Apr 062013

moses (1)In the last installment, we saw that the idea of everlasting punishment is not compatible with a God of love. But isn’t a a hell of everlasting punishment taught in the scriptures? No, but they have been aggressively mistranslated and misinterpreted to make you THINK they do.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. When Moses and the prophets gave the law, they warned people that whoever broke God’s laws would suffer in hell forever. Oh no wait. They didn’t say that at all. The curses for breaking the law included famine, sickness and war, but NOT eternal torment. 1

But doesn’t the Old Testament mention hell? No. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word “Sheol”, which means the grave or the place of the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous go to Sheol. But the translators of Bibles like the King James pulled a trick on us. They knew that whenever Christians hear the word “hell” they think of eternal flames. So whenever the Old Testament mentioned wicked people going to Sheol, they translated the word as “hell”, and whenever it mentions righteous people going to Sheol, they translated it as “the grave” – even though they are the same Hebrew word. It’s simply the place of the dead. There is no mention of screams and torment in Sheol. In fact it was called a land of silence 2
This is similar to the use of the Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament. As you may remember from Greek mythology, Hades was simply the underworld. Like Sheol, it was a place of the dead, good or evil. But Jesus does use another word that is translated as “hell”. Most of the images of flames and punishment come to us from Jesus’ use of the Hebrew or Aramaic word “gehenna” or “gehinnom”. For example:

“If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Gehennah), where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.” 3

So what exactly is “Gehenna”. It sounds like a punishment of everlasting fire. But is it? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a valley just outside of Jerusalem. Depending on which historians you read, this valley was either a dump where the garbage was burned, or a valley of tombs, or the place where in ancient times they sacrificed to the god Molec. Perhaps all three of them. It’s also a place where Isaiah claimed God would burn the bodies of the wicked after a great last battle. In fact, Jesus is quoting Isaiah when he mentions it. Here’s what Isaiah says.

“They shall go forth, and look on the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” 4

But Isaiah isn’t talking about souls in hell, he’s talking about dead bodies. So many that the fires go on and on. And it’s interesting that many of the people Jesus preached to ended up slaughtered a few years later when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the Roman 10th Legion burned the bodies of the dead in Gehenna valley. 5

So was Jesus simply warning people about the destruction of Jerusalem? Some commentators think so. But about this time, the rabbis also began to use Isaiah’s prophecy of physical destruction as a symbol of a purification process after death. A person who had been wicked would suffer fiery pain in this spiritual Gehenna, but after their wickedness was purged, they would come out. The fires of Gehenna might continue to burn, but no one would spend more than a year in Gehenna, and some would come out much sooner, after they had paid their debt in full, as Jesus said. 6

But what about all the scriptures that talk about eternal suffering and punishment? Here’s where the biggest mistranslation comes into play.

With no exception that I can find, when the Bible mentions eternal or everlasting punishment, the word it uses is “aionios” This is derived from the Greek word “aeon”. That word probably looks familiar, because it’s where we get the word “eon”, meaning a long period of time. But in Greek it could apparently mean ANY period of time, from a week to many generations. So these “eternal” torments are actually “age-long” torments. They may last a long time, or at least seem to, but they come to an end. Also the word Jesus uses for these punishments is “kolasis” 7 which is the word used for pruning away the dead wood from a tree to improve it and help it grow. It is purification to improve a person, not endless punishment to torture them. There’s no point in pruning a tree forever. But over the centuries, theologians began to translate “aionios” as eternal and everlasting, to make the punishments seems more horrible, probably to frighten people into being obedient.

If God had wanted the scriptures to convey the idea of a hell of everlasting torment, surely he would have mentioned it in the Old Testament? Surely Jesus and the apostles would have chosen words that really meant “eternal” or “everlasting” when describing God’s purification (there are several Greek words to choose from). The idea of hell hardly appears in Paul’s writings at all.

St Augustine said that whoever interprets the scriptures in a way that doesn’t teach love – doesn’t understand them. And we’ve just seen that in order to get the Bible to teach a God who tortures most of humanity forever, you have to mistranslate and misunderstand quite a bit.

So what DOES happen to the wicked after death? There are a lot of possibilities, and we don’t need to sort it all out right now. All that’s important for this episode is that we realize that if there are punishments after death, then they are limited, and they are redemptive. As for the rest, some early Christians, as well as some today, believe that God will save everyone. This is called universalism. Some early Christians, as well as some today, believed in some kind of reincarnation. Some believe that the wickedest souls will be destroyed, rather than punished forever. This is annihilationism. You don’t have to believe any of them. Some people combine parts of all of them. I’m going to refer in the annotations to a video of my mentor Bishop Lewis Keizer where he explains the mystical Jewish view of what happens to these various parts of the soul after death. 8

But the moral of the story is that God is just and merciful. We will be punished for our sins, but only to the extent necessary to purify us so that we can move on. You can still follow Jesus without having to think God is a monster who punishes most people forever and ever.

Until next time, I’m Keith Campbell for Godsmarts. See you soon.

  1. Deut 28:16-8, Lev 26:14-29
  2. Ps 94:17
  3. Mk 9:47,48 NET
  4. Isa 66:24, WEB
  5. Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom.” Biblical Archaeological Review 35:4-5 (2005): 22–35, 122–26
  6. Mat 5:26, Luk 12:59
  7. See Matt 25:46
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG98q8jRcJg
Mar 312013

Last_Judgment_Triptych_(detail)_Thirteen_1467_71Most people in the world will die and  go to hell, where they will spend an endless eternity burning in unimaginable agony with no hope of release, ever. This is what many churches teach,  often enthusiastically.

But these days, more and more Christians are secretly embarrassed by this teaching, but are afraid to question it. But perfect love, says the first letter of John, drives out fear. 1. Remember in an earlier post, we say that Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all said that love is the real meaning of the scriptures, and if you think the scriptures are teaching something other than love, then you’ve misinterpreted them.

So is it really loving of God to condemn most of humanity to be an object lesson of everlasting pain? Of course not. Not only is this not loving, it’s not even just. The scripture says God is just 2, but I would argue that a God who dishes out infinite punishment in an infinite hell is infinitely unjust.

Justice means that the punishment fits the crime. “An eye for an eye”. 3 As limited, finite humans, by our very nature, we can’t  commit an infinite crime, therefore, so infinite punishment is unjust.

Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Hitler lived for 56 years.Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a good, long while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night, year after year, century after century, for 20 million years. Doing some calculation, let’s suppose we find that he has suffered more than the combined total pain of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the pain of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded that combined total. At that point, justice is satisfied.

But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was affected in any way by Hitler. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. hithell0We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering calculation – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

And 200 hundred million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some.

But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in two hundred trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. for every second of every day and night. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE tell me that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell says that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun.

He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an eternity of suffering.

Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who, if they had to watch this,  would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment ages before this point. Are we more merciful than God? And yet millions of Christians think that not only will God continue to torment Hitler forever, he’ll also give the very same punishment of endless suffering to Gandhi, Socrates, Buddah, Hipatia of Alexandria, and anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus, including people in now and in the past who live in areas where Christianity hasn’t reached.

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would be worse than the most bloodthirsty god of the Aztecs. He would be worse than Molech. The Aztecs sacrificed less than 1 percent of their population every year hoping to keep their culture in favor with the gods. But by most estimates, only 7 to 14 percent of humans in the history of the world have been Christians. So God allows 86 to 93 or more percent of humanity to be sacrificed forever in hell to save 7 to 14 percent in heaven. Such a God would be such a monster that the most noble thing we could do would be to oppose him.

contempt-of-court1Now some Christians suggest that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for insulting a judge in a courtroom than for insulting a guy on the street (because of the more exalted office of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But this leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t understand  the seriousness of their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded).

To commit a great sin requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE sin requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even understand the nature of an infinite sin, far less commit it.

Even so, there are some people who are willing to accept God being more cruel than Molech if that’s what the Bible says. Even though Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all say that only loving interpretations of the scriptures are correct ones. But is that really what the scripture says?

We’ll take that question up in our next episode. Spoiler alert – the answer is NO. The picture is a lot less grim.

Until next time, this is Reverend Keith for Godsmarts.

  1. 1 Jn 4:18
  2. 2 Thes 1:6
  3. Exodus 21;24
Feb 242013

Someone recently pointed me to a web side called “The Case Against Q”. This site does an excellent job of summarizing the problems with the Q hypothesis, but ultimately I believe rejecting Q creates far more problems than it solves. First of all, let’s review the relationship of the synoptic gospels  to each other. I found the following chart from Wiki which summarized it nicely.

What we see is that Matthew and Luke share a large chunk of material (consisting of 23% of Luke and 25% of Matthew) in common. This material doesn’t simply cover the same topical ground. The similarity is often word-per-word in the Greek. How are we to explain this identical material? There are basically three possibilities. The difficulty will be in deciding which is more likely.

Possibility #1 – They simply came up with the same Greek words.
Problems: This is astronomically unlikely. Even if we assume God is inspiring the writing, it’s very clear that God allows individual styles in the writing of scripture. This is copying pure and simple.

Possibility #2 – Either Matthew copied Luke or (more probably) Luke copied Matthew. This is the “two-gospel” hypothesis, which seems to be the solution of the “Case Against Q” website.
Problems: Many. Summarizing:
1.    Matthew and Luke have drastically different version of Jesus birth, genealogy, and resurrection events. These are not only different, but appear contradictory. Perhaps these have legitimate reconciliations, perhaps they don’t. But the issue is, neither Matthew or Luke make any effort to harmonize these apparent discrepancies. This is very hard to explain of Luke was using Matthew as a source.
2.    There are a number of cases in the Triple Tradition where Matthew adds some important detail to Mark’s account and Luke doesn’t copy his additions.
3.    There are places where Matthew has apparently “blended” another source (Q?) with Mark. Luke has the other source (Q?) material, but without the blends. This suggests he’s adding the material on his own, without Matthew’s guidance.
4.    Matthew has a number (10 or 11) peculiar phrases he likes to use “son of David”, “this was to fulfill…” Luke and Mark never use them. Can Luke be using Matthew and manage to NEVER use his trademark phrases?
5.    Matthew has added some things to the double tradition (Q?) that Luke doesn’t copy (for example, Matthew adding “in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. If Matthew is the source, why doesn’t Luke copy these additions?
6.    Luke and Matthew put pieces of the double tradition (Q?) in entirely different contexts. Part of Matthew’s sermon on the mount takes place on the plain, etc. It looks very much like they are adding fragments of Jesus tradition with minimal guidance on where to put them.
7.    Luke and Matthew have a number of doublets. These are cases where they report the same event or saying twice. Once copying Mark, and once from another apparent source. This suggests that each of them is using two different sources, Mark and “Q”.
8.    The double tradition material in Matthew and Luke seems to have a certain philosophy and style (such as a preference for the Deuteronomist sources) that Matthew and Luke by themselves don’t share.

Possibility #3  – They are both copying from some common source. This is the “Q” hypothesis.
Problems: The ones listed on “Case Against Q” website.
1.    “Q” is a hypothetical document without any real examples or outside citations.
2.    There is some sequence in “Q”
3.    In the triple tradition, there are some agreements, major and minor, against Mark.
4.    In the double tradition, Luke show a fatigue toward Matthew’s version.

For those following along with the website, I believe the author is stretching things a bit to make it come out to 10 reasons.  I’ve conflated reasons 1 and 2 into my reason 1. Original reason 4 isn’t really a reason, but an introduction to reasons 5, 6 and 7, which I’ve conflated into my reason 3. Reason 9 is ad hominem and reason 10 is irrelevant.

It seems to me that 1 is a reasonable argument. The case for Q would be much stronger if there were an actual example or patristic citation. There are, however, a few hints. The page dismisses the Pappius fragments with a “no true Scotsman” fallacy (no REASONABLE scholar contends..). Since some scholars DO contend that Pappius referred to something similar to “Q”, I’m very much interested in why this is unreasonable.  Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas itself lends credence to the existence of Q – being itself a “sayings” gospel of very early date.

I don’t see any merit in argument #2. No rule is broken if Q turns out to have SOME narrative sequence to it. It would simply be a fragmentary sequence.

Argument #3 is also a good one. However, most of this is simply explained. Mark is written in very poor and primitive Greek. The writers of Matthew and particularly Luke are much more educated. It’s not unreasonable that two learned authors correcting the bad writing of another would make many of the same corrections. Some of the other agreements also turn out to be later scribal redactions. Matthew and Luke didn’t agree until later scribes MADE them agree, and the agreement is missing from the earliest documents. Furthermore, there are places where the triple tradition may overlap with the “Q” material. In this case, Matthew and Luke may BOTH follow the earlier Q documents in preference to Mark.

Argument #4 (fatigue) seems convoluted to me. If Luke is trying to edit AWAY from Matthew, what is his source for those changes? It seems just as  likely that Luke is including additional material, but fatigues toward Q instead of toward Matthew.

So, we end up having to choose which set of problems is the least bothersome. One of these three answers (or some variation of it) is the explanation for the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. To me, the list of problems in the Two-Gospel hypothesis is really overwhelming, and require only common sense to recognize. If Luke had a copy of Matthew in front of him, he sure made some bizarre choices about things he decided NOT to explain.

Feb 232013

I was reading some fascinating material recently from a Christian hermeticist on the nature of demons and evil spirits which reinforces some observations I had made myself. I had written here earlier on the changing nature of “Satan” in the development of the bible. Only recently, however, did I notice an interesting distinction in the New Testament – a distinction that those who read the King James will entirely miss.

The New Testament speaks a lot about the devil and devils. In the King James, however, it uses “devil” to translate two entirely different Greek words. One is diabolos – Greek for “accuser”. This word is used as a parallel, in some of the synoptics, for “satanas”, a word from Caldean related to the Hebrew “satan” – meaning also “accuser” or “opponent”. In Luke, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by “satanas”, and in Matthew, it’s the “diabolos”.

The other Greek word that the King James translates as “devil” is “daimonion”. This word is used in connection with an spirit who opporesses or posesses an individual – a demon. These demons are described as “pneuma poyneros” – a diseased, painful, or evil spirit.

In the Greek, devils and demons are two entirely different things, inspite of the King James translating both words “devil”. True devils are the accusers and opponents of the righteous. In the Old Testament, the opponent (the “satan”) was seen as a divine office, in the service of God. The satan of Job is one of the sons of God, the Bene Elohim, who enters the court of Heaven in something like the capacity of a district attorney. It is his job to bring charges against the faithful. Even God himself is described as acting in the capacity of a “satan” or opponent. In 1 Ch 21:1, “satan”, the opponent, provokes David to number Israel. In 2 Sa 24:1, we find that the “satan” was God himself.

As time progressed, Satan became more personified, and the traditions described him as being in rebellion against God. But still, the “satanas” and “diabolos” of the New Testament are bound by law. There is a “Geneva Convention” of sorts between the two sides, and the diabolos confine themseves to persecuting and tempting, NOT to direct posession. Resist the diabolos, we are told in James, and he must flee. The one possible exception is with Judas. Luke tells us that satan “entered into” him. John, however, states that the diabolos merely put the thought into Judas’ heart. So the “entering” here seems to be just a powerful temptation.

Daimonios, on the other hand, interfer directly with human freedom. They posess and control human beings. What my hermetic author suggests, and I believe makes perfect sense, is that these daimonios are generally what the esotericists call “elemental beings”. They are human creations of emotional energy, which live a semi-auotonomous life outside the conscious boundries of personality. To quote from my source:

“The “evil spirits” which deprive man of his freedom are not at all beings of the so-called “hierarchies of evil” or “fallen hierarchies”. Neither Satan, nor Belial, nor Lucifer, nor Mephistopheles have ever deprived anyone of his freedom. Temptation is their only weapon and this presupposes the freedom of he who is tempted. But possession by an “evil spirit” has nothing to do with temptation. It is invariably the same thing as with Frankenstein’s monster. One engenders an elemental being and one subsequently becomes the slave of one’s own creation. The “demons” or “evil spirits” of the New Testament are called today in psychotherapy “neuroses of obsession”, “neuroses of fear”, “fixed ideas”, etc. They have been discovered by contemporary psychiatrists and are recognized as real – i.e. as “parasitic psychic organisms” independent of the conscious human will and tending to subjugate it. But the devil is not there to no avail – although not in the sense of direct participation. He observes the law – which protects human freedom and is the inviolable convention between the hierarchies of “right” and those of “left” – and never violates it, as stands out in the example of the story of Job. One need not fear the devil, but rather the perverse tendencies on oneself! For these perverse human tendencies can deprive us of our freedom and enslave us. Worse still, they can avail themselves of our imagination and inventive faculties and lead us to creations which can become the scourge of mankind. The atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb are flagrant examples of this.

Man with the possible perversity of his warped imagination is far more dangerous than the devil and his legions. For man is not bound by the convention concluded between heaven and hell; he can go beyond the limits of the law and engender arbitrarily malicious forces whose nature and action are beyond the framework of the law… such as being the Molechs and other “gods” of Canaa., Phoenicia, Carthage, ancient Mexico and other lands, which exacted human sacrifice. One has to guard against accusing the beings of the hierarchies of evil to their detriment of having played the role of Molechs, these being only creatures of the perverse collective human will and imagination. These are egregores, engendered by collective perversity, just as there exist the “demons” or “evil spirits” engendered by individuals.”

This has been my experience also. While “demons” can act very much as independent entities, they are also almost certainly human creations, and usually should not be handled in isolation from the humans who create them and give them strength.

Dec 172012

I ran into this article the other day on cracked.com. It’s normally a humor site, but this article by David Wong is actually extremely perceptive and intelligent about unraveling the atheist/believer conflict. I highly recommend it as required reading for anyone attempting to debate religion.

One of the greatest religious thinkers and debaters of any age was my patron Thomas Aquinas. His particular strength was his ability to put himself into the minds of his opponents. He could understand, and explain their positions even better than they could themselves.

People are much more willing to listen to someone who they believe truly understands them. On the contrary, feeling misunderstood is one of the greatest obstacles to communication – especially in a contentious situation. David shows a remarkable ability in this article to understand the mindset of both sides of the equation.

The link is here

Oct 252007

The Middle Word
Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Living in the Image of God
Jewish law envisions a future in which all human beings are treated as infinitely valuable, equal, and unique
The following is the first in a two-part series:

There is a fundamental principle of Judaism that accounts for all Jewish ethics, including the obligation to love your neighbor as yourself. The Talmudic sage Ben Azzai suggests that this axiom is the Torah’s statement that “God created the human being in God’s image … man and woman God created them.” The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) spells out the implications of this concept. Judaism holds that–to paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence–all humans are created in the image of God, and therefore they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and dignities, among which are infinite value, equality and uniqueness. Let’s explore what these three concepts really mean.

INFINITE VALUE: An image of man has a finite value. A Picasso sold for $30,000,000 plus; a Van Gogh for $82.5 million. But an image created by God is worth incomparably more; it is of infinite value. That is why the Talmud states that “To save one life is equivalent to saving a whole world.”

If a life is infinitely valuable, then it must be treated with great concern and care. No precious work of art would be left outside, exposed to the elements. Thus no image of God should ever be allowed to lie on the street, homeless and freezing during winter. Similarly, it is worth spending hundreds of thousands, and indeed millions of dollars, to medically treat and save the life of an infinitely valuable person–meaning, everyone.

EQUALITY: In the Jewish tradition, God is described in images ranging from a powerful warrior to a comforting mother. But it is understood that no image is literal or fixed, and no image is intrinsically superior to the other. To present an image of God as the preferred (or fixed) image of God is idolatry. All images of God (that is, all humans) are equal. Thus the claim that whites are superior to blacks, or males are preferred to women, or members of one religion are truly the image of God and the others are not, is equivalent to idolatry.

UNIQUENESS: Images of man are meant to be replicable. The normal assumption of all stamps, all coins, all reproduced photographs is that one is identical to the next; that is because they are images created by human beings. However, says the Talmud, an image created by God has this distinction: The Holy One creates all human beings from one mold (Adam and Eve), yet each one is different from the other. Not even identical twins are identical. To see people through stereotypes violates the fundamental dignity of the other person as a unique image of God.

The world that we inhabit degrades these fundamental dignities. Poverty and discrimination, legalized slavery and oppression, cultural stereotyping, and human neglect are rampant–but they are incompatible with the dignities of the image of God. Therefore, the Jewish tradition insists that this status quo be fundamentally restructured. We are commanded to work for tikkun olam, to perfect and transform the world until it fully respects the image of God in every human being. We must overcome poverty and hunger, which contradict the infinite value of the individual. We must overcome oppression, because racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc., all deny the equality of the other. We must overcome war, which is essentially fought by destroying infinitely valuable images of God with abandon. That is why Isaiah prophesied that “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and they will not learn war anymore.” Isaiah promises that death itself, the ultimate denial of our unique, irreplaceable value, “will be swallowed up in eternity,” that is, overcome.

In short, the Jewish dream of tikkun olam includes the ultimate triumph of life over death and the realization of a world in which the full dignities of every individual are respected, nurtured, and developed. This is the Messianic Age in Jewish tradition. Incorporated into Christianity, into Western culture, and into certain variants of Islam, the Jewish revolutionary promise of world transformation has proven to be extraordinarily liberating and shattering of the status quo.

How shall we live until the final perfection is achieved? The answer of Jewish law and tradition is that we should respect the image of God to the maximum possible degree in all our conduct. Tzedakah, the obligation to help the poor and the hungry, stems from the fact that the needy are equal and infinitely valuable. Lashon hara (evil speech) is prohibited (even if the facts asserted are true) because the talk degrades the image of God in another other person. Sexuality is the search for physical and emotional confirmation of our uniqueness and infinite value–as well as that of the other. Thus, all mitzvot (commandments) can be seen as attempts to nurture the dignity of every human being in the image of God. Judaism is the way of life of Jewry, the community that tries to live by this higher standard–until we achieve tikkun olam, the perfection that will make universal the infinite value, equality, and uniqueness of all human beings.

from belief net.

Oct 052007

Moving on to the last installment, I want to focus on the harm done by Young Earth Creation Science. I have already discussed in the earlier series why YEC is not required (and is in fact contradicted by) the Bible. I have also summarized the evidence and the expert opinion of scientist that YEC is simply false.

The harm of YEC arises as an inevitable result of the combination of the first two problems. What happens when you embrace an idea that is demonstrably false? What happens when you insist that believing this false idea is the litmus test of Christianity?

As an illustration, I’d like to refer to the history of Glenn Morton. Morton, which you can find here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gstory.htm. Moron was a geophysicist employed by a seismic company working for Atlantic Richfield. He was also a Creation Scientist who published regularly in the Creation Research Society Quarterly and had frequent meetings with the members of the Institute for Creation Research. He also employed a number of the graduates of ICR’s graduate school of the sciences.

Morton began to become aware of problems with the geologic data that flatly contradicted Young Earth Creationism. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve these problems, he published a paper called “Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth” in which he solicited the help of other Creation Scientists in resolving these problems. The reaction was chilly.

Quoting Morton “Here is a list of what young-earthers have called me in response to my data: ‘an apostate,'(Humphreys) ‘a heretic'(Jim Bell although he later apologised like the gentleman he is) ‘a compromiser'(Henry Morris) “absurd”, “naive”, “compromising”, “abysmally ignorant”, “sloppy”, “reckless disregard”, “extremely inaccurate”, “misleading”, “tomfoolery” and “intentionally deceitful”(John Woodmorappe) ‘like your father, Satan’ (Carl R. Froede–I am proud to have this one because Jesus was once said to have been of satan also.) ‘your loyality and commitment to Jesus Christ is shaky or just not truly genuine’ (John Baumgardner 12-24-99 [Merry Christmas]) “[I] have secretly entertained suspicions of a Trojan horse roaming behind the lines…” Royal Truman 12-28-99”

Morton conducted an informal poll of his friends who had graduated from the ICR program and had worked in the oil industry and asked this question: “From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?”

Here is how he describes the reaction. “One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said ‘No!’ A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute. There has to be one!” But he could not name one. I can not name one. No one else could either. One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.”

And Morton had a crisis of faith himself. He very nearly became an atheist. Not because he began to disbelieve in God per se, but because Young Earth Creationist had told him that there were only two alternatives: be a Young Earth Creationist, or be an atheist. Since the facts convinced him that Young Earth Creationism was false (as they will anyone who approached them objectively), he supposed that atheism was the only alternative. A book on Old-Earth Creationism revived his faith.

From this story (and you can read a collection of similar testimonies here: http://www.answersincreation.org/testimony.htm) , we begin to see several of the harms of Young Earth Creationism.

1. Because it is false, and associated with God and Christianity, it made belief in God and Christianity seem

2. Because it associates science with deep personal beliefs, YEC Scientists became accusatory, hateful and angry when presented with simple facts which contradicted it.

So there we have lack of faith, anger and hatred.

Elaborating a bit on YEC’s effect on faith, we have to consider, not merely the Christians who will lose their faith when they discover YEC isn’t true. We also have to consider the non-believers who will never even consider Christianity because it is associated with a theory that is so obviously false and absurd.

Let’s examine another of the fruits of Young Earth Creationism. Because its proponents have so much invested in it (their entire religious framework), they are strongly emotionally motivated to support it. This has resulted in YEC Scientists gaining a reputation for exaggeration, misquoting and outright falsehood. When one thinks they are defending God himself, any means can seem justified.

In the story above, for example, John Morris of the ICR went to the podium during the presentation of Morton’s paper to challenge him claiming to have been in the oil industry himself. This turned out to be false (or exaggerated – he had once taught a course in petroleum geology). Duane Gish, a famous YEC debater, has a notorious history of using incorrect facts in his writings and debates – being publicly corrected with explicit proof of the error – and then continuing to repeat the same misstatements over and over. (see here: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/gish.html for some examples). Walt Brown in his book (which is still available online) made a claim which has been repeated all over the internet that the cytochrome C sequence of a rattlesnake is closer to human than to any other animal. When pressed, it turns out his source for this claim is his own son’s science fair project! A project in which he drastically misinterprets the meaning of cytochrome C data. (see http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/lies/lie025.html). This is representative of a number of protein sequencing claims from YEC Scientist that are completely false, to the point of apparently being pulled out of thin air in the case of Kent Hovind: (http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/HovindLie.html). Out of context quoting is so rampant among YEC Scientist that whole websites have sprung up attempting to correct all the errors (you can start here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html)

So now in addition to being destructive to faith and producing anger and hatred, we can label YEC as tending to produce dishonesty. In my opinion, however, one of the most aggregious tendencies of YEC is to attribute dishonesty, not merely to their opponents, but to God himself.

In order for YEC to be true, God must have intentionally created all the evidence in favor of evolution. For example, as I point out in my brief analysis of evolutionary evidence here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution, God would have to have deliberately infected humans and other primates with retrovirus “scars” at certain points in their DNA in just such a way as to make it look like they inherited these scars from their primate ancestors. God would have to have created beams of starlight to give “apparent age” to newly minted stars millions of light-years away (or changed the fundamental constants of the cosmos by huge orders of magnitude). God would have to have tampered with radioactive decay, and done so in such a way that multiple isotopes of multiple elements would all match and agree on outrageously incorrect ages when employed by radiocarbon dating. God would have to have deliberately chosen, time and time again – methods of creating and maintaining the earth which managed to APPEAR as if they were evidence of great age and genetic relationships for all life.

We cannot trust the natural world that God created – because for various inscrutable reasons, he has made it tell a false story. Instead of Paul’s admonition to “let God be true, and every man a liar” we are urged to let God be the liar and every Young Earth Creationist be true. They would not see it this way of course. To them, it’s simply a matter of thinking that the truth of God’s natural world is not as reliable as the truth of an ancient inspired Hebrew text as interpreted by their particular theology.

So let’s add up the results. The fruit of YEC are faithlessness, anger, hatred, deception, and blasphemy.

What does this tell us?

I wanted to close with a quote from St. Augustine – still as eerily applicable today as when it was written more than a thousand years ago…
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (St. Augustine: Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 19)

Oct 042007

Continuing in my series on the problems of Creation Science we come to what should, by rights, be the first and only point:

Creation Science is contradicted by the facts.

As I said, this should, perhaps, have been the first consideration. But as fallible human beings, our minds can deceive us. Whatever we say about wanting the truth, we generally only want truth that reinforces what we already want to believe, on a deep and sometimes irrational level. This is why I thought it was necessary to first open up some room in the minds of Creation Science believers for the idea that the Bible does not explicitly and infallibly teach Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

The Bible gives us some interpretive space to form our own conclusions on this issue. We should do as the book of Job suggested (as was previously quoted).

But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. (Job 12:7-8 WEB)

Let us use our reason and powers of observation to inquire of the animals, the earth, and cosmos – and discover the facts. What, then, are the facts? The fact is that science has demonstrated two facts almost beyond any reasonable doubt, and these two facts completely contradict a Young Earth Creation. Those two facts are:

1 The earth (and the cosmos) are billions of years old.
2. All life on earth descended genetically from a common source.

I don’t have time or space now to even summarize all the mountains of facts that have been collected to demonstrate these two facts, but these links represent a good place to start:

On the age of the earth: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html
And the age of the universe: http://education.aas.org/publications/AncientUniverseWeb.pdf
The case for common descent: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/
I had begun a series trying to address this evidence from a specifically theistic viewpoint, and the first installment of that series can be read here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution

Expert Opinions

For the purposes of this series, I’ll limit myself to quoting from expert or influential opinions. I will quote here from statements of the official bodies representing large groups of scientist, and from religious groups or leaders.

“we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious doubt.” (Statement of the Pontifical Academy of Science)

“The core concepts of evolution are well documented and well confirmed. Natural selection has been repeatedly demonstrated in both field and laboratory, and descent with modification is so well documented that scientists are justified in saying that evolution is true.” (Botanical Society of America's Statement on Evolution)

“Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable.” (American Geological Institute)

“Today, nearly half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” (Pope John Paul II – Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996)

“During the past year, religious fundamentalists have intensified their effort to force public school science classes to include instruction in "creationism." As defined in publications of the Institute for Creation Research and in laws passed or under consideration by several state legislatures, this doctrine includes the statement that the entire universe was created relatively recently, i.e. less than 10,000 years ago. This statement contradicts results of astronomical research during the past two centuries indicating that some stars now visible to us were in existence millions or billions of years ago, as well as the results of radiometric dating indicating that the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years.” (American Astronomical Society Statement on the Teaching of the History of the Universe)

“Evolution is a fact in the sense that life has changed through time. In nature today, the characteristics of species are changing, and new species are arising. The fossil record is the primary factual evidence for evolution in times past, and evolution is well documented by further evidence from other scientific disciplines, including comparative anatomy, biogeography, genetics, molecular biology, and studies of viral and bacterial diseases.” (The Paleontological Society)

“As a community, biologists agree that evolution occurred and that the forces driving the evolutionary process are still active today. This consensus is based on more than a century of scientific data gathering and analysis.” (American Institute of Biological Sciences)

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.” (The Clergy Letter Project – endorsed by over 10,000 clergy of all denominations – see http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/religion_science_collaboration.htm)

So above we have the official endorsement of Biologists, Geologists, Botanists, Paleontologists, Astronomers – all testifying that from the perspective of their own disciplines, evolution and an ancient earth are not only supported by the facts, but overwhelmingly supported. We also have the statements of thousands of clergy, including the late Pope, that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence, and that it does not contradict faith.

While this sort of “argument from authority” is admittedly a shortcut, it’s important to understand that the opinions of these bodies of scientists are not offered simply as something we must believe because they SAY so. They are offered as the result of the combined observations and studies of hundreds of thousands of trained observers who have tested the predictions of the theory of evolution.

Related Posts with Thumbnails