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Sat, 2005-Nov-26

Responding to Small-mindedness with Small-mindedness

Steven Hanley paints a picture of creation where people come into being and sit around saying things like "Huh?" and "What?" when it comes to reproduction. Steven apparently can't imagine how these characatures could come to terms with their condition and imagines they may invented the inquisition several thousand years before the pope did. Hell, I know this is just blogging but baloney!

Steven, you speak of faith as a religious zealot speaks of science. While one side of the fence is worried about being related to scarey apes and monkeys, you seem afraid of being related to scarey god-lovers. Let's drop the preconceptions and look at what those you are rubbishing actually say, rather than what you want to believe they would say.

Let's have a look at Genesis 2. As with the Genesis 1 account of the creation of the entire universe, the detail is brushed over. Like the Genesis 1 account's focus on God's power over nature, Genesis 2 has a few simple points to make before getting on with living in the world that came out of this process. The main point of Genesis 2 is that God and people weren't separated at creation. God didn't create a race of naked people having casual sex on the weekend and wondering why their bellies grew. God created a people who he was in constant day to day contact with. Unlike today where we have to have some faith that he exists at all and see his influence primarily through physical and emotional phenomina, the bible is clear that God was in the face of his people. He was up close and personal.

The idea that people who are living this close to their creator would go crazy asking themselves what was happening to them is wastefuly arrogant. "He's right there. Why don't you go ask him?" The answer would be clear. Likewise, the presumption of violence as the basis of religion is one that has (comparatively) modern roots. If the biblical account of creation is to be taken seriously there was no violence, hatred, or bigotry to be had. Not until God and his people were separated.

Read on to Genesis 3. It too is simple, brushes over the details, and focuses on its core point: God and his people were separated by the desire of those people to become like God. It's a summary of the first half christian dogma in three chapters: We were once God's people, but we were separated by our own doing. The second half goes like this: We can be God's people once more, not by our own doing this time but by God's own doing.

Read into Genesis and other books of the bible what you like. There are certainly plenty of biases in there to pick up on. There are things in there that are telling in that they aren't said. Why did God put people in a position to be able to abandon him or try to replace him? Do we deserve the punishment we recieved for the actions of a few individuals? I suggest arguing the baselessness (if any) of religious creationism on foundations such as these. I suggest being clear on what you are arguing against, rather than coming up with ridiculous hypotheticals that you can point to and announce grandly how ridiculous they are.

Gensis is written in the style of a parable. It is abridged and moralistic and does not provide sufficient facts to support itself. I'm confident that creation stories from other religions will yield similar results. If you want to argue the ridiculousness of these stories be my guest. Personally I put about as much importance on these pages as the bible's own authors did. They're worth about three pages. As a fundamentalist I belive there is value in those pages, but fundamentally I think there are more valuable and interesting lessons to be learned than how old the earth can be calculated to be from a literal interpretation. What is important is that God is still in the garden waiting for our return.


Wed, 2005-Nov-23

I am the Antichrist

This is a story I've shared with a few people recently, and I thought a light note may be welcome to my readers. I am the Antichrist, or at least that's what a seventh day adventist once told me in the middle of Brisbane's Queen Street Mall.

When I was going to university I had a year-long bus pass. The mall was on my way home in a two-leg journey from St Lucia. A wait of half an hour was not uncommon so I tended to spend a fair amount of time in Queen Street.

I grew to like studying there. I found the constant but indistinct bustle kept my mind active but undistracted. Not that I minded the odd distraction, and that was where I found myself when two seventh day adventist evangelists walked up to me. One handed me a tract. We began to talk.

The seventh day adventists don't simply preach to the "unconverted" the "non-christians", but also to christians. They see themselves has having a purer christianity, bourne out of very literal interpretations of certain biblical verses. When I indicated that I was already a christian the young man who took the spearhead role wanted to know if I was the right kind of christian. He wanted to make sure that I knew the right things, and he had two points to convey.

  1. That God has a literal and physical face
  2. That hell is literally in the centre of the earth

He had bible verses to back him up. I don't recall the biblical references but I'll try to see if I can get close matches to my recollection. My recollection of the first verse is something like "the angels see his face every day". Perhaps he was quoting Matthew 18:10. He seemed to think he was being extra spiritual by telling me that from the original translation "face" could also mean "form".

The second verse was backed up by something like "your enemies will be trampled under your feet". Perhaps he is referring to Pslam 110:1 or one of the several times it is quoted in the new testament, such as Matthew 22:44 or Mark 12:36.

He had finished having his say, and I started. I said that I didn't believe that God was likely to be governed by his creation. I thought that God probably created the whole universe rather than simply our world, and that God is probably something outside our universe. I said that the angels may see his face because they too have a form outside of our universe. I hijacked his clarification, saying that if face can mean form then form can surely mean a non-coporeal form.

I suggested that his verse supporting the notion of Hell being in the centre of the earth seemed weak to me. Without hearing any more of the context of that verse it seemed to me that I was simply hearing a turn of phrase inspired by war. When your enemies are trampled under your feet it means that not only are your enemies dying, but that you are advancing. Surely this reference was nothing more, and not a reference to Hell after all.

What I didn't notice during my monologue is that my new friend was becoming more and more upset as I spoke. When I finally stopped he exploded:


He tore his tract from my hand.


His friend tried to calm him.

I didn't hear you quote a bible verse ONCE!

That, my friends, is my story. I am the antichrist. I'm sorry for the harm I am destined to bring you all.


Sat, 2005-Nov-12

Evolutionary Theory vs Creationism

Now that I have my introductions in place, I think I can talk about evolution. Personally, I think it's scientifically plausable and on balance probably correct. My parents have been doing a little reading up on the issues involved. They now subscribe to Creation magazine, and I get to read through the articles from time to time when I visit them. The organisation behind Creation (formerly Creation ex nihilo, "Creation out of nothing") recently published a book summarising their position. I'm afraid I don't recall the title presently, but the main points of the book were that

Strangely, by my reckoning this collective theory makes no predictions that evolution would not also make. This is where the worlds of creationism (based on an assumption that evolution is wrong) and science (based on the scientific method) crash. The scientific method is simple:

  1. Form a theory
  2. Make predictions based on that theory
  3. Test your theory against observations
  4. Goto step 1

It doesn't matter if your theory is wrong. That's what science is all about. "It's only a theory" applies to all science, from evolution to e=mc2. In physics you can test by observation whenever you want. Testing evolutionary theory relies on waiting for more fossil evidence to be uncovered. In that respect evolutionary theory is less reliable, although it should become more reliable over time.

The problem with creation science is that no science is being done. A theory is formed based on the activist's interpretation of scripture, but it seems to me that the theory is never adequately tested. There is always the convenient back door of "Oh, God just made it like that to confuse us". That's reaching outside of science, because your theory isn't testable. It's philiosophy, theology, or metaphysics at best. You might be right, but there is no way for reasonable people to test whether you are right or not.

Evolutionary theory forms a much better basis for science. It can be tested. It can be argued by reasonable people. So far the arguments have lead to a theory of an earth much older than 6000 years. Chances are, the theory will stay that way for the forseeable future.

Getting back to the predictions that can be made out of creaton science's model... well first we have to take out the "God's confusing us line". If we assess the theory scientifically, then we can predict speciation will occur out of the model. We see that, but evolution predicts it as well. We can also predict that animals will become less viable over time. That they will become less genticially diverse. That conflicts with evolution's view, at least over the long term... however by stating that the world is only 6000 years old the time period is much too short to be able to make any determination.

It seems clear to me that people of good faith and intentions have been incrementally altering their theory of genesis until it is indistinguishable from the prevailing scientific viewpoint. This is an interpretation of the scientific method, but not a very satisfactory one. Instead of seeing droves of creation scientists going out there and challanging their own theories, we see their evolutionary scientist counterparts doing all the challanging. The creationists try to cherry-pick information and questions coming from the other camp and say "Aha! I can explain that!", but instead they should be saying "Here's what I can't explain. I need to formulate a theory which takes this into account".

So you see, my basic problem with creation scientists is the lack of credible application of science to their creationary theory. Evolutionary scientists and creation scientists are both packs of charlitains, but the debate and rigour applied to the evolutionists side of the debate keeps the process as a whole basically honest. There is too much scope for fooling oneself on the creationist side of the fence.

I do believe that God created the universe, the world, and ultimately us. How he did it isn't all that important to me. Why he did it is. The most important part of Genesis 1 is not where God says "how" he created the world (he doesn't, by the way). It's that he did which is important, and what he is capable of doing. Genesis goes on to explain how God and Man were separated by our sin, and also how man and man were separated. The theme of the rest of the bible is reconciliation. Of all the pages of the bible, the Genesis account of creation occupies two or three. This is also telling. The creation is important, but the most important part of the bible is our reconcillation to God and to each other.


Sat, 2005-Nov-12

Fundamentalism in the Christian Church

Anthony Towns touches on the ongoing debate about intelligent design that has recently struck a chord with media around the world. AJ is right when he says

It’s not really that interesting a debate, mostly being a rerun of the standard evolution versus creationism stuff with some new catchphrases

It is a continuation of the debate that has never ended. Fundamentalist christians tend to look on the debate through a single premise: "If the bible is wrong about this, it could be wrong about everything". They may project their fear that they may be living a lie into the argument. Alternatively, they may project their deep feeling and perhaps knowledge that their faith is based on truth into the debate. Either way, they start from the right hand side of this equation and deduce that evolution must be wrong. Starting from that point, the argument must be one that they win. They cannot declare defeat.

The Point of Fundamentalism

When I say "they", I really mean "me". I don't commit myself to the logic applied to this argument by other fundamentalists, but I do think of myself as a fundamentalist christian. I do believe that the bible is God breathed. Frankly, I don't see the point of any other view of christianity.

If we start to pick apart and arbitrarily decide what to believe and what not to believe from the scriptures we open ourselves up to several problems. If the reliability of the bible is variable, which parts are right? How do you know? If science is your guide, then I can suggest a few passages to rip out right away. Let's start with the immaculate conception of Jesus, or his resurrection. Christian belief is based on the supernatural, not the natural world that can be measured by science. To believe that God has limits (that he didn't create the universe, that he can't destroy it) is to make him simply an alien being bound by the same physical constants as we all are. Something to aspire to rather than worship.

The Feeling of Faith

These days it is popular to think of faith as a very personal thing. Especially, one that organised religion should not encroach on. There are good reasons for people to feel this way, as organised religion has its own sins. I think there has to be a limit, however. If your faith is simply personal, is it accountable? Are you just going through the motions of faith? Are you just feeling good about yourself and your spirituality without actually coming into contact with God? Are you fooling yourself?

I believe organisation is to some extent necessary. I have been meeting with a home group consisting mostly of members of my family over the last few months. We've used study guides, and kicked off the program with the excellent 40 days of purpose study. On the face of it, it sounds like a self-help program. It's about the meaning of life, and the meaning of community. Community with God, with your church, and with the rest of humanity. It's about more than that, though. It's about not fooling yourself into thinking you're spiritual and are doing the right things with your life. It's about challenging you to think about what God wants, and about whether you're really connecting to him and others.

The challenge to your faith that comes from sharing it is the most important driver of your spiritual maturity. It's easy to fool yourself that the feeling of faith and spirituality you have when you are alone means you're really growing and becoming spiritually fulfilled. Poppycock. Unless you are involved in interpersonal spirituality you're just treading water. Wake up.