Monday, 17 September 2007

Off to La France

To visit my sister and her partner - in the Pyrenees. Back 26th/27th. May blog a bit there. Have fun.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Pushing the 'good and evil' question

Help. The comments and questions are many and complex, although there are plainly some common themes. I prefer just now to focus on one that I take issue with and try and explore it with a degree of thoroughness. Hopefully doing this will shed light on some of the surrounding comments - and no doubt spawn other qs and comments. B and J, I'll say now I did ask a few other guys from church if they wd like to have a look and contribute; so far just Paul has come forward (I hope Jimmy will return - his take is refreshing). One other was up for the challenge, but he has other commitments like small kids which have no doubt prevented him.
Here's one of the most striking recent comments, from B: 'I don’t believe in evil as such, and in a society of Nazis, Hitler was not “evil”. His actions do disgust me, but would they if I had been brought up in the Hitler youth?' Interesting. I wonder if closer examination of the Hitler case will shed any light here. 'In a society of Nazis, Hitler was not evil'. Now I don't know much about the Third Reich, but for starters, wasn't Hitler more of a leader than follower in the rise of Nazism? Was it not his perversely thought-out application of the philosophy of Nietzche (to name the one I'm aware of) in particular what led to the holocaust? Was not the combination of his own distorted thinking, charisma and political power at the root of the madness? Of course he himself was subject to an upbringing and influences. The core of the question, for him and us, is, external influences notwithstanding, did he make personal independent choices, with at least some degree of clear-sightedness, that led to that momentous evil? And in following him, did the Hitler youth too? Particularly in light of subsequent German shame over the H, is it not plausible that they - and us - have an innate moral sense that in Hitler's followers was to some extent suppressed or even crushed?
And on what basis, B, do you feel 'disgust' at what he did - an emotive word - if not on that of a perceived real standard?
Other big qs have been raised, esp both B and J's on morality in the bible on which there's plenty to be said (and I won't foget the parallel universe one either J), but I want to push this root one about an ulimate moral sense a bit further. It's also crossed my mind how relatively easy it is to discuss this from our cosy perspective. I wonder how dispassionate you could be discussing the non-existence of real evil, or the moral sense being merely an evolutionary feature, if it had been someone you love, or you yourself, in the gas chamber?
Lastly just now, I like to give credit where credit's due: TGD is quite gripping - for various reasons. It's written with clarity and wit (and not a little sarcasm: 'Who cares?' 'Yeah right' and 'Dream on' stand out so far). I'm tempted to say, it's bonkers, but well-written bonkers. But no - I do think it requires serious engagement. So don't think I'm dismissive.

Friday, 14 September 2007

How seriously do you take evil?

B, you say: 'Can you demonstrate (moral)absolutes exist? (no proof given that they do). to a nazi or a satanist, what you hold to be moral is not so to them. Do you not then think it is your cultural context or upbringing that gives you your moral sense?' Sounds like complete moral relativism. Are you seriously saying you think there is no ultimate standard by which we can say that gassing the Jews was not merely culturally conditioned behaviour but actually 'wrong'? If you do say that, you need to explore the implications. If not, the question of where an ultimate sense of right and wrong comes from has to be addressed. I don't think the moral relativism implicit in the evolutionary model accounts at all seriously enough for the profundity of the human sense of outrage in the face of evil eg a dictator who massacres thousands and then dies peacefully himself. Do you?
Addressing the insistent demand to prove things: God's existence, moral absolutes. I'd admit it's not easy to argue in this 'prove' way, and it seems strangely tortuous and pointless... I'll want to return to a phrase I recall from my past apologetics reading: the 'explanatory power' of a theory. Whatever area we're discussing, God's existence, the resurrection etc, which view best fits the evidence as a whole?
To further address: B's negative view of biblical morality.
J, will come back. All comments remain of course so I can return to them.
Anonymous, thanks for joining. Jimmy, where are you? Welcome to drop in. Have begun 'The God delusion'. First impressions, readable and entertaining eg OT God a 'psychotic delinquent'(!) and says some interesting things. With B and J around, can't add 'fundamentally flawed' without being asked to back that up. Afraid I've got a raft of your comments to get through first.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Does science have limits?

I agree with you Billy that it's not ideal to state strong opinion - eg in my post yesterday - and not immediately back it up. Two things. One, I'm human, and it's quite normal to want to express an inner reaction before going on to catalogue in detail why one thinks/feels that. Two, I've no shame in admitting at present I feel a bit like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise fable with you and Jonathan. I'm ok with that - hope you are. So I'll try and back up what I say, as you keep demanding; it's just going to take a bit longer, a series of posts.
Today I'm just going to consider one of Jonathan's comment:
From Mullen: "St Augustine and The Athanasian Creed did not use the phrase absolute presuppositions. They used the word faith. But they meant the same thing"
J: "Erm, no, they didn't. The "faith" of scientists and mathematicians is backed up by thousands upon thousands of experiments, backed up by day to day observation of the world around us.
What is scientists' faith in? In the scientific method, enabling experiment and progress in knowledge of the observable world. Science tells us increasingly more about physical processes, how things work, the 'how' qs; Billy you know a lot of the detail, as indicated by the plethora of long words on Tuesday. My question: is the scientific method adequately equipped to tackle issues and questions in the arenas of meaning, purpose, morals - the 'why' qs? Or is a different kind of faith needed to shed light on these?
Jonathan, I'll come back to your q about creatures in a parallel universe. Just now I feel like one of them.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Oh boy

I'd be very interested in a thoughtful - not knee jerk as you yourself warn against Billy - response to the Mullen article I posted. One of the things it helps articulate is my sense in both your thinking of a strong case of not seeing the wood for the trees. Particularly with you Billy - on the science front you have a lot of knowledge and big words. But I'm afraid my view of your handling of theology and the Bible from what I've seen is similar to Mullen's view of Dawkins in this regard - frankly ignorant and infantile - astoundingly so in one so clever. Especially in your last comment's mishmash thinking about 1 Cor 13 and God - which I'd have to come back to. Especially look at what Mullen says about faith and presuppositions near the end. You can't escape the need for faith with God, it's a gift you have to be open to, and you're closed. But you have a lot of faith in science as an absolute.
'No god is required' - you both buy into this god of the gaps thinking, and Billy you recently pointed this out as a weakness in a recent comment! - I refuse to tag along, although can come back to and discuss. In response to your low opinion of evidence for the resurrection, I challenge both of you to read McDowell 'Evidence' pp 203 to 285 (of a 760pp book) - a detailed and thorough 'wood not just trees' catalogue of evidence - and respond.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Roots of reality

A random blog reader wd probably take one look here, think 'Ooh my word' and go looking for something a bit lighter. Oh well... it's a tight market, but an engaged one at least - cheers guys.
To pick up one of Jonathan's Friday points:'survival of the most adequate': a basic question remains: what drives life and, if you believe in it, evolution? What is at the root and foundation of it? Without getting tied up worrying just now about details of the Bible's vision of God, which I know Billy at least has serious issues with, let's think for a moment about a possible basic definition of 'God', first used by a theologian called Paul Tilloch, as 'the ground of being'. I'll tell you one of the basic reasons I believe in God as a purposeful, personal being. It's this. We humans have a sense of purpose, and personality with all its qualities such as capacity to love (as well of course as hate), appreciate beauty and all the rest. And it's difficult to see how such attributes and qualities could have arisen in creatures in this universe unless they, or qualities greater than them, are not present in the ground of being, in the foundations of reality. Now that sounds all very abstract, but from the perspective of reason I guess that thought has always been at the root of my belief in God. How could a blind meaningless process give rise to all this? I'm opening up a question here which I'm interested to hear the atheist response to. Christianity would then go on to talk about 'revelation' of the divine, in the Bible, in Christ etc...
Just a taster on the resurrection: Billy started to pick holes in the gospel accounts which I'd need to go back to, but just off the top of my head, the kind of 'large areas of evidence' you need to get to grips with are: multiple documentation of eye witness testimony in the New Testament, and the phenomenon of the rise of the early church - rooted, in the face of fierce persecution, in the firm conviction Jesus had risen...

Monday, 10 September 2007

Have I said this all before?

On the issue of authority: we all rely on it; we all take things by faith. I'm not just appealing to authority; I've clearly and repeatedly said that the 'evidence' behind authoritative quotes like Darling's is out there in quality writings to be investigated. While respecting your wishes to hear what I think, there is behind some of your questions a demand for me to systematically set out the evidence which I simply can't fulfil just now, and don't think I'll ever be able to, certainly for as long as any of our patience lasts. I've got trains to book, a life to organise (and try and live!) And it would frankly be a waste of all our time; it's all been set out far more comprehensively and articulately by others who've been able to devote time to it than I could manage. Hence my consistent urge to invest your considerable curiosity and debating energies in reading it. We all arrive at our faith positions in different ways; you guys want to explore evidence in a very rational, logical way; but that is a limited domain of human knowledge and experience; lots of people, perhaps being more attuned to the emotional, intuitive dimensions of our lives, wd just not be able to identify with your concentration on the former approach, and as a way of considering the mystery of God, would find it very one-sided.
I probably will come back to some of your questions though, because they do interest me. Oh dear. You'll probably think I haven't said much today. Sorry. Got to go book a train. We'll keep talking.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Signs from nature

Jonathan, you've been patient, so I'm responding to your question about what I consider the best physical evidence that encourages me to believe in God. It's funny, I feel a weariness even before beginning, anticipating Billy's attack: 'that's not evidence!' So I have to address this issue first, if briefly: the nature and role of 'physical evidence' in belief. Jonathan, I don't know what you think, but I know Billy that your/Dawkins' view and understanding of evidence is a particular one, different from mine, a Christian view, or indeed I'd say a range of other non-scientific reductionist ones. To try and articulate briefly, when a person - not just me - considers nature to any depth or extent, the qualities of order, complexity and beauty produce a sense of awe and wonder which direct the mind and imagination to ponder the ultimate source of such qualities. For me the very fact the human mind is capable of so fully appreciating the awesome beauty of nature is itself compelling. What purpose does that serve in a blind mechanical chance system? There's no point cataloguing all the marvels of nature, but I suppose ones that particularly impact my imagination are complexity at the minute level, eg in cells, the seasons, especially the co-ordination of the movements of the heavenly bodies with the impact of the beauty of their changing observable effects on the human mind; and the apparent 'fine-tuning' of the universe to enable the kind of planet and life we see on earth. But, to try and at least dampen the force of B's anticipated attack, I'd make no simple 'therefore God' deduction; these things merely impact the mind in a way making it more amenable to the possibilty of God.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A question of evidence

Billy, about McDowell's book 'Evidence...', which I'm currently reading: first off, it's not a book about science, we both know; its focuses are the Bible, Jesus, and in the new part 4, responses to various branches of modern and postmodern thought. A lot of it catalogues quotations from eminent qualified thinkers showing their high regard for the evidence on offer; therefore, to judge the evidence more thoroughly for yourself - though quite a lot of this is itself on show - you might need to do further research, eg read works by the academics quoted. From what I've read so far of 'Evidence', I'm impressed by the esteem that people of real learning and experience - scholars, academics and the like - have for the evidence on offer. Particularly concerning the resurrection, the section I'm reading now. I'll quote just one, Lord Darling, a former Chief Justice of England: 'On that greatest point (the resurrection) we are not merely asked to have faith. In it's favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true' p219.
Against this I'll just quote from the Dawkins website, not to make any point other than to show what a battle of ideas we have on our hands: "But insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns. "
Jonathan, sorry, I will come back to the 'physical evidence' question.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

If you're really curious, the knowledge is out there

Billy, Jonathan, thanks for your replies. I'm going to say straight off a thought that's been running through my mind since yesterday. I'm aware of the value of personal interaction in discussing these topics, but it's also struck me that if you're serious about wanting to get to grips with why Christians believe what they believe, just as if I wanted to more fully understand why atheists or those of other persuasions hold their beliefs, the best way is to get out there and read what's been written! I say this not remotely as a cop-out, but rather in the face of basic life realities: we all have limited time each day, and I, while having thought things through a fair bit, am one mere limited person; out there, meanwhile, there's a vast range of resources from Christian history right up to the present day of carefully thought out, reasonable, rational discussion of why Christians believe. I offer this as a serious challenge. Billy, I know you've read quite a lot. I'd be interestd to know what you make of what you've read. I recommend for starters 'Evidence that demands a verdict' (new and revised) by Josh McDowell, which I know you know Billy. I can almost anticipate you saying, 'It's rubbish'. But I really would want to know how deeply and thoroughly you've explored what is said in this book, the writings it quotes from, and the vast library of books of similar or greater learning out there. One more, 'The Dawkins delusion' (Alistair McGrath? - haven't yet read this myself) If particular others come to mind I'll let you know, but seriously, if you guys are geuninely curious you'll be able to dig them out - main libraries, bible college libraries, internet...
See my comment for brief responses to points raised in the time I have left:

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Can God be contained in a 'prove/disprove' box?

I'm gradually responding to comments on this current strand thinking about God and faith. Thanks Billy, Jonathan and Jimmy. Billy, I'm aware how easy it is to offend or annoy when relating this topic to personal experience, and am sorry to the extent I did that. I was trying to make a very objective point though that applies to everyone, as Jonathan - thank you - recognises: that experience does shape and affect the formation of belief. You do, Billy, further on acknowledge this, saying how it lead you to question your faith and personally conclude it didn't stack up - a process which I respect even if I disagree with your conclusions.
A few starter responses that need expanding.
I, doubtless along with many people of faith, am uneasy about the apparent limitedness of your approach in addressing the topic of God. This relates to my above point about experience. It is a widely held Christian conviction that a prime arena for God's interaction with human beings is through the heart, and experience. That's not to deny there's a very important role for thought and intellect, and it's perfectly okay to discuss the very existence of God in this manner. But no believer would claim you can prove God in a solely rational, scientific evidence-based manner, as you want them to do. That discussion is one part of a jigsaw.
I've jotted down my other initial reactions below. At present they look like tabloid headlines - they need a lot of unpacking. I stick with my intention to discuss this bit by bit.
You're not accounting for the mystery and poetry of existence. Heart and emotion important - powerful influence. Nothing wrong with questioning, I grant. Selective and sometimes distorted, silly assessment eg Jesus' death a 'suicide mission'? Impression at times of a demanding and combative stance and scatter gun of half-baked ideas; complex topic needs to be addressed carefully. The 'evidence', yet to be discussed, is like a jigsaw with many pieces: doesn't aim to 'prove' God but provides strong springboard for faith, stronger than for the alternatives when considered comprehensively from all angles. Centrality of heart - makes sense if God wants to know and be known by people of varying intelligence and education. I'm on a quest too.
Finally, check out John Humphreys 'In God we doubt':

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Impact of experience on shaping belief

Responding to Billy's comment below: Billy, as expected you have provided a forest of a response to tackle, and I am only going to try and hack my way through it a bit at a time. Where to begin? At present we're approaching the issue/question of the reality (or non-) of God from such different places. From your negative experience of faith and church, it strikes me you have decided for yourself God is not real, and have constructed a complex web of reasons to justify that position to yourself. Being a scientist, and I know having boned up a fair bit on biblical studies too, you are able to draw from a wide pool of knowledge and information to construct and defend your position. You cannot deny - and perhaps wouldn't try to - the strong impact your own experience had on the process which has lead you to think what you currrently do. Nothing wrong with our experience influencing us - it's common to us all. I'd just want to start by highlighting the subjective element - experience and emotion - that has shaped your own journey of thought and belief; it's been influential on you as it is on others. I hope you'd acknowledge that.
As I say, a bit at a time. And don't worry, I won't get personal. I'm blogging this partly cos it my be of wider interest and, being a Metro contributor, don't think you'll mind others reading.