Friday, November 13, 2009

International Hot Tub: Round 2

(For an introduction to the intent and explanation of the name of this series, please see the introduction. Though this is presented as a two party debate on one level, comments and responses are still fully welcomed to all posts in the comments section as a way to help extend the debate and bring other voices into it.)

Your position, "God is not real because I cannot sense God as I sense the rest of reality," is quite well and boldly expressed. As an open question, it brings us as humans right to the point at which the gospel speaks. As a final conclusion, it blindly assumes victory after having slain only a straw man.

By "expressed openly" I mean within the limits of human finitude but without excluding the possibility of the objectivity and freedom of God beyond those limits. We can't intelligently say, "God doesn't exist because I can't touch him", while you could say that apart from Christ "God is not real to me because he has not made himself real for me within the limitations that my knowledge is necessarily bound to." For me as a human to know something or someone is real, that reality must present itself as both sensible and intelligible. Enter Jesus Christ.

The Gospel tells us that God, who cannot be touched or fully comprehended, has condescended to make himself known to us within the physical and intelligible limitations of human life and speech by becoming incarnated in Jesus Christ. God made himself knowable by presenting himself within our touchable and intelligible realm. However, even this is still not on the terms you describe. To touch Jesus' skin and hear his words was not to touch God directly or hear him directly, but to touch and hear that in which God had made himself fully present and through which he made himself known. In other words, one can take a position of doubt, saying Jesus was merely a man, his words merely human words. No overwhelming logical argument can fully refute this doubt. But for those, as Jesus said, "with ears to hear", God made and continues to make himself fully knowable in the sensible and intelligible reality of the man Jesus Christ.

"Did you just say 'continues to make'? Jesus isn't walking the earth today!" Yes, but God's taking human form and human speech in Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of his eternal Word has forged a new knowledge of himself in humanity that perpetuates itself through those who know it, the church. You can see and hear the church, understand its proclamation of the risen and everliving Christ; these are sense experiences you cannot deny having, it is just a question of your willingness to receive them as communicative of knowledge of God. How do we know God is communicating himself through the church's proclamation? You must approach God through them and see if he is there to be found. How? Through the means appropriate to him: prayer and worship.

This is the message of Christianity. Your fundamental argument, "God is not real because I cannot sense God as I sense the rest of reality," has met a counter claim. If you have made your argument "openly", you must consider the church's proclamation of Jesus Christ, God come among us in our sphere of observability, and make your judgement. As it is, your argument, if expressed in a closed way, is a rejection only of a straw man, something other than the Christian God who is defined by untouchability but has nevertheless taken on touchability for you and for me. This seems to be your complaint though: God is too untouchable in his eternal nature and too touchable in his human mediation. This is just complaining that God is too God.

At this point, the first two categories of tangible experiences of God you mentioned I would consider dealt with. Christians, having heard the voice of the eternal God in the proclamation of the gospel and thus having learned to correlate events and realities in this world, both fantastic and mundane, with their source and meaning in the eternal love and will of God for us in Christ, interpret both fortuitous synchronicity and pretty sunsets as the Creator speaking in his creation. Of course these things cannot prove the validity of this theological interpretation; that can only be validated by a prior encounter with God in his gospel. Of course there are other ostensibly plausible interpretations of these events. You've offered a common and compelling one, the one of the linear evolution of human understanding where we go from mythology, to religion, to naturalistic science. This story is forceful and persuasive, except for the fact that it offers no proof of itself. It is just as liable to the charge of total fabrication as is any meta-narrative of human or cosmic history. Just as the Christians' interpretation works perfectly well if God exists, so does yours if God doesn't exist. But this does nothing by way of offering any evidence for or against God's existence. Lets come back to that shortly.

Your point about Christians not believing in the God of the Bible I found totally compelling and convicting. You're right; most Christians don't really believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible presents us with something quite alien to our experiences, what Karl Barth called "a strange new world". Liberal Christianity explains all this away and repackages the Christian message as human progress, or social or personal enlightenment (God-lite). On the other side, fanatical Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity seems to deny the tension and convince themselves that they see pillars of fire and so on. Really, though, both are doing the same thing; reducing the Creator to the sphere of the created. The rest of us fall feebly somewhere in between. For myself, I seek to believe and be faithful to the God of the Bible, but I'm constantly faced with my incompetence in this regard; I can't help but feel a serious conflict between the world the Bible depicts, one in which God is seemingly ever present, active, and articulate, and my own world which feels much less spectacular. But this tension is necessary. If the Bible and the God whose revelation it mediates to me weren't so wholly other from the world of my experiences and expectations, it could not call me out of myself to a faith whose center is another Being entirely. It is a tension that seizes me, calls me to repentance for trying to resolve, and produces faith and hope in the man at the center of that tension. If the story of that man were pure mythology, I could easily dismiss it and there would be no tension. If it conformed to my experience and expectation, it would reveal nothing to me. This tension you have so well named here I will not apologize for leaving unresolved. God speaks in that tension and moves to resolve it himself in the fulfillment of history yet to come in Christ's return.

Let me finish by coming back to the issue of the equal footing of internally consistent worldviews. Both Christianity and atheism provide ways of looking at the world that accord fairly well within themselves. Their starting points, however, cannot be arrived at neutrally, but are bound up with the view of the world they provide. You have spoken of the experience of others from a worldview of unbelief; you answered Jesus' "who do they say that I am?" from a standpoint hostile to faith. Now he asks you "who do you say that I am?" This question cannot be answered neutrally. It calls your self and everything you think into question. You cannot evade the question with appeals to presuppositions about sense or evidence. If Christ confronts you, it is he and he alone on whom your answer must be based. Is Christ a liar? Is the proclamation and fellowship of his church a fraud? If you would answer yes, it cannot be because you can't touch God. You need to reject the actual message as it presents itself to you, not a caricature of it.


  1. Why is saying God is too God in his intangible nature not a cop out? Doesn't that prevent us from furthuring our knowledge of God in our physical/intangible realm? If God is God what about the other gods and those gods that came before during and after his existence? Do they not exist because a few people with reconstructive memories (something that has been documented in research) wrote down that God claimed to be the only real God? Then you have Jesus who may have just been an illigitimate child of some other man and from there the lies and speculation became a matter of self fulling prophecy...creating the Son of God...just a more probable theory than being sexed up by the Holy Spirit.

  2. Adam,

    I miss the tub and your mind! I really need to come over soon. I probably won't have a reply for a few days, but I will get it done asap.

  3. ., I don't get your first two questions. Please rephrase.

    "If God is God what about the other gods and those gods that came before during and after his existence?" What other gods? Baal? Asherah? Marduk? Zoroaster? Vishnu? These could be conceived in one of two ways. Either they are idols constructed by human hands and never were gods, or they were fragmentary recognitions of the One true God. Now that this One God has come among us and revealed himself to us, these fragmentary images forged in ignorance are replaced with worship in Spirit and Truth.

    "Do they not exist because a few people with reconstructive memories (something that has been documented in research) wrote down that God claimed to be the only real God?" I'm not sure you understand the nature of research. Show me these documents. Otherwise, yes, a few people, the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, proclaimed and wrote down their proclamation of the revelation of the One true God.

    "Then you have Jesus who may have just been an illigitimate child of some other man and from there the lies and speculation became a matter of self fulling prophecy...creating the Son of God...just a more probable theory than being sexed up by the Holy Spirit." Talk about a historical reconstruction! Dude, if you just don't want to believe, thats fine. But the lengths you go in fabricating a blasphemous alternative historical narrative without a shred of documentary evidence is telling.

    Andy, I miss you so much it hurts sometimes. (Thats a Scrubs quote; I'm really not gay.) You've got to get out here and you've got to get back to academics. Your mind and writing are terrible things to waste.

  4. fabricated yes but, is it not more probable? Who is to say the bible was not historically reconstructed?

    Why can't we persue the physical nature of God?* research done by loftus...

    Do other religions not have prophets that give eyewitness testimony?

    I like the fragments of proposition but, why not continually physically reveal himself to every generation so there is no dispute? I guess that'd be asking you to answer on the behalf of just give an opinion

    I would like to believe.

  5. Whats up?! Andy's had 16 comments by now!

    Anyway, ., do we know each other? I have a suspicion I know who you are...

    There are kinds of inquiry which produce knowledge and kinds that make it impossible. Asking "Who is to say the bible was not historically reconstructed? " is dismissive. Its a question that doesn't arise from any contrary evidence, but the plain bullheaded will not to believe. I find it entirely more probable that the events of the NT happened than that they were historically reconstructed, but that all goes back to the issue of presuppositions; there is no overwhelming evidence to controvert the testimony of the New Testament, but neither is there any way to historically establish it as absolute fact (much like any other historical claim); this leaves us at the point of existential encounter - the NT claims that the primary subject of its narrative, Jesus Christ, has risen again and lives forever as King and Lord. Thus the right way to go about inquiring into the truth of the NT is to seek this presently living King, which may only rightly be done through prayer and worship in the context of the people of his kingdom.

    "Research" cannot, I repeat, fully establish or fully refute the Christian claim. Even if it could, wiki? Seriously?

    "Do other religions not have prophets that give eyewitness testimony? " Give me one. As I've seen, there are really only one or two that would claim to. Really, this opens up the whole discussion what a religion is. People compare the claims of Christianity to Taoism or Judaism to Buddhism, which seems totally stupid to me; its like making the 49ers play the A's. They do totally different things. I can't really call Taoism and Buddhism religions in the same way as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, which isn't a diss but a recognition that they really don't have competing claims about God - they're answering different questions.

    Why does God not physically manifest in each generation? My opinion? He mediates himself through human community in order to bind humans to each other. If he were always physically present, besides annihilating us, it would cut our relationship with him off from each other. The way he has freely chosen to do it, revealing himself in each generation through the fellowship and proclamation of his community, binds our relationship with him to our communal relationships with each other. Thats my best answer.

  6. wiki was for the non-scientific mentally, just a general overview. Wiki is fairly accurate as long as you bother to check the sources. I can't personally give you access to the studies unless you are apart of the database but here is what I found for you on google.

    and here is a powerpoint on the matter

  7. ONe thing I'd question: "How do we know God is communicating himself through the church's proclamation? You must approach God through them and see if he is there to be found. How? Through the means appropriate to him: prayer and worship."

    I'm not sure we "know" it even then. Depends what you mean by "know". Is it proved to us? No. By faith are we living within the relationship? Yes. But even then, prayer and worship are OUR approaches, they haven't necessarily told us anything about God. I guess it depends what you mean by worship. So much of Christian worship is no different than the self-projection of other religions, that I can see atheism wanting to lump them together.

  8. Jesse, I mean ., I misunderstood what we were arguing about. I thought you were claiming that research had proven that the apostles had reconstructive memories. If you're merely claiming that eye witness testimony is not iron clad, then of course I agree. I remember seeing some of those studies in my psychology class at Cabrillo. But to suggest that the New Testament, the apostolic church it sprang from, and the continuing church are all simply products of reconstructive memory, I think I'd say we're back to presuppositions again - you'd have to want to make that case and feel like you had to. David Hume was basically in that position, having decided that no matter how many people testified to having seen a man alive after they had seen him die, it must be explained by mass delusion or other such phenomenon because we simply KNOW that people don't come back from the dead. He presupposition determined his conclusion. When it comes to the question of Christ, conclusions have to be determined by presuppositions - I fully grant that mine are.

    Jon, I agree. That explanation is fragmentary at best. I think I want to say that a Christian knows God and knows he exists, but to say so fairly radically redefines what we mean by "know". It can't mean knowledge in an technical or definite sense, but it seems to me that once we use the word this way, we realize that this really is the only way we know anything. We want to be careful not to say we know God in an absolute sense, recognizing that our faith is fickle and never quite settled, but then I can't think of anything I DO know in a definite sense. So it seems a Christians knowledge of God reorients and reorganizes all our other knowledge so if we know anything, God is the first thing we know and the way we know him redefines how we know everything else. The main problem with my explanation, which is what I think you're picking up on, is that I allowed myself to explain the acquisition of that knowledge fully from the human side, where we as good Barthians want to say that it is (almost?) fully established from God's side. I guess I'm just struggling to articulate what does go on on our side.

  9. yes but in this universe it is highly more probable to die and stay dead...maybe he was just in a coma. any reports of a head injury?

    Aren't you presuming these witnesses of God are accurately professing the truth? they were human...

    I'm not saying that one thing or another actually occured just that there are more probable senerios that fit within our more currant knowkledge of the enviroment in which we live.

  10. I suppose what I am arguing is the law of parsimony and Occam's razor

  11. Probability is a somewhat helpful way to speak of future events over which you have no control, but when it comes to given realities I'm not so sure, kinda like Andy's comment about the puzzle last round. I claim to be married to Rachel Nigh, born Rachel Campbell. But out of six billion people on the planet, what are the odds of that being true? Odds just aren't helpful in that kind of conversation. When it comes to a claimed event that if true would stand at the center of all reality as the ground of all knowing and meaning, odds are just totally irrelevant. General scientific axioms aren't particularly helpful either because if this claim is true, it establishes a new law, being before and above all others. The knowledge of Christ cannot be assimilated to and contained within what we already know. It must make new room in our minds for a new reality and a new way of conceiving reality appropriate to it. If we keep coming up against it with our rules of probability and principles of scientific explanation derived from observations of finite realities, we only reveal our total ignorance of what is actually being claimed - that the infinite has invaded the finite and made room for itself there.

  12. I love that response. Very insightful.

  13. I bet you could look back and measure all of the events that let up to your can't do that with God.

  14. I'm not sure if I missed it, but this is what I got out of your argument against God not being a tangible experiance is this:
    God became tangible to humans through Christ. Christ became tangible to us through the Church. And to see this you have to pray and worship. How is this not a cop-out, or "petitio principii"?

  15. I don't think Andy came from a presupposition of hostility towards faith. We might agree there is no neutrality when Christ asks us "who do you say i am?" But Andy is asking a question to that question, not giving an answer. Questions can be neutral. And by you, Adam, taking a stand for Christianity ARE giving an answer.
    Your points will presuppose more then his, being you have a stand for something. Andy, on the other hand can't presuppose anything cause he has nothing to stand for to make a presupposition. He can only be neutral.

  16. Sac, I have to grant that there are problems with my account of God's tangibility. I believe that a person can have knowledge of God, but such knowledge redefines knowledge and redefines person. There are realities going on on God's side and on humanity's side in establishing that knowledge that I have found myself inadequate to express, though this doesn't cause me to question the reality - it is by nature beyond expression. What I have tried to express in my problematic account is the availability of that knowledge on the human side leading up to the actual encounter, prayer and worship. But this is inherently an unsatisfactory account; it needs to be filled in by an account of what is going on on God's side, which we only know in retrospect and, on the lips of the human subject, can always be reinterpreted naturalistically. If this seems to you a cop out, then I guess I really have no defense. I ultimately cannot explain the knowledge I claim to have of God from my own subjectivity. But again, if this knowledge is real we should have every reason to expect its inexplicability on the subjective side; it must be established objectively by God himself. So how do I point others to this knowledge that we can do nothing to gain ourselves? I guess I should never have given an account of it and simply pointed you to Christ where he dwells, the Scripture and the church, those tangible realities through which God freely and actively continues to make himself known. Seek him there; thats not a cop out but a recognition of the only role I can play.

    There is no neutral reply to Christ's question, "Who do you say that I am?", whether it be an answer or a further question. No one is on neutral ground here. The question forces us off of it. We will either presuppose the final authority of our own reason or recognize it in Christ. I grant that this description of the matter can only be arrived at after one has faced and understood Christ's Lordship; on purely historical and anthropological grounds it seems an arbitrary either/or. But when Christ faces you and you know you are being faced, you are being questioned, you will know your questions have for the time being come to an end. I can only pray that Christ shows up for you in that way.

  17. thanks for your explanation adam.

    while i'm going to join many Christians in being very careful not to use the word "proof" in relation to the existence of God or the account of the apostles (whether in a logical or historical sense), lets also be careful not to over-compensate and concede too much to flighty speculations and the historical reconstructionism of hermeneutical suspicion. the mass-delusion and false death or fals resurrection arguments have been made for centuries and will continue to be made, and granted, it is a faith. the jesus seminar has come and gone (and had its life more from its tantalizing popularity to the media than from any real great historical research going on), and was not the first of its kind. but the life and death and even the resurrection continue time and time again to emerge from the rubble, not necessarily as truth in some sort of undebiable factual sense, but as a "truth-telling thing" (GK Chesterton).

  18. "he can only be neutral"

    seriously? i'm not gonna argue for some hostility or something, but as honestly as we've all hopefully come by our presuppositions, we've all got them, and the worst thing for going forward is to be blind to them.

    that said, let's not equate dissolving or confessing presuppositions with then discovering God or taking faith. nor do i think these counter-arguments to Christianity are only oppposable by pointing out their presuppositions. but for once and for all i'd sure like to see the facade of neutrality and objectivity burst from the bubble of all that is non-religious.