Tuesday, December 03, 2013

So You're a Christian Who Believes in Evolution, Eh?

Troll Question:
So you're a christian who believes in evolution, eh? If evolution is true, the creation story is a myth. If it's a myth, Adam and Eve never existed. If Eve didn't exist, she never ate the forbidden fruit which caused original sin. No original sin, no reason for Jesus to be sent to die on the cross. No Jesus = no Christianity. But science and faith are still compatible, right?
I actually believe it's easier to reconcile evolution with Christianity than a 6-day literalist interpretation.

1. If evolution is true, the creation story is a myth.

Well, this is a non-sequitur, but I believe the original intent for the creation story is primarily a work of Babylonian counter-mythology[1] and serves a different purpose than to be used as an instruction manual for earth-building. But this should be fairly obvious from reading the text itself. Much of Genesis is written in organized, poetic language.

Order of things "Made" in Genesis 1:

  • Waters separated and sky created (day 2) | Fish and birds created (day 5)
  • Dry land created & vegetation (day 3) | Land creatures and humans created (day 6)
  • Times and seasons created (day 4) | Sabbath created (day 7)
Order of things "Formed" in Genesis 2:
  • Adam (formed first)
  • Vegetation (formed second)
  • Animals (formed third)
  • Eve (formed fourth)
But so far, nothing to say Adam (אָדָם "Man" derived from  אֲדָמָה "Red Earth") and Eve (חַוָּה "To Breathe" related to חיה "To Live") didn't exist. Actually, there's nothing implicitly there to dismiss evolution either. Abiogenesis teaches that all life came from non-life, evolution is the gradual change between species; the Bible teaches that man came from dust.

But moreover, the purpose of this text is to establish the purpose of Israel and to teach the Jewish people that they ought to observe a sabbath day.

2. If it's a myth, Adam and Eve never existed.

Another non-sequitur. There are myths about Siddhārtha Gautama, but we still believe he was a real person who discovered the path to enlightenment and became the Buddha. What we really mean when we talk about Adam and Eve is the first fully-integrated beings created in the image and likeness of God. This also shows a lack of understanding of what a myth is. A myth is not a lie, it is a narrative meant to explain something about reality.[2]

3. If Eve didn't exist, she never ate the forbidden fruit which caused original sin.

What's also important about these first beings is that they were created and living in harmony with God, with one another[3], with the rest of creation, and within themselves; freely eating from the Tree of Life.

The first sin damaged this. In that act, Man and Woman turned from God, and the consequences that inevitably followed included disharmony with God, disharmony with one another, disharmony with the rest of creation, and a disharmony or dis-integration within themselves (denied access to the garden, prohibited from the Tree of Life).

Death is understood as the separation of body and soul. Prior to sin, Adam and Eve were not subject to such separation. Their bodies and souls were perfectly integrated. In eating the forbidden fruit (take that as allegorically as you will), they endowed themselves with the knowledge of good and evil -- that is, they became arbiters of their own reality: instead of living in harmony with God, humans were now perceiving for themselves what is "right" and what is "wrong". They became ashamed of their own bodies, and felt unworthy of being loved by God.

You actually don't need the Bible to observe humans living with this intrinsic disharmony. When we participate in the dysfunction of arbitrarily deciding what is right and wrong, we become Adam and Eve. Whether you believe you are born with this tendency or not is simply dogma. 

4. No original sin, no reason for Jesus to be sent to die on the cross.

The work of Jesus is not contingent on our acknowledging the inheritance of ancestral sin -- but whether or not we, ourselves, choose to participate (some might argue that these are the same thing).

As for having a reason for Jesus' dying on the cross, this depends on what we believe was accomplished by Jesus' dying on the cross. There may be many ways to understand this, but the early church did not understand the death of Christ as paying a penalty in some transactional sense that only God’s son could pay.[5] The crucifixion is not, in that sense, cosmically necessary to reconcile God and humanity.

Instead, Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love. God entered fully into the bondage of death, turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, and thereby liberates humanity to live in harmony (with God, themselves, one another, and the rest of creation) once again without the fear of death.
"...To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
~ Revelation 2:7

5. No Jesus = no Christianity.

Of course this is true, but it is hardly contingent on a literal Adam.

Luke affirms Jesus' lineage back to Adam and, ultimately, God. (Luke 3:23, 38) The Hebrew expression "son of man" (בן–אדם i.e. ben-'adam) appears one hundred and seven times in the Hebrew Bible (mostly in Ezekiel). As generally interpreted by Jews, it denotes humankind generally.

Mark's gospel records Jesus affirming both 'Adamic lineage' and God's sonship (Mark 14:61-64). This suggests that Jesus' role in our salvation is either something to do with his direct lineage to a literal man named Adam, or, --what I believe is more in line with Jewish thought-- that he is a representative of humanity as a whole. While it could certainly mean both, I don't see how the former is implied in the text nor what deeper significance it has for our atonement.

6. Science and faith are still compatible, right?

I grew up indoctrinated in Young Earth Creationism and I thought evilutionists were out to brainwash me as well... Then I was confronted with the evidence and only after sleepless nights did I slowly consider and begin a dialogue with an evolutionary biologist Christian friend that I could accept the paradigm shift. It was a humbling experience for me, that enriched my faith in the end. I would challenge anyone to confront the evidence without the aides and pundits to interpret for them.

YEC in its current form, as a so-called “scientific discipline,” didn’t begin until 1923.[6] It comes from a couple 7th Day Adventist named George McCready Price and Ellen White, who were not scientists. So unlike the earth, YEC is very, very young, and began as a cultic knee-jerk reaction to scientific discovery. There are prominent Christians who make significant contributions to the scientific community, but YEC is not a product of that.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Context for Abraham

Troll Question:
God tells Abraham to bound his son Isaac and kill him to test his fear for the Lord. Right before he doesn't an angel rushes to stop him at the last minute and ofcourse to please god he merely just kills an innocent ram that was stuck in the bushes. My question is if you believe in this God, what if he told you to make that same sacrifice to someone you loved would you do it?

Of course, this question completely robs Abraham's story from its time and place, making this a weird hypothetical instance of blind faith ignoring the actual implications Abraham was presented with. A better question would be (in fact, the only question we should ask is), what was Yahweh's promise to Abraham about Isaac, and why is Abraham's relationship with Nimrod and Molech important for understanding anything about the staggering contradictions the narrator implies? The moral of the story isn't to convey a normative, mindless obedience to God if He asks us to do something crazy. The introductory verse clearly implies that God never intended to allow the sacrifice of Isaac.

Some further reading:
Why did God punish the Canaanites for child sacrifice, when He personally ORDERED Abraham to do it?!
The evil Nimrod vs. the righteous Abraham (legend)
Isaac: Jewish views - Wiki

Casting Pearls Before Trolls

One of my pastimes is to frequent debate blogs and pages where atheists like to troll religious folk. Once in a while I'll encounter an honest question, but mostly it is just somebody posting some kind of question that frames a Christian as a crazy person, and then waiting for a poor soul to take the bait only to subsequently flip flop on the ground as the troller throws them around on a string. At least, that's how I picture it happening in my mind.

Sometimes I want to come to that poor soul's aid by engaging in the conversation, but my hesitation comes from Jesus' instruction to avoid casting pearls before 'swine'. Seems maybe a bit rude and elitist to think like that, but I have had my suspicions confirmed far too many times to think that the average internet troll is looking for a real answer to their theological dilemma, or any substantive dialogue that doesn't result in confirmation bias.

So I've resolved to post my thoughts on here instead, where I hope real inquiry takes place, and to benefit any individuals who are looking for better ways to answer these kinds of questions, or struggling to resolve these questions for themselves. I will tag these random thoughts on my blog as #trollpearls

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Understanding Prayer: Being Effective

I've been asking myself this question for several months now. Not that I'm inherently skeptical of all things spiritual, but the assertion that faith is blind can easily dissuade even the open minded. I wanted to be sure that something as delicate and mysterious as prayer was equally powerful and effective. After all, we've all heard our share of unanswered prayer stories.

In order to properly evaluate the effectiveness of prayer, I think it is important to first understand the function of prayer. We need to know what it is, what it is not, how it works, and how it does not work.
How it probably doesn't work 
Sun Salute

In every religion, prayer can be recognized by taking some form of posture. Some religions place high importance on posture, even giving "scientific" reason. Posture can be beneficial for quieting our minds in meditation, showing reverence, even exercise, or in some cases, effectiveness. As for Christian prayer, Tim Challies says this:
"Nowhere does the Bible command us that we must set our bodies in one position or another during prayer. Yet it does describe a variety of positions that each have their own significance."
Posture is better understood as a reflection of the heart rather than a means for acquiring God's frequency channel.

The effectiveness of prayer is closely linked to the usefulness of religion in general, and while every religion uses personal betterment as their claim to exclusive truth, or ultimate truth, the amount of testimonies that come from Christians receiving answers to prayer are unprecedented. That said, I think the Scientific Method can help us understand what is happening when we pray, and whether or not it does anything outside of helping some people feel good.

What I'll be exploring in this series is whether the nature of reality permits divine action, and whether prayer has any influence in the matter. In order to do this, I think it is important to settle on some general considerations that will provide a structure, within which particular facts may evidentially count for something. When dealing with the proponents of any religion, we need to first tackle the source of the claim. And since most prayer-related claims come from Christianity, I will focus on the Biblical claims. There are about 512 mentions of the word prayer in the Bible. I found 130 verses on the topic in the New Testament alone.

For many people, the primary function of prayer is to get God to do something. We want to see God heal a sick friend, deliver justice, or simply alleviate suffering in the world. Certainly Christians do believe, and even expect that God will do these kinds of miracles, though any answers that would come from a supernatural agent are naturally unpredictable.
"God surely can and does heal miraculously, but it seems to me that He does not do so as a common occurrence. I hope that does not mean a lack of faith on my part, but I think there is a fine line between faith and presumption."
David Brickner, Jews for Jesus
There are some within Christendom who relate the frequency of answered prayer to a measure of faith in confidence, but this has more in common with 1st century rabbinical prosperity teaching than anything Jesus said regarding material possessions.

Hebrews 11:1 gives a definition of faith that seems to lay the groundwork for this thinking, but by the end of this chapter we see what is really being said: Faith is not built on receiving what is promised; the goal here is to have faith despite our circumstances. Faith shifts our primary focus away from ourselves toward the benefit of others, and as a result we become the provision of God through prayer.
“When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person.”
- Philip Yancey
Over the past 8 months and as I've been writing this, I've been following several friends and various websites petitioning people to pray. I learned about a girl named Lydia's recovery from a coma and brain injury after being hit by a school bus. I took part in a campaign that raised sponsorships for more than 1000 children in Mposa, Malawi. I've prayed with many friends and family going through all kinds of pain over this past year. If there is anything that is evidently consistent to me is the transformed lives surrounding the praying individuals, despite all circumstances. As I begin to pray for others, not only does my faith increase, but there is external evidence of an internal work in them as well. This may not seem substantial from the outset, and may not be what we are looking for, but I'm interested in the natural effects of prayer as much as the supernatural, so I learn to look everywhere.
While not everyone will agree regarding the causes of healing experiences, everyone must agree that they often do not happen. Sickness and injustice remain in the world. In the Gospels, miracles did not replace the kingdom that Jesus announced. Nevertheless, they were signs of hope to promise and invite us to work for a better future.
- Craig S. Keener, Huffington Post: Are Miracles Real?
If the goal of prayer is to regenerate humanity to be active in the care-taking of this world, then ultimately, this is the litmus test for its effectiveness. The greater significance is that prayer is intimately tied to carrying out our purpose as human beings by being charged with the radiance of God's glory. Especially if God desires to communicate to and through us.
"I think if God-talk simply drops out of sophisticated discourse and is just replaced by a wide range of philosophical, spiritual, poetical metaphors that avoid the Abrahamisms of the past, what’s left behind is simply our consciousness of who we are. That is, if we shift into atheism in the name of being in the know, we’re actually shifting into an unknowing ignorance."
Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming