Monthly Archives: November 2011

A New Angle on Euthyphro

Euthyphro’s dilemma is one of the most important philosophical questions in thinking about God. It states:

“Is that which is Good, Good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is Good?”

It is a dilemma which originating in a work by Plato, where Socrates poses the question to Euthyphro (although about ‘gods’ plural rather than my monotheistic restating above). The wikipedia article does a good job (as usual) giving a general overview, so I won’t cover the history. It has come up a couple of times recently, particularly in the cross-blog discussion that I found via this post of Sabio’s, which in turn traces its genesis from this post of right-wing fundagelical John Barron.

It is a topic I find fascinating (I’ve stated previously on here, that although I’m interested in philosophy, I claim no great knowledge or understanding of its minutiae). But it normally occurs in debate in a slightly different form, better expressed as this:

“Is God good by definition, or can he be recognized as good by his actions?”

In other words, when discussing God’s morality (or lack of it), are we dealing with an a priori result? Or one that is grounded in evidence?

The horns of this dilemma map nicely onto Euthyphro but have slightly different force, and are more particularly suited to the kinds of debate I find myself involved with, between believers and atheists. If God is good by definition, then he could do anything (such as genocide, say) and that would be, by definition, good. And Christians cannot reasonably claim to have found that God is good or experienced his goodness (or if they do it is no more meaningful than claiming to find or experience that a tree has tree-ness). Or can we judge God’s morality by some consensus standard, and determine if the God of the bible is good or not? If so where does that standard come from?

In my offline life I’ve mostly found folks who believe God can be recognized as good, and who claim to have been constantly discovering the goodness of God in their lives. Online I’ve found more people who claim God could do anything and we could not judge its moral worth, that God’s actions are beyond of any human moral judgements.

If you’re a believer, where do you land in the dilemma? If you’re not, which side do the believers you interact with tend to cluster?

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Numbers

I ran this blog intensively for 2010, but with work I’ve been posting once or twice a month through 2011. In the last 5 months, the site traffic has soared, and is now significantly above the level it was when I was blogging a couple of times a week. This is interesting, but a bit mystifying.

The top post is The G Spot and Jesus (shows what people search google for), with Peter: Feed my Sheep coming in a close second. But there are larger numbers of folks coming by the front page too, and larger numbers on all posts.

I had assumed there were fewer people because the comment life of the blog dropped right off. Comments are why I blog, and that’s why they are at the top of the right-hand column above ‘latest posts’. So if you are stopping by and weren’t a regular back in 2010, please add a comment to wherever you feel is interesting. I’d love to chat.

2011 has been very tough with a new work project. I’ve always hoped to get back to blogging more regularly, because I loved the interaction with the commenters here. I hope to do that in 2012, and have the opportunity to do some more of the expositional biblical stuff that was the meat of the site.

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Messages in DNA: A Phenomenal Discovery

I’ve been very excited for the last ten days since I discovered this… I’m going to share it here…

Remember a few years ago the furore about “The Bible Code”? If you don’t, then here’s a precis. If you arrange the letters of the bible as a sequence, and then search through the letters, you find embedded messages. The messages are embedded using ‘skips’ (a method of code embedding that is quite genuine). So if you have a skip, say, of 10, then you start at a particular letter, and take each tenth letter. These letters form a short message: a name, maybe, or an event. “The Bible Code” was the popular book based on some previous work that had found these kind of letter-skip messages in the bible – messages that predicted the future – The assassination of Rabin, for example. More recently the 9/11 attacks.

This was concrete proof that the bible was a) written by God and b) unique.

But the Bible isn’t the only set of symbols, or code, that was written by God.

So I had an idea. Perhaps one of the most important in human history.

Take the human genome – its data is published online. As you may know, each triple of ‘letters’ in the genome codes for an amino acid which are assembled into the proteins that make every cell in our body function. You might not know those amino acids also have letters (not all letters: ACDEFGHIKLMNOPQRSTUVWY – though the remaining BJXZ do have meaning in these sequences so could be interpreted if needed). So if you interpret the the human genome as its amino acid building blocks, you get a vast sequence of letters (three sequences, actually, depending on where you start).

Running this through a custom search algorithm I have developed, I found that God has left even more amazing messages here: in the very DNA of the beings he created in his image. I don’t have time to do all of this, because I have to work my day-job, but I just did a quick test with part of human chromosome 1 and found.

GD MADE ME

Why GD? Well, clearly this is God being very specific. There’s no ambiguity here about which God it could be – only the God of the Jews, the God of the Christians, drops its vowel like that. This is proof beyond doubt that YHWH is responsible for the human genome.

Isn’t that incredible? God’s signature is literally on our DNA, and has been all along, but its only now we’ve developed the technology to read it! With just a few months of studying this (months of time I can’t spare, financially), who knows what else we would find written by God in our genes. Please get in touch if you want to sponsor me to make this amazing scientific effort happen.

Can you imagine how important a discovery this is? These messages have been sitting there, undetected, since creation, waiting for our knowledge to catch up to the point we could read them. We are tantalisingly close to being able to read them in full.

All it needs is your generosity and faith.

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My Spirituality – What Use Is It?

A comment thread elsewhere took a tangent. I was asked this:

“How does your new found wisdom assist in the betterment of the human condition?”

The “new found wisdom” should be read with a slightly sarcastic tone, I suspect, but I figured it would make an interesting post.

Spirituality

As well as the obvious tribal ‘belonging’ that all identities provide, religion is important because it provides the framework for our spiritual experiences. “Spiritual” is a problematic word, because it is so strongly associated with religion or the supernatural, but there isn’t an obviously better one.

I have had and still have spiritual experiences: I expect you do to. I was taught certain stories for interpreting these: that certain feelings corresponded to the Holy Spirit, certain behaviours were worship, certain events answers to prayer, certain motivations God’s calling, certain propensities temptations, and so on. Because the spiritual experiences are important to us (they are to me, I’m sure to you too), the stories we get told about what those experiences “really are” become critical.

The Spiritual and the Story

Nobody experiences God directly. They have an experience, which they then interpret through the stories they know about God, either specific or general.

When a Sufi is transfixed in worship, they are enthralled to Allah, when a Wican does likewise it is to the Goddess. When a Voodun speaks in tongues it is possession by a Loa, when a Pentecostal, it is the Holy Spirit.

In fact, the kind of story you know guides the kind of experience you have. Many Christians I know cannot speak in tongues, because they don’t have the doctrinal (i.e. story) framework to allow it. Where I did, so I could. And now I understand how it works I still can.

But to most people the story is very strongly linked to the experience. So much so that someone denying your story feels like them denying you even had that experience. If I say “there is no God”, you hear “I think those important and deep experiences you had of God were either faked or delusions”. Which is clearly wrong, and you know it.

Separation and Enlightenment

So we should try, as a species, to unlock the story from the actual experience.

The stories could still be a way to induce the experience. I certainly do that – I can guarantee I’ll have a certain type of spiritual experience at midnight mass this Christmas. I have a different kind of experience when I meditate, or pray, or hug a tree.

But understanding the reality of the connection between the two is very liberating. It means you are free to experience the same transcendence through the ritual and practice of other faiths, or to develop the skills to induce it without any interpretation, if you can.

It gives a new appreciation for the real world, the amazing cosmos we inhabit, the beauty and savagery of other pepole, and the infinite creativity of the human urge to interpret their spirituality in stories and doctrines. And (if you’re interested in the bible and early Christian history like I am) it gives you a new level of appreciation for the bible and Christian doctrine.

Were it widely understood, I do think that would benefit humanity. There are things that would benefit more, of course, but still, I can’t help but see it as a net positive.

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A Challenge to Mythicists, Creationists, and others who oppose Academic Hegemony

I’ve been doing a bit more lurking on James McGrath’s blog recently, and even got into a couple of arguments.

I am very convinced that evolution accounts for the diversity of life on earth.

I am persuaded that Jesus was a real historical person.

On James’s blog there are plenty of people who believe strongly that I’m wrong on each account (though, funnily enough, not on both!). And arguing with either group is just an exercise in beating one’s head against a plank of wood. The same arguments, styles of argument, and patterns of discussion come round and round and round. And get nowhere. I recently commented that I thought doing that kind of blog argument

a) had never changed anyone else’s mind
b) had never changed my mind
c) had never failed to end in name-calling

So here’s my challenge. If you want to argue for creationism, say, then find some scientific position that you are convinced by. You might be pretty convinced by the germ theory of disease, say, or atomic theory, or heliocentrism, or a spherical earth.

Then find the forums where the people who disagree hang out. They will be there. There are places where flat-earthers hang out, disproving the scientific consensus. Or places where geocentrists discuss how Galileo was wrong, and so on. Go and convince them of the true science.

If you’re into challenging historical consensus, do the same. If you are a mythicist, try going and convincing holocaust denialists that they are wrong. Go and sample the arguments used against you, and the patterns of debate, and how no matter how often you point out the historical facts, they will be twisted and ignored, and so on.

That’s the challenge. To experience what it is like to challenge the beliefs of folks who are totally convinced that the academic establishment has a huge conspiracy to hide or misrepresent the truth.

But not just to experience their intransigence. More importantly to experience your own inability to make progress. The way things you say get misunderstood, the your points are treated. The way that you feel utterly unable to cover even the basic information without misrepresentation. And the way you and they so easily end up impugning each other’s intelligence.

I’m not suggesting that these beliefs are equivalent. I’m not suggesting mythicism is just like holocaust denial or flat-earthism. They aren’t. That’s not the point. The point is not the academic approach to the evidence. But how online arguments go. I hope if you take the challenge, you’ll at least be able to to understand why those who argue against you seem so devoid of any good arguments or evidence. And why online discussion is not a good place for constructive debate.

As for me, I can’t think of an academic hegemony I feel strongly is wrong. I’d love to go and sample the other side. But I can’t think of how.

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