Monday, June 18, 2007

Greed, fear, hell, and the search for happiness

Let me share another email with you:
Putting aside for a moment your own sad future -- and please don't bother telling me that you don't believe you're going to Hell, because it will not change my mind nor your future -- what is the point in making the "questioning" site? Please, do not answer this with bunch of "freeing the mind from the bonds of religion" rants. Just mull this over.

I stumbled upon your site by searching on the Internet for "Jesus happiness" in hopes of finding ways to turn from sinful, materialistic greed and look to the Lord for guidance. Lo and behold, your site turned up instead.

Your site basically is trying to get us to "question" Christian beliefs, correct? *My* question is...why? If you are an ex-Christian, fine. I'm very sorry to hear your story. But why do you feel the need to try to undermine others' beliefs? Suppose you are wrong -- you have effectively led all those who read your essays against Christianity and believed them into Hell for the rest of eternity, and away from Jesus for the rest of their life. Suppose you are right -- you have effectively relieved them of going to Church once a week and given them "wiggle room" on sin. Sin, whether or not you believe it is God's law, is not only spiritually but also morally wrong.

Your reasoning for putting up the website, unless you have no concern for anyone but yourself, is terribly flawed. By even creating this site, you assume that you are completely right on the existence of God and nature of Jesus. Now, you may have heard this argument before, but can you name the number of dust mites in a square yard of floor in Beijing off the top of your head? It's relatively safe to assume you cannot. Therefore, you do not know everything. Actually, humans generally do not know a tenth of a percent about everything. You must know everything to say with absolute certainty that any given thing does not exist. For instance, for me to say that there is no iron in the United States whatsoever, I would need to thoroughly know every square millimeter of the United States, every person's home, even underground. However, to prove the existence of iron in the US, I would need to see but one fleck of iron within US boundaries to say with absolute certainty that iron existed in the USA.

Even if you knew an incredible one percent about everything, is it possible that in the 99% of everything you did NOT know, there is sufficient evidence to prove that God exists?

Please think over your reasons for putting up this website. I'll be praying for you.

-Ms. V.

She asks me for my reasons for putting up the website, and then asks me please to not answer her question by speaking of freeing the mind. If she begs me not to answer, why does she ask?

I have already made it clear on my opening page why I put up the site. I want people to understand why I have changed my mind about religion. Many have found this helpful to them, and I am glad to help other people.

She explains to me that I do not know everything, and that I do not know, for instance, the number of dust mites on each square yard in Beijing. Yes, of course, that is true. I do not know everything. I readily admit that. That is the basis of agnosticism. We don't know everything, and even the things that we do "know", we know only because our senses have determined it. But could our senses be fooling us? Could there be things that our senses have not yet been made aware of? Yes, of course. And since we cannot know everything, we can not know things with absolute certainty. Thus we cannot be dogmatic when we make claims.

Seeing that she agrees with me that we don't know everything, then may I ask her why she makes dogmatic statements about hell? Why does she tell me my views of hell won't change her mind, and that she is right about my future? Surely she does not know everything, does she? To use her illustration, she does not know how many dust mites are in every square yard in Beijing, does she? Okay, if she does not know everything, why does she insist that she is right about hell and that those who disagree with her are wrong? And why does she ask those who disagree with her not to present their arguments? If she will not hear my argument, how can she be sure that her argument is right and mine is wrong?

She tells me please not bother answering with my beliefs. She asks me only to mull over the concept of hell. Perhaps she should read my story at my site. I grew up with the fear of hell, a crippling fear that destroyed much of my happiness as a child. I mulled over the fear of hell many times. So by asking me to mull over hell once more, she is asking me to take a step backwards, to the fear that once dominated my life. Why?

She says that to prove with absolute certainty that something doesn't exist one would need to know everything. That is true. And so for her to prove with absolute certainty that Allah will not send her to hell for believing in Jesus, she would need to know everything. To prove with absolute certainty that the Greek gods are not reigning down terror from on high, she would need to know everything. Does she lie awake at night, worrying about the wrath of Allah or Zeus? I don't think so. Since she cannot prove with absolute certainty that there is no space alien hidden behind her at this moment, is she living in panic that she will be hit by its laser gun? I don't think so. Why not? Although she cannot prove with absolute certainty that the fear of Zeus or a space alien is groundless, the chances that such things are true are so remote, she doesn't worry about them. Could the same reasoning be applied to the fear of hell?

We cannot spend our lives in fear of all the things that might possibly be true. If she wants to propose that something might be true, and wants to give me a reason for believing it is true, I am willing to listen. But when she demands that I fear things without reason, she seems to be asking me to take a step backwards.

Is it possible that within the 99% of knowledge that I don't know, there exists a proof of gremlins, demons, gods, aliens, or monsters? Uh, yeah, perhaps it is possible. But is it plausible?

Okay, now tell me, Ms. V.: Do you have any proof of your claim? If not, why explain that there might be a proof somewhere?

Ms. V. reiterates a version of Pascal's Wager, which I have addressed many times. I have been asked often, "What if I am wrong?" Okay, what if there really is a being who will damn all people who are wrong in their beliefs? But somehow many people don't apply the same logic to Allah. What if Allah exists, and will damn all people who believe in Jesus? Will you embrace Islam, just in case? If you do not ask me to embrace all possible religions, just in case they might be right, why do you ask me to embrace one, just in case?

Ms. V. suggests that I write to give people wiggle room to do moral wrong. That is completely wrong. I certainly have not written for that purpose. Many of us have found that setting our minds free builds our moral strength. We are now free to love others, not out of the fear of hell, but by seeing the need for cooperative relationships and by feeling the feelings that our actions cause in others.

Ms. V. says she found my site by searching on the internet for "Jesus happiness," searching with "hopes of finding ways to turn from sinful, materialistic greed." Human greed is understandable. We evolved in circumstances where food, clothing, shelter, tools, and other material things were in short supply. To the extent that these things provide necesities for survival, they are essential to happiness. So we have a natural urge to obtain such things. But the human mind is not good at shutting down those urges. Even after we have had our basic needs met, the unhappy person can find herself continuously greedy for more, with the mistaken hope that more stuff will bring more happiness. The solution to greed appears to be that of overcoming the natural urges by use of reason. We have many natural urges, but reason can show our urges where they must back off.

I could explain to her that I have found true happiness by setting my mind free to think, by exploring the world around me, and by setting out in cooperation with others to build successful lives. But unfortunately, she asks me not to "rant" about such freedom, but rather to retreat to mulling over the fear of hell.

It appears from her email that Ms. V. is not happy. Else why would she be searching on the Internet for "happiness" and looking for relief from materialistic greed? I wish I could help. But as long as she begs me not to present my views about happiness, I cannot do much to help her.

But perhaps others will want to hear what I say. I have found happiness in setting my mind free, in exploring beyond the religion I inherited. Perhaps others will also find this satisfying, and will find it far better than a life of materialistic greed. If this does not help you, then please feel free to surf on. But if it helps, I am glad I was able to help.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Replacing mainstream science with what????

Should I continue to deal with the comments of the women known as "Honey" here at this blog? She continuous to argue against the conclusions of mainstream science, but what does she put in its place? We find another comment of hers at The Origin of Life. I respond to her here.

All the scientific evidence we can gather on the matter demonstrates that life does not occur spontaneously.

As I explained to her before (here) her hero, Louis Pasteur, and others have demonstrated that life does not occur spontaneously under the known present conditions. But we notice that she conveniently ignores that detail. Nowhere has science ever tested, or been able to test, the concept of life evolving from primitive chemicals on the early earth over millions of years. As I have explained to her before, such a test would be impossible, for it would require millions of years--and we don't have time to wait that long--and it would require exact knowledge of conditions of early life.

So exactly which experiment is "Honey" referring to that, after millions of years of conditions in the reducing atmosphere similiar to conditions on the early earth, life was found not to occur? Would she please explain to me when and where that experiment occurred? What's that you say? Ah, such an experiment was never done, for it would require millions of years! Aha! The experiment was never done! Now if the experiment was never done, how can she possibly infer that experiments say the original emergence of life by this process was impossible? Don't we need to do the experiment at least once before we make the claim that experiments verify our conclusion?

As I explained to her before (and she ignores) her hero, Pasteur, said, "I looked for spontaneous generation without finding it, but I do not believe it to be impossible." Pasteur knew that his not finding the spontaneous emergence of microbes under the conditions he tested in no way proved it to be impossible in all conditions. And Pasteur was not even attempting to test the conditions of early earth. That was not his purpose. He had other concerns in mind, that is, how to form and control the microbes that cause fermentation, thus enhancing the production of beer. And yet somehow, Honey chooses to extrapolate from the fact that Pasteur could not find the spontaneous emerging of life under the conditions he was testing to the false conclusion that life could not occur spontaneously under any possible condition.Is such an extrapolation justified?

And what a coincidence...the Bible says that GOD gave life to everything.

The question before us is not whether God was involved in the process--a question I do not normally address--but what that process was. Science is very clear on the process that formed modern life. After the first microbes appeared, these microbes evolved into the range of creatures we see today. There is overwhelming evidence for that.

Now if "Honey" can agree with me that evolution is the process by which modern species arose, we could move on to discuss whether God was behind it all. But if she denies evolution, then she finds herself in opposition to a vast amount of solid science. And if she denies evolution, what does she put in its place?

The Biblical evidence is that God created the first of, and that reproduction followed after it's kind.

And the scientific evidence is that "kinds" have been varying with time. For instance, there is a well established series of horse fossils that shows that modern horses and zebras evolved from a small fox-sized creature. Does Honey deny this? Okay, then exactly how did the first Zebra come into existance? If Honey knows better than mainstream science, would she please present us with an alternative? How exactly did the first Zebra come into existence?

"Special creation"? "Out of nothing"? I didn't use these phrases at all, and I make no such claim.

Ah, so now we run into the traditional denial and obfuscation. "Special creation" is the term used for the belief that God specifically made each "kind" distinct, without using the process of evolution. But Honey doesn't like the term "special creation"? Fine, she may use whatever term she wants. But what term does she use? If she is going to deny evolution, doesn't she need to present us with an alternative? How exactly did the first zebra come into existence, if not by evolution, and not by "special creation"?

Honey is replacing mainstream science with what?

God created man out of the dust of the Earth, and the Breath of God, so there is every reason to believe the other forms of life were created in similar manner.

Mainstream science teaches that out of the elements of the earth and the atmosphere, over time, life emerged. The question is not whether life originated from the existing elements--on which we both seem to agree--but how this happened.

How did the first zebra come into existence? I await anxiously to hear Honey's answer.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Why does the Bible need so much clarification?"

Here is another email from another user that is finding the joy of exploring.
My husband has recommended your site to me as of late. I have just began reading on your website and found the section entitled "Is the Bible Perfect" particularly interesting.

I have been a Christian for about 12 years now and before that grew up in a house with an awareness of God. I have recently been discovering that I have some nagging questions in the back of my mind about the Bible and about God and his character/actions. Until recently, the past 2 years or so, I would define myself as one who tried to think as little as seemed to work for me. If you have no opinion you can never be wrong, right. Well, that's how I learned to survive through my teen years anyway. If I found a reasonable explantion for something I went with it and "preached/believed it as truth."

I've come to a point in my life where I am no longer satisfied with what I've been taught simply because it's what I've been taught. I really want to know what I believe and why I believe it. I've come to the realization that the "convictions" I have formed as a Christian were mainly formed because it was "the right decision" or the ones that sounded good. But I really didn't put a lot of thought into forming them. I realized that I have not done much investigating at all of the Bible and I have been calling myself a good Christian for so many years. I don't know how I've come to believe half of the things that I do. I'm in no way saying that everything I've come to believe is wrong...but I do think that not being willing to investigate if what you believe, i.e. investigating if it's coming from a credible source is wrong.

It's really creating some problems for me right now. At the church I currently attend I am pretty well known...mainly because my parents are well known in the church. My friends have always looked up to me as "spiritual" and a good disciple of Jesus. Recently I've been "trying to test the waters" with a couple of friends and asking them why they believe in God. You may be surprised, or maybe not, but many people don't react well to this question. Most of the responses I get are, "Why DON'T you believe in God?" Now what kind of logic is that? And another reason they give me is that they "feel its the truth, and that their life is better now than before they became a Christian." That presents two problems for me. The Bible that they hold so dear tells them that the heart is deceitful above all should their feelings prove the validity of the Bible and God? And, secondly isn't it possible to live a good life without being a Christian? When one becomes a Christian they do make choices to stop doing things that harm themselves and others...and the lack of doing things does make the situation better. But I believe someone who is not a Christian can make these same "healthy" decisions in their life and the outcomes would be the same.

My husband and I are going through some tough times right now and I'm at risk of losing some friends because of the questions I have about God. I'm facing some really tough times ahead...questioning might leave me alone...but I have to do it. Ignorance is no longer bliss for me...some days I really wish it was still, but it's not.

Anyway, this brings me to the point of my letter...sorry, it took me so long to get here. I'm beginning to study out what I believe and why. I've been trying to take a closer look at the bible and all religions. I so many questions about why the bible seems to contradict itself, why God seems to have changed so drastically from the Old Testament to the New and I have a hard time with the claim that only Christians have it right and are going to heaven.

So, needless to say your section "Is the Bible Perfect" jumped out to me and I wanted to comment on a particular paragraph. It is the paragraph about 1 Kings 4:26 and 2 Chronicles 9:25. I found the discrepancy interesting. I looked the scriptures up in my bible, the NIV, and saw that 1 Kings 4:26 said "four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses...", not the "fourty thousand" you quoted. I thought that was odd so I went back to your site and clicked on the link for the scripture you provided. The link brought me to the New American Standard Bible translation. I then proceded to look up the scripture in every translation I could and noticed that The KJV and many others all said fourty, but the NIV said four as did the New International version. Wow!

I have to admit reading this paragraph on your site and the chart toward the bottom of the page have addressed some of the questions I've been having lately. I have to admit I've been one who never really questioned the Bible much or it's consistancy. I have just regurgitated the same rationalizations passed down to me on to others. The bible says that it was inspired by God and its still living and active and that nothing should be added or taken away...what about changed? I am just at the beginning of my journey to find out what the hell I believe...I feel like I don't know anything at times. But, I'm am determined to question and I believe I will have stronger convictions than ever about what I believe...and it may not be what I've been taught for so long...and that's scary to say.

I guess what I'm trying to say/ask is why does the Bible need so much clarification? Why do so many things need to be interpreted or justified? Just because it does doesn't prove to me that the Bible isn't valid...I guess I'm saying is that it just stinks. It would be nice to have a book that just spells everything out clearly. And if one translation says four and another says are right in asking, "Who has the right version?" I'm now asking myself. I've got a lot of studying to do.

Yes, indeed, why does the Bible need so much clarification? Why must there be an army of apologists, continuously explaining away the problems? Why should a book written by God have so many problems?

Since one version of the Bible says "four" where another says "forty", which is correct? If one version had said the horses were strong but another said they were mighty, that would just be a difference in translation. But here we have differences in content. Different manuscripts say different things. And nobody can be sure which is correct, or if both are wrong. And if we cannot be sure which is right, how can we be sure any is a reliable copy of words written by God?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Post it on you site or be branded as a coward and a fake"

Recently I received another email from TR, whom I had previously answered here on this blog. I wrote back reminding him that I have addressed most of his comments elsewhere on my site, and asking him to read what I have already written. Instead, he responded by saying, "Post it on you [sic] site or be branded as a coward and a fake." Aw shucks! Does TR really think that I am trying to keep people from reading what he writes? I think most of my readers can see through his arguments. For the record, here is his argument:

I read your response on the web page as Another Challenge to my web site. Your answer to can scientists bring back a man from the dead after four days was no answer. You simply attacked my statement on your computer and claimed I cut off the branch I was sitting on by attacking Science. How about answering the Question instead of attacking my statement. In the statement I made about with some thought many Scientific statements can be explained away, you said explain away Newtons Principia, which was a philosophy which has been obsolete for more years then we have been alive and does not fit into traditional metaphysics. Even Einsteins theory of relativity may well be defective according to New Sciences. Even the Big Bang that I mentioned could well be flawed.Thats why Science still cannot be considered more reliable than the Bible. As far as your statement that we (who is we, is that you) have found the spot in the human genome where two of the apes genes were joined were joined together to make the human gene is simply not true. There are some resemblences in all dna to all other creatures , as , but none linking in a standard definable relatable form to human. We are totally in a class of our own.Have you ever seen the working parts of the human ear, and if so can you actually believe this was all an accident of evolution. Even the top Scientists are saying that they believe there must have been intelligent design in this. Yes all things will evolve and change but this does not mean that the creation did not happen. If the theory of evolution were all true, then the fossil records would reveal literally billions of transitional forms. The fact that there have been so many fraudulent or mistaken claims on this front demonstrates how desperate the evolutionists are to produce even one! But nothing proves the impossibility for transitional forms more than the supposed evolution of Homo sapiens from their common ancestor with apes. When I said many scientists cannot perform some simple tasks but can sell books with baffling explanations to get noteriety I could well have been explaining your website. Science world on December 2000 claimed that Einstein could not speak until the age of three, and got bad grades in history and languages. Whether true on not its well known that many more books and theorys that have been lies were printed than were true and thats even more true this year. Its also documented that many gifted scientists are so preoccupied with their Science that the cannot see much of anything else. Some have reached a complete breakdown in the ability to cope. Some of the most intelligent were also dangerous and are in our prisons. Your statements about fossils between humans and apes are totally wrong. In fact the absence of any fossils to this effect is the biggest block to evolution. And your response about Dinosaurs into birds. Dinosaurs were upon the earth in 1400 B.C. At least you should read Job ch 40 , 15-24 .The description of the behomith could be nothing less than a dinosaur. Read ch 41 for the leviathin. Leave it up to scientist to date them millions of years ago. Samples of 200 year old volcanic eruptions sent to various labs were dated from 25000 to millions of years of age. Trust Scientists, hell I guess we should trust Lawyers and Doctors too. I wouldnt put my life on the line for either one without deeply scrutinizing. Trust me that I know what Im talking about in Doctors, be sure to carefully watch your treatments especially now. The bible does not actually encourage the eating of beef more than fish and veggies as you said, and why do you believe these Scientists that claim beef is unhealthy anyway. Beef raised naturally without the scientists additives , hormones, and growth enhancing drugs is quite healthy if prepared properly and eaten in small portions. Remember what the Bible says about gluttony. Well guess what the Bible scores again. Eat a variety of food is ok but not large amounts. We can eat almost anything that moves that God created , unless Science has fooled with it in a negative way. The Jewish were living in less than backward conditions in a hostile world much different than you and me. The savage way of life and freedom from slavery was likely ruled as needed. You probably believe rules should be the same then as now. Prison has different rules, different societys have different rules. The Isrealites worshipped idols, sacrificed animals, even killed and stoned their own. It took time and finally Jesus to change things. I agree that we should examine and question all and everything including the Bible and Christianity. But I cannot agree with your attempts to use statements that are not true and disguise them in smoke to influence believers. Its just too important a subject that can cause eternal hurt to some. This to me is as damnable as someone who sells drugs, Do you actually believe creating more Atheists will improve life for anyone. Its the same as a drug dealer who thinks he can just sell a few without harming anyone. As far as my statement that most books that tell you how to do things being total garbage note that I said most.. I read , I scan the internet, and examine the content for value and toss out the rest which is usually 90 percent wrong to me. I think your problem is that you tend to use everything that you can use without filtering out the truth because it doesnt suit your purpose. There is gray area to everything and a few things may be undeniable in any situation.. If Einstein had not taught himself calculus and developed special relativity as his own, he would likely have never developed his theorys. He accomplished more by not using other theorys.

TR says, "There are some resemblences in all dna to all other creatures...but none linking in a standard definable relatable form to human."

Huh? Where has TR been? It has been known for a long time that chimpanzee and human DNA share much of the same code. TR could have found this out for himself with a simple google search for "Chimpanzees human dna percent" So with broad scientific understanding that chimp and human DNA have much in common, where does TR get his data that there is no definable match? Should we simply ignore all of the scientists who study this issue? Is TR going to suggest that he understands DNA better than thousands of scientists?

That is just one example of a claim by TR that most scientists would consider to be nonsense.

TR claims that the discovery of the spot where two ape chromosomes are joined in the human genome is false. He can look at the link On Apes and Humans for details of this discovery of the spot where the two chromosomes joined. Now what is TR's evidence that the data presented there is false?

TR claims, "Its well known that many more books and theorys that have been lies were printed than were true." No, that is not well known. Who besides TR makes that claim? And if TR is the only one making that claim, how can he say it is well known?

And if most things TR reads are false, how can he believe anything he reads? If most people are speaking falsely to him, how can TR detect who is telling the truth in the midst of all that mistruth? I anxiously wait to hear his answer.

If we are all to assume that most of what we read is false, should we assume that TR is misspeaking to us also? If not, why not? If we are to assume most of what we read is false, should we not also assume that most of what we read from TR is false? If not, what makes TR's claims so special that we should believe him, but not other people?

TR seems to be unaware that the fossil record is filled with transitional fossils, including transitionals between apes and humans. I link to some files documenting those transitionals at my site. I invite TR to read about those transitionals before he claims again that they do not exist.

I ask TR to document his claim that 200 year old rocks date to millions of years. I am quite certain this is a false claim. If he expects us to believe it, I ask him to tell us how he knows it is true.

Oh, and by the way, I did answer TR's question about whether science can bring back a man from the dead after four days. I said, "Nope". That is my answer. Now can TR please kindly tell us what part of "Nope" he cannot understand?

I won't get into the rest of his email, which is basically a rant against scientists and other professionals. I think my readers can see for themselves the emptiness of TR's claims.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Origin of Life

"Honey" has left a comment (here) discussing Louis Pasteur (again) and the origin of life. I address her comments here, expanding on the issue of the origin of life:



You wrote :

[Pasteur was] Free from what?


…and then please let us know exactly what it was that Pasteur was free from after all those years of scientific observation.

Louis Pasteur was free to discover the world for what it is.

I am not sure why you asked me to read that link, because it describes Pasteur's drive to discover the truth, wherever it might lead. Yes, the link says Pasteur was a theist, and I have already admitted this. Pasteur was a practicing Catholic. But in his science, it appears he was able to leave the dogmas behind, and to pursue the truth wherever it led. That is why I say his mind was set free.


“Yes, understanding the origin of life is still a big hurdle, and scientists still do not understand exactly how it happened. But they have no reason to believe it did not happen on its own.”

So the reality is, that you want us to disregard what God says in the Bible, for which there were numerous witnesses (of Christ’s life and resurrection from the dead – and Christ himself attests to the truth of the Old Testament Law and Prophets), and replace it with something THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR. There are two reasons to believe it did not happen on its own – 1. God said He created it. 2. No matter how hard we try we cannot make it happen.

Wow, where do I begin?

First, I was discussing the origin of life here, and not the entire content of my worldview. When I said that scientists do not understand exactly how it happened, "it" refers to the origin of life. I was by no means declaring that there was no evidence for anything I believe.

Second, there is plenty of evidence for the points I stress at my web site, such as the old age of the universe, evolution, mistakes in the Bible, etc. I am by no means stating that I have no evidence for my views.

Third, regarding the origin of the first life--that is, the origin of the first microbes--this event is so far remote, and the evidence of what happened is so scarce, that we cannot be dogmatic about it. However, once those first microbes had come into existence, there is very clear evidence that all other living creatures evolved from those microbes. So when I mention discussion about the nature of the origin of life, I was by no means doubting the evidence for biological evolution. The fact of evolution has been firmly established by science.

Fourth, the fact that there is a gap in our current knowledge when it comes to the first microbes does not prove that this is where we must insert God. Many people jump when they see this gap in scientific knowledge, and they assume that since scientists don't understand it, therefore God did it. This is known as The God of the Gaps. If, for instance, scientists say they don't know where whales come from, people would jump in and insert God into that gap, and say the first whale was a miracle. However we now have a range of intermediate fossils between land creatures and whales, and we now have a good idea how they evolved . Okay, so now does God back out of that gap between land creatures and whales? Do we now search for another gap to put him into? The problem with inserting God every time we find a gap in our current scientific knowledge is that the gaps keep getting smaller. Is God shrinking? One sometimes feels like a fool defending the God-of-the-Gaps, for the gaps in our knowledge keep getting smaller, and the God-of-the-gaps defenders find themselves constantly backpeddling. I cannot say with absolute certainty that God did not step in at this gap and create the first microbe, but I would urge caution in inserting God whenever one sees a gap. If one does not enjoy backpeddling, then one should not be authoritatively inserting the God-of-the-gaps every time she finds a gap in our current knowledge. If there is a gap in our knowledge, why not just say , "We don't know".

Fifth, you say there are two reasons to believe "it" did not happen on it's own. (I assume by "it" you are returning to the subject, that is, the origin of the first microbes.) The first reason you give is that God said he created "it". Oh, really? Exactly where did God say he created the first microbes? Please show me. Are you referring to the Bible? The Bible makes no mention of microbes. Genesis reflects the primitive views of an early tribe that certainly had no microscopes, and had no concept of microbiology. So exactly where does the Bible say that God made the first microbes? Are you just pulling on my leg? The second reason you give is that humans cannot do it. But how does that prove the spontaneous origin of life is impossible? The origin of life was apparently stretched over millions of years in an environment far different from our own. We don't understand it all yet. There is a gap in our knowledge. Your argument here is nothing more than a God-of-the-Gaps argument.

Sixth, regarding the witnesses to the resurrection that you claim, see my web site where I deal with that issue.

You also said, and I quote:

“To win the argument, I would need to prove that all possible means for the spontaneous origination of life were impossible. That I could never do. So I abandoned the fight.”

How do you reason that you have to prove anything? The proof is in the Bible. If they want to claim differently then THEY SHOULD PROVIDE PROOF that their belief is correct. Christians have the Bible – atheists have nothing.

No, the burden of proof was indeed upon me, for I had made a specific claim back then. I had been arguing that the natural origin of life was scientifically impossible. Now since I had made the assertion, the burden of proof was on me to back it up with evidence. I made a fairly noble case for one particular aspect of that assertion, that is, that proteins could not have evolved first. But all of my evidence against the view that proteins evolved first did nothing to prove my assertion that the natural origin of life was scientifically impossible. To prove it impossible, I would have needed to prove that life could not have arisen by any possible method. When I realized what I was up against, I wisely abandoned the fight. I could never prove that the natural origin of life was impossible.

Later my views would evolve even further, to the point where I now think that the first life most likely came by natural causes.

Also, my defense at this site is not of atheism in particular, but of the freedom of thought that allows one to explore beyond the restraint of predefined dogmas.

And yes, I do have something on which to base my views. I have reason and the accumulated scientific evidence.

Now, think carefully for a moment about how illogical and unscientific this ‘spontaneous life’ dilemma really is. How is it that scientists can suggest numerous possibilities, none of which, even under the most favorable of synthesized conditions, can actually produce life, but they can then turn round and expect Christians to accept these possibilities on the grounds of SCIENCE! If your foundation is science, and yet you can’t prove your theory scientifically sound and expect intelligent others to discard their beliefs, then YOU’D BETTER GET REAL ABOUT WHAT YOU BELIEVE.

I am real about what I believe. There is overwhelming evidence that the earth is billions of years old and that life evolved from the first microbes.

And no, we have not yet produced life in the lab. In the first place, nobody knows how it began, so we don't even know exactly what to test. In the second place, this would require duplicating the original earth conditions. Although we have a good idea what it was like on the early earth, we don't know all the details, so we cannot know exactly what to duplicate when we design our experiments. Third, the origin of life is thought to have taken millions of years. We can't wait that long to see how an experiment turns out. So the fact that we have not created life in the lab in no way proves that the origin of life by natural means is impossible.

Let me close with a quote from Bossuet
"The greatest disorder of the mind is to believe that things are so because we wish them to be so."

Okay, we both agree that it is a great disorder of the mind to believe things because we wish them to be so. Since we agree to this, let us then look at the facts, and not simply try to confirm what we wish to be so. I think the facts will lead away from the dogmatic assertions of fundamentalism.

Friday, June 01, 2007

We are not alone

We are not alone. Many have gone through similar experiences of doubt and enlightenment. Another reader shares his story:

I have read your story and was nearly moved to tears at the similarities of thought we possess. I now know that I am not alone as I've felt for the past 10 years. Out of respect for your time and eyesight, I will try to be as concise as I possibly can. As much as I'm sure you feel encouraged by the stories of others, I do not wish to be a burden. That being said, on we go:

I am now 27 years old. My recent decision to leave Christianity and religious dogma of all kinds has thrown my life and the lives of my loved ones into upheaval, even threatening to tear my marriage apart. (Thankfully, we do not have children.) The friends I've made over the past decade, the woman I've married--have all come from the one church I've attended for the past ten years. (I will get into the myriad of church experiences I've had since childhood a bit later). Prior to my momentous decision, each of my Christian friends had learned to accept me as "the Questioning Christian," the one who was just never satisfied with the "company line," but they did so with the expectation that I would always "come to my senses" and accept the "truth." (I must admit that this is better than being ex-communicated for a difference in beliefs, but it's a far cry from a healthy situation!) I cannot begin to explain to you how painful it's been for me to be surrounded by "believers" whose "faith" seemed to find its basis in a lack of desire to question rather than in some loving devotion to God. I berated myself constantly for thinking such "evil" thoughts, and often wondered if Satan asked "to sift me as wheat" like Peter. Indeed, no one else seemed to be as tormented with questions as I was! This would typically result in a pendulum swing of thought and emotion, ranging from pride that God thought so highly of me (which I would then feel guilty about) to wondering if I was going insane from believing that there was a demon influencing my thoughts. I find it near miraculous that I can laugh about it today. Countless times I have been looked upon with sincere pity by fellow Christians who could never figure out, "What's wrong with Jeremy???" Not knowing that I had a choice, I internalized those questions and wondered the same thing concerning myself. Christianity has done horrible things to my mind, Merle, and I've been beating myself up for years, trying to tell myself that I was the problem. No more.

I was born on February 11th, 1980 in Galliano, Louisiana. My father has never been religious, and to this day I have no idea what he thinks of religion...or politics...or anything. But that's an entirely different story. My mother, however, has been a searcher all her life. She grew up in the Catholic tradition, but found it to be a "lifeless tradition." She wanted excitement, and she found it in Pentecostalism--in spades. The Neo-Pentecostal movement formed my first impression of Christianity. (You may cringe if you like). Aided by my earliest memories as well as my mother's testimony, I was not your average child. My mind took in and assimilated information at alarming rate. I was truly the "inquiring scientist'" that children are described to be. My inquiry was fearless--that is, until Christian dogma came along. Combined with the emotionalism of the Pentecostal movement, I learned explicitly and implicitly to disdain knowledge and intellectual matters (outside of Christian thought, of course), shunning them for emotions, A.K.A. "specific direction from God" and "spiritual experience." Even more terrifying, I learned that God would make fools of those who "leaned on his own understanding." I began to grasp Christian concepts--the explicit as well as the implicit--from a very early age. I was fascinated by the supernatural through the help of Pentecostalism, and the concept of an ever unfolding spiritual war happening all around me filled me with fright and wonder. In fact, I can encapsulate everything I've ever learned about the Bible in those two words: fright and wonder. Fright kept me chained to the dogma, and wonder kept me asking the questions. This is a recipe for some serious discontent, as you well know. I can still remember lying in my bed at night at the age of six or seven, wondering incessantly if God was going to send me to hell for kissing a girl on the school bus, and this was only the tip of the iceberg, a very small window into what was a torturous thought-life even as a young boy. I've spoken with my mother years ago about my troubles, and I do not blame her--but I still feel the residual anger toward what I was taught so recklessly. So much time lost to worrying over groundless fears! Children are so vulnerable to this terrible indoctrination. They depend on their parents and guardians to teach them "how things came to be this way," and a large majority of otherwise intelligent people persist in teaching these defenseless minds to regard incredible, terrible, unjustified claims as self-evident. How can this go on and not be construed as child cruelty? But I digress by preaching to the choir, here. :-)

About the age of nine, a terrible falling-out occurred between my family and the leadership of the only church I had known. From that point, up until my late teens, church attendance was spotty at best. A Methodist service here, a Southern Baptist service there, a Catholic Mass on Christmas--it was all good. I took it in stride, not remembering much. All in all, I was happy to be free from the church culture of my youth: 4 hour long, fire and brimstone lessons on Wednesday and Sunday nights (no children's classes) and of course, the Sunday service. As God-conscious as I was at such an early age, I still liked my episodes of Knight Rider on television, too. Our flight from Pentacostalism was just that--still Christians, just not THAT kind of Christian anymore.

My teen years were pretty typical, I think. Experimentation with sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. To be sure, my biggest headache concerning my childhood religious beliefs during this time centered around the "demonic qualities" of rock music--a doctrine virtually pounded into my head during my years spent as the child of a Pentecostal mother. Seminar after seminar vilified the kind of music I loved most. People don't seem to understand the anguish I went through in trying to understand why particular guitar sounds and drum patterns were pleasing to the Devil. In my heart, I constantly wondered, "What does that say about me? I love Led Zeppelin!"

I understand that this position is extreme--even for Christianity. These are not the reasons I've shed religious dogma. More on that later. I'm simply describing the mental anguish caused by religious dogma in my formative years. Believers raised in more conservative circles may wish to point to the specific teachings as the root of my anguish and not the religion itself, but those seminars made a very strong case as to why I should believe that rock music was a form of Satan worship--especially to an eight year old! Scriptures were even used to back up the claims! All the children, young and old, were required to watch so that we could recognize the "wiles of the Devil." In the culture I grew up in, Satan and his minions were present in everything--even in my Transformers toys. We were pressed to burn them, along with any other toys that possessed "Satanic" qualities. I say again, it is near miraculous that my little mind held up under the strain of such teachings. It has taken me at least a decade to forgive.

I did not become heavily involved with religion again until the age of 17. Chasing hedonistic pursuits had landed me into trouble on various fronts, and nightmarish experiences with hallucinogenic drugs pushed me to the breaking point. One experience in particular is seared into my memory, as I spent nearly 12 hours in a kind of religious psychosis, convinced that I was forever separated from God and doomed to hell for my transgressions. (If you think an obsession with hell is painful enough in everyday experience, you should try it on LSD). This experience in particular turned me back to religion, and I was convinced that God had used my drug experience to put me on the straight and narrow. My mother and my brother began attending church as well, and we enjoyed a period of intense closeness. The particular brand of church we attended was a more moderate version of the Pentecostal church I grew up in. The ecstatic utterances and spontaneous dancing, laying on of hands and experience seeking was still the norm, however. I regularly heard the pastor of the church talk as if God were truly speaking to him directly, and I became enthralled with the idea that I could become so spiritual that God would speak to me also. But it never happened. I would often wonder why. Did I not pray enough? Should I have shared with that one person I was afraid to share with? Surely that was it! Next time, I would do better! This began in me a cycle of reaching for an impossible goal and then becoming disillusioned only to "repent" and do it all over again. Like you, I have walked up for countless "altar calls" in order to re-dedicate my life to the Lord. After awhile, it became embarrassing to continually walk up to the front, so I would try to do it quietly in my seat--but would start to feel guilty for being "ashamed" of God. Again, I realize how neurotic this practice is, but I am certainly not alone, and faith-based, dogmatic belief is to blame for it. I did not ask for the such misery gift-wrapped as "good news," and I was not comforted by the words of those who did not feel my misery due to a lack of thought on the issue. I continually tried to convince myself that I was the problem, that I had some innate mental illness which caused me to misinterpret the teachings of the Bible. I desperately wanted to believe that I was the problem and routinely begged God to change my personality (which scared me to the core) so that I could truly believe and be happy as a Christian. I was petrified of admitting to anyone (myself included) that I liked myself more as a non-Christian than when I was trying to be "holy." No matter how many times I read Scriptures to "fix myself," no matter how many times well-meaning believers tried to cast demons out of me by the laying on of hands, the mixed messages I was getting from the Bible and from believers were driving me toward mental illness. After repeated conversations with older believers about the evils of rock music and my lack of repentance in this area, (which ultimately meant that I didn't truly love the Lord), I quietly faded away from the religious life. The guilt I felt became more and more intense, as I was sure that my reason for leaving was inadequate and full proof of my "rebelliousness." In my eyes, everything that brought me happiness was now evil and contaminated by my apostasy, and I needed to feel guilty as my punishment! There was much to feel guilty about. Surely, your fundamentalist friend, Jeffrey Wilson would say that I was getting what I deserved. And I believed him, too--for a long time after this. Many years passed before I started to realize that guilt and fear are terrible motivators for genuine love and gratitude.

At the age of 18, I joined the Navy and transferred to a ship on the east coast. I was far from home and enjoying my new-found freedom, but I was not prepared to handle the responsibility. In the year I had spent away from religion, my apostate mind was sufficiently seared so that I had no thoughts of God. :-) I was dating a nice girl, felt more like myself again, and planned on marrying her within the year. I messed up, and the relationship was no more. I was alone in a strange place, and so I sought out my old friend, Jesus. Surely he would take me back! Jesus was the one who used to protect me from Satan and his baddies at night. He even used to protect me from the vengeful God who was always threatening to throw me into the Lake of Fire! I imagined Jesus stepping in on my behalf and pleading for the Father to give me one more chance. But I was beginning to wonder when Jesus would get tired of me. When would I stop being so rebellious and feel grateful to God? The question burned within me again, and I sought out a church similar to the one I had attended before. This marks the beginning of a journey that lasted nearly ten years, culminating in my new-found position as non-believer.

After dabbling in the Pentecostal circles for a month or two, I began to "backslide." I prayed that God would lead me to a church that would meet my needs, help me to be truly righteous. A few weeks later, I walked into a McDonald's on my military base and there sat two young men, reading their Bibles. They seemed to be engaged in a deep discussion. I felt the confirmation from within, telling me that this was my answered prayer. I struck up a conversation with them, and the leader of the two latched onto me, determined to help me become a "real" Christian. This man soon began to challenge my beliefs, even challenged the way I "prayed Jesus into my heart!" He told me that I needed to be baptized with a full knowledge of the truth in order to be saved. I fought like hell. I yelled and screamed. I called my mother for support. But in the end, I believed that God put me there for a reason, and so I "admitted" that I had never been a Christian. (Considering how many times I "re-dedicated" my life to the Lord and all the "sin" I had been in prior to that point, it felt futile to argue that I was a Christian). A study group was formed, and I was taught the basics of salvation from the ground-up. It was obvious to me that this church was serious about its beliefs, and they made it clear to me that I needed to do the same for others, even for people who believed themselves to be Christians already! I struggled terribly with this, but who was I to argue? I was 19, and I wanted to save souls. Indeed, they even pointed to the humility of Apollos when he discovered that he did not know about "real" baptism! I knew people would hate to hear it, but I had to proclaim the "truth." It was the loving thing to do, right?

As being a Christian goes, this movement did some great things for me: I was forced to truly "know my Bible" and to learn how to form arguments for the validity of Scripture. Pentecostals are more interested in experiences, per se. This transition in thought was very much a paradigm shift for me: from intuition and inner voices to scriptural authority and reason. Making this change proved to be very difficult, however. As much as I wanted to use reason and logic to bolster my Faith, I couldn't seem to shake the weight I had placed on my feelings and experiences. I read many books about the errors associated with the charismatic movement, trying to help myself along. I saw the validity of the arguments, but I had no volitional control back then. Trying to deal with my hyperactive conscience was torturous, and I soon hated being a Christian once more. Yet there was a problem this time. I had made a life-time commitment, and I felt I needed to do everything in my power to "think rightly." The community of Christians I had come to know expected me to be a true disciple of Christ, to live out the Great Commission. I knew that I needed to get help. I couldn't walk away just because I was miserable, could I? No! Miserable or not, I felt that I needed to live in accordance with the Truth.

From 1999 to 2004, I made incredible break-throughs in my thought-life. I saw a Christian counselor and read books about "making every thought captive to Christ." I learned how to avoid falling down that hole of groundless fears--at least in the framework of Christianity. I wasn't constantly plagued with accusatory thoughts, and I began to think more clearly about who I was. That's when pesky words and concepts like "self-esteem" and "perfectionist complex" and "self-worth" and "self-concept" began to enter my mind. Although I couldn't find these words in the Bible, they sure seemed to hold the key to my healing! Even more mind-blowing, I learned that my conscience could be mistrained and was not the voice of God! A part of me felt set free, but another part of me was perplexed. Where did these ideas come from? Were they "biblical"? I didn't know it at the time, but I had started my journey toward being a liberal Christian. First stop: moderation.

To be sure, I was never a good "Fundamentalist." Although I felt guilty for admitting it, I felt too "intelligent" to believe that a snake actually talked to Adam and Eve. I remember being petrified the first time I "confessed" this to a friend of mine, but he didn't burn me at the stake. In fact, he informed me that most Christian scholars interpret the story as an allegory. I was dumbfounded! Was it possible to have such thoughts and to be a Christian? I felt that a narrow gate had been opened to a vast expanse! Would this be the way to my happiness as a Christian? For quite a while, I thought so. But the unthinkable happened. My new-found perspective had to be applied to the whole of scripture. I had never thought of something so fearful and wondrous before! (There are those two words again). This was very problematic to me. Who was I to decide how scripture should be regarded? Was it enough to form my own opinions and to keep them to myself? These were nasty thoughts, indeed. I doubt I need to extrapolate very much to show you where this is going. In the next two years, I would conclude that I had taken the Bible at face value, and had therefore, very inadequate reasons for belief---the nastiest thought of all. It all began there, my friend, but it would be a long, hard road before I was able to admit to myself that I had given up on Faith--much less to admit it to others, namely my wife!

My transition from moderate to more liberal happened gradually. I began to be bothered by my private, "alternate take" on the Bible. I felt somewhat guilty, but I knew that it was time to be the "Questioning Christian." My first forays into exploration were timid at best. Lee Strobel's, "The Case for Faith," and the usual suspects were rounded up for a crash-course in apologetics, but my upbringing still had a hold on me. I had long been warned to watch out for the "dangerous knowledge" of the skeptics and the atheists. Although I fancied myself a "juror" at the Grand Trial of Truth, it was not so. I was only concerned with one side, only concerned with finding a little "proof" to back up my foregone conclusions. I can remember looking at a book of essays by Bertrand Russell with absolute dread. I wanted to read it, but I was afraid of my desire. I ran away, thinking I was a juror when I was little more than a pawn for the Defense. The flames within were really stoked when I later realized that this is the modus operandi of modern believers everywhere. Actually, I can't give them even that much credit. Today, the average believer gets his/her "faith" in the form of certitude, combined with a package of conventional wisdom that states: "Shhh...quiet those questions and devilish doubts. All of those nice apologists have done the hard work for you. There are many reasons for Faith outside of Scripture!" Far from doing even a miniscule amount of work, i.e. actually reading the book, the average believer is just content to hear such a comforting statement and to leave it at that. I could not ignore the dishonesty of such an action.

But prior to that realization, I just drifted. I became listless and evasive, ducking out of every church service I could. The glorious heyday we once shared as a congregation had degenerated into something of a struggling support group, position-less on nearly everything out of respect to "tolerance." Many rose up and spoke loudly to rouse the congregation into action, but we were all lulled to sleep in the doldrums that exist between "certainty" and "uncertainty." I was disgusted by the halfway house we were occupying, and although those who spoke up attributed the slump to "a lack of faith and action," I knew there was something else under the surface for me. I realized how often I had launched myself headfirst into the "lifestyle" to forget about my questions, intellectual and ethical. Now that the lifestyle had faded, all I had were my questions, and it struck me that no amount of activity--no matter how productive--proves anything about the literal truth of my religion. (For some reason, I am one of those rare people who really NEED to know if what I believe is true. I want no illusions, no matter how comforting or useful). I knew that I had to do something soon, but I wasn't ready to ask The Question. Another year passes, the listlessness turns into a low-level depression.

Suddenly, I find something to care about. I read a book about climate change, "The Weathermakers." I begin to ponder why religionists, on the average, do not care about the planet. A gospel song comes to mind: "This world is not my home, I'm just passing through..." Another unthinkable thought begins to form in my head, but I push it away. Six months pass, and I unwittingly pick up a book that will be the catalyst for my abandonment of Faith. It didn't "prove" God false, however. It didn't attack any religion, Christianity included. But it did help me to finally ask the un-askable: "Do I really need a Savior?" The question came and I thought I might die. I waited. Life went on.

The name of the book is "Ishmael," and the author is Daniel Quinn. I would not be surprised if you've heard of it, as it was written in 1991. Mr. Quinn has not posited a new religion, and I no longer need an "answer book." It was simply the first step in a journey that would lead to Darwin, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, dialogues with atheists and believers and lots and lots of journaling. As time went on, it became more and more clear that I was never the problem. The problem has always been the dogma. As I currently stand, I simply do not know the number of the gods, and no one will coerce me to make absolute claims on insufficient evidence. I will only grant the degree of certainty afforded by the evidence--what everyone of us does in every sphere of discourse--except religion! What a revolutionary thought it is to realize this! I am not required to be disingenuous! I am not required to act "as if" when I truly do not know! I can now resume the fearless inquiry of my childhood! I can be a juror and examine both sides, unafraid of unraveling my nicely packaged worldview! I can revise, redefine, change my mind! What freedom! The shackles are off!

Most recently, I've come to a startling conclusion. Even if the claims of the Bible were true in its entirety, I do not think I could bring myself to freely worship the god of the bible. This has floored me, as it's taken me ten years to admit to myself that the god of the bible is a destructive, childish tyrant. How truly apostate I must be when my ethical values are beyond that of the Creator! I simply cannot worship a god such as this in a genuine way, and I will not engage in verbal gymnastics to make apologies for this god. The only option beyond this is to worship Naked Power, and there is nothing in me that wishes to do so. Outside of my very real intellectual problems with the biblical and modern conceptions of Faith, I have ethical reasons to oppose such a god. I sometimes struggle with irrational fears involving hell-fire concerning this statement, but a lack of "proof" to the contrary does not add up to having a valid reason to make absolute statements as to the existence hell, either. Such a simple thought was impossible for me to think prior to this period in my life. I was chained to my fears--but only until I realized that I held the key the entire time. If the Creator of the Universe is the Christian god, and this "all powerful, all knowing, all loving" deity fashioned me uniquely, then a skeptic I shall be! If this god will condemn me to eternal hellfire for refusing to be disingenuous, then I guess I never had a chance.

In closing, I would like to thank you for sharing your story with the world. I am sure you've helped many to see that they, too, are not wicked for wishing to use their reason and intellect, to question, not terrified of being wrong. How freeing it is to no longer blindly accept terrible, unverifiable propositions! It is not self-evidently virtuous to suspend one's "god-given" reason in favor of fantastic propositions that dangle all of humanity over a flaming pit! Is it any wonder why dogma is so hard to shed? Never again will I bow to an oppressive doctrine of fear, calling it "good news." I would not do it even it if were true--but I will not shy away from the truth all the same. Thank you for reading the story of my life.

Yes, there is freedom from the fear of hell and guilt that can cripple the thought life of a child. This man has found his way to a new life. I congratulate him for his courage and resolve.