Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 2

The following is the second email exchange with Jen Koontz regarding the question, "Who is Jesus?" You can read the first exchange in my blog entry titled, "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 1."

Jen Koontz wrote:
Ok, so we both agree religion sucks. Good. But I guess religion is different than believing in God or Jesus as an immortal? See usually I equate that stuff with religion. But I guess you don't so... ok. I'll go with a stricter definition of religion.

Dennis Elenburg responds:
I'm a theist, and I also believe Jesus really was who he claimed to be. You seem to be committed to a Darwinist belief system, but not all Darwinists are consistent rationalists (i.e. they don't see the rational conclusion for Darwinism is atheism). I guess I'm still not quite sure where you fall on the spectrum from theism to agnosticism to atheism. Have you totally rejected your Catholic roots of theism?

Jen: [re: C.S. Lewis block quote in first exchange] What, so people can only tell the truth or lies? People mix it up all the time! Perhaps he was a megalomaniac who really thought he was the "son of God"; that doesn't necessarily discredit his stories or morals, as long as you take them with a grain of salt. Maybe all that God stuff is a metaphor. But whatever, the point is I can appreciate his stories and learn morals from them without having to accept that he's the son of God or immortal or supernatural. But if I do look at it your way (he can either be crazy or the son of God), then fine, he's crazy.

Dennis: Your logic is broken, but what you're basically saying is that it doesn't matter if Jesus was crazy because Jen Koontz is perfectly able to pick and choose what is true or false.

Jen: I still think one can discover all of the positive morals that he teaches by oneself.

Dennis: Exactly my point. This is essentially a post-modern relativist position in disguise. The rationalist ("truth is outside myself") position turns that around and says, "I can only recognize Truth provisionally based on logical principles like the Law of Non-Contradiction and Modus Ponens, etc." So, if the J-Man is a demonstrated loony, you cannot learn anything at all from him. C.S. Lewis was a rationalist. I try to be a rationalist. You claim to be a rationalist. The best any rationalist can do with a loony Jesus is say "it doesn't matter what he said." You cannot respect him as a "great moral teacher." That was the point C.S. Lewis is making in his argument. Jesus did not leave that option open.

Jen: Alright, since we both agree the church sucks we can just focus on the J-man. :)

Dennis: That is what I hoped to do, but based on your blog profile I thought I was dealing with a rationalist. Before we proceed, it would help me to understand where you're coming from. If you're a theist, then how do you reconcile that with Darwinism? Are you *really* a rationalist, or a post-modern relativist posing as a rationalist? I'm trying to find a coherent belief system in there somewhere. :) I'm always trying to hone my own belief system in order to root out incoherence and illogic, so don't take this as a slight. As a committed rationalist, I struggle when trying to understand and communicate with people who relate to the world in a post-modern relativistic manner. It would help me if you'd explain what you mean when you claim to be a rationalist. Maybe we just have different definitions on what it means to be a rationalist.

Jen: [re: my offer to send Jen a copy of "More Than A Carpenter" by Josh McDowell] I don't know about the book. Hmm. I'm a voracious reader, but only of pulp-style fantasy/sci-fi stuff (I know, it's awful! My guilty pleasure! And hey, I try to go for the GOOD fantasy writers. ;) Maybe I will read the Bible, as you suggest later. I've been meaning to anyway, just to sharpen my ammo, hehehehe. :) Ugh, but it's so incredibly DULL.

Dennis: It will be hard to focus on the J-man if we (a) don't have a common understanding of who he was and what he claimed, and (b) are unable to discuss this as rationalists using common definitions on what the words mean, including what it means to be a rationalist.

Jen: We'll see, maybe when I finish my current book. I don't like talking about things I don't know about, so I probably couldn't continue this discussion without reading something else anyway. :)

Dennis: Good point. Here's a place to start reading: John 1. My offer to send you the little easy-to-read (not dull) book by Josh McDowell still stands too.

Jen: [re: the Golden Rule as "natural law"] Hmm, I disagree here. First of all, it is most definitely NOT natural law. I believe Darwinism, and survival of the fittest and all that. If everything followed the golden rule, then we would all starve! So it's most not natural. [Natural law] applies only within our own social species. And even within our own species, it's only a "rule" because we have evolved to a point where we can AFFORD to do it. If we had more limited resources, we would not be able to follow it. Would that make us "evil"? Is a lion evil for eating another animal? No, this is how we survive. Since we're not competing for territory or resources as much anymore, it's in our best interest as a social species to follow the golden rule. But it's certainly NOT natural.

Dennis: I think we are saying the same thing from different directions. When I said the Golden Rule (GR) is Natural Law, I didn't mean to imply that human beings are inherently good and naturally follow the GR. In fact, it is just the opposite. It goes against human nature to follow the GR because human beings are inherently selfish. The GR goes *against* human nature. As you pointed out, the GR and Darwinism are incompatible. (So, why do you think they are both true?)

Jen: This reminds me of some philosopher I learned about in my History of Western Philosophy class. I forget his name, but not his point. In the period we were studying, all of the philosophers were trying rationalize the Bible and religion and all that (you can't, of course! They all failed miserably.) But anyway, this guy was talking about "miracles" and "acts of God" and how they didn't really prove God's power or strength at all. His basic argument was that if God created nature and natural order, why would something going AGAINST that order (as miracles do) prove his strength or power? Wouldn't it prove the weakness of his original design, and therefore his power and all that?

Dennis:
Not at all. When a miracle suspends or overcomes the laws of nature, then perhaps that is just God's way of showing us his transcendence over his creation. He created the rules, and he can change or suspend them at his pleasure. The topic of miracles is also interesting when you consider what Jesus said about them in John 5:36.

Jen: Of course, this was all based on the assumption that God is perfect and therefore everything he makes must be perfect or at least the most perfect possibility.

Dennis: God's original creation *was* perfect, but the world we live in today is corrupted. That is why Jesus is so important.

Jen:
Miracles were just things people couldn't explain through their normal empirical evidence, so they attributed it to "God." Which leads us back to the point that God just simply represents the unexplained or unknown. Which is not truthful at all, especially when people are personifying him!

Dennis:
So, would you agree that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is "unexplained or unknown"? I didn't think so. Well, the 2nd Law *requires* some kind of kick-start on the universe *outside* the system. As far as science is concerned that kick-start is "unexplained or unknown." However, we do have evidence that supports the idea that this "unexplained or unknown" may very well indeed be the God who reveals himself in the Bible. If some people have seen such evidence and Jen Koontz has not, that does not prove those who believe in God are wrong. What a rationalist truth-seeker such as yourself should do in such a case is keep an open mind and analyze the evidence as it is encountered. I will show you the evidence, if you're willing to examine it.

Jen:
However, I know that you've mentioned God and his "design", but you haven't explained what your perception of God is (if it's not the normal old-man-sitting-in-the-sky crap, which I have to assume it's not since you are smart). So we'll see what you have to say about that...

Dennis:
You can rest easy. The old-man-sitting-in-the-sky idea is absurd albeit common. We must be careful not to impose our limited notions of perfection on a presumably infinite Creator. That leads to all kinds of silly contradictions, like the supposed impossibility of miracle. My perception of God is that he is the Creator of the universe, that "unexplained or unknown" jump-starter who has infinite intelligence, power, and presence. I also believe God reveals himself to those who seek him. That is why we have evidence that he does indeed exist.

Jen:
Yeah, my knowledge of Jesus all stems from my Roman Catholic upbringing, so I suppose it's probably twisted. I'll see about reading that Bible...

Dennis:
Most protestant denominations encourage their adherents to read the Bible more than the Catholics, so if you were raised at least nominal Catholic it isn't shocking that you haven't read the Book. You really ought to give it a shot, though. After all, it is the most widely published book in all of history. For someone who wants to be "well-read" is only makes sense to read the #1 best seller of all time! :)

Jen:
Not sure what "God's general grace" is, but ok. However, I think that if someone thought of the Golden Rule to begin with, then we can certainly think of it again. And I don't accept that the original idea came from God- it's part of the social structure of our species that has enabled us to survive.

Dennis:
Earlier you mentioned that the only reason we can "afford" to practice the Golden Rule (GR) is because we've evolved. I don't think the facts support that conclusion. Most of the wealth in the world is concentrated in Christianized western cultures. We can afford the GR now only because enough people followed the GR in the past to make it so. Modern western prosperity is a product of the Christianized western culture. Just look at what communism (atheism) did to Russia. Look at the rampant poverty in Islamic and Hindu nations. The wealth you claim makes the GR possible came about because of 2000 years of people practicing the GR, and not the other way around. There doesn't seem to be any GR in Islam, nor in pagan (3rd world) cultures. Nor among atheists, except 1st-generation atheists who got it from Christian parents and who didn't reject it when they rejected its logical basis.

Jen:
But of course I don't accept that God created us either... so I guess you could say that he created that need in us or whatever. But not back when we were primates!

Dennis:
I have no comments on your primate ancestry. :)

Jen:
I do agree that children need a good upbringing to help them learn morals. And punishment and rewards help us learn the appropriate responses. But once you get to a certain age and know enough about our society and how we work together, you shouldn't need this vague threat of hell to make you be a good person. You should be a good person because you see the benefit it brings to society and ultimately, ourselves. Yes, it is ultimately selfish. I truly believe that.

Dennis:
My view on hell is that the only people who will be there are those who wouldn't be happy in heaven because God is there and evil is not allowed. Hell is a place away from God where his general grace and blessings do not exist. Atheists have it easy in this world because they benefit from God's general grace even though they deny his existence.

Jen:
I donate to charities because I would want someone to do the same for me if I was in the same position. I don't think that's wrong or selfish, it's just social. Good social behavior evolved to ultimately benefit the individuals and therefore the whole.

Dennis:
Your Catholic upbringing has inculcated a sense of God's general grace into your character, and that is admirable. However, I find it a bit sad that you attribute your good character to social evolution instead of your mother's good job in raising you with some solid Catholic values. [Way to go, Jen's mom, if you're reading this!!]

Jen:
Maybe we should define "worship". I don't think feeling connected to something larger than oneself and worshipping are the same thing.

Dennis:
I believe the need to worship is built into the soul of human beings by the Designer.

Jen:
Worshipping can fill that need, but it is false, because worship to me involves some element of the unknown. Once you understand it, it's not worship anymore. It's just the truth.

Dennis:
Worship is reverent love and devotion accorded a deity. If that deity is the God of the Bible, then I agree that finite human beings cannot understand an infinite God. So, your definition of worship involving "some element of the unknown" makes sense in that context. What's wrong with worshipping the Truth?

Jen:
Hmm, maybe we can get into the gun control issue another time. I'm pretty liberal, so I am of the opinion that everyone should pretty much be able to do what they want... as long as that doesn't interfere with someone else doing what they want. And unfortunately, it's all too easy for any bozo to get a gun at a moment's notice and kill someone whenever they're peeved (which definitely counts as interference!) I think if you want to own a gun you need to take classes on how to use it and gun safety (for more extensive then what you need now, if anything!), and be put on a waiting list, and be researched for criminal history and all that. If you're going to be able to kill me by only moving one finger, then I want assurance that you're not a loony and will only do so for a very good reason!

Dennis:
You sound more Libertarian than Liberal. Look, I'm enjoying the dialogue, but I set out to deal with the J-man question. I'd love to get into these other topics, but let's try to focus the discussion. Let me know when you get in some reading on the source texts, and I'd love to continue this dialogue by focusing on the J-man question. Until next time...

[For the next installment go to "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 3"]

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