rational rejection of supernatural mythologies

Continuing Creations

The Bible is the Truth because it is a revealed religion.”

“Your line of reasoning sounds like you are combating a Western Christian view. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I view the place of the Bible within the scheme of revelation somewhat differently. My reasoning goes more like: The Church tells us it is a revealed religion because they got it from reliable sources who tell us that the Apostles tell us it is a revealed religion, because they got it from a man named Jesus, Who said He is God and said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” He was quoted by a guy named John who followed Him around for three years.” 

Thank you for the interesting account of your reasoning. (The sequence sounds like that whispering game that we used to play as kids.)

You are quite correct that by “Son of God”, I referred to the Trinity in Western Christian traditions.  I certainly have been told by Western Christians that they believe that theirs is a revealed religion. I did not ask those Western Christians exactly what they mean by the term, but I took it to be something akin to what you describe for Eastern traditions.

Jesus may have said exactly those words to John and the sequence may have been exactly as you state. (I would not have expected that many fishermen on the Sea of Galilea could write in those days, so the early steps were necessarily oral.)

I am not telling you not to believe it, but I do say that I find it circular and utterly unconvincing. Regardless of whether we are talking of a monistic view or the trinity, I view who said what to whom and whatever was subsequently written wherever as being mere hearsay evidence and hence part of a circular argument in that regard. That statement includes the Old Testament and all of the published and purported Gospels.

My viewpoint, that there are no supernatural agencies, inherently dismisses any claims of being the Son of God or of God Himself as being unfounded claims. Since there is no God, Jesus could no more be the Son of God than he could be a mortal God. Nowadays, only schizophrenics claim to be Jesus, but I am not saying that Jesus was schizophrenic. I am merely saying that he might have believed himself the Son of God or even God, but one cannot be the Son of something that does not exist, still less be something that does not exist.

I would consider it even more unlikely that the Jews, who had waited so long for the Messiah not to recognize God when they met him in person. It certainly would not seem a good strategy for convincing One’s followers to worship One for that Walking the Earth God to allow himself to be crucified rather than convincingly demonstrating His Divinity by living on and on and on. Had Jesus demonstrably lived 2,000 years, we’d all be obedient Christians.

Even though the Christian Bible was selectively compiled hundreds of years after Jesus’ death, and even though it contains the Jewish-origin Old Testament, and even though the New Testament contradicts the Old, and even though it both are internally self contradictory, and even though the Christian Bible it is attributed to a variety of authors, it is supposedly the revealed Word of God. What? Are we to take it that God couldn’t make His Mind up what to reveal? So much for omniscience!

“Now I may not be a scientist, but here’s an area where I have a bit more technical expertise.The Christian Bible was not selectively compiled over hundreds of years. First of all, the Christian church has always accepted the Old Testament. In fact it accepted a particular canon of the Old Testament before the Jews did, and actually used a slightly different canon until the Protestant Reformation, when that fraction of Christianity opted to use only the Jewish canon adopted in the second century AD.

Second, as for the books of the New Testament, there were those writings that were always accepted from the beginning. There was never any question about the four Gospels (and always rejection of spurious “Gospels” that are now all the rage) nor of the Acts of the Apostles, nor Paul’s letters, nor some of the general letters. The only writings about which there was significant disagreement, but which were eventually universally accepted were Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and the Revelation. The writings were all in existence by the end of the first century.Again you seem to be debating against a Protestant view of Scripture, which, while I understand it very well, is not something to which I subscribe. That view does require quite a bit of mental and theological gymnastics to support the idea of sola scriptura.”

Very interesting indeed. By “spurious Gospels” I take you to be dismissing the later “Gospels” that religious scholars claim to be just as valid as the included Gospels. It really makes no difference to the central claim of whether or not a mortal man was also, by later accounts of his account, Divine or the Son of the Divine. The sheer inconsistency of the included messages, whenever written and compiled and however selected for publication, mitigate against the veracity of the central claim. I am arguing against any view of Scripture that holds hearsay to be verification.

You said earlier that the Church schism that divided Christianity into Eastern and Western Christianity occurred in 451 CE at the Council of Chalcedon. That council took place at least 400 years after Jesus’ death and the schism was arrived at by vote. As I understand it the chief falling out occurred over the subject of the Trinity. Western Christians also claim that their religion is revealed and, fairly or unfairly, voted the Eastern traditions to be heretical.

“As an Orthodox Christian, I believe that Jesus is revealed to us through the Holy Tradition. That includes the writings found in the Bible. They are part of that Tradition. The purpose of all of them is to reveal Jesus to us. The Old Testament tells of the preparation for Jesus arrival, the New Testament of the fulfilment of it.I don’t get how you think the employment of a variety of authors somehow makes it less the Word of God? Why is God’s choice of a variety of authors an indication that He couldn’t make up His mind?”

Because of the improbability (there are no supernatural entities) and the inconsistency. Why go to all that trouble only to be so very inconsistent? The objections that I am describing cover only one of the many reasons for my atheism.

Islam is also touted as being a revealed religion. Since the Koran disagrees with the Bible, most notably on the Trinity, are we to assume that God chose to change the revelations?

“Not if you are a Muslim. Islam teaches that all previous revelations were corrupted and that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets, giving the final word.”

Precisely. Why would I believe any of the accounts. I don’t. I am simply not so credulous as that. Creationists commonly accuse scientist of being credulous in fallacious tu quoque accusations, but scientist are probably the least credulous individuals because we demand evidence.

Or are we just to take it that Islam is not a revealed religion yet Christianity is.

“Yes, that would be my position.”

So, you disagree with Muhammad but not with John. I think that both were describing different variants of invented beliefs that descended from the Greek philosophers through Jewish tradition. Just as others did in their stead.

This leads us to the question of why we should accept any religion’s claims of being a revealed religion.

“Yes it does. You either accept that the historical evidence is that the Apostles accurately handed down what Jesus said or you don’t. If you do (and really only if you do) you are faced with the “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” trilemma made famous by CS Lewis.”

Preachers. That’s a false trichotomy.

Not a fact, which is defined as, “a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case or has happened.”

“No, a fact defined as “something that is”.”

A statement is something that “is”, this does not make the statement factual unless it is also true. I pulled the definition off the Internet. It was one of several similar definitions.

Why would God. . .The answer to the riddle, of course, is…

“You just set ‘em up and knock ‘em down.”

Like bowling pins they come down very easily. Apologetics attempts to glue the pins to the floor.

Infinity and omniscience are just apologetic excuses invented in an attempt to argue out of a tight corner.

“I think you will find these in theology long before there was a need to argue out of any corners. They didn’t enter the vocabulary after atheism began to be viewed as a credible position.”

You did not state exactly when the idea first appears in theology and I don’t recall reading that this was an issue very early on. The early Churchmen were already arguing and voting over what and what not to believe. The earliest theologists who attempted to construct a logical philosophy came later, as I understand it. Certainly the unknowable idea was included in the writings of the rationalist philosophers. That question will take a lot more digging to answer.

I guess that Christian theologists decided that calling upon an ineffable God was a good argument for tight spots:

“I refer to my previous reply. There weren’t any spots, tight or otherwise, at the time.”

There were and there are, or I could not knock ‘em down and I would be the only atheist in human history. I may be an oddity, but I’m not that much of an oddity.

“We don’t know because we can’t know because it is the Nature of God not to reveal all to His revealed religion.”

“Close. They would say: “We don’t know because we can’t know because it is the Nature of God not to reveal all of Himself.” It goes back to that infinite God/finite man thing.”

Yes, you had explained it quite well. You have just rephrased what I said in more apologetic terms. You can’t have it all ways – either Christianity is a revealed religion, (which it can’t be) or God is not as God is revealed in the Bible (despite its being taken by many, including you by your account, to be the literal Truth), or God is Descartes’ deceiver.

Despite appearances to the contrary, I do understand the concept that you are describing. If there were a God, then that God could only be conceived of as ineffable because man could not comprehend what he was trying to explain. The difficulty with the concept is that, even though it could be taken as an explanation, the difficulty could have arisen for other reasons – as you say, man’s frailty. You are taking it to mean that man’s frailty renders him incapable of understanding an inexplicable God. Your problem is that the illusion of unknowability could also be attributed to attempting to explain how a Single Cause could explain the diverse, chaotic, complex phenomena that we observe. The evidence simply does not point to a single cause, even a whimsical cause. 

Man has failed, in more than 2,000 years of recorded intellectual effort to provide a consistent explanation for this Yahweh/God/Allah for which there is no evidence. However, the reason for the concept actually lies in the fact that humans cannot construct a consistent theology that fits the observed facts. That is, even if the earliest instances of this notion were honest attempts to synthesize a philosophical framework by which to envisage the mundane and the divine, the concept of unknowable owes its qualities to difficulties inherent in synthesizing something with no empirical evidence for its postulated existence. The only evidence for the contention that God is unknowable comprises human failure to provide a consistently logical account that explains what is observed, and this failure, together with the concept of unknowability, can be better explained in other ways.

the fallacious argument that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it must be true.

“No, you must have misunderstood me. My argument was simply that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it can’t be disproven.”

That’s tautological and it is exactly what I have been saying about the reason for the claim for unknowability – the strategy attempts to remove the concept out of the reach of disproof (refutation really, since religion is purely philosophy).  What I said, and you deleted an important piece was actually, “Such arguments boil down to implied argumentum ad ignorantiam, the fallacious argument that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it must be true.”

(While we’re on that subject you have deleted many significant pieces from what I have written, even though you protested that I had done that over one sentence. I haven’t complained on the basis of two assumptions: that we are the only ones following this discussion, and the point of the discussion is to explore the topic and not to change one anothers’ minds, or, if anyone else is following this discussion, to change their mind.)

I really, really, really do not like this temperamental editor.

Follow-through on Apologetic creations and Comment.


September 4, 2007 Posted by | atheism, logic, philosophy, religion, religious history | Leave a comment

Voting on the Word of God

“already known that the history of religious beliefs indicates”

“There are a lot of theories on religious development – this is hardly the accepted standard formulation amongst academics.”

You probably are not interested in educating me on the standard academic formulation, but a synopsis or URL would be welcome. How does the standard formulation differ from what I said?

I have read a text written by a religious historian that does say that religious beliefs progress from animism through personification (polytheism) to monotheism, through to highly intellectualized theology. Only one report, admittedly.

Pharaoh Akhenaten attempted to convert Egypt to monotheistic worship of Aten

“Surely you know that Akhenaten scholarship is all over the place. I checked the Wikipedia link to see if it said otherwise, but the article appears to demonstrate that this is the case.”  

Which is the case? An abundance of Akhenaten scholarship? Are you saying that Akhenaten did not promote monotheistic worship of Aten? Is Wikipedia wrong? It sometimes is.

“Have you been reading too much Freud?”

As I said here. I don’t actually think all that much of Freud. Did Freud have theories about Akhenaten.

about 500 BCE: attributed to someone with the mouthful title of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

“This was the shocker for me. For a minute I thought there were two Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagites,”

Good grief, I sincerely hope not! I wonder how his contemporaties addressed him.

“since the one I know of (and the one you refer to) lived and wrote in the late 5th and early 6th century AD. Fortunately your Wikipedia link refers to the same Christian writer.”

 I misread Wikipedia. I had read somewhere that some Greek school of philosophy included the notion of a single deity. I assumed that this was the same fellow and did not read further. I had encountered mention of him in connection with John the Scot. Is the “Dionysius the Aeropagite” mentioned in Acts xvii. 34 a different fellow and hence the “pseudo”? 

I did a little research. The Greeks did have philosophers who proposed varieties of monotheism: the earliest was Thales around 586 BCE. Others were Xenophanes around 530 BCE, Anaxagoras around 460 BCE, Antisthenes around 406 BCE, and, more famously, Plato (~387) and Aristotle (~344). I have never been particularly interested in Greek philosophy.

“The only “mono” “ism” he is concerned with the monophysitism, the belief that Christ only has one nature, the heresy that has separated the Orthodox Church (and Western churches for that matter) from the Oriental Orthodox Churches (i.e., the Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians, Armenians, and Indians) which dates back to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.”

Interesting. I obviously skimmed the article far too quickly. I found monophysitism referred to as the Eutychian heresy. The system of councils appears not to have been particularly democratic. I read that some bishops were denied a vote at the Council of Ephesus, which preceded Chalcedon. Orthodoxy being that belief system voted in at a Council and heresy that belief system voted out. So much for “revealed religion”, it transpires that the Word of God was determined by a vote.

“I’ve taught about psychological responses to religion at A Level (covering Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Jung, etc.) and the information you are using is really rather dated, based on bad anthropology and hardly credible.”

Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Jung, etc” – I sincerely hope that you included some recent, reputable psychologists and anthropologists who actually conducted empirical research in the “etc” group. I saved the links but have not read the articles yet.

Overall, there has not been a great deal of research on the psychology underlying religious belief. However you talk of teaching about psychological responses to religion, and that is a rather different kettle of fish because it appears more individual and less comprehensive than a research study would be.

 In response to My God is bigger than your god and Comments.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | philosophy, psychology, religion, religious history | Leave a comment