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Atheist Becomes Theist


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#1 Hyperion

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Posted 13 December 2004 - 09:18 PM

This is quite interesting and I thought well worth the time to read...

Interview


It is introduced thus:

Dear Friends:

The following is an exclusive interview that will be published in the Winter 2004 issue of “Philosophia Christi” the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (www.biola.edu/philchristi). “Philosophia Christi” is one of the top circulating philosophy of religion journals in the world and we are pleased to offer up the definitive interview on this breaking story of global interest.

Prof. Antony Flew, 81 years old, is a legendary British philosopher and atheist and has been an icon and champion for unbelievers for decades. His change of mind is significant news, not only about his personal journey, but also about the persuasive power of the arguments modern theists have been using to challenge atheistic naturalism.

The interviewer is Dr. Gary Habermas, a prolific philosopher and historian from Liberty University who has debated Flew several times. They have maintained a friendship despite their years of disagreement on the existence of God.

Sincerely,
Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D.
Professor of Comparative Religion, Biola University
Editor, “Philosophia Christi”


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#2 Skeptic

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 02:23 AM

Hyperion

I believe Anthony Flew is the guy Dan Barker was waving to as they passed each other, going in opposite directions... :ROFL:

#3 Skeptic

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 03:44 AM

I would summarise Flew's beliefs as follows:

He believes in an Aristotlean notion of God, with "no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings". He admits to be open, but not very enthusiastic to the possibility of revelation.

He thinks Christian doctrine instills a laudable sense of morality in the youth and can associate with practicing religion for the common good. "I believe that Hume thought that the institution of religious belief could be, and in his day and place was, socially beneficial. I, too, having been brought up as a Methodist, have always been aware of this possible and in many times and places actual benefit of objective religious instruction."

It seems that the morality arguments of C.S. Lewis impresses Flew least and the Intelligent Design arguments, especially those that focus on "fine tuning of the universe" and "big bang cosmology" arguments impress him most. Consistent with what Michael Shermer's research into people's reasons for believing reveals, Flew focusses on citing "scientific" arguments, which for him seems to confirm Paley's watchmaker analogy, as the reason for his conversion, whilst de-emphasising "moral/emotional" ones.


It is clear that Habermas, the interviewer, would like to think that, as the case was with C.S. Lewis, Flew's newfound theism is a precursor to becoming a Christian, but Flew puts a damper on this idea: "I still hope and believe there’s no possibility of an afterlife", declaring that he still has a huge problem with the notion of "the inflicting of infinite and everlasting penalties for finite and temporal offences, or of their affliction upon creatures for offences which their Creator makes them freely choose to commit." This, together with the fact that the God Flew believes in is one that produces "the occurrence of massive undeniable and undenied evils in that universe" is the reason Flew thinks it unlikely he will ever become a Christian: "I think it’s very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form: regular religious practice perhaps but without belief. If I wanted any sort of future life I should become a Jehovah’s Witness."

I read the interview with obvious interest and had a good chuckle at Flew's somewhat dry sense of humour. I think it remains to be seen what the significance of this "conversion" of Flew will be in future. :popcorn:

#4 Hyperion

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 08:26 AM

I would summarise Flew's beliefs as follows:

Thanks for your comments Skeptic. I thought you'd likely have something to say. I am curious as to what DJP and Mordecai think of the interview too.

He thinks Christian doctrine instills a laudable sense of morality in the youth and can associate with practicing religion for the common good.

OTOH he was quite scathing about Islam!

It is clear that Habermas, the interviewer, would like to think that, as the case was with C.S. Lewis, Flew's newfound theism is a precursor to becoming a Christian, but Flew puts a damper on this idea: "I still hope and believe there’s no possibility of an afterlife", declaring that he still has a huge problem with the notion of "the inflicting of infinite and everlasting penalties for finite and temporal offences, or of their affliction upon creatures for offences which their Creator makes them freely choose to commit." This, together with the fact that the God Flew believes in is one that produces "the occurrence of massive undeniable and undenied evils in that universe" is the reason Flew thinks it unlikely he will ever become a Christian: "I think it’s very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form...

Hmmm, like perhaps a Christadelphian! ;)

At least he would like the shared revulsion we have of eteral torment in hell for the wicked.

But if he does decide to continue onto being a Christian, he had better hurry up. He may not have another 81 years!

I read the interview with obvious interest and had a good chuckle at Flew's somewhat dry sense of humour. I think it remains to be seen what the significance of this "conversion" of Flew will be in future.  :popcorn:

Agreed. I was only vaguely aware of Flew before, but doing a google on his name, he appears to be quite well known in some circles.

Edited by Hyperion, 14 December 2004 - 10:44 AM.

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." (1 Tim 1:15)
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#5 Guest_Colter_*

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 10:09 AM

This conversion gives me hope that maybe one day 50 years from now a Chritadelphian will be so board reading the bible over and over that he or she will pick up a Urantia Book and read the whole thing :book: all the while remarking oh...oh....WOW now I know what Colter was trying in vain to tell us. Holy macaroni and cheese, I get it. Sing praises to the most high eternal God and his Eternal Son. The bible illuminated many time s over! :harp:

ps: I can't hold my breath for fity years.

#6 Skeptic

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 01:38 AM

Hyperion

Thanks for your comments Skeptic. I thought you'd likely have something to say. I am curious as to what DJP and Mordecai think of the interview too.


Thanks. :coffee: So am I.

<air of expectation> DJP? Mordecai? :popcorn:

OTOH he was quite scathing about Islam!


Yep, I agree with his comments about the stupidity of arranging the Quranic suras in order of lenght, rather than some coherant account that you can read like a story. But while I agree with Flew that the Bible can be read and appreciated on a purely literary level, I find it interesting that he singles out the content of the Quaran as contradictory to the introductory preface of every sura, namely: "...the words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Yet there are references to Hell on at least 255 of the 669 pages of Arberry’s rendering of the Qur’an34 and quite often pages have two such references.", but he refrains from leveling the same criticism at the Bible. (Numbers 25:4)

Hmmm, like perhaps a Christadelphian! ;)


Yes, I have a feeling he is an all or nothing guy when it comes to the Bible: either the whole Bible is true or it isn't.

At least he would like the shared revulsion we have of eteral torment in hell for the wicked.


I agree.

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 03:18 AM

Skeptic, what are your views on why these two men were led by their studies into different directions?

#8 Skeptic

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 04:05 AM

The following is a short intro to Dan Barker, the minister who became an atheist:

Dan was born in 1949, raised in southern California, and has lived in Madison, Wisconsin since 1985. He has composed more than 200 songs that have been published and/or recorded, working extensively with children's author Joy Berry on children's educational materials. He has worked as a computer programmer, designing and installing software for railroad dispatchers, and currently maintains the Foundation's computer system.

Dan plays professional piano at clubs and hotels, in jazz combos, and at weddings and receptions. He regularly gives free concerts to nursing homes and retirement homes, sponsored by Freethought Today.

Dan speaks fluent Spanish and is studying Russian. He belongs to a number of High-IQ societies, including The Prometheus Society, with an entrance requirement at the 99.997th percentile, and plays in chess tournaments. He is a member of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indian) Tribe of Native Americans, and in 1991 edited and published Paradise Remembered, a collection of his Grandfather's stories as a Lenape boy in Indian Territory.

Dan married Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor in 1987 at a feminist/freethought ceremony at Freethought Hall in Sauk City, Wisconsin. Dan has five children and seven grandchildren.


and:

Dan Barker
Minister Turned Atheist



Christian Background
Dan became a teenage evangelist at age 15. At 16 he was choir librarian for faith-healer Kathryn Kuhlman's Los Angeles appearances. He received a degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry by the Standard Community Church, California, in 1975. He served as associate pastor at a Friend's (Quaker) Church, an Assembly of God, and an independent Charismatic church. Dan was a Protestant missionary in Mexico for a total of two years.

Dan maintained a touring musical ministry for 17 years, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism. An accomplished pianist, record producer, arranger and songwriter, he worked with Christian music companies such as Manna Music and Word Music. For many years, Dan wrote and produced the annual "Mini Musicale" for Gospel Light Publications' Vacation Bible School curriculum.

For more than a decade, Dan was accompanist, arranger, and record producer for Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian singer in the Spanish-speaking world. He accompanied on the piano such Christian personalities as Pat Boone, Jimmy Roberts (of the Lawrence Welk Show), and gospel songwriter Audrey Meier, and was a regular guest on Southern California's "Praise The Lord" TV show (Spanish). One of Dan's Christian songs, "There Is One," was performed by Rev. Robert Schuller's television choir on the "Hour of Power" broadcast. To this day, he receives royalties from his popular children's Christian musicals, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (1977), and "His Fleece Was White As Snow" (1978), both published by Manna Music and performed in many countries.

Atheist Background
Following five years of reading, Dan gradually outgrew his religious beliefs. "If I had limited myself to Christian authors, I'd still be a Christian today," Dan says. "I just lost faith in faith." He announced his atheism publicly in January, 1984.

Dan has been a staff member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation since 1987, and wrote a regular column for Freethought Today, the Foundation's newspaper. Dan's letters and opinion columns on state/church separation have been printed in many newspapers across the country. He is featured in the Foundation's 60-second TV/radio commercial.


Comparing this with Flew's background:

NEW YORK Dec 9, 2004 — A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.

This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Press.

Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic www.infidels.org Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."

Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.

Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.


...it would seem that these men are both intelligent and believed passionately in their respective standpoints from a very young age (in both cases, as young as the age of 15). Nothing in their histories seemed to me to bestow the one with more merit than the other when it comes to judging who came to the "right" conclusion.

My view is that the profound nature of the question of whether God exists, is such that intelligent people can be found on both sides of the debate, defending their stance with equal passion. No-one who has ever seriously considered the question of God's existence can honestly say it is clear cut either way. Whichever stance you hold, there is always some degree of doubt present. Otherwise all the clever people would have been in agreement and the only ones to disagree would have been the "stupid" ones.

If I had to pick only one major obstacle standing in the way of faith for me, it would have to be the problem of evil. I do not equate existence with good and non-existence with bad (a topic Flew touches on cursorily in the intervirew). So the mere fact that things exist, even if it points to a creator, does not for me imply a "good creator". So for me personally it is therefore interesting to note that for both these guys, even though they are moving in "opposite" directions, the problem of evil has a very significant influence on their thinking.

Had Flew been able to convincingly address the problem of evil, then I would have probably sat up and paid attention, but being very skeptical of ID arguments myself, I find that am not really that impressed by the reasons for his new opinion. BTW I don't find his deist position at all unreasonable, but to me there is a huge chasm between that and believing in a God with definable attributes, especially the attribute of "good" and "just". I guess this means I still have a long way to travel and a lot to learn along the way.

:popcorn:

Edited by Skeptic, 15 December 2004 - 04:14 AM.


#9 Skeptic

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 04:21 AM

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."


I don't think Flew's position on God as stated above, resembles anything close to Christian yet. :eek:

#10 Fortigurn

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 04:25 AM

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."


I don't think Flew's position on God as stated above, resembles anything close to Christian yet. :eek:

I'm not actually interested in whether or not he's a Christian, I'm trying to come to an understanding of the shift of his mindset, and what caused it.

#11 Skeptic

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 06:04 AM

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."


I don't think Flew's position on God as stated above, resembles anything close to Christian yet. :eek:

I'm not actually interested in whether or not he's a Christian, I'm trying to come to an understanding of the shift of his mindset, and what caused it.

He reckons over the last number of years Intelligent Design theorists have come up with arguments not available in the days of Russel et al. which are so convincing that his creed of "always follow the evidence, no matter where it leads", has compelled him to make the shift.

It seems then to be due to a combination of his intellectual honesty (after this many years he must surely have been experiencing some form of "escalation of commitment" regarding his atheist views) and his perception that current arguments pro-ID are now much more compelling than when he decided to become and atheist at the age of 15.

Of course, his being a deist is much closer to being a Christian than being an atheist, so there's hope for him yet. :bye:

#12 Fortigurn

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 08:47 AM

Thanks Skeptic. Out of the entire article, this was as close as I could get to information about what specifically influenced him, and the personal significance of his change of thought:

HABERMAS: You very kindly noted that our debates and discussions had influenced your move in the direction of theism.11 You mentioned that this initial influence contributed in part to your comment that naturalistic efforts have never succeeded in producing “a plausible conjecture as to how any of these complex molecules might have evolved from simple entities. 

Then in your recently rewritten introduction to the forthcoming edition of your classic volume God and Philosophy, you say that the original version of that book is now obsolete. You mention a number of trends in theistic argumentation that you find convincing, like big bang cosmology, fine tuning and Intelligent Design arguments. Which arguments for God’s existence did you find most persuasive?

FLEW: I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.

HABERMAS: So you like arguments such as those that proceed from big bang cosmology and fine tuning arguments?

FLEW: Yes.

[...]

HABERMAS: So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the
scientific forms of teleology?

FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account.

Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.

HABERMAS: As I recall, you also refer to this in the new introduction to your God and Philosophy.

FLEW: Yes, I do; or, since the book has not yet been published, I will!

HABERMAS: Since you affirm Aristotle’s concept of God, do you think we can also affirm Aristotle’s implications that the First Cause hence knows all things?

FLEW: I suppose we should say this. I’m not at all sure what one should think concerning some of these very fundamental issues. There does seem to be a reason for a First Cause, but I’m not at all sure how much we have to explain here. What idea of God is necessary to provide an explanation of the existence of the universe and all which is in it?

HABERMAS: If God is the First Cause, what about omniscience, or omnipotence?

FLEW: Well, the First Cause, if there was a First Cause, has very clearly produced everything that is going on. I suppose that does imply creation “in the beginning.”


I find all of that very interesting. I may purchase his book. :book:

I find the nexus for both Flew and Barker is the problem of evil. I also see this as extremely significant. What do you think?

#13 scitsofreaky_*

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Posted 23 December 2004 - 01:37 AM

HABERMAS: Once you mentioned to me that your view might be called Deism. Do you think that would be a fair designation?

FLEW: Yes, absolutely right. What Deists, such as the Mr. Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, believed was that, while reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.


Score one for the deists. :P

#14 Skeptic

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Posted 17 January 2005 - 08:52 AM

I find the nexus for both Flew and Barker is the problem of evil. I also see this as extremely significant. What do you think?

Yes, if they could finds some common ground on the interpretation of the problem of evil, I believe they could make some headway.

Also see my post here.

#15 Fortigurn

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Posted 17 January 2005 - 09:13 AM

I find the nexus for both Flew and Barker is the problem of evil.  I also see this as extremely significant.  What do you think?

Yes, if they could finds some common ground on the interpretation of the problem of evil, I believe they could make some headway.

Also see my post here.

:thank:

#16 mordecai_*

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 10:46 PM

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."


I don't think Flew's position on God as stated above, resembles anything close to Christian yet. :eek:

But he is absolutely correct, the Abrahamic god acts like a despot and barbarian. The "justice" meted out by such gods is totally counter intuitive and not logical in any sense of the word. God foreknew everything and is the ultimate cause of all evil and all our choices by proxy regardless of our 'free will' since he is in control of the genetics and biology and social and other environments/nations/geography we all end up in and influence us and 'choose for us' from birth, there are tonnes of people who have never heard of the christian god nor christianity, but the bible says they die like animals. So how is that 'just'? It isn't at all, it doesn't make any sense for an omnipotent god to exclude anyone the opportunity based on ignorant egotism of the biblical god.

We can't even know which god is real and which god isn't, most people have had their own gods throughout history without any compelling evidence that they are even worshipping the correct one. There is no standard.

I am forced to eat other animals and plant life to live because 'thats the way I was made', I am not self-sufficient being, I'm an animal ingrate dependent on other dead animals and plants for sustainment. Thats a barbaricly designed system no matter how you slice it. Technology has made life and procurement of food and shelter for all infinitely more accessable to all peoples on the earth, where was this design and technology hundreds and thousands of years ago? Where was the scientific knowledge from these gods for our benefit to alleviate the very causes of sin? Thats right: No where, we had to invent them by ourselves because the revealed gods people worship dont exist.

I did not choose to be born, someone else chose that for me, so how am I responsible for any choice after the fact that I didn't choose be born? I am co-erced by survival instincts and fear of death to live and adapt to any environment that I come into contact with and ensures my survival, the christian god totally strips people of their humanity and makes them into androngenous automatons and extensions of his robotic and "Jekylle and Hyde" type will at the ressurrection. Also, No sex? No thanks.

Then there's the problem of eternal boredom. After having seen and experienced god for an eternity, what makes you think you'll be able to endure another monotonous day? It's being transformed into a robot that can only experience what his master made him to experience so that he can never change.

#17 scitsofreaky_*

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 11:38 PM

I doubt flew will turn christian, even if he lived forever (well, I guess especially if he lived forever).
I would also like to point out that an all powerful/knowing God would have no reason to be jealous. Also, isn't jealousy a sin?

#18 Adanac

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 11:43 PM

I would also like to point out that an all powerful/knowing God would have no reason to be jealous.

So you think God is fine with people worshipping false gods when he knows it will lead them to destruction?

Also, isn't jealousy a sin?


Not in the context of God's jealousy, no.

#19 scitsofreaky_*

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 12:16 AM

The christian/-delphian God sure has a problem, but that is probably because He seems so insecure and in need of constant praise. Besides, jealousy doesn't seem to be linked to Him caring if it leads people to destruction, but the gratification described in the previous sentence.

Why is "God's jealousy" different?

#20 Adanac

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 12:37 AM

The christian/-delphian God sure has a problem, but that is probably because He seems so insecure and in need of constant praise.

I'm afraid you're just showing your ignorance of the Scriptures with this comment.

If you took the time to read what the Bible says you wouldn't say something like that.

God seeks us to worship and obey him not out of selfish pride but because it's good for us.

Besides, jealousy doesn't seem to be linked to Him caring if it leads people to destruction, but the gratification described in the previous sentence.


God is not a man who needs gratification. He is a loving father who knows what is best for us and he hates it when we turn away from him.

Why is "God's jealousy" different?


Because it is right we worship him.




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