From: Neil Womack on 16 February 1999
I have read through many of your articles, as I was interested in a few of the topics. Unfortunately, you seem to take the position most theologians take. All of your answers seem to circle back to one thing: "faith" in doctrine. Do they not? You state in one of your artcles: "The initial optimism with which the world was aglow after World War II has long since faded before the gruesome reality of some three-hundred plus civil and regional wars that have raged since 1945, including Korea and Vietnam. In addition, during these past forty-six years, there have been no shortages of bombings, assassinations, hijackings, and other such demonstrations of man's inhumanity to his fellowman. Although the recent defeat of communism and the one--hundred hour war to liberate Kuwait has bolstered the optimism of some, as we shall see later, these are nothing to get excited about, and have, in fact, caused untold suffering and death for many people."
I have to ask, where is this God you speak of? It would seem that an omnibenevolent God would not allow his creations to destroy one another. After all, on a smaller scale, you would not allow your children to fight, would you? Why is it excusable that a "perfect" being allows such things to happen? The reason I ask is that, as a former believer myself, I found reality to be in stark contrast to revered literature. And I think you need not worry about any "new world order" or modern tower of Babel, because as long as "religion" exists, there will be intolerance. And that intolerance will prevent man from ever achieving a united, peaceful world state. Furthermore, you also stated in the article on True religion vs. False religion:"In the very first verse of the Bible, we are told: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ In this simple and uncomplicated sentence are concepts with the most profound implications. If one believes this sentence to be divinely inspired truth, then it completely destroys the ‘strongholds’ of atheism, polytheism, materialism, and pantheism."
It does nothing of the sort. What you are doing is asking someone to believe something for which they have absolutely no evidence whatsoever. I cannot speak for the latter three, but as for atheism, you seem to have fallen into popular belief instead of fact. The athiest is not one who claims to "know" that God doesn't exist. For anyone to claim to know anything whatsoever (including whether God exists) as absolute truth is ludicrously outside the bounds of reason. If an atheist states he "knows" God doesn't exist, then he is in error as much as the religionist is when he states the he "knows" that God indeed exists. Rather, the athiest claims that he has no reason for arriving at the conclusion that an all-powerful entity controls the universe. If solid evidence were ever presented to this regard, I'm sure any reasonable person would be willing to analyze and accept it if it was consistent with reality. But we have never seen evidence in this regard. The Bible itself is not evidence in any way; before you can use the Bible as a source of truth, you must first prove the Bible as truth itself. All religions know this, which is where the term/tool "faith" comes in. It rationalizes an irrational system of thought. What evidence do you have to prove to me that this religion is the "one truth", as opposed to the thousands of other religions out there claiming exactly the same thing? I would seriously like to hear an answer from you, as I seem to have too many questions no one can answer.
If you would like to gain insight into my views, try checking out my page at my web site (it was http://expert.cc.purdue.edu/~fd2black/thought.html, but it no longer exists—AT).
Please believe me when I say that I am truly interested in the betterment of mankind. I just don't believe that submission to doctrine teaches us equality amongst ourselves.
Reply from Allan Turner on 19 February 1999
I appreciate you taking the time to read some of my articles. I'm sorry I've been rather busy on several pressing projects, but I look forward to engaging you in a discussion of the things you mentioned. You raise legitimate questions, and I will do my best to address them.
I'll get back with you soon.
Reply from Allan Turner on 19 February 1999
Thank you for taking the time to read some of my articles. I am happy to engage you in this discussion. I am sure we can keep this on a level that will be satisfactory to us both. If it somehow degenerates into an harangue, I will disengage, so let us both be careful along these lines. I do expect you to vigorously press your point, and I will not be offended by you doing so. Truth matters to us both.
Well, how ought I to proceed? Yes, doctrine is important to me. But, it will do no good to talk about doctrine, unless one believes the Bible is actually God's Word. Furthermore, it will do no one any good to talk about the Bible being God's Word, if there is no God. Therefore, I intend to begin with what I consider to be proofs for God's existence. If you and I were to agree that there are proofs that would convince a reasonable man, then we could talk about doctrine and the Bible. If not, then such an endeavor, I am convinced, would be a waste of our time.
The problem of suffering that you mention at the beginning of your response is certainly something that needs to be addressed by any theist. My theodicy ought to honestly deal with this issue. But, once more, we are getting ahead of ourselves. If God exists, then the problem of suffering is a legitimate question. But, if God does not exist, then what good would it do for us to talk about the character or ability of a nonexistent God? So, again, I believe the best course of action is for us to proceed to a discussion of the "proofs" for God.
The Classical Proofs
We are both aware of the classical arguments, i.e., the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments.
The Ontological Argument
Personally, I would not want to touch the ontological argument with the proverbial "ten-foot pole." I believe it to be weak for two basic reasons, which I'll not go into at this time.
The Cosmological Argument
This is the argument based on the apparent necessity of a first cause. It seems to me that it is only reasonable to think that something has always existed, and that whatever this something is, is self-existent and uncreated. If you and I can agree that this is true, then the only issue here is the nature of the original cause. The two choices, as I see them, are God or Matter. (If you think there are other possibilities, then I would be interested in your thoughts.) I believe a reasonable man will conclude it more reasonable to believe in an eternal, intelligent, living first cause rather than a non-living, non-intelligent material first cause. You may not agree, and I would be interested in your arguments to the contrary, but this, I believe, is a reasonable and intelligent conclusion.
The Teleological Argument
This is the argument from design. It logically follows from the cosmological argument. It argues that the harmony and complexity in the natural world offers compelling evidence of creation by design. Ergo, if there is design, there must be a designer. I think I know what your argument will be against this, but I'll wait for you to make it before I address it. Although I believe the teleological argument both valid and persuasive, nevertheless, I want to make it clear that I believe it impossible and unnecessary to prove purpose and design behind every observable fact in nature. Be forewarned, apparent anomalies, to the contrary, do not impress me as reliable evidence that there is actually no proof of harmony, complexity, and design in the material world.
Furthermore, I suspect you will argue that neither the cosmological nor the teleological arguments specifically identify God or His Will for man, and you will be absolutely correct. In other words, such arguments do not point to Jesus Christ nor the Gospel, but for the sake of my argument here at the beginning of our discussion, they are not required to do so. What they do, and quite effectively, is offer proof that a powerful entity, Being, or God exists.
The Moral Argument
This argument observes that human beings seem to have a sense of right and wrong. If mankind is merely the "chance collocation of atoms," then what is the source of this apparent moral awareness? I would argue that the most reasonable explanation for this seemingly universal moral sense is that there is a Creator who defines what righteousness is and has created us with the capacity of making moral choices (viz., free will). C.S. Lewis makes a compelling case for this argument in Mere Christianity. He sums up his argument in chapter one this way: "First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; but they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in" (p. 21).
Of course, this argument, too, has its limitations. Lewis went on to say: "I am not yet within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology. All I have got to is a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong" (p. 34). Nevertheless, Lewis underscores the force of the argument by saying: "I think we have to assume it [the Something directing the universe] is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know—because after all the only other thing we know is matter and you can hardly imagine a bit of matter giving instructions" (p. 34). Or, can you?
Neil, this is how I will begin what I hope will be a profitable discussion for us both. I await your reply.
From: Neil Womack on 20 February 1999
Thanks for getting back to me. I realize my style of argument is rather abrasive, but do not take it as insult. I have no intention to that end. I have been involved in too many discussions on the Internet that degenerate into that kind of drivel, and it solves nothing and proves nothing. My rough-around-the-edges approach simply reflects my passion for what I believe.
The first thing I noticed was: "If you and I were to agree that there are proofs that would convince a reasonable man, then we could talk about doctrine and the Bible."
I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. Are you saying our definitions of "proof" are different, or that the doctrine and Bible are proof enough that could convince a reasonable man?
Your words regarding the cosmological arguement appear to make good sense, and I would agree that there is a "first-cause", but that is only valid assuming that man's temporal understanding is indeed consistent with the reality of time itself. To use an analogy, think of the spectrum of light. Just because humans are only capable of seeing roughly half of the spectrum of light (from about 400 - 700 nm) does not mean that's all there is. From this we see that the "common man's" notion of seeing the world (i.e. what you see is what you get), while appearing to be true, is not consistent with the reality, which is that most of the light spectrum is outside human perception. What I mean is, time may be a creation of man, an attempt to classify a complex concept into understandable terms in the relatively primitive brains of us humans, not necessarily an objective reality. But, assuming we are somewhat correct along the temporal lines, I would agree about a first cause. But we are still figuring this out. Would it not be better to wait and weigh new evidence in determining this first cause (as either matter, or an intelligent God, or something entirely different) then to jump to conclusions? I find it ironic that, in the course of human events, it may be only science that can prove a God's existence beyond all doubt. It would seem that God himself has no interest in proving it to us.
The teleological argument is a reasonable one, as well. It would seem that there is a design in nature. But this is only when you stick to the normal paradigms of human thought, the little box we've built for ourselves to think in because we're not yet evolved enough to understand objective reality. I am as guilty of this as anyone (although I try to think outside it as well as I can), so don't think this is insulting. What I mean is, look at it from the other side. The universe could have gone a billion different ways, but a number of random factors influenced the direction of the development of it. If you look at Darwinism and the theory of eveolution by natural selection, you see why things came to bet the way they did. In the course of millions of generations of animals, some were born with mutations. This is not theory, this is fact, proven in both Mendelian genetics and modern science. Mutation does occur. Now, if (and only if) this mutation gives the animal an advantage over others in his species, he will live longer than his cohorts and reproduce. One can see the drastic effect this would have over millions of years. When one looks at Chaos theory and the implications it has, we see a whole new way of thinking. We begin to realize that humans are responsible for applying the concepts of "orderly" and "designed" to label his environment. Without man, there is no notion of order. The concept simply doesn't exist. The universe simply is what it is, an indifferent and massive aggregation of matter. I have encountered this many, many times with other people who sometimes seem to confuse man's labels for reality as reality itself. I really would like to stress the concept of "indifferent" when I explain the universe, because indifference seems to be why everything, good or bad, happens. There's no big plan or scheme, the universe - and all it's matter - is simply indifferent. There is no good or bad, those are just labels that humans started applying to certain events and behaviors after he came along.
The moral argument is the one I am probably most familiar with, being as how I'm still pretty young and that was what I was tought as the basis for religious thought. But as a student of psychology, philosophy, and sociology, I think I may have an alternative explanation that may intetrest you. First, the way humans behave is not according to their nature. We are social animals, and therefore, we act in accordance with those things that will make us accepted by the larger society. We act like everyone else to be accepted, and everyone else does the same. I have read of countless experiments in human behavior in which humans will do some of the craziest things all in the name of submission to authority (See Milgram's experiments, I beleive 1969) or assimilation into the desired culture. Humans want to be a part of something, something bigger than themselves, which helps to explain both the desire to conform to society and the desire to believe in God and eternal life - a happy ending and a guarantee that they're not alone. Along those lines, we must realize that humans do not have a sense of "right and wrong" that is innate. A baby or toddler, who has little or no knowledge of social norms and morality, does anything it wants until it A.) has a bad experience, say with a hot stove (I believe this actually happened to me, if I remember correctly) and learns on its own not to repeat such an action, or B.) if it is punished by the authority figure and learns that action X is considered either "right" or "wrong" by that society. As I said before, remember that (according to what I believe) there exists in objective reality no such thing as "right" and "wrong". Before humans came along, the concepts did not even exist. Animals ate other animals, fought and killed their own kind, and displayed a variety of behaviors that parallel those of humans in the circle of nature, but that was not considered "wrong" or "right". It was simply nature in all its indifference. Then along came man, who started attaching the labels of "right" and "wrong" to behaviors that either benefitted himself and his own ("right" behaviors) or were detrimental to them ("wrong" behaviors). Remember, as reality bears out, the concepts of right and wrong are completely relative, depending on what culture of the world you are in. I believe it is only in man's depserate need to attach fixity to this concept that we create an "absolute and unquestioable" truth" so that we have a standard to live by. Hence, we create God, one we claim to be bigger than ourselves so that his rules cannot be manipulated, cannot be changed as eaisly. Change causes man to be confused to easily, so he needs stability. This concept of God gives it to him.
By the way, I like the quote by Lewis. I think I would agree with him, that if there is an intelligent first cause, that it is maybe something like a "mind". I believe that it would be something humans would never even possibly think of. Something so outside our paradigms of thought that we couldn't even contimplate it, much less try to explain it's nature (which modern organized religion attempts to do). As a species, we seem unable to identify with things we cannot personify - which, we have once again done with our concept of God. It is impossible for us to even think of God outside of human terms. We may be able to picture God as a cloud, or something barely human-like, but we attach human qualities to the concept of God, giving him thoughts, emotions, and motivation for his actions. The Bible tells us of many instances in which God becomes vengeful, an irony in that even an all-powerful superbeing cannot escape the emotive motivations of even the lowest human. These are all distinctly human qualities. Or do you agree?
I enjoy this discussion. At the very least, even though we don't agree with each other, I am starting to understand why you beleive what you do, and hopefully you can gain the same insight from my explanations. Sorry this is so long, I tend to get on a roll and just don't stop! I look forward to hearing from you any more points you'd like to consider.
Reply from Allan Turner on 23 February 1999
Don't worry. No offense is taken. As I told you in my previous reply, I expect you to vigorously press your point, and I will not be offended by you doing so.
Sorry you were confused by my effort to clarify things with the statement: "If you and I were to agree that there are proofs that would convince a reasonable man, then we could talk about doctrine and the Bible." What I meant was that it's going to do us no good to engage in a discussion about why I believe the Bible is a revelation from God and, therefore, why I'm trying to do what that revelation says (i.e., doctrine) unless we first discuss whether a reasonable person can conclude that there is a God. If a reasonable person cannot conclude there is enough evidence to believe God exists, then there is no profit for you and me in discussing these other things. The first, and essential, issue is: Is there enough information for a reasonable man to conclude God exists? If I understand your position, you do not believe there is. Consequently, this is the question I am now addressing. Later, if you were to conclude there is enough evidence to think God does exist, then I can go into why I believe the Bible is a special revelation from God and why His doctrine is important, and finally, how you and I can determine what that doctrine really is. I hope this clarifies what I meant and what I am trying to do presently in this discussion.
The Cosmological Argument
You say you agree with me that there is a "first cause," but then you launch into your own soliloquy about what is really real. I have given my opinion on that in my article What Is Real? for those who might be interested. But, what an incredible journey you took me on! Absolutely fantastic! But, let's get serious here, if we can. If you are right, then everything is relative, even your "rightness." If your argument is correct, everything is but a figment of our individual imaginations. If what you say is true, then how can we really know anything? Neil, just what is fact, if everything is relative? Perhaps the Hindu mystics are right after all—everything is an illusion or "Maya," as they call it.
Neil, Neil, my friend, surely you're not trying to pawn off on me this mumbo-jumbo, nothing-is-real, everything-is-relative junk, are you? I know many of your professors are peddling this postmodern garbage, but you're not really buying it, are you? No, I think not. If you did, you would not be making some of the statements you have already made in this discussion—statements that require reality or "facts." Like when you talk about our "relatively primitive brains" or our being "not yet evolved enough," which assumes that the "facts" inferred by the General Theory of Evolution are "true." But, what is truth, if the postmodern assumptions are correct? What are the facts? Does the data actually have an objective existence, or does it "exist" only as it is perceived?
You talk about something happening over "the course of millions of generations of animals," which is an appeal to some kind of data or objective standard—you would probably call this the facts of Science—but you have already informed me that it is dubious, at best, that we humans, with our "relatively primitive brains," would really know what the facts are, if there are any, or what the correct interpretation of these facts are. So, surely you can see that this kind of approach serves no useful—perhaps I should say, meaningful—purpose.
Anyway, I am happy that you concede to the cosmological argument, if, as you say, our perceptions are generally correct. But, you then hesitate to commit yourself to where this is leading. You say: "We are still figuring this out. Would it not be better to wait and weigh new evidence in determining this first cause (as either matter, or an intelligent God, or something entirely different) than to jump to conclusions?" (Neil, if you could suggest "something entirely different," I am sure you could become immensely famous and sell a lot of books. The world is waiting.) I am not suggesting that anyone ought to be jumping to any conclusions. What I am trying to get you to do is to arrive at some conclusions. Contrary to the dictates of postmodernism, coming to conclusions is what reasonable men and women do. It's what this whole discussion is about. I'm not talking about some Kierkegaardian leap into the dark existential abyss. What I'm talking about is what reasonable men and women will conclude. Therefore, although your suggested approach gives the appearance of prudence, it seems to me to be evidence of a bit of intellectual timidity. Remember, at issue is what reasonable men and women can conclude about these things.
Maybe you are fearful of a progression from atheism to agnosticism. Is this true? Should we fear the result of any intellectual endeavor. Are we really going to enthrone reason, or are we going to shackle it? (Actually, your definition, in your first email, of what atheism has to say about the existence of God, although it might be technically true, more appropriately describes agnosticism than it does atheism.) Maybe you are actually an agnostic after all. If so, then I am confident that we will be able to reason together concerning these matters. In truth, although atheism dresses itself up as being very reasonable, I have found very little about it that is in any way reasonable, and I shall explain what I mean as we progress in this discussion.
You are very perceptive when you say, "It would seem that God himself has no interest in proving [his existence] to us." After much study of these things, this is my conclusion also. The Bible does not attempt to prove God's existence. It starts with, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This verse assumes faith in God's existence. Of course, this faith is not faith in God (i.e., believing in, trusting on, and obeying), but is, instead, mental assent, that is, belief that it is quite reasonable to assume there is a God. This is what the cosmological argument purports to do. Just how powerful an argument it is, is your decision. For myself, I have concluded it to be both powerful and reasonable. How reasonable is it?, you ask. So reasonable that the Bible says, "The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’" Now, before you take offense at a perceived insult, I really don't think this passage in the Bible is intended to be an insult to anyone. Instead, it is a statement that belief in the existence of God is extremely reasonable. In fact, it is so reasonable that no one except that one who will ignore the evidence (viz., a fool) would doubt it.
The Teleological Argument
It seems that you concede to this argument as well. But, you then negate the force of the argument by saying "we're not yet evolved enough to understand objective reality." If this is true, then it is safe to say that this discussion is a bit premature, is it not? If your statement is correct, then what could we possibly hope to accomplish by such a discussion in the first place? Again, I just think that's more of that intellectual mush your professors have been feeding you, somehow convincing you it's really solid food. Come on, Neil, you can't have it both ways. You can't ask me for a reason for my belief and then say we (you and I) do not have the capacity to reason effectively because we're not yet advanced enough in our evolution. If this were true, then we ought to just gleefully and ignorantly play around in the primordial gook we are destined by chance to swim around in until something significant happens to change things, enabling you and me to eventually think effectively. But, on the other hand, if you will give up these philosophical word games, then we could settle down to the task at hand.
I know you're the psychology major, and it's not really my place to pyschoanalyze you, but it's almost like I'm having this discussion with two different people. One can see the force of these arguments for the existence of God, but the other one wants to bring up all the what-ifs so that he can continue to justify his decision to reject the evidence for God's existence. Neil, I want to remind you that both of us are being tested in this discussion. Our integrity is on the line. What will reasonable men and women do with the evidence? Will we suppress those things that seriously test our assumptions, or will we thoughtfully and critically modify our assumptions. I remain of the opinion that reasonable men and women will gladly modify their assumptions, and if need be, give them up altogether.
Neil, I want to be right on these issues, and I think you do too, or we would not be having this discussion. This means that if I could be convinced that atheism is reasonable, then I would be ready to simply eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow I die, and when I'm dead, I'm just like old Rover—dead all over! I would have no hope of life beyond the grave. As Bertrand Russell chillingly pointed out, I, along with you, are "...destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried underneath the debris of a universe in ruins..." (Why I Am Not A Christian, p. 107). Nihilism is a pretty sorry thing, for sure, but if that's the way it is, then I'm "gonna git" all the gusto I can in the here and now. And, if all of us were to actually live this way, I fail to see how that would produce a better world than this present one which you say is being held back by "religious intolerance." But, I digress. Now, on to some more of your remarks concerning the teleological argument.
You say: "If you look at Darwinism and the theory of evolution by natural selection, you see why things came to be the way they [are]. In the course of millions of generations of animals, some were born with mutations. This is not theory, this is fact, proven by Mendelian genetics and modern science." No sir, you are wrong about this. But, before I tell you why, let me say that Darwinism and the theory of evolution (we're talking the General Theory here) do not allege to tell us "why" things are like they are, but are supposed to be systematized efforts to tell us "how" things are like they are. The why would be a metaphysical question and, therefore, not acceptable to scientific pursuits. This could just have been a slip on your part, or it might be, in itself, indicative of why those who espouse Darwinism and the General Theory of Evolution are frequently found to be pontificating in the metaphysical realm of things.
Yes, evolution has and does occur. This is a fact. But what you allege to be a fact has not been demonstrated. Have you not heard that Darwinism is dead, even among the proponents of the General Theory of Evolution? Natural selection and the survival of the fittest predicted certain transitions in the fossil record that have not been discovered—hence, the "punctuated equilibrium" of Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, and Steven Stanley. According to this new theory, fossil hunting has manifested two things: stasis and sudden appearance, which, as you know, are both devastating to Darwinism. You can read more about this in Phillip E. Johnson's Darwin On Trial. Additionally, the advancement of science has called into question most of the previous assumptions made concerning Darwinism. In other words, it has been tried and found to be wanting. I suggest a reading of Michael J. Behe's Darwin's Black Box for a comprehensive discussion of this point from the standpoint of biochemistry. On the flyleaf of this book, it is said: "For Darwinian evolution to be true, there must have been a series of mutations, each of which produced its own working machine, that led to the complexity we can now see. The more complex and interdependent each machine's own parts are shown to be, the harder it is to envision Darwin's gradualistic paths. Behe surveys the professional science literature and shows that it is completely silent on the subject, stymied by the elegance of the foundation of life. Could it be that there is some greater force at work?" Neil, it is important for me to point out that Michael Behe is not a creationist. He believes in the scientific method and does not look to religion for answers to these questions. Even so, he believes that biochemical machines must have been designed—either by God, or by some other higher intelligence. It is exactly this kind of work that substantiates the teleological argument. In fact, modern discoveries of biochemistry can no longer accommodate an out-moded, nineteenth-century theory.
You speak of Chaos Theory, which I'm really not up to speed on, so I'll have to wait for you to enlighten me on it, but new paradigms are ususally not new at all. That we humans define words is certainly not a new idea. That the words we use define concepts that may or may not be real, is not new either. Even the word (i.e., "indifferent") you say you want to stress in this discussion is defined by man. Nevertheless, you claim this word describes objective reality. Please tell me why you are the only one who can come up with definitions that actually describe objective reality? What, pray tell, is your unique methodology? Have you taken some quantuum leap in evolutionary development? You continue to write of objective reality (a term defined by man), while identifying everything I write about as an illusion. How is it that you get to play by one set of rules and I must play by another? Pardon me, but somehow that just doesn't seem fair, but you probably define "fair" differently than I do anyway. Oh well, I'm just going to keep plugging along here.
The Moral Argument
Yes, your alternative explanation does interest me. First of all, it is interesting to hear you make an argument for evolution being an explanation for why "things came to be the way they [are]," and then hear you say that "the way humans behave is not according to their nature." Neil, if this is the way humans generally are, then, according to your own doctrine—excuse me, definition, this is their nature. If not, why not?
You go on to say, "Humans want to be a part of something, something bigger than themselves, which helps to explain both the desire to conform to society and the desire to believe in God and eternal life." But, why, Neil? Why do humans want to be part of something, something bigger than themselves? If man is simply that chance collocation of atoms you folks like to talk about, then why? This really is the crux of the moral argument. You have not told me why, Neil. On the other hand, if man is made in the image of God, and if God has put eternity in his heart, as the Bible says, then it makes sense that humans would want to be a part of something, something bigger than themselves. So, by your own observation, you actually make a strong case in favor of the Moral Argument for God.
Remember, your optimum word is "indifference" or "indifferent." If man partakes of that "Animals ate other animals, fought and killed their own kind" indifferent "nature" you like to talk about, then explain to me why he actually wants to be a part of something bigger than himself? You say, "It was simply nature in all its indifference," but does this sound like a reasonable explanation to a reasonable person? In mining deeply your own doctrine, you have experienced an intellectual cave-in of sorts. But, hold on, I'm coming as fast as I can with life-saving equipment.
Perhaps it is your own explanation of "indifference" that is suffering from a perception problem. Instead of just purposelessness and indifference, perhaps there is hope for mankind after all. Perhaps there is something more to the universe than matter + time + chance, something more than dumb luck. When we exclude all the cultural differences to which you allude, generally, mankind, by your own admission, longs for guidance and direction. That is, he seeks an explanation for why things are they way they are. He attempts to satisfy himself by looking to something larger than himself. I am suggesting that that something larger (viz., God) is not only larger, but totally other, as well. You say you like the quote by Lewis, and that you believe that if there were an "intelligent first cause," it might be like a "mind," and "something humans would never even possibly think of." "Something," you say, "so outside our paradigms of thought that we couldn't even contemplate it, much less try to explain it's nature." Neil, you are closer than you think. It is exactly this kind of God who has identified Himself in the Bible. Pure Spirit, who lives in unapproachable light, who possesses attributes and characteristics that extend into the incomprehensible, whose judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. Even the Ancient Athenians, with all their philosophical approaches, had gotten no further than erecting an altar to "THE UNKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17:23). In all their groppings for Him, the apostle Paul says they had not found Him, although—listen to this—"He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). So, Neil, if Jehovah is Creator, then you are closer to Him than you think.
Paul went on to say, "...we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising." In other words, the God of the Bible is consistent with your surmisings as to what the "intelligent first cause" would be like. Now, I know I haven't introduced an examination of the Bible yet, but I mention this here only to demonstrate that the Bible may not be as cockeyed as you think. It might even be a suitable object of further, more enlightened, examination on your part. If, and when, that time comes, I will be happy to assist you in that examination. But, now, back to your arguments.
Yes, I believe you are correct when you say it is impossible for us to think of God apart from human terms. But, so what? It is, in fact, impossible for us to think about anything apart from human terms. This is what cognition is! From the Teleological Argument we can infer or conclude an intelligent, powerful "first cause." Tell you the truth, apart from revelation, I don't know how we could possibly know more than that. But, I am convinced that reasonable men and women are without excuse for not knowing this (cf. Romans 1:20). Therefore, if such an entity were to communicate with man, He would, by necessity, have to communicate ideas and concepts about Himself anthropomorphically. This would only be reasonable, would it not?
Finally, you speak of God's vengeance as an "irony." I gather that you imply an incongruity on the part of God. How so? By what standard? If, as you say, everything is relative, then there is no standard by which you can judge whether something is incongruent, is there? But, although you have tried to convince me that there is no standard, nevertheless, you continually appeal to some standard, even if it's just your own standard. But, if what you have said is true, what makes your standard the standard? In other words, who are you to pontificate to me, or anyone else, as to what is, or is not, ironical? I'm not saying this to pound you into the ground or to insult you, Neil, I'm saying this because we've got to get beyond these philosophical word games and get to the facts as we know them. If it's impossible to know anything, as you have ironically implied, then any effort to reason this thing out is fruitless. Is this what you really believe? I think not! Over and over again you have appealed to objective reality. Over and over again you have attempted to reason this thing through. So, in all fairness, I believe you ought to concede that there are things a reasonable man and woman can conclude about themselves and the universe of which they are a part. Are they and it solely the product of matter + time + chance, or is it more reasonable to think that they and it are the product of an intelligent, powerful Creator?
Now, back to your statement about the irony of God's vengeance being but a reflection of the "emotive motivations of even the lowest human," which indicates you believe there is something base about vengeance. Now, according to my dictionary, vengeance means: "punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense." Neil, if there is a God, and He is righteous, which assumes a standard for judgment, why would it be wrong for Him to exercise vengeance (punishment) on those who violate His standard? You say, if I might be permitted to put words in your mouth, Because human vengeance is often misplaced and misapplied! Yes, you are right, and that's why God has prohibited it to all but the state (cf. Romans 13:1-7), and then only within a standard of justice and righteousness. So, personal vengeance is prohibited by the New Testament, but this does not condemn God, who rightfully executes vengeance on His disobedient creatures. Of course, this does not prove there is a God, only this: If there is a God, who is perfect in all that He does, then there is nothing inconsistent nor incongruent about it.
We have both gone long in our presentations. This is not burdensome to me. I hope it has not been for you.
I respectfully await your next reply,
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