A Failed Attempt to Create a Kinder/Gentler God (Continued)

 

On May 10, 2008, Mr. X delivered another envelope to my residence.  (See here for previous correspondence with Mr. X.)  The envelope contained a handwritten letter, a pamphlet entitled, "The Strange Origin of Xmas, Easter, and Lent," a copy of the hymn, "For You I Am Praying," an article entitled, "Why Doesn't God Destroy the Devil?," and a DVD entitled, "The Man Behind The Mask."   This letter from Mr. X was written in response to my previous letter of May 1, 2008.  My reply follows. (As with my previous responses, the writer's name has been changed to Mr. X.)

 

May 14, 2008

 

Mr. X,

What follows is my response to the letter and materials that you delivered to me on 5/10/08.  Your handwritten comments (including the original punctuation) are reproduced below in regular type and my responses appear in bold.  Ancillary statements added to your comments are indicated in brackets [].

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Jack,

“With great sadness I have just read your letter.  I have always thought of you in a nice way, a person who has a “cause” (as useless as it may be) and dangerous “if” the Bible is inspired as it claims to be.  The thrust of my letter to the editor,  was how useless the idea of evolution was to mankind and therein should your reply be aimed.  But you don’t even mention it (unless I missed it) which shows me you agree with me at least on this point.  Right?”

 

Wrong!!!  This response of yours illustrates why it is so frustrating to try to carry on a meaningful dialogue with you, in particular, and creationists, in general.  In my letter of 5/1/2008, I said, “Since your rejected letter to the Bee and the Adventist World article simply rehash oft-refuted creationist claims and offer no new insights regarding the evolution/creation issue, I will confine my comments to a discussion of one of the more contentious subjects addressed in the pamphlet… “   Your assertion about the “uselessness of evolution” was previously refuted by me and offers no new insight.  I addressed this assertion in my letter to you of 5/27/06.  In that response, I listed two sources that describe the contributions the theory of evolution has made to the areas of human health, agriculture and renewable resources, natural products, environmental management and conservation, and analysis of human diversity.  (See the attached “Claim CA215” and excerpts from a conference presentation by Dr. Jim Bull entitled, “Evolutionary Biology: Technology for the 21st Century.”  For more information regarding the application of evolutionary principles to agriculture, conservation, and medicine, see the section “How does evolution impact my life?” at the University of California’s “Understanding Evolution” website. ) 

The theory of evolution underpins and unifies all the biological sciences.  As the renowned geneticist (and devout Christian) Theodosius Dobzhansky succinctly put it, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”   The theory of evolution is useless to biology only to the same extent that atomic theory is useless to chemistry.

So Mr. X, you did miss it.  You missed it when I addressed this issue in my letter of 5/27/06. Not, of course, that this is the first time you have “missed” what I have written.

The fact that you repeat the same assertion in your most recent letter suggests that you do not read the material I send you, or you do not access the sources I provide, or you reflexively ignore facts that you find objectionable, or you forget what you have read, or you have a serious reading comprehension problem.  Perhaps it is some combination of all five.  Whatever the reason, it is disingenuous of you to claim that I have not addressed previous points you have raised, when in actuality, I have addressed them.  I cannot force you to educate yourself on these matters.  If you want to remain ignorant of the evidence that is supportive of evolution, there is little I can do about that.  But please don’t falsely accuse me of failing to address topics you have brought to my attention.  During the course of our discussions, I have attempted to provide a response to all of your anti-evolution claims.  You are the one who commonly fails to provide specific rebuttals to the issues I raise.   Instead, you frequently gloss over my arguments and move the goal posts to a new position – not infrequently, out of the ball park.

Let me remind you of something else I wrote in my letter of 5/27/06.  In that letter, I stated the following:

 

“Please understand that the purpose of my website is to promote good science and to expose the fallacy of creationism.  Your statements exemplify many of the arguments creationists commonly regurgitate in opposition to evolution.  They are, therefore, fair game as far as I am concerned.  Also understand that any future correspondence you send me will be handled in the same manner.”

 

Your repetition of previously refuted arguments, as illustrated above, is exactly the kind of slipshod creationist “scholarship” I am seeking for inclusion in my website.  If you don’t want me making an issue out of such tactics, I advise you to stop using them.

 

You say my letter made you sad.  I feel your pain.  I am also saddened when Bible junkies ridicule, malign, and misrepresent the theory of evolution, one of the best-corroborated theories in all of science.  Even more disheartening is the attack they are now waging on science in general.  If creationists are successful in their effort to undermine the scientific method to force it to accommodate their religious/political ideology, it will have dire repercussions for the technological competitiveness and economic wellbeing of our country.  That’s a sad prospect indeed.

 

If I interpret your statement correctly, you are claiming that my “cause” is dangerous.  Frank, the truth is never dangerous, except for those whose worldview is dependent upon avoiding it.  

 

“Instead you must have spent hours putting together something to destroy any respect I have for God.  To do this you enclose stuff written by an idiot a deceived person who has not an iota of spiritual discernment.”

 

(One is reminded of the saying, “When you are arguing with an idiot, make sure your opponent isn’t doing the same thing.)  I presume here you are referring to my article, Salvation – A Dilemma of Biblical Proportions.”  You give yourself too much credit for encouraging me to write that article.   It was written a couple of years ago in response to past discussions I have had with a number of Bible thumpers.  It is not my primary purpose to destroy anyone’s respect for God.  The article was intended to demonstrate just how inconsistent, confusing, and irrational the salvation story in the Bible is.  All I have done is draw logical conclusions from statements taken directly from the Bible.  If God loses any respect as a result, it is only because it was undeserved in the first place.      

In case you have not figured it out, I am not writing these responses for your benefit.  I have long ago written you and your fundamentalist brethren off as lost causes.  My responses are directed at those truth seekers whose thought processes have not been completely ossified by religious indoctrination.  My articles are intended for those individuals whose minds remain open and receptive to critically-thought-out lines of argumentation. Experience has taught me that the religiously brainwashed are, by and large, impervious to any arguments that threaten to separate them from their imaginary security blanket.    

In my opinion, “spiritual discernment” is indistinguishable from magical thinking.  Magical thinking is only good for playing tricks on the mind. 

 

“For example:  ‘Now it happened that god was strolling in the garden and couldn’t figure out where Adam and Eve had gone.  (Strange isn’t it that an omniscient God would not know what had happened and where the first couple was…)’ [Cut from my “Salvation – A Dilemma of Biblical Proportions” and pasted in your letter.]  Of course God knew where they were, but here is a picture of the Omniscient God searching for a sinner, not that the sinner is obliged (although it helps) to do the searching.”

 

What we have here is a picture of a supposedly omniscient God not knowing where Adam and Eve are hiding and having to resort to asking where they are.  (Gen. 3:9)  Furthermore, this omniscient God is unsure whether or not they had eaten of the “forbidden fruit” and has to ask them for clarification.  (Gen. 3:11)  Not to mention the fact that, if He were omniscient, He would have known they were going to eat the magic fruit before He ever created them.  Only someone high on the drug of religion could fail to see the contradictions implicit in these verses.

 

“And – the serpent was used by Satan.  And about snakes not “eating dust” – of course they eat dust, but not by choice.  If your mouth was a half-inch off the ground chasing your lunch you would be eating his dust also. Etc. etc. etc. etc.”

 

If the serpent was used by Satan to deceive Adam and Eve, it could only have happened with God’s blessing.  Since God is claimed to be omniscient, He would have known in advance everything that Satan was ever going to do during his entire lifetime.  And, since He is also said to be omnipotent, He could have easily thwarted Satan’s plan, if He so desired.   The only logical conclusion at which one can arrive (assuming for the sake of argument that this biblical myth is true), is that God actually wanted Satan (through the intermediacy of the talking snake) to trick the first couple into munching the verboten fruit.  Not to mention that Adam and Eve could not have realized they were doing anything wrong by eating the fruit, because they did not have the knowledge of good and evil until after they ate it.

Show me documentation of any snakes actually eating dust and explain how this “curse” applies to arboreal and aquatic snakes.

So “Etc. etc. etc. etc.” is the way you deal with all the other discrepancies, inconsistencies, and contradictions discussed in my article?  Now there’s a comprehensive and well-thought-out rebuttal, not.  Admittedly though, it does contain one more etc. than the typical three-etc. evasions one normally encounters.

 

“(Ps. The doctrine of original sin is a Roman Catholic invention.)”

 

Be that as it may, from my reading on the subject, Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) doctrine also teaches that “All human beings are born with a sinful human nature--a nature that is attracted to sin.”  While there are subtle differences between the orthodox concept of original sin and SDA doctrine, the general premise is, nonetheless, quite similar.  They both teach that humans are born with a sinful disposition that results in everyone sinning.  And they both teach that the only way for sinners to be forgiven is to profess sincere belief in the story about  a formerly-dead, water-walking, fig tree-cursing, wine-making, table-overturning, family-disrupting, 1st century, Jewish itinerant preacher  who was offered as a blood sacrifice to atone for their wrongdoings.    

Be that as it may, God could have easily avoided the problem altogether by ensuring that people were not born with sinful natures.  After all, He is supposedly the creator of everything.  If people have sinful natures, then it must be because He wants it that way.  To my way of thinking, purposely creating people with flaws such as sinful tendencies is not something that would be expected of a perfect God.  If I were to create a robot that had a design flaw that caused it to behave in an unacceptable manner, I would expect to be held accountable for its actions.  The same should hold true for God.   

If my understanding of SDA doctrine is correct, it stresses that God brought the curse of death on humanity as a consequence of the purported Fall. That’s a pretty nasty curse to put on all subsequent generations of humans who couldn’t have had any influence on the behavior of the first transgressors, Adam and Eve.  Especially so, since Adam and Eve couldn’t have known they were doing anything wrong (until after they had eaten the infamous plant product) and since they were set up by God to fail from the get go.         

 

“To make matters worse you say:  ‘While the imaginary hells and gods who supposedly cast people into them are of no concern to those of us who lack belief in such things ,…’ [Here you pasted this sentence from my Salvation Dilemma article.]   Yet you include this: [Here you paste the Conclusion from the “Jude 7” article and the first three lines preceding it.] which makes a person think you believe the book of Jude and that Sodom was burned up by a god (God?) you do not believe in.  ?? Confusing to me.”

 

What is confusing to me is that anyone would fail to comprehend that I was writing from the standpoint of an assumption made for the sake of argument.  No, I do not think that the Book of Jude is inerrant, nor do I think any god (if it exists) destroyed Sodom (if it ever actually existed).  However, it is undeniable that someone wrote the Book of Jude, is it not?  This is a fact whether there is any validity to it, or not.  My argument is based on what language the author would be expected to use in consideration of the fact that he was writing when brimstone was present and smoke was still emanating from areas that were (according to legend) located near the biblically depicted towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Would you have to believe in the Koran in order to analyze passages from it to debunk fallacious claims made by Muslims?

 

“The same goes for use of the Greek words and the details thereof in your letter.  Why would you bother, if the book is mere myths; it would be also full of all kinds of errors and what original words were used would be meaningless.”

 

I bothered because you sent me a religious tract that attempted to make the case that punishment of the “unsaved” in the fires of hell will not be eternal.  It cited selected passages from the Bible to try to prove that premise.  I showed that, by objectively analyzing the original Greek in which those passages and related passages were written, the tract’s premise was not supported by the pertinent texts.  That is how scholarly biblical criticism is conducted, i.e., by examining the original language of the passages in question and other passages that relate to the issue at hand and arriving at the most consistent and reasonable interpretation while taking historical context into consideration.  From your failure to present any substantive refutation of the arguments I made in my letter, I assume you have none to offer.

Regarding your observation that “if the book is mere myths; it would be also full of all kinds of errors,” I think we have finally hit on something we can both agree upon.  Just leave out the “if” and change “would be also” to “is” and we will be in perfect agreement.  

 

“But do you enjoy trying to destroy peoples hope in a future life free from pain and death, which God has promised here in Revelation: ?” [Here you paste in Rev. 20: 3-7.] 

 

As far as I am concerned, people can believe in whatever myths, legends, religious dogma, and fairytales they want.  I write my commentaries because of the encounters I have with Bible believers who disparage the sciences, insult my intelligence, and foist their religious propaganda on me in hopes that I will arrive at the same naïve conclusions that they have.   What I have done is conduct a critical evaluation of the materials that you and other religionists have presented to me.  The enjoyment I get out of this exercise comes from a search for the truth and the positive feedback I get from my website, not from the destruction of anyone’s hopes.       

You talk as if people cannot have hope unless they believe in a blissful afterlife.  I, and other nonbelievers that I know, have oodles of hope.  It is just that our hopes and aspirations are focused on attainment in the here and now, and not in some hypothetical postmortem paradise in the sky.  By the way, from what is known about the status of the nervous system after death, it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to feel anything after they die.  The odds are very high, even if the Bible is wrong, that nobody is ever going to feel any pain after they are dead.             

Just to set the record straight, I have never initiated a letter-writing campaign in the local newspaper on the subject of evolution or religion.  I have only responded with my viewpoint after a creationist or religionist has had a letter published first.  Surely you are not denying me the right to defend my beliefs on these subjects, are you?

Likewise, may I remind you that I did not initiate this personal exchange between us.  You are the one who started the ball rolling by hand-delivering creationist/religious propaganda to my house.  I have responded to that propaganda by critiquing it and presenting my side of the story.  In many cases you have simply ignored or given short shrift to the critiques I have offered.  May I suggest that, if you are offended by my comments that are directed at you, there is a simple way to bring them to an end.  Simply quit providing me with material to write about.

Regarding your inclusion of Rev. 20:7, “Behold, I [Jesus] am coming soon! ..,” that was written around the end of the 1st century C.E. as a promise to the faithful living at that time.    In addition, verse 6 talks about “things which must shortly be done.”  It’s been nearly 2,000 years since those predictions were made.  Don’t you think “soon” and “shortly to be done” are a bit off the mark?     

 

“That’s what made me sad.  Since Heaven is a place where these things don’t happen (people making other people sad), it is God’s job to change people who want to be there.  Sadly there is a lot of religion in the world but little truth.”

 

If God had not designed humans with the susceptibility for having “sinful natures,” He would not have to change them in order for them to enter heaven.  By designing flawed individuals whom He has to change, He has created a lot of extra work for Himself.  This, it seems to me, is not the approach a God of perfection would take.

Don’t tell me.  It just so happens that your religion is the only one that represents the genuine, unadulterated, God-given TRUTH, right?  That’s what they all say.  How is anyone supposed to know which one (if any of them) is telling the truth?   

 

“Enclosed is a DVD that shows how God (Jesus) knew it would happen with great detail.  I have often pictured being in heaven talking with you about these things, perhaps that is why I deliver these letters (to see you as a real person) but of course you realize you would not be happy there in your present state of mind.”

 

No offense, but, if there is such a thing as an afterlife, I would much prefer spending it in stimulating conversations with freethinkers like Thomas Edison, Robert Ingersoll, Samuel Clemens, Carl Sagan, Steve Allen, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Albert Einstein, etc. than with a bunch of boot-licking, harp-strumming, scripture-spouting, evolution-bashing Christians.  As you say, in my “present state of mind” winding up in heaven, as the Christians describe it, would be a fate worse than hell as far as I am concerned.

 

“But that can change – and if I fail here, for if I spent as much time praying for you as I do writing this it would be better for both of us.”

 

Instead of wasting your time mumbling to yourself about me, why don’t you pray that all the starving children in the world will be properly fed or that children suffering from terminal cancer will be miraculously cured.  (Apparently God, the loving, compassionate, and merciful deity that he is, is unaware of these problems, or he would presumably do something to correct them.)  According to the Bible, anytime a sincere, believing Christian prays for anything whatsoever in Jesus’ name, his/her prayer will be answered in the affirmative – no ifs, ands, or buts. (e.g., Mark 11:24; Matt. 7:7-8, 17:20, 18:19, 21:21-22; Luke 11:9-10; John 11:22, 14:13-14, 15:7, and 16:23-24)  So get cracking.  There are far more pressing issues in the world today than the status of my beliefs. 

Just for the record, you are not the first Christian who has prayed for my deliverance from the clutches of the Devil.  At least two other Christians with whom I have corresponded have informed me they have done the same thing – one of them for an entire year.  All they have succeeded in proving is that nothing fails like prayer.  

Are all of your prayers always answered in the affirmative as the passages above promise they will be?  Do you think the Bible is entirely trustworthy when it speaks about the results one should expect from prayer?  (And please don’t tell me that sometimes God responds to prayer with a “no,” or a “maybe,” or a “wait until later.”  That is not what the Bible says.  And people can get exactly that same response from praying to a rock.) 

 

“Sorry about that – Mr. X.  Could this cat be a picture of us both?” [Here you paste in a picture of a cat looking in a mirror and seeing a lion as its reflection.]”

 

No doubt most people do tend to have an inflated sense of self-importance.  However, coming to the realization that we share a common ancestry with the simplest life forms and that we reside on a small speck in an obscure corner of a galaxy that consists of many billions of such specks and which is, itself, only one of billions of such galaxies that exist in the entire universe tends to put things into proper perspective.

That said, the picture does seem to be an accurate representation of how my cats view themselves.

 

“PS – I do not remember a challenge about Easter.  Could it be about the enclosed tract? [The Strange Origin of Xmas, Easter, and Lent] Burnside was a Godly Australian SDA minister who I met years ago, he gave me 2 of these so perhaps or providentially it was meant for you.”

 

Perhaps you should pray to God to sharpen your memory.  The challenge was included in my April 7, 2006 letter to you. To jog your memory, I have reproduced it and the related commentary below:

The resurrection is a core tenet of Christian doctrine without which Christianity, as we know it, would not exist.  If the resurrection actually occurred, if you are a believing and trusting Christian to whom the truth has been revealed, and if the Bible is truly God’s vehicle for describing this momentous occurrence to humanity, then you should have no trouble developing a detailed and coherent sequence of events as requested by the following Easter Challenge: 

 

Please begin at Easter morning and read to the end of each book – begin at Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21.  Also read Acts 1:3-12 and 1Cor. 15:3-8.  Then, without adding a single detail not contained (or omitting one that is contained) in these accounts, write a single, harmonious, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension; paying particular attention to what happened first, second, etc.; who said what to whom and when; and where these things happened.

 

Can you address this straightforward challenge in a manner that demonstrates you are right about the truthfulness, coherence, and reliability of the Bible?  If not, that is even more justification for me not to take you up on your offer to “steer [me] in His direction.”  What I am asking you to do should be very easy for you to accomplish if the Bible is as coherent and perspicuous as you seem to think it is.  Please sit down, open your Bible, and read the passages indicated above.  Then write the narrative on your own in your own words.  You shouldn’t have to rely on outside assistance for a task that, if the Bible is the consistent and inerrant word of God, should be easily accomplished by any reasonably intelligent person who reads it.

Just so you know, I will not view the DVD you sent me until you have completed this challenge.

The tract you gave me which attributes the Christian holidays to pagan-appeasing inventions of the early church provides no new information with which I am not already familiar.  These facts are well known to Christian scholars, and they came to my attention very early in my studies of the Bible and Christianity.

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Regarding your enclosure, “Why Doesn’t God Destroy the Devil?”, the question the author, George Burnside, should have asked is, “Why Did God Permit the Devil to Exist in the First Place?”  In my opinion, if the Devil actually ever existed, it would have been prudent to put him out of business early on, before he could wreak so much havoc on mankind (assuming, of course, God had the power to do so).  Nonetheless, the real mistake was ever permitting Satan come into existence in the first place.  If God is omniscient, as the Bible claims, He would have known precisely how Lucifer was going to behave in the future even before He created him.  If God did not want Lucifer/the Devil to eventually rebel against Him and encourage sinful behavior in humans, all He had to do was not bring him into existence.  However, since God is claimed to have purposely created Lucifer/the Devil as one of His angels, He must have wanted him to play precisely the role he is now playing.  Don’t blame the Devil for his evil ways.  Blame them on the God who created a flawed being when He knew full well, beforehand, exactly what kind of a nasty character he would turn out to be.

One can only laugh in disbelief at Burnside’s lame apologetics.   He muses that God did not destroy Lucifer when he first sinned because Lucifer had told the other angels that God was a tyrant.  According to Burnside, if God had destroyed Lucifer then, it would demonstrate to the other angels that Lucifer was correct in his accusation.  So here we have a fallen angel who (according to the Bible) will eventually trick the first couple into eating the forbidden fruit.  And as a punishment for this act, God (forgiving and loving deity that He is) will curse them and all their descendants with the certainty of death, banish them from paradise to a life of toil,  curse women with the pain of child birth, and (according to many Christian sects) saddle them with the stigma of original sin.  Thereafter, the Devil will be free to continue his career of deceiving mankind and turning them against God. 

God, if He is omniscient, would have known all the evil the Devil would eventually bring into the world even before he first sinned.  But, according to Burnside, God was more concerned about His own reputation with His celestial minions than He was about the severe hardships the Devil would eventuate for all of mankind.  In other words, this is a God who is more concerned about saving face and discrediting a character slur than He is about preventing the enormous evil the Devil will eventually perpetrate on humanity.  Who else but a tyrant would act in such a callous manner?  And who, but someone using kindergarten-level logic, would fall for such a sophomoric and self-serving apologetic.

So why hasn’t God destroyed the Devil in the meantime?  Well, according to Burnside, “This [bringing an end to the Devil’s power] could not be done by force.  The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government.  He desires only a service of love, and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority.  Only by love is love awakened.” 

Really?  Is he talking about the same God who once forced the Pharaoh to relent by murdering all of the firstborn in Egypt? (Exod. 12:29)  Is he talking about the “loving” God whose body count is summarized on the EvilBible.com website as follows:

For example, God kills 70,000 innocent people because David ordered a census of the people (1 Chronicles 21).  God also orders the destruction of 60 cities so that the Israelites can live there.  He orders the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city, and the looting of all of value (Deuteronomy 3).  He orders another attack and the killing of “all the living creatures of the city: men and women, young, and old, as well as oxen sheep, and asses” (Joshua 6).  In Judges 21, He orders the murder of all the people of Jabesh-gilead, except for the virgin girls who were taken to be forcibly raped and married.  When they wanted more virgins, God told them to hide alongside the road and when they saw a girl they liked, kidnap her and forcibly rape her and make her your wife!  Just about every other page in the Old Testament has God killing somebody!  In 2 Kings 10:18-27, God orders the murder of all the worshipers of a different god in their very own church!  In total God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered.

Is he talking about the same God who once subjected virtually every living being on earth to the torment of drowning because his experimental test subjects expressed the “sinful nature” that He caused/allowed them to be born with? (Gen. 6-8) 

In the aforementioned examples, we see time and time again where God asserted His authority through force, not love.  If the Bible is accurate, God showed no hesitation whatsoever in bringing deadly force to bear against those individuals (and entire populations) who displeased Him.  Why would God think twice about destroying the consummate evildoer when he had no qualms about murdering hoards of humans He found objectionable?  Burnside’s lame excuse for God sparing the Devil makes sense only if one ignores God’s murderous forms of retaliation against countless others who rubbed Him the wrong way.  Burnside does not provide a logical explanation for God’s failure to destroy the Devil.  What Burnside’s article provides is a lesson in how easy it is for religious apologists to ignore contradictory scriptures when they conflict with some convoluted excuse they have concocted to try explain away some incoherent aspect of the Bible story.

The question could also be asked, “Why Didn’t God Simply Put the Devil out of Commission?”  God would not necessarily have to destroy the Devil in order to render him ineffective.  God could have constructed an escape-proof enclosure and locked the Devil away in solitary confinement where he could never do any harm.  Or He could have put the Devil in a coma or some form of suspended animation.  If God is omnipotent, He could have easily done any of these things, and doubtless many more, to put a stop to the Devil’s nefarious deeds.  Yet, according to Christians I talk to, the Devil is still running around, unfettered, working his mischief.  The only logical conclusion one can draw from all this is that God wants it that way.  (Disregarding for the moment the even more likely situation that neither the God of the Bible nor the Devil actually exist.)

Freethoughtfully,