Friday, June 27, 2008

This Leopard Can’t change its Spots

We have often noted that people who change their theistic beliefs, even dramatically, don’t change. The basic personality stays the same. I am aware of one person who indicated in their testimony how, as a non-believer, they were a physical bully. After becoming a Christian, they no longer physically bullied people around.

But I noted the person was abrasive, condescending, venomous and verbally abusive toward any who disagreed with him, justifying it under the guise of treating others like Jesus treated the Pharisees. Did he change? Not really.

I know of a pastor who is no longer a Christian and now wants to “lead a flock” of non-believers. If you disagree with him, out come the same effective tools used as a pastor to get you to “toe the line.” Did they change? Not really.

In a moment of introspection I realize I haven’t changed much either.

See, as a Christian, I held the Bible in high regard. It would not be far from the truth to accuse me of being a “Biblian.” I figured it was our one sure-shot direction from God. I heard the testimonies and stories from people about how they felt with their feelings that God was “leading” them to do this or “calling” them to do that.

I know the tales of guys who “felt” God had a certain woman for them, and when that woman didn’t return the affection, it must be the woman’s fault. I watched people do some pretty selfish things; all under the firm conviction God was directing them through “inner thoughts.” Those of us outside the “inner thoughts” saw many of these rationalizations to be what they were—the person using God as an excuse to do what they wanted anyway.

I didn’t want to be such a person. I wanted to be as objective as possible. While it was possible God could communicate in visions, or feelings or urges, it was a certainty God communicated through the Bible. Relying on the Bible was safe. No fear of letting emotions or selfish desires sound like a god.

Needless to say, I studied the Bible. I cross-referenced the Bible. This was the one secure communication from God that I could say, “We may feel this way; but the Bible mandates this from God.”

Frankly, I believed some pretty different concepts as a Christian. I was not certain people who did not have the mental capacity to perform Rom. 10:9 were going to heaven. I couldn’t say with conviction, “Babies go to heaven.” Why? Because the Bible doesn’t say it! I hoped that a God of mercy would have at least the same amount of mercy as a human and would not commit such an injustice—but I didn’t know.

I was squeamish on the topic of abortion. Oh, there are plenty of arguments against abortion without needing to go to the Bible, but when people say, “God is against abortion” I became very, very silent. All the verses regarding God recognizing children in the womb are glorifying his knowledge. There is no specific verse saying “deliberate abortion is wrong.” Inferences and exegetical manhandling—yes. Specifics; no. Without those specifics, I thought it was better to be quiet than find out some day, in heaven, I was wrong.

Women preaching in church? Absolutely wrong. Paul came through for me on that one. That verse about women not wearing gold or pearls bothered me though. A lot. (1 Tim. 2:9) I tried to pass it off as “the intent was that women were to be modest,” but to be honest—that didn’t sit well with me. I kept my mouth shut and stewed on what God felt was important.

I couldn’t understand why God seemed so cavalier about slavery—so who was I to determine God might not get royally pissed off at a gold wedding band? Oh, the Bible allowed slavery. I didn’t postulate we bring it back, of course. But I didn’t say the Bible was against it either.

And now, on the other side of the fence, I find myself much the same.

I see these theistic debates in which analogies are used. The words, “I think God is…” or “I feel like God would…” and I feel the same pinch in my stomach as before. What is the basis the theist feels this way? Where are they coming up with this? I questioned it when I believed there was such a God—is it a surprise I question it even more?

And I see non-theists debate with the theists as to how the analogies don’t work, or use the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or Thor, and a war of words commences. I watch forums where it becomes: Cut. Paste. NITPICK, NITPICK, NITPICK.

What I don’t see are Christians who actually know their Bible. The same thing I saw as a Christian. On more than one occasion I have come in (with unwelcome sword flaming), demonstrated my “expertise” on the Bible, and both parties run off. They don’t want to discuss the creation, content or context of the Bible. They want to discuss, “I feel.” They want to discuss their perception of God.

I realize, in retrospect, this is exactly what I did as a Christian. Christians wanted Bible study to be, “Let’s read a verse and tell each other what we feel about it.” And I would point out the contradictions in other verses (the genesis of my deconversion, only I didn’t know at the time) and ask how they reconciled these conflicts. They, too, ran off. It was not what they wanted to discuss.

I’m not good at the “feelings” bit. Mystics drive me right off a cliff. (Is that a surprise? I think not.) “Touchy-feely” thoughts about God (or the responses thereto)—I am not good at.

Do you know why leopards don’t change their spots? Because they like the spots they have on! They have no reason, no desire, and no ability to change them anyway. I wish I could be a little less abrasive. Maybe less dogmatic on the lack of knowledge regarding the Bible. Yet every time I try to do so, I become extremely uncomfortable.

Like a naked leopard.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can you Trust a Survey?

Recently the Pew Forum on Religion & Life issued its SecondReport on major Religious trends in the United States. Understandably, many Evangelical leaders were upset to discover 57% of the people who identified themselves as “Evangelical” thought eternal life is possible through other religions.

The survey is being (slightly) lauded as demonstrating increasing tolerance within America. Before we become alarmed (if you are an evangelical) or encouraged (if you think Americans are becoming more tolerant) I question how the survey was conducted.

See, the survey also concluded 21% of people who identify themselves as atheists believe there is a god. Yep, that’s right. 1 in 5 atheists (according to the survey) say, “I am an atheist. I believe there is a god.” Something doesn’t add up.

And no, “atheist” was not a catch-all phrase. The agnostics were separated out, of whom 55% believe there is a god, and the “secular unaffiliated” were also separated out, of whom 66% believe there is a god.

To further demonstrate how odd the results appear, 6% of people who say they are atheists, and 14% of people who say they are agnostic, stated they believed in a personal god! Not only that they believe in some general notion of “god,” but a particular description of one! Now, it may seem as if I am dangerously approaching the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. We are all quite familiar with “No True Christian.” I don’t want to say these folks are “No True Atheist”—but I would sure like an explanation of what they think the word “atheist” means by saying they are atheist and believe in a personal god!

So I looked at how the question was asked. Enlightenment:

Q.16 What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?

INTERVIEWER: IF R VOLUNTEERS“nothing in particular, none, no religion, etc.” BEFORE REACHING END OF LIST, PROMPT WITH: “and would you say that’s atheist, agnostic, or just nothing in particular?”
[emphasis in original]

From Data (Note: PDF File.)

You can see exactly what was happening. The person being interviewed was getting bored with the survey and launched out the quickest answer. We can imagine the conversation:

Interviewer: What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mor--
Interviewee: [impatiently] Oh, I am not one religion in particular.

Interviewer: [following instructions] “and would you say that’s atheist, agno--”
Interviewee: [impatiently] Atheist, I guess.

The person was marked down “atheist” and later, when the question of what type of god they believed in came up, they said, “a personal god.” No one ever thought to ask, “Does this line up?”

In a local Judge’s chamber there is a picture of a cake from a certain bakery. On the cake is the following message:

“Good Luck, Betty
“Underneath that
“Best Wishes from all.

Likewise we can imagine THAT conversation:

Person: We would like to order a cake.
Bakery: What do you want on it?
Person: ‘Good Luck, Betty,’ and underneath that, ‘Best Wishes from all.’

Monday, June 23, 2008

Create Your Own Religion

On occasion, we hear an argument for Christianity based upon it being unique. We hear phrases like, “Only Christianity does not require works to earn salvation” or “The Bible is unique because it was authored by 40 different people from various walks of life, over 1000’s of years, on three continents, blah, blah, blah…”

There is nothing about being “unique” or “different” which means something is correct. Answering the question, “What shape has only four equal straight lines and four equal angles?” with “a perpendicular purple parasite” is certainly unique. Yet clearly incorrect.

Curiously, we hear the exact opposite argument as well—that because some concept within Christianity is universally accepted, the fact it is NOT unique makes it true.

“Every society has morals.”
“Every society has a creation story” (or flood myth)
“The vast majority of people have always believed there is a god.”

When the occasion warrants, the Christian will embrace uniqueness as “proof” of the truth of Christianity, and (hardly taking a breath) will then claim its common themes demonstrate how it must be true. The reality is that ALL religions have particulars which make them unique, and ALL religions have a commonality.

When reviewing all religions, we can develop a blueprint by which to create our own.

Identify a Problem

Relatively easy—observe the world about us and see what most humans identify as a difficulty or something that needs to be improved. We see weather, and seasons with too little rain, or too much. A problem. A solution to this problem is creating a weather-god to control the problem.

We see humans desiring to hurt other humans. Create a god who imposes rules upon society. We want to impose OUR rules on other societies—include that requirement within one’s god. When creating a god, all bets are off—the sky is the limit. We can have our god do anything we want.

I like the “problem” the Aztecs invented—a non-problem! They saw the sun crossing the sky everyday and thought “what would happen if it stopped doing that?” thus creating the problem of keeping the sun doing what it was doing anyway!

Get the humans involved

This is absolutely key. Most frustrating being asked to help out a project, showing up, and then given nothing to do. Give us something—anything! Hold a string, measure the doors, collect the receipts. As long as we are doing something (no matter how small) we feel as if we are “useful.”

The religion that dies on the vine is the one having a god which will do whatever it desires, regardless of human involvement. This is why religions (yes, even Christianity) always have the human doing something forcing an impact on the god.

Offer sacrifices of food to the Rain-God to make it rain. Offer sacrifices of blood to make the sun travel across the sky. Offer requests to ask the god to do something. Offer worship, offer virgins. Believe the right thing, preach the correct words, use the right “Holy Writing.” Every religion promulgates because it keeps the humans involved: “Do this thing, and god will respond favorably.”

The question, of course, is “Do what?” What is it that a god likes? The simplest solution is to imagine God is a great, big, human (with superpowers) so a God would like what a human likes! Humans like food—offer a god food. Humans like to be praised—offer the god praise. Humans like recognition—offer the god recognition through sacrifice. Humans like to be right—offer the god the “correct” belief. Every thing offered by a religion is something a human wants. (Because that is the only way we know how to relate—on human terms.)

Have you thought about how human-like the Christian God is? He requires “correct belief.” (Always in line with what this or that particular Christian is telling me.) Why? What if I am wrong? Dead, absolutely, couldn’t-be-any-more-wrong wrong? What is that to a God? A God who has lived an infinity and can make galaxies consisting of billions of exploding balls of gas, with orbiting rocks—and I blow this creature’s entire Monday by not thinking a certain way?

We really think such a creature cares? And why is this creature so all-consumed with worship? With receiving glory? So obsessed that (according to Christians) it will physically force everyone to bend their knee as a display of its awesomeness. If I am standing—does God cry? This creation of a God wants what the humans who created it want—recognition through power.

I confess it is difficult to take seriously the claims of how incomprehensible a Creator/God would be, and then be told how I, a human who will only live 80 years or so, can so outstandingly affect its thoughts, emotions, actions and desires. As if it must dance to my (or any other human) tune.

Our religion has created a resolution to the problem (a god) yet retained the human as a necessary part of the resolution to the problem. What happens when the problem continues?

Find blame for the problem continuing

See, even if we have the god to give the rain, and have the religion to tell the humans how to make the god give the rain—sometimes the rain doesn’t fall. This will need to be explained away, and we have a variety of tools available to us.

1) Accentuate the positive; completely ignore the negative.

If you pray for 10 people to get well, and one person does—point this out over (and over and over). If people hear it enough, they will only remember how you prayed about Bob and Bob got well. If they don’t hear it, they will forget you also prayed for Bill and Bo and Buff and Bono and Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate.

And don’t just passively wait for things to happen—point out the positive when you haven’t even done anything! I love how churches hold picnics in August and then “Thank God for the wonderful weather we have today, with no rain.” Their god was sitting in heaven, thinking about giving rain to the farmers who desperately need it for the crops, but then saw the First Baptist Church was having its annual picnic and without even being asked provided wonderful sunny weather. In August.

Thank your god for food. Or your job. Or your spouse. Or the building in which to meet. Or your friends. See how you can start to point out all the wonderful things happening to you that could ONLY have come from a benevolent god? Sure, other people have jobs, and spouses. Sure, other people just lost their job, or started divorce proceedings. But if we can ignore them, and continually point out how the god gave—it all seems so positive.

2) Blame the person.

One thing to be very careful is never committing to specifics within a religion. Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “If you place ten grapes and two watermelons on an oak stump at noon, god will provide 2 centimeters of rain on your entire property within 24 hours.” Oh, no. ‘Cause this would be disaster when the rain didn’t fall.

Always add a nebulous word or two allowing wiggle room, so we can blame the person. Remember Linus from Peanuts who always wanted to see “The Great Pumpkin”? Remember what “The Great Pumpkin” required? A sincere pumpkin patch. That’s a great word—“sincere”! This way, when The Great Pumpkin fails to make an appearance, we can claim poor Linus was not “sincere” enough. Easy to measure ten grapes and two watermelons. How does one measure “sincerity”?

I’m sure you can immediately see all the advantageous words, thoughts and phrases to explain away why god didn’t solve the problem through the religions’ mechanisms. Blame it on not having the right belief. Or not believing enough. Blame it on the person not exercising the tenets of the religions correctly. (I.e. “having sin.”) Blame it on the prayer, the prayee, or the pray itself.

Now we would say, “If you genuinely give ten grapes and two watermelons, with a humble heart, and a contrite spirit—no thought of your own selfish desires—god will provide the rain.” When the rain doesn’t happen we got “genuine” and “humble” and “heart” and “contrite” and “spirit” and “selfish desires”—all SORTS of words to point out how the person did it wrong, wrong, wrong!

Of course, if it only rains 1 centimeter—see One (1) above: accentuate that positive!

3) Create an enemy

Although not necessary, it is useful to manufacture an opponent to your god within your religion. It can be another god, or a very powerful monster, or a demi-god. The Christians conveniently have the Devil. (or “sin-nature”)

This way, when the expected results don’t occur, we can blame this other creature for cutting god off at the knees and “blocking” god from doing what god wants to do. “God wishes he could save everybody, but golly-gosh, that darn ‘sin-nature’ prevents him from doing so.”

Feel free to mix and match any of these three elements. Have the Devil block a person, because they had sin in their life, but at least God allowed them to eventually find employment—just not the job they wanted. See how easily that works?

Be exclusive!

Everybody likes a birthday. A day set aside when we are just a little bit different than everyone else in our life. A day we justify sleeping in, or relaxing, or buying something we don’t need because on that day we are special.

We all like the boss recognizing us. Pointing out how we are distinctive and exceptional as compared to the other employees. Or getting that special reward.

A religion can offer that. God likes you because you did it right. God DOESN’T like those other people, or that other (wrong) belief, or those other religions. They aren’t special—they are human-made fictions.

You get rewards; they will get punishments. You get heaven; they get hell. You get crowns of glory for YOUR accomplishments; they will get toasted tootsies for their failure to be special.

And there you have it. How to successfully create a religion. Identify the problem. Resolve the problem by requiring humans to do something. Rationalize the dilemma of the problem continuing. Emphasize how special all the followers are.

Christianity unique? In minor points—yes. But on the whole as a religion? Not hardly.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


We see “balance” as a good thing; a goal worthy to be achieved. The “right” thing to do. The Statue of Justice holds a scale in her left hand. The scale is…balanced.

I attended a seminar on jury trials, and the speaker indicated studies showed jurors reacted negatively to the question (commonly asked) “Can you be fair and impartial?” The implication perceived was that the lawyer thought the juror could not be “fair and impartial”—and who wants to think that? The recommended question was “Can you be balanced?”—inquiring whether they can “weigh” the evidence.

Since balance is a good, worthy goal; the opposite of balance—imbalance—is reprehensible. An injustice to be avoided and disparaged. I see people claiming they are not pushing for their agenda, or desiring their particular viewpoint prevail. Oh no—they are performing a much higher calling—a service to humankind. They are only desiring “balance.”

The other day I was listening to Dr. Albert Mohler discuss the recent California decision to allow same sex marriage, and the media attention surrounding the first marriages allowed. Dr. Mohler’s complaint was the focus on the human side of the story. The tales of couples who had been together for a long, long time and could finally be married. He was concerned the media was not presenting any depiction from the viewpoint of those against same-sex marriage. And how this was another step in the complete unraveling of our society.

I was interested in how he framed his concern. “The media is not being balanced in their presentation of the story.”

Balanced. “How horribly wicked of the media to be imbalanced,” I thought, “I am against imbalance. We must rise as one and rid ourselves of the evil of imbalance from the media failing to present Dr. Mohler’s point of view.” As I was gathering my pitchfork, club and torch in preparation to advance on my local newspaper, it struck me—where is it written the media has to be balanced? And what does “balanced” even mean in presenting an issue?

Does every story require the newspaper or television or radio present the Christian view and the non-Christian view? And the Jewish view? And the Muslim view? And the view of the people from Nebraska? And the people with tattoos? Imagine the attempt to present a “balanced” view of all representations on an event. It would take 12 hours to cover all the editorials on a 2-alarm fire!

Humorously, Dr. Mohler was speaking through a medium of media—satellite radio. I wonder what would happen if I called his radio show and said, “You didn’t present the non-theist position accurately. Please give me a five minute rebuttal everyday.” Would Dr. Mohler proclaim, “Oh yes. Because I hold ‘balance in the media’ in such high ideal, this is absolutely necessary”? Or would he discover he was not quite so interested in “balance” after all?

Or what if I asked my local church to teach a class from a non-theistic standpoint on the Bible? We discover (rightly so) the church is not so interested nor designed to be “balanced.” It is presenting a decidedly one-sided view.

As it turns out—we are NOT so interested in balance. Let you in on a not-so-secret secret. The absolutely last thing I want is a “balanced” jury. I want a jury so inclined to be favorable to me, they are simply aching to render a verdict on behalf of my client by the time I have finished my opening statement.

I don’t want the politicians I vote for to be “balanced.” I want them to make laws in support of viewpoints I hold. Not surprisingly, I expect Christians equally do not want “balanced” politicians—they, too, want lawmakers and judges favorable disposed toward their Christian standpoint.

I don’t expect news agencies to be “balanced.” Anyone who compares the same story on CNN with FOX will quickly discover how easy it is to put spin on an event. Sometimes I wonder if the reporters were at the same occurrence! These are companies intent on doing what companies do—make a profit. This is not some “higher institution” with lofty goals and sacred trusts of being “balanced.” These are businesses making money.

Don’t try and sell me that you are looking out for the best interests of humans under the guise of “being balanced.” That you are not upset at the lack of your viewpoint being represented, but are perturbed over the injustice of imbalance. Don’t couch the dissatisfaction with the noble self-congratulatory claim of just wanting balance.

Because you might find you get what you wished for. And what church would want Dr. Dawkins giving a rebuttal every Sunday?

Friday, June 13, 2008


I hate losing. This does not come as a large surprise. Oh, I don’t mind losing in a backyard game of volleyball—those are for the fun anyway. Or a game of cards with the kids.

I hate losing in court. With a passion. Experience has shown me—there are times I will lose. Sure, times when I win. Victories I can croon about. Yet there are times I lose, too.

See, every case or motion or hearing brought to a judge or jury will have a decision. And that decision will be for one side or the other. There is always a winner; always a loser. No one likes to hear a judge say, “I heard your side and was not persuaded by it. I am deciding you are wrong.” No one expects the loser to walk out the door yelling, “Yippee! I just learned a valuable lesson that I will remember for the rest of my life!” We appreciate the loser doesn’t like or agree with the decision. Goes without saying.

Yesterday, as you probably know, the United States Supreme Court rendered its third decision regarding the Guantanamo Bay Detainees in Boumediene v Bush. (Warning: PDF file.) Boumediene held, in simplest form, that the detainees had the right to pursue a writ of habeas corpus through the Federal courts.

Not that they would win. Not that they are entitled to be set freedom. The ONLY issue ruled upon was the detainees had the right to have access to the court to have their case heard.

When looked at in that light, doesn’t seem like much, does it? Simply the right to be heard? What is surprising, if you look at the legal history laid out, as to how hard it has been to even get this far. The detainees each brought a case of writ of habeas corpus (literally “You have the Body”) which is a test of the legality of the detention or imprisonment. Again, understand in each of these cases the government most likely has substantial evidence to support detaining these individuals and would likely prevail. This is NOT a claim to release the prisoners. This is NOT a trial as to the guilt or innocence of the individuals. This is merely a claim in which the government must show sufficient reason as to why these individuals are being detained. That’s it.

Initially the Federal District court dismissed the claim, stating it had no sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay. No Jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit court agreed on appeal. The Supreme Court disagreed, however, in Rasul v Bush noting Federal Law (28 USC 2241) extended habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay.

The Republican Congress understood what to do—amend the Law! (28 USC 2241). And guess what the new amendment said? It explicitly stated “no court…shall have jurisdiction…to hear an application for habeas corpus filed…by or on behalf of an alien detained . . . at Guantanamo.” Showed that uppity Court what to do! If the Supreme Court thought this law gave those detainees the right to have access to the court, then change the law.

Again, the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfield ruled that the amendment was inapplicable to these cases, as it was enacted AFTER the writs were filed. (We abhor ex post facto laws—laws done after the fact. Making what you did yesterday illegal and then charging you for doing it!)

Congress, no dummy, amended the law again to state no writ of habeas corpus was available to “enemy combatants” (no longer detainees), and again were confident they had prohibited these individuals access to the courts.

In yesterday’s decision, the Supreme Court held, despite this new designation of “enemy combatant” the detainees are still allowed the right of access to the court to see if they are being detained illegally. It has taken six years.

I was shocked at President Bush’s reaction to this ruling. He said, "We will abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it." The first sentence is fine. It is what he must do as President—uphold the Constitution. It is why we instituted and have the checks-and-balance three branches of government. So that when the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, the Executive branch enforces that interpretation.

The second sentence was more troubling. Yes, we know President Bush doesn’t agree with it. We understand President Bush would have tortured, maimed and shot the detainees by now. To hell with what the citizens or the rest of the world thought of it. We understand he felt like a loser.

I freely support George W. Bush as a private citizen proclaiming to the world what he doesn’t agree with. He can tell us he is so upset he wishes the court was hog-tied and chicken-feathered. But as my President (as little as that is) I want to hear him say he will abide by the Court’s decision and SHUT UP! Who is the President of the United States to agree or not agree with the decision? It is his job to start enforcing the law—not liking it or disliking it.

President Bush went on, “It was a deeply divided court. And I strongly agree with those who dissented and that dissent was based upon their serious concerns about U.S. national security." Again, no problem with the first sentence. (Although “deeply” is a bit over the top.) Again, the second sentence was unnecessary.

We know you agreed with the dissenting opinion. You just said you disagreed with the majority opinion. Doesn’t take a genius IQ to figure out which one you agree with. What was more troubling, though, was that emphasis on “U.S. national security.”

I have no doubt the dissenting Justices have serious concerns about U.S. national security. I strongly suspect the majority Justices do as well. But understand—their job is NOT about U.S. national security! It is about interpreting the United States Constitution and protecting the rights enumerated therein!

I am stuck with a President who holds his interpretation of National Security Interest over all other interests. He doesn’t care about the economy. He doesn’t care about natural disasters. He doesn’t care about foreign relations, governments, social issues. He cares about killing Muslim terrorists.

President Bush doesn’t know what an 8th Grade Government class graduate does. Thank goodness the United States Supreme Court, despite the whine of the President as to what their focus should be, ignored him and performed their duty—follow the Constitution.

Amusingly, President Bush stated his staff would study the ruling: "We'll do this with this in mind — to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate so we can safely say to the American people, 'We're doing everything we can to protect you.'"

Good luck. He has tried it twice with his Republican Congress, and each time the Supreme Court stuck to its job. Now that the Congress no longer holds a Republican majority, it is doubtful this law will be changed. For the third time.

Mr. President, I know you are genuinely doing everything you can to protect me from terrorists. Thank you. But the United States Supreme Court is doing everything they can to protect me from your complete abrogation of rights under the Constitution. Thank AND bless them for it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


My youngest daughter (age 8) has a delightful mind which looks at the world just a bit differently. She comes up with some interesting thoughts. (She was the one who wondered, in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand what the people drank, and came up with the solution they must have gotten water out of the “fish guts.”)

One of my favorite stories to tell happened about two years ago as I walked by her room. I spotted her standing--arms overflowing with about every stuffed animal she owned. On one hand the fingers were drumming; her face had a look of intense concentration. (The tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth.)

Me: Honey—what’s wrong?
Daughter: Mom told me to pick up all of my stuffed animals, but didn’t tell me what to do next!

Or another tale. My family often plays “I Spy” in restaurants while waiting for our food.

Daughter: I spy with my little eye…a goat.
Family: [after searching frantically for five minutes] O.K. We give up. Where is it?
Daughter: [triumphant] Right over there.
Me: [again after searching] I’m sorry, honey, I still don’t see it.
Daughter: [even more proud at her “win”] THAT’s because it is in the shape of a frog!

At the end of this school year we were treated with a fat notebook full of stories written or dictated by my daughter. One of the projects involved the teacher starting an Idiom, and then having the child finish the rest. Here is the world of phrases through the eyes of an 8-year-old:

“Strike while the…Rake is raking up leaves.”
“What’s good for the goose, is good for the…water we need to drink.”
“You can’t teach an old dog new…tricks like ‘go get it.’”
“A penny saved is…a penny spent.”
“Children should be seen and not…hurt other children.”
“It is better to be safe than…sorry about lying.”
“While the cat’s away…you can buy a scratching post.”
“Where there’s a will there’s a…way to make it right.”
“Necessity is…needing water and food.”
“People who live in glass houses…will get hurt.”

Friday, June 06, 2008

Will you Date Me?

The Tanakh is precise about dates. It places its story within a specific time frame, by reference to events, ages, persons, etc. I understand the Old Earth Creationism claim which lengthens the time within Genesis One to beyond a 7-day week of 24 hour days. But once Adam appears, how does the OEC get around the fact the Tanakh gives a precise history, placing Adam at the most at 6000 BCE?

How much allegory can be read into numbers? How can anyone reading the Bible conform it to the evidence of humans existing before 6000 BCE? (I am always puzzled at the concept of Old Earth Creationists who accept science as “trumping” Genesis One regarding the age of the earth, but deny science “trumping” the Bible when it comes to cosmology or evolution. How did they pick one over the other?)

For some time I have wanted to go through the Tanakh to see how precise a dating system we can have, and I was given a reason to do so on a thread elsewhere. It was interesting enough. The easiest way to do this is to work backwards.

926 BCE – Shishak (also known as Pharaoh Shoshenq) attacks Rehoboam. (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chron 12:1-12) Rohl has attempted (unsuccessfully) to claim this was, in fact, Ramesses II, not Shoshenq, which would move the date of this attack back by about 300 years. Rohl calls this a “New Chronology.” The problem with Rohl’s claim, is that Assyrian King Lists, as well as other histories, align with the current Egyptian chronology. In order to modify it, we also have to introduce, wiggle, wrestle and create elaborate possible explanations and wild theories to resolve the other histories. The simplest explanation, rather than turn the world upside down to somehow make the Bible align, is that this was Shoshenq. The vast predominance of Bible scholars agree.

931 BCE – Since the attack of Shishak occurred five years into Rehoboam’s reign, this would be the first year of Rehoboam and the last year of King Solomon.

971 BCE – Solomon starts to reign [He reigned for 40 years.] (1 Kings 11:42). Four years into his reign (967 BCE) he began to build the first temple. This is critical, because this date gives us our jumping off point to cover the time of David, Saul, Judges, Joshua and Exodus. We make a large leap back in time at this point.

1447 BCE – Exodus from Egypt. 1 Kings 6:1 says Solomon began to build the temple 480 years after the people left Egypt. The Septuagint says 440 years. (For the moment, I will use the Masoretic Texts) Adding 480 years to 967 BCE gives us 1447 BCE.*

*An anomaly. Paul claims in Galatians 3:17 the law was given 430 years after the covenant was made with Abraham. Abraham was 75 at the time of the covenant, (Gen. 12:1-4) which we will soon see was 2092 BCE. This would place the Exodus at 1662 BCE. I have seen on my internet travels, when apologists want to play funny with the dates, rather than use the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1, they work around Abraham and Paul to move the date of the Exodus. I have not seen this contradiction addressed head-on.

1877 BCE – Jacob enters Egypt with his family. Exodus 12:40-41 says this was 430 years prior to the Exodus, fixing us to this particular date. It also conforms to the four hundred years predicted by God in Gen. 15:13-16**

**Anomaly Two. Exodus 6:16-20. We have the genealogy of Levi (son of Jacob) -> Kohath -> Amram -> Moses. Levi lived to be 137, Kohath 133, and Amram 137. However, Joseph was at least 30 (probably older) when the family moved to Egypt, and Levi was his older brother, so the most conservative age would have Levi being 31 when the family moved to Egypt. Adding all the time: Levi [137], Kohat [133], Amram [137] and Moses up to the time the people left [80], subtracting the time Levi did not live in Egypt [-31] puts us at 457 years. Close to the 430 years, true? But this would mean each of the individuals had their sons very, very late in life. All of them would have to be over 100 years old.

At the moment we have a date certain (1877 BCE) to work backwards from. The method of doing so is simple. Jacob was 130 years old when he entered Egypt. (Gen. 47:9) Therefore we can determine the year he was born. 1877 BCE + 130 years = 2007 BCE. We are told Isaac was 60 years old when he had Jacob. (Gen. 25:26; Gen. 35:28-29) Now we can calculate the year Isaac was born. 2007 BCE + 60 years = 2067 BCE.

With the simple process we can progress backward and use the age of the fathers at the time of the birth to calculate the year the father was born. Where were we? Ah, yes—Isaac.

2067 BCE – Isaac Born.
2167 BCE – Abraham Born. (He was 100 when Isaac was Born. Gen 21:5; 25:7)
2237 BCE – Terah Born (Gen 11:26; 11:32)
2266 BCE – Nahor Born (Gen. 11:24-25)
2296 BCE – Serug Born (Gen. 11:22-23)
2328 BCE – Reu Born (Gen. 11:20-21
2358 BCE – Peleg Born (Gen. 11:18-19)
2392 BCE – Eber Born (Gen. 11:16-17)

Eber named Peleg because of the Great Divide. The Tower of Babel. (Gen. 10:25). This would place the event of the Tower of Babel between 2392 BCE (Eber’s birth) and 2358 BCE (naming of Peleg).

2422 BCE – Salah Born. (Gen. 11:14-15)
2457 BCE – Arphaxad Born (Gen. 11:12-13)***

***Another Anomaly. According to Luke 3:36, a fellow named “Cainen” is inserted between Salah and Arphaxad. P75, one of the earliest manuscripts we have of Luke does not have Cainen. Further, Josephus, in his similar genealogy in Antiquities 1.6.5 does not have Cainen. Curious.

2459 BCE – Flood (Gen. 10:10-11)
2557 BCE – Shem Born (Gen. 11:10-11; 5:32)
3059 BCE – Noah Born. (Gen. 9:29)

Interesting to see Noah lived 950 years, or from 3059 BCE to 2109 BCE. Notice Noah was alive at the time of the Tower of Babel!

3241 BCE – Lamech (Gen. 5:28-31)
3428 BCE – Methuselah (Gen. 5:25-27)

Methuselah. Oldest recorded living person in the Tanakh at 969 years of age. 3428 BCE – 969 years = 2459 BCE. Year of the Flood. Coincidence?

3493 BCE – Enoch (Gen 5:21-24)
3655 BCE – Jared (Gen. 5:18-20)
3720 BCE – Mahalalel (Gen. 5:15-17)
3790 BCE – Cainen (Gen. 5:12-14)
3880 BCE – Enosh (Gen. 5:9-11)
3985 BCE – Seth (Gen. 5:6-8)
4115 BCE – Adam (Gen. 5:3-5)

It is simple math. Calculated from agreed upon dates within history. How can the Bible be read any what BUT humans first appeared only a few millennium ago? And the flood spoken of was in 2500 BCE?

One common apologetic you may come across in this area is the claim “When the Jews wrote genealogies, they would ‘skip’ a generation. The word ‘begat’ does not necessarily mean a direct ancestor and the words ‘son of’ do not necessarily mean a direct ancestor.” The most common example utilized is the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.

Matthew 1:1 states, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” As we know Jesus was not the actual son of David, nor David the actual son of Abraham; this would seem to support the apologetic. However, the problem is that this is an introduction—not a specific genealogy. In fact, to demonstrate the point, the author immediate launches into a genealogy which clearly indicates the intended linage.

Within the genealogy itself, though, the author definitely engages in some generation-skipping. Matthew 1:8-9 only has “Joram -> Uzziah -> Jotham “ whereas 1 Chron. 3:11-12 has “Joram -> Uzziah (Ahaziah) -> Joash -> Amaziah -> Azariah -> Jotham.” Apparently the author missed a few! This is further complicated by the fact the author states he is grouping the genealogy in three (3) sets of 14, (Matt. 1:17). Did the author deliberately cut out a few in order to maintain this magic number? [Only to have a later copyist blow it anyway. If you count the names, there are only 41, demonstrating some copyist left one out!]

We see generation skipping in this genealogy. No question. Yet we also see a stated purpose for doing so (keeping the number to 14.) What was the stated purpose of the authors of the Genesis genealogies to skip generations?

Secondly, I have not found any demonstration it was common practice to skip generations in other genealogies. It should be mildly noted this is a circular argument:

1. We know it was common practice to skip generations because the Bible author does.
2. The Bible author skips generations because it was common practice to do so.

Thirdly—the one that puts a fork in it—these genealogies give very specific ages. Even if there WAS generation-skipping—it doesn’t change the numbers!

Assume, for an instant, the genealogy stated, “Abe begat Charles.” The apologist could claim, under this generation-skipping theory, the possibility of inserting “Bob” between “Abe” and “Charles—thus lengthening the time indicated. In fact, the apologist can insert “Bob,” “Bob, Jr.,” “Bob the III” and so on, and claim that “Abe begat Charles” was a period of 1000’s of years with hundreds of “Bob’s” in-between.

But that is not what we have. No, what WE have is “Abe begat Charles when Abe was 34.” A period of 34 years between Charles’ birth and Abe’s birth. If you want to insert a skipped generation—go ahead. It will still only be 34 years! We could insert “Bob” as follows: “Abe begat [Bob who begat] Charles when Abe was 34.” See how old Abe is? Still 34! See how many years have passed? 34.

This argument completely fails to understand that inserting generations doesn’t help it one bit, due to the specificity of numbers.

Since nothing is straightforward in Biblical studies, mention must be made about the Septuagint. A Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh which was complied some time in the Third Century BCE. The Septuagint has numerous ages within these genealogies where it adds 100 years to the age of the father. For example, instead of saying Adam had Seth at 130 years of age, the Septuagint states Adam was 230. Instead of Seth being 105, the Septuagint says 205. Enosh is 190 instead of 90 and so on.

There has been no cogent explanation for this seemingly arbitrary adding of 100 years. No explanation of translation issues, or even textual errors. I suspect the translators were already seeing the problem of placing history so close, especially with greater contact amongst foreign histories, and decided to lengthen the time as best they could. Even by adding 100 years, though, due to the limited number of people, at best this totals approximately 1400 years, placing Adam to 5500 BCE.

I am curious how Old Earth Creationists explain these dates. Was God s-l-o-w-l-y developing the earth and then… BAM! Hits it with humans 8000 years ago? Or do we not only analogize “days” to mean “millions and millions of years” in Genesis One, but start analogizing the humans listed? The genealogies? Those years?

The authors of Genesis’ intentions are clear. They thought humans had only been around for a short period of time. They were wrong. How much more could they be wrong about?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Shark Bible

“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” Shark 5:15.

We often hear the complaint about the God of the gaps. Within discussions surrounding the development of the universe, or the evolution of biological life, the cringe at the cry of “Goddidit.” Yet I see this spill over into other areas of discussion—the same reliance of inserting and asserting a god to bolster a claim.

The other day, listening to Christian Radio, I heard the enthusiastic claim, “Without God there is no way to put value on human life. Humans have as much value as an apple or a blade of grass.” How is whether there is a god or not modify value of humanity from our perspective? What is the great gauge in the sky that tells us of relative worth, and the pointer indicting how humans fall on the scale?

I see theists wrestling with the same issues of determining the value of lives, and instead of coming to grips with how to do that, flatly state, “There is a god. And my god values human life,” swish their hands together and think they somehow made an argument. Simply asserting a god exists and then imposing what you think value should be upon your god does not an argument make.

As humans, it is somewhat easy to have another human agree with us the human species has value. Talk about preaching to the choir! It is almost intrinsic we agree our own kind has worth, because we believe in our own worth. Yet go outside of our species, and convince them of your value!

Imagine being in the water with a great white shark, and convincing it you have value. The only value you have to a shark is as a meal. (Not what we have in mind when we use the term “value,” is it!) A shark may convince another shark that their species has worth, but when it comes to the human species in the water, we are lower on the food chain.

If the sharks had a god, and the sharks had a Bible, it would proclaim the value of sharks. The sharks’ god would value sharks’ lives.

How do we determine “value” when it comes to biological species? “Value” is a compared worth of good within the market place. A baseball is worth a coupla bucks. A baseball signed by Babe Ruth is worth a great deal more. Each is just a baseball; one is even smudged with someone writing on it. In our marketplace we “value” that ink smudge more than 15,000 brand-new unsmudged baseballs.

When it comes to species, though, this because a far greater difficulty. What is a human compared to a flower? What if the flower contained an element which cured all cancer? What is a human compared to two humans? Or three humans? Even within our own species we manage to devaluate other humans. Think of war—we are willing to kill the soldiers for the other side, consider them “less value” than keeping our comrades alive.

We are willing to kill 10’s of 1,000’s of civilians in war to protect ourselves. In the marketplace of value, we consider our own citizenry of higher value to protect than the citizenry of another country.

Even if a god exists; it is not informing us as to value. For all we know, it does consider sharks more valuable. They’ve been around longer, and haven’t yet found the need to evolve. Sure, they don’t have opposable thumbs…but with those teeth and that speed—how needs thumbs?

We can see how people throughout history have used “Goddidit” to justify devaluing others. The Aztecs would offer captives as sacrifices to continue the sun on its course. The life of the captive was worth less than the lives of the captor. The Jews devalued those living on land they wanted, and boldly proclaimed it was God who had made the value determination. (Deut. 20:17-19). However, if the Jews wanted…say…some female virgins—their God (coincidentally, we are sure) did a role reversal and ordered them to value the female virgins. Not the little boys or the already married, of course. (Numbers 31)

The authors of the New Testament considered the teachings of females of less value than that of males. Lo and behold, their God did too! (1 Tim. 2:12) Over and over, we observe this technique: 1) Assert a God, 2) Make the God value what you want to value.

Christians would like to claim humans have value because of their God, yet even that brings struggle. What has more value to a Christian: life or a soul? If a person died, yet their soul was saved, many Christians would consider a soul of higher value than life. What has more value to a Christian: human life or God’s glory? Many Christians would claim the ultimate value was the glory of God. God could kill a human to demonstrate his Glory, and a Christian would have to say this has more value. (Rom. 9:20-24)

So why DO we value other humans? Whether you like it or not, I think it is a matter of similarity. We value other humans because they are similar to us, and we consider ourselves to have value. If we were sharks, we would likewise consider other sharks to have more worth.

This translates to relations among humans as well. Think about it, right now some 19-year-old kid is aiming his rifle at another 19-year-old kid. Each has brothers, sisters, parents, friends. Each considers themselves of value. Each is willing to kill the other. Why? Because the other 19-year-old is more dissimilar than the kid’s parents, family, country members, etc. It matters not which side of the battlefield we spot this kid—each is willing to kill the other out of the same dissimilarity.

Using a god to get one off the hook of attempting to make these decisions doesn’t work anymore. God hasn’t given us a value system, and those who don’t believe in a God see you are only using God to impose your own values.