All Systems Go

Well, it seems it’s past time to deal with another misconception.

In a long comment thread down below a couple of my Christian commenters make a positive claim.  They both assert the following:

That my rational application of reason on the claims of the bible is a “belief system” of the same sort as their faith in Jesus Christ and the biblical God.

Before we can analyze whether this is true, we should define “belief system.”

Wikipedia defines “belief system”:  A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs.

Leading Edge Internationl Research Group website defines belief as:  Whatever an individual is willing to accept without direct verification by experience or without the support of evidence, resulting in assumption which is taken as a basis for action or non-action.

I personally would define a “belief system” as so:  A personal, interrelated set of unverifiable preconceptions through which one interprets facts observed in reality.

In other words, a belief system is a filter through which facts are viewed in order to draw conclusions.

Now, let’s look at the elements of this conversation.

First, there is the Bible.  It is the centerpiece of the entire conversation concerning Christianity.  Every claim regarding Christianity, Jesus Christ, God, and any aspect thereof is necessarily dependent on the bible for its communication.  There is no other source for understanding any particulars of Christianity.

Determining which content of a text is true would have a nearly infinite set of possibilities, being either wholly true, wholly false, or partially true and false by a matter of degree between those two absolutes.

However, because of the Evangelical view of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, there are only two absolutes: the Bible is either True (contains no errors) or False (contains at least one error, therefore not inerrant, and not the Word of a Perfect God.)  It is the Evangelical position that actually simplifies the conversation, because their own insistence that the bible is “God-breathed” and therefore inerrant means a single proven error disqualifies the entire text as the Word of God.  So we have a simple True/False consideration.

The second element is the observer.  Each observer is a human individual who will draw a conclusion regarding any subject at hand, in this case, the bible.

The third element is the physical reality around us.  This represents the world in that it actually exists as observed.  In other words, what is true is true for everyone.  If 1+1=2 is true, it is true for every person and everything that is.  If an observer by an act of will denies the truth that 1+1=2, that does not make it false, rather it indicates that the observer has come to an incorrect conclusion regarding that truth.  Furthermore, this truth can be taught to others who can, with only their mental faculties understand that truth and reproduce proof to support it.

Let us allow for two observers.  Observer A is an agnostic skeptic of no particular faith.  Observer B is an Evangelical Christian Believer.

They both read the following texts from the New International Version of the Bible.  The four texts are the total accounts of a unique event in the Christ narrative – the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, heralding the beginning of the “Passion Week,” as it is traditionally known.

There are no other accounts of this event.  According to Christian tradition, this event happens but once, therefore all four accounts are relating the same exact event.

Account #1

From Matthew 21 –

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.

Account #2

From Mark 11 –

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.

Account #3

From Luke 19 –

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.

Account #4

From John 12 –

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

   “Hosanna!”

   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

   “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Now let us simply analyze the content of all four passages.  We will refrain from drawing any conclusions or ascribing any sort of meaning to any of the passages.  We will observe content only and how the four accounts align.

First we’ll list all of the elements that are the same in all four narratives.

  1. Jesus obtains at least one animal on which to ride.
  2. At least one of the animals is a donkey.

Second we will list all of the elements that exist in one or some, but not all, of the narratives, and that are not contradicted by any of the other accounts.

  1. At least one of the animals had never been ridden.
  2. He rode into Jerusalem.
  3. The event was the fulfillment of the Old Testament passage Zechariah 9:9.
  4. The animal(s) was tied up outside.
  5. People put cloaks on the animal(s) for Jesus to sit.
  6. People waved palm branches.

Third we’ll look at the elements from the narratives that conflict in one way or another with elements from at least one of the other narratives.

1. Jesus sent two disciples to obtain an animal(s).

Three of the narratives, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, agree on this.  However, John’s account says that “Jesus found a young donkey…”  So the first point of conflict is:

  • Did Jesus either find (obtain himself) the animal(s) or send his disciples ahead to obtain it (them?)

2. Jesus obtained two animals, a donkey and a colt.

This is according the the account in Matthew.  However, Mark, Luke, and John only record one animal, that being a young donkey, or the colt of a donkey.  So the second point of conflict is:

  • Did Jesus obtain one animal (a young donkey) or two?

3. Jesus sat on the animal(s).

This is according to the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and John.  However, Luke says the people “…put Jesus on it.”  That is the third point of conflict.

  • Did Jesus sit on the animal(s) himself, or was he placed on it(them) by others?

4. Jesus is directly quoted telling the disciples to obtain the animal(s).

The passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, quote Jesus giving direction to the disciples.  However the quotes are different.  The difference is related to item 2, in that in the Matthew quote, he tells them to find *two* animals, a donkey and a colt.  In the other two he is quoted telling them to find only a colt, one that has “never been ridden.”  So the fourth point of conflict is:

  • Did Jesus tell his disciples to obtain a donkey and a colt, or just a colt that had never been ridden?

5. Zechariah 9:9 is quoted.

Two of the passages, John and Matthew, actually quote the prophetic passage supposedly fulfilled by Jesus at this time.  This is also in relation to the second item of conflict.  The passage is quoted differently.  In John, the passage says:

“…see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

And in Matthew it is quoted:

“See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Again the quote matches the account in which it appears, but it conflicts with the other accounts of the same event.  This is the fifth point of conflict:

  • Did the author of Matthew or the author of John correctly quote Zechariah 9:9?

Now we’ve covered most, if not all, of the salient points of these passages.  We have not yet drawn any conclusions.  We have simply noted the elements in each narrative that agree or are not contradicted, and we have noted those elements in the four narratives that are in conflict with other elements.

So what does this have to do with belief systems?

Up until now we’ve simply run a tally.  Now, however, Observer A and Observer B are going to consider the four passages and draw conclusions based on what they’ve read and the comparative analysis they’ve conducted.

One important distinction between Observer A and Observer B regarding the question at hand is that Observer B is invested in the preconception that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

Observer A, on the other hand, has no defined set of beliefs (see the above definition – a belief being an unverifiable assumption.)  In regards to the above conversation, Observer A may regard the bible as a text that may contain errors, but holds no personal investment in that conclusion.  As an agnostic, she considers such a conclusion the most likely, but is open to have her mind changed.  Additionally, she may have a set of preconceptions about the process of observing and assessing reality, but these preconceptions are not necessarily unverifiable assumptions.  Let’s look at a typical set of preconceptions accepted among skeptical agnostics.

  1. One must consider all available evidence before drawing a conclusion.
  2. One should only accept conclusions supported by the available evidence.
  3. One should not gather evidence solely to support a preconceived conclusion.
  4. One should be open to changing one’s preconceptions when new evidence becomes available.

Such preconceptions are known in the realm of Logic as “warranted assumptions.”  A warranted assumption is a belief which is supported by verifiable evidence which justifies the validity of the assumption.  In contrast, an unwarranted assumption is a belief which is not supported by verifiable evidence – a belief which must be accepted on faith alone.

This in and of itself is not a “belief system.”  It could be considered a system for informing or developing beliefs, but by our definitions above, it is not a belief system.

So Observer A reviews the passages above.  Not having a preconception to support, she notes the consistent elements of the story and draws some conclusions:

  1. The passages purport to record the same event.
  2. The similarity between some of the passages might indicate a sharing of stories rather than eyewitness accounts.
  3. Several of the surface contradictions might be explainable.
  4. At least two of the contradictions indicate at least one of the authors related the event inaccurately.
  5. Based on these passages, the idea of an inerrant Bible is suspect.

Note that none of these conclusions depend on any presupposition other than the idea that one can draw conclusions from available evidence.  Each conclusion is a reasonable conjecture based solely on examination of the text.  She has not applied any outside rationalizations to her conclusions.  Neither has she brought a preconceived conclusion to the conversation.  Every one of those conclusions can be rationally drawn from observation of the passages above, and without the application of any unwarranted assumptions.

The critical point to take away from this is that there is no application of a belief system (an unverifiable set of preconceptions through which reality is observed and interpreted) upon the facts in order to draw conclusions.

Now Observer B, the Evangelical Christian analyzes the passages above.  He comes to the conversation admitting to having a belief system.  This belief system contains several preconceptions, several unverifiable assumptions:

  1. God as expressed in the Bible exists in the persons of God the Father, Jesus Christ (God the Son), and God the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Bible is the perfect expression of God’s communication with man.
  3. This communication is inerrant and contains all necessary information for man to interface with God.
  4. Any textual indication that the Bible does not fulfill these preconceptions must have an explanation that maintains the first three assertions.

Observer B places this filter between the issues under consideration and his own capacity to reason.  This belief system is applied to every aspect of the above analysis.  When faced with clear indications that one or the other of two biblical authors has incorrectly, for whatever reason, related an event or story, they have placed themselves in a position to be unable to accept the textual evidence at face value.  They are compelled to make excuses unsupported by the actual text in order to maintain their preconceived conclusion of inerrancy.

Conclusions drawn include obfuscating assertions such as Six Blind Men and an Elephant, or as seen in the thread referenced above:

I’ve been looking for Joe, so I ask my friends to let me know if they see him. A friend of mine phones me and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street. Another friend phones seconds later and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street with his mother. One of these friends is mistaken. Which one is it?

Of course, this is no answer at all.  Such an illustration serves only to show that two individuals can relate an event sharing different details and not conflict.  It does nothing to address the precise issues raised in the specific passages in question.  In the passage above I’ve identified five specific contradictions.  Two of these are what I would term surface contradictions, in that they are contradictions at first reading, but they can be explained without abandoning reason.  For instance:

Did Jesus find the animal(s) or send his disciples to obtain the animal(s)?

While there is a difference, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the author of John might have glossed over that particular detail in order to get to what seemed important to him, that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy.  There’s no necessity to apply assumptions or filters to this contradiction in order to provide an explanation that doesn’t break Observer B’s belief system.  So we can allow that point.

The same applies to: Did Jesus sit on the animal(s) himself, or was he placed on it(them) by others?  It isn’t unreasonable to deduce that perhaps the author of Luke recalled (or had related to him) that the crowd hoisted Jesus onto the donkey, so that he sat on it, whereas the other authors simply focused on the fact that Jesus sat on the animals and rode into town.

These two particular points actually do fit into the illustrations above.  They can simply be tellings from slightly different perspectives without actually being inconsistent in substance.

Now that takes us to the contradictions that don’t fare as well under the filter of Observer B.

First let’s take on the obvious discrepancy:  One animal or two?

The author of Matthew claims that Jesus asked for, received, and rode into Jerusalem on two animals.

“They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.”

While the three other accounts very specifically record the presence of but one animal:

Mark:  “4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.

Luke:  “32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’  34 They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.”

John:  “14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it,”

It’s clear from the text that the authors of Mark, Luke, and John are recording the presence of a single animal, while Matthew records two.

The assertion made by our commenter Mike, as well as on dozens of websites addressing this particular issue (Google Zechariah 9:9, you’ll get a slew of hits on this issue) is that just because Mark, Luke, and John mention one animal doesn’t mean there aren’t more than one.  After all, they don’t say they found only one animal.

But this is textbook hand-waving at its worst.

Here is why.  It would be one thing if the animal were incidental, some aside that was virtually meaningless in the context of the event.  But this is not the case.  This donkey ride is a central messianic proof.  His act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt is intended to accomplish two things.  One, it purports to prove he is the Messiah to readers by the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.  Two, it is supposed to be his public announcement to Jerusalem and all of Israel that he is, indeed, the Messiah his people have awaited.  One would expect the authors to therefore be accurate.

Furthermore, it is not as if the animal is mentioned but once in the above passages, except perhaps for John, and even there it is referred to twice in the singular, and more importantly, it says he sat on “it,” not on them.  The author of Mark refers to the single animal ten times in that short passage.  He gives a very detailed account of the sending, the securing, the delivery, and the mounting of the colt.  With all of that detail would that not indicate that the author was certain, enough for himself anyhow, that there was but one animal involved.

In the same way Luke refers to the single animal thirteen times.  Both authors refer to the animal in the context of Jesus’s directive, its environment, its current security, the disciples interaction, the bystanders’ interaction, and Jesus’s interaction.  There is no mention of a mother animal, or an animal of any kind.  The context makes it clear that among several people and several steps, we are dealing with the securing of a single animal.

Matthew also records multiple references to his two animals, seven references, to be exact, all of them referring to the animals as a pair, and only two of those references giving separate identification to the two animals making up the pair.  What’s worse, the quotes and the accounts of this interaction precisely mirror the accounts of Mark and Luke, except that two animals are referenced rather than one.

Which leads us to the words attributed to Jesus.

Did Jesus tell his disciples to obtain a donkey and a colt, or just a colt that had never been ridden?

Jesus is quoted as giving his disciples single direction.  In Matthew he is quoted as saying:

“Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

Mark and Luke, however, relate nearly identical quotes saying:

“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” (Mark adds – “and will send it back here shortly.”)

Both quotes differ significantly on one particular point – and of course it’s related to the primary discrepancy in the accounts.  In Matthew, whose author records the presence of two animals, Jesus is quoted as sending the disciples after two animals.  In Mark and Luke, who record the presence of but one animal, quote Jesus as sending them after one animal.

In all of these cases, there are multiple references, both by the authors, by Jesus, by the disciples, and by the bystanders.  In each individual account, the number of animals is consistent with the narrative, though not with the other accounts.  If there were truly two animals, would not one of the 25 references in the other three gospel accounts have mentioned it even once?  This was, after all, one of the major turning points in Christ’s earthly ministry.

This leads us to the final contradiction – the actual quote of the Old Testament prophecy this event purports to fulfill.

Mark and Luke don’t quote the passage, so it’s just the authors of Matthew and John and the author(s) of Zechariah we can refer to.  The obvious difference is translated into English as the word “and.”

From Matthew:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” (emphasis mine, of course.)

From John:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Now let’s also add in a couple of Old Testament renditions:

From Zechariah:

“9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
   Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
   righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – NIV

“9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
   righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – ESV

“9Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” – KJV

“9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – NASB

The thing that stands out in these translations is that each of them specifically refer to a single animal, and each of them capture the Hebrew literary device in the verses.  The restatement of the type of animal, with the clarification that it is young, is for emphasis.  Yet the author of Matthew has somehow altered this verse to refer to two separate animals, something nowhere in evidence in the original text, and in no way referenced in the other accounts.

Seeing these facts, what is the more logical conclusion?

A.  That the author of Matthew misunderstood or mistranslated the Old Testament verse and altered the account to match his understanding of the prophecy?

or

B.  That all three of the other authors, directly referencing the animals at 25 times in this very important detail in the life of Christ, declined to mention the second animal at all, that the author of John misquoted the verse, and that the book of Zechariah has been mistranslated by everyone else everywhere?

Here is the difference between a belief system and a rational system of observation and analysis.  A rational system of observation and analysis, with no preconceived conclusion to support, can simply look at the entirety of the content of these passages and come to conclusion A without any problem.  In fact, I would claim that any objective observation of the above content would conclude either A or something very similar every single time.

On the other hand, a person with a vested interest in maintaining a belief system that hinges on the inerrancy of the bible would be forced to draw a conclusion unwarranted by the evidence at hand in order to maintain their belief (which is, remember, an unverifiable assumption) or else be forced out of integrity to reconsider the assumptions upon which they base their religion.

This obvious difference, the verifiable versus the unverifiable, the warranted versus the unwarranted, is the difference between my analysis of the bible documents and that of a Christian believer.  My method allows me to consider any passage in question without the pressure of a necessary conclusion.  No filter is imposed between my mind and the material in question.  Only the content needs to be considered, analyzed, and judged.  The Christian’s method places a filter of inerrancy over the inquiry that materially alters the conclusions drawn out of necessity to maintain the unsupported belief.

The skeptic’s “belief system” (which by definition is not *actually* a belief system) and the Evangelical Christian Believer’s belief system are not essentially the same, no matter how many times Christians try to tell you it is.

Period.

Advertisements

52 thoughts on “All Systems Go

  1. The whole belief question is a red herring used by believers to try to level the playing field, by equating their faith with facts which are observable, replicable and predictable. If science is based on belief, the thinking goes, it’s no different from faith, which is also based on belief. They don’t gain any advantage that I can see from such sophistry, unless it’s a matter of taking science down a peg. It is, however, as you rightly point out, a bogus argument. It’s also one they don’t genuinely accept for themselves, since they happily go about their business every day using computers and transport systems and phones and suchike products of science without ever entertaining the idea that the “belief system” which created them might be faulty. The self-same belief system, as it happens, which when it comes to questions of creation and so on, suddenly turns out to be not only faulty, but utterly wrong in every particular.

  2. As a recovering Evangelical and current skeptic, I tend to agree with this post. My biggest problem right now is that I see some of the same mistakes (that evangelicals make) being made by the scientific community, and it pains me.

    My first example is that of the issues surrounding human population and global warming. At the time that I was in college (late 1960’s), many scientists (such as Paul Ehrlich) were claiming that the Earth could not possibly sustain more than 5 billion people without mass starvation, even in the developed countries. In point of fact, I myself only had one child, my sister had none, and I have friends who also had none based (in part) on these warnings.

    As we all know, the Earth just welcomed its 7 billionth person recently. And as far as global warming, there is just as much proof that it is part of a natural cycle than that it is due to the (unwarranted assumption) of human activity. There has also been evidence-tampering by scientists with a political agenda. Just as millions of people have died from malaria since Rachael Carson published her book “Silent Spring” in 1972 (thus banning DDT and allowing mosquitoes to proliferate in poorer countries), so millions of people are now paying more for the energy or doing without due to needless control and mindless regulation. (Google “Yucca Mountain”).

    Secondly, have you ever sat and watched (or read) as astrophysicists and other scientists have argued vociferously for the existence of extra-terrestrial life simply based — not on any observable facts — but exclusively on numbers? There has never been a scintilla of evidence for life beyond our planet, but because the Universe is so amazingly vast, ipso facto there MUST be other life outside of Earth. It’s only a matter of time before we find it, or it finds us. Unwarranted assumptions. Shame on them.

    So here’s my question: Why do humans do this in the first place?

    • Ay yay. A simple Wikipedia search would tell you that your DDT assertion is utterly false. DDT has never been banned for disease control; it was (and is) banned for agricultural (and other) uses. The pesticide lost much of its effectiveness because of overuse in agriculture and the development of insect resistance, and other pesticides are now more commonly used. Please check your own facts before accusing others of dishonesty.

  3. There’s so much untruth in that last comment it’s hard to know where to start. Yes, Amlthusian thinking was (as far as we know) faulty, but that doesn’t disqualify science. In fact it reinforces it, since scientists were able to change their minds in the face of new evidence — something believers could never do, as their thinking is fixed to the texts they believe in.

    There’s no unwarranted assumption taking place as far as anthropogenic climate change is concerned. All climate scientists agree, and anyone who thinks otherwise is doing so on a basis of faith (Man shall have dominion etc) or he’s simply a flat-earther.

    The so-called evidence tampering has now been comprehensively debunked.

    Scientists do not argue for the existence of ET life, vociferously or not. In the anbsence of evidence, they simply state the statistical case and leave the question open.

    It strikes me that when you have to lie to argue your case, your case must be not very strong at all.

    • “In fact it reinforces it, since scientists were able to change their minds in the face of new evidence — something believers could never do, as their thinking is fixed to the texts they believe in. “

      Actually, believers DO change their minds in the face of new evidence AND in the face of higher moral standards – which makes you wonder how a ‘god’ got it all so very, very wrong to begin with.

  4. Alan,

    I am sorry that my post here upset you to the extent that you felt it necessary to engage in ad hominem attack. However, in the interest of harmony and fair play, I would direct you to the website of globalwarmingheartland.org (click on article entitled “Global Warming Not A Crisis”). And, of course, there are others as well.

    Although you personally may not agree with an article which, though documented at length with multiple cross-references and footnotes, differs from your own opinion, you might at least do me the courtesy of admitting that you might be incorrect in your statement of “fact”. Not “all climate scientists agree”. And that you are taking things “on faith”.

    If you are unable to do that, and recognize opinions other than your own as possibly valid, I would suggest that you are engaging in the very same behavior of those with whom you now disagree.

    • You called me a liar.

      From Wikipedia: “An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.

      More to the point, you can not or will not answer a on-topic direct question. I see no point in speaking to you any further.

      • With all due respect, Sam, I think he was drawing a conclusion based on your dissemination of information that he (and I) find highly suspect and strongly against the preponderance of current scientific thought. He may have been direct about it, but it wasn’t attacking character to detract from argument, it was making a judgment based on content.

        Sorry [shrug]

      • I said there was a great deal of untruth in your statement. A statement is not a person. Deal with the untruths in your statement before you start bandying about logical terminology you don’t understand.

  5. Anthony — from here it looks like you are doing a little bit of “duck and cover”…
    First, you use your own definition of “belief system” to justify your beliefs. Sophistry at its finest – define a word or words and then use that definition to “prove” your point.
    Then you have a long post that doesn’t answer the questions I asked, or comment on my explanations for what you believe (!) to be discrepancies.

    On the word belief (based on your previous statements that you are agnostic):

    from dictionary.com
    ag·nos·tic/agˈnästik/
    Noun:
    A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena

    from thefreedictionary.com
    ag·nos·tic  (g-nstk)
    n.
    1.
    a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

    [note the use of the word “believes” in both definitions]

    What you said was:
    “I personally would define a “belief system” as so:  A personal, interrelated set of unverifiable preconceptions through which one interprets facts observed in reality”
    So it looks like your belief system (ie; what you believe) says it is ok to believe something without saying you believe in it. Very logical.

    I also presented some of what I think are possible explanations for what you see as discrepancies…you have not answered that, so I can ignore it too. Let’s get to what I see as the core issue:

    What I have been saying all along is that one’s interpretation of words and phrases in any written work is subjective, and is filtered through one’s beliefs. You want to sound like you have it all down pat, and your analysis of the verses in question is not affected by your decision to disbelieve God, right? You would like us to understand that your position is solely determined by logical analysis, and your foundational beliefs do not affect your conclusions. As for me, I admit I have a strong belief in the accuracy of the bible and that is the foundation of my comments. Are you willing to drop the pretense of neutrality and admit that your comments come from the core belief that God does not exist? I think it is disingenuous for you to sound as if your disagreement with the bible is the cause, rather than the effect. Your disagreement with the bible is caused by your lack of belief in God…rather than your disbelief in God being a result of disagreement with the bible.

  6. be·lief
       [bih-leef]
    noun
    1.
    something believed; an opinion or conviction: -a belief that the earth is flat.
    2.
    confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: -a statement unworthy of belief.
    3.
    confidence; faith; trust: -a child’s belief in his parents.
    4.
    a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: -the Christian belief.

    belief system
    Part of Speech: n
    Definition: faith based on a series of beliefs but not formalized into a religion; also, a fixed coherent set of beliefs prevalent in a community or society

    Note the focus on the unverifiable, or unsubstantiated. Note also the similarity with the comprehensive definition I offered. Note also that you have not offered an alternative definition you think better defines a belief system. By all means do so, and make sure it clearly contains a definition of belief within for clearest understanding.

    On the other thread I contrast that with knowledge, so I won’t repeat that here… ->>

    Anyhow, you say:

    I also presented some of what I think are possible explanations for what you see as discrepancies…you have not answered that, so I can ignore it too.

    Whaaaaaaat??? Did you *read* the post? I covered your explanations in detail before you even raised them, as they’re part and parcel the same as you can find on any apologetics site – simplified explanations to comfort the convinced rather than convince the skeptical.

    But hey, let’s not just make assertions, eh? Let’s dive in and see if I’ve truly left anything out in the above analysis.

    *well, ok…I guess it says “ONLY a colt” in those gospels that speak of a colt but not the mother donkey. No? You mean it just says “a colt”? By the way, “colt” can also refer to a young donkey, not only to a young horse. So, maybe you mis-understood about how many animals were being described. Or, maybe you interpreted it as just one, or maybe mis-construed the non-mention of the mother donkey as non-existence of a second animal.—-[snip]—- It is entirely possible that some gospel writers felt that the detail of the mother donkey following her young colt would be un-necessary to mention as obvious, since that is what mother animals would do.*

    If you look above and actually read it, my friend, you will see that I addressed each and every point. All one of them, really – that there could have been more than one animal. There could have been baby aliens riding in his backpack and Sasquatch might have carried his cross before Simon of Cyrene snagged it off him. I mean, they didn’t say any such things *weren’t* there, right?

    If you read above, carefully, you will see my analysis of the references, especially in Mark and Luke, to the singular animal. From Jesus’s directive, to the disciples’ search, to their actions, to the bystander’s reaction, to Jesus’s interaction with the animal – everything. There are 25 opportunities for someone involved to mention this other 600 lb. beast coming along for the ride. Nobody does – it is understood in the text that they’re dealing with a single animal. Furthermore, if there are two animals, and Jesus is riding on *both*, it is eminently more likely that the two gospel writers, if they were eyewitnesses, would record what they saw, and would reference primarily the larger of the two animals, since if you’re dealing with a colt and its mother, there’s no physical way for him to comfortably ride on both (as Matthew’s author asserts) primarily upon the smaller of the two animals. I mean, the authors of Luke and Mark don’t even quote the verse from Zechariah, so it’s possible those authors didn’t even see the need to conform to a particular verse.

    Add to that the verse as quoted in John, and by any bible translation you can find, indicates a parallel reference to a single animal, whereas Matthew’s records an *incorrect* translation of the same verse, which just happens to line up with his particular account.

    Your assertion that the mother was *following* the colt doesn’t stand up to the rendering in Matthew anyway – the people placed their cloaks on *them* for Jesus to sit on – after all, the ol’ prophecy, the way Matthew’s author reads it, says the king will be riding on a colt *and* a donkey.

    That’s what I mean when I say the excuses are mere hand-waving. Because something *could* have happened a certain way doesn’t mean that such an explanation is remotely reasonable.

    Again – if you take the text a face value, there is no reason to believe that either of the other three gospel writers meant anything other than the presence of a single animal.

    That said, let’s go to a couple other items in your comment –

    Re: Agnosticism: My agnosticism isn’t a belief that something is unknowable (though I lean in that direction at this point) but rather that it’s currently unknown whether god exists and its nature if one does, no current religion satisfactorily reveals a god consistent with observable reality, and it will remain unknown unless and until a revelation comes that is indisputable and sourced in that god.

    Allow me to reference a couple other sites that do a better job of defining agnosticism for you. (Agnostic = Not Knowing, btw – that’s all.)

    From the wiki on Agnosticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

    In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief.

    Which is my point exactly. You can believe in god, but you cannot know empirically in a verifiable manner. I can know that I don’t know, and I can find no verifiable evidence for god, but I don’t have to believe in any particular thing to hold my view.

    From dictionary.com – ag·nos·tic
       [ag-nos-tik]
    noun
    1.a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. Synonyms: disbeliever, nonbeliever, unbeliever; doubter, skeptic, secularist, empiricist; heathen, heretic, infidel, pagan. 2.a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study. 3.a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic: Socrates was an agnostic on the subject of immortality.
    adjective
    4.of or pertaining to agnostics or agnosticism. 5.asserting the uncertainty of all claims to knowledge. 6.holding neither of two opposing positions: If you take an agnostic view of technology, then it becomes clear that your decisions to implement one solution or another should be driven by need.

    An interesting definition within those is – holding neither of two opposing positions. I’m neither atheist nor a theist.

    My stance is I don’t know and neither do you – I can’t find any evidence of god by use of reason, and your version of god doesn’t fare any better.

    And so you end up again (even though I addressed it on the other page):

    *Are you willing to drop the pretense of neutrality and admit that your comments come from the core belief that God does not exist? I think it is disingenuous for you to sound as if your disagreement with the bible is the cause, rather than the effect.*

    I don’t know why you somehow find it disingenuous that I relate that finding the bible more inconsistent than I was taught, and having textual evidence of being a man-made theological construct rather than the testament of god was a major contributing factor to my abandonment of the faith and my disbelief in the god the bible claims to reveal. Why is that so hard to believe? Hey, there’s that word again. Somehow you’ve got it in your head that one has to first deny god in order to disbelieve the bible – that’s just wrong, Rick 🙂

    Cheers –

  7. This conundrum goes beyond the definition of terms and words. All humans engage in speculation, conjecture, theory, and belief. There is no such thing as a completely objective POV. Human life involves chance and relativity from the moment of birth, and where things are relative (individualistic, unique to each, subjective, emotional, environmental, etc.), there develop ideas and opinions based on that template rather than hard “fact”. Otherwise there would be no such thing as that which we call “personality”.

    We may spend our entire lives in an attempt to gain wisdom about the reality we think we know, only to find that it is ultimately unknowable. I think (believe?) that the best we can hope for, whether we be religious or empirical, is to recognize and honestly admit to our individual biases, our slants, our points of view..

    • Well, we can certainly navel gaze and dive into the twisty philosophical arguments about whether reality actually exists or you’re a fig newton of my imagination blah-blah-blah – but there is a lot to empirically measurable and observable reality. It’s not a matter of personality when you are trying to count animals. It might be a matter of personality when you don’t wish to accept the count, however. That’s nothing to do with verifiable reality and everything to do with emotional attachment to a version of reality that isn’t supported by observable facts.

  8. It’s really very simple. We all believe certain things. I believe the way to examine the universe is through the scientific method. A belief system is something else, as Anthony has demonstrated at great length.

    To put it in context: I don’t believe in God because I see no evidence. Others do believe in the absence of what qualifies as “evidence”. That’s their right. They have a belief system which permits them to do so. I have a belief system which does not.

    Even when you call them by the same name, the fundamental difference is there. If evidence were to be presented to me, I would necessarily change my view. The same is not true for the believers. They believe in spite of the lack of evidence — in point of fact, they’re required to.

    It’s such a simple distinction that it’s impossible to see how anyone of good faith could be confused. I do not believe, therefore my lack of belief is not a sort of belief. Anyone who says it is, is employed upon a muddy-waters exercise, which attempts to elide the difference between “belief” and “not-belief”. Why would one do so? Because the evidence for belief is not there. We both know that, but one side refuses to give way.

  9. “To put it in context: I don’t believe in God because I see no evidence.”

    Not to mention that no one can come up with a definition of ‘god’ which is not self contradictory. “The Invention of Lying” covers this quite well.

  10. Person A observes himself and his reality, and believes that there exists a first cause, a sentient prime mover, a creator — a god.

    Person B observes himself and his reality, and believes that there does not exist a first cause, a sentient prime mover, a creator — a god.

    Both of these persons are engaging in the same mental/emotional processes. That which can be studied in the laboratory, tested, falsified, or verified empirically lies outside of the metaphysical and supra-natural. They are two different dimensions of the human experience.

    Although any given rationalist may simply dismiss any thing or concept outside the purely objective and empirical as “not real”, there remains the question of whether or not both of these individuals are engaging in the same type of reasoning. To brush this issue aside as a “twisty philosophical argument” is to dismiss the main point of your discussion.

    I am an agnostic, and do not have any information that there either is, or is not, a god. However, I do not accept the assertions of scientists and other rationalists that they can “know” that there is no god simply because they say so, because they do not have any tools with which to prove this point, any more than a “person of faith” has the necessary tools to prove that there is a god.

    If, then, an empiricist asserts that there “is not such thing as a god”), then I must question their impartiality and motives, a well as their assumptions, because from where I sit they are engaging in the exact same thinking and provocative behavior as I have seen in many people of faith.

    • More untruths from Sam.

      It’s simply not true that scientists claim to know there is no god. That’s a straw man argument. At the very least it would be an extremely unscientific thing to claim: science is not in the business of proving non-existences. What they will and do say, on the other hand, is that there is no evidence, in the scientific sense of the term, to allow us to say there is a god. That’s the hypothesis. If there were to appear a piece of evidence in favour of the existence of god, the hypothesis would need to be adapted. That’s the scientific method.

      • Hey Alan – careful to label someone’s comments “untruths”, there…I have read articles and opinions by scientists that do indeed claim to know there is no God based on their experimental results. Of course, there are scientists who claim that experimental results prove the existence of God.
        Prove or disprove? It all comes down to belief and faith. If you are really searching for God you will find Him. If you are not searching you won’t find Him.

  11. Alan,

    Your EXACT words to me (above) were : “….when you have to lie to argue your case, it seems to me that your case must not be very strong at all”.

    Is there anyone who would not think that by your statements above that you are calling me a liar? And that everything I state, according to you, is untrue. And that everything you assert is the truth?

    Both you and Anthony back-pedaled to emphasize that you are referring not to ME, but to my assertions. That is a rather odd (and convenient) distinction.

    So I guess it’s safe to say that you would never make the claim that there is no god?

    • I didn’t backpedal. I explained the distinction he was making because I felt you misunderstood it. Please don’t accuse me based on my words any more than you wish to be accused based on yours.

    • You make regular use of untruths in your replies here. Whether you do so out of malice or ignorance is of no interest to me. It’s enough that I’m able to point out the untruth and set the record straight.

  12. p.s.

    >”…..science is not in the business of proving non-existences”.<

    You are the one making the assumption. You have assumed a non-existent god, else you could not make that statement.

    Where or what is your proof?

    • It’s a bit finer point than that. There is no proof of any supernatural being interfacing with the natural universe anywhere. All of nature functions as it does without outside influence. Nowhere has anyone found the fingerprints of any god – “Ah, see, this would not have happened without some force external to nature itself.”

      The only assumption is that one can observe reality to learn truth. That’s a pretty verifiable assumption.

  13. “I have read articles and opinions by scientists that do indeed claim to know there is no God based on their experimental results. Of course, there are scientists who claim that experimental results prove the existence of God.”

    Let’s see some evidence of that. Point me to a scientist who says his experiments prove there is no god.

    • no
      You can either assume I am being truthful, or go look for yourself. I have read them. I am not obligated to show you the way to articles / opinions that support your contentions. My experience is that God is real, knowable, and desires intimate interaction with us. If you choose to build a roadblock to that interaction, it is and will be (long term) your loss. I feel sorry for you that you are alone in your self-centered, self-sufficient world.

      • ok guys…10 minutes with Google, and here you go:

        Title: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
Author: Victor J Stenger
        
Publisher: Prometheus Books
        
ISBN: 1591024811

        Do you need more?
        I found other quotes, articles, and books by Stenger, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins and others; but I don’t have to say any more than the title above (I wish I could have made the main phrase bold: SCIENCE SHOWS THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST).

        Anthony – you said:
        “a pretty outrageous claim, that scientists have actually published articles that they claim prove the non-existence of god.”

        Not really too outrageous if I can find a book that fast…next time give me some credit and maybe even assume I might know whereof I speak, eh? I am willing to listen to you and give your statements credence even when I don’t agree.

      • Rick, to be fair, you made a pretty outrageous claim, that scientists have actually published articles that they claim prove the non-existence of god. Since that goes against the grain of most scientific observation, and would likely be the exception rather than the rule, one isn’t exactly remiss in asking you to produce one, or at least point to one you claim does so.

      • And of course, if you do even a rudimentary search on your main item of interest and look at, say, the wiki on the book, you’ll find a couple of key phrases:

        *God: The Failed Hypothesis is a 2007 New York Times bestseller by scientist Victor J. Stenger who argues that there is no evidence for the existence of a deity and that God’s existence, while not impossible, is improbable.

        Pretty much what most scientists say. It’s not impossible that God exists, but it’s seriously improbable. Moreso, Stenger’s book aims to demonstrate that there is no evidence found in nature that indicates the presence of an external, supernatural entity interfacing with nature.

        David Ludden of Skeptic magazine wrote that “Stenger lays out the evidence from cosmology, particle physics and quantum mechanics showing that the universe appears exactly as it should if there is no creator.”

        Stenger takes Christian and biblical assertions about how God interfaces with our world and compares such assertions with known scientific fact.

        Stenger believes that religion often makes claims that are very much within the abilities of science to investigate. In that vein, he says that science practices methodological naturalism, although it does not rule out the supernatural (i.e. metaphysical naturalism or physicalism), science does restrict itself to testing that which can actually be tested – namely effects in the natural world (be their cause natural or supernatural).

        Every scientist worth their salt knows that what cannot be tested cannot be dismissed with 100% certainty. However, beyond a reasonable doubt is another measure altogether.

        One more quote:

        Stenger believes we have more than enough evidence of absence of the Judeo-Christan God. He adds that many arguments for God that were once compelling are now weak or irrelevant in light of modern scientific understanding. Stenger does not think we should be dogmatic about disbelief in God, but says the evidence is overwhelmingly against the belief.

        Clearly your primary example may have a sensationalist title illustrating the scientist’s personal opinion, but in reality, his stance is much like what Alan said.

      • semantics, bro
        weasely semantics
        the phraseology I used said the same as the book’s title…if the title of the book doesn’t count, then what does?
        If your side says it, stand behind it.

      • Semantics? No, it’s called precision. Words are important, and precise language is important. What you are actually trying to do is obfuscate by focusing on the title rather than the content of the book, thereby claiming that it is saying something other than what it is – because the title in isolation seems to support your point (although see below) while the content very clearly supports mine, as well as Alan’s.

      • actually, the review I read summarized the book to the point that I felt it supported my point, and yes the title did hit it exactly. I did find other quotes and did so very quickly. I say again, there are scientists who claim that they can prove there is no God. I don’t agree with them, but let’s be honest — there are extreme atheists who go nutso with their comments. Sorry I brought it up if it is such a sore point. Perhaps I should stay with comments from my side of the issue, which is that creator God of the bible is real and knowable, and wants to have a relationship with us. Have a Merry Christmas, all.

      • Don’t be an ass….I know what the word means. Did I answer your question about scientists saying that God does not exist or what? They do, they have and they will continue to do so as long as they consider themselves smarter than God.

    • “oh dear”??? That is intelligent debate?
      So your contention is that the title of a book is not part of the author’s writings?

      • Alan Hope — I am very sorry to have called you an ass…please allow me to apologize for aggressive and mean-spirited speech.
        That’s not how I should be communicating.
        Pooskapop

      • On second thought, maybe that’s not my contention. But there is a fine line of semantics here.

        No honest atheist can rule out the possibility of a supernatural entity existing that has yet to make itself known in any empirical fashion. Yet using only science, developing a hypothesis as to what evidence a supernatural omnipotent entity would leave behind in the natural world to mark his existence and interface, one finds nothing. Stenger’s point is that if we’re to consider the existence of God as a scientific hypothesis, much as we do any other *thing* we think may exist, the evidence comes up empty, so that a conclusion drawn from the gathering and observation of evidence would indicate that no god of the sort asserted by the Abrahamic faiths exists.

        In scientific context, it’s reasonable to say that God doesn’t exist based on the evidence at hand. That’s not a certainty, but it’s beyond a reasonable doubt.

        So, yeah, the title is sensationalistic, but even more than that, it makes a very specific point.

  14. “Don’t be an ass….I know what the word means. Did I answer your question about scientists saying that God does not exist or what? They do, they have and they will continue to do so as long as they consider themselves smarter than God.”

    No, you didn’t answer the question. A title is not a source. Nor a citation. Learn to argue before you come back here to talk to me.

    • excuse me…every citation I have ever seen included the title. I guess I am really truly stupid for expecting you to work within the framework of rules accepted by most of the world. First the title doesn’t really count because the publisher made it up and the author had no input. Then a title is not a citation. And of course referencing a book by author, publisher, and ISBN does not provide a source. What are all the words in the book? Obviously not the author’s opinions. Nope, not if it means you have to say I actually did know what I was talking about. You should get your name legally changed from “Alan” to “Arrogant”. Ad hominem attack? You bet.

      • You appear to have lost track of the discussion. I’ll give you time to read over the exchanges again, and when you come back you can explain to me where a scientist has claimed to have proved the non-existence of god. Yes, I know there’s a book with something of that sort in its title, but I’m not asking for book titles, I’m asking for evidence to back up your original statement.

  15. “I say again, there are scientists who claim that they can prove there is no God”

    That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. — Christopher HItchens

    • You would think that. Going on the answers he gave here, you guys could found a mutual obfuscation society, then argue over who gets to be the leader without ever addressing the question.

  16. Pingback: In the Zone | Why I No Longer Believe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s