Unpleasant conversations between atheists and theists

(George Brooks) #181


I think I have not clearly explained my issues regarding “anagogic mystics”. To attribute Zoroastrians and parts of the Bible being influenced by such folk, then someone should be able to identify their appearance early enough to either influence Zoroaster or to influence the writers of the Bible.

Surely, you aren’t suggesting that simply because we have a fancy name for a category of mystic, that this must mean they co-existed in a timely way?

(Jennifer Thomas) #182

Yes, I understand this is what you’re saying. My reply to your point, as mentioned above, is that we would be trying to identify somebody or somebodies who lived at least 3,000 years ago (possibly longer) and whose literary footprints would be difficult to track down today.

As I mentioned, the archeological record is probably the best source available for us to understand how ancient civilizations took the general motivations and goals of anagogic mysticism and transformed them into religious architecture, art, political mythos, and justification for conquest.

Often, though – and I can’t emphasize this point strongly enough – a self-proclaimed mystic doesn’t rely at all on what previous sources have said about God. (I say self-proclaimed because there are few aspects of the human experience that are easier to take advantage of than claims for revelation from God. Some who have claimed to be mystics have been lying through their teeth because they want power, status, etc…)

New religions or spiritual pathways are generally created from “whole cloth,” as it were, after a single human being makes claims about direct insights into the nature of God and/or Creation after a mystical experience. If he/she can persuade others of the merits of his/her insights, a new movement forms around the mystic. Perhaps the best known example of this pattern of religious “generation” is the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, which is (though many people don’t realize this) an excellent example of apophatic mysticism.

So unless you want to posit that all the teachings of Zoroastrianism and all the teachings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity were simply invented in the way Tolkien’s genealogies and geographies and histories were invented, you have to be open to the role that various types of mysticism have played in the history of human religion, philosophy, and scientific inquiry.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that mysticism is, or should be, the only factor involved in the generation of religious movements. But it’s an important factor.

The influence of mystics on all major world religions becomes evident once you start studying the primary sources available to us. But if the researcher is convinced that mystical experiences are scientifically impossible and totally irrelevant to any discussion (an a priori assumption), then they’re not going to see the evidence that exists in the primary sources, are they?

The Bible is filled with the claims of various prophets and mystics, and if you took out all the texts left by the Jewish prophets and mystics, you wouldn’t have much left except the historical texts. The whole point of ancient Judaism was its departure from other people’s ideas about God and its rejection (for the most part) of earlier ANE influences. It was new. It was different. And thank goodness for that, because otherwise we’d still be stuck with weird stuff like the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

(George Brooks) #183

The ideas you and I are now discussing was triggered by the suggestion that Zoroastrianism got its idea of an afterlife in heaven (“up there!”) from a class of mystic. And yet there wasn’t even an attempt to localize the presence or existence of such a type.

I prefer to at least suggest possible vectors: Is Jainism older than Zoroastrianism? Are the earliest notions of Hinduism explicated enough to tell us whether a “heavenly afterlife” is a really old idea? Or is it an import into Hinduism?

I accept your point that it is very difficult to dig into the history of religion prior to Zoroastrianism… but it is even more difficult to dig into religious history prior to Sumer.

I would be delighted if someone could identify the notion of a “general afterlife in the sky” as somewhere and some time in between Sumer and Zoroastrianism!

The Essenes and the Dead Sea groups seem very comfortable with the idea that stars were the physical embodiment of humanity’s greatest saints … finding their place in the heavens… for eternity.

This is almost certainly comes from a set of ideas that originate in Zoroastrian metaphysics. [[ People who look for the origins of the Essenes are almost never brave enough to look to Persia for the origins. ]]

But I have not yet found any ancient Jewish writings (non-Biblical prior to the Enochian literature) that speak of a general resurrection of all humanity.

The Egyptians were optimistic in thinking that anyone with enough priestly guidance would have a reasonably pleasant afterlife; the unworthy would be immediately destroyed in the underworld. But the Egyptians did not embrace strict dualism; it was entirely within human power to defeat Cosmic tendencies towards chaos, if you were morally adequate.

The Greeks burned their heroes to make sure the soul of their great men/women would not have anything of the mortal world “holding the soul back” to a purely unencumbered existence. This has always struck me as a fusion of Persian and Phoenician metaphysics.

I certainly agree that there are mystics of all stripes buried in the history of humanity… right back to Cave Art we find in Europe or in Australia. But implicit in this view is the idea that the Earth is millions/billions of years old.

But let’s look at your last part of your last paragraph:

“. . .The whole point of ancient Judaism was its departure from other people’s ideas about God and its rejection (for the most part) of earlier ANE influences. It was new. It was different. And thank goodness for that, because otherwise we’d still be stuck with weird stuff like the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”

One might say that the Bible was an attempt to reject earlier ANE influences. But maybe not in the way that most Christians would find familiar or appealing. What do I mean by this?

Christians have to confront the fact that somebody (or a group of different somebodies) spent a lot of effort stripping out “after-life” ideas from the Old Testament. Ultimately, the only convincing or specific exemplar we find is the raising of the dead Samuel … and that’s not exactly a recruitment brochure.

If the Hebrew had spent centuries in Egypt, they would have left with a profound sense of the afterlife … for everyone … and yet we find no existing Mosaic text or Deuteronomic text embracing this idea at all … not even with the usual “Jewish-Interpretation” tangled up inside of it.

The Bible spends much more time “co-opting” the Pagan texts (Genesis, the Flood, the Tower of Babel) … being quite careful to leave not a trace of resurrection or afterlife anywhere. This to me is the proof that the Sadducees had a very long “hold” on the Jewish scriptures (either when they were first collated and/or more firmly in the post-Exile periods of Judaism. It’s the only way the Egyptian influences could have left virtually no mark, either from the beginning - - or as a reaction to too-popular ideas of general resurrection!

The Samuel resurrection has the strong flavor of Greek views of a general afterlife … as well as Hittite and Syrian ideas of how an afterlife might work.

As for your thoughts on the Book of the Dead, it is strange only in that it surmises rituals to learn in order to make it to one’s afterlife. The Book of the Dead seems to have more in common with the New Testament than the Old Testament does. No doubt Egyptians would find it strange to think that nobody had to know anything when they died… all they had to do was accept as truth a different kind of “Book of the Dead” - - which we call the New Testament!

(Jennifer Thomas) #184

I completely agree with you that somebody (the Deuteronomist, perhaps?) spent a lot of time stripping out afterlife ideas from the Jewish scriptures. It may, however, be part of a general trend in Second Temple Judaism to demythologize all of Creation, not just the afterlife.

Like you, I see the influence of Zoroastrian metaphysics in Enochian works and in many of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But dualistic theories about good-versus-evil also emerged in other parts of the world where people likely had no contact with Zoroastrians.

I’m curious about your interest in the origins of the “afterlife in the sky” traditions. Will we ever know the answer? Is there actually only one single place where the tradition emerged, or could it have developed independently in more than one civilization?

Sometimes we have to be satisfied with the little bits we do know.

God bless.

(George Brooks) #185


The thing about spending an eternity “in the sky” is that it is rather counter-intuitive. The Gods that were believed to be up there had something to do. They ran the planets… or they ran the consteallations… or they were stars.

The idea of an invisible “something” up in the sky is not a natural outgrowth of observing nature.

If our fellow researchers don’t know a single thing about how the Zoroastrians perceived reality up “in the sky” … then it is hardly profitable to imagine or discuss the “sky” views of more distant nations and cultures.

(Wayne Dawson) #186

About all I can contribute on this is that I recall in my Western Civilization textbook (Burns), he rightly emphasized the role of Zoroastrians in contributing some of the more other-worldly mysticism to the Judeo-Christian language. It was a largely very tiny blivit in the big tome, but that has stuck in my mind ever since.

I was struck by your comment about afterlife being purged from the Pentateuch. There was a lot of focus on Levitical laws of course, with intermittent narratives. … so you might say that they were books about how to get to heaven (inherit the land) rather than about how the heavens go, but it is still interesting that nothing was said, AFAIK, nothing at all. One of the things that was strongly frowned upon was graven images of heaven or hell. A strict adherence to that view would mean avoiding much description about it, I suppose. The memory of the Egyptian afterlife may have fueled some of the constant quarreling and bickering with Moses. It wasn’t just about the fruits they had plenty of in Egypt, it was the better “retirement plan”.

I also feel that mysticism @Realspiritik mentioned seems a big part of the driving force behind this. My vague impression is those do seem to have more in common and have a language that is vaguely similar; Elijah in the cave, Jacob in Bethel, Ezekiel and the heavenly host leaving the temple, Isaiah and the call, Elisha watching Elijah being taken up. Surely Jacob wasn’t looking forward to an underworld when he saw angels in the dream…

Genesis 28:12ff
12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[c] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.

It is all very confusing to me. It seems like they must have had a number of different themes – all quite contradictory – running through there heads.

– by Grace we proceed

(George Brooks) #187

@wkdawson, I don’t find this (inevitable) apologia to be very convincing.

But, still, there must be an answer to this question somewhere. I think one approach is to start
with the Sadducees, and work backwards in time. To have a priesthood specifically energized to deny an afterlife communion with the cult god is most distinctive!.. especially if we are to take seriously the idea that the New Testament is the logical conclusion of all of God’s efforts described in the Old Testament!!!

Not only is it denied that anyone can attain communion with God once dying, but it is even denied that there is any conscious awareness of death… that it is a form of sleeping. What clues can we look to for why what could have triggered this stark view? I look to the key corollary to the Sadducee views to help answer that question:

There are no Angels!

And this gets even stranger … because in “form”, angels can be fairly compared to “deified mortals” (perhaps like Enoch?), or more commonly: “assistant deities”. Virtually all the ancient cultures had resort to minor deities… and Zoroastrianism is no exception!

The High Priestly form of Judaism (aka: Sadducee-ism) completely obliterates this possibility. Not even the ultra Islamic monotheism we hear much about centuries later is so strict as to eliminate angels.

What on Earth (or above it?) could have so “shocked” the systems of the High Priests as to eliminate an afterlife and even assistants to God? Did the High Priests conclude that the only “angels” God would ever need would be the High Priests? - - or perhaps deceased High Priests?

Perhaps the Sadducees denied resurrection for the general population - - because it was a secret privilege of the High Priestly families alone!?


When atheists hear “Maybe God does it” it is like you hearing “Hi, I’m from Amway. Do you have a moment to talk about multi-level marketing?”. From experience, we usually know that the conversation has come to an effective end when “God does it” comes up. When you have one side of the conversation who is looking for scientific evidence and one side who believes through faith there usually isn’t anything that can bridge that gap.

What is of more interest is how both theists and atheists view science, and how they incorporate it into their view of the world. If nothing more, you can try to better understand where each other are coming from, even if you end up not agreeing.

That’s why atheists usually shut down when “God does it” comes up.

There are plenty of explanations for love for those who have passed. Adaptations don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. It is good enough that we have strong emotional ties to others in our group, and that is the behavior that is being selected for. If there is some bleed over into loving those that are no longer alive then that’s fine. There is also the fact that not all behaviors and physical features need to be the product of positive selection. Neutral drift and evolutionary piggybacking (i.e. spandrels) are real phenomena.

(Ryan weatherly) #189

Thank you for your thoughts

(Wayne Dawson) #190

George @gbrooks9, this is an interesting topic to me, particularly because of the puzzling contrasts, but I’m not a biblical scholar and surely not adequately read on the topic to contribute any significant content. It would be better to have a contributor who is sufficiently imbued with the historical details of this period of time and some of the range of cultural perspectives.

Speaking as a scientist who is familiar with the biblical text, it sounds like a reasonable place to start a historical investigation. One thing about a historical analysis is that it is evidence-based, so, if one can find some document that expresses the actual beliefs of the Sadducees, then we can draw some firm conclusions about what they believed. Certainly, the contrast in their way of thinking compared to the Pharisees is like night and day – and yet they read the same books.

It does appear that the oldest view is more akin to Sheol, and that the dead know nothing. Several psalms say “who will praise you from the grave” and this was also Hezekiah’s prayer too. This is quite a contrast to Revelations where angels and those in the book of life are praising God all the time. It starkly contrasts with all those country gospel songs that talk about meeting Jesus at the end.

In these times of political upheaval, that seems a rather compelling argument. Moreover, even as Christians with the constant reminders from Jesus, we easily drift into that “elder brother” mode of thinking where we think ourselves better than those “low-lifes” (not seeing ourselves as cut from exactly the same cloth). There are churches where the people seem to think that everyone is going to hell except them. If my recollection is correct, the Sadducees were the wealthy or established group, whereas the Pharisees were kind of like the “wannabes”. So, give it 500 years after the rebuilding of the temple, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Sadducees really did think that they had some free pass to the heavens and everyone else was automatically sent to hell. The Pharisees pounded on the law, so they too saw themselves as having the keys to the kingdom and the rest went to hell. My tone is quite facetious, but I see your point; that is characteristic of human nature.

We should remember that historical analysis is not like a physical science where we can construct a clear reproducible test that eliminates all other possibilities. Both are detective work, but a historian (like a police detective) has to both read what is there and read between the lines what it actually means. In general, you have to have a clear understanding of the motives and intentions of people to ferret out who did what and why and what their intentions were. This usually requires developing multiple hypotheses and examining them closely.

I find your idea compelling, but to push it to a formal conclusion, it seems like something that requires at least some 3-6 months of digging around deep into Harvard/Princeton libraries or even Cambridge/Oxford. A starting point might be some biblical commentaries on the clearly related passages. That might reveal some useful references that take the matter a little closer to where you want to go.

I guess another thing you were hinting at (in an earlier post) is the possibility that the Sadducees actually “edited” some of the text – purging references to the heavens. At least, I sort of had that impression, but maybe I am wrong. That is a real can of worms. Of course, literalists will insist “never”. I’m a scientist so I don’t feel so confident about that “never”, but at least whatever editing job was done appears to have been rather clumsy or devoted mostly to redaction. It is not beyond possibility that the Sadducees meddled with the books, I’ll go with the benefit of a doubt that they stayed out of wholesale manipulation because they saw the books as sacred, they had experienced the bitterness of exile and the restoration, and they were probably more concerned with not messing it up again. But even if they did edit the work to push their own interpretation, we (as believers) still have to decide what we believe about ultimate reality on our own whether we have an unaltered book or not. My hunch – a hunch is a kind of faith – is that the direction is at least correct, even if there are plenty of flaws and inconsistencies in the details.

– by Grace we proceed

(Wayne Dawson) #191

Well, a minor quip here. I know this one is getting to that thing about “cherished beliefs”, which often rightly lands on the heads of the religious types. However, I have lived long enough and had enough direct personal experience in the world to learn that “cherished beliefs” is not a unique property of people of religion. Planck said it pretty well

‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’

… to some extent, because he objected vehemently to the direction that quantum mechanics took, he lived up to his own prophecy.

Of course, he was raised in that old time German physicist culture where the math always lead to certainty, so his behavior is understandable. But that does raise the point that culture tends to define how accepting one is of certain views. One of the negative ones I see in our contemporary culture is that belief that science can explain everything. Some go as far as saying that philosophy is useless twaddle. Like economics, philosophy has its problems, but meaning and wisdom seem very much in short supply in a lot of places these days. … … yeah, … I know, … to not be too one-sided here, we certainly do our share of making messes too (with our “culture”).

Anyway, I do appreciate your effort to express things frankly but politely. For those of us “inside the box”, we’re not always all that sensitive to how our writing comes across to others who don’t see things the same way.

– by Grace we proceed

(George Brooks) #192


It’s my opinion that the only one’s who could have edited the O.T. texts would have been the Sadduccees. The Pharisees acknowledged the genetic ascendancy of the Sadducees… they were, after all, Levites. I’m pretty sure there were Levites who agreed with the Pharisees. But if they weren’t part of the priestly rotation in the Temple, they would also have not been in a position to redact texts and have them preserved.

The Essenes appear to be led by a branch of the high priests who rejected the Sadducees and their monopoly of the Temple, but in contrast to the Pharisees, they didn’t consider the Temple’s sacred nature to be intact and they fled into the wilderness… or at least into the margins of towns and cities. Some writers link the Essenes to the Boethusians. But the Essenes were very enthusiastic about an afterlife.

Those folks who consider the 2nd Temple to be a “deal”, a “contract” with the Persian authorities, have to explain exactly when the Sadducees came to reject angels… and thus a really strict form of monotheism. The Magi appear to be the spiritual “godfathers” of the Pharisees (Parsee, Farsee).

I still struggle to crack this nut … and speculate that this opposition to an afterlife is an exaggeration of a secret adherence to a very very limited resurrection - - of the very richest of the Sadducees. Josephus implies there was great rivalry within the Sadducee party… and I suppose that is quite plausible if there could only be one High Priest at a time, and all favors were derived from the High Priest.

(Wayne Dawson) #193

Politics, power, and absolute power …

One of the key refrains in Ecclesiastes is “there is nothing new under the sun”. … what we see now has happened before, and it will happen again. … indeed.

… but maybe in a less cynical light – though I am highly prone to pessimism and a wry sense of humor – this could be just sort of like our own political quarreling; for example the libertarian vs socialist extremes. Here they just say no one gets to heaven [except me of course] or all get there as long as they’re not one of “them” and they follow our set of rules. Who gets to run the show at the high temple might make our own political campaigns appear almost clean. A slick politician is an art form.

– by Grace we proceed


Scientists and atheists can be as stubborn as anyone else. I will completely agree with that.

I will readily admit that I come from the Steven Weinberg school of thought. Scientists have done just fine by ignoring almost all of philosophy. The success of science over the last 200 years justifies our expectations that further questions can be solved by applying the scientific method. Could science fail at some point, or not answer a specific question? I guess it could, but it is quite clear that looking for scientific explanations has been much more successful than looking for supernatural explanations. Here is a bit from Weinberg that echo many of my own thoughts . . .

“The value today of philosophy to physics seems to me to be something like the value of early nation-states to their peoples. It is only a small exaggeration to say that, until the introduction of the post office, the chief service of nationstates was to protect their peoples from other nation-states. The insights of philosophers have occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the preconceptions of other philosophers. I do not want to draw the lesson here that physics is best done without preconceptions. At any one moment there are so many things that might be done, so many accepted principles that might be challenged, that without some guidance from our preconceptions one could do nothing at all. It is just that philosophical principles have not generally provided us with the right preconceptions. In our hunt for the final theory, physicists are more like hounds than hawks; we have become good at sniffing around on the ground for traces of the beauty we expect in the laws of nature, but we do not seem to be able to see the path to the truth from the heights of philosophy. Physicists do of course carry around with them a working philosophy. For most of us, it is a rough-and-ready realism, a belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our scientific theories. But this has been learned through the experience of scientific research and rarely from the teachings of philosophers.”–Steven Weinberg, "Dreams of a Final Theory"

(Wayne Dawson) #195

Though I would call myself “creative”, my math skills would rend me unworthy to untie Weinberg’s sandals – said in jest but still meant sincerely.

Interestingly, there are many things that I can largely agree with Weinberg on in this essay. It is also an enlightening, brief, personal essay on his take on the course of events in natural philosophy (and later what is now called science) that lead to the discoveries in high energy physics, progressing from around the time of Descartes to the late 20th/early 21st century.

The analogy of the scientist being like bloodhounds sniffing up the facts where the evidence leads is very similar to my analogy of a detective gradually encircling the culprit of a crime. Both require carefully consideration of the evidence.

I might prefer detective because the detective has to think through a variety of types of information (witness accounts, motive of people associated with the crime, public records, and of course the available evidence) and, based on this information, infer and reconstruct the most probable course of events that must have happened to produce the crime scene. Nevertheless, the image of bloodhounds on the trail is a manifestation of what happens when the detective knows he is close to nabbing his man. Along the way, the detective may have to change his opinion or overcome some prejudice in his own heart about some of the witnesses or suspects. … at least, this is what we expect of a detective who honors the badge. A detective can still get it wrong, but we are human.

In that sense, I also agree that science tends to lead in the direction of objective truth. It can be argued that we never completely arrive, but it is not like this is the product of Western ways of thinking and therefore obviously bad. (When he complains about this, he reminds me of some conservatives I respect like Jonah Goldberg…) He is also charitable enough to recognize that the original authors had argued that science as always progressing, always short of perfection (inexact), and never “arrives”. He also acknowledges that there is culture involved. The corruption of these notions was the work of later authors, often not people who deeply understood science.

Further, he objects to the abuses of positivist philosophy. In particular, he rightly objects to the way it contributed to impeding the development of an atomistic view of material and made it difficult for Einstein to accept the later ideas that emerged in quantum mechanics. I think such mentality also contributed to Boltzmann’s suicide. People say “oh we don’t know”, but if you ever have been on the receiving end of that stuff, you know … you know. Add temperament and personality, and it seems little surprise where that could go. Weinberg names some of sinners by name; pointing out the absurdness of always demanding an observation, even when it is clear that something is at work in the science being done. In fact, Weinberg is perhaps even more aggressive in his attack of positivism than I am, at least as it pertains to particle physics.

So I don’t so much disagree with him all that much, in general, though I would express myself differently.

On the things that pertain to this discussion, what struck me was that his involvement with philosophy was largely focused on various ideas that evolved over history and outlived their usefulness. The focus on “philosophy” is actually strictly “natural philosophy”, which up until somewhere in the early 1800s was what the field was generally called. The main divergence (toward our modern science) began with Bacon and Descartes who realized that you don’t do natural philosophy in the armchair, you go out there and find out. That was another thing that inspired me to do the same. What you find in that journey changes how you think – as it should. We have progressed from Bacon and Descartes, but that does not mean they contributed nothing to science. If no one stepped out, we would still be sitting in our armchairs. Moreover, if we look at this in the broader perspective of the evolution of “natural philosophy”, then what he complains about on mechanisms and particles and all the ridiculous ideas that were published over the last 200 years by said scientists would be all material to impugn on “philosophy”; i.e., natural philosophy (aka “science”).

On the notion of mechanisms, the word “mechanism” has evolved from the simple-minded analogies that Descartes proposed to what we do when trying to understand chemical reactions. In my chemistry studies, we really didn’t insist on mechanisms being the collision of things with other things – though that is obviously part of the matter. We used quantum mechanics as the modeling principle and then tried to sketch out how a chemical reaction occurs by the movement of electrons – recognizing that this is quantum mechanics where we are speaking in generalizations about roughly what is happening based upon a foundation of chemical experiments that largely supported that picture and can also be used to predict new reactions in a different context (to some extent at least). If mechanism had some deficiencies in dealing with modern physics, it was very helpful in arriving at some intelligible explanation of processes and interactions when this information was missing.

I guess it is a problem when you have trouble accepting action-at-a-distance, so this meant that they had to propose an ether to explain how the action-at-a-distance occurred. Yet this is really not how we talk about mechanisms in physics in chemistry anymore, so the word “mechanism” has evolved and is still useful, even if we have had to develop a rather specialized definition of the word.

On the notion of particles, it was enlightening to read his lucid explanation of fields in QM and completely side-stepping the matter of particle-wave duality. Of course, I have understood this indirectly too, but he articulates this point very well. That said, surely the essence of particles that result from “fields” are not mere delta functions mapped in complex space with greens functions. These approximations – though possibly much better in form than the particle-wave conundrum – seem somewhat ignored in these formalisms. Of course, we are talking about one of the foremost experts in the field, and I surely am not. But delta functions are not reality and what the wave packet involves is of some concern to me. At any rate, his descriptions are eloquent and the general thrust I have no objection to.

The word “particle” still strikes me as a useful word, even if it has distorted the tendencies of scientists, particularly those who were strongly influenced by positivism.

I tend to view science as a branch of philosophy that deals with understanding how the observable world operates. To achieve this objective, we build models. In the early stages, that could be arguably Descartes’ mechanisms, Newton’s particles, and of course “fields” with their delta functions. These are all models. There are of course limitations to a word like “model”. With thermodynamics, I found it difficult to visualize, so I tended to dislike it and sometimes found its thinking obscure for that reason. However, with time and effort, I found a way to understand thermodynamics in a kind of visualization. I cannot find a way to represent it very well with my skills (maybe a kind of dynamic representation that is a function of the probability of the given states). At any rate, it need not be some construction made in woodshop or metal-shop, or balls bouncing around; there is power in forming an image of what is happening.

I would argue that these models that Weinberg complains about as problems that hindered science as modeling attempts that we overused because of their success in other problems. This is a classic problem we see with people in the sciences using things that worked before. Scientists often work by tweaking things that already worked in other problems. A lot of times, that works. When issues appear, we try to add a few more tweaks, and then it appears to fit again. All that can be fine. However, sometimes, this eventually leads in the direction of “epicycles’. That was natural philosophy, and the people who most resisted the heliocentric concept in the early stages were the scientists. There were even good reasons for it at the time, very good reasons. This is why humility is very important in developing the intellectual mind. It can be hard to know when it is time to give up on a model. It is when a model doesn’t fit that we run into these problems where the model becomes a hindrance to progress.

More to the point of our discussion here might be how we differ on the matters of ultimate reality. On page 8 he writes in complaining about positivism and his example of how it stood in the way of Walter Kaufmann’s better experimental approach to the initial idea Thomson championed

“Thomson’s claim to be the discoverer of the electron, but he would probably never have
done them if he had not been willing to take seriously the idea of a particle that at that time could
not be directly observed.”

Though there is arguably far more clear reproducibility, it is a double standard to say that someone who has faith that there is this God is not operating on similar reasoning and therefore is an inferior thinker. (I vividly remember someone ridiculed Francis Collins in a letter to Science insinuating that he was something less than a man who honors the badge.) We all have nutty ideas, perhaps all wrong, but we have to start somewhere. It would be better to contemplate the maturity and willingness to change [maybe what can be called a feature of “humility”] of the thinker rather than what is immediately objectionable to one’s own particular perspective.

I know religion doesn’t always do right. But I have asked myself “what might keep me seeing people as human beings when the airwaves speak only lies and propaganda about people?”. This is not a rational world where rational information is always being transmitted. “How do I resist that?” Believing that there is something more than this “stuff”, something or someone who does care about how I live my life, it is not a guarantee, but it is all that I have to keep me on the right road. I know it is a God we do not see, and (usually) we don’t get struck with lightning when we sin, so it can seem like this God is really not there, but this is where my “philosophy” (on ultimate reality) puts its trust in.

Perhaps science can explain right behavior merely by evolution. There are arguments about solving problems of commons, but it always seems that we come conveniently back to the United States as the answer. What a shock that there are certain dictators that have successful societies and make a mockery of the selfish behavior of nations purportedly run by rule-of-law. At any rate, there may be a means of survival by solving the Gordian knot in the problem of commons, but there is little evidence in most of history to support that equality is a principle that lasts. They are uncommon occurrences in history that often occurred in times of luxury and faded from view when resources diminished. Why do we even have to talk about equality? If everything is based on power-to-the-strong (as much of evolution in societies have more often operated), we’re just in a lucky period and who knows about tomorrow. Will religion help? I don’t know, but there is more history with religion than without, and science in the hands of power and will and desire, does not seem like it has the teeth that can sink into people who want to fulfill the worst of their proclivities. At least it gives reason to a remnant for how to go on in the world when things are not going well. Even if there is an unassailable answer that can be found that is strictly based on science, there is still a mystery even in that. I suspect it will always be a little subjective. I think what is sovereign over the heavens still matters.

– by Grace we proceed
[the usual spelling/grammar corrections, and fixes for better readability apply]


No problem. Sorry I was away for a bit and couldn’t respond.

I believe so. That is the abundant life He spoke of He came to give us, a life with God.

Exactly the point. It seems like the right thing to do in our human nature. I bet eating from the tree seemed like the right thing to do too. It is difficult to wrap ones head around it, I get that.

I guess if you are trying to assign right and wrong, which as other threads said, it pretty much subjective. So try not to think of things as right and wrong.

Try to think of it different. We were created/designed/engineered right?
A designed thing has a set purpose, and it performs optimally when it operates under specific operation specifications. Sure you could put soapy water in a dry engine, and it might work for a few seconds or minutes, but then it will seize. But if you put in SAE 50 (if it was designed for that), it will run for hundreds of thousands of miles. If you put in SAE 20, the engine is going to slowly deteriorate and you might get 20 thousand miles out of it. The only way to operate to your optimum ability is to follow the designer specs.

Sure you can go places with a bad engine, you can even use an engine for a paperweight. But there is no doubt that the most optimal performance will be achieved when following operation specs.

Jesus spoke of living life to the fullest, the most abundant life possible. The only way to live the most abundant life we can, is allow God to live through us. Which that itself is a slightly complex concept. We don’t just lie down and allow God to posses us to get things done. Rather it means living with the mindset that God deserves all glory, and He blessed us with many gifts. If we use the gifts He blessed us with to glorify Him, that is Him living in us.

This is why all deeds, good or bad, are filthy rags, like an engine being used as a paperweight. I bet an engine would be a great paperweight, it could probably hold a good 700 lbs of paper…but it isn’t going to get a car very far. Filthy rags, a waste of life, wasting your potential to be the image bearer of God and give Him the glory He deserves as our Creator.

Instead of good and bad, think of it like design or desire. We were designed to glorify God. But we are flawed beings, and we are required to depend on God to allow us to give Him the glory.
Like a fish who is designed to be in the water to live. It is free to jump out of the water, but it will die. But if it lives as it was designed, and lives in the water, it will live a long life.

It is our desire to help others maybe, or to see those who do bad are punished, or just removed. But that is not our design, we were designed to trust in God, “vengeance is Mine”. God is not saying, I am allowed to be angry, He is saying, trust Me, I am in control, you are not. I created you to trust me, not to take control. You don’t need knowledge of good and evil, rather have faith that I will tell you what is good or evil.

That is what the book of Job was about. God was saying, trust me, stop trying to figure me out. His friends thought he did something bad and was being punished, the young friend thought it was a ‘preemptive’ punishment before the crime was done, and Job was confused and righteous in his own eyes, and deserved great things. God was saying, trust in Me. I was the one who laid the foundations of the earth, I created you, I gave you purpose, I can tame Leviathan, trust Me.

So when man sinned, and rejected God, rejected God’s way, God’s rule, wanted to live by their desires and not their design, we lost that ability to be in God’s presence. After that, even if you wanted to trust God’s will and rule, you couldn’t, because it was only through Him that we can live for Him, and this couldn’t happen until Jesus came and died, rose, and now lives in us. We can now live for Him, through Him again as intended. When we focus on Jesus, we can walk on water like Adam was in the presence of God, but when we divert our attention, we sink, all deeds are filthy rags, we begin to no longer be able to live our design, because we can’t. The law just showed us that we can’t live our design of our own strength (Adam couldn’t even do it of his own strength when he was sinless/before he sinned), but only through the spirit inside us, thanks to Jesus living His design for us.

We were created as weak/flawed creatures. So His power can be made perfect in our weakness. Like a tripod with 2 legs, and God is the 3rd leg that allows us to become a tripod, and in being a tripod and living out our design, He can receive glory. Though I am aware of the “bad engineer” who made a 2 legged tripod…But it is designed so that when given a proper 3rd leg (that nothing else can fulfill) it becomes the most useful and glorious tripod known, that can now withstand infinite forces. It wasn’t bad engineering, it was designed with 3 legs, just 2 of them are us and the 3rd one comes from God.

I don’t know if that helped, or made it harder to wrap your head around. I know I went off on a few branches there.

I life living does greatly matter. That is why a life lived to glorify Him is a great thing, and a life lived to not glorify Him is filthy rags. Since our purpose in life is to glorify Him, then when we die, we don’t want to be remembered, we are glad He was given as much glory as could be given while we were here.

I am not sure what I said that gave you the impression I was saying anything against hope. I was stating that I don’t live this life for me to be remembered, rather Him, but instead of remembered, known and glorified through that.

Amen brother!

That must be an interesting Christmas dinner.

I have never heard that one before…

What is an angel? What is their purpose?

I think the angels are basically like an extension of ‘God’s body’. Like my arm, it does what I want it to do, what I tell it to do. and when/if it didn’t I would cut it off and not allow any nutrients/oxygen to be wasted in it.

Like Lucifer, was an extension of God, and when he did as God wished like your arm, he was ok. But when it turned on ‘his own body’ it has to be removed, and any other appendage that turned.

Where as humans, are more like a child. My child is not an extension of me, but his own person. I can train him to do things for me, but he has free will, and can do what he wants. But it brings me great joy when my boy does what I want him to do.

A robot does what I want/program it to do, but I get very little joy from a robot.

My arm is great, it helps me out a lot, but I don’t take pictures of it or show it off, most people have arms that do what they want it to do. But not all have children who do great things, children who not just do what I want, but children who want to do what I want, it is like a little me. And it will become an adult, and I don’t even have to ask for things to be done, they are trained and now do what I would want them to do of their own will. Like an image bearer of me. He is now doing my will, it is like like I live in him, my will is being done in him, and through him, and when people see what a great person he is, they give me glory.

The angels seemed to get once chance…like I probably would with my appendage that attempted to turn on me would. But I give my child many many chances.

So in a sense angels are closer to God, they are an extension of God, but we are possibly cherished more, like a child of God.

(Wayne Dawson) #197

OK, I think what you want to say is that we are living for Jesus, so what happens in this life is not something to fret about.

In general, in the comfortable life of America in the last 50 years (at least until relatively recently), there really should be little complaint about suffering for many educated people. It was really a time of prosperity. Talking as you do would be relatively easy in those circumstances. Add a few minor hardships, etc. For many people in the US, complaining about life is rather silly and most people’s petty ambitions, quarrels, and grasping for higher status in the workplace, though deeply personal, really are of no matter in the heavenly kingdom. Who on their death bed says “oh, I wish I had worked more”? (Well, there are few I can think of, but anyway :wink: … ) The same about the house, the dog, the two cars and the 2.1 kids (or whatever it is).

Yet Paul, before he was put to death, wrote in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no man came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them.”

That Paul had absorbed the word of God and spoke the words of Jesus, I get that. The prophet Jeremiah certainly didn’t say that in Lamentations (toward the latter part of ch 3). What does Paul mean by “may it not be charged against them”? Or maybe more to the point, why should anyone fear that “charge” had Paul chosen to say instead “may it [ ] be charged against them”?

– by Grace we proceed

(Marvin Adams) #198

A lot of people are clueless when it comes to the meaning of words and confuse to accept something with a passive consumer attitude of receiving the goods or with the materialist attitude of accepting a fact. It is like praying to god asking him to give wisdom to the politicians in power and finishing with the sentence “This I ask in the name of Jesus”. Who said “Though shall not tempt thy Lord” :slight_smile:

(Mark D.) #199

Not sure if you’re still involved in this discussion almost two months later BB, but for me it isn’t the possibility of a God per se which strikes me as absurd. It is the jump to asserting that God must be a cosmos-wide phenomenon for whom natural law is a matter of divine whim.

As a culturally Christian nonbeliever I feel that the best justification for god belief has to do with how we experience the world. Conscious experience can feel like an overlay on something that is largely propelled forward without our help. Things like sudden insight, creative inspiration and dreams are experientially events which go on in us which we can’t really take credit for assembling. Those who pay attention to such things know that it can be beneficial to wait for input from below (the threshold of our conscious minds) or from above in a religious/spiritual sense. Consciously, we are in a constant relationship with the outer world but also in a dynamic relation with the totality of our consciousness. Even what memories are aroused in a given situation is a selection made outside our determination. This I think is the best reason for a person to feel a relationship to God.

However I don’t find it necessary to buy into the trappings of any particular religion to realize my dependence upon what is beyond my mere conscious mind or value the participation of what is beyond myself. I don’t call that God but I don’t think it cares as I feel very well blessed (to borrow the Christian term) in this regard.

I’ve participated in online religion based discussions for a few years now and I find behaviors to object to from both sides, and not just from the standpoint of respectful treatment of others. I think both sides do themselves an injury in the exchange sometimes.

For atheists, it laudable that we are skeptical but only up to a point. There is a real danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I am most alarmed by what strikes me as a nothing-but attitude toward everything inward. I would not like to live my life that way and I wish for them that they had a better alternative. It seems like a kind of self alienation.

For believers, it is laudable that they go to lengths in their lives to strengthen the regard for that which is beyond their petty egos and limitations. But if believers essentially discount their own powers and intentions to open to what is more and instead content themselves with adherence to doctrine in the hopes of a better after life … then I fear they too have thrown away something very precious.

(Ryan weatherly) #200

Few and far between …but yes , it gets awkward …
I’m the youngest of 8 , and usually play peacemaker.

I do get weary of playing messenger.