Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Well eductated atheists?

I just read this quote on this blog:
"Well-educated Christians deconvert to atheism, but well-educated atheists don’t convert to Christianity. More education about the history and origins of Christianity increases the likelihood that the Christian will deconvert, but more education increases the likelihood that the atheist will stay put. Education pushes you in one direction only."
Hmmm. What do you lot think of that?

The other Holy Trinity...

It is a caricature, but those outside of the tradition in which I was raised occasionally accused it of believing in the other Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son and the Holy Bible...

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that much of my doubting over the last couple of years has been on issues connected to the third 'person' of that trinity, the Bible itself.

Through quite a lot of reading, listening and reflecting, I have come to the conclusion that the Bible is not a book authored by God, but rather is a very human document which shows the beliefs of various people and groups of people at various points in history, even though many of these are in conflict with other beliefs expressed in the same collection, and even sometimes in conflict with other beliefs in the same book.

This discovery has more or less knocked out one of the legs of the three legged stool upon which my entire belief system sat. It is fair to say that most of what I formerly believed has come crashing to the ground.

If I had been raised a Catholic, this wouldn't necessarily have been a problem. Remove the authority of the Bible from a Catholic belief system and the entire thing is still upheld by the authority of Church Tradition. But as a good Protestant, I can't accept that. Sola Scriptura! And thus, as a good Protestant, I can't remain a good Protestant...

What I'm left wondering, even at this stage, is if it is possible to rebuild my belief on a different set of legs. I don't want to reject everything just because some things need to be rejected. Babies and bathwater. But I'm not sure if what remains without the authority of the bible is anything big enough upon which to build.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Unbelievable Miracles

The Radio show 'Unbelievable?' had two shows looking at miracles earlier in the year - the first show looked at miracles in the bible and the second one looked at miracles today. OK, I'm a bit late in commenting.

The guests on the show were:
  • Craig Keener, a theologian who has just written a huge book on miracles and miracle claims, which concludes that miracles happen today and therefore it is legitimate to believe the biblical miracle accounts. And
  • Geoff Lillis, an atheist who is a regular contributor to the Unbelievable forum, Facebook page, etc. I must say, he presented himself and his case very well.
Keener did a good job of demonstrating, with examples, that miracle claims are made within a Christian context all over the world today. And that many of these miracle claims are made by reliable witnesses. And that, in some instances, the miracle claims can be supported by medical evidence.

Lillis did a reasonably good job of questioning the evidence and suggesting non-miraculous explanations for some of the alleged miracles.

What I found frustrating, listening to the show, was that all of the contemporary miracle claims which were discussed involved medical healings or resuscitations from apparent death-states. I don't mean to dismiss these as irrelevant, and I'll get back to these below, but what about other kinds of miracles? Biblical miracles include the multiplication of food (feeding of 5000, etc.), turning water into wine, walking on water, cursing fig trees, and so on. No contemporary claims of anything like these were discussed - does nobody claim anything miraculous like this anymore?

Faith healers do what it says on the tin - apparently heal people using 'faith'. There's no point in denying this, it happens all over the world, to many people, in many different faith contexts. And I suppose that is the point. Christian faith healers certainly seem to be able to heal some medical complaints. But Hindu faith healers also do. And so do some African 'Witchdoctors', and so on.

Is there any evidence that proportionately more faith healings are successful in Christian faith contexts than in those of other religions? If the healing was due to the actions of the one, true God, who is only found in Christianity, then you would expect that you would only find healings in Christian contexts, and not in others. The fact (and I'll admit I haven't done much research on this matter beyond a quick Google search) that faith healings occur in all faith contexts actually serves to underline the non-special nature of Christian faith healing. Or, to put it more bluntly, to emphasise the fact that the apparent healing does not come from any particular God, but rather from 'faith' itself.

Believing that there is a God who can and will heal you is, in many cases, the source of enough hope, or whatever, to effect healing. Which is why claims of faith healing are generally limited to non-visible ailments, from back pain through to cancer. Faith healers cannot make limbs grow back, although, there still is the issue of the leg-lengthening thing, maybe that has more to do with muscle relaxation than bone growth, I don't know.

But what about the non-medical miracles? Has anyone multiplied food miraculously in recent years? Turned water into something alcoholic? Walked on water? Parted seas or rivers? Miraculous catches of fish? People carried up to heaven in fiery chariots? This is a serious question, I want to know if anyone claims these things today. Because if not, then why should we even entertain the notion that any of the biblical miracle claims are anything other than myths?