Saturday, October 18, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 7.

This chapter argues that not only should we not base our morality on scripture, as a matter of fact we don't base it on scripture - "and a very good thing too" (p. 267).

The chapter begins with the Old Testament - presenting a range of Outrageous Tales. I myself remember, as a child (perhaps about 9 or so), being puzzled by the Old Testament. Not only did my church school present the stories as true, they were clearly supposed to encapsulate a moral perspective we were expected to admire and emulate. Even at the time, I found it hard to reconcile the Christmas message of baby Jesus meek and mild with the jealous, bloodthirsty tyrant who told Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son.

There's a lot in this chapter. I am going to focus on one thing, which also puzzled me as a child. The atonement. Dawkins says:

"I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic, and repellent. We should dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitousness and familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment...?" (p.287)

While I don't agree with Dawkins about everything, I do agree with him about this. Particularly about the anaesthetic of familiarity killing of our awareness of just how ridiculous the whole theory is. It is, indeed, a sort of scapegoat theory...

"...executing the an innocent in order to pay for the sins of the guilty.... To cap it all, Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact... which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory. Oh, but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic? So, in order to impress himself, Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual?" (P. 287)

I think this is one of the finest passages in the book (which I admit is in many ways flawed). I, like Dawkins, find myself utterly baffled by the whole story. It really doesn't make any sense (of course, for some, the fact that we can make no sense of it is precisely what makes it, not a load of cobblers, but truly impressive - you see it's a holy mystery!)

What I'd like to see is how Christians respond to this. How would the Rev. Sam respond, for example? If you've got a minute, Sam...?

50 comments:

anticant said...

The Bible contains finer passages than Dawkins, and is even more flawed.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen! Still following, albeit at a distance recently coz' of other business, but I finished reading the whole of this book last week, so I can re-engage a bit.

I find the doctrine of penal substitution barbaric and theological nonsense. It's not a doctrine that existed in the first millenium; there's a precursor to it in Anselm but it only takes on its present form post-Calvin, especially as taken up by various theologians in the United States.

What I found weakest in this chapter was Dawkins' assumption that the only valid form of Christianity was one which made the literal text the criterion for morality - which is a very Modern development. Most Christians would take Jesus himself as the criterion for morality, hence the popularity of WWJD bracelets. And that can be given a very explicit theological rationale, and is very mainstream.

I gave a long talk to my church a while ago about penal substitution which can be found here.

Sam Norton said...

I should add, I've written rather a lot about this subject on my blog (see here, some of which might be more digestible than that very long (1 hour) talk. I'd recommend an Eastern Orthodox perspective as well, which can be found here.

Paul P. Mealing said...

This chapter is the least contentious for me (so far, as I’m yet to finish the book), but, I expect, the most contentious for many. Personally, the Bible is one of the most depressing books I’ve read, not least because it portrays such a negative view of humanity. Jesus is the only redeeming character in the whole book, in my view, even a contradiction, which is why, personally, I don’t believe he is entirely fictional, albeit he is significantly and obviously mythologised, but that’s another debate.

Dawkins’ critique of atonement and its link to ‘original sin’ is very similar to an argument I presented, only more emotively, in an essay I wrote a few years back. Sin is the perfect abstract concept for emotional blackmail, and the Church, in various guises, exploited it for centuries. I was surprised that Dawkins referenced Bishop John Shelby Spong, who also contends that ‘God is an experience’, though he radically challenges orthodox views on Christianity in almost every respect.

I wrote the above (in anticipation) before I’d read Dawkins’ section on ‘the moral zeitgeist’, which I think is possibly the best section in the book (so far).

Regards, Paul.

Kyle S said...

I don't really know how to respond to this, I think the chapter is very weak. It contains more name calling than argument. It reminds me of some bad Christian books I have read, where the author is more concerned about getting cheers from those who already hold his position, than engaging with the issue at hand.

Dawkins says that he doesn't understand the issue, but there is little evidence that he has made anything more than a superficial attempt to do so. Just because something seems to be nonsense doesn't mean it is. I know from my studies in philosophy that some theories have seemed ridiculous to start off with, but after working at it, and reading around I have come to understand them.

In any case, why should it bother a Christian what Dawkins opinions are on the matter?

Stephen Law said...

Hello Kyle S

I am asking for responses to the charge that the central Christian story of atonement clearly makes little sense. Seems to me, that's just to call a spade a spade.

Even the Rev Sam, a Christian who has spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about this stuff, appears to agree with Dawkins on this point.

If you can make sense of it, do please explain. I am ready to persuaded...

It won't do just to dismiss Dawkins as failing to understand. That's courtiers reply, as lampooned by Pharyngula below:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

wombat said...

Sam - Re: Penal Substitution

Well it not may have reached its present from until after the first millenium but there are several clear references in Paul's letters. e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:3
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures"
also John 2:2, Hebrews 7:27

Moreover the idea of getting forgiveness by some symbolic sacrifice seems to have been established in Judaism already. e.g.

Leviticus 4:26
"And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him."

Other Old Testament examples of sacrifice of children, wives and others abound as well. I don't want to turn this into a Bible quoting Blog (certainly not in debate with a professional!) but I don't think you can really claim that the idea of sacrifice on behalf of someone else and forgiveness as a goal is in any way new. Even the idea of applying it to a relative as the offering was well established.

Kyle P. said...

I love the "Outrageous Tale" of "god" sending a pack of bears to eat and tear apart a group of children who made fun of a man's beard. That's so incredibly moral it makes my "soul" hurt. . .yeah, that's it.

anticant said...

Sam's version of Christianity is like the vanishing Cheshire Cat - he whittles away all the traditional doctrine he dislikes or disagrees with, so that at the end there isn't even a shadow of a grin left. I've asked Sam before - as an ordained C of E minister, he must have subscribed to the Thirty Nine Articles. How does he feel about that?

As for Kyle S's "In any case, why should it bother a Christian what Dawkins opinions are on the matter?" that really sums up the futility of this whole debate!

Sam Norton said...

Stephen, you're misleading people there in implying that I agree with Dawkins that 'the central Christian story of atonement clearly makes little sense'. That is not my position. I think the version of atonement that Dawkins is criticising, commonly called 'penal substitution', doesn't make any sense. That doesn't mean I don't accept various alternative versions of the atonement, eg that of the early church. This chapter is a very good example of Dawkins only engaging with those bits of Christian history that suit his rhetorical purposes and ignoring the overwhelming majority of Christianity that doesn't.

PS to Wombat - there's quite a lot of steps between saying that Jesus died for our sins and PSA...

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to say that I haven't read all of Dawkin's book, so perhaps my criticisms below are unfair, but:

1) the penal-substitutionary view of Jesus' death is but one of the many different interpretations of the cross events. Criticism of it is only criticism of one type of Christianity. Some other positions do not consider the crucifixion as necessary for atonement, nor as something which was desired or asked for by God.

2) the doctrine of original sin is rejected by many christians (eg. those of the Restorationist movement). Those who reject it tend to claim that
(a) individuals are not born tainted (as the doctrine of original sin claims), whether that tainting is moral/metaphysical/spiritual in nature.
(b) individuals responsible only for their own sins

3) whether or not Adam and Eve existed is irrelevant to the salvific effect of Jesus' death. In other words, Dawkin's claim that

"Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual"

is irrelevant, because it is not the effect of original sin (i.e. the actions of the mythological Adam and Eve) which God provides atonement for, it is the actions of people who exist/ed.


You are right. The idea of a God who would ask someone (let alone his "son") to die, and make the salvation of other people contingent (in part) upon that death, is abhorrent. To our eyes at least.
It is just that that is only one way of viewing it.

Furthermore, for anyone who believes in a God such as that depicted by Christianity (or Judaism or Islam, et al. for that matter), to say that something which relates to that God (a doctrine regarding that God or whatever) is a mystery, is not really a criticism of that belief. After all, wouldn't you expect a bit of mystery when you are talking about some omnipotent, transcendent, etc. God? (To think that such mystery would not exist is a bit arrogant isn't it?)

The problem is, it makes argument about those doctrine and that God a bit difficult, if they are not subject to the same criteria of rationality which other claims are.

Kyle S said...

"I am asking for responses to the charge that the central Christian story of atonement clearly makes little sense."

What would a response to this require? It requires an explanation that makes sense. That doesn't seem very hard.

1. The character of God requires that sin is paid for.

2. Everyone has sinned.

3. Therefore, everyone has sin that must be paid for.

4. An appropriate representative may pay the price in place of another.

5. Christ is an appropriate representative of humanity because he is human, he is perfect and he is God, so his worth is equal to the price that is to be paid.

6. Christ has paid the price.

This is rather huried, and so there may be some problems with it. But certainly, it is not nonsense.

It may be the case that some of these statements are false, or a little unclear, but that doesn't matter, all that matters in the present debate is that it makes sense.

In fact, I'm struggling to think of examples of things that obviously don't make sense. It would be things like:

(*) the gimbles are troving and glibbing.

But the story of atonement clearly doesn't fall into that category.

I could believe that someone doesn't understand it, but to say that it is obviously nonsense seems like willful ignorance.

Steven Carr said...

The early church had different view about the death of Jesus.

The author of Luke/Acts regards Jesus as the first martyr.

In his view, what saves people is repentance at having caused the death of Jesus.

Of course, I am no more guilty of causing the death of Jesus than are Jews who live today.

We all have a perfect alibi for the death of Jesus. We were not even born then.

Steven Carr said...

'Dawkins says that he doesn't understand the issue, but there is little evidence that he has made anything more than a superficial attempt to do so.'

NT Wright critices Christian clergy like Jeffery John for the 'caricature' of atonement.

And Jeffery John is paid by the Church of England to teach about these things.

I guess this alleged god can't make doctrines which are understandable even by people who devote their lives to studying these things, let alone atheists who ask 'What on earth are Christians talking about?'

noggin said...

1,2 and 6 are presented as facts, and 3 is a logical conclusion of 1 and 2. 4 and 5 seem to be normative stipulations made by God. It's that self referential factor that stops it making sense.

Okay, I'll bite. What are the steps from atonement to penal substitution?

Kyle P. said...

Anonymous said,
"You are right. The idea of a God who would ask someone (let alone his "son") to die, and make the salvation of other people contingent (in part) upon that death, is abhorrent. To our eyes at least.
It is just that that is only one way of viewing it."

The same can be said of the Holocaust. We see it as horrible, but that's only one way of looking at it. At the time, Germans felt the Jewish should be eradicated and their point of view is valid too, right?

Your arguments were all non-sequiturs, anon.

Kyle P. said...

Wow, Kyle S. That one was no good. I'm surprised to see that from you - you're usually much better. Let's go through it as two Kyle's fighting to the death. . .or something!


"1. The character of God requires that sin is paid for."

There's quite a few problems right from the beginning. How do you know that the character of your "god" requires that sin is paid for? You might claim that it's in the Bible, but actually that's part of what we're discussing here, so it at least muddles the waters, rather than clarifies them.

"2. Everyone has sinned."

Tell that to my stillborn sister. This is not sarcasm. But, "Everyone has sinned" is presented as true without evidence, and I would say is contentious.

"3. Therefore, everyone has sin that must be paid for."

Again, resting on 2 which is resting upon a contentious premise.

"4. An appropriate representative may pay the price in place of another."

Um, in what culture has this EVER been true, other than pre-scientific cultures that harbor and revel in ignorance? I cannot go into a courtroom and tell the judge that I would gladly go to jail instead of the mass murderer and expect the judge to say, "Okay, as long as SOMEONE goes to jail!"

"5. Christ is an appropriate representative of humanity because he is human, he is perfect and he is God, so his worth is equal to the price that is to be paid."

First off, you said everyone has sinned. That means that Jeebus has sinned. Secondly, I'd really like to know your definition of "perfect" here, and how you can know that Jeebus was it based on just a single book that does not chronicle his formative years at all. Finally, how is it that you can judge and weigh the cost of a person's life? What I mean is that you say that Jeebus is worth all of our sins combined because he's "perfect" and he's "god" - this is laughable. I would go so far as to say that a) if he's perfect, then he's not human, b) if he's "god" then he's not human, and c) how is it that you can tell whether or not one sin is more costly or worse than another? There's just too many variables, plus the possibility of the "You don't know!" game. We can discuss this more later if you wish, but it really seems like a terrible thing to say.

"6. Christ has paid the price."

Why does death have to be the price? How can a price really be put on a person's head in a way other than in human terms (such as a ransom)? Your argument is full of holes. I realize you were hurried, so would you care to elaborate and maybe answer those few questions?

Andrew Louis said...

"Why didn't God just forgive our sins...."

Isn't that a bit like asking, "Why did Joe eat chicken and rice for dinner last night?" Is there a rational, scientific answer to that? Not without infinate regress.....

Sam Norton said...

Penal Substitution is the sort of disaster generated when you take a metaphor and turn it into a metaphysics.

Kyle P. said...

Andrew Louis said,
"'Why didn't God just forgive our sins...'

Isn't that a bit like asking, "Why did Joe eat chicken and rice for dinner last night?" Is there a rational, scientific answer to that? Not without infinite regress..."

Not really, no. Remember, we're talking about life and death here, not what's for dinner. If we base our morality on logic and reason, then of course there's an answer to the question, "Why didn't 'god' just forgive our sins?" Because "god" doesn't exist, and the Bible is all a load of hogwash. There very well could be a logical reason that Joe ate chicken and rice as opposed to (say) pizza. Let me ask this: What makes you think there's an infinite regress by asking that question? I just don't see it at all.

Eric said...

"If we base our morality on logic and reason"

Can we ground morality on logic and reason alone? Didn't Hume show that, at best, logic and reason can tell us what actions =will= lead to what ends, and not what ends we =should= (morally) seek?

anticant said...

Oh dear! What a load of waffle. Let's cut through it by saying that unless you can provide credible evidence for the existence of a supernatural being /god, and a Biblical - or at least Biblical-approximate - Jesus, all the arguments being advanced here are nothing but hot air.

Stephen Law said...

Kyle S seems to be going with penal substitution theory, so let's stick with that for the time being.

Kyle's P's questions are the kind of straightforward, surely unanswerable, questions to which the theory gives rise. Which is why non-Christians, and even quite a few Christians, consider it bonkers. It's in that sense that I suggest it doesn't "make sense".

But I am sure Kyle S will supply some answers, which will make for an interesting discussion.

I'll add just one more. Even assuming sins must be "paid for" and that this debt can be paid by another: why must an ordinary human being such as myself, a sinner of course, have accumulated such a mountain of sin to "pay for" that I could not pay it myself? I haven't been *that* bad! Honest! Couldn't I just pay the debt myself, perhaps by God giving me a damn good thrashing? Frankly, I'd prefer it that way.

But in any case, when I look at my fellow human beings, I, for the most part, do not see beings deserving of even a damn good thrashing. Yes I see people who are hurting, confused, angry, and selfish, but then almost all of them are regularly loving, kind and selfless too. They are people who, while far from perfect, are, in my eyes, certainly deserving of compassion and concern. I know they've sinned. But they're already worth forgiving, aren't they? In fact, I can forgive vast majority of them, without insisting there be "payment" with pain and blood. Why can't God just forgive in the same way?

Or, when you look at your fellow men and women, do you see such a morass of utter scumbags, each loaded with so much sin that each is beyond "paying the price", even with their own pain and blood?

What a shitty vision of humanity you have.

Stephen Law said...

I said: "each loaded with so much sin that each is beyond "paying the price", even with their own pain and blood?"

Perhaps I should have added "except by spending eternity in hell, which is what Jesus' suffering and blood supposedly saves us from."

The whole "wrong-doing requires payment with suffering/blood" thing seems, to me, utterly abhorrent and immoral - and *pretty obviously rooted in a morally primitive, backward-arsed culture we are rightly rid of.*

Ditto the idea that one man's sin can be paid for by the blood/suffering of another.

Big Bad Bob said...

Jesus life and death were clearly interpreted in a way that was meaningful to the observers of that time - to a first centuary jew the idea of atonement would be a perfectly immediete way to embody an innocent mans acceptance of death.

The question is not what the early church thought of this - interesting though it may be - the question is what you think of such a sacrifice - and what remains after it has been given - see the resurrection.

Penal substitution is an idea to reflect on - not an idea to foreclose all subseqent thought. Dawkins takes an modern and imperialistic view of christianity and claims he is winning some sort of courtroom argument. This is dodgy journalism not philosophy or science - big noises for simple minds...

Regarding the crucifiction , In the little time i spent at divinity college i remember reading something schweitzer wrote about jesus giving himself up to crucifiction - about "throwing himself unknowing onto the wheel of history".

Stephen a "holy mystery" is worthless if it is merely fatuity dressed as obscurantism but the crucifiction of jesus is something which is contemplated by the church as it moves through history. There is no finalised answer. If there was it would one day sound as stupid as penal substitution does now.


I dont think contemplating sacrifice , wholeness, and injustice is worthless. I dont think the central christian story is just silly. Like sam I have written about this elsewhere so I will simply leave a link:

http://www.scribd.com/
share/upload/3010042/
m7s82x8skhutav4t15i

Anonymous said...

Sam - Re Abuse of metaphor.

But this is surely one of RD's key points. If it's a metaphor it's a horrible one.

If it's so opaque that it is beyond interpretation by its intended audience it has simply fallen flat.

Anyhow Paul clearly says "..for our sins". What senses could he be using?

anticant said...

BBB: You may not think the central Christian story is just silly - though it is. The essential question is: Is it true? If you have any credible evidence that it is, please tell us. We have been waiting for months here for such evidence, but after umpteen threads and debates, it still isn't forthcoming. Because there isn't any??

Big Bad Bob said...

Perhaps theologians are too soft in the dawkins debate. I watched the Mcgrath Hawkins debate on google video - but in a postmodern debate could we please contrast postmodern scientific philosophy with postmodern theology - and not rattle modern sciencism against the empty cage of pre-darwinian fundamentalism.

Sure that might make us all seem wonderfully intelligent but It will just be noisemaking and not actually thinking.

To be concise Dawkins has attacked supernaturalism , cartesian dualism , and a reified view of god and religious language. But he is rather late in the game - these have nothing to do with contemporary theology.

You can keep saying pantaloons pantaloons pantaloons all you like but analogies only work if you want to believe them. I do recognise dawkins god - its what I believed in when I was 5 - no sorry when I was 9. When I was 5 I had more sense....

Andrew Louis said...

Kyle P,

The reason there can never be a final response to why Joe ate chicken and rice is due to a first cause.

Sure you could say, "He was hungry, and chicken and rice was all he had." That seems pretty reasonable; but then I could ask, "why was he hungry? Why was chicken and rice all he had?" So on and so on and so on.... Infinate regress. You might find that rediculous, but even my 6 year old asks these sorts of trailing questions.

In everyday speach, sure, that he was hungry is good enough; but if I use that same line as a reason for a belief in God suddenly it's not good enough.

So what's good enough?

Andrew Louis said...

Kyle P,
yes, logically God doesn't exist, I have no problem with that. However, logic [reason] exists only in language (or so I'd argue for now).

I'd be interested if one could prove otherwise.

Kyle P. said...

Allow me a few brief parodies, if it please you, Anticant:

"Ah-ha! But the God you're referring to is not the God I believe in! Haha! GOTCHA, SUCKER!"

How about a blast from the not-so-distant past?

"On what grounds do you base your belief that the central story to Christianity is silly, and how do you account for them?"

Or my personal favorite:

"You can't expect God to do what you want Him to. God's ways are mysterious. We were not meant to understand - we were only meant to believe."

Sorry, I crack myself up. I'm gonna go barf now because I mimicked the jokers/theists so well that it makes me sick.

Kyle P. said...

Andrew,

You're moving the goal-posts, it seems to me. You can answer the question, "Why did Joe eat chicken and rice?" with, as you said, "That's all he had." Now, to ask, "Why is that all he had?" (for example) is asking a totally different question.

Hmm, I'm not entirely sure that that's relevant, but it IS interesting (to me) to think about. I daresay it feels like it may have made me think about logic and reality in a completely different way.

In any case, the answer to your question about infinite regresses is, of course, "Because I'm God." That's why "god" would choose to just forgive our sins rather than have to murder someone to accomplish the same task.

Big Bad Bob said...

anticant

It is only as true as you can make it...

There is no answer to the historicism of the new testament. Any answer just generates more questions. Why bother ? Who needs to know ? When you find out an isolated, objective & discrete historical event let me know...


Historicity only matters when you are working with the text as an all commmanding meta-narrative. Which would be a bit weird if you are supposed to be following in the footsteps of a religious teacher who never wrote a book - see bibliolatry if you ever you fancy a new vice...

In my humble opinion - There is the text and your interaction with it - everything else is just noise or as you might put it "religious devotion". If the text means nothing to you thats fine by me - But when people - like my own sweet self - claim to find meaning in it does that make automatically make them silly ?

You insist it is a silly story - I say only that it can be and it could possibly not be - depending on the viewer. Its not what you read its the way that you read it.

Isnt that a fun boy 3 song ?

Andrew Louis said...

Kyle P,

Maybe I’m moving the posts. However, all I’m really trying to say/demonstrate is that there is never a final answer with reason. You can never arrive at an “Ultimate Truth” or a “First Cause”, or something absolute. In this way, just how rational is reason? We just go with it because it tends to work.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is anon 2:18

ALL of my arguments are non-sequiturs kyle p??

Regarding your one explicit argument against one of my arguments, you said:

"The same can be said of the Holocaust. We see it as horrible, but that's only one way of looking at it. At the time, Germans felt the Jewish should be eradicated and their point of view is valid too, right?"

Your last sentence seems to be implying that just because the Germans had a point of view, that their point of view is valid. This is an non-sequitur of yours, since I was not arguing for the position that all points of view are valid. Instead, I said that I found the penal-substitutionary theory of atonement to be abhorrent. My claim that "It is just that that is only one way of viewing it" is simply alluding to the fact that my abhorrence of the penal-substitutionary view, and any rejection of it based on such an abhorrence, does not necessarily imply the utter incoherence of Christianity nor of any Christian interpretation of the cross events. I was meaning to imply that there are other ways of viewing the crucifixion which are more reasonable than the abhorrent penal-substitutionary view.

Additionally, that is not analogous to the holocaust example because there is no need to accept the (Nazi) German view of the holocaust as reasonable. Whether a view of the cross, or a view of the holocaust is reasonable or not, must be based on the merits of argument. And such argument is what various people, including yourself, are trying to unravel here.

As for your claim that my arguments are all non-sequiturs, all of points 1), 2) and 3) which I make, are claims which are attempting to convey that Dawkin's arguments quoted in the original post, only apply to certain types of Christianity. This is because his arguments are premised upon 1) the acceptance of the substitutionary view of the cross, 2) the doctrine of original sin, and 3) the actual existence of Adam and Eve.
Many Christians reject 1-3 outright, hence Dawkin's argument do not apply to such Christians: Dawkin has narrowed his prey down to a sub-set of Christians.

anticant said...

So the theists here are now trying to argue that the historicity of Christianity is irrelevant! Most Christians I have known, read, and discussed with during a long life have insisted that the historical truth of the Gospels is central to their religion, and is what distinguishes it from other, false religions.

Now, apparently, there's something called 'postmodern theology' which doesn't give a toss whether of not the virgin birth, the crucifixion, and the resurrection actually happened.

Talk about moving the goal posts!

Big Bad Bob said...

"moving the goalposts" - thats the sort of thing you get crucified for isnt it ? - looking at your religion in a fresh light is completely christian. At least if we are still paying any attention to the silly story of jesus and his crucifiction. If someone doesnt accuse me of blasphemy I must be doing something wrong.

Most - Many - doesnt carry much weight in any theology centred on the gospels - I wouldnt learn quantum theory from the guy down the pub - I wouldnt learn the gospel form someone whose character didnt reveal its potentially life changing character...

But your welcome to keep thinking of christianity as an antiquated fossil - abstract it from a life of wholeness into ludicrous concept - it will certainly help the arguments stick...

I've always thought Theism was something to do with feudalism. But Im easily confused...

Do agree with you about religions being cultural though - I think the driving force of religion might be cultural - "shared experience" or something like that. So it is important they are continually challenged on all sides. such Blasphemy and Heresy are critical - It helps these cultures renew themselves.

Stephen Law said...

Hi BBB

We are currently looking at "penal substitution theory" which Kyle S goes for, if not you.

The "sophisticated" theology to which you seem to subscribe is, of course, held by only a tiny proportion of Christians. As you say, to deal with that sort of "Christianity" effectively we need to adopt a very different technique (mostly, the slow, patient exposing of the fact that "sophisticated " theology consists in an amorphous kernel of content surrounded by an elaborate system of evasive techniques. For an example, trace the thread on "problem of evil" where Sam's "sophisticated" theological response to the problem of evil turned out, after many weeks of patient unravelling, not to exist).

Kyle S said...

Hi Kyle P, Stephen and others,

I think that the fact that this discussion is taking place proves my point that the biblical account does make sense. Otherwise, how would we be able to discuss the precise meaning of certain statements or consider possible counter examples?

Most of the responses to me in this thread seem to be along the lines of 'but that doesn't fit well with my understanding of morality'. But that doesn't seem to be a very strong, or even interesting argument. Why should it matter if the biblical account doesn't fit with your morality?

Kyle P,

Since you went to the trouble of responding to each point:

1. How I know this is not the present issue, we are discussin whether what the Bible says makes sense. Also, you say that I am not allowed to take things from the Bible for this discussion, but then how are we to begin discussing whether the Bible makes sense?

2. Ok, perhaps I was hasty in formulating this point. I believe that everyone of a certain age without cognitive defect has sinned. Beyond this I do not know, I don't know where the cut-off point is, or even if there is one.

3. See 2.

4. I don't think a response like, 'this wouldn't work in court' is very good. It's not like God is taking his lead from the British law courts.

5. i) See 2.
ii) Perfect=sinless, and I know this because he is God.
iii) a) how do you know that?
b) how do you know that?
c) I don't need to be able to weigh and measure sin, God can do that, I am not his accountant.

6. Death is required because the offence is so great. All sin, is sin against God, against the creator and sustainer. This means that the debt is so large that it requires the greatest price.

Again, this comes back to the character of God. Complaining about this seems to be a bit like saying 'The Bible is nonsense because it refers to God, and I don't believe in God'.

Also, you refer to what I have said as an argument, I don't want you to think that it is just because i numbered my points. It was meant to be a brief outline of the atonement.

wombat said...

BBB - "But he is rather late in the game - these have nothing to do with contemporary theology."


Be that as it may, they have a very great deal to do with the state of contemporary religion. This is one of RD's points. This sort of stuff is what the majority of self professed believers go in for. It is typical of the public pronouncements of leaders of large and well funded religious organizations.

The "contemporary theologians" don't seem to be doing very much about convincing their natural constituency do they?

In any case, do you reject environmentalists criticism of those who use inefficient and polluting coal fired power stations because these have nothing to do with contemporary energy production?

Big Bad Bob said...

The "contemporary theologians" don't seem to be doing very much about convincing their natural constituency do they?

about as much luck as jesus had with 1st century judaism :)

wombat said...

Kyle S.

"I think that the fact that this discussion is taking place proves my point that the biblical account ..."

Not so. It results from the fact that it is expressed in mostly well formed sentences, with a recognisable narrative structure. Much in the same way we can read "Alice in Wonderland" or enjoy Edward Lear's writings.

In any case speculation about hypothetical states of affairs is a common pastime. Mostly these confine themselves to whimsical debates about how dragons stomachs withstand the heat of their fiery breath, or the reproductive habits of invisible creatures.

Just being able to talk about something does not make it real or even truly coherent.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle S

You say the Biblical account (or rather, your version of it – many Christians, such as Rev Sam, reject your version) must make sense, “Otherwise, how would we be able to discuss the precise meaning of certain statements or consider possible counter examples?”

As I said, the sense in which it “doesn’t make sense” is not that the words are meaningless, but that the theory is bonkers. E.g. Like believing that fairies are what make the flowers grow.

You then say:

“Most of the responses to me in this thread seem to be along the lines of 'but that doesn't fit well with my understanding of morality'.”

Not quite. I say that these beliefs are not moral:

1. All wrong doing must be “paid for” with suffering and/or blood.

2. The sins of one person can be paid for with the suffering/blood of another.

3. We are all so utterly steeped in sin, that only the sacrifice of a sinless god/man can save us from…(well, what, hell?)

You can just assert these things are moral, of course.

However, seems to me, you yourself don’t really buy into this moral point of view: while primitive peoples might have ordered their lives in accordance with it, no modern Christian does. You would surely consider a court that, say, allowed an innocent child to be sacrificed to “pay for” a murder’s sin to be profoundly immoral. Indeed, somewhat *bonkers*! This would not “make sense” morally speaking.

That's precisely my reaction to your little theory about Jesus' blood and suffering "paying for" my sins.

BTW, do you really see each human being as so full of sin that a price must be "paid" in blood, suffering and death, and not just their blood, suffering and death (for that wouldn't be nearly a big enough "price") but that of a perfect person? Can't you take a step back and see, not just how bonkers that is, but also what an awful, poisonous word view it is?

Stephen Law said...

I just put the preceding comment up as a main post, so we can continue there.....

wombat said...

Stephen - Looks like my last post crossed yours, sorry about the apparent repetition.

Points (1) and (2) surely reflect a scheme of morality widely held in ancient times. Karen Armstrong makes the point that in pre-modern tribal society similar ideas actually worked to keep some sort of order. If someone from another tribe killed one of your kinsmen you did not have modern methods of crime detection to track the culprit you simply killed a (random-ish) member of the other tribe in revenge, or demanded that they offer up someone for this purpose.

Of course these things did sometimes lead to cycles of violence but the alternative of letting the murder go completely unpunished simply invited more of the same. The incentive to avoid provoking others came from pressure within the tribe.

It is pragmatic.

Stephen Law said...

Interesting point, Wombat. I should prob. read more Armstrong...

Stephen Law said...

got a reference for the Armstrong point, wombat?

Steven Carr said...

KYLE
3. Therefore, everyone has sin that must be paid for.

CARR
I guess this alleged god created the rule that he had to kill everybody who sinned.

Which is everybody.

He has to kill everybody, you see. That is what his character demands.

If somebody doesn't obey all of God's commandments (and many people don't, not having had the chance to study the Bible and find out what they are), then God has to kill them.

They made a free will choice to be born in China and never see a Bible, and so never learn God's commandments.

So they have to die.

Perhaps Kyle will give us a comprehensive list of all the things that are sins, so we at least stand some chance of avoiding sin.

I'm sure that this god of justice would actually tell human beings what are sins and what are not, before he killed sinners.

Is contraception a sin? Is masturbation a sin?

Is taking somebody else's parking space a sin?

Is driving a gas-guzzler a sin?

I assume that a god of justice would publish a list of sins.

But not to worry, Kyle will tell us what are sins and what are not sins.

After all, not even he thinks people should be killed for things they never knew were sinful.

Sam Norton said...

Stephen, it would help BBB track the conversation about the problem of evil if you dug out your final words, responding to my lengthy last post on the issue, from the comment thread that it was embedded in. He - and anyone else - would then be able to judge for himself how far what I wrote gives a non-existent answer, or how far you missed the point, rather than simply being invited to take your word for it.

Sam Norton said...

Stephen, I continue to believe that you haven't understood my perspective on the problem of evil/suffering. I've written a bit more about it here. I'd be interested to know your take on Nussbaum.