Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

The “recovering atheist”?

by K.W. Leslie, 01 June

Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.

A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.

This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.

I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.

I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and directors. You realize Leonardo DiCaprio was his costar on his ’80s sitcom Growing Pains? Thanks to that steaming turd of a show, nobody could tell DiCaprio had better-than-average talent. For all we know Cameron could be an amazing talent. But he’s never gonna work with Martin Scorsese or Stephen Spielberg; best he can hope for is the one Christian assistant director on Sharknado. So we’re never gonna see his true potential.

What I object to is how Cameron leveraged his celebrity to promote lousy evangelism tactics, and now culture-war movies and documentaries. Dude seems to have wandered into the most mindless circles of Evangelicalism, and that’s where he’ll stay until the Holy Spirit pries him loose. Which is hard to do when you won’t engage your mind.

No, that “won’t engage your mind” comment isn’t just an idle insult. Cameron actually promoted turning off your brain when he works with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry.

Let’s suppose Jesus is dead.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 March

Six years ago I was asked to write on “the resurrection hoax” for a synchroblog. The idea was this: Suppose Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Suppose the story was entirely fabricated by the apostles. Hence hundreds of people didn’t actually see Jesus alive. 1Co 15.6 Hence he hasn’t personally appeared to thousands of people in the present day; these are all delusions. Hence despite evidence to the contrary, 40 days after his death, thousands became Christian, Ac 2.41 thousands more in the years thereafter, Christianity spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and now a third of the planet is Christian. But it’s entirely based on mythology and wishful thinking.

Well… for contrast, a billion people claim adherence to Islam, and we Christians figure Muhammed ibn Abdullah al-Mecca was wrong about God. But then again Muhammed didn’t claim any big miracles for himself. (His followers did, later.) He only claimed to hear from angels. I don’t have any problem with that idea; I just doubt these angels were on the level.

Anyway. “The resurrection hoax” is also an intellectual exercise Christian apologists like to use to imagine what the world should look like if Jesus isn’t alive. “If Jesus wasn’t raised, that shouldn’t’ve happened. And that shouldn’t’ve taken place. And this would be impossible. And all these miracles would be delusions.” And so on. Basically we make up a parallel world without Jesus in it, then argue, “We don’t live in that world, so Jesus must be alive.”

D’you recognize the gigantic problem with that argument? Right; it’s what we call a strawman: Build a dummy out of straw, fight it, defeat it easily, then say, “Look how well I can defend myself!” Um… it wasn’t even attacking you, because it can’t, because it’s straw. Imaginary worlds prove, at most, that we lack imagination. ’Cause an antichrist can imagine a world which looks exactly like this one, wherein Jesus is dead. It’s the world they imagine they’re in now.

Still, apologists like to use it to make smaller challenges: “If Jesus isn’t alive, why weren’t the apostles immediately and successfully challenged by people who could refute their resurrection stories?” (ANTICHRIST: “Duh; they were, but when they wrote the bible, they didn’t include any of those challenges.”) “If Jesus isn’t alive, how could the apostles do all those miracles?” (ANTICHRIST: “Hey, I’m not convinced they did any of those miracles.”) I could go on, but as you can tell, I’ve tried this tactic myself, and antichrists have answers for all our posits. We won’t agree with their answers—and that’s why we’re Christian. But don’t presume antichrists haven’t come up with all sorts of reasons to reject Christ and Christianity—ones which work just fine for them.

The “six days” of creation.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 March

Creationism is the belief God created the universe and life.

Creationism is an orthodox Christian belief: It’s found in the creeds. “I believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.” God initially created everything. He didn’t necessarily create everything since—fr’instance, he didn’t create evil. But he created their creators.

So yeah, technically all orthodox Christians are creationists. Problem is, the word “creationist” has been co-opted by the young-earth creationists (YEC for short), the folks who insist God created the universe only 6,000 years ago. Or if you wanna get specific, 6,021 years ago, in October. They’re the ones pushing the idea that if you’re a real Christian, if you’re truly orthodox, you gotta believe as they do.

A diorama from the Creation Museum of a primitive human and featherless dinosaurs. (Yeah, they’re a bit slow to keep up with the latest science. Be fair; so is Jurassic World.) Atlas Obscura

Of course young-earth creationism isn’t the only worldview Christians are allowed. I myself am an old-earth creationist (or OEC), who believes God created the universe 13 billion years ago, and the earth about 4 billion years ago. You know, like most scientists currently estimate. They tend to describe creation in terms of natural, physics-based processes, and they’re right to; that’s what science is supposed to do. Look at nature and make deductions based on the available evidence. Not, as the young-earth creationists do, start with a conclusion (“God made it in six literal days, precisely 4,000 years before Jesus was born!”) then bend what they observe in nature so it’ll fit the conclusion. That’s how you get superstition. Or, as some folks charitably call it, “junk science.”

I admit I’m biased in favor of my view, but lemme briefly list a few of the other views for your consideration.

  • INTELLIGENT DESIGN. Creationism of any and every kind, but it downplays which specific creator, so as to be more palatable to those who object to religion.
  • THEISTIC EVOLUTION. Much the same as regular evolution, but instead of being solely by natural selection, the Creator had a hand in it.
  • DAY-AGE THEORY. A form of OEC, where the six days are described as six eras, thousands to billions of years long, during which God achieved what Genesis 1 describes for each day.
  • GAP THEORY. Same as YEC believe, but instead of happening in six sequential days, gap theorists posit there are some billion-year gaps in the timeline.

Back during my Fundamentalist upbringing, when I was taught YEC was the only acceptable interpretation of the bible, I was also taught all these other views were forms of compromise: The only faithful interpretation of the bible was a literal one.

So why’m I in the OEC camp today? Because I read the bible without the YEC blinders on. Genesis 1 describes a physically impossible universe, inconsistent with the one nearly everybody recognizes to be true. Yes, nearly everybody. YEC followers included!

(Flat earthers are an obvious exception: They believe Earth is flat because they are striving to stay true to a literal spin on Genesis 1, despite being literally able to see Earth’s curve—and despite seeing Earth’s shadow during every lunar eclipse. Hey, if you’re gonna deny commonsense in favor of your interpretation of the scriptures, okay… but you’re doing it wrong. But enough about them.)

Okay. So how’m I reading Genesis 1 and coming to the conclusion it’s not meant to be literal? Glad you asked.

Shouldn’t we read it first?

Yes I did bother to read it in the original, then translate it. Here ya go.

Genesis 1.1-2.3 KWL
1 In the beginning, when God made the skies and land, 2 the land was unshaped and had nothing on it.
The ocean’s surface was dark. God’s Spirit hovered over the waters’ surface.
3 God said, “Be, light.” And light was. 4 God saw light, and how good it was.
God distinguished between light and dark: 5 God called the light day, and called the dark night.
It was dusk, then dawn: Day one.
6 God said, “Be, space in the middle of the waters. Be, distinction between waters and waters.”
7 God made space. He distinguished between waters which are under space,
and between the waters which are over space.
It was so. 8 God called the space skies.
It was dusk, then dawn: Day two.
9 God said, “Gather, waters from under the skies, to one place. Be seen, dry ground.”
It was so. 10 God called dry ground land. The gathered water he called seas. God saw how good it was.
11 God said, “Sprout sprouts, earth. Sow seeds, grass.
Fruit trees, make fruit which has seed in it, by species, on the land.”
It was so. 12 The earth produced sprouts, grass sowed seeds by species,
trees produced fruit which had seed in it, by its species. God saw how good it was.
13 It was dusk, then dawn: Day three.
14 God said, “Be, lights in the space of the skies, to distinguish between the day and night;
to be signs, seasons, days, and years; 15 to be lights in the space of the skies; to light the land.”
It was so. 16 God made two great lights:
The great light for ruling the day, and the small light for ruling the night. And the stars.
17 God put them in the space in the skies to light the land,
18 and to rule the day and night, and to distinguish between light and dark. God saw how good it was.
19 It was dusk, then dawn: Day four.
20 God said, “Swarm the waters, you swarming, living soul.
Fly, bird, over the land, over the face of the space in the skies.”
21 God created the great serpents and every living, crawling soul which swarms the waters, by species;
and every winged bird, by species. God saw how good it was.
22 God blessed them, saying, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the waters of the seas.
And bird, be many on the land.”
23 It was dusk, then dawn: Day five.
24 God said, “Bring out, land, living souls: Species of livestock, animal, and vermin, by species.”
It was so. 25 God made life on the land, by species:
the livestock by species, every dirt-burrowing animal by species. God saw how good it was.
26 God said, “We’re making humanity in our shape, like we’re like,
to rule the sea’s fish, the skies’ birds, all the land’s livestock, and every land animal.”
27 God created humanity in his shape; in God’s shape he created it: He created male and female.
28 God blessed them and told them, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the land and take it over.
Rule the sea’s fish, the skies’ birds, and all life—everything crawling on the land.
29 Look, I give you every single seeding plant on the face of the earth,
and every tree, and every seeding fruit in it. It’s for food.
And to every life on earth, to all the skies’ birds,
and everything crawling on the land with a living soul in it, every green plant is food.”
It was so. 31 God saw everything he did, and look, it was very good.
It was dusk, then dawn: Day six.
2.1 The skies, the land, and all the creatures were finished.
2 God finished the work which he did on day seven,
and stopped all the work which he did on day seven.
3 God blessed day seven and made it sacred,
because on it God stopped working on his creation.

Got all that?

The primary reason the author of Genesis wrote this creation story, was to correct the other creation stories of the ancient middle east. The pagan stories always began with a pre-existing universe. Not one their highest god, father god, or head god created: It was already there, and their gods spontaneously sprang from it. To their minds, God didn’t create the universe: The universe created God. So verse 1 totally turns that idea on its head.

God created day and night. God created the שָּׁמַ֖יִם/šamáyim, the “skies, heavens;” it’s not the other way round. God created the seas and the sea creatures, whereas middle eastern myths usually had him battling some great sea serpent for supremacy. God created the sun and moon, whereas Genesis’s author doesn’t even use the words for “sun” and “moon,” since middle easterners thought of שֶׁמֶשׁ/šeméš and יָרֵחַ/yaréhakh, “sun” and “moon,” as Šeméš and Yaréhakh, the sun-god and moon-god. God created humans to supervise Earth, rather than as an afterthought—“Oh, I need worshipers”—or as slaves, to feed him with our sacrifices.

The seven-day structure was to explain the Hebrew week, to focus the readers’ attention on God’s intentional acts of creation, and present the origin of the Hebrew Sabbath:

Exodus 20.11 KWL
“For six days, I the LORD made the skies and the land, and everything in it.
Day seven, I stopped, so I the LORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.”

We stop work because he stopped work.

Genesis 1 was written to counter false religious beliefs. Not to create a structure for bad science. But in the hands of young-earth creationists, that’s precisely what many Christians are doing.

So let’s do what the YEC adherents claim they’re doing… and take it literally. Let’s see how well it holds up.

The ancient middle eastern cosmos.

First of all, the idea God made the universe 6 millennia ago, on day one. Yeah, the first verses can imply God created the universe on day one. But it doesn’t have to.

Genesis 1.1-5 KWL
1 In the beginning, when God made the skies and land, 2 the land was unshaped and had nothing on it.
The ocean’s surface was dark. God’s Spirit hovered over the waters’ surface.
3 God said, “Be, light.” And light was. 4 God saw light, and how good it was.
God distinguished between light and dark: 5 God called the light day, and called the dark night.
It was dusk, then dawn: Day one.

When does day one begin? When God turned on the lights. When’d God turn on the lights? After he created the unshaped, dark land which had nothing on it. How much time took place between the beginning and day one? We don’t know.

Notice God created light, and day and night, before creating the sun on day four. Since we recognize days depend on sunlight, exactly how does that work? God was hanging some specially-created shoplights before he started construction? God needs light to see by? You do realize as a spirit, Jn 4.24 he doesn’t have physical eyes, right? He doesn’t see because photons hit his optic nerves; he didn’t have optic nerves before he became human. How do you have light without the sun?

Well, to the ancient middle easterner, the sun didn’t actually light up the sky. The sun just happened to hang in the bright sky—but the sky itself was lit. Well, half of it anyway: The sky rotated around the earth—’cause you could see the stars moving, but you weren’t moving, as far as you could tell. For half the day the sky was bright, and for the other half the sky was black.

After all, the sky was light on cloudy days when the sun wasn’t around… so it appeared to middle easterners that the sun was optional. Light didn’t require sun.

If all this sounds completely wrong to you, it’s because you grew up with a view of the universe based on western astronomical science. Ancient middle easterners didn’t. Theirs was pre-scientific, based on observation and guesswork. And Genesis was written to them. Not us. It was written to conform to their beliefs. Not to endorse them, of course; the flat-earthers are still wrong. But Genesis’s author didn’t see any cosmological problems with what he was writing: He didn’t know astronomy. Neither did his readers. He only cared about theology: The bright sky? God created that. The sun? God created that too.

This is why we read, on day two, about God creating a giant air pocket in the waters which made up Earth, and calling it “space”—

Genesis 1.6-7 KWL
6 God said, “Be, space in the middle of the waters. Be, distinction between waters and waters.”
7 God made space. He distinguished between waters which are under space,
and between the waters which are over space.
It was so.

—then putting sun, moon, and stars into that air pocket on day four.

Genesis 1.16-18 KWL
16 God made two great lights:
The great light for ruling the day, and the small light for ruling the night. And the stars.
17 God put them in the space in the skies to light the land,
18 and to rule the day and night, and to distinguish between light and dark. God saw how good it was.

Wait, what?

Yep. Again, ancient middle eastern cosmology: The back end of space, which all the stars are fixed to, is a firmament (which is how the KJV translates רָקִיעַ/raqíya, “space”), a massive wall which holds back all the water that used to cover the dry ground. The sun, moon, and clouds hover in the space between the waters above and the waters below.

Now. Whenever YEC adherents talk about the firmament, they never describe it on the far side of the stars. Even though the bible does. They always describe it on the far side of the clouds, holding back rain. That is, till the “windows of the heavens” dumped it back onto Earth for Noah’s flood. Ge 7.11

See, that’s the problem: Genesis doesn’t describe a universe any larger than a few miles up.

When Genesis was written in the 1400s BC, the ancients really had no idea how big their universe was. Eventually the Greeks got a better idea: Around 240BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene accurately calculated out how big the earth is. Around 140BC, Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria inaccurately speculated the stars (which he assumed were attached to the firmament, and all equidistant from Earth) were about 3 trillion kilometers away. True, that’s only a third of a light year, but it’s a way better guess than only a few miles up.

Still, say the firmament is 3 trillion kilometers away—and only holding back a millimeter of water. That equates to about 113 sextillion liters of water. Earth only has about 1.26 quintillion liters on it. So there’s 90 million times as much water above as below? Well, that’d definitely flood Earth….

Oh, and let’s not forget God put plants on the earth a day before he put the sun in the sky. Ge 1.11-13 But I won’t get into that.

The universe… when we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible

Nobody’s a literalist.

You see the diagram above of the ancient middle eastern cosmos. I’ve shown it, and similar diagrams, to young-earth creationists. Every one of them balks at it: They don’t believe the universe looks like that at all.

Nor should they! But that’s the universe as ancient middle easterners imagined it. The universe Genesis 1 affirms. As for the stuff beneath the earth—the foundations, the great deep, sheol—that’s confirmed by the rest of the Old Testament.

Nope, the diagram doesn’t look at all like the hourly photos which come back from our weather satellites, nor the views from the International Space Station.

My point is: Unless we’re willing to deny the work of every astronomer since Nikolaus Copernicus, deny the images from our satellites which provide our weather forecasts, deny the experiences of every astronaut and cosmonaut, deny the existence of the Global Positioning Satellite networks which make our electronic maps work… not one of us can describe ourselves as a biblical literalist. Our daily lives deny a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1.

And as I’ve demonstrated, young-earth creationists, for all their zeal, aren’t hewing to it all that closely either. They’re only picking and choosing the interpretations they like… ones which provide them a fun idea of cavemen and dinosaurs frolicking together. Which ain’t bible; it’s The Flintstones.

So what are we to do? Make the flat-earther mistake and deny reality in favor of a literalistic interpretation? Of course not. We simply recognize a literalistic interpretation is incorrect. It’s not the reason Genesis 1 was written. It’s not the reason a lot of bible was written; don’t get me started on the “prophecy scholars” and how they mangle God’s apocalypses.

The proper interpretation of the scriptures requires us to look at the motives of the authors, and recognize what they were trying to say… and not trying to say. Genesis’s author wasn’t trying to teach science. He was trying to teach theology. Treat Genesis 1 as a scientific text, and you wind up with bad theology: One which claims God made a universe which deceptively looks older than it really is, and implies God himself is deceptive.

Leading people to suspect God is a liar: That’s as bad as bad theology gets.

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 February
DETERMINISM di'tər.mən.ɪz.əm noun. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will.
[Determinist di'tər.mən.ɪst noun, deterministic di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪk adjective.]

I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer, that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent.

In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger, some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle—yeah, that uncle) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism.

“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick—and so on till all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child’s first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If you could see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that was going to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order of its life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing will change it, because each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begets another, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down the line and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave.”

“Does God order the career?”

“Foreordain it? No. The man’s circumstances and environment order it. His first act determines the second and all that follow after.”

The idea of being locked into a fixed future depresses the boys. But the angel Satan cheers them up by pointing out how, because he’s an angel and exists outside this chain of cause-and-effect, he can interfere, and change their futures for the better. To the boys’ dismay and horror, Satan’s idea of “better” doesn’t look at all like theirs: Some die prematurely, some go mad, and in one case a person lives a long, happy life… but goes to hell.

Later in life I discovered Twain, or Sam Clemens as he was known in his private life, grew up Presbyterian. Must’ve been paying attention to all the Calvinism taught in those churches. Because Calvinism is pretty big on determinism.

Determinism, the belief we’re all victims of circumstance—and that even our free will is bound to do as circumstances have conditioned it to do—wasn’t invented by John Calvin and the Calvinists. Nor even St. Augustine of Hippo, whence Calvin first got the idea. It predates Christianity, predates the Hebrew religion, predates the written word. Humans have believed in it since they first saw one rock topple another, and thought, “What if all of life works like that?” Every religion has its determinists.

General revelation: How to (wrongly) deduce God from nature.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 March
GENERAL REVELATION 'dʒɛn(.ə).rəl rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən noun. The universal, natural knowledge about God and divine matters. (Also called universal revelation, or natural revelation.)
2. What the universe, nature, or the human psyche reveal to us about God.

A number of Christian apologists love, love, LOVE the idea of general revelation. And I always wind up on their bad side, because as a theologian I have to point out it’s a wholly unreliable form of revelation. It’s so useless it actually does pagans more good than Christians.

This, they really don’t wanna hear. Because they’ve pinned so many hopes on it.

Y’see, apologists deal with nontheists, people who don’t believe in God and are pretty sure he’s never interacted with them before. What apologists try to do is prove God has so interacted with them before. If the nontheist can’t remember any such events, the apologist will try to point to nature and claim, “See, that’s a way God interacted with you!” God made a really impressive sunset, or God not-all-that-supernaturally cured ’em of a disease, or God created one of their kids, or they had a warm fuzzy feeling which kinda felt divine.

Or, if we’ve got a more philosophically-minded apologist, they’ll try to argue that certain beliefs in a westerner’s brain can’t really work unless there’s a God-idea somewhere deep in that brain. Absolutes of right and wrong supposedly can’t exist unless there’s an absolute authority like God to define ’em. Or an unfulfilled desire for a higher power has to be based on an actual Higher Power out there somewhere.

Apologists like to regularly tap the idea of general revelation, and bounce from there to the idea of special revelation—that God actually does tell us stuff about himself, and particularly did so through Jesus.

Me, I figure all this general revelation stuff is quicksand. That’s why I like to leapfrog it and get straight to Jesus. Apologists waste way too much time trying to prove God exists by pointing to nature, reasoning, and the human conscience. But while they’re busy unsuccessfully trying to sway a skeptic, we could’ve just prophesied, proving there’s such a thing as special revelation… and now we’re talking about Jesus while the apologist is still trying to explain why intelligent design isn’t merely wishful thinking.

Why is general revelation quicksand? Because we’re looking at creation, trying to deduce God from it. We’ve began with the assumption creation sorta resembles its creator; that it has his fingerprints all over it, so when we know what it’s like, we can sorta figure out what God’s like.

So look at the people God created, and the way we think and reason. Look at the intelligence which had to go into some of the more complex things and beings in the universe. Look at the attention to detail, the intricacy, the mathematical and scientific precision, the way everything all neatly fits together. Tells you all sorts of profound things about the creator, doesn’t it?

Well, actually, no it doesn’t.

Betting on God.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June
PASCAL’S WAGER pə'skælz 'weɪ.dʒər noun. Argument that it’s best to presume God exists: The possibility of hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise.

My first exposure to Pascal was actually PASCAL. (I lived in San Jose in the late 1970s, so as you can guess, my middle school had the best computers.) I knew PASCAL was named after Blaise Pascal (1623–62), a French mathematician and statistician. I didn’t know he was also a Catholic philosopher who came up with a popular apologetic argument. Goes like yea:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that he is. Pensées, 4.233

In shorter English: Either God exists or he doesn’t; you gotta pick a side. And since you’re the most likely to win big if God exists, the best bet is God exists.

’Cause here’s all its logical outcomes:

IF NO GODDo as you will.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
Have a good, moral life.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
IF GODDo as you will.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal hellfire afterward.
Have a good, moral life.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal bliss afterward.

Best outcome   Meh outcome   Not-great outcome   Crappy outcome

If there’s no God, there are no eternal consequences. So you could live your life however you like, and see just how much you can get away with. Since it’ll be an immoral life, there’s always the risk society will find us inconvenient, destructive, or offensive, and we’ll get caught and punished. Or do something stupid or intoxicated, and wind up with a Darwin award. But if there is a God, and he’s just, consequences are guaranteed. Some of these consequences may befall us in this life; definitely they will in the next.

Whereas if we live like Christians—real Christians, not Christianists—we’ll have been loving, kind, peaceful, virtuous, Christlike people. We’d be blessings to the world—which may not appreciate us, but still. Our lives would be good and exemplary, and worth living. If there’s no God, that’s not bad. But if there is a God, we also get the infinite reward of eternal life.

Creationism. (Don’t let it distract you!)

by K.W. Leslie, 18 April

When American Christians use the word “creationist,” they’re often thinking of the folks who believe in young-earth creationism (YEC for short). These people seriously believe God created the universe about 6,000 years ago.

This date isn’t deduced by observing the universe around them. If we did that, we’d notice we can see stars in the night sky which are billions of light-years away. We’d come to the natural conclusion our universe must be old enough for the light from these distant stars to make it to Earth. In other words, creation took place billions of years ago.

Why do YEC adherents insist the history of the cosmos is less than a millionth of that? Well, they claim, they’re literalists. When they read the bible, they don’t believe Genesis 1 is using metaphor, nor trying to describe creation using the view of the universe familiar to ancient middle easterners. Every day of creation is a literal 24-hour period. Every genealogical chart elsewhere in the book represents literal years; nobody skips generations like Matthew did, and none of the numbers are metaphors (i.e. “40 years” representing a generation).

So when we start from the dates we know for certain, like when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem (16 March 597BC), then work our way back to dates we sorta know (like the year of the Exodus, estimated to be around 1446BC), then add up all the ages in Genesis’s genealogies, we can roughly pin down creation at the fifth millennium before Christ. As Irish archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) did in his 1650 book Annales veteris testamenti/“Years of the Testament,” when he concluded God said “Let there be light” Ge 1.3 around 6 p.m. on 22 October 4004BC.

Seriously, dude pinned down the hour. He believed the years properly begin at the autumnal equinox, and in order for it to be evening then morning, Ge 1.5 evening’s around 6, right? I would presume he meant 6 Arabia Standard Time, not Greenwich Mean Time, which’d be more like 3. Still, it makes sense. Kinda.

Since YEC arithmetic regularly comes close to the good archbishop’s date, lots of ’em figure why reinvent the wheel? They use Ussher’s numbers—which makes the cosmos only 6,019 years old as of 2016. Bible says so.

And, insist young-earthers, if you don’t believe the cosmos is only 6 millennia old, you don’t really believe the bible. You believe scientists who tell you the universe is older, or your eyes, which show you billion-year-old galaxies through the telescope. But you’re not supposed to believe your eyes, nor any of those godless scientists: You’re supposed to only believe the scriptures. Placing anything above the bible means you’ve foolishly undermined your faith, and real Christians believe the bible first and foremost. Heretics believe in the sciences.

So this is why a lot of Christians don’t believe in science: They’ve been convinced science contradicts the bible, and they really don’t wanna go to hell for believing in science.

And this is why there’s a whole branch of Christian apologetics which fights specifically on behalf of YEC theories. Entire organizations, like Answers in Genesis and the Creation Research Institute, exist to provide Christians with solid reasons to embrace YEC beliefs… which they equate with believing in God and the scriptures.

So if you’re an old-earth creationist like me, you’re heretic. Even though most Christians fall straight into the old-earth creationist camp. And have no problem with science.