Monday, November 22, 2010

Robert Price on Naturalistic Historical-Critical "Bias"

"Those who claim that only a naturalistic bias prevents critics from accepting the Biblical miracle stories as factual have to explain why they themselves are by no means willing to accept all the wonders of nonbiblical scriptures and legends. It is obvious that they are trying to substitute for historical method the old doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Their real gripe is not that critics hold a theoretical bias, that of naturalism, but rather that they fail to hold one, namely belief in the historical infallibility of the Christian Bible (21).

Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Price, Robert. New York: Prometheus Press, 2003.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Torahphobic Torah Talmid

Recently I have been accused of being Torahphobic. The intent of the accuser(s) was to suggest that I am biased against “Torah.” A buzz word in media today is “Islamophobia.” I hear this word disparaged all of the time on Christian and conservative talk radio. I had to laugh once when I heard Janet Parshall, host of conservative Christian radio station Moody Radio’s In the Market with Janet Parshall, state that “Islamphobic” is a “made-up word.” Huh, I guess she would have a problem then with every word she speaks for being likewise made up.

Though her word choice might suggest otherwise, no doubt Parshall did not mean that the word was “made up” but that the concept of Islamophobia is fabricated or fictional. I would like to challenge Parshall to walk about most anywhere in America dressed as a conspicuous minority—say with a hijab on (as her very own Bible would have her cover her head I Cor 11:1-16). Have her do so for an hour in rural America or a day in a metropolitan suburb. In her white, majority culture Christian cultural identity, she has no idea, no concept of what if feels like to be a conspicuous minority, and, in her asinine myopia, she shrugs the concept off as an idea that somehow threatens her as a Christian. If she were trying to be funny, she succeeded.

However, this post is not about Janet Parshall and her fundamentalist intolerance; it is about my being called a Torahphobe. If I can again defer to the very-real concept of Islamophobia, I would like to illustrate how the accusation that I am a Torahphobe is heavily flawed. Islamophobia is characterized largely by an uneven-handed treatment of Islam. It is characterized by the common human tendency to be graceful, forgiving, and even-handed with one’s own in-group but to be intolerant, unforgiving, and overly general and critical of an out-group. There is plenty more that can be added to this, but I will stop here.

Torahphobia, as used by my accuser(s), assumes a misleading definition of “Torah.” Though the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or the Chumash, are often called “Torah,” the concept of Torah in Jewish use is expansive. Jews consider the entire legal process, anchored in the Pentateuch and in the Peoplehood of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people) to be Torah. When my accuser(s) call me Torahphobic, they are defining Torah in a non-Jewish, Christian, Protestant, minimalist manner that rejects the Jewish legal process and Jewish peoplehood. Ironically, I accept the integrity of the Jewish legal process, but my accuser(s) do not. For them Torah is biblical texts, specifically the Pentateuch.

I have read the Pentateuch through over thirteen times. At least five of those reads were done in Hebrew with rabbinic Jewish commentaries to accompany and elucidate the read. Each read also lead me to look heavily into historical critical commentaries both from conservative and “liberal” commentators. I have a sustained fascination with the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, and there is no body of literature that I study more than the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch. I am particularly caught up in the legal minutia and law codes present in the Pentateuch, and I think about them at a nearly compulsive level. Yet, I find the Pentateuch to contain ethical atrocities that any modern person should first of all recognize and then reject.

Who is the person that is “Torahphobic?” Using the definition of Torah that my accuser(s) assume, the Torahphobe is the one who is afraid to recognize the swine carcass in the Holy of Holies. The Torahphobe is the one who refuses to study the Pentateuch and to understand. The Torahphobe denies the swine carcasses and pretends they are holy cows who should not be touched.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let Man be True and God a Liar: Judging God by "His Word"

Earlier this year I posited,

“…if one wants to disprove absolute naturalism, one could attempt [to use] the
Bible. All such would take is to show one instance of interruption—one
moment where a biblical writer expresses something beyond the cognitive horizons
of his life situation. As a lifelong student of religion and the Bible, I
am quite certain that it is impossible to do this
” (see Ontologically
Naturalistic Christian Scripture
, August 1 2010).

Prior to this statement I quoted the following powerful comment from process theologian Griffin:

Modern biblical criticism has removed…any reason for thinking that the writing
of the Bible involved any interruption of the normal thinking process of its
(p. 23).

Just in case it was forgotten, I wanted to reassert the above. If anyone wants to demonstrate a single instance where a biblical writer expresses awareness beyond the mundane, “beyond the cognitive horizons of his life situation,” please feel free to do so. An important criterion for such an endeavor is to show that understanding a given passage as cognitively transcendent and supernaturally non-mundane actually makes better sense of the passage than any would-be naturalistic understandings.

So, there you have it. Show one exegetically sound reading of any passage showing that the author expressed ideas and facts beyond the intellectual, cultural, moral, and theological scope of his life situation. One is all it takes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Design Argument

I cannot believe that the beauty and complexity we perceive in God happened by chance. Design requires a designer. Therefore humans exist.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Devil in the Details: Ichthyopterygia (Creatures that Defy Creationism)

When you look at the above picture, what do you see? Are you looking at a fish or a porpoise? Though the above organism shares a lot of morphological similarities with a porpoise, it is not a mammal. If it was a porpoise or a dolphin, the tail fin would be aligned horizontally as with all aquatic mammals which swim by undulating up and down movements of the body and any tail structures. If the organism in this picture exhibited horizontal tail alignment, it would be safe to conclude its mammalian land ancestry. But, its tail fin is vertically aligned.

Is this organism a fish? Fish do exhibit vertical tail alignment, and this organism does have a vertical tail. Yet, this organism lacks gills. Look closely and nose slats are apparent on the beak. The absence of gills in an organism that appears to be highly adapted to aquatic living and the presence of nose slats militate heavily against this being a fish. What other features can we examine? Though this picture does not illustrate these features, we know that this organism had a three-chambered heart, gave birth to live young after a gestational period in an internal egg sack, and may have even had endothermic, temperature regulatory characteristics.

What kind of organism is this? This is a reptile and it belongs to the reptilian suborder ichthyopterygia. Several dozen species of this suborder have been classified form the fossil record including the above pictured ichthyosaurus, one of the earliest classified representatives. Much like the later whales, the common ancestor(s) of this suborder descended from land ancestors who returned to the water. In this case, evolutionary pressures caused reptilian exaptations to be restructured into highly fish-like structures and morphologies. Yet, the distinctly though possibly disadvantageous reptilian features such as air breathing remain.

The ichthyosaurus, as a representative for its suborder, presents numerous challenges to creationism. First, if God created everything ex nihilio, then why make creatures that boast traits demanding an explanation beyond, "God did it." These traits include the obvious terrestrial ancestry. A God who creates false histories is a liar. Second, if the ichthyopterygia present in the fossil record were buried in the Flood, which is the uniform young-earth creationist explanation for the rock layers in which they are found, why are they not found with whales and dolphins which share not only incredible degrees of morphological similarity but also share profoundly overlapping ecological niches. The same depositional pressures which would have favored the deposition of ichthyopterygia in Jurassic layers would have likewise captured cetaceans such as whales and dolphins.

Really, I have only tiped the iceberg with the above questions. The ichthyopterygia are loaded with characteristics that demand an evolutionary ancestry and that defy creationism. Yet, my point in bringing them up is that they represent one of the ways in which creationism failed me as an explanatory model for the observational data from biology. And, I am speaking about more than just the ichthyopterygia—I am referring to each and every species and subspecies that I have ever encountered both in print and with my own hands. There are too many devilish details that defy creationist explanation so many that, "…if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25).

Picture Credit:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Top Five Challenges to "Creationist Geology" from a Creationist

I highly recommend the following article:

The New Creationism Blog
Top-Five Challenges for Creationist Geology

In the above article young-earth creationist and author Paul Garner discloses the "top five" challenges from the empirical geological world to creationism. Can you guess which two of these challenges sunk Noah's Flood for me as a viable paradigm to explain Earth's geology?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Experience with Prayer: Planning an Escape Route

There was a long season of my life, about ten years, when , under the influence of the writings and teachings of the revivalist Charles Finney and his modern-day endorser Keith Green, I made daily prayer a matter of intense discipline. I enjoyed, yes thoroughly enjoyed, at least an hour a day of early morning prayer on my knees. I followed the ACTS outline: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, and I felt it incumbent on me to spend as much time as possible on adoration and thanksgiving so that God would not deem me an annoyance—always asking for things. But, even in my supplications and petitions I asked not for my wants or needs but rather for the advancement of God's glory and the conversion of individual souls: co-workers, family, friends.

When I was "baptized in the Spirit" in my sophomore year of high school and discovered glossolalia or "speaking in tongues," my prayer life changed and became more infused with zeal and sincerity. With my bedroom in the basement, I added dancing and singing to my prayers. I would literally "dance before the Lord" with all my might, singing praise songs and signing out in tongues. No one could hear me as it would be early morning and I was at a distance with my family upstairs and me in the basement, dancing on the concrete floor. I would dance. I would cry tears of joy, tears of repentance, and tears of supplication. I was sincere; I was zealous; I was the real thing. I looked forward daily to these times with God—they were very much a part of me.

Never, in all my time supplicating and seeking God, did I ever experience an answer to prayer. Yes, there were events that I attributed to God's providence or even to the miraculous, but nothing that now in retrospect I see as God's doing. I have never experienced an answer to prayer. During these early years of my faith, in my zeal I faulted myself for unanswered prayer. I often thought upon John 14:14, "If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." I reasoned that if God was not answering my prayers, then the fault is not God's but mine: my disobedience or lack of faith. This rationale was fueled by I John 3:23 which conveniently states, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." Hence, if God was not giving me what I asked, I knew it must be because I was being disobedient in some arena, some secret sin.

When my Father was sick and dying with cancer in August 2003, we gathered together a group of believers around him. I anointed him with oil and called upon God's promises to heal the sick in response to the prayer of faith. I felt that any doubt in my heart that God would not heal my Father would jeopardize my prayer's efficacy. I fasted that day, and I confessed extra long that morning of any sin, real or imagined, that the "Holy Spirit" would convict me of. I expected God to show. My dad died thirty days later. God did not show.

God does not answer prayer. Prayer may have a place—it might console a person or be a practice that quiets the heart from the bustle of daily routines, but it is not efficacious in the real world. I have never seen an undisputable answer to prayer. For the Evangelical and the Christian believer, God has an eternal regress—an escape route that will always exempt God from answering prayer. This excape route is you. You are why God is not answering your prayers, and, despite how pure you might think you are, there will never be an answer to prayer that cannot be attributable to other than God. God does not answer prayer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Late October Araneus Diadematus

Introduced from Europe, the Araneus diadematus is often labeled the European Garden Spider. The female pictured above is nearly five times larger than the male of her species. She is plump with eggs, and before her death this fall, she will likely lay several thousand eggs into an egg sack larger than her 1" diameter abdomen. Of her eggs, any that survive to hatch in the spring will be fornunate. Any that survive the first twenty-four hours after hatching will be even more fornutate, and any that survive into sexual maturity will be less than 1% of the original brood. This female garden spider lives outside my front door, on my front porch. On evenings when it is warm enough, she creates for herself a new web. The last few nights have been too cold, and she has remained in this same position. Last night there was a frost which will be deadly to many smaller invertebrates though I expect her to have survived and to survive through the middle of November.
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Old [Yet Heavily Myelinated] Pathways

Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein (Jeremiah 6:16).

It is October 8th, 2003, and I am hunched over a book. "This is really interesting," I think out loud, "I can't wait to tell Dad." The thought of sharing with Dad while reclined on the back porch in the warmth of a early fall evening sunset lingers for a moment. Suddenly my mental pathway comes to an abrupt end. I remember that Dad died a week ago.

Thoughts of this nature were common in the months following my Father's death. An idea or a thought salient to Dad or to our relationship would rush into my awareness. I would emotively embrace the thought with the warmly comforting image of having a moment to share it with him. Then, I would suddenly recall that Dad was dead, and the stark reality that I would not be able to share another moment with him would coldly overtake me. Though this was a common occurrence in the immediate aftermath of Dad's death. I found that my well-worn mental pathways were slowly being replaced. Months later the pathways, still present and well-worn, were replaced by similar, more mentally satisfying routes—pathways with destinations. Seven years later I have all but replaced these pathways; however, I have experienced the loss of two additional pathways.

Mom died January 15, 2009. I am not surprised this time around; I expected my mind to default to its seasoned pathways. This time around I have less dead-ended pathways, but they occur every day. Less than a week after her passing, I should call Mom to visit with her. The mental pathway came to a dead end. Sometimes my mind lingers on the old path despite the dead end, and I find these thoughts peaceful; however, life goes on and so must I.

I was raised in a Christian household with close connections to my family's church community. For much of my life I was surrounded by people of faith. The models in my life exhibited faith behaviors which were reinforced either by the community or by the internal satisfaction of the performer. These pathways were blazed early for me, and when I decided to wholly "commit my life to Christ" just after 7th grade, I widened and branched the pathways into all areas of my mental life—intellectual and emotional. Few areas of my thinking were not traversed by a God-faith pathway. God and faith became my identity as I broached adolescence, and I became a compulsive God-faith addict.

Leaving belief in an interventionist, personal God was not an overnight decision for me. The last five years have been formative for my skepticism; it was a gradual process. Through my ongoing critical studies of the Bible, biblical languages, science, and comparative religions, I became increasingly aware of how fragile my faith system was. I won't detail the path of my discoveries here at the moment, but I gradually found the foundations of faith crumbling. On occasion I would admit to myself that I was a closet atheist, but I would maintain outward faith. Episodes of disbelief would often be met with episodes of even stronger commitment to irrational beliefs—with increasing emphasis on the virtue of belief in the irrational. This process of learning how to not believe was critical for me. Without it, I would not have been able to openly acknowledge my disbelief.

Disbelief is like the loss of a parent for me; it is not easy. My mental pathways default to the reassurance of providence or to the efficacy of prayer as I sometimes find myself conducting an internal God dialogue within myself. My God-faith pathways are still present, and as far as I understand brain physiology, neurotransmitters that fall into disuse eventually loose myelin and become less functional. As mentioned, the process of recognizing the absence of God (or the nonexistence of God) was gradual, and so it made the process easier, but it is not easy.

One may ask, "If disbelief is difficult, then why not just believe?" Before I answer this question let me explain that the difficulty of disbelief is not intellectual, it is purely emotive. I do not intellectually pretend that I am convinced there is no God.

Second, I choose to disbelieve because it is hard. Yes, I disbelieve because it is the more difficult option for my emotive pathways; it is the option that challenges me and propels my mind into higher levels of understanding, awareness, and transcendence. In fact, I find the implied answer to this question to be an unjustified plea for ignorance. It is akin to the student asking her teacher, "This stuff is hard, why do I have to learn it?" I learn because it is hard. I press forward because the alternative is ignorance and superstition. I am done with the old, dead-end paths.

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