Re: Descendants and Thomas Trap

George Murphy (
Sat, 21 Nov 1998 09:43:52 -0500

Glenn R. Morton wrote:
> I do think that objective, observable truth is superior to subjective,
> non-falsifiable beliefs. On this charge I stand gladly guilty. But to show
> you that I believe that parables can relay truth I will write one for the
> group. Lets consider this:

> I want a religion that 'runs'. I don't want a religion in which I can sit
> in the car shut my eyes and imagine what ever I want. It must run, it must
> be real or it isn't worth much. So I will plead guilty, proudly to the
> claim that I think propositional evidence is better than
> metaphorical/allegorical evidence. .................................

What you've illustrated quite well with your parable is that the type of
language which is used must be appropriate to the situation. Your last sentence here is
fine for some situations but not others. Apparently Jesus thought that his story of the
Good Samaritan was a better answer to the question "Who is my neighbor" than a legal
definition of neighbor. (& no, the fact that the story coulda, woulda, shoulda really
happened has nothing to do with this.)
Since we & other Christians agree that Genesis is true and authoritative, what
we have to do next is study the texts to decide what types of literature they are. &
it seems clear that some of them are not simply propositional evidence - Gen.1:1-2:4a
for example. This is not a modern scientific description of the big bang, condenation
of the sun & solar system, &c. It is a theological, perhaps liturgical, statement about
God's relationship with the world. It is a true statement. But to publish it as a
scientific paper in Physical Review would put it in the same type of inappropriate
setting as the language used by your car salesman.

> > My "pedantry" is simply insistence on paying some attention to what we
> >are talking about and speaking about it carefully. I have said
> repeatedly >that I believe God to be the creator of the universe and that
> Gen.1:1 states >that. But by its very nature such creation cannot be an
> act "in history" or >even "in the universe". Since history studies events
> in history & science >studies events in the universe, neither can have the
> creation of the universe >as part of its subject matter.
> I don't agree with your limited definition. God's actions are part of
> history or we wouldn't be here because we wouldn't have been created. While
> you want to limit history to only those events that occur in actual
> space-time, I don't because a real event(whatever one wants to call it)
> took place when God commanded the universe into existence. That event was
> the cause of our universe. As the cause of the universe it is also part of

I was using "creation" here as you did in your original statement to refer only
to origination. More broadly, it also includes God's action in the world today. In
fact, I would _begin_ with such providential action through natural processes and then
extrapolate back to origins. (Considerably more detail in a couple of recent papers of
mine which I'll reference &/or send to anyone interested.)
Thus I believe that God is continually acting today through natural processes.
But what we can observe scientifically are those natural processes, & we don't need to
make any reference to God to describe them accurately. Whenever we pray "give us this
day our daily bread" & don't expect bread to drop miraculously onto our tables, we
express that belief.
Extrapolating that, God's action in bringing the life, the earth, our galaxy,
and the universe into being can be seen in the same way. How far back toward an origin
of everything we can go in purely scientific terms is still open to question, & perhaps
always will be. But there is no reason of principle to insist that we must stop short
at any particular point.
How can we account for the laws of physics which make such processes possible, &
for the fact that they are "embodied" in a physical universe? I don't think science can
answer that question - but it is a question which goes beyond science. Of course I
think that this is to be understood in terms of God's creative action through the divine
Logos. But a scientist can just say "I'm not interested in metaphysics" - or like all
too many, do bad pop theology.

> >> In another note tonight you wrote:
> >>
> >> > Well, if someone finds a skeleton unmitakeably identifiable as
> that of Jesus
> >> >of Nazareth there would be such a misfit.
> >>
> >> That is an easy bullet to dodge. There is no way ANY skeleton could ever
> >> be unmistakeably identified from that time. Lets say we found a tomb with
> >> the inscription Jesus of Nazareth. C14 dated to the 1st century. Is this
> >> OUR Jesus? Was Jesus the ONLY guy named Jesus (Yeshua) from Nazareth at
> >> that time? The odds are against it since Yehoshua was a common name. So
> >> what are you going to use to 'unmistakeably' identify the skeleton? mtDNA?
> >> DNA fingerprinting? Fingerprints? photos? This is something that can
> >> never happen. And because it can't happen it is a meaningless gesture. I
> >> would ask again what could possibly falsify the Bible for you? this
> >> skeleton business simply can't do it in any way, shape or form.
> >
> > The Easter message is that Jesus is alive. The way of disproving it is
> >to demonstrate that Jesus is dead.
> You didn't answer the question. How could you even in principle prove that
> Jesus was dead from the vantage point of today? Are you proposing we use
> Mary's DNA to verify the skeleton is the son of Mary? That doesn't exist.
> We can't prove that Jesus is dead. So, I say that you are not able to
> falsify the Bible by the method you suggested. If you agree, ooutline a
> method whereby without doubt we could prove Jesus is dead? If not, is there
> any other misfit that would cause you to say the bible is false? If not,
> you have divorced science from Scripture.

Let me turn this around: What scientific evidence for the resurrection of Jesus
do you propose to find _beyond arguments which have already been made for the accuracy
of the New Testament accounts of the appearances of Jesus and of the empty tomb_?

> >> Exactly what evidence do you present to prove to me that Jesus is the one
> >> in whom all things hold together? This is a question I can hear my current
> >> and former atheist bosses asking me if I told them the above? If all we
> >> offer the world is an assumption, we will have few converts indeed.
> >
> > 1) Please re-read what I said earlier. One explores the consequences
> >of this assumption.
> Exploring assumptions does not make things true. One can explore
> assumption that the world is being taken over by worm-like creatures that
> burrows into the back of the neck and thus control people. But are we to
> believe that? What evidence can one use to show that Jesus holds the world
> together (as you said and as I believe). I know of the strong force, but
> there is actually no evidence that it is God holding things together. That
> is an assumption on both of our parts. While I believe that God is holding
> the universe together it is an assumption. Are you saying that exploring
> assumptions is enough to generate faith?

Again, read what I said about Einstein & c. Einstein of course didn't simply
say, with no evidence at all, "maybe the speed of light is the same for all observers."
He knew some things about Galilean relativity & Maxwell's equations & optical
experiments which all had to do with the speed of light. But his _hypothesis_ that c is
the same for all inertial observers certainly hadn't been _proven_ in 1905 & there were
various other possibilities for explaining what was known. By making this assumption (&
that of the relativity principle for all phenomena) he & others were able to develop a
theory which was able to explain a lot of things, including things like time dilation
which contradicted common sense. It is because of the consequences of his theory, not
because its hypotheses had been proven to start with, that we accept special relativity.

Similarly - no one is being asked to believe that "all things hold together" in
someone of whom nothing at all is known, and the accounts of whose life are manifest
fairy stories. The one we are speaking of is the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. Few
historians today would argue that he didn't really live in Palestine around the
beginning of the first century. His life and message (including storytelling
activity!) presented in the gospels have to be taken into account in evaluating him.
His absolute devotion & obedience to God as his Father is consistent with the idea that
in some sense he saw himself in a son-father relationship with God. Some of his
characteristic actions were eating with tax collectors and sinners and claiming to have
the authority to forgive sins, actions which got him in trouble with religious leaders.
There is little serious historical doubt that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
That is the one who is supposed to have been raised. & some good answers can be
made to common objections to this claim.
So my invitation is for people to look at their lives and the world in the light
of the claim that _this_ person is the one who provides the deepest possible sense for
things, that "in him all things hold together." (& just the fact that within a few
decades of his death people could be saying that sort of thing - in Col.1:13-20 - about
a man who had died on a cross is perhaps significant.) Not "there is a God" or "Someone
has been raised" but "God is revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth who is raised."
Now explore the implications of that claim.

> Of Thomas George wrote:
> > You've simply missed the point of his story, a point given to it not by
> me >but by the gospel writer: "Have you believed because you have seen me?
> >Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
> > Then lest there be any doubt, the purpose of the whole book follows -
> >"That you [i.e., all to whom the gospel comes, including us] may believe
> that >Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have
> life in >his name." He does not say "That you may go and find further
> evidence before >you believe."
> So why didn't Jesus condemn Peter and John for running to the tomb rather
> than sitting there eating breakfast. It clearly says that they thought the
> women's story was crazy. They went to check it out, which is evidence
> gathering.

I don't know. Maybe at some point he did. The longer ending of Mark (16:14)
says that "he upbraided them [N.B.] for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because
they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen."
BUT - you continue to avoid the clear statement in the gospel at the end of the
Thomas story - "Don't be like Thomas. Believe the witnesses."
(& again, of course, Thomas did then believe. & of course he is not untypical -
his attitude is only too typical. But that's not the same thing as being encouraged to
emulate him.)

George L. Murphy