Passive Christianity, Part 1

There is an eternal war within Christianity, one that will never end so long as rich people want to stay rich, so long as the government exists, so long as Christianity exists. It is a war about the message of Jesus, a war with intelligent men and women on all sides, and a war I cannot fully comprehend.

Does Christianity teach socialism?

As those on my facebook are likely aware, I tripped upon Libertarian Christian Doctrine yesterday, and I simply don’t understand their reading of the Bible at a surface level. I am trying to remedy that by reading their primer. The very first thing they say, the starting point for their Christian foundations, is the war I just mentioned, whether or not Socialism was on Jesus’ radar.

To be fair, a very literal, very strict, very passive reading of Jesus’ words allows for this. Oh, you don’t think I should be using literal, strict, and passive to describe the same thing? Please allow me to justify myself.

The core of their argument rests upon whether Jesus preached mandatory or optional charity, and as all things on this topic, references Acts chapter 4 as a passage in the Bible that they consider to be misleading unless read with the correct frame of mind (as opposed to those who think God is not a God of confusion, of course). Acts 4 speaks of the early Christian Church charitably selling their possessions, a la Jonestown (negative connotations obviously intended), to support the group. They didn’t do this because they had to (as a function of a command, I suppose, as obviously they did this out of necessity), but because of the charitable spirit of Christianity.

I think the thing that people forget is that we use the term Charity far differently than they would back in the day. To them, the closest thing they could understand in our modern world to charity would likely have been a soup kitchen; aside from various religious sects, you didn’t just hand your money over to anyone and expect then that they would care for the people you wanted them to care for. At least, I have no historical knowledge of the “Save the Lepers” foundation around the turn of the first millennium, but that is obviously open to dispute by someone who knows of such a charity. The thing is, prior to Jesus, the Church was a form of government where God was merely analogous to President or Emperor, or your chosen title. God laid down laws, and while many may believe that the Ten Commandments are those laws, they have likely never read Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Those two books have laws so strict and so in violation of the idea of liberty that I can’t believe any Libertarian ever made it through them to the New Testament (if you are of the opinion that “I should be able to drink and drive if I want, and the consequences be upon my shoulders,” I wonder if you recall how strict Jewish Law was in how drinking was performed, or what they are allowed to dress in, or how sick people are to be “handled.”).

This brings us to the next battleground, whether the Old Testament law matters at all, whether we should be talking about it. Everyone seems to agree that the Ten Commandments apply, but Leviticus and Deuteronomy are traditionally (though not historically) attributed to the same man who wrote the Ten Commandments, the person of Moses. There is some argument over the meaning and context of Matthew 5:18, for example. What does that mean, “until all is accomplished”? Well, if you take it out of context, people obviously assume that means “Until Jesus rises to heaven,” and thus done is done, all is accomplished, and we don’t have to follow the Law! Huzzah! But wait, what’s that other part in the same verse?

“Until heaven and earth pass away”? That is harder to explain away, and it seems Jesus (and certainly James his Brother), both agreed that the Old Testament should be adhered to in every tenet. Well damn, this is awkward, right? And, can you believe it, this is a line during the Sermon on the Mount. Tough to ignore that kind of gravitas.

There is a retreat of sorts used by most people who are trying to argue The Law out modern discourse, in that St Paul wrote (Romans 7:1-6), in stark, almost perfect contrast to Jesus, that we are freed from the law (Galatians 3:13). Now, I would challenge a person to find where Jesus even so much as implied this sentiment? And why we take it as Gospel truth despite literally not appearing in the Gospels? And why Paul is allowed to create doctrine that has no previous basis? In word-for-word contrast to Jesus’ teaching that the Law is to be adhered to, even so much as the Pharisees, to exceed them in Righteousness, on pain of Hell? 

But this is where the intersection gets very interesting, and I could talk about this for days, for years. I can quote Jesus, and my general modern Christian opposition can quote Paul, and they are both incredibly potent quotes. The side you take depends on the baggage you bring to the table. Reading it and wanting to believe purely in the loving message of Jesus, one will obviously side with Paul. Those who are truly Christian fundamentalists should understand that the Early Christian Church practiced Jewish Tradition. These were Christians, in the earliest sense of the word, who had a schism with Jews, but still believed Jewish law was binding.

So long as the Bible is in conflict with itself, there is no end to the war, for both sides have the greatest soldier on their side, fighting the other side… The soldier of God’s word. What I want to know is how God’s word is considered a sharp, potent weapon when it cuts both ways so equally.

I’ve only gone two levels deep in this discussion, and I already have a blog length post going on here. I am going to read more into this Libertarian Christian movement, see if I can find anything more in alignment with my own interpretation of the Bible, and then post my thoughts for all both of my readers to ponder.

This is obviously not a conclusion, which means I can make a series to this effect. This should be fun! I will write more about it, because I need to lay a lot more ground work before I can write a proper conclusion, before I can touch all the points I’ve brought up with some sort of finality of explanation. I hope you don’t mind, especially since this basically means I won’t be having any one week breaks in the near future!

Anyway, see you next time.

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The Plank in your Own Eye

Yesterday, a tragedy struck France. It was certainly a tragedy of Stalinian proportions, but not in the way you’d think. While the twelve people of Charlie Habdo were murdered by extremists (whether Muslims or other), thousands died of other causes, cancer, and heart disease, and accidental causes. I realize my attempts at perspective may sound callous, but the disproportional response to terrorism has always bothered me. That being said, some people raise many valid points.

Matt Inman reposted an old comic of his in reply to the murders yesterday, an inflammatory comic poking fun of some of the more easily insulted tenets of many popular religion. The comic is titled “How to suck at your religion.”

I am not going to call it a sophisticated criticism, it is a webcomic by a comedian. I enjoy it, and it certainly raises some valid points, if crude. The point I want to make is that it is a comic about “How to suck at your religion,” not “Why your religion sucks.” That is a very important distinction, and one that many people have certainly failed to make. I slipped into a gopher hole on this one, and found that the gopher hole runs very deep. The first article I came across was this one, a harsh criticism of the comic, calling it blasphemous, unintelligent, unfunny drivel. Helpfully, it goes panel by panel through the comic, making it easier to digest and deconstruct.

The author of this post mentions that the priest in panel one is wearing a Roman collar, a fact that they claim means Matt Inman has taken a direct shot at the author’s religion. BAM! Harsh criticism leveled! But remember the distinction; it is about how to suck at your religion. I have met many judgmental Catholic adherents, and whether you agree that the Catholic religion accepts this or not, the point is this; judging others means you suck at your religion.

The second panel deals with Galileo, and claims that it is so misrepresented that it is not even worth addressing. The author links a Catholic Education source to defend the Catholic church; on the surface, this makes sense–but when dealing with history, I prefer cross-reference. Certainly, when you are dealing with verifiable historical data, it pays to go to several sources to iron out wrinkles.

In any case, I’ll go over some details that would render Mr Inman’s take on the affair at least partially accurate, somewhat falsifying the Catholic writer’s clearly closely held beliefs. In 1614, a letter written by Galileo was delivered to the Qualifiers, a pre-torture arm of the Inquisition. In 1615, several depositions were made to the Inquisition regarding this affair, Galileo’s Heliocentric view. On February 24, 1616, the Inquisition levied their first judgment of Galileo, saying: ”

On February 24 the Qualifiers delivered their unanimous report: “…the idea that the Sun is stationary is foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture…”; while the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgement in philosophy and … in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith.”

“On February 26, Galileo was called to Bellarmine’s residence and ordered, to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it… to abandon completely.” -—The Inquisition’s injunction against Galileo, 1616.

So to say “The Church was totally on his side omg you guys, why get up in arms?” is to ignore a lot of the Galileo affair. The affair was far from over, though; Galileo was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633, “for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world.”

Galileo was found guilty, and the sentence of the Inquisition, issued on 22 June 1633, was in three essential parts:
Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.
He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
His offending [book] Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.

In 1758 the Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentrism from the Index of Forbidden Books.

So you know what, you’re right! The Catholic Church was totally on Galileo’s side the whole time, and never stood in his way! I am glad Matt Inman got it so wrong that you didn’t have to explain yourself, because I can’t see where your explanation would contradict his comic–it would have gotten awkward had you explained yourself. That was a long rebuttal of panel 2, but I thought it was worth saying. As the very blogger I am rebutting said, “… for those who actually care enough about the facts to check them.” And I do. So I did.

The rebuttal of panel three, which addresses stem cell research, is the idea that life begins at conception. Certainly it does, that cannot be countered, but the idea that life begins at conception is to put an equal value on a blastocyst that one does on a fully conscious human being. To put it another way, which I’ve explained at greater length in the past, the blastocyst is incapable of suffering, while a human in need of stem cell therapeutics most certainly is. To minimize suffering, embryonic stem cells are a valuable source of potential. I will be addressing a second article later in this post that raises an alternate concern with embryonic stem cell research, but I am trying to group this in a point by point way, so we can wait until I get there.

Point four is what I often like to call the political gambit; while it is generally accepted that a child can be “A Catholic Child,” the idea of “A Republican Child” feels odd when rolling off the tongue. Generally, you’d say “That child’s parents vote republican.” This is a question of parenting ethics, and a deep well of research into child psychology has been performed to this end, one far more deep than I could ever hope to plumb. Generally speaking, a child will believe what they are told to believe. I think this is fairly clear when dealing with the issue of Santa Claus or Faeries; they will generally believe for a very long time, at least until they are told that it is false or find incontrovertible proof. Santa is certainly highly unlikely as a physical entity, that is easy to prove.

But how would a child become disillusioned with religion, as compared to Santa? God is often said to help those who help themselves, so a faithful person who has a very rough time is often said to be tried by God, or that God works in mysterious ways. Escape hatch opened.

What about prayer? Surely, we could test prayer! And we have, finding either that there is no discernible effect of intercessory prayer, or that there is a small effect that is traced to a placebo effect. Double blind studies tend to come out with “no discernible effect,” and that should be worrisome.

The evidence, in any case, does not point to a God that certainly exists. It doesn’t point to one that doesn’t exist, either, but that is largely because God functions exactly like Superman; when placed against a piece of evidence he hasn’t seen before, the writers will often attribute to him some power or property that works specifically and only to rebut that point. In any case, the jury is out; you can believe, or you can not believe. If you tell your children to believe, there is overwhelming data that states that most will. Some choose not to, but they are still the minority (a growing minority, mind you. Wonder why that is.).

Point five raised by this writer is a smoke bomb at best; it ignores the argument. They then say that “Of course, if the Resurrection is true, that claim is false.” The sentence rests squarely on the statement “if the resurrection is true,” with the assumption being that it is. Just two days ago I wrote about the historicity of the Bible at some length, and cited references; in any case, the Resurrection is just as much an article of faith as is the afterlife. No one has ever recorded what happens after we die (well, we die, scientifically, but you know what I mean), whether we have a soul, what makes a soul, what happens to our theoretical soul, etc. They then compare being agnostic towards the afterlife as comparable to being agnostic about the answer to 3×3. I will not take the easy way and say that this is self evident, that would be somewhat hypocritical of me. Here, have some of my legendary art as rebuttal of this point:

doingthemaths

Show me a similar proof that there is an afterlife, then we can go deeper into this discussion.

Panel six is rebutted by stating that “I totally don’t have weird anxieties about sex, it is just that it can give you broken hearts, broken homes, rampant STDs, HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111!!1ii” You are right, it could. That is why safe sex is taught. Abstinence only education has been shown to fail almost universally to stop the very things you are afraid of. Your “totally not sexual anxieties” are standing in the way of real improvements in the areas of teen STD and teen pregnancy rates.

Point seven relies on the idea that “I believe my religion is the ultimate good, so it would be the ultimate evil for me to not share it,” and that is a belief you have. I am an ex-member of your Church, though, so I suppose that makes me some kind of evil. Certainly, I’ve been called similar.

I won’t lie, for point eight I am not really sure what the author is trying to prove. It completely dodges a debate and says Catholics don’t believe this thing. Again, it is important to remember that the title of the comic is “how to suck at your religion,” not “how your religion sucks.” If you don’t identify with panel 8, then maybe it isn’t about you — the thing I fear is that the author does identify with panel eight. Whatevs. We move along.

Point nine has been extensively studied, and polls show that many voters will vote strictly on, say, a pro-life stance. This is not purely religious, I will give you that; there are many people who are pro-life that are not religious, but the pro-life movement tends to be a vast majority of religious people (even if not based on explicitly religious convictions). Yes, I think it would be safe to say that some people certainly vote based on their religious beliefs; if you are not one of them, please refer to the title of the comic; maybe you don’t suck at your religion. Maybe.

Number ten calls Atheists who fear Muslims smug, and kind of implies a level of cowardice. If you feel bullied, Mr or Ms Catholic, perhaps you may remember that people were executed by the Inquisition as late as the 1860s. If you feel bullied, perhaps you should count the number of dead at the hands of the Crusades. If you think “That bullying was in the past, so it doesn’t matter,” then just wait until tomorrow, and the atheist who bullied you yesterday doesn’t matter.

There is a reason I chose “The Plank in your Own Eye” as the title for this post. For those who have not remembered the Gospels by rote, it is a reference to Matthew 7, where it says you must address your own faults before addressing those of others. Calling atheists bullies is… Well, being as the United States identifies as some 90% plus religious, I would think throwing around words like that should be done carefully. It might sound to some atheists like you are bullying them.

The author makes point eleven, citing a terrible irony, without ever feeling ironic. I would say I find that ironic, but I don’t; irony is defined by something not expected, and I was not surprised by this. Asking someone to be more tolerant as a humorist and satirist makes them “hurt, hinder, and condemn you.” You are right, the INJUSTICE OF IT ALL!

Point twelve implies that the Matt Inman is neither calm nor reasonable, but again, he is a humorist and satirist. If you wanted a respectful debate, I am afraid that The Oatmeal is no place to find it. Being as the atheist does believe that religion serves as somewhat a placebo (not believing in the afterlife, we see believing in the afterlife as a sort of wishful thinking), we are unfortunately immune to its effects. It isn’t even that we don’t want to take the placebo; I wish I could still believe. It is just that once you know a pill is sugar, the placebo effect is mostly gone. Without some major restructuring of my own beliefs, it will be very difficult for me to return to religion.

The other thing about a placebo is that if you believe it will work, it likely will work. Or at least, has a chance to work. The author’s view expressed near the end basically says “It isn’t a placebo because it is totally medicine, and I know that because I know that.” This is not meant to insult, it really isn’t, it is just meant to point out that the argument is unlikely to sway even the most casual atheist, and making it will not win any points in a debate, nor change the mind of anyone in open dialogue. This isn’t calling you down, just trying to open your mind to the point of the other side.

If God enriches your life, more power to you. I do not feel His embrace, I do not feel enriched by Him. To me, if I came back to religion, it would be in the belief that I have accepted the placebo back into my life. Just because you believe it is not a placebo does not change my own beliefs.

The final lines is perfect, because it is the line that makes it easiest to show that the author has missed the distinction between “how not to suck at your religion,” and “how your religion sucks”:

“The comic can mischaracterize and distort, but in the face of actual Catholicism, it’s silent. It has no coherent or compelling answer in response to the Catholic claim. Snark simply has no retort to truth.” – Shameless Popery

There are many Catholics who would think the comic is talking about them, and many who do not. I think there is something to that thought.

We move on to something that has been swirling in my head for a while, and it was brought about by this article. I do not want to demean Patheos, I often find their articles enlightening, even handed, and a joy to read. Even this article, while making some points I find objectionable, is at least enjoyable to read.

When I read his rebuttal to the argument of stem cells last night, it set such a fire in my mind that I could not sleep. I stayed awake, shuffling through my mind all of the points that I could write down to rebut what he says.

The Catholic stance is that adult stem cell research is the best thing that has come along in literally forever (God exists outside of time, therefore does not count in ‘forever’). He cites many good studies showing adult stem cell results as being wildly successful, and certainly they are. I would offer this statement on Brown University’s Biomedical research website to show that the Catholic line “Embryonic stem cells show no promise” can be easily rebutted with but five seconds of Google.

Even so, he is right; more has come from Adult Stem Cells, despite the statement by Brown saying Embryonic Stem Cells show broader promise. Why is that?

Well, in most of the United States (which is still politically and scientifically the most powerful nation on the Earth) embryonic stem cell research is discouraged or outright illegal. It has little investment, and research labs spend much less time on it. This obviously isn’t because it does not show promise (again, see Brown’s statement). It is because of the political pressure to not spend on it.

Denying funding to one field, and wildly encouraging another, waiting 15 years, then comparing them shows all the honesty of a parent who does the following.

Give child one 5 cents. Give child two five dollars. Tell them to go buy whatever they want.

Child one comes back with a single sour candy. Child two comes back with a bag full of candy. You reply thus: “Obviously child two is vastly superior in the world of business and financial management! Look at how good his results are!”

The above is not intended to be a straw man argument (when I use straw men intentionally, I do try to make mention of it). I can seriously not see the difference, and would ask any reader to point out any obvious flaw in my metaphor. Please do.

We move on to the Galileo affair, again. Many of the same points are made, though much better, with one glaring error. The author claims that the Inquisition dropped all charges–that is odd, as it seems to me that two guilty verdicts were delivered, 17 years separated.

While I do not agree with this author’s belief about passing religion on to your children, he makes a much better argument for it than did the author of the previous article. He is correct that he supernatural is indeed a part of human nature, but does not seem to make any point as to why his particular supernatural belief is more valid than any of the previous, which I believe is the point Inman wanted to make. In the age of rationalism we live in, though, more and more people have thrown off the shackles of the Supernatural as we are able to explain more and more of our universe without invoking the name of YWH, YVHV, God, Allah, Vishnu, Ba’al, or others. Perhaps there is a supernatural agent, but given the state of the world, I would not believe that it is the Christian God. This is my belief, of course, and you are welcome to disagree. I merely would like to point out that telling your children that your belief is the correct one and that others are wrong relies on a whole poop ton of other people who believe that same idea also being wrong.

The argument made against sexual anxieties by this author, in contrast, relies a great deal on a straw man–or at the very least, ignoring correlating and causal data. “The current (oh-so-secular) sexual culture…” he calls it, and then blames the STD rate upon it. I will agree; if teens abstained from sex, there would be fewer STDs, pregnancies, etc. But remember just above where you mentioned that supernatural belief is human nature? Well sex is human nature at its very core, and teens tend to be the most ill equipped to resist those urges. You can believe God because it is human nature, but teens should abstain from sex because… Question mark? Look, I would love it if teens would abstain from sex, I really would. I really, really would. Teens are stupid, and ill equipped to deal with the outcomes of sex. But they will keep having sex, no matter how much you try to stop them from doing it. So teach them safe sex, for God’s sake. (That was a pun. I stand by its use.)

Overall, I very much liked this author, but due to his ability to make a strong argument, I thought it worth taking the time to point out where I disagree with him. It was a wonderful piece, and I love the fairness and level-headedness on display here, and thank the author for writing it. My only fear is that because the author is so good at what he does, the parts I disagree with would go unchallenged by someone who is equally fair minded (Yes, I just stroked my own ego aggressively, but many atheists would just say “He is wrong,” and move along. They would use more colorful language. I do not believe that such language has any place in this discussion.). I wanted to rebut the points I disagree with, and acknowledge the good points.

I am truly sorry if that came across as condescending; I can see it in the words, and I apologize if that is the subtext you read. I respect your stance, I truly, truly do. Thank you for writing that article, even if it was three years ago and you will never read mine. But I do very much respect you.

To the first author, who also will never read this, I quote below the opening verses of Matthew 7, because I do not believe you have the theological legs to stand on that my second author did:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Thanks for reading this long and winding article!

What was Meant

There are two versions of this blog post, one short, and one long. I’ll put the short version first, so you can skip all the words without losing the overall message. EFFICIENCY!

Today, many people will tout that they know what the Bible means, or how to interpret the stories in it. Some will use that knowledge to preach love, some will use it to preach hate. I hope that statement isn’t overly controversial, the Westboro Baptist Church has the same Bible you do, at the very least.

But really, no matter your confidence, do we know what the people who wrote the Bible down, from Old Testament to New Testament, really wanted us to learn?

Short version answer: Nope.

Long version answer: That is a complicated question, and certainly you require a redefinition of terms at the very least to even begin to unravel the ball of yarn that is historical interpretation, translation, and intent.

To start, before the books of the Bible’s Old Testament were written down (and yea, before they could be written down) they were oral traditions. How long were they oral traditions? Well, to pin that down with any high degree of accuracy, we’d have to rely on either asking them, or having them write it dow… Wait. Nope.

So we don’t know exactly how old some of the stories are (though they do have historical markers in many of them, which help to date them). Then we continue to walk down the road of history as far as oral tradition can take us. Well, how do we know the stories that got written down were anything close to the original orations?

Well, the common rebuttal is that there were professional oral historians whose sole job was the maintain and recite history. We can see Hebrew mnemonics in certain areas of the Old Testament that are evidence of methods in use to improve recall of the stories. Certainly, a person whose sole job is to remember would do better in such an arena than would your average person off the streets… But they would have no error checking, no oversight. What would happen if or when they make a mistake?

And if you are going to tell me that stories survived 800 years orally, without any errors, I have some pieces of the original cross to sell you. Or maybe the Shroud of Turin is more up your alley?

Let me make a few modern examples to show you the flaws in that logic, in any case.

A banker’s primary role is in dealing with money. I would say the bulk of it is counting money, and ensuring accuracy in tallies and counts. They have the money in front of them, concrete, physical, unchanging. They will double and triple count money at the beginning, end, and during the day. And yet bank errors occur, despite the fact that the banker’s sole (and some would say primary) purpose is to ensure money changes hands reliably without change and… Wait, was I describing your orator or a banker? Some of those words got a little aligned there. Weird how that is.

Howe about me, in my current field of information technology. A server is designed, from the ground up, to prevent me from making errors. In order to do anything on a server that runs, say, the heating and cooling for an entire building, I will have to accept one hundred warnings, check one hundred boxes, agree to one hundred confirmations… And there are times when I, or yea, people with many years more experience than me have made errors. My sole purpose is to change these settings, to ensure they are changed properly and correctly and without error, and there are systems whose sole purpose are to stop me from making said error… But errors get made.

How about your grandparent? They will tell stories, and I am sure you have thought at times that it could not have happened like your grandparent recalled, but you’d not say anything, of course. But it is well known that dementia and Alzheimer’s are diseases primarily affecting the elderly in the population. In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, I’d be willing to say that your slips would be so minor that they could be attributed to a slight dimming of your recollection, to the point you (and anyone around you) would write them off simply as slips of memo–oh damn, what was the sole purpose of the orators? Memorizing things?

And who was the most revered, respected person who would pass along knowledge? The elders of the tribe? Let’s give that elder a generous age of 60 (if they lived in a nice place, a clean(ish) city, it could have happened even in time before history), and they’d be the elder for… We’ll say 20 years? Hell, give them 30 years, we’ll say for the sake of gentle argument that they were the elder for a full generation. If we assume only 800 years of oral tradition (The earliest parts of the Bible were written down in 800BC, and I know they reference events at times as early as 1600BC, though the accuracy is in question), then that was some 26 or 27 generations of elders. That is a lot of time for one of them to have had some degree of early Alzheimer’s.

But… But they obviously wouldn’t be trusted when they couldn’t recognize the face of their own kin, they wouldn’t be the elder any more! So they wouldn’t have passed on the failed stories!

You have to remember that even if we assume a generous life expectancy, they would never have had an 80 or 90 year old Alzheimer’s sufferer, or Dementia sufferer in the 10th and earlier centuries BC. The person entrusted with oration could have had slight slips of memory and died, and so the story altered over time.

But… But there would have been many orators! Many people who remembered! Several for each village, maybe!

Yes, but then you’d have conflicting versions of the story, and how would you resolve those? Well, I don’t know how they’d have done that, but it wouldn’t be hard to think that they would accede to the eldest and most respected of the elders–the one ironically with the highest chance of misremembering a detail. Even if that wasn’t their method, even if it was democratic (against all logic, since democracy was certainly not widespread at the time), you’d have younger elders who learned the slightly altered version voting for the slightly altered version.

You’d have inaccuracies creeping in over time, even if you had ten thousand safeguards. The modern translations of the Bible attest to that, for even within two years there will be versions with differing translations, errors, typos, mistakes in meaning or scholarship. Think of the monks who made copies of the Bible before the printing press; again, they had concrete copies, and yet if you look at old Bibles, you will see scholars marking “Copyist error” in the margin… And that is when they had an older version to copy-check again.

Or how about some of the earlier mass produced Bibles? There was a copy with the Commandment “Thou Shalt Commit Adultery” that was mass produced in the 17th century, only 30 years before the King James version was officially published.

So tell me again that there were no errors in the oral histories, and again I will find more evidence to show that wishful line of thinking will not hold.

How about even the word “history”? Certainly in the times of the Roman Empire, history was a much more sinuous beast, harder to catch, harder to pin down. People did not write down history as we understand the term, history was an idea, was morals and fables, not so much “writing down an accurate account of what happened.” What we call history today is more often viewed in the tax records of the time, or the census records, birth and death certificates, than it is in things that people wrote down — for what people wrote down and what happened are often at odds, and you can see what happened far more in the number of troops reported dead at some location than you can with some historian writing down about the battle. A historian may have written down that it was a great victory, where the death toll was nearly equal on both sides. This is two knives, not just a double edged sword; at work here is the fact that history was the lessons (in this case, the lesson of “we are so much better than x barbarian tribe), and also the fact that history is, was, and will be often written by the victors. In the global world we live in, it is becoming less so, and underdogs tell their tale to fanfare in these days more than ever before, but the principle still stands.

Reza Aslan wrote about this in greater length and with more gravitas than I can–though if you don’t trust Aslan, you can check with any historian who specializes in the centuries around year 0 and you will find similar messages.

So what was written down in the Bible, even when it was close to the events that happened (and you must remember that the earliest gospels were at the very minimum written in 70AD, 40 years after the death of Christ) likely weren’t written with a mind for exactly what happened. They would have been written with a mind for teaching the lessons of Christ, and if those lessons were of humility and sacrifice, well… The events of his life were certainly a great parallel. Almost a perfect parallel. One might say they were perfect for teaching the lessons of his ministry, and by gosh, we’ve come full circle. Again.

I am not calling into question the lessons they taught, as they are certainly good lessons. I am calling into account the historical veracity of the Bible. The YECs may be the only faction to take the Old Testament as historical fact (or as absolute historical fact, as in a 6000 year old world created in exactly 6 days, and with genealogies that can be traced back to Adam), but most people believe the life of Jesus was reliably written down.

It wasn’t. Depending on the details you are viewing, many traditions were in the Bible that were not present at any other time. The tradition of freeing a single prisoner during passover? Find me another reference to that outside of the Bible. Or, even taking that tradition as fact, what about freeing Barabus instead of Jesus? Were there only two prisoners? When given the choice of a rabble rouser (Jesus) and a serial killer (Barabus), wouldn’t they just vote to release no one at all?

Or what about the trial before Pilate? Pilate is recorded by history as having signed so many death warrants without having even so much as read the name on them that a formal complaint against him was lodged with Rome. The crime for which Jesus was condemned, Sedition, wasn’t even a crime for which you would have been given a trial. If you were said to be guilty of sedition, it was off to the cross with you, no questions asked. And during the Passover, when tensions were already heightened? The idea of Jesus having an audience with Pilate is almost silly.

I think I’ve belabored that point extensively enough. The idea is that the Bible can’t be taken as historical fact, as it had a political fact from over a thousand years before it would even have been recognized as a cohesive book, as the Bible you know.

So the people who decide what was meant by these stories? What allegories and laws and ideas and histories and world views should be taught? That adulterers should be stoned, that it is OK to kill an abortion doctor, that homosexual sex is a sin, that Jesus would support this or that idea… Those are what you have discovered two or three thousand years separated from the person who originally came up with what you are reading. Who is to say you learned the lessons they even wanted to teach?

For those reading between the lines in the Old Testament to come up with meanings that aren’t there in a plain reading of the text, I’d like you to step back and read this story, told colloquially (I can find no reference for it aside from a newspaper clipping, so it is at best anecdotal).

When asked about the themes and morals in his book Hatchet (part of the Life of Brian series), Gary Paulsen said that he was happy that so many people have gotten so much out of his book, but that he didn’t write it with all of these themes and morals in mind. He just wanted to tell a good story.

With that in mind, how can anyone today say that it is they that have the themes of the Bible correct? That they have interpreted them correctly, when billions of Christians who came before them with likely billions of differing interpretations have obviously gotten them wrong? That is it you who knows exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke the parable of the mustard seed, when it is a completely nonsensical parable unless it is explained to you?

Again, I do not want to shake your faith or your morals, but I want you to be careful what you claim you know. You don’t know it any better than I do, and believing that someone is going to hell because they believe differently than you is condemning everyone who isn’t you to hell, because chances are their beliefs differ in some core way from yours, but you haven’t had a conversation with everyone in your congregation, and who knows what is going on in your pastor’s head. He can’t tell you one tenth of what he is thinking in all of his sermon’s combined, so who knows where you differ from him? Where your core beliefs, something you completely disagree on based on some word of Jesus or another, may shake your relationship to the core–if you ever knew.

Just some things to think about.

What was Written

As I read through the Bible, going from the start (Genesis 1:1) to the end (Revelation 22:21), I find things I never really knew were there. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was raised Catholic. The odd thing about Catholic services is that there is a schedule of sorts, for which chapters, verses, and from which books you will read–and certainly it does not cover the whole Bible, even in a complete cycle.

Why is that?

Well, the first reason is that there are some very odd things in the Bible (as I’ve mentioned at great length before), obviously. The second is that there are some stories in the Bible that… Well… You just know, right? The Tower of Babel is one such story, right?

I would wager that you know more about the Tower of Babel than was actually written about it. How long do you suppose the story was in the Bible? A chapter? No, it was 9 verses. It is summed up in the following:

The people all spoke one language and wanted to build a city out of brick instead of stone.

God saw this, and decided that if people built a city of brick, they could do anything. He did not like that, so he confounded their language.

Yes, that is really the gist of it. God was threatened by the humans using such advanced materials as brick, so he scattered them. This, again, seems more like God not having a lot of foresight (or human wishful thinking that really shows how little creativity people show when trying to explain something as complicated as language).

That being said, the old testament is an interesting read (or at least, parts of the old testament are very interesting) in that things are … Weird. It was Winston Churchill’s own son who was said to have quoted “God, isn’t God a shit?”

But even in the New Testament, it is the rare believer who is really familiar with the works. Certainly, the story of Jesus’ birth is a story that has as many versions as there are people who remember it. Why was Joseph in Bethlehem? Well, there are a few reasons given. Did he go to Egypt? No one is quite sure, except it is mentioned in one gospel.

Oddly for Catholics and their doctrine of the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Gospel of Matthew lists Jesus’ brothers and sisters (and, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Jesus’ brother James led the early Christian Church from the council in Jerusalem). How can the most populous Christian Church in the world get something so obvious so wrong, and how can a billion people believe it? I mean, it is even in prayer and song; Blessed Marry, ever virgin. Can that be true? No.

I am not even talking about contradictions, here, I am just talking about the parts of the Bible that are written clearly that people simply don’t know, or completely ignore. It is like certain chapters and verses are straight up non-existent.
I won’t lie, I haven’t gotten to my reread of the Epistles of Paul, or the Book of Acts, so who knows what I will find there?

Paul is an odd character, both in his written works and in his historical story. He seems to just not care about the actual story of Jesus, aside from the ending (the resurrection). As I recall, he is more concerned with two things; how awesome he is (for as it says in the Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 1, verse 8-9, if anyone preaches a gospel to you other than what I have preached to you now, even if it is an angel of God, let him be accursed), and how much more he knows about the TRUE JESUS than the actual apostles (the same verse is a pretty good example, actually). It is well sourced that Paul did not get along with the 12 apostles, not least of the reasons being that Paul believes that he was the best apostle, selected before his birth by God. He states in his epistles that he would have been the greatest of the apostles, except for the fact that he was born too late.

The point of this is that modern Christianity is more man-made traditions than it is revelation from God. So many modern Christians think they know what is in the Bible, because their pastor said this thing or that thing, but very few understand how many traditions in the Church come from somewhere well outside of scripture.

I don’t mean to insult you, but I think if anyone wants to debate religion, or even fully discuss religion, we (as a whole society that is still majority Christian) needs to go back to the basics. It is almost a cliche, to return to the fundamentals, and to say someone is a fundamentalist Christian is often used as a back-handed compliment… But I mean it. The Catholic Church is probably the worst for made up traditions. There’s a reason lots of Protestant faiths don’t have a very high opinion of the papal seat… But even nondenominational beliefs need to be examined.

What I am saying here is before you get all up in arms, you should probably read the Bible. There was a very good snafu lately from people having no idea what the Bible means, summed up in this image.

Good times.

Nuremberg Morality

The legendary Nuremberg Defense is generally accepted to mean “I performed these tasks under orders,” and it was used extensively by Nazi soldiers and officers during the Nuremberg Trials (trials after World War II to charge participants in war crimes). Why did you kill so many Jews? I was doing it under orders.

Where did those orders come from? They came from an authority above me.

Where did his orders come from? The totem pole is climbed until we arrive, eventually, at Hitler (conveniently at this time well and truly dead).

I think the true effects of this are far reaching. I am going to have a focus in this post, as I am not subtle; I have an agenda, and I won’t apologize for it. My agenda is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it, but to make any cake one has to break a few eggs.

Frequently throughout the Old Testament, innocents are murdered at the command of God. In Numbers, as I quoted in my previous post, men, women, children, animals, crops, everything except female virgins, were ordered killed. In Judges, the Israelites would kill anyone who stood between them and Jerusalem, as God not only told them to kill anyone who stands in their way, but to do it right. In Deuteronomy, the tale of the city of Jericho is told as an illustration of the might of the LORD your God, and God ordered the walls to fall and the people put to the sword. Why? Because Jericho stood between where the Jews were and where the Jews were going. To me, this seems odd; if the city was walled, could they not go around? Does it matter?

As per the Nuremberg defense, they were ordered to kill all inhabitants.

How does that relate to today? Now, as opposed to then, God is a God of love and mercy! Unless you worship other gods, or are gay.

The Bible is held as the moral code for just over 2 billion Christians, and for the most part the New Testament isn’t so bad, but you run into problems. The Golden Rule, the true commandment of Jesus Christ, is held in such low esteem, or pre-empted by Old Testament rules; where is homosexuality mentioned in the New Testament? Nowhere, that’s where.

So why do Christians hate homosexuals? We have mentions in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, of course, stating that homosexuality is an abomination to the LORD your God. But why? Who are homosexuals harming? As nearly as I can tell, no one; they engage in love in their way in the privacy of their home. Who is being harmed by Christian hatred of homosexuals? Millions of people who merely do not love how society says they should. Where does the Golden Rule apply here? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Do you want gays to hate and persecute you? Because if you do, you are working really hard to make them not like you very much.

And again, why do Christians hate the gays? As I mention above, it hardly seems to stem from the New Testament message of the Love of Jesus Christ, and it seems a blatant violation of the Golden Rule. They do it because God said so. Why did God say so? “Ours is not to know, but to do and to die.” (An interesting quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade that applies so heavily to any religion (admittedly out of context).)

It is what I term Nuremberg morality; if the Bible is the height of moral teaching, and it teaches hate of homosexuals, then “hate because I was ordered to hate,” reads just as “I killed Jews under orders.” Did I just compare people who hate homosexuals to Nazis? No, you did, reader! I was just telling two parallel stories. *Cough*

If anyone were to think about the morality of why hating homosexuals was… You know… A thing? I think the world would be a different place. Instead of Christians (or Muslims, as the case often is) applying Nuremberg Morality, imagine what the world would look like if an internal monologue of morality sounded like this:

“Should I hate this group of people? On the one hand, I find their beliefs weird. On the other hand, are they hurting anyone with their beliefs? No, they aren’t hurting anyone. OK. Would I want anyone to hate me based on my beliefs? No. So won’t hate them because of their beliefs, as their beliefs are not impacting the happiness of anyone else.”

As I’ve often said, in about one third of all of my posts, my goal is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it. That is the basis of all of my moral internal discussions.

The next time someone is being persecuted, don’t lean back on the Bible. Ask why they are being persecuted. Have they hurt someone? Do their beliefs cause unspeakable evil? No? Then why are they being persecuted?

This can be applied in so many of life’s situations. The next time you ask yourself what to do in a situation involving other humans, don’t ask “What would Jesus do?”, because even the four Gospel writers had no idea what Jesus would really want in the long run. Ask “What can I do to make the most people the most happy?”

I guarantee you, if 10% of the world thought this way, the world would be a much better place within the month.

Or, you know, you could go looking through the Old Testament for a verse that says that women on their period are unclean (Leviticus 15:19), and then decide that because of this all women are far closer to demons than men are, and then persecute women for several thousand years. That’s cool too. But I like my way better.

A Confused Narrative

Something crossed my mind yesterday, for reasons I can neither explain nor fully understand. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of the Old Testament Yahweh, and have certainly levied many criticisms of Him and His supposed omniscience, but all of my words are seemingly cast aside by the counter argument of “progressive revelation.”

Progressive revelation is, for all intents and purposes, boiled down to the idea that God gave us His Holy Word (capitalizing those three words in a row feels wrong, somehow) in pieces for various reasons; we weren’t able to understand it, or the time wasn’t right, so He waited. I think this is nicely encapsulated by the disparity between the commandments of Moses stating that divorce can be granted via proper papers (Deuteronomy 24) as opposed to Jesus specifically saying “Hey guys, I know Moses said you could get a divorce, and I know my Dad more or less said that was cool, but you know what? Not cool.” (Slightly paraphrased from Matthew 19:1-9.) That seems an odd thing for an omniscient deity with strict rules and laws to do, for Jesus explicitly said “They could get a divorce because their hearts were hard.” Does God seem like the kind of deity to allow for something along the lines of “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Their marriages aren’t working out well, so I’ll let them have divorces. But only temporarily.” No, God is generally pretty clear in His explicit (and timeless) rules. At least, insofar as I am able to understand Him/them.

You know what, though? That is small potatoes. That is a blip on the radar so small that it passes by unnoticed by the gaze of ten thousand watching eyes in comparison to the nearly blinding idea that I had never considered until yesterday. It is so obvious, why had it not occurred to me? It is so obvious, yet why is it that I get only sparse Google results when considering it on a larger scale? It is so large as to cover the entire screen of our metaphorical radar, and perhaps that is why so few notice it.

Why did an omniscient, timeless God have a Chosen People at all? In the Old Testament, the Jews are the chosen and beloved, they are commanded on more than one occasion to kill all the men, women, and children (except the female virgin children for… reasons… [Numbers 31:17-18]), kill the animals and crops, to make the land as though no one had ever lived there before the Jews. When they were slaves under Pharaoh (historicity aside), He performed amazing shows of force, and freed them, His people, from the lash and chains of slavery. Historically, there were other slaves at the time; God did not save them, only the Jews (this is an important distinction). God set aside land for His chosen people, though it is odd that an omniscient God chose such contested land (there are places the Jews could call home that would result in far fewer deaths, then and now). As far as the Prophets, the narrative in the Old Testament seems to indicate that the Messiah would come to save the “lost lambs of the tribe of Israel,” a phrase translated to mean “The Jews.” In other words, as far as the Old Testament prophets were concerned, the Messiah was coming to save them, not the world. This makes sense, in the grand scheme of things; God has shown a remarkable level of callousness to all people and races who were not Jewish; personally I find it odd that He, in His omniscience, would often show Himself to and have direct conversations with people of His own chosen race… Then punish other races for not worshiping Him. This seems a heavy handed approach, as other peoples would have had no reason to worship Him or know he existed, as He had not frequently spoken to (and presumably dislocated the hip of [go read Genesis 32. If that wasn’t written under the effects of hallucinogens, I don’t know of any way it could possibly have been inspired]) their leaders. Hey, speaking of Genesis 32, Jacob (whose hip has been dislocated by God) seems … Well, it is an odd chapter, for Jacob is wrestling with a man who comes out of NOWHERE (verse 23? No man. Verse 24: Jacob was wrestling with a guy. Verse 25: wrestling guy decides he can’t win, dislocates Jacob’s hip. Verse 27: RANDOM GUY WAS CLEARLY GOD!). That summary bears some explanation: in verse 25, the man (who later turns out to be God) decides he can’t win. Omniscient, all-powerful God cannot beat Jacob in a wrestling match on even footing, so He uses magic to dislocate Jacob’s hip. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?!

Got side tracked there. Anyway, yeah, God only talks to Jews, Jews are His chosen, and He will smite anyone who gets in the way of His chosen (sometimes). I mean, he actually makes His chosen do the smiting at His command, AFTER He commands that “thou shalt not kill.”

Then… Jesus! Chosen people? WHO CARES ABOUT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE! I am here to save everyone! Gentile and Jew, as many a popular hymn reiterate! Now, I know you might be bitter because my Dad commanded that your forefathers be killed and your virgin children taken as slaves, but HE CHANGED HIS MIND! Rejoice, all people! Rejoice!

My question, and the whole point of the post, is this: Why did God have a chosen people at all if He planned to eventually reveal Himself as the savior of all people? Why did He smite so many people, if He eventually planned to save their descendents? Were their forefathers just born at the wrong time? Was God just cranky that day (read: that several hundred years)? Why would a timeless God smite so many, only to save them later? Those are the actions of someone who can’t decide what they want, not the actions of someone who has a timeless, eternal plan. Like God is making it up as He goes along. Oh, I know the Bible says “Jesus was there from the foundations of the world,” (the Gospel of John, though to me the evidence of that is dubious, and the wording unclear at best), but that seems more like someone who trips into a somersault, bounces up, and says “I meant to do that!” This whole situation reeks of that same level of excuse to me; I chose a people, it didn’t work out, so then I chose ALL PEOPLE! Then, like the aforementioned person who tripped, we are informed “And that was how I meant to do it all along.

I won’t lie, if someone broke into my house, and killed my dogs and raped my wife, and took my children, and then told me “You are alive because I have chosen you!” I would not be like “Truly, you are an awesome person, great in mercy, and Just in decision!” I’d be like “Oh what the f*** dude, the cops are on their way, and I hope you share a cell with the biggest, most rape-happy prisoner in the supermax.”

And yet here we are, and it was when I was very young that I learned the jubilant tune of “Our God is an Awesome God,” and it is only now that I consider just how odd it is that He commanded the killing of so many, then proclaimed eternal, unconditional love for all. You say the word “unconditional”, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, Creation, and Science

This will probably be my most negative post in a long time, but I would like to think that I have been fair and level-headed with my blog to this point. Many disagreements between Creation and Science have been highlighted here, as well as several instances of Creation Science, an unholy (IRONY!) merging of two wholly separate fields into something of a shambling husk, a cross between Frankenstein and something less substantive.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is in full effect here, admittedly on both sides, but far more vehemently on the religious side–don’t worry, that isn’t an assertion I’ll make without some definition and supporting evidence. The Dunning-Kruger effect explains the paradoxical inverse relationship between knowledge and confidence. Wait, what? Inverse relationship?

The Dunning-Kruger effect, in its simplest explanation, is the idea that a person of moderate skill or knowledge in a field will often rate their own skill more highly than an expert in a field; colloquially it is the effect described by “The more you know the more you know you don’t know.” TAKE THAT, ENGLISH! In any case, I promised supporting evidence, and I do plan to deliver. Let’s start with the Big Bang theory.

The Big Bang theory is an interesting case study from both sides, religion and science, because it is so simple when boiled down to a single sentence, but paradoxically impossibly complex when expanded to its own amazing scope. In a single sentence, it is the idea that our universe came from a singularity of impossibly dense matter that exploded into everything we see today. When you expand it, though, things start to get confusing, befuddled, almost magical, and difficult to understand (the thing about science is that a good scientist will admit when they do not know something). What came before the Big Bang? Well, at this time it is commonly believed that it is impossible to know; as explained in special and general relativity, time did not exist (as we know it) prior to the explosion of energy that was the Big Bang. In order to understand that, you have to go over and think about the idea that time and space are both a fabric that could be compared to a sheet spread out over… Nothing? Unfortunately, I am not qualified to give you a lecture on space-time and the fabric of the universe, but that is kind of the point; to even begin to understand the Big Bang, you have to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity… And while it has been expanded and simplified since Einstein originally published, and far more people understand it today than did for the first couple of decades after its formalization. It is still so complex that Arthur Eddington, a British Astronomer (read: spent his life studying the very body that Einstein described) was once posed the question “Do you really believe it when people say there are only three people in the world who understand Relativity?” His reply, whether accurate or anecdotal, still speaks volumes about the complexity of this body of science; after considering a moment, he said “I can’t think who would be the third.”

The problem is, we’ve only just scraped the surface; if Creationists are trying to bury The Big Bang theory six feet deep, understanding Special and General Relativity is only the first spade strike; you are just breaking ground. In order to get deeper, you have to begin to understand minute details of astrophysics, a notoriously complicated system of mathematics that is only just able to explain the movements of planets and stars, the idea of an expanding universe, the calculations required to explaining the increasing speed of expansion. Hell, if you were to compare the Big Bang to a cherry bomb, we are still so close to the beginning of the bomb going off that the explosion is still growing. That may not be an accurate analogy; the physics of our rapidly expanding universe are so complicated that they don’t make sense mathematically based on what we know, so we are forced to come up with educated guess-and-test scenarios to even make the math work. “Oh, well there you go! We found something you can’t explain in a science so young there are several people older than the entire body currently alive! GOD DID IT!” No, no I don’t think that is even in the realm of fair play; your God has said “I know everything,” for at least the last 2600 years (written records of the Old Testament). I think, given that case, science should be allowed to study the Big Bang for at least another 2520 years (the Big Bang was first formalized in 1927). If we still don’t have the answer in 2520 years, hey, I am comfortable saying that maybe God did it. Hell, let’s make a bet; I’ll bet we know how expansion theory works in 2520 years; if we don’t, and we’re both still around, I’ll buy you lunch.

Ah, but we’re still just a couple of feet into our six foot grave, friends. Now we start to venture into the wonderful, weird world of Quantum theory; quantum mechanics, to be precise. See, the weird thing about our universe is that things start to break down when you start looking at really, really, really small things; things on the subatomic level. When exactly do physics start to break down? No one is quite sure; we just know that at some point, when going from large to small, Einstein’s model of relativity starts to break down, physics stops working like we expect, and we have an entire field of study dedicated to this. Conversely, when going from small to large, things are weird then… At some point, they start making sense in a traditional way. Things in the small world don’t just move from one place to another, they pop in and out of existence (in a sense), and they can be entangled; changes to one have an effect on the other. The thing is, given the physics that we do know about the Big Bang, we have to begin employing quantum mechanics at some point after the explosion but prior to its existence as a body subject to traditional physics. The interactions, the odd physics, the unexplainable (currently) phenomena, they all make the Big Bang difficult to fully quantify. And, of course, we understand that even the idea of physics breaks down when all of space-time existed as a singularity; there may have been a universe before, or nothing at all, or the singularity could have been something we completely don’t understand. It could have been something akin to a god, I am not willing to rule it out (though someone with a much deeper knowledge of the physics of the Big Bang may have some knowledge that rules this out that I am not aware of), but certainly I feel comfortable saying it wasn’t the Christian idea of God.

Now we are starting to get fairly deep in our grave. Are you still ready to keep digging, after you have an in-depth knowledge of Relativity, Astrophysics, Quantum Mechanics? Or are you going to keep digging without understanding those fields?

Ah, but even if you understand the minute details of all of those fields and still believe that the God of Abraham was at the beginning of all things, we still haven’t dug our six foot grave to bury the Big Bang theory yet. In order to get deeper, you have to start to understand the idea of Quantum Chromodynamics, and here is where my own knowledge begins to drop off, so you’ll have to forgive me for my more basic descriptions of the following theories. Now, Quantum Chromodynamics is defined as follows:

“In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is the theory of strong interactions, a fundamental force describing the interactions between quarks and gluons which make up hadrons such as the proton, neutron and pion.”

I am afraid that I doubt I will have a working knowledge of this field of science before we get to the end of this post, but in order for you to dismiss the idea of the Big Bang theory, you first need to understand and find fault in QCD theory. Once you’ve done that, surely you are six feet deep, right?! No, no I am afraid you are not, though you are admittedly getting close. Still, there is more to understand, and things are only getting weirder.

We are now in the realm of the purely theoretical; the realm of almost pure math, where we are using numbers instead of words to describe things that we cannot actually observe. We are tearing apart the universe and using numbers to tell the universe how it works, DAMMIT! The problem is, when there are almost no ways for us to empirically test these mathematical constructs (YET!), we are left in the realm of best guesses. To be fair, thousands of scientists spend thousands of hours each every year trying both to describe the universe’s most odd fundamentals and then prove that their descriptions of accurate. This adds up to multiple millions of man-hours each year, where the brightest, most well educated minds on the entire planet are trying to describe how the very mechanics of the universe work; like tearing apart a watch to examine all the cogs and springs, only there are an innumerable amount of both cogs and springs, and they are all so small we can’t see them.

So when we get into the very depths of theoretical physics, we have come across literal billions of man-hours of science that can only, when added together, begin to describe the universe as though they were infants asked to describe the inner workings of a V6 engine. Imagine there are two children standing in front of a running V6, both asked to describe it. One says “It makes noise, then a car moves.” The other walks around it slowly, sees the pistons moving, see parts rotating, and says “I don’t know, but those moving parts have something to do with it, and I am going to spend the next few years figuring it out.”

Which one, then, better describes the approach of “God did it!” when working with science so complex that there is no mind in the world that could possibly understand it all?

Now here is where the Dunning-Kruger effect comes in at full force. The greatest, brightest minds in the world say “I don’t know, and I do not have the expertise to know.” Minds home schooled, with no formal education in physics, who hold government office are comfortable saying “Well, of course I know! I know all the answers!”

The very funny thing is that the Bible is 800,000 (or so) words long, and I would be surprised if the body of papers about the Big Bang alone measure only that many pages (seriously, I’d imagine there are far more pages than merely 800,000 out there). I have read the Bible; I’ve gone through it several times. I have seen strange contradictions, interactions, falsities, missed prophecies, historical inaccuracies, and even then I know that there are people who know far, far more about the Bible than me. That being said, there are people who know far less about the Bible, having never read it themselves, who would feel comfortable telling me that it is an inerrant document, the literal Word of God, having no contradictions, and that physical science and history is only correct when it aligns with the book they have never read, and here we have another almost egregious example of Dunning-Kruger at work.

The point is this; when you are going to parrot something that someone has told you, such as “God did the Big Bang!”, please at least make a strong effort to understand what you are saying. I am one man, but I have made a very strong effort to understand, as well as a layperson can be said to understand, the physics involved in the Big Bang. I have read a great deal about Relativity, about Astrophysics (even if I cannot do the math that this field requires), the various facets of Quantum Theory, and I am afraid that after having read thousands of pages, I have to extend my arms and offer something that I would describe as trust, but you might describe as faith. I do require some degree of faith that the math all works out in the end, because I find that I am incapable of doing the math myself at my current level of education.

The difference between my growing knowledge and the idea that the Bible is all you need is that I am constantly learning. Maybe some day I will know enough that I will not require faith, or science will understand enough that the theories describing the universe itself can be boiled down into forms that can be understood by the layperson.

The thing about your faith is that it is in a book that you have either read once, or from which you cherry pick verses, or that you have never read at all. If you are going to tell me that your Bible is inerrant and literally true, read through the entire thing, and tell me in your own words how you justify that. If you are just going to parrot people who have done it before you, saying exactly what they said to me, that shows a lack of understand, or a lack of comprehension, or a lack of having read the material at all.

What I have done here today wasn’t parroting information about the Big Bang; I told you about the theory in my own words, using my own understanding. I could do the same (and have, at some length) regarding the Bible and factual errors as well as inconsistencies… But the funny thing is, even then, I have done a ton of external research. A great place to start, and to start with an absolutely theistic leaning, is with the works of Reza Aslan. His book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is an incredibly in-depth look at the historical validity of the Gospels contained in the Bible. To clarify, the book does not aim to tear them apart, it aims to tell an accurate history of Jesus and the early Christian Church, to form a coherent single narrative out of the disparate tales contained in the Gospels. I mean, I find it odd that you can say the Bible is inerrant and free of contradiction when none of the four primary canonical Gospels seem to be able to agree on the life of Jesus. In any case, I would like to hear your refutations of the points made by Aslan in this book. Some of the points include the fact that no census was taken that would have required Joseph to go to Bethlehem, the fact that “going to the city of your fathers” in no way describes how a Roman census was conducted, or the fact that, as he was born of a virgin who was impregnated by God himself, Jesus would have had zero drops (that is 0%, none, nil, 0/1, 0/100, zip, zilch, nada) of blood that would tie him in any way to the lineage of David. To go even one step further, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke give two completely different genealogies of Jesus, and that barely matters because genealogies of the time were done through the male line, and it was Mary’s blood in him anyway. What was the genealogy of Mary? I don’t know, I don’t even know who her Grandmother would have been, let alone tracing back her history some 42 generations, let alone 76 generations. Another odd thing is that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both have David in Jesus’ lineage, but the generations between David and Jesus in the Gospel of Luke was some forty two, and in Matthew was twenty seven. Even more damning, these ‘detailed’ generations contain only two names in common.

There, a single paragraph. If you can tell me, in your own words, why the genealogy of Jesus is listed so differently between the two Gospels (and, while you are at it, why his genealogy matters at all, if he was born of a virgin), and how you still believe the Bible to be inerrant and literal, then we can continue this dialog forward. If you send me nothing but a quote from someone who never seems to be able to defend themselves in a public forum, I am afraid we have reached an impasse.