Guest post: A response

Reader consoledreader sent the following response. I have chosen to post it here on its own so that those willing to contribute can do so here and he will be free to respond whenever he has the time to do so.

1. Why was eating a forbidden fruit such a great sin? Why and how does a human sacrifice make up for this sin?

Well, the Bible is a collection of myths. So Genesis 3 is just a story to answer certain questions about human experience rather than a literal event. If there is “a sin” it is that the characters disobey G-d and fail to trust that G-d’s commands are for the best. The reason suggested in Genesis 3 that G-d ddoesn’twant them to eat the fruit is that He doesn’t want them to become like divine beings (whose two essential qualities are defined by the two trees in the Garden: Knowledge and Immortality).

There are myths that explore similar ideas throughout the Ancient Near East, such as the story of Inanna stealing the me (the arts of civilization; pronounced May) from Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom. There are also other myths with the concept of trees of life.

According to standard Christian Theology, the Original Sin brings death into the world and forever taints human beings in subsequent generations. In Ancient Israelite belief, they believed sacrificing animals could serve as absolution for their sins. Jesus, being the son of G-d, according to the view of Christians functions as a more powerful paschal lamb. So his death wipes away their sins.

2. If the bible/koran/ torah is the word of god as you claim, why so many interpretations as there are believers? Was it impossible for your god to be clear?

Well, I’m claiming the Bible/Koran/Torah are books of myths that reflect the values and beliefs of their respective cultures, so I’m probably atypical in this regard. Basically it is a literary work. I don’t think G-d wrote it.

One reason there are so many interpretations is that history and social situations change, thus applying and adopting old ideas to new problems. If you asked an Orthodox rabbi what they are doing when they address a modern problem, let’s say artificial insemination, they wouldn’t see their own actions as reinterpreting the old books to mean something new. Rather they would consult the Torah and Halakha law and apply the general ideas to a new situation, hence for them proving that the old eternal laws are eternal precisely because they can be applied to new situations.

Another reason many interpretations are inevitable is that the Bible has multiple writers who contradicted each other, reflecting historical and social changes in their own time period, and different theological viewpoints. Interpretation is necessary to reconcile these different viewpoints.

Likewise, from my experience it seems interpretation is inevitable with any text of a certain level of sophistication. This problem isn’t just something that applies to the bible or religious texts. People interpret and misinterpret blog posts, Plato, various other philosophers, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Einstein, etc.

3. If your god is spirit, incorporeal, was Jesus born with only his mother’s 23 chromosomes?

I imagine he was born with his full-set of 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs.

4. If there is a creator god that knows all, that he would have to kick Adam out of the garden, that he would have to destroy the Earth with flood, that he would have to sacrifice himself to himself to redeem anyone at all… why did he create the universe full of failures? Was he unable to stop himself?

Well, all of those events are just stories anyway. However, to answer the larger idea behind it, in theory freewill and evil are compatible with Omniscience. To remove evil completely from the world would require one to remove freewill (as a person couldn’t choose to do evil). So one could argue freewill is itself an ultimate good.

I saw a recent clever and impressive argument on a different atheist site, however, that attacked this idea by suggesting if G-d is good by his very nature, then given this standard argument it would follow that he lacks freewill since He cannot choose to do evil (even if G-d wanted to), and if one disagrees and G-d has both freewill and is completely good, then one is conceding that He could have made humans with freewill and completely good as well since one would be admitting the ideas are no longer incompatible. The first prong isn’t hard to get around if one argues that a being can be perfectly good by its very nature and possess freewill, but this brings trouble with the second prong, which is much harder to address.

5. if there is a creator god that knows all, and Adam & Eve screwed up, why not immediately send Jeebus to clear things up right then and not wait some thousands of years with many failed “covenants”, changing languages, “laws”, etc?

It’s just a story, but I imagine a Christian would argue that Adam and Eve and subsequent generations needed to have experienced some punishment (living in the real world outside the Garden of Eden) as a consequence to their actions.

6. When we see today a man walking down the street with a long beard, saying we have to repent because God is watching/coming to Earth/will punish us if we don’t, etc, we call them loonies. Some 2,000 ago they called them prophets (or Jesus). If these guys were indeed prophets – as they claim – who is to say the ones standing outside the metro today aren’t prophets too? What’s the difference between them? And if a guy called Jesus appeared today and said the exact same things he said back then, would anyone believe him?

Well, given the existence of cults, actually it is possible that someone would believe them! I don’t really consider the Prophets to be loonies; I see them more as the political radicals of their time.

7. If you are Muslim, do you believe the heavenly language is Arabic?

I took one semester of Arabic in college. It was a neat and difficult language, but I didn’t find it particularly heavenly.

8. Each of you claim your religious text is the right one, does it occur to you that not all of you can be right, so how do we tell who is right?

By flipping a coin!

Honestly, this is a personal choice, regulated by cultural factors. Everyone has to weigh the evidence or various factors for themselves and decide what makes the most sense to them.

9. Why aren’t Catholics born to Muslim parents if we are born religious?

I imagine people claiming that we are born religious are suggesting we have an inborn tendency, similar to innate ideas or essentialist arguments for human nature. Basically, what such people are arguing is that our religious impulses are part of our very nature at birth. Really then this means all they are arguing is we are born with the innate idea or need for religion. What religion one then adopts is a matter of culture and one’s parents.

I might be misunderstanding your question, though. You might have meant something more along the lines of what roughseainthemed wrote: “There was never a moment when I didn’t feel God’s love and guiding hand. I didn’t ‘become’ a Christian, I was born one.” In which case, they aren’t just arguing for a religious impulse, but being born with a specific religion and how do they explain a Muslim would argue that they, too, were born Muslim from the womb by the will of G-d.

10. If your god is self sufficient, immutable and unchanging, what happened at the point it decided to create the universe or it became unchanging after that?

If I go and make a grilled cheese, it wouldn’t follow that my core characteristics (personality, thoughts, essence, nature) changed. So performing an action doesn’t entail a change in essential characteristics. I imagine when people talk about an immutable and unchanging G-d, they generally mean a being whose basic essence doesn’t change, not one incapable of performing a temporal action. But I could be wrong about how some theologians and philosophers understand this concept!

11. If free will is cherished by your god, that it created us with it so we can love him, wasn’t the free will of pharaoh important? Why harden his heart?

It is a story. So I think pharaoh is just a character and the events fictional to serve a dramatic purpose. The purpose of hardening pharaoh’s heart is for dramatic effect to demonstrate G-d’s power in saving the Israelites from slavery. He hardens pharaoh’s heart so He can perform more miracles.

12. What god kills the children of slave girls to free his ‘chosen’ people?

The one as depicted in the story. From the standpoint of the fiction, it is a structural parallel to the beginning of Exodus when pharaoh orders the execution of the Israelite children.  Obviously this is nasty stuff from our point-of-view, but it makes for some powerful fiction. Whoever said fictional stories need to be all flowers and roses?

And a bonus question.
Classical theists define god as possessing omni-capabilities, is there a thing that god could will and not actualize? How do you know this? Could your god have willed there to be no evil on earth but it didn’t materialize.

I’m going to treat this as a variant of John Zande’s omnipotence problem. Can G-d create a boulder even he couldn’t lift? Or could G-d create a square-triangle?

The problem with such arguments is that it is asking G-d to perform actions on empty signifiers (square-triangle). It doesn’t MEAN anything. You could just as easily ask could G-d create a nippity-nappety-boop-bop. It’s meaningless until someone gives some sort of definition that makes logical sense (or at least imaginary sense) and if the word’s signification is capable of being imagined in a non-contradictory literal way (not just as words on a screen, not just as a mere signifier), then it is capable of being created.

The rock-lifting problem can’t be objected to on those same grounds. After all, humans are able to create things that we can’t lift. G-d, however, is generally presented as an incorporeal being, so a physical challenge doesn’t really make sense. The more fundamental idea behind this question is can an omnipotent being make itself non-omnipotent? I think this would be fundamentally contradictory. Instead of an empty signifier, like the previous paragraph, we have an empty scenario. It would be logically impossible for an omnipotent being to make itself non-omnipotent. So the scenario itself is meaningless rather than just the word.