Two questions about how central the question of origins is to your core beliefs


(Phil) #21

I agree with you Richard. We are a little narrow in our scope of discussion here on the forum, at the risk of not seeing the bigger picture, and perhaps that is something we should work on. Personally, the origins debate is over for me, though some of the related issues as to how to interpret scripture, and how science impacts our approach to life remain interesting to discuss. I still get sucked into origins discussions, primarily due to the effect the arguments have on others.
I think that posts that expand our scope of discussion to ethics, daily life, and relationships are healthy, so long as we can avoid sliding into politics and the such.


(Mark D.) #22

I also appreciate a respite from political discussion, Phil. I guess my point in asking those questions was to challenge the idea that where things come from should be so central and important.

On a camping trip away from the city lights, standing under a sky full of stars one can feel very small and full of wonder. For some that immediately brings to mind God and what we behold as his creation. If God tapped me on the shoulder and said “it really is awe inspiring, isn’t it”, I wouldn’t assume He was bragging about His own work. I would think instead I am in part tapping into the awe God himself feels when looking up into the cosmos. God, like me, is an experiencer, not an object. What I experience reflects His work, and I myself reflect His work. I just don’t think He needs to have manufactured every atom to deserve my wonder.


(Dillon) #23

As an atheist, I’m a solid six. (As one would expect.)

It could be argued, however, that there is plenty of room for religiosity among sixes. Spinoza, the philosopher, was a solid six. Most categorize him as an atheistic thinker, but others have called him a “God-intoxicated man.” To Spinoza, human attempts to understand God’s intentionality are invariably self-serving. As George Santayana wrote: “My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.”

Who knows? Maybe being committed to God while being a six is some very deep/super profound kind of faith…

I’m curious if any Christians view being a six and being a Christian as mutually exclusive. I can see someone’s point if they posit that being a six contradicts Christianity’s core tenets. Most would probably agree with that assessment. But, from my (admittedly) secular perspective, it seems that if a person genuinely repays evil with good, loves and forgives his neighbor, and has a substantive spiritual and moral life in which Christ plays a crucial role… having a set of assumptions about the natural world seems trivial by comparison.


(Dominik Kowalski) #24

View six would suggest that God wouldn´t have anything to do with us or the universe at all. Interestingly though if we take a weaker approach at that statement, that God set up the parameters at the end while not governing e.g. the mutations in our genes you´re arguably in a position held by some Christians, but in my opinion it doesn´t fit the doctrine or the teachings of Jesus. But I wouldn´t say that it is excluding theism a all, it rather sounds like a position that some Sikhs would subscribe to.
I find the materialistic position equally as implausible as the cartesian dualism though, so even if I weren´t a Christian, and in the past there have been doubts, 5 would be the furthest I go since it fits consciousness, human experience and the stories by witnesses of miracles way better.


(Richard Wright) #25

Hello Dillon,

This is #6: “Belief that physical origins and that of life is entirely undirected by any intentionality.”

Even as Deist, I believed in intentionality. How can one believe in God and not believe in intentionality? That God created the universe by accident? That he produced a singularity and let it go as it pleased, not knowing it would produce man? It doesn’t make sense when you think about it. That’s why it was easy for me to become a theist and a Christian - once I started thinking about it, it only made sense that God would have a plan for his creations, rather then purposely leave them to their own devices (what I believed as a Deist). As for Genesis 1, I think all Christians can agree that it tells us that God that created and shaped the universe, likes what he created, considers his creation to be inherently good and gave man a special place in this creation. So scripturally speaking, it’s hard not to see intentionality already, in the 1st chapter of the bible, to go along with the theosophical obviousness that God is intentional.

This seems to be a different question than about 6, which is about intentionality and I agree with what you said about it expressing ideas that are contrary to who God is and his designs for man. But, as what your above statement says, then yes, I agree that, “having a set of assumptions about the natural world seems trivial” to living the life of an authentic Christian.

Back to your original question, I would say yes, that 6 and being a Christian are mutually exclusive.


(Dillon) #26

Thanks for your answers, Doko and Richard. :slight_smile:

Some Hindus believe that God is entirely dispassionate and utterly without intention.

If I may answer a question with a question: how can anyone be sure that God’s intentions are going to necessarily be intelligible to us? I mean, as the Supreme Force without which reality would not be possible, it’s reasonable to think that much of what God does might be unfathomable to us. And if that’s the case, any perception of God’s intentionality (or lack thereof) on our parts is bound to be laden with our own assumptions and wishful thinking. That’s what Spinoza was getting at.

But (if I may offer a counterpoint) God does a great many things that “don’t make sense to us.” Nine year old kids die of cancer, rampant disease, etc. I’m not arguing the problem of evil here. I’m merely pointing out that when these things happen, theists often ask God “why?” In no logical way can they see how God would allow such a thing. But in the end (when a child dies) they must concede that God did in fact allow it. It’s quite risky to make assumptions about what God would or wouldn’t do. In the matter of intentionality, perhaps it’s even easier to make assumptions (ie mistakes) about what God was doing when he created the cosmos because the issue is more abstract. Even if it is true, one will never be faced with the reality of God’s non-intentionality like one might be faced with the death of a child. So the assumption can easily go unchallenged.

Perhaps (to be more precise) a Christian who is also a 6, might not assume intentionality of any kind (rather than concluding that there is none altogether). A Christian who is also a 6 would also eschew any notions of having a special place in God’s creation. It’s not a matter of thinking God produced a singularity, being indifferent to the fact that humanity would form in the cooled aftermath of its fiery expansion into space. It’s a matter of peering out into the vast expanse of galaxies and assuming that the only reason it all exists is for human beings to marvel over. The very concept of intentionality itself might be a human-centric concept imposed on God by believers.

Job 38:2-7
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
(Really, the whole 38th chapter speaks to my point.)

I’m not putting this forward to contradict anyone’s doctrine. Obviously, God’s intentionality is integral to most Christians’ beliefs and is a recurrent theme throughout the whole of Judeo-Christian scriptures. My ideas are best viewed as “musings about the nature of religion/God/Christianity” rather than anything I would insist anyone accept as true. For the reasons outlined in this post (and even more so for the reasons outlined in my last post), I think it might be possible–in principle-- to be a Christian and a six.


(Dominik Kowalski) #27

Which is why the school of Brahma is much smaller than of the minor spirits. I mentioned the Sikhs since they see the creation as a mystery, as do I.

The bible is full of stories which support this notion. The humans were never successfull when they tried to understand God or his intentions. God surprised us regularly with his way, which we may not have chosen, but we also don´t see the whole picture. And who are we to command what God has to do? I might add that I see the expectation to do so as extremely arrogant. We work with what we got, which are the teachings and the revelation in Jesus and the countless other cases of divine revelation.

Fair enough, but he ignored the divine revelation at the same time, like so many who only focused on natural theology.

Correct, as I stated above. And we shouldn´t believe that we can understand it, since we´re not God.

You sort of do. I don´t believe that he sent a kid cancer in the same way that I don´t think he gave me a pollen allergy ´That might seem inappropiate to compare it, but you know what I´m getting at.

When there is good in the world, evil has to be there too, because they need each other to exist. Theodicy was never an issue for me. Many miracle healings happen even today and the only unfairness I coud see in it is why did this person/kid get healed but not mine? I always try to see the positives in any situation and even in times of incredible pain I and others can calm themselves knowing that God will take care of the kid. It doesn´t solve every problem. But it makes it easier to accept it.
An other model that I personally like very much is the best-of-all-possible-worlds approach by Leibniz, which sees God as not able to bend all the rules and if he creates the world with much goodness, he also has to create (rather “let happen”) evil.

That was what I mentioned earlier, the “hard” assumption of the statement runs against Christianity, but I´d expect the Christian who is a six to explain what exactly he means. If there is no intentionality and life wouldn´t arise, would God be left with nothing to do? Or does he just focuses on another universe with life within it?

That runs against the teachings and pretty much also against science. I believe that God loves every creature, but only humans have the capacity to do his work as he wants us. Sadly we also can and often enough do work against it. And for the science aspect, the number of people I met who see “humanity as merely another animal” and don´t have a specific agenda behind it, is exactly zero.

First of all I see those amount of galaxies as necessary to keep the universe in a stable state. The possibilty for us to dream about exploring it is a candy which comes with it. And I think the urge to explore and the curiosity wouldn´t be a fraction as big if the universe ended a bit behind Pluto. Also I don´t think we´re alone in the universe and that there are other civilisations with the same urge and the end game is to connect with them all, but I don´t want to paint a fantasy-science-fiction picture here.
And finally I don´t see the point of life primarily in marveling and exploring the universe, but in helping and treating each other the way we want to be treated.

That may be, which is why we disagree about so many things even within the same religion, and why negative theology is so popular in certain views. The key is to have a friendly dialogue about it and grow in our belief through reflection of the other perspectives. Happens here daily.

I like this passage a lot and it tells us to be humble. Pride isn´t the worst death sin for nothing.

I don´t think anyone takes it that way.

Again I think that I have ahard time finding someone, but it would be very interesting to have one here and explain himself. Because even if we assume a chaotic multiverse we can still very well say it was set up to bring universes which contain life.
The alternative may be that the Greeks were right about the God pictures all along and we lost all. :wink:

Anyway I could ask in my local synagogue, I think the chances there are higher to find someone who holds the 6-position. Though this expectation could also rise solely through my ignorance.


(Mitchell W McKain) #28

That is going to depend on why you believe there is such a thing as God in the first place. If, for example, this derives from what one believes to be communications from this God with many statements concerning His intentions then that is going to be a little hard to avoid (and there are other possibilities also). But as a purely philosophical question the way you pose it, then the questions and possibilities are endless. All rational thought depends on what premises you choose to start with, and an attempt to adhere to objective observation only is unrealistic – life requires subjective participation where what you want is important. At the very least, what you want is rather crucial to determining what sort of religion/god is worth your time for belief and or devotion.

There is no way of living your life that can avoid risk altogether. The best we can do is determine what risks are unreasonably foolish and which are worth taking. It seems rather reasonable to take the risk of believing that God is good and reasonable, because the alternative just isn’t helpful. This doesn’t mean we cannot spare a thought for darker possibilities but unless one is craven where can it can lead but to contempt, defiance, and refusal. As for the emptier possibilities they are even less helpful, for they ultimately lead nowhere at all and certainly with little reason not to go with the more meaningful prospects. At the very least you have the justification of pragmatism and can be satisfied with a well lived life for its own sake.


(Mark D.) #29

Withdrawn to consider further.


(Richard Wright) #30

Hello Dillon,

Let’s not forget that Hinduism is an evolved confluence of different religions from animistic to polytheistic that were highly influenced from Persians, who came into the Indian sub-continent at one point. There is no God in Hinduism like that of Christianity, it’s more of a theosophical concept and there were many deities that have been distilled over time to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. On top of all that, Hinduism has no inspired scriptures, that concept is orthogonal to the faith(s).

If God is the god of the bible, then He is intentional since that’s obvious in scripture, which I think is one of the reasons the bible is so popular around the world, it vibes with peoples’ sense of destiny and purpose that they see in the universe. And those intentions are intelligible because they are told to us. You’re right that they wouldn’t be obvious us, that’s why He revealed Himself to us and made his purposes known.

I think a lot of God does is unfathomable to us, or as the bible says, mysterious. That doesn’t mean we can’t understand some of His fundamental purposes, which are laid out in scripture.

Or, God designed us to see His eternal, intentional glory in His creation. I’ll take the 2nd option, that makes much more sense to me than the alternatives.

I don’t think that’s what theists are asking. It’s human to want to know the reason for a tragedy, but theists believe, at least they should if they are authentic Christians, that God has purposes for everything, even horrible events, but most of the time we won’t know what that purpose is - it’s beyond us.

I’m not making any assumptions about God’s intentions, Dillon, it’s clearly laid out in scripture. If you want to refer to a deistic god, that’s fine, but as a former deist, as I mentioned, I challenged by beliefs and my beliefs were found lacking - it really, when I stopped to consider it, made no sense that God would create a universe that would evolve people, and not give guidance to His creations.

I’ve never stated, and nor does the bible, that humans are the, “only reason it all exists”. That’s another straw-man that atheists attack. But I am claiming that the bible states that man has a special purpose on earth.

I’m sorry Dillon, but it makes no sense for a Christian to be a 6. A Christian must have faith in God and the bible (not necessarily that it’s inerrant, which I believe is a man-made concept). And the bible makes clear that God has purposes, or intentions, for man. I don’t know how one would have enough faith to give up their life and live for Christ without believing those basic biblical concepts.


(Dillon) #31

Right. I see your point there. It is rather unfair of me to insist that Christians not try to make sense of something that they believe to be a genuine aspect of reality. After all, making sense of things is a very constructive pastime; we wouldn’t have science or philosophy without such an inclination. So I suppose I must redact my arguments along that vein, excluding those that caution against a human-centric view of the cosmos. I still maintain that as a wise position.

Everyone has made good points. I have some more responses to give, but I have to think things over a bit more first. As an atheist, I don’t feel I can provide any further defense of the assertion that a Christian can be a 6. As Doko said, perhaps you’d actually need to find a Christian 6, a rare type… and who has spent time to reflect on the position and can fully explain its coherence. Leo Tolstoy might qualify as one. IDK.


(Dominik Kowalski) #32

I looked up his Wikipedia page quickly and I think, if you see him as getting nearest to 6, we may talk passed each other, because he may denies the Trinity and Jesus as the Messiah and the teachings of the catholic church, he clearly expresses trust in Gods action in the world, which would require intentionality, doesn´t it?

Edit: His views make him more of a general Theist than a Christian


(Dillon) #33

Tolstoy was familiar with a great many world religions. He chose Christianity.

I’m not sure about him denying that Christ was the Messiah. I’ve never read anything like that. But he did have non-trinitarian beliefs. And he criticized the Russian Orthodox Church for its corruption, which eventually resulted in his excommunication. I suppose that would present us with the murky issue of “What qualifies one as a Christian?” After all, figures like Martin Luther criticized the Church and were thereby excommunicated. Was Luther not a Christian? The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t widely accepted by Christians until well after the Edict of Milan. Were the Early Christians, then, not Christians?-- despite their willingness to endure the persecution of the Roman Empire?

Tolstoy was born into an extremely wealthy Russian family. He had a title of nobility. He was Count Leo Tolstoy. As a Russian aristocrat, he was afforded the right to treat the peasants in his serfdom however he wished (peasants had no rights whatsoever in Czarist Russia). He later wrote: “I fought duels to slay others, I lost at cards, wasted the substance wrung from the sweat of peasants, punished the latter cruelly, and deceived men.” He became an accomplished and famous author, as well as a national hero. He lived on an enormous estate. He married a beautiful woman and fathered many children. He had everything a person could ask for.

When he turned to Christ later in life, it wasn’t just a matter of “Okay, I accept the Trinity now.” He renounced his title of Count. He renounced his wealth. He moved into a modest cabin in the woods where he supported himself by working in the fields as a peasant. (He continued to write, but no longer copyrighted or sold his work.) He attended a small peasant church (under the anonymity of his peasant identity) which he found more spiritually refreshing than any of the “wealthy” churches he ever attended. He memorized much of the Bible. He learned Greek in order to more accurately comprehend the Gospels, of which he produced a harmonized translation. I don’t want to produce an overly-romanticized version of his life. He was a flawed person like anyone else. He had a strained marriage, among other things. And his deciding to live as a peasant and renounce his title contributed greatly to that strain. But this is who he was as pertaining to his religious dimension.

What brought me into contact with his ideas was his commitment to pacifism. His “radical” political idea was that was that nonviolence is a force that can change the world. He expressed these notions in many formats. One was “A Letter to a Hindu” which was a source of inspiration for Gandhi. For Tolstoy, pacifism began with how one treated people in one’s personal life. His ideas about pacifism weren’t just a bunch of fanciful intellectual musings. They were rooted in Christ’s teachings. To Tolstoy, pacifism begins person-to-person, but he saw an even greater potential in it.

Does this except sound like it comes from a generic theist?

If having “the wrong doctrine” keeps Tolstoy from counting as a Christian, then --yes-- we will end up talking past each other. I tend to view one’s substance as more indicative of what one truly believes. I mean, if a person accepts a doctrine but has no substantive change in his life, has he really accepted it? In my estimation, a great many people are willing to accept various Christian doctrines, but would never dream of surrendering their wealth or station in life out of service to Christ. That doesn’t make them any less Christian though, does it? No. But if those people are going to count as Christian, then Tolstoy ought to as well.

–Sorry for the unsolicited biography, but (if you can’t tell) I like the guy, so I felt like standing up for him in regards to the religion he professed to believe in.–


(Randy) #34

Wow. I am not that familiar with Tolstoy, but I like him, now, too.


(Dillon) #35

He’s awesome.

Here is a very brief short story he wrote called, “God Sees the Truth, but Waits” if you’re interested in dipping into him: http://www.lonestar.edu/departments/english/tolstoy_god_sees.pdf


(Dominik Kowalski) #36

Thanks for the reply, I didn´t hear of him before and I based my barely existing knowledge on the brief Wikipedia section on him, whilst forgetting that Wikipedia is a terrible source in terms of biography.

You´re absolutely right, we don´t need to go that route and in my opinion if being a Christian would require defending the institution church no matter what, I and most others would have a problem. And the trinity doctrine is not universal in Christianity, so I don´t think one has to accept it in any form. I personally don´t like it, since it tries to describe God being in a rather simplistic term and I don´t see it as fitting or even appropiate to do so.

No I was dead wrong . This is a fantastic piece here, so once again thank you for offering. I´ll keep Tolstoy in mind, he obviously is a great model with his dedication and thoughtful analysis of the “turn the other cheek”-teaching.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #37

Philip Yancey writes of Tolstoy (and Dostoevsky) in his book “Soul Surviver” (p. 121):

In the early 1970s Malcolm Mugeridge heard to his surprise that members of the intellectual elite in the Soviet Union, still under Communist rule, were experiencing a spiritual revival. A Russian dissident living in exile in England told him virtually every writer or artist or musician of note in the U.S.S.R. was exploring spiritual issues. Muggeridge writes, “I asked him how this could have happened, given the enormous anti-religious brainwashing job done on the citizenry, and the absence of all Christian literature, including the Gospels. His reply was memorable; the authorities, he said, forgot to suppress the works of Tolstoy [1828-1910] and Dostoevsky [1821-81], the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith in modern times.”

At the exact same time, I was living in the West surrounded by Christians, saturated with religious literature and frankly unable to make sense of most of it. These two Russian novelists, whom no one would accuse of being balanced or even psychologically healthy, helped restore to me a sense of balance. As Robert Coles had found that novelists knew more about human behavior than all his psychology teachers, I found they also knew more theology than most theologians. At a crucial stage in my pilgrimage they became my spiritual guides in coming to terms with a problem that vexes every thoughtful Christian – or follower of any religion, for that matter – namely the huge gap between life as it should be and life as it is, between the theory of faith and its practice.


(Randy) #38

Good one. Yancey and Muggeridge are also writers I need to delve into more…after these Russians. :slight_smile:


(Mervin Bitikofer) #39

The suffering lives of these Russian authors gives them a spiritual gravitas and insight, I think, that stays trapped on the surface (if even accessible at all) to all of us who theorize about troubling theodicies from within the comforts of our “entitled” creature comforts. I wonder if they aren’t (like Christ) the perfect embodiment of people perfected in suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

What Yancey writes of [Robert Coles’ observation] that these novelists knew more theology than the theologians is also the same observation I dare to make of George Macdonald who, if I’m not mistaken, was no stranger to suffering himself.


(Mark D.) #40

I have to say I am not at all disappointed to find that a conversation which was begun by asking how central to Christian core beliefs are abstract questions regarding origins has resulted instead in affirmations of some core beliefs. It is an endorsement for Christianity that Dominik would not defend the institutional church above all things nor be eager to have his thirst to understand the highest entirely quenched by his endorsement of doctrinal definitions. Mervin’s thoughts on the importance of values lived and tested over those which spring from academic study alone likewise place Christianity in a favorable light.

Institutions have value if they serve as springboards for personal growth and understanding. Institutions which keep its adherents too cowed to aspire to anything beyond conformity are broken. I find my own appraisal of the Christian church’s capacity to function properly for its adherents strengthening.

I like it here.