite humans, and he died as a means of identifying with us. We are under the law of sin and death, we are under curse of the law (we sin, we die, we are not capable in our own human strength of being good enough to merit salvation). IN taking on the penalty of sin (while remaining sinless) Jesus died in our stead; not in the manner of a privative animal sacrifice (that is just a metaphor) but as one of us, so that through identification with us, we might identify with him and therefore, partake of his newness of life.

B. Christ the Perfect Revelation of God to Humanity

In the book of Hebrews it says "in former times God spoke in many and verious ways through the prophets, but in these latter times he has spoken more perfectly through his son." Jesus is the perfect revelation of God to humanity. The prophets were speaking for God, but their words were limited in how much they could tell us about God. Jesus was God in the flesh and as such, we can see clearly by his character, his actions, and his teachings what God wants of us and how much God cares about us. God is for humanity, God is on our side! The greatest sign of God's support of our cause as needy humans is Jesus death on the cross, a death in solidarity with us as victims of our own sinful hearts and societies. Thus we can see the lengths God is will to go to to point us toward himself. There are many verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this view. These are the verses which seem to say that Atonement is propitiatory.

C. Death in Solidarity with Victims

1) Support from Modern Theologians

Three Major Modern Theologians support the solidarity notion of atonement: Jurgen Moltmann (The Crucified God), Matthew L. Lamb (Solidarity With Victims), and D.E.H. Whiteley (The Theology of St. Paul).In the 1980s Moltmann (German Calvinist) was called the greatest living protestant theologian, and made his name in laying the groundwork for what became liberation theology. Lamb (Catholic Priest) was big name in political theology, and Whiteley (scholar at Oxford) was a major Pauline scholar in the 1960s.In his work The Crucified God Moltmann interprets the cry of Jesus on the cross, "my God my God why have you forsaken me" as a statement of solidarity, placing him in identification with all who feel abandoned by God.Whiteley: "If St. Paul can be said to hold a theory of the modus operandi [of the atonement] it is best described as one of salvation through participation [the 'solidarity' view]: Christ shared all of our experience, sin alone excepted, including death in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life...Paul does not hold a theory of substitution..." (The Theology of St. Paul, 130)An example of one of the great classical theologians of the early church who held to a similar view is St. Irenaeus (according to Whiteley, 133).

2) Scrtiptural

...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5)

In Short, if we have united ourselves to Christ, entered his death and been raised to life, we participate in his death and resurrection thourgh our act of solidarity, united with Christ in his death, than it stands tto reason that his death is an act of solidarity with us, that he expresses his solidarity with humanity in his death.

This is why Jesus cries out on the cross "why have you forsaken me?" According to Moltmann this is an expression of Solidarity with all who feel abandoned by God.Jesus death in solidarity creates the grounds for forgiveness, since it is through his death that we express our solidarity, and through that, share in his life in union with Christ. Many verses seem to suggest a propitiatory view. But these are actually speaking of the affects of the solidarity. "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if when we were considered God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! What appears to be saying that the shedding of blood is what creates forgiveness is actually saying that the death in solidarity creates the grounds for reconciliation. IT says we were enemies then we were reconciled to him thorugh the death, his expression of solidarity changes the ground, when we express our solidarity and enter into the death we are giving up to God, we move from enemy to friend, and in that sense the shedding of blood, the death in solidarity, creates the conditions through which we can be and are forgiven. He goes on to talk about sharing in his life, which is participation, solidarity, unity.

D. Meaning of Solidarity and Salvation.

Jurgen Moltmann's notion of Solidarity (see The Crucified God) is based upon the notion of Political solidarity. Chrsit died in Solidarity wiht victims. He took upon himself a political death by purposly angering the powers of the day. Thus in his death he identifies with victims of oppression. But we are all vitims of oppression. Sin has a social dimension, the injustice we experience as the hands of society and social and governmental institutions is primarily and at a very basic level the result of the social aspects of sin. Power, and political machinations begin in the sinful heart, the ego, the desire for power, and they manifest themselves through institutions built by the will to power over the other. But in a more fundamental sense we are all victims of our own sinful natures. We scheme against others on some level to build ourselves up and secure our conditions in life. IN this sense we cannot help but do injustice to others. In return injustice is done to us.Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. Take an analogy from political organizing. IN Central America governments often send "death squads" to murder labor unionists and political dissenter. IN Guatemala there were some American organizations which organized for college students to go to Guatemala and escort the leaders of dissenting groups so that they would not be murdered.

The logic was that the death squads wouldn't hurt an American Student because it would bring bad press and shut off U.S. government funds to their military. As disturbing as these political implications are, let's stay focussed on the Gospel. Jesus is like those students, and like some of them, he was actually killed. But unlike them he went out of his way to be killed, to be victimized by the the rage of the sinful and power seeking so that he could illustrate to us the desire of God; that God is on our side, God is on the side of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, and the lost. Jesus said "a physician is not sent to the well but to the sick."The key to salvation is to accept God's statement of solidarity, to express our solidarity with God by placing ourselves into the death of Christ (by identification with it, by trust in it's efficacy for our salvation).

E. Atonement is a Primetive Concept?

This charge is made quite often by internet-skeptics, especially Jewish anti-missionaries who confuse the concept with the notion of Human sacrifice. But the charge rests on the idea that sacrifice itself is a primitive notion. If one commits a crime, someone else should not pay for it. This attack can be put forward in many forms but the basic notion revolves around the idea that one person dying for the sins of another, taking the penalty or sacrificing to remove the guilt of another is a premitive concept. None of this applies with the Participatory view of the atonement (solidarity) since the workings of Christ's death, the manner in which it secures salvation, is neither through turning away of wrath nor taking upon himself other's sins, but the creation of the grounds through which one declares one's own solidarity with God and the grounds through which God accepts that solidarity and extends his own; the identification of God himself with the needs and crys of his own creation.

Here is a joke that is in a recent edition of the Humanist Network News under the title of Desperate, but not that desperate:

A man stumbles into a deep well and plummets a hundred feet before grasping a spindly root, stopping his fall. His grip grows weaker and weaker, and in his desperation he cries out, "Is there anybody up there?"

He looks up, and all he can see is a circle of sky. Suddenly, the clouds part and a beam of bright light shines down on him. A deep voice thunders, "I, the Lord, am here. Let go of the root, and I will save you."

The man thinks for a moment and then yells, "Is there anybody else up there?"

I found it odd that this was in the HNN. What's odd is that I cannot figure out exactly why a humanist, aka skeptic, would find this funny. From my Christian point of view, that is exactly what skeptics do -- they turn away from the clear evidence presented that God exists and prefer to hope for something else that leaves them desperately hanging.

If someone can explain to me why this would be funny to an atheist, I'd appreciate it.

In his book What's So Great About Christianity?, Dinesh D'Souza discusses the explosive growth of what he calls "Traditional Christianity" (which he acknowledges is the same concept as C.S. Lewis called "mere Christianity" in his book by the same name) in much of the world. He compares it to the withdrawal that he sees in the mainstream churches in America which are rapidly shrinking. In the course of this discussion, he sets forth a quote that I found both interesting and accurate which I would like to share.

Here in the West, there are lots of liberal Christians. Some of them have assumed a kind of reverse mission: instead of being the church's missionaries to the world, they have become the world's missionaries to the church. They devote their moral energies to trying to make the church more democratic, to assure equal rights for women, to legitimize homosexual marriage, and so on. A small but influential segment of liberal Christianity rejects all the central doctrines of Christianity. H. Richard Hiebuhr famously summed up their credo: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

I have met liberal Christians who are good and sincere people. But their version of Christianity is retreating, in two senses. Liberal Christians are distinguished by how much intellectual and moral ground they concede to the adversaries of Christianity: "Granted, no rational person today can believe in miracles, but..." "True, the Old Testament God seems a mighty vengeful fellow, but..." "Admittedly religion is responsible for most of the conflict and oppression in history, but..."

This yes-but Christianity in full intellectual withdrawal, and it is also becoming less relevant. * * *

Unfortunately, the central themes of some of the liberal churches have become indistinguishable from those of the American Civil Liberties Union, the national Organization for Women, and the homosexual rights movement. Why listen to Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong drone on when you can get the same message and much more interesting visuals at San Francisco's gay pride parade?

Having left a mainstream church where my views, which are clearly more in line with what D'Souza refers to as "traditional Christianity", had been marginalized, I can definitely see what he is saying. Christ's church is supposed to stand for the truths of God that are set forth in the Word of God. Yet, too many Christians attempt to bring the world's ideas of morality into the church under the guise of merely "trying to understand the original intention" better.

These mainline churches, whose pews are now largely empty, are paying the price for trying to maintain a semblance of Christianity while really preaching the anti-Gospel of the world.

Warning: This particular post discusses a part of the male anatomy and may make some readers uncomfortable.

A new book has apparently been released by biblical scholars John Kaltner and Stephen L. McKenzie of Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, named The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book, co-written with Christian satirist Joel Kilpatrick. The book's synopsis begins with a eye-opening question: exactly which of Adam's bones was Eve made from?

We all know the story of how Eve was created from Adam's rib. But what if, perhaps, "rib" was a mistranslation and the body part she was really created from was Adam's penis bone? This would explain why human males don't have such a bone, unlike other male mammals. That's only one of many surprising and fun biblical twists readers will encounter in The Uncensored Bible.

According to an brief announcement about the book in the Salt Lake City Tribune, the authors answer that it is possible that Eve was made from the penis bone.

In the account of Eve's creation, the Hebrew word used for "rib" is "tsela," but that's not how it's translated in other parts of the Bible. Rather, it's usually translated as a "side" or "appendage" jutting out from a central structure.

All male mammals possess a penis bone - except humans and spider monkeys. So was the "bone" used to create Eve not actually Adam's rib after all? The authors conclude the theory has "compelling advantages" over traditional interpretations and is not "bizarre, outrageous or unreasonable."

Personally, I find this idea to be a little silly. After all, does it really matter which bone Eve was taken from? I mean, is there some deep theological point that arises if Eve was created using the penis bone as opposed to the rib? None that I can see.

Even so, I am not sure that the case can be effectively made. First, a quick check through my concordance reveals that the word "rib" is never used in the Old Testament after its use in Genesis 2 (which contains the verses in question). There is a reference to ribs in 2 Samuel 2, 2 Samuel 3, 2 Samuel 4 and 2 Samuel 20, but all of those use a phrasing or idiom that appears to mean that the various people were stabbed through the abdomen. In each of these cases, there is no word that is directly translated as "rib." Hence, the Bible does not give any indication that a particular word definitely means rib. At the same time, it does not show that a word other than the word used in Genesis 2 is the preferred word for "rib." (And before anyone asks, there is no word in the Hebrew word in the Bible for "penis bone".)

The Hebrew word tsela is the word translated in Genesis 2 as "rib". The word tsela is never used after Genesis 2 to describe any part of the human body at all. It is used, instead, in many places (with the majority being found in Exodus) to describe the "sides" of things. It is also translated in other places as corners, boards and chambers. A complete list of the uses of tsela can be found in the link to the word. What is notably absent is any usage in the Bible of the word as "an 'appendage' jutting out from a central structure". It isn't that it can't be seen as an "appendage" -- it is the "jutting out" part of the description that I find problematic.

(As a side note, I wonder how the fact that man is the only primate, besides spider monkeys, without a penis bone is explained by evolution? What evolutionary advantage did man obtain by losing the penis bone? Hmmmmmmmm. This may have to be a follow up post.)

So, while I personally think that this book would be fun to read, I am not too sure that I am going to buy into the conclusions it reaches. At least, they will have to go a lot further to convince me that "penis bone" is really a possible translation of the word tslela Genesis 2:22.


This was a post on my blog this July 14 (08) and involves the comments made in the comment section by a poster named "Andy Wright."

Andy Wright makes comments in response to "More on Extraordinary claims," I will answer his comments here because they are typical of certain atheist misconceptions that I have been trying to correct since I started on internet apologetics boards. The average atheist on the net seems to believe that religion is for feeble minded dullards who can't think, that's its effects are clearly proven to be very bad for both the individual and society, and that belief is receding into he mists of history. Not only are these ideas totally wrong, but they are the exact opposite of truth. Not only so, but that these things are totally false is clearly demonstrably provable with the best scientific evidence. Religion is actually very good for you, religious people are much better adjusted, by and large, than most atheists. Religious people are happier, they are less likely to commit crimes, if you except fundamentalists their marriages are better.

Wright was reacting to my statement that religion is normative for human experince, and the point of saying that was to show that belief is not an extraordinary claim. So let us keep that in mind, because most of Wrights arguments lose sight of this poin.

Andy Wright:

you say "religious belief is normative for human behavior. It is not merely "normal" but "normative" meaning it sets the standard. Belief is basic to human psyche, to our understanding of the good, of meaning in life, the ultimate limits of reality, the grounding of nature and being itself,"
this is not true. there have been and continue to be successful human societies where religion is not part of the society, where simply not knowing was acceptable.

This is clearly disproved by history. There has never been a single non religious society anyone where on earth. There have only been a handful of attempts to make societies that were non religious, and in not only did those cases fail, but they were the imposition of an ideology by an elite who imposed its will upon the masses.There has never been a single organic culture where the masses were just naturally not religious. Even in the Soviet union and china, where the only attempts to destroy the faith of the masses was imposed, it failed miserably. At the height of the cultural revolution in China when the government was the most anti-religious, the people were still 51% religious and Christianity made up a huge portion.

Wright again:

you seem to define religion as belief in a single higher power, yet among the societies that have religion, there have been as many societies that beleived in multiple spirits in a range from every single thing having a spirit to there being many extra powerful beings that you would call gods.

This is my true definition of religion, I've given it hundreds of times on message board all over the net and it is on my website in my credo where I clearly go over the all the beliefs I hold. I got this definition from Dr. Neil McFarlane in his lecture notes in his class on "religion in a Global perspective" at Perkins School of Theology (SMU). I think it was influenced by Dr Fredrick Strung ("string").

My definition of religion:

In my view Religion is an attept to identify a human problemic, that is the basic problematic nature at the heart of being human. Having identified it, reilgious traditions seek to resolve the problematic nature of human life by offering a transformative experince which allows one to transcend the difficulty and to be fulfilled or feel more human or be "saved." Religious traditions also usually seek to mediate this transformation through cerimony or some sort of theological orientation. These three things make up the nature of religion:

(a) identification of the problematic

(b) Transformative power to overcome the nature of the problematic

(c) a means of mediating this transformative power.

All religions offer these things, weather the problematic be seen as separation from nature, or imbalance with cosmic forces, re-birth through desire which leads to suffering, or moral sin in rebellion against God.

Transformations come in all sorts of packages too, they can be the big experince of born again Christianity (mediated through the "sinners prayer") or they can be the mystical experince, mediated through the mass, or enlightenment, mediated through mediation, mandala, mantra and other mediation aids, or what have you.

The reason for identifying with a particular religious tradition is because one feels that this particular tradition identifies the problematic better than others, and offers mediation in a more sure or certain or compelte way. One must go with the tradition with which one feels the strongest connection.

For me that is the Christian Tradition, primarily because I feel that the historical connection to Jesus of Nazareth, and the unique concept of Grace mark the Christian tradition as the best mediation of the Ultimate Transformative Experience. But more on that latter.

So your statement is quite false. I do not limit by view of religion to belief in a single "powerful being." In fact that view of what I believe is so far off, you clearly know nothing about my views. Obviously you are merely reacting to the label "Christian" and have not bothered to find out that Christianity is very diverse. I do not believe that God is a single powerful being! I do not believe that God is "A being." I believe that God is "being itself." That means God is the basis of what being is, the foundation of all being, not a being, but the basic ground of all being. I further believe that differing religions and concepts of God and gods are merely sign posts that point to this foundation of being. The are metaphors and analogies that point to something beyond themselves, something beyond our ability to understand. I have written many pages on this on my website. The major such pages can be found here: The Ground of Being

Wright goes on:

the range and differences among them are so great as to make lumping them all under 'religion' is almost ridiculous.

That is indicative misunderstanding the nature of religion is. Religion is so much bigger, better, and more important than you are willing to accept, or even than you suspect.

there have been many societies around the world where a human was thought of as the current incarnation of god. this differs so much from Christianity as to again, be almost impossible to be considered the same thing.

That's a misconception. It doesn't really matter, it's a meaningless point anyway, because I'm sure I know much more about world religion than you do. Remember the class I mention, above, "religion in a global perspective?" Neil McFarland who taught that class lived in Japan for 30 years. He was the leading expert on the New Religions of Japan (his book was Rush House of the Gods--I love that title!). He was very sympathetic to Eastern religions and he studied them with major Shinto and Buddhists priests in Japan. That class focussed on religions of Asia, especially Japan. There are not other societies or religions which have exactly the same understanding of deity as Christianity. There are none where a human being was thought of as God in the way that Christian theology came to regard Christ after the second century or so. But to say that these religions can't be regarded as the same thing is just poppy cock. They all fit with the definition given above and they all fit with the concept of mystical union which I have clearly espoused for years.


and in all of those societies, there were a wide range of level of belief in the locally accepted 'religion'. some were vigorous hyper believers and most belived some of it but had doubts about a little of it and some believed very little or none at all of it. societies varied a great deal in how much they tolerated the non-beleivers, from none at all to total tolerance, and still, even when there was no tolerance, there were non-beleivers who kept silent about it. your claim that religion is 'normative' lacks anthropological basis for societies and is lacking even more when applied to individuals.

Notice that you don't give a single example. Prior to the eighteenth century true atheists who really believed there was no God at all of any kind were very rare, and mostly they were uneducated. They had no scientific basis for their claims, merely anger toward religious people and institutions.No actually your misconceptions lack anthropological backing. I am quoting anthropologists. I'm quoting major social scientists such as Abraham Maslow who did studies on the nature of religious experience and found that its one of the greatest things or people. Maslow's book was Peak Experience and there is a copy online. A vast body of social sciences data shows that religion is far better for you than unbelief.


Atheists today have all that stuff you claim belief is basic to and they have it without . . . guess what . . . belief in any god or religion. you might not want to admit there are well adjusted atheists making positive contributions to the world, and i am not sure why you are so intolerant of atheism or why it threatens you so, but you claim about belief being essential to a person or a society is . . . bogus.

Saying that religion is normative is not at all the same as saying that there are no well adjusted atheists. That's not the issue at all. In fact the data does show that believers are much better "adjusted" and less mental illness and less depression than unbelievers.

again from my website:

Religioius belief indicative of good mental health

a)Religous Pepole are More Self Actualized

Dr. Michale Nielson,Ph.D. Psychology and religion.


"What makes someone psychologically healthy? This was the question that guided Maslow's work. He saw too much emphasis in psychology on negative behavior and thought, and wanted to supplant it with a psychology of mental health. To this end, he developed a hierarchy of needs, ranging from lower level physiological needs, through love and belonging, to self- actualization. Self-actualized people are those who have reached their potential for self-development. Maslow claimed that mystics are more likely to be self-actualized than are other people. Mystics also are more likely to have had "peak experiences," experiences in which the person feels a sense of ecstasy and oneness with the universe. Although his hierarchy of needs sounds appealing, researchers have had difficulty finding support for his theory."



In terms of psychological correlates, well-being and happiness has been associated with mystical experiences,(Mathes, Zevon, Roter, Joerger, 1982; Hay & Morisy, 1978; Greeley, 1975; Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987) as well as self-actualization (Hood, 1977; Alexander, 1992). Regarding the latter, the developer of self-actualization believed that even one spontaneous peak or transcendental experience could promote self-actualization. Correlational research has supported this relationship. In a recent statistical meta-analysis of causal designs with Transcendental Meditation (TM) controlling for length of treatment and strength of study design, it was found that: TM enhances self-actualization on standard inventories significantly more than recent clinically devised relaxation/meditation procedures not explicitly directed toward transcendence [mystical experience] (p. 1; Alexander, 1992)

b) Christian Repentence Promotes Healthy Mindedness

william James
Gilford lectures


"Within the Christian body, for which repentance of sins has from the beginning been the critical religious act, healthy-mindedness has always come forward with its milder interpretation. Repentance according to such healthy-minded Christians means getting away from the sin, not groaning and writhing over its commission. The Catholic practice of confession and absolution is in one of its aspects little more than a systematic method of keeping healthy-mindedness on top. By it a man's accounts with evil are periodically squared and audited, so that he may start the clean page with no old debts inscribed. Any Catholicwill tell us how clean and fresh and free he feels after the purging operation. Martin Luther by no means belonged to the healthy-minded type in the radical sense in which we have discussed it, and be repudiated priestly absolution for sin. Yet in this matter of repentance he had some very healthy-minded ideas, due in the main to the largeness of his conception of God. -..."

e. Recent Empirical Studies Prove Religious Believers have less depression, mental illness lower Divorce rate, ect.

J. Gartner, D.B. Allen, The Faith Factor: An Annotated Bibliography of Systematic Reviews And Clinical Research on Spiritual Subjects Vol. II, David B. Larson M.D., Natiional Institute for Health Research Dec. 1993, p. 3090


"The Reviews identified 10 areas of clinical staus in whihc research has demonstrated benefits of religious commitment: (1) Depression, (2) Suicide, (3) Delinquency, (4) Mortality, (5) Alchohol use (6) Drug use, (7) Well-being, (8) Divorce and martital satisfaction, (9) Physical Health Status, and (10) Mental health outcome studies....The authors underscored the need for additional longitudinal studies featuring health outcomes. Although there were few, such studies tended to show mental health benefit. Similarly, in the case of teh few longevity or mortality outcome studies, the benefit was in favor of those who attended least 70% of the time, increased religious commitment was associated with improved coping and protection from problems."

[The authors conducted a literature search of over 2000 publications to glean the current state of empirical study data in areas of Spirituality and health]

This part is very important becasue it speaks diretly to what you said about atheists being well adjusted.

2) Shrinks assume religious experience Normative.
Dr. Jorge W.F. Amaro, Ph.D., Head psychology dept. Sao Paulo


a) Unbeliever is the Sick Soul

"A non spiritualized person is a sick person, even if she doesn't show any symptom described by traditional medicine. The supernatural and the sacredness result from an elaboration on the function of omnipotence by the mind and can be found both in atheist and religious people. It is an existential function in humankind and the uses each one makes of it will be the measure for one's understanding."

I know you are going to get angry about that because people usually do. but this is a scientific fact. It comes from many studies that compare those who have reilgious experiences to those who do not. They find constantly that those who are are better ad musted, less depression and mental illness. It's not just anyone says "I am a Christian" but those who have religious experinces.

b. psychotherapeutic discipline re-evalutes Frued's criticism of religion



"Nowadays there are many who do not agree with the notion that religious behavior a priori implies a neurotic state to be decoded and eliminated by analysis (exorcism). That reductionism based on the first works by Freud is currently under review. The psychotherapist should be limited to observing the uses their clients make of the representations of the image of God in their subjective world, that is, the uses of the function of omnipotence. Among the several authors that subscribe to this position are Odilon de Mello Franco (12), .... W. R. Bion (2), one of the most notable contemporary psychoanalysts, ..."

[sources sited by Amaro BION, W. R. Atenção e interpretação (Attention and interpretation). Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1973.

MELLO FRANCO, O. de. Religious experience and psychoanalysis: from man-as-god to man-with-god. Int. J. of Psychoanalysis (1998) 79,]

c) This relationship is so strong it led to the creation of a whole discipline in psychology; transactionalism

Neilson on Maslow


"One outgrowth of Maslow's work is what has become known as Transpersonal Psychology, in which the focus is on the spiritual well-being of individuals, and values are advocated steadfastly. Transpersonal psychologists seek to blend Eastern religion (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) or Western (Christian, Jewish or Moslem) mysticism with a form of modern psychology. Frequently, the transpersonal psychologist rejects psychology's adoption of various scientific methods used in the natural sciences."
"The influence of the transpersonal movement remains small, but there is evidence that it is growing. I suspect that most psychologists would agree with Maslow that much of psychology -- including the psychology of religion -- needs an improved theoretical foundation."

3) Religion is positive factor in physical health.

"Doctrors find Power of faith hard to ignore
By Usha Lee McFarling
Knight Ridder News Service
(Dec. 23, 1998)


"Some suspect that the benefits of faith and churchgoing largely boil down to having social support — a factor that, by itself, has been shown to improve health. But the health effects of religion can't wholly be explained by social support. If, for example, you compare people who aren't religious with people who gather regularly for more secular reasons, the religious group is healthier. In Israel, studies comparing religious with secular kibbutzim showed the religious communes were healthier."Is this all a social effect you could get from going to the bridge club? It doesn't seem that way," said Koenig, who directs Duke's Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health .Another popular explanation for the link between religion and health is sin avoidance."

"The religious might be healthier because they are less likely to smoke, drink and engage in risky sex and more likely to wear seat belts.But when studies control for those factors, say by comparing religious nonsmokers with nonreligious nonsmokers, the religious factors still stand out. Compare smokers who are religious with those who are not and the churchgoing smokers have blood pressure as low as nonsmokers. "If you're a smoker, make sure you get your butt in church," said Larson, who conducted the smoking study."

see also: he Faith Factor: An Annotated Bibliography of Systematic Reviews And Clinical Research on Spiritual Subjects Vol. II, David B. Larson M.D., Natiional Institute for Health Research Dec. 1993 For data on a many studies which support this conclusion.

4) Religion is the most powerful Factor in well being.

Poloma and Pendelton The Faith Factor: An Annotated Bibliography of Systematic Reviews And Clinical Research on Spiritual Subjects Vol. II, David B. Larson M.D., Natiional Institute for Health Research Dec. 1993, p. 3290.


"The authors found that religious satisfaction was the most powerful predicter of existential well being. The degree to which an individual felt close to God was the most important factor in terms of existential well-being. While frequency of prayer contributed to general life satisfaction and personal happiness. As a result of their study the authors concluded that it would be important to look at a combindation of religious items, including prayer, religionship with God, and other measures of religious experince to begin to adequately clearlify the associations of religious committment with general well-being."

(5) Greater happiness

Religion and Happiness

by Michael E. Nielsen, PhD

Many people expect religion to bring them happiness. Does this actually seem to be the case? Are religious people happier than nonreligious people? And if so, why might this be?

Researchers have been intrigued by such questions. Most studies have simply asked people how happy they are, although studies also may use scales that try to measure happiness more subtly than that. In general, researchers who have a large sample of people in their study tend to limit their measurement of happiness to just one or two questions, and researchers who have fewer numbers of people use several items or scales to measure happiness.

What do they find? In a nutshell, they find that people who are involved in religion also report greater levels of happiness than do those who are not religious. For example, one study involved over 160,000 people in Europe. Among weekly churchgoers, 85% reported being "very satisfied" with life, but this number reduced to 77% among those who never went to church (Inglehart, 1990). This kind of pattern is typical -- religious involvement is associated with modest increases in happiness

Argyle, M., and Hills, P. (2000). Religious experiences and their relations with happiness and personality. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10, 157-172.

Inglehart, R. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Nielsen, M. E. (1998). An assessment of religious conflicts and their resolutions. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 181-190.

Nielsen again:

In the days before research boards reviewed research proposals before the studies were conducted, Pahnke devised an experiment to induce people to have a religious experience. On a Good Friday, when they were to meditate in a chapel for 2.5 hours, twenty theology students were given either psilocybin or a placebo. The students who were given the psilocybin reported intense religious experiences, as you might imagine. Their levels of happiness also were significantly greater than the control group reported. But what is especially interesting is that these effects remained 6 months after the experiment, as the psilocybin group reported more "persistent and positive changes" in their attitudes to life than did the placebo group.

Pahnke, W. H. (1966). Drugs and mysticism. International Journal of Parapsychology, 8, 295-314.

Now finally let's not forget the context of the original issue. I was showing that belief in God cannot be an "extraordinary claim" because it's normative for human experince. That means it sets the standard. I have proven that it does. This has nothing to do with proving that it's true, it is merely a matter of proving that it is standard for human experince. The vast majority of all humans who have ever lived have believed in some form of God, we are fit to be religious, it's better for our minds and our bodies. We were religious 65,000 years ago, our distant ancestors, our cousins the Neanderthals, were religious. Humanity has been religious longer than it has been human! Obviously then it is normative. IT doesn't matter that there are few exceptions, that's not the point. It doesn't make you a bad person, to not be religious. Nor does it make you abnormal or somehow lacking. But is the standard human experience to be religious. that is simply a fact.

On this day, 1,944 years ago, the Great Fire of Rome began.

The fire was devastating. It burned for six days and seven nights, utterly destroying four of fourteen districts in Rome and severely damaging most of the rest. The palace of Emperor Nero and some prominent pagan temples were destroyed in the blaze.

Some accounts claim Nero "fiddled while Rome burned," but it is more likely that he was not in the city at the time. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, however, in response to rumors that Nero himself started the fire, Nero blamed the Christians in Rome.

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Annals XV.44.

It is interesting how this disaster lead to one of the earliest non-Christian accounts of Jesus and the early Christian movement.

Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great About Christianity, a book I've been meaning to read, has written a blog entry on Newsbloggers entitled The Dogma of Materialism. In the blog, he discusses his upcoming debate on July 21, 2008, with Richard Dawkins, one of today's biggest popularizers of Darwinian evolution and the view the religion is bad for the world, and elaborates upon one of the issues he intends to raise in that debate: the non-theists' blind commitment to naturalism. (Should Dawkin's book have been entitled "The Blind Naturalist"?)

In the course of the blog, he points to several quotes from the bombastic Dawkins about the obvious failures of evidence to support this widely accepted theory, and then concludes with a quote that I had read previously by Richard Lewontin, Ph.D., a proponent of evolution (while criticizing some approaches to the issue), which is worth repeating (with emphasis added).

Consider [Richard] Dawkins himself, rebutting the claim that there are significant "gaps" in the fossil record. Dawkins concedes that there are such gaps, but then writes this: "The gaps, far from being anoying imperfections or awkward embarrassments, turn out to be exactly what we should positively expect."

In other words, the absence of evidence for evolution is itself proof that the theory is correct! This is so bizarre that it makes one wonder what the presence of evidence might do to this theory. Would a complete fossil record without gaps be evidence against Darwinian evolution, as we hear that Dawkins and his fellow biologists "exactly" and "positively" expect that such evidence should not be present?

Dawkins finally puts his cards on the table by saying of evolution: "Even if the evidence did not favor it, it would still be the best theory available." And if Dawkins is dismissed as a crank, here is Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker making the same point. "Because there are no alternatives, we would almost have to accept natural selection as the explanation of life on this planet even if there were no evidence for it."

We have here the weird spectacle of so-called scientists who are so wedded to a theory that they cannot even imagine it not to be true. This is a level of dogmatism that would embarrass any theist. Even the strongest religious believer can imagine the possibility that there is no God. So how can these self-styled champions of reason adopt so closed-minded an approach?

The short answer is given by Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, who in a 1997 essay in the New York Review of Books makes a revealing admission: "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant proises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment--a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation for the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, the materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

The idea of following the evidence wherever it may lead -- something that popularizers of evolution such as Carl Sagan have promoted -- seems to disappear when the evidence leads to God. If one concludes that the evidence leads to God (or, at least, a designer of some sort), that person will be treated as if he has lost his mind (e.g., Antony Flew).

Dr. Lewontin's quote is refreshing for its honesty, and worth remembering when today's versions of Darwin's pitbulls argue that those who claim not to believe in evolution (according to Dawkins) are "ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)."

I recently came across a website called ReligionLink: a resource website for religion writers. The page features a large number of links to articles, resources and information related to topics that may be of interest to religion writers. Concurrently, it provides articles, resources and information related to topics that may be of interest to apologists.

For example, while there is no link to a page entitled "apologetics", there are links to topics that can be used for apologetics. Thus, there is a page on the Apostle Paul entitled The Apostle Paul: Saint of the public square. The ReligionLink page discusses the "New Perspective on Paul." According to the page:

Given his prominence in the early Christian movement, Paul, like Jesus himself, has been the focus of renewed scholarly exploration in the past century that has sought to reread his role in light of historical criticism and new discoveries about the Holy Land of the first century. But the so-called New Perspective on Paul, or NPP, a school that seeks a radical reinterpretation of Paul’s letters and theology, was given a boost by the publication of E.P. Sanders’ 1977 book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Since then a spate of books has elaborated on this “New Perspectivism” with arguments that often run contrary to accepted views of Paul as the archetypal Protestant who eschewed “works righteousness” and focused on salvation by grace alone. Even Paul’s reputed misogyny and purportedly anti-Jewish writings have come in for critical re-examination. The NPP school is broad, and its participants often disagree. But it continues to produce a great amount of popular and scholarly work on Paul.

For an overview of the New Perspective on Paul, see the Theopedia entry on the New Perspectivism, or NPP, which characterizes the movement as “a system of thought in New Testament scholarship that seeks to reinterpret the Apostle Paul and his letters. In brief, the NPP is a reaction to the Reformation perspective on Paul (i.e. the traditional interpretation of him).” Theopedia is a Wiki-based resource, so its contents should always be double-checked for veracity. Another useful resource is The Paul Page.

The link in this paragraph to The Paul Page led to a page entitled The Paul Page: Dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul. Now, personally, I know very little about this New Perspective. I certainly welcome a re-visitation of the life of Paul if it will help remove the unfounded charges of misogyny and other nasty accusations leveled against him. However, I am fearful that this new movement is simply a variation of the Jesus Seminar.

Still, the information that I glean from these sources will more than allow me to get an overview of the issues linked and give me resources to contact if I get hung up on an issue. ReligionLink is definitely worth a look.

In the first post of this series I sketched the main contours of the school of Dutch Radical Criticism, which challenges the authenticity of all the Pauline epistles as witnesses to the earliest form of Christianity. Dutch radical scholars usually argue that the epistles were written sometime in the 2nd Century in the context of ongoing disputes between anti-nomian and more legalistic branches of the Christ cult (this does not of course exhaust the options by any means; there are just about as many solutions offered to the Pauline problem as there are Dutch Radicals; in addition some scholars take a middle ground, where the Pauline epistles may contain an authentic core of Pauline writing but they have been overlaid and interpolated many times so that redactional layers should be discernible, just like with the Synoptic gospels).

Mainstream scholars by and large are unaware of this school these days, which has only a handful of supporters. The most articulate and erudite is undoubtedly Hermann Detering, whose work I will be interacting with extensively in the future. But around the turn of the century, Dutch Radical Criticism was the center of the most important conversations in New Testament studies. One of the first mainstream scholars to take the school seriously was Albert Schweitzer. He is known primarily for his seminal survey of Jesus studies from Reimarus to Wrede, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. But after that he wrote a similar book on Pauline studies, Paul and His Interpreters, and he devoted a whole chapter to the work of the Dutch radicals. Schweitzer applied his razor-sharp intellect and unflagging intellectual integrity to an objective, thorough examination of the their views, so his conclusions are worth pondering.

According to Schweitzer, the roots of the Dutch Radical movement were found in the work of F.C. Baur. Baur famously declared only four Pauline epistles to be authentic (Galations, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans). Certainly most conservative or moderate scholars thought that he had gone way too far in his radical skepticism. Others, however, thought that he had not gone far enough: "Once the rights of such a [radical] criticism are admitted, nothing can prevent it from working itself out to its limit, and seeking to explain all the Epistles as products of a school which went under Paul's name." (p.118) In Baur's wake a number of critical examinations of the Pauline epistles were published, starting with Bruno Bauer and his theory that Christianity was really the invention of an alliance between Roman authority and Jewish religion, and moving on to the writings of Allard Pierson, A.D. Loman, Rudolf Steck, W.C. Van Manen and others. They pointed to both external and internal difficulties with the mainstream paradigm of Pauline studies (namely that we have some letters directly from Paul and some which were written by his school after his death, all before or around the end of the 1st Century). The usual culprits are named: the discrepancy between the portrayal of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles (which has no knowledge of Paul as letter-writer, and portrays a conciliatory view of the tension between Paul and Peter) and in his letters (which are more fragmentary with respect to the chronology of his life, and show much more inconsistency in his views on a variety of subjects, such as the Law and salvation), the lack of external attestation before Clement, Ignatius (whose letters the Dutch Critics thought inauthentic) and Marcion, etc. Another common argument for a late dating of the Pauline epistles which finds some echoes in the work of Earl Doherty is the time scale involved. In the view of the radical critics, the letters of Paul represent an intense Hellenization of Christian ideas which (according to the mainstream view) was supposed to have been the work of a single person (Paul) over about 20 years of ministry. They argued that this was impossible: "Could a Christology of this [Hellenistic] kind come into being a few years only after the death of the historical Jesus? Is an intense anti-Judaism in primitive Christian times intelligible? Can Greek, Gnostical ideas be assumed to have existed in the first generation?" (p.131) Thus it was more likely that Paul's letters come from a later stage in the development of Christian thought, around the middle of the 2nd Century.

So according to the Dutch Radicals, the mainstream paradigm of Pauline studies faces too many difficulties to continue to be accepted. But what paradigm should be put in its place? We have already noted that there are as many different solutions as there are scholars. One of the more interesting hypotheses, put forward by Steck and Van Manen, was that the Acts of the Apostles was prior to the epistles, since its story of Paul is simpler and more internally consistent. The Pauline epistles were written in the 2nd Century as weapons in a bizarre ideological warfare between the catholicizing and Judaizing tendencies in early Christianity, in which both sides projected their current conflict onto the historical apostle to the Gentiles to give them legitimacy. There is disagreement over why Paul was chosen to represent this conflict. After all, if we reject the mainstream view of Paul as the single most important Christian missionary of the 1st Century, it becomes hard to see why he would have carried enough subsequent weight to authorize an entire epistolary corpus.

From this summary of their views Schweitzer moves on to assess their arguments. Although he praises the Dutch Radicals for having the intellectual honesty to take Baur's skeptical arguments to their logical conclusions and for being very insightful close readers of the texts (He says of Steck and Loman: "This is the element of greatness in [their writings], that they did not forget the duty of asking questions, when it had fallen out of fashion among other theologians." (p.138)), overall he finds their views to be untenable. As regards external attestation, "the position is not so favorable to [the Dutch Radicals] as Loman wished to represent it." 1 Clement attests quite clearly to some Pauline letters and is to be dated no later than the beginning of the 2nd Century. If the Ignatian letters are genuine, "the attestation of the Pauline Epistles is in much better shape than was formerly supposed." Furthermore, "that Acts says nothing about the literary activity of the Apostle has at most the value of an argumentum e silentio." (p.135)

As regards to the internal arguments and the attempt to derive a redaction history of the Pauline letters on the basis of alleged inconsistencies, "the development which culminates in the antinomianism of the Epistle to the Galatians cannot be proved from the texts; the evidence is read into them by the exercise of great ingenuity." (p.136)

But Schweitzer thought that the main weakness in the views of both the Dutch Radicals and the mainstream theologians who challenged them was the unquestioned assumption that Paul's theology represented a Hellenization of Christianity. As we have seen, this forces the question of how such revolutionary developments could have happened in such a short time frame (as the mainstream paradigm suggests) under the influence of only one man? "How is it conceivable that a man of the primitive Christian period could, in consequence of a purely practical controversy regarding the observance or non-observance of the law by Gentile believers, go on, as Baur and his successors represent-to reject the law on principle? How could it be possible that, at that time, doctrine should take a frankly Gnostic shape, and in deliberate contempt of the tradition of the historical Jesus, should, under the yes of the men who had been His companions, appeal only to revelation?" (pp.137-138) Schweitzer argues that accepting those assumptions logically compels a scholar to raise the question of 'space and time' and argue that more time was necessary for such radical shifts to take place:

"The more the theologians who derive from Baur emphasise the Greek element in Paulinism the more helpless they are against the [radical] critics. For it is after all merely a matter of clearness and courage of thought whether they venture to raise the question about space and time. The moment they take this step they are lost. Nevermore can they find the way which leads back through the green pastures of sound common-sense theology, but are condemned to wander about with the revolutionaries in the wilderness of flat unreason. Wearied with problems, they come at last, like Steck and Van Manen, to a condition of mind in which the wildest hypothesis appeals to them more than rational knowledge..." (p.137)

So according to Schweitzer, the real roots of the Dutch Radical views were not primarily exegetical but rather presuppositional. Indeed many leading Pauline scholars have flatly rejected the above assumptions. Dunn, Wright, Sanders and others have all argued for viewing Paul as a solidly Jewish thinker with much more continuity with the historical Jesus than has often been assumed (see also David Wenham and Paul Barnett). These scholars generally do not find traces of gnosticism in Paul's thought either. Once these assumptions are rejected, the mainstream view becomes more plausible.

Of course Schweitzer had his own axe to grind with regard to Pauline studies: he was pushing his solution of 'thorough-going eschatology' in the face of both the radical critics and the mainstream theologians. But his criticism and insights are very valuable as we move forward in examining the arguments of the Dutch Radical critics, and a sobering reminder that, in New Testament studies as in other fields, there is rarely anything new under the sun.

I have a page dealing with this concept on Doxa, but it's not very good. This is a better version. I will combine the two eventually.

Carl Sagan made this statement popular in its current form, it was originally used by Hume, Laplace and other early theorists, but atheists have sense taken it as a major slogan for their decision-making paradigm.

Marcelo Truzzi tells us:

In his famous 1748 essay Of Miracles, the great skeptic David Hume asserted that "A wise man...proportions his belief to the evidence,"and he said of testimony for extraordinary claims that "the evidence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more unusual." A similar statement was made by Laplace, and many other later writers. I turned it into the now popular phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" (which Carl Sagan popularized into what is almost the war cry of some scoffers).

This slogan allows atheists to raise the bar for any Christian claim, while lowering it for their own purposes. Ed J. Gracely explains the basic logic of the bromide.

First, it is important to understand that the strength of a conclusion is a function both of the quality of the evidence provided in its support and the a priori probability of the claim being supported. Thus there can never be a single standard of "acceptable evidence" that will suffice to render every claim equally plausible. Suppose, for example, that a reasonably reliable source tells me (a) that President Clinton has vetoed legislation that places restrictions on trade with China and (b) that Newt Gingrich has switched to the Democratic party. Most people would be much more confident of the truth of the first report than of the second, even though the source is identical. The difference lies in the a priori plausibility of the claims.

A more precise formulation requires us to cast the a priori probability of a claim into the form of "odds" in its favor. A proposition with 90% probability of being true has 90 chances of being true for every 10 of being false. Thus the odds are 90 to 10, which reduces to 9 to 1. A proposition with 20% probability of being true has 20 chances of being true for 80 of being false. The odds (in its favor) are 20 to 80 or 0.25 to 1. It is more natural to translate the latter case into odds of 4 to 1 against the proposition, but the calculations require us to work with odds "in favor of" a proposition, even if they are fractional. Pieces of evidence alter the odds in favor of a proposition by a multiplicative factor in proportion to the quality of the evidence.

While it is clear that not all evidence weighs the same, some evidence is better than other evidence, nothing in this explanation indicates why evidence must be stronger for “extraordinary claims” than for “normal claims.” Assuming we can even indicate what “extraordinary evidence” is, what makes it more proven than “ordinary” evidence? The statement above merely indicates that probability is higher for a proposition backed by more direct evidence, nothing more. The rationale says that the least likely proposition is less probable, then the assertion that the evidence must be more “extraordinary” (whatever that means) rather than just accurate or valid or to the point is not demonstrated. Most assumptions about what makes evidence “extraordinary” or “ordinary,” or a proposition likely or unlikely is going to be largely a matter of prejudice. Consider the following statement, also by Gracely:

The principle is clear; the difficulty lies in the application. How likely, for example, is it that homeopathy or therapeutic touch really work? Proponents argue that we need to open our minds to new possibilities and grant these systems a fairly high a priori probability (say, 50-50 odds). Then, even modest-quality evidence would make the claims quite probably true. Skeptics argue that these systems violate known laws of physics and their validity should therefore be considered remotely improbable.

Who decides how likely it is that homeopathy is valid or invalid medicine? One would need a statically average for cure rates to compare with controlled group using orthodox practices to see this. He admits that “modest quality” evidence would be proof if it is granted a high probability. Without the proper studies why not so grant? What if one has found such treatments effective already in one’s own life? This is nothing more than prejudice to judge something improbable on the basis of guesswork and matters of taste. Why shouldn’t a standard of evidence adequate for proof of the issue under consideration, be the issue?

I have yet to find an atheist who can tell me what extraordinary God evidence is. I’ve seen attempts on message boards, where they argue absurdities like “why can’t God make all the stars spell out the phrase 'burn pain is the worst pain', 'Jesus is Lord, convert now.' Or "God could appear at the UN and hold a press conference." I have yet to see an atheist give me a valid option for “extraordinary evidence.” More importantly, we are talking about God, not about finding Bigfoot. God is off-scale for empirical investigation. How can the basis of reality be studied as though just another “thing” in creation? What could be used as a basis of comparison? How could one ever establish a base line comparison to determine probability of God? Dawkins tries it but he merely assumes God would be on a par with any other physical object. What basis is used to establish the probability of something that is said to be beyond our understanding?

Gracely argues:

An alternative I have heard suggested is to drop the extraordinary proof argument and instead to hold paranormal and alternative medicine claims strictly to the ordinary requirements of replicability and good research. This approach sounds sensible but it has a serious flaw. Skeptics are not willing to accept the plausibility of most paranormal claims unless the evidence is extremely strong. We risk being perceived (correctly) as disingenuous if we call for solid quality research, then revert to the extraordinary claims argument should it in fact appear.(Ibid)

This standard is the one I have been proposing for years. The term he doesn’t use, the proper term for “ordinary” level of proof would be a “prima facie case.” He may have a point if we are talking about acupuncture or UFOs but the flaw he sees in it is attitudinal, not logical or methodological. The attitude of skeptics is out of line anyway. Atheists are not willing to accept any level of evidence. The experience studies are fine studies, they are scientific and a huge body of work backs them up. For all practical purposes, they are “extraordinary evidence.” Let us not forget there is no set standard any skeptic can offer to define that term. Skeptics are quick to brush aside the experience studies as “subjective” without reading the studies or thinking about the arguments. They never define what “extraordinary” evidence would be. Gracely observes that skeptical attitudes are similar even in other areas:

In some areas of paranormal investigation, such as extrasensory perception (ESP), the research is already often better done than much orthodox scientific research, with controls and double-checks most scientists would regard as overkill. Skeptics mostly still feel that the intrinsic implausibility is so great that nothing short of airtight and well-repeated research would be sufficient to support ESP. Little or none of the existing research rises to that level, so we remain skeptical. (Some recent work has been of high quality, see Ray Hyman's article, "The Evidence for Psychic Functioning: Claims vs. Reality", in the March/April 1996 Skeptical Inquirer, pp 24-26.) Had skeptics said some 40 years ago that all we wanted was reasonable quality replicated research, we might now be having to eat our words.

Skeptics are never satisfied. I have seen this problem over and over again. When their demands for evidence are met, they just raise the bar again and again. The tyranny of “extraordinary evidence” so long as one never defines it, allows for this sort of abuse all t he time. More importantly, why should God be subjected to the same standards of proof as empirical objects? Here the skeptic is just in the position of arguing “God is improbable because I don’t believe in him.” Truzzi documents the “catch 22” designed into the extraordinary proof standard:

But it is important to remember that the proponent of the paranormal has an uphill battle from the start. The chips are stacked against him, so his assault is not so threatening to the fabric of science as scoffers often characterize it. In a sense, conservative science has "the law" on its side.
In law, we find three varieties in the weight of burden of proof:
1. proof by preponderance of evidence,
2. clear and convincing proof, and, in criminal law,
3. proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
In conventional science, we usually use (1), but when dealing with extraordinary claims, critics often seem to demand (3) since they demand all alternative explanations must be eliminated before the maverick claim is acceptable. This demand sometimes becomes unreasonable and may even make the scoffer's position unfalsifiable. Since the anomaly proponent is already saddled with a presumption of "guilt," it would seem to me that (2), clear and convincing proof, might be the best standard, though proponents may reasonably wonder why standard (1) should always be denied them.(Ibid)

But we must also keep in mind that God is not “paranormal.” Truzzi and Gracely are speaking in general of any sort of “paranormal” claim, including the claims of alternative medicine. God is not paranormal, but is status quo, normative for human belief. Nor is God a scientific question. It is absurd to expect us to limit evidence to only the scientific when the question about belief is epistemological. More on this aspect of belief and it is important for evidential standards below.

But this does raise a further question about the extraordinary evidential standard:
In addition to defining the term “extraordinary evidence” there is also a need to define the term “extraordinary claim.” Why is God an extraordinary claim? Here the atheist is truly in the position of arguing “God is improbable because I don’t believe in him.” Atheists make up 3% of the world’s population at best. The overwhelming majorities of people alive today, or who have ever lived, believe in some form of God. Our brains are hard-wired to have thoughts of God. Our physical and mental health work better when we believe in God (as will be seen in latter chapters). Obviously we are fit for belief, why would belief be extraordinary? Why should we allow the minor little 3% minority to define what is normative for humanity? Belief in God is is far more than just the average belief; it is normative as a standard of human understanding. It forms the basis of our psyches, it forms the basis of our legal system; it is the chief metaphor regulating meaning and morality. Belief in God illustrates all the aspects of a prima facie case. This is at least so for RE. Marcelo Truzzi makes the same point:

The central problem however lies in the fact that "extraordinary" must be relative to some things "ordinary." and as our theories change, what was once extraordinary may become ordinary (best seen in now accepted quantum effects that earlier were viewed as "impossible"). Many now extraordinary claims may become more acceptable not when they are replicated but when theoretical contexts change to make them more welcome.(Ibid)

Skeptics have argued that religious experience is not regular or consistent because such experiences are all different. Not only do you have so many different religions, but also even from mystic to mystic things differ. Over the years as one develops a disciplined life of prayer, one does encounter growing diversity and newness, but a certain sense of the familiar as well. Experiences become regular and consistent in that the presence of God is usually found in prayer, the sense of the presence is always the of the same quality (although varying intensity) and the sense of God can become familiar enough that it is always recognized as the same, This sense of the familiar is communicable and can be recognized form one believer to another. The mystical and devotional literature presents a kind of ordered sameness. One can read accounts as different form one experiencer to another as those between St. Augustine and A.W. Tozer and still find passages that seem to be talking about the same things. This is amplified times millions of believers in the history of the church who have experienced the same things. Even though there is diversification and difference there is still sameness. This is not even confined to mystics. The same can be said of conversion accounts that the same aspects keep popping up. Once can recognize the work of God from one person to another, form one time to the next, from one culture to all cultures. But, the skeptic will ask, what about the vast array of different religions? These differences are due to cultural constructs. One experiences God beyond words, and when one tries to speak of such experiences one must encode them in a symbolic universe, that is to say, in culture. These differences in symbolic universes over time have spelled out the differences in the many religions. But there is a cretin unity even between all the differences in religion. The data presented long term effects of religious experience (see articles on RE in this blog) represents typologies, which can be used to compare "peak experience" with that of other phenomena. The Peak experiencers can be grouped together into a collection of those who have experiences X. They are not isolated assortments of differing phenomena. These studies do represent differing cultures and times. Thus, religious experience has a consistency to it even between cultures.

Archetypal symbology universal.

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix I. An Example of B-Analysis
"...Jungian archetypes which can be recovered in several ways. I have managed to get it in good introspects simply by asking them directly to free associate to a particular symbol. The psychoanalytic literature, of course, has many such reports. Practically every deep case history will report such symbolic, archaic ways of viewing the woman, both in her good aspects and her bad aspects. (Both the Jungians and the Kleinians recognize the great and good mother and the witch mother as basic archetypes.) Another way of getting at this is in terms of the artificial dream that is suggested under hypnosis. It can also probably be investigated by spontaneous drawings, as the art therapists have pointed out. Still another possibility is the George Klein technique of two cards very rapidly succeeding each other so that symbolism can be studied. Any person who has been psychoanalyzed can fairly easily fall into such symbolic or metaphorical thinking in his dreams or free associations or fantasies or reveries.

Archetypal Symbology linked to Peak experience.

The link from Archetypes to religious experience is supplied by Maslow as well, in a quotation already sited in Religious Experience Arguments. He argues that the ability to relate "B knowlege" to "C knowlege" where the female (Or the male) is blanced in the perception of the other between goddess and whore, and the proper ego relation is sorted out, is the managing of the sacred and profane. He points out that anyone can learn to see in this manner and that it is indicative of permeative people in their religious experiences as they explained the world through the sense of the numenous.
d) Anyone can have peack expirence --universal to humanity

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix D. What is the Validity of Knowledge Gained in Peak-Experiences?
"To summarize, the major changes in the status of the problem of the validity of B-knowledge, or illumination-knowledge, are: (A) shifting it away from the question of the reality of angels, etc., i.e., naturalizing the question; (B) affirming experientially valid knowledge, the intrinsic validity of the enlarging of consciousness, i.e., of a wider range of experiencing; (C) realizing that the knowledge revealed was there all the time, ready to be perceived, if only the perceiver were "up to it," ready for it. This is a change in perspicuity, in the efficiency of the perceiver, in his spectacles, so to speak, not a change in the nature of reality or the invention of a new piece of reality which wasn't there before. The word "psychedelic" (consciousness-expanding) may be used here. Finally, (D) this kind of knowledge can be achieved in other ways; we need not rely solely on peak-experiences or peak-producing drugs for its attainment. There are more sober and laborious—and perhaps, therefore, better in some ways in the long run—avenues to achieving transcendent knowledge (B-knowledge). That is, I think we shall handle the problem better if we stress ontology and epistemology rather than the triggers and the stimuli."

2) Why Does God seem Hidden to SO many people?
a) God is not strictly speaking "invisible."

According to Hartshorne, "[o]nly God can be so universally important that no subject can ever wholly fail or ever have failed to be aware of him (in however dim or unreflective fashion)." Now the issue of why God doesn't hold a "press conference" has do do with the fact that God does not communicate by violating normal causal principles. In process terms, the "communication" of God must be understood as the prehension of God by human beings. A "prehension" is the response of an occasion to the entire past world (both the contiguous past and the remote past.) As God is in every occasion's past actual world, every occasion must "prehend" or take account of God.

It should be noted that "prehension" is a generic mode of perception that does not necessarily entail consciousness or sensory experience. In previous postings I explained that there a two modes of pure perception --"perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy." If God is present to us, then it is in the presensory perceptual mode of causal efficacy as opposed to the sensory and conscious perceptual mode of presentational immediacy. That is why God is "invisible", i.e. invisible to sense perception. The foundation for experience of God lies in the nonsesnory nonconscious mode of prehension. So now, there is the further question: Why is there variability in our experience of God? Or, why are some of us atheists, pantheists, theists, etc.? Every prehension has an initial datum derived from God, yet there are a multiplicity of ways in which this datum is prehended from diverse perspectives.

I agreed with Hume that sense perception tells us nothing about efficient causation (or final causation for that matter). Hume was actually presupposing causal efficacy in his attempt to deny it (i.e., in his relating of sense impressions to awareness). Causation could be described as an element of experience, but as Whitehead explains, this experience is not sensory experience. From Hume's own analysis Whitehead derives at least two forms of nonsensory perception: the perception of our own body and the nonsensory perception of one's past.

b). Atheists basically deny the validity of religious experience because they assume that all perception is sense perception. r, they deny sense perception to theists when they actually presuppose it themselves (Hume is a case in point).

c) All people experience the reality of God or the "Holy" all the time. But this is at an unconscious level. However, in some people, this direct prehension of the "Holy" rises to the level of conscious experience. We generally call these people "mystics". Now, the reason why a few people are conscious of God is not the result of God violating causal principle; some people are just able to conform to God's initial datum in greater degree than other people can. I don't think that God chooses to make himself consciously known to some and not to others. That would make God an elitist. Now, the question as to why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist does not have to do with me experiencing some exceptional religious or mystical experience. Rather, I believe that these extraordinary experiences of the great religious leaders are genuine and that they do conform to the ultimate nature of things. It's not necessarily a "blind leap" of faith, as my religious beliefs are accepted, in part, on the basis of whether or not they illuminate my experience of reality.

The upshot of all of this is religious belief is normative for human behavior. It is not merely "normal" but "normative" meaning it sets the standard. Belief is basic to human psyche, to our understanding of the good, of meaning in life, the ultimate limits of reality, the grounding of nature and being itself, there is no way belief in God can be thought of as an extraordinary claim! We might think of it as extraordinary in the the sense of being unique, like no other claim, but in that case it makes no sense to subject it to the regular canons of science as though God's presence is given in daily empirical data. Obviously the more intelligent evidential standard is that the evidence has to be fit for the claim. Fit, not dazzling, not impossible, not amazing, no beyond our ability to produce, but it has to fit the case. It has to be rational, and able to stand a prima facie burden, and it has to fit the proof attempted.


Marcelo Truzzi “on some unfair practices toward claims of the Paranormal.” This article was published in slightly edited form in:Edward Binkowski, editor, Oxymoron: Annual Thematic Anthology of the Arts and Sciences, Vol.2: The Fringe, New York: Oxymoron Media, Inc., 1998. It is also found on the website Skeptical Investigations: visited 7/7/08

Ed J. Gracely ”Why Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof. This article first appeared in the December 1998 issue of Phactum, the newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT). Dr. Gracely is Associate Professor of Community and Preventive Medicine at the MCP*Hahnemann School of Medicine in Philadelphia. This article was posted on July 24, 2003. It is now found on: Quackwatch

Abraham MaslowReligious Values and peak Experience,
text online:

see also My RE argument

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