God in the Dock 5 – Atheism and God’s Greatness

The second big objection to God’s goodness and God’s greatness we are going to look at is atheism. This says that if we have a problem with saying that God is good or that God is great, then the better option is to deny both: to say that God is neither good nor great.  In fact, such a God does not exist at all.Note that there are two dimensions to this discussion.

  1. The requirement for proof of the existence of God and particularly the clash between modern theories about origins and the Bible’s creation account.
  2. Ethical questions about the God defined and described in the Bible and seen as representative of monotheism. The atheist argument (especially as presented by the new atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is that the biblical God is not good and not worthy of worship.

A normal theism/atheism debate will focus on the first question, but that’s not my primary concern here as our discussion starts from a different place. Also there’s plenty of both young earth and old earth creationists around who have been getting on with that debate.

Our focus here is more about thinking through the implications of and challenges to the little bit of doctrine we’ve been looking at. So I want to focus primarily on the challenge to God’s goodness.

However, we can’t completely ignore question 1 even in this context. So, before moving on to the specific questions about God’s goodness raised by atheists, we’ll take a brief look at questions to do with proof of his existence.[1]

If God exists why doesn’t he show up and prove it?

This is really about demanding evidence or proof for God’s existence.  Classical apologetics talks about these proofs or arguments under headings such as the ontological, teleological and cosmological arguments.

So the argument goes that there must be a greater intelligence to explain the design, beauty and order in the Universe, that the Universe must have come from somewhere and so there must have been a first cause and that if we can conceive of a perfect being, then its very perfection depends upon it actually existing.

Now, there are some significant issues with starting with these arguments and I don’t think that they should be treated as proof in the sense of “here’s the killer evidence.” I say this for three reasons.

  1. Evidence is usually interpretable and even faced with “evidence” people may choose not to accept that it is telling them what you think it is telling them.
  2. Something feels wrong with this type of argument by proofs because I end up debating God as a theory/hypothesis – but that’s not what you do with people/friends. You introduce friends to other friends.
  3. We end up falling far short of where we want to be. The classical arguments don’t get us to the God of the Bible. We conclude with Anthony Flew that there is a higher entity, but exactly what sort of god is that? We are still a long way from the Gospels.

So someone who doesn’t believe in God or want to believe in God is unlikely to be either convinced by the “evidence” or end up in the right place.  And I still think that whilst the “goodness” challenge exists then for some people, their immediate response will be “even if you could prove your God exists, I still would not want to meet him.”

However, I think they do provide two important functions. First, of all, they offer an articulation of the assurance that believers have that the God they know and worship is real.  Secondly, they help to explain the picture we are building up of a credible narrative for why we are here and who we are where that narrative starts with the creator God.

You see, that’s what we are doing here. We’re attempting to tell the history of why we are here. Now, what historians do is to assemble the most credible story that best explains the data we have.

So if my story or metanarrative is that there is an eternal and personal God who created and sustains the universe, then when I talk about things like evidence of design or the need for a first cause, then those things fit with the story.

Or, take the ontological argument of Anselm. This would look like the weakest of the classical proofs. This is the one that says if we can conceive of a perfect being, then an important aspect of perfection is existence. Now at face value, that just sounds like wish fulfilment. However, properly argued, this “proof” is really about our sense of the transcendent – there must be more than this.  Now of course, it could just be wish fulfilment and so it’s not a proof. But it also fits the narrative of a creator God very well.  If my natural desires for food, comfort, relationships etc. arise in response to real needs that can be met by real food, comfort, relationships, then why shouldn’t my desire for the transcendent reflect a real need for something/someone more and a need that can really be fulfilled?

Now, I’ve got an alternative story to place alongside the theistic account. This is the idea that we evolved without a personal God being involved. The story starts with a primeval soup of gases and then, something starts to happen, causing chemical reactions and the formation of molecules. [2]   Then one day, something significant happens:

“At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not be necessarily have been the biggest or most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself. This may seem a very unlikely sort of accident to happen. So it was. It was exceedingly improbable. In the lifetime of a man, things that are that improbable can be treated for practical purposes as impossible. That is why you will never win a big prize on the football pools. But in our human estimates of what is probable and what is not, we are used to dealing in hundreds of millions of years. If you filled in pools coupons every week for a hundred million years you would very likely win several jackpots.”[3]

But there’s still a vital ingredient missing or we’d just have lots of identical molecules around busy cloning each other.

“So we seem to arrive at a large population of identical replicas. But now we must mention an important property of any copying process: it is not perfect. Mistakes will happen.”[4]

Richard Dawkins goes on to explain:

“erratic copying in biological replicators can in a real sense give rise to improvement, and it was essential for the progressive evolution of life that some errors were made.”[5]

Variation in numbers, longevity and stability mean some replicators are better equipped to survive than others.[6]  These replicators are found in us now:

“Now they swarm in huge colonies safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous, indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind, and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes and we are their survival machines.”[7]

Now, that’s a fascinating story, but it has a big problem because it starts with time, but fails to give account for eternity.  In other words, time and matter came from somewhere. You see, every account of the Universe has got to put that Universe into context – where and when are we in the bigger scheme of things. Every meta-narrative has to deal with what happened before the beginning of space and time. Every story needs to deal with eternity.

Atheists have two real options. The first is that there was a when, when there was nothing, in which case, they’ve still got to explain how that primordial soup turned up. Or alternatively, they’ve got to say that matter itself is eternal, that there’s been some form of energy around in what we might call the “previ-verse.”[8] Now, that sounds very close to pantheism – the idea that God and creation are one and the same. In fact, Dawkins draws a similar sort of conclusion. When dealing with reports of famous scientists supposedly believing in or referring to God, he responds by saying that first of all we want to define what we mean by God. He defines the theist’s God as

“a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even think of doing them).”[9]

He then distinguishes theism from deism.

“A deist too believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs.”[10]

Then finally he describes pantheism:

“Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.”[11]

In Dawkins’ view, when people like Einstein and Stephen Hawking refer to God, they do so in the pantheist sense.

“Einstein was using ‘God’ in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor.”[12]

He goes on to say that it is the theist God, not the pantheist God, that he has a problem with,

“My title, The God Delusion, does not refer to the God of Einstein and other enlightened scientists of the previous section. That is why I needed to get Einsteinian religion out of the way to begin with: it has a proven capacity to confuse. In the rest of the book I am talking only about supernatural gods, of which the most familiar to the majority of my readers will be Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.”[13]

Now, note that Dawkins’ pantheism is intended to be only metaphorical. He’s not saying that the Universe is divine in the same way that a theist would use the word divine. Mind you, I’m not convinced that a purist pantheist would accept that their understanding of divinity in creation is purely metaphorical either!  However, what he is doing is setting up the Universe around us, physical matter, as the ultimate foundational entity.

But the problem hasn’t been dealt with. You see, this account does not make best sense of things like intelligence, emotions, personality, relationships etc. So we’ve either got a dilemma because the cause does not seem to fit the effect, or we have to explain away emotions and intelligence as not really existing at all, which no-one seems quite able to bring themselves round to doing.

So when I’m looking for a credible metanarrative, I don’t find that the “atheistic evolution” story hangs together with credibility. It doesn’t make sense of the things it is meant to make sense of. For example, we talk about “evolutionary progress,” but without a sense that there’s a standard to measure how we are doing against and a goal to go towards. So then the idea of progress becomes meaningless. It’s like taking a walk without either a map or an intended destination. You can’t call that “progress.” It’s just wandering around!

In fact, this is what we’ve seen in recent times. That metanarrative collapsed. If ontologically everything is random, if we are just here by chance, then epistemologically things end up the same way too. We find that we can’t actually tell a story to describe who we are, why we got here and what we are doing. The metanarrative collapses.  Stories and even language itself become arbitrary. That’s why you end up with postmodernism.

You see, the story in the end is not about humanity at all, but about these things called genes that replicate and mutate and supposedly do what they need to in order to survive – but no one can actually tell me why these genes should exist or want to keep on existing. There is no meaning to existence. So I think that the other story carries more credibility; I do better to go back to revelation.

Then, supposing that the answer to the question “if God exists, why doesn’t he prove it? – why doesn’t he show up?” is “Well, he has.”

That’s the Christian view of Jesus. God shows up. God becomes man and lives among us.  Jesus displays God’s wisdom with his teaching, God’s love with his compassion for us and obedience to his father; Jesus shows God’s power in his miracles.  He calms the sea, heals the sick and he himself dies and rises.

If we are going to make this claim, then the focus is going to be on the question “can we be certain that Jesus really did live, die and rise again?” The resurrection becomes the crucial factor (which is what the Gospel writers understand as well).

Now, we know about Jesus and the resurrection through the Gospel accounts, so a subsidiary question will be “can we actually trust those accounts to be reliable?” Space here doesn’t permit a full discussion of the question, but it is worth noting the following.

  1. External evidence is helpful when seeking to date and get a feel for the reliability of the Gospels. This includes the volume of manuscripts available and their close proximity to the original events which compare favourably with other historical events. It also includes external reference to Gospel authors by other writers.[14]
  2. Internal evidence that helps us to identify the context in which books were writte. For example, when dating Luke and Acts, we note that Acts finishes prior to Peter and Paul’s deaths. It would be legitimate for the writer to deal with those events without compromising an early dating of them. Therefore, the most likely explanation is that those events had not yet taken place when Luke and Acts were written. Similarly, JAT Robinson has argued that the Gospel and other New Testament writers handling of Jesus’ words concerning Jerusalem and the Temple suggest that they are writing prior to the actual fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.[15]

So, we can have a high level of confidence that when we pick up the New Testament, we are dealing with credible eyewitness accounts.[16]  Additionally, because of the way those accounts work, there’s strong evidence that we are dealing with genuine, independent eye witnesses with their own accounts to tell, not with a group of people that colluded to concoct a story.

This means that we find each Gospel author making use of each other’s written material.[17] At the same time, they pick up on and emphasise different aspects of the story. They do this in a way that does not contradict, but rather each piece of material supplements and adds to the other.

Now, when we come to the resurrection accounts, some alternative theories have been presented to try and account for the empty tomb. These include

Swoon – Jesus wasn’t really dead when they placed him in the tomb and so revived overnight. This seems unlikely. The Romans had a good track record for executing people and the piercing of Jesus’ side appears to have gone through to his internal organs. Additionally, someone who has been through a crucifixion and just about survived is unlikely to make a convincing resurrected Messiah.

Fraud – That the body was stolen. But by who and to what purpose? It doesn’t really suit the aims of Jesus’ rivals and his supporters stuck quite consistently to their story even under the threat of torture, exile and execution.

Superstition and hallucination – The problem with this is that the women and the disciples are not looking for a resurrected Jesus. In fact, they assume to start with that one of the other explanations is the reason for the disappeared body.

So these alternative explanations have been comprehensively answered over the years. I guess that the final explanation is “myth:” that it’s an attempt to tell a story to explain things and provide the basis for a new religion. Now such an approach assumes a couple of things. First of all, that the accounts were written long after the supposed life of Jesus (see above on this) and that they don’t stand up to the test of historical reliability. In other words, the argument is that the gospel writers did not do a good job of inventing their story; that the stories don’t really match up.

Now, eye witnesses, if they are not colluding, won’t sound exactly the same – but they shouldn’t contradict each other and whilst harmonisation of different eye witness accounts may be difficult, it should not be impossible.

Personally, I think it a strange idea that an editor would clumsily shove together contradictory accounts and in any case, I do think you can put a harmonised version of the whole story together. This would run something along the lines of the following:

Very early in the morning, some women go to the tomb. Mary Magdalene is one of them.  It looks like they set off before dawn and dawn is breaking as they arrive.  They arrive about the time that the stone is removed. There are angels there.  The women run back and tell Peter and John that the stone has been moved and the body gone.  Peter and John run to the tomb and witness this.as well. This leads John towards some form of belief, but Peter is still wondering what is going on.  Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb and there the angels speak to her – she’s still weeping and in distress, but then, turning around, she meets Jesus. He sends her to speak to the others.[18]

During the day, Jesus appears to two disciples going back to Emmaus and then at some point to Peter.  Then he appears to the gathered disciples – collectively referred to as the 11 but without Thomas at this point. They report to Thomas – he does not believe. Jesus appears to all the disciples with Thomas now present.

They are instructed to go to Galilee. This includes a fishing trip and a walk up a mountain where they are commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations. They then return to Jerusalem. Jesus meets them at Bethany. They go out to a hill from where he ascends to Heaven.  They return into Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

Now there are afew of things to note here.

  1. That each account does not name all the people or give all the details – but there’s consistency. For example, there are multiple women with Mary Magdalene standing out as a notable representative (it’s possible even in John’s gospel that Mary’s use of “we” refers to the women together. Although John does not list all the women, that does not mean that they were absent.
  2. That in some places there are multiple options for the exact chronology of events. For example, it’s possible that Matthew tells us about one conversation with angels and it’s later repeated to Mary, but it’s also possible that all the women return to the tomb with Mary and that Matthew concentrates the story down so that he doesn’t over distinguish between the first visit to the tomb and the second.
  3. That the different accounts give different amounts of space and detail so some things will get summarised up in different ways. This can be seen in an analysis of the amount of detail that each author goes into. A quick word count using the NIV version shows that each writer’s account gives the following amount of space to the Resurrection story.
      1. Matthew 435 words
      2. Mark 186 words
      3. Luke Acts 1326 words
      4. John 1,455 words
  4. That none of the accounts give a full description of everything that happens. For example, the appearance to Peter is alluded to, but not described and then there’s the 500 witnesses that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15.

So a little bit of work and thinking may be needed from the reader in piecing together the eye witnesses, but notice that at no point does one account contradict the others. They complement each other.

So, returning to our best fit meta-narrative, we can say that there’s an eternal and personal God who made, orders and looks after this world. That this world shows all the hallmarks of design, order, beauty that you would expect if a good God had made it. That this good God shows up consistently through history and is not at a distance, but interacts with his creation – most notably in the person of Jesus who demonstrates power over creation, weather, sickness, resources and authority over life and death itself. We also see that we human beings recognise in ourselves an inner longing for something greater and beyond ourselves. We are aware of eternity. We are designed to worship.

The point is that this world view works. The story is consistent and coherent and the truth claims associated enable us to make sense of the big questions we ask including:

Where did this world come from?

Why am I here?

Is there more than this?

Do I have purpose/a future?

 

Which leads us into the second part of the discussion – is the God revealed in Scripture good or malign?

[1] NB We will also come back to it later on when we look at the question of creation.

[2] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 14.

[3] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 15.

[4] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 16.

[5] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 16.

[6] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 17.

[7] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 20.

[8] This leads into a more detailed discussion around The Big Bang and when, how, if the Universe had a start point.  So for example, Stephen Hawking tends to talk about the Universe as finite but without a boundary -similar to how we think about the earth in terms of space.  His explanations are a little difficult to pin down -maybe because he is still working through a thought process and maybe because that thought process is of one very clever quantum physicist! So there seems to be a tension within his own thinking with the start of time in some sense at the big time and the Universe in some sense being self- existence.  We of course have the challenge of the world renowned physicist accommodating their language to communicate with the likes of me.  So for example, when Hawking talks about time being finite but unbounded like the Earth, then I think “quite. Of course you can walk around the world without falling off of it. However that doesn’t mean there isn’t something beyond it. The earth being finite sits in a context and there is something beyond.” This is probably something for greater discussion when we move to the Creation theme in due course. (c.f. http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-origin-of-the-universe.html and http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html  both cited 16-04-2016).

[9] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 39.

[10] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 39.

[11] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 39.

[12] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 40.

[13] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 41.

[14] NB For interest, see the very interesting discussion around Carston Peter Theide &  Matthew D’Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus (1994) and Carston Peter Thiede, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish origins of Christianity (2003).  The debate and discussion that followed these publications demonstrates the challenge of evaluating and interpreting evidence including archaeological data.

[15] See for example, JAT Robinson, Redating The New Testament (London. SCM, 1976).

[16] For a fuller discussion of this question check out FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents are they Reliable (1943) and  Craig Blomberg,  The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987).

[17] There appear to be a couple of common sources underpinning the text of what we call the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke).  Some scholars refer to a hypothetical source called Q though whether or not this was a specific collection of writings or simply reflects that either Matthew or Luke had access to the other’s account is debatable.  Additionally, both Matthew and Luke appear to make use Mark’s material though it is not simply a case of copying across.

[18] She is possibly accompanied by the other women – see later comments and notes.

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15 thoughts on “God in the Dock 5 – Atheism and God’s Greatness

  1. Atheism is the conclusion that there are no god/s since there is no evidence to support its/their existence. It doesn’t say that if there is a personal incredulity about God (assuming the JudeoChristian monotheistic deity presented in the bible) is good (a subjective term) or God is great (another subjective term), this is all that is needed. There are some atheist who do this, but their atheism is unexamined as the religion of most theists. Without evidence of a claim, the better option is to question that claim and humans do this all the time.

    For instance, most Christians question the claims of other religions for the reason that there is no evidence to support those claims made by those religions. They do not assume that the baseless claim that the Goddess danced the world into existence, that spells cast by Wiccans work, etc are true; in short they doubt until they get evidence. Christians assume that their religion is true with no evidence and this is generally because someone they trusted with good reason also told them that the myths of the religion were true and they transferred that earned trust to something that has not earned it at all. The promises of Christianity are very attractive, and the belief that something omnipotent and omniscient agrees with you and only you.

    I largely agree with the claim that the basis of atheism is the requirements for the existence of a god and the evidence supporting it, including how it compares with modern scientific theories, which are based on evidence and which the theist uses everyday and only complains about when those theories that make him (using in the generic sense) comfortable also are the same theories that demonstrate that his god doesn’t exist. It is not just Hitchens, and Dawkins who have pointed this out. Atheists have pointed this out ever since there have been atheists, from Epicurus to Robert Ingersoll. Some Christians love to try to invent a dichotomy in atheism, a fantasy that there are good atheists, those that sit down and shut up, and those who dare to actually show that the emperor has no clothes,

    You have tried to claim that the only “normal” debate is what you approve of, when there are very very many different debates between atheists and theists, ranging from the lack of evidence for the various religions, to the philsophical arguments presented by theists e.g. ontological, teleological to your claims that your god is to be defined as “good” and worthy of worship. There is no “normal”.

    Since a Christian would ask for evidence for Vishnu, or Ameratsu or Tezcatlipoa, both atheists and Christians demand evidence for claims. The problem for Christians is that the ontological, teological and cosmological arguments at best argue for a vague power, not the Christian god, a god for whom we have reams of attributes that it must meet, and events that must be shown to have happened. All of these arguments start with a presupposition: the universe needs “soemthing” to start it, and as yet, theists, including Christians have not shown this to be the case. All they have is special pleading; that their god didn’t need something to start it, but the universe did because they say so.

    Dave, you do try you best to claim there is a god that explains the “design, beauty and order” in the universe. What is perfect about a universe, and world, where 99% is utterly inhabitable for humans? What is beautiful about a parasite in a human eye that causes blindness? What is designed or ordered of a human body that has an immune system that will attack the body? What is designed or ordered about a reproductive system that often screws up and miscarries or kills the mother? I will assume you’ll make the claim of the “fall”, which is a quite dramatic instance of a god who can’t help but cause collateral damage for no reason.
    You claim that a perfect thing must exist just because a human can imagine it. First, you need to define what “perfect” means. The problem of this argument is that what I imagine as perfect is likely not be what you can imagine. If your claim is true, then there are as many gods as there are humans. This argument makes the baseless claim that existence is somehow better than nonexistence. Please show how one is “better” than the other.

    The discomfort you feel when you try to prove god is called cognitive dissonance. You know that your claims are flawed, but you really want someone else to agree with you. So you try to hide these problems and claim that your god is just a friend, and insist that no one can counter your claim that your friend exist. It is quite true that people can and do refuse to consider evidence. Theists do this all of the time, sometimes to the point of murdering their own children because they refuse to admit that their god does not heal anyone and prayer does not work.

    Some atheists may not want to believe in one god or the other. Christians are atheists when it comes to every god but their own. But with most atheists, the idea of want doesn’t come into it. Theists fantasize it does because that supports their false claim that athesits are just rebels and don’t want to follow this god’s laws. The problem with this is that Christians can’t agree on what those laws are either; are they just rebels? Most atheists have come to the conclusion that there are no gods because there is no evidence to support the claims of theists.

    I certainly would not want to meet a god that commands genocide, that throws a tantrum and murders all life on earth rather than just smiting the bad guys, that considers women less than human, for repeatedly approving slavery, that kills people for petty things like touching a magic box, for not giving over enough money, and that gets off on the silly end times fantasy. I do not want to deal with an entity that kills off everyone who disagrees with it, then allows its followers to live for an aeon in peace and then turns around, intentionally works with its archenemy to cause war and strife among those believers to get just one more bit of bloodlust satisfied. There are plenty of better gods out there if I’d like to worship one.
    Now, considering those actions of the Christian god above, how is it good and what does good mean?
    Anyone can tell themselves a story that they are right and/or that what they imagine is real. All religions do this. The problem with creating such stories and expecting people to accept them is that evidence is needed to support the claims. Indeed, “data” is needed and Christianity has none.

    This a perfect example of making a presupposition and inventing supposed evidence to fit the claim. “So if my story or metanarrative is that there is an eternal and personal God who created and sustains the universe, then when I talk about things like evidence of design or the need for a first cause, then those things fit with the story.” One can replace “eternal and personal God” with “eternal and personal gods”, and go on and invent things to support that; both claims are unsupported.

    As mentioned above, the ontological argument fails since the idea of “perfect” cannot be agreed upon even by Christians. This idea is also coming from the puny flawed humans that Christians constantly claim can’t get things right. Why assume that this idea is correct? It’s nothing more than the usual cherry picking by theists; we don’t like this human idea but this one that tells me I’m right, well, that must be right from God himself! The last problem here is that it is assumed that there is some “desire for the transcendent”. The existence of atheists themselves, especially those raised as atheists, show that this desire is not universal, and thus not like the needs of food, companionship, etc.

    The fact that we do not yet understand everything about how the universe started or how life started doesn’t mean that your god, or a thousand other gods, exist. We may never know the whole story and still, no evidence for your gods at all.

    You also seem to think that every atheist worships Dawkins, which couldn’t be further from the truth. His terminology isn’t the most clear. Things don’t form by “accident”, at least not as a theist would claim. Things form per the laws of physics; this is not a Seussian universe where absolutely anything can happen. So, the replicator formed by the laws of physics. It may have been unlikely, but over billions of years in quintillions of chemical reactions, it happened. As Dawkins says, there is no problem with this, and it shows that the theist claim of a “tornado in a junkyard” ignores the reality of how the early earth was: not one “junkyard” but billions all under the same laws. Every human benefits from those laws everyday and those laws allow discoveries to be made and inventions to be created, from antibiotics, to cars, to computers, to GPS. These follow the theories that scientists have formed, and discoveries still support those theories, like the gravity waves just recently discovered and predicted by Einstein decades ago. Still no evidence for the Christian god or any gods.

    No one needs to deal with what happened before space-time, because there may not have been any. But we can, and again, no god needed; the laws of physics may be eternal. The universe could be just one of many, or one of a succession of “bangs”, we just don’t know. Still no need for a god. Christians have to invent that there is a need because they have to make up the part of the story where they need a god and that God must hit certain attributes or god doesn’t exist.

    Atheists have many more options than the ones that you want to declare as “real”, aka the only ones you want us to have. Scientists have theories on how the bang happened and how quantum particles became atoms, became chemicals, became us and everything else. So, now we have misinformation offered, either out of ignorance or a lie. You can read the wiki articles about big bang nucleosynthesis and the chronology of the universe. MIT has a nice document about this too: http://www.haystack.mit.edu/edu/pcr/Astrochemistry/3%20-%20MATTER/nuclear%20synthesis.pdf

    Pantheism is not the idea that energy can be around, or that the big bang can repeat. Pantheism is thinking that the universe is some “god” although how that is defined varies from pantheist to pantheist. One is based on science, the other, wishful thinking. Yep, there are some scientists who believe in a “god” but as Dawkins indicats, it’s not often the version of the Christian god presented here. As many times that a Christian claims that Einstein believes in their god, it’s still a lie. As many times as Newton is cited, the Christian forgets that this man didn’t believe in Christianity like they do. T

    Dawkins is not setting up an “entity”, as you would claim. Dawkins is saying the universe is the universe, nothing metaphorical about it, no anthropomorphism.

    You have returned to a common theist claim that nothing can explain intelligence, emotions, love, etc except for your god. That claim depends on ignorance and a desperate hope that science stops and goes no further. Every day, we are getting more and more answers on what does cause intelligence, emotions, etc. Scans of the brain show how emotions form and why. Studies in humans and other species show how intelligence works and often show how humans are ignorantly human centric when ignoring the intelligence of other animals. The cause is seen and the effect is understood. Emotions and intelligence exist and no one every has to make up a lie that we have to say that they do not. They don’t need a god or a soul or leprechauns. Your credible metanarrative is based on willful ignorance. And that is a shame.

    Now, we have the argument that your god must exist because there needs to be a “standard” and there has to be an objective “meaning”. Why does there have to be a standard? Nothing supports this as a requirement; but you do need something for your god to do and thus invent it. Progress can easily be measured, and yep, those measuements can be entirely subjective although they often aren’t, for instance less children dying because we improve medical knowledge. It isn’t meaningless at all. Again, reality trumps the false claims of theists who need to scare everyone into agreeing with them.
    You might care to notice that Postmodernism isn’t terribly important and it never was. You might also read some other books by atheists and scientists rather than just Dawkins. Why should genes exist? Why not? It may be just what happens when physics works. We don’t know yet, and still no need for gods. Genes may not have any meaning, but humans certainly do.

    The only reason I can see why you like your fairy tale that Dave is so very important that the universe was created for him is that its fun to feel that important. It makes you feel good that you are a special snowflake. It’s nothing more than a very human desire to feel powerful and loved. Humans really like doing this so this is why there are thousands of religions and why humans really don’t like religions other than their own because it shows that they might not be the special snowflakes they pretend to be. This is why atheists are so reviled. Our mere existence threatens your personal myth because we don’t need your god at all to be just as happy as you.

    You clam that God has proved he exists. It is indeed the Christian view that the claims of the bible are evidence for the events. However, it doesn’t work that way. The bible story is the claim, just like the story of the Iliad is a claim, or the stories of the Book of Mormon are claims. Now, claims need evidence to support them. We have archaeology that shows that there was a Troy and there were battles. What we don’t have is evidence that the Greek gods were there and that they exist. We have archaeology that shows that Palestine was occupied by people, that the Romans where there, that Egypt had great empires, etc. What we don’t have is evidence that supports the events of the bible happened and if they didn’t, where does this leave claims of a god who did them? No flood, no exodus, no fabulous Israelite kingdoms, no gatherings of thousands of men outside of Jerusalem, a fractious Roman occupied city, no major earthquake/dark sky/walking dead on one single day, no tomb.

    We also have the problem that the bible promises that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be able to do miracles like him, to heal, etc. There is a problem here since none of the self-proclaimed Christians can do this. Either they are doing something wrong and are not fulfilling some requirement to be considered a true baptized and believing follower, or the promise is false.

    1.The Jesus Papyrus is dated to around 200 CE. It is a repeat of a story that was known. If this is evidence for your god, then the fact that we have scientology books from the 70s is evidence that Xenu is an accurate historical figure. Who were the authors of the Gospels, Dave? The fact is bible scholars aren’t sure so your claims of external references to gospel authors is suspect. What are these external references? What scholars are sure of is that it was not the apostles. There is also the problems of the gospels having scenes where there were not witneses mentioned at all. What went in in Gesthemane and who could know?

    2. We may know in what order the books are written, but again, no evidence for the events supposedly portrayed in the book. Figuring out the order of events doesn’t make the events true; most any comic book is evidence of this as are the religious myths of other cultures. There is no evidence at all that the stories of the bible are eyewitness accounts, including what I have mentioned above. They were written long after, there were no possible witnesses at many events, and the gospels don’t agree on the events or the order.
    What happened in Gesthemane? What did the thieves do? Was JC stabbed or not? Who put JC in the tomb and what did they do? Who was at the tomb first? What did they do? Whom did they see? What did the apostles do after the cruxifiction? These are all mentioned in the stories and they directly contradict. Can there be two first? Can you touch someone and not touch them? Can one person be two people? If you can’t answer these questions, then you know that there are contradictions as opposed to what you claims.

    You assume that there was a Jesus and was a body. There needs to be neither for the story to still be told. Christians forget that other than “lord, liar or lunatic” this can simply be a legend. There doesn’t even need to be a swoon, theft or delusions. We know that theists aren’t good at getting their stories straight since we have hundreds of sects of Christians. Can they all be true in their claims? Nope, and it could be that none of them are true since there is no evidence. It’s always most curiouis that Christians will often claim how great the gospels match each other and then when its pointed out that they are not, they insist how great it is that they don’t match. Both can’t be true.

    It is a bit strange that an editor would shove together contradictory accounts. But we have an answer: There was no editor, so its not strange at all. There was a thousand plus year process to determine what could be in the bible by politicians and priests. It was decided by people who were ignorant and who had their own agendas. Anyone can put together a harmonized version; that requires cherrypicking your bible and saying parts of it are wrong. It’s a literary exercise but not a good one if you are trying to convince others that your god wrote/inspired the bible and you have to correct it for him. You’ve done a nice version. Too bad it’s not what the bible claims. The bible claims two angels, one angel or a man or no one at all. The bible says that Mary goes alone, and it says she goes with others. The bible says that Peter goes alone to the tomb and it says he goes with others. The bible says that all of the women embrace Jesus before they return to the apostles, or they don’t see him at all, or that Mary sees him after returning to the tomb and can’t touch him. The bible says that the apostles first see JC in Galilee or it says that they met him somewhere else first. You’ve done a great job at cutting and pasting the bible, rather like Thomas Jefferson.

    Each account gives conflicting details. You know this because you leave them out intentionally, Dave. Summarizing something doesn’t mean entirely changing the details. You’d get a F on an essay that says summarize the story if you made things up.

    Now, how all of this was supposed to support the claim that God is “good”, is a mystery.

    You claim that this world has marks of design. What are these marks and can you show that it was your version of the Christian god? There is no evidence for any of the essential events in the bible, including Jesus Christ. Humans may have a longing for something greater than ourselves, although there is no evidence of this at all and the existence of atheists who the claim to be nonsense. That is not evidence for your god, only that humans *may* share qualities since they are human. We might be aware of eternity, but not some god since humans can’t agree on what god. Your claim is baseless that humans are designed for worship.

    This worldview doesn’t work. Why? This god is just one more Bronze/Iron Age god that was invented, and does nothing. If this worldview worked, you would not have had to rewrite your bible make it makes sense to *you*. If this worldview worked, Christians would not be changing what their god “really” wants every generation?

    As an atheist, I have a very good idea where the world came from, and I use that same science to make my life comfortable. I am here because my parents wanted a child (and the laws of physics). There is certainly more than earth, and even the solar system. There’s an entire universe out there. Why do we need “more”? I do not need a magical carrot and stick to make me a humane human being. I certainly have a purpose: to live well and help others. I find that if my sole purpose is to be a plaything for a god, that may or may not damn me to eternal hell, that’s not very interesting.

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      • Yes – guessed that you meant that or we’d have a very interesting evening on our hands as everyone started asking questions about his startling new hypothesis! Probably best not to start correcting all our typos between us though or it could take some time 🙂

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  2. Thank you for your comments CS. The article is part 1 so part 2 will deal more with the “goodness side of things.” Re Richard Dawkins, no I don’t think all atheists worship Him. That would be odd as atheism has been around much longer than RD and would be a slightly ironic if they were worshipping him! However,, as I mentioned before, he is a published author who has been well read and so it seems reasonable to engage with what he writes. Now if you strongly disagree with Dawkins on anything and you think that in fact, his arguments undermine atheism then you’re free to both debate with him and when you’re building your own case to explain why you don’t find his arguments helpful. 3. The point about origins and whether something needs a cause is not “God doesn’t need a cause but the Universe does” it’s rather that in the end there is something or someone that/who is eternal -that’s a shared presupposition if you like. 4. I think it’s best not to throw attempted psycho analysis in discussion. This can also help us to be cautious when we may have misunderstood the point someone ins making. For example, the point I was making about certain types of debate not feeling right is simply a point for Christian apologists that we can slip into a theoretical discussion that treats God as a “what” rather than a “who” if we are not careful.

    Hope your day/evening (sorry -I can never quite get the hang of where everyone is time zone wise!) is going well.

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    • A something and a someone is quite different, Dave. We have billions of humans sure that their “someone” is the creator and they have no evidence for it. Science has shown that it may be a something, but we’re not sure yet.

      This is why I ask for evidence that your god exists and it does anything at all, including create.

      You chose to use the term “feel right”, Dave. You could have said exactly what you did as an explanation, and not implied a feeling of discomfort. This is why I think my “attempt at psychoanalysis” to be a valid one. Freudian slips and all.:) I’m in the eastern US, the lovely state of Pennsylvania.

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  3. Yes I did use the term “something feels wrong” – a deliberate choice of phrase not a slip. It might be a particularly English way of talking but we use that sense of “feel” in our descriptions sometimes. It’s sort of similar to the understatement I guess. – but do you see the point I’m making -for me I’m talking about a person, you don’t happen to believe in that person and so I do want to explain why I believe in them to you but they are not simply a hypothesis it’s someone I talk to, it’s someone I believe has communicated with us. So when I do apologetics it’s not just an intellectual exercise, there’s a sense of worship there. So the point is not duck the debate/evidence etc those things should be there. Or I guess another way of putting it is that the best way for you to be convinced that my friend isn’t imaginary is for you to somehow meet them. By which I don’t mean skip the rigorous discussion, the evidence etc. and hope you can conjure up some kind of mystical experience -but I do mean that there’s a difference between someone knowing God, saying they’ve met with Him and someone saying “yep your arguments and evidence have convinced me.” Or -as you put it so well, there’s a big difference between a something and a someone -that’s my point

    East side – so not too far behind us time wise then! I’ve only ever made two trips to the States – once was for business. I used to work in the aerospace industry and flew out for two days to California. Just two days there in a conference room presenting on business system specs then back out again. Al I got to see was from a car! The other trip was two weeks in New Hampshire – which was amazing, wonderful scenery -even the countryside is bigger than here! Highlights were a trip up Mount Washington ..and a visit to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont. Low lights -Hershies Chocolate ..what do they do to it? Oh and why would you want bacon along with pancakes and maple syrup?

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    • I do see the point you are making, that you consider your god an actual entity. The problem with this is that you cannot show that this entity exists as you would another person. My belief in an actual person exists is meaningless if that person exists, with all of the evidence and facts to support that. My belief will not change reality. If there are no facts or evidence to support the existence of something, your belief in it will not make it real.

      I assume you do not believe in the gods of any other religions, am I right? May I ask you why you don’t believe in them and that they communicate with their believers as you claim yours does? All religions make very similar claims but they are all sure that those “others” are wrong. I am told I can meet these gods, but when I do what I’m told to do in order to do so, nothing happens. Theists of various types claim that they are praying for me to meet this god, and nothing happens. For all of the claims of someone out there, there is no evidence for it at all. IF your god exists, it should be the same to say “yep, your arguments and evidence have convinced me” as saying I’ve met God. If it doesn’t exist, then it is very convenient to say that it has to be a different experience.

      Nope, not too far behind in time zone. I’ve been to Seattle but not to anywhere in California. Husband was in the military so he was there in the desert for training. New Hampshire is beautiful. Pennsylvania is much like it but not quite so steep in the mountains except the very center of the Appalachian ridge and valley system. Funny that you mention Hershey’s chocolate, I live about 12 miles from the original factory. I have no idea what they do to it, but I’m much more a fan of European chocolates. I like salty and sweet together but I’m not much of a fan of pancakes; no idea why most Americans have fetishized bacon. I’d have to ask you why would one want baked beans with eggs? 

      You have mentioned having a purpose in life. What do you think yours is?

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  4. Salty and sweet seems to be all the rage at the moment. I don’t know if it makes a difference that our baked beans come in a tomato sauce.
    Regarding other gods, yes the same sort of questions are relevant A couple of quick comments. First, when I’m thinking about belief, there’s a sort of filtering process -god or no god, distinct from (transcendent) or equivalent with nature, one or many. So, in that sense I don’t have to consider every single option.
    Secondly, I remember someone once saying that we end up asking the following big questions about truth claims. Does it fit with the world I know? does it fit with the me/us I know? Is it internally consistent? Is it liveable?
    Thirdly, there’s a link I think with past discussion on the Trinity and I am thinking that there may be a couple more articles to write around this – particularly focusing on the polytheism question. Essentially, I want to account for both the unity and diversity of creation. Polytheism for example doesn’t really account for the unity of things -and so quite often you find that behind polytheism is a kind of chief god or divine absolute – possibly of an impersonal nature.
    Fourthly, it hinges on the Gospel questions -what do I make of Jesus. So it’s primarily about a positive belief that in Jesus I find the answers.
    There’s possibly some stuff among this that I’ll flesh out in some future articles.
    Regarding purpose. I personally find the old catechism response the best expression of this. Our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. I also find John Piper’s take on this that in fact we glorify God by enjoying him helpful. In other words, by enjoying my relationship with him and the goodness of what he gives us. So purpose involves finding joy and delight. This joy and delight looks back to what God has done for me in Christ Jesus, enjoys the present experience of my relationship with Him and looks forward in hope to Christ’s return as the fulfilment of all things.
    For me personally these things include, enjoying my relationship with my wife. She’s a secondary (high school) English teacher so she encourages me to love literature and poetry. I enjoy learning about people and events, having curiosity, trying to be teachable. I also have a strong interest in processes and systems, finding the most effective way for things to work, analysing, questioning and challenging.
    Here, I enjoy being part of a wonderful, loving and caring church community. We’re blessed with diversity -age, ethnicity, socio-economic. It makes for an often messy, sometimes challenging always exciting life together.
    But in the end, I think that none of those things on their own or even together as a package come close to the joy of knowing that there is a God who is love who loves me.

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    • Well, to one who hasn’t grown up on beans in tomato sauce with eggs, it seems a bit odd.  A concept which dovetails well with what we are discussing, what is real and what we believe is real. You were raised told that the Chrisitan god was good and real. From what I can tell, you never questioned this subjective claim. I was raised that the Christian god was good and real and then started to question, following the evidence where it led, not forcing it into a priori beliefs. My preference for eggs and beans, or bacon and maple syrup, isn’t a fact, it’s subjective, and personal desire isn’t a way to determine what is true in the world.

      I understand that when you think of god you go from god or not god, transcendent or not, one or many. However, you can’t show that a god exists at all, so the attributes become meaningless in the absolute lack of evidence for a god. It’s like saying that mignulchorts are purple and tasty and can make you fly but there is no evidence for mignulchorts. You do have to consider every option since you can’t show that each option doesn’t exist or can’t be explained away by your own excuses for your own god. Claims for your god can be applied to any, that it doesn’t want found since that would take away free will, that only those who believe can see/experience it, etc. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Carl Sagan’s Dragon in My Garage essay: http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm It shows the moving target that most, if not all, theists use. An atheist can just point to physics and say “x” is the reason that god “y” can’t exist.

      Truth claims are not answered by someone saying does it meet with the truth they know, or in theists stories, claim to know, a classic a priori assumption. They are answered by posing the question “does the evidence fit the claim” in this case, we have claims of what the Christian god is, does the evidence support the claims? To claim that any truth must fit with you is more than a little silly, and another apriori assumption. It does help if things are internally consistent, but one must start from observation and investigation of the evidence and seeing if it, not the claim, is internally consistent. For example, an aerospace engineer, would consider the claim “does a saucer make a good aircraft”, then would gather evidence to see if it did or not; he would not say “a saucer makes a good aircraft”, and then only keeps the evidence that supports that claim. It is only “liveable” if it matches reality, not some a priori and unsupported claim of what reality supposedly is.

      There is and was arguments if there is a trinity or not in Christianity. And each type of Christian was sure that the other side was wrong, and had no evidence to support their claim. You claim that polytheism can’t account for the unity of creation: why not? I can make up a story that that it does: each god just happens to like the same stuff and make the same stuff. Can you show my story is wrong? What we do have is a scientific explanation why life has the same building blocks (at least here on earth), one that doesn’t need a god or gods. Yes, one does find a chief god in many pantheons, still no evidence of any existing at all, and not as described by human believers. And the Christian god is certainly not “impersonal”, so are you deciding to change what your god is to match other religions?

      Yep, I know all of your claims are based on the a priori claim that the Jesus story is true. A positive belief makes nothing true. Every theist in the world has the same positive belief that they find the answers in. Why do you claim that they are wrong?

      Other religions have the much the same claims of purpose for their believers; glorify their god/s, worship them, enjoy them in whatever afterlife. The problem is that your version requires a savior and theirs doesn’t. What is the “right” religion and how do we know? We’re also back to that goodness. It’s great that you enjoy the goodness this god supposedly gives you, but this god doesn’t give everyone this, not even every Christian. It does depend on how you define goodness. Is this something beneficial to humans, or just whatever you want to claim this god does, a might equals right argument? I find goodness to be what humans work very hard for to give each other.

      Since I enjoy my relationship with my spouse, what is different from the life of an atheist or a Christian of your type? My spouse is an English lit major (and a IT expert) and we both love reading. I’m a science nerd and we both love finding out about new scientific discoveries. I have a great community of friends, theists of all types, atheists, agnostics etc. Seems not much different at all in our lives. I just don’t have to imagine everyone who doesn’t agree with me being damned to some hell because they don’t (or can’t per your bible (romans 9) agree that my invisible friend is real. All your last sentence “But in the end, I think that none of those things on their own or even together as a package come close to the joy of knowing that there is a God who is love who loves me.” appears to say is what every other theist says, they are special snowflakes because some god “loves” them, all with no evidence at all. This god doesn’t even fulfill what the bible defines as love, 1 Corinthians, not a bad definition at all.

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  5. I think you’ll find baked beans in sauce a good different. I didn’t mind the US variety as much as I expected to. Re my faith experience. Yes my family are Christians and I grew up in that context – that’s not true of everyone in our church though. My wife was the first believer in her family. Now I haven’t had a major crisis where with hindsight I think could have abandoned faith but nor does that preclude points where I really was challenged, questioned things and investigated. Looks like so far we’ve drawn different conclusions.

    Nb The questions I suggested about things fitting the world we know and the me/ us we know are really another way of saying check the evidence around you and if you have a theory of everything or are looking for one then everything is evidence and I’m awake to ask questions about people and things. So does it fit with the me I know does not mean does it suit me but does it provide an accurate description of humanity from my observations of self and others. Asking about the world I know and internal coherence means we are checking for logical consistency as well as consistency with the external factors. That includes things like physics, chemistry, biology, human and physical geography, astronomy, archaeology etc. Livable moves to the practical/experiential. Just recently I saw an example at a museum of a test plane built to type out some ideas. The ideas were theoretically great but not effective in practice. So the design never moved beyond experiment.

    Some of these questions will come up in future posts.

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    • I do like baked beans so I’m sure I’d like the combination. I also rather like the black puddings in what I’ve had served as an “English” breakfast.

      You mention about not having a major crisis where you would consider abandoning your religion. I have a question: what would it take for you to come to the conclusion that your god does not exist?
      Would you agree that your observations of yourself and others are colored with your assumption that your religion is true? If it does then confirmation bias comes in, ignoring anything that doesn’t fit with your worldview. This can also be a problem with science but the scientific method is constructed to eliminate this bias, requiring observation, hypothesis, more observation/experimentation, theory and rarely law. No matter how much we might want to believe that there is ether between the planets, there is only a pretty hard vacuum.

      Logic only works if the premises are true. If your logical consistency is dependent on a premise that your version of the Christian god exists, and you cannot demonstrate that as true, every conclusion will fail, despite the logical construction of the argument.

      External factors e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, geography, astronomy, archaeology, entirely demonstrate that the claims of religion about the supposed “supernatural” and the events stemming from such things do not happen. If you have evidence to counter this, I ask to see it.

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  6. Thanks for your comments and questions. I think some of them -such as how assumptions colour observations have been covered in previous discussion about hermeneutics. You’re welcome to a pdf copy of “How do we know?” (click on the resources page and send me a request through the contact form. Will try and pick up on questions about the ‘supernatural’ when we get on to discussing creation in more depth.

    I hope you were given fried bread with your English Breakfast – it completes it better than toast does 🙂

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  7. Hi – it probably saves on repetition of things said previously elsewhere – or where there’s a plan to cover them later 🙂

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