Mark Twain on the Problem of Evil

Mark Twain and Intelligent Design

“Little Bessie,” The Myth of Providence by Mark Twain

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

14 Biology Lessons for I.D.ists (Intelligent Design advocates)

14 Biology Lessons for I.D.ists
  1. We donʼt see genes or organisms simply popping into existence out of nowhere. They all appear to have natural lineages. Connections abound in nature, not disconnections and miracles. Hereʼs what Intelligent Design advocates WANT to say happened, notice how unconcerned they are with continuing to examine all the connections in nature, and how eager they are to promote disconnections in nature and miracles:

Was Benjamin Franklin a Christian? Or to be more precise, did Benjamin Franklin convert to “true Christianity” in middle-age as Christian apologist Bill Fortenberry suggests? (HT: James Patrick Holding J.P.Holding)

Was Benjamin Franklin a Christian?

Before proceeding, one might ask, does such a question matter? If you are a Christian apologist who seeks to prove that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, it might. But if one is trying to prove that converting to Christianity provides a great boon to every individualʼs life in this case Franklinʼs, there is little evidence of him changing much if at all (provided he did convert, which is the question at issue).

Leading I.D.ists & Creationists Admit Evidence that Humans & Apes Share Common Ancestry

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

See previous parts of this series here.

According to Christian New Testament scholar, Peter Enns:

The Apostle Paul ‘Winged It’ According To Christian N.T. Scholar

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…

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

“Eyewitness” Reports of Jesus's Resurrection? Or Gospel Trajectories?

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

Sorry Creationists, Death Existed Since “The Beginning”

Death Existed Since “The Beginning”

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

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

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

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

Flat-Earth Folly by Dave Matson (guest post in which Matson demonstrates the sphericity of the earth to modern day flat-earthers such as those crowing about a “worldwide sphere-ist conspiracy” over on youtube)

Flat-Earth Folly by Dave Matson

by Dave Matson

We are as gods compared to the ancients. The ingenious Greeks actually deduced the spherical shape and size of the Earth. But they never dreamed that a day would arrive when astronauts would routinely see the curvature of the Earth, when satellites would photograph the whole sphere of the

Pawn Sacrifice. How the Bobby Fischer phenomenon inspired future grandmasters, Michael Rodhe, John Fedorowicz (The Fed), Joel Benjamin & their non-grandmaster teammate, My Three Years of Chess Bliss, 1973-1975

Bobby Fischer

The movie Pawn Sacrifice brought back a flood of chess memories… including a queen sack of mine that appeared in a syndicated chess column published in 200 papers, my Woody Allenesque piece in Chess Life magazine, “Losing is Everything,” and several future grandmasters (one of whom was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame) against whom I competed, and also teamed up with (to come in 1st in the

Religious-Affinity Fraud & Christian Corporate Swindlers: Fleecing the Flock, Preying on the Faithful, Using the Lord's Name in Gain

Religious-Affinity Fraud & Christian Corporate Swindlers

From 1984-89 Americans were swindled out of $450 million via religious-affinity fraud.

In the early 1990s a North American Securities Administrators Association report, “Preying on the Faithful: The False Prophets of the Investment World,” described scams and cons by ‘religious’ entrepreneurs. One outfit cited the blessing of the tribe of Asher by Moses in Deuteronomy that ‘the feet of the people will be bathed in oil’ as the basis for drilling for oil that was never found.

From 1998-2001 people lost $2 billion between in religion-related scams.

From 2002-2012 American investors had $23 billion stolen from them due to affinity frauds of all kinds, not just religious affinity frauds. No one has a reliable number for smaller frauds over the same period. In all, affinity-fraud losses in America could be as much as $50 billion.

Religious fraud is particularly common, because people find it hard to imagine that the pastor is a perp. Joseph Borg, Alabamaʼs securities commissioner, reckons half of all affinity frauds in the American South are faith-based. The problem stretches across all types of belief, and ranges far beyond the Bible Belt. In September, a 77-year-old man from Ohio was indicted for allegedly defrauding 2,700 fellow Amish of $17m. The state thought to have the most affinity fraud per head is Utah, where 60% of the population are Mormons… with the three largest cases involving combined losses up to $700m. LuElla Day lost $1.2m in a deal hatched by Daniel Merriman, a fellow Mormon she had known for four years. Another factor is the rise of “prosperity theology”, or the belief that God wants Christians to be rich as well as good. This idea has taken root fastest in black and Hispanic churches. The problem is that it puts pressure on congregations to invest successfully, which makes them more vulnerable, says Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation, which investigates church fraud.

Religious scams are among the most common and Christians are easy targets. Investors are often following the advice of trusted leaders. Barry Minkow says that in just one year he has personally uncovered more than $1 billion in church-based scams and other fraud targeting Christians. Some schemes donʼt target Christians but spread quickly once introduced in a church. Others go unreported, or regulators canʼt shut them down because victims refuse to testify. In one case, Joe Borg (director of the Alabama Securities Commission) said church members “were told that if they spoke to us, they would be excommunicated and their souls damned to hell. We had a lot of folks who said, ‘Look, I may have lost everything I own, but Iʼm not going to take a chance.’” Borg says they play on victimsʼ greed (promising huge returns) while easing their conscience by saying that the investment comes from God or that the money is being invested in ministry.

Ole Anthony (the head of the Trinity Foundation who also publishes The Wittenburg Door) revealed (in 2006), “U.S. Attorneys tell me that there is more fraud committed in the name of God in America than any other kind of fraud.”

SOURCES: Ted Olsen, “Bilking the Brethren,” and, Rob Moll, “The Fraud Buster: The Faithful Are Being Defrauded of Billions,” Christianity Today, Vol. 49, No. 1, Jan. 2005; Walter Hoops, “At Random,” The American Rationalist, Jan./Feb. 1991; The Wittenburg Door Insider [an online publication], Oct. 2, 2006; Fleecing the flock: The big business of swindling people who trust you, The Economist, Jan 28th 2012

Enron: A Corporation Run by a Passionate Christian

The CEO and Chairman of Enron corporation, Dr. Kenneth Lay, was the son of a Baptist minister. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior when he was 12, and remained passionate about his beliefs as he explained in his own words:

Iʼve always just felt a strong presence in my life, a faith, and the will of God directing my life and giving me guidance for what Heʼd like to do with my life. There have been too many events in my life where it would be hard to say, That was just coincidence. Certain roads were crossed and certain directions became apparent, which at the time—maybe for many people—didnʼt look all that apparent. But the results have later turned out to be exactly the right thing at the right time. I can give you any number of examples… Throughout my life, things have fallen into place that turned out to be the right thing to do at the time… Looking back, 30 or 40 years later in some cases, those were the things that just really fit together perfectly… I am convinced that God was—and is—guiding all the way… multiple coincidences, they just seem to occur one after another. Whether it was meeting certain people at certain times, certain jobs appearing suddenly, or certain opportunities appearing… These things just fit in place… I became convinced that my true calling was business… I think, in my case, Iʼve been able to make a bigger and more positive impact through business than I could have in any other profession, including the ministry. Iʼve been able to impact more lives, more communities, and more causes than I could have otherwise… I begin many of our business dinners, and particularly special ones with directors and senior employees and community leaders, with a prayer. I think that sets the tone as to the importance of faith, at least in my life and sets the tone for the entire meeting. I have a retired minister on staff at Enron who does a lot of counseling for our employees. Itʼs at their discretion, at their request, but heʼs available particularly when employees are going through or experiencing the death of loved ones, or tragic accidents, or maybe depression or whatever. Obviously as he counsels, he also ministers. My employees know that I take basic religious principles very seriously… We have nearly 20,000 employees worldwide and we obviously have a lot of different religious faiths practiced by these employees… We really try to respect everybodyʼs beliefs. But itʼs widely known that I have a very strong Christian background and Christian faith… I basically try to create an environment at Enron where everybody has the opportunity to realize his or her God-given potential. That means that our people are always striving for excellence and to set the standard for our businesses by which others will measure their success.

Dr. Lay in an interview, published in the May/June 2002 issue of The [Wittenburg] Door

On July 7, 2004, Kenneth Lay was indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges, and was found guilty on May 25, 2006 of 10 counts against him. Legal experts said Lay could have faced 20 to 30 years in prison. However, he died about three and a half months before his sentencing due to a heart attack.

Fortune magazine had named Enron “Americaʼs Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. However, Enronʼs global reputation was undermined by persistent rumors of bribery and political pressure to secure contracts in Central America, South America, Africa, and the Philippines. Especially controversial was its $3 billion contract with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board in India, where it is alleged that Enron officials used political connections within the Clinton and Bush administrations to exert pressure on the board. After a series of scandals involving irregular accounting procedures perpetrated throughout the 1990ʼs Enron underwent one of the largest bankruptcies in corporate history, itʼs “healthy” financial condition had been sustained mostly by institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud.

Baptist Groupʼs Leaders Convicted:Investors Lost $585 Million

Two former executives of a failed Southern Baptist foundation, Crotts and Grabinski, were convicted… in a scheme that cheated investors out of about $585m. The investors were recruited in Southern Baptist churches (and by Bible-quoting salesmen who visited their homes) who claimed that the money would help Southern Baptist causes, such as building new churches, and they were promising above-market returns.

Defense attorneys argued that the foundation could have been able to pay off investors if state regulators had not forced it to stop selling securities in 1999. James D. Porter, a foundation investor and Crotts family friend, said he believes that Crotts is innocent despite the verdict. “The truth is not determined by what this court said,” Porter said. “Righteous people have spent time in jail before.” [Itʼs common for Christians to pull out the “weʼre being persecuted” card whenever another Christian is caught doing something wrong (or poorly). In this case they resorted to illegal means to try and cover up just how inept they were at investing their brethrenʼs money.
—Austin Cline, your guide to the Agnosticism/Atheism section of] Since the foundationʼs 1999 bankruptcy, five other employees or associates have pleaded guilty in connection with the fraud. The foundation was an official agency of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, which is affiliated with the national Southern Baptist Convention.
SOURCES: Tom Tingle (AP), “Former Baptist Foundation of Arizona President William P. Crotts is Led from a Phoenix Courtroom;” and, Terry Greene Sterling, “Baptist Groupʼs Leaders Convicted: Investors Lost $585 Million,” Special to The Washington Post, Tuesday, July 25, 2006; Page A03; special correspondent Steve Elliot contributed to the report.

The Black Bernie Madoff

WITH a nudge from their pastor, the 25,000 members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta opened their hearts, and their wallets to Ephren W. Taylor who led a series of financial seminars in October 2009 at the mega church and took more than $1 million in investments from members. Mr Taylor billed himself as the youngest black chief executive of a publicly traded company in American history. He had appeared on NPR and CNN. He had given a talk on socially conscious investing at the Democratic National Convention. Snoop Dogg, a rapper, had tapped him to manage a charitable endowment. So when Mr Taylorʼs “Wealth Tour Live” seminars came to town, faithful ears opened wide. Eddie Long, the mega-churchʼs leader (who was accused of having abusive homosexual relations and settled out of court), introduced Mr Taylor at one event with the words: “[God] wants you to be a mover and shaker… to finance you well to do His will.” Mr Taylor offered “low-risk investment with high performances”, chosen with guidance from God. Divine inspiration, alas, has given way to legal tribulation. For many investors, the 20% guaranteed returns proved illusory. Mr Taylor (whereabouts unknown) stands accused of fraud in a number of lawsuits. An essential element of Mr Taylorʼs approach was to make those he targeted want to invest in him personally, says Cathy Lerman, a lawyer representing some of the victims. “He was a master of creating a marketing presence. He would say: ‘If you want to check me out, just Google me.’” He had no problem convincing them that he was an ordained minister, even though he had no formal seminary training, according to court documents. It will take time to gauge the full extent of the losses, not least because it will require untangling a web of companies, some of them shells. Victims, many of whom entrusted their life savings to Mr Taylor, are still coming forward. Some call him “the black Bernie Madoff.”

Mr. Madoff, whose victims lost perhaps $20 billion, perpetrated the largest “affinity fraud” ever. The Madoff fraud fed on multiple affinity circles: wealthy Jews in Florida and Israel, country-club types and European old money.

The next-largest alleged investment fraud of recent years, the $7 billion collapse of Allen Stanfordʼs empire, also concerned specific groups, including the Latin American and Libyan diasporas and Southern Baptists.

Last August a South Korean pastor was indicted for misappropriating 2.4 billion Korean won ($2.3m) that the faithful had handed over to set up a Christian bank.

Fleecing the flock: The big business of swindling people who trust you, The Economist, Jan 28th 2012

One of the Most Devout Christian CEOʼs Presided Over One of the Largest Frauds in U.S. History

Head of WorldCom, Bernard Ebbers was known as one of the most religious CEOs in the high-tech sector. He invoked God regularly in speeches and press interviews, and started each board meeting with a prayer. He was a deacon at his Baptist church, where he also led a weekly bible study class. According to those who took the class, he was remarkably fluent in scripture. If someone missed the class, Ebbers would be on the phone to see if they were okay.

And yet, Ebbers presided over the largest fraud in U.S. history, a fraud that wrought massive financial pain on present and future retirees across America. After the revelations of this crime, a tearful Ebbers told his congregation: “More than anything else, I hope this doesnʼt jeopardize my witness for Jesus Christ.”

It sounds as though Ebbers was more concerned with whether public knowledge of his crimes would harm his ability to evangelize his religion than he was with whether his crimes caused actual financial harm to his employees. What a great guy, huh? He may have been a poster boy for traditional sexual and Christian morality, but that didnʼt stop him from helping defraud those around him.

David Callahan, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead

Regular Church Goer and Social Conservative Stole 100ʼs of Millions

Or look at John Rigas, who headed Adelphia Communications, one of the largest cable television companies in the United States. The son of Greek immigrants, Rigas was a regular church goer guided by social conservatism. He raised his four children in a small town in upstate New York with a strict set of traditional values. His sons went to work with their father after graduating from the nationʼs best colleges and they, too, became pillars of the upstate community where Adelphia was headquartered. The sons, like the father, were social conservatives. No porn channels were allowed on Adelphiaʼs cable system.

A very different morality guided the Rigases in business. By the time investigators caught on, the Rigases had appropriated hundred of millions of shareholder funds for their personal use through various shady loans and frauds. Prosecutors accused father and sons of “systematically looting” Adelphia…

David Callahan, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead

Crusader Against Homosexual Rights and Investor in Prayer Radio Also Swindled

Philip Anschutz is yet another business leader who publicly embraced religion and “family values” while indulging in greed and financial chicanery at the office. A billionaire who is the largest owner of movie screens in America, Anschutz is a religious man who has crusaded against homosexual rights and the medical use of marijuana. He has bankrolled a variety of Christian conservatives and invested in prayer radio.

Yet as the founder and chairman of Qwest Communications, a telecommunications firm, Anschutz ranks among the most corrupt insiders of the late 1990s. He sold nearly $2 billion of Qwest stock as it plunged in value from $63 a share to $3. As these sales took place, many in a secretive fashion, Qwest was encouraging its employees to hold on to their own stock and to build their retirement plans around 401(k)s heavy with Qwest shares. Anschutz was investigated and eventually agreed to give up $4.4 million in illegal gains from his shady business dealings without admitting any wrongdoing.

David Callahan, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead

Randall W. Harding sang in the choir at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, Calif., and donated part of his conspicuous wealth to its ministries. He named his investment firm JTL, or “Just the Lord.” He and his partners stole more than $50 million from pastors, churchgoers… another cautionary tale in what investigators say is a worsening problem plaguing the nationʼs churches.

For some additional cases of Christian related fraud click here

Leonardo da Vinci: Questioner of Authority, Empiricist, Anti-Flood Geologist…with Buddhist tendencies? And a link to a WTF Leonardo sketch.

Leonardo da Vinci: Questioner of Authority, Empiricist, Anti-Flood Geologist

Leonardo the Questioner

Leonardo did not seem very pleased with the Roman Catholic Church, nor very interested in theology:

“In Leonardoʼs time, the late 1400s, there was no formal scientific research. Scholars instead unquestioningly accepted the observations of nature that were passed down from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. In fact, Pope Leo X interfered with da Vinciʼs beloved autopsies, prohibiting him from further dissections. Thus, Leonardoʼs great studies on the human body were terminated, never to be resumed with the same intensity.” (Nuland, Sherwin. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Penguin Books, 2005, p. 94).

As Leonardo wrote:

Those who try to censor knowledge do harm to both knowledge and love, because love is the offspring of knowledge, and the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge. The more we know about nature, the more we can be certain of what we know, and so the more love we can feel for nature as a whole.

Of what use are those who try to restrict what we know to only those things that are easy to comprehend, often because they themselves are not inclined to learn more about a particular subject, like the subject of the human body.

And yet they want to comprehend the mind of God, talking about it as though they had already dissected it into parts. Still they remain unaware of their own bodies, of the realities of their surroundings, and even unaware of their own stupidity.

Along with the scholars, they despise the mathematical sciences, which are the only true sources of information about those things which they claim to know so much about. Instead they talk about miracles and write about things that nobody could ever know, things that cannot be proven by any evidence in nature.

Leonardo thought the Church was scamming its less sophisticated members: “Leonardo objected to the commercial exploitation of relics, religious art, and pious items, saying, ‘I see Christ once more being sold and crucified and his saints martyred.’ In his notebooks and letters, he protested the sale of indulgences, liturgical and ceremonial pomp, obligatory confessions, and the cult of the saints. He assailed the clergy—at all levels—for their lack of morality, values, and education. As a scientist, he questioned the contemporary reality of miracles performed by priests and monks.” (Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. “Leonardo: His Faith, His Art.” Before 2 Nov. 2009. 26 Jan. 2010)

Leonardo liked to poke fun at silly religious beliefs and practices. The following jest is found in one of his notebooks:

A priest going the round of his parish on Saturday before Easter, sprinkling holy water in the houses as was his custom, came to a painterʼs room and there sprinkled the water upon some of his pictures. The painter, turning round somewhat annoyed, asked him why this sprinkling had been bestowed on his pictures; then the priest said that it was the custom and that it was his duty to do so, that he was doing good, and that whoever did a good deed might expect a return as good and better; for so God had promised that every good deed that was done on earth shall be rewarded a hundredfold from on high. Then the painter, having waited until the priest had walked out, stepped to the window above, and threw a large bucket of water to his back, saying: Here is the reward a hundredfold from on high as you said would come from the good you did me with your holy water with which you have damaged half my pictures (Gelb, Michael. Da Vinci Decoded. New York: Bantam Dell, 2004, p. 18).

Leonardo expressed doubts about the literal interpretation of the Bible. For example, in the eighteen pages of his notebooks that Bill Gates purchased for $30.8 million, Leonardo questioned the biblical story of a one-year long flood that allegedly “covered the highest mountains” all around the world:

Here a doubt rises, and that is: whether the Flood which came at the time of Noah was universal or not. And it would seem not, for the reasons which will now be given. We have it in the Bible that this deluge lasted 40 days and 40 nights, of incessant and universal rain, and that this rain rose to ten cubits about the highest mountains in the world. And if it had been that the rain was universal, it would have covered our globe which is spherical in form. And this spherical surface is equally distant in every part from the centre of its sphere; hence the sphere of the waters being under the same conditions, it is impossible that the water upon it should move, because water, in itself, does not move unless it falls; therefore how could the waters of such a deluge depart, if it is proved that it has no motion? And if it departed how could it move unless it went upwards? Here, then, natural reasons are wanting; hence to remove this doubt it is necessary to call it a miracle to aid us, or else to say that all this water was evaporated by the heat of the sun. (Gelb 16-17)

Leonardo found evidence in fossils, rock formations, and the movements of water that the Earth was much older than the Bible and Roman Catholic Church taught: “Recognizing the fossils as remains of once-living organisms,… Leonardo reasoned that such fragile shells could not have been swept so far inland and survived intact. He also noted that the fossils commonly lay in successive rock layers, evidence that they were deposited by multiple events rather than by only one. And he observed that groups of different fossil shells found together resembled the living groups assembled in coastal waters. For all these reasons, Leonardo correctly concluded that the fossils came from animals which once inhabited an ancient sea that covered the land.”

In his own words, Leonardo says:

Since things are far more ancient than letters, it is not to be wondered at if in our day there exists no record of how the aforesaid seas extended over so many countries; and if, moreover, such record ever existed, the wars, the conflagrations, the deluges of the waters, the changes in speech and habits, have destroyed every vestige of the past. But sufficient for us is the testimony of things produced in the salt waters and now found again in the high mountains far from the seas. (Nuland 106)

Perhaps most impressive is the mysterious phrase, “The sun does not move,” which stands by itself in capital letters among his writings. It is likely that da Vinci correctly concluded before Copernicus and Galileo that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of the solar system.

Leonardo the Empiricist

Marco Rosciʼs biography, Leonardo, notes that Leonardo “adopted an empirical approach to every thought, opinion, and action and accepted no truth unless verified or verifiable, whether related to natural phenomena, human behavior, or social activities.”

Leonardo wrote:

It seems to me that all studies are vain and full of errors unless they are based on experience and can be tested by experiment, in other words, they can be demonstrated to our senses. For if we are doubtful of what our senses perceive then how much more doubtful should we be of things that our senses cannot perceive, like the nature of God and the soul and other such things over which there are endless disputes and controversies.

Wherever there is no true science and no certainty of knowledge, there will be conflicting speculations and quarrels. However, whenever things are proven by scientific demonstration and known for certain, then all quarreling will cease. And if controversy should ever arise again, then our first conclusions must have been questionable.

Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.

I am well aware that because I did not study the ancients, some foolish men will accuse me of being uneducated. They will say that because I did not learn from their schoolbooks, I am unqualified to express an opinion. But I would reply that my conclusions are drawn from firsthand experience, unlike the scholars who only believe what they read in books written by others.

Although I cannot quote from authors in the same way they do, I shall rely on a much worthier thing, actual experience, which is the only thing that could ever have properly guided the men that they learn from.

These scholars strut around in a pompous way, without any thoughts of their own, equipped only with the thoughts of others, and they want to stop me from having my own thoughts. And if they despise me for being an inventor, then how much more should they be despised for not being inventors but followers and reciters of the works of others.

When the followers and reciters of the works of others are compared to those who are inventors and interpreters between Nature and man, it is as though they are non-existent mirror images of some original. Given that it is only by chance that we are invested with human form, I might think of them as being a herd of animals.

Man discourseth greatly, and his discourse is for the greater part empty and false; the discourse of animals is small, but useful and true: slender certainty is better than portentous falsehood.

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

Leonardo the “Buddhist” source

Da Vinci wrote some very Buddhist-sounding principles in his Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind:

There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.

The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.

The Buddhaʼs Right Intention and Right Effort focus on making a commitment to mental and ethical self-improvement. Learning to substitute desire and anger with the intention of goodwill and compassion will make us better humans. Leonardo said:

You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself… The height of a manʼs success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment… and this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.

And Leonardo saw the ongoing search for knowledge as a duty:

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind. So we must stretch ourselves to the very limits of human possibility. Anything less is a sin against both God and man.

[Many] have made a trade of delusions and false miracles.

Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.

The Buddhist idea of Right Speech encourages followers to abstain from lies, slander, gossip, and harsh language that hurts others. Rather, the goal should be to help others. Right speech to a painter would also cover his art, thus da Vinci wrote:

A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.

Art is the queen of all sciences, communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.

Buddhaʼs Right Action, what is often referred to today as Loving-kindness, teaches us to be honest and compassionate, respect others, and abstain form taking life. Da Vinci points out that

He who does not oppose evil… commands it to be done.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must do.

And he seemed to be encouraging Buddhist-like vegetarianism with

I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men… [and that his body] will not be a tomb for other creatures.

Buddhism teaches that all life is suffering, but that we bring on that suffering ourselves by wanting something that cannot be. Life will always bring unwanted change, illness, and, eventually, death. We can suffer less by accepting that these things will happen and giving up trying to change that. We canʼt always get what we want, but that doesnʼt mean we shouldnʼt have goals. We just have to realize that things may not go as planned. Leonardo encouraged going with the flow:

As you cannot do what you want, want what you can do.

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.’

Life is pretty simple: you do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others will quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing of something else.

Consider mindfulness - the idea of devoting 100% of your attention to what you are doing at the present moment. The idea is that our minds are wandering all over the place so much of the time, worrying about what has been or what may be in the future, that we donʼt even notice what we are really doing as we move through life. The Buddha taught that we should pay careful attention to what is going on in our bodies and all around us so that we donʼt miss the opportunity to see things as they really are. Leonardo once said that

The average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.

Finally, a life dedicated to seeing and understanding the world around us, doing what we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and sharing love and joy and knowledge, is a life well-lived. Da Vinci may have been having similar thoughts when he said:

Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.

Leonardo the… WTF?!

Leonardo boasted that he once painted a Madonna so beautiful that the man who bought it was haunted by unseemly thoughts. Even after it was altered, perhaps with the addition of crosses and saintly symbols (as was done in Leonardoʼs second version of The Virgin of the Rocks), it still gave him an erection when he tried to pray. So in the end he returned the painting to Leonardo, who delighted in this pornographic triumph.

And here we have an erotic drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. Itʼs called “Angelo incarnato” or “Angel incarnate” or angel made flesh (the penis is discolored because somebody tried to erase it at some point): (Not Safe For Work Picture)

Additional sources cited:

Da Vinci the deist.

What Was Leonardo da Vinciʼs Religion?

Sir Thomas Browne: A Fascinating Early Enlightenment Christian

Myth-Buster, Word-Smith, Believer in Tolerance, Forgiveness and Opening Heavenʼs Gates Wider (but also in the reality and dangers of Witchcraft), Discoverer of Chinks in the Armor of Biblical Infallibility, An Ecclesiastes-Like Preacher of the Vanity of Life with a Few Resemblances to Lucretius the Atheist.

Thomas Browne Quote
  • Platoʼs den or cave refers to a famous allegory about people chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to give names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality.

  • Embryon is roughly equivalent to our modern word, embryonic, so Browne is noting how little knowledge we have of the afterlife.


We are ignorant of the backparts, or lower side of his Divinity.

My contact with Truth has been so fleeting and my comprehension of its mystery is so incomplete that to rush forth to its defense thus ill-prepared would be a great disservice.

Browne saw too many men who thought they had seized all of truth and who, as a result, not only missed the rightful enjoyment of a partial truth but mistook that part for the whole.

Those have not only depraved understandings, but diseased affections, which cannot enjoy a singularity without an Heresy, or be the Author of an Opinion without they be of a Sect also.

Opinions, even odd opinions, Browne does not condemn, so long as they are recognized for what they are. He recommends that they be held lightly.

The best we can do in view of the gulf fixed between our partial wisdom and the wholeness of the last Day, is to exercise manfully our reason, preserve the honesty of our enquiry, and so fulfill our human obligation even though at last we miss of truth.

We learn today what our better advanced judgments will unteach us tomorrow; and Aristotle does but instruct us, as Plato did him; that is, to confute himself. I have run through all sorts [of philosophies], yet find no rest in any: though our first studies and junior endeavors may style us Peripatetics, Stoics, or Academics [different types of philosophers]; yet I perceive the wisest heads prove, at last, almost all Skeptics, and stand like Janus in the field of knowledge. [Janus the god had two faces that peered in opposite directions at the same time.]

I have one common and authentic Philosophy I learned in Schools, whereby I discourse and satisfy the reason of other men; another more reserved, and drawn from experience, whereby I content my own.

I love to satisfy myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an o altitudo [feeling of spiritual exaltation, a Latin phrase that comes from Romans 11:33].

Where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humor my fancy.

We carry with us the wonders we seek without us.

Our ends are as obscure as our beginnings.

As reason is a rebel to faith, so passion is a rebel to reason.

Some Christians in Browneʼs day “declaimed against all Church music,” because they felt true worship should be accompanied only by sanctimonious spoken rites or silence. As for Browne:

I do embrace Church music; for even that vulgar Tavern music which makes one merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a profound contemplation of the first Composer [God]. There is something in it of Divinity more than the ear discovers; it is an hieroglyphical [Egyptian hieroglyphs were impossible to read in his day] and shadowed lesson of the whole World, and creatures of God.

Sir Thomas Browne, Myth-Buster

Browneʼs most popular work in his lifetime is the one that is now most neglected, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a catalogue of “vulgar errors,” urban myths of the seventeenth century. Many of these concerned silly things that people believed about animals. Browne was an astute observer of natural history (the author of a Natural History of Norfolk), and well positioned to correct such errors—the of his day.

Browneʼs European education exposed him to some of the latest thinking in medical practice, including training in anatomy and dissection — practices that were beginning to challenge and criticize the traditional authoritative works in medicine, such as those by Hippocrates and Galen. This included William Harveyʼs discovery of the circulation of the blood, which Browne said was a “discovery I prefer to that of Columbus.” He also kept a menagerie of exotic animals in his home, and he traced the ubiquity of the geometric pattern known as the quincunx through plants, insects and crystals. But his research might be described more accurately as nature poetry than as science, and his greatest delight seemed to be in things that defied categorization.

Is it unlucky to sneeze between midnight and noon? How to account for the “strange and mystical metamorphosis of silkworms;” or, the bizarre phenomenon of children being born with hair all over their bodies? Did Jesus laugh? Did he lie down to eat? What are the diseases associated with the climate of Iceland? What was the likely outcome if you imprison a mole, a toad and a viper together, under glass? (As it happens, the mole prevails.) Do snails have eyes? Early editions of Pseudodoxia Epidemica discuss his dissection of the horns of snails and Browne says that “I am not satisfied that these are eyes,” but by the last edition of 1672 he says he now believes, thanks to “the help of exquisite [magnifying] Glasses,” that “those black… spots or globules [are] their eyes.”

He could also pass comfortably from such questions to reflections on magnetism, coral, crystallography, ballistics, porcelain and the human eyelid. He was also obsessed with the medicinal properties and allegorical associations of plants; and had a pioneering determination to test hypotheses by the experimental method, which led him to study the effects of substances like vinegar and saltpeter on frog eggs—the earliest experiments in chemical embryology. He could also write with great verve about why most cultures buried their dead lying down, but some had the bodies standing erect; about the macabre practice of inhaling a dying personʼs last breath; and about the even more disturbing one of drinking a loved oneʼs ashes (a custom revived and adapted by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who claimed to have snorted some of his fatherʼs remains.)

In arguing that the unicorn of myth doesnʼt really exist, Browne gleefully transformed the horned white horse into the lowly beetle with gentle irony:

Beside the several places of Scripture mentioning this Animal (which some may well contend to be only meant of the Rhinoceros) we are so far from denying there is any Unicorn at all, that we affirm there are many kinds thereof. We will concede no less then five; that is, the Indian Ox, the Indian Ass, the Rhinoceros, the Oryx, and that which is more eminently termed Monoceros, or Unicornis. Some in the list of fishes; as that described by Olaus, Albertus and others: and some Unicorns we will allow even among Insects; as those four kinds of nasicornous Beetles described by Muffetus.

Browne also dismantled the idea that elephants canʼt lie down or donʼt have joints: “Herein methinks men much forget themselves, not well considering the absurdity of such assertions.” On the other hand, he did not find it impossible that elephants could write and talk! “That some Elephants have not only written whole sentences… but have also spoken… we do not conceive impossible.” Browne cites “Ælian” who says he saw an elephantʼs trainer use the elephantʼs trunk to write Latin letters; presumably Greek is too refined for elephants; while Pliny VIII.6 (English by Holland, VIII.33) says that an elephant has written an entire sentence, which sentence Pliny quotes. Browne also cites “Oppianus and à Costa” who told the story of an elephant who went “Hoo, hoo.” Browne even alludes to the tale of Achillesʼs horse delivering a speech in Homer. See The Iliad xix 404ff “[Achillesʼs horse] bowed his head till his mane touched the ground and said, ‘Dread Achilles, we will indeed save you now, but the day of your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it will be heaven and stern fate that will destroy you… it is your doom to fall by the hand of a man and of a god.’“

In regard to the possibility of elephants speaking Browne also alluded briefly to “the Serpent that spoke to Eve,” and, “Dogs and Cats that usually speak to Witches.”

Speaking of having a soft spot for serpents, Browne defended the possible existence of the basilisk—a hybrid of a serpent and a cockerel:

17th-century depiction of a basilisk with a weasel, by Wenceslas Hollar.

Another weird creature whose existence Browne defended was the satyr—men with equine ears and tails. “Their shadowed moralities requite their substantial falsities.” In other words, their role in the myths in which they appear made them too valuable to let go.

Still, aside from his misses, he had a lot of hits. For instance he was able to show that almonds did not prevent drunkenness, and via observations he showed that earwigs have wings, and that flies donʼt hum with their mouths. The claim that bear cubs are born as formless lumps and then literally “licked into shape” by their mothers was solemnly disproved. So too was the idea that the root of the mandrake plant screams when it is pulled from the ground.

Browne was driven more by intellectual pleasures than physical ones, for he wrote at the age of 30, while still a bachelor, that he wished “we might procreate like trees, without [physical] conjunction, or that there was a way to perpetuate the world without the trivial and vulgar act of coitus; It is the most foolish act a wise man commits in his life” (which reminds one of Erasmusʼs saying, “The type of person who devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom is most unlucky in everything, but above all in begetting children—as if Nature had taken pains, I suspect, to keep the disease of wisdom from spreading too widely among mortals”).

Nor did Browneʼs lively mind seem content with the idea of sleep stealing a large proportion of life: “Half our days we pass in the shadow of the earth, and the brother of death exacteth a third part of our lives.”

As for seeking to obtain a front row seat in heaven by dying a blessed martyr, Browne did not appear eager, not with his lively mind and tolerant personality: “It is a brave act to despise death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live.”

Sir Thomas Browne, Word-Smith

Browne invented words when no others seemed to do the trick such as “medical,” “suicide,” “exhaustion,” “hallucination,” “coma,” and “prairie”. Observing the arrival of exhausted seabirds on the Norfolk coast, Browne was among the first to conclude that annual migration over huge distances must be part of their life cycle (he coined the word “migrant” and even gave several species their now familiar English names). The Oxford English Dictionary concludes that he gave the language 784 new words, and cites him as the first exemplary source for another 1,616. On the other hand, unless you use words like “eleemosynary” in casual conversation, a dictionary might help while reading Browne, not to mention the fact that you have to hack through dense forests of allusion, sentence by tangled sentence. “His prose is decidedly not Hemingway—it can be a workout,” says Stephen Greenblatt of Harvard. “But Browne is like this kind of wonderful half-open secret that runs through modernism.”

Sir Thomas Browne on Witchcraft

Browneʼs belief in witches was linked to his belief in the Devil, which in turn was linked to his belief in God. Browne, called by the prosecution as “a Person of great knowledge” in a 1662 witch trial, rendered his opinion that the two accused women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender, had indeed enlisted the Devilʼs aid to afflict the village children, causing them to swoon, vomit up pins and so forth. Before Lord Chief Justice Hale at St Edmundsbury in 1664 Dr. Browne “was clearly of the opinion that the persons were bewitched; and said that in Denmark there had been lately a great discovery of witches, who used the very same way of afflicting persons by conveying pins into them, and crooked as these pins were, with needles and nails. And his opinion was that the Devil in such cases did work up on the bodies of men and women upon a natural foundation… for he conceived that these swooning fits were natural… but heightened to a great excess by the subtlety of the Devil, co-operating with the malice of these that we term witches, at whose instance he doth these villanies.”
[“A Psychological Parallel,” Matthew Arnold, The Contemporary Review, v.28, Nov. 1876]

Browne added: “I believe that all that use sorcery, incantations and spells are not Witches; I conceive there is a traditional Magic, not learned immediately from the Devil, but at second hand from his Scholars;… Thus I think a great part of Philosophy was at first Witchcraft, which, having afterwards derived to one another, proved but Philosophy, but was indeed no more than the honest affects of Nature; what, invented by us, is Philosophy, learned from him Magic.”

Granted, Browne, lived at the beginning of the Enlightenment in an age when the leading chemist, Boyle, was also an alchemist. But Browne looks particularly bad by contrast with another figure at the same witch trial, albeit one whose name is lost to history. This figure—referred to only as an ‘ingenious person’ in the trial record—objected that the allegedly bewitched children might be counterfeiting their symptoms. The objection led the court to perform a sort of proto-scientific experiment, the outcome of which strongly pointed to the innocence of the defendants. Yet owing to the superstitious atmosphere of the trial—an atmosphere that Browne had done his bit to establish—the two women were sent to the gallows anyway.

Sir Thomas Browne on Forgiveness, Tolerance and Opening Heavenʼs Gates Wider

Browne remained a devoted Church of England Protestant in an epoch fraught with religious controversy and hatred (Catholic versus Protestant and vice versa, Protestant versus Protestant, not to mention the Copernican controversy and witchcraft trials). He was a man of his time in some ways but ahead of the curve in others like his pleas for tolerance, humility, good works over faith. In his work, Religio Medici (roughly, A Doctorʼs Faith), Browne attempted to reconcile the religious views of his day (which were still quite conservative compared with todayʼs religious moderates and progressives) with reason. It was published in 1643, just as England was descending into a civil war conducted along Catholic-Protestant fault lines.

Forcible ways make not an end of evil, but leave hatred and malice behind them.

Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant Religion. [Though he did not feel that way when it came to the persecution of witches and perhaps atheists as well.]

For Browne the great “virtue was charity, without which Faith is a mere notion;” his doctrine was simple:

He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord: There is more Rhetoric in that one sentence than in a Library of Sermons.

To forgive our enemies is a charming way of revenge, and a short Cæsarean conquest, overcoming without a blow; laying our enemies at our feet, under sorrow, shame, and repentance; leaving our foes our friends, and solicitously inclined to grateful retaliations. Thus to return upon our adversaries is a healing way of revenge; and to do good for evil a soft and melting ultion, a method taught from heaven to keep all smooth on earth. Common forcible ways make not an end of evil, but leave hatred and malice behind them. [Christian Morals, Pt.III, xii]…

I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not agreeing with me in that, from which perhaps in a few days I should dissent myself: I have no genius to disputes in religion, and have often thought it wisdom to decline them… In philosophy, where Truth seems double-faced, there is no man more Paradoxical than myself; but in Divinity I love to keep the [orthodox Christian Anglican] Road… As for those wingy Mysteries in Divinity, and airy subtleties in Religion, which have unhinged the brains of better heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater of mine…

I cannot fall out, or condemn a man for an error, or conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an affection: for controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the laws of charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of passion so much there is of nothing to the purpose; for then reason, like a bad hound, spends upon a false scent, and forsakes the question first started. And this is one reason why controversies are never determined: for though they be amply proposed they are scarce at all handled, they do so swell with unnecessary digressions: and the parenthesis on the party is often as large as the main discourse upon the subject…

I can dispense with my hat at the sight of a cross, but scarce with the thought or memory of my Savior… I cannot hear the Ave Maria bell [of the Catholics] without an elevation…

Sectarianism was not the only irrational division repugnant to him; he was as far from racial as from religious bigotry:

I feel not in myself those common antipathies That I can discover in others, those national repugnant-cies do not touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but when I find their actions in balance with my countrymenʼs I know, love, and embrace them in the same degree.

Browne was tolerant in ways that seem a century or two ahead of his time: He emphatically refuted claims that that the left-handed are wicked and Jews are cursed, and he hoped heavenʼs gates would be opened wider. On the other hand, he maintained orthodox Anglican Christian beliefs about the Devil, witches, Adam and Eveʼs special creation, a talking serpent, etc. The fallibility of human knowledge was, for him, a strong reason to cling to the faith of his fathers. This kind of skeptically based faith, known as fideism, was shared by Montaigne (in a perhaps more ironic vein), and also by John Updike (ditto).

For my Religion, though there be several circumstances that might persuade the world I have none at all, as the general scandal of my profession [the religious views of well educated people in his day were viewed with greater suspicion, living as he did at the beginning of the Enlightenment when increasing numbers of discomforting questions were being raised by scholars], the natural course of my studies, the indifferency of my behaviour, and discourse in matters of Religion, neither violently defending one, nor with that common ardor and contention opposing another; despite which I… assume the honorable style of a Christian…

Browne appreciates, though rejects, some of the customs of the Catholic religion, and he advocates tolerance. In parts of his writing he implies that he would like to subscribe to the heresy that all souls are at last saved and hence, prefers not to judge Turks and Jews who are called heretics. He accepts church doctrine as the practical course and does not wish to promote fragmentation within the church. He also judged his own soul more harshly than that of others:

The heart of man is the place the devils dwell in; I feel sometimes a hell within myself; Lucifer keeps his court in my breast; Legion is revived in me. There are as many hells as Anaxagoras conceived worlds. There was more than one hell in Magdalene, when there were seven devils; for every devil is an hell unto himself, he holds enough of torture in his own ubi; and needs not the misery of circumference to afflict him: and thus, a distracted conscience here is a shadow or introduction unto hell hereafter. Who can but pity the merciful intention of those hands that do destroy themselves?

No man can justly censure of condemn another, because indeed no man truly knows another. This I perceive in my self; for I am in the dark to all the world, and my nearest friends behold me but in a cloud. Those that know me but superficially, think less of me than I do of my self; those of my near acquaintance think more; God, who truly knows me, knows that I am nothing… Further no man can judge another because no man knows himself; for we censure others but as they disagree from that honour which we fancy laudable in ourselves, and commend others but for that wherein they seem to quadrate and consent with us.

I find there are many pieces in this one fabric of man… a… World of Contraries… Let me be nothing, if within the compass of myself I do not find the battle of… Passion against Reason, Reason against Faith, Faith against the Devil, and my Conscience against all.

Religio Medici is molded on Browneʼs religious temper not the specific doctrines of his creed. At the end of the book Browne displays conviction without dogmatism. He could envision missing the truth yet still be justified by trusting his life to the God who knows, as he can never hope to know on this earth:

Bless me in this life, with but peace of my Conscience, command of my affections, the love of Thy self and of my dearest friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity Caesar. These are, O Lord, the humble desires of my most reasonable ambition, and all I dare call happiness on earth; wherein I set no rule or limit to thy Hand or Providence. Dispose of me according to the wisdom of They pleasure: Thy will be done, though in my own undoing.

I thank God, and with joy I mention it, I was never afraid of Hell, nor never grew pale at the description of that place; I have so fixed my contemplation on Heaven, that I have almost forgot the Idea of Hell, and am afraid rather to lose the joys of the one than endure the misery of the other; to be deprived of them is a perfect hell, & needs me thinks no addition to complete our afflictions; that terrible term hath never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good action to the name thereof: I fear God, yet am not afraid of him, his mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before his judgments afraid thereof: these are the forced and secondary method of his wisdom, which he uses but as the last remedy, and upon provocation, a course rather to deter the wicked, than incite the virtuous to his worship. I can hardly think there was ever any scared into Heaven, they go the fairest way to Heaven that would serve God without a Hell, other Mercenaries that crouch unto him in fear of Hell, though they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the slaves of the Almighty…

Some say there is no salvation to those that believe not in Christ… which makes me much apprehend the end of those honest Worthies and Philosophers who died before his Incarnation. It is hard to place those souls in Hell whose worthy lives do teach us virtue on earth…

Itʼs true we all hold there is a number of Elect and many to be saved, yet add up all of the opinions [of different Christians] together [as to who shall be saved and who not], and from the confusion thereof there will be no such thing as salvation, nor shall any one be saved; because first the Church of Rome condemns us; and we [the Church of England] likewise condemns them [the Church of Rome]; the Sub-Reformists and Sectarian Protestants [like the Anabaptists, Separatists, Brownists] sentence the Doctrine of our church as damnable; the Atomist, or Familist believe they alone know the saving truth and denounce other churches and their beliefs. Thus while the mercies of God promise us heaven, our conceits and opinions exclude us from that place. There must be therefore more than one Saint Peter [minding the pearly gates], since particular Churches and Sects usurp the gates of heaven [i.e., claim they alone can guarantee entrance], and turn the key against each other, and thus we go to heaven against each othersʼ wills, conceits and opinions, and with as much lack of charity as ignorance, err I fear in points, not only of our own, but on anotherʼs salvation…

NOTE: Atomist, or Familist might be referring to the same sect; or, the first might be referring to Mrs. Atomy or Attaway who was notorious for preaching universalism in Britain in 1644, and the second might be referring to a sect known as the “Family of Love” that started in the Netherlands before it spread to Britain—they believed that true religion consisted of love and charity independently of the form of faith, and that spiritual perfection could be obtained; they also interpreted the Bible not as a book from which to derive doctrines that must be believed but as an allegory of love.

I believe many are saved who to man seem reprobated [i.e., cast off by God, excluded from salvation], and many are reprobated, who in the opinion and sentence of man, stand elected [to gain eternal life]; there will appear at the last day, strange, and unexpected examples, both of his justice and his mercy, and therefore to define either is folly in man…

Now for that other Virtue of Charity, without which Faith is a mere notion, and of no existence, I have ever endeavored to nourish the merciful disposition, and humane inclination I borrowed from my Parents, and regulate it to the written and prescribed Laws of Charity… for I am of a constitution so general, that it consorts, and sympathizes with all things; I have no antipathy, or rather Idiosyncrasy, in diet, humor, air, anything; I wonder not at the French, for their dishes of frogs, snails, and toadstools, nor at the Jews for eating Locusts and Grasshoppers, but when I am among them, I eat what they eat; and I find such meals agree with my stomach as well as theirs; I could digest a Salad gathered in a Churchyard as well as in a Garden. I am not angrily revolted at the presence of a Serpent, Scorpion, Lizard, or Salamander; nor at the sight of a Toad, or Viper, I find in me no desire to take up a stone to destroy them. I feel not in my self those common antipathies that I can discover in others: Those national repugnant-cies do not touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but where I find their actions in balance with my Countrymenʼs, I honor, love, and embrace them in the same degree…

Salvation, which though it be not in our power to bestow, it is in our charity, and pious invocations to desire, if not procure, and further. I cannot contentedly frame a Prayer for my self in particular, without a catalog for my friends, nor request a happiness wherein my sociable disposition doth not desire the fellowship of my neighbor. I never hear the Toll of a passing Bell [which they rang when people died], though in my mirth, without my prayers and best wishes for the departing spirit; I cannot go to cure the body of my Patient, but I forget my profession, and call unto God for his soul; I cannot see one say his Prayers, but in stead of imitating him, I fall into a supplication for him, who perhaps is no more to me than a common nature: and if God hath vouchsafed an ear to my supplications, there are surely many happy that never saw me, and enjoy the blessing of mine unknown devotions. To pray for enemies, that is, for their salvation, is no harsh precept, but the practice of our daily and ordinary devotions…

Sir Thomas Browne & Chinks in the Armor of Biblical Infallibility

Browne does not suggest we ignore the writings of authority figures, but rather that we should combine their knowledge with two other ways of finding things out: reason and experiment.

For instance, on the conservative side, Browne concluded that paintings of Adam and Eve were faulty if they depicted the first human couple with navels—because the Bible declared that neither of them came out of a womb, hence neither Adam nor Eve would have had an umbilical cord or a navel.

But on the more moderate/liberal side Browne denied that salamanders live in fire (an urban legend that Augustine had had appealed to in order to defend the idea that the bodies of the damned would not simply go up in smoke in the fires of hell but remain painfully intact forever).

His knowledge of nature also raised questions concerning the story of Noahʼs ark—because there was no mention in the Bible of species of animals from the Americas, animals that had never been seen before nor mentioned in the Bible. The existence of so many new species were just beginning to come to the attention of European scholars. Surely if the native Americans had from Noahʼs descendants in the Old World they would have taken with them horses, yet the Europeans who traveled to the Americas found no horses there. “How could there be so many creatures in the Americas that are not found in Europe-Africa-Asia; which seems odd if one believes there was but one Ark and the creatures in it all began their progress together from the mountains of Ararat.” (This question would grow even more problematical after the discovery of Australia and its unique animals. Did several arks, each containing unique species of animals, land in different parts of the world after Noahʼs Flood?)

Browne was poised between two worlds, the old one of authority and the new one of inquiry, as a scientist he was tempted to find naturalistic explanations for miracles, as a Christian he conquered this temptation ‘on his knees’. He could not, however, curb a persistent tendency to notice inconsistencies and improbabilities in the minutiae of the Bible. He could at times reconcile both reason and revelation: on the relationship of diametric to circumference [2 Chron 4:2] one should “adhere into Archimedes who speaks exactly rather than the Sacred text that speaks largely [in more general less exact terms].” He might protest that he did not question the metamorphosis of Lotʼs wife into a pillar of salt, “although some conceive that expression metaphorical.” He would not deny that Absalom hung by his hair rather than by his neck “though if he had a helmet on I could not conceive it.” He did not doubt that Judas hanged himself “though there is much evidence against it.” He might declare that the Bible is “a most singular book” and aver that its seeming inconsistencies merely reflect human limitation. Whatever his protestations, the chink in the armor of Scriptural infallibility was revealed, and his questioning intellect aroused. Conscious as he was of human fallibility, he always kept his skepticism circumspect. He teased the sacred texts rather than criticized them. Just as he rejoiced in the natural world so there is no doubting his appetite for and enjoyment of the Bible: “it is one of the hardest books I have met with; I wish there had been more of it.” [Samuel Romilly]

Browne also asked, Did Lazarus have a legal right to reclaim his possessions from his heirs after he re-emerged from the grave? Were there rainbows before the Flood?

He chided those who believe that Moses had horns [a common misconception in Browneʼs day, even seen in paintings of Moses with horns, based on an obscure Hebrew term that scholars today believe referred to the alleged glow around Mosesʼs face after he allegedly met God on a mountaintop], he cautioned against “men vainly interposing their constructions.”

Unusual for a Christian who believed in individual bodily resurrection, Browne questioned what constituted a personʼs individuality, for he wrote: “Every man is not only himself; there have been many Diogenes, and as many Tymons, though but few of that name; men are lived over again… there was none then, but there hath been some one since that parallels him, and is, as it were, his revived self.”

Sir Thomas Browne, An Ecclesiastes-Like Preacher of the Vanity of Life, Resemblances to Lucretius the Atheist

As a Christian, Browne professed to care more about his place in the next life than his reputation in this one. His work, Urn-Burial, is a field guide to earthly oblivion, a poetic compendium of his obsessively collected knowledge about death, decay, burial, cremation, the vanity of monuments, and the cruel brevity of human memory. Even ‘grave-stones,’ he wrote, “tell truth scarce forty years,” adding, “At my death I mean to take a total adieu of the world, not caring for a Monument, History, or Epitaph, not so much as the bare memory of my name to be found any where.” Browne sounds almost fatalistic, but not quite: “We must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the Register of God, not in the record of man.” Browne recognizes how great our grief is at human loss, as well as our hope to leave something behind that endures on earth. However he also sees that the worst may be remembered longer than the best: “The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity.”

Browne also seemed aware of how his own dark ruminations about leaving nothing behind on earth might lead others to sympathize with atheists. For instance, in a letter to his son he warned of the spiritual dangers of reading the Hellenistic atheist, Lucretius, “There being divers impieties in it.” Oddly enough both Lucretius and Browne took deep pleasure in the peculiarities of the natural world. Both were fascinated by what happens when we dream; both, for different reasons, took a dim view of romantic love and of human pride. (Lucretius: “Some wear themselves to death because they wish a statue or a title.” Browne: “In vain do individuals hope for Immortality, or any patent from oblivion.”)

Browne himself has not yet been forgotten (neither has Lucretius for that matter, whose work nearly became extinct then was rediscovered in the 15th-century, and helped produce the modern world of thought). The most ambitious Browne enterprise in the works is a new edition of his complete writings, commissioned by Oxford University Press and expected to be finished in 2017, the first such edition in more than 80 years.

Sir Thomas Browne and “Atheism”

It was a common insult in Browneʼs day for Christians of rival denominations or sects to call each other ‘atheists’ for denying each othersʼ denominational or sectarian beliefs. Such a widespread and confusing use of the term went back as far as the days of Rome when Christians were labeled “atheists” because they denied the Roman gods. Browne sought to end such confusion:

“There are many… who, in the eyes of God, are not so perfect martyrs as was the wise heathen, Socrates, who suffered on a fundamental point of religion, the unity of God” [i.e., Socrates was accused of denying the existence of a plurality of the gods of Greece, and instead held to a singular Logos, a unified supreme God]… Nor was the denial of the Providence of God by the philosopher, Epicurus, atheism; Epicurus simply deemed God too majestically ‘sublime to mind the trivial actions of inferior creatures’ like we humans. The belief of Stoic philosophers that life was one long ‘fatal necessity’ that one had to grin and bear is nothing but “an acknowledgment of the immutable Law of Godʼs Will.” “The Romans, that erected a Temple to Fortune, acknowledged therein, though in a blinder way, somewhat of Divinity; for in a wise supputation, all things being and end in the Almighty.” And those Christian ‘heretics’ and/or Muslims who denied that the Holy Spirit was a distinct person and part of a Trinitarian God, or who denied that Jesus was God, were not atheists either; “for though they deny two persons in the Trinity, they hold, as we do, there is both one God.”

Browne pointed out that genuine ‘atheism’ had to be a complete denial of any God whatsoever, which he added, “is the greatest falsity, and to affirm there is no God, the highest lie in Nature.” So Brown was as unforgiving of true atheism as he was of witches.

Sir Thomas Browne, A Prediction

Lastly, Browne echoed a prediction made by Bishop Berkeley, one that not everyone would have forecast in the mid-1600s, namely that “America will be the seat of the fifth empire.”

God's Mixed Messages: Youth Pastor Killed by Lightning Strike (My Christian Daily 2016-01-23)

God's Mixed Messages: Youth Pastor Killed by Lightning Strike

See Divine Providence or Mixed Messages? A collection of news items showing how Christians suffer just like the rest of us.

Look at the Cosmos, and Compare that with what Christian Apologists Claim to Know for Sure

Questions about Cosmos

Do Christian apologists provide definitive answers to questions about the cosmos and humanityʼs place in it? The questions are obvious and based on known scientific data.

Leaving aside for a second the question of God, Jesus, heaven/hell, whom the vast majority do not claim to have seen or heard, letʼs look at the cosmos we can see. It may not only be weird but “weirder than we can imagine” (to quote J. B. S. Haldane). And it appears like we do not come into the cosmos so much as come out of it. In fact complexity appears to be how the cosmos flows, click here.

That being said, it appears like the cosmos might also be viewed as an immense experiment with all this matter and energy in constant flux, shaken endlessly—with incessant birth and death going on in teensy portions of the cosmos like on the quaking surface of our particular rock hurtling through space. Incessant life and death, evolution and extinction, even major extinction events, with the odds of another major asteroid strike or super volcano eruption increasing over time, along with the inevitable aging and inflation of our sunʼs diameter whose solar wind will destabilize our moonʼs orbit causing it to approach the earth too close and explode, raining death from above, an inevitable extinction event.

What I am saying is that the cosmos gives with one hand and takes with the other. At best it is in equilibrium with life and death, evolution and extinction. And it appears that if one wanted to reject the idea of a cosmos weirder than we can imagine but instead wished to posit some transcendent God or Demi urge for its origin, then it appears that about the best one could come up with on the basis of what we know is a Tinkerer of some sort. Judging by all the extinction events, both massive and continual and inevitable in the future, one might even wonder how many cosmoses of different types and sizes this Tinkerer might have tried out before setting up this experiment with this much matter and energy roiling about for billions of years.

As for the human species, it just arrived on the scene in the last cosmic second, and could conceivably be snuffed out the next, and the stars could go on burning for eons more. In fact I read two articles recently that said the cosmos has yet to reach its maximum number of either stars or planets!

Or, conversely, if humanity does survive longer than a cosmic blip and our species gets off the cradle planet and starts spreading throughout the cosmos what will humans look like a billion years in the future? Will those humans look back at us a bit like we look back at Australopithecus? How might genetic and cyber technologies alter our species, or the environmental pressures of having to survive on different planets? Will we use new technologies to uplift other species to human-like levels of sentience, or even find ways to join our sentience with theirs? What will AI be like in future? Maybe humanity is a stepping stone to some future silicon based life forms, or advanced sentient non human species? And so we might be here merely to pass along the torch.

Of course if something like the Carrington Event (massive solar storm from 1859) occurs and a solar flare explodes the worldʼs transformers (luckily the only danger was to telegraph lines back then), our present electronic-based civilization might crumble, since we couldnʼt possibly swap out all the exploded bits and get all the electronics back online even for water pumping or refrigeration in over a year. Same thing if the super volcano in Yellowstone erupts, or antibiotic-resistant microbes continue to evolve.

Does any Christian apologist really imagine he has definitive answers to all such questions, very real questions too, since new stars and planets are indeed continuing to form, and by all astronomical data they have enough fuel to continue to burn for billions of years should humanity take a tumble back toward barbarism or even extinction. Heck, humanity might even evolve into something less cerebral and more ape like. That appears to be yet another possibility.

Also, nature is basically one big buffet. Sometimes they eat you to death, or weaken you to death, sometimes they live off your juices just a little and are relatively benign, and sometimes they produce juices you can eat too (i.e., symbiosis — like the way we breathe the farts of algae and trees). But basically nature is constantly grinding up old organisms and spitting out new ones. How can one be sure what kind of weird ass Designer or Tinkerer came up with such a scheme?

Christian Theology is All Over the Map. Part 2. How Can One Gain Eternal Life? The Synoptic Road to Salvation vs. The Roman Road to Salvation

How Can One Gain Eternal Life? The Synoptic Road to Salvation vs. The Roman Road to Salvation

Many conservative Christians stress the necessity of holding specific beliefs rather than doing and acting certain ways toward others (perhaps because many Christians are taught that holding the right beliefs about God and Jesus and what Jesus accomplished on the cross is what assures them that God will forgive them regardless of their actions, so actions are of lesser consequence than right belief). Some passages in the New Testament appear to present the same view that belief trumps actions when it comes to salvation:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Mark 16:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-10

Romans 10 contains passages that some Christians have even nicknamed, “The Roman Road to Salvation.”

But looked at another way, one canʼt help but note that Mark 16:16 is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark but is part of what textual critics agree is a later added ending. While John 3:16 (from the famous “ye must be born again” dialogue) is a similarly dubious saying attributed to the historical Jesus. To see the case against its historical authenticity click here. As for Paul, he admits he never met the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the one depicted in the synoptic Gospels. Even Paulʼs interpretation of the meaning of Jesusʼs bloody death butts head with that found in Luke-Acts (See Part 1 of this series).

Give such questions, shouldnʼt one look deeper at how Jesus answered the question, “How Can I Inherit Eternal Life?” as seen in the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke)? In the synoptics Jesusʼs main teaching and concern was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” That was “the Gospel.” And in the synoptics you canʼt fail to notice that Jesus does little to try and get people to agree with specific beliefs “about” himself in order to gain eternal life. Jesus is depicted in the synoptics as advocating an approach to gaining eternal life that did not require outward showy religious displays or numerous rules, nor did he place major value on temple worship and blood sacrifices, instead he laid great stress on oneʼs relationships with others, as in his “Sermon on the Mount” Matt. chapters 5-7.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 7:12

Several times in the synoptics Jesus tells people to ‘love God’ and concentrate on storing up ‘heavenly treasures’ by ‘loving others,’ and to ‘follow Jesus’ in that respect:

“Good teacher,” one person asked [Jesus], “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the manʼs face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
Mark 10

Or there is the version in Matthew:

“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One Who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19

There is also a Lukan version:

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Luke 18

There is this additional teaching about how to gain eternal life that is also found in the synoptics:

“‘The most important one [commandment],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
Mark 12

“A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’”
Luke 10:25-28

Such teachings emphasize “doing” in relation to “how to gain eternal life.” This is not to say that Paul in Romans, nor the author of the Gospel of John, lack similar sayings, for they wrote:

“[God] will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life….”
Romans 2:6,7

“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
John 5

But, unlike the synoptics, Paul and the author of the fourth Gospel also have interpretations of who Jesus was that they tie up with their salvation messages:

“He who believes not [that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world] is damned already.”
John 3

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe… whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood…”
Romans 1:18; 3:22,25

But is blood sacrifice necessary for salvation? Jesus in the synoptics did not seem to think so when he instructed people to pray like this for forgiveness:

“Father… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matt. 6:12

“Father… forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke 11:4

Jesus in the synoptics taught that people who forgave the debts/sins of others would be forgiven by God without need of a blood sacrifice.

To sum matters up once again, as previously noted, Jesus is depicted as saying in Matthew:

“in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

If that sums up the Law and the Prophets, what need is there for much more to be said?

Or consider the parable of The Good Samaritan found in Luke, that ends, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10

Go and do. Doing is the main thing. Along with Godʼs direct and ample forgiveness regardless of oneʼs specific beliefs ‘about’ Jesus. In fact according to the Gospel of Luke one of the two thieves on the cross next to Jesus called Jesus ‘a man,’ but Jesus still promised him paradise.