Catching up with Tony

Between my company trip and the winter weather and all the interesting things Jayman has been saying, I’ve managed to build up quite a backlog.  It’s all good, though: at least it’s going to be easy to pick topics for blog posts for a while. Please bear with me as I dig back through the comments and pick up again with our friend Tony, who must be feeling a bit neglected by now. But he had some good points and I’d like to discuss them now.

First of all, a quibble. Tony writes:

“Extraordinary claim” in following the accepted use of English states the claim to be extraordinary, not the contents. The sentiment is understandable, the language is still sloppy.

I can’t quite agree with Tony’s insistence that when you use the word “claim,” as in “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” the normal English meaning of the term “claim” refers to the action of making a claim rather than to the idea being claimed. Even if we grant that the word “claim” can be ambiguous, and can refer sometimes to the action of expressing a debatable proposition, and other times to the debatable proposition itself, the context of the sentence makes it quite clear that we are talking about a claim in the sense of a proposition which requires supporting evidence of some sort. It does not require evidence, extraordinary or otherwise, to merely express what the claim is; evidence is required to support what Tony calls the “contents” of the claim. Therefore the sentence, in normal English usage is quite unambiguous: we are talking about the evidence required to support what is claimed. If we were only talking about the frequency with which claims were made, we would say, “Infrequent claims require infrequent evidence.” But is there anybody who seriously supposes that this is anywhere near the original intent of the original dictum?

Well, glad I got that off my chest. I’m such a nit-picker sometimes. On to more substantive things. You will recall, I had pointed out the contradiction between stories men tell which indicate that God cannot show up in real life without harming us, and stories in which He does show up without harming us. As Tony has discovered, it is much easier to reconcile these contradictions if you remember two things: (1) Just because something is written in the Bible, that doesn’t mean it really happened, and (2) Jesus is not God.

Now, as far as Jacob’s wrestling, nowhere in that story does Jacob’s opponent say he is God. Nor does the passage say he is. It says Jacob wrestled with a man. Jacob then calls the place Puriel to say he has seen God and lived. No reference is made to why he claims this. Therefor the assumption is dogma based on unsupported inference and is disregarded as such.

Jacob’s precise words, as recorded in Gen. 32:30, are “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Now, there may be some who will argue that Jacob is quite clearly claiming to have seen God face to face without harm (other than a slight limp, as the rest of the story tells). I’m going to take Tony’s side here, though, because I think it’s much more important to emphasize that, in fact, the Bible is not a historical and reliable record of what actually happened, it is merely a document recording what men have claimed regarding God. As Tony says, it’s unsupported inference to assume that something actually happened just because one of the prophets or patriarchs said it did. Nor is this observation limited to Jacob alone.

Other than in Eden, before the Fall of Man, which is pertinent to this exception, I know of no instance other than Sanai where the physical form of God is related to have been seen. Adam hides from God after he eats of the fruit, no mention of a face to face visitation with Adam at that time or after is evident. From this point until Moses and then afterward, no physical manifestation of God is shown to any human. A voice, a burning bush, a pillar of smoke, a column of fire, The Angel of the Lord, or some other angel are the storied representations of God.

Not one other physical appearance is made. Ezekiel sees only the throne of God, not the occupier of the throne.

Again, you might want to argue that God must have shown up after the Fall, considering the two-way conversation that took place between God and His creatures. Even if you suppose that God was keeping Himself invisible for some reason, that’s still an audible manifestation of God. And herein lies the first crack in Tony’s argument: God doesn’t have to show up in the full magnificence of His glory in order to show up enough to interact with us objectively, materially, and in person. Even if you claim the fullness of God’s glory would be lethal to men, God does not have to show up in the fullness of His glory.

Tony’s recital of Biblical exceptions includes a number of ways in which God did, in fact, show up in forms that were not lethal to those He interacted with: the burning bush, the pillar of fire/column of smoke, the cloud on Mt. Sinai. Add to that list the martyr Stephen, who claimed to have seen Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, and Manoah and his wife, assuming that Manoah was correct about “the angel of the LORD” being God Himself in disguise. God could show up in disguised form, hiding His glory so as not to harm us with the sheer magnificance of His godliness.

But even here, I think Tony’s main point bears repeating: these are only the things men have claimed about God showing up. It is a dogmatic and unsupported inference to conclude, based on the Bible, that God ever has shown up, even in Biblical times, even in the “Golden Age” of “supernatural” occurrences. If we assume, rather, that God did not show up, and did not speak to the prophets and patriarchs and apostles, and that these are just the stories of men, then our modern-day real-world observations make perfect sense. The reason God does not show up today is because He never has. We may never know what led men to tell us such stories as the Scriptures retell, but we can at least understand why we don’t see things like that happening in the real world.

Likewise, though the incarnation gives us a major conflict with the idea that God cannot show up in real life, it becomes much easier to resolve this conflict if we assume that Jesus was not God.

Where else does God appear fully to any man or woman? Jesus on Earth, before ascension is a man. He is a representative of God, but not the actual being in original form. Jesus is an incarnation. After returning to Heaven, he appears twice more and is glowing both times. If you have verses to contradict my memory, present them. Otherwise you are referencing assumptions made by yourself and/or others. Dogma, again.

The theological problem with denying the deity of Jesus is that if he was only a mortal man (and thus a finite being) when he was crucified, then his death can only bring finite atonement, equal to the value of one human life. The Biblical standard of justice is 1 for 1: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Without bringing death to an infinite (i.e. divine) person on the Cross, salvation can be won for at most one other soul—AND Jesus has to take the other soul’s place in Hell in order to complete the deal. This, plus a number of other issues, is why the church councils have declared heretical the idea that Jesus somehow ceased to be God during the incarnation, or worse, was a man who became God (as in Mormonism) as a reward for his dedicated service.

Then again, if God has never shown up in real life, even in the Bible, then the writers of the Bible don’t really have the authority to tell us that there’s any hell that anyone needs to be saved from. By understanding that the Bible is not really reliable and trustworthy, we open up the door to resolving a really huge number of conflicts and inconsistencies that otherwise seem insurmountable.

Tony has some other valuable insights as well.

I in no way claim that other people are right. I am perfectly fine with myself being wrong. I have faith and hope that I am not. I am pointing out that personal perspective is coloring the logic of your argument. It is indeed gullible to believe wholeheartedly all of the substance found in the words of others. But this means that to dis-believe based on the words of others is equally gullible. Logic has two edges.

Amen. The only infallible standard of truth is Reality itself, which I worship as my God. That’s why I do not want anyone to just take my word for it, but rather to measure my claims against the standard of reality itself. See for yourself that God (i.e. the Judeo-Christian God) does not show up in real life. He doesn’t in mine, and I know He doesn’t in yours either. Alethea does: She shows up in everyone’s life (and they wouldn’t have a life if She didn’t!). But lesser deities like Jehovah get crowded out; they cannot withstand Alethea’s power, and therefore cannot show up.

I do have to take issue with this, however:

And we are indeed questioning dealing with a god whose behavior is hard to understand, not the stories. The stories are not God.

If God does not show up in real life (and cannot), and all we have are stories about God that are not God, then no, we are not dealing with a God whose observed behavior puzzles us. There is no observed behavior; our puzzlement stems from the fact that the stories are supposed to be consistent with reality, and are not, and we can’t figure out how that could be if the stories are infallibly true. This puzzlement, naturally, evaporates as soon as we realize that we really have no basis for assuming that the stories are infallible.

Sadly, Tony descends into trying to justify his position through making slanderous insinuations about my motives and character.

You create your own contradiction with the subtlest and most human of straw men, and my guess is that it is because you don’t want proof. I propose that you demand evidence you know that you will be unlikely to receive precisely so you don’t have to receive it. Evidence that the stories themselves show is unlikely. Yet, even the lack of support for divine visitation in the stories that you demand to be represented in the real world you disregard by claiming that you think that such visitation should be common.

What Tony overlooks is the fact that I make no demands at all. I merely point out that, in God’s absence, the only way we have for judging the stories of men is by comparing them to the real world, to see if they are consistent with the truth. It is not my fault the stories fail to correspond to what we actually find in real life, and I am neither happier nor sadder because this is the case. If it were up to me, I’d rather have Jesus be the truly risen son of God, though I expect a lot of things in life would be a great deal different if he were.

Unfortunately, Tony gives up all pretense of having a reasonable argument at this point, and the rest of his comment consists of bitter-sounding accusations and recriminations. I am sorry that he feels that way, but again I must point out, I am merely the messenger, I am merely pointing out the facts that you and I and anyone can readily observe and verify as part of objective reality. And I even understand his bitterness: after spending the first 40-some years of my life as a Bible-believing, God-loving Christian, I was devastated and angry when the weight of evidence became to strong for me to continue to deny it. I can understand if some people take it hard when I draw their attention to the same evidence.

So Tony, thanks for your comments, and feel free to continue. You are quite welcome here and I will look forward to discussing this with you further, especially if you can document the “consistency” you claim exists between the Bible stories and what we see in the real world.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Catching up with Tony”

  1. sng Says:

    One nitpick. Being a born and bred Mormon although a dedicated atheist now. Mormonism very much does not teach the idea that Jesus was a man who became divine as a reward for his life. They do teach that men can become divine as a result of living a good life and promotion, as it were, in heaven but accept the standard Jesus story.

    Since this is my first comment I’d also like to mention that I check for new posts first thing every morning and you are usually my pre-work reading. Your stuff is just that good.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    You’re quite right of course. I was thinking of the general Mormon principle of men becoming Gods, not of Jesus specifically. It’s kind of strange, though: in order for Jesus to have been God prior to his incarnation, he ought to have had an earthly, mortal existence, death, and resurrection, according to Mormon teachings. But I’ve never seen any sign of such a doctrine in Mormonism, and I’ve read quite a bit (both for and against the sect).

    And thank you for the kind words, by the way.