Saturday, March 28, 2009

What is The Bible?

SKEPTIC: I don't believe the Bible is anything more than an interesting piece of literature. Do you really think that a single book can represent the truth about the universe? If it could, wouldn't God have made it a whole lot easier to understand and not written a book open to a thousand different interpretations?

PREACHER: Aren't you kidding yourself? The concept that the universe is orderly and understandable, which you hold to, is from a Biblical world view. You, like much of the pseudo- sophisticated world of liberal academia believe you have a higher source of authority than the Bible (your own partially educated opinion) so you can pick and choose what parts you believe in. My contention is that unless you have received some sort of revelation, traveled back and forth through time, and made a careful search of the whole universe (to make sure that the supernatural truly does not exist), you aren't qualified to make such judgments.

SKEPTIC: Well, I don't believe that the Bible has ANY authority at all, other than that which believers are willing to give it. You keep insisting that I have to prove my disbelief, which seems odd to me. If you believe that Santa Claus is real and climbs down all those chimneys every year, it's not up to me to prove that you're wrong about that. You're the one with the irrational belief. Show me some real evidence that Santa is more than just a fun story, and then we can talk.

PREACHER: I get sick and tired of guys like Richard Dawkins always putting Jesus Christ at the same level of Santa Claus. For instance, I can go to the North pole and see that Santa's factory isn't there. Bringing up Santa Claus is rather inconsequential to the issue. He isn't involved in my eternal destiny, and we both agree that he is mythical. (However, there is a historical figure who may be the springboard for the myth of Santa Claus.)

SKEPTIC: Actually, I have written a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article explaining that I believe that God is just the grown-up version of Santa. But the truth is that I can't prove that God doesn't exist, and you can't prove that he does. That's why it's called Faith, right? Believing something that has no real evidence to back it up. By the way, I'm not an absolutist when it comes to God. I don't say that I KNOW he doesn't exist. I say I see no real evidence or reason to believe these supernatural myths and it's my considered opinion that gods and religions and supernatural beliefs and sacred texts are inventions of man that were created to try to understand a pre-science world and universe that made no sense to them. Someone reminded me the other day that the men who wrote the Bible also believed that the earth was flat. Amazingly, even though we now live in a modern scientific society and understand the world around us in profound ways, many Christians still insist that a 2000-year-old text trumps whatever Science might say.

PREACHER: Believing in the Supernatural One who is behind and upholds the natural, seem very rational to me. On the other hand, I find it very irrational to believe that order, beauty and complexity evolved simply by chance over billions of years from nothing. Jesus Christ, Moses, Abraham, Noah etc. were real men in history with real experiences. I think it is quite arrogant of us to believe that they were uneducated and gullible with imaginations that made up all of these stories from scratch. There is good historical evidence that suggests that ancient man believed in a spherical earth just as we do today. The flat earth belief was from the middle ages. Except for the ways of saying things "the sun rises, the four corners of the earth", that we find in the Bible, I think that you would be hard pressed to prove that the Bible writers were flat-earthers.

SKEPTIC: Well, I have my doubts that anyone in Biblical times was running around pushing the round earth theory, but if you have good historical evidence, I'd love to see it. I guess my point is that modern science has explained lots of things that were mysteries in Biblical times, yet Christians still insist on basing everything they believe to be true on this one "holy" book.

PREACHER: Science is a very good tool for observing our world today and figuring out how nature works. But, it doesn't tell us about the spiritual (what's that word doing in our vocabulary in the first place for) realm or tell us what happened in history. We are at the mercy of historical documents when it comes to determining what really happened back then. (Of course you may have the supernatural ability to travel back and time to verify. Sorry for being cheeky.)

Pascal's Wager

PREACHER: If God really exists and you don't accept His existence, then you are being ungrateful to Him for creating you. If you don't like the way He created you then, since you don't believe in Him, you have no one to voice your complaints to.

SKEPTIC: Well, I have no complaints, so I guess I'm okay.

PREACHER: If I am wrong about what is waiting for us after this life I have nothing to lose. If you are wrong you have all of eternity to lose.

SKEPTIC: Ah, yes, Pascal's Wager, or the "Just in Case" theory, as I like to call it. I should believe in God, just in case there really is one. Which seems to me to be a pretty weak reason for believing anything. How sincere is your belief if that's the foundation?

PREACHER: Why do people buy car accident insurance? According to your thinking it would make sense to cancel my insurance at the next possible moment since I haven't had an accident yet. Of course the "just in case" theory isn't the foundation of my faith.

SKEPTIC: So it's NOT the foundation of your faith, but it should be the foundation of my faith? Should I employ the same logic to believe in all the other gods that people around the world believe in, just in case one of THOSE is the real god?

PREACHER: It shouldn't be the foundation of your faith either. It should be a good reason to reconsider your foundation. (A rock is a lot firmer than sinking sand.)

SKEPTIC: I think I'll go ahead and use science as my foundation. Call me crazy, but it just seems logical to me to view the world through the eyes of a discipline that attempts to create knowledge from actual research and reason instead of myths and superstitions.

PREACHER: Science tells you what and why things happen the way they do now. It doesn't tell you about what happened in the past. That is left up to our memory or the accounts that other men have written. To assume that the present is a clue to the past is a leap of faith, just as much as a belief in a creator God is a leap of faith. However it really doesn't matter what you believe if you don't have a God to answer to. I find the belief in science (it all started from nothing into something without a purpose) rather impersonal. I find believing in God a source of strength. If it's not true I won't know the difference anyway as I cease to exist according to your theory.

Obama's Insatiable Desire

PREACHER: Personally I think that Mr. Obama is just another Jimmy Carter.

SKEPTIC: Well, at least you don't think that he's Hitler or the Antichrist, like these two ministers.

PREACHER: We are in agreement that there are religious wackos out there. I am quite aware that Pat Robertson thinks he gets a Word from the Lord and the "prophesies" almost always are wrong. My main problems with Obama are his insatiable desire to kill unborn infants and his overindulgence of the gay community. Even so, maybe the world will be a better place after four years. We will have to see.

SKEPTIC: Obama has an "insatiable desire to kill unborn infants?" Really? You don't think that language is just a tad over-the-top? I support Obama because he won't allow the government to force women to give birth, no matter the circumstances. He believes that medical decisions should be left to the woman and her doctor, not the government. For conservatives who say they are against government regulation and in favor of less government interference, it's amazing how they ignore their ideology when it comes to abortion rights.

PREACHER: I see your point. But, then should the government also stop having laws about murderers, thieves, rapists, and child molesters? Accordingly, should decisions to do such acts be left up to the individual and his or her personal counselor? From my world view or perspective, abortion still remains the intentional taking of an innocent human life. There might be some rare cases where that is justified.

SKEPTIC: I know that you consider abortion to be murder, but that is only based on a religious belief, not a scientific one. What is your bottom line when it comes to abortion? Do you think it should be completely outlawed? Do you want to put doctors who perform abortions in prison? Do you want to put women who receive abortions in prison? And when you say that "there might be some rare cases where it is justified," when would it be justified in your mind? And if you really believe it's murder, how can it ever be justified?

PREACHER: I agree that my religious belief is involved. Science will always be partial knowledge, so it can't be the end-all for such issues. One has to return to their religious beliefs because science doesn't go that far. It was never supposed to be a system of right and wrong. My religious beliefs lead me to think that abortion is murder, while yours don't. So, in a pluralistic society the government should not take a stand one way or the other. When president Obama had his interview with Rick Warren, he said that the issue of abortion was "beyond his pay grade." To be consistent with what he said then, he shouldn't be implementing policies that make abortion more available, like offering government funds to those who perform abortions. I'm not thinking about putting people in prison or forcing my opinion on those who believe differently than I do. I would just like our president to respect the opinions and beliefs of those (there are a lot of us) who believe abortion is point blank morally wrong.

SKEPTIC: When you talk about the "overindulgence" of the gay community, I'm not sure what you mean. How is it overindulgent to give them the same rights that other Americans enjoy?

PREACHER: How soon do you think the pedophiles and those with other less known sexual orientations will be asking for their "civil" rights, too. Why shouldn't they be given rights, too? Who are you to deny them? I think that history is the best commentary we have on sexual (pardon me for being politically incorrect) perversion. It is the prerequisite for the disintegration of a society.

SKEPTIC: So you're equating gays with pedophiles? Really? You're comparing two consenting adults who love each other to adults who sexually victimize children? Is it your belief that being gay is a perversion? To me, that's a little like calling someone who is left-handed "deformed."

PREACHER: Here again the issue is religious. According to my religious beliefs, being gay is immoral. I know that many former gays have been able to overcome their sexual orientation and others haven't been able to. I don't condone the violence perpetrated on gays or anyone else because of the way they are. I would like to make a distinction between those who have a gay sexual orientation but respect those who are repulsed by their behavior (not because it is just gross, but because it is in violation of Biblical morality) vs. those who want to change society to give their lifestyle preferred treatment.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What's So Great About Being a Skeptic?

PREACHER: So tell me. What's so great about being a skeptic?

SKEPTIC: Well, I get to sleep in on Sundays. There's that.
PREACHER: What do you think that evening worship services are for? Moot point.
SKEPTIC: And I also don't have to always be looking over my shoulder, wondering if I've offended the Almighty with something I've said or done.
PREACHER: Your statement demonstrates a profound ignorance or misunderstanding of the doctrines of grace and the atonement. Since Christ has died for me (took the penalty of my sins on Himself in my place), God is my father who encourages me (gives me grace through Jesus Christ) to live worthy of being His child. He is not a cruel judge offended by me whenever I make a wrong move. He is a just judge for the self-righteous person who doesn't think he needs Christ's forgiveness. Satan and the devils believe in God, but they aren't getting saved for that. Belief in God and a biblical world view are prerequisites to understanding what Christ has done for us. But, until we accept His work on the cross for our sins and receive Him as our Lord and Savior, we can't avoid God's just judgment.
SKEPTIC: Well, the whole concept of atonement is an interesting one, and something we should consider in a separate post. But basically, I believe that we only get one shot at life, so I have chosen to put all my efforts into making sure I make the very most out of the one life I've got. I'm not sure why people feel like they want to have everlasting life anyway. I mean, everything has an end. Does something have to live forever to have value or beauty?
PREACHER: You seem to believe that at death one ceases to exist. There is no way that you can prove that. Biblically speaking, each of us was created to live forever. We have a choice as to what condition we will spend eternity in, but not a choice as to whether we will exist for eternity or not. And if everything ends, why do we have the concept of eternity in the first place?

SKEPTIC: I think we have the concept of eternity (in the religious sense), because people are afraid of death and naturally drawn to the hope that they could someday meet their loved ones and live forever in a spectacular paradise where everything is just peachy keen. Kind of like when I was a kid and thought it would be really cool if I could live in the ice cream store. But that natural desire doesn't really lend any credence to the supernatural, magical idea of Heaven and Hell as it's taught in Christian theology. And by the way, you're a skeptic, too, when it comes to believing in other gods (Zeus, Thor, et al), right? I just believe in one less god than you do.
PREACHER: Zeus and Thor are not in the same category of the God who created the universe (matter, space, time, and everything else imaginable). They aren't the ones that I have to answer to in the end, and they have not sent their Son to die for my sins. So, whether they exist or not is of no concern to me.

Bart Ehrman and The Gospel Truth

SKEPTIC: As a Biblical scholar yourself, you might be interested in this interview with Bart Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at UNC in Chapel Hills.

PREACHER: I'm quite familiar with the opinions of men like Bart Ehrman and find them rather amusing.

SKEPTIC:  I thought Ehrman had some really interesting insights into the gospels, particularly in the way he was able to show how people have kind of ignored the different perspectives of each gospel and just kind of combined all 4 gospels into one new gospel.

PREACHER: Ehrman's problem is not that he sees the different perspectives in each Gospel. These differences should be appreciated, but at the same time that they are all talking about the historical Jesus Christ, so it makes sense to get a composite Gospel from all four Gospels. He wants to be politically correct by accepting naturalism, which has been taught to be true in much of the evangelical church that wants to appear sophisticated and educated to the nonchristian world, and believe that Jesus is his Savior at the same time. This produces a sort of theological schizophrenia. He found that the liberals seemed more genuine and consistent than those from his church. I agree that they are more consistent. But, just like the Sadducees in Jesus day they are mistaken.

SKEPTIC: But wasn't his point that the different perspectives represented contradictory versions of the same events?

PREACHER: When one account refers to events A B and D and the other account refers to event A B and C I don't consider it contradictory. For example compare any two newspaper reports about one event. Not every detail is the same, but I don't hear a lot of complaining about inaccurate reporting. For the few events that really do seem contradictory, I know of several good books by reputable Bible scholars that help explain them.

SKEPTIC: What you say about newspaper reports may be true, but those reports are usually based on people who actually saw the event or were involved in the event. Since the gospels were written many, many years after the events they document, they were all based on hearsay. How can you consider those accounts to be reliable?

PREACHER: Do you hear voices? Are you able to transport yourself back in time? Or maybe Erhman can. We should ask him. After debunking the manuscript evidence for the authenticity of the Gospels, he gives his theory that is not backed up by the evidence either. Of course if he can go back in time, then he KNOWS. The writer of Luke claims to have gotten his information from those who were involved in the events, at least that is what he wants Theophilus to think. The oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John date back to the first century, not long enough for much of a legend to develop. There were indeed other "gospels" such as the gospel of Judas (a favorite of the Davinci Code folks) and the gospel of Thomas that were not included in the canon for the specific reason that they were not the accounts from eyewitnesses.