Tuesday, April 22, 2008

God and Religion -- Conclusion

(Concluding the series of posts on Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

Overall, I didn't learn much from this book. Russell's logic is pretty solid, but I disagree with his base assumptions ("there is no God").

Reading the portions on Russell's personal life, I couldn't help but think of Ephesians 6:4 "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Russell's parents died when he was young, and he was raised by his legalistic grandparents.

There is also an element of arrogance in Russell's writing. A kind of "if only people were as smart as me, things would be better". I can understand this feeling, because I've felt it myself (and it is a sin).

There is also an element of sadness to it. A feeling of loneliness. "Is there no one who thinks as I do?"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

Chapter 19 "Ideas that Have Helped Mankind". I figured Russell would take considerable pride in how much smarter "modern" humans are than ancients. I was glad to see him take a more cynical (I prefer the term "realistic" :) view.

Page 306 "we have certainly become progressively less like animals". My presuppositions hold that we never were, so no progress there...

"As to happiness, ... I am not convinced that there has been any progress at all." I'm glad to hear Russell fess up to that fact. Now, let's see if he can use induction properly.

Sadly, on page 320, Russell presents his vision of a rationalistic future: "all the great achievements of mankind will quickly lead to an era of happiness and well-being, [etc.]". Russell was writing in 1946, and his projections are not out of line with the Utopian thinking of that era. You'd find similar projections in science fiction.

And our technology has made impressive improvements, but has this brought about utopia? One roll-up of statistics shows that use of anti-depressants has tripled in the twelve years from 1988 to 2000 (10% of women and 4% of men). Our governments declare "never again" will they allow genocide, which apparently means "every ten years or so". Productivity is up, but people are working just as long (if not longer).

Chapter 20, "Mahatma Gandhi".
Chapter 21, "The Theologians Nightmare". Meh.

Friday, April 18, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

In chapter 15 "The Value of Free Thought" Russell gives a sort of "free thinker manifesto". It provides a couple of talking points.

Page 239, "he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions." I basically agree, however as Oden says; while the modernist must reject any notion of wisdom from prior generations, the orthodox Christian has the freedom of integrating wisdom distilled by nearly two thousand years of "free thinkers".

On pages 240-241 and 248, Russell poo-poos any influence of fear. He has a point, 1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear". But he is missing a crucial point, Proverbs 1:7 (among others) "The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge" (emphasis added, also as "wisdom" in Proverbs 9:10, and the Psalms).

Chapter 16, "Sin". We obviously disagree here :) Interestingly, Russell believes the notion of sin (and therefore, the conscience) to be an entirely learned thing...

Chapter 17, "Are the World's Troubles Due to a Decay of Faith?". I actually agree with Russell, somewhat. "Christian nations" (if such a thing is even possible) have a pretty poor record for eliminating humanity's problems (and a pretty good record for making some facets better). Of course, the problem is not lack of "Christian nations", or even lack of reasonable people (as Russell contends). The problem is sin.

Chapter 18, "Ideas that Have Harmed Mankind". Meh.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Euthyphro's dilemma

(I need a break from Russell, and I've meant to cover this topic for some time...)

Wikipedia describes this logical problem as "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?"

This is partly misstated (logically self-contradicting) and partly a false dilemma (not either/or but both/and). At the same time, I believe I can avoid the tautology cited ("God is good, and good is God").

The first part is that "morality" is too vague a term. Modern man has divorced himself from morality, and thinks only in terms of legal and illegal. A more simple term is "good" (which I believe maintains the original argument).

So "Is what is good commanded by God because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?"

The opposite of good is evil. But what is evil? Is killing evil? What about self-defense? Murder is killing, misused. Is sex evil? Rape is sex, misused. Is speaking evil? Lying is speech misused. Etc.

The notion of evil exists only as compared to what is good. That is, good exists. Evil cannot exist on its own. It exists only as a twisting or perversion of what is good. God is good, God exists. We exist, and demonstrate evil by disobeying God.

God's commands are good. Not just because God says so, or because they exist outside of God, or are the totality of God. The Law (the Ten Commandments) reveals God's nature. "Thou shalt not lie", because God is truth. "Thou shalt not murder", because God is life.

But God is more than the moral law. The law demands payment for infractions. God is merciful, in delaying punishment. God is gracious and loving in providing payment on our behalf.

In summary, "good" (or "moral") is what it is because it is a part of God (not all of God).

Further, without a notion of an absolute good (God), the notions of "good" and "evil" are meaningless.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

Chapter 10: "What is the Soul?". I don't hold to a dualistic philosophy (that the "soul" is some separate entity). When the Bible refers to our spirit or soul, it is simply referring to what makes us, us. Heaven and Hell are places for material bodies, although they will be different than our bodies now.

Chapter 11: "Mind and Matter in Modern Science". Meh.

Chapter 12: "Science and Religion". I had an interesting thought while reading this. On page 172, Russell is discussing another person's view on how the universe has brought about human life. Russell is skeptical about the efficiency of the universe for this purpose. It then occurred to me, that inanimate matter (and animals) is 100% obedient to God. It is only human beings that are rebels. So, the vastness of the universe demonstrates that we are just a tiny fraction of God's kingdom in rebellion (not the near victory atheists would have us believe). An interesting thought.

Page 177, "This illustrates the fact that the theological conclusions drawn by scientists from their science are only such as please them". Two points here, first this is what happens when you try to reconcile the world's ideas with Biblical ideas. Second, Russell does the exact same thing when it comes to making moral decisions. He has no basis no truth, and right and wrong, so he believes what pleases him.

Chapter 13, "Cosmic Purpose".
Chapter 14, "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish". Meh

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

Chapter 7 is "The Essence of Religion". Not much to say here.

Chapter 8 is "Religion and the Churches". I think Russell gives away his position on page 112, "The world is our world, and it rests with us to make it a heaven or a hell." This is works righteousness: our works, our deeds making the world right; making us right with God.

Chapter 9 is "A Debate on the Existence of God". There were a couple of interesting points brought out here, but overall, I found it overly complicated. Russell was debating F. C. Copleston (referred to as Father Copleston). On morality:

Copleston: "Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?"

Russell: "I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow..."

Russell sticks with this "blue versus yellow" analogy, which I don't understand. Blue is a range of wavelength of light (440-490 nm). He would be better off with "preferring ketchup versus mustard" or something...

But the main point is, he has no justification for distinguishing good and bad.

Monday, April 14, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

Chapter 4 is "What Is an Agnostic?". Not much to say here. Nothing I haven't seen before.

Russell is most opposed to dogma. That is, a set of facts unquestionably accepted as true. I don't understand this stand. I wonder how much of the modern postmodern's "arrogance of certainty" has stemmed from this.

Everyone has a set of dogma. Russell believes his mind is sufficient for determining truth (Chapter 5, pg 84). He may claim this is "minimal" or "necessary", but it is dogma. The Christian dogma is that our reason is fallen, and fallible. God's revelation (for our generation, the Bible) is infallible, and totally sufficient. I'm not certain how Russell is equipped to judge between the two...

Chapter 5 is "Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?" Apart from the point above ("the supremacy of reason"), Russell acknowledges that "atheists" are technically "agnostics" as far as knowing whether God exists or not. Still, he prefers the term "atheist" to designate the vigor of his beliefs.

On page 85, he challenges the reader to disprove the existence of the Greek gods, believing it an impossible task. 1 Corinthians 8:4b "we know that an idol [is] nothing in the world, and that [there is] none other God but one".

Chapter 6 is "The Faith of a Rationalist". On page 89, Russell talks about the impact of Copernicus on belief in God. Here, I think, he makes the error of belief (or non-belief) in a "man-centered" universe. That is, creation for the purposes of men (whether it be happiness, fulfillment, glory, etc.).

Creation is "God centered" (aka "Christ centered").

I'll close with a quote from page 91, "Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case." This is perhaps the saddest thing I have read so far. Russell seems completely unaware of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes wicked, evil men; and makes them saints.

I know. I'm one :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Russell on Christian Doctrine

(Continuing on Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

On pages 59 and 60, Russell returns to the argument of God as "First Cause". He makes two points:
  1. The world may have come into existence without a cause.
  2. The world may be eternal.
The eternality of the world was considered for some time, and rejected. See Olber's Paradox.

The first point I can't disprove. There is no evidence for this (nor can there be). It seems illogical (to me) to believe a completely causal universe came from an acausal source. However, I do have evidence that God is without cause (Exodus 3:13, as mentioned previously).

On page 68, Russell makes a rather odd statement, he is talking about the doctrine of Hell, and says:
"and he goes on about the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often." (emphasis added)
I have read that passage (probably Matthew 13:42) many times, even before I was a Christian. I never took that meaning. The sad thing is, I don't think Russell is creating this interpretation on his own (although, he might). He probably heard some well meaning (or not) preacher, who did take pleasure in declaming sinners to Hell.

That is not the tone of this passage.

The tone is one of sadness, and pleading with people who are determined to go to destruction. A loving wakeup call for people to turn away from destruction. That is Jesus' attitude, and it should be ours.

Russell closes out the essay with a complaint on the use of emotion (both content and fearful) in the persuasion for religion. This I agree with (although the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so some amount is good for you, at least at first). Far too many Christian churches appeal to emotion to "win conversions" (many of which will be false), and "to feel the Spirit". Our emotions are not a reliable source of information. For example, sin can feel very right, for a time. Also, decisions should be made by taking into account Biblical principles (and outright commands); not whether it "feels right".

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Free Will

This is a topic I have been meaning to cover for some time. It could also be called, "On Predestination", and was covered somewhat in "Arminianism vs. Calvinism".

Do we have free will? This is a difficult question to phrase:
  • Are we free to do as we please? It certainly seems so.

  • Does God hold us responsible for our actions? Definitely (Ezekiel 18:4, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die").

  • Does God make us do evil? No (1 John 1:5 "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all").
Ok, those weren't too hard. How about some harder ones:
  • Does God choose those who are saved, and those who are not saved (without regard to their character)? Yes. Salvation (even the faith required for salvation) is a gift from God, apart from what we do -- our works (Ephesians 2:8-9)

  • Further, does God harden some people to prevent them from believing in God? (Exodus 4:21, 9:34, etc. Deuteronomy 2:30, Romans 9:18. Also the explanation for why Jesus spoke in parables, Matthew 13:10-15: "lest at any time they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and should understand with [their] heart, and should be converted")

  • Can we lose our salvation? No. John 10:29 "My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father's hand."
At the same time:
  • We are commanded to repent and believe the Gospel message (Mark 1:15, Acts 2:38).
  • We are commanded to keep ourselves in the faith, to not fall away (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • We are commanded to pray to God, so that He will do what He has already decided to do.
So, perhaps, we do not have free will (certainly not the ability to act outside of God's plan). But we certainly seem to have free will. And our conscience acts as if we had free will. When we turn from our sins, and trust in God; it seems like our idea.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So That You May Know

If I had to pick a favorite book of the Bible, it would probably be 1 John. A book I have, on "Studying the Bible for Yourself" says to read 1 John every day for a week (you can read it in 15-20 minutes). If you are not certain you are saved at the end of that week, keep reading it! :)

This is stated outright in 1 John 2:21 "I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth."

John starts the letter with assurances that he is an eye witness to the life of Jesus Christ, which made clear that He was God's Word, made flesh (1 John 1:1 "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;").

John also gives the bad news of sin, and the good news of salvation (1 John 1:8-10, 1 John 2:1-2).

Now, we must careful not to confuse holding to the Ten Commandments with our salvation as Christians. When John talks of "keep[ing] the commandments" (1 John 2:3), he is not talking about the Law of Moses. This is spelled out in 1 John 3:23 "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment."

I'll close with 1 John 5:13:
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

God and Religion

(Continuing Bertrand Russell's "God and Religion")

The second essay is "First Efforts" (1959). It is a selection of Russell's philosophy diary when he was a teenager.

The third is "Why I Am Not A Christian" (1927). Lots of stuff here...

First, Russell attempts to define what it means to be a Christian. He is right in saying it is a confused matter (and that was eight years ago! It is only more confused now...).

Russell attempts to find a set of doctrines which define Christianity. This can be effective, Christians have a set of beliefs which you must hold to be "orthodox" (small 'o'). However, we should ask, "Where do these doctrines come from?" and look to the logical backing behind them. Russell fails to do this, probably from ignorance.

Ultimately, it is irrelevant whether one calls oneself "Christian". The Bible makes it clear, there will be a judgment between true and false Christians (sometimes referred to as the "Sheep/Goat" judgment -- Matthew 7:21-23).

So, what matters is whether Christ will call you Christian. This is made clear in 1 John. We must agree with God that we are sinners, repent (turn from) a life of sin, and trust in the death and resurrection of Christ to pay the price for our sins and guarantee us eternal life. Then, read the Bible (as the source of God's instructions for us) and do what it says.

So, the doctrines vital to Christians are not just a random set of dogmatic statements (as Russell seems to believe). They are logical propositions which follow from a complete reading of the Bible, with a view to interpreting the Bible in terms of itself, and using the clear passages to shed light on the unclear (and not being dogmatic about what is truly unclear).

Russell lists the following doctrines:
  1. Belief in God and immortality (the first seems obvious, the second follows from the Bible -- God says there will be a resurrection to life with God, and one to punishment).
  2. "[B]elief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men." (I would go further, Jesus said He was God. If that is not true, then He would not be good or wise at all.)
  3. Belief in Hell. Interestingly Russell says an act of Parliament removed this from Christian doctrine. I wasn't aware that Parliament was superior to God... Anyway, the Bible clearly says there is a Hell, and that everyone deserves to go there. It is only by the grace and mercy of God, and the death of Christ to pay the penalty of sin, that any may be saved.
This post is getting long, so I will expand on these later.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bertrand Russell

I have started reading a collection of essays by Bertrand Russell (called "Bertrand Russell on God and Religion", edited by Al Seckel). There is a lot here, so I will break it into multiple posts.

The first essay is "My Religious Reminiscences" (1938). Reading about Russell's childhood is pretty sad. I couldn't help but think of Ephesians 6:4 "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." I also thank God that I did not grow up in a country with a state religion (Russell grew up in England, under Anglicanism; and Scotland/Presbyterian). That's just a recipe for disaster.

On page 41, Russell talks about his struggle with the notion of free will, and how he gave up any notion of God when he heard John Stuart Mill quote his brother (James), "Who made God?".

Russell says he had a Bible, he must of not gotten to the second book (Exodus 3:13) "And Moses said unto God, Behold, [when] I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What [is] his name? what shall I say unto them? (14) And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."

God IS

That's it. God was not made, He just is. How does that work? I don't know. You see, God is bigger than us (He measures the universe with the span of His hand - Isaiah 40:12 "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?"). We are not going to be able to understand God, He is just too big to fit in our minds. But we can know what He has revealed to us.

Free will is big enough to deserve its own post.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

God's Gonna Cut You Down

I first heard this song as sung by Johnny Cash (available on You Tube). It's also known as "Run On", as performed by Elvis (also on You Tube, I find Elvis' version too upbeat for the subject).

Is it good theology? Let's look at the lyrics:
"Sooner or later God will cut you down" - Ezekiel 18:4 "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die."

So every sinner will die. Who are sinners? The song mentions a "long tongued liar", "midnight rider", "rambler", "gambler", "backbiter". I'm not sure what most of those are (or what is wrong with being out after midnight...).

But what about "long tongued liar"? Perhaps a reference to Satan -- but, how many lies must one tell to be a liar? Revelation 21:8 "all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."

This gives us greater insight. 1 Timothy 1:8 "But we know that the law [is] good, if a man use it lawfully;" (The law refers to God's Law given to Moses, the Ten Commandments). And 1 John 3:4 "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

A sinner is anyone who has broken God's Law (listed in Exodus 20:1-17).

And not just in actions (this is made clear by the tenth commandment (verse 17):
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour's.")
Coveting is in the heart (mind), this is what Jesus is talking about when He says (Matthew 15:19) "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies".

Hatred is murder in your heart (#6, verse 13).

Lust is adultery in your heart (#7, verse 14).

False witness (lying) is sin (#9, verse 16).

We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), and God will cut us all down.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Foundation of Sand

When I talk with an atheist, I don't start by challenging their logical assumptions. Not because the assumptions are solid and valid, but because I don't want to sound like a five year old ("Are too!" "Are not!" "Are too!")...

But, given the persistence of a certain commenter, let us consider the foundations of atheistic logic.

The atheist believes that the human brain (the center of logical reasoning) has arisen through the process of natural selection. That is, a process without the oversight of any intelligent, logically reasoning being.

Perform the following experiment:
  1. Place both your index fingers pointed towards each other, where you can see them, just above the bridge of your nose.
  2. Move your fingers towards each other, and then away from each other.
When the tips of your fingers reach a certain point (right inside the area between your eyes), you should see a little "floating hot dog". It's the two tips of your fingers, floating, disconnected from your fingers, and connected back-to-back.

You see, our brain "edits" our senses for its own (undirected/genetic -- according to the atheist) purposes (without our awareness or approval). This is the foundation of all optical illusions.

Now, how does the atheist know his brain is not "editing" his logical processes to yield the results most beneficial to his brain-genes?

He doesn't.