Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 3

This is an ongoing, open email discussion with Jen Koontz intended to discuss the question "Who is Jesus?" We're still dancing around the topic, but hopefully Jen will be ready to dig into the main topic in our next exchange. This is our third exchange, but you can also read Part 1 and Part 2 in earlier blog entries.

Jen Koontz writes:

Ok, here's my response. I'll get on reading those [bible] passages (though I am loathe too, since they are written by men interpreting God, not God himself, and therefore open to corruption and manipulation). However, like I said, I need more ammo. ;)

Dennis Elenburg responds:
I'm curious about your claim that the text was corrupted and manipulated. What evidence do you have for these claims? Or, is this really an unnecessary prejudice without factual basis? I would suggest that you read the Gospels as historical documents written by eyewitnesses, which they are. The Gospels are far more reliable and have far more manuscript evidence than any other ancient texts.

Jen: Maybe you could also give me a little rundown of your personal beliefs about God and all that too, just so I can better understand where you're coming from.

Dennis: I believe that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. If you want to know what those claims are, just read the source texts. Start with the Gospel of John, perhaps with the New Living Translation.

Jen: [re: on being an atheist] Are you serious? I thought it was fairly clear by now that I am firmly atheist. Although if I ever found solid proof, evidence, or even some well thought-out reasons for the existence of a deity, I might be convinced to change my mind. I feel that way about everything I believe, no matter how firmly I believe. But so far I have found none of the above to support the existence of a deity.

Dennis: Finding no evidence to support the existence of God is NOT the same as having found evidence or proof that there is no such thing as God. The atheist position (proving non-existence) is nearly impossible to defend rationally. That is why many closet atheists are openly "agnostic." They know atheism is impossible to defend rationally, so they pose as agnostics in order to deflect the logical problem with their position. However, if you're really willing to change your mind given proper evidence, then you're already talking like an agnostic. Honest agnosticism (not the closet atheist version) obligates a truth seeker to evaluate the evidence for theism. If you're really willing to take on the full risks of honest agnosticism, that would be very bold. I haven't personally met anyone that honest and bold, although I've read about such people. Are you willing to be that honest and bold?

Jen: [re: on being a rationalist] Hmm, well now I'm not sure. Remember, I got the term rationalist off of a personality test website, lol!!! I looked it up in the dictionary, and I think this definition most fits what I mean by it: a view that reason and experience rather than the nonrational are the fundamental criteria in the solution of problems.

Dennis: I can go with that definition as a reasonably good one for a rationalist.

Jen: But basically, the empirical method of science is my main method for explaining the world around to myself. I use reason and apply it to empirical observation to figure stuff. For things which I have no empirical evidence of (like God), then I make educated guesses using reason and logic based upon what I already know. So that's what I mean by rationalist.

Dennis: The empirical method of testing the truth of a hypothesis by experiment works great for science, but doesn't work so well on proving a historical claim. If the scientific method was the only way to prove something, you could not prove where you were at 9am yesterday morning. We can't turn back the clock to 9am yesterday and repeat the experiment. To establish a historical fact, we must use legal-historical evidence to establish a verdict, just like a lawyer does in a court case. Legal-historical evidence includes oral and written testimony and exhibits like DNA or fingerprints. Based on the preponderance of evidence, we can come to a verdict beyond reasonable doubt. Insisting on empirical evidence to discover who Jesus was is not reasonable. It wouldn't be reasonable for proving who Abraham Lincoln was either. However, we do have plenty of legal-historical evidence to make a case for who Lincoln and Jesus both were historically.

Jen: So that's why I don't see a conflict in appreciating the morals Jesus teaches, but still able to call him a loon for believing he's the son of God. That's just psychology. You can have schizophrenia but still speak truth once in a while, and sometimes even have insights into human nature that sane people don't.

Dennis: True, but you cannot base anything on schizophrenic musings because you don't have any way of substantiating them. The best you can do is look elsewhere for confirmation, which is the same as ignoring the lunatic and just looking elsewhere in the first place. If you're firmly an atheist, then it would be rational to think someone is a loon for believing they are the son of someone who doesn't exist. So, as long as you're trapped in atheism (i.e. don't allow the possibility of God), then you're forced to conclude that Jesus was crazy because you've arbitrarily eliminated the possibility that God exists. Until you move to agnosticism and allow the possibility that God may exist, you have no choice but to believe Jesus was a nut cake. However, that isn't a rationalist approach to the question. An honest rationalist would apply reason and experience to the question without axiomatically eliminating the possibility that Jesus really might have been who he claimed to be.

Jen: [re: comparting the Golden Rule (GR) and Darwinism] I don't think they are incompatible at all. The GR is just further along in our social evolution than our baser instincts, and only applicable in the right environment and circumstances. And humans always have contradictory impulses... in fact, we need them, because our environment is complicated and we can't have just one impulse to deal with it. You gotta eat, but you also gotta sleep. Sometimes those needs contradict. It doesn't mean they are incompatible.

Dennis: The incompatibility of the Golden Rule (GR) and "social evolution" is that the genetic fitness of the individual is not enhanced or propagated by the GR. The individual best propagates his own genes by other people practicing the GR and by not practicing it herself. This is generally attainable in the Darwinist (atheist) world view by lying and cheating and manipulating other people, which is the opposite of the GR. The GR may enhance the viability of a culture as a whole, but not of any particular individuals. Therefore, there are no individuals selected to practice it. The GR does not spread by natural selection in society unless it is already there and pervasive from non-Darwinian causes.

Jen: [re: God's perfect creation] If it was so perfect, it shouldn't have been corrupted. At least, that's what the philosopher was arguing--that perfectionism means it shouldn't have to or be able to change from being perfect, because then it wouldn't have been perfect in the first place. But that's just nitpicking over the definition of perfect.

Dennis: I don't think this is nitpicking. It is an important point. Immutable "perfection" is sterile and uninteresting. This is why people are more interesting conversationalists than robots. Choosing good is even more virtuous in a system that allows for evil. In fact, how would we even know what "good" means without the possibility of "evil"?

Jen: [re: evidence of Intelligent Design] And what evidence is that? Just because some event had to happen to kick-start [the universe] doesn't mean it was God. If so, then who created God? He was just sitting around in nothingness for all of eternity before he decided to start the Big Bang?

Dennis: Since God (or whatever started the universe) is outside the system, we have no basis for speculating on whom or what started God. We do have a very good reason to believe that something (or Somebody) is outside the system with enough power to kick-start an awfully big universe. This forces the rationalist away from the atheist presupposition to at least an agnostic position which is willing to examine evidence that might point to Him/it. Are you ready to move to the agnostic position, Jen?

Jen: Hmm, see I can believe in some sort of event or something that made the jump-start happen, but I can't believe there was intelligence. I think intelligence evolved so that us humans could interpret and explain the world around us. If there was nothing before God decided to jump-start the universe, then he wouldn't have needed intelligence to explain anything.

Dennis: I'm not following your logic. It's easy to postulate an anti-entropic process like evolution, but pretty hard to demonstrate any particular instance of it. I work with computers, and they don't get smarter by themselves. If they did (or could be made to do so) then every software company in the world would buy up supercomputers and set them to evolve new software. Intelligence is entropic, like energy. You don't get it for nothing, and it tends to decrease when left alone. You don't even get counter-gradient energy transfer (like refrigeration) without intelligent design (or some kind of life) behind it. It just doesn't happen. When you apply the 2nd Law to the information domain, it is very simple to see that any intelligence in the universe had to come from some sort of Intelligent Designer. Interestingly, this obvious scientific fact has been conveniently left out of public school text books.

Jen: [re: on reading the Bible] Or that's a good reason NOT to read it!! I've seen how it changes people and how they use it as a weapon!!

Dennis: Is that "weapon" effective? If so, then why not learn how to use it yourself? At least you could learn how it works, so to parry its use by others. If it's not effective, then why all this concern over some ancient book?

Jen: I also know it's been highly edited by the church, to the point of censorship of any gospels that didn't fit their idea of Jesus or how they wanted to portray him. So how can you trust anything it says at all? I would trust the Dead Sea Scrolls maybe, at least they might provide a wider picture and then one could start to try and discern the truth from made-up stories.

Dennis: We have very good early manuscripts for the New Testament, and the modern translations are based on these early manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts pre-date the ascendancy of an organized church with any power of censorship. There is no evidence of corruption. Anybody can examine the original Greek in those manuscripts (and the original Latin and Coptic of equally early copies) to see that the translations are accurate. There is no evidence of corruption in modern Bible translations. Alternatively, I can show explicit coruption in high school biology text books where provably false "scientific" information that is pro-Darwinist has been left in the book when modern science has repudiated it.

Jen: Even though it's supposed to be the Word of God, it was written, interpreted, and edited by PEOPLE. Corruptible people.

Dennis: Our entire email dialogue is written, interpreted, and edited by corruptible people (us!). However, we can discuss issues and facts with respect and dignity and without imputing malice on the writer. What's wrong with using the same starting point when examining the ancient texts? If they are corrupt, it should be pretty easy to see evidence of it like we can in biology text books. (I'm specifically talking about the "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" nonsense promoted by the wishful drawings of 19th century German biologist Ernst Haeckel. These drawings still tend to show up in modern biology texts, and that is just one example of Darwinian propaganda, manipulation, and corruption of the truth.)

Jen: Hmm, you're right the GR is one theory that certainly most people don't always follow, and perhaps it is culturally attached. But this is where the conflicting instincts come in, and also human adaptability to different environments. Perhaps harsh weather and limited resources make it so that certain cultures can't follow the GR. I know you'll probably call this relativism, but it's not really. It's just a deeper more complex understanding of humans and how adaptable we are to our surroundings.

Dennis: Okay, let's look at a specific example. The weather in England is far more harsh than the weather in sub-Sahara Africa or southeast Asia, and the resources are also more limited. However, the GR and Christianity dominated England for centuries. This theory you propose does not compute.

Jen: Ok... PLEASE don't tell me you don't believe in evolution. PLEASE!!! I don't think I could ever take you seriously if you don't believe in evolution.

Dennis: Okay, I won't -- on one condition: that you find ONE research scientist with a terminal degree in his or her field doing peer-reviewed research who can show you how his/her own research supports Darwinism better than the alternatives. Just one, anyone. I have a friend with a Ph.D in information science who has been asking this question for over 20 years, and nobody has been able to answer it. You hit the nail on the head when you wrote "believe in evolution." Darwinism is an atheistic belief system based on 19th century science. Your statement is akin to me saying, "I don't think I could ever take Jen Koontz seriously if she doesn't believe in Jesus." However, I would never say such a thing.

Jen: It has tons of evidence to back it up, it is a sound scientific theory that has been tested and supported again and again, and that actually produces results if one applies it in a practical manner (unlike religion, who's only practicality is to soothe people's minds, which can be accomplished other ways as well).

Dennis: I could say the same thing about the Darwinian religion soothing the minds of atheist scientists since Darwinism has no primary evidence. Now, before you start howling about that statement, let me define some terms. Darwinism is the idea that rocks turn into reptiles which turn into monkeys which turn into human beings. Life from non-life. One species turning into another. There is no evidence for this sort of macro-evolution. Finch beaks and the variety of dog breeds (micro-evolution) are another story. I have no problem with variation within a species. I do have a problem with rocks turning into human beings. Life from non-life (Darwinism) has ZERO scientific support. It even violates the 2nd law applied to the information domain. Unfortunately, all the propaganda in our public school systems has indoctrinated most of us to believe otherwise. It took me a while to unlearn the bad science that is promoted under the guise of Darwinism.

Jen: Entire fields of study are based upon it. I've actually done experiments with fruit flies where natural selection and evolution happened before my very eyes.

Dennis: When you show me a fruit fly turning into a rabbit, I'll believe in Darwinism. Until then, I stand by my position that is it an atheistic religion. Knowing how you feel about religion, I'm surprised you are so devoted to one. :-)

Jen: I can accept (well not believe in, but at least understand) the theory that God started the universe, which led to humans evolving from cells to primates and so on, and perhaps even guided that evolution along.

Dennis: Not only do I not believe in that, I can't even understand it because it has no basis in science. Darwinism violates the 2nd Law when applied to information science. You can't get life from non-life, and you can't get information from non-information. (i.e. DNA is a program, and you can't get a program that good without an Intelligent Programmer.)

Jen: But that God just dropped us in, fully made as we are?!! UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, and can be disproven immediately. Like, if he made us as we are... then why do we have an appendix, a useless organ?? Huh!? That is clearly a byproduct of evolution. And why do our chromosomes 99% match a chimps'??

Dennis: This is getting quite a bit off the J-man topic, but I'll go with it for a moment. After googling both the creationist postings and the stuff the evolutionists put up to answer them regarding the human appendix, I found neither side particularly convincing. A vestigial appendix is certainly not as much of an argument for evolution as it was 140 years ago, and even then it suggests that monkeys are descended from rabbits with no other intervening mammals. That is, if it's really vestigial from an evolutionary ancestor. I could just as easily argue that your fingers are proof of evolution because they are known to be completely useless. Amputating a finger has no known loss of viability, and people do it all the time in modern socially evolved societies (such as Islam). Do you believe that argument? Of course not! Modus ponens is a logically correct form of reasoning, because it gives correct answers regardless what data you use. The vestigial organ argument gives patently wrong answers when you plug other data, so obviously the argument is flawed.

Jen: I attribute [my good character] to social evolution and my huge genius brain. ;) Oh yeah, and my parents' raising in general (but they taught me plenty of things about how to survive in this world and get along with my neighbors politely that had nothing to do with church, religion, or God).

Dennis: Actually, the relationship is (ahem) vestigial. Getting along with your neighbors politely is taught by church, religion, and God. There is no social evolution at work. It is merely parental Christian values being passed along to a 1st generation atheist whether or not you give credit where credit is due.

Jen: Like I said before, I think it's longing to feel connected to something larger than oneself. Which makes sense, when you look at socialness and being friendly with our human peers as having evolved as a way for us to survive better.

Dennis: I have a better explanation for it, but until you move to agnosticism and we get into the J-man topic, it won't make much sense in the context of your present world view of atheism.

Jen: [re: worshiping the Truth] Well, it's not like you would pray to, or make offerings to the Truth in some sort of ceremony. But that's not the only way to worship I guess. If by worship you mean striving to achieve it and respecting it, then I guess one could worship the Truth.

Dennis: Buddhists don't pray to their non-deity either. The function of religion is to explain:

1. Who am I?
2. Where did I come from?
3. Why should I do anything in particular?

Jen: [re: Liberal vs. Libertarian] Well, let's see, here's the definition of liberal: "a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties." I'm libertarian in the sense that everyone should pretty much be allowed to do what they want, but the "as long as it doesn't interfere with other people's happiness" is the liberal catch. So I'm definitely not libertarian when it comes to regulating corporations and stuff like that. I think gun rights fall under civil liberties. Alright so I'm gonna read some Bible (blegh!!) wearing an aluminum hat to protect me from being brain washed ;) and maybe you can expound upon some of your beliefs and philosophies and why Jesus is the man for you. ;) Gimme some of this evidence you've been talking about. Catch ya later!!! :)

Dennis: Start reading the source texts and you'll see the evidence. However, you'll have to think of this like a court trial rather than a scientific experiment. Scientific proof is based on showing that something is a fact by repeating the event in the presence of the person questioning the fact. However, the scientific method is not directly applicable in proving a historical event or claim. We'll have to approach the question of "Who is Jesus?" using legal-historical methods. When legal-historical proof is used, as in a court case, a verdict is reached based on the weight of the evidence. The Gospel accounts are eyewitness testimony, so start reading and you'll get the evidence you seek. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Click here to read the next part of this dialogue with Jen Koontz.