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Monday, January 26, 2015

Leaving the Ministry. Left the Ministry. Polls, Statistics and other Data


A google search for
"leaving the ministry" (exact match) turns up 14 million hits
"left the ministry" (exact match) turns up 18 million hits


Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year. (that's over 20,000 last year alone).
Faces of Pastors Who Have Left "The Ministry" -- A FACEBOOK group.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&gid=58564093110


1,500 Pastors Leave the Ministry Each Month Published December 16, 2009 by Pastor Don Gray Jr.
On average 1,500 pastors walk out of the pulpit each and every month. Of those who remain, 50% are so discouraged that if they could afford to, would leave the ministry now. Depression plagues 70% of our pastors and over half of their marriages will end in divorce. (source; Maranatha Ministries Life line for Pastors)... According to the above mentioned source, 90% of the pastors surveyed stated that they were overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the position and 80% of those who had attended seminary stated that they were ill prepared for the pastorate.
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2495597/1500_pastors_leave_the_ministry_each.html


20,000 Pastors Left the Ministry in 2008. Are you next? 50% of ministers just starting out this year will not last 5 years in the ministry. I can honestly tell you that in my 22 years of full time Christian service, I’ve thought of quitting more than a dozen times. And I know that I’m not alone. Studies by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. reveal that:
90% feel that they are inadequately trained for the demands of church ministry.
80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
70% say that they have a lower self-image now than when they first started in the ministry.
Do you feel the same way? Inadequate? Stressed? Insecure?

The #1 reason why pastors leave the ministry? Church members are not willing to go in the same direction and work towards the same goal as their pastoral leader. They are unwilling to change and refuse to follow their church’s leadership.

Leading a church is one of the hardest jobs in the world. For most pastors:
the pay is inadequate
the job is stressful and
the demands are unreasonable.
http://markjuane.com/20000-pastors-left-the-ministry-in-2008-are-you-next/


Book Review: Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry. By Dean B. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger (Eerdmans) This article appeared in The Christian Century, (December, 13, 2005, pp. 33-35.) Why do pastors leave the ministry? Several common issues emerge from the research of Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger: preference for another form of ministry, the need to care for children or family, conflict in the congregation, conflict with denominational leaders, burnout or discouragement, sexual misconduct, and divorce or marital problems. Of these factors, which form the basis for the central chapters of Pastors in Transition, two are especially important: conflict and a preference for specialized ministry. A close third is the experience of burnout, discouragement, stress and overwork.
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3319


Statistics

90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor's children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
95% of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.
33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged as
role of pastors.
90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.
50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
they could, but have no other way of making a living.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry.
80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
80% spouses feel left out and underappreciated by church members.
80% of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose a different
profession.
66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
Moral values of a Christian is no different than those who consider themselves as non-Christians.
The average American will tell 23 lies a day.
The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”.
4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month , many without cause.
Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
Many denominations report an “empty pulpit crisis”. They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.

#1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastor's believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.

Statistics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.
http://pastoralcareinc.com/WhyPastoralCare/Statistics.php


"How do you know if you're called? It's a tough question. I remember well a spiritual mentor trying to convince me not to enter the pre-seminary program in college, believing that if he could dissuade me, I would not be truly "called." I also know of many others who have been encouraged, nudged, or even pushed into the ministry against their wishes. An acquaintance was told by family members since his earliest remembrance that he was destined for great things in the ministry, following as he would in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both well-known preachers and authors. The poor fellow was trapped. He left the ministry a broken man only a couple of years after seminary, unable to handle the pressures in large part because he was overwhelmed by doubts about his calling." http://www.cityseminary.org/index.php/admissions/called-to-ministry


Published in http://www.exminister.org/
Emotionally leaving the ministry
By Brother Greg
As someone who also left the ministry some 27 years ago, even after all these years, I still am haunted by my experiences with it. When I look back on how I first got wrapped up in a fundamentalist form of Christianity, it began with a religious experience I had during a weekend Christian “retreat” for high school students...


I received this email today. It is from a former pastor of 20 years who left the ministry in 2000. He is now an agnostic. I recently heard a statistic which says that 80% of those who are in seminary will no longer be in ministry within five years! http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2009/01/married-to-the-ministry-why-jim-left-the-ministry-and-faith/


http://restlesswanderings.com/tag/leaving-the-ministry/


Exit Interview: Why Pastors Are Leaving the Ministry
http://mondaymorninginsight.com/blog/post/exit_interview_why_pastors_are_leaving_the_ministry/

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Christian Defenses of Atheism (Christians Who Have Defended Atheism, or Respect What Some Atheists are Saying or Doing)


I retain a profound respect for [atheism’s] aspirations for humanity and legitimate criticisms of dysfunctional religion... There is something about human nature which makes it capable of being inspired by what it believes to be right to do both wonderful and appalling things. Neither atheism nor religion may be at fault.

Alister McGrath (Oxford Professor and Christian apologist), The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, 2007
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Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

David B. Hart (Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator), "Believe It or Not," First Things, May 2010
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Atheism tends to be a term of disrepute in the Western world, but we ought to do all we can to change this situation. The honest atheist is simply a person who has looked out upon the world and has come to believe that there is no adequate evidence that God is, or that there is good evidence that God is not. Very seldom does this make a man happy or popular... A man who has no practical belief in God may nevertheless be a good man. Sometimes it is the very goodness of a man which makes him an unbeliever; he is so superlatively honest, so eager not to accept anything without adequate evidence, so sensitive to the danger of believing what is comforting, merely because it is comforting... Such a man we can only honor.”

Elton Trueblood (Quaker theologian), Philosophy of Religion
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Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an Atheist.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Christian poet, philosopher and literary critic who had deistic and Unitarian leanings but died a liberal Anglican), Letter to Thomas Allsop, c. 1820 (Note: Twenty years earlier in his life Coleridge wrote very negatively about atheism)
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An atheist may be simply one whose faith and love are concentrated on the impersonal aspects of God.

Simone Weil (Christian mystic)
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A CATHOLIC DEFENSE OF ATHEISM

Atheism is clearly always a permissible view of man in a world in which God is not immediately evident.

20th Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism
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A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER TRIES TO EXPLAIN WHY THERE ARE STILL ATHEISTS

Shouldn't we take seriously biblical portrayals of divine silence and hiddenness?... The Psalms are replete with references to divine silence and hiddenness. (See, for example, Psalm 10:1; 22:1-2; 30:7; 44:23-24; and 88:13-14.) The prophet Isaiah puts it bluntly: "Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself, the God and Savior of Israel" (45:15). Saint Anselm, the eleventh century archbishop of Canterbury, asks, "Why did he shut us away from the light, and cover us over with darkness?" Mother Teresa knew this darkness all too well, and it apparently prompted her at some points to doubt the existence of God. In a letter to a friend, she writes, "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." What seems obvious here is that God's existence is not obvious, even to some devout followers. As the seventeenth century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal writes, "As God is hidden, any religion that does not say that God is hidden is not true… What can be seen on earth points to neither the total absence nor the obvious presence of divinity, but to the presence of a hidden God."

Perhaps some atheists happen to be people particularly impressed by the dreadful silence of God—and unimpressed by the noisy, idle chatter expressed by far too many theists... We should acknowledge that we have our own powerful non-rational motivations for belief... We need to grant that our God is a God who sometimes hides and is silent. Finally, we need to concede that all of this does make a genuine evidential difference for plenty of atheists. Maybe that helps to explain why there are atheists.

Shawn Graves (Assist. Prof. of Philosophy at Cedarville University and a Christian), Why There Are Still Atheists: The heavens aren't the only proclaimers (and are sometimes silent), Christianity Today, March 28, 2011
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A LEADING FIGURE IN THE "EMERGENT" CHURCH MOVEMENT WHO DEFENDS ATHEISM

I am so grateful for the edited collection of essays, God Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself: Theological Engagements with the New Atheism (pub. 2005). Atheism isn't just something to oppose or refute—it also can be a mirror, with much to teach us believers about ourselves and our distorted and unworthy ideas about God and religion. The atheist too is our neighbor, and God may want to speak to us all through the incisive insight of an honest atheist.

Brian McLaren, 2005


Nearly all religions--and certainly all monotheistic religions--seem at time hell-bent on inspiring people to kill each other, making atheism sometimes seem a more ethical alternative to conventional violence-prone belief. So we ask: Why does God seem so violent and genocidal in many Bible passages? Does God play favorites? Does God choose some and reject others? Does God [p. 20] sanction elitism, prejudice, violence, or even genocide? Is God incurably violent and is faith capable of becoming a stronger force for peace and reconciliation than it has been for violence in the past?... Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do I find anything as horrible as... a deity who tortures the greater part of humanity forever in infinite eternal conscious torment... For this reason, I would grimly prefer atheism to be true than for the Greco-Roman Theos narrative to be true... On the subject of hell, see my "The Last Word and the Word After That," and an extremely helpful and concise article by Nik Ansell, "Hell: The Nemesis of Hope" in which he quotes Evangelical patriarch John Stott as saying, of the conventional view of hell, "Emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain."

Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, pg. 19-20, 98-99, Chapter 10, and Endnote 1,pg. 272
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CHRISTIANS WHO ADMIT AN ATHEIST CAN BE A TRUTH SEEKER

As you try to figure out what exactly his [atheist Hemant Mehta's] agenda is, you’ll probably arrive at the same conclusion I did. I think he’s simply after the truth.

Rev. Rob Bell in the forward to Mehta's book, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes (2007)


If you blink, you might miss the significance of Bell’s statement. So let me underscore it. He believes Mehta isn’t sinfully suppressing belief in God. Rather, he really does want to know the truth. At first blush, this might seem too obvious to mention. But set against the stock Christian attitudes toward atheism and it really does constitute a quiet revolution.

Randal Rauser, author of the book, Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Rethinking Christian Attitudes toward Atheism (2015). http://randalrauser.com/2014/10/changing-christian-attitudes-about-atheism/
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A DEIST WHO ASKED, “WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ATHEISTS?”

If there are atheists, who is responsible but the mercenary tyrants of souls who say: “Believe a hundred things in the Bible either manifestly abominable or mathematically impossible; otherwise the God of mercy will burn you in the fires of hell, not only for millions of billions of centuries, but for all eternity.”

Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, entry under “Atheist, Atheism,” Second Section
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A DEIST WHO DEFENDED HERETICS

All the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies; and they have not, like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them.

Benjamin Franklin as quoted in Benjamin Franklin: His Wit, Wisdom, and Women by Seymour Stanton Block
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A "RATIONAL CHRISTIAN" WHO PREFERRED ATHEISM OVER THE FEAR THAT ONE MIGHT BE ASKING QUESTIONS THAT WERE TOO BOLD

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, dated August 10, 1787 (Jefferson favored something he called "rational Christianity," a deistic view of Christianity) http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs
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He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, "Moral and Religious Aphorisms," aph. 25 (1825)


Whenever philosophy has taken into its plan religion, it has ended in skepticism; and whenever religion excludes philosophy, or the spirit of free inquiry, it leads to willful blindness and superstition.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, cited in Allsop's Letters, Conversations with Recollections of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1836
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A BELIEVER IN GOD ASKS, "WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?"

I believe in God, although I live very happily with atheists... It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God...

One day a man was asked if there were any true atheists. Do you think, he replied, that there are any true Christians?

Denis Diderot (1713-1784), cited in Against the Faith by Jim Herrick
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IS IT EVER PROPER TO ACT AS IF GOD DID NOT EXIST?

There is a wonderful Hasidic story about a rabbi who was asked whether it is ever proper to act as if God did not exist. He responded, “Yes, when you are asked to give to charity, you should give as if there were no God to help the object of the charity.”

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer
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SHOULD WE USE THE CONCEPT OF GOD TO MAKE A BETTER WORLD?

I am not of the opinion that we should make use of the concept of God in striving for a better world. This, it seems to me, is incompatible with the integrity of a modern cultured person.

Albert Einstein
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WHAT HAVE ATHEISTS (AND OTHERS WHO ARE NOT “ORTHODOX EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS”) DONE FOR MANKIND?

If it were not for a host of scientists who happened to be either lapsed churchgoers, unorthodox Christians, heretics, apostates, infidels, freethinkers, agnostics, or atheists, and their successes in the fields of agricultural and medical science, hundreds of millions would have starved to death or suffered innumerable diseases this past century. Those agricultural and medical scientists “multiplied more loaves of bread” and “prevented/healed more diseases” in the past hundred years than Christianity has in the past two thousand.

Also, it has not always been the most orthodox of Christians who have changed the face of charity worldwide for the better. Florence Nightingale (the lady who helped make nursing a legitimate profession, and taught that no one should be refused admittance to a hospital based on their religious affiliation, and no patient should be proselytized in a hospital, but instead they should be allowed to see whichever clergyperson they preferred) was not an orthodox Christian, but instead a freethinking universalist Christian. (Ms. Nightingale also wrote a few steamy letters that suggest she may have been bi-sexual or a lesbian.) The founder of the International Red Cross (now called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent), Andre Dunant, was gay. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was another freethinking universalist Christian. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who spend years in Africa as a doctor and helped to publicize the plight of suffering Africans, was a liberal Christian and author of The Search of the Historical Jesus in which he concluded that Jesus was a man who preached that the world was going to end soon. And, Helen Keller (the woman who lost her sight and hearing to a bout with Scarlet Fever when she was very young, but who learned how to communicate via touch, and who proved an inspiration to several generations of folks suffering from severe disabilities) was both a Swedenborgian, and a member of the American Humanist Society.
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ATHEISTS ON ATHEISM

A person holding or doing something they love is not meaningless in the absence of any gods; on the contrary, the absence of any gods requires that we find meaning in precisely what we can hold and do. My views don't leave me with nothing - instead, they leave me with quite a lot which I can hold and do.

Austin Cline, Mailbag: Meaning of Life Sunday September 30, 2007


Let a woman (or a man) be on the Earth, and let them be surrounded by family, friends, and opportunities for growth and understanding. Let them live a human life with access to a range of human goods. How can a theist argue that such a life is meaningless? Even given the atheist's belief in life's finitude, such a life would still contain many important goods capable of carving a niche for meaningfulness in the face of suffering that that woman (or man) may endure along the way. Relationships, understanding and love are the ultimate sources of meaning for a human life. By themselves they give our lives their significance and value, so much so that even theists craft their idea of eternal beatitude from the idea of a life where the supply of these goods never ends.

-Di Muzio, Gianluca. "Theism and the Meaning of Life," Ars Disputandi 6:1 (2006), pp. 138-139 [edited by EB]
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AN ATHEIST WHO PREFERS THE TERM "EARTHLING"

I give blood. I volunteer my organs. I donate to charities. I return my shopping cart. I never needed religion to puppeteer me through life and tell me how to feel about gays, abortion, and capital punishment or how to raise my kid. When people ask me what I am, I say Earthling.

William P.O’Neil, “Playing the God Card,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 10, 2000
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AN ATHEIST WHO ARGUES THAT DONATING BLOOD MAKES GREATER PRACTICAL AND MORAL SENSE THAN THE IDEA OF "BLOOD ATONEMENT"

I just returned from the Blood Connection in my home town where I spent an hour giving red blood cells and having the plasma pumped back into my arm. I was told that my blood might help save someone’s life. And, if it was someone injured by doing something stupid (such as driving while intoxicated and getting in an accident), I have (in effect) given my blood so they might have life, which is what Christians proclaim Jesus did. He shed his blood for our “sins” in which we “damaged our souls” irrevocably by breaking God’s law. The theological term here is “vicarious atonement” where one sheds one’s blood for the “sins” of others so that they may “live” and not “die eternally.” (I used the plural word, “others,” because I was told that products produced from my blood or plasma might be used to save the lives of more than one individual). And I have mentioned the parallels between my real-life blood donation and blood-letting metaphors in the Bible because I used to be a Baptist preacher, and spent six years in colleges and seminaries. In 1997 I was elected “Man of the Year” were I worked, however the supervisor told his secretary that he would not hand over the “Man of theYear” award to a “damned atheist.” So he gave the award to a Christian on the staff (so much for the separation of Church and State). Now nearly a decade later things are looking up for Harry the “damned atheist.” The Christian whom my supervisor gave the “Man of the Year” award, was fired; the supervisor died; yet here I am still alive and giving blood to save the lives of others.

Harry McCall, contributor to Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists [In all modesty, Harry, above, who is a friend of mine, neglected to add that he also gave one of his kidneys to save the life of one of his daughters.--E.T.B.]
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Doubt may have "some divinity" about it.

Atheism may be comparatively popular with God himself.

Let God alone if need be. Methinks, if I loved him more, I should keep him-I should keep myself, rather-at a more respectful distance. It is not when I am going to meet him, but when I am just turning away and leaving him alone, that I discover that God is. I say, God. I am not sure that is the name. You will know whom I mean.

When a pious visitor inquired sweetly, "Henry, have you made your peace with God?" he replied, "We have never quarreled."

Henry David Thoreau as quoted in Henry David Thoreau: What Manner of Man? By Edward Wagenknecht
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Believing hath a core of unbelieving.

Robert Williams Buchanan: Songs of Seeking
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I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

I suspect that this world shows signs of an... intelligence [that] acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style of an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology.

I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

I more-than-half suspect that all "good" writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of "alteration in consciousness," i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. (Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.)

I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by"angels" and "gods" states it an even more archaic argot.

These suspicions have grown over 72 years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 72 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.

An evangelical Christian once told me, "Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others." Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it.), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddy's clothes and going around shouting, "Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!"

There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship... I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of one's head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I don't go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

The experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of religious believers will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group.An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me.

An idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called "God," as totally mad. I mean, guys, compare that "God" with the worst monsters you can think of-Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-masochistic fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously. Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.

If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Don't give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day.

Thoughts of Robert Anton Wilson
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We are children of this planet... we have come forth from it. We are its eyes and mind, its seeing and its thinking. And the earth, together with its sun... came forth from a nebula; and that nebula, in turn, from space. No wonder then, if its laws and ours are the same.

Joseph Campbell
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You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself... We do not 'come into' this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean 'waves,' the universe 'peoples.' Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe...

It's like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it's dense, isn't it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that... as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. But billions of years ago, you were a big bang, and now you're a complicated human being. We don't feel that we're still the big bang. But you are... You're not just something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are also still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as--Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so--I see every one as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I'm that, too. But we've learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

Alan Watts
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THE ODDNESS OF EXISTENCE

The extreme oddness of Existence is what reconciles me to it.

I got up with Stoic fortitude of mind in the cold this morning; but afterwards, in my hot bath, I joined the school of Epicurus. I was a Materialist at breakfast; after that an Idealist; and as I smoked my first cigarette I transcendentally turned the world to vapour. But when I began to read The Times I had no doubt of an externally existing world.

So all the morning and all the afternoon opinions kept flowing into and out of my mind; till by the time the enormous day was over, it had been filled by most of the widely-known Theories of Existence, and emptied of them.

When, now and then, on a calm night I look up at the Stars, I reflect on the wonders of Creation, the unimportance of this Planet, and the possible existence of other worlds like ours. Sometimes the self-poised and passionless shining of those serene orbs is what I think of; sometimes Kant's phrase comes into my mind about the majesty of the Starry Heavens and the Moral Law; or I remember Xenophanes gazing up at the broad firmament, and crying, 'The All is One!' and thus, in that sublime assertion, enunciating for the first time the great doctrine of the Unity of Being.

But these Thoughts are not my thoughts; they eddy through my mind like scraps of old paper, or withered leaves in the wind. What I really feel is the survival of a much more primitive mood-a view of the world which dates indeed from before the invention of language. It has never been put into literature; no poet has sung of it, no historian of human thought has so much as alluded to it; astronomers in their glazed observatories, with their eyes glued to the ends of telescopes, seem to have had no notion of it.

But sometimes, far off at night, I have heard a dog howling at the Moon.

Thoughts of Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia
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PEOPLE'S BELIEFS ARE MULTI-FACETED

There appear to be multiple sides or facets to all of our beliefs and how we feel about things. That's because our minds are constantly in motion, weighing, assessing, hypothesizing, re-weighing, re-assessing, re-hypothesizing, over and over again.

As Neil Gaiman puts it...

I can believe things that are true and things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not.

I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know that I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.

I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too.

I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies.

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

Neil Gaiman, American Gods
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WHICH OF THESE FOUR GODS DO YOU BELIEVE IN?

Using conclusions drawn from the Baylor Religion Survey first published in 2006, two Baylor University professors theorize that Americans' view of God can be characterized as one of four basic types:

Authoritative (different from Authoritarian?)
28% of Americans believe in an authoritative god that is very judgmental and engaged in the world. These types of believers tend to be evangelical and male.

Benevolent
22% of Americans believe in a benevolent god that is very involved in the world, but is loving and not stern. These tend to be evangelical women.

Critical
21% of Americans believe in a critical god who is removed from daily events but will render judgment in the afterlife. There is a tendency for African Americans and people who have lower levels of income and education to believe in the critical god.

Distant
24% of Americans believe in a distant god who set the universe in motion but then disengaged. People who say that they are spiritual but not religious tend to believe in the distant god.

By knowing which of the four types of God an American believes in, these scholars can predict that person's views on many of the pressing issues facing the country.

As an antidote to the prevailing but simplistic dichotomy between religious and nonreligious Americans, this thesis is more nuanced. But it, too, has its limitations. It's not clear that people stick to one view their whole lives, and it doesn't fully account for the views of those who occupy middle ground, somewhere between a judgmental and forgiving God. Still, the fourfold God typology is a step toward better understanding how Americans regard morality, how they understand the presence of evil, and what narrative they tell about their lives. See also the review here.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated in response to such research that God encompasses all of the four types. Though I hope Mohler also admits that human beings do not appear to encompass all four types of God equally in their minds. Perhaps Mohler himself does not. I wonder what his results would be if he took the online test to determine which type of God he envisioned?
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"The most zealous defenders of the inspiration of the Bible admit that there are parts of it of less importance than others. This is a great admission, because another is involved in it, namely that we ourselves must be judges of the comparative importance of these different parts."

Thomas Erskine, Scottish Christian
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WHAT COULD BE MORE DIVISIVE THAN THE GAP BETWEEN THEISTS AND ATHEISTS? HOW ABOUT THE GAP BETWEEN EXCLUSIVISTS AND INCLUSIVISTS? BETWEEN DAMNATIONISTS AND UNIVERSALISTS?

Some believe that people get sorted into one of two radically different places after they die, with no hope of repentance, learning their lessons, or resumption of harmonious relations throughout eternity.

Others believe or at least hope that the vast majority, if not everyone, will eventually arrive at the same destination after they die.

Type a) includes conservative religious believers or spin offs from conservative religious belief.

Type b) includes very moderate to liberal, or highly inclusivist to hopeful universalist religious believers.

Type a) often have trouble understanding, empathizing or getting along with people in "rival" religions and "cults," or even with those in their own Christian denomination or church whose "rival" biblical interpretations or views of ecclesiastical authority can often escalate into fears that "others" (including close family or friends) might be on a slippery slope into "hell" for disagreeing with them on this or that matter of faith or practice. (For instance, Christians have remained throughout history the foremost debunkers of each other's biblical interpretations, ecclesiastical rites, and social agendas. See, "Are You a True Christian?" http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/07/are-you-true-christian-registered.html )

Meanwhile, Type b)’s tend to get along well with people in other religions as well as with atheists. Those who are highly inclusivist, or universalists (including those who hope that the vast majority, if not all, will eventually wind up in heaven) even seem to get along well with agnostics and atheists.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Israelites and Canaanites. How Different Were They?

Conservative Christians admit that the divinely inspired laws of the Babylonian King, Hammurabi, predate the alleged time when Moses received divinely inspired laws. The Laws of Hammurabi were believed to have been directly inspired or handed down by a god. A picture shows King Hammurabi receiving them, or receiving inspiration directly from a god standing beside him, the sun god Shamash. Later on the Israelites claimed that their leader, Moses, received laws from Yahweh.

There were also stories about gods directing people how they wanted their temples built that preceded tales in the Bible about Yahweh directing a king of Israel how His temple was to be built. See Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology http://www.amazon.com/dp/0825433606 The author is a professor at a conservative Christian seminary who concludes that "Satan" was making ancient people do the things that Satan knew in advance that God was going to make his people do later. So the professor's hypothesis is that Satan was counterfeiting God's moves in advance. Without employing such a hypothesis it's obvious that much of the OT simply fits its milieu, its time, place and culture. Niehaus' book was quite a source of frustration for a Christian at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary who wrote a paper critiquing it, and concluded the following:

"Niehaus frames his book with bookend chapters that state clearly what he is setting out to show, in particular that demonic activity may be attributing to the similarities seen in the almost parallel appearing texts of other ANE cultures. However, for the reader who comes to the text in most cases from a faith background, Niehaus does not offer an easy path at all to reach the conclusion that God has indeed shown Himself unique and sovereign against the backdrop of the(not real) gods of the neighbors of His covenant people Israel. The majority of the book leaves the reader unengaged as they are not shown a true contrast to what they want to know to be biblical supremacy, showing the covenantal love of the Creator of the universe for His children.Instead, the feeling a reader may walk away with is one of frustration with the lack of differentiation."

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Even conservative Christians who date the time of Moses as early as possible, are forced to admit that many aspects of these ancient Israelite tales reflect earlier ideas in the ancient Near East, i.e., earlier creation stories, earlier stories of receiving laws from a god, and earlier stories of babies left in rivers who grow up to be great leaders. The "baby left in a river story" of Moses is similar to that of Sumerian king Sargon I left in a caulked basket in the Euphrates. Even the ancient Greeks had a story about the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, being left in the Tiber but without a basket.

In William Dever's book, What Did the Bible Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, he writes that archaeological investigations of Moses and the Exodus have been "discarded as a fruitless pursuit… the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness. A Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in southern Transjordan in the mid-late13th century B.C., where many scholars think the Biblical traditions concerning the god Yahweh arose. But archaeology can do nothing to confirm such a figure as a historical personage, much less prove that he was the founder of later Israelite region." About Leviticus and Numbers he writes that these are "clearly additions to the 'pre-history' by very late Priestly editorial hands, preoccupied with notions of ritual purity, themes of the 'promised land,' and other literary motifs that most modern readers will scarcely find edifying much less historical." Dever writes that "the whole 'Exodus-Conquest' cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term 'myth': perhaps 'historical fiction,' but tales told primarily to validate religious beliefs." What Did the Bible Writers Know and When Did They Know It is not easy reading. But Dever recommends an anthology by the Biblical Archaeology Society, published by Prentice Hall entitled Ancient Israel, edited by Hershel Shanks -- a book that is very readable. Those testifying for Dever's book (on the back cover) are: Paul D. Hanson, Professor of Divinity and Old Testament at Harvard University; David Noel Freedman, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan; Philip M. King, Professor at Boston College and author of Jeremiah; William W. Hallo, Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University; and Bernhard W. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament, Boston University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Like Dever, these are not a bunch of minimalists nor radical revisionists. But their opinions demonstrate that a literalistic inerrantistic reading of Exodus is not widely held.

SEE FOR INSTANCE

"Archaeology and the Exodus" by Rabbi Ken Spiro
http://www.aish.com/societyWork/sciencenature/Archaeology_and_the_Exodus.asp

"As Rabbis Face Facts, Bible Tales Are Whilting"
http://eunacom.net/Rabbis_Bible.htm

Another good book is, It Ain't Necessarily So by Matthew Sturgis which is an excellent introduction to the current state of archaeological discovery, focusing on its divergence from traditional biblical interpretation.

In short, the Pentateuch reads like a story "about" Moses, written in the third person, and from the point of view of later editors (as demonstrated by many little phrases scattered throughout the Pentateuch) rather than being a story written entirely by Moses. In fact, whomever wrote the Pentateuch, they did not make any great effort to disguise the fact that Moses "wrote" only select portions, not the whole books, just sections mentions within them. See my online article:
http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/errancy/pentateuch.html
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Archeologically speaking, the change from "Canaanite" to "Israelite" appears to have been gradual, more evolutionary than revolutionary. Did full scale massacres occur? Or are the stories in the book of Joshua yet another instance of biblical hyperbole? Note especially how "Canaanit-ish" the ancient Israelites were, or, how much Canaanite thought and culture lived on via the Israelites:

The Hebrew language is in fact a “language of Canaan,” as says the prophet (Isaiah 19:18), a conclusion amply confirmed by ancient inscriptions. In scholarly terms, Hebrew is a "southern dialect of the Canaanite language." From its earliest appearance until the Babylonian destruction, Hebrew was written in the Canaanite alphabet.

As with language and the alphabet, so with culture generally: Ancient Israelite culture was in many respects a subset of Canaanite culture. The most powerful and extensive demonstration of this last statement comes from the body of literature uncovered at the site of Ugarit.

The Canaanite King Kirta of the Ugaritic epic with the same name, was called out by his own son who is shown speaking like a Hebrew prophet calling out rulers for their lack of solicitude for widows, orphans, and the poor:

When raiders lead raids,
and creditors detain (debtors),
You let your hands fall slack:
you do not judge the widow’s case,
you do not make a decision regarding the oppressed,
you do not cast out those who prey upon the poor.
Before you, you do not feed the orphan,
behind your back the widow” (vi 49-51).
-- Context of Scripture 1.102 vi 25-53

Another clay tablet reveals something of the Canaanites’ family values:

‘Starting from today I Yaremano give up all my properties to my wife Baydawe and two sons Yataleeno and Yanhamo. If one of my sons treats his mother Baydawe meanly, he must pay five hundred pieces of silver for the king. Beyond that he should take off his shirt, leave it on the door’s lock and go into the street. But the one who treats his mother Baydawe with respect and consideration, his mother will give him all the properties.’
--http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2011/08/the-lost-city-of-ugarit.html

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The Israelites shared with their neighbors the eastward orientation of their tabernacle and temple, the placement of important cultic objects within them, the designation of areas of increasing holiness, rules for access to the Holy Place and Holy of Holies, as well as practices like circumcision and sacrificial offerings. [Dr. Beale's admissions, and he's a biblical inerrantist and Evangelical Christian]

They agreed with their ancient neighbors that it was important to appease a high divinity via building a temple, saying prayers, giving praises, having priests and sacrifices, all important to a nation's blessing and protection granted from its high god. For instance, after Babylon had been plundered by the king of Assyria, the next king of Babylon interpreted the invasion as a punishment sent by Babylon’s high god who had been angered by his people's lack of righteous behavior and lack of worship of Marduk:

“[The citizens of Babylon] had oppressed the weak, and handed the weak into the power of the strong. Inside the city there was tyranny, receiving of bribes, people plundering each other’s things, sons cursing fathers in the street, slaves cursing masters, they put an end to offerings [to the gods], they laid hands on the property of the temple of the gods, and sold silver, gold and precious stones. . . . Marduk [the high god of Babylon] grew angry and devised evil to overwhelm the land and destroy the peoples,” cf. W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 5.

Ancient cultures also praised their high moral gods in ways very similar to how the Hebrew's praised theirs. In a ritual for the Babylonian New Year festival, the Babylonian high god, Marduk, was invoked in this fashion:

“My lord is my god, my lord is my ruler, is there any lord apart from him?”

Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II prayed at his accession to Marduk:

“Everlasting lord, master of all that exists, grant to the king, whom you love, and whose name you name, all that is pleasant to you. Keep him on the right way...You have created me and entrusted to me the dominion over all peoples. O lord, let me according to your grace, which you pour over them all, love your exalted might, and create in my heart fear of your divinity.”

And in the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, the high moral god Marduk is depicted as:

“The trust of the land, city and people. The people shall praise him [Marduk] forever...At his name the gods shall tremble and quake...Who administers justice, uproots twisted testimony, In whose place falsehood and truth are distinguished...Who uprooted all enemies... snuffed out all wicked ones...his name shall be the truth!” (Tablet VI:135–36, 146 and VII:39–40, 43, 45, 54).

He [Marduk] shall be ‘Lord of All the Gods’...No one among the gods shall [make himself equal] to him.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VI:141 and VII:14

He [Marduk] established the holy heavens... creator of the earth above the waters, establisher of things on high...who made the world’s regions...He created “places” and fashioned the netherworld.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:16, 83, 89, 135

He [Marduk] patterned the days of the year...established the positions of Enlil and Ea [referring to the rotation of stars in the sky]...made the moon appear, entrusted (to him) the night...assigned to the crown jewel of nighttime to mark the day (of the month)...[Marduk] d[efined?] the celestial signs [for religious festivals]...the doorbolt of sunrise...the watches of night and day.
—Enuma Elish Tablet V:3, 5, 8, 12–13, 23, 44, 46 [Compare Genesis 1 that tells of Yahweh creating the sun and moon for "signs and seasons," literally for religious festivals in Yahweh's honor, same as in the earlier tale in Enuma Elish. The same Hebrew word translated as "seasons" appears elsewhere in the Pentateuch meaning religious festivals.]

He [Marduk] made mankind...creatures with the breath of life...creator of all people.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VI:33,129 & VII:89

He [Marduk] shall be the shepherd of the [Mesopotamians], his creatures.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VI:107

Creation, destruction, absolution, punishment: Each shall be at his [Marduk’s] command.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VI:131-32

His [Marduk’s] word is truth, what he says is not changed, Not one god has annulled his utterance.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:151–52

Word of him [Marduk] shall endure, not to be forgotten.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:31–2

Let them ever speak of his [Marduk’s] exaltation, let them sing his praises!
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:24

His [Marduk’s] beneficent roar shall thunder over the earth.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:120

[Marduk,] who crossed vast Tiamat [sea goddess] back and forth in his wrath, Spanning her like a bridge at the place of single combat.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:74

He [Marduk], profound of wisdom, ingenious in perception, Whose heart is so deep that none of the gods can comprehend it.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:117–18

[Quotations from Enuma Elish trans. by Benjamin R. Foster, From Distant Days: Myths, Tales and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia (Bethesda: CDL Press, 1995)]

There are Bible verses that are very similar to all of the praises of Marduk above, including treading down the waves of the sea and defeating monsters.

FURTHER READING

Canaanite Religion, Israelite Religion http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/11/canaanite-religion-israelite-religion.html

As well as this piece:

The Rise of Monotheism and Israel's Theological Worldview [Key Articles That Sum Up What Scholars Are Discussing] http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/10/rise-of-monotheism-israels-theological.html


The Problem of Pain in Nature (continuing the discussion of flaws in theodicies begun in an earlier post)

Nature contains a variety of pains that few people simply accept as part of God's wonderful design. Instead, humans struggle to bypass or avoid such pains via city planning, safety regulations, modern medicine, dentistry, and devices that predict changes in the weather or environment (including marking danger zones). Neither are "sinners" the ones who are plagued most by nature's pains but simply people unlucky enough to be in the paths of disasters or epidemics, or people unintelligent enough not to take safety measures, or people economically impoverished so their city or country cannot afford modern safety techniques and conveniences. Therefore nature's pains are not focused on "sinners." Nor do such pains lead one toward any one deity or religion in particular. In fact such pains can traumatize people and lead them away from God entirely.

Attempts by Christian apologists to respond to the problem of pain in nature often begin with a proposition as cold as nature itself, beginning with the idea that God does not owe anybody anything. In fact Genesis 3 depicts God cursing the first couple, “to dust you shall return.” Such apologists start with the idea that humans are born into a cursed and fallen world, and humanity itself is fallen, and God is doing them a great favor by preserving anyone at all from disasters, either in this life (viz., the so-called worldwide flood of Noah) or the next (hell). In fact, seeing video of disaster victims makes Christians trust in the truth of both the “fall” and the promised resurrection and their other religious beliefs even more. That is how the ball of their philosophy/theology tightens when you tug on that string called, “natural disasters.”

Therefore it does not matter to Christians that natural disasters and epidemics may kill millions, tens of millions, or even a hundred million. Such disasters may appear utterly pointless, pure wreckage, and it may appear that any infinite Being with a true love for what it has created, knowing the immense pain, sorrow, and trauma such disasters bring, could and would have designed a cosmos without them. Christians certainly believe God is capable of doing so, since they believe God can create a heavenly cosmos that lacks such disasters. So they know a world without natural disasters is possible.

Indeed, an infinite Being has infinite resources at its disposal, and it is difficult to imagine how anything such a Being created could ever go disastrously awry if such a Being has infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite compassion (“God is love”).

Even the tale of “the fall” (understood literally or metaphorically) only makes one wonders why such a Being would have made the “forbidden fruit” “pleasing to the eye,” and placed its tree “in the middle of the garden” like some police sting operation waiting to be sprung. And when the ”serpent tempted Eve” couldn’t this Being have showed up and argued against the serpent? It could have granted Adam and Eve a vision of the future horrors their children would endure not only in this life but in the afterlife--if they ate of the fruit.

Christians might also ponder where this Being was when Islam was born, knowing how Islam would grow faster than Christianity and Muslims would wage war against the faith of Christians. Couldn’t this Being have ensured that Mohammed received the correct revelation if this Being truly wanted everyone to be saved?

Even granted “a fall,” such a Being still has infinite resources at its disposal to influence, lead, instruct, discipline, everyone to help them come to agreement concerning what is true and trustworthy even if it takes billions of years. Satan has no such resources at his disposal, and humans have merely a finite intellect. So how could an infinite Being with infinite resources and knowledge fail to influence every finite creature eventually? Or as the Jewish saying goes, God and time are the best teachers.

Speaking of God and time being the best teachers, Shana, a Christian, a First-Grade Teacher, and Therapist for Autistic Children put it this way:

A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be in eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Doesn’t emptiness abhor a vacuum? And what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be? Something written by the 19th-century universalist Christian, George MacDonald, encouraged my own heart…

Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell. And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the unredeemed, and be more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?--who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father? Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven?

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Cold Comfort for Christians

Nick Peters, Christian Apologist, has recently published a debate book on the topic of Natural Evil

The bottom line for Christians like Nick is that God can do whatever "He" wants with what "He" has created.

Nick admits, "Anything I say in this discussion... should not be seen as meant to provide comfort for those who are undergoing suffering from a natural disaster."

Nick adds that "if a person knows about Christ and rejects Him, he is doing wrong," which reduces all questions of evil, natural or otherwise down to one, convert or be damned. Obviously, if a Christian can defend damnation, they can defend anything. What are natural disasters, mutations, diseases, parasites, death and extinctions, compared with damnation? To quote Nick, "Sometime we do not respond to gentle nudges and wooing but rather require difficult circumstances to come out way to wake us up to what is going on in the world. If other means have not worked and a natural disaster could keep us from a greater suffering (such as eternal separation from God), then I would find that the suffering would be justified."

That's the bottom line for Christians, avoiding "eternal separation from God." The pains in this life could just as well be God "nudging and wooing" us toward faith (not a very precise nudge since one's faith and beliefs could wind up veering off in several directions, from Buddhism to Islam, not to mention cursing God).

And if individual day-to-day pains don't work, God uses firmer "nudges" like full scale natural disasters (including health disasters like epidemics and persistent diseases like malaria and TB, or in the past, influenza, the plague, smallpox. and dozens of childhood illnesses) that have killed countless millions, far more than died in all the wars of humans against humans.Which reminds me of a dialogue I once read by Mark Twain between a devout mother and her questioning daughter over what part nature's pains play (keep in mind that Twain's son died of diphtheria at age 19 months):

"In His wisdom and mercy the Lord sends us afflictions to discipline us and make us better… All of them. None of them comes by accident; He alone sends them, and always out of love for us, and to make us better, my child."

"Did He give Billy Norris the typhus, mamma?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

"Why, to discipline him and make him good."

"But he died, mamma, and so it couldn't make him good."

"Well, then, I suppose it was for some other reason. We know it was a good reason, whatever it was."

After a pause: "Did He make the roof fall on the stranger that was trying to save the crippled old woman from the fire, mamma?"

"Yes, my child. Wait! Don't ask me why, because I don't know. I only know it was to discipline some one, or be a judgment upon somebody, or to show His power."

"That drunken man that stuck a pitchfork into Mrs. Welch's baby when…"

"Never mind about it, you needn't go into particulars; it was to discipline the child - that much is certain, anyway."

"Mamma, Mr. Burgess said in his sermon that billions of little creatures are sent into us to give us cholera, and typhoid, and lockjaw, and more than a thousand other sicknesses and, mamma, does He send them?"

"Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course."

"What for?"

"Oh, to discipline us! Haven't I told you so, over and over again?"

"It's awful cruel, mamma! And silly! And if I…"

"Hush, oh hush! Do you want to bring the lightning?"

"You know the lightning did come last week, mamma, and struck the new church, and burnt it down. Was it to discipline the church?"

(Wearily) "Oh, I suppose so."

"But it killed a hog that wasn't doing anything. Was it to discipline the hog, mamma?"

"Dear child, don't you want to run out and play a while? If you would like to…"

"Mamma, Mr. Hollister says there isn't a bird or fish or reptile or any other animal that hasn't got an enemy that Providence has sent to bite it and chase it and pester it, and kill it, and suck its blood and discipline it and make it good and religious. Is that true, mamma, because if it is true, why did Mr. Hollister laugh at it?"

"That Hollister is a scandalous person, and I don't want you to listen to anything he says."

"Why, mamma, he is very interesting, and I think he tries to be good. He says the wasps catch spiders and cram them down their nests in the ground - alive, mama! - and there they live and suffer days and days and days, and hungry little baby wasps chew the spider's legs and gnaw into their bellies all the time, to make them good and religious and praise God for His infinite mercies. I think Mr. Hollister is just lovely, and ever so kind; for when I asked him if he would treat a spider like that, he said he hoped to be damned if he would; and then he…"

"My child! oh, do for goodness' sake…"

"And mamma, he says the spider is appointed to catch the fly, and drive her fangs into his bowels, and sucks and sucks and sucks his blood, to discipline him and make him a Christian; and whenever the fly buzzes his wings with the pain and misery of it, you can see by the spider's grateful eye that she is thanking the Giver of All Good for…well, she's saying grace, as he says; and also, he…"

"Oh, aren't you ever going to get tired chattering! If you want to go out and play…"

"Mamma, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can't do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won't answer, it is weak and no good - Providence's invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away; and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and tuberculosis, and…

Dear mama, have you fainted?"

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

People who don't know me often call me an atheist. But in all honesty... the scientific and NT questions simply run too deep for me to recite with both head and heart any of the creeds of Christianity


I want to believe in God and a personal afterlife, and like Frank Schaeffer, author of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace (son of the apologist Francis Schaeffer), I do not deny myself prayers to God. I try in all ways to learn what is true, including prayer to God during times of questioning, questing and need. But both the cosmos and the Bible raise many questions of pain and suffering as well as competency of the Designer (who is possibly a Tinkerer), including whether the human species will even last. The stars have billions of years of life left in them since they burn via nuclear fusion and more stars continue being born in distant clusters. One can easily imagine the stars outlasting humanity by far. I also wonder how much truth lay behind the stories of Jesus' miracles in the Gospels. Regarding the latter question, Jesus was probably an apocalyptic prophet, but I tend to doubt the resurrection and other miracle stories, in fact you can see certain stories about Jesus grow in the telling from Mark to Matthew, Luke and John: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/04/gospel-trajectories-resurrection.html

Furthermore, almost all the miracles occurred either in some unspecified "wilderness" or in small towns in Galilee, i.e., Jesus never visited the largest cities of Galilee nor is spoken of as having performed miracles in them such as Sepphoris which was located near Nazareth, nor did he perform miracles in other large cities like Caesarea Philippi, Tiberius, Hippos (the last two being on the shores of the Lake of Galilee). Instead, three smaller cities, mere towns, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum encompassed the area where Jesus performed most of his miracles, which scholars have appropriately nicknamed "the Evangelical Triangle." Even after the people of those towns allegedly saw Jesus' miracles the citizens did not hail Jesus and start to follow him. So the Gospels have Jesus denouncing the three towns where he allegedly performed most of his miracles, and warning that judgment would fall on them. As for Jesus' greatest nature miracles, they were only said to have been seen by a few apostles in a boat (stilling a storm, walking on water), or on an unnamed mountaintop (the transfiguration, three apostles were allegedly there). Interestingly, the fourth Gospel, allegedly written by the same John who was one of the three apostles who viewed the transfiguration, does not mention that particular miracle at all. The only large city Jesus visits is Jerusalem where he is captured and crucified, and he performs no public healings there per the synoptic Gospels but merely preaches (except for one miracle of healing in Jerusalem mentioned in the late fourth Gospel). Even the late added narrative of the bodily ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts, is said to have only been seen by the remaining eleven apostles. Here is a guy rising into the clouds, but apparently doesn't want everybody to see it. Even weirder is how in Luke the raised Jesus proves he is flesh and bone and then "led them out" of Jerusalem to Bethany, but with no mention of anybody noticing, no mention of people spying the raised Jesus, or the apostles shouting Hosanna as this resurrected flesh and bone Jesus allegedly is leading his apostles out from one large city to a nearby town (compare all the Hosannas when Jesus entered the city). In other words, Jesus' exit is very hush hush. And as I said Jesus' alleged miracles are only said to have happened in out of the way places, like some unspecified "wilderness" or on an unspecified "mountaintop" or in three towns in particular (not even cities) in Galilee (where they rejected him), or the most spectacular miracles are only seen by a few apostles. Not sure I believe such stories, including the raising of Lazarus tale in the fourth Gospel which seems to have resulted from combining earlier tales in earlier Gospels, resulting in a new story: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html

Add to that the way the resurrection tales contradict one another, and how nobody sees Jesus exit the tomb. His bodily resurrection is an implied miracle in the first and earliest Gospel but is declared in the two last-written Gospels of Luke and John to be a very physical resurrection. The earliest telling in Mark says only that the tomb is declared empty. The closest we come to a first person letter from someone saying they saw the raised Jesus is where Paul mentions in two letters that "he appeared to me," that's all he says about it, and lists some appearances to others, with no times or places mentioned nor anything that was said or heard. And Paul says Jesus had a "spiritual body" instead of mentioning that Jesus had "flesh and bone" like in the last Gospels written, Luke-Acts. The earliest Gospel, Mark, does not have a post-resurrection appearance story. It just ends with the women fleeing an empty tomb, frightened, and telling no one anything (the Greek is highly emphatic, involving a repetition of the same Greek word to emphasize that the women did not say "anything" to "any[one]" [the Greek reads, oudeis oudeis], so how and when did the story about the discovery of an empty tomb arise? One wonders, since the text states emphatically that the women did not say "anything to anyone" about such a discovery. Sounds like even the empty tomb story might have arisen later. Paul certainly doesn't mention it, or the women. But later Gospels build considerably on that tale in Mark). Meanwhile the number of words and lessons allegedly taught by the resurrected Jesus AFTER he was raised, continued to rise in number from Mark to Matthew, and then reach their peak in Luke-Acts and John. Obviously the story was growing over time. http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/03/word-about-growing-words-of-resurrected.html

Also see http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/12/new-testament-questions-galore-from.html

So I don't know what to believe. Because nature contains a variety of pains that humans have struggled to bypass or avoid via intelligence, city planning, safety regulations, modern medicine and dentistry, and advanced detection devices that predict the weather and other changes in the environment (including marking danger zones), rather than accept such pains as part of God's wonderful design. And it's not "sinners" who are plagued most by nature's pains but people unlucky enough to be in the paths of disasters and epidemics, or unintelligent enough not to take safety measures, or economically impoverished so their city or country cannot afford modern safety techniques and conveniences. Therefore nature's pains are not focused on "sinners."

Also, the human species seems destined to perish while the cosmos goes on, and we might not even be the coolest species in the cosmos. Meanwhile the Gospels plead "mystery," and Jesus says in places that he spoke to crowds (in those towns I mentioned) in ways "that they might not understand," then then damned them for not hailing him and following him.

Ah, but there are miracles around the world if you read some Christian apologists. Especially in South America, where Catholicism is huge, or where the Pentecostal revival in the Philippines took place. Though other Christians doubt and question the wealth of Catholic miracles, and still other Christians doubt the alleged miracles in the Philippines. And we see the web articles and books by Joe Nickell who has been investigating a lot of allegedly Catholic miracle stories. While Keith Augustine has a web article about NDEs that raises many questions http://infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html (Keith also has a book coming out in 2015, co-authored with Michael Martin on NDEs) Endless debates.

I figure that if there really was an infinite Being, one that did not want to remain very mysterious and behind the scenes, and/or that wanted everyone to be "saved" via trusting in tales of one true religion, wouldn't it be plainer?

So I'm agnostic, painfully so as I grow older, since I can't help but wish that this life and its memories does not end like everything else I see ending around us. I have lived long enough to see the next generation grow up ignorant of many of the key moments in history, song, literature, comedy and drama from my generation. The past seems doomed to be forgotten, along with the individuals in it. Cultural movements being and then end. Ideas change as well as styles. My own memories of earlier decades has declined, which I notice when I talk with friends from decades past. I'll keep praying and hoping. Add to that some meditating (hat tip Will Bagley)

See also this blog post with links to Miracles from all religions (including amazing coincidences that seem to just happen and are not related to a religion), when viewed together, provide a crazy mixed bag of "evidence." So how can "God or WhateverIsOutThere" expect us to know what to make of them? http://religiousmiracles.blogspot.com/2013/02/miracles-of-all-religions-provide-crazy.html

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Human DNA and Evolution. A Carnival of Information. Nature is One Big Experiment, Always Mutating. Whole Genome Duplications, Human Genetic Diversity

Human DNA and Evolution. A Carnival of Information. Nature is One Big Experiment, Always Mutating. Whole Genome Duplications, Human Genetic Diversity
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YOUNG-COSMOS CREATIONISTS with higher degrees in the sciences admit that evolution is not a theory in crisis http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/05/young-cosmos-creationists-with-higher.html

Todd Wood is a young earth creationist with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, 1999). Todd's Ph.D. advisor was the famous Dr. William Pearson, the original developer of the widely popular FASTA suite of computer programs used for DNA analyses. When providing a reference for Todd in his subsequent academic position application, Dr. Pearson stated "he was the best graduate student I ever had." Immediately following his Ph.D. work at Virginia, Dr. Wood accepted a position as the Director of Bioinformatics at the Clemson University Genomics Institute (Clemson, SC) which at that time, was directed by Dr. Rod Wing, a world famous scientist in the field of plant genomics. So Todd knows genes. He also does not think evolution is a theory about to collapse. In fact he wrote a paper pointing out the problem for creationism of the close genetic similarity between humans and chimps: http://www.creationbiology.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=201240&module_id=36954 See Todd's other admissions concerning evolution here: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-arent-more-biologists-idists.html And here:

Wood admits that our genome is nearer to chimps than some species of cats are to one another, yet creationists accept that cats evolved from a common ancestor. So why not humans and chimps? In fact our genome is as near to chimps as sibling species of fruit flies are to one another. Yet creationists admit sibling species of fruit flies evolved from a common ancestor. http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2008/09/creationist-admits-problem-chimpanzee.html

Added info on cat evolution: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/the-cat-genome-what-does-it-say-about-domesticated-moggies/
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DENNIS VENEMA is an ex-I.D.ist, Ph.D. biologist (and Christian), who often critiques I.D. arguments and explains how strong the evidence for evolution is in series of articles at the Christian website, BIOLOGOS. See his latest series!

Adam, Eve and Human Population Genetics -- December 10, 2014
http://biologos.org/blog/series/adam-eve-and-human-population-genetics
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HUMAN GENETIC DIVERSITY, NATURE IS ONE BIG EXPERIMENT, ALWAYS MUTATING

There is far more genetic diversity in the human genome than previously thought. There's tons of neutral mutations and also some interesting ones found among limited numbers of people today, like mutations that grant people the ability to recognize more colors, tastes or smells.

The mutation that led to the ability to digest milk sugar spread quickly after the domestication of cattle and the drinking of milk began, but has not yet spread to everyone on earth, especially some people in parts of Asia.

The fact of such genetic diversity is handy in that it refutes a recent global flood: http://paleo.cc/ce/ark-gene.htm

Speaking of genetic diversity, all the cells in your body are not uniquely your own. Your DNA and identity are not as entwined as once thought. In fact most people have multiple genomes floating around inside them! "DNA Double Take." I am sure this is as confusing for creationists as the fact that some people are born with stripes of both testicular and ovarian tissue in their gonads (are they males or females?) Nature is basically one big experiment, always mutating: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/dna-double-take.html?_r=1&

When the complete DNA of one human being was first sequenced in 2000, it was considered to be “the” human genome. Soon after, researchers began to explore the differences between individuals, launching the era of the “personal genome.” Now science is entering the age of the microgenome, in which research begins to explore the worlds within us, examining our inherent imperfections and contradictions, the multitudes we contain. Even though each of your cells supposedly contains a replica of the DNA in the fertilized egg that began your life, mutations, copying errors and editing mistakes began modifying that code as soon as your zygote self began to divide. In your adult body, your DNA is peppered by pinpoint mutations, riddled with repeated or rearranged or missing information, even lacking huge chromosome-sized chunks. This DNA diversity is called “somatic mutation” or “structural variation.” Yet it functions, as all jury-rigged evolutionary things do. Nature finds a way. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/garbled-dna-might-be-good-for-you/
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NATURE EVEN SURVIVES MUTATIONS AS RADICAL AS WHOLE GENOME DUPLICATION EVENTS. THERE ARE PLENTY WE KNOW ABOUT IN BOTH PLANTS AND ANIMALS, BUT THE INTERESTING THING IS THAT...

The computerized comparison of genomes of many vertebrate species from fish to reptiles to mammals and humans, has uncovered evidence that the vertebrate genome leading from jawless fish to humans underwent at least two rounds of WGD (WHOLE GENOME DUPLICATION) events in the past. That's not just an extra chromosome or gene that is duplicated, but the entire genome is duplicated, with subsequent whittling down of the genome as the duplicated genes are either eliminated or mutate and find other uses. But wow, that's a big mutation, duplicating the entire genome, and then that genome was slowly whittled down by further mutations and natural selection.

Gene and genome duplication have been thought to play an import part during evolution since the 1930s (Bridges 1936; Stephens 1951; Ohno 1970) . Ohno (1970) proposed that the increased complexity and genome size of vertebrates has resulted from two rounds (2R) of whole genome duplication (WGD) in early vertebrate evolution, which provided raw materials for the evolutionary diversification of vertebrates. Recent genomic sequence data provide substantial evidence for the abundance of duplicated genes in many organisms. Extensive comparative genomics studies have demonstrated that teleost fish experienced another round of genome duplication, the so-called fish-specific genome duplication (FSGD) (Amores et al. 1998; Taylor et al. 2003; Meyer and Van de Peer 2005). Because the timing of this WGD and the radiation of teleost species approximately coincided, it has been suggested that the large number (about 27,000 species—more than half of all vertebrate species (Nelson, 2006)) of teleosts and their tremendous morphological diversity might be causally related to the FSGD event (Amores et al. 1998; Taylor et al. 2001; Taylor et al. 2003; Christoffels et al. 2004; Hoegg et al. 2004; Vandepoele et al. 2004). Semon and Wolfe (2007) showed thousands of genes that remained duplicated When Tetraodon and zebrafish diverged underwent reciprocal loss subsequently in these two species may have been associated with reproductive isolation between teleosts and eventually contributed to teleost diversification. http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/21907/InTech-Duplicated_gene_evolution_following_whole_genome_duplication_in_teleost_fish.pdf

Gene duplication is a major force of evolution and plays a critical role in increasing complexity, and two rounds of whole genome duplication (WGD) have been proposed to occur during vertebrate evolution [1]... One whole genome duplication (WGD) event in the fish ancestor generated genome-wide duplicates in all modern species... Duplicated genes may adopt three major modes of evolutionary divergence: loss by deleterious mutations (nonfunctionalization), acquisition of a new adaptive function (neofunctionalization) or division of an ancestral function (subfunctionalization). The role of gene duplication in evolution is perhaps best illustrated by the growth hormone (GH)-prolactin (PRL) family. This family has arisen from a single ancestor by gene duplication followed by extensive functional divergence. Although GH retains the original role in growth control in all vertebrate species, the other members have distinctive functions between fish and mammals: PRL is important for the mammary gland in mammals but for osmoregulation in fish...They also exhibit differences in expression pattern... Fish models provide an ideal system to study the modes and mechanisms of duplicated genes' evolution in vertebrates. After split from the tetrapod lineage, fish has undergone a third WGD event in the common ancestor of all modern-day teleosts. Interestingly, the resultant genome-wide gene duplicates usually coexist, leading to more genes in fish... http://www.ijbs.com/v09p0496.htm

Two whole-genome duplications likely occurred before the divergence of ancestral lamprey and gnathostome lineages. Moreover, the results help define key evolutionary events within vertebrate lineages, including the origin of myelin-associated proteins and the development of appendages. The lamprey genome provides an important resource for reconstructing vertebrate origins and the evolutionary events that have shaped the genomes of extant organisms. http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v45/n4/full/ng.2568.html Lamprey Genome Shows When Humans Evolved Jaws, Matching Arms, Legs and More (?) http://www.homolog.us/blogs/blog/2013/02/27/lamprey-genome-shows-when-humans-evolved-jaws-matching-arms-legs-and-more/

Scientists have suspected that spare parts in the genome -- extra copies of functional genes that arise when genes or whole genomes get duplicated -- might sometimes provide the raw materials for the evolution of new traits. Now, researchers report that they have discovered a prime example of this in fish. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163554.htm

Fish genomes provide an ideal context in which to examine the consequences of WGD http://aviangenomes.org/evolution-gene-function-and-regulatory-control-after-whole-genome-duplication-comparative-analyses-v/

Fugu Genome Analysis Provides Evidence for a Whole-Genome Duplication Early During the Evolution of Ray-Finned Fishes [with about 24,000 extant species, teleosts are the largest group of vertebrates. They constitute more than 99% of the ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii) that diverged from the lobe-finned fish lineage (Sarcopterygii) about 450 MYA] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.326.8247&rep=rep1&type=pdf

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is raised in aquaculture the world over and is among the most studied fish species. Scientists in France have now sequenced its genome, uncovering evidence of whole-genome duplications that were landmarks of vertebrate evolution and the divergence of teleost fish. The team uncovered and examined two copies of the ancestral salmonid genome within the rainbow trout genome, and used it to infer evolutionary relationships between the fish.

“Due to a relatively recent WGD [whole-genome duplication], the rainbow trout thus provides a unique opportunity to better understand the early steps of gene fractionation,” the rearrangement of the genome following duplication, the researchers wrote in Nature Communications this week (April 22). They added that their results challenge the hypothesis that whole-genome duplications are “followed by massive and rapid genomic reorganizations and gene deletions.”

Vertebrate evolution has been shaped by several rounds of whole-genome duplications (WGDs) that are often suggested to be associated with adaptive radiations and evolutionary innovations. Due to an additional round of WGD, the rainbow trout genome offers a unique opportunity to investigate the early evolutionary fate of a duplicated vertebrate genome. Here we show that after 100 million years of evolution the two ancestral subgenomes have remained extremely collinear, despite the loss of half of the duplicated protein-coding genes, mostly through pseudogenization. In striking contrast is the fate of miRNA genes that have almost all been retained as duplicated copies. The slow and stepwise rediploidization process characterized here challenges the current hypothesis that WGD is followed by massive and rapid genomic reorganizations and gene deletions. http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140422/ncomms4657/full/ncomms4657.html

THE CONTINUOUS NATURE OF GENE DUPLICATIONS

Gene duplication has had a major impact on genome evolution. Localized (or tandem) duplication resulting from unequal crossing over and whole genome duplication are believed to be the two dominant mechanisms contributing to vertebrate genome evolution. While much scrutiny has been directed toward discerning patterns indicative of whole-genome duplication events in teleost species, less attention has been paid to the continuous nature of gene duplications and their impact on the size, gene content, functional diversity, and overall architecture of teleost genomes... Conclusions: We have analyzed gene duplication patterns and duplication types among the available teleost genomes and found that a large number of genes were tandemly and intrachromosomally duplicated, suggesting their origin of independent and continuous duplication. This is particularly true for the zebrafish genome. Further analysis of the duplicated gene sets indicated that a significant portion of duplicated genes in the zebrafish genome were of recent, lineage-specific duplication events. Most strikingly, a subset of duplicated genes is enriched among the recently duplicated genes involved in immune or sensory response pathways. Such findings demonstrated the significance of continuous gene duplication as well as that of whole genome duplication in the course of genome evolution. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/13/246

WHOLE GENOME DUPLICATION AND THE EVOLUTION OF FLOWERING PLANTS

Scientists who sequenced the Amborella genome say that it provides conclusive evidence that the ancestor of all flowering plants, including Amborella, evolved following a "genome doubling event" that occurred about 200 million years ago. Some duplicated genes were lost over time but others took on new functions, including contributions to the development of floral organs. "Genome doubling may, therefore, offer an explanation to Darwin's "abominable mystery"—the apparently abrupt proliferation of new species of flowering plants in fossil records dating to the Cretaceous period," said Claude dePamphilis of Penn State University. "Generations of scientists have worked to solve this puzzle," he added. Comparative analyses of the Amborella genome are already providing scientists with a new perspective on the genetic origins of important traits in all flowering plants—including all major food crop species. "Because of Amborella's pivotal phylogenetic position, it is an evolutionary reference genome that allows us to better understand genome changes in those flowering plants that evolved later, including genome evolution of our many crop plants—hence, it will be essential for crop improvement," stressed Doug Soltis of the University of Florida... http://machineslikeus.com/news/insight-evolution-flowering-plants/page/0/1
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GENE DUPLICATION MAY HAVE PAVED THE WAY FOR HUMAN EVOLUTION

A Missing Genetic Link in Human Evolution: Mysterious episodes of genetic duplication in our great ape ancestors may have paved the way for human evolution http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-missing-genetic-link-in-human-evolution/
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HUMANS AND CHIMPS, MORE TO CONSIDER ABOUT HOW CLOSE WE ARE

Human and chimp genomes are REALLY close when you consider how many differences are simply due to gene duplications. Gene duplications are an important part of evolution. As for genes that are present in one species but not the other, they are not necessarily evidence of an unbridgable gap, especially not in the case of species as near as human and chimp. That's because both the intraspecies variation of the genome in a human population (overall human genetic diversity) and the intraspecies variation within chimpanzee populations (chimp genetic diversity) are comparable or greater in some cases than the variation between humans and chimps.

Furthermore, many genes have very little effect on phenotype. Even if they code for particular proteins, they don’t have to be expressed. Much of the intraspecies variation consists of such genes.

Much of the difference between species is also relevant only to the histo-immune system profile of the individuals, i.e, a lot of the variation we see between genomes is simply comprised of genes that evolved to in resistance to pathogens, and many diseases are specific to a species. So there are variations in the genes for immunity based on the pathogens that each species encounters. Chimpanzees don’t get all the diseases of humans, and vice versa. Neither should one want to define "human" in terms of the diseases one is prone to.

References
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/05/04/a-duplicated-gene-shaped-human-brain-evolution-and-why-the-genome-project-missed-it/#.VCsV3b4-Bz8
‘A duplicated gene shaped human brain evolution - and why the genome project missed it.’
http://www.eva.mpg.de/fileadmin/content_files/staff/paabo/pdf/Khaitovich_Regional_Genome_Research_2004.pdf
‘Regional Patterns of Gene Expression in Human and Chimpanzee Brains’
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SPEAKING OF GENETIC DIFFERENCES AND THE ALMOST LEGO-LIKE DIVERSITY OF VARIOUS MUTATIONS IN NATURE...

REMARKABLE DIVERSITY OF VIRAL GENOME STRUCTURES as well as a previously unidentified evolutionary link between unsegmented and segmented viruses. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view%2FarticleNo%2F37208%2Ftitle%2FGoing-Viral%2F

ORGANISMS CAN VARY A LOT VIA MUTATIONS--A trillion trillion microbes of cyanobacterium hover near the ocean's surface and produce half of the world’s oxygen. Given their abundance (results pub. in Science, 4/24/14) illustrate their astounding genomic diversity, which is not surprising... Remarkably, within the Prochlorococcus strain in her current study—the so-called high-light–adapted Prochlorococcus—individuals share only about 1,450 “core” genes among the 2,000 genes in each genome. The rest are VARIABLE. (For comparison, humans share 95 percent of their genes with chimpanzees.)... And, “to get these single nucleotide polymorphisms [in the core genes], they need time.” http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view%2FarticleNo%2F39809%2Ftitle%2FMicrobe-s-Diversity-Is-Vast--Ancient%2F
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EVOLUTION 101 FOR CREATIONISTS, I.D.ISTS, ETC.

DNA never duplicates itself perfectly. There are always mutations.

Most mutations probably are neutral, not necessarily deleterious, or they are deleterious and beneficial to only a limited extent.

The experiments that involved shooting xrays at fruit flies were like shooting buckshot at chickens, yes, they produce a lot of deleterious mutations. But in nature the mutations are not brought on by massive doses of x-rays, and the animals have many more generations to sort them out via natural selection.

Mutations do not have to be fully efficient in order to provide some added function. A famous recent example is the discovery of a simple frame shift mutation in a species of bacteria that allowed it to partially digest nylon, a recent man-made polymer. The bacteria did not receive a lot of energy partially digesting the nylon, but that is only the beginning of further mutations. Same with the recent experiment in which a bacterial colony in a lab evolved the ability to digest citrate. It did not happen all at once, but in stages (see Dennis Venema's article, which also responds to I.D. assertions http://biologos.org/blog/behe-lenski-and-the-edge-of-evolution-part-5 , Venema is a biologist and ex-I.D.ist, and he also has an ongoing series on understanding evolution that goes into greater depth that you're liable to see elsewhere on the web, http://biologos.org/blog/author/dennis-venema )

Every animal was something wrong with it in its chromosomes. No animals is perfectly healthy, only relatively healthy, and only the animals that live long and healthy enough to reproduce pass along their genes to the next generation and even among those who reach the point of mating don't all produce the same numbers of offspring. So a lot of animals along with their genes get whittled out of the process from fertilization until mating--and even those that mate produce different ratios of offspring.

Both animals and plants survive whole genome duplication events, which are the most massive forms of mutation one can imagine, they also survive whole chromosome mutations either the duplication of a whole chromosome, or a chromosome split into two, or a merging of two into a single chromosome. They also survive duplication of individual genes. In fact there are many groups of similar proteins as one might expect via the above mentioned duplication events. And there are plenty of pseudogenes as well, as one might expect via the duplication events mentioned above.

Viroids are fascinating. A single strand of their RNA alone can copy itself in a test tube. And some viroids appear to be as large as the smallest known bacteria. Bacteria also passively absorb DNA. Exactly how the earliest reproducing chemicals, reproducing cells and viroids co-evolved we don't know. But all life appears related as we look backwards from the present to the past in the fossil record (the Cambrian Explosion does not appear to be an exception judging by the way the earliest members of many phyla resemble worms, slugs, and/or little shellies, and diversify increasingly over time, i.e., the earliest vertebrate-like organisms have mere notochords, not bony vertebrae nor jaws, they are long like worms). Life also appears related in the genetic record. Though DNA exchanges grow increasingly less possible to trace as one looks further back since bacteria trade DNA all the time, as well as passively absorb it.

If organisms truly were designed intelligently they could continue to interact with their environment and change accordingly without having to compete to leave offspring, most of which die, or they reproduce in smaller numbers than others, or they never get to reproduce at all.

Mosquitoes resistant to DDT underwent a mutation that produced multiple copies of the esterase gene that helps detoxify DDT; But the cotton budworm underwent a mutation that altered the target of the DDT poison. And houseflies underwent a mutation that altered the proteins that transport the DDT poison. So a variety of POSSIBLE mutations could reduce the killing effects of DDT, and only one of those different mutations has to occur in order for the organism to develop resistance, and of course the organism that survives gets to continue passing that gene along. We don't know all the possible mutations that might allow Plasmodium to survive either. This increases the odds that such resistance could occur via random mutations. Also see this recent TAKE DOWN OF BEHE'S ARGUMENT THAT MALARIA'S RESISTANCE TO A DRUG COULD NOT HAVE EVOLVED... http://www.millerandlevine.com/evolution/behe-2014/Behe-1.html

Natural selection in the time of cholera -- Using a recently developed computational method, the researchers have been able to detect patterns of strong natural selection left behind in the genomes of a population that has been contending with cholera for generations. https://www.broadinstitute.org/news/5107
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THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, ABIOGENESIS

Experimental evidence concerning how life began and exactly how the earliest reproducing organisms evolved may be hypothetical but the cosmos does appear like one enormously old experiment continually mixing energies and atoms. The cosmos is quite an active laboratory.

How is I.D.going to prove that such an experiment on such a massive scale could never produce self-reproducing molecules and then living organism? And after self-reproduction begins, it's a matter of some molecules reproducing greater ratios than others.

The Inevitability of Life's Origin?

Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order. In any nontrivial system with lots of energy flowing through it, you are almost certain to find order arising somewhere in the system. If order from disorder is supposed to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, why is it ubiquitous in nature?

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. http://youtu.be/e91D5UAz-f4 England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab. “He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.” http://www.salon.com/2015/01/03/god_is_on_the_ropes_the_brilliant_new_science_that_has_creationists_and_the_christian_right_terrified/

Yes, cells are complex, and there's a natural reason for that. In fact, recent experiments indicate that replicating molecules that are more complex and that work in series can out-reproduce other replicating molecules that work alone. So complexity appears to be favored even on a biochemical level. See the new book, What is Life?: How Chemistry becomes Biology by Addy Pross and these other books on modern day biochemical research into the origin of life and rising complexity in the genome: http://amzn.com/w/T3A0XA7HRKMT

Bacteria as well as viruses, ruled the earth all by themselves for two billion years or more before larger more complex eukaryotic cells (of which we humans are composed) ever arose. Bacteria exchange DNA packets endlessly with other bacteria as well as absorb DNA passively when they encounter it. Sounds like a jury-rigged process of DNA exchange on a trial and error and on a massive scale, doing so for over a billion years. What might that NOT evolve into?
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THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE'S NEGLIGENCE IN ACKNOWLEDGING THE AGE OF THE EARTH. IF THEY CAN'T FULLY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT, THEN WHAT DO THEY REALLY KNOW OR CARE ABOUT GENUINE SCIENCE?
http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-discovery-institute-endorses.html

The evidence for an OLD earth presently includes:

1) Individually dated tree-rings in two or three separate tree-ring series, stretch back 12,000 years. (Even Young-earthers like Aardsma, formerly with the Institute for Creation Research, have admitted that the evidence from individually dated tree-rings in two totally separate tree-ring series on two different continents, demonstrates the reliability of C-14-dating stretching back 12,000 years in time).

2) Individually (C-14)dated varves in a lake in Japan, stretch back 40,000+ layers. (Green River varves have not been individually C-14 dated, but that would be an interesting experiment to perform since there are over 2 million layers per ancient fossil lake in that region, and all toll, when you count the layers of all the fossilized lakes in that region, noting the lowest and highest layers in each lake and how the time overlaps in each lake, there are over 6 million layers.)

3) Deep ice cores feature 100,000 layers of ice -- each layer having its own distinctive isotopic signature (and other types of layer-distinctive signatures as well), stretching back over 100,000+ layers. Latest core drilled was two miles deep and contained 700,000 layers of ice.

4) Evidence of extremely slow sea-floor spreading over a 100,000,000 years. New sea floor is seen forming today from molten rock that emerges from a ridge that runs right down the middle of the Altantic ocean. On each side of that mid-Atlantic ridge, new molten rock continues to emerge, then it cools and hardens, and the date of cooling (as well as the direction and strength of the earth's magnetic field at the time it cooled) is sealed inside the rock in the iron crystals that harden there. Then the next strip of molten rock emerges from the mid-Atlantic ridge, cools, and hardens, as the continents on either side of the Atlantic ocean continue to drift slowly apart from each other. Thus are formed distinctive strips of sea-floor rock that run all the way from the middle of the Atlantic ocean (where the youngest radiometrically strips are) to the shoreline (where the oldest radiometrically dated strips are found). Such strips of rock along both sides of the mid-Atlantic ridge reflect over a hundred million years of sea floor spreading that occured as the continents of North and South American slowly drifted away from Europe and Africa.

Moreover, the radiometric dates that stretch from the middle of the Atlantic to the shoreline, agree with independent measurements (both land based and satellite based) of the present rate of movement of North and South America away from Europe and Africa. In both cases, the expected time it would take for the continents to move apart at their known present rates of speed are the same.

Even Young Earther's agree that if you try, as they have, to explain the evidence for extremely slow sea-floor spreading simply by speeding up the process and imagining that the continents zipped into their present positions in a mere "year," that hypothesis would require a MIRACLE to cool the molten rocks down instantly and in distinctive stages -- because if the continents "zipped" along, then the rocks and their radioactive isotopes would have run together like soft butter spread on microwaved bread, neither would the sea floor rocks exhibit the crystallization patterns that rocks exhibit that have cooled under conditions of much lower temperatures and pressures, which is what the sea floor rocks presently exhibit. Moreover, after the continents had ceased "zipping" along but slowed to their present extremely slow speeds, what odds would there be of achieving the same MATCH between the known range of radiometric dates of sea-floor rocks from the middle of the Atlantic to the shoreline, AND the present speed of the continent's moving apart from one another today? What a coincidence! The strictly scientific odds look far better that the "continental zip" hypothesis is wrong, and the continents took over a hundred million years to separate, and at the same rate they are presently separating.

The evidence of an old-earth is enormous and defies the "odds." There are thousands of individually dated tree rings -- tens of thousands of individually dated lake varves -- a hundred thousand distinctive layers of ice -- and, endless numbers of sea-floor rocks formed in succession, having hardened over successive periods stretching back over a hundred million years.