Metaphor, Hyperbole and Context

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A moderate and self-styled ‘intellectual’ Christian told me in a online discussion recently that ‘most of the bible is metaphor’. When I asked what it was a metaphor for, he decided it was time to end the discussion. A metaphor signals a deeper or alternate meaning; the bible cannot be ‘mostly metaphor’ without there being something else – what Christians might regard as a ‘greater truth’ – the metaphor is intended to convey. So, yes, I can see that the Genesis creation stories might be interpreted metaphorically (though symbolically might be a better term) as the inclination of all humans to rebel against God… but then that’s only one of many interpretations, and not actually what the text says. If the bible is mostly metaphor then understanding what God is supposedly communicating through it becomes a matter of personal, subjective interpretation, which is why there are so many factions and sects within the Christian brand.

Similarly, when I challenged Dave Armstrong on Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, about why Christians don’t take everything Jesus said literally, he told me it’s because Jesus was fond of hyperbole and it’s the point underlining his hyperbole that matters. I knew, of course, that Jesus liked to exaggerate so I asked Dave how we know which of Jesus’ remarks are hyperbole and which are not. He declared that this was ‘obvious’. Perhaps it is, in sayings like ‘when your eye offends you pluck it out’, but it’s less apparent with pronouncements like ‘sell all you have and give to the poor’ or ‘abandon everything and follow me’. Again, it becomes a matter of subjective opinion, however learned that opinion might consider itself to be, about which of Jesus’ words are hyperbole and which are meant to be followed to the letter.

When I made this point, Dave decided that, rather than it being ‘obvious’, it actually takes years of study to know which is which: ‘It’s by studying Bible commentaries and linguistic aids, and the rules of hermeneutics and exegesis (Bible interpretation).’ Jesus as the incarnation of the God of the Cosmos, and the gospels in reporting him, could surely have made it clear. Instead, it seems, it takes armies of theologians and commentators, and years of study to work it out.

The third way Christians (of all stripes) manoeuvre around the bible’s shortcomings is to say that anything they’re keen to disregard is ‘context-bound’. There are some matters, they say, that are of their time and ancient place and are therefore no longer applicable today.

There are things in God’s timeless Word that pertain only to the time in when they were written? Who knew?

So, instructions like ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ (which Paul advocates four times in his letters: Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26); ‘women should always have their heads covered in church’ (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) and ‘heal the sick by anointing with oil’ (James 5:14) are now generally considered to be context-bound. This, however, creates the same problem that arose over Jesus’ hyperbole. How do we know which of the bible’s pronouncements are context-bound and which are still of significance today? Answer: we don’t.

It could be argued that, just as ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ is a custom anchored in the first century, beliefs like

the world is populated by demons,

humans are capable of living forever,

and

incantations (that Jesus is the Saviour) work

are equally context-bound. We know categorically in the 21st century, that demons don’t exist, humans cannot live forever and magic spells don’t work. Only those in a pre-scientific age, dominated by superstition, thought so (together with those today who buy into these same ancient beliefs.)

Once believers start claiming – and it’s Christians themselves who do this – that significant parts of the bible are metaphor, hyperbole or are context-bound, then they’re acknowledging that the bible frequently makes little sense, and that significant portions  lend themselves to whatever interpretation suits the individual reader. Some parts can even be dismissed altogether, which is precisely what Christians do with them (how many Christians do you know who believe they can move mountains or heal the sick by laying on of hands?) What this shows is that they don’t really believe the bible is God’s Word, either in the literal, evangelical sense, nor in a moderate, quasi-intellectual way.

In practice, even to most Christians, the bible is a book of no particular merit.

God’s Very Good Creation

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I’m recovering from a viral condition that’s affecting people in these parts. It’s set me thinking about how many diseases and conditions humans are susceptible to. An online search suggests the figure is unquantifiable. There are, for example, over 5,000 viruses known to affect human health, including the 200 that cause various versions of the so-called common cold. Of these 5000, we understand only a few hundred. There are also some 6,000 diseases caused by single-gene defects, and even more by other genetic disorders. In case that’s not enough, there are also hundreds of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites. While some of these cause only minor discomfort, it remains the case that almost every one of us will die, or has already died, from one or other of these diseases, conditions or illnesses.

How does Christianity account for all of these horrors? Here’s the cerebrally challenged Ken Ham to explain:

We need to start with the fact that God created everything perfect, and this perfect creation was then marred by sin. This is the only way the gospel makes sense. You need the foundation of the history in Genesis in order to fully understand the gospel!

Yup, God made everything perfect and a pair of mythical humans messed it up by ‘sinning’. Everything that’s bad about the world is the result of Adam and Eve’s one-off disobedience. That single act opened the floodgates not only to all of the illnesses to which we and the animal kingdom are prone, but also to natural disasters and the brutality we inflict on one another.

But don’t worry, God has a cunning plan! Ken wants us to teach our children about it:

Teach them about God’s original “very good” creation. Instruct them that mankind’s sin broke God’s creation and brought death and suffering into it. Teach them that we needed someone to pay the penalty for our sin, and that’s why Jesus stepped into history… and now offers the free gift of eternal life to all who will put their faith and trust in him.

You see, as Ken likes to say, only this explanation makes sense of our susceptibility to disease and illness. Only this explanation makes sense of the gospel too; the good news that Jesus sacrificial death will put everything right.

                   Eventually.

                            No rush.

                                   Whenever…

It also demonstrates what a complete and utter bastard the biblical God is, that he condemns his ‘very good’ creation to a disease ridden, disaster stricken existence, simply because he himself made the first humans as fallible as he did.

But no. Neither this explanation nor its concommitant ‘gospel’ makes any sense, whichever perspective you look at them from. The development of innumerable diseases, and the viruses, bacteria, parasites and genetic conditions that cause them, are clear evidence of evolution; of an unsupervised arms-race in which the best-adapted invader or host survives to reproduce/replicate. Having then had the chance to transmit their DNA/chemical data, their purpose is served. They die. They stay dead.

The men who created Genesis 1 & 2 did not know about evolution, microbes or viruses. They did, however, see the deficiencies of the world in which they lived, the struggle for existence, illness and death, and found these impossible to square with the benign creator God they imagined existed. And so were formed the Genesis myths of a perfect creation spoilt by the only agent whom these men believed capable of causing such havoc; they themselves. There is no denying their accounts have been remarkably influential, and also completely wrong.

No gospel is needed to put right a fallen creation. It isn’t fallen, it is what we should expect if life evolved; if each species, organism and virus that exists today has spent millions of years constantly adapting in order to survive. Jesus’ supposed sacrifice has no bearing on any of this; it is superfluous, unnecessary and entirely irrelevant. The salvation myth is a virus in its own right, existing, like the meme it is, merely to perpetuate itself.

Jesus can’t save you from the common cold, let alone death.

Why logic, reason and truth have nothing to do with any god

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I’ve recently encountered again the ‘argument’ (it’s actually no more than an assertion) that without God logic and reason would not exist.

Here’s how ‘Liam’ puts it in a comment on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism:

If anything, the illogical nature of a godless universe is a massive pointer to a God, without Whom there is no reason or truth or logic…

To a degree this is right; if God made the universe and everything in it, including reason and truth and logic then, yes, they would owe their existence to him.

But it all hinges on that word ‘if’.

Equally, if God doesn’t exist, it follows he could not have created the universe and everything in it – including logic, rationality and truth.

One cannot take these things and say they are evidence that God exists and also that they only exist because God made them. Not unless you’re happy with a tautology – a feedback loop where each assumption is its own conclusion. Demonstrate, on the other hand, that God exists independently from the human imagination and then maybe you might be able to make the case that he created logic and reason. As it is, pointing to human attributes like logic and reason doesn’t ‘prove’ that God exists; it demonstrates only that these attributes are characteristics of the human mind. Logic, truth, reason (and mathematics), like God himself, have no independent existence outside of human cognition. They are ways of explaining life and the universe; they are not life and the universe themselves.

If, as seems probable, God doesn’t exist, then evidently, logic, truth and reason did not originate with him. Indeed, they took billions of years of slow evolution to develop. We know of no other way for intelligence to arise; and only intelligence produces logic, reason and truths. No God required

 

Say Hul-loa to the Loa loa, another of God’s amazing creatures

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Answers from the Depths of Ignorance

by Hen Skam on October 22nd 2017

What a great God is our Creator God! Like it tells us in his Word™, he made everything in only six literal days, 6,000 years ago. Then, after planting fake fossils in pre-aged rocks, he found he had a little time on his hands so set about making deadly viruses, pathogens and parasites.

Now, these amazing examples of God’s handiwork didn’t evolve! That would be ridiculous. No, they were made by God just as they are now. So let’s take a look at one special ickle-bitty critter called the ‘Loa loa‘.

You see, this little creature, carefully crafted by our wonderful creator, has an intriguing life-cycle which involves it living for some of the time in the human eye. Once it has burrowed its way in, it quietly eats the eye from the inside, and unless treated with medicine (derived from man’s fallible word, so obviously not recommended) it can render its host blind. It may also lead to early death, but as the Loa loa is found only in Africa, we needn’t worry too much about this. Instead, let’s acknowledge what a blessing it must be to serve one of the Lord’s creations in such a way!

How foolish it is of our atheist friends to think that such an amazing creature could have evolved! There are many more animals like the Loa loa, each and every one of them is the handiwork of the one true Creator God. What an amazing, loving God he is!

 

This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s pseudo-scientists.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for paying

(for us to continue with this ministry of superstition and stupidity.)

Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pt 3)

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Posts here and here considered two reasons why Christians’ claim that their God created the cosmos is preposterous. A third reason is that –

God as creator leads to an infinite regress.

Christians like to assert that everything that has a beginning has a cause; the universe had a beginning therefore it had to have a cause. That cause – watch the unwarranted leap of faith here – can only have been have been their god. My previous arguments notwithstanding – that God needed to create everything from nothing (which according to Christians is impossible) and the immaterial cannot produce the material – the notion that god caused everything begs the question, as Richard Dawkins points out, of who caused his being. If, as Christians like to argue, everything has a cause then their god must have one too. Their assertion that he is the exception because, by definition, he has no beginning and consequently has no need of a cause is merely special pleading; why should he be different from everything else?

Christian apologists – William Lane Craig, for example – always assume that the first cause is their god, without a beginning and need of a cause. Their thinking goes as follows: everything that exists has a cause; the universe must have had a first cause; this first cause was somehow sentient; we are going to call this sentience ‘god’; this god must be our god, YHWH.

Yet they provide no evidence that there is, or was, a first cause; there could have been several contributory causes, including chemical, physical (gravity, for example) and activity on a quantum level. They then make the unwarranted assumption that this cause must have been sentient, again without evidence, and load this presumption with further insupportable connotations when they label it ‘god’. Finally, they make another leap of faith by claiming this ‘god’ is their god, YHWH.

This is all so much special pleading, insisting everything has a cause except the thing Christians don’t want to have had a cause. But God cannot be excluded; he too must have a cause (and indeed he does). So who or what caused him and gave him his start? And who or what created whatever it was that created god? Who or what created that? And on into infinite regress.

Those who offer such arguments put the proverbial cart 613.772 billion years before the horse. As Richard Dawkins says in The God Delusion, intelligence and creativity have only ever arisen as a result of evolution, specifically the evolution of the (human) brain. We know of no other means – there is no other means – by which intelligence and high-level creativity are produced. For a creative, super-intelligent mind to exist prior to the beginning of everything is, therefore, an impossibility. As I suggested in the second part of this series, the physical always precedes the immaterial; the natural world produced the advanced human brain about 200,000 years ago, and that brain has, ever since, projected its gods backward to the beginnings of the universe. This does not mean that a being without a beginning was actually there, much less that he produced the whole show. It means we know the cause of god. It is us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe (pt 2)

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More thoughts on why it is impossible that a God, much less the God of the bible, could have made everything.

2. The supernatural and immaterial cannot create the natural and material.

Let’s explore a little more of the nature of the God of the Christians. He is, they say, transcendent; ephemeral, intangible, invisible, ineffable, wholly spiritual. He is super-natural, existing on a plane outside the universe of matter, separate and removed from it and unlike any aspect of it. The bible implies as much and Christians have elaborated on these qualities throughout the millennia. The Christian God is everything, in fact, apart from physical matter (yes, those who claim to know all about this unknowable being assert he took on physical form as Jesus, but he’d yet to do that at the beginning of everything; 6000 years ago if you believe nutjobs like Ken Ham, 613.772 billion years if you accept the science.)

There is no incidence anywhere, no evidence that has ever existed ever, that demonstrates that something ephemeral, immaterial and super-natural is capable of creating the concrete, tangible and natural. To draw an analogy or two: music, which as heard is ephemeral and intangible, does not create the physical objects of the orchestra that play it. It does not look back as it vibrates through the air and conjure up the instruments from which it emanates.

Similarly, human thought, itself largely ephemeral and capable of imagining possibilities that don’t yet exist, does not of itself produce physical objects. However much you picture your ideal house in your mind, it will not produce the bricks and mortar without you taking action to realise them. This is always the case (and why prayer, spells and other wishful thinking are always ineffective); further action is required if what the human mind can imagine is to become a reality – some manipulation of the physical world. In all of our experience, in everything we know of reality, the transcendent cannot and does not produce anything material, ever. Music does not produce the orchestra. Thoughts do not construct the house; they must be translated into action, in the form of engagement with the physical world, for anything to materialise.

Two things follow: while the transcendent or spiritual cannot create anything in the real world without the corresponding physical activity, the reverse is not the case. Physical activity can and does produce the ephemeral. The instruments of the orchestra can produce music. The synapses of the brain can produce thought, love, empathy, desire. These do not exist, like other abstract concepts such as peace, hope and beauty, outside the physical human brain. In this reality, as opposed to that of the bible and the Creation Museum, the physical is always primary; it always comes first, the transcendent second. Never the other way round.

This, in fact, would appear to be a ‘law’ of the universe. As such, it is impossible a transcendent, supernatural being could have created the natural, material world. Applying this law, it can only be the case that the physical reality – or some aspect of it (guess what) – imagined the transcendent, without it having any real existence. No amount of physical activity has ever been able to produce it. If Christians therefore want to postulate a spiritual being as the first cause they need explain how the universal law that the physical always precedes the non-physical came to be overturned.

More to follow. Part one of this series is here.

 

 

Why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe (pt 1)

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I’m doing some thinking aloud here in an attempt to address the Christian claim that atheists are somehow compelled to believe the universe arose from nothing. Nothing can’t create something they say, so a creator is required – and what do you know? This creator turns out to be their very own pet god, YHWH, in one of his many incarnations. Definitely not Allah, Ra or any of the other hundreds of creator gods dreamed up by mankind through the millennia.

I’m not convinced atheists do claim that the universe can only have come from nothing. It’s an argument put into the mouths of atheists by some Christians who say, in effect, ‘if you don’t accept that our God made the universe then you have to believe it came from nothing.’ But it is the result of a false dichotomy (or false witness) because the position is not the only alternative to claim that a supernatural entity made everything. Lawrence Krauss, for example, demonstrates how something can arise from nothing and he and other scientists tell us that in any case there is no such thing as nothing – there’s always something, if ‘only’ at the quantum level.

The notion then, that in God’s absence the universe can only have come from nothing is a straw man, created by Christians desperate to diminish, dilute and dismiss scientifically viable alternative explanations.

It’s patently dishonest. (Christians being intellectually dishonest? Whoever heard of such a thing?) It’s dishonest because, in fact, it is Christians who believe the physical universe was created from nothing. I’m going to attempt to show you that they do and in the process dismantle their claims that their God was the one who magicked up everything from this nothing.

1. God too would have had to have create something from nothing.

Here’s the problem. God had nothing to go on. No raw materials with which to create the universe, and no raw materials from which to make the raw materials. There was only him and nothing. It is not unreasonable to ask, therefore, where the material from which he made the universe came from. The necessary ingredients for a universe – gravity, black holes, dark matter, dark energy, vast quantities of chemicals and what-have-you – are all physical phenomena, none of which existed before god allegedly made them. So, from what did he make them?

Perhaps he used parts of himself, in which case, he’s been depleted ever since, missing those bits of himself he used to make matter. Or maybe he turned part of himself into the physical universe so that he retained his integrity while integrating the universe into his very being – like a divine dream, say, or a tattoo.

The bible, however, doesn’t support either of these propositions. It makes clear that God created the earth and that which surrounds it (it has little concept of the universe as we now know it) as entities entirely separate from himself. His creation did not deplete him, nor was it a part of him (though he wasn’t, in the early days, averse to making guest appearances in it). Which bring us back to my original question; with what did he make it when there was only himself and nothing? Everything, Christians tells us, is made from something, so if God did not make the universe out of himself then he can only have made it from nothing. Everything there is, everything there has ever been – from gas clouds to planets, bugs to brains – God apparently produced from nothing.

Those who argue for this – and everyone who says God made everything is doing just that whether they realise it or not – does not advance our understanding of how the universe came into being one iota. All it does is introduce a sentient being into the equation, long before sentient beings existed. Moreover, the presence of such a being is superfluous, adding only unnecessary complication while explaining… absolutely nothing. Applying Occam’s razor we can just as easily take God out of the equation and be no worse off. There is a far greater probability that phenomena that do actually exist created the universe, not one that is mere conjecture.

 

Next time we will look at an empirical and logical impossibility that also means (a) God can’t have had anything to do with it.