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Music to the soul

Scientist finds God in the vibrations

I’m a science guy. I’ve taught chemistry and physics all my life. And of course I believe in evolution. The scientific data for it is pretty compelling. But there are some things that evolution just can’t explain.

Guitar by Nick KiriazisRecently I stayed late at school — working and listening to music. Somewhere in the middle of Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven,” I started thinking.

We’ve studied sound and music in physics for years. We know they’re nothing more than a bunch of vibrations. Put your fingers on a table when somebody’s banging on it: That’s all that sound and music are — the vibrations you feel through your fingers.

But when those same vibrations are picked up by your eardrums and sent to the right part of the brain, a really cool transformation takes place. Those vibrations begin to have meaning.

Now you can certainly make an evolutionary argument as to why someone who recognizes different sounds has a competitive advantage, since speech obviously gives anyone an advantage. But music?

I’ve always found it amazing that certain combinations of vibrations can be so pleasing. What could possibly cause our brains to interpret those sounds that way? I can’t think of any evolutionary advantage for a being who understands music over one who doesn’t.

Yet, there it is: music — just a bunch of vibrations. But a bunch of vibrations that can move us, influence us, and bring so many thoughts and emotions.

And here the scientist in me finds God. What other explanation for music? Evolution alone just can’t seem to explain it satisfactorily, this gift of God to us.


Comments

Christian

Christian

Posted at 2:42 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/24/2009

As another science guy I enjoyed this piece, but I would caution you not to fall into the dual traps of assuming that any phenotypic characteristic has to have evolved for a particular pupose or of characterizing God as the proverbial "God of the Gaps." It's very possible that humans' appreciation of music is an evolutionary spandrel, a byproduct of the evolution of another trait. Let's find God in what we know, not what we don't.

Mary

Mary

Posted at 7:49 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/25/2009

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen-
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Christian

Christian

Posted at 4:50 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/26/2009

The problem with the "God of the Gaps" is that if we think of God that way everything new that we learn about the universe pushes God more and more out of the picture.  To be frank, I don't see why this idea is so popular, selected quotations from Emerson notwithstanding. 

Moreover, just saying "God did it" when we run into gaps in our knowledge puts the brakes on trying to expand our knowledge.  We should never be satisfied just with the "God did it" explanation.

Mary

Mary

Posted at 6:33 am (U.S. Eastern) 4/27/2009

Bonhoeffer quote notwithstanding, it's ok to stand in awe of God's creation.  Scientific explanation does not in any way diminish God.  Scientific explanation can, though, enhance a human's limited understanding of God's greatness .

Christian

Christian

Posted at 11:38 am (U.S. Eastern) 4/27/2009

Mary -- We seem to have arrived at a point of agreement, because I can endorse everything you say here.  I'm not sure about the Bonhoeffer reference, though, unless I inadvertently pulled something of his from my subconscious.  I haven't read Bonhoeffer in quite some time.

Hanne

Hanne

Posted at 1:08 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/4/2009

The exact same emotions stirred in me the first time I heard "Breathe of Heaven"...even now when I listen to it -not just the Bible recount of Mary's role and her response to God, but, also the emotions and "stirring of the soul" just from listening to or singing this song!  I can not imagine a Sunday church service without music.  Try it some time...Music is a gift of God for us.  It is a universally understood tool.  When used together with His Word, it is beyond our understanding.  It stirs us to worship Him, which is what we were created to do!  O Magnum Mysterium...the scientist stands in AWE of our creator! 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 3:21 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/4/2009

I don't deny the real response we all have to music, nor was I trying to diminish it.  It's a significant part of being human.  What I was criticizing was the assumption that because there doesn't seem to be a particular purpose for it, then it had to be a "special creation" apart from the normal workings of biological evolution.  Music doesn't have to have come about by explicitly supernatural special creation for it to be worthy of our appreciation and celebration.

Hanne

Hanne

Posted at 9:22 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/4/2009

Music-harmonious sounds created by vibrations of air . Air- created by God. The Bible-written by God or Men?   An entire book devoted to music:  Psalms-the book of music.  "Psalm" translated in Hebrew:  mizmowr (#4210 Strong's Exhaustive Concordance) means MUSIC.  (from #2167 word zamar:  to touch the strings of a musical instrument).  Ask yourself, why?  Why does God want us to sing praises to him?  Why will we "sing a new song" in heaven?  Sing?  Vibrate the air He created?  Voiceboxes He created?  What for?  Language...communication?  Music?  Maybe we should just accept it as a "gift" from God!  Especially if it brings souls to Him?  Praise God from whom all blessings flow...

Christian

Christian

Posted at 12:10 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/5/2009

Hanne-

I would be troubled if the Bible had been dropped from the sky gold-leafed and shrink-wrapped. While many of the Psalms, the Gospels, the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, and the creation story, to name just a few examples, are exquisitely beautiful and edifying, other passages, such as the mass slaughter in Joshua, are not. Fortunately, the diversity of theological perspectives throughout the Bible shows us that rather than being written by God, it's instead the authentic responses of imperfect, sinful people to their experiences of the divine.  We don't need to see God as the egotistical mass murderer in the sky that portions of the Bible make God out to be. This isn't to say that music isn't in some sense a gift from God, but let's not settle for the "God did it" explanation when we talk about the origin of music.

Richard

Richard

Posted at 1:07 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/5/2009

As the author of this piece, let me add to the discussion. I never meant this as a proof of God of course. Music is really just one more thing that, for me at least, points His way. The following is what I meant to say in the final paragraph:

It is in these kinds of things that the scientist in me still finds God. Almost like music is one of God's gifts to us. There just had to be the hand of God in there somewhere. This isn't hard core logic so strong that it could convince an atheist, of course. But it's not just blind faith either. It's somewhere in between. And although I suppose blind faith should be enough, being the skeptic that I am, I find it somehow comforting that I can see some logic and hard science in my faith as well.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 9:38 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/5/2009

Richard -- Thanks for jumping in.  Good to get the perspective of the author!  I can't agree that blind faith or faith divorced from reason and evidence is admirable, but I appreciate your thoughts.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 12:43 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

Richard and Christian,

I'm so glad you actually acknowledge God in some small way in the midst of all your evolutionary wisdom, and I'm sure He is too!  This is quite the mutual admiration society you've got going here!

You need to consider the fact that we are all pea-brains in the shadow of God's awesome intellect and power, and He will show you His truth in the end.  His ways are far above our understanding.

1 Corinthians 3:18

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 1:15 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

I would also say that scientists who close their minds and eyes to all the evidence of a Creator are not true scientists.

I would ask you to explain a few huge discrepancies in evolutionary theory, but I've done that before and only get answers that presuppose that evolution is fact, so I won't even go there.

It's amazing how much the word "somehow" is used in explaining evolution.

There are many books written on the evidence against evolution, but I'm sure you will not consider them, and you can find them yourselves if you're interested, so I won't list them here.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 1:48 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

I'm wondering, as "science guys", if you deny God's supernatural power to create and otherwise affect things in His universe, how can you believe in Jesus' virgin birth, many miracles, and His resurrection from the grave?? 

After all, Jesus' resurrection is the crux of our Christian faith!  Without it, our faith is worthless and we as Christians are to be most-pitied among men, as Paul said. 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 4:40 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

Stephen Miller --

I'm not going to get into an argument over evolution vs. special creation because I know it will get nowhere.  However, I will respond by saying that we should deal with the evidence as we have it and it is, in fact, strongly in favor of biological evolution.  We don't know all of the details -- that's why we do research -- but there's little doubt that it happens on both the micro- and macro-scale.  The small bits that aren't yet understood have no effect on the larger reality that biological species do evolve.  I commend Ken Miller's books to your consideration to explain how this is compatible with a fairly traditional view of God.

Secondly, you do God no favors when you insist that he has to constantly come down and tweak around under the hood. A self-consistent, self-perpetuating system like evolution as we currently understand it makes for a much more impressive feat than millions of separate instances of special creation. Insisting on the latter view is akin to saying "No, no -- my God is very *small*!"

As far as particular miracles are concerned, it's impossible to say one way or the other because we simply don't have the evidence.  They may have occurred, they may not have.  But none of these -- even a physical resurrection -- have any effect on the central message of Christianity: that we sin, we fall short, but we are forgiven. None of this logically requires a belief in the historical truth of those miracles.

I'm familiar with the most common claims against evolution. Most of them are shocking in their ignorance.  The one about the second law of thermodynamics comes immediately to mind.  Michael Behe and William Dembski are at least a little more sophisticated, and they make less-radical claims than some others, but in the end they fall short as well.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 5:05 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

Christian,

I believe the Bible.  You mistakenly take me for someone trying to reconcile evolution and God's creation.  I don't.  My God does not have to "tweak" anything, and did not require millions of years to get it right.

Also, the central message of Christianity is that the wages of sin is DEATH and the price had to be paid to reconcile sinners with God.  If you do not believe in Jesus' physical resurrection, count yourself among the Saducees and reread your Bible.

 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 5:56 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

Stephen-

I did not mistake you for someone trying to reconcile God and evolution.  I was criticizing you for not doing so.

As I said in an earlier post, the Bible was not dropped from the sky by God and is not a letter-perfect account of either history or science.  Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis show us this.  The fact is that people in an oral culture like the ancient Hebrews used narratives to express abstract truths (see, for example, the book Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong).  It doesn't make these truths less true, it just means that the narratives that contain them are not necessarily reliable guides to historical or scientific fact.  The story of the Garden, for example, shows us that our free will and our ability to pursue knowledge allow us to sin but that ultimately we're forgiven and reconciled to God.  There was no Garden of Eden 6000 years ago, but there is free will, there is sin, and there is forgiveness.  That's the important part.

As for the 15-billion-year history of the universe, my understanding is that God exceeds space and time.  The fact that humans took millions of years to appear does not in the least indicate that God was dilly-dallying around, just that He doesn't work in our time.  Again, you're using the "my God is very small" argument.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 6:03 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/8/2009

Let me just clarify my comment on chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis.  Those are two creation accounts that cannot be reconciled with each other historically.  The sequences of events in these two stories fundamentally contradict each other -- They cannot both be historically true.  However, they can both be theologically true, and so they are.  The compilers of the Bible were not stupid.  They certainly knew about this contradiction, but they had no problem with it.

AJ

AJ

Posted at 8:26 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.
Martin Luther

Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.
Martin Luther

Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God.
Martin Luther

My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.
Martin Luther

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
Martin Luther

Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has.
Martin Luther

Reason is the enemy of faith.
Martin Luther

It is scary to think this forum is on Lutheran website and yet the theological discussion here is plain trash.  My beloved church is in need of reawakening; myself included! 



Christian

Christian

Posted at 10:26 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

I, for one, am a contented Lutheran, but I don't outsource my thinking to Martin Luther.  He also said some nasty things about Jews and Nicolas Copernicus.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 11:03 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

AJ-

I was reading over the Martin Luther quotes again.  I reject those about faith and reason, and I think that the attitude that they reflect is one of the main reasons that much of the West is now "post-Christian." St. Augustine warned in the fifth century that making historical or scientific claims that are patently false simply because "the Bible tells me so" does no favor to the Christian faith. Likewise, Pope John Paul II said that science is important for purging religion of superstition.  I don't think you should just take these statements on their authority, but I think we would both agree that neither of these men were denigrators of religious faith, and neither am I.

Regarding Luther's statements on music, I completely agree with him.  What I was arguing against was the notion that the appreciation of musi, because it serves no evolutionary advantage, could not have emerged in the evolutionary process.  This has nothing to do with whether it's a gift from God. As I said earlier, our conception of God as the author of a self-consistent, self-perpetuating universe is much more impressive than the tinkerer God of multiple instances of special creation. Music can be, and is, both a product of evolution, and a gift from God worthy of celebration.

Hanne

Hanne

Posted at 11:42 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:  To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" "  Rev. 5:13  

Anyone else want to join me in the choir?

Christian

Christian

Posted at 11:54 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

I will!

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 1:08 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Christian, you stated "As far as particular miracles are concerned, it's impossible to say one way or the other because we simply don't have the evidence.  They may have occurred, they may not have.  But none of these -- even a physical resurrection -- have any effect on the central message of Christianity: that we sin, we fall short, but we are forgiven. None of this logically requires a belief in the historical truth of those miracles. "

If Jesus' physical resurrection is not true, then Jesus, who said he would rise again from the dead, was a liar, a looney, and not the Son of God.

If Jesus' physical resurrection is not true, then all of the writers of the New Testament were not eyewitnesses, they were all liars and went to their torturous deaths proclaiming something they all knew was a lie.

The eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection were written before 70AD, some as soon as 5 years after Jesus' resurrection, and were not revised through oral repetition, nor was there time for "legendizing" to change facts.  Plus, if they were all lies, the gospels would have been disputed by the jewish religious leaders, and would not have been the changing force in the culture and lives of so many.

If the New Testament is all lies, what the heck do you believe in?  More to the point, WHY do you believe?

 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 2:15 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Stephen-

The Gospels were probably not written by eyewitnesses -- The best scholarship places them around the end of the first century. In the several decades that had passed since Jesus' ministry it's entirely possible that many of the details and especially the quotations attributed to Jesus weren't accurate. Therefore, I have no reason to think Jesus was necessarily a liar, regardless of how things panned out. More importantly, I don't think the New Testament nor the Gospels in particular are lies. That's a word that implies malice, and I don't think that's warranted even if there are inaccuracies. I'll say here that I'm a scholar in the humanities -- although my undergraduate training and some prior professional experience are in chemistry and biology -- and I read a lot of things that I don't agree with (or simply don't "buy") in every detail but that I find useful and worthwhile as a whole. I'm used to parsing texts for the useful parts and not letting the non-useful or just plain "wrong" parts distract me from what is worthwhile. (Of course, there *is* still a lot out there that isn't useful at all!) It's worth noting here that, like chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis, the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John differ in several ways that make them similarly incompatible historically.  I don't think this is a result of lying, just a difference in memory or other non-malicious circumstance.

The miracles attributed to Jesus, like the virgin birth, the healing of the sick, and the resurrection from the dead, are common attitubutes given to important figures in the ancient world.  Whether they're historically accurate or not, they reflect the respect given to Jesus by his contemporaries, and that's nothing to dismiss lightly.

As far as what I believe, there's much that we don't know about many, many things, including that which we can't investigate through the scientific method. So, for things that haven't been or cannot be proven definitively I remain uncommitted until I have a reason to take a firmer position one way or another. I think also that we have a tendency to be too quick to give God human characteristics and human emotions. I understand why we do that, but I'm not convinced it's warranted. I realize that much of the Bible gives God characteristics like anger, jealousy, a home in a relatively defined place (heaven), and other things like that, but I see these as the authors' describing God in terms that they and their contemporaries would understand. Again, the ability to think and to speak abstractly is something that has evolved gradually over time. And, ultimately, as you point out, God is simply beyond our understanding in many ways.

I think that religious faith is an important part of being a human being, and Christianity happens to be the faith that speaks to me for cultural and other reasons. Put simply, it fills a very human need that I share with most everyone else on the planet. I don't see faith as believing in something unproven but as trusting that God is good and just and acting toward others in a way that reflects this trust.

I put this together fairly quickly, but I hope it helps clarify where I'm coming from.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 7:12 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Christian,

I'm confused.  You say Christianity "happens" to speak to you for cultural and other reasons....?

My questions still stand; if you don't attach any value to the writings in the Bible, why do you believe in Christianity?  Why do you think you are forgiven?  God's forgiveness is not just a 'given'.  He is supremely just and the penalty for sin has to be paid.

You know, even Satan believes in God; that is not enough.  But you probably don't believe in Satan either.

The Bible says you must accept and believe in Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection for you to receive His salvation.  Christian, please rethink your humanistic, intellectual belief system so you don't find out too late.  

Christian

Christian

Posted at 7:53 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Stephen-

I'm sorry -- Turning off my BS detector is not an option. 

Quote: "God's forgiveness is not just a 'given'. He is supremely just and the penalty for sin has to be paid." What you seem to believe in is a God who makes the requirements for salvation available only to the credulous. Either Jesus died for our sins or he didn't. If subscribing to a certain belief were an absolute requirement for eternal salvation a just God would have made that belief available to all. Absolute certainty (that first phrase is important) about the historical truth of the details of the Bible simply isn't available to those who maintain a healthy level of skepticism and an appropriate commitment to analytical and empirical evidence rather than just accepting anything they read or hear. The Jewish and Christian faiths evolve even within the Bible. The idea of the afterlife, for example, doesn't really get fleshed out until after the Babylonian Capitivity. (The "Sheol" in the Psalms isn't really either heaven or hell.) It's unreasonable to expect that our understanding of our faith in the 21st century would be the same as in the first. In the end, though, I trust God, just like you do.

Actually, I don't believe in Satan as an individual being, and the Bible gives no compelling reason for doing so. The idea of Satan appears only gradually -- the serpent in the Garden could have been identified as Satan but wasn't. Frankly, we do just fine sinning on our own. It's one of the consequences of free will. The God Squad column in the newspaper recently dealt with this issue.  My browser isn't letting me paste the link for some reason, but you can Google it.  It's the recent entry on the Biblical roots of hell and the devil. (Don't mistake this as meaning that I automatically endorse everything Rabbi Gellman says. I don't.)

***

Addendum: You'll find it funny that just as I was about to post this my wife called on her way out of bell choir practice to say that she picked up our copy of the new Lutheran Study Bible! Yes, I plan to read it. No, I'm not going to automatically subscribe to everything it says at face value.

 

 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 9:05 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/11/2009

Clarification: In the first large paragraph I should have said something like "Did Jesus die for only the credulous or did he die for all?" To use a bit of Lutheranism, we ought to be wary of making salvation dependent upon something we ourselves have to do. You can find a passage in the New Testament to support nearly any position on salvation that you wish, but the overarching theme throughout is the invincible love of a God who desires salvation for all. If that weren't the case, Jesus' sacrifice would be for naught.

And, by the way, I thank you for your concern because I know it's genuine.

AJ

AJ

Posted at 7:55 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

This board sounds like typical Americanized Christianity. 

Christian...what do you belive in?

I Believe in God the Father Almighty, CREATOR of HEAVEN AND EARTH.

I Believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son our Lord, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, HE suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into Hell and on the 3rd day He arose, He ascended into Heaven  and is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and HE will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurection of the Body and the Life Everlasting. AMEN

I believe that God is all knowing, all present, all powerful and all true.  The historical accuracy of scripture is unparalled by any secular account of ancient history.  But regardless if you agree with me...how can you justify yourself; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Jesus is the atonement for MINE and YOUR sins, but if you refuse to accept God's Grace and have no Faith in Christ you are not saved.  Jesus did die for all of humanity, but humanity must be willing to accept HIm.  If God let anyone and everyone into Heaven, HE would be unjust and our foundation of Grace alone through Faith alone would be for naught.  As for not believing in Satan as an individual...I can tell you are not a scholar of the Bible, so I will suggest you read the Book of Job...see what a true follower of God looks like and study how the devil HIMSELF will try to steal your Faith.  But nevertheless I don't see how a born again Christian can have any doubts of God or His Word.  I pray for the peace and understanding of God Almighty to be with you.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 9:16 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

AJ-

I too can recite the Apostles' Creed (and I understand the difference between big-C Catholic and small-c catholic, so I don't need to substitute "Christian"), and I affirm its historical importance in our faith, but that doesn't mean that there's any reason to say that Christianity froze when it was written. Just as in the Bible, our faith grows and changes when new information becomes available.

What do I believe? I believe what can be reasonably concluded from the evidence at hand. Your assertion that the historical accuracy of the Bible is unparalleled is completely unfounded. There is no geological evidence for a worldwide flood (which is acknowledged in the new Lutheran Study Bible, incidentally), the fossil record appears as one would expect if species evolved gradually over time, not as it would appear if the species had been created individually all at once, and there's little evidence outside the Bible to support the Hebrews' slavery in Egypt, let alone the destruction of the most powerful army in the region in the Red Sea. Known sources outside the Bible are completely silent on that event, which would have reverberated across the Near East. The Old Testament is the honest account of the ancient Hebrews' oral tradition; it is not a flawless account of history. A mature faith deals with that reality rather than dismissing just it because it's not what you learned in Sunday School.

I'm quite familiar with Job. It's a frequently profound parable.  There is no reason to treat it as historical fact.

Your idea of justice is bizarre. For one, it leaves no room for mercy. If that doesn't fly right in the face of the Gospels I don't know what does. Secondly, it allows millions of people who, though no fault of their own, happened not to be exposed to or given sufficient reason to believe in a particular shibboleth to be tormented eternally because a capriciously jealous tyrant couldn't be bothered to ensure otherwise. That can't be reconciled with the reading from 1 John in the lectionary this past week. If this childish tribal deity who deceives his followers and breaks his toys when he gets frustrated is the God you wish to believe in, that's your right. Don't pretend that it's either self-evident or supported by reasonable standards of Scriptural, historical, or scientific evidence.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 12:29 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

Christian,

You have bought into Satan's oldest lie, the one he used on Adam and Eve; "Surely God didn't say that!"

And Satan's most strategically successful lie, that he doesn't exist at all.

Regarding God's justice and mercy; would you want earthly judges who dispensed mercy to the point of letting all guilty parties to go free?  Murderers, rapists and liars running free because the judges did not hold them accountable?

God is just.  He won't do that.  But, because of His mercy, His Son Jesus steps up and says "Judge, I will pay Chris' penalty so he can go free."

But if you don't accept that deal, and you say "a merciful judge wouldn't require a penalty to be paid and I don't believe any of that resurrection stuff..."

Well, than you are denying the gift and will pay the penalty yourself.  Of course, this is what the Bible says, so unfortunately, it means nothing to you.

If you accept the existance of a supernatural (outside of nature) God like you say you do, I don't know why you have such a problem accepting supernatural occurences.

The Bible does pass all of the requirements of the legal and historical methods of authentication, much more, in fact, than most of the historical documents that are accepted as truth.

As far as passing the requirements of scientific methods of proof, you can't prove that you watched TV last Wednesday by scientific methods either.

The Bible is God's "owner's manual".  The Old Testament explains His Old Covenant with the Jews, and the New Testament explains His New Covenant in Jesus' blood, for the Jews and Gentiles alike.  Jesus referred many times to the validity of the Old Testament, but once again, that is in the Bible.

Why are you denying God's Word?  What are you afraid of?  Don't hide behind this worldly, satanic, "need for evidence".  To you seeing is believing.  To believers, believing is seeing. 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 1:37 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

Stephen-

Much of what you say above is circular logic. Your argument about Satan assumes his existence a priori. One can't conclude from that that he doesn't exist, but neither does it show that he does. Likewise, the platitude about beleving is seeing is a nice thought but ultimately groundless. There are a lot of things I could hypothetically believe that would be patently ridiculous.

I understand the argument about penalties, but earthly judges are not God -- Thank goodness! And earthly punishment is temporary and corrective (with a few exceptions, of course), divine punishment is eternal. You punish a rapist so that he doesn't rape again. If you can be reasonably sure that the punishment was corrective, you can parole the prisoner. If you can't be sure, you keep him locked up. A parent disciplining a child does so because it will change the child's behavior. You show mercy when the punishment won't have the corrective effect, such as if the child is contrite enough that the parent can reasonably conclude that the child won't commit the wrong again. No reasonable parent employs capital punishment, because, like eternal damnation, it's inherently non-corrective.

To address your point about "denying the gift" -- I have done no such thing. If the gift exists, I gratefully accept it. I've never said otherwise.

Regarding my watching TV last Wednesday, you're right. That couldn't be proven. (In fact, I can't remember if I did.) We'll never know everything that has ever happened. But we also can't prove that I did or did not read my copy of The Essential Tillich that day. The fact is that I didn't -- I haven't opened that book in several months. Whether or not we can prove it is immaterial. If I don't mention it to anyone it's lost to history. (By the way, no good historian treats even Thucidydes as definitively historically accurate. You always corroborate your accounts before making a strong claim.)

Regarding Jesus' referencing the Old Testament, you're right -- Once again, we can't definitively say one way or the other if those passages are historically accurate. They might be, but they might not be. Note that this also means that it doesn't indict Jesus as a liar. Like my watching TV last Wednesday, it's lost to history. You're right that much of the Bible is in fact historically accurate. There are other parts, however, that have been shown not to be and other parts that are uncertain.

Unlike Richard Dawkins (who has the same view of religion as you and AJ seem to but who comes down in a different place on the matter), I don't foreclose the possibility of a supernatural being, because science simply can't address that question one way or the other. As for accepting supernatural occurrences -- of course they might occur, but in any particular case the burden of proof is on the one making the claim for the occurrence, and for an extraordinary claim the proof must be extraordinarily strong. I don't categorically deny any of the miracles of Jesus, but the burden of proof hasn't been satisfied.

Here's what it boils down to for me. When you study philosophy, especially epistemology (the study of knowledge) and formal logic, you find there are a lot of things that we can't prove definitively by evidence or by formal reasoning but that in many cases there are good reasons for acting as if we did know one way or the other. It's called a pragmatic justification. I can't prove that God exists or doesn't exist (and neither can you or anyone else), but I see good reasons for acting as if He did. Being a part of a community of faith fills a human need, and it provides a framework for moral reasoning. The former isn't absolutely necessary for the latter, but Christian morality, as summarized by the Golden Rule, makes sense. I accept that there is inherent uncertainty in faith. I don't try to explain it away -- I accept it. It isn't going away. We act on less-than-perfect information all the time, and there's no reason to expect that our religious life necessarily will be any different.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 1:52 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

Correction: Remove the sentence "Whether or not we can prove it is immaterial" from the fourth paragraph. What I mean to say here is that not being able to prove something means no more and no less than it might be so or it might not be. Uncertainty is part of life.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 4:25 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

Just one other thing, to clarify:  We almost never work with certainties one way or the other but rather probabilities. When I argue that something isn't true, it means that, given the evidence, the chances of it being true are very low. If I make the opposite argument, that something is true, it means that, given the evidence, the chances of it being true are very high.  On issues falling in between it's impossible to take an intellectually honest stand. But, as I pointed out, in these cases it's often possible to make a pragmatic justification one way or the other.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 8:28 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

By the way, if you're not familiar with this page on the ELCA website, I commend it to you. Our church recognizes the potential problems associated with an unabashed adherence to traditional views of Satan and of the virgin birth, among other issues we've discussed here:

www.elca.org

Also, I quote from the new Lutheran Study Bible:

"The scholarly effort to reconstruct the history that lies behind the book of Genesis has had mixed results, because the materials have been edited over many centuries and because these chapters are more story than historical account. Especially regarding Genesis 1-11, we cannot determine its specific historical background with any confidence. As for Genesis 12-50, it is reasonable to claim that the stories carry authentic memories of ancient history prior to the Exodus from Egypt (about 2000-1500 B.C.E.). Yet, because these stories come from so long ago, it is difficult to verify the extent to which the stories of the women and men of Genesis reflect actual historical figures and events." (pp. 47-48)

Regarding the Flood: "Divine judgment takes the form of an environmental catastrope, with possible parallels to other ancient stories. For example, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh describes a great flood, though no geological evidence exists of a worldwide flood." (p. 56)

"The book of Job should not be read as history. Rather, it should be read as a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. It explores questions such as: 'Why do the innocent suffer?' 'Where is God in my suffering?' 'What kind of world is this?' These questions are as old as the Bible and as new as today's newspaper." (p. 788)

AJ

AJ

Posted at 9:24 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

Revelation 3:15-16

 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 9:41 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/12/2009

AJ-

Since you're so interested in Biblical scholarship, surely you know that even Martin Luther wavered over whether Revelation even belonged in the canon. Plus, you might wish to read the entire chapter, not just the isolated verses. This portion is explicitly directed at the Church of Laodicea, which was wealthy and had become complacent about doing the work of the church -- aiding the "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." I am neither of these.

AJ

AJ

Posted at 7:36 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

"This portion is explicitly directed at the Church of Laodicea, which was wealthy and had become complacent about doing the work of the church"

Sounds like America to me!!

Anyway, I am curious as to what you believe about the sacraments. 

Christian

Christian

Posted at 10:12 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

I agree with you about America, although I suspect with a few differences!

Re the sacraments, I believe the same thing many Protestants do -- They're communal commemorations of Christ's ministry and sacrifice and expressions of common bonds with other Christians past and present. (I don't see a reason to believe that they are *the* means by which forgiveness is conveyed, although I remember being told that in confirmation in the LCMS.) I acknowledge the tradition of a mystical "real presence" in, with, and under the elements in the Eucharist. If there's a time when we come into some kind of close spiritual contact with Christ, the sacraments are that time.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 10:40 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

By the way, this interview with Jaroslav Pelikan about creeds is very informative. It's about an hour long but worth a listen for those with the time and inclination. (It should also be available free on iTunes.) Pelikan, who passed away recently, was a professor of church history at Yale and a lifelong Lutheran before joining the Orthodox church near the end of his life.

speakingoffaith.publicradio.org

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

Posted at 5:11 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

Christian,

I was finished with this blog, thinking I had said everything that needed to be said, but this morning during my daily Bible reading, the Lord spoke to me as He often does when I'm in the Word, and put it on my heart to pass on a few more things to you.

I honestly prayed about this, because I didn't want to be continuing this out of my own selfish arrogance or something, but was assured that He wanted me to write this to you.

First of all, I must say that the ELCA (becoming more and more apostate all the time), Martin Luther, or any other men who attempt to explain the Bible in natural terms and make it fit their own understanding are not to be relied upon.  God's Word is to be relied upon as it was written, or none of it means anything.  (And there is MUCH archealogical evidence for the flood, Sodom and Gamorrah, and many many other events in the Bible.)

Proverbs 3:5

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthian church, he said:

2 Corinthians 5:20, 21

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Paul said to this church, "...we BEG you on behalf of Christ, BE RECONCILED to God."

Does this sound like God's forgiveness is just "automatic"?  No.

Also, consider these verses regarding your salvation:

Mark 8:35

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."

Romans 10:9

"...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved"

You must give your life and heart over to the Lord....and BELIEVE that God raised Him from the dead.

Finally, 2 Corinthians 5:7

"for we walk by faith, not by sight"

Christian, I pray that you and all other "science guys" who depend on their intellect and the supposed wisdom of scholars instead of God's Word, will see the Truth and repent.  Please just ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and show you.  He will and He will give you understanding of things not of this world.

If you want REAL wisdom, just ask God for it.  The Bible says He will give it to you abundantly if you ask for it.

All my best wishes to you and God bless you.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 7:14 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

Stephen-

I thank you for your best wishes, and I send you mine. I maintain that faith has evolved both during and after Biblical times, that it will continue to evolve, and that this is to be expected and perhaps even desired. God doesn't change, but our understanding of our world and of the universe does, and sometimes that causes us to see God in a new light.

It's my knowledge of the Bible -- gained in my conservative LCMS high school years ago and constant reading and hearing it read day after day and week after week as a lifelong churchgoer -- that causes me to see it as I do. I used to accept a literalist treatment of the Bible, but I became less committed to that position as I read the Bible more and more. (Every verse mentioned in this thread was very familiar to me.) I was falling away from faith altogether until I started my secular Ph.D. program, in which I studied written communication. Now that I have a deep understanding of what writing does and the many ways that it does it, it helps me see how the Bible can be such a powerful and spiritually reliable text even in light of 21st-century history and science.

A book I mentioned earlier, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, by Walter Ong, was vitally important in this regard because it showed how differently people in a literate culture like ours approach texts in comparison to oral cultures like many of the peoples in the Bible. In short, we approach the Bible in a much different way than its original audiences would have. Even today, people in oral cultures, when asked if a story is true, don't take that to mean Did it happen at some specific place and in some specific time? They take that question to mean Does it ring true? Does it show us something that's true in a general sense? Oral cultures, people who don't have written language, don't have history and science in the way that we do, so we can't take their texts (if they're eventually written down) as meaning or doing the same things as our texts. We have a much greater natural attachment to literalism than do people in oral cultures, and we have to recognize that when we approach their texts. The important things about the stories of the Garden and the Flood are the theological insights we can glean from them, which are considerable. Incidentally, Ong was a Catholic priest in addition to being a longtime English professor at St. Louis University, and he maintained his priestly duties -- saying mass, administering the sacraments -- throughout his career.

OK --- wow -- this was a lot longer than I had intended, but here it is. I will add this: For reasons that are too complicated to write here in detail, from a scientific standpoint it's probably easier to practice Biblical faith now than, say, in the period between Darwin and Einstein.

I think we can agree on this: May God's will be done.

Christian

Christian

Posted at 7:32 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/13/2009

Darn -- Once again I realized after I made my post that I failed to make one of my points clear.  What I was saying in that long story above is that the human race grows and evolves over time, but we maintain faith. Throughout history there's always been a tenable way to practice faith, whether it's within the Hebrew oral tradition, medieval and Renaissance literacy, and now in the 21st century. I can't (meaning that I literally am unable to make it happen) practice the literalist form of the Christian faith, but I recognize it as a part of our tradition, and I'm glad we had this conversation. Again, my very best wishes to you.

Hanne

Hanne

Posted at 12:03 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/14/2009

Oh, my! I notice we are still here!  I am so grateful for Richard's article and statement!  The scientist in him finds God through listening to a piece of music.  He has provoked a great deal of "thought"!  I will only add this, to those of us who believe the BIBLE is God's message for us:  "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us;  whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error...."...1John 4:1-11  Those of you who do not believe the BIBLE is God's message to us...please ignore my post.  After all, there are so many "other" books out there you can reference.  I only pray more "scientists" will find God...I do not care what "tool" God will use to reach you!  (I also couldn't care less what process He used to create the world.  Any way He chose to "create" is fine with me! God spoke...it was so... His creation is awesome is and perfect!)



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