Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Moving Mountains

Imagine that you had some genetic malfunction which resulted in you seeing the color blue in the same way everyone else sees the color pink, and visa versa.  Now imagine trying to debate the order of the colors in a rainbow.  ROYGBIV would be ROYGPIV to you, but how could you convince others of your perspective, or how could you arrive at the truth of the matter, figuring out that you have been wrong your entire life?

One of the most difficult things to do is debate effectively.  Trying to debate someone with a viewpoint equal and opposite of your own, someone who holds their belief just as strongly as you do, if not stronger, is like trying to move a mountain.  Because such a belief is a "world view," as the expression goes.  That world view, be it Biblical or other, colors the perspective of all data we receive.  People of faith obviously have this reality filter in place, but scientists are not immune to this bias either.  In our world where we are trending towards more faith in science than religion, that has its own hazards.  But I digress...

How do you debate someone with a different world view?  How do you convince someone that blue is pink, or the other way around?  I don't know, but I am trying to learn more effective ways to do so in the arena of faith.  It's just difficult and frustrating.  When you can look at the sky and say "See that blip of light?  That comes form a galaxy 300 million light years away," and yet people still think that the earth is less than 20,000 years old, you just want to throw your hands up and wave the white flag.  Just like watching a magic show, people of faith are willing to suspend their disbelief until God pulls a rabbit out of his Holy Hat, to reveal that He made the universe already fully matured.

So what approach do you take?  Any tips for this Fool?  I'm thinking of trying to limit conversations to a core set (yet to be completed) of arguments, like:

Why is it that we are even having a debate about God's existence instead of it being intuitively obvious?
Assuming that there is a God, how can you be certain that the revelation in your holy book is indeed from God?
Assuming that demons exist, how can you be certain that God actually cares and sent Jesus, as opposed to the whole story being concocted and enacted by demons as a way to entertain themselves by playing with the minds of mortals?


  1. All the same questions I've been asking, with the exception of that last one. If there is a God, how to you make the leap to the one of the Bible? If He's so intent on being known, actually our pursuer, why is there any question as to his existence? If I have to wonder if he's there, does that mean he's not? Is all this cockamamy stuff about him being so holy he can't be in the presence of sin just a way to comfort ourselves that there is a God, but he just can't come down here because it's so...evil? Not very comforting to me at all. He's supposed to be able to overcome all that evil. And the thought that he can't even bare to look at me? He made me!(if you believe that sort of thing)

  2. @Fool: Having recently listened to several debates between "old-Earth" Creationists and "young-Earth" Creationists, I can relate to your frustration. It's infuriating to hear people ignore mountains of Biblical and scientific evidence regarding the age of the Earth all because of a simplistic view regarding "yom" (the Hebrew word for "day") that they tenaciously hold onto, as if it were the cornerstone of their faith.

    @D'Ma: For what it's worth, here would be *my* responses to your questions. In order: 1) The God of the Bible is among the relatively few deities of world religions who made the specific claim that he created all things, and that he is the only god. I think all such deities warrant a thorough investigation. 2) Because many do not *want* to know him. There is no question for those to whom he has revealed himself through the Holy Spirit. But for those who really don't care to know him, I personally think he *wants* them to have the freedom to believe that he doesn't exist. 3) No, it doesn't. 4) He *did* come down here in the form of Jesus, of course. I realize that's probably not what you're asking. 5) He certainly *can* bear to look at you--you just wouldn't be able to look at him. And he can't accept a sinner into Heaven. Hence the need for Jesus to pay the price for your sins. Which he has done.

  3. @Ollie: I had not observed the mountains of Biblical evidence about an old earth. Do you have a handy web site reference where you can point me to study this? I seem to have missed in my reading, but it may be a language issue.

    Speaking of language issues, it's not just "yom" that needs to be dealt with, but the words for evening and morning as well which are connected to each "day" in the text.

    There is a natural question which arises of how can you have a day on Day 1 when the sun was not created until Day 4. Surprisingly, there is a simple answer. Have you ever looked around just before sunrise or just after sunset? Have you ever been able to see on a day which was so cloudy that you could not see the sun? Without an understanding of diffraction and scattering of sunlight (which would have been lacking at the time of writing Genesis) it would appear that there was some light phenomenon which occurred independent of the sun.

    @D'Ma: I was thinking essentially the same thing about "why are we even able to argue God's existence, especially if God is pursuing us?" You've got several other good questions too, and Ollie Wallflower has represented some of the typical replies. They are OK, but not ultimately satisfying.

    In particular, the replay about not *wanting* to know Him falls quite short to me. I want my wife to know that I love her, so I do things for her everyday (within my capacity) to show my love. I make it so blatantly obvious that I love her that, even if she did not *want* to know that I do love her, she still would know. Now I am just a man, with all of humanity's inherent limits.

    On the other hand, God is God, infinite in capacity and splendor. What show of love do we get from God? You remember that one thing He did for us 2000 years ago, before our great-great-great-great-grandfather was just a twinkle in someone's eye? Love is not a single act. Love is continuously interactive. At least in my book. And so I think Mr. Wallflower's idea that it is just that some people don't want to know God is not a well developed defense.

  4. @Ollie Wallflower,

    I appreciate your attempt at answering my questions, but on the whole I think they're unanswerable. What may seem like simple, if somewhat glib, answers just don't work very well. I've told myself all of those answers, I've given those answers to others as well. But to be brutally honest, they're nothing more than fluff. And you made my point for me. Sometimes we tell ourselves things for comfort exactly because these questions are unanswerable and too difficult to bare thinking about.


    Yes, that one about not wanting to know God falls woefully short. I'm not saying God should follow us around like a puppy dog begging to be loved, and I'm not even remotely suggesting that anyone be forced to love him. Who would have to love him just because he showed us he's there? There would be many, still, who would reject him for one reason or another, even if he showed himself to them. People reject the love of another for a plethora of reasons. Otherwise there would never be such a thing as unrequited love.

  5. Sorry, just can't quite get this one outta my head for some reason.

    Having it written down somewhere the because God is the creator of all of the universe, and because he created me, and because he sent an innocent man to a cross for my sake, I should declare my undying devotion and love to an unseen entity or be burned in the fiery flames of hell for all of eternity seems like way more of an impingement on free will than, say, an appearance every now and then. At least that way I'd still get to really choose. Love me or burn in hell doesn't make for much of a choice, now does it?

  6. I'd have to agree with you, D'Ma. ;-) The funny thing is that there are several liberal churches which have come to the same conclusion, and so they have redefined the eternity which awaits the unsaved. Whereas a couple hundred years ago it was binary, hell or heaven, now it's heaven or hell or annihilation or separation from God, and I'm sure there are a few more flavors which have been cooked up too.

    Even if these softer eternal punishments are supposed to be the real version of the truth, that is not going to stop God from creating hell on earth during the Tribulation of Revelation. With that being the case, the softer eternal punishments seem somewhat disjointed from God's wrath.

  7. Love the question and the way its explained.

    It is like people with different languages trying to explain abstract concepts to each other. Makes me think that the Tower of Babel wasn't just about dialects :-)

    If its any consolation the guy on the other side of the discussion is just as frustrated. "Exactly, why are we even discussing this?" (Except he means why are we discussing the possibility He doesn't exist).

    The mere fact that both opinions are so strongly held says something important about the argument. What that is of course depends on which side of the argument you're on ;-)

    Great Post.

  8. Thanks David! I can definitely understand that there is frustration on both sides of the fence.

    I would definitely agree that the opposing strongly-held beliefs means something about the argument, and (as you point out) I'm sure the meaning I find is different than yours. ;-)

  9. @Fool: I actually said mountains of Biblical and *scientific* evidence, but yes, I can point you to lots of information regarding Biblical evidence for an old Earth. For starters: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/biblical-evidence-old-earth

    The scattering of sunlight you refer to is exactly what I think was occurring before Day 4. The sun was there, giving its light (what other source of light could sustain the Earth?), but there was a thick layer of water vapor which prevented it from being directly visible.

    Genesis 1:16 says that God made the Sun, Moon and stars on Day 4. Young-earth creationists focus on the English translation and interpret this verse to mean that God actually created the Sun and Moon right then. The original language (Hebrew) does not support that interpretation. The Hebrew word for "made" is "asah" and refers to an action completed in the past. The verse is correctly rendered "God had made" rather than "God made." God "had made" the Sun, Moon and stars *before* Day 4.

    The Sun, Moon and stars were created at the very beginning--before even Day 1, apparently. The Hebrew phrase "the heavens and the earth" in Genesis 1:1 ("hashamayim we ha' erets") refers to the entire universe--the Earth, Sun, Moon, stars and other planets. From a scientific/common sense perspective, it's absurd to think that God made some heavenly bodies at one point and others later. The universe was created out of nothing (the Big Bang) all at once, in an instant, and that was that--there was no addition of certain stars and planets later. Both the Biblical text and science make that impossible.

    @D'Ma: While those answers certainly aren't the most profound and well-developed responses around--and it could be argued that they're all wrong--I don't think they can be described as "fluff." I mean, they're either right or wrong, and you either like them or you don't. . . but I don't think they're glib. Yes, those questions are unanswerable in the sense that all we humans can do is guess, but I don't understand why you describe them as "too difficult to bear thinking about." I suppose it's mainly that you (I think) see God as unloving, unresponsive, and irresponsible because of his failure to "show up" on Earth and deal with pain and suffering.

    As for making "appearances now and then," I used to think that way, too. I thought that if God would appear in the sky to all people, surely everyone would believe in him and accept his son's offer of forgiveness. But now I think only the first half of that is true--people would believe in him. I don't think it would change the way they feel about him or cause them to accept salvation. The Israelites "saw" him and yet disobeyed and rebelled against him as soon as they had the opportunity.

    I don't believe that anyone "burns" in Hell, so I would describe the choice this way: Be forgiven and live with God and others who love God forever, or deny that you need forgiveness and live forever in a lonely, sad place with everyone else who made that choice. It doesn't make sense to me that God should accept into Heaven--God's place of residence--those who hate him.

  10. @Ollie Wallflower
    "I actually said mountains of Biblical and *scientific* evidence..."
    I know, but with the conjunction there, it was hard to tell which had more emphasis. ;-)

    Thanks for the web site. I encourage everyone to check it out and judge for themselves. After hunting around the site for some time, I found an article which describes your view more fully at:


    Unfortunately, it does not mention anything about the words "And there was evening, and there was morning" which precipitates each enumerated day in Genesis 1. :-(

    I also caught on to another curious phrase. Just prior to Genesis 1:16 which uses "asah," Genesis 1:15 ends with "And it was so," thereby making the action complete prior to when we get to Genesis 1:16. If Genesis 1:16 had a present-tense verb, it would be anachronistic with Genesis 1:15. So I do not think that "asah" is a strong argument for an older sun.

    I had to laugh a little when I read this comment from Dr. Moreland at http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/biblical-evidence-old-earth/age-earth-0
    "The argument is that if you take the days of Genesis as not being six days and take them as maybe longer periods of time, then where do you draw the line...why wouldn't the same reasoning imply that we'll eventually have to reinterpret the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus. Let me give you a counter-example. I doubt, sir, that you or anybody else in the room takes the biblical passages that say that 'Jesus will call his angels from the four corners of the earth' to teach a flat Earth. I also doubt that anyone in here says that when the sun rises and sets it literally means an earth-centered universe..."

    It was like he is saying "What's so bad about us changing the interpretation of days? We already don't believe other parts of the Bible are literal because we know better now." :-p

  11. This "interpretation" (as you describe it here) of "days" dates back to just 1535, the date of the first English translation of Genesis. Bear in mind that the early King James editions of the Bible in the 1600's contained such errors as "the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God" and "thou shalt commit adultery." If egregious errors such as these were made routinely (as they were), it goes without saying that the Hebrew was often incorrectly translated into English as well--especially considering the fact that in those days people were just beginning to develop a heliocentric view of the universe! They had no idea that "yom" might need to be translated as something other than a 24-hour period. These were not people who had even a rudimentary understanding of the size and age of the universe, much less the concept of an Earth that's billions of years old. But we're supposed to rely on their view that "yom" should be translated "day" instead of "era," as it's translated in many other places in the OT? I don't get it.

    Moreland's point is that many Young-Earthers refuse to interpret "yom" as "a period of time" (which fits much, much better with not only science but also the Biblical creation account) SIMPLY BECAUSE they fear that it sets the stage for reinterpreting the entire Bible. It's kinda like the belief that Obama, after establishing a so-called socialist-style health care system, will next abolish religion, create a communist regime, and exterminate millions of people, as Lenin did. It amazes me that people believe that way, and it amazes me that people think that we can't take another look at how Genesis 1 was translated into English hundreds of years ago for fear that we'll "reinterpret" and change the meaning of all the rest of the Bible next (as if that were possible).

    The argument regarding the phrase "And there was evening, and there was morning" appears to be the strongest argument that Young Earthers have. But it doesn't fit with their belief that the Sun was made on Day 4--there can't be morning and evening before the Sun is even created! There must be another explanation. And there is. . . .

    Once again, the problem lies in looking strictly at the *English* version of the text--always a mistake. In Semitic languages, "evening and morning" is an idiomatic expression which can denote a long and indefinite period. The only other place in the Bible were "ereb" and "boqer" ("evening" and "morning") are used with "yom" is Daniel 8:26: "And the vision of the evening and morning which was told is true" (KJV). This verse is referring to a vision consisting of a very long period of time. This is exactly the same language used in Genesis 1, referring to each "day."

    Let me get back to you on your argument regarding "asah" in Genesis 1:16 (I'm exhausted--long day). Looks interesting!

    Thanks for encouraging your readers to check out http://www.reasons.org/. It's an excellent source of info about creation and science.

    [Sorry about the deleted posts--blogspot was removing the link (http://www.reasons.org/) unless I added the "http:" at the beginning. Technical difficulties.]

  12. @Ollie Wallflower
    Thanks for the comments. Biblical scholars are rare, and Christian people who know Hebrew are even more rare, so it's good to have your perspective.

    Your comment got flagged as spam by Blogger. Maybe the word adultery got it? I don't know, but I've blessed it to show up on the blog. :-)

    It's interesting that the NIV translation renders Daniel 8:26 in plurality, that is "The vision of the evenings and mornings..." Does the Hebrew text match this, or is it ambivalent to the count? This other source of Hebrew interpretation also renders Daniel 8:26 in plurality.

    I'm looking forward to your reply, when you get a chance. :-)

  13. You're very kind. . . thank you.

    The NIV renders "evening and morning" in the plural form because in English it doesn't look right in the singular. The translators of the NIV often sacrificed faithfulness to the text for readability--which is expected, because their goal was to create an easy-to-read Bible, not one for scholars. Often they substituted the past tense of a verb for the present tense for the same reason (readability). Translations such as "The Message" and "The Living Bible" are so loose in this regard that I would argue that they are as much Bible commentaries as they are translations! Here's an excellent breakdown in Hebrew of Daniel 8:26 and Genesis 1:5 for comparison:


    The translation you referred to (Mechon Mamre) uses the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation. In my opinion, literal translations (such as Webster's or Young's) are better for our purposes.

    I hate that I don't have the formatting options that you have. I don't have the option to underline words, for example. I guess there are just some advantages to owning the blog. ;-)

  14. I'd have to agree with you about translations like "The Message," in that they are more like commentaries. I understand what they are trying to do, to make the Bible more approachable, but it simultaneously feels disingenuous to me.

    Thanks for the reference links. That's a pretty nifty site!

    As for formatting in comments, you just have to type in the HTML coding tags for bold, italic, hyperlinks, etc. Unfortunately, I can't show you in this comment, as it would just show up as formatting. :-p