The Episcopalian Church has taken steps that are out of step with the broader Anglican Communion to which it belongs. It has ordained an openly homosexual bishop and recently elected a female bishop who supported that move as its Presiding Bishop. The broader Anglican Communion, with large segments of more conservative members in Africa and Asia, has issued a statement asking the Episcopalian Church to basically just slow down.
Unlike more hierarchical institutions such as the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury -- the Anglican Communion's leading cleric -- cannot simply order member churches or orgainzations to change their policies. So, I was surprised when I read this article, "U.S. Episcopals Ordered To Renounce Consecration Of Gay Bishop Or Be Expelled."
When you actually read the article, you will see that no order was issued. Rather, the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a "reflection" that calls "for Anglicans around the world to forge an agreement on issues that divide them, including the roles of gay clergy and women in the church, and suggested that the U.S. Episcopal Church could be relegated to second-tier status if it is unwilling to sign the proposed covenant." In other words, if the Episcopalian Church continues to openly defy the Anglican consensus on the issue then they might be classified as some sort of "associate" of the Anglican Communion rather than a full member of it.
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- Finding Faith in Science Fiction
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- More on the "Finding" of Noah's Ark
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The Episcopalian Church has taken steps that are out of step with the broader Anglican Communion to which it belongs. It has ordained an openly homosexual bishop and recently elected a female bishop who supported that move as its Presiding Bishop. The broader Anglican Communion, with large segments of more conservative members in Africa and Asia, has issued a statement asking the Episcopalian Church to basically just slow down.
Rich at God and Science, one of my favorite sites, has the following report that I didn't catch:
Introduction -- Skeptics often claim that Old Testament writers exaggerated or made up the existence of the Hebrew kingdoms described in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Hebrew rulers David and Solomon, are said to be minor players in the region at best, or fictional characters at worst. However, new archeological finds are confirming at least some of the historical claims of the Old Testament. Now, physical evidence confirms that the Hebrews possessed their written language as early as the 10th century B.C.
New evidence -- Archeologists discovered an inscribed stone embedded into the wall of an extensive collection of buildings in Tel Zayit, about 35 miles southwest of Jerusalem. The 40-pound stone consisted of two lines of incised letters, representing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Although not identical to modern Hebrew, the letters were recognizable as being an early form of the written Hebrew language. The site was given a preliminary date of the 10th century B.C. by examining associated pottery finds.
Conclusion -- The discovery of a 10th century B.C. Hebrew city at Tel Zayit, Israel confirms the existence of a Hebrew kingdom during the reigns of David and Solomon described in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The presence of an [sic] stone incised with letters from an early version of the Hebrew language makes it reasonable to speculate that the Hebrews were already recording their history in written records at that time.
The record of archaeological confirmations of aspects of the Biblical story is long -- so long, in fact, that I am amazed at the lack of appreciation archaeologists seem to have for the Biblical records when it describes events that occurred prior to about 600 BC. Ah well, given its track record, I suspect that it will only be a matter of time before things that archaeologists say didn't happen (like the destruction of the walls of Jericho by Joshua) will be confirmed as happening in much the same way as described in the Bible.
Faith in Science
I am a fan of science fiction books, shows, and movies. Not surprisingly, one focus of science fiction stories is how much science itself will accomplish in the future. There is an expectancy, a faith if you will, in the onward march of science. While it is true that science fiction as a genre often explores the possible dark side of scientific advancement, the advancement itself is unquestioned.
This faith is understandable to a large extent given how much our scientific progress has gained for us in the West. The problem is that many think that the advance of science means the elimination of the supernatural. There is no reason that this need be true, but it is often a theme in science fiction.
One example that comes to mind is Stargate SG-1, one of my favorite shows (at least while it still featured Richard Dean Anderson). The premise is that all the ancient pagan gods were actually advanced aliens pretending to be deities to more effecitvely rule mankind. Now that earth has advanced technologically to a certain point, the U.S. has uncovered some of their technology and have used it to travel to other planets. The old gods are out there, however, and the U.S. Air Force regularly engages them in armed conflict. Conspicuously absent is any hint that the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim God was an alien impersonator. That is probably for ratings reasons although there have been an episode or two that hint that the God is the real deal.
The Third Law
This attitude flows from the third of the “laws of prediction” articulated by renowned sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Many science fiction authors have used this law to suggest that any apparent magic (or the supernatural), as indicated by fantastic feats or events -- must be the result of science.
The problem with taking the “Third Law” to that extreme is that is assumes what has not been demonstrated. I believe in science and the supernatural. But just because I believe in the supernatural does not mean I explain all events and happenings – even unusual events and happenings – in supernatural terms. And just because I believe in science does not mean that I foreclose a possible supernatural explanation for certain events – such as the creation of the universe, the existence of human life, and the resurrection of Jesus.
This undercurrent often bugs me, but I enjoy the genre nonetheless. Still, it is refreshing when I come across fiction authors – top ones in the field no less – who recognize this tendency in science fiction, and modern preconceptions, and are critical of it. Below I discuss -- with spoilers -- two popular fiction books.
Faith in Science Fiction
In 1976, two of my favorite authors – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – published Inferno, an updated version of Dante’s Inferno. Therein, instead of Dante traveling through hell, we have an agnostic science fiction writer – Allen Carpentier -- who dies ignobly while drunk at a party. He ends up in the first circle of hell and – guided by “Benny” – travels deeper and deeper into the inferno, becoming exposed to more and more of its horrors. Carpentier struggles mightily to rationalize all that he sees and refuses to seriously consider that he is in hell. His continuously revised explanation starts with the premise that he was frozen shortly after his death and revised many years later. His reconstituted body was placed in an elaborate futuristic amusement park or reality show (which he labels “Infernoland”) constructed by “the Builders” who have powerful technology.
Halfway through the book, Carpentier still refuses to believe he is in hell despite its parallels with Dante’s vision of hell and despite the conditions around him and within him (his inability to die, his lower mass, his healing after being burned). He even invokes the Third Law:
Infernoland. Disneyland of the Damnable… Clarke’s law kept running through my head, an old axiom of science fiction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
In my time it would take magic, the supernatural, to make that many people, not weightless, but massless. It wasn’t even possible in theory to extract the inertia and leave the weight. But they could do it, the Builders, the God Corporation. Why? It must have cost a lot. Just how big a paying audience did they have.
Eventually, Carpentier realizes that he has come to attribute such power and motivations to “the Builders” that they are in fact no different than God. It is only after he accepts that he is really in Hell and that God is truly punishing people for their wickedness that he begins his journey to find a way out. The refusal to believe in the supernatural – arising from his conviction that only science could explain his condition – had impeded the search for truth. In other words, the opening of the mind to all possibilities to explain an extraordinary event but one – even if that one is supernatural – means that one’s mind is really closed.
Another – more recent sci-fi effort – that turned Clarke’s Third Law on its head was Dean Koontz’s The Taking. The book starts out spooky and continues to digress deeper and deeper into some of the creepiest and most horrific narrative Koontz has ever penned. In The Taking, the world seems to be ending, with dramatic and devastating weather events around the world. From fragmented news reports, we learn that the crewman on the space station suffer cruel fates. The culprit appears to be the work of an insidious alien invasion intent on their equivalent of terraforming. At least at first.
Closer to home, neighbors start turning up dead or missing. An evil much more personal is at work, acting with a hatred of humanity and viciousness that defies explanation. At least it defies any seemingly scientific explanation or imagined alien invaders. The facts simply do not add up. Koontz' ending provides the only rational explanation for the horror and evil that has occurred. It is Judgment Day and God has lifted his restraint of Satan’s fury against man. Much of humanity suffers from Satan’s rampage, but God’s protection saves many and renews the earth. One of the few adults to survive the carnage refers to the Third Law at the end. Therein, she first explains what everyone believed was going on:
An extraterrestrial species, hundreds or thousands of years more advanced than we are, would possess technology that would appear to us to be not the result of applied science but entirely supernatural, pure magic.
Then, the heroine explained what had really happened:
New thought: A supernatural event of world-shaking proportions, occurring in a faithless time when only science is believed to have the power to work miracles, might appear to be the work of an extraterrestrial species hundreds or even thousands of years more advanced than we are.
Satan, aware of the state of modern man’s preconceptions, had played up the deception, but the evidence was there for those who could see it without anti-supernatural blinders on.
Both books are great reads from a purely literary standpoint. (Disclaimer: I'm not endorsing any particular theology of hell or the end of the world, and I doubt the authors meant to do so). But I believe these two books are helpful reminders that – just as in the Age of Faith people too often invoked God to explain the unknown – people in the Age of Science may also jump to the wrong conclusion if they close their minds to all explanations suggested by the evidence.
According to News.Scotsman.com, over 1000 skeletons have recently been located in the catacombs beneath Rome. According to the account:
ARCHAELOGISTS exploring one of Rome's oldest catacombs have discovered more than 1,000 skeletons dressed in elegant togas.
Experts are thrilled by the find - which dates from about the first century - as it is the first "mass burial" of its kind identified. Mystery surrounds why so many bodies were neatly piled together in the complex network of underground burial chambers, which stretch for miles under the city.
It was the custom then for Rome's upper classes to be burnt not buried, so it is thought the skeletons may be early Christians. Tests are being carried to establish whether they suffered violent death or were victims of an unknown epidemic or natural disaster.
It should be noted that these bodies are from the 1st Century, and if they are, in fact, Christian skeletons it would be further confirmation that Christianity had spread to Rome by that time as recorded in the Bible and several other places. I make this statement only because some people apparently don't understand how quickly Christianity spread. Take, for example, the very first comment to the article on the Scottsman.com website:
The skeletons were not Christian. Christianity did not spread to Rome until after the first century. As is true for many or most of the catacomb burials, the skeletons were very likely Jewish. Rome had an immense Jewish population before and after the destruction of Jewish independence in ancient Israel in the year 70.
Christianity didn't spread to Rome until after the First Century? I guess that Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans to . . . uh, the people in Rome, New York? Oh yeah, and the Neroian persecutions were of . . . um . . . who? No, while they have yet to confirm the identities of these people, given what we know about the catacombs and the early Christian community in Rome I think that the archaeologists' first instinct is correct that they are Christians and the only real question is exactly when and how they died.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument presents an argument for the existence of God from the existence of the universe by posing a series of three dilemmas, each of which builds upon the other. The three dilemmas are as follows:
(1) The universe had a beginning or it did not have a beginning.
(2) The beginning of the universe was caused or it was not caused.
(3) The cause of the universe was personal or it was impersonal.
The three dilemmas present the three questions in "A or not-A" styles. Thus, it is not possible to choose some other intermediate ground on these issues. Either the universe had a beginning or it didn't -- there is no middle ground. It is only if the question is answered in the affirmative that one would move on to the second question.
I think that most people now acknowledge that the universe had a beginning. While there remain models for a beginningless universe, most scientists that I have read seems to agree that the universe is expanding and it is accelerating in its expansion. Thus, the evidence suggests that it started from a single point and will expand eternally. In other words, there was a beginning and it wasn't part of a repetitive cycle of universes. So, most people will agree with the fact that the universe had a beginning.
It is the second leg where people get hung up. They agree that in the ordinary course, events do not happen without a cause. Thus, in the ordinary case they would acknowledge that if a boulder falls, it fell because of gravity. But they are willing to point to an exception: quantum mechanics. Hearing that in the wild, wacky quantum universe particles seem to explode into our universe as if they appear out of nothing, people assume that the universe could have come into existence in the same way as these subatomic particles, i.e., simply appear out of nothing.
But it is my understanding that scientists don't believe that these particles come into existence out of nothing. Keep in mind, quantum mechanics is a developing, inexact science which deals with particles much too small to measure (in fact, one of the problems of quantum mechanics is that you cannot measure these particles because the method used for measuring changes the particles' attributes). Thus, what scientists in this area are saying is that these particles "appear to come into existence without cause," but that is by no means a final answer or even certain. In other words, it is not by any means certain that these quantum particles are coming into existence "uncaused" in any ordinary sense of the word. They may simply be stepping into and outside of our ability to sense of measure them. This action of moving from one place to another outside of our ability to measure, to my understanding, is "quantum tunneling".
Some suggest that the universe came into existence as the result of "quantum tunneling." Dr. Hugh Ross has responded to that claim in an essay entitled "Quantum Mechanics, a Modern Goliath" where he notes:
Noting that virtual particles can pop into existence from nothingness through quantum tunneling, [British astrophysicist Paul] Davies employs the new grand unified theories to suggest that in the same manner the whole universe popped into existence. Ironically, his argument against God's creating can now be turned against his hypothesis. Quantum mechanics is founded on the concept that quantum events occur according to finite probabilities within finite time intervals. The larger the time interval, the greater the probability that a quantum event will occur. Outside of time, however, no quantum event is possible. Therefore, the origin of time (coincident with that of space, matter, and energy) eliminates quantum tunneling as "creator."
To Davies' credit, he has been revising his position. He recently argued that the laws of physics "seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design." Still more recently he posed this question: "If new organizational levels just pop into existence for no reason, why do we see such an orderly progression in the universe from featureless origin to rich diversity?" He concludes that we have "powerful evidence that there is 'something going on' behind it all."
In other words, if a person argues that the universe sprang into existence from nothing based on quantum mechanics, it appears that it is appropriate to note a couple of things: first, these particles aren't necessarily popping into existence, but merely moving from a place where they can't be detected to a place they can. Second, these quantum activities are taking place in a universe where time exists, and if time didn't exist, these activities couldn't happen. Since time came into existence with the universe, how did these quantum events occur when time didn't exist?
Can quantum tunneling explain the universe? Well, it might, but at the moment I have no compelling reason to believe that it does.
Anyway, once you get them to see that the universe as we know it is a chain of causation, ask them why it should come into existence from nothing and without cause. Why should that change. Also, it is not meaningless to speak of "before the universe came to be" because of the nature of the universe. We know that there was a time that the universe came to be, approximately 13 billion years ago. 20 billion years ago, there wasn't a universe. There may not even have been time, but there certainly wasn't a universe. Now in this state of "non-time" before existence, what made the universe spring into existence from the three choices I described, i.e., nothing, laws of nature (which weren't in existence) or intelligent cause?
I saw an article on Intelligent Design (ID) in the New York Sun that caught my attention. Entitled "Scientists Take on Intelligent Design", the article reviews a book entitled Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movementby John Brockman (editor). According to the publisher's notes,
Writer and editor Brockman (What We Believe but Cannot Prove), who publishes the online magazine Edge, has assembled sixteen short essays by prominent scientists on current thinking about evolution.
Okay, it sounds interesting. I thought about buying the book and giving it a read since I certainly don't want these scientists to conclude that people who don't accept their theories haven't listened to them. I was seriously considering spending my own money to afford them their best shot at trying to convince me that ID was wrong. (After all, whenever I read the arguments against Intelligent Design, one of the first arguments is almost always that the scientific community is not communicating what it knows well.)
But then I read further down the page in the New York Sun review. Here's what I saw:
The war (it must be so named) between science and the fundamentalist faith-driven IDM is of a deeply troubling import for science education, and for science itself - thus inevitably for contemporary culture. * * *
In the opening essay, "Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name," Mr. Coyne sets forth the argument that the IDM is motivated by religion and is, rather than serious scholarship, a faith-based attack on the architecture and trustworthiness of natural science.
Can we just stop it with the name calling? Just once? Can we have a discussion about the merits of the ID movement without calling it "fundamentalist"? These types of attacks are not only wrong, they are decidedly ad hominem in nature. They are designed to not address the merits of the arguments put forward by the advocates of ID, but to smear them as "religious fanatics" or some such thing who are wanting to take us back to the dark ages. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I think ID makes sense, but I am not wedded to the idea. I am willing to have my mind changed, but I have talked to scientists -- good scientists -- who believe ID is both sane and scientific. Thus, to try at the ourset of a book to make it a case of "crazy right-wing fanatics" (which the use of the word "fundamentalist" implies) against the "sane, lab-coated professionals" is simply wrong. There are "sane, lab-coated professionals" who think ID makes sense -- especially in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy.
Moreover, let's assume for the moment that the ID advocates are motivated, in part, by their beliefs in God. Okay, what of it? Simply because a scientific theory has a religious foundation does not make it wrong. Many of the greatest discoveries in the history of science were made by Christian scientists who were seeking to understand the mind of God by studying his handiwork. We aren't going to go back and say that Newton and Mendel and other great scientists were wrong simply because they held a religious viewpoint behind their work. If they were wrong, it needs to be shown by strong argumentation of the facts -- science supposedly thrives on that type of challenge (at least according to the scientific method).
Sorry, but I have come to the place in this ID v. evolution debate where I no longer care to read anything by anyone who first attacks the messenger. If you have a complaint against the theory of ID that does not revolve around the fact that the people advocating it may or may not have a Christian or theistic worldview, I'll listen. But if you are going to start out misrepresenting and slandering as the way of trying to make your point, forget it -- I'm not listening anymore.
s8int has located some more background information about Bob Cornuke's discovery of what may be Noah's Ark in Iran. As I noted previously, the interview with John Kasich didn't give much in the way of background information concerning the find, but the article published on s8int by Bill Wilson, Koenig's International, gives a great deal of more detail. The article reports:
1. The object that is being identified as possibly being the remains of Noah's Ark (for convenience, I will reference it as just "the Ark" from this point forward) is located in the mountains about six hours North of Tehran, Iran. The article includes photos of Sabalan Peak Lake, so it appears that the Ark is near that Lake. A photo of Mt. Sabalan is at left.
2. Contrary to the claims of a skeptical blogger that I read, the team that went with Mr. Cornuke to examine the remains consisted of "15 geologists, historians, archeologists, scientists and attorneys." Thus, Mr. Cornuke did take with him people who knew what they were doing and would be able to bring some training in both archaeology and geology to the investigation.
3. The object is ordinarily covered under a glacier but our warmer worldwide temperatures has revealed the object's "450 foot by 75 foot" footprint.
4. The heart of the article reads:
After crawling on hands and knees miles above the earth’s surface in four below zero weather, the expedition found an altar, which could very well be the altar Noah built because it was made from the same materials they later found in the Ark.
They found grapevines over two inches think in the area, of which the DNA from the grapes is the oldest known to man. Genesis 9:20 says that Noah planted a vineyard. But most amazing was the ark itself.
It was found in sections, somewhat like a house that had collapsed over the years. Sections of petrified wood 12 to 14 feet high and 40 feet long were found.
They found a huge pile of timber, thought to be floors or walls, in four-to-six foot sections.
Looking at this last bit critically -- I find this last quoted part to be disturbing. I am trying to determine why the team needed to crawl on hands and knees when Mt. Sabalan is a walk-up mountain (according to Peakware, the self-proclaimed "world's premier mountain and mountaineering resource.") I am also puzzling over the fact that the DNA results from the grapes have been made public so quickly when I would have thought that such a determination would take longer than the analysis of the wood of the ark itself. And exactly how did they determine that the DNA of these vines are the oldest grapes known to man? And what about this altar? It's "made from the same materials they later found in the Ark" but we don't really have any details about what the Ark itself was made of (the Ark is described in Genesis as having been made of gopher wood, but no one is certain as to what type of wood was being described because we don't have any gopher trees). Thus, I would have liked to know what type of wood made up the wooden structures found.
Again, I expect that evidence of Noah's Ark will be found someday, and I further believe that this find could actually be Noah's Ark, but there are some things about this report that continue to trouble me. I look forward to more details being released.
Breakpoint with Charles Colson published a very interesting article concerning the Didache entitled "A Call to the Faithful: The Didache and Human Life". For those unfamiliar with the Didache (aka The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles), it is an early Christian document that was not incorporated into the canon of the New Testament. Some would date it prior to the Gospels (around 50 AD) while others date it as late as 160 AD. The document is basically an instruction book for the early church in discipling divided into three parts.
What appears to be undisputed is that the document is a Christian document -- it is not Gnostic or heretical in any major sense (although there are some references in the document that are a bit troublesome). Thus, unlike so many of the more famous early documents that were excluded from the canon because they were Gnostic (such as the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas), virtually everyone agrees thath the Didache can actually be read to understand some of the beliefs of the most primitive form of Christianity. As Charles Colson puts it (quoting Christianity Today), "While no one believes that any of the twelve apostles wrote it, scholars agree that the work is a faithful transmission of the apostles' teaching, intended primarily for the training of Gentile believers."
What Charles Colson noted was that the Didache had something to say of great importance to the present debate within Christianity over abortion. While the greater part of the conservative church believes that abortion is an abomination that ought to be eliminated, many of our mainline denominations are moving towards accepting or have already accepted abortion as a necessary (if not preferred) practice. But the Didache shows that the earliest Christians would have found this more liberal view unacceptable. Here is what the Didache says, in pertinent part with the emphasis in the text (not the titles) added:
Chapter 1. The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. * * *
Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden. And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. * * *
Chapter 5. The Way of Death. And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.
Even at the beginning of Christian history the church recognized and advocated for Christians to become a culture of life and to reject a culture of death. Thus, the movement of the church to protect all life which is "the handiwork of God" has been with the church since the beginning and is not some late arrival in the church with the coming of the Evangelicals in the 20th Century. Yet, nearly 2,000 years later, we are still having to advocate to protect life -- even to other people who profess Christ as their savior.
The desire of the Christian church to protect life -- including prenatal life -- has been part of the church since the beginning. This desire should continue to be the desire of the church as it heads into the 21st Century and for all time.
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.
On April 9, 2006, Maureen G. -- the wife of Cadre member Jeff G. -- went home to be with her Lord. Her passing was not sudden, as she had suffered for some time from the cancer that took her life. I can think of no greater heartbreak save perhaps the passing of one's child. In this account of his wife's suffering and death, as well his own response to these events, Jeff explores the effect and role of pain and suffering in the life of a Christian.
I came to respect and count Jeff as a friend before his wife died. Having gotten to know him better since, and especially after reading this article, my respect for him has increased yet more. Through Maureen's passing, and Jeff's faith, I have been encouraged in my own walk and have reexamined my own priorites. I trust that if you read Jeff's account that you will experience the same.
According to Hearland on Fox News Saturday Night, Bob Cornuke of the BASE Institute has found the petrified remains of a wooden ship situated approximately 14,000 feet on a mountain-side in Western Iraq. A two and one-half minute video (no sound) of some of the footage shown on Fox News can be found here. I had a couple of reactions to this video I wanted to share.
First, I admit to being one of the people seen as fundamentalists in the eyes of skeptics on the issue of Biblicl inerrancy. (I am not a fundamentalist in my theology, but that seems to make little difference to skeptics who believe that if you believe any portion of Genesis as being true you must be a wild-eyed fanatic.) Thus, I do believe there was an ark as described in the Bible. I do believe that there was a flood, although the extent of that flood is somewhat questionable. Certainly, the time in which the flood took place is very questionable since the Bible does not say when the flood took place in a way that I think can be measured. But I certainly do believe that eventually evidence of an ark will be found.
Second, I do believe that the ark would have come to rest not on Mt. Ararat, but elsewhere in the "mountains of Ararat" which would include the area where the structure found by Mr. Cornuke was found.
Third, it seems that the interview that Mr. Cornuke had on Heartland was almost a waste of time since Mr. Kasich didn't seem to ask him a legitimate question in the entire interview that would have told us anything substantive about the find. The only thing worthwhile about the interview was the video footage played in the background.
Fourth, I have concerns about the BASE Institute. While I find what they do to be interesting, it almost seems as if their finds are too tidy. Moreover, if the BASE Institute's discoveries are so obvious, why in the world are they not adopted by the majority of archaeologists? I cannot believe that the majority of archaeologists would let such obvious evidence of events in the past be thought false just because they aren't Christian or Jewish (and I expect there are a large number of Jewish, Christian and Muslim archaeologists who would love to see the Ark found). Thus, while I certainly cannot show that the BASE Institute is wrong, I have questions about their finds whenever I see them pop up with a claim.
Fifth, the structure on the mountain (exactly where it is is still somewhat unclear to me) could be just that -- a wooden structure that became petrified over time. Perhaps it was a building or temple built in honor of Noah's Ark by the local residents who have -- through the passage of many, many years of time -- morphed the idea of a monument of the ark into the real thing.
Sixth, the fossils of the seashells could be much older fossils of an age when that entire mountain was underwater.
In sum, I find the report that this is optimistic both very intriguing, but so far very short of sufficient proof for me to crown it "Noah's Ark found". I look forward to seeing the results of the tests on the "petrified" wood published and to see what, if any, comments other archaeologists make to the finding. I remain hopeful, but skeptical.
(HT: 88int.com for the video.
While I am aware that many people don't believe that Noah's Ark existed at all, a friend of mine raised the question about where Noah's Ark might have landed assuming it existed at all. The most commonly identified site for the landing is a mountain located in western-most Turkey known as Mount Ararat. But it seems that after many expeditions to Mt. Ararat, most people either no longer believe it is a good candidate for the location of the ark, or they believe that proof is either buried or unlikely to be found.
But what does the Bible say about where Noah's Ark landed? According to Genesis 8:4, the ark came to rest on the seventeenth day of the seventh month "on the mountains of Ararat" (har 'Ararat). The form of the word "mountain" (har) used is plural. Thus, it is a mistake to assume that the reference to the "mountains of Ararat" is to the Mountain known as Ararat itself.
So, what were these "mountains of Ararat"? According to an article written by archaeologist David Rohl called "Mountain of the Ark" which was published in The Express on Saturday, March 13, 1999,
Biblical Ararat is recognised as being identical with the region that the 1st millennium BC Assyrians called Urartu - a land which covered much of the central section of the Zagros range. According to Genesis, therefore, the Ark must be searched for in modern Kurdistan, not hundreds of miles to the north on the volcanic peak we know today as Ararat in Armenia.
Urartu, according to About.com was "the ancient name for the region called Ararat in the Judeo-Christian bible, located in parts of what are now the modern day countries of Turkey, Armenia and Iran." The Zagros Mountain range extends across a wide area of the area between modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Iran. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Zagros Mountain range is a
mountain range in southwestern Iran, extending northwest-southeast from the Sirvan (Diyala) River to Shiraz. The Zagros range is about 550 miles (900 km) long and more than 150 miles (240 km) wide. Situated mostly in what is now Iran, it forms the extreme western boundary of the Iranian plateau, though its foothills to the north and west extend into adjacent countries.
Other than the references to the fact that Noah, when he landed, built an alter to the Lord (Genesis 8:20) and planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20) -- and this later action did not have to occur where the ark landed -- there is very little to identify the location for the landing of the ark.
Personally, I would think that the place to start looking for the ark would be in the areas intersected by the land of Urarta and the Zagrow Mountain range. This could be an area in norther Iraq, southern Turkey or even western Iran. It certainly doesn't have to be the area of Mount Ararat. In fact, the David Rohl article points out that the identification of Mount Ararat with the mountain that the ark landed on was an identification that didn't occur until the second millenium AD. According to Rohl:
It was only in the 13th century AD, when Vincent de Beauvais, Friar William of Rubruck, Odoric and Marco Polo came this way, that Mount Ararat superseded a much older and widely recognised location for the Place of Descent.
According to Rohl, the original landing places were never identified with Mount Ararat, but lists instead three sites that were more traditionally associated with the place of landing of Noah's Ark. He says:
The Koran (8th century AD) calls Noah's landing site Gebel Judi ('Mountain of the Heights') and the 10th-century Muslim writer, Ibn Haukal, observes that 'Judi is a mountain near Nisibis. It is said that the ark of Noah (peace be upon him) rested on the summit of this mountain'. Nisibis is modern Nesibin or Nusaybin, one hundred miles north-west of Mosul on the southern edge of the Zagros foothills.
The early Nestorian Christians (followers of Nestorius, 4th-century patriarch of Constantinople) knew this to be the true landing place of the Ark. The pilgrim saint, Jacob of Nisibis (also 4th century) - note the link with the town claimed to be near Gebel Judi by Ibn Haukal - was the first Christian to look for the mountain of the Ark. His search concentrated in the 'district of Gartouk' which scholars recognise as a late spelling of classical Carduchi which, in turn, derives from Kardu - the ancient name of Kurdistan.
But we can narrow down our search even further. Hippolytus (AD 155-236) informs us that the landing site of the Ark was located in 'those mountains called Ararat which are situated in the country of the Adiabeni'. The Greek and Latin sources place Adiabene in the mountains to the north of Mosul where the Hadhabeni tribe still live today. One hundred miles due north of Mosul, just across the Iraqi border into Turkey and ninety miles to the east of Nesibin, the 7000-feet peak of Judi Dagh ('Judi Mountain') rises from the Mesopotamian plain. This surely has to be the landing site of Noah's Ark referred to in all the early, Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources.
While Mr. Rohl attempts to make a case for Gebel Judi as the location for the landing, it seems to me that these earlier sources only lead to the conclusion that the earlier location of the landing of the ark was not Mount Ararat because the people didn't identify Mount Ararat with the "mountains of Ararat" described in Genesis 8:4. Gebel Judi may be the site, but I am simply not convinced of that. Thus, while I certainly invite the readers to take these resources into heavier consideration, it seems to me that it is the most cautious route to assume only that these earlier sources argue against necessarily identifying Mount Ararat with the place of the landing.
So, I will only say at this point that it seems to me that expeditions to Mount Ararat represent a misplaced effort. If one is going to find Noah's Ark, one would be better served looking in the mountains that run along the border of Iraq to the north with Turkey or to the east with Iran.
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.
JohnH, a commentor to the entry at Apologia Christi, noted the following:
Something along this line was discussed on Bill Koenig's website:
Here is the excerpt:
WASH—June 15—KIN--Those who participated on the Noah’s Ark expedition to Northern Iran today clarified to KIN that they were making no actual claim that they found Noah’s Ark. Instead, they want to publish pictures, archeological data, and film footage of their expedition and allow the facts to speak for themselves. As soon as that information is available, I will follow up with another story with more details and interviews.
The Expedtion was led by Robert Cornuke and 15 people participated during the first week of June, which included attorneys, archeologists, geoologists, scientists and leaders of Christian ministries.
Bob Cornuke has been at the center of several controversies over his past findings as he has come at odds with secular scholars, but several people who I know personally were on this expedition as well as some credible, internationally known heads of Christian ministries. Cornuke and the participants are careful to not say emphatically that they found Noah’s Ark, but have taken extensive documentation to present their facts for both the public, and the Biblical and scientific communities.
Geologists took nine samples of the ark under the strict eye of a video team for analysis by the Smithsonian Institute. Over 23,000 feet of video was taken and will be released to the public. You can get your first glimpse of it on Fox News with John Kasich Saturday at 8:00 pm EDT, according to the Cornuke team.
More information about their findings will be released in the days ahead.
Second addendum: There is a report of the finding of what may be the Ark in the mountains of western Iran by the BASE Institute, here. I understand that the BASE Institute has made a lot of claims that aren't accepted by general archaeological scholarship, so I will be skeptical of this find until I see more detail. But as I have learned in the Intelligent Design debate, merely because the general scholarship in the community thinks something is wrong does not prove it's wrong.
Third addendum: A follow-up on the story following the interview of Bob Cornuke by Heartland on Fox News can be found here.
The Bohle Company has issued a press release on behalf of Left Behind: Eternal Forces responding to the Talk2Action piece (see my previous posts here, here, and most recently, here). Here is the release:
The comments by all of those writing/involved with [Talk22Action] have been done without ever having seen the game! It's distressing to see such an egregious misrepresentation of our game. The recent comments posted from the Talk to Action article are nothing short of gross distortions and total untruths. LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces is a game loosely based on the first few books in the best selling Left Behind book series. These are novels that trace the adventures of those left behind when the Rapture occurs, a biblical event forecast in the Book of Revelation.
The slanted blurb about our game is carried on an anti-evangelical blog site with a clear agenda, written by someone who clearly never saw or played our game. The blogger never once contacted Left Behind Games to attempt to check any facts. Many highly respected news sources have seen our game and responded positively, such as the New York Times, LA Times and ABC World News Tonight.
The description of our game in paragraph one is totally inaccurate. The player does NOT target Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, or any other group. The game is a good versus evil story, which in turn results in conflict. Players command battle scenes raging in the streets of New York City between the Tribulation Forces and the Antichrist's forces - the Global Community Peacekeepers -- during the End of Days. The Antichrist's forces are on the warpath, actively hunting down and exterminating all resistance to his one world government. This includes the good guys - the Tribulation Force -- defending themselves against Satan. The game is intended to prompt gamers to discuss important questions about life and death.
The game does not reward killing, but rather results in loss of Spirit points which are essential for winning. Yes, physical warfare is offered, but it's not bloody, graphical or horrific. Additionally, spiritual (i.e. non lethal) warfare plays a larger role than physical warfare. The player's goal is to save as many people as possible from the clutches of the Antichrist - not to kill them.
Although the title has not been rated yet, we expect a Teen (T) rating from the ESRB. We are not marketing this game to children, but toward a main audience of teens to adults.
The Left Behind Team
Everything that follows is quoted from the excellent Christianity Today Weblog:
Evidence that bolsters a doubted biblical tale
An archaeological find in Jordan is making researchers —- who seem terrified of proving the Bible historically accurate —- very skittish. The New York Times reports on the ongoing controversy.
An international team of archaeologists has recorded radiocarbon dates that they say show the tribes of Edom may have indeed come together in a cohesive society as early as the 12th century B.C., certainly by the 10th. The evidence was found in the ruins of a large copper-processing center and fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the lowlands of what was Edom and is now part of Jordan. * * *
The findings, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar added, lend credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. By extension, they said, this supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.
The discover [sic] runs counter to prevailing notions that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were little more than agricultural cooperatives.
Most criticism has come from advocates of a "low chronology" or "minimalist" school of early biblical history. They contend that in David's time Edom was a pastoral society, and Judah not much more advanced. In this view, ancient Israel did not develop into a true state until the eighth century B.C., a century and a half after David. * * *
Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a leading proponent of the low-chronology model, has said the new research does "not shed new light on the question of state formation in Edom." He argues that perhaps the copper operations were controlled by chieftains in Beersheba, to the west, and supplied material for urban centers west and north of Edom.
Right, any explanation makes sense except the Bible's.
When I was in College, I took a course in political science that focused on recognizing bias in newspaper and magazine news reporting. The professor stressed that to get a real feel for the story required reading deep into the article. Often, facts were buried deep in the bowels of the article that would give a different understanding to the news beyond what the headlines or the first few parpagraphs imply. As a result, whenever I read a news story on anything important, I make sure that even if I am rushed for time to scan through the story to the bottom to see what surprises lurk there.
Today, I came across a story entitled "Inner Awareness : Secrets Jesus reveals to Judas" from the INQ7 Network. The story begins:
"So why did the Bible depict Judas as a traitor?" asked Jun Aquiatan.
"Only the four gospels that are in the present Bible depicted Judas as a traitor. However, there are other writings aside from the four gospels that narrated (differently) and these are the documents that would be found later."
"But again, why depict Judas as a traitor, if he was not?" insisted Aquiatan.
"You must understand," explained Gabbey, "the selection of the gospels was based on similarity to avoid conflicts. That is why the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels or gospels with the same point of view. Since the gospel of John also portrayed Judas as a traitor, then it was also selected.
"However, there are many written gospels that are not in the present Bible. You see, the Church did not have a system or criteria in the selection of books to be included in the present Bible.
"The personal views of those charged with the task of putting up the Bible prevailed. Additionally, the present Bible underwent several changes. Most of those changes were made to suit the intentions of those in charge at that time."
I am certain that following the release of the text of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, there are people who -- more than ever -- believe this type of misinformation. Let's be clear about some things here:
1. The Gospel accounts were written earlier than the Gnostic Gospels and are more likely to contain true information about the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot than the later Gnostic-influenced stories about the life of Jesus.
2. The reason that the Synoptics and John were included in the canon of out Bible is not because they presented a view with which the church leaders agreed, but because they were universally acclaimed to be trustworthy from the earliest times in the church. There were no competing "Gospels" that were seriously considered to be included in the canon. In fact, in an audio lecture by Craig Blomberg (the link to which I have misplaced) on this very topic, he noted that in a review of every known list of books considered for inclusion into the canon, the following facts show how unlikely it was that any other "gospel" would be included in the canon:
A. The number of additional gospels included in any existing known proposal from the ancient world actually being supported by the author of the document for inclusion in the canon apart from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: zero. There were other epistles proposed for the canon, a handful, that writers put forward. But no other gospels were proposed for inclusion into the canon by any author whose writings survive. This includes any of the so-called Gnostic gospels -- no one ever makes the claim for treating them as inspired, etc. In other words, even if some early Christians may have treated them as inspired, the claim that they were actually inspired and deserving to be included in the canon are never explicitly made anywhere.
B. The number of additional Gospels mentioned but not commended, and ultimately rejected, in the comprehensive collection of known lists of New Testament books: two. These two books were:
The Gospel of the Hebrews -- never been found. A number of the orthodox early church fathers, referred to snippets of text from this document and most of the quotations look very similar to something from the Gospel of Matthew. Nothing unorthodox, but the wording is different enough to suggest another Gospel.
The Gospel of Thomas -- Somewhere between one-third and one-half of the stories seem to close enough to the wording of the saying of Jesus’ in the canonical Gospels, to give a similar appearance. Many are clearly Gnostic, but others are things that Jesus might have said.
In other words, it is easist to say that the four Gospels were included in the canon because virtually everyone recognized their inspiration and authority as being greater than competitors. To have not included them in the canon would have been like trying to pull together a list of the greatest classical music compositions without including something by Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig von Beethoven. Of course the works of Bach and Beethoven belong in any such collection because everyone with any understanding of classical music understands their greatness! So it was with the four Gospels found in the canon -- there was virtually no doubt (except in some extreme circles) that they were the four most authoritative and inspired of the writings about the life of Jesus and none of the other so-called Gospels were ever broadly considered for inclusion.
3. It is my recollection that one of the factors used in evaluating whether some of the epistles were included in the canon was whether these epistles were consistent with the four Gospels, but it wasn't the case that the Gospels themselves were judged on that basis. But since the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were already almost unanimously considered to inspired and authoritative, it only makes sense that the epistles which were in doubt should be at least partially evaluated on the basis of whether they are consistent with the known inspired works.
4. To my knowledge, the decision to include or exclude any Gospel or Epistle did not turn on the relationship of Jesus to Judas. From what I have read, it simply wasn't a topic of concern in the question of canonicity.
5. The history that I have read says that the early church fathers did use a "system or criteria in the selection of books to be included in the present Bible." This system included factors like whether the book or letter were written by an apostle or under that apostle's authority. (A source for seeing some of the other criteria can be found here.)
So, in short, there are lots of claims made in the dialogue about the creation of the canon that are either completely false or very misleading. But what does this have to do with reading down the page? Well, the article itself demonstrates the bizarre views of the people advocating for the view that Jesus and Judas had a much closer relationship than found in the New Testament. Check out what it says next:
After the resurrection of Jesus, according to Gabbey, he met Judas personally and gave him the task of preaching the gospel in Egypt.
Why Egypt? "Because both Judas and Jesus were from Egypt during a previous incarnation when they were brothers," explained Gabbey.
And later the UFOs landed . . . .
I have previously written about my dislike of atheist-evangelist Rev(?!?) Michael Newdow and his one man campaign to use his law degree to try to uproot any vestiges of an acknowledgement of religion in the public square. Well, according to the Thomas More Law Center, Mr. Newdow's latest effort -- a lawsuit to have the National Motto of "In God We Trust" declared unconstitutional -- has gone down in flames.
A California federal trial judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow challenging the constitutionality of our national motto, "In God We Trust." Newdow is the atheist who achieved national attention in his previous unsuccessful attempt to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools because it includes the words "one nation under God."
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had filed a friend of the court brief seeking the dismissal of Newdow’s national motto lawsuit.
Edward L. White III, the Thomas More Law Center’s trial counsel who submitted the friend of the court brief, commented: "Our national motto does not have the constitutionally impermissible effect of establishing a religion. Rather, it acknowledges our nation’s rich religious heritage, which informed the founding of our nation."
The federal trial judge ruled that the national motto has nothing to do with the establishment of a religion. The judge noted that the use of the national motto is patriotic and has no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.
Hooray! The judge in this case got it dead right. Let's hope that his colleagues in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals don't blow a gasket and overturn this very sane, sensible decision. Keep in mind, Mr. Newdow is like an addict -- every little positive feedback simply feeds his litigation habit.
As I've discussed before, arguments can often be won or lost in the way that the argument is framed. For example, in the United States, there is a lot of talk about tax relief. Now, this talk began with the Republicans – the more conservative of the two major political parties in the U.S. – but the language of tax relief was adopted by the Democrats. However, by adopting the idea of tax relief, the Democrats accepted the issues as framed by the Republicans. You see, the words "tax relief" were well-chosen by the Republicans to present their worldview. The word "relief" suggests that someone is being over-burdened by something, and that some sort of aid is needed to keep the unfortunate person from being buried under the problem. What type of relief is needed according to the Republicans? Tax relief is needed. In other words, taxes are overburdening the poor people, and someone needs to provide relief from those overbearing taxes. The Republicans claimed to provide the relief in the form of tax cuts. Now, the person who provides the relief is a hero. Anyone who doesn’t side with the proposed relief is seen as a villian. Get it? So, the Democrats – who generally do not favor tax cuts – allowed the issue to be framed in such a way that they were seen as the bad guys. Worse yet, they adopted the language of "tax relief" and thus started identifying themselves as the bad guys anytime they objected to any tax cut.
Even in the area of the debate about the existence of God, some issue framing takes place. The skeptics, for their part, try to frame the issue sometimes by arguing that it is irrational to believe in a book that talks about talking serpents (Genesis 3) and talking donkeys (Num 22:28), and thus frame the debate about believing in God as believing in fairy tales. Just recently, a commentor to one of Apologia_Christi's posts argued that belief in God is equivalent to a belief in Santa Claus or unicorns, again trying to frame the debate as concerning rational beliefs versus irrational beliefs. Since belief in Santa Claus and unicorns is not the same type of thing as a belief in God (thus, the argument is both a category error and an argument from contempt), the argument is really a non-sequitur. But skeptics know that if the argument is framed so that Christians look like they are having to defend God in the same way as a belief in unicorns, they have already taken control in the argument.
Certainly, we Christians are also attempting to frame the debate so that it gives the listeners the best impression in their minds. Hence, Christians sometimes frame the debate as the Godly people who are interested in an absolulte standard of morality versus the Godless people who have no basis for their morality. Like the argument comparing the belief in God to the belief in Santa Claus, this argument is more about how the issue is framed since, if the Christian is successful in making the case, then the Christian has taken control of the argument.
Now, I don't have a problem with framing issues because it is part of the process of argumentation. But where I think that the line between legitimate and illegitimate argumentation is crossed when the people try to make cases either through misrepresentation or manipulation. Just a couple of days ago, I came across as clear of an example of illegitimate argument due to manipulation that I have ever encountered. Not surprisingly, it came from the same people who made a video based largely on misrepresentation: Beyond Belief Media.
Beyond Belief Media has set up a "Statement of Belief" that they are encouraging skeptics to require Christians to sign before they can talk to the skeptic about Christianity. Of course, the entire idea is incredibly stupid, but then Beyond Belief Media is the organiation that brought us the Jesus-Myth film "The God Who Wasn't There" and the still-born War on Easter, so I am not particularly surprised. But even dumber than the idea of having someone sign a piece of paper before engaging them in conversation is the things that Christians must admit in order to have the privilege of talking with these skeptics. Here's what the Christian must sign:
STATEMENT OF BELIEF
By agreeing to the following statements, you are not agreeing that they settle any additional questions. You are only acknowledging that you understand the difference between evidence and faith. If you cannot sign this statement, you do not deserve to be taken seriously.
I acknowledge that the Bible is not infallible. It was created entirely by humans and may contain significant flaws.
I acknowledge that a claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.
I acknowledge that there is no known evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the period of his alleged life.
I acknowledge that the names of the Gospels were most likely added well after their composition, and there is insufficient evidence to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.
I acknowledge that there is insufficient evidence to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ.
I acknowledge that it is common for religious cults to make things up.
I acknowledge that it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.
I acknowledge that no figures such as "God" or "The Holy Spirit" or "Satan" performed any supernatural actions that had any effect upon the formation of early Christianity.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.
Now, obviously, these people don't really expect any Christian to sign such a ridiculous document. The "Statement of Belief" (which is really should be titled "Statement Ridiculing Belief") begins with a false dilemma which says that Christians either (1) sign the document that gives away their argument (since the final argument essentially requires the Christian to deny the resurrection) or (2) they are not worth taking seriously. Of course, the claims required to be accepted are largely untrue. In fact, this setting of the parameters of what contsitutes legitimate evidence is the same type of tactic engaged in by the infamous Jesus Seminar -- set the parameters of the evidence to predetermine the outcome and you win! Of course, if the parameters were all clearly on one side (as this Statement pretends), then there would be no argument in which to engage.
According to Brian Flemming's Blog, apologist J.P. Holding has previously commented on this silly Statement and came to the same conclusion at which I arrived. However, it is fascinating to see how Mr. Flemming (the "brains"[?!?] behind Beyond Belief Media) manipulates Holding's comments:
He says that if he signed the required Statement of Belief, that would be the same thing as saying, "I believe that Brian Flemming is right."
But that tells us a lot right there, doesn't it?
He's essentially said this:
"If the propositions in the Statement of Belief are true, Jesus did not exist."
I don't see how it could be read any other way. J.P. Holding is essentially admitting that without the supernatural trump card, his position loses.
No rational person familiar with the facts could disagree with the Statement of Belief. Every one of those assertions is as obvious as "Brian Flemming takes enormous glee in manipulating Christian lunatics." The only way not to believe them is to use the magic of faith.
So, let's look at what he is saying: The argument is whether Jesus existed. In order to engage in discussion with Mr. Flemming or his ilk the Christian needs to sign a statement that says that the evidence that the Christian wants to present is not valid. Therefore, because (according to Mr. Flemming) no one could rationally disagree with the statements made in his Statement of Belief, he wins the argument! What an absolute joke.
This is just another example of their arguments from ridicule and contempt which Mr. Flemming and Beyond Blief Media regularly employ -- it is a typical example of posturing in which Beyond Belief Media regularly engages. I encourage anyone (skeptics and Christians alike) who has any desire for serious debate to reject this type of argument since it isn't an argument that would be accepted in any other arena whatsoever. It is mean-spirited and counter-productive. Mr. Flemming and Beyond Belief Media should be ashamed.
Intelligent Design has suffered some legal and public relations defeats of late. So I was somewhat surprised to see this article in the London Times: "I’ve found God, says man who cracked the genome."
The scientist at issue is none other than Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute. As a result of all that he has learned -- and the Human Genone Project has learned more about human genetics than any other scientific endeavor -- Dr. Collins "claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man 'closer to God'." Indeed, Dr. Collins has a book coming out that details his argument for just that belief: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
According to Dr. Collins:
When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.
Dr. Collins does not believe in some distant diestic entity that set the universe in motion and left it alone. Rather, Dr. Collins ascribes to theistic evolution, which sees God using evolution as a tool to create man. In his own words:
I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says. “Scientifically, the forces of evolution by natural selection have been profoundly affected for humankind by the changes in culture and environment and the expansion of the human species to 6 billion members. So what you see is pretty much what you get.
Has Dr. Collins simply found a justification for his childhood faith? Not hardly. He was an atheist until age 27, when the faith of his patients, a Methodist minister, and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity changed his thinking.
It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.
Okay, I am not a scientist. I do not know whether Intelligent Design has reached the point that it is a scientific theory that should be taught in schools. But surely, if scientists of unquestionable credentials and accomplishment such as Dr. Collins (and these) believe that natures points to a designer, then it is reasonable for the rest of us to do so.
Mark Goodacre, of NT Gateway (and Duke Univ.), has posted a piece articulating what is wrong with present day redaction criticism, a tool used in biblical studies. As explained by Encyclopdia Britannica Online:
Redaction criticism concentrates on the end product, studying the way in which the final authors or editors used the traditional material that they received and the special purpose that each had in view in incorporating this material into his literary composition. It has led of late to important conclusions about the respective outlooks and aims of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Professor Goodacre is not dismissive of redaction criticism, but he stresses its limitations and the problems it must overcome to be useful. The post is short, to the point, and persuasive.
I was privileged to do three presentations at two different churches on The Da Vinci Code the week the movie version opened. I thought they went well and a number of people asked me for my notes or if I was providing a written response. In fact, I put a lot of my research into a final version of notes that served as the guide to the presentations, which were conducted in a Q & A format. I have finally made the time to polish the notes up and put them up on the CADRE site. It is in Word version and is available here. From the description on the website's The Da Vinci Code page:
The notes from CADRE member Christopher Price's presentation on The Da Vinci Code. The notes reflect the Q & A format of the presentations. Provides a summary of controversial points made in TDC, with Question and Answers on issues such as Jesus' divinity, the gathering of the NT, supposed Christian copying of pagan beliefs, the Council of Nicea, and whether Jesus was married.
In case you think that The Da Vinci Code is of little relevance anymore (and believe me, I am sick and tired of it myself), it just passed The Passion of the Christ in worldwide box office receipts.
I was asked to review a new book, Reinventing Jesus, What The Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You, by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Saywer, and, Daniel B. Wallace. In some ways the title is unfortunate, because Reinventing Jesus is so much more than another response to The Da Vinci Code (as good as some of those are). What this book provides is excellent scholarship on a number of issues that have been inadequately addressed, if addressed at all, by traditional apologists. The authors have actually lowered themselves to address arguments and theories that academics rarely encounter in scholarly circles. As noted in Reinventing Jesus, much of said sludge has flowed forth as a result of -- in the author's words -- "ready access to unfiltered information via the Internet and the influential power of this medium. The result is junk food for the mind--a pseudointellectual meal that is as easy to swallow as it is devoid of substance." Id. at 221-22. In response, Reinventing Jesus provides rebuttals to arguments propounded by the likes of Internet Infidels, Robert M. Price, and even, yes, Earl Doherty (though not yet his Jesus Myth stuff).
In my opinion, the best part of the book is a superb discussion of the textual transmission of the New Testament. There is the usual stuff we see from apologists like Josh McDowell about the wealth of manuscript evidence comparative to other ancient writings, but there is a lot more. Reinventing Jesus breaks down the information into greater detail, explaining the manuscript evidence more deeply, the nature of the disagreements in the traditions, and the types of traditions and their origins. The result is a powerful case for the accuracy of our modern translations. All this is written for the layperson, but the authors apparently believe that the layperson can handle a lot more (intellectually and spiritually) than is typically assumed. This targeting of the well-informed layperson is a hallmark of the entire book, resulting in more information and deeper analysis than the typical apologetic provides.
The discussion of the origins of the NT Canon is also excellent, once again giving layreaders more information than they may be expecting. Reinventing Jesus goes through the criteria by which the books of the NT were chosen and is candid about which books were quickly accepted as well as those which where not. The authors also discuss those who made the decisions and when the decisions were made. Special attention is given to the last books to be accepted. In this section, as well as throughout the book, the authors attempt to come up with examples and metaphors from sports, work, pop culture, or everyday life. Most of these examples are well made and a feature employed throughout the book.
Another very effective set of chapters addresses what the authors call "Parallelomania." Here the authors take on an argument that even many of the online-skeptics have abandoned; namely that Christianity was merely a myth based on pre-existing pagan myths. It is good that they do such an excellent job of debunking all of the supposed "parallels" because too many of the underinformed on the internet are still being taken in. Reinventing Jesus is successful in showing that the core doctrines of Christianity originated out of Judaism and the events in the life of Jesus and his apostles. The supposed "parallels" between Christianity and the pagan religions are either based on word games (describing very different beliefs as if they were the same), misunderstandings of the evidence, are the result of pagan copying of the more successful Christian belief system, or are the result of some Christian copying of pagan beliefs in the third and fourth centuries (after the core NT beliefs were already well-established). There are several online responses to parallelomania, but this chapter exceeds most of them in its breadth, depth, and readability.
The chapter on the Council of Nicea is quite good. There are also chapters about the accuracy of the NT, oral tradition, and authorship of NT documents that are solid discussions, though not the best available. Still, they add to the value of the book and fill out the complete picture that the authors are trying to impart.
As for other features, there is a helpful list of Suggested Reading for each part of the book, as well as a scripture index and subject index. My only real complaint about the book is that it uses book endnotes, rather than footnotes or chapter endnotes.
On a whole, Reinventing Jesus would be an excellent addition to any apologist's or pastor's library. In fact, it is so effective and readable, it would be a good buy for any Christian wanting to better understand the history of their faith (as all should). It is a big step above Josh McDowell's helpful though basic historical apologetic books. It effectively engages some of the most recent skeptical arguments that having been spreading with the help of the internet. Finally, it trusts laypersons to sort through the good and the bad in the historical evidence while maintaining a very readable presentation.
Two-thumbs up, five-out-of-five stars, and an enthusiastic recommendation.
In an earlier post, I provided some of the raw data from early post-NT Christian writers proving their belief in the divinity of Jesus well before the Council of Nicea. I included one reference by the Roman governor Pliny the Younger who noted that Christians gave worship to Jesus as "to a God." I was remiss in that I left out two other pagan witnesses to this belief.
Lucian of Samosata
Lucian was a Greek satirist who turned his sharp wit on Christians around 165-75 AD. Mocking them for their belief, he stated:
The Christians . . . worship a man to this day--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.
Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus, trans. A.M. Harmon, at 11.
By noting the Christian worship of the man Jesus, Lucian adds further evidence that the early Christians viewed Jesus as divine, both God and man. This is especially true when one considers the Jewish roots of Christianity and Christianity's continuing insistance that it was monotheistic. One does not worship what is not divine. In Christianity as well as Judaism, God alone was worthy of worship.
Celsus, Roman Philosopher
Celsus was a pagan philosopher active about the same time as Lucian. He wrote a book called True Reason as an assault against Christianity in 178 AD. The work is unfortunately lost to us, but a few decades later a Christian apologist wrote a response to it, thankfully preserving much of Celsus' argument. One of his arguments is that Christians were not true monotheists.
Now, if the Christians worshiped only one God, they might have reason on their side. But as a matter of fact they worship a man who appeared only recently. They do not consider what they are doing a breach of monontheism; rather, they think it perfectly consistent to worship the great God and to worship his servant as God.
Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discource Against the Christians, trns. R. Joseph Hoffman, at 116.
So, there are two more non-Christian early witnesses to the early Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus.
Talk2Action has finally responded to my original post on their original piece on the Left Behind video game. They follow a rather tortured and selective path in their attempt to justify their inaccurate report and to discredit me. So let us get down to the response.
The Charge Against Me
I supposedly have "organized a campaign against Talk to Action and its series." Not hardly. The "campaign" is just me, one Christian blogger, spending more time than I would have preferred to respond to the more outrageous lies about a game that I had no intention of ever playing. As I have said previously, I do not share the theology of the Left Behind series and have not read the books though I have seen two of the movies. No one else is involved in my "campaign." Additionally, I was not responding to a "series," I was responding to Talk2Action's original piece, "The Purpose Driven Life Takers."
Here is how Talk2Action characterizes my reaction to their piece:
Layman stakes his core claim that Talk to Action purposely misled readers by reporting that Left Behind: Eternal Forces sends children on a virtual mission to convert or kill New Yorkers.
Partly true. Here is the part of the initial post that I considered, and still consider, to be the lies spread about the game:
Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice.
In the many repeated comments about the game based on the Talk2Action article, there were several people who claimed your mission was to kill anyone who "resists" becoming a Christian. This most likely originated from that last line about taking out anyone who resists with "extreme prejudice."
Keep the eye on this ball as we discuss the game. I do not endorse or promote the game, but nothing I have seen justifies the above description of its contents. It is to the above description that I respond, not to other more justified concerns about the game.
Talk2Action's Misreprsentations and Hysteria Continue
Next is this comment:
Layman repeatedly states on Wikipedia that his core concern is Talk to Action's report that the Christian militia - called the Tribulation Force in the Left Behind novels, graphic novels, and video game -- uses the power of prayer and modern military weapons to conduct physical and spiritual warfare, which means converting or killing New Yorkers.
There are a couple of problems with this characterization.
First, I do not complain about reports that the game involves prayer, modern military weapons, spiritual warfare, and physical warfare. I have noted that the game does involve armed conflict between the army of the anti-Christ and the Tribulation Force. I note that there is killing in the game and I have stated my discomfort with the notion of mixing religion with warfare like this in a video game.
Second, what I have complained about is the notion that this means that the goal of the game is to "convert or kill New Yorkers." By this I take to mean that if you do not convert after a player tries to convert you then that player kills you. That is not the "mission" of the game. Nor is it a logical extension of the fact that the game uses both spiritual warfare and physical warfare. As I explained before, you are engaged in physical warfare with the army of the anti-Christ. But even so the game encourages you to convert the enemy over killing them. However, as I have admitted, there is war between the two and you do kill members of the opposing force, though this costs you and the game encourages you to still try and convert them.
More to the point, there is a third group of characters in the game who are not part of the Tribulation Force or the army of the anti-Christ. The goal of the game is to convert these "undecideds" to your side. There is no mission to kill them if they do not convert to your side. That is the "whopper" of which I have complained. Talk2Action basically rests its defense on the notion that because the undecided may later join the forces of the anti-Christ and you may kill them in the war later, than he is justified in saying that the "mission is to convert or kill" Jews, Catholics, etc. Obviously, Talk2Action is making an illogical leap here and leaving out the crucial factor that you only would face such people in combat if they make their own decision to worship the anti-Christ and join his army.
It is not the case that you tell a Jewish character about Jesus and if he does not convert you pull out your gun and blow him away. You do not stake out Synagogues and pick off Rabbis. If the character does not convert at the time then you can keep trying and try again later. From what I understand of the game, failure to convert after an attempt does not automatically make him a servant of the anti-Christ. The character is not, therefore, "fair game" because he did not convert.
On the other hand, you may try and convert an undecided and fail. That undecided may later encounter a servant of the anti-Christ and be convinced to worship the anti-Christ and join his army. Then, yes, you may end up killing that character. But not because he is a Jew or because he failed to convert. But because he joined the army of the anti-Christ who is bent on global domination and the genocide of Christians and against which you are engaged in armed conflict.
Reviews from "Credible People"?
Next, Talk2Action points to two "reviews" by "credible people" who have played the game.
The first is Joel Stein, a columnist for the LA Times. I do not know how credible he is, but I do know that he is a liberal, recently gaining some notoriety by coming out and saying that he does not support the U.S. troops in Iraq because he opposes the war. So, Mr. Stein is not a disinterested reviewer. Nor is he a gamer. To support my point, I cited to several reviews by professional gamers who had no interest in the politics of the game. Mr. Stein does not qualify as such.
In any event, Stein obviously gets some facts wrong. According to the game's narrative, there is no United Nations. The UN has been supplanted by the anti-Christ's Global Community by which the anti-Christ is exerting dictatorial control over the world. And, more specifically, the anti-Christ is using the Global Community to suppress and kill Christians across the world (post-rapture Christians are those Christians who converted after the rapture).
Stein does mention that some of "his" nurses were taken out. It is not clear if these are medical units working with combat forces, but Stein is clear that they were part of the army of the anti-Christ (which side he was playing) and that they were part of a military unit that was traveling in military vehicles. Calling this a "peacekeeping" mission is an example of the manipulation of terminology upon which Talk2Action seeks to justify its lies. In the game's narrative, the Global Community is intent on conquest and genocide, not keeping the peace. So it inaccurate to say that the game here has the Tribulation Force murdering innocent UN nurses on a peacekeeping mission.
Additionally, it cannot be claimed that this supports the notion that the game puts you on a mission to kill those who do not convert ("convert or kill"). Stein admits that those killed were part of the army of the anti-Christ. They were not the undecideds, nor where they "gays, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists" or "moderate, mainstream Christians." Does this justify violating the rules of war? Not in the least, but it does not support the lies Talk2Action spread to which I was responding.
Furthermore, Talk2Action leaves out an important part of the article. When Stein was talking to the Left Behind rep, it became clear that the rep thought he was playing the anti-Christ, not the Christians: "'I thought I was playing the devil,' he said with a confused look." So whatever actions he took he thought were in line with the anti-Christ's actions, not those of Christians.
In another bit of clever omission, Talk2Action leaves out a comment by Stein which appears to contradict the notion that part of the game involves hunting down and murdering Jews: "[The rep] assured me that things would actually be good for the Jews in the final days. "In the book series, three Jews are the most prominent evangelists. The Jews more than anyone believe in the messiah," he said."
Finally, Talk2Action says this:
New Yorkers cannot remain neutral, and they cannot even serve God as practicing Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus? No, the game's designers declare: ultimately, there is no such thing as a neutral ground. One is with the Tribulation Force or against it. The refusal to actively support it means ultimately, in the designer's terms, that one opposes it, and is therefore fair game.
This was not part of Stein's "review" of the game. Nothing in the review or the game says that practicing Jews and Catholics cannot serve God. Just the opposite about Jews in the view of the game's designer is noted by Stein. As for Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, I have not yet seen anything to indicate that people in the game are identified as such. Nor have I seen any evidence that people who "resist" being converted are then killed. Such undecideds are not "fair game," they are only fought if they join the army of the anti-Christ.
Next is a review by Greg Bauman of Warcry.
In the review Bauman says that the "undecided" are "(decidedly) bad or evil." This contradicts an earlier statement where Bauman wrote, "Recruiters are the key to your game—they can sway neutral humans (which are found scattered throughout any and all levels you find yourself in) to be either good or evil." This acknowledges what I have been saying. There are undecided, neutral humans who have not chosen to take a side. Your "mission" is to convert them to be good while the anti-Christ tries to "convert" them to be evil. It is not to kill them if they resist becoming a Christian.
So Bauman contradicts himself. Either he misspoke or misunderstood this aspect of the game.
Do the Left Behind People Admit They Are Advocating Genocide?
Next, Talk2Action quotes from a Q & A from the Left Behind website itself.
Are guns used by Christians against non-Christians? Why or why not?
The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred - when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God. The remaining population - those who were left behind - are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral. Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist - which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force - which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist."
Note that nothing here says that it is the mission of Christians to kill Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, or moderate Christians. It does suggest that the undecided will eventually choose to follow either Christianity or the anti-Christ. In either case, they will no longer be Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, or moderate Christians. They will worship Christ or the anti-Christ. Even so, you do not kill them if they do not convert. They may convert later to Christianity. They may be killed by the anti-Christ while undecided. They may join the anti-Christ's army. If they do the latter, then yes you may have to fight them, though conversion is still the preferred option.
Here is how Talk2Action interprets the above:
Here you have it. The game's creators say, in its web-based marketing material, that the New Yorkers who populate their game "cannot remain neutral." They must choose either Christ or the AntiChrist. That is, they must choose Christ (give up their Judaism, Catholicism, liberalism, Hinduism, et cetera, and be converted to a particular brand of conservative Evangelical Christianity, as narrowly described in the Left Behind novels and depicted in the Left Behind graphic novels) or... die. Be killed. Be taken out on the streets of New York with extreme prejudice.
That is not what the game says at all. It says that eventually the undecided in the game will choose to worship Christ or choose to worship the anti-Christ. In either case I would say they have given up their Judaism, Catholicism, Hinduism, etc. In the latter case they have joined an army bent on world domination and the genocide of Christians. So yes, if they choose to join the anti-Christ's army you may have to fight and kill them, at a personal toll to yourself. But that is not the same thing as saying they are killed for resisting conversion to Christianity. And it is by far not the same thing as saying that the mission of the game is to hunt down Jews, Catholics, moderate Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. to try and convert them and then killing them if they resist.
More Talk2Action interpretation of the above:
The common sense of it says that if you are a Jew, like the Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Stein, then you must convert into a messianic Jew, like Left Behind Games co-founder Jeffrey Frichner, or the "Christian" Tribulation Force will regard you as a servant of the AntiChrist.
Talk2Action engages in more manipulation and omission here. The game does not say that a Jew who does not convert will be regarded as a servant of the anti-Christ. I do not know if Jews are mentioned in the game at all (and we must both admit that we haven't played the game for ourselvse). But I am sure that it does not say that Jews are to be regarded as servants of the anti-Christ if they do not convert. What it does maintain within its narrative, apparently, is that eventually everyone will choose to serve one side or the other. Thus, admittedly, many Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, etc. will convert to Christianity and many convert to the worship of the anti-Christ. This is not the "convert or kill" mission or establishment of theocracy that Talk2Action has stated is the goal of the game.
If in the End Times, a practicing Jew, Catholic, Buddhist, moderate, mainstream Christian, gay man or lesbian, secularist, or pagan, refuses to join the "Christian" Tribulation Force, then by the game's logic, your refusal to convert means that you have necessarily chosen to serve the AntiChrist.
Like I said above, I have seen nothing to indicate that you kill characters identified "Jews, Christians, Buddhists, moderate, mainstream Christian, gay man or lesbian, secularist or pagan." Moreover, it is not a "refusal to convert" that renders you a servant of the anti-Christ. It is a choice made by characters in the game to be something else -- for better or worse. Is a "secularist" going to worship the anti-Christ? I doubt it. Once he does, he is no longer a "secularist." Is a moderate or mainstream Christian by default a servant of Satan worthy of death? Not in anything I have seen about the game. If they did worship the anti-Christ, they are no longer "moderate or mainstream" anything, much less Christians. Are Muslims going to worship the anti-Christ? Not any of which I know, unless they become something different. The point here is that you do not "convert or kill" these people. That's a manipulative, inaccurate simplification expounded by Talk2Action. Rather, you may have to fight (and kill) members of the anti-Christ who converted to his service from beind undecided. That is a far fry from the "mission" to hunt down and "convert or kill" Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, etc. that Talk2Action articulated in their original article.
Next come a list of features of the game that also do not support Talk2Action's original article:
If you happen to blow away a neutral party - and collateral damage is inevitable in the End of Days - then you will lose "Spirit Points". But you can power back up with merely a brief timeout for prayer, or by converting one of New York's terror-stricken citizens.
That the LA Times refers to the death of neutral parties as "collateral damage" makes it clear that they are 1) not being targeted for killing as Talk2Action originally stated, or 2) not the bad and evil enemy. What the LA Times article actually says is that "soldiers lose some of their spirituality every time they kill an opponent and must be bolstered through prayer." So Christian players suffer even when they kill members of the anti-Christ's army. Again, would the game be less scary if it depicted warfare without spiritual consequence as all other games do? In Battlefield 1942 you can frag your fellow soldiers without consequence. This is not endorsed by the game or the purpose of the game. But it certainly does treat death and killing in a dismissive way. Obviously, the deaths of the enemy are treated in an even more dismissive way. Left Behind tries to add a component to the game that indicatse the cost of fighting in even a justified war. Yet Talk2Action twists this to try and make it sound like killing and death is endorsed or dismissed as in othe games. Just the opposite is true.
In any event, nothing here says that the goal of the game is to establish a theocracy or kill those who resist becoming Christians.
Winning Battles by Only Retreating?
Next, Talk2Action quotes this paragraph from the LA Times article:
The game is set in New York City, where the Tribulation Force clashes with the Antichrist's Global Community Peacekeepers in a tale that makes the United Nations a tool for Satan. Each side attempts to recruit lost souls in the battle for the city. "Eternal Forces" is a so-called real-time strategy game -- players act as battlefield generals for their virtual armies, deciding where to place units and when to order attacks or retreats.
Talk2Action makes a big deal about the Christian side being able to launch "attacks." This is hardly surprising since the game includes much armed conflict between the armies of the anti-Christ and the Tribulation Force. Of course, according to the narrative of the game, the anti-Christ and his army are the bad guys bent on global conquest and the extermination of Christians (even moderate ones I would presume). I have read a bit of military history and have yet to read about a general who won a war or a battle only be retreating. For example, we recently commemorated the D-Day invasion of France. Was that justified? Was it evil? Was it un-Christian? Afterall, the allied forces were "attacking" on that day. Does this mean that the Nazis were the good guys and the AllieS the bad guys? The Allies basically attacked all through Europe while the Nazi's retreated. Yet I happen to think they were the good guys.
And if the Christian militia attacks and kills unarmed nurses on a UN peacekeeping mission, slaughtering them on 6th Avenue without giving them a chance to convert, then so be it. That's how the game was designed; that's how the game's creator plays it.
As discussed above, the player who did this thought he was playing the anti-Christ. I have already said that I do not like the feature of the game that allows you to command the army of the anti-Christ. In Battlefield 1942 I cannot bring myself to play the Germans or Japanese fighting the U.S. or British. But it cannot seriously be argued that such a feature encourages Christians to worship satan and murder Christians (though I have seen many sites who referred back to Talk2Action relishing the thought buying the game so they could kill evangelcals); just as it would be silly to claim that Battlefield 1942 encourages Nazism or Japanese Imperialism. And as a reminder, it is not the UN, but the Global Community that supplanted it, and they are not really on a peacekeeping mission but trying to take over the world and kill those who resist.
Real Reviews by Real Gamers Without Agendas
Talk2Action has apparently ignored the reviews by professional gamers who reviewed the game before there was any agendas or controversy. None of them expressed any of the concerns he has nor did they describe the game in any way that fits his agenda. In fact, they contradict it on just the points I was complaining about. Check them out yourself. For now, just some comments from this description of the game from Gamespy:
Left Behind: Eternal Forces takes place completely within New York City in an unspecified but very near future. A mysterious event causes 1/3 of the world's population to vanish. The United Nations, now re-named the Global Community and led by a charismatic Eastern European politician named Nicolae Carpathia, begins forming a world government, its edicts enforced by its military arm, the Global Community Peacekeepers. It's only the Tribulation Force that realizes that Carpathia is the Antichrist, and they form a resistance movement that tries to show the world who they're truly following and save as many souls as possible before the prophesied seven years are up.
Read anything about establishing a theocracy? Nope, it is all about opposing the anti-Christ. No theocracy is possible, the goal is to resist the global government of the anti-Christ and try and convert as many people as possible. You only have seven years and no chance of taking over America or the world in order to establish a theocracy. The goal is to convert as many as possible in the face of a global dictatorship bent on killing you before the clock runs out. Pre-Millenialism, especially Pre-Tribulation Pre-millenialism, does not lend itself on the establishment of a theocracy.
Are the undecideds bad or evil because they have not converted? No, they are neutral and the goal of the game for both sides is to conver them. From the review:
Rather, the major resource in the game is actually the "neutrals" -- people who haven't yet chosen their side in the great war.
And the emphasis on the game is on conversion, not killing:
It's this wrestling back and forth for the souls of the people that makes the gameplay dynamic so interesting. Players aren't competing to kill the enemy army -- rather, they're trying to save them, and each person killed represents a failure rather than a success.
This is true not of the neutral undecideds, but the armies of the anti-Christ:
They'll need spiritual units to both keep the faith and hopefully recruit, rather than kill, enemy armies.
The other revies are similar and lend no support to Talk2Action's contested representations about the game.
Many Have Recognized Talk2Action's Hysteria for What it Was
Several people have taken me up on my offer to read these reviews for themselves and have found that they were mislead by Talk2Action. I link to some of them in this post. For now, just a couple of examples:
This blogger determined that "The original article I wrote about to was hysterical and completely inaccurate in the way it described the game. The game is more about converting the Anti-Christ's forces, rather than killing them."
One of my favorites was this site (in German, but use babelfish to translate). After repeating the more outrageous claims of the Talk2Action piece, I posted my link in the comments section. Then Mr. Talk2Action left a comment asking the blogger to "Read both essays, check out the links for yourself, and then decide." The blogger did, retracting his description and directing readers to one of the reviews I linked to.
That is the reality. There is no establishing of a theocracy and you are not a mission to "convert or kill" Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, moderate Christians, etc. Presumably there are such people among the undecideds and you do try and convert them. But you do not try and kill undecided because they do not convert. You do, however, fight the army of the anti-Christ which contains -- just as the Tribulation Force does -- previously undecided types who have chosen to worship your leader and join his army. Talk2Action tries to claim this means that Jews, Catholics and co. are automatically servants of the anti-Christ. Hogwash. Characters in the game only become servants of the anti-Christ by choosing to convert to his religion and to serve with his forces
Closing Out Part 1
In closing Part 1, let me reiterate something I said in one of the comments to my original post:
I do not ascribe to Left Behind's eschatology and I also understand the concern about mixing a Christian game with violence on this kind of scale, but the attacks went way overboard and were being spread everywhere.
I am no advocate for this game. I had no intention of playing it, though I may buy it now to better inform myself as to its contents and effects. I do not endorse it suggest it or think it is a good idea. But I believe that the discussion of the merits of the game must take place in the context of what the game is really about. Trying to make the game out to be something that it is not -- as Talk2Action has done -- actually prevents an honest debate about the game from taking place.