Sunday, April 24, 2016

Looks Like Humans & Apes Share Common Ancestry ADMIT Leading I.D.ists & Creationists (with citations!)

George Bush Goes Ape

The evidence for common ancestry is so overwhelming that even the biologist Michael Behe (whose books advocate “intelligent design,” and who is a senior member at the Discovery Institute) concurs. Behe wrote in his second book:

“Evolution from a common ancestor, via DNA changes, is very well supported” (p. 12).

“[O]ne leg of Darwinʼs theory—common descent—is correct” (p. 65).

“The bottom line is this: Common descent is true” (p. 72).

“Despite some remaining puzzles, thereʼs no reason to doubt that Darwin had this point right, that all creatures on earth are biological relatives” (p. 72, emp. added).

On page 60, he writes: “For the past ten million years the population of the line of primates leading to humans is thought at best to have been roughly about a million or so” (emp. added).

Another senior member at the Discovery Institute, Michael Denton wrote a bestselling anti-evolution book (before Behe) in which Denton questioned common ancestry, but in his next book Denton accepted the evidence for common ancestry. In fact Denton went from espousing the impossibility of evolution to espousing the inevitability of evolution. All he had to do was look at the evidence. SOURCE

Another senior member at the Discovery Institute, the biologist, Jeffrey P Schloss, is pro-common ancestry as well. But he left the Discovery Institute and the I.D. movement, and wrote a lengthy critique of the EXPELLED film. SOURCE

There are also prominent young-earth creationists who admit that the evidence appears to favor (it looks like) humans and apes share a common ancestry. Below are some of their admissions:

Dr. Kurt Wise (Ph.D. in paleontology from Harvard as a student of Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the nationʼs most famous evolutionist; Wise is a young-earth creationist who has spoken at many creationist conferences):

At a creationist conference Dr. Kurt 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. “Itʼs a pain in the neck,” he said. “It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” SOURCE

In various macroevolutionary models, intermediate [species found in their expected evolutionary order relative to one another in the geological strata]... It is a Very Good Evolutionary Argument... Evidences for Darwinʼs expectation of stratomorphic intermediate species include Baragwanathia [intermediate] between rhyniophytes and lycopods, Pikaia [intermediate] between echinoderms and chordates, Purgatorius [intermediate] between the tree shrews and the primates, and Proconsul [intermediate] between the non-hominoid primates and the hominoids. Darwinʼs expectation of higher-taxon intermediates has been confirmed by such examples as the mammal-like reptile groups between the reptiles and the mammals, and the phenacdontids between the horses and their presumed ancestors. Darwinʼs expectation of [fossil] series has been confirmed by such examples as the early bird series, the tetrapod series, the whale series, the various mammal series of the Cenozoic (for example, the horse series, the camel series, the elephant series, the pig series, the titanothere series, etc.), the Cantius and Plesiadapus primate series, and the hominid series. 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. SOURCE

Dr. Todd Wood (Ph.D. in biochemistry. His advisor was developed a suite of computer programs used for DNA analyses; Dr. Wood works at the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College):

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 Iʼm crazy or because Iʼve “converted” to evolution. I say these things because they are true. Iʼm 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 doesnʼt make it ultimately true, and it doesnʼt 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 Godʼs creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please donʼt be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please donʼt idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe thatʼs not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you. SOURCE See also Woodʼs admission that the chimpanzee and human genomes are as near as those of different species of cats, yet creationists admit cats all share a common ancestry, so why not chimps and humans? SOURCE

Dr. Gerald E. Aardsma (Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Toronto, conservative Christian, young-earth creationist):

I think there is enormous evidence of biological evolution (meaning extensive changes to flora 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. [emphasis by Dr. Aardsma] “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.

Click here for lengthier statements from the above creationists.

Let me add the following:

The evidence for common ancestry coheres in ways that creationism does not. We get the same tree of life with the same relative branches and order of species succession when we line up the relative geological order in which fossils of species are found arising over time (from fish to amphibians to reptiles and mammals though evidence on much finer scales also exist), and again when we compare the most likely morphological changes such as starting with fish leaving the sea partially to become amphibians, then wandering from the sea more to lay hard eggs on land as reptiles, and finally developing better hearing as in mammals and full warm bloodedness with limbs aligned vertically beneath the torso supporting it directly from below instead of legs splayed out to the side as in amphibians and reptiles. Early mammals then moved from egg-laying echinoderms to being able to rear their young internally. But a third line of evidence dovetails with the fossil and morphological evidence, namely the evolutionary trees of life based on the comparative biochemistry and comparative genomes of living species.

Christians Who Are Pro-Evolution

Around 2010 the Christian and biologist who headed The Human Genome Project helped produce a new organization for pro-evolutionary Christians called BIOLOGOS that features articles by biologist Dennis Venema (a former I.D.ist). So the bandwidth of discussion between Christians concerning the question of “origins” now includes pro-evolutionary Evangelical Christians. And things are starting to look especially bleak for the “historical Adam & Eve” point of view. Besides the genetic difficulties involved (that Venema discusses at BIOLOGOS) thereʼs the question of how one can speak of death as a special curse passed along to Adamʼs descendants when pain, death and extinction were commonplace for over a billion years before species of upright hominids began to evolve, and, ironically, without death the last upright hominid species left standing (our own modern day species of human) would never have evolved in the first place.

Why Does the Idea of All Living Things Being Related in the Flesh, Rather than Solely in Godʼs Mind, Sound So Repulsive to Some Believers in God? Are there Parts of Creation that are Unworthy of Being the Physical Predecessors of Humanity?

See “Top 3 Things About Evolution That Revolt Creationists The Most”

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Apostle Paul "Winged It" According To Christian N.T. Scholar, Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty (Scrivenings: Paul Fanaticus Extremis Series)

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See previous parts of this series here.

According to Christian New Testament scholar, Peter Enns:

As I read Romans, I donʼt walk away thinking, “My, what a carefully planned out letter.” I think more, “Paul is winging it.” I know that might not seem very reverent, especially since Romans is often thought of as the primo example of Paul at his difficult yet nevertheless logically consistent best, where he once and for all lays out the basics of the gospel for all to hear and for all time... Romans reads more like Paul is in creative-problem-solving mode for Roman Christians facing a pressing problem (how Jews and Gentiles make up one people of God)...

Hereʼs what I mean. Look at how Paul uses the Old Testament, which he does throughout the letter. It doesnʼt take long before you get the impression that Paul is riffing, For example:

Abraham was declared righteous by faith (Genesis 15) before the command to circumcision (Genesis 17) and long before the Law of Moses. Hence, according to Paul, Abraham models that itʼs always been about faith and not law keeping as the mark of being the true people of God (Romans 4). This is somewhat of a forced, selective, reading of the Abraham story (especially as he is hailed as a law keeper before Moses in Genesis 26:4-5).

Paul claims that, all along, Gentiles have been called by God right alongside of Jews and supports that claim by a string of Old Testament citations (Romans 9:25-29). But those passages (from Hosea and Isaiah) are not referring to Gentile inclusion but the restoration of repentant Israel.

To support his claim that Christ is the ‘end’ (better ‘culmination’ or ‘completion’) of the law, Paul pits two passages from Torah against each other. Leviticus 18:5, which speaks of obedience to Torah, is a ‘righteousness that comes from the law.’ But the ‘righteousness that comes by faith’ is about Christ, which Paul sees in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (Romans 10:4-13). The problem is that the passage in Deuteronomy is about as strong a language as one can find about the dire consequences for not keeping the Law of Moses. Paul bypasses the clear meaning of that text—Torah obedience—in favor of a creative Christ-centered reading that marginalizes Torah obedience.

In Romans 11:26-27, Paul cites Isaiah 59:20-21 but changes one crucial word to allow him to make his theological point. In context, Isaiah speaks of God (the Deliverer) coming to Zion (Israel) to deliver them from Babylonian captivity. Paul, however, uses this passage to speak of a different kind of deliverance that will come not to Zion but out of Zion—meaning (I think) that the deliverance of both Jews and Gentiles originates with a Jewish Jesus.

We could go on.

Paul appeals to the Old Testament in order to support what is hardly an obvious notion to Jews at the time: that Jesus, a crucified and risen son of a working-class family, is the long-hoped for Jewish messiah and that Gentiles as Gentiles are full and equal partners along with Jews in this messianic age—meaning the only requirement is faith/trust in Jesus and not ‘zeal’ for Torah (Romans 10:2-4).

Preaching that message is one thing. Saying, as Paul does relentlessly in Romans, that that message is already encoded into the Old Testament (provided one reads against the grain and/or beneath the surface) is something else altogether. Hence, Paulʼs necessarily creative handling of Israelʼs scriptures and traditions.

Making this sort of argument raised an even deeper problem: If encoded in the Old Testament is the gospel of Jesus—where Torah is decentered and the door is flung open to the Gentiles without their needing to uphold things like circumcision and dietary laws (both of which are commanded in the Old Testament)—then whatʼs so special about being a Jew?

Paulʼs passionate argument for Jesus is too good: it puts Jesus in the place of Torah as central to Godʼs plan, thus calling into question the central place Torah plays in Israelʼs scriptures and traditions. He has painted himself into a corner that he knows he has to get out of, especially if he hopes to keep his Jewish audience on board. Two examples:

In chapters 1-2, Paul passionately levels the playing field between Jews and Gentiles, that neither has the upper hand. In fact “real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal” (Romans 2:29). With this kind of rhetoric, Paul is right to voice an anticipated question (3:1): “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way.” His answer (3:2) seems inadequate for truly answering the objection: “For in the first place, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God [Torah].” OK, they have the Bible. Anything else? There is no “in the second and third place.” And then he flips back in verse 9 to say that Jews really arenʼt better off at all, since “both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin.” Itʼs not really clear where Paul stands on the true advantage of Jews have now that Jesus is raised from the dead.

In chapter 6 Paul talks about the power of sin to which the unbeliever is enslaved, and from which one is freed by the gospel. In 7:1-7, however, Paul uses the same rhetoric to describe not sin but the Law of Moses—to which one is enslaved and from which we are “discharged” and given “new life of the Spirit” rather than being “slaves . . under the written code” (7:6). So it seems that sin and Law are two sides of the same coin for Paul, which is a shocking argument from a Jewish point of view. And so Paul anticipates this objection and asks yet another rhetorical question (7:7), “What then should we say? That the law is sin?” Paul answers, “By no means!” but commentators (at least the ones Iʼve read) see in the following verses (8-13) a rather unsatisfying attempt by Paul to extricate himself from he seems to have just done, namely equating law and sin, and thus potentially throwing the Old Testament under the bus. (It doesnʼt help Paulʼs case that earlier, in 5:20, he sums up the lawʼs value as revealing the depth of sin rather than being a solution.)

Paul has a few other such moments in the letter where he seems to be backpedaling. By the force of his excitement to preach the gospel, perhaps Paul ran ahead of himself.

Think about it. The more airtight Paul makes his argument (by citing the Old Testament) that it has been Godʼs plan all along to show no partiality (2:11; 3:21-31) to Jews, the more Jewish followers of Jesus might want to ask, “So, was all that back then about keeping the covenant just a big smokescreen? And what about all those Jews over the centuries who lived their lives according to Torah, some of whom were martyred—does that mean nothing?”

Paulʼs argument threatened to call into question the very faithfulness, justice, and righteousness of God. “If this is the kind of about-face God can pull, is this God trustworthy?” Which is to ask, “Is this God at all?”

Of course Enns “wings it” himself at the end of his post, ‘riffing’ up some excuses as to why Christians might still be able to view Paulʼs writings as divinely inspired, when it looks like yet another common case in the development of religions, called, “religious supersessionism,” where one religion steals and twists enough of a previous religion to claim they are its heir and successor; as Buddhism did to Hinduism; as Islam did to Judaism and Christianity; as rival schools of Islam, Sunni and Shia, did to each other; as Protestantism did to Catholicism; as later Protestant offshoots did to earlier versions of Protestantism; as Pentecostalism did to Protestantism; and as Mormonism, Jehovahʼs Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventism did to more widespread versions of Christianity.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Eyewitness" Reports of Jesus's Resurrection? Or Gospel Trajectories? (A Piece I Wrote Years Ago, When Dr. Gary Habermas and I Were Exchanging Letters)

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Concerning Jesusʼs post-resurrection appearances some apologists contend that we have accurate objective ‘eyewitness’ reports in 1 Cor. 15 and the Gospels and book of Acts.

Yet Paul does not give a single detail as to what anyoneʼs eyes ‘witnessed,’ not even himself (except for Lukeʼs account of what Paul saw, which amounts to no more than a bright light and a voice -- which seems to be what most religions are based on). How does such evidence constitute ‘eyewitness reports?’

As for the Gospels, they were written at a later date than Paulʼs ‘witness.’ And the Gospels raise questions of their own:

  1. Approximately 91% of Mark is paralleled with only minor variations in Luke and/or Matthew. The same thing can be said of about 50% of Matthew and about 41% of Luke. Of these parallels, many of them agree in exact order and wording. This has lead to the elucidation of the ‘synoptic problem.’ How are we to explain the obvious similarities in wording that we find in these passages, especially since Jesus spoke and taught primarily in Aramaic, and these agreements in exact wording are in Greek? A related problem is the question of why, when John reports a similar incident or saying in the life of Jesus, there is little or no exactness present in the wording, i.e., compared with the three synoptic Gospels.

    Such data suggest literary links between the three synoptic gospels, i.e., they do not resemble each other because they are three separate ‘eyewitness’ reports of what Jesus said and did, but because they were based upon shared written documents, i.e., branches of the same literary tree, individually ‘ornamented’ (revised/redacted). One of the most prevalent theories so far is that Mark was one such primary document. The other primary document contained the parallels shared by Matthew and Luke but not shared by Mark, this second document being known as ‘Q’ (the first letter of the German word for ‘source’ -- I am adding these explanations for the benefit of our readers, not for you, as I know you are familiar with all of this).

    In ‘Q’ the message of Jesusʼs death and resurrection was not central. While the other major literary source, Mark, ends merely with the empty tomb, and no appearances, only a ‘young man’ who tells the women, “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.” No ‘eyewitness’ data here, like Paul, the other earliest source of evidence.

    A quick sidelight here on the ‘young man in a long white garment’ sitting in Jesusʼs empty tomb in the Gospel of Mark. There is no mention of the ‘young man’ being an ‘angel.’ In fact Mark mentions a ‘young man’ (same Greek phrase) at Jesusʼs arrest. Again, attention was paid to what the ‘young man’ was wearing, which was only a ‘linen cloth’ when Jesus was arrested. Someone tried to grab the ‘young man’ who ‘fled’ away ‘naked,’ leaving behind the linen cloth. (Mark 14: 50-52) So the ‘young man in a long white garment’ sitting in Jesusʼs empty tomb on Sunday morning could be the same ‘young man’ at Jesusʼs arrest. Mark could be trying to impress the reader with the faith of an anonymous ‘young man’ who was the last to leave Jesus when he was arrested (who had to flee away naked), and also the first to arrive at the empty tomb, clothed in a ‘long white garment’ covering his previously naked body. The ‘young man’ could remain unidentified in both cases to draw readers into the tale of Jesusʼs resurrection, to allow them to envision themselves as that young man, and imagine how he went from being naked to clothed in a long white garment - the last to leave Jesus on the night of his betrayal and the first to arrive at Jesusʼs empty tomb full of faith. So by using the phrase, ‘young man’ twice at such crucial times in that Gospel, the author may have been trying to get his readers to identify with that human figure and his faith. But sometime between the writing of Markʼs Gospel and the later three (Matthew, Luke and Johnʼs Gospels) Markʼs description of a ‘young man’ was dropped in favor of purely ‘angelic’ figures. The other Gospels also failed to mention Markʼs story about the ‘young man’ who ‘fled naked at Jesusʼs arrest.’ Instead, at the tomb they have ‘two men in shining garments...a vision of angels’ (Luke 24:4 & 23), or “the angel of the Lord who descended from heaven; his countenance like lightening, and his raiment white as snow” (Matthew), or ‘two angels in white’ (John).

    Nor do comparisons between the Gospels, and the questions they raise, end there. In Mark, the words spoken at the tomb are changed from “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him” to “Remember how he spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day raise again.” Luke has ‘redacted’ (revised) Mark. Neither is the Lukan redaction difficult to spot. ‘Galilee’ was changed from a place to go to see Jesus (in Mark), to the place where Jesus gave his discourse about the Son of Man being raised (in Luke). But why should it be important where Jesus merely spoke about the resurrection? Didnʼt Jesus speak about the resurrection not just in Galilee, but also in Judea? The Markan announcement is more to the point: “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him.” But Luke needed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem to make his Jerusalem appearance stories make sense. So Luke redacted the message at the tomb, otherwise the disciples would have been depicted as running off to Galilee (fifty miles from Jerusalem) to see Jesus who had gone on there before them, as Mark (and Matthew) say.

    The Jerusalem appearance stories in Luke include seeing Jesus in Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem; then in Jerusalem, where the disciples are gathered; and then on a mountain in Bethany (again not very far from Jerusalem), where Jesus ‘parted from them.’ In Acts, Luke added that Jesus told his disciples ‘not to leave Jerusalem.’ and that Jesus ascended from mount Olivet, ‘near Jerusalem, a Sabbathʼs day journey away.’

    The difference between Mark and Luke is clear. The earliest known manuscripts of Mark contain no appearance accounts, and say Jesus went on before them to Galilee for that was where they would see him. But Luke contains stories of appearances solely around and in Jerusalem. Which is true? This is an honest question based on a “face value” reading of the Gospels.

    Even Robert H. Stein, an Evangelical Christian professor at Bethel Theological Seminary, has examined arguments both for and against Markʼs literary priority, and concluded in favor of it in his book The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction (Baker, 1987). But, such a priority affects how ‘literally’ you view the resurrection stories in later Gospels, like Luke and John. Need I add that among the synoptics, Matthew and Luke diverge most from each other exactly at those points where they could not follow Mark, namely, in their accounts of Jesusʼs infancy and resurrection. (Mark lacks an infancy narrative and the earliest copies of Mark end simply with an empty tomb and a promise of a sighting in Galilee, so Mark supplies no details about Jesusʼs resurrection appearances.)

  2. Further comparisons raise further questions. Both Matthean and Markan stories agree in having the ‘young man’ (Mark) or ‘angel’ (Matthew) announce at the tomb, “He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see him.” However in Mark the women ‘flee from the tomb, and say nothing to anyone’ out of ‘fear,’ while in Matthew the women depart quickly ‘to report’ what the angel told them to the disciples. In Matthew the women even meet Jesus on the way! Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid!’ Matthew is not only redacting but also strengthening Markʼs story. Neither is such a process of redacting and strengthening difficult to spot when other stories in Mark and Matthew are compared. For instance after Jesus walks on the water in Mark 6:51-52 the disciples “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” However when Jesus walks on the water in Matthew 14:33, “They worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Matthew even relates similar events to Mark but doubles the number of lepers healed (one becomes two), blind men healed (one becomes two), demon-possessed men exorcised (one becomes two), even the number of animals that Jesus rode into Jerusalem (one becomes two). The Matthean strengthening process at work in the resurrection story is also not difficult to spot. Matthew adds guards at the tomb, and the raising of many saints. And it is not difficult to spot the further redaction that was made to justify the ‘guards at the tomb’ story. Mark mentions no guards, and the women go to the tomb ‘to anoint’ Jesusʼs body. But in Matthew where ‘guards’ are assumed, and contact with the body would not be foreseen as possible, the women no longer go to anoint Jesus, but merely to ‘look at the grave.’

    Matthew, like Mark, agrees that the disciples saw Jesus in Galilee. Though the Gospel of Matthew adds details about two resurrection appearances, one to the women leaving the tomb, and one on a mountain in Galilee (not Mt. Olivet in Judea, as in Luke)., they are relatively brief, and only serve to illustrate later Christian dogmas about Jesusʼs authority, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, etc.

  3. Comparing Mark with both Matthew and Luke we see additional redactions. Luke agrees with Matthew that the women immediately reported what an ‘angel(s)’ told them (contra Mark which stated ‘they told no one’). Luke omits Jesusʼs appearances to the women (in Matthew) on the way back to the disciples. However, some manuscripts of Luke add that Peter ran to the tomb to verify the womanʼs tale of its emptiness. Luke adds more appearances, Matthew listing only two. Luke adds the road to Emmaus appearance, the appearance to the eleven during which Jesus ate a piece of fish and honeycomb to convince them he was not a spirit, but had flesh and bones, “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.” (Luke 24) (Imagine parading through Jerusalem ‘led’ by a resurrected Jesus! Makes you wonder whether Jesus led them via a path that took them past Pilateʼs, Herodʼs, or the chief priestʼs house. Surely, if there was a time for palms being flung in his path, and Hosannas, this was it). And Luke adds an appearance to Simon alone(though no description is given of it).

  4. By the time we get to the fourth and last Gospel, John, we find yet more appearances. In that Gospel we have Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus; Peter and a second disciple verifying the tombʼs emptiness; Jesus appearing in Jerusalem to all the disciples but Thomas; Jesus returning to convince Thomas; ‘many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;’ Jesus manifesting himself again, at the sea of Galilee.

    It is part of a theological progression it would seem from Mark-Matthew-Luke-John to the many additional Gospel stories and Acts of the Apostles that continued to be composed by Christians afterwards -- or, as the fourth and last Gospel states, “There are many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” Thatʼs a lot of books for a ministry that lasted only a few years. All four Gospels total no more than about 100 pages (in my NASB), which makes them skimpy collections of what Jesus ‘did’ by the reckoning of that verse mentioned above in John. Two of them even repeat about 91% of what appears in one Gospel, Mark! “The world could not contain all the books?” That is the language of faith speaking, not reason. It sounds to me like the author is hinting at the existence of many apocryphal stories circulating among Christian in his day. He is certainly leaving the door open for such stories to grow even more widespread.

Speaking of apocryphal stories, there is evidence that the Gospels themselves contain them. There is the added ending to Mark (16:9-20). We both agree that “almost no scholars would argue for the authority of those verses. I donʼt think we should use the passage in Mark when that text is rejected by most scholars. (The problem here is that most believe that those last twelve verses are a later addition to the manuscript)” [from your March 21st letter]. Yet these ‘additions’ are of resurrection appearances.

Or take Johnʼs story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. It first appears in some Old Latin New Testament manuscripts written in the fifth century or later, and in Codex D (5th or 6th c.), but not earlier.

Another addition is Luke 22:43-44, the story of an angel from heaven appearing and strengthening Jesus in Gethsemane, while Jesus in agony sweat drops of blood. This story is not in the 3rd cent. Papyrus P75, nor in Codex B, written in the middle of the fourth century. It appeared later.

How can the Gospels be considered ‘eyewitness’ testimony knowing such additions took place, the most embarrassing one being the addition in Mark of a resurrection appearance? There are in fact three different endings to Mark that feature brief resurrection appearances reminiscent of those at the end of Matthew. However none of those alternative endings are found in the earliest known manuscripts of Mark, only in later ones. It would seem that Markʼs original ending, which featured merely an empty tomb and women ‘telling no one,’ was not an ending that early Christians considered satisfactory. Perhaps that also explains the need for additional Gospels and their redactions and ‘enhancements?’

Another sidelight on the fourth and last Gospel concerns the story it alone contains of the ‘raising of Lazarus.’ In your Dec. 21st letter you proposed that “we have good reason to believe that these [resurrected] individuals [like Lazarus and others in the Gospels] appeared in their natural bodies.” I admit to being ignorant of ‘good’ reasons to that effect.

Concerning the raising of those other than Lazarus, the Gospel stories are few and unspectacular. For instance in Mark (which I take to be the earliest source) the synagogue rulerʼs daughter was ‘at the point of death,’ or in Matthew ‘had just died’ when Jesus healed/raised her. Such things seem possible. In one afterlife book (Beyond the Light, I think), I read about a man who had been declared dead in the hospital, then a little while later he woke up alone on a stretcher in the hallway. According to another book, Dannion Brinkley was struck by lightning, declared dead, but then came back to life. But none of those people had been dead for long. The Lazarus story involves someone dead for ‘four days,’ whose body ‘stinketh.’ What ‘good reason’ do we have to believe that story?

Letʼs look at the story of Lazarus in depth also, beginning with our knowledge of another story in John, the story of Lazarusʼs alleged sisters, ‘Mary and Martha,’ and how ‘Mary sat at Jesusʼs feet,’ ‘anointed them’ with perfume, and ‘wiped them with her hair’ in the town of ‘Bethany.’ (John 12) Stories similar to that one are found in the earlier three Gospels, but with a few differences:

Mark 14:3 -- An unnamed woman anointed Jesusʼs head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper.

Luke 7:37-38 -- An unnamed sinner anointed Jesusʼs feet and wiped them with her hair in Nain at the house of a Pharisee.

Luke 10:38-39 -- Mary, the sister of Martha, listened at Jesusʼs feet in an unnamed town at her house.

Now consider this: Did you ever get confused about similar events like those listed above? Say, in a Sunday School discussion, you mixed up the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesusʼs ‘head’ with the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesusʼs ‘feet.’ Was it Nain or Bethany? Or you confused the woman who ‘listened’ at Jesusʼs feet with the woman who ‘anointed’ Jesusʼs feet? The unnamed sinner lady in Nain, became, until you looked it up, Mary, sister of Martha? Well, something like that appears to have happened in the minds of Christians before the Gospel of John was composed, the last written of the four Gospels. By that time, similar persons and events from the earlier Gospels had become amalgamated in peopleʼs minds. In John 12:3, Mary, the woman who simply ‘listened’ at Jesusʼs feet is now also anointing them and wiping them with her hair. Thus the unnamed woman of the town of Nain became amalgamated in peopleʼs minds with ‘Mary, Marthaʼs sister.’ And the unnamed town where Mary lived became amalgamated with the town where the woman who anointed Jesusʼs ‘head’ lived, ‘Bethany.’ And Mary used expensive ‘spikenard ointment’ on them, as the lady in Mark (and possibly Luke) did. Only this time is it not at Simon the Leperʼs house, nor at the house of a Pharisee, but at ‘Maryʼs house.’

What does the above discussion have to do with the ‘resurrection of Lazarus’ story? Well, it shows how the Gospel of John amalgamates things from earlier Gospels. And only the Gospel of John depicts Lazarus as a real person. Luke mentions a real Mary and Martha, but says nothing about them having a brother, nor in which town they lived. So the author(s) of the Gospel of John appear to have amalgamated Mary and Martha, the town of Bethany, and the ‘Lazarus’ from a parable in the Gospel of Luke -- a parable in which a poor beggar named ‘Lazarus’ dies and goes to ‘Abrahamʼs bosom,’ while a rich man suffering in nearby ‘Hades’ sees Lazarus and pleads with Abraham to ‘send Lazarus to my Fatherʼs house, to warn my brothers, so they may repent [and avoid going to Hades],’ to which the answer was, “neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

Think about it. A ‘Lazarus’ who dies and someone who hopes Lazarus will be ‘raised from the dead’ to ‘persuade others’ ‘to repent.’ But such persuasion is predicted not to work. Where does that appear outside of Luke?

Why in John. Johnʼs ‘Lazarus’ is now a concrete person, the ‘brother’ of Mary and Martha from Luke. (Neither is this Lazarus a poor ‘beggar,’ since heʼs rich enough to have his own tomb and live in a house with his ‘sisters.’) He is ‘raised from the dead’ -- a parable come true. And, as predicted in the parable, such a miracle fails to persuade those who refuse to listen to Moses and the prophets, namely the Pharisees: “Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.” The Pharisees refuse to repent, and even decide, after hearing of this great miracle, to seize Jesus and have him executed. What a coincidence! Two ‘Lazaruses,’ one in Luke and one in John, both die, both illustrate that “even though he be raised from the dead, they will not be persuaded,” in fact, ‘Lazarusʼs resurrection’ in the Gospel of John elicits even a stronger negative response!

Not surprisingly, when you add a whole new miracle found in none of the other Gospels, and make it the focal point for the Phariseesʼ decision to have Jesus seized and executed, you have to do something with the fact that all three of the earlier Gospels agreed that it was Jesusʼs overturning of the tables in the Temple that made the Pharisees decide to have Jesus crucified. So the author(s) of John decided to remove the table-turning episode from the end of Jesusʼs ministry and move it to the beginning of Jesusʼs ministry. All so that the Pharisees would decide to have Jesus seized and killed due to the unsettling nature of the stunning resurrection miracle that was added to the last Gospel.

The question remains, did the ‘raising of Lazarus’ actually take place or might the story have been a later invention, based on an amalgamation of information and names found in earlier Gospels? The moving of Jesusʼs ‘table-turning’ episode from the end of the earlier Gospels to the beginning of the last written Gospel adds to the force of such a question, since the author(s) of John made it appear quite obvious that it was now necessary to make room at the end of their Gospel to display the totally new miracle and make it the new reason why the Pharisees decided to seize and crucify Jesus.

And there is also the even wider question raised by the fact that the Gospel of John concentrates on a handful of major miracles in Jesusʼs ministry, the Lazarus miracle being used to illustrate that Jesus was ‘the resurrection and the life.’ The author(s) have Jesus speak those very words, along with a lot of ‘I ams,’ one after each major miracle. How unlike the Jesus who is portrayed in the earlier three Gospels, who asked his disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah, and who did not speak in such an ‘I am’ manner even after healing people, performing exorcisms, or raising the synagogue rulerʼs daughter who was ‘at the point of death’ (in Markʼs version) or who had ‘just died’ (per Matthewʼs version).

The Gospel of John is a theological creation from its opening verses of Greek philosophy which constitute the author(s)ʼ interpretation of Jesus (“In the beginning was the Word.”) -- to Jesusʼs long-winded prayer in the garden, allegedly spoken on the eve of his death. Keeping in mind that the latter prayer was uttered only once in Jesusʼs life, and while the apostles were all asleep, or at least falling in and out of sleep, it seems quite a feat to be able to write down all twenty-six verses of it (chapter 17). (The Gospel of John also has Jesus speaking in the same semi-gnostic language as John the Baptist and the author of the prologue to that Gospel.) And the Fourth Gospel ends by stating that it was written ‘that ye may believe.’ How objective could such a work be?

Oh, and concerning the parable in Luke that may have been the inspiration for the “Lazarus story” that later grew and found its way into the Fourth Gospel, not even the Lukan parable may have been original. Stories about a rich and poor man both dying, and the rich man getting sent some place bad and the poor man getting sent some place good, have been found in both ancient Egypt and ancient Judaism. Itʼs a typical ‘reversal of fortune’ parable. [Richard Bauckham, “The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Parable and the Parallels,” New Testament Studies, Vol. 37, 1991, pp. 225-246]

Those are some of the reasons I doubt the N.T. literature, written by and for believers, containing second-hand stories of resurrection appearances that appear, even by a ‘face value’ comparison of all the Gospels, to have grown in the telling.

A further important point. Regardless of how ‘real’ a person views the ‘appearances’ I do not believe that the evidence substantiates a bodily resurrection. I base my opinion on the reasons given in my letters, notably, on the earliest stories including those in 1 Cor., and the ‘concretization’ process that may be traced in the Gospels, from Mark to John. Even you admitted in your Dec. 21st letter that the “‘middle ground’ position [of a ‘less than physical resurrection’] is very popular in critical circles at this present time, perhaps even the predominant view.”

I remain a little to the left of middle. I suggest that these ‘middle ground’ scholars maintain such a view of less-than-physical yet ‘real’ appearances because they are Christians or somewhat conservative Jews, and their faith has to have something ‘real’ to hold onto.

As I see it, for the faithful, all it takes is a possibility (no matter how remote) that their interpretation might be right, for them to believe it is. A ‘maybe’ is as good as a ‘certainty,’ or increases the faith they already possess. For the non-faithful, a possibility is just that, a maybe is as good as a maybe, an ‘appearance’ remains an ‘appearance,’ nothing more, nothing less: Protestants see Jesus and angels but seldom Mary because the awe/respect that Catholics pay Mary is denigrated by Protestants. Catholics see Jesus and Mary. Native Americans experience illuminating visions of animal spirits. Hindus may be visited by personae from their vast pantheon, while Buddhists may experience the compassionate ‘amida Buddha’ as they pray, ‘Save me, amida Buddha.’ A different school of Buddhists even experiences ‘born again’ like experiences of hellish fears followed by the relief of salvation (as discussed in Conrad Hyersʼs book, One-Born, Twice-Born Zen). New Agers see chakra colors and UFOs. A Gallup poll revealed that Southerners hear Godʼs voice much more often than Northerners. Just whose voice are these people hearing and does it sound Southern to them? (Protestants stress hearing Godʼs voice more and the value of ‘the Word,’ while Catholics stress seeing God more, which may explain the greater number of visions they experience in general.) What about J. B. Phillipsʼs story that C. S. Lewis ‘appeared’ to him after Lewis had died? (Cannon Phillips had corresponded with Lewis ‘a fair amount’ before Lewis died, and only saw him in the flesh once before. When Phillips mentioned that appearance to a certain saintly Bishop, the Bishopʼs reply was, “My dear J., this sort of thing is happening all the time.”) My friend, Will Bagley, told me that in a very realistic dream, Rajneesh, the Hindu guru, once appeared to Will at the foot of his bed with a brief message. My former fiancé told me about how a Catholic aunt of hers once saw Jesus before going to bed one night. (She told Jesus she was tired, and went to bed!) Dr. Robert Price knew a woman who ran a religious bookstore who claimed that Jesus appeared to her often. (Ask him about that story sometime.) My step-fatherʼs great aunt was very ill and staying with me and my Mom and Step-Dad when she seemed to be hearing voices and seeing lights before she passed away. I have also read stories on the web of Near Death Experiences as told by people from different cultures such as a person in Thailand who claimed to have seen some deities from their Buddhist religious backgrounds, including a talking turtle.

Statistically, Near Death Experiences do not often involve religious figures, and of those that involve figures of any kind they are usually compassionate beings of light who leave people of all religions (or even no religion) with the feeling that love is whatʼs important and death isnʼt as scary as they once thought it was. There are some nightmarish NDEs as well, but they are a distinct minority. And in fact I know of one that started out hellish but the person was saved by a compassionate ‘being of light.’ (Howard Storm was the fellowʼs name who had that last mentioned NDE, and he was transformed by it from a self avowed egotist and chair of a university art department to becoming a universalistic type of Christian minister.)

After reading the above it should become clear that a personʼs life and culture play a role in how things ‘appear’ to them. Also, if there is ‘reality’ involved in such appearances, it appears to be a universal reality, not a solely Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist one.

The difference between my approach and that of, say, a Christian apologist, is that I am not trying to say Christianity is ‘it,’ and then when faced with a difficulty in proving my apologetics superior, retreat into mystery and faith. My ideas originate in mystery, doubt, etc. I endorse Protagorasʼs (and Robert Anton Wilsonʼs) approach: During our brief spans of life, limited to our particular language and culture and whatever scientific/historical/philosophical knowledge each of us has time to pursue, we each gain only a limited understanding of ‘God’ and other immense questions. Heck, we havenʼt even crawled off the surface of the cradle planet.

Concerning the Bible, it raises ‘face value’ questions it does not answer. So ‘fundamentalistic’ Christians take the ‘face value’ method only so far, except when they run into knotty questions. Then they opt for ad hoc explanations of their own making to deliver themselves from historical-critical questions and more open-ended explanations. So, in my opinion, even the most rigid fundamentalists are as ‘humanistic’ in their boundless faith in their own ad hoc subsidiary explanations, as their most uncompromising critics.

A point I neglected to cover, above, concerning the account of the empty tomb -- you “just do not think it is the case that the writers had to simply use women because there was no other alternative.” My reply is to study the Gospels. In Mark, ostensibly the earliest, the story goes that the disciples ‘all left him and fled’ in the garden. A young man following Jesusʼs captors was seized and escaped naked. Peter is afraid to admit to knowing Jesus. While at Jesusʼs crucifixion, only women are mentioned, “And there were also women looking on from afar.” “And Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on where Jesus was laid.” Any subsequent empty tomb story would therefore be limited to women, since we are told in the earliest Gospel that the men fled.

In Matthew, ‘all the disciples left him and fled,’ adding at the crucifixion that ‘many women were looking on from a distance.’ And when Joseph sealed Jesusʼs grave, “Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.” Only women again.

Luke is the first to omit that the disciples all fled at Jesusʼs arrest. But he does note that it was “the women [who] followed after, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid,” i.e., women again, who saw where Jesus was buried. [Luke 24:12 about ‘Peter running to the tomb’ is a later insertion that does not appear in the earliest manuscripts.]

John, the last Gospel written, bursts this mold open. The women are no longer watching the crucifixion ‘at a distance’ as in Mark and Matthew, but ‘they were standing by the cross of Jesus,’ and now there is also at least one man with them. This is a necessary redaction, since John has two men race each other to the tomb once Mary Magdalene tells the disciples it is empty, and they couldnʼt run there unless they knew where it was, and they couldnʼt know unless they had attended the crucifixion, which John says they did.

I would say the earliest version of the empty tomb story had to employ women (see Mark above about the men ‘all’ having ‘fled’). And the earliest story about the women ‘not telling anyone’ (in Mark) explains the relatively late appearance of the legend of the empty tomb, i.e., ‘no one’ was ‘told,’ nor heard, about an empty tomb until later. The empty tomb legend only arose after various ‘appearance’ stories, like those related by Paul (who does not mention an ‘empty tomb’) had already spread.

Numerous theologians (See for instance, The Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Peter Carnelyʼs, The Structure of Resurrection Belief; or Thomas Sheehanʼs The First Coming) have suggested on the basis of a comparative study of the Gospels that the earliest stories of Jesusʼs resurrection and subsequent ‘appearance(s)’ probably arose in Galilee after Jesusʼs disciples fled there. According to the earliest Gospel, Galilee was where the risen Jesus ‘went’ and where they would ‘see’ him. That was where ‘the eleven’ pondered for weeks their leaderʼs tragic fate and came to believe that matters would not, must not, could not end simply with Jesusʼs death. We have no records of what the apostles when through in Galilee, but it is no secret that small groups can exert enormous influence over their individual members, shaping perceptions, including conformity, and so forth. All the more so when the groups in question are fiercely partisan, and in the grip of some transcendent passion. And a passion for resurrection was not uncommon to that time and place, neither was a passion for a soon coming resurrection of all the dead in final apocalyptic judgment. Perhaps a ‘visionary experience’ or very real ‘dream(s)’ that he had appeared to them to continue his movement, mission, passion, to preach the soon coming kingdom of God, of which his resurrection was the first-fruits.

The historical order of accretion of what (the Jewish theologian) Pinchas Lapide has called a “dense wreath of resurrection legends” would then be:

  1. Claims of ‘appearances,’ no details -- Paul
  2. Claims of ‘appearances’ (“You shall see him in Galilee”), augmented by the claim of an ‘empty tomb,’ but still no details as to any of those appearances, since the earliest Markan manuscripts end with merely the promise of an appearance in Galilee. And no appearances mentioned in Jerusalem. -- Mark
  3. Two relatively brief ‘appearance’ stories with a few sparse details and words of the risen Jesus (to go with the new empty tomb legend), one near the tomb, and the second in Galilee -- Matthew
  4. More appearance stories, longer, more detailed, that all take place in and around Jerusalem (for which the angelʼs message at the tomb had to be changed), including a tendency to ‘concretize’ Jesus more (he eats some fish and honeycomb to convince them he is not a ‘spirit,’ and even takes them on a little walk to Bethany). -- Luke
    [Note: The long ending to Mark (16:9-20) was probably composed sometimes between 3) & 4)]
  5. Yet more appearance stories in Jerusalem and also some in Galilee, including Jesus appearing to ten of the apostles, then appearing to them all again with Thomas present, so he could be offered a chance to ‘put’ his ‘hand’ in ‘Jesusʼs side;’ Jesus fixing [and eating?] food with the disciples [in both Jerusalem and Galilee respectively]; and the announcement, “...there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written,” a supposition they may have been based on the spread of further Jesus stories among the faithful. (I am not judging the nature of such stories, only the fact that they seem to keep growing from Mark to John and beyond.) -- John
  6. Among those ‘many other things which Jesus did,’ some of which can no doubt be found in the bevy of other Gospels and Acts that believers continued to write, most of which we know only by brief mentions in other Christian works. One of which (The Gospel of Nicodemus) expanded on the incident in Matthew of ‘the raising of the many’ (identifying them as ‘Adam and Eve’ and some other Hebrew prophets). Others told of miracles Jesus performed in his infancy and youth. And one of which (the Gospel of Peter) told of Jesus actually being seen stepping out of his opened tomb (and followed by a talking cross).

A joke I recently heard maybe add a bit of lightness to this otherwise top heavy exchange:

After serving his followers for decades, the revered rabbi of an orthodox congregation died. His faithful flock, wailing and crying, beseeched God to grant them a glimpse of their beloved rabbi now that he had gone to meet his reward. God was moved by their prayers and granted them their request. The congregation looked up at the vision before them, and there was their beloved rabbi, sitting in heaven with a beautiful blonde on his lap.

“Rebbe, rebbe,” they cried. “How could you, the most holy man we know, after a lifetime of exemplary behavior, end up with a buxom blonde as your reward?”

“My good people,” replied the rabbi, peering down. “This woman is not my reward. Iʼm her punishment.”

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sorry Creationists, Death Existed Since "The Beginning"

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I used to be a young-earth creationist, but realized I could not defend the idea of “no death before the Fall of Adam and Eve.” For instance, plants are alive, their cells have the same basic structures as those in animals, like a nucleus, cytoplasm and cell wall, and they died per Genesis 1, not because of sin, but because they were given as food. And the mere fact that ‘food’ had to be given implies that death by ‘starvation’ was also possible “in the beginning.”

I also realized that larger animals probably could not have avoided ingesting smaller ones, or stepping on them, unless via yet another unmentioned miracle, their movements were finely choreographed. Extinct species of gigantic fish, sea reptiles and sea mammals, chewing off gigantic mouthfuls of seaweed would have had to carefully spit out even the tiniest fish that was also feeding on the seaweed. Gigantic species of herbivores biting off a bunch of leaves could accidentally ingest small living things among the foliage. Gargantuan dinosaurs like brontosauruses, or gigantic mammals like Baluchitherium could easily have inhaled insects, and they would have to dodge ants, beetles, worms, frogs, snakes, and even much smaller mammals with each gargantuan step. And spiders would have to assist in the release of any insects that flew haphazardly into their webs.

And what if NO living things died, at all? A single bacterial cell that divides every twenty minutes would multiply to a mass four thousand times greater than the earthʼs in just two days.

A single oyster, left to its own devices, produces more than one-hundred-twenty-five million eggs in a season. Thatʼs more than enough oysters, if none died in eight years, [10 to the 89th power number of oysters] to crowd the water out of the oceans and make it cover the earth.

If all the eggs from one mother housefly lived, she would produce more than five trillion offspring in just one season.

A sunfish sometimes lays three hundred million eggs.

A female sea turtle lays a hundred or more eggs.

There are even more bountiful numbers from the world of fungal spores right up to seed-bearing plants.

What about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and decay? They goes with death, right? But is decay due to ‘sin?’ I read an exchange in The Creation Research Society Quarterly between two young-earth creationists, Henry Morris and Robert Kofahl, in which the latter argued that the Second Law of Thermodynamics must have existed in Eden before the Fall because the animals and Adam had to break down the molecules in the food they ate, and the necessary biochemical reactions would not occur without the Second Law of Thermodynamics being in effect. See also Creation Matters Sept/Oct 2001, “Did Entropy Change Before the Curse?” in which a young earth creationist argues that “Reasonable evidence exists from the Scripture that heat did indeed flow before the Curse, which would imply a change in entropy.” He argued that when God created two great lights to light the Earth, and their light shone on the earth, and if that included a transfer of thermal energy to the Earth, “then, from the standpoint of classical thermodynamics, there was a change in entropy before the Curse.” And, in Genesis 3:8, just after the Fall but before the Curse, “notice that God came down during the ‘cool of the day.’ That sounds like the temperature changed. If the temperature changed, then wouldnʼt thermal energy flow? If the answer is yes, then entropy changed before God instituted the Curse... Therefore, Creationists should refrain from claiming that entropy did not change before the Curse was implemented.” In fact not even the existence of ‘friction’ would follow without the Second Law being in effect. Talk about a slippery Eden!

But if the Second Law was in effect, and the animals and first couple digested their vegetarian dinners might they not have expelled gas, the product of such decay? Or defecated? And if there were helpful E. Coli bacteria in their guts (half of fecal matter is the waste produced by E. Coli including dead E. Coli) might not their fecal matter have had an odor? What about the bacteria living on the bodies of every living thing, such as in the armpits of Adam and Eve, and the waste produced by those bacteria? Did it also have an odor? What about the bacteria in their mouths and the waste products it produced, along with possible odors? Morning breath? Did God feel the least bit obliged to give Adam and Eve the recipe for soap? How about mouthwash? In other words, wouldnʼt Adam and Eve have felt just a LITTLE embarrassed (perhaps even ‘ashamed’) of discovering such odors for the first time, even before they discovered they were ‘naked?’ So if one insists that the original creation was so perfect there was no death, nor any signs of decay, one might retort with, “No decay my rear end!” Or should I say, “Adamʼs rear end?” Or, as Adam once put it, “Eve, pick some of those soft leaves next time, Iʼm getting chafed!” There was also pain in paradise. How do I know? It says in Genesis that God ‘cursed woman’ by ‘increasing or multiplying’ her pain in childbirth, and you canʼt ‘increase or multiply’ what isnʼt already there.

Excerpt From “Letter From Earth” by Mark Twain

He made a man and a woman and placed them in a pleasant garden, along with the other creatures. They all lived together there in harmony and contentment and blooming youth for some time; then trouble came. God had warned the man and the woman that they must not eat of the fruit of a certain tree. And he added a most strange remark: he said that if they ate of it they should surely die. Strange, for the reason that inasmuch as they had never seen a sample of death they could not possibly know what he meant. Neither would he nor any other god have been able to make those ignorant children understand what was meant, without furnishing a sample. The mere word could have no meaning for them, any more than it would have for an infant of days.

Scene From “Back to Methuselah” by George Bernard Shaw

(Scene: Garden of Eden. Afternoon. A glade in which lies a fawn all awry. Adam is staring in consternation at the fawn. Eve arrives and notices the animal.)

Eve: What is the matter with its eyes?
Adam: It is not only its eyes. Look. (He kicks it.)
Eve: Oh donʼt! Why doesnʼt it wake?
Adam: I donʼt know. It is not asleep.
Eve: Not asleep?
Adam: Try.
Eve: (Trying to shake it and roll it over) It is stiff and cold.
Adam: Nothing will wake it.
Eve: It has a queer smell. Did you find it like that?
Adam: No. It was playing about; and it tripped and went head over heels. It never stirred again. Itʼs neck is wrong. (He stoops to lift the neck and show her)
Eve: Donʼt touch it. Come away from it... Adam, suppose you were to trip and fall, would you become like that?
Adam: (He shudders)
Eve: You must be careful. Promise me you will be careful.
Adam: What is the good of being careful? We have to live here for ever. Think of what for ever means! Sooner or later I shall trip and fall. It may be tomorrow; it may be after as many days as there are leaves in the garden and grains of sand by the river. No matter: some days I shall forget and stumble.
Eve: I too.

Excerpts from “The Diary of Adam and Eve” (A Parody) by Mark Twain

Friday: She [Eve] engages herself in many foolish things: among others, trying to study why the animals called lions and tigers live on grass and flowers, when, as she says, the sort of teeth they wear would indicate that they were intended to eat each other. This is foolish, because to do that would be to kill each other, and that would introduce what, as I understand it, is called ‘death’; and death, as I have been told, has not yet entered the Garden.

Thursday: She is in much trouble about the buzzard; says grass does not agree with it; is afraid she canʼt raise it; thinks it was intended to live on decayed flesh. The buzzard must get along the best it can with what is provided. We cannot overturn the whole scheme to accommodate the buzzard.

Friday: She says the snake advises her to try the fruit of that tree, and says the result will be a great and fine and noble education. I told her there would be another result, too - it would introduce death into the world. That was a mistake - it had been better to keep the remark to myself; it only gave her an idea - she could save the sick buzzard, and furnish meat to the despondent lions and tigers. I advised her to keep away from the tree. She said she wouldnʼt. I foresee trouble. Will emigrate.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Prophecy about Jesus? "Mighty God, Everlasting Father" Isaiah 9:6

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Is the above passage a prophecy concerning the one whom Christians would come to call “God the Son, second person of the Trinity?”

No.

First, the Hebrew states that such a child is already born. Itʼs not a prophecy about the distant future.


Second, Isaiah 9:6 was written at a time when King Hezekiah of the northern Jewish kingdom of Judah made sweeping reforms that closed down the sites of rival deities or rival holy sites of Yahweh worship that were scattered throughout his kingdom since long ago, and centralized worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The future of Hezekiahʼs kingdom had been in doubt under King Ahaz his father, but Hezekiah put his nation (and ways of thinking about his nationʼs deity) on the straight and narrow. Scholars discuss how Jewish henotheism and monolatry most probably developed into true monotheism during Hezekiahʼs reign and his enforcement of centralized worship in Jerusalem. In similar fashion religious leaders and scribes in Jerusalem tweaked earlier tales to make all past beliefs concerning Yahweh and other gods at various ancient holy sties appear ‘evil.’ See for instance the following scholarly investigations: The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel; — Religio-Historical Approaches: Monotheism, Method, and Mortality; — Yahwehʼs Ascendancy; — The Human Faces of God: polytheism in pre-exile Israel & — the follow up piece.

2 Kings 18:5-7 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, Israelʼs God. There was no one like him among all of Judahʼs kings—not before him and not after him. He clung to the LORD and never deviated from him. He kept the commandments that the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD was with Hezekiah; he succeeded at everything he tried.

Hezekiah was also king when Jerusalem survived an attempted conquest by the Assyrian army that was interpreted back then as a supernatural sign of approval of his kingship. (The name or phrase, “Emmanuel” also appears in reference to this event, since the literal Hebrew means, “God [is] with us,” meaning that God was on king Hezekiahʼs side):

2 Chronicles 32:7-9 “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

Afterwards, the nation enjoyed a period of peace unlike that seen when king Ahaz was so fearful of nearby nations rising up against him, since the Assyrians also wiped out the two nearby kingdoms Ahaz had fretted over. Hezekiah was also most likely the child referred to in the Book of Isaiah when Ahaz was promised that a child would be born and that the two nations Ahaz feared most would be laid waste (“before he [the child] had learned to reject evil and choose good”).


Third, inserting ‘god’ into personal names was common practice in the ancient world dating as far back as the Sumerians and later adopted by the Israelites (examples will be provided further below).

Fourth, the name in Isaiah 9:6 lacks articles, so it can be translated several ways. Below are three of them (a fourth is also mentioned further down):

Wonderful in counsel is God the mighty, the Everlasting Father, the Ruler of Peace” (Hertz 1968).

or

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, will call his name Prince of Peace” (based on the verb ‘ill call’ being active, not passive, and so it can be rendered most naturally with ‘the Mighty God/Everlasting Father’ as the subject and ‘Prince of Peace’ as the object).

or

Wonderful in counsel is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

In another part of the Book of Isaiah Christians interpret the child given as a ‘sign’ to King Ahaz as Jesus, again, itʼs not a distant future prophecy but about a child born during Ahazʼs reign as a sign to him, so that when the child reached a certain age the two kings whom Ahaz feared would no longer be in power. The authors of the Christian Gospels mined the Old Testament for snippets like these, ignored the tense as well as the literary and historical context of the stories from which they plucked such passages. And they ignored the ancient usage of names with ‘god’ in them found throughout the ancient Near East. “His name shall be called” does not state what the person literally is, but what they shall be called. Big difference, since it was part of the ancient practice of praising god within a personʼs name. This made sense in the case of praising a king like Hezekiah.

An additional example of such a naming practice can be seen in Jeremiah 23:5-6 (KJV) “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’.” But a more accurate translation above of the name in Jeremiah is “God [IS] our righteousness.” The article, ‘is’ is understood, but Christians left it out in the case of Isaiah 9:6 for obvious theological reasons, so that they could falsely claim such a name was a prophecy about Jesus. See the three translations of Isaiah 9:6 already cited above, all valid. See also this one: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, ‘Wonderful, Counselor [IS] The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’” The two letter word ‘is,’ is usually not stated in Hebrew. Rather, the ‘is’ is understood. For example, the words ‘hakelev’ (the dog) and ‘gadol’ (big), when joined into a sentence in Hebrew, ‘hakelev gadol,’ means “the dog IS big,” even though no Hebrew word in that sentence represents the word ‘is.’ A more accurate translation of the name of that child, then, would be “A wonderful counselor IS the mighty God, the everlasting father...” This was a common practice, to praise god within a human personʼs name.

Or take the name ‘Emanuel,’ that appears elsewhere in Isaiah (and which in context is not a ‘virgin birth’ prophecy that applies to Jesus of Nazareth in the distant future, but instead applies to a woman already carrying a child who will soon be born as a sign to King Ahaz in Isaiahʼs own day). ‘Emmanuel’ translated means “God [IS] with us,” merely to indicate the belief that “God is on oneʼs side,” as in the case of the Assyrian attack on the kingdom of Hezekiah that failed, and where the name ‘Emmanuel’ also appears in context -- see the book of Chronicles.

Biblical names often describe God, and no one thinks to apply the description literally to the people with these names:

  • Isaiah ‘God [is] salvation’
  • Tuviya ‘God [is] good’
  • Yedaya ‘God knows’
  • Ya-el ‘God [is] God.’

Other Hebrew names include:

  • Abimael ‘my father [is] God,’ or ‘God [is] father’
  • Hiel the Bethelite, Heb. אֲחִיאֵל ,חִיאֵל ‘the [divine] brother,or kinsman [is] God’
  • Joshua ‘God saves’
  • Jehoshaphat ‘God Judges’
  • Eliadah ‘God Knows’
  • Jehoaddan ‘YHWH delights’
  • Ben Hesed ‘Son of Grace’
  • Elasah ‘made [by] God’
  • Maasiai ‘Worker [of] Jehovah’
  • Joiarib ‘God will contend’
  • Ahitub ‘good, brother [of] goodness, or father [of] goodness’
  • Abdeel ‘Servant [of] God’
  • Abdi is probably an abbreviation of Obediah, meaning ‘servant [of] YHWH’
  • Machbanai ‘Clad with a mantle, or bond [of the] Lord’
  • Matthat ‘Gift [of] God,’ (possibly also translated as Matthan)

Hence to a Jewish scholar the figure being named in Isa. 9:6 is not a divine figure, but a human being with a name that praises god:

  • “For to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given [note the tense, not aiming at the distant future at all], and the government is upon his shoulder, and he called his name ‘Wonderful in Counsel, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’“ (That the government may be increased and that there be no end to the peace upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom [Hezekiah fits such a bill], to establish and uphold it through justice and righteousness from now and forever-may the zeal of the Lord of hosts perform this.”)

  • Also consider that King Hezekiah, inherited the throne from his father, King Ahaz, so both the ‘Emmanuel’ prophecy in Isaiah and the name in Isaiah 9:6 that features the words, ‘Mighty God,’ are part of the same family history. “The government is upon his shoulder,” in the present, not that it ‘will be’ in the future. Likewise, his reign extends ‘from now and forever,’ with the Hebrew word ‘olam’ (forever) not to be taken literally. ‘No end to the peace’ is also to be understood figuratively, as it is used elsewhere: Ecclesiastes 4:8...and there is no end to all his toil... Isaiah 2:7 Their land is full of silver and gold-there is no end to their treasures; their land is full of horses-there is no end to their chariots.

  • For more on Hezekiah and his kingdom of Judah being invaded by the Assyrian army note the following supplemental passages that support such an interpretation:

  • Isaiah 8:7-8 Now therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the river, mighty and many--[namely] the king of Assyria and all his glory--and it will rise over all its channels and overflow all its banks. And it will sweep on into Judah....

  • When the Assyrians were encamped outside the gates of Jerusalem:

  • Isaiah 37:36 And the angel of the Lord went forth and killed 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians, and when the men arose early in the morning, behold, [Assyria was] all dead corpses. (Whatever the source of the tale of a massive die off, it might be added that disease has remained a massive slayer of soldiers throughout human history since soldiers are overworked, donʼt sleep well, exposed to the elements, infections, packed together tightly, arenʼt fed well, etc. Disease killed off more of Napoleonʼs troops than war with Russia did; same during the American Civil War when dysentery killed more soldiers than bullets, canons and swords; and World War 1 when influenza killed more soldiers than bullets, bombs and gas--there are plenty of similar examples throughout history)

  • The effect of this deadly plague that struck down the Assyrian forces is spoken of earlier:

  • Isaiah 9:1 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death [threat of conquest], upon them has the light shined.

  • The divine attributes contained within Hezekiahʼs name allude to God and to the kingdom of Judahʼs survival via a seeming miracle:

  • Wonderful in Counsel”--Godʼs alleged counsel to Hezekiah:

  • Isaiah 37:6--7 ...thus says the Lord: “Be not afraid of the words you have heard, that the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”

  • Mighty GodGodʼs might prevailed against the massive Assyrian army.

    Everlasting Father”--God was viewed as the author of Hezekiahʼs extended lifespan:

  • Isaiah 38:4--5 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying: “Go and say to Hezekiah: Thus says the Lord, the God of David, your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.”

  • Prince of Peace” symbolizes the peace enjoyed by the nation after the destruction of the Assyrian army, as Hezekiah anticipated:

  • Isaiah 39:8 Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” for he thought, “There will be peace and truth in my days.

Conclusion

Isaiah chapter 7 focuses on Hezekiahʼs father, King Ahaz; Isaiah chapter 8 speaks about the imminent Assyrian invasion; and Isaiah chapter 9 about the miraculous rescue of Hezekiah and his kingdom from the Assyrian army.

Missionaries claim that the child in the verse under discussion is Jesus and the divine attributes are describing him. However, the original Hebrew uses the past perfect tense (“to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given”), the past (“and he called his name”), and, as pointed out, the present, whereas if Jesus, who lived seven hundred years later, was this child, then the future tense would have been used.

It is also interesting to note that in the earliest three Gospels, Jesus did not instruct his followers to worship him:

Mark 10:17--18
And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Mark 10:40
...but to sit at my [Jesusʼs] right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.

Mark 14:36
And [Jesus] said: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Mark 15:34
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice: ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which means “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Their Hollow Inheritance -A Comprehensive Refutation of Christian Missionaries

Hereʼs a Christian who admits that Hezekiah was the famed ‘Emmanuel’ in the Book of Isaiah, and does a neat job summing things up in their historical and literary context, but adds the typical “itʼs a double-prophecy” excuse, which is merely an imaginative attempt to stretch the meaning of any and all Old Testament passages the apologist wants, plucking them out of their original historical context and linguistic meaning.

And, per a Jewish website:

Christian translations have mistakenly rendered the name of the individual in Isaiah 9:6, thus giving a totally erroneous impression that this Prince, or Davidic Messiah, is called here the Mighty God or Everlasting Father. The verb ‘will call’ is active, not passive and can be rendered most naturally with ‘the Mighty God/Everlasting Father’ as the subject and ‘Prince of Peace’ as the object. It might also be translated, “Wonderful in counsel is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” At any rate, the common Christian translation reflects a complete misunderstanding of the Hebrew use of names. The phrase in Hebrew is “Pele Joʼetz El Gibbor Avi-Ad Sar-Shalom.” Hebrew names often celebrate the character and activity of God. See the extended name ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ (Isaiah 8:3). This name celebrates the Wonderful Counsel or Plan of God in bringing forth this Davidic ruler (see Isaiah 28:29). To think that the child is being called YHVH God, because his name celebrates and signifies the unfolding Plan of God, would be akin to asserting that the prophet Isaiah is God because his name means ‘YHVHʼs Salvation.’

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Evolution of the Human Brain, Past, Present, Future...

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Also see:

Prominent Hominid Fossils
Creationist Arguments: Brain Sizes

According to THE BIG HISTORY PROJECT concerning the history of the cosmos, life and humans, our distant ancestors in Africa began to move about more as the trees there were replaced by ever widening grasslands. Due to trees growing scarcer and grasslands widening between groups of trees our ancestors were forced to walk longer to get to the next group of trees and were forced to seek food of more diverse kinds. And in grasslands being able to see further via standing to see above the grass is also imperative for protection and to keep together with others. Also, apes are not armed with sharp-cutting claws, lengthy fangs, and they lack the ability to run as swiftly as four legged predators. So our ancestors had to learn to cooperate to stay alive, seek food, and flourish. And the larger the brain the more discriminating and more cunning, thus adding additional hurdles (i.e., natural selection) that each generation had to leap over before being able to pass along those cunning genes to the next generation, so we grew more cunning each generation as a result. There are other hypotheses one could add to those that donʼt detract from what was mentioned.

There were other mammals on the planet that developed larger brains than the rest but they didnʼt have free hands to manipulate things, and rarely had brains as large as ours compared with our body mass. Other large brained mammals like elephants and cetacea (dolphins, whales) didnʼt develop languages, and perhaps not so large a vocabulary as our ancestors did, and they certainly did not develop the written word which enabled our ancestors to continue to build on what earlier generations had learned. And of course even though some apes in the African Savannah became bipedal, not all species of apes did elsewhere on the planet. So not every ape species evolved into upright hominids. And the fossil record is littered with extinct species of upright hominids that didnʼt make it, other ancient species of human also went extinct in the process. And some humans in the past had brains larger than ours at present like Boskop Man “Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago... His brain was bigger than your brain.”
Google “Boskop Man,” though note that the Google images of Boskop Man include some weird hoaxes.

You also might want to check the Google NEWS search engine using “evolution of the brain” or other search terms, and add some Google ALERTS on the topic to keep up to date.

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