Christianity is the Believer's Social Life, That's All it Is, Was or Ever Will Be

On a Christian Blog I had the following exchange today. See what you think:
czechaitian, said...I see Jesus as my center, empirically speaking, because it works for me-- makes sense of my experience, focuses my decision making, teaches me foundation and relationship and commitment, opens practical life opportunities. Why would anyone put something/someone at the center of their lives or mature toward something if that "something" is not producing measurable results?
My response:

For you Christianity is your social life. That's all it is. That's all it ever is. It does not require you to explain how God can think (since thinking demand weighing temporal alternatives); it doesn't require you to explain how three persons of the trinity just happened to be united who have always existed as a single Godhead; it doesn't ask you to explain why God created something in the first place given the amount of horrible suffering in the world and the fact that he was supposedly perfect in love neither needing nor wanting anything; it doesn't ask you to explain the criteria for the human DNA chosen that made up Jesus's body (since Joseph was not supplying any); it doesn't ask you to explain how Jesus is 100% man and 100% God with nothing left over; it doesn't require you to explain where the human resurrected body of Jesus will spend eternity (can it simply be discarded since this Jesus was sinless, or does a trinue God now have a member who is embodied forever); it doesn't ask you to explain how a cannabalized body can be resurrected; it doesn't ask you to explain why a supposedly timeless God now chooses to live forever in time subsequent to creation lest all of the results of human history disappear; it doesn't ask you to explain much of anything crucial to what you believe, and I could go on and on and on.

You believe because you worship in a community of other believers who give meaning to your life. Take you out of that community for a few months or more, read some books, and your faith could suffer and even die. A faith like yours should be sustainable apart from the Christian community of believers but you'll never attempt this, will you?

41 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

As I've said before, Christian beliefs are bizzaro. Someday I think I'll provide a more detailed list of the beliefs I consider bizarro.

Jon said...

Considering the limitations of the post, I cannot tell if you are addressing anything previously written by this guy, thus my response is also limited to the context you have posted. That being said...

I would appear (and you are welcome to correct me) that your response is more indicative of your experience than his. You seem to admit that once you personally left a body of believers, community, whatever, you lost your faith “because it wasn't real to begin with.” It would seem that “for you Christianity [was] your social life” and as such, anyone who follows Christianity must be the same. This is only an assumption based on the text provided, and I admit could easily be wrong. I do also recognize, however, that you noted one’s faith “could” suffer and die, as oppose to “would.” This is not unnoticed.

Lastly, considering the questions you posed as unanswerable, or previously unconsidered, not of these is seriously a matter of salvation. Even you know that, according to Scripture which you also studied, one does not have to understand God’s ways in order for them to be true. Logically, it helps, but as temporal beings to an eternal, we cannot see the ‘big’ picture and thus our logic will be limited…

The only question I didn’t understand was to “explain why a supposedly timeless God now chooses to live forever in time subsequent to creation lest all of the results of human history disappear.” Earlier you pose the question of his being in or outside of time, then seem to assume in time. I don’t understand. – The question assumes time will last forever, when forever of course isn’t bound by time… It also assumes that his being in creation keeps it from disappearing, which I have also never heard of. I would think that most Christians would say He is in AND outside of time, in that time, as a creation of God’s, does not limit him. He can operate outside of it; and as his creation, he can also interact inside of it. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive for an all-powerful God…

You are welcome to clarify the question, but I also recognize this was not the original purpose of this post.

Doug said...

OK, John and Jon -- I was over on that blog earlier so I have a little context here.

My response to both of you is this: how are you so certain what czechhaitian's beliefs are (as opposed to, say, experiences)? And why are you throwing in all this stuff about "trinity" and "salvation" and "Christian"? Someone mentions that they're interested in Jesus, but then all this other cruft comes up! This is exactly the kind of "talking past each other" that I see on both sides.

I was kind of intrigued with czechaitian's message because I seems as if there is a kind of openness to experience stuff that goes beyond doctrine and rigid belief systems. But you could certainly bring up that question on your own over there.

Steven said...

I think I might have responded more along these lines:

As living, breathing, and thinking people, we all try to understand the world around us and try to discover more or less universal rules to live by. The best and most reliable means of doing that is strongly coupled to empiricism, as long as we are wary of our personal biases. Most of us who are successful and happy think that we have at least some piece of "the truth," and we probably do, but maybe not in the way that we think (that's that personal bias problem).

However, the quest to find universal rules also means that if other living, breathing, and thinking people live successful, productive, and happy lives according to rules that are different from our own, then the rules we live by are either not universal, or they are not fundamental (or both). The fact that there are many different people that live successful, productive, and happy lives according to beliefs that are very different from each other strongly indicates that most of the beliefs that people follow are not fundamental nor universal.

In other words, the rules you live your life by may produce measurable results to you. But the range of validity of your beliefs may be limited (and you might not even know it).

In addition, there's the question of whether or not the results you are measuring accurately capture all of the effects of your beliefs and their impacts on the lives of other people who are equally successful but live differently from you. If you care about such things, and I imagine you do, then you should have much deeper questions about not just what works for you, but also about why other belief systems appear to have value to the people that live by them, and what you might learn from them.

goprairie said...

In that the biggest worry a new atheist often has is how their friends and family will take it, there does seem to be a huge social component. I have a fundie friend who believes he is a prophet, i.e. gets word from God, and it seems more important to be accepted as a prophet by others who are considered prophets as it does to DO anything with that word. I would think that if I believed in it all and got word direct, I would want to tell lots of people so they could benefit, but to him it seems more about social status.

Lvka said...

Christianity is the Believer's Social Life, That's All it Is, Was or Ever Will Be..

..and the believer's inner life.. (obviously)

It does not require you to explain how God can think (since thinking demand weighing temporal alternatives);

Your remark reminded me of the disputations between Patriarch Pyrrhus and Maxim Martyr during the Monothellite controversy.

it doesn't require you to explain how three persons of the trinity just happened to be united who have always existed as a single Godhead;

It doesn't require me to explain how exactly Adam and Eve could be one flesh, or how the Twelve Tribes of Israel could ever be one people either. Nor does it require of me to explain Talmudic proverbs like "friends are a heart that beats in two chests".

it doesn't ask you to explain why God created something in the first place given the amount of horrible suffering in the world

Did Gid create suffering or did we?

and the fact that he was supposedly perfect in love neither needing nor wanting anything;

If You're still thinking in terms of "need" or "want" You'll never be able to understand the notions of love and grace.

it doesn't ask you to explain the criteria for the human DNA chosen that made up Jesus's body (since Joseph was not supplying any);

Was there any need? Didn't God make everything out of nothing in the first place? If I was able to play with legos when I was a child, then why should God not be able to build unto Himself a house (Psalms 84:3) made out of the very atoms and molecules which no human body lacks?

it doesn't ask you to explain how Jesus is 100% man and 100% God with nothing left over;

It doesn't ask me to explain how I am 100% animal and 100% Angel at the same time, with nothing left over either.

it doesn't require you to explain where the human resurrected body of Jesus will spend eternity

... as opposed to where everybody else's resurrected bodies will spend eternity? (I don't get the emphasis of Your question)

can it simply be discarded since this Jesus was sinless?

No.

or does a trinue God now have a member who is embodied forever?

Yes.

it doesn't ask you to explain how a cannabalized body can be resurrected;

So do You have an issue now with "the problem of Life" as well, as opposed to Your usual laments about "the problem of evil" ?

it doesn't ask you to explain why a supposedly timeless God now chooses to live forever in time subsequent to creation lest all of the results of human history disappear;

What was the very purpose of creation in the first place? Need? Unfulfillment? Lack? (And why do You disdain the work of the Maker so much?)

it doesn't ask you to explain much of anything crucial to what you believe, and I could go on and on and on.

Feel free to.

You believe because you worship in a community of other believers who give meaning to your life. Take you out of that community for a few months or more, read some books, and your faith could suffer and even die. A faith like yours should be sustainable apart from the Christian community of believers but you'll never attempt this, will you?

Since God is Trinitarian, why do You even ask this in the first place? (What did the Trinity mean to You back when You were a Christian Yourself?)

Ender said...

Hmm... so is all this New Atheism we're creating just atheists forming a "we think theists are nuts" social network? Are we just following the evolutionary Good Trick of forming social bonds with those who share similar beliefs?

ahswan said...

John, your conclusion, "that's all it is," is illogical. I would tend to agree with Jon, who pointed out that this sounds more like your experience than his.

I would also point out that I would have problems with someone saying "I see Jesus as my center ... because it works for me."

There are many good, rational, theological reasons for putting Jesus as the center of your life, regardless of whether it "works" for someone or not. I have issues with any cause-and-effect approach to Christianity.

It appears that here, you have conflicting epistemologies. Your response, therefore, is irrelevant.

You finish, however, with an experiential challenge: to sustain Christian belief outside of the community. History has given us many, many examples of those who have sustained faiths very successfully in the absence of a supportive community.

Christ Follower said...

I wonder if John's critique is in a sense self-critiquing as it also attacks his position.

As he is now in a community of Atheists celebrating their freedom from what they deem to be a non-existent God?

I wonder if John's faith is sustainable apart from Atheist community of non-believers and his favorite atheistic philosophers?

Although the questions asked were nice and thought provoking, the same questions lies on the other spectrum for athiests. All the questions that John asks has been
thought about by Christians and there are books out there that addresses each. [as he is well aware ]

Now the questions he poses, note Athiesm has its own quandary from the creation of the universe from nothing, to morality, to the complexity of the cell, to human consciousness and even or especially evil.

For example, a christian that walks away from Christianity because he believes that God would have no reason for allowing evil in the world (and he/she should know the reasons) On monday morning has to still face evil.

Well in his/her worldview, i guess evil would become something that s/he personally dislikes. Since there would not be anything objective to define what evil is.

Furthermore, when he encounters "evil" he attributes it to the blind random processes of a uncaring world, and then you have to deal with genes and causation....

if true you can't fault an believer for "not seeing the light, and converting to the glorious final heat death of the universe." Because this belief is something that was passed on right? (Memes?) and could we hold not hold people responsible for their actions if they are determined right?

Rev. Ouabache said...

This ties in well to the fact that a large percentage of people who are raised Christian lose their faith while attending college. It's not because of some crazy "liberal conspiracy". It's because moving away to college is often the first time that many people are away from home and their church group. Makes perfect sense.

Raul said...

"opens practical life opportunities..."
I wonder,what's that about?

Peter said...

John W. Loftus,

I'd be interested to hear your follow up on Dave's NTRT blog - czechaitian and others have responded to your initial post. Hope to see you there!

Peter

Steven said...

CF,

These "quandries" that you think we have are not nearly so bad as you make them out to be. Especially when your characterization of them belie misconceptions on your part.

How the universe came to be is a question that many of us are curious about, but it's not a quandry for us. It is a question that we just don't have a complete answer to. It's a bigger quandry for you as you have to posit the existence of some greater being, and then try to come up with reasons why such a being would create the universe in the way that we see it. And another big question, why is 99.999999999% of the universe totally uninhabitable by life in any shape or form. At best, if you plucked up a human being and randomnly placed them somewhere else in the universe, that person would only survive a minute at best, nanoseconds at worst. That's not a universe designed for life in my book.

Questions about morality, life, and consciousness yield similar responses. They are not as great a quandry for us as you think they are. Yes we would like to know the answers to those questions, and in many cases we have plausible, but incomplete, explanations for how these things came about, but it is not as though suddenly having the answers to those questions would shake our positions on atheism, unlike the way these answers can shake the beliefs of certain faiths. At least we're honest about this and can say we don't know these answers. As a theist, you have to try to answer for all kinds cases where God has acted in what most of us would describe as a dubious fashion (at best). You have to answer for why God created life, but designed it so very poorly. You have to answer for why human consciousness and ability varies so widely, *and* you have to account for evil.

I'm not sure why you think atheism has a problem with evil. If there is one, it's nothing more than a restatement of the problem of morality.

John W. Loftus said...

I'm gone for the weekend but let me just say that if aheism is the case, which I think it is, then all a believer has is ritual, myth and social relationships. In my opinion it's delusional to think otherwise.

Cheers.

J.L. Hinman said...

I stuck up for you to my guys. I publicly proved that you studies with Craig and asked fundies who read the CARRE blog to not ever say you didn't do that again. I did that because I identified with your frustation.

Your little freinds have repaid me by attacking my personality and making as though my ABD status is some kind of failure and trying to crush me and my hopes and dreams destroy my psyche for no better reason than their inability to argue with me.

they can't answer my arguments so they try to destroy my psyche.

I refer to Russ's diatribe on the cadre blog.

This is what I would expect from a tireless self promoter but I though you were more than that.

As payment for trying to get fundies off your back and get some justice for the accomplishments you did make, you stand back and remain silent while they do to me what I tried to stop my guys from doing to you.

Jon said...

"if a[t]heism is the case, which I think it is, then all a believer has is ritual, myth and social relationships."

Case and point. It sounds like this was your experience, which makes me wonder how effective your ministry was when you were a pastor. People can tell when you really believe something or not... In actuality, quite a few people become pastors not knowing what else to do, but not seriously believing in the Christ they claim to follow. In which case, many congregants wonder the purpose of Christianity if the one preaching doesn't believe it himself.

Jason said...

Very true.

Scott said...

There are many good, rational, theological reasons for putting Jesus as the center of your life, regardless of whether it "works" for someone or not.

If Christianity doesn't "work" for human beings, then who benefits, God?

Would God be less great if he had decided not created human beings? Every Christian I've asked has said "No."

Does an all powerful and all knowing being need our help to ensure his plan is achieved?

Does God get lonely, so he need us to keep him company?

Does an all knowing God need us to tell him how great he is?

As such, it appears that the Christian God doesn't have any stake in this game. As a unchanging being who has always existed, he has nothing to loose and nothing to gain.

I have issues with any cause-and-effect approach to Christianity.

Given that Christians think our actions and beliefs effect where we'll spend eternity, I'm not sure what you mean by this comment. Care to elaborate?

Lvka said...

all a believer has is ritual, myth and social relationships

..and inner life..

ahswan said...

Scott, you asked, "If Christianity doesn't "work" for human beings, then who benefits, God?"

The answer, according to the Bible, is that everything was created for God's pleasure. That being said, God and man "benefit" from that.

Then you say, "As such, it appears that the Christian God doesn't have any stake in this game. As a unchanging being who has always existed, he has nothing to loose and nothing to gain."

I'm not sure what you mean by not having any "stake in this game," but essentially you are right. God does what he does because 1) he wants to, and 2) he said he would.

Re the "Cause and effect" issue, a modernist approach to theology tends to see everything as a more or less scientific, cause and effect way, where you do "this" and God will necessarily do "that." However, Christianity is a relationship based on God's promises, which really have nothing to do with what we do, except for our decisions to believe or not.

Many people, including Christians, see God as punishing those to fail to believe; I prefer CS Lewis' thoughts, that man essentially gets the eternity that he desires. That is, if you don't want to spend eternity with God, He won't force you to. The other option is thought of in various ways, most often as Dante's vision of Hell. Dante, however, isn't the Bible.

Bottom line, God isn't mechanistic, and neither is Christianity. It's all about a 2-way relationship, a friendship between man and God.

Steve said...

Religion is often (usually?) about seeking the safety of a community, the comfort of ritual, and the certainty of dogma. It provides easy answers to difficult questions. It offers security in an insecure world. Often, these effects linger when the faith has gone. I've just written on my FreeInfidel blog (http://www.freeinfidel.com) about how church weddings in the UK are declining now that there are more options other than dismal registry offices. Many people remain social Christians (or Jews, or Muslims) when they are, in fact, functional agnostics, even atheists.

ahswan said...

Steve, Humans have a basic need for community, "a place where everybody knows your name." Community can be built around many things. Atheists show this same need.

In drawing your conclusion, you've made a fundamental error of logic in assuming causation.

Christianity, however, is definitely about community. All you have to do is read through the Epistles to see that. However, that doesn't meant that it is only about community.

Scott said...

I'm not sure what you mean by not having any "stake in this game," but essentially you are right. God does what he does because 1) he wants to, and 2) he said he would.

If God truly gave us free will from which we can reject him, it appears that God would be willing to accept a scenario were no one chooses to believe in him and no one is saved. God would have met his promise, and his plan would still come to pass.

To use an analogy, God's plan is to open his 'hotel' for occupancy. He promises to let people stay if they meet his requirements, but is perfectly willing to turn those away those who do not. Should no one actually meet these requirements, he has not mortgage to pay or no payroll to meet. He has no corporate quota to maintain or CEO to impress with room occupancy statistics. Nor does he get lonely and need guests to keep him company. In fact, nothing is a challenge for God as he is all knowing and all powerful. Had he decided not to start this venture, he would have lost or gained nothing, as he does not change. As such, he has no stake in the outcome at all.

Re the "Cause and effect" issue, a modernist approach to theology tends to see everything as a more or less scientific, cause and effect way, where you do "this" and God will necessarily do "that." However, Christianity is a relationship based on God's promises, which really have nothing to do with what we do, except for our decisions to believe or not.

If God is going to grant us salvation, then there must be some concrete requirements that God deems necessary for us to receive it. Otherwise, God is arbitrarily choosing those who he grants salvation.

For example, If our salvation depends on the factual nature of Jesus' physical death and resurrection, is this not cause and effect? Or was this event optional, just as God doesn't really need us to keep him company?

I prefer CS Lewis' thoughts, that man essentially gets the eternity that he desires. That is, if you don't want to spend eternity with God, He won't force you to.

I find this position quite confusing.

Would you consider the statement "You not want to spend an eternity with Poseidon or Zeus." accurate, or do you merely think they do not exist? Should you die and find yourself face to face with Zeus, should he assume you'd rather not spend an eternity without him ? Would you find it reasonable of Zeus decide your eternal fate based on your assessment of him before your death instead of what you know of him after (that Zeus exists)?

Yes, I enjoy living. Yes, I miss those who have passed on. Yes, I would like to see how humanity develops after I die. But I fail to see how a desire for such things makes choosing which immaterial being I'd rather spend eternity with before I die compulsory.

Instead, it merely appears to be the key plot point in a story created by a superstitious culture to make sense of the world they live in and manipulate the behavior of others.

If we enter the realm of what I'd wish to occur after my death, or what I'd consider the most likely form or actions a perfect being would take, the Christian God fits neither of these descriptions.

He is infinite, yet has boundaries. He hides from us, yet is jealous when we turn to other Gods that do not exist. He is all powerful and all knowing, but thought the best response to humanities' sinful, fallen nature was to kill of nearly all of humanity with a global flood. [Which solves the problem, how? Was God just buying time so Jesus could finish his training to be the messiah?]

It just doesn't add up.

Dante, however, isn't the Bible

What of 1 Cor. 7:9 and Mat. 5:21-30, to say the least?

Bottom line, God isn't mechanistic, and neither is Christianity. It's all about a 2-way relationship, a friendship between man and God.

So If I help God finish the deck on the back of his house and catch the big game with him on the weekend, he'll give me eternal life?

Lvka said...

Steve and ahswan and John,

since the Christian God is a Trinity, why do You keep asking "why communion" ? Isn't it obvious?

ahswan said...

Scott,

I'm still not sure where you're coming from with your "not having a stake in the outcome" concept. But, yes... God, being self-sufficient, has nothing to lose. Should this matter?

Re "cause and effect," if you want to define "belief" as a cause, then there is an outcome; there are outcomes to all of our choices. However, this is not a typical mechanistic cause and effect scenario. For example, God's grace and mercy temper his wrath; this is not "cause and effect."

Our legal system is in some ways similar: there are laws and prescribed punishments; however, there are also human judgments involved that can impact whether any punishment actually happens. In a pure cause and effect system, this would not be the case.

The CS Lewis reference is from The Great Divorce; it's essentially that man chooses what outcome he wants.

Re helping God build his deck, essentially, yes. That would imply that you believe in him and that you want relationship with him, and that you're working with him. However, if you're just working for a wage, that's not relationship.

Recall that Christianity is the only faith that is not based on human effort; it's based solely on belief. Of course, if you believe something, your life will eventually reflect that belief.

So, Scott, you get to choose what and who to believe, and you get to be responsible for your own life.

Scott said...

I'm still not sure where you're coming from with your "not having a stake in the outcome" concept. But, yes... God, being self-sufficient, has nothing to lose.

Without the potential for loss, how can God gain anything? If he is all powerful, he takes no risk and there is no challenge. If he is all knowing, he learns nothing from the experience. The idea that God somehow has a stake in whether anyone is actually saved or not appears to be a contradiction.

Should this matter?

If you admit God's omni-traits as the 'means' which proves the claims of Christianity, this same evidence implies God would have the means (and opportunity) to do anything logically possible. For example, God would also have the means (and opportunity) to cause leukemia in children or cause tsunamis that have killed millions. As such, means alone is insufficient - you need motive.

But you claim that God has nothing to loose and needs nothing. Had God decided to do or create absolutely nothing at all, he would be just as great. As such, It's unclear how you can reasonably link God to any particular event or behavior. Saying God does what he wants because he can is insufficient.

Re "cause and effect," if you want to define "belief" as a cause, then there is an outcome; there are outcomes to all of our choices. However, this is not a typical mechanistic cause and effect scenario. For example, God's grace and mercy temper his wrath; this is not "cause and effect."

Should we not expect God to behave in a uniform manner? Does he make choices that appear to be arbitrary? If so, then what reason do we have to assume he exists?

Our legal system is in some ways similar: there are laws and prescribed punishments; however, there are also human judgments involved that can impact whether any punishment actually happens. In a pure cause and effect system, this would not be the case.

First, what you're describing is complexity, not a lack of cause and effect. Judges make decisions based on the sum of their past experiences, the specific details of the case, the mood they happen to be on that day and a multitude of other factors. Without cause and effect, there could be no complexity or means to evaluate it. Instead, you seem to be advocating some kind of "magic" to explain God's failure to act in a uniform manner and keep his promises when reasonably taken at face value.

Second, In most cases, our legal system is based on actions that cause concrete effects. We have murder one, murder two, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, manslaughter and even vehicular homicide. Yet God's laws are primarily based on his decrees. For example, pre-marital sex isn't wrong because it might cause unwanted pregnancies, but because God deems it wrong. Suggesting God could decide pre-martial sex could be OK in some instances, but not others, makes his actions appear even more arbitrary.

The CS Lewis reference is from The Great Divorce; it's essentially that man chooses what outcome he wants.

I'm aware of the premise and it's origin; what's in question is, does this premise seem reasonable under the lens of critical thinking.

Again, should you die and find yourself face to face with Zeus, should he assume you've chosen to spend eternity without him or that you simply thought he did not exist? Since you died without believing Zeus existed, do you think you'd deserve being eternally separated in either case?

In the extremely rare case that an infinite, perfect, intelligent agent does exist, I think it's highly unlikely he would fit the description of the Christian God. As such, why would I choose a God who seems unlikely to exist? That's like betting on the horse you think most unlikely to win, or buying stock you think is most unlikely to increase in value.

Re helping God build his deck, essentially, yes. That would imply that you believe in him and that you want relationship with him, and that you're working with him.

You seem to have conveniently linked relationships and existence with implied ability and past achievement. However, we see many real-world examples where no such link exists.

Let's take my friend. I believe he exists, but I do not believe he knows how to build a deck. In fact it's likely that, without help, he'd waste most of the lumber he's bought and have little to nothing to show for it. Despite the fact that I wouldn't depend on him to do anything that required physical coordination or mechanical aptitude, he has an unusual way of looking at things and I enjoy spending time with him.

On the other hand, I believe there are people who are much better at building decks than I am, but whom I am not friends with. I know these people exist, as I've seen their work and met a few in person, but I do not have, nor do I want, a relationship with them.

I could also think that, on paper, God would have the ability to save me, but that he does not exist.

Do you think any such a relationship with God would meet the Christian requirement for salvation?

Personally, I think a God who is wise enough to know the right actions to save us and who is powerful enough to take them could have prevented us from winding up in this predicament in the first place. This is one of many reasons why I think it's very likely that God does not exist. To quote Albert Einstein, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." An unchanging God who learns nothing from his experiences seems to be an unlikely candidate.

So, Scott, you get to choose what and who to believe, and you get to be responsible for your own life.

Christianity tells us we are flawed beings that are incapable of rising above our sinful nature without God. It tells us things will only get worse and worse until Jesus returns and we are helpless to stop it. It tells us any peace humans might bring about is ultimately false and will eventually fail. If we believe these things are true, how does this foster a sense of responsibility for our actions?

ahswan said...

Scott, at the risk of over-simplification, God's motive is unconditional love. Unconditional love is by definition outside of any cause-effect system.

As for us and our responsibility, we have Free Will. Even in the Calvinistic view of total depravity, there is the concept of prevenient grace; that is, free will given to us in spite of our natural inability to choose good.

However, not everyone holds to this kind of anthropology. The Eastern Orthodox, for example, place emphasis more on man being created in the image of God, with the ability and responsibility to choose for himself.

Free will - which the Bible clearly teaches - makes us responsible for our actions.

Scott said...

Ahswan,

Yes, it does seem quite simplistic.

As with terms such as 'infinite' and 'perfect', it appears that Christianity has redefined the term 'unconditional love' in an attempt to harmonize God with the world we observe.

For example, God puts conditions on his unconditional love, such as being human. And even then, he makes exceptions depending on your geographic location and what century you live in. Animals are apparently are exempt from God's unconditional love, as are entire cultures that happened to occupy the land of his chosen people around 400BC. (The question of why a unconditionally loving God would have a chosen people is left as an exercise for the reader)

Despite the significant trauma we observe from those who return from war, a unconditionally loving God forced his people to do his own dirty work. He could have simply administered his own punishment, as God is supposedly omnipotent. Instead He demanded we commit violence, which desensitizes and conditions us to the very behavior he otherwise denounces. And instead of just making people disappear into thin air, God decided they should die a painful death by the sword or drown in a global flood.

Last, but not least, God decides to eternally seal one's fate based on conclusions they've reached based on incomplete information. We can't change our mind. Even if Hell is just separation from God (which even Jesus seems to disagree with) how to you reconcile this decision with God's supposed unconditional love?

Unconditional love is by definition outside of any cause-effect system.

How is this a motivation to create us in particular?

By definition, unconditional love has nothing to do with creation. It doesn't even require more than one entity as one could unconditionally love themselves. Yet God, who Christians claim would have lost nothing and remained just as perfect had he not created anything, decided to create angels, human beings and the universe.

Why did he do his?

Did God know he'd unconditional love human beings if he created them? Did God know we'd want to exist? So why stop with us?

If God is omnipotent, he'd know there would be a near infinite number of beings that would want to exist, which God would love unconditionally. And since God is infinite and all powerful, there would be no limit to the number of beings he could create.

As such, it appears that Christians theology has artificially linked the creation of human beings with their definition of unconditional love.

As for us and our responsibility, we have Free Will.

You speak of free will as if it is a "magic" force that allows us to overcome biological biases, lack of knowledge, etc. On what basis do you assume such a force actually exists in reality?

Free will - which the Bible clearly teaches - makes us responsible for our actions.

I'm quite aware of what the Bible and even Calvanmism teaches. The question were asking here is, given what we now know, why should we think these teachings are actually true.

While the people who wrote them might have had the best of intentions and did they best they could with the information they had, this in no way means these teachings are correct, or that we should still follow them today.

ahswan said...

Scott, free will is no magic power. Tell me, do you have free will? Or do you believe you are under the control of your genetic programming?

This is starting to feel like a discussion in the middle Matrix movie. '-)

btw, if we're both responding according to our dna, then we're in a seemingly endless loop.

Philip R Kreyche said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

Scott, free will is no magic power

If our choices are not based on cause and effect, then how is it different than 'magic?' What else would you call it?

Also, how could an omnipotent God create true free will?

For example, imagine God wanted to create a car frame that would crumple under some impacts, but not others. In creating the frame, God would need to choose an specific amount of force at which the frame should crumple, then create the frame with a specific alloy that would crumple at that precise force. If God left the amount of force undetermined or left the composition of the frame undefined, the car frame might not even support it's own weight under the earth's gravity. By leaving any of these factors ambiguous, the results could be radically different than what God would have wanted. But, by defining them, God determines exactly which amount of force crumples the frame.

Since God is omniscient, he would know exactly what composition would be required to withstand the force. Being omnipotent, he would create the composition exactly to the required specifications.

The only way the frame would crumple differently under the same force would be if the laws of physics or the composition of the frame were different at each impact. But, for this to occur, God must intentionally, omnipotently and specifically change the composition of the frame or temporality and locally change the laws of physics for the frame in some impacts, but not others.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that it's even possible for God to to take an action which he does not know the result. If God arbitrarily changed the laws of physics, who knows what might occur? God might cause a rift in the space time continuum or cause some kind of chain reaction that could extend beyond impact itself. The same can be said for arbitrarily changing the composition of the frame. As such, God simply can't leave things undefined and expect something remotely close to what he wants to occur. And he would need to intentionally choose to intervene in some situations, but not others.

In the same way, if we exhibit the ability to make different choices, there must be some concrete process that causes a particular choice. Otherwise, our choices would be ambiguous.

Of course, the Bible presents a different view, which leads Christians to claim human choice is uniquely immune to cause and effect. However, this claim appears to be nothing more than a form of special pleading. This is why I used the word 'magic' in my earlier comment.

Tell me, do you have free will? Or do you believe you are under the control of your genetic programming?

You've created is a false dichotomy. Genetics are only one of many factors.

What we observe are human beings, and even animals, making choices. And, based on our these observations, these choices are caused on our past experiences, current knowledge and our biological makeup. We have no substantial evidence that anything but electro-chemical processes are responsible for the choices we make.

btw, if we're both responding according to our dna, then we're in a seemingly endless loop.

Based on your comment, it's unclear if you know what DNA is and how it's used by living organisms.

We do not play back our DNA like a record. Nor is it a play-by-play instruction book that dictates our every response. Instead, It controls the expression physical traits.

To use a computer analogy, our DNA is like the instructions used to build a computer's hardware and BIOS (low level startup instructions.) However, these are just two parts of the entire system, which cannot do much of anything on their own and their behavior is essentially hard-wired.

What makes computers so useful is that they have large amounts of read-write storage and are designed with a general purpose instruction set - both of which can except input from external sources. As such, a computers behavior is highly dependent on installed applications, the operating system that supports them, input from the user or other sources.

For example, the computer I'm typing on right now is an Apple MacBook Pro, which uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. At the moment, the operating system it's running is Mac OS X and I'm typing this text into an application called TextEdit. However, using this same hardware, I can also boot into Windows VIsta, Windows XP and even Linux. I can even run both Mac OS X and Windows Vista concurrently. My computer's "DNA" has not changed, but it's OS and applications have, which causes significantly different behavior.

However, due to age or a manufacturing defect, there might be a few bad bits on my computer's memory or on it's hard drive. I might input perfect photograph, but get out a slightly distorted copy. If I install and run an application, it might shift a result by 2 places, or return true in one comparison where it should have returned false. A defect in the computer's audio card may cause it to capture only a subset of the normal frequency range, giving a incomplete or distorted recording.

In both cases, these low level defects influence the streams of data that enter and leave the computer, which ultimately changes the result. Similar issues can occur when people write code which can return different results than what was original intended in one or more situations.

As human beings, the line between hardware, bios, operating system and applications are not nearly a clear. But we constantly receive new input from a variety of sources and our "hardware" is capable of tainting or biasing our perception and choices.

What we do know is that the 10 billion neurons and 1 trillion synapses of our brain are part of a parallel network so complex, it's impossible to simulate with our current level of computer technology. Even if this were not a problem, we lack the technology to sample all of the information necessary to create such a simulation in a non-destructive manner.

As such, claiming that only God could explain human choice is like claiming a particular word is not in a book you've only read two pages of. it's an argument from ignorance.

ahswan said...

Scott, lighten up. I was making a joke.

And talking about false dichotomies, cause and effect or free will? Those are your only choices? Perhaps you should go watch the Matrix trilogy again...

(that was another joke.) Although, there are worse movies to watch...

Scott said...

And talking about false dichotomies, cause and effect or free will?Those are your only choices?

This is what I'm asking. If it's not magic, nor is it cause and effect, then what else is left? Random quantum fluctuations?

A God who designed our system of choice around random influences doesn't seem very concerned with the outcome.

ahswan said...

Free will: we have the ability to accept or reject God's grace. Our choice has consequences, but they are not mechanistic or prescribed. I hit you on the nose; you have the option of how to respond.

Now, if I choose to drink poison, I will die. Maybe. Perhaps someone else with free will, like a nice paramedic, will save me. But if I die, is that punishment? In a way, but it's merely me getting what I chose. Is this cause and effect? Not really- there are consequences to our actions, but not in any mechanized sense.

jdcastro said...

Christianity does not teach free will, despite all these "Christians" claiming it does. According to the Bible (if you've ever read it), man is free to do what he wants, but not able to resist the downward pull of his sinful nature. The will is held captive and so is not truly free in the moral sense.

ahswan said...

jdcastro, apparently you couldn't "resist" commenting. ;-)

Actually, what you're talking about is more Augustinian than Biblical. Try reading Romans 8 once again. The "captive will" concept was not commonly taught (if it was at all) by the early church. Read Chrysostom, for example.

Scott said...

Ashwan,

You still haven't provided a reason why people make specific choices outside of cause or effect. You simply assert that we do, based on biblical claims. This appears to be nothing more than special pleading.

Care to address my arguments above?

Perhaps I can illustrate the problem with a different perspective.

It appears that you think God could take the free will he supposedly gave us while leaving us with the exact same physical bodies, brains and nervous systems we have now. How do you think we would we behave if this occurred? Would we stop making choices?

If humans would suddenly stop making free choices due to God "removing" the free will he bestowed upon us, then how is it any different than "Magic?"

ahswan said...

Scott, "Magic" is, of course, an extreme type of cause and effect, where the effect seems to have no causal connection with the cause.

Why do people choose what they choose? That's a different question that "if" they can choose. You could ask BF Skinner, or Freud, or any number of folks; many of them may be partially true.

People make choices based upon emotions, desires, habits, and also because of our intellect, our wisdom, our common sense... whatever you wish to call it. I don't agree with Skinner, by the way; I think our ability to make choices overcomes a mere stimulus-response dynamic.

Scott said...

Ashwan,

This is the dilemma: We have to get from nothing to human beings which make choices. You claim, if it wasn't for God we wouldn't make free choices, yet God is not responsible for the choices we make and he can eternally judge us for them. How does this actually work?

For example, if God decided he was going to create human beings that age, he either has to constantly degrade our bodies using some kind of supernatural force or create a biological / physics-based system that brings this process about.

We know our cells degrade due to various forms of radiation we are exposed to. We also know such a biological system exists because some children are born with a condition that causes them to age prematurely. When we compare this system with people who age normally, we see significant differences.

Unfortunately, these systems are extremely complex and are also involved with other aspects of cell regulation, such as killing off runaway cells (cancer), etc. A more complete understanding would allow us to repair this system and cause them to age at a normal rate, without causing adverse side-effects.

Now we come to your claim that God decided to create human beings with free will. We have he same dilemma, as we have to get from nothing to beings that freely choose. I've explored both options in comments above, which you have yet to respond to.

Nor have you provided any alternatives other than an assertion based on biblical claims, which really isn't an alternative.

I think our ability to make choices overcomes a mere stimulus-response dynamic.

I'm not suggesting it's simple. But you're implying something more than a vast amount of complexity - you're implying "Magic."

ahswan said...

Scott, I don't believe in "zero." I do think you're making the anthropology way too complicated.

With the issue of free will, we have something of a Godelian problem; we can never prove it without information from a "higher" source. We may think we have free will, but even that belief could be determined. If you don't accept any such source, such as the Bible, then we're stuck. Or, at least you are... ;-)

It's been fun, but I need to move on from this discussion.

Scott said...

Ashwan,

Scott, I don't believe in "zero."

Does Christianity not claim that, before God's act of creation, nothing else existed? Perhaps you can clarify this statement?

I do think you're making the anthropology way too complicated.

So, it appears we've gone full circle and come back to magic.

With the issue of free will, we have something of a Godelian problem; we can never prove it without information from a "higher" source.

You're position appears to be that we cannot falsify the Christian claim that God gave us free will. I disagree. Should we able to exhaustively decipher the vast amount of electro-chemical activity which we know occurs in our brains and use it to create a simulation that exhibited the same behavior of choice, this would be sufficient falsification. Wouldn't you agree?

We may think we have free will, but even that belief could be determined. you don't accept any such source, such as the Bible, then we're stuck. Or, at least you are... ;-)

This depends on your definition of free will.

Your definition is based on the claim that, despite having created us with free will, God is not responsible for our choices and can judge us for them. Yet you seem unable to explain how this works. Nor does there seem to be a reason for this belief other than Biblical assertions or that you merely prefer it over alternate options.

What I would prefer and what I think are true are two different things.

It's been fun, but I need to move on from this discussion.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree