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Archive for June, 2009

It can be tough being a Christian. You have to believe all sorts of unbelievable things. You have to go to church every Sunday and listen to some preachy dude beg for money. You have to put up with brilliantly-written, riotously-funny, expertly-argued books patiently debunking your faith. (I suppose this one doesn’t really distinguish you from believers in any other religion.) And you have to tie yourself into knots trying to explain why the latest scientific discoveries explaining how the world works don’t actually contradict your millennia-old, rooted-in-superstition, alternative “explanations” of how the world works.

But you’re not alone in your struggle. The BioLogos foundation is there with you every step of the way (and when you see one set of footprints, that’s where they were carrying you).

Today, for instance, they’re offering “Three Ways to View the Fossil Record [that aren’t incompatible with your religious faith, even though (if you want to get technical) the fossil record isn’t compatible with your religious faith].”

  1. God created each species “individually from nothing” as time proceeded. (Note: not actually compatible with fossil record.)
  2. God created species in “bursts” over time. (Note: not actually compatible with fossil record.)
  3. Evolutionary biology is the proper explanation for the history and diversity of species, but god has been continually doing the work behind the scenes. So, for instance, he’s always choosing which genetic material crosses over during meiosis, and he helps ducks decide which other ducks to rape, and he helps misdirect mooses he doesn’t want reproducing into having sex with horses instead.

Although the third theory is (vacuously) compatible with the fossil record, it presumes a level of perversity on the part of god that’s really more compatible with the jealous, kinky Old Testament god, not the effeminate, hippie New Testament god.

Accordingly, New-Testament-believing Christians might be better served by a fourth way of viewing the fossil record:

  1. Your religion is false.

This explanation does have the drawback of not being exactly “compatible” with the Christian faith. But this is almost surely outweighed by its virtue of being the correct explanation.

Make sure to come back next time, when we discuss “Five (Incorrect) Ways To Explain The Existence of Suffering”!

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I’m sure you’ve heard the saga of Governor Mark Sanford, whose adulterous Argentinian tryst briefly dominated headlines last week until displaced by the untimely death of OxiClean pitchman Billy Mays.

But now, with every TV network seemingly devoted to showing Hercules Hook ads and Vince Offer interviews, you might have missed the news that Sanford has begun comparing himself to the biblical King David:

“And what I find interesting is the story of David and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very, very significant ways but then picked up the pieces and then built from there.”

And it’s true there are some obvious similarities between the two:

However, there are a number of parts of the David story that Sanford has yet to fulfill. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in eagerly looking forward to the following:

Unless Bobby Jindal can pull another exorcism out of his hat, I think I know who I’m pulling for in 2012.

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It’s always exciting when scientists are able to corroborate fictional stories. Who wasn’t thrilled when paleontologists found the skeleton of Moby Dick? Who didn’t get excited when epidemiologists were able to isolate the “Captain Trips” virus? What child wasn’t delighted when zoologists successfully trained a mouse to ride a motorcycle?

I felt that same sense of excitement today, when I read that scientific tests had confirmed that certain bone fragments actually belonged to the apostle Paul:

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” Benedict said.

I suppose the Pope’s conclusion isn’t perfectly obvious unless you also know that

(1) The apostle Paul dated from the first or second century, and
(2) No one else dated from that time period.

But those are both pretty much common sense. Hooray for science!

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Back when I attended Vacation Bible Camp (and won the Color War “homiletics” competition for my team three summers in a row) we used to think of “miracles” as things like “Sea Mysteriously Parts” and “Convicted Criminal Rises From Dead to Seek Revenge” and “Bread and Wine Magically Changes into Flesh and Blood Without Violating Cannibalism Taboos.”

But kids these days have debased the Queen’s English in a number of ways, like using nonsense words ending in “-izzle” and flambosting made-up terms like “hyphy” and abandoning all sorts of useful urination-related euphemisms, including “see a man about a horse,” “drain the lizard,” “squirt the dirt,” and “syphon the python.”

This same linguistic debauchery has happened to “miracle,” I fear. Nowadays it’s a “miracle” when the US Ice Hockey team beats the pants off of some commies. It’s a “miracle” when Mike (of + the Mechanics) gets his girlfriend back.

And, according to Randal Rauser, it’s a “miracle” when his friend dies of cancer:

The day that Paula died is, in the eyes of the world, a day for mourning and defeat. How different is the Christian story. Paula’s death was a miracle.

What an unorthodox sales pitch for Rauser’s god! While most people would regard Paula’s death as the natural (and sad) consequence of our current inability to cure cancer, Rauser shows us how to repurpose even the most horrific events into arguments for his theology. Although he was apparently too busy not mourning and not feeling “defeat” to give an example of an appropriate prayer for this situation, I have taken the liberty of helping him out:

Creator of the Universe, Puller of The Big Plug In the Sky, Great Eucharistic Euthanasiast, Exalted Cosmic Kevorkian, Divine Mercy Killer, You Who Put Us Out of the Misery That (In Your Infinite Wisdom) You Have Bestowed Upon Us, Murderous Imaginary Nut, Blessed be You! Way to kill!

And I’ll try to use this new, expansive definition of “miracle” next time something horrible happens to one of my loved ones. (“Remember that necrotizing fasciitis my cousin got? They amputated his arm! It’s a miracle!”)

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Jehovah’s Witness Hell

Argument for:

hit song “Blood on the Dance Floor” violates JeWit interpretation of Acts 15:28-29

Argument against:

kicked out in 1987 for “suggestive dance, dress, and grooming”

Muslim Hell

Argument for:

inclusion of Mohammed caricature on Off the Wall album liner

Argument against:

professed Shahadah at Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro‘s house in 1998

Jewish Hell

Argument for:

followed heretic “Kosher Sex” teachings of Shmuley Boteach

Argument against:

Judaism doesn’t really have a hell

Scientology Hell

Argument for:

failed marriage to Lisa Marie Presley

Argument against:

history of OT-VIII-caliber insanity

Catholic Hell

Argument for:

boy-touching

Argument against:

boy-touching

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Over at HuffPo, “after-hours rabbi” Alan Lurie describes four “impediments” to “experiencing god” that he wishes he’d lectured a skeptical job applicant about.

4. The worry that “spiritual experiences” are just feel-good self-indulgence.

Why would someone worry that something is a “feel-good self-indulgence”? Here are some other feel-good self-indulgences:

  • eating cookie dough straight from the tube
  • “borrowing” a single-engine plane for a joyride
  • the Fleshlight

Each of these is popular precisely because it’s a “feel-good self-indulgence”! If people thought god was a feel-good self-indulgence, he’d be bigger than Jesus! His problem is that he’s (imaginary and) a joy-kill.

3. The fear that god-worship makes people “arrogant and/or sheepish.”

I also have trouble imagining this as an impediment. God-disbelievers do plenty of things that make them “arrogant and/or sheepish”:

  • Science Olympiad
  • Stage productions of “Little Bo Peep
  • Obama-worship

In fact, I have never heard this used as an excuse not to do something, although I confess that I tend to avoid people who seem overly concerned with sheep.

2. There’s not a two-column proof that god exists.

This is another doubtful impediment. Except for the handful of us who think we’re mathematicians, most people hate two column proofs. I can’t even remember the last time someone demanded that I two-column prove something before he would start believing in it, although it’s likely it was that weirdo on the street corner with the huge “I don’t believe in Pythagoras’s Theorem!” sign.

1. There’s no evidence god exists.

Finally, an objection that makes sense! It is indeed quite tough to “experience” something when there’s no evidence it exists. That’s the reason so few people are able to “experience” the luminiferous aether, N-rays, the Odic force, or phlogiston.

In lieu of, you know, evidence, Lurie suggests that we look for “little miracles” in things like trees and bodily functions and employment.

Now, admittedly I am not a rabbi, but I am pretty sure that “miracles” need to involve happenings of things generally considered unpossible, like the invention of an inexpensive, tasty-when-spread-on-fruit mayonnaise-like “whip,” or a World Series victory over the unstoppable 1969 Orioles, or a synthetic plant fertilizer made of petroleum by-products.

If the fact that I occasionally experience indigestion is a “miracle” that counts as “evidence” for the existence of “the Divine,” then pretty much anything counts as evidence for the existence of anything else.

What about the “little miracle” of my alarm clock going off this morning at precisely the time I set it to go off! Or the “little miracle” that when I turned on the hot water faucet in my sink, hot water came out! Or if that’s not plausible enough, how about the “little miracle” that this morning my shoes were in the exact same place I left them last night. If that’s not evidence for “the Divine,” then nothing is!

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Proselytization is a two-way street. So pity (a little bit) the poor attendees of the Southern Baptist Convention, who are going to have to deal with evangelization from PETAns:

Among the demonstrators who will be standing outside the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville as the SBC opens its two-day meeting on Tuesday will be one dressed as Jesus, carrying a sign reading “For Christ’s Sake, Go Vegetarian,” and another dressed as a chicken with a sign reading “Jesus Loves Me Too.”

Other members will be holding signs reading “Thou Shalt Not Kill. Go Vegetarian” and “Blessed Are the Merciful. Go Vegetarian.” They will also hand out leaflets that relate vegetarian living to Christian teachings.

Now, if you’ve read my book, you know that I’m not a big fan of granting people’s imaginary premises in order to engage with them.

If vegetarianism is a good idea, then PETA should be making the case that vegetarianism is a good idea. If a bacon cheeseburger, cooked medium rare, with aged cheddar cheese, two thick-cut strips of peppered bacon, a mix of mayonnaise and BBQ sauce that I like to call “BBQonnaise,” dill pickle chips, fried onion straws, crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, and sweet red onions isn’t the tastiest thing on the planet, they should be arguing that it isn’t the tastiest thing on the planet.

Instead, their argument contains the following pieces:

  • god’s mythological garden was vegetarian, according to the cave-people-written book of myths you cherish”
  • maybe the fish Jesus ate were only symbolic fish, just like the one that “got away” on your last trip to the lake
  • because Jesus “gave his life willingly,” eating his flesh and blood doesn’t actually count as eating flesh and blood (and possibly also because they’re actually crackers and wine, but we’re not going to mention this common sense fact, because we’re trying to participate in your fantasy world)
  • meat-eating is “part of the fallen creation” (whatever the hell that means)

You’ll have to forgive me for being skeptical that the PETAns actually believe any of these arguments, any more than they believe their arguments that “Mohammed only symbolically slaughtered the Banu Qurayza,” that “adhering to a vegetarian I-tal diet will increase the ‘life energy’ that Haile Selassie puts inside us,” or that “Bhai Gurdas’s praise of goat meat doesn’t really count because it was written in poetry form.”

Hopefully soon they’ll get back to more sensible behavior, like opposing the throwing of dead fish or hiring the granddaughter of a murderous guerilla to lend his violent cachet to their cause, or taking a brave stand for the rights of houseflies.

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