Sunday, July 1, 2007

My Debate with a Pastor

I am currently engaged in a debate/discussion with a Pastor who hosts a radio call-in show. We have been sending e-mails back and forth. He also brought in one of his parishioners into the discussion. Their names have been changed. My posts (Infidel) will be in Blue, the pastor's (Saul) will be in Red, and the friend (Mike) will be in Orange. It should be noted, that throughout our entire correspondence, and the times that I've called into the radio show, I have been treated fairly and respectfully. I respect the right of each of these men to have their own opinion, even if I disagree with it. Feel free to comment on the dialogue.

[I'm missing my first e-mail and his response. He had encouraged me on his radio show to keep in touch via e-mail. So I did, and I said something to the effect that if he did not understand evolution, I would be glad to explain it to him the best I could. He asked me to explain why I believe in evolution. So I e-mailed him a lengthy e-mail regarding evolution and how it works. His response was that it 'all seemed too complicated to have happened by chance.' That brings us to present]

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(6/4/07)
Saul, Also, consider how many different things evolve. There are many, many examples but I'll just touch on 2 for now. Consider language. I'm sorry, but the tower of Babel is a myth. But look seriously at languages and how they're similar and how they're different. Interesting that oriental languages and similar to each other but different, and European languages are different but similar, etc. For instance, I speak some Spanish, and it's interesting how similar it and English are very similar in words. And how both are very similar to Greek and Latin. There aren't different languages because people built some ridiculous skyscraper, but because of geographical closeness, migration, and geographical isolation. Also- how do you explain the presence of different races? Black, White, Asian, Indian, American Indian, etc.? It's clear that we evolved from a common ancestor, and through migration in groups, became geographically separated from each group and evolved separately from each other somewhat. I'm not aware of a biblical explanation for different races- if there is one please let me know. But even if there is one, it is almost as surely a myth as the tower of babel and that the earth is flat ('and Satan took Jesus to the top of the mountain and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the Earth, saying all of this can be yours if you jump from the mountain and command the angels to catch you'), that the sun revolves around the Earth, and all of the other beliefs that ancient people seemed reasonable for believing at the time, because that is what their primitive evidence told them. As new evidence becomes available, we should feel free to modify old beliefs. Science does this all the time. The time has come to do so with creationism. The only evidence creationists have to support their beliefs is the Bible. Scientists have mountains of evidence in fields from astronomy, cosmology, mineralogy, biology, and many others that I don't even know about. One has to ask themselves- if every field of science agrees on one interpretation of the evidence, than does that not lend heavy credence to their proposition that evolution is real? I see it as no different from the belief that the Earth is flat (which people still believe today
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_Society ).

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(6/7/07)
Infidel, Regarding different races and some of the other questions you raise, let me know what you think of some of the answers given at
www.answersingenesis.com and www.allaboutgod.com.
Thanks, Saul


(Also 6/7/07)
I have read both your emails and I have to admit that to believe that the complex human body with a functioning brain and heart, etc. just evolved over billions of years from something simple to something this complex to me takes far more faith than to believe that a divine being created it all. Your view and mine both take faith. I simply see the evidence far more in favor or God than it all just happening. Just curious: for you what is the meaning of life? Saul .

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(6/7/07)
Saul, Again, I understand that you don't understand how complex things can evolve from complex things. But like I said, that is an argument from ignorance. Would you make the statement- "I don't believe the accepted theory of how quarks and neutrinos interact on the subatomic level. It just seems too complicated to me."? Why not? Because you probably don't know much of anything (like myself) about physics at the subatomic level. So you probably would rely on theoretical physicists who spend their life in the lab studying these things to give you this answer. If someone wants to have an opinion about something, shouldn't be an informed opinion? The same is true for evolution. You don't understand how it works, you don't want to learn how it works, and you don't want to look at the mountains of evidence that it is truth. You are content to say, "It just seems very complex."

Well, I would agree with you. Life is complex. The subatomic realm is complex. The universe is complex. The lay person simply can't make informed decisions about these things without studying them, or deferring to the experts. And when you have over 90% of the biologists in the world saying that all life descended from common ancestors, you have to ask yourself, "are all these people who are extensively educated in their field and have spent their lives studying biology wrong? Who is more likely to be wrong, the 90+% of the scientific community or the creationists who cling to their explanation for the obvious reason that discarding it would seriously injure their holy book? It seems obvious to me, as it should any rational thinking person. The biologists have nothing to gain by advocating evolution if all the evidence did not point to it. Tell me, what is to be gained by them lying to us about it?

I also take issue with your use of the word, 'Faith'. My position does not rely on faith at all. My position relies on evidence. If evidence were to surface that I were wrong, I would readily modify my position to be in accordance with the new findings. This is what science does. This is not, however, what you or religion do. You define what you believe according to a book, and set it forth as absolute truth without any evidence. You take this based on 'faith' because there is not any evidence to support it, so that is what you have to do. If you blindfold me and walk me down a hall, and up some stairs, then tell me to take a step forward, I'm taking you on faith that there will be ground beneath my foot when I step down. However if I turn on a light on and off 10 times in a row using the switch, I don't use faith to determine whether it will turn on the 11th time it happened. That is using evidence. There is a big difference. I don't have to take evolution on faith, because there are mountains of evidence to support it. I've read some of it, have you?

Even if there were no fossil record, the DNA evidence is so strong that it is undeniable. For example, the head of the Human Genome Project (I forget his name) is an evangelical Christian, and even he says that one cannot deny common ancestry, the DNA evidence is just too strong.

By the way, the answersingenesis site is so full of scientific falsehoods that I'm not sure where to start. If you want me to refute anything they say, please let me know which points you want clarified, and I should be easily able to do so. For instance, their explanation of races is pathetic. Nowhere in the story of babel does it say races (or anything like that) were changed. It says they were scattered. Very different. And even so, accepting that races diverged over a few generations, as they claim, how did they change? The only accepted method for this change is evolution- the change in gene frequencies over time. So their whole argument only serves to back up evolution. I'm sorry Saul, but there is no good science here.

Why do you think we no longer believe the earth is flat, the center of the universe, and that the sun revolves around the earth? The bible states these things as facts, and it is wrong. Only after science has proven that these things aren't so have we backed away from saying that they are fact. The church used to jail and kill people who opposed these ideas because they contradicted the Bible, they don't do this anymore with these ideas because they have been so thoroughly proven that it would be ridiculous. The day will come when the same is true for evolution, and it will come within your lifetime. And creationists will be relegated to the sidelines along with the 'flat-earthers.' Would you be kind enough to answer a few questions for me, Saul?

1. How old to you believe the Earth to be?

2. Do you believe in the literal 7-day creation.

3. How can you explain the 2 examples I sited (different proteins in fish for the same function, and the broken Vitamin C gene in Humans and Apes) using creationism?

4. Why would god give us (and apes) a broken Vitamin C gene? Surely the suffering of all the people who had scurvy would be considered unnecessary. Why would an omnipotent, benevolent god do this?

5. How do you rectify the morality of the Jeptha story (he has god bless him in battle (not unlike terrorists), and agrees to kill his daughter in exchange for this blessing, and god allows it.) or the Sampson story(God endows Sampson with the power greater than any suicide bomber by bringing down a building, and killing thousands- some of which must have been innocent)

I could ask more, and make more points, but I'm running out of time. As for your question, "for you what is the meaning of life?", I would could answer that a couple of ways. For me, personally, I would say I derive my morality from a humanistic perspective. I feel that what is good for humanity, is good to do. The 'golden rule,' as it were. If I offend someone, I seek their forgiveness, not the forgiveness of a third party (god). But that is morality, not really the 'meaning of life.' So the only way I can define meaning of life is at a biological level, and is the same 'meaning' that all biological organisms have- to survive and to reproduce. This may seem empty to you, but biologically that is what we all have in common- to live and to pass on our genes. It is what every living thing fights to achieve all the way down to bacteria. I hope that answers your question. When you have a chance, please answer mine to the best of your ability. Regards, Infidel

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(6/7/07)

Some of the world's greatest physicists and not a few evolutionary biologists remain deists. This is simply because they follow the evidence. While I do not share all views expressed here, Michael Behe's new book is fantastic: http://www.amazon.com/Uncommon-Dissent-Intellectuals-Darwinism-Unconvincing/dp/1932236317

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(6/22/07)Saul,I haven't heard a response to my questions that I posed earlier. When you get a chance, please respond.1. How old to you believe the Earth to be?2. Do you believe in the literal 7-day creation.3. How can you explain the 2 examples I sited (different proteins in fish for the same function, and the broken Vitamin C gene in Humans and Apes)using creationism?4. Why would god give us (and apes) a broken Vitamin C gene? Surely the suffering of all the people who had scurvy would be considered unnecessary. Why would an omnipotent, benevolent god do this?5. How do you rectify the morality of the Jeptha story (he has god bless him in battle (not unlike terrorists), and agrees to kill his daughter in exchange for this blessing, and god allows it.) or the Sampson story (God endows Sampson with the power greater than any suicide bomber by bringing down a building, and killing thousands- some of which must have been innocent)Hope all is going well with you,Infidel

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(6/22/07)Infidel,Sorry for the delay. I am still catching up after being in Indonesia for 2 weeks. I will try to respond next week.Blessings,Saul

(6/24/07)Infidel,I want to encourage you to check out www.answersingenesis.com and then click on "answers". I would like to hear what you think of some of their answers. This is a Christian Scientist website that addresses issues of creationism from a biblical and scientic standpoint. I am not scientifically trained but I do respect the integrity of this ministry. It is led by Ken Ham, whom we brought to LX 2 years ago and over 1000 came to hear him speak.I will still get to your questions later.Saul

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(6/25/07)

Saul, Here is a blog that you may find interesting from:

http://www.myspace.com/xrichardx http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=971447&blogID=253465168&MyToken=57906ffd-4b02-4ea6-ad 55-aa07721cc7d0

I pasted the text below, in case the link does not work. I found it pretty interesting, and it raises some interesting points, if we want to stray from science a little bit. A Dozen Arguments for Atheism (I did not post this article on the board because it's really long, you can check out his blog if you're interested)

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(6/27/07)

See my responses below. It is late on Tues. and I leave early tomorrow for a 3 day conference, but I felt I owe you some response. Sorry so late.Saul

-----Original Message----- Sent: Friday, June 22, 2007 11:53 AMTo: Saul Subject: Questions

Saul,I haven't heard a response to my questions that I posed earlier. When you get a chance, please respond.1. How old to you believe the Earth to be?

I don't know for sure but I lean toward the "young earth" side of creationism. It doesn't really matter to me. What is important is that God did it.

2. Do you believe in the literal 7-day creation?

Absolutely, but I also believe God created many things to be mature, so even though he spoke it into existence in a moment, once created it could have looked to be many years old (i.e. mature tree vs. a sapling).

3. How can you explain the 2 examples I sited (different proteins in fish for the same function, and the broken Vitamin C gene in Humans and Apes)using creationism?

I am not scientifically trained so this one I cannot address. I am confident that www.answersingenesis.org could answer that one well.

4. Why would god give us (and apes) a broken Vitamin C gene? Surely the suffering of all the people who had scurvy would be considered unnecessary. Why would an omnipotent, benevolent god do this?

The bible says that once sin entered the picture in Gen. 3, all of creation suffered and this is why we have diseases and other odd things.

5. How do you rectify the morality of the Jeptha story (he has god bless him in battle (not unlike terrorists), and agrees to kill his daughter in exchange for this blessing, and god allows it.) or the Sampson story(God endows Sampson with the power greater than any suicide bomber by bringing down a building, and killing thousands- some of which must have been innocent)

Jephtha was totally in the wrong to do what he did. Just because God allowed it does not imply that He was blessing it.

Where do you get this idea about the "innocent"? None of us are innocent before a holy God. We deserve judgment and if get anything else it is only by grace. The Philistines are always described as a very sinful nation. PHILISTINES - The Philistines were intensely religious. They celebrated their victories in the "house of their idols" (1 Sam 31:9). They often carried their idol gods into battle (2 Sam 5:21). Dagon (Heb. dagon), a diminutive of dag, "fish," was a grain deity who was represented withthe hands and face of a man and the tail of a fish (1 Sam 5:4). To his temple the captive Ark was carried (5:2), and to him they offered thanksgiving when they had taken Samson (Judg 16:23-24). They also worshiped Ashtaroth (1 Sam 31:10). This is the ancient Assyrian goddess of propagation, Ishtar. At Ekron there was a sanctuary to Baal-zebub,"lord of habitation," who was sufficiently well known as the "god of Ekron" to attract the patronage of Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:2-3). His name inGreek became Beelzebub, "the ruler of the demons" (Matt 12:24). (from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by MoodyPress of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

This is my quick response. Let's keep talking,Saul

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(6/27/07)

Infidel,Here are some thoughts from a man in our church after I sent him some of the stuff you sent me. Saul

Feel free to send along whatever you like. Also, so not feel like you have to keep me in the loop.

An important point: Infidel invokes Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project as an example. I do not think he really knows who Collins is. He would be very interested in this article at Salon.com - and you would too! Salon is a source that Infidel would probably respect.

Collins speaks of how C.S. Lewis was influential in his conversion, and how his faith sustained him when his daughter was raped at knifepoint. He speaks of his journey from atheism to Christianity. Pretty powerful testimony. It is a very exciting interview by a non-Christian news source! You may have to click through the sponsor link to get to the full four-page story.

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/08/07/collins/

From the interview with Collins:

Well, I have to ask you about a couple of the best known miracles in the Bible. Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?

I do.

And the Resurrection? Do you believe that what was resurrected was the physical body of Jesus?

Physical body? We should be careful in terms of exactly what you mean by that. Does that mean the cellular structure was exactly the same as it was when he was alive? I don't know. But I believe that he was resurrected in physical form and seen by witnesses whom he spoke to before he then ascended. That is the absolute cornerstone of the Christian faith.

But how can you as a scientist accept some of these ideas in the Bible that cut so directly against the laws of nature?

I have no trouble at all. Again, the big decision is, do you believe in God? If you believe in God, and if God is more than nature, then there's no reason that God could not stage an invasion into the natural world, which -- to our limited perspective -- would appear to be a miracle.

Infidel takes some shots at AIG. Some of them may be fair, and some not fair. He is vague.

I find AIG to be a mixed bag at times - for scientific reasons but also for different reasons than Infidel states. One statement that Ken Ham made when at First Free still comes to mind - that a correct understanding for Genesis 1-11 is needed in order to do a proper Scriptural exegesis. This really got my attention. (One can check the recording to verify.) It makes all Biblical exegesis dependent on how one interprets that portion of scripture. That is really quite different than how I learned to do exegetics. Ken's statement however is perfectly in keeping with their view of how Scripture should be interpreted and how Scripture and science relate. AIG is consistent within its own system.

The discussion of quarks, leptons and subatomic particles is interesting - but Infidel does not go far enough. He is approaching discussions about quantum physics - and like me, he is no expert. However, there are many experts who view quantum physics, string theory and other recent discoveries as providing great support for the Judeo-Christian world view, and no comfort for the materialist. These are folks like Stephen Barr, who are actively doing research in very specialized areas on the frontiers of physics.

The claim about 90% of biologists seems like a figure pulled out of thin air. I am always interested in where those figures come from.

I think that Infidel would find reading this book by Collins to be a real eye opener. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0743286391?tag=saloncom08-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0743286391 &adid=0TAPG0H1XF18VFKJG7DM&

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(6/27/07)

Saul, Thanks for your responses. I must say that I'm a little flattered that you felt the need to bring in 'back up.' Welcome 'areopagate' to the discussion, and I'll try to remember to keep you in the loop. I welcome the chance to expose someone else to freethought and rational thinking (please don't take offense to that term, I use it in the sense that rational thought is based on reason, as opposed to faith).

I will post my comments in color below. Now to respond to Mike first:

>An important point: Infidel invokes Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project as an example. I do not think he really knows who Collins is.

You are right in that I did not know who he was (I only heard his name come up on a podcast from the Atheist Experience), aside from the fact that he believes in evolution, and really that was the only point that I was making. That an overwhelming number of scientists accept evolution as fact. And I wanted to point out a fellow evangelical who was one of them. Thanks for the article, it was interesting. Unfortunately, I think he makes my points better than yours. Take a read-

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/08/07/collins/index1.html

The shelves of many evangelicals are full of books that point out the flaws in evolution, discuss it only as a theory, and almost imply that there's a conspiracy here to avoid the fact that evolution is actually flawed. All of those books, unfortunately, are based upon conclusions that no reasonable biologist would now accept. Evolution is about as solid a theory as one will ever see....

you cannot claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old unless you're ready to reject all of the fundamental findings of geology, cosmology, physics, chemistry and biology. You really have to throw out all of the sciences in order to draw that conclusion.

[Questioned about irreducible complexity] It's a very interesting argument, but I fear there's a flaw. The intelligent design argument presumes that these complicated, multi-component systems -- the most widely described one is the bacterial flagellum, a little outboard motor that allows bacteria to zip around in a liquid solution -- that you couldn't get there unless you could simultaneously evolve about 30 different proteins. And until you had all 30 together, you would gain no advantage. The problem is it makes an assumption that's turning out to be wrong. All of those multi-component machines, including the flagellum, do not come forth out of nothingness. They come forth very gradually by the recruitment of one component that does one fairly modest thing. And then another component that was doing something else gets recruited in and causes a slightly different kind of function. And over the course of long periods of time, one can in fact come up with very plausible models to develop these molecular machines solely through the process of evolution as Darwin envisaged it. So intelligent design is already showing serious cracks. It is not subject to actual scientific testing.

First of all, we have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. fifteen billion years ago....

[On Stem Cell Research] On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of such embryos in freezers at in vitro fertilization clinics. In the process of in vitro fertilization, you almost invariably end up with more embryos than you can reimplant safely. The plausibility of those ever being reimplanted in the future -- more than a few of them -- is extremely low. Is it more ethical to leave them in those freezers forever or throw them away? Or is it more ethical to come up with some sort of use for those embryos that could help people? I think that's not been widely discussed.

So basically he says that one would have to be completely ignorant off almost all pertinent scientific evidence if one was to believe in Creationism. In order to accept what all branches of science independently confirm, one has to throw out almost all of of Genesis- No Adam and Eve, no original sin, no Cain and Able, no 7 day creation, no 10,000 year old Earth (that's not in Genesis, I guess), etc. There's probably more ramifications to this, but these are adequate to make my point. If he is correct, as the scientific community believes he is, then the Bible in not inerrant. If the Bible is not inerrant, then we must use our own judgment, history, common sense, and the author motivation to decide which parts are true and which are not. If the bible is not infallible, I don't see how it can be the 'divine word of God.'

His 'personal testimonial' is, as are all personal testimonials, irrelevant, unconvincing and an unreliable method to arrive at the truth. I will e-mail the article to 'areopagate' that I sent to you, Saul, that gives points as to why atheism is a more reasonable perspective than theism. One of his points is something like 'the uniform religious experience.' Simply stated, he observes that while Collins may have had intense and meaningful experiences that he attributes to Yaweh, there are millions of people all around the world who attest to equally valid and powerful experiences from their own personal gods (Allah, Hindu gods, Buddhist enlightenment, etc). Now, since all of these different religions can't be true, it is the most reasonable position (in the absence of any tangible evidence) to conclude that these people share these experiences as part of being human, and as a biological function of the way the human nervous system works, not derived from a supernatural being. Otherwise how do you rectify the similar experiences from all these different people worshipping different gods?

>Infidel takes some shots at AIG. Some of them may be fair, and some not fair. He is vague.

Please tell me where I'm unfair or vague.

>I find AIG to be a mixed bag at times - for scientific reasons but also for different reasons than Infidel states. One statement that Ken Ham made still comes to mind - that a correct understanding for Genesis 1-11 is needed in order to do a proper Scriptural exegesis. This really got my attention. (One can check the >recording to verify.) It makes all Biblical exegesis dependent on how one interprets that portion of scripture. That is really quite different than how I learned to do exegetics. Ken's statement however is perfectly in keeping with their view of how Scripture should be interpreted and how Scripture and science relate. AIG is consistent within its own system.

This is where, Saul, Ken Ham shows himself to not be a 'real' scientist. He does not follow the scientific method at all. He has a science degree, which he uses to give his arguments clout, but from there he engages in wild flights of fancy that have no basis in fact or evidence. I'm sorry, but there is very little real science in the www.answersingenesis.com website, Saul. I know you respect this site, but after looking it over quite a bit, I can see that they very deliberately twist facts and evidence to suit their pre-determined conclusion. I encourage 'areopagate' to take a look. There are very few scientists out there in relevant fields that would say they agree with the majority of what this site proposes. The site shows it's true colors where is makes statements like, 'the bible is self-authenticating.' There is nothing scientific about this. No scientist would ever say anything is self-authenticating. Everything is up for independent testing, reproduction and confirmation from other scientific fields.

>The discussion of quarks, leptons and subatomic particles is interesting- but Infidel does not go far enough. He is approaching discussions about quantum physics - and like me, he is no expert. However, there are many experts who view quantum physics, string theory and other recent discoveries as providing great support for the Judeo-Christian world view, and no comfort for the materialist. These are folks like Stephen Barr, who are actively doing research in very specialized areas on the frontiers of physics.

My point about physics was not that EVERY scientist in the field is a non-theist, but you will find that the proportion of people educated in science leans much more in the non-religious direction than the general population. I have no doubt that you can find people active in the field, like Collins, who still manage to hold onto their dogma in spite of the mountains of evidence they are faced with. It is an amazing thing to watch the propensity for human denial even in the face of undeniable evidence. My problem was with Saul's use of the argument, 'Evolution just seems too complex to have happened by chance.' (aka- the argument from ignorance) I was making the point that many, many things seem complex until you study them intricately and come to an understanding of them. So just because you are ignorant of something (like neutrinos and quarks or evolution), does not negate the fact that it is true.

>The claim about 90% of biologists seems like a figure pulled out of thin air. I am always interested in where those figures come from.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science

"According to a 1996 survey, belief in a god that is "in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and belief in "personal immortality" are most popular among mathematicians and least popular among biologists. In total, about 60% of scientists in the United States expressed disbelief or doubt in such a god.[11] This compared with 58% in 1914 and 67% in 1933. Among leading scientists defined as members of the National Academy of Sciences, 72.2% expressed disbelief and 93% - disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal god in 1998.[12]"

There are several studies like this. It is non-disputed common knowledge. The majority of scientists disbelieve or doubt the existence of a personal god, and as you look at the most elite scientists or the Nobel laureates, the number gets closer and closer to 100%. I'm not saying that these peoples' lack of belief is alone adequate reason to disbelieve the existence of god, but it certainly doesn't hurt my case, and it puts me in good company.

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/sep/15/nobel_laureates_urge_rejection_intelligent_design/?breaking

Now on to Saul's responses-

1. How old to you believe the Earth to be? I don't know for sure but I lean toward the "young earth" side of creationism. It doesn't really matter to me. What is important is that God did it.

What does it mean that you 'lean toward young earth'? To me that means you're not sure. The Bible is very clear that the earth is ~10,000 years old, which is off by many magnitudes of what every area of science tells us (4.5 billion years). Better be careful, Saul, some doubt might slip in there....

2. Do you believe in the literal 7-day creation? Absolutely, but I also believe God created many things to be mature, so even though he spoke it into existence in a moment, once created it could have looked to be many years old (i.e. mature tree vs. a sapling).

I'm not sure how much of an intellectual conversation we can continue to have if you can so readily discard mountains of well-established scientific knowledge over a couple of paragraphs in an ancient text. You can actually believe that a supreme being created everything in 7 days roughly 10,000 years ago? On what do you base this besides the bible? Have you never even entertained the idea that the bible could possible be wrong on a couple of points? Especially since it has been wrong before (historical inaccuracies, the flat earth, heaven as a dome above the Earth, etc) The story of Genesis is pure folklore. If the Universe is only 10,000 years old, how come we can see stars that are billions of light-years away? Did god create the stars, then break the laws of physics in order to speed their light along toward earth, before fixing his laws again? It just seems too ridiculous to seriously entertain.

3. & 4. How can you explain the 2 examples I sited (different proteins in fish for the same function, and the broken Vitamin C gene in Humans and Apes) using creationism? I am not scientifically trained so this one I cannot address. I am confident that www.answersingenesis.org could answer that one well. The bible says that once sin entered the picture in Gen. 3, all of creation suffered and this is why we have diseases and other odd things.

I don't see any mention of Vitamin C at all on that site. I don't see how you can so easily dismiss such obviously strong evidence. Do you dismiss the validity of DNA evidence at murder trials? Say you had a certain sequence of DNA that you found at a crime scene, and your suspect had this same sequence, and no other human was found to share it, would you not conclude that he is the one who left the blood there? It is the same with humans and most apes. We share the same mutation, that the majority of the animal kingdom does not share, meaning that the mutation occurred in our short branch of the evolutionary tree. It is so clear, that one has to try very hard to not see the obvious truth. So would you have me believe that God inserted this gene into humans and apes as part of his punishment for original sin? What on earth did the apes do wrong?!? It's just a silly non-explanation.

5. How do you rectify the morality of the Jeptha story (he has god bless him in battle (not unlike terrorists), and agrees to kill his daughter in exchange for this blessing, and god allows it.) or the sampson story (God endows Sampson with the power greater than any suicide bomber by bringing down a building, and killing thousands- some of which must have been innocent) Jephtha was totally in the wrong to do what he did. Just because God allowed it does not imply that He was blessing it. Where do you get this idea about the "innocent"? None of us are innocent before a holy God. We deserve judgment and if get anything else it is only by grace. The Philistines are always described as a very sinful nation. PHILISTINES The Philistines were intensely religious....

The US can also be described a very sinful nation, as can every nation. About the worst thing I can see in your explanation of the Philistines is that they worshiped many gods. If that is so bad, than we were very justly attacked on 9/11. Our nation probably has more religions than any other, and we were attacked by people from a nation with one official religion (Islam). So by your reasoning, we are deserving of every terrorist attack that is coming? Seems to me to be the only logical completion of your arguement.

A movie that I watched recently, that may be of interest to you, is, 'The God Who Wasn't There.' It's short (50min), and not the best movie, but makes some good points. I think they could have put more in that they didn't, but oh well. The commentary tracks with Dawkins, etc are very good, though. The movie makes the case that Jesus may not have even existed. There is no extra-biblical record of Jesus at all, which is very strange during that time period. Also, almost all of the aspects attributed to Jesus, can be tracked to previous pagan savior gods- Osiris, Mithra, Dionysus, Krishna and others shared many of Jesus's attributes ( http://www.geocities.com/inquisitive79/godmen ) It is not a stretch to believe that Christianity was adapted from previous religions and spread by the sword initially until it got a strong foothold, and then spread naturally from there (predominately imposed on people by parents, society, or government).

Also, I've seen parts of 'Jesus Camp' that look very good, and I want to see the rest in the near future. I look forward to hearing from you guys in the near future.

Take care.Infidel

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(6/27/07)Saul,I've been thinking more about your comment about Jephtha:

>5. How do you rectify the morality of the Jeptha story (he has godbless>him in battle (not unlike terrorists), and agrees to kill his daughter in exchange for this blessing, and god allows it.) or the sampson story(God endows Sampson with the power greater than any suicide bomber by bringing down a building, and killing thousands- some of which must have been>innocent)Jephtha was totally in the wrong to do what he did. Just because God allowed it does not imply that He was blessing it.

I've been looking, and I can't find anywhere in the bible where it condemns Jephtha's actions. In fact, he's honored for them: Hebrews 11:32. God could have intervened in any number of ways, as he did with Abraham. Was he just too busy? The story says Jephtha was greatly victorious , implying that he had God with him in battle, so how do you derive that Jephtha was wrong in his action? Since you didn't have much luck with the morality on that one, here's another one for you to try:

2 Kings 2:23-24: "And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them"

Where's the morality in that? I think it's something like: offend the church leaders in any way, and risk a violent death, no matter how minor the infraction. How can you hold up the bible to be the authority of morality when it has garbage like this in it?

Or from the mouth of Jesus: Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. Mat 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it."

Or Leviticus 11, with it's long list of what is acceptable to eat and not. Or Leviticus 19- "Do not eat meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or soothsaying. Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor trim the edges of your beard. Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD." Worth note, this is the same book that condemns homosexuals. How is it that Christians can so easily ignore one part (shaving beards, eating oysters, getting tatoos, etc) and be so militant on another part of the same book?

I could go on and on, but I just don't have the time right now. I think there's plenty there for the both of you to chew on for a little while. Try to read these passages with open eyes and an open mind, and I think you will see them the way I do. The bible is no source of good morality.

http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/

http://www.bricktestament.com/

Take care, Infidel

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(6/28/07)Thanks for including me in the conversation. Some initial thoughts...

I cannot promise that my contributions would be regular or what might be regarded as substantive in all matters. However, they will be honest. I am too far along in this mortal road to care about toeing the line for the sake of doctrine alone or what some might regard as correct practice. Having said that, I do have a worldview that is anchored in what might broadly be reagarded as a conservative Judeo-Christian ethic. I should also state that this is simply an inadequate description.

I am quite sympathetic to ways that atheists have been categorized and in many cases unfairly demonized. As a Christian, I believe that I can identify with that. If I am unable to give what I think is a good response, I have no problem stating that.If I give what I think is a good response, but you do not, we may have some grounds for good engagement.

It might help to state at the outset that I believe the universe may well be 15+ billion years old. The problems I see with many of the main evolutionary paradigms are not problems raised solely by folks from the Judeo-Christian worldview. I also believe that most folks who have looked at and critiqued various intelligent design paradigms have either engaged a straw man or a distorted/incomplete/inadequate version id. We have seen Christians do the same to various evolutionary arguments. We have also seen evolutionists do this to one another's arguments, and creationists to this to each other's arguments! I look for something better in an engagement.

A great deal of my journey to and continuing in my walk as a Christian has to do with the source of the moral 'oughtness' we all instictively appeal to. I find evolutionary explanations for this quite lacking - both in fact and theory.

Finally, as a personal request, please do not distribute my email address beyond our conversation. I will do the same.Best regards,Mike

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(6/28/07)Mike,

"It might help to state at the outset that I believe the universe may well be 15+ billion years old. The problems I see with many of the main evolutionary paradigms are not problems raised solely by folks from the Judeo-Christian worldview. I also believe that most folks who have looked at and critiqued various intelligent design paradigms have either engaged a straw man or a distorted/incomplete/inadequate version id. We have seen Christians do the same to various evolutionary arguments. We have also seen evolutionists do this to one another's arguments, and creationists to this to each other's arguments! I look for something better in an engagement.

"So, do you mind telling me which explanation you accept as truth- evolution or ID? And if the answer is ID, what is your reasoning for accepting it over evolution?

"A great deal of my journey to and continuing in my walk as a Christian has to do with the source of the moral 'oughtness' we all instictively appeal to. I find evolutionary explanations for this quite lacking - both in fact and theory. "

I don't know if you've read any of Richard Dawkins' works or not, but I've only read the latest, "the God Delusion," which does a pretty good job of explaining the evolution of, "memes," and how morality has evolved with us as surely as our biological information. Also, aside from this, the 'oughtness' that we instictively feel, I think, is more than adequately explained by growing up in a society and being raised by parents who teach us what is right and wrong. This is evidenced by different sets of morality depending on what society you are in. Also, I have a young son, and he has no sense of 'oughtness' aside from what I have told him. He has no qualms about taking other kid's toys, until we take them back. Does not understand that pulling the cat's tail hurts her and that he should not do this. It is only after us telling him these things many times that he begins to develop a model for how he should act, and this is what we call conscience.Take care,Infidel

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(5/29/07)Which of the two do I accept as being truth? Are the strokes really as broad as that? ;-)

I am not prepared to defend or accept everything that has been proposed and called "ID" by various creationists, just as you are not prepared to defend or accept everything that has been labeled "evolution" by various evolutionists. There are differences in both camps - and mutually exclusive viewpoints among ID proponents - just like you have between proponents of evolution.

Not trying to be coy here - I just do not see it as being that simple in fact. We would probably have areas where we agree that certain natural processes were at work. I will follow on when I have more time with some thoughts about areas in some evolutionary thought that I find wanting.

I must tell you that I find Dawkins to be an excellent lecturer and writer. He is also a very clever person.I watched him lecture on CSPAN, reading portions of The God Delusion. (While I have not finished the book, I am familiar with Dawkin's thought and other writings.) His ability to paint a caricature of Christian belief (I will not address other faiths here) and then assign all manner of motives and outcomes to that belief is truly a masterwork of propaganda. ;-)

But don't take my word for it. Terry Eagleton's review in the London Review of Books says it better than I ever could. After reading the book, I would be interested in your thoughts about this review. Please understand that I am not trying to take an easy out by pointing you to Eagleton. This review has gotten so much play on the net that I am genuinely curious as to what you think about it. My thoughts: for someone who issues such scathing critiques of the Christian faith, Dawkins exhibits very little true understanding of it.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html

Best regards,Mike

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(7/3/07)Some thoughts on Jephtha:

A major theme of the book of Judges is stated over and over again throughout the book: in spite of humanity's tendency to turn away from God, and create all kinds of mischief, people can still be redeemed.

This book is a record of just how bad things can get. No where do we see God's approval for the specific nasty actions found therein. Jephthah is a prime example of this. (I would encourage a reading of the whole book to put this set of events in context - and see exactly how bad the times were. In my estimation, while Jepthah is really bad, he is perhaps not the worst on record.)

The fact that Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews tells me that the writer is indicating that his was a life that had admirable components, in spite of the idiotic vow he made and the despicable actions that followed on later. Every original reader of the Book of Hebrews knew the whole story - and historic records of that time tell us that the Jewish and early Christian communities did not approve of Jepthah's vow and actions. Nevertheless, there was a time in Jepthah's life when things did go well. That is what the writer of Hebrews is pointing us to - not the vow and murder of his daughter.

I believe that this is a reasonable and responsible reading of the text. Still, this is typically a jumping off point to a deeper and important discussion about the problem of evil. Namely: How can an O-3 God (omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent), who by definition knows the future , give Jepthah the victory, knowning the nature of the vow that was made, and the future outcome?

More to come...Mike

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(7/3/07)Good word, Mike.

There is no doubt that Jephthah made a “rash vow”. It is amazing that God uses imperfect vessels, just like today with us!

Infidel, A few comments on the biblical stuff:

1. Hebr. 11:32 does affirm Jephthah for his courage in battle but it doesn’t affirm him for his actions regarding his daughter. Don’t make the bible say more than it does. Jephthah made a rash vow. However, this story does show how serious he took his vow to God.

2. Regarding 2 Kings 2:23-24 be careful my friend. This passage shows how serious it is to sin and to not fear the Lord or His chosen servants. It is not that much different than what we see in Acts 3 when Ananias and Saphira are stricken dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. God is holy and does judge sin very seriously. We get glimpses into His awesome holiness in passages such as these. We see how serious sin is before a holy and perfect God. However, we also see how awesome His grace is in carrying out His holy judgment on His holy Son at the cross for us, so that now we live in an age of grace and forgiveness. At the same time, His coming judgment will come again, so this period of grace now is a time to repent and turn to Him so that we are recipients of grace, lest later if we wait too long we will face the same judgment that we see in passages such as 2 Kings 22.

3. Luke 19:27 again just shows us the holiness and judgment of God, which is very real. When we understand God’s holiness and from that understand our sinfulness, then and only then can we appreciate how much we deserve judgment and how much it is by grace that we receive anything good.

4. Regarding Mt. 10:34 be sure to read this in context. Jesus is talking about how at certain times when we are totally committed to Him, it will involved conflict and hardship with others, even our closest family members. A follower of Christ will not have much in common with the world and its values, therefore, at times there will not be peace but rather conflict. He doesn’t mean the sword in the sense that Christians should kill others, but simply that when one is a fully devoted follower of Christ they can expect hardship and persecution from others.

5. Regarding Leviticus and certain laws: I can understand how at first reading it appears that Christians pick and chose what things from the Old Testament they obey, but it is important to understand that the New Testament clearly teaches that the moral laws still apply to us but the ceremonial laws do not because Christ brought a new covenant (Hebrews talks about this a lot) and the dietary laws do not apply any more because of what we see in Peter’s vision in Acts when “all foods were declared clean.” We would obviously be healthier today if we did obey many of those dietary laws but it is not required. The law in the Old Testament was a foretelling of what Christ would bring. Now that the new covenant has come the old covenant is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The book of Galatians also teaches that the law was given to be that which led us to Christ for grace because through the law we see how far short we come to God’s holiness.

Hope this helps. It is late. I need to get to bed,Saul

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(07/03/07)Infidel,

I will respond to a few things you mention below:

1. Why is it so hard to imagine that God put the stars and planets where they are in one moment such that they are millions of light years away and yet in the very moment He did this their light could be seen on earth? If there is a God who created the world as Genesis describes, this is very possible. So they are millions of light years away and it would appear to our rational mind (which is extremely limited in its understanding) that they “must have” begun to exist millions if not billions of years ago and yet they were created and set in motion 10,000 years ago. I don’t see why this is so hard to imagine and I certainly don’t see how this in any way violates science.

2. In regards to right and wrong and conscience, your son has 2 things going on. He is born sinful (as we all are) and thus will naturally tend toward selfishness, but he also has an inner sense of right and wrong deeper than what you teach him, and this is put into him by his Creator. Speaking of teaching him right and wrong, since you don’t believe in God, how are you going about teaching him right from wrong? If we all just evolved from nothing and life really has no eternal meaning, then why not just do whatever one wants to do and do whatever will help one be the “fittest who survive”? I am not at all suggesting that atheists are immoral (we have talked about this before) but I am curious how an atheist approaches the whole moral issue and where an atheist gets his sense of morality. Help me understand here.

3. Does it ever trouble you about life after death? What do you think happens to us after death?

4. You mention that there is no evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible. This is not true. Josephus, a very reputable Jewish historian, mentions Jesus as a person and that He did good deeds, etc. Are you not familiar with Josephus’s mention of Jesus? Also, how do you explain the incredible changed life and martyr’s death of Jesus’ followers? Something major must have happened to cause these timid, weak, cowardly young men (before Christ’s death) to travel and preach and die a martyr’s death (after the resurrection). Not to mention the many 1st and 2nd century Christians who courageously died for their faith in Jesus.

More later. Blessed 4th of July,Saul

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(7/4/07)Saul,Thanks for your reply.

I still have to say that I'm not convinced of the morality of any of the stories that I mentioned, and how you can say that the bible is a source for morality when it has these very obviously immoral actions done by god and his chosen followers. How can you say that Jephtha was wrong for killing his daughter? The bible seems to condone it, without outwardly coming out and saying so explicitly. Not only does it honor him Hebrews (would it be too much for god to say- "Jephtha's life was good, even though he sacrificed his daughter to me, which I didn't like very much, even though I did nothing to tell him otherwise"), but the same sort of thing happened with Abraham, except God intervened at the last second there. Please give me a good reason why a moral god would not have intervened with Jephtha when he did with Abraham. Why not at least send the Holy Spirit to stop Jephtha at the last second to tell all of us readers that he did not approve? How many family members have been killed throughout the ages following Jephtha's example? I would bet many. He was, after all, very successful in battle with God's help, and without condemning the deal, God hardly gives reason to doubt it as a good way to get His help.

On the story of Elijah and the 2 bears, I just can't fathom how you can maintain any measure of morality of this fable. Let's say you read a story of Pat Robinson out walking a couple of his pet rotweilers when a group of 'little children' said, "go up bald man, go up" (even though he's not bald). Then good 'ol Pat sets his dogs upon these 'little children', who then tear them to shreds, rendering them unrecognizable even to their own parents. If you read this story in the newspaper, would you say to yourself, this "shows how serious it is to sin and to not fear the Lord or His chosen servants."? That is very frightening to me to think that there are people who would think that to themselves about such an obvious immoral action against some children whose worst crime is a mild insult. This goes for ANY children, speaking ANY insult, against ANY person. Death is not a moral consequence for this infraction- Period.

And regarding Leviticus, “the New Testament clearly teaches that the moral laws still apply to us but the ceremonial laws do not because Christ brought a new covenant (Hebrews talks about this a lot) and the dietary laws do not apply any more because of what we see in Peter’s vision in Acts when “all foods were declared clean.”

So how do you differentiate between what is current and outdated law? How do you say that trimming the beard and getting tattoos is okay, but having sex with your same gender is not? If Christ brought the new covenant which replaces the old one, did he also condemn Homosexuality? I don't believe he did. He did, however, preach plenty about not judging others and loving others more than oneself.

Now on to some of your questions in the other e-mail-

1. "Why is it so hard to imagine that God put the stars and planets where they are in one moment such that they are millions of light years away and yet in the very moment He did this their light could be seen on earth? ... I certainly don’t see how this in any way violates science."

Granted, if there is an omnipotent god, then he could do anything, including breaking the laws of physics. My point is that there is no evidence to suggest that any law of physics has EVER been broken. Please point one out to me if you know of one. And besides, what point would God have of doing this? What we do know is that light travels at a constant speed. We also have a fairly good estimate on how big the universe is. In order to see the stars that we can see, the light would have to have been traveling for billions of years to get here. In fact, as we develop better and better telescopes, we are effectively looking back in time billions of years, and scientists have actually witnessed the forming of solar systems. So, yes, the 10,000 year old universe does in fact violate science. It violates just about every field of science there is. Your own Francis Collins states as much. I'm not sure that there's any way that I could convince you of this until you make the choice to separate yourself from your beliefs for a moment and objectively look at the volumes of evidence.

Like the link I sent earlier (http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=971447&blogID=253465168&MyToken=57906ffd-4b02-4ea6-ad 55-aa07721cc7d0 ) stated, it is surprising that there is not more evidence that God exists. It is as if he is purposely trying to hide himself from us, which seems counterintuitive if we say that he wants us to 'know' him.

2. In regards to right and wrong and conscience, your son has 2 things going on. He is born sinful (as we all are) and thus will naturally tend toward selfishness, but he also has an inner sense of right and wrong deeper than what you teach him, and this is put into him by his Creator.

It seems that you distinguish two different things going on with children- that which is her inner sense of right/wrong, and that which we as parents and society instill in her. How do you differentiate between the two? Please identify for me an 'innate morality' that comes from the 'Creator', and not from parents or society. I contend that there is no such thing. Children are a blank slate when they come into the world. If you were to take a child (and it has been done, unfortunately) and separate her from society and any sort of outward instilling of morality, you would expect to see this 'innate morality' instilled by the creator, would you not? What has been seen, in actuality, is that these children become animalistic, and have very little sense of morality. Also- if you would tape a young child's eyes shut he would become blind, and ears shut he would become deaf. The early brain of a child takes in the world around him and builds models for the way the world works. He learns that if you pull the cat's tail he may get bitten, and that if you take another child's toy, he may get mad and hit you. These things are learned, not given, and every scrap of scientific evidence indicates that. Why is it that morality differs so much between different cultures? If we were endowed with innate morality from a 'Creator', would it not be universal? Wouldn't 'crimes' like adultery, stealing, homosexuality, slavery (with biblical support, by the way), etc be universally shunned in all societies? We do not see this in reality. One has to only look at various tribal groups around the globe to see drastically different moral codes that function well within those groups.

Speaking of teaching him right and wrong, since you don’t believe in God, how are you going about teaching him right from wrong? If we all just evolved from nothing and life really has no eternal meaning, then why not just do whatever one wants to do and do whatever will help one be the “fittest who survive”? I am not at all suggesting that atheists are immoral (we have talked about this before) but I am curious how an atheist approaches the whole moral issue and where an atheist gets his sense of morality. Help me understand here.

I get my morality from the same place that you do, Saul. We both got them from our parents and from society. It is something that our young minds readily picked up while absorbing the world around us just like we picked up language, etiquite, etc. I know that you, like most Christians, profess to get your morality from the bible, but you don't. As I've explored, the bible is so full of immorality that there is no way to hold it up as any source of good morality, unless you do some serious sorting of some verses away from other verses. You may be able to look at the fable of the 2 bears and say this is a moral action from a holy god, whereas I can call a duck a duck and say that killing children for an insult is morally wrong. I suspect that at your core, you agree with me on that point. However you have to concoct your explanation around a vengeful holy god in order to maintain your belief that this book is the ultimate source for morality, which in turn allows you to gloss over this story without seriously considering the true morality of it. If you want to hold your bible up as a source of morality, then you must take your disobedient children and stone them to death- Deut 21:18, Exod 21:15, Prov 30:17, Psalm 137:9

I will teach my child morality as we all learned it. The 'Golden Rule' is important (and Christianity does not have a lock on this, either. All major world religions have some version of it.). Beyond that, you don't need much else. It is an entirely secular idea that permeates society. Even doctors have a similar creed, "do no harm." Society has taught us that we can't just 'do whatever we want.' Actions have consequences. I can't just take your car, because I may get arrested, and it would not be something that I would want someone to do to me. This morality evolved with society, in a non-biological way that all things evolve (eg language, art, etc). Early on, we existed in much smaller villages than the cities we know now. In villages like this, you couldn't behave immorally, because it would hurt your chance for survival, so the villages that displayed morality were more likely to survive and pass that trait on to their kin. If you went around killing people and stealing, you would likely be cast out, and would not survive long on your own. By the way, humans don't have a lock on morality either, as I'm sure you believe. It does not take much research to see primitive types of morality in the broader animal kingdom. Wolf packs will ostracize members of the pack for transgressions. Female bears will protect their cubs. Many animals pick a life mate, and will mourn their loss. It's plain as day once one opens ones eyes to it.

Being a Christian does not give any real morality. In fact, it can do quite the opposite. As an atheist, I am accountable to my fellow inhabitants of this earth when I do something wrong. If I hurt someone, it is incumbent on me to make amends to that person. There is no 'pray for forgiveness' for atheists. We have to actually fix the problems we make. However, the Christian has a built in easy out. He can live as sinful of a life as he wants, murder children, rape women, steal from the poor, and be an all around nasty guy. The gates of heaven are still open to him as long as he seeks forgiveness from God on his death bed. As long as he accepts Christ's sacrifice for his sins, and accepts him as his lord and savior, he is forgiven. So saith the Christian.

Also- Christians: 75% of the US population, 75% of the prison population.Atheists: 10% if the US population, 0.2% of the prison population.I rest my case on morality.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdVucvo-kDU

3. Does it ever trouble you about life after death? What do you think happens to us after death?

I'm not completely sure what happens to me after I die, but I have no good reason to believe that I will continue to exist in any way. I did not exist for billions of years before I was born, and I expect it will be the same after I die. Does this trouble me? No. There was a study that I heard about that said religious people are both the most afraid and the least afraid of death, with atheists somewhere in between. The deeply religious don't fear death because they have convinced themselves that they will have eternal life. The moderately or less religious people are most afraid of death because they fear the eternal torture that their dogma preaches. Atheists tend to only moderately fear death- this is because while we don't want the only life we will have to end, we also do not fear eternal torture. As Einstein said, "An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls." Would I like to believe that I would continue to exist in paradise forever? Absolutely. However, I don't believe in things without good reasons. And simply wanting something to be true does not make it so. The phrase, "If it seems too good to be true, than it probably is." comes to mind.

4. You mention that there is no evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible. This is not true. Josephus, a very reputable Jewish historian, mentions Jesus as a person and that He did good deeds, etc. Are you not familiar with Josephus’s mention of Jesus?

I am familiar with Josephus' mention of Jesus. I am also aware that it is pretty commonly held that these accounts are fraught with forgeries. Of course there were many people named Jesus at that time, but if there was one who was actually raising people from the dead, resurrecting himself from the dead, and flying into the sky, surely more than one historian would have taken note (even assuming it's not a forgery). I don't especially want to make the case against his existence, though, because I don't need to. There are many other parts of the bible that have no historical backing whatsoever. The killing of the first born in exodus, and the plagues on egypt, Jonah and the whale, Noah's flood, the stopping of the sun in the sky, any of the miracles of Jesus, the existence of the 10 commandment stones (Maybe the angel Maroni came to pick those up around the same time he buried his golden plates in primitive America), etc. There is no extra-biblical evidence that any of this happened, and there were certainly others recording history at the same time of the bible. I would think that the sun standing still for a day would raise a few eyebrows around the world. Note, this is another area where the bible displays its factual error- the sun already stands still (relatively speaking). If God did anything, he would have stopped the earth from spinning. Had the bible said this, that would be at least some reason to believe in the bible, because it would have imparted true knowledge unlike anything existing at the time.

Also, how do you explain the incredible changed life and martyr’s death of Jesus’ followers? Something major must have happened to cause these timid, weak, cowardly young men (before Christ’s death) to travel and preach and die a martyr’s death (after the resurrection). Not to mention the many 1st and 2nd century Christians who courageously died for their faith in Jesus.

How do you explain the incredible changed life and martyr's death of the people of Jonestown? Or the followers of Saul Koresh? Or the Heaven's Gate religion? I could go on.... The fact is that people are gullible, and can be convinced of anything if a charismatic enough person comes along. People have died martyr's deaths for all kinds of false things thruought history, so I don't see this as proof of Christ's resurrection anymore than you see the suicide of the Heaven's Gate group as proof of their claim to be hitching a ride on the Hale-bopp comet. Muslums are killing themselves every day for their faith. Does this prove that they will get 72 virgins in the afterlife?

Also, to use your same argument, how do you explain the story of Exodus. The Hebrews that Moses liberated had witnessed first-hand the power of God through many works. Why then would they so quickly melt down their gold and construct a calf to worship once Moses went up the mountain to chat with God? It is completely inconceivable that people who had seen things like these divine plagues on Egypt and who had walked through a magically-parted Red Sea would so readily disbelieve in their god and construct a new one.PS-

Here is a good essay to check out: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/about_the_holy_bible.html

Also, I think you would find the 'Bible Geek' episodes of the Infidel Guy radio show interesting. They are often way over my head in their references to ancient history and the bible, but you would probably find them interesting. I think you can find them through itunes (a free program) and search for 'infidel guy', and listen to the shows that say 'Bible Geek' in the title. ( http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/)

Take care,Infidel

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(7/3/07)I do not have a lot of time, but a good reading of the story of Elisha really requires some understanding of the language and it should be placed in the context of the whole narrative of his life. If all I took into account were the facts as you have presented them, I might reach the same conclusions you have.

I encourage you to look at the whole textual conext, the cultural background and linguistic sources. I do not have references at hand, so you have to trust that I am not just making this up as I go along! ;-)

  • Elisha has just performed a merciful miracle for the city of Jericho. Incidents both before and after this episode attest to his overall character.
  • People know him in the context of having been a servant of Elijah. This fact and the fact that he serves the God of the Israelites makes him unpopular in some folks' eyes - and open to possible physical harm.
  • Elisha is probably in his mid-twenties at this time.
  • The Hebrew that is sometimes translated as children (unfortunately so) is actually term for young men between the ages of 12 to 30. This is borne out by its usage in other contexts. This term is used to denote men of military age. (I Kings 20:14-15)
  • Elisha and these young men are probably about the same age.
  • This was not simply a case of name calling. Although the original meaning of this idiom is lost to us, "bald head" is almost certainly meant as a particularly nasty insult, and a prelude to outright physical danger. We still see this today in our culture. Certain verbal threats are not regarded idly. We judge the nature of the threat and respond accordingly.
  • What we have here is a fairly large group of young men who are making credible threats both in body language (they came out of the town to the road in order to confront him) and verbally (the assertion of baldness would have been something like our walking up to someone and saying "Hey f___ head, we're here to help you leave the planet right now, just like old man Elijah did.") They came out with a malevoltent purpose.
  • That Elisha cursed them is not surprising. He was standing his ground, and willing to take his lumps.
  • God intervened in a way that preserved Elisha for future good works.
  • The narrative states that 42 of the youths were mauled. I wonder how large the group was? Why were 42 mauled by only two bears? Is it because they would not retreat?
  • Elisha had no idea what was going to happen.
  • I cannot concieve that a large band of roving little kids would come out of a city to confront Elisha. That is simply not a good reading of the text. Unfortunately though, this is exactly the way it is taught in some Sunday school lessons! Please don't let bad teaching lead you into a wrong conclusion about what the text actually is saying.
  • We have non-Biblical sources that describe roving bands of young men at that time and how they would menace travelers. I sincerely believe that this is that kind of case.

Best regards,Mike

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BTW - these figures:Christians:

75% of the US population, 75% of the prison population.Atheists: 10% if the US population, 0.2% of the prison population.

I think that these might be those who self-identify as Christians or Atheists. That is quite different from walking the walk in both cases. To me, these and other figures really demonstrate that just calling one's self a Christian or Atheist does not mean that you live a life consistent with an Atheist or Christian worldview.

(BTW - I found it interesting that some of the folks in the YouTube video were not atheists - but were desists. Twain for example.)

From time to time I teach an eight session class in atheism. The first three to four weeks - before we even get into engaging arguments - I teach what atheists state about themselves. You might like the class. It makes some folks in our church very uncomfortable. The final four weeks I engage some specific claims that the American Atheists make about biblical contradictions.

My goal is to engage in a responsible manner. To that end, I do not presume or assume - and when in doubt about atheist philosophy or belief, I will ask before concluding. Have little time for straw men. Find it unfortunate we see criticism of both Christian and Atheist thought which is simply a repetition of tired old arguments or inflammatory rhetoric.

Thanks for the conversation!

Best regards,Mike

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(7/6/07)Infidel,

I leave tomorrow for a week of vacation and am very busy with stuff to do before leaving but will give a quick response below to some of your questions and comments, so see my inserted comments below.Thanks,Saul,

Thanks for your reply. I still have to say that I'm not convinced of the morality of any of the stories that I mentioned, and how you can say that the bible is a source for morality when it has these very obviously immoral actions done by god and his chosen followers. How can you say that Jephtha was wrong for killing his daughter? The bible seems to condone it, without outwardly coming out and saying so explicitly.

The bible does not in any way condone it. It seems states that he did this.

Not only does it honor him Hebrews (would it be too much for god to say- "Jephtha's life was good, even though he sacrificed his daughter to me, which I didn't like very much, even though I did nothing to tell him otherwise"),

All of those listed in Hebrews 11 had sin and faults: Moses committed murder; Rahab was a prostitute. Saul committed adultery. Here is the beauty of Christianity: God works in and through imperfect people! This means you and I can be included.

but the same sort of thing happened with Abraham, except God intervened at the last second there. Please give me a good reason why a moral god would not have intervened with Jephtha when he did with Abraham.

Because out of love God gives us a free will. The same reason He doesn’t intervene every time we sin. He doesn’t stop it but He does see to it that we experience the consequences of our actions: a man reaps what he sows.

Why not at least send the Holy Spirit to stop Jephtha at the last second to tell all of us readers that he did not approve? How many family members have been killed throughout the ages following Jephtha's example? I would bet many.

I have never heard of someone using this passage to justify killing a family member. Infidel, be sure that you don’t formulate doctrine over obscure, very uncertain passages like this one. Nothing about God or His Word would suggest that He wanted Jephthah to do this.

He was, after all, very successful in battle with God's help, and without condemning the deal, God hardly gives reason to doubt it as a good way to get His help.On the story of Elijah and the 2 bears, I just can't fathom how you can maintain any measure of morality of this fable. Let's say you read a story of Pat Robinson out walking a couple of his pet rotweilers when a group of 'little children' said, "go up bald man, go up" (even though he's not bald). Then good 'ol Pat sets his dogs upon these 'little children', who then tear them to shreds, rendering them unrecognizable even to their own parents. If you read this story in the newspaper, would you say to yourself, this "shows how serious it is to sin and to not fear the Lord or His chosen servants."? That is very frightening to me to think that there are people who would think that to themselves about such an obvious immoral action against some children whose worst crime is a mild insult. This goes for ANY children, speaking ANY insult, against ANY person. Death is not a moral consequence for this infraction- Period.

I disagree. The “wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)” and any sin deserves death before a holy God. This incident simply shows how at times wrong actions will bring about some pretty serious consequences, even the sin of one’s tongue against another. Keep in mind though that these incidences of “immediate judgment” so to speak are quite rare in the bible. For the most part we see grace and mercy and patience. We should never presume on God’s grace but certainly be thankful for it. We should walk in the fear of the Lord but also appreciate the intimacy we can have with Him due to grace.

So how do you differentiate between what is current and outdated law? How do you say that trimming the beard and getting tattoos is okay, but having sex with your same gender is not? If Christ brought the new covenant which replaces the old one, did he also condemn Homosexuality? I don't believe he did. He did, however, preach plenty about not judging others and loving others more than oneself.

Where you start is what does the New Testament teach about something. In the case of homosexuality, the New Testament also condemns it, so that one is clear. For others that aren’t as clear, you filter it all through the New Testament. Jesus said “you heard it said, but I say to you….”

Now on to some of your questions in the other e-mail-1. "Why is it so hard to imagine that God put the stars and planets where they are in one moment such that they are millions of light years away and yet in the very moment He did this their light could be seen on earth? ... I certainly don’t see how this in any way violates science."Granted, if there is an omnipotent god, then he could do anything, including breaking the laws of physics. My point is that there is no evidence to suggest that any law of physics has EVER been broken. Please point one out to me if you know of one. And besides, what point would God have of doing this? What we do know is that light travels at a constant speed. We also have a fairly good estimate on how big the universe is. In order to see the stars that we can see, the light would have to have been traveling for billions of years to get here. In fact, as we develop better and better telescopes, we are effectively looking back in time billions of years, and scientists have actually witnessed the forming of solar systems. So, yes, the 10,000 year old universe does in fact violate science. It violates just about every field of science there is. Your own Francis Collins states as much. I'm not sure that there's any way that I could convince you of this until you make the choice to separate yourself from your beliefs for a moment and objectively look at the volumes of evidence. Like the link I sent earlier (http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=971447&blogID=253465168&MyToken=57906ffd-4b02-4ea6-ad 55-aa07721cc7d0 ) stated, it is surprising that there is not more evidence that God exists. It is as if he is purposely trying to hide himself from us, which seems counterintuitive if we say that he wants us to 'know' him.

Jesus is the best evidence there is that God exists because He was God in human flesh and He proved His deity by performing miracles and rising from the dead.

2. In regards to right and wrong and conscience, your son has 2 things going on. He is born sinful (as we all are) and thus will naturally tend toward selfishness, but he also has an inner sense of right and wrong deeper than what you teach him, and this is put into him by his Creator. It seems that you distinguish two different things going on with children- that which is her inner sense of right/wrong, and that which we as parents and society instill in her. How do you differentiate between the two? Please identify for me an 'innate morality' that comes from the 'Creator', and not from parents or society. I contend that there is no such thing.

I agree that this is hard to distinguish and since we are coming from 2 different world views we would see the reason for things very different.

Children are a blank slate when they come into the world. If you were to take a child (and it has been done, unfortunately) and separate her from society and any sort of outward instilling of morality, you would expect to see this 'innate morality' instilled by the creator, would you not? What has been seen, in actuality, is that these children become animalistic, and have very little sense of morality. Also- if you would tape a young child's eyes shut he would become blind, and ears shut he would become deaf. The early brain of a child takes in the world around him and builds models for the way the world works. He learns that if you pull the cat's tail he may get bitten, and that if you take another child's toy, he may get mad and hit you. These things are learned, not given, and every scrap of scientific evidence indicates that. Why is it that morality differs so much between different cultures? If we were endowed with innate morality from a 'Creator', would it not be universal? Wouldn't 'crimes' like adultery, stealing, homosexuality, slavery (with biblical support, by the way), etc be universally shunned in all societies? We do not see this in reality. One has to only look at various tribal groups around the globe to see drastically different moral codes that function well within those groups.Speaking of teaching him right and wrong, since you don’t believe in God, how are you going about teaching him right from wrong? If we all just evolved from nothing and life really has no eternal meaning, then why not just do whatever one wants to do and do whatever will help one be the “fittest who survive”? I am not at all suggesting that atheists are immoral (we have talked about this before) but I am curious how an atheist approaches the whole moral issue and where an atheist gets his sense of morality. Help me understand here.I get my morality from the same place that you do, Saul. We both got them from our parents and from society. It is something that our young minds readily picked up while absorbing the world around us just like we picked up language, etiquite, etc. I know that you, like most Christians, profess to get your morality from the bible, but you don't. As I've explored, the bible is so full of immorality that there is no way to hold it up as any source of good morality, unless you do some serious sorting of some verses away from other verses. You may be able to look at the fable of the 2 bears and say this is a moral action from a holy god, whereas I can call a duck a duck and say that killing children for an insult is morally wrong. I suspect that at your core, you agree with me on that point. However you have to concoct your explanation around a vengeful holy god in order to maintain your belief that this book is the ultimate source for morality, which in turn allows you to gloss over this story without seriously considering the true morality of it. If you want to hold your bible up as a source of morality, then you must take your disobedient children and stone them to death- Deut 21:18, Exod 21:15, Prov 30:17, Psalm 137:9I will teach my child morality as we all learned it. The 'Golden Rule' is important (and Christianity does not have a lock on this, either. All major world religions have some version of it.).

Remember the golden rule was given by Jesus

Beyond that, you don't need much else. It is an entirely secular idea that permeates society. Even doctors have a similar creed, "do no harm."

Yet many perform abortions – just had to add that one!

Society has taught us that we can't just 'do whatever we want.' Actions have consequences. I can't just take your car, because I may get arrested, and it would not be something that I would want someone to do to me. This morality evolved with society, in a non-biological way that all things evolve (eg language, art, etc). Early on, we existed in much smaller villages than the cities we know now. In villages like this, you couldn't behave immorally, because it would hurt your chance for survival, so the villages that displayed morality were more likely to survive and pass that trait on to their kin. If you went around killing people and stealing, you would likely be cast out, and would not survive long on your own. By the way, humans don't have a lock on morality either, as I'm sure you believe. It does not take much research to see primitive types of morality in the broader animal kingdom. Wolf packs will ostracize members of the pack for transgressions. Female bears will protect their cubs. Many animals pick a life mate, and will mourn their loss. It's plain as day once one opens ones eyes to it.Being a Christian does not give any real morality.

Hold on here man. This is a cheap shot. Some of the most moral people in the world have been Christians and it is because of the high moral standards of the bible. You don’t get any higher standards than Jesus gave. Don’t build your criticisms of biblical morality on a few difficult passages and overlook the clarity of so many others. Someone once said, “It is not the things in the bible I don’t understand that trouble me as much as the things in the bible I do understand” (i.e. if a man lusts in his heart … it is as if he committed adultery).

In fact, it can do quite the opposite. As an atheist, I am accountable to my fellow inhabitants of this earth when I do something wrong. If I hurt someone, it is incumbent on me to make amends to that person. There is no 'pray for forgiveness' for atheists. We have to actually fix the problems we make. However, the Christian has a built in easy out. He can live as sinful of a life as he wants, murder children, rape women, steal from the poor, and be an all around nasty guy. The gates of heaven are still open to him as long as he seeks forgiveness from God on his death bed. As long as he accepts Christ's sacrifice for his sins, and accepts him as his lord and savior, he is forgiven. So saith the Christian.

Only partly true here: faith without works is dead. Read James and you will see that no one can just cheaply treat forgiveness and faith the way you present it here. However, grace is that wonderful to where even a thief on the cross next to Jesus did get forgiveness. We also believe you have to make amends for your sin as far as it comes to your actions affecting others.

Also- Christians: 75% of the US population, 75% of the prison population.Atheists: 10% if the US population, 0.2% of the prison population.I rest my case on morality. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdVucvo-kDU3. Does it ever trouble you about life after death? What do you think happens to us after death?I'm not completely sure what happens to me after I die, but I have no good reason to believe that I will continue to exist in any way. I did not exist for billions of years before I was born, and I expect it will be the same after I die. Does this trouble me? No.

What if you are wrong? If you are wrong, you have lost everything. If I am wrong, I have lost nothing.

There was a study that I heard about that said religious people are both the most afraid and the least afraid of death, with atheists somewhere in between. The deeply religious don't fear death because they have convinced themselves that they will have eternal life. The moderately or less religious people are most afraid of death because they fear the eternal torture that their dogma preaches. Atheists tend to only moderately fear death- this is because while we don't want the only life we will have to end, we also do not fear eternal torture. As Einstein said, "An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls." Would I like to believe that I would continue to exist in paradise forever? Absolutely. However, I don't believe in things without good reasons. And simply wanting something to be true does not make it so. The phrase, "If it seems too good to be true, than it probably is." comes to mind.4. You mention that there is no evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible. This is not true. Josephus, a very reputable Jewish historian, mentions Jesus as a person and that He did good deeds, etc. Are you not familiar with Josephus’s mention of Jesus? I am familiar with Josephus' mention of Jesus. I am also aware that it is pretty commonly held that these accounts are fraught with forgeries. Of course there were many people named Jesus at that time, but if there was one who was actually raising people from the dead, resurrecting himself from the dead, and flying into the sky, surely more than one historian would have taken note (even assuming it's not a forgery). I don't especially want to make the case against his existence, though, because I don't need to. There are many other parts of the bible that have no historical backing whatsoever. The killing of the first born in exodus, and the plagues on egypt, Jonah and the whale, Noah's flood, the stopping of the sun in the sky, any of the miracles of Jesus, the existence of the 10 commandment stones (Maybe the angel Maroni came to pick those up around the same time he buried his golden plates in primitive America), etc. There is no extra-biblical evidence that any of this happened, and there were certainly others recording history at the same time of the bible. I would think that the sun standing still for a day would raise a few eyebrows around the world. Note, this is another area where the bible displays its factual error- the sun already stands still (relatively speaking). If God did anything, he would have stopped the earth from spinning. Had the bible said this, that would be at least some reason to believe in the bible, because it would have imparted true knowledge unlike anything existing at the time.

I totally disagree. There is so much archeological support for the bible. I don’t have time right now but I have a file full of articles where archeology has proven the bible to be true in places where people used to say “there is no evidence for this or that”

Also, how do you explain the incredible changed life and martyr’s death of Jesus’ followers? Something major must have happened to cause these timid, weak, cowardly young men (before Christ’s death) to travel and preach and die a martyr’s death (after the resurrection). Not to mention the many 1st and 2nd century Christians who courageously died for their faith in Jesus. How do you explain the incredible changed life and martyr's death of the people of Jonestown? Or the followers of Saul Koresh? Or the Heaven's Gate religion? I could go on.... The fact is that people are gullible, and can be convinced of anything if a charismatic enough person comes along. People have died martyr's deaths for all kinds of false things thruought history, so I don't see this as proof of Christ's resurrection anymore than you see the suicide of the Heaven's Gate group as proof of their claim to be hitching a ride on the Hale-bopp comet. Muslums are killing themselves every day for their faith. Does this prove that they will get 72 virgins in the afterlife? Also, to use your same argument, how do you explain the story of Exodus. The Hebrews that Moses liberated had witnessed first-hand the power of God through many works. Why then would they so quickly melt down their gold and construct a calf to worship once Moses went up the mountain to chat with God?

Because we are all do prone to wander away from God which is all the more reason we need to stay connected with God, His word and fellowship with other committed believers.

It is completely inconceivable that people who had seen things like these divine plagues on Egypt and who had walked through a magically-parted Red Sea would so readily disbelieve in their god and construct a new one.

Not at all. Jesus’ disciples did the very same thing after being with him for 3 years. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

PS- Here is a good essay to check out: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/about_the_holy_bible.htmlAlso, I think you would find the 'Bible Geek' episodes of the Infidel Guy radio show interesting. They are often way over my head in their references to ancient history and the bible, but you would probably find them interesting. I think you can find them through itunes (a free program) and search for 'infidel guy', and listen to the shows that say 'Bible Geek' in the title. ( http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/)Take care,Infidel

Got to go. Sorry.

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(7/11/07)

Mike,So here's my interpretation of how you say the story of Elisha really goes:

And he went up from thence unto Beth-el, and as he was going up by the way, there came forth out of the city a roving band of individuals around the same age as Elisha. They came out of the city with a clearly malevolent purpose and they meant him great bodily harm. They threatened him saying, "Hey f___ head, we're here to help you leave the planet right now, just like old man Elijah did." So Elisha cursed them, intending to stand his ground against this unruly mob, most likely resulting in his own death. God then summoned two she bears who came out of the wood. The men stood their ground, refused to flee, and the bears killed forty and two of the military-aged men.

vs what the bible says:

And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Granted, your story makes it seem like a much more moral action on God's part. However, that is not at all what the story says. Any source that you derived this interpretation from is simply injecting their own interpretation into it. It's no different if I were to say that this roving band was carrying axes and machettes, had two armed men on chariots, and one woman who had a sign that read, 'Die, Elisha, Die!'. The fact remains that the text doesn't say any of this. Another thing- I think your version displays the morality of the story far more accurately. Don't you find it strange that you just did a better job relaying a story than an omnipotent god did. Even if you say that he was working through imperfect humans who messed it up, being an omniscient being he would have known how poorly the story would have translated, so why would he even relay the story in the first place? Apparently omnipotence does not extend to the ability to communicate in an effective way.

"BTW - these figures:Christians: 75% of the US population, 75% of the prison population.Atheists: 10% if the US population, 0.2% of the prison population.I think that these might be those who self-identify as Christians or Atheists. That is quite different from walking the walk in both cases. To me, these and other figures really demonstrate that just calling one's self a Christian or Atheist does not mean that you live a life consistent with an Atheist or Christian worldview."

I always find it amusing that whenever a Christian (or other theist, to be fair) does something that another Christian does not like, they are automatically labeled as not a 'True Christian'. It seems that it's all up to the individual to decide who they declare to be a 'True Christian' and who's not. The way I see it a Christian is- 'one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ (Webster.com). This doesn't say that a Christian is not a person who doesn't do X, Y, and Z. I'm not trying to say that being a Christian makes a person less moral. My point in mentioning that statistic is to refute the claim that being a Christian is a good foundation for morality and that Christians are somehow more moral than the rest of us. Was Hitler a Christian? (http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm) It seems he may have been. (Please don't send me an extensive argument that Hitler deconverted from his Catholicism. I grant that he may have. It's not essential to my point, which you'll see in a moment.) Is a homosexual a Christian? Is a person who refuses to oblige a request someone makes of them? Is a person who seethes a lamb in its mother's milk? I think you would get a mix of replies from Christians on these questions, so I would say there is no such thing of a 'True Christian,' apart from Webster's definition. And on your point about "a life consistent with an Atheist worldview," what does this mean exactly? I'll touch on this more in a little bit.

(BTW - I found it interesting that some of the folks in the YouTube video were not atheists - but were desists. Twain for example.)

Granted- the video does state in the description that the author found out later that Twain and Marlon Brando were not atheists, and he apologises for the mistake.

From time to time I teach an eight session class in atheism. The first three to four weeks - before we even get into engaging arguments - I teach what atheists state about themselves.

I have a couple of thoughts about this:

1- How does it take you 3 to 4 weeks to tell people what atheists state about themselves? The only thing that is universal to atheists is a lack of belief in God. Everything else is up for grabs. There are no other requirements. One can be a conservative, liberal, humanist, anarchist, communist, capitalist, etc. One does not even need to accept the theory of evolution as truth to be an atheist. This idea you present of an 'Atheist Worldview' is foreign to me as atheism provides no code of morality, of ideal society, or the origin of our species. It only make a statement to our lack of belief in any god.

2- Do you have an actual atheist present to field questions? If not, I wonder how accurately you can portray the position without one.

3- What is it that makes your church members so uncomfortable? Is it the fact that atheism is the logical conclusion when all the facts are laid on the table?

Now for Saul's e-mail-

Why not at least send the Holy Spirit to stop Jephtha at the last second to tell all of us readers that he did not approve? How many family members have been killed throughout the ages following Jephtha's example? I would bet many. I have never heard of someone using this passage to justify killing a family member. Infidel, be sure that you don’t formulate doctrine over obscure, very uncertain passages like this one. Nothing about God or His Word would suggest that He wanted Jephthah to do this.

I'm not formulating doctrine, I'm just trying to make the point that the bible does not condemn this action of one of its heros anywhere in the text. If one is going to hold this book up as a source of morality, one would expect it to be a little more clear on what is moral and what is not. And when one includes a story about a war hero being blessed in battle after making a deal with god to sacrifice a family member, one would assume that god was simply living up to his end of the bargain- unless there is evidence to the contrary, which you have been unable to produce. People have found justification for all sorts of strange beliefs from a few obscure passages in the bible. 666 is universally despised by Christians, but its purpose and true meaning in Revelations is very obscure.

We should walk in the fear of the Lord but also appreciate the intimacy we can have with Him due to grace.

To me, this sounds like the relationship between a child and an alcoholic father. The child is in constant fear of a beating that the father feels the child is deserving of. I don't see the evidence of an 'all-loving' god here. Besides, you will have a hard time convincing me of the morality of eternal torture as just punishment for finite crimes.

Where you start is what does the New Testament teach about something. In the case of homosexuality, the New Testament also condemns it, so that one is clear. For others that aren’t as clear, you filter it all through the New Testament. Jesus said “you heard it said, but I say to you….”

Doesn't this seem like god changed his mind? Why the change when Jesus came? Why was the new covenant necessary? If one counldn't eat shellfish BC, why can we AD? Did jesus also die on the cross so we could enjoy eating 'chewers of the cud?'

Remember the golden rule was given by Jesus

  • Bahá'í World Faith- "Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not."
  • Brahmanism- "This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you"
  • Buddhism- Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Confucianism- "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23
  • Ancient Egyptian- "Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 - 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest version ever written.
  • Hinduism- This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Humanism- "Don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you," British Humanist Society
  • Islam- "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."
  • Jainism- "A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. "Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
  • Native American Spirituality: - "All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One." Black Elk
  • Roman Pagan Religion: "The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves."
  • Shinto: "Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God." Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga
  • Sikhism: "No one is my enemy, none a stranger and everyone is my friend." Guru Arjan Dev : AG 1299
  • Sufism: "The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this." Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order.
  • Taoism: "The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful." Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49
  • Unitarian: "We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent of all existence of which we are a part." Unitarian principles.
  • Wicca:"An it harm no one, do what thou wilt" (i.e. do what ever you will, as long as it harms nobody, including yourself). One's will is to be carefully thought out in advance of action. This is called the Wiccan Rede
  • Yoruba: (Nigeria): "One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."
  • Zoroastrianism: "Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Hold on here man. This is a cheap shot. Some of the most moral people in the world have been Christians and it is because of the high moral standards of the bible. You don’t get any higher standards than Jesus gave. Don’t build your criticisms of biblical morality on a few difficult passages and overlook the clarity of so many others. Someone once said, “It is not the things in the bible I don’t understand that trouble me as much as the things in the bible I do understand” (i.e. if a man lusts in his heart … it is as if he committed adultery).

I didn't mean this as a cheap shot at all. I'm not saying Christians are inherently immoral. In fact, I think that a majority of Christians are good people who genuinely care about most other people. I am only making the point that Christians don't have a patent on morality. Plenty of people are very moral all around the world without having to believe that Jesus was the son of God.

How do you know that some of the most moral people in the world have been Christians? What religion was Ghandi? What religion was Siddhartha Gautama? What religion are the rednecks who lynched 'Negros', and beat gays to death? What religion was Andrea Yates? It was her religion that reinforced her mental illness and her belief that she was doing God's will by drowning her children to save them from satan. As a side note, how were her actions not the logical progression of Christian morality? If a child is killed after baptism, and is still innocent, won't that child go to heaven? If we allow our children to grow up, do they not sin and possibly not believe in Jesus thus landing them in hellfire? That being the case, isn't drowning them at an early age the moral thing to do? We may be depriving them of 80 years on earth, but what is that compared to guaranteeing them an eternity in paradise? Of course, I don't advocate killing anyone's children ever, and I don't think any Christian in their right mind does either. But this seems to be the logical endpoint of Christian Dogma.

faith without works is dead. Read James and you will see that no one can just cheaply treat forgiveness and faith the way you present it here.

So are you telling me that you do not believe the passage of John 3:16? Are you going on record saying that one's sins will not be forgiven (whatever they may be) if one repents and accepts Jesus as one's Lord unless one also does further good 'works'?

What if you are wrong? If you are wrong, you have lost everything. If I am wrong, I have lost nothing.

I was wondering how long it would take you to pull out Pascal's Wager. This idea has been thoroughly rebutted many times over hundereds of years, but I'll entertain it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager The first problem with this assumption is that it considers only two options: belief or disbelief. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of options, including the possibility that god is a trickster who created all these religions and he only rewards those who are courageous enough to disbelieve in any of them. So how does one make the best wager? Do we believe in the god with the best heaven? Or do we believe in the god with the worst hell so that we can avoid it?

Please entertain this scenerio: Suppose I told you that I was visited by a space alien last night who took me up into his ship and told me that if I were to cut 2 oranges in half at 2 pm every day that I would be taken from earth at my death and would enjoy eternal life in paradise. He also said that anyone else I that tell this to can earn the same reward. However, if we don't do what the alien says, then he will take us and torture us forever. Why not cut the oranges? Is it really so hard? What do you have to lose? Is the consequence worth the risk? It's only 2 oranges- It's a no-brainer, right? Somehow I don't think either of us would be cutting any oranges. But why not? I'd bet that the reasons you give for not cutting oranges are the same ones I'd give for not accepting Jesus's sacrifice as my salvation from sin. I like a quote from Stephen F Roberts, "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Here is a parody that I find amusing, but if you are overly sensitive of parodys of religion, then don't read it. It's not necessarily a parody of Christianity, but could just as easily be of Islam: http://www.jhuger.com/kisshank.php

Here is a good essay to check out: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/about_the_holy_bible.html
Take care,
Infidel

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(7/12/07)

Hi Infidel,

Let me just take the Elisha story first. I think you may have missed my point. The translation you quote as 'this is what the Bible says' is not what the original language states. Is that a problem for some folks? Sure it is - and that is part of the point I wanted to make - but it looks like I did not do a great job if it.

The main points:

  • The original language shows us that these were young men - not children.
  • The reason the actual insulting phrase was quoted (and I defer to folks who actually work in these languages) is that it was most likely a threatening insult. Otherwise, we would probably have a mention that he was insulted, without the actual phrase being quoted. Now the phrase would not seem insulting to us today - but we see insults go in and out of fashion - and lose their 'potency'.

Was my rephrasing fair? I think so. We do this all the time when translating from one language to another. It is fair as long as the underlying facts and meaning of the narrative are faithfully preserved. We may quibble about a point or two - but I think that on the whole my presentation is more faithful to the original than your explanation of the quote from the King James.

Quite simply, the King James is not a good translation here. The King James is good in most respects, but it is not the original scripture.

What is a Christian? I will give you my thoughts later - but I still owe you on the problem of evil.

Why three-four weeks explaining atheism? Because atheists self-describe in a variety of ways, and I want folks to be careful not to unfairly create straw men, make bad assumptions or not carefully listen to what an atheist has to say.

I discuss these type of atheistic philosophy: conceptual, dialectical, practical, semantic, metaphysical, and mythological. Fruitful discussion can only happen if we care enough to engage in a reasonable, fair an honest manner. I do not want to pick low hanging fruit by selecting individual quotes or phrases out of context and forcing a meaning that is not true to the original writer's or speaker's intent. Whether I read a good atheist philosopher or popular writer like Dawkins or Sam Harris, I want to fairly engage.

We both have seen atheists who make silly statements that other atheists roll their eyes at. We have seen the same with Christians. I am after something more substantive.

I have had atheists and agnostics in the class - and they felt perfectly welcome - and freely engaged in the discussion portion. They knew that my goal was to be fair and even handed when describing what they believed. I have friends who are atheist, agnostic and deists of many kinds.

The last few weeks of the class are spent engaging the top Biblical contradictions claimed by the American Atheist organization. This makes some folks uncomfortable, until they begin to see that there is nothing to be worried about - and that there are good, sound responses for the claims.

Best regards,Mike
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(7/12/07)

Infidel,

"I think you would get a mix of replies from Christians on these questions, so I would say there is no such thing of a 'True Christian,' apart from Webster's definition."

What makes Webster the arbiter? Are you receptive to other definitions? If not, why not?Also - the stats: what do they mean?Does this mean that atheists convert once they are in prison?!

Best regards,Mike

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(7/12/07)

Mike,

Webster is not the arbiter, but it's at least an unbiased source. And isn't that definition precisely what a Christian is? One who believes in and accepts Jesus as his/her lord and savior? That's what a Christian is. So are we going to start tacking on other requirements to be a, 'True Christian.' How about a person who picks up sticks on a sunday? Is that a 'True Christian'. I could come up with pages of examples like that, and depending on the church, region, and time in history, I would get drastically different responses. My point is that it's silly for one Christian to say another is not a 'True Christian.' As long as both believe in Christ, they're Christians. What logical sense does it serve for us to entertain the notion that it's acceptable for Christian A to call Christian B - 'not a True Christian', then Christian B says the same about A. Where does that get us? It just tells us that whenever someone does something that someone else doesn't like, they'll disown them from their group because they feel it reflects bad on them. Take Fred Phelps- people universally despise him, but he follows Christian Dogma and gets his ideas right from the bible. You'd probably say he's not a 'True Christian,' but I'd say he is, even though he is definitely on the fringe with his beliefs. If you don't like this method of definition, please tell me what your exact definition of a 'True Christian' is.

The stats- I guess you could read them a number of ways. The way I look at them, is that very few people identify themselves as atheists unless they have thought about the position a great deal and have considered the alternatives. Usually people who do this are more intelligent because they care more about what they believe than the general population. Look at other stats, the more educated people get, the less likely they are to be religious. On the other hand, many people will call themselves Christian, even though they don't necessarily 'walk the Christian walk.' I would say that the Die hard Christians are in the minority, and would be less likely to be in prison. My point is that the typical person who calls himself an atheist is less likely to commit crimes than a typical Christian (probably because you cast a much wider net than we do at the present time). It would be interesting to look at the study, or do another, that asked inmates how long they'd been affiliated with a particular belief, and correlated it to the type of crime, to see whether people are converting once in prison, or whether they were long-time believers (or non-believers).

Look at the US rate of violent crime, theft, teenage pregnancy, etc. We're way above other industrialized nations who are a majority of atheists (e.g. various Scandinavian countries and Britain, etc) We know the US population is around 80% christian. What does this tell you about the supposed superiority of Christian morality? To me, when you take all the statistics in combination, it says that the typical Christian is not some bastion of morality, in fact they can be less moral than other faiths or non-faiths (Atheists). It has been said that good people will be good, and bad people will be bad, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad things. Crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, most hate crime, etc- would these things have happened without religion to fan the flames? Would the twin towers still be standing if there was no dogma superstition? The world has nothing to fear from atheists (generally). However, the blood spilled in the name of religion, or superstition stemming from religion, would fill lakes. Think of where humanity would be without the Dark Ages- when religion squelched scientific progress and advance.

I believe the world would be a better place without religion, you believe the opposite. Who knows who's right. But hopefully we can both agree the world would be a better place if people would treat others with respect, take care of each other and the planet, and let others live their own lives and hold their own beliefs as long as they're not hurting anyone.

Take care,Infidel

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(7/12/07)

Infidel,

Thanks for the response.

One thing I teach is exactly what you state: atheist belief does not necessarily translate into bad character or poor moral judgement - no more than faith in Christ necessarily translates into pedophilia. I spend almost two of the classes debunking unfair and wild misconceptions about atheists. I also encourage folks to check out for themselves what good atheist writers have to say about atheism.

Email discussions can be difficult. My description of what it means to be a Christian has both an objective and subjective component. I would also contest that both are rationally grounded. My subjective description was an attempt to explain what it means to work out the objective components.

I am not contesting Webster, but am thinking that it does not give a full picture of what it means to be a Christian. Simply making a verbal statement of faith is not the same as making a genuine commitment and growing as a follower of Christ. And in that growth, we are all at different degrees of maturity, so I stand in judgment of no one.

Please do not think that I am advocating that I could somehow come to be in a position of being able to definitively state who is and is not a 'True Christian'. However, I can say that I am personally convinced that there are certain moral and societal obligations incumbent on me as a result of my faith in Christ. I am informed about them through a sound understanding of what I find in the Bible and the example of others around me. By the way - that example might come from an atheist!

I have a good friend who is an atheist. We worked together for years and developed a genuine friendship. He is very intelligent, very witty, and great fun to be with. He is totally utilitarian. He unashamedly believes that it is better to let the sick and starving in the world die - that we are better off 'letting nature take its course'. He states that in certain parts of the world, the issues of sickness and starvation are so beyond remedy that expending resources on these problem areas of the world is a moral wrong.

I recently met a doctor who is an atheist. He works on mercy missions to the worst parts of Russia. He believes that if we do not step in and bring our expertise to bear in these desperate areas, we are committing a moral wrong. So, are all atheists really alike?

Best regards,Mike

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(7/13/07)

Infidel,I am not contesting Webster, but am thinking that it does not give a full picture of what it means to be a Christian. Simply making a verbal statement of faith is not the same as making a genuine commitment and growing as a follower of Christ. And in that growth, we are all at different degrees of maturity, so I stand in judgment of no one. Please do not think that I am advocating that I could somehow come to be in a position of being able to definitively state who is and is not a 'True Christian'. However, I can say that I am personally convinced that there are certain moral and societal obligations incumbent on me as a result of my faith in Christ. I am informed about them through a sound understanding of what I find in the Bible and the example of others around me. By the way - that example might come from an atheist!

You say that simply saying one is a Christian does not does not give the full picture, but then say that you can't define what it means to you to be a 'True Christian.' If something (ie being a Christian) is an objective definition and not a subjective one, it should be able to be defined, right? And I get most of my definitions from Webster. If you have a better one, I'd be happy to entertain it. However, until then, I'll take your opinion that you have, "certain moral and societal obligations incumbent on me," as your set of personal moral ideas that you may or may not have interpreted from the bible. I would suspect, (as I've experienced something like this personally) that if you were to decide that there is no good reason to believe in god, and thus labeled yourself as an athiest, you would find that you would hold on to a majority of the same moral beliefs. You even admit that you get your morality in part from sources outside of the bible. I think that it is a very good thing that you recognize this, and it tells me that you are willing to use common sense to decide which parts of the bible make sense, and which don't. My point is that morality is not instilled in us by some deity, and it doesn't come from reading the bible. You can see my past e-mail to Saul on this topic.

I have a good friend who is an atheist. We worked together for years and developed a genuine friendship. He is very intelligent, very witty, and great fun to be with. He is totally utilitarian. He unashamedly believes that it is better to let the sick and starving in the world die - that we are better off 'letting nature take its course'. He states that in certain parts of the world, the issues of sickness and starvation are so beyond remedy that expending resources on these problem areas of the world is a moral wrong. I recently met a doctor who is an atheist. He works on mercy missions to the worst parts of Russia. He believes that if we do not step in and bring our expertise to bear in these desperate areas, we are committing a moral wrong. So, are all atheists really alike?

Did I ever make the case that atheists were alike? I think I said rather explicitly in one of my e-mails that atheism only describes the lack of belief in any god. It does not provide a code of morality or ethics. I don't think that you'd find any atheist that makes that claim. You will, however, find plenty of theists who would like to say that and build straw men around them. I would not make the case that Stalin was the same as me. Why would I? The only thing we share in common is the lack of belief in god. Should I compare Fred Phelps, Andrea Yates, pedophile preists, lynchers, witch burners, etc, etc, etc to you or Pastor Saul? Probably not, but I would be more justified in doing so because you all claim to derive your morality from the same book, or to have had it magically imbued in you from your creator. I'm a little disturbed that you teach a class on atheism and would think that all athiests have similar moralilty. I suspect that you don't really think this- I'm either misinterpreting your e-mail, or you're trying to make some point that I'm not getting.

I suspect that there's not that much that we disagree on. You seem like a pretty reasonable person, who just happens to believe a particular mythology is reality. I encourage you to read the essay by ingersol that I mentioned if you haven't already (http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/about_the_holy_bible.html)

And I think you would find the following parody amusing (http://www.jhuger.com/kisshank.php)

Also, check out the short videos at www.mrdeity.com. I find them very funny.

Best regards,Infidel
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(7/13/07)

"I believe the world would be a better place without religion, you believe the opposite. Who knows who's right. But hopefully we can both agree the world would be a better place if people would treat others with respect, take care of each other and the planet, and let others live their own lives and hold their own beliefs as long as they're not hurting anyone."

I think we are in agreement here. I find that the paragraphs before these closing words also point out how critical it is to focus the conversation on substantive issues. I would fight for your right to get a fair hearing in any Mikeetplace of ideas - to have a place at the table, to be treated with respect and dignity.

It troubles me when Dawkins, Harris and others portray deistic belief in and of itself as having on the balance a corrosive, pernicious effect on society. I find their arguments to be sensational and in many ways misrepresenting the Christian faith. To their credit though, at times they readily identify Christian hypocrisy - but that is not the same as critiquing sound Christian doctrine.

You mention the crusades, the inquisition and 9/11. I could mention Marxist/Stalinist Russia, Maoist China and the Khemer Rouge in Cambodia. We would find ourselves at the place where the questions are:

Does properly understood atheism in and of itself lead one to conclude that the actions of Marx. Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot are morally acceptable? It may, if you believe that moral norms are a societal construct, and the ends justifies the means. You may disagree with that - but on what basis? I mentioned my atheist friend and the doctor - they do not agree on how to address certain issues, and both find grounding in a personal moral construct that they believe is rational and sufficient. (Personally, I side with the doctor on this issue.)

Does properly understood Christian faith and practice lead one to conclude that the actions of the crusades or the inquisition are morally acceptable? My answer would be no. The basis for my answer is what I consider to be a properly understood working out of the teachings of Christ.

Well, thanks for the ongoing discussion. We both want a good world for our children and grandchildren - and future generations.

BTW - Last month I read "Jim and Casper go to Church". A very good read that you might enjoy too. I like the nature of their dialog, and the character of their relationship.

Best regards,Mike

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(7/14/07)

Infidel,

I just got back from vacation so I haven’t even looked at my email yet, but as I was on vacation I read two passages that made me think of you, and I just wanted to ask what you think of when you read something like this. Before I give them to you, please know that I am not meaning to look down on you nor preach to you in giving you these passages. I do not think of you as a ‘fool’ like the one verse says. I really respect your thoughtful and honest discussions with me. It is helpful to me to have a relationship with you. I hope we can continue our discussions. Anyway, here are the verses (especially the parts in bold) and please give me your honest reactions.

Thanks,Saul

Ps 14:1-3The fool says in his heart,"There is no God."They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;there is no one who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand,any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside,they have together become corrupt;there is no one who does good,not even one. NIV

Phil 2:5-115 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. NIV

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(7/14/07)

Saul,

I'll reply to your passages below each. I hope you enjoyed your vacation. Also, I heard about a website that does a good job of rebutting scientifically most (if not all) of the biblical explanations for scientific evidence that you pointed me to at www.answersingenesis.com. The site is : http://www.geocities.com/lflank/ . I don't believe that it was designed specifically with the purpose of rebutting that site, it's aimed at creationism in general and the ideas they put forth. It's definitely worth a look if you want to see why the scientific community doesn't buy the ideas Ken Ham puts forth. Because, like I said before, what ulterior motive would scientists have for not believing in creationism if the facts really pointed to it? Are scientists really a sinful group of people who just want to deny God's existence so they can lead their sinful lives? Doesn't seem like any scientists I know. I'd bet, if you asked almost any atheist, if they would believe in God if presented with good evidence, they would say that they would. We are not this group of people who actually believe in God in our hearts, but are just mad at him or are scared of him, like some theists think. I would definitely believe in God, as I've heard many other atheists say, if I was presented with evidence. If God appeared before me right now, and told me to believe in Jesus, I'd have little choice but to believe. However, where us atheists differ from theists is that we don't use faith to determine what truth is. Faith, historically, is a really bad tool for discerning truth from fiction. The pseudoscience field thrives on this. We use scientific evidence to determine what is true. If scientific evidence were to surface that somehow proved that evolution didn't happen they way we once thought, we would modify our beliefs to be in accordance with the new evidence. It happened with Newton and Einstein and their models for physics. But enough about that rant, on to your passages

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ps 14:1-3

First off, I would encourage you to first watch this video (if you haven't already) then read my comments: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdVucvo-kDU

This video makes a pretty good case against that passage. It shows a long list of people who are atheists (except for Twain and Brando who were deists). Were these people corrupt and vile? On the contrary, I would say that many advanced our civilization and our knowledge in ways that dwarf what others have done. Is there a religious person more generous than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? Collectively these two have spent billions in projects that will never return a profit to them. They have devoted significant portions of their lives to helping others with no selfish thought in that devotion. This list of people right here tells me that this passage is clearly wrong, and therefore is the work of man and not that of a omniscient god. So why is that passage there? Why are similar notions in the Quran? Why did Martin Luther, and other great church leaders say similar things? Because freethought has always been dangerous to the church. "Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding."- Martin Luther. The church has long known that science was incompatible with religion. Whenever scientific knowledge and advance has threatened the inerrancy of scripture, the church has tried to suppress it, often employing violence and murder. The fact is that this passage and others like it are nothing more than the authors effort to libel all nonbelievers so that believers feel justified in not listening to anything they have to say. The fact is that we are not fools, and history has shown that our ideas are more often found to be correct than those of scripture. It happened with the discovery that the Earth was not flat- the church tried to fight it, but science was right. It happened with the motion of the planets around the sun- the church tried to fight it, but science was right. It happened with evolution- the church is trying to fight it, but science is right again. Granted, the people that made these discoveries were not necessarily atheists. However, they were people who were open minded and did not mind questioning doctrine, as long as they arrived at the truth. We are people who are unafraid of following the evidence to whatever the logical conclusion is, regardless of what scripture says, and that makes us dangerous to the church. Because the Bible (and other scriptures) were written by primitive men and are thus full of errors which science is continually proving wrong.

Phil 2:5-11

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get out of this one, Saul. It seems like a pretty typical biblical sentiment. Like I said before, even if it were true that somehow Jesus gave his life for us so we could be forgiven, I just can't believe in the existence of that kind of god. This is a primitive notion of a god who demands blood sacrifice. I don't believe in him anymore than I believe in the god of the old testament who demanded animal sacrifice. The system of justice that would sacrifice an innocent for the crimes of others if fundamentally flawed. Answer this for me- say you committed a crime for which the appropriate punishment was death, you were sentenced thusly by a court, and then some bystander stepped up and said, "Take my life in place of his," and you had to make the choice of whether to accept his offer or not, what would you choose? For me, if I committed a crime for which I should be put to death, I would never pass that sentence on to an innocent person. My morality would not allow it. For the same reason, I do not accept Jesus' sacrifice (even if it even really happened- you should watch 'The God Who Wasn't There') for my sins. If I have committed sins that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being feels that I should be punished eternally for, then so be it. I can't believe in a god who is perfectly moral who allows eternal punishment for finite crimes. That sort of justice system is fundamentally unjust.

Don't take offense to this, but here is Christianity boiled down to a parody. I found this on the internet, and this seems to me to be why a lot of atheists won't believe in Christianity, because at its core, it is just too strange to get on board with.

Here it is: Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

I once believed in this. Then I read the bible that they don't show you in church or sunday school. I found that the bible simply does not fit the natural world that I live in. I see it now as absurd as entertaining the notion that gods pull the sun around in a chariot, or that Poseidon controls the seas. One has to disbelieve in mountains of scientific knowledge and progress in order to believe in the inerrancy of this ancient text. I discovered that I was simply not willing to do that. So after 2 years of questioning my faith I found that I was able to call myself an atheist, and I can honestly tell you now that I have never been happier. I value each day in a way that I never did as a Christian. I know that life is finite, and that make it infinitely more valuable to me.

I hope this clarifies your questions a little. Take care,Infidel

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(7/17/07)

Hi Infidel,

I have seen the Mr. Deity videos that you recommended to us before and check them out from time to time. Some of them are pretty funny - but we may find them funny for different reasons. I think that they demonstrate the caricatures of Christianity and Christian beliefs that are so readily/easily accepted by many who do not understand the Christian faith. So far, I have never seen anything in a Mr. Deity video that a thinking Christian with a good understanding of their own faith would be troubled by. Many of the 'issues' that the videos raise (E.g.: three days in the tomb vs 35/36 hours) are really not issues at all.

Well before Mr. Deity came along, I started doing small routines like this in front of various classes on Sunday morning. Learned it from others who had used it to great effect. It works to as a way to 'break the ice' and help folks think through various issues. Helps them learn how to engage in conversation about questions of their faith in a way that is substantive and meaningful - not just reactionary.

One question for you:

Do you ever think about why there is something, rather than nothing? Or to put it another way: where this all came from? Not in the 'big bang' sense - but in the sense that anything exists at all. Here is why I ask:

My journey to faith in Christ began in a back yard when I was seven years old. Lying on the grass, I held my dad's binoculars as steady as I could and peered up into the night sky - and wondered where it all came from. (Yes, really - at seven. I can remember the night.) The question really was one of existence - where does everything that ever existed come from? I was that kind of kid even at that young age - pretty smart and a bit geeky. I thought about things other kids did not think about.

Today I would say that the Christian faith coupled with rational inquiry helps me make more sense out of life, the universe and everything than rational inquiry alone.

OK - one more question: you stated that I seem to be a nice enough fellow who happens to believe in a myth. What is the myth? That Jesus lived? That Jesus died? That Jesus rose from the dead? That an agency other than the present physical matter in the universe brought the universe into existence? It was an interesting comment, and I was just wondering what you think the myth is.Long ago

I decided that if it made more sense to believe that there was no God, if I could not find a compelling reason to believe that God existed, I could walk this life as an atheist and try to live a very good life. However, I have not found that compelling reason - and I am getting a good ways down this path of life. I read atheist philosophers, try keep abreast of current discussions - and in that I try to be aware of my own limitations - the areas where I may just have a strong interest but no true expertise.

I do enjoy and appreciate our conversations. I might still owe you a bit about the problem of evil - if you are interested.

Let me just tee up what I might say this way: I see two distinct issues: Moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the easier of the two to answer - and the answer has to do with free will. Natural evil is more difficult. It is usually framed by the example of a young deer caught in a forest fire who suffers for days and then dies. No one ever knows that this deer existed. No human witnessed the event. What possible good could ever have come from this event? How could a loving God have allowed this to happen?

This is what I was going to attempt to answer. Are you interested? (I guess that was three questions!)

Best regards,Mike

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(7/15/07)

Infidel,Thanks for your response.

I would like to know more about your personal journey. It sounds like you were raised in the Christian faith and then became an atheist. Did you have a bad experience with the church or Christians that turned you off to Christianity?

Saul

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(7/17/07)

Saul,

It seems to me, from this question and from others that you've posed, that you haven't talked much to very many atheists, or that you haven't looked much into the reasons atheists don't believe in any god. I'm happy to be the atheist that will try to explain these things to you to the best of my ability. I don't know much about Mike's class on atheism, but the way he explains it, it seems that it dispels a lot of the common misconceptions about atheism. If you haven't already, I encourage you to attend his class, or have him send on some of his materials for you to read over.

Your question- "Did you have a bad experience with the church or Christians that turned you off to Christianity?" tells me that you don't still don't seem to have a good handle about what atheism is or who atheists are. I don't know of any atheist who would stop believing in the existence of a god simply because they have a bad experience with the church or with christians. For instance, the host of the pod cast I recommended to you, The Atheist Experience, Matt Dillahunty, was a Christian into his thirties before he became an atheist. He describes on one of his recent shows in detail the different reasons and the process he underwent in losing his faith. He says that it was through studying the bible with the intention of becoming a preacher that he lost his faith. I'd also strongly recommend that you read "Losing Faith in Faith" by Dan Barker. This was a book that I read around the time that I became an atheist, and I found it very helpful to me to read about someone else going through the same thing and thinking the same thoughts about religion that I thought. His is the true story of an evangelical preacher of many years (I forget how many) that over a period of time, lost faith. If you find value in our discussion, then you'd definitely find value in his book. I think you'd find, if you looked, that many atheists are more knowledgeable about the bible than most christians.

I'll try to give you the short version of my de-conversion. My background- I come from religious parents, who went to church every Sunday, and we children were in Sunday school every week. When we were older, we went to church with them. I was confirmed in my Lutheran church, and I helped the pastor as the Lutheran equivalent of an 'alter boy' several times- lighting candles and helping with communion. I was a very good Christian, who read all of my assigned passages for confirmation, and learned all the bible stories, books of the bible, etc that I was given. I don't think I really gave any of it much critical thought until I went to college. I got the envelopes from the church for donations, and felt morally compelled, and was happy, to tithe my 10% (which I now think back on in disgust- how can churches feel justified in bilking children out of their hard earned money?) In my early teenage years, I felt very close to god on a personal level. I felt strongly that I would willingly die for my faith. I remember (and it seems strange to me now, but maybe you can relate) looking at the cross in my church and having daydreams during the service of how god might ask that I die for the sins of humanity again, like Jesus did, and I would be magically lifted up in a beam of light, nailed to the cross, and would die on that cross in glory for all of humanity. I look back on it now as a very strange fantasy of a confused child's mind, but I think it was a product of my religious teachings. We are taught how great His sacrifice was, and how we should admire Him for it, and love Him, and remember Him, and be glad on Good Friday. All children want to be special, and I think that's where these day dreams came from. I prayed often- and when my prayers were answered, I gave god credit; and when they were not answered, I figured god was too busy or he wanted me to learn some greater lesson.

I was in a society that seemed to me to accept Christianity unquestioningly, and I felt that I should too. It wasn't until college that I first met people who were skeptical of Christianity. I remember being with one of my college friends and one of their acquaintances when something critical of religion came up (the details are forgotten) and my friend said, "Oh, I think Infidel is a Christian." The acquaintance asked, "Oh yeah?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm a Christian." And he said, "Oh." It wasn't what he said, but his mannerisms showed me that he was uncomfortable with this, that he was uncomfortable somehow with christianity. This was the first that I had encountered this, and it perplexed me. Somehow I knew that not everyone believed in the Christian god, but this was the first I remember encountering it first hand. Somehow in that place, for the first time, I felt a little ashamed to call myself a Christian, because I knew of no substantial way to back up that belief. It introduced me for the first time to the feeling that my beliefs may be wrong (though I wouldn't have admitted it at the time). My whole basis for belief seemed to boil down to: everyone else I knew seemed to believe in it, so why question that? I found that this was an unsatisfactory response when confronting someone who believes something different. One needs real reasons to believe something. Just because everyone else in my section of the world seems to believe it is an unsatisfactory reason.

I began to think of religion as a 'Santa Clause syndrome.' When we are children, we believe in Santa Clause as much as we believe in Grandpa and Grandma. Why? We believe because everyone around us perpetuates the lie. After a certain age, some people start to give us reasons to doubt this belief. Perhaps we see something we aren't supposed to see, or perhaps someone tells us that it's not true. After this, everyone seems to decide to stop trying to reinforce the lie. I realized that if no one ever told us any different, and society continued to reinforce the lie, that most of us would probably still believe in Santa Clause. I began to see religion as the same thing. After all, the evidence supporting each is about equivalent. However, with religion, society never stops reinforcing the lie (because most of them actually believe it). So we go on believing it, and indoctrinating our children, who indoctrinate their children, and so on and so forth.

“When I was a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

Don't you find it odd that almost all children of Christian parents grow up to be Christians? And almost all children of Muslims grow up to be Muslims? Why don't we see Christians coming from Muslim families? Can you say with confidence that if you had been born in Pakistan to Muslim parents you wouldn't be arguing just as confidently with me that Allah is the one true prophet? I'm convinced that you would. But I digress.

So over the course of about 2 years, my faith went from very strong, to somewhat on shaky ground. I was very curious about what other faiths believed, because for the first time, I was open to the possibility that mine might be wrong. One day, during this period, two Mormon 'missionaries' knocked on my door. They wanted to share their message with me, and as I was interested in what other people believed, I invited them it. For about an hour we read different passages out of the Book of Mormon aloud and talked about their religion. I was skeptical about their claims that American Indians were a lost tribe of Israel, but my interest was piqued when they told me how Joseph Smith dug up some golden tablets that an angel directed him to. This was in relatively recent American history, I was eager to learn more about this great archeological find. I asked them where I could see these tablets, because surely they must be in a museum somewhere. They then informed me that an angel came and took the tablets to heaven after Smith had translated them. It was like my eyes were opened. What a load of nonsense! I saw that they had even less evidence for their claims than other Christians did. I then realized that all religions must be submitted to a skeptical eye. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I was done allowing religion a pass to avoid this principle.

Then in the summer of 2000, I went to Minneapolis to work for a summer with some of my friends from college. Since we didn't know anyone in the area, we pretty much hung out together in our apartment much of the time. Since there wasn't much to do, I had a lot of free time and unlimited internet access in my room. I started reading a lot of stuff online. I stumbled upon (I'm not sure how) the site- www.skepticsannotatedbible.com. I read a lot of the things on this website. I was shocked at how intolerant the bible was of different people, of how bloodthirsty god was, how oppressive he was to women and others, and especially how much the bible contradicted itself and modern knowledge. The more I read, the more I became convinced that this collection of books was not the inerrant inspired word of an omnipotent, omniscient god. If this book was not inerrant, than where does this leave me?

I realized that once one disbelieves in the inerrancy of the bible, one has to question seriously every story and moral teaching in it. Did God not want people to eat shellfish, or was it more likely that due to poor food handling that people got very sick and wrote up moral teachings saying it is forbidden to eat them so that they could keep other people from getting sick. And if they did eat them and get sick, the believers could then say, "Ah, ha! Told you God said to stay away from the clams. Now he's punishing you with stomach pains!" My mind swarmed with the volumes of nonsense in the bible and I began to realize it's true source- man! By the end of the summer, I considered myself agnostic, and stated aloud to myself that I did not believe in god anymore. I half-expected a lightning bolt to hit me. But nothing happened. I continued to profess my disbelief, and asked more times than I can remember for god to show himself to me if he truly existed. Nothing happened. After more time passed, I realized that all those times that I lay awake in bed 'talking' to god, I had really been talking to myself. I realized that all those times that my prayers were answered, they either happened by chance or because I made them happen. I realized that the 'tingling' feelings I had up my spine occasionally during church could be caused by symphonies and other music. I realized that every single experience that I experienced that had reinforced my belief in god had much simpler natural explanations that did not require invoking the supernatural realm.

Eventually I decided to call myself an atheist for simplicity, but technically I suppose I would classify myself as an 'agnostic atheist.' Becoming an atheist is not something that one just wakes up one day and decides. It is usually the result of a process, and for different people it can take different lengths of time. For me, it took about 2 years. It is a process of questioning different beliefs and doctrines, throwing out the ones that don't make sense or are contradictory, until one finally looks at what's left and discovers that there's nothing there.

I've been an atheist ever since. I have been discriminated against because of my views, and have had my property defaced by Christians. I've never been attacked physically, so I guess I'm lucky in that respect.

The process of de-conversion was not an easy one. It was the result of me questioning many of the things that I believed at a deep and visceral level. At times I felt alone, depressed, or angry. At times I felt like my whole world was turned upside-down. But I knew that I was on a journey to find out what the truth was, and I decided that I would follow it until the end, regardless of the destination. I had to come to a point where I decided that I was unafraid of where the truth would lie. In some ways I was a little afraid, though. I was afraid of how of how my parents or extended family may react. They were a little upset at first, but I think they ignored it, hoping that it was a fad that would pass. Now I think they understand that this is who I am, and my mom has taken the stance that she still believes I will go to heaven because I am a good person, and that I know right from wrong. When I tell her that this is not what the bible says, she plays that off and believes her theory anyway. It's easier for her to believe we will be together in eternity than to believe I will burn in hell, I realize. And truly this is what a lot of atheist have to face, that's why many choose to stay in the closet. They don't want to alienate their friends, co-workers, families, or spouses. They don't want to burdon their parents with thoughts of us burning in an imaginary lake of fire. We realize that it hurts them emotionally. We also realize that society has a very negative perception of what atheists are, largely due to misunderstanding that is perpetuated by the major religions of 'peace,' an example being the passage you e-mailed me recently of us being fools, vile, and corrupt.

Occasionally, I'll bring up religion with my parents, like recently when my uncle was killed in a freak accident (he was devoutly catholic and left behind 5 children and a loving spouse). I went to all of his catholic funeral services, and was a Pall Bearer. I endured over an hour and a half of 'Hail Mary' chanting, and over an hour service that spent all of 5 minutes on the man, and the rest of the time glorifying god to banish doubts of any of the parishioners over such a senseless loss. It was all a ridiculous glorification of god, and not what it should have been, a forum to recount stories of and remember a great man who will be sorely missed by many.

But I've come to realize that my parents will believe what they believe and it seems there is no amount arguments, logic, or facts that I can present that will change their minds. So I've come to a place where I think it's best just to leave the topic alone as far as they're concerned. I have no problem discussing it if they want to, but every time it comes up I can tell they get very uncomfortable and change the topic quickly.

I can say that I am happier now than I ever was as a christian. I know now that I am in control of my own destiny through my own actions. I know that prayer is worthless, and if I want something to happen, I had better take it upon myself and figure out a way to make it happen. That I don't have to feel guilty about 'sins' the church tries to convince me that I've committed. They had me believing that wrong or impure thoughts are justification for eternal damnation before a holy god. I know now that I don't have to be afraid of my thoughts, it is actions that truly matter. My thoughts are what gave me an evolutionary advantage over other predators, and it is to my disadvantage to not acknowledge that and make myself a better thinker. I value this life so much more because I know that it will someday end, and it is therefore necessary to enjoy it while I have it. My mind has been unshackled, and I have broke away the partitions that divided my mind into the part that made logical and rational decisions based on facts and the part that accepted supernatural explanations on faith. I am free to understand the nature of the universe independent of dogma, in an unbiased way. All of these things are very liberating to me.

( Check out this site for a good quick FAQ on a lot of questions you may have about atheists: http://www.atheist-community.org/faq/. I probably should have steered you here earlier, as it may have expedited a lot of the discussion we've already had)

I hope this helps you understand where I'm coming from. Please take a look at the books, websites, and videos that I recommended to you in this and past e-mails, as they provide a perspective that is superior to that which I can provide in an e-mail.

Take care,Infidel

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(7/18/07)

Mike,

I think that they demonstrate the caricatures of Christianity and Christian beliefs that are so readily/easily accepted by many who do not understand the Christian faith.

I think we may find Mr. Deity funny for reasons more similar than different. I don't think that the show really point out ways that Christians genuinely believe. I don't think Christians believe god created light with a clapper. Of course it's a caricature, but that's why it's funny. Just like 'the Office' and Dilbert are caricatures of the world of the cubicle.

One question for you:Do you ever think about why there is something, rather than nothing? Or to put it another way: where this all came from? Not in the 'big bang' sense - but in the sense that anything exists at all. Here is why I ask:My journey to faith in Christ began in a back yard when I was seven years old. Lying on the grass, I held my dad's binoculars as steady as I could and peered up into the night sky - and wondered where it all came from. (Yes, really - at seven. I can remember the night.) The question really was one of existence - where does everything that ever existed come from? I was that kind of kid even at that young age - pretty smart and a bit geeky. I thought about things other kids did not think about.

Sure, one can wonder about why there is something rather than nothing, but I don't see any need or reason to insert a supernatural being there. It's a bit like walking through a garden and saying, "why is it so beautiful?" I could say that it is because of and invisible unicorn who walks through the garden at midnight, but that doesn't really explain anything. The just because we have a brain that hase evolved to the point that we are able to percieve beauty or to attempt to comprehend the nature of existance, does not in any way mean that there was a divine creator. On billions of other worlds, there is no being able to look at the sky and comprehend these things, is that evidence for god's non-existance? The development of life seems at this time to be a rare occurance, but this also does not indicate god. Given the immense size of the universe, it would be quite unlikely that life does not exist elsewhere. It's a bit like winning the lotery. The odds are spectacularily small, however someone hits the jackpot quite often. Should this person look at their ticket with cosmic wonder? I've heard it said that the average person experiences a 1 in a million event at least once a month, we just often don't realize it.

OK - one more question: you stated that I seem to be a nice enough fellow who happens to believe in a myth. What is the myth?That Jesus lived?That Jesus died?That Jesus rose from the dead?That an agency other than the present physical matter in the universe brought the universe into existence?

Yes. :) This myth: "Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree."

Also, what if I handed you a book that taked about descent from 2 original humans, a 6 day creation, talking snakes, donkeys, and burning bushes, magical parting of seas, people flying into the sky, coming alive after being dead for days, demonic posession, 'impure' animals unfit for consumption, the earth stopping it's 1000 miles per hour for a whole day and then spinning at the same speed again after that day, magical food that falls from the sky, and that killing an innocent person can pardon another person of crimes,.... What if I then told you that this book was not only true, but the inerrant word of god. I think you would be pretty skeptical, except when it comes to the bible. You give this book a pass on skepticism that you would apply to any other book that I would hand you. What reason do you have for this? What extra-biblical evidence can you point to that would give someone reason to believe that these extraordinary stories are historical fact?

Long ago I decided that if it made more sense to believe that there was no God, if I could not find a compelling reason to believe that God existed, I could walk this life as an atheist and try to live a very good life. However, I have not found that compelling reason - and I am getting a good ways down this path of life. I read atheist philosophers, try keep abreast of current discussions - and in that I try to be aware of my own limitations - the areas where I may just have a strong interest but no true expertise.

I'm not sure that I understand your first sentence. I think it may have to many 'if's somewhere. It sounds like you're looking for a compelling reason to believe that god does not exist. Isn't the burden of proof rest on the person making the supernatural claims. Should I believe in ghosts or bigfoot in the absence of a compelling reason that they do not exist? I think that the position when approaching any claim should be skepticism until significant evidence provides a compelling reason to believe in the reality of that claim, and not have the default be belief until that claim can be proven wrong.

Let me just tee up what I might say this way: I see two distinct issues: Moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the easier of the two to answer - and the answer has to do with free will. Natural evil is more difficult. It is usually framed by the example of a young deer caught in a forest fire who suffers for days and then dies. No one ever knows that this deer existed. No human witnessed the event. What possible good could ever have come from this event? How could a loving God have allowed this to happen? This is what I was going to attempt to answer. Are you interested? (I guess that was three questions!)

Sure, I'd like to hear your justification for natural evil. You could also describe (like the one blog I posted stated) the presence of suffering that serves no purpose as in a terminal cancer patient.

Take care,Infidel

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(7/17/07)

Infidel,

Thanks for sharing this.

I could have written this except for the ending. Grew up an observant Catholic, gave Campus Crusade folks a hard time, dabbled in various faith traditions, and concluded that none made sense.

Well almost. I decided to take one more hard look at deism because of my abiding interest in why there was something rather than nothing.

Asking whether or not there could be a beginning to the universe was a perfectly sensible question - and one I was interested in, since a universe with a beginning has some rather significant philosophical implications. And determining the agency by which that universe began would have some significant impact on my worldview. I had a strong interest in making a best effort to determine the source of the real, rational universe around me.

Alvin Plantinga describes warrant as that property a belief has when that belief is the result of properly functioning cognitive equipment.

Now one can question whether my cognitive equipment functions properly ;-), but I sincerely believe that my faith has warrant, and have reason to believe that I am cognitively whole.

I think of this as being something that is philosophically rational, but not open to empirical examination. Mike

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(7/18/07)


Thanks Infidel,

Sure, one can wonder about why there is something rather than nothing, but I don't see any need or reason to insert a supernatural being there.

I guess I am wondering what you personally do insert? Or do you just not think it is worth bothering with? Since this question was a significant one in my faith journey, I am sincerely wondering whether if you have an thought, opinion or even regard it as worth thinking about.

The just because we have a brain that hase evolved to the point that we are able to percieve beauty or to attempt to comprehend the nature of existance, does not in any way mean that there was a divine creator. On billions of other worlds, there is no being able to look at the sky and comprehend these things, is that evidence for god's non-existance?

For me, the human brain is evidence - but in and of itself is not proof of God's existence. However, what other explanation do we have for our existence? Even with evolutionary theories, there must be a beginning. Billions of other worlds are comprehended by us, and for me this is evidence. The fact that we sit at a unique place in our galaxy and solar system, and are able to observe, measure and catalogue a great number of physical phenomena that would be unobservable or unmeasurable outside of very tight tolerances is like winning the lottery ticket week after week.

Yes. :) This myth: "Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie...

Gee, when you put it that way, I would not believe it either. You begin to sound like Dawkins. ;-)

You give this book a pass on skepticism that you would apply to any other book that I would hand you. What reason do you have for this? What extra-biblical evidence can you point to that would give someone reason to believe that these extraordinary stories are historical fact?

Woah! Hardly. I put it through the wringer. Both with Jepthah and Elisha, and again here, you present a view of how to evaluate what the Bible says that I do not fully subscribe to.

Do you think that the Bible is reliable as a historical document in any way, shape or form? If so, what do you use to make your determination about which parts are reliable? If not, why not? When extra-biblical resources and the Bible agree, what is your default reaction? Skepticism of both sources? How about when they disagree?

I too dismissed the Bible out of hand, but upon close examination, have found that it is worth my time and attention.

More later. I am supposed to be on vacation. ;-)Mike

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(07/19/07)

Mike,
I e-mailed the host of the podcast, "The Atheist Experience", who has talked about this story before on the show. I wanted to know what his thoughts were on the points you raised. I figured I'd pass his comments on to you, if you were interested to read them. Enjoy your vacation!
Infidel


Ok, sorry for the delay...this is probably much too late, but here goes:

  • Elisha has just performed a merciful miracle for the city of Jericho. Incidents both before and after this episode attest to his overall character.
    Elisha's character and whether or not he performed a merciful miracle are irrelevant to this issue. We're analyzing the story to determine if the actions were moral.
  • People know him in the context of having been a servant of Elijah. This fact and the fact that he serves the God of the Israelites makes him unpopular in some folks' eyes - and open to possible physical harm.
    Also irrelevant.
  • Elisha is probably in his mid-twenties at this time.
    Irrelevant.
  • The Hebrew that is sometimes translated as children (unfortunately so) is actually term for young men between the ages of 12 to 30. This is borne out by its usage in other contexts. This term is used to denote men of military age. (I Kings 20:14-15)
    This is debatable - but also irrelevant. For the sake of the argument, we can accept this claim and say that they were all 21 years old.
  • Elisha and these young men are probably about the same age.
    Irrelevant.
  • This was not simply a case of name calling. Although the original meaning of this idiom is lost to us, "bald head" is almost certainly meant as a particularly nasty insult, and a prelude to outright physical danger. We still see this today in our culture. Certain verbal threats are not regarded idly. We judge the nature of the threat and respond accordingly.
    Wrong, it is name-calling. The passage doesn't say they every phsyically took any action. They may have been making threats of physical action, but the text doesn't say that they took any.
  • What we have here is a fairly large group of young men who are making credible threats both in body language (they came out of the town to the road in order to confront him) and verbally (the assertion of baldness would have been something like our walking up to someone and saying "Hey f___ head, we're here to help you leave the planet right now, just like old man Elijah did.") They came out with a malevoltent purpose.
    It doesn't matter if they were crips and bloods - there's no indication that they took any physical action.
  • That Elisha cursed them is not surprising. He was standing his ground, and willing to take his lumps.
    Actually, calling down a curse from a god is not the action of someone willing to take their lumps. It's like calling in an air strike.
  • God intervened in a way that preserved Elisha for future good works.
    The question at hand doesn't have anything to do with Elisha. If we assume the story is true, it is God who took action against the youths.
  • The narrative states that 42 of the youths were mauled. I wonder how large the group was? Why were 42 mauled by only two bears? Is it because they would not retreat?
    The question at hand is whether or not the mauling was justified. We, as civilized people, recognize that the response to a threat must be reasonable and proportional to the threat. You can't just shoot someone who calls you names. You also can't shoot them for threatening to kick your ass or even kill you. They must take an action to warrant self defense and the story says nothing about this.

    Christians assume this, because of their personal preconceptions about God, morality and justice - but this is circular reasoning. They're assuming that the actions taken by God were reasonable and just, because they already believe that anything he does is reasonable and just.
  • Elisha had no idea what was going to happen.
    First of all, this is irrelevant. Second of all, I find it to be an overstatement. The foremost prophet of God, capable of performing miracles, cursors some people and he has "no idea" what was going to happen? If he didn't have any reason to think his curse would be acted upon, why make it? In any case, Elisha isn't the issue.
  • I cannot concieve that a large band of roving little kids would come out of a city to confront Elisha. That is simply not a good reading of the text. Unfortunately though, this is exactly the way it is taught in some Sunday school lessons! Please don't let bad teaching lead you into a wrong conclusion about what the text actually is saying.
    It doesn't matter if they were 6 or 60.
  • We have non-Biblical sources that describe roving bands of young men at that time and how they would menace travelers. I sincerely believe that this is that kind of case.
    Irrelevant.


    The issue here is simple: if we assume that the Bible is accurately relaying the story, what message does this story send? Are the actions reasonable and moral?

    You can make as many excuses as you want, you can appeal to extra-Biblical history books that mention gangs, you can choose to think they were older, you can choose to think that Elisha was in immediate danger. The story says that some youths called him names, he cursed them, God followed through on the curse by having 2 bears come and maul them. If we accept all of the apologists' claims, here's the story:

    "Elisha when to Bethel and as he was walking, a large gang of young men came out and threatened him with bodily harm. Elisha, standing his ground and fearful for his life, called out for God to protect him. God, sent two bears to maul the assailants."

    Personally, I'd say that this was still an immoral action. Physical violence was used to retaliate against non-physical violence. However, that summarized version of the story is different from the story that appears in the Bible.

    Here's the King James version:

    "And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

    The NIV:

    "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths."

    From Young's Literal Translation:

    "And he goeth up thence to Beth-El, and he is going up in the way, and little youths have come out from the city, and scoff at him, and say to him, `Go up, bald-head! go up, bald-head!'
    And he looketh behind him, and seeth them, and declareth them vile in the name of Jehovah, and two bears come out of the forest, and rend of them forty and two lads."

    What do we see in all of those versions?

    First of all, we see "mocked", "jeered" and "scoffed". These are three translations of the same word and they set the tone for the "baldhead" comment. If the "baldhead" comment were a death threat, why would we include a descriptive word that means "mocked", "jeered" or "scoffed"? As noted, the actions are extreme even if this were a death threat, but the text doesn't express this as a threat. It is only through the circular reasoning that presumes that the response was morally just that revisionist apologists make this out to be a threat.

    Secondly, we see "turned back", "turned around" and "looketh behind him". Elisha wasn't cornered and threatened, he was walking by the city and had already passed it. The jeering was coming from behind him. He could have simply kept walking, or even started running.

    The most rational conclusion? This story never happened. It is is a fictional morality play designed to send several messages:

    - mocking those who claim to speak for God can be dangerous or deadly
    - YHWH's vengeance is severe

    The problem with this story is that it's not just a problem for Biblical literalists. Whether the story is true or not, it's purpose is to deliver a message about the God of that book. Whether it describes what did happen or not, it's describing what should happen - from the perspective of that God.

    And that God is one who has no problem mauling, slaughtering, drowning, burning, stoning, slaughtering or salt-ifying anyone he doesn't like or anyone who doesn't like him. That God is perfectly fine with extreme responses to non-extreme issues. People aren't worshipping you? Drown everyone but one family and start over. A town is worshipping some other God? Destroy it. People are jeering (or threatening) your prophets? Send some bears to maul them.

    These actions, real or just threatened, aren't rational, they're not moral, they're not compassionate, they're not proportional - and they're not the actions of anyone worthy of being worshipped.

    One wonders, given my assessment of this God - why he hasn't killed me off. I openly mock and ridicule his book, his followers, his prophets. Has he mellowed? Or are people simply reading too much into the rantings of ancient, ignorant, marauding, tribal folks?

    -Matt

====================================================================

(7/22/07)


Hi Infidel,

Matt's response is interesting.

It is not my expectation that you would always agree with my take on certain portions of Scripture – but I hope to give you a good response so you can understand what I believe, rather than a caricature of what I believe. In that, I hope to offer you something that you may not have encountered before. Even if you do not find what I offer compelling, perhaps it will help your understanding of how broad Christian thinking might be. I hope to learn as well from you.

We may have differing views on how to read ancient texts – whether they are Biblical or not. I try to take into account immediate context, the complete narrative, setting, genre, cultural references, and when possible an understanding of how well we understand the idioms that are used in the text. (There is what I would consider bad Christian teaching based on unfortunate and improper readings of Biblical texts. I think of snake handlers in some Christian sects.) A good grasp of rudimentary principles about how to read any ancient text would also apply to the Bible.

The tools I try to use are the same tools employed by folks who work with ancient languages, texts, and cultures whether the subject matter is sacred or secular.

I usually run my thoughts and writings past folks who are actively working or teaching in these disciplines, both at Christian and non-Christian universities. While this does not make me an expert or always right, I hope it shows that it makes me careful.

My bullet points were meant to put the story in a bit of context. Not the full context – but a bit of it. I see that Matt thinks some of that is irrelevant. I am certain that these things are irrelevant to the point he wants to make. However, they provide the context for my counterpoints.

I submitted the question of whether or not the incident was simply name calling or prelude to a very real threat past a friend with a PhD in ancient Semitic languages. He affirmed that the meaning of the original idiom is lost – so we need to take all aspects of the narrative into account in order to think about whether the phrase was just name-calling or a threat. At the end of the day, we may not be able to say for sure, but only assign a degree of likelihood.

Several sources point out that enemies in ancient Semitic cultures would be shamed after they were physically conquered by shaving the head and/or beard of the enemy. So I still lean towards thinking that this was a threat of physical danger.

I agree – Elisha turned back – which simply indicates that they were behind him. It seems to me that they were pursuing him, calling out threats.

Was the mauling justified? If you believed that someone was going to harm your child, would you wait until it actually happened, or would you intervene in a way that would completely deter the attacker(s) and ensure your child's safety? In a case like that, what is a proportional response?

There may be more to the story that others would add as a way to present a thorough Judeo-Christian understanding of the events. Some would even disagree with me – as I noted earlier regarding folks who would see this simply as a warning not to dis God's man.

Do I believe that everything God does is reasonable and just? Yes – but that is not because I have bought into some cheaply held belief about the character and nature of God. I trust that there is no circular reasoning here. The roots of that "yes" above are found in the answer to why there is something rather than nothing – and then thinking theologically, philosophically and rationally about the implications that flow from different ways of answering that.
Vacation has been good.

One more day – not enough!
Best regards,Mike

====================================================================

(7/23/07)

Sure, one can wonder about why there is something rather than nothing, but I don't see any need or reason to insert a supernatural being there. I guess I am wondering what you personally do insert? Or do you just not think it is worth bothering with? Since this question was a significant one in my faith journey, I am sincerely wondering whether if you have an thought, opinion or even regard it as worth thinking about.

Why does one need to insert anything? It may be worth thinking about, and it may prove productive someday as science advances, but there's no reason to insert answers that we don't have any good reason to believe that they're true. There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying, "We don't know." For instance, we once thought that the atom was the smallest unit of matter, but then we found out that we could continue to divide even the atom into smaller subatomic particles. So what if we continue to divide those into smaller and smaller bits, is there an end to it, and what does it look like as we approach that end? Who knows, but just because we don't know doesn't mean that we should say make something up like "the Christian holy spirit is the superglue of all matter and energy." I think it is interesting to wonder how everything came to be, and I have heard theories that the big bang may be a repetetive process. An explosion of space and time followed by trillions of years of universal expansion, followed by trillions of years of universal collapse, the culmination of which would be another singularity and massive explosion followed by trillions of years of expansion.... In this explanation, there may very well never have been a true begining in the traditional sense because with each explosion, time and space are destroyed and re-created. I agree that it can be difficult to wrap one's mind around, and we could be completely wrong. And I'll even admit that there is some small possibility that some sort of extradimensional being initiated this event, but even if that is the case, I see no reason to believe that this being would in any way resemble the personal god who is interested in our lives that most theists would present. It could just as easily be an entity from another dimension who was doing a 6th grade science project. How do you take mere presence of everthing to be evidence for the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god as proposed by the bible?

The just because we have a brain that hase evolved to the point that we are able
to percieve beauty or to attempt to comprehend the nature of existance,
does not in any way mean that there was a divine creator. On billions
of other worlds, there is no being able to look at the sky and comprehend these things, is that evidence for god's non-existance?
For me, the human brain is evidence - but in and of itself is not proof of God's existence. However, what other explanation do we have for our existence? Even with evolutionary theories, there must be a beginning. Billions of other worlds are comprehended by us, and for me this is evidence. The fact that we sit at a unique place in our galaxy and solar system, and are able to observe, measure and catalogue a great number of physical phenomena that would be unobservable or unmeasurable outside of very tight tolerances is like winning the lottery ticket week after week.

I don't see the human brain as evidence for a supreme being any more than I see any other animals' nervous system as evidence. We are the product of millions of years of evolution, over which time our nervous systems developed to favor our ability to problem solve, use tools, etc. Sure there has to be a beginning (so to speak) for evolution to happen, but why does that beginning require a supernatural cause? And the obvious question- if all causes need a creator, than what being created the creator? You can't create a line of logic that goes all the way back to the regress that you want, then just conveniently throw out the whole principle that got you there. Also, there were experiments done many years ago in a simulated environment that showed the formation of amino acids from inert matter, which proved that it could have happened on earth without supernatural intervention.

Another thought- we are far, far more similar to mosquitos than we are to God. We share the same building blocks (DNA), we occupy the same coordinates in space/time, we both have finite life spans, and we have similar needs (food, water, oxygen, reproduction, etc). Do we have any idea about the goals, hopes, interests, ambitions, or cosmic beiliefs of a mosquito? One might think they don't have a sophisticated enough nervous system, but who knows for sure? Anyways, my point is we are vastly more similar to a mosquito than we are to a god who we don't know what he's made of, occupies all points in space and time, has and infinite lifespan, and has no physical needs, etc. So how can we even hope to understand anything about this being? Could this being really be the god of the Old Testament who demanded animal sacrifice? Seems a little silly.

Yes. :) This myth: "Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie... Gee, when you put it that way, I would not believe it either. You begin to sound like Dawkins. ;-)

I sound like Dawkins? Comparing me to such an honored and decorated european scholar, I'll take that as a compliment. :)

You give this book a pass on skepticism that you would apply to any other book that I would hand you. What reason do you have for this? What extra-biblical evidence can you point to that would give someone reason to believe that these extraordinary stories are historical fact? Woah! Hardly. I put it through the wringer. Both with Jepthah and Elisha, and again here, you present a view of how to evaluate what the Bible says that I do not fully subscribe to.
Do you think that the Bible is reliable as a historical document in any way, shape or form? If so, what do you use to make your determination about which parts are reliable? If not, why not?

Parts of it may be historically accurate, and parts of it are definitely not. Parts by certain authors may be reliable since it is really a compilation of books by many authors, some of which may be more accurate to actual history than others. However, there are enough things in the bible that are not accurate to cast doubt on the whole thing. I would then say that the bible is not reliable as a whole, without other extra-biblical sources that reinforce it.

When extra-biblical resources and the Bible agree, what is your default reaction? Skepticism of both sources? How about when they disagree?

Should I be surprised if the bible and other historical references agree on some points? Should I be surprised if Harry Potter's books were to reference real people or places? Just because a text mentions things that actually happened, does not authenticate other stories which are clearly fictional (Jonah and the whale, etc).

I too dismissed the Bible out of hand, but upon close examination, have found that it is worth my time and attention.

I admire your study and your efforts in justifying your belief, even if I disagree with your conclusion. I wish more Christians would take the time to do the same thing.

Take care, Infidel




(9/11/07)

Saul & Mike,
Just a quick question I had: Why don't we see God demonstrating himself more like he did in the Bible? In the Bible, He led the Isrealites with a column of fire by night, and cloud by day, fed them with mana from the sky, parted seas, rained down brimstone, stopped the sun in the sky for a day, spoke from heaven, raised people from the dead, cured blindness, destroyed armies with columns of fire, etc.
Why don't we see any of that today? I'd find it easier to believe He existed if I saw any of this.
-Infidel



(9/11/07)
Infidel,
I think for several reasons:
1. I don’t know fully. How’s that for a start!
2. Sometimes our lack of faith. I do hear about this stuff happening more in 3rd world countries where they aren’t as “intellectually sophisticated” and perhaps hindered by this.
3. It is happening in ways that I think we often miss really recognizing. Every time our blood clots I think it is a miracle of God.
Just a few quick thoughts before I go to a meeting. Good to hear from you. I am back on the air on Saturdays from 11 – noon.
Saul


(9/12/07)

Saul,
See my replies to your responses below:
Saul wrote:
I think for several reasons:
1. I don’t know fully. How’s that for a start!
I can appreciate this as an honest answer.

2. Sometimes our lack of faith. I do hear about this stuff happening more in 3rd world countries where they aren’t as “intellectually sophisticated” and perhaps hindered by this.
Interesting. So the reason god doesn’t show his power by raising the dead, wiping out disobedient nations with divine fire, etc is because of our lack of faith? Seems far more reasonable to me that these 3rd world countries that are “intellectually unsophisticated” are simply wrong in interpreting events as divine. I’d be willing to bet that if I took a TV and a remote to an isolated tribe who’d never heard of one, they would regard me as a god for my power to create images at will from across a room. These cultures you mention probably still believe rainbows are magic and do rain dances. This is not an illustration of God’s willingness to show himself to these people, it is instead an illustration of their lack of knowledge about how the world works.

3. It is happening in ways that I think we often miss really recognizing. Every time our blood clots I think it is a miracle of God.
So is it a miracle when a chimp’s blood clots? How about a bird’s? Is it a miracle when DNA replicates? How about when there are errors during replication? Is it a miracle that my pencil falls to the floor reliably when I let it go? Is it a miracle when the sun rises every day? Is it a miracle that there exists this computer for me to type on? How do you differentiate between what is a miracle of God, and what is simply nature?
This skirts the question I posed. Where are the columns of fire? Where are the parted seas? Where are the men with superhuman strength? Since none of it has been reliably witnessed, it seems far more likely to me that they are simply fables.
-Infidel


(9/12/07)

Infidel -
A question about the problem of evil/suffering. Would you personally believe that it is evidence against the the existence of God because:


(a) Any evil/suffering at all exists?- or - (b) The degree to which evil/suffering exists?
I find that the vast majority of atheistic philosophers would not claim (a). Considering the amputee site, I was wondering what your position would be.
Mike



(9/12/07)
Mike-
I guess I'm not not sure how to answer that. I'd say the problem of evil becomes more obvious when major events happen (natural disasters, severe birth defects, etc), but I suppose that when it's boiled down, one could say that it's a problem with the presence of evil at all. And personally, I'd say it's more a problem of pointless pain/suffering- end-stage cancer, etc. It's clearly a contradiction to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being.
-Infidel



(9/13/07)
Infidel,
Great to hear from you again. I only have a little time today so this will be brief:



Evil due to man’s action is simply because out of love God gives us freedom of the will, and because we do not obey Him we do bad things that hurt others and God. God as a loving Father hurts more than anyone over how the people He created misuse their freedom of the will and thus bring evil into the world.


As for the other issues, pain in life and suffering is not pointless and certainly doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, because through pain and suffering many have come to experience the love and mercy and compassion of God.
Saul



(9/13/07)

Saul,
Where was the god-father in this instance?-
http://midwestatheist.blogspot.com/2007/08/boy-5-doused-in-gas-set-on-fire-by.html


Where is the “love, mercy, and compassion” with these children?- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXfIop5ZOsY


Also, I’m still waiting for god to show himself to me. Why don’t you think that he has? Is it moral of him to cast me into hellfire because I will not believe without good evidence, especially because he is the one withholding that evidence? Like I said, if god exists, I want to know, so why won’t he show me the evidence?

Infidel


(9/14/07)

Infidel,
He has give you evidence! Look outside and behold His creation. Look at your awesome body and behold His marvelous creation in giving you blood and kidneys and a heart and ….. And He has given the greatest evidence of His reality in coming to earth as a man (Jesus) who loved you enough to die for yours sins so that you could be forgiven and have a living, daily, intimate relationship with the God of the universe. I don’t say these things as some religious cliché but as the truth declared in God’s Word. I truly believe if you are willing to open your heart (not just your mind) He will show Himself to you, it just might not come in the exact package you are expecting.

Let’s keep talking,
Saul


(9/15/07)
Saul,
Let me point out the problems I have with your last e-mail:

Infidel, He has give you evidence! Look outside and behold His creation.
As I've said, there's nothing that can be seen in nature that requires a supernatural creator to explain it. In fact, when looking at nature and observing geology (strata layers, fossils, etc), plate tectonics (look at how the continents used to fit together), biology (the fact of evolution), and many other fields, it actually is evidence against the bible. If the world is only 6000 to 10,000 years old (as the bible says), then there is no way to reconcile this timeline with the timeline necessary to form the geological, continental, and biological remnants that we can witness today.

Look at your awesome body and behold His marvelous creation in giving you blood and kidneys and a heart and …..
I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but evolution is more than adequate to explain all of the biological evidences you cite. Evolution is a fact (and a theory), and is almost universally accepted among elite biological scientists. There is no need to posit a supernatural creator to explain natural phenomenon which need no such supernatural intervention.
Even Francis Collins (evangelical head of the human genome project) said:
Evolution is about as solid a theory as one will ever see....
you cannot claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old unless you're ready to reject all of the fundamental findings of geology, cosmology, physics, chemistry and biology. You really have to throw out all of the sciences in order to draw that conclusion.


And He has given the greatest evidence of His reality in coming to earth as a man (Jesus) who loved you enough to die for yours sins so that you could be forgiven and have a living, daily, intimate relationship with the God of the universe.
There is little evidence to confirm that jesus even existed. There is no contemoporary account of his existance. Even the earliest gospel wasn't written until at least 40 years after Jesus' death. Your previous example of Josephus has been shown to be a forgery, and it's a shame that it keeps getting trodded out as proof.
Next, I question the logic and sense behind the self suicide of God. See my previous post for this.
Also, where is this "living, daily, intimate relationship with god" that I'm supposed to have? I've told you that I desire to know the presence of god, and that it would be extremely easy for god to show himself to me. Yet he refuses to do so, so I must continue to question.

I don’t say these things as some religious cliché but as the truth declared in God’s Word. I truly believe if you are willing to open your heart (not just your mind) He will show Himself to you, it just might not come in the exact package you are expecting.
Again, I've said that I'm willing and eager to know of god's existance. I'm not sure what is meant by "open my heart". It is an overused cliche. My heart is an organ that pumps blood, nothing more. But I am desirious of this knowledge, so I don't know what more you think he expects of me. So I continue to wait for some real evidence or experience to change my beliefs. Until then, I maintain that it is immoral of God to punish me for his withholding of evidence that he knows in his omniscience that I require to believe. Belief is not a choice. It is a result of experience and knowledge. One cannot choose to believe something. They either do or do not believe it based on their knowledge and experience.

-Infidel

(9/16/07)

Saul,
since my last e-mail referenced my understanding that evolution is established
fact, I wanted to pass along some more information on why that is so.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section4.html

Pay particular attention to the endogenous retrovirus section. This is proof positive that evolution is how we all got here. I know it's hard to wrap one's head around how we went from single celled organisms to the complex thinking beings we are today over a period of billions of years, but the evidence does not lie. One has to go where the evidence leads, and not be hindered by preconceived notions once evidence shows them to be wrong.

Do you still believe that the world is flat and supported by two giant tortoises? No? Why not? Because science told you (because the bible certainly didn't). It's time you acknowledged the same with evolution.

-Infidel



(9/16/07)

Maybe I am not understanding this, but I don't see where it supports the mechanism of natural selection that evolutionary theory calls for. Full evolutionary theory seems to call for common descent and the mechanism of natural selection.

Best regards,

Mike

(9/16/07)

OK- Now that I have read the conclusion, I understand the focus of the article:

"As explained in the introduction, none of the predictions directly address how macroevolution has occurred; nevertheless, the validity of the macroevolutionary conclusion does not depend on whether Darwinism, Lamarckism (i.e. inheritance of acquired characaters), or something else is the true mechanism of adaptive evolutionary change."

This is because there is no universal consensus on the mechanism. It seems that there is a lively ongoing debate within evolutionary circles about the nature of whatever mechanism is really at work.

If you found this article interesting, you might find this book by Stephen Barr a well-reasoned discussion from the Christian perspective on matters covered in the article.

http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Physics-Ancient-Faith-Stephen/dp/0268034710

Some articles by Barr:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=111

http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=87

Barr is respected by a many members of the scientific community - deist, theist, agnostic and atheist.

Mike

(9/17/07)

Looks like an interesting book, I may have to check it out at some point. Right now, I have so many others I need to read. I just ordered Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" and Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great: How religion poisons everything". After that, I plan to read Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", "God: The Failed Hypothesis", "The End of Faith", and others. So many books, not enough time.

Anyway, on evolution, my point on mentioning it is not to talk about the mechanism. While hopefully we'll learn more about the mechanism as time goes on, the important thing right now in this country is to establish evolution with common descent as a fact in the minds of the
people. People continue to be misled by their pastors, and politicians, and our science classrooms are falling further behind on the world stage. I try to show people that evolution is fact, because in doing so I show that the bible is wrong in Genesis. If evolution is true, than there is no Adam and Eve. If there is no Adam and Eve, there is no original sin. If there is no
original sin, the bible starts to unravel. If the Earth is more than 10,000 years old, than the geneologies of Jesus are wrong. If that is wrong than what else is wrong?

Mechanism is unimportant when considering these points, which we must do.

-Infidel

(9/17/07)

Infidel,
see my responses below


I: I try to show people that evolution is fact, because in doing so I show that the bible is wrong in Genesis.

M: I find this to be a curious statement: if E then !G. I think you are begging the question here.

M: What does is mean to say that evolution is fact? If you do not have a mechanism, then you do not have evolution by any definition that I am aware of. Common descent + mechanism.

M: I am not sure what it means then that this would demonstrate that Genesis is wrong? Perhaps what you mean is that this would be evidence against certain literalist young earth creationist positions. There are many who would still state that Genesis is true in that it shows God as creator and sustainer - which I think is the primary teaching in Genesis 1-11.

I: If the Earth is more than 10,000 years old, than the geneologies of Jesus are wrong.

M: I do not think that any reputable scholar - Christian or not - would ever make that claim. The geneologies are quite like other ancient geneologies. The geneologies in Matthew and Luke are two different kinds - and were written for two different purposes. Neither purports to be a timeline, calendar or any such thing.

M: If you want to say that this challenges certain young earth creationist positions, that is true.

M: Dawkins, Harris et al are quite adept at painting a caricature of Christian faith and practice. What I find in their writings is equivalent to me describing all atheists in terms of Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Pol Pot and a few selected atheist mass murderers. I cannot do that - it would be dishonest by my standards of what is right and wrong. However, they do not seem to be bound by any need to be fair, even-handed and reasonable when engaging Christian faith and practice. Perhaps that is because of a differing value system.

Mike

(9/18/07)

Mike- See my comments in blue.

J: I try to show people that evolution is fact, because in doing so I show that the bible is wrong in Genesis.

M: I find this to be a curious statement: if E then !G. I think you are begging the question here

Hmm, I'm not sure about this. I'm not sure how evolution can coincide with a literal reading of Genesis. If we're taking about a non-literal meaning, then you may be right. More on that later.

M: What does it mean to say that evolution is fact? If you do not have a mechanism, then you do not have evolution by any definition that I am aware of. Common descent + mechanism.


http://www.notjustatheory.com/. "There's the fact of evolution. Evolution (genetic change over generations)3 happens, just like gravity does. ... But that's not the issue we are addressing here. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is our best explanation for the fact of evolution."

M: I am not sure what it means then that this would demonstrate that Genesis is wrong? Perhaps what you mean is that this would be evidence against certain literalist young earth creationist positions. There are many who would still state that Genesis is true in that it shows God as creator and sustainer - which I think is the primary teaching in Genesis 1-11.

I think this is dodging the truth. I can respect literalist interpreters (even though I think they're wrong) because at least they maintain that the bible means what it says. Once one starts down the road of "well, that's not supposed to be taken literally," then we have a situation where a person can take the bible and make it say whatever they want it to say, and it becomes worthless as a source of knowledge or morality. When the bible says that God formed Adam out of dirt, and Eve from his rib, and the earth was created in 6 days- It means what it says.

J: If the Earth is more than 10,000 years old, than the geneologies of Jesus are wrong.

M: I do not think that any reputable scholar - Christian or not - would ever make that claim. The geneologies are quite like other ancient geneologies. The geneologies in Matthew and Luke are two different kinds - and were written for two different purposes. Neither purports to be a timeline, calendar or any such thing.

I don't understand this reasoning. Then what is the point of their inclusion if not to show that Jesus had king blood through Saul, and to show his lineage all the way to Adam and Eve? What is the purpose of a geneology if not to show who your ancestors are? And if either is incorrect (which one would have to be), than how can anyone claim the bible is inerrant?
Is this not the method that Young Earthers use to determine the age of the Earth to be 6-10,000 years old? If not, where are they getting this?

M: If you want to say that this challenges certain young earth creationist positions, that is true.

M: Dawkins, Harris et al are quite adept at painting a caricature of Christian faith and practice. What I find in their writings is equivalent to me describing all atheists in terms of Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Pol Pot and a few selected atheist mass murderers. I cannot do that - it would be dishonest by my standards of what is right and wrong. However, they do not seem to be bound by any need to be fair, even-handed and reasonable when engaging Christian faith and practice. Perhaps that is because of a differing value system.

What is the caricature? I don't see one. In "Letter to a Christian Nation," Harris shows statistics that he's not attacking a minority belief. He's attacking beliefs that close to half of
the nation holds
. Christians believe that Jesus will return within their lifetimes hastening the apocalypse, that creationism is fact, that evolution is fiction, that dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark, that belief in Jesus is the only path to salvation, etc. Please tell me where they are making caricatures.
This is a far cry from a list of famous murderous atheists that can be counted on one hand.

-Infidel

(9/18/07)

Infidel my friend,

Evolution will be fact only when it can demonstrate that from slimy algae we can actually produce a human being. Your belief in evolution is just as much faith as my believe in creationism. You just have more faith.

Since science seems to be your god, tell me how much can science help you with personal struggles and purpose in life? Can science help you with sin? Can science help you when you die? I’ll take what I have in Jesus over what you have any day of the week.

The bible never teaches that the world is flat, just the opposite: the bible teaches that the world is round, even though for years many believers thought the world to be flat. Check out this verse:

Isa 40:22

22- He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

I am really saddened by your insistence that evolution is your all in all answer for these things. You truly cannot look at the human body and at least be in awe that the heart keeps pumping, the brain functions as it does, fingerprints are all unique, etc. etc.? I mean even if evolution is the reason we came about, you don’t see how amazing the human body is? I just don’t get your inability to see the awe of the human body.

What do you mean Josephus’ statement is a forgery. What evidence do you have for this? I have “The Works of Josephus” from a non Christian publisher and the quote is there, so what’s up with your claim????

And regarding Jesus: all that is in the Holy Land today concerning His life is a big joke? All the places the bible speaks of that he ministered in are there to see today (Jerusalem, Garden of Gathsemane, place of His death, Sea of Galilee, etc.). What about the 500 eyewitness accounts, many of which were martyred for faith in Jesus: all made up? The first hand accounts of his life and ministry: fabrications? The book of Peter written by Peter saying he saw it all with his eyes. John saying in 1 John that his hands handled the evidence. Luke a physician giving a precise account. So what if written 40 years later. That was common in that period. Oral tradition was
common. You have to be kidding me that you just discount all this stuff and more? How can you rationally say that you do not even believe Jesus existed? Read “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell and “Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

By saying “Open your heart” I do not mean your literal blood pumping heart but the inner part of who you are. The part within you that cries out for love and meaning and purpose and eternity. If you will sincerely from this part of you seek God, I know He will show Himself to you (Jeremiah 29:11-13), unless you are so unwilling to yield if He does show Himself to you, and if that is so, then it is your pride and self-reliance that is keeping you from God, and if that doesn’t change, then you will
never know God. We must humble ourselves. I sincerely hope you do not have such pride that you will forever miss your Creator.

Sincerely,

Saul


(9/18/07)

Saul, see my comments in blue.

Infidel my friend,

Evolution will be fact only when it can demonstrate that from slimy algae we can actually produce a human being.

Wow. I think this video was made for you personally- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RojR-50_5Y. If that is the level of evidence you require to believe a scientific claim, then I want you on the jury if I ever get accused of a crime. Nothing short of
videotape + confession + DNA + 'caught weapon in hand over the body' would be sufficient to convince you. The truth is that evolution is a fact (you can look it up), whether you personally want to admit it or not. Watch this short video to see a computer demonstration of how
minor changes (influenced by the environment) over time can modify a gene pool-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZwUV-auY4w.
Here's how evolution explains an increase in information-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I14KTshLUkg.
Here's another short video in explanation-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPuKoEYCs2o.
And finally, here's how it was proven that organic molecules can be formed by
inert chemicals-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4Y9w6fo_zY

There are many others, but I know you're a busy guy, so feel free to check out the
rest on my site (under Evolution/science)-
http://midwestatheist.blogspot.com/2007/08/favorite-atheist-videos-links.html.

Your belief in evolution is just as much faith as my believe in creationism. You just have more faith.

I thought I explained this in the past.

Faith- 1. a : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
2 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs ;"the Protestant faith"

Usually when the word faith is used, it is used to explain how people believe something without proof or evidence. That's when you take it on faith. I suppose one could argue that my beliefs fall under definition 2, because I do believe strongly in evolution under the sheer weight of the proof and evidence. However, if evidence were to surface that were to show that evolution did not happen, I would readily change my beliefs to be in step with the evidence. So hopefully you now understand that my belief in this matter has nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with evidence. I've heard faith described as the permission slip we give ourselves to believe things for which there is no good evidence.

Since science seems to be your god,

Whoa.... Since this gets trotted out a lot, I'll address it first. Science is not my God. I know theists have a hard time understanding that because God is such a big part of their lives, that they think everyone must have 'version' of it. Let me assure you that I acknowledge no God. Not science, not $, not Satan.

tell me how much can science help you with personal struggles and purpose in life?

That's not science's job. What helps me with personal struggles and purpose in life? Myself, my family, my parents and co-workers. And if I were to get bad off, I would turn to a therapist. But in all actuality, believe it or not, I'm one of the happiest guys you'd meet. I
love life and have a passion for it and my family.

Can science help you with sin?

I don't believe in sin, it is a wound that religion invented so they could sell you a band-aid. That's not to say that I don't believe that some things are good (volunteering time to help those in need) and that some things are bad (rape, murder, theft), of course I do. But the word sin, to me, implies the categorizing of the bad things by a deity. So I don't believe in the
concept of sin.

Can science help you when you die?

Nothing can help me when I die. When I die, I'll be dead. The End. Is it comforting? Not particularly. But often the truth is uncomfortable; but its veracity is none the less. For instance, there are some people who would say, "I don't want to know if I have cancer. The knowledge would ruin my remaining time alive." Not knowing that one has cancer does not change the reality of it. It may be more comfortable to not know, but its existence is a fact nonetheless. I forget now who said it or what the quote was exactly, but it was something
like- 'I did not exist for millions of years before I was born, and I don't recall the slightest inconvenience from it.'

I’ll take what I have in Jesus over what you have any day of the week.

If Jesus is what it takes for you to be happy, then by all means, continue to believe. For me, I don't define what is real by what is comfortable. "It makes me happy" is about as poor of a measure of reality as one can conceive.

The bible never teaches that the world is flat, just the opposite: the bible teaches that the world is round, even though for years many believers thought the world to be flat. Check out this verse: Isa 40:22

22- He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.


Interesting verse. However it seems to make the case for geocentrism, and it also describes the Earth as a circle, when it's not, it's a sphere (there was a hebrew word for ball which would have been more accurate if the authors knew that the earth was actually spherical). It talks about the heavens 'like a canopy' over the earth, hardly an accurate description of the universe. It is an accurate of what ancient people thought though, a flat earth with the stars being mere pinpricks of light suspended on a dome high above the earth.

In fact, there are Christians that still believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. This is why the refusal to accept evolution on biblical grounds is disturbing to us skeptics. Go here to see why the bible contradicts reality on the the Earth's shape and movement- http://www.goatstar.org/the-bibles-flat-earthsolid-sky-dome-universe/ Many verses talk about the corners of the earth, the ends of the earth, etc.

Also, one can make a strong case that the bible supports geocentrism. Josh 10:12-13- Implies that the sun is in movement, and that god commanded that it stop. Also Psalms 93:1 is used by some to say that the earth does not move so indeed the sun must move around it.

This is the problem when you use an ancient text to stand up against the scientific method. People will believe all kinds of weird things just because it is written in the text, and ignore good science simply because it contradicts scripture.

I am really saddened by your insistence that evolution is your all in all answer for these things. You truly cannot look at the human body and at least be in awe that the heart keeps pumping, the brain functions as it does, fingerprints are all unique, etc. etc.? I mean even if evolution is the reason we came about, you don’t see how amazing the human body is? I just don’t get your inability to see the awe of the human body.

Of course I am in awe. Awe does not equal supernatural origin. I am in awe of classical music performed by talented musicians. I am in awe of beautiful poetry, art and movies. Things that are big usually leave people in Awe- The Grand Canyon, Hubble telescope pictures, the amount of money Bill Gates has, etc. When our rational mind cannot explain something, often the sensation that fills the void is awe. Certainly I am in awe of the human body, as well as all of these other things, but that does not mean that I am willing to dismiss proven natural mechanisms for their origin in favor of supernatural ones. If I stay in a house that is reportedly haunted and I hear strange noises in the middle of the night, is that evidence for undead spirits or is ancient plumbing more likely?

"Feelings" and "Awe" do not replace the requirement of scientific evidence to come to rational decisions. Bush "felt" that God told him there were WMDs in Iraq. Either he was wrong or
god wasn't very helpful with the details of their location. Again, feelings, awe, and faith, are poor methods at arriving at the truth. The scientific method is the best way we have found to date to arrive at valid conclusions.

What do you mean Josephus’ statement is a forgery. What evidence do you have for this? I have “The Works of Josephus” from a non Christian publisher and the quote is there, so what’s up with your claim????

http://www.truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm. Here is one of many sites.

And regarding Jesus: all that is in the Holy Land today concerning His life is a big joke? All the places the bible speaks of that he ministered in are there to see today (Jerusalem, Garden of Gathsemane, place of His death, Sea of Galilee, etc.).

I'm not sure what is meant by this. To say that the bible is historically accurate because it takes place in historically real places is like saying that Spiderman is real because the comic book takes place in New York City.

What about the 500 eyewitness accounts, many of which were martyred for faith in Jesus:
all made up?

As I have said before, Martyrdom is not proof of anything. Just because Muslims are blowing themselves up on a daily basis does not mean that they are going to receive 72 regenerating virgins in the afterlife.

The first hand accounts of his life and ministry: fabrications? The book of Peter written by Peter saying he saw it all with his eyes. John saying in 1 John that his hands handled the evidence. Luke a physician giving a precise account. So what if written 40 years later. That has common in that period. Oral tradition was common. You have to be kidding me that you just discount all this stuff and more?

A lot of what I have read says that the gospels attributed to Matthew, Mike, Luke, and John were not written by the actual disciples they are attributed to. Mike was the earliest one written, with the others coming much later, and even Mike was at least 40 years after Jesus' death, which means that they were all third-hand accounts at best.

How can you rationally say that you do not even believe Jesus existed?

I'm not sure I'd say definitively that Jesus did not exist, but historically, so many of his traits were common to many other previous pagan gods (http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=8A7DD3268ECA2F83, http://www.geocities.com/inquisitive79/godmen, htp://www.thegodmovie.com/index.php). This makes a compelling case that Jesus was quite possibly a reinvention of previous Gods, which was not an uncommon practice of the time. Do I think that there was a real philosopher named Jesus who lived around that time? There very well may have been. But what I don't believe is that he was born of a virgin, performed miracles, rose from the dead, and flew into the sky. I don't believe these things for the same reasons that we both disbelieve in the claims that Muhammad was visited by the archangel Gabriel, and that the angel Maroni visited Joseph Smith.

Read “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell and “Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

I'll try to read them when I get a chance. I just started reading "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. I recommend that both of you read this. At only 90 pages, it's hardly more than a pamphlet, but it does a great job of eloquently laying out the position that most of us atheists ake.

By saying “Open your heart” I do not mean your literal blood pumping heart but the inner part of who you are. The part within you that cries out for love and meaning and purpose and eternity. If you will sincerely from this part of you seek God, I know He will show Himself to you (Jeremiah 29:11-13), unless you are so unwilling to yield if He does show Himself to you, and if that is so, then it is your pride and self-reliance that is keeping you from God, and if that doesn't change, then you will never know God. We must humble ourselves. I sincerely hope you do not have such pride that you will forever miss your Creator.

For the record- I sincerely do seek to know God's presence, as I've said. I'll also go on record as saying I'd bet that almost all atheists (>90%) also want to know if God really exists. I was willing to let Him show himself quite dramatically on your show this past spring, as you'll recall. I also know that in his omniscience, he knows how to show himself to me in a way that will compel me to believe. So I will continue to humbly await that sign. Until then, I will disbelieve.

-Infidel

PS- please forward me those verses you mentioned that condemn homosexuality. Thanks.

(9/18/07)

M: I am not sure what it means then that this would demonstrate that Genesis is wrong? Perhaps what you mean is that this would be evidence against certain literalist young earth creationist positions. There are many who would still state that Genesis is true in that it shows God as creator and sustainer - which I think is the primary teaching in Genesis 1-11.

I think this is dodging the truth. I can respect literalist interpreters (even though I think they're wrong) because at least they maintain that the bible means what it says. Once one starts down the road of "well, that's not supposed to be taken literally," then we have a situation where a person can take the bible and make it say whatever they want it to say, and it becomes worthless as a source of knowledge or morality. When the bible says that God formed Adam out of dirt, and Eve from his rib, and the earth was created in 6 days- It means what it says.

This smacks of the tactic that says: "Hey Christian, unless you interpret the entire Bible literally, you are playing fast and loose." That is simply a way to back someone into a position that no one would take - that all of the Bible should be taken literally - because no one believes it to be true. This seems like you are advocating a position that says genre, culture, theme - all the analytical tools we bring to bear on any ancient manuscript - do not apply here because
you say that they do not.

You can go back to the earliest Christian writers and before that Hebrew scholars and you will find a lively and thorough discussion about whether the creation accounts in Genesis are entirely literal, partially literal or figurative. One would also find that virtually all believe that the central theme being communicated is that God is both creator and sustainer. Or you can chose to ignore that and simply demand that I defend one position. ;-)

Why is mining this rich tradition of thought not worthy of respect? If you are not familiar with it, it may seem like I am just pulling things out of thin air. I assure you I am not.

Best regards,

Mike



(9/20/07)
Infidel,
It is interesting that you say you are in awe of so many things (music, etc.) that are far less complex than your body and yet require a creator: music performance had a musician, poetry, art, telescope, etc. To have such complexity points to intelligence to create it.
-Saul

(9/20/07)
Infidel,
Here are many verses showing the practice of homosexuality to be sin:

Rom 1:27
27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
NIV

Gen 13:13
13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
NIV

Gen 19:5-8
5 They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing.
NIV

Lev 18:22
22 "'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
NIV

Lev 20:13
13 "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.
NIV

Judg 19:22-23
22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him." The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing.
NIV

1 Cor 6:9-11
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
NIV

Jude 7
7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
NIV



(9/20/07)
Saul- thanks for the verses. Let me give you my interpretation of what they say, because I think a compelling case can be made that the bible is not as anti-gay as you think (aside from Leviticus)

Here are many verses showing the practice of homosexuality to be sin:
Rom 1:27
27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
This does seem to condemn the mens' behavior. However it goes on to say that these people are worthy of death, are in favor of the biblical punishment? If not, isn't that hypocritical?


Gen 13:13
13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
Do we have any evidence that the crimes committed by Soddom were homosexual in nature?

Gen 19:5-8
5 They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing.

What if a mob of men came to your house and said "let your Daughter come out of the house so we can have sex with her." Might you not say something like, "That's a wicked thing, go away." Since you brought up this story, isn't Lot's offer extremely immoral when he offers his own daughters up for gang rape? How does this action make him the most moral guy in the city? I don't see how this action by the men necessarily is an indictment of homosexuality, more an indictment that it is wicked of any group to demand to have sex with anyone, male or female.

Lev 18:22
22 "'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
Lev 20:13
13 "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.

Okay, Leviticus is straightforward. However do you eat shellfish or trim your beard? You easily throw out one outdated standard but keep the other under the guise of a 'new covenant.' Please show me the verse where Jesus said which parts of the 'old covenant' still applied, and which did not. And where he specifically condemned homosexuality.

Judg 19:22-23
22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him." The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing.
Hmm, sounds an awful lot like plagiarism of Gen 19:5-8. My comments previously apply to this as well.

1 Cor 6:9-11
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Cor 6:9-11
6:9 And Ahimaaz begat Azariah, and Azariah begat Johanan,
6:10 And Johanan begat Azariah, (he it is that executed the priest's office in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem:)
6:11 And Azariah begat Amariah, and Amariah begat Ahitub,
????

Jude 7
7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Again, we know Sodom and Gomorrah were sinning nations, but where does it say that they were homosexuals? It very well may say that somewhere, but please tell me the verse.
So there's my take on the verses you provided. Maybe some food for thought there, maybe not if you are very entrenched in your conviction that homosexuality is wrong, just as Larry Craig and Ted Haggard were.
-Jeremy


(9/20/07)
Bible is not “anti-gay” but rather pro sexual purity as God designed it and He created male and female and called them to become one in flesh and not male and male to become one in flesh. Romans 1 is the most clear: it is unnatural and not as God intended. Jesus affirmed the one man and one woman relationship in the Gospels. He loves all people and wants to forgive and heal and purify if they allow him to.

I have a very busy week so can’t do much corresponding. Keep seeking truth. God is going to show Himself to you. I really believe that. I am going to do less and less intellectual dialogue on these emails. I am more and more about the heart and our relationship with God and not doing too much arguing about issues, etc.
John 10:10,
Saul