What leads a person to believe?

Another Letter to Max Doubt

Max, I forgot to warn you – you are not just looking at stuff, you are embarking on an experiment in which you are a part.

You can survey the zones of evidence for faith. One or another zone will grab you and some of it will not. Your neighbour will be different. But please take it all in, if you possibly can, for someone else’s sake. It will help those of us who might believe but just don’t quite. It will help those of us who yearn to introduce others to Christ. It may be a good challenge to atheists and agnostics and the apathetic majority. These letters will not go into all of it in detail. It may stimulate further reading.

BUT FIRST I need to pause first and remember what actually leads a person to believe?

First, persons need to have no large obvious reasons why NOT to consider this as a serious option. Due to anti-Christian propaganda in the public media and opposing cultural values, people don’t give it a second thought. The bird has flown before the seed has hit the ground.

In Islamic countries, for instance, it is repeatedly stated that Christians worship three gods, when in fact we worship only one God. In Western countries, it is often said that Christians believe in a 7 day complete creation, condemn all other views to Hell, and look for spooky spiritual explanations where natural ones will do. That is not our belief. Yet these commonly repeated ideas stop many from even pausing to consider. So we need public dialogue and respectful debate, but that dialogue does not of itself make a person believe. These letters, Max, tries to make a change to that environment, to make a conversation possible.

Second, a person needs friendship, not as a manipulative device, but because we are all human and cannot understand each other outside of relationship.

Thirdly, a person needs their major issues answered personally. The big four are: Why is there no proof, why is there so much suffering, why are Christians so hypocritical, why is discipleship so costly to Jesus and to us? Preaching and books don’t cut it. A Christian must equip themselves for a meaningful personal conversation on any or all of these four issues. I have merely started.

Fourthly, though it may have already occurred in this sequence, the Spirit of God must touch them. A wondrous sense of his beauty in nature, a strong compulsion to find God, a deep echo of mystery basso profundo in a song or painting, the ring of truth in a conversation, a miracle of healing or a dream in the darkness – anything will do – they are all direct nudges from the Holy Spirit. It turns a thought into an experience. Or vice versa, there is no set sequence, and not everyone has go through everything.

These four things may, at best, make a person believeTHAT God exists (the devil believes that too), but still not believeIN Jesus. As I said already, you are not just observing your investigations, you are IN an experiment. The next step makes all the world of difference.

Belief IN Jesus comes when a person chooses to speak a beginning, to decide to love Jesus, to decide to make him the motivation and model of their identity, to act in his way and in his name. God then grafts them into the Holy Spirit, as permanent resident – or to put more individually, sends the Holy Spirit into them, as permanent president. And Jesus says: “none shall pluck them out of my hand” though many of us wriggle a lot. Simply put, as distinct from ‘believe in’, people who ‘believe that’ are easily swayed politically and intellectually, usually a received faith that is held because of tradition and not because of any understanding. These are those who are easily manipulated politically. But the rationalists have the same problem. Modern rationality is essentially focussed on power and philosophically self-centred. But people who ‘believe in’ have had an experience that makes them ‘not at the mercy of an argument’.

NOTE: I am not here to argue Creationism nor Intelligent Design. I am not here to support Deism (the clockmaker) or Pantheism (Everything is God and God is everything). I am here for Theism (or its variant Panentheism). That is, a personal intelligent spirit who lives beyond but in communion with the material world and who can not be fully described or circumscribed.

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Belief and the Burden of Proof

From Max,

Why should I even bother with this expedition? Most people seem to get by OK  without adding God into the equation, and having to work out the ancient ways, connect with a church, pray and discern stuff.

 

Dear Max, investigator extraordinaire,

Yes, it is difficult. Notice your assumption, though, that the burden of proof is upon those who must show that God is there.  First a story.

Two flyers have crashed in the Amazon, and stagger to find their way to safety. One is atheist and one is Christian – they fight, cry, try and work together for several days. When it rains they get to drink, Christian thanks God, but Atheists says: ’it is just rain.’ The Christian prays for help in the noisy jungle nights, but the atheist mocks him :’ There is no designer at work here. We are in a real mess.’ Suddenly on day four they burst from the jungle onto a road, well, more like two wheel ruts, with a water bottle in the dust beside it, would you believe. The atheist shouts: ‘We are saved. We just follow the road’. The Christian answers: ‘No. The road shows me that someone has been here. I have faith that it leads to somewhere. To you this little track is a chance event. It means nothing and leads nowhere. The water bottle means someone knew we were coming. Only I am saved. You are still lost. See ya later.’ It wasn’t the Christian’s finest inter-personal moment.

This paper is about that road.

When bad stuff happens, you find out what you’ve really made of. That’s when doubt is good. Illusions need to be reconstructed. Questions take you somewhere better. I know it can be bitterly disappointing to have to abandon some naïve claims, but it is not long before the benefits overcome the rage.

My own story is that despite a nonchristian background, I have a steady sense of close connection with the Great Spirit. I couldn’t have made it up. The Presence of God (not the idea of God) is my life-frame. I see answers to prayers, some say ‘co-incidences’, that follow from our prayers in Jesus’ name. Small coincidences at just the right time, like the ‘chance meeting’ just last Wednesday, guide me to some large changes of direction.

Christian faith holds together consistently and coherently as a set of external convictions. In practise, good doctrines allow more and more meanings to crystallize as my time goes on. Faith is congruent with how reality actually works. So, I believe that this faith is not just my wishful thoughts for a comforting religion or the prospect of an afterlife, but is deeply in sync with the way everything is wired on this side of life. This is right, not by external control but by inner conviction, or conscience.

I don’t hold this faith in a steady-state, like a rock. It is more like a giant tree, spinning, growing, burnt in the times of trials and then marvellously regrown, towering tall, reaching out, shading my family, and always always challenging me.

In many conversations, the atheists and agnostics throw the burden of proof on to those who assert the existence of God. They claim Christians are the ones who add the God dimension and that it is not necessary. It is a claim to intellectual superiority. They may throw this burden because of cultural blindness, narrow education, false images of what Christians believe, or it may even be simple polemical. That trick needs to be resisted.

It is often followed, as in Dawkins and Hitchens, by a catalogue of nightmares, stories against the Christians, and this may actually be the more genuine issue, not the intellectual rationale. Or something other. For instance, both the agnostic Australian former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the former atheist philosopher Anthony Flew identify an experience where they were confronted as young men with the problem of human suffering. What sort of God would allow this? Mahatma Ghandi said that if he ever met someone who actually followed Jesus he would become a Christian. Yes there are other issues that are not actually about evidences, as I have already stated above.

BUT Max Doubt can investigate four zones of evidence (each with multiple lines of enquiry) for a ‘pregnant’ world. I am asking with respect for an explanation for the human history that is pregnant with the God man Jesus Christ, to explain the existence and consistency of the cosmos, to explain the form of human consciousness, and to explain the shared experience of those who pray and act in Jesus’ name. Patronising dismissals are not respectful of me nor of what is at stake.

In the historical documents, what could have conjured such a public humility, in the variable and diverse witnesses of the God- Man Jesus Christ? How could this have exploded into so many language groups so fast, leaving an audit trail five thousand times better than comparable histories from greater civilisations of the period. What’s your view?

In the cosmos, why is there something rather than nothing ? What caused this particular something? Why is it sustained by merely four forces and ten universal constants which fell out of nothing into constancy within nanoseconds. Why do we humans wonder in our position in the universe ? How many dimensions are there and which ones are NOT filled with God’s presence? What’s your explanation?

In the study of human consciousness, how come we can reflect: “I see I am alive”, “right or wrong”, and “wow” when we see beauty. What’s your explanation?

In common spiritual experience, how is it that we pursue at great cost our Freedom, our Potential or Purpose, and experience guidance along the way? Who fills us with Spirit to serve altruistically and in unique ways, yet in patterns that echo with the most beautiful clichés? What’s your explanation?

Pardon me if my choice of words is not yours. Please, I encourage you always to learn to speak in your own voice, to make many mistakes as I do, and embark on this permanently open enquiry.

I could and do wish that God would show up and tap apathetic unbelievers on the shoulder a bit more often. At a dinner party with agnostics or the apathetic, I would want him to come to my table and turn water into wine. ‘Just do something really convincing, will you?’ But that is childish and desperate. God does not get pushy.

I accept better, these days, that God actually expects you and I to take responsibility for each other globally, to grow the love in our life , to discover the faith we need and to live it to the full – a life of sacrifice, service and joy. There are great risks in this; courage is needed and persistence in the face of a long uphill battle and perpetual frustration. If God were to push us into it, we will not get to where we need to be, if we are going to make the difference that needs to be made.

So thank you for the courtesy of hearing my meagre descriptions. Please also consider all this evidence, and talk with someone more personally about the hard issues as well as about the potential in your life. Open yourself to a conversation with Jesus who says to any who seek, ask or knock that he will respond in a way of his choosing that is most right for you.

If you are lost in the Amazon, we have found the road. We are saved.

ZONING IN ON EVIDENCE FROM SHARED EXPERIENCE

Max,

When you asked for the evidence, you asked for a big picture with  lots of details. I am just doing the big picture at the moment. I appreciate you hanging in on this one. Here is ZONE 4: EVIDENCE FROM THE COMMON EXPERIENCE OF CHRISTIANS

The fourth form of evidence is the Common experience of Christians throughout history and nations. This is of a different order to the personal experience with which I began. Not all Christians experience the same things, our diversity is amazing, some of our disunity is scandalous, but the following grounds of our unity are also amazing. I think this argument is somewhat invisible to those who cannot look closely into Christian experience, but it is still important. In the tradition it is called Testimonium spiritum sanctum.

I find it presents three more kinds of evidence: freedom, Spirit, and cliches.

Firstly, we humans pursue freedom to pursue our purpose. Something drives our shared sense of purpose. This is a number of things.

We are personally guided and spiritually inspired from time to time. Many find it really hard to talk about, even though all religions and spiritualities concur. We can go further into the dynamic of this freedom.

As a church, we are reformed and renewed from time to time. We often come together after a private conversation or a public event and say “wow did I say that. I didn’t even know that I knew that.” In my many cross-cultural experiences in Australia, the Pacific and Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Christians translating across skin and culture all share stories like this. That is why the Bible is read and revered universally – it fits intelligently.

So strong is the working of this free intelligent purpose, in fact, that the phrase ‘organised religion’ is a bit of an oxymoron, rather like ‘military intelligence’. People don’t run the church! Someone else is at the driver’s wheel. The church’s ongoing existence is a sheer miracle – just read the financial accounts, or attend a synod meeting, if you want proof for the existence of God. In the ongoing shared experience of the church, generation after generation, and in culture beyond boundaries, a purpose is working out. What is the explanation? We are inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit into something much bigger than us.

Secondly, we experience being filled by the Holy Spirit, exquisite life in gentle power, like a diamond in solitaire, like our child in its mothers arms. We discover that we are all gifted and called by God to serve in some unique way, perhaps by temperament, by talent and by spiritual gifting. Why are we all able to share the same stories about this ? We can go on to speak of a love for community, grace and goodness. The Spirit empowers us with both his compassion and his person. Pardon me while I wax eloquent on this, it really is that good.

Thirdly, new Christians, how do I say this with respect, come up with clichés. People who are not taught to say these things, come up with statements that I have heard a thousand times. For instance: a mother who had been a Christian a month or so – “Before we did these studies I sort of knew about God, but now it is different, now I know Him, do you get what i am saying, it might be too subtle for you…” . I rejoice to hear the same old same old. It is so beautiful.

It is never exactly the same, mind you, but the pattern of life is the same because the same Spirit is growing them in the same holiness, the same relationship with God. A part of this is the ‘speciality’, shall we say, of Christianity, but a lot of it comes from the simple workings of our shared humanity.

NOTE: I am not just arguing for someone to quote the bible back at me, and I am not relying on the Bible as an authoritative source that can quench any argument, as though the Bible was magical. I am taking a Christian (biblical) interpretation of reality, destiny, morality and identity and history (the Y points) and showing that it holds true in the light of the evidence.

NOTE: I am not claiming that the world is perfectly beautiful and everything is proceeding exactly as planned under the direct hand of the Creator. That sort of view is either childish or immoral. I know the world suffers enormously and people cry out for God to act, and judge God for allowing the consequences of human failings. I also know that God has acted in our suffering and that I am one who is sent by the Master to do his work.

This level of responsibility is what is at stake in this whole set of arguments . Our picture of God and reality provides the diagnosis for ultimate existence and value. Three crude examples illustrate my point. If this material world is all there is, then the resultant lifestyle has limited or no altruism, with the pursuit of lots of nice experiences while you still can. Or, if this world is a trial zone for improving upon your failings in the past life, then the resultant lifestyle shows a lack of support while you learn what lessons you are supposed to get. Or if this world is fallen due to human sin, and God has come to suffer and sacrifice himself, then the resultant lifestyle shows compassion and service for all humankind. This lifestyle is what is at stake in discussing what we believe about reality, morality, destiny and history. It is not our inward experience of spirituality that matters most, but the kind of life that arises from it.

ZONING IN ON EVIDENCE FROM CONSCIOUSNESS

Hi you guys,

You keep wanting me to think intuitively, as though ‘thinking’ is  more than ‘facting’.  Surely the things we think are no more than the  products of neurons and background an genes and memes (I heard that somewhere)  and the food we had for breakfast?

max

 

Hi Max,

This one is going to fry your brain.

ZONE 3: CONSCIOUSNESS – the Non Material World of the Mind

A third zone of evidence is the non-material world. We started on this when we talked about wonder, in the zone of the physical cosmos. This zone has become more significant in recent philosophy , especially since the change of mind of the atheist Anthony Flew. Put too simply, the basic fact here is that we are aware that we are human, and we are not rocks.

I have grouped this into three kinds of evidence: Qualia, Conscience, Beauty,;

Firstly, we can say “I am alive”. This is a remarkable statement. We have a (fifth) life-force that is different from the other four forces. Life is more than material. We know on the one hand that brain chemistry affects our thoughts and moods, we see that in clinical depression for instance. But our brain chemicals do not determine what we think. We also know that we can decide consciously what to think, and our brain chemicals obey this directive. The conscious Mind shapes the chemical matter. Mind is not simply the surface appearance of the underlying, deterministic machinery of chemistry. The Self is not simply the product role of genes. Genes create a limited set of potentials, but it is we – a self, a consciousness, a thinking identity – who make much of our life to happen. This is another force. Where did it come from? A great and personal life force.

Secondly, in human consciousness we are shaped by the importance of right and wrong. Francis Collins , the former head of the Human Genome project and Nobel Prize winner in science, argues this point. He demonstrates that our human consciousness is ethical and not neutral. As persons we wrestle with the right and wrong of decisions, irrespective of what we consider to be the actual right. As communities we pursue social justice and fair relationships. A sense of ‘Rightness’ is endemic. Values matter more than matter. All religions and all persons do this. Where does moral consciousness arise from? Dawkins’ attempt to define a “Selfish Gene” made for good book-sales but that gene simply cannot be found. And if it were, as one gene among a billion others, it would only describe potential selfishness. Usually it is answered that morality adds to our survival-capacity, that is, to cooperate within a hunting pack. It also has ‘survival value’ to care for our young. But ‘care and cooperation’ is well short of the altruism, sacrifice, forgiveness and generosity upon which our human community depends. Human social institutions are shaped around deciding rightly, or doing better. Where does this strong moral sense arise from? We say a Holy God.

Thirdly, why are our heads turned by beauty. There is something self evidently satisfying about making or seeing or hearing a beautiful object. Beauty doesn’t have to be useful, sensible or normal. Again, to comprehend the significance of this zone have to we face the false distinction in some disciplines between facts and values. The values of morality and beauty are facts.Why have all homo sapiens practised the arts of drawing, music, dance, story and so on. Rock art from ancient times is all over the world (most conspicuously at Burrup in Western Australia). The earliest grave unearthed in Australia is at Lake Mungo NSW, about fifty thousand years old. The burial was apparently ceremonial, the body arranged, and decorated with ochre. These earliest humans were enacting some beauty beyond death. Aristotle used to day that the three eternal qualities are beauty, moral goodness and truth. Late modernity has lost the meaning of all three.

This holds a major critique of much talk about evolutionary theory. It is not just survival that makes nature adapt but also sources of satisfaction, like fun and pleasureandbeauty. Who would want to live longer in a grey life? The concentration camps gave up many stories of those who could not survive like that. Why are we humans so inspired by and so needy for beauty? How do you explain that? Because of a Creator being of Glory who has made us in his Image.

In gathering this evidence from the non-material world, please NOTE that I am not asserting a God who is a projection of my needs or an ‘opiate of the masses’ or a ‘crutch if you need one’. You have all heard it said: “If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” It makes a valid point – we humans hurry to make God what we want him/her/them to be. However, what I am asserting here is evidence from the latest in the philosophy of human consciousness. We pursue a faith that is true. Christians agree that any projection of my own needs onto a god-figure is one of the problems in genuine faith. These ten kinds of evidence (so far) are here interpreted as a God who is , who acts and connects with humans made in His image, beautiful, personal, moral, free, alive, reflective, responsible.

NOTE also that I am describing a faith that is NOT a “leap in the dark”, as in the famous misquoted phrase. Christian faith arises from a reasonable conviction based upon multiple data sources and not just the left-brain, four-dimensional ones, that Christianity is true. This dialogue leads to a faith in the daylight that is more like “a launch out to sea in the morning” than a leap in the dark.

ZONING IN ON SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

Blast and darn, and great snakes! I feel like a character in a Tintin movie. I head off on an  expedition to look for evidence, only to find that it is subject to interpretation of events . What about getting some solid proof from the facts? Maybe the scientists have got it right and there is no actual evidence for God at all? Hope this isn’t upsetting you.

max

 

Hi Max,

Not upset, honest. Questions all welcome. I have zoned out the kind of evidence that you are talking about. I can’t say it is going to give you your small frame and your ‘proof from facts’. Such certainty only exists within a frame of assumptions – step outside and it is all floating again. You did say you were doing a Tintin sea-voyage?

ZONE 2: EVIDENCE FROM THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE FOR A COSMIC CREATOR

What is the evidence for God from the physical universe?

I have run this section past four local research scientists but my mistakes are all my work.

As a biochemistry undergraduate, I was in a lecture on an intricate mechanism within the human cell. With each step unveiling I was awestruck at the nano-technology of God’s Creation, AND awestruck that humans could devise ways to understand such sub-cellular pathways. I was worshipping God in the back row. But the lecturer took the opportunity to say at the very end: ”Sorry to any Christians here. I have just explained away your faith.” (not sorry really). I was shocked. How could two responses be so different to the same facts? (And what university would allow a lecturer to proselytise for atheism like this?)

To my mind, the Cosmos presents us with four kinds of evidence: Cause, Precision, Wonder, Dimension.

Firstly, where did we come from? We know that things that are have had a cause. Why is there something instead of nothing? There is much more chance of nothing happening than something. What was the ‘nothing’ that caused the Big Bang? Was there a place or a time when there is no cause?

What happens to science if we say that there are no causes sometimes? Or is it all a fluke, a mammoth shake of the dice of chance? You have heard this said: “If there are a billion billion planets and a billion possible universes then we had to come into existence sometime”. Notice that no actual calculations are being done here. It is like the story that says a billion monkeys typing randomly on typewriters will produce Encyclopaedia Britannica. Let us not play with infinity again. I just don’t believe that there is a Britannica on a planet out there in the universe somewhere that has been thus generated. What we do know is that we are the billion monkeys that generated it, and it was not random, it was conscious and intelligent. This argument says more for a personal creator than the opposite. Playing random games with infinite numbers is not mathematical, it is a game of sleight of hand.

There is a time-free First Cause, that Christians call an eternal non-physical God.

Second, Why does it all work? How it works is interesting enough to some. They tell us there are only four forces that hold everything, yes all the galaxies and all their matter and energy, in balance.

Gravity the weakest force works with mass over very long range, holds all the universes in motion, makes apples fall, and causes all my motorcycle accidents.

The strong and weak atomic forces are both short range, holding neutrons and protons in place in the nucleus despite magnetic repulsion(strong force), and lots of particles and particle change are made through the weak force.

The fourth is electromagnetic force, which is light, magnetism and interaction between charged particles. That’s big and small, long range and small range, both in wave form and particle form.

The genius of the equation E=mc2 is that it points to all of these forces. We know it works because we can blow things up with it. It indicates the radical leap of imagination that mass and energy are interchangeable. The logical boundaries between material and non-material are porous.

What is more, these four forces are held in place by only ten universal constants.

If any one of them were slightly stronger or slightly weaker than their constant value, the universe would have done something entirely different and we would not be here. Something else would be, but the point I am making would still be valid.

These forces and constants underline all the Laws of Physics and Quantum mechanics. Out of these laws come the chemistry that builds your DNA, responds to random mutations, structures biochemistry and medicine and so on. So simple, the wonder of it all is that these Laws were in place within nano-seconds of the beginning of Big Bang. They did not evolve.

The complexity of this is also interesting. It is still hard to imagine how some complex proteins could have had any advantage when only quarter or half-way to complete, since even minor mutations to them cause major problems, like sickle cell anaemia. It is hard to imagine how biological life could have begun from chemicals alone and, as if one living cell wasn’t hard enough, the process then became predominantly sexual reproduction, and had to find two organisms the same. Too hard – unguided, the chemistry alone would take too long.

But people used to say this about the human eye – ‘too complex, no advantage in half an eye, etc’ – but a scientific survey by Dawkins has settled the logic on that one. However, he was not convincing on the time that random mutations only would have needed. Maybe science will answer this, maybe not. For that reason, biological and biochemical complexity by itself is not an argument, in my view, though it is wondrous. I want to focus behind the complexity to the great simplicity of the Laws, the Symmetries.

I am trying to make two points. My softer point is this: we believe that these constants are set by design to bring us into being. It is called ‘the anthropic principle’, and some scholars say that the ‘fine tuning’ for humanity is so great that ‘the universe knew we were coming’.

Here is the harder point. In fact, the Laws and constants are not just there, the universe falls back to them after an instability occurs (this property is called ‘Symmetry’). The Laws did not evolve – they are the foundations and the sustaining forces for all physical reality. Doesn’t that make you wonder? An ordered instant dynamic predictable universe? Paul Davies and other scientists have concluded that the evidence warrants a great Mind. Christians call him the Word, the Creator.

NOTE: Christians can no longer employ the Argument from Design as we naively did, that is: ‘Look at the design of that fish. It is perfectly suited for the water, so it must have been directly designed by God.’ Science says that its shape evolved to suit the conditions it was evolving in. But that still does not remove the Designer. It just moves the argument to the next logical shelf. The ‘process of evolution’ is now the design, and not the designer. The Laws and constants are its tools. The time involved may be his workbench.

The third layer of physical evidence for God is : why do we wonder about these things? My dog doesn’t. Clara just wants to be patted, play soccer, patted again, fed and (did I say patted?) and walked. And again tomorrow. BUT even if she did, I, human, wonder – why is it so. I wonder where is it going and whence has it come, and so on. My point in this zone (I will return to the consciousness aspect later) is that it appears that this planet is ideally positioned for such a human creature. If our solar system were situated in the centre of our galaxy’s spinning arm in the Milky Way, we would have no darkness. There would be so many stars, 2000 times as bright as the moon, in our near vicinity that the night sky would be bright objects set in milk. But we are a planet drifting out into open galactic space, able to see past the immediate stars towards the very ends of the universe. And so we gaze, we earthling humans, positioned to wonder why we are here and where did we come from.

Christians say we were made for this, in fact the whole Universe sings his praise.

Fourthly, where is God – a matter of perspective? God is not only non-material and non-time, outside our usual four dimensions in other words, he walks in some other dimension (s) from which we are materially excluded. This is recalled in the story of the young couple who were excluded from walking in God’s garden (Genesis). It may be a fifth dimension or even a sixth or an eleventh. The way between dimensions is to some degree porous. It requires a different way of looking at our material existence. Am I speaking theologically or scientifically now? Both! I am certainly not the first to make this observation (there is hardly an original thought in this entire talk).

That new perspective is pressed upon us by the science of the subatomic particles, quantum mechanics. This perspective is so important, for instance, international consortia have spent billions of Euros on a subterranean atomic collider in Europe in order to investigate this very perspective and properties. For another instance, the fact that we cannot see Gravity but can measure it by other means is analogous to the way that we cannot see God but can know Him by other means. If you want to find God, use the right instruments, obviously not the four-dimensional ones.

So that’s what we believe – what’s your explanation for Something in existence, for the constancy of laws, and why do we wonder why? We say a personal non-material Creator.

NOTE: I am not trying to find a God who fills in the Gaps of our knowledge. We don’t want to hook up our whole understanding of faith to the ‘truths of science’ as it stands at the moment – terrible things have been done through that heresy. The grounds of science change all the time. If they find a Little Whimper that preceded the Big Bang, so what for our Faith?

NOTE also that I am not arguing for the kind of extreme truth that condemns all others to hell. I am asserting a permanently open enquiry into what we know which also leaves room for what we do not yet know and what we can never know. The Bible repeatedly says: ‘the mystery is revealed, so obey what you do know.’

Zoning in on Historical Evidence

Hi you guys,

I downloaded a programme that looked interesting, about a ‘gnostic’ text that said that Jesus married Mary and that the gospels in the bible were  all corrupted by the church. Is it possible that ‘Da Vinci Code ‘ , fiction though it is, could be right after all? MY grandpa said that they couldn’t even read and write in those days so it is all just made up stories and a game of  chinese-whispers,  getting worse with every generation. Is this what it is based on?

Max

 

Hi Max,

Sorry about the propaganmda war against the early bible etxcts, Max, it is confusing. There is a lot at stake here, since Christians maintain that their religion is a more or less a matter of  history, so emphasis is on living it on the planet in the  here and now. Take that away and all you have is ideas.

Anyway I have amazing good news for you, and gathered in a zone of evidence that will stretch your mind for its sheer breathtaking scope. The bible texts are better known and more reliable now than they were within a generation of being written. Scholarly study  over centuries has worked out , starting from a very multi-lingual and literary culture I should point out (where did your grandpa get that one?) , how the copiers made their mistakes. By working backwards, we can now work out the original with remarkable precision.  But I digress.

ZONE 1 PREGNANT WITH HIS-STORY

When I was a teenager, a Christian woman showed me a National Geographic magazine with photos of the places where Jesus had walked. It included a write-up of some biblical archaeology. I can still picture the impact it had. I realized that Jesus actually happened. Christianity was not just a religious thought-world, like the gods of Olympus. The story is real in human history. The fact is that Jesus happened. And just as it is not possible to be half pregnant ( you either are or you aren’t) the world is now pregnant with his identity.

What are the historical evidences? Some people find just that question to be difficult. Others are just not interested, which is fair enough.

My challenge from history is- if you don’t believe the meaning that I attach to the events, what is your explanation for them? There are always other reasonably valid interpretations of history. But it has to be adequate and not just a cynical or anti-intellectual throw-away line.

In the history zone I look for three kinds of general evidence:

1. Humble Authors and Varied Viewpoints. The persons who wrote the twenty three New Testament books, and maybe a dozen associated texts, are reliable witnesses, and there are a lot of them. Any personal bias in one writer can be compared with others. The gospels are so basic that they are conspicuously NOT emotionally manipulative, but provide raw stories for a measured reading. The writers are not self-promoters, and do not paint themselves up to be super heroes but are brutally honest with their mistakes . This was extremely unusual in their time.

2. The Audit Trail. Their texts have come to us in hundreds of forms and many languages. They were hand copied and of course mistakes entered the textual tradition. However, again, cross reference is possible. It is NOT like ‘Chinese whispers’. Today, our critical version of the gospels is closer to the original text than at any period in history since the ink was wet. Awesome thought. By comparison with other similar texts, like the existence of Julius Caesar, it is literally five thousand times more attested. The paper trail is simply enormous.

3. Neutral Sources. It is still being repeated that there are no historical sources of that time that support the New Testament. It is quite simply not true. No historian says this. The general evidence from non-Christian writers of the time (Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny, Tacitus), and the archaeology of the Bible, supports the general conditions and some of the particulars of the New Testament story. To be more accurate, not all of these authors are strictly neutral, some are even hostile, and all of them have their own interests to protect too. However, bearing those debates in mind, the picture they paint of their times is consistent with that of the Old and New Testaments. It is one of the reasons I encourage you to study, and to visit the Holy Land yourself.

The history says that this famous ‘wonder-worker’ was executed for sedition by the Roman governor. Jesus is a fact that continues to this day. What’s your explanation for these events? It is not enough to just sit sceptical or even cynical – what is your alternative explanation for the three kinds of evidence I have assembled so far?

Note that I am not simply arguing for how big Christianity is, or how much cultural influence it has had. I am not asking for any more privilege to be given to this information than any other form of knowledge. I am not asserting that the church is always right about anything it talks about. Jesus is public property, so this is an open dialogue on available evidence.

The Earliest Mention of Israel?

Biblical Archaeology Society Staff • 01/17/2012

Does this fragmentary hieroglyphic inscription contain the first mention of Israel? According to a recently published article by Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, the name-ring on the right may indeed read “Israel,” and they date it almost 200 years earlier than the reference to Israel on the Merneptah Stele.

The Merneptah Stele has long been touted as the earliest extrabiblical reference to Israel. The ancient Egyptian inscription dates to about 1205 B.C.E. and recounts the military conquests of the pharaoh Merneptah. Near the bottom of the hieroglyphic inscription, a people called “Israel” is said to have been wiped out by the conquering pharaoh. This has been used by some experts as evidence of the ethnogenesis of Israel around that time.[Ed. That date concurs with the face-value sequence of biblical events around Joshua and Judges.]

But a new publication by Egyptologists and Biblical scholars Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis suggests that there may be an even earlier reference to Israel in the Egyptian record. Manfred Görg discovered a broken statue pedestal containing hieroglyphic name-rings in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and, after studying it with colleagues Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, they suggest that one of the name-rings should be read as “Israel.” Not all scholars agree with their reading because of slight differences in spelling, but Görg, van der Veen and Theis offer strong arguments, including supportive parallels in the Merneptah Stele itself. This newly rediscovered inscription is dated to around 1400 B.C.E.—about 200 years earlier than the Merneptah Stele. If Görg, van der Veen and Theis are right, their discovery will shed important light on the beginnings of ancient Israel. [Ed: There is no information here about where that nation or tribe was located, whether among or near the Egyptians or much further away.]

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/ancient-israel/does-the-merneptah-stele-contain-the-first-mention-of-israel/?mqsc=E3033357