If we evolved and religion evolved - what’s actually true and how would we know?

(Not to mention, I always have to wonder what Luke would have thought of all this…

it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught…

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Reply to RICHARD CARRIER’S ARGUMENT

  1. Actually the truth is that the belief in one God is practically universal. All the religion characterized by militant religions as polytheistic are really nothing of the sort. Like Christianity they believe in a menagerie of spirits inhabiting the world, but all are ruled over by a single God, when they are not simply multiple personalities of the same God. This is certainly true of the religions of Hinduism, Japan, and the Americas, no different from Christianity.
  • The belief in pantheons as by the Greek-Romans, the Egyptians, the Vikings, and others, I think is most likely explained as formed by the union of different cultures with their own very different ideas of a single God.
  1. The Bible itself speaks of the many religious and cultural influences on the Jewish people by their neighbors. Human ideas and thinking about God and religion are not the same as the realities which they are about. Many would see the commonalities as evidence of the truth of them. In reality it is neither. It is simply irrelevant.

  2. This is indeed the oldest and most powerful argument against the belief in a God and one which has been answered as often as it has been repeated. Ultimately it is about the incredulity of people who seek and cling to power above all other things and thus cannot imagine an all powerful being who would value things other than power, creating life which is a self-organizing process, because this being seeks a relationship with others who live their own lives and make their own choices.

  • Hand in hand with this is presumption of the idea of God as a designer or watchmaker, which is not a Biblical concept. The God of the Bible is a shepherd not a designer, which is again about relationship rather than clever design. Thus the discovery of evolution changes everything. Not only does this shift God’s role from designer to shepherd but it makes it quite clear that death and suffering is a necessary part of life. Life requires fixed rules, so all this shows is that God does not ignore the laws of nature He Himself created in order to destroy this necessity of life just to prop up the egos of a bunch of religious people.
  1. Which just goes to show that God has never been interested in helping mankind to overpopulate the world. LOL Rather clearly, God has been more interested in something quite different in us. Knowledge is power and nothing is more dangerous and destructive than giving power into the hands of children and those who haven’t yet learned to have any regard for the well being of others. That is after all the essence of evil when we use the powers we have gained to pursue our desires without regard to the well being of other people.

  2. LOL LOL LOL LOL This is nothing but two faced double talk. LOL Is he really going to push this hypocritical notion that there is something wrong with the scientific method of correcting our understanding to fit the evidence? What a joke!

  • And I say Adam and Eve did exist and there is NOTHING science can say about the existence of two particular people many thousands of years ago having an experience with God.
  • The purpose of the Bible is nothing like that of a science text. His effort to measure the Bible in this way is as culturally ignorant as using the Bible to measure the religions of African or Australian aborigines.
  • The comment on dinosaurs is another big laugh. It is like saying that Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” is wrong because it doesn’t mention quarks or DNA. Unbelievable! It is like calling kindergarten teachers incompetent because they don’t teach quantum field theory and general relativity to their children. And it doesn’t mean that these teachers are unaware of this science, it only means that they are focused on doing the job for which they were hired.
  1. When you look at the natural world, the idea of God as a designer or watchmaker does indeed make no sense. But this idea is not in the Bible.
  • I don’t find the fine tuning argument very convincing because probabilities which cannot be calculated are nothing but hot air. But that argument is infinitely more rational than this hostile to life spiel. I don’t know why this would sound convincing to anybody. There is just no logical connection. Is the premise here that if God created life then it would be everywhere? Why? I just don’t get it.

All this goes to show is that the rationality of atheists is in rapid decline (along with everyone else?), something which I suppose is inevitable as its popularity increases. (it frankly makes me feel like our high population is turning us into rats… sorry, I guess the political drama these days is depressing me) And Carrier is obviously more of a preacher rather than a scientist or a scholar. This is all the empty rhetoric of a sales pitch like any politician or used car salesman. Ah well politicians and used car salesmen have to make a living too, and how can you blame any of them, Carrier included, from playing to the average intelligence of the population.

The only strong point I see is the one that was made 2300 years ago by Epicurus. All the rest look nonsensical to me.

I would hope that you wouldn’t judge billions of atheists based on the writings of just one atheist. We are quite a varied bunch, you know.

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Good point. Probably “anti-theist” is a more appropriate word for Carrier and his ilk.

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Of course not. Just talkin about averages. Why if this keeps up, the average atheist intelligence might decline down to the theist average… heaven forbid! :wink:

Billions? Even one billion is debatable unless you believe what the Chinese communist government says, which few people do. The estimates I am seeing is only half that… 500 million. Part of the difficulty may be over whether to count Buddhists as atheist or not. But even if it mostly began as atheist, a lot of Buddhism doesn’t look very atheistic any more. The Chinese in particular always had the habit of painting a new religious face over things while continuing to pretty much believe the same things as they always have.

You mean as in anti-theism? Actively opposing theism rather than simply not seeing any reason to believe a God exists. Of course not all of those are too bad either… I was thinkin of George Carlin in particular… at least he made a good laugh of it.

Being certain about the sin of certainty is in a different - higher - rational category. As is being certain about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

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This summary is useful.

My rational response to yours. Your response to your summary of Carrier is not rational.

  1. History doesn’t disprove the idea of a single God or the supernatural. It doesn’t try. It doesn’t have to. If you rationally try and use history to prove otherwise, you fail.

  2. Religions evolve from all previous cultural input. A truism. They then set with evolving outliers.

  3. If God exists, then He is the all but traceless ground of eternal being and knows that He can never intervene bar the trace of helpless incarnation and ineffably by the Spirit.

  4. God reveals nothing except through incarnation.

  5. The mahout always justifies the elephant-in-charge.

  6. Creation is self tuning.

I have no interest in debating with him or seeing anyone else fail as all would. Critiques of his scholarship are a different thing. See link.

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“…so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

is the way the NRSV has it. Testimony about God’s actions that are embedded and originated in creation itself, but that then ends up being written on human hearts and with human testimony (reassurance) to each other, seems to me a different level of certainty than what has now been packed into that same word in the last few centuries.

There is a cold, rational kind of certainty that would paint a person into a corner and force upon them an inexorable logic that seeks more than simple persuasion. It seeks to forcefully compel, which is not always inappropriate. In math class, we seek to make proofs iron-clad, and rightfully demand air-tight logic. In an arena of faith, life, and relationships, such calls for this level of certainty strike me as cold and indeed, unbiblical. At one level, compulsion may be desirable - if there is a hard reality in play that somebody needs to be aware of lest they learn a hard truth in a disastrous way, but that is not what is in play as the Shepherd puts the lost lamb on his shoulders. The lamb in the story is happy to be found and we don’t have a shepherd chasing it down to force it back into the fold. In the biblical narrative, the lost lamb, like the prodigal, is just happy to be found. The certainty [conviction] of the disciple is more about trust and hope than about logical compulsion (knowledge derived from intellect and sight).

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That could be right. I wasn’t too concerned with the actual number.

That’s a wonderful picture of faith – and I think helps to explain why trying to argue or coerce a person into faith is either rarely successful, or might make us question exactly what kind of faith would result (though God is big enough to overcome our missteps in this area).

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We’ll see how long this one lasts: it is by a country mile, straight up above all other claims.

Amen to that. Trust and hope in what cannot be reduced to hard fact seems about right to me. I recon that makes me a person of faith albeit not the ‘right’ one.

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Reading those replies to the arguments … it makes me feel depressed. The coldness of it all and lack of what I feel to be honest engagement in the issues - something I see so often see in Christian thought - the convenient explain always and what comes across as arrogant derision of disagreement with dogma, while sweeping all the rest under the rug and saying the room is tidy - its actually depressing. Your statement below kind of captures some of what I mean:

We’re talking about the death and suffering of innumerable humans through the ages from disease and pestilence… from the transfer of germs - death and suffering which biblically God hates, remember - God says to return the coat taken as insurance for debt, so a down and out man doesn’t get cold at night. That’s compassion right there. Yet, no communication around this crucial issue of germs?? (some people might say the rules in Leviticus could actually suggest rules of hygiene etc and I like that approach - it falls apart under examination like so many other things but maybe there’s still something there, still - no prophets or any other clues or communication about this issue by other means later).
Sure, obviously I guess there are reasons God chose not to convey that knowledge around germs - but to argue it away and not even suggest it was a kind of puzzling if not a cruel thing to do or that there must be another deep reason as to why and LOL at it all - what is that? Actually what is that?

The tone and focus of your overall reply - how is it not like the worst parts of Job’s friends? It makes me think of an ‘anti-God’ or ‘anti what I don’t believe in’ filter in the brain - no matter what goes in to the computing system with some people their baabadee beep processing spits out a compliant answer to what they believed in the first place - and no amount of human suffering or questionable logic will shake it. I’ve never liked such thinking but in particular now really dislike it and find it off putting. All those harsh things said though, I did appreciate you taking the time to answer the points and in the end - if we all just evolved and it’s all just a game - who really cares what we believe if it’s all nonsense - it doesn’t matter. If one can divine the actual truth anyway - why not just hold on to Christianity which is the best pick of the bunch from a narrative point of view and obviously true because evil spirits respond to the name of Jesus. I feel my borderline obsession to find the actual truth is harmful and damaging to me - I’d probably rather keep that comfort filter on - but I’ve chosen the red pill now and even if I tried to take the blue pill - it wouldn’t work. Sometimes maybe I wish I just didn’t ask as many questions, but then that’s not me. Sometimes I think the robots of the Matrix movie were actually kind of nice - going to all that effort to make a virtual world, at least people had kind of decent lives in the Matrix - and what would be the point anyway of the rebels in that movie really fighting the system - what, so everyone can live in near abject poverty and suffer? Sometimes ignorance is bliss and delusion a delight - maybe I should just give up and try and reason myself back into full faith and forget all the deep and disturbing inconsistencies so I can be comfortable … what do ya reckon hey?? Come step back in to the circus tent and enjoy the fun and games?? I already feel like I’m weeping and gnashing outside now - I want to be inside and it’s a beautiful circus and to say circus is cruel and unfair - it’s a beautiful play. But the whole thing, I can’t honestly give myself to it and truly believe in it all now … so what would you recommend - you have a lot of the answers, you seemed to have figured it all out evidently already??

I feel the same about this reply of yours. That you didn’t honestly engage my replies. And did you read it in the context of my first post in this thread?

And evolution demonstrates conclusively that this is an absolutely necessarily part of life itself. You take away the challenges of suffering and death and there is no evolution or life. That means this boils down to the question of whether God is creating something real or just dream world or fantasy novel.

I find it really bizarre and even laughable how atheists and creationists both level this same notion that the other picture of how things are is too lacking in compassion. One sees the God of the Bible as too lacking in compassion and the creationists see evolution as too lacking in compassion. Seems to me that the lesson here is that there is an excellent fit to be found here between them. I believe in Christianity because of evolution. It is only these facts about the nature of life that makes Christianity palatable, because it shows that there are some harsh realities which must be accepted.

The point is that it learning compassion is infinitely more important than the discomfort of some people feeling cold or hungry.

Everything you imply that God “should” have done is a formula for the creation of H.G. Wells’ eloi in his book “Time Machine,” those who look like people but have the attitude and mentality of sheep.

Because learning how to figure these things out ourselves is even more important. If God simply hands such knowledge to us then we would only have religion and no science, because science NOT the understanding of germs and such, but the method of figuring things out for ourselves.

Like most of the things in Carrier’s argument it is only an effective argument against those who try to make religion into more than it really is. But once you dismiss the exaggerations, like the absurd notion that a belief in God is some kind of panacea for human problems, then Carrier’s arguments lose all their force. If you are looking for some way to prop up all the religion mongering of Pharisees then you are definitely not going to get any help from me.

I came to Christianity from the most liberal background imaginable and so I could criticize Christianity better than most atheists from when I was a child. And those criticisms are not wrong. They are very very right! There is much in Christianity which is deplorable, making it quite understandable that Weinberg would say, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion .” He is ultimately wrong. Because history demonstrates quite conclusively that any ideology will do this even atheistic ones. If so much is wrong with religion then why should I defend any of it? Because you can find even greater criticism of religion right there in the Bible by Jesus Himself.

Do you know the difference between constructive criticism and the opposite which is simply judgmental, derisive and self serving rhetoric? Constructive criticism point to ways of doing things better. There is plenty of room for constructive criticism in religion but the other serves no good purpose whatsoever. So back to those same 6 points…

  1. So what we learn here is that we should really be careful about dismissing other religions as polytheistic compared to your own. And indeed we should be careful about the idea of all of our religious ideas and practices being given to us by God. Some of it is just made up and others have evolved over a very long time.
  2. Indeed we should acknowledge that a lot of our religious ideas are not from God but are passed around from one culture to another.
  3. We can acknowledge that the problem of evil is a difficult one deserving serious consideration, for it is indeed one that has convinced people that there is no God for a very long time. But in all that time, 2300 years, it has not settled the issue. People still disagree and that should be accepted also.
  4. The Bible is not about good hygiene, but about the human spirit. It is an outright lie that Jesus derides the washing of hands and utensils before eating. Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees for judging people hypocritically (a lot like Carrier is doing, frankly). It is looking down on African and Australian aborigines as barbaric savages because they don’t do things in the same way, and issues of hygiene is a poor justification for this. Perhaps you can show them that good hygiene is a better way to do things rather than simply being snotty and self-important.
  5. Religion should definitely accept correction by science and adjust its thinking according to the objective evidence.
  6. When you look at the natural world, the idea of God as a designer or watchmaker does indeed make no sense. Thus we should indeed dispense with this idea which is not in the Bible anyway.

And I would say that in this you have found the road to hell. I think that is the path of blissful ignorance and being comfortable. Like I said before in my very first post in this thread: unlike you atheism holds no terror for me. It sound kind of nice – even too good to be true. I just think it more likely that our choices have consequences which cannot be escaped so easily. And the terror for me is not a vengeful god but that our self-destructive habits has the power to drag us down into total evil and depravity destroying everything of value within us.

No I do not. I would say that the so called “Christianity” you accepted before should be tossed in the garbage. And you should be asking yourself what is really worth believing in. Can you read the Bible with fresh eyes without the filter that has been pounded into already? If not then maybe you need to look to some other religion. I think you need to find out why each of those 6 criticism disturb you and find your own answer to them – not being led along on a leash by either your old church or by Richard Carrier.

Hi Mitchell,

Thank you for your reply. For what it’s worth, I found it much more palatable/easier to engage with and less ‘this is how it is’ in tone. I note this is a very long reply here - one I may edit later.

Like I implied, I admit I am a little hypersensitive now when I hear/perceive a tone where people speak confidently about what actually is and what actually isn’t. With everything I’ve been reassessing and thinking through my respond to such thinking is: How can we ever truly know, when everything of a religious nature is so intwined with the frailty and short comings of the human psyche - with all its proclivities to inaccuracy?
It’s all just guess work of sorts isn’t it - guess work using different paradigms for the guessing. The path of hell as you say may be to just to lay down, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, and accept nothing can be done to ever know and so just go with what you feel like. I may have misunderstood.

I figure the closest we can get to knowing anything really - or at least partially but partially pretty well, is by two interactive factors that can interwine and reinforce each other like a double helix:
A. scientific logical deductive method
B.qualitative analysis that identifies trends that remain consistent across time and place, filtering out subjective influences/biases etc (which by nature usually give rise to A.)
(I was going to add C, Occam’s Razor but really, A applied to B can do that).

Anyhow, I consider it is this process that, like a mining operation that goes to great lengths to sift and smelter out the dross from gold, which leaves us with the raw material - the gold and jewels if you will - the substance of what actually is. Once we have this raw material of actual reality as best we can - only then really are we in a good place to actually make meaning of the truth. A. Like thinking in tis true sense and as a phenomenon free from the biases and blinds of religious constraint is only a relatively new phenomenon in the human experience, historically speaking and so until relatively recently we’ve only had versions of B to work with as a human race and crude versions of A, people like Copernicus being pioneers.

(note; I’m taking the opportunity here to order some of my own thoughts out loud as it were - these BioLogos threads definitely help me so that).
Once we obtain the raw material of what actually is real though - the process of making meaning is just so fraught with subjectivity That said, even A and B like thinking can try and be applied to the raw material of actual fact. This, personally, is what I think Carrier does or at least tries to do.

That analysis process for me has resulted in honestly seeing so much of standard Christian/religious belief generally as hollow but scrambling for A. like thinking into what the spiritual actually is then. Below are some people I believe who are doing this:

  1. Justin Barrett (Christian)
  2. Michael Sherma has done some social experiments on spiritual phenomena to deduct A. in this area (eg the God helmet)
  3. Adrian Lee - even though he gives me a creepy feeling a bit what he looks into is FASCINATING as
    a self proclaimed Christian but a spiritist
  4. Australian social journalist and somewhat entertainment figure John Safron
  5. the movie ‘Super Human’ film and all that - some thing I need to look more into
    I know there are so many more I’m not aware of now - but it’s this kind of field I want to do a real deep dive into. I genuinely believe something else above is and outside of us exists - dare I say I ‘know my it does - but I don’t understand it and trying to see what it is right now feels a bit like trying to see behind myself in a row of mirrors.

Anyhow, better finish up - you said you were raised by parents who seemed to have gone (both?) through something of the same thing as me now in realising a lot of the unreliable nature of much of what standard Christianity teaches about inerrancy/the Bible etc and who raised you in light of that?

So some questions then for you because as you say, you don’t believe/accept standard Christian but something of a version of it

  1. Who/what do you believe God is?
  2. What are your thoughts on the OT’s historicity?
  3. Connected to 2. do you think stories were embellished?
  4. Why did God give an picture of creating us very very differently (dust, breathe, hey presto) than what he actually did - why not, in a spiritually meaningful and culturally & historically adjusted way just tell us the truth “and from the beast of the earth God developed man and called him out” of whatever such phraseology (and please, please don’t say Genesis kind of does that already - as you suggest, any skerrick of scientific concordism must be abandoned if we don’t want salesman Christianity).
  5. How do you, honestly and not just neat packagingly, explain the massive contrast in how God presents himself in the Bible - hating death, not wanting people to be cold etc to what evolution teaches us - let the weak die out, the strong survive (social Darwinism), work together but not because it matters for anything metaphysical only because it is constructive to mutual benefit etc. Surely you can see how Jesus’ sermon the mount is antithetical to evolution (cue documentary scene of a predator hunting, eating prey - around long before any ‘fall’)
  6. How do you explain spiritual experiences in other religions?
  7. What’s your view on the existence of spirits/demons/ghosts and how do you explain odd spiritual phenomenon that clearly is something but, what?
  8. What are your thoughts in extra-terrestrial/inter dimensional life generally - do you think maybe there is another world/worlds we don’t understand but influence ours? Is God connected to this?

I could go on but hopefully I make the point - I’m asking what you believe and how you make things work - how you make sense of the raw materials of what actually is

Well frankly I would answer this with two realizations that I came to a long time ago.

  1. Certainty is a wild goose chase after an illusion. And the only reason why you would need such a thing anyway is a desire to cram your beliefs down other people’s throat. Which is not to say that all claims about reality are the same. There are standards of rationality. Without logical coherence a claim is not even meaningful. And the methods of science, in the written procedures which give the same result no matter who does them, provides a basis for a reasonable expectation that other people should accept these results. But it is demonstrable that people can know things even if they haven’t one shred of objective evidence, so equating that with truth itself is also unreasonable. The burden of proof (i.e. objective evidence) is on whoever would expect others to agree with them.
  2. The definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” is nothing but hot air. Does anyone ever believe things they think are not true or not justified? Therefore if you want a spectrum of belief from idle opinion to knowledge then it should grounded in something a little more measurable, like whether people live their lives accordingly. If they rely on a belief and stake their lives on it then that is the only basis of substance by which I can see calling it knowledge.

And these actually fit quite well with science, because scientific knowledge is not about certainty or proof either. What makes something scientific knowledge is when it becomes one of the standard tools of scientific inquiry. That is why confusing the word “theories” in science with guesses and hypotheses is so ludicrous. The theory of evolution for example is scientific knowledge because it is now the basis of theoretical biology and how we investigate new biological phenomenon. The same goes for the theories of relativity and quantum field theory.

  1. Who/what do you believe God is? I first managed to attach meaning to this as an existentialist where I came to the conclusion that the fundamental existentialist faith is that life is worth living. Then I realized that a faith in God played the same role in the lives of theists. So I decided these must be essentially the same thing in different words, and the question then became, what kind of God best serves this purpose of making life worth living? The result was that I was never going to be interested in simply believing in whatever god was described by some book or religion as if you could really judge that objectively anyway. The question would always be what sort of God is worth believing in – what sort of God is going to have my regard and admiration? I do think that such a God can be found in the Bible and Christianity, because these can be understood in vastly different ways. I was not for example, ever going to buy into the idea of a god that is lesser in some way than ourselves. I was always going to be looking for an ultimate God, more than we are, even infinite and perfect.

  2. What are your thoughts on the OT’s historicity? I take it as historical but not literal – as historical as consistency with scientific findings allow. So for example, I see no reason not to believe there were two people named Adam and Eve who spoke with God, or a person named Noah who was commanded by God to build a boat to survive a flood. But I was never going to believe that Adam & Eve were golems of dust and bone, or the only homo sapiens on the planet, and I was never going to believe that Noah’s flood covered the whole planet wiping out all of homo sapiens but his family.

  • This does not mean that I take all of the Bible historically. I am 100% convinced that Job was not historical. The story was clearly just an excuse for a theological discussion. And I am about 70% convinced that Jonah was not historical either.
  1. Connected to 2. do you think stories were embellished? Yes. Even when they were based on historical events, many had to have been passed as oral traditions and this is long before there was any specialization of human activities into such things as science, philosophy, religion, entertainment, history, law, or bedtime stories for children, so such stories would have naturally fulfilled all of those functions.

  2. Why did God give an picture of creating us very very differently (dust, breathe, hey presto) than what he actually did? Why don’t kindergarten teachers give a picture of things the way they actually are with quantum field theory, relativity, and biochemsitry? It simply wouldn’t make any sense! AND it isn’t necessary. That is not what they needed.

  3. How do you,… explain the massive contrast in how God presents himself in the Bible. I think I already answered that I don’t see such a contrast between the Bible and evolution. In both I see a clear acceptance of many very harsh realities. And it is a four dimensional teaching… as in something which changes over time because the people in it are changing over time and what they need to learn and understand is also changing.

  • The sermon on the mount is the first thing that grabbed me in the Bible – that was an idealism that made me pay attention to it and feel like something here was worth listening to. But the teachings of Jesus are not all idealistic, some of it is very realistic and down to earth, while other things were so transcendent and out of this world they drove people away. I think that is incredible – it made his words something which would speak to everyone!
  1. How do you explain spiritual experiences in other religions? I don’t see them as any different than the spiritual experience in my religion. Religion is fundamentally subjective. It is about the aspect of reality which DOES care about what we want and believe. And so diversity is inherent and unavoidable in religion. Christianity has no ownership over God. God speaks for Himself and speaks to different people in different ways. Does this mean that there are many ways to God? No. There are no ways to God whatsoever. Read Matthew 19:16-26 ending with “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

  2. What’s your view on the existence of spirits/demons/ghosts and how do you explain odd spiritual phenomenon that clearly is something but, what? The only reason there is an objective aspect of reality is the mathematical laws of nature, but these are demonstrably without causal closure so we have no reason to believe reality is exclusively objective. So I believe in a spiritual dimension to existence which is inherently subjective by nature. I haven’t had any experiences with spirits, demons, or ghosts. But I don’t make my own experiences the definition of the totality of reality. But I can say that the lack of causal closure in quantum physics is a very narrow one that doesn’t allow anything very reliable in the interactions between spiritual and physical – otherwise they would be in those same mathematical laws of nature.

  3. What are your thoughts in extra-terrestrial/inter dimensional life generally - do you think maybe there is another world/worlds we don’t understand but influence ours? Is God connected to this? I believe in an infinite God which is big enough for a limitless number of other worlds and beings to populate them. Because of the size of the universe, I think it is likely that there is other life even intelligent life out there. But I don’t think 13.8 billion years is all that long and thus, I think it is highly unlikely that there is any contact between them. Frankly the structure of the universe makes this nearly impossible and strongly suggests that any other life in the universe is none of our business and never will be.

A lot of these are sketches for which I expect further questions.

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