Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Premise of This Blog

There is no bigger question that man faces in his life than whether this universe has come in to being as a result of a mindless and random set of natural forces, or whether a supernatural creative force spoke everything we humans can see and comprehend into being.

This debate has many, many facets. Thus when approached in other places it is difficult to keep the thread of the debate limited enough to make progress. The goal here will be to create various threads of the debate, and try like crazy to contain each of those threads to the topic at hand.

As we see lines of thinking that don't fit within existing posts or combinations of posts, we will break off into a separate topic. At some point, it is possible that this blog will be broken into several more specific blogs, or that we will recreate the site as a full-on forum.

I will attempt to get leading thinkers on both sides of this debate to come and give their views, but getting the opinions of lay people commonly provides a much more interesting dialogue. At least initially, I prefer to keep this discussions limited to the Christian God vs atheism and agnosticism. As things develop we might want to consider various other "gods" of various other religions. Also for now, this will not be the place to debate the various differences within Christianity.

Please help make this site even more valuable by providing me with links to websites, blogs, forums, books, TV programs, etc., that we can list here. I will be the final arbiter of which resources will be referenced, but I will not unreasonably fail to note any such resources from all sides of the spectrum of thought on this issue. E-mail me at Quixote77@sbcglobal.net.

The first 5 topics will be:

What are the practical advantages of believing in God?
What are the practical advantages of not believing in God?
Why do Christians feel so compelled to convince others to believe?
Why do atheists want so badly to win the debate?
How should evidence be "weighed" in this subject area?

I will create set-up posts for each item over the next few days. However, you may use the comment section of this post to offer your own topics or to suggest things which should be included in the set-up post of any of these threads.

7 comments:

Bernardo said...

I have a feeling I am going to be spending a lot of time commenting on this blog...

Three things, in response to your first post:

One: "There is no bigger question that man faces in his life than whether this universe has come in to being as a result of a mindless and random set of natural forces, or whether a supernatural creative force spoke everything we humans can see and comprehend into being."

To be perfectly honest, I think that there are bigger questions, such as how much authority a government should have, what should be done about social inequality, how kids should be brought up/parented/educated so as to maximize their happiness and the good of the world (i.e. so as to minimize the kind of behavior exhibited by our favorite commenter over on Randy's original blog, whom I am sure has followed us into here as well), what "right" and "good" and "fair" mean, and so on. But the God one is more fun to think about.

Two: "I prefer to keep this discussions limited to the Christian God vs atheism and agnosticism."

I think Deism is a nice compromise we should all be able to agree on. The theists get their God who created everything deliberately for his purposes, and the atheists get a naturalistic world where things follow rules and where we don't have to worry about the supernatural. I am not saying I am a deist (anymore), since I do not feel compelled to believe that the universe was deliberately created, but when I do find myself being exposed to religious ideas, I often get my mind into a deist framework, since it's fun to see how much of Christianity can be made compatible with this almost-naturalistic view if I stretch things a little. I'm not seriously trying to turn anyone into a deist, but it's an interesting point of view worth considering.

Three: Here's my suggestion on something we can discuss. It's a talk show featuring Richard Dawkins and some religious guy. Richard Dawkins is obsessed with showing that religion is unprovable and unlikely to be correct (which makes him somewhat annoying, but someone's gotta do it), and meanwhile the religious guy has all sorts of great insights and interesting questions that unfortunately do not get pursued. Almost every minute of this show raises enough issues (and then frustratingly moves on to something else) for a blog post, or for a chapter in a book about this discussion. I could see several hour-long discussions happening, each triggered by a different snippet of this video. Indeed, the video briefly touches on all the relevant aspects of this discussion that I have encountered in my many years of thinking about it. (To someone as young as I am, 10 years is "many", ok?). Here's the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9HtY1chchM

How's that for the first of certainly many lengthy comments? =]

Randy Kirk said...

I believe that most of the discussion will be about the Christian idea of God, but I wouldn't want to leave out others who might want to chime in. I do want to keep each thread on theme, however.

Thanks for the Dawkins Link. I agree that the program offers lots of ways to attack these issues. Please keep sending me your best.

As for the rest of you, this is not about Bernardo and Randy. We are only too happy to have many, many more jump in anytime.

Cordin said...

Hi,

This is my first comment to a blog, so forgive me if I'm not following proper etiquette. (And let me know if you would appreciate comments differently.)

I am an ex-christian that lost my faith several years ago. I first accepted Jesus as my saviour when I was about ten years old but am now a confirmed agnostic (age 37).

I would like to introduce the topic of theodicy and what I see to be an impossible reconciliation between the God of the Bible and natural evil.

My biggest obstacle to faith must still be the suffering in this world, and in particular, amongst the animals.

Yet, we are told that God IS love. (1 John 4:8).

According to the apostle Paul “…his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world's creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable.” (Romans 1:20) Humans might be responsible for much of the pain brought upon other humans (and animals), but who is responsible for the natural violence of the animal kingdom. If it is “perceived by the things made” that what has been made is in fact imperfect, at times evil, and quite violent, what does that tell us about God’s nature and His qualities?

I cannot bring myself to believe that humans are the only sentient beings on this planet. (Mirror/mark tests with chimpanzees for eg. indicate a level of self-awareness.) To me, animals seem to have been completely forgotten by God. A loving human often puts an animal “to sleep” out of its misery. Why does God let them die slowly?

I have to quote Mark Twain here:

“God will provide for this kitten.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Because I know it! Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it.”
“But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?”

-Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger


Earth’s living creatures are born, suffer, and then die with no hope of a second chance. To say they are ‘just’ animals or that they do not have souls does not change the fact that they feel pain. There is no reason to believe that animals are exempt from many of the same sufferings that we pray release from. (Romans 8:22) One only needs to step on a dog’s paw to learn this quite quickly.

If God hates violence, why create venom to paralyze? Why create claws and fangs for ripping and shredding flesh? Why create instincts in birds to bludgeon their siblings, forcing them out of a nest so as to die of starvation? Why do some monkeys practice infanticide?

If these features did not evolve then why did an all-powerful, all-loving Maker fashion them so? Could he not have made something better. Wasn't there already a perfect heavens of angels where sin and death could not be passed on to other creatures? Conditions so wonderful we pray for His "will to take place on earth as it IS in heaven"?

Some have answered that animals were not created to use these lethal anatomical structures in the way they do now. In order for God to declare that “everything that he had made…was very good”, Genesis suggests that all creatures of the earth were originally meant to eat plants. (Genesis 1:29, 30)

But, why then do porcupines have predator-resistant quills, or the blowfish protective spikes, or the skunk and bombardier beetle stinging chemicals? Is it just a coincidence that certain snakes capable of producing poisonous venom also have the fangs to deliver such poison and the physical ability to widen their jaws and the agility to strike with lightning speed and be able to stretch their body to accommodate entire large animals and the instinct to do so? Why do ‘vampire’ bats have anticoagulant in their saliva if they were not meant to eat blood from organisms? Why do parasitic wasps instinctively paralyze and keep a caterpillar alive for the express intent of laying its 'eggs' inside and feeding off their living bodies? Even the Venus’ flytrap seems ‘designed’ to feed on living creatures.

Why do predators have all the features for sneaking, ambushing, and devouring their prey? In turn, why do prey have the features necessary for outrunning, or outfoxing their predators? I find it hard to believe these adaptations are for the hunting of and protection from vegetation. (In addition, the fossil record shows that most species of animals (dinosaurs for eg.) went extinct well before man appeared and often suffered violent deaths or infection even before Adam's sin).

If the Creator of mankind had indeed exercised his power to foreknow all that history has seen since man's creation, would not the full weight of all the wickedness thereafter be deliberately set in motion by God when he spoke the words: Let us make man?"

To summarize: If God, in His wisdom, already had a perfect heavens in which to commune and share His love, where sin could not take hold because of the very way in which it was created- Why did He go ahead with ‘project earth’ when the disobedience of just one man (Adam) could corrupt the entire planet resulting in the death of all it’s creatures, supposedly, necessitating the sacrifice of His only begotten Son? It reminds me of the FORD motor company already having safe vehicles, but knowingly going ahead with the flawed design of the Pinto and it's tendency to explode - killing it's innocent occupants.

I cannot see how the Christian God could be all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful and yet not be partly responsible for evil.

bernardo said...

This used to bother me a little, but it doesn't anymore. Let's say that God wants the world to reach a state where people have figured out how to be good; a world that is a fair meritocracy, where all fundamental needs are met, where there is little injustice or unnecessary suffering. And let's say that God wants this to arise naturally (i.e. from animals that evolve intelligence and who then form a society and, by themselves, try to figure out what is best for everyone). Then this means that people must be exposed to injustice and to unnecessary suffering, so that they recognize it when they see it, and think about how to minimize it. So yes, the deist God (the God I'm talking about, the only God whose logic and potential existence I am happy to defend) is responsible for suffering, but that's because he wants the world to end up good. It's like sacrificing pieces in a chess game. So I guess I don't have a problem with a God who cares about humanity, not so much about every individual human, and so he could sprinkle the world with evil and suffering and injustice so as to shape humanity into something better (similar to how the cruel process of natural selection allowed intelligence and sociability to arise in the first place).

Besides, if everyone gets justice in the afterlife, then it's not a problem that some people were basically victims most of the way through their life on earth, right? Not that I believe that's the case, but it's not a crazy or even contradictory concept, as far as I can tell.

Cordin said...

I agree that the deist God is "the only God whose logic and potential existence" is defendable and "responsible for suffering." (Possibly an evolving god).

This is, however, not the God of the Bible, where sin, death and suffering are blamed on the actions of a literal Adam and Eve; where God is so perfect in his justice that he does not even tempt us with evil. (Book of James 1:13-15)

I am more concerned with logically disproving the belief in an infallible God-breathed book whose Author demands the blood sacrifice of his Son in order to appease Himself. I am also concerned with the fear and guilt driven into many who do not accept it as such.

(Feel free to comment at my blog>
http://thetruthisgod.blogspot.com
- Questioning Biblical Christianity
Cheap plug, I know)

truth machine said...

Why do atheists want so badly to win the debate?

Very few atheists care what religious idiots think. Those who do, such as Richard Dawkins, have explained at length why having a planet full of idiots is a bad thing.

Randy Kirk said...

And truth machine, you might want to visit mwilliams.info to see a post regarding the stereotyping of atheists. Your comment would certainly put you into the stereotype. This, as opposed to Bernardo, Cordin, Duck, and others who seem to want to undertand Christians and be understood by Christians.

Part of the goal here is to deepen our appreciation for those who feel deeply, but different than one another.

I'm reminded of the blind kids examining the elephant, with each kid having a radically different POV with regard to the nature of the beast they were examining. What was the truth in that situation?