“More humans have been killed in the name of God and brutalized by religious despots than all the wars fought over land, resources and money. This makes me question the belief systems of the world.”
The total number of people killed by genocide is 170 million, of which 110 million (over 2/3) were from communist (atheist) governments. The Soviet Union was responsible for 61 million, of which Stalin alone was responsible for 43 million deaths. Hitler was responsible for 12 million. Numbers vary from one website to another, and these are estimates, but the numbers are very revealing. This is not to minimize the number of deaths caused in the name of God, which has been substantial.
If we look closely at religious wars and conflicts involving Christianity, such as the crusades and inquisition, we discover that most of them were sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church and the popes at that time. These periods of violence within Christianity (the crusades, inquisition, etc.) represent behavior conducted by a worldly, legalistic, and/or fleshly “church” in direct disobedience to the message from the New Testament, which is to love our enemy.
Thus the distinction between the remnant – the true, Spirit-led living body of Christ and the large, political/religious systems that uses Christian terminology and claims authority from Christ for their own purposes is absolutely critical. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world, yet the Roman Catholic Church considers itself a political as well as religious entity, and sends out ambassadors, owns hospitals, seminaries, universities, commercial property, and consorts with world leaders.
But perhaps a more intriguing point is that various tyrants that have absolutely no regard for human life have recognized the power of religion (man’s yearning for the transcendent) in human beings, and have used that power for their own ends. That’s one of the reasons they have been so effective in perpetuating their evil schemes – they tap into deep human needs and desires, albeit for their own ends. So I would totally agree with you that we should question the belief systems of the world, and that religions, religious leaders, and political leaders have often taken advantage of their believers / followers, and should be seriously questioned.
In contrast to religion (man trying to reach God, or create god in his own image), Christianity offers a relationship with the sovereign, living God of the universe. God created us in His image, with the capacity and desire to know Him, and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him (not just a belief system or ideology) that bears spiritual fruit – peace, joy, and love.
“It just doesn’t make sense that if God is omnipotent and benevolent he would permit such things to happen to his children.”
You raise a great question, which leads to another question: given a choice, in which of the following scenarios would you prefer to live:
- Our present environment, with all of its crime, suffering, brutalization, unspeakable horrors, wars, innocent people being slaughtered, starved, and tortured for a variety of reasons; but also an environment in which we see great acts of heroism, of love, of sacrifice, of courage, of passion, and virtue by people great and small, or
- An environment in which nothing ever bad happens; there is no choice between good or evil, so there is no virtue or heroism. This would likely be a very pleasant society in which all needs are met, but its pleasantness is accompanied with a profound blandness, like a person who takes drugs that eliminates the peaks and valleys of his/her life. The quote (not exact): “It is not the number of breaths that we take, but the number of times that take our breath away that makes life worthwhile” would not apply to this scenario, because there would be few, if any breaths that take our breath away.
Depending on one’s life experiences, I suspect most people would choose a). A second perspective might be helpful here, and that is while most of us are most concerned with life on earth, God sees us in the context of eternity. So the young child who is killed in an automobile accident is likely in heaven now, while Hitler is experiencing the fires of hell. God sees the big picture, His justice transcends life on this earth, and it is tempered with profound mercy.
“When I got older, I listened to priests, clergy of all kinds and the stories in the bible just do not make rational sense.”
I would agree that many stories in the Bible do not make sense from a rational sense if one’s world view is naturalistic. We have some friends who are naturalists, who contend that the spirit world is mere superstition.
In 79 AD, Pompeii, Italy was covered by the volcanic ash and lava from Mount Vesuvius, which erupted for the first time for 1,500 years. One of the reasons that so many people died was that they had no experience with volcanoes. They didn’t even have a word for volcano in their language, which was Latin. The notion that a mountain could explode was foolishness to them. In like fashion, miracles and fulfilled prophecies are foolishness to naturalists, who have no experience with the spirit world and therefore deny its existence.
But the Bible goes beyond the natural, and documents interactions between the natural and supernatural. Miracles, which are by definition an intervention by God, would make no sense from a naturalistic perspective. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, only that the naturalist would a priori deny their existence.
“A few years back I ran onto a Professor of Religious History at U of NC. He wrote “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium”. As a teenager he became a born again Christian and swore to get to know everything knowable about Jesus. He exhausted the literature with more than 30,000 documents on the subject, the most ever assembled up till now. He began to cross reference these documents and found between 300,000 – 400,000 discrepancies. He finally came to the conclusion that the Christian description of Jesus was totally fabricated and admitted that Christianity was a fraud. He no longer considers himself a Christian.”
Very interesting. While I have not read his books, I do have a few comments that may be pertinent here. There is a tremendous body of evidence that confirms the historical record of the Old Testament and New Testament, including fulfilled prophecies, of which there are dozens. One of the most common criticisms of the Bible comes from the “higher critics” – those who were on the forefront of the Higher Criticism movement that started in the late 1800s in northern Germany.
The higher critics claimed to be above the Bible (and therefore were called higher critics). They analyzed the language of various bible books, and concluded that certain books were not written by the same person (such as Moses), or that different parts of a particular book were written by different authors.
They overlooked the reality that an author’s writing style usually changes over time, and that authors of books of the Bible may have incorporated elements from other’s writings, as led by the Holy Spirit. They also looked at prophecies that were fulfilled, and concluded that since we cannot know things in advance, obviously they were written later. Their presuppositions led to their conclusions.
Another story may be relevant here. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard and the nation’s expert on rules of evidence. When the U.S. Supreme Court became stuck on an issue relating to evidence, it was Greenleaf’s work that they turned to. When he made a disparaging remark about Christianity, his students challenged him by asking him if he had ever examined the evidence concerning Christianity. He admitted that he had not, but agreed to do so. After examining every thread of evidence he could regarding the life of Jesus and His supposed resurrection, Greenleaf became a Christian, and wrote a book entitled: “The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence”. His conclusion was that if the evidence for Christ’s resurrection was presented to any unbiased jury in the world, they would have to conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.
So perhaps Dr. Ehrman is operating from a different set of rules of evidence, which may not hold up in a court of law. I also think it is also common for our quest to be highly influenced by our personal life experiences. I know of individuals whose loved ones – siblings or spouses – suffer from a debilitating illness, and fervent prayer does not yield the desired result, of complete healing. They then conclude that God must not exist because if He existed, He would have healed the loved one. But God is not a puppet on a string, and His existence does not require Him to cater to our wishes.
“Jesus spoke Aramaic which never was a written language and Jesus never could read and everything written about him was written 30 and 50 years after his death. I don’t know about you but my memory of 30 years ago is just a bit hazy. How could the people who wrote the bible have remembered in such detail what Jesus said, did and believed? Jesus had left the holy land as a teenager and returned roughly a year before he was placed on the cross. How could he have uttered such a vast amount of wisdom in a year?
The Christian bible was not assembled until Constantine, 300 AD, having problems between the Christians and pagans dictated that the Christians put together documents that spelled out their beliefs. The result is close to what you see today but with some considerable editing, there were as many books left out as there were published because the assemblers were also editors and chose what went in and what was left out.”
Perhaps you should check your sources. From Wikipedia: ”The Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinctive from it by the 8th century BCE. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are matres lectionis, which also indicate long vowels. The Aramaic alphabet is historically significant, since virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems use a script that can be traced back to it, as well as numerous Altaic writing systems of Central and East Asia.
This is primarily due to the widespread usage of the Aramaic language as both a lingua franca and the official language of the Neo-Assyrian, and its successor, the Achaemenid Empire. Among the scripts in modern use, the Hebrew alphabet bears the closest relation to the Imperial Aramaic script of the 5th century BCE, with an identical letter inventory and, for the most part, nearly identical letter shapes.”
Jesus either read from the Hebrew scriptures or quoted them on numerous occasions; Matthew 4 is an example. When He was 12 years old, he spent hours discussing theological issues with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. “And all who heard Him were astonished at his understanding and answers,” Luke 2:47. In Luke 4, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read…” Jesus was often called rabbi, which means teacher, and rabbis commonly visited synagogues, where they would read the Hebrew scriptures. We see this in Luke 4:16-20.
What is the basis for the notion that Jesus left the Holy Land as a teenager? How could he have uttered such a vast amount of wisdom in a year? He didn’t. His life was attested to by numerous prominent non-Christians, and His ministry took place over three years, not one year. It is also relevant to remember that we are not talking about some ordinary guy here. This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
The orthodox (not Greek Orthodox) biblical perspective is that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, including the authors and those who selected what should be included in the Bible. While other books or chapters may have historical value or even spiritual insight, they did not meet the high standard set by those who put together the Bible. The authenticity of this perspective is evident from the fact that the Bible was written by over 40 authors (many of whom did not know each other) from 3 different continents over a period of 1,500 years. And yet it has a common theme, an historical timeline and message, and fulfilled prophecies that confirm that there was in fact a single author – the Holy Spirit. Even with unlimited resources, it would be impossible to pull off this feat by human means alone.
From http://www.comereason.org/cmp_rlgn/cmp006.asp, we read:
“The New Testament rests on prophetic authority – primarily delivered through the apostles. The apostles were the foundation of church teachings and were hand-picked by Jesus Himself. They were the surest link to Christ and they therefore were the main source of authentication of what should be considered Scripture.
The early church fathers understood the concept of prophetic authority very well. They recognized that the apostles were given authority from Christ and one of the key identifiers of a writing as Scripture was the fact that it either came from an apostle, such as the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, or it had a close connection with the apostles, such as the works by Luke or Mark.
Basically, if a document couldn’t be identified as having a real connection with the apostles, that book could not be considered scriptural. Milton Fisher, in writing about principles used in determining canonicity by the early church notes that “apostolic authorship or approval became recognized as the only sure standard for identifying God’s revelation. Even within the Scripture record, first-century prophets were subordinate to apostolic authority.
Jesus’ view of the Old Testament was very high – but it was not an uncommon view at that time. So, when the apostle Peter states in his epistle that Paul’s writings are on the same level as the writings of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pet. 3:15-16), he’s making a very bold and serious claim. But Peter did hold Paul’s writings equally with the Old Testament, so sure was he that they were the words of God.
Finally, since the New Testament testifies to the life and ministry of Jesus, we can rely on it as Scripture. As scholar F.F. Bruce notes, “[Jesus] Himself was the Word of God incarnate. The written record of His words must therefore inevitably have authority at least equal to that accorded the Old Testament oracles.” (4) Dr. Bruce also notes that Jesus promised His disciples that they would, after His departure, receive the Holy Spirit and “‘He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. … He shall guide you into all the truth…and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come’ (John 14:26;16:13). (5)
Because the Spirit is directly communicating truth through the apostles, the New Testament documents also possess the qualifications of inspiration and prophetic agency. The apostles themselves recognized this, as Paul encouraged the recipients of his letters to circulate them to other churches for learning. The churches would then make copies of these letters to refer to at a later date. Thus, the New Testament was assembled very early – within one hundred years of the documents’ writing.
In fact, all the books of the New Testament were referred to by the church fathers in their writings as authoritative by the mid second century. We have references to various New Testament texts by Polycarp (c AD 150), Justin Martyr (c. AD 140), Irenaeus (c.AD 170), and lists of documents that should be considered Scripture starting with the Muratorian Canon (AD 170). At Nicea, the New Testament canon had been pretty well established for over a century.”
The Vatican has one of the most extensive libraries of the time of Jesus, probably more than all the rest of the historical writings of the world combined. But you cannot have access to any of it. There are a few who have been permitted access but with the following restrictions. You can take only one scribe, one tablet, no cameras, no recording devices, no phone …. And you are requested to state exactly what you are looking for and which book it comes from and you are accompanied by a Swiss guard who does not leave your side. If the Vatican possesses the “TRUTH” why are they so protective of it? It would appear that they are protecting something they don’t want the world to know.
I am in complete agreement with you. Sounds fishy to me too. See comment about Catholicism above.
“On the other hand science is the only “TRUTH”. I am not talking about the theories offered by science but the proven laws that can be tested by anyone with the skills and if necessary the equipment to do the experiment. This includes but not limited to these great scientists: Euclid, Archimedes, Hipparchus, Claudius Ptolemy, Many Medieval Arab scientists that held it together during the middle ages, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolas Copernicus, Andres Vesalius, Galileo Galilei, Christian Huygens, Anton van Leeuwenkoek, Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton, Corolus Linnaeus, James Hutton, Antoine Lavoisier, and John Dalton.”
Few would question the important contribution that science makes to our understanding of the world, how it works, and how we can live in it. But the assumption that there is a conflict between science and Christianity is ill-founded. Like emotion and reason, they are different, and each are ways of knowing things that are valuable. In fact many prominent scientists were Christians, and merely viewed science as another way to understand the world which God created:
- Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)
Copernicus was the Polish astronomer who put forward the first mathematically based system of planets going around the sun. He attended various European universities, and became a Canon in the Catholic church in 1497. His new system was actually first presented in the Vatican gardens in 1533 before Pope Clement VII who approved, and urged Copernicus to publish it around this time. Copernicus was never under any threat of religious persecution – and was urged to publish both by Catholic Bishop Guise, Cardinal Schonberg, and the Protestant Professor George Rheticus. Copernicus referred sometimes to God in his works, and did not see his system as in conflict with the Bible.
- Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1627)
Bacon was a philosopher who is known for establishing the scientific method of inquiry based on experimentation and inductive reasoning. In De Interpretatione Naturae Prooemium, Bacon established his goals as being the discovery of truth, service to his country, and service to the church. Although his work was based upon experimentation and reasoning, he rejected atheism as being the result of insufficient depth of philosophy, stating, “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.” (Of Atheism)
- Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
Kepler was a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. He did early work on light, and established the laws of planetary motion about the sun. He also came close to reaching the Newtonian concept of universal gravity – well before Newton was born! His introduction of the idea of force in astronomy changed it radically in a modern direction. Kepler was an extremely sincere and pious Lutheran, whose works on astronomy contain writings about how space and the heavenly bodies represent the Trinity. Kepler suffered no persecution for his open avowal of the sun-centered system, and, indeed, was allowed as a Protestant to stay in Catholic Graz as a Professor (1595-1600) when other Protestants had been expelled!
- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Galileo is often remembered for his conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. His controversial work on the solar system was published in 1633. It had no proofs of a sun-centered system (Galileo’s telescope discoveries did not indicate a moving earth) and his one “proof” based upon the tides was invalid. It ignored the correct elliptical orbits of planets published twenty five years earlier by Kepler. Since his work finished by putting the Pope’s favorite argument in the mouth of the simpleton in the dialogue, the Pope (an old friend of Galileo’s) was very offended. After the “trial” and being forbidden to teach the sun-centered system, Galileo did his most useful theoretical work, which was on dynamics. Galileo expressly said that the Bible cannot err, and saw his system as an alternate interpretation of the biblical texts.
- Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Descartes was a French mathematician, scientist and philosopher who has been called the father of modern philosophy. His school studies made him dissatisfied with previous philosophy: He had a deep religious faith as a Roman Catholic, which he retained to his dying day, along with a resolute, passionate desire to discover the truth. At the age of 24 he had a dream, and felt the vocational call to seek to bring knowledge together in one system of thought. His system began by asking what could be known if all else were doubted – suggesting the famous “I think therefore I am”. Actually, it is often forgotten that the next step for Descartes was to establish the near certainty of the existence of God – for only if God both exists and would not want us to be deceived by our experiences – can we trust our senses and logical thought processes. God is, therefore, central to his whole philosophy. What he really wanted to see was that his philosophy be adopted as standard Roman Catholic teaching. Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) are generally regarded as the key figures in the development of scientific methodology. Both had systems in which God was important, and both seem more devout than the average for their era.
- Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
In optics, mechanics, and mathematics, Newton was a figure of undisputed genius and innovation. In all his science (including chemistry) he saw mathematics and numbers as central. What is less well known is that he was devoutly religious and saw numbers as involved in understanding God’s plan for history from the Bible. He did a considerable work on biblical numerology, and, though aspects of his beliefs were not orthodox, he thought theology was very important. In his system of physics, God is essential to the nature and absoluteness of space. In Principia he stated, “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion on an intelligent and powerful Being.”
- Robert Boyle (1791-1867)
One of the founders and key early members of the Royal Society, Boyle gave his name to “Boyle’s Law” for gases, and also wrote an important work on chemistry. Encyclopedia Britannica says of him: “By his will he endowed a series of Boyle lectures, or sermons, which still continue, ‘for proving the Christian religion against notorious infidels…’ As a devout Protestant, Boyle took a special interest in promoting the Christian religion abroad, giving money to translate and publish the New Testament into Irish and Turkish. In 1690 he developed his theological views in The Christian Virtuoso, which he wrote to show that the study of nature was a central religious duty.” Boyle wrote against atheists in his day (the notion that atheism is a modern invention is a myth), and was clearly much more devoutly Christian than the average in his era.
- Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Michael Faraday was the son of a blacksmith who became one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. His work on electricity and magnetism not only revolutionized physics, but led to much of our lifestyles today, which depends on them (including computers and telephone lines and, so, web sites). Faraday was a devoutly Christian member of the Sandemanians, which significantly influenced him and strongly affected the way in which he approached and interpreted nature. Originating from Presbyterians, the Sandemanians rejected the idea of state churches, and tried to go back to a New Testament type of Christianity.
- Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)
Mendel was the first to lay the mathematical foundations of genetics, in what came to be called “Mendelianism”. He began his research in 1856 (three years before Darwin published his Origin of Species) in the garden of the Monastery in which he was a monk. Mendel was elected Abbot of his Monastery in 1868. His work remained comparatively unknown until the turn of the century, when a new generation of botanists began finding similar results and “rediscovered” him (though their ideas were not identical to his). An interesting point is that the 1860’s was notable for formation of the X-Club, which was dedicated to lessening religious influences and propagating an image of “conflict” between science and religion. One sympathizer was Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, whose scientific interest was in genetics (a proponent of eugenics – selective breeding among humans to “improve” the stock). He was writing how the “priestly mind” was not conducive to science while, at around the same time, an Austrian monk was making the breakthrough in genetics. The rediscovery of the work of Mendel came too late to affect Galton’s contribution.
- William Thomson Kelvin (1824-1907)
Kelvin was foremost among the small group of British scientists who helped to lay the foundations of modern physics. His work covered many areas of physics, and he was said to have more letters after his name than anyone else in the Commonwealth, since he received numerous honorary degrees from European Universities, which recognized the value of his work. He was a very committed Christian, who was certainly more religious than the average for his era. Interestingly, his fellow physicists George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) were also men of deep Christian commitment, in an era when many were nominal, apathetic, or anti-Christian. The Encyclopedia Britannica says “Maxwell is regarded by most modern physicists as the scientist of the 19th century who had the greatest influence on 20th century physics; he is ranked with Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein for the fundamental nature of his contributions.” Lord Kelvin was an Old Earth creationist, who estimated the Earth’s age to be somewhere between 20 million and 100 million years, with an upper limit at 500 million years based on cooling rates (a low estimate due to his lack of knowledge about radiogenic heating).
- Max Planck (1858-1947)
Planck made many contributions to physics, but is best known for quantum theory, which revolutionized our understanding of the atomic and sub-atomic worlds. In his 1937 lecture “Religion and Naturwissenschaft,” Planck expressed the view that God is everywhere present, and held that “the holiness of the unintelligible Godhead is conveyed by the holiness of symbols.” Atheists, he thought, attach too much importance to what are merely symbols. Planck was a churchwarden from 1920 until his death, and believed in an almighty, all-knowing, beneficent God (though not necessarily a personal one). Both science and religion wage a “tireless battle against skepticism and dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition” with the goal “toward God!”
- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Einstein is probably the best known and most highly revered scientist of the twentieth century, and is associated with major revolutions in our thinking about time, gravity, and the conversion of matter to energy (E=mc2). Although never coming to belief in a personal God, he recognized the impossibility of a non-created universe. The Encyclopedia Britannica says of him: “Firmly denying atheism, Einstein expressed a belief in “Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the harmony of what exists.” This actually motivated his interest in science, as he once remarked to a young physicist: “I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” Einstein’s famous epithet on the “uncertainty principle” was “God does not play dice” – and to him this was a real statement about a God in whom he believed. A famous saying of his was “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Source: www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html
I don’t want to bore you with more but the truth is that the work of these men [the list mentioned earlier, starting with Euclid] is beyond question as to its validity and its “Truth” because the experiments our math is repeatable by anyone with the knowledge and skill to conduct it. There is not a religion on earth that can claim such “Truth”. Everywhere you turn you will find discrepancies and disputes of what is written in religious literature.
Religion is a divergent ideology that over time expands in its literature and creates more sects that fight with the older beliefs. On the other hand science is a convergent ideology. It begins with observing, concluding, theorizing, and then experiments are performed to validate or reject the theory. Other experiments are conducted and finally the theory is replaced by a LAW or thrown out. Once this PROOF is established it becomes another cornerstone on which we can guarantee it will work as consistently as the sun rise or the tides. And I would say that it will continue to be so long after the earth and tides no longer exist.
Truth is hard to find but science has found an approach that will and does provide us with the “TRUTH” that we all bet our lives, our fortunes and our future on almost every day. I don’t think many would bet their lives on what they read in religious literature and put their lives on the line for what they believe in the way they take what science has found to be the truth and trust their lives to it.”
COMMENT: Excellent description of the naturalistic, scientific perspective. Let’s take this one concept at a time.
Concept #1: Objective truth – truth/knowledge that exists regardless of our awareness of it. Science is based on the premise that you can know things that are really true, even though a particular experiment will likely only yield a tidbit of that truth. Christianity also is based on the same premise, and goes further to claim that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the light”. Sounds like we both accept the notion that objective truth exists. By the way, those who assert that objective truth does not exist are asserting (as objectively true) that it does not exist, thus refuting themselves.
Truth is hard to find but science has found an approach that will and does provide us with the “TRUTH” that we all bet our lives, our fortunes and our future on almost every day.
Concept #2: Limitations of science: Granted that science has been very beneficial to mankind, it also poses questions regarding its limitations:
- Science can tell us how to build an atomic bomb, but does it tell us when it should be used?
- Science can tell us how to clone people, or even introduce animal genes into humans to make us stronger or faster. Does science tell us whether we should do this and under what circumstances?
As indicated by these questions, science can tell us what is and what is possible, but it is incapable of telling us what should be and what we should do. That is the realm of wisdom, and of the moral/spiritual arena.
On the other hand, the predominant world view of scientists today is evolution, the notion that we evolved from inert matter by blind chance, starting with the Big Bang. Evolutionists commonly portray man as merely smart animals, with the survival of the fittest as the determiner of who will survive in Darwinian evolution. This raises some important questions:
- If we are merely animals, then, by the rules of Darwinian evolution, there is nothing beyond the material universe, and survival is the ultimate in life. But does that lead to a fulfilled life?
- Is that all there is?
- Is that all we can say at the end of our lives, that we survived?
- Is there really nothing worth dying for?
- Does survival – physical existence – provide meaning and significance?
- Are those mere whims that have validity only insofar as they help with survival?
Applying science to the naturalistic/materialistic world view is what Karl Marx did, and he called it “scientific materialism”. Because there is nothing beyond the material world, and science really gives no guidance as to what man should do, Marxist tyrants fhave murdered everyone who stood in the way of their utopian dream, one in which everyone would become virtuous because their (material) needs would be taken care of. The souls of millions of souls murdered by these regimes cry out as a testimony against the barbarism that follows a world view that is based on materialist assumptions of human nature.
In contrast to this materialist perspective, the Judeo-Christian world view posits that we were created in the image of the sovereign, living God, with the capacity and desire for a relationship with Him and our fellow human beings, and that mankind is distinct from the animal world. Having tried several other world views, I can attest to the joy, peace, and meaning that comes with a walk with the Lord.
Concept #3: Science as a convergent ideology. While this notion is widely assumed to be true, there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Thomas Kuhn, in this groundbreaking book “The Structure of Scientific Revolution”, builds a strong case that people, including scientists, do not see the world as it is, but as we are. That is, each of us has a set of assumptions about life – a world view or paradigm – and that what we perceive is impacted by our paradigm. Taking Hurricane Katrina for example, an environmentalist, an attorney, a politician, a black activist, and a business man would all report different things about Katrina because they have different paradigms, some of which directly conflict with each other.
This applies to science as well. Kuhn contends that scientists also have predominant paradigms or world views that shape their assumptions, their experimental designs, and their conclusions. In earlier years, everyone believed the earth was flat. But as time went on, anomalies began to accumulate, until at some point in time, the paradigm shifted – a new paradigm emerged that better explained the data (that the earth was round). Thus the notion of paradigm shifts is a very useful and powerful way to understand change.
However, sometimes the paradigm doesn’t shift, even though the bulk of evidence would support such a shift. Politics and vested interests can all impede the shifting of a paradigm. One such example would be global warming. Although there are huge scientific fallacies with global warming, there are certain political and financial interests who have found to be in their interest to keep it going and push for radical legislation because it suits their interest. Follow the money and the power…
Another example of differing paradigms within science (that portray science as a divergent ideology) is creation science vs. evolution. As you know, dozens or hundreds of books have been written about this issue. Here are a few key points:
- Evolutionists claim that creation is religion, thus dismissing it out of hand. They do not understand, or simply ignore, that there are over 10,000 scientists (M.S. and Ph.D. in hard science) in the U.S. who embrace creation science.
- Both creation scientists and evolutionists embrace micro-evolution – the kind of small changes that Charles Darwin observed with finches in his studies. What creation scientists see no proof for is macro-evolution – that a whale can become a bear for example (which Darwin did not see, but assumed).
- Darwin acknowledged that the validity of his entire theory rested on the fossil record. Since then, hundreds of thousands of fossils have been discovered, and the gaps between species are still missing. This is exactly what creation science expects, and is an arrow through the heart of evolution, which would anticipate a full array of transitional forms. Some evolutionists are so desperate to explain these gaps that they come up with fancy words to explain fast evolution, or leaps from one species to another. “Punctuated equilibrium” is an example.
- Intelligent Design is a new movement within science, made up mostly of evolutionary scientists who are compelled by the data to acknowledge that there is a designer of nature. A fundamental tenet of evolutionary change is that every change must benefit the organism. But scientists have found cells that operate like engines or mouse traps – a set of interrelated parts, all of which are necessary for it to operate. So a piston does not benefit a horseless carriage; only an entire engine. Many Intelligent Design proponents are not Christians or theists, but their basic honesty at looking at the data compels them to embrace intelligent design. Just as people out hiking in the Black Hills of South Dakota who happen upon Mount Rushmore would all admit that Mount Rushmore was a sign of intelligence rather than a product of evolution (by chance).
Concept #4: Religion as a divergent ideology.
I agree that religion – man’s search for god, or to create him in his own image – is divergent. No disagreement there. It is particularly interesting to see what various religions say about what happens when we die:
- Christianity – to heaven or hell,
- Roman Catholicism – heaven, hell, or purgatory,
- Islam – to hell or paradise, where 73 virgins await you, to meet your every need
- Mormons – if you are a devout Mormon man, you will get your own planet (really), and are able to stay there, procreating spirit babies who then become born on earth,
- Hinduism – you are recycled through reincarnation over and over again, perhaps coming back as a rat or a king, depending on your works, and eventually becoming one with the all, like a drop of water that falls into the ocean,
- Buddhism – you experience nothingness,
- Secular humanism (declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be a religion) – you cease to exist, and become like dust that is blown in the wind.
However, true Christianity, consisting of the remnant that the Bible speaks of who are true Christians, repentant of their sins and led by the Holy Spirit to live lives of peace, joy, and love, is convergent. It is an amazing experience to encounter individuals of widely divergent cultures, races, age, and gender, and even of other centuries (through their writings) that walk with the Lord. It is truly convergent, and awesome to behold.
Often the Lord works through these individuals to impact those around them. This life in the Spirit is a great adventure, as well as being a life of service and impact. In Little Rock, a Jewish physician whose specialty was cancer observed that many of his patients died with great peace and even joy. This was unusual for him and he became very curious. He subsequently discovered that these individuals were Christians, who were experiencing “the peace that passes understanding” because their lives were given over to the Lord.
Maybe I was looking for God in my search for truth but could not find him.
The Word of God sheds light on this issue:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20
“But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
In my experience, anyone who truly seeks the Lord will be found by Him. But we must seek Him in humility, for pride is a huge barrier to knowing the Lord.
Truth is hard to find but science has found an approach that will and does provide us with the “TRUTH” that we all bet our lives, our fortunes and our future on almost every day. I don’t think many would bet their lives on what they read in religious literature and put their lives on the line for what they believe in the way they take what science has found to be the truth and trust their lives to it.
COMMENT: Actually, just the opposite is true. Millions of Christians have died because of their faith in the early church, through the Roman empire (before Constantine), the Spanish Inquisition by the Catholic Church, the Communist Russian revolution, Nazi Germany, and now by Moslems in several Moslem nations – Sudan, Philippines, and even Iraq. Their martyrdom has led many others to become Christians, because it is almost impossible for a person to be willing to die for a lie – a falsehood. These individuals do not die because of what they read in religious literature, but because they have encountered the sovereign, living God, and this experience has transformed their lives here on earth and into eternity. They know the Lord, and they know that Jesus overcame the ultimate challenge – He overcame death, and He promises eternal life to His followers.
A few years back I read something about the God gene http://www.curledup.com/godgene.htm. The author did experiments with identical twins and concluded that nature trumps nurture. And that that God or the belief in one is hard wired in us.
COMMENT: Very interesting. I had not read of that research. And yet, that is exactly what we would expect if the sovereign, living God created us in His image, with a capacity and desire to know Him and enjoy a relationship with Him forever.
On the other hand, evolution would have a hard time explaining how, considering two apes, the one that developed or embraced a belief in a transcendent spiritual being is more likely to survive. As you know, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST is the modus operandi of evolution.
So how would a belief in God better equip one ape to survive than the other? Actually, we would anticipate that the ape/creature who believes that this earth is all there is would most likely to fight or work the hardest to survive, because once he/she dies, it is all over. On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense – it lacks face validity.
By the way, Occam’s Razor, a widely accepted principle in scientific circles, states that, given two alternative explanations of some phenomenon, the one that most directly and simply explains the phenomenon is most likely true. “Hard wired” seems to be a better fit with creation than evolution.
As a psychological defense they began to create gods that they had ceremonies to ask for help or avoid the calamities of their lives. Paleontologists have found in the graves of what they believe were the leaders in their culture that appear to be something they would need in the “after life”. From this evolved the gods and the afterlife. For thousands of generations in almost every culture even in the most primitive this is found. Their gods became more defined and took on characteristics quite different from each other but never the less gods. This I think became built into our genetic makeup we call the “God gene “that the author of the God Gene talks about. As he says God is in our genes.
Witch doctors were born evolved into priests and other positions in the growing communities. Giant religious organizations dominated some of the cultures. Some of these deities became good loving, nurturing as the Christians present Jesus but others like the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs had gods that drove them to blood thirsty societies. Never the less the God gene persisted and we carry it today.
COMMENT: You have provided a great example of how paradigms affect our thinking. The story you told is from an evolutionary perspective, and is speculative, not really scientific (because it cannot be replicated). An alternative story is that the sovereign, living God created us in His image, and made Himself known to us down through the ages. The Bible contends that God reveals Himself and His nature through His handiwork (the design of nature), and through special revelation – prophets, Jesus coming, etc. The Bible also describes evil beings – demons, Satan, etc., which manifest themselves in people and in some cultures. This fits with the Mayas and Aztecs.
I understand that over 100 cultures have traditions and stories in their history about their ancestors surviving a great flood on some kind of boat. How would an evolutionist explain this – that there is also a boat gene? To what evolutionary advantage would a belief that one’s ancestors survived a great flood on a boat provide? In keeping with Occam’s Razor, a more direct explanation would be that all of these people have a common ancestor (such as Noah), who really did survive a great flood on a boat. Several explorers have found Noah’s Ark, by the way.
As I said at 13 I had an epiphany. Something made want to become very religious but when I looked around there was so much that was not true about the organized religions that I could possibly believe that I have had a lifelong quest trying to understand and find TRUTH. I found it in science and the more science I studied the less I could believe about religion.
COMMENT: Very interesting. My best friend had a very similar experience at age 13. She looked at what was going on in church (liberal denomination), and didn’t find anything meaningful. So she became an atheist at age 13. She has since studied history, philosophy, and religion, and has become a Christian. This will sound harsh, but I think it is fair to say that many churches, churchgoers, and pastors are spiritually dead. They have the form but none of the substance. I think that is why after 9-11, many people came to church expecting to learn more about the sovereign, living God and His plan for their lives, only to find spiritual deadness. So the numbers dropped off.
When I left for college, I abandoned my traditional Christian beliefs, and became a subjectivist, then a Marxist, then a classical humanist, and finally a Christian. I ran across a book by Francis Schaefer called “The God Who is There”, where the author connected reason and faith. He stated that is reasonable to believe that the God who created the universe created us with the capacity to use reason. God even invites us to use reason: “’Come let us reason together’, says the Lord”, Isaiah 1:18.
As discussed earlier, I think that science and Christianity enable us to know different things (different elements of objective truth). Furthermore, the statement that science is the only way to know truth is a statement of belief or ideology, not truth. It cannot be proven, and is a statement of philosophy.
If a person tries to measure air temperature with a yardstick and fails, can they logically conclude that air temperature does not exist? Because science is unable to identify or measure the spiritual world, can it claim that the latter does not exist? No. We cannot prove that something does not exist, because it could exist out there and we are simply unaware of it. If I tried to prove that there are no Chinese people with square heads, I could go check out all of the Chinese people in China, and then would probably miss some Chinese guy in L.A. with a square head.
However, there are clues to the spiritual world. In addition to fulfilled prophecy and changed lives, one of the most interesting is a cardiologist named Maurice Rawlings. He received a lot of tough cases, many of whom died, and then he resuscitated them. About half of them came back from death, and they did not want to come back. They had a very pleasant experience – bright lights, love, etc., and did not want to come back. On the other hand, the other half came back and they were screaming – utterly terrified with the experience that had just encountered, which they described as hell. Dr. Rawlings discovered that after about three days, those experiencing hell had forgotten their horrific experience. He concluded that their minds simply could not cope with such horrific experiences, so it suppressed them.
I believe the BIG Bang is the way the universe came into being. There is just too much evidence to support it that even though we cannot go back and produce an experiment to guarantee it’s truth.
Although I have not studied this in depth, I do not understand how an explosion can ever lead to greater order and complexity, when empirical observations lead to the opposite conclusions. Can you imagine blowing up anything, and it leads to greater order and complexity? One article I read compares the claims of the big bang to a tornado blowing through a large junkyard and producing a Boeing 747. This, and the notion that if you wait long enough, something inanimate will come alive (through evolution), is a good reason why people have embraced Christianity. It is also why the following book gains credence: “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, available through Amazon.com.
If this is how it all came to be there could be a creator that started it but as some religions believe he created it and left to its own demise.
COMMENT: What you have described is very common – the Deist (non-Christian) perspective that God started it all, then backed off, or those who create God in their own image.
I guess this is the closest I can get to god. If this be the case then all the characteristics we give the gods must just man’s characteristic laid upon their deity.
Creating God in our own image is also common: “If I was God, here is how I would run things…” The destruction of human life by those political/military/religious/cult leaders who have presumed to be gods is well documented.
I agree with you that is the closest you can get to God (on this earth) as long as you hold to the non-scientific assumption that science is the only way to know truth and that God and the spiritual world does not exist because science cannot measure it. Incidentally, what does science tell us about what happens when we die? What LAWS does it provide to guide us on this earth to prepare us for what comes next?
In political discussions of the role of the Vice President, commentators commonly state that whoever is chosen as V.P. is important because they are just “one heartbeat away from the Presidency”. In like manner, the Christian perspective is that you and I are just one heartbeat away from God – from coming face to face with our maker, and being accountable for our lives, and our belief systems. We will meet Him; the only questions are how soon, and on what conditions – as a member of the body of Christ who is welcomed home to heaven, or as one who faces eternity separated from God in a nasty place called hell. Are you willing to bet your life – your eternal life and destination on the non- scientific assumption that the spirit world does not exist because science cannot measure it? Do you teach your children and loved ones the same thing, thus betting their eternal lives and destination on the same non-scientific claim?
Finally, a friend of mine described how long eternity is – the butterfly and Pluto story. You know how a butterfly does not fly in a straight line – it just flits around, eventually getting to where it is going. If a butterfly took a grain of sand and flew to Pluto and back, and they did that over and over until all of the grains of sand on earth were on Pluto, and then brought them all back, that is how long eternity is. Sure impressed me.
I apologize for the length and heaviness of this response. If you are interested, we can pursue this further, or perhaps meet for coffee or lunch.