Monday, October 5, 2009

Conservative Bible Project

For many Christians, the Bible represents the literal word of God as expressed by the authors over time. Indeed, many Christians use the Bible as evidence of God's existence, particularly when making the case that Jesus actually rose from the dead after the Crucifixion.

Now some conservatives, arguing that modern translations of the Bible reflect a liberal bias that distorts the message, have begun work to translate the Bible yet again into a new modern version. The Conservative Bible Project, hosted at Conservapedia, seeks to reconstruct the Word of God in a more conservative version reflecting the value of free markets using concise conservative language, and without a liberal bias or political correctness.

This raises a host of questions, beginning with whether or not the translations with a liberal bias reflect the true Word. If these are suspect, how can readers know whether any version can be taken literally?

It also begs the question of whether the Conservative Bible Project authors believe that God has spoken to them, and works through them to translate the Bible yet again to reflect his true account of Christianity.

For non-believers, this reinforces the idea that the Bible is not the Word of God, but the machinations of man and a reflection of his efforts to persuade or manipulate and control others, that they conform to preferred norms.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Evolution: Bloodiest Belief System Ever?

Does evolution really teach a future of prosperity? What has been the result of evolutionary thinking in the past hundred years? Let’s first look at the casualties stemming from leaders with evolutionary worldviews, beginning in the 1900s, to see the hints of what this “next level” looks like.

View the estimated dead and supporting documentation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Origin of Life, A Look at DNA

On The Origin of Life by Dr. Stephen Myer

Dr. Myer focuses on the complexity of DNA and its associated proteins. What is that we know about producing complex digital information? What are our options now that we more fully understand this complex tapestry of the cell and its resultant life?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I think most of us are aware that dreams are nebulous things, often hard to understand or interpret and may, in fact, need no interpretation at all. I normally remember no dreams at all, maybe one or two per year, then there was last night.

This morning I saw a series of 4 images that included images from the 2 dreams I remember with the message that this is the direction I should go. I also remember my wife recounting 2 dreams to me during my dream as she sat up in bed reading next to me.

Here's what I do remember:

I was on the roof of my elementary school carrying a medical device which I set down. We once played on this roof as children and I feel safe and the surroundings feel familiar.

Suddenly I'm lying on my back with my legs over the edge in a section of the roof that is high and scary. I'm trying to shift to my right and back to safety. When I do, someone starts pulling on my feet from over the edge; it's my wife, trying to pull me over or to rescue herself. However, she looks more like a ghoulish, ghostly representation of herself.

Startled, I roll desperately onto my right side and see my wife sitting motionless with her legs crossed immediately in front of me. I flail my arms furiously in front of me and this awakens me. I know this because my wife, who was awake at the time, confirmed the flailing of my hands at this point and that I was making a motion earlier that was consistent with trying to shift my way to safey in the first part of the dream. She described this motion as I felt in the dream, my right hand attempting to pull my entire body to a safer spot.

I had the distinct feeling in the dream that jumping from heights was something I did routinely, the scary part was that I wasn't in the right position and then was being pulled off in a way where I would not have control.

Still in my dream, I turn to my wife and tell her about my dream. She responds by telling me two dreams, then I turn over and go back to sleep.

While sleeping I thought this: In response to my request for direction, I'm getting the impression that what I will do is scary and will expose my wife, or the first ghoulish version of her, though I couldn't tell if she was trying to survive by grabbing me or trying to pull me over maliciously.

The other image I can remember is just an image, no more. It was an image of a Texas sunset. I associate the sunset with Texas, because we had sometimes brilliant red and pink sunsets which I believe can be attributed to the large amount of dust in the air there.

I then saw a total of 4 images passed before me like a series of railroad cars, moving from right to left. That's when I had the impression that this was indicating future direction for me and the distinct impression that the 4 images fit together like a puzzle to yield the answer I sought. I know that the roof scene was the first scene and that the sunset scene was the final scene.

Today, my wife tells me about two dreams she had that preceded my dream(s).

First, she dreams that she is in a scary house and finds a boy hung by the neck in a closet but he is not dead yet. She grabs him and runs from the house toward a waiting car with her sister and mom in the front seat (mom driving) and with our two daughters in the back seat. They are impervious to the fuss.

As she attempts to escape with the child (4-yr-old?), she is chased by 4-5 children with baseball bats trying to prevent her escape. There is also a father present that is very threatening and is responsible for the mayhem. She searches for a Bible while suggesting to the father that he should attend a church. He agrees to let his wife and children go to church then the Bible is found and the dream ends.

Secondly, she can only remember the end of a lengthy dream. In this dream, Chef Gordon Ramsey is sneaking cartoonishly through a parking lot outside our cheap hotel room with his family (wife and 2 children in the dream) holding a container full of ice. She and I think they will be bothered if we approach but we do and they're not, in fact, they're approachable and amiable. We talk to them for a few minutes.

These 2 dreams are likely the holders of the 2nd and 3rd positions in my series of 4, so the series looks like this in review:

1. Roof scene focused on fear
2. Hanging child scene focused on a difficult rescue
3. Gordon Ramsey scene focused on approachability
4. Sunset scene focused on beauty from dust

I represented my wife's dreams in the order that she had them chronologically. I cannot remember them as the missing dreams in any order, only that the missing dreams were the 2 she had related to me previously.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Healing Update

I participated in the "Alpha" church Bible study series (Nicky Gumbel) recently. It included a week dedicated to the practice of Christian healing. After an introduction of thirty minutes or so from Gumbel (by DVD) we broke into small groups and took prayer requests for healing specifically.

I informed my small group that I was a dispensationalist and believed that miracles though possible were primarily limited to specific periods of history. Since I believe in the possibility that God might show himself in this personal way, I participated anyway.

I requested healing for myself on something that I thought could be easily verified. I have been developing dark spots on my lower legs for several months (6?). At first they appeared to be bruises, 5 or 6 of them, the two worst being quarter-sized and located just above the Achilles tendon area. I ignored them until they started to sting when I put socks on, so I deduced that they were getting worse and might be something pre-diabetic. I have diabetes throughout my family tree.

I requested that these be healed and the group went through, in turn, praying for the various requests that were made. Our group leader requested permission to put his hands on me while praying for the healing and I granted that request. He sighed deeply as he knelt in front of me and put his hands on the outside of my jeans in the areas described, one on my lower shin area and just above my Achilles tendon. He did this on my left leg.

I immediately felt heat from his hands through my jeans from his fingertips on my lower shin. I said this out loud. If I did feel heat also on my back leg I don't recall it.

The skin on my legs felt different that night but the sores were still there. However, the open sores looked more like dry skin now, so I continued to monitor the status to our group leader at church 6 days later and again one week after that.

My wife took on the dry skin with whatever women use for that kind of thing last night and there is no evidence of the original sores except slight discoloration. I had resisted this process previously in fear that it would open the sores again.

Would someone please explain why it appears that God intervenes in my life so personally and primarily without my belief in advance (see Big Spiritual Experiences in this blog)? Is there a Biblical precedent for this? I feel like I'm running around telling stories about UFO's in the 60's.

Is God preparing me for something and am I actually as stupid and blind as I appear? Is he doing this elsewhere? Is there some other explanation for this and The Big Spiritual Experience?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Potent Quotin'

--The Case for Christianity (C.S. Lewis)

"Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn't have guessed. That's one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It's a religion you couldn't have guessed."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Big Spiritual Experiences

Please keep in mind that I am a former evangelical minister who went prodigal for 25 years. This experience happened about two years ago. My world view at the time of this event was agnostic. What does it mean?

The Setting

There was an episode of the original Twilight Zone series that featured a parasite that crawled into a man's ear and slowly burrowed its way through his brain over several days. The experience was so torturous that he had to be tied to a bed, writhing and contorting until the parasite ravaged its way through his head and out the far ear. Exhausted but relieved that he had survived, the man passed out.

When the man awoke, he immediately noticed that he was still restrained to the bed and that two of his friends hovered worriedly over him. "Why am I still restrained?" he whispered upward. One responded "When the parasite came out of your ear, I squeezed it between by thumb and finger and killed it. I didn't realize that it was pregnant and dozens of babies sprayed into your ear." The camera focuses on the man's crazied eyes as he realizes his fate will now be many times worse than the agony he had just survived.

Betrayal is like this. It eats through your brain, destroying whatever it passes enroute to an illusory exit that once embraced, multiplies and opens new and even more destructive paths through your psyche, blindsiding your exhausted optimism that all is well. The minor losses of this horror show are love and trust; depleted, you pray only for a return to sanity and freedom from its restraints, accepting that your new life will include neither.

The Experience

I awoke early one morning with the parasite again pillaging my brain as it did on a schedule no more or less reliable than stormy weather. I had accepted that I had exactly the same amount of control over it as I did the clouds. I tried to quickly think of something more positive, relegating the ravenous memory to the back porch of my soul. I pictured my childhood home and the converted back porch that was my bedroom so that I could push it into the cold, airy space, but it did not relent.

I could not have known, but something entirely different was in store. It was to human learning what a sonic boom is to sound -- loud, surely, but not primarily. The blast of a sonic boom is more about the compression of sound into a smaller footprint of time and so was this a compression of self awareness into a small footprint. I've had epiphanies and this was not that. It transcended that experience, like seeing yourself from the outside with new knowledge and a new perspective in high definition. Others describe a similar transcendent experience at times of grave emotional trauma such as the death of a parent or child. This experience was like they describe but with a blast of information added.

The Environment

I was betrayed by those closest to me, repeatedly, slowly and over a period of time. Once discovered, I began to reel emotionally, spewing hurt like a geyser at full tilt. Every day I waged a war, often in a losing effort. I didn’t understand my own actions as I tried over and over again through counseling, force of will, reflection and hyena-like outcry. Eventually, I accepted small victories like being sane for a couple of days at a time but they went unnoticed by anyone but me, further restraining me to a bed of insanity where none of the dots connected.

Like the restrained man in the opening story, I would then awaken from my spent slumber to find my situation was much worse than I had imagined and I was already living in a world that made no sense to me, where everything that I grasped for temporary respite was yanked from me by denial after denial. And then I discovered that the betrayal continued through all of this, that everything I believed to be a lie and tried to convince myself was true was indeed a lie and that the betrayal continued for a long period of time while my betrayer watched me writhe in agony, desperate for sanity and hoping for understanding or compassion.

Something very important happened upon the second discovery. I realized that the betrayal was not about me, it was about something else, and I regained my sanity. The fog began to lift and I could catch my breath. It would be years before I knew the real driving force behind it all, before I would get true honesty about what had happened and gain true perspective.

The Enlightenment

This is what gushed into my head. My father left my mom, myself and my two brothers when I was about four years old, ending a golden age that I remember well. I would find out years later that my mom, shell-shocked from the experience, hated men for awhile and was left with three boys. I lost my dad and, to a lesser extent, my mom, who was emotionally bankrupt, like all of us. This state would persist for a period of time.

My mom then remarried and eventually had a daughter. My stepfather was a louse and emotionally abusive, at times humiliating me in front of my family. This state would last for an extended period of time. During this time I was told that I had an anger problem because I screamed and yelled and threw things at the slightest provocation.

The revelation is this … I continued to live this cycle for more than two decades always with the same three characters. There is always a “golden age” followed by abandonment that leaves in its trail my mom, the one who trusts the wrong people at my expense and is unable to help with the emotional fallout, and while still off balance from this drama, the one I trust brings another I cannot trust into my life for an extended period of time, piling great hurt upon hurt. I am the one who is betrayed, angry and perpetually questioning his guilt in the process (although a relatively minor player), isolated and feeling like I or my environment must be insane. I am the control group.

I attracted these characters into my life in time intervals that very closely matched the time that elapsed between my father leaving and the end of my mom’s second marriage. I lay stunned on my bed that morning when the main character’s fatal flaw was found. I attracted only two of these characters at the end of each cycle; I adopted the role of the missing player in succession representing my father, mother and stepfather in an unending quest to understand and resolve while my life appeared to be happening to me as an outside observer.

My wife woke up beside. I told her that I had figured it out. “What?”, she asked. “Everything.”, I responded. I left the bed and began earnestly scribbling notes in the vain hope of documenting this enlightenment though it was not the stuff of documentation. It was too fast, too compressed and too loud. It hit me for the first time, for I was agnostic, that intelligent design was part of the process. I could not have attracted the right players and directed them in their assigned roles in the right time intervals. I had a peace that I lost at four years old in the knowledge that having this experience meant that all of the things that had happened in my life to that point were woven into a masterful picture by a great puzzle maker. In this certainty I began to feel a warm glow just to the side and top of my stomach that lasted for days. I floated from formerly mundane moment to the next.

I retold the story to my children, then only twelve and fourteen, almost immediately. My son cried as I explained the cycle that involved his mom and my role in the end of our marriage. My daughter exclaimed wide-eyed “This will change the world!”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Would extra-terrestrial life invalidate Christianity?

Does belief in Christianity preclude belief in life on other planets? Would the existence of extra-terrestrial life invalidate Christianity or bring even more glory to God?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And on the Third Day...

One of the foundational ideas—to some even a proof—of Christianity is that God sent His son to live on Earth for a time so that He could suffer and die, and through His suffering and death relieve humanity of the original sin committed in the Garden of Eden. After His death, goes the story, Jesus rose from death and rejoined God. This works both as a miracle: an apparently mortal man is killed but rises from the dead, as only God can, and as symbolism: people can find a rebirth by killing the sin within them.

If this story is true, it provides powerful evidence that Christians are correct about the nature of God, and belief in its veracity helps many Christian sects focus on an individual relationship with Christ as a route to salvation. Unfortunately, there is no very compelling reason to believe that the resurrection really happened, and at least two reasons to think it did not.

First, no contemporary accounts of the resurrection exist. No Jewish or Pagan accounts of such an historic event survived. Further, no one witnessed the resurrection itself, and we have only second hand accounts of what those who saw Jesus after His death experienced. In Paul’s account, he saw only a light, not a man. Even Mark, the earliest Gospel, did not include the story of Jesus’ appearance to others after His death until it was added later. Only Paul mentions the appearance of Christ to over five hundred people at the same time, and such a historical and widely experienced event should have generated contemporary accounts from other sources—at least within the Bible. That is, it is difficult to believe that an event like the resurrection generated no surviving discussion, nor even a coherent Biblical account.

Establishing the veracity of the resurrection story told in the Bible faces other difficulties. For example, it does not appear to fit the customs of the time. Burial of a crucifixion victim in a tomb would have been an exception to the typical disposition of the bodies of those punished by crucifixion. Jewish law of the time mandated common graves for criminals, and since the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy there is no reason to believe that He would have received an honorable burial except for the account told in the Gospels. It is possible that Joseph, a Sanhedrin himself, violated custom and law to give Christ an honorable burial, though this would go against the man’s professed beliefs.

None of this, of course, proves that the corpse of Jesus Christ did not reanimate after three days, and that the resurrected Christ did not appear before His followers. But the historical evidence is thin and contradictory, and all of it was written by those who had a reason to create such a story. No evidence exists to suggest that any non-followers of Jesus noticed the hubbub, nor that the people who crucified Christ worried themselves over the miracle and what it would mean for their own spiritual beliefs—no one tried to disprove the account.

The historical record, then, does not fully support the story of the physical resurrection of Christ. More importantly, I would argue that because such a miracle would prove the nature of God, it would make faith unnecessary, and change the relationship between God and Man. No miracle that can be directly and objectively attributed to God has ever been thoroughly documented outside the Bible—no second resurrection, no re-growth of a severed limb, no violation of the laws of biology or physics as we know them. To be sure, a great many people believe that God has answered prayers with cured disease or renewed prosperity, but no miracle has been fully documented that could only have come from the Hand of God, and admits no other explanation.

The reason for this, I believe, is that the God of Christianity does not want to prove His existence to Man. He wants us to figure it out for ourselves, and He wants the relationship between God and Man to depend on love and faith, not the rational cost-benefit calculation that proof of His existence—and therefore of the existence of Heaven and Hell—would generate. This is why He has caused no miracle under conditions that do not allow for alternative explanation, and the physical resurrection of Jesus and His appearance to others three days after His death would violate this condition.

Forgive me if my knowledge of the relevant historical data is lacking, and I certainly welcome presentation of existing accounts that I missed which deconstruct this argument. But I believe that the Biblical accounts do not adequately support the idea that the resurrection actually took place, and that this is true for good reason: God does not want to prove His existence. If He had ever wished to do so, He could at any time. He does not, and did not, because He does not wish to change His relationship with Man. As I have said before, I do not think this disproves the existence of God Himself—He could exist, even if the resurrection never happened. But it does discount the veracity of one of the central tenets of Christianity that Richard asked about: the resurrection never happened.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Impotence in the Body of Christ?

Should something amazing be happening in churches if Christianity is true?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Church: The Next Generation

Why do church services not appeal to teenagers? Does it depend on which church? Is the church making God look bad?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Unbounded God?

Since I declined to accept the truth of Richard’s tenets, I will explain my challenge to each in turn, and then describe my alternate explanation for the persistence of belief in God, religion, and worship.

Richard first asks if an all-knowing, all-loving, omnipresent God exists. I argue no on all three grounds: First, an all-knowing God would know the future, and knowing the future makes God inconsequential. Second, an all-loving God would have no reason to allow random suffering, or to choose a particular people—He would protect and share his love and word with all His children. Finally, an omnipresent God cannot be extra-systemic—and could therefore not have made the universe.

If God knows everything, then He knows the future. But this robs Him—and humans as well—of free will and agency. Nothing even God does can possibly change the future if even one entity already knows what it will be. If God knows everything, He knows the future, and this means the future is fixed—or there would be nothing to know. This of course also means that humans have no agency, and I have no control over whether I go to heaven or hell, because it has in a sense already happened. If God exists and knows everything, then He doesn’t matter.

Perhaps God knows the future but can change it. This of course means that it is not fixed, and God cannot really know the future. He is not all-knowing. This is not the God I believe Richard refers to in his question, but it would at least explain God’s desire to place dreams and visions in people’s heads that they will interpret as a prophecy. It makes a difference if God speaks to people and offers them His word. God knows what will happen if He does not intervene, or He knows how His actions will change the future, and he sends the desired message. This also helps explain things like prayer—perhaps God first checks to make sure that a particular blessing or healing or other miracle will bring the future God desires. This God matters—but He is not omniscient.

An all-loving and universally benevolent God could not create the world we live in. He could, to be sure, place temptation in front of us, and give us the free will to leave his love unrequited. He could visit suffering upon us, to guide our interpretation of his word and meaning in our lives. But He would have no reason to create an environment where natural disasters visit random suffering with no agency and no lesson. This would not be a loving act, as it has no purpose.

Perhaps God uses natural disasters in his interaction with us. This gives them purpose, and means that God has not brought suffering at random. This gives meaning to pain, at least. But why use physical pain and emotional suffering to make his point? He could just as easily create a universe where the only suffering came of separation from God. For His own reasons, he structured the world as he did, with meaningless hate, killing, disaster, and suffering. When He had the power to avoid it, He placed us in a universe that harms us. This means that his plans, his goals, his ambition for the universe are more important than his love for us. He is not all-loving.

Moreover, God withholds his love from some of His people. Many never have a chance to know Him. Billions of human souls have known life without knowing God. Indeed, it seems that God makes humans partially responsible for spreading His word—which means that he has decided that some of us get to know Him before others. He shows His love to all—eventually. He is loving, but not all-loving.

Finally, an omnipresent God must be part of the systemic arrangement that governs the universe. If God is part of the universe—part of the systemic arrangement that governs the interaction of matter and energy—then He could not have created it—God could not have created Himself. Further, if He is part of the systemic arrangement—the physical rules that govern the interaction of matter and energy—then He cannot break or change these rules. Once set, they constrain God as they constrain the rest of nature.

But if God exists somehow outside the universe—if He is extra-systemic—then He is not omnipresent. For God to be everywhere, He must inhabit our universe with us.

All of this suggests bounds to God’s knowledge, love, and presence. If something limits these characteristics of God, then Richard’s first tenet fails. God cannot know everything, or He becomes unnecessary. He must not love all, or He would behave differently. And He cannot be everywhere, or He would have had to create Himself.

If there is no God, what are those people doing?

Stan's post regarding man creating God, etc. might be better served in a separate post on a subject that has bothered me for years:

If there is no God, what are those people doing?

I am lucky enough to have been a part of a couple of churches that included many smart, vibrant, committed Christians who were a great representation of their faith. I have also been a part of church groups that were the opposite.

In the former, glib pastors wax eloquently and passionately, the young music director leads hymns and choruses with his eyes closed and his hands raised high in worship and about 1 out of 10 of the congregation also raise at least one hand to the sky with their eyes also closed. Here and there a tear is shed.

The pastor then engages the congregation to drive home a new idea that will serve as spiritual manna for the next week, when the process is repeated.

To borrow a phrase from my old friend: "Wait a freakin' minute!"

What are those people doing?

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Facts of Life

First, let me thank Richard, my dear old friend, for inviting me to contribute to this discussion. I have him to thank for much of my religious training, since he introduced me to evangelical Christianity at the Woodlawn Baptist Church, about a thousand years ago. I still vividly remember the day I approached the front of this church and accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal savior. My subsequent baptism also remains a very powerful memory.

Today, however, I remain a "Christian" only in the sense that I share much of his philosophy. One might as accurately describe me as "Hamiltonian." As an historical figure and philosopher Jesus has a lot to tell us--but I do not worship him.

I come to my understanding of the world through several different churches, twenty years of military service, two marriages, and a graduate social science degree. I daresay that few other contributors here will share my perspective. Moreover, I am skeptical about the exercise generally, since debates about the fundamental tenets of Christianity can all too quickly turn into questions of whether "He said it, I believe it, and that settles it" makes more sense than "you can't prove it." But my old friend asked.

So here is my answer: There is no God who is all knowing and all loving and everywhere. Jesus is not God, and was not sent to save mankind from itself. Jesus lived, and may have been crucified, but he did not rise from the dead. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God. And accepting Jesus' sacrifice will not bring eternal salvation, because there is no such thing.

Of course, as always, I could be wrong. Or Jim Norman could be wrong. Without question, one of us is. God either exists or He does not. Whether humans believe it, or can prove it, or just don't care--there either is or is not a God.

I am looking forward to exploring the questions Richard raises, and reading the thoughtful responses of others. Whatever the true state of affairs with regard to the actual existence of a single creator of the universe, the faith human beings have in whatever they find greater than themselves gives meaning to many lives, and certainly influences human existence in ways good and bad. We may not be able to answer the questions--but we should be thinking about them.