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7 things I ‘know’ about God

June 6th, 2012

I’ve been a christian discussing belief with atheists and agnostics on the internet for about 7 years now. Many times I’ve been asked why I believe, what possible evidence could I have? These discussions have led me to re-examine many things that I believe, and while I haven’t changed all that much, I have certainly researched, pondered and developed my beliefs.

So what is my faith based on? What do I really feel I “know” about God and the universe?

1. Science tells us truths about our universe

I believe science gives us true insight into the universe, evolution, neuroscience, archaeology, medicine, ecology and much more. I know science makes mistakes and our knowledge is provisional, but it self corrects and gets closer to true understanding all the time. Some scientists draw conclusions that go beyond science, and reflect their own opinions, and I don’t need to accept those conclusions. But overall, I believe in science.

2. Only God can explain the universe

Science tells us the big bang occurred 14 million years ago and produced a universe amazingly well-designed to allow life to occur. I can’t see how the universe could have just appeared out of nothing, or caused itself to appear before it was even there to do anything – that idea seems beyond ridiculous to me – and the ‘fine-tuned’ design is statistically impossible by chance. So one result of believing in science is that I am forced to conclude that God created this universe.

3. I trust Jesus

The historians affirm the reliability of enough of the stories of Jesus for us to be confident he lived and did and said certain things. That is enough of a basis for me to trust him. For some people, that isn’t enough, but I feel confident putting my trust in him. I believe he was divine and was resurrected, two things it would be difficult to believe if I didn’t trust him. This belief in Jesus is something basic I feel I ‘know’ about God.

4. Reason and ethics

Human society depends on us being both rational, which enables us to think, converse, do maths and science, etc, and ethical – we have a sense of what is right and wrong, and we know that some things (e.g. causing unnecessary pain and hurt, harming children, genocide and rape) are deeply wrong. We are fallible, and sometimes our conclusions about logic and ethics are mistaken, but I believe our deepest insights are generally really true.

5. The world is not always a safe place

People suffer pain, hurt and loss, sometimes terribly. Sometimes it is too hard to bear for those suffering, and even those who are aware of it. So often we want to shout out “Why?”. Our moral sense tells us something is wrong. I believe this is a true insight, and a terrible feature of our world.

6. People are capable of great good and evil

There is much that is admirable and beautiful in the human race, but we know that there is always the dark side – and that too often the dark side wins out. Much of the suffering in the world is caused by people. This is another thing I ‘know’.

7. People experience God

People seem to experience God, and sense his presence in times of need, healing or doubt. Not everyone does, but many do. Not all experiences are genuinely of God, perhaps most are not, but some seem definitely to be true. My experience of God is not often clear or obvious, but it does happen. I believe it is a fundamental fact, impossible for me to ignore or gainsay, that people experience God.

So what … ?

So that is my basis, these are the things I believe on the basis of evidence – science, history, experience – things that I am as certain of as anything can be certain in this life. They are my starting point.

But some of them appear to be contradictory. Many difficult questions can be asked about these conclusions. Can all this be resolved into a consistent and reasonable belief? That’s my next post.

Further reading

My reasoning on most of these matters is presented elsewhere on this site. You may be interested to read some of it:

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

19 Comments

  1. 1. Scientists come up with theories, not opinions. Theories are like opinions but even though they might not be able to prove them, they have evidence for them.
    2. I too have a problem with something coming from nothing. But if God created the Universe, he created it from nothing and who created God?
    3. Historians, experts,etc. have verified the age of the Bible and that the stories in it depict the lifestyle that was occuring during that time. It is also possible that there could have been a person named Jesus. However, they cannot prove that he was God’s son or that he did all of the things claimed in the Bible. But if you watch the History Channel they have done a documentary on the other books that were banned from the Bible that tell about Jesus’s childhood and other things that the church at the time did not think should be included. If they had been included, people might have a different perspective.
    4.I agree.
    5. I agree. People are often horrible to eachother and often people are being controlled by others until they fight back.I thinkg the majority of people want the same basic things in life such as love and happiness but pride and tradition get in the way.
    6. Kind of the same basis as number 5 but I’m not sure that the dark side wins out more. Look at Midevil times. Where people tortured one another. It was almost sport. Not that torture does not still occur but its in more isolated situations or 3rd world countries.
    7. People do make claims of experiencing God, I have in the past thought I had this experience but I have also had experiences with Ghosts that some try to discount as being demons trying to fool me. But whether they were ghosts or not, I still know I had the experience. My husband has questioned, what if the demons or bad spirits are the ones tricking us into thinking there is a God. All I know is there are good and bad people and there are good and bad unseen forces.

  2. G’day Tracey,

    Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for commenting.

    “But if God created the Universe, he created it from nothing and who created God?”
    That is an old question. I think God was never created, but has always existed. This is different to the universe, which almost certainly hasn’t always existed. So God doesn’t have or need an explanation, but the universe does. That’s how I see it.

    “It is also possible that there could have been a person named Jesus.”
    The historians tell us this is as certain as history can be. See the link in the post (which I forgot to include before, but have now included due to your prompting – thanks).

    “However, they cannot prove that he was God’s son or that he did all of the things claimed in the Bible.”
    I agree here. They are fairly sure that many of the things recorded about him are true (see another reference above). I believe that is enough evidence to trust him, but as I indicated in my post, others don’t agree. I guess that includes you?

    Best wishes.

  3. I’m going to be spammy and comment as well. 🙂

    “I too have a problem with something coming from nothing. But if God created the Universe, he created it from nothing and who created God?”

    That’s understandable (though I’m not sure I’m interpreting your question right now, but feel free to correct me!). In the case of something coming from nothing, what’s meant is that nothing cannot cause anything. That’s because nothing is, well, nothing, so it cannot have any properties (it has no particles, no energy, no waves, no fields, no space, no time). So it has nothing that can function as a cause. The difference with creation from nothing is that in the latter case that God is the cause.

    I agree with what unkleE has said about God being uncreated. I don’t think that uncreated is not that strange, because I also believe that maths and morality are uncreated.

    “7. People do make claims of experiencing God, I have in the past thought I had this experience but I have also had experiences with Ghosts that some try to discount as being demons trying to fool me. But whether they were ghosts or not, I still know I had the experience. My husband has questioned, what if the demons or bad spirits are the ones tricking us into thinking there is a God. All I know is there are good and bad people and there are good and bad unseen forces.”

    That is an interesting comment. Have you blogged about these experiences?

  4. Hi UncleE,
    I get what you are saying about God not being nothing. I’m not sure about if He created it but I wonder if there were or are other universes.(I know that’s going out there a bit but I don’t think its any harder to fathom Universes dying out and reforming then it is think of God as having no beginning which is something my grandfather once told me when I was a child)
    I just find it interesting to see other’s points of views and explanations. And even though I have my doubts about things, I admit that I do not have all the answers either and I suspect none of us will in this lifetime.

  5. IgnorantiaNescia

    Yes, you explained that well. Never considered where morals came from because most of us are born with our own sense of right and wrong but we sometimes get foggy about morals due to parental, religious and societies’influenc. And if morals are uncreated too then we could have them without them coming from God. However, God being uncreated, must be an Energy. For God to create the Sun, lightening etc.. and energy never dies. I would suspect that energy is uncreated as well.

    Yes I have written one post on paranormal, more on religion lately and working on some others. Honestly, not trying to promote that on here, I was just up really early and checking facebook posts and couldnt go back to sleep til I got my thoughts out there, lol.

  6. Hi Tracey,

    “I wonder if there were or are other universes. …. I don’t think its any harder to fathom Universes dying out and reforming then it is think of God as having no beginning”

    I think it is hard to imagine any of those things, but I don’t think imagination should be our only guide. Philosophically, I can’t see how something can arise from nothing, but I can see how a God could be eternal. So that is the difference for me.

    “I admit that I do not have all the answers either and I suspect none of us will in this lifetime.”

    I agree with you. But personally, I would rather draw the best conclusion I can from what I can understand then wait around and never getting anywhere.

  7. There is plenty of evidence of early Christians, none for Christ (Jesus).
    Everything else is just faith pure and simple.
    I also have trouble with the something from nothing standpoint, but the scientific answer (even if i do not fully grasp it) sits a lot more comfortably than ‘God did it.’

  8. “There is plenty of evidence of early Christians, none for Christ (Jesus).
    Everything else is just faith pure and simple.”

    Akhenaten, that may be your opinion, but it is not factual despite your stating it that way. The experts have concluded very differently – see Was Jesus a real person?. So if we are left to your opinion vs the consensus of historians, why should we believe you instead of them?

    “I also have trouble with the something from nothing standpoint, but the scientific answer (even if i do not fully grasp it) sits a lot more comfortably than ‘God did it.’”
    Many people feel the way you do. I think the opposite. I’m not sure we can change another person’s assessment, so I think we just have to differ.

  9. Ah, but you consider that Jesus was divine and there is even less evidence to support this assertion and yet consensus was reached.
    Do you know how?
    It was written into church law, then enforced.

  10. “Ah, but you consider that Jesus was divine and there is even less evidence to support this assertion”

    1. Does this response mean you have conceded your previous point about the factual evidence for Jesus’ existence?
    2. The evidence for Jesus being divine is based on passages commonly accepted as genuine by scholars. So there is less evidence of this assertion, yet still sufficient. We are each free to respond to that evidence as we see fit, but denying it isn’t an option.

    But I don’t doubt that their understanding developed over time – that is the point of this post – the question is why did it develop?

    “… and yet consensus was reached. Do you know how?
    It was written into church law, then enforced.”

    Consensus has never been reached because there have always been dissenters. But what broad agreement we have was reached long before the church had the power and opportunity to enforce any law.

    You seem somewhat desperate to disparage belief – why bother? Why bother to distort the historical evidence when all you need to do is to say you don’t believe in Jesus?

  11. Passages commonly accepted as genuine! Oh my goodness.
    List one secular scholar that would consider Jesus divine?
    In fact, there are a few Christians that might doubt this claim of divinity.
    Even St. Paul was unaware of a bodily Resurrection.
    As I have stated, the facts are these:
    The Church conferred divinity on Jesus. Plan and simple.
    Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts.
    Sorry, but what you belief is faith. It is neither truth or honest, to be frank.

  12. “Does this response mean you have conceded your previous point about the factual evidence for Jesus’ existence?”

    Sorry,missed this question.
    LOL….what do you think? Really?

  13. Akhenaten,

    I’m sorry, but these two comments illustrate a bunch of reasons why I stopped discussing with you previously. It has nothing to do with your disagreeing with me – that doesn’t worry me – but has to do with the tactics that you adopt, whether deliberately or accidentally I cannot say.

    “Passages commonly accepted as genuine! Oh my goodness.
    List one secular scholar that would consider Jesus divine?”

    1. Have you not noticed that your two statements here are nowhere near equivalent? My statement was that the passages are accepted as genuine, not that scholars necessarily drew the same conclusions from them. If you are so eager to disagree that you don’t bother to check that you are answering the comment I made, there is no point in discussing.

    2. All the scholars I quote are “secular” scholars – i.e. they hold relevant positions in universities, publish in peer-reviewed literature, and/or are respected by their peers. I quote both christian and non-believing scholars, and mostly the latter to avoid bias. You do not quote any and you make scurrilous insinuations against anyone who disagrees with you.

    “As I have stated, the facts are these:
    The Church conferred divinity on Jesus. Plan and simple.”

    3. You offer no evidence, you don’t address my comments. You make simple statements of opinion as if they are facts.

    “what you belief is faith. It is neither truth or honest, to be frank.”
    4. What I believe is faith, but what I am discussing (or trying to discuss) are what the best scholars consider are the historical facts. Your insults make no difference to the fact that you seem uninterested in what the scholars say if they disagree with you.

    “Sorry,missed this question.
    LOL….what do you think? Really?”

    5. No, I didn’t expect you to admit you were wrong, but I did hope. I simply drew attention to the fact that you hadn’t answered my question: “So if we are left to your opinion vs the consensus of historians, why should we believe you instead of them?” It seems to be another unfortunate habit of yours to drop a subject when you haven’t a satisfactory answer.

    So please let me be clear. You are welcome here if you want to discuss – which means address what I actually say, quote from scholars and evidence to support your case, admit when you haven’t any evidence and avoid insults. I have no objection to contrary opinions, and I have many internet friends who are strong atheists, and with whom I can discuss amicably. I would like to have the same sort of discussions with you, but you need to play your part.

    Please heed this plea, or don’t bother posting, for I won’t answer, and I will eventually just have to delete, which would be a pity.

    Over to you. Best wishes.

  14. “As I have stated, the facts are these:
    The Church conferred divinity on Jesus. Plain and simple.”
    3. You offer no evidence, you don’t address my comments. You make simple statements of opinion as if they are facts.

    This is an easier to address.

    The Council of Nicaea -It is unnecessary to post all the details of this event, as a Christian you should be aware of it, as with the other councils. If not, merely Google it.
    The Trinity does not feature in any shape of form in the Gospels. It was established by the church.
    All you have to do is type Trinity or peruse an encyclopedia.
    It was written into law to established the nature of Jesus.
    If he was not Divine and the same substance as/of God then there could be no monotheism – Christianity would have been a polytheistic religion. Thus it was eventually decreed that Jesus and God/Yahweh were one and the same.
    Now, this is fact. Not my opinion. I am not making this up. I did not write the encyclopedia, or imagine the Council of Nicaea, Constantine, Eusebius, or anything else related to this matter. If it is incorrect then you must challenge church history. Do you believe my source material is wrong? If so, please say so. No problem, I mean it.
    Furthermore, the resurrection does not appear in the earliest extant copies of Mark, the gospel the others were largely based upon, and was added at a later date. This too is fact, as attested by proper scholars. It is not my opinion and I am not making it up.
    Really, I can’t believe I am explaining this, surely you are aware of how this came about?

    Based on the above, no scholar who claimed he /she is a Christian (as is commonly understood as per the Nicene Creed and the Creed of the Apostles) could possible deny the divinity of Jesus.
    When I use the term secular we can safely say I mean it in this context as per Wiki.
    “Secularity (adjective form secular[1], meaning: “worldly” or “temporal”) is the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.”

    Thus, I reiterate NO secular scholar will state that Jesus was divine.
    And although I do not agree with a lot of what Bart Ehrman writes on this point I will side with him. Jesus was not divine.

    When you asked whether I had accepted Jesus as an historical person I should have made it clear by stating…”for the sake of this discussion,” or something similar.
    No, I do not believe the character of Jesus of Nazareth, as portrayed in the bible to have been a real person.

  15. “Now, this is fact. Not my opinion. I am not making this up. I did not write the encyclopedia, or imagine the Council of Nicaea, Constantine, Eusebius, or anything else related to this matter.”

    I am aware of Nicaea. But I was not talking about the Trinity. What I contested was your statement: “you consider that Jesus was divine and there is even less evidence to support this assertion and yet consensus was reached. …. It was written into church law, then enforced.” I pointed out that there is plenty of evidence that Jesus was considered to be divine long before Nicaea. All your history does nothing to disprove that.

    I can give evidence that he was considered divine in the first and early second century. Can you give evidence that he wasn’t? Do you wish to discuss and resolve this matter?

    “Secularity is the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.”

    Do you notice there are two meanings there, not one? Do you know that most scholars attempt to separate their beliefs about religion (whether belief or disbelief) from their professional studies?

    “Thus, I reiterate NO secular scholar will state that Jesus was divine.”

    What you mean is no non-christian scholar will state that Jesus is divine, which isn’t surprising. But many secular scholars (using the definition you provided – i.e. scholars who separate their beliefs from their studies) do indeed affirm that. I have mentioned a few of them. Others do not, I have mentioned some of them too.

    But the point is unimportant, because I didn’t make any point about this. I said originally that, “The evidence for Jesus being divine is based on passages commonly accepted as genuine by scholars.” I talked about the passages, not the beliefs of the scholars. I have pointed this out to you twice now.

    So you have not offered any evidence against the two statements I did make, namely:

    1. Almost all scholars, regardless of religious belief, conclude that there is sufficient historical evidence to show Jesus existed and to describe the outline of his life and death.

    2. Using NT passages accepted by most scholars, a good case can be made for Jesus’ divinity.

    Are you interested in discussing these two statements that I made and offering evidence against them?

    Best wishes.

  16. “I can give evidence that he was considered divine in the first and early second century. Can you give evidence that he wasn’t? Do you wish to discuss and resolve this matter?”

    Considered divine is not proof of divinity. Thus it is merely a case of whether one accepts the word of the gospel writers.
    As the stories vary in each one it is really a matter of faith. If you choose to accept the varied versions offered this is choice.
    It is fact that there was not consensus among early Christians -who, remember, still held on to their Jewish heritage – and Christianity as a movement and religion only came into its own as a truly gentile faith once Paul got cracking and put his spin on things.
    As there were so few witnesses (and there is no consensus here either) to the empty tomb, everything about whether Jesus was divine (God) was passed on.
    And remember, resurrection is not proof of divinity.
    The NT passage you had in mind? (1 Cor 16:21-24).
    This depends on how much stock you put in Paul, does it not?
    Anything else you care to offer?

  17. “Considered divine is not proof of divinity.”

    Of course it’s not. but we weren’t discussing “proof of divinity” but what was believed historically.

    I always try to distinguish between historical ‘facts’ and my conclusions based on those facts. I think we need to establish the facts, which we can do by referencing the expert historians, and you have disagreed with me about those facts. I see less point in discussing conclusions, because each person has to decide for themselves.

    So let’s stick with historical facts. Do you wish to present evidence on the ‘factual’ matters you have contested?

    1. Almost all scholars, regardless of religious belief, conclude that there is sufficient historical evidence to show Jesus existed and to describe the outline of his life and death.

    2. Using NT passages accepted by most scholars, a good case can be made for Jesus’ divinity.

    I am happy to discuss the resurrection, but one thing at a time I think.

  18. In this case, referencing certain expert historians will not produce the result you are trying to establish, namely; the historicity of Jesus and certainly not the divinity.
    The former I feel is a waste of time discussing with you as the only evidence that is continually produced, the bible, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny etc, – is the same evidence that has been bandied around for years and again most of it is open to interpretation, showing that both camps have valid arguments.

    For example, if a scholar such as Ehrman, a claimed expert in his field whom you reference, states that there is no doubt that Jesus was an historical character you agree and hold his opinion up to bolster your case. However, as Ehrman dismisses any claims of divinity out of hand you will reject, him as an expert when arguing this facet of Jesus as it doesn’t fit in with the outcome you want to see. This demonstrates you are merely cherry picking; choosing your experts to ensure you produce an argument that fits your belief in the historicity and the divinity.
    it also shows that your site is carefully tailored to produce a preconceived outcome of this belief and is not unbiased at all.
    It would be more honest if you cut to the chase and simply stated, ”
    am a Christian and I will produce enough expert opinion to show you why what I believe is fact.”
    One can never have a rational discussion based on these criteria and it sullies and notion that your are attempting to be genuinely objective in this matter.
    The divinity issue is even more tenuous.
    The Catholic Church is on record stating belief in Jesus is solely based on faith. (Unfortunately I cannot offer you reference which Pope stated this, I’m sorry, but I read it a while back; it was a brief news clipping if memory serves.)
    Everything else is based on interpretation – not fact.
    Any investigation begins with the Gospels and then it’s a slippery slope down the rabbit hole.
    Where does one start?
    Which criteria will both sides accept?
    Are the biblical passages you wish to reference re the divinity agreed upon by ALL scholars, or just the experts you feel comfortable with?
    I approach the divinity as objectively as is possible and thus my various and varied investigations have always drawn similar conclusions, namely.
    The oldest extant copies of Mark’s gospel did not feature the resurrection. (no, I have not read the original document. Yet this is agreed upon by all biblical scholars)
    The early followers were all Jewish, hence they would not have accepted that Jesus was God – son of God, maybe. A king sent by God, possibly. God(Yahweh) in human form? Not a chance! And the tone of the texts certainly suggests this is indeed the case.
    There is disagreement as to whether Jesus appeared in bodily form after his death.
    His widely dispersed appearances suggest it was not in person, and those that claim to have had this experience did not recognise him.
    St. Paul was not aware of a bodily resurrection.
    The Church was divided for hundreds of years over the divinity issue.
    Arianism was declared a heresy
    Such disagreement could not continue unchallenged as it threatened Christianity as a religion and this is why the Catholic Church was forced to take steps to eradicate heresy.
    The divinity was written into law, along with the Trinity and thus opened the doors to force compliance – which happened.

    This is fact.

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