CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In looking over the news, I came across an article concerning dueling Joels: Bible Scholar and author Joel Hoffman disagreed with Lakewood mega-church Pastor and author Joel Osteen. While there is probably more that Joel Osteen and I agree upon than disagree upon, I do not believe that he is a good Bible expositor. (What I have heard strongly suggests that he is a proponent of the prosperity Gospel - a teaching that I find not only not Biblically supportable but contrary to the Biblical teaching in many respects.) Thus, initially I did not expect the article to be particularly interesting -- after all, there is a lot disagreeable in Osteen's teachings.

But when I read the reasons for the disagreement, I became more interested. It essentially boiled down to this: Hoffman was calling Osteen a coward for hiding behind the Bible for being against homosexual marriage when Hoffman was stating the the Bible did not condemn homosexuality. Since I think that the Bible is rather clear in its condemnation, I decided to see how Hoffman supported his reasoning. Following various links I came to a entry on Hoffman's blog entitled “The Bible Says So” and Other Stupid Arguments. Here, Hoffman details his reasons for his arguments against Osteen.

Personally, I think that the blog entry is appropriately titled because - in this writer's humble opinion - Hoffman's arguments are the "other stupid arguments" mentioned.

Hoffman begins by noting that people are arguing against abortion rights on the basis that "the Bible says so." He then says,

Even though I respect the Bible, and even though it forms the foundation of my personal and professional life, I think the argument is stupid. Here’s why: Everyone filters the Bible through their own personal preferences, choosing the parts they like.

He then applies this rule to argue that when people oppose homosexuality it is because their personal preferences and selective reading is what leads them to that conclusion.

The argument that "everyone filters the Bible through their own personal preferences" always makes me immediately skeptical of the motives of the person advancing the argument. First, it is almost always the case that the person making this assertion implicitly recuses himself from the same standard. In Hoffman's blog entry, the people who are asserting that the "Bible says so" to support their against homosexual marriage are (according to Hoffman) not reading the full Bible because of their preconceptions, but Hoffman, as the person critiquing the argument, is critiquing the Bible apparently without preconceptions. Hoffman, like others making this argument, assumes the role of the person with the purely rational and unbiased view of what the Bible says.

If Hoffman really believed his statement that "everyone filters the Bible through their own personal preferences, choosing the parts they like," then his conclusion would not be that the people who claim the "Bible says so" are making a "stupid argument", but rather Hoffman should conclude that his own personal preferences have led him to choose parts of the Bible that lead him to a different conclusion than the people who think that the Bible opposes homosexual marriage. After all, if it is true that "everyone" filters the Bible through their own filter, then how can he believe that his understanding is more correct than the understandings of others? Isn't the differing conclusions the result of the fact that Hoffman and the people with whom he disagrees start with different personal preferences leading them to read the text selectively?

Doesn't his argument boil down to saying that the "Bible says so" is a stupid argument because the "Bible doesn't say so" both of which positions are, of course, just conclusions based upon the arguers' preconceptions?

But, of course, Hoffman doesn't believe his own base rule. He believes that he is right and that the people who disagree with him are wrong. He believes that his view is cleaner of preconceptions than the people who believe that homosexual marriage is wrong. His belief that there is a true and correct understanding of the Bible that can be determined and does not rely upon preconceptions or preferences (even though his blog entry argues to the contrary) is consistent with my own. I think it clear that there is a single true and correct understanding of the Biblical teaching and that people can set aside their preconceptions to arrive at the truth.

So, the question becomes: is the view of the individuals who believe homosexual marriage is Biblically proscribed more correctly understanding the Bible or is Hoffman? If my schedule permits, I will examine his arguments in my next post.

Recently, in response to criticism of Denver Bronco Quarterback Tim Tebow's outspoken belief in God, I authored a blog entry entitled Bill Maher's Twitter and the Fear of God in which I supported Tebow's practice of kneeling on the field in thankful prayer to God. One of my favorite commenters, Alejandro, wrote: "As a former Christian, I have to point out Matthew 6:6, which seems missing in the discussion."

Being one who doesn't like to leave an issue unanswered, I did want to comment on why I don't believe that Tebowing violates Matthew 6:6.

Matthew 6:6 is part of a broader story. Here's the entire account with Matthew 6:6 in bold:

Giving to the Needy

1. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4. so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The Lord's Prayer

5. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11. Give us this day our daily bread,
12. and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

14. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15. but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Fasting

16. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18. that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

These three scenarios all share the same structure: some people do X, you should do Y. Are the three scenarios saying that you should always do Y? I don't think so, and let me explain why.

First, note the introduction (verse 1). It makes the point that these scenarios are pointing out that we should not be displaying our righteousness before others "in order to be seen by them...." The three scenarios each echo this theme. The person who is denouced for giving to the needy is the person who gives not because he cares for the poor, but because he wants the praise of others. In the third scenario, the person who is fasting disfigures his face so that others will see that he is fasting. In other words, he intentionally makes himself look as if he is suffering or the purpose of letting everyone know how holy he is.

In both cases, Jesus is saying that we should not be like these people who are doing these acts not out of humility or out of love for others, but for the purpose of impressing their friends or showing off his claimed holiness. Jesus is saying, "don't be like these people." And to show how not to be like those people, Jesus tells them to do things privately rather than publicly. He tells the disciples that rather than give to the needy publicly to draw attention to ourselves, we should give privately so that it is not about us. If we are going to fast -- an act which is to set aside earthly needs to focus on God -- we should not be doing so for the purpose of feeding our earthly desire for recognition. We should fast privately and not be using our fasting to focus attention on us.

The scenario in the middle on prayer is the same. Jesus distinguishes the person who goes into the marketplace and prays openly. But it isn't just praying openly that is the problem, it is praying openly to bring attention to yourself. Rather than do that, Jesus says to pray privately.

So, is this a directive that we should never engage in public prayer? No, it is a directive that rather than be a hypocrite we should pray privately. It is not a prohibition on public prayer.

So, do you think that Tebow is praying on the field to bring attention to himself? I don't. Tebow was raised by missionaries and (to all accounts) is bowing before God on the field because he is honestly and truly thankful and humble. Of course, I could be wrong, but the directive in Matthew 6:6 is related to what God thinks about prayers -- not other people. God is the one who will judge the motive behind the prayer. If Tebow's on-field prayer is to elevate Tebow -- intended to make others say "wow, how holy that Tebow is" -- then Tebo's prayers will not be accepted by God because he has, obviously, already received attention. But if they are truly prayers to God then it ultimately doesn't matter from God's point of view if some people think that Tebow is self-promoting; God knows whether the prayers are genuine or show.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. ~ Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting One

Sin is a basic concept of Christianity. Christians speak about how we have sinned and how we need forgiveness from sin. Yet, Christians are inordinately bad at explaining sin. As a consequence, many non-Christians struggle with the concept of sin...or discount it all together. They equate sin with some action that society considers wrong. So, some people believe that as long as they don't lie, cheat, steal or kill they haven't sinned.

This understanding of sin is shallow and unbiblical. So, how can we describe what sin is to others in a way that is Biblical and which non-Christians can readily grasp?

The Biblical Words for "Sin"

To begin with, what is the source of the word "sin"? Several words have been translated as "sin" in the Bible. The first and principle word used in the Old Testament is "חַטָּאָת" or "chaTTa'th" which is defined as "a miss, mis-step, slip of the foot." As noted by John Oakes, Ph.D., the word "chaTTa'th">:

The word chatta'ah (Strong's concordance word #02403) means sin, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, and so forth. The sense of the Hebrew word includes both willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going against the divine order of things.

But "chaTTa'th" is not the only Old Testament word for sin. As Oakes explains:

The second most common word for sin in the Old Testament is the word pesha. This word is most commonly translated as transgression, but it is also translated as trespass or sin. The word pesha has a connotation of breaking a rule that has been established.

A third word which is translated sin from the Hebrew is avon. This word means carries a connotation of perversion or depravity. It is most commonly translated as iniquity. The word avon carries a sense of willful or continuing sin. For example one finds both of these words used in Isaiah 59:2, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." In this passage, avon (iniquities) and chatta'ah (sins) are used in a parallel form.

The New Testament, being written in Greek, adopts a different word that is translated as sin, but it bears much of the same meaning as the word "chaTT'ah". This principle Greek word is "ἁμαρτία" or "hamartia." As Oakes further explains:

The common Greek word for sin used in the New Testament is hamartia. This word derives from a technical word used in archery. It literally means to miss the mark. It can be used to express willful rebellion against God as well as making a mistake and falling short.


What is a Comprehensive Understanding of Sin?

As seen above, the idea of sin often involves missing something. Both of the principle words used for sin in the Old and New Testaments involve "missing" in their definition. But exactly what is it that we are missing that constitutes sin? The answer is that we are missing God's perfect way.

Look at it this way: the Bible teaches that God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30, Matthew 5:48) As the creator, He is the source of all that is good, right and just in this universe, and in all of these he is perfect. This leads to a little syllogism:

Premise 1: If God is perfect, what He would do, say and/or think in a given situation is perfect.
Premise 2: God is perfect.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, what God would do, say and/or think in a given situation is perfect.

Thinking logically, if what God would do, say and/or think in a given situation is what is perfect, then whenever anyone does, says and/or thinks that is different than what God would do, say and/or think in any given situation is necessarily acting in a manner that is not perfect. And perfection is the mark that we are trying to hit. (Matthew 5:48) So, when we act in a way that is inconsistent with what God, the perfect being, would do then we are missing the mark, i.e., we are sinning.

C.S. Lewis said, "Whatever is not of faith is sin; it is a stream cut off — a stream that cuts itself off from its source and thinks to run on without it." God is the source. He calls on us to follow Him and to follow in His ways. Yet, we are not perfect, and the major way we demonstrate our imperfection is to stray from God's ways. To paraphrase the Lutheran confession, we depart from God's perfect ways in thought, word and deed; by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We do so because we want to be our own gods. We think we know better. We want to be in charge. And whenever we do so, we stray from the truth and from the ways of perfection.

Explaining Sin

The easiest way to explain sin is to speak in terms of the New Testament's "missing the mark." Most often I use a whiteboard or a piece of paper to draw a target. I make sure that the bullseye on the target is small. I ask the person to imagine themselves shooting an arrow at the target as a test of their archery skill. What is the mark that the person needs to hit? It is the bullseye. What happens if the person comes close to the bullseye (such as the next outer ring) but doesn't hit the bullseye? Sorry, but this isn't horseshoes, hand grenades or atom bombs -- close isn't hitting the mark.

a. Missing the Mark by Wrongful Actions, Words or Thoughts

Now there are two ways you can miss the mark when testing your archery skills. The first is to fire the arrow and not hit the bullseye. In other words, the results of the shot itself are imperfect. The same is true when it comes to following God. We miss the mark when we do something (an act) that does not perfectly follow God's will. This is the most common understanding of sin, so people have little difficultly accepting this. If they are wondering what actions fail to follow God's will, you can easily go to the Ten Commandments to show some specific examples of what actions God says is wrong - stealing, murdering, lying, coveting, dishonoring of mother and father, etc.

The trick comes to making the people realize that it is more than actions that can be condemned. Missing the mark includes saying the wrong things. Jesus taught in Matthew 15:11 that "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." He further added in verses 18-20,

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.

We also miss the mark, and therefore sin, in our thoughts. Jesus made this clear when he said that the commandment against adultery (Exodus 20:14) is not violated just when a person commits the physical act of adultery. Rather, the commandment is violated when a person looks at another person with lust. (Matthew 5:28) Likewise, one does not need to physically kill another person to violate the commandment prohibiting murder (Exodus 20:13). Rather, "everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22)

Why is it that these things are sin? Because they are places where we depart from what God would do, say or think in the same circumstances.

b. Hitting the Mark the Wrong Way

The other way you can miss the mark is harder for people to see. Suppose that an archer is supposed to hit the bullseye with his arrow. The archer, rather than trying to shoot the arrow into the bullseye, carries the arrow to the target and plants it in the bullseye. Has the archer really hit the bullseye? Well, yes, but everyone would agree that the archer violated the spirit of what she was supposed to be doing.

Looking at doing good, we can also hit the mark with what we do or say, but ultimately miss the mark, and therefore sin, because we are not doing it the right way or with the right motivation. This second way is to miss the mark with respect to the thought that goes into the action. Under this standard, what a person does can appear to be good, i.e., in line with God's perfect way, but can still be a sin because done for the wrong motive.

Suppose that I see a homeless individual begging for food. God would have us feed that homeless individual since we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let's suppose that I feed the person, but I do so because I want to want to impress the woman I am dating by putting on a display of generosity. Have I really done anything good? Jesus said that I would not be good in God's eyes if my motivation for doing good is to gain praise for myself.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ~ Matthew 6:5-6

This is not a surprise. Everyone intuitively recognizes that doing what is otherwise good for the wrong reasons is no virtue. Sure, we'd rather have the person do the good thing even if it is for the wrong reasons, but it doesn't change the intuitive sense that there is something unseemly when the motive for the good is less than altruistic. And so it is with doing good in the ultimate sense. The action may be seen as good, but if the motivation is wrong then it is still sin because it departs from God's perfect ways.

Final Thoughts

Sin is not synonymous with evil in the commonly understood sense. After all, my decision to feed the poor, even if it is done for selfish reasons, is not seen as evil in our world. But when discussing sin, the question is not what is really bad as compared to just somewhat bad. Instead, the question is whether the person has perfectly followed God's law in thought, word and deed. Hopefully these thoughts will help someone in communicating more clearly exactly what that means.

Photobucket

Last time I wrote an article about the atheist IQ scam, round II, the latest go round with Nybrog and friends. We have not heard the last of the IQ issue, I still plan to write part 2. Yet there is an aspect of that last post that I want to go into while I'm writing part 2. One aspect of that bear further reflection, that's what Brown said about the Flynn effect. The Flynn effect is the notion that IQ's have been rising, that the IQ's of our great grand parents would have been extremely low, low enough to count as restarted. The reason is because, as I said in that article:

Meta:

This is all very self referential because IQ is only measuring IQ not intelligence. Brown talks about the Flynn ects which shows that IQ's are getting higher. Our children will be smarter than us, we are smarter than our parents and grandparents. The problem is they are only getting higher not because people are really smarter but because the concentrated urban environment re-writes cultural literacy. It's the same problem as the bell curve. In the olden days people lived in the country and hunted. So a question "what do a god and rabbit have in common?" the old answer was "use dog to hunt rabbit." Yet this is now a wrong answer. Now we don't hunt and we are all into scinece, so the right answer is they are both mammals. Thus people in the ancient past are automatically stupid compared to us. Flynn finds that by modern stagehands the average student around 1900 had an IQ between 50-70. So how did they even function? A person today with an IQ of 50 would be profoundly restarted, live in an insinuation and not be able to tie his shoes. Yet doctors, Lawyers, and bankers rant he world with IQ that would today be 60-70.

Andrew Brown's Blog
online Gurdian
Brown reflects:

The answer, he [Flynn--of Flynn effect] says, is that one of the things that IQ tests measure is "post-scientific operational thinking". This is not the same as scientific thinking. But it is thinking about the world in terms of the categories by which science understands it. For instance, if you ask, "What do dogs and rabbits have in common", the post-scientific answer, that we would now regard as evidence of intelligence, is that they are both mammals. The pre-scientific answer is that you use a dog to hunt a rabbit. That's what matters about the two animals, not what class they belong to.

It is that kind of difference in reasoning which accounts for the huge measured IQ differences between urban and rural Brazil, and, of course, the fantastically low IQs measured in African countries.

But could something similar be true of religion? In particular, could dogmatic and fundamentalist religion be more useful to the poor and wretched? Could it lift them to the stage where they could experiment with doubt, with nuance, with novelistic thinking? The history of the early Methodists suggests exactly this. Remember John Wesley's reflection on his own success:

The Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.

Brown is putting the spin on poverty as the big divide in culture. There's more to it than that. What is being tested it seem in the IQ tests are cultural literacy and puzzle working. Cultural literacy is part of the world of cultural constructs. Of course how could it not be. When I say that science is a cultural construct atheists go nuts laughing and mocking because they think science is a fact only new age Postmodern nitwits think things like this. Here's a perfect example. The mammalian answer becomes a scientific answer. It's based upon a scientific fact, rather a perceived fact. Lesson one in cultural constructs: taxonomy is a construct. We don't have to classify rabbits or dogs as mammals, all we have to do is change the way we define mammal. That's taxonomy, that's how you classify stuff and we can classify stuff any way we want to. That means it's not a "fact" of nature, it's not written into the gene code, the genome for rabbits doesn't have a gene that says "I am a mammal." To assume there is a scientific fact that can' t change to say "rabbits are mammals" is to say there's a mammalian essence that is somehow extracted from the natural and exits in some real a part from actual rabbits in the woods. That's Paternalism; that's actually part of the world of philosophy and spiritual stuff that's been done away by science.

What does it mean that science nerds can't see this? I can just see some atheists saying "that's crazy you just don't know anything about science (that's what they say when I point out their mistakes) you don't know what mammals are. I do know what mammals are, but I also know that taxonomy is not based upon essences but upon the way we see things. The way we agree to classify mammals could change. Chinese classified horses as "ordinary," "superlative" and "belonging to the emperor." Those were written into nature, for them, as much as mammals are born live, have hair and eat hay is written in for us. That's all a matter of the way you want to see it. You can re-order your classification system any way you wish. This sort of thing is discussed at length by Michele Foucault, in his ground breaking work The Order of Things. I highly recommend it for some eye opening truths about postmodern thinking.

This is a perfect example of science as a cultural construct. Because the mammal answer on the IQ test is not only based upon a "scientific fact" (the fact is that we classify both animals as mammals, not that there is some essence of mammal-hood that both contain) and the fact of it as the right answer on the IQ test as contributing a small bit to the modern perception of IQ's becomes a scientific fact as well. The fact of it being "the right answer." The reality that the "right answer" is purely a matter of cultural reactivity remains obscured. Thus the illusion that scientific facts can't change or be products of culture is enhanced by the fact that if you don't answer the question in such a way as to give the assumption that it's a fact, then you are stupid.

This same phenomenon is undoubtedly true for all the spiritual and theological things that are being ignored and set and mocked and ridiculed by atheists. Look at easily the atheists say "theology is stupid," having never read any not known anything about it. If those guys were writing the IQ test they would say "the supernatural is false and stupid" is a true answer. Then they look back and say "ok this means people who believe in supernatural are less intelligent." Hey, a standardized test says so! That's proof that's a fact. If the test says it than it's fact. You are are even stupider if you don't believe it. They don't have an IQ on which the atheists who get this culturally relative bit are ranked as stupid, but I rank them so--the one's that don't get this.

So far we have a good illustration of science as a cultural construct, especially true of taxonomy related ideas, and the failure of standardized testing (yech! on that I say "poowie") there's more. My concerns are greater. Think of what it's doing to the culture. The culture takes this stuff and uncritically disseminates it. The way our parents and grand parents thought about the world just becomes this fossil that no one understands, even the people who study history and anthropology are separated from it forever by a thick film of cultural relativity. Belief in the spirit and what means changes, becomes a thing of ridicule, and so on. Saying "smart people don't believe that" is really more like saying "the cool don't believe that." That's all it is. We are not doing this for survival. It's not like our neolithic ancestors so really modern culture that enshrines such relativity is more a matter of cultural acceptance (being cool or not) than "fact."

This does mean all of us who believe in a supernatural (whatever that is) are like fossils or frozen out of the "modern" scene. We are officially stupid because belief in things not "scientifically factual" become "scientific fact." Even though one would have to go through scientific fact with a fine tooth comb to separate what is truly fact from what is culturally relative. This is why I feel a dinosaur knowing about the musical career of Joan Baez or who Richard Farnina was. There's more to it than that. It's going to mean that we don't associate art and literature with factual things. These are no longer marks of intelligence; they are now decoration or hobby or whatever. The culture itself becomes shaped around "scientific thinking." The so called "scientific" answer is the right answer on the IQ test, even though others kinds of answers could be right given a different cultural context. This is what we in the olden days used to call "cultural bias." The mentality and insight that saw it that way is now part of the stupid answer, and enshrining the pseudo-scientific as fact is now the smart answer.

The quote by Wesley above puts the dichotomy between spirit and materialism in terms of prosperity choking out the spiritual. Even that is part of the antiquated view of the past that becomes the stupid answer on the IQ test. The other dichotomy there that Brown might not have thought of is between culturally relative pseudo-science and reality. The reality is the experience of the spirit (religious experience) can't be stopped or made null and void by an IQ test. People will have these experiences and be drawn closer to God even if they call it that. The experiences are the supernatural. This was the case when the words was coined by Dionysus in 500 AD (On Divine Names and Mythical Theology). Even if we don't classify them that way (theology is a kind of taxonomy in it's own right), they will continue to be real and people will go on having them.

Photobucket
Einstein believed in God.

On Atheistwatch I've written about the new attempts of atheists to prove that they have higher IQ's than religious people: Atheism's Psychology Today Scam, and The Atheist IQ Scam (part 1) (see part 2). Today I found an article by Andrew Brown in the American Guardian (Andrew Brown's Blog) where he demonstates the racist background of the atheist assumptions. He also discusses the idea that IQ tests are not measuring intelligence but cultural norms.

First, I originally wrote about Atheist IQ claims (that atheists are Smarter because they have higher IQ's) on Doxa. This was roughly somewhere in the early oughts (2001-2004). At that time the atheist website making the claims put up a bunch of old studies that pre-dated the 60s. They had small samples and their basic assumptions where veg. they used the term "liberal" interchangeably with atheism and most of them never made clear that they had any atheists in the study. My criticism was "liberal" might as well mean theologically liberal. They didn't have data that showed that people who identified themselves "I don't believe in God or gods" score higher on IQ tests than "I believe in God but in a liberal theology sense." I think for this purpose we can assume that "liberal theology " is broad and can include "new Evangelicals." I had some basis to suspect that the studies used were of liberal theological believers. Studies done after the 60s, which the atheist site didn't include, showed uniformly no correlation between intelligence and religious belief or that religious believers were smarter. These studies all used bigger samples and data bases. There had not been a study done showing atheist were smarter since the early 60s and there were three in the 1990s (by Leslie Francis) showing no correlation.

The Brown article demonstrates the truth of my basic criticism. The atheists are doing a bait-and-switch to identify "liberal" with atheist when, in fact, the term includes theological liberals. Brown, "Brown's Blog" on Guardian,

OK, it's a naughty headline, but no less true than the one put on this survey at the aggressively atheist Sandwalk blog, which said "Atheists are smarter than agnostics". Both readings are justified. A large-scale analysis of the religious allegiance and measured IQ of a representative sample of 3,742 American adolescents found a clear trend: the more fundamentalist denominations had the more stupid believers, so that the bottom four places were occupied, from the bottom, by Pentecostalists, Baptists, Holiness churches and "Personal Philosophy", which I presume means a new-age-ish syncretism, while the top four places, again in ascending order, were taken by agnostics, atheists, Jews, and Episcopalians (Anglicans). So, atheists are smarter than agnostics, Jews are smarter than atheists, and Anglicans the smartest of the lot
...

The atheists came back on it in the late oughts with a whole new batch of studies. They have three major researchers: Helmuth Nyborg, Richard Lynn and Satoshi Kanazawa (from Psychology Today). Now I find the Andrew Brown article blows the lid off of that research. I already hinted at big problems with those guys in my previous articles. Nyborg has been criticized as a racist. Brown took a look at his work:

The research was done by a retired Danish professor of psychology, Helmuth Nyborg, and he really does believe that he has found the explanation for the persistence of religious belief in the modern world: believers are measurably more stupid than atheists. His tone of elevated scorn will be familiar:


The study begins with two sets of a priori assumptions. First, [intelligent] people have a brain based biological capacity for solving complex problems, and for acting rationally when confronted with fundamental questions about existence, human nature, underlying causes, or the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Second, [unintelligent] people lack this protection and are therefore unfairly ordained to live in a pre-rational world based on poorly validated evidence and little accumulated insight. They accordingly often find themselves in cognitively, emotionally, or morally challenging situations and have to use plan B, that is, to call upon easily comprehensible religious authoritative guidance and to submit more or less uncritically to culturally given stereotyped rituals. Frustration with their life may also make them seek redemption or faith in an after life.

High-IQ people are able to curb magical, supernatural thinking and tend to deal with the uncertainties of life on a rational-critical-empirical basis, and to become prosperous servants of society, whereas low-IQ people easily become trapped in religious magical thinking, in addition to achieving, earning and serving less well.

They are doing another bait-and-switch here. By "SN" they mean magical thinking but it creates the impression that liberal theology, philosophy and anything not "science" is automatically stupid. It's not hard to prove that non religious people are smarter when you define religion as "stupid" a priori. Of course they don't distinguish between an ancient world religious view and a modern one. But it gets worse.

ibid:

So I did a little digging around. I downloaded the paper, which costs, alas, $37.50 with VAT, and read it carefully through. It turns out that Nyborg is an enthusiast for scientific racism. It's not just believers who are more stupid, in his world: it's black people and women, too. In a collaboration with Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, he measured religiosity against IQ in 137 countries, and concluded that low IQ countries always had higher rates of religion. It's not religion that makes you stupid, he told a Christian paper at the time: but if you live in a very religious country, you are very likely to be stupid. And of course the correlation of religion and poverty is in global terms very clear, while the most religious continent of all is Africa.

In the paper under review, he writes,

The ultimate causal level presumes that geographically separated peoples were subjected to different evolutionary pressures over extended time-periods. Those living under the hardest of evolutionary pressures, in cold or arctic areas, were gradually and over many generations selected for enhanced g (for details of the Climate Theory, see Lynn, 2006; Rushton, 2000). They had to replace ancient pre-rational supernatural beliefs with more effective rational approaches in order to survive under the harsh conditions given. People living in warm or tropical areas enjoyed in general more relaxed selective conditions, and low g individuals were not severely punished, as their survival was not seriously compromised by uncritical reference to ancient supernatural thinking, irrational beliefs in souls, invisible worlds, Gods, forces, angels, devils, hell, or holy spirits. A contemporary belief that supernatural forces control behavior, feelings and thinking is accordingly seen as a reminiscence of pre-historic animism and magical thinking.

Oops!

(In case anyone is tempted to take this seriously, it's worth pointing out that one of the most demographically successful populations in human history were the New England puritans, many of them descendants of Vikings, who managed to combine life in a very cold climate with fervent religiosity.)

But Nyborg is entirely serious. He argues – in the spirit of Murray and Herrnstein's Bell Curve – that intelligence is IQ; IQ is biological, and biology is destiny:


High g individuals will gravitate towards atheism or science, will discard supernatural phenomena, and will learn fast and prosper. Average g individuals will find one of several moderate liberal denominations more to their taste, will display average learning, and will accordingly assume an intermediate socio-economic standing. Low g individuals will to submit to one of the many dogmatic denominations, will be slow learners, and will attain a low socio-economic status that accord with their limited cognitive
complexity and closed mind. Variations in disbelief, denominational complexity, educability and income are accordingly expected to follow from essentially heritable g differences, and to manifest themselves as today's mainly biologically brain based religious class differences.

By now I imagine that you are recoiling from these ideas. The belief that religion can simply be explained by stupidity suddenly looks a lot less attractive when it is presented scientifically by an intelligent man who also believes that poverty, too, can be explained by stupidity, and stupidity in its turn by race.

Of course only science people are intelligent. Since philosophy, literature, art don't count as real knowledge, people who are do them are not smart. Only number crunchers matter.

This is all very self-referential because IQ is only measuring IQ not intelligence. Brown talks about the Flynn ects which shows that IQ's are getting higher. Our children will be smarter than us, we are smarter than our parents and grandparents. The problem is they are only getting higher not because people are really smarter but because the concentrated urban environment re-writes cultural literacy. It's the same problem as the bell curve. In the olden days people lived in the country and hunted. So a question "what do a god and rabbit have in common?" the old answer was "one uses a dog to hunt a rabbit." Yet, this is now a wrong answer. Now we don't hunt and we are all into science, so the right answer is they are both mammals. Thus people in the ancient past are automatically stupid compared to us. Flynn finds that by modern standards the average student around 1900 had an IQ between 50-70. So how did they even function? A person today with an IQ of 50 would be profoundly retarded, live in an instituion and not be able to tie his shoes. Yet doctors, lawyers, and bankers ran the world with IQs that would today be 60-70.

Brown reflects:

The answer, he says, is that one of the things that IQ tests measure is "post-scientific operational thinking". This is not the same as scientific thinking. But it is thinking about the world in terms of the categories by which science understands it. For instance, if you ask, "What do dogs and rabbits have in common", the post-scientific answer, that we would now regard as evidence of intelligence, is that they are both mammals. The pre-scientific answer is that you use a dog to hunt a rabbit. That's what matters about the two animals, not what class they belong to.

It is that kind of difference in reasoning which accounts for the huge measured IQ differences between urban and rural Brazil, and, of course, the fantastically low IQs measured in African countries.

But could something similar be true of religion? In particular, could dogmatic and fundamentalist religion be more useful to the poor and wretched? Could it lift them to the stage where they could experiment with doubt, with nuance, with novelistic thinking? The history of the early Methodists suggests exactly this. Remember John Wesley's reflection on his own success:

The Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.

In reading through news stories today, I noted that a number of stories concerned agnosticism. The always less-than-thoughtful Huffington Post has an article entitled "Debates About Agnosticism Are as Old as the Concept Itself", and second entitled "Agnosticism in the UK: It's Time to Listen to the Faithless Majority." (I wonder why the Huffington Post is obsessed with agnosticism.) Following up on some thoughts, I came across a page on the old Skeptical Web...er, I mean the Secular Web, called "Why I am an Agnostic" by Clarence Darrow.

The opening paragraph is written in a different typeset than the remainder, so I am uncertain whether the following quote is from Mr. Darrow or from skeptic who felt he ha to take a few cheap shots as a sort of introduction to Mr. Darrow's own thoughts below. Regardless of the source, the quote that caught my attention was, "Everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept." This wasn't the first time that I read this statement, but I began to wonder whether it was true.

To determine if I am, in fact, an agnostic about "beliefs and creeds" I do not accept, I thought I should first understand what it means to be "agnostic." The first place I decided to visit was Dictionary.com where I read the following information on the origin of agnosicism:

< Greek ágnōst ( os ), variant of ágnōtos not known, incapable of being known ( a- a-6 + gnōtós known, adj. derivative from base of gignṓskein to know) + -ic, after gnostic; said to have been coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869

What I gather from the origin of the word, to be an agnostic means simply to hold the belief that something be unknown or incapable of being known. This is quite similar to the second definition of agnosticism on Dictionary.com which reads: "a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study."

This raises two thoughts. The first is a question: Exactly how am I, as a Christian, an "agnostic" about all other religions as the Skeptical Web article claims? When I reject the teachings of other religions, such as Islam, it is not because I hold that the truth about Islam is not known, or that I somehow believe that the truth is unknowable. Quite to the contrary, as a Christian I am rejecting the teachings of Islam because I know them to be false. To the Christian, the truth about Islam is that it is false and it is knowable that it is false.

Now, someone else (usually a skeptic) may claim that I don't know it is false or that it is not knowable that it is false, but that isn't my claim. It is my beliefs which are the subject of the assertion that "everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept." I don't see how my assertion that Islam is false can be transposed into a claim that I don't believe that it is knowable that it is false. Am I missing something here? I don't think so.

The second thought is a logical condundrum: I believe that I am an agnostic about religious agnosticism. In other words, I don't know or I am uncertain that it can be known that religious truth is unknown or not knowable. That is, after all, what we spend hours upon hours discussing on this blog. And through all of the discussion, I have found my own beliefs in God and Christianity growing stronger.

Now, I am not doubting that some people claim that they don't know whether God exists or that truth about God cannot be known. I further don't doubt the bona fides of these individuals in making these claims. But merely because they believe their claims that God is unknown or unknowable doesn't make them true (elsewise, Christianity would likewise be proven true by the fact that people believe it to be true). I am not certain that it is really possible, when viewing the evidence, to believe God to be unknown or unknowable.

So, I guess I am an agnostic after all -- just not about other religions and certainly not about Christianity.

Too often I have sat in churches where teachers have tried to illustrate the Biblical concept of the Trinity. The problem is that almost without exception, these illustrations are wrong, wrong, wrong! (Please note, that my repeating wrong three times is not the simple illustration of the Trinity -- just emphasis.)

Common but Bad Illustrations

I remember one pastor using the example of a man being a Father to his son, a son to his father and a husband to his wife. See? A Trinity. Yes, it is a Trinity, but it is not the Biblical Trinity because it is an example of Modalism or Sabellianism. The Trinity is not God presenting himself in three different forms or modes. The Trinity teaches that each of the three persons of the Trinity are separate persons each of which is fully God.

Another example was by a well-meaning teacher as part of a kids' sermon. She pulled out a "boom box" which was a single music system with a radio, a CD player and a cassette player built in. See? Three things in one. Certainly, that's the Biblical teaching of the Trinity. Unfortunately, no. This is not the Biblical Trinity because while the stereo is one thing made up of three things, the CD player is not the boom box, the cassette player is not the boom box and the radio is not the boom box. It is much like the example of the three parts of an egg: the yolk, the white and the shell. Since there are three things in one egg, that's an example of the Trinity, right? No, it isn't because the individual parts are not the egg.

So, what's a Sunday School teacher to do? How can the Sunday School teacher or the youth leader present a true illustration of the Trinity? Well, I have developed one that I have run past several people and I have yet to have anyone who has demonstrated that the illustration is not Biblical. Moreover, it is an illustration that can be used (when properly set up) to defeat the claim that the Biblical Trinity is illogical. So, I want to present it here.

Defining the Trinity

When illustrating the Trinity, I start by giving a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. I follow the lead of Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason in identifying the following as the core of the Biblical teaching of the Trinity:

1. There is only one God.
2. The Father is fully God, the Son (Jesus) is fully God and the Holy Spirit is fully God.
3. The Father is not the Son, and neither the Father nor the Son are the Holy Spirit.

The first of these core teachings is seems undeniable from any fair reading of the Scriptures. Perhaps the clearest statement can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4 which reads, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." There are many other Biblical references that can be cited to support this first propostion.

The second core teaching is spread throughout the Bible, but rather than re-invent the wheel, let me quote from an article called The Trinity (Triunity) of God by J. Hampton Keathley, III on Bible.org,

Here it can be unequivocally demonstrated the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Furthermore, the New Testament teaches us that these three names are not synonymous, but speak of three distinct and equal Persons.

(1) The Father is called God (John 6:27; 20:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 4:6; Phil. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:2).

(2) Jesus Christ, the Son is declared to be God. His deity is proven by the divine names given to Him, by His works that only God could do (upholding all things, Col. 1:17; creation, Col. 1:16, John 1:3; and future judgment, John 5:27), by His divine attributes (eternality, John 17:5; omnipresence, Matt. 28:20; omnipotence, Heb. 1:3; omniscience, Matt. 9:4), and by explicit statements declaring His deity (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8).

(3) The Holy Spirit is recognized as God. By comparing Peter’s comments in Acts 5:3 and 4, we see that in lying to the Holy Spirit (vs. 3), Ananias was lying to God (vs. 4). He has the attributes which only God can possess like omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10) and omnipresence (1 Cor. 6:19), and He regenerates people to new life (John 3:5-6, 8; Tit. 3:5), which must of necessity be a work of God for only God has the power of life. Finally, His deity is evident by the divine names used for the Spirit as “the Spirit of our God,” (1 Cor. 6:11), which should be understood as “the Spirit, who is our God.”

Ryrie writes: “Matthew 28:19 best states both the oneness and threeness by associating equally the three Persons and uniting them in one singular name. Other passages like Matthew 3:16-17 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 associate equally the three Persons but do not contain the strong emphasis on unity as does Matthew 28:19.”18

The New Bible Dictionary, adds to this the following evidence:

The evidence of the NT writings, apart from the Gospels, is sufficient to show that Christ had instructed his disciples on this doctrine to a greater extent than is recorded by any of the four Evangelists. They whole-heartedly proclaim the doctrine of the Trinity as the threefold source of redemption. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost brought the personality of the Spirit into greater prominence and at the same time shed light anew from the Spirit upon the Son. Peter, in explaining the phenomenon of Pentecost, represents it as the activity of the Trinity: ‘This Jesus … being … exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear’ (Acts 2:32-33). So the church of Pentecost was founded on the doctrine of the Trinity.

I only need to point to two verses to demonstrate that the Father is not the Son and neither is the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:21-22 is the conclusion of the baptism of Jesus by John. The verses read:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

In this verse, the three persons are all present. Jesus has just been baptized and is praying, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in bodily form, and the voice of the Father comes from heaven and speaks about Jesus (the Son). As Greg Koukl humorously adds, note that at no time does Jesus' lips move.

Advice on Using the Illustration as an Apologetics Tool

Before actually getting to the illustration, let me give some advice to people who want to use this as a tool for apologetics with skeptics. Do not go on to the illustration unless and until you can reach an agreement on the three core Biblical teachings. It is my experience that unless the skeptic acknowledges the three core beliefs in advance of the illustration, the skeptic will always return and start arguing against the three core facts once the illustration is given.

The Illustration

So, the question becomes what can be used to illustrate the Trinity? What one "Thing" can be made up of three "things" where each of the three "things" are fully the "Thing", but each of the three "things" are distinct from each other?

The answer is a treaty.

Let's suppose that there is a treaty entered between England and Germany. How many treaties are executed? Actually, there are three: a treaty executed in English, a treaty executed in German, and a treaty executed in French (the language of the United Nations). Each of the treaties is fully the treaty -- they are not just copies of the treaty. The English treaty is fully and actually the treaty separate and apart from the others. The French treaty is fully and actually the treaty separate and apart from the others. Likewise, the German treaty is fully and actually the treaty separate and apart from the others. Yet, there is no question that the treaties are different: one of the treaties is written in English, one in French and one in German. They are written on separate pieces of paper.

So, you have one "Thing" (the treaty between England and Germany) can be made up of three "things" (the English treaty, the German treaty and the French treaty) where each of the three "things" are fully the "Thing" (the treaty between England and Germany), but each of the three "things" are distinct from each other.

The one objection that I have heard to this particular illustration is that it is not sufficiently concrete. By that the objectors mean that it's not like an egg where all three parts can be seen. But I simply note in response that God Himself is not purely physical so it should not be expected that the illustration would be somewhat non-physical.

An Even Simpler Illustration Easily Used with Kids

A similar illustration that any Sunday School teacher plays on the same principle and uses something that can be found around most churches: the Bible. The teacher should take to class three different Bibles. The effect is most dramatic if the teacher take Bibles in different languages, but it can also be illustrated effectively using different versions of the Bible, say the King James Version, the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible.

Hand the three copies to three different children. Have them all read the same verse in the three different versions (it helps to find verses that read dramatically differently in each of the three versions in advance). Ask the children if the Bibles are different. The answer is, of course, yes. Then ask them if there is more than one Bible -- that is, more than one "Word of God." The answer is no.

Just as in the treaty illustration, you have one "Thing" (the Bible) can be made up of three "things" (the NASB Bible, the NIV Bible, and the KJV Bible) where each of the three "things" are fully the "Thing" (the Word of God), but each of the three "things" are distinct from each other.

No analogy, of course, is perfect. A perfect analogy is an identity, and there is nothing in this universe that will be an identity with God. However, it is hopefully an illustration that can give people a beginning glimmer of how the Trinity can be understood.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.