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I Must Be Dreaming December 3, 2008

Posted by caseyww in Faith, Skepticism.
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Before we jump into this week’s post a little back story on where I’m coming from will help.  I attend church in San Diego at a community called Coast Vineyard, pastored by Jamie and Michelle Wilson.  One of the things I appreciate most about Coast is that, from the top down, they welcome difficult questions and value discussion of the topics raised on Sundays.  In that vein I’d like to take Coast up on their invitation to engage in tough questions by providing some comments on this week’s sermon.

I know that some of the readers here at Valence also attend Coast but most do not so it’s probably prudent for me to start with a short summary of the topic at hand.  I don’t want to ‘assign homework’ here but if you’re interested you can listen to the entire sermon otherwise you’ll have to make due with the following:

Dream Interpretation and the ways that God supposedly speaks through dreams was the topic of Jamie’s sermon which was set in the context of the story of Joseph (specifically Genesis 40 and 41).  For those of you not familiar with the story of Joseph here’s the low down.  Joseph has been sold into slavery to Egypt by his brothers who are jealous of his coat of many colors (a gift from his father).  Sound familiar now?  In Egypt, after being wrongly accused of slipping the naughty to his master’s wife, Joseph finds himself in prison where he discovers a penchant for interpreting dreams.  News of this talent gets back to Pharaoh who just so happens to be having some trouble making sense of some dreams of his own.  He keeps dreaming of seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows and seven shriveled heads of grain swallowing up seven good heads. Freud would have a field day here. You know what?  We better let Donny Osmond bring it home…

Needless to say Pharaoh does find his man.  Joseph takes charge of Egypt’s agriculture and the famine is averted.  Yeah!

All kidding aside I do actually want to explore what this story has to tell us about the usefulness of dreams in our modern context.  Why am I so concerned about what seems like such a benign religious claim here?

Good question.  I’m not trying to nit-pick but I do take issue with the advice implied by Joseph’s story and Jamie’s sermon that we should be making life decisions for ourselves and others based on what is perhaps the most unreliable of all human experiences, dreams.  In fact, I would argue ‘divine dreams’ cease being benign quickly lest we start using them to sleuth out whether the old woman in our village is a witch or if we should quit our job.  Things can become very serious very fast.

I also suspect that it is precisely in such mysterious corners as dreams that we are the most likely to start invoking the divine in error.  Because the results and interpretations of dreams can be so ambiguous it is easy to assume supernatural intervention where there is none.

First, is the story of Joseph (or, as Jamie pointed out, the similar story of Daniel) credible evidence that God speaks through dreams?

I don’t think so.  It’s useful to keep in mind that the stories of Genesis, if not mythical in their totality, are the result of hundreds of years of oral tradition.  Once recorded these stories were subject to copying errors, reinterpretation and outright modification.  Further these were tales written by a people who spent extended time in exile or persecuted and so would have reasonable motivation to invent hopeful stories about how one of their own climbed to the highest ranks of politics.

It is certainly not surprising that the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar so closely resembles Joseph’s assent to power considering the Jewish exile to Babylon.  Instead of providing evidence for God’s continued presence in our dreams, the similarities between Joseph and Daniel seem to show that the Jewish people found dream interpretation a convenient literary device for explaining an unlikely rise to power.

Even if these stories were accurately reported, I have to seriously question whether we should be trusting the cognitive explanations and weight ascribed to dreams from a prescientific people who had little to no conception of the brain’s activity.  The idea that dreams had cosmic significance was an understandable mistake made by a people who relied on outright magical interpretations of the world but a mistake nonetheless.  We need to think very seriously about dreams and their naturalistic origins before following them down this rabbit hole.

Is dream interpretation a reliable way to discern truth?

Maybe. I wouldn’t argue that dreams don’t have meaning at all.  Sure, dreams are commonly motivated by actual events in our lives and so they may very well indeed reflect the truth of our subconscious processing.  But this is certainly a material function of the brain and a far stretch from claiming that dreams have prophetic significance or their interpretation is a conduit for revealed knowledge.

The problem with retrospectively claiming revealed truth or direction from our dreams is that studies have shown dreams to be fluid and extremely malleable in our memories.  It is very common to connect concepts and events that may have been dreamt weeks apart into one cohesive tale; especially, if someone externally is providing an ‘interpretation’ that motivates you to agree or evokes an emotional response.

The very sad reality of human experience is that our personal memories are so acquiescent that they can rarely be trusted as credible evidence.  This commentary is doubly true of dreams.

Thomas Gilovich in his book How We Know What Isn’t So (The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life) puts it this way:

Dreams are particularly suspect…because their multi-faceted, kaleidoscopic nature makes them something of a ‘one size fits all’ premonition that is easy to fulfill.  Psychologist James Alcock cites intriguing evidence of the retrospective nature of many prophetic dreams: Those who claim to have such experiences report that their prophetic quality disappears after he has them record their dreams!

Therefore the evidence we have for supernatural dream interpretation claims seem inherently unreliable.  At best we have the reports from subjective personal experience which is anecdotal and subject to the pitfalls of memory and at worst we have mythical accounts which may have never happened at all.

Further, evidence for dream interpretation is probably not gathered evenly.  That is, we don’t hear about all the prophetic dreams that go unfulfilled, instead we only hear about the rare cases which appear confirmed.  The fact that we are only conscious of ‘positive hits’ can strongly and dangerously bias our perspective.

In conclusion, I know it is fruitless to try and ‘prove’ that God cannot speak through dreams and this certainly isn’t what I’m trying to accomplish here.  Divine dream interpretation is an unfalsifiable claim that cannot be disproved (similar to the Flying Red Elves) but I think it’s appropriate to lean on Carl Sagan a bit and assert that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” before investing in belief.

The claim that there is supernatural knowledge being imparted to people in their sleep by God is certainly extraordinary.  Do we similarly find the extraordinary accompanying evidence to validate belief here?  I don’t think so.  What do you think?

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Comments»

1. Mark - December 3, 2008

Nice clip – love that the pharaoh looks like Elvis. I guess along with your post a question I’ve always had with God speaking through dreams is why He appears to some like Abraham and Mary (it’s late and I can’t think of other examples although I’m sure there are plenty) through angels and only speaks in dreams to others. Then you get to God speaking directly through a dream like he did with Joseph “of the House of David” and indirect communication through dream interpretation like Joseph’s interpretation of the pharaoh’s dream. There seems to be some strange hierarchy. Not to immediately deviate from the central theme of your post, but God’s chosen communication method for various individuals has always left questions.

2. Philip - December 3, 2008

if i had a dream that God was speaking to you and everyone else did too at the exact same time, o man, then i would believe. unless i was dreaming that i was dreaming!!

3. bear - December 3, 2008

I think we should all watch the veggie Tales version of this story, and then we will be ready to post with some depth on this issue.

Bear

4. bear - December 3, 2008

I think that this post is extremely challenging in a number of ways. I have to commend you, Casey, in akin on something like this in a form like a blog. As I read Valence, I see arguments that I have made for most of my life, and in my own case, it is causing me to question how I am actually able to surrender these points to my current belief system—I have to be vulnerable enough here to explain what I mean: So at great risk I will say that I do believe that God speaks through dreams, and that He has spoken to me in dreams, and that there is some “spiritual” aspects to our dreams at times—some transcendent nature that works its way in when our subconscious is allowed to be more free in sleep mode. My reasons, however, are not good ones. I am probably a blasphemer because I wouldn’t rely solely on the Biblical stories of Joseph and Daniel as pure evidence. I would certainly look to these stories as part of a larger body of the “signposts” that lead us in the direction of understanding that dreams can be part of the Spiritual (using this word to describe some type of divine interaction), life.
I would say that I have dreams that have meant that was anxious. I have had dreams where I kissed the girl who sat behind me in High School geometry, and the next day she looked different to me, I have had dreams where I stepped into a Laker Game and shot a three pointer and made it. All of these were “real,” and had a profound effect on me. Do I think these are divine? No. Maybe. I have also had dreams that have changed my life, given me courage, changed my outlook, and when I brought these dreams into a small group of people I respect and know love me, the sentiment or the meaning of the dream was often fleshed out in talking and prayer, further providing evidence of a deeper meaning. Divine? Maybe. Yes. While this method offers questioning, skepticism, accountability, and the opportunity for seeing the psychological or even physical nature of what these dreams might be, the method is still not scientific. It is not because I start with the premise that I DO in fact believe that God, if he wants to, can speak to me in dreams, so I suppose I am looking for it when I can. I am even hoping for it. I am even praying that God will speak to my children in their dreams. Having said all of this, I recognize my own challenged position in saying. I know this is true because I know it is.
Casey, this really interested me:

“Instead of providing evidence for God’s continued presence in our dreams, the similarities between Joseph and Daniel seem to show that the Jewish people found dream interpretation a convenient literary device for explaining an unlikely rise to power.”

I think we do need to recognize this as far more than the Jewish people finding dream interpretation as a convenient literary device. First of all: this assumes some kind of conspiracy-like thinking on the part of the Jewish people, or at least the scribes or leaders who wrote the text. (Or perhaps the interpreters you are pointing out). Based on the history of the Jewish people, it is more likely to assume devout belief and desire for understanding then using anything that might seem convenient. In fact, the term “convenient” is one that is difficult to place in the context of any history that has to do with the Hewish people. A people whose history has little convenience anywhere in it. Also, Dreams are essential to Jewish culture and history…simple research will provide even the most basic evidence of the cultural importance of dreams, like this from Jewish encyclpedia.com:

“The fact that the most famous teachers frequently discuss dreams and enunciate doctrines regarding them, shows the strong hold dreams had upon the minds even of the intellectual leaders of Judaism. Belief in dreams was the rule; doubt concerning them, the exception.”

This does not provide the kind of evidence that proves anything scientifically, I am hopefully jus pointing out that Jewish interoperation of dreams might be convenient, but the role of dreams and the interpretations of dreams is a significant part of the culture and as real as any science would have been for the time. (As opposed to some trick or conspiracy—not to say that it couldn’t be used politically).
I am so looking forward to what others have to say.

Also, do people ever comment on the older posts after the new post comes out?

Bear

5. caseyww - December 3, 2008

Bear-

Thanks for the comment. Yes, people do comment on older posts so feel free (you just may want to let me know so that I’ll go check that older post).

I have some thoughts on the dreams you shared and whether they are from God or not and the trouble you noted with the stance of “I know this is true because I know it is.” I can’t get too deep into it now since I’m at work but I do want to comment that I’m just not comfortable with this kind of circular reasoning. If we have to ‘hope’ that God will speak in our dreams to recognize when he does this seems to really open the door up to confirmation bias.

I also want to quickly note that by using ‘convenient’ to describe the Jewish literary device that I am in no way discounting that much of Jewish culture relies on dreams. Further I’m not really sure how you thought I was implying a conspiracy. Just because these stories may have been written as myth and errors were introduced in copying doesn’t imply any false intent on the part of Jewish people. Quite the contrary, this seems to support my point that the Jewish people were very accustomed to seeing the supernatural world revealed in dreams. As the myth of Joseph was forming it would have been ‘convenient’ for them to insert dream interpretation into the story in order to explain how he got Pharaoh’s attention. Convenience comes exactly because it is part of their paradigm. Do we disagree here?

6. bear - December 3, 2008

Hey Casey, I am also at work, and probably risking my own schedule, but hey, what is really important here! I think we do agree. I was responding the context of what you wrote, but as always, clarification is helpful. Perhaps I am responding to the “myth” of what I thought you wrote. I could argue the use of the word “convenient” here and advocate for words like, “urgency,” but in seeing the way that you are using it more clearly now, I am willing to simply agree. As far as circular reasoning—I agree, it troubles me too, but I will say that we do NOT have to hope for god to speak to us in dreams. Most of life I didn’t hope for god to do so. But we can choose to hope that God will speak us to us. I think choosing to hope this makes a huge difference in our ability for us to recognize the “speaking.” Yes, this opens the door widely to confirmation bias, and because of the life I have led I will wholeheartedly walk through that door. It is very uncomfortable in there. So why do I walk in? That is another post and too much metaphor for this one already.

Bear

7. Antony - December 3, 2008

This will be short because of time constraints, but I wanted to comment on the Bear-Casey exchange.

I think Casey’s point about confirmation bias really gets at the heart of science’s ‘problem’ with faith. Part of having faith – at least in the contemporary Christian sense of the term – is about hoping to find God in everything. Thus, good things happen in life – it was God’s favor. Bad things – God’s testing. A dream interpretation that really hits home – God speaking to you. A dream forgotten before you even awoke – just your brain randomly firing in your sleep.

There seems to be something of a methodological impasse. But I think that there are ways to mitigate that impasse. For example, believers might think of false positives – that is, times they heard a word from God (perhaps in a dream), but it turned out to never really come to anything.

One question for me – and maybe you could tackle this first Bear – is do you think that dreams tend to work in a ‘physical’ way (that is natural) and then sometimes God intervenes to deliver a message (that is supernatural)?

The other question is for Casey. Is hoping for something the wrong way to approach the incoming sensory data? What I mean, is that you tend to suggest that Christian hope for hearing from God is problematic because it leads them to false positives – they think they have heard from God when they have not. So to reverse that, might different aspects of life require different RISKS?

That is, perhaps while studying scientific truth, we should avoid the RISKS of false positives because our interest in gaining knowledge of the natural world and ‘bad’ knowledge is not useful in that enterprise – in fact, it can hinder its progress.

But, in the case of faith and belief in God, might the risk of a ‘false positive’ be greatly less than denying the possibility of hearing from God by always requiring ‘extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary’?

Of course, ideally, these two converge in the middle. Scientific advance is often fueled by a little hope before the evidence comes in, and religious beliefs ought to be on the watch for ‘false positives’ and should have built into the practices of faith a real questioning that is willing to accept God’s silence where they want to hear his voice.

But we all have our error term. Maybe religion’s has to be ‘false positives’…

8. Nancy O. - December 3, 2008

For those who doubt in God’s existence:

It doesn’t make sense to me that we are discussing whether or not we believe God speaks to people in dreams before establishing the foundation of whether or not we believe in Him in the first place.

If we do believe in God, then we naturally believe that He has the power to perform miracles, speak to people in dreams, and do anything He pleases at any time, right?

If we doubt in His existence, we naturally will doubt that He speaks to anyone in dreams, etc., right?

How can anyone who is unsure about His very exsitence debate one way or the other about whether He has the ability to communicate to us through dreams, etc? If He is God – of course He has the power to speak to people through dreams if He wishes to! If there is no God, of course it is impossible.

When God touches anyone, there is absolutley no doubt whatsoever that He has done so. If He fills you with His Holy Spirit, you know it. If He speaks to you through dreams, you know it. How can anyone convince a person who is doubtful of His existence that it really was Him that touched them? There is no way.

9. Paul - December 3, 2008

Hey all, I’ve been on hiatus for awhile, just wanted to throw my two cents in. I agree wholeheartedly with Casey’s idea that it may just be our conscience has been upstaged by our subconscience. Dreams can have alot of meaning, but those that do are usually because something is eating at you in your own subconscience that your conscience doesn’t want to deal with. I take sort of a Carl Jungian view of dreams… they are doorways into our own inner thinking. The part we normally supress due to day to day and cultural restraints.

Of course some dreams could just be your brain channel surfing while your body heals the damage you did to it throughout the day (bourbon binges come to mind).

10. caseyww - December 3, 2008

(RE: Comment #8)

Nancy-
I’m a bit surprised at your reaction above, especially, since you’ve been specifically asking about things in the Bible I have trouble with. Dream interpretation is one.

First: Let me ask: Do you think someone can believe in God and yet not believe that people hear from God in their dreams?

Second: I am not arguing that God can’t speak through dreams. You’re right that if you grant that an all powerful God exists than it follows he (or she, or it) would have the ability to communicate through dreams. It’s not an issue of can God it is an issue of does God. I’m arguing that the kind of evidence presented through the Bible and peoples personal stories about dreams is extremely thin for such an extraordinary claim. So thin, in fact, that I don’t think it is reasonable to believe it.

11. Nancy O. - December 3, 2008

Casey,

Yes, I do believe that someone can believe in God and yet not believe that people hear from God in their dreams; however, I think a few reasons why some would say God “can” do something but He doesn’t or that personal stories about dreams are hard to believe is related to lack of personal experience of God’s power and/or uncertainty about His existence.

What is my basis of belief that God can speak through dreams?

The very first verse in the Bible states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

If I accept this verse at face value, which I do, then His ability to speak to people through dreams, the virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and other biblical accounts and miracles, become not only possible but expected.

Again, I think behind the doubt about whether or not He communicates through dreams really comes down to the question of whether or not God exists. Because if there is a God, not only are miracles possible, but He also can, in fact, communicate through dreams and a variety of other methods.

12. Nancy O. - December 3, 2008

If I really and truly believe there is an all-powerful God who is the same yesterday, today, and always – I cannot, in my mind, place His abilities in a box built with a foundation and walls of doubt.

13. Nancy O. - December 3, 2008

One last thing for the night, Casey. I also believe that many have a beautiful, incredible, awesome relationship with God…and still have doubts about a variety of things. I think your mother said several threads ago that we are all in a different place in our “walk” with Him; I know I am way behind in understanding where others are way ahead. It’s good to discuss these things, as it helps us discover, learn, and grow for sure 🙂

14. Doug Anderson - December 4, 2008

A few random thoughts:

I agree that dream interpretation opens the door to misdirection and misplaced belief in divine intervention. But the possibility of being wrong doesn’t disprove or discount when God truly speaks through dreams. I think dreams should never be looked at as the sole basis for belief or making a certain decision. But I strongly believe that they should be included when making decisions or developing belief.

Take Bear’s account: he has brought dreams to trusted friends to talk and pray over. Like any idea or significant decision in my life, I weigh dreams with other factors such as the natural world, rational thought, guidance through prayer, advice of others, etc. I think most would agree that approaching dream interpretation this way can limit the potential for misguidance (though it will never be totally mitigated).

Also, I see belief in God speaking through dreams to be on the same level as Him speaking through prayer, prophecy, tongues, words of wisdom or knowledge and even through the Bible. To believe a majority of dreams are from God would not be true for most people, but I do believe God will use a small percentage of our dreams to affect us in a significant manner. Evidence? Here it would be entirely personal testimony. I’ve heard some good ones, especially second-hand regarding God significantly using dreams in Muslim cultures currently.

As far as the validity of the dream accounts for Joseph and Daniel; sure there’s no way to substantiate the stories with true evidence. But do you really have any way to substantiate your following claim:

“The idea that dreams had cosmic significance was an understandable mistake made by a people who relied on outright magical interpretations of the world but a mistake nonetheless.”

Not looking for argument here, just raising a question.

That aside, I will say that those who don’t believe God will speak through dreams will probably never be spoken to or at least won’t hear Him. Some may, but that’s not the norm. It often requires the belief or hope first, then the result second. Why? Because God operates through faith. For those who need the proof first, I’m truly sorry I have nothing to offer here except that God is faithful to those who TRULY trust in Him.

The day natural science or psychology can prove God’s existence or actions is the day we all lose faith. Its the day we stop depending on Him. Its the day we become like equals with Him. Its the day that I expect never to see because of those results. Allegory or not, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden bore some very dangerous fruit. Knowledge and Science can and will become your gods if they aren’t balanced out by faith in God. And I do believe there should be a balance of both because a tilting either way becomes perilous.

My post feels random, sorry. Must return to working though.

15. Paul - December 4, 2008

It all goes back to evidence again. Those who believe it is God talking to them cannot honestly answer this question: What if its Allah, Thor, Zeus or Wotan just playing a trick on you? Making you believe that its the god of Abraham. One cannot prove or disprove this, but why should we believe (besides the emotional reasons to do so) that any God is actually talking to you to begin with? I’m not saying its not possible, I’m just questioning wether its even probable enough to think about to begin with, or should we be expending our energies elsewhere–like could my dream be a function of my subconscious telling me something important about myself that I should address. Whether its God, Zeus or Wotan cannot be proven in any way so why even spend an incredible amount of energy thinking that it is or defending it… rather, one should look to dreams as a potential doorway into understanding yourself.

16. Doug Anderson - December 4, 2008

I will honestly answer your question: I do believe that more than just God speaks in dreams. My own subconscience is definitely the most vocal and would be my default assumption typically. But I also believe there is a possibility for “other spirits” (evil and good) to influence dreams to some effect. That’s why I think serious assessment needs to be given to anything we pick up in dreams. Whether to understand yourself more or to understand something being “communicated” to you. I think these activities are a little too “soft” for our science-minded society nowadays, but the validity and source of dreams can sometimes be rationally estimated based on the results of actions taken because of a dream’s provoking. Now to go about trying to prove these things or even found doctirne on them, yes, becomes a huge expense of energy. Is it worth the expense? For some maybe… I don’t know.

17. Nancy O. - December 4, 2008

Paul,

When it’s God you know it. There’s no mistaking Him. Satan might even try to pretend to be God but God is God and there is no comparing His presence to any other who might try to fake being Him. For those who have experienced the presence of God, they know exactly what I am talking about…and if it takes a lifetime to defend Him, it is worth it.

18. Eric - December 4, 2008

I find the back-and-forth here about what (or who) is responsible for dreams fascinating, since to me it seems that no answer (God, some other deity, the subconscious, what-have-you) is more defensible than any other in this case. But instead of entering into that discussion (which appears to be at something of a dead end anyway), I want to share my own dreams-and-god experience.

When I was a kid I used to have these awful, awful (and very vivid) nightmares that would scare the living shit out of me. Many of these nightmares involved falling out of something (e.g. a moving car), and I would be awakened by that sudden lurch you get in your stomach from a sensation of suddenly losing your footing or falling. Other nightmares involved something like feeling very small in a huge vastness of space; I can’t adequately describe it, but it was like the walls of my room were moving away from me, and I could even feel the sensation when I woke up from these nightmares, and for some time afterwards.

My mom would spend hours comforting me, and at one point suggested that saying an Our Father before going to bed might help. I began doing that, and lo and behold it seemed to work at first: I wouldn’t have nightmares (or any dreams at all, in fact) on nights when I remembered to pray, and I would (or at least sometimes would) have those nightmares on nights when I forgot to pray. Pretty good deal.

But then began the inconsistencies. The first few times that I had nightmares even when I had prayed, I came up with reasons for it: that I had either recited the Our Father incorrectly, or too quickly, or too insincerely or cynically; that I had thought something bad about God while praying; that I had behaved badly that day and that He wasn’t listening to my prayer; that I had somehow not made it clear with my thoughts that the Our Father was for my nightmares and not something else, and so on. And of course, I blissfully ignored the many, many nights that I hadn’t prayed and didn’t have any nightmares. It took me a suprisingly long time to wise up to the fact that there was no necessary correlation between the praying and the lack of nightmares: it was a happy coincidence at first, or perhaps I had somehow, temporarily, succeeded in linking the act of praying to some sort of dream suppression, or whatever — whatever it was, I concluded that to think that God had anything to do with it would be no different than to think that a Flying Spaghetti Monster had something to do with it.

So I simply stopped praying at a certain point, but a trend of diminishing nightmares and other dreams that had started around then continued, and I now very, very rarely have nightmares (at least, that I know of) and I only occasionally have dreams that I can recall after waking. I’ve had one or two vivid dreams since childhood (a cool flying one about 15-20 years ago was a highlight), but that’s about it.

19. Nancy O. - December 4, 2008

Eric,

Just one question. What is “living shit”?

20. Eric - December 4, 2008

Nancy O. — “It scared the living shit out of me” is just an expression meaning something like “it really, really, REALLY scared me”.

21. Nancy O. - December 4, 2008

🙂 I know!!! I was just teasing! 🙂

22. Scott D - December 5, 2008

Hey Casey,

I am really enjoying reading your posts and the thoughts that everyone is contributing. I am up uncharacteristically late tonight, so I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to write anything too long (not thinking straight, plus I should sleep). I’d love to contribute more some other time. However, there was one comment of yours that got my attention:

“It’s useful to keep in mind that the stories of Genesis, if not mythical in their totality, are the result of hundreds of years of oral tradition. Once recorded these stories were subject to copying errors, reinterpretation and outright modification. Further these were tales written by a people who spent extended time in exile or persecuted and so would have reasonable motivation to invent hopeful stories about how one of their own climbed to the highest ranks of politics.”

That’s a pretty bold statement unto itself. You wrote that paragraph in such a way that suggests you believe what you are saying is complete truth. Is it? I think I disagree with most of it. I know that I am diverging a bit from the question of whether dreams can be divinely inspired…but I figured I’d discuss this post from a different perspective…considering you will soon write a new post any day now anyway, and most attention will go to that one.

I struggled with your exact statement for a long time…I still do sometimes. I had a lot of questions and doubts about how the bible was written, why it was written, WHEN it was written. What roads and places and translations and interpretations it endured before it found its place in my hands. Now I know I am entirely ill-equipped to attempt an argument for the bible’s divine inspiration. I believe it is…but for me, the decision to believe that was made more from faith then from me weighing sufficient evidence. No, instead however I do think it would be interesting to talk about the bible’s accuracy and consistency.

Now you probably know this stuff, but I’ll say it anyway…

If the bible isn’t divine, it’s definitely really weird. There are over 24,000 ancient manuscripts of the bible that are accurate to each other within 0.5%. That 0.5% of inconsistencies is solely from word order and spelling. Some of these were written 25 years after the originals were written. The closest thing is Homer’s Illiad, which we have 600 ancient copies of…and they are 40-60% accurate to each other…SND they were written 400 years after the original! Crazy.

Scribes whose entirely lives revolved around the duplication of the bible went to incredible lengths to respect God’s word. Before they wrote the Lord’s name, they got a new pen and ink well, and then after they wrote it, they bathed themselves! Every time. Insane. All this to say that I doubt their was much room for reinterpretation, copying errors, and out-right modification. If there was one thing you could prove, by scientific investigation, it’s that the bible hasn’t changed much over thousands of years.

Now, I am not a big bible history buff…I actually got nearly all of this information from the same source. I confess! But please check it out, it is a good listen. It was blessing to me. This guy goes to my home church and is a missionary in the Philippines now. Awesome dude, knows his bible like the back of his hand.

[audio src="http://sdiehl.com/davehenchey.mp3" /]

23. Scott D - December 5, 2008

Wow, that really didn’t have anything to do with dream interpretation….

I just didn’t want to let that statement of yours go without a bit of a challenge, especially for those reading!

24. caseyww - December 5, 2008

Scott-

Thanks for the comment. I certainly don’t mind the challenge so thanks for contributing. I’ll definitely give the mp3 a listen.

I’m also no biblical scholar but the stats you gave above about the accuracy of ancient manuscripts is a complete 180 from what I’ve read/learned about the Bible’s origins. From what I understand there’s not anything close to this kind of consensus even with New Testament texts. I just watched a NOVA documentary the other night on this specific topic that you may find interesting called The Bible’s Buried Secrets. You should watch it and let me know what you think.

Other than that I’d love to do some research on this topic and get back to you (maybe in a full post) soon. Thanks again for the interesting idea!

25. bear - December 5, 2008

Eric: regarding #18, it is so interesting to me that you would use your experience–regarding the correlation between prayer and nightmares as substantive evidence. I find it compelling as a narrative, and it makes perfect sense, but what does it really prove or disprove? It seems to on the same level as if I said something like, “When I finally started praying, the nightmares actually stopped.”

Just a thought.

Bear

26. Bill Whitsett - December 5, 2008

Had to at least jump in here and say something…

In light of “Choosing is a Bitch” whereby the jist of it was that we are bombarded daily with facts and figures (numbers more than “7 in totality”) and our minds are not free then to really make “freewill” choice….to this “dream state of mind”, where our minds our not bombared, they are at their very most restfull state allowed daily and still your premise is that they are just “biological entities” firing electrical shocks at random, with no purpose or meaning in our waking lives.

I somehow see a contradiction between the two thoughts…one, I am bombarded and cannot choose straight, or two, I am not bombarded
and still cannot ascertain purpose?

My dreams have always been such things to ponder to myself…they are most often remembered well into the morning hours, they are usually (90%) of the time very pleasurable…it is so rare that a bad one occurs that I really look forward to slipping into my dream state.
A recent one had so many past acquaintences just casually walking through the background scene of the main event…and along with their visual images came their voices, their scents, mannerisms.

When you have lost a loved one, and are able through dreams to “visit” them again…just for perhaps moments, a passing by, a walk through, and you awake feeling them…It is a pleasure like no other. And yes, sometimes I do give thanks to God for such dreams. Be they electrical shocks, just generated by a biological function or not…they bring pleasure.

I have had dreams too…where the colors seemed so intense, brilliant. Dreams where totally original music has been composed with orchestra backgrounds, and I would wake up humming a new tune…where would an electrical shock, compose music from?

Are we able in our dreams to go to those places not accessible for the reason that we are “overwhelmed” during our waking hours. If there is a God..is He more accessible during this time? Would He choose to interact with us when He could fully have our attention (not when I am trying to remember my bank pin#)?…

All of this I have pondered.

And if I give Him credit for the good ones…dont I then also have to wonder why occasionally (very rare) I wake sweating, afraid, hurt, jealous, weeping,…

I do find this to be common amongst all I have met…
People who are afraid of their dreams on a consistent basis..are not well mentally in the waking hours.

Are they from God, and should they be used to make decisions of life off of…havent had one of those yet…just ones where I say “thank you”.

27. caseyww - December 6, 2008

Pops-

I think you have perhaps stretched what I’m arguing a bit farther than I would have. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of dreams in our lives. The example you gave of being able to visit with lost loved ones even for a brief moment is a great example. I would never try to discount the weight or even the blessing experiences like this are in our lives. This is the substance of being human.

The general sense of gratitude you expressed for dreams is also great. I think having awe and gratitude for life in general is well placed. More than that, essential. I just don’t know if it’s appropriate to ascribe these thanks to a personal God. Just because we may have an important dream there is no reason to believe it was supernatural.

Lastly, I think having the discussion about whether we are just complex biology or something more is super interesting. I’m not trying to close the book on this, one of the fundamental questions of humanity, but I do have to admit that I tend towards a materialistic take. I’m not set, just inclined, and definitely open to input here.

28. Nancy O. - December 7, 2008

The only way that I know how to “prove” that God has touched my life in one way or the other is to share my personal experiences. I realize experiences, such as the healing I witnessed, or others claiming God communicated to them through dreams, etc. does not prove to anyone that it happened. I understand that although the experiences are not being questioned here – the source and validity of the claims are. To say I witnessed a healing or God spoke to someone through a dream or through any other means is not a compelling argument.

Compelling evidence can be found in the Bible; however, if the validity of the scriptures is also being questioned….there is no way to convince or prove anything that is related to God.

The only possible way that any claim of God’s supernatural dealings can be proven is by firsthand experience with God.

Right?

caseyww - December 8, 2008

Nancy-

I want to quickly reply to your statement, but as is often the case this time of the week I’m working on the next post so I’ll keep this short. You said:

Compelling evidence can be found in the Bible; however, if the validity of the scriptures is also being questioned….there is no way to convince or prove anything that is related to God.

The only possible way that any claim of God’s supernatural dealings can be proven is by firsthand experience with God.

Right?

I don’t think that questioning the validity of scripture means that we are de facto unable to prove* anything about God. *(I’ll say again that I don’t like using the word prove with God…I think we agree that if God is supernatural then neither of will be proving anything either for or against because we can only have natural evidence to share.)

That being said, the bible does in fact make a lot of physical claims for which there should be physical evidence if the scriptures are true. I don’t think it is unreasonable to look for that evidence and be honest with ourselves if it is not there. For example, at some point we have to reconcile the fact that the bible claims a flood that simply did not happen.

Similarly, I don’t think it is unreasonable to consider evidence that may provide a more reasonable explanation for something like dreams than the divine. We may not be able to prove anything here but we can make a more wise decision to believe or not if we consider both the positive and negative evidence.

29. bear - December 9, 2008

Casey, it seems by the way that you wrote this that you have already reconciled it

“For example, at some point we have to reconcile the fact that the bible claims a flood that simply did not happen.”

That might be some of what is picked up on at times.

Bear

30. caseyww - December 9, 2008

Bear-

Did the Flood happen as the Bible describes it?

Also, can you clarify: “That might be some of what is picked up on at times.”?

31. bear - December 9, 2008

Casey, I don’t know. I suppose my point is more about the “thing” being reconclied with you already. I still have to reconcile it thorugh a number of methods, exegesis, blah blah and looking at the anthropogical relevance of about 250-300 other flood stories from manycultures. For now I would say that the flood story, as the Bible describes it could have happened. Maybe not in the eyes of King James, but in the more dynamic translations of the Bible we get to look at literary themes and the way the world was recoreded in those days. Anyway, not to try and prove anything here, only to say that your comment assumes that (well, it seems to assume) that you are asking me to be honest with myself, and if I say that I beleive that some aspect of the flood story–that I can reconcile with the Bible–might just be me being unreasonable.

Let me take a moment to calrify what I mean by “picked up on.” I simply meant that sometimes there is a forgone conclusion in your comments. Which is fine because this is your blog, and I think a really good one. This is just a regular persuasive practice that occurs in writing. Like in this comment:

“I don’t think it is unreasonable to look for that evidence and be honest with ourselves if it is not there. For example, at some point we have to reconcile the fact that the bible claims a flood that simply did not happen.”

Your comment here seems to basically say that NOPE the Bible claims a flood that did not happen. I suppose it inherently invites debate, but while I might agree with you, I would still champion the relevance of the mythological, anthropological accounts of a flood that span human history. I think that we can rely too heavily (and perhaps not heavily enough) on scienctific evidence.

I think I might have made a mistake by saying that others might pick up on this….I speak for myself. In fact, I am not even sure I said that, most likely I was abducted as I was typing, and luckily re-inserted just in time to spend my office hours writing about something I have no memory of. 🙂

Bear–or is it?

Bear

32. Nancy O. - December 9, 2008

I agree with you, Bear.

Casey, I did pick up that you “sounded” definitive in your opinion that the flood did not happen. Your statement jumped out as though you were stating that the bottom line is it didn’t happen and that’s all there is to it.

Did the flood happen?

I wonder how God would answer that question.

33. caseyww - December 9, 2008

Nancy and Bear-

I’m not going to apologize for speaking confidently here or ‘sounding’ definitive. There is overwhelming evidence from so many diverse disciplines including:
-Geological Evidence
-The Fossil Record
-Biological Diversity
-Distribution of current global water supplies
-etc.
…that a global flood never happened that I’m not sure I can speak otherwise with any honesty.

Did the flood happen? No. If you disagree I would be more than happy to explore the evidence you support your belief on. However, if we are going to just dismiss hard fought scientific evidence as irrelevant then we are at a serious impasse.

Bear- I can appreciate the anthropological case you brought up and would be interested in exploring it further with you… quickly here, is this really compelling in light of the physical evidence to the contrary? The similarities between the biblical account of the flood and other cultures could be explained by them having a common origin (ie. Epic of Gilgamesh?).

Nancy- If God were answering the question I would hope He would answer it honestly.

34. bear - December 9, 2008

Casey, yes, let’s discuss it some time..

Never apologize unless you should. I am certainly not inidicating anything I think you should apologize for.

35. Nancy O. - December 10, 2008

Casey,

Nobody wast implying that you owed anyone an apology.

You wouId “hope” that God would answer a question honestly?

Really?

36. On Motivation « valence - December 16, 2008

[…] discussion recently in I Must Be Dreaming of whether God speaks through dreams or not has brought up an interesting point that I want to […]


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