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Faith and History

A few years ago, I posted a blog on Faith and Science which elicited a very logical and detailed response from a reader of the opposite opinion. I appreciated his comments because he made them in a dignified and logical way and expressed what seem to be many people’s reservations about Christianity and religion in general these days.

The first thing that I noted though, was that he wasn’t really countering my discussion on faith and science. Instead, he was addressing a separate issue of faith and history. You see, science and religion are fields which seek truth about very different aspects of the same reality. Where science seeks to understand how the universe works and how to control it, religion seeks to explain the meaning of the universe and Who or What created and already controls it. Science deals more with concrete realities while religion handles the realities that we can’t put our hands on.

History is an interesting topic because it becomes something of a meeting point for the two fields. Science uses its concrete methodologies to determine realities of the past, and many religions claim a God who has actively participated in history. Christianity, more than any other religion (that I know of), lays itself on the line in the historical stage. As a Christian, I believe in a God who sent his son, Jesus of Nazareth, as human being to live, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. If those things did not historically happen, then my faith is false. What I have noticed though, is that the larger issue is that both faith and science have tended to overstep their bounds in trying to express their discoveries about reality. As I discussed in the original post, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, has a rap for the insistence by church leaders in various centuries that certain physical realities were revealed by God in the bible and therefore irrefutable, when God was simply using the terms and culture of the current society to express the reality of his love and faithfulness. Conversely, scientists who make discoveries or develop theories about physical realities have on occasion claimed that their work points to a reality that either has no place or no need for God. However, the philosophical implications of those statements are well beyond the expertise and field of a scientist.   When both of these flawed perspectives make their way into historical discussions, the process generally results in tainted religion, science, and history.

If you have some time, please read the blog response to my initial blog below as well as my follow-up and let me know what you think. I’m sure there is much more perspective to be added on both sides of the argument and I welcome the discussion…

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Hello 2openhands,

Good post, but I wish to quibble with some of it, if you don’t mind

You write:
“There has not been one scientific discovery that disproves the existence of God.”

That is true; I don’t think science can ever disprove something that is un-falsifiable. However the many different sciences have been busy doing their thing, and purely by accident, has made mince-meat of a lot of the old Biblical stories, and I think that is not going to reflect positively on Christianity and maybe will make a lot of people question things they have believed in all their lives.

For example; there was never a world-wide flood…this particular Bible story has been doubted since the early 1700′s and geologists and other earth sciences that impinge on this myth have thoroughly proved that the earth was never completely underwater at any time…in at least the last 10,000,000 years. This is an unquestioned fact in the world of the pertinent sciences.

Another few examples are; there was no Adam and Eve…just recently DNA evidence confirmed what scientists have been saying for many years…man has been running around the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. The proof is just about everywhere– all over the earth. There was never a “Tower of Babel” scenario as the Bible relates. Science knows for a fact that humans have been spread all over the earth for many, many thousands of years. North and South America have been populated for over 13,000 years…the “Tower of Babel” myth took place about 2000 BC if you believe Biblical chronology.

Australia, India, China, most of Asia, and most of Europe have been populated for a minimum of 35,000 to 40,000 years…I really doubt if they were just grunting at each other. Languages have been around the earth for well over 4,000 years.

Another example is the Biblical myth of the Hebrew Exodus. For over a hundred years archaeologists have been searching the Sinai desert trying to find ANY evidence of a million+ Hebrews crossing and populating the area for 40 years. Not one piece of archaeological evidence has been found in all that time. Evidence for other peoples and tribes (small) crossing has been found, both before and after the time mentioned in the Bible, but nothing to answer the Exodus myth.

Moses and Abraham may not have even existed. Many Biblical scholars believe the Pentateuch (first five chapters of the Old Testament) was written in the time of the Hebrew exile in Babylon, long after Moses supposedly lived…a pious fraud devised to bring the people together as a tribe/race.

Seminary schools around the world have been teaching for many years the fact that for most of the Bible chapters we don’t really know who wrote them. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are anonymous manuscripts written by…who knows. Several have said that we don’t really know what Jesus was teaching because we are not sure of the writers and their connections to Him. There are no writers at the time Jesus was alive and for years after who wrote of Jesus, despite the fact that this was a time of great literature and exploration of the world and philosophy and religion.

I mean the man was supposed to be bringing people back to life, curing leprosy…the most feared disease of the time, cloning and multiplying bread and fish, turning water to wine, walking on water, and who knows what else…and nobody deigns to write of this man until he had been dead 30 to 40 years or so. His disciples practically let his worship slip away…what the heck were they thinking?

It took the Orthodox Church (later the Catholics) 400 years to produce the Bible—why? What took so long…perhaps a little messing around with the manuscripts, trying to make some sense of all the mythical stories in them? The Catholic Church had unhindered and total possession of all the literature from the earlier times, to do with whatever they wanted, from day one, till the Christian Reformation in the 1500’s AD.

A thing I passed by earlier is: if there was no Adam and Eve, that means there was no “original sin” and therefore no need for a Jesus to expiate our sin that we somehow inherited from the first couple…despite the fact that God Himself says in the bible that the sons DO NOT inherit the parents responsibilities/sins/etc.

All of these things and more contribute to my really doubting if there is or ever was a God. If the Bible is a human constructed work of fiction…and it really really appears to be so…what does that say about the probability of a God?

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Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to write that reply. You make quite a few good points and actually highlight some of what I’m talking about. I’m not expert (on anything really), so I can’t speak with any authority, but here are my personal thoughts.

1. In this blog I was specifically discussing faith and SCIENCE. Most of your arguments are more relating to HISTORY. That being said, much of our historical understanding (and the ones that you are discussing) comes from scientific methods and discoveries so I can certainly see where you are coming from. When we are discussing history, there is ABSOLUTELY an ability to disprove aspects of certain religions. If Jesus never walked the earth, then Christianity is invalid. Period. If he didn’t rise from the dead, the same can be said. These historical instances are central to the reality of the Christian faith.

2. As to your assertion that the entire world was never under water at one time, I realize that there are a lot of scientific ways of trying to deduce this, but unless you have a video camera that goes back 10 million years with uninterrupted feed you really don’t KNOW. You can logically assume from all these methods that your deductions are correct, but science is constantly discovering how misguided it has been in certain areas. When dealing with time frames of thousands of years or tens of thousands of years we have to remember that the assumptions we make can only be tested on the scale of hundreds of years at best, there’s no reason to assume that they don’t apply in greater chronologies, but keep in mind you’re taking it on faith 😉 Also, keep in mind that a God who interacts with nature to cause certain events can choose to interact with nature to effect the way that nature records it. For my part though, it wouldn’t be that detrimental to my faith if there never was a great flood that covered the entire world as we understand it today. The greater point of the story was that the flood wiped out the entire inhabited world (which would have been a much smaller area at the time). This is a common misconception about the bible. It has historical events in it, but it is not written as a history book in the manner that we are accustomed to in western society. The point of the bible is to reveal God’s love for His people throughout history, so God is the key figure and history is the backdrop. So the literalistic meaning does not necessarily have to hold true. In some cases it is not intended to. For instance, if we wrote a book and stated in a section that it was “raining cats and dogs” or “raining buckets” we would tell anyone that they were misguided in interpreting it to mean that felines and barking creatures fell from the sky (or that metal water jugs were hurled from heaven at terminal velocity). When looking at the bible, it’s always important to evaluate the intended lesson. I don’t think you are too far off in any of yours though.

3. As far as the lack of proof for the flight from Egypt, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, it just means that it’s an article of faith. Once again, when there is no evidence you have to decide what to believe. To believe that it was all a work of fiction is a faith all its own.

4. As far as the fact that the Pentateuch was written during the Babylonian exile, from my understanding, that’s probably true. Oral tradition (i.e. passing things down verbally without writing them) was a much more common way of accounting beliefs in the Jewish culture than writing ever was. The same is true for many other cultures and situations. For instance, the first written account of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey wasn’t accounted for until around 600 years after he originally composed it (at least that’s my understanding), but most historians believe the work to be reliably similar to what the author wrote. It’s hard for me to understand when I have a hard time remembering certain bible verses how people back then could memorize entire books and pass them down, but that is exactly what happened and it was still a common practice even in Jesus’ time. Literacy is a pretty recent phenomenon, memorization and recitation was the way that most people had access to the Word.

5. There’s another problem though with the whole concept of fictitious background. Where DID they come from? At this point, they were already a recognized race (that was in captivity) and something had brought them together. The fact that they had knowledge of these different lands implies that they acquired it somewhere (if not through their ancestors knowledge it must have been through the kindness of their captors who decided to tell them bed-time stories about all the pretty lands that they had visited). Also, if you look at the bible, both the Old Testament and the New, you find a trait that is very rare in fiction… it’s not very flattering. Generally, if people are going to make up a story about where they came from, they will make one that paints themselves in a fairly positive light. The bible however, is much more a story of God’s love in spite of our worthiness than it is a message of his reward for the holiness of his people.

6. The statement above also applies to your comments on the New Testament. Once again, I agree with your general timeline of the compilation of those books. Why weren’t they more eager to put the words and actions of Christ on paper? Mainly, because they couldn’t write. Jesus didn’t exactly pick the most educated guys to be his apostles. He chose common people. And when he chose them, he called them to make disciples of the nations, not to write a book. From the beginning, it was a faith formed by interaction, by spoken word and by deed. The whole written thing was an afterthought. Throw in the fact that for the first three centuries, Christians were being killed for their beliefs and any writing that they had was being confiscated, and it’s no real surprise that there weren’t a whole lot floating around. That being said there were actually more letters from various sources than we have in the bible. We still have many of those writings but the church had to decide which ones were actually divinely inspired. That’s a topic for a different blog though…

7. I will be the first to admit that there have been corrupt individuals within the church who had intentions that were less than admirable. There have almost certainly been people who have used their position within the faith to gain fame, fortune, power, land and any number of things which are completely beside the point of religion. That being said, this motivation doesn’t have any credibility as an explanation for the ORIGIN of the faith (at least if we are talking about Christianity). As mentioned above, for the first 3 centuries of Christianity, followers of “the way” had nothing to gain in this world besides martyrdom. Jesus was crucified, all of the apostles were killed for their beliefs (except for John who died in exile); there were no cathedrals, no coffers, no political influence, no pretty vestments, no schools, and no hospitals. All of those things came after the church had spread on its own merits. The advent of all of those “extras” and whether or not they are beneficial or necessary for the faith when it can be publicly practiced is another subject for a different blog…

8. The whole Adam and Eve and original sin question is another one that requires a pretty lengthy response to be adequate, but from where I stand I don’t need to look all the way back to my first ancestors to find a reason why I need a Savior. If you do, you’re either in a much better or much worse place than I am.

Thanks again for your perspective and patience. Sorry it took me so long to reply.

AMDG

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