“Hey Paul! Long time no see! I was wondering if you could do me a favour? Lately I have been really interested by your blog posts and for one of my classes here at (Bible college) I need to talk to someone who may have some questions or issues with Christianity so I thought I would ask you! In response to these questions I’ll try my best to try and answer them as well to the best of my ability, though I may need some time to do it! Thanks so much for your consideration in doing this!”

Sure, my young friend, I’d be honored to ask you some questions. Let’s go…

1

Charles Darwin knew nothing of genes and could certainly never have imagined modern gene sequencing technologies. From this data rises phylogenetic trees that perfectly fit every organism on earth based entirely on common genetic characteristics, without reliance on fossils, morphology or vestigial traits. This same data shows sites of ancient endogenous retrovirus attacks across varied species, the equivalent of finding the same hair in the same place on photocopies around the globe. Millions of Catholics and other believers accept this as evidence of a common designer and have integrated the billions of years of evolution into their faith, much like the then-heretical acceptance that the Earth goes around the sun generations ago. Why is it important to assert a literal interpretation of Genesis rather than a figurative one that accommodates new knowledge?

2

Why is it more reasonable to believe that Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by actual historical events in Jesus life, rather than view them as legends that sprung up among wishful thinkers who wanted connections to their old book?

3

It is written that God chose to directly reveal himself to Satan, demons, Moses, Judas and others who all maintained their free will to reject the deity. If God chooses the level to which He will reveal himself, but at the same time is the creator of seeking minds that genuinely require greater evidence to believe than He will provide… are such minds not unavoidably destined for hell?

4

A miracle happens when God lends supernatural intervention in the natural world, often in areas of healing. From the outside, these claimed miracles are indistinguishable from medical intervention or natural processes. Why is God willing to perform invisible miracles, but unwilling to regrow the limb of an amputee?

5

How can an outsider know the difference between claims of personal experience of the Holy Spirit, nearly identical claims of personal experience of other faiths, and commonly observed psychological processes like apophenia or confirmation bias?

6

What would make you change your mind about your faith?

To you, dear reader… how did I do in asking college-level questions? How would you answer them? Let me know in the comments below.

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9 thoughts on “My Questions for a Bible School Student

  1. Those are some really good, well thought out questions. I especially think #6 is important. That’s something I have found important to answer myself as an atheist: what would it take for me to change my mind? Because if my answer were “nothing”, then how could I claim to not be dogmatic?

    Question #3 also is important in my mind. I have met many believers who claim that it is a choice to believe or not, yet I have not experienced my belief or lack thereof as a choice. How can I make a proper choice about whether or not to follow a god if his mere existence seems preposterous? And if that god’s followers make wildly different claims about what their god is like? For example, compare the hateful, homophobic god of the Westboro Baptist Church and the vengeful, jealous god of Old Testament literalism to the loving god of many believers, the one who says that the most important commandment is to love one another? Because if a god exists, and it’s the vengeful, jealous, petty god of the Old Testament, then there is no way in the seven hells I would choose to follow them. But if it’s the one who is like, “Hey guys, love one another, okay?” then I could get behind that.

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  2. Good questions, with two concerns. #3 suggests free will for salvation. Free will, according to the doctrine of election, is for the saved, and speaks to sanctification…. the process by which we battle in this life. Salvation is of the Lord. #4 asks your friend to know and answer to the declarative will of God. While it would be cool to see the regrowth of an amputated limb, it is not how God has chosen for this natural world to operate. There are countless questions in that same vein where believers joyfully rest in Gods choosing to reveal only that which He did. With that, I hope your bible college friend can provide solid, academic answers. The subject of faith and belief in Jesus, however, is not merely academic – and can really only serve to benefit the one who believes.
    It’s been interesting to read your posts and follow your journey, Paul. Best to you.

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  3. Excellent questions, Paul.

    I can’t stand labels. In my own experience with denominations, doctrines and perspectives, there has been an appalling (by my own standard) lack of possible approaches from which to choose. I hate being told what to think or how to think it, and I especially detest situations that involve an either-or approach. What if there is an area of overlap, however infinitesimal, and what if both the “theists” and the “atheists” are right?

    What if the God that exists isn’t the duplicitous, vengeful, disapproving, pathologically volatile monster that man created stories about? What if the stories were more figurative than literal? If His thoughts are not our thoughts, then time for Him isn’t measured the same way that we mark it. A minute for Him could be a year for us. Time could go forward and backward. Maybe we will eventually master time travel. I really hope we figure that out…

    What if there is a God who hasn’t been clearly defined yet because He defies our pitiful definitions? What if God isn’t a he or a she, but we choose to interpret how we see him in a way we can identify, in a format we can understand?

    And why, if we are to have a relationship with Him/Her/It, are we expected to carry on a one sided conversation? We would eventually get the message after a thousand unanswered texts to someone that we once knew that they no longer wished to speak with us. Why would it not be the same with unanswered prayers? Shouldn’t communication go in both directions in a healthy relationship? Shouldn’t He/She/It know HOW to reach us, if not by text, then e-mail, blog post or social media?

    Certainly He/She/It would know WHAT to say to reach us if we reached such an isolated and psychotic state of depression that no one could get through?

    And at what point do we give up and decide that He/She/It isn’t talking, so therefore must not exist? Is silence proof of non-existence in other relationships, or does it mean you’re simply not seeing eye to eye currently?

    In every discussion about faith to which I’ve been exposed thus far, assumption and speculation (about what the other side thinks/feels/believes) inevitably decimate what began as curiosity and openness to considering other points of view. A civil, objective discussion then disintegrates into ignorance, hostility and ad hominem attacks. The mission to reconcile facts in order to find some common ground is then abandoned. I’m sanctimoniously labeled as a heathen, pitied as lost, or simply told, “You need Jesus.”

    I went to church for years. I still do, occasionally, because the cafe there is even better than Starbucks, and I do listen to what is said in the sermons. I have just always had this nagging feeling that there HAS GOT TO BE more to it all than this.

    I personally don’t like being boxed in to just a few possibilities. I don’t like that I have to identify with anyone’s denomination, or lack of, and I especially don’t like being categorized as a heathen by the very people who, by their very own roadmap (the fruits of the spirit) should be the most accepting and loving of everyone else. I take issue with the bigotry and presumptions of superiority of any sort, in anyone, of any persuasion, theist or atheist, heterosexual or homosexual, red, yellow, black, white, green or purple. I cringe at anyone claiming to have the one “true” “correct” doctrine.

    Paul, you’ve clearly done your research. I wouldn’t dream of engaging in a discussion about apologetics.

    In terms of disillusionment, my journey closely mirrors your own, and I try to not dwell for too long at years lost to being a sheep, lest I become angry. I must go forward, because it’s all that is left for me now, in this life, as an agnostic atheist or maybe just an antagonistic theist. As far as majors go, I’m still undeclared.

    I’ve struggled my entire life with the lack of available intelligent options (in religion, in politics, in most any area or field of study, and really, in most circumstances, locations and events. I basically question everything.) I’m the one who is asked to never come back to Bible studies because my questions are too controversial and “inappropriate.” I have yet to find the answers I seek, so I shall continue to keep searching.

    Things began to unravel, for my “faith” with the discovery of the unlikelihood of the birth of Jesus taking place in the winter (the dates weren’t lining up), the commercialization of the holidays (all that spending was sickening), and all meaning lost in the insanely competitive and utterly mad scramble to purchase bigger and better gifts (for reasons unknown, except that everyone else was doing it) overlapping and then eclipsing our celebration of “thanks” (later discovered to be a massacre of native Americans) …but I digress.

    To your questions I would only offer to add a few more dimensions to the sixth: if you did in fact change your mind about your faith (or somehow “lost” faith), could your mind be changed again (or, could your faith be somehow restored)?

    I would also pose a seventh question:
    if it became impossible for you to prove that God exists, how would you go about disproving the opposite: that He does not exist?

    1. We don’t know that we don’t know. Darwin couldn’t possibly have known what we now know and we can’t possibly know what our children and their children will eventually discover. We have to keep an open mind about everything. I could get behind a God that planted the seeds of the universe, and who also knew in advance that we would cross-pollinate, mutate, keep learning, and keep trying to define things that would defy definition, keep adjusting, keep changing and keep growing. In aeronautics, when discussing airspeed, one can simply rely on the instruments for measured airspeed, make a few adjustments and use calibrated airspeed, or go even further with more calculations to determine true airspeed. I see the facts as measured airspeed. I think it would be wise to keep calibrating as new information comes in, including the possibility that, although the God we thought existed was something that we actually created, there was something else that started the process rolling, much like a gardener planting seeds.

    2. Somewhere, someday, someone will make a Venn diagram of the overlaps between the Old Testament. I for one, can’t wait. I need someone to explain the variations and all the editing, and why some books made the cut and others did not. I could get behind a God that was as exasperated as I am at the mess we made in writing and editing and translating and messing up an important message, rendering it a monstrosity of inconsistencies, at least on the surface.

    3. Only if there are only two possibilities – either you question, or you go to Heaven. I think both are still possible. I’m still searching, and I’m sure that’s how the God who created me would want me to be. I don’t care about a book written by men and edited and re-edited throughout history, reflecting changes in culture as generations evolved and became more technologically advanced. I won’t believe in a God who would just tell me to blindly follow without asking why. That’s the stuff cults are made of. That’s the stuff of abuse. I would believe in a God who would urge me to follow my instincts and my insatiable desire to learn. I could get behind a God who threw things my way to keep me thinking for myself. I could get behind a God who was a disgusted with the concept of “prayer” as I am. I could get behind a God who hated humans shrugging off personal responsibility by blaming fate or karma every time things went wrong. I could get behind a God who felt more of an emphasis should be placed on cause and effect. Rocks are hard, water is wet. Some things just are. A smart father will encourage his children to think for themselves, because to do otherwise and leave them unequipped (to face adversity-to solve problems, to survive, even) would be stupid and dangerous for said children. I could get behind a God who equipped me with what I would need in advance, before the time came for me to need it, literally, and figuratively.

    4. There are still some mysteries in this world that have yet to be solved. There are still firsts in science, papers written about such firsts, and lectures given on previously unknown, unseen and unpredictable cases. Sometimes phenomena such as extra tendons installed in the hand of someone with an unimaginable and previously unseen and unknown cancer years before that cancer was discovered, ultimately prevent amputation and allow said individual to write about his/her incredibly fascinating experiences, inspiring and waking up the rest of us to also seek answers, and to question why we believe what we think we believe…
    Yeah, I could get behind a God like that.

    5. I thoroughly agree with the concepts referenced in the article linked to this question. I’ve personally experienced postpartum depression, suicidal depression, and I’ve connected dots where I should not have. I’ve studied abnormal psychology and
    I’ve existed in close proximity to those with personality disorders who have exhibited distorted thinking. After months of sleep deprivation, I experienced the unpleasant effects of deteriorating to the point of thought blocking and eventually became so separated from the outside world that I suffered through a psychosis induced by a pathological narcissist, fell into a near catatonic paralysis, and was locked inside my own mind for months.

    It could be argued that only those who have experienced BOTH apophenia AND fortuitous serendipity; only those who have experienced BOTH soul murdering psychological abuse AND sudden clarity in the midst of the blackest of nights; only those with all of the information on what both feel like – only THEY could accurately assess the difference between connecting the dots where they should not be connected, and sensing danger without knowing why, because fear and experience combined with instinct are screaming at you to run. It could be argued that you would need to know how to discern (as an outsider) between the two if you have never personally experienced them. It could be argued that your pain is not my pain, that your thoughts are not my thoughts, and it would logically follow that you would need to tread carefully in defining the reality of someone else, lest your answers and conclusions come off as trite and glib.

    6. What could make me change my mind about my faith? Anger, rejection and abandonment, as would any close relationship. I became a Christian at age six, was baptized at age eight, attended chapel three times a week, memorized catechisms, prayed, yet never felt good enough. I decided I wasn’t interested in an angry a god who would surely strike me down if I opened my eyes during prayer. I turned to darker means of getting things done. I studied witchcraft. I married a man who, I found out later, was into torture and ritualistic abuse. Without love, I drifted far away from any purpose I might have been built to carry out on this planet.

    And so I did change my mind about my faith because of the abandonment and the unanswered prayers. What, in this world, could potentially be interpreted as rejection by a kindred spirit? What could cause me to stop trusting and believing in someone you once loved desperately and completely? What disaster could cause you to give up in the idea of ever loving or trusting anyone else, ever again? The death of a loved one? The death of an illusion?

    I did indeed lose faith, and experienced a despair that had me face down on the floor howling and sobbing at the unfairness of being yoked to someone who claimed to be a Christian, abandoned all church related activities, sank into darkness and nearly overdosed one afternoon two years ago, and reached out to someone who had appeared a few days earlier. That person loved me back to life, so to speak, and I saw the evidence of a God I could get behind, in him.

    THAT God knew exactly who to send and exactly what He would need to say to get through to me. My faith was restored when a series of coincidences, occurring in certain sequences, at exactly the right times, over the course of a year, lined up in exactly the order needed to save me from certain death, and on more than one occasion. I had been looking for something, anything. He sent someone who couldn’t possibly have known how desperately I needed to know that love and joy could exist in my life again, that I could dare to hope for a better future, that I could have any kind of future at all. That person was sent to me for me to make sure I didn’t deviate from the course I had set for myself, but most importantly to make sure I didn’t succumb to the darkness. He was unaware he had been sent. He just did what came naturally to him. Some people call such individuals angels, and maybe they do exist, but whatever you call it, I’m alive, and without him I would not be.

    And he wasn’t the only one. There were others, bearing gifts of time and support, and even significant financial assistance. As a result, I became the me I was supposed to be, and my goal is to do the same for anyone who crosses my path. I ask more questions now. I’m more assertive now. I’m able to sidestep toxic situations now.

    He speaks. Just not the way I was taught – not in the way I had thought; he speaks through beautifully articulate, fearsomely intelligent and morally exceptional people who have no idea what kind of impact they are bringing others with their very existence.

    He sends the ones I would respect and listen to; he sent/sends some who have been through what I was about to go through/am still going through, and He sends some who were/are going through the same things at the same time. He sent various “angels” who have been with me every step of the way. He has sent anonymous help, and not so anonymous help. He has sent virtual friends and he sent people in person. I could get behind a God who would know to send assistance like that, without any kind of prayer, petition or repetitive chanting.

    7. Demons are real. Fear is a demon. Anxiety is a demon. Hatred is a demon. Alcoholism is a demon. We’ve all wrestled with them. If demons exist, then the devil exists. (I have seen the devil, and I know for a fact that she exists.) If the devil was a fallen angel, then angels exist. If angels exist (I now believe that they do), then God exists.

    If I can’t prove that God exists, can I disprove that he doesn’t? Yes. I’m still alive, and I wouldn’t be otherwise. Everywhere I look I now see opportunities and gifts, and moments of happiness, and an appreciation for what is still left, which, without those guardian angels (or whatever you would like to call them), I wouldn’t have seen. There were far too many “Christians” who said they would “pray” yet did nothing. I don’t believe in a God who is okay with this kind of behavior.

    (Incidentally, the person who has answered the most unspoken “prayers” happens to be an “atheist.”)

    If the God I COULD believe in is exponentially more benevolent and loves a thousand times more unconditionally than what I was taught, then it makes sense that the devil I SHOULD believe in is far more insidious and dangerous than what I could ever possibly imagine. Naturally she would need for us to believe that she doesn’t exist, so she can continue on with her business of stealing our hopes and destroying our dreams, whispering that suicide is, in fact, a brilliant idea…

    and we can get back to the important business of arguing about whether or not God exists.

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