Did Bart Ehrman change his mind about God? A recent blog post by Dr. Ehrman had many Christians excited that he had changed his tune on belief in God. Or at least moved the needle in that direction. So what did he say that got people so worked up?
Who Is Bart Ehrman?
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Ehrman, he is a Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UC Chapel Hill in North Carolina. He is widely considered to be one of the most knowledgeable New Testament scholars on the planet. His books such as Forged, Misquoting Jesus and Did Jesus Exist? have become best sellers.
Dr. Ehrman studied at both Moody Bible institute and Wheaton College before going on to Princeton Theological seminary to study under Dr. Bruce Metzger.
Bart started out as a believing Christian, but lost his faith along the way. He now identifies as an agnostic. When it comes to the God question, this simply means that he takes the position that he doesn’t know if God exists. This is different than an atheist, who claims there is no God.
How Did This Start?
In a blogpost titled “A Revelatory Moment About “God””, Dr. Ehrman describes what he called an “Duh” moment about God. Here is a brief excerpt from the blog.
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 skyscrapers, or split atoms, or reconstruct the history of Rome. It simply is not in its purview.
Humans can and do recognized, analyze, study, think about, reflect on these other forms of life. You don’t need to say they are “lower” life forms or that we are “superior” to recognize this. We can understand all these things because in some sense (not all), our cognitive abilities are superior.
But here’s my point. Suppose you WERE to think (whether imperialistically or arrogantly or not) that we are talking about levels of existence, from lower to higher: rocks, trees, non-human animals, and humans. The fact is that the lower ones can never know about the higher ones, what they really are, what they are capable of, how they exist, what they do, and so on. They can’t even conceptualize their existence.
Why The Confusion?
I think I understand why people were quick to jump to the conclusion that Bart Ehrman changed his view on God. Part of it has to do with the way he phrased certain portions of his blog post.
For instance, Dr. Ehrman states “The fact is that the lower ones can never know about the higher ones, what they really are, what they are capable of, how they exist, what they do, and so on. They can’t even conceptualize their existence. “Some of you may be thinking what I thought the first time I read that. “Yes, but humans have and do conceptualize a Being above them”.
Let’s say Dr. Ehrman is right, and the Bible is simply a human invention. Well, that would be an example of us conceptualizing what God might be like. We have to read further into the blog to make sense of what he’s saying.
What Did He Mean To Say?
To make sense of what Dr. Ehrman is trying to say, we need to read down a few paragraphs. Further in the body of the post, Ehrman concedes that people have indeed conceptualized what a “God” might be like. He just sees no justification for believing that we can actually Know what God is like.
In his words: Your view of God might be completely *implausible* and based simply on what you heard from people living 2000 or 3000 years ago who were generally far more ignorant of the world than we are and were simply doing their best to figure it out. So my insight does NOT argue that there must be a (single, Jewish or Muslim, or Christian) God, or archangels, or demons, or whatever. For me those are just mythological constructs that are trying to make sense of it all.
Nothing To See Here
So no, Bart Ehrman did not change his view. If anything, he had dug in deeper to his position of agnosticism. And I would discourage Christians from trying to put words into his mouth. We can argue against his position, but we must not miss-represent it.
I think Bart misses one key point in his analysis of this situation. And I have to credit my writing partner David for actually pointing this out. Dr. Ehrman’s post ignores an important idea. And that is that if there is something “higher than us”, that they would remain unknown to us.
But why does he make this assumption? If there is a higher form of life, there is no reason to think that they wouldn’t try to communicate with us.
Dogs As An Example
To stay within his analogy of animals, let’s talk about what animals could know about higher life forms. A wild dog may indeed have no concept of what a human is. They don’t encounter humans in their daily life. As Bart rightly points out, they may have a concept that there is something out there they need to be wary of. But they don’t have an experience that leads them to a knowledge of humans.
But what about a dog that is a house pet? They may not understand the distinction of human vs. animal. But they do understand that in the family “pack”, the humans are above the dogs in the hierarchy.
And the humans can communicate their desires to the dog. Zeva the apologetic wonder dog may not understand English. But she does understand that certain inflections in my voice mean “Dinner Time”! We can communicate on a rudimentary level. Zeva can understand what we want her to do. And she is in tune with our emotions as well.
The reason for this is we are a part of her world. We make ourselves known to her. And this is the point I think Bart misses in his post. If there is a higher being, God for instance, there is nothing that would prohibit Their making Themselves part of our world. And they could certainly reach “down” to our level to communicate in a way we could understand.
What’s The Verdict?
So no, Bart Erhman did not change his view on God. He remains an agnostic, and is most likely more entrenched in his position. For the reasons listed above, I think his reasoning is off, at least on this point. What do you think? Was this a good argument in favor of agnosticism?
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