Paul Draper’s Argument from Evil (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 1, 2010 in Guest Post,Problem of Evil

Now that looks painful.

Now that looks painful.

Guest blogger John D of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought. Visit John’s blog for more helpful summaries of contemporary philosophical works.

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In this series, I am looking at Paul Draper’s article “Pain and Pleasure: An evidential Problem for Theists.” In it, Draper argues that certain observations (O) we have made concerning the biological utility of pain are less likely on the hypothesis of theism (T) than they are on the hypothesis of indifference (HI). Or, in formal terms:

Pr(O|T) < Pr(O|HI)

In part 1, I introduced some of the key concepts upon which Draper relies in making his case. In this part, I will summarise the main chunk of Draper’s argument. If as you read this and you start to think “Wait a minute! What about theistic rationales for the existence of pain?”, I can only chide you for your impatience. Those issues will be addressed in part 3.

The Biological Utility of Pain

If one lives an insulated, urbanised, sanitized and anesthetized lifestyle – which I personally do – one can often be oblivious to the rather grim cruelty in the natural world. But hearing a pig squeal as its throat is slit – which I once did – can be quite a wake-up-call.

I mention this because unlike typical arguments from the existence of pain (or evil) to atheism, Draper’s argument predicates itself specifically on a problem arising from the biological utility of pain. That is, pain of the type experienced by the pig as its throat is slit.

To make sense of this, Draper needs to explain what he means by biological utility. This begins with a formal definition of what a goal-directed biological system is. Paraphrasing slightly,

A system (S) is goal-directed, just in case for some property or characteristic (G) that S exhibits, environmental changes are such that (i) if no compensating changes occurred in S then S would no longer G; and (ii) if compensating changes occurred in S, then S would continue to G or would repeat G.

Classic behaviorist experiments illustrate what this means. Imagine a rat in a box with a lever in front of it. If the rat presses the lever, he will receive a food reward. So the rat receives compensating changes for exhibiting lever-pressing behavior and is likely to do so. The rat is thus a goal-directed system.

The next important definition is that of “biological goals.” According to Draper, “biological goals” are the environmental changes that induce goal-directed behaviours. So in the case of the rat, receiving food rewards must be one of its biological goals.

Finally then, we reach the definition of “biological utility.” This refers to subcomponents of a biological system (Xs) which are deemed biologically useful if (i) they causally contribute to a biological goal and (ii) their contribution is not accidental.

So, sticking with the rat-in-a-box example, the rat’s eyesight might be deemed biologically useful because it allows him to see the lever and coordinate his actions so as to press the lever and receive the food reward.

Now the key to understanding Draper’s argument is that pain and pleasure are biologically useful. That is to say, pleasure helps to attract us to biologically useful things and pain detracts us from biologically damaging things. That this is true is illustrated by the disastrous biological consequences for people who cannot feel pain (a condition known as congenital analgesia).

It is also true to say that not all pain (or pleasure) is biologically useful. Sometimes it is biologically gratuitous. For example, the pain felt by the squealing pig was biologically gratuitous because although pain may often help a pig to avoid deadly situations, it did not help on this occasion. Something similar can be said about the pleasure experienced by the heroin addict.

(click for full size to read text)

(click for full size to read text)

The Argument Restated

As mentioned at the outset, Draper’s argument is that our observations (O) of biologically useful and gratuitous pain are less probable on T than they are on HI. Before showing that this is the case, Draper needs to restate his argument using some theorems from the probability calculus.

First, he divides O into three separate observations:

O1. Observations of moral agents experiencing pain or pleasure that is biologically useful.

O2. Observations of sentient beings that are not moral agents experiencing pain or pleasure that is biologically useful.

O3. Observations of sentient beings experiencing pain or pleasure that is not known to be biologically useful (and likely to be biologically gratuitous).

This means that the original probabilistic formulation of the argument can be restated as:

Pr(O1 & O2 & O3|T) < Pr(O1 & O2 & O3|HI)

Which can in turn (using a theorem from the probability calculus) be restated as:

A: Pr(O1|T) × Pr(O2|T & O1) × Pr(O3|T & O1 & O2)

B: Pr(O1|HI) × Pr(O2|HI & O1) × Pr(O3|T & O1 & O2)

Pr(A) < Pr(B)

The significance of this restatement is that as we consider the likelihood of O1, O2 and O3 given the respective hypotheses (T and HI), we will not be considering them in isolation from each other. Instead, we will be considering the likelihood of each observation given the truth of hypothesis and the preceding observation.

Anyway, let us now consider the probability of each multiplicand in the above restatement.

Moral Agents and Pain or “Pr (O1|T) vs Pr (O1|HI)”

Human beings are, we assume, moral agents. This means that they can appreciate themselves as having moral rights and duties, and they can cultivate an awareness of things that are morally valuable. They are also biological systems that experience biologically useful pain and pleasure.

Draper points out that there is something unique about pleasure and pain that is more troubling for T than it is for HI. What he points out is that, according to many moral theories, pain and pleasure have an intrinsic moral value. That is to say, we would only ever be justified in inflicting pain if there was some overwhelming moral reason for doing so.

This implies that God, as a morally perfect being, would need to have some moral reason for allowing moral agents, such as human beings, to experience pain. A biological reason for allowing pain would not be enough.

Of course, the problem is that even if pain is morally justified it is also clearly observed to be biologically useful. This, Draper submits, makes more sense on HI than it does on T. After all, God could have arranged things so that pain was only experienced in cases where it was morally justified and not in cases where it was merely biologically useful.

Point one for HI.

1. Sentient Beings and Useful Pain or “Pr (O2|T & O1) vs. Pr (O2|HI & O1)”
We move on then to consider the second of our observations: sentient beings that are not moral agents experiencing pain or pleasure that is biologically useful. Remember that we consider this observation on the assumption that T and O1 are true.

This presents another conundrum for the theist. For if T and O1 are true, it must have already been established that pain serves some moral function. To turn around and discover that non-moral beings are experiencing biologically useful pain that cannot serve the same moral function is surprising.

Draper admits that this is not a clear-cut case, but it is at least somewhat less surprising on HI than it is on T.

Point two for HI.

1. Sentient Beings and Gratuitous Pain or “Pr (O3|T & O1 & O2) vs. Pr (O3|HI & O1 & O2)”
The final nail in the coffin is the observation that sentient beings, both moral and non-moral, experience pain that is not obviously biologically useful and sometimes gratuitous. This presents two problems for the theist.

First, on theism we have at least some reason to expect sentient beings (particular non-humans) to be happy. To find that many such beings suffer intense and prolonged suffering is disturbing. To override this disturbance we would like to see a connection between intense suffering and moral goods such as virtue and justice. The problem is that we don’t see this connection. After all, non-moral agents (e.g. the squealing pig) do not have access to these moral goods.

Second, on HI we can expect biologically gratuitous suffering to be a byproduct of an indifferent process of biological evolution. This would suggest that all gratuitous pain should ultimately arise from the pathological failure of biological systems to function properly (e.g. pain from terminal cancer). Or from the appropriate response of biological systems in situations where they cannot be biologically useful (e.g. the excruciating pain experienced by someone being burned alive).

The fact that the gratuitous pain we observe does indeed arise from the failure or appropriate response of otherwise useful biological systems is another mark in favour of HI.

(click for full size to read text)

(click for full size to read text)

Conclusion

From the above, Draper concludes that the biologically useful, although sometimes gratuitous, nature of pain and pleasure makes more sense on HI than on T.

That’s it for now. In the next part we will consider whether any proposed theodicies can improve the lot of T.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Erika June 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Two comments.

First, a minor comment, your use of the “strike” phrasing is confusing. Such phrasing, at least in the US, is usually used as strikes against something (i.e., the batter’s POV, not the pitcher’s).

Also, I have to disagree with Draper’s argument that O1 is more consistent with HI than T. In particular,

That is to say, we would only ever be justified in inflicting pain if there was some overwhelming moral reason for doing so.

This statement and the surrounding discussion seem to imply that biological necessity is not a sufficient justification for pain, but I do not see why that it so. Saying, that pain and pleasure have intrinsic moral value according to many moral systems does not seem sufficient to show that biologically useful pain is fundamentally more problematic under T than HI.

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lukeprog June 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Oops, I had forgotten to update John’s ‘strike’ idiom in this post. Thanks.

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TaiChi June 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

“That is to say, we would only ever be justified in inflicting pain if there was some overwhelming moral reason for doing so.

This implies that God, as a morally perfect being, would need to have some moral reason for allowing moral agents, such as human beings, to experience pain. A biological reason for allowing pain would not be enough.” ~ JohnD

This bit doesn’t follow – just because God allows pain does not mean that he inflicts it, and so the case hasn’t been made that God would need moral justification to allow pain.

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Zeb June 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

This bit doesn’t follow – just because God allows pain does not mean that he inflicts it, and so the case hasn’t been made that God would need moral justification to allow pain.  

I figure the reasoning is that god could have worked out the biology to avoid pain, unless there was some moral necessity to have it as it is.

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Bill Maher June 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I really enjoy John D’s writings, especially those on his blog.

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Gimpness June 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I agree with Zeb, I think that is the reasoning. They way I thought about it was as follows. If God is a perfectly moral being then he could have set it up so that biology and the associated forms of pain are only inflicted on and cause pain to immoral moral agents (pain that has no biological purpose or goal). That would provide a morally justifiable reason for allowing the pain. But what we find is that all people are inflicted with these forms of pain regardless of morality and so it appears to serve neither a biological or moral goal. Due to its rather uniform distribution there is no moral justification for allowing such pain or that we do not know the criteria for justification if there even is or could be any.

Furthermore we find that animals which we assume to not be moral-agents also suffer from the same kinds of gratuitous pain (no biological function e.g the pig example)or moral one as they are amoral. These are at odds with Theism even if we allow for biological evolution.
For one of the success stories of evolution are viruses. Viruses succeed by inflicting pain on other organisms for reproductive gains. Couldn’t God have made it so that viruses spread wellness via symbiotic relationship benefiting both organisms rather then inflicting pain on the host and only benefiting the virus? Or that viruses could only infect immoral agents.

These issues make more sense under the indifference hypothesis

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Hermes June 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm

A simple question: Is there a named deity or set of deities that these types of conversations are supposed to apply to?

The reason I ask is because;

1. Most people who are interested in advocating a deity in English speaking parts of the world advocate for one based on a Christian deity.

2. The Christian deity, as described in the Christian Bible, is a poor fit at best for the type of deity described by most people who argue for a benevolent deity. This is fine and by itself does not argue against the Christian deity existing. (I take it as a given that the Christian deity is not an omnimax deity — all good+powerful+knowing — because of what the Christian Bible says about it.)

3. From #1 and #2, some other deity or set of deities would be a better fit.

Thus, my question;

4. Is there a named deity or set of deities that these types of conversations are supposed to apply to?

There are other questions and related problems that flow from those, but I think it’s good to deal with the elephant in the room.

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TaiChi June 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Zeb, Gimpness,
I agree with you both – I’m just pointing out there’s a flaw in the presentation/argument which needs correction. The claim that God would not be justified in inflicting pain without overwhelming moral reason is more intuitive than the claim that God would not be justified in allowing pain without overwhelming moral reason, and so the argument is made to appear stronger than it is.

Hermes,
I responded to your comment on Part 1, in case you’ve missed it.

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John D June 2, 2010 at 1:55 am

Re: inflicting v. allowing

I just had a quick look over Draper’s article. His presentation says God would need a reason to permit pain. I would say “permit” is pretty much equivalent to “allow”. So my presentation has made the argument look stronger than it was intended to be.

You might change it to “allow” if you get a chance Luke.

Also, there seems to be something wrong with the last two headings. They didn’t come out in bold.

Re: Erika’s point

I think there is a distinction between a justification based on biological necessity and one based on moral necessity. Draper is arguing that the conscious pain experienced by moral agents would need a moral justification (i.e. would need to serve some moral goal or be part of fulfilling some moral duty).

You could overcome this by saying biological needs must overlap with moral needs. And so the biological utility of pain was an unavoidable side effect of pursuing some moral cause.

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Zeb June 2, 2010 at 4:43 am

Hermes, it’s the god of the Christian faith, not of the Christian Bible. The faith precedes the Bible, and the Bible should be interpreted in light of the faith, not the other way around.

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Zeb June 2, 2010 at 5:29 am

I see what you mean Tai Chi. The first part of the analogy refers to humans needing moral justification to inflict pain, while the second part refers to God needing moral justification to allow pain. The argument needs to either say that humans need moral justification to allow pain (that would be a difficult argument which, if successful, would indict almost everyone), or that God’s allowing pain is equivalent to humans’ inflicting pain (perhaps not such a hard argument since God is omnipotent and created the conditions which made pain possible and likely).

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 5:32 am

Hermes, it’s the god of the Christian faith, not of the Christian Bible. The faith precedes the Bible, and the Bible should be interpreted in light of the faith, not the other way around.

I’ve heard that before, but it doesn’t make much sense. Are you saying that the Christian Bible is irrelevant?

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 5:50 am

Zeb, what I mean is once you have “Christian faith” is a telephone book or Jack Chic pamphlet or a novel like War and Peace or a software manual or — say — the sound of a dripping faucet as relevant as the Christian Bible? If not, why not?

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ildi June 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

Hermes, it’s the god of the Christian faith, not of the Christian Bible. The faith precedes the Bible, and the Bible should be interpreted in light of the faith, not the other way around.

I’ve heard that before, but it doesn’t make much sense. Are you saying that the Christian Bible is irrelevant?

This is a new one on me! How can Christian faith precede the Bible? What other basis is there for the Christian faith?

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so…

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Chris K June 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

“What other basis is there for the Christian faith?”

Lots of people believed that Jesus was raised from the dead before the gospels were written and the New Testament was canonized. This is because the Christian faith is based on the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not simply the proclamation of that event.

“Are you saying that the Christian Bible is irrelevant?”

Hermes, I’m not sure I understand what the analogy to other texts is supposed to get us, but I think that I would say that the relevance of the God of the Bible and the God of the Christian faith is one of degree – not one of quality. That is to say, one can posit all sorts of degrees of inspiration and accuracy of biblical God-talk. On one end of the spectrum, you can say, look, all statements made of God in the Bible are literalistically true (even ones that talk about his arms and so forth). On the other end, you can posit that the Bible is sheer fiction, made up, without any basis in reality. But you can have all kinds of views somewhere in the middle too. For example, perhaps we’re wrong to interpret literally all of these Old Testament predications of God, or perhaps the Hebrews had misconceptions about the God who revealed himself to them.

So, the relevance of the biblical God to the Christian God is dependent on how we read the Bible: to what degree do we think the Bible has been inspired or non-inspired by God? What is the best model of interpretation?

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ildi June 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Lots of people believed that Jesus was raised from the dead before the gospels were written and the New Testament was canonized. This is because the Christian faith is based on the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not simply the proclamation of that event.

The only evidence for anybody believing that Jesus was raised from the dead are the gospels themselves. There is no other basis for this belief.

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Chris K, are you in general agreement with part of the comments expressed in The Young Turns video Luke posted a couple days ago? If you are not, how does what you think is accurate differ from what is mentioned in TYT?

I’ll take it as a given that you are not in complete agreement and will offer nuanced comments covering those differences.

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm

[ Reposting after potential WordPress hiccup. ]

Chris K, are you in general agreement with part of the comments expressed in The Young Turns video Luke posted a couple days ago? If you are not, how does what you think is accurate differ from what is mentioned in TYT?

I’ll take it as a given that you are not in complete agreement and will offer nuanced comments covering those differences.

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Chris K June 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

ildi,

You mean other than James most of the Pauline epistles…which were written before the gospels…

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm

…another attempt at posting this without WordPress rejecting it.

Chris K, are you in general agreement with part of the comments expressed in The Young Turks video Luke posted a couple days ago? If you are not, how does what you think is accurate differ from what is mentioned by them?

I’ll take it as a given that you are *not* in complete agreement but that you are in partial agreement and will offer nuanced comments covering the differences that concern you.

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Jeff H June 2, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Hey, just wanted to point out a typo in the equations that are given:

A: Pr(O1|T) × Pr(O2|T & O1) × Pr(O3|T & O1 & O2)

B: Pr(O1|HI) × Pr(O2|HI & O1) × Pr(O3|T & O1 & O2)

I’m assuming the very last probability should be Pr(O3|HI & O1 & O2)…

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Hermes June 2, 2010 at 7:03 pm

[ Another attempt at posting this message, this time without any embedded links. ]

Chris K, are you in general agreement with part of the comments expressed in The Young Turks video Luke posted a couple days ago? If you are not, how does what you think is accurate differ from what is mentioned by them?

I’ll take it as a given that you are *not* in complete agreement but that you are in partial agreement and will offer nuanced comments covering the differences that concern you.

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ildi June 2, 2010 at 7:24 pm

You mean other than James most of the Pauline epistles…which were written before the gospels…

Still part of the Christian Bible, no? So tell me, what do people base their belief in the resurrection of Jesus on other than the Christian Bible.

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Zeb June 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The Christian faith was created and carried forward be people talking to and getting to know each other, and sharing what they considered to be spiritually valuable. The Bible was created as part of that process. As far as I know it is considered by all denominations to be the most important and most holy canon of writings in the Christian faith. It is not the only canonized set of writings though, and no part of it, nor the whole set, was written or intended to contain the entirety of the Christian faith. The bible is a spiritual tool, and it can be used for learning the doctrines of the faith. (Though interpretation of its doctrinal meaning is only one of its several uses.) But even before the whole canon of the Bible was agreed upon (and later disagreed upon) the churches were having councils to state explicitly what the essential doctrines were. So the Bible is relevant as the most valuable scriptural tool the church has, but it does not stand on its own as a container of Christian belief.

So what I am saying is, the Bible is and always has been (except during the period of Christianity before a Bible existed) something we use, not something we believe. We believe the faith, which is and always has been handed down to us by our churches. This is even true of the fundamentalists, who obviously don’t succeed in believing only and all of what the Bible says because a) there are contradictions in the Bible and b) there is no way to know independently and with certainty what the Bible means.

Hermes, the Bible is universally relevant because its use and its valuation are core elements of the Christian faith. However an individual may find any of the things you listed equally or more relevant to his Christian faith. See Francis Collins famous frozen waterfall, for example.

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Zeb June 2, 2010 at 8:39 pm

So tell me, what do people base their belief in the resurrection of Jesus on other than the Christian Bible.

The teaching of the Church mostly, and direct revelation from God sometimes, though the latter is always in light of the former as far as I know.

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ildi June 3, 2010 at 3:41 am

The teaching of the Church mostly, and direct revelation from God sometimes, though the latter is always in light of the former as far as I know.

…and the teaching of the Church is based on the Christian Bible! You have not shown any evidence that the Christian faith is based on anything other than the Christian Bible.

So, to recap, the statement

the god of the Christian faith, not of the Christian Bible. The faith precedes the Bible, and the Bible should be interpreted in light of the faith, not the other way around.

is nonsensical; there is no god of the Christian faith that is not of the Christian Bible (however one interprets the Bible). While it is semantically true that people believed in the resurrection first, then the collection of writings now in the Bible were collated, so ‘faith preceded the Bible’ the only evidence we have of what people’s faith was prior to the collation of Biblical writings is the Bible itself, so faith now does not precede the Bible.

Now, I can see where revelation could be invoked to decide how to interpret the Bible, but it’s still the Bible that is being interpreted. So maybe you could say it’s the god of the Christian Bible as filtered by faith, which is why the Christian god has so many faces.

Of course, I keep forgetting that we’re talking about faith here, so maybe you’re ascribing extra-dimensional properties to it where you’re tapping directly into the faith of the early Christians in a sort of ‘faith string theory?’

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Hermes June 3, 2010 at 4:41 am

[text added]

Hermes, the Bible is universally relevant [to Christians] because its use and its valuation are core elements of the Christian faith.

Why? Once a person ‘has faith’, why is anything else required or needed?

I’ll hold off on more as Ildi has already asked quite a few other related questions.

However an individual may find any of the things you listed equally or more relevant to his Christian faith.

How?

See Francis Collins famous frozen waterfall, for example.

The waterfall example was one of the most embarrassing examples I can think of. In all honesty, I smile and sometimes laugh each time I see it or think of it.

For one, it emphasizes his beliefs in a trinity — something *not* universal with Christians that claim to have personal revelations or to have faith. It is not only a Christian viewing that waterfall but a specific subset of Christian.

Two, I’m am in awe and wonder often about the world, and unlike Freud’s famous quote I consider that cigars or melons or waterfalls are not sometimes just themselves but are inescapably what they are first. Any layering or association can be interesting, but those tell more about the person then they do any external source for that layering.

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Zeb June 3, 2010 at 5:25 am

…and the teaching of the Church is based on the Christian Bible!

It’s the other way around.

You have not shown any evidence that the Christian faith is based on anything other than the Christian Bible.

Here is some evidence.
1. The Bible was completed around the end of the 4th century. By that time the Church was large and widespread, and had accumulated tons of writings, practices, oral traditions, etc. that were not included in the Bible. Most important of these is the ‘proceedings’ of the first ecumenical council at Nicaea, which included the Nicene Creed, the most widely accepted definition of Christian belief.
2. The books of the New Testament were written by Christians in a church context to serve specific, limited purposes at times and places. The New and Old Testaments were put together by the churches to preserve a certain selection of received tradition. The Bible is a product of the Christian churches.
3. There was never a clean break where Christians lost access to the body of tradition that was handed from one generation to the next, forcing them to take their faith solely from the Bible. Each generation has received the faith, including the scriptures and their interpretations, from the previous generation of Christians.
4. No Christian denomination shows itself to be based on the Bible, nor could one, because of the contradictions and uncertainties within.
5. The Orthodox and Catholic churches, which throughout history and in the present day represent the majority of Christians, do not claim to be based on the Bible. You will find that their statements of belief and practice refer as much to the writings of the “Fathers of the Church” and the Ecumenical Councils as they do to the Bible.

What evidence do you have that the Christian faith is based on the Bible, rather than the other way around?

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Zeb June 3, 2010 at 5:54 am

Once a person ‘has faith’, why is anything else required or needed?

What I am saying is, the Bible is part of the faith. But maybe we’re using the word “faith” differently. I would not say a person “has the Christian faith.” “The Christian faith” is a way of life that includes but is not limited to morals, beliefs, and practices, and a person may accept and attempt to live by the Christian faith. A person may “have faith” in God or Jesus or whatever, in the sense of “believing in and relying upon”, and he may not find the Bible relevant to that faith. But the Bible is consistently a core part of the Christian faith as it has been developed by Christians through history.

People find all kinds of meanings in all kinds of things. I don’t know why or how, but we do. Your comments about meaning found in waterfalls apply to the Bible. It is what it is, but what, if anything, does it mean? Historical research and literary criticism can give us theories about what it meant to different authors, editors, and audiences, but only Christians can tell us what it means to Christians; that is to say, what it means within Christianity.

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ildi June 3, 2010 at 9:56 am

Most important of these is the ‘proceedings’ of the first ecumenical council at Nicaea, which included the Nicene Creed, the most widely accepted definition of Christian belief.

… which is is based on scripture.

There was never a clean break where Christians lost access to the body of tradition that was handed from one generation to the next, forcing them to take their faith solely from the Bible. Each generation has received the faith, including the scriptures and their interpretations, from the previous generation of Christians.

There is no body of tradition that was handed down from one generation from the next outside of the Bible (whichever version the particular denomination settled on). The Vulgate Bible dominated Christian culture for over a thousand years. There are extra-biblical cultural traditions that adapted from other religions (such as the Yule log and Christmas tree), but I don’t think you mean that.

The Orthodox and Catholic churches, which throughout history and in the present day represent the majority of Christians, do not claim to be based on the Bible.

I was raised Catholic (parochial school, Sunday school, the whole ball of wax) and believe me, they do claim to be based on the Bible. Granted, the Church claims the be the final authority on truth and the Christian faith:

Catholics do not believe that God has given us His divine Revelation in Christ exclusively through Scripture. Catholics also believe that God’s Revelation comes to us through the Apostolic Tradition and teaching authority of the Church.

and claims that this authority comes from the Bible.

The teachings of Scripture are written down in the Bible, and are handed on, not only in writing, but also in the lives of those who live according to its teachings. The teachings of Tradition are not written down, but are lived and are handed on by the lives of those who lived according to its teachings, according to the example of Christ and the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15). This perpetual handing on of the teachings of Tradition is called a living Tradition; it is the transmission of the teachings of Tradition from one generation to the next.

Again, the tradition that is being passed down is the teachings of the Bible.

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Hermes June 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

[ sits back and waits to see if Zeb and Ildi will come to a closer agreement of the facts at hand, if not the conclusions derived from those facts ]

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Zeb June 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I was raised Catholic (parochial school, Sunday school, the whole ball of wax) and believe me, they do claim to be based on the Bible.

1. I’m not talking about whether anyone claims their faith is based on the Bible; I have said that those who do claim that are claiming the impossible.
2. Your school teachers are not adequate authorities on Catholic Doctrine. Parochial school and “Sunday school” teachers are usually woefully uneducated, and often make false oversimplifications in an effort to make the material more comprehensible to children. The actual teachings of the church are found in the councils, the encyclicals, canon law, and most readily available to us in the Catechism. (For what it’s worth, I too grew up thinking the Catholic Church was based on the Bible, and I lost my faith while in the process of entering the seminary when I realized that I had no reason to believe the Bible was authoritative.)
3. The Catholic Church finds support for its beliefs in scripture, but its beliefs are not based on scripture. Where is the Trinity found in the Bible? The immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and assumption of Mary? The seven sacraments?

As to the rest of what you wrote, I see what you are saying, but do you have any evidence or argument for it?

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ildi June 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I’m not talking about whether anyone claims their faith is based on the Bible; I have said that those who do claim that are claiming the impossible.

what you originally said was:

Hermes, it’s the god of the Christian faith, not of the Christian Bible. The faith precedes the Bible, and the Bible should be interpreted in light of the faith, not the other way around.

which is what I’m addressing. Whether or not they are doing the impossible, people get their faith from reading the Bible, or having someone else tell them what the Bible says. You haven’t given any examples of a body of tradition passed down from generation to generation that isn’t based on the Bible, whether rightly or wrongly.

Your school teachers are not adequate authorities on Catholic Doctrine. Parochial school and “Sunday school” teachers are usually woefully uneducated, and often make false oversimplifications in an effort to make the material more comprehensible to children. The actual teachings of the church are found in the councils, the encyclicals, canon law, and most readily available to us in the Catechism.

Nuns and priests taught my parochial school and Sunday school, and we studied “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.” However, this is not the point that I was addressing. I was addressing your contention that Christian faith precedes the Christian Bible, not whether what people are taught about the Bible is an accurate source for belief.

The Catholic Church finds support for its beliefs in scripture, but its beliefs are not based on scripture.

It’s beliefs are based on its authority given by the Bible to interpret the scripture. If you were a seminary student, I’m not telling you anything new.

I’m not interested in defending a position that I haven’t taken; namely that basing Christian faith on any version of the Bible is valid. I still haven’t seen any evidence from you that “faith precedes the Bible.” Everything you’ve said so far supports my contention that Christian faith is based on what people think the Bible says, or how the Bible is interpreted.

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Zeb June 5, 2010 at 4:10 am

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