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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Did YHWH Evolve Into A Super Deity?

Mr. Harry H. McCall has posted an article on Debunking Christianity entitled "The Evolution of God from Yahweh in a Box to the Super Mega Deity of the Universe." (It can be viewed at this address: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-evolution-of-god-from-yahweh-in-box.html#more) The thesis of the article is that the ancient Hebrew God doesn't bare much resemblance to the modern Christian concept of God. He goes on to point out that most Christians are blissfully unaware of how their God has evolved over the centuries and appears to bemoan the fact that this presents a moving target for the Atheists who are simply trying to bring peace and enlightenment to these ignorant dupes.

Of course, Mr. McCall is really talking about the evolution in the thinking about God that has taken place over time (he doesn't believe that God has evolved). He's probably correct in his assessment that most Christians are unaware of the history of the development of the modern Christian concept of God. In fact, we would probably not be challenged if we asserted that most folks are blissfully ignorant of the evolution of human thought in general. Scientific thinking has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in the last five hundred years. Likewise, our understanding of the process of evolution is deeper and more nuanced today than it was when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. Indeed, Darwin's own understanding of the subject had evolved by the time of his death in 1882. Hence, it is rather unimaginative to suppose that our philosophical notions relative to God would remain static over time.

The fact that "countless thinkers" have contributed to our modern conception of God does not trouble me. Whatever happened to the old adage that "a million heads are better than one." (it was something along those lines) Why do we have to accept that inspiration was confined to a few priests, prophets, apostles and scribes writing some two to three thousand years ago? Hasn't the entire history of mankind on this planet been one of learning - the expansion of our intellectual frontiers? Why should the subject of the Divine be any different? Interestingly, I think that Mr. McCall would find a more sympathetic audience for his thesis among Christian Fundamentalists (they don't like change either).

I find it fascinating that most of us who accept evolutionary science as the most plausible explanation for the diversity of life on this planet still regard Darwin's book with reverence - even though we are all aware that the science and thinking on the subject has progressed dramatically since he wrote it. Why is it so hard for some folks to approach Scripture with the same attitude? Our understanding of how DNA and genetic mutations work is clearly superior to anything extant in the Nineteenth Century, but it doesn't diminish our respect for what was discovered and accomplished then. We can still discern in our thinking the germ of Darwin's idea (along with those of all of the other thinkers who contributed to his thesis).

Hence, the more appropriate question is: Can we discern any traces of the Hebrew YHWH in the modern Christian conception of God? And to any objective observer, the answer should be YES! The Hebrew God is identified as the Creator of everything at the beginning of their Scriptures. (Genesis 1) The Hebrew God is purported to have told Moses that "He" was beyond the scope of any name that Moses could imagine.(Exodus 3:13-15) In a polytheistic world, we are told that YHWH informed Moses that "He" would not tolerate any likenesses of himself or the veneration of any other deities among the Israelites. (Exodus 20:3-5) The place between the cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (the box that Mr. McCall references in his remarks) was originally understood by the Hebrews to be a place where YHWH would sometimes meet with them. (Exodus 25:21-22) Although this place later came to be regarded as a "dwelling place" for YHWH, it is inaccurate to characterize the Hebrews as having regarded the chest itself as a box to contain him. Indeed, when Solomon constructed the first temple, he acknowledged that God could not be contained in any human structure. (I Kings 8:27) Isaiah claimed that YHWH told him that "He" was unique - the only God. (Isaiah 44:6-8) Can we detect the germ of the modern Christian notions about God in any of this?

In short, the process of evolution applies to human thinking in a way that is similar to how the concept applies to the development of life on this planet. Christians have nothing to apologize for with regard to the way that their conceptions of the Divine have evolved. I'm sorry if this makes the Christian Divinity more slippery for Atheists and harder for them to attack, but I must applaud the fact that at least some Christian thinkers are still learning and evolving. As for God, I don't know if "He/She/It" has evolved over the years (like our conceptions of him/her/it); but I'd like to think that "He/She/It" has grown with us. What an exciting possibility!

2 comments:

  1. Hey, found a link to your blog and thought I'd comment. Hope you get a chance to respond!

    So, I definitely get the perspective that God Himself is essentially the same, but our understanding of Him has grown over the centuries. From a high level, I think it makes a lot of sense and is exactly where I was in the past. However, this rationale can be difficult to apply to specific instances in Scripture, such as:
    A) The reason God rejected Saul as king of Israel and chose to replace him with David is because Saul did not complete the genocide of the Amalekites by killing all the "men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys" (1 Samuel 15:3)
    B) On multiple occasions, God condones the slaughter of priests part of competing religions (1 Kings 18:40, 2 Kings 10:25 2 Kings 23:20), a method of evangelism that has thankfully gone out of style
    C) Slavery is clearly not considered to be immoral by God, although He does provide a little bit of regulation of the slave trade in Scripture (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:7-11, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2)
    D) And lest I sound a bit too harsh on the OT, Scripture clearly shows that God has some very patriarchal views on the role of women in the NT as well (1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-6, 1 Corinthians 11:3-9, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

    I think it would be easy to say that God has evolved over the years too, but these examples are beyond a simple evolution; they are 180 degrees the opposite of how we would view God now. I could also see the argument the men wrote the Bible and are subject to error, but this seems like a slippery slope to me. How do we know that a man wrote the part about genocide, but the 10 Commandments must be from God? Or that God truly loves us and offers us forgiveness, but Paul slipped in his own personal views on women.

    Of course, you could also make the argument that men actually wrote 100% of the different books of the Bible, and that God's view isn't reflected in Scripture at all. Seems like that would explain a lot....

    Anyway, looking forward to a good response from you!

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    Replies
    1. Michael, I appreciate your comments. I completely agree with your account and evaluation of points A, B, C and D relative to Scripture. I think that religious people have used God as an excuse for some very bad behaviors down through the centuries of human history. I don't think that any of the examples you cite would be appropriate for any divinity worthy of respect or worship. As you may have gathered from reading some of my other posts and comments, I am not a Fundamentalist. I believe that Scripture is subject to error and contradiction, and I see abundant evidence of this throughout the texts. I think that I should also say that it is my view that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are not the only or final authority extant relative to the Divine (I think that those Scriptures also demonstrate this truth - that there are other sources like the world around us).
      My view is that Scripture (as with many other writings) was a joint project between human and Divine. I would say that anything touched by human hands is subject to all of the things that cloud our judgment and objectivity as humans. Our perception of God and the world around us is limited by the fact that we can only take in and process what we receive via our five senses. Moreover, despite our best efforts, most of us realize that we bring many prejudices and biases to any communication we engage in (writing, reading, speaking or hearing).
      However, as my statement about a "joint venture" indicates, I also see a touch of the Divine in Scripture - I would attribute this to Divine guidance, inspiration, or what has been traditionally referred to as the testimony of the Holy Spirit. I would argue that one has to take in the totality of Scripture in evaluating which portions are consistent with the most plausible overall picture of God's character. Hence, I would say that genocide, slavery, misogyny and animal cruelty are not consistent with the weight of the evidence (both inside and outside of Scripture) about God's character.
      In short, I believe that most folks have swallowed the old axiom about Scripture that if you can't believe all of it, you can't believe any of it. I see this reasoning as a false dilemma - the old either/or fallacy. It's the same thing relative to the question of God's existence. It's ironic to me that Atheists and Fundamentalists are in philosophical agreement that God and evolution do not mix - I don't see it that way.

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