Friday, May 30, 2014

Prayer: to what avail?

I pray every day; a couple times throughout the day, and every night with my wife. I’ll pray anywhere and anytime where I can find peace and quiet.
Inevitably the question arises regarding whether or not prayer actually works, or whether there is any use in it. My answer: it depends. Let me first articulate where I believe prayer might be ineffective, and subsequently move on to what kind of prayer I have found to be fruitful.

Many types of prayers are pleas to God. For example, people ask God to bless them for upcoming periods, to watch over their loved ones, to heal them of some affliction etc. It is these types of pleas that I find troublesome, both in consequence and in principle.

Let’s take consequence first. Does God answer every prayer? Surely not. Obviously two people praying for contradictory things cannot both be answered. More than that, we see unanswered prayers every day. Heck, non-believers parade around scientific studies done on prayer that supposedly have demonstrated that this type of prayer does not work. I myself have asked God for reasonable things of which I never saw their fruition manifest.
Perhaps, some might say, I did not have enough faith. Perhaps. However, I have witnessed plenty of cases where those praying had more than enough faith. One such case happened at the church I attend--what could be called a mega-church. Almost two years ago the church’s pastor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it for almost a whole year. Throughout this year thousands, and I mean thousands, of people were praying for her healing, including countless pastors (from Joel Osteen to Joyce Meyer) and church leaders. Not enough faith? I think not. Yet, this faith was not vindicated, and the pastor’s wife lost her battle with the cancer. So, it seems that God does not answer all pleas, no matter how desperate and sincere.

This brings me to principle. Why, we might wonder, did God not answer those prayers and heal the pastor’s wife of cancer? Was it not His will to do so? Obviously. But then why pray, if God will not alter his will to accommodate ours? Maybe God only answers prayers when our will is in line with his will. But, God’s will will always necessarily manifest, whether ours is aligned with it or not. So, what’s the use? If our prayer is against the will of God, then God’s will won’t be changed, but if our prayer is in line with God’s will, then God’s will will inevitably happen, and there is no use praying.
So, pleading prayer seems problematic. Is there, then, any pragmatic value we can salvage regarding prayer? Yes, I believe there is.

Prayer, at least for me, is simply a time to give thanks to God, express my hope in Him, and meditate on his love, goodness, and mercy. Meditating on the love of God is incredibly transforming for me. It literally makes me a more patient, loving, caring, kind, compassionate and generous person every day. When I don’t pray I don’t feel like myself, and when I do pray I feel like my “true” self. Prayer is our connection with the divine, not a time when we come to ask God for this or that.

This type of prayer has also convinced me that it is not only Christians who can encounter the love of God. While a Muslim might think they’re praying to Allah, I see no reason to believe that they’re not in touch with God Almighty simply because they call him by a different name. We’re all tapping into the divine source of life, though we might not know it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The death of metaphysics? Part III

Mike D has posted yet another response to my last post regarding the utility and validity of metaphysical inquiry. Mike has articulated that his response was his last seeing as how we’ve both layed our cards on the table, and there’s obviously no need to rehash our arguments ad nauseum.  So, this will be my last response as well, and I would like to thank Mike for his cordiality and his erudite argumentation. It’s refreshing to converse with someone who challenges my views in a respectful yet engaging manner.

 That being said, let’s get started. Before I begin to quote pieces from Mike’s post, I want to address a topic that he brought up throughout, and one which seems to be his last line of defense. Mike articulated that one major problem he has with metaphysics is that the term, as well as its application, is ambiguous. He seems to think that my argument of pinning the label of metaphysics to his statements only seems compelling because the term is so poorly defined.  

 Fair enough. I agree that metaphysics can seem quite obscure, and that philosophers quibble about the details of such a discipline. However, metaphysics is not so poorly defined such that we have warrant for jettisoning the whole philosophical endeavor. While philosophers might quibble about certain aspects of metaphysics, they are quite in unison about recognizing metaphysics when they see it. One way to tell when metaphysics is being employed is to contrast it with science—our other mode of inquiry. That is, metaphysical inquiry goes where science cannot.

 For example, take the question “What is identity?” This is a very serious philosophical question—since logic is predicated on such a concept—but, it is one that science cannot answer. You can’t conduct any experiments that will tell you what identity is; you can’t find identity in a test tube, or in a particle accelerator. On the contrary, science presupposes the concept of identity in order to function—otherwise we would not be able to identify the empirical. So, only metaphysical inquiry can take the reins here.

 Or, take the claim that metaphysical inquiry is meaningless—the essential argument that Mike is making. This is not a claim that science can make. The person making such an argument is claiming that the method of inquiring about the fundamental structure of reality (that is, metaphysics) is invalid. This, to reiterate, is a metaphysical claim—that is, a claim about the fundamental structure of reality that science cannot make. So, while metaphysics might not be as properly defined as Mike wants, we can still recognize when and why it is employed. And therefore Mike’s death sentence to metaphysics remains a metaphysical claim.

 Mike then continues to find fault with my claims about model-dependent realism:
Model-dependent realism does not make claims about what constitutes reality; the entire point is that it jettisons the question of what is 'real' entirely. Steven's position seems to be predicated on the idea that Absolute Truth is 'out there', and that we can somehow know this reality independently of models.

Mike is partly right and partly wrong here. The definition of MDR might not deal with the metaphysical—though I still would disagree with this partly. Ok, fine. But, that’s not exactly what I was claiming. I was claiming that an adherence to MDR entails one to accept certain propositions that are metaphysical.  Heck, I even quoted these propositions from the pen of Stephen Hawking himself! I also articulated that MDR is predicated on a very specific theory of truth, which is metaphysical. Mike had nothing to say here, and I fail to see why. If adherence to a position necessitates adherence to metaphysical propositions, then how can one escape metaphysics?

 Mike then turns to the part of our discussion that deals with semantics:
If we can't know whether there actually is anything 'beyond our experience', then it's nonsensical to suggest that metaphysical principles would still apply to it, precisely because these metaphysical principles are abstracted from and given meaning by our experience.

First, I didn’t say there is some existing thing (x) beyond our experience which we don’t know exists, nevertheless, metaphysical principles (a) and (b) still apply to it. Rather, I said that there are certain metaphysical principles—most important are the laws of logic—which must describe any existent. So, if there does happen to be some existing thing that is not in the realms of our observable experience, then this thing would also have to have the laws of logic predicated of it.

 Mike continues:
The word 'beyond' is a spatiotemporal metaphor that Steven used to describe the ability of the laws of logic to describe supernatural/non-empirical/non-spatiotemporal phenomena; my point is that the very act of doing so, of cantilevering a semantic structure derived from empirical experience into realms purportedly beyond it, renders the semantic structure meaningless.

Mike seems to not have noticed that I intentionally dropped such words so that my argument made more sense. In fact, the very quote Mike utilizes from me is free from spatiotemporal semantics. Saying “metaphysical principles apply to any existent” is not meaningless.

 Let us move on to the topic of metaphysical principles and spatiotemporally. In the last post I gave an example of the set (III) which represents the number “three”. I articulated that metaphysical principles can be predicated of such an abstraction, and since this abstraction is nonspatiotemporal, then we have a simple demonstration of metaphysical principles applying nonsptaiotemporally. Here was Mike’s response:
[A] representation or concept does not have properties – it has conceptual abstractions of properties – i.e., 'if X existed, it would have Y properties'. And whether or not a conceptual abstraction actually corresponds with reality requires the construction of testable models of reality.

My claim wasn’t predicated on whether an abstraction’s properties were conceptual or not; rather, my claim was that metaphysical principles can be predicated of concepts. And Mike had nothing to say here. The question is easy: can metaphysical principles be predicated of a concept? If yes, then metaphysics is not restricted to the spatiotemporal; if no, then metaphysics is restricted. Now, the answer is easy to figure out, as I demonstrated last post. Is the set (III) identical to itself?  Yes it is, and therefore the first law of logic—a metaphysical proposition--applies to a concept, which is not spatiotemporal.

 As we wrap up this very interesting discussion, there is one and only one crucial point that sticks out to me: metaphysics cannot be denied. We can discuss whether metaphysics can be applied here or there, or which focus of metaphysics is pragmatic etc. But, we simply cannot deny metaphysics itself. We all harbor a worldview, whether it be theism, deism, naturalism etc. And each worldview contains a multitude of metaphysical propositions and assumptions. The worldview that attempts to deny metaphysics is making a very explicit claim about the nature and structure of reality—that science cannot make. As such, the metaphysical undertaker is trying to bury the very thing he’s digging with—sorry to use that metaphor again, it’s just so good.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

The death of metaphysics? Part II

Mike D offered a thorough response to my last post regarding the validity of metaphysics. To reiterate from my last post, the denial of metaphysics is such an important and extreme position to take, that I feel obligated to continue this discussion to demonstrate why metaphysics 1) is extremely crucial to everyone’s worldview, and 2) cannot logically be denied, as Mike wants to.

Mike begins his post by agreeing that we are all metaphysicians, in the sense that we all ask ourselves fundamental questions like “what is existence?” or “what is the self?” etc. His problem is whether or not these metaphysical questions are even meaningful, or why they should be delegated to metaphysics and not science.

But, here’s the big problem for such a position: If one claims that metaphysics is simply vacuous speculation that can obtain no knowledge, and that it cannot answer any questions that science cannot, then this is itself a metaphysical assertion! Notice that this is not a claim that science can make, and neither is it a claim any other discipline except metaphysics can make. Such a position is asserting that a particular method is invalid for securing answers about the nature of reality, yet this position is itself promulgating that about the nature of reality, and therefore such a position is metaphysical.  It is simply not possible to deny the reality of metaphysics, for to do so one must engage in it.

Now, this was pointed out to Mike in my last post with regards to his model-dependent realism. I claimed that this was a metaphysical position. This was his response:
 MDR is a statement about our epistemological relationship to reality, not a statement about what reality is[.]
 Fair enough. But, this still doesn’t escape my point. For a claim about one’s epistemological relationship to reality is still metaphysical. In fact, epistemology is widely seen to be subsumed under the umbrella of metaphysics. Why? Because a claim about our relationship to attaining knowledge about reality is still a claim about the nature of reality, since we are a part of reality. Philosopher Peter Coffey articulates:
 The aim of all metaphysics is to arrive at a rational and systematic comprehension of reality[…]this understanding cannot be satisfactory without an investigation into the nature of ‘knowing’ itself.
 So, epistemology complements metaphysics, but it is not a substitute for it. Epistemology is metaphysics. But, let’s say I’m wrong. Is MDR free and clear from being a metaphysical position? No. Take these quotes on MDR from The Grand Design, the very book where MDR is promulgated:
 If there are two models that both agree with observation[…]then one cannot say that one is more real than another.
 [M]ental concepts are the only reality we can know.
 [I]t is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.
 These are very explicit metaphysical propositions on which MDR is predicated, and, therefore, an adherence to MDR necessitates an adherence to certain metaphysical propositions, which therefore necessitates the validity of metaphysical inquiry. Notice, also that MDR makes a very explicit claim regarding truth theories. On MDR, a model is “true” insofar as it pragmatically agrees with our experience. This is a very extreme claim regarding the nature of truth, and one’s view of the nature of truth is a metaphysical position.

Let us now turn to another major contention of Mike’s:
 The laws of logic are a semantic framework for developing a consistent ontology of observable phenomena. It is impossible to know, as human beings, what (if anything) exists ‘beyond our experience’[…] How can we possibly have cognitive access to anything ‘beyond our experience’—given that our ability to comprehend it would, in fact, make it part of our experience?
 First, I never said that we can know what exists beyond our experience. Rather, I said that we can know that certain metaphysical principles will apply beyond our experience—if there is such a thing. Therefore, I never claimed that we can have cognitive access to anything that is not observably accessable to us. To reiterate, I only claimed that due to the necessity of certain metaphysical concepts and propositions, those same concepts and propositions cannot fail to be predicated of anything that exists—whether that be in our observable universe or anywhere else. To this claim Mike said the following:
 [Y]ou’re making the assumption that words like “beyond” or “everywhere” can be (and are) meaningful without the empirical framework from which their meaning is abstracted.  My objection here is that you’ve provided no reason whatsoever why that assumption is justified.
 Mike is wrong here. I claimed that necessary concepts like identity, and essence and propositions like the laws of logic can, and must be, predicated of any existing thing—not words like beyond. And on the contrary, I did provide reasons why they must apply—they are necessary. But, Mike won’t accept this, so let me illustrate with something non-empirical and nonspatiotemporal. (Note: Mike accused me of begging the question here by claiming that nonspatiotemporal things exist—he must have thought I meant supernatural, of which I didn’t.)

Take the set (III) which represents the number “three”. This set is a mere abstraction, that is, it has been abstracted from experience. Now, does that mean that the set itself is spatiotemporal, since it was abstracted from something spatiotemporal? No, the set (III) is merely a concept or a representation. And just because this set is a representation does not mean we cannot predicate properties of it. So, take the concept of identity. Can identity be predicated of the set (III)—which is to ask, is (III) identical (III)? Why, yes it is, and that satisfies the first law of logic. We can also say that (III) cannot be both (III) and (II), but only (III), which satisfies the other two laws of logic. So, what does this prove? It proves that the laws of logic, which are metaphysical, can be predicated of nonspatiotemporal subjects. And if this can happen, then metaphysics is not delegated to only apply to spatiotemporal subjects.

I know Mike will respond that the set (III) is not an actual existing “thing”, in that we cant go out and find the set (III) in the empirical world, and that it is only a representation of empirical things. There are two answers here: 1) even to claim such a thing defeats Mike’s overall position—the death of metaphysics—since such a claim is metaphysical, and 2) a representation or concept can and does still have properties. Take the concept of a unicorn as opposed to a phoenix. The only way to differentiate between these mythical creatures is for one concept to possess properties that the other doesn’t. (Whether these properties are manifest in the empirical is completely peripheral.) But, for anything to possess properties—even non-empirical things, as in this case—must mean the laws of logic apply. So, can metaphysics be launched beyond the realm of the observable? Yes, and therefore one has warrant for adhering to the necessity of metaphysics for anything that exists.

So, our position here is the same as last post. We have seen that metaphysics simply cannot be jettisoned, no matter how meaningless one thinks it is; it is impossible to do so. Second, we have seen that necessary metaphysical propositions are predicated of whatever, empirical or not. (But, even if only the former were warranted--which it is--this would eventually lead to the latter. For if metaphysics is a necessary endeavor, then we must recognize what metaphysics delegates as necessary. And this point alone makes Mike arguments--that metaphysical concepts cannot be applied outside the empirical--completely vacuous.) As philosophers say, metaphysics always buries its undertakers. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The death of metaphysics?

A topic that has been heavily discussed between Mike D, over at The Aunicornist, and I is the validity of utilizing metaphysics as an inquiry into reality. Mike believes that metaphysics is a useless endeavor which centers itself on superfluous concepts that are not necessary, and not even accurate, for describing reality. In my eyes Mike presents some of the best arguments against the use of metaphysics, though I do believe his arguments fall short in the end. Nevertheless, Mike has just posted a new article entitled The death of metaphysics, and I therefore felt obligated to continue this dialogue, which is centered on such a crucial topic, and point out the errors I believe Mike has made.

 I will begin where Mike seems to make some strange statements regarding his adherence to model-dependent realism:
[Model-dependent realism] essentially says that we do not have unfettered access to ‘absolute truth’ or complete knowledge of what is literally real. All we can do, then, is construct models with varying degrees of predictive reliability. Fussing over what is real is meaningless[.]

 First, let it be made clear that model-dependent realism is itself a metaphysical position. That is, by claiming that we don’t have unfettered access to absolute truth Mike is claiming something about the nature of reality. So, Mike is utilizing metaphysics…to debunk metaphysics.  Good luck with that.

 Second, I doubt any metaphysician has ever claimed that we can have complete knowledge of reality; we are not omniscient, indeed. But, this doesn’t mean that we cannot predicate things of reality with certainty—in fact, the laws of logic dictate that we must, on pain of contradiction. So surely we can know things of reality, and therefore we can say some things are literally real. It is literally real that reality exists (this is true even if Cartesian doubt is valid), that I exist, or that I am experiencing certain cognitive datum. Now, these might seem trivial propositions at best, but that’s not the point. They are only trivial because they are axiomatic and self-justifying. Yet, it is these very types of propositions that we can be absolutely certain conform to reality, and therefore the claim that we cannot know things absolutely true about reality is false.

Mike continues on his vindication of model-dependent realism:
Often, what we think is real turns out to be something else. Predictions often do not hold true; we’re subject to false memories and cognitive biases; and our own cognitive models of reality often fail us. This demonstrates that we do not have access to Absolute Truth, or complete knowledge of what is literally real.

 Mike’s argument here seems to lead to a completely different conclusion. If we’re subject to invalid models of reality, then the only way we could know this is if we can tell valid models of reality from invalid ones. For example, the only way we can tell when something is an optical illusion is if we know what that thing actually looks like. Similarly, to differentiate true models from false models can only happen if we can indeed arrive truth. Mike’s attempt to run away from (what he calls) “Absolute Truth” only pulls the rug out from underneath him.

 Moreover, remember that Mike here is still predicating this epistemological framework of reality. That is, he is saying that it is true that model-dependent realism is a correct epistemological description of reality. Notice the problem?

 Mike then articulates what he believes to be a key problem with metaphysical inquiry:
The problem with this type of thought is that the very semantic framework that is used to construct metaphysical propositions and derive their conclusions are fully dependent on both our physical embodiment and our empirical experience.

This statement puzzles me, because a majority of metaphysical inquiry deals with contingent a posteriori inquiry; that is, ontological truths which can only be predicated of our observed universe. Open any metaphysics textbook and you’ll see that the breadth of topics covered are topics that are only relevant to our observable reality. So, why is Mike getting all worked up by the fact that metaphysics abstracts concepts from the observed and uses them to describe the very same observable reality? The answer is that Mike only gets worked up when these metaphysical inquiries are labeled as “necessary” and are projected beyond the limits of our experience:
[I]t is meaningless to use words that describe spatiotemporal relationships without the context of spatiotemporality[…] This demonstrates that these sorts of metaphysical propositions are nonsensical.

First, it is not nonsensical. In fact, physicists do this all the time. Physicists, in order to best make sense of certain states of the universe, invoke such spatiotemporal language even where such language is out of context. They constantly talk about what it would be like inside a black hole, or what characterizes a singularity, or the weirdness of the quantum world, even though the language employed doesn’t exactly get it right. But, does anyone claim that what these physicists are saying is therefore nonsensical and meaningless?

 Second, and more importantly, most concepts utilized by metaphysicians that are seen as necessary--and therefore must apply anywhere and everywhere--are concepts that do not only have their context in spatiotemporality. Take the crucial concept of identity. Was this concept abstracted from experience? You betcha. But, can it only be predicated of things measurable in space-time? Not at all. Identity is, and must be, predicated of propositions, concepts, meanings, and mathematical concepts, all of which are not spatiotemporal.

 Moreover, what’s important is not just that concepts like identity can be applied anywhere—whether to things in space-time or not—but that they must be applied everywhere on pain of contradiction. That is to say, if one were to attempt to deny (anywhere) a necessary existent like identity, they would defeat themselves logically. A perfect example of this is the first law of logic. Try to deny such a law and you’ll find yourself entangled in self-refutation. And this means that such a proposition cannot fail to be predicated anywhere--for the same thing would happen. Thus stated, we see that metaphysics can, and must, reach beyond the bounds of our experience.

 Mike continues:
We can thus avoid the confusion of these metaphysical propositions simply by pointing out that there is no reason to think that the words used to construct such propositions are meaningful outside of the empirical context from which their meaning is abstracted in the first place.

On the contrary, we have seen that metaphysical concepts and propositions need not be projected “outside” the universe in order for them to be projected of things (e.g. mathematical concepts and propositions) outside of the empirical. And with that in hand we have warrant for applying such metaphysics outside the bounds of our immediate experience.

 We inferred a number of things here: 1) One’s own attempt to bury metaphysics necessitated the use of metaphysics, thereby rendering such a position self-defeating; 2) Mike seems to not understand that the type of metaphysics that he disdains so much does not even constitute the majority of metaphysical focal points, which means that his campaign against metaphysics is misdirected; and 3) metaphysics can and must, contrary to Mike, be projected to realms beyond our observable experience.

 So, the death of metaphysics? I think not. In the words of the late E.J. Lowe: [Metaphysics] is one in which no rational being can avoid engaging in at least some of the time. We are all metaphysicians whether we like it or not.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why something rather than nothing? Part I

I’m beginning a series of posts centered on the age old existential philosophical question of “Why something exists, as opposed to nothing at all?”  I intend to survey many (different) naturalistic answers to this question, and, since I’m obviously not a naturalist, demonstrate why I believe they fall short.

I have decided to begin with the answer that is most wrong-headed and nonsensical. Unfortunately, this is a common response among naturalists and scientists today, and has been promulgated, as of late, by some of the best known contemporary naturalists. Here is a sample of common answers that lie in the same vein:
“[Nothing] should perhaps be better termed as a ‘void,’ which is what you get when you apply quantum theory to space-time itself. It’s about as nothing as nothing can be. This void can be described mathematically. It has an explicit wave function. This void is the quantum gravity equivalent of the quantum vacuum in quantum field theory.”

"[E]mpty space, which for many people is a good first example of nothing, is actually unstable. Quantum mechanics will allow particles to suddenly pop out of nothing and it doesn't violate any laws of physics. Just the known laws of quantum mechanics and relativity can produce 400 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars and then beyond that it turns out when you apply quantum mechanics to gravity, space itself can arise from nothing, as can time. It seems impossible but it’s completely possible and what is amazing to me is to be asked what would be the characteristics of a universe that came from nothing by laws of physics. It would be precisely the characteristics of the universe we measure."

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

These answers were promulgated by physicists Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking respectively, and they all suffer from the same problem: namely, what they’re describing is not nothing. Nothing is, simply, complete non-existence, that is, the absence of anything, at all. But, according to these scientists, “nothing” (pictured at left) is unstable, empty space, governed by the laws of gravity and quantum mechanics, and has a wave function. This definition seems to satisfy these physicists because “[i]t’s about as nothing as nothing can be.”

 However, we’re not looking for as close a definition of nothing that physics can provide, rather, we’re looking for absolute nothingness. The question is why something exists rather than nothing, not why something exists rather than empty space governed by the laws of physics.

 That being said, even if we granted them their definition, they have still failed to answer the question. For the laws of physics that they have appealed to—e.g. the laws of gravity, quantum mechanics, and relativity—do not, and cannot, explain the emergence of existence. Why? Because laws only describe the nature of what already exists. The law of gravity only describes how matter behaves at certain parts of the universe. Similarly, the laws of quantum mechanics only describe how sub-atomic particles behave. Notice that you must first have matter and sub-atomic particles in order for these laws to be binding. So, obviously, you must have something before physical laws can even begin to impart explanation.

 The physicists, then, have missed the mark. They cannot even use correct semantics involved in this discussion, and even if they did, their answers presuppose the very concept they’re attempting to account for.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fundamentalism and a primitive god

Most individuals that have kept up with the current trend of “new” atheism are quite familiar with the names Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens et al. Now, while I vigorously disagree with much—mostly on the philosophical side—that these individuals have published, I do, occasionally, find myself agreeing with a few of their insights. And one of these insights that I believe illuminates a hint of truth is Richard Dawkins’ famous jab at the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Ouch. Now, while I wouldn’t agree with Dawkins that this is the only, or even the dominant, portrait of God painted by the Old Testament, I would agree that this is a version of God that is peppered throughout the Bible. Moreover, this barbaric rendering of God is not restricted to purely moral acts; it reaches to the over-all cultural viewpoint that the ancients had of the divine. The Bible (though, admittedly, mostly the Old Testament) many times paints a picture of God that one finds difficult not to describe as primitive:
We’re told that God had a garden that he used to walk through. That in that garden he planted a tree that literally and intrinsically contained the knowledge of good and evil. That he built a firmament (that is, a solid clear dome) above the earth. That he punished all of humanity for the sins of one couple. That he physically wrestled with a human being. That he was not competent enough to exercise his will for humanity and, therefore, drowned all life he had created to start his divine plan all over again. That he ordered the massacre of hundreds of men, women, children and animals. That he fought a fire-breathing sea dragon with multiple heads. Etc etc.

Now, it seems quite plausible to attribute such predications of God to the primitiveness of the Israelites. All the above descriptions make sense as promulgations of a society surrounded by barbaric ancient Near Eastern cultures. These are the cultures that believed that every single event was caused by its own respective god; the cultures that believed that their own gods could be manifest in inanimate objects (i.e. idols); the cultures that believed that the gods could be manipulated and deceived by the actions and rituals of humans; the cultures that believed that the gods were just like humans except to a higher degree of being; and that’s why they could make mistakes, or feel anger or regret, and even eat.  Thus stated, Why would we expect the Israelites not to mimic and, least of all, be greatly affected by the cultures that influenced them and gave rise to them in the first place!

This is nothing to shy away from. The Israelites wrote Hebrew scripture, and the Israelites were, by all means and even by the Bible’s own standards, far short of sophisticated. Through the Israelites worldview we see the evolution, growth, and the first-fruits of the formulation of orthodox theology; but it should be observed that this process was very long and did not always progress in a straight line. The picture of God that we hold today did not emerge overnight through some sort of once-and-for-all revelation. Rather, it is a picture that took hundreds of years to formulate. A picture that was argued about; a picture that was questioned; a picture that was constantly revised and expanded; a picture that was immature and only progressed towards maturity; a picture that was stunted by our own imaginative shortcomings as human beings; and a picture that, many times, mirrored our own faults rather than Gods.
This picture of God evolved throughout the Bible. It illuminates our struggle as finite human beings to grasp and understand the divine. I maintain that it reflects our own shortcomings, and not God’s.

Now, by the time one closes the Bible they are left with an impression of God that is infinitely greater than the above primitive renderings. One is left with a God that is spirit; a God that is love itself; a God that is forgiving and desires that all reconcile themselves to Him; a God that does not admonish evil and wrong-doing; a God who is a loving father who welcomes all people into His kingdom no matter their past, present, race, ethnicity, or gender. In short: it is the God Jesus served and revealed to the disciples. Now, this is not to say that the Old Testament does not contain many of the aforementioned impressions as well. It surely does. But while these impressions are only scattered in the Old Testament, they are fully culminated in the later writings of scripture—though I would argue that even the later writings of scripture still contain pictures of God that we should regard as adolescent.
So, why should one get so upset at Dawkins’ remark above? His comment is not wholly true, but it does speak with some forceful insight. Why should this trouble us as Christians? Why can we not recognize and take possession of the primitive cultures and beliefs whereby our current picture of God had its genesis? The reason is this: fundamentalist formulations of scripture. To one that holds to the inerrant and one-dimensional truth of scripture, admitting any sort of erroneous pictures of God into the Bible is the worst sin one could commit. For the fundamentalist, all portraits of God in the Bible are valid portraits, and any seemingly contradictory or primitive renderings of God are attributable only to our own finite shortcomings—and yet they hold that these shortcomings could not have influenced the very same human beings who formed such portraits of God in scripture! Their Bible is a static bible; a bible with no room for growth of the understanding of the divine. For them, the God that walks in a garden and drowns the whole human race is the same God that is spirit and admonishes us not to repay evil for evil.

Has any idea ever seemed so contrary to reason? Is it any wonder that Christians by the dozens are losing the faith they grew up with? Is it any wonder why atheists mock and ridicule Christians? These fundamentalists Christians are my brothers and sisters, yes; but, they are making a mockery of the faith that I take so seriously. They have turned the beauty of Christianity into a primitive superstitious Bronze Age fable; and I maintain that as long as their adolescent picture of God is paraded around, Christianity will continue to lose adherents.
The portrait of God that we as humans expound to ourselves will never capture the true majesty of God. Even our modern conception of God must be considered primitive compared to His actual being. Our ideas of God have evolved and will continue to evolve. To turn to any one portrait of God and regard that as the final insight into God’s nature is, simply, spiritual immaturity and intellectual laziness. The Bible might be God’s word, but it is not, by all means, his final word.