Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Just because the evidence no longer exists doesn't mean the events didn't happen"


I received an email from RS, agreeing that the things of faith cannot be proven, but suggesting that they just might be true anyway:
I've read your site to the point where I started to get a headache. You are one of those people who I find amazing. You have the ability to go deep on an issue and ask some really pertinent questions. I have seen others who have done the same on other topics; for example the Muslim woman with whom you briefly debated. She came across as so steeped in her worldview that she appeared blind to another way of looking at things. I've seen Atheists do the same. So what's my point? You may have come to erroneous conclusions based on your interpretation of the evidence that you found or failed to find. Or, maybe you're right. I agree with you that the Bible is an unreliable document generally. But, I suspect there are nuggets of truth, revelation, inspiration, and wisdom salted among the myths and legends. The problem is in sorting the wheat from the chaff, if you'll pardon my mixed metaphors. At one time I was tempted to conclude that Jesus didn't exist, or if he did he didn't resurrect from the dead based on the lack of empirical evidence. However, I've pulled back on that because I see that as a faulty conclusion. There wasn't enough evidence to convict OJ. But, that doesn't mean OJ didn't do it. Unfortunately not every scrap of everything written 2 thousand years ago is still around. So we are not in a position to examine and weigh every bit of evidence that could have been available. So, just because the evidence no longer exists doesn't mean the person or the events didn't happen.

I think trying to come to conclusions about God and the world in general from a strictly logical, intellectual approach is inadequate. I'm not sure all of what's available to know or experience can be determined that way. I've tried your approach and found it unsatisfying. I think its foolish to dismiss what those claiming to have spiritual insight and wisdom have to offer. Perhaps God is the very energy inside every cell in your body. Just because you don't understand how God relates to the universe doesn't mean God doesn't relate to the universe. And you may be approaching the arrogance so often seen in Christians, Muslims, and Atheists who seem to think they have it all figured out.

An old friend of mine said, "Opinions are like a**-holes: we've all got one." It seems to work for me as long as I keep perspective and realize that our conclusions are just opinions. I don't think any of us have any idea of what's really going on in this universe we occupy.

Having said that I appreciate your web site. People need to be challenged and disturbed a little. One of the most toxic combinations is ignorance and arrogance. There's too much of that in this world, especially the world of religion. You've done a lot to chip some of that away.

Thanks,


RS,


I'm glad you found my site to be challenging.

You are right that we do not have every bit of evidence from ancient times, and we cannot say with absolute certainty what happened. That is understood by all historians. We have only bits of writing and other artifacts to go by. Could the writer of those texts have been mistaken, or lying, or simply writing fiction? We don't know with absolute certainty. But there are methods of historical investigation that let us know with a high degree of certainty, even if we don't know with absolute certainty. Basically we look for agreement of different texts from independent sources. If the writers of several independent nations all record the same event, then we think it probably happened. But nobody knows for sure.

When dealing with the gospel accounts, we run into the problem that the stories are not verified outside a small group of people, who may well have been intending the accounts to be interpreted as fiction. Now if these events had actually happened; if many people had risen from the dead and walked around Jerusalem as Matthew records; if many had been healed of diseases; if thousands of Christians were proclaiming that a man was recently resurrected from the dead; and if a star had indeed let wise men to a particular spot, we would expect many historians to record that such events happened. For there were other historians who wrote in these times, and they seem to be unaware that the gospel story happened.

Now of course I cannot say with absolute certainly that these events did not happen, and I think I make that clear at my site. If I said anything that hints that I know these things with absolute certainty, then please show me what I wrote that hints at that. For I never intended to imply that I know these things with absolute certainty.

Do you use the same argument for other claims of ancient history? Do you believe that Asclepius was capable of doing many miracles? Do you believe that there was a statue of an athlete at Olympia with healing power? Will you go to that statue the next time you are sick? (See Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire) If you instead dismiss those claims of other religions, what makes your religion different? Why should one doubt the claims of many of the supposed healers of ancient Rome, except for one?

You say, I "may be approaching the arrogance so often seen in Christians, Muslims, and Atheists who seem to think they have it all figured out." On what do you base your accusation? If I have said anything that approaches arrogance, than please tell me exactly which words I have said that you think approach arrogance. My words have been on public record here on the Internet for years. If you think some of those words approach arrogance, please let me know which words you object to.

You say that there are nuggets of truth in the Bible, and we need to sort that out from the chaff. Yes, I agree. I know of nobody who claims that every sentence in the Bible is false. All admit that there is some truth there, as there is in almost any book.

You say, "I think trying to come to conclusions about God and the world in general from a strictly logical, intellectual approach is inadequate." But what is your alternate? You don't offer a method of finding out about God and the world, but you suggest that we can get this insight by listening to certain people. You write, "it's foolish to dismiss what those claiming to have spiritual insight and wisdom have to offer." Well, I agree with listening to what they have to say. But if they claim to have knowledge of God, how do they know they are right? Is there any reason to believe them? And what am I to do with the thousands of claims of insight? Surely you must know that there are many religions, cults, denominations, and sects. Surely you must know that these people have radically different views of God. Can all of them be right? No? Well, if some are wrong, how do you pick out the views that are right? Unless you can suggest a method of doing that, one is left with a system based on luck, in which one simply chooses to believe somebodies claims, and hopes he was lucky enough to pick the right guru.

You say, "Just because you don't understand how God relates to the universe doesn't mean God doesn't relate to the universe." Yes, of course, that is true. The fact that I do not understand something does not mean that it doesn't happen. I thought I made that clear at my site

You say, "I don't think any of us have any idea of what's really going on in this universe we occupy." I find that to be a rather strange claim. Surely you must realize that scientists know a great deal about the universe. Yes, we may not know things with absolute certainty, but we do have a good idea of how things work. So how can you suggest we have no idea what is going on?

So let me reiterate that I don't know the answers to religion with absolute certainty. I do, however, think that I have studied the issues sufficiently to reach strong but tentative conclusions for myself. I invite you to read my writings, for they might be helpful, but you are all welcome to decide for yourselves what is right on these issues.

2 comments:

rob said...

hi Merle,
Thanks for the clarification. I admit I began skimming your blog because of the aforementioned headache so I may have missed or misinterpreted what you wrote. I think you're saying that to adopt any specific religious or philosophical position exposes one to potentially getting on the wrong bus. I agree. I'm coming to a personal conclusion about the meaning of life based on insights I gain from various sources, but I'm careful not to adopt any particular brand. (I admit though that I haven't been able to find either wisdom or inspiration from the Quran. Have you?)

Anonymous said...

Have you ever scientifically investigated and reached any conclusions on how various DNA codes morphed, evolved, came to be [etc] when a single-celled organism had a certain DNA "program" (which presumably did not include a code for hair, eyes, or various organs for that mater - did it?) and now humans have differentiated cells highly specialized organs, cells, hormones etc, etc. When I first started "questioning," I never really had a problem with evolution as I can see an ear slowly over time growing and evolving into something different with gradual changes over time. My problem with understanding evolution is at the microscopic level. In essence, how did the original DNA of a single-celled organism become all of the sudden radically different in order to form the DNA that makes up an eye, or hair, or an intenstine, or a heart. Each DNA code is, from my understanding, vastly different for each of these "types" of specialized cells. Thus, where Darwinian evolution can explain that with gradual small changes over time, one type of physical animal can change into another, I am not really understanding how this explains the changes that had to take place at the genetic level. Have you looked into this, and do you have any insight? Any insight is greatly appreciated. Thanks.