Degree of Belief

Anything related to the concept of “God” is a belief, since there is no definitive proof either for or against.  And the degree of belief varies from absolute certainty in God to absolute certainty in no god.  In the middle part of this range are those who do not hold any belief about God.

Those who believe that God or gods exist are generally referred to as “theists” (or occasionally less polite terms).  Those who do not believe that any gods exist are generally referred to as “atheists”.  This latter group is sometimes further separated into those who believe there are no gods (sometimes called “strong atheists” or “gnostic atheists’) and those who do not have any beliefs about God (sometimes called “weak atheists” or “agnostic atheists” or even just “agnostics”).

It seems like it might be human nature for “all” beliefs, but certainly, when it comes to God beliefs, the stronger the belief, the more the inclination to “preach” that belief.  Many who are absolutely or fairly certain that their God exists, seem driven (at the insistence of that God, of course) to convince everybody else that they are right.  Some who have the belief that no god exists also seem driven (for the good of humanity, of course) to convince everybody else that THEY are right.  The problem is, that neither side has yet validly (or at least universally) been able to do so.  Any gods which exist have been very good at not leaving any concrete evidence.  This could mean either of there are no gods, or that gods have a reason they find adequate to hide concrete evidence of their existence.

What sort of “soft” evidence does the atheist present in support of their belief?  Several points which are certainly indicative, but so far none which are irrefutable.

– Science has a theory for “everything” and cannot detect anything in support of God.

The problem is, a “theory” is not “fact”, it is merely an explanation which has not yet been proven or disproved.  Just because something could have happened one way does not mean it did.  Also, it can be postulated that Science has the capability to detect everything in this “natural” world (that which COULD have happened without external influence) but this actually meshes with the concept that a “supernatural” world might exist, which may have at least some different laws than this world cannot be perceived by Science, which is grounded in the laws of this world.  Does this supernatural world exist?  It is likely that those living in the natural world will never know for sure.

– God is not as described.  He is claimed to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and can be shown to not be one or more of those.  He is claimed to be all loving and can be shown to be the opposite; supporting slavery, genocide, human sacrifice, murder, rape, anger, jealousy and numerous other acts of non-love.

No, I don’t think any lack of “omni” anything can be shown.  I have yet to see any presentation of this which has any merit; all have merely shown a remarkable lack of understanding of the powers which it is theorized that God possesses.  If you look at the Old Testament of the Bible, a case can be made that God allows or even encourages under circumstances, activities which at this point in time we find utterly reprehensible.  If someone wanted to argue that God was a really crappy excuse for a human being, then a case for that might be made.  But I doubt anyone seriously thinks God is just another human being.  Things which He does or commands or supports may seem “bad” to us, but allegedly He knows more than we do, and these things might serve a greater good elsewhere or have desirable results at the time in which they are alleged to have happened..

– The Bible is provably “wrong”.

In order to successfully prove this, one would have to show an internal contradiction in the Bible, that someone involved in writing it deliberately falsified something or was incontrovertibly unreliable, a contradiction with another (validated) source, or find something in it which could be shown to be contrary to known facts.  There are a number of apparent internal inconsistencies, but all I’ve heard of can be explained.  There is very little in the way of contemporary other sources, and what there is actually seems to support the Bible, although the validity of these sources is not guaranteed.  Archeology has verified some of the things in the Bible, but not everything and particularly not some of the things which are hardest to accept.  Some archeologists claim to have “disproved” things in the Bible, such as the whole Exodus story.  Those that I have seen use “lack of proof” as proof, and this is not valid.  There are a number of theories of how things “were” or “came to be” which contradict the Bible, but unless one of these is proven, they also do not disprove the Bible.  Some geologists claim that they can show that the “Flood” never occurred.  If there is no supernatural world, then this might actually be valid.  Of course, the whole basis for the Bible is that the supernatural world DOES exist.

– People who believe in God are silly, stupid, delusional, weak willed, unrealistic, unreasonable and/or pains in the rear.

Some are, some aren’t, and this has nothing to do with whether God exists or not.

– People who believe in God don’t behave like they claim they are directed to behave.

This sometimes is completely valid, but it only has implication about human beings, not about God.

– People who believe in God want to impose their morality on everyone.

This is also often valid, but again, it only has implication about human beings, not about God.  Oh, and some people who don’t believe in God seem eager to impose THEIR morality on everyone.

Now, what soft evidence do those who believe in God present?

– Logical argument

This would be good, if valid.  I’ve never heard a valid argument for God, though.  Every single one either has invalid assumptions or uses invalid logical structure

– The authority of the Bible

The difficulty of proving the Bible true is even more difficult than proving it false.

– Personal experience

Now this is very powerful evidence – to those who experience it.  It is of little or no validity to anyone who did not share in the experience.

Because each side really seems unable to make a compelling case, the typical methodology is to state beliefs as facts.  And perhaps make derogatory comments about the person who disagrees with them.  This tends to be quite distressing to those who believe differently.  Perhaps the antagonism could be minimized if everybody did not do these.  Instead, imagine if instead of “X is so”, each person said “I believe X is so”.  Moving from something which may or may not be so, to something which is undeniably so, leaving the forum open to discussion of differences rather than personal invective.  Even better would be “I believe X is so, because of investigateable evidence Y”.  But most people won’t, and the snarling back and forth will continue….

Finding God, Part 6

All of the (common) Western religions started with the Jewish people.  Thus Judaism is the “source” or at least precursor of these religions.  It’s scripture is the Old Testament of the Bible, particularly the first five books or the “Pentateuch”.  As mentioned in an earlier blog, this tends to be one of the better supported scriptures (about as well as scriptures CAN be supported).  It provides a history of how the world came to be and includes a guide for “righteous” living, as well as some insights into God.

The guide for living was called “The Law (of Moses)”.  Note that it was a guide for RIGHTEOUSNESS, not “salvation”.  The Old Testament seems to only describe life “immediately” after death, per the story where a poor righteous man was in “Abraham’s Bosom” and a rich unrighteous man was across a chasm suffering from thirst.  Furthermore, there was a mechanism to atone for unrighteous behavior, involving the sacrifice of a “perfect” animal.  The belief was, that by putting the “sin” on the animal, then killing it, the sin would be “covered” by the animal’s blood, and thus no longer be counted against the sinner.

Still, seems a simple enough system.  Memorize a number of rules (613, I think, with the “10 commandments” as the “Cliff Notes” version), follow them, and when you screw up, (as is almost guaranteed), perform the required sacrifice.  Oh, there is a couple of problems.  First of all, you think PETA is going to let you get away with animal sacrifice?  Even if you can avoid them, the Temple where the sacrifice is to be held was destroyed in 73 AD, and the alter (the Arc of the Covenant) lost.  And where are you going to find the required “priest from the line of Levi”?  We are not talking about someone wearing jeans…   So it appears that Judaism may not have been the road to salvation, and probably is not a reliable path even to righteousness today.

The Old Testament prophecies a “new covenant” (the Law of Moses was the “old covenant”).  This is Christianity, and its scripture is the New Testament, with the Old Testament as backup.  Christianity is clear that the goal is “salvation” for all eternity, not righteousness, and provides an indication on how salvation is to be acquired.  Basically, “sin” includes thoughts as well as actions, and it is made clear that God does not tolerate any sin in his presence (sort of like an allergy).  Since no person can pay the penalty for all of their sins (and everyone has at least some), no person can enter the presence of  God on their own.

The theory is that God caused part of Himself to be born and live as a human, and lived a life without sin, annoying the Jewish leadership to the point where they had Him killed.  Being perfect, this sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price for every sin ever committed or yet to be committed by every person who was, is and will be.  This part is pretty clear; how each of us can accept this gift is less clear.  It is clear that repentance (not only being sorry for every sin committed, but doing one’s best not to repeat any of them or add new ones) and a set of beliefs about God and Jesus is a key part.  But what “else”, if anything, is needed has various interpretations.

Several hundred years later, Muhammad, peace be upon him, was inspired to a new view of a monotheistic God, built on ideas and history from the Old Testament and New Testament.  This is Islam; the scripture is the Qur’an.  As opposed to the Testaments, which are generally considered to have been “inspired” by God, the Qur’an is generally thought to have been “dictated by God to Man (Muhammed)”.  In the highest view, it appears that the primary purpose of man is to worship God (Allah).  In the beginning, Islam tended to be spread by conquest, but left Jews and Christians alone as long as they did not fight the Muslims (adherents of Islam).  Eventually this changed to where violence against non-Muslims was not only allowed, but even required.

Unlike most other religions, which generally attempt to educate non-believers and then if they don’t “see the light”, leave them to their fates, Islam often attempts to “force” belief.  The problem is, although you can “force” behavior, you cannot force belief.  As a result, Islam often supports just killing off the non-believer.  Also, another primary goal of Islam is the creation of the “Caliphate” super state which imposes Sharia Law on everyone, Muslim or not.  It is a problem when you attempt to have God control people who do not believe in that God, not to mention how full of corruption Sharia law is and how destructive to those not at the top, particularly all women.

Like Judaism, Islam has a number of “rules” to follow which mostly seem doable, but it does not seem to be clear how one can “guarantee” they will go to paradise.  Other than dying while killing non-Muslims, of course.

Now we have come to the point where hopefully there is a path which allows you to “find God”.  We will look at this path in the next, final part.

 

How long is a day?

Most are familiar with the beginning of the Old Testament book of Genesis, where ‘everything’ is created in ‘6 days’.  But how ‘long’ are those days?  If you analyze the history in the Bible, you come out with a historical record which is much less than 10,000 years, and 6 additional days does not extend the age of the earth any past that.  Whereas Science seems to indicate that the age of the earth is billions of years.  And although there is some indication that Science’s ability to date things is not as accurate as they might think, it is highly unlikely that they are THAT far off.

So let us look at the ‘days’ described in Genesis.  The first day, light was created.  Kind of a binary occurrence, so not a lot of time is implied by that.  Furthermore, the light was ‘named’ Day and the absence of light (darkness) was named Night.  “So the evening and the morning were the first day.”  It is claimed that this sentence insists one twenty four hour Earth day has elapsed.  Kind of a problem, since no point of reference which supports that time interval exists yet.

One day on Earth is one rotation of the planet around its axis, which is visible to us by one cycle of our view of the sun from a point on the Earth.  Of course, God can know how long that WILL be, since he planned it, but God is very powerful, and is not likely to need even 8 hours (or 8 minutes) to create light.  Is this the first ‘day’ as we know it?  I think not, but it is the first step and the first task.  To continue.

The second day’s work is not very clear.  It appears either God created the planet and the sky, or the natural realm and the spirit realm.  Or the planet and the spirit realm, but very likely the planet was involved otherwise the next step in the process makes much less sense.  How long this would take God is unknown, but in the case of creating the planet, it COULD have been allowed to take a length of time on the order of magnitude estimated by Science.  And that is what I think, since the alternative is that God deliberately set things up so Science would get it wrong, which would kind of seem too ‘cheezy’ a behavior for Him.

The next step was to separate the land from the seas, and create plants.  After that, the creation of the sun, moon and stars.  (At this point, the concept of a ‘day’ could have the referents it needs to make sense).  Next, the creation of fish and birds, and then animals and man.  Each of these steps are presented as one ‘day’, but again, the amount of time each actually took is open to question, and it is possible that the estimates of Science are not too far off.

Then God rested on the seventh day (as stated in Chapter 2) and this was to be an example to us.  Not that we do ‘something’, ‘anything’, each day for six days and then rest, but that we accomplish six days worth of useful tasks and then rest.

Ok, so the two possibilities are that the first chapter of Genesis took exactly six days as we know them, or six days as God knows them.  Remember, God is not tied to time like we are.  It makes more sense to me that the days described are closer to the epochs that Science postulates than to twenty four hour days as we know days.

You say you don’t agree, that the Bible says ‘days’ and that means it was actual days as we know them today and Science has no validity whatsoever?  Perhaps you should look closer, because that viewpoint seems to force the Bible to have a critical contradiction between verse 1 and verse 2, which throws the whole book into doubt.

Verse 1 states that on the 6th day, God created the animals, and then after them, he created man and women.  Plain and simple, animals and then humans appeared within a span of twenty four hours or less according to your viewpoint.  Certainly that account is possible.

But look at how verse 2 describes the creation of humanity.  First God created man, then planted the Garden of Eden and then put the man into it “to tend and keep it”.  After some unspecified period of time, God decided that the man needed a companion for all that tending and keeping.  Let us make the unlikely assumption that this period of time was very short (implying the first man had an attention span even shorter than today’s youth).  Every creature on the Earth and in the sky were brought before the man to be named and evaluated as a companion.  This would seem to take rather a long time, and no suitable companion was found, so the man was put asleep and the woman was created.  All this and the creation of animals happened in a period of time of 24 hours or less?  Highly unlikely.   Anything that God did could be  ‘instantaneous’, but man is not so gifted.  Just because God CAN do something instantaneously, does not mean He HAS to.

Scripture

You hear about ‘scripture’ all the time, but what is it?

Simply put, scripture is documentation from God.  Hopefully you see the problem with that.  If we can’t even prove that God exists, then how can we prove something is validly scriptural?  We can’t; all we can do is show that it cannot be disproved to be valid scripture.  Just like with God, Himself, we can only hope for a reasonable belief.

What do I mean by a ‘reasonable’ belief?  That is, a belief which is not contradicted by any ‘fact’.  For instance, the belief that the world is flat is not a reasonable belief, since there is ample evidence that the world is NOT flat.

There are several ‘scriptures’ out there; most God-oriented groups have one (or a set).  Most known, of course, is the Bible Old and New Testaments.  Also the Torah (a subset of the Old Testament), the Koran, the Book of Mormon and several other books from or through Joseph Smith, the New World Translation and many others,   Often one group’s scripture contradicts that of another group. How can we evaluate them to see which are really scripture?  It can be a challenge.

First and quite importantly is continuity.  It is best to have a documented path from where the scripture was received from God all the way down to ‘today’.  In police terms, the ‘chain of evidence’.  If you cannot show how the ‘paper’ in front of you got there from where God allegedly provided it, then that casts some degree of doubt on the validity of the paper.

Note that I used the term ‘paper’ twice in the sentence above.  You say your scripture is ‘oral’, that is, not written down?  That casts a lot of doubt on its validity, since showing that it was not changed anywhere in its progression is much, much harder than written scripture, which is often no picnic itself.

The next and perhaps most critical thing to show is internal consistency.  Any document which claims both ‘X’ and ‘not X’ is highly suspect.  The problem is, all scripture I am familiar with has had humans involved in writing down the revelations from God, and processing the original throughout history.  Since humans are incapable of fully understanding God, the concepts from God may have been muted, or colored by societal influences, or provided in a form suitable for human understanding (symbolic or as a parable) rather than bare fact or just have been changed (deliberately or accidentally).  This can lead to an apparent contradiction, which requires further research to resolve.

The Bible has been the focus of relentless attempts to show internal discrepancies, and there are indeed places which appear so.  As far as I know, nobody has ever proven the Bible to be out and out wrong, and many of the people who have tried have become believers.

The next test of a document is corroboration.  If a book was written about, say Ronald Regan, there are still people alive who could attest to the truth contained therein.  And a lot of other books to compare it to.  Much scripture is from too far in the past for anyone to still be alive to ask, and other written sources tend to be scarce.  For the Bible, the writings of Josephus, a Roman historian, are of use.

For older scripture, archeology can be useful.  If valid archeological research contradicts scripture, it would be a severe blow to credibility.  So far, every find I’ve heard of either supports or does not contradict the Bible.  In many cases, recent finds have eliminated claims that a person, place or culture described in the Bible never existed.

These methods can increase or decrease your reliance on the validity of scripture.  But what it really comes down to is whether God speaks to you through the scripture.