Thursday, May 29, 2014

YOUNG-COSMOS CREATIONISTS with higher degrees in the sciences admit the evidence generally does favor an old-cosmos and evolution (and that less highly educated young-earthers are prone to speaking ignorantly on the topic)

But regardless of the general evidence not favoring their side, the more highly educated creationists invoke various ingenious explanations to explain away the evidence for an old earth and evolution. Such explanations may include the idea of "virtual history," or, "creation with appearance of age," and lastly, "the deliberate rejection of God's word" [that does not allow secular scientists to understand and accept the true age of the cosmos]:


Young-cosmos creationist, Aardsma (Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Toronto) believes that his "virtual history" hypothesis is less problematic than the usual creationist excuse of "creation with apparent age." Aardsma even admits at one point below that "I think there is enormous evidence of biological evolution (meaning extensive changes to flaura and fauna)---again, in virtual history." But not in real history. Read his explanation of virtual history below and see if you are convinced:

'To one thinking consistently in a virtual history framework, the phrase "creation with appearance of age" seems at best a redundancy, at worst a heresy, and in the middle (just to cover all the ground) an absurdity. So there are, obviously, some differences. I haven't had to articulate these differences to many people to the present time, so it is still not easy to explain what I can "see". In addition, it gets harder to think in the Creation with Appearance of Age paradigm the longer you think in the Virtual History paradigm --- kind of like trying to make yourself play the piano wrong after years of training to play right. So consider the following comments to be a rough draft.

'The two ideas share some similarity, but differ at a basic level both philosophically and theologically. Creation with Appearance of Age gives the impression that God arbitrarily painted a facade of age over the creation --- that He could have chosen to leave everything looking its "real" created age (i.e., roughly 7000 years, by my best Bible chronology reckoning) if He had wanted to, but He chose instead to make things look much older. This immediately raises theological objections: "But why would God do such a thing? Isn't it fundamentally dishonest to make something look like it isn't? Isn't God being deceitful?" (This is where the "heresy" mentioned above comes from.)

'The virtual history view never encounters this problem. It says that the people who are saying "creation with appearance of age" don't understand properly what the word/idea "creation" means. The virtual history view goes to the analogy of human creations to try to show what "creation" means. It takes the creation of a story by a human author as (probably its best) analogy. It observes that in all such stories one always has a virtual history present---grown characters wearing sewn garments and living in already built houses... right from page one of the story. What is implied from page one of the story is a cause-and-effect virtual history to the story, stretching back into the indefinite past. This virtual history in no way contradicts the actual date (in the story characters' time) of creation of the story. (That "date" we would fix at page one of the book, since that is when, in the story frame of reference, the story world comes into existence.) We find by such analogies that an "appearance of age" is inherent in what "creation" means. (This is where the "redundancy" mentioned above comes from.)

'But this "appearance of age" is not an add-on and is not arbitrary. Try to imagine writing a story which does not have an "appearance of age". After you have completed that exercise, try to imagine writing a fiction story which has a false "appearance of age". I find that it is intrinsically impossible to create such stories. I.e., you cannot have a "creation with an appearance of age" if you mean by that anything other than a creation with its inherent virtual history. To ask for a creation with a false appearance of age (which includes the case of a creation having no appearance of age), is to ask for the impossible/ridiculous. (This is where the "absurdity" mentioned above comes from.)

'We are living in a "story" God created. God is both author and reader of this story (e.g., "For in Him we both live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28.) (Note how this works. A story-world has no existence in the book; its existence is in the mind of the author and readers.) Page one opens about 7000 years ago our time, (the only time frame we have access to). This "story" has a virtual history stretching back billions of years. We find this to be the case by computing the time it would take light to travel from remote galaxies we see in the sky, or by computing the time it would take radioactive elements, such as uranium dug from the earth in natural ores, to decay as much as they have. These great ages in no way negate the fact that page one opens 7000 years ago. Nor does our virtual history, with all its dinosaurs etc. negate the fact that we are created. All stories have virtual histories and no story yet has ever created itself---all have had an author/creator. And the fact that our (fallen) virtual history shows eons of death and savagery and futility merely says "amen" to what Romans teaches, that the whole creation has been subjected to futility by God as a consequence of the entrance of sin, in hopes of its eventual redemption (Romans 8:20). [And, if I may stray from the point a bit, the "story" is still being written/read, and God allows us to take a real part in its unfolding by our prayers and actions---so the Bible shows.]

'This raises one more major point of difference, the handling of the Fall. Briefly, Creation with Appearance of Age runs into a theological snag with things like fossils of fish with other smaller fish in their stomachs: "Do you mean that God chose to paint, of all things, a facade of SUFFERING and DEATH onto the creation when He gave it this arbitrary appearance of age at the time of creation?" The virtual history paradigm recognizes simply that all creation type miracles entail a virtual history, so the Fall, with its creation type miracles (by which the nature of the creation was changed --- "subjected to futility") carried with it its own (fallen) virtual history, which is the virtual history we now see. We do not see the original utopian pre-Fall creation with its (presumably utopian) virtual history. ... Yes, I believe there was an "ice-age". Actually, there were several ice-ages. They were all in virtual history. The last one ended about 10,000 years ago. So it doesn't enter into real history, since Creation happened just over 7,000 years ago. Since my work is designed to defend the historical truth of the Bible against charges that what it reports as history is in fact fiction, I have not had much cause to talk about the ice-ages so far. (In my understanding of virtual history and the past, one can just accept what the scientists specializing in these fields are telling everyone is their best understanding/reconstruction of these past events. These reconstructions do not attack the historical integrity of the Bible in any way once one understands the concept of virtual history.)

'Actually, I think there is enormous evidence of biological evolution (meaning extensive changes to flaura and fauna)---again, in virtual history. Note that the Bible does not say that biological evolution CAN NOT happen; it says that biological evolution DID NOT happen. That is, the Bible clearly teaches that we got here by CREATION, not by EVOLUTION. "In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the earth", not "In the beginning God EVOLVED the heavens and the earth." But none of this excludes the possibility of biological evolution in virtual history. In fact, the teaching in Romans 8:20, that the creation was subjected to futility at the time of the Fall, meshes rather well with evolution being the thing seen in the virtual history data, for the hallmark of evolution is not purpose, but random chance and meaninglessness.

'The Grand Canyon should also be understood just as the standard scientists describe its formation. It too is a virtual history phenomenon.

'Virtual history is not a hard idea. Just think about what it means to actually CREATE something. Creating a story is a helpful analogy. Take "The Hobbit" as an example of a created entity. Now step into the book with Bilbo on page one and begin to examine the world around you. Everything you see and examine around you has already, on page one, an extensive built-in virtual history. Bilbo is in his 50's as I recall. So he has a virtual history. His house has been dug back into the hill, implying someone did some digging. If you examine the tunnels you can no doubt find tool marks left by the workmen. His front door is made of wood, implying trees grown, sawn into planks, planed, and fastened together by craftsmen, all before the story begins. And on and on it goes...Bilbo's clothing with all those stitches, and the soil in his yard and garden with humus from long-dead leaves, ...

'We are living in a CREATION. The creation we are living in is a story of God's making. It opens on page one 5176+/-26 B.C. (by my best reckoning so far). The story moves from Creation to Fall to Flood to Exodus to Birth of Christ to Crucifixion to Redemption to ultimate Restoration of all things. This story is our reality, but it is not ultimate reality. (God is ultimate reality---He transcends the story just as any author transcends their created story.) And like any story, it has, necessarily, a virtual history built in from page one onward.

'The big take-home point is that evidence of virtual history---of even millions or billions of years of this or that process operating in the past---does not and cannot falsify the fact of creation in a created entity. So we can let the virtual history data about the Grand Canyon or the ice ages or whatever else speak for itself and say whatever it seems to say. We do not have to resort to foolishness (e.g., denying the validity of tree-ring calibrated radiocarbon dates) to try to wipe out every trace of any natural process prior to the biblical date of Creation. We understand virtual history to be part and parcel of any created thing, so evidences of such processes do not threaten our faith or falsify the Bible's claim that we got here by supernatural creation just over 7000 years ago.'



'Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well... I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure... Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don't be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don't idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that's not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you.'

And see this post in which some of Todd's fellow creationists wonder if he's not a closet evolutionist for admitting there's evidence for evolution, http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/2012/06/im-for-real.html

On the other hand, see this post in which Todd discusses his view of creationism and why he doesn't think it is a pseudoscience but a genuine alternative to evolution that needs to develop its own hypotheses and theories related to "baraminology." http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/2009/11/truth-about-creationism.html

As for Todd's credentials, he has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, 1999). His Ph.D. advisor was Dr. William Pearson, the original developer of the widely popular FASTA suite of computer programs used for DNA analyses. When providing a reference for Todd in his subsequent academic position application, Dr. Pearson stated "he was the best graduate student I ever had". Immediately following his Ph.D. work at Virginia, Dr. Wood accepted a position as the Director of Bioinformatics at the Clemson University Genomics Institute (Clemson, SC) which at that time, was directed by Dr. Rod Wing, a world famous scientist in the field of plant genomics. After working for about two years at Clemson University, Dr. Wood accepted a faculty position at Bryan College (Dayton, TN) in 2002 where he now serves as the Director of the Center for Origins Research and Associate Professor of Science. He helped start the Baraminology Study Group (for creationists who are trying to scientifically determine what a biblical "kind" is). Todd has organized two conferences on baraminology. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Center for Origins Research and Education at Bryan College and is also active at church, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school.

KURT WISE, ANOTHER YEC WITH A PH.D. ADMITS SOME EVIDENCE "fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” And "could turn against creationism."

Segment from a NYT article (Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock by Hanna Rosin) in which Wise admits the fossil transitions seen throughout time in the geologic record "fits the evolutionary prediction quite well":

The heads of all the leading scientific creationist institutes from several countries showed up for the Cedarville event, along with the movement’s other stars: John Baumgardner, a geophysicist who worked for 20 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Kurt Wise, who got his Ph.D. in paleontology from Harvard in the ’80s as a student of Stephen Jay Gould, the nation’s most famous opponent of creationism; and Marcus Ross, 31, the latest inductee into the movement, who got his Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Rhode Island last summer.

Like any group of elites, they were snobs about their superior degrees. During lunch breaks or car rides, they traded jokes about the “vulgar creationists” and the “uneducated masses,” and, in their least Christian moments, the “idiots on the Web.” One leader of a creationist institute complained about all the cranks who call on the phone claiming to have seen dinosaurs or to have had a vision of Noah’s ark. (How Noah fit the entire animal kingdom onto the ark is a perennial obsession.)

Because they have been exposed to so much standard science, the educated creationists like Kurt Wise try not to allow themselves the blind spots of their less sophisticated relations. Some years ago, for instance, fellow creationists claimed to have found fossils of human bones in Pennsylvania coal deposits, which scientists date to millions of years before humans appeared. After examining them, Wise concluded that they were “not fossil material at all” but “inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules.” Wise later pushed to get himself appointed as scientific adviser to the new creationist museum so he could “keep out the scientific garbage.”

In a presentation at the conference, Wise showed a slide of a fossil sequence that moved from reptile to mammal, with some transitional fossils in between. He veered suddenly from his usual hyperactive mode to contemplative. “It’s a pain in the neck,” he said. “It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” Wise and others have come up with various theories explaining how the flood could have produced such perfect order. Wise is refining a theory, for example, that the order reflects how far the animals lived from the shore, so those living farthest from the water show up last in the record. But they haven’t settled on anything yet.

“We have nothing to fear from data,” Ross told me. “If we’re afraid, it means we don’t trust God’s word.” The older generation of creationists “would come up with an explanation or a model and say, ‘This solves it!’ I’m a bit more cautious and at the same time more rigorous. We have lines of possibility that we continue to advance but at the same time we recognize that this is science, so the explanations are subject to change with new discoveries.”

In a 1995 article by creationist paleontologist Kurt Wise he admitted the following:

In various macroevolutionary models, stratomorphic intermediates might be expected to be any one or more of several different forms: – ... It is a Very Good Evolutionary Argument... Of Darwinism’s four stratomorphic intermediate expectations, that of the commonness of inter-specific stratomorphic intermediates has been the most disappointing for classical Darwinists. The current lack of any certain inter-specific stratomorphic intermediates has, of course, led to the development and increased acceptance of punctuated equilibrium theory. Evidences for Darwin’s second expectation - of stratomorphic intermediate species - include such species as Baragwanathia27 (between rhyniophytes and lycopods), Pikaia28 (between echinoderms and chordates), Purgatorius29 (between the tree shrews and the primates), and Proconsul30 (between the non-hominoid primates and the hominoids). Darwin’s third expectation - of higher-taxon stratomorphic intermediates - has been confirmed by such examples as the mammal-like reptile groups31 between the reptiles and the mammals, and the phenacdontids32 between the horses and their presumed ancestors. Darwin’s fourth expectation - of stratomorphic series - has been confirmed by such examples as the early bird series,33 the tetrapod series,34,35 the whale series,36 the various mammal series of the Cenozoic37 (for example, the horse series, the camel series, the elephant series, the pig series, the titanothere series, etc.), the Cantius and [p. 219]

Plesiadapus primate series,38 and the hominid series.39 Evidence for not just one but for all three of the species level and above types of stratomorphic intermediates expected by macroevolutionary theory is surely strong evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Creationists therefore need to accept this fact. It certainly CANNOT said that traditional creation theory expected (predicted) any of these fossil finds. [p. 221]

In fairness, Wise goes on to claim that this evidence is “explainable” under the creation model, postulating as an alternative the scientific model that “God created organisms according to His nature” (p. 219), which apparently leads to the expectation of “high homoplasy” – because God, I assume, likes homoplasy. http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/01/honest-creation.html

...creationists still struggle with defining the baramin [the biblical "kind"] and justifying baraminology methodology, and evolutionists have found ample opportunity for criticism.
-- Todd Charles Wood, Kurt P. Wise, Roger Sanders, N. Doran, "A Refined Baramin Concept," Occasional Papers of the Baraminology Study Group, July 25, 2003 Number Three [To be fair the creationist authors do wind up convincing themselves by the end of their paper that they have come up with a new refined concept of "baramin" that can spark loads of convincing new creation research]

Wise sums up his view this way:

"Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand."

And in his book, Faith, Form, and Time, Wise wrote:

A face-value reading of the Bible indicates that the creation is thousands of years old. A face-value examination of the creation suggests it is millions or billions of years old. A reconciliation of these two observations is one of the most significant challenges to creation research. Much more research must be devoted to this question to produce an acceptable resolution.

Wise acknowledges that he embraces a minority view in scientific and academic circles, including Christian educators. At the most recent national conference of geologists, the creationists numbered a handful of the 8,000 attending; even in an Association of Christian Geologists meeting, Wise was in the minority. The overwhelming sway of evolution in public education doesn't bother him. But he sees little support among Christian educators for the theory he embraces. "I don't see a day in my lifetime when young-earth creationism will become accepted in the church," Wise said. "I have no idea how to convince believers [the earth is young]. People who have a particular position on this issue aren't at all convinced by evidence." Adding, "When I talk to an unbeliever, I don't want to talk about whether scientific evidence is consistent with a flood or a young earth," Wise said. "The most important issue to speak about with unbelievers is their status before God and their eternity. [Otherwise], you're not talking about the most important issue."

Wise also mentions the problems that evolution poses for a creationist biblical world view in his review of a book by Gould:

As [Stephen J.] Gould [one of Wise's professors at Harvard] explains so well, however, a scientifically orthodox understanding of earth history includes many facts that are at odds with the idea that man was a purposeful product of the evolution. Why is it, for example, that for two thirds of the history of the earth, life proceeded no further than bacteria? Why is it that for half of the remaining one third of earth history, life remained one-celled? What is to be made of the possibility that two unsuccessful attempts at multicellularity preceded the one that finally initiated the line to humans? Why was the evolution of mammals delayed for 100 million years by the parenthetical note of the development, domination, and demise of the 'terrible lizards'? Why is it that it took 99,999 out of the 100,000 units of time in the history of this universe for man to come about? And finally, if man is in God's image, does God look like the ape who bore us? Although not expressly designed as a polemic against theological theories of accommodation, Gould's arguments nonetheless bear upon them. The very nature of God comes into question if He chose evolution as a means to form man. The literal reading of the macroevolutionary history of the earth is that man is an accident--at best an afterthought of nature's process.


A SIMILAR AD HOC IDEA WAS SUGGESTED BY WILLIAM DEMBSKI, OLD-EARTHER and I.D.ist, who suggests in his book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, that "at the heart of this [Dembski's] theodicy is the idea that [Adam and Eve were real and lived in a paradisical creation, but...] the effects of the Fall [i.e., death, carnage in the world of living organisms] can be retroactive as well as proactive (much as the saving effects of the cross stretch not only forward in time but also backward, saving, for instance, the Old Testament saints)... An omnipotent God unbound by time can make natural evil predate the Fall and yet make the Fall the reason for natural evil." Dembski adds that an evolutionist, supposedly a theistic one, can also employ his theodicy.

Which brings us back to the statements above by Aardsma, Wood and Wise, who claim that one can be a young-earth creationist and accept all of the data for an old-earth. To them It's merely a matter of the young-earther having a different interpretation of the data.

ANDREW SNELLING “The Creation Model: It’s Past, Present and Necessary Future,” at the 6th International Creation Conference, finds the problem not to be scientific so much as "spiritual, a deliberate rejection of God's word":

"What if there was absolutely no evidence that the universe was young? No scientific evidence the universe was young. Would you still believe that it was young? Why? Because God's word teaches it. That's the only reason you need to have to believe the universe is young. God's word says it, therefore I believe it. That's not to say the evidences are not important. Of course they are. Because we're commanded to have a reason for the hope, and to give reasoned answers for what we believe and why we believe it. But we must always remember our Biblical foundations.

"So often we fight over the scientific evidence, but are we winning by leaving out our Biblical foundations? Too much of our creation apologetics has therefore been based on the evidence alone. We need to keep arguing from the level of world views. Because ultimately the problem that people have is spiritual, the deliberate rejection of God's word."

Monday, May 05, 2014

The God Question and the Richest Man in the World, Bill Gates

Bill Gates has still not replied to the question of "Do you believe in God" with either the words, "Yes," or "I believe in God."

The closest he has come was to say, "I think it makes sense to believe in God," and immediately added, "but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know." IN OTHER WORDS Gates was not speaking in the first-person, though one can conclude from his statement that he does not think believers in God like his wife are deluded or unintelligent. "It makes sense to believe in God," was all he said. What exactly does Gates believe? How firmly? How many questions does he have? Gates added that the view that the world was "generated by random numbers... seemed... sort of an uncharitable view." "Seemed?" "Sort of?" Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it goes well with his statement that believers in God are not deluded or unintelligent.

Gates also used the phrase, "women who are doing God's work" in the following context:

"The disease [polio] is still endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and killing it off altogether has been likened to squeezing jelly to death. There is another, sinister obstacle: the propagation by Islamist groups of the belief that polio vaccination is a front for covert sterilisation and other western evils. Health workers in Pakistan have paid with their lives for involvement in the programme. “It’s not going to stop us succeeding,” says Gates. “It does force us to sit down with the Pakistan government to renew their commitments, see what they’re going to do in security and make changes to protect the women who are doing God’s work and getting out to these children and delivering the vaccine.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/bill-gates/9812672/Bill-Gates-interview-I-have-no-use-for-money.-This-is-Gods-work.html

Gate's use of the phrase, "WOMEN doing God's work" is not equivalent to saying, "I believe in God," since it could easily be an acknowledgment by Gates of how the women view their own work, and because he wishes the Islamists to view the women's work as "God's" in order to help "protect the women," so they can "deliver the vaccine" rather than "paying with their lives," i.e., executed as infidels working for a western infidel organization.

Do you believe in God?

I agree with people like Richard Dawkins that mankind felt the need for creation myths. Before we really began to understand disease and the weather and things like that, we sought false explanations for them. Now science has filled in some of the realm – not all – that religion used to fill. But the mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there's no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]. I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know.

This story is from the March 27th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/bill-gates-the-rolling-stone-interview-20140313#ixzz30tiSlAmH

THE CHRISTIAN POST edited Gates' reply above, putting Gates' words in this order:

When asked if he believed in God, he responded, "I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know."

At the same time, he said he agrees with "people like Richard Dawkins that mankind felt the need for creation myths."

"Before we really began to understand disease and the weather and things like that, we sought false explanations for them. Now science has filled in some of the realm – not all – that religion used to fill," he said. "But the mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there's no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]."


Gates, interviewed November 1995 on PBS by David Frost, transcript with minor edits:

Frost: Do you believe in the Sermon on the Mount?

Gates: I don't. I'm not somebody who goes to church on a regular basis. The specific elements of Christianity are not something I'm a huge believer in. There's a lot of merit in the moral aspects of religion. I think it can have a very very positive impact.

Frost: I sometimes say to people, do you believe there is a god, or do you know there is a god? And, you'd say you don't know?

Gates: In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen. I don't know if there's a god or not, but I think religious principles are quite valid.

Gates was profiled in a January 13, 1996 TIME magazine cover story. Here are some excerpts compiled by the Drudge Report:

"Isn't there something special, perhaps even divine, about the human soul?" interviewer Walter Isaacson asks Gates "His face suddenly becomes expressionless," writes Isaacson, "his squeaky voice turns toneless, and he folds his arms across his belly and vigorously rocks back and forth in a mannerism that has become so mimicked at MICROSOFT that a meeting there can resemble a round table of ecstatic rabbis."

"I don't have any evidence on that," answers Gates. "I don't have any evidence of that."

"Melinda [my wife] is Catholic, goes to church and wants to raise Jennifer that way. But she offered me a deal,” Gates says. “If I start going to church — my family was Congregationalist — then Jennifer could be raised in whatever religion I choose.” Gates admits that he is tempted, because he would prefer she have a religion that “has less theology and all” than Catholicism, but he has not yet taken up the offer. “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient,” he explains. “There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What do Christians want? What do atheists want? What is the meaning of life for Christians and atheists?

First, what do Christians want? Christians (and other believers in a personal higher power) want clarity, fewer grey areas, more black and white regions, a roadmap to life, a roadmap to eternity, certainty. Feeling one is certain about something is an addictive feeling that tends to reinforce itself, and people argue the most over topics where certainty does not exist such as religious and political views--perhaps because people are capable of living in many different types of societies and holding a wide varieties of beliefs including a firm belief in how things must turn out in the future provided we do such and such.

Christians don't want to be alone, they want a person who is guaranteed to be with them always, who hears their cries, even If those cries are not always answered, even if the Xn has to interpret what the answer to their prayers are (such as answered quickly, slowly, fully, partially, or, keep praying and maybe they will be answered, or, forget about that prayer and start praying for something else), but regardless of having to interpret such answer to prayer for themselves, the Christian is sure someone is there, so they are never alone.

Christians want all human suffering and pain to make sense, to eventually be accounted for, either in the form of punishment for the person who has made others suffer, or as blessings granted sooner or later to the one who has suffered, or if not added blessings, then they want such suffering to have been a soul building experience rather than a soul weakening or deconstructing experience like post traumatic stress disorder (or to coin a more Christian sounding term, "post traumatic spiritual stress disorder"). And they want not just a balanced account book for human suffering, an eye for an eye, but something more--forgiveness and healing for all of their own sins, feelings of guilt and pain.

Lastly, the Christian wants human death to be an illusion (some also want the death of believed pets to be an illusion). They want to be immortal like the personal higher power they worship.

What do atheists want?

Do atheists want the reverse of what Christians want? No. Atheists like feeling certain about many things, they prize knowledge, they don't want to be alone, and as humanists they are in favor of justice, equality, reducing suffering, aiding healing, and human life extension. Atheists however hold more modest views in those areas than those who are certain that a higher power exists.

Atheists and Christians also agree to some extent that there are plenty of people with their own individual concerns who fail to live up to humanist or Christian ideals, who fail to think big, embrace larger visions, wider feelings of empathy. Those people might be caught up in a daily struggle to make ends meet, wage slaves who earn only a few dollars a day in third world countries, migrant workers in the U.S., or even people with well paying jobs but whose debts or hospital bills have risen and they are struggling to keep their heads above financial water. While other people are locked into repetitious jobs for decades that no longer feed their mental reservoir of wider interests, curiosities and knowledge they possessed when they were young and which continue to atrophy away, so there are plenty of people who might never develop much of a thirst for knowledge, certainty or global justice. While still other people grow addicted to a wide variety of beliefs, thoughts, substances and behaviors, overlooking broader concerns or the needs of others, since the brain can reward itself with little blasts of pleasurable chemicals for all kinds of thoughts and behaviors, including many that do not benefit either the individual's health or well being, or society as a whole.

In fact, religions and philosophies (notably political philosophies) of various types can be so addictive that attempting to win an argument is more important than maintaining a friendship, a family, or peace on earth.

Religious people like everyone else can also fall into repetitious patterns that slowly rob them of flexibility of mind, or they can fall into addictive behaviors of all sorts. They can become beer and football Christians, nominal churchgoers. There are also plenty of discouraged Christians, some suffering post traumatic faith disorders. Not to mention the existence of many restless, semi-disenchanted, questioning, progressive, humanistic, very moderate to liberal or even universalist and mystical Christians,

On what I would call the brighter side, many Christians are mingling with atheists than ever before, not just on the internet, but you sometimes find churches opening their doors to a discussion of uncertainties of belief, even inviting debates with atheists. People are getting to know one another, atheists and Christians, sharing fears, failures, wishes, hopes and dreams.

What I find ironically hopeful is that no matter what side one is on in a religious or political debate, both sides are often full of energy and happy, knowing the challenge ahead, of trying to fully communicate their point of view, all they know and believe about a topic, in summary of course, to people who are less than eager to agree with it. Humans enjoy not simply holding ideas in their heads, but sharing them with others, and it is a joy when given the chance to do so. Also, for those who love a challenge, "preaching to the choir" appears to be less of a joy than engaging in a debate.

What is the meaning of life for Christians and atheists?

Christians think of meaning as coming from an eternal God. Things that do not last, called temporal things, have little meaning. However, many ancient Jewish writings depict human life as temporary, all die and go to the same place, a land of shadows called "Sheol" (with only a few exceptions like Enoch or Elijah who get to live with Yahweh in heaven, but even the Greeks had a few exceptions, with everyone else winding up in Hades after they die). The immortality of humans is not assumed throughout ancient Jewish writings, many writers of whom found meaning in temporal existence, looking forward to blessings from Yahweh in this life and then blessings on one's descendants, nation, people, race that live on after one has died.

Also, many Christians believe that worshiping God is not enough to give one's life meaning, because it has to be the right God, the Trinitarian creedal Christian God, otherwise one risks being damned eternally (universalist Christians would not agree with that statement, but most Christians are not universalists). So the meaning of life consists largely in avoiding hell and being assured of heaven by worshiping the one true God, and nothing in life matters more or holds more meaning than making a "decision" to follow and believe in the Trinitarian creedal Christian God, the author of such assurances.

Atheists do not find meaning in becoming an adherent of a belief system that must continue being "sold" in all of its original exclusivity because if no further "sales" are made then many wonderful and interesting people one has grown to love and respect will be damned for eternity. That sounds too much like a pyramid scheme erected on fear.

The atheist idea of meaning is more modest, along the lines of using reason and foresight to obtain the necessities and joys of life for themselves and others. Many atheists are also happy simply to see more moderate points of view in religion flourishing.

Atheists also recognize that most experiences in life are temporary, like enjoying ice cream. Memories tend to fade over time. And we see living things dying all around us. But that does not make such experiences, memories and life, meaningless, but precious.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

GOSPEL TRAJECTORIES & THE RESURRECTION (questions as well as sources to read or listen to)

1) Cross-Examining the Four Witnesses, Parts 1 and 2
Episodes 130-131 of this free podcast:

2) Concerning just the resurrection, if you are debating the subject with others or yourself, I would start by asking how many FIRST-person statements we have of people who say Jesus after his execution, "appeared" to "me."

In the NT I only know of Paul stating briefly that "Jesus appeared to me," in 1 Cor and Galatians with no details at all. 1 Peter also has a first person statement but many scholars rank that letter as late and apocryphal. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1peter.html

So the only FIRST-person statement we have is from Paul with no details. Does God expect everyone to believe less than first person tales? And what exactly are we to believe concerning Paul's statement since all it consists of are the words, "he appeared to me."

Note that in 1 Cor. Paul uses the word "appeared" with no distinctions. But according to Luke-Acts the raised Jesus had ascended bodily into heaven never to return in the body until the day of judgment, before Paul became an apostle, so whatever appeared to Paul was not the bodily raised Jesus, yet Paul implies in 1 Cor that he was blessed with the same sort of appearance as everyone else. And since none of the appearances in 1 Cor are told first hand, but being told second hand or more, and since 1 Cor includes no descriptions of each appearance to compare one with the other, we know very little about any of them. Who was among the "over 500 brethren?" Where did each appearance take place? When? What time of day? How light or bright was it? How near or far away from Jesus were each of these people? How certain were they concerning what they were seeing? Did Jesus say or do anything, or nothing, during each appearance? We don't know. There are also discrepancies between the 1 Cor. list and later tales in the Gospels.

See also the award winning book, Scripting Jesus, for a discussion of the changes one can see in the retellings of the resurrection story over time, from Mk to Mt, Lk, etc. http://www.amazon.com/Scripting-Jesus-The-Gospels-Rewrite/dp/0061228796

Also note how the alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus grew more numerous over time from Mk to Mt to Lk Acts and John. The story grew over time:


You can trace various trajectories that the Jesus story took over time as it was retold/rewritten from Mk to Mt to Lk to John

There is also a gospel trajectory related to how Judas is presented in the Gospels:

One can see Gospel stories growing bolder with various retellings from Mark -->John, attempting to enhance belief, also some deletions of negative sounding tales/passages in the earliest Gospel, Mark. Not all trajectories follow through all four Gospels, some just branch off from Mark to Matthew, or from Mark to Luke respectively. Matthew and Luke differ most from each other where they could not follow Mark, i.e., in their beginnings and endings, their nativity and post-resurrection tales, that start at an earlier point than Mark and end at a later point than Mark. And like Matthew and Luke's extended endings, at some point believers also extended Mark's ending (of which more than one extended ending exists).

And one can see where parts of the fourth Gospel appear to have been constructed based on information and tales found in earlier Gospels--for instance in the tale about Jesus being anointed with oil in John, it is a story that combines elements from earlier anointing stories in earlier Gospels. Or the feeding miracle. Were the newly constructed stories in John due to the fluid memory/theological artistry of John, or of preachers in his community who knew those tales in the earlier Gospels? See this post that explains which elements from earlier Gospels made their way into the anointing tale in the fourth Gospel:

You can also see how the tale of Jesus' burial became more aggrandized over time from Mark to Matt, Lk, John:

“Here’s the problem. When you look at Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the story of the burial of Jesus, knowing that Mark is the basis for Matthew and Luke and that possibly (this is debated in scholarship) they may be the source for John, you watch the body’s burial get steadily better. It’s a hasty hurried burial in Mark. By the time Matthew and Luke read Mark and develop the story it’s a burial in a tomb in which nobody else has been laid and they’re explaining to you why Joseph of Arimathea was able to be a counselor for Jesus but not against him on Thursday night as it were. The story is developing, and by the time you get to John’s account the burial of Jesus is — I wouldn’t even say royal — it’s transcendental, there’s so many spices used they would have filled almost the entire tomb, it’s a magnificent burial, it’s the burial of the son of God when you get to John. What happens is that as a historian when I retroject that trajectory of a burial that keeps getting better and better, and ask what was there in the beginning, it doesn’t look very good. It looks like all they might have had in the beginning was a hope that maybe some pious non-Christian, a Jew, out of respect for the Jewish law of Deuteronomy, would have buried Jesus’ body (instead of letting the Romans do what they usually did with the people they crucified, which was to toss the bodies in a common grave). But if a Jew asked Pilate for the body and gave it a burial that immediately raises the issue that the writers of the Gospels also must have seen, namely wouldn’t Joseph also have buried the two robbers, presumably fellow Jews, who were with Jesus? And wouldn’t there at least be three in the tomb? Would it be a public tomb for criminals? Then how would we know which was Jesus’ body? And so you can see the Gospel writers, I think, grappling with the difficulties of trying to have Jesus rescued from a common grave — a story whose original I don’t think is historical and which grew in the telling over time. I think it is their fervent hope, their best hope, that somebody took care of the body of Jesus." -- John Dominic Crossan as heard on “Jesus and Crucifixion, a Historical View,” Fresh Air from WHYY, Mar. 20, 2008 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88675603 (with some edits by ETB)

The first three Gospels grow in length in the order Mk, Mt, Lk (while the fourth Gospel, John, only grows shorter because it lacks a birth narrative, all parables, all exorcism tales, though it does have a very talky narrator, explaining so much more than any of the narrators did in any of the previous Gospels, and of course interpreting everything in his own theological terms, and a very talky Jesus as well whose theological terms simply mirror those used by the author, and whose dialogues with others (not to mention Jesus' alleged final prayer) go on and on, like the author as well. Most scholars do not take seriously that the words of Jesus in the fourth Gospel are authentic, but more the result of following the theological outline of the fourth Gospel author.

Speaking of the Gospel order, Mk first, Mt second, one can see that Matthew reproduces more of Mark than Luke does. And Matthew usually just inserts passages or parables right into the Markan narrative. So Matthew is plainly the closest to Mark. And though it is debated whether the author of Luke lacked access to Matthew, or had indirect verbal access via others, or direct access to a copy of Matthew's Gospel, still, Luke's general outline seems to echo Matthew's, i.e., starting with having Jesus' born in Bethlehem (via different tales than Matthew employs), and adding a longer genealogy than Matthews' since Luke's goes back not just to Abraham as Matthew's did, but all the way back to Adam. Luke also features not just one miraculous birth tale, as in Matthew, but adds a second miraculous birth tale, that of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, even having people sing holy songs, it's a liturgical musical! Obviously a later creation, a more involved work of literature than what we find in Matthew, including an added brief tale to fill in the time from between Jesus' birth and baptism, i.e., a tale from Jesus' boyhood.

Luke's post-resurrection tales are also more involved than Matthew's, with added sightings, and a bodily ascension tale, and no line as in Matthew that "some doubted." Luke's post-resurrection tales also take place in and around Jerusalem, a more impressive cosmopolitan setting, while the two earlier Gospels, Mark and Matthew had the disciples being commanded to venture to Galilee to see the risen Jesus, "He has gone before you to Galilee, there you will see him." Luke does not say that Jesus had gone before them to Galilee to be seen there, not at all. Luke adds far more alleged post-resurrection words of Jesus than Matthew, and new parables that are longer and more artistic than any seen before, like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, etc. Neither does Luke simply insert lines and new material into Mark like Matthew did, but Luke has taken the time and effort to blend information into Markan story segments unlike Matthew who more often simply inserts stuff here and there in a cruder fashion.

I would add another trajectory as well, involving tales of Jesus raising other people. For instance In Mk Jesus is asked to HEAL someone's daughter who is "at the point of dying," he gets there and people are mourning, saying she has died and Jesus clears the room and raises her in the company of her immediate family and some disciples. Matthew repeats the tale, though when Jesus is first asked to come he is told that the child has ALREADY "died," not being merely "at the point of dying" as in Mark. Luke repeats the same tale, but Luke adds a second resurrection miracle tale in his Gospel, that of a child who was not merely "raised" inside a private home, such a miracle being seen by only a few, but in this new tale, Jesus raises a child who is ON THE WAY TO THE CEMETERY, and this child is raised publicly. So this new resurrection miracle is grander than any that appeared in Mk and Mt. But in the fourth Gospel, John, the grandest resurrection miracle is found, someone raised not privately in a house, and not on the way to being buried, but someone already buried, for a few days, and that resurrection is the most public of all, and becomes the reason the Pharisees seek Jesus' own death due to how people were reacting to this very public resurrection, which also was apparently near Jerusalem, nearer Jerusalem than the others in the earlier Gospels if I recall.

Of course, Jesus' miracles in the Gospels also resemble reworked versions of miracles of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, including the raising of children, sometimes even copying the exact Greek phrases and settings as one can read when one compares the miracle tales in the Greek O.T. (the Septuagint) with the Gospel miracle tales involving Jesus.

Additional red flags emerge as we note that Jesus' most public miracle was the feeding of the multitude, but there is no mention of where it took place according to the earliest Gospel, Mark which mentions two such feedings, both of which took place "in the wilderness," much as the OT tale of people being fed by God in the "wilderness." Both such tales are equally vague as to the whereabouts where such miracles took place. The feeding miracle in the Gospels also resembles that of the feeding of many men with just a little bread, as in another OT tale involving a miracle-working prophet. It is only later Gospels that try to pin down the location of the feeding miracle. Luke says it took place in Bethsaida, But Mark, the earliest Gospel, does not say that, in fact Mark says that after the feeding miracle the apostles got into a boat to go to Bethsaida, but they don't even make it to Bethsaida because they get sidetracked. So we know from Mark that neither healing miracle that he mentions took place place in Bethsaida, only in "the wilderness." And we also know that Luke could have derived his name of the town, Bethsaida, from Mark since that Gospel says the apostles got into a boat and tried to reach Bethsaida AFTER the miracle. But that is of course to simply use a name mentioned in Mark that is NOT directly connected with the feeding story, and, Interestingly, you can see that Luke is merely stitching matters together loosely in his retelling of the Markan tale because as soon as Luke mentions Bethsaida he copies the rest of Mark that says it was in "the wilderness," so Luke simply reverts back to what Mark originally wrote (editorial fatigue), so Luke's story remains derivative to Mark's, and Luke probably added a place name to make it sound a bit more convincing. But as we have seen, that's not what the earliest version says, it says wilderness.

Other miracles of Jesus are only seen by few apostles like the walking on water, the calming of the storm, the transfiguration. And according to the earliest version of the transfiguration tale, in Mark, the disciples are even told not to tell anyone about the transfiguration miracle until later.

In fact according to the Gospels there is no tale about Jesus entering a major city in Galilee and doing a miracle there. There were several big cities in Galilee we know from writings and archaeology, but all the places Jesus visited and allegedly performed miracles were far smaller. Small towns. In fact when Jesus does visit a city, it is Jerusalem and he gets crucified there. According to the two earliest Gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus is not depicted healing or exorcising anyone in the one big town he visits, Jerusalem. (Only in the last written Gospels, Luke and John, does Jesus allegedly perform healing miracles in Jerusalem, and they only mention two, the healing of the servant's ear which was cut off at Jesus' arrest, per a very short line in Luke, and the healing of the lame man by the pool per John).

Of course Jerusalem is supposedly where Jesus' biggest miracle took place, but according to the Gospels themselves, no one in Jerusalem actually sees Jesus exit his tomb, if there was a tomb (see Crossan above). And according to the earliest two Gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus appeared to his male disciples in Galilee first, not Jerusalem, the message at the tomb being, "He has gone before you to Galilee, THERE ye shall see him." Even Luke, who has the disciples remain in Jerusalem to see the risen Jesus there, does not have anyone but the apostles accompany Jesus out of that room and out of Jerusalem ("he led them") to a nearby mount where they alone got to see Jesus rise up to heaven, per Luke-Acts.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Moral Question

Moral values, like moral behaviors appear to have more than one basis behind them, by which I mean morality does not appear to be driven totally by one's conscious mind, nor does it appear to be something that is totally due to genetic predispositions, nor totally due to repeated lessons from birth that eventually become ingrained behavior patterns requiring little to no thought.

And the "moral" question appears to be a sub-division of all questions regarding what humans find agreeable and disagreeable. The vast majority of us like

1) being healthy rather than chronically ill or in pain;

2) eating rather than starving;

3) having at least a little money rather than living in abject poverty;

4) sharing peace and happiness rather than living in fear of having our lives or belongings taken from us at the whim of others or at the whims of natural accidents, diseases and disasters.

Such "choices" seem undeniably obvious to us, being a species with a long shared biological background, large brains, similar sensory organs, similar nerves that record similar feelings of pain and pleasure, and a similar psychological need to feel wanted and belong, rather than mocked and shunned, and a hunger to be in the presence of other members of our species like our family and others who stimulate us physically, verbally, and mentally. Hence, joys shared are increased, while sorrows shared are reduced. (Two notable exceptions would be psychopaths--who usually show signs while very young that they have a much diminished sense of empathy; or, complete hermits who attempts to isolate themselves from the family or society in which they were raised.)

Second, we all know life is a risky business. Painful, joyless experiences occur no matter what one's belief system. For instance, it has been said that "in a cosmos without God anything is possible," but even in a cosmos WITH God, anything is possible. So we seek ways to avoid the worst and accentuate the best. We make laws, hire police, as well as develop ways to increase our happiness, i.e., music, drama, parks, arts. And courts to argue continually over how far most people in a society ought to be allowed to go in pursuing their anger, vengeance, as well as their pleasures, based on how such pursuits affect the lives of others in that society. In a similar vein, senators, governors, city councils and courts pass regulations regarding city planning, safety and health in order to help us avoid other things we dislike, such as debilitating accidents, illnesses, foul water, and natural disasters.

No doubt there's both an attraction toward being sociable and the opposite, i.e., self-centered impulses as well as the possibility of being irritated by others or acting aggressively toward others.That is the old evolutionary trade off seen in all large-brained mammalian species, even the most sociable ones. There is also the fact that a species with large brains can grow addicted to nearly anything, which can lead to some very anti-social behaviors. The brain does not discriminate concerning what kinds of behaviors feed it the chemicals that give it internal pleasure. Not to mention other jury-rigged features of the mammalian-brain-mind, like the numerous cognitive biases we are all born with and subject to. Luckily, studies in behavioral and cognitive psychology have allowed us to grow more cognizant of such limits to sociability, and also, most intelligent brain-minds throughout history have pointed out the obvious benefits of mass civilization over mass barbarism. With civilization we can extend our curiosity and imagination beyond the stars, while with barbarism we can merely stick spears in each other and tremble in fear of what lies over the nearest darkened hillside.

RECOGNITION OF UNFAIRNESS probably arrived with the evolution of new types of brains that could compare situations in increasingly more generalized ways. Such recognitions preceded the arrival of humans on earth. For instance, monkeys sense when someone else is getting a "better deal" for the same token, and they complain about that by THROWING BACK the cucumber they were paid for handing over their token, once they see the monkey in the cage next door getting a more sought after food like a grape for the same token. This resembles in some ways the Wall Street Protests: http://youtu.be/gOtlN4pNArk

Speaking of morality in an evolutionary sense, Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:

Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection… Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.

These [priority] systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt--though of course usually an unsuccessful one--to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.

If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we--being creatures subject to gravitation--could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin’s idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention. [Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001]

Monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation/forgiving behaviors (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) which means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates... Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order… When social animals are involved... antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human. [Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates]

The bottom line is that it appears that humans have been teaching EACH OTHER how to behave for a very long time. And not just adults teaching adults, but also adults teaching their children. So, the process begins early in life and continues throughout life. Children naturally tend to act in ways that annoy or harm others or harm themselves, therefore humans begin teaching or training other humans how to behave at a very young age. It's natural for large-brained mammalian parents to deliver lessons in behavior to their children. So morality evolved not only among and between adults but also as part of the human developmental process as directed by parents. Humans have been teaching other humans how to behave, generation after generation, ages before even a written language was developed. Large-brained mammalian species from apes and dolphins to elephants form tribal societies that involve teaching the young how to behave. In one case I read about, juvenile elephants moved to another territory by themselves started acting like "Lord of the Flies" children, rampaging and even trampling animals of other species, until some older elephants were added to the mix, who disciplined the adolescents and taught them lessons in how to act.

Lastly, among large-brained primates, there's the fascinating species of chimpanzee known as the bonobo. Last I read there was no record of a bonobo killing another bonobo in nature compared with the pan species of chimpanzee that is known to kill each other and hunt monkeys for food. It is hypothesized, based on what evidence we have, that the bonobos branched off from other chimp species after some ancestors crossed a river in Africa and began living on the side with far fewer predators and more abundant food sources, but there is a further curiosity...

'Without a doubt the most peaceful species of chimpanzee is the “bonobo.” Among bonobos the females--not the physically larger males--dominate the hierarchy, and casual sex soothes all conflicts. Bonobos even engage in such human-like practices as French kissing, face-to-face sex in the “missionary” position, promiscuity, and homosexuality.

'The discovery of such a species of ape with such behaviors disturbed the creationist Christian reviewer of the book, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, who wrote, “In an evolutionary framework the integration of such sexual features [as promiscuity and homosexuality, both of them favorite pastimes among bonobos] into human society is out of the question, but the Judeo-Christian tradition indicates that promiscuity and homosexuality are secondary events, coming into the world after man’s ‘fall’ and dragging the whole of creation into a new pattern of life.”

'Aside from the fact that this “Christian” explanation for the “sexual features” of bonobo behavior doesn’t explain why the other well known chimp species (pan), does not engage in such behavior [Is the other species less ‘fallen?’ By how many degrees of ‘fallenness?’], it also seems to me most unfair that these attractive, harmless chimps should have been affected in any way by Adam eating a piece of fruit. But I will admit that they seem to enjoy the results.' [Dr. Colin Groves, commenting on a book review in Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 1, 1999 that was written by creationist, Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer]

When early tribes of humans became city dwellers they could no longer know everyone in their tribe at a glance since their tribe was now a whole city, so they could not know what kinds of behaviors they might expect or enjoy or fear from others, and neither could the whole tribe still be involved in ostracizing or ousting or reacting to unwelcome behaviors, so the creation of laws and their enforcement by the ruler seemed like a more impersonal and natural next step beyond tribalistic morality.

But to continue to add a person tinge to such laws, plenty of ancient civilizations claimed such laws were handed down or inspired by a personal divinity,

such as the story set in stone of the Babylonian sun god Shamash handing down or inspiring the laws of King Hammurabi even before the earliest possible dates for the time of Moses and his reception of laws from the Hebrew high god, Yahweh. Neither is that the only case earlier than Moses of Egyptian and Mesopotamian laws being handed down or inspired by gods. (Even the story about a Hebrew king receiving directions for how Yahweh wanted His temple built was preceded in time by a rock-carved tale of an Egyptian king having rec'd directions direct from his god on how that god wanted his temple built.)

The OT contains divinely inspired "moral" laws nobody but the most hard-nosed Calvinist adores, and even then they adore them from afar, knowing that they'd get arrested if they starting stoning homosexuals, witches, women-not-found-to-be-virgins on their wedding nights, and disobedient children in their mid-teens.

In the NT, Jesus left a long list of commands to his followers, including, "take no thought for the morrow, or what ye shall eat or drink" "sell all you have and give it to the poor," "give to all who ask, asking nothing in return," "love your enemies," but again, those are adored from afar, not to be confused with a "morally objective" list of laws to be enforced by government.

In fact nowhere in the Bible is mass murder, slavery (which is never called a "sin," but slaves are to be duly disciplined even with physical punishment as even Jesus taught in a parable), polygamy, concubinage, the persecution of witches, homosexuals, heretics and blasphemers, and the stoning of adulterers and disobedient children, and the beating of children till they are black and blue, condemned, but each is divinely instituted and/or acceptable based on the era and circumstances.

What appears to have happened in the history of human morality and lawmaking is that humans have been learning (not without effort, and only after centuries of conflict, exploration, discovery, and increases in worldwide communications) to recognize the value of "the other" in ever widening circles, from tribal laws to city-state and national laws to international laws, including a greater recognition of equality and/or tolerance for racial minorities, females, gays, and people of other religions. Some seek to grant greater equality and protection to chimpanzees (especially those being used in laboratory experiments), or to a variety of species being slaughtered, in danger of extinction, or eaten.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Golden Age of Christian Apologetics? Renaissance?

What if it’s not a new golden age or renaissance but that the arising of so many apologetic ministries as well as the attempts by more Christians to seek degrees in ”philosophy of religion” (and flood the college market in that particular arena) only proves that when a dam starts to leak in places it takes more and more fingers to stick into each fresh hole, i.e., to keep at bay increasing waves of potential ”doubters” and ”leavers” from becoming a full blown flood?

Baptizing infants into a Christian church and expecting Christianity to take over the world that way, and also holding periodic revivals has proven insufficient, because churches keep splintering, and world religions continue blaming each other for going down the wrong trail or even damning each other to hell.*SEE NOTE The ”power of Christ” alone no longer appears sufficient to compel crowds of people in the U.S. to convert (though Pentecostal revivals seem to be working fairly well in some third world nations, i.e., without the necessity of courses in apologetics).

*NOTE Of course some members of each world religion react in the opposite fashion, by growing more tolerant and cooperative, i.e., the moderates and liberals in each different religion tend to get along better than the conservatives do in the same religion.

Apologetic argumentation is also an invitation to get Christians to read atheist books, or if they dare, to read classics in biblical criticism like Strauss’ Life of Jesus Critically Examined (now in free audio online); or, Schweitzer’s The Search of the Historical Jesus, and, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, The questions will always be there, because written words do not prove their own authority, historicity or inspiration.

Speaking of questions, look at the history of the oldest most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the U.S., Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Harvard was founded as a seminary for conservative Christian ministers. Then some conservative ministers became alarmed at the growing ”theological excesses” of Harvard and founded Yale in reaction. Now look at Yale. It’ is now far less conservative than its founder’s views, just as Harvard has become. Apparently any institution that continues to attract the brightest professors and students who also attempt to interact with all the questions of their field raised by other scholars worldwide, cannot miss that fact that questions of history involve probabilities galore, making the retention of highly conservative Christian beliefs problematical. Or take Princeton, once the home of verbal plenary inerrantist, B. B. Warfield. Conservative Christian professors left Princeton to found a more conservative seminary, Westminster. In fact all of the most highly conservative seminaries and institutions of higher Christian learning in the U.S. are relatively youthful compared with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and demand signed statements of faith, so that they don’t hire professors who dare to leave the door open to questions and/or interpretations of the Bible that are not ”approved.”

Speaking of a renaissance, if there is one going on, one that is truly new, like never before, it appears to be a renaissance of atheist, humanist podcasters, screen writers, song writers, novelists, artists, and comedians whose beliefs range from ”not very devout” to ”blasphemous,” including scientists whose belief in ”God” is less doctrinal or non-existent, compared with the average beliefs of the rest of U.S. society. There are also increasing numbers of ”emergent” Christians, or ”very moderate” Evangelicals a growing number of whom believe the Bible is a ”thoroughly human” book, and neither infallible nor inerrant according to older definitions of inerrancy.

And for the first time in history there have been atheist bestselling books that did not merely consist of a character in a novel or play who was atheistic, but books advocating in non-fiction fashion for a belief in atheism. Previously there had been agnostic bestsellers, such as Bertrand Russell’s works. Shelly’s The Necessity of Atheism was a mere tract printed in 1811, and never a bestseller. But at the start of the 21st century we saw not just the first bestselling book advocating for atheism, but three of them.

I would add that whenever a book came out that posed some sort of challenge to ”what the Bible says,” or even just to ”what some Christians believe the Bible says, as opposed to what other Christians believe,” such books generally produce tsunami’s of replies. In the days of Christian emperors, and through the Middle Ages and Reformation such books were confiscated and burned. But with the advent of the printing press that became more difficult. Perhaps Christian apologists hope they can flood the market rather than burn books, i.e., simply produce far more books than ”atheists” do? Differential reproduction? How Darwinian a notion!

Personally, I don’t expect to see any particular religious belief, denominational belief, unorthodoxies galore, superstitious beliefs, or non-religious philosophical points of view die out soon. And everyone may imagine what they wish when it comes to how ”the other folks” will ”wind up in eternity.”

All I have are questions that I think are justifiable, and which remain, regardless of all the hypothetical replies each person constructs to try and justify what they ”believe.”

WE ARE ALL GREATER ARTISTS THEN WE REALIZE when it comes to maintaining our ”views” of the world

Most people either avoid reading material based on views they oppose, or they read them and STILL manage to slough off the questions raised. The mind is a marvelously creative artist when it comes to finding ways to maintain whatever worldview it acquires rather than juggling and shifting between different worldviews which takes too much mental energy. After all, why move into a new house when you can just rearrange some of the furniture in the old one (and also keep any mad relatives locked away in an attic out of sight? All those unplumbed depths of questions that continue to remain unanswered in anything but a strictly hypothetical fashion and which will always bother us.) We all do that mentally creative furniture arranging to varying degrees, but of course we also each think WE are the ones who do it to a lesser degree than the ”other guy.” Which makes me wonder why any Infinite Being would consider it perfect justice to punish people based on their ”wordviews/beliefs.”

QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF (As Oscar Wilde once put it, ”Converting others is easy, converting oneself is difficult.”)

Was the universe created so that humans could arise and build churches, write holy books and pass collection plates so that more churches could be built, more holy books printed, and clergy paid to explain the true meaning of these books, though the ”true” meaning of sections of Genesis to Revelation remain debatable, and Christians remain the greatest debunkers of each other’s views?

Was the universe created so that a particular species of Homo sapiens could arise — with unknown numbers of cousin species like ancient great apes (and hominids) arising in the process, but nearly all of them going extinct? (Keep in mind that the number of species of great apes now living on our planet is far smaller than the number of species of great apes that lived in the past, and the same goes for hominid species. In fact, earth was once truly a planet of the apes. In the Miocene Epoch, 24 to 5 million years ago, some 30 known species lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe, before hominids arrived on the scene, and there must have been many more species of ancient apes and hominids that did not leave behind much of a fossil trail, because great apes live in the savannas or forests where decomposition is almost assured rather t than fossilization. Genetic analysis even suggest that only a single species out of all those extinct species of great apes gave rise to all living apes and hominids, including humans (click HERE). This suggests that ”natural selection” or perhaps a ”tinkering” was going on. It is difficult to see a straightforward plan taking place in nature’s lengthy tale of endless branching forth and endless pruning. And if you stopped and looked at any particular species in a past epoch, one might be tempted to think, ”Ah, this is where all the former development has lead,” but that would be a mistake because there would be more changes ahead.

Was the universe created so that a particular species of Homo sapiens could finally arise, a very late comer on the scene, arising at the last microsecond of cosmic time and in danger of falling back into either barbarism or extinction in the next microsecond? Keep in mind that the stars can continue to burn for billions of years should Homo sapiens turn belly up tomorrow, because the stars burn via fusion and have tons of hydrogen and helium to burn (even young-earth creationists find it hard to debate the evidence that stars can burn for billions of years). As our sun ages, it will expand, burn up planet earth, and then slowly grow cold, of course our planet could undergo mass extinction events via a host of cosmic means, including earth-produced volcanic eruptions if one of several supervolcanoes should erupt (Yellowstone is due). Furthermore, massive stellar nurseries have been found in parts of the cosmos where new stars continue to form at a fantastic rate (google ”star formation”). Were the stars ”designed” to have enough fuel to burn for billions of years before the arrival of our species, and burn for billions more after our arrival? Why? I am not asking for a hypothetical reply, I’m sure anyone with enough ingenuity could come up with one. As I said, we are all greater artists than we realize when it comes to keeping our beliefs afloat. And if our species avoids extinction for a long enough period of time, will we still be the same species? Or will we be looking back and chuckling at today’s ”humans” like we chuckle at our ancient ancestors who thought that learning to control ”fire” was the most awesome thing humans could dream of discovering?

Do genuine ”accidents” happen, including deadly ones? A lot of religious people feel more comfortable believing there’s a reason behind everything that happens, but so do ”conspiracy” minded folks who want to believe that history is not a record of human stupidity and accidental outcomes, but that a hidden hand of some vast conspiracy directs world affairs. In both cases, such beliefs add more ”meaning” to people’s lives, rather than the idea that sometimes things just ”happen” that way. As the saying goes, the basis of all superstition is that people are prone to remember all the ”hits” and forget about all the misses and near hits that are possible.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I used to be a huge fan of C. S. Lewis' apologetic arguments, but today I have my doubts (ht: Tyler Vela)

I was a huge C. S. Lewis fan, read all of his Christian writings, but also read Beverslius' book on C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion http://www.amazon.com/Search-Rational-Religion-Revised-Updated/dp/1591025311 and wrote my own criticisms of Lewis' arguments:


C. S. Lewis Resources: Pro and Con

My journey and the role C. S. Lewis played in it

The Beliefs of Two Christians Compared: C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/2012/01/linvilles-carnival-and-babinski-on-cs.html AND http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/12/beliefs-of-two-christians-compared-c-s.html

Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason

C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

Edited Collection of C. S. Lewis' final letters (with a bit of Hitchen on Lewis at the end) http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/edited-collection-of-c-s-lewiss-final.html

C. S. Lewis's "Man or Rabbit?" and Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" http://etb-biblical-errancy.blogspot.com/2012/04/c-s-lewiss-man-or-rabbit-and-eric.html

Moral Objectivity, C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/06/moral-objectivity-c-s-lewis-victor.html

The Gospel of John and C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”
Some Reflections on C. S. Lewis’ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/c-s-lewis-modern-theology-and-biblical.html

Literary Criticism and Historical Accuracy of the Gospels -- C. S. Lewis, Jesus, Boswell's Johnson, and the Usefulness/Uselessness of Literary Criticism to Nail Down Historical Truth http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/literary-criticism-and-historical.html

Did the historical Jesus speak about the necessity of being "born again?" Questions raised by Bart Ehrman and David Friedrich Strauss http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/did-historical-jesus-speak-about.html

Scent from heaven? Who nose? Do tales of Jesus' anointing, resurrection & bodily ascension, bear the aroma of truth? http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html