The Biblical Doctrine of Salvation: My Response To A Ghost In The Machine, II

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In Part I we discussed the first pivotal misunderstanding of religion I claim compromises the validity of the main thesis in the rather well-written A Ghost In The Machine (AGITM). The second implicit misunderstanding we ought to discuss relates to misinterpretations of salvation, the peculiarly culturally-resilient notion that,

“If the person has been virtuous, the soul is admitted to Heaven for an eternity of reward; if the person has been wicked or sinful, their soul descends to Hell for an eternity of punishment.”

Although the author did not explicitly assert this to be the Bible’s position, this is not a biblical teaching, and it is unclear from the essay whether the author understands the biblical perspective, although many of the questions asked in the case studies raise legitimate concern. The above is nevertheless an erroneous interpretation of scripture frequently straw-manned by critics of all stripe in the general public and academia alike, not surprisingly with little or no counter from theism. I say “not surprisingly” because as the author of AGITM is apt to notice, many pious do not know the Bible with the same degree of expertise they expect of its critics.

As with yesterday’s discussion, this apparent misunderstanding of salvation potentially undermines AGITM’s overall argument and even further lessens its relevance to theism. Although less relevant to AGITM’s main thesis (the argument against spirit / soul), this point of contention is relevant to many of the sub-arguments and questions of whether salvation would be granted under the unfortunate conditions experienced by those in the fourteen case studies. Many and possibly all of the sub-dilemmas raised fall apart when salvation is delineated in a manner compatible with scripture. For it is only in the misunderstood context of the biblical ‘soul’ and the rewards-and-punishments system that such questions as these arise at all:

“One must ask whether these people’s disabilities will affect their eternal fate. Would a Christian, Jew or Muslim who lost their automatic speech be held accountable by God for failing to say the prayers he has demanded of them, through no fault of their own? What about a deeply religious individual who loses the ability to speak except in profanities?”

…or the following from the discussion of frontotemporal dementia (FTD):

“..will God damn people for their genes?”


As regards the gospel message, from a biblical standpoint I feel it’s reasonable to say there are three categories of people: 1) Individuals capable of both understanding and responding who have heard the gospel message; 2) Individuals capable of both understanding and responding who have NOT heard the gospel message; and 3) Individuals NOT capable of either understanding or responding. Individuals incapable of response or understanding who have not heard the gospel message would be a fourth category, one that for all intents and purposes I see no current need to consider. The Bible seems to state clearly that of those in the first category, reward and punishment are not dealt according to weighing of some proverbial list of virtue and vice.

We can reasonably deduce from scripture that people in the first category who respond positively are reconnected to God by God. (Hey Christian marketers out there – you should start a FUBU spin-off called TGBG) Now I’m no preacher, but if we wish to hold a decent argument it is worth clarifying at least some of what the Bible says regarding salvation.

Essential and most basic is the idea that reconciliation is possible via spiritual rebirth resulting from God, not human action:

Ephesians 2:8 – “It is by grace we have been saved, not by works, so that no man can boast.”

John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

John 5:2 – “..the Son gives life to those he is pleased to give it.”

The following are also relevant, and we will return to them later in the discussion about free will:

2 Timothy 1:8,9 – “..God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

Many times scripture makes the argument that observance of the law (works) does not equate to salvation, but rather results as a gift accepted on faith that God is real and can do what is promised:

Romans 4:6 – “…the promise comes through faith…”

Genesis 15:6 – “Abraham believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Philippians 3:9 – “Not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which is through faith..”

Now if I might digress a moment and relate this to Ebonmuse’s On Expertise – I’m just a non-degree-holding amateur working on the weekend and seem to have already articulated the biblical doctrine of salvation FAR better and more theologically satisfying than anything I’ve ever read from Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, David Mills, Ingersoll, or even my personal favorite, Bertrand Russell. So when anybody, especially a scholar, argues that the “good go to heaven and the bad go to hell,” they show drastic oversight of a most foundational biblical doctrine, and basically ask to be taken lightly and laughably. All of these aforementioned men craft wonderfully well-constructed and persuasive arguments, crucial parts of which are unfortunately betrayed by simple oversights.

The Bible states that we can reconnect with God if and only if our spirits have been made anew, a.k.a. one of the all-time favorite Christian phrases to put down: if we are born again. I see eyes rolling, and I hear George Carlin, Kenny and the rest of South Park cawing now. This seems like a great spot for a break, but suffice it to say that all who wish to successfully argue against a proposition ought to get a basic grasp on it first.


  1. mike


    … reconciliation is possible via spiritual rebirth resulting from God, not human action.

    I don’t think you’re trying to say that salvation is just a matter of God’s mysterious unknowable whim. There must be some criteria God must use to decide to give salvation, and meeting or failing the criteria must be (at least to some non-trivial degree) up to human agency. If we can’t do *anything* to affect it, then why even bother? So I’m wondering, in this model, what explicitly is the role of human agency?
    My interpretation of what you’ve written is that the only relevant human agency is appropriate belief/faith. Now with regards to AGITM, even if you don’t subscribe to the “judgment of acts” formula, surely changes in the brain can affect beliefs, so the main thrust of the questions still seems valid.
    Thanks for your patience with my questions, I’ll try not to get too carried away ;)

  2. cl


    wondering, in this model, what explicitly is the role of human agency?”

    I guess the short answer would be reception.
    Nice website BTW. Really, really enjoyed the ASCII art archive!

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