Friday, December 29, 2006

David and Solomon (and Judas)

Recently I have read the book, David and Solomon, having had my curiosity aroused by the discussion here with "Honey". It is an interesting book, putting together archeology, history, and the Bible to discuss the story of David and Solomon.

The authors see that David and Solomon may well have been real men who started a dynasty known as the House of David, but the actual events of their lives must have been very different from that recorded in the Bible.

Archeology shows that Jerusalem and the surrounding areas were only sparsely inhabited by a few herders and farmers in the time of David. Archeology has found many remains at Jerusalem from earlier times (before 1550 BCE) and from later times (after 750 BCE), but very little from the reported time of David and Solomon (1010-930 BCE). This indicates that Jerusalem in the time of Solomon was far from being the capital of a mighty empire from Egypt to the Euphrates as indicated in the Bible.

The book portrays the historical David as a bandit leader in the Jerusalem area, with a small group of men. David's bandits would have served partially to protect the people of the area, and would have been a nuisance to rich, established people in surrounding areas. In the meantime, it appears that the area of Benjamin north of the Jerusalem area was fairly prosperous. This may be the source of the story of King Saul, who ruled in the north, and ended up chasing the bandit David. But Saul's kingdom was destroyed by Egypt, perhaps with the aid of the Philistines and even David. The kingdom around Jerusalem survived, and could have come to be ruled by David, thus establishing the House of David.

But all of this happened before writing was established in the area, so the stories were only passed down by word of mouth. Later the stories were recorded, and later events could have then been incorporated into the stories, eventually leading to the record as we know it today.

It is an interesting read, although nobody knows exactly what happened. In any case, actual history appears to be much different from that recorded in the Bible.


(I have renamed this post, since many of the comments below are about Judas, not about David and Solomon.)

Going Free without Going Wild

Here is another email from a person that moved beyond fundamentalism:

I cannot even begin to tell you how much your story is like mine. However, I went straight from being a fundy to an outright agnostic or theist. I have been bothered by religious concepts for so many years, and trying to live a secluded life without people outside the small church I attend is mentally destructive. I said and did some really crazy things. People probably thought I was just cold or crazy because I really wanted to break away for a long time (I knew something was not right), but my low self-esteem from my religious ideology just kept me down. I think I can stand on my own two feet now and face the world the way it is.

You have to admit though, fundies are better off in at least one respect: they are taught to read their Bibles. More liberal Christians never do this, so even though they don’t have such an oppressive lifestyle, they will still do stupid things like pay tithes and waste their time and money on Christian books and/or counseling without ever knowing their beliefs. A lot of marriages will end in divorce (and considerable guilt) for these liberal Christians because they think that God actually has something to do with the marriage when they start, but they will never see that the success of the marriage is all up to them to begin with and the tough times don’t call for extra prayer or church dogma. At least fundies have a chance to examine their beliefs, and with a little help from some external stimulus, maybe they will someday question their belief and will free themselves from the horrible mental stranglehold called religion. I just hope that people realize that they shouldn’t go wild or crazy after they cast off their yoke; I hope they go looking for the truth and see what works best for society and themselves (e.g. humanism).

I too hope that those who examine their beliefs move on to something better, and do not simply go wild when they start to question their beliefs.

The Timing of Salvation

Anonymous writes, questioning a plan of salvation that could not possibly have helped until that message had time to reach other lands. He is right. Unless there is a way for us to find hope without believing certain facts about Jesus, then many who lived have never been given a chance. He writes:

Consider the following:

You are a person living in North America around 30 AD. Jesus has just died on the cross and risen again. For that matter, let’s say he’s already ascended into heaven and the 11 apostles have been given their mission. Now, let’s say the guy living in North America dies almost immediately after this event. Thus, it is IMPOSSIBLE for any missionary in any possible way to ever have reached this person. In addition, the guy had no idea of the OT laws, since there were no Jews in North America . Is this person going to hell even though it is IMPOSSIBLE (not just inconvenient) for him to know about Jesus? I find this hard to believe, but maybe you have something to add.

The issue is really about the timing of salvation. Several preachers press the urgency of believing NOW because you may not get the chance later, but the guy in North America never got the chance. Also, why did God wait so long before providing the sacrifice for sins? Why did he not do it immediately after Adam and Eve sinned or after the flood around Noah’s time so that we wouldn’t have the problem with the guy in North America . Why do people have to be told they are a sinner with scriptures several years later? Why couldn’t God just come down after Noah’s flood, tell them they made him mad by basically being alive, send his Son to die for everyone’s sin, and leave it at that? For that matter, why did he have to destroy mankind with a flood? Why couldn’t he just send his Son then so that those people could be redeemed without being drowned? Going back even further, why did he have to punish Adam and Eve to begin with? Couldn’t he just let Eve or maybe one of her daughters have his Son so that everything could be made right immediately and everyone could live happily ever after?

This also brings up the question of why did Jesus have to be killed by the Jews? Couldn’t God just do the tormenting himself without involving mankind? After all, he expected Abraham to kill his son (which he seemed more than willing to do); can’t God get his hands dirty without involving people?

One finds it hard to believe that God would have designed salvation so restrictively that so many people never had a chance. These are good questions.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What About All of Those Smart Guys Who Believed?

I have shown at this site why I do not believe everything in the Bible. "Ah", some will tell me, "I know a lot of smart guys, and they all believe the Bible." Every week they see the ushers at church, all outstanding men in the community, dutifully doing their service because they believe the Bible. And they see the pastor and deacons, all of whom are outstanding men and very smart, and all agree with the doctrinal statement of the church. How can one even suggest that any point of that doctrine might be wrong, when there are so many smart people who support it? (Click here for more, including why I do not agree with Honey's argument by quoting past scientists.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In Defense of Science

"Honey" continues her defense of Answers in Genesis (AiG) at my blog. Instead of concentrating on specific claims of that group, she has chosen instead to deliver a broadside attack against the validity of mainstream science in general. I respond once more in defence of mainstream science. (Click here to read more.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Did David Exist?

Did David exist as a powerful king? "Honey" is quite sure that he did, but archeology seems to indicate that, if he did exist, he was a marginal leader of a small tribe, who had little of the glory attributed to him. Click here to read more.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Was David Alone?

At my site, I mention many of the contradictions in the Bible. In one place the Bible says Judas hanged himself, but another place indicates he fell headfirst to his death. One passage claims Jacob was Joseph's father, but another says it was Eli. One passage says it is okay to divorce an unchaste partner, and another forbids it. (See Is the Bible Perfect?) Many of us have concluded that the Bible has errors.

On this blog Honey has chosen to challenge one of those contradictions: I Samuel says David was alone when he asked the priest for holy bread, but Matthew says he had companions. Honey has been trying to argue that I Samuel could be interpreted as saying that David was with companions. Let's read the passage and see what it says. The story begins after David flees his house in the middle of the night when he hears that King Saul's men are coming to kill him. Clearly David was alone when he fled, and we can see that he was alone leading up to his visit with the priest.

1And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
2And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.
3And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.
4Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.
5And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.
6If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.
7If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.
8Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?
9And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?
10Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?
11And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us [Jonathon and David only] go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
12And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;
13The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.
14And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not:
15But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
16So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's enemies.
17And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
18Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
19And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.
20And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.
21And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth.
22But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.
23And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.
24So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
25And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.
26Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.
27And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
28And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:
29And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.
30Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?
31For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
32And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
33And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.
34So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
35And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.
36And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
37And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee?
38And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.
39But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter.
40And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city.
41And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
42And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.
21:1Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?

How can it be more clear? David was alone. While he was in hiding he talked only with Jonathon. It was only David that was noticed to be missing, and not any of his men. The lad with Jonathon was not even allowed to see David, for David was hiding from everyone. I have heard this story many times in Sunday School, and never once was it said that there were other people hiding along with David. Never once was it suggested that all these men in hiding then came together and ran off together. Honey seems to think that those who do not agree with her interpretation of this passage are deceitful. Were all my Sunday School teachers deceitful?

Honey argues that David had to be with companions, for Saul would have known he was lying about the trip to Bethlehem if his companions weren't with him. But surely David would have been allowed to go to his own home--only 10 miles away--without requiring companions to be with him. And if David thought his lie about going to Bethlehem would raise too much suspician unless his men were missing, he could have had Jonathon ask some of his men to go into hiding to make the story more believable. The last thing he would have done is tell Jonathon to bring those people to him. After all, he was a fugitive from the king, and they were the king's men! If David wouldn't even trust the lad that was with his best friend, why would he trust the king's soldiers?

Nowhere does this passage say anything about men being in hiding with David, or meeting up with him to run away from Saul. Let's read on.

2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. 3 Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found.” 4 And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.” 5 Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.” 6 So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.

Now clearly David was lying here. The King had not ordered him on any business. He was a fugitive, and was running from the King. Clearly this is a lie, and was said only to keep the priest from being suspicious.

7 Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. And his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chief of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul. 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” 9 So the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, there it is, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it. For there is no other except that one here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

Once more we find David alone, and he has no weapon. Now if he had a number of companions from the King's army, they would have brought along plenty of weapons. There would be no neead to rouse suspician with his ridiculous story that he left so hastily he didn't have time to get a weapon. But David knows he needs a weapon, for he is alone and unarmed.

10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?”12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15 Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

This story makes no sense at all if David was surrounded by traveling companions from Saul's army. What did they all do when David pretended to be mad? Did they all put on an act? Were dozens of men dribbling saliva down their beards? Why didn't the Bible mention that group comedy? But if instead the others that were along were acting sanely, why didn't Achish address them? Why does Achish refer only to the madman, without noticing all the sane men around him? Surely David was alone.

22:1 David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.

OK! We finally read of people joining up with David. But this is long after the incident with the priest. Why does the Bible mention these men joining David, but fail to mention the others that had joined David earlier? Once more, if there were people with David when these others joined, why doesn't this passage mention them?

Now let's contrast this with Mt.12:3-4:

But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?"

Now here Matthew says they can read that David and his companions ate the holy bread. But we cannot read that, at least not in the Old Testament we have today. Even if Honey tries to claim it is possible that somebody could have joined up with David to eat the bread, that does not solve the contradiction. For Mathew says people can read about these others eating the holy bread with David.

Now let's look at some of Honey's comments:

Actually Merle, it would be deceitful of you to just claim errors with no substantiation. Really the onus is on you to support your claim.

I have many pages of substantiation for my claims on the web. How can she pretend otherwise?

And God demonstrates and even states, that He does not write to be easily understood by the masses, but by those who lean on Him for understanding. Proverbs 25:2It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.Luke 8:10He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, " 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.

That's odd. One would think God would want to write for the masses to understand.

I find it odd that one would use parables for the specific purpose of making his point difficult to understand. Most people add illustrations to their speeches to make it easier for people to understand. Why would one add illustrations for the purpoes of confusing people?

David was a man after God’s own heart. 1 Samuel 13:14 Is it likely a man after God’s own heart would up and lie to the priest of God? I think not, so there must be another explanation.

Well, David lied when he said he went to Bethlehem, and he was surely lying here when he said that he was on the king's business. You may quote from the Psalms to prove David was honest, but, of course, there is no real proof that these psalms actually came from David, so that really doesn't tell us much. Even if David did write that lying is evil, that does not say he did not lie in this instance. Many people don't practice what they preach. And besides, even a person who thought lying was generally evil might see that lying was excusable in this case, when David was fleeing for his life from a wicked king. Most good people can see that a lie in such circumstances might be acceptable

Later David is reported to have sinned so horribly against God that God killed 70,000 men because of his sin. (2 Samuel 24). If David could do that, I can understand that he might also tell a lie.

Throughout David’s life the Bible records David as seeking out the Lord’s direction. So instead of his reply to the priest being a lie, he was in fact following the instructions of his ‘Supreme King.’, God.

Uh, if David, in direct response to a question about the King Saul's men, said that the king ordered him on some secret business, then in context that should clearly be understood as referring to King Saul. If he deliberately used the word "king" here but actually means it to refer to God, then David is deliberately wording his remarks to be deceptive. That is the same thing as lying.

The whole point is that David was a man who was expected to have men traveling with him at all times, which the text indicates. If he was not to alert his enemy that he was in hiding and had not gone to Bethlehem as was the claim, then his men would need to be missing from their base post. If Saul (the enemy) could see that all David’s entourage of men were accounted for and that none had traveled with David, then Saul would be alerted to the fact that David had not gone to Bethlehem as claimed but was on the run.

The whole idea that this proves others were hiding with David seems silly to me. For Saul to recongnize that none of David's 1000 men were with David, he would have had to gather them all together and count them. When he heard that David was gone, I doubt very much if he would have counted all David's men, and then concluded, that since none were found missing, that David must not have gone to Bethlehem. I can't see how anyone can use this argument to prove that David was not alone.

And if Saul was indeed in the habit of counting David's men when David said he was gone, then it would have been easy for some of those men to simply have hid from Saul without actually being with David. This in no way proves that these men were now with David.

Some explanation needs to be given as to how his family knew his whereabouts when he was hiding.

Very simple. People relied on word of mouth in those days. Travelers would share stories with everybody they met. (After all, they didn't have telephone or television, but they still had "telawoman", so messages still spread.) David was a very famous man. If he was known to be in Adullum, word soon spread to his family.

But look at 1 Samuel 19:8‘Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.’I guess that means he went out single handedly and fought them huh?

No, of course not. When a man is a general, and it is said that he fought a battle, it is universally understood that it means he and his men fought. But when a man runs away alone in the middle of the night, and is acting as a fugitive, and it is never mentioned that anybody joined up with him, then it is obvious this person is alone.

For more information, see What Men with David?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Would you like to buy a book for your inner skeptic this holiday season? Check out my books pages, which have been overhauled.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Meaning of Life

Someday the Sun will burn out, and the solar system as we know it will be gone. Perhaps humans of the future will survive for a few more million years by moving to another star where they will find another planet. But someday even that will be gone. The whole universe will degenerate into a thermodynamic blandness that will make all intelligent life impossible. All that we built here on earth will be seen no more. None of our descendents will be around. Civilization will perish. Some people would say that life therefore has no meaning, but I disagree.

See The Meaning of Life for more.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Can We Trust Science?

"Honey" left a comment arguing for the validity of the Answers in Genesis (AiG) site, and condeming mainstream science. Her comment deserves a detailed response, which I present here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why not try Allah?

Here is another email from my inbox, recommending that I try Islam.

I am a Muslim woman and, thanks be to God, now am a practising Muslim, though earlier I saw Islam just like you or any one else would. Contrary to popular belief Islam believes in logic and reasoning because faith without logic is blind, and blind faith is the most disastrous on thing on earth. Today I am a person who believes in the reality of the true message of Islam and that Islam is not just another religion but the true message of God Almighty. But I came this far only because of questioning, which in turn strengthened my faith. Prophet Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with him, put it like this "Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every single Muslim. Ponder, investigate and explore into the things created by God. Verily the ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr. Surely the scientist is on the correct way the way of God. Any of you who strives to recieve knowledge for him GOD WILL MAKE EASIER THE WAY TOWARDS HEAVEN and God will elavate them aloof of their kind."

I can prove to you in the very best and convincing ways of what is the truth and what is falsehood. Take this as an open challenge and do agree to reason and debate with me in the best of ways.

May God Almighty show you the straight path, the path of those whom he has favoured not of those who have earned his anger and have gone astray.

This sounds remarkably like the pleas made by many Christians. Subsititute a few words in the email above, and it would look like many emails promoting another faith. Christians are not the only ones claiming that logic is on their side.

My guess is that Pastor Al will be able to see right through this woman's claims, and could explain to us why Islam is not backed by science. And no doubt this writer could explain why Pastor Al is not backed by the facts. Could it be that neither of those claims of truth are backed by the facts?

When God doesn't quell the doubts

A new deconvert describes her experience:

I was raised in a Christian home and except for a short time in my 20s, I have always gone to church and considered myself a Christian.

When I began questioning my faith a few months ago, albeit in the quiet of my mind, years ago, I felt like I was going crazy or perhaps possessed by a demon. When God failed to answer my prayers and quell my doubts, I was devastated and frightened. I felt lonelier than I have ever been, even with a husband and children and many friends.

I decided to do some searching on the Internet and there you were. I just want to thank you for your web site. It has answered many questions and encouraged me so much. I still feel very lonely and sometimes afraid, but I don't feel like I'm crazy or possessed anymore and that's partially because of you.

I haven't "come out," to anyone yet, but I have more confidence in my quest for the truth. I don't look forward to what will take place when I finally start sharing my discoveries, but I know I will have to eventually; but like you said, I'm not a loser and I will be okay...thank you for that.

Many can identify with the writer. It is not madness to ask questions. The child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes was not crazy. There is nothing wrong with exploring beyond the religion they you were taught. Sometimes it is like a breath of fresh air to honestly face the doubts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Evolution debate

I have posted my recent discussion on evolution with Pastor Al on my site at A Debate on Evolution. I include some concluding comments at Conclusion.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hearing God?

A reader writes about a breakthrough in hearing God, recommending a site where I can learn more about it. The site comes complete with a voice recording. Unfortunately, the voice on the recording is not God, but just a man. What a pity. Since posting a recording on the Internet is such an effective means of communication, one would wonder why God wouldn't put up his own site with recordings for us to hear. Apparently that is not the way God speaks.

I was searching online to get more information on hearing God and found your article on a Christian Forum site... I understand your frustration in hearing God and I also for a long time struggled with this. It makes only sense to start questioning everything one believes when even struggling to commune with Him.

I must say, I got a lot of breakthrough and often do hear Him now. A site which helped me was - If you still want to hear God maybe listen to the "4 Keyes to hearing God" MP3... here

Its really interesting. I always struggled with people saying that they could hear God. Until I started hearing him. Its almost like fine-tuning a radio... sometimes you get a bit of white-noise or static, but as you tune it in on a certain frequency it becomes more and more clear. The same way I learned to tune in more and more to God - trust me - its worth it. As someone who also used to struggle a lot I want you to encourage to never stop trying. As you say on your website... "The important thing is to not stop questioning" I want to encourage you to not stop listening.
We are told at that site that God speaks spontaneously in our thoughts when we quiet our minds, but does not speak with an audible voice. Now I am all for quieting our minds, and taking the time to relax and to see what is inside. But when we assume that such "voices" are from God, it would appear to me to be very dangerous. What if the voice told you to paint graffiti on your neighbor's car or to buy a house way beyond your means. Would you do it? Or would you let reason override the inner voice? If so, then I would think we should concentrate on our critical thinking and reasoning skills, rather than our voice-hearing skills.

Some might tell me that God never says unreasonable things. Perhaps, but how do you know the voice you hear is God? Surely at least some people are mistaken when they think they hear God. A Catholic may "hear" God telling him to promote Catholicism. A Protestant may "hear" God telling him to destroy what the Catholic is building. Did both hear from God? Then God is the author of strife and confusion. Or is at least one of those people mistaken? If we admit that many are mistaken when they think they hear God, how could we be certain we really hear God? See Does God Speak to Us?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Answers in Genesis?

Recently I have received 2 emails recommending that I check out the Answers in Genesis site. I am quite familiar with that organization, having once been a big supporter of them when I was a creationist. They have an impresive website, with lots of scientific-looking arguments defending young earth creation. But we must be careful not to confuse scientific-looking arguments with science. There is a big diffference.

Science is based on the process of peer-review, in which those who are most familiar with the arguments review the claim before it is published. And after the claim is published, scientists who dispute the findings test the claim. If the claim withstands scrutiny, it is accepted as science. If further study shows the claim does not hold up, the idea is put aside.

But the arguments at Answers in Genesis bypass this process. Mainstream scientists have shown repeatedly that the claims of a young earth and of a global flood causing most of the fossil record are false. Creationists continue to publish their ideas, directing their writings to the general public, even though the claims would never pass the scrutinty of science. True science must first convince those who understand the arguments before it is paraded before the masses as science.

Sadly, many look at the impressive arguments at that site, and are not aware that these are not science.

SH writes:
I appreciate your thoroughness in your writing. I am a young Earth believer, personally converted from an old Earth believer. In your "Did we evolve" article, you mentioned the Gap theory, which never made much sense to me (or apparently to you). Anyway, please consider expanding yourinformation by going to Perhaps you have already been there, but they have many well written scientific articles that will give you more information about what many current creation scientists believe. I for one am a scientist that needs the details before I come up with a conclusion and natural selection is one spot where
scientists on both sides of this debate agree. I believe that a Creator God would create many creatures well capable of changing or adapting to their environment, but I have never seen any plausible evidence of one creature gaining new information into its DNA that would make it capable of having useful new features (wings, legs, etc.). I know there is much more to this debate, butI strongly believe that you will find some very useful information on the site above.
SH says he is a scientist. Okay, I wonder if he can point us to a single scientifically valid article at that site that argues for young-earth creation.

SH understands that natural selection can produce changes, but doubts if it can yield new information. But what about bacteria, for instance, that have gained the information on how to resist new antibiotics? That seems to be a clear case of new information encoded in the DNA.

"Honey Brown" writes:

"The important thing is to not stop questioning."I believe this 100%. I question everything all the time, and it is exhausting, the amount of misinformation is infinite (I thought that was funny :-)). Here is the problem - I know there is a God. I know this surer than I know anything else in this life. I know this is the only thing I can bank. I see everything else crumble away in corruption and deception yet God is always strengthened if I take the time to look to Him. I read your web page "Did We Evolve". I would just like to show you a couple of pages I looked up regarding the issues you were discussing.

I would be interested to hear your 'questioning mind' opinion on these two
articles. I'm a little scared to read through the rest of your website at the moment as I'm sure I would spend the next week in front of the computer. I've bookmarked your site and will come back and have another nibble when I have more time available.

The first article she mentions looks at the mammal-like reptiles, and argues that there are gaps in the progression. Well yes, of course there are gaps. Those animals lived a long time ago, and not all of the fossils fossilized well. The problem is that the mammal-like reptiles appear in sequence in such a way that they progressively introduce mammal traits into the record. That is strong evidence for evolution. The article does nothing to refute that fact.

The second article argues that fossil KNM-ER-1470 is not as human as some have thought. It may be true that some scientists had originally thought this fossil was closer to humans than is now believed. The specimen is now generally seen as being a little closer to the ape-ancestor in the sequence between ape-ancestor and human than was once believed. But it is still intermediate. The skull is similar to australopithecine, which is an ape that is clearly on the path to humanness. Skull KNM-ER-1470 is even more human-like than australopithecine, having a larger braincase and possessing features that are more human-like. See Human Ancestry.

I would welcome a debate with anyone who suggests that the young earth position of Answers in Genesis is valid science.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Out of Fundamentalism

I have received an essay by a man who has recently come out of fundamentalism. I include his essay sharing the reason for his change in beliefs at Out of Fundamentalism.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"You only threw up your hands in the air "

I received an email telling me that I have only thrown my hands up in the air.
I read your website. I understand your feelings. You encourage your readers to continue educating themselves. How about you? All of those so called discrepancies you found in the Bible, did you ever bother asking a theologian or researching for an answer? Because if you did, you would have found the answers. Instead, you only threw up your hands in the air and came to your own narrow conclusions.
He asks if I researched the matter, and then declares authoritatively that I did not. Excuse me, but how does he know that I did not? Shouldn't he have waited for my answer before reaching his conclusion? I can assure this man that I have indeed researched the Christian answers, including reading many books, visiting a pastor, and spending many hours in debate. My conclusions are not based on giving up and accepting whatever narrow conclusions were presented to me.
How long do you think, you can remain in your own Godless world where now you are god?

Me god? Seriously? If I am god, why does this world often seem different from what I want?
In other words, after all has been said and done, you still have to contend with the condition of your heart.
And what exactly is the condition of my heart? According to the old school of Christian thought, I am a worthless sinner with nothing good inside my heart, and I need to feel shame for my rottenness. According to the new school of Christian thought, I am a worthy person needing to develop my self-esteem and start realizing my own goodness. Which of these two schools of Christian thought is this man supporting? Unless he tells me, I don't know whether he thinks I should increase my self-esteem or decrease it.

I don't mean to accuse you or judge you, I am just making a point. I once found myself as you did and there are millions of spiritually lost people in such a state.
He found himself like me? Had he at one time adopted humanism after a thorough study of the options? If so, what caused him to change his mind and abandon humanism?

And if he was a dedicated humanist that changed his mind, did he just throw his hands up in the air when he found a new philosophy, or did he study humanism diligently to see if it had answers to the challenges?
About 2 years ago, I found answers to many of your questions, emotions, reasoning, and feelings. I wrote a book about it. I also entered the christian ministry. I've been a pastor close to 2 years. I have found peace, joy, and love like I never imagined and I would like to take you into my spiritual journey (Maybe I should set up my own website). If you email me your PO box number or address, I will give you my book.
I am grateful for the offer, but perhaps he is not aware how much I have read from Christian apologetics. Perhaps if he would share one of the arguments in his book with us, we could determine if he has indeed made a new and convincing case.

I have written him an email asking him to respond to this blog entry. We will see if he can indeed provide us with a convincing argument, one that can be ignored only by those who throw their hands up in the air.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

When our world view changes

Sometimes we make radical changes in our world view. Sometimes we think we have life all figured out, and then we find facts that are inconsistent with our view of the world, and we find that we must look at the world in a whole new light. If this change occurs in an area in which we are deeply committed, such as religion, the effect can be devastating. A reader shares his experience.

First, I don't quite know if I should thank you, or not. Since I first happened on your site in December 2004, I have really, really changed my worldviews concerning the way I was taught. I was raised to believe in young earth creation, etc...and have spent the last two years off and on realizing that I have been utterly lied to by well-intentioned folks who were ignorant of science. The young earth view is demonstrably wrong. Since this is true, I seriously wonder what all else that I have taught is wrong.
Here we have a major change in this man's views. Sometimes mainstream scientists have difficulty understanding how drastic this change is. When one is fully convinced that the fundamentalist package, including the belief in a recent creation of the entire universe, is the one message of truth and hope in this world, the tiniest crack in this belief system can be devastating. And yet there are the realities of starlight and the fossil record that make it obvious that the earth is indeed very old. When we face that fact, suddenly the fundamentalist view is no longer seen as infallible. Could there be other problems with that view? I can understand why this man's change in view is difficult.

I am currently an old-earth creationist, who unfortunately teaches in a Baptist church school that is a fundamental young earth church. I even teach a senior high Bible class! I do not seem to experience anything miraculous, in fact, I have become quite cynical, lonely, angry, bitter, toward life in general. If I happened to die, it would be no great loss, since I don't particularly enjoy living anyway; I am a burned out teacher that kids think is great; but really, I feel that I am a fool for doing what I do for the money at a Christian school.

I pause when I read this paragraph. I do not want people to feel lonely, angry and bitter. And I certainly don't want people to feel that if they died it would be no great loss. What? Lose a mature human mind with all the knowledge, feelings, emotions and drives that make human minds such wonderful things? That would be a great loss. So how do we keep people from feeling this way? How do we prevent people from drifting into cynicism when their faith is questioned? How can we keep people from feeling like a fool.

Some would suggest that we leave well-enough alone, and not help people see where their beliefs are outdated. Should we abandon evolution, since some object to it? Should we abandon self-esteem, since some still hold to the view that we are inherently worthless with no good inside us? Should we abandon astronomy, since some still hold to a young earth? That would only be a step backwards.

Although struggling with the new ideas is tough, the end result is very refreshing. I believe this man has taken the first step to a great exuberance in his life. He has taken the time to write down his thoughts, and to indicate that they are different from the party line. He has validated his thoughts. He needs no longer subjugate his thoughts to the status quo. He has given free expression to words that differ with the way he was taught. If he continues down this road, I am quite sure that his path will lead to joy, not sorrow.
I am "serving God" who doesn't apparently care about anything in my life - I have lost almost everything that I fervently believed in - in fact, I am keeping a prayer journal, with my prayers listed in the left column with the date, the "result" listed in the right column with the date. After keeping this journal for around one year, there has not been even one prayer answered out of the 6 or so that I have been tracking.
He is putting the claims to a test, and finds the claims to be faulty.

Recently I was at a NASCAR race at which the weather forecasters predicted a chance of thunderstorms. When the day turned out to be clear, I overheard one man announce that his prayers had been answered. That's odd. Are we to believe that God ignored the prayers of millions during the Holocaust, and allowed many Christians to starve in spite of their prayers, but thought it important enough to hold the rain back from this race?

The absence of rain that day does not impress me as an answer to prayer, and it appears that the writer of this email is not impressed with it either. After all, the forecasters had only said there was a chance of rain. Our correspondant and I are looking for something a little more meaningful.
I hang on to the concept of God primarily, I think because of my job situation, and my wife and kids, but if it was me, I could easily become agnostic.
The change of views is not easy. Many hold on to the old views because of the social pressures. This man is on the right track, and needs only admit what his mind is telling him.

Okay, the real reason I wrote is because in your debate on your blog with under the heading "A New Train Has Left the Station", you state the following: "That is the point where I stop also. What caused the universe? If someone were to claim that the universe cannot exist without a creator, then how could God exist without someone to create him? It strains the credibility both to believe in a self-existing universe or a self-existing God. If we must conclude that either the universe or God was self-existing, then I find a self-existing God to be no more likely than a self-existing universe. And I leave it at that." I believe that you have committed a category error in your argument insofar as God, by His very nature, is self-existing. So to ask "Who created God?" is like asking what does the color red sound like? God, by His nature has the attribute of being self-existing, else He wouldn't be in the category of being God.

We seem to be discussing semantics here. What should we call an omnipotent being that possesses all the attributes commonly attributed to God except that he was brought into existence by some force that no longer exists? I would call that being "God." The writer apparently thinks this being would not really be God, since he is missing an important attribute of God. I see no reason to argue about that difference in our choice of words for such a being (if he exists).

Whether the universe was self-existing or self creating, or whether a self-existing being started it all, is not that significant unless one claims that the self-existant creator has communicated or intervened in human affairs. It is that intervention for which I see no evidence. Without that intervention, the existance of a self-existing creator is merely an academic discussion, from which I refrain from getting involved.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A debate challenge on the Olivet Discourse

A reader writes that I am wrong about Mark 13. Here I address (in black) his comments (which are in red).


You write:
I ran across your site while researching for something to do with the written years of the Gospel. I found your site interesting but honestly very sad. It is not my intent to bash you or make you feel in an inferior way since I truly believe that nothing is gained this way. Please do not take my criticism this way cause it surely is not my makeup. With that said I will tell you though that I am a strong thinker, I am an avid reader of the word and a self –educator of learning, and am up for any debate.

I am sorry that you see my site as sad. I wrote it to help others see the joy of discovery that I have found.
To start off I would like to say that by your own admission your journey through life and religion seemed to always want to just fit in so the discomfort of your conscious feelings would be alleviated with any works program designed to take care of this.
Apparently you have me confused with somebody else, because this doesn't even look close to anything I have written. I don't think I ever said anything about wanting to fit in so the discomfort of my conscious feelings would be alleviated with a works program. What I did say is that I have been a follower all my life, but certainly not for the reasons you mention.
Look Merle, Although I would agree that you can make the Bible say anything you want (kind of like your point about getting somebody to substantiate your point of view when needed) Truth has to be grounded in some sort of system that deals with the rules of how and what the basis of that argument is built on for a foundation. The Church today (meaning in our day in age) has done a piss poor job in getting the congregation to think on their own. I agree with you a lot when you talk about to learn how to ask questions and not just agree on “faith” alone. To me this is a cop out (meaning to accept on the basis of faith alone) if you haven’t done all the rest of the homework. But on the flip side of that, truth is truth regardless of mine or your opinion on it, henceforth truth prevails without faith. What we need is the right kind of faith in the right source of substance, but only for our benefit not because if we don’t believe it than it doesn’t exist. Truth is independent from us. We need it for many reasons, it doesn’t need us.
Yes truth is independent of us, and we should ask questions to find the truth. I agree.
Look, I would love to share with you some of your errors in your perception in theology. My forte happens to be eschatology. You in your critique of Marks gospel of the “Olivet Discourse” are way off. For one your assuming that Mark is portraying all of that chapter as Jesus talking about 70 AD’s Great Diaspora. Totally wrong. I really would love to talk more indepthly on this subject and a few more but would rather do it over the phone. You do seem to have a open mind so this is why I will invite you into a controlled debate with me if you would like. I do not propose to have all answers but I do believe that we might do each other good in challenging each others faith.
In my essay, "When Were the Gospels written?" I mention that Mark 13 predicts things that would happen in the disciples' lifetime. I give many references to support my point, and spend considerable time developing my argument. And you call it an assumption? No, it is not an assumption. It is a conclusion I have reached based on the text and the arguments I gave. Do you think my arguments are wrong? Fine. What do you propose as an alternative? What arguments do you have to backup your view? What is wrong with my arguments? So far all you did was tell me I was wrong, but you did nothing to establish an alternative view.

You invite me to a controlled debate, and you suggest we do it by telephone. I have a better idea. Why don't we do it as comments here in this blog? That way we can study the other's views and look up the references before responding. And other people could see what was said and benefit from it also. And others could join in and add additional information and views. Would you welcome such a debate?

And what exactly is a controlled debate over the phone? I never heard of such a thing.
Merle, I do not believe in all sincerity that you were ever a Christian, any more than I believe that wearing a uniform makes a person that particular organization. Churches all through History has been hindering Gods word.

You don't think I was a Christian? Why not? I accepted Christ as my savior, and then set out to live in close fellowship with my savior for years. Why do you think I was not a Christian? Was God's grace not sufficient to save me when I accepted it by faith? If God in his grace did not respond to my faith, how can you be sure God responded to yours?
I am blessed that God taught me at an early age in Christendom what the most vital tool I needed beside the Holy Spirit which was a correct Hermeneutic. I have been a Christian for almost 17 yrs and much of what you’ve said I can identify with. I didn’t say agree, because I don’t , but really I understand.

Okay, you value a correct hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the branch of philosophy concerned with determining the correct meaning of texts. Here is my hermeneutic. I study the words in context and consider also the context of the times in which the document was written. Do you have a better hermeneutic?
Well any way….Looking to here back from You. I will give you my phone number and set up a time if you would like to join.

Thanks for the invite, but wouldn't a written debate be better than a debate by telephone?

I look forward to hearing from you.


A new train of thought has left the station.

A reader writes about his new life:
Just a note to let you know I have enjoyed your site. I was raised Baptist and Pentecostal, and it's taken many years to undo the programming. Then I had a drinking problem and fell in with very fundamentalist variety of Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm still de-programming from that experience, as the motivation to make fundamental changes in my lifestyle drove me deep into the "AA" way of life, which in retrospect looks (and feels) like belonging to a cult.
I have heard that AA can be very cult-like, and that it shares much in common with religion. See 12 Steps to Destruction for a Christian condemnation of AA. Unfortunately, the writers of that book do not seem to be aware that the same criticisms they hurl at AA could be spoken of their own religion.
I wish there were a God, but agree with you that there is no evidence for one, either within me or the world around me. I've had many experiences that I attributed to God but I wouldn't stake my life on it now. On some level, to me, it also takes faith to believe that matter and energy sprang out of nothing, so I guess I'm not a die-hard atheist. I just don't believe that I'm supposed to seek and incorporate "God's will," whatever that is, into my daily life. Whether or not there is a God really doesn't matter that much.
That is the point where I stop also. What caused the universe? If someone were to claim that the universe cannot exist without a creator, than how could God exist without someone to create him? It strains the credibility both to believe in a self-existing universe or a self-existing God. If we must conclude that either the universe or God was self-existing, then I find a self-existing God to be no more likely than a self-existing universe. And I leave it at that.
I'm wondering if you've ever read any of the books in the Conversations with God series by Walsh. He posits that God does not intervene because no matter what harm befalls our bodies and psyches, the important part of us, our soul, is always safe. We return to earth again and again, each time trying to better express our true nature, which is made out of the same stuff that God is made of. This is a somewhat comforting paradigm, but unfortunately his books also contain a lot of stuff that makes no sense or is just off the wall (for example, that our bodies were designed to last forever and that a man who eats and drinks better and achieves better emotional/mental health would in fact live forever).
Well, I am sure that is interesting reading, but I see no evidence for a soul that survives for another pass. This basically sounds like reincarnation, which I find no evidence for.
My "descent" into near-atheism has wreaked havoc on my marriage. My wife is no fanatic, but she does believe in god and Christ and attends nearly weekly. It's just something we don't talk about very much. My views and beliefs were changing when we met and married, and I had no idea how much more they were going to change. It is like you said, there is no stopping a mind set free. A train of new thought has left the station, and it has plenty of momentum.
I understand the experience. The first steps of skepticism are regarded simply as doubts, and one is taught to have faith in spite of those doubts. So one learns to speak in faith, and not fully express the doubts. But when the reasons for skepticism are deeply ingrained, it soon becomes obvious that the effort to keep them in check through faith is deceptive. When one comes to the realization that the doubts are stronger than the faith, and that any show of faith is deceitful, and therefore decides to come out of the closet, it can come as a shock to loved ones who find themselves suddenly learning that they are in a close relationship with an infidel. That can be very stressing. I think that many de-converts keep an outward show of faith simply because the strain of telling the truth can be so stressing on a relationship. But somehow, it seems best to me to speak the truth.

I hope that your new train of thought will lead to a wonderful world.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The faith not to ask "Why?"

A reader writes that, after a tragic event, she found that faith sustained her. She recommends that I too need such faith. Here are excerpts from her email:

Like you I have these burning questions- they all tend to begin with ‘Why?’

Two months ago my mum committed suicide in the most tragic of circumstances. My parents were happily married for 30 years; we still are and were incredibly close. I miss her...Only a year ago she was the fit and healthy women that I always knew, never any history of problems. Suddenly bang, mental illness (incredible anxiety, psychosis was the root cause) struck her down like a cancer in the brain.

My sister, my dad and my mum are born again Christians and active church goers. I wasn’t. I quit Sunday School when I was 14. Like you I saw too many holes in the supposed theory.

I sat on the fence for a very long time over the last 14 years. Decided it was a comfortable place to be, that way I didn’t have to commit to anything.

Then this happened.

I can only describe in laments terms the prayers and support I have received from my friends and Jesus over the darkest two months of my life have impacted me.

And I would argue that this was the very time I could question ‘Why?’ and completely turn my back on Him, forever. Don’t I have circumstances that warrant that?

I still have the questions, I always will. It keeps me awake.

What stops me going crazy? What really keeps me going? What eventually helps me get to sleep and stop asking the Whys?

All I can say is FAITH. FAITH I never knew was possible. And I know that FAITH will eventually bring me peace to all the Whys.

Brainwashing, perhaps. The fact that I am so desperate, perhaps.

I used to laugh at people like me. I used to think they were so needy, in times of crisis they could cling on to the false hope of a God.

You are intelligent, I can see that from your writing, you are probably far cleverer than myself and I am not going to try and pick points in your site I could argue with. You would win and I would come back to the same answer. FAITH.

I have no doubt you have done some incredibly deep soul searching; you are seeking peace and clarity which is why you wrote this site. God has perfect timing- that I believe. But I will be asking Him all the whys when I get there before I have chance to drive myself round the twist on this Earth!

I hope you find what you are looking for, I really mean that.

I could be patronizing and pray for you. I could put God to the test and ask him for fires from the sky. But when you are hammering on the door asking for it to be opened I don’t think it will be- it’s just not the way it works. Trust me, I know.

The world is a terrible place; you only have to switch on the news. I weep.

What makes me keep going, and not just keep going, but even now have a little joy in this life? Him.

I can’t do it justice with an email, it comes from inside me that I think non- believers don’t want to or can’t get.

I can only tell you that when you find it, that in itself is a miracle.

Take care and may you be truly happy.

First let me express my sympathy for this woman in the tragic loss of her mother. That surely must have been a difficult time for her.

She admits that she has questions about her faith, questions that keep her awake. She says she could argue with points on my site, but admits that I would probably win. And she asks rhetorically, "What eventually helps me get to sleep and stop asking the Whys?" She answers, "All I can say is FAITH." And so we find that the questions and arguments against her faith matter little to her. Somehow she has learned to stop asking why, and has turned to faith. She has learned to believe in a particular theism, and has learned a technique--FAITH--that allows her to shut out the questions at night and get some sleep.

Is she brainwashing herself? Even she admits it may be brainwashing, and may be caused by the fact that she is desperate. And yet she finds a peace in faith that is very real to her. She clings to it, even if it means forcing the Why questions out of her mind.

She is telling me that she can't answer the questions, but faith keeps her going, so therefore this faith is good.

Now I understand the need to find hope, a need that is so great that many turn to an ersatz hope. Faith, positive thinking, "name it and claim it", are just some of the ways that people have learned to force a hope into their minds regardless of reality. But I find that forcing hope into one's mind while ignoring reality is not good. Eventually reality comes crashing in.

Let me illustrate: Years ago I was involved in an engineering project in which a new team was convinced that they could update our large factory. Blind enthusiasm filled the meetings, as they discussed their grandiose plans to rebuild the factory. Those who had experience with such rebuilds in the past, and warned of problems and questioned the unproven technology were regarded as negative. There was no room for questioning the plans, or testing the new concepts before installing them. "Of course they will work! Don't be so negative." And then I watched as the factory was brought to its knees, the old equipment having been removed, and the new equipment dysfunctional. I watched as the old equipment was retrieved from the garbage dump and put back together again to get the factory working.

Now you tell me: Was this blind faith good? Was all of the positive thinking that ignored reality a good idea?

There is a problem with a blind faith that ignores reality. There is a problem with the person who recklessly goes into debt, runs roughshod over the feelings of others, and takes needless risks, all the while forcing himself to believe that all will end up well, for God is on his side. Such faith is asking for trouble.

The gambler who recklessly borrows and wastes his money while maintaining the false hope that he will win it all back has a faith that is not grounded in reality. The terrorist who intentionally flies an airplane into a building in the hope that God will honor the martyrdom has a faith that is not grounded in reality.

So I find that faith and confidence must be grounded in reality. To do that, one must ask, "Why?" One must open her mind to all sides of the issue, and to all questions, to firmly establish herself in reality.

I can have confidence, not because I ignore the questions, but because I find so much to be confident in. There is indeed something marvelous about the human mind. I have a human mind, and I know many people that possess marvelous human minds. (And yes, there are a few around me that surely must also have a marvelous human mind, but sometimes it is hard to tell!) Seeing the wonders of the human mind, I can have hope in what we can accomplish. The hope does not ignore the evils that can be present in humanity, but it sees a reason for hope in spite of the troubles.

So I prefer a confidence based on reality and an honest look at the hard questions. I see no need for a faith that forces away the "Why" questions.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Many small steps

A former minister writes of his deconversion:

I want to let you know how much I enjoyed your website. I appreciate the careful work it took to set down your arguments. It is good to see that people feel able to come out openly and discuss their reasoning.

I think that the hold of religion is eroding here in Australia, with younger people having no idea what church is about! We do seem to lack some principles of life for young people though.

I was a Churches of Christ Minister briefly, and it took many small steps over the last twenty years to admit the weak historical and scripture basis behind the Christian faith and finally the barrenness of the whole exercise. Religion is a human artifact.

The religion known by many young people is indeed far different from the religion that had been taught a generation ago. For some, these many small steps lead to a milder form of fundamentalism, for others, they lead to a whole new view of life.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Who would die for a lie?

A reader asks me about the disciples dying for their belief:

I don't know where to start, but I'll try to be brief. There are many parallels between us in our life experience. I have had many doubts growing inside for several years. Taking up astronomy started it steamrolling. I confided to a long time christian friend who is now a pastor that I am down to believing only that Christ lived , died and resurrected . Genesis, time lines , genealogies, and writings just don't jive. I think your essays on old earth and evolution are very strong, but the ones on Jesus and his divinity and resurrection provide no clear explanation. Its still a big what if for me. Question: Almost all of his disciples died horrible deaths according to tradition. Who would die for a lie?

I congratulate this reader in taking the time to ask questions, and consider where they lead. She is certainly on the right road.

What about the disciples? Well, as she wrote, tradition does say they died horrible deaths for their beliefs. But those traditions come many years after the gospels were written. The New Testament does not record any disciple dying specifically for his belief in the resurrection. (Stephen is martyred over a dispute about the law in Acts 7, and we are not told why James was killed in Acts 12. ) Are the later traditions of martyrdom based on facts? The reports of the disciples' martyrdom are so far removed from the events, we really don't know that they are true.

But suppose the disciples really did die for their beliefs. What does that prove? The 19 hijackers died on 9/11 for their beliefs. Does that prove they were right? The folks in the Heaven's Gate cult died for their beliefs. Does that prove they were right? No, sometimes people can be so caught up in their beliefs that they can die for something that is not true.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Religious Belief and Violence in the Middle East

At the root of the wars in the Middle East lie deep religious views that are at odds with each other. See Religious Belief and Violence in the Middle East for an excellent overview of the problem.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

American Theocracy Revisited

A friend writes with concerns about my essay on American Theocracy. I will address his concerns here. His words are shown below in red.

I'm writing today for a couple of reasons - one is to again express my appreciation for the continued existence of your site. It remains one of the very best out there, in terms of dealing with the subject of 'God' in general, and the Christian experience in specific. Your most recent entry that details the book of Genesis is fantastic. Bravo for that.
This friend and I share much in common in our view of religion. I am glad that he found my site helpful.

At this point, however, you're probably wondering why the title of this e-mail is 'Somewhat Disappointed'. That has to do with your essay entitled 'American Theocracy'. Let me explain...

I read this particular essay expecting to find the usual, thoughtful, commentary; posed to the reader in your typical style of gentle questioning, and followed up with answers that are arrived at vis a vis an exhaustive review of the evidence and available facts. Instead, what I found were blanket statements along with broad, sweeping, generalizations. Perhaps you were merely pointing out the conclusions of the author of the book that coincides with your essay. Nonetheless, I feel that your apparent agreement with these conclusions is based on a skewed or propagandized interpretation of the facts at large.
This point is well taken. I have definitely deviated from my normal questioning style in writing this article. I have gone back and edited it, changing some of the assertions to questions. Also, I have removed much of the references to the Bush administration, as it is not my primary aim to discredit particular politicians. Rather, the aim is to show that many Americans have elevated theocratic issues above all other issues, and vote accordingly. As long as this problem exists, and Americans vote for the politicians that will do the most to force their religion on others, rather than vote for the politician that will do the most to address the glaring concerns in our country, we are going to find a deterioration of our country.

Unfortunately, my time is somewhat limited and I don't have time to detail a point by point counterpoint of this essay. Additionally, my time constraints won't allow me to go into any protracted debate either (which I apologize for in advance). So let me keep it somewhat simple by merely taking one of your statements to task: "The Bush Administration lied to us about weapons of mass destruction."
Merle, a statement doesn't become a "lie" simply because it isn't true. A "lie" is directly proportional to intent not content. There is simply no credible reason to believe that President Bush told a deliberate "lie" on the WMD issue. Please consider some of the following:
Okay, I see that I made a claim about the Bush administration without giving supporting details. I have changed that statement to read, "Our leaders were wrong in their assertions that we faced imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." I still think the evidence indicates that Bush either deliberately lied, or was so overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance that he was blinded to facts that opposed his preconceived ideas, but I do not wish to be sidetracked by this issue.

* Director Tenet of the CIA - originally appointed by President Clinton - said that the case amounted to a 'slam dunk'===> ttp://

Okay, it was reported that Tenet said this. Your source (wikipedia) references the book "Plan of Attack" as its source. If you click the link wikipedia references, you will read,
In the book, CIA director George Tenet is noted as stating the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Later, Tenet is forced to admit that his intelligence was flawed when months of post-war searches turned up nothing.

So even Tenet admits the intelligence of WMD was flawed. That is the problem. We have gone to a war under a false fear of WMD. Whether that was caused by deceptive leaders, incompetence, or a legitimate mistake is not the primary issue. The issue is that the war to eliminate WMD was not required. Many Americans either ignore or do not care about the lack of WMD in Iraq, but would rather worry about forcing a narrow morality on others.

* Numerous members of the Democrat Party believed Iraq had WMD, and clearly said so===>

Yes, I understand that many politicians from both major parties supported the buildup to Iraq. Much of this support was based on the belief that their political futures required them to appease those who promoted the war. It is sad that there were so few voices within the government pleading for caution on the issue of war, whereas world opinion and the opinion of many Americans was strongly urging caution before starting that war.

Did others believe the WMD story because they reviewed the evidence and found it convincing, or because they followed what they were told by the administration and because of political pressure? Personally, I think the blame lies on the Bush administration, but that is not my main point.

* Recently, declassified material from a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center (a Defense Department intelligence unit) confirmed the following ===> and so on.

Well, yes there have been some remnants of Iraqi chemical weapons and some weapons may still have had some limited potency. But why did Iraq have these weapons? Iraq used its weapons against the Kurds, Kuwait and Iran, not against the United States. If anything, Iraq maintained weapons because of its ongoing conflicts with its neighbors.

Some might argue that it doesn't matter what their intentions were, the weapons could have fallen into the hands of terrorists, and that was the problem. But if we adopt that strategy, where does it stop? Do we fight any country that has a weapon that could hurt us if terrorists were to obtain it? Cell phones and simple explosives can make devastating terrorist weapons. Should we attack all nations that have cell phones and simple explosives? And what about the nuclear arms in Russia and Pakistan? Do we attack any nation that has dangerous weapons? It seems to me that it is a mistake to do preemptive strikes at any country with powerful weapons and some people that hate us.

And besides, if all nations are entitled to attack any nation that has massive weapons and some hating people. does that entitle many nations to attack America? For surely America has the greatest stockpile of WMD, and some people here would love to use them. (I have heard more than one person suggest that we should have dropped a nuclear bomb on Baghdad.) So I don't buy the attitude that is quick to resort to war when we see another country with dangerous weapons.

It is interesting that one of your quotes is from Glenn Beck, who is now vocally recommending that we need to remain in Iraq to keep Iran from moving in. Now we learn that, after the war, Iraq does not have a good enough army to defend itself. Interestingly we were told that we went to war because Iraq had too many powerful weapons, and now are told that we need to stay at war because Iraqis are defenseless against their neighbors. Could it be that disarming Iraq did nothing to stabilize the region?

Why do so many of my fellow travelers in the non-theist community seem to think that non-theism mandatorially goes hand in hand with a left leaning political worldview? Also, why do so many of them automatically link right leaning political views with theism; particularly, Christian theism?

As you've probably guessed, I do identify myself as a political Conservative. But along with that, consider this:

* I support a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.
* I think that the current crop of drug laws don't work.
* I think sodomy laws are beyond ridiculous.

and (no surprise here)...

* I'm an atheist.
* I support complete Church-State separation.
* I believe that "religious right" and "religious left" (yes, there is a 'religious left') organizations need to have their tax exempt status pulled.

In closing, let me ask: were you aware that there are actually a number of conservative atheist websites out there? If so, have you ever reviewed any of
them (and if so, with an open mind?). Let me leave you with a few of the URL's
that I sincerely hope you will find the time to peruse (and consider).

Here they are:

Conservative positions include any thing from anti-abortion, to strong defence, fiscal responsibility, small government, limited welfare programs, pro-gun, return to Biblical rule, softness on environmental issues, or support of big business. Certainly non-theists can and do take the "conservative" side of many of these issues.

In particular many non-theists support limited government or strong defence. Those are noble positions, and are certainly areas on which non-theists can have productive debate. But supporting limited government or strong defence is far different from the theocratic voting patterns that I am concerned about.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Evolution Impossible?

A reader writes, arguing that evolution is impossible. I respond to him at

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

I have a prayer request: I know somebody who had a leg amputated. Would you pray that his leg grows back?

If you are a praying Christian, you are most likely surprised by that request. You have probably never heard anyone ask for such a thing. Could I be serious? But why not pray for the missing leg to be restored? After all if I asked you to pray for a friend with cancer or depression you might well do it. What is the difference? Does God care about the victim of cancer or depression, but not about the amputee?

Some will tell me that legs don't grow back, that this would require a miracle. Precisely! Isn't that what prayer is all about? Aren't you asking God to intervene and change the course of events? Is the task of growing back a leg too difficult for the maker of the world? Or could it be that you recognize that there is no real power in prayer? Is that why you do not pray for the amputee?

Recently I was informed of an impressive website, Why Won't God Heal Amputees? This site deals with this question in much detail, as well as many other important issues of the faith. The author asks many challenging questions, and writes in a way that powerfully presents the truth without being offensive. This site is a great site for all fence-sitters to see.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Abortions and Atrocities

The issue of abortion is often a hot button issue with Christians. I tend to avoid the debate, but frequently Christians want to steer the debate to that topic, particularly if we are talking about Bible atrocities. Abortion came up again in our discussion of absolute truth below. I will move the discussion here, since it is way off topic.

First, most people can agree that a mother can have the right to abort the life of any tissue that is not yet a person. But when does tissue become a person? Does it happen when the egg is created, when the sperm and egg combine, when the cell attaches to the uterus, when the cell starts to divide, when the heart forms, when the brain forms, at birth, or at some other time? There are numerous opinions on this. I understand many Catholics treat the egg almost as a person before fertilization (and thus contraception is sin); many conservative protestants consider the zygote to be a person at conception (and thus the morning-after pill is sin); and liberal Protestants see that the fetus becomes a person about 6 months after conception. You will see endless debates on exactly when this happens, with each assuming that they have the absolute truth, and that the other opinions are misguided. It is really quite comical, and I tend to avoid the whole thing. But somehow I can't even discuss Absolute Truth without somebody insisting I need to talk about abortion. Go figure.

The other instance where one might justify abortion, even when the fetus is acknowledged as a person, is where the doctors determine that there is no way to save the life of the mother without aborting the baby. It is like shooting down a hijacked plane full of innocent people before it hits a heavily populated building. Most people cringe at the thought of downing a commercial airliner, but when they think it over, most can realize that, if there is no other way to prevent the disaster, it would be better to shoot down the plane than to watch thousands of innocent people die. Many would see that the same principle could apply to a baby hopelessly stuck in the birth canal, with no possibility of saving either the mother or the baby unless the baby is killed to save the mother.

Much worse than being honestly mistaken about when life begins, or killing a baby in self defense, is the brutal act of killing a baby because one does not like his parents. But those who do that act are blessed in Psalm 137, and the act is even commanded in passages such as 1 Samuel 15.

In another thread I had been discussing Psalm 137:9 ( "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock."). I respond here to Lormar, who made the comments in quotes below:


Do you or do you not agree that late term abortion (to save the mother's life) leads to the death of the baby? (guess what Merle, I happen to be pro-choice on that matter). Although I would like to save the life of the mother, I can admit that the baby is still dead. Can you?
First this response appears to be an evasion of the question. For you wrote this in direct response to my question, "Do you or do you not agree with Psalm 137 that it is blessed to dash babies against rocks?" And your answer doesn't address the question. Please answer. Do you or do you not think it was blessed to dash the Babylonian babies against the rocks?

Regarding your question, yes, of course, a late term abortion causes death to the baby. Why do you ask?

I believe the Bible teaches us lessons through the books included within it.
Sure the Bible gives us lessons. But it also gives bad advice. It has some good advice and some bad advice. Do you agree?
What would have happened if Hitler were killed as a child? What about Osama? Pol Pot?
So? You are not suggesting that it was OK to kill Babylonians babies because they would have grown up to be evil, are you?

Would your opinion change if the Bible declared that all of those babies were slaughtered through abortion?
If they were killed by a willing mother who wanted to terminate a pregnancy before the embryo became a person, sure, that would be different from slaughtering somebody else's baby to get revenge. Can you see the difference between the two acts?

You said innocent babies. Are you implying that babies sometimes guilty?
No, of course not. All babies are innocent in the sense that they have done nothing worthy of capital punishment.

Do I complain about babies killed in the Bible? Believe it or not, No. If I am pro-choice on late term abortions (to save the life of the mother), I see no reason to complain about the Bible. How about you?
Yes, I have a problem when the Bible says to kill babies. And you do not have a problem with that? If you were a soldier in the army of Saul, would you have willingly plunged your sword through enemy babies as the verses command?

I can admit that the baby is still dead, dashed against the stones or aborted. What about you?
Yes, I agree, dead babies are dead. Why do you ask?

You had a picture of a baby (one of your pages) as an example of your disgust at certain Biblical passages. Do you mean to tell me that you would see it as morally right to have that baby aborted (assuming he/she is still in the mother's womb at the 8th or 9th month) and morally wrong if the baby were dashed against a stone? Surely, you must see that there would be no difference since that baby would be dead either way.

You want my opinion? OK, It might be morally acceptable to kill a baby if the only possible way to save the mother's life was to terminate a baby that is stuck in the birth canal. That is an act of self defence. Yes, it would be a heart-wrenching decision, but I can see the moral justification. We could have a deep love for both the baby and the mother, and nobody would ever want to be faced with such an agonizing situation.

But it would not be acceptable to kill a baby out of the desire to get revenge against the baby's dad. Can you see the difference?

You seem to believe that we should not kill babies unless we 'kill them nicely' (via abortion).
Sorry, that is not the issue. The issue is killing in self-defence versus killing in a premeditated act of revenge.

Since you love to debate, allow me to give you a tip for future reference: Be sure to get that person's stance on an issue before proceeding with a debate)...again, I am pro-choice when it comes to saving the mother's life.
Huh? What I had said was, "Do you care to weigh in with your opinion on this? If the doctors conclude that both the baby and mother will die, that the baby cannot be saved, but that the mother could be saved if the baby is aborted, what would you do? "

I did exactly what you ask me to do! I didn't know your views so I asked you. I had no intention of implying which way you believed on this isssue, and apologize if my words came across as assuming something wrong about you.

The difference with me is, I can admit that the baby is still put to death. Can you?
Yes, dead babies are dead. I agree. Why do you ask?

I was a victim of serious crime. I wished horrible things on those who hurt me. Do you see me as bloodthirsty and hateful?
It saddens me to hear you were a victim of serious crime. I can understand that you may have felt a desire for horrible things to happen to the guilty party. I suspect those feelings were also tempered by desires for fairness, justice, and mercy, but there is no problem with experiencing a mass of painful emotions after being a victim. Having such feelings does not make a person evil.

But if you had come on the Internet and said, "Blessed shall he be that takes my attacker's baby girl and smashes her head into a rock", then I would think you are not responding in a wise manner. Can you see the difference between feeling a desire for revenge, and announcing a blessing on killing babies?