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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Two choices regarding God?

In a discussion related to The Atheist Delusion? post, I was accused by an atheist of advocating a cherry-picking approach to Scripture. This is not the first time that I've been accused of engaging in this type of fallacious reasoning - my Fundamentalist Christian friends have accused me of the same thing. From the atheist perspective, a person has the choice of accepting and defending a monstrous God (defined by Scripture) or rejecting the existence of God. From the Fundamentalist Christian perspective, a person has the choice of accepting all of the things attributed to God in Scripture or rejecting the only "TRUE" God. For both sides, it's all or nothing. Moreover, anyone who rejects this formula is cherry-picking. By the way, there is a name for this kind of argument too: It's called "excluding the middle" or presenting a "false dichotomy" (making it look like there are only two choices when in reality there are more legitimate alternatives).

What is cherry-picking? In the realm of reasoning and formulating logical arguments, cherry-picking involves the selective use of evidence. In other words, a person engaging in this behavior would suppress or ignore any evidence that did not support their belief or thesis. So who's doing the cherry-picking in this discussion about who's deluded - Fundamentalist, Atheists or me?

As this blog has always challenged the Fundamentalist doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the atheist could not claim that I had suppressed the evidence that he uses to discredit God and the Bible. Likewise, I have stated my support for scientific findings and the evolutionary model in explaining the diversity of life on this planet, so he could not accuse me of suppressing or ignoring that evidence either. Instead, the atheist accused me of cherry-picking by pointing to my assertion that the Bible is a joint venture between human and Divine. He claimed that I had arbitrarily decided that the good stuff belonged to God, and that the bad stuff belonged to man. The atheist then challenged me to present a methodology for determining what in Scripture is inspired by God and what is derived from human reasoning. According to him, if I failed to supply such a methodology, my thesis would collapse; and I would be guilty of cherry-picking.

Since it is my contention that God is so far beyond our ability to conceptualize and contain, I naturally replied that it would be impossible to arrive at such a methodology (especially one that would satisfy an atheist). That does not, however, mean that the assignment of something to the Divine is necessarily arbitrary in nature. I believe that every individual (including myself) has some ability to differentiate between things that are of human origin and those which are of Divine origin. I believe that ability is derived from the same place from whence Scripture is derived - human reasoning informed or enlightened by Divine inspiration. The atheist demanded a formula from me that would result in a universally applicable method that arrived at uniform conclusions by everyone. If I'm right, that's not possible this side of God's Kingdom. Moreover, he sets a standard for me that his side of this argument is also not able to satisfy - Two people employing the scientific method and studying the same subject often arrive at different conclusions. Learning about God (or any other thing) is a process that happens over time. Hence, if I don't claim to know the complete nature and extent of God, how can I be accused of cherry-picking facts to support an open-ended thesis regarding the nature and extent of God?

"It's all or nothing!" That's what Fundamentalist Christians and Atheists preach, but it still doesn't make any sense to me. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I think you are correct. The false dichotomy fallacy fails. It is not all or nothing. To argue this demand is both intellectually lazy and spiritually unimaginative.

    That said, I think you move into challenging territory with your proposition that the human reasoning reflected in the scripture (and I would add, other sacred texts also) is somehow "informed or enlightened by Divine inspiration." On its face, such a proposal would appear to accept an assumption that there is an external being acting upon people in a process of cooperation. The problem is that it appears to be an end-run around literalism in order to arrive at the conclusion that there is a God, which would be the conclusion your fundamentalist friends adopt but not your atheist friends. See what I mean? Have you truly maintained a "third way" or are you really just a progressive? This is a rhetorical question I'm hoping will help show what an agnostic might see in your thinking (but I don't speak for other agnostics).

    Of course, our primary difficulty in these things is that our language and words are all reductions and almost never *truly* convey our thoughts, not least because there is always some subjectivity happening in the sending and receiving, if only minimal. So, perhaps I have not understood your idea very well. But since you have already confessed to concluding that an understanding of god is unbounded, the proposal of a "joint project" would seem to have a binding effect by returning us to a view of a God tinkering with humans, inspiring greatness but failing to prevent some of the banality that would end up getting published in the project. So we are not very much farther down the road for this idea.

    I think there is still a "third way" without such hooks but this is not my blog. I will simply share from the scholar known for the seminal works in systematic theology, Paul Tillich. "God is understood not as "a" being existing beside other beings but as being-itself or the power of being in everything and above everything that is. The apologetic significance of this par of DR. Tillich's system is that it liberates us from the idea of God as a bieng whose existence or non-existence can be discussed." This quote came from the summary of Volume 1 of his series on systematic theology.

    "Thanks for your thoughtfulness and openness. I enjoy reading.