Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recent Struggles

After debating vigorously with a so-called Christian philosopher, I must admit that I was moderately enticed by the way he put some of the central issues which concerned me in regards to Christianity. I also took the liberty of reading Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God. There was a part of me that still wanted everything to be real. I think it may take some time before I completely rid myself of all emotional attachment to Christianity, or the allure of its mystic. There’s still this longing for the afterlife, and a time where I might revisit lost loved ones and, perhaps, talk to some famous people along the way. It’s the fantasy of it all that seems most attractive and the possibility for immortality. The fear of death is a plague of the human mind, and the sometimes misfortunate result of being able to ponder one’s existence and eventual demise, which can easily make implausible outcomes more appealing.

My adversary continued to hammer home the notion of Progressive Revelation, and I was certainly enticed by it at times. My number one, and original, detraction against Christianity was the brutality of the Old Testament’s Yahweh. Progressive Revelation seemed to place the blame on the Israelite’s “backwardness” while placing Yahweh in the only apparent position he could be in—as a god who had no choice but to discipline a stubborn people who were incapable of living in a more civilized manner. This was meant to be a step up from other neighboring civilizations and their religious practices.

The laws put forth by god were “the best he could do” considering the immorality of the people he was dealing with. Stoning, although horrendous, was something that the Israelites brought upon themselves because of a rebellious and sinful nature which was far too deep-seated to be drowned out in one fell swoop. Of course, the ultimate and, perhaps, final revelation would come in the form of Jesus Christ. His teachings would unveil god’s full revelation to humanity and the way we all should treat each other. He fulfilled the law and, thus, the old law should be discarded as Jesus’ final draft emerged. This is why, according to the Christian philosopher, Christians are no longer obligated to practice the O.T. laws.

I pointed out some comments that a friend made in response to Progressive Revelation which were not too far removed from what I had already discussed. The Christian philosopher stated, during our discussion, that these people could not understand an advanced system of morality. But, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people are incapable of living principled lives if they are brought up in an environment conducive to higher ethical standards. From an evolutionary perspective, people haven't changed much in the last 40,000 years. They certainly haven't changed much in the last 10,000 years. They were, at best, victims of the culture in which they were raised and suffered unspeakable consequences for their evil ways that they couldn’t help and god, presumably, couldn’t change. My opponent stated that I had to prove that god could have done it in a better way that didn’t result in the brutality of the Old Testament. Otherwise, my argument failed to hold any weight. I stated that god could have avoided this whole debacle in the first place by not creating these people since he already knew what their future consisted of. I also stated that god, who is supposed to be infinitely wiser than myself, should be able to think of something besides brutalizing an ignorant people. He just continued to emphasis that it was their own doing and god did all that he could do for them. He suggested that I was making an argument from ignorance since I couldn’t think of a better way for god to deal with his people.

We also argued incessantly about who was responsible for the burden of proof. I stated that Atheism was a lack of belief in god(s), but he insisted that a negative claim can still be proven. I’m assuming that the person making the positive claim, that there is a god, has some substantial evidence to back that up. Instead, he wanted to assure me that I was in the same boat and had to have some kind of evidence against a god. He stated that an agnostic position—a neutral position claiming that you don’t know— is the only one that doesn’t have to come up with some form of proof.

I read Kenneth Miller’s book and wanted to concur with the assessment, at times, that science and religion need not be at war with each other. You could accept all the naturalistic explanations about our origins and the universe while still embracing god—in fact, god was able to exert the notion of free will most effectively by remaining mysterious and just beyond our reach. Miller seems to argue that we would lose our free will if god was constantly intervening in unnatural ways that would coerce our belief. He also speaks about Quantum Theory and how that points to a creator because, regardless of how good science gets, we can’t make accurate predictions on the smallest molecular level. I sort of liked the idea that a believer could stop trying to disprove science while still holding confidence in god. There are many Christian’s who end up disproving themselves when they argue against scientific claims like evolution. Science mocks and laughs at them because they already know that evolution is a fact and that science, therefore, disproves the Christian position— who try to fight a losing battle with rhetoric and political clout. Instead, the Christian could go along with science and religion in a harmonious fashion.

Kenneth argues against the idea that the Biblical text is meant to make any scientific claims. He says that stories like Genesis are not meant to be taken in their “extreme literal sense”. I have to wonder who sets the standard for how these stories are to be taken then. Are we going to have to keep changing what—some think— is to be taken literally as more and more Biblical text is contradicted by science? Kenneth also fails to mention the variety of religions across cultures that all make “factual” claims about their god and his influences on the world. I made that point to the Christian philosopher I was debating, he said that it just shows that people know that there is a higher power out there and these various religions are expressions of this knowledge.

There was a part of me that wanted to give god the benefit of the doubt and make a bunch of concessions on his behalf. I could call everything in the Bible that didn’t agree with my moral sensibilities as allegorical, hyperbole or just a condition that the people were responsible for. According to my opponent, the genocides of neighboring countries could be explained away with hyperbole or any other seemingly viable explanation. But, how do I know that I’m making the right judgment on a given scripture or story? Is the story of the flood any less likely than the story of the crucifixion? As far as that goes, are the stories of genocide and infanticide any less probable than the crucifixion? You could make a very reasonable argument that killing babies is far more probable than someone coming back from the dead after rotting in a tomb for three days. The ultimate point I’m trying to make is who makes the judgment about what is true and what was just a convenient exaggeration? The flood account is just as heinous, if not more heinous, than the accounts of infanticide but my opponent considered the flood story to be apparently accurate.

Obviously, theologians have wrestled with these difficult issues over the centuries and have come to a variety of conclusions, often opposing conclusions. Why would a god create a work, that was meant to be his message to humanity, replete with confusing and contradictory information? The only reasonable explanation is that it wasn’t written with any divine inspiration, but by the hands of a many different ordinary undivinely inspired people. There work has been copied and recopied so many times that it probably doesn’t even say what It originally intended to. God seems to be the “author” of confusion. Much like Jesus of the N.T. who would speak in parables so certain people couldn’t understand, god seems to do the same on a grandeur scale throughout the Biblical text. My opponent seemed to think that the Noah account was true but the infanticide accounts were exaggerations. I guess I need more education on how you are supposed to decipher what is real and what is fictional. By the way, there’s no geological evidence that the flood ever occurred anyway. There’s no archaeological evidence that the Israelite’s ever made a voyage through the Sinai Desert or that they were enslaved in Egypt either. But I digress.

This dissonance brewed in my mind for about a day, but I woke up the next morning as the same Atheist I was before this whole debate occurred. I let go of the fantasy, the special pleading and the wishful thinking to embrace reality once more. I’m an atheist because there is insufficient evidence to convince me of there being reason to believe in a god or gods. The burden lies on the person making the claim that there is positive evidence for a god to provide the necessary evidence. In reality, there’s much more evidence against a god than there is for one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Snippet on Prayer and Suffering

The fact that we have Christians who pray to god for their every need and starving children that are dying by the hundreds of thousands began to cause some cognitive dissonance within my mind. I began to wonder what the point of praying was, or how confident I should be in my prayer life, when there are children stretching the globe who are malnourished, abused and left for dead. Should I really think that god cares about my seemingly minute problems when he lacks compassion for children who ‘live and die on the streets’. Was I not being arrogant to pray for an upcoming test or interview when god was allowing children to die? Does he care more about the small details of my life than he does about the very existence of children? This surely could not be the case. God loves the innocent and the guilty. A child must be the most innocent of all.

I began scouring the internet for answers. I read all the apologetic books that were assembled on my book shelf and I prayed about it but nothing that I examined seemed to answer the apparent inconsistency. How can a loving god who promised to meet our needs, fail to meet the needs of countless innocent infants and children? Why is god so nonchalant about helping anybody? We could certainly use another miracle consisting of some bread and fish to help feed the hungry but nothing comes in the form of a miracle. Occasionally, a group of compassionate individuals will meet the needs of these unfortunate children but it’s often far too late.

In the end, the only rational explanation is that god is absent from our day to day lives. If there is a god, he doesn’t take a front row seat in protecting us or intervening on our behalf when things get rough. This applies to Christians and nonbelievers alike.

The Great Debate, Part Deuce

More back and fourth between my worthy advisory and myself. It's raw, fresh and hot of the press ladies and gentlemen. You probably need to review the first one if you hope to get the full gist of the second one.

My opponent:

Okay, let me address your mischaracterizations and misunderstandings, as well as any lines of argument you advance.These will come quickly, as space constraints limit me. First, traditional and biblical Christian teaching has never been that we are allowed to get comfortable while others suffer. The Gospels are so against this that it is unbelievable one could get this from them. The early Christians held everything in common, and everything above necessities and basic conveniences BELONGED to the poor and were faithfully given to them. The best Christians try to approximate this practice today. Do not let the comfortable American pseudo-church convince you that this is someone true Christian teaching. OF COURSE God does not care about me, or any other Western Christian, more than He does people in third world countries. I am commanded to give all that I can to the poor, and if I don’t, my eternal salvation is in jeopardy before a holy God. I’d say God cares about the poor. The only point Jesus’ is making is that we should trust God for our wellbeing as we do His will – that is, as we feed the poor and help ameliorate the world from the effects of OUR sin! We should be concerned about our necessities, but not unduly concerned, which is Jesus' point (worrying, which is counter-productive and will keep us from doing good for God). Otherwise the only issue here is the problem of evil, which is difficult, but not impossible to reconcile with a perfectly good God. God knows we will abuse our free will, but he granted it for a good reason, and in the end he will make right whatever we screw up.

Second, sensitive Christian theology does NOT teach that we are literally blamed or held culpable for the personal sin of Adam. That is a minority position, and millions of Christians don’t go along with it. What most teach is that personal sin has a negative communal effect, even throughout generations, which is empirically true. If children are dying of starvation, it is not because of God’s favoritism, but human rapacity. And of course God will recompense everyone for their deeds and their suffering in the end – something that is IMPOSSIBLE on atheism.

As for the Samuel story, the text is clear elsewhere that God first tried to get people to leave for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. The guilty parties were the ones who stayed, and they were killed (and scholars dispute that children or babies were killed, as I noted – the fact that all were not killed is evidence that this was hyperbole). If an innocent person was killed, it was not Yahweh’s intention, and like all sin it will be judged. God’s conversation with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah makes it clear that God “will not destroy the guilty with the innocent.”

Now as for your central arguments about divine clarity, hiddenness, and the like: While Christians do and have disagreed on the interpretation of various biblical texts, they have overwhelmingly come to agreement on matters central to the faith and salvation. Of course there WAS some debate about central issues, particularly in the early church – and of course there will always be fringe groups who deny central teachings - but the consensual creeds are decisive evidence that God was amply clear about central matters. His revelation was a success. And this is was not just a result of "who was in power” – by the time counsels were convened, consensus had already emerged from the GROUND UP. So YOU may find all of these contradictions on central matters and other matters, but the church has gotten the memo. I’m not going to go text by text with you. I have responded to the Matthew passage, and you have not substantially engaged that. Similar plausible defenses can show that you are just reading these texts uncharitably, looking for contradictions.

And finally and more generally, I hope you are not arguing that disagreement implies that there are no objective standards! Will we say, then, that since 50 or so percent of American does not believe in evolution (which, btw, I do, and I judge it to be fully compatible with the bible), that therefore there are no objective scientific standards with regard to evolution?! No – the point about objectivity is that even if EVERYONE doesn’t see the truth, it is still the truth.

Now as for Hitler and the like (gotta love it) – Yes “Christians” have done horrible things in the past, but this does absolutely nothing to count evidentially against Christianity, since they did so AGAINST their principles. Martin Luther, too, was NOT “following biblical teachings” by being an anti-semite. He was misreading the text, as most Christians have rightly judged. The Bible’s message is clear that Christ died for all and desires the salvation of all. Jesus called the Jewish LEADERS “children of the devil” precisely because they were doing all of the things you railed against in your post: fleecing the poor, being self-righteous, and breaking God’s commandments for justice. And in fact, Christianity from the earlier and purer age was a force of liberation FROM slavery and the oppression of women, as any historical study of early Christian societies will attest.And of course I am quite aware of the reality of religious pluralism. But whereas you interpret one way, I interpret it as saying human beings are longing for something divine. This could very well be part of a cumulative case for theism. And finally, the Bible is not intended to teach us precisely how the world works. It uses metaphorical and phenomenological language. Christian fundamentalists – and non-Christians whose way of reading the Bible is eerily similar to fundamentalism - err when they try to make the Bible into a science text book.

My Reply:

I wasn't trying to argue that 'Christians are allowed to get comfortable while others suffer'. I was trying to argue that there is an unjustice when Jesus stated that we ought not worry about anything as long as we follow his will. It seems cruel that he would presumably take care of the Christian's need 100% of the time if they follow him while ignoring the cries of the fatherless or starving. Jesus said those who seek him would have their needs met, so it must be a fact just like the sun is shining right now is a fact. Yet, children born in less fortunate circumstances are not taken care of in the slightest. Children who, at no fault of there on, live on the street and die on the street. I understand and commend those Christians and secularists that help the poor and the needy but this doesn't imply that it's because of some divine calling that there are a few who get their needs met. It's just people seeing a need and wanting to help their fellow human being. You say that we are commanded to give all to the poor but that was not the picture given in the O.T.. If you followed the Lords will in the O.T., you were given great wealth for following the Lord. The formula seizes to be effective in the N.T. where Jesus strongly condemns wealth and compares it to a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle--as how difficult it is for a rich person to enter heaven. Why would this perfect, unchanging god suddenly alter his philosophy on wealth so drastically? In the O.T., the wealthy thrived that were doing the will of the Lord. You could have your cake and eat it too. The problem of evil can't be answered with Free Will since god already knows the path we will choose. He is omniscient isn't he? Yet, he still creates people that he knows will make others suffer like Adolf Hitler. I understand that the problem of evil is a theological and philosophical question that has been debated vigorously down throughout the ages and stands out as a 'thorn in the side' for many Christians. Thus, they have to take it on faith that redemption will ultimately 'repair' the damage that people incurred in this lifetime. There is some evidence that the church added heaven and hell later just for that very reason. It wasn't original to the gospels. The O.T. says almost nothing about heaven or hell.

The Bible is contradictory on generational courses as well. Some passages in the O.T. state that we are cursed for the sins of of our fathers for multiple generations. Others state that we will not be held culpable for the sins of our father. We can't have it both ways so again the communication is poor. I still believe that this is indicative of the Bible being a man made product and not inspired by god. God shouldn't have Dissociative Identity Disorder. On the issue of Adam, the bible doesn't say anything about 'original sin' but this is a theme well represented in the church and I'm pretty surprised that you say millions do not concur with the 'idea'.

On the Story of Samuel, you like to use the dart board effect. You throw a number of possibilities out there and hope that one hits the target. Are we also to assume that the Mosaic and Levitical Laws are exaggerations, metaphors, hyperbole, science-fiction, accidents etc..? The law says that an unruly teenager must be stoned, first by the parent and then the rest of the community. The law says that a female who fails to cry out loud sufficiently while being ravaged within the city limits must be stoned as well. The law says that a female found to not be a virgin on her wedding night must be stoned. I argue that this is barbaric and this god is unmerciful. To create humanbeings with the capacity to sin and to destroy them for doing so is an unjustice on a massive scale. But, he loves us?!!? His definition of 'love' is a very different defintion from my own, and I don't mean in a positive sense.

You say that I am looking for contradictions as if I'm some sort of detective searching for anything that I can get my little paws on. I'm not having to try very hard. The text speaks for itself. Just for example, there ARE passages that state baptism is how one is saved and, conversely, there ARE texts that leave baptism out completely. Again, you can't have it both ways here and it is NOT clear. The gospel of the trinity isn't even in the Bible but you presumably believe it as do others. This was a theological theme only incorporated after much debate. It's also a logical absurdity. They are distinct but they are the same. The first three gospels do not speak of Jesus' divinity. This was emphasized in John once it was clear that Jesus wasn't coming back as soon as the disciples had thought and he prophesied--since they have long since died. The emphasize switched to Jesus' divinity in John and how we would once be reunited in heaven upon physical death.

"And in fact, Christianity from the earlier and purer age was a force of liberation FROM slavery and the oppression of women, as any historical study of early Christian societies will attest." Please read your O.T.. unless you are a supporter of Marcionism. You can paint Jesus with a loving brush but you can't deny that the O.T. has given Christians fuel for the fire to feel justified in bringing about mass conversion through any means necessary just like the Isrealites did. Again, god foresaw all of this before it happened and still let it happen. He also knew that people who were the guilty party in these acts would spend eternity in HELL. I don't know where you're getting this notion that Christianity was once a liberator for women and slaves. Paul himself speaks about how women are to remain silent in the church and can hold no important position. Of course, he contradicts himself later but that's probably because both authors were not really Paul.

Yes, people are looking for something to explain the awesomeness of the universe which is why I earlier appealed to its grandeur and majesty. It's understandable that people would want to seek out a deity for things which they can't explain, but it doesn't make a sound argument for the case of there actually being a deity. Plenty of empirical evidence showcases humanities propensity for pattern seeking and magical thinking. We seek comfort and control in a world that is so unpredictable and terrifying. God(s) provide a 'comfort blanky' when things get too troublesome or anxiety provoking. Myths pass down generation to generation. The Jesus myth has many similarities to other ANE myths of the time and before that time. Jesus wasn't the only show in time that claimed to be messianic as Apollonius of Tyana can attest. The O.T. myths are so strikingly similar to other Babylonian and Sumerian myths which proceeded it. From the creation of the earth to the noah's flood, stories like the Epoch of Gilgamesh hold striking similarities. I'm arguing that this is just a case of oral transfer by people who hold to magical thinking and superstition when science couldn't lend helpful guidance. The scientific falsehoods in the Bible are the result of what people REALLY thought back in those times and, again, points to the fact that the Bible is a man made product. God could have certainly inspired the authors to write that the earth rotates around the sun and not vice versa.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Great Debate

I like to debate/discuss my newfound knowledge on Facebook with my Christian friends and their Christian friends. I've been debating a Christian philosopher, as he calls himself, and have been in 'the thick of it' for several days now. Our conversation consists of well over one hundred comments between the two of us.

The discussion started over the story about the Illinois professor of a public university who got canned for telling his personal opinion that homosexuality is immoral. He was teaching a class on Catholicism and went beyond just saying what the Catholics teach to what he personally thought. He was dismissed based on being charged with 'hate speech'. I took the schools side and thought they were right to be upset but thought that a lesser disciplinary action would have been appropriate. My opponent stated that it's an exercise of 'fascism' to not be allowed to express ones personal opinion on a religious matter. I pointed out that there is a lot of extra baggage involved with calling homosexuality immoral. It also implies that this person is evil and worthy of nothing more than spending an eternity in hell as they burn in agony. I stated that this is in the public arena and our tax dollars are, atleast partially, going to the financing of the school and its curriculum.

I made an analogy to the situation by comparing hate towards homosexuals to the hate against blacks. I stated that calling homosexuals immoral is akin to saying something insulting toward black people for the color of their skin because of all the baggage that it holds. Blacks were lynched just for the color of their skin. Homosexuals will spend eternity in hell for their sexual preference. My opponent said that my analogy didn't hold any water unless I could prove that there was a biological basis for homosexuality just like there is for race. This took me on a wild goose chase. In the end, I found that there are genetic and environmental factors that influence a young person to become a homosexual. In my relatively brief research, I didn't find any evidence that there was a 'gay gene'. And, yes I do apologize to any readers who were misled by my saying that there was a gay gene in a much earlier posting. I also struggled a bit with this from an evolutionary perspective. My opponent suggested that homosexuality would have been eliminated long ago through the processes of natural selection. I furthered my research and found some somewhat unconvincing reasons to believe otherwise. They suggested that many homosexuals do still procreate, but this happens primarily outside of the U.S.. The term escapes me at the moment, but I also learned about a process where a maternal line will carry more fertility toward the females when the males are homosexual thus nature and evolution has a sort of way of 'balancing things out'.

I will turn to another two topics we discussed quickly before sharing a brief segment of our debate. We talked about the Amalekites and how god ordered the complete destruction of everything that breathed in their city. Well, he threw everything at me but the kitchen sink. It was kind of like the dart board effect. You just keep throwing stuff out until hopefully something hits and answers the concern adequately. He said it could have been allegorical as the early church supposedly thought but has since changed. He said that god didn't really kill all of them just some as evidence supposedly shows. He said that the scripture is often misinterpreted by us where it is meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive. Basically, he said a whole host of things that would have one conclude that it was anything but literal. I told him that I could consider it an allegory but what else would I then have to consider allegorical since the Bible is replete with barbaric nonsense. He accused me of a slippery slope fallacy.

We discussed the Sermon on the Mount and how I believed that the advice was poorly given. Subjects like the golden rule and worry were discussed. My opponent seems to not ask for much out of a deity as I do. I expect Jesus' words to be the most profound words ever written since he is a deity.

Finally, we argued about who has the burden of proof. He insisted that I do have atleast a fair share of it because saying that a god probably doesn't exist is a truth claim which requires evidence. He stated that lacking a belief in god is agnosticism while I insisted that a weak atheist, as I claim to be, lacks a belief in god. I asked him if I had to prove to him that the Lochness Monster doesn't exist and he stated that it was basically a category mistake because god is nothing like the lochness monster. God has a strong religious tradition to back him and he is omnipotent and all that bs. I stated that a lot of religions have very strong traditions and creeds. He hasn't really responded to that point. He stated that miracles are not more improbable than natural occuring laws because natural occuring laws haven't been proven to be inexorable.


My opponent: (NOTE-some of this is not summarized above but you can probably get the point of our arguments.)

Your interpretation of Jesus' advice on worrying is wildly, and I mean wildly, off the mark. It's almost as if you look for the worst possible interpretation of biblical passages. God can provide for you THROUGH the actions of others by placing them in your life. God's healing and God's provision do not work in opposition from human effort, but along with it. The point is that we are to leave such provisions in God's hands, and focus on doing His will. God will provide basic necessities either by providing us with a job, or providing people in our lives, or in rare cases by providing it directly. That's the nature of divine providence.

There most certainly are objective standards of interpretation, and that fact is not subverted by the fact that there is disagreement over many issues, the vast majority of which are minor and inessential anyways (like interpreting certain OT passages and the like). In the past, most Christians would actually not have interpreted that passage literally, since the first 5 or so centuries of the church used much allegorical interpretation. But even if most Christians interpret it that way now, certainly you are not suggesting that we do an ad populum fallacy. Just because some people, even most people, misinterpret hardly means there are not objective standards.As for the Samuel passage and those like it, in a football game, we routinely use hyperbolic statements like, “KILL EM ALL!” or “ANNIHILATE EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!” It is certainly not beyond the realm of plausibility to read these commands in this way. In fact, there is independent evidence for this interpretation in the text in the simple fact that the Israelites did not kill every last one of them.

You keep going back to the point that “God could have been clearer” and so forth, but quite frankly this does not move me much at all. Yes there was great debate in the early centuries, even over central issues. Yes there is still disagreement over the particular interpretation of certain texts in the Bible. But the point is that over the years, Christians have come to an overwhelming consensus on the central teachings of the faith, as is evidenced in the main creeds of the church. I think you would expect that since we are dealing with human beings, since the Bible was written over the course of 1000 years of differing cultures, and since religious matters often have moral dimensions, that people would often disagree on how to interpret the Bible. This does not mean there is not agreement on central things, and this certainly does not mean that if you want to know the truth, that there are not objective standards that you can discover to find it out. This is a very common argument: there is disagreement, therefore we cannot know the truth. It simply does not follow. And even an omnipotent and omniscient God cannot get around fallible humans missing the boat, either in small ways or even in big ways. The evidence, however, is that God was overwhelming successful in communicating His revelation to the church on central doctrines, as the creeds clearly evidence.

IMO, God has given us sufficient evidence. Besides, God is not interested in convincing any joe shmoe that he exists - he wants us to come to know him, which may very well require our seeking.The point about theistic belief, which i made amply clear, is not that you should believe them just because many intelligent have. It is that you should not flippantly dismiss them as you would stories of Big Foot and the Lochness monster. They are not analogous. Indeed, the fact that MANY religious traditions – traditions of billions of people, many of which are smart and education – believe in a deity of some kind is all the more reason not to dismiss it lightly. It does not guarantee its truth by any means, but it should give pause to people like Dawkins who assume that religious belief is automatically irrational. And finally, I agree that Josephus' text there was probably edited and snazzed up by later Christian scribes, but it is indisputable that the original at least mentioned Jesus.

My reply:

Yes, God will provide you with that new lucrative job you were wanting but he will let hundreds of thousands of children that stretch the globe starve to death of malnourishment and neglect each year. Pardon me, but what pompous arrogance this view holds to! "Dear Lord, please bless this food to the nourishment of my body, while thousands of defenseless children starve to death right now." You must suffer from a serious case of cognitive dissonance or delusion to find any logic in assuming that god will answer your prayer about the pain in your big toe but could care less about dying children around the world.

Of course, you should worry about basic neccesities and make sure that you've done everything required to continue to obtain those things. Do you honestly think this god cares more about you having clothes than the child dying of Malaria and malnourishment? Or, does he care more about your needs than the animals who live in such hostile environments and are eaten alive daily? Presumably, they feel all the physical agony of the process and do not deserve it. This whole ridiculous Adam and Eve story which casts the blame on down generation to generation for something we didn't have anything to do with is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. What needless suffering despite this god who cares about meeting your needs. I don't understand how Christians don't see how illogical, unreasonable and arrogant they sound when they presume such nonsense.

And, yes, it's wonderful that there may be evidence that the Israelites didn't kill EVERYONE under gods loving commandment but are we saying that not even a single innocent babe was murdered under gods orders? One is one too many.I'm still waiting for this objective standard that you're speaking of. You already said that may of the early Christians considered many passages to be allegorical but now many don't. Why is this, if there really is an objective standard? Probably, because there isn't an objective standard by which to interpret the scripture. It's 'survival of the fittest' whoever is holding the power and the influence determines what scripture really means--perhaps anciently and currently.

Again, you don't expect much out of this god of yours. I look at the universe and am simply in awe of its complexity and elegance. The vastness of space with its many galaxies, planets and stars... the transitional change of life through the marvelous self-guided process of evolution and the beauty of nature. If there is a god, I think the Bible underestimates him/she/it drastically. If there is a god, he certainly doesn't interfere or intervene in our lives and the universe doesn't revolve around you as much as the Christian would like to assume. Contrary to your opinion, god has failed at clearly communicating his opinion as I already pointed out many posts before when distinguishing the views of Paul and the author of Matthew. On another note, there are passages in scripture which state that baptism is a prerequisite to salvation and others that seem to imply that it is not. I think you would agree that the method of salvation is an important central component and doctrine of the church. Some passages claim that the law must be followed for salvation and others do not. We had a battle between Marcions, ebionites, and gnostics, to name a few, before the canon of scripture ever arrived in it's final position. It was not some supernatural intervention that finally placed the chapters in there current resting spot but humans quarrelling over what should be placed in scripture and what should be discarded. In the end, the ones with the most power and prestige won and the one's that were egalitarian lost. In the ages since, much blood has been spilt to convert 'evildoers' from their pagan practices and 'idol' worship into Christianity--a fate that a omniscient god should have been well privy of. Slavery and the subordination of women, as well as, Hitlers germany can well be attributed to the Bible and it's aberrant teaching. Hitler himself was well inspired by Martin Luther who called Jews children of the devil. Where does that sound familiar??? It doesn't matter if this was an intentional result of gods love letters to humanity or it just happened as a result of humanities fallibility. God was well aware of the facts before he ever even 'invented' humans but he still let it all transpire just the same.

It may be easier to pick on the examples of the Lochness Monster or Unicorns but you can't dismiss the fact that there are a multitude of other religions out there, all reflective of their culture, that all claim to have the truth. They too are rich in tradition and creed. In the end, this just means that humanity is prone to seeking answers for the unexplainable--we are prone to symbolism and pattern seeking by nature. we want to gain a sense of understanding and control over nature and death so we invent ways of doing so through culture and tradition. But, then modern science came along and slowly started filling in the gaps for us. There is still much to learn but science is trying while religion is hindering via such idiotic political fronts as the Intelligent Design agenda. Contrary to what the bible teaches, the earth isn't flat and standing on four pillars. The sun doesn't revolve around us and we certainly are not the center of the universe! I suppose god didn't counsel with Galileo before inspiring his writers to write such nonsense.

My opponents reply:

Okay, at this point this is becoming too unwieldy. There are good answers to all of the "arguments" (mostly mischaracterizations, supercharged rhetoric, and ad hominems) you give, but it will be impossible to answer all of them adequately here, as you have just thrown as many as possible into one message, often unhelpfully mixing together distinct arguments. You typically do not answer the force of my arguments, but instead go around them and right back to the ridicule of either the theist position or theists in general, dumping more and more half-arguments in along the way. This is regrettably all-too-typical of those who are of the "new atheist" proclivity, such as Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and their ilk. Instead of patient argument and counterargument, we are presented with a salvo of rhetoric, emotion, and bare assertions.I will say one thing: if God does not exist, you have consigned all of the starving children and those who die of horrible diseases to oblivion. There will be no justice for them, and no possibility of happiness whatsoever. They go up in smoke as monuments to the absurdity of life. But if God exists, there will be justice for all, and the possibility of eternal happiness for all. In all of his pseudo-morally-based outrage, the atheist ends up throwing out the only thing that can make everything right at the end of it all.

My Reply:
don't confuse being passionate about my stance as ad hominem attacks, I knew once I put the heat on you would yield. I have nothing against you and actually value this discussion and your opinion but I also hold passion for the truth. I can not apologize for the truth or the fact that children end up suffering needlessly only to not be vindicated by an imaginary sky daddy. It is the cruelty of nature which we are observers of on a daily basis both in the homo sapien landscape and in other species.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Newfound Passion to Study

“Deconversion, however, is a long and mostly intellectual process of critically examining our own thoughts, biases and experiences. It often involves a profoundly emotional separation from friends and family, and almost all of us have experienced ostracization to one degree or another. Above all, unlike conversion – which is centered on acquiescence to groupthink and confirmation bias – deconversion relies solely on the individual's capacity for skeptical inquiry. Perhaps our best asset when engaging a believer in a dialogue, then, is patience.” –From the marvelous A-Unicornist himself.

This describes, rather succinctly, what I have been going through as I strip myself bare of all the deceit and unsatisfactory answers that once preoccupied my mind. I have fallen in love with really learning, perhaps, for the first time since early childhood. I’ve read more books in the last few months than I had previously over the span of several years. I seek knowledge like never before and actually enjoy challenging material. My comprehension has grown and some of the material I found in Richard Dawkins’ work, for example, is not as difficult as it was when I first embarked on this journey. Even as a student obtaining my master’s in psychology, it was rare for me to sit down and read the current assignment—mainly due to laziness and a lack of interest.

But, I honestly don’t think any of this would have happened if I hadn’t lost my faith. The reason that studying has become a passion for me, at least partially, is because it reconfirms what I have come to learn through my own intellect. As the A-Unicornist suggests, deconversion is quite different than conversion. Most of us weren’t reasoned into our faith, but most of us were reasoned out with a healthy side order of emotional discomfort involving god's cruelty as implied by the Bible and the modern world we observe. Are we going to take the side of reason or the side of faith in things for which evidence is lacking—the kind of faith that forces us to believe in miracles which, by definition, are not possible? I prefer to suspend judgment until evidence is sufficient to conclude otherwise, as Bertrand Russell once elegantly suggested. In the meantime, looking at what is more plausible and probable in a given Biblical narrative is the more noble and honest pursuit. Otherwise, we have to come to the precarious conclusion that Jesus walked on water, changed water into wine and rose from the dead. Obviously, this is contrary to modern human understanding of the world and contrary to any experience that most of us have ever witnessed—not to mention, it’s contrary to our scientific understanding of how the world and people generally operate.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to love science and reason as a Christian. But, I am saying that it was not something that I found intriguing for the longest time. After all, why was science important in explaining the world when the Bible already accomplished this arduous task a couple thousand years ago? Likewise, how was reason intriguing when we had this greater calling of faith to pursue? It was those who believed without evidence—as Jesus once suggested—that really deserved honorable mention. But the shroud has been unwrapped, I now find the possibilities endless and no area of intrigue is off limits. I’m no longer worried that the studying of science or the works of non-theists will hamper my faith or bring me under the submission of ‘Satanic forces’. I can look at everything with an open mind and with the fascination of a small child learning for the first time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How are Christians Saved and Should the Law be Followed?

The Bible is contradictory on thematic and factual matters and there is no denying this fact. I’ve been in numerous discussions with Christians, currently and in the past, about how the Bible can’t seem to get important matters like how one is saved straight. They (Christians) always try to simplify the problem by saying that “you just have to believe that Jesus died, rose again and is now seated at the right hand side of the father. Then, ask for his forgiveness of all your sins and everything else is secondary”. But, here lies the problem and the massive elephant in the room rears its ugly head. The fact of the matter is that things really aren’t that simple and we can’t wrap everything up in a “pretty little bow” for the modern human that looks at the Bible with a historically-critical analysis.

There are other obvious implications, we can safely assume that the Bible is not a god inspired work—at least if being factually accurate and thematically consistent—is an assumed attribute of a god inspired work. We can also discard the notion of Biblical inerrancy with relative ease. We can finally come to the safe conclusion that we don’t know what the hell--pardon the pun--is expected out of a Christian or how one is even going to obtain salvation to get to the long awaited paradise in Heaven they are anticipating.

Let’s just look at two contradictory examples from the book of Matthew and the writings of Paul. Modern scholars generally give Paul credit, without hesitation, for: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. We don’t know who wrote Matthew but it certainly wasn’t a disciple living contemporaneously with Jesus, nor was this person likely named Matthew. Furthermore, Paul’s writing predates the author of Matthew's by some twenty five to thirty years as modern Biblical scholars will attest. None of the gospels are thought to be written at the time of Jesus’ life.

There are two very crucial differences between how Matthew views critical matters like the law and salvation, and how Paul views the law and salvation. They both cannot be right as Bart Ehrman argues in his book Jesus Interrupted. Matthew makes it abundantly clear that the law is to be followed by believers. In fact, followers of Jesus must be even more devote and sincere in their obedience to the law than their counterparts. Matthew 5:17-20 attests that anybody who fails to follow the least of the commandments of the law, and teaches others to do likewise, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus said, “Everything is accomplished” we know that the law should be maintained until his second coming. This has still not happened so Christians remain under the law according to
Matthew. Coincidentally, Matthew is strong on apocalyptic and prophetic themes because he believed that Jesus would come back in his life time. By the time John was written, the theme of Jesus coming in their present lifetime dropped and was replaced with the notion of entering god’s kingdom upon death since Jesus had failed to fulfill the teaching that he would return before their generation passed. Obviously, the "righteousness" referred to here is in reference to keeping the law and doing it in a fashion that surpasses the teachers of the law--not just being saved by faith. But I digress. (yes, I know theres a weird spacing problem that shows up here but I don't know how to repair it or why it's happening)

As illustrated in Romans and Galatians, Paul believes that we are no longer under the law and the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only important matter to attend to. Paul believed that trying to keep the law would put you in danger of losing your salvation (Galatians 5:4). “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16).

In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus regurgitates a shortened list of the Ten Commandments—part of the law— that one must follow if they wish to inherit eternal life. So, are we apt to lose our salvation—as Paul says in Galatians 5:4—for following the law, or is it an expected practice of the Christian life as seen in Matthew 5:17-20 and 19:16-22, where Jesus declares that you must follow the commandments to enter heaven? Paul refers to “loving your neighbor as yourself” as a law to abide by but discards the six hundred plus other laws mandated by the author of Matthew. The Christian may try to mush the two messages together but that just creates a version that partially contradicts what Paul and the author of Matthew were trying to say individually.

On matters of salvation, Matthew emphasizes that salvation is not just a matter of belief. Salvation requires obedience to the law, the death of Jesus and action. In stark contrast, Paul states that we are “justified solely by faith and apart from the law” (Romans 3:28). What kind of action is necessary for salvation in Matthew’s eyes? We must clothe the naked, feed the hungry and welcome them into our homes when they need shelter. This theme is found in Matt 25:31-45 in one of Jesus’ great discourses. Paul makes it clear that we are not under the law or saved by works--faith alone will bring our salvation.

Bart Ehrman summarizes on pg. 92 of his book, “And so the problem is this: if Matthew’s Jesus was right, that keeping the law and loving others as yourself could bring salvation, how could Paul be right that doing these things were irrelevant for attaining salvation?” As I have argued in the past, god is horrible at communicating what his desire is on essential matters like what obedience to the law and salvation really entails. This speaks to the fact that the Bible is no more inspired by god than this month’s copy of GQ. Even if we could make heads or tails of what the creator of the universe wanted, we have to –at the very least—conclude that he sucks at giving out lucid and homogenous instructions for humanity which makes you wonder if he is worth our compulsory love anyway.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Christian Must Believe

1) that anyone born in the Old Testament was killed for things like premarital relations and homosexuality. Therefore, they have no chance for the 'redemption' laid out in the N.T. and are slowly roasting in hell. In other words, there is no reason to believe that they had a second chance for redemption since they were too wicked for mercy here on earth. They were screwed just for being born in the wrong time period.

Holy Mary, Mother of God! Say it ain't so!

This was sent to me by my mom as some kind of lame 'we got you now' case against Nancy Pelosi and indirectly toward the president. Ironically, the only thing this accomplishes is to show the sheer magnitude of bigotry and idiocy often practiced by the conservative right and many fundamentalist Christians. We have two men getting married, nothing more to see so move along and mind your own damn business. They aren't affecting your life in any way, shape, or form so have the dignity to find a better ad hominem attack to direct at the President and his staff. Better yet, you should actually address issues that matter and work together with the President to find real solutions. We shouldn't worry about trivial matters that make no difference whatsoever. Anyway, I'm not one to delve too deeply into political issues but this sort of ubiquitous attitude among many conservatives needs to be checked at the door. There should be no tolerance for such bigotry in the 21st century. This is every bit as appalling as what the blacks of the Antebellum South were subjected to before they were recognized as equal citizens with equal rights.

What should really be appalling is the fact that homosexuals were stoned to death in the O.T. and they are SLOWLY roasting in hell for all eternity at the present moment—that’s what the Bible teaches anyway. Life Long homosexuals never repent of their practice and continue to defy god up till their last dying breath. Christians could care less about the immorality of stoning someone to death for loving someone of the same sex. These mature adult individuals often exhibit that love in a consensual sexual manner and this just ruffles the feathers of many Christians. I think it’s time we all grow up and stop worrying about what other people do in the privacy of their home. As long as they aren’t infringing on the rights of others, they can swing from the chandeliers and stick ice cubes up each other’s rectums for all I care.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All about Justin Bieber

This was was pure genius and too good not to post. The Amazing Atheist is...well...amazing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Moderator Owns

This video covers and quickly demolishes the majority of arguments that Christians use. The last portion of the video, from about eight minutes till the end, is what I spend the majority of the time arguing with Christians about (they just can't get it). They just don't understand that God and Jesus are both responsible parties for the violence perpetrated in the O.T, since they are supposedly the same deity. Unless, Christians are willing to embrace the notion of a polytheistic god. But, Jesus makes it very lucid that he and the father are one. The video addresses the immorality of the O.T. god versus the N.T.. It also addresses the fact that Christian's pick and choose what parts of the Bible to follow. At one point in the video, the moderator talks about the ten commandments and how important Christians think they are to America today and our justice system. Paradoxically, they don't condemn people to death for working on the sabbath as the O.T. suggests.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Second Talk

Some misunderstandings about Evolution came my way yesterday courtesy of my wife and mom. My wife asked me why we still see monkeys today if we evolved from them. Of course, there are still monkeys today because Chimpanzees and humans branched off from a common ancestor—on the tree of life— some five to seven million years ago. Obviously, homo didn’t look like the people we see walking around today at the point of speciation. There have been many intermediates along the way —Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis to name a few. Archaic Homo sapiens evolved 400,000 to 250,000 years ago according to modern sciences best estimates.

My wife also claimed that humans can trace their ancestry all the way back to the beginning of time. I explained that the earth has been around for approximately 4.5 billion years and the most primitive life forms hit the scene around 3.5 billion years ago. She didn’t believe that the earth was nearly that old and quickly dismissed my claim. Needless to say, the practice of writing out a family tree was not prevalent, or even existent, some 400,000 years ago.

My mom made it clear that I would go to hell for believing in Evolution. I've made it clear that there are people who call themselves Christians and believers of Evolution simultaneously (although, I'm not one of them). This is a marriage of views that my mom refuses to accept. Theistic Evolutionist's tend to believe that god simply intervenes in the process of evolution by helping the species with micro-evolutionary changes. Or, they may contend that evolution was initially implemented by god but each species took its own course from there. I tried to tell her that the best scientific minds of our time have looked at the evidence and come to the identical conclusion that Evolution is not falsifiable, but she was quick to assume that these scientists must be under the control of Satan. Besides, who are we going to trust here? In her mind, the obvious answer is god and all the preachers who teach that Evolution is a lie straight from the pits of hell. God’s word has always trumped science's when it comes to a strict literalistic interpretation of the Bible. On the other side, some evangelicals will make the whimsical interpretation that these bogus claims about the earth being flat, for example, are just metaphorical. I don’t really buy that notion any more than I buy the notion of Progressive Revelation or taking things that are obviously literal “out of context”.

The literalist claims that every verse is the infallible word of god. God says the earth is a flat circle then the earth must be flat. God says that the earth is stationary then the earth must be fixed upon pillars. The Bible also teaches that god was concerned with the people who were building the Tower of Babel. He was so concerned that he had to confuse their speech and scatter them about the earth so that they wouldn’t succeed in building a tower that made it to god’s kingdom. I suppose that heaven is just a few miles above us according to the writers of O.T. lore.

Of course, most Christians become absolutely giddy when science seems to support something in the Bible. For instance, Christians are thrilled with the notion that god created humans from the dust of the ground and science confirmed that every element found in the body exists in the earth’s soil. Or, they are quite appeased when archeology finds evidence of a city or person that was also mentioned in the Biblical text. They will happily take science's word for it in the previous examples but they become positively hostile when science contradicts the Bible. Evolution has been continuously assaulted by Intelligent Design supporters because it explains the development of species without aid from any kind of outside agency. Unfortunately for them, the IDers don’t have any real scientific rebuttals to the theory of Evolution.

As I have admitted in the past, I’m no expert when it comes to science and am still learning many things on a rudimentary level. At the same time, I have no reason to believe that science has this mass conspiracy agenda to ignore creationist evidence while deviously “making up” research of their own--atleast not when there isn't any evidence to support that claim. I know that science would be happy to go along with the Bible wholeheartedly if the Bible was accurate about how the earth, universe and life actually operate. Time and time again, this has not been the case and blind literalist Christians—like my own family— continue to mark everything off as a satanic influence, or the promotion of some hidden agenda, when it disconfirms the Bible.