The Modern Damage of Romans 1:18-21

More than anything in the Gospels, more than anything in the Old Testament, more than any other passage quoted in the Epistles of Paul, Romans 1:18-21 is quoted by the Young Earth Creationists in defending their… Science? Opinion? Stance? Ignorance? I don’t even know what to call it; I don’t want to call it ignorance, but when it is said in the same breath as speaking historical science, or in the same article as calling evolution “anti-science”, it is tough to call it anything else. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but if they didn’t have this talisman I think we’d be in a very different world (or, at the very least, they’d have to pull different tools out of their tickle trunk).

I tripped down the hole that is Answers in Genesis, and was forging through the brush of their articles before coming across these two pieces of wonderful literature that I simply could not ignore. The first of my links is possibly the most broadly egregious, for it basically says that the scientific advances of the great Greek culture were only because of God. I mean, obviously they weren’t Christian or Jewish, but thanks to their MIGHTY TALISMAN (Romans 1:18-21), we can be certain that they knew God. Obviously. And because they knew God, and rejected God, then God gets all the credit for their science in absentia. I mean, it’s not like they can fight back, right?

Never mind the fact that when Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the spherical Earth, the Jews were being passed between Egypt and Greek masters like some kind of feud over a borrowed lawn mower (The third century BC). I am sure the Jews of the day were closer to the right of it, though, and the Greeks knew about the Christian God (then again… Jesus hadn’t been around yet, and Romans 1:18-21 didn’t exist. So the Jewish God was universally a territorial, xenophobic, murderous asshole of a tribal god at the time. Oh, that isn’t true, you say? Tell me where in the Old Testament God showed his love for all peoples. Oh, I know God said he loved the Israelites, but that was generally right before he wanted to kill them all. It’s OK, though, Moses talked him out of it. Anyway, take your time. I’ll wait.).

Regardless, the spurious logic presented in the second linked article is almost laughable to anyone who even … Sorry, that was going to go to an insulting place, and I’d rather we stay civil. Anyway, the author states that because the Bible states there is uniformity in the universe that there would be no such uniformity without God. I don’t even know which of the thousand threads to pull on. I mean, the first would be what was the world like before God struck his covenant with Abraham? And even if we accept your Creator God, why does He have such a small, historically insignificant people as His chosen, despite the fact that he frequently mentions his hatred of them? Why have a chosen people at all when all people are descended of your creation? And what’s with the other gods in the old testament? The Old Testament contextually speaks of Ba’al as a rival god to YWH, and historically it seems that even the early Jews accepted Ba’al as existing, though there’s an entire body of research that goes into how that argument got settled.

If God wanted to kill the Israelites so badly after the Exodus, why didn’t He just choose another, better chosen people? To that end, why did he ACTIVELY harden the heart of Pharaoh against believing in Him? I don’t even, what is this?

But then this all goes to the damage caused by Romans 1:18-21 in the modern world. The weird thing I want to know is how does this manifest? How do I know the truth of God and reject it? How is it so plainly obvious? And I don’t just mean in my case, what of the case of a child born and raised pagan? If the child learns of the Hindu pantheon from birth to death, how was that child meant to know God clearly? The passage reads that all things are clearly seen, but what makes these miracles “clearly seen” to be of the God you were raised to believe in, as opposed to Zeus? Or Odin? Or Vishnu? What makes it so clear that these aren’t scientific processes? These aren’t rhetorical questions, they are question about the very root of the arrogance of hard line creationists who cite it as defense of their view. You are asking me to take a statement from a first century religious zealot at face value, without even a hint of explanation. Hell, with the way that this set of verses is bandied about, it seems you want me to accept it without even the slightest trace of context.

I think that very passage is at the root of the arrogance of many modern creationists, and I think it has stymied the conversation between the Christian Church in the United States and science worldwide. Usually, this would not really concern me, but as the United States is a major world power, it is a major issue worldwide. The Christian Right has certainly put a massive stopper on many very promising lines of stem cell research. That should concern the entire world, and that does concern me. When your religious dogma promotes love and tolerance, I will stand by it — but if I have to let your anti-scientific rhetoric through with it, I have serious reservations — and I think any empathetic, merciful human should have similar reservations.

It is the arrogance of belief that lets so many people stand confidently beside the idea that, to use Sam Harris’ example, a 7 year old with third degree burns over 80% of her body should suffer because the treatment for this illness lies in the destruction of a blastocyst that has no nervous system. That a soul is granted immediately upon conception. I would like to see the evidence that this is the case, in any case.

There are many who believe that life is an absolute, and destroying even a blastocyst constitutes killing, regardless of whether the being has a soul — but to assume that the blastocyst could suffer in any real way, without a nervous system, without any organs, without any identifiable features that could make it human, we must not destroy it even if in the hope of saving the above mentioned girl.

These beliefs contribute perhaps to a higher population of humans, but definitely to increased suffering in the world. But hey, 9 billion people suffering is better than 7 billion healthy people, right? Right?

What Did I Just Watch?

So I finally got around to watching the season 3 finale of the Creation Today Show, and while I usually get a chuckle out of their antics, I was really put off by the finale. Specifically, an offhanded line by Ben Schettler, Eric Hovind’s most recent co-host. They are discussing the Mount St Helen’s eruption and the drastic changes of the surrounding areas following the explosion. A canyon was formed, redirecting the river. Or so I am told, my own personal knowledge of Mount St Helen’s is lacking, and I always make the assumption that I must fact check what is said on the Creation Today show at the best of times… But in this case, the facts are immaterial to the point I am about to make.

The canyon formed quickly, and they then apply this to the Flood Geology method of describing the Grand Canyon. Ignoring for now the fact that “Well, it happened quickly over here, that means it definitely happened over there the exact same way,” is at its very best bad logic, Ben Schettler drops the following bombshell. He puts on his most condescending look, lowers his eyes, shakes his head gently, and utters the following: “This just goes to show you that no matter what the evidence says, some people will always interpret it through their own world view.”

Creation Today is not known for being self aware, but this is like–dog having a fight with a mirror levels of self aware. I wrote down that metaphor without thinking it through, but it works so much better than I had originally even intended–they are dropping bombshell quotes that should be destroying the foundations they themselves are building.

What must be remembered is that Ben and Eric are not scientists, Paul Taylor is not a scientist, Ken Ham is not a scientist, and yet they are making sweeping generalizations, calling the scientific field biased, ignoring good science, grasping bad science, using faulty logic… I could go on and on about the errors of scholarship they make, before they tell everyone that while people who have spent their whole lives studying and reading mind numbing spreadsheets of data that would make sense to maybe three people in the world are not only wasting their time, but also intellectually dishonest and probably stupid.

The other interesting thing is the escape hatch they employ to get out of their regress, and that requires some explanation. Science, they will say, is biased and blind to the truth, starting from the assumption that the world is millions of years old (4,400 million, give or take, so they don’t have to use the word Billion). Where did this bias come from? The people who taught the scientists about it. Who taught them? The people who came before, etc, etc, generally until we reach some major historical scientist. Darwin is a frequent example, because his theories are certainly rested upon the foundations of an old Earth. Who taught Darwin about evolution? (This is not the place to debate who Darwin stole the theory from, or didn’t steal it from, that is immaterial. The theory was founded around that time by a human.) Satan! Escape hatch opened, and then dived into head first!

Satan told the first old earth geologists about how old the earth is, Satan told science to find alternate methods of creation, Satan something something evil anti-God ways!!!i!i!

The issue is that Christian scientists have been going over the same data that secular scientists have for just as long as secular scientists have, and no credible young earth theories have come from it. YECs are the small minority, because there is simply no scientific ground to stand on — but people will always interpret the evidence through their world view, won’t they, Ben Schettler?

Two things that just make me sad and angry and crazy are gross intellectual dishonesty and superiority complex realized via condescension. I have a superiority complex, I am aware of it, and I try to minimize it — and I will never try to be condescending to anyone when it is in active employ. But oh man, I think I blacked out for a few minutes when Ben Schettler said what he said. I actually paused the video to write this. I am only 1/3 of the way through the episode.

Time to go back to finish it up. If I can.

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.

Divisive Apologetics

I have so many things I want to write, and I didn’t know how to pick which to write to start my return to my general discussions–so I ended up picking the one that had been fermenting in my mind the longest. I fear that my failure to write it down may have caused the idea some stagnation and rot, so bear with me as I try to pull the relevant bits together into something that sounds coherent.

A fairly recent post on Creation Today is titled “Today’s Church trumpets an uncertain sound.” The goal stated by Creation Today, and its founder’s father, Kent Hovind, is that the Church of Christ must preach a consistent message in order to be taken seriously in a modern world. I won’t lie, their stated goal is admirable, until you get to the point where they state “And the message we have to preach, because it is the only correct message, is the message that we came up with.” The following part is implied, but I suppose I have little choice but to take it at face value, “Because we have discovered the truth behind the message of Jesus that has been hidden from everyone for the last 2000 years.”

Their message is hardly unique, and it definitely has some roots in the Bible, but the ferocity with which they believe in it, to the exclusion of all contradictory evidence, is the problem. I suppose how fiercely they believe it is neither here nor there, but they are getting new followers in the American South faster than I find entirely comfortable. The point, though, is that most people I know who are staunch Christians do not share their message. The Pope himself doesn’t share their message, though many Protestant Christian belief systems believe that the Pope is the seat of the antichrist, so perhaps his endorsement of an opposing view is something of a detriment to my side rather than something that speaks to my side.

Obviously science has something to say in this arena… And no, I am not talking about the arena of whether or not God exists. That is something that is still (and perhaps indefinitely) beyond the scope of scientific range. I am talking about the still very young field of “Creation Science”, or if you prefer “Intelligent Design.” To claim the Earth is 6,000 years old stands in stark contrast to modern scientific consensus. I am not saying that science knows the age of the Earth to an absolute value, but to compare hundreds of dating methods that agree on the general age of the Earth to within 5% to a book written by scientifically illiterate middle eastern shepherds… That is something of intellectual dishonesty that is difficult to understand, let alone believe in. Even then, to believe the Earth is 6,000 is your right, and I suppose I don’t have a problem with the belief itself. I do, however, have a problem with the attitudes that come out of that belief system.

Many Young Earth Creationists who hold fast to creation science will often speak of the “Arrogance of scientists,” and their “presuppositions.” To say “You are definitely wrong, we are definitely right, and your looking for evidence makes you the arrogant ones with a prestanding belief that ruins your objective outlook,” hurts me. It really does.

I am not writing this to merely state that I don’t like their view, but to state that I find their view to be somewhat reprehensible in a way that isn’t absolutely obvious. The issue is, they claim several things; they claim that they are right, that science bears them out, that the evidence of God is self-evident, that (as per the legendary Bible quote Romans 1:20) anyone who does not realize they are right is a fool (and they will use it as an insult, though while telling you they mean no such thing).

The other issue with this belief system is that it exists within an echo chamber; the population of the United States consistently shows in polls that they believe the Young Earth View. The United States as a general idea seems to have grown increasingly arrogant in the last decades, believing themselves to be the World Police, morally right, the freest nation on the planet. Somehow, though they only came to nationhood in the 18th century, you will hear many people say that they are the elect of God and Jesus; George W. Bush believed (or at least stated his belief) that he was elected to the Presidency by God, a view that perhaps gave him a surety in his many objectively poor decisions that borders on dangerousness. If a strong believer actually fully believed that their ideas were endorsed by He of the Most High, what ruin could he wreak with his decisions, believing they were correct the whole time?

That question isn’t really rhetorical, we have evidence, in the global recession that occurred under Bush. Bill Clinton managed to create a budgetary surplus; the United States was on track to clear their debts. They are now so far in debt, so far in the red, no one on either side of the party really knows how they are going to reverse it.

This comes down to the religiosity of the voting public, and I think this has some kind of basis in modern apologetics. The reason apologetics has become divisive isn’t in their message (they do mostly preach peace, though there are certainly some issues with hatred in some parts of their message, I believe they could be ironed out), but it is because of their fanaticism. Like so many religions that came before, young earth biblical fundamentalism has some malignancy that has yet to be ironed out. To believe, for example, that their religion should be spread at the point of a sword is still a problem many face. Even if not at the point of a sword, many in the young earth movements believe that the world would be a better place if everyone believed in their brand of religion. This has created a divide. (HAH! See, I worked this post around to the title, and all it took was one thousand words! With a word economy like that, I could really be a writer, hey?!)

The problem with apologetics is that it relies, leans, depends, upon the statement that “Our God is not a God of confusion,” and further that the Bible should be read literally. The idea that the Bible is without error has been proven false, both here and elsewhere, and many have done it far better than I could. This has created an issue where people on the same side, that of young earth evangelism, end up fighting each other. Dr Henry Morris is credited with founding the idea of modern creation science. It is odd, but I think it worth pointing out that the PhD that earned Dr Morris his title was in hydraulic engineering, a field that I am not sure really aligns with any requirement to make definitive statements about the Bible. That being said, his book (the New Defender’s Bible) is generally heralded as the best book on apologetics that the average person could hope to find. Obviously, it is based on the King James Version, which for some reason is touted by many as the perfect bible despite modern translation improvements showing certain phrases to be in error…

If God is not a God of confusion, why does Kent Hovind repeatedly state in many of his speeches that he disagrees with Dr Morris on several counts? If God is not a God of confusion, why do so many apologists trumpet such a different sound? As an improvement on the old message, it is worth noting that the modern message of Eric Hovind (son of Kent Hovind) is aligned with Answers in Genesis… Though I would go as far as to say that this is less that he believes as they do, and more to do with the fact that AIG is such a powerhouse in modern apologetics, to fight against that current would be to drown and disappear.

The other reason apologetics is divisive is that it also balances upon the statement “We know everything now that we need to know.” So often evangelical preachers have stood against science, mostly when it runs perpendicular to their own personal message, but it isn’t always so. We know almost nothing, so little that it is impossible to list what we don’t know; that list would dwarf the list of what we do know so completely that it would hardly be worth the time to write down what we know… Except for the fact that we need this basis to build more knowledge.

What was it that eradicated small pox? It wasn’t religion. What was it that caused the murder of women in Salem? It wasn’t science.

The above was incredibly unfair, but rhetoric often helps to make a point. If everyone in the world were a peasant making food in the service to some enlightened person in the Church, I doubt we would be where we are today. I am not calling the Church anti-scientific, though it has had… Phases? There are times when it has stood against scientific flow, and modern YEC evangelism is still standing in stark opposition to science. To argue against Darwinian evolution is a failing point. To argue against spontaneous life is certainly valid, but I do not understand why “from nothing came something” is impossible, but God created everything by speaking it into existence, and only an ignorant person would stand against that! I do not understand what it is about that statement that makes it so compelling to so many people.

That being said, to say “You don’t know how life began,” is not an insult; it is a mere statement of fact. Science does not know how life first formed, though they are at least working on the problem. If they figure it out, what happens then, I wonder? YEC scientists would never try to create life in a lab, I think, because their belief system calls the idea impossible.

I’d like the think that science relies on the idea that nothing is impossible, just very, very, unlikely.

The point of this semi-coherent ramble is this; if you are right, secular science will eventually come to the same conclusions of you. So shouting “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” at the top of your lungs helps no one. You should be working with scientists in secular laboratories, helping them find the answers. The problem is, in order to do that, you must start from the assumption that we don’t yet know the answer, that we have yet to find it.

Perhaps you can use the Bible as an answer key, in some cases, but only in hindsight. You still have to show your work, and quite often most scientists will say that the creation scientist has ignored a key piece of evidence or has ignored some new piece of information found after the presented information, and anyone who keeps up with the field would have known that.

If that is the case (and I would tend to think it is so), why should we rely on scientists who ignore contradictory evidence? How does one trust them?

It is a universal thing, really; a fanatic will ignore anything that would stand in the way of their fanaticism. It creates a divide between the true and the imagined. I think Justin Bieber is almost the perfect example; he has been caught doing awful things, like spitting on fans, like driving under the influence of alcohol, like being a general jackass… But many Beliebers will say that he didn’t really, or that he was misunderstood, or any one of a thousand excuses. The same is true of YEC scientists, I fear.

Again, this wouldn’t be a divisive issue if they kept their beliefs… But their own ideas require the Christian to attempt to spread these ideas.

They don’t even want to work with secular science, that is why they have their own schools, their own colleges and universities, their own areas of study and labs–they don’t even want to work with scientists unless the scientists will agree with them.

So what I propose is we leave each other alone for fifty years, let the YECs toil away in their labs, general scientists toil away in the labs of public universities, and then we can compare notes in 2065. I am sure we will all learn a lot from each other, and I think science would progress at a much higher pace if we stopped fighting… Particularly because the United States has a lot of money to spend on science, and the YEC influence that is huge in that country is slowing things down.

It’d be awesome if we all just acted like adults rather than kids who could fight for weeks about “MY DAD IS BETTER THAN YOUR DAD!”

Bah, I don’t really like how this post came out. It is kind of negative, doesn’t really prove a point. I suppose it is just here to put some information down, consolidate some of my own thoughts. When I take two weeks off of writing, a whole bunch of crud builds up. I think it is going to take me a few posts to get over it all. The next few days will probably see me writing with less cohesion than normal, so please forgive me while I figure some stuff out.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful 2015!

Building Cities

It is an odd thing, to cling to certain beliefs in opposition of strong evidence. I don’t mean the belief in a religion, as no evidence can take that from you, but belief in an inerrant Bible, completely free of contradictions? That is something of a puzzle, more difficult to understand from an outsider. What day was Jesus crucified? Well, the gospels are all a little askew about that. If you want to go even smaller, how many times did the cock crow to denounce Peter? Again, there is disagreement. How about whether the Old Testament Law still applies? Again, there are separate commandments.

Muslims have admitted that there are contradictions in the Qur’an, and they have accepted it and created rules around it. I like their approach; under the theory of progressive revelation (to which many Christians subscribe as well), they have decided that more recent revelations take precedence. Effectively, for a book that is a single revelation from a single point in time, the latter chapters obviously have the weight of religious law about them.

That being said, this is just a single example of people handling the evidence differently, and not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is about why people need to come up with beliefs in spite of opposing evidence, and for me it is all about building a city. Each belief rests upon a foundation of rock or sand (my Biblically minded readers should understand this), and the stability of it depends on what you chose to build it on.

This is not as easy as you think, nor as simple–science and religion can both be used as foundations, but honestly needn’t be; science can rest on a foundation of religion, as religion can rest on a foundation of science. I hope to clarify that some, and explain why I am writing this at all.

A strong foundation of religion is an incredibly solid rock built on a faultline; the foundation will never crack, but one day it may be gone completely. If you have built everything on this rock, you may find one day, when your belief is gone, that you are left with nothing. Something like this happened to me, when I was younger, but thankfully it was early enough for me to step back and assess my situation. Some time during my childhood, I don’t know exactly when, but I definitely realized it during my confirmation in Grade 7 (12 or 13 years old, I suppose I would have been)–I had stopped building. It was around then that I realized I was not nearly as sure of my foundation as I was told I should have been. I did not begin deconstructing or moving my city then, but certainly I stopped building.

A strong foundation of science is a bit of a different thing; science is moving, gaining understanding. Science is still a foundation of rock, but perhaps not so strong as religion. Occasionally cracks show, and we must go to repair them before we can continue building upon them. The strong religious among us may stand and watch as we repair the cracks, mocking us for the extra work we have gained for ourselves while they luxuriate in their peaceful cities, their strong beliefs… And some may go to their graves, never having had to change their beliefs…

Some, though… Some will suffer an earthquake, and their strong foundation will change to sand. If this happens when they are 40, what are they left to do? Stare at the rubble of their life or rebuild? Start a whole new city from the ground up, at a time when a solid foundation is much more difficult to find?

This situation assumes some sort of mutual exclusivity, that religion and science can’t co-exist. That is not the case, and I follow two wonderful bloggers who build their religious beliefs upon a rock solid foundation of science (that was an awful pun, as the two bloggers I am talking about are the GeoChristian and Age of Rocks). When scoping how to build their city, they did not listen to religious salesmen (Evangelists) who said “Ah, build it here, you will never go wrong, look how solid our rock is!” They are still very religious, and a quick read of their blog (and the comments, with some very interesting infighting) will show that they are every bit as sincere in their beliefs as any Evangelical, but they have built that upon science as a foundation–or perhaps even deeper, they use a two layer foundation, part science, part faith. I respect their stance, though, and the fact that they have seen the issues in their faith and not shied from them, but approached them head on with eyes open.

I think it all boils down to one definition, and the different ways people understand it.

Faith: Belief in something in the absence of evidence. Religion falls into this definition.

Faith is not belief in something in opposition of evidence. Biblical inerrancy falls under this heading.

Be careful how you build your city, you may find no errors for forty years… But that does not mean none are there. Make sure you constantly maintain your foundation, or you may find it has turned to sand when you go to check on it.

A Personal Kind of Excuse

Edit: Happy 100th post everyone!!!

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians — they are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Ghandi

“With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, you need religion.” -Steven Weinberg

“I’d like to think that, thanks to my intelligence, I make very few mistakes… But when I do make mistakes, they tend to be legendary.” -Me

The above three quotes tie together so well that it almost seems some kind of magic, even some kind of miracle. I don’t think that is an accident; the quote I gave from myself is one I tend to use as a talisman to ensure I retain some level of humbleness; it is when I think I am right most often that I make the worst mistakes (I once made a mistake so legendary it made the news, though thankfully my name was removed from the story). This is not anything to do with religion, this is to do with being a human, but it ties back so often to religion and to war that I felt it important to include it as a counterbalance to the Weinberg and Ghandi quotes.

Carl Jung, a great psychiatrist and psychoanalyst of the early 20th century, has been quoted (and the quote slightly varies, but the idea is always the same) as having said “I do not need to believe [in God], I know [God exists]!” This is the type of knowledge that leads to mistakes that can end up being legendary. “In the fullness of time,” writes Sam Harris, “One side of this debate will really win and one side will really lose.” It is in this vein that I try, as best as I am able, to never make an absolute statement with regards to religion.

I will fully admit, of course, that my own brand of intelligence has led me to lose my belief in God, but I would never say “there is no God.” That being said, I am comfortable saying the following: “There is probably no God, and if there is, he/she/it is probably not of the Christian variety.” If I am wrong, and both of those statements turn out wrong (and I am comfortable saying I cannot know the truth until I die), then I am comfortable admitting that I have made a mistake that was, in fact, more grand in scope than I could ever imagine in this life. Perhaps, I am open to thinking, there is something to the Christian religion, and to the fact that I may burn in hell for the things I have come to believe about the world and nature.

That being said, many of my beliefs in nature align with Christian beliefs, though that word was chosen carefully and advisedly. Belief and practice are often two very different things, as any public atheist tends to learn in the fullness of time. It is very few, the number of atheists that have not been told they will burn in hell, or that they should die, or that they are (quoting a letter sent to Richard Dawkins) “Only alive because my God commands me not to kill.”

Perhaps it is my naive reading of the Bible that has made me come to this conclusion, but I would think that wishing a person dead is in direct breach of Matthew 5:27-28, which states that, in part, “Any man who has looked at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” It is in my own naivete that I believe this is a broader commandment, one that charges Christians to keep a pure mind, not only with respect to adultery but with respect to all of the core commandments. This is, again in my mind, bore out by the fact that one of the core commandments states that thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods; this is not just saying “thou shalt not steal,” but is further saying “thou shalt not think about stealing.”

I think the Golden Rule really needs to be more prominently on display in the Bible, and in the hearts of its readers. I really think that sending hate mail, no matter how justified you feel, is in breach of this rule. I think hating, or in any way persecuting homosexuals, is in direct breach of this rule. I think there are greater moral teachings than the Golden Rule, though it is very good, but like an artist with a block of clay, I work with what I am given. Much in the same way, now that I think about it, an apologist or Christian works with their own block of clay. There are parts of the Bible that no person can say are moral (or if you do, you are looking through some heavily tinted sunglasses), but they are there, so we work through them, all of us, even non-Christians.

Oh, but how do non-Christians deal with the Bible? I would ask the “witches” of Salem, whose belief or nonbelief in God did not matter. I would ask the “heretics” in the middle east for the hundreds of years that the Crusades lasted. I would ask the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, whose delicate flesh got in the way of the Inquisitor’s hammer (That’s how that worked, right? The Inquisitors were Godly men, and thus never meant to hurt anyone, these people just happened to get in the way. By accident.).

If these examples are too archaic, then how about the Scopes trial of 1925, where science was denied in the very name of God? Or the more recent Vashti McCollum trial of 1948, where her family was ostracized, her children bullied, her name sullied for years. Is that recent enough?

I am not here to bash religion, but I am certainly not above bashing things that are done in the name of Christianity.

If we want to go even more recent, even today Teach the Controversy is being forced (or, at the very least pushed) upon a barely aware populace. The numbers from Gallup and Pew as to the scientific literacy of the United States of America are almost stunning to those outside of the country, and they seem to correlate with increasingy fundamental beliefs in certain areas of the country, rather than more progressive beliefs and education.

There is no “controversy” among the scientific populace, except perhaps between proponents of kin selection versus proponents of group selection, but even then it is a debate that is being solved by evidence and ideas.

The Scopes Trial, or the Vashti McCollum incident could have been gentle non issues; if you would treat an atheist like you would treat any other brother or sister in Christ, history would barely remember her. She would be referenced in court cases, and would certainly have a place in constitutional history, but who remembers the names of the people who pressed for constitutional amendments? No, I doubt seriously that I would be accutely familiar with (or even have heard) the name Vashti McCollum in a truly Christian world, where people practiced truly Christian beliefs.

But in a human world? Perhaps, perhaps I would have, and indeed, I have.

This is the point where you may say “AHA! You admit that being human is the problem! Well, Christianity allows us to transcend our baser instincts!” I am sorry for using a Straw Man in this case; very few people will speak to me of religion face-to-face, so I am forced to use hypothetical readers. I would like to think I am not an obnoxious atheist, but I am passionate where it comes to eliminating human suffering, so I may get more heated than I would like whenever someone defends their bigotry with the Bible… That being said, I must reiterate, I am not here to take religion away, I am here to take away the evil/bad parts of religion, and I will stay the course to that end. Worded another way, I do not want to debate, I want to discuss.

Now, off of that tangent, we are back to speaking about humans and their base instincts. I do not think it is a prevalent belief that women should be murdered wholesale, but why do you think the people of Salem held the witch trials? I do not believe they were evil people, I believe they were good people who did evil things out of fear and superstition–and they used their Bible as the justification.

It is not humanity that is evil, and it is not Christianity that is evil, but this is a case of chemistry taking two things, putting them together in a beaker, and the result is often ugly. To parallel that with something in the real world, I like mentos, and I like Diet Coke (get off my lawn, it still tastes good!!!), but I know that taking a mentos followed by a shot of diet coke is going to end poorly.

This goes back to a point I’ve made before; if we separate religion from our personal image of ourselves, we can transcend this negative interaction. If I say to you “The Bible preaches many evil things, among the good things,” your first reaction should not be one of indignation or hurt; that is a sure sign that the chemical reaction of religion/humanity is curdling your soul. If you ever defend bigotry using the Bible, that is a sure sign that the chemical reaction of religion/humanity is curdling your soul.

If, however, you admit that the Bible has a dark side, and that we can transcend it, but that religion is ultimately a force that allows you to surpass your own baser nature? I will be on your side. I will help you find Bible verses that support you. I will celebrate and trumpet your religion, but you have your humanity in one beaker and your religion in another, and you understand that they can compliment each other, but should perhaps not be directly mixed.

A moralist who takes the good of the Bible and throws out the bad has an incredibly sturdy foundation. That being said, a moralist is perfectly capable of being moral without using the Bible as their foundation, and that should be recognized, too.

We all have different ways of transcending our own personal flaws. Some use religion, though many in different ways. Some use the love of Jesus as a guide to loving thy neighbor; some use the fear of hell. These are two very different things, and I should hope that even the most die-hard Christian can see that. Some do not use religion; for me, it is my empathy. I do not believe in your God, but even so I believe in being moral and loving to those around us. I believe this should extend to the planet we live on, to those who do not share our beliefs, to those who do not share our opinions, to the animals around us. An issue I have taken with many Christians is that their Bible (and their personal beliefs) often do not extend to the protection of animals–but that, I will admit, is only a minor complaint in the big picture.

To summarize, perhaps, using the same example I’ve used before of the pastor who said he’d be a murderer if not for Jesus… You know what? If that is what it takes for you to be moral, ok, I’ll accept. The issue I take with that pastor is that he takes the Bible wholesale; he has the superiority complex that comes of one of the Chosen, he believes all people must be Christian, he believes that Muslims are the height of evil. Those are not moral beliefs, and I have a problem with his religion. His personal religion.

Do I have a problem with all Christians? Certainly not. I have a problem with the immoral Christians.

If you are Christian, I am going to ask you to take a look into yourself and ask not “What does the Bible tell me,” but “Am I doing unto others as I would have them do unto me?”

To bring out a tired example, if homosexuality were the norm and being heterosexual were punishable by ostracism (in progressive places) or death (in less progressive places), would you think anyone should have the right to decide what you do in the privacy of your own home when both parties are completely consenting? No one is harmed by your heterosexuality, you reason, and yea; no one even needs to know you are heterosexual. It has no bearing on anything outside of your love of your husband or your love of your wife.

“Hey Jim, have you finished your homosexual accounting?”

“No, Charles, I did heterosexual accounting.”

“Why’d you tell me that? Now we have to fire you.”

I should hope we all find the above conversation, regardless of our religious views, ridiculous. And that’s the whole point.

So, to beat home what I have said many times on this blog, let’s all be moral, regardless of our background. If only 10% of us would choose to live that way, the world would be a better place within the week.

A War of Gentlemen

This is a debate between Christopher Hitchens (one of the most prominent atheists in the world until, and indeed after, his death in 2011) and Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1997-2007. The audience was polled as they entered as to their opinion of the resolution at hand (Be it hereby resolved that religion is a force for good in the world), and polled after as to whether their opinion was changed, and to vote on the winner. Whether one side won or not, the true metric of the debate was whose side had the greater sway over the audience.

During the debate, Mr Blair and Mr Hitchens respectfully spoke with each other, had a cross examination and rebuttal, and fielded equal questions from the audience. Not only that, but their rebuttals directly touched upon the points of the other, this is an important distinction.

This debate was hosted in Canada in formal style with formal debate rules.

This is a debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy (who needs no introduction) and Ken Ham, who I believe is one of the most negative forces in the world as far as scientific advancement goes, creator of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, the largest of its kind, as well as the Arc Encounter, a project spending multiple millions of dollars creating a 1:1 scale Noah’s Arc.

During the debate, there are hangups on the most trivial things and the debate ended up devolving into two men giving semi-related speeches trying, almost desperately to make their points, regardless of what the other said.

This debate was hosted in the States, and had rules, but was in no way done in formal style. Who won? Both sides will tell you their side won because they “made their points.” Well of course you can make your points if you completely ignore the presence of the other side.

To be fair, there was some lip service to rebutting the other side–but when the rebuttal stage includes a prepared set of slides, you obviously knew what you were going to say before the other side made their point. That isn’t debate, that is speeches, and while similar on the surface, it doesn’t work like it is supposed to.

The point of rebuttal is your ability to think on your feet, to counter the points of the other. The points you choose to counter say as much as your counter argument itself, and the points you choose to ignore (if not purely for time constraints) say more still. There was no point to the Ham/Nye debate, no resolution was reached, the root question was barely stated.

The Hitchens/Blair debate made points, suggested outcomes, and each man clearly worked with the other instead of ignoring their point.

This reminds me of a 2 hour joke I watched two days ago. It basically starts out “A Theist, an Atheist, and Eric Hovind walk into a bar…” It was supposed to be a debate, but the whole thing was a mess. It was a mess because the theist and atheist both ended up fighting Hovind, who clearly has no idea how to argue against someone who believes in God and Science at the same time. Like, Hovind came right off the rails several times, because how can you believe in God, but not that the Earth is 6000 years old?! That being said, it is a unique person who can be both charismatic (to a degree) and yet get an atheist and a theist to gang up on him. Hovind in this debate was asked to do something he is not used to, and yet he still used his script (his “questions” were from a direct script he has read verbatim, alone, on two of his various shows (Creation Today and Creation Minute) which basically showed that he is unable to think on his feet; if he goes off script, it’s all over). The problem came about one third of the way into the debate where Hovind could no longer break any new ground, and kept trying to bring the debate back to the formal definition of the word “know” against a man who has a DOCTORATE DEGREE in Linguistics. To the theist’s credit, Pastor Bob was incredibly patient with Eric.. Almost like he was trying to teach a lesson to a child who simply could not get it.

I think that goes to the core of what people *think* a debate is in popular culture; to them, it is just people arguing. No, “debate” is a formal thing, it has rules, it has outcomes, there are metrics to judging them… But I have seen far too many “debates” between theists and atheists that added up to two people seeing who could speak more loudly.

We need more Hitchens/Blair debates and fewer Nye/Ham debates. The former helps expand understanding, the latter is an entertainm… Oh shit, I just figured out why people in the US debate that way.

I’ll show myself out.