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Ch. 5: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False 
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Interbane wrote:
You're saying there is no god, but the idea of him is meaningful?
Exactly, except that describing God as “him” applies gender to a concept which is beyond gender.

You might recall my review of Dawkins’ Unweaving The Rainbow, where I open the idea of the trinity as a meaningful human construction, and define God as “the ultimate adaptive possibility towards which humanity must evolve if we are to fulfill our purpose in life.” This ‘possibility’ does not ‘exist’, except in the sense that other finite goals exist.

Following Spinoza and Einstein, if we define God as the universe, then the question is whether we can understand religion as presenting a path towards harmony with the universe. Hitchens quotes Einstein as saying he is religious in roughly this sense. I maintain this is a fruitful way to understand Christianity.

Dawkins, in The God Delusion, acknowledges that Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong advocates such a non-theistic Christianity, but proceeds to define Spong as not a Christian.
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You elevate this meaning so much that it becomes more important than whether or not there is any truth to the writings.
Precisely. If we study the writings and find that their historical claims are false, we have the options of rejecting the writings on that basis or reinterpreting them. I choose reinterpretation.
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Rationalism can tackle such questions as the meaning of love, beauty, and justice.
To which we might add, rationalism can tackle the meaning of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Plato is the supreme rationalist in his recognition of the power of ideas, and his demand to dis-assemble popular illusions to find their actual basis. We do not say that love, beauty or justice are meaningless just because these words are not entities, and nor should we make such category mistakes with religious concepts.



Mon Apr 06, 2009 2:43 pm
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Do you consider yourself a Christian? You say god doesn't exist, and nothing of the bible should be taken literally; any meaning derived can be derived from other sources. There's nothing left! The tenuous connection of the bible being the source of your interpretations is the same as if I said 2+2=4 because McGrath-Hill said so(they are a textbook publishing company).

RT: "We do not say that love, beauty or justice are meaningless just because these words are not entities, and nor should we make such category mistakes with religious concepts."

There are no religious concepts to be examined that aren't otherwise a part of our world. Discarding and disregarding the bible, we'd have all the same concepts, albiet via a different delivery system. If the bible says "do unto others...", rationalism can analyze that. But rationalism wouldn't be analyzing the bible, it would be analyzing the moral concept which is independant of the bible. In the same light, if the bible says the sky is blue, science doesn't need the bible as a reference to analyze the sky to determine it is blue.



Mon Apr 06, 2009 4:11 pm
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johnson1010 wrote:
You are asserting a divine force is present and that we must begin debates with that subject settled. I say, that that is exactly the point in contest. Either there is a supernatural entity with unlimited, complete power and dominion over everything that ever was or will be. One who made the world for our enjoyment and rewards good people, utilizing his universe-level powers to respond to our demands and improve our individual lives, and punishes the people we can’t get even with in life. For which there is no empirical evidence to be found, all proofs arising from the introspective and anthropomorphized projections of man. Or. We made it up to feel good about ourselves. One of these adds layers and layers of complex unknowable opacity, while the other deals with readily studied psychological processes observed on a daily basis throughout the animal kingdom. If you hadn’t been raised with a notion of God impregnated in your imagination from youth, as an adult, which of these solutions would be the more likely?
Hi Johnson, this is a really useful way to set out the problem. However, your depiction of God as an entity responding to selfish prayer, and religion as a feel-good device, is a straw man. Admittedly, it is a fair critique of fundamentalist prosperity theology, but that heresy is totally unbiblical. The fundamentalists have thrown so much sand in people’s eyes that you assume their reading of the Bible is the only one, when in fact they largely ignore the bible. In fact, the prophets, including Jesus, do not want people to feel good about themselves, except on the basis of a thoroughgoing critique of the evil of the world and a commitment to do something about it. Jesus does not say believers are automatically blessed in the manner of the cheap grace promoted by fundamentalism, but rather says the blessing of God is with the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These groups are at the margins of our world.
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If there is simply a creative principle, such as when conditions are right for the formation of a water molecule, the molecule does form, this does not lend itself to anything written in the bible.
But it does lend itself to a better reading of the Bible! The key texts, such as the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Last Judgement, are sublime evolutionary arguments, indicating what humanity must do to avoid destruction and to understand the necessary conditions for our common humanity. The whole notion of creation can be reinterpreted in evolutionary terms, such that when conditions on our planet were right for the formation of a species with the power of abstract language, such a species evolved.
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If you speak of a creative force, then why associate that with the concept of god? You burden yourself with unnecessary supernatural stories. These stories would seem to only apply if you are talking about some version of the Christian god, not a force such as electromagnetism. ... Love is powerful and what you say about its absence is true, but where do you get the concept that love exceeds the confines of the animal kingdom? Do volcanoes love? Do meteors love? Love is an evolutionary construct to ensure survival. Love does a fair job of keeping us all alive without the bible. There is no need to tie an artificial deity to the concept of love for it to work, or to be understood by the masses.
The bible defines God as love. Love is a creative force, enabling effective human engagement with reality, although restricted to the anthroposphere. Within this human biological sphere, love is just as fundamental as the forces of physics. The value of Christianity is that the story of Jesus provides a great imaginative picture of what would happen if a person lived solely for selfless love.
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Hurricanes are an act of weather patterns. We know why hurricanes form. They require no god. Likewise we know how earthquakes happen, mudslides, lightning strikes, wild fires and lamp poles falling on your car. Any of these might be labeled as an act of god, but they are all events with well understood causes. Imagining they are the work of a beneficent god bears us no fruit except guilt and hysteria. Would you rather be told, that built up tectonic energy was released and caused the destruction of your home, or that God was pissed at YOU and destroyed your house by having the earth swallow it up? Understanding brings peace of mind, and perhaps the wisdom to not build on a fault line.
The issue here is about getting away from the superstitious idea of ‘God as entity’ towards the meaningful idea of ‘God as reality’, and showing that this meaningful idea is actually promoted by Saint Paul and the insurance industry. Equating ‘divine will’ and ‘the will of the universe’ means that God works through the laws of physics, not against them.
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Common religious teaching is that the parable delivered in the bible are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Based on this, the metaphysical claims of religion are false.
Agreed, this metaphysical claim regarding biblical inerrancy is false, as can easily be shown by the internal contradictions of the bible and its use of impossible miracles. However, your inference regarding all metaphysical claims of religion is totally invalid. Logically, it amounts to saying ‘Some people falsely claim that X leads to Y, therefore Y is false,’ or ‘Some claims about Y are false, therefore all claims about Y are false’. In this general case, Y can have all sorts of basis other than the false X. We do not use the falsity of flat earth theory to deduce that other planets do not exist. Rather, we look at the incorrect inferences of the flat earth theorists, for example on epicycles, to understand what the actuality was that they were trying to describe. We can do the same with biblical parables.
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"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law (the Old Testament) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (the Old Testament) until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)" Could this not be viewed as explicit backing of the old testament and all it entails? Does this not just illustrate that the writings are contradictory, and therefore not the product of divine inspiration, and one mind working to build a source of ultimate truth?
Yes, I thought about this obvious rejoinder which directly contradicts the ‘love your enemies’ line and provides a basis for fundamentalist inerrancy doctrine. It is a bit like the two contradictory creation stories in Genesis, which seem to indicate rival traditions jostling for attention and accepting an unstable compromise. There was a political agenda of making Christianity acceptable to Judaism, and it could be the ‘no iota’ line got slipped in despite its implications. However, we could also speculate that fulfilment of the law meant its transformation into something new, building upon it as a foundation.
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If it is only a parable, and one found to be faulty in many respects, why should it dominate any moral agenda? Why should anyone live their lives by a parable?
I agree with you that conservative Christianity is flawed as a moral system. One glaring example raised by Hitchens is the culpability of the Roman Catholic Church associated with the Rwanda genocide. However, this baggage does not invalidate alternative readings.

The main parable I read in the Bible is that our species is on a path to extinction and needs to shift the basis of behaviour from instinct to reason in order to establish a world civilization. We could read Revelation 18, the destruction of Babylon, as a parable for 911, or even read Revelation 13, the 666, as a parable for Ronald Wilson Reagan and the United States Dollar. Such readings need not imply that the biblical writers predicted these events, but could nonetheless open up a dialogue about how we understand God.
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In any case when we look at the bible and read what it says we can see that what is written there is not empirically correct. If we take a point of view like what you express, that the bible is a sort of, I guess “interpretive” way of understanding god then we have already imposed a filter over what is written to try to shoe-horn it into sensibility. If it were right there would be little need to interpret it, or explain away the many contradictions. If we keep it as just a moral lesson, then we would put it on the same level as tales by the Brothers Grimm with not greater hold on the ultimate truths than any other, and it should hold no grip on us other than its merit as a story device.
There is not really any alternative to an interpretative reading, given that the literal reading is contradictory and false. However, the Bible does speak of more ultimate themes than the Brothers Grimm, who cover practical moral warnings rather than mytho-poetic existential themes of world politics. For example, considering Tom Harpur’s reading of the story of Lazarus as a retelling of the Egyptian story of Osiris, the parable of Dives and Lazarus could be read as a prediction of the ultimate triumph of the cyclical vision of time in Egyptian mythology over the linear logic of Roman imperialism.



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Robert Tulip wrote:
There is an immense amount of deconstruction required to clear away the distractions of dominant false interpretation.

Deconstruction or destruction? Either way, I'm reminded of an awful Amercian TV show I hope we haven't exported to Australia. In "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition," the crew "renovates" some hapless family's home. In actuality, they alter it beyond recognition or even tear it down and replace it with something opulent and gadget-filled.


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Seeing your counterpoints clarifies your position to me Robert.

Now given that you are not speaking as though any portion of the bible is literally true, but to be understood as metaphorical, why is this particular text of any greater value than the works of thousands of other prescient writers?

Are you simply making a case that we should not abandon the writings of the bible all together, or that it should still have a place of honor in our culture, summarily trumping other sources?

it almost seems that you may have formulated an alternative view of morality and then retro-actively imposed it on the barbaric lunacy of the bible. Wouldn't you be doing yourself a favor by abandoning this text and making your own way?

Are you making a case that there should be an effort to turn people's familiarity with the bible into something more constructive?

I guess i don't understand why it would be necessary to re-interpret the bible in the first place. Would you defend Icarus or Prometheus so eloquently?

It seems that this is a last ditch effort to try to wring some value out of this text when all other interpretations falter.



Mon Apr 06, 2009 9:29 pm
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Interbane wrote:
Do you consider yourself a Christian? You say god doesn't exist, and nothing of the bible should be taken literally; any meaning derived can be derived from other sources. There's nothing left!
Yes I do consider myself a Christian. In discussing the existence of God I compared popular concepts of God – including yours - to shadows on a wall. Shadows are real but are only a distorted image, just as popular concepts are a real distortion. Here I am thinking especially of your dogmatic insistence that unless God is proven to be an entity then any religious talk is meaningless. Truly, you are advancing a facile ‘heads I win tails you lose’ type of argument. God cannot be discovered as an entity in the way you demand, but your logical inference, that therefore God doesn’t exist, breaks down because arguments that apply to entities do not apply to the whole.

It is the popular insistence that existence is only an attribute of entities that is the stumbling block here. Traditional theology defines God as the infinite and eternal totality of everything. This definition works for Einstein’s God as well as for more magical personal conceptions. However, the difference is that Einstein would not consider this definition as referring to an entity, whereas magical theology would see it this way. It is not clear how existence can be predicated of wholistic ideas like being, eternity and infinity.

Martin Heidegger, in his works Being and Time and An Introduction to Metaphysics, is a useful guide on this material. He notes that a categorical distinction must be drawn between being (the underlying totality of existence) and beings (entities), and observes that explaining the nature of entities is not a direct guide to understanding the meaning of being.

Of course nothing in the Bible should be taken literally, if by that you mean as an inerrant authority. There are probably true facts in the Bible, but the distortions in its formation process, relying heavily on the documentation of oral traditions, make it quite unreliable as a historical source.

I never said “any meaning derived can be derived from other sources.” The idea of Christ is a central meaningful idea in the Bible, as I discussed earlier here in conversation with DWill about Christology. The idea of Christ provides a theory regarding the connection between temporal life and eternal truth which most emphatically cannot be derived from other sources, although it may well synthesise themes drawn from other ancient ideas such as Horus and Krishna.



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RT: "Here I am thinking especially of your dogmatic insistence that unless God is proven to be an entity then any religious talk is meaningless."

This highlights two misunderstandings. I'm not insisting that god must be proven to be an entity. I'm looking to understand what you think god is. I said the same thing a few posts back. If you consider him a force, then how does he compare to the other forces? There is nothing nothing nothing to go on here, I'm not understanding what you mean when you say 'god'. If god can only be understood at arms length, as the allegory implies, there must be something that is casting the shadow, otherwise it's nothing but your imagination.

The other part is that there may very well be meaning within religion, but it was placed there by man and can be found elsewhere. You do offer an example that wouldn't be found elsewhere;

RT: "The idea of Christ provides a theory regarding the connection between temporal life and eternal truth which most emphatically cannot be derived from other sources."

Such a theory would be unique to the bible, you're correct. I think this is wishful thinking. First, the idea of Christ(whatever that is) is an idea thought up in the heads of men and written in the bible. If it resembles a theory, it most likely was a theory of ancient theologians. By today's standards, theories are held to much stricter standards. Can you elucidate this theory to show how it can be examined by either empiricism or rationalism? Then you mention a connection between temporal life and eternal truth. What do you mean 'connection'? A metaphysical tether? A causal relationship? A correlation? Finally you mention 'eternal truth', which is an ideal which will likely forever be out of our reach. Any progress toward eternal truth would be found in modern philosophy, not in the christian bible!

The idea is more than a stretch. If you wish we can discontinue this conversation and you can hold onto your beliefs personally, because I think that's your only option.



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DWill wrote:
Deconstruction or destruction?
Ironically, Derrida’s term deconstruction is a translation of Heidegger’s Destruktion, referring to analysis of tradition to uncover its hidden meaning. For example Heidegger deconstructs Descartes ‘cogito ergo sum’ through the observation that human life only exists in a world, and the isolated atomism of Cartesian rationalism establishes a worldview which cannot see care as the meaning of being. Yet Heidegger owes much to Descartes so his critique is intended more as a transformation than a rejection.

I am looking at a similar sort of deconstruction of Christianity in order to transform it into something compatible with its intellectual sources. For example the doctrine of the resurrection can be deconstructed by seeing it as a myth that life with integrity will bounce back against the power of evil, a parable with significant meaning regardless of whether Christ existed. The virgin birth is a story more in need of destruction, as serving the agendas of the church to put Jesus and Mary on pedestals as unhuman beings, and to serve a morality which narrowly focuses on sexuality.

Terms such as ‘heaven’, ‘salvation’ and ‘God’ have dominant cultural meanings which are scientifically false. Yet these terms are immensely valuable, and so need to be deconstructed rather than destroyed.
johnson1010 wrote:
Seeing your counterpoints clarifies your position to me Robert. Now given that you are not speaking as though any portion of the bible is literally true, but to be understood as metaphorical, why is this particular text of any greater value than the works of thousands of other prescient writers?
Hi again Johnson, thanks for these comments. The Bible is at the centre of world culture. As I noted, it raises deep mythopoetic themes such as the apocalypse which are powerful parables for the actual trends of world politics. By asking who was Jesus Christ really, we actually open core questions about the nature of human identity.
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Are you simply making a case that we should not abandon the writings of the bible all together, or that it should still have a place of honor in our culture, summarily trumping other sources?
’Summary trumping’ is precisely the historic problem of proof by authority, the invalid method applied by the church to squash debate and establish monolithic power. There needs to be a liberal and pluralist contest of ideas, which is why God is Not Great is such a superb and important book. The ‘place of honour’ question is separate, because the value I see in the Bible is different from the way it has historically been used, which is to claim redemption for very flawed human institutions. My view is that the gospels provide a sublime critique of the psychological grasping at dominion and control which is at the centre of the fallen nature of humanity. The Bible is only valuable if it is contestable.
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it almost seems that you may have formulated an alternative view of morality and then retro-actively imposed it on the barbaric lunacy of the bible. Wouldn't you be doing yourself a favor by abandoning this text and making your own way?
No. As Newton said, it is better to stand on the shoulders of giants, providing an evolutionary form of thought which builds on earlier precedents. As I noted above, the key texts of the Bible are the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Last Judgement. These are entirely the foundation of the morality I am proposing. Yes, it is different from dominant theories, but no, it is not something retro-actively imposed, as it is clearly there at the centre of the bible.
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Are you making a case that there should be an effort to turn people's familiarity with the bible into something more constructive?
Very much so. This is an agenda that Jesus predicted when he said the end of the age would come when the gospel had been preached to the whole earth. The Christian Age has been built on flawed premises, especially the false equation between eternal life and afterlife. Eternity is only meaningful if it intrudes into the temporal through a focus on lasting values such as love, truth and justice, shifting the basis of behaviour away from instinct (eg the desire to live forever) on to reason (eg scientific understanding).
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I guess i don't understand why it would be necessary to re-interpret the bible in the first place. Would you defend Icarus or Prometheus so eloquently?
Great question. Greek mythology, in my view, has a basic flaw by comparison to Christianity, in its lack of an orientation towards a divine totality. Icarus and Prometheus are archetypes of impiety, the assertion of human hubris against divine power. Of course, this assertion is at the basis of western civilization, but these stories have a powerful lesson in the punishment meted by the Gods. Today, we hubristically pile carbon out of the ground and into the air, and continuing this path will produce a destruction akin to the melting of Icarus’s waxy wings when he flew too close to the sun.

By contrast, the message of Christ is that we should transform our lives to achieve harmony with the divine reality. In terms of contemporary world politics this looks to me to require a transformation of our concepts of security away from the military aggrandisement of the nation-state and towards the security agenda of real problems such as poverty, climate and water.
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It seems that this is a last ditch effort to try to wring some value out of this text when all other interpretations falter.
Joseph Campbells myth of the hero emphasises that salvation only arrives when we get to the last ditch. :smile:
Interbane wrote:
I'm not insisting that god must be proven to be an entity. I'm looking to understand what you think god is. I said the same thing a few posts back. If you consider him a force, then how does he compare to the other forces? There is nothing nothing nothing to go on here, I'm not understanding what you mean when you say 'god'. If god can only be understood at arms-length, as the allegory implies, there must be something that is casting the shadow, otherwise it's nothing but your imagination.
Hi Interbane, sorry about calling you dogmatic, I misread your earlier comment. The shadow is cast by the cyclic structures of the cosmos. In our debate in the Milton thread I explained my views on this at some length, focussing on how the physical scientific structure of the precession of the equinox sits at the empirical basis of the Christian theory of time. On this view, God is the determinant regular structure of the cosmos for the temporal patterns of the earth. I explain how I draw this novel claim from the Bible at my essay on the biblical metaphor of the twelve jewels.
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the idea of Christ(whatever that is) is an idea thought up in the heads of men and written in the bible. If it resembles a theory, it most likely was a theory of ancient theologians. By today's standards, theories are held to much stricter standards. Can you elucidate this theory to show how it can be examined by either empiricism or rationalism? Then you mention a connection between temporal life and eternal truth. What do you mean 'connection'? A metaphysical tether? A causal relationship? A correlation? Finally you mention 'eternal truth', which is an ideal which will likely forever be out of our reach. Any progress toward eternal truth would be found in modern philosophy, not in the christian bible!
The ‘idea of Christ’ is summarised in the prologue of the Gospel of John, where Christ is identified with eternal rationality, through the concept of logos – word or reason. The question of connection is whether eternal rationality can be manifest in human life. You are right that this is a central problem for modern philosophy, but it seems a hasty move to assert that biblical theology has nothing to teach about it. The point of the Bible is that if we all lived according to eternal rationality then the world would be perfect, but our planet is so far fallen away from our original identity that we need a representative of eternal reason, ie Christ, to tell us how to restore our natural harmony with God.

RT



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RT: "...the physical scientific structure of the precession of the equinox sits at the empirical basis of the Christian theory of time."

You have that backwards. The men who wrote the bible included some cosmology, nothing more. They theorized over whatever patterns they saw in the sky. I don't remember what happened with the thread where we were discussing this, but during that time, your arguments convinced me that there is no special connection between the bible and cosmology.

RT: "The ‘idea of Christ’ is summarised in the prologue of the Gospel of John, where Christ is identified with eternal rationality, through the concept of logos – word or reason."

So, we can do away with Christ and the rest of the bible and focus on eternal rationality, and the problems that it poses. Correlating the two is either wishful thinking or taking the bible for divine truth.

RT: "The point of the Bible is that if we all lived according to eternal rationality then the world would be perfect."

No, that is one interpretation amongst millions. That it is pragmatic and morally correct is nothing more than the process of natural selection of the interpretation. I doubt we'd be discussing the evils of the bible as the same divinely inspired writing you claim to see.

RT: "The shadow is cast by the cyclic structures of the cosmos."

The only reality the 'shadow' portrays is the mechanical workings of celestial bodies according to natural laws and forces. It can all be explained mechanically, without exception. Why disillusion yourself by claiming to see god in there somewhere?



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RT: "The point of the Bible is that if we all lived according to eternal rationality then the world would be perfect."

Isn't the bible really saying that this life is just a stage for the trial of an afterlife? Whose perfect? Are you? A major component of the bible deals with the unavoidable sins inherent in man and a persons struggle against this degrading influence, I don't think it even really implies any realistic scenario where man is born any other way. You could point to the book of Genesis I suppose but that is really more of an allegory than a reflection of reality. Perhaps the flooded world would satisfy your notions of gods perfect order? If no humans are being born at a particular time then no sin is entering and those present have been approved to live by god. It's perfect. I'll bet 9 out of 10 theologians agree that even Job was born with sin.

The notion of an eternal rationality is so loosely used here that I doubt it could possibly be described to a necessary degree of refinement as to have even the slightest critical merits.

:book:



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Interbane wrote:
RT: "...the physical scientific structure of the precession of the equinox sits at the empirical basis of the Christian theory of time."You have that backwards. The men who wrote the bible included some cosmology, nothing more. They theorized over whatever patterns they saw in the sky. I don't remember what happened with the thread where we were discussing this, but during that time, your arguments convinced me that there is no special connection between the bible and cosmology.
Those who wish to follow this line can look at our discussion on the Satan, Venus, Christ and The Gas Giants thread in the discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost. I’m sorry that my argument convinced you of the opposite of what I was saying, as the argument actually has an immensely strong and simple empirical basis. You say ‘there is no special connection between the bible and cosmology,’ but the twelve jewels at the foundation of the New Jerusalem are symbols of the twelve signs in reverse from Pisces to Aries. This symbol can have no meaning except for the precession of the equinox through the Great Year. This makes perfect sense. Placed together with all the other symbols of Pisces and Virgo as symbolising the Christian Age, the twelve jewels show that the precession is indeed the basis of the Christian doctrine of time. The fact that this argument is counter-cultural does not make it false.
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RT: "The ‘idea of Christ’ is summarised in the prologue of the Gospel of John, where Christ is identified with eternal rationality, through the concept of logos – word or reason."So, we can do away with Christ and the rest of the bible and focus on eternal rationality, and the problems that it poses. Correlating the two is either wishful thinking or taking the bible for divine truth.
There is a path of reason between these errors of imagination and credulity. Reading the prologue as scientific enables us to define Christ as the imaginary perfect man in tune with eternal reason. An actual existent Christ may be possible, but Christ may not necessarily have existed except as the archetype of many different human experiences.

Whether the Son was incarnate in a human being is not relevant to the scientific logic of Christ as the perfect man, because the incarnation is equally meaningful as myth or history. The meaning is in the myth, and any history is a bonus. If the Gospel narrative is fictional, we still have the idealised picture of how a perfect man would behave in those circumstances, which has immense ethical value.

No wishful thinking is required, only a debate on whether the fable of Jesus presents a believable picture regarding how Christ – defined as the incarnation of eternal reason - would have behaved in those circumstances if he existed.

Getting back to Hitchens, one could even dispute that existence is a necessary predicate of God for Christianity. This is akin to how Bishop Jack Spong and author Tom Harpur promote a non-theistic Christian faith. Entities exist, but it is very hard to say that ideas that are not entities exist. For example, do numbers exist?
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RT: "The point of the Bible is that if we all lived according to eternal rationality then the world would be perfect."No, that is one interpretation amongst millions. That it is pragmatic and morally correct is nothing more than the process of natural selection of the interpretation.
Really? What do you mean here? In fact, orthodox Christian faith holds that our world is fallen from grace, and in need of redemption through a perfect man. John’s Prologue defines the perfect man as the incarnation of eternal reason. The idea of redemption “thy will be done on earth as in heaven” is that our planet can be transformed to conform with the eternal reason of the logos. The precessional theory of time suggests that these 2148-year long physical periods of our planet set the cosmic framework for the historical tapestry of fall and redemption in Christian faith.
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I doubt we'd be discussing the evils of the bible as the same divinely inspired writing you claim to see.
Are you suggesting here that on balance the Bible does more harm than good? I don’t really think you can blame the gospels for the evils of the church.
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RT: "The shadow is cast by the cyclic structures of the cosmos."The only reality the 'shadow' portrays is the mechanical workings of celestial bodies according to natural laws and forces. It can all be explained mechanically, without exception. Why disillusion yourself by claiming to see god in there somewhere?
I suppose I am looking for a mechanical God, marking the inexorable wheel of time. We humans are also ultimately in tune with that celestial mechanism.



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RT: "...the physical scientific structure of the precession of the equinox sits at the empirical basis of the Christian theory of time."

You have that backwards. The men who wrote the bible included some cosmology, nothing more. They theorized over whatever patterns they saw in the sky. I don't remember what happened with the thread where we were discussing this, but during that time, your arguments convinced me that there is no special connection between the bible and cosmology.

Interbane’s point stands. The bible uses astrological imagery, but certainly was not the originator of these concepts.

I have tried to limit these comments to what I can infer from your comments on this topic.
I think your evaluation of the bible is a good starting point to understand that everyone makes choices about morality and the meaning of life on their own. Atheist, or believer, quaker, jehova’s witness, scientologist or pastafarian. We all make our moral judgements based on our cultural background and personal experience. We are influenced by the things we have experienced in the past whether it be the bible or “don’t worry be happy”, but the ultimate moral authority within each of our choices is own decision making process.

What we can see explicitly in your case is where you have developed a moral framework to live your life by and rejected all interpretations of the bible except those that fit your personal world-view. Undoubtedly it is a just way of life, but it is not based on the bible, rather, you have selected portions of the bible that apply to your moral framework and endorse those while ignoring the others. You have decided which rules you will follow from the bible, the bible has not told you what is right and wrong. That is just like me. I decided what is right and wrong, only I don’t bother to consult the bible and burden myself with having to ignore what it says.

People all around the world do this on a regular basis, but you have gone through the trouble to evaluate your thought processes and know specifically which things in the bible appeal to you and those that do not, then you mentioned some of them here on this board. This is not wrong, but it does show that your reading is a subjective experience and does not translate into a universal key to unlock goodness in humanity. You have interpreted these portions of the bible to fit the meanings you desire.

Likewise many religious believers who maintain the bible is to be read literally are able to rationalize away the portions of the bible that they do not agree with by saying that those portions are allegorical.

However it is not stated that the story of Adam and Eve is meant to be understood as allegorical. Historically, the bible is read to be literal truth. So if you assert that the story of Adam and Eve is meant to be allegorical then it is a decision you made in defiance of commonly held belief.

The same tactic you employ to utilize portions of the bible to validate your moral framework can be used to justify hate and destruction, as so often has been the case in the past. Note the Westboro Baptist protestors, the mormon notion that dark pigmented skin reflects sin, and many other examples. I’m sure anyone could compile a suitably long list.

You are selecting very specific and narrow portions of the bible to endorse. What of the rest?

It seems that you are a well educated individual who still desires that the bible be relevant as more than a simple moral story telling device. You desire that it contain a higher truth, or be more important than other teachings. But it does not, and it is not.

You could scour any literature you chose and pick out some small gleaming morsels of goodness and hold them up as an ultimate path to world peace, and perhaps in an ideal world they might lead to that, but it does not validate the work as a whole.

The world can be understood on it’s own terms and does not need the crutch of mysticism. The shadows on the cave wall is poetic and sounds suitably cryptic but does not impress me very much.

The world is exactly the way the world seems to be. Just because matter is comprised mostly of empty space does not change the fact that you cannot walk through a wall. The wall IS solid. If we see things dimly, it is just because we have not shined a light in the right direction. Not being able to determine the exact location or speed of an electron simultaneously is a result of our current limitations, not a limit built into the cosmos. There is order in the universe owing to the patterns of behavior inherent to energy. If we look long enough, and with enough care we can know these patterns.

Essentially what the bible ends up being is the cover of a 2001 Dodge Ram owner’s manual, but when you open the book, you see a few pictures of the truck in question and discover the rest is a mish-mash of snipets depicting how to carve wood, how to make nachos, how to do a handstand and how to weave.

No doubt there can be some value in these snipets of information, but it certainly was not an owner’s manual to a 2001 Dodge Ram.



Wed Apr 08, 2009 1:08 pm
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RT: "...the argument actually has an immensely strong and simple empirical basis."

The empirical basis of how the cosmos works mechanically is not what I'm criticizing. Neither is the fact that ancients saw signs in the heavens and used them in architecture. What I'm criticizing is the idea that there is anything more to it. So what if ancient astrologers has a modest accounting of the heavens and used their findings to write the bible and in architecture?

RT: "Reading the prologue as scientific enables us to define Christ as the imaginary perfect man in tune with eternal reason."

Then there will be nothing of what he says that is less than eternally reasonable? If what you say is indeed scientific, this is how it can be falsified, since that is an attribute a scientific hypothesis must have. Let's hope the people who scripted his dialogue in the bible didn't write in a single sentence that is less than eternally reasonable!

RT: "For example, do numbers exist?"

Numbers exist in two ways, one way is that they are found in nature in 'instances', and the other is that we take those instances and 'abstract' them to manipulate them via mathematics. To say that 'numbers' are a shadow of reality is acceptable for our abstractions, but we must not forget that we arrived at those abstractions by observing the instances of nature. Your idea of a god is nothing but a shadow, there is no instance in reality that it reflects.

RT: "Are you suggesting here that on balance the Bible does more harm than good?"

You misunderstand, though johnson did a fine job of explaining. What I meant is that, given all possible interpretations of the bible, why do you choose one that is rational and good? Why not choose one that is irrational and evil? There are many shades of gray in between. Natural selection of interpretations as I wrote, implies you'll tend toward an interpretation more in line with the former, for obvious reasons. You then call that 'the point of the bible', but I doubt there is a point as such, it's simply one interpretation amongst millions.



Wed Apr 08, 2009 2:21 pm
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Interbane wrote:
So what if ancient astrologers has a modest accounting of the heavens and used their findings to write the bible and in architecture?


You would 'so what' enlightenment?

:book:



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Johnson and Interbane, many thanks for continuing this dialogue on whether the metaphysical claims of religion are false. With Hitchens, you make a series of invalid inferences. A key illogical step in your argument, as I pointed out earlier, is the elision from “SOME metaphysical claims of religion are false” to “ALL metaphysical claims of religion are false.” The first is demonstrable, the second is not.
johnson1010 wrote:
your evaluation of the bible is a good starting point to understand that everyone makes choices about morality and the meaning of life on their own. Atheist, or believer, quaker, jehova’s witness, scientologist or pastafarian. We all make our moral judgements based on our cultural background and personal experience.
But, some moral judgements are good and some are bad. Pastafarians invent a logical faith which fails the test of Ockham’s Razor, as do Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists. The question here is whether Christianity necessarily fails this test. Moral judgements are not based only on personal experience, but also on shared observation and reason. In this sense, the goal of objectivity is that rational judgement should base values on facts. As a coherent system of thought, atheism seeks to base its values on facts, arguing that Christianity’s values are based on fantasy. The conflicting views are incompatible.
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We are influenced by the things we have experienced in the past whether it be the bible or “don’t worry be happy”, but the ultimate moral authority within each of our choices is own decision making process.
Yes, from the modern humanist framework of autonomy, but no if we argue a moral authority can be external and objective. In a sense, Darwin argued for such an external basis in the theory of cumulative adaptation, and Dawkins develops this with his observation of the genetic basis of empathy in The Selfish Gene. “Our decision making process” need not be purely subjective and arbitrary.
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What we can see explicitly in your case is where you have developed a moral framework to live your life by and rejected all interpretations of the bible except those that fit your personal world-view.
The question here is whether an objectively valid moral framework can be found in the Bible. Hitchens rightly derides creationism as an invalid moral framework, but wrongly deduces that the Bible does not conceal a deeper meaning which is compatible with science.
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Undoubtedly it is a just way of life, but it is not based on the bible, rather, you have selected portions of the bible that apply to your moral framework and endorse those while ignoring the others. You have decided which rules you will follow from the bible, the bible has not told you what is right and wrong.
I am applying a rational criterion to the selection of Biblical ideas, namely whether they are compatible with science. This approach is compatible with the metaphor in the Bible that the path to heaven is narrow and difficult but the path to hell is broad and easy. It is not about ignoring wrong ideas, but rather explaining why they are wrong and destructive.
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That is just like me. I decided what is right and wrong, only I don’t bother to consult the bible and burden myself with having to ignore what it says.
Your decisions about what is right and wrong sit in a deep cultural context, where you largely accept the consensus values of like-minded people. Decisions do not occur in a vacuum. The Bible is at the centre of the theory of value of western civilisation. It deserves the courtesy of assessment to evaluate its merits, rather than the simplistic ‘some parts false, all parts false’ approach.
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People all around the world do this on a regular basis, but you have gone through the trouble to evaluate your thought processes and know specifically which things in the bible appeal to you and those that do not, then you mentioned some of them here on this board.
You have not engaged with my claim that the Beatitudes, The Lord’s Prayer and the Last Judgement are at the centre of biblical faith. I am suggesting these texts can function as a prism to assess the merits of other parts of the bible.
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This is not wrong, but it does show that your reading is a subjective experience and does not translate into a universal key to unlock goodness in humanity. You have interpreted these portions of the bible to fit the meanings you desire.
The meaning I desire is the reform of theology in accordance with the findings of modern science. Whether this approach may lead to a universal key to unlock goodness remains an open question. It certainly looks a far better option than the atheist rejection of theology on principle.
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Likewise many religious believers who maintain the bible is to be read literally are able to rationalize away the portions of the bible that they do not agree with by saying that those portions are allegorical.
Allegories can be tested against evidence, and deconstructed to find their moral messages. Literal readings of the bible are severely deficient in view of the massive quantity of scientific evidence refuting such readings as false. No such evidence exists to refute the ideas I have presented here.
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However it is not stated that the story of Adam and Eve is meant to be understood as allegorical. Historically, the bible is read to be literal truth. So if you assert that the story of Adam and Eve is meant to be allegorical then it is a decision you made in defiance of commonly held belief.
This historical literalism is the error which Hitchens rightly identifies. So, defiance of commonly held error is necessary if we are to make any progress and not be beholden to past beliefs.
Quote:
The same tactic you employ to utilize portions of the bible to validate your moral framework can be used to justify hate and destruction, as so often has been the case in the past. Note the Westboro Baptist protestors, the mormon notion that dark pigmented skin reflects sin, and many other examples. I’m sure anyone could compile a suitably long list.
No, the tactics are completely different. I am reading the actual Bible and arguing for its core messages, which are about love and forgiveness, the ideas which took Christ on the path of the cross. These ideas are not compatible with hate and destruction. Have you read Hitchens’ critique of the Mormons? It might be useful to open discussion on that chapter to illustrate how people use fantasy to justify a delusory moral schema. Religionists have not all found the narrow path.
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You are selecting very specific and narrow portions of the bible to endorse. What of the rest?
Criteria such as the parables of the narrow path, the wheat and tares, the beatitudes and the last judgement provide a good prism for assessment.
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It seems that you are a well educated individual who still desires that the bible be relevant as more than a simple moral story telling device. You desire that it contain a higher truth, or be more important than other teachings. But it does not, and it is not.
This is a statement of faith on your part to categorically assert the Bible contains no higher truth. It is a provocative rejection of Christian thought, where I would argue for a middle path to accept that at least some aspects of the bible contain a higher truth.
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You could scour any literature you chose and pick out some small gleaming morsels of goodness and hold them up as an ultimate path to world peace, and perhaps in an ideal world they might lead to that, but it does not validate the work as a whole.
I am just looking at the central texts of the central book of the world. You are right these “small gleaming morsels” do not validate everything in the Bible, but they do provide a good context for assessment of the merits of the rest of the book.
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The world can be understood on its own terms and does not need the crutch of mysticism. The shadows on the cave wall is poetic and sounds suitably cryptic but does not impress me very much.
I don’t agree that Plato’s Republic, the source of this allegory, is necessarily a mystical book. But it does show that the “own terms” of the world are often delusory. ‘World’ is an ambiguous term, referring either to the physical universe or the constructed systems of thought which inform worldviews. Your implication that we should abolish mysticism removes a large part of the basis to assess constructed systems. By some definitions, quantum mechanics is highly mystical. I similarly think there is a deep mystery in the structure of the solar system which we can investigate scientifically and which provides an empirical basis for the bible.
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The world is exactly the way the world seems to be.
Another comment covering big lacunae. In philosophy, “the way the world seems to be” is understood as how it appears to human perception. However many perceptions are false. The way “the world is” is understood as the noumenal reality of how things actually are in themselves. Your equation of the phenomenal and the noumenal is a problem for epistemology. I agree with you that science has discovered much about how the world is, but it is a big jump to say the current worldview resulting from scientific discovery is exactly the way the world is. As Hamlet said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in your philosophy.
Quote:
Just because matter is comprised mostly of empty space does not change the fact that you cannot walk through a wall. The wall IS solid. If we see things dimly, it is just because we have not shined a light in the right direction. Not being able to determine the exact location or speed of an electron simultaneously is a result of our current limitations, not a limit built into the cosmos. There is order in the universe owing to the patterns of behavior inherent to energy. If we look long enough, and with enough care we can know these patterns.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle may be more complex than you imagine. In fact, we cannot know the position and speed of an electron according to mainstream scientific consensus. Maybe there are other scientific mysteries locked with the opacity of the Bible?



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