April 2009

I've seen it claimed, in discussions regarding differing worldviews, that atheism itself is a worldview, or even that strong (or "militant") atheism is a religion. (For the record, I would not consider atheism a religion, though I would consider it a worldview.)

A response that I've seen is that atheism is not a worldview because it is not a belief, rather it is merely a "default position". The rationale given sometimes compares belief in God to unicorns or some other such mythical animal, in the sense that unbelief in such things (or anything, really) is the default until convinced (or proven) otherwise.

While I can certainly see the reasonableness of this line of thinking and its general applicability, I wonder if it applies equally well to the question of God. There's at least two reasons to think in this specific case things might be different. First, the vast majority of people throughout history have believed God (or gods) exist(s), a phenomenon which remains the case today. Should a belief be regarded as a default position when the majority believe the opposite?

And secondly, related to the above, if Richard Dawkins and those who agree with him are correct that human beings have evolved a natural proclivity towards belief in God(s) as some sort of survival/social assistance mechanism, should not belief in God be considered the default position, since we are supposedly "hard-wired" for such belief? Shouldn't such naturally impelled belief be considered the default? Although I would agree with Dawkins that human beings seem to have an innate proclivity towards belief in God, I would suggest that there is different reason why so many people seem to have an innate awareness of God.

ehrmancolbertSee Stephen Colbert dialogue with Bart Ehrman about Ehrman's "new" book, Jesus Interrupted. (Click here instead if you're in Canada.) It's a pretty funny interview, as is usual for Mr Colbert. Although Colbert plays a character on his show, in real life he is a practicing Catholic and Sunday School teacher, so it's not too surprising that he would want to invite Ehrman on his show to give him an intellectual leg-drop. He actually does make some valid points against Mr Ehrman, who clearly isn't prepared for such a sarcastic assault.

One of Ehrman's main points goes unchallenged on the show, however. That being that the earliest Christians didn't think Jesus was divine. Ehrman's argument seems to be that even though Jesus is clearly portrayed as being divine in the Gospel of John (which he admits), in the (ostensibly earlier) synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) he is not portrayed as being God. So, Ehrman is saying, since the synoptics are earlier and don't portray Jesus as God, John can be dismissed as a later invention (or evolution) of the Jesus story.

At the outset, this black-and-white distinction is false, since reading the synoptics should not result in anyone thinking that the authors intended to portray Jesus as "just a guy". Even if someone wants to claim Jesus is not divine in the synoptics, it would be ridiculous to say that Jesus is not seen as being utterly unique and far above and beyond all other people who have ever lived.

But when Ehrman's claim that Jesus' divinity is absent from the synoptic gospels is studied more carefully, there are at least two huge problems. First, I think it's false that Jesus' divinity is not found in the synoptics. There are in fact many ways the authors speak of Jesus' divinity in the synoptics. I've explained one of these ways in depth in my post "Jesus Never Claimed to be God?". I think we can see in the early synoptic gospel writings how the authors are struggling to comprehend this god-man, this real human being who lived and ate and walked with them, but who at the same time was nevertheless "God in the flesh". (See also Glenn Miller on the subject of Jesus' self-understanding in the synoptics.)

The second problem is that the synoptic gospels are not the earliest documents in the New Testament. The earliest documents are generally agreed to be Paul's letters, which contain some of the strongest statements of Jesus' divinity, such as Colossians 2:9: "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" and Philippians 2:5-7: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Therefore, going by Ehrman's method, since Paul's writings are earlier than the synoptics, the should be trusted instead, and these statements regarding Jesus' divinity should be believed ahead of the later synoptic gospels' descriptions.

A featured article series currently on TheLife.com, written by Canadian philosopher Michael Horner, investigates Jesus' resurrection as final proof of Jesus' divinity; ie, that not only did Jesus claim to be divine, but that the resurrection validated His claim. Please take a moment today to read "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?"

Oh, and happy Easter! Because of Christ's death and resurrection, it is truly the greatest and happiest of all holidays.

Was just listening to the song Shadow of the Day by Linkin Park, and noticed how easily the lyrics could be turned from a depressing song about darkness to an encouraging song speaking of a deeper truth:

Original My lyrics
And the sun will set for you And the Son was sent for you
The sun will set for you The Son was sent for you
And the shadow of the day And the Savior of the day
Will embrace the world in grey ….. Will embrace the world in grace
And the sun will set for you And the Son was sent for you

Who is this "Son", "Savior", "Jesus" anyways?

FaithAfter my recent post re Peter Kreeft's thoughts on "Who made God?" I've seen that same question come up in several places during my random web wanderings. As I was thinking about this question today in the shower (where all great philosophical thought occurs) I imagined a conversation like the following … hopefully this isn't too contrived and doesn't caricature the two imagined persons involved too much:

Christian:  The cosmological argument is strong evidence that God exists. If the universe was made, it needs a maker; if it was created, it needs a creator. That creator is God.

Skeptic:  Ah, but this merely raises the question "Who made God?" which Richard Dawkins himself asks in The God Delusion.* It just pushes the question back one step further.

Christian:  This seems to me to be a category error; it confuses the uncreated creator with His created creation. God doesn't need a maker because God was never made; He was and is eternally existing.

Skeptic:  That's special pleading at best, hypocritical at worst. Why is it okay for God to be "eternal, uncreated" but not the universe?

Christian:  Because we have good reasons, both philosophical and scientific, that the universe is not eternal, whereas no such reasons exist to believe that God is so. God is not subject to the same limitations of the material world He created. The cosmological argument proposes not that everything requires a cause, but whatever begins to exist requires a cause; if God did not begin to exist (since there is no reason to believe He did, unlike the universe) He requires no cause.

Skeptic:  Even if we agree that the universe is not eternal, why must its cause be God? Why not some other explanation?

Christian:  Whatever created both time and space must transcend both time and space. Also, there are numerous other attributes which can be discerned about whatever created the universe that imply a personal entity (that is, it possesses volition among other things). So the creator of the universe is an entity which is beyond time and space yet still possesses certain attributes and is personal. This sounds to me a lot like God.

* In The God Delusion Dawkins is attempting to apply the question as a defeater to the design argument (p.109), not the cosmological argument (which Dawkins shockingly dismisses in less than a page). I've personally heard it applied more often to the cosmological argument, at least in the realm of Internet banter.