Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Purpose

My purpose in life is not much different than that of a theist. I strive to have the best life I can within my ability. Is a Christian much different?

The question pops out in our discussions, “But how do you have any purpose in life?” as if upon becoming an atheist, I lost my drive, my goals, and my desires within the world. Nonsense.

Think about how we live. I cheer my son on in soccer, next to the Christian who is cheering on her son. We each take time out of our busy lives, allowing dishes to pile up at home, to allow our sons a moment of joy for the playing a sport. Is our purpose different?

My Christian friends and I discuss our investments, what vehicles to buy, who is sick and what remedy best works, where to travel, where to NOT travel, problems with relatives, problems with in-laws and promotions at work. We all face disease, discomfort, and death. We all have moments of pure bliss, of triumph, or failure. We all work hard, hoping to leave the world a little better place for our children and their children.

When I hear this plaintive cry, “But you don’t have any purpose” and view how we go about our lives from day-to-day, it clearly cannot be a difference in what we do. We both seem to be striving to make our lives and the lives of those about us as comfortable as possible here in this world.

In fact, if we picked a few people out of a crowd, it would be very difficult indeed to tell who has “ultimate purpose” or not, based upon what they were doing at that particular moment.

No, it has to be something more. Not merely how we spend our time on earth.

It appears what a Christian means by “ultimate purpose” is that God has to give them a blessed after-life because of something the Christian did here on earth. The Christian deserves it! The “purpose” which is being discussed is a reward for doing something right. What is so “ultimate” or “grand” or “purposeful” in that?

Now, that may seem harsh at first, but let’s inspect this a bit closer, shall we?

Envision, for a moment, there was no after-life. Still a God, still a moral base, still a life on earth. Everything in place, except after death, nothing but silence. Would a Christian still be talking about their unique “ultimate purpose”? If so—what could it possibly be? If one does not follow a God, they still live with as much fervor, reward and punishment as one who does. The only purpose a human would have would be to live out their life while on earth. (The same as most of us are doing, regardless.) Glorifying God or not would not change what happens after dying.

We see that followers of god(s) and people who don’t each receive benefits, detriments, and both can equally live to be 9 or 90. As Jesus phrased it, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Matt. 5:45. This “ultimate purpose” would appear to encompass more than just how we act with the few years given us.

Simply living would not seem to be what we are discussing.

There appears in this claim of “purpose” to be some reason more—something greater than just living out a life in the natural world. Part and parcel of this “ultimate purpose” is an afterlife.

And not simply any afterlife, but a happy one at that. Imagine a step further. That there was only an afterlife of Hell. What if every man, woman and child was destined, regardless of what they did, to be barred from heaven. An afterlife of misery.

To a Christian, this is not out of the realm of possibility. I am often informed that it is not God sending people to hell, but rather we are all going there anyway. The very essence of being human includes a one-way trip to Hell after death.

Further, I am informed that Christ did not have to come and live and die. That God was well within his rights to doom us all to Hell. We deserve it. It is the default position. Apparently in God-world, our “ultimate purpose” would equally be fulfilled by an unpleasant after-life.

Yet this is not what is being discussed by Christians, either. Such an existence would not give them an “ultimate purpose.” They would not fill the churches with cries of “What a great life we have—first we die; then we fry! But at least we have purpose!” That is not purpose—that is doom.

We do not see any difference in the day-to-day motivations of our individual lives. That cannot be the “ultimate purpose.” Nor do we hear claims of “ultimate purpose” from those that hold to no after-life, or a terrible one.

Practically and pragmatically, it seems to me the difference, when it comes to “ultimate purpose” is that the Christian plans on a glorious paradise, based upon their actions within their lifetime. In its most basic form, the Christian finds “purpose” in being rewarded for doing something right. How is that dissimilar to any other entity that hopes for reward by performance? What makes such a purpose unique, or “ultimate”?

I anticipate protests that salvation and purpose do not come from human action, but from God granting grace. Come, come. We observe what you say and do. We were in the system. We know the songs, the stories, the doctrine, and the rote.

There is no claim that God picks by completely random lottery. In order to gain entrance into heaven, to obtain “ultimate purpose” the human must do something. It may be as simple as “accepting the gift” or acknowledging Jesus is Lord, or asking Jesus into your heart, but something must be done by the human. It is not solely God acting. There is some requirement, albeit perhaps extremely slight, but some action required on the part of the human in order to make this thing work. Without the human doing this act, however minor it is, God cannot allow them in heaven. The human has to do it, and do it right!

And, the fact that we debate and go back and forth demonstrates the reality of the belief that it includes some intellectual assent by the human.

If you do something correctly, you get heaven. That’s it. After all the rhetoric, and fancy doctrine is peeled away, and “ultimate purpose” is inspected for how the Christian realistically and completely treats it—it boils down to this: Do it right—you get a reward.

How does that make a Christian’s position any more plausible, or any better than any other position? We all (at least I see genuineness in humanity) try to do it right. We all hope that doing it correctly provides benefits.

Sure, the Christian can claim there is an after-life. ‘Course, being me, I can’t help but point out the complete lack of evidence of such a place. But striving to obtain some happy Great Beyond, by saying or doing or believing the “correct” things here on earth is no “grand pursuit.” It is pragmatism at its most basic.

It is expectation of a deserved reward. To paraphrase Smith-Barney, “We get to heaven the old-fashioned way. We earn it.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I Left Church

A group of students requested people to write letters as to why they left the Church. Most times I discuss my leaving Christianity, and I have only briefly touched on not going to Church.

First of all, I would emphasize there is nothing that any Church, or the Church system as a whole did incorrectly. It is designed to minister and give guidance to those who believe as it does, OR to provide information to those who do not. I neither believe as the church, and I already have more information than they can provide.

It is like swimming in a pool of acid. There is nothing wrong with acid; it does what it is supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with swimming, either. Just because they both exist, and perform their function correctly does not mean they should mix.

I had good experiences with people in my churches, and some bad experiences. Similar to every other endeavor in which we have a large group of humans together, there are some people we like, and some we do not care for as much. Some friendships develop, and other relationships fall apart.

Perhaps some history as to the various churches I have attended to give the proper background.

I started to go to church when I was six weeks old at a country Baptist Church. (If you were from Michigan, I could regale you with the pedigree as to the sister church(es) and parent church, and when the church split from the organization and the entire history of how the church came into being. Because that is what we did as Baptists—split and kept track of who split from whom.)

My parents served in various functions including Deacon, Deaconess, Sunday School Teacher, Sunday School Superintendent, Janitor, Maintenance, Youth Leader, Missionary Committee, Building Committee, Finance Committee, Search Committee, Committee to create Committees and Awana Leader.

We truly defined the adage of “If the church doors were unlocked—we were there.”

Our weekly itinerary could easily be:

Sunday
9:30 a.m. – Be at church to prepare building (move tables, etc.) for Sunday School.
10:00 a.m. – Sunday School.
11:00 a.m. – Church
12:30 a.m. – Stay after to clean up (see “9:30 a.m.”) or if there was Communion, help mom by gathering and washing the little cups.

5:00 p.m. – Orchestra Practice
6:00 p.m. – Youth Group
7:00 p.m. – Church.
8:00 p.m. – Occasionally a youth party afterward.

Monday
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Awana

Tuesday
6:00 p.m. - Dad went out visiting.

Wednesday
6:00 p.m. Prayer Meeting
7:00 p.m. Choir Practice

Thursday
7:00 p.m. Deacon/Deaconess Meeting or Committee Meeting

Friday & Saturday
Typically off, so if we had another youth get-together, it would be on these nights.

We did the Easter Morning Church Breakfast, Vacation Bible School, Summer Camp, the Thanksgiving Service, the Christmas Eve Service, and the New Years Eve service in which the Pastor tried to preach until the bell rang at midnight.

That was my church until I was 15 years old. It was the only life I knew. Yes, the sermons were typically boring. Sure, we occasionally had “youth revivals” in which we vowed to never listen to Rock-n-Roll or play cards or go see movies ever again. (Hey! It was a different time, O.K.?)

Growing up, our church bought property and materials, but the congregation volunteered time to provide the labor to build it. (And some particular Deacon/Deaconess’ volunteered their children as well!) It seemed as if every Saturday we would go “work on the church” by sawing, nailing, painting, carrying, sweeping, cleaning, raking, mowing, planting, re-planting and everything a 9-year old boy hates to do at his own house, let alone a church. (Although on the plus side, my friends were in the same boat as I, so if we quickly got our work done, and avoided an adult’s eye, we got to play together more than if the church was not being built. See? Good and bad to everything.)

To me, going to church was like going to school, or avoiding chores. It was what one did. I knew there were other kids who did not go to church (we saw them at V.B.S. once a year) and if anything, I felt sorry for them. Church was where your friends, your associates, your socialization happened. Parts were dull but parts were a blast.

We moved when I was 15. You know you are a BFIC (Big Family In Church) if they throw a potluck dinner as a “Farewell” for you. We received such a dinner.

Another church was recommended to us in the area in which we moved. We had our dinner on Sunday. Moved on Friday/Saturday. And we were in our new church on Sunday. Didn’t miss a week. That first Sunday, my parents struck up a conversation with the Pastor, and we were invited over for Lunch.

In no time at all, we had the same itinerary on a weekly basis. My Parents were Deacon, Deaconess, Sunday School Teacher, Sunday School Superintendent,…(you get the picture.)

I attended this church for 14 years. The first Sunday evening of that first week, I met the girl who would someday marry me in that Church.

My life continued as before. Friends, youth group, interesting trips, summer camp—what I presumed was typical for a church-going teenager/young adult.

If there was any first “hiccup” in my church attendance experience, it was in my first year of college. I attended a Baptist College. We were required to attend weekly services at any church in the area, and the Resident Advisors were obligated to do a “bed check” every Sunday to make sure people were at church. (The city of this college was very conservative, so there was nowhere else to be but church on a Sunday morning. If you weren’t in the dorm, you were either wandering the streets lonely or in a church.)

I was getting my first taste of freedom. No parents. No chores. A standard freshman-never-been-away-from-home kid. The last thing I was interested in was getting involved in a church. There was too much to do! Since I had to work to pay for college as it was, I quickly volunteered to cook Sunday breakfast/lunch.

I did so throughout my college years. Ahh, but they caught me another way. See, the college also had chapel 5 times a week. And as a college student, I was smart enough to figure out that WE were getting brighter, but the speakers seemed to stay as uninteresting. We stayed up late, debating philosophical points of C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaffer, and the next day would be smothered with a local pastor giving a sermon about how we ought to love our neighbor. (But not too much! We were frisky college students, remember!)

I would love to lie here, and say I started working lunches as well to get out of chapel, but unfortunately, the lunch crew started after chapel was finished. No luck there.

To confirm you attended chapel, a person “signed you in” at the door. My roommate and I (see how I just shared the blame? He He) paid off the person with food (college student equivalent of prison cigarettes) to sign us in. Eventually, as with all well-laid out plans we got caught. Well…actually we were caught for something else, and our signor-inner ratted us out, fearing impending doom.

Thus we were reduced to only being able to sneak out half of the time. As our college minds were expanding and bursting with new information, and exploration, and fascinating concepts, those weeks trapped in chapel taught me there were two speakers—those that could apprehend the audience’s attention and those that treated us as already captured. The latter were by far the more prevalent.

Due to my chapel (and other) escapades, the college did not give me the option to return. My second college only had chapel two times a week (and an easier system to crack) which was far more palatable.

I returned to my home church as a “young adult.” That is the in-between of “college age” (although it always included the college age) and “young marrieds.” If I was to pick out the years of church-going that I enjoyed the most, it would have to be this time.

We were too young to realize you can’t know everything, yet too old to accept on face value what others told us. We would debate and study and engage on subjects as stupid as angels on pins to as essentially pragmatic as how far can you go on a date.

The inevitable occurred. Where there were once two “young adults”--like a caterpillar, they morph into one couple in the “young marrieds.” I started teaching Sunday School and small groups. My wife joined the nursery committee.

If Disney transformed my life onto celluloid, it is at this point Elton John would break out with “Circle of Life.” We were becoming our parents.

Some friends switched to a more liberal style (although as conservative teaching) “Willow Creek” type church and invited us along. We went and never looked back. Loved the more openness, loved the people, loved the church. Again, we became small group leaders, and workers within the church.

Unfortunately, we moved, and distance became a problem. We visited a local church, enjoyed the style, the programs and the pastor. In what was to be the last real church I ever participated, I became…a Baptist again!

We taught Sunday School, helped out on the programs, and there was talk of my becoming a deacon. Did I hear Elton John again?

It was at this time that I began to interact with atheists, and my deconversion process took place. I resigned, without reason, my position as a Sunday School teacher. (Would YOU want your 4-5 year old being taught by an atheist in Church?) I feared what I said would be inappropriate or offensive within our Sunday School, so I kept my mouth shut.

Whereas before, I would ask questions, and be engaging, and bring out verses, and challenge the poor Sunday School teacher to the point of tearing out their hair, at least I kept the class interesting! Worse, I had near perfect attendance. Now, out of fear that I could no longer stop, and it seemed such a fa├žade to debate how to resolve Paul with Jesus, I dared not open my mouth.

People notice that sort of thing. Rumor has it (as churches are great at “rumor has it”) the teacher thought I was mad at him. We switched classes.

The new class was fascinating.

Teacher: AIDS was sent by God as a punishment against homosexuals.
Me: WH—WH--WHAT??!
Wife: SHHHH.
Me: [whispering] But, but, but, can’t I—
Wife: NO!
Me: [whispering] But what he said—
Wife: NO!

Teacher: And the Holocaust was a punishment to the Jews for killing Jesus.
Me: [whispering] Oh, but I HAVE—
Wife: NO!
Me: [whispering] But that—
Wife: NO!
Me, quietly banging my head on the chair in front of me until I reach blissful unconsciousness.

There was talk that this fellow was hoping to get the Pastor’s job when he left. We switched churches to the last church I attended. Another Willow Creek Style.

This was a large church, with numerous services (4) and I could easily get lost in the crowd, and never cause a fuss. If only that was my style…

Week after week they asked the crowd to join a small group. (If you know Willow Creek, small groups are HUGE.) “We have a small group for everybody--even you! Just fill out the card and we will get you set up.”

All right. Let’s test that theory, shall we? I sent in a card that said something like this:

“I am an atheist. I attend this church, as my wife and children attend, and I have attended church all my life. I would like to take part as much as I can. I have deconverted from Christianity, and am very-well studied. I have no interest in becoming a Christian again. I understand why I would not make a good Sunday School teacher, but is there somewhere I could plug in?”

I would have paid real money to see the look on the face of the people who that card was passed to! About two weeks later I get a phone call:

Jim (not his real name): Hi, I am Jim. A small group leader.
Me: Hello.
Jim: It says here you are…a…
Me: Atheist
Jim: Yeah. Right. And you want to attend church?
(I could see that fact was a little hard for Jim to wrap his hands around.)

Me: Yep.
Jim: Well…see…I lead a small group for “seekers.” I don’t suppose…you don’t seem…I mean…are you still seeking?
Me: No, Jim, I am not. I am willing to listen to new information, of course, and I promise to keep quiet, but I am looking for a place to join.

Jim (curiosity getting the best of him): Do you mind my asking the biggest reason you are an…atheist?
Me: Not at all. There are a number of reasons that cumulate into why I am. There is not one big reason.
Jim: But if you had to pick one, what would it be?
Me: That the Bible is clearly a completely human work, and there is nothing supernatural about it.

(With a Christian, that is always the easiest place to start.)

Jim (getting his dander up): It is not as if the Bible floated down from heaven on strings of gold!
Me: Well, you have to admit, that would be a pretty good sign of supernatural intervention, wouldn’t it?
Jim (nervously chuckling): Yeah, I guess it would at that. Any way, we have a class for people that are looking to become Christians. We even have a Jew! (said proudly) But we are not…really…we…uh…I don’t think this is right for you.
Me: Oh.

Jim: We are currently reading Ravi Zacharias—have you ever heard of him?
Me (internally sighing): Yes. He recommended all atheists, including myself, commit suicide.
Jim: OH! Oh! We don’t want you to do THAT. Listen, there is a fellow that used to be an atheist, too. Maybe you should contact him.

I met with the “atheist” (actually a theist who was formerly not a Christian, but as close as they could come to finding a real atheist). He said he looked forward to our next meeting. Apparently that will be in the next decade, ‘cause I haven’t heard from him since. I tried “skeptic’s night.” I started an e-mail correspondence with the Pastor. Who informed me he was better served talking to people who “really” needed his guidance.

Eventually I was informed that there really was NOT a place there for me. I was offered to sit in the service and keep my mouth shut.

And I even did THAT. Until one Sunday…

If you know anything about Willow Creek churches, they like to have skits. Plays that have to do with the sermon. Imagine a dining room table. Enter a woman stage left. It is physically impossible for you to imagine TOO much over-acting in what followed:

Woman: A Spoon!................A Fork!...............A Knife!

To get the mental image, the Woman would grab the utensil in question, literally thrust it into the sky, clutch her chest with her other hand, and gaze up at that spoon with such rapt admiration you would have thought it was Jesus himself coming down from the sky. She held this statuesque pose for a long enough time we could have drawn a picture of her standing there, breathlessly waiting what was about to be said. “A Spoon!”

Then, she grabbed the next hapless implement from the table, dropped to her knees and cradled it like a baby. Holding this position for about as much time as it takes to balance a checkbook, she finally graced us with the prose we so desperately ached to hear. “A Fork!” Finally, having exhausted her prowess as an actress, she snatches the last item, holds it in her other hand, repeating the same thrusting/clutching movement, but only to the other side. By now, much of the audience realizes they have time to go get a cup of coffee before the next words will be uttered, and we painfully listen to silence before…“A knife!”

Woman (again): A Spoon!................A Fork!...............A Knife! (with the same repeated motions)………..isthereroomformeatyourtable?

The last part was said so quick, we assumed someone had whispered in her ear that at this rate, we would still be sitting there waiting for this skit to end.

Apparently not. Apparently this was how they intended it to be. Enter a man stage right.

Man: A Spoon!................A Fork!...............A Knife! ………..isthereroomformeatyourtable?

Same crazy gestures. Then, in staccato bursts, they machine-gunned words back and forth:

Man: I am a slave
Woman: I am a boss
Man: I am homeless
Woman: I am rich
Man: I am poor

Woman: Is there room for me at your table?

Man: I am Black
Woman: I am a Jew
Man: I am White
Woman: I am Young
Man: I am Old

Man: Is there room for me at your table?

As they speak they are alternating grabbing their chest and flinging their arms as if they are in the throes of some deep anguish. As if this was the most important speech ever given.

I am beat red. I am holding my sides, sealing my face, thinking of anything but how horrendous this thing was. My eyes are squirting tears, as I am squirming in my seat, trying not to burst out in gales of laughter. And then they hit me:

Woman: A Spoon!................A Fork!...............A Knife! ………..isthereroomformeatyourtable?

Right back to the same over-acting! I am in uncontrollable giggles, and am starting receive shocked/disgusted looks, as if I was laughing at a funeral. Oh, come ON! Yes, they were serious, but this was terrible!

After 10 long minutes in which I pulled every muscle in my chest and sides in attempting to keep my composure, it was finally over.

Then the pastor started to preach. His sermon was on how we should be more hospitable. O.K., innocuous enough. But he went on to tell the story of how some Pastor made it a point to invite parolees, fresh from prison, into his house, knowing that Jesus would protect him and his family.

That was it. The combination of this ludicrous, childish, horrible play, followed with the blind belief in a person that, even if he lived, has been dead for almost 2000 years and isn’t protecting anybody, was too much.

All week long (at that time) I was involved in debating how we know whether Jesus lived, what we know about other historians, the development of the word “Nazarene,” the use of the gospel writers of midrash to create tales of Jesus, and interesting, deep, fun study. To be reduced to “Don’t worry, Jesus will protect you” at Church—my poor mind couldn’t do it.

It was like studying Calculus all week, and then every Sunday having to sit through, “2 plus 2 is four. 4 plus 4 is eight. 8 plus 8 is sixteen. 16 and 16 are thirty-two. 2 plus 2 is four. 4 plus 4 is eight…”

Simply put, church is not designed for me. A very good friend told me that Sunday services “cater to the lowest common emotional denominator” and I found that to be true. Since it was the only thing left I could do in a church…I left.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

“It’s Headquarters, Sir.”

As a Christian, Romans 1:18-21 always bothered me. I understood the premise that people inherently knew there was a God. By virtue of the existence of the world about us, if nothing else. As Paul is developing his theology in this culminating work, he goes on to state, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

That seemed, at least to me, to be patently unfair. Nature was enough to condemn a human, but not enough to save them. Oh, I was aware of the exegesis of Romans 2, and the idea of the law of God imprinted on human hearts, and God being aware of the depth of knowledge of individuals—but in the end it all sounded like excuses to me.

A straightforward reading would seem to me to damn a Mesoamerican in 40 C.E. to hell. They knew there was a God, but had no way to know Jesus was raised from the dead. It was one of those items that gnawed at me, but I figured God knew what He was doing, and perhaps some day, in heaven, He could explain, or I would understand.

Of course, on this side, my perspective has changed. A bit. By far and away, this is the primary passage thrown at an atheist, followed with “you really know there is a God. You are just suppressing the truth.”

And, to a large extent, I cannot blame the Christian for saying this. They are firmly convinced this came from God. Who am I, a mere human, to say otherwise?

Imagine within a battle, a Colonel orders the troops to take Hill 445. But a moment later a lowly Private comes up, handing him a piece of paper, and the Colonel immediately retracts his previous order. They are to no longer take Hill 445.

Does the Private outrank the Colonel? Obviously not. But if the Private was carrying a message from a General, the message itself, because of the person behind it, is enough to force the Colonel to change his orders.

It is the same situation here. I can write, and draw and proclaim as long and as loud as I want that I cannot find a belief of God anywhere within my mind. I can point to others that have talked with me, and are equally confirmed that no such belief exists.

It doesn’t matter. The Christian believes they hold a message from God—a personage that outranks me. And because God says otherwise, I must be wrong.

It doesn’t matter that Paul was poisoning the well. That he was setting up a non-believer in a certain stance by which they were doomed to fail. Like saying, “Any person that disagrees with me does not understand the situation.” Pity the poor sap that dares to then disagree with me. I have already declared them ignorant.

It doesn’t matter that Paul was preaching to the choir. He was writing to Christians. People that, by being Christians, already believed in God. No one was going to argue with Paul, “Gee, I’m not so sure I believe in God, can you explain further?” Rather, they would nod their heads in agreement, “Yep. Yep. They sure know there is a God.”

It doesn’t matter that Paul did not mention a miracle of Jesus. Curious, considering he was writing to Jews (who would either be familiar with the happenings in Palestine, or be in communication with those who were) and Christians (who already believed in Jesus.) If you could travel in a time machine, back to mid-First Century Palestine, wouldn’t you be looking for those who had actually seen the miracles performed by Jesus?

Would you care about nature, or rather what people had encountered Jesus? The souvenir to come back with is, “I talked to so-and-so who was FED by Jesus at the feeding of the 5000.” Or “Saw Lazarus.” Or “Was blind, but was healed.” Why would Paul, of ALL things to convince Jewish Christians that everybody knew there was a God, use nature and not Jesus?

It doesn’t matter that Paul was using a God-of-the-Gaps argument, due to lack of knowledge as to how the world came into being. Nor does it matter that the argument is non-sensical. (“His invisible qualities are clearly seen”? I thought the definition of invisible…was…oh, never mind.)

It doesn’t matter that Paul lumps all the bad things as examples of what these rejecters of the knowledge of God do, whereas we see no difference in committing these acts between believers and non-believers.

All that matters is that, to a Christian, Romans 1:20 says I secretly know there is a God. And that message is from God. For me, less than a Private, to declare “There is no God” means I have attempted to usurp a higher-ranking officer. Either I am a liar, or I have self-deluded myself.

I am never quite sure how to respond to Romans 1:20. Having been there myself, I understand that the person is completely convinced as to the truthfulness of the statement. My saying, “It is not true” is like shooting a pebble at a mountain. It won’t move. I can point out all the questions as to Paul’s writing it, but they are still convinced it came from a God. It is inspired. I won’t budge them a millimeter in this regard.

I can point out that the list of sins is not me, and they will find some other sin, or claim I am secretly concealing a sin.

I guess all I can say is that I cannot find this God. If I am self-deluded or lying to myself, fine. Help me out. Saying, “You really believe in a God” clearly is not convincing me. If the person chooses to toss out Romans 1:20 and walk away, feeling they have accomplished something—so be it. But if they want to be persuasive and compelling, they are going to have to show me (and millions like me) this God in such a way that it breaks through the self-delusion or lying.

And, on a personal note, the reason this verse is not potent, is that I started off believing a God. One that created a universe. One who’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen.” I did not deconvert to engage in the variety of sins listed in Romans 1. In fact, I engaged in a vehement pursuit of God. If that pursuit caused my thoughts to be futile, my heart to be darkened, and myself to become a fool—is the person suggesting I should not have pursued God?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Baked Noodles

Oracle: I'd ask you to sit down, but, you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry...
Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is: Wwould you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?

At times the Euthyphro Dilemma surfaces in our discussions. Is it Moral because God has decided it is Moral (thus making morality arbitrary on the whim of God) or must God do it because it is Moral (meaning God is bound by some standard)?

One of the common Christian responses is that God is bound by his internal Character of Morality. That within God is this “thing” we call “Character” and the rest of God must follow that Character.

Essentially this reduces to the simple premise that God can only do Moral acts. No matter what God wants, no matter what God tries, no matter how God acts in a situation, the result is that the only thing God can do must be moral.

Imagine if God grabbed a machine gun and randomly shot into a crowd. The only people he hit were the ones that it was moral for God to shoot. If it was not moral, then God couldn’t shoot them, regardless of desire or ability.

If God can only perform Moral acts, how did the creation of a creature (the human) come about? A creature that can commit an immoral act?

So God is busy creating. He has made the seas, the sun, the moon, the stars, fish, birds and mammals. He comes to the creature “human.” God is bound to only do moral acts. No wonder he has proclaimed everything “good”—Everything God ever has done or ever will do is good!

And in the creation of humans, God makes them with an ability—an ability to perform an immoral act. Something that even God cannot do. Whatever Gen. 1:27 may mean by God creating humans in his own image, part of that image CANNOT be the obligation to only perform moral acts.

In that state, prior to The Fall, were humans Moral, non-Moral or Immoral?

With a God that can only perform a moral act we can safely eliminate Moral and Immoral. First, humans could not be Immoral, because God would then have created immorality. Something that by defining God as performing only moral acts—God could not do.

God could not create an immoral creature.

Secondly, humans could not be Moral. See, humans have the ability, capacity and complete freewill to perform an immoral act. If “Morality” includes such an ability, then God could have it too, and still be Moral.

BUT, by limiting God with this alternative, we have defined something as “Moral” that does not have this ability. Whatever a human could be—it could not be the same “moral” as God.

Therefore, it would seem by limiting God to doing solely “Moral” acts, the process of creating a human that has the ability and freewill to perform both Moral and Immoral acts means that humans must be something other than Moral (‘cause they are not like God) or Immoral (‘cause God would have performed an immoral act.) Some in-between of non-moral.

Now comes the tricky part. Clearly humans could go immoral—God set a standard his Character defined, “Don’t eat of the tree” and by virtue of eating of the tree, humans violated God’s Character. Humans did something God could not.

But could humans ever become moral? What possible action could they do: Not eat of the tree? They were doing that already.

By providing this alternative to Euthyphro, we have God creating humans that could only exist in two states—non-moral or immoral. They was no opportunity, no tree by which they could ever improve. The situation only had one direction to go. Bad.

Of course we all know what happens—the inevitable. Adam & Eve eat. Go from non-moral to immoral; forever dooming humankind.

God then makes the curious notation: “Man has become like one of Us; to know Good an Evil.” Gen. 3:22. It would seem that when God said humans were made in the image of God, that obviously did not mean an exact replica. One of the things the humans did not have was the ability to know the difference between Good and Evil.

Curious. We have a God that knows what Morality and Immorality are, but can only commit a Moral act. Who creates a human that does not know what Morality and Immorality are, but can only commit an Immoral act!

While this alternative may resolve Euthyphro (my jury is still out on that), even if it did, it makes for a strange Christian God.

And we are still left with what God meant by humans becoming like Gods in that they know what Morality and Immorality are.

Does it mean “knowing” as in experiencing? The problem for the Christian in this, is this would mean to truly “know” evil is to experience the opportunity to decide and decide to act against God’s Character! If humans now knew evil by choosing to violate God’s character, and God says humans know evil like God knows evil…it would follow that God had chosen to violate his own Character.

Which, of course, blows this alternative to bits.

Does it mean “knowing” as acquired facts? That the humans have gained the definition of Morality and Immorality, by new information? There are three problems with this!

First, can Adam & Eve be held responsible for committing an act they did not know was wrong? Without this information, they would not have understood what the meaning of the word “Don’t” is. Does it mean for a limited time? Do? Only when ripe?

What if I told you, “See that fruit on that tree? Whatever you do, griznist that fruit!” Don’t you need the definition of “griznist” to know that to do with it? Eat it? Not eat it? Peel it? Toss it to make fire? Who knows?

Without the requisite knowledge, God may as well be speaking a completely foreign language to Adam & Eve. They could not possibly have known any different.

Second, if this was merely information, what prevented God from providing it prior to giving the instructions? What is it about God’s Character that he did not want Adam & Eve to know?

Thirdly, how did they obtain this information? It was not exactly written on the fruit. We understand a person investigating a situation, or reading a book, and learning raw knowledge. Here, all they would have learned was a new taste, at best. Somehow, the information would have to be “downloaded” into their brain.

Presumably either by God, or within God’s control. Was there something in God’s Character that mandated God had to give the knowledge of immorality after humans committed an immoral act? And was there something in God’s Character that prevented him from doing it before?

Bottom line, what I see is a philosophical, highly technical reliance upon a splitting-hair definition of “God’s Character” to avoid Euthyphro. While it may manage to barely squeeze through, in light of applying it to the analogy of Genesis, we end up with a bizarre puzzle that the pieces cannot fit.

Bakes my noodle, it does!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hated Statistics Class

In the evolution/creationism debate, we often see an argument in which the creationist puts together computations of various processes, and by multiplying out the probabilities of each of these events occurring, forms some long number, claiming that it is extremely unlikely this process could happen. Therefore, the claim is made, evolution is extremely improbable.

The premise being that there are two choices: Evolution or Creation, and if the creationist can make evolution less possible; by virtue of the only other choice, creation must be more plausible.

Now, I may not be well-versed in evolution, but I am well-versed in arguments. And this one smells rotten.

Statistical odds are derived by reviewing relevant data. We could sit by an intersection in the road. Over the course of time, by counting the number of cars that go through the intersection, and comparing how many went to the right, and how many went to the left, we can determine the “odds” of a car going to the right. We can count red cars, two-door cars, cars with broken windshields. We can use a whole variety of factors to make the odds of a red, two-door car with a broken windshield going to the right as compared to the left.

And we can look at other intersections. How are the odds affected if by going to the right, one heads to the country, and going to the left, one heads to a city? What if there is advertising to go one way or another? What if there is a signal?

And, after careful observation, and utilizing the information obtained, we can safely place our new McDonald’s on the intersection that is more likely to be traveled. (Thus affecting the odds for the next statistician that comes along.)

So the creationists look at the odds of how evolution could happen. Often what we see is some proposed process or time line, and the number of mutations or changes in generations that must happen, and the chance that these changes could both occur AND occur in the time allotted.

Eventually they pop out with some number that seems incredibly huge, saying the chance of this occurring is 1 in 10 to the 2000th, or a 10 with 2000 zeros behind it. A number so large, it takes two people to read it.

Now, I seriously question that it is a true dichotomy between evolution and creation. While admittedly I cannot see a third alternative, 200 years ago, people could not see evolution as an alternative, either. 100 years ago the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics would be laughed at as science fiction. For all I know, 200 years from now, a new theory will be proposed and demonstrated, and evolution with creationism become footnotes with geocentricism.

I further question the method of obtaining the statistics on evolution. One item that is often over-looked is that the processes are considered sequential (one after another) when they could be happening simultaneously. Like determining how long it takes to fill a stadium with 50,000 people one at a time, as compared to a stadium with 50 entrances able to take one at a time. Another item is that some processes may necessarily entail a change, so it is NOT another completely wide-open field. Like rolling a rock down a hill, if it goes to the right of a bump, the next foot of travel will necessarily be the right of that bump. It is not as if every instant, the rock could go right or left.

But even assuming we DO have only two choices. And assume that the statistical odds of evolution happening are 1 in 10 to the trillionth billionth power. A 1 with a trillion billion zeroes behind it. A number with so more zeros than a person could count in a life time.

Does this minuscule, teeny-tiny, vastly remote possibility make creationism more likely? Well, to know THAT, we have to know what the statistical odds are for creationism to do the same thing.

And that is where the problem rears its head. We have no way to obtain the statistical odds of what a God would or would not do. Statistics are derived from observation. We can’t observe God. Ergo—no statistics on God.

Look, what are the odds that God will have oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow. Come on. This is an easy one. No proteins, or processes or speculation as to the earth’s condition 450 Million years ago. Oatmeal. Breakfast. Oh, what’s that you say? God is on a supernatural plane, so we cannot see what He eats or when? Right—no way to determine whether it is a 1 in 10 or 1 in 10 the trillionth billionth power as to whether God eats oatmeal.

Or God sneezes. Or God speaks. Or God does anything, because we have no way to observe the raw data to come up with the statistic in the first place!

On the one hand we have evolution with a 1 in 10 to the trillionth billionth power chance. And on the other we have “No information available.” Simply put, because of the definition of God, we can’t use the same method we can with observable nature.

So what good is this argument? None, really. As we cannot make the comparison. Sure, we understand that if evolution has a 1 in 10 chance, and creationism has a 1 in 9 chance, using this argument creationism is more likely. Evident as pie. But instead we have evolution with a 1 in some astronomical number chance and creationism with no way to calculate its chance at all.

To use a euphemism, we are comparing apples to oranges.

But a creationist never goes there. A creationist never explains that the same method it is using on evolution can never be used on creation.

I suggest we put the shoe on the other foot.

“There is a 1 in 10 the trillionth trillionth billionth power that creationism could occur.”
“Where did you get that statistic?
“Good question. Where do you propose I look for statistics as to the probability of creationism?”

As a trial lawyer, one thing we learn is that people hold stronger to a conclusion they derive themselves. If I point out every step and every inference of every step, coming to a strong point, the jury will politely listen and retain the information. But if I lead them every step of the way, and leave the last point tantalizingly out there, they come to the same conclusion, but since they “figured it out,” it is a more firmly held belief. Because it is theirs, not something someone told them.

I get the same impression here. The creationist points out all the remote possibilities, piles them on, comes (eventually) to this grandiose number, compares it 747’s in junkyards, and then stops. The person is supposed to come to the conclusion that therefore, evolution is so remote, creationism must be more plausible.

No creationist ever provides the statistics to compare. Because, by the very definition of God being unknowable, no statistics are available.

If both possibilities cannot use the same method, it is useless to use it to determine what is “more probable.”