Faith means never having to admit you were wrong

Jesus performed “healing miracles” all around the Galilee countryside, except in his hometown of Nazareth. The people there knew him and his tricks.

Threatening to throw Jesus off a cliff - Luke 4: 19

As one young “Christ follower” says: “After bringing Jesus out of the desert, God calls Him to preach in Nazareth where he is unable to do many miracles because of their lack of faith (Matt 13:58). But it gets worse. He then preached in the synagogue and offended the people (Mark 6:3). They were so incensed by His sermon they tried to push him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-30).”

That doesn’t stop Christians like the blogger quoted above – they just go into their Have-it-both-ways mode. Jesus as God is not the same as Jesus as man… Jesus as God is omniscient and infallible, Jesus as man is fallible and still learning… How can you tell which Jesus you’re dealing with? By the results, of course! If a miracle succeeds, it was God. If it fails, it was just the human.

This is the heart of faith: A person is in a car crash and survives – “Praise the Lord!”… but their spouse is killed – “God works in mysterious ways.”

A child is in hospital with doctors and medicine and survives some rare and often-fatal illness: “Proof that prayer works! Praise the Lord!”

Meanwhile there are 30 countries in Africa in which over 10% of children die before the age of 5. The leading causes of death for them are simple: acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, measles, malaria and, of course, malnutrition. Worldwide, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 7,000,000 children a year die from preventable causes. So why do so many innocents die? “God works in mysterious ways.”

Faith means never admitting you were wrong. It’s not a good attitude for raising children, making educational policy, or running a government.

Militant agnostic: “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

Bertrand Russell, in his 1947 “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?”, wrote:

“Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality. (…)

Militant agnosticism in action

“When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. (…) Complete skepticism would, of course, be totally barren and completely useless. (…)

“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which to prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”

And hence to his flying or cosmic Teapot, of course.

Russell’s contemporary, the British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, did not believe he understood the structure of the universe, or that such understanding was even with human power. As he wrote in “Possible Worlds and other papers” (1927): “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

That admission of ignorance would qualify him as an agnostic. But, as he also wrote, “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

The farther we gaze and the closer we focus, the more we find that the Universe just keeps on going. From stars to galaxies to hypothetical multiverses in the one direction, from atoms to quarks to hypothetical strings in the other, there is no final limit to either vastness or foundational substance. More importantly, there is nothing to explain the existence of the Universe.

How can there possibly be anything? How can the Universe come from nothing? To say “God made it” just leads to asking where God came from. To say “It was born from the collapse of a previous Universe” or “It is automatically generated from the multiverse” just leads to questions of their origin, too.

A “First Cause” is as nonsensical a concept as “Before Time Began”. There are (fortunately) concepts that simply do not compute, questions that are fundamental to the nature of existence and yet are not capable of clear framing, let alone an answer. This is not new to us. They have stimulated and challenged human thought since reason began.

So it is perfectly in keeping with both today and the Greco-Roman time of Jesus to give “The Gospel According to the Romans” a skeptical protagonist with the personal creed of “Nescio et tu quoque” – “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

Nonsensical, but irrefutable: Bertrand Russell’s Flying Teapot

Bertrand Russell introduced the idea of claiming that there is a teapot in orbit around the sun somewhere between the Earth and Mars, as an example of an idea that cannot be refuted but which is not necessarily true. As he was writing before Sputnik and Gagarin, let alone before human debris in space, the idea was nonsensical but beyond the power of technology to disprove.

Russell's Teapot in orbit

(In time, we will develop the technology to map the solar system down to the level of orbiting teapots… and my guess is that by that time mischievous humans will indeed have launched one.)

The fact that Russell’s Teapot could not be disproved did not mean that it was a fact. A few years later he elaborated: “I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.”

Why a teapot? Russell was born in 1872. He was known to have been fascinated by the works of that other mathematician and logician, Lewis Carroll. In Alice In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter sings a parody:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat/ How I wonder what you’re at./ Up above the world you fly/ Like a teatray in the sky.”

I propose that this is the origin of the celestial teapot. In fact, I believe that it is. The idea is irrefutable. (Can I therefore require that you believe it too?)

 

Cafeteria Christians, read this:

We can quote the Bible too:

So, um, every word of the Bible is true? It’s God’s word? Then especially when it says it’s actually God speaking, I guess all you fundamentalist types have no choice but to obey.

Now you can either treat the Bible like the outdated tribal mythology that it is. Or you can say, Nope, it’s the word of God.

To you word-of-God types, then:

Gentlemen, if your wife wasn’t a virgin when you married her, God says you gotta kill her. Sorry ’bout that. But you know, it’s in the Bible.

Unasked questions: Is God male or female or what?

Both men and women are made in God’s image, according to the Bible. The God of monotheism is usually thought of a man (well, usually an angry old man with a white beard). But if people (not just males) were created in his image, should it be “in her image”? “In its image”? Or what?

Hermaprodite lifts its nightie

Genesis 1: 27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Some religious apologists say that this doesn’t refer to physical attributes, but to mental or spiritual attributes. Oh, right, like that makes more sense! Now you’re saying that humans are created omnipotent, omniscient, etc.

But let’s stay with the sex issue. Is God like that child of Hermes and Aphrodite, Hermaphroditus? Does God have two fully formed sets of sex organs, or one set that is an amalgam like some humans have? If the latter, does that make hermaphrodites more godlike than the rest of us?

And while we’re at it, does God have a belly button like the rest of us? And if so, why? Is God just a blueprint for creating humans? Is that what God’s sex organs are for? And the big white beard, too? Just so He would know what He was trying to create?

So, um, what race is He? What kind of hair does he have, what color skin? Is His DNA pure homo sapiens, like Africans, or is it 4% Neanderthal like all non-Africans?

In other words, give me a break! “God created man in his own image”? Seriously? It must have meant something thousands of years ago to illiterate herders in the desert. But we’ve moved on since then. Some of us.

Is this what God's sex organs look like?