for all

James Chastek points out that the authors of Scripture were not constructing a body of ‘evidence’ for God, but rather relating their testimony of things they were witnesses to.  He remarks, “Christ, for one, was chiefly interested in making sure that he would have continual witnesses on earth, not that there would be any careful documentation of what he did or incontrovertible evidence that he did it.  […] It is not obvious that founding everything on a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc. would be a better way to go.”

And it occurs to me that founding the faith on personal testimony instead of ‘evidence’ (i.e. “a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc.”) is more fitting of a God who wishes to be known to any and all persons and not only to archaeologists, geneticists, and historians.

34 thoughts on “for all”

  1. If god’s message is to be known through testimonials, then it raises the question about the effectiveness of transmission if it has to travel at the speed of meat.

  2. How would you more effectively transmit to us meaty creatures? ((muses about the Maker taking the form of a meaty man in Jesus ;P ))

  3. Oh, I can think of thousands of ways… ways that would offer much better ‘clues’ that would help reveal god to be what he is purported to be: omni-whatever! I’m sure with only a slight effort you too can think of dozens right away.

    And this raises the question: why does god need to hide so effectively? I mean, seriously, if the point is to get the message out, then what’s with all the subterfuge? What’s with the sneaks and peeks of revelation from people exhibiting what looks identical to delusional thinking, serious brain impairments, and seizures?

    And this is the best he can do?

    At the very least, it is obvious that for an omnipotent god he has managed an extraordinarily poor PR campaign.

  4. Do give at least one example. Show me what a better ‘clue’ of, say, omnipresence, would be. And by God ‘hiding’, surely you’re not suggesting that God must be, say, visible (and thus tied to a place, time, etc. [not to mention being a mere creature like all other visible things] and with particular bonus revelation for those with their vision intact!) in order to be found!? And all human notions of God appear identical to delusions, impairments & seizures? Riiiiight…

    But let’s also not let the original point slip away either; your first comment seems to suggest that transmission to meaty humans should be not “at the speed of meat”?

    I don’t claim to have all the answers to every question, but I don’t understand your questions here.

  5. Sure. A better clue would be evidence of intervention, such as a suspension of a physical law whenever someone says the name ‘Jesus’ or a single message of insight (previously unknown) broadcast to every human being at the same time, or every cat enunciating that god is real and here. I mean, come on… there are untold ways to blow our socks off with some kind of divine intervention. That you can’t think of ANY show a astounding paucity of imagination.

    If you are going to make a truth claim, then it should be based on something that is knowable, something that can be shown to others to be a reasonable explanation for the claim. If you are going to claim that there is IN FACT an omnipresent ‘something’ (presumably that has effect IN the universe like, say, gravity) then it falls to you to show how you can make such an assertion that is backed by something that can be known. Revelation alone is not acceptable because it is entirely inadequate to differentiate between it’s enunciation and those of the deluded except by result, which means EVIDENCE: the states themselves – divine revelation and deluded ramblings – are otherwise equal in all regards.

    Revelation alone fails to provide us with any means to determine if it is true or simply imagined as it stands without supporting evidence… evidence like the kind used by “archaeologists, geneticists, and historians” among many others. Something more is needed than just some report of divine revelation, something that can be shown to another, something revealed that indicates this addition of divine presence everywhere. The revelation – if it is to be taken as something truly revealing – must uncover something that is true and that can be shown to be true. It’s is YOUR job to explain what this ‘showing’ actually is that leads you to the conclusion that this notion you call god is, in fact, omnipresent and that revelation shows us how this “is more fitting of a God who wishes to be known.”

    But when all you’ve got is the repeated assertions of revelation that looks just like those who favour tinfoil hats to carry this particular truth claim forward, then it is wholly contained within the carrier who has undergone a so-called revelation that may or may not be true, that may or may not be delusion, and this is what I mean by spreading the message at the speed of meat. There simply has to be something more to it – something knowable, something revelatory, something remarkable – if the claim is not to be laughed away as so much fanciful imaginings of the gullible and self-deluded. And that task falls to you, the one who makes the claim that revelation alone without supporting evidence is a valid way to spread this message that god is real and is knowable.

  6. I’m just responding to your original comment which suggested that you know of better modes of revelation. ((I’m particularly interested in what you may be assuming by suggesting that intervention, suspension of a physical law, universal & simultaneous insight or the testimony of an animal would be good modes of revelation.))

    Given our fundamental difference in worldview, and how much these conversations can be speaking past one another, and given the limitations of time I can invest in such conversations, I think it is best to focus on one example. The original post was about the transmission of the testimony of Jesus, not the more philosophical notions of omnipresence. But we can stick with omnipresence if you like, so long as we focus on one example and stick with it and not spray around criticism of any and all forms of revelation.

  7. My point is that revelation alone is a terrible and inefficient method to carry an accurate message. My next point is that if I can imagine (although invited, you seem unable or unwilling to participate in such a thought experiment) a better way to send a message on behalf of a god who “wishes to be known,” then what does this paltry and uneven effort reveal about the intelligence and ability of such a god? It’s rather a poor image that reveals divine ineptitude on such a scale, don’t you think? After all, if our eternal life depends on receiving this message correctly, then I think we have a legitimate case of complaint against the method by which it has been sent to us. Surely a well read person such as yourself can come up with at least a little criticism of such an unstable method of transmission that relies entirely on multiple steps ‘correctly’ taken, interpreting archaic languages with diffusive terminology correctly, third person reporting that is accurate, copies of translations of copies of hearsay that is accurate, and so on. Upon such a wobbly foundation that one must presume is accurate – in spite of glaring inconsistencies between the various accounts and time lines found in just the gospels – you would have us believe that in spite of this evidence as to the questionable trustworthy nature of this compendium – one that supposedly reveals the full and accurate message we need to hear in order to preserve our hereafter life from eternal damnation – is the best method available for carrying that forward?

    Come on, Dale. You stretch my credulity that you are serious to the limit.

  8. Not only have you not shown why or how revelation fails as a ‘method’, but you’ve not yet sustained focus and conversation on a suggested ‘better’ example. I can only ‘join in’ after I understand what you’re saying.

    And do not confuse the issues. The fact that not every human has read the New Testament has no direct relationship to ‘our eternal life’. Neither the post nor anything I’m saying is about post-mortem preservation, and it’s certainly not about the historical reliability of the New Testament (which you dismiss far too casually). It IS about the fitting-ness in principle of evidentialist or personal modes of revelation.

    The post is simply observing that revelation via only (say) archaeological ‘evidence’ would only be appropriate for archaeologists so inclined & able to understand it. God dictating to 1st century Jews or Romans a detailed list of archaeological data in (say) modern English would be of much interest to modern, English speaking archaeologists, but not for the rest of human history. Personal testimony is infinitely a more fitting method of transmission, for persons of any time, language, vocation, intellectual ability, etc.. Those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus, told others about Him in their own language and manner, and the tradition has been passed down in written and oral form ever since – by persons to persons.

  9. Revelation fails as a trustworthy method, Dale and I have spelled how it looks EXACTLY like delusion with no means available to differentiate. Almost any other method would be better if it DID allow for some means to differentiate.

  10. No, you’ve made broad and dismissive comments. Stick with one example of revelation, show me how it fails, and show me a better way. ((I think using ‘revelation’ in the general form doesn’t help – the effectiveness of the method of revelation would depend somewhat at least on what it is being revealed))

  11. Okay, let’s do a quick recap, shall we?

    You write founding the faith on personal testimony instead of ‘evidence’ is more fitting of a God who wishes to be known to any and all persons.

    To this I write If god’s message is to be known through testimonials, then it raises the question about the effectiveness of transmission if it has to travel at the speed of meat.

    This not a broad and dismissive comment. It is a very exacting criticism about the effectiveness of such a primary method relied upon by a supposed omnipotent god, and that such a god should be able to do a much better job to be known to persons because even I can imagine better ways. And rest assured, I make no claims to omni-anything.

    The fact of the matter is that such a primary method is an ineffective method unless backed by evidence, whereas you say personal testimonials does the job “instead of ‘evidence’.” But, Dale, it is the evidence that informs the truthfulness of any testimony that differentiates it from that which may be delusional. We even apply this obvious weakness inherent in testimony alone in our earthly courts! Surely if we can recognize testimonials as a weak method to get at the truth of whatever, then an omnipotent god should be able to do quite a bit better than we can?!

    Your insistence that I offer up a concrete example of some particular revelation is beside the point; it is merely an attempt to be a diversion. You still have to explain with concrete examples how your claim that testimony alone is a better method than factual and verifiable evidence (i.e. “a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc.”) holds true.

    I don’t think you can, and I think you know you can’t. This is a problem you wish to avoid and are trying to do so by blaming me for my tone. In spite of my tone, however, the problem I raise still remains. I don’t think you wish concede the point that maybe – just maybe – the method you assign to god to ‘spread the message to be known’ is, in fact, a really poor choice of method. But that’s the problem with this kind of faith in the omni-ness of this god: one example that is less than omni-whatever means the whole structure of such a belief is at stake and I don’t think you are willing to seriously question your faith when it is so obviously warranted.

    And this is why I say that your lack of imagination in not even trying is very telling. It tells us you trap your mind into accepting ONLY a predetermined set of beliefs that you WILL NOT question even if your mind tells you that you have just cause. That’s certainly no path to discovery, no path to find what’s true, no path to holding intellectual integrity to paramount over false beliefs. But it is a path to self deception. And such a mind is a terrible thing to waste upholding rather than revealing a weak belief structure that deserves intellectually honest criticism. And isn’t that what divine revelation is meant to do: reveal what’s true?

  12. ((i see the paragraph breaks are disappearing… annoying… for now, I’m using the ‘br’ tag…))

    We could accuse each other about not wanting to question our assumptions or beliefs… or we could just discuss the point(s). I am not failing to try to imagine a better method of revelation, I am trying to understand your criticism as a part of that.

    Your criticism IS too general. You need to specify (pardon the redundancy) specifically what problem the ‘speed of meat’ raises, and/or what goal of transmission is not reached because of the speed. In short, what specifically is inappropriate about ‘the speed of meat’?

  13. Again my answer is that personal testimony without corroborating evidence is the weakest kind possible. What makes it more than that is additional evidence. Personal testimony alone is no different in appearance than what could be delusional, imagined, falsely assumed, unintentionally attributed, inaccurately suggested, incorrectly assigned, and so on. Self deception occurs all too frequently when we attribute our beliefs to the status of what’s true without spending the effort to determine if these beliefs are in fact true. And that takes evidence. Is your car being towed if someone tells you it is? You’ll go look for yourself, not because the other person is necessarily lying but because the testimony may not be true for a host of good reasons. Corroborating evidence strengthens personal testimony and you know this. This is what you actually practice in every other area of your life… and for very good reason: personal testimony is not trustworthy enough because there may be other reasons – better reasons – to explain something. So this raises the question that really does need serious consideration: why make an exemption about the relative strength of personal testimony for your theology? Why would a god of omnipotent strength need such mitigating explanations about using the weakest kind of evidence as its primary method of delivering such an important message (unless there is a good alternative explanation that is much more reasonable)?

  14. OK, I’ll be more direct with my question (in order to understand you): What is bad about “the speed of meat” – i.e. is this speed too fast, too slow, or to ‘meaty’???

  15. ((p.s. – the original post did NOT suggest that evidence (i.e. “a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc.”) is bad, or that it wouldn’t corroborate personal testimony. No argument there.))

  16. To your 2:16 comment, then let me quote myself about spreading the message at the speed of meat: It is a very exacting criticism about the effectiveness of such a primary method relied upon by a supposed omnipotent god, and that such a god should be able to do a much better job to be known to persons because even I can imagine better ways.

    To your 2:18 comment, then let me quote you about the role of corroborating evidence: that founding the faith on personal testimony instead of ‘evidence’ (i.e. “a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc.”) is more fitting of a God who wishes to be known to any and all persons You say that using such a method is MORE FITTING.

  17. Re ‘speed of meat’: Still nothing at all about slowness/fast-ness or ‘meat’-ness. Presumably you think faster/slower or other-than-meaty-ness would be more “effective”, but no specific criticisms pointing to specific ineffectiveness of “speed of meat”…

    Re ‘evidence’: Saying (a) personal testimony is more fitting for transmission to all persons of all times, places, levels of appreciation for ‘evidence’, etc. is quite another thing from saying (b) that ‘evidence’ supporting testimony is a bad thing in itself.

  18. I don’t know if you are being intentionally obtuse or merely fixated on what you believe my comment addresses to better suit your eventual rebuttal.

    To spread some message at the “speed of meat” means the message travels slowly and is completely dependent on the accurate transmission from one piece of meat to another. I have pointed out repeatedly that such testimony is the very weakest method of evidence that the message itself is true because it is dependent on the original experience being true firstly (how do we know?) and then dependent on its accurate verbal transmission (again, how do we know?). I have pointed out some of the problems with both: that without corroborating evidence we cannot know if the original testimony is any different than that of a delusion to attest to its veracity (so we cannot know if it is true), and we cannot know without corroborating evidence if the transmission has been carried out successfully when it is translated, interpreted, copied from copies, and so on (again, we cannot know if it has been accurately transmitted).

    In spite of all my words, you seem singularly and peculiarly stuck on the issue of ‘speed’ alone, and extrapolate that it is a matter of ‘speed’ that determines my criticism – as if I am arguing that ‘faster’ is somehow better. Obviously, this comprehension of all I have written is bizarre to say the least.

    Re ‘evidence’, I argue that it is central to informing whether or not testimony is trustworthy as representing what’s true. You have made the claim that testimony alone is more fitting for a god who wishes to be known. Rubbish, says I. You have it backwards. It is evidence that informs testimony, and testimony without corroborating evidence is an empty skin of nothing but assumption, assertion, wishful thinking, imaginings, and so on. In contrast to what you believe I am talking about , my point remains that it is the evidence – and not the testimony alone – that determines the trustworthiness of the testimony.

    I hope this helps.

  19. hey, you’re the one whose first comment complained about the “speed of meat” and then added a bunch of complaints in further comments that had to do with neither speed nor meat, but ‘evidence’… If it was evidence that you were on about, why did your first comment not reflect this?

    And as for evidence, here’s how I’m hearing the flow:

    A: “If the Bible was nothing but a holy list of archaeological data and/or other evidence, not only would it not have been copied/preserved, but would appeal only to modern folk with a desire for everything to be proved with evidence.”

    B: “But you’ve got to have evidence to tell delusion from reality!”

    A: “Hello, modern person who desires everything to be proved with evidence. You would prefer a list of data to a personal account, but since a) only a few moderns care like you do for evidence, and since b) every person at all times/places can relate to other persons, it seems that c) personal communication is the most appropriate for the most persons/places/times.”

    B: “But you’ve got to have evidence to tell delusion from reality!”

    A: (groan)

  20. Firstly, you are assuming the bible is the message. What informs this assumption? Well, if it’s not evidence that it is an accurate accounting (other than testimony), then you have very little to stand on to make such a remarkable assertion. Could you not allow that perhaps informing a literate populace with a rich tradition of accurate written records and modern means of common transportation might be a slightly better choice? If not, why not?

    Secondly, who said anything about only a list of data (whatever that means)? If you tell a tale that has archeological evidence to back up at least the correct geography of the tale’s location, then surely that tale is better informed – that it might in fact be more likely true – than one that has no evidence whatsoever? If you’re going to have a tale of a global flood, for example, then why not at the very least back that up with evidence of a global flood? Seems like a no-brainer to me. I fail to see how no evidence of any such occurrence helps make the testimony seem more plausible as you seem to indicate. But hey, one the one hand no doubt that’s just the modern person in me talking. On the other hand, do you honestly expect any rational person to think the tale is more likely true when it is informed by an absence of evidence that should be there? That’s like believing the person who says your keys are on the counter, being presented with an empty counter, and then being told the keys will appear if you just believe they are there! I fail to see how that suggestion is different in quality than one that urges you to wear your tinfoil hat to keep out the alien control waves.

    Thirdly, do you honestly expect rational people to swallow the notion that relating to people makes their testimony more likely true? I fail to see how the quality of your relationship with someone who tells you water freezes at 100 C at sea level with no evidence to back that up does anything but raise the likelihood that you have a relationship with a person who honestly doesn’t care about what’s true, thus detracting from the honest quality of the relationship you may think you have with such a person. You may wish to communicate that appropriate change in the quality of your relationship – knowing that it is not based on honesty, on what is actually true – if it depends on simply accepting the testimony as true for that person. It’s still not true in fact, and you know it’s not true in fact, and that fact cannot be altered by simply by testimony without corroborating evidence. So when you elevate belief of something to be true to be equivalent to what is true, then what you have in fact done is sacrificed your own intellectual integrity on that alter of belief. Your testimony, in other words, has become equivalent with your belief rather than what is true. So why should any testimony you may have matter when we know it may or may not be true based only on your belief and we know your belief is untrustworthy in regards to it being true?

  21. No, the bible (in the sense relevant to the post linked to) is one form of the message. The church had its message from time of Jesus, with no New Testament at first. The transmission of the story and news (euangelion – good news) of Jesus passed orally initially. It’s not just for literate (let alone modern) people.

    I think you’re also mixing the questions of a) how to verify the message’s truthfulness with b) what is the best way to transmit the message (whatever its degree of truthfulness). I’ve never suggested that verifying a message is unimportant or invaluable. The point of the post is simply emphasizing that personal communication is most fitting because the most persons can do this kind of communication. It’s equivalent to saying that whilst this or that language may have more precise/accurate terms for expressing the hospitable & invitational phrase “please have something to eat”, the simple and universally recognised (though non-verbal) act of offering a plate of food with your hand is appropriate in more times/places/cultures/etc..

  22. So you are equating the message being transmitted through testimony to be a more appropriate divinely inspired gesture than, say, efficacy of prayer? I think that’s a terribly weak argument.

  23. erm… no.. I’m saying transmission through a method relevant to all is better than through a method relevant to a few. Quite a simple point really

  24. But you assume DNA evidence, for example, would only be of interest to geneticists. AIG and the discoveroids over at the Disco-tute or the accommodationists over at BioLogos would be very surprised to hear you say this. Any and all science that seems to support their beliefs is immediately touted to be the latest earth-shattering evidence of the creator. You yourself have been known to mention bits of science that may add support to your beliefs.

    On the flip side, we know that 60 some odd mentions in the bible of a geocentric model for the Earth isn’t simply of interest to astronomers. It is excellent evidence of what we would expect to read from people who lived long ago because the heliocentric model is not intuitive even though it’s true. We would expect divinely inspired testimony to be true rather than false, so this ‘method’ seems to come fully prepared to be inaccurate and untrue in specific facts about the nature of the universe. This is rather relevant to all, don’t you think?

  25. Whilst we could have a post and/or thread about the bible and science (incl. why the geocentric lines of some biblical authors are not the kernel, but the shell; not the message, but the wrapping the message comes in), THIS -again- is a post about personal transmission being a fitting (most universally applicable) method of transmitting to persons.

  26. And my comments are directly related to why testimony is NOT a fitting method of transmitting to persons what’s true. If the intention is to pass a true message from god to the rest of us, then testimony is THE WORST POSSIBLE METHOD.

  27. If a message is true (verified – as much as it can be – by other means), then a) why is personal testimony the worst method, and b) describe a better one.

  28. *sigh*

    For the same reason your testimony in court is the weakest kind of evidence even if what you say is true. You may believe your testimony is accurate, that it is honest, that it is true, but that still leaves us the unanswered question how can we know if testimony is in fact true? There is ample evidence available to show that people are not very reliable transmitters of what is true based on what they believe is true. But by starting the inquiry with the assumption that the message itself is true, you have already reached the conclusion you desire effortlessly but have failed utterly to comprehensively answer the unanswered question. This is indicative of someone who simply wishes to believe something is true, and thinks that such a belief itself rather than a preponderance of validating evidence justifies the conclusion. This is not indicative of someone who values what is actually true. If one wishes to find out if some message is true, then one tries to verify it not by belief – which we know to be as likely wrong as right in the best of all possible worlds – but by testing its validity and accounting for what evidence there is… BOTH data in support of and contrary to the claim of what is true. (And we must remember that truth claims are NOT claims of preference.) The more extraordinary the testimony about the truth of a claim, the more extraordinary the verified evidence must be to support it.

  29. *I can sigh too*

    The fact that you’re using a court-room metaphor shows your concern for judging the truthfulness of a claim. I’ve -consistently!- agreed that verifying a message is important. The post, however, is simply about transmitting a message.

    A news-reporting metaphor would be more appropriate, for example, whilst electronic media (i.e. news website) would work great for those (i.e. moderns) with access to such technology, a more “primitive” (non-technology-dependent) method, such as word of mouth, posted letter or what have you, works in any/all places, times, etc.

  30. I covered that in the 5th comment, that sending a message by way of testimony is a strikingly poor, unimaginative, and paltry method for a divine critter. In contrast, this is EXACTLY what we would expect to find if the testimony was a fully inspired human creation.

  31. Again, a) why is personal testimony (as opposed to modes of transmission only discernible/intelligible by a few) “poor, unimaginative, and paltry”? Where or how specifically does it fail? and b) how should a divine critter transmit a message?

  32. It fails because it is untrustworthy. And it is untrustworthy because it comes not from god but from other people using a method we know is not trustworthy. It is not discernible by many because it comes in the form of testimony (an assumption you make that has no grounds to be held as true): it would have reached far MORE people if it had come in Mandarin, for example. And my point is that both you and I can think of much better ways to successfully transmit an important message accurately that is more trustworthy to greater numbers of people than relying only on word-of-mouth testimony by nomadic and generally illiterate goat herders more than two thousand years ago during a general period of civil unrest. Well… at least I can.

  33. You’re still hung up on verification –> (“…no grounds to be held as true“) …when the post is simply about transmission. And the important message (for example, the good news about Jesus) was and is personally passed on –I hope you know– by many kinds of people of all kinds of professions, educational-levels, languages, levels of mobility (the higher the better, btw), and literacy. From the get go (i.e. 1 Cor 15:3ff, Luke 1:1-4), and still today, preservation of the accuracy of the message is a high priority.

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