My Response to Part 2 of Braveheart’s commentary of 9/2/08.

(Numbers refer to footnotes in Braveheart's commentary)

 

[Comments regarding the liberal/conservative stance on global warming]

 

1.  At least you appear to accept the scientific consensus that global warming is a reality.   Indeed, it is no longer a question of whether or not global warming is occurring.  It is a question of what is causing this phenomenon.  Does it result from natural influences (e.g., orbital forcing and ocean circulation) alone, human activities (e.g., production of greenhouse gasses) alone, or a combination of these factors?   (Or, since according to you “God ultimately controls everything,” is it caused by the Big Guy In the Sky turning up the thermostat?)

Contrary to your portrayal of liberals as fabricating a global warming crisis to advance some kind of nefarious socialist agenda, people that I know who are concerned about this phenomenon are apprehensive because of the deleterious effects it could have on all the Earth’s biota for generations to come.  It is not just liberals who are concerned about this problem.  Many conservatives acknowledge the potential problems that are associated with global warming, i.e., disturbed and drastically altered weather patterns that will lead to increased precipitation, stronger and more violent tropical weather, desertification in some areas and flooding in others.  (Search for "Global Warming: A Conservative's Guide" on the Internet.)

Greenhouse gasses form a blanket in the atmosphere that inhibits the dissipation of infrared radiation away from the Earth (or, stated inversely, reflects the radiation back to the Earth), thus increasing terrestrial and ocean temperatures.   To argue that human activities that increase these gasses do not contribute in any way to global warming is like arguing that putting a down comforter on your bed does not retain heat and make it a warmer place to sleep.  The only ones who categorically “know” that there is no human contribution to global warming are those who have a political/religious axe to grind and/or have not availed themselves of the evidence.  

Humans are rapidly depleting the world’s supplies of inexpensive non-renewable energy.  Because of the increasing thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil and the dwindling supplies, the cost of petroleum-based energy will continue to rise, regardless what your favorite scapegoats, the liberals, might do.  It is simply a matter of supply, which is finite and, according to some petroleum geologists, near its peak, and demand, which is ever increasing.  Sooner or later we will be forced to wean ourselves off the petroleum teat.  The sooner, the better, as far as I am concerned.  And if such a change results in the development of alternative energy sources (solar, wind, nuclear, wave energy, etc.) that reduce the production of greenhouse gasses, so much the better.

New Antarctic ice core data (Search for "Climate Change: New Antarctic Ice Core Data" on the Internet) show a high correlation between elevated concentrations of atmospheric  greenhouse gasses (CO2 and methane) and increased temperatures over the past 420,000 years and through four glacial cycles.  The concentration of methane in the atmosphere is now 230% of its pre-industrial maximum (although the rate of increase does now appear to be leveling off).  Similarly, the concentration of CO2 is now 130% of its pre-industrial maximum.  While the extent of the contribution of these greenhouse gasses to global warming is still a subject of debate, most climatologists agree that these gasses are responsible for a significant part of the increase.   (For evidence showing that the increase in atmospheric CO2 during the industrial age is due primarily to human activities, search for "RealClimate" on the internet.)

The ironic twist to all this talk about global warming is the fact that such events in the past have preceded rapidly developing "ice ages."  This has been attributed to melting of the polar ice caps (occurring now) which introduces fresh water into the sub-polar regions.,  This infusion of fresh water interrupts the thermohaline ocean currents which normally convey warmer water and air from the equatorial regions to the polar regions, thus significantly cooling the planet.  The current interglacial period in which we live is the longest on record.  Anything humans do now that exacerbates the problem of global warming could very well hasten the advent of the next glacial period.  And, any ramifications from global warming could be relatively mild compared to the effects of the subsequent global cooling that would be expected to follow.

 

2.  You insinuate that a “consensus” of scientists agree that human activities are the sole cause of global warming.  That is incorrect.  What they agree on is that human activities are contributing to the acceleration of global warming.  To what extent those activities are influencing the process is a subject of ongoing research and debate.

I am not surprised that someone who does not know the proper definition of a scientific theory (see Part 1 of this dialogue) would also misunderstand the importance of consensus opinion in the context of the scientific process.  Consensus agreement is one of the most powerful tools employed by the scientific method – and, for that matter, any other system of evidence gathering that is designed to arrive at informed decisions.  Rather than giving equal weight to the crackpot notions of every Tom, Dick, and Harry that tries to pass himself off as a scientific genius, only those hypotheses that survive the scrutiny of educated experts in a particular field of study are deemed worthy of serious consideration.   For example, scientists do not waste their time searching for demons as the cause of disease, because, contrary to what the Bible says, the consensus scientific opinion is that diseases are caused by such things as genetic abnormalities and microorganisms.  Scientific consensus separates the wheat from the chaff.  Science has emerged as the most successful vehicle for invention and discovery largely because it gives credence only to those concepts which skilled investigators agree upon best explain the facts and which have the greatest probability of accurately describing reality.

During the early formative years of the Christian religion, a controversy having to do with the divinity of Jesus arose.  Some argued that Jesus and God were the same being and were co-eternal, while others argued that Jesus was created as a human by God.  In 325 CE, the emperor Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea to settle the matter.  At that council some 300 bishops “voted” and declared Jesus and God to be one and the same.  In that case, one the most significant concepts in the Christian religion was determined by consensus opinion.  Another issue on which the council “voted” involved a form of Monarchianism that taught Jesus was born a mere mortal but achieved a divine status after he was baptized.  The consensus opinion was, of course, that Monarchianism was blasphemy.  Other such councils were later convened to “vote” on other church related matters.  Why is it acceptable for the founders of your religion to vote on matters of importance to them and arrive at consensus opinions, while it is improper for scientists to do the same thing?  (Please note the difference between the development of consensus opinion by scientists and religionists.  In the case of scientists, consensus is arrived at after the objective analysis of hard, verifiable, falsifiable facts.  In the case of religionists, if agreement is ever arrived at, it occurs only as a result of the subjective interpretation of often vague and inconsistent written accounts of dubious authenticity.) 

By repeating your misrepresentation of a scientific theory again and again you appear to be practicing what Vladimir Lenin preached, “A lie told often enough becomes truth”.

 

3.  Evidence is accumulating that the excess production of CO2 by humans is lowering the pH of the world’s oceans, i.e., they are becoming more acidic.  If this trend continues, it could have disastrous effects on the biological integrity of all the oceanic ecosystems.  Certainly, such an effect would not be localized.  And, as discussed above, neither would a human-accelerated destruction of the thermohaline currents.  Over population, if current trends continue, could also have far-reaching ramifications regarding the Earth’s ecosystems.

For scientific “validation” of the hypothesis that humans are contributing to an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, I point you once again to "RealClimate” on the Internet.   And once again, the scientific consensus is not that human activities are the only cause of global warming, it is that such activities appear to be contributing to an acceleration of the process.

I agree that fomenting hysteria is not the proper way to deal with this problem.   However, to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we have no influence on global warming and that we cannot take actions to ameliorate our impact is equally ineffectual in my opinion. Better safe, than sorry.

 

[Comments regarding God and the Bible]

 

4.  Just a reminder that quotations from the Bible are no more persuasive for a non-Christian than quotations from the Koran are for you.  I respect your right to believe (on faith) in the veracity and divine inspiration of the Bible.  In the same vein, I would hope you would respect my right to consider the Bible to be a collection of purely manmade stories of questionable reliability written by religious partisans.

Regarding the “prophecy” in Joel 2, Peter did indeed appear to think that the events described in Acts 2:1-4 were the fulfillment of Joel’s purported prophecy of the “last days.”  New Testament writers were habitually trying to finagle a connection, tenuous though it might be, between what was happening in their own lives and what had been prophesied in the Old Testament.  According to Joel, the apocalyptic final accounting was near at hand. (Joel 1:15 and 3:14)  During this time, the enemies of the Jews would be vanquished, the Jews would inherit an ideal state and eternal security, Egypt would become a desolated wilderness, and all manner of bizarre signs and wonders (Earth and heavens trembling and sun, moon, and stars darkening) would occur.  Not only was Joel wrong in predicting that these events would occur soon after he wrote about them, but Peter was also wrong in thinking the incoherent jabbering that occurred at Pentecost was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.  Perhaps he was looking for some way to explain such irrational behavior.  However, except for the display of mass hysteria, the rest of Joel’s prognostications did not come to fruition at Pentecost, nor have they anytime since.

 

Peter obviously believed that all those signs and wonders which Joel had prophesied (Acts 2:19-20) would also soon come to pass.  If he did not think so, then it is unlikely he would have included them in his sermon. As addressed elsewhere, those were superstitious, pre-scientific times when the possible occurrence of bizarre phenomena such as those described in Joel and Matt. 24:29 were not seriously questioned – especially since the prophets had repeatedly predicted that they would occur as part of the final judgment.  There is every reason to think that Peter fully expected them to occur in the “last days” in which he thought he was living.  Devout Jews and Christians in the first century expected these miraculous phenomena to occur in conjunction with the final judgment, which, they thought, would occur within their lifetimes.  Verses such as Matt. 24:1-3, 34; Jas. 5:3; Heb. 1:2, 9:26; and 1 Cor. 10:11 all show that the authors of the New Testament thought they were living in the final days preceding the last judgment.  Quite obviously, they were wrong.

 

For a critical discussion of biblical prophecy, search for "Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled” on the Internet.  All such prophecies fail the test for critical validation when such things as context, timing, use of anachronisms, and predictive accuracy are taken into account.  

How can you put any faith in biblical prophecy when Jesus, Himself, couldn’t even accurately predict the timing of His so-called “second coming?”  See Matt. 10:23 (“…Ye [the disciples] shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man [Jesus] be come.”), Matt. 16:28 (“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man [Jesus] coming in his kingdom.”), Mark 13:30 (“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.”), Luke 21:32 (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.”), Matt. 24:34 (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”), Matt. 23:36 (“Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.”  The Living Bible Paraphrased interprets this passage as, “Yes, all the accumulated judgment of the centuries shall break upon the heads of this very generation.”), Mark 9:1 (“…Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”), Mark 14:62 and Matt. 26:64 (“…ye [the people to whom Jesus was speaking] shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”), and Luke 9:27 (“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.”)  In case you have lost track, it has been nearly 2,000 years and counting since Jesus supposedly made these botched predictions.  How many more millennia will it take before Christians finally wise up and acknowledge that He, like everyone else who dies, is gone for good?

The feelings I experience hiking along a stream etc, are fully explicable in scientific terms.  Viewing such aesthetically pleasing and non-threatening scenes results in the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine that stimulate pleasure centers in the brain.  No invisible spirits or pixies required.

You imply that non-believers ought to be self-centered.   And this coming from someone who believes that a supreme being purposely created them in his own image and that they, of all the life forms on Earth, stand at the epitome of creation and belong to the only species that has the chance to live happily ever after in paradise after they die.  Now there’s a recipe for egocentrism if I ever saw one.   

I and other non-believers I know are cognizant of the fact that we reside in one tiny corner of the universe on a planet that circles one of the billions of star systems in our galaxy which represents only one of the billions of galaxies in the known universe.   Those of us who accept evolution are also aware that the human species to which we belong is a fortuitous happenstance of nature and that we are genetically linked to all other life forms on the planet through common descent (our closest genetic “relative” being the chimpanzee with which we share over 95% of our genetic makeup).  I think you might agree that such an outlook is rather humbling and not particularly conducive to grandiose feelings of self-importance.

On the other hand, we also appreciate that we are fortunate to be here and understand that we have only one life to lead - this one.   And we hold that there is no invisible God Father in the Sky hovering over us, ready to come to our rescue, to save us from our travails if we only beg to Him in the proper manner.  In other words, this is it as far as our existence is concerned, and we need to make the most of it.  If our problems are going to be solved and our species is going to thrive and survive, we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and work together to solve those problems ourselves in the here and now.   Since we have one life to lead, we strive to live it to the fullest.  (instead of fretting needlessly about whether or not we will fry in some imaginary lake of fire after we die.)   Part of that sense of fullness comes from helping our fellow humans in their time of need.   We are social animals, and societies function best when their members cooperate and develop harmonious relationships with one another.   It is the meaningful contributions that we make to society while we are alive that will survive us after we die.  That is close enough to immortality for me.  (For more information on the evolutionary explanation for altruistic behavior, search for "CB411" on the Internet.)

Is this God you speak of with “higher intelligence” the one who supposedly designed all the species that ever existed, over 99% of which subsequently went extinct throughout history?  Is He the God whose first batch of humans turned out so crappy that He was forced to exterminate virtually all of them (along with all the other animals alive at the time) in a flood?   Is He the God who didn’t know that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit even though they had no knowledge of good and bad behavior (before they ate it) and even though He allowed a crafty talking snake to run around tempting them?   And is He the God who purposely created evil (Isa. 457) and now has to spend the rest of His career trying to eradicate it - and doing a pretty darn piss-poor job of it, if you ask me?  When you say “higher intelligence,” with what exactly are you making your comparison?

Sorry, but your scare tactics regarding the penalty for failing to worship your God do not have the desired effect on those who do not share your religious beliefs.  Many thousands of Gods have been claimed to exist throughout history.  How do you know you have picked the proper one to communicate with? 

 

5.  If there really is a God, why would He use something as elusive as a conscience to communicate with His subjects?  Presumably, if He existed, He could easily appear tangibly to an individual in person and communicate His message directly in plain English (or whatever language He would want to use).  If I were a God and had some important information to convey, I know I wouldn’t rely on people wrestling with their private thoughts to try to get my message across.  The problem with this approach is that some people who think God is talking to them through their conscience are certain He is telling them to indiscriminately shoot people, drown their children to save them from hell, and to crash airplanes into large buildings.   The fact that God only appears to communicate with you through some form of spiritual loudspeaker embedded in your head is a good indication that He is nothing but a figment of your imagination.

Human conscience is an evolved attribute of the brain that puts checks and balances on individual behaviors so as to foster a well-functioning society.  People feel guilt and remorse when they do things that transgress societal guidelines and they experience feelings of acceptance and self worth when they abide by them.  As a consequence, proper behavior is reinforced.  There is good evidence that the capacity for human conscience is genetically determined and culturally conditioned.  Islamic terrorists see nothing wrong with murdering innocent “infidels” while most people find the practice repugnant.

The fact that the human conscience has a physical basis and is an emergent property of the brain is borne out by numerous observations of behavioral changes that have occurred as a consequence of damage to specific brain regions, particularly in cases involving the prefrontal cortex.  Injuries to particular brain areas can, in essence, destroy the mental policeman that we call our conscience.   Again, no spirits or pixies (or disembodied voices from the Gods) are required to explain this phenomenon.

I wouldn’t put a great deal of stock in what the Bible says about thought processes if I were you.  The medically ignorant Bible authors believed that the heart was the seat of cognition and emotional expression.  Nowhere do they get it right and properly associate these functions with the brain.   

Regardless of your disassociation with organized churches, I assume that your current religious beliefs stem from your prior indoctrination into biblical teachings, i.e., dogma.   I seriously doubt that, if you were born and currently lived in Tehran, you would have the same beliefs you do now.

 

6.  God most certainly should hold Himself accountable for all the evil in the world.  After all, according to the Bible, He did create it (Isa. 45:7).  Nonetheless, the question still remains, why would a perfect, loving, compassionate God create evil in the first place?

Sin is a religious concept that has no meaning outside religious circles.  Sin implies disobedience to a personal God.  Certainly, people do bad things and break the law, but no court is going to specifically prosecute such a person for committing a “sin.”

I wonder if it is possible for someone such as yourself, who has been so thoroughly indoctrinated in biblical dogma, to remove his religious blinders for a minute or two and objectively evaluate just how nonsensical this myth of original sin actually is.  Inherited sin, i.e., original sin, is a biblical concept concocted by the Christian theocracy for the purpose of ensuring a continuous supply of guilt-ridden parishioners to top off the collection plates.  According to traditional Christian dogma, sin is like a congenital disease that can only be cured with a large dose of Jesus.  But why, pray tell, do we all suffer from this malady?  According to Christian spin doctors (St. Augustine being one of the early examples), it occurs as a consequence of the misadventures of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a highly condensed version of which follows:

 

God planted a tree of knowledge of good and evil conspicuously in the middle of the Garden of Eden.  He instructed Adam (whom He had poofed into existence by blowing into a pile of dust) not to eat the fruit from this tree.  God told Adam that, if he ate any of this fruit, he would surely die within the day. When Adam finally got bored playing with the animal friends God had created for him, God ripped out one of Adam's ribs while he was dozing and used it to cobble together a new playmate, Eve.  Eventually, a talking snake (Yes, boys and girls, a real live talking snake!) entered the scene and persuaded Eve to sample the forbidden fruit after convincing her that it would increase her knowledge and not cause her death.  Adam was subsequently beguiled by Eve into partaking of this verboten delicacy.  Suddenly they both realized they didn’t have any clothes on and they hid.  (How out of it were these people?)  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 hiding.)  But when He did eventually track them down and it dawned on Him what had happened, He had a holy hissy fit. The first thing Adam did was to pass the buck onto Eve by blaming her for tempting him.  Eve, as might be expected, passed the buck onto the loquacious serpent.  By now God’s knickers were really in a twist.  First He commanded the snake to walk on its belly and eat dust.  (What was the snake walking on before?  And when was the last time anyone saw a snake eating dust?)  Then God cursed Eve with the pain of childbirth and commanded her to be subservient to Adam.  God became extremely worried about these original sinners getting their hands on His prized tree of life, which He had also, with apparent lack of foresight, planted prominently in the Garden.  Therefore, apparently unable to conceive of any other way to prevent the disgraced couple from messing with this tree, He banished them to a life of toil outside the Garden.  (Wouldn't a sturdy fence around the tree have served as a less drastic and more compassionate solution?)  But just to show that He was not a complete twit, He first whipped them up some fancy animal skin duds to conceal their hastily prepared fig leaf underwear.  -  Paraphrased from Genesis Chapters 2 & 3.

 

According to traditional Christian doctrine, it is because of this purported trouble in paradise that all subsequent offspring of God's first defective experimental test subjects have been afflicted with this inherited condition (original sin) which can only be remedied by being "saved."  According to the Bible, failure to complete this salvation process will result in eternal suffering from continuous exposure to the inextinguishable flames of hell. (See Matt. 5:22, 13:42, 50, and 18:8-9; Mark 9:43, 48; Rev. 14:10, 19:20, 20:10,14-15, and 21:8)  Unfortunately, the officially sanctioned rules for achieving this state of salvation often vary depending on the particular Christian sect that happens to be peddling the concept at the time.

 

What’s wrong with this scenario?  How about a talking (walking?) snake and a puzzled omniscient God for starters?  Or how about trees whose fruit can confer knowledge and immortality?  Or how about an omniscient God who didn’t appear to have a clue about what was going to happen when He created the tree, Adam, and his mate and put them all together in the Garden?  Or how about a loving God who allows talking snakes to roam around tempting people?  Or how about the idea of condemning people now for the actions of their distant ancestors?  (How typical of this God to punish people for the wrongdoings of their predecessors. See Exod. 34:7 and 20:5; Isa. 14:21; 1 Sam 2:27-36; and 2 Sam 21:1-9.)  Or how about the fact that no feasible mechanism has ever been proposed to explain how an abstract concept like sin can be biologically transmitted by means of inheritance from one generation to the next. Or how about the fact that the whole childish scenario appears to have been dreamed up to explain to a tribe of credulous, superstitious, pre-scientific desert nomads why it is okay for them to treat women as second-class citizens, why people must work for a living, and why life is full of trials and tribulations?  Or how about the fact it has all the earmarks of a myth that attempts to rationalize the fact that a perfect God did not provide a perfect world for us to live in because He was pissed about the transgressions of our ancestors? 

 

Most importantly, how about the fact that Adam and Eve could not have known what they were doing was wrong when they imbibed the fruit because they did not possess the knowledge of good and evil until after they had eaten it?  After all, they didn’t even know they were naked or that there was anything wrong with being naked prior to eating the fruit.  Adam and Eve could not have known what it meant to die (having never been exposed to such a thing) nor could they have understood that their actions were improper because, before they ate the fruit, they had no knowledge of the concepts of death or wrongdoing.  Much of the rest of the Bible deals with people making the proper choices between right and wrong.  How can people be expected to make the proper choices if they do not comprehend the difference between what is good and what is bad?  Why would any sensible God have originally wanted to withhold such critical knowledge from them if He wanted them to make informed choices?  Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the fantastical story told in Genesis is true, God appears to have purposely put Adam and Eve in a precarious situation in which their "Fall" would be inevitable.  Any person with normal cognitive abilities could have seen it coming a mile away - especially when a conniving snake is written into the script.  How can their behavior be construed as a serious act of disobedience when they were subjected to God-mediated temptation without the wherewithal to comprehend that it was wrong to disobey Him?  The disturbing thing is, most Christians do not see the injustice in cursing all humanity with sin inherited from these hapless individuals, even though they were set up by God to fail from the get go.

 

I respect your right to believe that this Adam and Eve/ original sin myth, as related in the Bible, is the unvarnished truth.  However, I would hope that you would at least have some understanding why others, who are not Bible believers (and who are former Bible believers such as myself), find it so difficult to swallow.  Not to mention the necessity of a God cloning Himself so He can sacrifice Himself to Himself to appease His own wrath and save humanity from a debacle that He orchestrated in the first place.  Couldn’t God have simply snapped His mighty fingers and done away with all sin in one fell swoop?  Why all the histrionics?  It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the Jesus story was patterned after other virgin-born, resurrected savior gods (Dionysus (Grecian), Krishna (Hindu), Mithra (Persian), Tammuz (Sumerian-Babylonian), etc.) could it?

 

Without this concept of sin, there is no need for salvation.  Without the need for salvation, there is no need for Jesus.  And without Jesus, there is no need for Christian preachers.  No wonder these preachers are so dedicated to convincing their parishioners that they are miserable, sinful wretches.  Without sin, the preachers could no longer send their gullible “sheeple” on a guilt trip and con them into buying their way out of hell.   Without sin, they would have to get a decent job for a change.

 

The TOE doesn’t promise anything; it is a scientific explanation not a promise generator.  Be that as it may, the TOE does indicate that, most likely, our species will continue to evolve to cope with environmental changes until such time as the changes occur too rapidly for us to keep up, some world-wide cataclysm occurs, or we wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth through some act of self-annihilation.  In the long run, in a few billion years, the sun will become a red giant star which will bring an end to all life on Earth.  Hopefully, we will have figured out how to transport at least some members of our species to another habitable planet before that occurs.  But there are no guarantees.  Carpe Diem.  (Science tells it like it is.  It does not sugar coat its predictions to make them more likely to win popularity contests and swooning converts.  As the saying goes, “Sometimes the truth hurts.”  Personally, I would rather learn the truth, regardless how displeasing it might be, than cling to a comforting superstition.)

Your last statement above is a non sequitur.  There is no evidence outside religious folktales that the world and humanity were lost and died through the actions of one man.  In fact, there is ample scientific evidence that no such man as Adam ever existed.

 

7.  If John thinks Lucifer was defeated, then he must have a different definition of the word “defeated” than I do.  According to you (see below), Lucifer is still wreaking all manner of havoc on mankind.  What kind of a defeat is that?  If the Japanese were still bombing Pearl Harbor, do you think it would be accurate to say that they had been defeated?  Only in the realm of religious apologetics do such word games persuade the gullible.

So Jesus was perfect was he?   I wouldn’t say that someone who sassed his mother (John 2:3-4), cursed a fig tree for failing to produce fruit out of season (Matt. 21:18-21 and Mark 11:12-14, 19-21), and physically drove merchants out of the temple and overturned their tables after He lost His temper (Mark 11:15; Matt. 21:12; Luke 19:45; and John 2:13-22) was absolutely perfect.  Isn’t Jesus the one who said, “For I am come to SET A MAN AT VARIANCE AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND THE DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND THE DAUGHTER IN LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER IN LAW. And a MAN'S FOES SHALL BE THEY OF HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD?” (Matthew 10:35-36)  That doesn’t sound like a perfect family value plan to me.  Furthermore, in the form of a parable, he is said to have urged his followers to gather together those who rejected his teachings and slay them before him (Luke 19:27).  And then there is the little matter of condemning anyone who does not buy his storyline (an enormous segment of humankind) to eternal suffering in the agonizing flames of hell.   Perfect?  Not by my standards he was not.

It is a good thing that people are born with a tendency toward some degree of selfishness.  A certain amount of concern for one’s own self interests is necessary for survival.

 

8.  According to the Bible, God is considerably more demanding than that.  If we don’t believe Him, He promises to subject us to never ending agonies in the flames of the Devil’s barbeque.  It is like holding a gun to someone’s head and demanding that they worship you or you will blow their brains out.   Kind of shoots a hole in the free will argument for those who actually fear God’s threat.  How sincere can one really be about one’s beliefs if they truly think they will be sentenced to eternal imprisonment in a torture chamber without any chance of parole for disbelief?

And then, of course, there is the controversial role that such things as baptism and good works play in the salvation process.  Are they required as well, or is belief enough?  It doesn’t take long on the Internet to see that Christians are still bickering among themselves over those thorny issues.

 

9.  Ah yes, the typical apologetic palaver about God’s/Jesus’s love.  According to the Bible, just how much love did He actually have for mankind?

So much love that He subjected virtually the world’s entire human population (including innocent children and pregnant women) and virtually all the animals on the surface of the earth to the torment of drowning because the humans He had created didn’t behave the way He had intended (Gen. 6-8).   

So much love that He created the ultimate torture chamber in which to subject “unbelievers” to everlasting torment by fire (Matt. 5:22, 13:42, 50, and 18:8-9; Mark 9:43, 48; Rev. 14:10, 19:20, 20:10,14-15, and 21:8).

So much love that He commanded Moses and others to slaughter children and eviscerate pregnant women (Num. 31:17 and Hos. 13:16).

So much love that He condoned the practice of dashing babies to death against rocks (Ps. 137:9).

So much love that He authorized the practice of committing total genocide against one’s enemies including the slaughter of innocent children, women, and animals showing no mercy whatsoever (Deut. 20:13-17; 1 Sam. 15:3; Josh. 8:1-29; Ezek. 9:5-7, etc.).

So much love that He caused two bears to severely maul forty-two children for name calling (2 Kings 2:23-24).

So much love that He purposely creates people who are deaf and blind (Exod. 4:11).

 

So much love that He created and disseminated evil and engaged in various destructive acts against mankind (Isa. 45:7, 54:16; Lam. 3:37-38; Col. 1:16; Jer. 18:11; Amos 3:6; 1 Sam. 16:14; and Prov. 16:4).

 

So much love that He advised in one battle that all the enemy should be killed except for the virginal females who should be saved for the pleasure of the victors (Num. 31:17-18).   

 

So much love that He sent a pestilence that killed many thousands of His "chosen" people (2 Sam. 24:15; 1 Chron. 21:14).

 

So much love that He advised that one may beat their slaves to death (so long as they survive a few days) because the slaves are their property (Exod. 21:20-21).

 

So much love that He warned that "false prophets" must be put to death (Deut. 18:20-22) even if He has deceived them (Ezek. 14:9).

 

So much love that He advised that it is acceptable to sell one’s daughter into slavery (Exod. 21:7-8).

 

So much love that He accepted the incineration of an innocent child as payment for fulfillment of a vow (Judg. 11:30-39).

So much love that He encouraged the practice of slavery (see above and Lev. 25:44-55; Deut. 15:12-18; Matt. 10:24; John 13:16 and 15:20; Eph. 6:5; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18; and Philem. 10-19).

So much lover that He promoted anti-Semitism through biblical language that called Jews “contrary to all men” (1 Thess. 2:15) and children of the devil (John 8:44).

So much love that He purposely creates wicked individuals whom He knows He will ultimately subject to the eternal torment of hell (Prov. 16:4 and Rom. 9:18-22).

So much love that He murdered all the firstborn Egyptian children (and cattle) to “soften” up the Pharaoh whose heart He had repeatedly “hardened”  (Exod. 12:29).

So much love that He purposely obscures His teachings in confusing parables (Matt. 13:10-11; Mark 4:10-12; and Luke 8:9-10), selectively withholds the “truth” from some individuals (Matt. 11:25-27 and Matt. 13:34-40), closes some peoples’ minds (Isa. 6:10 and John 12:39-40), makes them stubborn (Rom. 9:18), and deludes them into believing what is false (2 Thess. 2:11-12) in order to prevent them from being saved from the everlasting flames of Hades.

So much love that He arbitrarily pre-selected those who will be “saved” at the beginning of time.  Those not lucky enough to be on the approved list must endure the eternal flames of hell. (Eph. 1:4-7, 11, and 2:10; Rom. 8:28-30 and 9:23; Deut. 7:6; John 6:64 and15:16; 2 Thes. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:9; and Rev. 17:8). 

So much love that He….well, I could go on, but you get the idea.  God is lovey-dovey only so long as one ignores all those passages where He is the Lord of jealousy, vindictiveness, and hate.

 

10.  The Bible says God commanded that innocent children are to be punished (sometimes with death) for the sins committed by their fathers (Exod. 34:7 and 20:5; Isa. 14:21; 1 Sam 2:27-36; and 2 Sam 21:1-9).  How is that not unfairly condemning people?

 

11.  In other words, you better believe or God is going to fry your derriere.  Well, I can just as easily, and with equal justification, say that you had better believe in Santa Claus or he will give you a lump of coal this next Christmas.

 

12 Well then, I guess we are going to have to reprove God for the evil deeds He is said to have been responsible for in such verses as Isa. 45:7, 54:16; Lam. 3:37-38; Col. 1:16; Jer. 18:11; Amos 3:6; 1 Sam. 16:14; and Prov. 16:4, aren’t we?  Why should He be held to any lesser standards than we are?

 

13.  You are reading more into this verse than is justified by normal exegesis.  All it is saying is that, those who are doing good deeds, do them openly so that everyone can see that they are doing what God helps them to do and/or wants them to do.  You can belittle your own deeds as being selfish and tainted (as most self-deprecating Christians are wont to do) but that is not what this verse is about.

 

14.  As stated above, one cannot claim (using normal logic and accepted definitions) that Lucifer has been defeated if he is still running amok on a rampage against humanity.  Only the twisted logic of religious apologetics can pretend to make any sense out of that kind of specious word-play.  

In spite of the fact that certain Bible verses (e.g., Lam. 3:37-38, Jer. 18:11, Amos. 3:6, and 1 Sam. 16:14) say that it is God, Himself, who is perpetrating disasters and evil, let’s ignore these verses (in the Christian tradition of ignoring verses they don’t like) and let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Lucifer actually exists and is the real culprit. The fundamental question then becomes, why did God permit Lucifer to exist in the first place?  In my opinion, if this Lucifer character 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 His current nemesis 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.

And, since God made the mistake of creating Lucifer, isn’t it now His responsibility to get rid of the diabolical bastard or lock him away somewhere where he cannot cause any further harm?  If God is omnipotent, as the Bible claims, it should be a simple task for Him to simply vaporize His fallen angel or fabricate a Devil-proof enclosure in which to imprison him.  A loving God would want to do all He can to protect His subjects from such an individual, would He not?  Well, what the hell is He waiting for?  How many more people have to suffer and die from the Devil’s actions before God gets off His majestic butt and does something about it?

If a father stands by twiddling his thumbs while some psychopath sprays the father’s child with a fire hose drowning the child, do you think the father should be considered a candidate for the Loving Father of the Year Award (especially if the father had the power to easily subdue the psychopath)?   If not, why do you keep harping on how loving God is when He stands idly by while Lucifer drowns many thousands of people in such things a tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes?   By His failure to take action against the Devil, God comes across as an uncaring wimp.   Why, it’s almost as if He doesn’t exist at all, wink, wink.

The following paragraph effectively summarizes this whole issue in a nutshell.  Unfortunately, I have lost track of the author.

What are we to think of this creator? Let's talk about the natural disasters, disease, birth defects and other "non-free-will" caused suffering. What was this creator thinking to create such a calamity-laden environment?  Sure, humans can "find" beauty, especially well-to-do people that live in cozy suburban houses.  But what of the millions of people starving and/or dying of disease?  Is the world beautiful for them?  Did the creator give a second thought to their fate? (Author unknown)

 

In my initial response in this exchange, I stated, “I have never heard a reasonable explanation why a supposed loving and compassionate God would purposely wreak such seemingly randomized havoc on the objects of His creation – other than He is punishing them for some sin or another. “   As is the case with other Christian apologists, your efforts are equally ineffectual in this regard.

Who am I?  Jack DeBaun

Why am I here?   Because my parents had sexual intercourse.

Where am I going?  To a birthday party later this evening.  Eventually I will die and decompose into the elements from which I am constructed.  Who knows, some day those elements may become a constituent of star dust and ultimately constitute part of a new individual on some other world, just as some of the CO2 I exhale now is incorporated into some of the plants that grow in my garden.   But I don’t know for sure, and neither do you.  In the words of the eminent philosopher, Bertrand Russell, “The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. ... But so long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.”  Amen to that.  And, if I may be excused for doing a little Bible thumping myself, consider Eccles. 9:5, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”  It’s in the Book.

    

15.  Yes, false hopes often do have a way of making life more tolerable for those who find reality (most notably the finality of death) just too difficult to face head on.  Nonetheless, I cannot fool myself into believing that Bible stories represent the truth anymore than I can fool myself into believing that the Koran, the bhagawath gita, the Tripitaka, the Book of Mormon or any other so-called “holy” book represents the truth.   They all make the same types of unsubstantiated claims and they all proclaim that they are the only correct source of the Ultimate Truth.  Since they make mutually exclusive claims they cannot all be true.  And, since they are all based on the same type of wishful thinking, there is no reason to think that any of them are true.

I was raised in a family with a strong Christian influence.  My grandparents, on my father’s side, were fundamentalist Christians and lay preachers.  I regularly attended Sunday school (at the encouragement of my parents) in the various churches at which they preached.  But by the age of about nine or ten, I began to question some of the biblical teachings to which I had been exposed.  In particular, I remember looking at one of those felt board presentations showing humans frolicking with dinosaurs and thinking how it contradicted what I had learned from reading science books on the subject.  The more I read about science and started thinking critically, the more I came to the conclusion that the literal interpretation of such things as the stories about Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and resurrection just didn’t make sense in the light of the hard evidence.  The final straw, if there was one, occurred during high school when I bought a copy of Bertrand Russell’s "Why I am Not a Christian" at the local bookstore.  At that point, I realized that I was not the only person who had doubts and that respected philosophers had come to the same conclusions I had.  I was once told that my religious beliefs would be strengthened if I would carefully read the entire Bible.  I took that advice, and, as is often the case with those who read and study it objectively without the usual religious presuppositions, it had precisely the opposite effect.

In the intervening years, I have read extensively from the works of various authors who are both pro and con regarding the authenticity of the Bible.   I did not come to my current views frivolously or without considerable effort.  If I am wrong in my views, it is not because I haven’t given the Bible a fair shake.    

Concerning Christianity, I look at it this way - if there were no God and Christianity was a purely manmade religion, how would you expect it to originate and how would you expect it to be spread?  Under those circumstances, I would expect the religion to first emerge in a rather limited locality (where its originator(s) lived) and that it would be spread slowly by purely human means, i.e., word of mouth and pious writings disseminated by adherents of that religion.  That is exactly the situation that pertains in the case of the Christian religion.  It originated in a rather obscure part of the world and has been disseminated slowly by strictly human means ever since.  If, on the other hand, there really were a God-ordained religion, one would expect a competent God to introduce it simultaneously at many locations all over the globe.  And, it would be expected that such a God would miraculously dispense complete and unambiguous versions of His holy book all over the world at the same time.  And, last but not least, it would be expected that, in contrast to the Christian God who has been hiding in obscurity for at least the last 2,000 years, He would show up in person on a regular basis to remind people that He actually exists.  Christianity simply does not meet the simple test for divine authenticity as far as I am concerned.

And then there is the issue of the development of the Bible.  It didn’t appear fully-formed and fleshed-out as one would expect of a God-sanctioned holy book.  It evolved (pardon the expression) slowly and fitfully, as one would expect if it were a human invention.  Considering only the New Testament, what follows, is a fairly brief summary from "The Whole Bible Brief History of New Testament on the Internet.

The source texts:

Sifting through the scores of different English versions of the New Testament, one is poignantly reminded of how translation, particularly of archaic language, is subject to personal interpretation. It is therefore vitally important that we get as close to the original source as possible. The oldest surviving complete text of the New Testament is the Codex Sinaiticus, dating back to the middle of the fourth century. The oldest fragments, the Bodmer and Beatty Papyri and Papyrus 52, date back to the second century but only contain bits of the Gospel of John. All of these texts are Greek. This presents a few disturbing problems.

First, Jesus's native tongue was Aramaic, and even if he knew Greek, he certainly did not speak it to his apostles, many of whom were uneducated fishermen. Without any surviving Aramaic texts, the actual words of Christ are lost forever, mired in a sea of subjective translation by ancient scribes. Second, we are faced with a gap of as much as three hundred years between the composition of a text and our surviving copies. In a world without a printing press, texts would often undergo drastic evolution through centuries of handwritten duplication.

Origins of the canon:

Our four canonical gospels did not begin their lives as the gospels of "Matthew," "Mark," "Luke" and "John." Different groups of early Christians maintained their own oral traditions of Jesus' wisdom, as writing was a specialized skill and not every fellowship enjoyed the services of a scribe. When written accounts of Jesus' teachings began to circulate (i.e., the theoretical "sayings" gospel Q and the Semeia or Signs source), the independent groups would supplement them with their own traditions about the savior, each believing their own versions to be "the Gospel." Eventually, as these expanded writings spread through other communities, some versions were viewed as having more authority than others. It was not until the pronouncement of Bishop Irenæus (185 C.E.) that Christians began to accept only the four familiar gospels as authoritative, and to refer to them by their modern titles.

The rest of the canon was much slower to develop. For the next two centuries, the four gospels would be coupled with a myriad of different letters, epistles, stories and apocalypses, according to what a particular congregation judged as relevant to their understanding of Jesus Christ and his message. Catholicism was only one of the dozens of "denominations" within the early church—Gnosticism was prevalent throughout Egypt, Montanism in Asia Minor, Marcionism in Syria. Eventually, the Catholic church was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire, and all other systems of belief were branded as heresies. Following the Epistle of Athanasius in 367 C.E., the Church finally reached agreement upon which writings were truly authentic and representative of apostolic tradition, thus forming what we know today as the canonical New Testament. Although factions of the Church continued to debate the merits of various books for centuries, and many even used other writings in their liturgy, most uncanonical writings were ordered to be destroyed. In many cases, possession of heretical literature was punishable by death. We are extremely fortunate that many of these texts have survived the millennia, giving us insights into the development of various early Christian traditions.

 

What this shows is that compilation of the Bible was a tedious process that encompassed the participation of many traditions and political factions.  The earliest written commentaries in the New Testament (those from Paul) were not produced until some two decades after Jesus had died.  No one knows what any of the original writings actually said because they have long since disappeared.  All we have are copies of copies.  Because of its tortuous development over many centuries, there were ample opportunities for imaginative exposition, redaction, revision, deletion, and pious fraud to play a major role in its formation.   Anyone who thinks the Bible plopped down from heaven in final form soon after Jesus’ death (as some Christians seem to believe) has not bothered to do his/her homework. 

As a consequence of this ancient and convoluted history, it would be expected that the Bible would contain numerous scientific inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and contradictions.  And it does.  (Search for "A List of Bible Contradictions" on the Internet.  As an example, who was the father of Joseph, Jacob or Heli?)   If you insist that the Bible is contradiction free, then here is a little exercise for you:

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 means 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.

Good luck.

 

Regarding the so-called miracles reported in the Bible, it must be kept in mind that these accounts were written during very superstitious times when most people credulously accepted such claims without giving them a second thought.  Even if they were skeptical, people had no way of verifying miraculous claims, such as those mentioned in the Bible, that were first recorded decades after the incident was supposed to have occurred.  The application of the scientific method lay many centuries in the future.  There were no tape recorders, cameras, video cameras, or other devices to authenticate miraculous claims.  (Funny, isn’t it, how miraculous religious claims (resurrections, walking on water, feeding multitudes with meager amounts of food, resurrected dead walking the streets, the moon turning to blood, etc.) have tapered off to near nothing with the advent of modern methods of scientific documentation.)  Furthermore, although there were Roman historians actively writing at the time (such as Pliny the Elder) and shortly thereafter (such as Josephus), there are no extra-biblical reports that confirm that any of the Bible's miracles actually occurred.

Jesus was not the only “miracle worker” competing for people’s attention during the formative period of Christianity.  He had a number of competitors, most notable among them being Apollonius of Tyana (who reportedly healed the sick, raised the dead, and drove out devils).  Even the emperor Vespasian is reported to have performed numerous healing miracles.  (For more examples of first century “miracle workers” search for "Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels” on the Internet.)  “Miracle workers” were a dime a dozen during the first century.  Of course, there is not a shred of verifiable evidence that anyone of them actually ever performed any of the miracles attributed to them, including Jesus.

Do you believe that a disciple of Buddha actually walked on water as reported by many villagers who are claimed to have witnessed the event?  Do you believe the testimony that Krishna once danced on the head of a huge snake to save villagers from its wrath and stopped the sun to influence the outcome of a battle?  Do you believe “authenticated” testimony that the prophet Muhammad split the moon into two pieces, multiplied food and water, healed the blind with his saliva, had a conversation with a wolf, and rode with the angel Gabriel on a winged horse to Jerusalem, where from a large rock, they ascended to heaven and met with the great prophets of Abraham, Moses and Jesus?  Do you believe the accounts of eyewitnesses who claim to have seen an angel holding the golden plates that were purportedly presented to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni?  Do you believe the thousands of eyewitnesses who are reported to have seen the sun dance, change colors, and spin like a pinwheel during the “miracle of Fatima in 1917?  If you doubt the authenticity of any of these “miracles,” then perhaps you can understand why non-Christians are highly skeptical of similar claims made by the authors of the Bible.  

Of course Jesus had to be portrayed as a miracle worker.  During the times in which he lived, no one would have considered him a serious contender in the Mr. Messiah Pageant if it had not been claimed that he had performed them.  In the long run, Christianity had an advantage in that it had a masterful public relations agent, Paul of Tarsus, zealously promoting it.  Eventually, Constantine legalized the religion and Theodosius made it the official religion of the Roman Empire, declaring all other religions to be illegal.  The rest, as they say, is history.          

 

In the preceding paragraphs, I have presented some of the insights I have gained about the authenticity (or, better put, lack thereof) of the Bible.  If you choose to base your worldview on such a problematic collection of man-crafted texts, so be it.  But I would hope you would understand why those of us who have critically examined its claims and history of development in some detail do not share your enthusiasm for the candor of its authors.

 

Contrary to your assertion, my beliefs do not leave my life with an unexplained void.  They leave me with the satisfaction that I have critically examined the issues we have been discussing and that I have arrived at conclusions that are most compatible with the evidence. Just because a person does not believe in the supernatural does not mean that he/she cannot lead an enjoyable, productive, and fulfilling life.  Personal friendships, social commitments, and the sense of awe and emotional satisfaction derived from exposure to natural wonders, music, and the arts are not the exclusive property of god believers.  Furthermore, we nonbelievers have a clear advantage.  We do not have to constantly peer over our shoulders for fear that imaginary devils are sneaking up on us, nor do we have to fret about our “loving” god casting us into a perpetual fire pit of torment if we do not cower in subjection to his satisfaction.  Instead, we can concern ourselves with real issues that matter, such as improving the human condition by applying the methods of reason and science.  The only void that I am aware of in this context is the one that appears to exist between the ears of many religionists.

I will not dwell anywhere in eternity.  I will be dead, kaput, finished, and cease to exist.  I know it is extremely difficult for religionists, such as yourself, to come to grips with the finality of death.  It is this angst over death that is primary driving force behind virtually all the world religions.  Of course, no one (with very few exceptions) wants to die.  But just because we find some aspects of reality discomforting does not mean that we can simply concoct some idealized belief system and they will go away.   There is absolutely no scientifically substantiated evidence that anyone has ever survived complete death, and there is ample evidence that no living thing ever will (barring some amazing medical breakthrough in the future).   The solution to this conundrum is not to waste time dreaming about some post mortem, pie-in-the-sky, celestial paradise, but to live life as if it were the only one you have to live – which it is.  That includes getting down to the business of applying science and critical thought to solving our everyday problems, giving of ourselves to help the needy, and not forgetting to stop and smell the roses along the way.  Time is precious, make the best of it.

You correctly infer that our actions derive from our beliefs and attitudes.  However, you further insinuate that my actions are not entirely appropriate and that my beliefs and attitudes need to be altered to improve my behavior.   Specifically what aspects of my behavior do you find objectionable?  If it is my defense of critical thinking and the scientific method that does not meet your with your approval, I think a reasonable argument can be made that it is your beliefs and attitudes that need revamping, not mine.

Freethoughtfully,