“I am looking in the form of truth stripped to the bone. Truth that lives independently of us, that exists out there in the world. Hard and unsentimental. I am ready to accept truth no matter how alarming it turns out to be. Even if it proves incompleteness and the limits of human reason. Even if it proves we are not free.”

— Janna Levin, “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines”

A local pastor sent me J. Gresham Machen’s 90-year-old essay. I found nothing in his three ways to believe in God – knowledge through intellect (reason, nature, and metaphysics), conscience, and scriptural revelation – any more convincing than other apologists’ explanations. Machen set out with the goal of proving what he already believed. There’s no objectivity. Machen dismissed pantheism out of hand even though Spinoza’s God of Reason/Nature and the Cosmic Mind to which Einstein occasionally made reference as “God” or “Lord” are one and the same, taking all of reality as their divinity, our Universe being a manifestation of a Supreme Intelligence.

I’ve read “Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957)” by Canadian Jesuit theologian/philosopher Bernard Lonergan, who attempted to establish God’s existence through the logic of human reasoning, emphasizing a “detached, disinterested, unrestricted desire to know … to understand correctly,” working through mathematics, science, and common sense into metaphysics and ethics. However, in the final two chapters, Lonergan leapt to the conclusion he wanted all along to validate.

I replied to the pastor. A huge difference of perspective separates our search for the truth of reality: you begin with a flawed authority, the Judeo-Christian Bible, attempting to rationalize and justify all contrary evidence while I as an agnostic employ all evidence and logical reasoning to examine, according to scientific method, my conjectures, hypotheses, and theories, always prepared to correct or dismiss whatever happens to contradict my map when tested against the actual territory. Physicists and mathematicians do not rely upon a holy book of divine revelation, just discovery by means of mental exercise and observation. As Genesis mythologically makes obvious, your God disapproved of his human creations’ obtaining divine knowledge (reason, mathematics, logic, science) from the fruited tree in the Garden of Eden: thus, no mention is made of mathematics and science in Scripture. Accepting the wisdom of the serpent over the distant deity, who gave orders and threats without careful supervision, Adam and Eve apparently accepted the possibility of death, choosing enlightenment rather than eternal life, to know the mind of God. Einstein said: “I want to know how God created this world…. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.”

At the same time that the Hebrews were composing their books that would become the Torah and Old Testament, Greek philosophers, in particular Thales, Euclid, and the Pythagoreans, were discovering, harvesting pomegranates, principles of geometry, mathematics, and physics. Bible stories often contradict physics and biology. Later theologians such as Thomas Aquinas were dependent on Greek philosophical thought, particularly on Plato’s pupil Aristotle, for a foundation and edifice of the physical world on which to construct their moral and ethical cathedral.

What contributions did Christians make to mathematics and science prior to the Renaissance when the philosophy of humanism and the scientific spirit were reborn from the Greek revolution of thought? Some thinkers have pointed to a convergence between Buddhist philosophy and modern concepts of cosmology and quantum mechanics, at least at a superficial level. About 2000 years ago, a Hindi mathematician gave us, via the Muslims, the critical concept of zero along with the base-10 numbering system, allowing the flourishing of our modern system of numbering and calculating. Muslim mathematicians developed algebra. Europe muddled through the dark millennium of the Middle Ages because of the Roman Catholic Church’s antipathy toward science and mathematics, needing astronomers only for determining the timing of the moveable feast of Easter. The Church burned Bruno at the stake and silenced Galileo for daring to declare the truth of the Earth’s revolving around our Sun.

I prefer the evidence and reasoning to be found in Bart Ehrman’s books, Bishop John Shelby Spong’s “The Sins of Scripture,” A.N. Wilson’s “Jesus,” Robin Lane Fox’s “The Unauthorized Version,” Richard J. Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis,” Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation,” to name a handful who raise rational doubts. Knowing as much about the Bible and the early church as they do, why aren’t these scholars convinced of the genuineness of Christ? More than a dozen alternative interpretations of Jesus and his message extant within the early Christian communities included “The Gospel According to Thomas” (for which the Bible’s Fourth Gospel may have in part been an attempt to defame Thomas, according to Harvard professor of religious studies Elaine Pagels) and “The Gospel According to Mary of Magdala.” These and similar works the growing strength of the intolerant Roman Church attempted to suppress and destroy while excommunicating and executing dissident voices among the believers, who dared express contrary views, in the early centuries of Christianity’s struggles to convince its communities to accept and obey a singular theological dogma. If God were real, why would he have permitted much of this rival literature to have been safeguarded for hundreds of years to resurface some 70 years ago?

Of your assertion that your God has revealed himself exclusively through Moses (no evidence whatsoever of his existence), the gospelists, other canonical authors, and Saul/Paul (who usurped Jesus’s message, intended only for Jews, for an audience of Gentiles), then what of the revelations from Siddhartha, Muhammad, or even Joseph Smith? Since you cannot demonstrate that God belongs solely to Jews and Christians, you cannot claim that Judeo-Christian Scripture has any greater authority than other sacred scriptures. Further, as my columns have been showing, your Bible is deeply flawed with contradictions and inconsistencies, hardly what one would expect of the absolute perfect eternal Word of the World’s Creator. Are you willing to engage me in a discussion/debate with a detached, disinterested, unrestricted desire to know, to understand completely?

Patrick Ivers is an educator and agnostic. Mathematics is the language of the universe; literature, the articulation of the soul.

(2) comments

mancinho
mancinho

Again today Ivers you quote Bishop John Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong along with Bishops John Robinson and Gene Robinson are all Episcopal/Anglican Bishops who have denounced the miracles in the bible as well as most of Christian teachings. Gene Robinson has even been so bold to affirm that Jesus as well as all his disciples were obviously gay because no women were present which is a false statement and probably quite a surprise to their wives. Why do these Bishops and scholars devote their lives to upending thousands of years teaching? How am I supposed to know why they do it? This was my main point in the article. All I do know is that all of them have profited from this by either monetary value or pride or fame as all of these individuals have been on late night talk shows.

While this has been going on the Episcopal Church in the US has been claiming and taking property (churches) from parishes who refuse to go along with the NEW teachings. It happened to my church back east. Instead of outreach the leaders of the Episcopal Church in the US have spent a huge portion of their budget on lawyers just to punish and close congregations. Just because you have not heard of this on the nightly news is not surprising since the broadcasting licenses are usually in the hands of politicians in large metro areas. Surely you are aware of all the businesses that have been closed because the owners would not offer services that break with their beliefs. Services that could have been handled by another business just down the street. Prior to this paper placing controls on comments I was asked to write an article on the biblical stance on homosexuality….I received death threats in this very forum. This was my reward for asking for a little love and understanding. I commend the Boomerang staff for their thoughtful changes.

You remind us time and again about the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, the horrors of Christianity. What you refuse to address is the 8th Century invasion and conquest of Europe by the Muslims and the bloody occupation by the Ottoman Empire that continued from the 12th Century until the end of the 1st World War. This is historical fact as well as the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust which have yet to be acknowledged by some.

Prayers…..did your biological father grant all your wishes? Then why must God? Maybe the correct answer is no to a prayer. Who are we to question God’s actions? Yes good and bad things happen to all of us both believers and non-believers.

I looked up (as you suggested) your word “dendrochronology”……the study of tree rings as a method of verifying or calibrating carbon 14 dating. That took me 3 minutes to look up. If you read into the science behind it you would realize that this science is still mostly theory. Trees can form more than 1 ring a year, carbon 14 activity varies due to sun activity, volcanic activity, atomic testing, location, etc etc etc. In fact when the concept was first proposed in the 1950s estimates were way off when dating artifacts unearthed in ancient Egypt. Initially the half-life of carbon 14 was claimed to be around 5700 years but recent estimates place it about 5300 years. Most claim that the calibration of carbon 14 dating can only be extended to 12,000 years while some claim 50,000 years. This extension is based on dating timbers unearthed from ancient structures that were previously dated. Claiming evolution and dates back into the age of the dinosaurs is indeed speculation and theory. The carbon 14 dating process has undergone periodic “calibration” several times in the last 15 years but this calibration was only for the last 5000 years. This is not a settled science…..what if all we have seen so far takes a dramatic exponential turn? Even our scientists are blinded by our limitation of sight and time. I have been humbled by results due to advances in instrumentation that allowed me to see more.

What no scientist has been able to answer is why? Why did man evolve so far above other species, why was the evolution so specific and why so sudden even by Darwin theory? Why did other species like the bombardier beetle evolve with the ability to mix and explode combustive chemicals within it’s body with a body structure that is beautiful in it’s design and resembles a jet engine? How could this simple beetle evolve without exploding before reaching it’s current form? It’s as if the lowly beetle and man were intentionally designed and so far science has not answered this question.

Have a nice day Pat.

mancinho
mancinho

Are you intentionally trying to mislead the readers about Muslims? You have a glaring mistake in your article when you state, and I quote “About 2000 years ago, a Hindi mathematician gave us, via the Muslims, the critical concept of zero along with the base-10…..” and you go on and on. Are you trying to say that because of the Islamic religion we have math as we know it? 2000 years ago the Islamic religion did not exist! Muslims are by definition followers of Islam and the profit Mohamed. It wasn’t until about 635 AD that the profit Mohamed began his military conquest of the Middle East and Europe during which he wrote what would later become the Quran. Prior to this the primary religions in the Middle East were Judaism and Christianity. Without the Bible the Quran could not exist since it refers to the Bible frequently. As smart as you are I find it difficult to believe that you got this so wrong.

In the 1970s there were many Iranians studying engineering at my college in W. Virginia. Most were secular while a few were Catholic. In 1979 my Catholic Iranian friends received calls from their families telling them not to come home to Iran because Iran was now under Muslim rule by the Ayatollah Khomeini and that it wasn’t safe for them. I did not read about this event, I lived it!

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