tml> Does It Make Sense to Be an Atheist?
  [Contents] [About the Participants] [Opening Statement by Ed Buckner] [Opening Statement by John Rankin][Dialog] [Questions from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]
 
Does It Make Sense to Be an Atheist?
 
Questions from the Audience
Questioner: Alright, I don't mind being the first. My name is Chaz DiCiena, and thank you both. I really enjoyed hearing what both of you had to say and I agreed with a lot of what both of you had to say in many cases. Ed, I have a question for you in regards to you being a statistician and having that background.

In the last 25-30 years the scientific community has uncovered a tremendous amount of evidence for design in the universe. In the laws of physics themselves and in the sun, earth, moon system they've discovered an incredible amount of design. So far the most finely-tuned parameter that they've discovered in the universe is the cosmological constant, the stretching force in the universe. Are you familiar with that?

Ed Buckner: [inaudible]

Chaz DiCiena: Right now scientists agree this is the most finely-tuned parameter in the universe. If it was off by one part in ten to the 120th, life would not be possible at any point in the history of the universe. The universe is only about 10 to the 18th seconds old. You have a total number of about 10 to the 81st protons and neutrons possible in the universe, 10 to the 23rd possible stars in the universe.

How do you reconcile - and that's just one parameter for the fine-tuning of the universe. We have over 35 aspects of the universe that have been measured. Every one of them is fine-tuned, we have over 100 aspects of our own system here that are fine-tuned. From a statistical point of view, how do you reconcile that degree of fine-tuning with a totally atheistic world view?

Ed: Basically because the probability that we will be here is one. You are looking only at one universe. It is possible that it is an amazing accident that it occurred, and it is possible if the odds against this universe - I know that you gave some very large numbers there. 10 to the 10th to the 10th to the 10th against it - maybe there are that many universes and this is the one that came out right.

Chaz DiCiena: But we only have the evidence for the one universe, correct?

Ed: Well, I don't know that there are any other universes or not. I can't imagine that there are any more and I can't imagine that this is all there is either way. I can't get my head around it and I'm willing to bet that neither can anybody else. We have this human limitation. We only know of this universe. By definition, everything that we know about is part of this universe - any kind of scientific definition. And this claim or statement that you made, the assertion you started out with that scientists are finding more and more. There are some who are saying things like that, like Michael Behe and a variety of other folks.

Chaz DiCiena: There are agnostics who are also making very similar statements based on the evidence.

Ed: What their beliefs are as they make these statements is I presume irrelevant whether they are an agnostic, or an atheist or a Christian doesn't bear on the truth of their scientific conclusions. I think John would agree with that. So I don't know whether there are in fact any true agnostics. The question is, are they true scientists?

And I am not a scientist and I make no pretense that I am. A statistician, yes, but that's a long way short of being a scientist. But it is my understanding that a large overwhelming majority of astronomers, biologists and so forth don't accept these arguments as interesting or useful or even a strong challenge to the ideas supporting the theories that they hold about the universe.

Now there are differences when you talk about design. If you talk about design within evolution, there's no question that design occurs within evolution. But there's no reason to believe that it is intelligent design. There are forces at work at any given time that the effect of those forces is to change things. The waves come out and the sand is in a particular pattern. That doesn't mean it's meaningful or purposeful; it means that there are forces at work that create things. And every evolutionary biologist will tell that you since the origin of life, we really don't understand the origin of life very well …

Chaz DiCiena: That's correct.

Ed: Well, not understanding something doesn't mean that God did it. I mean that's the God of the gaps theory, and that God is getting smaller and smaller.

Chaz DiCiena: What does it have to do with the God of the gaps theory?

Ed: No, I'm saying that if somebody says we don't understand something and therefore God has to have been the creator of that, that is the God-of-the-gaps argument and that particular notion of God has gotten smaller and smaller with every passing generation as we understand more and more. But not understanding something just means we don't understand it now. It may be that we'll never understand it. Who knows, but anyway,…

Chaz DiCiena: I'd say that's a valid criticism and in many cases Christians or creationists have said, "Well, if I don't understand something, well, that's God."

Ed: I'm not saying you said that.

Chaz DiCiena: But I would make the point also that isn't blind chance becoming in a sense the god of the atheist. If we don't understand something, we'll just say blind chance brought this about.

Ed: No.

Chaz DiCiena: Isn't that the same?

Ed: That's not an explanation either. It's the statement that in some cases there may not be an explanation. There may not be, it may in fact be just random. Most of evolution and most of the things that we do know about and that are subject to scientific investigation, observation and so forth, there's very little room for random chance including an evolutionary theory. That's a very small part of what changes species over millions of years, billions of years, into the species we see now. So this great exaggeration by creationists - and I don't know if you're one or not - about the notion that the choice is either totally random chance or an intelligent design, that's not the case.

Chaz DiCiena: I'm not saying that's definitely all one or all the other, I just make the point that it certainly [inaudible] just by this statistical look. Don't the odds compel intelligence behind what we observe in the universe?

Ed: No.

Chaz DiCiena: You don't believe that compels that at all?

Ed: No.

Chaz DiCiena: If you were to have a roulette wheel and you would roll it 10,000 times in a row, and each time it came up number 17 …

Ed: I would figure the wheel was fixed.

Chaz DiCiena: Right and I agree. I believe also the universe is fixed.

Ed: But I don't think this universe is fixed. I believe it is what it is.

Chaz DiCiena: The odds keep coming up 17. I would just make that point.

Ed: I just don't think that's a rational conclusion to draw.

John Rankin: If I could give a few observations here. I think that as you look at the theory of macro-evolution, it requires a spontaneous generation or something similar to it. It requires that nothing produces something in terms of organized matter, and that flies against the observation of cause and effect in greater order producing lesser order. And many times those scientists who reject the argument by design, and you get a very good mathematical definition, I've heard William Dembski in his mathematical and philosophical training, talk about the incredible numbers. The mathematical odds of chance producing us are virtually zero when it comes down to it. And then to say that probability is one because there's only one universe, well, I think that's where you define the definitions to suit the conclusion ahead of time, with all due respect, Ed.

When we look at all the ability of human intelligence to understand and to measure the possibility and probability, and I think Chaz that your final observation there is very good. Ed, you said the roulette wheel will be fixed. Chaz agrees, I agree and yet the one out of 10,000 …

Ed: But the analogy doesn't work.

John: The analogy works at the numerical basis. Because one out of 10,000 doesn't even scratch the surface out of I think 1 out of 10 to the 23rd.

Ed: Oh, it doesn't. Then those numbers certainly are not parallel and in your favor they're not parallel. But the logic behind it doesn't work no matter what the numbers are. You still only have one universe. It's the universe that exists; that we know of, maybe there are others but as far as we know, there's only the one. And talking about the probabilities related to this is not meaningful with respect to figuring out whether there's a designer or not.

Now there's a great confusion - I've heard Dembski, I've read some of his stuff and I know Massimo Pigliucci has beaten him 2 or 3 days in debates and probably will again easily.

This business of design, there's a difference when you're talking about the beginning of the universe - the "big bang" - and whether there's design in that, intelligent design. And in evolutionary terms, which are much more limited than cosmological terms and in evolutionary terms, I've never heard of an evolutionary biologist who doesn't believe in design. There's no question that design is in play. The question is whether it's purposeful or intelligent design and we have no evidence to believe that it is.

It makes much more sense to look at the natural forces that are occurring: The evolution, which we have seen in our lifetimes as well as the evolution that we have lots and lots of evidence for and understand that the design has been the forces of nature and not something supernatural. That's probably another whole debate - I'm guessing.

John: I'll say one real quick thing for the next question. What strikes me, Ed, is first of all, I don't accept the arbitrary definition of probability being one, and I think that's a way of avoiding the incredible mathematical evidence. Having said that, what you shared in your opening statement tonight about the many ethical questions which we haven't touched but which are superb questions, I think that's where the real issue lies. What is good and evil? Is God good?

Questioner: I am Bob, and I really want to thank both of you for a good discussion tonight. Ed, I'd like to address a couple of things to you and I would like to set the framework of the question if possible. First of all, I believe as my understanding of the scriptures, I can say to you, Ed, you have not committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

John: That's true.

Bob: And I would hope the other ministers here could also affirm that. Your presence here says that you are open, and I think there is good hope in that for you in terms of if there's any concern on your part. But I get the sense that there isn't.

Ed: Well, I would think that if there was much concern, I'd change my belief.

Bob: Well, no, but you expressed it.

Ed: You can talk about Pascal's wager, if you want to.

Bob: The second thing as part of the framework in your opening comments you had many things that you brought up that were not addressed. And I just want to say as one who has - and I know with John as well, as somebody who attempts to apply logic, rationality sometimes too much, I can say that most of those questions that you raised I think can be answered from my framework in a logical way, in a way that has integrity to it. I will also say that some of things you raised are still a mystery and I can't get my hands around it in the same way that in some sense that you can't get your hands around time, space and number. But I think that doesn't mean that either one of you is necessarily illogical.

I guess I would say that your view within your framework as I would say is logical. That with your assumptions, there is a logic to what you're saying but I also feel that what John has said is also within his framework as logical.

And that's kind of where I wanted to begin because the first job I had, my first boss, asked me a question that challenged me. And he said to me, well, okay, you so you believe in this God of the Bible and this God who speaks to you. What would you do if a man came down in a little - of course at that time it was little green men, they don't have those anymore - but anyway, it was a little green man - I'm dating myself - came down in a little spaceship and he said, I'm God? So he said, "Would you believe that that was God?" And I said, "Well, no that can't be God." He said, "Well, no but this guy comes down and says he's God." I said, "Well, I'd have to ask him some questions." I'd say, "Well, are you the Creator of the universe?" And he'd say, "Yes." And I would just go through all the things that I know about God and I would say are you all of these things?

Of course, my framework of this little green guy in the spaceship, well I'm really not sure this is God. But if he answered all of my questions from what I understand of who God is, I would say, "He's God," because all of those things are what the definition of who God is. He's the one who died for me, he's the one who gave himself for me. So if he answered all those questions, I'd have to say that, that he was God.

And I believe that even though the rationality is important it's important to understand the truth of the scriptures in a rational concept. Ultimately, I believe that God is a god who requires revelation. And that you were saying that we don't know what we don't know. And that's part of the reason why God is a god of revelation.

And so my question, now we're getting to the question, my question is, if this little guy comes down in a spaceship, and he doesn't have to be a little green Martian, but he comes to you and he says, " I'm the Creator God. I've done all those things that John has said. I'm the God who loves you. I'm the God who created you. I'm the God who suffered, who knows that suffering exists, but that he suffered." And if he came and said this to you, what would be your response?

Ed: It's a better question than it may at first sound like it is.

Bob: You're gracious.

Ed: Let me first comment on some of your preliminary stuff. This fact that I threw out lots of things about the Bible that don't make sense more than John had time to reply to. Believe me I could have done many, many more than that but I knew that he was not going to have time to deal with all of them. I know that theologians and studiers of the Bible have spent the last couple thousand years grappling with a lot of these things and have worked out many answers to many of them.

There are problems with that, however. First of all, why is it that God would give us a document that's supposed to be communicating to us that is so very difficult to make sense of on all these things? Why is it that these theologians and studiers and readers of the Bible have come to such dramatically different notions?

Let's just talk about slavery. Where in the part of the country that I come from in the 1830's and 40's and 50's, it was not terrible people who were pushing for slavery, it was ministers of the gospel. And they didn't have any - I've got them with me if you'd like. I can read out verse after verse, there's really not much doubt that the Bible, as written, if you take it on its terms is not antagonistic to humans owning humans. Not at all, certainly if it's an Israeli owning another Hebrew. They're very much more limited than otherwise.

There are restrictions on slavery. There's very good reason to believe that the cultures that went before the cultures that are described in the Bible had worse forms of slavery. So maybe the biblical writers and believers in fact improved slavery. But still there's nothing in the Bible that says slavery is wrong, you should never own another human being. There's not anything in there. Why wouldn't God give us a clear communication about that? There's no reason for him not to.

Now, I know there are lots of questions that I asked and I know John didn't get to all of them, there's no way he could. I could keep him going for as long as we have time to spend. But in answer to your question about what would I say to this person. The reason it's a deeper, tricky - in fact goes right to the heart of how do we know anything -- I don't know what I would say to the fellow. I would probably think that I was having a delusion of some kind and try to get some help.

Bob: But let's just say that you do have a chance to ask him. You can ask him as many questions …

Ed: I would ask him all kinds of questions. If I was convinced that I was not having a psychotic episode and that in fact there was some possibility that this was the God in whom I don't believe, I would start with Bertrand Russell's question when they asked him: If you die and you get to heaven and you find out you were wrong and there is a God, what's the first thing you'd say to him? And Bertrand Russell said, "Why didn't you give me better evidence?"

Because in fact the evidence that we see - that all of the Christians that I know see - that this is all God's doing is evidence to me, very good, strong evidence, that these are people who want answers and are not going to accept "I don't know." And that they're going to create answers or accept answers that their previous generations have created for them.

Now I'm going to ask: Are there things that would convince you that God exists? I insist that the answer is "yes." I would freely admit that it is at least a bit subjective and that no matter what answer I give you now, you can say how would you know you weren't just being deluded. And of course that's a possibility.

But if, and I have to give Oliver a lot of credit tonight and no I don't mean the dog. Oliver told me that he would believe that there was a God if in one major city in the U.S. (doesn't have to be the U.S.), but I think U.S. was the example he gave. In the children's hospitals in that city, all of the children on the same day including the ones that were missing limbs and so forth were suddenly made whole. My example is, if the heavens opened up and everybody could hear in their own language statements saying, "I am God and I'm tired of this," you all read the Book of Mormon or the Bible or whichever one he, or she, or it chose to tell us, said it in everybody's language. And I knew it wasn't an illusion because the newspapers carried the story that they heard the same thing in Milan, and they heard the same thing in Bombay, and in Tokyo. So is it possible? Are those standards too high? I don't know, maybe they are too high. But you know what, the standard ought to be that there is some reasonable evidence, and I don't see any.

Bob: But in response to my question, if part of his revelation to you was that those children are going to still be in there because of the way I created the universe.

Ed: Then I would ask him why does he allow this kind of suffering. It doesn't make sense.

Bob: And what if he said that at this point it's too difficult for you to understand. If I told you, you couldn't get your hands around it.

Ed: Well, I would say that I'm sorry I'm not going to believe in you. You've got to come up with a better answer than that.

Bob: OK, thank you.

John: Let me give a few points of follow through here. I think it's interesting, Ed, that you continually go back to ethical issues and I think that is the crux ultimately.

Ed: You're probably right that is -- at least tonight the primary argument that I have used against the existence of God.

John: I think it always comes down to that. Bob, I think when you pointed out both being logical, I would agree with that. In other words, if you start with the assumption there is no God or you arrive at that point and then argue forward, it really depends where we start and that's why the question is what is the origin of our sense? Because Ed's a very sensible person, I just think there's one spot where he and I disagree quite largely.

In terms of the little green man coming down and that were to happen to me, angels do appear in different forms.

Ed: The devil too?

John: Yes, this is true. Very well said theologically. I would not only say answer, I would say, "You are the Creator. Show me. Show me your creative power in unmistakable fashion." Which actually comes back to Ed's friend Oliver whom we've come to know pretty well.

Ed: I'll have to send him a tape of this.

John: When I came to faith in 1967 and I posed that question. I came into the chapel a couple of nights later with no expectation other than the fact that I was required to be there. And I was the first one in that evening and I sat down and looked forward to the front of the building. And I said, "Good evening, God." Then I said, "Wait a minute, John, how can you say 'Good evening, God' if you don't believe he exists." That was my immediate agnostic retort. As soon as I said that I became aware that I believed deeper than my intellect, prior to my intellect, but involving my whole intellect which began this question.

Then I became aware of the supernatural hovering presence over me that the Bible would describe as the Shekhinah glory but I had no knowledge of that at the time. There was a hovering, powerful, warm, embracive presence waiting for me then to breathe out and say, "Yes, I do believe," and that very presence descended upon me and filled me. And so my sense of revelation began in response to an intellectual question of an awesome universe.

Couple of other quick points here. I think, Ed, in terms of understanding the Bible and all it says, it's understanding the story and all human stories have 10,000 variables and so we have to understand the nature of the story to begin with. In terms of slavery, the Antebellum South, I argue quite consistently there is no forced slavery allowed in the Bible. The only thing that is there is economic, like when you sell yourself to get out of debt, coming over on the Mayflower or something like that.

There's a distinction between Jew and pagan due to those captured in war. All of them have the rights of life, liberty, property and rest of the Sabbath given them. There is no imposed inhumanity.

And then finally when you said you would believe if you saw all the cancer wards opened up and people would be healed, that's exactly what Jesus did, and whether or not you believe that, the text speaks about Jesus doing that and people who refused to believe in the face of it because it upset their political and economic power base.

Ed: I'm like doubting Thomas. If doubting Thomas has a right to see some evidence, then so do I.

John: I commend that. I believe the evidence is there. But what I'm trying to say is ethically that when the evidence was there, there were those who refused it because of their own privileged position. And then you also said if the heavens opened up and God spoke - well, that's what the Second Coming is.

Ed: I've got lots to say. I think we could have a debate on what the Bible says about slavery. But anyway, let's here another question.

Questioner: My name is Kevin. In listening to both sides, I find in listening to Ed in particular, what I found interesting was that it appeared - and correct me if I'm wrong - that the suffering in the world and man's inhumanity to man seems to be one of the larger reasons why you feel there's the absence of a God.

Ed: I know you're not through with your question, but you said correct you if I need to. It's not primarily man's inhumanity to man as evidence of the lack of a God to me, but the natural destruction of man and causes and diseases and so forth. Things that man can't and doesn't control that still destroy innocent lives. Man's inhumanity to man is a problem for theists also. But atheists don't understand very well why we're so mean to each other either.

Kevin: I find for me as I process this whole thing myself. You also mentioned in your opening statement that the church has been responsible for a lot of negativity, organized religion or putting stuff through thumbs I think it was or something like that. And my thought on that was - and this is one of the things I've always kind of said to myself was, if you look at the central tenet of an organization or a person like Jesus Christ, or the Hippocratic oath in medicine.

My question is, is it enough that there are malpractitioners - do malpractitioners of medicine or a religious faith totally invalidate the faith. And I would add to that as a question - and I will sit down because I'm not going to debate you here - but I'd like to know where the historical Jesus fits into your understanding. In other words, we know what Jesus is and everybody tends to say he was a good person, a good man, a great Rabbi. So we know that if I kill somebody I'm not emulating his teachings. I'm not attempting to try or I wouldn't try to defend them as such. I'm just curious how you would deal with (a) the historical Jesus - do you accept him as, or in what manner do you accept him? And then (b) as Bob said, to me he is about as close as the little green man that we have in history. I was just curious how you processed those?

Ed: Thank you for your question. Let me start with the historical Jesus part first. I know you have debated Bob Price on that.

Certainly you know my opinion already about whether there was a Jesus who was the Son of God who died for your sins and mine. And the answer is no, I don't think so. Was there in fact a person, a single individual historically who was Jesus of Nazareth? I don't think so, but I'm open to further evidence. I know that Christians believe there's a huge amount of evidence in favor of that but in fact when you get right down to it, all of that evidence is from Christians who are believers. And we know for certain that that were some interpolations and went back into documents and put stuff in to support the idea that there was a Jesus. That of course does not prove and that leads to the second part. No, I don't believe that if a Christian does something horrible that that proves that Christianity is not valid.

I well understand that first of all there can be exceptions amongst a good group and I don't really think that a single rotten apple spoils the whole barrel as the old adage goes. But I think if you look at the history of Christianity and of other religions as well - Islam and the rest of them -- I really believe that human beings are the only ones doing things, not gods. And those human beings in the name of Christianity, in the name of Islam, in the name of Stalinism, in the names of lots of other things - have done one hell of a lot of horrible things to each other. And I know the Christian version of that is that man is a sinful creature and evidence that you need God.

It doesn't make any sense to believe that there's a God involved in this at all. It makes sense to understand that man can be amazingly good and amazingly bad to each other, can be very, very destructive of each other and that they can do that in the name of - you can build hospitals or you can have Inquisitions. And you can find without any trouble in the Bible, words attributed to Jesus Christ and use those to do horrible things to other people. I know that all of you sitting today in Simsbury, Connecticut who are Christians believe that everything about Jesus has to be a warm and positive thing.

That's what you've been taught. But if you actually go and read the Bible, you see that he says things like that those who are not believers should be cast aside as sticks and burned which was in John. Which was used in the Inquisition as an excuse, not as excuse, as a commandment to burn heretics and those who disagreed with the understanding of the Bible that other people had. I know John wants to understand and does believe, I'm convinced that he's sincere, believes that hell consists of not being with God or something relatively benign. That's not what the Bible says.

John: It's not benign.

Ed: And it's not just what the Bible says in some other place in the red letters. But Jesus himself says it's terrifyingly horrible, vicious, torturing punishment, that does not fit the crime whatever the crime is. I mean burning forever?

John: Let me just give a couple of points of response here. Charles Darwin began his whole theory of macro-evolution based on his view of cruelty in nature. He could not reconcile it with a good God and so he had that same point of departure. If we understand in Genesis the definition of an honest relationship between God and man and the brokenness of that relationship, Genesis also says that because of the brokenness of that relationship creation will suffer. So there's an understanding, we're not good stewards over integral creation since we lose God's full presence by our own choice.

In terms of the historical Jesus, what is interesting is that all pagan religious origin text starts self-consciously in mythology. They have no criteria for verifiable history. It's mainly used to keep those in power in power, whereas Genesis starts with verifiable eyewitness history, traces Adam all the way up to Jesus, names the people, their families, the places where they lived. And so this is the only basis for that.

So then the only basis there is for verifiable history in the universe is the Bible. Ed says, well, but the gospel is written by believers and not by pagans and not by other people. Well, the bottom line is that Jesus was put to death by Rome because Rome feared him utterly. There's no way they were going to give an honest historical witness to him when they themselves were rooted in mythology of Caesar as god and the Roman gods as gods.

And therefore, the very reality of the historical nature of Jesus - I said this to Bob Price - if you're asking the question is Jesus historical, I said, you're asking only a biblical question. All of the pagan religions themselves started with non-history.

And final observation here, Ed, reference to Jesus' definition of hell. He's the one, who in his own words again, we take the text as I represent him, he said the Son of God has come not to condemn but to save. And all the way through the New Testament, the very language of hell is only used - and Jesus speaks about hell more than the rest of the Bible combined - he said it's for those who choose to be their own gods who would rather be self-sufficient in their bitternesses than in forgiveness. And so as you look at the language, and if we look at human nature, and I see heaven and hell as being consistent with that, do we know people who have become bitter who would rather be utterly miserable and admit their miserable and yet they won't give up their bitterness.

And if you look at the moral nature of what Jesus talks about he says the god you choose, darkness or light, is the god you shall receive.

Ed: So you don't believe Jesus when he says hell is for unbelievers?

John: Well, yes, I do. But we have to examine the question …

Ed: For example.

John: … for what unbelief is. Unbelief in the goodness of God.

Ed: That's the problem with all of this stuff. God in his infinite wisdom chooses to give us a book which is amazingly confusing, inconsistent and subject to thousands of different interpretations - most of which, or not most of which, many of which are amazingly destructive to human happiness. It doesn't make sense. Why would God do that? Why wouldn't he be clear?

John: I'll give you one reason why I think it comes out this way and we haven't talked about this tonight. But in the order of creation, there are four topics that are talked about - God, life, choice and sex.

In the beginning, God, life - human life - is his gift to us. We're given freedom. And sexuality is a gift between one man and one woman in one lifetime. Overwhelmingly, throughout all human history those world views that disagree with the Bible will justify sex outside of marriage in one capacity or another. Pagan religion, atheism, secular humanism, it will never say that sexual intimacy only belongs between one man, one woman, one lifetime. This is what Genesis 1 and 2 says. It gets blown thereafter.

And once you grasp that story, everything else makes sense because what the Bible does is it shows where people blow it and it's very candid in showing it. But it's also very clear at the beginning how God made it to be and in the end how he restores it to us. And the complexity is the history of the combat between sin and redemption. It's exceedingly complex. If we have the bookends of creation and redemption, it all pulls together from a very critical mind.

Ed: See, if you just look at Genesis and just look at the first three chapters of Genesis, you still get phrases like this: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shallt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." [Genesis 3:16] Now imagine how much suffering has befallen women because people have read that verse and taken it seriously.

John: And not taken it on the story of its own terms.

Ed: Oh I know, they didn't take it the right way. The right way is the way John says it is.

John: No, I'm not going to say that, Ed. But what I am going to say is that I make myself accountable to the toughest questions. Actually that was part of my thesis at Harvard Divinity School in feminist ethics where I put myself in the context of the leading skeptics there are. Let me make a quick observation about what that verse means, which by the way was quoted to me at Wesleyan two nights ago as well in a different context.

Ed: Good for Norm.

John: It wasn't Norm that did it. Yes it was Norm who did it. Let me give you the answer according to how the story understands itself. In Genesis 1 and 2, man and woman are equal. They share God's presence. He says, if you eat the forbidden fruit, which is to become as great as God and to understand evil, then moth tamouth, in dying you will die. He said a curse will come upon you.

As soon as they have done that, the curse comes upon the woman and upon the man. The sweat of the brow, the man will die, and they'll all go back to the dust, for dust you are and to dust you will go. To the woman he says, you'll have increase because you sinned. To the man because you sinned, his food as well. Then he says to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."

This is a diagnosis of the origin of male chauvinism and the war between the sexes. Once Adam and Eve acted independently of God, independently of each other, then they had war between themselves which was not part of the order of creation.

In the face of this with no one else, their next motivation is how do we be one? Well, with a broken sexuality, the man's answer is, "Do what I say." The woman's answer is, "Hold me tight." And they both take their strengths of the emotional-oriented, the relational-oriented, and the task-oriented and instead of submitting one to another, which is Ephesians 5 redemptively, they then use their strengths without regarding the strength of the other.

So the very diagnosis of male chauvinism here in Genesis 3:16, "he shall rule over you," is self-consciously, biblically the result of people disobeying God.

Ed: And that is a possible interpretation. It's probably not you alone who holds that interpretation. I'm sure there are many others who do. But it is not …

John: It's required if we read the story that precedes it.

Ed: It's only required if you accept all of your interpretations, all of the interpretations of your school of theology. But listen, John, it is absolutely certain beyond any question that many, many, many people have read those same chapters and come to different conclusions.

John: I agree.

Ed: They have come to the conclusion that it is appropriate for men to dominate women. That that's what God wants. And they found plenty of other biblical verses to back it up too, including in the New Testament which they say are fulfillments of the Old Testament.

John: And you know something? Jesus was far more concerned not with the theologically heterodox, the Sadducees, as he was with the orthodox who were hypocrites. And there are a lot of orthodox people who are hypocrites, who use the Bible as their own prooftext for their own self aggrandizement.

Ed: People like Paul?

John: No.

Ed: Now Paul is the one who said that women should, in his letters to Timothy, I don't know, I can quote you the exact one …

John: I know you can.

Ed: You better believe I can. That it's reinforced in many places. This isn't one little verse taken out of context and twisted, this is the pattern that you see throughout the Bible. Now, can you go back and undo and twist to make that pattern look different? John's not the only one who's done that. It's been done for hundreds of years. Whatever the current prevailing morality is, there are theologians who can turn and twist the Bible to make it fit that. That's not the way it happened to start with.

We don't have this one clear, pure communication that we can go back and show where it's been distorted here and there. We have a massive array of interpretations including John's. And his are much more benign than most people and I wish all the Christians would see it the way he does even though I still wouldn't accept most of it.

John: Ed, you're right. There's a lot of territory we don't have the time for, but let me make one simple interpretative observation. Every pagan religious origin text without history treats women as second class, dust, dirt, demons and animals. The gods and the goddesses in their war between themselves treat women as second class. Genesis 1 and 2 treat women as equal and complements to men - complements as both equal image bearers of God. When you realize how sin has ripped that apart and the complexity as God aims toward redemption, you have a unique story in the order of creation that nothing else touches. The order of creation, men and women are equal. All pagan religious origins, men rule over women confirming the diagnosis of what sin does that Genesis 3:16 that you just quoted, diagnoses.

Ed: Nearly all religions in the world including Christianity for nearly all of its history have insisted that women are inferior.

John: And when Christianity and Judaism did it, it was because they were unfaithful to their very origin. Others were faithful to their origins.

Ed: Enough. It doesn't make sense.

NEXT
  [Contents] [About the Participants] [Opening Statement by Ed Buckner] [Opening Statement by John Rankin][Dialog] [Questions from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]