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Friday, April 01, 2016

Anti-Supernatural

There are only a few real differences between the religions of the world. There is monotheism as seen in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is pantheism as seen in Hinduism and Buddhism (when it's not actually atheism) where god(s) is in all things. And, of course, there is atheism where there is no god. (Don't let them fool you. This is a religion. If "religious" is defined as "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity" and "religion" is defined as "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices", then atheism is a faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality -- materialism -- and it is therefore a religion.)

Now, of course, the first two believe in the supernatural. They believe that there is a deity or deities and, therefore, by definition there can and will be "miracles" (defined as "an event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore the work of a divine agency"), actions brought about by these supernatural deities. So if God created the universe from nothing by speaking it into existence, a theist has no problem, or if the Son of God rose from the dead, there would be no difficulty buying into that for one who believes in the supernatural.

Enter the third option -- the materialist. Atheists have eliminated the supernatural as a possibility and, therefore, are committed out of the starting gate to materialism, that is, the theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter. It's interesting when they do this because they eliminate from the beginning a possibility that some call "the elephant in the room", the possibility of the supernatural. That is, if all the evidence and all the logic and all the testing and all the evaluations point to an event that cannot be attributed to the physical laws of nature ... well, end of story. They deleted the right answer before they started asking.

It isn't really surprising that atheists would do this. It is, after all, the definition of what they believe. It is surprising when presumed theists do this. And you know they do. Many who consider themselves "believers" and even "Christians" start with an anti-supernatural bias. Take, for instance, the Jesus Seminar, where "scholars" like John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar and former Catholic priest, searched for "the historical Jesus" by voting on whether or not the Gospel accounts were historical. Did Jesus really say what the Bible says He said or do what it claims He did? They ended up with something like 18% of the quotes being possibly true. None of the miracles, of course. They eliminated John's Gospel out of hand as "spiritual", not historical. Oh, yeah, add in the Gospel of Thomas because ... well ... just because. Forget entirely about prophecy from Christ. If He did make any prophecies, He was wrong, so that can be eliminated. How did they decide what was and wasn't Jesus? Well, it had to be short (because it wouldn't survive oral transmission otherwise) and it had to be ironical because that, they figured, was Jesus's style, and if He told His followers to trust God. That's about it. Those, dear readers, were the scholarly, empirical tests they devised. Oh, and it wasn't true if it was miraculous. That was a given. He wasn't born of a virgin, He performed "healing" by curing psychosomatic ailments, and He certainly did not rise from the dead. That, they were quite sure, was simply hallucination or "visions". Not real. (In a debate between Crossan and William Lane Bryant, Crossan admitted that as a matter of personal doctrine he eliminated the possibility of supernatural action -- miracles.) Anti-supernatural bias.

Take, for instance, the question of origins. Darwin suggested an alternative to Genesis. Scientists have gotten on board with it (despite the problems, e.g., the irreducible complexity of a cell or an eye or ... most things, the problems with the fossil record, the complete absence of intermediate versions of life forms, the absence of an "origin theory", the argument that "life" came from "no life" -- that a single protein molecule consisting of chains of hundreds of precisely-arranged amino acids would spring up spontaneously, the problem of data (DNA) being produced "by chance", the simple fact that while microevolution -- evolution within a family (the biblical "kind") -- is observable, there has never been observed macroevolution -- evolution from one family to another family, etc.). Thus, it must be true, so Genesis cannot be historical. Myth, perhaps? Possibly just plain wrong. So they delete Adam and they delete Noah and they delete ... many whom the New Testament characters (you know, like Jesus and Paul) considered historical, real people and consign them to "myth" or "legend" or fairy tale. Because the data suggests it? No, because of an anti-supernatural bias.

Just a couple of examples.

If one is an atheist, one has no choice but to have an anti-supernatural bias, having eliminated (without evidence) the possibility of the supernatural. But when "theists" do it, I'm baffled. When they redefine Scriptures with this kind of bias as a guide, I'm at a loss to understand. I find in this kind of thinking a dichotomy, a worldview constructed on contradictory beliefs. "Yes, I believe in the supernatural ... but I tend not to believe in the supernatural." You know ... a grand April Fool's joke. "I believe in the supernatural ... April fools!" In some circles it might be called "insane."

30 comments:

Craig said...

The key to "theists" being able to coherently, dismiss the supernatural is the dismissal of the Bible as an accurate record of actual events. Whether it's the "all or part of the Bible is myth" crowd, or the Jesus Seminar voting John off the island and voting Thomas on. What I wonder is which comes first. Do they dismiss the Bible and therefore the supernatural, or do the dismiss the supernatural (as you've pointed out because of preconception or bias) then dismiss the Bible since it contains supernatural claims.

Maybe this is one of those situations where bias is a considered as a good thing.

David said...

It is really sad how many "Christians" are deists. Sure, they believe in the supernatural, but the supernatural doesn't interfere with the natural.

Marshall Art said...

In fairness, I believe a clarification is in order. Some refer to OT characters as less than factual and do not believe the mention of these characters by NT characters, Christ included, do not rise to confirmation that these OT characters were actual people. Such people merely insist that those like Christ refer to the OT stories to make a point that does not rely on the OT characters actually having existed. I don't think this is a wholly unreasonable position, since the mention of a character, real or fictional, does not indicates the reality or fiction of the character's existence, past or present. To wit: "As Mr. Micawber said, 'Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds [pounds]nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness.' is sound financial advice." This does not mean the Micawber actually ever existed, but that the lesson of his words is worthy of abiding. I believe this is the point of those who dismiss NT references to OT characters as proof of the OT characters' having existed.

I, personally, do not hold with those who use this argument, but I agree that the logic of it is not unsound.

Also, I believe that certain people choose when to put stock in Biblical tales of the supernatural according to how doing so serves them. For example, one such person recently claimed that belief in a deity he can never see, or belief in Christ's resurrection (in whatever manner that might mean to him), shows he believes in the supernatural, while at the same time, discounting the Genesis story of creation, or whether or not Jonah actually spent three days in a fish, and other such tales, as physically impossible and beyond all scientific explanation...which is what would make them miracles.

Perhaps it's the fear of appearing unsophisticated, superstitious, backward and/or foolish. Perhaps it's because such people cannot claim to be Christian and hold firmly to their less than Christian positions on various matters. I choose to maintain that for my God, all things are possible and within His ability. Whether such stories actually happened as described in Scripture cannot be proven or proven false. That, too, is the nature of the miraculous. Again, one wonders why such people bother pretending to believe in God at all.

Stan said...

Craig, they don't see their view as "bias". They see it as "peer reviewed" ... and the entire history of the Church as "bias".

Deists, David. Probably as good a term as any for them.

I know, Marshall Art, that they argue that way. You say that the logic is sound. I don't think so. "Like Inigo Montoya said, 'You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,'" would fall in the category you're describing, a fictional character whose words were useful even if the character never existed. But Paul claimed "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Rom 5:12), which would require that "sin came into the world in a real sense through someone who never really existed." (A better example would be his basing his position that women should not usurp authority over men on an apparently mythical event (1 Tim 2:12-14) ... making his position mythical.) Jesus based His position against divorce on a mythical statement (Matt 19:4-6)? These don't make sense. Not logical. It's fine to say, "This is true and that fictional character said it well", but irrational to claim "Based on a fictional event or person in the lore of Israel, this is true." (I understand you didn't agree with the position, so I'm not trying to correct you. I'm trying to show how that view is irrational.)

Your example illustrates the insanity of the position. "Yes, I have no problem declaring without reservation that a man died and rose bodily from the grave ... but that whole Jonah thing isn't scientific." Sheer insanity.

Craig said...

Interesting, I kind of thought that the entire history of the Church in terms of study of theology and scholarship was kind of like a "peer review" as a way to control the spread of false teaching.

I do love that "Of course I believe that God is all powerful and could do anything, but He didn't do..."

MA,

I agree that the myth thing is a bit more complex. There are several variations I've heard.

1. That the style is similar to myth, but the content is accurate.
2. That parts of parts of the OT are myth, but no one can accurately separate myth from history.
3. The whole thing is almost entirely fiction/myth with just enough "truth" to make it seem real.

It's also hard because people pour different meanings into the term "myth" which makes it occasionally hard to discuss.

The other problem is that there is a sense that since the OT (especially) isn't told in a strictly linear narrative that it is not historically accurate. This position presumes that because the style was different that there was less regard for accuracy.

Back to the "God could do whatever He wants...", but somehow those folks don't think that God is quite up to the challenge of accurately communicating to us exactly the message He wanted to and unable to keep those idiot humans from screwing it up.

Finally, I think that there is a touch of a superior "We know so much more than a bunch of Bronze age..." attitude towards this which is obviously bias and obviously doesn't allow room for a God with any real power. Which is probably the point anyway. If folks can reduce God to an impotent myth who just set a good example, then it's pretty easy to mold that god into just about anything you like.

Stan said...

Of course, you and I might consider a 2,000+ year history of review and agreement as a "peer review", but you must keep in mind that such a review is only acceptable if 1) it includes the "peers" of their choosing and 2) they come to the conclusion they desire. (Perhaps that was a bit too sarcastic?)

Marshall Art said...

"Perhaps that was a bit too sarcastic?"

Perhaps, but it is an accurate description of the value of peer review to most of those who cite it.

As to your response to my comment, at the risk of inciting a debate I don't wish to begin, I think your examples do not detract from my point. In each of them a lesson is re-iterated that is not dependent upon the person originally providing it being a real person. Those that speak of Adam can still refer to sin coming through the world by one man even if that "one man" is a mere symbol of mankind, or if Adam and Eve are merely literary metaphors for the beginning of mankind. Even the Matthew passage can refer to a "fictional" person (Moses presumably as he is considered by many to have authored the first five books) explaining why God made us male and female. It's a stretch, but not one I'm making, and definitely not rational considering it requires a very superficial and cursory reading to buy into it. You get the same nonsense when putting forth the fact that Christ was an actual sacrifice (Lamb of God and all) for the sins of us all in the same way an actual lamb was a sacrifice for the sin of a specific individual. The same people want "Lamb of God" to be figurative or metaphor for whatever purpose drives them.

Of course, all of this requires understanding the mind of people who are so adamantly opposed to accepting so much of the OT, and I simply don't have the ability or patience to truly attempt such an undertaking any more. Don't even know if it's possible.

Stan said...

There is a key difference between citing a fictional character as corroboration and basing an argument on a fictional character. In the former it's "just like he said" and in the latter it is "on the basis of what he said". If the basis of an argument is fictional, the argument has no basis. Citing an example of an argument from a fictional character can work; basing an argument on a fictional character doesn't. Both Jesus and Paul did the latter.

Of course, those who argue that their basis was fictional also disagree with their arguments, don't they? So they don't see a problem. "Two shall become one" and "women must not usurp authority from men" on the basis of fictional events and people are fictional arguments that they're happy to do away with.

(Note that I don't offer these comments as arguments against the position you don't take -- thus requiring an argument from you. I'm offering these as better explanation of why they are wrong.)

Craig said...

But Stan, that's not peer review, that's just tradition.

Stan said...

Yeah, they'd say that, but if "peer review" is "evaluation of scientific, academic, or professional work by others working in the same field", then 2,000 years of evaluation by the chief men in the field of Christianity would qualify, wouldn't it?

Craig said...

Personally I'd think it would, but it's easier to dismiss if you label it tradition. Really, isn't that the whole point of this exercise. To give people a way to dismiss what they are not comfortable with, yet still cloak it in some sort of intellectual disguise? I think it was Dawkins who talked about how "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.". This seems similar in the sense that it allows people to ride the coattails (and have the positives of the term Christian) without having a lot of the parts that go against their worldview.

I don't understand people like Shuck who desperately cling to the label of christian as if it gives some degree of legitimacy, while actively undermining virtually everything that makes Christianity distinctive. It's like they want to be seen as being brave and out on the cutting edge of something new, but are afraid of actually taking the step to separate themselves from the legitimacy that the label christian seems to provide.

What can possibly be the point of calling oneself christian while redefining christian practice and theology into something completely different?

Stan said...

I think Shuck is a good case study. He despises everything distinctive about Christianity, dismissing the existence of God, the Resurrection and miracles of Christ, the Bible, all of it. But he likes that "be nice" idea. You know, the way that "Christian" can carry that "can't we all just get along" kind of vibe sometimes? So he is what I call a "new Ronco Eraseable Christian". Erase the parts you don't like, write in what you want, and it's true ... because it's in there.

Craig said...

I agree, but I still don't understand why not go whole hog and drop the label christian all together.

In Shuck's case (and others), I have to think that they crave the legitimacy that they get by being ordained by (at least for those not watching) a large mainline denomination. That also allows him to imply that the denomination agrees with what he is teaching. I hate to be too cynical, but the mandatory compensation levels, the pension, and the position probably play a role as does the opportunity to push the PCUSA over a cliff. Shuck is a good case study for another reason as well. On the one hand he is a bit of a hero to others who share his beliefs and ordination. While at the same time providing those who are still Orthodox believers with plenty of actual evidence of the demise and apostasy of the PCUSA. I'd be willing to bet that in so far as it is possible to trace the exodus fromm PCUSA to one person, that person would be Shuck. My fear is that after the suck the blood ($$$$$) from the PCUSA and toss the corpse aside, he and others will follow those who have left to EPC/PCA/ECO and begin the process all over again.

In Shuck's case there are at least some tangible benefits (job and benefits) that might motivate him to cling to the label, but there are also plenty of schmucks with blogs spouting all kinds of strange opinions claiming to be christians also, I'm not quite as sure what the attraction is for them. I suspect with some, it's just the opportunity to provoke, then to feign outrage when their provocation elicits a response.

Stan said...

Yes, as you said, it gives him legitimacy. Clearly, if he was not the pastor of a church, he wouldn't have much of a voice. Surrounded by a gathering of people who agree with him under the umbrella of a denomination that affirms him, he has "backing", so to speak.

But I have to be honest. You're looking for a rational rationale (playing with words, there), and I'm not entirely sure there is one. Suffering from deceived hearts, blinded by the god of this world, "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:2), incapable of understanding (1 Cor 2:14) and hostile to God, I don't think there needs to be some sort of rational reason for opposing God and His truth. It would just be part of the job description of "Natural Man".

Craig said...

I agree that at least some of it may not be rational, but having the kind of job security/pension that is mandated by PCUSA as well as the ego stroke from having notoriety has to be at least somewhat motivating.

Stan said...

Agree

Marshall Art said...

Fictitious stories are often composed in order to illustrate truths. This is the very point certain people make about citing what they say are fictitious, composite characters of the OT. Thus, for Jesus or Paul to cite those characters is not so much to legitimize the character as to underscore the point the fiction was created to put across. Thus, the message/lesson isn't fictitious because Jesus or Paul cites a fictitious character. It is not much different than citing the ants who toiled while the grasshopper played his fiddle. The moral is the point to which they refer, and the character the reference to remind the listener of the story that taught the lesson. The teaching, then, is no more illegitimate simply because it was taught through the use of fictional characters.

That's how those who use this ploy are able to cling to those teachings they favor while disregarding those they do not. Among those they favor could be such like, thou shalt not murder, which they can decide are immoral because they harm, while they might dismiss prohibitions against other behaviors, such as those of a sexual nature, because they can insist there is no harm. Regarding the characters as fictional helps with this idiocy. The more validity can be removed from an OT story, the more one can pick and choose what can be regarded as a truth worth following.

Marshall Art said...

I should add, as a reminder, that Jesus and Paul never say unequivocally that OT characters actually existed, and thus the "progressives" rely on this omission to make their case. As long as no such confirmation has been expressed, they can pretend the OT characters are fictitious/composite characters, while clinging to those teachings they favor.

Stan said...

Okay, Marshall, you win. Assuming that I have actually expressed the difference between citing an example from fiction and basing an argument on fiction, it is clear that you accept that "Since Superman came from Krypton, it is clear that Christ came from another planet" would work for you. That is, the fact that Superman is fictional wouldn't be a problem. You'd need to refute the argument from some other direction. As for me, citing a fictional character as an example of a point is fine. Making my position on the basis of a fictional character makes my argument fiction. But I suppose those who argue the way you're suggesting they do don't have any more problem with the idea of basing an argument about reality on a character or event that never happened. It works for them. As well as a lot of other fiction, apparently. I'm just picturing, "See? I demonstrated my view is logical by basing it on something that never happened, so my argument is superior to yours" as if that answers anything.

And if you're saying, "Paul and Jesus never said, 'Attention ... I'm saying that I truly believe that Adam actually existed despite the evidence of Darwin'," I'll agree. I disagree that they didn't make it clear that they believed the events and people of Genesis (etc.) were absolutely real. But that's because I find it impossible to base an argument (as opposed to illustrate an argument) on a fictional character or event.

To tell the truth, given your acceptance of that line of thinking, I don't know on what basis you maintain your position against them.

David said...

I don't think Marshall agrees with that line of thinking, he's just explaining it.

Stan said...

No, he has stated quite clearly that he doesn't agree with the thinking. He disagrees with the position they take. But, he has also called it logical and reasonable.

Marshall Art said...

Stan. I don't know why you're getting your panties in a wad. Look again at my original comment. The argument is merely that the mention of the allegedly fictional characters of the OT does not affirm that they are real people. THAT is the logical part of the argument by those who don't want to believe the characters, or particular stories or supernatural events, are real. They don't have to be real for the moral of the OT story to have worth and merit, any more than we need to believe that the story of the ants and the grasshopper actually happened for the moral of THAT story to have merit. The argument is that those OT stories were "invented" in order to illustrate a moral truth. In that, the argument is sound that references to those OT characters or events does not affirm the characters or events are real, nor would they have to be in order for Jesus or Paul to affirm the truth or teaching of those stories. It's not a big deal to say that the argument, on its face, is sound, especially when it is. Lighten up. I personally find the position to be crap, regardless of the soundness of the argument. The argument itself is of very little worth, but that doesn't make it unsound. Said another way, I would not rely solely on references by Jesus or Paul to argue that those OT characters and events are real. Such references are not the game winning arguments. They are meant to remind the listener of the message/teaching/moral being conveyed. Very much like the parables Christ used to teach. Are the teachings conveyed by the use of parables worthless because the parables are fiction? I don't think so. Neither would be the teachings conveyed by citing OT stories or people, even if it could be proven they didn't happen and the people didn't exist.

Stan said...

Marshall, I don't know what makes you think I'm getting my panties in a wad. I'm baffled, not bunched. I've agreed that mentioning fictional characters doesn't mean you (someone, not you) believe they're real. And in some of the New Testament references to Old Testament characters or events that can work fine. I'm okay there. You're right. That works.

My point is that basing an argument on a fictional character or event does not work. Citing them ... fine. Making them the basis for the argument ... fail. So if a New Testament writer writes about what was said in the Old as illustration of his point, that's fine. But when Jesus bases His definition of marriage on a mythical event in the past, that's fantasy. When Paul says that he does not allow a woman to usurp authority over a man "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim 2:13-14) in a case where Adam didn't exist and Eve was not deceived (because she didn't exist either), it's nonsense. Non-sense. Nonsensical. "Paul," I'd say, "you can't base your argument for something on something that never happened. It isn't a sound basis. It never happened. So saying that women shouldn't do this because of something like that is irrational because that never happened and there is, therefore, no basis for your argument."

The difference is between example and foundation. We can say, for instance, "David's sin was illustrated as Nathan did in his story to David about the man with his one lamb," but not, "On the basis of Nathan's story of the man with his one lamb, David had sinned."

No panties. No wad. No upset. Baffled. I think you've given away too much, that's all.

Merely curious, Marshall. You (rightly) disagree with them in their argument that Genesis (for instance) is mythical, but you agree with them that the citations in the New Testament don't necessarily suggest that anyone thought it was not mythical. On what basis do you argue that Genesis was historical, not mythical?

Marshall Art said...

I don't argue it at all. There is no way for me to confirm it other than my faith that the Genesis description is true and accurate. I tend to argue the power of God, that He is capable to having created all things in exactly the manner described in Genesis, but that should we come to find that the Genesis tale is allegorical or whatever, I'm not put out by it. I leave such things to God. Frankly, I don't think mankind is capable of ever learning with absolute certainty, so I avoid the debate as no more than speculative at best. Where I truly part with those on the other side is that I put my faith in God, and don't elevate the ability of scientific men to god-like status. They're only guessing.

In general, I believe that there has been, thus far, enough evidence in favor of the truth of Scripture to make doubting any of it problematic, regardless of one's personal position on the supernatural. As there has been nothing that definitively contradicts any supernatural event of Scripture, logic would dictate that one, at the very least, leave open the possibility that the supernatural events did indeed occur. I do more than merely leave it open based on all available evidence that supports the truth of Scripture...I find it impossible to deny it.

When someone might ask, usually incredulously, if I believe in for example a literal 6 day creation, I answer, "Why not?"

David said...

Marshall, using your Genesis example, saying that you believe it merely because you have faith, while true, is not wholly reasonable. It sounds like (it may not be, but it sounds like) your faith in the Genesis is blind faith. The Bible says it so it must be thus. Especially when you add that if Genesis isn't true, it won't make a difference to you. There are multiple proofs that have been done to show that Genesis is written to be an historical account, not allegory or myth. If, some how someone were to prove that Genesis is not historical, all the rest of Scripture is questionable. I believe in the Creation account because, yes it's in there, but also it's written that way, with the correct bias, science proves it to be true, and Jesus believes that sin entered the world through Adam. If Adam wasn't real and sin just happened, then the basis of Jesus being the one man through which salvation comes is false. It's not a moral tale, it is an if/then. If Adam is the beginning of sin, then Jesus is the beginning of salvation. No Adam, no Jesus. Remove Adam and Christianity is false.

Stan said...

David, it is not entirely blind faith to say "The Bible says it, so it must be." If the Bible originates in God as it claims and the evidence suggests that it is true, then "because it says so" is reasonable.

I used to work with a guy who loved to debate Creationists. He knew he was right and they were ... blind. He asked my Christian friend, "Do YOU believe in Creation?" My friend said essentially what Marshall said. Basically, "Yeah, why not?" The atheist was baffled.

You're right, David. There are reasons to believe. I think references to the Old Testament as a basis for New Testament doctrines are evidence. Marshall just doesn't get to use that particular item of evidence. :)

Marshall Art said...

Sure I do, since I don't promote the position that Jesus wasn't referring to a real person when He cites any OT person (or teaching). I'm merely saying that I agree that merely referencing an OT character doesn't equate to confirmation that the OT character was a real person. Nothing more, nothing less and I know you're just messing with me now for sport [as evidenced by the :)].

Marshall Art said...

David,

I believe that there's no solid, slam-dunk reason why I shouldn't believe Genesis. I don't struggle with the story because I don't feel the need to resolve it to myself. As I said, I believe God is fully capable of having created all things in just the manner suggested by a literal and wooden reading of the Creation story. But if the it could be actually proven that creation came about in a manner more consistent with the billions of years alternative favored by so many, I would simply have to believe that there exists a way to resolve the disparity between one and the other that is yet to be discovered.

David said...

I'm not saying that believing it on faith is bad (since both Creation and Evolution are believed through faith alone). I'm saying that the argument of "it's in there" is not sufficient without external evidence. Everything you believe has some sort of secondary confirmation, or you can't solidly stand on it.

Marshall Art said...

Ah. Then I fully agree, and I believe there is external evidence, such as with archaeology. But to clarify, I was never simply believing just because "it's in there". Sorry if I led you to that conclusion.