Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faith versus Gullibility

(Hebrews 11:1 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 
Some people wrongly assume that faith is just another word for gullibility.  For them, faith means believing in things for which there is no empirical evidence.  For them, faith is accepting what you are told - hook line and sinker - no matter how bizarre or illogical.  For them, faith is primitive superstition used to explain things primitive people don't understand.

But the Bible consistently links the idea of faith to knowledge.
(2 Corinthians 8:7 NKJV) But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also. 
(2 Peter 1:5 NKJV) ¶ But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,
Biblical faith is believing in things that cannot be proven to the satisfaction of a skeptic - but that doesn't mean there is no genuine evidence for the things that are believed.

As a child I was taught that the Bible was the inspired word of God - and I believed it.  That might have been my childish gullibility.  But as I got older (and more skeptical,) I grew in my experiential knowledge of the Bible, the physical world, the people in the world, etc.  In my case my faith grew stronger with my increased knowledge.  What I find in the Bible is consistent with what I find in the world around me.  The things in the world match what the Bible says about them.  The people in the world are just like the Bible describes them to be.  That helps me accept by faith the statements of the Bible that I cannot test by experience.

Some people are frustrated that their ideas about things like macro-evolution cannot be proven to the satisfaction of a skeptic.  But it isn't like they can do an experiment in which life springs into existence from nothing or evolves an eye on demand.  They say it makes sense because there is such a thing as changes in living things through adaptation.  They say is is the only truly "scientific" explanation because it doesn't include recourse to the supernatural.

But the more I know about the world and the people in the world, the more it is clear that macro-evolution doesn't fit the facts.  To believe it I would have to swallow the complete LACK of evidence for complex systems developing themselves and for complex codes compiling themselves.  I would need to ignore all the evidence to the contrary - the physical laws by which systems tend toward disorder and everything moves toward entropy.  I would also have to believe - against all I observe in myself and others - that good and bad and right and wrong have no objective meaning.  That there is no purpose or meaning in human existence.  That there is no ultimate justice.

So what is faith and what is gullibility?  For me, faith corresponds with the evidence that is available - even the scientific evidence.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dr. Sam Harris: Atheist Morality - Part 4

Sam Harris says that he shares the concern of religious people that "unless we have a universal moral framework... a sense that good and evil and right and wrong really mean something, then humanity will lose its way."

But what does he mean by "lose its way?" This seems to imply that there is a "best way" that could be missed.  But how can that be, given Harris's naturalistic and materialistic world view?

Toward the end of the same video Harris and Dawkins chortle together over the idea that all decisions are made before the person is conscious of what they are.  At that point they are affirming their belief in determinism - that there is no "ought" - only what is.  According to them, while people THINK they are making real decisions, in fact it is only an accident of their biochemical existence that is traced back through the evolutionary process over millions of years.

Harris has posed the question, "Who says science has nothing to say about morality?"  The answer seems obvious to everyone except Harris and Dawkins.  EVERYONE says that.  The secularists and atheists in the scientific community are pretty much unanimous on this point.  Harris admits that himself in his little talk.  The various religious communities certainly do not look to science for the answers to questions about morality.

When you look at things a bit more closely, you realize that even Harris is unable to say that there is a scientific answer to the questions of morality because his naturalistic, materialistic presuppositions push him into a mechanistic determinism that robs him of any "ought."  If his world view is correct, then what exists is inevitable.  What people do or don't do is predetermined by biochemical accidents.

In his world without God there is no basis for saying that anything is right or wrong - or good or bad. Someone's behavior is just the result of his evolutionary background.  If Harris feels that the other person's behavior is "bad" his feeling is simply the result of HIS evolutionary background.   But there is no "universal moral framework" for secular atheism.

And humanity has indeed lost its way.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Textual Criticism

People of faith don't like the term "Textual Criticism."  Perhaps to them it sounds as if people are criticizing the Bible.  Skeptics like the idea of textual criticism because to them it sounds as if the text of scripture is unreliably fallible.

A recent article on the internet was headlined, "In Jerusalem, scholars trace Bible's evolution."*  This is an article about the textual criticism of the Old Testament text of the Hebrew Bible, from the perspective of the secular skeptic.  You can almost hear the author of the article chortling over the "evolution" of the text.  You can certainly recognize the author's prejudice that the text has been fundamentally altered over time and cannot be trusted.

She points out three examples of textual differences that are being explored.
  1. From Malachi: "The verse in question, from the text we know today, makes reference to "those who swear falsely." The scholars have found that in quotes from rabbinic writings around the 5th century A.D., the phrase was longer: "those who swear falsely in my name.""
  2. From Deuteronomy: "In another example, this one from the Book of Deuteronomy, a passage referring to commandments given by God "to you" once read "to us," a significant change in meaning."
  3. From Jeremiah: "The Book of Jeremiah is now one-seventh longer than the one that appears in some of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some verses, including ones containing a prophecy about the seizure and return of Temple implements by Babylonian soldiers, appear to have been added after the events happened."
It boggles her mind that the people engaged in this study are (and have been from the start) devout believers in the authority of the Biblical text - in this case Orthodox Jews.  She does not see (nor do many of the "KJV Only" persuasion) how textual criticism can be reconciled with faith.  "What we're doing here must be of interest for anyone interested in the Bible," said Michael Segal, the scholar who heads the project."  I agree completely.

The study of textual criticism is necessary because all manuscripts before AD 1450 (the printing press) were hand written and every single copy varied slightly from every other copy.  Since the Exodus was about 1450 BC, that leaves almost 3000 years of copying texts by hand.

The vast majority of the variations are going to be spelling differences.  There will also be some transpositions in word order (a difference that doesn't usually affect Hebrew meaning.)  But for about 98 or 99 percent of the text there will be no significant questions about the original reading. 

In the 2% or so where there are doubts about the original reading - the question is not the meaning of the text, but what exact words were used to communicate that meaning.  For example, "Those who swear falsely" are certainly swearing by God's name - so perhaps a scribe added the last part - or maybe left it out as redundant.  But the meaning is the same, regardless.  In her second example, whether the commandment was given "to you" or "to us," it was still given and you know what it is.  The meaning is unchanged.

As for correcting the book of Deuteronomy by the "2,000 year old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls," it is not as impressive as it sounds since these scrolls were produced about 600 years after the original book was written.  What must be considered is that only "some" of these Scrolls include the shorter reading.  Older versions (e.g., the Greek translation called the Septuagint) contain the longer reading - so where did the shorter reading come from?  Were they shortened for some purpose - or were portions lost somehow?

 The study of textual criticism is not something that believers need to fear.  They should actually appreciate it.  Our confidence in the preservation of the text is not a blind leap of faith.  Our confidence in the text is solidly supported by the hard work of these devoted people who track down the original reading and root out even the minor differences that have been introduced over the years.  It is abundantly clear that the original meaning of the text is well preserved.  We know WHAT was said, even if 2% of the time there is debate over HOW it was said.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

As A Little Child

(Mark 10:13–16 NKJV) Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.
15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
On Monday I preached at the funeral for a baby who lived just less than two months.  One day she was thriving.  The next day she was gone and her family was thrown into an agony of grief.  It is a terribly difficult circumstance that weighs heavy on your heart and brings sympathetic tears to your eyes.

Some theologians have doubted the eternal destiny of infants who die before they can understand - much less respond to - the gospel.  But I think the matter is clear in the scriptures. There is a consistent presumption that infants who die are safe with God.

The basis of this confidence is not the ability or inability of infants to believe the gospel message.  The basis of this confidence is the character of God.

The God of the Bible is holy - infinitely good.  Among God's attributes are justice, love, goodness and truth which He has in infinite perfection.  He is omniscient and so is perfect in wisdom.  He is omnipotent and so is perfect in freedom to act according to His character.

Abraham, concerned for the welfare of his nephew Lot, asked a rhetorical question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25 NKJV)  There is only one possible answer.  It is inconceivable that the One who is the measure of all things could do anything other than what is perfectly right.

Like little children, we are completely dependent, and God is completely dependable. This is the nature of child-like faith.

We can entrust ourselves to Him. We can entrust our children to Him.

 Have faith in God.