Greg Stafford is changing the nature of his site, and his language seems to suggest that he is starting a new religion. He recently posted the following:
"I am changing this site, Elihu Books, completely. Elihu Books as a site will still be online, but it will only be the gateway through which publications that teach about or that consider Jah, Jesus Christ, the Bible, and other related subjects will be presented. Most of the content, including this Chat, IN MEDIO, 'Upon the Lampstand,' and my Blog (which will be renamed and in a different format and updated more regularly) will soon be moved to www.christianwitnessesofjah.org.
"'Christian Witnesses of Jah' will be more formally introducted in the October 1, 2007, IN MEDIO article, which is the first part of a new series that will ultimately become a new book that will be made available online and in print, for free. It will define and defend the beliefs of Christian Witnesses of Jah, that is, Jehovah's Witnesses who are Witnesses of Jah and of Jesus, but not of men.
"This Chat will soon become a place only for discussion with those who worship Jah, who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and who do so for good reasons and without putting bad beliefs (= beliefs not founded on good reasons) on the same level as good beliefs."
I suspect his decision is in part due to a few recent discussions I've tried to have with him. I have a great deal of respect for his work, but I think it's regrettable that he's trying to close down dialog with people who have other perspectives in this way.
I'll paste the recent discussions in which I was involved below, partially because I don't want them to be lost.
I initiated discussion with the following post, which was cut off due to my failure to notice the word limit:
Hi there, Greg.
I'm not a Witness, but I was raised in a Witness family. I have my own perspective, but I refrain from openly talking about the stuff I don't agree with in order to keep peace in my family and to keep their association.
I have a lot of respect for you. I've enjoyed your books on Jehovah's Witnesses and the NWT. I think you're an honest, intelligent, and compassionate person. I think you are able to stand outside the positions you advocate long enough to understand the other side. Thus, since your perspective seems to be so conservative, I'm curious about how you view certain questions.
Do you think gay people should be condemned for expressing love for each other? I'd like to hear a Witness, one who's willing to investigate other perspectives, talk about this subject with compassion. I've gone on other sites where gay people who used to be Witnesses or were raised by Witnesses mentioned how much they prayed to Jehovah not to be gay. These were loyal Witnesses who loved their God, yet the Witnesses made them feel horrible about themselves (some sensitive ones and young ones contemplated suicide; others knew friends and family members who killed themselves because they hated themselves or feared that those they loved would hate them). Indeed, the homophobia common among Witnesses has alienated many from seeking God. Yet, modern medical studies of the sexuality of humans (and other species) does not suggest that there is anything unnatural about non-heterosexual orientations. Gay people are just as capable of being faithful to each other as straight people, just as capable of providing honor, mutual pleasure, support, dignity, and love to each other. And some Christians have alternative interpretations of the standard "proof texts" used to condemn homosexual love--texts which don't impress me as very insightful anyway.
Do you agree with the Society's condemnation of the enjoyment of non-procreative sexual positions between consenting adults (in this case of opposite genders) who are committed and faithful to each other?
Do you think women should not be allowed to abort? The Bible authors do not explicitly condemn the practice, though they surely knew of it. And, I hardly think a few cells can fit the biblical definition of a human soul. Certainly there is biblical reasoning against abortion, but some use biblical reasoning for it, too. Did not Job express the position that sometimes death is preferable to life? Similarly, did not Paul, in contemplating suicide, essentially admit the same fact? If the matter is not explicitly resolved in the texts viewed by Witnesses as inspired, should it not be a matter for individual consciences?
Do you think that other faiths (not just other faiths that trace back to the group of Christians who won historically, but also Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, Gnostics, etc.) contain real insights?
How do you view the textual critics of the Bible who claim, for example, that Jesus, Paul, and later Christians all had different teachings or that there are h
Greg then responded as follows:
Thank you so much for considering me in the way that you have. I also appreciate the questions you asked, and the depth with which you asked them. There is no way I could do them justice here, but I will give them their proper place “upon the lampstand.”
Give me 1-2 weeks and I will provide a multi-part Q&A under the heading of the one question: “How can we use the Bible to answer questions related to the practice of homosexuality and sexual practices between heterosexuals?” The parts will include: “What does the Bible teach regarding the practice of homosexuality?” “Does the Bible condemn all expressions of love between homosexuals?” and “Does the Bible limit sex between heterosexuals to procreative acts?”
I will address your questions on abortion separately. I’ll have to save your question regarding other faiths for another time, due to time, others who have posts pending, and the fact that part of your question was cut off.
I'll now paste everything else without comment.
TO NATE, PART 1:
Again, my apologies for taking so long to reply to your questions. I’ve been busy catching up on some personal and work-related matters, so I am just now able to give serious attention to your questions about abortion. Also, I will be working on the article in answer to your questions regarding sexual orientation, etc., so look for that on “Upon the Lampstand” in the next couple of weeks.
Regarding your abortion-related questions, you asked:
TO NATE, PART 2:
“Do you think women should not be allowed to abort?”
In the “new earth” (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) that “will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea” (Isaiah 11:9), there will not be a circumstance in which a person will be subject to any questions related to abortion, ‘because pain and death will be no more’ (Revelation 21:4). In this world where “man dominates man [and woman] to his injury” (Genesis 3:16; Ecclesiastes 8:9), and where “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19), there will be times when people makes choices that may result in an unwanted pregnancy or where a person is forcibly made pregnant with the child of another person with whom she did not intend to have relations or a child.
It is not possible for me to express or support a law that will answer all of the questions that must be answered when it comes to the issue of ‘allowing’ an abortion under any circumstance in the present system of things. I do not believe abortion is something God ever wanted to have happen, and that it saddens him greatly whenever it does happen. But I cannot account for all of things that go into God’s judgment of a person who may have an abortion so that I can say, here and now, whether or not it is ever ‘allowable’ by him. Beyond teaching others how to avoid such a situation, while at the same time not supporting the act itself as if it were something God does approve of, since all indications are that he does not approve of it in general (see below), I must leave the matter between God and the person(s) involved, and simply provide counsel, comfort, and support where possible.
“Did not Job express the position that sometimes death is preferable to life?”
I am not sure what text you have in mind, but supposing that he did in the light of his condition that does not tell us whether a living being that has not yet matured into a human being outside of it’s mother’s womb would prefer not to have the rights that will be accorded to him or her as a human being alive in the world, which is what he or she will be given if left alone to grow and mature. Thus, I do not believe your question here fits the issue, for the question here must be asked not only with respect to the mother, but also with respect to the child, in my opinion, unless we are going to assume things about what an unborn child thinks, which I don’t think we should do, that is, I suppose, unless we are going to consider also, and thus assume likewise, what the child WOULD think if it were asked the same question at a point where the question could be answered by him/her.
TO NATE, PART 3:
“Similarly, did not Paul, in contemplating suicide, essentially admit the same fact?”
Again, without a biblical text cited and then commented on by you relative to your question, I cannot give you an answer.
“If the matter is not explicitly resolved in the texts viewed by Witnesses as inspired, should it not be a matter for individual consciences?”
Whether or not any circumstance in this world provides an occasion where a person can keep a living being from growing into a mature person with all of the rights a human being is afforded in this world is ultimately between that person and Jehovah. We believe that the Bible teaches us God’s will, and also tells us what he desires for us to be happy. With respect to abortion, which we will here consider in the previously stated terms of keeping a living being from maturing in a full grown person with human rights (which is what will happen to a fetus if left alone), and thus avoid questions of when a fetus becomes a person in any sense, etc. (as I do not believe that question is necessary to answer in order to address issues related to abortion), the Bible teaches:
Exodus 23:26: “Neither a woman suffering an abortion [Hebrew: shachol or shachal] nor a barren woman will exist in your land.”
If this text does indeed refer to the abortion of an unborn child, it clearly puts abortion in a negative light, as something that would not be an indication of God’s blessing for his people.
Job 21:10-11: “His own bull actually impregnates, and it does not waste semen; his cow brings forth and suffers no abortion [Hebrew: shachol or shachal]. They keep sending out their young boys just like a flock, and their own male children go skipping about.”
Here Job compares his state with that of “the wicked,” whom he describes as being blessed with ‘cows that do not suffer abortion,’ which is then paralleled with the wicked’s ‘sending out young boys just like a flock,’ that is, rather than die or be aborted. Here abortion of the unborn is clearly contrasted with the ‘bringing forth’ of young bulls and the “sending out” of “children.” One is viewed positively, and one is viewed negatively, for the obvious reason that life is allowed to come forth where there is no abortion. Just how negatively abortions may here be viewed, in all possible circumstances, is subject to interpretation. But clearly one (birth) is desirable while the other (abortion) is not (compare Genesis 31:38; Psalm 144:14). Finally:
TO NATE, PART 4:
Exodus 21:22, 23: “In case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him without fail according to what the owner of the woman may lay upon him; and he must give it through the justices. But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul.”
Here, while the text does not for a certainty refer to the child that comes out prematurely as the “fatal accident,” events relative to the premature release of children from a mother’s womb are put into a negative light.
Therefore, in the light of the above, I do believe that while there is no basis upon which we can teach that abortion under any circumstance is something God looks upon favorably (since no such text does so), and while there is evidence to cite in teaching that he views it negatively, which point can also be made with respect to Jehovah’s view of the preservation of the life of those that will bear his image (Genesis 2:7), it is not the responsibility or “job” of any Christian to go around trying to legislate or create laws in association with any kingdom of this world that govern how abortions should be viewed or whether or not they should be conducted under any possible circumstance (John 18:36). At the same time, Christians should not have to endorse or otherwise support any form of an act (abortion) that involves the termination of the life of a fetus that if left alone will be born and, aside from any possible birth defects, grow into a mature man or woman bearing God’s image and likeness (again, Genesis 2:7).
If you have any follow-up remarks to the above, which you can give in the 400 words or less allotted, please feel free to do so within the next several days before we move on to another topic.
NOTE: A version of the above discussion regarding the Bible and abortion will also be made available on “Upon the Lampstand” in the near future.
I'm sorry I did not notice earlier that you had started responding to my questions. With regard to Job, I would reference the various passages where he says things like "would that I had been stillborn," "would that I had never been born," etc. I'm sure you know what I mean. The other passage is that found at the beginning of Philippians wherein Paul mentions how he does not know whether to choose between life and being with the Christ after death. I'm rather sure (if I remember the Oxford Classical Dictionary article on the subject correctly) suicide was not condemned until around the 4th century. (However I do seem to remember it being condemned in the Shepherd of Hermas.) Anyway, this point does relate to the situation where parents are told that if their child were to be born it would suffer horribly (usually due to genetic disorders, but sometimes due to other epigenetic factors). I think you did establish the fact that the Bible writers generally consider life (birth) to be preferable to death (abortion). I was simply trying to establish the fact that this is not universally the case. In refusing to take the position of judge and in choosing to give your general, optimistic position that life is (as Genesis says) good and should usually be preferred, I don't think you contradict my point. I would agree. Life should be preferred, but there are difficult situations (you mention some, like rape, incest, youth) that are not black and white moral issues. To advocate the right of adults to choose is, in general, to advocate their right to choose life, for this is what most people do simply because we have a number of biological imperatives urging us along those lines.
Thanks for the response. I look forward to reading your future comments,
Just an FYI on the abortion issue: I went ahead and prepared an "Upon the Lampstand" series for some of your questions and other related questions. I have expanded and clarified a few items, so take a look once it's up, and then let me know what you think.
I looked at Jehovah's Witness Discussion Forum today and was interested to read there a study box in the latest KM. Do you have any response or observation concerning the "faithful and discreet slave's" disapproval of Witnesses' doing independent Bible research?
TO NATE, PART 1:
Thank you for your post.
If you go to various sites where Witnesses committed to the teachings of the Watchtower Society can be found, you will find one explanation of the September, 2007, KM Question Box. If you go to any Kingdom Hall on planet earth when this article is considered you will hear something completely different, and those claiming today that the Society is not prohibiting things such as “independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate” are simply denying reality. Let’s look at the question, and then consider the opening words of the answer and then the balance of the answer given:
Question: “Does ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?—Matt. 24:45, 47.”
Answer: “No, it does not. And yet,…”
Let’s stop here. “And yet, …” This has the force of “in spite of this,” and then the answer goes on to describe some associated with the organization who continue to do what the question asks about, including those who have “formed groups to do independent research on Bible-related subjects,” “independent group study of Biblical Hebrew or Greek,” those who “explore scientific subjects related to the Bible,” who “create Web sites and chat rooms for the purpose of exchanging and debating their views,” and those who have “held conferences and produced publications to present their findings.”
What everyone who is loyal to the Society and who ‘in spite of this’ continue to engage in such things is missing or deliberately ignoring, is this: “Throughout the earth, Jehovah’s people are receiving AMPLE SPIRITUAL INSTRUCTION AND ENCOURAGEMENT at congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions, as well as through the publications of Jehovah’s organization” (all caps added). Now, “ample” means:
1 : generous or more than adequate in size, scope, or capacity <there for="for" ample="ample" an="an" was="was" room="room" garden="garden">
2 : generously sufficient to satisfy a requirement or need <they trip="trip" money="money" ample="ample" the="the" had="had" for="for">
TO NATE, PART 2:
Okay, so with this in mind we are then told: “However, no personal pursuit should DETRACT FROM what Jesus Christ is accomplishing THROUGH HIS CONGREGATION ON EARTH TODAY” (all caps added). Well, if you are spending any amount of time ‘forming groups to do independent research on Bible-related subjects,’ doing any amount of ‘independent group study of Biblical Hebrew or Greek,’ or ‘exploring scientific subjects related to the Bible,’ ‘creating Web sites and chat rooms for the purpose of exchanging and debating their views,’ or ‘holding conferences and producing publications to present their findings,’ you are NECESSARILY and by definition ‘detracting from what Jesus Christ is accomplishing THROUGH HIS CONGREGATION ON EARTH TODAY.’
Finally, to make it quite clear that the Society is in fact repudiating such things, they state: “For those who wish to do extra Bible study and research, we recommend that they explore Insight on the Scriptures, ‘All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,’ and our other publications, such as those that discuss the prophecies found in the Bible books of Daniel, Isaiah, and Revelation.”
So, they not only come down on those pursuing “extra study” of the Greek or Hebrew text through various groups (online or not) of other Witnesses, they not only specifically target web sites, chat rooms, and publications where Witnesses can discuss, debate, or present their findings, they clearly state that IF one ‘wishes to do extra Bible study and research’ then the only things they recommend are their own study publications. Thus, those who choose to continue meeting together, online or not, or who promote or participate in web sites, chat rooms, or who produce books, etc., are going AGAINST the recommendations of the “faithful and discreet slave” class of the Watchtower Society. In other words, those Watchtower Witnesses who reject their recommendations here are in effect claiming that they know better than the “faithful slave” class on these matters.
Of course, I believe the Society is completely wrong in their views and in their application of texts to almost everything that they say in this Question Box, and I believe they are stifling growth and the defense of Jehovah’s name and other Bible teachings, or possibly attempting to insulate their followers from facts that they believe will create disloyalty to their organization. But Witnesses loyal to the Society cannot say that, and so those who go against their recommendations are running ahead or running along a different path than that recommended and walked by those whom they consider to be the anointed body of Christ, representing Jehovah’s will on earth today. Thus, such ones are not listening to those whom they consider Jehovah’s “faithful and discreet slave.”
Thank you, Greg, for looking at this issue realistically and for refusing to allow Witnesses to be deluded into thinking their leaders are saying something other than what they are. In doing so, even the Watchtower could not accuse you of doing anything other than make clear the true intent of their words. Of course, such leaders would also accuse you of having studied the Bible and the history of the Organization and of having produced books and a web site presenting your findings. My heart goes out, above all, to children like my cousin being raised in the authoritarian, anti-intellectual, fearful environment such policies creates in the Halls and homes of loyal Witnesses.
All the best,
Since you, too, have come from a Witness background, I am curious how you dealt with the questioning process. I think questions are vital. To never stop questioning, to never let one's curiosity die, is one of the key ways of cultivating the virtues of children. However, once the questioning process starts, it seems to be hard to stop. Nonetheless, I also believe we have to settle on certain answers in order for life to be livable. If we don't, on some minimal level, trust our physical senses and our sense of self, rationality, and ethics, I truly think we are doomed. Without a basic faith in our selves, we are open to the manipulation of anyone who speaks with convincing charisma and conviction. (This does not mean that our senses can't be tricked or that people can't be made to condemn as immoral people who are in fact good or that we can reason incorrectly.) I find myself wondering why you are willing at times to question and disagree with the Watchtower Society, but you don't question other things such as the inspiration of the Judeo-Christian Protestant Bible, the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, the Christian messianic claims about Jesus, etc. How can you be confident about such things without some sort of mystical insight? How can you commit to belief without _knowledge_?
All the best,
TO NATE, PART 1:
Thank you for your post. Are you a regular reader of the materials on my web site? If not, then I suggest you read the following, http://elihubooks.com/greg-stafford/people_o..., as it may help you better understand how I approach belief, knowledge, “What is truth?" etc.
We should believe religious things based on good reasons, just like believe non-religious or other historical things for good (or, hopefully, the best) reasons, most of which we have not seen or experienced ourselves. Our belief in such things is not “mystical,” but usually reasonable and based on our having weighed reasons to believe against evidence (reasons) for not believing something claimed presently, historically, or at any time religiously. There are good and bad reasons available for belief in each category, and there are often reasons that are themselves the subject of ongoing consideration and evaluation as to whether they are “good” (= supportive of a particular belief) or “bad” (= not supportive of a particular belief). But we do not need to run around claiming we KNOW such things. Again, we only need good reasons to believe, reasons that are not contradicted by reasons to believe something else or to the contrary. That's what faith is, Nate: Belief based on good reasons but without always or even ever having to know for sure, and where the available reasons are good enough to provide a sufficient basis for acting on them in accordance with the belief they support.
TO NATE, PART 2:
I do not claim to know for a certainty that the present (Protestant) Judeo-Christian collection of writings known as the Bible is inspired or perfect. In fact, I do NOT believe you have to believe any such thing in order to act in accordance with this Bible. Again, I base my faith and actions on the good reasons that support what the Bible teaches historically, morally, and spiritually. I do NOT believe that the Bible, or any other book of God but given through men is ever going to be kept from error or attack. It’s up to us to ongoingly evaluate it like anything else, but that does not mean we stop believing! Look at the way the divine name has been treated in the Bible, both ancient and modern. Yet, I can see what happened or is happening based on my evaluation of the evidence and my weighing of reasons, good and bad. At least that is where each of us should find ourselves when it comes to what we will or will not believe.
I think maybe you are simply rejecting those who claim they know what they do not know, but only have good reasons to believe. You should then simply attempt to help them moderate their belief around good reasons, or challenge the good reasons and offer another belief based on other reasons, and then point out that we do not need to know something in order to believe it and that you believe this belief is better than that belief. Those who want to think they know or else they will not believe really are not believing based on the right reasons and so it is likely that if they were to untie their belief from what they think they KNOW and then anchor the very same belief to the best available reasons, they would lose their faith in the belief altogether! Strange, isn't it?
I will have more to say about this very soon. See the listing of forthcoming Parts of my new IN MEDIO series, beginning October 1, 2007.
ANOTHER TO NATE, PART 1:
Hello again, Nate!
Think, too, of the story of Adam and Eve. Let's not get into whether we KNOW it's true or not, but for the moment let’s start from a point where we agree we have good reasons to believe the story is true, or historical. I am not saying that reasons for such a belief have yet been sufficiently presented to you, but let's start here as if they were and as if you at least accept that there are better reasons supporting belief in this story than there are reasons for not accepting it as having occurred in some sense closely resembling what we read in the book of Genesis.
ANOTHER TO NATE, PART 2:
With that said, the account in Genesis tells us that Jehovah God gave Adam and Eve life. He gave them food, a place to live, a purpose, and each other to love in a manner appropriate for beings of the same "kind" (Genesis 1:26-2:25). Based on these reasons and the absence of any known reason that might have given Adam and Eve a basis for doubting God’s love, doubting that he was truthful, or without knowing of any reason that might have caused them to think that Jehovah God was doing all of this for his own selfish reasons and to ultimately deny them anything that they should have and that they could take if they wanted to, it is reasonable in accordance with our expectations for others or even ourselves under similar circumstances to expect that they would listen to God and not to someone else. Yet, they were presented with just such a scenario, basically, when Satan (who to them was just another being of the earth [a serpent] that God had made and thus a creature that could potentially be trusted or relied upon), told them: “YOU positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of YOUR eating from it YOUR eyes are bound to be opened and YOU are bound to be like God, KNOWING good and bad” (Genesis 3:4-5).
Did they KNOW that Jehovah was right? No. Did they KNOW that the serpent was right? No. But they had reasons to believe Jehovah, as stated above, and they had some reasons to believe the serpent, also as stated in the previous paragraph. Clearly, the reasons for listening to Jehovah, even without knowing for a certainty and even with having some reasons to believe to the contrary, were far superior to the reasons for belief that they were given by the serpent, again, one of Jehovah’s creatures. So, why did they not simply weigh the reasons and conclude that Jehovah was to be listened to more than any of his creatures, even each other? The same reason that we all, at times, just like our first human parents, do things that are not based on the best, or even good reasons: We believe what we want to believe. Eve was obviously affected by the promises of being “like God” and so this desire led to another reason to eat that which God forbid, “the tree was good for food and … it was something to be longed for to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). “Food” was good, and things of beauty or things that are desirable in appearance seem good, too, at least as far as Eve knew. Also, at this point there was no known or stated division between God and the serpent, or between God and any other being. There were only reasons given by God and reasons given by one of his creatures that would lead to a decision by both Adam and Eve to the question: To eat or not to eat?
ANOTHER TO NATE, PART 3:
Since their eating, I believe, “sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned” (Romans 5:12). So because we all, since Adam and Eve, have a reason for our sin (namely, its entering into the world and being a part of the human make-up), we deserve the same consequences that were given to Adam and Eve for their sinning, death (Genesis 2:17; 3:19). But, again, unlike Adam and Eve we have a reason for our sin and so we can be redeemed through our faith, or so I believe we have good reasons to believe. Adam, Eve, and Satan had no good reasons that we know of for their actions or beliefs, and so they are deserving of judgment and death without redemption. If they were forgiven, then there could be nothing but mercy forever shown to those who reject God without reason, and thus there could never be any permanent laws and consequences for transgression without reasons, which does not seem reasonable at all.
Adam, Eve, and Satan all had/have sufficient reasons for believing something other than what they believed/believe and for acting differently from how they acted/act. They do not have, as we do, good reasons for sinning against God, namely, our inherited sin, and so they cannot appeal to the good reasons for our redemption which God will accept, namely, the ransom paid by Jesus Christ through pain and death without good reason.---Romans 3:23-24.
So, as you can see, I base a lot, in fact, everything on having good reasons, the best reasons available, for belief, and not on knowing anything. I believe this is how God perceives things, too, in view of his dealings with others historically and presently, which dealings I accept also because of good reasons while not knowing for absolute certainty what is true and what is not true. I should also state that I do not discount spiritual acts or that one can be in the presence of God or angels, or receive and be acted upon by the holy spirit. But unless such encounters are seen or experienced by others, then they cannot, and should not, be used to motivate others APART FROM good reasons that are not themselves based solely on a single person’s spiritual experience. So, I do not base my faith on purely humanistic reasoning, but I believe that in reasoning with other humans we should, and can, provide reasons for belief that each of us can appreciate in relation to our reasons for believing a wide variety of things, which will then lead to a faith that God will accept and bless as he enters the person’s life in a more profound, personally and experientially spiritual way.
In the end, we can disagree about the quality of the reasons for belief in a particular thing, but we cannot deny that there are reasons for belief if those reasons are similar to other reasons that we use for accepting other beliefs of ours, most if not all of which we really do not know.
I would be willing to characterize myself as a rather frequent observer of your site, but I by no means claim to read everything you write. My initial reasons for religious belief as a Jehovah’s Witness child were based on my trust in the reliability of authority figures such as my adult relatives and my mentors and friends in the congregation. However, the claims being made (for example, the one you mention, namely, that there was once a garden (a garden remarkably similar to that found on the top of the cosmic mountain Zaphon, the “navel” (cf. the omphalos and Olympus in Greek ritual and myth) of the universe (cf. Ezekiel 28:13-14), whence flow the primeval rivers) in which a talking snake tricked an immoral woman (made from the rib of an immortal man) into eating from a magic fruit tree (the snake and the two trees being obvious references to the goddess) and that all of her children (after she and her husband were cursed and denied access to the garden by the cherubs (cf. karabu/shedu)) were made to suffer for her crime by the anthropomorphic but non-human being who made her out of the rib) in no way correspond to my experience.
While I, like you, do not completely reject the possibility of people having mystical insights and supernatural experiences (“I do not discount spiritual acts or that one can be in the presence of God or angels, or receive and be acted upon by the holy spirit”), I don’t find it sensible to act based on a belief in such things. In your article, you mention your belief in intelligent design. Your experience of the universe points to an intentional, not an accidental, cause. I sense no such “intent” or purpose in the world. I agree that the presence of life on this planet is unusual and rather amazing, but strange things do happen. And life doesn’t have any inherent meaning. If one wants meaning out of life, he has to give his life significance; he must generate his own meaning and purpose. To my mind, the idea of evolution is no odder than are, for example, the properties ascribed by quantum mechanics to the matter and energy of which our world consists. I’m not saying you or anyone else should give up believing in a supernatural cosmology. Humans are natural storytellers; we love to enrich our lives with myths, poems, songs, and all manner of art. Such things are not “true” in the sense of being real, but this does not lessen their value.
You observe that the Protestant Bible contains some historically reliable facts and some ethical statements that are universally accepted as sensible, rational, and healthful. And I agree. However, I might observe that the Protestant Bible also contains some historical and scientific errors, some internal inconsistencies, some mistaken predictions, and some ethical statements (value judgments and moral imperatives) that have been used to promote anthropocentrism to the detriment of other life forms (and, ultimately, to the detriment of human life), sexism, homophobia and a generally shameful attitude toward the body and sex, slavery, the murder and persecution of “non-Christians,” the judgment and shunning of whole groups of people, the breaking of bond of friends and families, and other such things. For these reasons, I read the Bible as a book written by men who had some genuine insights into the human condition and wisdom in going about the task of living life, but I don’t agree with everything it has to say. In fact, I think some of the other holy books of the world (and some books that make no claims to be holy) contain more insights and wisdom than even the Bible. My spirit is more uplifted by an hour with Lao Tzu or Emily Dickinson than by an hour with Moses or Ezekiel. Jesus has some good advice, but so does Mark Twain.
I agree with you about belief. I don’t think we can ever KNOW anything in some absolute sense. We are the sum total of the elements of our bodies, and, reasoning imperfectly on the data received through our limited senses, all we can do is believe.
All the best,
Thank you for your thoughts and for your extended consideration of these issues. I always enjoy hearing from you.
You and I simply value reasons for belief or unbelief differently where the Bible, intelligent design, and other related beliefs are concerned. I can understand why you accept some reasons for beliefs different from mine as convincing to some extent. I simply do not find them difficult to accept ultimately within a belief system that concludes differently from you.
I would be happy to exchange some reasons for why I believe the Bible, without having to be 100% accurate, represents more so than any other historical or spiritual book the will and dealings of God, and also why I believe there are more and better reasons for believing that an intelligent, personal God exists. You could then, at the same time, explain why you find Lao Tzo or Emily Dickenson more spiritual, or why you think the Bible contains errors irreconcilable for belief in it as a spiritual/historical book from God. (By the way, there are reasons why Moses and Ezekiel may not seem as uplifting, which I'm sure you know! But if you were to read the Psalms, or selections from the Gospels or other biblical books, I find it hard to believe you would not be uplifted.)
In any event, you have some of my reasons in the article I cited for why I accept the Bible as representative of God's Word, and why I believe in an intelligent God. I find belief in an unintelligent Designer absolutely at odds with the reasons for why we would accept other things in the world around us as indications of an intelligent designer. Perhaps you could explain your belief concerning this apparent inconsistency in reasons?
Thank you. I always enjoy reading your thoughts as well.
One of the reasons I find poets like Lao Tze, Chuang Tze, Dickinson, Frost, Tagore, the author of the Bhagavadgita, and others to be "more" spiritual than the Bible is precisely because they are less concerned with the will and dealings of God. You yourself admit that God is believed in through a glass darkly, not yet known. For me it is a house of cards. "Evidence" (I'll get to this shortly) from experience is abstracted and interpreted as indicating the existence of a non-material being. This belief is then treated as something more important than reality as known by the senses. People place "God" and his "requirements" above their family, their health, their own nature, and the evidence of science. C. S. Lewis, in his delightful criticism of naturalism, makes the rather defensible claim that no theory is worthy of credence which undermines the reliability of thought. That is, if the brain is the result of a random evolutionary process, we have no reason to trust reason. (As a side note, I think the proper response to Lewis is that the brain, like all other complex things resulting from evolution, is not the result of a completely random process. Information from the universe in the form of acceptance or rejection of new properties (i.e., natural selection) is involved in every step of the evolutionary process.)
Epicurus was, to my mind, wiser than Lewis because he was more fundamental. He observed that any people who tell us to distrust our senses are not to be trusted, for all thought begins with experience. Those who tell us not to lean on our own understanding leave us with nothing else to rely on. Jesus is at his best when, like the Buddha, he urges people to consider the lily, to experience what is. I have read from and I have been uplifted by the Psalms and the Gospels (I am still more grateful for the less uplifting thoughts books like Job and Ecclesiastes have caused me to contemplate); I have been powerfully affected by cathedrals, religious artwork, and hymns. The idea of God is mesmerizing and compelling.
The polytheists, to my mind, can make an easier case for their cosmology. The conflicting forces of nature, the alternation of disorder and harmony, the messiness of life can be simply explained as the manifestation of the endless conflict of the gods. But, oh, the psychological power of combining all their diverse powers and roles into one Being! Suffering becomes, not a naturally expected property of existence, but a sacred mystery; God becomes a paradox, infinitely unknowable and, consequently, infinitely knowable.
I don't really wish to take up your challenge to attack the Bible. I respect the book of the Jewish wise men, philosophers, and prophets. Above all, they produced a profoundly ethical book. Sure, the book sometimes justifies genocide and other atrocities, and, even when it contains remarkably compassionate passages, for example, about the treatment of animals, women, and slaves, it hardly lives up to modern ethical standards. But though some might, as I did in my earlier post, poke fun at the Near Eastern mythological influences that lie behind many of their stories, no one but an insensitive ass could fail to recognize how the myths are transformed in their hands into ethical statements that are only made more powerful by the allegorical and mythological language in which they are expressed. Only in Aeschylus have I yet found anyone comparable to the great Jewish prophets in his profundity of insight into themes like suffering, sin, destiny, and prophecy.
Nonetheless, the significance of ethics becomes problematic when one steps outside the humanistic perspective of the Bible. "Good" and "bad" are conditioned by their human context. Inevitably, the terms mean "good for humanity" and "bad for humanity," or, usually, "good for the Jews" and "bad for the Jews." And the authority of the Bible only serves to validate this anthropocentricity, and pro-Semitism. Lao Tzu reminds us to step away from these abstractions and see the world again with fresh eyes.
When beauty is abstracted
Then ugliness has been implied;
When good is abstracted
Then evil has been implied.
[....] The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things.
We are advised to stop thinking of nature as a benevolent father. It is a hard and lonely thought. We are not comforted thereby, but we are made wise.
Nature is not kind;
It treats all things impartially.
Or, as Emily Dickinson puts it,
Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.
The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.
I don't think any "error" in any book is "irreconcilable" with belief in it as having come "from God." Apologists are nothing if not creative (One can always argue that the human medium interfered somewhere along the way or that the book is being misinterpreted.), and the very definition of "God" is plastic and can be made to conform to the book.
"Intelligence" can not always be detected, for great artists can be so subtle that their artifacts appear natural. If there is an Intelligent Designer (the current euphemism for God), he is such a great artist. When I look at the natural world, I find complexity, even what seems to be what is called by the intelligent design folks "irreducible" and "specified" complexity. However, I don't find artificiality. Complexity is not enough, and intelligent design is simply not scientific. It can't be tested; it isn't falsifiable; it makes no predictions; it argues from ignorance, making God a "God of the gaps." None of this disproves the existence of God. Negative existential proof is not possible.
Still, all of this emphasizes why I insist on focusing on what we know
experientially: our selves, our families and friends, our world. If God exists, perhaps we will one day know him face to face as we are known—when New Jerusalem comes down, and heaven and earth mingle, and all becomes the temple and the tent of God (who will be all in all) and of the Lamb. In the meantime, if he exists, he can hardly fault us for living our lives as best we can based on what we have reliable evidence for belief, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's his own fault that he does not happen to be one of those things for which I have much reliable evidence for belief.
With my regards, as always,
"...intelligent design is simply not scientific. It can't be tested; it isn't falsifiable; it makes no predictions..."
In fact, intelligent design makes numerous empirically testable predictions.
It’s true that there’s no way to falsify the bare assertion that a cosmic designer exists. Nevertheless, the specific design arguments currently in play are empirically testable, even falsifiable, and involve testable predictions.
Consider the argument that Michael Behe makes in his book Darwin’s Black Box. There he proposes that design is detectable in many “molecular machines,” including the bacterial flagellum. Behe argues that this tiny flagellar motor needs all of its parts to function—is “irreducibly complex.” Such systems in our experience are a hallmark of designed systems, because they require the foresight that is the exclusive jurisdiction of intelligent agents. Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection and random variations, in contrast, requires a functional system at each transition along the way. Natural selection can select for present but not for future function.
Notice that Behe’s argument, contra the assertions of ID critics, rests not on ignorance or on a purely negative argument against Neo-Darwinism, but on what we know about designed systems, the causal powers of intelligent agents, and on our growing knowledge of the cellular world and its many mechanisms.
Behe predicts that scientists will not uncover a continuously functional Darwinian pathway from a simple precursor to the bacterial flagellum and, moreover, any detailed evolutionary pathway that is articulated will presuppose other irreducibly complex systems. How does one test and discredit Behe’s claims? Describe a realistic, continuously functional Darwinian pathway from simple ancestor to present motor. The flagellum might still be designed, but Behe’s means of detecting such design would have been falsified.
It has been a while since I read Behe’s book, but I did enjoy it. However, I thought his example of the bacteria flagellum was one of his less convincing arguments. Behe cannot demonstrate that a bacteria’s possession of one of the elements of the flagellum would, though not rendering it more fit for survival, render it less fit for survival. Thus, a subspecies would emerge with the useless but harmless precursor to a flagellum. (In fact, elements of the flagellum do have functions apart from the complete flagellum. A group of proteins from the flagellum is apparently used by some bacteria to inject poisons into other bacteria.) Furthermore, even if the presence of “irreducible” complexity seems to make design more likely, it does not make the existence of a supernatural designer more likely. It is odd to propose the existence of a non-material, supernatural being to explain a natural, empirically detected phenomenon. Failure to know the nature and intent of the hypothetical designer makes it impossible to predict what the designer would design. Thus, I’m puzzled as to how you think ID can make testable predictions. All it can do is locate empirical phenomena for which we still lack empirical explanations and propose a supernatural explanation instead.
Behe’s examples of the eye and blood clotting are more dramatic. Blood-clotting is, in my opinion, Behe’s best example, for the evolution of one of the elements without the others would be deadly, not simply useless. However, Russell Doolittle has demonstrated that the proteins involved in blood-clotting system are modified versions of proteins used in the digestive system. Again, these arguments make God, er...sorry, the Intelligent Designer, a Designer of the gaps. The idea that an ultimate purpose, intent, and cause lies behind everything is a beautiful metaphysical notion. It has its place. But that place is not the laboratory or the science classroom. The reason why the ID people are not published in peer-reviewed journals is because they would have us identify phenomena as “irreducibly complex” and then throw up our hands in praise rather than turn to our microscopes and continue trying to search out the mystery of how things came to be. They are not proposing “numerous empirically testable predictions.” Thus, Behe’s arguments do rest on “ignorance” and “negative” argumentation.
I want to comment for a moment on your use of the word “foresight” in relation to intelligent agents. You argue that the Intelligent Designer, whether Yoda or Yahweh, selected certain biological traits based on a future goal, whereas the impersonal process of natural selection only “selects” based on present conditions. What I wish to point out is that what is selected from (i.e., the specific proteins and other microbiological elements) and that which “selects” (i.e., the specific environmental conditions) all involve the interaction of objects with specific properties. We summarize our observations of how specific things behave in specific situations in the form of “rules” and natural “laws.” From the small-scale interaction of biological elements according to the “rules” of the small-scale, new and unforeseen properties and “rules” will naturally emerge that “govern” the large-scale. These large-scale emergent properties might seem intentional because their exact nature could not be anticipated simply by observing the smaller scale (or the present moment), but no such intent is involved. I fear my analogy of present selection and future intent to the emergence of large-scale properties from small-scale ones may be unclear. If so, please forgive my inability to articulate my thought better.
Thanks for responding.
"Furthermore, even if the presence of “irreducible” complexity seems to make design more likely, it does not make the existence of a supernatural designer more likely."
True, but who is making that argument? In fact, in his book, Behe admits it is possible for IC to evolve. He just thinks such evolution is beyond the reach of a random walk. We shouldn’t conflate evolution with non-teleology. Guided evolution is one form of evolution. Artificial selection, artificial environments, and artificial variation can all be fitted within an evolutionary view.
"It is odd to propose the existence of a non-material, supernatural being to explain a natural, empirically detected phenomenon."
Again, who is doing this?
"Thus, I’m puzzled as to how you think ID can make testable predictions. All it can do is locate empirical phenomena for which we still lack empirical explanations and propose a supernatural explanation instead."
You are puzzled because you are laboring under the mistaken notion that ID posits a supernatural being to explain an empirically detected phenomenon. Not so. ID has nothing to do with the supernatural. ID is about using design inferences to guide scientific research. Testing hypotheses generated via a teleological perspective is the same as testing any biological hypothesis. ID is just regular science minus an a priori assumption of ateleology. Neither intelligence nor teleology are unnatural.
"The reason why the ID people are not published in peer-reviewed journals is because they would have us identify phenomena as “irreducibly complex” and then throw up our hands in praise rather than turn to our microscopes and continue trying to search out the mystery of how things came to be."
No serious ID scientist or scholar has ever thrown up his/her hands and said, “Well, this is unexplained by natural causes, so let’s stop researching it.” If this were the case then why would ID biologist Jonathan Wells be at a major science conference hypothesizing about whether centrioles generate a polar ejection force? Why would ID biologist Ralph Seelke be studying the evolution of bacteria in his lab at the University of Wisconsin, Superior?
I recently read an article by Robert Naeye. In his Darwinian mindset, the appendix is a useless vestigal organ. Now that sounds like a science stopper to me. Meanwhile, there is research going on that is discovering how useful the appendix is.
I think you are being coy. Do you really want me to believe that ID has nothing to do with the supernatural? All the ID people, though they might occasionally mention aliens (and when they do, they are usually unable to resist pointing out that that just moves the question of the ultimate origin of life one step back.), are committed theists. They all believe in a Designer for reasons independent of any complexity they observe. In response to my words, "Furthermore, even if the presence of ‘irreducible’ complexity seems to make design more likely, it does not make the existence of a supernatural designer more likely," you reply, “True, but who is making that argument?” Then you respond as if I had claimed that ID people completely reject the idea of evolution. I know that ID biologists like Ralph Seelke would have no problem studying the evolution of bacteria, after the bacteria exist. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses have accepted the existence of microevolution. What ID biologists can’t countenance is the idea that the original bacteria and the original components of bacteria evolved. My point was not that ID people are explicitly using ID to “prove” theism. Rather, my point is that ID contains what is for me a non sequitur. It does not follow that from the observation of “irreducible” complexity we can introduce a designer whose methods, materials, and instruments of design, whose nature, and whose very existence is otherwise unknown and possibly (if the Designer is in fact supernatural) unknowable. How can scientists use teleology to study biology when there is no way to know the goals, the intentions, the “ends” of the designing intelligence (not to mention the means available to him for achieving his ends)? I’d also like to point out that the claim that the appendix is now useless, or practically useless, is not a “science stopper.” It opens up all sorts of new questions: What was the utility of the appendix in the past? What does that indicate about the course of evolution? What changed in our species and in our environment to cause that change? Etc.
I think science, operating according to naturalistic assumptions and the currently accepted scientific methodology, has been remarkably successful. I think it is close to the point of being able to explain the origin and destiny of the universe and everything in it without appeal to any outside agent. This is hypothetical, but one could give the following account: Empty space, we now know, is, contrary to the predictions of relativity, not empty. Instead, it is characterized by what is sometimes called quantum foam, a manifestation of the uncertainty principle. Particles and antiparticles spring into existence and usually destroy each other. (Stephen Hawking draws on this to explain how black holes can seem to radiate even though nothing can escape the event horizon. The antiparticle crosses the event horizon and falls into the singularity, but the particle flies off.) But let us imagine the final state of our universe, after the dark energy spreads everything out at an ever-increasing rate and all is cold and still and smooth. For at that time, all will not be smooth. The quantum foam will remain; the universe, for this reason, will not truly be a “closed system.” Thus, entropy can decrease without violation of the second law. Over time ... yes, vast quantities of time, a hot, dense, smooth concentration of particles or antiparticles could occur in one part of the universe. And then a flash of light, a Big Bang! Notice that a new universe, according to this account, would arise due to the same mechanisms that explain the evolution of life.
I realize that the story I just told above is just that, a story. It involves a lot of hand waving and slight of hand because there are some things scientist still don’t know and a great deal that specialists know but I don’t (e.g., why and how the initial singularity would and could “explode”), but I don’t think we need to rethink how we do science. We have been remarkably successful so far. Still, we should not abandon metaphysics. Speculation about the meaning of the universe and life lies, as it always has, in the domain of the poets, the artists, the prophets, the philosophers, and the theologians.
All the best,
My secular work has been extremely busy, so I apologize for not being as involved here this past week or so.
Nate, I will have some thoughts for you to consider in relation to what you wrote in your three-part post to me from 1,062-1,064, probably by this Wednesday. Until then, you and John can exchange your views on this or on related subjects, and I will approve your posts as long as they are similar in form and content to what you two have presented thus far. But after Wednesday I will give you a chance to respond to what I write, let John offer any final thoughts, and then I am going to change subjects to go back to Wondering Man's post a while back regarding salvation and then come forward to a few more recent posts that I have still pending or that have been approved but that have not yet been considered.
By about October 1 I will have the new IN MEDIO ready, a new "Upon the Lampstand," and my Part Three to White.
I appreciate everyone's interest and involvement.
"Do you really want me to believe that ID has nothing to do with the supernatural? All the ID people, though they might occasionally mention aliens (and when they do, they are usually unable to resist pointing out that that just moves the question of the ultimate origin of life one step back.), are committed theists. They all believe in a Designer for reasons independent of any complexity they observe."
I didn't say that ID proponents have nothing to do with the supernatural. I said ID has nothing to do with the supernatural. This is like a Darwinist claiming that Darwinian evolution has nothing to do with atheism. Is that claim contradicted by pointing out that almost all atheists are Darwinists? Most IDers believe in a supernatural designer but when doing science they leave the supernatural out of their hypotheses. Can you point to any ID hypothesis that invokes the supernatural?
In response to my words, "Furthermore, even if the presence of ‘irreducible’ complexity seems to make design more likely, it does not make the existence of a supernatural designer more likely," you reply, “True, but who is making that argument?”
Yes, who is making that argument? I'm not aware of any ID scientist that claims the existence of IC systems makes the existence of a supernatural designer more likely.
"Then you respond as if I had claimed that ID people completely reject the idea of evolution. I know that ID biologists like Ralph Seelke would have no problem studying the evolution of bacteria, after the bacteria exist. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses have accepted the existence of microevolution."
No, I didn't respond as if you had claimed that ID people completely reject the idea of evolution. I responded to your assertion that ID scientists upon identifying a phenomenon as “irreducibly complex” then cease to do research.
"What ID biologists can’t countenance is the idea that the original bacteria and the original components of bacteria evolved."
Are you talking about abiogenesis? Yes, IDers are skeptical of abiogenesis because the evidence for it is very weak.
Continued in part 2
"It does not follow that from the observation of 'irreducible' complexity we can introduce a designer whose methods, materials, and instruments of design, whose nature, and whose very existence is otherwise unknown and possibly (if the Designer is in fact supernatural) unknowable."
All I've seen from the IDers are arguments that IC logically rules out direct Darwinian pathways. As for indirect pathways, they simply point out that the scientific community hasn't produced any detailed accounts of one. IDers find IC a useful criterion that brings focus in an attempt to assess a design inference. No one is claiming it proves design.
The argument that we must first have evidence of the nature and methods of a designer before we can infer design is in my opinion backward. Unless you think something is designed, why look for a designer? I wouldn't bother trying to figure out the methods employed by a designer unless there was evidence that caused me to suspect design.
ID is about inferring design without the luxury of having information about the designer. This involves immense difficulties (just like with abiogenesis) but that is what makes this whole topic fun and challenging.
Continued in part 3
"How can scientists use teleology to study biology when there is no way to know the goals, the intentions, the 'ends' of the designing intelligence (not to mention the means available to him for achieving his ends)?"
The same way devices can be reverse engineered by those who do not know the designer (e.g., the stereotypical Japanese reverse engineering of American integrated circuits in the '80s.),
When scientists use concepts and terminology from engineering, computer science, and communication theory to describe biological systems, they are modeling them as technology. Thus, through their actions they treat them as if designed. There is nothing unscientific, religious, or irrational about viewing life as technology. And the fact that concepts derived from enhancements in our own technology allow us to unlock the workings of the cell supports this view.
The standard view of the cell is that it is the product of geochemistry. This is also why it is interesting to note that the teleological terms/concepts that unlock the working of the cell do not have the same level of utility in geoscience. I don't see how the Darwinian approach has proven to be a fruitful guide behind our understanding of cellular systems. Not much of anything that happens inside the cell is random and/or coincidental. I see the teleological approach (albeit, used subconsciously) behind the success in understanding the cell. Cells are studied *as if* they had been intelligently designed and our understanding of how they work comes from a process of reverse engineering - deconstructing parts and identifying a functional hierarchy. This explains why biology is *loaded* with teleological terminology.
Continued in part 4
In just one article from the peer-reviewed literature I found these teleological terms used to describe the inner workings of the cell:
But if biology is supposed to reduce to nothing more than chemistry and physics, why do we need to appeal to teleological concepts and language to make sense of biology? Where in geology, astronomy, physics, and chemistry do we find the concepts of proof-reading and quality control? By whatever name they call it, engineers and systems designers are using concepts from our own technology to shed light on biology and to model/simulate the behaviors of complex goal directed systems. They are then using this knowledge to find useful solutions to real world practical problems. This is ID in action. As one ID theorist puts it:
"There's a certain logic to needing technology to unlock technology."
Now, can one agree that life is technology but believe it's possible for Darwinian evolution to have produced the technology? Sure. I can't prove that such a thing is impossible. But being open to mere possibilities it's my hunch that if evolution produced the sophisticated technology we see in living things then we are dealing with a smarter form of evolution than just random variation and coincidental selection. It all boils down to perspective. The bottom line is which perspective will help us to better understand biotic reality. Time will tell.
Evolution has nothing to do with atheism. Almost all of the theists I know at my university believe in evolution in the robust sense of that word. It's true that all the atheists I know believe in evolution, but there is no inherent connection between those two beliefs. The main function and meaning of God does not have to be that of “Creator.” And it's true that those who believe in Intelligent Design are careful never to invoke the supernatural explicitly in their writings and research. (In some ways it's a shame they don't. If they started performing experiments in which Moses, for example, could be brought in to produce snakes from walking sticks, then they'd have something repeatable and testable.) I would assert that their writings imply a supernatural designer. The existence of such a being is the only way to make their claims coherent and consistent.
Twice now you have repeated the question, "Who is making [the] argument [that evidence of design is being used as proof of a designer]?" I would claim that such an argument is implicit in what Intelligent Design is all about, but that has never been the central point of my comments. What I'm observing is that evidence for design is one thing and evidence for a designer is another, and ID needs both. I'll grant for a moment the claim that there is positive evidence of design. But there is no empirical evidence of a designer. And the notion of a designer or designers is an important component of Intelligent Design. The design inference is based on an analogy to human technology. Human technology requires humans, designers. Furthermore, human technology does not spring up in a vacuum.
Let us imagine a situation (one I find quite fantastic) in which every human body were to be removed from this planet and a later observer were to find a stopwatch. He might think the stopwatch looks "designed." Nonetheless, for a single stopwatch to exist, all the tools and trappings of civilization also must exist. The production of a stopwatch requires a huge infrastructure. Yet when we look around our planet the world teams with life—but no infrastructure for its creation by designers. This is a big problem. Lacking the, as you put it, "luxury" of knowing anything about the designer's nature, sophistication of scientific knowledge, technological ability to manipulate materials, etc. involves more difficulties than those posed by abiogenesis. Abiogenesis and all other natural processes investigated by science have the "luxury" of being relatively closed systems. That is, once you know the elements involved and the natural "laws" according to which the elements operate, you can extrapolate their behavior. Even when discovering the development of some biological systems requires expanding the size of the system (e.g., realizing the link between blood clotting and the digestive system), the system remains finite and predictable. Intelligent Design can do nothing of the sort. It has no way of limiting the variables because it contains the notion of an absolute variable, namely, a free causal agent—a designer, or designers.
Many of the things that are popularly called science are not. History is not a science—though scientific data may inform history—because history is not repeatable or predictable. It involves the actions of free causal agents. Perhaps with enough data it could become a science. But right now any attempts to prognosticate about the future or expound upon the past must be understood as theoretical and speculative ventures. For this reason, history, which deserves an honored place in the world of thought, is as much the property of the artists, philosophies (like Marx or Schopenhauer), and religions (like Jehovah's Witnesses with their interpretation of history as a struggle demonstrating the rightful sovereignty of Jehovah) as it is the property of scientists.
If someone who believes in Intelligent Design feels he has found something that is "irreducibly" complex, does he continue the investigation? Does he try to figure out what indirect pathway of development could produce the biological structure he's studying? My impression is that ID people don't continue their investigations once they arrive at what they feel are proofs of design. On the other hand, scientists who assume naturalism for the purpose of doing science regard "irreducible" complexity as a starting point, not a conclusion. And, if they are good scientists, they remain skeptical about every theory, every scientific model, everything, in fact, except for the empirical data gathered by experimentation and observation.
Thus, the use of technological terms in explaining biological observations must be understood in the light of what all scientific models are intended to do. The scientific model is a construct, an artifact, a technology. It is used by the scientist to conceptualize and interpret the data, but, while the data exists per se, the model is contingent and provisional. If scientists use words like "proof-reading," "quality control," "communication," and "networking" to help readers understand biological systems, the words cannot be interpreted too literally. That would be bad science, just as theologians would say that interpreting literally an expression such as "Jehovah SITS on a THRONE in the SKY" would be bad theology (even if the folks who first wrote things like that meant their words to be understood literally). In quantum mechanics the fundamental constituents of the universe are neither "particles" nor "waves." Such models are designed to help humans conceptualize the data and the formulas involved. That biologists sometimes model biological systems as technology proves nothing but that the biologists are human.
Your analogy likening the study of the workings of the cell to the Japanese reverse engineering of American technology helps clarify some aspects of what’s going on, but it cannot be pressed as far as you would like. Both groups of people represent attempts to unravel complex things with the intent to understand how they work and how they are constituted. However, the fact that the circuit was designed does not mean the cell was.
Finally, in response to your statement, “if evolution produced the sophisticated technology we see in living things then we are dealing with a smarter form of evolution than just random variation and COINCIDENTAL selection” (emphasis mine), I would point out that while variation is generally random, selection is generally not. It is through the process of selection that “information” from the universe “guides” the process of development. The results of this dynamic and interrelated process over time are obviously amazing, but they need not be treated as unbelievable.
All of the above having been said, I wish to emphasize my agnosticism. It could be that God exists and did function as the formal, efficient, and final cause of all that is. I simply don’t think such a possibility should play a role in the scientific method until we can know that God exists and not merely believe that it is so. Intelligent Design should primarily be understood as a philosophy. Whether it is good or bad philosophy I will leave to the philosophers to decide.
You wrote: "Evolution has nothing to do with atheism."
Never said it did. My point was that equating ID with theism was like equating Darwinian evolution with atheism.
"Twice now you have repeated the question, 'Who is making the argument that evidence of design is being used as proof of a designer?' I would claim that such an argument is implicit in what Intelligent Design is all about..."
I asked: Who is making the argument that evidence of design is being used as proof of a SUPERNATURAL designer? Not any ID theorist I know of.
"What I'm observing is that evidence for design is one thing and evidence for a designer is another...."
Yes, ID is about detecting design not detecting supernatural designers.
"I'll grant for a moment the claim that there is positive evidence of design. But there is no empirical evidence of a designer."
Design requires a designer thats only logical. But it doesn't require that you demonstrate the designer's existence independantly. You can simply propose that a designer existed and was around for the job, then you study the effects as if the existence of the designer was axiomatic.
"And the notion of a designer or designers is an important component of Intelligent Design."
It's logical that design requires a designer but the focus of ID theorists is on using design inferences to guide scientific research.
Continued in part 2
"Let us imagine a situation (one I find quite fantastic) in which every human body were to be removed from this planet and a later observer were to find a stopwatch. He might think the stopwatch looks "designed." Nonetheless, for a single stopwatch to exist, all the tools and trappings of civilization also must exist. The production of a stopwatch requires a huge infrastructure."
Are you saying the existence of the stopwatch doesn't warrant a design inference? If the first humans to explore Mars found a stopwatch there and no other signs of life I think they would suspect it came from an intelligent being that visited Mars sometime in the past.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that within a mere 1000 years, humans will have the ability to design life forms and use them to seed distant planets. If we will be able to do it, then it’s at least logically possible that it has already been done in the past. ID is very close in the neighborhood to such things as Crick and Orgel's hypothesis of Directed Panspermia and also SETI. In fact, SETI is far closer to the ID heuristic approach than some might realize.
There is one intelligent designer that everyone accepts and that is man. Of course, we can confirm the existence of this designer and can, in most cases, determine how he designs and manufactures things.
There are many objects in our world that we identify as "man-made" because we see them being made or because they are made of things such as steel that only man makes. We don't normally bother asking whether nature (excluding man) could make similar things. Man-made is the simple explanation; nature-made is a far less likely explanation.
SETI is a search for man-made-like objects found in places where man could never have made them. An example of such an object is a narrowband radio signal like those generated by man's radio transmitters but coming from another planet. So far as I know, the serious SETI people are not attempting to detect a god or some alien creature wildly different from man.
The ID approach is much like searching for man-made objects found in places where man could never had made them. But instead of radio technology, we're dealing with biotechnology/nanotechnology.
On the other hand, the ID approach cannot distinguish between a natural and a supernatural designer (i.e., in what way would a cell designed by a natural designer look different from a cell designed by a supernatural designer?)
Continued in part 3
"...scientists who assume naturalism for the purpose of doing science regard "irreducible" complexity as a starting point, not a conclusion. And, if they are good scientists, they remain skeptical about every theory, every scientific model, everything, in fact, except for the empirical data gathered by experimentation and observation."
Most scientists who assume naturalism are not skeptical of abiogenesis despite the evidence for it being extremely weak. Why is this? And scientists who assume naturalism didn't come up with the concept of irreducible complexity. In fact, many such scientists deny that IC systems exist.
"If scientists use words like "proof-reading," "quality control," "communication," and "networking" to help readers understand biological systems, the words cannot be interpreted too literally. That would be bad science..."
I disagree. It's common for ID critics to insist the ID terminology used by science is only a metaphor. Maybe, but then maybe not. What matters is that someone can indeed interpret the terminology most literally. Nate might interpret a membrane protein to be like a sensor, while an ID person might interpret it to be a sensor. Is there any evidence to indicate the ID person would be wrong? And more importantly, is there any evidence that a literal, rather than a metaphorical interpretation, could not guide scientific research?
Now, I certainly don't claim these dynamics prove design. Neither would I expect Nate to interpret these literally rather than metaphorically. But one thing is beginning to come into clear focus for me, namely, taking these concepts literally not only can produce what science produces, but might actually do better in some cases. Perhaps if we could get the non-teleologists to abandon teleological concepts/language we might be able to tease out a more significant difference.
" However, the fact that the circuit was designed does not mean the cell was."
I never made that argument. That sounds like something an ID apologist would say. ID theorists are content to strengthen the design inference and use it to guide research.
Continued in part 4
"I would point out that while variation is generally random, selection is generally not. It is through the process of selection that 'information' from the universe 'guides' the process of development. "
If some set of existing traits are favored by the environment, natural selection can increase the odds that the combination of those traits will be manifested in an organism, and if those traits happen to be combinable into some new structure with different functioning parts, then the chances that those traits will be co-opted into that system are also increased. However, natural selection cannot improve the chances that the traits favored by the environment are, in fact, combinable into some new structure. Whether or not the traits favored by the environment are related, or potentially related, is purely a matter of luck. In fact, you should be just as likely to get a new system by throwing random parts together as you would throwing together the parts favored by natural selection!
When dealing with IC systems we are looking for indirect pathways. But it is with direct pathways that all the convincing evidence for Darwinian evolution exists. While there may possibly be indirect pathways, they are no more likely to form an IC system than pure chance. While IC cannot logically rule out non-teleological indirect pathways like it can direct pathways, it can logically rule out that they improve on pure luck. And to the extent that Darwinism is intended to be an explanation that improves on chance without recourse to teleology, it renders a Darwinian explanation pointless.
"It could be that God exists and did function as the formal, efficient, and final cause of all that is. I simply don’t think such a possibility should play a role in the scientific method until we can know that God exists and not merely believe that it is so."
Once again, ID is not about proving the existence of God. ID uses the inference of design to generate testable hypotheses that help us better understand biotic reality.
Hi there, John,
I contend that the “design inference” cannot be used to guide scientific research, in part, as I’ve already said, because we know nothing about the hypothetical designer(s). Furthermore, I find ID unnecessary because I remain relatively confident that “irreducibly” complex structures can be reduced. The fact that there is no evidence of the designer(s) other than certain biological structures that probably evolved along indirect pathways leads me to conclude that the designer(s) would probably have to be supernatural. If that is the case, science would be unable to access a realm outside its purview.
You state: “Are you saying the existence of the stopwatch doesn't warrant a design inference? If the first humans to explore Mars found a stopwatch there and no other signs of life I think they would suspect it came from an intelligent being that visited Mars sometime in the past.”
I’m saying that I don’t think aliens came to earth at critical stages of the evolution of biological structures, tweaked things just-so, and flew off again. Alien life is almost as unscientific (i.e., hypothetical and unproven) and almost as possible, to my mind, as is the existence supernatural life. I say “almost” because aliens (unlike ghosts, creatures of faery, angels, etc.) have the advantage of being composed of natural elements conforming to the natural behavior of matter. If life were manufactured or simply deposited on this planet by corporeal beings, I would expect there to be signs of the technology and beings involved. If you want me to believe that the first life form was planted here by aliens, I suppose that’s possible, but that would not be enough to explain all the biological structures ID people want to identify as IC. And, while I’m willing to grant the possibility of Panspermia (however, I’d probably opt for a theistic explanation before Directed Panspermia), any sort of exogenesis just sends us into deeper realms of the unknown. For folks committed to more conventional naturalistic assumptions, exogenesis provides them with more time for abiogenesis and evolution along direct and indirect pathways, and it provides them with more environments in which life could develop. The attraction for theists is obvious as well.
You mention SETI. All I will say about SETI is that I think it suffers from many of the same problems I think are involved in ID. I think its chances of success are slim, but it seems to be observing some other neat stuff along the way.
All the theories involving the abiotic origin of life should be regarded with extreme skepticism because they are so hypothetical and because they deal with a temporal situation to which we have no direct access for the purposes of experimentation. However, insofar as characteristics of the ancient world can be deduced and replicated, theories of abiogenesis can be tested. If life was made by a designer, the event lies outside the purview of science because science does not have anything to do with such singular events. Science deals with cycles, with repeated and repeatable events, with what matter does ‘of itself,’ even if the cycle is irregular, hard to repeat, and unlikely.
The reason why naturalistic scientists (and supernaturalistic scientists who assume naturalism for the purpose of doing science) never came up with the idea of “irreducible” complexity is that it’s always a trap in science to say that something can’t be reduced further. The atom is composed of subatomic particles. But should we stop at the particles? What explains their properties? That’s part of what makes string theory so compelling. It explains the properties of the particles. Perhaps we will someday reach the point of not being able to “reduce” things any further. But I think that will only happen when we have a real Theory of Everything, and we’re by no means at that point yet. In addition, I think it’s a spiritual trap as well to say, “Ah. We have it. Look no further.” The heart of spirituality lies in an attitude of endless curiosity and wonder at the infinite knowability of things. “How unsearchable your ways are, O Jah, O Jehovah?” “Irreducibility” is dangerously close to boredom, apathy, and pride in one’s having finally ACHIEVED the Truth.
With regard to your arguments about indirect pathways, yes, the components evolving independently of each other would have to be independently useful (or sexually attractive or at least not harmful) to the organism. The new structures that might emerge from the combination of structures that evolved independently of each other could have quite startling and, as you say, random properties. The odds of any one structure resulting from this process being beneficial would be random. But the point is that this would be another source of the diversity from which natural selection could “select.” This type of variation is just as random as any other, and just as uncertain of success. But, when successful, it could be successful in a quite dramatic way, a way that would favor its selection.
I apologize if I did not consistently make clear my awareness of the fact that ID never _explicitly_ advocates a SUPERNATURAL designer. (Though all the ID theorists and supporters I know of are Christian, people who believe in aliens can certainly use some of the ID arguments to support their claims.) As I think the substance of my arguments demonstrates, I was focusing on the lack of evidence of corporeal designers. The reasons for our inability to detect incorporeal designers are obvious, but incorporeal designers would pose even greater (and, I think, insurmountable) difficulties for scientific research.
I really don’t know how much more I have to say on the subject of ID. My training is in classics; I merely dabble in scientific subjects that interest me, particularly when they have philosophical ramifications I find provocative. I would welcome anyone with biological training to jump in if he has anything to add. If ID really can generate a new era of scientific research, I look forward to seeing it do so. Let the ID theorists start publishing in the journals! May the laboratories fill to overflowing with eager Christians and extraterrestrialists! I have my doubts, however, as you know.
Here are some quotes I found interesting and relevant.
H. Allen Orr states:
Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become - because of later changes - essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required.
The most serious problem in Dembski’s account involves specified complexity. Organisms aren’t trying to match any “independently given pattern”: evolution has no goal, and the history of life isn’t trying to get anywhere. If building a sophisticated structure like an eye increases the number of children produced, evolution may well build an eye. But if destroying a sophisticated structure like the eye increases the number of children produced, evolution will just as happily destroy the eye. Species of fish and crustaceans that have moved into the total darkness of caves, where eyes are both unnecessary and costly, often have degenerate eyes, or eyes that begin to form only to be covered by skin—crazy contraptions that no intelligent agent would design. Despite all the loose talk about design and machines, organisms aren’t striving to realize some engineer’s blueprint; they’re striving (if they can be said to strive at all) only to have more offspring than the next fellow.
And John Allen Paulos states:
When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.
Concluding Comments, Part 1:
Nate and John:
I appreciate your involvement in this discussion. I think many have benefited from the exchange. I think you have each expressed sufficiently your position, however, I will let John have the last word.
Nate, I disagree with many things you wrote, from the Bible, to alleged genocide, to an intelligent designer. I believe your position is at odds with what is by all accounts a scientific fact: life cannot come from non-life especially not without the involvement, at least, of something non-living, which would have to be itself eternal (for something cannot come from nothing, scientifically) or be explained as coming into being from something else non-living/living, etc. Again, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever for such things. You must, therefore, either accept as a working scientific principle the belief that something living must always have existed (in which case it would seem to be difficult for you to deny that such a life is intelligent, even if you chose not to believe it yourself), or you must show that life can come from non-life without the aid of something living. I do not believe you can do this, or that you have shown this. I believe you and other naturalists are therefore skipping (or assuming an answer to without good reasons) a fundamental question and working backwards trying to justify your conclusion (there is no intelligent, eternally living designer, etc.), which assumption suggests a predisposition to a conclusion apart from actual evidence.
Concluding Comments, Part 2:
Supernaturalists do not do this. We accept based on the available evidence the belief that life comes from life, and that some life must therefore be eternal, for life is here. The presence of life and the evidence that shows that life comes from life give us a basis for our view of the origin of life, and from there we can assess the life and things that exist to determine whether or not they sufficiently suggest that such eternal life is intelligent. This intelligence we call “God,” or in my case “Jah.” So when science “describes” things that have happened over time supernaturalists can, based on good reasons, accept such descriptions within this context. Naturalists cannot do this, and in fact natural science is at odds with what is by all present accounts true based on all available evidence: life is eternal or life resulted from non-life. If the first is "scientific" then, again, God is not too far from science at all (certainly you have to at least accept a LIVING God as scientifically plausible). If the second is scientific, then present your evidence for this one point alone and I will post it. If you think you have scientific evidence for life being eternal, you may post that, too. But please only post in response to one of these to points, for the discussion is basically over. I am simply offering some concluding thoughts.
John, you may post a final series of replies or comments on this subject.
In any event, I do not, nor do many other supernaturalists I know, claim to KNOW that God exists or that the Bible is his Word. We base our beliefs on good reasons, just like we do with everything else we believe. At least that is what we try to do. So, Nate, please do not claim that we think we “know” something when speaking to others about God or the Bible. Please acknowledge that we have reasons for our beliefs, but that you do not accept them as better reasons than the reasons you have for your beliefs, and we will acknowledge the same for your position. Then we can talk about the reasons, and let others decide who has the best basis for their respective beliefs.
You state: "Life is eternal or life resulted from non-life. If the first is "scientific" then, again, God is not too far from science at all (certainly you have to at least accept a LIVING God as scientifically plausible). If the second is scientific, then present your evidence for this one point alone and I will post it."
I shall now present my evidence, but I think you should reread what I wrote already. You seem to have misunderstood and ignored some of the statements I already made. Also, I don’t know how a question on epistemology has transformed into a discussion of whether or not a demiurgic God exists.
I'm interested to know what you mean in calling God, LIVING. Do you refer to the sort of dynamic Whiteheadean divinity that is changed by his creation and, thus, dependant on it for his nature? If God is "within" time in this way, you are using the word "eternal" in an unconventional way. You surely do not mean that God excretes, reproduces (though, being Christian, you must believe he begets), carries on metabolic activities, etc. No, you want to propose a "living" God who lives in a way quite different from anything known to science. Furthermore, I fail to follow your logic in moving from the claim that eternal life exists to the claim that the eternally living organism must be intelligent. ("You must, therefore, either accept as a working scientific principle the belief that something living must always have existed (in which case it would seem to be difficult for you to deny that such a life is intelligent, even if you chose not to believe it yourself).") I already mentioned an account in harmony with known science that describes a potentially "eternal" series of universes. If such an account is true, one could simply invoke the anthropic principle to explain life.
When you earlier state that my "position is at odds with what is by all accounts a scientific fact: life cannot come from non-life," I think you misrepresent my position and the diversity of accounts possible. I do not exclude the possibility of the supernatural. I think it has its place in metaphysical speculation. But I don't think it has a place in the scientific method. Intelligent Design points to things that have no current explanation in naturalistic terms, says can be no naturalistic explanation (something that can't be proven), and asserts that design is the only remaining explanation. For the purposes of science, I don't think the search for a naturalistic explanation should be abandoned.
In response to your statement to the effect that something can't come from nothing, it is a scientific fact that something can indeed come from nothing. It happens all the time.
"There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty [five] zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero." (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time )
As I think I already mentioned in relation to Hawking's discovery that black holes "radiate," on a quantum level particles and anti-particles spring into and out of existence all the time. Within a system that is not closed, order can arise spontaneously. The odds are against it, but, if one waits long enough, it happens. Thus, it is possible for life to come from non-life. Life and non-life are not different categories of being, like matter and spirit. They represent different degrees of complexity. So far, the possibility that life came from non-life seems quite unlikely, and I do, in spite of what you and John think of me, think that life's creation by God is a very real possibility. I am agnostic about whether naturalism or supernaturalism is correct, but I believe science should remain naturalistic. Greg, you state, "So, Nate, please do not claim that we think we ‘know’ something when speaking to others about God or the Bible. Please acknowledge that we have reasons for our beliefs, but that you do not accept them as better reasons that the reasons you have for your beliefs, and we will acknowledge the same for your position," but I think my comments already make clear that I know that you only claim to believe and make no claim to know. I am, of course, fine with your giving John the last word. Since his perspective is more in harmony with yours, it's only fair that your perspective dominate the discussion.
As to the "alleged genocide" in the Bible (and I already said I don't want to attack the Bible and conceded its merits, so I’m writing this somewhat against my will), I would cite the stories of the conquest of Canaan, the explanation given for the destruction of Judah and Israel, the murder of almost all life (most of it innocent, non-human life—while I’m on the subject, I’d like to speak in defense of the 300 foxes Sampson hurt, the animals killed in the plagues of Egypt, the swine Jesus allowed the demons to kill, etc.) in the Flood story, Jehovah’s murder of 70,000 of his children for David’s “sin,” the murder of the firstborn of Egypt (Cf. esp. Ex. 4:23 and 13:15), God’s killing countless Egyptian and Assyrian soldiers, Jehovah’s killing the child of David and Bathsheba for their sin, Jehovah’s destruction with fire from heaven and a bear from the forest of the honest soldiers and foolish children who made the mistake of interacting with Elijah and Elisha, the murder of witches, the murder of rebellious children, the murder of women who did not scream when they were raped, Jehovah’s murder of his children by snakes, plagues, fire and stones from heaven, famine, and sword for assorted cultic transgressions, and the countless bloody fantasies of the prophets (including the Christian prophets Jesus, John, “Peter,” and others who did not become part of the canon). Violence of one sort or another is easily the most common subject in the OT, and most of it has the sanction of Jehovah. If I were to think that the primary characteristics of Jehovah represent something other than a literary character produced by a number of persecuted minorities, I would feel obligated, though he might be far more powerful than I, to oppose his tyranny, narcissism, and erratic behavior. If you are not distressed by many of the stories in the OT, I think you either fail to take them seriously or, always identifying with the "righteous few," fail to identify with the humans and animals annihilated by his wrath. It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, who is a man of war. I’m willing to admit that a primitive part of me enjoys the violence. I can get into the spirit of the Psalmist who asks God to break and tear the teeth out of the mouths of the wicked and longs to see the “righteous” bathe their feet in the blood of the dead (cf. Ps. 68:23): “Like a slug melting away as it moves along, like a stillborn child, may they not see the sun” (Ps. 58:8). I have a little more trouble getting into the spirit of Psalm 137:9. However, violence represents a failure to heal, to persuade, and to attract. The great holy texts of the Daoists and the Buddhists, for example, are much more consistently compassionate and peaceful.
I posted your replies, but I see no evidence whatsoever in what you posted that life can come from non-life. You merely assume that it can, and you offer no testable examples, only theory. But I'll let others decide based on what you wrote.
As for Jehovah killing David and Bathsheba's son, etc., according to his own law either David and Bathsheba had to die, which would have resulted in the death of the child anyway, or Jehovah could have let them live and take the child. Either way, because of their gross sin, the child had to die. As for genocide, you might as well say God is genocidal because of the flood. And you probably would. I do not. He gives life, and he can take it away. You and I do not deserve life, ever. It is a gift, always. It is in fact a miracle that he allows us to live and offend him so often as we do. But there is nothing wrong with God kiilling that which offends him. You merely assume it is wrong based on a preferred moral view. Again, we might ask why he lets any of us live in the first place, in our present condition.
As for time, again, read my "What is Truth?" article. There is no such THING as time. It is a measurment of events. So as long as something HAPPENS in relation to something else, there is time; the events can be measured. Science, and religion, make up "time" in the way that they do; they reify the abstract if you will, which is a logical fallacy, because they are constantly theorizing about things in order to fit a preconceived model. From black holes, to white holes, to parallel universes, these are all viewed within a model that excludes God, or any intelligent designer, and yet as John has shown they speak of such things in ways that can only be described, as they so often do, as indications of that which is intelligent and living.
I appreciate your position, but I do not see that you have any basis for excluding God from your model, and in fact you appear to be ignoring evidence of intelligence and life all over the place, which I believe, consistent with science but not based on it, can only come from intelligence and life and that never comes from non-intelligence, non-life.
In any event, I appreciate what you wrote. You surely had enough of a chance to explain your perspective, and we can let others decide from here.
John has since posted his final response, and Julie Morgan and Greg continued the discussion briefly. Yesterday, I e-mailed Greg a private response (since he had let me say as much as could be allowed publicly) that read in part:
I have given some thought to your words: "[God] gives life, and he can take it away. You and I do not deserve life, ever. It is a gift, always. It is in fact a miracle that he allows us to live and offend him so often as we do. But there is nothing wrong with God kiilling
[sic] that which offends him. You merely assume it is wrong based on a preferred moral view."
I spoke to three of my Christian friends, and they all essentially expressed the same perspective. "He is the potter, and we are the clay. If he wants to dash us to pieces, that is his right. He is God, wise beyond our ability to know or judge." How do I respond to this? Am I simply being insensitive to some higher way of thinking?
Whether or not we deserve life, we have it. After having given it, would it be right for God to just take it away? The notion that God, if he did take away our lives, would do so only for the right reasons is not the same as the notion that God, because he is God, can take our lives without needing a reason. I suspect you were expressing the former line of thought, namely, that God, whenever he acts violently, must have the best of reasons, even if they are not revealed to us. But my response to God cannot be based on information I don't have; I can't make that big a leap of faith. If you were expressing the latter idea, I have trouble reconciling it with, for example, your objections to abortion. Abortion does not involve the killing of independent centers of self-consciousness. If we someday are able to manufacture life and we "intelligently design" other sentient beings, I don't think we would have the right to step in, after having given them life and consciousness, and take it away. Likewise, I don't agree with the Jewish law that a parent could kill a rebellious child. [....]
Greg Stafford is clamping down on dialog. Is he starting a new religion?
Greg Stafford is changing the nature of his site, and his language seems to suggest that he is starting a new religion. He recently posted the following:
I just received a very respectful and thoughtful e-mail from Greg. In spite of the way he's changing the Chat section on his new website, he is not going to cease dialog with those who have perspective different from his. Sorry Greg!
You really rate yourself dontcha
Welcome to the forum.
I'm not sure what you mean. I posted the conversation with Greg and John here because I thought valuable things were said, and I didn't want them to be lost. I posted again to correct the error I made about the new direction Greg is taking with his site. If you mean to imply I have reasonably good self-esteem, I do, most of the time, and I would hope that you do as well, whoever you are.
Oh, yes, Must Obey, welcome!
I've made my decision. If Greg Stafford wants to start his own religion...it's OK by me.
Glad to help. ~Rabbit
Wow! It looks like there are a lot of other books out there to read that aren't just 196 pages long, and in beautiful pastel colors!!
Very interesting read. Can't take it all in in one setting, but will come back to it.
Yeah. Greg wants to help those who are leaving the Watchtower but who still believe in Jehovah. Even though I don't fall into that category, I suspect he'll be able to fill a real need, and I wish him the best. It sounds like he wants to organize activities that really help those in need ("orphans and widows"), which is more than the Society does. His post caught me by surprise, however. I saw it early in the morning as I was finishing my studies for the day.