Advanced Search

Why is it that Christianity is so hugely believed as the absolute truth? Many

Why is it that Christianity is so hugely believed as the absolute truth? Many religions appeared before Christianity, and why aren't they believed true? Could you please explain why millions of people dedicate their lives to a religion based upon a book with questionable origins?

There are a lot of questions here, but not many of them are philosophical in content. Nonetheless, I'll have a shot.

Plainly there are many people throughout the world who subscribe to faiths other than Christianity, including faiths, such as Judaism, that are older than it.

As to the question about the Bible, I'm not sure what "questionable origins" it has. Last I checked, a great deal was known about who wrote its various parts, when, where, and under what circumstances. The fact that Isaiah, for example, was written by three (maybe more) different people at different times makes it no less interesting to me. In fact, it helps me understand it better. Perhaps a certain sort of fundamentalist would reject this kind of historical research or find it threatening. But not all Christians (or Jews, or Muslims, or...) are fundamentalists. Indeed, in Christianity, anyway, fundamentalism is a recent invention, and fundamentalists a distinct minority, despite the success they've had convincing so many people otherwise.

I'd suggest you have a look at Peter Gomes's The Good Book, if you're actually interested to learn something about the Bible and what it actually means to thoughtful, non-fundamentalist Christians.

There are a lot of questions here, but not many of them are philosophical in content. Nonetheless, I'll have a shot. Plainly there are many people throughout the world who subscribe to faiths other than Christianity, including faiths, such as Judaism, that are older than it. As to the question about the Bible, I'm not sure what "questionable origins" it has. Last I checked, a great deal was known about who wrote its various parts, when, where, and under what circumstances. The fact that Isaiah, for example, was written by three (maybe more) different people at different times makes it no less interesting to me. In fact, it helps me understand it better. Perhaps a certain sort of fundamentalist would reject this kind of historical research or find it threatening. But not all Christians (or Jews, or Muslims, or...) are fundamentalists. Indeed, in Christianity, anyway, fundamentalism is a recent invention, and fundamentalists a distinct minority, despite the success they've had convincing so many...

In relation to the debate raging in the US about evolution and Intelligent

In relation to the debate raging in the US about evolution and Intelligent Design, I would like to know whether positing the existence and prior activity of an intelligent designer is a scientific or a philosophical question. Is it scientifically conceivable that the existence of a designer and of things having come about purposefully as opposed to randomly could ever be deduced from available or putative evidence?

If I may add one additional point to the ones already given: there is an all important difference between an intelligent designer that is a human being or an advanced alien civilisation, and an intelligent designer that is divine. The former could have evidence in its favour, and could be the object of scientific enquiry at least in principle. (We could in principle meet the aliens and ask them 'why did you make tigers?') The latter could not. The reason is contained in some of the arguments that Hume and Kant put forth against the classic arguments for the existence of a God. Namely, that the act of a divine being upon nature (a miracle) could not provide evidence for the being's divinity.

Surely there could be evidence for this kind of claim. Maybe we'd find when we went to Mars that there were some super-smart aliens working on the creation of life, and then we'd find when we returned evidence to back up their story that they'd done the same thing here. But, at the moment, there doesn't seem to be any prospect of such evidence. But, as the judge in Pennsylvania clearly recognized, Intelligent Design isn't really a scientific hypothesis. It's a religious doctrine. That, to my mind, isn't a bad thing. What's unfortunate is that so many people on both sides of this debate seem to think science and religion are fundamentally opposed.

A friend once had me consider this logic.

A friend once had me consider this logic. Because the Catholic Immaculate Conception doctrine is a cornerstone tenet of the church, but is essentially a dogmatic belief, any dogmatic doctrine canonized by the church must also be as worthy of faith as the Immaculate Conception doctrine. However the doctrine of transfiguration is also a dogmatic belief. Yet even after a priest has blessed the sacramental wine and bread, in reality it does not literally transfigure into the blood and body of Christ even though the doctrine of transfiguration states that it does. If the wine does not literally turn to blood, the doctrine of transfiguration is wrong and because the doctrine of transfiguration is equally as valid as the Immaculate Conception, it too is also wrong by association. However, if the Christ were literally made of bread and wine, then all conflicts would be resolved. Can you please comment on this logic? Thank you

I'm not sure there's much "logic" there, frankly.

First, the relevant doctrine is that of transubstantiation, not transfiguration. The latter term refers to the events described in e.g. Luke 9, when Jesus appears "transfigured" in the presence of Elijah and Moses. Second, I'm not entirely sure why it is so obvious to you, or to your friend, that the consecration does not transform the elements into the body and blood of Christ. The fact that they do not look much like flesh and blood has nothing to do with it. (The Wikipedia article on the topic is excellent, by the way.) That said, transubstantiation is controversial within Christianity. It is, as was said, a pillar of the Catholic faith, but it is not widely accepted outside Catholicism.

I see no reason to suppose that all "dogmatic doctrine[s] canonized by the [Catholic] church" must stand or fall together. One might reason thus: If one of them turns out to be wrong, that diminishes whatever general reason one had to suppose that official endorsement by the Catholic hierarchy entails truth. That is: If the doctrine of transsubstantiation is false, then the fact that the Immaculate Conception has been endorsed by the hierarchy is not sufficient reason to believe that it is true. It simply does not follow, however, that it is false. If, however, one's one reason to accept the Immaculate Conception was its endorsement by the hierarchy, then perhaps one should no longer accept it. And then, given one's general reasons to believe that people get conceived in the usual way, maybe then one would have reason to reject it.

I'm not sure there's much "logic" there, frankly. First, the relevant doctrine is that of transubstantiation , not transfiguration. The latter term refers to the events described in e.g. Luke 9, when Jesus appears "transfigured" in the presence of Elijah and Moses. Second, I'm not entirely sure why it is so obvious to you, or to your friend, that the consecration does not transform the elements into the body and blood of Christ. The fact that they do not look much like flesh and blood has nothing to do with it. (The Wikipedia article on the topic is excellent, by the way.) That said, transubstantiation is controversial within Christianity. It is, as was said, a pillar of the Catholic faith, but it is not widely accepted outside Catholicism. I see no reason to suppose that all "dogmatic doctrine[s] canonized by the [Catholic] church" must stand or fall together. One might reason thus: If one of them turns out to be wrong, that diminishes whatever general reason one had to suppose that official...

G'day Philosophers,

G'day Philosophers, Please let me preface my Q. by saying that it is not cynical, but an issue of long-standing puzzlement to me. Here goes. Why is it that Christians who read and believe in the authenticity of the Bible, can still see God as a supreme being of love and compasion? There is in my Bible instance upon instance of God being a malicious, genocidal monster who would compete with Hitler, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein with his excesses. I just don't get it! Dave.

This depends a great deal upon how one reads the Bible. Frankly, I think there are many people whose views on this kind of question are inconsistent, even incoherent, just as you suggest. Take, for example, Pat Robertson, who recently suggested that God had caused Ariel Sharon to have a stroke because he had withdrawn from Gaza, or Ray Nagin, who suggested that God had sent hurricanes to the Gulf Coast because God was upset about how the US treats the poor. One might find these suggestions pathetic for all kinds of reasons. (The latter suggestion is particularly bizarre, seeing how it waslargely the poor who were trapped in New Orleans, the wealthy havingmanaged to get out.) But, indeed, I find it difficult to see how anyone who was prepared to take them seriously could also regard God "as a supreme being of love and compassion". It rather makes God out to be a vengeful despot.

If, then, by "believe in the authenticity of the Bible", you mean "regard every word of it as literal truth", then there is indeed a problem here. But there was already a problem there, since, for example, the four gospels contradict one another repeatedly. And there are plenty of parts of the Bible, even narrative portions, that pretty clearly weren't intended as literal truth. The Book of Job, for example, is an instance of a literary form that was very common when it was written. That is, it's a story. That doesn't mean one can't take it seriously. One can. It's a very good, very powerful, and very challenging story.

So I would suggest, myself, that "taking the Bible seriously" needn't mean taking it as literal truth. And if one doesn't, then it's not obvious what we should make of the more malicious deeds that are ascribed to God.

This depends a great deal upon how one reads the Bible. Frankly, I think there are many people whose views on this kind of question are inconsistent, even incoherent, just as you suggest. Take, for example, Pat Robertson, who recently suggested that God had caused Ariel Sharon to have a stroke because he had withdrawn from Gaza, or Ray Nagin, who suggested that God had sent hurricanes to the Gulf Coast because God was upset about how the US treats the poor. One might find these suggestions pathetic for all kinds of reasons. (The latter suggestion is particularly bizarre, seeing how it waslargely the poor who were trapped in New Orleans, the wealthy havingmanaged to get out.) But, indeed, I find it difficult to see how anyone who was prepared to take them seriously could also regard God "as a supreme being of love and compassion". It rather makes God out to be a vengeful despot. If, then, by "believe in the authenticity of the Bible", you mean "regard every word of it as literal truth", then there is...

If archaelogy or some other science were to prove in some manner or another that

If archaelogy or some other science were to prove in some manner or another that God really existed, would faith still be necessary? Would faith still exist? I'm not sure if this is a proper philosophical question, but could you guys/gals find it in your hearts to respond? Bernie Hebert Lafayette, LA

As Alex said, one can presumably imagine there being lots of empirical evidence for God's existence. But if so, then I'm not sure why faith would be needed there any more than it is needed in ordinary scientific inquiry. But that doesn't mean faith wouldn't be required: The mere belief that there is a God hardly exhausts the content of faith. Liberal protestants and ultra-orthodox Jews agree that God exists, but there's not obviously a whole lot else about which they agree. Obviously, there are other religious doctrines, such as the status of Jesus, on which there is similar disagreement, but what is more interesting, to my mind, are the far deeper disagreements about what God wants for humanity and creation.

Indeed, I'm aware I might be in the minority here, but to my mind, the question whether God exists is really a pretty boring one. This point is really just one made long ago by Hume. Even if you can prove that God exists, via any of the standard sorts of arguments philosophers consider, you'll get very little other useful information about God that way.

As Alex said, one can presumably imagine there being lots of empirical evidence for God's existence. But if so, then I'm not sure why faith would be needed there any more than it is needed in ordinary scientific inquiry. But that doesn't mean faith wouldn't be required: The mere belief that there is a God hardly exhausts the content of faith. Liberal protestants and ultra-orthodox Jews agree that God exists, but there's not obviously a whole lot else about which they agree. Obviously, there are other religious doctrines, such as the status of Jesus, on which there is similar disagreement, but what is more interesting, to my mind, are the far deeper disagreements about what God wants for humanity and creation. Indeed, I'm aware I might be in the minority here, but to my mind, the question whether God exists is really a pretty boring one. This point is really just one made long ago by Hume. Even if you can prove that God exists, via any of the standard sorts of arguments philosophers consider, you'll...

I was reading up on the study of whether biologists who accept the evolutionary

I was reading up on the study of whether biologists who accept the evolutionary theory believe in God(s) and other theologistic happenings. Many of them say that they find no conflict between the two whatsoever. How is this possible? Isn't the theory of evolution itself based on random, natural selection?

If I can add a little, I guess I find myself puzzled about why anyone would think there was a conflict between belief in God and evolutionary theory. Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and, perhaps, adherents of other faiths about which I know less) do find there to be a conflict, but that is because they read their scriptures in a very literal way and take it as a matter of revealed truth that the universe and its inhabitants were created in a particular way. Then, indeed, there is a conflict, and the issue becomes how one should read scripture. This sort of very literal approach is, in Judaism and Christianity, actually a fairly recent phenomenon, and it does not fit at all with how the authors of the relevant texts understood their own writing. There are, for example, two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, which have quite different histories, and they contradict one another at several points. That fact does not seem to have troubled the compliers of the book, and there is no reason it need have done so, if they did not themselves consider the book literal history.

So there is that issue. But suppose we do not read the scriptures that way. Why then should there be any conflict between belief in God and evolution? I don't understand the alleged significance of the claim that evolution is "random". In any event, it's not, but is presumably governed by natural laws, whose character biologists seek to uncover.

If I can add a little, I guess I find myself puzzled about why anyone would think there was a conflict between belief in God and evolutionary theory. Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and, perhaps, adherents of other faiths about which I know less) do find there to be a conflict, but that is because they read their scriptures in a very literal way and take it as a matter of revealed truth that the universe and its inhabitants were created in a particular way. Then, indeed, there is a conflict, and the issue becomes how one should read scripture. This sort of very literal approach is, in Judaism and Christianity, actually a fairly recent phenomenon, and it does not fit at all with how the authors of the relevant texts understood their own writing. There are, for example, two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, which have quite different histories, and they contradict one another at several points. That fact does not seem to have troubled the compliers of the book, and there is no reason...

Why isn't Christianity considered evil? After reading the Bible, I noticed that

Why isn't Christianity considered evil? After reading the Bible, I noticed that homosexuality is 'abominable', that if anyone chooses to work on a sunday then they should be 'put to death', that slavery is fine, animal sacrifice is fine and that the mentally-ill are possessed by the devil. Why then, do we not actively supress Christianity? How can a Christian legitimately believe that homosexuality, for example, is fine and still call themselves a Christian, despite what it says in the Bible? It seems to me that it is an evil moral theory to subscribe to.

A few comments.

First, the Bible nowhere says that oneshouldn't work on Sunday. It says that one shouldn't work on theSabbath, and the relevant prohibition is contained in the Law given toMoses, which means that it referred originally to the Jewish Sabbath,Saturday.

Second,as Peter Fosl said, the view that the Bible isliterally true, through and through, is largely a recent invention andwould not be accepted by most people who call themselves Christians.But I'll agree with this much: Those who run around quoting Leviticus'sprohibitions against homosexuality while eating pork have a lot ofexplaining to do. Indeed, those who ban gays from their churches whileadmitting those who are divorced have some explaining to do, too.(Jesusis not recorded ever to have mentioned homosexuality, but Matthewrecords him as having prohibited divorce, except on grounds ofinfidelity, on two separate occasions.) Those who "proof text" tend tobe rather selective, as indeed they need to be, since the storiescontained in the canon contain so many different perspectives, andthose excluded (largely for political reasons), such as the Gospel ofThomas, contain yet more. The people who wrote these scriptures weren'thung up on literality the way people nowadays seem to be, and it seemspretty clear that they didn't take themselves to be giving any kind offinal answer either.

Third,it's often helpful to understand something about the culture in whichJesus and the early Christians lived when trying to understand thescriptures. For example, it is arguable that in prohibiting a man from divorcing his wifeexcept for marital infidelity, Jesus was trying to defend not theinstitution of marriage but the dignity of women. In Jesus's day, awoman who had been divorced was often a social outcast and usually hadno independent means of support. (The same is true in many countriestoday and was true even in the West until not long ago.) A man whodivorced a woman was thus often consigning her to poverty. (For muchsensible and accessible reflection of this kind, see Peter Gomes's The Good Book.)

Fourth, the question what relevance the Law has for Christians has been debated since Christianity's earliest days. Perhaps thehottest issue among the early Christians was whether one could be aChristian without being (or becoming) a Jew. This debate is recorded inActs and often referenced in the letters of Paul, who argued vehementlythat the new faith should be open to those of all nations. (That's whatPaul's talking about when he talks about circumcision.) Paul wonthat argument, in the end, rather decisively. His reasons for doingso are beautifully illustrated in Acts 10. Many Christians take this story to contain a profound argument againstexclusion of women from ministry, of homosexuals from full inclusion inthe church, and so on and so forth.

Finally, then: Does it really matter how faithful this story is to Peter's experience? Does it matter whether Peter ever had such an experience? Does it matter whether it was "just a dream"?

A few comments. First, the Bible nowhere says that oneshouldn't work on Sunday. It says that one shouldn't work on theSabbath, and the relevant prohibition is contained in the Law given toMoses, which means that it referred originally to the Jewish Sabbath,Saturday. Second,as Peter Fosl said, the view that the Bible isliterally true, through and through, is largely a recent invention andwould not be accepted by most people who call themselves Christians.But I'll agree with this much: Those who run around quoting Leviticus'sprohibitions against homosexuality while eating pork have a lot ofexplaining to do. Indeed, those who ban gays from their churches whileadmitting those who are divorced have some explaining to do, too.(Jesusis not recorded ever to have mentioned homosexuality, but Matthewrecords him as having prohibited divorce, except on grounds ofinfidelity, on two separate occasions.) Those who "proof text" tend tobe rather selective, as indeed they need to be, since the storiescontained in...

Given that there is no proof for either statement, is it any more valid to say

Given that there is no proof for either statement, is it any more valid to say 'there is a God' than it is to say 'there is no God'? Or is the only valid answer 'I don't know if there is a God'?

There's a common misconception about "proof" -- that if a statement cannot be "proven," then it's equally rational to believe either it or its contradictory. If "prove" means "establish with logical certainty from self-evident first principles", then nothing outside mathematics, logic, and semantics can be proven. Indeed, it's even a matter of controversy whether anything within mathematics, logic, and semantics can be proven. So the class of statements that cannot be proven is very, very big, and includes all of the following: "There is no Santa Claus," "Dogs are animals," "Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States," and "Salt is soluble in water." But surely you believe all of these things, and would find foolish anyone who withheld judgment about them just because they could not be proven.

So the real issue, for any proposition, is what the arguments are. There are certainly many arguments for the existence of God, and many against, most of which are quite accessible to any thoughtful person (unlike the considerations for and against, say, string theory in physics, which can only be evaluated by experts). Given this, it would only be reasonable to conclude that you didn’t know if the arguments all turned out to be very weak (so that you have no reason to go either way) or if they turned out to be equally strong (so that you have reasons to go in two contradictory directions). I happen to think that there are no good arguments for belief in God (unless you mean something so waffly and vague by "God" that love or the Big Bang counts) and one extremely compelling argument against it -- the argument from evil. [For relevant discussion, see http://www.amherst.edu/askphilosophers/question/1 ]

I get the feeling from some of the people I know who call themselves "agnostics" that they think they are being more modest, or less dogmatic than either theists or atheists. Maybe they think they’re hedging their bets in regard to the afterlife. In any case, I’m the kind of atheist who thinks that God most respects people who apportion their beliefs to the evidence.

As has often been pointed out here, there is no proof for many statements at all, except those in logic and mathematics, and even then the basic premises from which the proof proceeds can , in principle, be questioned. So the fact that there is no proof of either of the statements you mention seems no more relevant than that there is no proof of either "The Bush administration manipulated intelligence about Iraq" or "The Bush administration did not manipulate intelligence about Iraq". In particular, it doesn't imply that one can't justifiably have an opinion about the matter.

I think that religion is just one's way to answer their own questioning of the

I think that religion is just one's way to answer their own questioning of the meaning of life. Those without religion (like atheists and even agnostics) I believe do not have that internal need to find a meaning, so they do not turn to religion. Believing in God or a god gives a shorthand answer to life: that we were created to live. What are your thoughts?

My main thoughts would be these:

  1. Trying to find somesimple, single sentence explanation for something as complex andancient as religious faith is not very sensible.
  2. Beforeattempting to answer the question what role religion plays in people'slives, it would probably be a good idea to do some actual empiricalresearch. In this case, I think one would find that there are very,very few religious people, perhaps none, who would accept that the"meaning of life" can be boiled down to: We were created to live.
  3. Many people actually have done such research, and much has been written about the matter. There are many viewpoints, and there are no easy answers.

But let me end with a question: Why do so many people seem to find it necessary to dismiss faith as a product of something trivial? What is it about faith that is so threatening?

My main thoughts would be these: Trying to find somesimple, single sentence explanation for something as complex andancient as religious faith is not very sensible. Beforeattempting to answer the question what role religion plays in people'slives, it would probably be a good idea to do some actual empiricalresearch. In this case, I think one would find that there are very,very few religious people, perhaps none, who would accept that the"meaning of life" can be boiled down to: We were created to live. Many people actually have done such research, and much has been written about the matter. There are many viewpoints, and there are no easy answers. But let me end with a question: Why do so many people seem to find it necessary to dismiss faith as a product of something trivial? What is it about faith that is so threatening?

My question is simply this: Does God (or a divine being) exist?

My question is simply this: Does God (or a divine being) exist? Based on my own personal views, it is very difficult to believe that there is more to this life than what we have experienced so far. The Christian God ask his followers to believe in him through their faith alone. Yet, for someone who must live in this modern world, it is always difficult to believe in a "God-like-figure", even though it would seem that a question like this would simply be a test of one's faith. What are we to do when we want to believe, but want a justified reason to believe?

This question does have a philosophical dimension, in so far as it forces us to confront the question in what sense belief is or can be voluntary: Can you simply choose to believe something absent a decent reason to do so? Many philosophers would say that you cannot, that belief is not really voluntary in that sense.

But there are a number of other points worth making here, too, since much confusion seems to exist on this score:

  1. I don't myself know what is supposed to be meant by "the Christian God". Presumably, one means God as understood by Christianity, but there is no such thing. Christianity is a many-faceted and incredibly diverse collection of faiths and modes of living, and there are untold conceptions of God even within Catholicism (despite the repressive efforts of the church hierarchy).
  2. That so many people think that belief in God is somehow in conflict with the modern world is testament to the influence, especially in the United States, of one particular brand of religion, namely, reactionary fundamentalism. Many (perhaps even most) Christians, anyway, see no particular conflict.
  3. It's testament to the influence of Catholicism and, again, certain forms of fundamentalism that so many non-religious people identify being religious with having certain kinds of beliefs. But most scholars of religion nowadays have a very different viewpoint that focuses on what is called "lived religion". And certainly my own experience is that being a person of faith has very little to do with what I believe in the relevant sense. It has much more to do with how I live my life.

This question does have a philosophical dimension, in so far as it forces us to confront the question in what sense belief is or can be voluntary: Can you simply choose to believe something absent a decent reason to do so? Many philosophers would say that you cannot, that belief is not really voluntary in that sense. But there are a number of other points worth making here, too, since much confusion seems to exist on this score: I don't myself know what is supposed to be meant by "the Christian God". Presumably, one means God as understood by Christianity, but there is no such thing. Christianity is a many-faceted and incredibly diverse collection of faiths and modes of living, and there are untold conceptions of God even within Catholicism (despite the repressive efforts of the church hierarchy). That so many people think that belief in God is somehow in conflict with the modern world is testament to the influence, especially in the United States, of one particular brand of religion,...

Pages