Tuesday, July 7, 2009

To quote Bertrand Russel....

"Why I'm not a Christian"

This is a critically important question to my Christian friends, and probably of no interest to any other readers - many of whom may just (falsely) assume that it is obvious why genuine Christian beliefs are wrong, or most likely do not even have a clear idea of what genuine Christian beliefs are.

By Christian, I refer to systems of belief in which the Bible is considered the holy, inspired Word of God (for some specific meaning of "Holy", "Inspired", "Word" and "God"....) and is the supreme source of authority on religious matters. This includes most but not all people in the world who would self-describe as Christian - I think its fair to say all mainstream Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox denominations subscribe to the notion, although that core idea manifests in different ways. Protestants might argue that Catholic and Orthodox churches don't believe this, but I'd tend to say they just add more qualifiers. You could also pick other standards for what qualifies someone as Christian, e.g. belief in the Nicene creed. This is all tangential to my argument.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of reasons why I don't personally consider it possible that the whole Bible can be the inspired word of God. Some of my arguments are better than others. The shortest, most succinct "knockdown" objection, though, which rests mainly on the Bible itself and very little that's controversial about either the text or the world, is most succinctly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NIV):
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
The surrounding verses shed more light on this passage, and another take on the same line of reasoning appears in Romans 5:12-19.

We can blame these versus for the whole doctrine of Original Sin. While I don't think we can say with certainty that Paul believes in Original Sin in the sense a lot of theologians over the centuries have framed the idea, what is clear is that he is drawing a parallel between one man, Adam, bringing Sin into the world, and one man, Christ, sending Sin out of the world (first through the resurrection and then ultimately through the second coming.)

So an honest "biblical" Christian has a limited number of positions to take.

1. Adam was a real person, Christ was a real person. This is a perfectly consistent view to take of the Bible, makes the most sense of Paul's theology, is the most plausible explanation of what Paul himself likely believed, and is very popular in America and several other cultures (such as 15th century Christendom.) Sadly, in other places, where science is taken remotely seriously, it is impossible to defend this view. While you might be able to get a scientist to concede that its a theoretical possibility that homo sapiens sapiens once got to a single fertile couple population bottle neck, it's "only on the strictly philosophical grounds that few things are impossible" kinda point. Actual probability, close enough to zero to round down. And certainly even then this couple could not have been the first two homo sapiens (partly because that the idea doesn't even really make any sense. Evolution is essentially a continuum with only the apperance of discrete groupings any larger than the organism due to sampling.)

2. Adam is a metaphor, Christ is a metaphor. Completely solves the objection contained in 1. Leads to Gnosticism, or Thomas Jefferson style Deism, or some other similar historical Christian heresy. Many of these have some intellectual appeal, but are so different from mainstream modern belief as to justifiably not be called Christian, because they force you to completely change the reading of the entire New Testament. Christians have spent centuries generating solid arguments to try and knock down any possiblility of holding this view, for good reason.

3. Adam is a metaphor, Christ is a real person. And Paul is Satan. Or smoking crack, because this reading is only possible if Paul is insane or evil or a con artist or something else which completely undermines any authority he has on these topics and demands that we tear all his writings out of the Bible (which is all fine and holy except for Paul's bits, of course). This is a bit of a shame, because Paul is the intellectual father of Christian theology. Without Paul we might still have a religion which could perhaps be called Christianity, but while it wouldn't be as radically different as what case 2 would imply, it would still be radically different enough that this remains a losing move for a Christian to make in this particular exchange. It also brings up the interesting and painful question of what parts of the Bible we can then trust, and on what grounds. The end result of such a process occuring after the initial concession is not a pretty sight.

4. Some crazy compatiblistic compromise that tries to iron out one of the difficulties raised above. I made up one of these while committed to a psych ward. It was kind of a cross between 2 and 3. One day I might try to explain it coherently and sanely to someone in full, but I think it might be a little tricky to do so.

5. The Bible has serious flaws and is therefore not "inspired" - maybe parts of it are, but we can't reliably tell which parts. Therefore, by contradiction, Q.E.D., etc.

There is something critical about the argument I have made above that distinguishes it from other issues, like minor factual inconsistencies (how did Judas die?), bickering about translations or correct reading ("this passage is a poem of course you shouldn't expect it to be scientifically accurate"), historical doubts (Exodus doesn't exactly match other sources we have), and so forth; these all make Christiantiy less likely, to varying degrees, but this is far worse than just "less likely". It pushes the Bible beyond Inerrant, beyond Infallible, and indeed beyond Inspired. You have to go down the path of either full blown anti-science Creationism, or almost complete rejection of a core Christian doctrine. Or you must indulge in what I think amounts to massive intellectual dishonesty in your Bible reading, the kind that so offends Christians when ignorant atheists (or heretics) try to pull it off.

I've never come across a convincing escape route out of this particular flanking manouver (except, as noted, during the time when I was at my craziest.) The apologist appears surrounded on all sides with no way out. I could, of course, be wrong. But I think its far more likely Paul is the mistaken one here, and I can't see how Christians have any legitimate tactic left but to quote something like 1 Corinthians 3:19, and thus win their battle but concede mine.

Which, of course, means they ultimately have lost the war for my soul - supposedly the one that counts. Or maybe they haven't. But that's another one of my crazy heretical theories that can wait for another time.


Kat said...

Interesting post.

Why should this supposed contradiction hold sway over others in the bible? How do you determine what is a serious flaw a la 5)

Put in in a different way, if minor factual inconsistencies (As you put it) were ironed out would you be happier?

With Respect to X said...

Yay, a reader! I've never commented on your blog I don't think but I do read it.

This issue doesn't "hold sway" but it's something I felt I could give fair treatment to in the space of a blog post. In a two line bible quote Paul establishes a totally core idea based on a belief we now know is false. This is a serious flaw. You can argue the bible gets facts of no theological importance wrong. I think I've shown it gets facts of critical theological importance wrong, too. It is therefore just another book about god - important, but not special the way Christians would hold.

What do you hold? 1-5, or an option I've left out? I think I've been far more comprehensive about plausible alternatives than e.g. C. S. Lewis was with Lord Liar or Lunatic.

Joel Nothman said...

I think I'm missing the point of logical induction in the statement "Adam is a metaphor, Christ is a real person. And Paul is Satan." It may simply be because I'm relatively ignorant of Paul.

There has been a breadth of biblical interpretations and understandings from within the bible itself till today. The question of what is to be understood in a strictly historical manner and what more as meaningful mythology is one that seems to have in its debate over time and place for more than 2000 years.

Many Rabbinic sources attempt to take Adam as a real individual. Really, Genesis has a lot to explain about the mysterious appearances of a variety of peoples that may allow for other Adams, or certainly other human evolutions elsewhere. After all, Adam only means "mankind" in Hebrew.

And yet, there are lessons learnt from the beautiful myth of "first man". (Apart from Original Sin, which Judaism does not hold by, at least in the same manner as Christianity tends to.) Both Judaism and Islam apparently ask the question "Why was man created alone? Because the murder of one man is therefore like the murder of all humanity; saving one life is like saving the entire world."

(Then people start to place caveats and excuse certain categories of murder, especially for the sake of their various religions which prize life so highly.)

Then one also arrives at the morality of the bible (and of its adherents' canons), which is also extremely controversial.

Oh, and you would enjoy my friend's blog at www.anadder.com

With Respect to X said...

Admittedly the "Paul is Satan" point is a touch abrupt; partly because I made it assuming most of the audience for this post would be familiar with the similar C.S. Lewis argument in Mere Christianity (i.e. if Jesus was intentionally deceiving his audience, he was utterly evil; "A Devil from Hell" I believe is the phrase used.)

I'll try to spell it out a little more clearly. I for one have no problem with metaphorical interpretations of Genesis, and have done a fair bit of thinking along those lines myself - what does this creation myth teach us? I would be interested in finding out more about Jewish perspectives on the text as most of what I've read comes from Christian thinkers.

But the question is, does Paul read Genesis metaphorically? Here he is trying to explain one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith - how can the death of one man, Christ, atone for all humanity's sins? Well, Paul says, in the exact same way that the choice of one man, Adam, introduced sin into the world and brought about the Fall. This theme - the Adam/Christ duality - is a recurring one in Paul's work and hence underlies a lot of all Christian theology on the Resurrection.

How can Paul honestly draw this parallel if he believes in Adam as only a metaphor, and Genesis as a fable, but Christ as a living human being, and the events we read in the Gospel as genuinely miraculous history?

I don't think he can, unless for example he was a Gnostic and believed in hidden meanings of the Resurrection story, too, and what's more felt that there are sacred mysteries that should be kept hidden from his readers. Everything he wrote in the Bible argues against Paul holding those kinds of beliefs, though. God has finally made all clear through Christ, and Paul is on a mission to explain clearly to all how it happened and what it implies.

Paul most likely just thinks Adam is a real person, and is honestly mistaken, not malicious or deceptive. Really, his motives aren't what matters, its the fact he either gets such a critical matter wrong, or chooses to explain it in a way that is bound to utterly mislead his readers.

You can read layers of subtle meaning into the Gospel of John, or Jesus' parables, because they're in a style that supports it. Paul, though, writes like a philosopher trying his best to make everything as obvious as he can (a non-trivial task given the concepts he was wrestling with.)

So Paul can get the benefit of the doubt, and just be seriously wrong on this important point. That's fine, its not a deal breaker - unless you're trying to claim that God makes sure the Bible contains his Holy Word and therefore has no genuine mistakes when it speaks about Him, His relationship to humanity, and so forth. Christians do try to claim this, so are in a bind as far as I can tell.

The Morality of the Bible is a very interesting topic which would need a whole other post, or perhaps more likely a book.

I'll check out your friend's blog.

P.S. The Bible Translation Gateway used by Wikipedia is great when thinking about these kinds of issues - thanks for coding it Joel!

Alicia said...

Here I am going to attempt to respond with my take on the above and you’ll just have to excuse my lack of eloquence as I’m not one particularly accustomed with airing my opinions in a straightforward factual manner.

I stand with option 1. I believe that Adam and Christ are both real people. And yes, as you mentioned I do think that that is necessary to make sense of much of Pauls' theology and advice. However I don't think that that is only Paul who brings up the idea of original sin.

For example King David speaks about it in Psalms (51:5) "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." And Jesus is described as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Further backing up this opinion Jesus says 'no one can come to the father except through him' implying that the state of all without his atonement is not worthy of justification before God.

And of course I am also going to disagree with the statement that being a Christian and taking this view means that I have reasoning of someone from the 15th century or not party to those among whom “science is taken remotely seriously”. I think that science is valuable and can and does explain the realm in which we live.

However, it is my belief that the Christian God is a sovereign God who created this world and us (with our intellect in mind) and thus has control over any matter (or anti matter) in his creation.

Allowing for creation and evolution to co-exist as mechanisms I guess brings about evolution not in the way that many hold the idea but more as ‘guided evolution’ or a ‘sustaining mechanism’ (exclusively the latter for those who swing with literal 7 day creation). But that again is another whole discussion...

Think I better stop before the comment is longer than the blogpost… Hope that even if not making it more believable it at least gives more insight into where I stand as a Christian.

*waves at Jordan *

With Respect to X said...

Thank you Alicia! *waves* Its good to get a long reply from a Christian - this post would be wasted if no one who really disagreed with it ever read it, thought about it, and gave me my own things to think about.

I wrote this post because Christian friends often ask me my opinions on Christianity - and I hope they continue to do so, as it is evidence they care about the future of my soul. I can't always give a good answer on the spot - and its usually because I've thought a lot about the topic and the answer is complex and I'm unsure, and not because I choose to willfully ignore the issue. So I figured I may as well get something out on the internet where people can read some of my thoughts on these topics and respond in their own time.

I think 1 is a perfectly good way to read the Bible, Alicia - its the most honest reading of Paul's text in my opinion. My point about Original Sin is not that we can't find evidence for the doctrine outside of Paul, but that like the doctrine of the Trinity it is something the Bible only sheds some light on and subsequent thinkers in Church history have had to interpret and explain the ideas in the Bible. I think (some versions of) Original Sin are a good explanation of Paul's thoughts and are supported by other Biblical passages like the one you quote.

The problem with 1 is not with the Bible reading. Perhaps I spoke to quickly when I said my argument "relies on little controversial about the world", because it relies upon a sound knowledge of science - how it works, and what results it has given us. What I have said would not be controversial amongst almost any working specialist in the scientific fields relevant to the question, but few (even people with "geeky" interest and educations like most of say usydgroup) really have the kind of thorough knowledge to critically examine the reasoning of these experts.

Suffice to say, there cannot have been a "first, actual man", Adam. The whole idea makes no sense in an evolutionary biological framework - we didn't have monkeys one minute and people the next. Monkeys slowly became people. This happened. It is a fact.

To believe otherwise is only marginally less in contradiction with what science teaches than to believe the earth is literally 6,000 years old.

I have spent a long time weighing the evidence, the arguments, the opinions on these kinds of topics. I have done a lot of research, and a lot of thinking, and at times a great deal of praying. While I believe the Bible has much that's non-trivial to teach us, I can't accept that its reasonable to trust Paul, a man who did not meet Jesus before the resurrection, but had a vision of the risen Lord, to know more about God's creation than scientists. I have given every reason to believe that Science's methods for finding the truth about our world are far more effective and accurate than anything else in human history.

Other people are entitled to their opinions. But I am not a relatvist here. I am almost certainly right about this, Paul is almost certainly mistaken, and those that believe God has protected Paul's word from any serious errors are themselves wrong. This is what I believe.

Many Christians, mainly in America who believe the Bible to be holy and free from serious error think the same way I do - that the Bible and science really are in conflict, and it cannot just be hand-waved away. They choose to reject all the core ideas of science, and only listen to scientists when they speak on topics that do not affect their religious beliefs, such as the theory of how to build car engines.

This is much akin to the Atheists who will be quick to quote "Thou shall not 'kill'" from the Bible, but ignore the actual complex and challenging moral message the Bible conveys and dismiss such concerns when you raise them.

With Respect to X said...

P.S. I don't necessarily disagree that evolution can't have been a tool used by a Creator akin to the Christian God within Creation. But that doesn't change that there cannot have been a literal Adam, Eve, and Eden. It can only be true if its at least somewhat metaphorical. And Paul's writings convey that he doesn't think its metaphorical, he thinks its literally true. Which is important, because his reading of Genesis dramatically affects his understanding of Jesus, and his understanding has shaped ours.

If this gets any longer, it may justify taking the discussion elsewhere.

I don't want to take too much time reiterating my core idea when I have other things to blog about, but I will continue to respond to any Christians who want further clarification of my argument. I will try to get my replies briefer though, and I ask Christians to make the same effort and distill their arguments down to the specifics of what I've raised. This isn't supposed to be a general argument - I'm essentially positing:

If you believe Science,
Genesis is not literally True, Paul thinks it is,
His theology relies heavily on this wrong belief,
Thus the Bible contains mistakes on theological matters,
Most Christians don't think it can - they are are wrong

To object, please state as Alicia has done exactly where you think my argument falls down. Say whether you hold 1-5 on my list of positions, or none of the above. Say whether you disagree with my Bible Reading or my Science or my Logic or Something Else.

e.g. "Hi Jordan, I think your argument falls down because Paul is genuinely wrong in his factual beliefs about Genesis, but he came up with the right answer about Jesus and Salvation anyway."

(I of course have a response for this one worked out....)

I can be reached by email -
jordanrastrick [at google's email service...] for any readers who don't know my address already.

If I get enough good feedback on this from usydgroupian Christians, a discussion site or mailing list or wiki may be appropriate (lots exist on the net, but they tend to have the same standards as all other sites where lots of anonymous strangers with strong beliefs get together to argue on the internet.)

zharmad said...

Ah, Jordan, so this is your blog. I have several immediate comments to make, in point form:

- I will present comments from two positions (I'll explain why later). These are:
(A) Position 1, Creation.
(B) variant of 3, i.e. Paul is not on crack because death is not fundamentally physical.
- Both positions have denominational support, and are not founded by my reasoning alone.

A. I disagree with a current foundational pillar of science, which reduces the value of its present knowledge of the past. Namely, naturalism.
(A1) all forms of Creationism is essentially non-scientific in this sense: the basic tools of science requires us to use the theory/laws we have derived (and only those theory/laws) to study phenomena - a rule fundamentally incompatible with the notion of the supernatural.
Jumping through intermediate steps, I think it is difficult to falsify Creation accounts purely on the basis of scientific understanding, because we're working under different assumptions on world history. Logically, it's akin to disproving a P=NP deduction via P!=NP assumptions.
(A2) A better way is to construct possible models under the assumption that creation is true, and then find it self-contradictory. The exercises done on TalkOrigin are child's play compared to this, e.g. considering global flood seriously requires a re-evaluation of the Geological column and all deerivative observations. (Note this does not mean the original observations are false. Analogously again, most mathematical proofs are irrevelent to the issue of P=NP.)
(A3) Data is interpreted under the framework of the theory, and the data we have is a small portion of the data that is out there, the rest of which will modify our knowledge base. e.g. Mechanisms of evolution is the data, synthesising it is the theory. e.g. dinosaur fossils are recently, controversially found to contain soft tisue. The question is how that is possible under the current scientific paradigm.

B. In this case, both Genesis and Paul's use of the concept is "spiritual".
(B1) I think you're misreading Paul entirely, possibly based on the English language connotations of his writings:
- In essence, you're looking at the wrong parallel. 1Cor15:21-22 Adam's sin brings spiritual death; Christ's resurrection (not his physical death) brings spiritual life.
- In Romans 5:17 it is exactly the same issue.
(B2) Christ's physical death is necessary on the basis of Law. Another deep subject.
(B3) Christ's physical resurrection in 1Cor15, and th eend of the gospels does not necessarily mean Adam also has to physically die. Ancient Greek makes it clearer. This goes into what Christianity means by spiritual, and what Genesis allegory represents as death.
(B4) btw, Jewish allegorical reading is not equivalent to what we think of as metaphor and myth. I'm still learning on this topic.

- - -
(Me) For most of my Christian like I have remained in camp (A), and am considering transition to (B). e.g. I find (A2) on the scale of Riemann's Hypothesis in difficulty.

Yes, I can claim multiple viewpoints. :P I'm a scientist and is allowed to work under multiple reference frames, you know that.

- Poker.

zharmad said...

1Cor15:15-17 clarifies this distinction. Christ must be raised to deliver you from Adam's death, because Adam's death is inherently spiritual and not necesarily physical.

Also, I don't know what you mean by Original Sin - that understanding may also be, ah, imperfect.

With Respect to X said...

OK, you took my bait.

I can't respond to all your points in this thread, because there's an explosion of philosophy and theology worth, I have to go to bed, etc. I will put a response of some form here for the record, and ask if you and anyone else wants to continue this discussion in another forum.

I won't go into the physical/spiritual deaths here too much. To do it justice I need to reread the relevant parts of the Bible in multiple, radically different translations to try and get a better sense of the original text. I will say though I think its very easy (and many have done so) to tack on your own interpretation that says "Paul uses death one way here and another way here and its a critical distinction because etc etc" in a way that allows you to justify pretty much any kind of theological case you want to make.

I'll clarify that by Original Sin I refer to the doctrine any mainstream church chooses to refer to by that name, or, more broadly, any dogma concerning in what sense Adam (and for that matter, Eve!) caused "sin to enter the world" by the "original sin" - the rejection of God's command not to eat the apple in Eden.

This obviously encompasses a variety of different Christian views; it was intentionally a catch all umbrella on my part.

On the 1-5 choice, I will defend why 1 is so deeply flawed even if you're prepared to question dogmatic naturalism when I have more space and time to devote to the topic. Suffice to say, 1 is simply no good. I could quote Popper or somebody but I'll just go with xkcd instead (no offence intended) "Science - it works, bitches!"

And now I split my comment, because its too long. Grr so much for brief.

With Respect to X said...

Come over to 4! Alex Feigin would say its just rationalising away the fact that Christianity is false by getting so clever you can no longer see where the logical fallacies lie. But I am very sympathetic to trying to come to a defensible 4 at times when my brain chemistry makes me more inclined to think of God and what the Bible might have to teach...

I'll note though that to me one of the best reasons to favour 5 over 4 is Occam's Razor. Let me put it this way. Lets agree for the moment to accept the Gospel message that Christ is the Risen Son of God. Examine the chain of reasoning that then leads to "St Paul was incapable of any theological errors in his epistles." I've seen that chain up close, and its really not pretty. I'm not saying its not possible to make the chain. It just looks like a chain that will snap violently if someone were to breathe out within a 5 km radius. You can't hang your life's guiding Faith on that chain.

I honestly don't think Protestants lose as much as they think they do by retreating from sola scripture, or the "Paper Pope" as some Catholics have snidely referred to it. Is the Word of God only to be found in Bible? The Bible tends to say so, but then, it would. Of course the parts of the Bible that say trust the Bible aren't that explicit about what's to be included in the rest of the Bible; Nicea decided that after the fact.

Is the Word of God not also revealed through knowledge of God's creation, i.e. Science? Is the Word of God not in fact made flesh in Christ himself? The Bible is imperfect humans writing about God; it is not God. Human imperfections means it can get some facts wrong, history wrong, science wrong, but not theology? Really? According to who?

Jewish thought held people could reach God without the Bible. Christian thought teaches people need Christ to reach God, but not really that they need the Bible - just that the Bible is generally the best (or only?) way to get to know Christ.

Why are more Christians obsessed with the Epistles that reinforce an old convenant ban on homosexuality, than they are with Christ's own explicit teachings on divorce? The American Constitution may end up banning gay marriage for all its citizens in a country with an obscene divorce rate for heterosexuals, because it is "Christian?" How absurd.

And while the Devil rules the world and tempts the spirit, he can of course also quote Scripture. Forget this lesson and risk becoming a Hypocritical Pharisee.

etc, etc, etc, etc.

tl;dr version: The Reformation was a bit of an overreaction; Christians should rely more on their God given brains, consciences, and brothers and sisters in Christ, and prayers, and less on their Bibles. Even to the point of accepting that Paul might have gotten a lot of his epistles right but made some serious errors.

With Respect to X said...

Also, one more thing. A lot of Christian apologetics gets justified by an argument of the form:

"Christ in the Gospel says a, b, and c. As a 1st century Jew, he therefore definitely means x, y, z, w, q, s, theta, 1, 3, and blah; as a Bible era historian I know this because I know how 1st century Jews thought and how they spoke about God"

Which completely contradicts:

"Christ was the Son of God, a radical preacher who spoke in Parables, and told the Jews they had utterly misunderstood a lot of the key points of God's message until his arrival",

if you ask me.

If you use "The Gospels make the convincing case Christ was God's Son, he said trust all the rest of Bible, so we do" argument, it falls down to the above I believe.

These are some of the reasons why I'd prefer to treat the Bible as simply a surprisingly good historical source on Judaism and early Christianity than as the Be All and End All Text that defines Christianity.

Anyway, no more theology for me! Sleep is more important.

Maybe we need a usydreligion mailing list?

zharmad said...

Cool, I know the bait. I had similar arguments with my friend about 5 years ago.
I'll make a couple of comments, but intend otherwise to take this conversation elsewhere. Will refer to your paragraphs simply with the first few words.
- - -
> "Christ was the Son of God, a radical preacher..."
Now this is interesting. Jesus explicitly attacked the majority theological views of the day, namely of their additional laws and their view of the messiah.
- laws, namely, a dual-ringed set of laws outside of the Old testament, protecting the people from transgressing the OT itself. Many disputes in the Gospels is traced towards these additional laws, and not on issues of OT interpretation.
- messiah, namely, the majority view at the time held that Jesus was to fulfill his "second coming" the first time around. A debate has occured a century earlier, IIRC, where rabbinical thought was in conflict about two conflicting pictures of Messiah presented in the OT.
Rabis concluded that there were two possible messiahs, while Christianity states instead that the same person comes twice for different purposes. Neither case was explicitly stated BC. At the time, the majority resolved that the 'second Coming' version was the one they should look for.
The minority case persisted - and this resulted in a small number of pharisees and leaders who did believe Jesus.
Summarily, the basic methodology of interpretation was not what Jesus contends; it's the going beyond that's the problem. He uses it to defeat the pharisees at their own game. The gospel of Matthew takes onboard some of these Jewish hermeneutics, and so does Paul since he was a incidentally a rabbi of the school of Hillel (sp?).
Perhaps these authors do so to reach their intended audience, or perhaps it is a correct way to interpret scripture.
- I will agree that in a number of cases, this kind of justification has been used as a bloody hammer. Jewish christians have a much better grasp on these sort of things than many preachers.
- - -
+10 points for referring to xkcd. Science works, and that's why I'm doing this Ph.D in the first place.
I choose to defend 1 (a) as a distinct possibility, (b) to me it is a more direct way to interpret scripture, and (c) it also has the most interesting scientific ramifications.
- - -
I'm not covering 4 for now, or perhaps I'm already there since I'm attempting to resolve stated difficulties.
- - -
> "Jewish thought held people could..."
Correct, people can reach God without the Bible in hand - and people have. It's about the Bible being the best way to do so.
> "Why are more Christians obsessed with the..."
I offer myself no consolation in my siding with you. I'm inclined to believe that some christians somehow screwed up their thinking. (though I hope for better)
...but I'm not surprised that these people exist. They shouldn't ideally, but they "must". :P That's another story.
- - -
"I will say though I think its very easy (and many have done so) to tack on your own interpretation that says..."
Of course. However, take note that Paul uses death a lot and in different ways; also that he writes it for a people who believes in spiritual world(s) and destinies. Some flexibility is needed when we're coming from a materialist background - though a consistent framework is not feasible in this thread.

With Respect to X said...

Yeah DEFINITELY time to get this discussion over on to another forum.

Hopefully we can briefly drag Alex Feigin away from his thesis to make a contribution to since he was Christian for a long time and has subsequently become a strong Critical Rationalist who likes to believe in things he can falsify, so he has a thorough understanding of many of these issues, more so than me. A lot of my best philosophy gets done in conversations with him.

Well g2g, work in 2 minutes. Thanks to all the people who have commented in this thread! Especially Poker who seemingly keeps simultaneously engaging with almost half the steps in any of my arguments.

I definitely want to start a forum for friends who want to discuss religion, either a mailing list or a wiki or a Wave when it comes out.

Alexey said...

Not sure what I'm called to contribute here (but thanks for the praise :D ).

I have known evangelical Christians who fall into categories 1, 3, 4 and 5, some of whom are pastors. I myself have held each of these views at different points throughout my Christian, for want of a better word, evolution. In my experience, take any two sophisticated Christians and they will have different interpretations and explanations (unless they're married).

I'm happy to take the initiative of creating a mailing and/or wiki for these discussions. Just give me a green light.

In my view, these discussions are best conducted with rounds between two parties, with everyone else commenting on the side.