Octavo Dia

Sunday, April 27, 2008

God is Imaginary: #8 Think about Near Death Experiences

Think about Near Death Experiences.

I don't have anything to say about this, because this doesn't attack Christianity at all. It may attack spiritualist quasi-religion, but I have no dog in this fight. The near death experiences people describe do not correlate with what is depicted in Scripture.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

God is Imaginary: #7 Understand Religious Delusion

Understand Religious Delusion.

Main Issue

I'm going to start quite a ways down in this one, with the Christian "delusion," and skip the "proofs" at the end, which I have addressed earlier or will address in later posts. So how does the Christian story differ from the three above? Quite simply, there is no other way. Would it have mattered if Joseph Smith received the plates from the hand of God himself? Would it matter if Santa brought the gifts to the children by beaming them from a Star Trekesque Transporter Room? Would it matter if Mohammad was transported by time-traveling helicopter pilots? Not really. These are all accidental to the main point.

Now what if you remove Christ's virgin birth? The crucifixion? The resurrection? What if we removed those "stories?"

If there was no virgin birth, if Christ was not the Son of God, he would have died for his own sins, and we would be damned. End of story.

Even if there was a virgin birth, if he had not died, our sins would not have been punished. We would be damned. End of story.

Even if Christ was born of a virgin and died for our sins, if he had not been raised, we would not be either. We would be damned. End of story.

You see, miracles in other religions are either divine attributes or a little deus ex machina (note the root of that phrase). Christianity, without those miracles, would not exist. Christ would have been a prophet. And just as there are no Habbukians (or if there are, there are very very few of them), there would be no Christians. How can you tell the difference between truth and delusions? Christianity without the "delusion" does not exist. Truth is like that. You remove part of the truth, and it is no longer true.


Minor Issues

The miracles are supposed to "prove" that Jesus is God, but, predictably, these miracles left behind no tangible evidence for us to examine and scientifically verify today.

There is one miracle in the Bible that left a staggering amount of evidence. The evidence of this miracle is measured in billions, cubic miles, and megatons. We live next to it, on top of it, inside it. We burn it in our cars. We heat our houses with it. We wrote equations with it. The Flood left billions of water-deposited fossils, massive sedimentary layers, huge coal seams, chalk beds, and oil fields, and massive flood plains orders of magnitude larger than any river flood we've seen. "But that's not evidence for the Flood!" It's not evidence for evolution either. It's evidence. It's why lawyers get paid so much. They reconstruct the past to suit their clients based on the evidence. We reconstruct the past to suit ourselves. The problem is not evidence. As it says in Luke 16:31 "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

Are the Jews wasting their time by keeping meat and dairy separate? Short answer? Yes. It's like you ordered a package online, paid for the overnight shipping, and the next day put your tracking number into the computer. "Delivered." It says. You put it in again. "Delivered." And again. "Delivered." And again. "Delivered." Are you wasting your time? Until you go down to the mailbox and pick up your package, you sure are.

Another way you can separate Christianity from Mormonism and Islam (and Gnosticism, etc.), is that when Christ came with the new revelation, he didn't overthrow any of the previous revelation. There is not a word of the Old Testament which Christians do not consider to be the true Word of God. Every revelation after the New Testament, however, has to throw out at least one verse, Galatians 1:8 "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"

As a side note, when I was reading this, I started thinking about the Wedding at Cana, and had a thought which was new to me. Mary asked Jesus to intervene prior to the beginning of his ministry, prior to the performance of any miracles. To me, this says that his divine nature was self-evident prior to any evidence thereof.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blinded by watchmaking.

Over in The Loom, the following quotation appears (excerpts):

This conclusion also flies in the face of the popular misconception among opponents of the evolutionary theory, who believe that the genetic code is irreducibly complex. ... Engineered devices are generally designed to work just above the point of failure, so that any tampering with their construction will result in catastrophe. In the event of failure, new clocks can be purchased or central processing units replaced. But nature does not have that option. To survive -- and so evolve -- organisms must be able to tolerate random mutations, deletions and recombination events.

I read this, and I came to precisely the opposite conclusion about whose face it flies into. Multiple, dynamic feedback loops that allow something to maintain its equilibrium is evidence of engineering on the highest level. Nuclear reactor, particle accelerator, Mars-landing engineering, not I-can-make-a-clock engineering. It takes far more "engineering" and thus far more intelligence, to make something that can withstand "random mutations, deletions, and recombination events." Let's chalk this up in the evolution is once again much less probable category.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to defeat sectarianism.

From an interesting article about the purposes of the electoral college, I realized that what Iraq needs is an electoral college. There needs to be a mechanism that forces political parties to seek support in all parts of the country. A mechanism which is particularly needed in a country divided along ethnic and religious lines. If a political party could only prosper by gathering votes from multiple ethnic groups, single groups would be unable to compete. Of course, they could just go on killing each other, but that's what they're doing anyway, so it couldn't hurt.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

God is Imaginary: #6 Consider God's Plan.

Consider God's Plan.

In this section they have created what I consider to be a devastating critique, of a particular brand of theology. If one interprets Scripture in the manner that they describe--a fatalistic interpretation--then they are correct in saying that "God's plan" is morally reprehensible. Scripture, however, and what we know about the nature of God, is entirely different.

The fatalist makes the assumption that if God plans one thing, He must also plan everything. And you know what happens when you assume. Because God plans to save some, they assume that God also plans to condemn the rest. This is no more the case than saying a person who adopts one dog from the pound simultaneously destroys the rest.

But the meat of the issue is the nature of God's plan. The fundamental issue of why we are here. In a word, mercy. The instant of the first sin, God could have justly condemned us to hell. We rebelled, and he could have cut us off in an instant. Instead, he offered us amnesty. We're the ragged band of rebels living a nasty, brutish, and short life while we decide whether to surrender or fight to the death.

To continue the military analogy, we're all on the brink of death, and the only thing keeping us alive is the Red Cross aid God sends across the border to keep us alive. But what about believers? What about the people who have already gone over to Him? Why are believers still here? Why aren't you instantly raptured into Heaven the moment you believe? Here is where the true Purpose Driven Life comes into plan. God does have a plan for us. A commission in fact: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Is God's plan reprehensible? He set aside justice for mercy. He sustains those who hate Him. He makes His children suffer to save them. We believers stay in the mud and the damp, the disease and the pain, the suffering and hunger, the hatred and loss, that he may use us to heal His enemies. If there are any who should object, it is not the slaves being freed, but the freedmen becoming slaves to free them.


And by the way, the verse from Psalms they quote sounds very different in a different translation: "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Which illustrates that you must remember that the Bible is written in other languages.


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Sunday, April 06, 2008

God is Imaginary: #5 Read the Bible.

Read the Bible.

This post is going to be rather eclectic, but that's because the original post took a "random" page approach.

The opening scenario has an all too common view of the Bible:

"It is a manual for living a better life. It is also a guide to creating a better society for ourselves and our children."

That's confusing the byproduct with the manufacturing intent. It's like raising pigs for their ears. A better life and a better society are the result of the main point, which is God's plan of salvation. You follow the plan as it plays out historically till its culmination at Calvary, and then the rest of Scripture, as a Lutheran would put it, is "What does this mean?"


And now, to address their objections one by one.

1. Sacrificing to Molech. Human sacrifice = bad. Child sacrifice = particularly bad. I don't know why they included this. Punishment for burning someone alive = death. Not so sure you'd find many people who'd disagree with this assessment.

2. Witchcraft. People have not become more enlightened in this regard, they have simply stopped believing that they have any power, or if they do, that they would use this power for anything other that fuzzy bunnies, nature loving, and woman power. If people still thought that witches could do the things they were reputed to--poison, kill crops, overthrow governments, start plagues, etc., they would burn witches still.

But the witchcraft in Scripture is different. People would consult witches, such as the witch of Endor, to foretell the future. So what's wrong with a little divination? Consider, St. Paul says that "Faith is credited as righteousness." A witch who foretells the future is undercutting all reliance on God, all need for faith. Witchcraft, as such, is an existential threat to believers. They were effectively revolutionaries attempting to overthrow a theocratic society.

3. Unlawful Sexual Relations. I knew this one was coming before I read it. I'm surprised they didn't pick the chapter of Leviticus entitled "Unlawful Sexual Relations." To a typical American, that chapter sounds like a good time. So why should we put, as they described it, "Half of America to death?"

So what is the punishment? Death. And what is the punishment for all sin? Death. As the good book says, "Sin entered the world, and death through sin." So what is the difference? Rather than God carrying out the punishment Himself, He appointed others to do it for Him. The penalty remains the same, and in a theocratic society, one can be fairly sure that the penalty would not be meted out unjustly. He has simply moved up the time of reckoning, in order to preserve His Word and His people until the time was right for the Savior to come.

4. Slavery. Otto Von Bismarck said that "Politics is the art of the possible." This is why, when reading the Bible, it is important to distinguish between "What God says," and "What God says to me." When God gave laws to govern the ancient state of Israel, he did not simply repeat the moral law which he had already given--because those laws are impossible to follow. Rather, he gave laws to govern the possible. Slavery at that time was a necessary institution. The alternatives were starvation or genocide. Which is the greater evil? Would not a good God create laws which would avoid those alternatives?

5. St. Paul. Before I get into the meat of the issue, remember, "Thou Shalt Not Take Out of Context." When speaking about religious authority, secular public school teachers are an entirely different subject.

Now, onto the rest: Is the use of heroin wrong? Sure people abuse it terribly, but for a person who has suffered severe burns, it's one of the few things that can relieve their pain. The lesson: the abuse of something does not make the use of it wrong. St. Paul has been abused over the centuries in a wide variety of sexist contexts. Does that mean St. Paul himself is wrong, anymore than heroin is universally abused? Scripture is full of a analogies. We put that which we do not understand in the context of that which we do understand. And like analogies, we understand both the original and our analogy by comparison. The marital relationship is compared to the relationship between Christ and the church. If you consider Christ's role, and use that as a model of a husband's role, you can see that the burden is placed profoundly on men. The "authority" of Christ is the power to serve. That it has been interpreted incorrectly by those seeking their own ends is hardly surprising, but profoundly unfortunate.

6. Astronomy.
"Everyone knows that the sun came first, then the planet and its rotation (which is what causes light and darkness to occur on a daily basis) and then the water, and this all happened over million of years."

Just a quick quotation from The King and I "Everyone knows that the world lies on the back of a great turtle who keeps it from running into the stars." As Ken Ham says in his presentations, always ask, "Where you there?" The answer will always be no. Everyone does not know. Everyone has taken their best guess.

I don't really have a conclusion to this one, because it didn't really lend itself to a long analysis, and besides, I have a grumpy baby to tend to.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Stubbornness, Irrationality, or a Closed Mind?

Why is it that the devastating, faith destroyed critiques of atheists, like the one in the comment here, aren't? Is it explained by the post title, or a combination of the three?

By way of analogy, a buddy of mine, who used to work at a women's prison, said that the heckling from the inmates never bothered him. As he put it, "I already know I'm short, fat, and bald." The inmates couldn't hurt him, because they didn't know how to hurt him. The basic insults had already been absorbed, understood, and dealt with. He's a bachelor, but were he married, do you think his wife could insult him? Could wound him deeply? Could mar his psyche in ways that would take years or decades to heal? Why? Because his wife would know the tender areas, the soft spots, the Achilles' heel.

To apply the analogy, I've had my faith more deeply tested by fellow believers than I ever have by the challenges of atheists. They know what troubles me, for it troubles them as well. The atheist challenges the apparent weaknesses, not realizing that those areas have been challenged innumerable times, and have appropriate defenses. It is in the rear areas were a true challenge comes, but it only comes from believers.

The comment above was a question about omniscient and omnipotence. I will give him a better question. How can such a God have his mind changed by the prayers of believers? Throughout the Old Testament, the prayers of men caused God to depart from his wrath, but He knew they would pray, and He knew He would leave aside His anger, so how is that any different from doing what He wanted in the first place, and faking "anger" for show--in effect lying to His people about His intentions?

The best answer I have come to is that it is evident that God can choose not to do something as well as to do something, including not to choose. In those cases, God chose to let human prayer decide the balance of justice and mercy. He knew how they would choose, but that is no more controlling than my asking my wife if she would prefer a Coke or a Pepsi. Nonetheless, God commands us to pray, so we should pray for that reason alone.

Even so, that answer seems awfully like defining a problem away. Can God change his mind? No, He chose to let His mind be changed. But atheists don't ask questions like these. Their assaults bear little weight, not because of stubbornness, irrationality, or closed-mindedness, but because to hurt someone deeply, you must also love them deeply.