RE: Another thing people can throw rocks at

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 08:45:53 EDT

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    Hi Glenn,

    There are some hypotheticals contained in this
    response that I think will clarify some of the
    confusion you seem to be having about what I am trying
    to say.

    --- Glenn Morton <> wrote:
    > Hi Blake, I will respond to the parts in which you
    > are replying to me,
    > rather than to Burgy.
    > >-----Original Message-----
    > >From: Dr. Blake Nelson
    > []
    > >Sent: Saturday, May 11, 2002 7:44 PM
    > Sigh, It is interesting how you seem to want to use
    > extreme language,
    > something Burgy chides me for doing also. Can you
    > show me where I have
    > ever, ever said that Christianity is "a completely
    > rational religion"? When
    > you find that statement, then we will discuss your
    > ridiculous
    > mischaracterization of my views.

    I am not trying to mischaracerize your views. My
    point is that concordism, per se, is not a ground for
    faith because, inter alia, people may disagree as to
    the necessary amount of concordism to prove the
    validity of the Bible. Asimov, for example, would not
    buy a single of your concordist arguments because of
    the views he held regarding what the Bible is.

    > FYI at one time I regularly attended a charismatic
    > church. I thoroughly
    > enjoyed the worship. And one thing one can say
    > about a charismatic form of
    > worship--it ain't completely rational. So get your
    > facts right, Blake. At
    > least try to understand where I am coming from
    > rather than constantly doing
    > caricatures.

    I am not doing caricatures. In two decades of
    teaching I have carefully listened to arguments, no
    matter how inane, in order to understand from where
    someone was approaching an issue or a problem. I am
    always able to be enlightened. Unlike your
    supposition regarding my views, I do not presume to
    know yours.

    > What was it about Molech that made the Phoenicians
    > think he was true? Their
    > parents taught them that he was true. And they lived
    > what they had learned.

    This is a non-sensical statement. There is a genesis
    for all beliefs.

    > You have a bit of trouble with hypotheticals don't
    > you?

    Actually, having had the opportunity to teach in law
    schools, I am quite capable of dealing with
    hypotheticals. They are the bread and butter of the
    Socratic method as utilized in law school curricula.
    > As I said to Burgy, one reason we talk past each
    > other is that you seem to
    > limit your responses to those coming from within the
    > Christian tradition and
    > seem to lack an ability to rise above and see the
    > broader theological world
    > which is out there. And if you can't think of a
    > religious tradition which
    > emphasizes the sacrifice of humans to please God,
    > for that is what
    > apeasement is, then look at the Palestinian suicide
    > bombers.

    You missed my point here. I can think of lots of
    traditions that sacrifice people from the Aztecs to
    modern Islam groups. None of those traditions, as far
    as I am aware, are mystical traditions. I know that
    the militant Islam group you are talking about is not
    a mystical tradition and no evidence suggests that the
    Aztecs were. Of course, this gets into nomenclature,
    and there are not hard and fast definitions of these
    things. Having had comparative religion as a hobby
    for three decades, I am well aware of the difficulties
    in categorization. But, in the traditions where such
    sacrifices are made it is the slot machine God that
    needs to be appeased. This falls into the "magical"
    category of religious practice, where rituals are used
    to invoke benefit and ward off evil. I realize that
    those religious views exist. But as you are well
    aware, they are easily demonstrable as false, since
    they do make claims which are easily subject to
    empirical verification. Does a rain dance correlate
    with rain? If you stop human sacrifices, will the sun
    god not return tomorrow? All these claims are
    empirically testable. Therefore, if you see people
    prosper who did not sacrifice their sons, then Molech,
    as conceived by the Phoenicians either doesn't care
    about child sacrifice, as the Phoenicians thought, or
    does not exist. One of the two. They got part of him
    wrong or entirely wrong. Your Molech example does not
    carry water for the Judeo-Christian conception of God.
      You are comparing apples and oranges for reasons I
    have tried unsuccessfully to explain.

    THey think they
    > are doing God's work! So did Bin Laden. But all you
    > can think of is what
    > the Christian traditions limites your thinking to.

    Not accurate, in the least.

    > I don't think you actually read what I write. Try
    > again when you actually
    > read a bit.

    I do read every word. To trot out someone that you
    have mentioned to try to make my point clearer, do you
    believe if Isaac Asimov were still alive and read your
    work that he would convert to Christianity? If so,
    why? If not, why not? Please help me understand the
    effectiveness of your Concordism with this
    hypothetical question.

    > I think all such
    > >systems are flawed for reasons I have discussed
    > >before. I do not believe that God is subject to
    > our
    > >propositional logic in such a way that we can
    > >circumscribe God's attributes.
    > As I said to Burgy, but you haven't read, is that it
    > is not the apprehending
    > of God that I am doing.

    I read every word you write.

    > It is the apprehending of
    > the book which purports to
    > be a message inspired by Him.

    Here is where you do not read what I write. The book
    purports nothing of the sort. The Church, through its
    ecumenical councils, has determined that the documents
    that comprise the Bible bear indicia of inspiration
    based on numerous criteria. We can have a tutorial on
    the various criteria that the councils used to
    determine whether books were canonical. In regard to
    the Old Testament, they pretty much accepted the
    Septuagint for good or bad.

    Do you understand, hypothetically, that if a book is
    in the bible that is completely hogwash, that doesn't
    mean the other books are hogwash or that God does not
    inspire, it only means the ecumenical councils got it
    wrong? That is one of my many points that you either
    ignore or refuse to address. If one book or part of a
    book is demonstrably wrong it has NO EFFECT on any
    other books in the Bible. The Bible is not a single
    book and does not purport, in and of itself, to be
    anything. The Church has assembled the literature as
    canonical that IT (the Church) believes to be
    > Warm feelings may not bring one to knowledge of the
    > truth. Whirling
    > dervishes of Turkish islamic tradition feel really
    > good. So to the shamans
    > of the Sonoran desert when in a trance. They all
    > can't be true at the same
    > time, or if they are, then the message is so plastic
    > as to be meaningless.
    > And don't interpret this from your parochial limited
    > Christian perspective.

    My perspective is neither limited nor parochial. I
    have been a student of comparative religion and
    mythology for over thirty years. I am well aware that
    lots of things engender good feelings, including
    scientific discovery. Folks like CS Lewis and William
    James and more recently John Polkinghorne would
    classify these experiences of joy as religious
    experiences. As would I. I do not think that anyone
    is cut off from the God who seeks us and in most
    traditions there is a kernel of truth of the
    revelation of the one true God, so I do think there is
    good reason to believe that certain types of awe and
    wonder are universal apprehensions of God. That is
    not to say that the edifice built around those
    experiences is completely true as I have tried to
    enunciate numerous times.

    > What you miss is the entire possibility that maybe
    > God IS a slot machine.

    No, I do not miss it. As discussed above, God as a
    slot machine IS an empirically testable proposition.
    That proposition seems, generally, to fail such tests.
      For all its tendentiousness, that is what Sagan's
    Demon Haunted World and many other books like it is
    about. I find Sagan's conclusions fundamentally
    flawed because he discusses a "magical" view of the
    world as religious, when the religious view in at
    least the Judeo-Christian tradition is not
    particularly "magical". Before I get accused of
    knowing even less about comparative religion or
    Christianity, one has to distinguish between folk
    religion which is still alive and well in all
    traditions and religion. As I recall, the Vatican has
    only ever officially recognized two Lourdes miracles,
    despite the numerous accounts of healings, which may
    or may not be true. My point is this is an example
    that Sagan uses (without as I recall mentioning that
    the Roman Catholic Church only recognizes two such
    miracles) in an effort to "debunk" religion. What it
    debunks, to the extent that it debunks anything is a
    folk religion view of God.

    So, God, to all current empirical evidence (prayer and
    spirituality studies on health set aside for the time
    being), is not a slot machine.

    > It just shows
    > that you are wanting a
    > god of your making. That is fine I will let you make
    > God in your image
    > anytime you want. But then grant me the freedom to
    > make a God for me in the
    > image I prefer. And since both are making it all
    > up, we can't tell the
    > other that he wrong to do it.

    This is where you also failed to read my point. The
    Crucified God is not a God that I would make. I have
    thought quite a lot about this. The God who dies,
    apparently impotent and on the cross is not a God that
    I would in my wildest fantasies imagine. But, it is
    that God, that is the most amazing and wondrously
    subtle and loving God. In my youth, Gods like Thor
    were much more imagination capturing, or the idea of a
    military conquering Messiah of the ancient Jews. Gods
    that took names and kicked butt. Today, most of us
    want a God that would shower us with money, tell us we
    are cool and deserve power and money and fame. Tell
    us its fine to drive that SUV and eat $50.00 dinners
    while a third of the world starves. That we have a
    right to vacations around the world and whatever
    pleasures we want. That is the kind of God most
    Westerners (or at least Americans) want.
    Unfortunately (or fortunately), that is not the God
    that revealed Himself on the Cross.

    The God that I try to follow is not the God that I, as
    a human being, would have chosen to follow without His
    grace and love and redemption. It is only within the
    tradition and thanks to God's grace that I am able to
    apprehend the beauty and majesty of God and the
    example of Jesus as God expressed and revealed in
    human form. It is only the work of the Holy Spirit
    that helps me to not be caught in what I think a God
    should be that turns me toward Him and hopefully helps
    transform me to be more like Jesus the Christ.

    > You really aren't very widely read then. I might
    > point out that if God is
    > the creation of our minds, then God is created along
    > with us who were
    > created by with the universe. Thus, one only has to
    > include those who
    > believe religion was evolved. So, how about Fred
    > Hoyle, Stephen Weinberg who
    > calls all supernatural beings 'faeries' , Stephen J.
    > Gould, Carl Sagan, my my
    > friend William Provine, Isaac Asimov, Albert
    > Einstein. and many many others
    > I could name if I went to a bit of trouble.

    I am sure you could, but you did not read my point.
    Of the people that you mention (and I have read at
    least one book by each of them), only Dawkins insists
    that God, to have any meaning, must be a being that is
    in the physical universe and being the most
    complicated such being would have to take a lot longer
    to evolve than we would. So, you did not read my
    point. Dawkins is very clear that for god to have any
    meaning it must be another thing in the universe.
    Einstein, of course, took at least a Spinozian view of
    God that it is the universe, which is different from
    Dawkins' point. Likewise, Sagan and Gould take very
    different agnostic approaches toward the God question.
      I can go on to differentiate what I clearly meant.
    Not all atheists and/or agnostics find the same
    infirmity with a Judeo-Christian conception of God.
    Therefore, a laundry list of them is not at all
    probative of the point in question.

    >ONce again, your logic starts from the Judeo-\
    > Christian perspective. The
    >issue I was raising with Burgy was questioning the
    > idea that 'God naturally
    > exists'. Can't you broaden out your thoughts a bit?

    Glenn, my thoughts are not limited to the
    Judeo-Christian tradition, they are quite broad.

    What I was trying to point out is that you have sloppy
    definitions of natural. There are four easily
    distinguishable options. God exists and created the
    world from nothing (traditional theism). God exists
    and created (or modified) the world from himself
    (panentheism). The physical universe has always
    existed and its sum total is God (pantheism). The
    universe and God have always existed as separate
    entities (a sort of modified dualism). In all of
    these situations, God is natural in the sense of part
    of all that exists. Traditionally, pantheism is what
    you would say if you meant that God is just a
    euphemism for all that we can empirically examine.

    Depending on which religious tradition one looks at,
    all of these options have been used in addition to a
    few others to explain or describe the nature of God.

    Additionally, another option is only the physical
    universe exists. Thus, "God," as part of that,
    depending on your atheist or agnostic du jour can be
    due to a thousand different interpretations from
    Freud's father figure, to Feuerbach's wish
    fulfillment, to Marx's political control mechanism, to
    a projection of everything that is "good" and
    cherished by humans, to Boyer's (or Sagan's) unseen,
    postulated causal mechanism, to Wilson's skyhook, to
    Flew's self-contradictory definition, to Ayer's
    unfalsifiable principle, etc., etc.

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