Defining Terms

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist in the lounge of a college dormitory

Danielle: I noticed that you didn’t sign up for the Bible study this weekend. Don’t you want to get closer to God?

Clair: I’m not interested in religion.

Danielle: You at least admit that God exists, don’t you?

Clair: I don’t think that the phrase “God exists” has meaning. God is an undefined term. Nobody can describe “God” in a sensible way, so it doesn’t make sense to take a position on whether or not it exists. That would be like saying I do or don’t believe Foobeing exists.

Danielle: What’s Foobeing?

Clair: I don’t know. That’s the point. You can’t describe God so it makes no sense to make statements about it.

Danielle: But I can describe God. God is the embodiment of love and justice.

Clair: That doesn’t mean anything. I could say that the Foobeing is the embodiment of disdain and wholesomeness and it wouldn’t tell you anything.

Danielle: God is the creator of the universe.

Clair: Then if it turned out that quantum fluctuations created the universe, would you say that quantum fluctuations are God?

Danielle: No. God made quantum physics, too.

Clair: Then you’re still not really describing anything. You’re just assigning properties to something you haven’t defined.

Danielle: You’re really being annoying. You could take any statement and just declare that it’s meaningless. That doesn’t prove anything except that you don’t want to believe in God.

Clair: That’s not true. You could describe this couch in a way that uniquely identifies it and I’d agree that you are right. What you can’t do is make a statement like “God is an immaterial thing that takes action” and expect me to accept it when that makes no sense on its face. Immaterial things can’t do anything.

Danielle: You’re just deciding that immaterial things can’t take action. You can’t prove it.

Clair: In a material world, immaterial things can’t take action by definition.

Danielle: God doesn’t live in the material world.

Clair: That’s just introducing another meaningless term. What does it mean for an immaterial thing to exist in an immaterial place and take action?

Danielle: You not being able to understand something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Clair: That’s true, but something being linguistically meaningless is evidence that if we talk about it we don’t mean anything. Would you accept that Foobeing lives in foospace?

Danielle: What? No. You made that up.

Clair: How do you know? My coming up with something isn’t evidence that it doesn’t exist. Foospace is the place where Foobeing lives, and only Foobeing exists there. It’s a place outside of space and time from which Foobeing controls all of God’s actions with her Godangulator.

Danielle: You can’t control God.

Clair: Foobeing can.

Danielle: No he can’t.

Clair: She can’t.

Danielle: God can’t be controlled. There’s no such thing as Foobeing.

Clair: How do you know there’s no Foobeing? And how do you know that immaterial things in immaterial places can’t be controlled from Foospace?

Danielle: Because there is no Foospace. God is all powerful, so He can’t be controlled by anything.

Clair: What does that mean? Something we can’t detect existing without matter no place we can even imagine has the power to do any conceivable thing?

Danielle: I can imagine Heaven. I can imagine God.

Clair: You can imagine what immaterial people and places are like? Can you honestly say you can make a picture in your head of something immaterial that can do things and be somewhere? Or are you just imagining fluffy clouds and angels and labeling them “immaterial” without noticing that that makes no more sense than calling a glass of water a duck?

Danielle: You can play all the word games you want, it doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

Clair: That’s true, but it does prove that when you say God exists you don’t know what you’re talking about.

 


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Posted on January 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

A pause

Sorry for the sudden silence on this blog. I’ve come down with a nasty cold that apparently does not want to get its hooks out of me. I have a few new conversations in the queue and will begin posting them on Monday when I will, with luck, feel more like a human being and less like a germ factory.

Thank you for your patience!

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm by ideclare · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Conversations

Science in the Bible III

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Several people in a jury deliberation room

Grant: Hold on a minute. You’re obviously a true believer like me, so how can you say that the Bible isn’t about science?

Denise: All I mean by that is that the Bible isn’t setting out to teach scientific facts. It’s about history, morality, and God’s love and law, but it isn’t about revealing scientific truths.

Grant: You’re wrong there. The Bible is filled not only with scientific truths, but with predictions about future science and technology.

Eric: I’d love to hear some examples of that.

Grant: Simple. Matthew talks about everyone on Earth seeing Christ returning at once.* Since the world is round, the only way everyone could see something at the same time would be if it were televised, and that technology wouldn’t be invented for thousands of years.

Eric: No way. No way. It’s much more like that was written by someone who thought the world was flat.

Felipe: Or it’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s poetic license and means that everyone will know it is happening.

Grant: Well then, skeptics, what about Leviticus talking about infectious diseases?** Do you think that the ancient Hebrews had germ theory.

Denise: I know the passage you’re talking about. That’s about putting sick people away from others. I don’t know that it implies germ theory.

Eric: Doesn’t it talk about other things having leprosy? Like clothes?†

Grant: Haven’t you heard of people getting a disease from infected blankets?

Eric: Yes, but you can’t see a disease on a blanket. The Bible talks about seeing the disease.‡

Grant: We can see diseases now, can’t we? With microscopes?

Eric: They couldn’t back then.

Grant: That right — it’s another prediction!

Denise: Hold on before this goes any further. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many opinions on the same thing, but it’s not getting us anywhere. We need to get going on this case.

Eric: Without our Bibles. Agreed?

Felipe: Agreed.

Grant: I suppose we must.

*Matthew 24:30: "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

**Leviticus 13:46: "All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be."

† Leviticus 13:47–48 "The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment; Whether it be in the warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin;"

‡ Leviticus 13:49 "And if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest:"

 


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Posted on January 1, 2014 at 8:41 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Science in the Bible II

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two Christians in a jury deliberation room

Felipe: Sorry to butt in here. I know we’re supposed to be getting going talking about this case, but I had to throw in my two cents. What makes you think that the Bible is intended to have anything to say about science at all?

Denise: The Bible may not be all about science, but it does talk about some scientific topics like animal behavior and creation, and when it does it’s completely accurate. If it wasn’t accurate, that would be evidence that it isn’t inspired.

Felipe: I don’t think the Bible is meant to be taken that literally on subjects that are outside of its area of focus.

Denise: Don’t you believe the Bible is the word of God?

Felipe: Yes, I do.

Denise: Then how can you say it’s ever wrong?

Felipe: I’m not saying the Bible’s wrong. I’m saying that the Bible is often poetic, and when poetic meaning is intended, literal scientific truth is a secondary consideration. To take a non-Biblical example, it’s not an insult to the poet to point out that you can’t literally compare someone to a summer’s day.

Denise: Where is the Bible ever poetic and literal at the same time?

Felipe: Right at the beginning, in Genesis. The creation story is a beautiful explanation of the plan God had for creation and how man fell. It explains so much, even though it isn’t scientifically accurate.

Denise: How can you say it’s not scientifically accurate? Every word of Genesis is literally true.

Felipe: Not if the world is billions of years old.

Denise: Then it’s not.

Felipe: That’s where you and I are going to have to disagree. I agree that the Bible is completely true, but I think you’re taking it too far.

 


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Posted on December 30, 2013 at 8:40 pm by ideclare · Permalink · One Comment
In: Conversations

Science in the Bible

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist in a jury deliberation room

Denise: Do you think they’d mind if I brought my Bible with me tomorrow?

Eric: I’m sure it’s fine, so long as you’re just using it as something to read on breaks and stuff and not as a reference.

Denise: Why couldn’t I refer to my Bible during deliberations?

Eric: It’s not exactly a law book. At least, not one that’s part of the American legal system.

Denise: The Bible has more than just laws in it. It’s also about morality and nature, and both of those are important in this case.

Eric: I can buy the part about morality, but since when is the Bible about nature other than poetically? It’s not exactly a science text book.

Denise: Maybe not, but when it does talk about science it’s completely accurate.

Eric: I don’t think so. Doesn’t the Bible say that bats are a kind of bird?*

Denise: That’s from a passage in the kosher laws with a list of birds. The Hebrews grouped flying things that weren’t insects together, and the closest word we have for that group is "bird." They didn’t group animals the way we do, and you can’t say that the Bible is scientifically inaccurate because it was written for a different culture and language.

Eric: What about where it says that rabbits chew their cud?** That’s not even close to true.

Denise: That’s just another cultural and linguistic thing. Rabbits — hares, actually — don’t chew their cud, but they do eat their feces so that they can digest the same food a second time. That’s the same concept as chewing cud and the Hebrews didn’t draw a distinction.

Eric: No, I’ve read about this one. The Hebrew words that get translated as chewing cud literally mean "bring up the cud." You can’t tell me that a hare pooping out half-digested food is "bringing up" anything.

Denise: After it excretes the matter it brings it back up to its mouth to eat. It’s the same thing.

Eric: That doesn’t sound like the same kind of thing at all, except that they’re both disgusting. In any case, that’s two extremely different uses of the phrase "bring up," to the point that I don’t think it makes sense to use them both in the same sentence.

Denise: Be that as it may, there’s no scientific statement in the Bible that you can prove is incorrect.

Eric: I think that has more to do with your ability to argue than it does with the Bible’s scientific accuracy.

*Deuteronomy 14:12–18 But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, And every raven after his kind, And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

**Leviticus 11:4–6: " Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you."

 


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Posted on December 27, 2013 at 8:39 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Sources of Knowledge

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist in a house that’s been burgled

Robert: Oh my gosh — what happened?

Sharon: Hey, Robert. Come on in.

Robert: Somebody really did a job in here.

Sharon: Yeah. Someone broke in while I was in Bakersfield. My cash and some DVDs are gone. They didn’t take a whole lot but really trashed the place. They took my beer, too.

Robert: Did you call the police?

Sharon: They’ve been here. Part of the mess is fingerprint stuff. They think it was kids.

Robert: You know who it probably was is that kid — what’s his name? Trevor? — who’s staying with the Baxters next door.

Sharon: I think they adopted him, didn’t they? When his parents died or something?

Robert: That’s the one. Did you tell the police about him?

Sharon: No, why would I?

Robert: Because he’s a suspect.

Sharon: He’s no more a suspect than anyone else.

Robert: He should be. You’ve seen him, haven’t you? He’s got tattoos and that weird haircut. I’m pretty sure he’s your man. Him and his friends.

Sharon: You seem pretty sure.

Robert: Because I am sure. The more I think about it, the more sure I am. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Sharon: That’s not a lot to go on.

Robert: I wouldn’t say that. I’m very intuitive and I’ve got a really strong feeling about him.

Sharon: I think we need more evidence than that.

Robert: Not everything is a science experiment. There are a lot of ways to know things other than conventional evidence, and I know that Trevor did this.

Sharon: I don’t think you can use feelings as evidence of anything. If I wake up in the middle of the night and have a feeling that there’s a burglar in the house, that’s not evidence that I’m being robbed.

Robert: But there might be a burglar.

Sharon: There might, but the feeling isn’t evidence. It might be a reason to look for evidence, but that’s it. You couldn’t call 911 and tell them you had a feeling.

Robert: You could if you had a history of being right about things like that.

Sharon: What about obsessive-compulsive people? They’re sure about what they think they know, and they might even see evidence of it, but they’re wrong.

Robert: I’m not a crazy person.

Sharon: Of course not, but I don’t think your feelings are worth bringing to the police. If you want to, that’s fine, but — that’s the phone. Hang on a minute.

Sharon: That was the police.

Robert: Did they have some news?

Sharon: Yeah. They found a footprint out back. Does Vera still always wear Doc Martins?

Robert: What does that have to do with anything.

Sharon: The police may want to talk to her when she comes home from school.

Robert: I can’t imagine why. I know she has nothing to do with it.

Sharon: We’ll see.

 


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Posted on December 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Effective Deism

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two Christians in a water park

Jasmine: The line on Towering Humungo doesn’t look so bad right now. Let’s go!

Kelsey: Hang on — I’m not sure about that. Do you see how tall it is?

Jasmine: That’s the point. Come on. Don’t be a wuss.

Kelsey: Okay, but just a second. Dear God, please protect me in this —"

Jasmine: What are you doing?

Kelsey: I’m praying for my safety. Look at that thing!

Jasmine: Have a little trust in the engineers. They wouldn’t build it if it wasn’t safe.

Kelsey: I’d rather trust in God.

Jasmine: Praying isn’t going to make any difference. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

Kelsey: When did you turn atheist? Why wouldn’t God help me?

Jasmine: I’m not an atheist, but I have enough faith in God to know that when He created the universe He set things in motion perfectly in the first place. If God wanted to protect you from something, he made creation from the beginning so that when the time came you’d be protected.

Kelsey: That’s not how it works. We need to pray to God to let him know what we need.

Jasmine: Then you’re either saying God doesn’t know everything and has to be told, or that he’s not all powerful and couldn’t have set things up right in the first place.

Kelsey: That doesn’t sound right.

Jasmine: Because it’s not right. Besides, if God was always tinkering with things, science wouldn’t work, would it? Science only works if things happen in a regular way, obeying the laws of the universe. If God could interfere, then the engineers could never be certain of their calculations because God could change things at any time.

Kelsey: That doesn’t mean that accidents can’t happen.

Jasmine: It means that accidents can’t happen without God knowing from the beginning of time that they’re going to happen.

Kelsey: Then you don’t think God will protect me if I go on the slide.

Jasmine: I think that God’s been protecting you since the universe began.

Kelsey: Wow — that’s deep. Okay, let’s give it a try!

 


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Posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Christian Science

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist working in a sports collectibles shop

Faye: What do you want me to do with these "Super Scientists" cards?

Gracie: Have we actually sold any?

Faye: Uh — two packs, maybe? In six months?

Gracie: Put it on the sale table. We gave it a shot. I told you nobody was going to buy those.

Faye: But those "Heroes of the Bible" cards sold so well last year, I thought these would have a chance.

Gracie: That’s a pretty different market.

Faye: I don’t know about that. If you look at history, science was created by religious people searching for meaning in the universe.

Gracie: I guess that’s true. Historically.

Faye: Makes you want to take another look at religion, doesn’t it?

Gracie: No. Even if science was formed by religious people, it doesn’t say anything about the truth of religion.

Faye: If religion grew into science, wouldn’t that imply that religion at least has a kernel of truth in it?

Gracie: Do you believe in astrology because it led to astronomy?

Faye: Oh. Good point. I’m going to throw my argument on the sale table with these cards.

Gracie: Good idea.

 


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Posted on December 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Breaking Laws

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two Christian and an atheist in a gas station, waiting for customers

Debra: I am incredibly bored.

Ella: Still? Wow, I would have thought that in the five minutes since you last said that you would have found something entertaining to do.

Debra: How long has it been since we had a customer?

Ella: Stop harping on it. You know this road doesn’t get much traffic this time of year. When the snow comes, we’ll be crammed with business and you’ll be complaining about being overworked.

Debra: I know, but I wouldn’t mind being a little overworked right now. Maybe if I ask really nice I can pray us up a convoy that needs a fill up, or a Beamer with some engine trouble.

Ella: It’s no use praying for miracles. There’s no such thing.

Debra: How can you say that?

Ella: For something to be a miracle it would have to break the laws of nature, and nothing can do that.

Debra: That’s a load and you now it — the laws of nature get broken all the time. The law of gravity says that things fall down, but flowers grow up toward the sky. The law of energy says you can’t have perpetual motion, but the planets go around and around the sun without stopping. You know how those laws get broken?

Ella: Why don’t you tell me.

Debra: It’s God. God keeps things running. So if God can do a miracle for a flower, He can certainly consider breaking a few laws of physics for me.

Ella: Okay. Well, so long as you’re praying us up some customers, see if you can make them good looking. With beer. Cold beer.

Debra: Now you’re just being greedy.

 


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Posted on December 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

A Matter of Faith

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist in a high school physics extension classroom after class is over

Zelda: I can’t believe you let the professor do that bowling ball experiment with you.

Alexander: What’s the big deal? When the ball swings back toward me it can’t go any higher than it was when it started, so as long as I didn’t move, it wasn’t going to touch me.

Zelda: Something still could have gone wrong. I don’t have that much faith in the professor that I’d risk a broken nose.

Alexander: Faith’s got nothing to do with it. It’s the laws of physics.

Zelda: Believing in the laws of physics still takes faith. I’d rather have faith in God — he’s never let us down. We’re still figuring physics out.

Alexander: Hang on, what do you mean that believing in physics takes faith? Do you mean we have faith that the laws are constant?

Zelda: No, I mean that science is never certain of anything. There’s always a chance you’re wrong. You can’t be more than — what, 95%? — sure of anything with science. The rest is just blind faith that you’ve got the right answer. That’s a 1-in-20 chance of a smashed nose.

Alexander: I don’t know where you’re getting that 95% number, but it’s bogus. You could do that bowling-ball experiment a million times and would always get the same result.

Zelda: That’s a statement of faith.

Alexander: It’s a statement of fact. It’s true that science is always subject to further evidence, but after something has been verified enough times, it’s just a technicality that prevents scientists from saying it’s absolutely true.

Zelda: I’m just saying that there’s no chance that my faith in God will end up with me volunteering to get a bowling ball shoved up my nose.

 


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Posted on December 16, 2013 at 8:31 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations