Monday, April 14, 2008

God of The Gap?

When comments on the last post wandered into discussion of "god of the gap," I confess that I had a mental image of an old guy with white beard and robes heading to the mall for an updated look. Jeans? Shorts? T-shirt? Perhaps he'd also check out the God of Old Navy look, or maybe God of Abercrombie & Fitch.

That wasn't, of course, what was intended. But hey, it's Monday morning.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll say a little about the visual images we attach to God, and how they can help or hinder our spiritual journey.

But for now, I'd just like to point out that there's a big difference between saying (1) anything we don't understand must be God, and (2) so much remains to be understood, that the existence of God can't be ruled out.

Scientists say that the vast majority of matter in the universe can't be seen. This "dark matter," as they call it, is known only by its effects on matter that we can observe. In the same way, we observe the unknowable divine only through the lives of those who have been transformed by their encounters with God.

39 comments:

Iztok said...

Dark matter is a matter that can't be detected by electromagnetic radiation. It can be detected by it's gravitational effects however. It is a naturalistic explanation based on what we know and what we can detect. It basically says, we can detect such behavior, let's see what would be a natural cause of what we've detected. We see gravitational pull thus based on our current knowledge the explanation is that matter is causing such gravitational pull. Good part about this is that it has a built in safety. We know what it would take to invalidate such hypothesis.

"In the same way, we observe the unknowable divine only through the lives of those who have been transformed by their encounters with God."

So to whom do you attribute transformation of those who have not had encounter with God? Perhaps those who claim that have been transformed by their encounter with aliens? What about those who have been transformed by sheer will power of their own and worked hard for it?

So human transformation can have simple human effort naturalistic explanation, or can have "god did it" explanation. Now in lack of other evidence I'll take human effort any time over "god did it". It provides satisfactory explanation without invoking another unknown. (On the other hand in dark matter we can't simply say the same thing as with our understanding of gravitation something simply has to be there to cause it.)

There is another thing to touch here. Some just like to believe that there is something out there. That belief might help them in their transformation, but doesn't make the object of belief any more real. From what I've seen most of the people who I come in contact with actually believe in belief itself, not something else.

Anonymous said...

Kind of like a spiritual placebo effect....

Anonymous said...

Some just like to believe that there is nothing out there, but that dosen't make the object any less real!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

kind of like an atheist placebo effect....

pornstudent said...

The reason scientists don't publish research papers on the possible existence of God, as they do dark matter, is because there isn't scientific evidence for the existence of God. Scientists don't, and neither do I, rule out the possibility that God exists, we just haven't seen the evidence for it.

I often hear Christians say, "There must be a God. How else can you explain ..." I don't think God as the "explanation" is the reason they believe and surrender their lives to God. The "god of the gap" is a way to defend their belief; they believe because of what belief does for them emotionally.

What evidence is there that a life has been transformed by God? Of all the Christians I know, I wouldn't describe any of their lives as being transformed. I'm glad the lonely, afraid and bored have found friends, comfort and meaning through their belief and church community, but their lives aren't evidence of a divine.

Nick said...

Pornstudent: "Scientists don't, and neither do I, rule out the possibility that God exists, we just haven't seen the evidence for it."

So - what would you accept as evidence?

Danbo59 said...

Nicked asked (of pornstudent), "So - what would you accept as evidence?"

Oh, he and Iztok have already made that known -- a miracle. A miracle -- of which hundreds have already been scientifically documented as "unexplainable by science." Lourdes has recorded dozens of "scientifically unexplainable miracles." But then that's not good enough for them.

As Jesus said in his telling of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, "If they do not listen to the prophets, they will not believe even if one were to rise from the dead."

If only they put 10% of the energy they expend in rationalizing their non-belief (and cutting and pasting from atheist websites while purporting to have come up with their airtight arguments on their own) into opening their hearts they'd have a chance.

Searcher said...

Well put, Danbo. When I began reading this blog regularly, I had many doubts about God and my own beliefs. But the comments posted by Jane, you, D.J., and others of faith have done wonders to reinforce my own.

I have yet to see any “air-tight” arguments expressed by atheists, just the rationalizations you mention. It has been especially encouraging to see their arguments shredded by those of faith.

The Sword of God is sharper than Occam’s Razor.

pornstudent said...

Nick,

I just did an experiment. In my mind I said, "God, I'd like to have some evidence that you exist. If you are real, heal my eyes in the next 30 seconds." 30 seconds have passed and I'm still nearsighted. If my eyes were healed, this would be evidence, although not conclusive, that God exists. I understand my experiment isn't evidence that God does not exist; it is evidence, though, that God doesn't give us everything we ask for as the Bible says Jesus said he would (Matthew 7:7).

Scientific studies of prayer have been done (see Prayers don't help heart surgery patients) and Is Prayer Good for Your Health?.

I would likely accept scientific studies showing the evidence of God if they were published in peer reviewed journals.

Danbo59 said...

pornstudent wrote, "God, I'd like to have some evidence that you exist. If you are real, heal my eyes in the next 30 seconds."

Thou shalt not put the Lord, thy God to the test.

Perhaps if you refrained from your involvement in pornography you eyesight would improve? After all, posting all those links to pornographic video samples (on your blog site) must involve a lot of time staring at a computer screen. God helps those who help themselves, pornstudent.

Danbo59 said...

pornstudent wrote, "I would likely accept scientific studies showing the evidence of God if they were published in peer reviewed journals."

God doesn't have any peers. He's God.

pornstudent said...

What porn video samples are you talking about, Danbo? You mean the ones following the post titled, Masturbation Saves Lives?

D.J. said...

Pornstudent said...
"I understand my experiment isn't evidence that God does not exist; it is evidence, though, that God doesn't give us everything we ask for as the Bible says Jesus said he would (Matthew 7:7)."

I think James chapter 4 could help shed some light on the very narrow view you have given to Matthew 7:7...

"You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." - James 4:2-4

Understanding Scripture in context involves seeing it whole, not acontextual verse-snatching.

Soli Deo Gloria

Danbo59 said...

pornstudent asked, "What porn video samples are you talking about, Danbo? You mean the ones following the post titled, Masturbation Saves Lives?"

It's impossible to think that you can take yourself seriously. Therefore, how can anyone else take you seriously?

Nick said...

Pornstudent - take the ultimate test: ask God to reveal Himself to you. But do it seriously, not as a challenge. Look at the cross for 30 seconds and think of the One who died there so that you could have the opportunity to do this. Sing "Amazing Grace." Ask Him to let you know if He's real. Let Him do it His way - by His Spirit. Let Him come into your heart.

pornstudent said...

According to Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

The author of James writes, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." My asking God to show himself to me and for healing isn't asking for something to spend on my passions. The verses you "snatched" have nothing to do with what I asked.

pornstudent said...

Nick,
I've done everything you've asked.

D.J. said...

Portstudent said…
“The author of James writes, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." My asking God to show himself to me and for healing isn't asking for something to spend on my passions. The verses you "snatched" have nothing to do with what I asked.”
Actually, those verses have everything to do with what you asked. You interpreted Matthew 7:7 to say that God is duty bound to do anything you ask of him, like a genie in a bottle. James 4 informs us that this interpretation is invalid, since James’ instructions to the churches speak to a scenario where the people ask but receive not. This should then cause us to rethink the way we look at Matthew 7:7. Look again at Matthew 7. Jesus is talking to people about the fact that God will be found by those who earnestly seek him, a truth made known far earlier in 1 Chronicles 28:9…

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.”

Yet in the following verses, Jesus tells the people that to find the Father they must enter into the narrow gate that few find, while many walk the wide road that leads to destruction. If God is so simple to find, why do so few find him? Romans chapter 3 (itself reaffirming a truth found in the Psalms) explains further…

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” – Romans 3:10-11

No man genuinely seeks God because of the sin that clouds our judgment. The only way for us to find the narrow path is by the grace of God given through Christ. We will never truly seek God apart from his grace at work in our lives. If that grace is stirring within you, search the Scriptures diligently and he will be found by you. However, no degree of human effort can ever make us acceptable to God. Our salvation is by grace alone.

To understand the point Jesus was making in Matthew 7:7, we’ve got to make some effort to understand the counsel of Scripture as a whole, as Jesus’ audience in that sermon would have been keenly aware of the Old Testament Scriptures. Interpreting Scripture rightly takes effort and careful humility.

Soli Deo Gloria

pornstudent said...

DJ,

I believed the Bible, as most Bible believing Christians are encouraged to, when it said, "Ask and you shall receive..." The words don't need interpretation unless there is a need to explain why they don't appear to be true.

On and on it is explained what the Bible really means. Those who heard the words spoken by Jesus in Mathew didn't have James or Paul to explain what Jesus really meant. Those who were said to be healed according to their faith didn't wait around for the correct interpretation of what Jesus said.

You think those who heard Jesus would have better understood than I do what he meant by, "Ask and you shall receive." Maybe.

But, I'm like most people in that I want a leader to tell it like it is. I don't want riddles and hyperbole. So, I'm not much impressed with Jesus. Nevertheless, if there is a God and he wants to speak to me, I'd listen.

Nick said...

Pornstudent - I commend you for you efforts. Don't be put off by confusion or ambiguity, but keep on searching. Deuteronomy 4:29 says "But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

That's not ambiguous; it simply says to pursue God with everything you have. It includes the promise that you will find him - perhaps not right away, but after some diligent heart-searching.

God is love (1 John 4:7) and longs to be known and loved (don't we all, too?) That love is best found at the cross. Good luck.

D.J. said...

Pornstudent said...
"So, I'm not much impressed with Jesus. Nevertheless, if there is a God and he wants to speak to me, I'd listen."

Actually, a really good illustration of where we're at. My point all along is that God has spoken to you through the Scriptures, but you don't listen, because you're not impressed with what you find - it doesn't meet your notion of what God should be. This is the essence of the fallen human condition.

Soli Deo Gloria

pornstudent said...

It would be a "fallen human condition" if I worshipped, followed and submitted myself to someone that didn't impress me.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty funny to me that the religious ask "what would make you beleive in god?" and when you tell them they give you some scriptural quote about why that won't work and why you shouldn't taunt god like that.

I guess the people who wrote the holy books had the typical comebacks and objections all figured out. No surprise there. No religion that still exists today could survive without some mindtricks.

Anonymous said...

"A miracle -- of which hundreds have already been scientifically documented as "unexplainable by science." Lourdes has recorded dozens of "scientifically unexplainable miracles." But then that's not good enough for them."

You mean these kind of miracles?

Anonymous said...

One thing I really don't understand and would like any Christian(s) to explain.

Assuming, for whatever reason, you believe there is a God, why do you believe the bible to the exclusion of all of the other holy books/teachings of other religions?

I mean I keep seeing posts that say I believe in God because of a, b, and/or c, and then in the ensuing sentence we see all of these bible quotes. What's the rationale for that leap, rather than, there must be a god, therefore praise Zeus, or Zoroaster or whoever.

Did you read, consider and reject the other holy books/religious dogmas? Or is it just that your parents taught you and their parents taught them etc.
so that generations ago one of your ancestors made the decision for you?

It seems that belief is God is necessarily deemed belief in the bible and I don't see any thought process that leads to the conclusion that the two are equivalent.

Bertrand

D.J. said...

Bertrand said…
“Assuming, for whatever reason, you believe there is a God, why do you believe the bible to the exclusion of all of the other holy books/teachings of other religions?... Did you read, consider and reject the other holy books/religious dogmas? Or is it just that your parents taught you and their parents taught them etc. so that generations ago one of your ancestors made the decision for you?”

My belief in the Bible as the inspired and authoritative self-revelation of God comes from two reasons, internal and external. My prime reason for belief is internal, because I have seen and experienced the truth of Scripture for myself – I have encountered God personally through it and found what Scripture testifies about God to be true. I’m fully aware that this reasoning doesn’t mean a rip to a skeptic as “proof,” but that’s really unimportant. No amount of information or human effort can give one faith in God, but faith only comes by his grace with a changed heart. We must experience his grace to see him as he is, as our sin blinds us to this reality daily. Jesus spoke on this very reality in John chapter 6.

My secondary reason is external – that in my academic and intellectual studies I have seen the incredible preservation, reliability, and consistency of the Biblical documents. The New Testament documents are the most well preserved and textually reliable documents of antiquity on an exponential scale. The internal historical and theological consistency of 66 books written by dozens of different authors over a span of a millennia and a half is amazing in its scope. The prophecies that Christ fulfilled, written 600 years before his birth, are staggering. Make no mistake, my faith at day’s end is faith, (as Scripture says, without faith it is impossible to please God) but it is a reasonable faith. The faith I grew in as a teen I have actually seen attested to by years of study, confirming the internal witness of God’s Spirit.

Per your question on parents, yes, I was blessed with Godly parents who lovingly raised me to have a respect and passion for God and his word? Does that make my faith any less my own? By no means! Many on this blog, such as pornstudent, have told of being raised in a similar religious environment and ultimately rejecting the faith of their parents. I have had friends and teachers who were raised in another faith yet converted to Christianity. Today, Christianity is exploding in growth in areas such as China where few have their parents to point them toward the faith, and moreover to convert to faith in Christ means a very real risk of imprisonment or worse. Faith must be one’s own, anyone who tries to ride the coattails of their parents’ or anyone else’s faith will eventually fail. Was my faith influenced by my parents? Certainly. But I don’t think that the old Richard Dawkins argument that one’s particular faith is just a product of one’s culture holds much water at all when removed from western “Christianity” (which is really more of a cultural nominalism, especially in Europe and increasingly so in America) and applied globally.

Hope that gives you a little insight into my thought and faith process.

Soli Deo Gloria

Nick said...

Bertrand - you raise a good point. People should study other religions to escape the trap which you describe of simply subscribing to that in which you were raised (even if it is atheism). I'm assuming that you yourself are inclined to study the different texts.

Christians read the Bible because it is the only book that tells of God become man; all other religious figures in all other religious books tell of man trying to become like God.

Christians read the Bible because no other book tells of a God who loved people so much that he died for them, just so he could be with them.

Christians read the Bible because no other book tells of a religious figure that rose from the dead - all their graves are still occupied. Only Jesus rose from the dead and is still with us with power to give us new life.

Oh - my parents didn't read the Bible. I wish they had.

Anonymous said...

As an atheist, I will tell you I think Islam has Christianity beat hands down on the sincerity of its believers. And the Quran is demonstrably better preserved than the Bible. Maybe it's a few hundred years younger, but it hasn't been tampered with nearly as much.

And the idea of a man god rising from the dead isn't unique to Christianity. I'll leave the discovery of other such gods to those who claim to have "researched" other religions.

I wouldn't want to destroy their joy of discovery.

Anonymous said...

Throughout the world most people follow the religion of their parents and neighbors. This is particularly true of lesser developed parts of the world. The more developed parts of the world are exposed to more ideas through their cultures and more easily adapt to new ideas or ideas different from those around them.

There is nothing odd about this at all. It's simply the way most people are raised. Few ever have the time or luxury of exploring any alternatives and wouldn't want to risk ostracism from the only community they know.

I really can't fault an Arab for being Muslim, an Indian for being Hindu or a Thai for being Buddhist or a Southerner for being a Protestant Christian. What real choices do they have?

Not many if they still want to fit in.

We were beginning to move away from that a little in the U.S., but probably only in the last 50 years or so with a strong drift now back toward the old ways in the last 20 years or so.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the comment about risks of being thrown in prison for being a Christian isn't true in China. I lived there for a year and know enough people from China to know the situation there. It's much more dangerous to be a follower of Falun Gong - a locally grown cult -
than Christianity in China.

Nick said...

Anonymous said "And the idea of a man god rising from the dead isn't unique to Christianity. I'll leave the discovery of other such gods to those who claim to have "researched" other religions."

Hmmm ... let me see now - Confucious? Mohammed? Buddha? No, not them. They're still dead. Zoroaster? Krishna? Edgar Cayce? No, not them either. Just not a whole lot of major religious figures made it past death.

D.J. said...

Anonymous said...
"And the idea of a man god rising from the dead isn't unique to Christianity. I'll leave the discovery of other such gods to those who claim to have "researched" other religions."

Please don't tell me you're going to posit Osiris, Horus, Dionysius, or the like. To suggest that these stories are really similar to the Christ story in any significant way is a stretch of good scholarship and common sense.

Anonymous said...
"Oh, and the comment about risks of being thrown in prison for being a Christian isn't true in China."

Well, I've heard firsthand testimony that tells otherwise. Yes, the Falun Gong and other faiths are persecuted as well, but to deny China's repression of Christians is to deny the facts. Anyhow, I think my point stands that Dawkins' assertion that faith is simply a result of one's culture doesn't hold water when viewed globally.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Many of those that maintain that humans are the special creation of a
supernatural entity called God, by whatever name, do not often or perhaps ever
consider the cosmological context of the universe we have found ourselves in.
Every concept and so-called philosophical "truth" we believe in is derived
from one species living on an isolated planet situated in a larger cosmos that
is nearly 14 billion years old and almost beyond our comprehension in the
everyday dimensions of ordinary experience.

When viewed in this much broader context it seems ludicrous to assume that we have all "truth" wrapped up in the stories behind a 4000-year-old religious
belief.

Further,in such enormous time space dimensions, it is extreme hubris and
nfantile narcissism to consider that just our species is the exclusive focus of attention by a God, if one exists. We are still under the chauvinistic delusion that we are the center of the universe as before Copernicus.

Even if the "why" questions remain elusive from science, I see no satisfactory answers coming from religion today any better than they did in the past. The answer that "God did it" is to me and others extremely unsatisfying.

Likewise, a universal "purpose" is so subjective in this world that even religion
cannot fathom it. The best we can hope for is consensual agreement about
values that foster our mutual survival and well being all obtainable without religion.

The other thing that should be repugnant and illogical to the critical thinker and most scientifically literate persons is the silly idea that we are "fallen" creatures who have committed some original sin. Such thinking leads
to self-fulfilling situations and demeans the remarkable intelligence and capacities of our species. The good that we are capable of is fully realizable without the necessity of any supernatural worship or the fear of punishment of
a creator. I say these things as an agnostic who is willing to admit that I do not know if a creator or "first cause" exists.

I find though that the traditional religious concepts that humans have come up with to explain God would to me be a gross insult and incongruous to a higher
evolved being that would be capable of "designing" and creating the sophisticated,
complex universe we live in.

It is past time that our species give up these immature and archaic
traditional ideas of God. They are irrelevant and a hindrance to solving the
urgent ecological and social problems that our species is facing with climate change and ecological destruction.

We have used these comforting stories to cope with the inevitable changes and distresses we face as humans. We have also used them to discriminate and harm
our species and fellow species here. We have used them as a convenient excuse to deny responsibility for our actions.

Our childhood as a species is ending and we need to put such myths we have had
about the universe and our place in it behind us if we are going to survive.

Anonymous said...

Well, the reason I know about Christians is that my wife was one. She wasn't persecuted, thrown in prison, or taunted by her peers or the government.

She never had any problems as a practicing Christian in China.

I've been to Chinese church services and they don't have horror stories to tell about China, either.

It's just a bunch of Christian marketing hype. I was even at one Chinese church meeting in which some Jeezer showed a film about Christian persecution in China and the Chinese actually shouted him down as a liar.

They said the people in the film weren't persecuted for being Christians but for other things
they did against the government.

Their religious beliefs had nothing to do with what they had done, but had a lot to do with getting them a sympathetic audience and some financial support from rich American Christians.

There is a big difference between someone being persecuted for their religious beliefs and someone with your particular religious beliefs being "persecuted" for something entirely different.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I'd be a little suspicious about "first hand testimony" of Christian persecution in China. I'd be particularly on the lookout for Taiwanese Christians spreading these stories as they have a bit of a political axe to grind with the mainland Chinese.

That was what set off about 100 or so Chinese Christians at that meeting I attended. Also, a lot of poor Chinese are opportunists and will tell their sad story to anyone they think has deep enough pockets to get them out of their misery.

Again, I've lived there, seen the Bibles on sale in the book stores, met the people, known many Chinese Christians, and it isn't the way the Christian marketers have tried to play it.

Anonymous said...

As unique as Christians may think their story is, it just plain isn't. The selling point of most religions is some sort of eternal reward in the afterlife (except for some eastern religions), and Christianity was not developed in a vacuum. It may have survived where other religions have failed, but it incorporated a lot from what was common themes at the time. Even the Catholic Church was concerned about the strong overtones of Mithraism among early Christians. Christians have easily absorbed myth and tradition from many sources into their stories. This was necessary to win over converts from competing religions of the time.

The resurrection of Jesus is just another variation of a very common story. You've named a few, but there are more. And even Islam has Muhammad zooming up to heaven for a chitchat with the other prophets. And he didn't have to die to do that, so he one-upped Jesus as far as I'm concerned.

But, I guess in some variation of Christian mythology Muhammad is burning in hell, so I guess he got his.

D.J. said...

Anonymous said...
"The resurrection of Jesus is just another variation of a very common story. You've named a few, but there are more."

If the Christ story is so common, would you care to elaborate on what meaningful parallels are found between it and the myths of Osiris, Horus, Dionysius, etc. Saying 'Christianity borrowed' doesn't cut it for me - I want to see meaningful evidence.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Religions rarely admit that they borrowed ideas from others, each prefers to claim that its ideas are the only truth.

Google "resurrection" and you'll get enough examples of other religions that had the same idea.

It's a common theme as is virgin birth.

D.J. said...

anonymous said...
"Google "resurrection" and you'll get enough examples of other religions that had the same idea.

It's a common theme as is virgin birth."

Again, evidence? If you're going to make a claim, then please back it up, and don't suggest that everybody else go and do your research for you.

Soli Deo Gloria