This originally appeared as a response to "Gribble the Munchkin" in the "Are You There..." article.
Hello and thank you for your well-written, objective, respectful comments. And please, no apologies necessary. It is i who needs to apologize to those i have yet to respond to, here in my blog and in Professor Dawkins' Faith and Religion subforum. :)
First off, regarding my belief on Dawkins' existence. i wrote this near the end of "Are You There": "And by the way, if it isn't obvious by now, i do believe that you exist..." i mean no disrespect to Dawkins nor to anyone else. i merely wrote the article in a satirical manner, using the line of reasoning that atheists have been known to use. The "dishonesty" you refer to is but artistic license; would you accuse novelists or actors of being false as well?
You say, "It is therefore reasonable to doubt his existance." Surely, i agree! And i understand why Dawkins and others would like to compare God to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and so on; their point is, just because something cannot be disproved doesn't mean it's true. My counterpoint is just because something cannot be disproved doesn't mean it's not true.
But God's existence is not merely non-disprovable, the proof can be positive. You first mentioned the universe and the natural world and the arguments for intelligent design and so on. i do not really distinguish between "theism" and "deism", in that i am a Bible-based Christian and do not have the same beliefs as every theist and deist. (In the same way that i have met enough atheists to know that there are still some "differences" or nuances among them.) That's how it starts i suppose, especially for intellectually-inclined people. "If" the universe was purposefully created [as opposed to randomly occurred], they can then ask: "Who?" "How?" "Why?" We currently have several claims by different religions and/or world views. Like you mentioned, these are --- "conflicting" and they cannot be simultaneously true, but it is also possible that one of them is true. Many people have acknowledged deism/theism by looking at nature and the universe; but even if "this tells [us] nothing about which god is responsible", then we can look elsewhere for the rest of the answers.
For further evidence of God, you correctly noted that several commenters have "deeply personal and subjective" proof. i assure you that the evidence is not limited to that, but first let us look at the validity of even what is ("merely"?) personal and subjective.
i am a teacher so i'll use a classroom analogy. No matter how many teachers talk about a particular lesson, no matter how many in the class already know that lesson, each student learns at his/her own pace. The student can have a moment of realization during lecture time, or understand the application of the lesson while performing an experiment. The student can fit all the pieces of the puzzle with or without help from the teacher, classmates, or someone else. But even on the most objective of topics, the learning is personal and the understanding, subjective. Even if each and every student verified the speed of light, their scores on the relativity quiz can still vary widely...and note that for "objective" topics, there is but one set of answers. [This is not an argument for theism, rather for "personal and subjective" proof of objective reality.]
But i agree that "personal and subjective" can be mistaken, even grossly erroneous. Biblical Christianity is true in that it is not limited to these kinds of "proof". Some Christians talk of logic and reasoning as the basis of their conversion. i highly recommend Ravi Zacharias (www.rzim.org/) and Lee Strobel (www.leestrobel.com/). In particular, Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” lists the objective evidence for the God of the Bible; an outline summary can be found here: http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/The-Case-For-Christ.htm. Meanwhile, Dr. Zacharias takes the philosophical approach: apart from God, there is no way for us to define morality, purpose, meaning, and value judgments.
Like Geekborj, i must respectfully yet strongly disagree on your negative perception of the Bible as "an instruction manual for how to live one[']s life". Surely, the ancient Jews were desert nomads and were products of their time and culture as well; but there are ideas and principles that transcend time and culture. The best example i could give is the many laws regarding slavery in the Old and even New Testaments. i could argue that the laws are very just and even merciful, but the practice of slavery still feels "barbaric", doesn't it? Centuries after Jesus' resurrection, Christians led the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves. Are the Christian beliefs of Wilberforce and Lincoln called into question, or are these beliefs the main motivation for them to fight and prevail over slavery?
When we say "Society has simple progressed beyond the tribal law of the desert," we must be clear whether we have completely done away with said tribal laws, or whether we used them as essential foundations on our upward climb. Here i make three points.
Point 1, on progress beyond tribal desert laws:
You are probably aware of the revolutionary paradigm shift between the Old and New Testaments. "An eye for an eye" (clear-cut justice) progressed into "turn the other cheek" (for accepting undeserved pain) and "do not let your right hand know what your left is doing" (for not accepting deserved praise)."Love your neighbor" progressed into "Love your neighbor". This kind of progression is perfect and impossible; something the present society, no matter how advanced in other areas, has yet to reach. Why even impose this? Jesus pointed out that we can attain this only through God's help. If the Bible is fictitious and no such perfect-God exists, how can the Bible authors (and any of us) even have an idea of what "perfect" is?
Point 2, on the definition of progress:
Continuing from point 1, what exactly is "progress" anyway? Which way is "up" or the right way? [i occasionally ask evolutionists a similar question: if everything occurred randomly, then why do we impose that it is the "fittest" who survive, that creatures have a hierarchy, and so on?] From an atheistic point of view, how can we say that society progressed? In which direction are we headed anyway, if there is nothing around us but conflicting ideologies and opposing examples? But if our goal is towards a perfect society, the definitions of perfect justice, love and all else are found only in the Biblical God. *Note*: The principles of what are "good" and so on are universal and i have never met anyone, regardless of belief, who does not have them; but we must ask *Why* or *how come* we all have these principles in the first place.
Point 3, on society's progress:
The first judicial system and the first constitution in ancient times were based on the Biblical commandments; the first universities and hospitals in the more contemporary times were again based on Christian values. The very foundation of America as the place where people are free to worship (the underlying reason for the separation of church and state), were led by Christians. i was surprised when i first learned about some of these, but eventually it made more and more sense. Why would i even want to deprive myself for the benefit of another? Why would i want others to have the same rights that as myself? Again, how can we seek after justice and goodness, how can we even define these principles/values, if all the universe was just an accident and every instance/action is equally probable (and acceptable)? The Bible claims that it is God's word, written because we could not understand Him completely nor correctly on our own. In line with this, His commands are patterns on how we can live like Him, who is just and good.
Let us now go to the authenticity of the Bible. Surely we want collaborating/corroborating evidence for what has been recorded in it. You mention the records of the Romans, Egyptians, and Jews like Josephus. Your point is well-taken. However, if i were to order the mass slaughter of babies like Herod, or leader of a mighty empire brought to its knees by nomad slaves like Pharaoh, or waiting for a Messiah while a non-Messiah type reportedly rose from the dead like Josephus, or the political and religious leaders who plotted to kill the adult Jesus...what would i do? Surely they would be the last to record or to publicly admit that "This is God". Even in "objective" fields like history and science, human perception greatly colors the records; and even in the past century certain countries have had some historical events distorted, if not taken off the record altogether.
You say, "While i am prepared to admit that there may well have been a man called Jesus who existed at that time and led a small cult...", and so at least Josephus' account helps us reach a common point that Jesus existed. If we are to talk of secondary (corroborating) evidence alone, there was no claim of "This is Jesus' body, he did not rise again". But the disciples were (understandably) accused of taking His body and claiming He rose again. Note that these followers ran off when Jesus was arrested, how can they suddenly have the guts to sneak past Roman guards and proclaim Jesus resurrected until their own dying breaths? Others dispute that Jesus did not really die but was in a trance-like state that enabled Him to survive the cross. But historically, many people have died by scourging alone, even before they carried and got nailed to the cross. And Jesus was speared on His side, releasing fluid around his heart. And, as pointed out in Strobel's book, who would want to proclaim Jesus as victorious conqueror of death if he was a survivor of the worst death penalty there was...and looked it?
People, especially those of the scientific/intellectual/rational type as yourself, would want objective records of historical events: listing them down as they happened, even if the authors would be shown in a negative light, simply because they are writing down what is true. But that is already what the Bible is. There are people who object to the Bible because "history is written by the winners" --- but the Israelites and later on the early Christians were anything but: the Bible honestly and humbly portrays the faults of the slaves, the kings, the prophets, and the perfect God who loves them (and us all) anyway.
Let us go to more technical details. Scholars say: "The Bible is better preserved, by far, than accepted writings of Homer, Plato and Aristotle." The manuscripts of ancient works we currently have are usually only a handful (hundreds, tens or less) and dated decades or centuries from the supposed time of writing. In comparison, currently the earliest records for Jesus have been dated seven years after his death and resurrection (yes, not ninety years, all of the New Testament was written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses). And there are thousands of these ancient manuscripts preserved until now. In terms of details about ancient civilizations, it is so easy to disprove the Bible. But actually, all the archaeological/cultural/even physiological evidence being discovered until now has done is to corroborate it.
Now "to evaluate the christian evidence against the evidence for the other deities." i do not know why you say that "Mohammed certain[l]y wrote a better book". But did you know that even the Koran concedes that only Jesus and not Mohammed was virgin-born? And Mohammed had no claims of feeding five thousand nor of rising from the dead.
Regarding the Jewish books: Christians refer to them as the "Old Testament" of the Bible because we see no disconnect between the two. (Previously i have shown an example of "progression" from OT to NT commands.) Has "Christ utterly failed to fulfill" the Jewish predictions? The NT books particularly Matthew and Revelation consistently refer the reader that Jesus' actions or even His circumstances were "fulfilled according to Scripture", which in that time was just the Jewish books/Christian OT. Actually all NT books refer to OT. For prophecies fulfilled by Jesus: see http://www.bprc.org/topics/fulfill.html. Those fulfilled before and after Jesus' time, including the present: http://www.answering-islam.org/Nehls/Answer/fulfilled.html.
The Jewish Messiah's attributes [powerful political ruler] are different from Jesus' servant attitude. But Jesus promised to come again as that (OT) kind of Messiah. i heard somewhere that Jews and Christians are both waiting for the Savior: the first group awaits the first coming while the second awaits the second coming. In any case, note that the majority of the first Christians were Jews/Hebrews/Israelites, and that one of the major issues of the early church was whether to include non-Jews (Gentiles). This shows how many (thousands daily) of the Jews believed, once they realized that there was no disconnect between OT Messiah and Jesus.
i shall try to answer this first: "If you were born in Iran, do you believe you would still be a christian, given the demographics of geography? If yes, why aren't there more christian Iranians".
For any faith or even any non-religious idea, there are many reasons why said idea would propagate easily across one area compared to another, at times even leaving their "motherland". But i can generalize the question to "Why aren't there more Christians around the world anyways?" i have talked to people and have seen for myself how God is on the move even in --- especially in --- places where He is not permitted. i am learning how God is all powerful and can do all things, and how He chooses to use people, circumstances, dreams, miracles, and other means to draw people, in complete free will, to Him.
If the God of the Bible is real, then why does He not show Himself so clearly? But this same Bible says (1) all who seek Him with all their heart will find Him, and (2) one day He will show Himself clearly and all will bow, but it will already be judgment day by then.
And, lastly, "What can christianity offer me that the other religions can't?"
Short answer: "It is the truth, verifiable both objectively and personally. Thankfully, this truth is also good." (And i have listed various reasons/elaborations in the previous paragraphs.)
i have quoted this often: "All that I have seen enables me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
i may be a graduate student in the sciences but i have first realized God to be true in the area of --- yes --- personal experience. It was an emotional time for me, undoubtedly my lowest point, and for the first time i needed to trust in something other than myself. My eyes and ears were finally open enough for God.
But that is where scientific training is useful. Always, i would rather choose a harsh truth than a feel-good lie. i had and still have so many questions and issues regarding God's existence, the Bible's authenticity, morality, free will, and so on. But being honest about it means admitting when i do not know, and holding on when i do know.
i have come to acknowledge God as God through personal/emotional/subjective means, but because God is objective reality i can see Him through objective means as well. My every question might not have been answered (yet), but every answer leads to the One Living God. And i am ready to die for that God, for i have lived with Him long and well enough to know that what the Bible says about Him is true. :)
So i thank you, Gribble, for your insightful comments and for the opportunity to share mine. i wish you all the best :)