CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

(Note that this post is extremely tentative and exploratory; I have not framed the issues as well as I would like, and my sketch of the two approaches to divine action is not the best formulation they could receive. I'm simply jotting down some thoughts that I will expand more carefully in future posts)

As a person who takes the current scientific consensus very seriously in the way I understand the world, one of the most challenging issues I face in theological reflection is how to understand God's action in the world, not primarily his creating and conserving the world in existence but those 'special' acts we ordinarily call miracles. The problem is that the narrative of modern science-certain controversies over the implications of quantum mechanics notwithstanding-is one of finding ever more precise regularities in the goings-on of the natural world, which many scientists are tempted to summarize as laws which govern the behavior of all objects in the natural world. On one account of physical laws, called necessitarian, physical laws tell us what must happen in any given situation. Many scientists are probably intuitive necessitarians. If we accept this account, and if the necessary laws we discover do not leave room for events we would call miracles to occur, God would either have to suspend the order of nature to perform a miracle, or limit himself to working only through these laws once he has created and set the world in motion. Both conclusions are theologically unpalatable, the former because it would seem imprudent of God to create a world which he has to override in order to accomplish his purposes, the latter because the current inventory of natural laws does not allow for most events usually understood as miracles.

Some theologians look for 'loopholes' in the laws of nature, for example in the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics or the unpredictability of chaotic systems, that would allow God to 'break in' and influence events in one direction or another. All these proposals suffer from severe difficulties, however. To take just one example, the scope of quantum indeterminacy is so limited that for God to simply nudge an asteroid in a certain direction (perhaps away from Earth), he would have to tamper with quantum outcomes over the course of millions of years!

There are, however, at least two good options on the table for Christian thinkers who take both science and special divine action seriously. They are very different from each other, yet both seem to allow for a very robust theology of divine action while at the same time respecting the integrity of science.

The first takes its cue from the history of science. Time and time again we have seen laws which were originally assumed to be universally valid subsumed as special cases of more general laws, which apply under special conditions (usually called 'limit' conditions), or as approximations to more general laws which are 'valid' enough in those conditions. For example, Newton's laws of motion, once thought to be universally valid, are now seen merely as a 'good enough' approximation of the more general relativistic laws of motion, valid only when the objects being studied are moving slowly enough and are not too massive. Once the limit conditions are transcended, however, general relativity predicts (and experiments confirm) strange behavior never anticipated by Newton's laws, and in fact quite unintelligible within that framework.

By analogy, we can think of divine action, not in terms of God violating the laws of nature, but of his taking advantage of a limit condition, in which events occur that are not covered by our current understanding of the laws of nature, but which are still lawful according to the most general laws of nature, which by definition we have not discovered yet. Even the physicists' coveted 'theory of everything' would probably not reveal these most general laws, because if the world is God's creation, it has a depth which empirical science cannot penetrate, at least the empirical science which is the product of finite, fallen human beings. In this perspective, miracles would not be an anomaly but, as C.S. Lewis argued, manifestations of the deeper, truer order of nature, of which our ordinary, 'natural' experience is just a special case. In our ordinary experience water does not turn into wine. But that may be simply because in our ordinary experience the right conditions do not hold for this to happen.

The second approach does away with the idea of general laws of nature which explain the particular events we see occur. Rather, as Wolfhart Pannenberg has argued, God's action would consist primarily of particular, individual, contingent events (that is, events which did not necessarily have to happen), which only secondarily manifest the regularities that natural science studies. Chesterton probably has a view like this in mind when he suggests that certain events, like the rising and the setting of the sun, predictably occur, not because they obey a general law, but because God does the same thing over and over again. In his own delightful words:

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
In this understanding, natural laws are not so much laws as regularities: they do not specify what must happen, only what has been observed to happen with some reliability. But each event is actually unique and completely contingent, connected to what came before and to what will come after only through the faithful action of God, who reserves the right to introduce an event completely unlike all that have come before, such as the Resurrection. In this understanding, history is not subsumed under nature, but the other way around: history is primary, the history of God's particular, contingent acts, some of which exhibit the regularity that allows science to 'work'.

Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong has attempted a very interesting variant on this approach in dialogue with Charles Sanders Pearce, who understood the laws of nature, not as laws but more as 'habits' that nature acquires as it evolves unpredictably from one state to the next. These habits, once established, are not set in stone (this notion receives some support from recent work in theoretical physics; several scientists are now suggesting that the laws we formulate today may have evolved over time). Just like human beings can change their habits over time in response to a 'jolt' which sets them off in a new direction, so nature can acquire new habits in response to a supernatural jolt. We might think of Jesus' resurrection, for example, as the beginning of nature's forming habits more in line with God's ultimate purpose for Creation, when it will finally exhibit God's glory and life the way he originally intended.

Again, this is just a very rough sketch and much more should be said about these two approaches. In future posts I may interact with good statements of these views in more detail. For now I will just say that these two approaches seem to be the most promising for an understanding of special divine action that respects the integrity of science but also allows for genuine miracles, not just misunderstood 'natural' events (natural under the current understanding of the working of nature) or metaphors for spiritual truths.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion. Steven Weinberg


The claim underlying this and many similar critiques of religion is that religion, disproportionately among human activities, makes people act irrationally and immorally. The implication is that, if we were to eradicate religion, we would also eradicate many of the social ills that plague our species, such as dogmatism, tribalism and intolerance.

One thing that my studies of anxiety and ideology have made clear is that this claim is patently false. Certainly there is dogmatism concerning religious beliefs, the intolerance it gives rise to, and the unspeakable violence with which believers try to defend their beliefs. But religion is not the root of those evils. Rather, they arise from very deep in our nature as vulnerable, mortal, self-aware creatures.

The philosopher Spinoza articulated the conatus principle of finite existence in a world of particular objects. Basically, it is the striving of a thing, whether animate or inanimate, to maintain its existence as a distinct object in the face of forces in its environment which tend to undermine its integrity (literally dis-integrating forces). While it is a very general concept, it has particular application to living things, where part of the definition of a living organism is that it has an integrity distinct from its environment. Conatus manifests itself in different ways: it could be as simple as an amoeba maneuvering itself away from toxic materials in its environment, or as complex as the patterns of muscular contraction that propel an antelope away from a predator. The more complex the organism, the more complex the mechanisms of conatus, but the fundamental principle is the same: life is basically the struggle of individual organisms to maintain their integrity as individuals in the face of disintegrating forces. Some philosophers have called this the 'will to live', but it would be a mistake to interpret this as a conscious, volitional endeavor limited to human beings. Conatus is part of the essence of life itself, and is the default mode of all living beings (there are some situations which could cause it to break down, and one might actually define death as the cessation of conatus, but that discussion is outside the scope of this post).

What does this have to do with our topic? Human beings, like all other organisms, strive to maintain their integrity or identity as organisms. However, we are unique among all organisms in that we are self-reflectively aware of the formidable forces that threaten our identity. This awareness of the precariousness of our identity in the face of dis-integrating forces leads to anxiety, where this anxiety is not merely the propensity to worry about the outcome of certain events or to anticipate negative events in the future, but a state in which, as Paul Tillich put it, "a being is aware of the possibility of its non-being." This awareness does not have to be at the forefront of our consciousness to influence our behavior and thinking. In fact, Blaise Pascal argued that our search for diversion is fundamentally a response to this awareness, even if the superficial motives we give for this search are very different.

Anxiety, defined as a state in which a being is aware of the possibility of its non-being, is constitutive of the human condition, and is an immensely powerful force in our behavior and thinking. It goes beyond individual fears of various dangers from the environment because it does not merely represent the possibility of damage, or harm, but of complete dissolution. Also unlike these individual fears, we cannot isolate and avoid the source of anxiety, because it is the world itself: anything and everything that could threaten our identity, including our basic biological vulnerability but also psychological factors like cognitive dissonance. In our current human condition, anxiety and its source in the world as it is are unavoidable (we might add that human anxiety does not merely concern the possibility of non-being, but its inevitability in death, at least prima facie if the possibility of an after-life is ignored).

If the source of anxiety is the world itself and thus cannot be avoided, how do human beings cope with it? One way, as Pascal noted, is to pursue diversionary activities that can dull our awareness of mortality at least temporarily. A much more ominous strategy, however, involves latching onto some idea or institution that appears to be absolute, untouched by the contingency of time and creature-hood. The problem is that, as sociologist Peter Berger noted, we objectify our own social creations, so that they take on the appearance of external reality. Driven by anxiety, we invest our creations with permanence and absoluteness, in the hopes that they in turn will protect us from the transience of our own existence. In other words, we create idols. A textbook example is the golden calf the Israelites fashioned when they were afraid Moses was not coming back from Mount Sinai. They don't see the irony of creating themselves an idol, and then insisting that it had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 32:1-4), as if a human creation could have more value and more power than what went into its fashioning. As Paul Moser comments,

Idols are counterfeit objects of hope. We rely on them to give us the comfort, satisfaction, and security we crave and need. Repeatedly, however, we find that they don't deliver. The excitement, glamor, and allure of our idols soon fade. Even our friends and loved ones fail us, just as we fail them. We easily find ourselves on a deadly cycle of disillusionment and despair as we seek the next thing that, we hope, will bring lasting meaning to our lives. Nothing in this world, however, can bring lasting meaning to our lives. The things of this world pass away, and, more urgently, we do too. Sooner or later, we die. We then lose everything this world has to offer, if only because we are ourselves are lost. Like ourselves, our idols lack the power to sustain us past death, and they cannot redeem our failures and other troubles. In particular, they cannot set us free from our burdens of guilt, shame, and fear of having lived without lasting meaning. If our lives are actually to have lasting meaning, we need genuine hope in the face of our moral failures and impending death. Idols are at best band-aids; they keep falling off and we know it.

But the problem is not just that idols fail to deliver what we expect of them, but that, in our devotion to them, we are willing to give up our very humanity. The Accuser in the Book of Job said it well: "Skin for skin! A man will give up everything he has to save his life." (Job 2:4) This can include his sense of decency, of fairness and of justice. If his idol is the tribe or the nation, he may become willing to do anything to defend it, no matter how monstrous, which includes tolerance of monstrous evils committed by other idolaters.

If idols are objects of value in which we place our trust, then scapegoats are objects of blame which we load up with our anger at natural events which we cannot control. Scapegoating is the negative correlate of idolizing, but the dynamic is the same: in the face of anxiety, we conjure up an idea, institution or group which must be to blame for our ills and our vulnerability, and we believe that eradicating the scapegoat will turn the tide of events back in our favor.

The most important thing to note about this process is that idols and scapegoats can come from anywhere, not just or even primarily religion. The idolatry most people may be used to is intolerance or violence in the defense of God's honor, but little gods abound: a political ideology like nazism or communism (see the fascinating book The God That Failed, written by intellectuals who had previously been entranced by communism but then recanted their faith), the pursuit of wealth at any cost, even commitment to one's favorite sports team, which can lead to violent confrontations with fans of another team.

To sum up, then, Weinberg is wrong: it does not take religion for good people to do bad things, it just takes anxiety and our tendency to create idols and scapegoats in response to that anxiety.

In fact, religion, at least in some forms, offers a potent antidote to idolatry and scapegoating: the monotheistic relativizing of all finite allegiances, and the liberation from anxiety that comes from the assurance that Jesus' resurrection has defeated the powers of death that hold us captive. But that is a topic for another post.




In my opening post on the genre of the Gospel of John, I explored the expressed intent of the author and the Gospel’s reception by its audience. John’s emphasis on eyewitness testimony and imparting the truth about Jesus were consistent with genres such as ancient biography and historiography but not consistent with ancient fiction, such as novels or wondrous travel tales. However, to develop an accurate understanding of John’s genre we must review the dominant cluster of elements rather than just a few, albeit important ones. To that end, this post proceeds to examine what the Gospel of John’s subject matter indicates as to genre.

Put simply, the subject matter of the Gospel of John is Jesus. From beginning to end, the focus is on Jesus, with the goal of demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ. That information is not just interesting, but is crucial to the reader. In John’s own words, “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30-31.

The focus on one man and the significance of his life is typical of ancient biography. “The evangelist’s expressed purpose in writing the gospel provides a clear biographical intent with the whole focus upon the person of Jesus: it is an account of ‘signs’ which he did, that people may believe who he is, and have life in him. Secondly, 20:31 contains two purpose clauses, expressed by iva plus the subjunctive; the first declares and evangelistic aim (‘that you may believe’) and the second a practical one (‘that you may have life’)....” Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?, page 230. To quantify what seems obvious, Richard Burridge conducted a “study of the subject, verbal analysis and allocation of space,” of the gospels and a number of ancient literary works and concluded “that the Fourth Gospel displays very similar results from these generic features to those already discovered in the Synoptics gospels and Graeco-Roman Bioi.” Burridge, op. cit., pages 217-18. Burridge discovered that “over half the verbs [of John] are taken up with Jesus’ deeds or words, performed by him or spoken by him.” Ibid., pages 216-17. An examination of John’s allocation of space reveals a similar focus on the person of Jesus. "In terms of allocation of space, the last week of Jesus' life dominates this gospel (one third), as is also the case with Greco-Roman bioi, such as Agricola (26 percent devoted to Mons Grauoius); Agesilaus (37 percent to the Persian campaign); Cato Minor (17.3 percent to the last days); and Apollonius of Tyana (26.3 percent to the imprisonment dialogues, trial, death, and subsequent events)." Ibid., page 217.

Because John's focus on Jesus as his subject matter is well settled, is there anything about that focus that is inconsistent with ancient biography? “Within our period, three kinds of persons generally seem to have been regarded as the proper subject of Hellenistic “lives”: public figures such as statesmen, generals, and monarchs; literature figures such as orators or poets; and philosophers and sages.” Christopher Bryan, A Preface to Mark, page 37. While Jesus fits the bill as a philosopher or sage, he is presented in all of the gospels, including John, as more than that. Jesus is on a divine mission, performs miracles, and reveals the teachings of God. Christopher Bryan suggests out that although the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark fits the biography bill in many ways, the focus on divine purpose and miracle working were not common in ancient biographies, though there were exceptions, such as The Life of Apollonius, Life of Pythagoras, and Life of Pythagoras. If true, the same could be said of the Gospel of John.

Does this disqualify John as a biography? It should not. Bryan goes on to conclude that Mark, despite miracles and divine mission, is an ancient biography. No other genre would appear to be as appropriate a vehicle in Greco-Roman literature to spread the word about the importance of Jesus. Also, as noted, there are notable exceptions even among Greco-Roman biographies that have some similar elements, though these are dated later than John.

Furthermore, the genres of the ancient world were not so strictly defined. They were more fluid and shaped to an extent by the occasion and topic at issue. See Burridge, op. cit., page 63 ("The boundaries between Bios and any of the general proxima are flexible, and so borrowing or sharing of generic features across the border is to be expected."). Therefore, we must take into account the cultural and religious background of the subject, the authors, and the audience. Here, that context is strongly Jewish and the cultural and literary influence of the Hebrew Bible -- heavily miracle and divine laden -- must be taken into account.

The importance of the Hebrew Bible to the author of the Gospel of John is undeniable. Indeed, it is likely that the author saw himself as writing a continued scriptural account of God's works on earth. The gospel authors "started out with a 'canonical consciousness,' that is, with a sense that they continued to write Scripture in continuity with antecedent Scripture. In keeping with this 'canonical consciousness,' the evangelists imitated and took their cue not only from the theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, but also from its underlying historiographic and linguistic conventions.” Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters, page 108. As explained by Loveday Alexander, “It is to the biblical tradition, surely, that we should look for the origins of the 'religious intensity' of the gospel narratives and their rich ideological intertextuality with the biblical themes of convent, prophecy and promise - all features hard to parallel in Greek biography." Alexander, "What is a Gospel?" in The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen C. Barton, pages 27-28.

Kostenberger goes so far as to posit that the genre of the Gospel of John is the same as books in the Hebrew Bible. “One obvious candidate for the genre classification of the Gospels would therefore seem to be that of historical narrative as found in Jewish works, particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this regard, any similarity to Greco-Roman literature on the part of the canonical Gospels (including John's gospel) may be attributable to the evangelists' desire to contextualize their message to a Greco-Roman audience." Kostenberger, op. cit., page 108. Is the genre of John, then, not from ancient biography but to be found among the books of the Hebrew Bible? Not in my opinion. Although the Jewish context explains important aspects of the Gospel of John -- such as the divine mission, prophecy, and miracles --, the gospel’s subject matter nevertheless points much more firmly to Greco-Roman biography.

Jewish historiography -- including that found in the Hebrew Bible -- tends to have events dominate the narrative rather than the person. This is true even of Jewish books devoted to particular persons, such as Job, Ruth, Judith, Jonah, and the like. Craig Keener notes that "only rarely is a document devoted to a person in such a way that that it would be called biography . . . usually the treatment of an individual is part of a larger narrative." Keener, The Gospel of John, page 26. Greco-Roman biographies, on the other hand, "tended to promote a particular hero or important person. Similarly, the Gospels may be said to focus on and promote a "hero'." Kostenberger, op. cit., page 114. The analysis noted above demonstrates John's overwhelming focus on the life and teachings of Jesus. This level of focus itself is not gleaned from Jewish historiography, but from ancient biography. As explained by Burridge, the Gospel of John "displays the same exaggerated skew effect which is typical of Bioi in both Jesus' activity in the narrative and in the large amount of his teaching." Burridge, op. cit.,page 216-17.

Further confirmation of this conclusion is provided by an example of ancient biography not mentioned by C. Bryan: Philo’s biography of Moses, the Life of Moses, which was written for a gentile audience. Philo was likely more hellenized than the author of the Gospel of John and is well known for his highly allegorical approach to the Hebrew Bible. Nevertheless, as I discuss here, when he turned his pen to writing a biography, Philo gives a rather straightforward account of Moses' life, clearly recognized as ancient biography according to the literary conventions of the time. More to the point, The Life of Moses, written in the mid-first century, shows us what can happen when a Jewish author writing under the influence of Jewish literary history and conventions writes a biography for a largely non-Jewish audience. The result is similar to what we see in the Gospels, Greco-Roman biographical focus and other literary conventions heavily influenced by Jewish ideas, including God's intervention in human affairs and spectacular miracle accounts. Philo has it all, the burning bush as God's call and purposing of Moses with divine mission, the staffs turning into snakes, the water in Egypt turned to blood, and so on. These elements do not convert The Life of Moses into Jewish historiography but it does show how a Jewish biographical account presented pursuant to Greco-Roman literary conventions may look.

Having leaned towards biography and ruled out Jewish historiography as a genre--though certainly not as a literary influence--, are there other potential genres we should consider in light of John's subject matter? Perhaps Greco-Roman historiography. Certainly there are some similarities between John and historiography in important elements (as I note here and will discuss in future posts), but biography is clearly a superior genre in explaining John's subject matter. As with ancient Jewish historiography, Greco-Roman historiography's subject matter is broader than one person (even an important one), tending to cover the rise and fall of nations, movements, or wars.

How about some form of epic or myth building poetry as a better explanation for John's subject matter? These are also unlikely to explain the Gospel of John's focus on Jesus. As Burridge’s analysis shows, other kinds of literary works, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, did not devote nearly the space or focus on particular characters despite having key, notable characters. Nor did they tend to cover near-time events, such as John did.

What about some form of ancient fiction? Many classicists place the rise of the ancient novel in the first and second centuries, AD. As with ancient historiography and epics, however, the subject matter of ancient novels does not explain John's focus on Jesus. The principal focus of the ancient novel is a young man and woman involved in the central romantic relationship and the challenges their love must face and overcome. “The main characters in the story are a young man and a young girl from distinguished families and of incomparable beauty; either as newly-weds or after their betrothal they set out on a long journey to far-off lands and undergo, together or separately, a series of in the main harrowing experiences.” Niklas Holzberg, The Ancient Novel, An Introduction, page 9. Another classicist puts it this way: “For all their differences, the surviving Greek erotic novels exhibit a broad affinity in the structure of their plots. All revolve about a relationship, invariably heterosexual, between a primary couple; the relationship is subjected to, and survives, a series of stresses and obstacles that involve the protagonists in a more or less conventional sequence of adventures.” David Konstant, “Apollonius, King of Tyre and the Greek Novel,” in The Search for the Ancient Novel, ed. James Tatum, page 173. These elements are clearly not the focus of the Gospel of John.

But perhaps some other form of ancient fiction? As discussed in the prior post, the wondrous tales like The Wonders Beyond Thule do not seem to fit, as they lack the singular focus on one character and are clearly fictitious. So too does the perhaps related satirization of such epics by Lucian in True History. The two fictitious accounts of the Trojan War, Dictys Cretensis and Dare Phrygius, also do not fit the bill. They are not contemporaneous in time to the gospels and their subject matter is the Trojan War, more akin to the Homeric tales. Dictys Cretensis is similar to the Iliad and Odyssey, a purported diary of a besieger of Troy who witnesses its fall and recounts his journey home. Dare Phrygius was "written no earlier than the fifth century A.D." and is described as a "poem on the destruction of Troy." The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. M.C. Howatson, page 169. Further, these accounts are clearly fictitious, being introduced by explanations as to how these lost accounts were found for later generations. Their subject matter, even setting aside the context of the Trojan War, are also broader than biography.

All told, the subject matter of the Gospel of John is more akin to Greco-Roman biography than any other genre candidate. The subject matter is no doubt influenced by the Jewish literature and religious background of its author and audience, but as a matter of genre, biography remains the best explanation of the subject matter.

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This is from the blog Debunking Christianity







"Here's an email I received from a man  named Robert:"

John,

Thank you for the time and effort you have put into your writing.  I am a  Christian of nearly 30 years; devout, church going, prayerful.  I first  found infidels.org about 2 years ago and it opened me up to the  possibility that the Bible is false.

 I always beware when I see one of these "long time Christian realized faith is buss shit." It really makes me angry and sick because whatever he says, no matter how banal or silly, he claims he's a Christian so he has to be one. This is one of the basic tenets of the New atheist faith, that there is no such thing as a false members of a group, any and all members of groups regardless of their experiences automatically represent that group it it's fullest and most articulate epitome. Otherwise, if anyone claims "we wasn't really a good Chieftain" they will say "that's no true Scotsman fallacy." Or they will say "how can you tell what a real christian is? I can't tell so therefore, no one can tell."

Of course it's always impolitic to try and claim that this guy I don't know is not a good Christian or isn't' one at all just becuase he fell away, that would be like saying "no one can disagree with me, the very act of doing so is proof enough that he's wrong." Mot atheists will admit that it doesn't prove anything that this guy fell away. He would have sat in the cry room for 30 years and done nothing, just went through the motions and did not spiritual growth at all so it is not proof of anything that he fell away. I've been a Christian almost 40 years, why isn't my faith proof that it's true? But that never goes over because just the act of objecting marks one as a fuss budget who can't truck disagreement.

On the other hand, it is common place to find many Christians who have been in the faith for years and are no strong, just go thorough the motions and don't bother to grow, not cultivated their relationships with God. Sleeping in a garage doesn't make you a car, sleeping in Church does not make you a Christian, nor does it bestow the full richness of Christian experience. But To be fair say he was a growth oriented one time strong Christian. There's something more important than being a Christian in terms of testimony of the truth. That something is experience of God in your life. One  must keep growth coming. I don't subscribe to the concept that a "true Christian" can't fall away because I don't believe in eternal secularist or pre destination because I'm not a Calvinist. I do believe that if you want to be kept Christ will keep you. I don't believe that Hebrews six is about nothing. It must, therefore, be possible for even a born again person to fall away. The falling away of such a person does not prove anything in relation to the truth claims of Christianity.

Btw I also believe that atheists are misusing the No true Scotsman thing, see my essay on that.

 The prodigal Christian continues:


I then started listening to you and Ken Pulliam, Luke Muehlhauser and a  few others.  I've read The   Christian Delusion and talked  with some of the most scholarly Christians I know about how they would  respond to what skeptics are saying.

 Here's his second mistake. It's just as plain as day. He began listening to Loftus! How in the hell can he expect not to be confused? I'm teasing. John is a friend of mine and he is very bright and learned. Seriously, he begins having doubts, why does he go to the people who specialize in widening the cracks and deepening doubt? Did he try to close the cracks by listening to Christians who specialize in plugging them up? He I don't remember him on my website. So one thing we do know is he did not consult the best apologists, right? We do know that, right? Well anyway (I heard that). One clue perhaps is that he said he went along for 28 years and then one day because he stumbles onto the secular web he begins to think maybe it's not true. It just seems likely to me that anyone who spend 28 years going to chruch saying he's a Christian and just begins after that to think it might be true is not much of a thinker. Perhaps such a person hasn't wrestled with faith and thus this would imply that his faith is to deep. Faith is deep when we go through the fire. Faith gets deep when we are tested and doubt. It's a dialectic, faith is an answer to doubt. No doubt means no faith.

 CP (Christian Prodigal)


I think about these issues every day:

 Why? After 28 years, why think about them everyday now? Because he hasn't before. Of couse his thinking now is not being fed by people who have gone through he struggle before and found strength and answers, it's fed by people who have a vested interest in denuding his faith. Don't see answers for the living among the dead. If you are wounded by attackers, do you turn to those attackers to bet help? He was wounded by the secular web, people who are designing to destroy faith and he turns to those very people to learn more. Are those guys going to give him both sides? will they have Christian answers that promote faith and really do the job of answering? In a pigs eye! He spent 28 years not cultivating a deep faith then when he needs one he goes right over to the enemy and starts cultivating the death of what little faith he had. What sense does that make? He never really gave his faith a chance.

 It's also pretty instructive what he finds as "serious questions:"


-- Why does the Bible condone sex-slavery and genocide?


Yea that's a good one. Gee, that verse that says "thou shalt have a sex slave and destroy whole races." which commandment? that's the 134th commandment I think. Its' in the third book of Sapient. Of cousre there is no such passage. There is no passage that says to have sex slaves or kill people. Why would this guy, brave mature Christian in the faith 28 years think that this is a fair and valid way to reflect the truth of the Bible? He wouldn't unless he's pretty deeply into falling away already.  Did he even try to read Glen Miller's stuff on Slavery in the Bible? Does even know the history of the abolition movement? Not to mention my stuff on OT and Social oppression.

-- Why would a super-intelligent God seem unable to communicate his will  without confusing millions of devout followers? 


Of course here one has a huge range of ideas and answers to choose from, from the  vast range of liberal theology to notions of Biblical inspiration and what it means, to the answers brought by conservative evangelicals. In his 28 years of spiritual ferment it never occurred to him to think about the nature of God. Why chuck out the whole concept at once when some other concept of the same idea might not be closer to the truth? For example why give up the idea that there is a God based upon the strident nature of the OT when the idea of process theology God would explain why God's will isnt' obvious? For that matter mystical theology explains. For that matter so does my soeteriolgoical drama.

-- Why are the gospel accounts of Jesus death and resurrection in  disagreement about what actually happened? 


In 28 years it never dawned on him to read a harmony? They easy to come by. The answers are not difficult. Read my thing above on the nature of Biblical inspiration and then read my Resurrection Harmony.

-- Why did Jesus tell people he would come again "in this generation" if  it would be thousands of years later?

He didn't. Do some research. There many possible answers. To understand you need to read the link on Biblical inspiration first. Basically it's a gloss on answers to two different questions, they got them switched becuase the redactors assumed they were the same event. the two questions are

(1) When will the temple be destroyed

(2) When will you come back (assumes he's going away, they don't ask about that)

the answer 1: "in this generation"

the answer 2: "when you see the angels coming in the  clouds.

but becuase they assumed these are the same event, an assumptino necessary for them since they could not imagine Judaism without the temple they reduce the two questions to one then mix up the answers so that the answer to question 1 becomes the answer to Q 2 and vice versa.

But this guy's question about the issue imply that he was in fundie churches. He's one who thinks Bible must be literal and perfect and every single thing is literally truth. This is why i'm not a fundie because the only thing that view is good for is letting people down. Why does he not examine liberal theology before the gives up faith completely? Because he's been brain washed to think liberal = evil!



When I am honest - when I stop making stupid excuses for what the Bible  says (and not what I want it to say) - the answers are obvious. 


But at this point doesn't he want an excuse to leave the faith? Hasn't it become tiresome and hard to manage he's too lazy to look for answers? He give no indication that he ever did look for answers. What he sees as "obvious" to me seems not great insurmountable problems that Christianity can't answer. No I see simple ho-hum here we go again, easy bull shit that I answer in my sleep.


I might have never known that my Christian beliefs were wrong without  people like you.  Thank you.  I don't know how I'm going to tell most of  my friends and family about this, but even if they think I am  delusional, I am happy to be free from the laws and mindset of ancient,  superstitious people.

Sincerely, Robert


"A man only sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest." He sleeps n his faith for 30 years until he decides it's no longer convent, maybe he's not in need of business contacts anymore, and finds shallow excuses to give it up. This does not mean that I think all people who have changes and move out of their faith are like this. I don't really know that this guy is like this. But I do know there's another kind of person who gives up faith, that's some one who realizes the world view he sees is no longer small enough but has enlarged and the framework for the world faith, religious faith, is no longer big enough to contain the world view. Perhaps this guy is like that, although he doesn't give any evidence of it, but that may be the case. This is what happened to me when I became an atheist and I've seen it in others many times. The thing is this is not outgrowing the truth of God. They need to be enlarging the framework of their faith. Then have been brain washed into thinking that it's evil to do that, the liberals are evil and only the fundies are true Christians. Thus when the framework is no longer able to contain the new understanding, they have to just smash it and give up on God.

This is discussed by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus talks about putting new wine in old wine skins(Gospel of Matthew 9:17, Gospel of Mark 2:22 and Gospel of Luke 5:37-39. ). He's referring to the Holy Spirit and the Baptism thereof, but it also applies a larger world view as well. You need to oil the wine skins so they don't burst and you do with the oil of the Spirit, that is with spiritual growth which comes through experience of God's presence. If you are in a position where you feel yourself outgrowing your faith, this is not a sing that your faith is not real or true, it's a sign that you need to grow in it more. This is a call to revive your relationship with God and grow into a deeper understanding not to give up and above all not seek help among the enemies of God!???

why would anyone go to the atheist camp to look for answers to their problems of faith? That in itself says "I want out of the faith." that's like going to the people who beat you up and robbed you for medical help.

I said last time that I was not trying to prove anything but just explecating my views. So angry atheists write and say "You don't back anything up, you can't prove anything." why should anyone get angry because of my opinion? I said point blank I wasn't trying to prove anything!

Meaning is a function of truth, and truth is the limit on meaning. In other words The only way that something is meaningful is in proportion to the extent to which it represents the truth of some situation or outlook. By the same token, meaning is limited by truth. A lie is not meaningful in terms of its falsehood, only in terms of what it tells us about the liar. Meaning is subjective, one cannot deduce meaning from the order of things as one might try to deduce a designer from the apparent design in the universe. For that matter, I don't think one can logically deduce a design in the universe. The fact that meaning is subject does not indicate that God can't bestow meaning. "Subjective" refers to an individual's perspective. Each individual has his/her own perspective and cannot know that of another. God, on the other hand, can know each and every individual perspective. God knows the heart, God knows the mind, God knows all hidden knowledge that no human can know. Therefore, God is the only perspective which sees from all view points at once. Thus God is both subjective and objective.

when I say "meaning in life" it should be clear that I'm talking about Meaning with a capital "M." That is higher meaning, meta narrative. The big picture.We can all have some kind of meaning in our lives, but the question is, do we have private, local, relative meaning or do we have "higher universal meaning?" Many people reacted angrily to the previous part 1 of this topic.It's odd that the sensibilities of changed so, because in the 60's that stuff would have been eaten up. The irony is these very people who take the attitude that they can find their own meaning and they don't need God, have that attitude because Sartre made it acceptable in the culture. But then turn around and lam bast Sartre for finding that meaning depends upon God. People today are at easy the existential aunxt. They don't fee it and they don't care. In any case, Sartre is only saying the most logical truth. Which would be more meaningful, if the inventor of a product said "I made this product to do X,Y, and Z." Or if someone who has never even seen the product said "I think this product is for X,Y, and Z?"

We live on a dust mote in a sea of random chance. There is no reason why we come to be. The galaxy, the solar system, planet, species and each individual in them is nothing more than an accident. If you don't believe in God you have to believe that no one designed you, no one created you for a purpose, you have o purpose, you weren't born for a reason, you are nothing than an organism, soulless, and devoid o any special reason for being. When you die, you die that's it no one cares no one remembers you and it wont matter one whit that you ever lived. If you have talent it is not a gift, its just a mistake. But if God created you then you are a creature of God's. You exist for a reason, and hat reason is o be loved by God. You exist to the object of love of the creator of the universe. What could give grand higher level meaning more than that? Yet, these people angered by that concept. That is hard for me to figure. I mean some of them actually said "this is evil." I certainly do not understand this. How could it be evil to think that each and every individual is an end in himself, a special being made for the express purpose of experiencing God's love? How in the hell can that be evil?

Each individual can find some basis of meaning that is personally satisfying. I get a kick out of thinking about that yellow garage, I don't expect that to be meaningful to anyone else. It gives me a sense of meaning in a way. But that's not higher meaning. it's not a purpose for living, it's just personally satisfying. You might not think higher meaning matters, but higher meaning gives the empitus to live for something and it makes our commitments worth dying for. Take for example the three civil rights works in Freedom summer, 1964. They were in Mississippi, registering voters. Their names where Goodman, Chainy, and Schwerner. These are the three civil rights workers murdered by the Klan and buried in a damn. This event was captured on the movie Mississippi Burning. Those guys were murdered in secret. They just diapered it took a huge search to find their bodies. If they had never been found, no one would have ever known of their sacrifice, would it be meaningful that they made it? Well each of us will die, and be forgotten and then it wont matter worth a hill of beans what sacrifices we made. By care about anything? Why help anyone or commit to anything because after you die peple forget you ever existed and it doesn't matter. It's not recorded in posterity, what dos it matter? What would it have mattered if the three workers had gone home and just didn't bother to work for civil rights? Why stand up for anything? In the end there's no consequence for cheating, no one sees.

Now I'm betting that most atheists out there will be thinking "I don't need God for it to matter." OF course without God it really doesn't matter because you just die nd then no one remembers and so who cares? You aren't around to think about it. But I bet that some where in your heart you are secretly thinking "it matters in the long run in some sense." But in the long run is not different from the short run, you exist for no reason, when you die you die and no one cares and it doesn't matter. But you are thinking there can be some way in which it does matter. But that's because you have the notion of God. In your hearts of hearts you know God is real and God is the one who sees. That makes things meaningful. Does that mean that atheists' lives are meaningless, or that atheists are of no value? No of course not, it means the opposite. Atheists are of inestemial value each and every individual because they are all creatures of God and their lives were created for a purpose. That purpose is to love and be loved in return. Atheists' lives have meaning even though they do know that they do have this meaning.

Now a lot of atheists try to make the argument that God doesn't know anything. God is no better than just any old bully in a bar. They try to make good on this idea by arguing that meaning is personal and private anyway. But the only kind of meaning they can have is personal and private so they have to make the best of it, and they have to pretend that that's as good as universal higher meaning; of course logically it can never be. You know there is universal logical meaning, you know it can only come from God.Finding a universal higher meaning is basic psychological need, and it's actually part of the definition of mental health. If these people understood the concept of God properly they would see how fallacious it is to think that God's view point is just one more opinion. Many atheists can only think of God as a big man in the sky. But is not a big man, God is the foundation of all that is. That means God is to you as your brain is the the thoughts in your head. You are a thought of God. How could we possibly compare the divine perspective to our own? We degrade it by even calling it a perspective. We should just say "how could the divine compare with a human perspective?" Because God is not just another perspective. God is all perspective. Some atheists try to say that meaning is bestowed by mind so they somehow think that God can't bestow meaning. I certainly don't understand that. The divine is the source of consciousness. The divine is the ultimate center of mind, thus the valuations that are bestowed by the divine are clearly more meaningful and carry more weight than any other.

Keep in mind, God is not a big guy in the sky. He's not the potentate on a throne with a white beard. That is just a cultural metaphor used by ancient people to make God relevant to their cultural understanding. God is not an individual being, for individual imply one of many. God is unique, God is the basis upon which all things exist, and has no category and is not comparable to anything. In my view God is the
Ground of Being or "being itself." This means that the divine is the basic foundation upon which things exist. This means the divine is the basis of the laws of the physics.I'm sure these ideas will anger many atheists. But this is because the modern sensibility cannot accept a will higher than its own. the mission of the modern is to be one's own God; we must never accept a will higher than our own. They are not use to thinking about placing their egos on a lower level than that of the divine. The modern sensibility is comfortable with local privatized meaning. But a huge body of empirical data shows that those who experience religious consciousness have a much deeper sense of meaning in life than those who do not. For thousands of years people have found meaning in the sense of the numinous.

In his amazing article "Spirituality and Well Being, An Overview" qualified clinical psychologist K. Krishna Mohan looks at a huge number of studies that demonstrate the link between self actualization and religious experience. He says that a vast number of studies prove that religious experince increases one's sense of the overall meaning in life, and that this is a major life long strength for those who experience it.

Numerous studies have found positive relationships between religious beliefs and practices and physical or mental health measures. Although it appears that religious belief and participation may possibly influence one’s subjective well-being, many questions need to be answered such as when and why religion is related to psychological well-being. A review by Worthington et al., (1996) offers some tentative answers as to why religion may sometimes have positive effects on individuals. Religion may (a) produce a sense of meaning, something worth living and dying for (Spilka, Shaves & Kirkpath, 1985); (b) stimulate hope (Scheier & Carver, 1987) and optimism (Seligman, 1991); (c) give religious people a sense of control by a beneficient God, which compensates for reduced personal control (Pargament et al., 1987); (d) prescribe a healthier lifestyle that yields positive health and mental health outcomes; (e) set positive social norms that elicit approval, nurturance, and acceptance from others; (f) provide a social support network; or (g) give the person a sense of the supernatural that is certainly a psychological boost-but may also be a spiritual boost that cannot be measured phenomenologically (Bergin & Payne, 1993). It is also reported by Myers and Diener (1995) that people who experience a sustained level of happiness are more likely to say that they have a meaningful religious faith than people who are not happy over a long period of time.


This article is on the website for the Indian Psychology Institute. Mohan looks at cross cultural studies in India and the West.

Sartre's attempt at making his own meaning failed, and this illustrates the fallacy. Sartre made the argument that sense it is up to us to create our own meaning, the meaning that we do create, as an amalgam, is the essence of humanity. In other words, humanity is as humanity does (or in this case, as humanity believes). But when asked what if humanity become fascist, then the essence of humanity will be fascist and we have to say our species is defined as fascist in essence. The only thing that Sartre could say was "this is unthinkable, we have to hope this doesn't happen." The fact that he could not find an effective answer is just a function of the problem that always dogged him. As Gabriel Marcel pointed out, Sartre never did develop a sense of ethics or a system of ethical thinking based upon his existentialism. This has always been understood as one of the great failings of humanist atheistic existentialism. This problem really points up the fact that localized meaning can backfire and make life even more meaningless. What if one is frustrated in obtaining the things that make one feel life is meaningful? For example how does a Hedonist cope with a life that is pure misery? Such a life must be meaningless a priori.

As I said meaning in life can't be deduced or proven. It has to come with the package of belief. Meaning is properly basic, however, and while it can present itself to people apart from any sort of proof, and thus taken on face value because suddenly things seem meaningful the proper basicality of meaning points o a higher truth. Since meaning is a function of truth, the sense of meaning can be understood as an indication of truth. There are certain hints at meaning:

(1)Love and the reverence for life.

Schweitzer tried to externalize the survival instinct in reverence for life, the desire to apply to all organisms the same fierce sense of survival that one applies to one's self. The sense of love and reverence for life gives one a sense of meaning in the grand universal sense.

(2) Morality

Positing a universal set of strictures that are true in all situations because they refer to duty and obligation gives a sense that there is a higher meaning behind it all.

(3) need for human dignity

Dignity is the root of the Christian sort of love. The Greek term for Christian love, or God's love, is Agape. A major aspect of the definition of Agape is "to be willing to accord the other the basic humanity dignity owed to a human being." Human dignity is a function of meaning. Because we are creatures of god we have this value in God's eyes. But human dignity is balanced by human responsibly, this is not an excuse to destroy the planet. Rather its a rationale for trying to save the planet. Fundamentalists who think "green" is a waste of time because we are headed for end already are not honoring the responsibility which comes from bearing the human dignity imparted by the image of God in which we are made.

(4)laws of physics.

That's a dilemma I use in my third God argument. If the laws of physics are prescriptive then who passed the law. Who is the law maker? Science cannot tell us where the laws of physics come from, but some scientists (such as Dr. Odenwald) recognize that the laws had to come first or nothing would happen. But where were the laws embodied when there was physical universe? If laws of physics are not prescriptive but merely generalizations drawn from tendencies of behavior that would mean the universe come to be against or without physical law, when other things happen without physical law or opposed to physical law we call it "miracle" and skeptics say it can't happen.

(5) Religious experince

as demonstrated above the studies show people who have religious experiences of the "mystical" or "peak" kind, tend to feel as part of the experince that there is an inherent overarching meta narratival meaning to life. Those who do not have such experiences are less likely to have this. This is would suggest that such a sense is part of a divine revelation that comes from contact with the divine.

It is tempting to try and make the need for meaning into an argument for the existence of God. The problem with this approach is it's too subjective to demonstrate that meaning exits. Yet since meaning is a function of truth, the need for overarching meaning, the sense that it is had in the nature of religious experince and the other hints may be indicative of a justification for faith. This is an argument from sign, but if meaning is a function of truth, then to find meaning might imply that we have found truth. It seems unthinkable that the sense of meaning that offers deep satisfaction and makes life work and gives us all the hope we need to face whatever trials may come, is just the product of a lie and a mistake. The sense of meaning the sense of the numinous gives to life is a priori indication of truth.

What is the connection to civilization? Schweitzer defined civilization as the organizing of living conditions in such a way that the individual is allowed to grain his/her full potential. Freeways and shopping malls are just the infrastructure of civilization. Just like the plumbing to a house is not the house, but merely part of the infrastructure of the house. Civilization is the ideas the enable us to pursue such living conditions as are conducive to human potential. Clearly the search for meaning in one's life is germane to the concept of civilization. If our ideas of civilization are not informed by that search then we are not pursuing civilization.

part 1 of 4


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Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

See The Ultimate Online Sartre resource: "have a coffee Break With Jean-Paul."

I have decided to flesh out several themes that are implicit in the piece I wrote in "Open Letter to John Loftus and  the DC crowd."In so doing I will be speaking in a very general sense. Obviously I can't lay out the whole history of western civ. in a blog spot. I realize I will be painting with a broad brush. But this is an attempt to spell out the ideas that have always acted as under girding for my belief system and spur me on to faith. I don't claim to be making pronouncements from on high. I don't claim that I could prove all my beliefs. Rather I shall attempt to spell out some of the basic reasons for my world view.

Perhaps the most important underlying theme of that essay is that of meaning and transcendent truth. Meaning in life plays a big role in the playing out of my youthful formation; as a Sartian existentialist I bought into the line that "life is meaningless and absurd." It certainly seemed meaningless to me when I was young.  This was what the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre was all about. I felt then and I still feel today that Sartre was entirely correct his assertion that his philosophy was the logical consequence of  there being no God. If there is no God Sartre was basically right about life and meaning. Existentialism had its hay day in the 50's. It burst on the scene after the Second world war, the late 40's the major thinkers were turning to social ills, as the country tried to get back to civilian life. Hollywood began making "film noir" movies, and socially relevant films like "the Best Years of Our Lives."  Films that either dealt with the dark side of human nature, or tried to expose social ills. In that context existentialism suddenly took center stage in cultural world and the world of letters, because it was seen as the way to put France back in the center as the culture leader it had been before Nazi occupation. Sartre had fought in the underground, escaped from a prisoner of war camp by just somehow dawning civilian clothes and just walking out and acting confident like he was supposed to be doing it!

Existentialism hit its stride in the 50's when many thinkers became famous for it, such as Gabriel Marcel with Christian existentialism, Niebuhr bothers (Reinhold and H. Richard) and Paul Tillich with existentially based theologies. Albert Camus hit his stride in that decade. In art Jackson Pollock represented existentialist themes, and in film Ingmar Bergman. By the 60s existentialism had become a cultural icon. The philosophy became fuzzy in people's minds. As with "Postmodernism" the exact meaning of the term was replaced with an image. People who didn't know what to call a painting or a film that seemed "edgy" or confusing called it "existential." The term conjured up images of people wearing berets  and sipping espresso at a side walk cafe on the left bank and smoking Galloir cigarettes and saying things like "It is all absurd!" In the 90's this image worked its way into beer commercials. The clown of life and the slogan "why ask why" were parodies of this "existential" feeling. "why do you sit on the beach with the sad clown of life? why ask why?" That image and the feeling it evoked lent a je ne c'est qua to our adolescent rebellion and our lonely youthful striving. My brother and our best friend saw the Bergman film "Smiles of a Summer Night."  The talk of "the yellow pavilion" in that film gave them the idea of speaking of our friend's garage as "the yellow pavilion," (because it has just been painted yellow). We did not want to be in Dallas, we wanted to be in Paris or New York, so we forged our own Texas version of existentialist image, sipping coffee in Ihop and smoking camel filters dipped in paragaric and saying "It's all so absurd!" Texas Rednecks in ear shot would say "whut are them bo-ahs talk'n about?" as we unabashedly and loudly discussed the metrical patterns of Keats, Marcuse, Joyce, Descartes, and of course Sartre. Once my brother and friend were were working on an atheist critique of the bible, with a bible present. A redneck who didn't know up from down thought they were Christian fundamentalists making apologetic notes and he came over to them and shouted, banging on the table, "a couple bible thumping bad ass boys!" I said to my brother when he told about this "why didn't you tell him what you were doing?" He said "I don't want that guy on my side!"

One of my favorite scenes in Woody Alan's filmAnnie Hall is a parody of this general image that existentialism had been stuck with by the 70's. Woody is in an art museum. A woman is gazing before a famous painting by Jackson Pollock. She says "can't you just feel the anxt, the deep respire, the black abyss of meaningless  and nothingness." Long pause in which Woody contemplates what was said. He then says "what are you doing tonight?" The woman's reply: "committing suicide, at 12:00 midnight!" Wood says, "what are you doing at 11:45?"

Despite this romanticism, existentialism was a cogent philosophy, well thought out and based upon an older tradition that stretches back to the middle ages.

Sartre explains his philosophy most cogently and non technically in his essay
"Existentialism is a Humanism." The essay was first published in 1956, the year of my birth. But its most available incarnation is in Walter Kauffmann's book Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre 1989, however the original lecture was given in 1946. Sartre begins his discussion in defining existentialism as the belief that "being proceeds essence." This will have a profound bearing upon the concept of both meaning and truth because it is a direct attack upon age old theistic notions of the meaning of truth. The age old idea says that essence proceeds being. In other words, first there is an idea in the mind of God, then God creates that idea in concrete existent form. This stems from the thinking of the scholastics and Thomas Aquinas. But there are other themes that might challenge this notion. Aquinas was an Aristotelian. In his day he was greatly despised for brining novelty into theology. Theology was supposed to be set in stone, the really true truth that you didn't mess with. Thus Augustine was the philosopher of the Church. He was a Platonist. Aristotle was the philosopher of the Arabs, they saved his ideas. Plato was the intellectual bedrock of the church, and all the language of the creeds, with its incidents and accidents, was shaped by Plato. To bring Aristotle into it, especially after he was identified with the Arabs, who were infidels, this was a scandal.

The roots of existentialism have long been seen as stretching back to  Augustine, but more so to Aquinas. The major difference in Plato and Aristotle is what they do with the forms. Plato said the world we know is the reflection, like a reflection of an object in a pool of water. The reflection (the "real" world) participates in the forms thus has it's being. Augustine said the forms are in the mind of God. So the participation in the forms is that of a thought in a mind; like the idea of an art work in the mind of the artist, or of an object such as a piece of furniture in the mind of the artisan who makes it. Aristotle said "there is no form without essence." This means there is no world of the forms "out there," the forms themselves appear with and in the concrete examples of them. Thus there is no form of mud, there is mud right here and that mud contains the form of mud, there is no general universal ideal mud that it participates in.

The idea of the forms in the mind of God gave life meaning, it meant that it is an expression of what God had conceived for it in his mind. Now Aquinas obviously believed that God created the world.  But taking Aristotle's view of no form without essence he left open the possibility for individual "particulars" (the things in the world, in the concrete examples) to be shaped by "incidents and accidents." These ideas already existed. The major aspect of Platonic thought that played upon the Christian notion of Trinity was the concept of "essence." This comes from the concept of substance (really the same ideas); the Greek term is hamosios. This means the aspect of something that makes it what it is. So the Platonic Augustinians are saying a thing is what it is because it is first held in the mind of God. But the Aristotelian scholastics were saying that the from, the substance that defines it is in the individual event not in some pre set concept. The third view was Nominalism that comes form the followers of Duns Scottus. They said "a rose is a rose is a rose." Meaning there is no special form that defines a thing, it's just what it is. Even though they were Christians too, they are the forerunners of modern reductionism. Well The particulars of this story get pretty complex. I have to skip over the rest to get tot he point. Suffice to say Sartre came into it and said "there is not only no form without essence  but being proceeds essence." That is first a thing exists. Then, in the case of a thinking thing such as a human, it's up to that thinking individual to shape it's own ends and determine its own meaning.

This is a radical jump from the previous stage. I am not saying Sartre was the first to say that. But he took it and made it his own. The idea is that there is no pre set formula or concept for things in the world, they are just what they are becasue they just happen by accident and random chance. The upshot of all of this is humanity; what is humanity? Because the themes of the past said humanity is a creature of God, thus as humans we have a duty to God. Unfortunately time does not permit a exploration of this concept of "accident." Because the scholastic notion of accident is much like our modern random chance notion, and that's where it comes from. All of our modern concepts of cause and effect, occurrence (incident) and random "accident" have their origins in the scholastic notion of cause and effect. The modern world just cut off the bits that pertain to first cause and the other forms of causes and left sufficient cause as our modern notion of c/e. Thus c/e comes out of the concept of necessity and contingency.

Sartre just moves it over one. It's not that the essence is within the form, essence is following form. For humanity that means we first exist. We exist for no particular reason except the c/e reason that science uses to explain the random event that led to life on earth, and then it is up to us to us to make ourselves what we will. In other words we are free to become what we wish to become. This is a principle concept for Sartre, radical freedom. We are free, we are condemned to be free. This means we can't avoid making decisions, we can't rest upon being shaped by prior forces. Sartre would have none of the modern determinism stuff of chemical determinism. We are radically free, we have to choose what we will become. He re shapes the concept of essence. It first meant (substance, hamousios)the quality that defines what a thing is. Thus the substance of a horse is long nose, mane, tail, four legs with hoofs, and so forth. But for the scholastics it was like a special unseen quality that pervades things. For Plato there was a special realm somewhere beyond the world we know where the universal ideals exist (forms) and the particular instances of these things participate in these ideals in  a way that is mediated through the spend el of necessity. But For Aquinas the substance was actual in the particular. For Sartre substance boils down to an abstract definition of what something is. This is very crucial. This must be understood, because it is up to us to decide for ourselves what we are, we determine our own essence. If I want to be brave, I want to be a brave man, I define brave for myself. "I am brave because I go to the store by myself." I am brave because I'm not worried about McCain winning. We set a value and we define if we live up to that value. Thus in a sense we are making truth for ourselves. We making meaning for ourselves.

Meaning is the whole point. For Sartre life is meaningless and absurd. This has a particular meaning. I am not doing justice to the complexity of Sartre's philosophy. He was a brilliant thinker, and his most technical philosophical treaties is hard to read and requires a real background in Philosophy. It is called Being and Nothingness. That book is widely known throughout the academy to have been a "ripoff" of Heidegger's Being and Time. Sartre was influenced by Heidegger and did attend some lectures by him. It is true that he was greatly influenced by Heidegger. I see Being and Nothingness as an attempt to translate the ideas of Heidegger into French thinking, not as out and out theft. Sartre does ad his own original slant to the ideas. But the necessity of baptizing into French culture ideas of a German philosopher was a very real problem. So Sartre was doing a service to Heidegger not just stealing his work. Within less than a decade they would be enemies in the war. Heidegger was an actual Nazi, but he resigned form the party when they demanded certain things from which he thought were unfair to others.

For Sartre "meaningless" means there is no pre set essence, there is no predetermined value or ideal or definition for life. We are free we are not shaped by any duty or obligation to God or any higher power. We just are organisms and we are here. Then it is up to us to decide what our lives mean, what value there is in them, to define for ourselves the meaning we wish to put on it. The most crucial step, humanity becomes what it wishes to become. Humanity is that thing whatever it is. We are not creatures, we were not created, we are not creatures of God, we are creatures of ourselves because we crate for ourselves our own meaning. We create our own truth because truth, if defined as "that which is" is a function of essence. We shape our own essence by the force of our own being, then we are defining truth according to what we have become. That which we are is a function of that which we chose to be. This should all have real resonance with atheists. Even atheists of today who have no background in existentialism should find kinship with these ideas.

So I believe that Sartre has one of the best readings of meaning of life, if there is  no God! If there is no God then there is Jean-Paul Sartre! But the problems in Sartre's views then become for me problems in being an atheist. They become reasons to assume the reverse of Sartre's view. Sartre was explicating the consequences of philosophically of a world with no God, thus if these consequences prove to be false, that would be a reason to assume there is a God. Of course we can't think of it as proof. But I tend to think of it as a good reason to assume God in understanding what we should do about civilization.

There's one more step before I cover, self authentication. One determines one's own essence, that means we attach our own meaning to our lives by deciding upon our own values. When we do this in such a way as to act in freedom for ourselves to define ourselves, we make ourselves who we are, this Sartre calls "self authentication." It is in a sense the Sartian alternative to salvation. A Sartian existentialist doesn't die and go to heaven, he lives out his/her life on earth, enjoys it, and that is called self-authentication. Of course I'm leaving out a lot; good faith, bad faith, shrinking under the gave of the other, nausea, the state that arises from realizing the meaninglessness and absurdity of it all. Also this is connected to anxiety, in existentialist terms "anxt."  This is most important but I have no time to cover it. Now lest one think there is none of this in Christian existentialism, all of these moves are found in Kierkegaard in one form or another, and certainly in Gabriel Marcel.Of course Kierkegaard lived over fifty years before Sartre was born, while Marcel was a big fan of Sartre's (even though he was a Christian and Sartre an atheist). Christian existentialism proceeds not from the move "being proceeds essence" but form the move that the point of life is find connection with our source and thus become "more ourselves," (Kierkegaard).

Time and space does not permit more. This is only a blog but I will do part 2 of 1 next time. In that essay I will show why all of this really can be reversed and indicates a fine justification for belief in God.

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Atheists have an argument that seeks to reverse the design argument. It does exactly what the design argument does, which is probably reason enough to disregard it; it reasons form the apparent state of the world to the probable non existence of God. If it is illogical to reason form the world to God, it is equally illogical to reason from the world to not God. For this reason I swore off design arguments years ago. I have violated that oath twice, but for good reason (I'll get to those in a minute). In any case, there is a great deal wrong with this argument, and in figuring up all the many problems I see it I began to think of two things:

(1) Perhaps it would be instructive to delineate the cases under which one can argue from the state of the world to the existence of God.

(2) In pondering this question, I began to think about perhaps what might be the ultimate God argument.


The problem is that really if you think about it almost all probabilistic arguments are really arguing from the state of the world to the probable existence of God. But somehow this seem less drastic in some cases than others. I know there are those who just turn off at any kind of God argument. But for us Connoisseurs of God arguments, this should be a thorny issue. After all, what's the real difference between arguing form the contingency of the world, and arguing from the design of the world? Well, off hand the real difference is that one can be compared to something, the other can't. That's one of the major problems with this atheist argument, which was advanced at one point by Richard Carrier at one time. We do not have a designed universe to compare outs to, so we don't know what we are observing, design or random development?

The argument says if we were to consider a random universe that came about by accident, you couldn't do better than our own. It really looks accidental. Life is precarious and rare, the universe is very hostile to it. It's vast, far more vast than it has to be. On the one tiny oasis we know of where life took root it blossomed into something as glorious as Richard Carrier's ego, we have no really obvious clue that God exists. If we were to consider what a purposeful logical creator would do we should expect sign posts to his existence everywhere, right? Well, maybe. maybe not. That's the problem the argument is nothing more than begging the question. It assumes we know what God would do, and after constructing a straw man God who behaves the way we want him to, we just assume we know what he would do and than access the tragic fact that it hasn't been done. So by golly, there must not be a God, because this non God doesn't' follow my advice! Of course the model for his straw God is fundamentalism.  Athens are so afraid to take on liberal theology honestly, but it's because they are all secretly fundamentalists. What I mean by that is they are the "tails" to the fundamentalist "heads." Like communist and anti-communists, they are both parts of the same thing.

The difference in this argument and one that actually has something to compare, a base line from which to work, should be obvious. The atheist who argues for Carrier's idea must forge his own base line by setting up a straw man (um, God) and then privileging his assumptions about the nature of religion in such a way that he just nixes the possibly of any other kind of theology. That's not a real comparison. The fine tuning argument can compare fine tuning to lack thereof, compare target levels to the actual hitting of same. The contingency arguments (quantum and other forms of cosmology) can compare contingency to necessity. Religious experience arguments are drawn from the results of experience, they compare experience to non experience. The two instances in which I do use design arguments are those in which comparisons can be made between the nature of the world and state of existence known to lack that attribute as known non designed reality; the use of the "God Pod" as evoking innate ideas. We can compare reactions to God talk to other kinds of talk and see that our brains only react to God talk in the way that they do. Thus we can compare the innate ideas of God to reactions to other ideas. The other instance is the fine tuning argument,which has already been explained. But the Carrier reverse design argument has nothing to compare except Richard's ego. With that as the standard for assumptions, we have no basis upon which to draw conclusions about the nature of God from the state of the universe.

This argument does have one other troubling application. It could be a "possible defeater" for proper basically. To be properly basic an idea must be logically apprehended as it is, with no possible alternative explanations, or  "defeaters." The argument is a possible defeater only if we understand it to be indicative the kind of universe God would not make. But we can't make that assumption beause we can't pretend to know all the things God would do. Once can find many alternative theological explanations that involve both Evangelical views of God and non Evangelical views. The most obvious non Evangelical view is that of process theology. The atheist can only think of God as a big man upstairs. This is the basic image they rebel against. The will of the father is their Kryptonite. They foresee a big man on a throne who decides and deliberates such a potentate wants to be served, they reason, and thus must make a universe in which he is known commonly to all. So we should expect the universe to be smaller, easier to navigate, easier to understand, filled with sign posts of God. No disease, no problems and everyone automatically given tons of faith so the world would be a paradise. If some serpent spoiled it, it should be put right immediately so that we can go on in our little heavens, where no doubt we get to listen to Richard Dawkins directing the chores of angels.

The God of process theology, on the other hand, is more like the Helena dialectic, or like some organizing principle. This is not a God deliberates and decides. this is a God who is potential in one realm, and who micro manages (literally) creation in the other; almost a law of physics, changing with creation, bringing subatomic particles into being and ushering them out of being. This is more of a stage director in the play of the universe (and in other bipolar structure stage director and producer) than a big king on a throne. Such a God would start the process of life and allow it go where it will, then embrace (to whatever extent possible) any beings that evolve sufficiently to come up to its level.

Another version would be my own idea of God as being itself (Tillich's idea--). This version of God is much like the process God, but I fell that God is too sacred a mystery to pin down to bipolar structures or to analyze all of "his" ("her," "its") doings. God is the great wholly (Holy) other. WE cannot know except through mystical union what God is doing. But such a God is the basis upon which being proceeds into concrescence and the basic reality of the Platonic forms. Such a God does not design or make plans, but the whole of creation is a non deliberating plan in the sense of being an expression of God's charter indwell; yet not necessity the result of ratiocination. Thus God starts a principle of life emerging from the nature of being, because that's what being does it spreads the beings, it "let's be" (John Mcquarrie). The evolutionary course that is followed may be assisted in an automatic sort of way, not as a plan, not as a deliberate gesture, but as the result of a nature that has to manifest itself creatively. This being doesn't' say "I will make men, and men will serve me." But men evolve out of the storm and the wastes of the abyss and they naturally come to find God because that's he nature of being is there to be found in the sense of the numinous. When humanity reaches a point where it comprehends the numinous, it seeks God and finds God.

Humanity finds God in a million different places. It finds God in flowers and trees, in brooks (and in books), in grass, in each other. It finds God in storms and scary things, and in the night. It finds God in the sky and the stars in the darkness of a vast and endless expanse. It reaches out for what is there because it has been put into it to do so; not because God sat and said "I will make men and men will seek me" but because God provided for the reality of the Imago Dei to evolve and develop in whatever species reached the point where humanity has come to. God did this automatically as an aspect of self expression, as an outgrowth of consciousness. This kind of God would make a universe of the type we see around us. This type of God would also place in that universe hints so that whatever species reaches that level that God's manifestation would be waiting to show them God's solidarity with them. God would plant a thousand clues, not as a matter of deliberation like one plants Easter eggs, but as the result of being what God is--self communicating and creative. Thus we have design arguments and fine tuning arguments, and contingencies and necessities and the lot. We can find the God Pod in our heads that lights up when it hears God ideas. We can do studies and determine that our religious experiences are better for us than unbelief, because the clues are endless because the universe bears the marks of its creator.

Yet these marks are sublet for a reason. This is where the Evangelical view of God can also be a sophisticated view. The Evangelical God can also be the God of Tillich and the God of process, after all, these are all derived from the same tradition and the Evangelicals have as much right to escape anthropomorphism as anyone. The Evangelical God seeks a moral universe. This God wants believers who have internalized the values of the good. We do not internalize that which we are forced to acknowledge. Thus God knows that a search in the heart is better to internalizing values than is a rational formally logical argument, or a scientific proof. Thus we have a soteriological drama in which we can't tell if there is or is not a God just by looking at the nature of nature. That must remain neutral and must illud us because it is not given to us to have direct and absolute knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is a privilege. We must seek it through the heart, that's where it isthmian to be found. It's a privilege but faith is a gift.

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