Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Does God Exist? How Some People Think Coincidences Are Miracles

Robert Nelson further argues in his article about the likely probably of God that mere coincidence should be interpreted as rational evidence for the existence of God. He doesn't put it that way, of course, but that's what it boils down to, once you strip away all of the adjectives he throws in to make his conclusions sound profound and enlightened.

There are plenty of problems with his reasoning that Nelson simply chooses to ignore.

For example, Nelson states in his article:

Miraculous Ideas at the Same Time?
For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.

REPLY: Okay.. and.. so what? Human beings have been around for roughly 200,000 years. Why should it be so surprising that "ideas" are what drive changes in human existence? After all, humans must have ideas before they can ever implement those ideas into actions. It would only be truly"miraculous" to see changes in human existence being driven by cultural developments that occurred in any realm PRIOR to human ideas, if you think about it.

In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 B.C.), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East, groups having little interaction with one another.

REPLY: "Miraculously"? Really? Talk about hyperbole. Take the idea of monotheism, for example. Akhenhaten  was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh who ruled circa 1330 BC, who was widely seen as a bit of a weirdo for claiming that their was only ONE GOD. And that's because, in Egypt at that time, everyone else for the most part believed that there were many gods. The point being that just because an idea seems to burst onto the scene out of no where, the way some people claim Christianity did, does NOT mean that the seeds of that idea had not been germinating in various forms in humans minds long before they wove together into a single coherent narrative.

In fact, it has been pointed out by more than a few people, including Malcolm Gladwell,  just how often ideas tend to germinate in the soil of a society's subconscious thoughts, long before they ever sprout into the realm of publicly accepted ideas. This is as true of beliefs about the solar system as it is about human origins and even salvation.

It is incredibly ironic, then, to see how often historians or people like Robert Nelson, who admit that human ideas are immaterial objects, treat those ideas as if they had a clear fossilized record, even though most of the germinating life of an idea always starts and exists in the most transient of places imaginable - in peoples heads.

Those ideas then tend to circulate orally long before they are ever written down. In fact, Biblical scholars have pointed out that both the Old and New Testaments began as purely oral traditions before they were ever codified in written form. And even after the New Testament was finally written down, it took centuries before an official cannon was clearly established, even though the Reformation lead Luther to decide that even more books needed to be excluded.

It is as if same people who proclaim how ideas are immaterial are arguing there is a material record. As if the genesis of ideas can be read as easily as a paleontologist reading the fossil record, like the age of a tree can be read by looking at its rings.

But ideas are not fossils, nor do they always leave a recorded history of their true age like a tree. They are immaterial things, as Nelson so repeatedly likes to point out about human consciousness itself. And that means that they are as ethereal as the air, and travel almost as freely, across a network of minds, from mouth to ear and ear to mouth. That those ideas reach a tipping point in popularity where they suddenly begin to be widely recorded in the historical literature of one age or another, does not mean that such ideas had not been moving around in many different guises, shapes and sizes, already, and perhaps for some time prior to that, like ghosts floating about on the breath of anyone who cared to whisper their secrets to others.   

Yet such assumptions are made nevertheless, and then offered as "evidence" of exactly what the person offering it as evidence wants it to mean, even though it is rather unclear just what such "evidence" actually proves.

And lastly, "in the realm of human ideas," there does not need to be any great degree of interaction for a new idea to take hold and, much like the butterfly effect, set fire to the human imagination.

The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.
That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made “in the image of [a] God.”

On the one hand, where the hell else would would "the conscious workings of human minds" function but outside of physical reality? Ayn Rand, who was an atheist, has already discussed at length how everything boils down to "ideas," so why is Nelson so amazed at this? And why does he come to the exact opposite conclusion about the nature of ideas (i.e. that they are evidence of a god) than that which Rand had reached as an atheist? 

On the other hand, these claims are problematic because they run contrary to the claim that we are all born with a sense of God's universal moral laws.

If we are all born with a sense of these laws, even if that sense was impaired by the stain of original sin, then why are we having to claw our way to some level of moral understanding, and always at each other's expense and at great peril of our own souls, over the cloudy course of centuries?

What purpose does it serve an almighty God to have his fallible human creatures fumble about in the process of trying to discern the "universal moral laws" that we were, according to many Christian theologians, all born with in the first place?

By this standard, all genocide and even disease and every other horror that has befallen man at the hands of other men, is somehow our just deserves for having disobeyed God in the first place. But rather than God simply "turning the other cheek" and removing the "stain of original sin" which only makes it so difficult for us to achieve the kind of moral behavior God commands of us to live up to (and he sends us to hell for failing to achieve what Christianity admits is a Sisyphean task that can never truly be achieved in this life anyway), God chooses to let us slaughter each other by the millions to fight our way back to discovering, at a snails pace,  how to treat each other with any morality or even human decency.

In fact, it is often religion that seeks to emotionally addict people to their fears by duping them into believing they can only overcome them by necessarily "believing" a narrative that so many priests insist is far truer than even "truth" itself. And for anyone who dares to question the legitimacy or even the utility of such ideas over all - such as why humanity is "improved" by assuming it is marred in an imaginary condition defined as "original sin,"  that only a specialized class of priestly "witch doctors" has the power to cure - religion is quite prepared to use the most draconian means available to demonstrate to such "heretics" and "infidels" that hell awaits them for daring to think for themselves.

Oh, how truly miraculous it all is indeed!

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