Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A response to Davidov on Godtalk

Click full post for text.

My responses in italics.

Your post leaves me with two fundamental questions. First, the ideas you refer to would by some be called moral sense, sense of purpose and reflection respectively. What is a humanist missing if they have the same feelings but ascribe a different source? If they are not missing something (like a God which exists separately from our attitudes to him) isn't religion just a choice rooted only in the subject's personal views?

I think there is a lot of overlap. Not surprising as I also believe that all humanity is made in the image of God. Yet I would say that a religious perspective completes that which is only partial in a humanist perspective. In particular I think that what a religious perspective brings is a sense of the coherence and purpose that exists outside of the preferences of the individual. You could say: a religious perspective includes an accountability that is (usually) absent from a humanist perspective (for to what would a humanist be accountable?).

Secondly, where does this conception of God leave the basic understanding of Christianity common in our society?

I don't have a dog in that race. That is, it is manifestly clear to me that "the basic understanding of Christianity common in our society" is mistaken.

Did God "create" the world?


Can prayers be answered by God changing things?

I'm still thinking this one through, but I'm more minded to say yes than no.

Has any miracle, including those in the Bible, ever happened?

Short answer is yes, but I think your using a particular understanding of miracle here. Have you ever read this post?

What does life after death mean?

Something other than eternal life, usually.

Is there some external entity which forgives our sins if we repent?

This sounds like you're asking if God is a being.

In what way was Christ more than a prophet?

He was raised from the dead.

If none of this follows the traditional path (God created and cares about the world and sent Christ to redeem us from sin) what plans does the Church have to tell people that they can safely put these ideas to one side?

I'm wholly in favour of the traditional path.

Can I add a third? Isn't this conception of God reactive to the success of science since the Renaissance?

Not at all. Science isn't that important; or, to put that differently, science is itself dependent upon theological assumptions.

Most highly educated theologians, who can't just be dismissed, seem to have had very simple ideas of God until quite recently.

Sorry, that's rubbish. Unless you're using 'simple' in a technical sense, in which it's a truism.

You say that atheists (not me btw) want the concept of God to be ridiculous. Aren't they just challenging the concept of God common until science cast doubt on it?

If a 15 year old cannot adequately defend the concept of evolution against criticisms from well-informed creationists, does this make evolution false? Very little atheism that I am aware of takes theology seriously; someone like Dawkins is much happier with a summary dismissal. See the quote from Denys Turner here.

To take two C16th examples - can it be that this conception of God was really the one for which Cranmer, Lattimer and Ridley were burnt to death when they could so easily have obtained a pardon?

The Reformation martyrs weren't put to death for their conception of God. At least I don't think they were. It was much more to do with how Christianity was to be pursued relative to the authority of the central institutions.

What sort of oddball, in the face of such a subtle and difficult concept of God, could not accept an alternative view or that there would be no detriment for bending with the breeze? What sort of psycho would pass the sentence when hanging was an option for non-religious crimes?

Some truths are worth dying for; in other words, sometimes it is more life-giving to be killed for living IN the truth than to go on living apart from the truth.

A few more (1) Those who debated Henry VIII's first divorce in the context of Leviticus said they thought his breach of the law explained why he had no sons. The Pope was petitioned for divorce. Did those petitioning him and the Pope know that the premise was false


(2) Didn't those who denounced Galileo do so because they believed the cosmology in the Bible was accurate.

See my posts here and here.

(3) The last execution for heresy in Britain was 1697. Surely those accusing and trying him believed that his critcism of eg miracles was in fact wrong. Surely they themselves believed in miracles.

You know more about this case than I do.

Two more recent examples - in the late C19 a debate was arranged in Oxford between a Darwinist and a ... Bishop. The Church was seen as the relevant other side of the debate. The Bishop propounded the Biblical view of creation and poured scorn on the idea that he was related to a monkey. This is very recent and the Bishop was not an idiot. (A woman cried out in protest and fainted when the Darwinist told the Bishop to his face that he was indeed related to a monkey - what a very C19th scene).

To my mind both sides of this debate had become locked into a non-orthodox world view.

At a similar time another Bishop calculated that the world was c.7,000 years old based on Bible passages. This implies that he believed the Bible set out facts about creation which would withstand rational analysis.

Archbishop Ussher. See my comment immediately above - it's an extremely late development, and this IS a reaction to Renaissance science.

Here is a challenge. Can you name a Bishop in the C of E or Catholic Church who said, even in private papers, before 1900, that no miracles happened or the Virgin Birth was a metaphor?

Well... I'm not saying that no miracles happen; I'm saying (in effect) that the understanding of miracles common today, and shaped by scientific philosophy, is misleading and non-Scriptural. The straight answer to your question would probably be 'one of the 18th century deists' but no name springs to mind.

Very happy to pursue this further, though as I write this I realise I've written quite a lot about this elsewhere.

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