Saturday, August 29, 2015

Do we really NEED all the diseases in the world that God designed to kill children and crops and cause sorrow and starvation galore?

Do we really NEED all the diseases in the world that God designed to kill children and crops and cause sorrow and starvation galore? Does anyone really want to "apologize" for God's inclusion of all that suffering in creation that has only been alleviated recently?

Speaking of which, does anybody reading this blog know who Maurice Hilleman and Norman Borlaug are?

Hilleman was raised fundamentalist but discovered Darwin (was even caught reading Darwin in church!)and became a scientist who fought God's designs that caused childhood illnesses, and single handedly saved more lives from illness than any other person in the 20th century. Hundreds of millions of lives. He died not long ago, and his obituaries are online. His obituary in Independent, The (London) Apr 20, 2005 is online and mentioned his rejection of religion.


Borlaug became a scientist who fought God's designs that killed plants and destroyed agricultural products, and his development of more disease resistant and more productive crops may have saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.

At the end of his undergraduate education, Borlaug attended a lecture by Elvin Charles Stakman, a professor and soon-to-be head of the plant pathology group at the University of Minnesota. The event was pivotal for Borlaug's future life. Stakman, in his speech titled "These Shifty Little Enemies that Destroy our Food Crops," discussed the manifestation of the plant disease rust, a parasitic fungus that feeds on phytonutrients, in wheat, oat and barley crops across the US. He had discovered that special plant breeding methods created plants resistant to rust. His research greatly interested Borlaug, and when Borlaug's job at the Forest Service was eliminated due to budget cuts, he asked Stakman if he should go into forest pathology. Stakman advised him to focus on plant pathology instead, and Borlaug subsequently re-enrolled to the University to study plant pathology under Stakman. Borlaug received his Master of Science degree in 1940 and Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics in 1942.

"Father of the Green Revolution"
Questionnaire signed: "Norman E. Borlaug", 6½x3¾ card. He has handprinted his name below his signature. His handwritten responses to questions:

born in "Cresco, Iowa USA on March 25, 1914"

The world needs more "schools, food, jobs (employment) - less conflict and war"

I am noted for "Green Revolution in Third World. My work on increasing food production"

The American agricultural scientist was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in developing high-yield, disease resistant grains that increased food production in developing countries. These efforts have earned him the title, "Father of the Green Revolution". Without these breakthroughs, the massive famines predicted for the late twentieth century certainly would have occurred. Raised on an Iowa farm, Borlaug is credited with saving a billion lives or more from starvation.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Isaiah 53 not a prophecy of Jesus

Isaiah 53 is not a prophecy of Jesus, unless you ignore its original context and only focus on the potential "hits" and ignore the clear "misses," using a hazy "pesher" approach to its interpretation.

The trouble for Evangelical apologists is that there are no clear "dying Messiah" passages in the OT. And Isa. 53 is only advantageous to Christian apologists if they pick and choose which parts of it to emphasize and which to de-emphasize. For instance:

1) Was Jesus "despised [and] shunned by men?" According to Luke 4:15, he taught in the synagogue and everyone praised him. And huge crowds supposedly followed him, and he was described as making a "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:8-11; John 12:12-13,17-19).

2) Was Jesus "familiar with disease" and "stricken by God" (where the Hebrew word for "stricken" is one that is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to stand only for leprosy (as at Leviticus 13:3,9,20 and 2 Kings 15:5).

3) Was Jesus silent before his accusers ? According to John 18:33-37, 19:11, Jesus said much to Pontius Pilate. In each of the four gospels Jesus opened his mouth and said something before his accusers.

4) Was Jesus' "grave set among the wicked, and with the rich, in his death." There were no other bodies in the tomb in which Jesus' body was placed. The verse definitely does not say that the servant would have a grave provided for him by a rich man, so that part of the alleged prophecy is sheer invention.

5) Was Jesus crushed by disease? "the Lord chose to crush him by disease, that if he made himself an offering for guilt, he might see offspring and have long life, ..." And did Jesus see any offspring, or have a long life?

6) Does Isaiah 53 mention the Messiah? Verse 1 does not actually say that the servant's message would not be believed, but merely asks, "Who can believe what we have heard?" There seems to be no prophecy there at all. Nor is there any indication that the servant would be arrested as a criminal or scourged or crucified with criminals or make intercession for his persecutors. None of that is in there. Verse 6 does say, "the Lord visited upon him the guilt of us all," but there are other interpretations of that than the Christian one.

7) There is a Judaic interpretation of Isaiah 53 that seems plausible. The suffering servant is the nation of Israel which is represented by King Uzziah, who was its king in Isaiah's time and who died of leprosy. According to Shmuel Golding, Isaiah's message may have been: "Here is your leprous king, who is in type suffering under God's hand for you the backslidden servant nation of Israel" (which explains verse 6). Uzziah was taken away from the royal palace because of his affliction as a leper and spent his remaining years in isolation, which fits verse 8. Golding says the following:

Israel is portrayed as a suffering servant on account of its anointed leader being stricken with leprosy. Israel, like the leper, is a suffering servant of God. Both have suffered humiliation at the hand of their fellowmen: the leper because of his unsightly appearance; Israel through its defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The gist of the message is that Israel like the leper has suffered, but nevertheless will retain its identity in the form of the exiled Jewish people and that they will prosper in this form. [Shmuel Golding, The Light of Reason, volume II (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute of Biblical Polemics, 1989), p. 36.]

This interpretation of Isaiah 53 seems preferable to the Christian one because it does not suffer from drawbacks (1)-(6) mentioned above. It would also better explain the many changes of tense that occur in the chapter. And Israel is indeed referred to as "God's servant" (e.g., at Isa 49:3). However, the given interpretation does not make the chapter into a prophecy so much as an explanation of Israel's situation at around the time of Isaiah. At the very least, it shows, I think, that Isaiah 53 is not a clear example of a fulfilled prophecy (or set of fulfilled prophecies) in the Bible. So it is not any good support for premise (1) of the Argument from the Bible.

Also, per Ehrman, Many readers fail to consider the verb tenses in these passages in Isa 53. They do not indicate that someone will come along at a later time and suffer in the future. They are talking about past suffering. The Servant has already suffered – although he “will be” vindicated.

Bart Ehrman's questions on Isaiah 53:

Christians thought that Jesus was the messiah, and they knew that he had been crucified. And so they developed the idea that the messiah was supposed to be crucified. (And they started to appeal to non-messianic texts such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 in support of their views.)... Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), almost universally thought by scholars to be written by a different author from chapters 1-39 (themselves written by Isaiah of Jerusalem in the 8th c. BCE). Second Isaiah was writing after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (including the temple) in 586 BCE, while the leaders of the people and many of the elite had been taken into exile in Babylon, in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity... Several important points concerning Isaiah 53:

1.It is to be remembered that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not predicting things that are to happen hundreds of years in advance; they are speaking to their own contexts and delivering a message for their own people to hear, about their own immediate futures;

2.In this case, the author is not predicting that someone will suffer in the future for other people’s sins at all. Many readers fail to consider the verb tenses in these passages. They do not indicate that someone will come along at a later time and suffer in the future. They are talking about past suffering. The Servant has already suffered – although he “will be” vindicated. And so this not about a future suffering messiah.

3.In fact, it is not about the messiah at all. This is a point frequently overlooked in discussions of the passage. If you will look, you will notice that the term messiah never occurs in the passage. This is not predicting what the messiah will be.

4.If the passage is not referring to the messiah, and is not referring to someone in the future who is going to suffer – who is it talking about? Here there really should be very little ambiguity. As I mentioned, this particular passage – Isaiah 53 – is one of four servant songs of Second Isaiah. And so the question is, who does Second Isaiah himself indicate that the servant is? A careful reading of the passages makes the identification quite clear: “But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen” (44:1); “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant” (44:21); “And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (49:3).

The book of Second Isaiah itself indicates who the Servant of the Lord is. It is Israel, God’s people. In Isaiah 53, when the author describes the servant’s past sufferings, he is talking about the sufferings they have experienced by being destroyed by the Babylonians. This is a suffering that has come about because of sins. But the suffering will be vindicated, because God will now restore Israel and bring them back to the land and enter into a new relationship with them.

It may be fairly objected that the Servant is said to suffer for “our” sins, not “his” sins. Scholars have resolved that problem in a number of ways. It may be that the author is thinking that the portion of the people taken into exile have suffered for the sins of those in the land – some of them suffering for the sins of all. Those who have been taken into captivity have suffered displacement, loss, and exile for the sake of everyone else. But now the servant – Israel – will be exalted and restored to a close relationship with God – and be used by him to bring about justice throughout the earth.

There may be problems with this interpretation – as there always are with every interpretation! – but the facts remain that the suffering servant is never described as the messiah, his suffering is portrayed as past instead of future, and he is explicitly identified on several occasions as “Israel.”


The "Servant of the Lord" in Isaiah: General Bibliography [Last updated 2015-05-18] click here.

Who Is the Servant of the Lord?: Jewish and Christian Interpretations on Isaiah 53 from Antiquity to the Middle Ages by Antti Laato, 2013, in-depth review by Alphonso Groenewald, click here.

"Kingship and Servanthood in the Book of Isaiah" by Ulrich Berges from a highly acclaimed volume published in 2014, The Book of Isaiah: Enduring Questions Answered Anew by Richard J. Bautch (Ed.), J. Todd Hibbard (Ed.), click here to read part of the article.

"For fundamentalists only: Isaiah 53 in context," click here

Award winning Christian seminarian leaves the fold after examining the so-called Old Testament "Prophecies of Jesus" in detail: George Bethune English, The Grounds of Christianity Examined. For a bit of his story click here. For his view of Isaiah 53, click here and start reading at the paragraph beginning, "The next prophecy proposed to be considered, is the celebrated prophecy of Isaiah, consisting of part of the 52nd, and the whole of the 53rd chapter..."

Rabbi Tovia Singer (a conservative Jew who agrees that Scripture is inspired) defends Judaism against the Christian missionary selective quotation approach to the Hebrew Bible. Also does debates, and has recently re-edited his encyclopedic work that responds to numerous claims made by Christian missionaries, click here.

Fiddler Zvi disputes the Christian use of OT passages, including Isaiah 53, in an informative and entertaining fashion, click here.

Gerald Sigal, Isaiah 53: Who is the Servant? 307 pages, but a summary can be read for free by clicking here.

Counter Missionary Articles and Lessons, The Jewish Home. Click here then scroll down and click on the links to Identifying the "Suffering Servant"

David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, Jews & Jewish Christianity, a shorter work that discusses the use of Old Testament passages by Christians. Available for free along with many other pro-Jewish and anti-Christian missionary works, click here.

Charles C. Hennell, An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity, 2d ed. (London: T. Allman, 1841), ch. 13, "On the Prophecies of Isaiah," click here. See also, ch. 12, "On the Prophecies," and ch. 14, "On the Prophecies of Daniel," pp. 325-403

Michael Arnheim, Is Christianity True?, 1984, ch 6, "Fulfillment of Prophecy?"

Dewey M. Beegle, Prophecy and Prediction, 1978. An Evangelical Bible scholar and translator whose book on prophecy was composed in reply to various conservative views of Old Testament prophecy. Not available to read online, but copies can be obtained at one's local library via inter-library loan. Info for amazon purchase, click here. Beegle's testimony is also featured in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Christians or Non-Christians Who Suffer Depression or Attempt Suicide. What We All Have In Common.

Suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians... Suicide kills a disproportionate number of young people and the elderly, and it has become increasingly prevalent among returning veterans. More active duty soldiers now die from suicide than from combat. A 2012 Dept. of Veterans Affairs study found that 22 veterans on average kill themselves each day, totaling more than 8,000 a year.

Al Hsu, "When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ," Christianity Today [online, April 9, 2013] Hsu is the author of Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers and Hope (InterVarsity Press, 2002)

Daughter of Pastor Frank Page (who served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2006 to 2008) ended her life in 2009. The tragedy was kept quiet. For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa's death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.

The son of the influential minister who wrote the mega-bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, committed suicide. "Matthew Warren, Son of Influential Minister, Dies at 27" by Ravi Somaiya, New York Times, April 6, 2013

(In comparison neither of the daughters of the apostate author of a book titled, The Reason Driven Life--which was written in response to The Purpose Driven Life--have committed suicide. Nor did the daughters of America's Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll. Though some lovely Christians did try and spread the rumor that Ingersoll's son had committed suicide until it was pointed out by Ingersoll that he never had a son. On the other hand, it must be admitted there have been cases of depression and suicide in the Darwin family tree, admittedly a fairly large tree by this day and age.)

Baptists in the Carolinas are soul searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.

Pastors: Mental Illness and Suicide -- Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., 42, pastor of Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, discovered by his wife in the driveway of their home, dead from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. Ed Montgomery, 49, a pastor at Full Gospel Christian Assemblies International Church, Hazel Crest, Illinois, takes his own life in front of his son, after grieving the death of his wife who had died a year earlier from a brain aneurysm. Isaac Hunter, 36, founder and pastor of Summit Church in Orlando, Florida, admits to an affair that leads to his resignation, and while suffering from a troubled marriage he ends it all by killing himself... These events, which took place within the last five weeks, show we are all susceptible to mental illness - even the preacher... I've personally been in that dark place myself. By Rev. Mark. H. Creech, Christian Post Columnist

Pastor Who Confessed: There Are Times 'I Don't Feel Like God Is Hearing Me' Kills Self as Congregation, Family Wait for Him on Sunday--"What I have always advised younger men in the ministry to do is to try to find someone who can be your pastor outside your congregation... You can't let anyone in your church be your pastor. You are their pastor," he warned. The competitive nature of pastors hurts healthy camaraderie in the profession. "Every pastor needs a pastor to kind of lead and guide them. But it's hard for us to really find that relationship because often pastors are trying to compete with or cremate you... That's a sad truth about the ministry," agreed Land, who is also executive editor of The Christian Post. "I love pastors. They are in good grace, but most of them are pretty competitive when it comes to other pastors."
Why do Christians Kill Themselves? According to Christian apologist, C. Michael Patton, 'For the same reasons non-Christians kill themselves. Life's circumstances fare no better for believers than for others. The divorce rate is the same, cancer rate is the same, just as many Christians find themselves out of work as non-Christians, and tragedy is no less likely to enter our lives than others. In fact, one might make the case that Christians have much more temptation to do so... We believe that we are in a hostile world that is filled with evil and evil powers... I have often wondered if suicide was not more of a temptation for Christians (in one respect) due to the fact that we know we will be out of pain and with God. In short, the circumstances that cause one to be so distraught with life that they are willing to take their own life exist just as much (if not more so) with Christians as they do with non-Christians.
Suicidal Thoughts on Suicide by C. Michael Patton, Christian apologist

(Christian apologist, C. Michael Patton, who wrote the lines above had a sister named Angie who committed suicide. After that his father started drinking heavily, a seeming death wish that he never recovered from. His father died at 66, the official cause being pneumonia. The actual cause was the type of guilt that hopes for death and does not care about physical health and refuses to check into a hospital when pneumonia is about to take his life. The apologist's mother continued to suffer depression after Angie's death. She cried for two years as her blood pressure rose. Finally an aneurysm ruptured and left her paralyzed; a different person. The apologist and his remaining sisters have experienced significant depression since Angie's death. Michael writes about his bouts with suicidal depression on the same blog where he defends the Gospel.)
Depression is a clinically-diagnosed mental illness. It's also a relentless and evil sonofabitch. It's not selfish to struggle with depression. It's not a lack of understanding about God and his creation. It's not something to be ashamed of. Call it what you want - God's grace, luck, fate - but when I was sitting on the tile in my bathroom almost 5 years ago, I saw just a small sliver of light. Just enough to make me take a breath and look at the pills in my hand. It was enough for me to drop them and watch them scatter all over the cold floor. I still don't know what it was that opened my eyes and mind that night, but it was enough for me to not go through with swallowing them all. But, there are so many people, like the brilliant Robin Williams this week, who aren't granted that little sliver of light... And there's another kind of evil lurking around the halls of the depressed, and it's the belief that those who are stricken with depression (or any mental illness) are suffering because of their lack of faith in Jesus. "If only you'd pray for more joy," people say. "If only you'd ask God to take the pain." Or, "Is there unresolved sin in your life?" Or how about this one, "If you'd just meditate more on God's Word..." Folks, saying someone is depressed or suicidal because they aren't praying enough, are self-absorbed, sinful, or don't have a deep enough faith? It's abusive. And it needs to stop. Now... Sometimes, healing happens through good doctors, counselors, practitioners, and yes, medicine. God's grace can look like a sliver of light on the bathroom floor, but it can also look like a life-changing counseling session or the right combination of drugs to regulate your brain chemistry. Prayer and a deepening faith have helped many along the road to depression. But it doesn't always work out that way. It didn't for me...
Nish Weiseth, "Thoughts on depression, suicide and being a Christian," August 12, 2014. Nish is an Evangelical Christian and author who also writes pieces for Christianity Today on her experience of being a non-Mormon (a religious minority) in Utah.

Suicide Survivors: How the Clergy Can Help or Hurt You -- 'I have spoken with countless suicide survivors who have been deeply hurt by comments that ministers have made... I have been to funerals for angels who died by suicide when ministers have rambled on and on about suicide being a "sin." In spite of that horrible, unforgivable "sin," they said there may still be "hope" that the person who died may actually go to Heaven. Many churches in the past would not even perform a funeral for someone who died by suicide because the "sin" of suicide was so grievous and unforgivable... The "suicide is a sin" mentality is still extant for many.'

Was typically frowned upon EXCEPT for cases in which suicide was undertaken for RELIGIOUS REASONS including mass suicide, which was regarded with veneration. This veneration is understood in the context of the doctrine of Kiddush ha-shem, i.e., `sanctification of the divine name' which stated that suicide could be acceptable or even glorifying to God if one thereby avoided becoming a vehicle for desecration of His name in instances of rape, slavery or forced religious conversion to a non-Jewish religion. The best known example of this is Massada but mass suicides amongst persecuted Jewish communities continued to feature in Germany, France and Britain during the Middle Ages.
Martyrdom was highly regarded by the early church and the boundary between it and suicide proved to be a narrow one. Tertullian addressing Christians in prison who were awaiting martyrdom, encouraged and strengthened them by citing the example of famous suicides including Lucretia, Dido and Cleopatra. Chrysostom and Ambrose both applauded Palagia, a girl of 15 who threw herself off the roof of a house rather than be captured by Roman soldiers. In Antioch, a woman called Domnina and her two daughters drowned themselves to avoid rape, an act which, as in the case of the Jews, was venerated.

Jerome also approved of suicide for religious reasons and did not condemn austerities which undermine the constitution and which might be regarded as slow suicide. He recounts, with the greatest admiration, the life and death of a young nun named Belsilla who imposed such penalties on herself that she died. Martyrdom eventually became so popular amongst the more fervent believers such as the Donatists that it threatened the credibility and, in places, the very existence of the church. How to respond to this fervour was a difficult task for leaders of a religion founded on Jesus's voluntary submission to death and whose early leaders had all been slain in the course of duty.

It was Augustine who synthesized Platonic and Jewish traditions on suicide in a way that gave greater emphasis to the former. In `The City of God' he concluded that suicide was never justified, not even in the cases mentioned above in Jewish and early Christian tradition. By the 5th century suicide was regarded by the church as sinful in all circumstances.
Apparently suicidal depression was common in the Middle Ages because numerous guides survive that were written to instruct clergy how to go about ministering to those who were suicidal. Such guides emphasized keeping the person under close observation, keeping them busy, making them comfortable with warmth, food and music, and prescribing religious exhortation, as well as citing past success stories in which suicide was averted, and offering absolution from sins. Even in cases where the suicide was successful clergy held inquests and the records reveal that in the majority of the verdicts the suicide was attributed to a disturbance of the mind rather than the soul. As in the case of Jewish tradition this enabled the dead person to receive formal rites of burial. Throughout this period we see a dissonance between what the theologians taught concerning the horrendous nature of the sin of suicide, and what the clergy actually practiced. As for what the public believed, `folk' superstitions concerning suicide proved remarkably resistant to change and persisted right up until the mid-nineteenth century, such as a belief that suicides were buried at crossroads.
In the seventeenth century, under the influence of the new spirit of inquiry, the more educated classes began to question the prevailing view that suicide was always wrong. John Donne, who was for a while himself prone to suicidal urges, wrote a treatise called Biathanatos in which he tried to prove (rather unsuccessfully as it happens) that self murder was not a sin. Interestingly, he cites as support the contemporary practice of euthanasia in which female relatives of those who were dying and for whom nothing more could be done would assist death by removing the patient's pillows. Donne records that this was common practice and that it was regarded as a `pious act', reflecting the fact, again, of a wide divergence between what the church taught and what society as a whole actually practiced. The term `suicide' was first coined by Walter Charlton in 1651 as a bid to rid it of the criminal and sinful associations which had previously stuck to it. Although his exercise at moral sanitization failed the term itself stuck.

Laws were introduced in the early nineteenth century to punish those who attempted suicide or who assisted others to end their lives. Just as in the ancient world the upper classes (particularly those of a more artistic bent) were spared the indignity of imprisonment and for a while suicide even came to enjoy a bit of a vogue amongst the romantics. The lower classes, however, could expect a sentence of 10 days with compulsory counselling from a clergyman. Subsequently even stiffer sentences were imposed and between 1944 and 1955 13% of the 40,000 who attempted suicide were prosecuted; 308 of these were sent to jail and even in 1955 a man received a two year jail sentence, although this was subsequently reduced to a month.

Suicide only ceased to be an indictable offence in 196l and continues to be an offence for those who aid or abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another (Suicide Act 1961). The ostensible aims of such sentences were to discourage suicide as a phenomenon, although it is hard to be sure that some of the wish to punish wasn't due to misplaced anger towards those who were regarded as a social nuisance, a spirit which lives on in many medical wards and admissions units.

The nineteenth century was a time in which men started to collect data and to apply scientific method to the social evils of the day. Professor Olive Anderson has written extensively about suicide at this time. Her researches indicate that, despite the prohibitions, suicide rates in the UK started to climb, especially among men, from the mid-1800s onwards. Although the sociologist Emile Durkheim blamed the `anomie' of modern industrial society, the process of industrialization cannot be entirely held to blame since suicide rates were highest in the old county towns. At this time suicide continued to be associated in the public eye with sin but the finding that it also showed a strong association with alcohol abuse, poor physical health and poverty sensitized the public towards a more sympathetic and understanding attitude, itself assisted by the rise of the popular novel in which the suicides of the wronged, abandoned and destitute often featured.

However, poverty was also popularly identified in many a Victorian mind as the just deserts of a life given over to sin; considerable debate thus took place over which of the poor should be seen as `deserving' and which were beyond help. Under these combined influences those who saw themselves as having a responsibility to promote public order developed a variety of social and philanthropic programs to combat suicide.

Suicide is less common during wartime and times of national crisis. Conversely, suicide rates increase after a celebrity takes their life or a suicide is displayed on television.

Churches would do well to become aware of the problem of depression and its treatment since Christians are by no means immune from depression or suicidal thinking. (In fact, despair even to the point of suicidal thoughts, was something experienced by a number of figures in the Bible who are presented in a favorable light from Paul to Job, David, Jeremiah and Elijah.)

Christians would also do well to become more concerned about social justice and more vocal in their opposition to the real social evils of society. Alcoholism, marital breakdown and unemployment are far more serious issues than, say, the New Age movement or whether women should be ordained.

However, the question remains 'Are there ever circumstances which render it legitimate to end one's own life?' The ancient Jews and early Christians clearly thought so. Nowadays we face new dilemmas concerning medicine's increasing ability to sustain and prolong life beyond that determined by natural processes.
Much of the above is from Russell Blacker's article, Suicide Down the Ages - A Judeo-Christian Perspective, on the website of The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF).

On suicide. "Rationally Speaking" is a well known blog and podcast by an atheist philosopher. See here, here, here, for discussion of suicide, i.e. what empirical inquiry tells us about suicides (who commits them, how, what are the best strategies for prevention) and how philosophers view suicide.

What does a nihilist's nihilist think of suicide? Forget Camus for a sec and read these quotations from E. M. Cioran:
When people come to me saying they want to kill themselves, I tell them, "What's your rush? You can kill yourself any time you like. So calm down. Suicide is a positive act." And they do calm down.

We dread the future only when we are not sure we can kill ourselves when we want to.

Why don't I kill myself? If I knew exactly what keeps me from doing so, I should have no more questions to ask myself since I should have answered them all.

Only optimists commit suicide, optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists. The others, having no reason to live, why would they have any to die?

It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.

The obsession with suicide is characteristic of the man who can neither live nor die, and whose attention never swerves from this double impossibility.

If death is as horrible as is claimed, how is it that after the passage of a certain period of time we consider happy any being, friend or enemy, who has ceased to live?

In a world without melancholy, nightingales would start burping.

What would be left of our tragedies if an insect were to present us theirs?

Life inspires more dread than death--it is life which is the great unknown. (Or as Bertrand Russell put it, "We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think-- in fact they do so.")

The Lighter Side of Suicide?

Suicide is man's way of telling God, 'You can't fire me - I quit.'--Bill Maher

Potential suicides should keep in mind that it's a decision they have to live with for the rest of their lives.--paraphrase of something Paul Tillich wrote

I am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.― David Levithan

The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.―Friedrich Nietzsche

There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.― Tennessee Williams

The only difference between a suicide and a martyrdom really is the amount of press coverage.―Chuck Palahniuk

I went to the worst of bars hoping to get killed but all I could do was to get drunk again.―Charles Bukowski

If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.―Mahatma Gandhi

Once I tried to kill myself with a bungee cord. I kept almost dying.―Steven Wright

There's no reason to live, but there's no reason to die, either... Life is not worth the bother of leaving it.―Jacques Rigaut

The New York Daily News suggested that my biggest war crime was not killing myself like a gentleman. Presumably Hitler was a gentleman.― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

If the pain was constant and unbearable, or I was struggling for every breath and unable to sleep, I might consider suicide. I don't think I've ever been the suicidal type because I have lots of addictive interests including making music. If the question is metaphysical, then I would add that metaphysics is sometimes full of bullsh*t. The thought of everything eventually perishing can create angst but not necessarily suicidal thoughts.

Cecil Wyche [agnostic, non-Christian, though interested in religious philosophy]

Devout Mormon Threatened to Harm Himself Unless His Brothers Stopped Cursing, Leaps to Death Rather than Endure Listening to Any More Profanity--(KSL News) Police now say an argument caused a 21-year-old man to jump from a moving truck. "Tyler Poulson was riding with his brothers last night when he became offended by one of them using profanity. Poulson, who recently returned from an LDS mission, threatened to get out of the truck if he continued. One of the men, not thinking he would, told Poulson to do so. Police said the car was going about 35 miles an hour when Poulson opened the door and jumped. He was pronounced dead on scene. Posted Nov 12th, 2005

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Is Religion Connected to Violence?

[I would qualify the statement above by adding that it is the depth to which you identify yourself primarily and solely with your particular beliefs, culture, race or nation, that is the depth by you separate yourself from all that you share with the rest of humanity.]

On the topic of religion and violence, one cannot help but notice how religions piggy back on the horrors of war to both strengthen themselves and grow, or to strengthen the soldier's resolve, which usually makes wars last longer and grow bloodier. That includes when the cause of war is not religious. See for instance, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Evangelical Christian and historian of Christianity, Mark Noll. Or see what religion made of World War I. Religion made out like a bandit in that war, emphasizing it as the beginning of the world's final judgment, even piggybacking on apocalyptic wartime fears to help the Pentecostal faith grow, see http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-great-and-holy-war-how-world-war-i.html

Second, scholars who claim religion has little to do with violence define "religious wars" in an extremely narrow fashion, as if they could only be deemed religious wars if Martin Luther and the pope literally led the troops themselves and they were fighting solely over the meaning and practice of the Lord's Supper. But in reality religion is interwoven into culture, society and governance and hence was implicit in many tragic wars for centuries and helped heighten tensions and divisions not only between theologians, but between kings and their respective kingdoms, and energized troops to fight and kill with greater ferocity and to reject talk of compromise longer.

Also, fighting over land and the extension of one's kingdom (as well as cases of colonization of foreign lands) were related to spreading the religious beliefs of one's kingdom, literally, back then. By the same token, to spread questions or heretical views of Christianity in such kingdoms was labeled not only a crime against God but also equated with treason and sedition. Such ideas were not the exception but the rule for fourteen hundred or more years in European Christian society, and defended by the papacy as well as the Reformers, Luther and Calvin, etc.

On the other hand one must not focus solely on religion's role in promoting divisiveness and violence, because mass movements also arise that are not strictly religious but which resemble religions claims in certain respects. Such alternative mass movements can arise in the realm of politics (ultra-liberal vs. ultra-conservative, unions vs labor, eco-terrorists vs industrialization, etc.). Pride in one's nation an become religion-like, so can pride in one's heritage or race. And such movements can be coupled with claims that they are the best or only way. Sometimes such movements even promise a heavenly paradise on earth, be it a "worker's paradise" or a "land of Aryan supremacy," or a world of Japanese supremacy, and they rely on highly generalized scapegoats--"outsiders" "heretics" to blame for why things aren't going the "right" way (something religions also do) which helps keep members of such movements united and energized in their shared hatreds. Such scapegoats have included "the Jews," "the Bolsheviks," "the bourgeoisie, "the running dogs and paper dragons of the West." See Eric Hoffer's classic little book, The True Believer that explains the similar psychological traits of people attracted to enthusiastic mass movements, be they Christian, Muslim, fascist or communist.

All such cases above, including political, nationalistic, racist and religious mass movements, especially those that hugely generalize who their enemies are, and who draw a sharp distinction between "us" and "them," have incited violence for "the cause." Therefore, religious beliefs, especially those that employ hugely generalized scapegoats and sharp distinctions between "us" and "them" most certainly contribute to animosities and violence.

The Difference Christianity Makes--Both the Subtle and Dark Differences

Concerning my own past experience as a "born again" Christian, letting people "see Jesus" inside me was something I deemed very important.

Only after years of Christian experience and self-evaluation did I slowly realize that something did not ring quite honest or genuine when it came to "letting Jesus flow out of me." As I see things now, I was trying to convince myself that Jesus was inside me, flowing out of me, perhaps as actors do when they are inhabited by a role that is flowing out of them, which can entail a great transformation. But is it necessarily a supernatural transformation in either case?

And I've seen many Christian believers channel their religious opinions, interpretations, condescension toward others.

But if Jesus is real and Christians have the truest beliefs along with having the greatest probability that Jesus is living in THEIR hearts, then why did so many Christians for so many centuries (both Catholics and the founders of Protestantism, Luther and Calvin) stress so firmly that rulers and magistrates must persecute, torture, and even execute people who dared to preach beliefs or holy rites and practices different from their own?

What I am trying to say is perhaps put best by the following quotations...

Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men. By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
--William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

I found myself in a Cambridge cafe having supper with some friends. We were on our way to a lecture by Harvey Cox, whose books I'd always found fascinating, though I'd filled their margins with vociferous criticisms [of his openness to alternative religious beliefs and practices]. I suddenly thought, "Listen, is there really that much difference 'them' and 'us'?" I had always accepted the qualitative difference between the "saved" and the "unsaved." Until that moment, it was as if I and my fellow-seminarians had been sitting in a "no-damnation" section of an otherwise "unsaved" restaurant. Then, in a flash, we were all just people. My feeling about evangelism has never been quite the same.
--Robert M. Price, "Testimony Time" http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/beyond_born_again/intro.html

One Sunday afternoon my cousin and I were eating at a restaurant. He paused, and started pointing at people. “He’s a Christian… He’s a Christian… So is she, and she, and that other guy.” I asked how he was so sure. His reply? “I was a hard-core Evangelical Christian for a few years, remember? It’s not hard to see once you know what to look for. Look for someone who looks like they’re wearing clothes just a little bit nicer than they’re comfortable in, that have a smile on their face. It won’t look like a happy smile, it’ll look kind of contrived and forced, like they’re trying to convince themselves they’re happy and rich.”
--Justice McPherson

One of Christianity’s chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.
--Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mourner’s bench”--asked for prayers of the faithful--had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences--how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become. They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ‘em both, in a great measure.” Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring. I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.
--Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”

Many of the most cordial Christians either hum hymns or listen to contemporary Christian music, or repeat Scripture in their heads, and wonder what they can do next to make someone think that they’re a “good little Christian.” I used to do the same thing, and now people wonder why I do not shower them with praise and gifts to make them think that I am a “good little Christian.” I used to go to people’s houses and work and they would try to pay me, But No! I would not take a dime, because I wanted to emblazon on their brains the idea that I was a “good little Christian.” (The “people-pleasing-for-Christ” part of my life ended over 15 years ago.) That’s what many Christians are, people pleasers, God pleasers, Jesus pleasers, preacher pleasers. Jesus was a people pleaser, that’s why he was so willing to die, either to please God or his ignorant followers.
--Ben at http://www.exchristian.net/ (edited by E.B.)

I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with God’s power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His people’s sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul. I refused. No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.
--Dr. Charles Brewer, Professor of Psychology (as told to E.B. 7/18/06)

Psychotherapists will tell you that in dealing with an addict, you have to understand that the person’s primary relationship is with the drug. The drug has the ability to control the addict’s thinking to a remarkable degree, and you must understand that any relationship you may feel with the addict is a distant second to the one they have with their drug. The most devout Evangelical Christians are open and unabashed about this. Their “relationship with Jesus” as they use the term, is the primary relationship in their lives.

There are even scriptures that go something like, “Not unless you hate your mother and father can you be my disciple,” and, “Who are my mother and father? But he who hears and words of God and does them.” Jesus even suggested to one disciple that he ought not return home to help bury a dead family member, instead he ought to “Let the dead bury the dead.”

In other words, Evangelicals stress that one’s love for Jesus ought to be so strong that relatively speaking, one’s love for even close family members, must not compare. You may love your mother but you should love Jesus so much more that in comparison it’s like you hate her. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like a drunk’s love for the bottle?

It may be helpful when trying to have a relationship with a believer to remember that you and their relationship with you means very little to them compared to their need to continue in their thought addiction.

In fact “true believers” may happily sacrifice a relationship with their own spouses or children should those family members refuse to convert, or become “unbelievers.” In such cases the “true believer” feels they are making the ultimate sacrifice in “serving God rather than man.”

Evangelical beliefs may promise you comfort, security and power just like the ads for alcohol link its consumption with sexiness, sports activities, and a rippin’ good time, but the promises in both cases often grow sour as the addict grows more hardened and insistent. Some people have an instant “conversion” to alcoholism. They take their first drink, or have their first good drunk and understand (in the words of a very young alcoholic client I once had) “This (drinking) is what I was put on this world to do.” For some people their religion is an illness they are trying to recover from and the recovery process is more difficult than recovering from alcoholism.
--Saint Vilis at the Yahoo Group, ExitFundyism

An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save human beings nd restore them to their lost state of peace with God, themselves 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. Really, there are.

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?
--Robert Anton Wilson


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
-- Blaise Pascal, Pensees, (1670)

"Christianity has committed crimes so monstrous that the sun might sicken at them in heaven."
--G. K. Chesterton in the Daily News, as quoted by Robert Blatchford, God and My Neighbor http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6172

"Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord's time--'Ye know not what spirit ye are of' (John of all people!). I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse... Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil."
--C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewis' death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.

"For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought."
--Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (New York: The New American Library, 1963).

"[E]ven the great monastic communities of western Europe, such as Cluny Abbey, founded on renunciation of the world and denial of the flesh, quickly became owners of vast estates and wielders of enormous political power. They no longer protested against the world. They were the world, in all its pageantry and power, and they validated the dream of empire, which they consecrated as Crusades to destroy the infidel. That is why people should not look to religion for salvation or for a solution to the ills of the world. Failure to see the possibilities for corruption and destruction in religion is a failure of spiritual perception of the first order. Few people fail to see the destructive possibilities of other people’s religions, but they can be remarkably blind to their own.It is interesting that the above passage was written as part of an attempt to argue that religion continues to be good and relevant in today’s society. Keith Ward is a defender of religion, not an opponent, but even he can see these things and recognize just how dangerous religion can become."
--Keith Ward, The Case For Religion

"Framers of modern democratic theory in eighteenth century Europe [and colonial America] were profoundly influenced by the religious wars that had dominated the previous century and a half. Locke's emphasis on tolerance and Rousseau's idea of a social contract were efforts to find unifying agreements that would discourage religious groups from appealing absolutely to a higher source of authority. The idea of civil society emerged as a way of saying that people who disagree with each other about such vital matters as religion could nevertheless live together in harmony."
--Robert Wuthnow, Books & Culture (a newsletter produced by the editors of Christianity Today) http://infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/experience.html


"Of course, what Keith Ward, above, describes is quite unremarkable. Sure religion can become corrupt and destructive—but so can any other philosophy. Ward makes a point of noting this as well, so why focus on religion? The difference between religion and other philosophies is the fact that other philosophies don’t pretend to be holy or creations of a perfect God. Religions make total and absolute demands on adherents; other philosophies generally do not. Religion is not inherently evil, but it is not immune to all of the problems which afflict people generally and human organizations in particular."
--Austin Cline (atheist)

The irony is that religious believers claim to possess the only inspired writings on earth, and claim to possess a prayer hotline by which they ask and receive guidance from God to lead them into all truth, and claim to possess a new heart inside them via divine favor, have come up with plenty of intolerant and unscientific points of view. Yet think of the types of supernatural claims made for such writings and the supernatural advantages that such religious believers claim to possess. Then compare the results for century after century. Christians advocated the necessity of persecuting outsiders, including fellow Christians whose beliefs or religious practices differed from their own, for over one thousand years. When a devout Christian (or a large majority of Christians) ruled over a city, country or nation, they instituted laws against blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, etc., and continued to do so for centuries, from the days of the Christians Roman Emperors who declared that all non-Trinitarians were demented and that the Emperor would punish them and destroy their writings, to the days of the Reformation when the same was still occurring, and hence they treated people like things in a sociopathic fashion.

Add to that Christianity's proven tendency to splinter, along with the decrees of rival theologians against each other, and subsequent harsh actions by Christian rulers. Does this appear like a more inspired story than is told elsewhere concerning human behavior? The same insecurity, the same belligerence. But of course an apologist might say, the difference is that Christians are "forgiven" [sic].

Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare ("Compel them to enter," based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church's suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

Christian persecution of pagans--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

Reformation Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

Christian persecution of American Indians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

Decrees of Christian Emperors against non-Trinitarians [at bottom of this piece]

Protestant and Catholic defenses of the necessity of persecuting heretics, blasphemers, infidels, etc.

Pulitzer prize-winning political scientist, Francis Fukuyama put it this way: "There was a time when religion played an all-powerful role in European politics with Protestants and Catholics organizing themselves into political factions and squandering the wealth of Europe on sectarian wars. [Like the "Thirty Year's War" that began in 1618 when Protestant leaders threw two Catholic emissaries out of a Prague window, and which turned central Europe into a wasteland of misery, leading to the deaths of more than a quarter of Europe's population. - ED.] English liberalism emerged in direct reaction to the religious fanaticism of the English Civil War. Contrary to those who at the time believed that religion was a necessary and permanent feature of the political landscape, liberalism vanquished religion in Europe. After a centuries-long confrontation with liberalism, religion was taught to be tolerant. In the sixteenth century, it would have seemed strange to most Europeans not to use political power to enforce belief in their particular sectarian faith. Today, the idea that the practice of religion other than one's own should injure one's own faith seems bizarre, even to the most pious churchmen. Religion has been relegated to the sphere of private life - exiled, it would seem, more or less permanently from European political life except on certain narrow issues like abortion... Religion per se did not create free societies; Christianity in a certain sense had to abolish itself through a secularization of its goals before liberalism could emerge... Political liberalism in England ended the religious wars between Protestant and Catholic that had nearly destroyed that country during the seventeenth century: with its advent, religion was defanged by being made tolerant."

See, The Uniqueness of Christian Experience

I agree with Eric Hoffer that people become devoted adherents of mass movements and political ideologies, be they fascist, communist, Christian, or Muslim, for some similar overlapping psychological reasons. Here are some quotations from Hoffer: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/01/eric-hoffer-quotations-on-similar.html
Hoffer also pointed out that all successful mass movements eventually seek and gain influence or control in the realm of politics/government in order to ensure they can predominate, consolidate and centralize their influence further. This is just as true of Christianity as other successful mass movements in religion and politics.

I don't blame all the world's ills on religion. The problem is primate politics, people following alpha males (and sometimes alpha females) with relatively blind devotion, people raised in a culture or sub-culture who remain unaware of its unique prejudices, people blind to their own limitations of experience and knowledge, people blind to the fact that their egos are so fragile they are quite likely to attach them like barnacles to some bigger "cause" which makes them feel invincible and like everyone should now listen to them. And no matter how many of their friends or family or fellow citizens they turn off or offend, they take no personal blame because it is in the name of the cause, the greater good they now feel they are embodying, that is hyper inflating their sense of selfhood and mission. And they will go quite far indeed to spread their beliefs, which helps expand their egos even more, to try and gain ascendancy for their beliefs within their culture, even going too far to "defend" their beliefs. Of course the idea of how far is "too far" is something people do not agree on.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Does "Atonement" Make Sense?

Don’t Christians ever wonder why killing God’s son (whom they believe to have been "God the Son," the second person of the "Trinity") was not the greatest sin humans could ever commit? Humans killed God?! Isn't that the greatest sin anyone could possibly dream of ever committing? How could the humans who committed such a deed ever be forgiven except maybe by killing another divine savior to “atone” for killing the first one? And so on and so forth? At some point the cycle of "atonement" has to be broken by direct forgiveness. At some point direct forgiveness, not based on a bloody sacrifice, has to intervene to break the endless loop. Maybe that’s why Jesus himself did not believe that God’s forgiveness depended on a bloody sacrifice, but instead taught everyone to pray “in this way…Our Father…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Simple. Direct forgiveness.

Has any theologian ever been able to demonstrate how "atonement" works, how physical pain unto death of an animal or person makes up for that time I talked back to my mother, or desired my neighbor's wife or car? Sounds exactly like sympathetic magic. Or as comedian Doug Stanhope says, “‘Jesus died for your sins.’ How does one affect the other? I hit myself in the foot with a shovel for your mortgage. I don’t get it."

Or as my friend Tony Atkinson once asked, "How do 'sins' become something substantial in and of themselves? There are memories of being hurt, but 'sins' as substantial entities one can collect together and then place inside a body or soul? How do 'sins' become collected and where do they exist apart from being past acts? Are 'sins' the 'bad' memories of God? Do such memories 'soil' God's mind? And he has to dispose of them? Is killing his own son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? None of this makes sense."

And is the Bible right about the life being "in the blood?" No, the life is in the brain and nervous system. We think nothing of blood transfusions, but cutting out part of one's brain and replacing it with someone else's is another more serious matter.

Also, Christianity comes along and suddenly all those bleeding animal sacrifices were for naught, because none of that animal blood did a thing, not if Christianity is true.

Also the scapegoat, the goat upon which the people's sins were placed, was NOT BLED, it "took the sins of the people" out into the desert. As for the Passover lamb in the Exodus story it did not die for anyone's sins! It was so that the angel of death already saw death on the doorposts of the Hebrews and didn't go in and kill their first born children. It was passing over those homes, but had nothing to do with any of the Jewish firstborn children inside those homes being sinners.

Though I admire Jesus for deploring the temptations of wealth, organized religion and its powerful sway, as well as hypocrisy, I no longer find the doctrines of either “original sin,” or “imputed righteousness” believable. I don’t think the cosmos is the way it is simply because one human couple failed a test, nor do I believe that a man being executed 2000 years ago “paid the price” for the “world’s sins,” and we ought to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” for the forgiveness of sins, not even metaphorically. Sounds rather paganish, echoing vampirism or cannibalism, a theology taken right out of the ancient superstitious caldrons of blood sacrifice and appeasement. Sympathetic magic.

That being said, I saw the film, The Passion, and was moved when Jesus' mother ran toward him when he was being forced to carry the cross. As she struggled to reach out to her son who had just fallen carrying the cross she recalled the time Jesus fell as a child and she rushed to help him. My eyes teared up at that scene in the film. But the rest of the film was a blood orgy that did not move me any more than seeing any other human being unjustly tortured and murdered. I didn't feel "forgiven" after watching the film, nor closer to God.

Though when I was young and raised Catholic I felt such a connection, and even cried after reading the Gospel stories of Jesus' death "for me, for me, for me." (Ah, the self interest angle of
Christianity, so prominent even in its hymns. Jesus loves me... This I know. Died for me. Me. Me. Me.) The Christian schema doesn't make sense to me anymore, neither intellectually nor emotionally. But direct forgiveness and people showing compassion to other people does.

Whenever I forgive someone I’m relatively straightforward and direct about it. But for God it takes a bloody miracle.

After the missionary explained the Bible’s superior civilized plan of salvation to several natives, one of them replied, “Like you, we love our gods and seek to love one another. What we do not understand is why your god tried to pin down sin by using His son as a voodoo doll.”

Christianity is merely paganism with a more successful advertising campaign.

Christianity teaches that Jesus had to die, or God couldn’t forgive sins, not a single sin, not unless Jesus died first.

So why isn’t Judas a “Saint?”


A: Have you heard the latest?

B: No, what’s happened?

A: The world has been redeemed!

B: You don’t say!

A: Yes, the Dear Lord took on human form and had himself executed in Jerusalem; and with that the world has been redeemed and the devil hoodwinked.

B: Gosh, that’s simply lovely.

Arthur Shopenhauer

We relate to the suffering of a wide range of species not just human suffering. It was even discovered that deer react to the sound of a crying baby of almost any mammal species, not just the cry of a baby deer. But how does such empathy in nature provide evidence for the truth of any one religion in particular? It doesn't. Which reminds me of a poem...


No chipmunk had to be crucified

on a tiny cross of twigs

To save all the other chippies,

Had to have nails pounded

through his little paws,

Had to take upon himself

all the sins of all the chippies

that ever were or would be

and die in agony

So that after they died

all the chippies

could live again forever,

But only if they believed

in all the sayings and doings

of the chipmunk crucified

on the tiny cross of twigs.

Antler, Last Words

Let’s not forget that Jesus (after a few hours of pain) rose from the dead and ascended to a throne in heaven. So in essence, nobody really “killed” Jesus; it was more like a fraternity hazing, or an early version of the TV show, “Fear Factor,” where you endure all kinds of [fill in blank with favorite expletive] to win a valuable prize.

SOURCE: T-Shirt Hell Newsletter, 2/25/04

In the beginning God was perfect and whole, needing nothing.

Then he said, “I need an itch to scratch, I’ll create humans. Of course I see that most of them will suffer, first on earth (where they shall be born into a world of pain, ignorance, swept up by hormonal waves of emotion, and experience uncertainty, dread, miscommunication), with eternal woes to follow for those who didn't ride the right waves of holy emotion by falling head over heels in love with Jesus of Nazareth and/or the writings of his disciples, nor interpret what was written with theological correctness."

"Also, be it known that I cannot forgive anyone anything, not until BLOOD IS SHED. I know I had Jesus teach people that I would forgive those who forgave others–but I only truly forgive after BLOOD is shed. And a millennia of shedding animal’s blood will be just for show, but ineffective. No genuine atonement will be achieved until Jesus of Nazareth bleeds to death. And even the blood of Jesus was shed in vain for the vast majority of doomed humanity who are going to wind up in hell anyway."

For those who defend the idea of eternal wrath being meted out to people after mere decades spent in a "fallen," confusing, painful and frustrating cosmos, one with fear, prejudice, cultural biases, mental blindness, ignorance, and demons running free (thank God for leaving Satan and his demons on earth), then I guess there's not much in the way of reasonable conceptions of justice anyone can say to such a person. Because they believe it is perfectly just for God to arrange things such that people get born in a frying pan, only to be tossed into the fire, without reprieve, forever.

I say to such people, you can have your jealous God of wrath, who kills millions in the Bible while Satan kills a handful (and Satan even has to beg God's permission to do so, so all the killings are ultimately God's in the Bible).

Jews do not make material sacrifices on their holiest day of the year, the day of atonement. They offer a contrite heart on that holiest of days, based on teachings in the psalms and books of their prophets. The prophets in the Bible were at odds with the priests on the matter of the importance of material/animal sacrifices and the "shedding of blood." Jesus himself taught people to pray, "Forgive us Father as we forgive others."

Christians have differed in their understandings of what Jesus' death signified. Limited atonement or universal? Bloody or nonviolent (see the book listed at the end)? Theological brouhahas have continued throughout the history of Christian theology over the meaning and significance of Jesus' death. Some examples below:


The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675) (Studies in Christian History and Thought) by G. M. Thomas (2007)


Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790: An Evaluation by Alan C. Clifford (1990)


Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841 by Owen Thomas (2002)


Modern Anglican Theology: Chapters On Coleridge, Hare, Maurice, Kingsley And Jowett And On The Doctrine Of Sacrifice And Atonement (1859) by James H. Rigg (2008)

A Treatise on Atonement (1858) by Hosea Ballou. (Famed Universalist preacher from the Victorian era)

George MacDonald's Challenging Theology of the Atonement, Suffering, and Death by Miho Yamaguchi (2007) MacDonald was a famous Victorian Universalist.


Dostoevsky on Evil and Atonement: The Ontology of Personalism in His Major Fiction by Linda Kraeger and Joe Barnhart (1992) Dr. Barnhart is an ex-Christian. His testimony appears in LEAVING THE FOLD: TESTIMONIES OF FORMER FUNDAMENTALISTS

The Atonement (Problems in Theology) by Michael M. Winter (1994)

Jesus and the Doctrine of the Atonement: Biblical Notes on a Controversial Topic by Gerd Lüdemann (1998) Gerd is an ex-Christian and former Lutheran theologian.

Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement by Anthony W. Bartlett (2001)

Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulen and A. G. Herbert (2003)

Problems With Atonement: The Origins Of, And Controversy About, The Atonement Doctrine by Stephen Finlan (2005)

The Promise of Peace: A Unified Theory of Atonement by Alan Spence (2006)

The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views by Thomas R. Schreiner, James Beilby, Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd (2006)

Atonement and Violence: A Theological Conversation by J. Denny Weaver, Thomas N. Finger, T. Scott Daniels, and Hans Boersma (2006)

Options on Atonement in Christian Thought by Stephen Finlan (2007)

What About the Cross?: Exploring Models of the Atonement by Waldron Byron Scott (2007)

The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement by Derek Tidball, David Hilborn, and Justin Thacker (2008)

Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology: Volume 1: Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement by Michael C. Rea (2009)

The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology by Rashdall, Hastings (2009)

Historic Theories of Atonement by Robert Mackintosh (2009)

The Atonement and the Modern Mind by James Denney (2009)

The Atonement in modern religious thought : a theological symposium by Anonymous (2009)

Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (Spck Classics) by Gustav Aulen and A. G. Herbert (2010)

The Nonviolent Atonement (Paperback) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2010) J. Denny Weaver "Sharp debates about the death of Jesus sparked by feminist and womanist theologians are the current cutting edge of discussions about Christology and atonement"
From Publishers Weekly: Evangelical Christians sing hymns in which blood figures prominently; one in particular is called "Nothing But the Blood." Such Christians may have to change their tune after reading J. Denny Weaver's The Non-Violent Atonement, which proposes that the idea of "satisfaction atonement" must be jettisoned in favor of a nonviolent approach. Jesus' death, says Weaver, was not planned or sanctioned by God the Father; it was the inevitable result of sinful humans taking matters into their own hands. Perhaps the new hymn can be called "Everything But the Blood"?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How and why did the scientific revolution take place? How much responsibility can Christianity claim for it? ESSENTIAL RESOURCES

TWO GREAT BOOKS that cite all of the major attempts by Christian apologists to try and claim that Christianity was responsible for science (the dependency thesis) and proving in every case that their arguments are questionable/unsupportable, click here and here.

MARVELOUS QUOTATION by John Hick, the noted philosopher of religion on Christianity's relation to science, click here.

Quotations from a book edited by a Christian...

“Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early modern, renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures... This has been called ‘the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science’"
--Arun Bala, The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science

The conclusion of the above book is that 1) that Christianity was not solely to blame for the fact that the science of the classical world didn't immediately develop into modern science, and 2) neither should Christianity take credit for developing modern science.

Even more broadly speaking, one might ask just how many of society's "influences" can be traced back to Judaism or Christianity? The ancient Sumerians/Babylonians, whose civilizations preceded Israel and Judaism, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, "Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy." In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in the book, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo lists the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more. For more ancient influences click here.

On the topic of why science really took off during the fifteenth century, I think the development of fine lens grinding techniques, followed by the invention of the telescope and the microscope opened tremendous doors for observing the natural world and incited tremendous curiosity about the heavens and about microscopic life and matter itself. If the ancient Greeks had had such fine lenses then I wonder what the world would be like today? For instance,

"Fifteenth-century Europe was still essentially medieval, living in a geocentric and finite cosmos, the fixed stars bounding the universe beyond the crystalline planetary spheres [and beyond the fixed stars lay the abode of God and angels, as seen on tidy maps of the entire cosmos ]. No celestial objects invisible to the naked eye were known, nor, at the other extreme, any organisms or structures smaller than the naked eye could see. In the natural world, maggots generated spontaneously from rotten meat, the heart was the seat of the emotions, and the arteries carried air. Less than two centuries on, much of this had become what C. S. Lewis (1964) aptly called ‘the discarded image.’

"The new universe was infinite: Pascal in the seventeenth century felt himself lost ‘entre les deux abîmes de l’infini et du néant,’ terrified of ‘les espaces infinis.’ It was also heliocentric; the earth was terra INFIRMA and God was no longer literally looking down out of heaven at the lowermost unmoving piece of real estate in the cosmos. The sensory horizons were broadened in both directions: Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter, and Leeuwenhoek had seen spermatozoa. Ah, what enormous vistas were opened to the human eye via the careful grinding of clear glass into lenses, boosting human curiosity a millionfold."

SOURCE: THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. general editor Richard M. Hogg, volume iii 1476 to 1776 [with some edits]

Early Christians had little interest in studying nature, since it was their salvation that mattered most, getting to heaven, and also demonizing and crushing Hellenistic gods and philosophers: http://youtu.be/2otjniHgMPk

Early Christian Hostility to Science, click

Science and Medieval Christianity

Why Christianity Did Not Give Birth to Modern Science


"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn."
--Augustine, The Confessions
On curiosity, compare a passage from another early Church Father, Lactantius 250-325 CE., who claimed that God made Adam the last of his creations so that he should not acquire any knowledge of the process of creation.

Or consider what another early Church Father, Jerome, wrote, "Is it not evident that a man who day and night wrestles with the dialectic art, the student of natural science whose gaze pierces the heavens, walks in vanity of understanding and darkness of mind?"Comment. in Ep. ad Ephes. iv, 17
"For centuries Stoic philosophers and Christian theologians struggled to subdue curiosity as one of the most disruptive, intractable and potentially vicious human traits. According to the 12th-century saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the evil angel fell as a result of curiosity. 'He had peered curiously into what was to come and wanted what he was not allowed to have and hoped presumptuous hopes,' Bernard writes, concluding that 'rightly is curiosity considered the first step of pride; it was the beginning of all sin.' Two centuries later, when Petrarch climbed a mountain in Provence and began to enjoy the view from the summit, he nervously opened his copy of Augustine's Confessions and was stunned by words that seemed to him a direct rebuke: 'And men go to admire the high mountains, the vast floods of the sea, the huge streams of the rivers, the circumference of the ocean and the revolutions of the stars--and desert themselves.'

"Yet the great work that checked Petrarch's curious gaze paradoxically contains the seeds that would eventually transform the churchman's vice into the psychoanalyst's virtue. Augustine himself was far too much in the grip of curiosity to endorse unequivocally its condemnation. If he chastised excessive interest in the world, he directed a virtually obsessive attention to the hidden reaches of his innermost self: 'I have become a problem to myself, like land which a farmer works only with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat.' More specifically, he manifested what was, for the pre-modern world, an unusual interest in his adolescence, from his theft of pears to his gaudy nights in Carthage, and a still more unusual interest in his early childhood, from his infantile rages to his first stumbling efforts to speak."
--Stephen Greenblatt, Curiosity Is Destiny: For Adam Phillips, psychoanalysis is about restoring people's appetite for life, New York Time, February 22, 1998
One of the more remarkable transformations in the history of European intellectual life was the removal of curiosity from the table of the vices and its inscription into the table of virtues. From the beginnings of Latin Christianity in the second century (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine), curiositas was defined as a vice; but by the fifteenth century it had begun to be considered a virtue, and by the eighteenth century it was simply assumed by most European thinkers to be virtuous.

"It is no exaggeration to say that European thought about curiosity is Augustinian from the fifth century to the fifteenth... Curiosity for Augustine is appetite for nothing other than the ownership of new knowledge." It is a kind of concupiscentia, a disordered desire that guarantees its own disappointment. Curious concupiscence engages in close study and investigation of its chosen objects. "But the curious man is always a fornicator: he perverts study and investigation in much the same way that having sex with those to whom you are not married perverts the gift of the sexual appetite." Thus the curious man is distinguished from the studious man.

Curiosity's desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious man's interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the temple's pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says God's angels will permit no harm to come to him) is the paridigmatic temptation of curiosity, says Griffiths, because it offers satisfaction of the experimental appetite. Appetite for novelty is another key element in curiosity, an appetite that prevents contemplative rest and also "prevents curiosity's gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternity's trace, in the things at which it looks." Yet again, curiosity is characterized by loquacitas, a garrulity or chattiness involved in becoming known as one who knows.

But the most important element in Augustine's critique of curiosity, according to Griffiths, has to do with the attempt to own knowledge, "to assert proprietas over it, to make it subject to oneself (sibi tribuere)."... Curiositas, then, is an appetite that operates within the constraints of the libido dominandi, the lust for dominance that ownership brings. Its Augustinian contradictory is studiousness, and this is an intellectual appetite that operates within the constraints of a proper appreciation of givenness, or of what Augustine would prefer to call the gift, the donum Dei.
--Paul J. Griffiths, "The Vice of Curiosity," Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Winter, 2006)
I think the point Griffiths, above, was trying to make, is that Augustine wanted everything in one's mind to be related to God, in fact, in relation to the Catholic Church's ideas and beliefs about God. Hence, one must not be too curious. Knowledge for its own sake might derail the faithful from their prayers and single-minded devotion to God/Church and the Church's mission of "saving" the world. This is borne out by much else that the early Church Fathers wrote concerning knowledge, curiosity, and the priority that Catholic beliefs and teachings must take over and above everything else. Concerning the early Church Fathers and science, the historian, Richard Carrier, has produced some youtube videos and podcasts on the topic that one can google and/or find on itunes. His presentations feature further quotations from early Church Fathers that bear out what I have stated.)


On the Contempt Augustine and other Church Fathers had for Ancient Skeptical Thinking

MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

"After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato’s books, in Aristotle’s, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings... Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world... Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders’ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil."
--Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries



Richard H. Jones' two books demonstrate all the errors in the "Christianity gave birth to science thesis," known as the dependency thesis. Jones questions the popular Christian apologetic that the rise of science was "dependent" on religion. Jones addresses the views of early church fathers as well as Reformation leaders, and modern day Christian apologists like VanTiil, Jaki, Stark, Plantinga and Dembski, discussing each point of the modern "Dependency thesis." All the major advocates are given their due and then their arguments from history, sociology and philosophy are shown to be misreadings (or shoddy special pleadings) concerning the dependency of science on religion. Jones has quotable lines and makes succinct but powerful points throughout. All that in less than 150 pages in volume 1 of his 2 volume set.

The book's first AMAZON REVIEWER gave it five stars, adding: Jones shows conclusively that the thesis of modern science being the "stepchild" of medieval or early Reformation Christian theology is both historically and philosophically wrong. He also shows the sociological grounds for why modern science arose in the West and not in the Islamic world, India, or China. He also proposes a "control model" for the relation of science and religion in the place of the customary "war" and "harmony" models to explain the complicated interaction of Christianity and science throughout Christian history. He argues the role of Christianity in the history of science fits this new model: Christian authorities have been benign or even very supportive of science as long as the science does not impinge Christian theological doctrines, but when science steps out of line -- as with Copernicus, the mechanical model of physics, and Darwin -- religious authorities clamped down as fast and as hard as they could.

Whenever an idea based on the study of nature seemed to churchmen to impinge on their Bible-based interpretations of nature or natural theology, they felt threatened and reacted. It's called the "control" hypothesis of how science and Christianity interacted, and it's defended admirably in two new that are MUST READING, click here and here.

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, edited by Ronald Numbers

Essays by scholars in that book conclude that Christianity's role so far as the rise of science is concerned was relatively neutral. Other factors unique to Europe were at play. Some of the chapters are online http://www.hup.harvard.edu/resources/educators/pdf/NUMGGJ.pdf but not "Myth 9: That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science," but you can read at least some of Myth 9 via the LOOK INSIDE feature at amazon. Portions of it are also cited and discussed here: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/christianity-gave-birth-to-science-%E2%80%93-a-myth/

A quotation from Number's book:
“Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early modern, renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures. . . . This has been called ‘the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science’ [by Arun Bala in his book The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science]”

So the authors conclude 1) that Christianity was not solely to blame for the fact that the science of the classical world didn't immediately develop into modern science, and 2) neither should Christianity take credit for developing modern science. Personally I think the development of lens grinding, followed by the invention of the telescope and the microscope opened tremendous doors for further observation of the natural world and incited tremendous curiosity about the heavens and about microscopic life and matter itself. If the ancient Greeks had had such investigative instruments then I wonder what the world would be like today?

Professor of religion and theologian, John Hick, remarked that even if the thesis is true that "Christianity" provided the nest in which modern science was born, the nest does not necessarily determine the nature of the egg within it nor what it may develop into on its own once it leaves the nest. For instance science could be compared to the egg laid by the female cuckoo in the nest of some other bird. The cuckoo's egg usually hatches before the other eggs and begins tossing the other eggs or smaller birds out of the nest so the cuckoo alone can receive all of the food brought back. Certainly the sciences receive the lion's share of funding today both from government and corporations. *smile* Therefore the question of what nest "hatched" science might not be as important as the question of what science has grown up to be, which certainly seems to outstrip that of religion when it comes to responding to a host of people's needs (like plumbing, sanitation science, agricultural science, basic health and medical science).

Neither is there a way to directly connect "Jesus" with science. But there are plenty of connections one can trace concerning how one invention or discovery naturally led to another (I mentioned the invention of lenses that led to telescopes and microscopes, but I could add the invention of the printing press which boosted inquiry further by spreading information faster, easier and to a wider audience than ever before)--such connections are fascinating to study in their own right without recourse to religion's influence. There's a few seasons of the TV show, CONNECTIONS, a big hit in Britain, that trace such developments.

Speaking of chemistry, there is evidence that interest in the basic "elements" and their divisions and properties arose from an interest in alchemy. Ancient alchemical texts were preserved by a heretical group of Christians (the Nestorians) and centuries later helped give birth to European interest in alchemy which led to early experiments that became the science known as chemistry. Newton himself wrote tens of thousands of pages on alchemy. So, each branch of science has what one might call multiple roots. Even heretical ones.

Lastly, even if science arose in a Christian civilization, any and all civilizations are practicing science today, regardless of each scientist's religious faith or lack thereof. On the other hand "science" might one day be blamed for helping to sicken and/or destroy life on earth.

A comment on a blog about the idea that "Christian Europe gave birth to science":

Why “Christian Europe?" Why not just say "Europe?" and study the whole range of influences that truly gave rise to the scientific revolution, like the invention of fine glass grinding that produced the first lenses that made the first telescopes and microscopes? Those magnified curiosity greatly all by themselves.


A world renowned biographer of Galileo, Annibale Fantoli, whose longer work is in its third edition, also composed a smaller work, titled, The Case of Galileo: A Closed Question? --a sophisticated analysis of the intellectual milieu of the day, describes the Catholic Church’s condemnation of Copernicanism (1616) and of Galileo (1633), and assesses the church’s slow acceptance of the Copernican worldview. Fantoli criticizes the 1992 treatment by Cardinal Poupard and Pope John Paul II of the reports of the Commission for the Study of the Galileo Case and concludes that the Galileo Affair, far from being a closed question, remains more than ever a challenge to the church as it confronts the wider and more complex intellectual and ethical problems posed by the contemporary progress of science and technology. In clear and accessible prose geared to a wide readership, Fantoli has distilled forty years of scholarly research into a fascinating recounting of one of the most famous cases in the history of science.

See also this paper by a retired Vatican astronomer,

The Church’s Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth,

George V. Coyne, S.J., published in The Church And Galileo (Studies in Science and the Humanities from the Reilly Center for Science Technology and Values), though a pre-publication copy is located here:

Coyne, a retired Vatican astronomer, along with some theologians and historians, met to discuss the results of the Church's Commission on Galileo, and wound up agreeing that the Galileo "myth" that the Commission promoted was itself a myth, and that the church DID suppress scientific investigation. Coyne's paper lists the Church's suppression tactics in Galileo's day and discusses the Church's propaganda tactics today. Catholic doctrine still insists on a belief in an historical first couple, a literal Adam and Eve. Catholics from Copernicus' day even till today tend to keep their mouths shut concerning crucial questions in theology, and in science's impact on theology, at least until they are retired or quite old. The first historical-critical NT scholars in the Catholic Church had their works silenced around the turn early 1900s, along with the theological musings of father de Chardin. And even Coyne took care not to make any direct remarks concerning the Church that might get him silenced or ex-communicated and tossed out of his Catholic retirement home, at least not yet.

To cite a few lines from the paper by father Coyne: 'Myths are founded in concrete happenings. In the Galileo case the historical facts are that further research into the Copernican system was forbidden by the Decree of 1616 and then condemned in 1633 by official organs of the Church with the approbation of the reigning Pontiffs. This is what is at the source of the “myth” of Galileo and not a “tragic mutual incomprehension.” Galileo was a renowned world scientist. The publication of his Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Message) established his role as a pioneer of modern science. He had tilted the Copernican-Ptolemaic controversy decisively against the long-held Ptolemaic system. Observational evidence was increasingly challenging Aristotelian natural philosophy, which was the foundation of geocentrism. Even if Copernicanism in the end were proven wrong, the scientific evidence had to be pursued. A renowned scientist, such as Galileo, in those circumstances should have been allowed to continue his research. He was forbidden to do so by official declarations of the Church. There lies the tragedy. Until that tragedy is faced with the rigor of historical scholarship, the “myth” is almost certain to remain.... The publication in 1744 of the “complete works” of Galileo had to exclude the Letter to Christina and the Letter to Castelli [which advocated freedom of scientific research]. Furthermore, the Dialogue had to be printed in Volume IV, accompanied by the 1633 sentence imposed on Galileo, and the text of Galileo’s abjuration, and it had to contain a preface emphasizing its “hypothetical” character... the works of Copernicus and Galileo remained on the Index until 1835...The inadequacies discussed above in the discourses which closed the workings of the Galileo Commission would, almost unanimously, be regarded as such by the community of historians and philosophers of science. In fact, I am indebted to that community, to which I cannot claim to belong, for all that I have discussed thus far.'



Galileo was compelled to deliver a recantation speech of his heliocenric views while on his knees. After that, Galileo was not allowed to write on heliocentrism again, nor even leave his house, though he wrote a number of letters pleading to visit a nearby city, and that he was eventually told to even stop pleading to leave, because they would punish him if he kept pleading to visit even a nearby city where his friends and fellow thinkers lived. What I read was the actual letter Galileo sent and the reply he rec'd.

Does anyone know if Galileo was allowed to use his telescopes afterwards?

I also read in a mainstream scholarly work (not published by an atheist press but published fairly recently) that Galileo was shown the instruments with which he would be tortured if he refused to recant). Bruno didn't recant any of his unorthodox opinions, nor have friends in such high places as Galileo did.

I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, arraigned personally before this tribunal, and kneeling before you, Most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors-General against heretical depravity throughout the entire Christian commonwealth, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the Holy Gospels, swear that I have always believed, do believe, and by God's help will in the future believe, all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But whereas -- after an injunction had been judicially intimated to me by this Holy Office, to the effect that I must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the world, and moves, and that I must not hold, defend, or teach in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Scripture -- I wrote and printed a book in which I discuss this new doctrine already condemned, and adduce arguments of great cogency in its favor, without presenting any solution of these, and for this reason I have been pronounced by the Holy Office to be vehemently suspected of heresy, that is to say, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center and moves:

Therefore, desiring to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of all faithful Christians, this vehement suspicion, justly conceived against me, with sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid errors and heresies, and generally every other error, heresy, and sect whatsoever contrary to the said Holy Church, and I swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding me; but that should I know any heretic, or person suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be. Further, I swear and promise to fulfill and observe in their integrity all penances that have been, or that shall be, imposed upon me by this Holy Office. And, in the event of my contravening, (which God forbid) any of these my promises and oaths, I submit myself to all the pains and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents. So help me God, and these His Holy Gospels, which I touch with my hands.

I, the said Galileo Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above; and in witness of the truth thereof I have with my own hand subscribed the present document of my abjuration, and recited it word for word at Rome, in the Convent of Minerva, this twenty-second day of June, 1633.

I, Galileo Galilei, have abjured as above with my own hand. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/galileo/recantation.html


In the summer of 1591 students from the University of Padua attacked the local Jesuit college and successfully appealed to the Venetian Senate to intervene on behalf of the university. When the Jesuits were expelled from the Venetian dominion a few years later, religious censorship was virtually eliminated. The result was a remarkable era of cultural innovation that promoted free inquiry in the face of philosophical and theological orthodoxy, advocated libertine morals, critiqued the tyranny of aristocratic fathers over their daughters, and expanded the theatrical potential of grand opera.

In Padua a faction of university faculty, including Galileo Galilei and the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, pursued an open and free inquiry into astronomy and philosophy. In Venice some of Cremonini's students founded the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns), one of whose most notorious members was the brilliant polemicist Ferrante Pallavicino.

The execution of Pallavicino for his writings attacking Pope Urban VIII silenced the more outrageous members of the Incogniti, who soon turned to writing libretti for operas. The final phase of the Venetian culture wars pitted commercial opera, with its female performers and racy plot lines, against the decorous model of Jesuit theater. The libertine inclinations of the Incogniti suffuse many of the operas written in the 1640s, especially Monteverdi's masterpiece, L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

Edward Muir's exploration of an earlier age of anxiety in his book, The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Wars-Late-Renaissance-Libertines/dp/0674024818/ref=sr_1_20?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413937372&sr=1-20&keywords=venice+opera , reveals the distinguished past of today's culture wars, including debates about the place of women in society, the clash between science and faith, and the power of the arts to stir emotions.

Speaking of the Christian Middle Ages, according to Reformed apologist, Scott Oliphant:

"Corruption was widespread in the church of the late Middle Ages... Many priests were uneducated, barely able to say Mass, let alone understand it... The defining moment not only for the church but also for the emergence of modern Europe was certainly connected with the Renaissance... The rise of the city was also important. The late medieval city was known as the 'foyer of modernity'... economic improvements, empowerment of the laity [not the church], and secularity of the city, which was decreasingly under the control of the church. In the towns the individual began to have unprecedented responsibility. Social ties were less hierarchical and more horizontal... the printing press played a crucial role in disseminating... ideas... it enabled educated people and readers to discover new ideas... disputations were frequent, but mostly between various understandings of Christian problems. In the sixteenth century the major disputes were internecine. But the seventeenth century we find, alongside the development of post-Reformation orthodoxy, the rise of deism, indifference, Socianism [a type of Unitarian/non-Trinitarianism], and of course the force of the Enlightenment."

"Although controversial, Johan Huizinga's volume, The Waning of the Middle Ages (N.Y.: Doubleday/Anchor, 1954) indicates the number of ways in which spiritual and cultural trends were on the decline in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Europe... In theology confidence in God is diminshed."

SOURCE: Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader, William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint


On all the actions of nature and history that allegedly take place due to God's personal decisions see Israel's Theological Worldview (written by a Christian).

THERE IS NO SCIENCE IN THE BIBLE TO SPEAK OF, BUT THERE IS PLENTY OF DIVINATION, WITCHCRAFT, DEMONS, and the belief that God guides the constellations in their season and moves the clouds and sends the lightnings, and thunder is his "voice," and God personally sends plagues, famines, droughts, warring armies. See this article on Israel's Theological Worldview (written by a Christian): http://books.google.com/books?id=tO0EsMfyFD0C&lpg=PP1&ots=ALTsEXvsRK&dq=Disturbing%20Divine%20Behavior%3A%20Troubling%20Old%20Testament%20Images%20of%20God&pg=PA145#v=onepage&q&f=false

Today we have astronomers, meteorologists, agricultural scientists, water sanitizing plants, vaccines, antibiotics, and lightning rods. I guess we got all that simply by reading the Bible. Though I suspect natural human curiosity also had something to do with it. I also suspect that the development of clear glass and fine lens-grinding techniques advanced scientific curiosity immensely since it allowed us to see further into the sky and into the microscopic world via telescopes and microscopes.

In the Bible there is divination, witchcraft, demons, along with the belief that God personally guides the constellations in their season and moves the clouds and sends the lightnings (thunder is his "voice") and He personally sends plagues, famines, droughts, warring armies. The same Bible fails to feature scientific views ahead of its time.


Despite officially condemning all magicians and divinatory practitioners, the Bible is replete with references to divination... Examples of native magical practitioners and techniques abound in the Hebrew Bible: kings and priests have access and recourse to magic and divination, for example in their consulting oracles, and casting lots in times of crisis (Jacob in his sneaky manipulation of sticks to ensure the multiplication of his flocks, Genesis 44; David’s oracular consultations in times of military crisis, 1 Samuel 22.13-15, 23.2-4 and 9-12, 2 Samuel 2.1). Moses and Aaron are similarly not above using magic rods in Exodus 7-10 and 14. Ordinary people use them too—notably to aid fertility (for example Leah and Rebekah in their fertility contest, Genesis 30). Dreams, another form of supernatural communication, are dreamt by characters beyond foreign suspicion: Jacob again (Genesis 28), Joseph (Genesis 37.5, 40.9ff.), Solomon (1 Kings 3) and Daniel (Daniel 2). Examples of hepatoscopy,1 rhabdomancy,2 psepsomancy,3 hydromancy,4 and astrology,5 to cite a few examples, are all witnessed in ancient Israelite society. These examples show that the ancient Israelites were no different from their ancient Near Eastern neighbours. Also, we should note that divinatory practices are associated with men whose allegiance to and active participation in God’s plan cannot be faulted.


1 Divination through the examination of the liver: Leviticus 3:3-4.
2 Divination technique involving the manipulation of rods or arrows (belomancy): Hosea 4:12; Ezekiel 21:21.
3 Divination through lot casting: Jonah 1:7.
4 Divination by gazing at the water: Genesis 44:5-15; 1 Kings 1:9; Numbers 5:9-28.
5 Divination from the configuration of the stars: Judges 5:20; Joshua 10:12-13; Amos 5:26; Isaiah 47:12-15.

For an overview of the history of interpretation, see

F.H. Cryer, Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near-Eastern Environment: a Socio-Historical Investigation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)

Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (Leiden: Brill, 1996) And see her paper in this anthology: http://www.cosmology-divination.com/uploads/Seeing_with_Different_Eyes_complete.pdf

Link: http://amzn.com/w/11I3DTTNU8QBO

The “witch-hunting” mania continued until the 18th century. In Scotland, an old woman was burned in 1722 after being convicted of turning her daughter into a pony and riding her into a witches’ coven. In Germany, a nun was burned alive in the marketplace of Wurzburg in 1749 after other nuns testified that she climbed over convent walls in the form of a pig. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782. By that time, various scientists and scholars had raised doubt about the reality of witchcraft to bring an end to the madness. [p.78]

A profound irony of the witch-hunts is that they were directed, not by superstitious savages, but by learned bishops, judges, professors, and other leaders of society. The centuries of witch obsession demonstrated the terrible power of supernatural beliefs. [p.79]

James A. Haught, Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990)

For centuries the Catholic Church proclaimed the reality of the crime of “witchcraft,” backed by the Biblical command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said about witches, “I would burn them all!”

John Calvin stated, “The Bible teaches us that there are witches and that they must be slain… this law of God is a universal law,” and also pleaded in 1545 that the government of Geneva, Switzerland, should “extirpate the race [of witches] from the land” of Peney.

A few centuries later, after the smoke cleared, the famed Christian evangelist, John Wesley, lamented, “The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible.” (The Journal of John Wesley, 1766-1768)

The witch text in the Bible remains; the practice of executing them changed. The slavery text in the Bible remains; the practice changed. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the Biblical texts that authorized them remain.

Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of Biblical texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

Mark Twain, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”


In 1928, a Hungarian family was acquitted of killing an old woman they thought was a witch, and as late as 1970s, a poor German woman was suspected of being a witch after the people in the small town ostracized her, pelted her with rocks, and killed her animals. In France, a man was killed for suspected sorcery in 1978, and in 1981 a mob stoned a woman to death in Mexico because they believed that her witchcraft incited an attack on the pope.

W. Sumner David, Th.D., Heretics : The Bloody History of the Christian Church


In 1994 the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a Washington D.C.-based prayer group, produced a list of twenty-five Democratic incumbents, and urged prayer partners to petition God to bring evil upon the people on that list. “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them,” wrote one of the group’s founders, Harry Valentine, in the group’s newsletter. “Imprecatory” means to “call down evil upon.” Such Psalms include: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” (Ps. 109:8,9) “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Sheol.” (Ps. 55:15) “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: he shall wash his own feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Ps. 58:10) (How is this different from sticking pins in voodoo dolls, or whipping up a witch’s brew and mumbling curses? I guess it’s all right for Christians to “curse” people so long as they use a “Biblically sound” method. But, leaving the “imprecatory Psalms” aside, don’t these people realize that Jesus commanded his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”--E.T.B.)

Skip Porteous, “Election ‘94 Observations,” Free Inquiry, Winter 1994/95)

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our New England forefathers. For if it hadn’t been for their amazing wisdom and foresight over two hundred years ago, we’d be up to our asses in witches.

Cecil Wyche & Tom Weisel


According to Deuteronomy 18:10,12, “There shall not be found among you anyone who...uses divination...For whoever does such things is detestable to the Lord.” However, didn’t the Hebrew patriarch, Joseph, practice “divination?” He practiced the ancient magical art of lecanomancy, otherwise known as “cup-divination.”

Is not this [cup] it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?...And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can certainly divine?
- Gen. 44:5,15

By means of cup-divination a person could supposedly foretell the future and find lost objects. Neither was Joseph condemned in the Bible for being a cup-diviner. Go figure.

And… didn’t both the Hebrews and Christians practice the ancient magical art of cleromancy, otherwise known as “casting lots to divine the will of Providence?” (How different is that from tossing Chinese I Ching sticks to find out what Providence has in mind?) As it says in the Bible, “The lot is cast into the lap; but its decision is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:33) “The lot puts an end to contentions, and decides between the mighty.” (Prov. 18:18) Numerous examples of this magical practice of divining God’s will can be found in the Bible:

The tribes of Israel divided the “promised land” by “casting lots.” (Num. 26:52-56; 33:54; 36:1-2; Joshua 13:6; 14:1-2; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1-2,14-17; 18:6-11; chapters 19,21,22,23; Isa. 34:17; Ezk. 45:1; 47:22; 48:29)

Hebrew kings were chosen and tactical decisions in battle were decided by “lot.” (1 Sam. 10:20-23; 14:41-42; Judges 20:9) Also chosen by “lot” were “governors” for each “ward,” and for the house of God. (1 Chron. 24:5-7,31; 25:8-9; 26:14-16)

Saul, by drawing lots, found that his son Jonathan had eaten honey (1 Kings 14:58)

Jonah, when fleeing from the face of the Lord, was discovered and thrown into the sea by lot (Jonah 1:7)

People were chosen to receive special favors by “lot” (Lev. 16:8-10; Mic. 2:5; Neh. 10:34; 11:1)

The guilt of people was judged and confirmed by casting lots. (Josh. 7:13-18; the Hebrew word ‘lakad’ translated ‘taken,’ means ‘chosen by lot;’ Jonah 1:7)

According to the New Testament, Zacharias was chosen by lot to offer incense (Luke 1:9); and after the apostle Judas committed suicide the early church chose between two replacement candidates by “lot.” (Acts 1:23-26)

Theologians debated the practice of “casting lots” for centuries. The Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, quoted several of their views in his Summa Theologica in a “Question” titled, “Whether Divination By Drawing Lots is Unlawful?” He warned that the practice of casting lots could be relied on too heavily, thus “tempting God;” or, demons might interfere with the outcome if the lots were cast without prior prayer. He found the casting of lots to be lawful in cases where making choices was especially difficult and when due reverence was observed, “If… there be urgent necessity it is lawful to seek the divine judgment by casting lots, provided due reverence be observed.” See Question 95, Article 8, 2nd Pt of the 2nd Pt of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.SS_Q95_A8.html

After the rise of Protestant churches, denominations like the Puritans cast lots to determine God’s will--which made them outlaw less serious uses of “dice” in games or gambling because the casting of dies or lots should be reserved only for divining God’s will. Besides the Puritans, the famed Christian Evangelist and founder of Methodism in the 1700s, Rev. John Wesley, justified his actions as being the will of God on the basis of having “cast lots,” a practice which he later renounced. Tunker Baptists (also known as Tumbler Baptists) were another group from the 1700s who “cast lots,” for example, to determine who should be the church administrator. In the 1780s there were also “Sandemanian” Christians (one famous member being the scientist, Joseph Priestly) who “cast lots” to determine God’s will.

If anyone knows of cases in the twentieth century in which churches have “cast lots” to determine future church locations; church administrators; how best to distribute church funds; or determine the salaries of mega-church preachers, please let me know!

The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.- 1 Samuel 15:35 (But the Lord’s “dice” had chosen Saul to be king in the first place!)

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.- Genesis 6:6-7 (see also Deut. 32:36 & Ps. 135:14)

And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.- 1 Chronicles 21:15

Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?- Jeremiah. 26:19

God told Moses He was going to let His people, the Israelites, die in the desert and make a new nation out of Moses’s children alone. But Moses talked Him out of that plan, “And the Lord repented of the evil the he thought to do unto his people.”- Exodus 32:14

Compare the above scene with Genesis 18:23-33, where Abraham gets God to change his mind about the minimum number of righteous people in Sodom required to avoid destruction, bargaining God downwards from fifty to ten. (An omniscient God must have known that He was toying with Abraham's hopes for mercy--He destroyed the city anyway.)

And the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.- Jonah 3:10

I [the Lord] am weary of repenting.- Jeremiah 15:6
Evangelical Christians of the “Open Theism” school of theology point to the above depictions of God “repenting,” and argue that God does “change his mind” in response to the arguments or actions of human beings. “Open Theists” assert that God does not know everything there is to know about the future. However, the majority of Christians continue to believe that God already knows the future and they explain away the above verses as mere “metaphors” of how God “appears” to act from our point of view. So, these different Evangelical Christian theologians can’t agree on whether to understand the above stories metaphorically or literally. They make their own choice as to what they think the Bible “really” teaches, which is something they blame “liberals” and “humanists” for doing. Some “Open Theism” Evangelicals have even had to leave the Christians colleges where they had been teaching.


Another magical way to divine God’s will was via the “Urim and Thummim.” Those two objects were connected with the breastplate worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:30) but it is not known what the Urim and Thummim were. Were they gems kept in a pouch worn on the high priest’s chest? Were they engraved with symbols that reflected a divine “yes” and a divine “no?” Were they like the ancient Assyrian “Tablets of Destiny” that were tossed to determine the will of ancient Near Eastern gods like Marduk or Bel? We don’t know. But such prominent figures as Aaron (Ex. 28:30) and Joshua (Num. 27:21), and the Hebrew tribe of priests, the Levites (Deut. 28:8), used the Urim and Thummim to divine God’s will.

King Saul consulted the “Urim” but received “no answer.” (1 Sam. 28:6) Maybe the Urim and Thummim were the two most sacred “lots” of Israel, and after you tossed both of them, if one landed on its “yes” side, but the other landed on its “no” side, it was interpreted as God leaving the receiver off the hook?


We’ve all heard the term “scapegoat,” but did you know it was based on holy commands given in the Hebrew Bible? God commanded that a priest transfer the sins of the people onto a goat, and send the goat into the wilderness, thus carrying away the people’s sins. (Lev. 16:20-22) We remember the scapegoat story, but we forget about the lowly scape-bird, a bird that God commanded a priest to transfer “uncleanness” to, then send flying into the sky. (Lev. 14:4-7,48-53) What kinds of “uncleanness” did the scape-bird carry away with it? Would you believe mold, mildew, and… leprosy?

To the ancient mind discolored splotches of mold and mildew on clothing, leather or the walls of their homes, were lumped with that dreaded disease, leprosy. The same Hebrew word was used to describe them all, despite the tendency of modern Bible translators to make modern distinctions and use the words, ‘mold’ or ‘mildew,’ in cases of clothing and walls. The ancient Hebrews made no such distinctions but used the same word to describe a discolored growth on a wall, on poorly stored clothing, or on the skin of a leper. Consequently, the same remedy was required by God’s law.

Get your “scape-birds” here! They remove tough mold and mildew stains, as well as leprosy!

Dave Matson, “God’s Ignorance Concerning Leprosy,” Commonsense Versus the Bible [edited, with added comments by E.T.B.]


Magical spit was widely praised in the world of ancient folk medicine for its healing virtues. So widely known was the spit treatment in fact that two Gospel authors included stories about Jesus employing spit to cure the blind and those with impediments of speech (Mark 7:31-37; 8:22-26; John 9:6). Jesus’s spit miracles mirrored those of his contemporaries and resembled those of a typical ancient wonder worker.

A. J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs (enlarged edition)

THOSE WERE THE DAYS! The days of the cup divination of Joseph, the bronze serpent Moses made
that he told people to look at in order to be healed, the consultation of Urim and Thummim by kings of Israel. (The Babylonians would consults "tablets of destiny" that they would toss, to inquire of the divine will.) The casting lots to single people out and parcel out land and determine God's will in the days of Moses and Joshua and Solomon. Jesus's own apostles cast lots to pick an apostle to replace Judas.

And here's a nice little reference to arrow divination, or "shuffling arrows" from Ezekiel:

(Ezek. 21:21) that "the king of Babylon stood in the highway, at the head of two ways, seeking divination, shuffling arrows; he inquired of the idols, and consulted entrails."

Or there are the small gold figures of mice and hemeroids fashioned by the Philistines and sent back with the ark of the covenant to Israel, to try and remove the plague of mice and diseases amongst the Philistines.

Or there's the case of Samson not cutting his hair, for his strength was in his hair.

Or there's the movement of the water in a pool in Jerusalem, moved by angels, mentioned in the Gospel of John (if you were the first to drag yourself into the water when it moved, you were healed).


Bernie, I have scoured my saved facebook and other posts for my best material on the topic of evolution, science and attempts to reconcile Christianity with both. Below is a long list of such resources, quotations, topics one could put to good use in a debate with someone who tries to claim that Christian dogmas in no way are affected by what science has discovered about the world of living organisms.


"Sin" or Biology?

Is "Death" connected with "Sin?"

Does Christian Dogma Make Sense, Biologically Speaking? Or Does Christian Dogma Require a Large Overhaul Today?

Sin and death, let's compare biological explanations with religious ones

Single cells only experience accidental death, because they reproduce via dividing into two cloned copies, therefore clones of the first single-celled are still around. It's MULTI-cellular organisms that experience short-lifetimes and certain death.

Death is the price paid so that evolutionary changes can take place, so that multi-cellular species can change, diversify, with many of those species becoming extinct over time, leaving others to spread out further. Death ensures that evolutionary arms races occur and lead to species more adapted to other species in both a competitive and cooperative sense of adaptation.

In fact, death is a necessity so that the human species could even evolve in the first place.

Christianity and Evolution, reconcilable?

In terms of the evolutionary history and survival of the human species, having offspring is key, not how much one avoids “sinning.” For instance, Jesus said the “meek” inherit the earth, but we haven’t inherited much from them genetically. Rather, it is the “disproportionate replicators” who left their mark on us, our forebears whose drive and passion got their DNA immortalized into children who would, with enough luck as well as drive and passion of their own, continue down the line. You won’t find many celibate shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to survive and reproduce in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, death and extinction events, long before modern humans arrived. What we inherited from them is not some taint of sin, but the very traits that allowed them to produce you. In other words, we are the genetic success stories of our ancestors’ behavior as well as their bodies. That is what the scientific evidence suggests.

Lamoureux, a Christian apologist for evolution, claims there “is no sin-death problem,” since “Adam never existed, and therefore suffering and death did not enter the world in divine judgment for his transgression.” But he fails to see the implications when he claims that “the divine revelation in Gen 3, Rom 5-8, and 1 Cor 15 is very simple: humans are sinners, God judges sin, and Jesus died for sinful men and women.” But evolution raises one glaring question in response to Lamoureux’s point, men and women are “sinful” because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species.

Consider the “anger reaction” in vertebrates. We all lapse into angry outbursts from time to time. This is to be expected, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isn’t much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce. Having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response is not our “sinful” fault; it is part of the way our brains evolved to function.

Christian apologists object that such a purely biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domning’s “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologists’ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal’s lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

On the brighter side, to temporarily get off the topic of the evolution of “anger,” and of how the “meek” were not the ones whose genes gave birth to our species, let’s just be happy that so many members of our species learned the benefits of agreeing collectively on certain moral ideas after coming to live in ever larger, more fixed societies rather than just roaming bands of kin. Aggression and selfishness help the individual or one’s kinship group survive but typically do not promote the flourishing of much larger communities.

Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends.

Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Mary’s? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. That’s because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Mary’s zygote. So let’s say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Mary’s chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. We’ve already gone over that.

Or to quote George L. Murphy, “The idea that we are descended from ‘beasts’ is one reason why many people have been repelled by evolutionary theory. And the idea that Christ would share that relationship is especially shocking to many Christians.”

Also, concerning “death,” scientists have discovered that different organisms have different lifespans for biological reasons. They cannot prove such things as divine decrees when it comes to the different lifespans of different species on earth. Take single-celled organisms that reproduce via division, self-cloning. One might say that the first amoeba is still around, it has never died, though plenty of its clones have. So what is “death” in that case? All life is a river that continues flowing and flowering forth from some early replicating molecules according to modern science. But it is also a river of mutation, natural selection, death and a constant process of change made possible by all the deaths of endless rival strains, rival sub-species, rival species, till only some cousin species remain.

Science says that “death” on an inconceivably huge scale was necessary for evolution to occur, and ultimately for the human species itself to evolve. For instance, new strains of DNA, new sub-species and new species are always arising, and the individuals in those strains and species as well as an enormous number of new strains, sub-species, and new species, die after they have spread forth to different environments and experienced different environmental pressures as well as pressures from rival species or even rival sub-species in the same neighborhood, as if a process of natural pressures and selection has been going on ever since the beginning. You can see this vast panorama of death and extinction of new strains, new sub-species and cousins species, via population genetic studies as well as the fossil record. In the case of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands, they presumably reached those geologically young islands soon after their formation and evolved to occupy niches from forests and valleys to beaches, and today the number of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands features somewhere about a quarter of all the known fruit fly species on earth, but now that many other insects and flies have reached the Hawaiian islands, competition has increased, and many fruit fly species are going extinct. And so it goes with nature over eons. The world was once filled with different species of apes, around the globe, but those countless ape species (known via fossils) eventually died out, leaving but a few modern day living species of apes, and of course, there are the extinct species of hominids that left behind but a single species of human, and now we are studying the diversity of the human genome around the world.

Here’s a final scientific challenge to the “biblical” view of the origin and destiny of the human species. The stars have enough fuel to last for billions more years (while black holes can exist for countless eons longer than stars), and in some places in our cosmos there are massive stellar nurseries giving birth to baby stars that will outlast all that are currently burning by billions more years (and in other places black holes are probably being born). Our particular species has only popped into the cosmos in the last microsecond of cosmic time, homo sapiens is an extremely youthful species, and we can not predict how little or how much time we have before we become extinct, or our planet grows as hot and desolate as Venus, or is hit by something, or a solar flare devours us, or a nearby nova, or our sun expands with age, or the nearby Andromeda galaxy collides with ours. If our species survives long enough and continues studying genomes and computers, then we might alter our very species into something else, becoming something new once again, humanity 2.0, or we might design androids that live on after our species is gone, or some other species on the planet might evolve consciousness after our species is gone. Cosmological science coupled with paleontological science shows us that species die out all the time, and even the lives of planets, stars and galaxies are limited. And science shows us that nature can be as brutal and filled with “curses” as it is filled with “blessings.” We know that nature giveth, and nature taketh away, for no easily apparent personal, reasons. Nothing personal, it’s just natural law. All of this leaves humanity in a precarious position along with the rest of the living organisms clinging to the quaking surface of this rock flying through space. How exactly the “Bible” is supposed to make everyone feel secure in light of the vision of the cosmos that science has opened up is a BIG QUESTION for theology. Nature does not appear to be moved much by prayers. Not as much as one might think after reading say the Old Testament. How to reconcile that? The scientific view with the biblical view?


Per Christian theology, “sin” is everything one ought to avoid thinking or doing because it offends God, and only secondarily because it offends one’s fellow human beings. While “death” is something that was supernaturally decreed to be a part of creation, and is often connected in some way with “sin.”

But what is a “sin” in a scientific sense, and what is “death,” especially in light of the theory of evolution?

Concerning “sin,” scientists have not been able to find a universally recognized way to measure and agree upon which thoughts or actions offend God (neither do people of different religions agree on exactly what those thoughts and actions are), and scientists are far from discovering how the shedding of one person’s blood in the past “covers” other people’s “sin’s” including future ones, which sounds more like “sympathetic magic” rather than science (for that matter neither do scientists have much to go on when it comes to an ancient ritual mentioned in an ancient Hebrew law book that involved a dove being set free and another bled to death and whose blood is sprinkled inside one’s home, a ritual that allegedly cleanses both leprosy and mildew).


James McGrath (a Christian who accepts evolution), wrote this line, "the observable situation in which humankind finds itself (namely one of domination by sin, alienation from God, and subjection to death)."

I QUESTIONED HIM... How are those "observable?" Death is observable, but the sense in which we are "subjected" to it is interpreted quite differently by theologians and biologists. And what is "sin?" Even if you could define it in such a way to prove to everyone it exists, could you get everyone to agree what actions constituted "sins against God?" As for "alienation from God," again, how do you get everyone to agree that that is observable?


Recent books in which moderate to progressive, emergent and iberal Christians argue AGAINST the need for "certainty" http://amzn.com/w/3GFFCDL8W3OAI It's an interesting development and it is affecting how Evangelicals are doing apologetics like Randal Rauser.


Christians can't agree.

Peter Enns' article,

Evangelicalism and Evolution ARE in conflict (and that's fine)



I would take note especially of these comments that were left for Enns

I ask this question without a smidgen of snark, but I wonder what remains non-negotiable with respect to your sense of the core of Christian theology? I understand--and respect--your argument for a reevaluation of certain time-honored constructs; if truth is God's truth then what have we to fear wherever the truth leads? (yes, a presupposition, I know). But does anything remain trustworthy enough in which to rest besides what seems like another God-of-the-gaps category of the "mysterious and transcendent"? I wonder if you might in a follow-up post elaborate on that reality to which "the Christian story has access" that materialism does not. I cannot contend with your basis for a reevaluation, but might I ask you offer as much a ray of reasonable hope as you do a bone of contention?
October 2, 2013 | Patrick Lafferty

Hi Patrick, I appreciate your honest question. We need to be having conversations like this. I'll try to hit at what I think you're asking.

A few months ago I posted two things that you might be interested in and that gets toward your question. Here is the link to the second post, with a link inside it to the first post. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/06/5-main-challenges-to-staying-christian-and-moving-forward-anyway-part-2/

Let me say that mystery is not the refuge of last resort, but an often neglected yet core element of the Christian faith. When the gospel is about participation in Christ, those aren't just words but...well...mystery. Or perhaps, rather than mystery, we can think of it as an object of childlike trust that transcends our ability to know.

Your question whether anything remains trustworthy enough in which to rest is a good one and needs to be asked. It may not address where you're coming from at the moment, but I would make one small change in your question--is there anyONE trustworthy. God. Questioning, even interrogating the Bible (a good Jewish practice, by the way) is for me not an obstacle to faith but a means.
October 2, 2013 | Pete Enns

Patrick Lafferty, Re your, "what remains non-negotiable with respect to your sense of the core of Christian theology?"

How about the Nicene Creed and/or the Apostles' Creed, neither of which say anything about HOW God created or HOW sin entered into the world? We're just haggling over how to interpret God's Word and God's works.

As Peter Enns mentioned in his blog, "our theologies are provisional . . . which means we may need to restructure and even abandon the “god” that we have created in our own image."
October 2, 2013 | Paul Bruggink

Dr. Enns, You have as much as said this, but I want to accentuate it: evolution demands a new theodicy, not only a new theology. Pauline theodicy is so neat and acceptable. I have no problem with a God who creates over ages, as revealed by science. I do wonder "what is evil?" if death, suffering, extinction, etc. are no longer evil. The theodicies of Origen/Irenaeus are not much better... the presence of evil before humans come on to the scene is a problem.
October 6, 2013 | Susan Gerard

In evolutionary thought, I die because my genotype and thus phenotype may not be adapted for future environments. My progeny will bear much of my genes and heritage mixed with my wife's then mixed with the families and lines into whom they marry and bear children with some degree of mutation. And those offsprings may or may not be adapted for their environments. I die so that change with in life can occur. Change occurs so that life can continue. This is why we die. Sin would be a set of behaviors and part of the phenotype. Behaviors may or may not be adaptive. Maladaptive behaviors have been, are being, and will be less likely to survive. Adaptive behaviors are more likely to continue. Humanity has flourished. Perhaps dangerously so. With seven billion of us, energy-dependent lifestyles and environment change, we have a volatility, at least in the number of us and our current comfortable modern lifestyle. This is the present global angst. Living a cruciform life may well fit into this evolutionary story and present human crisis. The origins and recent trajectories of much of Evangelical theology and culture certainly appear on the surface quite maladaptive. If they are, the dross-burning force of natural selection will have its way. There's really no reason to worry here. If God is having His way in a groaning creation, if Jesus is the first fruits, it'll be fine. The Sower casts the seed everywhere--on the path, in the rocks, on the shallow soil, in the good soil. In every scenario, natural selection applies. Some of the seed may likely survive everywhere. And it will be adapted to those conditions. Perhaps the seed thrown in the nominally good soil will be the weakest of the lot. Yet the Sower sows everywhere and who, if anyone, will be like Him?
October 7, 2013 | Brian P.

Peter, Just to expand on what Patrick was saying, you said we need to take more heed not just about evolution but our further understanding of Israelite faith. Well, why not take this to its logical conclusion? Scholars have come to the conclusion that YHYW is nothing but an Ugaritic diety that the Israelites took. Why are you trusting the Bible that this God even exists if scholarship is telling us something else?
October 18, 2013 | Hanan

Actually, El (not YHWH) is considered of Ugaritic or Canaanite derivation. Origins YHWH are a bit more difficult to discern, but a southern point of origin is supPorted by a few biblical texts (Deut 33:2; Judg 5:4-5) But I do not see how these (tentative) observations suggest that "scholarship" tells that God doesn't exist, only that how Israel came to understand God and how that understanding developed is more complicated than the biblical picture depicts.
October 19, 2013 | Pete Enns

"Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally." You could also say, biologically, it is life's ally. Life has been winning for a very long time - both by changing and by just being. Life-death-life is the biological story of the last three billion plus years. Resources, after all, are severely limited. Life has expanded and adapted by endlessly recycling these resources. Interestingly and sadly, sinful humanity is one of life's greatest enemies (wars, environmental degradation for ex.). Redemption brings with it the challenge and means to be more life giving and life supporting. A biological view of life - enormous fruitfulness in the context of extremely limited resources - must become a much greater part of our theological understanding. The role of the Spirit in all of this needs greater emphasis, as outlined by Amos Yong below.
October 2, 2013 | Bev Mitchell