CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In response to my Distinguished Birth series and the post, Non-Issues in the Lukan Birth Narrative, Part 1, an anonymous commentor listed some other supposed pagan birth stories which he apparently thinks undercut my arguments. Although I think my original argument stands on its own, I will respond to the new examples. I save the best -- by which I mean the worst -- for last. In short, none of these examples offer much new and end up reinforcing my original argument.

* The Birth of Minerva. Minerva was not a human who lived on earth but a Roman goddess. In fact, she was the Roman counterpart to the Greek goddess Athena. More to the point, she did not even have a mother, there was no conception, and she was not "born," at least not in any remotely normal way. Rather, Roman myth states that she "leaped forth" from Jupiter's head as a fully grown adult wearing a suit of armor. Perhaps the anonymous poster was confused because Minerva herself was known as the "virgin goddess."

* The Birth of Apis. Apis was not human. Nor was he a god that looked like a human. Rather, Apis was an Egyptian god who was also a bull. As Herodotus writes, Apis "is a calf born of a cow who after this is not permitted to conceive any other offspring; and the Egyptians say that a flash of light comes down from heaven upon this cow, and of this she produces Apis..." The History of Herodotus, 3.28. Even if Mary was comparable to a cow, it is unlikely that the cow at issue was a virgin. Not only are there few virgin cows, but the note that "after this" the cow was not able to conceive may suggest prior calves.

* The Birth of Dionysus. Dionysus was another Greco-Roman god, also known as Bacchus. According to some stories, Dionysus was the product of a sexual affair between Zeus a human woman. There is a slight, but ultimately immaterial, twist. The mother died prematurely when Zeus appeared to her in full glory. The divine child survived though and Zeus placed him in his own thigh until he was born from it. While this is unusual, there are no virgins involved. Dionysus' mother was involved sexually with Zeus. And, obviously, Zeus was no virgin and it is something of a stretch to compare the "birth" from Zeus' thigh to Jesus' birth.

* The Birth of Plato. Some apparently believed that Apollo was involved in Plato's birth. Diogenes Laertuius states that there was a story that Plato's father Ariston "made passionate love to beautiful Perictione" regularly. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.1-3. Then, Apollo admonished Ariston to stop and Ariston "left her unmolested until she gave birth." Even if Apollo took the pleasure of getting her pregnant, Perictione was not a virgin when she conceived or gave birth to Plato. Although there is no explanation as to how Perictione conceived, if a pagan reader had taken the story to mean it was by Apollo, then he likely would have assumed Apollo did it the "old fashion" pagan way.

* The Birth of Scipio Africanus. Aulus Gellius wrote that there were stories that Scipio's mother conceived after being discovered laying with a large snake. The allusion to Zeus impregnating Olympia, the mother of Alexander the Great, was not lost on Gellius, who made it explicit that Scipio's mother "had the same experience as Oympias." She was not a virgin, having been married and barren a long time, and the conception resulted from the contact with a snake (though few details are offered). Attic Nights, 6.1.1-6.

* The Birth of Augustus. This story is also similar to Zeus' impregnation of Olympia. Augustus' mother -- Attia -- was impregnated by a God in the form of an animal, in this case a snake. As Dio Cassius writes, "Attia ... emphatically asserted that her child had been fathered by Apollo. She said that once, while she was sleeping in his temple, she thought she had intercourse with a snake." History of Rome, 45.1.2-2.4. Also, Attia was no virgin, but married at the time.

* The Birth of Attis. This is a story noted by Pausanias about the impregnation of a nymph/goddess. Description of Greece, 7.17.9-11. The mother of Attis was the daughter of the river God. She was not a human and there is no indication that she was a virgin. She become pregnant by physical interaction with an "almond." This was no ordinary almond, though, but was actually derived from the seed of the demon god Agdistis that had spilled into the earth after his male genitalia were ripped off. The almond/seed penetrated the nymph's bosom and impregnated her. She did not want the child, perhaps fearing it, and left it to die of exposure. The child, Attius, was rescued by a goat. If you thought Zeus was off the hook for this one, however, you would be mistaken. It appears that the demon god Agdistis is the result of the seed of Zeus which spilled while he slept.

* The Birth of Aristomenes. Aristomenes was a King of Messini. His birth fits into the already discussed paradigm of pagan gods having sex with mortal women in disguised animal shapes. Here we have another snake. Pausanias writes that the Messenians "assert that a spirit or a god united with his mother, Nicoteleia, in the form of a serpent." Pausanias also notes the similarity to the story of Olympia. The only difference is that the divine father is claimed to have been Pyrrhus. Description of Greece, 4.14.7-8.

* The Birth of Apollonius of Tyana. This story is a bit different than most, but not in a way that makes it more similar to Jesus' birth as reported in Matthew and Luke. Apollonius was conceived after the normal union between husband and wife. Well after the conception, however, his mother "had a vision of Proteus, an Egyptian deity, who, according to Homer, changes his form at will." Proteus informed her that she would be giving birth to "Proteus . . . the god of Egypt." Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 1.4-7. As Robert J. Miller notes, "There is no story of a supernatural conception for Apollonius. Instead, his very pregnant mother has a vision in which she learns that her son will be the incarnation of the shape-shifting god Proteus. Nothing in this implies that there was anything unusual about how Apollonius was conceived. This shows that the ancient imagination accepted the notion that someone could be a god incarnate and yet be conceived in the natural way." Robert J. Miller, Born Divine, The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God, page 149.

* The Hatching of Glycon. The final example is Glycon, which the anonymous poster offered in response to my claim that the birth narratives of Luke and Matthew were much closer in time to the subject of their accounts than were the divine pagan birth accounts were to their recorders. According to the anonymous commentor:

Your facts are wrong. Glycon was a God invented in the 2d century AD. Glycon was the son of the God Apollo, who...

... came to Earth through a miraculous birth,
... was the Earthly manifestation of divinity,
... came to earth in fulfillment of divine prophecy,
... gave his chief believer the power of prophecy,
... gave believers the power to speak in tongues,
... performed miracles,
... healed the sick,
... raised the dead.

These stories were entirely contemporaneous with Glycon, as is Lucian's record of them. Your claim is false.

My first question was whether the anonymous poster was quoting someone else's work without attribution. It is taken verbatim from this webpage. There are other interesting similarities between the anonymous poster and the website, such as repeated references to "godman" and these "godman" living in the "sky." In any event, the comparison of Glycon to Jesus is ridiculous.

Glycon was not a human. He was not even a god in human form. He was not even a human-like creature. No, Glycon was a snake. He was a big snake, but a snake nonetheless. His handler and oracle, Alexander, presented him publically as a snake, but one with “a serpent’s head of linen, which had something of a human look.” Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 12. According to Lucian, Alexander invented the god Glycon as a ploy to enrich himself by selling oracles and obtaining favor among the elite. He also gained the use of "choir boys" for his sexual pleasure through his influence.

The description of Glycon’s birth as “miraculous” is yet another distorting generalization. There was no virgin birth or even one of the divine pregnancies discussed above -- which at least have the benefit of involving a human mother. Rather, Glycon the snake was hatched from a goose egg. Lucian reports that it was a specially prepared goose egg in which a baby snake had been inserted and the hole covered with a seal. After the snake appeared from the goose egg -- to an astonished audience -- Alexander substituted a large adult snake and attached the puppet head to it, using an elaborate set up to issue oracles.

The rest of the points of comparison are unrelated to the Virgin Birth. Nevertheless, I will make some points. First, Glycon was the reincarnation of Asclepius, who had been born and lived on earth before. Second, the “divine prophecy” is a vague reference but appears to be the "planting" and "discovery" by Alexander of certain bronze tablets that predicted the coming of Asclepius. Third, Alexander and Glycon acted as an oracle, selling oracles for money, which is a very different thing than a Jewish prophet which precedes the Hellenistic period in any event. Next, the comparison with miracles, healing, and raising the dead is an empty one. There are no miracles actually narrated for Alexander or Glycon. All that Lucian claims is that Alexander “was even sending men abroad to create rumours in the different nations in regard to the oracle and to say that he made predictions, discovered fugitive slaves, detected thieves and robbers, caused treasures to be dug up, healed the sick, and in some cases had actually raised the dead.” Ibid., 24.

Finally, Glycon post dates Christianity. This is not a mere academic observance. Alexander knew Christians and was at least somewhat aware of their beliefs. Lucian reports that Glycon despised Christians and regularly and publicly condemned them and their beliefs. So, although I do not see any substantive parallels, if someone were inclined to see them they could not rule out Christian influence here.

People can read Lucian's account of Glycon for themselves.

35 comments:

"Finally, Glycon post dates Christianity...So, although I do not see any substantive parallels, if someone were inclined to see them they could not rule out Christian influence here."

Of course many miraculous births predate Jesus, so we can't rule out pagan influences on the Christ story either. Much of what the Christ mythers write ends up poorly supported and contested by reliable historians. The obsession seems to be with virgin births, when really any miraculous birth is reason enough to cast doubt upon the Christ story.

Of course, like fossils, these other miraculous birth stories could all be Satanic forgeries, nay mockeries, of the real deal.

Actually, we can rule out pagan influence. Just because myth A predates the Christian story doesn't mean that it was an influence on the Christian story. There has to be something more. Layman's point is that that
something more" is insignificant to make the case that such influence exists.

Mike,

First, you ignore my statement that I don't see significant parallels so I don't think there was much influence.

Second, there are miraculous births that predate Jesus in Jewish thought that would be more instructive if you are convinced that the Gospels authors must have borrowed the account from somewhere else.

Third, much of what was written by all ancient "reliable historians" was either poorly supported or contested by others. The gospel authors, and Acts, actually stack up pretty well in that bunch.

Fourth, you give the game away when you say that the inclusion of any miraculous birth is enough to cast doubt on the Christ story. Its just not something you can consider so the evidence is irrelevant to you. Moreover, your casted doubt does not necessarily follow. It if truly was a miraculous birth that bothered you, why would you doubt the story of Jesus as presented by Paul, Hebrews, Mark, and John? Probably because there are other miraculous elements to them. Which means that its the same old saw--you don't believe in miracles so you don't believe the Christ story.

"Actually, we can rule out pagan influence."

BK, are you saying that you can rule out pagan influences 100%?

I would agree that just because one event predates another it does not have to follow that the newer event was inspired by the old, but it's at least possible.

My point is that it enough to make someone doubt. There's nothing wrong with a little doubt.

I'm not a Christ myther, by the way.

Layman,

First, far from ignoring your statement, I quoted it.

Second, my point is that the details don't necessarily matter. A miraculous birth story could inspire another. Born from the thigh of a god, impregnated by a shower of gold, or born of a virgin, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, the fact that they are miraculous does not mean they are false, however it does mean they are a part of a long tradition of elevating famous figures to even higher levels. I am not convinced that the gospel writers borrowed, I am simply saying it is possible.

Third, I was not referencing "reliable historians" as siding with the Christ mythers, but against. I agree, that the gospels hold up as important historical documents, as much if not more so than many others.

Fourth, wow, you are reading a lot into what I wrote. I did not say anywhere that because these events appear miraculous they are not true. I believed in miracles for 20 years while I was a Christian. I have not closed myself to their possibility at all. I find some claims of the miraculous to be ridiculous and deceptive, but I think we would agree on those. Pick a favorite charlatan.

I don't believe in Christ because after all these years, I realized that there was nothing that I had attributed to God or Satan that could not have been random chance. Last year at this time, I was begging God daily to be more real to me, more tangible. He never did, but I still seek him from time to time. He's awfully quiet.

This is why I call myself an agnostic atheist, because I'm pretty sure the silence means he doesn't exist, but I'm far from certain.

Wouldn't you think the creator of the universe would be at least as tangible as you are?

Sorry if I touched a nerve, there was never a game to be given away. I'm not playing, just seeking knowledge.

Mike,

No, I am not saying you can rule it out 100%. Heck, I can't entirely rule out that I don't exist. However, assuming the world can actually be perceived and that we can know something about it, you can certainly determine that the supposed liklihood of copying is so remote as to "rule it out" (which is what I thought we were talking about). :)

I hate to break it to you, BK, but being the radical solipsist that I am, I must tell you that none of you exist, you are all in my head. ;-)

And here I thought that this mess might be all my fault. *whew* What a relief.

This is a good series of posts, and I appreciate Mike's honesty. Where faith comes from is a good question; my own story is of course idiosyncratic, but in my moments of deepest doubt (and I surely have them) I have found, at those times, I made a choice to keep looking, at least. Maybe even made a small faith assertion ("well, I still don't think Jesus was an ordinary human") and then greater faith has followed from that, and unexpectedly, at least for a time. Above all, community makes a difference for me, as has participation in the Eucharist.

That said, I am willing to believe that some elements in the gospel accounts are not historical, perhaps absorbed from popular accounts of healing/exorcism in Palestine, for example. The pigs rushing into the water does sound like it would fulfill some cultural expectation; heck, it's even possible (in my mind) demons do not exist (I don't know either way) and the exorcism stories where the demons cry out may be embellishments, or reflect the actual behavior of troubled individuals who believed themselves possessed, a reasonable historical assumption (in many cases, they say nothing...the gospel writer asserting that Jesus forbid them to speak because they knew him).

My point is that the gospels, like all of the biblical books, arise from a cultural context and from a complex series of individual observations which depend in part on cultural perspective; meaning, people remembered things, told stories, and wrote those stories down. It is possible, I am just saying possible, that some of the stories (walking on water, etc.) which reflect the miraculous are later embellishments from non eyewitnesses. It is also possible we have some of the sayings and parables a bit different from how Jesus actually spoke them. (It is also possible, and I give NT Wright credit for the idea, I forget where he gives credit: it is possible Jesus said the same thing so many times in slightly different ways that there is no one definitive version of many of the sayings).

All that said, I still find Jesus different from any pagan or Jewish predecessor. Any before, any since. He is unique in history I believe. For one, I am convinced the disciples, those who witnessed the crucifixion or were in Jerusalem at the time, believed Jesus rose from the dead. Whether he did or not, they had to have believed it for the religion to begin. No executed messianic hopeful is going to spark that kind of continued dedication and risk of life. Meaning, after Jesus' death, surely his followers were worried the same might happen to them. They would be nuts not to worry about Rome. They had to have believed Jesus rose and, in my opinion, the empty grave was also historical.

There are a number of attempts to explain that phenomenon, some better than others, none I have yet found convincing. And while the ancient world presents some miracle stories as credible...the example from Tacitus is quite famous, as is Apollonius' raising of the girl (written well after the gospels were all over the Med) there is no one in ancient history, not even close, that leaves a record like Jesus. He screams through the ancient literature like a Flame. Even apart from any miracles at all. Those who take parallels from other healers or mythical beings or quasi divinities are simply not reading the textual evidence clearly in my opinion. I mean, how about the rest of the philosophy we find in the Life of Apollonius?

In the gospels, we have multiple miracles told in multiple tradition strands: the four gospels, or better, in Q (if it exists of course), Mark, special M and L, and in the FG. Some of the miracles witnessed by large numbers of people; many of those stories told with eyewitness detail and performed in private. In fact, Jesus at one point Jesus is accused of being demon possessed, in league with a demon, to explain his miraculous deeds. What gospel writer would make that up? I believe the evidence is strong that Jesus was known as a healer and considered himself to be a healer.

(And by the way, I am not beyond believing actual miracles or healings may have occurred at pagan shrines. My God hears the prayers of all people; why would he not?)

Combine that with Jesus' revision of the Torah, of the temple cultus, of his placement of himself at the center of Jewish religious history, for surely he does this; his distillation of the moral codes.... My point is,and I'm going on too long and admit I have found these ideas in many sources, my point is that I continue to find Jesus unique in history. I am no apologist. I am weak-faithed myself. I cannot explain human and animal suffering; but in Christian theism, God himself came to share in that suffering and begin its alleviation, even if I am often enraged that pain and death continues.

I'm saying is that all the stuff I just wrote is not for argumentative purpose. It is the genuine result of years of agonizing doubt and dialectic in my own head. This is what I believe. Or rather, Who. The dialectic process continues. Doubt waxes and wains. For I also believe that Christianity cannot be proven. In my opinion, some faith is always required, but that is my opinion. I do think our faith can be rationally defended.

All I can do is hope and pray (and I am a lousy prayer, but am going to shoot one up for you now Mike) that you find Christ speaking to you again, through prayer, the gospel texts, through other people, anyplace. I left the church for seven years myself, and more, because I came to realize my faith was not genuine. I thank God I'm back, even if shakily at times. Let me tell you, it was a long journey back, and not always pretty.

To close, using even my most acerbic critical apparatus: the Jesus story, the resurrection, the way he viewed himself and proclaimed his mission...I find all these highly likely to be historical. The gospels may be imperfect records, but the personality in those pages left behind a historical mark unlike any other. My heart goes out to you friend, and thanks for your open words here.

Oh, and shouts out to the Layman. Hope you are well :)

LC (new name, same old blog)

Thanks, LC.

First, far from ignoring your statement, I quoted it.

Quoting a point and then not responding to it is ignoring it, IMO.

Second, my point is that the details don't necessarily matter. A miraculous birth story could inspire another. Born from the thigh of a god, impregnated by a shower of gold, or born of a virgin, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, the fact that they are miraculous does not mean they are false, however it does mean they are a part of a long tradition of elevating famous figures to even higher levels. I am not convinced that the gospel writers borrowed, I am simply saying it is possible.

The point of this series of posts is to try and move beyond the merely possible and explore the likely or probable. That being said, I have not made a direct case for the historicity of the virgin birth of Jesus. I have explored some related elements that would touch on such a case, however.

Third, I was not referencing "reliable historians" as siding with the Christ mythers, but against. I agree, that the gospels hold up as important historical documents, as much if not more so than many others.

I apologize. I completely misread what you read and you were pretty clear.

Fourth, wow, you are reading a lot into what I wrote. I did not say anywhere that because these events appear miraculous they are not true.

I was drawing an inference from what you wrote. The somewhat snide comments about Satanic deception and YECs did not encourage me to understand you in a generous spirit.

I believed in miracles for 20 years while I was a Christian. I have not closed myself to their possibility at all. I find some claims of the miraculous to be ridiculous and deceptive, but I think we would agree on those. Pick a favorite charlatan.

Right now, Glycon is at the top of my list.

I don't believe in Christ because after all these years, I realized that there was nothing that I had attributed to God or Satan that could not have been random chance. Last year at this time, I was begging God daily to be more real to me, more tangible. He never did, but I still seek him from time to time. He's awfully quiet.

I would only respond to this by saying that from your perspective, "He has not yet..."

Wouldn't you think the creator of the universe would be at least as tangible as you are?

Frankly, no. God is a very different sort of thing than I am.

I understand why some struggle with divine hiddenness. I have not for a few reasons. First, God has been a very real presence in my life, at some times much more powerful and imminent than others. Second, from a more evidentialist perspective, I tend to find most abstract arguments about what God would necessarily do as a matter of character to be unduly speculative. Too man unknown variables. Third, I still favor more traditional arguments for my faith.

LC,

Good to see you dropping by again. Thanks for your comments. They are obviously the result of a lot of thought and meditation and research.

You should post this on your own blog.

In quoting it, I was attempting to point out the vice versa of the last part of your statement. I.e. Glycon came after Christ so they could not rule out Christian influence, is equal to saying Christ came after deity x so they could not rule out deity x influence, regardless of substantive parallels.

The apologetic tradition I came from actually argued that the fossils were a trick or that God made things look old, and that all other miraculous births were either tricks or guideposts leading to the real event which was Christ's life here on earth. I did mean it lightly, but not as an attack. I apologize that it came off that way.

Call Me Irresponsible said...

Layman, the argument from divine hiddenness isn't so much a speculation on what God would necessarily do as it is the argument that leads to the conclusion that God's behavior is unreasonable or irrational. That doesn't try to force God to be reasonable or rational, it is merely an honest attempt to describe God's behavior (or the lack thereof, in the case of divine hiddenness) accurately. It makes no sense for God, as omnipotent, loving, etc., to remain so hidden. If you want to conclude that God nevertheless exists (on other bases) and his ways are mysterious, OK, we can go on from there.

Secondly, how did you conclude that your experience of God wasn't something else, and you were merely falling prey to wishful thinking, bias, error, etc.?

CMI,

If you do not know what a loving God would necessarily do then you cannot necessarily conclude that His behavior is unreasonable or irrational. So the argument does rest on speculating about what reasons God may have to do this or that or reveal Himself in particular ways. To envision a being so immensely powerful that He created the universe, knows all that will or could be, and can do all that can be done, is to postulate a being very different than us. I would expect some "mystery" -- by which I mean things about Him that we do not and cannot understand as beings who fall so short of being able to create the universe, know everything, or do everything. This is not a cop out, it is reasonable humility.

As for ensuring that I am not in error, its always possible to be in error. But after much self-reflection, studies of history, theology, science, and philosophy, and periods of spiritual highs and lows, I am left with an abiding conviction that the presence of God in my life is real. Your experiences apparently have lead you to a different conclusion, which are also vulnerable to charges of wishful thinking, bias, error, or -- I might add -- pessimistic thinking, angry thinking, etc.

Call Me Irresponsible said...

Layman, you missed my point, which is based on the idea that the type of being or the particular person whose behavior we may evaluate or label is independent of the being or person. It's the behavior, not the person. For instance, yelling at someone may be a bad idea (when spouses argue, in general) or it may be a good idea (when a child is crossing the street and a car is approaching), but regardless of who's doing it, we can still say that it is LOUD.

An irrational behavior does not become rational just because God does it.

CMI,

There is a difference between missing a point and disagreeing with it. I am disagreeing with you point and your analogy.

Call Me Irresponsible said...

Layman, I agree that we are disagreeing. What I meant was that your 1/30/2009 05:03:00 PM reply didn't seem to address the substance of my 1/30/2009 04:11:00 PM post. If I missed where it did, please clarify.

CIM,

Then we are at an impasse because I don't think your 5:25 p.m. added anything to your 4:11 p.m post, which I thought was addressed by my 5:03 p.m. comment.

It amazed me when I readthis:
Not at all. I don't deny miracles are possible. I merely observe that here they are unnecessary. Luke's magic stories are easily explained as all the other ancient godmen's magic birth stories are explained. Somebody made them up.

"Miracles aren't impossible. They just don't happen."

This article is awesome! May I link it to my site?

JC,

Yes, of course.

And thanks for the kind words.

Call Me Irresponsible said...

Layman, my apologies, I didn't read your 5:03 comment closely enough. I see you agreeing with me about the mysterious ways in which God works.

So, I think you would probably decline to judge God's actions that are relevant to the divine hiddenness argument as rational OR irrational, taking a pass on the basis of humility. Do I have that right?

CIM,

I think I'll stick with the way I stating things rather than the way you characterized things.

"I don't believe in Christ because after all these years, I realized that there was nothing that I had attributed to God or Satan that could not have been random chance."

Mike. I don't believe that there is such a thing as random chance. Can you offer some evidence of this item?

Once you have done so, can you attribute, say, human intelligible sense experience to chance? How would you account for such?

Mike: "The apologetic tradition I came from actually argued that the fossils were a trick or that God made things look old, and that all other miraculous births were either tricks or guideposts leading to the real event which was Christ's life here on earth."

Mike,

It is common for unbelievers to bring stuff like this up. My favorite is the well-meaning backwoods pastor who preaches that the Bible is true because men have one less rib than women.

However, this is no more valid than if I were to bring up Nebraska Man to prove that all evolutionists are liars. This fallacy is called a argumentum ad logicam. Just because someone presents a bad argument for a position doesn't make the position invalid. This is why I would prefer to deal with our own arguments. We'll let others justify their own arguments.

"Mike. I don't believe that there is such a thing as random chance. Can you offer some evidence of this item?

Once you have done so, can you attribute, say, human intelligible sense experience to chance? How would you account for such?"


First let me state that I was speaking of my personal experiences and in no way was it meant to reflect on the experiences of others.

So, to answer your first question I would need to list things that I attributed to God or Satan. Generally speaking good things came from God, and bad things came from Satan. Satan was trying to lead me away from Christ through trials and temptations.

I'm not sure what you mean by human intelligible sense experience.

Man, I should have put a smiley face after my line about fossils. Clearly no one on this blog was making either of the arguments in that statement. I apologize if anyone took offense.

I would also prefer to deal with your arguments.

Mike,

I wasn't offended by your statement. I, too, have run into some sloppy apologetics.

Regarding my fist post, the point was that "chance" does not exist. Therefore, you are attributing things in your personal experience to something that does not exist.

Let me ask you this. What would it take to convince you that God exists? I'm curious as to what exactly you are looking for.

Puritan Lad, I honestly don't know what I'm looking for.

I never seek to disprove the existence of God or gods. I only know I no longer believe in the experiences I had as a Christian.

Some have given me tasks to perform that will help me to see God. A Catholic friend asked me to pray the rosary 30 times a day for a month. I asked him how it could have any effect on me if I didn't believe the words. He told me to just do it. I never did.

If God exists, I want to know him. It's been nearly a year since I first proclaimed my disbelief to myself and the world. In that year I've sought God, I've had some wonderful theological discussions and made some new friends, but nothing has even made me think for a second that God exists.

I have at times felt connected to others or to life, and those were feelings I had before my deconversion too. Some would say that connectedness is God. Maybe it is, I don't know. I'm reminded of the last verse of James Taylor's Sweet baby James

"There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
A song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
But singing works just fine for me"

So singing works just fine for me...for now at least.

Mike,

You are seeking God in some ethereal experience instead of acknowledging Him in ways that He has already shown. What would you say if I told you that you do know God? Every man knows God to a degree, because every man lives in God's universe, and cannot function apart from Him. Without God, human knowledge itself would be impossible (Col. 2:3), since the human brain would then be nothing more than a cosmic accident with no reason to trust in the random movement of electrons that produce "knowledge". God has plainly made Himself known in the created order (Romans 1:19-20). Logical discourse, science, intelligible experience, and morality are impossible without God. However, you have written these things off as "random chance" and yet act as if they are significant. So you do know God in some way.

The problem you have isn't with a lack of evidence, for you have the same evidence I have. There is no shortage of evidence for the existence of the Christian God. We have the evidence of nature, the fine-tuning of the universe (Strong Anthropic Principle). We have the Providence of GOd, which is the basis for all inductive reasoning (without which, we could not function), as well as the intricate design of the human body. We have God's gift of wisdom and knowledge, without which the human mind cannot have any connection with the physical universe. We have the evidence of history, God's history of redeeming His people, the 500 witnesses to a resurrected Christ, etc.

The problem that you have isn't with the lack of evidence. The problem that you have is metaphysical. You have rejected the evidence above based on your own metaphysical presuppositions. You have committed yourself (without any reason) to a naturalistic worldview, and that alone determines what you will accept as evidence. In giving what you would accept as evidence, you suggested a focus on "experiences you had as a Christian". You now doubt these experiences for whatever reason, but still haven't adequately dealt with this all important question. You reject all evidence a priori because of a precommitment to naturalism. I know this by the way you write off certain evidences to "random chance" without even a consideration of whether of not such a thing even exists.

The problem with your worldview, however, is that you must adopt a Christian metaphysic in order to argue against Christianity. For naturalistic philosophy cannot provide you with the very tools you use to discuss the topic.

I would suggest that you would apply an equal amount of skepticism to "random chance" as you do to God. Consider the question as deeply as possible, for this is no small matter. Ask yourself about the relation of the human mind to the created order, and examine such things with or without God. For there is no middle ground. A mind that is not consecrated to Christ has no starting point for knowledge, and is an enemy of God by default, however unconsciously.

Puritan Lad,

I would have made many of the same arguments years ago. I would have made identical assumptions about the nonbeliever I was speaking to. yet, now I do not presume to know your mind or your motivations.

I never once said the acts I attributed to God were random chance, I simply said they could be. I have no faith in random chance. They could prove all the secular theories of cosmology and evolution wrong tomorrow and that would not change my world view.

"You have rejected the evidence above based on your own metaphysical presuppositions."

You have accepted the evidence above based on your own metaphysical presuppositions.

The great thing is, that neither is likely to ever know if our metaphysical presuppositions are true, at least not until we die.

Is it a true simplification of what you are saying to state that I and all other atheists are just pretending to not believe in God?

"A mind that is not consecrated to Christ has no starting point for knowledge, and is an enemy of God by default, however unconsciously."

Plato? Socrates? Aristotle? All enemies of God?

"I never once said the acts I attributed to God were random chance, I simply said they could be."

No they can't, because chance does not exist.

"You have accepted the evidence above based on your own metaphysical presuppositions."

True, but only one of us can account for knowledge, logic, science, or morality. I'm being consistent with my presuppositions. You are not. They fact that you appeal to these things as an atheist shows a knowledge of God, suppressed as it may be.

"Plato? Socrates? Aristotle? All enemies of God?"

Yes.

Your unabashed certainty, while interesting, is not compelling to me.

I think many fine theologians would disagree with you about the philosophers I mentioned.

You know, as just one anonymous poster here.. I'd disagree with a good chunk of what Puritan Lad (I don't think Plato, Aristotle, or others are enemies of God), I think he does have one great point.

What is this 'random chance'? Its role in evolution and science isn't an expression of a certain truth, but an expression of ignorance - "random, for all practical purposes". You can apply the same rationalization to Puritan Lad's posts: He's not an agent, intending anything here. Those are just neurons firing blindly, spitting out words. Maybe even apply the same to yourself as well.

You have vastly more reason to ascribe purpose and meaning to the universe and your experiences rather than random chance. Mind you, you don't have to make up a 'God meant to do this' or 'Satan meant to do this' narrative for every step. But instead of just writing off everything as chance (Or 'It could be chance, and I don't know so I'll just ignore it'), you can realize that you have as much or more reason to take life and your experiences as part of God's intentions for you.

The catch is, you'd need a certain amount of faith. But no more (in fact, less) than you'd need to arrive at the opposite conclusion of agnostic atheism, where everything is likely chance and devoid of ultimate meaning. All the faith you'd need is that, while you don't know what God's plan is (And I mean God in a broad sense here), that such a plan exists, that you're part of it one way or the other, and to trust a being who - if they exist - is, by virtue of their position, worthy of that much trust.

And you wouldn't be constantly asking 'Okay, I think I've trusted enough. Will God do a miracle for me now?' or the like either.

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