Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

HT: Here

If you have wondered why God chose to redeem us in the way he did, why Jesus had to suffer and die, then perhaps this extract from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, Book II, "What Christians Believe."(Fount Paperbacks, 1977) will help.  The extract is from Chapter 4, The Perfect Penitent.

"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself.  That is the formula.  That is Christianity.  That is what has to be believed.  Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.  All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

The one most people have heard is the one about our being let off because Christ volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us.  Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory.  If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so?  And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead?  None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense.  On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not.  Or if you take "paying the penalty," not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of "footing the bill," then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend.

Now what was the sort of "hole" man had gotten himself into?  He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself.  In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.  Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor - that is the only way out of a "hole."  This process of surrender - this movement full speed astern - is what Christians call repentance.  Now repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.  It means undergoing a kind of death.  In fact, it needs a good man to repent.  And here's the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly.  The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it.  The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person - and he would not need it.

Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off of if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.  If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back.  It cannot happen.  Very well, then, we must go through with it.  But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it.  Can we do it if God helps us?  Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us?  We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak.  He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.  When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.  Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing.  But unfortunately we now need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all - to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die.  Nothing in God's nature corresponds to this process at all.  So that the one road for which we now need God's leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked.  God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.

But supposing God became a man - suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person - then that person could help us.  He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God.  You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man.  Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God's dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man.  That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all....

Such is my own way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement.  But remember this is only one more pictue.  Do not mistake it for the thing itself:  and if it doe not help you, drop it."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Upcoming Interview on 9/11 Free Fall

Adam Taylor will be featured on the No Lies Radio show "9/11 Free Fall" this Thursday. Tune in to hear his discussion of Popular Mechanics' 2011 book and his response article "Debunking the REAL 9/11 Myths."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dealing with Morally Objectionable Passages in the Bible, Part I: Why I accept the Bible as God's Word

Randal Rauser has been dealing with morally objectionable passages in the Bible at his blog the last couple of days (here and here). I thought I would offer my own thoughts on the matter here. I thought I would first begin with why I believe the Bible is God's word:

I accept the Bible as God's word for a few  reasons:
1) The New Testament accounts of Jesus seem to be historically reliable.
2) Based on these accounts, I think it is reasonable to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the Living God.
3) Jesus accepts the Old Testament (OT) as being God's word.
4) Therefore, I accept the OT as being God's word.
5) Much of the OT offers profound moral and spiritual insight into human nature.
6) Much of the OT offers satisfying answers to important philosophical questions.

However, there are parts of the OT that strike me as morally objectionable. So I struggle to find ways of dealing with these parts. If I didn't accept Jesus's authority about the OT, I'm not sure I would accept it (or at least those parts of it that I find morally objectionable) as God's word.
So I put the question of whether the OT is God's word as secondary. The first question should be: Who was Jesus?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Genocides, unlike hurricanes, are predictable, says world expert. And Iran is following the pattern

Another interesting article at The Times of Israel. Some excerpts:

Stanton, a small-town Illinois native and the son of a Presbyterian pastor, realized he had to devote his life to the prevention of genocide in 1981, while sitting in the office of a Yale psychiatrist.
A graduate of the Harvard Divinity School with a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, he was in his second year at Yale Law School, recently back from a year in Cambodia, where he had worked for the Church World Service, bringing relief to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. He and his wife had adopted a daughter there and he should have been happy, he said, but instead he had slipped into a deep depression. His wife insisted he see a psychiatrist, who asked what was bothering him. He told of the mass graves and the survivor testimonies and the little corpse in the tattered Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
The doctor told him that if he weren’t depressed there would be something wrong with him. The doctor added that he, like many others who have studied depression, feel it is a form of repressed anger. “Then he looked at me and said: ‘What are you angry about?’” Stanton recalled.
Stanton’s response: the fact that the Khmer Rouge had organized and perpetrated the killing of 1.7 million Cambodians and still remained in power.
From that moment on the prevention of genocide became his life’s work. He founded the Cambodia Genocide Project and spent decades pushing for the indictment of those responsible. He helped establish the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and was awarded the American Foreign Service Association’s W. Averell Harriman Award for “intellectual courage and creative accomplishment.”

Over the years Stanton realized that all genocides follow eight stages. They are, in this order: classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and denial.
Iran, he said, had classified and symbolized Israel through exclusionary ideology and hate speech; dehumanized it – “overcoming the normal human revulsion against murder” — by portraying the potential victims as a “cancer” in need of eradication; organized fanatical militias (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps); polarized the society by repressing dissent and arresting moderates;  prepared for the killing by denying a past genocide and by constructing weapons of mass destruction; and, through global terrorism, even begun the seventh of his eight stages: extermination.

 Encouraging genocide is a crime. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was signed in 1948 and fathered by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish Polish lawyer who studied the genocide of the Armenians and invented the term in 1943 – “genos” meaning race or people and “cide” to kill. The Convention states that incitement “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” is illegal.
Late last week, on precisely those grounds, Canada severed its ties with Iran. John Baird, the minister of foreign affairs, announced that the Iranian regime “engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Are Tall Buildings Safer As a Result of the NIST WTC Reports?

9/11 Whistle blower Kevin Ryan explores the question of whether NIST's investigation resulted in construction of safer buildings.  A couple of excerpts:

"...In a few stunning instances, the NIST findings were never considered at all prior to building design and construction.  An example is the new WTC building 7, which was fully completed in 2006. That same year, NlST spokesman Shyam Sunder was saying “We’ve had trouble getting a handle on building No. 7.”[2]  To clarify, in 2006 NIST had no idea what happened to the original WTC 7, a 47-story skyscraper that was not hit by a plane yet collapsed into its own footprint in a matter of seconds on 9/11. Therefore the new, even taller, WTC 7 could not have incorporated any design or construction changes resulting from the NIST investigation. Apparently people still use the building, however, and do not seem bothered by the risk...."

 "...Are tall buildings safer as a result of the NIST WTC report?  No, they are most certainly not. And if people actually understood and believed the official account of what happened at the WTC they would not enter tall buildings because in doing so they would be putting their lives at risk."

" The truth, however, is that the NIST WTC investigation was a politically motivated diversion that produced reports which are known to be false.  This fact is re-emphasized by the knowledge that the international building community, including that of New York City, has not adopted code changes that can be traced to the root causes cited by NIST for the WTC destruction."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our Genome still mostly Junk?

HT: Larry Moran

According to Michael White it is:

What you should really know about the concept of junk DNA is that, first, it was not based on what scientists didn't know, but rather on what they did know about the genome; and second, that concept has held up quite well, even in light of the ENCODE results. Among the reasons that scientists in the 1970s and '80s began to believe that much of the genome is non-functional was the observation that very similar species could have very different genome sizes. There is no reason to believe that similar species require dramatically different amounts of functional DNA, and thus something other than functional requirements must explain differences in genome size. Scientists also discovered that our genomes contain parasitic, virus-like elements called "transposons" that have the ability copy themselves within our cells. This DNA ecosystem makes our genomes more like a jungle than a precision machine. At the latest count, transposon-derived DNA makes up at least half of our genome. The transposon-derived sequences in our genomes do not have to be explained by invoking some useful function for it. There is no mystery here: this DNA is there because it can replicate.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More Gnu Hypocrisy, but What Should We be Allowed to Teach our Children?

I think that Mike Gene makes a good point that Richard Dawkins' or Jerry Coyne's claim that parents' teaching children religious dogma is child abuse is unsupported by the evidence, and that

 "the mistake that Coyne and Dawkins make is in wanting to substitute a moral claim with a clinical/medical claim. They would be on very solid ground in saying it is wrong to teach your children to murder others for their beliefs. But because they are atheists who believe there is no objective essence to such morality claims, they need something stronger than morality – a claim of child abuse...."

and that

"...if you really feel the need to make this illegal, then simply make it illegal to teach your children it is okay to murder other people."

But then I wondered whether or not we currently have such policies.  If someone teaches their children that murdering other people is okay, is there a current legal basis for taking their children away?  If not, should there be?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dawkins and the OTF

Noted atheist and debunker of religion, John Loftus, came up with something he calls the "Outsider Test for Faith" (OTF). The idea is that if members of a particular religion applied the same amount of skepticism to their own religion that they apply to others, then they would be equally skeptical of their own religion and would give it up for agnosticism or atheism. With this in mind, it is interesting that Mike Gene recently posted some of Richard Dawkins' tweets about Mitch Mitt Romney*, including these:

Bible & Koran genuinely old, written in the language of their time. Book of Mormon written by 19thC charlatan. Romney too stupid to see it.”

“Could you really vote for a man who thinks the Garden of Eden was in Missouri?”

“Christianity, even fundamentalist Christianity, is substantially less ridiculous than Mormonism (and Obama, if he is Christian at all, is certainly not fundamentalist).”

Let's repeat that last tweet: Richard Dawkins, an atheist and debunker of religion, tweeted that "Christianity, even fundamentalist Christianity, is substantially less ridiculous than Mormonism." In other words, if a Christian were to apply the OTF to both her own religion and to Mormonism, then according to Dawkins, she would be justified in rejecting Mormonism and preferring her own religion. Now no doubt Dawkins thinks that Christianity is ridiculous, also. However, according to him, if one wanted to choose the less ridiculous religion of the two, she should opt for Christianity.

It's not clear that Christianity would pass the OTF, but apparently at least one prominent atheist thinks it would do substantially better than Mormonism.

*BTW, I probably won't be voting for Romney, but not because he is a Mormon. I just happen to disagree with his proposed policies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Will 9/11 Truth Set Us Free?

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

If we "9/11 Truthers" are correct, then people high up in the U.S. military and probably the U.S. government were part of the conspiracy that brought down the WTC Towers on 9/11 and the destruction that occurred at the Pentagon, and killed nearly 3,000 people, and resulted in two wars that has killed (and is killing) thousands of American and allied soldiers, and thousands of Afghani and Iraqi civilians. But such "truth" would be painful to hear and bear. And such truth may never come to light, but remain buried by the same forces that brough 9/11 about. So why tell it?

Because part of being human means that we want to know the truth, however ugly or painful it may be? But why do we want to know the truth? Is it just morbid curiosity, as we witness by the popularity of TV shows like "Jerry Springer", or seeing all the gawkers who slow down, hoping to see mangled human bodies at a traffic accident?

I hope it is more than that. The above quotation is from part of what Jesus told to people, encouraging them to listen and follow his teaching, so that they would be set free. Not free from tyranny by the Romans, which is what his hearers wanted. But freedom from sin: freedom from wanting to be our own gods; from being our own self-centered universes, where each of us thinks he is the most important person in the world. I'm not sure we all want that kind of freedom.

I suspect that if 9/11 Truth will set us free, it will be by realizing that hope is not to be found in politics. Hope is not to be found in reformation of governments. The powers that control nations are, in their very hearts, evil. Even if 9/11 Truth is exposed and changes are made, eventually there will be future 9/11s.

I think that 9/11 Truth can set us free if we realize that it is a witness to our very evil human natures, that must be redeemed and changed. 9/11 Truth will set us free if it makes us look for Someone who will redeem and change us.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Israeli Expert: Iran's Got IT but Can't Deliver IT

The Times of Israel has been doing some very in depth articles involving the Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons. This is another informative article.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The ENCODE Kerfluffel Kerfuffle

ENCODE claims that at least 80% of our genome is "biochemically functional." Larry Moran claims that there is an important distinction between "biochemical function" and "biologically relevant function," and that when one recognizes the difference between the two they will realize that most of our genome is still just "junk."

As a layman, I have no opinion on this matter.  I just wanted to use the word "kerfluffel."

UPDATE: I regret to inform everybody that apparently the correct spelling is "kerfuffle." I still prefer "kerfluffel" but I bow to the dictionary gods.

A Blog that Deserves to be Looked At.

When a blog's author describes himself in such a disarming way as the following, he deserves to be read once in a while:

"Randal Rauser is a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion. He is driven by apologetic concerns and above all by the tireless pursuit of truth. The downside is that this requires him to recognize when he is wrong (which is often) for truth is complex and it offers us no guarantees that we shall always find it. At the same time, Randal does not despair of finding truth, for he believes that in a profound sense Jesus Christ is the truth.

For Randal, being like Jesus means knowing the truth, loving the truth, and living the truth. As Randal seeks to live the truth he promotes a culture of life that is anti-militaristic and pro-family, pro-environment and anti-abortion, anti-consumerist and pro-animal. A disciple on the way … alas, he is not half as smart or as good or as right as he thinks he is.

UPDATE: Anyone who writes a book with this title deserves to have it read.

ANOTHER UPDATE: But since that book isn't available, yet, I may have to settle for this one.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New Atheists Lack Commitmment to Evidence

Mike Gene offers another example of how New Atheists are inconsistent in their demand for evidence.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Iranians are Almost There and This is How They Did It

A very detailed, exhaustive article on the evidence that Iran has been working to develop a nuclear missile for the last 15 years: The Iranians are Almost There and This is How They Did It.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Larry Hurtado on Historical Evidence of Jesus

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado offers some insight on how the historical evidence for Jesus compares with the evidence of other contemporary figures:

"Part of the problem may be an insufficient acquaintance with how historians work with the limited data available.  Let me illustrate this by analogous examples.  To someone with limited acquaintance with ancient historical matters, it may seem impressive, for example, to learn that no writing by Jesus survives, or that a contemporary Jew such as Philo of Alexandria doesn’t mention him.   So, one might buy the accusation that people posit a historical figure named Jesus without any (or adequate) basis and out of insufficiently examined bias.  But, actually, the situation isn’t really so unique.

For a “pagan” example, take Apollonius of Tyana, for knowledge of whom we have almost exclusively a “Life” of the figure written by Philostratus, completed sometime in the early 3rd century CE.  Per Philostratus, Apollonius lived in the early-mid first century CE, which means that our earliest text about him was composed some 150+ years after the putative date of his death.  Yet, although there are many questions about exactly what he was and did, most scholars readily accept that there was such a figure.  Philostratus’ “Life” is full of miraculous accounts that generate some doubts about them,  and Apollonius is presented as a divine-like figure, but behind the account most scholars think there was a historical Apollonius, and that he likely had some following.

To point to Jewish examples, let’s consider Akiva, the great early rabbinic figure typically thought to have been active in the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (132-135 CE).  Our earliest texts mentioning him are rabbinic writings, the earliest layer of which (Mishnah) may have been composed ca. 200 CE(?).  We have anecdotes about Akiva, but large gaps in biographical information.  Nevertheless, I think pretty much every scholar who has considered the matter judges that he’s a real historical figure and was of some significance.

As yet another example, let’s take Hillel, typically posited as living sometime first century BCE.  He left no writings, and no contemporary mentions him (no reference in Philo, or Josephus, for example), and our earliest texts mentioning him are, again, rabbinic material, from sometime after ca. 200 CE, well over 200 years after his death.  But Hillel is pretty important in Jewish tradition, and scholars (whatever their religious stance) tend to think that he lived and obviously made an impact sufficient to generate traditions about him.

You see?  In positing a Jesus of Nazareth, there’s no funny business, no special pleading, no unique moves going on.  It’s pretty much the same sort of historical reasoning that we have in these and other cases of ancient figures, particularly those of major significance.  So, when scholars don’t react excitedly to people noting, for example, that the earliest extant narrative accounts of Jesus were written ca. 40-50 years after his death, it’s essentially because this isn’t unique.  In fact, the date of the gospel accounts in relationship to the time of Jesus is comparatively pretty close.  And when we note the abundant references to Jesus in Paul’s letters, dated ca. 50-60 CE (specifically, references to Jesus as born a Jew and ministering among Jews, crucified, examples of his teaching), we have even stronger basis for thinking that Jesus wasn’t some legend composed wholecloth by the gospel writers.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Puzzle of Christian Conservatives

We've seen that the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, has claimed that the writings  of Ayn Rand were his greatest source of inspiration in becoming a politician.  We have also seen that Anton LeVay, founder of the Church of Satan, considers Ayn Rand's philosophy to be Satanism without the ceremonies and rituals.   And one can see why he would think that.  Her philosophy explicitly states that selfishness and greed are the highest virtues.  Helping the poor is considered a weakness.

One would think that realizing that Paul Ryan's source of inspiration is also highly admired by the founder of the Church of Satan would give any Christian pause before voting for the Republican ticket. And yet, I doubt that knowing about the Ryan-Rand-LeVay connection would have much impact on Christian conservatives. I expect they will still vote Republican. And it puzzles me.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan gave a speech in which he was very specific about his debt to Ayn Rand for shaping his own philosophy:

 I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.