Monday, 19 January 2009

Putting Off Childish Things: On Reason and Responsibility

Is it enough to have an epiphany, an experience, a vision? Are we then excused from the heavy work of thinking, comparing, reasoning?

A thousand times, no.

The human mind is a flighty, deceptive thing. It lights on one line of thought, then another, as it pleases. Given rein, it is prone to all sorts of dreams, hallucinations, illusions, and delusions. It is easily overcome by stress, strain, shock,fear, great emotion. It wavers, projecting ideas backward onto memory, and at other times blocking out entire chunks of memory.

For each of us there are two sentinels posted just outside the shadowy, billowing curtains of the mind, and we esteem them lightly at our peril: they are conscience and reason. Both are fallible, and know little of what is, but they are quick to identify what is not. Conscience raises a ruckus over all that is not right; Reason is quick to point out all that is not true. Both may be silenced, but in their silence we are forced to submit to the tyranny of whim and whimsy.

Every adult with an adult's mind bears responsibility to her own conscience and her own ability to reason. The mind that knows light and chooses darkness pronounces its own judgement and damns itself.

an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

If an epiphany be no more than an appearance or manifestation, then what can it give, more than a kind of comfort? What good is the appearance of a deity that has no relevance to the real, that makes no sense, after he has again disappeared into his pale and hazy realm? Only if we mean, by "epiphany", something that rearranges the thinking; that offers some insight into reality, can it bear any weight. Even then, that insight must be guarded by reason until its trustworthiness has been firmly established.

When I say that I am coming to know the Living God, himself the very source of all Truth, what does that mean unless I submit it to the thrashing of reason? Shall I tell that I know God, who made me a rational creature, and lie to say that he bids me discard reason to know him?

An epiphany can never be the climax of knowing, but the introduction. If my thinking is changed to take a whole new direction, then I must not discard reason, but cling the more tightly to it. If it stands under reason's measured blows, and can be reconciled, too, with conscience, only then can I begin to trust it with the weight of my own thinking.

Reason is a weak guide, but we have no better gatekeeper. It never produces its own material, and works instead on the material of conscience and the senses. It compares, analyses, reconstructs; but it never introduces new things - only new combinations of things. That is why it can never, on its own, lead us into what stands outside of us: Truth. But let reason not be undervalued, for it protects us from any number of apparitions pretending to be Truth; they fall under its flashing blade. And once Truth, however dimly, has been perceived, reason will go all about it, marking its foundations, and broadening its reach. Reason allowed to do its work will not rest until Truth has been fully stripped of paint and facade and revealed in all its rich lustre.

Be sure that the comfortable, harmless Gods of epiphanies allowed entrance without reason will all turn tyrant. The only God worth knowing is that One who is called Truth; who fully reconciles and perfects the knowledge and the work of body, mind, and spirit: he is the One who makes meaning out of the gathered questions and answers of sense, reason, and being. If I may not know Him, then call me atheist. Any other God is a lie.


exrelayman said...

Hi JP and JA (and JC if I'm wrong about you and you're looking in),

I have been looking at our exchanges for hours wondering how best to continue, as JP is desirous of not going unchallenged, and I am enjoying her wonderful eloquence. We have both expressed our intent not to offend, and I believe we are doing pretty good so far, despite the fact that the word 'delusion' has appeared in my writing and 'foolishness' has appeared in JP's. I am not offended, it is not all going to be smooth, and I thank you JP for showing no signs of taking offense either.

I am going to continue considering how best to proceed, and would like us to continue as at least cyberfriends. In the meantime I will now just say 3 things.

For JA - I cannot speak for Slapdash, but the walk I tried to walk put JC above all things, put Him first in my heart, prayed for Him to direct my path according to His will, and so on. As my comment over at Slapdash's said, cue in 'Sounds of Silence'.

For JP - We may be to some extent less happy without our joyous belief, but not bewildered or confused. We think we see more clearly (of course, so do you). Also I here give you credit for not thinking that I thought epiphany was all you had, though your defense of your rationality in conjunction with inner knowing could be so construed. Muslims, Mormons, et al, can also argue that their faith is supported by reason.

I will close while pondering further how to proceed (I am not getting any divine help with this (grin)) by directing you to examine my recent testimony over at the ex-christian website. It is still on the front page, but newer posts have moved it near the bottom. It is called 'road to disbelief'. Funny that there I allude to a particular scriptural passage being troubling while at nearly the same time you used it in your first post in response to me.

Best to all here.

jennypo said...


Thanks for your kind words. I look forward to learning from you.

I hadn't considered being offended at your use of the word 'delusion' since you so diplomatically paired it with an 'if' and then applied it to yourself. Likewise, the 'foolishness' was in reference to me, not you, as I'm sure you wouldn't go so far as to contend that love and truth are solely functions of the intellect.

(Note that I am not generally easy to offend and will put up with ranting and even mild to moderate abuse if it comes hand in hand with reasonable explanations!)

Forgive me, though, for projecting my own feeling of bewilderment and confusion on you and Slapdash - that was certainly the way I felt when the God I had believed in disappeared from my world. I did feel that I was, as you are, thinking more clearly - which gave me even more reason to be confused. I was gaining clarity on one hand, but losing it in the area I had always most carefully guarded.

I like that you point out that Muslims, Mormons, etc, can also argue that their faith is supported by reason. The God I know is not tied to a religion, and the knowledge I have of him does not preclude him being known by either Muslims or Mormons. The knowledge another person professes to have is really only useful to me if I can see that it matches and contributes to what I already know to be true , or if it gives that person something that I want.

Though anyone can say their faith is supported by reason, such a statement necessarily infers that I can point out the inconsistencies in their beliefs, and they can do the same for me. It is no easy thing to subject your beliefs to reason's knife. I have found very few people committed to doing it in practice. That is not to say they don't know the truth, but I do think it says they ought to keep their mouths shut about appealing to reason. But then, I seem to remember having made similar blunders, so ought I to consider my mouth, too? :)

It's hard to be an obviously messed-up human being talking about knowing God. To say that I have found the source of Truth is not to say that I am right about everything. I can trust what I have received and can understand, but that is more limited than I can, unless I question, realize, and how much in between is filled with assumption and imagination! Let reason pound away and destroy it, that the solid rock of reality may be all that remains.

The particular Bible passage you reference in your story was troublesome to me, too - even more than many of the others that have since given me pause.

This has turned into far too much of a ramble, even for my own blog! Hope I haven't scared you away.

exrelayman said...

Hi Jennypo (I dispense with the 2 letter trick to get JC in),

Since we live in a predominately Christian culture and you are professing God belief and quoted from the Bible in your post addressed to me, I thought my role in challenging your belief would be showing what I find fault with in Christianity. This notion seemed to be reinforced by what Joeyanne said and her use of scripture. But in light of your last comment, perhaps my gobs of evidence would mostly be directed at beliefs you do not have. I may also be amiss in presuming that you and she are of one mind in these matters. What you have just said gives me some guidance as to how to proceed (it was not confusion, but rather how to choose among the ‘gobs’ that was giving me pause).

Also, this started at a Slapdash post about ‘I could be wrong’. I could be. So could Slapdash or you or any of us. But my stance is (as best as I am able to make it) based on gobs of evidence, so that the likelihood of my being wrong (about God) is exceedingly small. This is further digression about the b-word (bewildered).

You have indicated what your God belief isn’t (Christianity). Now for me to bring forth challenges for you to think about (and in return receive challenges to what I think) I will need a better understanding of what you conceive God to be if not Jehovah.

I am still going to make here a comment which, although directed at Bible ideas, applies more generally also. A little pride enters here, as it involves my own thinking (I have not read everything everyone else has thought, so it could be out there independent of me). “By their fruits ye shall know them”. OK. Some super entity, call it God, creates this world and us. Look up ‘pale blue dot’ at Wickipedia. It does not seem reasonable to me that the little microbes running around on this pale blue dot would particularly matter to it. The fruits seen in this world are crusades, tsunamis, typhoid fever, birth defects, animal suffering, etc. (By the way, in the interchanges on the internet about animal suffering, the fear of and experience of predation seems to be the primary consideration. What about the creatures in the wild that break a limb or have toothaches - I just want to cry.) Proceed into the Christianity my brother has and you have Hell. God, being God, knew the end before the beginning. Knew that say roughly 3 out of 4, or perhaps 99 out of 100 would end up in eternal torment as a result of disbelief or disobedience. Given this fruit (even without Hell), a benevolent God appears impossible. So this is my take on the argument from suffering which reasons against any benevolent God. My own little idea contribution is to tie it to the cited scripture.

Now in a different direction. We are all rational. Science is merely improved rationality. Science involves the concept of anyone anywhere being able to test the idea or hypothesis. Science does not allow us to know anything for certain. But true science bases it firm conviction upon a preponderance of evidence to the extent that to think contrary to all that evidence is not reasonable. (I am personifying science - to be accurate science is both a tool and the knowledge that results from the use of that tool. Science doesn’t know anything. But the presentation is more compact if I talk that way.) An epiphany, or a sure inner knowing, or as you said way back, unverifiable knowledge, is to me another phenomenon. Since I cannot repeat the phenomenon that you experience, it is untestable and accordingly unreliable. (By the way I much prefer testable and untestable to falsifyable and unfalsifyable for discussion with theists, as I think an emotional barrier jumps up to the notion that this godless heathen wants to falsify my God.) Now this does put me in a small box, according to the theist, of rejecting the ‘unverifiable knowledge’ for you, which is another phenomena which in my own personal experience does not exist. Note I am not denying your experience, its just that that’s all it is, yours and not mine. A key problem with the unverifiable way of knowing, especially that something supernatural exists, is you let in all manner of other unverifiable entities when you open that door. Everyone else’s ‘experience’ is as valid as yours.

Shucks, it is a shame that all the Bible stuff about how many times the Amalekites were ‘completely wiped out’ and ‘I will smear dung on your faces’ can’t be used since you disavow conventional Christianity (grin).

Ramble away, that’s fine with me.


jennypo said...


A dirty trick that would be, indeed, if after all my talk about reason I were to turn around and say that God is knowable only through sense and spirit, and nothing outside of me after all! Reason could barely be squeezed in as the stamp on an equation like that. It's a wonder you even bothered to respond, but I'm glad you did.

Let me clarify. The God I know is Jehovah. I take no responsibility whatever for what passes for "Christianity", but you may hold me accountable for anything written in the Bible, within its context. I don't have all the answers, nor do I pretend to understand all that is there, but the scientist can say the same about science. Though he bears the shame of failing to apprehend, science is not dishonored by his lack. Despite my dimness and my little knowledge, it remains clear to me that the message of the Bible reveals, to whomever is willing ot admit the truth she knows about herself, the best picture of the reality seen and experienced by humanity; the most plausible explanation for the way things are; and the only real answer to our crying need.

What sort of test may be used to measure truth in the Bible? Since it claims to be the inspired word of an infallible God, it can hardly be compared, except in the most rudimentary ways, against our own admittedly flawed and often-revised body of knowledge. The best test then, will be to compare it against itself. If its message is inconsistent, then we may reasonably conclude that the Bible is not what it claims to be, and thus untrustworthy. If the Bible is not trustworthy, the rational mind is left without a message from its Creator, and for knowledge, we are left with only conscience and revelation; sense and experience - both beyond reason and too personal to allow any kind of communication. In other words, it would be pointless to even talk about it. Finally, if it is demonstrated to be irrelevant, then similarly, we need not even discuss it. It is my contention that the Bible, as the revelation of a reasonable God to the intellect, is internally consistent and its message both comprensible to the human mind and relevant to every various human life.

I don't go about ramming Bible verses or my understanding of them down people's throats, but I am willing to examine what I take from them when challenged, and I will happily give answer as my capabilities of reason and communication allow.

“By their fruits ye shall know them”. The Bible does point out this principle at work in our world, and it seems intuitive enough to take as is.

You began by describing the earth. "The fruits seen in this world are crusades, tsunamis, typhoid fever, birth defects, animal suffering, etc." I can't argue that - it's observable truth. But I fail to make the leap with you to all of these things being the fruits of God. The Bible doesn't make the claim that God is the only entity that may have fruits (in fact, the opposite). I neither see observable evidence for such a statement, nor is it logically necessary as an explanation.

In fact, the Bible claims that the earth and its inhabitants were created by God and then sold into the control of one who seeks destruction. Science, too, tells us over and over again that the disease and corruption around us are enemies and attackers rather than organic pieces of a world of beauty and precision down to the minutest detail, arranged in a breathtaking balance of wheels within wheels, (so that none but the very brightest among us can even comprehend it). Is it reasonable to assume that they have come from the same hand? And if it is not reasonable, what is left to lead us to conclude that there is no hand at all?

A God who could so tenderly, with delicacy and personality and rich energy, and with a thousand layers of purpose, create the kind of earth we live on and the beings that inhabit it, and then destroy it by inches like a cruel, dull, petulant child - is nothing short of an absurdity. Who COULD believe in such a thing and call it God? Surely I don't have to tell you that if this were the God presented by the Bible, I would leave my belief in it behind in a minute with not a single regret.

No, let me remind you what the Bible says about God: that he created our world and worlds upon worlds, and that he made us like himself - with the power to love. And when humans used their freedom not to love, but to serve self (tricked into thinking that was a freedom greater than love, as we are still tricked into thinking), the Bible's God ruined what was his in order to offset the destructive results of their choice and the power they had sold themselves under. Then God took responsibility for his creation, stripping off his great glory, and accepted for himself the corruption and the same suffering they were fallen into. He humbled himself, experiencing firsthand humanity's awful separation from Love and Light, and allowing Evil the triumph of his bowing beneath what has ever been Evil's victory flag: death. These are his fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).

Dorothy said...

I agree with you that epiphany should not be the climax of knowing but serve to shine a light in a new direction. I think though that true epiphany is unlikely to occur without some good groundwork of thinking having been done before it. Newton worked on theories of gravitation for years before his ah-ha moment, the Wise Men had a life-time of study behind them before the light of the star illumined the place of Jesus' birth. It is a wonderful feeling when the pieces of the puzzle you've been struggling with for so long, fall into place. And it can send you forward with greater conviction and strength. Yes, there will be more work to be done, but you will know that it is worth it! Thank you for your thoughts.

exrelayman said...

After spending almost all day working on my next comment, I have somehow destroyed it in Word Perfect. Right now I need a little break (voice from heaven: Arm or Leg?). Will get back sometime tomorrow. Best to all.

jennypo said...


Yours is a good point - there usually is a lot of groundwork laid before a break. And the difference afterwards is not knowing everything, but knowing that the struggle is worth it.

Thanks for coming by.

jennypo said...


Sorry to hear about your lost comment, along with the energy and thought that went into it. I'll be around - no rush.

I don't know about you, but it takes me a lot of energy to haul my treasured beliefs out and lay them under the light, and a lot of time to communicate them. Much as it's worth it in the end to find the flaws, I am happy to slow things down. Our goal (at least for me) isn't to prove each other wrong, just to get another perspective from which to examine our thinking in the light of reason.

I'm not on a mission to "convert" you - I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen - so we have lots of time to hash things out.

p.s. Hope your file shows up somewhere and you don't have to completely re-do it.

exrelayman said...

Yes Jennypo, the comments you receive from me represent hours of work. The tremendous importance of belief or nonbelief (there may truly be Hell to pay), plus the necessity to try to communicate the idea involved as clearly, concisely, and courteously as possible makes this quite a task. Thus likewise also for you. We can both relax a little as to rapidity of response.

Well, back to it. This could be a lifetime project, I am not kidding, you will see more why as you read the following. I will stick with it as long as you wish to continue to see challenges and we can continue the civility we have maintained thus far. Having said that, let me further say it is OK with me for you to cut off this dialogue at any time. I can see 3 good reasons for you to do this: ‘shaking the dust’ from your sandals as you are scripturally enjoined to do at some point, this discussion and me hogging up and taking over your blog, or just weariness, as there is layer after layer involved in this onion we are peeling, and it is a lot of work. I propose to you also an option as follows: simply say let’s rest for a week or 2 and then resume, at any point mental fatigue sets in.

So here I have a suggestion. If a sentence ends with a question mark, let that be an indication that a response is desired. If you want to ask rhetorically to make a point, then let a capital R, for Rhetorical precede the question mark. In this way the particular points that one party is addressing will not be evaded by the other party, yet misdirected answers to rhetorical questions can be avoided. I introduce this element of rigor because a couple of questions in you last comment were a bit unclear to me and I take them as rhetorical, but will endeavor to answer if you want answers and clarify the questions for me. Does that sound like a good idea to you? We may still of course both respond to other portions where no question mark asks for response.

Now as to the extent that I am to produce challenges to Bible based theism, and you are to produce challenges to my challenges, I further propose introducing another element of rigor, which hopefully will lighten our labors. No one challenging point to theism suffices to establish the atheist viewpoint. Rather, point by point by point almost infinitum, the cumulative case builds. My proposal is that we agree upon 3 categories in which to relegate any specific critique of the Bible: 1) conflict or contradiction with the Bible, or reality as revealed by science, or with agreed upon common decency 2) cannot go as far as 1, but is troublesome, may have to resort to God’s ways are not our ways, etc., or 3) no conflict or contradiction or troublesomeness at all. These would be the categories that YOU place them in after WE have discussed them. For me, in my words ‘gobs’ of stuff fits into 1 or 2 to the extent that I find belief untenable. It will be interesting to see how this adds up for you, should you agree to this proposal.

You have stated it is clear to you that God’s word, the Bible, reveals to anyone willing to be honest with herself, the best and most plausible picture of reality. And it is not clear to me that this is so. That is the basis of our dialoguing. A minor point, no offence at all taken, it would seem implicit in your statement that since it is not clear to me then I am not being honest with myself. On the basis of our involvement so far and the nature of what I have said and how I have said it, do you still maintain that I am not being honest with myself? Or do you begin to see how in one’s enthusiasm and certainty of one’s belief, one’s statements can overreachR?

Now just a little response to what Dorothy came in with. There were 3 problems with intuition, epiphany, inner knowing listed previously in this dialogue. She brings in a 4th problem, the fact that our subconscious can be giving us Ah ha moments merely by working with ideas and problems already presented to it by the conscious mind. I think I have taken this in a direction she did not intend, but such is the nature of exchanging ideas, you can see some consequences of them from another viewpoint. Of course the fact that such knowing is explicable by natural processes does not mean the supernatural cannot be involved. That would be claiming too much. But the fact that the supernatural is not needed to explain it weakens it for those maintaining that something supernatural is happening. Thus 4 problems with epiphanies. But we have already agreed the such experiences alone are insufficient.

For my part in this, I intend to stay with one point at a time until I feel one of the above resolutions has occurred. We can do otherwise if you wish, but an unwillingness to deal fully with issues can make our exchange seem meaningless. Here I intend to go further into ‘pale blue dot’ and ‘by their fruits’. I mean to separate them a bit for the sake of clarity, though the inter relatedness of ideas may blend them back again. I am revisiting them as for one thing you just passed by ‘pale blue dot’ without response (hey, I didn’t develop it as a separate item), and for another you seem to have heard something I did not say about ‘by their fruits’. Our more rigorous use of question marks, as suggested, will make it so it is perfectly clear that this item needs to be addressed, or we are not actually dialoguing. Remember, dialoguing, presenting challenges or critiques, NOT arguing ( or maybe we are trying to say we are not arguing when we are - at least if arguing, doing so as politely as we can). (A little apology - that last sentence was, I am pretty sure, needless between us now. Except I am a little afraid even for myself blowing this noble ideal. A little encouragement - I deny that you are, as you said, ‘messed up’. We are just people here. We all make mistakes. Nobody’s prefect :)

‘Pale blue dot’ We are microbes on a small speck circling an insignificant sun on the outskirts of one galaxy among billions. If we are the apex of the natural world, created in God’s image, (the creationist says we are the apex, the evolutionist says we are ex-ape: sorry, couldn’t resist :), why are we on such a speck on the boondocks of the universeR? Is this not in the least troublesome to you? In answering this, bear in mind that the concept of God stopping the sun so that Joshua could slaughter more, specifically says the sun stopped, not that the Earth stopped spinning. That is, the Bible outlook supports us being at the center of things with the sun moving in relation to us. This idea is a big part of why Bruno was killed (there were other heresies) and Galileo persecuted for expressing the correct scientific view of the solar system. So to me, our being on a small insignificant speck of the universe conflicts with the Bible viewpoint, and previous Bible believers concur with me. (Are we perhaps trying to deal with vast concepts with half vast mindsR?)

‘By their fruits’ I did not say this applied to God only. But I do say it should apply to God also. I say Hitler is to the Holocaust as God is to Hell, making God worse than Hitler, as Hell is worse than the Holocaust. (Of course I really say that God isn’t at all, all this is brutal and nonsensical (that’s why this discussion), but using scripture only for the sake of evaluating scripture I must deal with what is in there.) This doctrine of Hell is in there, and it is just as ghastly and horrifying as depicted. I say that God, being God, could have made us so that the interplay between our free wills and temptation resulted in ‘many come in and few are rejected’ instead of ‘many are called but few are chosen’. Do you deny that God could do as I just said and thus limit HerR? Can you think of a good reason for Him not to do so? Why are we tempted to do evil and not tempted to do goodR? God could annihilate the wicked, rather than torment them forever. So I say Hell is a fruit of God, evil is a fruit of God. God made all things. Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6. Here you say that I make a leap in applying this to God. So I ask you: Why is this a leapR? Why should this principle not apply to God? How can you admire and worship an entity that would torture forever as punishment those He could instead simply wipe out painlesslyR? How am I to evaluate God or George Bush if not by their fruitsR?

Well that’s plenty. There are some other items I have brought up that were passed over in your response (I will not forget them), but I don’t want each comment to become too burdensome for us. Maybe only one of the above should have been done here.

Thanks for your participation in this. Although somewhat of a chore, it is an important chore and quite interesting.

jennypo said...


All of my questions are rhetorical, unless otherwise noted. :) I have tried to be brief (really!) so if I have not sufficiently dealt with any issue, please feel free to raise it again.

I will happily be challenged based on the message of the Bible, and I don't take issue with categories if you like to categorize things, but I deny the necessity of using "God's ways are not our ways" as a way of copping out of something "troublesome". I do foresee the logical possibility of 3 situations: 1) I understand, at least in part, and can explain; 2) I don't know or understand, but don't need to in order to continue with reason; 3) I don't understand, and need to in order to maintain an understanding of God that is both unified and reasonable - ie The God of the Bible is obviously either not Good or nonsensical. (Not to make a big deal over this - it may simply be our different ways of looking at things.) In any case, the most important clarification for me to make is that I'm not here for a debate, but a discussion. There is no win or lose. I'll tell the truth, and if I don't know something I'll admit it. If we can share what we see, great. If not, well, the mental exercise won't hurt us anyway.

I maintain that the message of the Bible reveals, to whomever is willing to admit the truth she knows about herself, the best picture of the reality seen and experienced by humanity; the most plausible explanation for the way things are; and the only real answer to our crying need. You think this means I am judging you, but I am not. I make no judgment of you, not knowing what or how you think - but I insist that if you seek truth, the Bible has it. That you do not see it at this moment in time makes no assessment of either you or the Bible. I do apologize if such a statement makes you uncomfortable, but I am not overstating what I believe. Nor is it any kindness to you if I soft-pedal it, because it makes my position slippery and allows me to worm out of an uncomfortable position. Furthermore, if I didn't believe exactly that, what would you have to challenge?

What Dorothy so succinctly noted was that truth never barges in unasked and transforms our lives with a momentary flash. An epiphany in which the truth is revealed to us is almost always preceded by a period of seeking in which a groundwork of truth and understanding is laid. That understanding must support the fleeting revelation. As you note, we have already agreed that such experiences alone are insufficient, since we are susceptible to counterfeit experiences.

Feel free to come back to any point that remains unresolved for you. If I have nothing more to add, I will tell you. I am guilty of failing to realize, sometimes, when another person means for something to carry more weight than it immediately appears to for me. I am sorry for skipping over your "pale blue dot". I missed the significance. I don't see the Bible presenting humanity as the "apex" of God's creative work. Why wouldn't we be "a speck on the boondocks of the universe"? Isn't it a bit odd to assume that a God who is both infinite and creative would begin and end his career with a single project, seemingly spoilt?

I think that the furor over Joshua's account of the stopping of the sun has less to do with science or Biblical reliability than first appears. Let's think about what it would mean for the Bible's reliability if Joshua had described a cessation in the spinning of the earth: it would be clear then that the text had been later revised, because society of Joshua's time was lacking the tools necessary to gain even the most rudimentary understanding of such a thing.

"The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day." (Joshua 10:13)

The language used in the passage makes it quite clear that Joshua was not saying that the large star which we know as the sun ceased traveling in its orbit around the earth. Words are always subject to the ideas they describe, and not vice versa. First of all, he tells us where the sun stopped: in the middle of the sky. The sky is to be understood as a different entity from the universe or the Milky Way; it rather describes the way these appear from the earth. Even though we now know much more about the earth's atmosphere, the galaxy, and the universe beyond, we still use the word "sky" to describe what we see. For this reason, I may say that the sky is blue without telling a lie or showing myself a fool: although the blue is actually a reflection and isn't an accurate description of the universe, it describes what we see from earth as a separate item. Though I speak of a 'blue sky', no one questions my understanding that there is no physical blue-colored vault over-arching the earth. So I am comfortable in concluding that what Joshua refers to is not the sun (bright star around which earth's orbit is arranged) in space, but the sun ( light shed by said star as seen from earth) in the sky - a statement that could, linguistically, still be made without inaccuracy today.

You speak of an "interplay" between our free will and temptation. I don't see this "interplay" presented in the message of the Bible. The will is separate from temptation, as Paul points out: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." The NIV puts it this way: "...For I have the desire to do what is right, but I cannot carry it out." (Romans 7:18) We have the power to will, but not to do. For what other reason did Jesus die, but to absolve us from the guilt of doing what we know is wrong and hate, and to set us free by giving us a power to overcome that temptation?

You cite "many are called but few are chosen". That "many" are called makes it plain that God that the opportunity has been widely offered. (For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. -Matthew 18:11 - 14)

The Lord is... not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)

The Bible explains for us very clearly on what basis the "few" are chosen: that there are few is not of a divine desire to exclude; nor is the choosing based upon goodness, morality, church membership, or belief that God exists. No, they are chosen "in Him (Jesus Christ)". Just as the Jewish people were chosen on the basis of Abraham's blood (pending their own choice to identify themselves as such), all who with truth can take the name of Christ are chosen on the basis of Christ's blood - called, pending their own choice of Him and what he is. It is abundantly clear that God is NOT choosing who may come under the name and protection of Jesus Christ, but on what basis we will be acceptable to him.

You ask, "How can you admire and worship an entity that would torture forever as punishment those He could instead simply wipe out painlesslyR?" Here I confess that I do not fully understand all of the imperatives at work in the way evil is dealt with - but the Bible makes it evident that that evil is not to be dismissed or annihilated, but must be answered and dealt with. God himself was constrained to answer to the claims of evil in his taking on human flesh with its accompanying temptations, suffering, and death. If no imperative exists, then why suffer what only God could have suffered in the punishment of his own son rather than "wiping out painlessly" those for whom Christ died? It was evidently not an option. Does this mean that God is less than all-powerful? No. It does mean that he is limited - by his own intrinsic qualities. Don't let us make the mistake of equating what is limited by outside power with what is limited by its own nature. Do the impossibility of God's lying or the impossibility of God's changing mean that God is LESS powerful?

Finally, I must take issue with your claim that hell is worse than the holocaust. The holocaust involved the slaughter of innocents. Hell is the final and complete separation of evil from God. It is painful and terrible because it lacks all that God is: Love, Light, Life, Truth.

Furthermore, hell was created not for humans, but for Satan and his angels. (Then will he say to those on the left, Go from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which is ready for the Evil One and his angels. - Matthew 25:41) Those who go there are not there because God refused to accept them (I will not send away anyone who comes to me. - John 6:37), but because they refused to accept Truth. (And this is the basis for judgment: The light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light because their actions were evil. - John 3:19) It is not evil actions that condemn us, but the love of darkness rather than light - the desire to deny and hide our evil actions rather than have them brought out and dealt with.

exrelayman said...

Hi Jennypo,

From what has transpired in our exchange of ideas, it is apparent that from within the framework of your worldview you are very easily able to deal with any challenge to the Bible I present. Things I present are unacceptable to you, your defenses are unacceptable to me, it appears that we could go back and forth on any issue indefinitely, and so though I said you might retire from the process from weariness, in so saying I misjudged myself. Trying to find the right words to say, in view of how little effect what I have so far said has had, is simply too hard a job for me. I do not seem to be up to it, funny since I cautioned that you might not be up to it. I am the one who will retire from this particular process from weariness of it.

Sometimes still I will leave the darkness which I evidently prefer and visit you here, but with a little more respect about East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.

I have been well treated here, I congratulate you on that and can only further say 'you go girl'!

OneSmallStep said...


I've been following this conversation with interest, and did have one question on your logic behind the Joshua verse.

Starting in verse 12, it says "Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon." And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengence on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day."

Now, if I understand you correctly, you think it's clear that this sentence does not mean the sun physically stopped, but rather that the light shed from the sun was apparent for a whole day. This is based on how the words are used to convey said ideas -- you use the term blue sky to describe what is seen from Earth as something separate.

Yet, I'm not sure how you reach the idea that this passage refers to the light itself? It specifically tells the two objects where to stop, it says that both objects essentially ceased moving, and then that there was no day like it before or after. Plus, this is from a time where people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that everything orbited around it. If we saw this language in a myth from this time frame, we'd immediatly understand the myth to reflect the beliefs of that time.

It just seems like you're taking how we use language today, and applying that same understanding to back then, in saying that the idea the writer really meant to convey was how you just described it. I just don't see how your interpretation can be reached given the beliefs and knowledge of that time.

jennypo said...


This has been interesting. You have challenged my thinking, and I am thankful for that. Please feel free to come by again. You are welcome to comment or not whenever you like. Thanks!


Perhaps I haven't been clear. I didn't mean to say that the sun didn't stop. I meant to say that the sun may stop "in the sky" as a result of the earth ceasing to spin or some other such event. The stopping of the sun in the sky doesn't necessarily mean that the sun stopped in its orbit. This is because "sky" doesn't describe an entity but our experience of it. Therefore the sun stopping "in the sky" doesn't have to describe a stop in the movement of the sun through space, but our experience of it (just as "sunrise" is a valid word to describe our experience, even while we know full well it doesn't describe the rising movement - or any movement - belonging to the great star around which our earth orbits.

Simple semantics, yes - but in order for the Bible to be a historical book, it has to have made sense to the people of Joshua's time - which it apparently did. In order for it to be a God-inspired book, it has to be accurate, even by the standards of our time, which it is.

OneSmallStep said...


In essence, you're interpreting the section to refer to how it was experienced, rather than a literal event, correct? When they say that the sun and moon stopped at particular places, and that the sun stopped midheaven, it's used to describe how it was experienced. However, when you say that the "sky" doesn't describe an entity, are you saying that was also applicable back then? Because I think they meant the word sky in the sense of the giant dome covering Earth.

Here's the complication I have with that, though: that interpretation is not what the writer meant. He literally meant the events happened as he described. He believed the sun went around the Earth, and thus was stopped accordingly. Any inspiration the writer received in relaying this event was done in such a way to make the writer think the sun literally stopped. They used that as literal language, whereas we have changed the language (such as the sunrise example. We apply a different meaning to that word than what someone back in biblical times would have). So the sun stopping where it did, and in the middle of the sky doesn't have to mean that the sun stopped rotating around the Earth, but that's not based on the Bible itself. Rather, it's based on our standards today and how we use language today.

jennypo said...


One would assume, as you say, that Joshua had no understanding of things astronomical when he wrote these words, especially since he makes no attempt to speak of them in those terms. Interestingly, it seems that there were other things spoken of by the prophets which were not understood by them: "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." (2 Peter 1:10,11)

OneSmallStep said...

If it’s assumed that he had no knowledge of the correct astronomical workings, as he made no attempt to describe the event in correct astronomical workings, how is it then clear that the language refers to something other than the sun literally stopping its journey around Earth? (Especially once the moon is factored into this, as that would be understood as the moon literally coming to a stop since it does revolve around the Earth. But the language used has the moon literally stopping, and it’s understood to be used as such. Yet the sun, though treated as the same fashion as the moon, is understood differently?). The idea that he was describing was just as he understood the universe to operate. And thus, how can a conclusion be reached that the Bible doesn’t convey the idea that the Earth was the center of everything? What it keeps coming down to for me is that I don’t see how the Bible itself can be used to reach the conclusion that the Bible does not in fact teach the Earth as the center, when that was the working knowledge of the time.
Because in the case of the Peter quote (and I think you meant I Peter in that one, not 2 Peter), the prophets were aware that the knowledge of the time and circumstances of the Messiah was not for them, but for a later audience. But they weren’t writing something that they thought happened in one manner, and actually happened in a different one, like the Joshua scenario. The working knowledge in the case of the prophecies was that they weren’t written to be understood by the immediate audience, but rather the audience of Peter’s generation.
I know this was just a small portion of your dialogue, but like I said earlier, I was curious.

jennypo said...


I'm not going to belabour this point, because I don't think it's the issue, but Joshua is clearly saying that the sun stopped in the sky. With our vastly different knowledge about how the solar system works, we could still accurately make the statement that the sun stopped in the sky. This is because when we speak of the sun moving across the sky (we say "sunrise" and "sunset") we are not talking about the sun moving through space. It would be foolish for me to tell you what Joshua thought about the sun revolving around the earth, because he doesn't tell us about that. We have to be careful not to read into the text what isn't there. However it was arranged astronomically, we are simply told how it was experienced on earth: the sun stopped in the sky. Linguistically speaking, this is a limited, but not inaccurate, description - even if judged by modern standards.

Incidentally, in case you are interested - a Chinese friend tells me there is an old Chinese story about the same event, so if you are interested, that might be something you could look into.

OneSmallStep said...


I think we’re kind of talking in circles about what I’m about to type here, but I’ll give it another go. :) If we said, today, that the sun moved across the sky, we would be making an accurate statement based on how we view things. If someone 6,000 years ago said that the sun stopped in the sky, it would be accurate in a technical sense, based on how it is experienced. However, what the 6,000 years someone means by statement would not in fact be accurate. He would mean it in a literal sense. He’s not using the words just to convey an experience, he’s making a literal statement. The statement is only considered accurate so long as it is interpreted in the experienced-on-Earth basis only. The accuracy of the statement is dependent upon how the statement is being used. So to say that it’s still in accurate statement today only works so long as we interpret it by today’s standards only. And that leads me to my question of how does one decide what standard to use in interpretation? When to use the author’s intent, and when to use modern day interpretation?

The Joshua passage goes a bit beyond just saying the sun stopped in the sky, though. We’re also told that Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stop above certain objects on Earth, and that the sun and moon did so. That’s more than just describing how it’s experienced on Earth, that’s giving a direct command to a separate object. We can say that when we use the word sunrise, we’re using it to describe an experience. But would it make any sense to command the sun to stop moving if in fact it’s the Earth that’s the thing doing the stopping?

And I don’t think applying a cultural standard to a text that was written some 6,000-ish years ago is reading into it – the text was given to a completely different audience. That cultural knowledge is necessary. It would be like saying that when Jesus commands someone to walk the second mile with the pack if a Roman orders it, I’m reading into it when I say that it’s a way of asserting one’s worth because the Roman is only allowed by law to force someone to carry the pack for one mile. Two miles gets the Roman in trouble. No, the Bible doesn’t specifically state that, but we can know the intent based on how the culture operated back then.

Not only that, but it seems that you are applying this cultural knowledge to the Bible, as you earlier stated that it would look too suspicious if Joshua mentioned that the Earth stopped rotating, since they had no tools to determine that. And that in order to be considered a historical book, it had to make sense to the people of Joshua’s time – which I infer to mean that it would not make sense to those of Joshua’s time to say that the Earth was the one which stopped moving.

I’ll take a look at the Chinese story.

jennypo said...


I do think it is reasonable to command the sun to stop in the sky, regardless of what is taking place to make that happen. Ultimately, though, it's pointless to discuss this. It doesn't really matter what Joshua thought or understood. Joshua was a fallible human being. Therefore what he believed is not the issue: what got written in the Bible is.

Robert said...

i love coming by and reading the dialogues on here jennypo, very intereating and enlightening usually. i am always curious to hear from atheists, if there is no God, Jesus or Holy Spirit and once we die we cease to be, what is the point?? Why does life as it has been ever since it has existed on earth matter??

i think in regards to your talk on joshua and the sun stopping, imagery and symbolic language were used a great deal in the OT, especially by the prophets. I think the Israelites and neighboring peoples had a good understanding of this because it was their communicative style in many ways. Always enjoy reading your journey jennypo :)

jennypo said...

Thanks, Robert. I agree with you that the absence of God - if that God is anything worth calling "God" in the first place - raises many more questions than it solves. Most of the time, the trouble is that what we call "God" couldn't exist, and pity help us if it did, because it's worse than we are. :)