CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

David didn't have such a task. He only faced a Goliath who is believed to be no larger than 10 times bigger than he was at the time (using weight as the measure). The small city of Tijeras, New Mexico is being forced to take on an organization 1000 times larger than itself, and certainly with resources to match. Why? Because of a small cross on the City Logo.

U.S. News and World Report editorial writer John Leo, in his essay entitled "Deviled Eggs" opines on the potential suit:

The "tiny cross" people at the American Civil Liberties Union are at it again. These are the folks with extra-keen eyes and powerful magnifying glasses, who examine the official seals of towns and counties, looking for miniature crosses that ACLU lawyers like to trumpet as grave threats to separation of church and state.

This time around, the folks with the magnifying glasses are leaning on the village of Tijeras, New Mexico, whose seal contains a Conquistador’s helmet and sword, a scroll, a desert plant, a fairly large religious symbol (the native American zia) and a quite small Christian cross. "Tiny cross" inspectors are not permitted to fret about large non-Christian religious symbols, only undersized Christian ones, so the ACLU filed suit to get the cross removed.

The cross is obviously not an endorsement of religion, any more than the Conquistador helmet and sword are endorsements of Spanish warfare. The courts have ruled, not always consistently, that crosses, as historic references in such seals and logos, are permissible. But the ACLU, these days, is strongly committed to seeing church-state crises everywhere, and thus pushes things way too far.

Last year the ACLU demanded that Los Angeles County eliminate from its seal a microscopic cross representing the missions that settled the state of California. Under threat of expensive litigation, the county complied. The cross was about one-sixth the size, of a not-very-big image, of a cow tucked away on the lower right segment of the seal, and maybe one one-hundredth the size of a pagan god (Pomona, Goddess of Fruit) who dominated the seal. Pomona survived the religious purge. She is not the sort of god that the ACLU worries about, whereas the flyspeck-sized cross was a threat to unravel separation of church and state, as we know it.

I am hopeful that little Tijeras will not act like the Israelite armies acted in 1 Samuel 17 when they saw Goliath ("When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid"), but will act like David and stand up to the ugly giant who cursed the God of Israel in the names of his own false gods.

Most people don't realize it, but in the 1920s, physicist E. Barclay Ekoj, Ph.D., posited that Isaac Newton was wrong in his theory that objects fall to the earth as the result of the attraction of gravity. He reasoned that rather than objects pulling at each other, they are pushed to the surface of the earth by an unknown force which he called "pushity" (to contrast it with gravity). I want to explore his thinking and why it may be more valid today than even fifty years ago.

When a scientist observes a natural phenomenon, e.g., objects falling to the Earth, it is appropriate for that scientist to develop multiple hypotheses to explain the observed phenomenon. These hypotheses are then tested repeatedly not only to confirm that one is true, but to disprove that others are true. Thus, if a scientist hypothesizes that objects fall to the Earth, he should be willing to test each and every one of his hypothesis by subjecting them to rigorous testing.

In the case of Dr. Ekoj, he had two hypothetical explanations for the fact that objects fall to the Earth; the first is that the object falls because something attracts them (called "gravity"), and the second is that the objects fall because something pushes them (which Dr. Ekoj called "pushity"). Dr. Ekoj strongly, and inexplicably, believed his theory of pushity to be true. He reportedly said "I know my theory of pushity is true because I see objects lying on the ground. They couldn't have gotten there if not for pushity."

Throughout his life, Dr. Ekoj working with his team of thirty scientists at Eastern Providence University sought scientific proof to support his theory of pushity. He spent much of his life's work attempting to prove that objects weren't attracted to the Earth, but were forced there by some unknown and previously unmeasurable force. Unfortunately, every test of his hypothesis failed. While he occasionally had interesting results from his experiments, he was not able to develop any test that conclusively established that pushity even existed, let alone was the cause of objects falling. Regardless of these setbacks, he remained firmly convinced of the truth of his hypothesis until his death in November 1982. In one of his last intereviews with The Scientific Theories Journal in January 1982, he stated:

Pushity is simply a theory whose time has not yet come. After years of testing, I am satisfied that it exists, but that it cannot presently be proven because we have not yet developed the scientific tools necessary to detect and measure the pushity effect. I expect that in fifty years, we will develop tools that will permit us to see into the true nature of falling objects, and then all these theories about gravity will be put in their righful place -- in the trash-heap already filled with ideas like the cosmological constant and aether. Mark my words, it's merely a matter of time.

Today, a small but devoted conclave of scientists at Eastern Providence University continue the work started by Dr. Ekoj, looking and hoping for the evidence that eluded the brillian scientist who was merely ahead of his time. These scientists point to the lastest scientific evidence from astronomy that seems to show that the universe is accelerating in its expansion as proof that pushity exists.

So, what lesson can we learn from Dr. Ejok? Is it really probable that pushity exists and that it will be proven given enough time and following new scientific discoveries? Personally, I have my doubts, and my doubts are the result of an application of the scientific method -- the idea that we test theories not only to prove some theories right, but to disprove others.

In Dr. Ekoj's case, he conducted many tests to try to establish that pushity was the explanation for objects falling. Yet, despite approximately 80 years of testing, neither he nor his fellow scientists have been able to establish that there was really any basis for his claims. Ordinarily, when a scientific theory lacks scientific evidence despite years of seeking to prove its existence, especially when an alternative theory exist that can also explain the phenomena observed, then it would be appropriate to "rule out" the unproven theory.

But I think that even though Dr. Ekoj failed to establish a reasonable probability that his theory was true, there is reason to believe that present day adherents to his theory have a scientific leg to stand on when they insist that their theory should be accepted. This support comes from an unlikely place: they can gain support for the scientific acceptance of the theory of pushity by comparing it to the present scientific theories for the origin of life on Earth.

In the nearly 150 years since Darwin first published his Origin of Species, hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists have sought to explain the origin of the first living cell through purely naturalistic processes. To this point, they have utterly failed. There have been some tantalizing discoveries, such as the fact that some chemicals seem to organize themselves, but nothing has come close, to this point, of establishing any proof as to what process caused life to arise naturalistically. In fact, as molecular biologist Michael Denton points out in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, MD: Adler and Adler Publishers, Inc., 1986), p. 328, 342 (quoted here), continuing examination of the incredible complexity of the cell makes the naturalistic origin of life on earth much less probable than it would have been thought to be even twenty years ago.

Perhaps in no other area of modern biology is the challenge posed by the extreme complexity and ingenuity of biological adaptations more apparent than in the fascinating new molecular world of the cell… To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity.

Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which—a functional protein or gene—is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man? Alongside the level of ingenuity and complexity exhibited by the molecular machinery of life, even our most advanced artifacts appear clumsy…

It would be an illusion to think that what we are aware of at present is any more than a fraction of the full extent of biological design. In practically every field of fundamental biological research ever-increasing levels of design and complexity are being revealed at an ever-accelerating rate.

Thus, the evidence supporting a naturalistic explanation for life's origins seems remote, at best. Still, because of a newly developing definition of science which requires a naturalistic explanation for every observed phenomenon before it can be categorized as science, supporters of the purely naturalistic explanation for a rise of life can take great comfort in knowing that a "scientific" explanation for life's origins is forthcoming because, much like Dr. Ekoj, they can see living things and know that the only way they could have gotten there is by a naturalistic cause.

Yes, those who still adhere to Dr. Ekoj's theory can rest easily knowing that the very things that they rely upon -- the advancment of scientific knowledge will provide evidence for their hypothesis that has not yet been produced despite approximately 80 years of research -- is not only dismissed as proof that a theory should be rejected, their same level of proof and hope is embraced by scientists and society in the comparable area of scientific explanations for the origins of life on Earth.

As the result of the wide acceptance of this type of thinking due to the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm, it is quite clear that if Dr. Ekoj were to look in the mirror, he wouldn't see his theory as a joke.


Addendum: Obviously, this post is a parody. There was no Dr. Ekoj, nor was there ever a theory of pushity (at least, not that I ever saw). Also, I recognize that gravity is a well-estabished fact of science and it is not appropriate to compare the rising theory of Intelligent Design to the well-established law of gravity.

But it seems apparent to me that the reasoning that is laughable in Dr. Ekoj's fictional theory is somehow embraced when the same logic is used to claim that it is only a matter of time before we discover the naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. Yeah, it is possible, but to embrace it as all-but-proven fact is as silly as embracing the theory of pushity.

The Discovery of the Burial Chamber Repository

In 1979, an archaeological team under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv and led by Gabriel Barkay, Department of Land of Israel Studies with Bar Han University, uncovered a series of nine caves in the "hillside west of the Old City of Jerusalem along the Western slope of the Valley of Hinnom, or Gay ben Hinnom in Hebrew", a.k.a., Gehenna. An exploration of these caves revealed that they were used as burial sites for the Jewish people of Jerusalem dating back to at least as early as the Iron Age (which can date back as far as the tenth century B.C.)

The cave designated "Cave 24" was an especially important find. It consisted of a central chamber with a series of branches from the central hall into other smaller burial chambers. These burial chambers had shelves where the bodies of the deceased together with other artifacts (such as burial gifts, vases or jewels) were placed immediately after death. The deceased would then lie on these shelfs until they decomposed. These burial chambers also had a repository beneath the main shelf where the bones and other artifacts would later be placed. According to the report entitled "The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation" by Gabriel Barkay, Andrew G. Vaughn, Marilyn J. Lundbert and Brucek Zuckerman, published in the Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research, May 2004:

When the bodies were fully decomposed, the bones would be removed together with the burial gifts and placed in the repository. After several generations, the deposits would build up and later deposits would be made either on top of the ealier deposits or closer toward the entrance of the repository. Periodically, as the entrance tot he chamber would become clogged, eposits were shoved to the back and flattened out.

Most of the burial chambers and their repositories were empty. However, one of the repositories beside a burial chamber (denominated Chamber 25) was surprisingly not empty. According to Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times [Sun-Sentinel Edition](1986, August 29) "Jerusalem Tomb Discoveries Answer Historical Questions":

When Barkay began to excavate the site in 1979, he had modest hopes. "After 120 years of great archeologists digging in Jerusalem, you don't expect to find very much," he said. "We were totally unprepared for what we discovered."

What he and his students discovered, along an ancient road from King David's birthplace in Bethlehem to his city, the City of David, in Jerusalem, was a series of nine burial caves. In the caves were hewn stone benches, upon which generations of Jerusalemites, beginning in the late First Temple Period, placed their dead, along with jewels and other offerings. Under one of the cave's burial benches, however, Barkay found a large, undisturbed repository.

The repository, it turned out, was the only intact burial repository found in Jerusalem in modern times. It had escaped looters because the roof had collapsed and buried everything inside for more than two thousand years.

The Two Silver Scrolls

Among the artifacts found in the caves were two very small silver artifacts that are referenced in the literature as "amulets", "scrolls" or "plaques". When found, these scrolls (denominated Ketef Hinnom I and Ketef Hinnom II) were covered in dirt and corrosion and hadn't been opened in at least 2,000 years. But it was clear that ancient Hebrew lettering had been etched into the silver. Since the two scolls were very small (Ketef Hinnom I being only 97 mm x 27 mm [approx. 4 in. x 1 in.] long, and Ketef Hinnom II being only 11 mm x 39.2 mm [approx. 0.4 in x 1.5 in.] long), the writing was very small and difficult to read. There was also the additional problem of opening the scrolls without destroying them. According to Friedman:

The Israel Museum first consulted experts in England and Germany who were specialists in handling such ancient objects, "but they took one look at them and threw up their hands," said [Michal Dayagi-Mendels, curator of the First Temple period at the Israel Museum]. In 1983, Joseph Shenhav, the director of the Israel Museum laboratory, came up with a homemade solution.

First, he rinsed the amulets clean in a solution of alkaline salt and formic acid. Then the outer layer of each roll was coated with acrylic glue, which, when it dried, was both transparent and elastic. Finally, over a period of several months, the scrolls were unfurled a tiny fraction each day to reveal their contents.

Shortly after the scrolls were opened, Yaakov Meshorer, an expert on small coins at the Israel Museum, made out the Hebrew name of God - - in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH, or Jehovah -- etched into the silver. This alone was a major discovery, since it marked the first time ever that an archeological object had been found in Jerusalem with the Lord's name written in Hebrew on it.

"We knew there were more letters on them," said Barkay, "but they were so faint, and there were so many cracks and little fragments missing, we were afraid that they would be impossible to make out."

Ultimately, the scrolls were partially deciphered, and the words that were found on the scrolls were stunning: both scrolls were inscribed with what is known as the Priestly Benediction from Numbers 16: 24-26: "May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace." (While the wording of the two inscriptions was not the full text of the Priestly Benediction, consider the size of the two scrolls and the number of words that appear in just this portion of the Inscription and you have an idea of the very small size of the Hebrew inscriptions.)

A Further Deciphering of the Language Etched into the Scrolls

While portions of the inscriptions could be read, the accuracy of the interpretation remained somewhat questionable due to the difficulty in reading the various Hebrew letters. However, in 1994, the scrolls were photographed by Dr. Bruce Zuckerman of the University of Southern California School of Religion using advanced photographic techniques to bring out the faded lettering. According to "Solving a Riddle Written in Silver" by John Noble Wilford:

Working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Zuckerman's group used advanced infrared imagining systems enhanced by electronic cameras and computer image-processing technology to draw out previously invisible writing on a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The researchers also pioneered electronic techniques for reproducing missing pieces of letters on documents. By examining similar letters elsewhere in the text, they were able to recognize half of a letter and reconstruct the rest of it in a scribe's own peculiar style.

* * *

As the researchers said in their magazine article, the only reasonably clear aspect of the inscriptions was the Priestly Benediction. Other lines preceding or following the prayer "could barely be seen."

To get higher-definition photographs of the inscriptions, Ken Zuckerman applied an old photographer's technique called "light painting," brought up to date by the use of fiber-optic technology. He used a hand-held light in an otherwise dark room to illuminate a spot on the artifact during a time exposure. In addition, he photographed the artifact at different angles, which made the scratched letters shine in stark relief.

The next step was to convert the pictures to digital form, making possible computer processing that brought out "the subtleties of the surface almost at the micron level." This analysis was particularly successful in joining a partial letter stroke on one side of a crack with the rest of the stroke on the other side. It also enabled the researchers to restore fragments of letters to full legibility by matching them with clear letters from elsewhere in the text.

In this way, the researchers filled in more of the letters and words of the benediction itself and for the first time deciphered meaningful words and phrases in the lines preceding the benediction.

Ultimately, the words became clear. "The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation", supra, consists of a report about the two scrolls after this inspection and reveals that even with the high-tech imagery, the first part of the two scrolls remain very difficult to read. Still, much of the language of the scrolls has been deciphered to read as follows:

Ketef Hinnom I: "YHW. . . the grea[t . . . who keeps] the covenant and [G]raciousness toward those who love [him] and alt: those who love [hi]m;) tohose who keep [his commandments . . . . . .] the Eternal? [. . . ]. [the?} blessing more than any [sna]re and more than evil. For redemption is in him. For YHWH is our restorer [and] rock. May YHWH bles[s] you and [may he] keep you. [May] YHWH make [his face] shine . . . ."

Ketef Hinnom II: [For PN, 9the son/daughter of) xxxx]h/hu. May h[e]/sh[e] be blessed by Yahweh, the warrior [or:helper] and and the rebuker of [E]vil; MayYahweh bless you, keep you. May Yahweh make his face shine upon you and grant you p[ea]ce.

The report by Dr. Barkay, et al., makes the case based on archaeology, palaeography and orthography that the two scrolls should be dated from the late seventh century or early sixth century B.C. -- in other words, around the time of King Josiah or his immediate followers and before the exile into Babylon. (In fact, there does not seem to be any strong reason to date them even as late as the late seventh century B.C. based upon the resources that I have read thus far. For purposes of this essay, however, I will accept the dating of the artifacts to that period while reserving the right to investigate whether they may not be even older.)

So what's the Point?

The discovery of these burial caves and the two ancient scrolls in them suggest two skeptical positions on the history of Israel are likely wrong.

A. The Size of Pre-Exile Jerusalem

Prior to the discovery of Ketef Hinnom, and continuing through today, there has been a great dispute over the size of Jerusalem prior to the exile in Babylon. Some scholars, such as Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts have argued that the ancient city of David was no more than 1,000 inhabitants. According to "Updating some Bible stories Archeological finds yield new historical revelations; [Final Edition]", Henry Aubin, The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: Mar 3, 2001. pg. J.4, Finkelstein and Silberman . . .

. . . take issue, for example, with the traditional idea of the Golden Age - that period starting around 1000 BC when King David and his son and successor, King Solomon, would have ruled over a vast empire stretching at one point from Gaza to the Euphrates. Excavations, say the authors, show that they and their successors presided over a "marginal, isolated, rural region, with no signs of great wealth and centralized administration." The capital, Jerusalem, was then only a "modest highland town;" 200 years later, its population was still at about 1,000.

However, there is a problem with this idea. The caves located by Barkay were located well outside of what had previously been considered the outer limits of the old city of First Temple Jerusalem. Friedman, supra, makes note that the location of the tombs -- given the Jewish culture's way of dealing with their dead -- is inconsistent with the vision of a "modest highland town."

One of the most important aspects of the burial repository was its location. Jews did not bury their dead inside the city walls, but always just outside. Because this burial ground was found on the western slope of the Valley of Hinnom, the walls of First Temple Jerusalem must have extended much farther to the west -- almost four times farther -- than previously thought by scholars on the basis of excavations of the City of David. The City of David, which comprises the Temple Mount and a narrow strip of ancient homes, constituted the only previous substantial ruins of ancient Jerusalem.

* * *

"Secondly, for years Bible scholars -- divided between the `maximalists' and the `minimalists' -- have been arguing whether Jerusalem was really a grand city, or just a forgotten little town whose reputation was built up through the ages. Each side would point to different biblical passages to buttress its case.

"Now we know that it was a major city," [Barkay] said. "This is critical also because a city that was the scene of the growth of monotheism and classical prophecy, a city said to be the only place you could worship God, had to have this importance reflected in its physical size."

When coupled with the evidence that the palace of David has been found to the North of what was believed to be the much smaller ancient city, certainly suggests that the archaeological evidence is growing that Jerusalem was a much larger city than was previously anticipated even as far back as the reign of King David himself.

B. The Existence and Circulation of the Torah prior to the Exile.

The scrolls themselves with their apparent quoting from the Book of Numbers makes a serious dent in the idea advocated by scholars such as Donald Harman Akenson in his book Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, where he posits that the first eleven books of the Old Testament were written during the Babylonian exile. As noted in "New theories about origins of biblical material; [Final Edition]", Henry Aubin, Times - Colonist. Victoria, B.C.: Mar 30, 2001. pg. C.6.FRO:

Some other experts contend that most of the Bible was written in Babylon during the exile -- some time around 550 BC.

Among these scholars is Donald Akenson, of Queen's University, whose 1998 book Surpassing Wonder suggests that no religious revival to speak of took place under Josiah and that the real crucible of monotheism and biblical composition was the exile in Babylon. Fearing that scattered Hebrew society might vanish, he theorizes, an anonymous genius wrote most of the Hebrew Bible's first 11 books. This great thinker, often called "Second Isaiah," would have used oral tradition and his own imagination to create for his people a distinctive sense of historical and religious identity.

As noted by Friedman, supra:

The presence of such a verse on an amulet from around 600 B.C. also provides the first concrete evidence that at least part of what became the Hebrew Bible was written -- and was widely known -- during the late First Temple period.


The discovery of these caves and the two scrolls seems to have met with very little fanfare. Certainly, the publication of the report of the reading and translation of the scrolls by Barkay, Vaughn, Lundberg and Zuckerman seem to have had little impact or circulation in the major media. I watch for stories like these, and I never would have found the report if it had not been mentioned as an aside in another essay I was reading.

Yet, it seems as if these discoveries should make a dent in some of the more skeptical theories about the size of pre-exile Jerusalem and the existence and circulation of the Torah prior to the exile. Given that the earliest writings of the Hebrews were apparently preserved only on documents and were not incised into buildings as was the habit of other cultures like the Egyptians, I wouldn't expect to find many (if any) additional writings in the future. Thus, it seems as if it may be impossible to determine whether the history of the Hebrews as described in the Bible is accurate or whether the present belief by an apparent consensus of scholars that the Hebrew people never went to Egypt or had an Exodus is accurate. But given that most discoveries seem to refute the skeptical views, I think that Ketef Hinnom is, as Dr. Barkay said, "a discovery of utmost importance".

Addendum: The CBS Evening News apparently did a short piece on the Ketef Hinnom scrolls, and can be seen in its 2 minute, 10 second entirety on the CBS News Website, here.

A study from MIT has shown that "doubling the frequency of attendance leads to a 9.1 percent increase in household income." The study is being released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in a paper entitled, "Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?" Increased church going also correlated "to higher levels of education and income, lower levels of welfare receipt and disability, higher levels of marriage and lower levels of divorce."

The abstract of the study is availale at the NBER site.

The NBER also offers additional explanation as to the study's conclusions and methods.

Sounds good to me, though I doubt my ability to actually double what I am doing now.

In the October issue of First Things Magazine Professor Stephen Barr takes Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (and other defenders of Intelligent Design) to task for the latter's misunderstanding of much of the terminology in modern science, and how it can be misconstrued and misunderstood by the layman. For this reason, Barr's article, The Design of Evolution (in which Barr draws heavily on the Vatican's document COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP: Human Persons Created in the Image of God) is an important reminder to all engaged in the debate over neo-Darwinianism and Intelligent Design that the language of science must be understood on its own terms. Thus, for example, Barr tells us:

By saying that “neo-Darwinism” is “synonymous” with “‘evolution’ as used by mainstream biologists,” Schönborn indicates that he means the term as commonly understood among scientists. As so understood, neo-Darwinism is based on the idea that the mainspring of evolution is natural selection acting on random genetic variation. Elsewhere in his article, however, the cardinal gives another definition: “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense [is] an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” This is the central misstep of Cardinal Schönborn’s article. He has slipped into the definition of a scientific theory, neo-Darwinism, the words “unplanned” and “unguided,” which are fraught with theological meaning.

This is an important caution for all of us, as Barr explains in his later elaboration (I found his analogies to be especially helpful in making the point):

But Communion and Stewardship also explicitly warns that the word “random” as used by biologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians in their technical work does not have the same meaning as the words “unguided” and “unplanned” as used in doctrinal statements of the Church. In common speech, “random” is often used to mean “uncaused,” “meaningless,” “inexplicable,” or “pointless.” And there is no question that some biologists, when they explain evolution to the public or to hapless students, do argue from the “randomness” of genetic mutations to the philosophical conclusion that the history of life is “unguided” and “unplanned.” Some do this because of an anti-religious animus, while others are simply careless.

When scientists are actually doing science, however, they do not use the words “unguided” and “unplanned...”

...The word “random” as used in science does not mean uncaused, unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated. My children like to observe the license plates of the cars that pass us on the highway, to see which states they are from. The sequence of states exhibits a degree of randomness: a car from Kentucky, then New Jersey, then Florida, and so on—because the cars are uncorrelated: Knowing where one car comes from tells us nothing about where the next one comes from. And yet, each car comes to that place at that time for a reason. Each trip is planned, each guided by some map and schedule. Each driver’s trip fits into the story of his life in some intelligible way, though the story of these drivers’ lives are not usually closely correlated with the other drivers’ lives.

Or consider this analogy. Prose, unlike a sonnet, has lines with final syllables that do not rhyme. The sequence those syllables form will therefore exhibit randomness. But this does not mean a prose work is “unguided” or “unplanned.”

Barr continues in this vein, helping the reader to understand what the scientist means when he speaks of "statistical randomness."

We should distinguish between what we may call “statistical randomness,” which implies nothing about whether a process was planned or guided, and “randomness” in other senses. Statistical randomness, based on the lack of correlation among things or events, can be exploited to understand and explain phenomena through the use of probability theory... Entire subfields in science (such as “statistical mechanics”) are based on these methods: The properties of gases, liquids, and solids, for instance, can be understood and accurately calculated by methods that make assumptions about the randomness of molecular and atomic motions.

Very simply, "random" does not, for the scientist, mean "unplanned," "blind chance," or "non-designed." Going back to Barr's examples, the appearance of "random" licence plates on the highway does not point to a lack of design in placing each of them there at that moment and place.

If I may offer my own analogy here, consider the letters of the English language alphabet. To a Chinese person who has never encountered English, such lettering would appear to be both entirely random, and completely meaningless. The letter "A" in no way points by necessity (or causally) to the letter "B", any more than "B" points to "C", and so on through to "Y" and "Z" (and if we move to the formation of lower case lettering, one can only imagine the confusion of trying to explain how "B" is related to "b" in the same way that "D" is related to "d", or "N" is related to "n"!). Yet no one would argue that the English alphabet is the construct of blind chance. The randomness of the physical appearance of the letters simply does not point to their being generated by unguided chance.

Thus we come to Barr's concluding arguments (which should form the basis of any scientific argument for Intelligent Design):

Why is there statistical randomness and lack of correlation in our world? It is because events do not march in lockstep, according to some simple formula, but are part of a vastly complex web of contingency. The notion of contingency is important in Catholic theology, and it is intimately connected to what in ordinary speech would be called “chance.” is one thing to say that the whole world is a product of chance and the existence of the universe a fluke, and quite another to say that within the universe there is statistical randomness... (since) to employ arguments in science based on statistical randomness and probability is not necessarily to “oppose” the idea of chance to the existence of God the Creator.

Those of us who support Intelligent Design must remain conscious of what ID can, and cannot, demonstrate, scientifically. We must also refrain from making the same mistake as does the materialistic atheist, and confuse statistical randomness with blind chance. They are not the same thing. The means by which life originated and developed on this planet can be seen to point to how God has worked within His creation. Just as someone invented and created the alphabet, so too, God could have created life using evolutionary tools. We must not forget, as Barr reminds us:

The possibility of an evolutionary process that could produce the marvelously intricate forms we see presupposes the existence of a universe whose structure, matter, processes, and laws are of a special character. This is the lesson of the many “anthropic coincidences” that have been identified by physicists and chemists. It is also quite likely, as suggested by the eminent neo-Darwinian biologist Simon Conway Morris, that certain evolutionary endpoints (or “solutions”) are built into the rules of physics and chemistry, so that the “random variations” keep ending up at the same destinations, somewhat as meandering rivers always find the sea. In his book Life’s Solution, Morris adduces much impressive evidence of such evolutionary tropisms. And, of course, we must never forget that each of us has spiritual powers of intellect, rationality, and freedom that cannot be accounted for by mere biology, whether as conceived by neo-Darwinians or their Intelligent Design critics.

When we use the language of science, we must be careful to understand its meaning. Only then can we be certain to keep our own arguments powerful and relevant, even as we can use that same care in spotting the fallacies and false assumptions of the atheistic defenders of neo-Darwinianism.


According to this article in Newsweek, Anne Rice, queen of erotica-vampire novels that have made her millions, has embraced her roots. She has returned to the Catholic Church, which she had left at 18. Recent years have not been easy for her, despite her success and wealth. Her husband of 41 years died recently. Rice herself came near death during surgery in 1998. Now, despite having made her career on writing about dark, sexualized supernatural murderers, she finds herself compelled to write Christ, who she descrpibes as "the ultimate supernatural hero ... the ultimate immortal of them all."

Rice has written the first book in a series that will track the life of Christ (inlcuding Jesus' studies with Philo of Alexandria). Obviously fictional, it will follow Jesus' childhood starting in Egypt. Do not expect future books to return to the vampires that made her famous: "[F]rom now on I would write only for the Lord." Fictional stories about Christ make some Christians nervous, but I read them with interest and will read Rice's when I find the time. It should be all the more interesting because Rice has immersed herself "in first-century histories and New Testament scholarship." Like me, she finds some of them "disturbingly skeptical."

I for one look forward to reading books written by a novelist as talented as Rice who has done her homework on the historical Jesus. But more important, it is nice to be able to say, "Welcome home, Ms. Rice."

PS-In the interest of full disclosure, I actually enjoy vampire stories. I was a Buffy and Angel fan for most of their seasons. Thought Lost Boys was pretty cool. I enjoyed John Steakley's Vampire$. I even liked Dracula 2000 (disclaimer: I saw the edited t.v. version), in which Judas became the first vampire after his betrayal of Jesus. This explained his aversion to silver, holy water, and the Cross. I was not much interested in Anne Rice's novels because, as conveyed by the movie adaptions, they focused on the depravity of the vampire characters.

It is often assumed that there was a long period of time in which the stories about Jesus and the retelling of his teaching was passed along orally. The assumption arises from the notion that the Gospel of Mark, written between 65 and 70 AD, was the first written gospel and until then the Jesus tradition was a perhaps loose oral one. There are several problems with this assumption. Although Jewish Palestine at the time was an oral culture, it was also to a limited degree a literate one. There is evidence that Jews of the time and era took notes of contemporary events on wax tablets. Allan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, pages 26-28. According to Jewish scholar Saul Lieberman, it was a “regular practice” for the disciples of rabbis to take notes of their masters’ teachings." Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, page 203. For example, in the Qumran community it appears that the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness were written down during his ministry. Accordingly, there is reason to believe that the oral Jesus tradition prior to Mark coexisted with written notes recording at least parts of Jesus’ teachings.

Even conceding the likelihood of there having existed contemporaneous notes of Jesus’ ministry, the question of the oral Jesus tradition remains. Roughly speaking, oral traditions can be casual or formal. A casual tradition is one that is passed on by the stereotypical village storytellers who value entertainment over tradition. It would be marked by flexibility and a lack of accountability. No one attempted to place “controls” on the stories. Another kind of casual tradition could be called, “from many to many.” The story was repeated from one set of people to another to another casually. There was no choke point or attempt to control the tradition.

In contrast, the oral Jesus tradition appears to have been formal and influenced by the rabbinic practices of Jesus’ day. Such a practice involved the teacher preaching and teaching to his disciples, who were then charged with controlling and disseminating the tradition. As explained by Paul Barnett, “[o]ral transmission of the NT era was not the orality of the village raconteur or of a shared community transmission (‘by many to many’), but the narrowly focused ‘traditioning’ of instruction from master to disciple.” The Birth of Christianity, The First Twenty Years, page 116.

The evidence that early Christianity employed a more controlled, authoritative oral transmission is found throughout the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke is the most obvious place to start. In his prologue, Luke explains, “[i]nasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” Luke 1:1-2.

First, Luke tells us that “many” had compiled accounts of Jesus prior to his writing. This likely refers to preceding written accounts and therefore is evidence of the coexistence of written notes and accounts along with oral traditions. Second, Luke refers to traditions being “handed down” by “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” The phrase “handed down” is “a technical term for the handing down of material, whether orally or in writing, as authoritative teaching.” I. Howard Marshal, Commentary on Luke, pages 41-42. Though the exact relationship between the two groups (“eyewitnesses” and “servants of the word”) is often debated, it seems clear that the source of the Jesus tradition was firmly rooted in personal experience with Jesus and that another group (perhaps overlapping the eyewitnesses) was responsible for accurately conveying that tradition. As Joseph Fitzmyer notes, this passages suggests that “there was a controlled transmission of the words and deeds of Jesus in the early church that shaped the tradition to which Luke refers in these verses.” Luke I-IX, page 295.

The evidence in Paul’s letters is just as clear. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul twice refers to traditions being “received” and “delivered.” (1 Cor. 11:23, 15:3). This is technical rabbinical language for the passing along of a controlled oral tradition. According to a leading Jewish scholar, "[h]e also discloses that the doctrines of Christianity were received and passed on--likely to be Greek translations of the two technical terms for the transmission of oral tradition within Pharisaism: kibel and masar." Alan Segal, Paul the Convert, page 2. Paul, as a former Pharisee, would have been very knowledgeable with rabbinic practices and methods of transmission.

Additional evidence of controlled transmission among the early Christians is evident from Paul's letter to the Romans. Paul did not found, and apparently was not closely affiliated with those who founded, the church in Rome. Nevertheless, Paul refers to the “pattern of teaching” which had been “handed over” to them. Rom. 6:17. The phrase “handed over” is the same phrase as used in Luke’s preface. Moreover, at the end of Romans, Paul admonishes his audience to be faithful to the “teaching which you learned.” Rom. 16:17. This language is also reminiscent of the passing on of a controlled oral tradition. Moreover, it is significant that Paul is endorsing, without reservation, traditions he had nothing to do with passing on. His faith is in the accuracy of the tradition and, necessarily, its method of transmission.

Yet more evidence can be gleaned from the Letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews refers to the “confession” and teachings of Jesus and is clear that they were passed on from Jesus through his disciples to the early church (“After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard” Heb. 2:3”). In Jude, the author uses the phrase “handed over” to refer to the teachings of early Christianity. Additional evidence for a controlled oral Jesus tradition can be found in Papias and the Didache (as discussed in my article, Doherty and the Apostolic Tradition).

Furthermore, there is the fact that Paul, who had the authority of one who had witnessed the resurrected Jesus, felt compelled to present his teachings to the leaders of the Jerusalem Church in order to gain their approval. Although Paul was stressing the independence of his apostolic authority, he had to admit that “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” Gal. 2.2. He did so because he was afraid that if he did not gain their approval that all of his teaching and preaching would have been in vain. This is powerful evidence that the traditions concerning Jesus were being controlled to some extent by those who knew Jesus best in the Jerusalem Church. At the least this group included Peter, Jesus’ disciple, and James, Jesus' brother. Moreover, the influence of this group over the Jesus tradition extended beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem. There was a faction in Corinth, a church founded by Paul, which submitted itself to Peter. Peter also traveled to fellowship with the young church in Antioch. People at least claiming to represent James did so as well.

In conclusion, it seems likely that the oral Jesus tradition that preceded the Gospel of Mark coexisted with earlier written notes also preserving aspects of the Jesus tradition. It is more certain that the oral Jesus tradition was a controlled one, with eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry attempting to ensure its validity even decades after his death. It is from this value for the eyewitnesses to Jesus and the accurate transmission of traditions about him that the Apostolic Tradition arose in content and rationale.

I'm told that this was published on the Opinions page of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Sunday, October 16, 2005, (letter written by Joe Renick):

The controversy over intelligent design (ID) and its place in public school science education is based largely on misrepresentations and distortions designed to protect an entrenched "evolution-only" policy. This strategy keeps ID out of the science classroom by portraying it as religion, not science. However, a closer look reveals that ID is solidly rooted in scientific evidence, not religious belief.

Consider two radically different models of scientific theory…one starting with religious belief, the other starting with scientific observation. Here, "religious" includes secular religions like naturalism as well as theistic religions.

The belief-based model starts with a religious belief, builds a theory around that belief, and then seeks evidence in its support. The evidence is tested against the theory (in reality, the evidence is tested against the belief behind the theory), retained if it supports the theory, or discarded if it challenges the theory. A theory rooted in belief rather than evidence will unavoidably take on a religious "stink".

In the other case we start with observational data, analyze the primitive features of that data, and build a theory around the emergent properties. In this model, the theory is tested against the evidence. This is the way science is supposed to work. No "stink" here.

By "primitive features" we mean those features that appear when we set aside all known biases and consciously refuse to pre-judge the data. By "emergent properties' we mean letting the evidence speak for itself and "listening" to what it has to say.

This pathway from raw data to emergent properties is well known to seasoned research scientists. Hubble experienced it in the data that "told" him the universe was expanding. Crick and Watson experienced it as they deciphered the structure of DNA. The history of science is filled with such examples.

Now, which of these models best describes ID…the one starting with belief or the one starting with observation?

For over 2000 years the order and regularities observed in the natural world and the wonderful "fitness" of living creatures within their environments have been regarded as evidence of an underlying plan…the work of an intelligent agency. However, during the last half of the 20th century the biological sciences made spectacular scientific discoveries revealing that design-like features are also embedded deep within the fundamental machinery of life.

When scientists look at the biological cell they see far more going on than can be explained by physics and chemistry alone. They see a code, information, and machines. They see higher order activities such as regulation, integration, feedback and control…activities normally associated with the field of Systems Engineering, the study of complex systems designed by human engineers.

The biological cell looks like it was designed in precisely the same sense that the Space Shuttle was designed. "Design" is the emergent property. It is called "intelligent" design to distinguish it from "naturalistic" design, the theory that naturalistic Darwinian processes performed the design work.

Finally, we cannot ignore the obvious fact that ID has religious implications. Does that put religious "stink" on ID, making it religion and not science? No. To the contrary, it puts a scientific "stink" on the religious implication of a designer behind nature.

"Intelligent design" is the hypothesis that the appearance of design in biology is "real" design, the work of an intelligent agency. Where’s the "stink" in that?

Joe Renick is executive director of the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network, a not-for-profit organization that promotes integrity in science education in New Mexico’s public schools. The organization is composed of practicing scientists, science teachers, an attorney, former school-board members and other interested citizens.

While I am generally skeptical of modern feminists' railings about "sexist" this and "patriarchal" that, I think their critique applies in spades to the writings of Paul. His blatant sexism, along with his defense of slavery (see Ephesians 6) is one of the main reasons I am not a Christian today.

Posted by: Xrlq, February 21, 2005 at 12:00 PM


Paul, the chief apostle not just of Christianity but of blatant sexism too, used Eve's sin as an excuse to put women into the basement of Christianity, which they have yet to climb out of. Writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is presumably another person in the one "godhead," Paul told women that they were welcome in the churches as long as they kept their mouths shut: "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says" (1 Cor. 14:34). Well, gee, if women are not permitted to speak in the churches, how can they be expected to learn things they may need to know? Not to worry; Paul had the answer to that: "And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church" (v:35). It's hard to see dignity and respect for women in any of this, but obviously many women have bought it and meekly acquiesce to the sexist rantings of a religious mystic whose denigration of half the world's population has been rivaled only by other religions that have enshrined the same primitive, male-chauvinist nonsense.

Keep Them Barefooted and Pregnant


Until the main Christian churches start preaching Paul properly I see no reason why we can't say that he was biased by the prevailing sexism and homophobia of his background and his words should be taken with a pinch of salt (albeit a very large one!).

Lesbians, Gays and the Bible


And of course, everyone's favourite sexophobic/misogynistic psycho, Paul.

Posted by Adora, March 6, 2004, 06:45 PM


The burden of most bad things that have manifested in the Christian faith can be traced back to Paul.

Posted by Elspode, 10-18-2004, 06:35 PM


So... Huh... you are asserting that Moral Code in the bible, as taught by the Christian theology is somehow Just, but anyone with the slightest bit of biblical knowledge, knows, Paul stole, and Re-Defined the OT to meet what he believed was a more Moral concept...

Posted by Dave8, 09.10.2005, 1:06am


Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

2 Peter 3: 14-18.

Tenzin Gyatso (aka the Dalai Lama) has a new book out. A friend was kind enough to forward me a book review from eSkeptic magazine written by Mr. Skeptic himself, Michael Shermer. Chuck Colson also has a Breakpoint essay which references Gyatso's new book.

Colson points out that Gyatso's assertion that scientific materialism (i.e. matter is all there is, was, and will be) is completely metaphysical in nature, and his conclusion that materialism is “an invitation to nihilism and spiritual poverty" are both spot on. I agree.

Shermer, ever the skeptic of everything but science, disagrees. He calls Gyatso's warning about scientific materialism a straw man. Well, ok. But why? Shermer never says. Moving on.

The most interesting piece of Shermer's critique is his conclusion that the Dalai Lama falls back on a Karma of the gaps position. While complimentary of the Dalai Lama's attempts at humbling himself before the supreme ruler (that being scientific knowledge in Shermer's gestalt) he accuses Gyatso of committing the same mistake as Creationists. Shermer insists that Gyatso uses Karma to fill in what he cannot explain.

Shermer writes, "In my opinion, God/karma does not explain anything; it is just a linguistic place-filler until science can discover the actual cause."

I think this is an interesting case of the pot calling the kettle black. I think Shermer is right that the Dalai Lama's ultimately falls back on a karma of the gaps explanation. But you know what? We all have gaps in our knowledge. We are all limited. We cannot explain everything under the sun. The Dalai Lama has gaps. I have gaps. Shermer has gaps. Sagan had gaps (though some of his gaps have no doubt been filled since his death in 1996).

The key question is, what fills your gaps?

The answer turns out to be the same. For everyone.

Faith fills the gaps.

Since faith sounds so religious, let me substitute an easier word for some to swallow. Trust. Trust fills the gaps.

For the Dalai Lama, it is a trust in Karma and a magical life force called prana. For me, it is trust in the whole counsel of the one true God and in His revelation. For Shermer, it is trust in his metaphysical system which is predicated on the assumption that it is possible for science to eventually explain everything.

We all have our placeholders. Our gap fillers. Even Shermer, though he cannot see the plank in his own eye, has a god of the gaps. In fact, he names three of them.

In pondering the mystery of the origin of life, sentience and consciousness, Shermer writes: "Yet the solution to these and other problems, in my opinion, is through the new sciences of complexity, emergence, and self-organization."

Pish posh. Complexity, emergence, and self-organization amount to hand-waving. They don't offer explanations. Drill down into them and you will strike air, not answers. Yet Shermer is willing to place his trust in them. The gap in his knowledge has been filled by his faith.

At the end of the day, we all rely on faith and trust. The critical question is not who has gaps and who does not ... it is what reasons do you have to justify your trust in whatever or whoever is filling those gaps. Do your reasons correspond with reality? And, does your system of belief cohere consistently within itself?

Or, does your faith, like Shermer's, amount to wishful thinking?

When I initially read an article about the study of Gregory Paul in which he suggests that the societal ills in the United States can be linked to a belief in God, I was quite skeptical. I commented on this study in my post entitled "Does Religion Cause Societal Ills?" My colleague, Layman, then pointed out that the Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece entitled "So That's the Reason: A scientist blames America's problems on religion" had pointed out similar flaws to the ones I had seen in Dr. Paul's study. Part of the Wall Street Journal article noted:

Thus not even Mr. Paul would claim that he was more likely to be mugged in America by believers emerging from a Sunday service at a Baptist church than by drug-taking atheists emerging from a crack den, or that the highly religious in America are more prey in general to venereal disease than the irreligious. Nor could he very well deny that criminality in Britain, an extremely law-abiding country when three-quarters of its children still attended Sunday school, has risen exponentially in the wake of sudden secularization.

The crudity and selectivity of Mr. Paul's thinking betrays an animus not only toward religion but toward the U.S., or at least toward American society. It is true that the murder rate in America is higher than in any other Western country, but all other crimes of violence are more prevalent in Britain than America, and one is more likely to have one's home burgled in France than America.

I will admit that even though I don't believe that Dr. Paul's study has any merit due to its flaws, the idea concerns me. I am a strong proponent of the idea that Christianity, when properly taught and followed, does lead to a better society than a strictly atheistic or agnostic approach. I agree with Nietchze that if God is dead, man is dead also; in other words, if there is no god, there is ultimately no right or wrong and no reason to choose to act nobly over acting ignobly. If there is no God then man, as the highest part of God's creation imbued with the likeness of God, is reduced to another being scratching his way through a meaningless universe in which absolute standards of right and wrong are completely lacking. In such a universe, all is permitted because nothing is prohibited.

If Dr. Paul is ultimately right (even though this study does nothing to establish the truth of his claims), does that mean that man can be moral without God? In other words, does a belief in God actually cause more moral failures in society than a non-belief in God? I have four reasons for concluding that a belief is better than non-belief:

1. Without God, Morality is Relative. The argument I have summarized above still makes a reasonable argument for the position that God's existence is necessary for morality to exist at all. It makes no sense to ask whether I am acting morally if morality is simply a human construct. If morality is a human construct, what is moral today almost certainly could be subject to change over time. In fact, if morality changes over time or is culturally dependent (as many skeptics assert) then no one could argue that the destruction of the Amalekites by the Israelites in 1 Samuel 15:1-8 was wrong. Yet, skeptics often raise this issue arguing that a good God wouldn't order the "genocide" of the Amalekites. But this is a Catch-22: if the skeptics are right and there is no God resulting in morality being culturally relative, then there is no basis for contending that the Israelites acted immorally. (If you are interested in a Biblical understanding of the destruction of the Amalekites, please feel free to read my essay entitled A Reasonable Understanding of the Destruction of the Amalekites.)

2. Borrowed Morality. The idea that simply because people no longer go to church means that they are living a perfectly God-free lifestyle is naive. It is no more true than the assumption that if a person goes to church they are somehow a perfect Christian. It doesn't happen that way. Our western culture has the Bible and God as the basis for many of our institutional and intellectual foundations. In effect, people who believe that there is no God and attempt to find other justifications for the innate knowledge that such things as right and wrong exist and have meaning in society are "borrowing" from their Christian past. Atheists instinctively recognize that they cannot live completely consistently with their atheistic beliefs because those beliefs necessarily argue that there is no such thing as morality. Thus, they borrow the idea that certain things are, in fact, moral, and every culture must abide by them. But in doing this, they are necessarily borrowing from concepts developed by a faith system that they have rejected.

3. No Reason Christianity Would Increase Societal Ills. Dr. Paul's study lacks any analysis as to how Christianity could result in more societal ills. His study only suggests that there is a correlation that societies that are religious suffer more, but he gives no reason why that would be the case. I cannot think of any good reason that religion (especially, Christianity) would lead to a worse society -- it seems intrinsically obvious that any religious teaching that urges or commands people to act morally will necessarily cause an increase in moral behavior among the people who accept that religion's teaching. What reason, if any, can be offered as to why Christianity would lead people to commit more murders or engage in illicit sex? Dr. Paul offers no answer.

4. Christians and Charity. It turns out that at nearly the same time that Dr. Paul was publishing his study, the Guardian published an article by atheist Roy Hattersley entitled "Faith does breed charity". While the article does not get into statistics and deals with the author's personal experiences, it is consistent with the idea that Christianity and good moral conduct go hand-in-hand. What Mr. Hattersley says is very profound and I want to quote an extended portion of it for our joint edification:

Last week a middle-ranking officer of the Salvation Army, who gave up a well-paid job to devote his life to the poor, attempted to convince me that homosexuality is a mortal sin.

Late at night, on the streets of one of our great cities, that man offers friendship as well as help to the most degraded and (to those of a censorious turn of mind) degenerate human beings who exist just outside the boundaries of our society. And he does what he believes to be his Christian duty without the slightest suggestion of disapproval. Yet, for much of his time, he is meeting needs that result from conduct he regards as intrinsically wicked.

Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and - probably most difficult of all - argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.

The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand. The close relationship may have something to do with the belief that we are all God's children, or it may be the result of a primitive conviction that, although helping others is no guarantee of salvation, it is prudent to be recorded in a book of gold, like James Leigh Hunt's Abu Ben Adam, as "one who loves his fellow men". Whatever the reason, believers answer the call, and not just the Salvation Army. When I was a local councillor, the Little Sisters of the Poor - right at the other end of the theological spectrum - did the weekly washing for women in back-to-back houses who were too ill to scrub for themselves.

It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte. The Bible is so full of contradictions that we can accept or reject its moral advice according to taste. Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.

The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.

Obviously, I do not agree that the atheists are the "civilised people", that the "Bible is so full of contradictions that we can accept or reject its moral advice according to taste", or that atheists have "the truth". But it is interesting that this atheist recognizes that the Christians are the ones who are out doing the charitable work -- not the atheists. He thinks that this correlation is clear, and while I don't have the statistics to back it up, it is consistent with exactly what I believe to be the true situation. This follows from the fact that in our Western culture charity began with Christian belief -- not pagan. As Christopher Price has noted in his very fine essay "Pagans, Christianity and Charity":

The pagan concept of "charity" at the time was really nothing more than politicking or an exchange of favors -- to the extent it existed at all. This does not mean that certain pagans did not act in a charitable manner, but it is clear that such was not the cultural norm and was not supported or encouraged by the pagan religions, philosophers, or the Roman government.

* * *

In sum, where Christianity spread it carried with it the teaching that charity was a religious duty and should be broadly given. When Christianity rose to prominence in the Roman Empire, new charitable programs were instituted. Through the Middle Ages, Christianity promoted wide-spread charity to those in need. Even into our modern day, the great charitable organizations in the West were founded upon this Christian ethic. Modern day polls also show that Christianity plays a very significant role in providing charitable giving and services. Accordingly, Christian promotion of charity is one of its great contributions to humanity.

Mr. Hattersley's article adds a loud "amen" to Mr. Price's thesis, and provides a good argument as to why Dr. Paul's simplistic statistical analysis is wrong.

Is ET a Christian? If ET exists, the Bible appears to say that he is a Christian. At least, this appears to be the conclusion of Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer. According to the report in an article entitled ET lives . . . and he's Christian by Ruth Gledhill published in the TimesonLine, Brother Consolmagno reaches this conclusion (which admits could be wrong) based on John 10: 14-16.

There is probably intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, and there is evidence in the Bible to suggest that it could be Christian, according to the Roman Catholic Church.

In a document published by the Catholic Truth Society, the official publisher for the Vatican, a papal astronomer speculates that "sooner or later, the human race will discover that there are other intelligent creatures out there in the Universe".

Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit, who is one of the Vatican's leading astronomers, concedes that he could be wrong. Ultimately, he says, "We don't know." But in the new book, part of the Explanations series designed to explain Catholic teaching in everyday language, he says that part of his hunch is scientific. With so many billions of planets, stars and galaxies, he says, "surely, somewhere in that number, there must be other civilised, rational beings".

To back up his hunch that the aliens will have been subject to Christ's saving grace, he cites the verses from John's Gospel known as the Good Shepherd passage. In John x, 14-16, Jesus says: "I am the Good Shepherd . . . I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd."

I recall several years ago reading an essay by C.S. Lewis in which he discussed the question of whether the existence of aliens disproved the existence of God. The argument to which C.S. Lewis was responding could be summarized as follows: Certainly, with all of the billions of planets in the universe, there must be millions of other species of life who would know nothing of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The fact that these other species of life certainly exist and the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection were limited to this planet shows that Christianity cannot be true because it would save only those on earth and doom billions of others to hell. I am not sure if this is the exact objection Lewis was addressing, but it is a pretty good reconstruction of an argument that was made to me while I was in law school.

I have not seen the C.S. Lewis essay I am referencing in about 20 years, and so I am going to try to reconstruct what I remember about Lewis' answer because I think it is instructive as to what the Brother Consolmagno is saying. C.S. Lewis pointed out the large measure of speculation needed to make the type of argument that I have tried to represent. He noted the following speculations:

1. There is life on other planets.
2. The life on other planets is more complex than bacteria or slime-molds.
3. The life on other planets is intelligent life.
4. The life on other planets has fallen.
5. The life on other planets has not had the story of what Jesus did on earth introduced to it through God's miraculous hand.

Now, Brother Consolmagno has assumed that 1 through 4, above, are true, but he does so based only on statistical probability. Personally, until he is able to demonstrate how life arose on earth such that it is a purely naturalistic phenomena, I don't believe anyone has the ability to calculate or estimate the statistical probability of life arising on other planets. Attempts to calculate the odds (such as Amir Aczel's book Probabilities 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe) are usually straight calculations of odds based upon estimates of how many stars are in a galaxy, how many of those stars might be hospitable, how many might have planets, and how many planets might have environments suitable to support life as we know it. The problem with these types of statistical calculations is that there almost certainly exists numerous other factors that work into the equation, but we cannot know what those factors are until we can show what conditions are necessary for life to arise spontaneously -- if it arises spontaneously at all!

Thus, I think that Brother Consolmagno makes a mistake in assuming that "surely, somewhere in that number [of stars and planets], there must be other civilised, rational beings". No, Brother Consolmagno, there doesn't have to be other civilized rational beings. There may not even be bacteria or slime-molds anywhere else in the universe. But even if there are such beings, does John 10 mean that they are Christian because God has gathered them? It seems to me to be a stretch to believe that John 10 is referencing extra-terrestials when there were so many perishing Gentiles just around the proverbial corner who these verses were most obviously referencing.

Even though I am personally not a Roman Catholic, I love my Roman Catholic brethren -- many of whom are the most intelligent, forceful and articulate defenders of the Christian faith I have ever met. Still, I think that this series is making a grave error in suggesting that John 10 could be applying to ET. It just seems to be stretching the text beyond its intended bounds based upon a faulty premise. Perhaps this needs to be considered a little more closely . . . .

David Booth, author of the fine Post Tenebras Lux has written a couple of short posts giving some comments on a new collection of essays by Richard Bauckham entitled The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. Mr. Booth's posts can be found here and here.

The Barnes and Noble notes on the book describe the book's thesis as follows:

This volume challenges the current consensus in New Testament scholarship that each of the Gospels was written for a specific church or group of churches. These essays argue, from a wide range of evidence, that the Gospels were intended for general circulation throughout all the early churches and, hence, were written for all Christians.

Loveday Alexander, Stephen C. Barton, Richard Bauckham, Richard Burridge, Michael B. Thompson, and Francis Watson examine such topics as the extent of communication between early Christian churches, book production and circulation in the Graeco-Roman world, the Gospel genre and its audience, the relationships between the Gospels, the faulty enterprise of reconstructing Gospel communities, and the hermeneutical and theological pitfalls of reading the Gospels as community texts. By putting in question a large body of assumptions that are almost universally accepted in contemporary scholarship, this book could fundamentally change both the method and the findings of Gospel interpretation.

Mr. Booth quotes Dr. Bauckham as saying:

"The first thing this information tells us is that mobility and communication in the first-century Roman world were exceptionally high. Unprecedentedly good roads and unprecedentedly safe travel by both land and sea made the Mediterranean world of this time more closely interconnected than any large are of the ancient world had ever been."

Mr. Booth notes that these conditions made expressions of interconnectedness possible, but what made them actual was the theological conviction that they were all one people in Christ. Quoting again from the book:

"The early Christian movement was not a scattering of isolated, self-sufficient communities with little or no communication between them, but quite the opposite: a network of communities with constant, close communication between themselves."

Mr. Booth is very enthusiastic about the book and its thesis, noting that it appears that the our 20th Century churches in the United States are "probably more parochial in our church interests than our brothers and sisters from the first century were." It sounds like a book worth picking up even though it appears that I will need to search for it in used bookshops since it appears to be out of print.

Last night, I had a short conversation with a student who is taking one of the critical thinking classes that I am teaching. He explained to me that he is taking a class in comparative religions and did not think that the subject would be good for applying the principles of critical thinking because religions are subject to faith. I told him that I thought that religious claims can certainly be subjected to critical analysis as some claims made by some religions strike me as simply illogical or factually wrong. I encouraged him to use the work he was doing in his comparative religion class to apply what he was learning in critical thinking.

I also told him that when one critically analyzes religious claims, one must first understand that it may not be possible to evaluate them definitively because some religions rely on faith alone divorced from fact and logic. In these cases if you are able to point to an irrefutable logical argument against a particular religious claim or demonstrate conclusively that the religious claim is based on erroneous facts, these "showings" may not constitute an appropriate refutation of that religious belief if that religious belief rejects logic and facts as a basis for knowing truth. But I also pointed out that this is a presupposition issue as to the nature of determining truth, and I did not find religions that reject logic and truth to be very compelling to me since my presuppositions say that logic and truth are crucial to religion.

Now, I think what I told him is absolutely true. If a person (who I will reference as the "believer" in this post) rejects all logic and fact and says "I will believe this religious belief in spite of the fact that you have shown that it is completely and utterly illogical" or "in spite of the fact that you have shown X, which is the basis of my religious belief, is untrue" because "there is no truth" or "logic doesn't apply to my religion", it is difficult to know how to respond. Certainly, such a believer is effectively saying that whatever is pointed out to her is irrelevant because she is going to stick to her religious beliefs regardless of whether truth and logic demonstrate the absolute falsity of her belief. If that is the believer's position, it may be time to abandon the discussion. Still, it seems very odd that anyone would actually adopt this position.

Think about it for a moment; if the believer adopted this same approach to his bank account, the results would be disastrous to his finances. If someone demonstrates to such a believer that his faith in the idea that he has a million dollars in his bank account is factually wrong because he has only $100.00 in the account, then that believer would be in serious trouble when he tried to write a check for more than $100.00. In some states, writing a bad check can result in penalties as much as three times the amount of the original check as punishment for passing the bad check. Obviously, rejecting facts for faith in a bank account is a very bad idea.

Suppose a believer uses this same approach about truth and logic in driving an automobile. She may deny that the stop sign actually means "stop" because "there is no truth" which could result in a painful collision with someone who doesn't share the believer's faith. Alternatively, she may contend that "stop" means "go" because applying a single meaning to the word "stop" would cause her to be in accord with the law of non-contradiction -- a principle rule of logic that says that one thing cannot also be its opposite -- again resulting in a potential tragedy. Obviously, applying the same rules rejecting truth and logic to everyday life can result in horrible consequences.

If the believer has enough sense to recognize that religion is necessary to give any real meaning to life, and enough sense to realize that holding the correct view may be essential to where one spends eternity upon death -- both of which are more important in an ultimate sense then the balance of your checkbook or the rules of driving -- then it seems a bit odd that they would accept the idea that neither facts nor logic matter in determining whether a particular religious belief is true.

Some may say "well, Christianity is a religion of faith, so shouldn't you reject Christianity?" This objection misunderstands the nature of Christian faith. Christian faith is not blind faith. Many people understand Christian faith to be the second type of definition for faith found on Infoplease, i.e., "belief that is not based on proof." But the first definition is actually closer to the Christian idea, i.e., "confidence or trust in a person or thing." Christians believe Christianity because they believe that God actually exists, that Jesus is actually His Son, that Jesus actually lived, died and rose again, and a number of other very significant doctrines that are all factually true and make good logical sense. Jesus said "I am the truth, the way and the life," and we believe that the facts and logic back that up.

One should never be afraid to use critical thinking skills on religious beliefs. I am not afraid to have Christianity subjected to such scrutiny because it not only survives such review, it actually stands up very well to such scrutiny if it is done truly objectively, and this ability to stand up to scrutiny separates Christianity from many other religious beliefs.

In this post, BK took a paleontologist -- Gregory S. Paul -- to task for blaming society’s ills on too much religion in an article published in the Journal of Religion and Society. Not that BK needed the help, but I thought I would flag a Wall Street Journal op-ed that also points out the follies of this claim.

Wait one minute; Bertrand Russell quoted favorably on a Christian blog? Bertrand Russell, one of the lead apologists for atheistic beliefs and author of the favorite book of many atheists, Why I am not a Christian?

Well, believe it or not, except for his forays into the area of religion, Bertrand Russell actually was a pretty good philosopher. As described by the Stanford Encyclopedia,

His most influential contributions include his defense of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), and his theories of definite descriptions and logical atomism. Along with G.E. Moore, Russell is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy. Along with Kurt Gödel, he is also regularly credited with being one of the two most important logicians of the twentieth century.

Now, while surfing the web today I found the following quote on RedNova, unfortunately without a reference for where he said it:

An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalisation would be just as well founded as the generalisation which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.

Hmmmmmm. I wonder if the legions of Darwinists have considered this criticism of the nature of their work.

The June 2005 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society has an interesting article entitled "Something Awry in the Temple? The Rending of the Temple Veil and Early Jewish Sources that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple around AD 30" by Robert L. Plummer, Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have not yet been able to find the article available on-line, but older articels from the publication apparently are published on the Internet at find articles.

In the article, Dr. Plummer discusses the Gospel of Matthew's mention of the rending of the temple veil in both Luke 32:45 (". . . and the veil of the temple was torn in two") and Matthew 27:51 ("And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom . . . ."). While many people tend to identify this rending of the veil as symbolic of the fact that there is no longer a barrier between man and God as a result of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, Dr. Plummer suggests that the Jewish literature of the time suggests that other changes occurred at the Temple at the time of Jesus' death which gives further historical credence to the reports of Matthew and Luke that the Temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the remainer of the Temple was torn in two.

In particular, Dr. Plummer cites six separate Jewish writings that mention several supernatural-type events at the time of Jesus' death that are akin to the message to be drawn from the rending of the Temple curtain. The most interesting one, in my opinion, is his citation of Tractate Yoma 6:3 of the Jerusalem Talmud which reads:

It has been taught: Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said [to the Temple] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, "O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars!"' (Zech 11:1).17

The first thing to note is that the time of the events described in the Tractate Yoma passage occurred "forty years before the destruction of the Temple". Since the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., then that means the events described would have occurred either beginning at or around 30 A.D. -- roughly the time that most everyone ackowledges Jesus would have been crucified. So, we have a relatively close proximity of time between the commencement of the events described and the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But what do these things mean? What does it mean that the western light went out or the crimson thread remained crimson? Dr. Plummer explains each of these, and shows that the extinguishing of the western light, the unchanging color of the crimson thread, and the lot in the left hand all indicated signs that God had either withdrawn from the Temple or removed his blessing upon it.

First, the extinguishing of the western light (note: I have omitted the footnotes from all of the following quotes for ease of reading):

The "western light" went out on its own in an uncanny manner. According to the Talmud, this "western light" or "western lamp" . . . was the center lamp of the Menorah (or candelabrum). Although the designation of "western light" for a center lamp may seem a bit odd to us, the lamp was described as "western" because of its position to the west of the lamp branches on the east side. According to rabbinic tradition, this "western lamp" remained lit beyond the normally expected time—miraculously indicating God’s blessing and/or presence. Accordingly, the regular self-extinguishing of the main lamp in the temple we find described in the Jerusalem Talmud above would seem to indicate a departure of God’s presence or lack of blessing.

The crimson thread also indicated a withdrawing of either God from the temple or a removal of his blessing.

A thread which supernaturally changed from a crimson color to white on the Day of Atonement (as recorded in post-OT Jewish tradition) ceased to do so. The thread's miraculous change in color was thought to display symbolically God's fulfillment of his promise in Isa 1:18, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool." The cessation of this miraculous event seems to imply that the rituals on the Day of Atonement were not effectively dealing with people's sins.

So, the fact that the crimon thread remained crimson and the western light failed to remain lit strongly suggests that the atonement which the Jewish people sought from God was no longer being accepted. Why not? Perhaps because this way of approaching God for forgiveness of sin was no longer the proper way following the death of Jesus.

Dr. Plummer explains further that the lot in the left hand related to whether God was continuing to favor the Jewish people.

On the Day of Atonement, when lots were cast (one lot for the Lord and one for the scapegoat-see Lev 16:8), the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. Over a number of years, this consistently inauspicious result was recognized as a disturbing variance from the normal statistical expectation. Significantly, rabbinic tradition also reports that at an earlier time, the lot for the Lord always came up in the right hand as a sign of God's favor.

It appears that the first three references in the Tractate Yoma are to events that show that as of approximately the date of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jewish people working through the temple for Atonement were not longer being held in God's favor. What is interestesting is that the first two events represent a stopping of the supernatural event of the turning of the crimson thread white and the keeping of the western light burning, while the third is a supernatural event that defies statistical probabilities (apparently) where the lot always occurs in the left hand (much like flipping a coin repeatedly and always having it turn up heads).

What about the gates?

The gates of the temple opened at night on their own in an inexplicable manner. This unusual pattern seems to demonstrate either a departure of God's presence, an invitation to invaders, or both. The Talmudic tradition clearly presents the event as a portent of coming destruction, as the following passage indicates, where we read that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai addresses the temple with these words: "O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars!'" (Zech 11:1). Although no curtain is mentioned here in the Talmud, the tradition of gates being opened apart from any human intervention is possibly conceptually the closest to the supernatural opening of a temple veil.

It does seem as if the opening of the temple gates plays the same role as the rending of the veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the remainder of the Temple. All of these supernatural signs, taken together, seem to suggest that God was indicating that the Temple was no longer the place to come to Him for atonement because something had changed.

The article continues and cites other passages from the Talmud including Tractate Yoma 4:1 of the Babylonian Talmud; Midrash Rabbah Leviticus 21:12; Tosefta Sotah 13:6-8; Wars of the Jews by the Jewish historian Josephus, book six, chapter five; and The Lives of the Prophets 12. I would discuss them all, but I want to encourage people to buy the original article if you find this discussion to be of interest (plus, I don't want to violate the "fair use" provisions of the U.S. Copyright laws).

What is Dr. Plummer's conclusion?

Our conclusions must remain tentative about the historical reality of the events reported in the non-biblical Jewish sources. We must be circumspect as well in attempts to correlate them with historical accounts in the Gospels. Yet, even with these caveats, it appears to me that there is enough relevant data to warrant considering this information in historical assessments of the Gospel narratives. It is standard in commentaries on the Gospels to include Talmudic references to reports that Jesus was a sorcerer or illegitimate child. It seems to me that some of the references we have examined in this paper would at least warrant similar consideration for possible historical confirmation of unusual phenomena in the temple at the time of Jesus' death.

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