Naked Calvinism: on the sinful nature of man and Genesis

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Ever since Saint Augustine, the Western Church has always taught that
 adam_and_eve
1) man was created perfect, that is to say without any moral flaw
2) following the advice of the snake, he chose to eat the wrong fruit
3) God cursed him and he inherited a sinful nature, making hatred, lies, adultery, selfishness and many other related evils inevitable for him and all his descendents.
Most Christians, Atheists and even Muslims I talked to told me they view that as an essential Christian doctrine which can be found from the first pages of the Bible.
It might come as a surprise to many people that the Eastern Orthodox Church denies this radical change of nature following the Fall.
And if we look at the text of Genesis, which describes the very event responsible for our alleged sinful nature, we realize that they are not less Biblical than the Conservative Protestants who view them as heathens.
Now, let us take a look at a text many of us grew up with.
Genesis 3
The snake was sneakier than any of the other wild animals that the Lord God had made. One day it came to the woman and asked, “Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?”
   2 The woman answered, “God said we could eat fruit from any tree in the garden, 3 except the one in the middle. He told us not to eat fruit from that tree or even to touch it. If we do, we will die.”
   4 “No, you won’t!” the snake replied. 5 “God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does.”
   6 The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. 7 Right away they saw what they had done, and they realized they were naked. Then they sewed fig leaves together to make something to cover themselves.
   8 Late in the afternoon a breeze began to blow, and the man and woman heard the Lord God walking in the garden. They were frightened and hid behind some trees.
9 The Lord called out to the man and asked, “Where are you?”
   10 The man answered, “I was naked, and when I heard you walking through the garden, I was frightened and hid!”
   11 “How did you know you were naked?” God asked. “Did you eat any fruit from that tree in the middle of the garden?”
   12 “It was the woman you put here with me,” the man said. “She gave me some of the fruit, and I ate it.”
   13 The Lord God then asked the woman, “What have you done?”
   “The snake tricked me,” she answered. “And I ate some of that fruit.”
   14 So the Lord God said to the snake:
   “Because of what you have done,
   you will be the only animal
      to suffer this curse—
   For as long as you live,
   you will crawl on your stomach
      and eat dirt.
15 You and this woman
            will hate each other;
      your descendants and hers
         will always be enemies.
      One of hers will strike you
         on the head,
      and you will strike him
         on the heel.”
16 Then the Lord said to the woman,
   “You will suffer terribly
         when you give birth.
   But you will still desire
   your husband,
      and he will rule over you.”
17 The Lord said to the man,
   “You listened to your wife
         and ate fruit from that tree.
   And so, the ground
   will be under a curse
      because of what you did.
   As long as you live,
   you will have to struggle
      to grow enough food.
18 Your food will be plants,
     but the ground will produce
         thorns and thistles.
19 You will have to sweat
         to earn a living;
      you were made out of soil,
      and you will once again
         turn into soil.”
   20 The man Adam named his wife Eve because she would become the mother of all who live.
   21 Then the Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for the man and his wife.
22 The Lord said, “These people now know the difference between right and wrong, just as we do. But they must not be allowed to eat fruit from the tree that lets them live forever.” 23 So the Lord God sent them out of the Garden of Eden, where they would have to work the ground from which the man had been made. 24 Then God put winged creatures at the entrance to the garden and a flaming, flashing sword to guard the way to the life-giving tree.”
Imagine now that you are space alien reading this text for the very first time and trying to understand its meaning.
It is truly remarkable that we find absolutely no evidence of a dramatic psychological (or even biological) change turning the first morally perfect humans into wicked, greedy and selfish creatures.
The only possible reference to a psychological consequence is  “But you will still desire, your husband, and he will rule over you.” which is pretty ambigious and falls infinitely short of describing a radical and inheritable psychological transformation.
The verse “These people now know the difference between right and wrong, just as we do. But they must not be allowed to eat fruit from the tree that lets them live forever.” is very profound and enigmatic but if one takes it at face value, it teaches that people became efficient moral realists, not psychopatic murderers!
There are situations where the absence of evidence is evidence of absence IF one would clearly expect to find certain things given the truth of a theory.
If the author(s) of Genesis really believed in the doctrine of the sinful nature, they would have clearly expressed it using sentences such as: “Curse on both of you! From now on, you and your offsprings won’t stop cultivating wicked thoughts within your hearts.”
Yet this is clearly not what one finds in Genesis 3.
If one reads the sad story of Cain murdering his brother Abel, one fails to see any evidence of this sinful nature making evil deeds inevitable unless God intervenes.
According to Calvinism, God should have said: “Boy, sin flows in your very blood so that you have no other choice than sinning and commiting atrocities. It is up to me (and my sovereign grace) to decide if you will kill your brother or not.”
 cainkillsabel
But what do we read in the text?
“This made Cain so angry that he could not hide his feelings. 
6 The Lord said to Cain: 
What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? 7 If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling.[c] But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!
 “
God warns Cain about the possible consequences of his state of mind but emphasized that it is up to him to overcome the temptation. There is no indication whatsoever that before the fall, humankind could not have been confronted with such heinous thoughts.
In order to prove the doctrine of Total depravity in their TULIP, Calvinism like to quote God’s description of the state of mankind before the flood broke in:
“The Lord saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil. 6 He was very sorry that he had made them, 7 and he said, “I’ll destroy every living creature on earth! I’ll wipe out people, animals, birds, and reptiles. I’m sorry I ever made them.”
But if this clear wickedness was a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve, this is not what we would read. The text says that such misbehavior and misdeeds were a (not necessarily inevitable) consequence of human nature as it was originally made by God.
Let us suppose it was a consequence of the Fall itself, and that man was previously morally perfect. This would be of uttermost importance and the writer would have said:
“He was very sorry that he left them the choice between the two fruits and that they made the wrong decision.”
Once one has taken all of this into account, how likely is it that the author of Genesis had a Calvinist understanding of the Fall?
And how likely is that later theologians read into the text something which was never there?

 

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37 responses to “”

  1. xon-xoff says :

    “And how likely is that later theologians read into the text something which was never there?”

    excellent question. i take it this is rhetorical, and, you do have an answer, right.

  2. mayoman98 says :

    But, we don’t look at just one verse, section or book as stand alone, do we? I don’t agree completely with Calvinism, I take a more balanced view (see what I wrote regarding Calvinists: http://strangerinrebellion.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/honest-observations-regarding-the-dangers-of-extreme-calvinism/). But, it does say in Romans that sin and death entered into this world through one man, and we take that actions to be his disobedience in taking of the fruit. I may be reading wrong what you are saying, if I am forgive me.

    • lotharson says :

      In order to be intellectually honest and responsible, you have to interpret each text in his historical context to find out what the author meant BACK THEN.

      And if you determine that the author of Genesis did most likely not believe in a sinful nature whereas Paul most likely did, then the dogma of Biblical inerrancy must be given up.

      That said, I am not entirely convinced that this is what Paul thought, this is not the only plausible interpretation, he could have meant physical death.

      But if he believed that there was a strong psychological discontinuity at the time of Adam and Eve, he was in conflict with the writer of Genesis.

      Cheers.

  3. labreuer says :

    I was profoundly impacted by John Schneider’s The Fall of “Augustinian Adam”: Problems of Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose. Augustine held that Adam and Eve were morally perfect adults; Irenaeus held that they were moral children.

    In my opinion, much of Protestant theology errs in this way: it talks about the Fall as if mankind was ever designed to operate outside of relationship with God. Huh, this makes me want to rename ‘the Fall’ to ‘the Separation’ or ‘the Divorce’. This would be infinitely more biblical; God repeatedly describes Israel as an unfaithful wife.

    Something that makes no sense in traditional doctrines of the Fall is that we are separated from God by some infinite gap. But if this were true, how could God talk to Adam and Eve right after they had sinned? How could he talk to Cain when his emotions were stirring? It just doesn’t make sense. If, on the other hand, the analogy is one of people moving toward or away from God, things start making much more sense.

    In order to prove the doctrine of Total depravity in their TULIP, Calvinism like to quote God’s description of the state of mankind before the flood broke in

    What’s hilarious about this is that Noah was an exception to this rule. Was he somehow not totally depraved? The common objection that Total Depravity doesn’t mean “everything is as bad as it could be, it’s just that everything is somewhat screwed up” doesn’t ‘fix’ this problem. You can’t talk about ‘all of humanity’ being something that isn’t true. Noah was not like the others.

    Now, why does Total Depravity seem correct in any way whatsoever? I would say because it just so happens to say that we must depend on God’s grace and wisdom. But mankind was designed this way! In his Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper suggests that all creativity is from God. Whether or not that’s the case, we know that God wants an intimate relationship with his created beings. Any attempt by said beings to not be in this intimate relationship is tantamount to putting sugar in one’s gas tank: things don’t work so well!

    • lotharson says :

      “What’s hilarious about this is that Noah was an exception to this rule. Was he somehow not totally depraved?”

      Good point!

      ” The Fall of “Augustinian Adam”: Problems of Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose”

      I read this several days ago but don’t know what I should think.
      To my mind, God created as imperfect beings so that we can only reach perfection In Him.
      This is what Cain could have done back then.

      • labreuer says :

        To my mind, God created as imperfect beings so that we can only reach perfection In Him. This is what Cain could have done back then.

        That’s even what Adam and Eve could have done, if they had run to God after disobeying instead of hiding. There exists some school of thought—I don’t even know if it has a name—that God created angels with perfect knowledge (that is, they would never learn anything more), and humans with imperfect knowledge that could grow without limit.

  4. Ryan says :

    Hi lotharson

    This is Ryan from the Christian union lunchbar, I thought I would take a look through your blog, it’s very interesting! There are a few points I would like to respond to as a reformed evangelical (I don’t like the term ‘Calvinism’ because Calvin didn’t come up with it!) in response to some things;

    -“What’s hilarious about this is that Noah was an exception to this rule. Was he somehow not totally depraved?”

    No, Noah was totally depraved along with the rest of humanity. The Gen 6:9 says “Noah was a righteous man”, this doesn’t not mean he was by his nature a man of godly morals, it simply means God saved him, regenerated him, justified him with Christ’s righteousness, and through regeneration Noah lived differently to his generation.

    -“It is truly remarkable that we find absolutely no evidence of a dramatic psychological (or even biological) change turning the first morally perfect humans into wicked, greedy and selfish creatures.”

    I disagree with this, I think this is exactly what we find in the text, the esv (a moral literal translation) says

    “5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Gen 3:5-7

    Now what exactly does “knowing good and evil” mean? It cannot mean that they will know that good and evil exist, because God has already shown them good and evil exist through his law in 2:16-17. Rather it is describing “knowing good and evil” in the sense of autonomy: humans deciding for themselves what is good and evil rather than following Gods law. So later when we read “they knew that they were naked” we are to understand that they have now decided for themselves to decide what right and wrong are, hence they have become “sinful” and rebellious to God. Later in the chapter we see that they could not come to God for forgiveness but they hid, showing further how far they have fallen and rebelled.

    -“God warns Cain about the possible consequences of his state of mind but emphasized that it is up to him to overcome the temptation”

    This is absolutely correct. All serious reformed theologians would agree with this statement, because we all teach that God is completely sovereign and man is completely responsible. God’s sovereignty does not diminish our responsibility because God is holy.

    -“The text says that such misbehavior and misdeeds were a (not necessarily inevitable) consequence of human nature as it was originally made by God.
    Let us suppose it was a consequence of the Fall itself, and that man was previously morally perfect. This would be of uttermost importance and the writer would have said:
    “He was very sorry that he left them the choice between the two fruits and that they made the wrong decision.””

    Again I would like to show what the esv says, because I think it is a clear translation;

    “5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”- Gen 6:5-6

    Here we see the full extent of the depravity. It is also important to note that although the flood wiped out many humans, it did not change the nature of human beings, all people born into this world are still this evil, they hate God by nature and only seek their own glory, and not the glory of God.

    I think your many error here is in your understanding of how reformed theology understands the fall. We all, because we believe in double predestination we believe that God predestined the fall to happen. The fall did not take God by surprise. The bible says he “chose us in him before the foundation of the world”, this means he chose to save people, and to dam people before the fall.
    Here I have to confess I do not understand ‘how’ the fall happened, i.e. I do not understand how God could create us upright and perfect and for us to become defiled and rebellious, I don’t believe the bible gives us that answer. However we can know ‘why’ the fall happens. It happens for the same reason everything happens: to glorify God. The fall glorifies God because it shows how useless we become without him and how amazing and loving his plan of salvation is. (btw as a postmillennialist I believe in the end more people will be saved than dammed)

    Did the writer of Genesis have a reformed view of the sovereignty of God? I think he probably did. However even if he did not, I disagree that this would in some way harm the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (which I fully agree with) for the simple reason that God can take anyone, with their flaws and failures and through the Holy Spirit use them to wright the very words of God. This is what God has done through the 66 books of the bible. Does Genesis teach reformed theology? Absolutely, at church we have just finished a series on Genesis, showing how the later chapters in the book exult the sovereignty of God. The entire bible teaches the wonderfully reassuring and great news that God rules over all!

    The last point I want to make in in reference to Gen 6:6, here God uses the term “regret” to describe his feeling towards man. However God does not fully regret anything. I believe he uses these human expressions to show how much he hates sin, and desires people to turn away from it. In different cases he will chose to turn people away from their sin or not, but in either case he still hates sin, even if he uses it for his glory.

    I hope that was interesting and helpful Mark, and I would love to see you at more lunchbars in the future.

    • Ryan says :

      I meant to say *more literal translation. I wouldnt say other translations are immoral!

    • xon-xoff says :

      @ Ryan

      “God saved him, regenerated him, justified him with Christ’s righteousness, and through regeneration Noah lived differently to his generation.”

      Ryan, please, how do you know this to be the case?

      cheers

      • Ryan says :

        My worldview starts with the presupposition that the God of the bible exists. Therefore i believe at the core of my worldview that Gods word is the standard of truth in everything which it says.

        To understand the bible, I compare scripture with scripture, here is what is see;

        ““None is righteous, no, not one;

        11 no one understands;

        no one seeks for God.

        12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

        no one does good,

        not even one.”

        13 “Their throat is pan open grave;

        they use their tongues to deceive.”

        q“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

        14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

        15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

        16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

        17 and tthe way of peace they have not known.”

        18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3:10b-18.

        These statements are very absolute in their nature invoking all humanity in one sweeping condemnation of all peoples, Noah included.

        “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

        “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” – Titus:3:5

    • xon-xoff says :

      @ Ryan

      you realise, of course, that there are several other interpretations to the texts you quote, right. some of those interpretations completely at odds with your interpretation.

      “I do not understand how God could create us upright and perfect and for us to become defiled and rebellious…”

      this is interesting. would you not consider this to be a central point in the issue of man’s purported fall?

      “However we can know ‘why’ the fall happens. It happens for the same reason everything happens: to glorify God.”

      can i ask please: if we assume your god exists, how do you know that the reason for the fall is to glorify your god, and, why would your god need to be glorified?

      • Ryan says :

        Of course there are other interpretations, however the law of non-contradiction tells us that only 1 of the interpretations can be correct, I believe my interpretation is that correct one.
        I do of course consider how the fall happened to be a central issue, but it’s not one I am required to understand, therefore it does not concern me too much. I am only really interested in the issues I am required to understand and explain to others. (1 Pet 3:15). I will understand much more in glory.

        The bible teaches that everything happens for the pleasure and glory of God;

        “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” -Psalm 135:6

        “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” – Isaiah 46:10

        “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” – Rom 9:22-23

        God does not “need” anything from us (Acts 17:25). Why God choses to glorify himself, is completely up to him, but I praise God that he chooses glorifies himself, in doing so he creates, he loves, he makes beautiful things, his attributes are amazing, truly they are “glorious”!

        Lastly you do not need to “assume” God exists, you already know he exists (Rom 1), if you aren’t confessing him as Lord it’s because you are supressing the truth in rebellion to him. I would plead with you not to do that.

      • lotharson says :

        You’re talking to a non-believer who does not hold your view of the Bible.

        Therefore, you should probably adjust your strategy.

        I’m writing an answer to your first comment.

        Cheers and shalom.

      • xon-xoff says :

        @ Ryan

        “if you aren’t confessing him as Lord it’s because you are supressing the truth in rebellion to him…”

        this is your belief, founded, it appears, on the Christian scriptures, right. perhaps your understanding as you wrote is the case, perhaps it is not.

        i do not share your belief in your god, the Christian god i take it. but just to be clear, i am not saying your god does not exist. i do not think i can deny or confirm the existence of any god(s). moreover, i can not deny the existence of any being.

        and since i do not share your belief in your god, the bible does not hold much sway with me either.

        if i had to pigeonhole myself, i should say that i am a methodological naturalist. now, having said that, i am not sure if my naturalist view is the correct view. it could be all wrong; however, it seems to explain some things reasonably well, and, continues to provide a means for competing ideas to flourish, and, it tends to be self regulating via built-in feedback loops.

        ok, you said that you believe your interpretation is the correct one: how do you understand this to be the case?

        cheers

    • lotharson says :

      Hello Ryan, first of all thanks for your long answer!

      If I understand you correctly, when you consider the verse

      ““5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”- Gen 6:5-6″

      you say that we ought to take the bold sentence at face value while taking a figurative interpretation of what follows.

      But what on earth give you a reason to think that the human author of Genesis himself made this distinction?

      We could interpret the first sentence as a hyperbole meaning that mankind AT THAT TIME was utterly corrupted. But it makes no sense to me to say the same about Noah, for it is said that He found God’s favour and not that God attracted this utterly depraved man through irresistible grace.

      If one uses a historical method to determine what he meant, it stands to reason that

      1) God did not want the fall to happen
      2) there is no strong discontinuity between the psychological nature of human beings before and after the fall
      3) God did not desire Cain to kill his brother
      4) God had hoped that humans would be much better than they actually were at the time of the flood

      If the writer had a reformed theology, we would clearly expect him to say that God DESIRED and caused the fall. For surely not mentioning this extremely IMPORTANT information is an act of deception.

      Likewise, it would be very deceptive for him to believe that God ultimately CAUSED Cain to murder his brother while presenting the tragedy AS IF God wanted to avoid it and it was only the fault of Cain.

      What is more, it is also deceitful not to mention that the murderous folly of man was a consequence of the fall and leave to the readers the impression that it has ALWAYS been a part of human nature.

      To sum up, I consider it extremely unlikely that the author of Genesis was a proto-Calvinist, regardless of what Paul might (or might not) have thought about him much later.

      Cheers.

      • Ryan says :

        “you say that we ought to take the bold sentence at face value while taking a figurative interpretation of what follows.

        But what on earth give you a reason to think that the human author of Genesis himself made this distinction?”

        You have understood me correctly. I understand these verses this way because, of what the rest of scripture, including genesis teaches. Everything that follows in Genesis and the rest of the bible confirms that man is evil by nature. However everything else that follows including genesis confirms that God is sovereign, and foreknows and foreordains everything which happens.

        My point with regards to human depravity was that when Noah was born into the world he was corrupted like everyone else. You say Noah found favour with the Lord, this is of course correct, but this is after his conversion. After conversion believers do indeed please God (Col 1:10).

        At different stages in the book, the writer is making various points, perhaps the sovereignty of God isn’t his first point but it is still there regardless. The verse which best explains the narrative of Genesis throughout is;

        “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

        Here we see that God works, not in spite of human evil, but through human evil to achieve his purpose.

        I’m not sure what the “historical method” is, but the bible claims to be the very words of God. If we try to degrade it by judging it according to fallible human reasoning, this would be foolish. Remember how the serpent tempted Eve with “did God really say?”

        I go to moorlands evangelical church Lancaster. I would encourage you to check the talks at our church on Genesis particularly those on chapters 37-50(and any other issues). You would be more than welcome any Sunday, and our pastor and others would love to chat through how you understand the bible. I could meet you myself beforehand if you were interested in coming along.

        Blessings

      • lotharson says :

        Hello Ryan.

        The problem is that you don’t let the author of Genesis speak for himself.
        Instead of that, you impose a reformed pattern (which might or might not stem from Paul) on the text, no matter how unlikely the related interpretations might me.

        Given that, it does not stun me at all that you believe that Genesis teaches Calvinism, or that Hebrews or James teach reformed theology too.
        Conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists have become experts for reading into Biblical texts a unrelated theology which was never there in the first place.

        Cheers,

  5. Ryan says :

    xon-xoff

    You are correct in saying my beliefs are founded on the Christian scriptures.

    Proverbs states that;
    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”

    Other translations use the word “knowledge” instead.

    Colossians states that;
    “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

    Understanding these verses means that if Christianity is untrue, we could not know anything, but because Christianity is true and because everyone knows that God exists, everyone has a basis for know xox-xoff, you appear to be denying the only source of knowledge who you know exists, but you supress this truth.

    Given that you would deny this I would ask you; how do you know anything is true?

    most unbelievers when they answer this respond with I know A because of B, I know B because of C, I know C because of D, I know D because of E….

    This is called an infinite regress, and the unbeliever has no way out of it, therefore proving that if his worldview was correct he could not know anything to be true.

    Or put it another way, let’s say you try to use your senses and reasoning to validate your knowledge claims. I ask “how do you know your senses and reasoning is valid?” you would have no way of answering this question. You would probably even agree that there are people in this world who cannot trust their senses and reasoning, so how do you know you are not one of those people?

    The truth is that you know the same way I do; because God reveals things to you through your fallible thoughts and senses such that you can know things for certain. The problem is that you DO know things. But because you supress the truth of God, you deny the only basis for knowledge. I pray that you would stop doing this.

    Blessings

    • lotharson says :

      And what can you say to a Muslim asserting that his faith is founded upon the holy Koran?

      • Ryan says :

        I would quote the following verses from the Koran;

        “Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are those who rebel” (Surah 5:47).

        “O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Torah, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord” (Surah 5: 68).

        According to these verses the Bible is the word of God. The problem is, that the bible teaches a message completely contrary to the Koran. If we take the Korans own advice, then we should follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in the bible, instead of the teaching of the Koran.

    • xon-xoff says :

      “Given that you would deny this I would ask you; how do you know anything is true?”

      i do not know anything to be true. what i do is accept things on reasonable grounds based on the evidence presented to my senses–imperfect as they are.

      “This is called an infinite regress…”

      i am not so sure that there is such a thing as an infinite regress. moreover, i am not so sure of an infinite anything. infinity is hard to conceptualise.

      “because God reveals things to you…”

      assuming your god exists, right

      “..you can know things for certain.”

      i am not sure i need things to be certain. a degree of reasonable assurance is enough for me. if there are things of which i do not understand, then, that’s it, it’s not understandable. then, i try to figure out how do i go about gaining an understanding. when i do not know, i accept that i do not know.

      cheers

      • Ryan says :

        “i do not know anything to be true. what i do is accept things on reasonable grounds…”

        Surely you see the contradiction here. Firstly you say you don’t know anything to be true i.e. you don’t know anything.

        Then you say you “accept things on reasonable grounds…” Presumably you mean, you accept them as true, if so you’re making a knowledge claim. If you say something is true that means you know something!

        Otherwise I will simply ask “how do you know that?”

        …leading to the infinite regress

        Blessings

      • zilch says :

        xon-xoff said it, Ryan. I’ll just chime in from a different angle.

        Knowledge, in the sense of a model of how things are in the world, is something that evolved with life, not some sort of primordial essence. As such, it is not something which is dualistic, as you assume, but a continuum. A bacterium which is equipped with the ability to follow a nutrient gradient upstream has knowledge, albeit of a very humble sort. Our knowledge is much greater, but still imperfect. But just as with the humble bacterium, our ability to model the world got us where we are today: survival through information.

        Questions about absolute truth are only answerable within circumscribed systems of formal logic, such as mathematics, where the answers follow by set definitions and rules: for instance, it’s absolutely true that two plus two equals four in base ten Euclidean arithmetic. But that doesn’t mean that real life demands this kind of certainty. It’s unobtainable anyway, as soon as the messy real world and our imperfect senses and reasoning are in play.

        As xon-xoff said, “i am not sure i need things to be certain. a degree of reasonable assurance is enough for me.” A degree of reasonable assurance is all we get, and it’s enough for all of us to have gotten here, with unbroken lineages going back over three billion years. It’s good enough for me too.

        cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

      • xon-xoff says :

        @ Ryan

        “Presumably you mean, you accept them as true…”

        i accept them as a reasonable understanding of how things may be. as we go forward, and, we develop better tools, with higher precisions, then we adjust the understandings.

        as i said, i am not sure i need certainty. i can accept reasonable assurances like, F=MA. this understanding, as unearthed by a powerful mind a few centuries ago, as he stood atop the shoulders of others that came before him with similarly powerful minds, allows us to extend our horizons as we stand atop his shoulders.

        as zilch pointed out, “Knowledge … is … a continuum.” what we “know” now may change–will change, most probably–as we go forward. when we build bigger and more powerful magnets, when we fine tune Hilbert’s and Tarski’s axioms, when we increase computational power by orders of magnitudes, when we maintain the feedback loops that control for errors, when we increase the precision of our measuring instruments, when we …, then perhaps we continue to: develop a more coherent model of the fundamental particles of baryonic matter; extend our eyes into the stars to “see” what’s happening–or rather what happened some time ago–in the neighbourhood of Betelguese; and even, maybe, shed some light on dark matter and dark energy.

        you know, for me, certainty may be boring.

      • xon-xoff says :

        “This magic day when super-science
        Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams”

        –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW-8yCKwhBE&feature=kp

  6. Ryan says :

    Hi zilch

    “Questions about absolute truth are only answerable within circumscribed systems of formal logic…”

    So you believe in absolute laws of logic, how do you know they exist?

    “As such, it [knowledge] is not something which is dualistic, as you assume, but a continuum…”

    Is it absolutely true that knowledge is a continuum?

    xon-xoff

    “…as we go forward, and, we develop better tools, with higher precisions, then we adjust the understandings.”

    Is it absolutely true that we develop better tools, with higher precision?

    I’m not even talking about knowing things to a degree of certainty, I’m talking about how anyone knows anything at all, if God (the only basis for truth) doesn’t exist.

    • zilch says :

      Hey Ryan. You ask:

      So you believe in absolute laws of logic, how do you know they exist?

      By observation: I note that if I add two apples to two apples I get four apples.

      Is it absolutely true that knowledge is a continuum?

      No, it’s an observation, and observations cannot be “absolutely” true, as I already said: our perceptions, measurements, and models are all imperfect. But it seems to model the world to a reasonable degree of assurance.

      I have a question for you, Ryan: Is it absolutely untrue that knowledge is a continuum? If so, where exactly is the line between knowledge and non-knowledge?

      cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

      • Ryan says :

        “By observation: I note that if I add two apples to two apples I get four apples.”

        In doing so, you are tusting that your thoughts and senses are accurate, how do you know they are?

        ” Is it absolutely untrue that knowledge is a continuum? If so, where exactly is the line between knowledge and non-knowledge?”

        No it not. But there are things which everyone knows to be absolutely true, a few of these are;

        That the God of the bible exists
        That absolute morality exists
        That absolute truth exist etc.

        These all follow from the first one, that everyone knows that God exists, thats why you will be without excuse when you face him on judgement day.

        Blessings

      • lotharson says :

        Well, Zilch would have a very nice excuse he could tell to the Calvinist God:

        Why did you predetermine me not to believe in You?
        ;-)

      • lotharson says :

        More seriously, what would be your excuse if God reproached you to have preferred the heathen Austrian beer to the divine Weed of Jamaica?

        Would a kind of punishment not be justified?

      • zilch says :

        Yes, lotharson, that’s exactly what I will ask Him. And I’ll also ask Him why He made butter fattening.

        Ryan- You ask about my apple counting:

        In doing so, you are tusting that your thoughts and senses are accurate, how do you know they are?

        Because they work, time and again. I’ve never yet seen two plus two to equal anything but four. My thoughts and senses are of course not perfectly accurate, but they get me through the day. And they got our ancestors through about a trillion days. They must have been doing something right.

        But there are things which everyone knows to be absolutely true, a few of these are;

        That the God of the bible exists
        That absolute morality exists
        That absolute truth exist etc.

        Yes, I know that the Bible says that everyone knows that God exists. But that’s just an empty assertion unless you have some evidence for it from the real world, or you can demonstrate that everything in the Bible is literally true. I could equally well say that you know that Santa exists, and if you say you don’t believe in Santa, I could say you are just denying him. The only difference is that you have a very old book to support you, and I just made up my assertion.

        And no, I don’t believe in absolute morality. If the morality of the Bible is absolute, then it should still be moral to hold slaves. Is it?

        I will admit that I believe that absolute truth exists. But as I said, only in circumscribed systems of formal logic.

        cheers, zilch

    • xon-xoff says :

      @ Ryan

      ” if God (the only basis for truth) doesn’t exist.”

      did anyone assert that your god does not exist?

      “Is it absolutely true that knowledge is a continuum?”
      “Is it absolutely true that we develop better tools, with higher precision?”

      i don’t know. i am not sure what absolute truth means.

      is there a difference between truth and absolute truth? and if so, what would be that difference?

      cheers

  7. zilch says :

    Marc- was hast du gegen ‘ne Kombi?

  8. Ryan says :

    lotharson

    He will have no excuse when he faces God on judgement day. As i said earlier Gods sovereignty doesn’t negate human responsibility. We are responsible for our own evil because I originates with us, not God. Though God controls that evil to suit is own glorious purpose, he is not the author of evil, we are.

    zilch

    You say of your senses and reasoning;
    “I’ve never yet seen two plus two to equal anything but four. My thoughts and senses are of course not perfectly accurate, but they get me through the day.”

    I hope you see that this is a viscously circular argument. You are appealing to your thoughts and senses in order to prove your thoughts and sense. You are clearly stuck in a viscous circle. Only by admitting that God reveals things to you such that you can know them will you ever escape this viscously circle.

    “unless you have some evidence for it from the real world, or you can demonstrate that everything in the Bible is literally true.”

    Why should I allow you to be the judge of God?
    How would you judge that evidence if you don’t even know that your thoughts and senses are valid?

    “I could equally well say that you know that Santa exists, and if you say you don’t believe in Santa, I could say you are just denying him”

    You could say that, but you would be wrong. The comparison is meaningless because God doesn’t exist, and Santa doesn’t.

    ” then it should still be moral to hold slaves. Is it?”

    It depends what you mean by slavery, the vast majority of slavery in the bible was completely different to slavery in the north Atlantic slave trade. Indeed God proscribed the death penalty for anyone who engages with that form of slavery in Exodus 21:16. Modern society still has slavery, it’s called debt slavery so I wouldn’t be so quick to judge the morality of the bible; particularly when you have no moral basis for doing so.

    xon-xoff

    “did anyone assert that your god does not exist?”

    By claiming that they “do not believe” in God, is that same as saying he does not exist. Refusing to recognise him as Lord, is always damming.

    “i don’t know. i am not sure what absolute truth means.

    is there a difference between truth and absolute truth? and if so, what would be that difference?”

    Absolute truth= True for all people at all times, regardless of their opinions

    I don’t think there is a difference between truth and absolute truth. Truth by its nature is absolute.

    Blessings

    • Ryan says :

      *should have said God Does exist…”

    • zilch says :

      Hey Ryan. Thanks for the detailed response. I won’t reply (at least not just now- I’ve got a concert this evening) to your assertions that God exists, and about slavery. We’ve already done that in some detail here- I’m sure lotharson can provide the links.

      I will parse this, though. I said:

      “I’ve never yet seen two plus two to equal anything but four. My thoughts and senses are of course not perfectly accurate, but they get me through the day.”

      You replied:

      I hope you see that this is a viscously circular argument. You are appealing to your thoughts and senses in order to prove your thoughts and sense. You are clearly stuck in a viscous circle. Only by admitting that God reveals things to you such that you can know them will you ever escape this viscously circle.

      It would be a viciously circular argument if I were claiming that my thoughts and senses prove that the Universe exists and that it’s logical. I don’t claim that. I can’t prove that God doesn’t exist; nor can I prove that I’m not a brain in a vat. Nor can you. The mad scientists in charge of your vat could be feeding you all your beliefs about God, proofs of His existence, revelations, and voices in your head.

      At some point you must trust your thoughts and your senses. Luckily, in practice that works pretty well, with the usual disclaimers for imperfection.

      I look at it this way: my thoughts and senses are not something I need to “prove” to be accurate, but rather that thinking and sensing are things I do. Just as I eat and breathe and metabolize, without needing to “prove” their accuracy or truth, I sense and think and try to do the best I can.

      cheers from rainy Vienna, zilch

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