Bart Ehrman Has a Change of Heart image

Bart Ehrman Has a Change of Heart

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Exactly nine years ago to the day, in the very first week of this blog, I referred to Bart Ehrman as the New Testament scholar most likely to be cited by atheists. Much of his reputation has been built on critiques of Christian (and particularly evangelical) beliefs. Within the last few days, however, he has posted something which—while not arguing for the existence of a personal God, let alone the Christian God—suggests a significant change of perspective. The argument he makes won’t sound controversial to most of us, and indeed would probably seem very obvious. But it is well stated, and coming from Ehrman, it is an interesting development:

So here is my “duh” moment. A rock has no way of recognizing that an animate object such as a dandelion exists. A dandelion has no way of recognizing that a panther exists. Now it gets a bit tricky. A panther has no way of recognizing that a superior intelligence exists. Yes, a panther does recognize in some instinctual sense that there are things out there to look out for. But it has no way of realizing that there are people who can engineer sky scrapers, or split atoms, or reconstruct the history of Rome. It simply is not in its purview ...

The PROBLEM is that we humans always imagine we are the pinnacle of existence. We’ve always thought that. That’s why we have no trouble killing other things to satisfy our needs. I’m not opposed to that in every instance: every time I eat a meal or scratch my arm (killing who knows how many microbes) I do that. But it has always led to some rather enormous problems, from massive destruction of others in war to, now, our rather determined efforts to destroy our planet ...

This idea that we ourselves are all-important has ironically crept out of our religion into our secular epistemology. If we are the top of all existence, then there must be nothing above us. And so we can use our brains to figure out everything else that exists. In principle, our brains can figure out *everything*.

My revelatory moment showed me with graphic clarity that that just isn’t true, on epistemological grounds. Who says we’re the pinnacle? If quartz stone and maple trees and slugs could think, they would think *they* were the pinnacle – they wouldn’t have the capacity to imagine a Stephen Hawking or a Steve Jobs or a Frank Lloyd Wright. But they can’t imagine something higher than them. So what make us think we would have the capacity to imagine whatever it is that is above *us* in the pecking order? Frankly, it’s just human arrogance. Pure hubris. And I must say, looking at the world today, I’m not a huge fan of human arrogance and hubris. It’s not doing too well for us ...

I’m not at all advocating we return to the religious constructions of previous centuries and millennia. I’m just saying that the possibility that there really *might* be orders of existence higher than I can imagine strikes me just now as completely plausible. Why not? Who says *I* can figure it all out. If superior forms of intelligence and will do exist, I would literally have no way of knowing. And how many different forms/levels could there be? God knows. So to speak.

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