Conversations: Limbo and Poseidon


Sappho
Consider the recent deliberations of the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of limbo. Thirty top theologians from around the world recently met at the Vatican to discuss the question of what happens to babies who die without having undergone the sacred rite of baptism.

Galene
What is the doctrine of limbo exactly?

Helena
Since the Middle Ages, Catholics have believed that such babies go to a state of limbo, where they enjoy what St. Thomas Aquinas termed “natural happiness” forever. This was in contrast to the opinion of St. Augustine, who believed that these unlucky infant souls would spend eternity in hell. Continue reading

Conversations: Intellectual Integrity


Galene
We can argue that it is now a moral necessity for scientists to speak honestly about the conflict between science and religion, but even the National Academy of Sciences has declared the conflict illusory:

At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution is a misunderstanding of the critical difference between religious and scientific ways of knowing. Religions and science answer different questions about the world. Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science. Religious and scientific ways of knowing have played, and will continue to play, significant roles in human history…. Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.

Sappho
This statement is stunning for its lack of candor. Continue reading

Conversations: Prophecies


Zoe
There are people who think that their sacred texts predict the future by means of prophecies. Is this so unreasonable?

Sappho
It is. Consider the Bible, Christians regularly assert that the Bible predicts future historical events. For instance, Deuteronomy 28:64 says, “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.”

Helena
Furthermore, Jesus says, in Luke 19:43-44, “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Now, we are meant to believe that these utterances predict the subsequent history of the Jews with such uncanny specificity so as to admit of only a supernatural explanation.

Sappho
But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. Continue reading

Conversations: Scriptural Accuracy


Lysandra
It is often said that it is reasonable for people to believe that the Bible is the word of God because many of the events recounted in the New Testament confirm Old Testament prophecy.

Helena
A pathetic argument. Consider the following, how difficult would it have been for the Gospel writers to tell the story of Jesus’ life so as to make it conform to Old Testament prophecy? Wouldn’t it have been within the power of any mortal to write a book that confirms the predictions of a previous book? In fact, we know on the basis of textual evidence that this is what the Gospel writers did.

Sappho
The writers of Luke and Matthew, for instance, declare that Mary conceived as a virgin, relying upon the Greek rendering of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew text of Isaiah uses the word ‘alma’, however, which simply means “young woman,” without any implication of virginity. Continue reading

Conversations: Impotent or Evil?


Lysandra
We should note that people of all faiths regularly assure us that God is not responsible for human suffering.

Helena
This belief undermines the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent. Now, this is the age-old problem of theodicy, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.

Lysandra
Even though your reasoning is correct, it might be rendered null and void by the belief that any omniscient being cannot be judged by human standards of morality.

Helena
Caution, that is a pirouette. Continue reading

Conversations: Faith and Facts


Helena
People who believe there is such a thing as a loving caring omnipotent being have always had a tough time, for examples of God’s failure to protect humanity are everywhere to be seen. The city of New Orleans, for instance, was destroyed by a hurricane not too long ago. More than a thousand people died; tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions; and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Hurricane Katrina struck shared the Abrahamic belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God.

Zoe
Following that line of reasoning, what was God doing while Katrina laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were, undoubtedly, on the whole, good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Do we have the courage to admit the obvious? – These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend. Continue reading

Conversations: The “Good Book”


Helena
It is probably fair to say that most Christians believe that mortals like ourselves cannot reject the morality of the Bible.

Galene
What does that mean exactly?

Helena
I think it means that human beings cannot say, to take a story out of Christian mythology, that God was wrong to drown most of humanity in the flood of Genesis, because this is merely the way it seems from our limited point of view. And yet, in other cases, people feel that they are in a position to judge that Jesus is the Son of God, that the Golden Rule is the height of moral wisdom, and that the Bible is not itself brimming with lies. Continue reading

Conversations: Moderates and Morality


Helena
Even if a belief in God had a reliable, positive effect upon human behaviour, this would not offer a reason to believe in God. One can believe in God only if one thinks that God actually exists.

Sappho
Good point. Even if atheism led straight to moral chaos, this would not suggest that the doctrine of Christianity is true. Islam might be true, in that case. Or all religions might function like placebos. As descriptions of the universe, they could be utterly false but, nevertheless, useful. The evidence suggests, however, that they are not only false but dangerous.

Zoe
Slow down! Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, et cetera, cannot be categorized as fundamentalists. In fact, when talking about the good consequences that religious beliefs have on human morality, most people of faith follow the example of religious liberals and religious moderates. Consider Christians the world over, rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, or because the miracles recounted in the Gospels are convincing, liberals and moderates tend to talk in terms of the good consequences of believing as they do. Such believers often say that they believe in God because this “gives their lives meaning.” Continue reading