Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask
Through Dave Armstrong, I’ve found an ex-Christian atheist who goes by DaGoodS (I’ll call him DGS). He runs a blog discussing (naive) critiques of his former faith (don’t all ex-Christian atheists?) called Thoughts from a Sandwich.
The author referred to a survey where 10,000 Christians were asked, “What Questions do you find difficult to answer?” and compiled a list of the top ten; the author kindly provides Christian responses.
DGS doesn’t think that the questions in the book are very good, and I’m also guessing that he finds the answers lacking as well.
Since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians allegedly can’t answer, I thought I’d take a shot at DGS’s list. Starting today, I’ll take a poke at two questions per day, posting one first thing in the morning and one in the late afternoon.
I’m hoping we can learn something from each other.
What is your method to _______?
Clear as mud. I can’t provide a sweeping answer to that question, since it’s really nebulous. Fortunately, DGS gives us a series of examples. I can provide an answer to each.
“Given a string of words, what method do we use to determine those words are theopneustos?” (God-breathed.)
Jesus himself gave us an answer, though I’m guessing that DGS won’t find it sufficient for these purposes since it comes from the Bible itself. Jesus, challenged by the religious authorities to plainly say that he was the promised Messiah, told them:
I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. (Jn 10:25-26)
Jesus has told them, unambiguously, who he is. (We see from other Gospels that he sees himself as the Son of Man figure described in Daniel, who was the coming Messiah. See also Jn 5:39-47.) But they don’t believe because they aren’t part of the Great Shepherd’s flock. Jesus continues:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (Jn 10:27-30)
What Jesus is basically saying here is that if we are members of his flock (referred to in later Christian writings as “the elect”), then we will recognize when he has spoken something.
For practical applications to DGS’s question, it means that God speaks through the Scriptures, and it is up to us to recognize when and where this is happening. So the canon of Scripture must be discovered; it is already set down by God and the writers of Scripture are moved to create it. Here Jesus promises that we’re going to be able to see what is from God and what is not, and thus put the proper canon together from what God has given us.
As a philosopher, I’m perfectly comfortable with the notion that we may be wrong. I don’t personally think we’re wrong about which books the Bible should contain (e.g. everything that’s there should be there), but there’s a possibility we might be wrong about which books were excluded (e.g. that some non-canonical writings might be canonical). Another view on that from C. Michael Patton, here.
More to the point of the original question, it isn’t about determining which words are from God from among a string of words, but examining the plenary teaching of an entire work and determining if it fits with what is already revealed.
The final question in this series suggests that DGS may have had some dealings with Christians that mythologize Scripture in part but not in whole, and this question is directed at those Christians. I believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, and with it, the plenary inerrancy of Scripture. That DGS may have had dealings with people who don’t believe that is what lead (I think) to the phrasing of this question the way he has.
“How do we determine whether the solution is either: 1) something science hasn’t discovered yet, but will or 2) something science hasn’t discovered yet and never will or 3) something science cannot discover because it is supernatural?”
I’m not sure that we can. But, permit a rhetorical question, how does that disprove God?
Science adopts methodological naturalism by default because it must. Which means its conclusions always have the caveat that we wouldn’t know how it would come out differently if agency were involved. There’s no real way to run an experiment that would test for any agency.
Contrast this with metaphysical naturalism, which believes that the physical realm–whatever we can empirically verify and nothing more–is all that exists. Neither methodological naturalism nor metaphysical naturalism try to test for agency. The difference is that the former leaves the question of God open, while the latter emphatically denies the existence of God, and by extension any intervention from God.
Methodological naturalism is compatible with theism because science always tests with the caveat that an intervening agent can change the outcome of the experiment dramatically. That’s one reason scientists devise multiple experiments for similar hypotheses: to root out the possibility that their own agency may have interfered with the result. Therefore, scientists can be theists (and the first scientists were). Being committed to methodological naturalism doesn’t automatically mean that one has to be a metaphysical naturalist.
“How do we determine whether this plane is exactly like the supernatural, similar to the supernatural, or not at all like the supernatural when we cannot observe the supernatural?”
“Natural” and “supernatural” are arbitrary distinctions, based solely on which plane of existence that the observer occupies. To God, we are supernatural. “Natural” sits on this plane, while “supernatural” is anything outside of this plane, including denizens of alternate universes (if any exist). Supernatural is typically defined as beings that are high and mighty, possessing powers we mortals salivate at. But that needn’t be the case; they only have to occupy an existence that isn’t native to our own reality.
Some hypotheses of quantum mechanics seems to suggest that alternate universes are closely linked at the molecular level. And most theories that underlie physics believe that the microcosmic interactions of particles that defy natural human detection can affect events on a macrocosmic scale (e.g. cause disturbances that we can observe).
The microcosmic level can be affected by activity in an alternate universe, or so the many worlds hypothesis states. Which, by equivocation, means that observable macrocosmic changes are somehow determined by activity in an alternate universe. Which means, under this hypothesis, alternate universes (supernatural agents by definition) can affect the day-to-day cause-and-effect-chains that we see going on in this universe (natural, by definition).
So science, in a roundabout way, accepts in theory that supernatural agents can affect the course of this universe. What all of this means is that natural and supernatural distinctions are moot. They are arbitrary, created only based on which plane of existence the observer lies.
If I, an agent in this universe, were to catch a speeding ball, is this a violation or suspension of the natural law stating that that ball will continue in motion forever at its current velocity? Nope. I’ve acted on it, which changes the expected outcome.
Now God isn’t native to this plane of existence. If he were to catch the ball, does that now make it a violation or suspension of the natural laws of inertia? Nope, it just means that an agent outside of this plane of existence has acted on the ball, and that also changes the expected outcome!
Phenomena that lack agency can also interact with this hypothetical ball: wind resistance, gravity, friction, or a big brick wall can all bring the ball crashing to the ground and stop it as effectively as an intelligent agent can. Like the discussion of methodological vs. metaphysical naturalism above, the law assumes methodological naturalism, not taking into account how any sort of agency could act on the ball. This isn’t tantamount to denying God’s existence
So the better question to ask would be how can we tell agency has intervened, when that agency isn’t native to our plane of existence? Agency native to our plane of existence is easy to spot. Agency native to another plane of existence might not be so easy to spot.
In the world of theoretical physics, supernatural agency seems to influence particles at the subatomic level, which means that it would be impossible to observe with the naked eye. Only the right instruments used at the right times would be able to detect it, if they were sophisticated enough to detect it at all. Which means that direct observation is unlikely to be possible.
So, the short answer to this question is that it may not be possible to know the difference among those options, at least not without a through investigation into all the possibilities. The action of supernatural agency should leave enough clues to discern if it had acted, but only if we are adopting methodological naturalism as our worldview. On the other hand, if metaphysical naturalism is our ruling worldview, then supernatural agency will never even be considered since we deny its existence (let alone its ability to interact with nature).
I’ve covered some additional details here. I should note that theoretical physics isn’t my area of expertise, so I’m open to correction in the comments section below, or by e-mail, if I’ve totally messed something up.
“How do we tell what is myth and what is historical in the story?”
I believe in inerrancy, so I don’t believe that the Bible is mythologizing history; rather, I believe that the Bible is reporting history. So I’m not the person to ask this of. My view of plenary inspiration (discussed above) cements my position with little more consideration. Ask a Christian who believes that portions of stories might be history and other portions might be myth.
For what it’s worth, I believe that Christians who posit that the Bible mythologizes history are leaving themselves wide open for this objection, and should be challenged with it as often as possible. There really isn’t much of a valid answer for how to determine which is myth and which is history. It’s either all true, or all false. If it’s all false, then what are doing calling ourselves Christians?
Posted on January 12, 2011, in Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Religion, Science, Theology and tagged atheism, Christianity, DaGoodS, Dave Armstrong, faith, history, mythology, supernatural, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.