Archive for March, 2010
XFiles: History, Science and Slander

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Last week, Geisler and Turek were explaining how they avoid finding errors in the Bible: “[W]hen we run across something inexplicable, we assume that we, not the infinite God, are making an error.” Cool, eh? They realize that things aren’t adding up the way they should. But instead of acknowledging that the Bible is broken, they simply assume that the fault is the reader’s and therefore not the Scripture’s, QED.

Not surprisingly, this inspires them to try and lead us to the following conclusion:

Unlike most other religious worldviews, Christianity is built on historical events and can therefore be either proven or falsified by historical investigation… If after 2,000 years of looking, no one can find the remains of Jesus or real errors in the Bible, isn’t it quite possible that neither exist?

Most people who died 2,000 years ago have indeed ceased to exist, without necessarily being resurrected gods incarnate. Neither are real errors absent from the Bible—all that’s missing is an honest acknowledgment of their existence (on the part of certain believers, anyway). Yes, 2,000 years of denial is arguably impressive, in a morbid sort of way, but it’s hardly a historical proof of Christianity.

So the historical argument falls a little flat, but Geisler and Turek have two more arguments that they’re going to use to try and prove their point: an appeal to science, and an appeal to slander.

[A]fter many years of continual and careful study of the Bible, we can only conclude that those who have “discovered a mistake” in the Bible do not know too much about the Bible—they know too little. This doesn’t mean that we understand how to resolve all the difficulties in the Scriptures, but it means we keep doing research. We really are no different than scientists who can’t resolve all the difficulties or mysteries of the natural world. They don’t deny the integrity of the natural world just because they can’t explain something. Like a scientist of the natural world, a scientist of theology keeps looking for answers.

Ooo, give those men a white lab coat. Theologians are scientists.

Notice what they’re saying, though. After proudly declaring that 2,000 years of searching have failed to discover any “real errors” in the Bible, they’re back-handedly admitting that there are indeed difficulties that even the most earnest and pious Christian rationalizations cannot resolve. Who is to say that some of these known problems are not, after all, “real errors”?

Geisler and Turek can’t hand-wave them away, so they try and distract us with a different rationalization, by saying that “mysteries” in the Bible are like scientific mysteries in the real world. We don’t know all there is to know about the real world, so we shouldn’t expect to know all there is to know about the Bible either. When theologians keep on believing despite known problems in the Bible, they’re just acting the same way a scientist would. Right?

There are many obvious flaws with this argument, starting with the fact that competent scientists know better than to simply assume that all contrary observations are in error. If you find that the actual data does not match the conditions that would result from your hypothesis being true, you don’t merely discard the observation, you modify your hypothesis, or abandon it entirely. To arbitrarily dismiss contrary evidence is to betray a serious lack of scientific objectivity and integrity.

Likewise, competent scientists would not declare that there was a complete absence of contrary data when they knew there were observations that could not currently be explained in terms of the original hypothesis, and which could falsify it. Geisler and Turek deny the existence of “real errors” despite knowing about the currently irresolvable “difficulties.” The most an honest scientist could claim is “we do not know that the Bible is inerrant, since there are still unresolved obstacles preventing us from reaching that conclusion.”

Unlike other scientists, theologians don’t deal with real-world observations that can be repeated, re-measured and re-validated by objective third-party observers. The difficulties faced by real-world scientists stem from the fact that reality is a complicated place.  Theology, by contrast, is difficult because the data consists of the things written by men who died millennia ago, and whose culture, language, and thoughts are anywhere from relatively inaccessible to completely impenetrable.

In other words, theology is a “science” that studies what goes on (or went on) in the minds of men who are no longer available. God does not show up in real life, so theological “scientists” can’t do their work the way other scientists do. The process of theology is more akin to that of the fiction writer than the biologist: you take the story as it has been told thus far, and try to think up a plausible scenario that takes it where you want it to go, and thus the “discovery” is made.

This leads to a pattern of development that I discussed in my post about Mt. Sinai and the burning bush. Studying something that exists in reality results in a converging understanding of the topic, as all scientists converge on the same real-world target they’re searching for. Studying something imaginary results in a divergent understanding of the topic, as each pioneer contributes some new and different perspective not necessarily compatible with other branches on the same bush. If we look at the history of scientific thought, and the history of theological thought, it’s quite clear which pattern shows up in which science (or “science”).

We could go on, but I want to save time for the last argument in Chapter 14: the slander.

Finally, it’s the critics who actually maintain an unfalsifiable position. What would convince them that their view is wrong?… Maybe they ought to consider the evidence we’ve presented in this book. Unfortunately, many critics will not do this. They will not allow facts to interfere with their desire to maintain control over their own lives. After all, if a critic were to admit that the Bible is true, he’d have to admit that he no longer calls all the shots. There would be an Authority in the universe greater than himself, and that Authority might not approve of the life the critic wants to lead.

In other words, if you notice that Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre utterly so that it would never be rebuilt, and that centuries later, Tyre was still a thriving seaport visited by Paul, it only seems like a contradiction because you enjoy raping small furry animals. That’s the critics’ dirty little secret, you see. They’re all just a bunch of cartoon bad guys who want to do bad things just because, well, they’re cartoon bad guys and that’s the way bad guys behave. No, seriously, they do. It’s in all the cartoons.

It’s kind of fitting, in a way, that Geisler and Turek chose to end Chapter 14 with the theologian’s equivalent of a sniveling “I know you are but what am I?” Or as Jesus put it, “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like other men…”

It’s especially ironic that they would end Chapter 14 on such a low note, because this is really the last argument in the main body of their book. Chapter 15 is basically the “altar call” portion of the sermon, an emotional appeal rather than an intellectual one. And this last half-hearted attempt at intellectual argument is not only morally bankrupt, it’s intellectually moribund as well.

Take the accusation that the critics are maintaining an unfalsifiable position. “Unfalsifiable” means you’ve phrased your position in such a way as to preclude the possibility, under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances, that your conclusion could be admitted to be wrong. For example, if you say “any ‘difficulty’ in the Bible is, by definition, an error on the part of the reader rather than an error on the part of the Bible,” then you’ve created an unfalsifiable defense of the proposition that the Bible contains no errors. No matter what errors we find in the Bible, the apologist automatically classifies it as an error that is not in the Bible, so his claim of inerrancy can never be falsified, by definition.

That’s something very different from the problem we face when we can’t prove that something is false because the fact is that it is actually true, or vice versa. It’s not that there is no reasonably conceivable set of circumstances that would convince the critic that the Resurrection was true, and in fact it’s pretty easy to determine what evidence would constitute reasonable grounds for believing.

Just to cite one obvious example, let’s suppose that Jesus died, and rose from the dead, and appeared in Jerusalem, in a living, physical, glorified resurrection body, teaching both believer and unbeliever alike and was still there. Is there anyone out there who enjoys puppy-raping so much that they would still deny the Resurrection with a 2,000-year-old Jesus still living and teaching and revealing God’s will to us in the same city where he originally rose? Would denial of the facts even be a rational strategy for preserving one’s individual liberty?

The problem isn’t that we can’t describe the sort of evidence we ought to be seeing if the Bible were true. The problem is that the question “What would it take to convince you that the Bible is true?” turns out to be a lot like the question “What would it take to convince you that there’s a fully-grown, hungry, carnivorous T-rex standing 50 centimeters behind you?” In each case, if the claim were true, the most fundamental and obvious consequences would be rather unmistakable. That you even need to ask the question is sufficient to show that the claim itself is false.

And by the way, Geisler and Turek’s baseless slander notwithstanding, Bible critics don’t really have a problem submitting to genuine, legitimate authority. We submit to higher authorities all the time. We obey our governments, our police, our teachers, our coaches, and others. We pay our taxes just like everyone else, and have a moral history that’s typically as good as that of our Bible-believing fellows, or better. And of course, the laws of Nature are a kind of higher authority, and we submit to those as gladly as any believer. And again, sometimes more so.

Our only problem is with men who claim an authority based on uncritically taking their word for it that some invisible and all-powerful Person wants us to do what they say. It’s not that we don’t have faith, it’s just that we make a distinction between faith and gullibility. Pardon us if we examine your evidence, and then decline to start writing you checks. If you want real belief, provide real evidence.

So, then, from a real-world perspective, Geisler and Turek have absolutely no grounds for their self-righteous innuendo. It comes, sad to say, from a long history of Christians smearing their critics and spreading unsavory rumors about unbelievers. Nor is this merely an unfortunate manifestation of perverse human nature—Christians are required to believe in the fundamental evil of all non-believers. If unbelievers could be moral and upright without a supernatural Savior and a Holy Spirit, what would be the advantage of being a Christian?

And there you have it. After 14 chapters and 374 pages, Geisler and Turek’s intellectual argument comes to an end not with a bang, but a whimper. We’ll still go through the “altar call” in chapter 15, and maybe even an appendix or two (Appendix I is “The Problem of Evil”!). But from here, we can safely conclude that Geisler and Turek have failed, and failed miserably, to establish their claim that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. They gave it a good shot and tried their best, but in the absence of a God Who actually shows up in the real world, it was just too hard. If you have to try and argue God into existence, it’s already a lost cause.

XFiles: How to disprove a Gospel

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

WARNING: Before reading the following statement by Geisler and Turek, you should turn off your irony meter, remove the battery, unplug the recharger, and store all components in separate rooms of your house.

Critics may also charge, “But your position on inerrancy is not falsifiable. You will not accept an error in the Bible because you’ve decided in advance that there can’t be any!” Actually, our position is falsifiable, but the critics’ position is not. Let us explain.

First, because Jesus’ authority is well established by the evidence, we reasonably give benefit of the doubt to the Bible when we come across a difficulty or question in the text. In other words, when we run across something inexplicable, we assume that we, not the infinite God, are making an error.

Yes, when disproving the claim that you’re merely assuming Biblical inerrancy, what better way to start than by boldly and proudly declaring that you do assume any error is not the Bible’s?

Geisler and Turek, of course, are just trying to follow the standard rhetorical practice of beginning your argument by conceding that there is a legitimate question or problem that your position needs to address. It’s a common enough practice (and the source of a great many creationist quote mines, when followed by scientists). First you declare the problem, and then you proceed to explain how your position addresses that problem.

What Geisler and Turek don’t seem to realize, though, is that by admitting that they simply assume the Bible cannot be wrong, they’re conceding a lot more here than is good for their position.

They try to make their position look legitimate because they say they are only making this assumption in the context of Jesus’ authority, which is “well established by the evidence.” The “evidence” that allegedly establishes Jesus’ authority, however, is the Bible itself, when read under the assumption that it contains no errors. In essence, they’re admitting that the critics are right: they do reach their position on inerrancy by deciding in advance that the Bible cannot contain any errors, and is thus able to establish Jesus’ authority so that his authority can be used to justify the assumption that the Bible contains no errors.

Nor does their argument improve when they try to make it sound like their position is nevertheless falsifiable. The term “falsifiable,” when used correctly, refers to a statement that has been phrased in such a way that we can determine what consequences would result from the statement being true, as opposed to the consequences that would result from it being untrue, so that when we look at the real world, we can determine which set of consequences have actually occurred.

Geisler and Turek aren’t using “falsifiable” in that sense. Instead, they merely hand-wave, setting up an impossible standard of falsification, and then saying, “There, if you can just do that, then you will have disproven our position.” They don’t want to really know if their position is false or not, they just want to set up a pretext for claiming that critics have failed to falsify it. But here, let’s let Geisler and Turek explain it themselves.

[T]hat doesn’t mean that we believe there’s absolutely no possibility for Bible errors. After all, there’s always a chance that our conclusions about inerrancy are wrong—for we are certainly not inerrant. In fact, our conclusion on inerrancy would be falsified if someone could trace a real error back to an original scroll.

You see the catch-22 here. To falsify their position on inerrancy, you must first provide a real error that can be traced back to an original manuscript. Their assumption, however, is that the Bible cannot have any real errors, because God cannot make mistakes. Any error found by any critic is thus, by definition, not a real error, or at least not an error in the manuscript itself.

In other words, all we need to do to meet Geisler and Turek’s standard of falsification is to provide them with something that, by definition, cannot exist. That’s “falsification,” apologetics-style. And even Geisler and Turek seem to have some suspicion that Biblical inerrancy isn’t really a viable position, because their next argument is to try and claim that Christianity don’t need no steenkin inerrancy anyway.

[E]ven if inerrancy is falsified someday, that wouldn’t falsify the central truths of Christianity. As we have seen, the historical evidence that Jesus taught profound truths, performed miracles, and died and rose from the dead for sinful humanity is very strong indeed. Even if the Scriptures are found to contain a false detail or two, the historical truth of Christianity will not be diminished.

The problem, of course, is that the “historical truth” of Christianity is rather dependent on the assumption that the Bible cannot be wrong about anything. If there’s the possibility that some parts of the Bible might not be quite accurate, then it behooves us to subject all of the Bible’s claims to some real-world verification, to discover which parts are true, and which are embellishments, misinterpretations, or even outright deceptions.

Traditional Christian beliefs tend to do rather poorly when subjected to that kind of critical examination, though, and Geisler and Turek hasten to reassure their readers that they do not, in fact, believe that the Bible will ever be falsified. But just in case it ever is, you know, you can still go on believing what the Bible teaches anyway. Just keep on trusting what men say about God even after you discover that they don’t always tell the truth. That’s what they call faith (and what I call gullibility).

We’ll close today’s post with a look at one last pose of fake open-mindedness and falsifiability.

Is there any discovery that would cause us to disbelieve Christianity? Yes. If someone could find the body of Jesus, Christianity would be proven false and we’d give up.

Of course, since they assume Jesus did rise from the dead, they’ll naturally assume that any remains you show them must have belonged to someone else. It’s not like we have Jesus’ DNA in storage somewhere for reference. Anyone who can claim, with a straight face, that all the errors in the Bible are due to mistakes on the part of the reader, is going to have no problem at all denying that some ancient corpse ever belonged to Jesus. It’s a no-brainer (in more ways than one).

Notice what Geisler and Turek did not say: they did not say that they would disbelieve Christianity if you could examine the consequences that would result from the Gospel being true, and the consequences that would result from the Gospel being a myth, and could observe that real-world conditions are far more consistent with the myth hypothesis than with the Gospel hypothesis.

That would be a reasonable, rational way to approach the question, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed to lead to the desired conclusion. So instead they set up a goal that will be impossible for any critic to meet, a standard of falsification that could be thwarted by simply denying that the evidence is “convincing” (in the highly unlikely event of the evidence being discovered at all).

Geisler and Turek know that there is some value in being open to the evidence, and they want to make a show of being open to having their ideas falsified. But in the end it’s just empty posing. They’re not interested in reasonable and rational standards of evidence, and it shows in the arbitrary and unrealistic demands they make of those who would seek to convince them.

Vox Day, War and religion

Via Ed Brayton comes this word that Vox Day is up to his old tricks again. Apparently, now that the so-called “New Atheism” is no longer making headlines, he feels safe enough to try and float an abbreviated version of his straw-man arguments against atheism, in the form of a short stack of Powerpoint slides (downloadable here). Who knows, perhaps it will boost sales of his sad little book?

The first point in his presentation says that the New Atheists claim that religion causes war, and that Vox can prove statistically that it does not. As always, his refutation consists of ignoring the role of religion in war, and focusing instead on an oversimplification that distorts the data so badly he can make any claim he wants. Specifically, for each war in the Encyclopedia of Wars, he asks, “Is religion the cause of this war?” Not surprisingly, given his biases, he “discovers” that only 3.2% of wars are caused by non-Muslim religions, and fully 93% are allegedly “Non-Religious Wars.”

Wars, of course, are very complex phenomena with very complex causes. And religion is indeed a significant factor in quite a few of those wars,  It might be useful and informative to examine all the wars in recorded history to ask what role religion played in each. Was it provocative? supportive? indifferent? resistent? disruptive? Such a study, though, would produce results that would lend too much support to the New Atheists’ observations, at least if examined by an unbiased group of historians.

So instead of undertaking an unbiased and instructive approach to history, what Vox does is to take the binary approach of asking whether religion was THE cause of any given war, or not. In his argument, the mere existence of other factors, like economics or ethnicity or personal ambition, is sufficient to qualify religion as not being THE cause of the war. And thus he concludes that, by his standards, 93% of all wars were not caused by religion.

That’s hardly surprising. Indeed, the only surprising result from such an approach is that he ended up with any religious wars at all. A motivated historian could easily cite poverty, illiteracy, and socioeconomic factors behind Islamic aggression, for example, and by consistently applying the same approach, end up concluding that 100% of all wars are non-religious.

Vox doesn’t go quite that far. His weakness is that he secretly agrees with the New Atheists, at least as far as Islam is concerned. For example, he makes a consistent distinction between religious violence in general, and Islamic religious violence, which he admits is at least partially religiously driven. In his eyes, though, the New Atheists are a greater threat, and consequently he trumps up a straw-man argument and a bogus “statistical” refutation in order to declare victory and move on.

We’ve covered all this before, but today I wanted to look at one of the unique features of religion that make it particularly prone to aggravating our inherent tendency to wage war on one another. As I mentioned before, wars are complex and have complex causes, but (unlike Vox) I think it might be helpful to consider the actual role played by religion in important human endeavors like warfare.

The thing is, God does not show up in real life, or at least, the gods of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam don’t. This undeniable fact has an inescapable consequence: our only basis for what we believe about God is what men say and think and feel about Him. But men don’t all agree about Him, and therein lies the rub: because God does not show up in real life, how can you determine which men are teaching the “correct” doctrines about Him?

If it were a question about something that exists in the real world like, say, the diameter of the moon, the question could be settled by making careful real-world observations and measurements. No such mechanism exists for observing and verifying the qualities of deities that are consistently and universally absent from the real world, however. Theological arguments have to be won by force: either force of persuasion, or force of law, or force of arms. The only alternative is not to win at all.

Historically, this fact has had a tremendous impact on people’s willingness to conduct war, because even if religion is not the official “cause” of the war, a common and almost inevitable superstition says that God’s blessing determines who the good guys are and thus who will win the war (as witness the myriad “God Bless America” bumper stickers that popped up after 9/11). As the Bible itself teaches in numerous passages, victory in battle is a vindication of one’s religious belief and obedience.

Even Osama bin Ladin, as he watched the fall of the twin towers, can be heard on the video to be murmuring “Allah is great, Allah is great.” Military victory reinforced his belief that Islam was the true religion of God. And America responded in the same spirit, overthrowing the government of Iraq (who had nothing to do with 9/11) because they were Muslim. By defeating them (and their Allah), we validated our national belief that our Christian God was the true God.

After all, God does not show up in real life, so how else are you going to measure, in real-world terms, whose opinions about God are the most powerful? If you can’t superstitiously assume that material wars are merely the physical extension of a spiritual war between light and darkness, good and evil, truth and heresy, then how else can you know? If physical military strength isn’t the material manifestation of spiritual strength (i.e. righteousness), then how can you measure the true strength and power of someone’s spiritual beliefs?

This mechanism works for the whole spectrum of warfare, from the bomb-dropping, artillery-firing, fix-the-bayonets-and-charge of all out war to the subtler but no less devastating cultural warfare that tries to seize control school boards and that passes laws oppressing homosexuals. Believers lack real-world verification for their faith unless they can “prove” the superiority of their opinions by oppressing and defeating those who do not share their beliefs. Spiritual disputes extend into physical disputes in hopes that physical victory will serve as spiritual victory.

Reality-based conclusions don’t have this problem. This is why, for example, you can have literal bombs being thrown at mosques because of arguments about which branch of Islam correctly perpetuates the original teachings of Mohammed, but you don’t typically find one nation declaring war against another over the question of whether thorium decays into lead. Where real-world answers exist, we can get our answers from the real world. Everywhere else, we get whatever “answers” we’re strong enough to take by force.

In theory, we could avoid this problem if believers would insist on real-world proof of anyone’s doctrines before embracing them. But there’s two problems with this approach: (a) that would be “testing God,” which believers universally abhor, and (b) that’s exactly what the New Atheists are proposing. If you don’t want people using literal or figurative war to try and settle questions about non-real-world issues, then don’t embrace beliefs that have no real-world foundation. Stick to what can be confirmed and verified objectively and realistically, and there won’t be doctrinal issues that need to be settled by contests of strength.

I know, I know. That would make too much sense. Plus it wouldn’t satisfy the desire to believe. I know it will  never  happen. I’m just saying that, you know, the New Atheists have a valid point. War is the ultimate means by which believers conclusively “prove” the superiority of their superstitions over the beliefs of others.  So long as God fails to show up in real life, they really have no alternative.

So despite Vox Day’s over-simplified and hopelessly biased “statistics,” there is a religious component to needless human conflicts, whether these conflicts manifest as overt violence or as the lesser warfare of discrimination and oppression. It’s a problem we would do well to solve, though psychology and sociology offer us little hope of resolving it with our current abilities and understanding. Acknowledging that the New Atheists have a valid point, though, would at least be a step in the right direction.

The Church Militant

The Church MilitantTheologians have sometimes referred to one aspect of the church as “militant.” The church militant are all the believers currently on earth. “Militant” does not refer to aggressive or hard-line people. It does not refer to some extreme kind of Christian in the same way the media uses the term “Islamic militants.” Rather, we are engaged in battle. We fight the good fight. But we struggle, not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We are indeed engaged in battle, but it is a spiritual war.

The Battle is Spiritual, Not Physical

Ephesians 6:12 says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. I think this is where the church has gone so horribly wrong in events like the Crusades. It is complex I know, but at least this much we can say, Christianity does not spread by sword. The old proverb is still true, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Christianity comes by way of the mind. Repentance means change of mind. Expansion of territory in the kingdom of God come not in physical territory with physical weapons, but when the hearts and mind of people are captured by Christ and he becomes their all consuming passion. Coercion of any kind – whether physical threats, empty promises or the glitz of entertainment – will make a man a Christian. Only the pure preaching of the gospel can give new life to a man.

Our Enemies Defined

There are three enemies that the Christian fights against (you may want to write these down):

The World

Mt 13:22; Rom 12:2; Js 1:27; 4:4; 1 Jn 2:16.
This is the world system and values and allurements. This is the temptation that assaults us on every billboard, in every movie, in every newspaper advertisement, in every commercial. When scripture declares that the wages of sin is death and that what we deserve, therefore is death and hell, the world comes along and says that we deserve a break today. The world say that we deserve a new car.
When the Bible says that all mankind “have turned aside; together they have become worthless,” the word presents its goods and says that you are worth it. You are worth that new hair color, that new pair of shoes, whatever it may be. There is a great danger here of misunderstanding what I am saying. There is nothing wrong with cars, hair color, potato chips or anything else like that. The temptation and the battle resides elsewhere. It is the suggestion that you should be discontent. It is the notion that somehow you have been shortchanged in life. Whatever you have in life is not enough. Your marriage is not like in the movies, so somehow your spouse is to blame. Somehow the world owes you a living. It says to us that what God has given to us is not enough. And in so saying, it merely echoes the first lie in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree in the garden. But that was not good enough. Why is God being so cruel and withholding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? God’s provisions were not enough and thus mankind fell. The world has been repeating the same lie every since. This is our first enemy.

The Flesh

This enemy is perhaps the most lethal. This is the enemy that lies within.

Romans 8:12, 13 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Mt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Gal. 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Paul urges us in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
These fleshly desires live within us. They are a part of us. If you don’t watch much TV, the world will not have as great of an influence on you. Satan is a finite being who cannot be everywhere at all times. But your flesh is always with you. You cannot escape it.
You are born with it. This may come as a shock to some people, but children, while cute, are not innocent. Babies, while cute, are not innocent. Their first thought upon waking up in the morning is not, “How may I serve my mother and father this morning?” “I wonder how I can be a blessing to my brothers and sisters?” Certainly there is no though of God in their heads. The only thing that makes them seem innocent is the fact that they have no capacity to act out on their sinful desires. But as soon as they can hit their siblings, they will. As soon as they can take toys from their siblings, they will. They are sinful little creatures that grow into sinful big creatures.
Our biggest battle as Christians is with ourselves. Observe how you react next time you do not get your way. That is a good gauge as to what your true nature is. We have no problem being nice and cheerful when everything is going our way. Everyone will think you are a saint as long as you keep getting everything you want. But notice the reaction of your heart when you do not get the recognition that you feel you deserve. Notice the condition of your heart when you have to yield to another person. Notice the condition of your heart when the person in front of you is too slow. My goodness, do they not know that you are on the road and that you have places to go and cannot possibly be inconvenienced by delays such as this? And what about those people who ride your tail because they think you are going too slow? Don’t they know that your personal space, by virtue of being in the car has ballooned to a 50′ radius? Don’t they know how rude they are getting in my personal space? Who you are when you do not get your way or when you are inconvenienced is who you really are.
That is frightening isn’t it? The flesh is an ugly thing that needs to be destroyed. It needs to be put off. It needs to be crucified.

The Devil

The final enemy of the Christian is the Devil and his minions. Now, there are two errors that we tend to make with Satan. First is ascribing too much power to him. We sometimes act as though were were almost as powerful as God. We ascribe near omniscience to him believing that he knows about almost every thought that runs through my head. . . Me and the other 6 billion people on this planet. We grant him omnipresence as if he could be id all places at all times. We give him too much power. Satan is not an evil and slightly less powerful version of God. They is no contest. Satan only continues to exist by the shear will of God. God does not need to wage war against Satan in order to kill him; God merely has to stop sustaining him.

The Second error is assigning too little power to him. We basically ignore him. Honestly, how many times in the last few days have you really been aware of Satan’s possible influence. I imagine that it is pretty rare. We are enlightened people who have grown past trying to blame everything on the devil. Satan has been dealt a fatal blow at Calvary, but he is still alive. Revelation 12 speaks of the time just after the cross when Satan is thrown down from heaven.

Revelation 12:12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

He is like a wounded animal. He has been crushed and dominated. He is weakened and his time is short. He has been thrown down. But he is still dangerous as any wounded animal is. He is now thrashing about on earth writhing in agony and eager to inflict the same pain on others. Beware of him for he is still dangerous.

We ought not make too much of him, but neither should we think too little of him and let our guard down. Have you ever wondered why Sunday mornings go so bad so many times? Of the seven mornings in a week, it is Sunday that the most fights occur. People are fussing over how they look, fussing with children to get ready. They are stressed and irritable. Even in the car on the way to worship there are commands being barked out and resentment building in those barked at. Everyone walks through the doors and the plastic smiles are in place and everyone is not so cheerful and serene – after all the show must go on.

It is in times that we experience the work of Satan. We are selfish all the time, so why should Sunday be different from any other morning? Even the world takes a small break on Sunday. That is the day that we are least likely to be assaulted by all the temptations of the world. The difference maker on Sunday are the spiritual forces that are at war against the church of God.

Our Tools for the  Fight

The Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

An Unhealthy Relationship: When Passion Overrides Love

People from all walks of life face the same problems when it comes to human relationships. It is as if there is no end to the cycle of getting together and breaking up with someone. Why is this such a common occurrence? Furthermore, if this is so common, why doesn’t our behavior change in order to come up with a different result? As Albert Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Life is a constant process of being and becoming and when there is a behavior or mindset that we are executing within our daily lives that is bringing about the same or similar negative results, such a behavior or mindset should be altered and changed. This is how progress is made. This is how paradigm shifts occur. The power is completely within us, we just have to come to the realization that the same actions and thoughts that produce an undesirable outcome will not produce anything other than that. Figuring out how the processes the bring about unhealthy relationships can be modified or altered, in order to end the emotional pain that comes about, is crucial to developing a future free from emotional pain.

Observing the relationships of others, I have seen the same thing that great thinkers such as Terrence McKenna have seen, which is that the ego is a big player within a romantic relationship between two people. The egoistic expressions within a romantic relationship vary from intense passion leading to a feeling of obsession, to the feelings of ownership, property, or control of the other person. There are theories proposed as to how this all came about, with the assumption that this was not always the case. One theory is that the rise of the dominant ego came about when there was a shift in tribal societies from being collectivist/maternal/orgiastic to individualist/paternal/monogamous, but nobody can know for sure. What is sure however, is that the ego plays a big part in the romantic relationships humans have, whether they are aware of it or not. The first issue that will be addressed is the problem of too much commitment within a relationship, since it is one of the most common issues facing romantic relationships.

Having a great deal of commitment within a relationship may sound like a wonderful thing at first, but the truth is more nefarious to the health of a relationship that you may believe. Called relationship-contingent self-esteem (RCSE) by psychologists, the putting of too much emotional weight on a relationship turns an individual to evaluate their self-worth solely based on the outcomes of their romantic interactions. Yes, such individuals may be seen by the other as being incredibly in love with them, but it is not love that is the emotion expressed here, but passion. There is a reason that the term “madly in love” exists. By mad (as defined by Webster’s dictionary), it is understood to be disordered in mind or insane. Perhaps you have experienced this first-hand. A lover sends you a text message but you do not reply right away, perhaps because you are driving or preoccupied with something else at the moment. Moments later, you are barraged with more texts that have an air of anxiety, paranoia, and/or panic. Perhaps you start getting phone calls and voicemails, the tone of which is one of desperation for you to reply or respond back to them. This is a direct outcome of a person exhibiting RCSE and such an individual is at risk to become devastated when something goes wrong; even a relatively minor event.

Professor Chip Knee, who is a University of Houston assistant professor of psychology and director of the university’s Interpersonal Relations and Motivation Research Group found this of such importance that he stated that “an overwhelming amount of the wrong kind of commitment can actually undermine a relationship.” Seemingly-small occurrences, such as miscommunication (something that is perhaps more prevalent nowadays because of electronic text-based communications that is devoid of other aspects of communication such as facial expressions), critique of one’s personality or appearance, and the social interaction with others of the opposite sex (heterosexuality used solely to present an example) can go so far as to trigger intense anxiety, mania, obsession, and depression. Psychologists also note that “individuals with RCSE are also prone to react more emotionally to relationship-based situations.” Such individuals respond impulsively, without processing their thoughts and perceptions of a situation through reason or analysis of the situation in order to figure out how to best address it.

Obsessive Love Disorder

The problem of too much passion and commitment is so great, that there is even an anxiety disorder named after it, called Obsessive Love Disorder. This disorder has its basis in the insatiable fixation of wanting to possess a relationship the person whom they are obsessed over. This is usually a painful and all-consuming obsession and preoccupation with an actual or wished-for lover. This insatiable longing either to possess or be possessed by the target of their obsession, rejection by physical or emotional unavailability of their target can result in the perpetual fixation and compulsion to obtain the person they desire (an ego-dominated state of consciousness). Some of the characteristics of this disorder are the following:

  • Fixation with a person who they believe hold the key to their happiness and fulfillment
  • Neurotic and compulsive behaviors such as rapid telephone calls to a lover’s house or workplace
  • Unfounded accusations of “cheating”
  • “Drive-bys” around a love interest’s home or job, with the goal of assuring that the person is at where he/she “said they would be”
  • Physical monitoring of the activities of a love interest, by following them throughout the course of a day to discover daily activities
  • Controlling a lover. This includes questioning the commitment to the relationship so as to manipulate a love interest into providing more attention
  • Overwhelming feelings of depression
  • A sudden loss of self-esteem or feelings of guilt and self-hatred
  • Anger, rage and a desire to seek revenge against a love interest
  • Denial that the relationship has ended. This is usually followed by attempts to “win a loved one back” by making promises to “change”

The causes of experiencing obsessive love vary from feelings of unworthiness during childhood to being the way a person learns to love is conditioned during his/her childhood. Various other causes include feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, the selfish aspects of the ego, and feelings of being special or different. Identifying the causes will assist in the removal of obsession from one’s romantic relationships where, as a result, promote healthy long-lasting relationships within one’s life.

Balancing Love with Passion

With the above framework put in place, it is time to talk about how passion overrides love in romantic relationships. It is an important position of awareness to have, because having the realization of how being overly passionate within a relationship can make for a very short one, is critical to the assurance that our romantic relationships are long, strong, and healthy. When people say that they have “fallen in love”, what this actually means is that they have fallen into a fervent passion for another individual. Webster’s dictionary defines passion as being the emotions as distinguished from reason, as well as the intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction. Passion is an emotional expression that is closely connected to the egoistic level of consciousness called desire. Feeling incredibly passionate about another person may become a dangerous situation, since if suddenly there arises a situation where you are unable to be with the person you feel you’re “madly” in love with, then a host of negative emotions and situations can occur like suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, mania, anger, etc.

From my observations and personal experiences, I have found that the level of passion someone has for another should never become greater than the level of love the person has for the other individual, or else it will turn into a debilitating relationship and situation. Yes, I did note passion as having its place within the human experience and within romantic relationships, but it must be moderated, tempered with reason, and have its egoistic tendencies minimized. It is not necessarily pure love that people in unhealthy relationships feel, but overbearing passion. Love is something that causes no ills or negative repercussions, in its pure and egoless form. The process of falling “in love” is a largely misunderstood phenomenon that usually ends up having a negative outcome. It can be seen time and time again that when the intense passion in a relationship dies down after a few years, the two individuals may start feeling animosity and hostility (usually in very subtle forms) towards each other and there is less passion (mislabeled as love) felt. The primary problem that I see in such situations is that there was not much love to begin with, but what was experienced was a passionate desire for sensual and sexual experiences with that other person.

True love is when people are together for years and years, without arguing or projecting anger (an egoistic expression) towards each other, and maintaining that constant same level of love for one another. Yes, it is possible to have a healthy romantic relationship without resorting to arguments or hostilities. The ingredients for such a healthy relationship include reason, understanding, and empathy. What they lack, is a strong ego that lives in constant desire of getting something for itself.  There is a saying that says “love is blind” but in reality it is not love but passion that creates emotional blindness and puts on the rose-colored glasses over a person’s eyes. Live in love, with tempered passion, and your romantic relationships will be healthy and successful for a long time to come. Progress comes with changed modalities of thought and action, so change the way you approach and involve yourself in relationships by following what has been given here and I assure you that your relationships will flower into something more beautiful and unifying than you may have ever thought was possible.

XFiles: False vs Fallible

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

We’ve reached the part of the chapter where Geisler and Turek pretend to answer the objections of critics, or at least something resembling critics.

Critics may say, “Humans err, so the Bible must err.” But again it’s the critic who is in error. True, humans err, but humans don’t always err. Fallible people write books all the time that have no errors. So fallible people who are guided by the Holy Spirit can write a book without errors.

Geisler and Turek don’t know it, but this brief paragraph—almost a throwaway—brings up a very significant point that will tell against them in their subsequent argument. Maybe it was just an uneasy, guilty feeling: we just got done looking at all 17 “errors” that Dr. Geisler accuses Bible critics of making, but that list came from a different book. In this book, they only looked at four of those “errors,” and the previous section ended with Geisler and Turek accusing critics (yes, critics) of forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics.

That’s perilously close to admitting that the Bible isn’t really the divinely amazing authority that they think it should be. It’s understandable, then, that they would immediately follow that near-confession with a hurried protest that “of course that doesn’t mean a human book can’t be perfect.” They can’t quite deny that their Scripture has an unmistakably human quality, with all the weaknesses that implies, but they want to assert, regardless, that it is still infallible. So to reassure themselves, they imagine a straw “critic” making the silly argument that the Bible must be wrong because people can be wrong. Easily refuted, but it brings up that one tiny critical point…

Genuine critics, of course, wouldn’t bother arguing that the Bible must be wrong just because people are fallible. They don’t need to: there’s plenty of instances of contradictions and factual errors in the Bible, and those are so much more fun to point out anyway. Geisler and Turek are merely confronting their own uneasy suspicion that the Bible does indeed look like the product of human effort rather than the divine revelation they want it to be. So to buttress their faith, they argue that, even though people can be wrong some times, they can also be right.

That’s a misstep, because what that means is that it’s possible for people to be right about some things and wrong about others at the same time. Humans are fallible: they’re capable of making mistakes even though they don’t always make mistakes. And that means that we can’t assume that a person must be wrong about everything in order to be wrong about anything.

Yet that’s precisely the assumption Geisler and Turek made repeatedly in their discussion of the New Testament manuscripts. Zeroing in on Luke the Evangelist, they pointed out 80-some instances where Luke’s record is consistent with what we know about inconsequential background details like contemporary trade routes, major political figures, and other trivial cultural details. If Luke were going to be wrong about the supernatural stuff, we’re supposed to assume that he would necessarily be wrong about the trivial details as well. We’re supposed to forget that humans can be wrong about some things even when they’re right about others.

Remember, the only truly infallible standard is reality itself, which is why Geisler and Turek appeal to that standard when trying to argue that no detail of Luke’s account can possibly be false or mistaken. Yet even though they use it to judge the reliability of Luke’s mundane account, they mysteriously fail to judge his supernatural claims by the same standard. Even though we know that men are fallible and that all their claims need to be compared to a standard of verifiable objective reality, they treat Luke’s account as though men must either be right about everything, or be wrong about everything. They assume that if Luke got mundane trivialities right, he must have been absolutely infallible about everything he wrote.

They then compound their error by trying to deny that they are reasoning in a circle when it comes to Scriptural infallibility.

“But arent you just arguing in a circle,” the critic might ask, “by using the Bible to prove the Bible?” No, we’re not arguing in a circle, because we’re not starting with the assumption that the Bible is an inspired book.

(Just a quick aside: it’s nice to see Geisler and Turek suddenly remembering, for a change, what their book is supposed to be about. Obviously, they started writing I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST under the assumption that “God’s inspired Word” needed some human help, but still, after so many chapters of heedlessly dogmatic apologetic, it’s nice that they occasionally remember the pretense they’re supposed to be putting on.)

We’re starting with several separate documents that have proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be historically reliable. Since those documents reveal that Jesus is God, then we know his teaching on the Old Testament must be true…

And so on and so  on, yada yada yada. Charles Darwin’s observations have been repeatedly verified and validated by thousands of scientists working in fields as diverse as biology, zoology, paleontology, genetics, organic chemistry and even (indirectly) by astronomy, cosmology and nuclear physics, yet that wasn’t enough to establish evolution beyond a reasonable doubt back in Chapter 6. Meanwhile, Luke reports that Paul crossed the Mediterranean Sea by getting into something called a “boat,” and that’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the claims of the New Testament writers are historically reliable.

And Geisler and Turek want us to believe this, even though they know that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics, written by fallible people who can be wrong about some things even when they’re right about others. And even though the claimed deity of Jesus is based on the things that can’t be shown to be consistent with verifiable reality, details they simply assume are infallible, they deny that they’re assuming the infallibility of the Bible in order to prove the infallibility of the Bible.

They lie.

But maybe that’s not intentional. Maybe, being fallible men themselves, they’re merely mistaken about their own assumptions, and about the fundamental honesty and integrity that ought to be the basis for their book—and isn’t. Maybe they’re simply unaware that their thinking and perceptions are being warped into a fallible and outright deceptive system called a Christian worldview. Maybe they just haven’t realized that if you have to play games with the facts in order to justify your beliefs, it’s a sign that your beliefs aren’t true.

I’m not going to try and second-guess their motives here. The fact remains, though, that by marketing this book they are marketing a seriously malfunctioning and mind-crippling system of thought, as demonstrated by their own inability to recognize and acknowledge the fallacies at the core of their apologetic. Whether or not Geisler and Turek ought to be accused of intentional deception, their product remains a lie, and is worthy of exposure and opposition. And I’m only too happy to oblige.

Colson v. Human Rights

Well, you had to know this was coming. Catholic Charities has announced that, in order to avoid paying benefits to same-sex couples, they will deliberately deprive all employees of their standard benefits. So naturally Chuck Colson is declaring that religious freedom is under attack, though he’s predictably inaccurate about who is doing the attacking.

According to Colson, the DC city council ought to be blamed for the decision freely (if intolerantly) made by the leadership of the Catholic Charities.

On March 3, same-sex “marriage” became legal in the District of Columbia. In connection with the new law, the D.C. Council insisted that, as a city contractor, Catholic Charities had to offer the same benefits to same-sex couples that it did to heterosexual ones.In other words, Catholic Charities had to choose between church teaching and ministering to the city’s neediest residents.

Really, Chuck? Respecting the equality and dignity of all men and women is against church teaching? Because the DC city council isn’t telling anyone in the Catholic Charities that they have to go out and engage in homosexual intercourse. Nor are they denying that the church is legally authorized to preach that homosexuality is a sin, bigoted as that doctrine may be. All they’re saying is that organizations that receive taxpayer dollars must not practice social injustice towards those whose taxes are paying to support them.

It’s really no different than the Biblical teaching of “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and “Submit yourselves to those in authority over you”—words that were written in a culture that worshiped Caesar as a god and practiced both homosexual and heterosexual cult prostitution. Yes, you may live in a world whose moral standards are different from your own, but you still need to keep up with your social obligations, of which the first and foremost is your obligation to respect the rights of others.

Sadly, this New Testament attitude is once again completely ignored so that Colson and his fellow false martyrs can wallow in self-pity.

There’s no recognition that what the Washington Post called a “bitter debate” between the District and the Archdiocese was, in fact, a profound infringement of religious freedom–an infringement done at the behest of a tiny minority within a tiny minority.

And it’s so unfair to make people respect the human rights of minorities, isn’t it Chuck? After all, if you can’t oppress a tiny minority, who can you oppress?

Nor was there any acknowledgment that these kinds of infringements aren’t limited to government contractors. Ordinary people are being asked to choose between their livelihood and obedience to their faith-like photographers, landlords, and caterers.

You will also search in vain for mainstream media coverage of the indispensible role played by Christian institutions in caring for the vulnerable and marginalized. Almost 25 percent of the world’s AIDS patients are cared for in Catholic institutions alone. Christian hospitals in the U.S. serve a disproportionate percentage of the urban poor.

All we read about, however, is the Catholic Church’s “stubbornness” or “recalcitrance.”

That’s right, Chuck. Because you guys aren’t just being stubborn and recalcitrant, you’re being dishonest. It’s the Catholic Charities who are using their already underpaid workers as expendable pawns, deliberately mistreating them—voluntarily!—for mere propaganda purposes.

Nobody is denying that Catholic Charities has helped some of the DC area’s poor people. No one is even telling them they can’t continue to do so. The only “infringement” limiting the CC’s outreach is the same sort of “infringement” that disallows human sacrifice as a legal religious practice: our religious freedom is limited to those practices which do not cause material harm to others.

But no respectable religion should find that restriction inconvenient. There are plenty of good deeds that do not require us to practice social injustice, intolerance, or other human rights abuses. The Catholic Charities are perfectly free to continue serving the needy just as they always have. It’s their free choice whether to regard the needs of the poor above their desire for grandstanding and displaying their “righteousness” before men.

It may be that their religion does indeed insist that they display profound bigotry and prejudice towards certain minority groups. Shameful as that may be, it is protected by the Constitution, and they have the right to believe and preach that religion all they want. In many ways, it’s preferable that they do, so that the general public will plainly see the depths of their moral depravity. But should there be any sincere desire to do genuine good, the door remains open, as it always has. They are free to continue to serve.

It’s a black mark against Christianity that believers like Chuck Colson would treat basic respect for human rights as though it were such a terrible attack on the Christian faith. Yet that’s the substance of his long, petulant rant. Boo hoo, Christians aren’t being allowed to harm minorities they disapprove of, how unfair. That makes us so mad we’re going to harm our own people as well. So there.

Jesus must be rolling over in his grave.

XFiles: When Critics Ask (Conclusion)

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Time to wrap up our side-trip into Dr. Norm Geisler’s book When Critics Ask. We’ll pick up today with number 13 on his list of “errors” allegedly made by critics. And 13 seems to be Dr. Geisler’s lucky number because this one is an arguably genuine error:

13. Assuming that round numbers are false.

A good example of this would be the passage about the basin in Solomon’s Temple that, according to the Bible, was ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference. As any good geometry student knows, a circle with a 10 cubit diameter would have a circumference of 10 x pi, or roughly 31.416 cubits. Technically speaking, the Bible is “wrong” by about one and a half cubits. But frankly, that’s just being picky. Rounding off awkward numbers is a perfectly normal, acceptable, and understandable practice in ordinary speech (like I did just now with the “one and a half” reference). Besides, there are much more significant errors that disprove Biblical inerrancy much more definitively, so it’s really not worth pressing this particular issue.

The next point isn’t quite so lucky for Dr. Geisler.

14. Neglecting to note that the bible uses different literary devices.

Yeah, the guy who sincerely and with great conviction argues that the creation myths in Genesis 1-10 must be literally true, is accusing Bible critics of failing to recognize the fact that the Bible uses different literary devices to make its points. This is another argument that would be fun to look at in Dr. Geisler’s book itself, because it’s dollars to donuts that he’s using this argument only when the Bible says something he disagrees with. I’ve had similar conversations with creationists, when I pointed out that the Bible uniformly and consistently refers to heaven as a physical location in the sky over Palestine. We know that there’s no throne of God above some “firmament” floating in the sky, and therefore Biblical references to heaven are all metaphor, doncha know. Even when real people allegedly travel, physically, to and from there. Awesome.

15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of scripture, is without error.

Another fun one. Despite the claim that God wants the Bible to be our sole infallible source of moral and spiritual authority, the fact remains that there is nothing magical or supernatural preventing Bibles from containing errors. Even apart from the issue of different translations, not all Bible manuscripts agree, even in the original Greek and Hebrew. There are pieces of the text that have variant readings, and other parts where scholars aren’t sure what the original words and/or meaning were.

Now granted, this amounts to really a very small percentage of the text. Just enough, in fact, to belie the claim that the Bibles we have today are literally infallible. But the discrepancies are there, and consequently Bible scholars have to come up with an excuse to cover the problem. And they have: they assure us that it’s only the original manuscripts that are infallible and without error, and therefore the mistakes we see right in front of us are merely copyists’ errors.

And how do we know that the mistake was not present in the original also? Well, we don’t have the originals, so you can’t prove that the mistake was there, right? Sadly, for some people, that’s all the “proof” they need. But I expect Dr. Geisler would appeal to another argument: textual criticism.

Textual criticism is the art and science of reconstructing the original text by tracing the ancestry of each variant reading. This is exactly the same sort of technique that Drs. Geisler and Turek rejected when discussing the techniques used by evolutionists to trace the ancestry of variant species. Somehow, though, Dr. Geisler has absolutely no qualms about using these same methods to reconstruct the evolution of variant texts in the transmission of the Scriptures.

Nor should he. It’s a perfectly valid technique, and it works just as well and just as reliably whether you’re applying it to uncials or palimpsests or endogenous retroviruses. The problem is that it doesn’t always let you reconstruct the original text exactly and entirely, leaving you with a “preferred reading” that still does not eliminate all the problems and ambiguities. And it doesn’t work for the Old Testament at all, because a group of rabbis called the Masoretes went through and came up with their own OT canon by the simple expedient of destroying all the other variants. Only the Dead Sea scrolls are known to have escaped (and not all of those texts have been released by the Israeli government, which makes you wonder what’s in them that needs to be kept so secret, eh?).

16. Confusing general statements with universal ones.

Aka the “all does not mean all” defense. Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible,” but what he actually meant by that was that with God, all things that are possible are possible. Um, yeah, it would be hard for a statement like that to be false, don’t you think? You could use that slogan to sell a lot of things. “With Smirnoff, all things that are possible, are possible.” Hey, I’ll buy that!

What Dr. Geisler claims is an error made by critics is really a quibble raised by apologists, and it’s based on a fundamental and inescapable weakness of all Scripture-based authority systems: interpretations are debatable. You have to interpret a document, because a text can’t explain itself. It’s not like a living prophet or apostle, whom you could dialog with and who could clarify what he meant by this or that term. If the Bible says that “all Israel will be saved” and some critic points out that not all Israel will be saved, you can quibble over what “all” means, or what “saved” means, or who “Israel” refers to. There’s no objective, external, and unambiguous standard for determining which interpretation is correct. Every believer is free to believe whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes.

Thus, whenever a critic points out problems with what the Bible says, whether it’s about general/universal statements or anything else a critic might see as a problem, Dr. Geisler can claim that the critic is merely committing an error of interpretation. He does not need to prove, or even define, what the “correct” interpretation should be, and he can even change his own interpretation in midstream as needed to dodge the issue of the moment. There’s no fixed standard for what the correct interpretation must be, and therefore it’s always safe for the apologist to accuse the critic of having a wrong interpretation.

17. Forgetting that latter revelation supersedes previous revelation.

That’s what’s so great about Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth—when your side wins the theological debate, you get to pick a new Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth. It “supersedes” the old Truth, like magic. And if you call now, we’ll even let you keep your old Truth, absolutely free!

In science, new discoveries supersede old ones because the old ones were fallible and inaccurate, and subject to improvement as we learn more about the real world. Christian apologists, however, have to maintain the myth that the Bible does not contradict itself, and has never been fallible or inaccurate. How do they do it? Easy: when you find a problem with the teachings of the Old Testament, they just say, “Oh, that doesn’t matter, because we have the New Testament now.” The problem has been “superseded,” allowing the apologist to simply gloss over it and ignore it.

But you can’t get rid of a problem just by declaring that the old Infallible Truth has now been superseded. If you’re going to have an Eternal and Unchanging God, with an Eternal and Unchanging Moral Law that dictates what it does and does not take to please Him, then sweeping and significant changes in His alleged True Faith should not happen. There shouldn’t be a need for reforms. God shouldn’t have released a version that He knew was going to need radical changes for the 2.0 release. Poor quality control is a sign of shoddy workmanship.

Ok, that’s a bit facetious. What it’s really a sign of is men taking an old religion and simply adapting it to new purposes (predictably, with themselves as the ones in charge of the new religion).

This goes back to the whole Myth Hypothesis vs Gospel Hypothesis issue. If you begin by knowing that Christianity must be the One True Faith, and you work your way backwards to some plausible-sounding scenario directed at achieving your apologetic goals, then you can sketch out a plot in which some already-established religion lends its “brand recognition” to your new faith just before being “superseded” by it. But that’s rationalization, thinking backwards to achieve a predetermined conclusion.

If we start with the premise that there exists a loving Heavenly Father Who knows how to save His children from Hell, why not just do that first? It’s just as educational, and beneficial, and it rescues untold numbers of innocent animals from being made to suffer so that wicked humans can escape the consequences of their sins. There’s no need to start off with some imperfect Old Religion that would need to be superseded. Just do it the right way first.

So if we think about the logical consequences of each hypothesis, it’s easy to see that the facts are much more consistent with the theory that Christianity is just men essentially vampirizing Judaism. Christianity, being a mere human invention, needs to attach itself to Judaism in order to absorb its established legitimacy—having no life of its own (to start with) it needs a living host to feed from. A genuine religion, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, would not need to take such a parasitic and detrimental approach: it could just as easily bestow the best and most effective religion from the very start.

And we’re done with our little side trip. Seventeen alleged “errors” that Dr. Geisler uses to try and evade the problems in his fallible, erroneous and superstitious Bible, and of these, only a couple of the minor objections are even reasonable. And none of this would be an issue in the first place if it weren’t for his God’s consistent, universal, and undeniable absence from real life.

If Dr. Geisler had a God that was willing and able to behave as though He believed what the Bible says about Him, we wouldn’t need an infallible Word of God because we’d have the actual God Himself. He supposedly loves us enough to die for us so that He could be with us, and supposedly has the power to pull it off, and to eliminate the last obstacle separating us from Him, so He’d be both willing and able to show up to participate, in person, in that relationship He worked so hard to make possible.

In which case, apologists like Dr. Geisler would be out of a job. Makes you think, don’t it?

XFiles: When Critics Ask (Conclusion)

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Time to wrap up our side-trip into Dr. Norm Geisler’s book When Critics Ask. We’ll pick up today with number 13 on his list of “errors” allegedly made by critics. And 13 seems to be Dr. Geisler’s lucky number because this one is an arguably genuine error:

13. Assuming that round numbers are false.

A good example of this would be the passage about the basin in Solomon’s Temple that, according to the Bible, was ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference. As any good geometry student knows, a circle with a 10 cubit diameter would have a circumference of 10 x pi, or roughly 31.416 cubits. Technically speaking, the Bible is “wrong” by about one and a half cubits. But frankly, that’s just being picky. Rounding off awkward numbers is a perfectly normal, acceptable, and understandable practice in ordinary speech (like I did just now with the “one and a half” reference). Besides, there are much more significant errors that disprove Biblical inerrancy much more definitively, so it’s really not worth pressing this particular issue.

The next point isn’t quite so lucky for Dr. Geisler.

14. Neglecting to note that the bible uses different literary devices.

Yeah, the guy who sincerely and with great conviction argues that the creation myths in Genesis 1-10 must be literally true, is accusing Bible critics of failing to recognize the fact that the Bible uses different literary devices to make its points. This is another argument that would be fun to look at in Dr. Geisler’s book itself, because it’s dollars to donuts that he’s using this argument only when the Bible says something he disagrees with. I’ve had similar conversations with creationists, when I pointed out that the Bible uniformly and consistently refers to heaven as a physical location in the sky over Palestine. We know that there’s no throne of God above some “firmament” floating in the sky, and therefore Biblical references to heaven are all metaphor, doncha know. Even when real people allegedly travel, physically, to and from there. Awesome.

15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of scripture, is without error.

Another fun one. Despite the claim that God wants the Bible to be our sole infallible source of moral and spiritual authority, the fact remains that there is nothing magical or supernatural preventing Bibles from containing errors. Even apart from the issue of different translations, not all Bible manuscripts agree, even in the original Greek and Hebrew. There are pieces of the text that have variant readings, and other parts where scholars aren’t sure what the original words and/or meaning were.

Now granted, this amounts to really a very small percentage of the text. Just enough, in fact, to belie the claim that the Bibles we have today are literally infallible. But the discrepancies are there, and consequently Bible scholars have to come up with an excuse to cover the problem. And they have: they assure us that it’s only the original manuscripts that are infallible and without error, and therefore the mistakes we see right in front of us are merely copyists’ errors.

And how do we know that the mistake was not present in the original also? Well, we don’t have the originals, so you can’t prove that the mistake was there, right? Sadly, for some people, that’s all the “proof” they need. But I expect Dr. Geisler would appeal to another argument: textual criticism.

Textual criticism is the art and science of reconstructing the original text by tracing the ancestry of each variant reading. This is exactly the same sort of technique that Drs. Geisler and Turek rejected when discussing the techniques used by evolutionists to trace the ancestry of variant species. Somehow, though, Dr. Geisler has absolutely no qualms about using these same methods to reconstruct the evolution of variant texts in the transmission of the Scriptures.

Nor should he. It’s a perfectly valid technique, and it works just as well and just as reliably whether you’re applying it to uncials or palimpsests or endogenous retroviruses. The problem is that it doesn’t always let you reconstruct the original text exactly and entirely, leaving you with a “preferred reading” that still does not eliminate all the problems and ambiguities. And it doesn’t work for the Old Testament at all, because a group of rabbis called the Masoretes went through and came up with their own OT canon by the simple expedient of destroying all the other variants. Only the Dead Sea scrolls are known to have escaped (and not all of those texts have been released by the Israeli government, which makes you wonder what’s in them that needs to be kept so secret, eh?).

16. Confusing general statements with universal ones.

Aka the “all does not mean all” defense. Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible,” but what he actually meant by that was that with God, all things that are possible are possible. Um, yeah, it would be hard for a statement like that to be false, don’t you think? You could use that slogan to sell a lot of things. “With Smirnoff, all things that are possible, are possible.” Hey, I’ll buy that!

What Dr. Geisler claims is an error made by critics is really a quibble raised by apologists, and it’s based on a fundamental and inescapable weakness of all Scripture-based authority systems: interpretations are debatable. You have to interpret a document, because a text can’t explain itself. It’s not like a living prophet or apostle, whom you could dialog with and who could clarify what he meant by this or that term. If the Bible says that “all Israel will be saved” and some critic points out that not all Israel will be saved, you can quibble over what “all” means, or what “saved” means, or who “Israel” refers to. There’s no objective, external, and unambiguous standard for determining which interpretation is correct. Every believer is free to believe whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes.

Thus, whenever a critic points out problems with what the Bible says, whether it’s about general/universal statements or anything else a critic might see as a problem, Dr. Geisler can claim that the critic is merely committing an error of interpretation. He does not need to prove, or even define, what the “correct” interpretation should be, and he can even change his own interpretation in midstream as needed to dodge the issue of the moment. There’s no fixed standard for what the correct interpretation must be, and therefore it’s always safe for the apologist to accuse the critic of having a wrong interpretation.

17. Forgetting that latter revelation supersedes previous revelation.

That’s what’s so great about Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth—when your side wins the theological debate, you get to pick a new Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth. It “supersedes” the old Truth, like magic. And if you call now, we’ll even let you keep your old Truth, absolutely free!

In science, new discoveries supersede old ones because the old ones were fallible and inaccurate, and subject to improvement as we learn more about the real world. Christian apologists, however, have to maintain the myth that the Bible does not contradict itself, and has never been fallible or inaccurate. How do they do it? Easy: when you find a problem with the teachings of the Old Testament, they just say, “Oh, that doesn’t matter, because we have the New Testament now.” The problem has been “superseded,” allowing the apologist to simply gloss over it and ignore it.

But you can’t get rid of a problem just by declaring that the old Infallible Truth has now been superseded. If you’re going to have an Eternal and Unchanging God, with an Eternal and Unchanging Moral Law that dictates what it does and does not take to please Him, then sweeping and significant changes in His alleged True Faith should not happen. There shouldn’t be a need for reforms. God shouldn’t have released a version that He knew was going to need radical changes for the 2.0 release. Poor quality control is a sign of shoddy workmanship.

Ok, that’s a bit facetious. What it’s really a sign of is men taking an old religion and simply adapting it to new purposes (predictably, with themselves as the ones in charge of the new religion).

This goes back to the whole Myth Hypothesis vs Gospel Hypothesis issue. If you begin by knowing that Christianity must be the One True Faith, and you work your way backwards to some plausible-sounding scenario directed at achieving your apologetic goals, then you can sketch out a plot in which some already-established religion lends its “brand recognition” to your new faith just before being “superseded” by it. But that’s rationalization, thinking backwards to achieve a predetermined conclusion.

If we start with the premise that there exists a loving Heavenly Father Who knows how to save His children from Hell, why not just do that first? It’s just as educational, and beneficial, and it rescues untold numbers of innocent animals from being made to suffer so that wicked humans can escape the consequences of their sins. There’s no need to start off with some imperfect Old Religion that would need to be superseded. Just do it the right way first.

So if we think about the logical consequences of each hypothesis, it’s easy to see that the facts are much more consistent with the theory that Christianity is just men essentially vampirizing Judaism. Christianity, being a mere human invention, needs to attach itself to Judaism in order to absorb its established legitimacy—having no life of its own (to start with) it needs a living host to feed from. A genuine religion, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, would not need to take such a parasitic and detrimental approach: it could just as easily bestow the best and most effective religion from the very start.

And we’re done with our little side trip. Seventeen alleged “errors” that Dr. Geisler uses to try and evade the problems in his fallible, erroneous and superstitious Bible, and of these, only a couple of the minor objections are even reasonable. And none of this would be an issue in the first place if it weren’t for his God’s consistent, universal, and undeniable absence from real life.

If Dr. Geisler had a God that was willing and able to behave as though He believed what the Bible says about Him, we wouldn’t need an infallible Word of God because we’d have the actual God Himself. He supposedly loves us enough to die for us so that He could be with us, and supposedly has the power to pull it off, and to eliminate the last obstacle separating us from Him, so He’d be both willing and able to show up to participate, in person, in that relationship He worked so hard to make possible.

In which case, apologists like Dr. Geisler would be out of a job. Makes you think, don’t it?

XFiles: When Critics Ask (Conclusion)

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Time to wrap up our side-trip into Dr. Norm Geisler’s book When Critics Ask. We’ll pick up today with number 13 on his list of “errors” allegedly made by critics. And 13 seems to be Dr. Geisler’s lucky number because this one is an arguably genuine error:

13. Assuming that round numbers are false.

A good example of this would be the passage about the basin in Solomon’s Temple that, according to the Bible, was ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference. As any good geometry student knows, a circle with a 10 cubit diameter would have a circumference of 10 x pi, or roughly 31.416 cubits. Technically speaking, the Bible is “wrong” by about one and a half cubits. But frankly, that’s just being picky. Rounding off awkward numbers is a perfectly normal, acceptable, and understandable practice in ordinary speech (like I did just now with the “one and a half” reference). Besides, there are much more significant errors that disprove Biblical inerrancy much more definitively, so it’s really not worth pressing this particular issue.

The next point isn’t quite so lucky for Dr. Geisler.

14. Neglecting to note that the bible uses different literary devices.

Yeah, the guy who sincerely and with great conviction argues that the creation myths in Genesis 1-10 must be literally true, is accusing Bible critics of failing to recognize the fact that the Bible uses different literary devices to make its points. This is another argument that would be fun to look at in Dr. Geisler’s book itself, because it’s dollars to donuts that he’s using this argument only when the Bible says something he disagrees with. I’ve had similar conversations with creationists, when I pointed out that the Bible uniformly and consistently refers to heaven as a physical location in the sky over Palestine. We know that there’s no throne of God above some “firmament” floating in the sky, and therefore Biblical references to heaven are all metaphor, doncha know. Even when real people allegedly travel, physically, to and from there. Awesome.

15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of scripture, is without error.

Another fun one. Despite the claim that God wants the Bible to be our sole infallible source of moral and spiritual authority, the fact remains that there is nothing magical or supernatural preventing Bibles from containing errors. Even apart from the issue of different translations, not all Bible manuscripts agree, even in the original Greek and Hebrew. There are pieces of the text that have variant readings, and other parts where scholars aren’t sure what the original words and/or meaning were.

Now granted, this amounts to really a very small percentage of the text. Just enough, in fact, to belie the claim that the Bibles we have today are literally infallible. But the discrepancies are there, and consequently Bible scholars have to come up with an excuse to cover the problem. And they have: they assure us that it’s only the original manuscripts that are infallible and without error, and therefore the mistakes we see right in front of us are merely copyists’ errors.

And how do we know that the mistake was not present in the original also? Well, we don’t have the originals, so you can’t prove that the mistake was there, right? Sadly, for some people, that’s all the “proof” they need. But I expect Dr. Geisler would appeal to another argument: textual criticism.

Textual criticism is the art and science of reconstructing the original text by tracing the ancestry of each variant reading. This is exactly the same sort of technique that Drs. Geisler and Turek rejected when discussing the techniques used by evolutionists to trace the ancestry of variant species. Somehow, though, Dr. Geisler has absolutely no qualms about using these same methods to reconstruct the evolution of variant texts in the transmission of the Scriptures.

Nor should he. It’s a perfectly valid technique, and it works just as well and just as reliably whether you’re applying it to uncials or palimpsests or endogenous retroviruses. The problem is that it doesn’t always let you reconstruct the original text exactly and entirely, leaving you with a “preferred reading” that still does not eliminate all the problems and ambiguities. And it doesn’t work for the Old Testament at all, because a group of rabbis called the Masoretes went through and came up with their own OT canon by the simple expedient of destroying all the other variants. Only the Dead Sea scrolls are known to have escaped (and not all of those texts have been released by the Israeli government, which makes you wonder what’s in them that needs to be kept so secret, eh?).

16. Confusing general statements with universal ones.

Aka the “all does not mean all” defense. Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible,” but what he actually meant by that was that with God, all things that are possible are possible. Um, yeah, it would be hard for a statement like that to be false, don’t you think? You could use that slogan to sell a lot of things. “With Smirnoff, all things that are possible, are possible.” Hey, I’ll buy that!

What Dr. Geisler claims is an error made by critics is really a quibble raised by apologists, and it’s based on a fundamental and inescapable weakness of all Scripture-based authority systems: interpretations are debatable. You have to interpret a document, because a text can’t explain itself. It’s not like a living prophet or apostle, whom you could dialog with and who could clarify what he meant by this or that term. If the Bible says that “all Israel will be saved” and some critic points out that not all Israel will be saved, you can quibble over what “all” means, or what “saved” means, or who “Israel” refers to. There’s no objective, external, and unambiguous standard for determining which interpretation is correct. Every believer is free to believe whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes.

Thus, whenever a critic points out problems with what the Bible says, whether it’s about general/universal statements or anything else a critic might see as a problem, Dr. Geisler can claim that the critic is merely committing an error of interpretation. He does not need to prove, or even define, what the “correct” interpretation should be, and he can even change his own interpretation in midstream as needed to dodge the issue of the moment. There’s no fixed standard for what the correct interpretation must be, and therefore it’s always safe for the apologist to accuse the critic of having a wrong interpretation.

17. Forgetting that latter revelation supersedes previous revelation.

That’s what’s so great about Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth—when your side wins the theological debate, you get to pick a new Eternal, Universal and Unchanging Truth. It “supersedes” the old Truth, like magic. And if you call now, we’ll even let you keep your old Truth, absolutely free!

In science, new discoveries supersede old ones because the old ones were fallible and inaccurate, and subject to improvement as we learn more about the real world. Christian apologists, however, have to maintain the myth that the Bible does not contradict itself, and has never been fallible or inaccurate. How do they do it? Easy: when you find a problem with the teachings of the Old Testament, they just say, “Oh, that doesn’t matter, because we have the New Testament now.” The problem has been “superseded,” allowing the apologist to simply gloss over it and ignore it.

But you can’t get rid of a problem just by declaring that the old Infallible Truth has now been superseded. If you’re going to have an Eternal and Unchanging God, with an Eternal and Unchanging Moral Law that dictates what it does and does not take to please Him, then sweeping and significant changes in His alleged True Faith should not happen. There shouldn’t be a need for reforms. God shouldn’t have released a version that He knew was going to need radical changes for the 2.0 release. Poor quality control is a sign of shoddy workmanship.

Ok, that’s a bit facetious. What it’s really a sign of is men taking an old religion and simply adapting it to new purposes (predictably, with themselves as the ones in charge of the new religion).

This goes back to the whole Myth Hypothesis vs Gospel Hypothesis issue. If you begin by knowing that Christianity must be the One True Faith, and you work your way backwards to some plausible-sounding scenario directed at achieving your apologetic goals, then you can sketch out a plot in which some already-established religion lends its “brand recognition” to your new faith just before being “superseded” by it. But that’s rationalization, thinking backwards to achieve a predetermined conclusion.

If we start with the premise that there exists a loving Heavenly Father Who knows how to save His children from Hell, why not just do that first? It’s just as educational, and beneficial, and it rescues untold numbers of innocent animals from being made to suffer so that wicked humans can escape the consequences of their sins. There’s no need to start off with some imperfect Old Religion that would need to be superseded. Just do it the right way first.

So if we think about the logical consequences of each hypothesis, it’s easy to see that the facts are much more consistent with the theory that Christianity is just men essentially vampirizing Judaism. Christianity, being a mere human invention, needs to attach itself to Judaism in order to absorb its established legitimacy—having no life of its own (to start with) it needs a living host to feed from. A genuine religion, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, would not need to take such a parasitic and detrimental approach: it could just as easily bestow the best and most effective religion from the very start.

And we’re done with our little side trip. Seventeen alleged “errors” that Dr. Geisler uses to try and evade the problems in his fallible, erroneous and superstitious Bible, and of these, only a couple of the minor objections are even reasonable. And none of this would be an issue in the first place if it weren’t for his God’s consistent, universal, and undeniable absence from real life.

If Dr. Geisler had a God that was willing and able to behave as though He believed what the Bible says about Him, we wouldn’t need an infallible Word of God because we’d have the actual God Himself. He supposedly loves us enough to die for us so that He could be with us, and supposedly has the power to pull it off, and to eliminate the last obstacle separating us from Him, so He’d be both willing and able to show up to participate, in person, in that relationship He worked so hard to make possible.

In which case, apologists like Dr. Geisler would be out of a job. Makes you think, don’t it?