Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Biggest Disconfirmation of the Existence of God

Theists (specifically Christians) often state that I can't disprove God. Sometimes I wonder if that is because the definition of "God" is a little vague.

If we define God as "a being who makes everything appear purple," then we could disprove God. After all, not everything appears purple. If God existed, everything would appear purple.

So here's a definition of God that I think most Christians and ex-Christians could agree on: A being who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good.

And by that definition, I think I can safely dismiss this God as easily as the God who makes everything appear purple.

After all, if God is all-knowing, he knows what it would take to convince me that he was there. If he is all-powerful, he is able to do it. And if he is all-good, he would want to.

But since I remain sincerely unconvinced that he is there, does that count as a disproof of God, as per my definition?

This is the point where I think some would accuse me of judging God. If God is all-knowing, then I cannot safely say that God would want to reveal himself to me at this time, if at all. An all-knowing God knows things about all-goodness that I cannot comprehend.

To this I can only throw up my hands.

If God does not exist, we will never come to that conclusion if we constantly apply "God works in mysterious ways" to everything. With this rebuttal, at no point will we reach the conclusion that the God hypothesis is garbage. It's assuming an outcome before we've even done the research.

Same-Sex Marriage

There was a time in my life where I believed that homosexuality was against God's plan. While I don't remember ever using such strong language as "abomination," I'm pretty sure I blanket-ridiculed homosexuals. And I am ashamed of that.

Back in high school, gay marriage was not even on my radar. I lived in a very Catholic country and went to a school run by Evangelical Americans. If homosexuality was discussed, it was the lifestyle and the act - I'm not sure gay marriage was even conceivable to me back then.

Then I moved to Canada, and was here for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and of course that forced me to start thinking about it.

Still calling myself an Evangelical Christian, I began to wonder what right any of us had to be against it. While still believing "active homosexuality" to be a sin, I realized that this was a religious opinion that a majority of Canadians didn't hold, and so my opinion became that it should indeed be legalized, as long as the religious freedoms of those who disagreed were not threatened (i.e. - no pastor would ever be sued for refusing to perform a same-sex ceremony).

So now the debate is happening in America. I no longer believe homosexuality to be "sinful," but even if I did, I think (and hope) I would be appalled at this:

Catholic blogger Lisa Graas said in an exchange with Jeremy Hooper that when the reverent in the video says "worthy of death," he is speaking of spiritual death, not calling for the death penalty. And yet the specific passage he is referring to (Leviticus 20:13) literally calls for the death penalty for homosexual acts.

Zinnia Jones, I think, has a good reply to Lisa:

Especially this:
Because whatever someone's religion says about the afterlife, this is only their own concern, and it's never grounds for telling the entire population what they can and can't do. The only reason they're able to practice their own faith without interference is because of this fundamental principle of individual religious freedom, and disregarding that freedom jeopardizes everyone's rights. If the government ever told them they needed to stop being who they are for the sake of their own "salvation", they would be outraged at the total lack of respect for their freedom of conscience and self-determination. And you know what? So am I! We don't need a nanny state in the name of a nanny god. If your god really exists and wants to send me to hell after I die, then that will be between me and your god. But right now, we all live on earth, where there are things like basic human rights and secular governments that do not endorse religions. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Short Thought on Inerrancy

The Holy Scriptures, as originally given by God, are divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy, and constitute the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
(from The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's Statement of Faith; emphasis mine)

If God is so interested in making the originals of Scripture infallible, why is he so unconcerned with keeping Scripture that way? If you're going to divinely inspire the authors of the originals, why not do the same for the scribes and translators?

The Deaths of Judas Iscariot

I'm not sure what the small amount of people who read this blog actually think about Biblical inerrancy. Is the Bible inerrant? What does inerrancy mean to you? It seems to have different definitions for different denominational persuasions.

I've come across a figurative ton of Christians recently who are perfectly comfortable throwing the idea of inerrancy out the window. That is, point out an obvious contradiction in the Bible, and you get a nod of agreement.

That is not, however what most of the Christians I know believe. They believe that the Bible (in its original manuscript) is inerrant; that is, error free. It has literally no contradictions. Point out an obvious contradiction to this person, and you get denial.

So here is why I think the accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot are at odds with each other and that any attempt to reconcile them is simply scriptural gerrymandering.

Here they are:

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
-Matthew 27:3-8 ESV

Now this man [Judas] acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.
-Acts 1:18-19 ESV

I see two contradictions here:

1. In Matthew's version, Judas dies by hanging himself. In Acts' version,  Judas dies by falling and losing his guts.

2. In Matthew's version, the chief priests buy the field with the 30 pieces of silver. In Acts' version, Judas acquires the field.

Here is how I have seen theologians attempt to square these stories with one another and keep the doctrine of infallibility intact:

First, they say that Judas hung himself, and that his body somehow fell to the ground and burst open, whether because the rope broke, or someone cut him down, or something like that.

Second, they say that the priests bought the field with Judas' money, so they were his proxies, in a sense.

Unless you are completely committed to the reliability of the Biblical accounts, you can see why these two attempts at reconciliation are absurd. Those who are committed to inerrancy would not accept this kind of twisting of the narrative in any other situation.

Here's an example:

Say I have a friend, Betty, and I just discovered today that she has died. My mother calls me up and tells me, and at the same time, a friend of mine posts it on Facebook. My mother says that Betty was in a car accident and was killed instantly. My Facebook friend posts that Betty was shot in a convenience store robbery gone wrong.

Both my mother and my friend are generally reliable people. What am I to make of this? If I were to follow the lead of Christian apologists, I might come up with something like, Betty was driving in her car and crashed into a convenience store where a robbery was taking place. As the car crashed through the front window, the criminal pulled the trigger and shot Betty, killing her instantly. And so, both my mother and my friend are correct in their versions of the story.

Now, is it possible that Betty was killed in this way? Sure. Is it plausible? Do I have any good reason to believe that this is what happened? No. Why? Because there are a few possibilities that are more plausible. My mother is mistaken. My friend is mistaken. They are speaking of different Betty's.

So back to Judas.

Isn't it far more likely that either Matthew or Acts (or both) got it wrong? Or that there were a few stories circulating and Matthew picked one and Acts picked the other?

If you disagree with me, in what way is the Judas story different from the Betty story?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Would Change Your Mind?

There are so many things I've been wrong about that I've been fortunate enough to discover.

There are so many things I'm still wrong about that I may never even know I'm wrong about. As Donald Rumsfeld says, "...there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

But once I start thinking about the possibility of being wrong, what does it take to cross over to Rightness from Wrongness?

I suppose it's different every situation and for every person.

For evolution, it took a desire to know not only what it really was (I had never been taught that), but why the scientists who accept it (and there were far more than I was told) believe it to be the best explanation for the diversity of life.

For religion, it took a desire to follow the evidence wherever it led, even if my most cherished beliefs were proven wrong.

For gay marriage, all it took was a little thought, a little bit at a time. Even before doing a little research and realizing that homosexuality was not the abomination I had been taught, I thought a little bit about what it meant to live in a pluralistic, secular society. Even while still believing it to be sinful, I realized that this was a religious position to have and that I had no right on imposing my religious view of marriage on state marriage (which are two different things).

Which leads me to the title of this post. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you're wrong on one of these issues (or any other issue, for that matter), what will it take to change your mind? I think that's an important question to ask yourself, because if you are in the wrong about a given issue, and you don't think about how you could get out of that predicament, you never will.

What inspired this thought are an amazing collection of videos from John Corvino about the gay marriage debate in the U.S., and this ad from Expedia:

Will these be a couple of the little things that move you from one frame of mind to another?

Also, I need a recipe for Lawyer Guacamole.