Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Feel Good

"I feel good."
It's such a simple statement; three little words.  Surely, you know what I mean.  But do you really?

You probably think that I mean that I feel content or happy, or perhaps even joyous or ecstatic.  But let's take a closer look.

The "I" is pretty self-explanatory, unless you want to fly off into the never-never land of difficulties in philosophically and psychologically defining the "self."

But from there, all bets are off.  Both "feel" and "good" have plethora of meanings to choose from, such that that simple three word statement could mean:
  • I am happy/content.
  • I am joyous/ecstatic.
  • I am ethical.
  • I am beneficial.
  • I am functional.
  • I am healthy.
  • I am confident in my present abilities.
  • I have the ability to sense benevolent forces.
  • I do sense benevolent forces.
  • My ability to receive tactile sensations is functioning.
  • I am better in my ability to receive tactile sensations than other people.
  • I am pleasing to touch.  (My personal favorite!)
And that's just a sample!  You could probably come up with at least another 5-10 definitions for that statement.  The obvious truth is that you need context to gain understanding.

In the world of text, context becomes super-critical, because you can't rely on spoken tones, body language, gestures, etc. to enhance the meaning of the message.  All you have are words.  And, if you're lucky, you have some framing circumstances described in the text.

For example, if I told you that I was at the doctor's office when I said "I feel good," then you are more likely to be correct in thinking that I was referring to my health in general.  Unless, of course, that doctor had performed a reconstructive surgery of the nerves in my hand after an accident, because in that case "I feel good" may have more to do with tactile sensation.

Yet when we are devoid of context, we all bring our own contexts to the table to parse out meaning.  What is usual?  What fits our paradigm?  Based on those assumptions, we find a meaning.  Our confidence in that meaning will typically be directly proportional to how well it aligns with our world view.

That brings us to a subject near and dear to my heart:  Biblical prophesy.  As a rough number, I would estimate that 95% of Old Testament prophesy is actually very easy to understand because there is a ton of supporting context, including many prophesies that overlap in scope and thereby confirm their meanings with different verbiage.

What makes Old Testament prophesy difficult to accurately discern is coming to it from the mindset of Christianity.  If you cast off or ignore the Jewish historical roots, then confirmation bias sets in and (even worse) the original meanings of the words are plucked from their context and realigned with the Christian vision of the world.  I know this from personally reading the Bible without an assumption that Christianity was its end goal.  That's why I had the confidence to issue the open challenge regarding Christian Prophesy.

Context is meaning, and I feel good about saying so.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Evolution as Myth

"It takes more faith to believe in Evolution than it does to believe in God [, as in the God of the Bible]."
I've heard this argument raised from Ken Ham and many other Christians, citing issues with the fossil records, their alleged evidence of a young Earth, the inherent complexity of DNA, etc.  You've probably heard this before, right?

So I started thinking; "Wait, does it actually require such a great faith to believe in Evolution?  What if Evolution was just another myth available for us to believe, a religion competing on the global pious market?  Would it really be hard to believe?"

Let's step aside from the fossil records, DNA, and all of the other data which supports the technical details of Evolution and just look at the big picture; the Evolution Myth, if you will.

The Myth
Life on earth was not created, but rather it was the result of raw materials, chemical reactions, chance, and time.  Once life came to be, deviations developed through self-replication errors and time.  Deviations which helped the life form to survive and/or propagate, and other deviations which had little to do with survivability or propagation, accumulated over time and branched out into multiple paths, eventually resulting in all of the biodiversity we know today, including humans.

The Solutions
As we consider this Myth, we have to look around and see if it fits into the picture of reality as we know it.  Avoiding the finite technicalities of Evolution, are there other extraneous evidences to support this Myth such that it would be easier to believe than, say, a God partially/fully becoming man, in order to be slain, in order to make propitiation for our sins, in order for that God to forgive our sins, in order that we may live forever with Him in an environment in which that God will prevent us from sinning?  Furthermore, are there any other answers are provided by this Myth?  Below are some of the implications, agreements, and answers I thought of.

(Note that I do recognize that there are many Christians who also believe in evolution, either in its pure format or in a God-enhanced version, but what follows will be from a perspective of the Evolution Myth standing on its own.)
  1. The Earth is old, and the Universe is older.   As we gaze into the heavens at night, we look back in time, seeing light rays which left their respective stars billions upon billions of years ago.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  2. We are insignificant in the universal picture.  As astronomy tells us, the sun is the center of our solar system, but our solar system is in one arm of our galaxy and our sun is one of billions of stars in the galaxy, which is just one galaxy of billions of galaxies, each with billions of their own stars.  Our planet is just one of likely trillions in the universe.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  3. Evolution doesn't answer if there is or is not a god, but if there is one, it suggests that such a god is probably in line with deist theology.  The time it took to yield humans and the reliance on chance to form us suggests that no special attention was paid by any deity in our creation process.  Evolution is well in tune with this concept.
  4. Genetic deviations occur without divine cause.  It is not a test, a punishment, or a learning experience given by a god if your child is born with Down Syndrome, or if you are genetically predisposed to colon cancer, or if you are born infertile.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  5. There is no divine cause for disasters.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  They are acts of nature, not, as insurance companies like to define them, acts of god.  Disasters do not take sides, nor are they doled out as personal or communal punishment.  Evolution is in line with the science here.
  6. There is no supernatural justice.  As we know all too well, good things can happen to bad people, and visa-versa, without any reckoning or reason.  People can commit great evils and go unpunished.  People can do great good and go unrewarded.  Using a poker reference, sometimes the cards are in your favor, but sometimes they're not, and it often has  nothing to do with your worthiness.  Evolution does not suggest anything different.
  7. Being weaker, smaller, or poorer physically equipped than many other animals, finding traits which promote cooperation would not be surprising, and yet these same cooperative traits would still contend with drives to compete for limited resources.  This is perhaps one of the most interesting angles, as it explains a lot of our social behaviors as a whole, such as tribalism, nationalism, genocide, etc.  While I would not say that Evolution could predict our present condition or that our condition was somehow inevitable, Evolution has no conflict with our present condition.
  8. If there is a god, divine intervention is unlikely, so we must take responsibility to change the world if we feel it needs changing.  It is up to us to right the wrongs and guide our species towards a better way to live.  We all know this, but Point 7 above helps to explain why we fall short of achieving such a goal.  Evolution does not suggest anything different.
  9. There is no "good" or "bad" in the world except by what we define these concepts to be.  However, that does not mean that these concepts are entirely arbitrary either. Given that we have drives for cooperation, we live communally.  Out of this, the basic concepts of good and bad are readily born, as "good" are actions which promote harmony and the preservation of the community.  This is why the basic moral codes are ubiquitous across nearly all cultures (do not murder, do not steal - at least from those inside your group, etc.) and why the more abstract codes vary significantly (what is acceptable to eat, how you treat livestock, what kind of clothes you can wear, etc.).  Evolution has no difficulties with this concept.
  10. Similarities between humans and animals would be expected.  The Myth suggests common lines of development.  Surely our similar skeletal structures in men and animals are in line with this idea.  Furthermore, our "human" actions of caring for and protecting the young, playing, fighting, teamwork, hierarchies, sacrifice, and compensation are all seen in the animal world as well, in varying degrees with different animals.  This matches the implications of Evolution.
  11. This life is all there is.  There is no afterlife, other than your bodily materials being recycled by other life forms.  It's up to you to make the best of your life with the given circumstances.  Chance plays a large role in where you begin and what your limitations will be, but your success in life will also be largely driven by your chosen actions.  Evolution would not suggest anything else.

The Problems
Evolution, as a Myth, fits very well with the empirical, sterile evidence.  I don't know if you've checked lately, but we are anything but sterile creatures.
  1. People have religious experiences with different faiths.  As mentioned above, the Evolution Myth doesn't say that there is or isn't a god, so having a religious experience would not contradict the Myth per se, but the doctrine of different brands of religions claim alternate reasons behind the creation of humans, their significance, and the age of the earth.
  2. People want meaning.  The Myth offers no meaning to life.  Of course, the Myth offers no meaning of "meaning" either.  Songbirds sing and dogs wag their tails without having an apparent, well-defined sense meaning.  We, too, can be incredibly happy without having to define the meaning in each moment of our lives. But for those who want it, the responsibility on each individual to define for themselves what is meaningful, and to seek out that meaning in their own lives.  The easiest way to find that meaning is to draw to our "Mythical" evolutionary traits of cooperation and interdependence, as mentioned in point 7 above.  However, many people would prefer to have something outside themselves define that meaning for them.
  3. People want to live forever.  The Myth itself offers no hope of continuing on forever, or or reuniting with lost loved ones.  That makes life bittersweet, as we should appreciate and make the most of each moment and each relationship, because they will not last.  (Although, there are some rather promising discoveries on the horizon in the field of life extension.)
  4. People want justice.  Life isn't fair, and the Myth suggests nothing more.  People don't always get what they deserve, in both the good and the bad senses.  Usually it is beyond our power to right these wrongs in our society, so we would like to take some comfort in knowing that there will be a time of reckoning when people get what they deserve.  Instead, with the Myth, that responsibility falls squarely on us.
  5. There is no explanation of why humans are so apparently superior.  Of course, there are many ways in which it seems that animals are superior to us!  Actually, the Myth does provide for this possibility, but depending on your perspective of how much better humans are than the other animals, by whatever arbitrary scales of measurement you'd like to use, this can make the Myth seem weak.
  6. There is no explanation of why the universe exists.  Indeed, this is true with regard to the Myth itself.  Evolution's Myth doesn't explain its own raw materials, or how the earth was formed, or how the universe came to be.  These origins require other explanations.

The Aftermath
To me, the problems with an Evolution Myth are not problems with the Myth itself.  They are problems beyond the Myth.  Other than the conflicts of doctrinal issues of various faiths, the issue with Evolution as Myth is that it does not do more.  It does not provide answers that we might want.

But not liking a myth doesn't mean that it takes a lot of faith to believe it.  There are many things I don't like, but I still believe, just because those beliefs match up with reality, like the belief that religion is not completely harmless.

Similarly, the Evolution Myth, regardless of whether or not you like it, harmonizes with many apparent facts of life.  Because of its apparent correlation, it does not take much faith at all to believe.  According to Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  NIV
But, as noted in the many points above, we see various correlating evidences of Evolution even beyond fossil records, DNA, etc.  Plus, there is nothing we hope for (in a doctrinal sense) out of Evolution.  So by this definition, it actually takes very little faith at all to believe in the Myth of Evolution.

What Else?
When I read a list like this that someone has put together, I typically come up with things I would add, or things that I thought were not quite right.  So feel free to lay it on me.  Tell me what I've missed, and what I've messed up in this little thought adventure.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spam Makes Me Smile

There's been an uptick in the comment spam lately, but I don't mind.  Some of it's pretty funny.  Not intentionally, but that's what happens when they use some literal translation from their native language into English.  I bet a master linguist could figure out exactly what language they originate from.  Anyway, I hope you get a giggle from this gibberish:
I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This paragraph posted at this site is really good.

Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice even as you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a weblog web site? The account aided me a appropriate deal.  I had been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant clear concept

I juѕt could not depart yοur sіte рrior to suggеsting that I extremely enjoуed the ѕtandard іnformation a pеrѕon pгovіde for уour visіtоrs? Is gonna be bасk оften іn ordeг tо check up on new pοsts

more wait .

Gοod respond in return of this issue ωith solid aгguments and ехplaining everything concerning that.

You really make it seem so easy together with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be actually one thing that I feel I might by no means understand.  It sort of feels too complicated and very wide for me. I'm having a look forward in your next publish, I'll try to get the hold of it!

Since the admin of this web site is working, no hesitation very soon it will be renowned, due to
its quality contents.

What's up colleagues, its enormous paragraph on the topic of tutoring and entirely explained, keep it up all the time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Christian Prophesy Challenge!

It's time to put my money where my (virtual) mouth is, so I officially issue this...

Christian Prophesy Challenge!

And here it is:
Find any one prophesy in the Old Testament of the Bible in which the entire prophesy, considered in its own context, is an accurate depiction of Jesus and/or Christianity.

To the first person to find such a prophesy, I will send a $200 Walmart Gift Card!  How can you be sure that I will?  Well, I know you'll have difficulties trusting an atheist on this, but, believe me, $200 isn't going to break my bank and I'll be glad to send it to you.  I've just become so very disheartened that every prophesy I read seems to be "wrong" for Jesus that I'll be happy to be wrong in this case!

Besides, what have you got to lose by studying the Bible more closely?  ;-)  It should be really easy!  Right?  There are so many prophesies directly referenced in the Gospels.  You just have to play by these rules:
  1. No verse cherry-picking allowed.  You have to use the entire prophesy.  For example, if you reference Psalm 22:18 because the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24), then you have to consider all of Psalm 22.  For example, in verses Psalm 22:19-25 if we consider this to be about Jesus, then Jesus was trying to bargain with God, saying that in exchange for God saving Jesus' life (not resurrecting it), he vowed to tell everyone about how great God is.  But Jesus' life was not spared.  Furthermore, Jesus knew it was essential for himself to die and knew that he would be resurrected, so pleading for God to save his life was unrealistic (John 12:27).  So this does not exactly match up with Jesus.  (There are other oddities about this particular Psalm as an entire prophesy, but we'll save that for another time.)
  2. There can't be any contradictory material.  In other words, even if 95% of the prophesy seems to match, but one verse is not accurate, then the whole thing is considered to not match Jesus and/or Christianity.  God should be perfect in His omniscient prophesies, right?
  3. Metaphorical language is subject to the context.  If a literal interpretation of a verse or phrase works within the context of the prophesy, then it is unlikely to have been meant as a metaphor.  This will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but such metaphors will probably not be accepted.
  4. The entire prophesy may be subject to the context of associated prophesies and contemporaneous events.  Often, some language in prophesies is a little ambiguous, so we may need to turn elsewhere in Scripture to resolve its meaning; concentrating on other prophesies and events of the time for the appropriate context.
  5. The prophesy must be already fulfilled.  [This is a late addition to the rules.]  It is a bit difficult to say if a prophesy for the future is accurate, excepting when one prophesy for the future contradicts another prophesy for the future.  So, in most cases we will have to limit ourselves to what was fulfilled through Jesus and what is fulfilled by subsequent Christianity in this great wait for the Second Coming.
  6. I will be the final judge for the contest, but...  I recognize that I have biases.  So if I don't feel as though my case is strong, or if I do feel like yours is, I'll try to bring in some extra council to help me come to a fair judgement.  And if you feel I haven't fully considered your points of view, feel free to prod me into a second opinion.
To enter, simply post a comment citing the prophesy and explain why you think it matches perfectly.  If necessary, go ahead and provide a link or address to another page describing it in detail.  Or, if you need to send me a document, you can do so at

Good luck!

By the way, here is a list of prophesies already addressed as inaccurate in my studies:

Isaiah 7:14Matthew 1:18-25The Messiah would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel (God-With-Us).
Hosea 11:1Matthew 2:14-15God would call His son out of Egypt.
Jeremiah 31:15Matthew 2:17-18Rachel weeping for her children / the Massacre of the Innocents
N/A (Not in the Bible)Matthew 2:23The Messiah would be called a "Nazarene."
Malachi 3:1Mark 1:2, Luke 7:26-27God would send a messenger ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way.  (See also this post about preparing the way.)
Isaiah 40:3-5Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4-6, John 1:23A voice crying in the desert, making the path straight for God.
Exodus 12Jesus' SacrificeThe Passover was a foreshadowing of the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus.
Isaiah 9:1-2Matthew 4:15-1Gentiles have seen a great light.
Isaiah 53:4Matthew 8:17The Messiah would take up infirmities and diseases.  (See this detailed study on Isaiah 53.)
Isaiah's Suffering ServantJesus being mistreated, beaten, rejected, etc.God has a Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42, Isaiah 49, Isaiah 50, and Isaiah 53.
Malachi 4:5Matthew 11:13-14The messenger to prepare the way for God would be Elijah, and John the Baptist was Elijah.
Isaiah 42:1-4Matthew 12:18-21Part of Isaiah's Servant prophesies. The Messiah will have God's spirit, will not shout or quarrel, nations will put their hope in him bringing justice, etc.
Isaiah 6:9-10Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:9-10The Messiah would speak in parables.
JonahMatthew 12:39-40The sign of Jonah.
Psalm 78:2Matthew 13:34-35The Messiah would speak in parables.
Isaiah 61:1-2Luke 4:18-19The Messiah would preach good news to the poor, free prisoners and the oppressed, proclaim the year of God's favor.
Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:7-9, Mark 7:6-8Pharisees worshiping God only with their mouths, and following the rules of men instead of God's Law.
Daniel 9:24-26Luke 12:54-56The signs and times of God's Kingdom, the timing of the Messiah, and the Messiah's death.
Zechariah 9:9Matthew 21:5, John 12:15Israel's King would humbly ride to them on a donkey's colt.
Isaiah 56:7Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46The Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations.
Psalm 69:9John 2:17Zeal for God would consume the Messiah.
Psalm 110:1Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17A rejected Jesus would become the cornerstone in God's Kingdom.