The "Genesis of the Gods" debate consisted of thirteen items.
1 Genesis of the Gods K Straughen No. 73 2 Comment on Straughen's "Genesis of Gods" Anonymous No. 74 3 Origin of Deities Response to Genesis of the Gods L Eddie No. 75 4 Addendum: Genesis of the Gods K Straughen No. 76 5 Discourse on the Nature of God K Straughen No. 76 6 "Genesis of Gods" Response to Anon J H Williams No. 76 7 Dubious Overstatements Not Needed M Newbrook No. 77 8 To Mark NewBrook J H Williams No. 79 9 Newbrook to Williams M Newbrook No. 80 10 Straughen's "Nature of God" Anonymous No. 77 11 Response to Williams #76 Anonymous No. 77 12 The Nature of God - A Final Reply K Straughen No. 78 13 Genesis of the Gods: Reply to Straughen #78 Anonymous No. 79
Genesis of the Gods
(Investigator 73, 2000 July)
"Man created the gods in his own image" (Anon.)
The above quote will probably sound blasphemous to most people who take their religion seriously. However, just because a concept is offensive to some does not mean that it is false or that it should not be discussed.
In my opinion there can only be two possible sources of origin for the idea of God:
(1) Natural - the idea is a product of the human mind that developed from prehistoric humans attempts to make sense of the mystery of existence.
(2) Supernatural - the idea of God exists due to the fact that there really are gods who can make their existence known to humans. In this article I will attempt to determine which source of origin is most likely to be true.
Early Ideas and their Origin
The first glimmering that we have of some form of belief in a supernatural entity, in this case the soul, is suggested by the way the Neanderthals interred their dead. Generally speaking, the deceased were buried with food, flint weapons and red ochre, which may have symbolised blood – a life giving agency. The burials of the Cro-Magnons, the first fully modern humans who appear in the archaeological record of the Upper Palaeolithic Age (C. 35,000-10,000 BC) were basically the same as those of the Neanderthals, and given the available facts, it is possible to draw the following conclusion:"These interments, some of them elaborate enough to deserve their description as ceremonial burials, certainly indicate some form of a belief in a continued existence after death. Food, implements and red ochre are all proof of it. It suggests that already these people had an idea of physical continuity, with the dead ancestors still in being among their living descendants."The idea of the soul appears to have originated very early in prehistory, and in this concept we can see the embryonic form of spirits and gods who are more powerful, albeit non-physical versions of humanity.
(J Hawkes: History of Mankind, Cultural and Scientific Development, Vol.1, part 1: Prehistory, page 290.)
Belief in the existence of spirits is suggested by hybrid figures of men and animals found in Cro-Magnon cave art, and as an example I cite the 'Sorcerer' of Les Trois Freres, which is a melange composed of a human body with the tail of a fox, the head of an owl, and the ears and antlers of a stag.
This painting, and other figures of a similar nature, have been interpreted as either shamans (mediators between the spirit world and humans) dressed in costumes of animal skins, or nature spirits of some kind:"It seems far more likely, in my view, that these figures really represented spirits, beings credited by the ice-age hunters with the possession of all magic powers, or even the prime sorcerer, from whom all knowledge and skill in sorcery derived."How could these ideas have arisen? The English anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) formulated his animistic hypothesis which, in my opinion, can account for the origin of these beliefs. However, before I outline Tylor's hypothesis, it will be helpful to note that animism is defined as:
(J. Maringer: The Gods of Prehistoric Man, page 106.)"The belief that all living beings and natural phenomena that appear to move or have life (sun, moon, rivers, etc.) have individual spirits (animae), some or all of which are appropriate objects of worship."According to Tylor, one of the first problems with metaphysical implications that may have been addressed by prehistoric humans was the mystery of life and death, and the nature of dreams. When discussing this subject we must keep in mind that the dawn of humanity was a pre-scientific age, and that people were forced to rely on intuition when constructing theories about human nature and the world in which they lived. These speculations may have taken the following form:
(M. J. Swartz & D. K. Jordan: Anthropology, Perspective on Humanity, page 664.)
The dead cease to breathe, their bodies grow cold and decay. And yet they appear to us in dreams and visions, not as corpses but as living beings. Perhaps there is some vital element within the body that keeps it alive, and is the essence of consciousness and personality. Now many other things in the world appear to be alive.
Perhaps they too possess this "life essence," that allows them to live and move and have their being.
The idea of the soul, once established and extended to other aspects of nature, paved the way for the emergence of nature spirits possessing human-like personalities. As human society underwent the transition from hunter gatherers to the settled farming communities of the Neolithic period, and then to the Bronze Age; we begin to see the emergence of the gods from these nature spirits, and the gods in turn come to mirror the increasing complexity of human society:"Nature worship may also stem from animistic beliefs. Trees, rivers, animals, and plants may all be seen as having souls and may be worshipped. From this pattern arose the polytheistic pantheons of civilised and near-civilised peoples in which different gods were believed to control different aspects of nature: rain, thunder, earth, sea, sun, and moon.
Tylor saw monotheism as being a late development in the evolution of religion, which could arise in various ways. One god might be elevated to dominance over the others. In a society having a king and aristocracy, it might be assumed that the supernatural realm had the same political organisation as the known earthly world. A supreme deity, supported by an aristocracy of lesser gods, might then be assumed to rule the universe." (V. Barnouw: Anthropology, page 318.)
In the introduction to this article, I outlined two possible sources of origin for the idea of God. The question is, which explanation is more likely to be true?
If we opt for the supernatural explanation then we are, in my opinion, regressing to the ancient and discredited idea that supernatural agencies are responsible for various aspects of human culture. For example, according to the ancient Egyptians the god Thoth was the inventor of all the arts and sciences: arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, soothsaying, surveying etc. In a similar manner the Incas considered their god, Imaymana Viracocha, to have taught the human race the use of edible plants and their medicinal virtues; while the Maya thought that their god, Tohil, was responsible for the introduction of fire.
We now know that all these achievements owe their origin to human ingenuity, and that no recourse need be made to spirits or gods in order to explain the origins of the arts and sciences. If these aspects of human culture arose from the human mind then, in my opinion, supernatural beliefs, which are also an aspect of human culture, are probably amenable to natural explanations as well.
If we accept the idea that belief in the gods is due to the fact that the objects of belief actually exist, then we encounter a number of problems that I shall now outline. If the supernatural explanation is true, then it seems there would need to be a multitude of divinities. In fact the number would need to equal the number of gods and goddesses that were believed to actually exist. The ancient Egyptians worshipped no fewer than 740 divinities, and then there are the gods of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans etc.
Now all of these supernatural beings are as dead as the people who worshipped them (with the same sincerity as modern believers), and in my opinion this is a clear indication that these gods and goddesses were nothing more than products of the human mind, and given that this is so, can we be certain that our contemporary divinities are not merely phantasms as well?
If a supernatural being desires to be worshipped, as the priests of the world's religions would have us believe, then these beings (if they exist) would ensure that they were not relegated to the dustbin of history, nor would they allow new gods to take their place. As for these new deities, the fact that they are new indicates they too are products of the human mind, rather than eternal and timeless beings. If these new gods were in any way real, then they would have been worshipped by all people from the dawn of humanity. However, Allah and Jesus were unknown in the Palaeolithic, a time when magic and animism appear to have been the dominant beliefs.
Another problem with supernatural beings is their unconvincing nature. They are simply too anthropomorphic to be anything other than constructions of the human mind. These entities are portrayed with the same emotions and passions, the same virtues and vices as human beings, and yet they are clearly not human.
Human nature, and by this I mean the sum of our mental life – emotions, consciousness, intelligence etc. – depends upon physical processes occurring in our brains. Supernatural beings on the other hand are not physical, they are not composed of matter, and therefore could have no emotions, consciousness, or intelligence that resembles ours in any shape or form because they would have no internal processes resembling those of human physiology.
In order for something to posses a human-like mind, it would need to be made of the same substance that we are made of, and this substance would need to be arranged in the same way. Because supernatural beings do not meet these criteria, they could not possess any human attributes.
The idea of God appears to have developed out of prehistoric people's attempt to make sense of the world and the human condition. Supernatural beings were given the same passions and concerns as humans because of the assumption that nature was operated by conscious forces, and the only minds men had to model these forces on were their own. As societies became more complex, so too, did their ideas of the supernatural realm – supernatural beings were arranged in a hierarchy that reflected the society who worshipped them – a heavenly bureaucracy with departmental gods ruled by a chief god. Monotheism emerged when one god, usually a tribal one, was elevated above all others. These beliefs have persisted because they were found to be useful – kings and priests made use of religion to consolidate and justify their positions of power, and the masses obtained comfort from the idea that powerful beings controlled the universe, beings who could grant favours if appeased in the appropriate manner, thereby averting disaster in this world, and securing certainty in the next.
Barnouw, V. Anthropology, The Dorsey Press, Illinois, 1979.
Beals, R. L. & Hoijer, H. An Introduction to Anthropology (4th Edition), The Macmillan Company, New York, 1973.
Hawkes, J. History of Mankind, Cultural and Scientific Development Vol. 1, part 1: Prehistory, The New American Library, New York, 1965.
Maringer, J. The Gods of Prehistoric Man, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1960.
Senior, M. The Illustrated Who's Who in Mythology, Orbis Publishing Ltd., London, 1985
Swartz, M. J. & Jordan, D. K. Anthropology, Perspective on Humanity, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1976.
New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., London, 1989.
COMMENT ON STRAUGHEN'S
"GENESIS OF GODS"
(Investigator 74, 2000 September)
HUNDREDS OF DEAD GODS
Kirk straughen (Investigator 73) argued for the idea that: "Man created gods in his own image." (p. 16)
He pointed out that:"The ancient Egyptians worshipped no fewer than 740 divinities, and then there are the gods of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, etc. Now all of these supernatural beings are as dead as the people who worshipped them…" (p. 19)
"…these beings (if they exist) would ensure they were not relegated to the dustbin of history." (p. 20)
Mr Straughen here shows some agreement with the Bible.
The Bible teaches what Straughen has agreed with – that idolatry is worthless:The idols of the nations are silver and gold,The Bible predicted what Straughen now observes – the demise of the gods of those times:
the work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not,
they have eyes, but they see not,
they have ears, but they hear not,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
(Psalm 135:15-17)The LORD will be terrible against them; yea, he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations. (Zephaniah 2:11)The words "famish all the gods" is generally taken to refer to the loss of their worshippers.
The God behind the writing of the Scriptures would, in contrast, be known in every generation, eventually worldwide – which is also confirmed by observation and history:The counsel of the LORD stands forever,With parts of the Bible available in over 2,000 languages and spoken portions of it on cassettes and videotape in 2,000 more languages we see the above prophecies in fulfilment.
The thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Thy name, O LORD, endures for ever,
thy renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.
And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people…
Clearly the God taught in the Bible is not "dead" but has been and is being proclaimed on a scale like no other message in the whole history of the world – as predicted.
THE BIBLICAL GOD NOT "ANTHROPOMORPHIC"
Straughen says: "They [supernatural beings] are simply too anthropomorphic to be anything other than constructions of the human mind. These entities are portrayed with the same emotions and passions, the same virtues and vices as human beings, and yet they are clearly not human." (p. 20)
This comment – while generally true – is not true of the God portrayed in the Bible. Firstly, God as portrayed in the Bible cannot be compared in shape to any living creature familiar to humans:…beware less you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. (Deuteronomy 4:15-20)Secondly, the Bible God is other-worldly also in moral qualities. A good description is in Psalm 145 part of which says:
So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.When other gods, or alleged gods, demanded prostitution as part of worship, or condoned sexual immorality, the Scriptures taught:
The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made…
The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. (Psalm 145:8-9, 17)Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.We see the benefit of such doctrine and counsel when considering that syphilis killed hundreds of millions of people between the 16th and 20th centuries. Twentieth- century deaths from all problems transmitted by sexual immorality may approximate 200 to 300 million–despite antibiotics and precautions called "safe". AIDS alone now kills 3 million per year!
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)
Ancient empires sought power and self-preservation in cruelty, murder, and torture and by despising qualities such as compassion, kindness and forgiveness. In the twentieth century, similarly, we had:"the Nazi doctrine that decreed humaneness to be a base and contemptible sentiment…"
(Goldhagen, D J 1997 Hitler's Willing Executioners, Abacus, Great Britain p. 438).
The Scriptures in contrast taught:Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.The New Testament has many chapters of similar counsel. For example check Ephesians 4-5; Romans 13-15; 1 Peter 2-4. We see then that God, as presented in the Bible, is not a reflection of human societies but He demands change in humans so that they copy and reflect His qualities:
Repay no one evil with evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God… No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if thirsty, give him drink…" Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)Therefore become imitators of God, as beloved children.Such demand for change is consistent with another Bible teaching – that all humanity is deceived. (Revelation 12:9; Psalm 14:1-3) An obvious example of this universal state of deception is what Straughen referred to – the hundreds of "dead" gods previously worshipped by tens of millions of people!
Straughen would want to know how all this is consistent with the extermination of the Canaanites and with his other criticisms in Investigator 60 & 69. Response is pending. The delay is because Investigator, after issue No. 60, embroiled me with four other skeptics.
"NEW" IN ORIGIN – OR MERELY FORGOTTEN?
Straughen argued: "As for these new deities, the fact that they are new indicates they too are products of the human mind, rather than eternal and timeless beings."
Straughen's reasoning here may be true of most deities but otherwise is not correct. A person can exist but be out of sight and unknown but later may one day show himself. I have never met Mr Straughen and prior to him first encountering Investigator he did not know I existed. A supernatural God, if such exists, may also avoid overt/obvious contact with humans for a while. (Acts 17:22-25)
The Bible teaches that God Almighty was worshipped "from the dawn of humanity." His guidance was then rejected by the earliest humans. At times God became forgotten and unknown. He permitted this – it can be shown from the Bible – to let humans rule themselves without Him and see the consequences because that is what they wanted. There is, then, a difference between (1) being non-existent, and (2) being in existence but ignored or forgotten.
The Bible predicts that the whole world shall remember:All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. (Psalm 22:27)The process of reconciliation between God and humanity the Bible calls the "gospel" or "good news". (1 Corinthians 15:1-5)
Finally, we anticipate:All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before thee, O LORD, and shall glorify thy name.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)
ORIGIN OF DEITIES
RESPONSE TO GENESIS OF THE GODS (Issue # 73)
(Investigator 75, 2000 November)
The quotation, "Man created the gods in his own image" mentioned by Kirk Straughen in his article, Genesis of the Gods, [issue # 73], and ascribed to an anonymous author, is actually a paraphrase of a quite well known quotation by the Greek philosopher and religious critic, Xenophanes. The full quotation is as follows: -Mortals think that the gods are begotten and wear clothes like their own, and have a voice and a form. If oxen or horses or lions had hands and could draw with them and make works of art as men do, horses would draw the shapes of gods like horses, oxen like oxen, each kind would represent their bodies just like their own forms. The Ethiopians say their gods are black and snub-nosed; the Thracians, that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired.I would like to comment on his claim that the origin for the ideas of deities was, "…a product of the human mind that developed from prehistoric humans attempts to make sense of the mystery of existence." While I agree with the first part of his statement, I cannot agree that it was an endeavour … to make sense of the mystery of existence. Such a claim attributes a level of existential philosophical conceptualization which would have been impossible for early humans.
While Kirk commences his study first mentioning the Neanderthals, although without specifying any date, (they are usually considered to date from around 120,000 – 130,000 BCE), and then jumps to the Cro-Magnons, who, in the span of time are quite recent, only about 35,000 years ago. However, one must not assume that the concepts of religion are that recent. On the contrary I personally believe that the origins of religion and its co-partners, magic and divination, go back several millions of years.
Deep and meaningful considerations concerning the mysteries of human existence are one of those philosophical concepts which have emerged relatively recently in human history, possibly within the past 5,000 - 7,000 years. They appear to have their origins in Mesopotamia when in answer to this query, it was declared that "man" had been placed upon the Earth for one reason, and that was to provide the gods with the worship that was due to them.
Prior to that, I believe, human contemplation was concerned principally with surviving in a hostile world. Possibly the major intellectual development of early humans was their ability to deal with the most basic and most powerful emotion, fear! Within the depths of their primitive brains they conceived a way of dealing with the fears that ruled their entire life.
What is often forgotten is that in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom proto-humans and their later ancestors were puny animals, at the mercy of the great beasts of prey. Their best hope of survival was avoiding those animals that might eat them. One can only image the legacy of terror and fear that we have inherited. For millions of years our proto-ancestors and thousands of successive generations must have huddled at night, without fire or weapons, shivering with fear at the terrifying noises in the darkness. Regularly they would hear a piercing scream as a wild animal carried off one of their small band.
As humans struggled to survive their intelligence enabled them to claw their way up the hierarchy, with weapons and fire they could push back the dangers of the darkness, however they could not simply discard their inheritance of fear. Darkness and certain environments still triggered an innate response, the primal fear that had been handed down from the distant past.
The intellectual by-product of all this inherited fear was for humans to slowly shape a spiritual concept. Possibly as recent as 150,000 years ago they visualized a world inhabited by a horde of supernatural spirits. In creating these spirits early humans anthropomorphized the natural world. They identified the dangerous aspects of nature as negative, evil forces, and to counterbalance these, they created helpful beings that were willing to listen to their pleas for help in the constant battle for survival.
Thus, rather than contemplating existential conundrums, primitive humans were simply continuing a process of conceptual evolution that had originated millions of years earlier. The concept of supernatural entities, spirits, deities, whatever you might call them, evolved as part of a normal intellectual process, and was related more to that most basic of animal principles, the will to survive.
I am currently examining the origins of religion and attempting to construct an "approximate" time frame, and a chronological order of the ideas that finally led to the origins of religions. I readily acknowledge that without any hard evidence any chronological scale can only be guessed at.
Nevertheless, while the time scale may be dubious, I believe that my outline of the progression of the concepts that eventually led to religions may be somewhat more accurate, although again I am not dogmatic enough to insist that it is 100% accurate.
Addendum: Genesis of the Gods
(Investigator 76, 2001 January)
I thank Mr Laurie Eddie for his critique (No. 75, page 44) of my article Genesis of the Gods. After reflection upon the matter, I have made a few minor changes in preparation for its submission to The Skeptic.
These changes include the insertion of a date for the Neanderthal's existence (the text I consulted – Barnow's – gave a date of 100, 000 to 35,000 BCE). Tylor's hypothesis, however, still predominates as this appears to be the majority view (at least in the books on anthropology I have read). In my opinion, Mr Eddie's views (overall) appear to be sound, and I admit that some form of magical/religious belief may predate the earliest ritual burials of the Neanderthals, but feel constrained in my support for this position as there appears to be no archaeological evidence (at least to my knowledge) that supports it.
Concerning the antiquity of religion: The period from 300,000 to 1 million years before present was the era of Homo erectus, one of our remote ancestors. The brain size of this hominid ranged from about 875 cubic centimeters to approximately 1225 cubic centimeters, with an average of 900 cc (in modem humans the range is from 1150 to 1700 cc). Just what effect this increase in brain size had on H. erectus' intellectual life with regard to magical and religious beliefs is difficult, if not impossible, to say.
As well as increases in brain size, there is also the question of brain structure. For example, the temporal lobes - the area of the brain that plays a role in consciousness and dreaming - appear to be involved in the phenomena of mystical experiences which, in Tylor's opinion, are one of the primary factors in the development of religious concepts. Did H. erectus have temporal lobes sufficiently developed to produce mystical experiences, dreams and visions? Perhaps, then again, perhaps not.
I do agree that if the fear or awe of natural phenomena is a precursor to religion then H. erectus, who probably shared these raw emotions with Homo Sapiens, may have had beliefs vaguely religious or magical in nature. However, the concept that nature is animated by conscious forces in the form of gods and spirits may not have been fully developed until the advent the Cro-Magnons, and I base this belief on their cultural remains: the nature of their burials, cave paintings, and statuettes known as 'Venus figurines' that may represent some form of mother goddess.
Discourse on the Nature of God
(Investigator 76, 2001 Janaury)
I read A's comments (Inv. 74, page 14) regarding my article, Genesis of the Gods, and am unable to agree with him. Firstly, the Biblical god is clearly anthropomorphic:"And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." (Gen. 3:8.)If any god can walk through a garden, then it clearly has a body (in this case a male one); and if it experiences such emotions as wrath and the desire for vengeance, then it must possess a physiology that is little different to that of a human being as these feelings result from physical processes occurring in our bodies.
"The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord is avenging and wrathfiul; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies." (Nahum, 1.2.)
Now, if god is considered immaterial (as is usually the case) then it can have no structure, and if it has no structure then it can not have thoughts, emotions and desires; for although there is abundant evidence that matter can exist without mind, there is no evidence that mind can exist without matter.
And if god has structure, then what is the nature of this structure? What is this 'God Substance', for want of a better term? Indeed, if god is particulate in nature – which it would need to be in order the have something that could generate thought processes – then these very attributes would bring it within the province of the natural world and subject it to the limitations thereof.
In order to show that this is the case, I shall expand my argument as follows: If a being whom we choose to call god exists in some other dimension as A suggests (Inv. 65, pages 33-34), then in order to interact with our world, this other dimension would need to impinge upon our own so that forces can be exchanged between the two modes of reality.
The problem, however, is that there are only four known forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces (which arise from fundamental subatomic particles), and together they govern the behaviour of our cosmos.
Now, in order for there to be an interface between the two dimensions (so that they can mesh like the gears of a machine) neither one can be radically different from the other. Indeed, they would have to interact at a subatomic level and, therefore, would need to share common properties that would make them mutually compatible. In other words, our hypothetical dimension would need to be particulate in nature and, as a consequence, be detectable to our scientific instruments. Needless to say, such particles are conspicuous by their absence.
An additional problem is that if this other dimension exists and can interact with our own, then these two forms of existence are really parts of a greater whole that we call the Universe (the totality of all that is). If this is so and, in view of the following, god may not be eternal:"Because normal physical causation takes place within time, with effect following cause, there is a natural tendency to envisage a chain of causation stretching back in time, either without any beginning, or else terminating in a metaphysical First Cause, or Uncaused Cause, or Prime Mover. But cosmologists now invite us to contemplate the origin of the Universe as having no prior cause in the normal sense, not because it has an abnormal or supernatural prior cause, but because there is simply no prior epoch in which a preceding causative agency – natural or supernatural - can operate."If there is "no prior epoch in which a proceeding causative agency – natural or supernatural – can operate" then god, even if it exists in some other dimension, must be a product of cosmic evolution, for if the Universe is multidimensional, then any dimensions that comprise it would have arisen at its birth whose nature was not supernatural. God, therefore, is a created being and may share the fate of all created beings.
(P. Davies: The Day Time Began, page 32 in: New Scientist, Vol. 150, No. 2027.)
Secondly, A claims that the god of the Bible was worshipped from the dawn of humanity. However, where is the evidence that supports this contention? It is certainly not to be found in the archaeological record of prehistory. Indeed, the first record we have of some form of monotheistic belief is the religion of Akhenaton, formulated during his reign as pharaoh of Egypt (c.1367 - 1350 B.C.):"Akhenaton's monotheism is ecumenicalism expressed in religious symbolism. He conceived of the Aton as being, not a local god, but lord of the whole Universe, and he signified the Aton's ubiquity by building temples for him in Syria and in Nubia, as well as Egypt."Finally, if god exists, then the mode of its being would render it incapable of displaying anything like human emotions, for our minds arose by evolutionary processes, and are shaped by the influences of environmental and hereditarian factors; and these factors would be alien to God – whether it is corporeal or incorporeal; created or uncreated – for whatever comprises its being and the dimension it inhabits would not be identical to the environment that has shaped and continues to shape human nature. Therefore, the existence of A's deity, with its vicious hatred and primitive desire for vengeance is, in my opinion, highly unlikely.
(page 99 in Toynbee, A: Mankind and Mother Earth, Book Club Associates, London, 1976.)
"Aton was represented in art as the disc of the sun whose rays terminated in hands as if to bestow warmth and life on all living things ... The new god was almost entirely divorced from the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic associations of other Egyptian gods. Novel, too, in the conception of Aton, was the stress laid on his role as the creator and nourisher of the universe."
(page 84 - 85 in Roebuck, C. The World of Ancient Times, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, date not shown.)
'GENESIS OF GODS' RESPONSE TO ANON
John H Williams
(Investigator 76, 2001 January)
Regarding Anonymous' response to Kirk Straughen's piece on the Genesis of Gods (Investigator 74,73), it's interesting to see someone willing to present arguments for what is so clearly a delusional mind set. I again found his 'evidence' to be literal, speculative, and unconvincing.
Anonymous keeps referring to the Bible as if it were an institution with a particular purpose, whereas it's the collected and selected books of a large number of authors who had opinions and beliefs. That some view it as a manual for life is unsurprising, believing that it's The Word of their choice of deity, a delusion not shared by the vast majority of Earthlings. As Anonymous puts it, it's the only exception while all others are wrong! Believers are heavily invested in their delusion, so are often incorrigible, and may devote their lives to 'the cause'; delusions are notoriously unshakeable!
The Bible is a moveable feast, though some courses are less than wonderful. For example, Paul's belief that homosexuals "will (not) inherit the kingdom of God" is meaningless prejudice, because there is no agreed place of that name, only an assumed one following death, after which everyone runs out of options, and it is in direct contradiction to Jesus' teaching on unconditional love and forgiveness. No sane and informed person could possibly agree that, through no fault of their own, those who happen to be gay are, by definition sinful/immoral/wrong. I'm not gay, but the unfortunate way that churches have dealt with homosexuality is one reason for my antipathy towards them. I abhor the righteous', who believe that they have found not just a way, but the way. Their unchristian disapproval, sanctimonious moralising, backed by apocalyptic warnings and Bible-thumping, is something the world can do without!
Anonymous used over fifty lines of biblical quotations to bolster his argument. I remind him of the obvious, that such quotes have minimal validity,when its authorship and meaning are subject to debate. Excessive use of biblical quotations is counter-productive, and even non-sceptics switch off, because:(a) Often, there's overkill, perhaps on the assumption that more is better.
(b) Clearly, it's putting all intellectual eggs in one basket, as if there's an universally agreed convention that anything Biblical is unchalengeable. The quoter is uncritical of his/her material, a fatal intellectual weakness.
(c) There are frequent mentions of "God", "the LORD (for some reason, in caps), angels, the devil, which many have good reason to believe don't exist.
(d) The authors' context was a pre-scientific culture in which prophecy and superstition were endemic: while some parts have a timeless, universal message, much can be discounted, particularly if the issue being discussed is the existence of God and believers' anthropomorphism of him/her/it.
The Bible does present God as highly anthropomorphic. My dictionary gives "attribution of human form or behaviour to a deity, animal, etc".
On the first The Bible does present God as highly anthropomorphic. My dictionary gives "attribution of human form or behaviour to a deity, animal, etc". On the first page of my King James, under the title "The First Book Of Moses" (itself an untruth since Moses – if there were a Moses – would have been would dead for about 800 years when he wrote it) is:So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27)Biblical authors had the insurmountable task of describing a supernatural being and they opted for anthropomorphic mythical imagery, which used what Carl Jung postulated as archetypal, "deep and abiding patterns in the human psyche that remain powerful and present over time". These psychological forces, common to all, have become 'personalised' into figures and symbols. People have hero figures, maybe Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara , or Karl Marx. These are, in Jungian terms, representations of the hero archetype, as is Jesus Christ.
Similarly, there is a god archetype: though one may believe in an external god, it is pointless to look for 'him' 'out there', since one can only find 'him' within." The soul must contain in itself the faculty of relation to God (Jung was an orthodox Christian) , that is, a correspondence, otherwise a connection could never come about. This correspondence is, in psychological terms, the archetype of the God-image." (Jung-Psychology and Alchemy) The Bible is full of archetypal figures: Jesus is Hero/Magician/Martyr, a massively powerful combination, while God is the Wise Old Man.
YHVH (I Am That), Yahveh, or Yaweh, also Jehovah, the Hebrew personal name of the Jewish faith became, via the Roman Empire, the Old English name of God (godu).
This deity, we are told:
(a) Is male, referred to as "He", someone who (see above) 'looks like' the male version of us. He is 'Father'/Creator and humans are his 'children'.
(b) Once 'fathered' a son via a part of Jehovah (then) which many years later was thought up as the Holy Trinity, of which the Holy Ghost was the'impregnator' of 'the virgin'.
(c) The son became Yosu'a/Joshua/Jesus, who God arranged to be killed so that he could "save the world from its sins" and 'rise' from death to live with his dad in a 'place' called Heaven, cf. Elysium etc, has recognisably human qualities, viz, cruel, judgmental, loving, kind...
(d) Is characterised as having conversations with mythical heroes such as Moses, writing commandments in stone and, in general, behaving like a stern, didactic father/shepherd whose children/sheep have "gone astray.
(e) Is given an honorific title given to men of high birth, that of Lord or Lord God.
These examples demonstrate that the Judaeo-Christian god could not be more anthropomorphised, as it is presented in The Bible.
Anonymous' arguments are as usual: I don't see the relevance of God's apparent "doctrine and counsel", regarding the large number of deaths caused by what he calls "immorality", via AIDS. If anyone can make sense of it, I'd appreciate a 'translation'.
As regards God being a 'creator' of the universe, why would any such being create so much life, then 'arrange' to make it extinct on a massive scale? The New Scientist (23/10/99) published the work of Farlowe et al showing that 99.9% of all species that ever existed are extinct. There have been five mass extinctions which have killed off between 76% and 96% of all species. Some long-living species are the coelacanth, crocodile and the ginko tree, but the average life of a multicellular species is calculated "at between one to 15 million years, depending on who you ask". Homo sapiens, just one of the animal species, has been calculated to have around 5100 years left!
"A supernatural God, if such exists, (a big 'IF', say I!) may also avoid overt/obvious contact with humans for a while" (Anonymous/Acts 17:22-25). In fact, it behaves like some humans, all perfectly reasonable and anthropomorphic! The 'argument' about Kirk Straughen not being known, then known, left me god-smacked: about six billion people are unknown to me, but census takers show that they exist, and they are, like Kirk, unlikely to be figments of someone's beliefs. Anonymous, could well be our esteemed editor, but , if so, it has nothing to do with persuading any reasonable, objective and rational human that there's a god. in fact, such an 'argument' reinforces one's already sceptical stance!
There is no body of acceptable evidence that an 'out there' God exists. That which is in the Bible regarding the Hebrew God is a mass of assertions based purely on some people's beliefs, interpretations of history based on, for example, the success of a Christian countries like the USA and Britain are superficial and circumstantial. The being known as God does not live "out there' in Heaven, and is but a projection of an archetypal consciousness , the 'god within'.
It's true that The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book (my Guinness Book of Records says "322 languages, with portions of it into a further 1656 languages"). However, this is attributable initially to the to the vast reach of the Roman Empire, then the European colonisation of the New World. It's yet another example of the use of highly circumstantial 'evidence' that Anonymous routinely deals in.
Lenin, for example, has been translated into 222 languages (not bad, in only 100 years), which correlates with the dynamic growth of an atheistic belief system. Communism's poor record ought not to be used as some kind of validation of Christianity and the existence of God!)
Anonymous concludes with his views on the "good news" of the reconciliation between God and humans. My view is that people's religious beliefs are highly likely to get in the way of the real reconciliation desperately needed in Indonesia, The Philippines, Palestine, the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also, the capacity of Earthlings to reconcile with their threatened and fragile environment will be sorely tested as our numbers continue to grow (at around 1.5 million per week) towards a number nearly double our present population. New and old fellow inhabitants will be real, facing real problems, in absolute contrast to a deity some believe in.
DUBIOUS OVERSTATEMENTS NOT NEEDED
(Investigator, 77 2001 March)
There is a tendency for atheists/materialists to overstate the strength of some points against religious ideas. This occurs in articles in Investigator and elsewhere (Secular Review, the Skeptic, etc). As an atheist, I am concerned that this might play into the hands of believers.
The main problem is that it is often asserted that the findings of science (as currently known and practised) show that spiritual or non-corporeal entities could not possibly exist or, if they could, could not interact with the physical world. Kirk Straughen makes repeated claims of this nature (76, pp 22-24).
I suggest that these scientific points are indeed indicative of a problem for believers, but do not actually disprove the religious position. In particular, it cannot be assumed (p 23) that current instrumentation can detect all phenomena (though the onus is upon those who proclaim instrumentally undetectable phenomena to make out their case).
Straughen also suggests (p 22) that emotions can be completely explained in biochemical terms. There is still a philosophical argument to be had about this.
Other overstatements also occur. Eg, there are a few references to Jesus outside the New Testament, notably Josephus' brief comment (Keith Cornish, 76, p 20). And Paul's anti-homosexual statement (John Williams, 76, p 25) is not exactly 'meaningless'. Paul himself may have had a very clear idea of what he meant by 'the kingdom of God'. The fact that Williams and I think that no such place exists is hardly the point. Indeed, the claim that this comment involves 'prejudice' might also be judged contentious. If such a prohibition forms part of a coherent world-picture, it (and the world-picture itself) might be deemed invalid, but it would be odd to describe it merely as 'prejudice'.
We atheists should take care not to overstate our case. It is strong, and does not need dubious support.
TO MARK NEWBROOK
John W Williams
(Investigator, 79 2001 July)
I reply to Mark Newbrook's comments about "overstating the strength of some points against religious ideas." ( Investigator 77 p. 4)
I agree that scientific arguments are typically indicative, rather than actually disproving a non-corporeal entity.
However, I think that it's acceptable to express an opinion, as I did in #76, that to take what some iconic biblical figure believed in the first century and apply it to current issues is undesirable. I do object to the moral disapproval of homosexuality justified by what is in the Bible: it often comes over as a form of bigotry.
This was not part of my argument about an anthropomorphic God, but a digression in which I took exception to Anonymous' use of what Paul (the Apostle) apparently believed.
Thanks, Mark, for your reminder about languaging skeptical thoughts. I'll restate my opinion: no matter how many quotes and ideas are used by those fixated on so-called biblical 'teaching', I have a preference for what I call 'small c' Christian ideas, sans the dogma and the non-corporeal.
They pose the difficult challenge of unconditional love and forgiveness towards those we dislike, and their ideas. Often I fail this 'test'!
NEWBROOK TO WILLIAMS
(Investigator, 80 2001 September)
I appreciate John Williams' comments (Investigator 79 p 4) – although I myself would not use language as a verb!
I agree fully that it is irrational to accept Paul's anti-homosexual statement. I just think that calling it 'meaningless' is by no means the best way of saying this. And I still think that it may not even have involved prejudice. Paul may have had what he thought were good reasons for his view. Even if he was wrong in so thinking, he may not have been prejudiced.
And, if there really are universal ethical truths, they are applicable regardless of non-ethical factors such as the passage of time or changes in customs and attitudes. We may say that Paul was wrong about the content/identity of such truths; but that might be only an error of detail. It is not so easy to say that there are simply no such truths at all. Who is willing to deny that the perpetration of the Holocaust really was unethical, regardless of what the perpetrators themselves thought? This philosophical issue remains awkward and unsettled.
I too find many 'small-c' Christian ideas more amenable than Christian doctrine. But of course these have been embraced by many non-Christians, including some who never heard of Christianity. They are not exclusively Christian.
Dept. of Linguistics
STRAUGHEN'S "NATURE of GOD"
(Investigator No. 77 2001 March
Kirk Straughen (#76) thinks that quotes like "God walking in the garden" (Genesis 3:8) prove the Bible teaches an "anthropomorphic" God. "Anthropomorphic" means: "Ascribing human form or attributes to beings or things not human, esp. to a deity." (Penguin Macquarie)
The Bible teaches:No man has ever seen God. (1 John 4:12)The alleged appearances of God to humans were, according to the Bible, proxy appearances – "angels" representing God. (Acts 7:38, 53; Galatians 3:19)
His voice you have never heard. His form you have never seen. (John 5:37)
Genesis 32:24-30, for example, gives the initial impression that Jacob wrestled with God – Jacob says, "For I have seen God face to face." (32:30) However, Hosea 12:4-5 refers back to the event and says it was an "angel".
We see an analogous situation with Moses and his brother Aaron. Moses couldn't speak well and therefore Aaron spoke for him. (Exodus 4:10-17) When the Bible has Moses addressing Pharoah, the speaker was actually Aaron repeating what Moses told him to say.
Any Bible quotes of "God" being seen or heard refer to "angels" and hence do not imply an "anthropomorphic" God.
The ancient Greeks believed in human-like gods on Mount Olympus. They were anthropomorphic and are not now worshipped. Nor does anyone now worship the ancient idols that the Bible predicted would lose their worshippers. Such gods too were anthropomorphic.
The Bible God revealed no "form" (Deuteronomy 4:15), is "invisible" and resembles no creature (Romans 1:22-23), and is in some sense everywhere, "above all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:6)
The Bible does not portray God as being in humanity's image but as wanting humans in His image. We see this in the requirements the Bible says God has of us which few people fully obey:Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts…and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17)"Likeness" or "image" refers to character, qualities and abilities.
Anyone who calls the biblical God "Anthropomorphic" should add that the term is not an all or nothing notion but, as with other adjectives, there are degrees of it. The difference between ancient idols and God as in the Bible is immense.
Straughen says if God existed: "the mode of its being would render it incapable of displaying anything like human emotions, for our minds arose by evolutionary processes."
I suspect that emotion or feeling – or something equivalent – would be part of any hypothetical, intelligent creatures in any environment and in any dimension whether such creatures evolved, were created or always existed. To exist and be conscious with intelligence entails making decisions. Decisions in turn are made so as to acquire/achieve something valued. And if there are values there would be emotions – although perhaps not the same range as humans have.
INTELLIGENCE AND STRUCTURE
Straughen claims that God needs to have a structure that's "particulate in nature" in order to have "thought processes".
Henbist (1993) in an article about hypothetical alien intelligence says:British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle has envisaged life in the near vacuum of outer space. He suggests that the molecules of matter in a dark cloud of gas and dust could develop a form of intelligence. Instead of the electrical signals that run around our brain cells, the thoughts of a black cloud creature are carried by radio waves across its multi-billion-kilometre extent…With speculations like these we cannot dogmatically claim that "thought processes" require thinkers who are "particulate in nature". Physicist Paul Davies has said that computers may one day simulate human thought. We cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility of thought in other, totally different, mediums too!
Alien intelligence could lurk in more unexpected places still, according to science fiction writer and physicist Stephen Baxter. Astronomers now believe that ordinary matter – atoms, protons, neutrons and electrons – makes up only a few per cent of the material of our universe. Most of the mass comes in the form of "dark matter," which exerts gravity on ordinary matter, but otherwise has little to do with the stars and planets that we know.
Baxter speculates that it may be composed of particles that band together to make complex structure – up to the complexity needed for intelligence. What we do know about dark matter is that it coexists with ordinary matter. The two forms interact so little that a dark matter creature could slide through earth without our being aware of it.
FORCES, UNIVERSE, DIMENSIONS,
CAUSATION, CHAOS & GOD
Straughen says that four known forces "govern…our cosmos." If God existed in other dimensions then such dimensions would have to be "particulate" in nature for God to influence our universe – and if particulate they would be detectable by scientific instruments. But no other dimensions or actions of God have been detected or measured.
The Bible says:God…is above all and through all and in all.God, then, need not be confined to any dimension but would be in and beyond them all. Nor need God or other dimensions be "particulate" to influence the four dimensions we directly experience if links or laws connect them. Einstein spoke of "spooky action at a distance" (see below) – action that both violated his theory of relativity and ignored the four known forces. God, if such exists, could then also create "spooky action between the supernatural and the natural."
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in sheol, thou art there! (Psalm 139:8)
When modern science arose in the 17th century scientists believed the Universe to be a giant, self-sufficient, machine ruled by laws that determined every event. In principle if we could measure the speed and location of every atom in the Universe we could predict every future event. This also meant that every event in the Universe including every human thought was predetermined. On this basis David Strauss in Life of Jesus reasoned: "We may summarily reject all miracles, prophecies, narratives of angels and demons, and the like, as simply impossible and irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events."
In addition, 19th century scientists thought matter could be divided into smaller and smaller pieces until a limit is reached believed to be the atom. Energy in contrast could be subdivided forever – transfer of energy was continuous. In 1899 Max Planck (1858-1947) showed that flashes of energy were not continuous after all but are emitted from a radiating body in discrete units – fixed in size for any one wavelength. Each unit Planck called a "quantum".
So, both matter and energy had a "graininess" at their smallest levels beyond which they could not be subdivided:And with the recognition that both matter and energy exist and act only in discontinuous units of definite size, the possibility of an exact description of the universe was seen to be an illusion…Furthermore, when an atom radiates a color characteristic to it – such as yellow from sodium – the energy for this comes when an electron leaps from one orbit to another. This leap, however, takes no time and does not pass through intervening space. The electron disappears from one orbit and simultaneously reappears in another. With this discovery it didn't make sense to call an electron a "particle" or even to assume the electron in the new orbit was the same electron.
Every description, however short the time which it covers, is an average taken over that time; because matter and energy make discontinuous jumps we cannot, even in principle, reduce the interval of time of any description of them to nothing…
(Ware, Pannikar & Romein 1966 p. 144-145)
In the 20th century Werner K Heisenberg (1901-1976) developed the principle of indeterminacy. He found that the more accurately one variable such as the position of an electron was measured the less certain was its speed and vice versa. And if it's impossible to be precise about an electron's present then we can't be precise or certain about its future.
Ware, Panikkar and Romein write:According to the principle of uncertainty there simply is no sense in asserting what would happen if we knew the present completely; we do not, and plainly never can. (p. 147)Quantum physics studies events at the tiniest, subatomic levels where: "the logical foundations of classical science are violated…" (Ferris 1997 p. 265) There are strange phenomena such as "quantum entanglement" where photons, electrons and atoms at opposite ends of the universe influence each other instantly unfettered by the speed of light. Ordinary causation is violated. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance." (Gribbin, 1990; Buchanan, 1998)
The interpretation of nature as a machine ticking inexorably on a wholly determined course was no longer implied by the facts of twentieth-century physics. (p. 150)It is as if the quantum world had never heard of space – as if, in some strange way, it thinks of itself as still being in one place at one time. (Ferris 1997 p. 269)The future is flexible, not closed by laws that give predetermined results, and precise prediction is impossible.
And if exact measurement and prediction is impossible we cannot appeal to "forces…that govern our cosmos" to rule out influences by God.
What about the world of daily experience? This seems regular and divorced from the indeterminacy of the subatomic world. This, however, is an illusion.
We now have Chaos Theory. According to Chaos Theory large-scale systems also have an open, unpredictable aspect lacking "clock-like regularity".
James Gleick (1987) wrote:Tiny differences in input could quickly become overwhelming differences in output… In weather, for example, this translates into what is only half-jokingly known as the Butterfly Effect–the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York. (p. 8)Physicist Paul Davies said:
…any prediction deteriorates rapidly. Errors and uncertainties multiply, cascading upward through a chain of turbulent features, from dust devils and squalls up to continent-size eddies that only satellites can see. (p. 20)We know from chaos theory that the tiniest change even among atoms is going to change the way very large phenomena occur. (Hall 1994)Chaos Theory applies also to human society. Investigator 70 p. 53 tells how a British soldier almost shot Adolf Hitler in 1918. A slight movement of one finger on one trigger would have altered billions of lives! Any tiny action or decision of anyone may in time change the world!
We cannot, therefore, rule out "inputs" by 'God" on tiny undetectable scales in nature or in the human mind – inputs selected where natural, processes will amplify them to achieve desired ends in the desired time.
Straughen' s argument about measuring the four known forces relies on "classical physics" which ignores that:
1 Precise measurement is impossible;
2 Causation does not operate at subatomic levels;
3 Chaos can amplify undetectable inputs into world-changing outputs.
His attempt to use physics to rule out activity by God fails because it presumes we can have complete and exact knowledge:But the new discoveries in physics made it clear that it was really senseless to talk, even in principle, of having complete and exact knowledge.Straughen's argument also entailed telling us what is, and always will be, impossible. And the question of defining what will always be impossible is a philosophical question that no one has solved.
(Ware, Panikkar & Romein 1966 p. 145)
This leaves plenty of space for activity by an all-knowing God – activity science can't rule out but activity also undetectable by any instrument:The grid of causal uniformity does not…fit so tight upon the natural process as to bar the influence of an over-riding divine persuasion. (Nelson, 1995)
WORSHIPPED FROM THE DAWN OF TIME
The Bible teaches that God was worshipped by the earliest humans. (Genesis 2 to 9; 12:1) Straughen rejects this because the monotheism of Akhenaton of Egypt in the 13th century BC is the earliest monotheism known to history.
I've shown previously that hundreds of Bible events, places and people formerly thought mythical have turned out true. I predicted that this trend of the Bible being proved right will continue. Straughen – by implying that there was no earlier monotheism than Akhenaton's – implies the trend has stopped. We have opposing predictions.
Buchanan, M 1998 Why God plays dice, New Scientist, 1998, 22 August, pp. 27-30
Ferris, T 1997 The Whole Shebang, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.
Gleick, J 1987 Chaos Making A New Science, Cardinal, Great Britain.
Gribbin, J The man who proved Einstein wrong, New Scientist, November 24, 1990, pp. 33-35
Hall, N Staring into the mind of God, Focus, February 1994, pp. 74-76
Henbist, N 1993 Would the real ET please stand up, Focus, May pp. 6-11
Holden, A V Chaos is no longer a dirty word, New Scientist, April 25, 1985, pp. 12-15
Nelson, J S Divine Action: Is it Credible? Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion, Volume 30, No. 2, June 1995.
The Bible, Revised Standard Version, Published by Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. For The British & Foreign Bible Society, Great Britain.
Ware, C F, Panikkar, K M and Romein, J M 1966 History of Mankind, Volume VI, Cultural and Scientific Development, Harper and Row, New York, USA.
Response to Williams #76
(Investigator 77, 2001 May)
THE BIBLE CORRECT
In hundreds of conflicts between the Bible and opposing opinion the Bible has turned out correct. This includes many areas of science, as shown in past Investigator articles, and is not delusional as claimed by Mr Williams in #76.
JESUS AND MEDICAL SCIENCE
In Luke 21:5-24 and Matthew 24:3-14 Jesus gave a general description of history from his time until his return. That description included:Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes…famines and pestilences… (Luke 21:10)In the 1950s the medical profession seemed on the verge of victory against disease-causing micro-organisms and hence on the verge of victory against "pestilences". A number of killer-diseases were in retreat due to antibiotics, vaccinations and improved hygiene and nutrition. Universities began scaling down their research into disease-causing micro-organisms. Epidemiology seemed a dead-end profession. Bryan Appleyard (2000) writes:In the 1960s the surgeon-general of the United States announced that infectious disease was conquered.There was then a clear conflict here between Jesus and the medical profession. Jesus had predicted "pestilences" until his return, not conquest of all disease, but the medical profession thought otherwise.
Medical optimism turned out to be an illusion. Bacteria and viruses mutate when subject to environmental stress and produce new varieties resistant to antibiotics. Epidemiology is again a major research area. There is a desperate race between scientists developing new drugs (and other methods of control) and micro-organisms evolving new strains resistant to the new drugs.
Appleyard (2000) says:Increasing resistance to antibiotics has bred new strains of killer bacteria. Experts say if we don't find new drugs soon, a cut on the finger could be fatal.
In April 1917 Thomas W Wilson, USA president, requested Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson's aim was that World War I would be "for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples…" Wilson considered the World War to be "a war to end wars" and wanted that "the world would be made safe for democracy." (Roberts 1975)
Other politicians and the news media popularised the phrase "war to end wars". Furthermore:The drive for victory reflected a promise which every major government made to its people; that the peace terms must make any recurrence of the conflict … absolutely impossible. (Kaiser 1990)In the mid 1930s Japan's government declared its aim of keeping peace by an "Asia for Asians" policy. Japan claimed: "sole responsibility for the preservation of the peace in the Far East." Japan subsequently invaded China and killed 20 million Chinese! In 1939 Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, announced "peace in our time." Then followed the greatest war in history!
Examples of politicians predicting peace and convincing millions of people and turning out wrong could be multiplied.
Jesus – again in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 – predicted that wars would occur until his return:For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… (Matthew 24:7)What Jesus predicted has indeed been the case. The politicians who suggested differently – and everyone who believed them – were wrong.
Williams says: "Anon used over fifty lines of biblical quotes to bolster his argument." (No. 76 p. 25)
Many of those "fifty…quotes" in #74 were quotes predicting that:
(1) The ancient gods around the Mediterranean lands would lose their worshippers;
(2) The God presented in the Bible would be known in every future generation and eventually declared worldwide.
Predictions and claims in the Bible do not by themselves "bolster" the Bible – Mr Williams misrepresents my reasoning.
Rather, they are "bolstered" when supported by subsequent observations! The relevant observations in this instance are:
(1) Hundreds of ancient gods are now museum pieces and almost everyone now agrees that their previous millions of worshippers were wrong;
(2) The God presented in the Bible is now proclaimed in thousands of languages almost everywhere on Earth.
Listing Bible quotes is not "counter-productive" (as Williams claimed) provided history and observation confirm the quotes!
Williams asserts that the Bible claim that homosexuals "will not inherit the kingdom of God" is "meaningless prejudice". Wrong again.
Many commands of "God" via the Bible are such as to promote long life, better health, peace, and good relationships. If these are the aims behind the commands then we can test whether they would, if obeyed, promote such results.
Sexual immorality – not just homosexual behavior but including adultery, fornication, sexual abuse of children, prostitution, etc – killed several hundred million people in the 20th century besides inflicting psychological harm on billions of others. (See Investigator No. 48) AIDS alone is currently killing 3 million people per year and reducing life expectancy in Africa.
Williams says:No sane and informed person could possibly agree that, through no fault of their own, those who gay are, by definition sinful/immoral/wrong. (No. 76 p. 25)All humans are predisposed "through no fault of their own" to various combinations of harmful behaviors such as theft, murder, lies, child molesting, violence, rape, drug-trafficking, slander, adultery, gambling, war, idolatry etc. It's not the predisposition or the temptation that the Bible says is "sinful", but giving in to it.
The Bible teaches that if we are tempted to do things that will hurt others we should resist the temptation. It also explains how to go about it. (James 1:12-27)
Williams' phrase "unconditional love and forgiveness" is not in the Bible. To condone hurtful conduct and refuse to counsel against it is not love.
ANTHROPOMORPHISM, EXTINCTIONS and GOD-SMACKED
There's more about "anthropomorphism" in my reply to Mr Straughen and therefore I won't reply to Williams on this.
Williams also asked about the five mass extinctions of life on Earth. My understanding of evolution and creation accepts that the extinctions occurred – I listed them in my article Asteroids and their Impact. (Investigator 62) Williams' conflict here is with the "Scientific Creationists" not with me.
Mr Williams felt "god-smacked" over my claim to Kirk Straughen that "God" could be known to people in some generations and then be forgotten until again remembered and that being forgotten or ignored does not imply non-existence.
This was a self-evident claim. Anything – whether objects, events or ideas – can potentially be forgotten and later remembered or rediscovered.
Mr Williams thinks religious beliefs "get in the way" of real reconciliation needed in Indonesia, Palestine, the Balkans, etc.
That would depend on the religious beliefs in question. We see vast resources being squandered when national leaders commit "economic plunder" of the nations they rule and also in war, corruption, racial strife and other behaviours contrary to the Bible. And while squandering the resources of the planet in fighting, the nations have neglected getting ready for, or preventing, threats that could overwhelm them all such as global warming, rising oceans and asteroid impacts – threats I knew about from the Bible in the 1970s! (See Investigator 60 and 62)
My interest is to test testable statements in the Bible. I've found that new scientific research often disproves earlier "discoveries" that seemed to refute the Bible. Mr Williams should let me get on with it!
Anonymous 2000 Comment on Straughen's 'Genesis of Gods', Investigator No. 74.
Appleyard, B Germ Warfare, The Australian Magazine, June 3-4, 2000, p. 24
Kaiser, D 1990 Politics and War, Harvard University Press, USA, p. 332.
Roberts, M 1975 A Portrait of Europe 1900-1973, Oxford University, Britain, p. 51.
Williams, J W 2001 "Genesis of Gods" Response to Anon, Investigator No. 76.
The Nature of God: A Final Reply
(Investigator 78, 2001 May)
I read Anonymous' reply to my previous article on this subject, and am unable to agree with him on some points.
Concerning Genesis 3:8: The Bible clearly refers to the being in the garden as God, not an angel. That some writers reinterpreted such passages is in my opinion, merely a reflection of a changing human devised theology – all gods are basically human nature writ large. That the Hebrew version is different to others is simply an example of the diversity of opinion that has arisen regarding the subject.
In my opinion it does little good for Anonymous to quote the opinions of Sir Fred Hoyle and those of Steven Baxter, because the intelligences envisaged (sentient clouds computers dark matter beings) are particulate in nature as they are constructed from matter (in the case of dark matter from some form of exotic non-baryonic particles). However, whether alternative forms of matter exist and possess properties that would allow the evolution of godlike beings is a moot point.
As far as I can see, Anonymous' reference to physics has not helped his case in a significant way, because although we have sound evidence for the reality of the quantum world, no such evidence exists for the reality of God. Indeed, any argument in favour of God remains inadequate if it fails to provide convincing evidence that:
(1) Other dimensions exist outside our space-time continuum.
(2) These dimensions contain intelligent entities.
(3) These entities (if they exist) can interact with our universe.
(4) At least one of these entities corresponds to the Biblical god.
As a further thought: Anonymous suggests God may be an extra-dimensional being in that it is outside our space-time continuum. However, as space-time is created by the progressive expansion of the universe, there may be nothing beyond it – no other dimensions, universes or worlds. Indeed, the Kaluza-Klein theories that postulate a universe of between 10 and 26 dimensions refer to dimensions within our universe that have been compactified to the order of the Planck length (about 10-33 cm).
Anonymous suggests that God might interact with the world in a way that is analogous to the EPR paradox: "particles that were once together in an interaction remain in some sense parts of a single system which respond together to further interactions."
J. Gribbin: In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, page 229).
This situation, however, applies to natural particles and in my opinion God would need to share their nature in order to be part of this interaction. Indeed. it seems to me that this interaction would flow both ways – if God can effect the universe then the universe can effect God. Consequently, God would be a part of our universe and therefore be a natural rather than supernatural being.
An additional problem regarding interaction may arise because of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: In order for God to act on the material world, then it must effect subatomic particles and know precisely which subatomic particles to effect. However, the uncertainty principle basically states that the better we know the position of a particle, the less we know concerning its momentum, and vice versa. This situation also applies to such factors as energy and time, and other pairs of quantities known as conjugate variables, and occurs because the act of measurement changes the wave function.
The question is: can we be certain that God would not face a similar problem when it attempts to obtain information about a particular particle, and therefore be ineffective in its actions? One can always argue that this does not pose a problem to God because it has an infinite mind and can obtain ultimate precision due to omniscient knowledge. In my opinion, the problem is that even if God's thought processes are infinitely fast, it still has to search through its infinite memory in order to find a particular item of knowledge and, as infinity can't outrun infinity, God might be searching forever.
Anonymous also suggests that God's undetectable influences could be amplified over time by nature to fulfil the divine will. In order to highlight the problems associated with this assumption, I will use a miracle attributed to Jesus as an illustration – the transmutation of water into wine. (John 2:6-9).
For this event to occur, the ratio of protons and neutrons in the molecules of water must be altered in order to convert them into the required elements, and these elements would then need to be combined into molecules of ethyl alcohol, and the various other substances that give wine its characteristic qualities. Alternatively, the necessary elements could be imported from the surrounding environment and combined into molecules of the required type. Whatever the case, Anonymous must show how God's undetectable inputs can be amplified by natural processes to achieve this end.
Finally, my own personal view on the existence of God is this:
Although I have no firm belief in the existence of God, I also have no firm disbelief in the existence of God. Furthermore, my articles on this subject are not an attempt to disprove the existence of God. Although I may have inadvertently given this impression by making, as Mark Newbrook and Anonymous pointed out, a variety of overstatements that made me appear dogmatic in my assertions (continued criticism from all sides would be appreciated).
Having admitted this. I think it can also be said that Anonymous has not been able to demonstrate the validity of his worldview by reference to sound empirical evidence and. as a consequence his opinions at this point in time remain unproven.
Coles, P. (Ed) The Icon Critical Dictionary of the New Cosmology, Icon Books Ltd.
Davis, P (Ed) The New Physics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1992.
Gribbin, J. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, Black Swan, London, 1994.
GENESIS OF THE GODS
REPLY TO STRAUGHEN #78
(Investigator 79, 2001 July)
Acting Via Representatives
It's true, as Kirk Straughen says, that Genesis 3:8 "refers to the being in the garden [of Eden] as God, not an angel." However, as I showed in #77, the Bible teaches that "No man has ever seen God" and "His voice you have never heard." The apparent discrepancy is resolved by the additional Bible teaching that God "appeared" representatively by "angels" acting on His behalf.
Early in the Bible, for example, is the story of Gideon speaking with the "angel of the Lord " but calling the angel "my Lord" ie "Jehovah" (= God). (Judges 6:11-21)
Regarding "intelligences" envisaged by Hoyle and Baxter being "particulate in nature". Such intelligences – if they turn out to be possible, especially "thoughts carried by radio waves" – would be very different to the human brain and intelligence associated with it. At present science cannot define the real or hypothetical mediums wherein mind and intelligence could occur. If we cannot scientifically rule out radio waves – which are not necessarily "particulate" – then we cannot rule out the further hypothesis of the "mind of God".
Remember – I did not in No. 77 try to prove God exists. I merely answered Straughen's theoretical grounds for God's non-existence.
Whether "God" needs to share the "nature" of particles in order to interact with "material particles" would, as already stated in No. 77, depend on what links or causal connections between the two mediums we postulate. Time, for example, is not composed of particles, yet is intimately associated with the three dimensions that describe the shape of particles.
The paradox whereby "particles that were once together in an interaction medium…respond together to further interactions" has been wittily called "spooky action at a distance". It operates instantly even across lightyears – therefore the information is not transmitted by forces we know. Something that does not share the nature of particles or of energy influences particles instantaneously as if the intervening space did not exist. It illustrates that interactions/influences do not need to be explainable by present science in order to exist.
Dimensions, Paradoxes and Knowledge
Can God potentially know the exact position and speed of particles in our Universe? If He dwells in or beyond some greater realm it may be no problem.
The difference in size between a one-dimensional line and a zero dimensional dot on the line is infinite. Similarly the difference in size between a one-dimensional line and the two-dimensional plane on which it lies is also infinite. Again, the number of two-dimensional planes that could exist in our three-dimensional Universe is infinite. And again, the difference between our three-dimensional Universe taken at the smallest instant of time compared with the Universe throughout time [ie the Universe in three dimensions compared to the Universe in four dimensions] is infinite. And finally, if there are still higher dimensions [assuming they are not "compactified"] we can anticipate the difference between us and them to be infinite. Humans, existing and operating in four dimensions, can observe and measure objects in lower dimensions – lines, planes and three-dimensional shapes. Therefore, from a higher-dimensional perspective, our Universe and everything it has may be fully observable:The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)Whether extra dimensions occur outside our space-time continuum or whether they are "compactified…within our universe" is not settled. New theories and evidence pop up regularly:
…all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)SPACE may have a fifth dimension – one more than the four we are familiar with – and it could be infinite, unlike the tiny extra space dimensions that have been proposed in the past. (New Scientist 1999 December 18 page 8)I previously used the analogy of two-dimensional creatures – "flatlanders" – whose "universe" is a two-dimensional plain. The flatlanders know nothing about "up" or "down" because these are notions we have in three-dimensions. If their "plain" has a hole through it, flatlanders who fall into it will vanish from the flat universe. We in three dimensions see it simply as a case of falling up or down – but to flatlanders it would be inexplicable and paradoxical. Philosophers among them might explain the paradox by speculating on the existence of a third spatial dimension.
Similarly, the paradoxes in our Universe may indicate dimensions inaccessible to us within which the paradoxes are resolved.
Mathematics, for example, is based on self-evident "axioms" such as "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." The axioms are used to prove theorums (e.g. Pythagoras' Theorum) using step-by-step reasoning. The proved theorums become steps in proving more complex theorums.
By the 1870s mathematics was so vast a field that mathematicians wondered whether it really was self-consistent. Might the use of different axioms and different "proved" theorums" give contradictory answers?
In 1884 Bertrand Russell demonstrated that not even basic arithmetic was consistent with itself. He showed this using paradoxes thought up by the ancient Greeks.
In 1900 the German mathematician David Hilbert asked whether there is any limit to what mathematics can demonstrate. Are there systematic procedures – irrespective of the number of steps needed - whereby every mathematical proposition might be proved true or false.
In 1931 Kurt Goedel showed the answer is no:He showed that, given a set of logically consistent rules, there might exist propositions that cannot be proved to be either true or false using those rules. These propositions are quite simply undecidable from within the logical system concerned. And among such undecidable systems is basic arithmetic…The Bible agrees that there are limits to what humans can find out:
Ignorance rules – not because of limitations in the human intellect but because ignorance and uncertainty are fundamental to the nature of existence. (Davies, P. The Bulletin, November 21, 2000, pp. 42, 44)
- …he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:6)
- So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God… (1 Corinthians 2:11)
The "flatlanders" could answer some of their paradoxes by assuming a third dimension. Our paradoxes in three dimensions (or four if we include time) may similarly suggest there are further dimensions. And if there are further dimensions that, as argued above, are infinitely greater than ours, then we cannot rule out God or the supernatural.
We cannot, however, do the converse and "prove" God exists – we can only infer Him from the evidence. To actually believe and make contact requires a step beyond senses and science. It's a step individuals take individually. To understand why it has to be individual, the reader should go to the debate on "Theodicy" – the question of why there is evil if God is almighty and good.
Miracles Not Necessarily Chaotic
I previously (#77) appealed to "Chaos theory" – where "the tiniest change even among atoms is going to change the way very large phenomena occur" – to explain how God could act without his action being measurable with the instruments of physics. It wasn't an explanation for all alleged miracles. Therefore Straughen's example of water changed to wine needs no comment at present.
Dozens of debates – Bible defenders versus atheists and skeptics: