I was thinking back to my university days and specifically to the difficulties I had with physics. I chose a scientific discipline as my course of study and this required one to have a good foundation in mathematics, especially algebra and calculus. Not having ever been an "A" student in either, this made the mandatory courses in physics rather difficult. I began to wonder what physics would have been like at a fundie Evangelical university (Nazarene University in Syracuse, Oral Roberts etc) and I began to laugh. I designed a few questions for Introductory Fundie Physics. I would have achieved an A+ in this course in my Xtian days.
- 1. Bubba casts a 0.2 kg stone at the skull of a non believer. Bubba is 8 metres from the non believer and the stone is cast from Bubba' s hand at a distance of 1.71 metres above the ground, at a velocity of 16 m/s and at an angle of 51 degrees from the horizontal. At what velocity and with how much force does the stone contact the non believer's skull?
a) 5 m/s and 900 Newtons
b) Whatever velocity and force is required to kill the non believer as God will accelerate the stone in flight and ensure it finds its target.
c) Satan will protect the non believer and it will miss
d) none of the above
Correct Answer: b
- 2. An object dropped from a height in a vacuum will accelerate due to gravity at a rate of:
a) 9.81 m/s/s
b) 2.78 m/s/s
c) Whatever rate satisfies God
d) It will not accelerate at all if God feels there should be no gravity at that moment
Correct answer: c or d
- 3. A Catholic is decorating their Christmas tree and places a false idol lighted Virgin Mary on the tree, instead of a figure of our true Saviour, Jesus Christ. The circuit has a potential of 125 volts, a current of 5 Amperes, and a resistance of 25 Ohms. There is a break in the insulation of one wire and a short to ground occurs while the heretic Catholic is touching it. Resistance in the circuit now decreases to 0.02 Ohms. What amount of lethal excruciating current does this unsaved Catholic receive in Amperes? Show all calculations.
Answer: 250 Amperes
I remember several years back when news got out that a technology company was in the process of developing a tracking microchip to be implanted in animals. Not long after many preachers were claiming this new microchip would one day become "The Mark of the Beast." Such speculation is common in Christianity today. When the World Trade Towers fell, many were claiming that the battle of Armageddon was approaching. And now we have preachers who watch the news in the Middle East and then go to church Sunday morning and tell their congregations, "This was prophesied in the bible!" There are even websites you can visit that supposedly tell you the link between modern terror and the battle of Armageddon. If there's a change in weather patterns, a few hurricanes hitting the U.S in the same year, or a couple of severe earthquakes striking in the same time frame, you can expect someone to claim these events are signs of the end of the world.
Just an example of how outrageous this stuff can get: After the attack on the World Trade Towers, a friend of mine was convinced after hearing a preacher that the terror attack on 9/11 was a direct fulfillment of Revelation 18:2, which says, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great." According to the preacher the word "fallen" was used twice to represent the collapse of each tower. Apparently this preacher didn't study his bible to understand that Babylon in this verse clearly refers to the ancient Roman Empire, and not the United States! And there were those who said that Iraq, which was once the ancient Babylonian empire, would soon rise up as the headquarters of the antichrist to rule the world with an iron fist in the Last Days. Well guess what, Saddam is dead, and Iraq is in shambles. So when a preacher stands up and says, "All the signs in the bible clearly point to the possibility that this generation will live to see the Second Coming," there's no need to get flustered. Every generation has made this claim since the time Christianity came into existence. Many today speculate that the antichrist will come out of the European Union, and in like manner, hundreds of years ago multitudes of Christians were claiming the Pope was the antichrist.
Whenever war breaks out or a military crisis arises, you can expect a revival of end-times excitement and speculation. World War II struck and people were claiming the end was near and that Hitler or Mussolini was the antichrist. The war ended and life went on. Until the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, when end-times fanaticism reached its peak, as millions of believers thought the end of the world would come in the form a nuclear holocaust. And of course there were plenty of preachers who pointed out specific bible verses which directly prophesied the use of nuclear weapons! The trend is starting to sound familiar isn't it? But the Cold War came to an end and life went on. There is a subtle danger to such end-time excitement, and it is this: When a disaster strikes, especially in the form of a major attack or war, there are many Christians who actually get somewhat excited deep down. Certainly they are not happy that people have suffered and died, but to many people, such disasters and wars are signs that they might soon be taken up into the sky to go to heaven (aka The Rapture). So even while people were mourning the tragedy of 9/11, certainly there were many who were quietly thinking to themselves, "The end is near, and I'm gonna be outta here when the rapture comes." The danger of such a view is also evident in light of our critical environmental issues, because why would an individual be seriously concerned about building a sustainable planet, if the world is supposedly going to come to an end soon? Sam Harris put it best when he said, "If an announcement flashed across the news today that an atomic bomb had just been dropped on Israel, even in the midst of the sadness, there would be a silver lining in that mushroom cloud, because to many it would be a sign that they are going home soon."
I have a serious question concerning the Bible's teaching on the doctrine of hell. Actually I have several serious questions concerning this teaching, but I'll focus on just one point for the sake of time. I'm sure almost all of us at some point in our lives have been to church and heard a preacher giving a sermon on the topic of hell. During my years when I was very religious, I had a favorite sermon entitled, "Hell, Fire, and Damnation." Actually it wasn't a sermon, but rather a five part sermon series. It was preached by my favorite pastor, Dr. Roy Hargrave, who is the senior pastor of Riverbend Community Church, a very large Southern Baptist church located in Ormond Beach, Florida. A friend of mine sat through one of the sermons during a Sunday morning service, and the sermon was so intense and terrifying that he caught a glance of a young college-age girl sitting in the same row literally trembling in her seat, while listening to the pastor describe in vivid detail the unimaginable horror and torment that awaited her if she did not convert.
The entire sermon series is heavily influenced by a sermon that was preached nearly 300 years ago by Jonathan Edwards titled, "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God." This sermon helped ignite the Great Awakening, due to the fact that it simply terrified people into converting. Here is just a small sample of this message:
"It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains."
Although I have never been eloquent enough to describe hell is such vivid detail, nevertheless I preached and taught this doctrine for several years. But even while I was a student in seminary, I had a very difficult question in my mind concerning this topic. My question is this: Why is the Old Testament almost totally silent on the teaching of hell? I'm sure someone will quote a verse (and I could quote a few myself) to argue that the OT does indeed support the existence of hell, but these very few verses are so few and far between that it should disturb anyone who has studied the Bible, when asking yourself why the Old Testament spend such a small amount of time discussing a topic of such vast importance.
In the entire Old Testament, there is really only one verse that could easily be interpreted as a reference to the idea of eternal punishment in hell. The verse is Daniel 12:2.
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, some to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."
Even if we assume this verse is speaking of eternal torment, it raises another question: Why does it only say that "MANY of those who sleep in the dust will awake?" Why does it not say, "ALL of those who sleep in the dust will awake?" Is this verse implying that only a certain portion of those who have died will experience an afterlife? Are there some who will not experience an afterlife? I think it is easy to see how someone could interpret this verse in this manner. My point in bringing this side-note up is not at all to get off track discussing the universality or limited nature of an afterlife, but rather to point out that if one chooses to use this verse to defend the claim that the Old Testament supports the idea of eternal punishment, you have uncovered another problem due to the wording of the text.
But let us get back on track. Here is the main point I want to raise. The book of Daniel is said to have been written in the 6th century BC (although many scholars say the 2nd century BC). And the first books of the Bible are said to have been written around the 14th or 15th century BC (although conservative and liberal scholars debate this as well). So here is my question: If the book of Daniel is the first book of the Old Testament that mentions the idea of eternal torment in hell, why did the Bible wait 900 years to warn its readers about something this serious? If there really is an eternal torture chamber, it seems like the Bible would be absolutely sure to include this teaching on the very first page! I would say that is some REALLY important information to be leaving out!! Could you imagine a person dying who lived during the time of Moses, which would have been hundreds of years before the book of Daniel was written, and waking up in the eternal furnace of fire and screaming, "Oh my God, why wasn't I warned about this?!!"
I have thought about this question, and while I am sure a multitude of answers could be proposed in an attempt to solve this dilemma, I can come up with two answers that are very likely to arise. For the first answer to this question, a person might respond, "Well he's God, and he can do whatever he wants, and if he doesn't want to warn them about hell, then he doesn't have to." But if someone is willing to give a response like this, then he or she should not get angry if a radical Muslim says, "Well he's Allah, and he can do whatever he wants, and if he wants to command his followers to carry out suicide bombings on innocent women and children, then he can do what he damn well pleases." For anyone who would give such a response, it would be helpful to follow the advice of a quote I once heard that said, "Don't make a statement that makes God out to be less compassionate that your average mortal human being."
The second response may possibly carry a little more validity. In the second response, a person defending the teaching of hell might say, "Well maybe the early books of the Bible do not specifically warn its readers about eternal punishment in hell, but it did warn them that God would punish them if they sinned against him." And of course there is no doubt that this is true. There are hundreds of threats in the first five books of the Bible that God would punish people for sinning against him. There were a multitude of cases where God threatened the people of Israel with death if they broke his commands. One man was stoned to death for simply picking up sticks on the Sabbath, because any form of work was forbidden on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). And the book of Deuteronomy commands parents to have their child (more like a young adult) stoned to death for being disobedient (Deut. 21:18-21). So there is no question that the Bible warns its earliest readers that they will be punished for sinning against God. But are such warnings sufficient?
I would say that these warnings are not even close to being sufficient. A general warning that God will punish them for sinning against him is not good enough. Here is an illustration to make my point: A dad tells his teenage son that if he gets caught smoking pot that he will be punished. The son tries his best to not get caught, but eventually his dad catches him in the act. So the dad takes a rope and ties up his son's hands and feet and carries him into the basement, where he has a secret torture chamber set up. The dad keeps his son locked in the basement and puts him through the most sadistic torture for the rest of his life. Every day the son pleads to his dad to let him out, but the dad replies, "Son I told you I would punish you if you smoked pot." And his son says, "But dad, I knew you said I would be punished for disobeying you, but I wasn't expecting this!" Multiply the horror of this torture by infinity and apply the same logic to the doctrine of hell, and you'll see one of the reasons why I have a serious issue with this awful teaching. Feel free to voice any of your own objections or comments, they will be greatly appreciated.
The Atheist Experience is a weekly cable access television show in Austin, Texas geared at a non-atheist audience. The Atheist Experience is produced by the Atheist Community of Austin. The Atheist Community of Austin is organized as a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals.
Apparently, the book is for idiots who don't quite understand intelligent design, but who after reading the book, are fully equipped to become idiots who promote intelligent design.
Available on Amazon.com
WASHINGTON, D.C.- In a difficult 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday that judges can no longer display religious artifacts such as the Ten Commandments in their courtrooms. By manipulating a loophole in the Constitution, lawyers managed to convince the court to invalidate centuries of federal sponsorship for the nation's most popular religion. The end result is that Christianity as we have known it has been effectively outlawed in America.
The same Court later approved of the limited outdoor display of the stone law books but this door prize was too weak and narrow in scope to be of any consolation. "For my faith to be fully realized, I need to be free to foist it on other people," said life-long Christian Holly Rohler. "Without the ability to make people feel excluded, what's the point of being a Christian? Hey, if Indians get to smoke peyote on religious grounds, it's only fair that I get to righteously condemn a few people."
Within hours of the ruling, the Internet buzzed with reports of helpless Christians being hunted by UN soldiers and fed to lions, but so far no confirmations have appeared in the theophobic major media outlets.
Senator Dick Durbin (D. Illinois) took time out of his frantic fundraising and apologizing schedule on Monday to speak out against the ruling and subsequent attacks on people of faith but later learned that the ruling only affected Christians. As a practicing Catholic, he and his family have nothing to worry about.
The real trouble, it seems, falls at the feet of Fundamentalist Christians, followers of Fundamentalist Jesus (much like Regular Jesus but fortified with riboflavin and 12 essential vitamins) and largely considered to be the only true keepers of the faith- by Fundamentalist Christian theologians.
The situation for America's Christians has reportedly gotten so bad that sales of the once popular "You're going to hell and I'm not" line of sportswear have plummeted, and owners of "Jesus fish" ribbon magnets are now claiming the likeness is just a coincidence.
At last report the legal clampdown has pushed millions of the faithful underground, practicing their ceremonial condescension rituals in secret and under the cover of darkness.
"Looking down on different faiths while claiming persecution over my own is my fundamental right as an American," said street corner missionary Sal Frichous. "Meeting in secret like this makes it look like we're ashamed- but Jesus tells us it's all of you that are supposed to feel ashamed, not us."
Mediators have been working through the night trying to reach a compromise with secular leaders. There must be some way for Christians to be able to continue to impose themselves on the minority faiths in a manner allowable under the Constitution. However, this middle ground has been hard to find. The initial idea was to come up with a monument that everyone can agree on, something like "Screw the Zoroastrians," but even with such a tiny religion a chance still exists that someone might move to town and ruin it for everyone.
From safe houses in undisclosed locations, fugitive church leaders have appealed for calm, reminding fellow evangelists that this is not the end of the world. Unfortunately, for a group of people who have been eagerly awaiting the end of the world as long as they can remember, this notion has been a tough sell.
"I honestly don't know where we'll go," said Roller. "Our real goal is to somehow make it to the border, but my husband says Canada won't be any more hospitable to our kind than this country. A very nice Hindu family has offered to hide us in his basement for a while, so we'll see how that goes."
So there I was, in a truck pulling a float in a christmas parade. A float celebrating the birth of Jesus, complete with a manger scene, and birthday cake no less. How did I get there, you ask? Well I'm really not sure. It seems like it would be against my volition to be pulling a float that was promoting Christianity, but I must say I was never really asked. I was conscripted by the Christian majority, whether I liked it or not.
I suppose I should bear the blame for this odd circumstance. After all, I could have put my foot down and refused to do any such thing. Of course that would have been tantamount to outing myself as an atheist and thereby calling my wife's worldview into question. For which she most certainly would have gotten blacklisted in the area and her little business would have went belly up in less than a month. Economic forces keep my wife from being her true self in the establishment that her business is set up in.
I dare say that monetary issues would be the least of our worries if word got out that there were an atheist in these hills! I can almost smell the torches burning. O.K., maybe not, but I would be really surprised if there were not some threats, and some difficulties at school for my kids, maybe a mean phone-call or two. The possibility of violence to my family is there, nonetheless.
So how did I get there? Well, it seems that if the majority holds a belief, it is easy for them to forget that not all will hold to that same belief. Especially when the non-believer is not vocal about their non-belief. It is a simple case of arrogance on their part. I was never asked, I was just voted the best man for the job. A job I didn't even know I was up for. My wife came home from work one day and said "Guess who's driving the float in the Christmas parade this weekend? That was two days before the event. My kids were already assigned to the candy throwing job on this thing. How could I disappoint them?
If I put my foot down and told them that I was an atheist I would have placed my wife in an uncomfortable position to say the least. It would have also furthered the stereotype of the evil atheist and his need to ruin the fun of the faithful in a most hateful and rude manner. Stereotypes seem to work well in keeping a person from dissenting.
I actually had fun. I love a parade. Watching kids run for tossed confections and seeing groups of strangers come out to wave and cheer. It was nice. Just for a little balance in it all, mind you, I would have given my left nut for a festivus pole or some such.
I might do it again next year if I'm asked or even just appointed. It's not like they were asking me to play Jesus in their passion play. I'd do that too, but things would be waaay different! The temptation would be too great. I wonder if I could make it out of the church alive? I almost hope I get the chance to find out.
This experience made me realize that I cannot expect to be left alone by Christians.
To offset this perceived minor injustice, I took it upon myself to seek out a local atheist organization. I gathered the courage to go to one of their meetings last night. The regulars here that know my story know this is a major step for me. I'll be going back to see this group again. I think it is time for me to step out of my cocoon and try to be the person that I hope to be.
Marlene Winell, December, 2007
The Christmas season is often busy and complicated with families and schedules and special events. There are standard criticisms of materialism and holiday angst. Yet at the center of it all there is a powerful image that speaks to all of us – the Child. It’s fascinating to me that once a year so many people stop everything, or at least pause, to acknowledge a Child.
But who is this Child of Christmas and why does the image have such power? We have religious and secular interpretations, and I would like to suggest a third – a soulful interpretation.
For Christians, this is a specific Child, the baby Jesus, entering the world to be its savior. This is why the angels sing and the wise men visit. God has at last fulfilled his promise, and there is rejoicing.
For other people, not Christian, the Christ Child still represents hope and renewal. As with the solstice and the new year, the Child symbolizes newness and birth, the promise of fresh life. The Christmas tree also has this idea of new life. As such, the holiday still has meaning and reason for celebration.
These reasons are significant and important to remember in the context of all the commercialism of the season, of course. But I think there is much more to appreciate about the Child. This is not a child that will grow up to save the world. In history as we know it, Jesus Christ did not fulfill messianic predictions. Some Christians will say that Christ rules a heavenly kingdom of the heart, and is still coming to rule the earth. Perhaps. But the focus on someone coming to rescue us is a mistake, in my opinion. (Other Christians will say that he came to teach us how to save ourselves--a lesson we still need to learn.)
The view of the Child as symbol of hope and life is a valid alternative view embraced by many at this time of year. Our world is so weary with struggles, we all need the healing force of hope. If the image of a newborn baby gives us encouragement, and draws us together with gentle love in our families, that is certainly a good thing. “Peace on Earth,” is a welcome message on holiday greeting cards.
But the Child archetype connects to each of us in a personal way as well. We were all children once and we can perhaps remember the innocence and freedom. It’s good to ask ourselves whether we still know how to laugh and enjoy life. The image of a baby instinctively raises questions, and brings up feelings.
On the deepest level, the Child connects to matters of the soul. By this I mean essence – the way we actually experience being alive. This is not the Christ child or just a symbol of hope -- this is the Original Child that is in each of us. This is the Child we all know is still present but may be lost or buried. Our life patterns, our “personalities,” our many roles, our anxieties, our regrets, our plans, our endless thoughts, all conspire to distance us from who we once were – infants with magical capability for presence and joy.
In the words of William Schafer, author of the paper, “The Infant as Reflection of Soul,” “Babies by their very existence call us back to something we all sense we have lost. They do not enchant us simply because they are ‘cute.’” He says infants frequently hint that they are capable of experiences we no longer commonly enjoy – original experiences of energy, openness, and joy. In early infancy, Schafer says, these are profoundly essential human spiritual experiences. The pure awareness of a baby is free of internal commentary, judgment, comparison, fear, or desire.
Interestingly, in the spiritual Balinese culture, babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first year of life. They are considered closer to God than adults. In any culture, one only needs to look into an infant’s eyes to see a being that is absolutely in the present, that has no agenda whatsoever, that is open to the simple miracle of being alive. This delight is pure and plain in a smile, a look, a wriggle of total energy. The ego has not emerged; there is just being. Worries about the past and concerns for the future do not exist; the moment is timeless, endless. In Schafer’s terms, calm infant joy of this kind is the natural, inevitable consequence of presence.
In contrast, adults experience split-second judgments that erode the capacity for joy. If we have a bad experience, we can’t wait for it to end. If we have a good one, we want more of it and we worry that it might stop. Either way, joy—the sense of being drawn to our actual experience in wonder and curiosity without fear or repulsion—is veiled. We end up living lives in which most of our time is spent wanting to be in some other moment than the present one. The quality of every moment is constantly being judged and compared with something past or some imagined way that it should be.
Intuitively, we have some awareness of this dilemma. As babies learn to navigate the world, we watch them and marvel at their “development,” but gradually we see them become like us as they grow up, industrious and goal-oriented, forgetting their pure state of just being instead of doing. It seems like an endless cycle.
But if we choose, we can learn from infants. We need to see them with new eyes and let them be our teachers. We can let them remind us of what we have lost and teach us again to be purposefully and mindfully present and joyful. We can learn from the way they respond with awareness to others.
When new parents talk about holding a newborn, they talk of a “miracle” with overwhelming feelings. Other people can have the same feelings about a baby, and there is a tug on something deep within. What is that? This is your core, your Original Child, your personal manifestation of the archetype, alive deep inside. And part of the archetype of the Child is the capability of great transformation.
But the Child is quiet and fragile. The experience of deep contact depends on connecting to that Child within. And it is our hectic lives with layers of coping, achieving, struggling, or succeeding that hinder the knowledge of the Child from reaching us. And ironically it is the Christmas season that is full of too much hustle and bustle. We lose the connection, and in the midst of parties and presents, we feel lonely and unsupported.
And perhaps there is another good reason why feelings are raw at this time of year; we aren’t just busy. It could be that the image of the Christmas Child, in addition to the childlikeness of the ornaments, cookies, and presents, evokes the knowledge we all have, albeit below awareness, that we are still children at heart. As adults, this includes the needs and the wounds that we have acquired. Even Carl Rogers, after a lifetime of studying psychotherapy, said “there are no grown-ups.”
But the Divine Child part of the archetype is the one that calls to us at this time of year. Each of us personally is drawn to hope and renewal. Each of us is still innocent, life-loving, and capable of the soulfulness we see in infants’ eyes.
So this season, let’s consider what it might mean to honor the Child – first of all in ourselves, and then in each other. We can slow down and look around. We can be gentle. We can remember that we are all connected. We can watch our adult habit of having expectations and practice appreciating what actually is. We can allow ourselves to feel joy for no reason. What else this might include I don’t know, but I suspect it could be quite different, and quite magical. For me, I plan to cherish every opportunity to look into the eyes of a young Child. I expect I will learn something I can use when I look out of my own Child eyes. I will practice delight.
Reference: Schafer, W. (2004). The infant as reflection of soul: The time before there was a self. Journal of Zero to Three. National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 24: 3, pp. 5-8.
Marlene Winell, Ph.D. is a psychologist and consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area who works with people recovering from harmful religious experience. She is the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. See www.marlenewinell.net for services and events.
According to Christians, the story of Abraham and Isaac (from Genesis chapter 22) is a testament to Abraham's great love for God.
Basically, God ordered Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, and present him as a "Burnt Offering." So Abraham ties Isaac to a wooden alter (as instructed) and, knife in hand, gets ready to kill his son. Then, an angel stops him just in time and God let's him kill a ram instead.
What a horrible story!
What kind of "loving" god would order such a thing? It sounds more like something a gang member might have to do to prove his loyalty.
And what kind of father was Abraham? He was willing to kill his son in cold blood and burn him, without protest or even questioning God.
The real answer lies in verse 12. The angel says, "now I know that thou fearest God." The story is not about love, but fear! Like most of the Old Testamentt, the story is designed to scare people into submission to "Almighty God."
And what about poor Isaac? How fucked up would that kid be after his father tied him to an alter and raised a knife to kill him? I'm sure God kicked in for the therapy bills...
Here are the key passages:
Genesis 22:1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
22:2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
22:6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
22:9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
22:10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
22:11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
On the 30th of September, 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) and filmed by Josh Timonen. All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion -- some positive, and some negative.
In this conversation, the group trades stories of the public reaction to their recent books, unexpected successes, criticisms, and common misrepresentations. They discuss tough questions about religion that world is facing, and propose new strategies for going forward.
The authors' recommended books: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel C. Dennett, "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris, "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris, "God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens
Purchase this DVD at Amazon.com.
From the History Channel:
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.
The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.
In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.
Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the "lord of misrule" and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined "debt" to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.
The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.
After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
t wasn't until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?
The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city's first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.
In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving's mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving's fictitious celebrants enjoyed "ancient customs," including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving's book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving's account actually "invented" tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.
Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story's message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.
The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to "spoil" them.
As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.
Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.
"Merry Christmas" gives the political correctness crowd lots to write about, but I think they've all missed the boat on this. We should all be campaigning to preserve and promote the real reason for the season. We need to keep the Mass in Christmas!
The word "Christmas" originated as a contraction of "Christ's mass." It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ. Since the mid-sixteenth century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ. Hence, "Xmas" is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.
So, having the X in Xmas is still keeping Christ in the holiday, but people have forgotten the real reason for Christmas – celebrating the Mass!
Continuing from Wikipedia:
The identification of the birth date of Christ did not at first inspire feasting or celebration. Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday "as if he were a king pharaoh." He contended that . only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays.
Christmas was promoted in the east as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, to Antioch in about 380, and to Alexandria in about 430. Christmas was especially controversial in 4th century
Constantinople, being the "fortress of Arianism," as Edward Gibbon described it. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400.
So, Christmas as we know it is entirely a Roman Catholic invention and tradition. Therefore, the most important aspect of this holiday is the Mass. Celebrating the birth of Jesus was never considered important or even appropriate during the first few centuries of Christianity. The Council of Nicaea declared at least half of Christendom to be heretical, and ushered in a wondrous 1,000-year reign of ignorance, terror. and horror under the beatific reign of true Christianity: Roman Catholicism.
Therefore, in grateful appreciation to Holy Roman Catholicism for uniting the world in joy during this merry time of year, I am suggesting a new political correctness campaign: Keep the MASS in Christmas!
What do you say?
As a former Straussite I credit much of my approach to two things Dr. James D. Strauss drilled into us as students, but in reverse.
When doing apologetics he said that “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” He’s not a Van Tillian presuppositionalist because he doesn’t start with the Bible as God’s revelation. He merely starts “from above” by presupposing God’s existence, and then he argues that such a presupposition makes better sense of the Bible, and the world. Again, “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” Since that’s such an important, central issue, I’ll focus on why we should not start “from above” with the belief in God in the first place, but rather “from below,” beginning with the world. If successful, then my argument should lead us to reject the existence of the God who confirms the Biblical revelation.
The second thing Dr. Strauss drilled into us was his argument that “we don’t need more data, we need better interpretive schema.” What he meant is that we interpret the details of the historical and archaeological evidence through interpretive schema. The need to come up with more data, or evidence, isn’t as important as the need to better interpret that data through the lens of an adequate worldview. While the data are indeed important, the big worldview picture provides the necessary rational support to the data. I agreed then, and I agree now, except that the better interpretive schema that supports the data is not Christianity, but atheism.
My claim is that the Christian faith should be rejected by modern, civilized scientifically literate, educated people, even if I know many of them will still disagree.
There are probably many Christian professors who have had some serious doubts about the Christian faith, like Drs. Ruth A. Tucker, and James F. Sennett. In her book Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief, Ruth A. Tucker shares her own doubt and how she overcomes it, hoping to challenge unbelievers to reconsider what they are missing. But in one place in her book as she was contemplating her own doubt, she candidly confesses what sometimes crosses her mind. As a seminary professor she wrote, “There are moments when I doubt all. It is then that I sometimes ask myself as I’m looking out my office window, ‘What on earth am I doing here? They’d fire me if they only knew.’”
My friend James Sennett, a Staussite, is another one who has seriously struggled with his faith, as seen in his, as yet, unpublished book, This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic. He confesses to have had a faith crisis in it, and wrote his book as a “first person apologetic,” to answer his own faith crisis. In chapter one, called “The Reluctant Disciple: Anatomy of a Faith Crisis,” he wrote, “I am the one who struggles with God. I am the Reluctant Disciple.” “Once I had no doubt that God was there, but I resented him for it; now I desperately want him to be there, and am terrified that he might not be.” Prompted by a study of the mind/brain problem, he wrote, “Sometimes I believed. Sometimes I didn’t. And it seemed to me that the latter condition was definitely on the ascendancy.”
With me I just stopped struggling. It required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe. There were too many individual problems that I had to balance, like spinning several plates on several sticks, in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down.
Let me begin by talking about “control beliefs.” They do just what they indicate; they control how one views the evidence. Everyone has them, especially when it comes to metaphysical belief systems where there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between alternatives. Many times we don’t even know we have them, but they color how we see the world. They can also be called assumptions, presuppositions and/or biases, depending on the context. As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Some assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know that they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.” They form the basis for the way we “See” things.
Having the right control beliefs are essential to grasping the truth about our existence in the universe. Psychologist Valerie Tarico explains that “it doesn’t take very many false assumptions to send us on a long goose chase.” To illustrate this she tells us about the mental world of a paranoid schizophrenic. To such a person the perceived persecution by others sounds real. “You can sit, as a psychiatrist, with a diagnostic manual next to you, and think: as bizarre as it sounds, the CIA really is bugging this guy. The arguments are tight, the logic persuasive, the evidence organized into neat files. All that is needed to build such an impressive house of illusion is a clear, well-organized mind and a few false assumptions. Paranoid individuals can be very credible.” (The Dark Side, p. 221-22).
Since having control beliefs don’t by themselves tell me what to believe about the specific evidence for Christian miracle claims, I also need to examine that evidence, although time won’t permit me here. But I do so in my book. I consider them as the historical claims they are. I examine them by looking at the internal evidence found within the Biblical texts themselves. I consider what these texts actually say and scrutinize their internal consistency. Wherever relevant, I also consider whether the Old Testament actually predicts some of these events. Then I examine these claims by looking at the external evidence. I consider any independent confirmation of these events outside of the texts. Lastly I subject these claims to the canons of reason using the control beliefs I will argue for here. I conclude from all of this that the Christian faith is a delusion and should be rejected. Then I describe why I am an atheist and what it means to live life without God. I present a whole case, a comprehensive case, a complete case, from start to finish, as a former insider to the Christian faith.
Here then are my two skeptical control beliefs: 1) There is a strong probability that every event has a natural cause; and, 2) The scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth. Therefore, I need sufficient reasons and sufficient evidence for what I believe. As a result I have an anti-dogma, an anti-superstitious and an anti-supernatural bias. No “inspired” book will tell me what I should believe. My first question will always be “Why should I believe what this writer said?” This doesn’t mean that in the end I might not conclude there is a supernatural realm, only that I start out with these assumptions. Christians will bristle at these control beliefs and cry “foul.” They will argue that if I start out with an anti-supernatural bias “from below” it predisposes me to reject their religious faith, and they are right. It does. They claim that with a supernatural bias “from above” I will be more likely to accept the Christian faith, and that too is correct, although there are still other supernatural worldview contenders. Nonetheless, since this is crucial, let me offer several reasons that I think are undeniable for adopting a skeptical rather than believing set of control beliefs in the first place.
In every case when it comes to the following reasons for adopting my control beliefs the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that what they believe is “not impossible.” However, the more that Christians must constantly retreat to what is "possible" rather than to what is “probable” in order to defend their faith, the more their faith is on shaky ground. For this is a tacit admission that instead of the evidence supporting what they believe, they are actually trying to explain the evidence away.
1) Sociological Reasons. The sociological facts are that particular religions dominate in separate distinguishable geographical locations around the globe. John Hick: “it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.” The best explanation for why this is so is that people overwhelmingly believe based upon “when and where we were born.”
Since there are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion to adopt, or none at all, social cultural and political forces will overwhelmingly determine what people believe.
Because of this sociological data I have proposed something I call “the outsider test for faith.” Test your religious beliefs as if you were an outsider, just like you test the beliefs of other religions and reject them. Test them with a measure of skepticism. If you don’t do this, then you must justify why you approach other religions than your own with such a double standard. The Outsider Test is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 45,000 people to see which girl lost the glass slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted. I defend this test from several objections in my book.
William Lane Craig’s explains geographical religious diversity by arguing, in his own words, “it is possible that God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost and that God has so providentially ordered the world that those who fail to hear the gospel and be saved would not have freely responded affirmatively to it even if they had heard it.” Craig argues that if this scenario is even “possible,” “it proves that it is entirely consistent to affirm that God is all-powerful and all-loving and yet that some people never hear the gospel and are lost.” Notice him retreating to what is merely “possible?” He’s trying to explain the evidence of global religious diversity away. Contrary to Craig, when we look at the billions of people who have never been given a chance to be “saved” because of “when and where they were born,” his scenario seems extremely implausible, to say the least.
2) Philosophical Reasons (1). Arguments for God’s existence aren’t conclusive or persuasive. They don’t lead exclusively to theism but at best to deism, which I might happily concede and then argue that a distant God is not much different than none at all. Besides, moving from deism to a full-blown Christianity is like trying to fly a plane to the moon. And the theistic arguments don’t lead us to a particular brand of theism either, whether Judaism, Islam or one of the many branches of Christianity.
When it comes to God’s existence our choices can be reduced to these: 1) Either something has always existed--always, or, 2) something popped into existence out of absolutely nothing. Either choice seems extremely unlikely--or possibly even absurd. There is nothing in our experience that can help us grasp these two possibilities. But one of them is correct and the other false. We either start with the “brute fact” that something has always existed, or the “brute fact” that something popped into existence out of nothing. A third view is that, 3) Our existence in the universe is absurd to the core.
William Lane Craig used the word “bizarre” to describe this problem when he wrote, “I well recall thinking, as I began to study the Kalam Cosmological Argument, that all of the alternatives with respect to the universe's existence were so bizarre that the most reasonable option seemed to be that nothing exists!” We must all recognize that we really don’t know why something exists rather than nothing at all. Agnosticism is the default position. Anyone moving off the default position has the burden of proof, and I maintain that moving from agnosticism to atheism is a much smaller step than moving to a full blown Christianity. Since the larger the claim is the harder is it to defend Christianity has a huge and near impossible burden of proof.
Christians want to argue for the belief in a triune God, even though the no sense of the trinity can be made that is both orthodox and reasonable; who was not free with respect to deciding his own nature, even though Christians want to think of God as a free personal agent; who as a “spiritual” being created matter, even though no known "point of contact" between spirit and matter can be found; who never began to exist as their “brute fact,” even though according to Ockham’s razor a simpler brute fact is to begin with the universe itself; who never learned any new truths and cannot think, since thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives; is everywhere, yet could not even know what time it is since time is a function of placement and acceleration in the universe (and if timeless, this God cannot act in time); who allows intense suffering in this world, yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow.
3) Philosophical Reasons (2). The Christian defender of miracles has a near impossible double burden of proof.
As the late J.L. Mackie wrote: “Where there is some plausible testimony about the occurrence of what would appear to be a miracle, those who accept this as a miracle have the double burden of showing both that the event took place and that it violated the laws of nature. But it will be very hard to sustain this double burden. For whatever tends to show that it would have been a violation of a natural law tends for that very reason to make it most unlikely that is actually happened.”
In Douglass Geivett and Gary Habermas edited book titled; In Defense of Miracles they labelled part 2 as “The Possibility of Miracles.” Notice how they must retreat to what is possible, not what is probable? Of course miracles are possible if there is a creator God, but what we want to know is if they are probable. By definition they are not very probable. We are asked to believe in the Christian God because Biblical miracles supposedly took place, but by definition miracles are very improbable. We cannot bring ourselves to believe in the God of the Bible unless we first believe those miracles took place, but we cannot bring ourselves to believe in those miracles because they are by definition very improbable.
John King-Farlow and William Niels Christensen argue that just because we today don’t experience miracles doesn’t mean that throughout the history of mankind God has done a plethora of them, and will do so again when the time is right in the future. They are asking us to believe against the overwhelming present day experience of nearly all modern people that things might turn out differently than we now experience. Is this impossible? No, not at all. But again, it’s not probable.
Take for example the story that Balaam’s ass spoke to him. If today’s Christians lived back in that superstitious era they wouldn’t believe this happened unless there was good evidence. But because they read about it in a so-called “inspired” book they suspend their judgment and believe it. Back in Balaam’s day they themselves would not have believed it, until Balaam made his ass talk in their presence.
Besides, Christians operate by what Harvard trained Biblical scholar Hector Avalos describes as “selective supernaturalism.” They believe the Biblical miracles because they favor them, while they are skeptical of the miracles they don’t favor in other religions. Why the double standard here? At least I’m consistent in being skeptical of them all until a supernatural explanation is required by the evidence, and I haven’t seen any evidence that requires a supernatural explanation yet.
4) Scientific Reasons. Science proceeds based upon methodological naturalism. methodological naturalism assumes that for everything we experience there is a natural cause. Paul Kurtz defined it as well as anyone when he wrote that it is a “principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations.”
This is what defines us as modern people. In today’s world all modern educated people base their deductions on the method of naturalism in a vast number of areas. Before the advent of science in previous centuries people either praised God for the good things that happened to them, or they wondered why God was angry when bad things happened. If someone got sick, it was because of sin in his or her life. If it rained, God was pleased with them, if there was a drought God was displeased, and so on, and so on. Science wasn’t content to accept the notion that epilepsy was demon possession, or that sicknesses were sent by God to punish people. Nor was science content with the idea that God alone opens the womb of a woman, nor that God was the one who sent the rain. Now we have scientific explanations for these things, and we all benefit from those who assumed there was a natural cause to everything we experience. We can predict the rain. We know how babies are produced, and how to prevent a host of illnesses. There is no going back on this progress, and it is ongoing. Christians themselves assume a natural explanation when they hear a noise in the night. They assume a natural explanation for a stillborn baby, a train wreck, or an illness.
Christians like Alvin Plantinga object to the use of methodological naturalism in many areas related to their faith. He argues that Christian scientific community should “pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians.” See what he’s doing here? He is forced into retreating to Bayesian background factors to support a weak position. He’s trying to explain the evidence away. He’s retreating to what is merely possible; that while methodological naturalism has worked very well in understanding our world, it’s possible that it doesn’t apply across the board into the Christian set of beliefs he’s adopted. And he’s right. It is possible. But again, how likely is it that it works so well on every other area of investigation but that it shouldn’t be used in understanding his background beliefs too?
5) Biblical Reasons (1). The Bible is filled with barbarisms that civilized people reject.
A female captive in war was forced to be an Israelite man’s wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped, she was to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), while if a virgin who was not pledged to be married was raped, she was supposed to marry her attacker (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), not to mention the pleasure of “dashing of children against rocks,” and genocide itself.
That God is a hateful, racist and sexist God. Christians think Militant Muslims are wrong for wanting to kill free loving people in the world, and they are. But the only difference between these Muslims and the Biblical God is that they simply disagree on who should be killed. According to Sam Harris, “it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world.”
6) Biblical Reasons (2). The Bible is filled with superstitious beliefs modern people reject.
In the Bible we find a world where a snake and a donkey talked, where people could live 800-900+ years old, where a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, where a pillar of fire could lead people by night, where the sun stopped moving across the sky or could even back up, where an ax-head could float on water, a star can point down to a specific home, where people could instantly speak in unlearned foreign languages, and where someone’s shadow or handkerchief could heal people. It is a world where a flood can cover the whole earth, a man can walk on water, calm a stormy sea, change water into wine, or be swallowed by a “great fish” and live to tell about it. It is a world populated by demons that can wreak havoc on earth, and also make people very sick. It is a world of idol worship, where human and animal sacrifices pleased God. In this world we find visions, inspired dreams, prophetic utterances, miracle workers, magicians, diviners and sorcerers. It is a world where God lived in the sky (heaven), and people who died went to live in the dark recesses of the earth (Sheol).
This is a strange world when compared to our world. But Christians believe this world was real in the past. My contention is that ancient people weren’t stupid, just very superstitious. Christopher Hitchens puts it this way: “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge.”
I can propose scientific tests for what I consider superstitions. I can compare what a meteorologist says about the weather with someone who plans to do a rain dance, and test to see who’s right more often. That’s science. The results of reason and science have jettisoned a great many superstitions. Testing and comparing results. That’s science. I can do the same for the superstitious practice of blood-letting, for exorcisms, for people who claim to predict things based on palm reading, or tea leaves, or walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror, or stepping on a sidewalk crack. I can even test the results of someone who gets a shot of penicillin when sick with the person who refuses this and prays instead. That’s science. And we modern people are indebted to science for these things. It’s what makes us different from ancient people.
Voltaire said, “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.” In the Bible there are so many superstitious beliefs held by the Gentile nations at every period of time that superstition reigned in those ancient days. I don’t think any modern person should be able to conclude anything other than that. The beliefs of these nations were so prevalent that God’s people in the Bible regularly joined in the same practices and worshipped these gods and goddesses. If these nations were so superstitious that Israel regularly joined them in their beliefs, then it seems reasonable to suppose the beliefs of the Israelites, and later the Christians, were also based upon superstitions too.
We who live in the modern world of science simply don’t believe in a god of the sun, or moon, or harvest, of fertility, or rain, or the sea. We don’t see omens in an eclipse, or in flood, a storm, a snakebite, or a drought, either. That’s because we understand nature better than they did, by using science. We don’t see sickness as demon possession, nor do educated thinking people believe in astrology to get an insight into the future. Nor do we think we are physically any closer to God whether we’re up on a mountaintop rather than down in a valley. But every nation did in ancient days. Now it’s possible that ancient Jews and Christians were different and believed because of the evidence, but how likely is that?
7) Historical Reasons. If God revealed himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium and a poor era to do so. If you know that much about the craft of the historian, she is dealing with the stuff of the past in which many frauds and forgeries have been found. This justifies a skeptical outlook upon what has been reported to have happened. Almost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened.
Consider the following historical questions: How were the Egyptian pyramids made? Who made them? Why? Was Shakespeare a fictitious name for Francis Bacon? Exactly how was the Gettysburg battle fought and won? What was the true motivation for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves? What happened at Custer's last stand? Who killed President John F. Kennedy? Why? Who knew what and when during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to President Nixon resigning? Why did America lose the “war” in Vietnam? Did George W. Bush legitimately win the 2000 election? Did President Bush knowingly lead us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses? What about some high profile criminal cases? Is O.J. Simpson a murderer? Who killed Jon Bene Ramsey? Is Michael Jackson a pedophile?
Hector Avalos, argues that historical studies are fraught with serious problems. When it comes to the non-supernatural claim that Caesar was assassinated by Brutus in Rome, in 44 A.D., he argues, “We cannot verify such an occurrence ourselves directly and so we cannot claim to ‘know’ it occurred.” When it comes to whether or not King Arthur actually existed, he argues, “our contemporary textual evidence…is nearly nil.” If this is the case with non-supernatural historical investigations, then it is compounded so much more when it comes to the so-called supernatural events in history.
Consider Gotthold Lessing’s “ugly broad ditch:” “Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles….[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?”
When dealing with the problems of the historian, William Lane Craig argues that, “first, a common core of indisputable historical events exists; second, it is possible to distinguish between history and propaganda; and third, it is possible to criticize poor history.” Craig concludes: “neither the supposed problem of lack of direct access to the past nor the supposed problem of the lack of neutrality can prevent us from learning something from history.”
Notice again how Christians must argue about what is possible here? Such a conclusion is a meager one; that knowledge of the past is possible. Even if true, and I think it is, there is a lot of doubt for any supposed historical event, especially momentous and miraculous ones.
8) Empirical Reasons. The problem of evil is as clear of an empirical refutation of the Christian God as we get. James Sennett has said: “By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil – the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”
If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.
Christians believe God set the Israelites free from slavery, but he did nothing for the many people who were born and died as slaves in the American South. These theists believe God parted the Red Sea, but he did nothing about the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed ¼ million people. Christians believe God provided manna from heaven, but he does nothing for the more than 40,000 people who starve every single day in the world. Those who don’t die suffer extensively from hunger pains and malnutrition all of their short lives. Christians believe God made an axe head to float, but he allowed the Titanic to sink. Christians believe God added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life, but he does nothing for children who live short lives and die of leukemia. Christians believe God restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar but he does nothing for the many people suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. Christians believe Jesus healed people, but God does nothing to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. There are many handicapped people, and babies born with birth defects that God does not heal. As God idly sits by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the last century due to genocides, and wars. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while animals viciously prey on each other.
Take for example the 2004 Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people. If God had prevented it, none of us would ever know he kept it from happening, precisely because it didn’t happen. Any person who is supposed to be good would be morally obligated to prevent it, especially if all it took was a “snap” of his fingers to do so.
Take for another example the brutal slavery of the American Southern states. There is no justification for God to have allowed the slavery in the American South, or any slavery for that matter. None. If God was perfectly good, he would've said, "Thou shalt not trade, buy, own, or sell slaves" and said it as often as he needed to do so. But he didn't. If that was the case, and if you were God, wouldn't YOU do the decent thing here? Just ask Christians how they themselves would feel if they were the ones being burned at the stake for heresy, or beaten within an inch of their lives by a Bible quoting slave master. Surely their own arguments that these Christians of the past merely misunderstood what God wanted them to do would fly away in the wind with the smoke of their flesh, and with the drops of their blood.
Stephen Wykstra argues that it’s possible we cannot see a reason why an omniscient God allows so much suffering. We’re told God is so omniscient that we can’t understand his purposes, and this is true, we can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is as omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world too, especially since we do have a good idea how God could’ve created differently.
There is no perfectly good, all-powerful, omniscient God of Christian theology.
Most Christians do not believe in the God of the Bible anyway. Instead they believe in the perfect being of St. Anselm in the 11th century A.D. after centuries of theological gerrymandering. The Bible isn’t consistent in describing its God, but one probable description is as follows: The God of the Bible starts off being little more than the polytheistic Canaanite god Elohim, who, rather than creating the universe ex nihilo, fashioned the earth to rise out of the seas in divine conflict with the dragon sea god Rahab. This God is merely the “god of the gods,” who like the other gods had a body that needed to rest on the 7th day, and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden. This God fathered several sons including Yahweh, whose wife was Ashterah, to whom was given the people and land of Israel to rule over. This God was responsible for doing both good and evil, sending evil spirits to do his will, and commanding genocide. As time went on Yahweh was believed to be the only God that existed. Still later Satan was conceived as an evil rival in order to exonerate Yahweh from being the creator of evil. Still later in the New Testament the God of the Bible was stripped of any physical characteristics and known as a spiritual being. As theologians reflected on their God they came to believe he created the universe ex nihilo. Anselm finally defined him as the “greatest conceivable being.” But Anslem’s God is at odds with what we find in most of the Bible.
Christians claim to derive their beliefs from the Bible, which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others; in which God revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times); who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, commanded genocide, witch, honor, heretic killings, and who demanded a perfect moral life when such a life is not possible, given that we are fleshly creatures kept from knowing God’s purported love and power by an unreasonable “epistemic distance”; became incarnate in Jesus (the 2nd person of the trinity), even though no reasonable sense can be made of a being who is both 100% God and 100% man; found it necessary to die on the cross for our sins, even though no sense can be made of so-called atonement; who subsequently bodily arose from the dead, even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here (it’s both “improbable” being a miracle and at the same time “probable”); who now chooses to live embodied forever in a human resurrected body (although there are many formidable objections to personal identity in such a resurrected state); to return in the future, even though the New Testament writers are clear that “the end of all kingdoms” and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation; and will return where every eye will see him, which assumes an ancient pre-scientific cosmology; who sent the third person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth,” yet fails in every generation to do this; who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God, which parallels the ancient barbaric “thought police” which is completely alien to democratic societies; and who will reward the “saints” in heaven by taking away their free will to do wrong, and by punishing sincere doubters to hell by leaving their free will intact so they can continue to rebel.
What would convince me Christianity is True?
But let’s say the Christian faith is true. Let’s say that even though Christianity must punt to mystery and retreat into the realm of mere possibilities to explain itself that it is still true. Then what would it take to convince me?
When it comes to sufficient reasons, I need to be able to understand more of the mysteries of Christianity in order to believe it. If everything about Christianity makes rational sense to an omniscient God, then God could’ve created human beings with more intelligence so that the problems of Christianity are much more intellectually solvable than they are.
Short of God creating us with more intelligence, God could’ve explained his ways to us. He could’ve written the “mother of all philosophical papers” by answering such problems as, “why there is something rather than nothing at all?”, why people deserve to end up in hell, and questions about the atonement, the trinity, divine simplicity, the incarnation, the relationship of free-will and foreknowledge, and how it’s possible for a spiritual being to interact with a material world. He could’ve explained why there is such suffering in this world if he exists. He could’ve explained why he remains hidden and yet condemns us for not finding him in this life. He could’ve helped us understand how it’s possible to want all people to be saved and yet not help people come to a saving knowledge.
Short of helping us to understand these “mysteries,” the only thing left is to give us more evidence to believe, and less evidence to disbelieve. Let me offer some examples of what I mean.
Present Day Evidence. God could reveal himself to us in every generation in a myriad of ways: 1) What better way to show us that he exists than what the book of Acts says he did for Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus! 2) He could become incarnate in every generation and do miracles for all to see. If people wanted to kill him again and he didn't need to die again, he could simply vanish before their eyes. 3) He could spontaneously appear and heal people, or end a famine, or stop a war, or settle an important question like slavery. 4) He could raise up John F. Kennedy from the dead for all to see. 5) He could restore an amputated limb in full sight of an crowd of people which would include all of the best magicians along with the Mythbusters and James Randi, who would all find fault if fault could be found. 6) He could do any and all of the miracles he did in the Bible from time to time, including miraculously feeding 5000 men with their families. The list of things God could do in each generation is endless.
Furthermore, Christians would be overwhelmingly better people by far. And God would answer their prayers in such distinctive ways that even those who don’t believe would seek out a Christian to pray for them and their illness or problem. We wouldn’t see such religious diversity which is divided up over the world into distinct geographical locations and adopted based upon when and where we were born.
Prophetic Evidence. God could’ve predicted any number of natural disasters (if he didn’t have the power to create a better world which lacked them). He could’ve predicted when Mt. St. Helens would erupt, or when the Indonesian tsunami or hurricane Katrina would destroy so much. It would save lives and confirm he is God. Then too, he could’ve predicted the rise of the internet, or the inventions of the incandescent light bulb, Television, or the atomic bomb, and he could do it using non-ambiguous language that would be seen by all as a prophetic fulfillment. God could’ve predicted several things that would take place in each generation in each region of the earth, so that each generation and each region of the earth would have confirmation that he exists through prophecy. God could've told people about the vastness and the complexity of the universe before humans would have been able to confirm it. He could have predicted the discovery of penicillin, which has saved so many lives, and if predicted it would have speeded up its discovery.
Scientific evidence. God could’ve made this universe and the creatures on earth absolutely unexplainable by science, especially since science is the major obstacle for many to believe. He could’ve created us in a universe that couldn’t be even remotely figured out by science. That is to say, there would be no evidence leading scientists to accept a big bang, nor would there be any evidence for the way galaxies, solar systems, or planets themselves form naturalistically. If God is truly omnipotent he could’ve created the universe instantaneously by fiat, and placed planets haphazardly around the sun, some revolving counter-clockwise and in haphazard orbits. The galaxies themselves, if he created any in the first place, would have no consistent pattern of formation at all. Then when it came to creatures on earth God could’ve created them without any connection whatsoever to each other. Each species would be so distinct from each other that no one could ever conclude natural selection was the process by which they have arisen. There would be no hierarchy of the species in gradual increments. There would be no rock formations that showed this evolutionary process because it wouldn’t exist in the first place. Human beings would be seen as absolutely special and distinct from the rest of the creatures on earth such that no scientist could ever conclude they evolved from the lower primates. There would be no evidence of unintelligent design, since the many signs of unintelligent design cancel out the design argument for the existence of God. God didn’t even have to create us with brains, if he created us with minds. The existence of this kind of universe and the creatures in it could never be explained by science apart from the existence of God.
Biblical Evidence. Someone could’ve made a monument to father Abraham that still exists and is scientifically dated to his era. There would be overwhelming evidence for a universal flood covering "all" mountains. Noah’s ark would be found exactly where the Bible says, and it would be exactly as described in the Bible. The location of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, would still be miraculously preserved and known by scientific testing to have traces of human DNA in it. There would be non-controversial evidence that the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, conclusive evidence that they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and convincing evidence that they conquered the land of Canaan exactly as the Bible depicts. Plus, there would be no Bible difficulties such that a 450 page book needed to be written explaining them away, as Gleason Archer did.
Evidence specific to Jesus. There would be clear and specific prophecies about the virgin birth, life, nature, mission, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus in the Old Testament that could not be denied by even the most hardened skeptic. As it is there is no Old Testament prophecy that is to be considered a true prophecy that points to any of these things in any non-ambiguous way. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection would all be the same, showing no evidence of growing incrementally over the years by superstitious people. The Gospels could've been written at about the same time months after Jesus arose from the dead. And there would be no implausibilites in these stories about women not telling others, or that the soldiers who supposedly guarded the tomb knew that Jesus arose even though they were asleep (how is that really possible?). Herod and Pilate would've converted because they concluded from the evidence that Jesus arose from the grave. Setting aside their respective thrones, both Herod and Pilate would've become missionaries, or declare Christianity the new religion of their territories. Such evidence like a Turin Shroud would be found which could be scientifically shown to be from Jerusalem at that time containing an image that could not be explained away except that a crucified man had come back to life.
Now, I wouldn’t require all of this to believe. I cannot say how much of this I might need to believe. But I certainly need some of it. The more evidence there is then the more likely I would believe. But the reasons and the evidence just aren’t there, period.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)