Thursday, August 30, 2007

OK, I rose to the bait

Recently challenged to acknowledge that I had considered that "maybe there is no God" and to provide a single shred of evidence that God existed I feel obliged to respond.

Firstly lets us agree that if there were proof absolute either that God did or did not exist I would not be writing this post. Secondly, let us agree that evidence should not be limited to scientific laboratory evidence. Science is able to confirm that certain things are testable and repeatable, that is, empirically verifiable in the present. A belief in the intangible is clearly an inappropriate subject for scientific investigation.

I would say that “maybe there is no God, on the other hand maybe there is” is the only valid starting point – note both sides of the coin. Indeed that has been the starting point for my theism. As such it meant I had to acknowledge and consider the existence of God as a possibility. This position is impossible for those who believe that there is no God (i.e. not the “I have no opinion” atheists whose commitment to their position is similar to mine on Barack Obama’s ability to make cheesecake).

When confronted with the question of miracles for instance, I had to approach with an open mind rather than “there is no God therefore there are no miracles”. In fact I thought that if one could establish with some confidence that miracles did occur then that would be a measure of evidence that God existed. If there was absolutely no evidence then it seriously questioned any interaction between God (at the time “God” undefined in my mind) and this world – a serious blow for the Abrahamic religions’ concept of God.

I won’t bore you with the detail of my research but as you may know, in order to be recognised as a saint in the Catholic Church the person should have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession – there are special cases such as for martyrs. The miracles are subject to considerable scrutiny with the appointment a “Devil’s Advocate” to challenge the evidence. As an illustration of the miracles try the healing in response to request for intercession by a priest that is one of the miracles attributed to St Faustian’s intercession.

The key point is that a panel of doctors declared the healing could not be explained by medical science (that includes ‘yeah this sometimes happens and we don’t know why). Included on the panel were two eminent (world renowned?) cardiologists; Dr. Valentin Fuster's from Mount Sinai's School of Medicine in New York City and Dr. Nicholas Fortuin, from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Now this is one of many examples, and I leave it to you to verify that this is not an isolated case. That it is not an isolated case is of course important. If all the doctors had established was that there was isolated unexplained event, no big deal but:

  • There is causality and
  • A pattern with other similar events

So now the choice is yours, as there is no proof absolute, either …

1) Blind faith atheist disbelief – it did not happen, conspiracy theory, ‘lies all lies’, whatever – it just is not true.

2) Preconceived atheist disbelief. It was a spontaneous recovery, mind over matter, whatever – it happens, we don’t understand it, but we don’t believe in God so it was not a miracle.

3) It was a miracle. The medically unexplained nature of the healing, the nature of the event itself, the evidence and the level of correlation and causality leads you to a rational conclusion based on the evidence – it was a miracle. That was the finding of those who examined the case in detail – plus it aligns with other similar cases.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Time wasted? An apology

Lacking the time to do a proper posting here, the one I have promised on why I believe in God for instance, I have taken what I see as the easy way out – visiting other blogs and making comments there. In particular I got caught up in what started out as an interesting discussion on faith but got bogged down by the closed minded approach of the blogger.

Was it a waste of time? In some ways yes, I was certainly not exposed to any new atheist thinking. In some ways no, I got reminded of the one of the fundamental flaws of much of the atheist thinking around. It is a problem in that it is irrational and limits discussion.

The problem is fundamentalism. Now many atheists deny that there is such a thing as an atheist fundamentalist because, being a non-belief it can’t be fundamentalist – whatever! The problem I see lies in the fact that atheist thinking is tied to the misconception of religious fundamentalists. Certainly that part of the atheist community that seeks to justify their atheism by discrediting religious belief, in order to establish a preponderance of evidence that God is unlikely to exist, seem stuck in what I see as a sort of time warp.

They have relied on the misconceptions of religious fundamentalists, usually Christian, but not exclusively.

In advance I apologise to those who have read my comments elsewhere for doing a cut and paste – my excuse is that I was side tracked when I have limited time to work on this blog – I consider myself castigated and will try and do better in the future.

So, what is chief among the misconceptions that I talk of:

1) The bible is the literal, recorded dictation of the word of God.

This enables the argument that the multitude of contradictions in the bible should convince us that there is no God. Problem is that the starting premise is flawed, the deduction a non-sequitur and so therefore the conclusion is false. The Catholic Church (for all its faults) teaches that the bible is not the sole source of Christian teaching, that the bible requires interpretation. Above all it is not to be taken literally.

It is the revelation of God’s teaching to a particular group. It is a collection of texts within an historical context. Yes I know some fundamentalist groups ignore this, but does that mean atheists should too?

The bible is seminal to Christianity, as other texts are to other revelations – and yes, guess what there are some texts of less merit than others and some plain phony texts. Again I draw your attention to the position of the Catholic church that the bible is not the only source of understanding about God. While the Catholic scholars can cope with the bible not being literal it seems that many fundamentalists can’t – perhaps they lack the benefit of the centuries of academic input that the Catholics have had.

I do not diminish the importance of the bible for Christians, but I do see it for what it is. Get the history and context right and it makes sense. The New Testament is primarily a collection of the sayings and works of Christ and the letters/writings of his followers, written about 60-110 AD and compiled around 360 AD. Yes Christians believe it was “inspired” but no, it is not a dictation from God recorded verbatim. There are dozens of sites, but for a quick intro try:

Recognising the origins of the New Testament why would it not have inconsistencies? It is intellectual laziness to draw the wrong conclusions from the inconsistencies – a conclusion that ignores the history in favour of the rhetoric! Why collect four of the gospels if any one was complete? What is consistent within the four gospels is the teaching of Christ – his message. Yes, at a semantic level there is debate, but at a conceptual level it is really clear.

There is little point in discussing the bible if it is seen as a literal dictation from God recorded verbatim. That is starting from a false premise! I would have thought that atheists would be inclined to the facts. If you have discredited belief in God through the improper use of the bible, then the fault lies with you, not the belief!

It is interesting to note inconsistencies in the bible – it is not valid to ignore the background of the texts when interpreting the texts and addressing the inconsistencies. To do so ignores the intent of assembling a collection of writings.

2) Multiple concepts of God.

Over time there have been, and still are many concepts of God in different religious communities. Some, such as Zeus have been discarded, others not.

This enables arguments based on contradictions but also one based on the variety of manifestations of God as being mutually exclusive/contradictory and therefore overwhelming evidence that there is no God. Again a flawed premise leads to flawed conclusions.

Multiple concepts of God – so what? Theology is an evolving field of study. Why should it not discard concepts found to be lacking and replace them newer thinking that better fits the evidence as happens in other fields of study. Fundamentalists do not do this – they tend to be locked into a simplistic literal bible (usually OT) concept of God. Atheist reasoning likes to trap theology in its past, it makes it easier to defend the atheist position. The path atheists travel has been travelled by theists who have reviewed the old thinking and sometimes found parts of it wanting. What theists have done is moved on with their thinking – sought new explanations of the evidence. I seldom see atheists challenging the current theist theology! OK, current theist theology is not of one mind. Indeed it is what one would expect in an environment of rational thought and weighing the evidence, so it is easier for atheists to stick with the fundamentalist OT God.

The view that I find fits the evidence of God is that God is not an individual but a collective consciousness with common purpose. This fits with Christian teaching about the Trinity and aligns with the possibility of multiple manifestations. or revelations of God. Is it “the truth” – I don’t know, but it fits the evidence and that is the best we can do. It a personal choice I have made that does address all the evidence, unlike the much of the fundamentalist and atheist thinking. The bible only addresses the Christian revelation of God, but there are many common elements with some other revelations.

Multiple versions of God would only support the idea that God is a human construct if the deductive stating point was that there was only one possible revelation of God. That would be a false premise from which to start.

It is my view that many atheists have their origins in religious fundamentalism – usually US Christian? – that their valid rebellion is against these teachings that do contain some serious flaws. Unfortunately they have then chosen to follow the less rigorously intellectual path offered by atheism. Again I see the baby going out with the suspect bathwater.

Back to the header quote of this site:

"An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion” Alfred North Whitehead.

Fashionable atheist opinion would benefit from "An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account ...".