Is Our God Too Small? A Response to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos

cosmos
On the night of March 9th, 2014, countless pop-science buffs like myself waited with bated breath for the premier of the rebirth of the Carl Sagan’s beloved science series Cosmos. Produced by Seth McFarlane of Family Guy and hosted by the popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the reborn series follows in the wake of many similar shows of more recent vintage, such as Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole, the History Channel’s The Universe, and the magnificent NOVA special The Fabric of the Cosmos by noted Columbia University theoretical physicist Brian Greene. The success of these television programs has followed on the ability of some of the world’s greatest scientists to help common laypersons like myself understand incredibly complex scientific concepts such as quantum mechanics and Einstein’s special relativity.

These programs have opened our minds to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, which for men and women of faith, bear the unmistakable fingerprints of God. I have personally found these programs enormously helpful in my own quest to integrate my faith with scientific learning, for, in contrast to a minor yet vocal segment of the American religious landscape, I do not believe religious faith and science to be opposed to each other.  While I am always keen to integrate my Orthodox Christian faith with the findings of secular scientific and historical scholarship, what transpired in the reboot of Cosmos was, however, tainted by an unmistakable anti-religious ideology. I use the term “anti-religious” carefully in order to note its difference from an atheistic ideology. The difference is subtle, but no less dangerous, and like the overly zealous religious ideology that Cosmos condemns, its anti-religious ideology is just as skewed from reality.

A segment in the program featured the story of Giordano Bruno, a late 16th century Italian friar who was executed for theological heresies. Along with his heresies, Bruno challenged popular assumptions of a geocentric cosmology and a finite creation, proposing an infinite universe filled with stars like our sun and worlds teeming with life. In the program, Bruno is hailed as daring, imaginative thinker, who broke through the confines of the religious establishment to conceive of an infinite God and an infinite creation. He is shown railing at hecklers gathered at a public lecture in Oxford, shouting “Your god is too small!” Many of Bruno’s ideas did turn out to be correct, such as his proposition that neither the earth nor even the sun were the center of the universe.  It is understandable, then, why people today would hail Bruno as a visionary thinker, centuries ahead of his time – and for this, it is claimed, he became a “martyr” for science, executed at the hands of religious authorities for the claims he made that ultimately proved to be true.

In telling the story of Bruno, deGrasse Tyson and the Cosmos program failed to correctly parse three major themes, which will be considered in detail below:

(1) The distinction between Trinitarian and Christological dogma vs. cosmological theologoumena.

(2) The necessary theological distinction between the infinite God and the finite creation.

(3) The non-distinction between the Catholic Church and the Roman authorities responsible for Bruno’s execution.

Dogma vs. Theologoumena

Dogma represents the teachings of the Christian Church which are established as incontrovertible and non-negotiable, and therefore anyone who denies them fundamentally denies the essence of the historical Christian faith. These include (among others) the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Christ, both of which Bruno denied, making him in the eyes of the Catholic Church not merely a heretic but an apostate. On the other hand, Bruno’s views about cosmology were, in part, ideas that he held which had no bearing on Church dogma. The medieval belief in a universe with the earth at the center was a theologoumenon, a pious opinion. Theologoumena are ideas that are often held by pious believers but have not been given dogmatic definition by a Church council.  A denial of such beliefs does not constitute heresy nor apostasy, and it was certainly not a capital crime in 16th century Rome.

Bruno’s belief in many inhabited worlds would have, however, raised some alarm among church authorities, who would have seen such a claim as a rejection of the uniqueness of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  If other intelligent beings exist on other worlds, how do they relate to God, and how are their sins forgiven?  Are they, like us, made in the image of God? Whatever the answer to these questions, Christian dogma teaches that the Son of God is uniquely joined to human nature and will forever remain so. God did not come merely in the appearance of a man, but became a human man in fullest sense. While non-religious scientists like deGrasse Tyson may not have to make distinction between dogma and theologoumena, Christians hold to a faith in a personal God who has uniquely revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, and therefore, any idea that threatens to compromise that dogma will be regarded with some skepticism by faithful Christians.

Infinite God vs. Infinite Creation

Where Bruno did run into real trouble with his cosmological views was in positing an infinite creation alongside an infinite God. While this may sound like a perfectly logical and innocuous belief, it actually leads to the very dangerous conclusion that God is not unique in his infinitude. If creation is infinite, then it may be coterminous with the infinite essence of God Himself, leading to pantheism, the belief God and the universe are the same.  In fact, this is precisely what Bruno came to argue, and it was a belief that put him outside of the dogmatic Christian belief in a personal God distinct from creation.

Established scientific views regard the universe itself to be finite, though what is beyond the visible boundaries of the universe, no one can observe, because light from that region has not yet reached our telescopes. Nevertheless, scientists operating in the realm of theoretical physics have posited the existence of a multiverse, wherein our universe is just one among an infinite number of universes. These theories remain only mathematical propositions, and they do not yet have any observable proof. In fact, it may be argued that observable proof of a multiverse is impossible, due to the unimaginable size of the universe itself.  In this area of theoretical physics, science gradually crosses over into philosophy, which itself gradually crosses over into theology. While it may be interesting to hypothesize about a multiverse, we must acknowledge that there are theological implications to such hypotheses, and it is here that theoretical science and religion may legitimately clash.  Nevertheless, religious proscription of such theories can probably wait, because there is simply so much that we still do not know.  There may yet be a way of describing a multiverse that preserves the distinction between the infinite God and a finite creation.

Church and State

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, deGrasse Tyson claimed that, in fact, Cosmos was not anti-religious, because it made clear that Bruno was not executed by the Catholic Church, but by the Roman authorities, despite the fact that the program had previously stated that, in Bruno’s time, there was not a separation of church and state. In order to save face in front of the unabashedly Catholic Colbert, deGrasse Tyson tried to frame the issue as if there were a separation of church and state, and that Colbert’s Catholic Church was innocent of Bruno’s execution.  Yet 16th century Rome was the capital of the Papal States, meaning that, like Vatican City today, the Catholic Church was the Roman authority in the form of papal legates directly under the authority of the Pope.

Now, I will make no apology for the actions of the Catholic Church or the Inquisition. The point here is not to justify execution of anyone for heresy, which is an abhorrent practice that has unfortunately marred the history of Christianity. The point here is to understand the anti-religious ideology promulgated by deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos. Not once in the series was it mentioned that the Roman Catholic Church today fully embraces the findings of the science of astronomy, admits the possible existence of extraterrestrial life, and even operates an observatory.  While the religion of Bruno’s day may have been hostile to scientific progress, the Roman Catholic Church has now moved to the forefront of scientific advancement and encourages scientific progress.  It is unfortunate that viewers were left with such an awful perception of religious establishment without also being treated to the wonderful scientific work that is being done by that same establishment today.

Who is so Great as our God?

The anti-religious but not atheist ideology subtly seeks to establish a god that is acceptable to science, one that is infinite and undefined.  Yet this god is essentially the universe itself.  Science, theism, and a naturalistic philosophy all coincide under the convincing rhetoric of “infinite” and “unbounded.”

Orthodox Christianity believes in just such an infinite and unbounded God, a God who holds all of existence within Himself, who causes existence to exist, yet is ontologically separate from all that exists in creation. Yet the Orthodox Church’s God is also one who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The uncircumscribable Logos has become circumscribed in flesh; the unlimited, infinite God, amenable to scientists and philosophers, has taken upon Himself the limitations of our humanity.  And this very idea is, as St. Paul states, foolishness to the wise.  The Greek philosophers of St. Paul’s day, he states, sought wisdom, while the Jews, the religious, sought miraculous signs, but Jesus Christ was a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the philosophers. Many scientists and philosophers of our own day are equally offended by the radical claims of Christianity, which dares to delimit the knowledge of God through revelation. Unlike the god of the scientists and philosophers, the Christian God has revealed Himself in Person, in Word, and in Image, and the result of this revelation is definitive and unchanging dogma. As Christians, we worship what we know through what has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-4), not what we do not know (John 4:22), an undefined, boundless, and infinite universe – impersonal, immediate, and incapable of salvation. Our God is not “too small.” He is greater than the universe, however large it may be, and He has revealed Himself to us through the greatest cosmological mystery of all, the incarnation of the Son of God, and our cosmos is a cosmos filled with divine light having been united with Him.

For further criticism of Cosmos from a faith perspective and a closer look at Giordano Bruno, see here.

Eric Jobe

About Eric Jobe

Eric Jobe earned his Ph.D. in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He specializes in Hebrew poetry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Second Temple Judaism. He is also an instructor of Bible and biblical languages for the St. Macrina Orthodox Institute.

CultureSecular Theology

68 comments:

  1. Good reflection. I think that the idea that there is something physical (and light requires physical) beyond the universe comes from a misunderstanding of the word “universe,” and while the multiverse is an interesting quantum physics idea, it is empirically unverifiable, and thus not a potential scientific fact. So, I don’t see any way in which scientific inquiry can come into real conflict with Christian faith. I think that when a conflict is seen, one has failed to “rightly divide the truth,” meaning that one has sought to correct science with Christian revelation, or Christian revelation with science, and neither is actually possible, when each is understood within its own intrinsic epistemological limitations.

    The failure to make necessary distinctions, especially outside the bounds of one’s own area of expertise, is a fault of all human beings, who all have ideological presuppositions interfering with perception and thought, so while it should be corrected when it happens, it is not necessary to impute malicious or ignoble motives to the people making such an error.

  2. Clever men who cling to their faith can make a case for God and why not if it satisfies their need. They can go further and fit in the bible since Christianity without a bible is unthinkable. Many old religions are ingrained in us and some are unable to let them go; they make sense of a cruel world and give hope to many.
    Are these views honest ? do they see the world as it is or only as we wish it to be? Taking just the earth and its chaotic condition; the suffering, the unwillingness of man to do anything about it. It is hardly a testimony to a loving God with millions of Christians working to bring about His Kingdom.

    1. Another truism: we see what we want to see. Christians have been working to alleviate human suffering since the time of the apostles. Christians established the first orphanages, hospitals, and elder care hostels. Throughout the world Christians are still at the fore in humanitarian endeavors. Could it be better? Of course. Are we doing all we can. Obviously not all of us. But let’s not forget that the paganism Christianity replaced wasn’t exactly burning down the house in terms of bearing the burdens of its fellow men. Care for the weak and broken may seem innate now but let society go long enough without Christianity and it will revert to the callous indifference of the bad old days of Thucydides.

      1. That Christians established the first hospitals is a rather dubious claim. Ancient Egyptians, for example, performed surgery and had locations set aside for general healing. The locations usually were associated with a temple to their god of healing. Historical evidence of the more modern idea of a hospital as an institution separate from a temple/church suggests that the Buddhist areas of India and Sri Lanka established hospitals that possibly pre-dated Christianity, but certainly developed parallel to those established by Christians.

        1. While there were many noted physicians prior to St. Basil the Great (Hippocrates, for example), it was the revolutionary Basiliad in Caesarea that is the prototype for modern hospitals, hospices and care homes. One might also observe, as has been well documented, that prior to the Edict of Milan, during the horrible persecutions of the third century, Christians risked their lives caring for ill persons, including pagans, and burying the dead, in plague-stricken cities throughout the Empire, and this fact allowed the Christian population to develop a stronger immune system, and resulted in the Christian population becoming a significant minority by the time of Constantine I. If Atheists and anti-religionists really want to prove their worth to society, they can do so by opening up new hospitals and charitable ventures on the same scale as that infrastructure currently operated by various Christian groups (I should also add that we Orthodox are under-represented in this respect in the US as well due to our historic minority status; I hope within 50 years time an Orthodox hospital might be as common as an Adventist or Lutheran or other denominational hospital is today).

    2. A loving God will not deny his children free will; according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the only thing God cannot force us to do is to love him. The suffering in the world exists because of this free will, but even then, God works through the Church to minimize this suffering to the maximum extent possible, without taking away the essential self-determination of His beloved Children. In addition, both Christians and Jews can say, on the basis of Genesis, that the divinely instituted system of death puts a limit on the maximum amount of self-inflicted suffering via sin. Theodicy is always a challenging subject in any system of theology, but I myself am strongly of the opinion that no other system of doctrine offers as reasonable an explanation to the problem as that of Orthodox Christianity. In like manner, regarding the suggestion that we Orthodox are in a self-deluded state regarding the nature of the world, I would urge you to Google the word prelest (the Russian word for delusion; I forget the Greek equivalent), and look at the massive corpus of Orthodox texts, such as the Philokalia, that directly address the dangers of falling into such a deluded condition.

  3. “The anti-religious but not atheist ideology subtly seeks to establish a god that is acceptable to science, one that is infinite and undefined. Yet this god is essentially the universe itself.”

    The hard science depicted in Cosmos is the study of natural laws. “God/god” isn’t part of the discussion. Science contends that everything since the Big Bang can be explained through natural forces. This certainly doesn’t stop scientists from having an opinion on the existence and/or nature of a divine creator. The anti-religious bias you see is, in my humble opinion, more of a bias against rigid thinking and beliefs. Or as Tyson said in the latest episode (my paraphrase): “because God made it that way” stops further questions.

      1. In the third episode, Tyson was differentiating in the same way which you are stating, if I remember right. How God made things is more scientifically informative, which was his point against merely saying “God did it”

          1. Hi Father Damick

            A scientific hypothesis does posit a type of ‘conclusion’ in the sense that falsifiable predictions can be made, and then tested. This is the heart of systematic enquiry; the genius of science in trying its best to eliminate human bias in the process of discovery. The important word here is ‘falsifiable.’ A “god did it” conclusion doesn’t open itself to falsifiable predictions.

          2. Perhaps I am a bit slow or uninformed, philosophically speaking, but I still don’t see the basis for this assertion. One can still make such predictions, and of course that model of enquiry also isn’t the only one. “How did God do it?” is a rather intriguing question, and certainly even if one presupposes materialism, it’s not like someone giving such an answer means everyone has to fall silent. I’m just not buying it. This is a rhetorical trope with little basis in either the experience of human discourse or even the vastness of scientific exploration that has been motivated precisely by the conviction that God is the creator.

          3. The question you have to ask yourself is: Why are you even positing “god” did it? You see, there is your pre-packaged ‘conclusion,’ and that is incompatible with honest enquiry. No offense, but a pipe smoking rabbit named Errol is as meaningful here as “god.” Religion starts with the conclusion, god, or the pipe smoking rabbit named Errol, then tries to fit the observation to that. That is not a good way to study anything. Religion relies on faith, unjustified belief, and revelation, which is illogical, whereas science proceeds from experimental verification.

          4. Your worms come in packaging larger than cans, it seems. 🙂

            There is much that could be said here, but it is Holy Saturday, so I’m very much short on time. I’ll mention this, though—why presume that human logic is the only reliable means of knowing? Is there any explanation for that that doesn’t come down to “logic is logical”?

            Further, why is skepticism properly the default position? What if skepticism actually prevents being able to see all the necessary evidence?

            There are too many assumptions being, well, assumed in your comments to make this exchange very meaningful.

            Anyway, revelation may well be illogical, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

          5. Hi Father Damick

            Is there any other way of knowing? It’s a great question, and one that can be investigated. The applicable test would be that which can applied to test solipsism: examine the experience and see if anything in it can not be from your own mind. A self-generated delusion (a pot plant talking to you, for example) cannot contain information you don’t already have because you are generating it. Reality on the other hand does contain things you don’t know, meaning it can’t be self-generated. The question then is, can your god be a self-generated delusion or, perhaps, a solipsistic error? The answer the theist is looking for is of course, No, but to arrive at that answer the theist has to determine whether their religion has revealed anything to us (at any time) that we don’t already know.

            Why is scepticism the default? I would think that was quite obvious. No religion has ever revealed itself to be true. Peel away the colourful ritualistic outer layers, bypass the guidebooks, skip over the oral traditions and dive through the charismatic mind-sets to the core within and anyone curious enough to look will find that there are but two ostensible, universal truths pervading all faith-based religious beliefs:

            1) They all claim to be true (universal)
            2) Not one has ever emerged twice on the planet

            That’s it. There is nothing lurking any deeper than these two truisms, and as the second maxim annihilates the first claim there’s really no need to even litigate the petitions forwarded by any single religion as it’s already perfectly clear that any allusion to authenticity is entirely groundless.

            If this were not the case, if any single religion were in fact true, we would have, indeed *should* have already seen that religion emerge naturally and entirely unassisted wherever humans were found, regardless of their isolation or epoch. Its deity (or deities) would wear a single hat, carry a single name and speak a single language audible to the deaf, coherent to infants, understood by the demented, and intelligible to the senile. Its dramas and narratives would be recognised and repeated by cloistered populations in every corner of the planet, and its edicts would have penetrated all tribal, domestic and international legal code mindless of earthly or socioeconomic borders. If any single religion were true a single and unchangeable objective moral writ would underwrite all human populations, dietary conventions would be unchaste by oceans, and norms of etiquette, civility and protocol would not deviate with geography or era.

            No religion has however emerged twice anywhere on the planet, no single deity has been envisaged by two populations separated by time and geography, and not a solitary person in history has arrived independently at Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Scientology or Judaism without it first being taught to them. Indeed, take Christianity; outside the Bible there exists no external reason whatsoever to have ever heard of, let alone believe in the particular Middle Eastern god of the Pentateuch other than the claims made in the Pentateuch itself. Although it is said to exist in our sphere of influence the god of the Pentateuch (re-invented in the New Testament, then again revised in the Qur’an) is invisible and inaudible. It gives off no odour and has no perceptible taste. It generates no heat signature, produces no electromagnetic field and provokes no resonance at any frequency. It cannot be detected with any instrument, and no measurement of any natural phenomena has ever indicated its presence. Its influence cannot be inferred from any secondary observation, no earthly geological record speaks of its intervention, and no examination of any biological or astronomical system has ever alluded to its agency. It is massless. It displaces neither liquids, solids, gas nor plasma, has no perceptible gravitational effect on anything, and no disturbance in the fabric of spacetime suggests it’d once moved through any region of the cosmos.

            Temporally speaking, the god of the Pentateuch is entirely absent from all but the last 1.25% of human history, and even after its literary debut in the 7th Century BCE failed to register as anything other than a minor Middle Eastern artistic anomaly envisaged by no other culture on the planet. It didn’t materialise independently in mainland Europe, emerge unassisted on the British Isles, or rouse a single word across the entire Far East. It inspired no one in any of the 30,000 major islands of the South Pacific, energised nothing across the African continent, stirred naught in North America, and didn’t move anything or anyone in Central or South America. No one across the vast Indian Great Plains or Russian steppes ever heard of it. No Azorean fisherman suddenly spoke of it, no Scandinavian shipwright carved its name in a stone, no Japanese mother ever thought she’d heard it speak in whispered tones, and no Australian aborigine ever dreamed of it. Outside the pages of the bible there is positively nothing in the natural or anthropological landscape which might even remotely lead a person blissfully ignorant of the claims made in the bible to suspect that that particular Middle Eastern god had ever inspired anything except the imaginations of a few linguistically specific Iron Age Canaanite hill tribes looking to add a little supernatural spice to their otherwise perfectly terrestrial lives.

            Scepticism, therefore, is clearly the logical position. And considering every child is born an atheist, it is therefore the default position.

          6. This really is filled with so many errors of fact that I’m not sure any meaningful discussion can really take place. Just to name a couple:

            1) Most of the world’s religions have never claimed to be universal. Most regard their deity as being for their tribe, region, etc. The idea of universal religion only really comes with the advent of Christianity.

            2) You said: “Indeed, take Christianity; outside the Bible there exists no external reason whatsoever to have ever heard of, let alone believe in the particular Middle Eastern god of the Pentateuch other than the claims made in the Pentateuch itself.” So where did the Pentateuch come from, then? And of course the life and faith of the Christian Church existed for centuries before the full emergence of the canon of the NT. The idea that text is the ultimate source for religion is essentially a Protestant assumption, one not shared by most religions and certainly not even by most Christians. You’re also making some assumptions about revelation that you haven’t backed up: Why should revelation have to occur in multiple independent places in order to be considered true? There are all kinds of other truths that have unique manifestations. It seems you basically just want these stories to be other than what they really are, and since they’re not, you’re saying everyone ought to disbelieve them. That is, because they do not rest upon the materialist assumptions you prefer, they must not be true. But you haven’t proved materialism yet. (Can you?)

            In any event, your text really doesn’t support your conclusion that skepticism is both logical and the default. Indeed, that conclusion almost seems entirely a non sequitur.

            All that said, this will be the end of this rabbit trail, because mounting a full philosophical defense of atheism is hardly what this post is about. If you’re interested in actually pursuing what traditional theism really says (rather than the caricatured straw man you’ve presented), I can do no better than to recommend David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. If you’re also interested in thorough debunkings of the silly things the modern pop atheists say about religious history, I recommend his other work, Atheist Delusions (a needlessly inflammatory title, I know; it wasn’t DBH’s choice, either).

          7. [Moderator’s Note: Even though this comment continues an off-topic thread, the post author has requested it be published so that he may respond.]

            Hi Father Damick.

            Well might you ask, “So where did the Pentateuch come from, then?”

            Perhaps you’re not aware, but the majority of non-Orthodox Jewish Rabbis today openly concede the Pentateuch is nothing but a work of 7th and 6th Century BCE geopolitical fiction. The Patriarchs are legendary stories, the Hebrews were never enslaved in Egypt, Moses was not a historical character, there was never an Exodus of some two-million people, and there was no triumphant conquest of Canaan. Even Orthodox Rabbi’s are beginning to publically admit this. See Orthodox Rabbi Norman Solomon’s 2012 book, Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith, in which he admits the concept of Torah Mi Sinai (the claim that the Five Books of Moses were dictated by the god Yahweh to Moses on Sinai) was not rooted in reality but was rather a “foundation myth;” an origin dream, not a descriptive historical fact. Even the Encyclopaedia Judaica concludes that the entire Exodus narrative was “dramatically woven out of various strands of tradition… he [Moses] wasn’t a historical character.”

            I recently interviewed over 80 Rabbi’s from every Jewish movement, and not one, not even the Orthodox, said the Pentateuch was factual. The reason, of course, is that a hundred years of exhaustive archaeology has debunked the narrative so completely that it’s simply impossible to maintain the illusion that any of it is historical. Rabbi Adam Chalom, Ph.D put it nicely, saying:

            “Would you willingly lie to your children? Would you say this is what happened when you know this is not what happened? There’s an ethical question there. They’ll find this archaeological, evidence-based version of Jewish history… and then they’ll say, why did you lie to me?”

            The question I think left here for you is: How does an Abrahamic theology reconcile itself with the news that there was no Abraham, no Moses, no Exodus, and no Conquest? How does one re-categorise a *revealed* religion when its known there was no revelation?

          8. Usually, “God made it that way,” is not said with the intention of opening scientific inquiry, but is a rhetorical way of shutting down dialogue. However, I believe there is a way we can say that God is the “maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible,” and then move to as “how?” as a basis of scientific inquiry. Those of us who are committed to the integration of faith and learning should do this (and not be afraid of the answers).

          9. Hi Eric.
            I think you hot upon the crucial point here: “not be afraid of the answers.” All people, including the religious, are of course free to use the scientific method. “God” is a hypothesis, so it should be tested. It’s not a very good hypothesis, but a hypothesis nonetheless and can be scrutinised in an honest and adult manner. Magic hasn’t been the answer to anything, at any time, and it’s safe to say it won’t ever be the answer to anything, but I think the religious should pursue testing their hypothesis using the best methods we have developed as a species to uncovering something approaching truth. Until now the greatest theological minds have, of course, only been able to “conclude” their god (synthetic truth), which does not equal definitional (analytic) truth. Defining something into existence is inherently meaningless, and that fact has inspired extremely well-funded organisations like the Templeton Foundation to at least attempt to employ the scientific method to establish some grounds for believing in a spiritual reality. After 25 years and billions of dollars spent they have failed at every turn, but the attempt is noble and should not be criticised.

          10. Exactly, some do not wish to question God because they believe it is disrespectful and lacks faith, some do not wish to question for they fear that they might lose their faith. I respect those who wish not to delve into the mysteries of His wondrous creation and would rather strengthen their faith, I just wish they would not insist that to do so is wrong and a sin.

          11. John Zande, Regarding your comment about the Pentateuch (I’m not sure where this comment will appear in the thread), while it is off topic, I will address your question, though I do not think a drawn out discussion is in order at this time. Yes, there is validity to the notion that the narratives of Pentateuch do not represent a literal, factual history. I don’t think many but the most conservative and fundamentalist people would try to make it that. That being said, your statement is a bit extreme.

            “Geopolitical fiction” is a mischaracterization. The Pentateuch is primarily a book of theology, and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua – Kings) is as well. There are geopolitical elements to it, but they are minor compared with the primarily theological thrust of Gen-Kings.

            There is no extra-biblical, historical record that either proves or disproves Moses existence. To say that he was not historical is untrue. We simply do not have evidence either way.

            There were instances when Asiatics were in Egypt and subsequently “went out.” The first was the expulsion of the Hyksos in the 18th dynasty (15th century BCE) and the second was a massive repopulation of Palestine as prisoners of war returned after the time of Ramses the Great. There is a great possibility that the historical Exodus happened as one or even as a literary combination of both of these events.

            That a small group of slaves could have escaped Egypt during the time of Ramses the Great is entirely possible. It would not have been 2 million, but rather on a smaller scale.

            The “conquest of Canaan” certainly did not happen as the book of Joshua describes, because even the book of Judges which follows paints a slightly different picture, not to mention the archaeological evidence against it. Nevertheless, there were many military conflicts during that period, which could have contributed to the tradition. The early Israelites were likely Canaanites who moved into the highlands after the collapse of the lowland economy sometime in the late Bronze Age. They began to differentiate themselves from their lowland cousins and developed a distinct dialect, material culture, and religion. There were no doubt many conflicts between these groups, not to mention the possibility that a small group of slaves trying to settle in the land may have been responsible for a few conflicts as well. They would, however, have integrated with the Highland Israelites and introduced Yahwistic worship.

            The point of all of this is to say that the Hebrew Bible is not entirely fictitious or at odds with the historical and archaeological picture of late Bronze Age and early Iron Age Palestine. At the same time, it is not always historically accurate, and allowances should be made for this. Nevertheless, the Hebrew Bible is a book of theology, which, for Christians, gains meaning from the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is only insofar as the Hebrew Bible reveals Christ, first through prophecy, then through christological exegesis, that we hold it to be the inspired word of God. It is not inspired Scripture because of its historical or scientific accuracy. In all of these things, we have to be careful not to absolutize our conclusions. If we find something in the Bible that does not find historical or archaeological evidence, that in itself is not sufficient grounds for rejecting it as inspired Scripture. 

I plan on writing further on this issue, so please “stay tuned” to this blog for updates.

          12. Hi Eric

            Agreed, we (I) strayed off topic, and I apologise for that.

            I have to disagree with you, though: my position on the Pentateuch is not at all extreme. It’s simply the consensus position of archaeologists, biblical scholars, and Jewish Rabbis.

            I say ‘geopolitical fiction’ as it was invented to serve the geopolitical ambitions of Judah and its Yahwehist priests. They structured the story to place themselves, Judah, at the center of the Jewish way of life in the aim to capitalize on the fall of Mamlekhet Yisra’el (Kingdom of Israel) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

            Just so you know, I don’t actually include Kings in my assessment here. Some of that information can be considered quite reliable as a historical document. Not all, but enough to exclude it from the ‘total fiction’ basket.

            Regarding Moses, the matter is quite settled. The character is a legendary motif, drawn from older stories such as the Babylonian tale of King Sargon of Agade, which begins:

            “My humble mother bore me secretly. She put me in a basket of rushes and sealed me in with asphalt. Then she put me into the river…. The river held me up, and carried me to Akki, the irrigator who drew water from the river for the people. As he dipped his jug into the river, Akki carried me out. He raised me as his own son.”

            The matter is so settled, in fact, that the majority of Rabbi’s from every movement today openly concede it. Do appreciate, these are people, the Rabbi’s, with far more invested in these stories being true than the most ardent Christian apologist could ever fathom of having in a hundred lifetimes. Their conclusions carry an enormous weight, and their conclusions are only based on the unignorable facts. For some excellent background reading on this see the Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. It’s the first authorised commentary on the Torah since 1936. Published in 2001 by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (in collaboration with the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Publication Society) the 1,559 page long Etz Hayim concludes with 41 essays written by prominent rabbis and scholars who admit the Pentateuch is little more than a self-serving myth rife with anachronisms and un-ignorable archaeological inconsistencies. They also conclude Moses (as well as Abraham) wasn’t a historical character.

            Regarding the Exodus narrative, it has been a dead subject in the field of serious archaeology for many decades now. I spent much of last year interviewing dozens upon dozens of Rabbi’s and dozens more of the world’s leading biblical archaeologists (most of whom are Israeli’s) for a series of articles, and know this subject very well. Without going into any detail it was the population maps and settlement patterns that sealed the consensus position. I will admit, though, this knowledge has not yet penetrated popular culture, but that is happening, albeit slowly.

            If people start changing the chronology and the numbers who sojourned to fit their various theological needs, then that’s their prerogative, but they can’t then make any claim to the Tanakh being a historical document. The simple fact is nothing in the narrative matches the actual early history of the Hebrews, and I was incredibly impressed with the Rabbis intellectual honesty in both grasping, and accepting this reality.

            Regarding Conquest, only one city, Hazor, if i remember correctly, matches the narrative’s chronology. Its destruction, though, could have been from anything. The Amarna letters are a testament to that. One of the many blunders made by the authors here was in placing the conquest at a time when Canaan was in fact under Egyptian military rule. Egyptian administrative centers were located in Gaza, Yaffo and Beit She’an, as well as on both sides of the Jordan River, and garrisons were stationed at strategic points, including Megiddo and Jerusalem. There simply was no conquest. Not as the story tells.

            I completely agree with you about the settlement period. That seems to be exactly how it happened, but bear in mind, it started in the 11th Century BCE. There was never a 13th, or even 15th century “arrival,” just refugees from the coastal states. That said, I’m certainly not trying to say here there are no kernels of truth in the narrative. That would be absurd. No story emerges in complete isolation. No doubt there were events which provided the imaginative seeds for the larger tale. Historical fiction is not, after all, a fairytale. My only point in even diving down this path was in answering Father Damicks statement regarding revelation being a method of knowing. By pointing out that the Pentateuch was myth, then one cannot, in all honestly, point to revelation. The fact that its myth also raises some stunningly awkward problems for Jesus, as he names Moses and Abraham on multiple occasions, and that calls into question his knowledge of basic regional history… a history one would naturally expect him to actually know, if his claims are to be taken seriously.

            But that’s another topic altogether.

            I will indeed stay tuned. Thanks for the dialogue 🙂

          13. At the risk of being too cliché, I think you are missing the forest for the trees. I know the data, and I also know that there are differing interpretations of the data from various scholars. There is not so much of a consensus as you think in regards to the way scholars of all stripes interpret the data. I had two professors at the University of Chicago, Robert Ritner and David Schloen, who interpreted the same data regarding the historicity of the Exodus in very different ways. We can all look at the same archaeological data, the same Mesopotamian background to the Hebrew Bible, and we can arrive at very different conclusions based upon our presuppositions and philosophical bent. Frankly, I view myth as gateway of sorts to understanding higher, spiritual realities, and I am very glad that the Hebrew Bible is not a mere history book. I’m very comfortable with myth in regard to the Hebrew Bible, and I do not believe it obviates the historical foundations of Christianity, which is Jesus Christ and his Apostles. (The historical accuracy of the NT is another matter for another time.) Nevertheless, I do find room for some historicity in the Hebrew Bible. The biblical Moses may be a pastiche of ancient Near Eastern tropes, but that doesn’t a priori rule out a historical Moses of some sort, even if that historical Moses was very different than his biblical counterpart. Same with the Exodus, the Conquest, etc. Rabbis, secular scholars, and Christians can all look at the same data and come up with very different conclusions, and neither group really has any more sway than another. I don’t think Rabbi’s have more to lose than anyone else. An atheist might have quite a bit to lose as well, if any of this Jesus stuff does turn out to be true. 🙂

          14. Hi Eric

            Oh, I’m a huge fan of mythology and folklore. I consider such stories priceless cultural artefacts. Being able to distinguishing between myth and historical fact is, though, important.

            Israel’s oldest daily Newspaper, Hareetz, ran an interesting article recently, and the takeaway from it seems appropriate here. They said:

            “Currently there is broad agreement among archaeologists and Bible scholars that there is no historical basis for the narratives of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, nor any archaeological evidence to make them think otherwise.”

            That last sentence is important: “Nor any archaeological evidence to make them think otherwise.”

            As I said, this information is slowly penetrating popular culture, and articles like this help that education process along… a gentle introduction to reality.

            Now, of course, there’ll always be a few blinkered Christian evangelicals like Kitchen and Bryant Wood who’ll play with dates (and ignore vast swaths of the narrative) to try and make certain parts of the story fit the archaeology, but like I said earlier, in the field of serious archaeology and scholarship the matter is closed. Has been for decades. You need only read Dever, a Minimalist, to understand this. Indeed, you won’t find a single archaeologist in either Tel Aviv University, or the more conservative, Hebrew University, who’ll commit to any statement concerning the historical validity of the Pentateuch.

            Anyway, onwards and upwards.

            Take care.
            J

          15. Again, I don’t have any qualms about what scholarship is saying about the historicity of the aforementioned events. However, having read Dever, Finkelstein, and others, I do think there is enough room there for a historical *kernel* within the realm of possibility. Now that’s not something I can prove or disprove. What it comes down to, IMO, is different ways we construct our world views. Some people construct their world view, or at least think they are constructing it, on the basis of nothing but provable facts. If science or historical inquiry can’t prove it, they won’t believe it. That’s fine as well as it goes, and it keeps people from being taken for fools. Some people, however, while constructing their world view on the basis of provable fact, also allow for the existence of an unseen, unproven reality, which is taken on the basis of faith. There is evidence that may lead them to that position of faith, but that evidence may not lie within the realm of scientific or historical observation. Believe me, as a scholar of the ancient Near East, archaeology and comparative literature do not tell us everything we would like to know about the late bronze age – there is still much that we do not know. There is room for interpretation, room for faith. I wish I could jump in a TARDIS and be present during the reign of Ramses II to see what really happened or be at the tomb of Christ on Pascha morning with the myrrh-bearing women, but I can’t. However, even though I can’t, I still believe, and while I grant that the Exodus narrative tells me more about the reign of 7th century Judaean kings than it does about the historical Moses, I know better as a scholar – that is to say, my academic integrity demands – that I don’t claim that I know everything about what happened in late bronze age Egypt and Palestine.

          16. Agreed. And I appreciate the way your mind works.

            If i had a TARDIS I’d go back 100,000 to 200,000 years ago and sit quietly as i watched the first Paleolithic burial with grave goods. The event that blew the protean human mind open, and birthed the first gods. Then I’d pop forward to 15,000 years ago and spend three years following the patient soul who scratched out the Thaïs Bone. The first evidence we have of observational science. I’d also like to chat with Yāska, and pat Leucippus and Democritus on the backs and tell them they were on the right track 🙂

    1. Stim, I don’t disagree. The point that I am trying to make is that the show is anti-religious, i.e. anti-dogmatic religion, organized religion, not anti-theistic. I believe we can have an Orthodox, dogmatic religion while making room for the fullness of scientific discovery, because I believe that all truth is God’s truth. The problem is when we try to use science to demonstrate God other than that he exists, or when we try to use religion to explain science – “because God made it that way.” I will let faith be faith and science be science, but there are some areas where the two do come into contact, namely where science leaves its empirical moorings and becomes “theoretical.” Here it can blend in to philosophy and religion.

      1. Here is a fundamental problem: the disciplines of cosmology and evolutionary biology were both founded on philosophical efforts to deny and replace Christian understanding of creation and man. While that foundation has weakened somewhat it is still there.

        It is axiomatic (or should be) that the interpretation of data is dependent upon the philosophical assumptions the interpreter has. Facts are not facts until data has been selected, ordered and interpreted within the context of ones a priori assumptions.

        It is also quite obvious that the biggest propogandists against the Christian faith these days come from the scientific world.

        I question whether today’s science looks for truth or simply wants to assert its claim to hegemony over truth and what constitutes knowledge.

        The same can be said for religiously motivated counter-arguments which share similarly false premises.

    2. Correction: “because God made it that way” does not stop further questions, it begs the question. And no serious Christian inquirers in two millennia have ever settled with that as a response to mulling over the mysteries of the created order. Natural science in its modern form owes its very existence to a tradition of scientific inquiry on the part of Christians and Christian institutions since at least the 7th century, if not earlier.

    3. One might observe on this point that Cosmos improperly introduced religion into the discussion by bringing up Giordano Bruno, in such a manner so as to suggest the modern day Roman church would burn a Bruno at the stake again, were it in its power to do so. They could have, as has been suggested, negate this by mentioning the modern-day existence of a Vatican university, the contribution of Catholic universities to science, et cetera. The troubling aspect is that, even compared to fifteen years ago, with much contemporary television, the gloves have come off regarding religion, and all religions are routinely subjected to unprovoked, one-handed smears and abuse, in a manner eerily reminiscent of the situation in the USSR in the 1920s; if in fact, Cosmos did not enter into the discussion of God or religion, but confined itself to science, I think we would all be happier (and consider, focusing purely on science would make the show more edifying; minutes that could have been spent analyzing the subject matter in greater detail were instead wasted on what amounted to anti-Christian propaganda).

  4. Thank you for the clarification of the facts surrounding Giordano Bruno’s death. When I watched Tyson’s Cosmos I was outraged that Bruno was persecuted and killed for his beliefs regarding God, but now that I found out that he was imprisoned and burned on stake for slightly different religious views, well, it’s still outrageous. What can you say, the Church was different back then, much more dogmatic, more ruthless when it still had power to dispose of the naysayers. I hope it comes as a big relief to all those accused of blasphemy and put to death under Islamic jurisprudence to know that one day Islam will be as enlightened as Catholics are now right now. I wanted to write Christanity, but then I remembered Creationists who don’t embrace the science of astronomy as readily as the good old Pope, do they? Or an odd televangelist who calls for Bill Maher to be hanged for his views on religion. Or that one denomination that didn’t quite as equally embrace the life sciences or basic human rights and still opposes gay marriages, contraceptives or divorce. So, on behalf of persecuted gay Ugandan men and HIV-positive children born in poverty let me thank you again for clearing Catholic Church’s name.

    1. I’m afraid Jestier you’re barking up the wrong tree. We are not Roman Catholics; we are Eastern Orthodox, and we do not regard the Roman Catholics as “the Church”, rather, we regard them as schismatics, although the internal reforms in the Roman church have resulted in the lifting of the mutual anathemas, but we are far from a state of full communion. We are not responsible for the Inquisition or other abuses of the Roman church, and the Orthodox church as a whole has a much better track record; the only major problem in recent centuries that comes to mind being the persecutions regarding the Old Believer schism in Russia, which are universally detested in contemporary Orthodoxy.

      As for the televangelist who called for Bill Maher to be hanged, in our mind he is a heretic. He would probably want us hanged as well, as most such heretics view our use of icons as idolatry; we on the other hand have no desire to hang him. Many Orthodox, including Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and other leading bishops, accept evolution and the big bang, and view this science as beneficial to our religion, rather than as blasphemy. There are also creationists in our mix, but in all cases, this is regarded as theological opinion, as the article states.. We do adhere to the traditional doctrine of the church regarding homosexuality, but in general the mistreatment of homosexuals is abhorred; I would say that most Orthodox I’ve met, having lived under severe persecution in the Communist regime in Russia, and the Islamic regimes in the Middle East, abhor the death penalty, and indeed violence, in general.

      To us, what happened to Bruno is an outrage, but its equally an outrage to see a major scientific documentary such as Cosmos distort the incident and use it as the basis for an anti-religious smear. Since the whole point of Cosmos is to provide scientific education, I am horrified to think of how many fascinating details about the subject matter of the formation of our universe were omitted for lack of time, due to the time needlessly wasted for the purpose of spreading the gospel of evangelical atheism.

      1. I’m terribly sorry for mistaking you with those wretched Roman Catholics. It would help greatly and save me time and embarrassment if the contents of this website were written in Greek alphabet or Cyrillic script 😉

        Correct me if I’m wrong again, but as I understand your website’s issue is that DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos misrepresented the truth about Giordano Bruno in an attack on religion instead of concentrating on science. My issue is that your website nitpicks at pretty much a minor detail of the series, in the process defending your schismatic brothers and missing a larger point of the otherwise very good and much needed reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

        Cosmos did simplify the facts surrounding the persecution of Giordano Bruno, but I think we can agree that the full explanation wouldn’t fly on TV. The options, then, are either to leave it out completely or to use the iconic story to point out that religious thinking hinders scientific progress. I say, good call. Cosmos is not an in-depth theological treatise and shouldn’t be treated as such.

        Is Cosmos perfect? No, it’s very good, informative, engaging and simply still needed in spite of the fact that we live in the 21st Century, but it is not perfect. The creators chose an angle that walks a fine line between promoting scientific understanding of the universe and criticizing those who obstruct it. It’s not the same as being anti-religious.This choice, as any other choice, comes with a burden of showing some things while ignoring other. Some facts have been simplified, some stories invented to illustrate a larger theme, but there is no outcry from evolutionary biologists or historians about any distortion of their field, as far as I am aware.

        Does Cosmos waste time? With 14 episodes in total there will be plenty of time to promote and explain our understanding of the universe. But more to the point, there already is a fair smattering of good science shows and books for those interested in the subject. Cosmos represents a rarity on TV screens – a show with a host that doesn’t hesitate to be openly atheistic and address the issues with religion when it comes to science. Maybe you simply misunderstood the agenda of Tyson’s Cosmos?

        For this reason Cosmos has come under attacks from the religious folk. Eastern Orthodox point out theological inaccuracies in Cosmos while Creationists demand equal screen time to promote their absurd beliefs. Never mind Giordano Bruno and the dark minds of the 16th century Catholic Church. The problem of religion distorting our understanding of the universe is as alive today as it was over four centuries ago.

        Well, I may be barking at the wrong tree, but at least I can see the forest.

        1. The problem, jestier, is that your premise, that religion obstructs scientific progress, is manifestly false. Others have already addressed this point, but I’m going to cite a few more obvious examples: the incompetence of Soviet scientists versus their Western counterparts, the slowing rate of technological progress compared to more religious epochs, such as the late 19th century, the important role played by scientists who have religious views, even now, the fact that were it not for the monks at the Syrian Monastery in Egypt, we would have no knowledge of classical Greek philosophy, which played a key role in enabling the scientific advance of both the Islamic world (Avicenna, Al-Kwarizmi, Averroes), and Renaissance Europe, the fact that astronomy largely originated as a science due to the demands of pagan astrology in Mesopotamia, et cetera, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I would go so far as to say without religion, science invariably stagnates; to the extent that the USSR and modern militant atheists were and are able to do science, they are enabled by the fact that they’ve adopted atheism into a religion.

          Which takes us to the next point; it seems you would rather watch a religious documentary (the main point of Cosmos being to preach a homily, the message of which is the supposed ill effects religion has on science), than watch a scientific documentary. I would propose that the amount of time Cosmos wasted attacking religion would have been better spent actually covering science. This was in general the mold historically adopted by works such as the Origin of Species, which contains neither a polemic against religion nor an explicit defense thereof.

          As a thought experiment by the way, one might consider which rate of society would have the faster rate of scientific progress; a society in which scientific textbooks and documentaries contain just the facts, or a society in which they are belabored by religious propaganda. I would propose the former is more likely. Many atheists, such as Seth McFarlane, are obviously practicing a religion, or at the very least, believe atheism with a religious fervor; this makes them feel obliged to go out and convert people of other belief systems. There are even atheist megachurches; I would cite atheist Quakers and non-theist Unitarian Universalists as examples of pious atheists who have values beneficial to society, whereas militant atheist fundamentalists in the vein of McFarlane are more evocative of some of the disagreeable branches of Calvinist Christianity, or the Hanbali fiqh within Islam. All three faiths I just mentioned; militant atheism, fundamental Christianity, and Wahadism, have a record of damaging science with idiocies like this Cosmos documentary, the Creation museum, and various blasphemy laws in the middle East; in these destructive tendencies they are opposed to the Orthodox faith, and indeed, most contemporary branches of Christianity.

        2. By the way, I would really encourage you to guard your commentary against a strong intemperate inclination. I think many persons of Greek and Slavic ethnicity might find the suggestion that they would shy away from the English language to be deeply offensive, and possibly even racist. I think the implicit concern behind this very excellent blog post on the part of Eric Jobe is that Cosmos is marred by an example of what amounts to a socially acceptable prejudice, and I would say you would do better in making your point if you did not appear to invoke a prejudice which is almost universally denounced in contemporary society, that being prejudice against persons of a certain race or ethnicity.

          One thing I love about Orthdoxy is our ethnic diversity; this becomes especially true if one considers the Oriental Orthodox. Having Arabs, Russians, Japanese and Americans worshiping God together, in the same Church, is a profoundly hopeful vision about the future of humanity.

          1. [comment edited by moderation team]

            1. What is that ‘socially acceptable prejudice in Cosmos’ you are talking about? I don’t see it, I don’t think it’s there.

            2. It’s easy to prove that religion does obstruct scientific progress. All I need is one example, even though I could choose from dozens. If Creationists’ attempts to take over education in America is not enough proof for you, I give you Jenner and his smallpox vaccine vehemently opposed on the religious grounds that it was ungodly. Seriously, look around and tell me that today, in the 21st Century science and religion go hand in hand.

          2. No, they don’t. They could, but as long as science trends toward a fundamentalist scientism, it won’t

            The problem with many faithful Christians today is that we don’t even understand our own faith deeply enough to be effective witnesses.

            We either are mindless objectors or appeaseors with an idyllic understanding of science.

            Today’s science is just as much held captive by a dogmatic ideology as fundamentalist Christians or bought and paid for by the highest bidder. Often practiced to reject there strawman idea of faith.

            The truth lies neither place.

            Even at its best science can only answer questions of how and what and perhaps approach when but even those answers are dependent on a priori answers to why and who (or no who).

            The biggest hole in the cosmological paradigm is the question of ontology and consciousness.

            Both the ontology and the eschatology of the scientistic dogma are drastically different than Traditional Christianity. You can’t just plug a “God module” into the paradigm and have it be OK.

          3. The socially acceptable prejudice is of course that of militant atheism and anti-Christianity in general, and anti-Catholicism in particular, which was (in 2003 I recall) fairly extensively documented in The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, by Philip Jenkins.

            Regarding Jenner, he was afforded a church burial, and was more likely than not Anglican; he grew up in a religious epoch and made that huge advance, and one doesn’t see progress on that scale being made in the present era (a smallpox vaccine in the early 19th century would be a bit like us discovering an AIDS or cancer vaccine).

            That said, from a religious perspective I could raise an objection to what Jenner did; not the fruits of his labor, but rather, the means by which his end was obtained. He engaged in very dangerous human testing on a boy of just eight years of age, one James Phipps, which exposed young Phipps to the possibility of contracting a potentially lethal infection of smallpox. In our modern society, this would thankfully be prohibited, and we Orthodox in particular are troubled about forms of medical research of this nature. Contrary to the moral message espoused by the militant atheist Russel T. Davies in his miniseries Torchwood: Children of Earth, and other voices of pop atheism in modern society, we consider it highly unacceptable to sacrifice or even endanger the lives of children, where informed consent is impossible, for the sake of medical progress, and for this reason we are in general opposed to methods of stem cell harvesting that destroy human embryos, for example.

            Science is in general good, but it can also be undesirable; the development of nuclear weaponry being an obvious case in point. Orthodoxy is not opposed to advances in scientific knowledge, and certainly would not oppose the existence of smallpox vaccinations once created (once again, you confuse us with various figures from Western Christianity who we regard as schismatics or heretics), but we do insist that science be done in a moral and ethical manner, in which the sanctity of human life, which we hold to be created in the image of God, may not be violated. This same respect for the sanctity of human life requires us to completely reject the anti-intellectual views of some heretics, such as Christian Scientists, who reject all medical treatment; this approach is wrong, and in fact one must again mention the role of St. Basil the Great in inventing the modern hospital.

  5. I should also add, on a pessimistic note, it is by no means certain that Islam will moderate in the manner of the Roman Catholic church. The tyranny of the Popes occurred during a period when they had enormous temporal power, and to a large extent, the population of Europe was relatively in the dark about the actual contents of the Bible, and was led astray by erroneous Catholic doctrines. After the Reformation and Enlightenment, the Catholic church underwent its own internal reformation, and was forced to clean up its act. The underlying facts of the Christian religion, the basic essential truths which are most fully embraced by the Orthodox church, but which are accessible elsewhere to varying degrees, deplore the kind of abusive behavior that led to the martyrdom of people such as Bruno, Cranmer (who had ironically had someone burned at the stake himself), et al.

    On the other hand, there are suras within the Quran that do directly command violence, and unlike in the Bible, these aren’t contained within books the legal force of which is viewed to have been largely superceded (i.e. the ceremonial law in the Torah). Most Islamic schools of jurisprudence interpret these views in such a way as to indicate the acceptability of violence, and its rather difficult to contrive an exegesis that works around this.

    The most peaceful and loving Islamic sects, like the Alevi, get around this problem by deprecating the Quran in favor of their own traditions, in the case of the Alevi, their rich hymnography. This however has the rather unfortunate side effect of exposing the Alevi in Turks to severe persecution as heretics. i feel that Christians should partner with other religious minorities in the Middle East to the extent possible to stand against persecution and genocide. A real risk however is that this new breed of arrogant, militant Atheist fundamentalism we’re seeing rearing its ugly head with mass media programs such as Cosmos will lead to violence; we Orthodox know better than most, from past experience, the real bodily danger that atheists, in their abominable superstition, pose to pious believers of any faith.

  6. Really good post, yet I am more cynical about the motives of the reboot of Cosmos. I don’t think they are a part of a militant atheist movement, I think that they are playing the old entertainment business game and delving into controversial issues to gain ratings. That is sad because there ain’t many good science shows on the boobtube anymore, and playing for ratings means that they will most likely dumb down their content and engage in the ridiculous.

    1. Well, I’m sure from a financial standpoint, that may well be the case, however, producer Seth McFarlane, who produces the “Family Guy” cartoons, is what you might call an atheist extremist; certainly one of the most outspoken opponents of religion in Hollywood. He is on record as justifying his militant atheism, saying “We have to. Because of all the mysticism and stuff that’s gotten so popular … It’s like the civil-rights movement. There have to be people who are vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith.”

      For anyone familiar with the persecution of religion in the Soviet Union, to hear a major public figure make remarks such as this, imbued as they are with unchecked bigotry and intolerance, is absolutely chilling. Even more chilling is the fact that McFarlane isn’t the only one. Look, however, at the reaction just this one program is generating; we have atheists coming out of the woodwork to attack us. For the time being they’re limiting themselves to trolling blogs, but I think there is a real threat of violent agitation being posed by this material. I am of the opinion that members of the Orthodox communities who endured persecution under militant atheist regimes behind the Iron Curtain have a duty to the rest of society to speak up about this, and raise awareness of the danger this kind of vitriolic bigotry poses to our constitutional freedom of conscience, not to mention our physical safety, let alone the Judeo-Christian values that underpin the morality of our civil society in the United States and Europe.

  7. re. Infinite God vs. Infinite Creation

    I think one must be very careful to understand that the modern mathematical understanding of infinite (i.e. since Georg Cantor) is very different from earlier understandings which would treat all infinities equally.

    Also, one must understand the when cosmologists speak of the Universe as being “unbounded” or “infinite” they should be understood as speaking in terms of the Universe’s space-time. Within the framework of general relativity the Universe could be unbounded from the inside, and yet (somewhat paradoxically) bounded from the outside (for one example of how this plays out within the framework of inflationary theory see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfeJhzPq3jQ).

    I would argue that the concept of space-time doesn’t apply to the Christian concept of God as the Transcendent One (i.e. existing beyond time and space).

    1. One might also observe that even though the void of spacetime is apparently infinite, the amount of matter and energy expanding in that void is finite (hence entropy and the projected heat death of the universe). The fact that the universe will enter into a thermal equilibrium consisting of mere photons, each an almost incomprehensible distance from the other, yet after a nearly infinite amount of time could potentially reorganize itself to be formed anew, convinces me of the existence of God (almost as compelling as St. Athanasius’s point, brilliantly contained in De Incarnatione, that the Big Bang, acting on its own, should have resulted in a uniform distribution of matter and energy, a point which anticipated the current scientific conundrum by 1,600 years).

  8. A point and two questions:

    If one is Orthodox one is a creationist in the sense that we realize and accept that God is the maker of all things visible and invisible.

    Mr. Jobe seems to accept the rather modern view that faith and science are two different and equal modes of knowledge that are not incompatible. Is that perception correct?

    The big one: where and what is the ontology of the evolutionary paradigm? Without being there is no life.

    1. I think an Orthodox view of science requires a certain creationism, insofar as recognizing and respecting the natural world as being the exquisite handiwork of God. Science must be done in a responsible manner that respects the holiness of this creation.

      Regarding evolution, I can observe that as Kallistos Ware and others have pointed out, it is as a process and fact of life entirely compatible with the Orthodox faith. I recently read a very cogent article by an Orthodox scholar that explained how the Genesis account works better as an allegory of the formation of the universe and the process of evolution than any competing account from elsewhere in the religious world (and for this reason, the anti-intellectual activities of Protestant creationists such as Ken Ham really make me groan, insofar as they posit a false dichotomy and contribute to the alienation of many young people from the Orthodox faith). That said, evolutionary science must be done in a manner that respects the holiness of God’s creation; Darwinism as a sociopolitical philosophy is completely unacceptable, given the horrible death toll that resulted from the Holocaust, and the eugenics experiments of various atheist regimes throughout the 20th century.

      1. Mr. Golden I’m sorry but I have a great deal of difficulty with the assetertion that the evolutionary paradigm is “entirely compatible with the Orthodox faith”.

        How does it align with the fundamental dogmatic teaching that human beings, alone of all creatures, are created in the image and likeness of God?

        Change from one species to another seems to me to, following St. Maximus, to involve a change in being too.

        I am afraid that I no longer put much trust in Bp Kallistos and his disciples when it comes to doctrinal matters as he has hinted at the acceptance of women’s ordination and the acceptance of the Immaculate Conception as valid doctrine.

        I appreciate you engaging as you do but it seems to me that we need to treat the evolutionary paradigm as the Patristic Father’s did Greek pagan knowledge–not just accept it.

        There is a higher and deeper understanding that transcends what we know now that would be in accord with our faith. What we have now is still highly problematic.

        1. I would say that how God created us in His divine image is less important than the simple fact that He did, and to worry about it reminds me of His discourse towards Job. Creating us in His image does not require God to snap his divine fingers; where both the present science and Orthodoxy do agree however is that mankind emerged more recently than plants, fish, insects, and other mammals, and that man was created from dust (stardust and also the soil consumed by plants, themselves consumed by mammals). These parallels are for me at least, compelling, as no other ancient story of creation from any other faith comes as close to our present scientific understanding; I expect that the link to Genesis will become even clearer as the state of the art advances.

          However, this is really not that important; worrying about how God created us, from a religious standpoint, distracts us from the more important implication of having been created in God’s image, that being, the need to iconically represent God, and participate in the sacramental life that embodies the holiness of His creation.

          It should be noted that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware probably represents the most left-wing bishop, but he is nonetheless a validly ordained bishop, and his views are important; it should also be noted he has not actually called for the ordination of women, but rather merely called for Orthodoxy to explain clearly why it is that we don’t ordain women to the priesthood and the diaconate, something which I believe one of the contributors to this blog took up a while back on another blog (was it Cyril Jenkins perhaps?). In my opinion at least, Ware has not at present deviated materially from Orthodoxy; surely it is not crossing the line to say we must explain our position more clearly (it would be crossing the line to say our position on, for example, the ordination of women, is completely wrong, or misogynistic, as some Protestants such as the far-left Methodist blogger Rev. Jeremy Smith have argued, or to illicitly ordain women, but Ware has not done any of that and I rather doubt he will, if he did of course, that would be a tragedy and I would obviously not be citing his work here or anywhere else).

  9. Christ is Risen and all of creation rejoices. Yet we humans persist in finding oh so many ways to love the created thing more than our Creator.

    It is not our God who is too small, it is our hearts. He is every where present and fills all things drawing all to Him.

    His life burbling up in ways we cannot account. No matter how we try, we cannot hold Him in any box made by our vain imaginings.

  10. I am a Catholic and am just writing to thank you for defending my church with words I could not have come up with myself. I constantly pray for these men who so obviously despise something they don’t understand and who would be so astounded if they did. I, too, don’t defend the sad executions and ugly parts of our history. But then again, we are a human church filled with human sinners. It is great to see our brothers in faith stand up for us. As John Paul II once said, the church breathes with two lungs, Catholic and Orthodox.
    In His name,
    Alex

  11. Thank you for this post. I just watched this segment in the Cosmos series on Giordano Bruno and was very suspicious. The distinctions you point out are very helpful.

    I think that the Cosmos series is also unabashedly atheistic, not just anti-religious. It’s incredible how easily the conflation of philosophy and science is made. The opening statement of the series is “The Cosmos is all there is, all there ever has been, and all there ever will be.” How do you get more atheistic than that? While there are some amazing realities about the universe in this series, the tragedy is that the ideology of purposelessness and a rejection of any reality of God permeates it. It leaves no room for a Christian and a non-Christian to learn about the beauty of the universe and not be influenced to a particular philosophical and theological perspective.

    Lastly, I think you are too quick to acknowledge that the Church of Bruno’s time may have been hostile to scientific progress, and also to condemn the Inquisition without qualification, as in many cases it was actually condemned by the Pope. David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions does a great job of concisely showing both of these things.

  12. @ John Zande, I completely agree with you. I am a former Christian that was never afraid to use my mind and always had a lot of doubts and questions, such as how an “all_ loving” supreme being could be such a fan of animal AND human sacrifice, kill innocent children for their parents misdeeds, and condone things like slavery and polygamy, ( even going so far as to tell one how to beat their slaves and telling slaves that they should tremble with fear and be in complete obedience to their masters) but I really started having doubts when I started noticing that when I asked other christians tough questions, they either fabricated answers or went through astounding mental gymnastics to keep the faith. You should not have to do that if something is the truth. At any rate, I started doing research_ lots and lots of research_ on the bible, the origin of Christianity etc and was shocked to find that literally NONE of the things described in the bible happened, or if they did, they certainly didn’t happen as described. The biggest shocker for me however, was the fact that the biggest stories in the bible (i.e. the creation story, the ten commandments, Noah’s flood and even Jesus himself) were in fact plagiarized from far older pagan myths. ( the gilgamesh epic, the egyptian book of the dead, the code of Hammarabbi, the enuma elish, Horus, Mithra ect) And the similarities werent something you could write off as being a mere coincidence_ they were the EXACT stories, with only a few minor differences, such as names being changed. Here is what Lloyd Graham, in “deceptions and myths of the bible”, has to say : ” The bible is not the ‘word of god’ but stolen from pagan sources. It’s eden, Adam and eve were taken from the Babylonian accounts; it’s flood and deluge is but an epitome of some four hundred flood accounts; it’s ark and Ararat have their equivalents in a score of deluge myths; even the names of Noah’s sons are copies, so also Isaacs sacrifice, Solomons judgement, and Samson’s pillar acts; it’s Moses is fashioned after the Syrian mises; it’s laws after hammarabi’s code. It’s messiah is derived from the Egyptian Mahdi savior, certain verses are verbatim copies of egyptian scriptures. Between Jesus and the Egyptian horus, Gerald Massey found 137 similarities, and those between Christ and Krishna run into the hundreds. How then can the bible be a revelation to the Jews?” You ask, ” how does one re_ categorize a ” revealed” religion when its known that there was no revelation?” You can also ask, ” how does one re_categorize a revealed religion when it’s known that those “revelations” came from much older pagan myths that pre_ dated it by thousands of years?” Even the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr ADMITTED that the pagan myths and the Christian stories were very, very similar, but then went on to say that it was the devil who copied divine things to confuse people. I guess it never occurred to him that the pagan stories were first, and that the Christian stories came hundreds and thousands of years later, so who copied who? These are the kind of mental gymnastics that christians are famous for, and the reason I no longer am one. I refuse to abandon my reason, common sense and logic due to fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

    1. Lindsay, if you have rejected Christianity because the Bible contains a great deal of myth, then I would venture to say that you have rejected a form of Christianity, but you have not dealt adequately with the claims of the Christian Gospel itself. I myself acknowledge the presence of myth in the Bible. In fact, if you read many of my posts at my own blog, Departing Horeb (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/departinghoreb/), you will find that I bring this out quite clearly, yet I am still an (Orthodox) Christian. I certainly respect anyone’s decision to reject Christianity if they have done so honestly and after conducing a long and thorough investigation, not just into biblical Scholarship, but into the philosophy of religion. A robust Christianity is not totally based or dependent upon the Bible, nor does it depend upon a certain historical, non-mythological reading of the Old Testament. Christianity is based upon the person of Jesus Christ. I would invite you to do more study of this matter and reconsider such a hasty decision to reject Christianity on such terms.

      1. Hi Eric, and thank you for your reply. There are actually many reasons for my leaving christianity, I just mentioned the plagiarized myths in responding to John’s post. You seem like an honest, sensible, unbiased Christian and I truly wish there were more like you. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have left the faith if there were. As a matter of fact, the character of many (certainly not all) christians was absolutely central to my leaving, as well. There is something about religion that seems to bring out the worst, not the best, in people. ( and history proves it with all the wars, crusades, inquisitions, burnings at the state ect) the one exception being Buddhism which is more of a philosophy and not dependent upon prophets and holy books and such. Buddhists are peace loving people that actually practice what they preach and the Dalai Lama actualĺy said that if science proved some aspect of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism would have to change. Can you imagine the pope or a Christian reverend or minister saying that?! Anyways, christianity has a way of turning otherwise intelligent and kind- hearted people into hateful, groveling, fear-filled, guilt ridden shells while giving people the illusion that they are really fulfilled. Christianity does something horrendous to people. It destroys minds and spirits. It makes people feel guilty for having normal human desires. It makes them believe that they are cursed, wretched, depraved, wicked sinners and that nothing they do will ever be good enough in God’s eyes. it encourages ignorance. It encourages hate. It is ALWAYS christians and religious people that stunt societal growth and progress. In christian eyes, we must be miserable to appease God, and everything ( and I mean everything ) is “demonic” or a “sin”. Even psychiatrists will tell you that religious fanaticism and mental illness go hand in hand. And as I said in my first post, the logic and reasoning that most christians use ( or lack therof) to defend the anti-scientific and downright barbaric and savage acts of God in the Bible made me see exactly what religion does to minds. You cannot reason with most christians. They NEED the crutch of religion, and are so petrified of death and the unknown that they are willing to screw with their own mind in a way that is truly unbelievable, to hold onto their beliefs. I know I am being harsh but I believe that most people already knows this about christians, including christians themselves, if they are honest. I am on many sites where atheists and christians bicker and argue back and forth, and as bad as it is to say this, the atheists come off as so much more intelligent. This, I believe, is not due to atheists actually being any smarter than believers , but the fact that religion twists a person’s mind into a pretzel and makes them not only make up whatever sounds good ( to them) whenever faced with a difficult question, but it also makes them competely abandon logic and ignore established scientific, historical and archeological facts if it goes against what they WANT to believe. I simply could not deal with any of it it anymore. Another big reason for my leaving christianity was just not seeing ANY evidence of a God that cares. The god that i heard about in church simply does not jive with the real world we live in. In any way. Like John mentions, this god gives off no odor, has no taste, and is massless. The name of the article is interesting. Is our god too small? Yes. Yes, he is. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many times where I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and just of life in general and I know that there has to be some kind of purpose and that it HAD to have been created, but I balk at the “god did it” conclusion as discussed earlier because it lacks imagination. “God” was the answer for many things at one time that have since been explained by science. There is a famous Carl Sagan quote where he was talking to ( presumably) a Christian where he told this person ” everything you don’t understand , you attribute to god. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say god did it”. I don’t want to be that person. At any rate, I know this post is super long, I am just trying to explain all the reasons I left christianity. I would love to believe that there is a god who loves us and will eventually right all the world’s wrongs, but I find that there is no reason to actually believe any of it to be true. There’s not a lick of evidence supporting this theory. It takes more than a bunch of claims in an old book ( especially an old book filled with contradictions, discrepancies and plaguarized myths) for a deep thinker like myself. I don’t want to be an ignorant, fear-filled, hate mongering stereotype of a christian, nor do I particularly want to be an atheist but for now, the atheist/agnostic route seems the only sensible way to go. I haven’t read all your stuff yet, but I definently will. If you haven’t yet, you should write an article for people like me who are at a crossroads, so to speak. I want to believe-you have no idea how badly I want to believe- but I can find no good reason to. And that’s depressing.

        1. You know, the only thing there I find issue with is your perception that the ancient Israelites “plagiarized” the myths of their surrounding cultures. I don’t think even the most atheist of scholars would use the term “plagiarize” to characterize the exchange of mythologies in the ancient world. It is a free cultural exchange, not plagiarism as we know in our contemporary literary culture. Other than that, yeah, I kind of feel you there, though I have not found those sufficient reasons to leave, though admittedly, my situation is different than yours. Frankly, I find many of your points to be honest reflections on life that too many are unable or unwilling to make. To some degree, I feel that the atheist is closer to God by such a way of negation than the most ardent theist. At any rate I do hope you find some peace of mind. BTW, I have a dedicated blog over at https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/departinghoreb/

  13. Actually, there are many sites and blogs online that talk about the plaguarized myths in the bible, using the same wording that I do. When someone steals someone else’s story and claims it as their own, it’s called plaguarizing. That’s exactly what the biblical authors did, so how does the word not fit? Plaguarized, copied, borrowed, stolen – whatever you want to call it, it’s all the same thing. The myths in the bible were not the ancient israelites’ own. That is the point. They were stolen from the made up stories of other ignorant and primitive cultures to give some kind of explanation and meaning to a world they didn’t understand and to all the mysteries of life and death long before the advent of science. As far as the exchange of mythologies you talk about, as far as I know, every culture basically had their own- the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Babylonians ect, except, of course, the Israelites who stole everyone else’s and claimed it came directly from Yahweh himself. The only other “borrowing” I can think of is by the Romans who definently did copy Greek mythology and just changed the names (Zeus became Jupiter and so on)but I am not an expert on the subject by any means. What makes Hebrew mythology so dangerous is that people actually take it seriously, despite the fact that we know none of the things decried ever happened

    1. Lindsay, I don’t speak here as a believer but as an academic scholar, and I will tell you as objectively as I can (and you’ll just have to take my word), the plagiarism is a modern concept that was not understood as such in the ancient world. No scholar would use such a term. Even the Greeks themselves, according to one theory, derived much of their mythology from the Hurrians. Yes, there was a great deal of cultural exchange in the ancient Near East. Proverbs 22:17-23:11 is taken almost verbatim from the Egyptian text “The Instructions of Amenemope” (I’ve read portions Amenemope in the Egyptian, so I can verify it). Yes, in the modern age of copyright and intellectual property, we would call that plagiarism, but in their world, it was not, and we should not force our own ideas upon them. But more than that, the Israelites, while borrowing much of their mythology from the surrounding cultures, did modify it and craft it in original ways. While Genesis 1-11 draws heavily upon the Babylonian Enuma Elish, it is nevertheless very different from it in many very significant ways. Even Proverbs 22 modifies Amenemope in significant ways. So, I’m not sure what you’re hang up is. I grant the reality of myth in the Bible as well as the cultural exchange that brought many Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Canaanite, and Amorite (Ugaritic) myths, rituals, and literary forms into the Israelite world. But, as for me, such things do not automatically mean that Christianity is a farce. Christianity (at least Orthodox/Catholic Christianity) is not dependent upon a literalistic reading of the Bible, where everything has to be 100% factually historical and 100% original. It seems to me that you are fighting against a straw-man Christianity that only exists in certain places (like Evangelical Protestantism), but not everywhere. I do appreciate your dialoguing with me and hope you will continue.

  14. (Continued) and despite the fact that we know the stories came from something everyone knows are myths, from the surrounding cultures. Also, Hebrew mythology differs from the others in that the other cultures used theirs to give them meaning in a big, scary, crazy and mysterious world, whereas the Israelites used theirs to repress and control people through fear tactics and threats of hell. They created a vengeful, hateful, bloodthirsty, polygamy loving, woman hating, baby killing, ethnic cleansing, slavery condoning, mass murdering psychopath God ( that christians have somehow convinced themselves is a good, kind, merciful and just god – yet another example of the unbelievable mental gymnastics they have to put themselves through to believe what they do) that shared all the ignorant bronze age views that they did, and they just happened to be this God’s mouthpiece AND his favorite people in the entire world! Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes and strangely enough, the “eyewitnesses” IN the bible can’t even agree on the simplest aspects of his life. And worse than that, not a single person ever mentions him outside of the bible! Not a single, solitary soul. There is a single paragraph in Josephus’ 20 volumes that briefly mentions him, but even this has been debunked as a forgery even by Christian scholars. Outside of that? Nada. Pretty amazing for a guy that walked on water, cast out demons, and fed a few thousand people with a few fishes and loaves of bread. But wait, there’s more! The real kicker in all of this is that as with everything else in “God’s word”, there are stories that are identical to Jesus long before Jesus ever walked the earth, IF he ever did as there’s not a single scrap of evidence for it. The Persian god Mithra and the Egyptian god Horus (among countless others) were also mankind’s saviors, called names like “light of the world, “redeemer”, and “the way, the truth and the light”, had 12 apostles, cast out demons, had a last supper, were born of a mortal woman and a godly father on December 25th, were crucified, were child teachers in the temple and tempted on a mountain by a demonic figure. Oh, and they pre-date Jesus by thousands of years! The Egyptologist Gerald Massey said that Christianity was neither original or unique, but that much of it lay in the Egyptian culture of the region, and that if Jesus would’ve been able to read the documents of old egypt, he would’ve been amazed to find his own biography already written some 4 or 5 thousand years previously. Keep in mind also, that paul, the man who wrote a good deal of the bible, was born and raised in a Mithraic community. Besides all this though, Jesus’ own words destroy his credibility. In mark 9:1 and many other places, Jesus tells his followers that he will return in THEIR lifetimes when he says, “there be some standing here that shall not taste death til’ they see the son of man coming in his kingdom”. Talking to his modern day followers like christians always claim? Not a chance! How do I know? It’s simple, really. ” Some standing here” proves it. Jesus also makes MANY very specific promises about prayer. He consistently tells us that WHATEVER we ask for in prayer, he will make it happen. He says this in Mathew 7:7, Mathew 18:19, Mathew 17:20 , Mathew 21:21 and too many other places to count. He says it over and over and over again to the point that you cannot miss it. He’s clear, direct and to the point. Of course, christians will try to sweep the failure of this promise under the rug and try to guilt people for thinking Jesus is some wish granting genie, but the biblical verses leave no room for misinterpretation. The only thing required is faith “the size of a mustard seed” and there are absolutely no restrictions on what one can ask for. You know, if copied myths, the complete absense of any loving God in this world and the utter failure of Jesus’ promises are not enough to make most Christians leave the faith, you have to wonder what would be? If these things were attributed to any other religion but christianity, every christian would write it off as nothing more than myth and superstition believed by people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown or the reality of death without a crutch, and rightfully so. The truth is, none of christian dogma can be believed by anyone with a functioning brain. But then again, it’s not about rationality with most christians- it’s about emotion. It’s about muddle headed sentiment as one scientist so brilliantly put it. There is nothing to suggest that ANY religion is about anything other than wishful thinking and believing what is easiest and most pleasant and nobody could or would believe any of it if 1) they were not indoctrinated at a young age, or 2) they weren’t petrified of death. I know christians always claim that they ” feel god in their hearts” ( i never did) and their “faith” will save them, but remember that people of all faiths feel THEIR particular god in their heart too, and that millions of Mormons have absolute faith in Joseph Smith and his magic glasses and golden plates, and that a billion (or more) Muslims have absolute faith in Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse. Do you believe these stories too, christians? If so, why not? You all rely on nothing but faith, so why is your faith different or true? Something to think about. (but of course you won’t)

    1. Sorry, I did not get this part of your comment until much later than the first part. You seem to have the typical atheist talking points down quite well, though you do not appear to be able to handle the nuances of the debate at all, for example, you give no credence to those who do argue for the authenticity of Josephus’ remarks about Jesus, or the history of interpretation of the Bible within Christian history. Furthermore, some of your statements, such as Paul being raised in the Mithraic cult, also require a bit of “mental gymnastics” in order to be accepted. You do not demonstrate any kind of philosophical refinement in dealing with these issues, many of which have been discussed for many centuries, therefore I feel that the anger in your tone is misplaced. It also tells me that you are not really here for an honest discussion, or I would have it with you. The mark of any true seeker of truth is an openness to see both sides, to study both sides, and to respond respectfully when there is a disagreement. I hope that I have shown my own openness to discuss these issues with you, as many, though not all, of the things you speak of, I will grant you. There are problems – I admit! – though you seem to be railing against a straw man of Christianity that is so beholden to a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, that you are incapable of entertaining versions of Christianity that do not. Now, if you really wish to debate the textual criticism of Josephus or the mithraic elements in Pauline Christianity, we can do that. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say, that you show the same kind of credulity of which you criticize Christians! You have bought a narrative from your fellow atheists and skeptics, which has about as little to do with reality (as debated in the academy) as the kind of Christianity you have rejected. I implore you to lay aside your anger (though I do not say that your anger is unjust. There is a time and a place for such just anger, but I say that a friendly discussion such as this is not such a place) and dialogue with me with an open mind, not necessarily to faith (I don’t aim to proselytize you), but to facts. BTW, if you wish to email me, my address is my first and last name separated by a period AT gmail.

  15. Okay, I admit that I did get carried away, and I apologize. I AM angry Eric, because I want so desperately to believe that everything will be okay, that the guilty will pay, that the innocent will be avenged, that the suffering will be alleviated, that the unwanted will be loved, that the hungry will be fed, and that humanity will one day live in harmony together and be completely free of the turmoil and grief that has plagued us since the very beginning. I WANT to be believe, but …i can’t. There’s no reason to. Personal feelings and faith, which is all christians have, doesn’t cut it for me. Those things can be used for ANY ridiculous unproven belief or notion. ( fairies, leprechauns, unicorns, dragons, wizards, genies, vampires, mermaids, santa claus ect) I’ve come to the painful realization that atheism has not brought me the peace of mind that i though it would either though, despite the fact that I’ve tried to convince myself that I’m freeer and “smarter” than i was as a christian. As hard as it is to admit this, i am scared, lost, frustrated, confused, angry and desperate for some small sliver of hope that there IS a god that cares, but never seem to find it. I’ve always been super sensitive to human (and animal) suffering and watch a lot of videos on YouTube about the middle east, isis, north korea, human trafficking, bride-price, poverty, starvation ect and I just cannot believe that a god would sit idly by and watch these things while helping christians with the most trivial of “problems”, such as helping them find lost car keys or wallets. Christians love to talk about all the wonderful “proofs” of god, such as sunsets, shooting stars, rainbows ect and i admit, these things are breathtakingly beautiful, but I also look at all the disease and illnesses, such as mental retardation, autism, down syndrome, cancer, aids, cerebral palsy ect, as well as the hard time that a lot of animals have in the wild with being stalked, hunted and killed by both bigger animals AND human beings. As always, christians talk of these things being because of “sin”. As badly as I want to believe, I can not and will not abandon my critical thinking skills and resort to these bizarre rationalizations to do it. I guess I wouldn’t even care if there wasn’t a god if mankind would live by the golden rule, and help and love each other, and do what we can to alleviate the suffering of our fellow man, but I don’t believe we ever will. That’s another problem with christianity- because christians believe god will save them and straighten everything out in the end, they don’t have to do anything. All of this despite the fact that they also profess to believe in the “power of prayer”, yet still have health insurance and go to the doctor when they’re sick, have home insurance, and do everything humanly possible to make sure that whatever they are trying to achieve has the desired outcome. They don’t REALLY believe in prayer and their actions prove it. Most churches have lightening rods on them, and mormons even have a whole stock of food, guns, ammunition ect. These are not people that really, in their heart of hearts, think that God is going to intervene and save them. Anyways, my reason for getting into online debates like this with christians is twofold -i want so desperately for some christian to say BAM! Here’s your proof. I guess i am looking for that evidence, that proof, that settles the issue once and for all and i believe most atheists are looking for this, whether they want to admit it or not. We grow older, but we are all still children looking for someone to love and care for us and to make everything okay. Its incredibly frustrating to look and look and never find it. It’s a very sad and lonely feeling, at least for me. On the other hand, I also get into debates to try to make people see that we really are on our own, at least for now. Is there a god? I don’t know. Nobody really does. They just “feel” or “believe” that there is. But at this time, he is content to never intervene in earth’s affairs and to not make himself known in a clear way, so our best bet would be to stop waiting around for this invisible man in the sky to save us from ourselves, and to do what we can as human beings to make the world a better place. I don’t know, there’s just so many things that make no sense in religion. Too much guesswork, too much faith, too many personal feelings, too much wishing and hoping and too much uncertainty, while not nearly enough tangibles, facts, proof or evidence. I do thank you for giving me your email, and I will definently keep in touch with you. I feel that if anyone could get me back into the faith, it would be you. And that is the highest compliment that I could give to anybody at this point in my life.

  16. Btw, i kind of just skimmed over your last reply before, but I wanted to respond real quick to you saying that I have bought into what fellow skeptics and atheists have said, which is false. Atheists do not have the same group think mentality that christians do. We simply look at the facts and come to our own conclusions, using logic and reason. I look at what archeologists, biblical scholars, and historians like Israel Finkelstein, Bart Ehrman and Will Durant, have to say. These men are experts in their fields, well respected and know what they are talking about. I’m also very interested in people like Dan Barker and of course Bart Ehrman because like myself, they were once christians (Dan was an evangelical preacher) who simply could not keep putting their intellect aside and ignoring established, verified facts. Christian dogma makes no sense. If it did, we would not see over 50,000 different sects and denominations. As I said on another site, the fact that there are such wildly variant results that stem from one book proves that it is not a guide to some universal truth. You say that just because there’s a lot of myth in the bible doesn’t mean christianity isn’t true but you can say the same thing about Greek mythology or even Grimm’s fairy tales. Just because they’re called fairy tales doesn’t mean it’s false and that ogres don’t exist. Do you see what I’m saying? You have to use the power of REASON. you have to. Also, christianity is based on the bible and specific people, places and events. How in God’s earth can you look at the fact that there is no Roman record or ANY record of a man called Jesus performing miracles and dying on a cross, outside of the bible, or look at the fact that many of the things in the bible were stolen or copied from the surrounding cultures or never happened at all, and still call yourself a christian? You keep saying it’s possible, but I don’t know how. If you don’t believe in the stories, everything falls apart. What is there left? It’s like claiming to be a Muslim but not believing the Quran or the story of Mohammed. Then your not a Muslim. Period. Their entire religion revolves around these stories, just as christianity revolves around theirs. Now I DO believe it’s possible to be spiritual but not believe in any particular doctrines of one religion. I guess that is where I kind of want to be. If there is a god, I want a personal relationship with HIM, not some man made religion/church. And lastly, you’ve said several times that you don’t believe my reasons for leaving christianity are valid. With either no evidence for any of the claims or evidence that points in the direction of it being untrue, copied stories, the fact that prayer doesn’t work, ect, I think I have given plenty of good, valid reasons for leaving, but you haven’t given me a single good reason for going back. I truly, truly don’t mean to be rude because I actually like you a lot, but you keep mentioning all the reasons not to leave. Can you give me just one good reason to stay, without mentioning “faith” because I’m sorry, but hoping/wishing/faith is not a good reason to stay, or resorting to threats of hell? P.S. I have a book, ” Raw Revelation: the bible they never tell you about”, written by a christian author, Mark Roncace, that is AWESOME that you should definently check out. He’s honest, unbiased and really delves into some touchy subjects but deals with them honestly and objectively. He reminds me a little of you. He does sound like an atheist at times, but as I said, he deals with the things that most christians want to sweep under the rug, honestly. And all the proceeds from the book go to christian organizations. Check it out! Okay, I’m done writing on here. I will read your responses, but I will email you to talk again. Thank you for being respectful, and I’ll talk to you soon. Take care!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *