Enlightenment and Postmodernism Against Christianity?

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 22, 2010 in General Atheism

On the opening page of Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Bill Craig and J.P. Moreland write that:

The average Christian does not realize that there is an intellectual struggle going on in the university and scholarly journals and professional societies. Enlightenment naturalism and postmodern anti-realism are arrayed in an unholy alliance against [the] Christian worldview.

I could be wrong, but that’s not how I see it. First, Enlightenment naturalists are not allied with postmodernists. If they engage each other at all, it is mostly to attack each other. And when they attack religion, they attack it from entirely different perspectives. But mostly they don’t attack religion, they just ignore it. Divine revelation has been shown over and over to be a useless method of knowing how the world works, so postmodernists and especially naturalists go on about their business with the view that mainstream theologians are still seeking gold with divining rods.

I must also point out that most of the major English-language critics of religion I have read did not come from an ancient atheistic tradition, but rather fell out of faith from Christianity themselves when they examined it. (Or else, that happened to their father or grandfather.) So yes, some of the critics of religion are atheistic “outsiders,” but many are former Christians, or come from a lineage that only recently abandoned Christianity. These attacks come from within the Christian tradition, from people who have discovered that their own religion was false.

Craig and Moreland go on to stress that the battle for the minds of the university must be won if Christianity is to regain a place of respect in the intellectual world. And due to strong efforts by institutions like BIOLA – which cranks out fundamentalist apologist philosophers into the system every year – they have had some success. Naturalist philosopher Quentin Smith remarks:

…in philosophy, it became, almost overnight [after the collapse of logical positivism], ‘academically respectable’ to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today… Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism… began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians.1

  1. It should be noted that Smith overestimated the number of theists in philosophy. The results of a recent poll show than only about 15% of philosophers are theistic. []

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{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer June 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

I think that was true until recent years when both naturalists and postmodernists woke up to the fact that religion was not “fading away” as they had expected. They would like to be able to argue with each other exclusively, but are in total agreement that religion is adversary number one.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Enlightenment and postmodernism in the same breath? As an alliance? WTF? Where do they get this nonsense?

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm

If they want respect in intellectual circles, they need to earn it.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm

ayer,

That might be true and I’m just not aware of it. Could you give some examples? Or are you just saying something like “Both Richard Dawkins and Jacques Derrida have offered criticisms of religion”?

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Martin June 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

And due to strong efforts by institutions like BIOLA – which cranks out fundamentalist apologist philosophers into the system every year – they have had some success.

I try to take a neutral third-person view as an agnostic, like watching two opponents play chess but not really rooting hard for either one. As a result, I’ve noticed atheism begin to slip and I’ve attempted to tell them so in various online forums.

Nothing but poisonous venom results. They do not want to hear that Dawkin’s book is making them stupid.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

It’s so sweet to be on an invisible island of your own making, laughing at the foolish foolish shadows, isn’t it?

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Chris June 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I guess that quote from Craig and Moreland is a symptom of seeing the world as battleground for spiritual warfare. They’re so invested in the grand narrative (not to sound too postmodern, ahem), they can’t see it any other way. Weird.

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Ajay June 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm

What the fuck is postmodern anti-realism?

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Ajay, I don’t know what they mean specifically by postmodern anti-realism, though postmodernists can advocate relativist positions similar to solipsists. There’s very little that’s more against reality than that, though the young earth creationists and other Christian apologists do tend to try and out do them with their presupposations.

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm

This claim from Moreland and Craig probably stems from a lecture given by Plantinga titled, “The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship,” where he sees two primary opponents to Christian theism: perennial naturalism and creative anti-realism. Rooted in Augustine’s The City of God, this idea sees philosophical conflict as one form of the battle between the Civitas Dei and the Civitas Mundi, the city of God and the city of the world.

Interestingly, continental philosopher of religion Merold Westphal argues, contra Plantinga, that Christian philosophers actually should be anti-realists of the Kantian variety.

Also, many thinkers hesitate to draw such a sharp line between modernity and postmodernity, calling the latter “late modernity,” because of the underlying shared assumptions of each. So Colin Gunton: “The history of thought shows how one emphasis in philosophy tends by a kind of reflex attempt at correction to give rise to trends that stress what is lacking in a previous enterprise. It is a process of affirmation and negation, although because only parts of a thesis are negated while others continue as often unrecognized assumptions, the relation of earlier and later is complex, and always particular.”

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Also, I’m a bit thrown off by the sentence, “Divine revelation has been shown over and over to be a useless method of knowing how the world works.” Isn’t that a bit like saying, “Science has been shown over and over to be a useless method of knowing God’s plan of salvation history”?

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Chris June 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm

What the fuck is postmodern anti-realism?  

I don’t know why, but I lol’d hard at this comment.

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ildi June 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Enlightenment naturalism and postmodern anti-realism are arrayed in an unholy alliance against [the] Christian worldview.

They’re both tools of Satan devised to make you doubt there is an Absolute Truth.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Thanks, Chris K, I was not aware of that lecture by Plantinga.

As for your second post: I don’t think any method has been shown to be remotely reliable in gaining knowledge about salvation or any such subject matter. However, religions make a great many claims about how the world works, and yet their methods have been shown to be utterly failed in this arena. Science, at least, has a pretty good track record in the domain of ‘how the world works.’

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Postmodern anti-realism = Postmodern philosophy + anti-realism.

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Sabio Lantz June 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Luke,
So when do you enter a Ph.D. program in philosophy of Religion? We need that scale tipped. Or perhaps with the publication of your book you will get an honorary Ph.D. and a university seat — wouldn’t that be sweet?

I just finished a Post-Modernist book and found it very unsubstantial though I was hoping for better. It does have some valuable correctives, however.

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JMauldin June 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm

@ Chris K

“Isn’t that a bit like saying, “Science has been shown over and over to be a useless method of knowing God’s plan of salvation history”?

Since scientific inquiry has proven to be the best method of discovery for how the world works (germ theory, evolutionary theory, everything we know about the world, etc) and divine revelation frequently contradicts scientific inquiry (demonic possession versus mental illness, eschatological proclamations versus no end of the world, etc) are we reasonable to assume “divine revelation” is in and of itself an accurate way to derive “God’s plan of salvation?” When the testable assertions of divine revelation are proven false, what are we to make of the untestable ones? And how does one weigh the potential truth of “God’s plan of Salvation” in the face of so many differing divine revelations? When we eliminate testable conclusions, how do we know God’s real plan for salvation isn’t based in the divine revelations of Joseph Smith, Muhammed, David Koresh, Wayne Bent, or anyone and everyone who has and/or will ever claim divine revelation?

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Luke,

The goal of my second post was to say that just as the point of science isn’t to serve as a method for knowing salvation history, the point of divine revelation isn’t to serve as a method for knowing how the world works.

I understood “how the world works” in your post to be talking about the empirical study of the natural world. In this sense, of course science has a good track record. But I don’t understand your claim about divine revelation or religions and the failing of their methods of knowing how the world works, if we are using that phrase in the same way. Sure, revelation talks about “how the world works” in the sense that it accounts for moral failure and points to salvation, but I don’t think that this is what you have in mind.

In Psalm 104, the Ecologist’s Psalm, we have a pretty good description of the hydrological cycle imbedded in a hymn of praise. But the point of the psalm is to worship God, not to serve as a method for knowing how things work in the natural world.

So what exactly are the failings of divine revelation in this area?

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

JMauldin,

I’m sorry, but I’m unfamiliar with how mental illness contradicts demonic possession, or what you mean by “no end of the world, etc.” Perhaps I’m naive, but I happen to think that divine revelation of the Judeo-Christian sort does not contradict scientific inquiry.

I do agree with you that the best way to decide between competing revelations is to do some empirical and metaphysical assessment. I just happen to believe that the Judeo-Christian system comes out on top.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I just happen to believe that the Judeo-Christian system comes out on top.

Really? I find that an amazing statement to make. Why should anyone else — say, a Hindu — believe such a thing?

The point being: No, I’m not actually looking for you to offer proof to a Hindu. They won’t agree, and you know they won’t. If they made similar statements about Hinduism, you’d laugh at such a bold and nonsensical statement. I’m just amazed statements like that are made by anyone.

By all means, keep your beliefs, though. I realize you have to and should be honest about what it is you believe.

Take to heart JMauldin’s comments, though. They are quite insightful.

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Gimpness June 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Hey Chris K
I just read over Psalm 140 (NIV) version and I am confused as to what verse/s explain the “hydrological cycle”. Perhaps I have misread it could you point it out for me?

What I did find though was reference to a mythical creature 140:26″There the ships go to and fro,and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. Psalm ” and a statement that the Earth is stationary. Psalm 140:5 “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”

Perhaps I am mistaken, sincerely interested in your response

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Zak June 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Chris K,

I could be wrong, but I imagine that JMauldin means that behaviors once attributed to demonic possession have been shown to be nothing more than different types of psychosis… which have totally natural origins, and can be regulated (to varying degrees of success) with medication. I suppose you could argue that the demons are somehow behind the cause of the psychosis, but there is no evidence of that, and evidence against it (exorcisms don’t heal schizophrenia, and I can’t see why anyone would suppose that demons would not like lithium or haldol LOL). Of course, there is also ockhams razor…

As for the end of the world, religious leaders have long been predicting the end, either on a specific date (as with the Millerites), or just sometime within a few years (as with Jesus). Obviously, these predictions have always failed to manifest.

Though, you might take a different view, I think it is clear that a LARGE number of Christians do think that science disagrees with the Christian revelation (look at the creationists, for example).

What is empirical metaphysical assessment? I don’t know what that is.

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Hermes,

I don’t think I’d laugh at such a “bold and nonsensical statement.” It only makes sense that Hindus think that their system comes out on top. The point of a conversation with a Hindu would be same as the point of the conversation with you. Is it a bold and nonsensical statement for you to posit that atheism or something like it comes out on top? Of course not. So we all have reasons for what we believe, and when we come together in conversation, we throw around our reasons and see how they stand against one another. Maybe in the end, none of us will be convinced of anything but our own reasons. But this doesn’t mean that reasons shouldn’t be given, or that we won’t learn anything from the endeavor.

By the way, I do think there are some good criticisms of Hinduism – see Keith Yandell’s Philososphy of Religion text published by Routledge.

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JMauldin June 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm

@ Chris K:

“I’m sorry, but I’m unfamiliar with how mental illness contradicts demonic possession, or what you mean by “no end of the world, etc.”

Before the scientific discovery of mental illness, demonic possession was the going explanation. We no longer need to appeal to supernatural sources to explain a naturally occurring phenomenon (see: Thor/Thunder). Though I accept it’s logically possible for demonic possession and mental illness to exist at the same time, are we rational to think so? I don’t think we are.

When I was still a Christian and I viewed the world through the scope of spiritual warfare I interpreted a certain experience of mine (along with other Christian friends) as a demonic possession attempt. I grew older and changed my worldview and eventually discovered a naturally occurring phenomenon called sleep paralysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis). Could it have been a demon attempting to possess my body? I suppose it’s possible, but was I or am I rational to think so? I don’t think I am.

As far as the end of the world, Paul certainly thought “the time is short” and preached the imminent kingdom within his own lifetime. He was wrong like Wayne Bent was wrong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Our_Righteousness_Church). Both divine revelations were false.

“Perhaps I’m naive, but I happen to think that divine revelation of the Judeo-Christian sort does not contradict scientific inquiry.”

I wouldn’t say it’s naive so much as necessary for one’s world view to think the Judeo-Christian divine revelation doesn’t contradict scientific inquiry. Unless, of course, one wants to take an exceptionally liberal view of the Bible (assigning metaphorical imagery when scientific inquiry has proven otherwise) but in my opinion, one is then writing their own Bible.

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Bill Maher June 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Actually, there are a bunch of postmodern Christian philosophers….

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Gimpness,

I was thinking specifically of Psalm 104:10-13 (NASB): “He sends forth springs in the valleys; they flow between the mountains…He waters the mountains from His upper chambers…” So while praising God, the psalmist very roughly gives a description of water cycling from springs and valleys, then returning to the mountains from the heavens. Maybe this was a poor proof-text; there are more: Isaiah 55:10-11, Ecclesiastes 1:7, and others.

You’re right to question the other parts of the Psalm to check my consistency. To my understanding, the Hebrew word “yacad,” translated as “foundations” in verse 5 refers to establishment or founding in the logical rather than the physical sense. The idea is not that the earth is stationary, but that it is stable. “Leviathan,” I think, is a general term for a great sea creature, sometimes seeming to refer to a crocodile, others, to a whale or some other creature.

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Zak,

Empirical assessment and metaphysical assessment should have been separated. The former having to do with science and the latter with philosophy (primarily).

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Zeb June 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Even if postmodernism and naturalism were “arrayed in an unholy alliance against the Christian world view” (what ridiculous propagandistic words) in academia, what’s the problem? I didn’t realize intellectual eminence was a Christian prerogative. If their problem is in how this will bear out in the public square (as if postmodernists had access to the public square!), so much the worse – Christianity should be seen and felt to be subversive to politics, not respectable. Christianity should not be seen as attractive to anyone seeking any kind of power, whether intellectual or social, and I thank our naturalist and postmodernist critics for helping keep that cause. The only down side I can see is that the people in the sway of those philosophies will be impeded from experiencing the valid appeal of Christianity. I guess the other down side is that Christians in academia might be discriminated against, and I would hope for formal protections in such cases.

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JMauldin June 22, 2010 at 5:32 pm

@ Chris K:

“Leviathan,” I think, is a general term for a great sea creature, sometimes seeming to refer to a crocodile, others, to a whale or some other creature.”

Leviathan is a mythological creature appearing in the great battle myths of the Near East (adopted into Hebrew mythology as well). YHWH brags about destroying him in Job 41. References to Leviathan are littered throughout the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Isaiah).

Here’s a great breakdown from Dr. Robert Price: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oOqoUne61k

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Mastema June 22, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Chris K,

Your example of the water cycle in the Bible is exactly the kind of thing I hear from Muslims when they talk scientific information in the Koran that supposedly no one would have had access to in the 6th and 7th centuries. Do you accept their claims as divine revelation? If not, why not?

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm

JMauldin and Zak,

I agree that most cases where demonic possession have been attributed are probably just cases of mental illness. But this says nothing about whether or not demonic possession actually occurs. So now we’re not in the realm of science contradicting demonic possession; we’re merely in the realm of trying to assign probabilities to supernatural events – a far cry from disproving revelation according to science.

I at first misunderstood the “no end of the world” bit. I thought you were saying that science claims that there is no end of the world! I of course think that if there is a “revelation” that claims a specific time when the world will end, then it turns out that it didn’t happen, then that revelation would be false. But where did Jesus or Paul do this?

So maybe a large number of Christians think that current prevailing scientific trends disagree with the Bible. But now we’re in the realm of people’s interpretations of divine revelation contradicting science, not revelation itself contradicting science. For example, once you get deeper and deeper into the study of Genesis 1, you realize that there is a ton of stuff going on in the literary structure and the polemics against other ancient near eastern views of creation. You realize that the point of Genesis 1 is not to explain the material creation of the world, but it is a deeply theological portrait of the Hebrew God who creates order out of chaos. This understanding of the text is not way liberal (it was taught to me by evangelical scholars), nor is it making up my own Bible. It is rooted in the best scholarly research we have.

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Chris K June 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Mastema,

Right, so I got caught up in using an example of how the Bible does talk about scientific-type stuff. My point was that this happens as an aside. Wisdom literature often uses descriptions of nature as merely a springboard for making a theological point. I don’t assume that one has to have special divine revelation for making natural observations.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Chris K: Is it a bold and nonsensical statement for you to posit that atheism or something like it comes out on top?

Atheism by default isn’t a positive claim, it is a response to a set of claims made by different theists. It’s not even comparable as a religious group, sect, denomination anymore than theism as a whole could be compared on equal terms to Zoroastrianism or Wahhabism. Such comparisons are strained.

I am an atheist because I’m not a theist; I lack belief in gods. To me, deity claims just aren’t credible and for quite a few years I thought that only the very old, the very young, and the uneducated thought they were credible. I realize now that smart people of any age can have belief in gods, but that realization and acknowledgement in general does not change my lack of belief any more than it would for other beliefs we both probably do not share.

Like you, if someone shows me that a claim is plausible then belief would be warranted and if it is more likely than not, I would hopefully follow the evidence and change my beliefs. Yet, beliefs aren’t that mailable — either gaining one or especially getting rid of one, justified or not.

Now, in regards to specific theistic claims (often tied to religious dogmas), they can be shown to be in error and I’ll be glad to discuss those specifics if they come up. Hinduism, I agree, merits criticism.

Yet, I do not claim atheism is in the top position. Sam Harris is correct technically that it is a meaningless term.

Yet, I use it. The only reason I do is because I am concerned, as I hope you are, with the acts of individuals and groups that automatically tag people with religious labels if they don’t speak up. The same people are intent on imposing social changes based on their private sectarian beliefs while they have no problem ignoring or distorting the available and sharable and verifiable facts that we as a society should be structuring our common union.

So, no, the two aren’t comparable. The only reason you hear atheists making a fuss is because of the overreaching others are willing to make. If it didn’t happen, in public and individually towards others, you’d hear nothing.

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nate June 22, 2010 at 5:59 pm

JMauldin, Perhaps I’m naive, but I happen to think that divine revelation of the Judeo-Christian sort does not contradict scientific inquiry.

Mark 16:17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Christians die if they drink poison, same as everyone else. gg

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm

“That might be true and I’m just not aware of it. Could you give some examples? Or are you just saying something like “Both Richard Dawkins and Jacques Derrida have offered criticisms of religion”? ”

I’m saying that Dawkins indisputably directs the bulk of his fire at religion. It’s a bit more complicated with the postmodernists; they seem to direct most of their fire at those who reject moral relativism, which is mainly the religious.

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Martin June 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

nate,

For the record, that portion of Mark is the one that’s generally thought to have been tacked on later.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Ayer: I’m saying that Dawkins indisputably directs the bulk of his fire at religion. It’s a bit more complicated with the postmodernists; they seem to direct most of their fire at those who reject moral relativism, which is mainly the religious.

So, the two aren’t really in the same category, and should not be brought up together as a set?

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svenjamin June 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Ayer: “I’m saying that Dawkins indisputably directs the bulk of his fire at religion. It’s a bit more complicated with the postmodernists; they seem to direct most of their fire at those who reject moral relativism, which is mainly the religious.”

The post-modernists that I know explicitly reject moral relativism. What they tend to oppose are “grand meta-narratives.”

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

“So, the two aren’t really in the same category, and should not be brought up together as a set? ”

If all the major religions disappeared, both would celebrate. But there would be some tension between them, since as svenjamin points out, postmodernists reject meta-narratives, while scientistic types tend to hold to the metanarrative of “science triumphing as life gets better and better culminating in the Singularity.”

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Zak June 22, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Chris K,

If psychosis can be attributed to mental illness, it seems quite unnecessary to suppose that demonic possessions are happening. What should move us to think that demonic possessions are real, and are not just another failed supernatural explanation of something?

As for Jesus predicting the end of the world… Mark 13:30-33, Matthew 16:28, Matthew 24:34 and Luke 9:26-27. As for Paul, 1 Thess 4:16-17.

If the Bible is completely human in origin, I totally agree that the metaphorical aspects that you mentioned would make perfect sense. But I have a hard time seeing how a real God would be interested in writing a polemic against eastern views of creation, when he knows that people will take it at face value. I mean, even Jesus seems to have believed in the somewhat factual version of Genesis (Mark 10:6).

Out of curiosity though, do you think that anything in the creation story has any factual basis? Or is it mostly allegorical/metaphorical/etc?

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Ayer, I don’t see it. The description you give is like something from the Twilight Zone.

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Lorkas June 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm

“science triumphing as life gets better and better culminating in the Singularity.”

Actually, most scientists I’ve read talking about the Singularity are dismissing it as a crazy idea dreamed up by Ray Kurzweil (if that is the singularity you’re referring to–I suppose you could be referring to some kind of “Big Crunch” singularity, but that’s a fairly unsupported idea as well). He tends to use a lot of arbitrarily-defined charts and graphs to make his points, and scientists aren’t much for arbitrariness.

The meta-narrative I hear from most scientists ends with the heat death of the universe, with no mention of any technological singularity. Maybe you mean that you hear about it from science supporters who aren’t scientists? Or maybe you read things from different scientists than I do, who knows?

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Evolution SWAT June 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Interesting survey you cite lukeprog. I remember watching a video on youtuve where Dr. Craig was talking about how theism is part of a huge, growing movement in academia … I suppose not?

I also rememeber this ‘enlightening’ article from Christianity Today a while back: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/july/13.22.html

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svenjamin June 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I’d say the meta-narrative of science would be more along the lines of “the scientific method provides us with progressively deeper and more accurate understanding physical reality.” The universe ending in heat death, Kurzweil-esque singularities, and improved quality of life are bandied about here and there, but aren’t quite intrinsic to The Story of Science. If you are familiar with the Science Wars, it was the meta-narrative that I just described that was under attack by post-modernists.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Good post, Luke.

Enlightenment naturalists are not allied with postmodernists. If they engage each other at all, it is mostly to attack each other.

Yes.

I must also point out that most of the major English-language critics of religion I have read did not come from an ancient atheistic tradition, but rather fell out of faith from Christianity themselves when they examined it.

Yes.

And due to strong efforts by institutions like BIOLA – which cranks out fundamentalist apologist philosophers into the system every year – they have had some success.

Interesting. I know nothing about “BIOLA”, but it seems that this is an admission that “the system” is gameable. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in “the system”.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Sabio,

Sorry to disappoint, but I’ll be doing ethics. :)

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Chris K,

Damn near anything ever to ostensibly arrive by divine revelation about the natural world has been wrong.

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Heuristics June 23, 2010 at 1:48 am

Damn near everything arrived at by physics for how humans operate in the world has been wrong. Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void according to deterministic/statistically random laws but we all know (except for the zombies) that humans move about in the world according to such things as feelings and a sense of morality.

Oh, btw: how does one reduce the term “mental illness” to physics, how is one brain configuration preferable (illnessy) to another.

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Hermes June 23, 2010 at 2:50 am

Heuristics, do you have a source for your comment on what you say Physics claims?

(The whole phrasing that a field of inquiry claims anything as if it were self-aware is strange, btw.)

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ildi June 23, 2010 at 4:13 am

So maybe a large number of Christians think that current prevailing scientific trends disagree with the Bible. But now we’re in the realm of people’s interpretations of divine revelation contradicting science, not revelation itself contradicting science.

The problem with this is that the interpretations themselves are based on personal revelation, so it becomes a circular argument. There isn’t even general consensus within “the Judeo-Christian system,” much less across belief systems based on divine revelation, as to God’s plan for salvation.

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Chris K June 23, 2010 at 6:05 am

Luke and Zak,

I unfortunately have to cop out because I’m leaving for a family reunion now. But I’d love to answer your questions/charges when I have the availability/internet access.

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zak June 23, 2010 at 6:19 am

Chris K,

No worries. Enjoy your reunion!

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al friedlander June 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm

“Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void according to deterministic/statistically random laws but we all know (except for the zombies) that humans move about in the world according to such things as feelings and a sense of morality.”

I don’t quite understand? Are you implying that feelings/morality cannot be reduced into an understanding via atoms?

“Oh, btw: how does one reduce the term “mental illness” to physics, how is one brain configuration preferable (illnessy) to another.”

I’ll take a stab at it, but according to the DSM, mental illness is defined generally as an inability to function in society (extreme distress/disability). So in terms of physical properties, I guess a brain leaning towards mental-illness will have a neurotransmitter, chemical imbalance that keeps it from fully integrating/feeling comfortable. Although honestly, under this definition individuals like Howard Hughes/Beethoven suffered from mental illness, but I’m not really sure if many would contest that notion anyway.

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Gato Precambriano June 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Heuristics

Have you ever heard about Alzheimer?

As for what you claim “physics” claims I also would like to see references/sources for that as well. Would you please?

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 1:19 am

Hermes & Gato:
I am not quoting anybody, it is an original statement by me. Anyways, I am referring to the problem of the “explanatory gap”. If we knew every physical interaction of neurons in the brain, being physical they would not have any references to such things as morality or feelings. They would be of the type “this differential equations predicts that this collection of neurons will enter this pattern in 10 seconds”. Given Occhams razor there is no need for morality or experience of emotion and they get eliminated. Physics make no use of these things, chemistry makes no use of these things, biology makes no use of them and neuroscience/cognition science makes no use of them. If you want some namedropping: The Churchlands, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennet, Joseph Levine, Roger Penrose (who invented new theoretical physics to shoehorn experience into science yet still failed to get it to actually make statements of how things feel).
Anyways, here is a quote from Levine (who is arguing that even if all that exists is physical we still have a problem):
“While I think this materialist response is right in the end, it does not suffice to put the mind-body problem to rest. Even if conceivability considerations do not establish that the mind is in fact distinct from the body, or that mental properties are metaphysically irreducible to physical properties, still they do demonstrate that we lack an explanation of the mental in terms of the physical”

This is however not a mistake that was made, it is like this by intention. Science(physics, mass, acceleration etc) was created by Kepler, Galileo, Descartes and Newton specifically so that it in no way could make references to experiences. Descartes and Newton knew this so they postulated (the silly/weird/wrong thought) that an immaterial soul exists that control the material through the pineal gland or the sensorium.

Yes, I have heard of Alzheimer, what of it?

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 1:42 am

al friedlander:
What I am saying/writing is that there is no mention in physics of emotion and that no such mention is needed for physical explanations (to describe how atoms move about in the void). In short, physics makes no mention of emotions or morality.

I like your example of “mental illness” as an inability to function in society. I think you are nearly there to an explanation that is reducible in principle to the physical. To get it to the end the term “chemical imbalence” would need to be defined in such a way to avoid final causes (they were ejected out of physics by Galileo) and to avoid mentioning or redefining “feeling comfortable”.
“chemical imbalance” could be changed to “chemical balance that is out of the normal.
“Feeling comfortable” could be redefined from meaning an experience to instead mean: “the neurons in the brain are not registering any damage”.

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Hermes June 24, 2010 at 3:01 am

Heuristics: I am not quoting anybody, it is an original statement by me.

Thanks for fessing up. Is it OK if I put words in your mouth? Say, that you like pictures of little boys naked? If not, stop that behavior yourself. It’s not only rude but a lie; do unto others yadda yadda yadda.

As for your explanation, it’s just a more polite way of once again saying that some group (or in this case field) holds an opinion that they have not voiced. Stop that. It didn’t work the last time.

At this point, after the last power grab, I want specific quotes for each person if you’re going to name names. To commenton the one Levine quote, it doesn’t cover your original claim. Saying that there’s a gap in our understanding is an appeal to ignorance, and Levine’s comments are that we don’t know definitively each detail not that we know nothing or that some other answer is the correct one.

For my part, I’m fully happy to state that I do not know everything. I’m not then going to make claims based on that ignorance, yet if we look at what we know there are some identified and verified sources for mental expressions, and some logical conclusions we can make that are not at all vague.

So, once again, stop putting words in people’s mouths or labeling — wrongly — an entire field without backing up your claims.

If you want to posit a claim for yourself — say, that there are such things as incorporeal souls — then stop dancing around and actual say what you actual think you can support then support your claims.

If you are just speculating, that’s fine, then say that you are just speculating.

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 3:20 am

Hermes:
There are no such things as incorporeal souls (at least that I know if, would be very strange if there were).

Argument from ignorance, uhhm dude, my argument IS that physics is ignorant about feelings/morality and therefore it must be wrong about them. The alternative, that physics is right about them would lead to eliminative materialism.
Physics makes no mention of morality or feelings/emotions etc.
There literally are no statements about emotion and morality in physics. Open any random book on physics and take a look, there will be a distinct lack of mention on it. Yet (most or many) physics books have statements that can make predictions of the movement of particles in your brain and those predictions have no need of morality or emotion to do what they do.

Is your brain made up of the stuff that physics makes predictions about?
Does your brain behave differently then the stuff that physics books have predictions on? (hint: it does not)

Could you please explain to me why you are going on about quotes? This sounds like the kind of argumentation one would hear in kindergarten. (hint: argumentation proceeds via arguments, not quotes). But anyways
The Churchlands and Dennet are eliminative materialists.
Penrose thinks that emotions are in part describable by physics yet his physics does not actually mention them.
Chalmers is a property dualist that focuses on the hard problem, on the explanatory gap and has posited the need for psychophysical laws to help with the lack in physics for explaining them (also imo a hopeless endevour).

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nate June 24, 2010 at 8:59 am

What is your position? It seems to me that you’re appealing to the consquence. You want “morality/feelings” to be the cause of human behavior, but you don’t have any arguments for that other than “This must be wrong because I want it to be.”

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JS Allen June 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

The Churchlands and Dennet are eliminative materialists.

This is not technically true. Dennett is eliminativist with respect to qualia, but not with respect to intentions.

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

nate: If you do not know my position how do you I am arguing towards a consequence? :)
If I am arguing towards a consequence I suppose it would be: “we are in some deep shit…”
Also, how did you come to the conclusion that I did not have any arguments? Did I not just give the explanatory gap argument? (there are more then that one, they are all concievability arguments though).

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nate June 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

//If you do not know my position how do you I am arguing towards a consequence? :)//

Because you said,”The alternative, that physics is right about them would lead to eliminative materialism.” Pretty much a textbook case of appeal to consquence. I know that you don’t want materialism to be true, but you dont believe in an incorpeal soul, so I’m curious as to what you believe gives rise to “feelings/morality” or even what they are.

//Did I not just give the explanatory gap argument?//

This is an appeal to consquence. What makes you so certian that “morality/feelings” exist?

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

JS Allen:
It is technically true, what an eliminative materialist eliminates differs from e-materialist to e-materialist. Dennet eliminates qualia and is therefore an eliminativistic materialist (it is not a package deal).

nate: If you must frame it as an appeal to consequence the appeal to consequence in your quote is an appeal to not contradict oneself. I started out by writing (not saying) “…but we all know (except for the zombies) that humans move about in the world according to such things as feelings and a sense of morality”.

That is:
We (appeal to your standard type 1a western human) are not eliminativistic materialists (zombies). Since we are not zombies we have a bit of a problem in that physics would – taken at face value – insist that we indeed are zombies. ie we have a problem (a well known one at that). I did not have the intention of writing:
“That would lead us to e-materialism, the consequences of that view is bad therefore we should not use go there”.

How are the concievability arguments arguments to consequences?.

“What makes you so certian that “morality/feelings” exist? ”
I would think that would be the same things that make you sure that syntax and semantics exist.

“I’m curious as to what you believe gives rise to “feelings/morality” or even what they are.”
I have a well thought out and coherent solution to the mind-body problem that would convince everybody and solve this 400 year old puzzle that Galileo dumped on us, unfortunately this commentbox is too small for me to enter it. :)

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ildi June 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I have a well thought out and coherent solution to the mind-body problem that would convince everybody and solve this 400 year old puzzle that Galileo dumped on us, unfortunately this commentbox is too small for me to enter it.

Then the acid wore off…

(Ah, the good old days!)

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Heuristics June 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm

ildi: not a fan of Fermat’s Last Theorem?

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ildi June 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Yeah, I get the emoticon meant you were being self-effacing… your general stream-of-consciousness writing style was bringing back fond memories

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Heuristics:There are no such things as incorporeal souls (at least that I know if, would be very strange if there were).

Great. I’m glad that isn’t an issue.

Argument from ignorance, uhhm dude, my argument IS that physics is ignorant about feelings/morality and therefore it must be wrong about them. The alternative, that physics is right about them would lead to eliminative materialism.

Wait for it…

Physics makes no mention of morality or feelings/emotions etc.

Then why mention physics?

Is your brain made up of the stuff that physics makes predictions about?

Physics is used by a variety of disciplines but is not the focus of those disciplines just as it is used but is not the focus in other fields. (Note that this includes many non-science fields such as the related fields architecture and construction.)

Does your brain behave differently then the stuff that physics books have predictions on? (hint: it does not)

Does your brain behave differently then the stuff gardener books have predictions on?

Could you please explain to me why you are going on about quotes?

One moment — [ looks back ] — oh …

This sounds like the kind of argumentation one would hear in kindergarten. (hint: argumentation proceeds via arguments, not quotes).

Well, you made quite a few claims about what people think, and as you keep making mistakes about what people (and whole fields) think (if possible on the last part) I thought it was prudent to call you on it and not just accept your word for what you say they say. Can you blame me for not treating your opinion as fact?

But anyways The Churchlands and Dennet are eliminative materialists.

Penrose thinks that emotions are in part describable by physics yet his physics does not actually mention them.

Chalmers is a property dualist that focuses on the hard problem, on the explanatory gap and has posited the need for psychophysical laws to help with the lack in physics for explaining them (also imo a hopeless endevour).

Let’s put this aside. Is there a reason why I should care about the personal opinions of those specific people?

Going back to what is important, not who is important as an authority, do you want to re-phrase your original comment that I responded to?

Damn near everything arrived at by physics for how humans operate in the world has been wrong. Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void according to deterministic/statistically random laws but we all know (except for the zombies) that humans move about in the world according to such things as feelings and a sense of morality.

A list of comments that I think are not controversial;

* As you’ve noted, physics doesn’t make those claims as a field or as individual physicists. The whole “nothing but” part of your earlier comment was just bizarre, and I hope you reject it now.

* As I’ve noted, other fields do make claims about “how humans operate” and they may refer to various physical sciences including physics to either perform research and/or describe specific results.

(To back up the last part, I think that MAO inhibitors (a class of drugs) impact the flow of particles across dendrites. [checks] Not too far off. Some interesting stuff.

Then again, I could just skip physics and mention alcohol or concussions. Would you have comments on those?)

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Heuristics June 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

>Then why mention physics?
I’ll make a quick and dirty sketch of the argument:

1. Physics describes (well enough) the movement of particles through the void.
2. Our mind is our brain, the brain particles moving about in the void
C1(from 1&2). Physics describes what happens in the brain since our mind is the brain (from lack of immaterial soul) physics describes what happens in the mind

3. Physics makes no mention of emotion/morality
4. Simulation of physics (brain particles) in a computer leads to the phenomena found in chemistry, biology and neuroscience but would show no sign of what it is like to feel redness or pain
5. Things that make no difference to the movement of atoms in the void are eliminated (Occhams razor)
C2(from 3-5). eliminative materialism reached

Physics is mentioned because it is the metaphysical bottom, the layers on top only have the metaphysical tools that physics has, if new metaphysical tools were to arrise they would be epiphenomena since they could not change the movement of particles in the void.

>Physics is used by a variety of disciplines but is not the focus of those disciplines just as it is used but is not the focus in other fields.

If those disciplines break the rules of physics they are wrong, plain and simple. However, they do not break those rules, put any of the phenomena investigated by any field of science under a powerfull enough measuring tool and you will find that the atoms measured move according to the laws of physics. This includes neuroscience.

>Does your brain behave differently then the stuff gardener books have predictions on?

Gardener books have no predictions of the movement of particles in my brain. Physics most certainly does. My brain does behave differently then garden plants behave.

>Can you blame me for not treating your opinion as fact?

I have not made any misstakes about what fields and people say. And I can blame you for specifying for me in what way I should defend what I write (I don’t mind defending what I write in the slightest, but I get to decide how I do it).

>Let’s put this aside. Is there a reason why I should care about the personal opinions of those specific people?

They are the typical punching bags for arguments of phil.mind and collectively make a good overview of the field (and none of them want to break the laws of physics).

>do you want to re-phrase your original comment that I responded to?

No, it works well and I would use the same frasing in the future.

>The whole “nothing but” part of your earlier comment was just bizarre, and I hope you reject it now.

Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void. As I’ve noted, other fields do make claims about “how humans operate” and they may refer to various physical sciences including physics to either perform research and/or describe specific results … Then again, I could just skip physics and mention alcohol or concussions. Would you have comments on those?)

Here it appears that you are just blatantly contradicting yourself?
The introduction of alcohol into the brain causes changes in the movement of atoms in the brain particles in a way predictable by physics. This change in movement of brain particles in turn cause changes in signals sent from the brain to the rest of the body causing changes in movement of the body. No emotion/morality needed to describe the flow of events, call in Occhams razor and you are done.

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 6:01 am

[ longer reply deleted ]

Heuristics: Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void.

Listen, we’ve already covered that and you retracted what you said earlier…now you’re claiming it again.

If you are going to do such things, I’m going to just take it as an acknowledgement that you either are just screwing with me, you are deeply confused, or you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not here for a willfully reluctant students, though appearances may seem to contradict that at times.

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Chris K June 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

5 days later…

Luke, you wrote:

“Damn near anything ever to ostensibly arrive by divine revelation about the natural world has been wrong.”

I was looking for specific examples of where Christian revelation has gone wrong. Your comment doesn’t seem to be either careful or clear – and it seems to be just false. What do you mean, specifically?

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Chris K, if you have a list of things that divine revelation got right, present it. If not, I don’t see Luke’s comment as contentious.

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Heuristics June 29, 2010 at 12:21 am

Hermes:
I have not retracted anything I have written here.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

Heuristics: I have not retracted anything I have written here.

Hold on. You said…

Heuristics: Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void according to deterministic/statistically random laws but we all know (except for the zombies) that humans move about in the world according to such things as feelings and a sense of morality.

So, I asked you for a source for such a bizarre claim. You replied;

Heuristics: I am not quoting anybody, it is an original statement by me.

OK. That’s a retraction.

Yet, that’s not all. To emphasize your point of view, you also wrote;

Heuristics: Physics makes no mention of morality or feelings/emotions etc.

There literally are no statements about emotion and morality in physics. Open any random book on physics and take a look, there will be a distinct lack of mention on it. Yet (most or many) physics books have statements that can make predictions of the movement of particles in your brain and those predictions have no need of morality or emotion to do what they do.

Though I would not write exactly what you did, or how you wrote it, it’s close enough. Except, you then went on to repeat your claim again after retracting it just a few messages before;

Heuristics: Physics claims that humans are nothing but atoms moving about in the void.

What is your major malfunction, private?

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Chris K June 29, 2010 at 10:27 am

6 days later…

Zak,

“What should move us to think that demonic possessions are real, and are not just another failed supernatural explanation of something?”

Good question. My guess is that one might think about demonic possession when the manifested symptoms don’t match up with known psychological symptoms and when there are specific religious cues that are manifested, i.e. aversion to the name of Jesus, knowledge of other languages previously unknown, etc.

As for Mark 13 and Matthew 24: In these passages, Jesus is clearly discussing two separate events – the destruction of the temple and his coming at the consummation of the kingdom. In Mark 13:32-37, Jesus explicitly warns against setting up a timetable for his return. Why then would he give a timetable in verse 30? Because he is talking about the destruction of the temple. I believe it’s called a telescopic prophecy when separate events are discussed in the same prophetic discourse. Of course, the failed apocalyptic reading of this passage deserves some consideration, and there are many details here. But one certainly can’t make a firm case for the reductive reading.

Similar issue for Matthew 16 and Luke 9. Jesus claims that some of those present with him will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. It appears that this is fulfilled in the transfiguration, where Peter, James, and John see the glorified Christ as he will be. This is a taste of the consummation of the kingdom that the disciples have experienced. The problem with the failed apocalyptic prophet interpretations is that they fail to grasp the “already/not yet” character of the kingdom of God. The analogy is that of the wedding day: When the bride and groom leave the church, they are married. But the consummation is still to come.

In 1 Thess, Paul is clearly talking about a different issue (controversies over the fate of those who are already dead vs. those who are alive at the Parousia), and is not to be thought of as talking about when the return of Christ will occur.

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Chris K June 29, 2010 at 10:38 am

Zak (cont’d),

“I have a hard time seeing how a real God would be interested in writing a polemic against eastern views of creation, when he knows that people will take it at face value…Out of curiosity though, do you think that anything in the creation story has any factual basis? Or is it mostly allegorical/metaphorical/etc?”

The Christian view of revelation is that it is incarnational – that is, it is simultaneously humanly authored and divinely authored. It’s not as if God decided to remove the author’s mind and dictate what to say. The human authors are not robots; they are inspired. Thus, Genesis 1 is a divinely authorized revelation about who God is in the form of a polemic against the creation views of the Babylonians, etc. God is interested in this because he affirms our humanity in time, space, and history.

The interesting thing about this is that the biblical text, by virtue of its divine author, has added dimensions of meaning. The text cannot mean something different or opposed to what it meant to the human author, but it can mean more than it meant. For example, there are divine speech acts as well as human ones. Thus, the biblical text is plurivocal, or polyphonic, or what have you.

So it is possible for there to be factual truths in the Genesis account, but I don’t think that we can say that with any certainty. I think that in Mark 10, Jesus was quoting the text to make a point, but I don’t think that it can be said from this that Jesus affirmed its historical actuality.

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Chris K June 29, 2010 at 11:23 am

Hermes,

The point that I was initially trying to make was that Luke was setting up a false opposition between science and revelation. It seemed like he was saying that revelation is a poor methodology for finding out how the world works, and I actually pretty much agree with him there. When it comes to method, of course science is superior, because the natural world is its subject matter. The natural world is not, however, the subject matter of the Bible. It’s not a science textbook. Its subject matter is salvation history, the record of God making covenants with humanity.

So the problem comes in when the implication is drawn from this that the Bible is faulty or is contradicted by science. I just don’t find this to be the case. So while the point of the Bible isn’t to explain how the world works, physically speaking, it does describe natural processes. And when it does this, there is no contradiction between science and the Bible. I gave the example of the hydrological cycle. Also, there is the description of how to handle leprosy in Leviticus 13:46. There are others.

Also, about our previous exchange: I specifically wrote “atheism or something like it” because I suspected that you might reply as you did about the incommensurability of “belief in gods” versus “no belief in gods.” I think there are probably good points in there, but I’m not sure that I buy the argument that they are not comparable. I take it that it is reasonable for a person to believe that which they’ve been raise to believe – it is reasonable to trust the context that one is brought up in, whether that context is Hindu, Christian, agnostic, atheist or whatever. Then at some point, that reasonableness gets put into question when confronted with rival truth claims. At that point, we weigh the evidence, test out our reasons for believing the way that we do. When you found out that theism was a “live belief option,” I assume that you had to figure out if theism fit the evidence and your experience better than your understanding of reality at that time. So I assume you had reasons for rejecting theism. Those reasons are what I was thinking of – and it makes sense to me to say that we all have reasons for what we believe, however we describe our belief system.

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