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The Elusive Messiah


“Since new evidence could always overturn old theories, all views could at best merely be probable and, hence, provisional. No longer could one ever be sure that one had arrived at the final truth. One always had to be prepared, in the light of new evidence, to change one’s views.” -Raymond Martin, the Elusive Messiah

I stumbled across this quote just minutes ago and found myself nodding fiercely in agreement. Many of you who read these ridiculous posts of mine already know of my faith and my quest to verify everything I believe and refine what I’ve learned through a filter of truth. Given this quote above, that very well could be my mantra, I agree absolutely concerning material things- the things for which quantifiable evidence exists. This evidence and the theories to which it pertains has a kind of odd and unfulfilled relationship with Christianity. It’s best explained in an example. Carbon dating (among other means of determining the age of the material universe). Carbon dating proves that the Earth is really freaking old, how old exactly doesn’t matter in this situation. All that matters is that the Earth is millions of years older than Christians had previously thought, therefore disproving Christianity in this matter, right? Not so. It disproved a conclusion based on a specific interpretation of otherwise vague, and limited, texts. The bible only speaks of the age of the earth in poetry, and myth-like prose. It’s not a scientific source of knowledge about the age of Earth, but rather a way to acknowledge One who is great enough to create something so much bigger than us. The science testifies to the greatness of the One in congruence with the text. In my mind this is refining belief- finding out what the bible really says. The age of the Earth based on scripture is nonessential to Christianity and is not explicit (or implicit) within the text. therefore it can be dropped given reason to do so. That is why the evidences and theories about the material world which change Christian views have an odd and unfulfilled relationship to Christianity. It seems as if they affect only nonessential contingencies.

Moving on… I see a way this quote works within Christianity to do internal refining. I often debate on the nature of God whether he’s this way or that.  Often a little token of scripture or revelation based on interpretation or some external example of some virtue can spark a new understanding of God’s character or abolish some though of the way he must be. This is a wonderful experience that keeps me close to God. It’s a way of discovery and interest as I learn more about a man who never changes, yet is quite elusive. I’ve said before the more I learn about God the less I know for certain about Him. By this I mean that through study of God I learn that my presuppositions were false and God becomes less like what I knew he must be. “One must always be prepared in light of new evidence, to change one’s views.”

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  1. January 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    And that’s exactly why the god hypothesis should be held by any honest person to be tentative, which means any deductions made from it to be, at best, conditional. Are you prepared to be honest, to doubt god’s existence?

    • January 22, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      Tildeb, doubting God’s existence would require that science, or any other study, would purport some evidence to doubt God’s existence. Since God is by definition supernatural and science is the quest to understand nature, inevitably they are not in conflict. Science does however, cast doubt on many contingencies of scripture that were developed through bad interpretation, or a conclusion that jumps too far from the evidences given. So yes, I am prepared to be honest and doubt God’s existence. However, I also have undeniable experience that irrelevant scientific data cannot overturn (because it is inherently irrelevant).

      ScienceDefined, thanks for joining the discussion. While the Christian scriptures are not detailed history of the world, they are books of undeniable historical accuracy, detailed within the subjects they are chronicling- both Old and New Testaments. In fact, the only doubts of any substance based on the historicity of the bible is the supernatural elements, but that is an all together different discussion. Also, while I see your idea of a ‘small guide as to how you should live your life’ I think the obvious moral teachings within them are what you’re referring to. Am I wrong? Other than that all religious texts have a claim to exclusivity, with few exceptions. But, since all other religions claim exclusivity the pantheistic teachings cannot include them and also embrace simple logic. So, in effect we must assess the truth of religious texts and if one is found to be true, then how “small” is that guide?
      Jesus, for instance along with his simple moral teachings brings eternal consequences for our adherence to them, and thusly demands our lives based around the teachings of Christianity. Those teachings are namely love and reverence.

      • January 22, 2012 at 2:57 PM

        Although I’ll ignore the reverence part, unanimous love is not such a bad way to live your life in my opinion… Your right, there are a lot of moral teachings that certain religions agree upon. But there are also some idiosyncracies that each have to themselves (an eye for an eye vs. turn the other cheek etc.)

        And yes I was referring to the moral teachings.
        And yes the bible does contain some arguably accurate historical accounts (as the source is unknown and possibly corrupted these can never be claimed for absolute truth in the eyes of a historian).

        As you say, it is the supernatural elements that often come into question. And this seems to be where all the battles come in. Especially Genesis.

        Aside from these parts, there are no reasons for science and religion to conflict. And as I mentioned, most of the church seems to agree that the clearly supernatural elements are symbolic (excluding the miracles performed by Jesus and maybe a few select others).

  2. January 20, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    From my experience, when one part of the scriptures is shown to be nonsensical in the eyes of science, and Christians understand why, that part becomes ‘symbolic’.

    That’s fair enough in my eyes. My opinion is that the scriptures (in all religions) are not a detailed history of the world, but a group of stories that for one, make interesting reading, and for two, are a small guide as to how you should live your life.

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:34 PM

      Aside from these parts, there are no reasons for science and religion to conflict.

      ARRRRRGH!

      Other than an incompatible epistemology making contrary claims about reality, these two BFF room mates get along just swell.

      Good grief.

      most of the church seems to agree that the clearly supernatural elements are symbolic (excluding the miracles performed by Jesus and maybe a few select others).

      And therein lies the rub: it’s all metaphorical… except the parts that aren’t… and no way to tell which is which because the religious epistemology cares neither about what’s true in reality (only what’s believed to be true) nor about what is knowable (only what is believed to be knowable about the supernatural). Just like science!

      See the problem?

      We can try to pretend science and religion are compatible and this will really help lots and lots of people to continue to believe that religious claims contrary to scientific knowledge are hunky dory because they’re EQUIVALENT IN TRUTH VALUE. Nothing you’ve written criticizes this central epistemological error but merely excuses it. How is this in any way if what’s true and knowable matters?

      • January 22, 2012 at 3:37 PM

        Last sentence should have the word ‘helpful’, as in How is this in any way HELPFUL if what’s true and knowable matters?

        These methods of inquiry are not compatible.

      • January 22, 2012 at 4:22 PM

        It really depends on your outlook.

        Religion doesn’t have to be defined by “that book some guy wrote a few thousand years ago” (as a general reference to all mainstream religious texts).

        Instead it can simply be held as a belief in something greater, or a ‘creator’. In those terms one can make a religion that absolutely does not interfere with science.

        Many Christians hold a belief in a Christian God, but do not necessarily hold a belief in all of the Bibles teachings. There is a difference between the believer and the institution. On a personal level Science and Religion are compatible just fine.

        On an institutional level there is more of a problem.

        But in the end which one matters the most?

      • January 22, 2012 at 6:55 PM

        As long as you’re talking about a deistic god that does not intervene in reality, then we’re cool. But who tries to affect public policies with belief in such a critter? No one I know.

        What we face is a world filled with people who DO believe in an interventionist creationist god. This DOES have an impact on all of us and its effect is negative to the point of poisonous.

        The point I was raising is that the method of how we know anything about anything is not enhanced by belief in Oogity Boogity. And that’s what the epistemology of all religious belief – all faith-based beliefs – does: it promotes and excuses and apologizes and tolerates and accommodates faith-based belief to be an equivalent way of KNOWING. This is false. It is wrong. It is in error. It is a mistake. It’s nonsense and rubbish.

        An accommodating attitude does nothing but damage to the public domain under attack by faith-based beliefs. These attitudes of tolerance and respect of woo in the public domain promotes it… from faith-based belief in alternative ‘medicine’ to anti-vaxers to conspiracy nut cases. It directly interferes in public governance, laws, institutions, education, medicine, science, research, and policies. It causes widespread harm by granting consideration to imaginary characters to those of us who respect what’s true, what’s knowable, what’s real. By suggesting that’s somehow okay to respect faith-based beliefs to be equivalent to an epistemology that only respects reality’s role in determining what’s true about it is a gigantic step backwards for humanity. Legitimate and vital issues need to be dealt with by us grown-ups who can put woo and delusional thinking aside without making room at the table for those childish minds that require comfort from their blankees and knuck knucks and imagined words of wisdom from invisible friends. Facing reality and respecting what it tells us outweighs in merit what those who wish to promote wishful thinking in its place believe. We don’t have time for it.

        You are not helping by suggesting it’s all cool, that people’s faith-based beliefs matter and should be granted enough consideration and respect to allow them to continue to avoid legitimate, sustained criticism they need and the public disdain through mockery they so richly deserve. We need to get this faux-respect for the faith-based voice of delusional beliefs out of the public domain altogether and back into the private where it should be so that we grownups can stay focused on goal oriented solutions to enhance and maintain human well being in the public domain.

  3. January 23, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    Taking a hostile attitude and immediately banning it from all forms of decisions or education will not do much to help either. It has always been through times of opression where religions have seemed to flourish the most. Society will catch on to the mainstream ideas eventually. Go back a hundred years or so ago and NO ONE would have believed in evolution. We still have a fair amount who don’t, but it is a hell of a lot more than there was before and it is rising.

    In the end, evidence based practice will always win against imagined fantasies. But until then you cannot remove this side of peoples lives, especially when the majority of the population believe in something. And many of those people believe in it strongly.

    Besides many of todays laws (that aren’t technical) will be based on moral religious teachings. Psychologically people often need this greater being to keep them in check of themselves, it acts a bit like a conscience. Governments don’t have the same all seeing eye as a God might have (even if it is imaginary).

    Aside from that I agree with you. A huge amount of non-political strife is caused by religious contempt. And when it pulls its weight into important subjects, like the education of Science, it doesn’t ever seem to benefit the public.

    It took us years to take God out of Science. Yet there are still so many people trying to put it back into the Science classroom. They don’t mix well together in an official setting. Ever.

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