Monday, 6 June 2016

Debating Pantheism and Christianity - Seth Dunn's Discussion Greek Teacher Jordan

This was quite an interesting discussion. I recommend this for Muslims who are beginning to interact with folk of a Pantheistic worldview whilst simultaneously being familiar with Christian apologetics. That may not be too many Muslims. It will help you to understand this philosophy and assist in arguing against it. As a Muslim, in this discussion I found myself agreeing with the Christian on a few points

Jordan is a former Christian who knows the Bible well and is a scholar/teacher of Biblical Greek (Koine Greek). As far as I recall, he left Christianity and is now a Deistic Pantheist. Interestingly enough, Pantheism is a word which comes from Greek, pan and theos, which refers to 'all is God'.

Seth Dunn represented the Christian Biblical worldview. He has a seminary education in Christianity.

I have added some commentary and discussion points below this debate video.

Deistic Pantheist's formulate their own religion?

It is quite apparent Jordan is literally formulating his own religion as he goes along - he takes from religious texts selectively. Basically, whatever appeals to his reasoning/emotions  he accepts it. At times he was taking from the Hindu scriptures in this discussion.

Jordan, whilst discussing the topic of possible objections to Pantheism said most of them will be emotional as he doesn't use a particular text/scripture. This is a fascinating point because if you invert it, it means (for those Pantheists who don't rely on a Scripture i.e. Jordan) most of their arguments for Pantheism will also be emotional.

Coming to a particular worldview for emotional reasons is not the best way to do one's theology.

Problem of Cosmology in Pantheism

This is an interesting problem for the Pantheist worldview. We know, the Universe had a beginning (this is deduced by the observation that the Universe is expanding) while Pantheists believe "All is God". Thus, if they believe God is immutable how can they believe God is the everything we see as God is eternal while the material universe we observe is not eternal?

Biblical inerrancy

Jordan brought up the longer ending of Mark and the pericope adulterae in the Gospels (Mark and John respectively) being a big issue for him whilst he was a Christian. I suppose Luke 23:34 would have posed similar problems for Jordan back then.

I don't think Seth answers this well. He misses the real point behind the objection. Seth draws parallels between Jordan's argument and KJV Onlyists to dismiss the argument. That doesn't work. There are real issues which come to the fore when we think about the documented additions in the Biblical text.

How can Seth be sure other parts aren't additions waiting to be uncovered via new MSS discoveries?

What of the Biblical Christians prior to the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus by Dr Von Tischendorf in the 1800s? Weren't those Christians claiming to have the Holy Spirit yet believing in those two chunks Jordan brought up to be theopneustos (God breathed?)

And what about the other variants - the footnotes in Seth's Bible aren't considered to be Non-Biblical. Rather, conservative Christians consider them to be possible readings when it comes to the autographs. However, what if we have further discoveries which lead to more footnotes being added to accommodate a new reading? Who knows, perhaps John 1:1 will be found to have variants or even to be a complete addition in the future? There are some sceptical scholars who do suspect John 1:1-18 is not authentic to the autograph, they obviously base this on internal evidence rather than manuscript evidence but what if there is a new MS find to reflect this in the future?

These are huge problems for Seth and other Biblical Christians

Problem of evil (theodicy) in Pantheism and Christianity (and Islam)

Historically, this has been a talking point amongst folk of every worldview. I think this is a bigger problem for Pantheists than Christians (or Muslims) when we consider moral evil. There are two types of problems; moral and natural. In this case, moral is the one we is the focus. It is considered moral evil when humans commit reprehensible acts such as murder, rape, theft etc.

For the Pantheist, as Seth touched upon, it is God committing the evil act and being the victim of the evil act simultaneously.

Old Testament violence

Jordan experienced difficulties with Samuel 15:2-3 whilst he was a Christian. This passage from the Hebrew Bible (OT) is said to be an instruction from God via Samuel to Saul. It instructs the killing of women and children amongst others.

The thought of children being put to death will elicit emotions in any human with a heart. Jordan considered this part of the OT to be a likely addition to the text as he had moved away from Biblical inerrancy.

I thought Seth Dunn did well to raise the point to Jordan that he cannot have a moral objection to this story if he operates from a Pantheistic pradigm. Pantheism would have no problem with 1 Samuel 15 as Pantheism comes with the belief that God rapes and kills every time a murder/rape is carried out (the person carrying out the crime is said to have God inside them).

Also the idea of a Pantheist telling somebody what they did is not moral is problematic as they believe all is God.

Concluding remarks

I thought the dialogue was conducted fairly and in the spirit of friendship. I think dialogues like these will help us all to understand different worldviews and will help people with their intellectual and spiritual growth.

For me, I am surprised Jordan left the Abrahamic tradition just because of problems with the inerrancy of the Bible.

Why did he not explore Islam? Dr Jerald Dirks had a similar experience to Jordan during his studies of the NT, he came to Islam - I'd like Jordan to take the time to listen to Dr Dirk's story. Islam teaches there were Scriptures given to Moses and Jesus but these Scriptures are now corrupted thus the Hebrew Bible and the NT are not considered reliable. Islam also teaches Jesus was not God but rather a Prophet of God. This is all very interesting to somebody who follows modern day historical Jesus studies and NT textual criticism as these disciplines point to these Islamic teachings. Textual critics don't consider the text of the NT to be reliable nor authorised. Scholars like Bart Ehrman openly state Jesus would have taught himself to be a Prophet (not divine).

Some further discussion topics for our Pantheistic friends:

 - Idolatry and Pantheism. Would Pantheists not accept the worship of anything in nature as they believe whatever they are worshipping is God?

 - The universe had a beginning. The Pantheist, if consistent with the idea that God is the universe, would be left with the problem of whether God (too) has a beginning. Muslims and Christians don't have this problem as we believe God is eternal.

 - How can a Pantheist not believe in a moral law from God if there's evil? If there's an evil that means there's good. If there's good that means we have a moral law. If we have a moral law that means it can only come from God. Would this not be an argument for divine revelation from God?

 - Truth by its nature is exclusive. For example, if I say we live on Mars and you say we live on Earth, both of us cannot be right. The same applies for religious belief. However, for the Pantheist there's an added difficulty as they believe everybody is God. How can they believe God is the Christian, Muslim and the Deistic Pantheist while all three have radically different views - all three cannot be correct. For the Pantheist, God is part of this lack of truth as God is believed to be the untruthful/incorrect one too. There's a problem!

- Pantheism is not monolithic. There's a very basic belief that is common to all Pantheists but after that there are divisions. It really is the individual or a collective of individuals deciding what to believe:

At its most general, pantheism may be understood positively as the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.

However, given the complex and contested nature of the concepts involved, there is insufficient consensus among philosophers to permit the construction of any more detailed definition not open to serious objection from some quarter or other. Moreover, the label is a controversial one, where strong desires either to appropriate or to reject it often serve only to obscure the actual issues, and it would be a sad irony if pantheism revealed itself to be most like a traditional religion in its sectarian disputes over just what counts as ‘true pantheism.’ Therefore pantheism should not be thought of as a single codifiable position. [Pantheism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

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