How Do You Know?

A recent post on another blog (Christian-based) discussed the difference between facts, knowing, and mystery. As so often happens, the author’s words triggered various thoughts … and brought me to this question:

Those who ARE Christians as well as those who WERE Christians …

How do/did you KNOW you are/were Saved, Born Again,
a Member of Christ’s Family, etc.?

Is/Was your “knowledge” based on:

  • Feelings?
    Can our emotions validate the truth?
  • Words in a book?
    Did the author(s) have credentials to substantiate what was written?
  • Assurance from others?
    What evidence could they provide to affirm your experience? 

Or was it all just a big MYSTERY?

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I’m Stoked!

WOW!

I just received a review for my book (Things I Never Learned in Sunday School) that caused my hat size to expand significantly. What made it so fantastic is the reviewer (Infidel 753) didn’t just say things like, “I really enjoyed your book,” or “I learned a lot from your book,” or “Great book.” No, he wrote a comprehensive review that truly highlighted the contents.

Ordinarily, I would just refer blog readers to Amazon to read the review, but in this instance you won’t find it there — so I’m proudly sharing it here.

Most atheists know that the dogmas of Christianity have little or no basis in objective reality.  But it turns out a lot of them don’t even have much basis in the religion’s own sacred text either.

Nan Yielding became “born again” in her early twenties, spent the next fifteen years in mental subjection to conservative Christianity, and eventually started questioning what she had been told to believe.  Finding that the church had no answers, she started looking for her own, by studying the Bible and other primary sources.  Startlingly, she found that the Bible is not what most Christians believe it is, and she ended up leaving Christianity altogether.  This book, however, is not a personal deconversion story — it’s a systematic explanation of what she discovered and, more importantly, the evidence backing up her conclusions.

To begin with, the religion of the ancient Hebrews evolved over time under the influence of the more powerful cultures by which the Hebrews were dominated in pre-Roman times — Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic Greek.  Several concepts that modern Christians believe were always part of it were borrowed from Zoroastrianism, in forms quite different from what they have become.  For example, Satan and Hell (each of the two gets a full chapter) don’t appear in the Old Testament in anything like their modern Christian versions.  When the passages modern Christians believe refer to them are examined in context and with reference to the words in the original language — as the book does in detail — it’s clear that they did not mean, and could not mean, what moderns think they did.

The New Testament comes under similar scrutiny.  Passages which modern Christians interpret as prophecies of the distant future (perhaps even our own time), when considered in light of the cultural and political circumstances when they were written, are clearly references to events and persons contemporary with their authors.  The character of Jesus, the resurrection, the role of Paul, the Antichrist, and the nature of God are similarly examined, with similar results.  Modern Christianity, like the ancient Hebrew religion, has evolved over time — and it has drifted far from its supposed source material.

It’s easy, some might object, to assert such interpretations.  But the meat of the book is the supporting evidence it provides.  The basis for each point is carefully explained, and there are 26 pages of endnotes, bibliography, and other resources.  At 170 pages total, it packs a huge amount of information into a relatively short read.  It’s well-written and easy to understand, even when discussing concepts not familiar to most people today.  And it’s not framed as a debunking of Christianity, but as an inquiry into where its ideas really came from.

There’s a saying that the Bible is like those long terms-and-conditions pages you get when you buy software on the internet.  Nobody actually reads it; they just scroll to the end and click “I agree”.  Nan did read it, and found that it doesn’t say what moderns think it does.  It isn’t even about what moderns think it is — its stories and polemics are addressed to the long-vanished and alien times when they were written, and have hardly anything to say to us at all.

P.S. If you would like to comment on anything in the review, you can find the “original” on Infidel’s blog. Hint: He also has other posts you might enjoy reading. 🙂

Are We Born With a Belief in God?

There are many people who contend we are born with a “god sense.” But are we? And is this “knowledge” of the numinous the Christian god (as many believers contend) or is it any god?

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Preparing for this post, I did some internet research. (Qualifier: I have not studied philosophy and hold no degrees. Everything I offer in this post is based on my limited research plus personal opinion.)

Nearly every site I came across was Christian-oriented which, of course, contended … “Oh Yes! The God Spirit is there at the very beginning!” They would then cite various scriptures from the bible to support this belief, along with quotes from some other individuals who affirmed this view. For example:

Swiss theologian John Calvin, who states …

That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of deity [sensus divinitatus], we hold to be beyond dispute

Along with philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who contends that …

when human beings function naturally in the world, without coercion or indoctrination, they do in fact naturally form the belief that God is there.

Some of the websites even referenced innatism, which holds that the mind is born with ideas, knowledge and beliefs and is not a “blank slate” as early empiricists claim. Plato and Descartes were two prominent philosophers that agreed with this perspective.

Yet the best supported findings of developmental psychology tell us children are born with almost no innate concepts of anythingThey are simply innocent human beings entering this world.

Further, when one considers we have no control over our birth circumstances, to wit: we do not get to choose the day we are born, the family we are born into, what we are named at birth, what country we are born in, nor do we get to choose our ancestry, it seems unlikely we would have any kind of “special knowledge” about a supernatural being.

I feel certain many (especially those who regularly read this blog) would agree with this perspective. In fact, one person in particular (who calls himself “rawgod“) recently offered his thoughts on this subject on another blog. I tended to concur with what he had to say so, with his permission, I’ve included (some) of his remarks below:

Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the god fantasy, it would never conceive of a god or gods on its own, there is no need to do so. But once gods were invented, and made popular, suddenly everyone had to have them. This was slowly accomplished through great salesmanship, and then brainwashing youngsters. But it was accomplished, and at one point in history probably 99.999% of humans had some kind of belief in gods, or a god.

We are told about religion, and gods, so now we are predisposed to believe … we are very very seldom left to ourselves to grow up not believing in something

Remember, we are not born with the idea of gods, but it is in our nature to need to feel connected to something. When our parents, teachers, and preachers turn us in the direction of religion it is an easy place for a child to go to. And it is just as easy to become trapped there.

It would seem rawgod is onto something in that last paragraph as there are studies that validate the need to feel connected/attached,  But does this automatically lead to a god figure?

Absolutely! IF this is what the child is exposed to.

For example, Christian parents begin teaching their children at a very early age about the “goodness of god.” Along with weekly Sunday School or catechism classes, reading bible stories, singing Jesus songs, saying grace at meals, praying at bedtime, the child is regularly exposed to, as rawgod put it … “the god fantasy.” (Naturally, the same would be true for children of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and all other faiths.)

As a result, there is little doubt that as the child grows and matures, the predisposition towards the chosen deity has been firmly set.

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But now let us return to the primary question (as asked by rawgod):

Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the “god fantasy,”
would it conceive of a god or gods on its own?

Does He or Doesn’t He?

On a blog I follow, the owner recently wrote a post entitled, “Evidence for Jesus?’ At the close of his remarks, he asked:

To date, I have not come across a single piece of verifiable  evidence for the character Jesus of Nazareth.

Maybe someone – anyone – can provide evidence?

Any takers?

Most of this blogger’s followers are Non-Believers so predictably, the general agreement was no bona fide (verifiable, genuine, unquestionable, authentic) evidence has ever been presented to confirm the existence of this individual ingrained as the center of Christianity. In short, outside of the several thousand year old collection of books known as “The Bible,” there is nothing to indicate this person ever existed.

However, as the discussion progressed, a Believer joined the crowd with the following initial comment:

The evidence for Jesus’ existence is the community he founded, the church.

The Believer goes on to discuss Paul’s role in establishing the church which was, obviously, the result of … well … Jesus. Or, as he put it, Paul’s several letters confirm that —

Jesus obviously existed and the 1st century church was obviously his product.

NOTE: Does this seem like circular reasoning to anyone else? 

Eventually (as many blog discussions often do), the conversation soon expanded to include stories in Acts as related to Paul and thus, his role in validating the person of Jesus. Predictably, the blog owner disputed these stories and pointed out that several biblical scholars assert that Acts is historical fiction.

Nevertheless, the Believer continued his plea related to the authenticity of Paul’s experiences (as described in Acts) and how, as a result of them, he was able to persuade others regarding the role of Jesus. In response, the blog owner wrote this:

You seriously think there is a very good chance that the character Paul was able to cow a vicious Roman thug with a sermon, convert hundreds of Jews and Greeks simply from preaching about a messiah and was carted off to Caesarea with an escort of over 400 hand-picked Roman troops?

And then he added this:

You also think it is quite plausible that a vicious brute like Pilate would stand idly by while supposed followers of Jesus of Nazareth ran around proclaiming he had risen from the dead and did nothing? A criminal he recently had executed for treason is apparently now gallivanting free as a bird, witnessed by oooh, let’s just say off the top of my head, 500 witnesses? and he doesn’t even haul in a single Jesus-Follower for a friendly chat?

At this writing, the Believer has not responded. Personally, I find these questions valid and reasonable. However, as has been demonstrated in many other similar discussions in the blogosphere, Believers either ignore and/or discount them.

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I have no doubts that discussions/arguments related to Jesus, his existence, his mission, his demise and his (reported) resurrection will continue for many more years with each side presenting their points of view and “evidence.” And in nearly every instance, neither side will “win.” But it does make for interesting and fascinating reading (provided you can control your blood pressure 😉).

(If you want to follow the ongoing saga, here is the link to the referenced blog.)

Reblog: Other Ways of Knowing

Steve has written what I consider an EXCELLENT post related to “scientism” — a word that is often flung around on some Christian blogs.

So now you know …

Class Warfare Blog

In the on-going conflict between science and religion that either doesn’t exist (because the two are compatible) or shouldn’t exist (because the two are incompatible), science types, like me, are accused of scientism, the thrusting of science into areas of human discourse where it doesn’t belong and, more specifically, stepping on religion’s toes. How dare, the critics say, science tell us anything about morality or aesthetics or … religion?

There are, they say, “other ways of knowing” than science. With regard to religion, specifically. they mention: faith, dogma, scripture, personal experience, and revelation.

So, let’s look at this.

First, what we call science is what originally was called “natural philosophy,” which was a branch of philosophy, just like ethics, politics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, and aesthetics. When the scientific method was devised to make studying the natural world more effective, many of the categories of nature (chemistry—the study of the…

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