Faith: Who Needs It?

October 23, 2010

Who needs faith? This isn’t merely a rhetorical question, it’s a question that deserves an answer. The most basic demand that God makes of us is that we have faith in Him; that we believe He exists. Any other faith about God depends on faith that God exists. If we are to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must first believe that God exists.

A logical problem:

If we know that God makes this demand of us, then we already know that God exists and we can’t have faith – which is what God demands of us. Is there a demand that we believe in God? Yes. Who is making the demand? God. Because we know that God exists, we can’t also have faith that God exists.

We don’t have faith that the London exists. In fact we can’t have faith that London exists because we know it exists. Faith is incompatible with knowledge.

Another logical problem:

Why does anyone think that God requires us to have faith? Because the Bible says so. How do we know that what the Bible says is from God? Because the Bible says it’s from God. Why should we believe what the Bible says? Because the Bible says it’s from God. That begs the question: Why should we believe what the Bible says?

The problem of Theodicy

If God exists and He requires above all that we believe that He exists, then why would He place us in the situation in which we find ourselves; a situation in which we haven’t a shred of evidence that would lead us to believe that He exists? If God carefully obscures from us all evidence of His existence, then God is responsible for our lack of faith.

Who needs us to have blind faith?

The leaders of Christianity, both modern leaders as well as its ancient founders, demand above all that we have blind faith in God. Blind faith, faith without any evidence, is a fundamental requirement without which Christianity could not thrive. If Christian leaders had any knowledge of God’s existence, they wouldn’t need to “believe” that God existed, nor would they need their followers to “believe” that God exists. God’s existence would be a forgone conclusion.

Put this to the test!

Ask your Priest, Pastor, Elder, Minister this question: “do you know that God exists?” If his or her answer is:

  • Yes – then ask if he or she has faith that God exists, and discuss the incompatibility with knowledge and faith. Post any reasonable answers here.
  • No or I’m Not Sure – then ask why he or she believes that God exists. Post any reasonable answers here.

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design – a stalemate?

October 8, 2009

How Could it be? Says:

Evolution and intelligent design are tied.

Would you evolutionist agree that evolution and intelligent design are in a stand still if you look at it from a scholarly perspective. Yes, evolution has become the leading theory in society, but science has done as much to prove it as it has intelligent design. They both have one major flaw that prevents them from being fact. Evolution can’t explain how you get life out of no living chemicals; and intelligent design doesn’t have a designer. Untill the answer is solved they will both only be theories. No matter how much you want them to be fact its just not possiable without the proof.

Did God created the universe for us?

January 5, 2009

If you believe that God created the Universe, why do you suppose he did it? Was it for the benefit of us humans, or was there another purpose? Did he create the stars simply for our viewing pleasure? If so, it seems a bit over the top considering the size of a single star compared to our Earth (more about that shortly), the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, and the hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe (each being made up of hundreds of billions of stars) – nearly all of which we can’t even see. It would have made more sense to put small bright orbs in the heavens – which is what the ancients believed the stars to be.

If our Sun represents less than one billianth of one billianth of the total number of stars in the universe – virtually a single grain of sand on a long beach – then how big is our Earth relative to the Sun? If you think of the Sun as a basketball, the Earth would be about the size of the head of a pin. With a little imagination, you can get a feel for just how miniscule our corner of the universe really is.

What fraction of time has this unimaginably small spec we call Earth been home to humans? The universe itself is about 14 billion years old. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old – about a third of the time the universe has been around. But how long has the Earth been home to us humans? Oxygen first appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago. Bacteria appeared only about 600 million years ago. Land plants appeared only 400 million years ago, followed by the first land animals around 300 million years ago. The genus, Homo, appeared only 2.5 million years ago. If these are the humans of Genesis, then the Earth has been home to humans not 1% of the time that the Earth has been around, not 0.1% of the time, but about 0.05% of the time. To give you a perspective, 0.05% of a year is about an hour and a half.

However the first species of the genus Homo were nothing like us modern humans. They looked more like modern Gorillas than modern humans. Homosapiens, our species, have only been around for about 200,000 years. That’s only about a thousandth of the time that the genus Homo has been around. Once again, to give you perspective of what a small fraction of time homosapiens have existed: one thousandth of 0.05% of a year is about 5 seconds.

But it gets even worse. Most of Earth is hostile to human life. The ocean covers about 70% of the Earth and is uninhabitable. The land that makes up the remainder of the Earth’s surface is no paradise either. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic activity, droughts, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, and tornadoes are some of the geological dangers that constantly threaten human life. In addition to geological hazards, humans also face deadly non-biological hazards, like plagues which wipe out a significant part of the human population from time to time.

Not only is there no compelling reason to believe that the universe was designed in the first place, there is overwhelming evidence that the universe was not designed for us humans. There is only a tiny corner of the universe we can see. Nearly all of that tiny fraction of the universe is hostile to human life. And even the tiny spec of the tiny fraction that supports human life, has only been a hostile home to humans for a tiny fraction of time.

End note:

How big is a billion anyway? If you are reading this on a computer with a decent monitor (say 1280 x 768), then there are nearly a million pixels on your screen. On a good monitor, you won’t be able to see an individual pixel with your naked eye – try looking at a portion of the screen through a magnifying glass and you will see the pixels. To see a billion pixels, your monitor would have to be a thousand times larger (which means 32 times taller and 32 times wider – 32 x 32 = 1024)! You can measure the width and height of your monitor and multiply the width by 32 and the height by 32 to see how big a billion-pixel monitor would be. That’s one one billion pixels. Now imagine that this single pixel you are viewing through a magnifying glass were actually super-sized billion-pixel monitor (32 time wider and 32 times taller than your computer monitor) – all stuffed into the space of a single pixel of the original billion-pixel super-sized monitor. A single pixel on that monitor would be a billionth of a billionth the size of your original full-sized monitor.

The Resurrection Story – Retold

August 10, 2008

Of all the accounts in the Christian Bible (any of the Christian cannons), probably the most important is the Resurrection story. In fact, Paul says flat out in 1 Corinthians:

1Co 15:14-17 (NIV); And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

I’m certainly not the first to point out the following inconsistencies in the resurrection story, but since there is still no satisfactory response to the inconsistencies, and since this story is so central to Christianity, it bears reviewing.

Paul’s version written between 50 – 60 ce:

First, I would like to point out that Paul wrote several years before the Gospels were written, some time between 50 and 60 ce (a short 20 – 30 years after Jesus’ purported ministry). Because of this, we have to take care not to project our knowledge of what later writings (like the Gospels) say onto what Paul said earlier. Since the Gospels are clear that Jesus’ resurrection was a physical bodily resurrection, we are tempted to project that understanding back into Paul’s earlier description of the resurrection. But Paul’s own notion of the resurrection does not appear to be the same as the Gospel-writer’s notion. If you look closely at the body of Pauline epistles, you will find no clear indication that Paul considers Jesus’ resurrection to be bodily in the sense that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected. As far as we can tell from his writings, Paul seems to believe that the resurrection was spiritual – Jesus’ spirit was quickened and he now has a new heavenly body, not his corrupted human body that was buried. If he thought the resurrection was bodily and that anyone had seen Jesus resurrected body, he surely would have mentioned this important detail in his discourses about the resurrected Christ.

Now fast-forward several years later to the writing of the first of the canonical Gospels, The Gospel of Mark, which was written some time between 65 – 80 ce, some 35 – 30 years after Jesus. Here is our first claim of a physical resurrection… and already there is a problem:

Mark’s version (the original ending) written between 65 – 80 ce:

Mar 16:1-8 (NIV); When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The problem is this: in the original version, that’s where the story ends! The remainder of The Gospel of Mark (verses 16:9-20), where the arisen Jesus appears to various people, was not in the original account but was added much later by a different author. This Gospel originally ended with no one ever being informed of the empty tomb.

In any case, the Gospel of Mark allows us a unique opportunity to witness the mythology as it develops:

  1. from a belief that Jesus was risen spiritually (as Paul believed): you have to take the resurrection on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus – except for a few like Paul in a vision
  2. to an evolved belief that Jesus was risen bodily: you still have to take it on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus and no one saw the missing body – except for the 2 Marys – and they didn’t tell anyone
  3. to the claim found in the new verses that were attached many years later that there were “eye witnesses” of the arisen Jesus.

Matthew’s version written between 80 – 100 ce; the mythology continues to evolve:

Mat 28:1-8 (NIV); After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

In the Gospel of Matthiew written after the Gospel of Mark, the women are afraid but now they run off to tell the disciples who later see Jesus for themselves. Notice how Matthew add guards to the story (as eye witnesses) and also has the angel show the women around the tomb to prove to them that he is really gone (nothing up my sleeves!). Later in the chapter, Matthew makes a point to say that the guards were paid off not to tell anyone what they saw – since he needed to explain why no one ever heard the Romans claiming that Jesus had risen!

Notice also that in Mark’s earlier version, the women encounter a young man in a white robe who was already sitting on the rolled-away stone when they got there. But in Matthew’s version, the woman and the guards were frightened by a gleaming-white angel that came thunderously out of the sky and rolled away the tomb, and then sat on it.

Luke’s version, written between 80 – 130 ce:

Luk 24:1-9 (NIV); On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

Now their are 2 angels that look like lightning! Here again, unlike in the original version of Mark, the women do tell the disciples what they saw.

John’s version, written between 80 and 120 ce:

Joh 20:1-8 (NIV); Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

There is no mention of angels or guards or thunder to legitimize John’s story. Instead, John adds a completely new account of the disciples seeing the tomb for themselves; the disciples, not the women or the Roman guards, are John’s important eye witnesses.

These are by no means a complete list of contradictions in the resurrection story, but they are ones that give us a fascinating illustration into how the resurrection myth grew over time from a crucified Jesus whose spirit lives on, to a bodily resurrected Jesus with credible witness of his bodily resurrection.

The Bible: Inspired Scripture?

July 24, 2008

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, 2Ti 3:16, the key verse that Fundamentalists use to claim that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God could not possibly mean that New Testament scripture is inspired (see New Testament: Inspired Scripture?”). Now, I will show that the English translations for this verse are not accurate, and that the verse does not even mean that the Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) is inspired! The explanation will get a bit technical, but I will provide examples along the way. Note that I’ve provided the Greek here for reference – but you will not need any previous understanding of Greek to understand this post. So just stay with me and just take it slow.

To my knowledge, the original Greek text for 2Ti 3:16 is not disputed and is recorded in the Stephanus Textus Receptus as:

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν πρὸς ἔλεγχον, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

An English transliteration of the above Greek is:

pasa graphē theopneustos kai ōphelimos pros didaskalian pros elegmon pros epanorthōsin pros paideian tēn en dikaiosunē

For convenience, I’ll use the transliteration from here on out when I want to talk about the original Greek. The NIV translates this verse as:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

But that’s not the best translation of the verse. The literal word-for-word translation of the beginning of this verse is (we only care about the beginning – the rest is undisputed):

each writing God-breathed also profitable for…

Note absence of the verb, “is”, which is not used in the Greek. The question is: where should “is” go in the English translation? Should it go in this location?

Option 1: “each God-breathed writing is also profitable…”

If so, then the verse simply states that ‘writing which happens to be God-breathed is profitable’ – it does not state that ‘all writing is God-breathed and is therefore profitable.’

Or should the verb, “is”, go in this location:

Option 2: “each writing is God-breathed also profitable…”

If it goes here, then the verse really does make the claim that ‘all writing is God breathed. ‘ Note that the order of “writing” and “God-breathed” are different in the 2 options – more on this in the Example 2 below. So which translation is correct?

It depends on whether the verb, theopneustos (God-breathed, or “inspired”), is used in the passive form or the active form. The word was originally known only in the passive verbal form and it was most likely used in the passive form here too, though this is disputed – see this technical discussion for the history of the debate and why the passive form is more likely).

Example 1: Active vs. Passive verbs

In the sentence, “the dog bit the boy”, the verb “bit” is active because there is a subject (the dog) that acts upon an object (the boy) and that particular action is described by the verb (bit). However in the sentence, “the bitten boy cried”, the verb bitten is passive because it does not describe an action between a subject and object, and it is used as an adjective because it describes the state (bitten) of the subject (the boy). In English, the passive and active forms, “bit” and “bitten” are written differently. In Greek, theopneustos would be written the same way whether used in the active form or the passive form. In the passive form, theopneustos likewise serves as an adjective because it modifies the word, “writing” – it tells you it is not talking about just any writing, it is talking specifically about God-breathed writing.

Example 2: “writing God-breathed” – or – “God-breathed writing”?

In English, the adjective comes before the noun as in big (adjective) house (noun). In Greek, the adjective comes after the noun, as it does in many other languages – like Spanish for example. To say “big house” in Spanish, you would say “casa grande”, not “grande casa”. So in the Greek phrase, “graphē theopneustos”, since theopneustos is used as an adjective as we’ve discussed above, it is translated into English as “God-breathed writing” as in Option 1 above (not “writing God-breathed” as in Option 2 above).

Now, with the correct translation for graphē theopneustos as “God-breathed writing“, there is only one place to put the auxiliary verb, “is”:

each God-breathed writing is also profitable…

One final note, the word “graphē” does not mean scripture or sacred writing, it means any “writing”. It is the same word used for financial ledgers for example. Then it makes no sense to claim that all writing is inspired since financial ledgers are probably not. It would make better sense to talk about certain inspired writings – which is exactly the case when “graphē theopneustos” is correctly translated as “God-breathed writing”.

Got Faith?

June 21, 2008

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 17:20 as saying:

…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

In other words, with the tiniest amount of faith, you can move mountains. How much faith do you have? If it is even the tiniest amount, you can move a mountain! Wow! Care to give it a try?

Note that this is not testing God – certainly no one doubts that the creator of the universe would have trouble moving a mountain. This is a test for you and your faith. In 2 Corinthians 13:5-6, Paul suggests that you should indeed test your faith:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.

If you don’t have the tiniest amount of faith (you’ll know this is the case if the mountain won’t budge), there’s a simple way you can get the faith you need. Here’s how according to Romans 10:17:

…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

If you don’t already have one, go out and pick up a Red-letter Bible to make it easier to locate the word of Christ. Have someone read his words to you – reading them for yourself might qualify but the scripture says hearing so we want to be on the safe side. It could be that any part of the Bible could technically be considered the word of Christ but I recommend you focus on the actual red-lettered words of Christ, again just to be on the safe side. OK, let’s give the “mountain test” another whirl. Any luck this time?

One problem, according to Luke 8:12, might be that:

…the devil comes and takes away the word from [your] hearts, so that [you] may not believe and be saved.

You may have to repeat the hearing-the-red-lettered-Bible step several times to replentish the word of Christ faster than the devil can take it away from your heart.

Why does it really matter if you can or can’t move the mountain? If you don’t have enough faith to move the mountain, how do you know that you have enough faith to be saved? Recall that it only takes faith as small as a mustard seed (i.e., the smallest amount) to move the mountain. How much faith did you really have that the mountain would move? I’m sure some of you actually thought that it might move, others didn’t even try because they knew that it would not.

Exactly how much faith is required for salvation?

For the record, I tried to move ant hill… it wouldn’t budge. Did anyone else have any better luck?

How the Animals Got Their Names

June 9, 2008

Gen 2:19-20 explains how animals got their names:

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

Let’s assume for the moment that the above passage was written by mere mortals (the Elohist source to be exact) who lived around 850 bce in the Land of Israel. The statement that Adam named all of the birds and land animals sounds reasonable enough – there simply weren’t that many different animals in that area which the writer would have been familiar with. Now let’s assume that the above passage was written under divine inspiration (the verbal, plenary inspiration theory) where God guided the author to transmit his divine message exactly as he intended it. Suddenly, the statement seems ludicrous because we would expect God to know how many animals he created. For example, God would surely be aware of the Giant Pandas he created that are native only to China, or the Capivara found only in Brazil, or Beluga Whales and Polar Bares found only in the Arctic Ocean, or the Platypus found only in Australia. Adam would have his work cut out for him naming the myriad of animals found world wide – and the Beluga Whales would have died of dehydration and heat exhaustion in the process! But it gets worse. What about trilobites that died in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago (there are more than 10,000 fossil species of just trilobites alone!)? Did Adam name them? What is the ancient Hebrew word for it (or a word for it in any ancient language)? What about all of the other millions of extinct species of animal? What about the microbes (e. coli, amoebae, extremaphiles, etc., etc.)?

Walk me through it one more time: why should I believe that the first chapter in Genesis (for starters) is the divine Word of God?

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