There’s Nothing Natural About “Natural” Evil

evileyesWe experience two kinds of evil: human-to-human (or man-made), and God-to-human (or “natural”).

Human-to-human evil is a matter of exercised will: one person, or a group of persons, decides to visit evil upon another. The question we Christians find ourselves asking, of course, is why a benevolent God who is supposed to love and protect us ever allows that sort of evil to occur, why he doesn’t stop the hand of the evil-doer.

The reason God doesn’t stop any of us from doing whatever we’re determined to is because God gave us free will. What we do with that free will is entirely up to us. But God loves us too much to violate or eradicate the very thing that defines us—and that’s our free will.

As I said at the end of my post Why Does God Allow Evil to Exist?, that evil exists doesn’t prove that God is not benevolent. It rather proves just how benevolent he is.

As to “natural” evil—disease and earthquakes and tsunamis and so forth. We ask ourselves why God allows those things to happen, why he visits upon us such terrible tragedies.

My answer for that is that in asking God to relieve us of the suffering caused by “natural” causes, we are neglecting to take into account what we humans might very well be able to do ourselves to mitigate or eradicate the suffering caused by such calamities. We have not, as a race, chosen to pool and channel our energies and resources toward making that discovery. We spend some of our money and energy on trying to eliminate disease and poverty, and on trying to predict and control storms and earthquakes and so on. But, percentage-wise, we don’t spend much of it at all on those sorts of concerns. Certainly not as much of it as we spend on, say, killing each other in wars.

We have no idea to what extent we can control or mitigate the effects of disease, famine, earthquakes, floods and so on. What we do know is that we’ve never come together as a race and dedicated our attention and resources to finding that out. Until we do that, I think we should be embarrassed to ask God to come do for us what we’re clearly too lazy and mean to do for ourselves.

No fair reaching up to heaven before we’ve reached out to one another.

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  • rwalley

    There is not choice here for God is perfect he knows where we have been and where we are going; he wants his will in our lives so look in mirror are we what he wants us to be.

  • Mel

    Excellent, John. I agree. Instead of asking "Why did God allow this?" we should perhaps first ask "Why did WE allow this?". Thanks.

  • Phillip Yanda

    I'm not sure John.

    Last time mankind all pooled resources together we built a tower to show how cool we were. And then God had us all speaking different languages so we couldn't do something like that again.

    Anyway, I don't think its totally bad to think that we should all team up, and I don't favor the other option of staying separate, but I'm not sure what the perfect answer is in regard to that. I'm not much in favor of a social Gospel- though, that is what the Gospel should do.

  • Okay, Phil, I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and guess your very favorite breakfast food is … waffles. (I'm kidding, Phillip. I do know and appreciate what you're saying.)

  • adam ayers


    I agree with the tenor and heart of what you are trying to call people to. We certainly need to devote ourselves to Christ's mandate of love for our neighbors.

    However, what you have described is simply the presence of multiple evils, the natural evils that cause suffering and the interpersonal evils that heighten or fail to address them.

    Just as two wrongs don't make a right, many evils don't solve the problem of evil.

    One of the great frustrations that has brought about the question of theodicy is that even in those instances when humans do consolidate their efforts to address evils, suffering often fails to be alleviated.

    Additionally, even when persons of goodwill in unity seek to address evil, the actual outcome may (and in in many instances does) yield a compounding or dislocation, not an eradication of evil. Our "cures" often turn out to be complications, not solutions. This often creates further suffering not only in the forms of frustration, helplessness and despair within those affected by an evil but also within those attempting to help.

    Again, this is not to be a "Debbie-Downer" — I agree with the call you have raised.



  • chriscanuel

    Reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago, "God, Why is there suffering and war?" feel free to check it out if you'd like: . Thanks for this post, was a great read.

  • Well, personally I don't think there is such a thing as 'evil'. Just like there isn't such a thing as the 'future'. These are words that label mental concepts that we create in order to get our minds around something that isn't there.

    Evil is a 'no' – thing. It is the absence, in varying degrees, of some-thing – call it a 'good' thing. It's like darkness or shadows – they don't describe something, they describe the absence of something, in this case light. So God doesn't create the darkness – he creates the light and we 'create' the darkness by obscuring the light. And we cannot recognize and love the light unless we can know the darkness as well.

    If there were no suffering then there would be no joy either. Only tedium.

  • In studying the Gospels, we come across many instances of Jesus healing through physical touch or intervention and many instances of Jesus healing from afar. We also see the many instances wherein Jesus sent out his disciples. Or when Jesus purposely handed something to the disciples that was then passed to another (as when he fed the 5000). In short, we see how God intended us to be the middle man in many circumstances.

  • We know precisely how to mitigate the effects of earthquakes and floods. Don’t live near tectonic fault lines, low ground or coastlines. Famine and disease, complex to be sure, is often exacerbated by religious organizations that deny contraception. There are areas of the world that are not arable enough to feed the population that lives there. (It is argued that the world, as a whole, is already beyond the sustainable point with our 6,000,000,000+ residents) Yet some Christian organizations refuse to promote or distribute condoms. This effort begets children born into famine and disease and keeps the cycle going and [IMHO] is right up there on my list of evils. [It should be noted that some individual members of those organizations ignore the official edicts and distribute condoms anyway.]

  • Leonardo

    As Jesus explained, the problem of evil starts in us "All these evil things come from within, and defile the man" Mark 7:23

    Our rebellious nature against the will of God that we see around is causing a lot of suffering ("From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" James 4:1)

    About the "natural" evils are the result of a world that suffered the judgement of God through the Deluge and we can see the effects everywhere (fractured earth crust, tempests) are there to remind us that the Lord judges the evil and will do it again and that the creation awaits that someday all this will change "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" Rom 8:22.

    As we can understand by your writing, we can do something. Our part is to be the light in the darkness and the salt in the middle of all bitterness. Waiting His return, knowing that something better is coming and in the meanwhile sharing the gospel so people can live in the god better ways doing good to everyone.

  • Leonardo

    Sorry, in the last sentece I mean: "live in the God's better ways"

  • Hokey Smokes Leonardo!! Do you actually believe that earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis are literally acts of God!?!?! ….like….on PURPOSE?!?!?! You do know that the crust of the earth is slowly shifting on a ball of molten earth don't you? You do know that heat and currents and moisture and air and sunlight interact constantly in various ways to form clouds, wind, rain and, yes, tempests. Stuff happens and it happens for well understood physical reasons…and there ain't a think we can do about it.

  • So let me get this straight Mike, sick and hungry people don't need medicine and food, they need condoms?

  • Leonardo

    Sorry John, Mike is using this place again.

    Mike:when the Deluge happened all the earth was reshaped and shows the scars of that cataclysm. That's why we have now earthquakes, volcanos, all the faults show places where surely the water of the deep came out ("the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened"). The atmosphere changed from one without rain to another with all the cycle we observe. So stuff happens and it happens for well understood physical reasons…and there ain’t a think we can do about it; just to use the stuff gave us to face them.

    We need to present the Gospel because: "scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

    For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.

    But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."

    So while you abrogate for condoms and hate, we prefer to show The Way: Jesus.

  • Odgie: I didn't think I was being obtuse. I merely feel it is better to never put a child into an environment of hunger, disease and strife than to put them there and then send them food and medicine. The denial and denigration of contraception in the face of aids and food shortages is unconscionable. That denial seems the exclusive purview of the religious (though not all the religious).

    Those that ARE suffering, of course, deserve our support. [though the intuitive 'send them stuff' position may not really be the most effective, long-term solution…but that is another discussion]

    Leonardo: Something tells me we won't reach common ground on earth science, so I won't regale you with facts and evidence. I haven't seen 'abrogate' used that way before…but I presume that you are meaning to say that I preach hate. I fail to see how not wanting children born into famine and disease is preaching hate. The denial of contraception is tantamount to preaching death and suffering. My position clearly holds the higher moral ground.

    As an aside; I recall the distinct feeling from my Catholic days that it was the honorable thing to do to have as many children as possible. Some Muslims sects have a stated goal to breed themselves into a European majority. I get the distinct impression that the stigma attached to contraception by the Catholics (and others) is, at some level, designed to accomplish the same thing.

  • Leonardo

    Yeah Mike, you're right. My mistake was that I changed the phrase in the last moment and I kept the word "abrogate" saying the opposite (thoughts faster than fingers).

    Now that you explain your background, I understand your problem with science and Bible. Great guys as Galileo had the same problems, well you know that.

    By the way how do you decide wht is moral? don't misunderstand is a honest question. How do you give comfort to other person or encouragement?

  • textjunkie

    As to “natural” evil—disease and earthquakes and tsunamis and so forth. We ask ourselves why God allows those things to happen, why he visits upon us such terrible tragedies.

    Actually, no, no I don't. Not why he visits it on *us*. The question I ask is to picture the world without humans at all–tsunamis would still happen, forest fires would still wipe out natural habitats, nature would still be (was!) red in tooth and claw–why does natural evil exist at all?? Everything dies, often horribly in agony, whether it involves humans or not, and that's the broken part of this universe.

  • I was gonna shut this down–I ain't runnin no ping-pong match here—but it's kinda interesting. And other smay be following it—and may yet involve themselves. So … carry on. Sign, your watchful blogmeister.

  • (Whoops: textjunkie got in while I was writing the above. Text: yes, you ask a totally different question, which is not one about which this post was/is concerned at all.)

  • "why does natural evil exist at all??"

    Why do we call this 'evil'? Death and life are flip sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. Imagine a world in which there was no death, nothing but creation, re-creation and pro-creation. A horrible picture of eternity, not matter what the creature.

    So we have a planet that is dictated by the laws of the universe (God's laws?) with checks and balances which when left alone, result in a world of harmony and peace, even though a part of that peace involves animal predators, parasites, floods and earthquakes. Without floods, earthquakes, lightening, the predatory food chain there would be no advanced life – no humans. And with no humans there would be no sorrow, no ugliness, no real concept of pain. But without humans there would be no joy, no perception of beauty, no higher pleasures (with all due respect to any dolphins or whales reading this).

    So what we call natural evil is nothing of the sort. It is just part of the way of the universe. Could God do away with it? Well, if he did, we would not be having this conversation. "We" would not be.

  • Leonardo asked: "[H]ow do you decide what is moral?"

    Thanks for the question; it is important to be sure. I wrote on the matter here:… .

    In short though, I operate on this simple premise: If there is a victim to my actions, then it is probably wrong,

    That probably does not fully answer your question though. The Golden Rule (documented at least a millennium before biblical times) is what is properly described as 'reciprocal altruism'. This trait exists, to one degree or another, in every species tested for such traits. (read more on my blog essay). Some of the evidence involving higher primates (or 'monkeys') is stunning and would indicate compellingly that reciprocal altruism is an evolved trait. In hindsight, we can see how it would benefit any population. Every religion did their very best to codify/document this trait, but that trait existed long before man walked out of central Africa. (Of course if one does not recognize evolution, this explanation can't make sense)

    The biggest problem comes from religious narratives going from 'documenting the existing trait' to claiming that they authored and OWN the trait and that their narrative is the only objective measure of morality. The demonstrable fact is that morality exists in the absence of god-belief. Contemplate, for instance, that non-believers are grossly underrepresented in the U.S. prison population. …or that prosperous democracies with the least religion have the lowest levels of violent crime (along with the lowest levels of many other societal ills)

    Leonardo asked: "How do you give comfort to other person or encouragement?"

    Another good question and, in some way, may be the area where the non-believer has the least satisfying position. In areas of profound personal crisis (i.e. end of life), we all wish to comfort and encourage the sufferer…that is universal. It would be nice, for instance, if I did have a story to tell my dying loved one that something grand and wonderful awaits them on the other side of this prolonged, horrible, painful period as cancer consumes their internal organs. …but just because I want it to be so, does not make it so. (Go see the movie 'The Invention of Lying' for a poignant yet funny example of just this scenario)

    I wish I could offer such stories to those dealing with addiction and loss and death and abuse. I probably would offer those stories to those that suffered if they did not come with so much baggage for the rest of society.

    It is a self-evident truth that decisions are better based on genuine knowledge than mythology. Saying that New Orleans was flooded because of 'their lifestyle' is, to my mind, primitive and dangerous. Saying that New Orleans was flooded by a naturally occurring storm, building below sea level, and relying on a man-made structure to keep an entire ocean at bay gives us something to learn from. If New Orleans were populated by only the most pious, they would, at some point, get flooded again…and then they would think they weren't pious enough.

    The non-believer, unfortunately, cannot offer the same personal comforts in times of need, but we do offer demonstrable reality to society as a whole…and that is as it should be.

  • Leonardo

    Sorry for the ping-pong, John, but, as you say, it's interesting

    Mike, honest, How do you know that this way of thinking is the correct

    "If there is a victim to my actions, then it is probably wrong"

    How do you get to that conclusion and how do you know that is applicable to all human beings

    And then you affirm: "that is as it should be." Same question. How….? well, you understand if somebody says "I'm disagree, if there is a victim, well, it's probably right" How? I mean How?

  • (Well, what I said was it's KIND OF interesting. And Leo: if you want to KEEP it interesting, I'm afraid you're gonna have to do a better job writing than you did in your last paragraph above, which barely if at all made sense)

  • "The Golden Rule (documented at least a millennium before biblical times) is what is properly described as ‘reciprocal altruism’."

    Robert Wright does an excellent job of laying this out in his book "The Evolution of God", in which, as cultures continue to evolve (just as species have) they tend to non-zero sum relationships where one person's gain is not necessarily a loss for another. The system seems to benefit from a higher moral purpose (if you can think of nuclear war or environmental disaster as the result of an amoral purpose). Though Wright is an atheist (or an "extreme" agnostic) he doesn't think that this evolutionary process necessarily precludes the existence of God.

  • Leo…I gotta agree with John. I don't know that I can respond to you until it is something intelligible. I think I know where you are going, but I am not sure.

    Christian: I think we are on the same page. Indeed human cultures have been able, possibly to the exclusion of any other species, to contemplate the abstract concept of morality. Those cultures attempt to codify what they know and feel innately. This noble effort begets things like the Ten Commandments which is based on 1st century knowledge of our world. We know far more about the evolution of morality now and society would be better off if we recognized that.

    The important point that I was making earlier is that reciprocal altruism exists in other species. It may merely be our brain's larger frontal lobes that let us contemplate that to create the concept of morality and discuss it on the Internet.

  • "reciprocal altruism exists in other species"

    Absolutely. But the altruism of humanity often goes beyond reciprocity such as when someone says "I will sacrifice this for someone I do not even know and I expect no tangible benefit from it in return". Some will even do this for their enemies. Grace.

    On the flip side, it appears that of all the animals, only humans are readyr to disregard the concept of altruism, no matter how reciprocal the benefits may obviously be. (With the possible exception of house cats). Our behavior is often deliberately self destructive and designed to take as many with us as possible.

    The evolution of a global economy has done more to promote reciprocal altruism than anything else. Because our economies are so inextricably intertwined we are less likely to make war on our neighbors (unless we feel like our neighbor has nothing of value to offer). But reactionary religions that have failed to evolve alongside humanity have a very poor track record here.

    Religions have created malevolent concepts of God because they are either ignorant of or refuse to acknowledge what Wright calls "the facts on the ground". Today we have a situation where Christians, Jews, Muslims, HIndus and others all claim to be the sole repository of truth and the correct understanding of God. Many will condemn the 'obvious' false testimonies of other faiths yet refuse to examine some of their own fairly incredible claims, again ignoring the truly obvious facts on the ground. This refusal to understand or respect other beliefs has fostered an atmosphere of mutual fear and suspicion that could very well result in the violent end of any further cultural evolution.

    God has nothing to do with evil. In fact, I think it could be said that the only things deserving of the name are those 'ungodly' actions of humanity, many of which are done in the name of God.

  • Well said Christian.

    …and I agree that religion is on the short list of things pose the greatest threat to civilization with the meeting of 14th century minds with 21st century weapons.

  • Leonardo

    All right, all right! I'll try again

    Mike, honest, How do you know that this way of thinking is the correct

    “If there is a victim to my actions, then it is probably wrong”

    How do you get to that conclusion and how do you know that is applicable to all human beings

    And then you affirm: “that is as it should be.” Same question: How do you know?

    By the way, usually people mix up the Catholicism with the Christianism so when they see historic events like the Crusades, the Inquisition, they received a distorted image of Christianity.

  • I don't know if that is a great improvement, but I will take a stab at it….

    As far as "If there is a victim to my actions, then it is probably wrong”; I don't know if there can be anything more obvious. Maybe it is so obvious that you think it is some kind of trick statement. My position is simply 'the golden rule'. Monkeys know it, dogs know it, lions know it, rats know it, you know it, I know it. My human brain is able to refine it such that I can extend that altruism beyond my clan/tribe/family/sect/nation and exercise that reciprocal altruism to people I don't even know. I like to think that if everyone were nice to everyone else, that the world would be a better place [gag!! what treacle!!] If I do it, then maybe others will reciprocate…if not to me, so someone else and so on. Eventually it would get back to me.

    I cannot say I am a perfect practitioner of the above practice, nor can I say that 'all human beings' instinctively extend that altruism as far as unknown strangers. What I can say, though, is that we all know 'the golden rule' innately…it is a characteristic of the human animal (and others). It does not take conscious thought and you and I feel it just the same. I properly recognize it as an ancient evolutionary trait while it appears that many seem to unjustifiably conclude that you are following some bylaw of your religion's rule book. If you remove the book, the trait remains…and the evidence is there to prove it.

    To your citing "[we do offer demonstrable reality to society as a whole]…and that is as it should be."

    One of my favorite adages is "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." [Mark Twain] It should be a self evident truth that, on the whole, we are always better off limiting our claims of truth to what can be demonstrated as truth. Believing you are unassailably correct while being incorrect is a recipe for disaster. If you 'Know' that you are driving north when you are, in fact, driving south you will not arrive at your destination. If you 'Know' that you will be receiving 72 virgins by flying a plane into a skyscraper full of innocents, you will readily do great evil while believing you are doing great good. As Blaise Pascal said: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

    It is only in the area of religion where such baseless claims of 'Truth' and 'Knowledge' are promoted and even celebrated. In my world, I only claim truth to the extent that I can demonstrate truth. Just as importantly, I endeavor to acknowledge what I don't know…and am perfectly comfortable having unanswered questions that I can seek to answer. It is better to recognize, for instance, that I don't know what preceded the Big Bang than to claim that I know in the absence of evidence.

    …and that is as it should be.

  • I may have just found a new favorite quote:

    "Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong." — Thomas Jefferson

  • Leonardo

    About the first part of your post, I have to say that the evidence shows the opposite. We saw this specially in the 20th century: Nazi Germany, the ex USSR even in the statistics of violent crime after the 60's in USA.

    But I am agree when you say that it can claim truth to the extent that it can demonstrate truth. But about that "It is only in the area of religion where such baseless claims of ‘Truth’ and ‘Knowledge’ are promoted and even celebrated." It is not only in that area, though people acts based on their religion background or belief background. And that's why we see people promoting and celebrating as a truth just theories.

    And I am agree too that every human being knows that it is better to do good; the problem is the capacity to do it That is written in the Bible. And that is one of the reasons why Jesus came: to solve this problem.

    And…., well I'm not sure now, it was the reason why this conversation started at all.

    See ya.

  • "Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong."

    This is one of those quotes that sounds so very wise, but isn't. How is it always better to be a moron than it is to know enough to at least try? "It's better to be ignorant than wrong" just … doesn't hold water. It's too vague by far. It disparages the whole idea of trial and error, postulation and exploration, hypothesis and test. It declares the scientific process a waste of time. If anyone would reject this as wisdom, Mike, I'd think it'd be you.

  • I am not sure how you leaped to Nazi and USSR, but since you brought it up….

    Hitler invoked Jesus frequently and the Pope cordially wrote him regularly (and did jack squat to interfere with is Final Solution by the way).

    The USSR did not commit their atrocities because of lack of religion, but because they were too much like religion. Stalin portrayed himself as not quite a deity, but something more than human. It was demanded allegiance to the regime and the brutal enforcement of that allegiance. (Hitler's Germany had some of these characteristics too)

    This is why I cite the Creighton University study that shows that prosperous democracies with the least religion have the fewest societal ills. It is not lack of religion, it is totalitarianism and communism that correlate with the nastiness. [ ] Democratic values, person freedoms and prosperity are most closely correlated to healthy societies.

    As far as the rise in crime in the 60s: We know that poverty and lack of education breeds dysfunction and crime. These were decidedly on the rise in certain sectors of society. A very uncomfortable theory (well argued by a number of economists/mathematicians/statisticians) is that crime rates started to drop like a rock 14 years after Roe v. Wade. I do not claim direct cause and effect, but there is an undeniably a correlation.

    Re: theories…

    Gravity is a theory. The heliocentric solar system is a theory. Atomic structure is a theory. Evolution is a theory….and they are all similarly supported by suffocating evidence no matter how frequently and loudly the religious might proclaim otherwise. …and it is only the religious that make those proclamations. If you believe that your creation story trumps the considered opinion of every biologist in the world, then there is little I can do to enlighten you.

  • John we interpret it completely differently. He merely contrasts ignorance to false knowledge. To paraphrase: He who is ignorant has neither move toward truth or away from truth. But he who has false knowledge has moved further from the truth.

    It in no-way precludes inquiry to mitigate that ignorance.

  • The fact that it can be read to mean just about whatever anyone wants it to—both of our completely different reads of it are perfectly valid—means it's no more a pearl of wisdom than a blank sheet of paper is a great poem. That's really all I was saying.

  • I guess you are right. I guess it makes it just like the Bible! 🙂 (Sorry. That was just too easy!)

  • That's all right, Mike. You've been commenting on my blog long enough for me to know a wolf could sooner pass on a chunk of raw meat than you could let the slightest chance go to slam Christianity.

  • Well sheesh! You really lobbed that one in though. Besides…I am denomination independent in my writings. I just so happens that the topics here all relate to Christianity. Put up a post about Wicca or Scientology, or Islam, or Mormonism. Every argument I make works just the same in those venues.

    I think you need to point out where I am factually incorrect where you can, though.


  • John, I think you make a good point, generally speaking. But I believe that Jefferson was addressing religion, specifically Christianity. I don't think Jefferson, of all people, was deriding an inquiring mind, but would say that it is an inquiring mind that exposes doctrinal error. That being said, it is better to be ignorant of doctrine and dogma than hold to incorrect doctrine and dogma. This would certainly be the case for the people of Jonestown or the cult that tried to hitch a ride on the comet. But I also think that, at least personally, I would have been better off never having been a reactionary Christian. Of course I might use this experience relating to other reactionary Christians but I think the world would be better off without anyone believing in an intolerant, wrathful and vengeful God.

  • Christian: As I said, it's the sheer fact that Jefferson's quote can mean about anything that makes it worthless as "wisdom." It means nothing.

    But more to the point: Good luck arguing with Mike. You'll either let him have the last (ever contentious) word, or you'll go back and forth with him until I shut this comment stream down. But Mike has one channel, and one channel only, and he won't stop broadcasting his single signal as long as anyone's facilitating that. His message is that all Christians are the same, and they're all ignorant, intolerant hate-mongers. He'll sometimes hint that he feels any other way—but that's always what he comes back to. Know it now, or learn it later. But it doesn't change.

  • OK, but I've gotta do something while waiting for these roasts to come out of the oven.

  • Chris: DUDE! What happened to your BLOG???

  • A little 'blogged out' lately. And a little busy. Took a part time job as (get this!) the youth ministries director at a local PCUSA congregation. (Wait'll they find out that I'm an apostate).

    Seriously though, the PCUSA' s orthodoxy is, as McLaren would say, quite generous. Which I guess is one reason why there is a PCA as well. But I do need to get back on the blogging stick. Thanks for the nudge.

  • No, but your whole BLOG is gone, replaced by … something too techno-hip for me to even come close to understanding.

    Congratulations on the PCUSA gig. They're lucky to have you.

  • Oops. My bad. I typed "com" and not "org" when logging in. I think she's an artist. This has happened before.

    There's another blog called "Sharper Iron" that is about religion only from a much, much, much more conservative perspective. He gets a whole lot more traffic than I ever got. And then there's this sheet metal plant in Texas whose owner must like Proverbs.

    I bet you have the same problem getting mixed up with that 17-18th century English trumpet player, huh?

  • That's unfair John. I only contest the truth claims offered by religions and have never, ever painted with such a divisive, broad brush. Asserting that I profess "that all Christians are … ignorant, intolerant hate-mongers" is utterly ludicrous. Most of my friends are Christians. I do not target Christians (unless one specifically brings it upon themself), I target Christian [and other religious] doctrine. 99.44% of Christians are perfectly intelligent, nice people that don't take the bible literally, don't demonize others, and recognize evidence and science for what it is. I only target doctrine as I know it. If a person feels wedded to that particular aspect of doctrine and is offended, the proper response is the demonstrate its truth and value instead of labeling me as intolerant.

    I will concede, though, that I sometimes use the word 'you' where I shouldn't. I have caught myself saying 'you' [proprietors of that doctrine] when it could easily be interpreted as 'you' [the individual with whom I am conversing]. I will try to be more careful in that regard.

    As far as one signal…I can't fault you for thinking that. I find that religion a critically important topic for society, and that is pretty exclusively what interests me on this site. It is one of my intellectual hot-buttons. I am moderately political (economic and social pragmatist), quite involved in my community and run my own technology consulting business…but you would not often see that side of me here.

  • Christian said: "Mike, you do understand that your arguments do not really slam theistic faith, only organized religions"

    That is the only target there is. The problem is that too many professed believers fall back on the 'No True Scotsman' argumentative fallacy. For instance, someone claims to be a Christian and I counter with 'standard Christian doctrine says X, Y, and Z which is wrong.' They come back with 'that is not how I believe' or 'A REAL Christian believes it this way.'. If there are 2 billion Christians, there seems to be about 1 billion forms of Christianity. I have to go after common doctrine where it conflicts with evidence or makes unsupported assertions or demonizes others.

  • You are absolutely right. In fact it drives me nuts and I want to thank you for reminding me of the "Scotsman" analogy.

    I come across this quite a bit when I have the temerity to suggest to my Christian friends that Islam is not the bloodthirsty religion that so many of us insist that it us. They will say things like; "There are so many violent passages in the Koran – their history has been so bloody -they convert by the sword " etc etc. I will point out this is not exactly true and most Muslims do not practice their faith in a violent promoting manner. The response is that these are not authentic Muslims – they have strayed from their faith.

    Then when I point out that all these accusations could just as easily be made about Christianity the response is first, that we don't do these kinds of things anymore. When I point out that plenty of Christians are still doing these kinds of things the response is that " they aren't real Christians".

    Now this is tough, especially when I consider myself to be a Christian. Actually, I am not too fond of using the term any more -it's so loaded up with the wrong baggage.

    "If there are 2 billion Christians, there seems to be about 1 billion forms of Christianity. I have to go after common doctrine where it conflicts with evidence or makes unsupported assertions or demonizes others."

    Right. The thing to understand is this: Jesus was not about doctrine or dogma. Jesus was not about religion at all. His entire ministry was trying to show people that religion is not necessary to know God and it almost always gets in the way. And so religion (Roman, Jewish, whatever) killed him for it.

  • I guess I take to long getting my comments up there to be timely.

    Mike, you do understand that your arguments do not really slam theistic faith, only organized religions (which also includes primitive religions, shamanism etc) and many people of faith (myself included) share most of your sentiments. As you mentioned, some of the world’s greatest tyrants were not people of faith created their own forms of religion. It could be said that when people of faith act the same way it’s not because of their faith in God, it’s because they do not have enough faith in God and are still wedded to the ‘un-godly’ ways of this world. (And I will concede that their are many, many atheists who are more ‘godly’ than many people who believe in God)

  • Leonardo

    Well John I have to say (about your advice to Christian) that I am learning.

    But sometimes I see hope when Mike speaks of evidence, because there’s a lot of that. But somebody told m once that It’s usual that two people see the same thing but their religion background lead them to different conclusions, showing that the problem is in what they believe and the evidences for their believes. As an example two persons see a fossil: One says: it took millions of years to get this. The other says: This is what is expected to happened after the Flood. Then each of them have to show, honestly, evidence of what they’re saying. That’s why I see hope.

    My personal confidence is that Jesus never lied, and He said: “”I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”

  • OK. Christian; the first person to start a blog post to continue this can host it. (I have to go sand my bedroom floor now) I would title mine "What IS Evidence?…What ISN'T Evidence?"

    Leonardo, you can stop by and list all your evidence for the Great Flood there.

    John; It would be fun if you stopped by to state your position on some of the things we discussed. Others following this thread may with to weigh in on the veracity of the Flood story.

  • Leonardo

    Huh Mike, totally preconceived: “What IS Evidence?…What ISN’T Evidence?” Don't need to be a wizard to know your answer to it . John is right! So sad.

    "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

  • You may not be aware Leo, but there are things that feel like evidence but are not. There are actual ways to separate good evidence and bad evidence. Hopefully I will see you over at my blog. I probably won't get the post up until this evening or tomorrow.

  • John, I agree with your post. We have been and always will be responsible for all we do. We have within us to do both healthy and unhealthy acts. We have no one to blame for the state of the world’s insanity but ourselves. No demons, no gods, no supernatural forces beyond our control. Only our own unhealthy thoughts, decisions and actions. Blaming god for our messes then asking him to fix them is silly and immature. I tend to believe God would perfere it that we finaly pulled our collective heads out of our derrieres and grew up, to leave childish ways behind and finaly take responsiblity for our own messes.

    But sadly, too many I fear will simply never do this for the simple fact that it will require a great many to LET GO.

    Let go of the hatred, the pain, the desire for revenge, the pride and history that many feel they must cling to. To let go of generations of these unhealty atitudes will mean many will have to re-evaluate who and what they think they are. Remove all this means looking into the mirror of ourselves and get real and grow up.

    That for many is still much too painful to do, and thus unthinkable for them.

    We as a People have alot of growing and taking responsiblity to do.

    Yet, is that not what any parent wants of their child? To grow into wonderful human beings? To encourage and urge them to keep going, to keep trying and to never give up? To find their own way? To stand there one day and see that our child has all grown up and now a beautiful person?

    Is that not what God wants of us perhaps….?

    Whenever I ask the Creator/Divine/Grandfather/God for help I always feel a warm and loving smile, a gentle soothing embrace and that small yet clear voice once again sounds in my ear; ‘You can do it. I have faith in you. Keep Going…’

    “A young Lakota aksed his Grandfather why did life have to be so difficult sometimes.

    This was the old man’s reply:

    Grandfather says this.

    In life there is sadness as well as joy.

    Losing as well as winning.

    Falling as well as standing.

    Hunger as well as plenty.

    Bad as well as good.

    Grandfather does not say this to make you despair, but to teach you reality.

    To teach you that life is a journey sometimes walked in light, sometimes in shadow.

    Grandfather says this.

    You did not ask to be born, but you are here.

    You have weaknesses as well as strengths. You have both because in life you have two of everything.

    Within in you is the will to win, as well as the willingness to lose.

    The heart to feel compassion as well as the smallness to be arrogant.

    Within you is the way to face life as well as the fear to turn away from it.

    Grandfather says this.

    Life can give you strength.

    It can come from facing the storms of life.

    From knowing lose, feeling sadness and heartache.

    From falling into the depths of grief.

    You must stand up in the storm, you must face the wind and the cold and the darkness.

    When the storm blows hard you must stand firm. For it is not trying to knock you down, it is really trying to teach you to be strong.

    Grandfather says this.

    Being strong means taking one more step toward the top of the hill, no matter how weary you may be.

    It means letting the tears flow through the grief.

    It means to keep looking for the answer, though the darkness of despair is all around you.

    It means to cling to hope for one more heartbeat, for one more sunrise.

    Each step, no matter how difficult, is one more step closer to the top of the hill.

    To keep hope alive for one more heartbeat at a time leads to the light of the next sunrise.

    And the promise of a new day.

    Grandfather says this.

    The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward the sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.

    Grandfather says this:

    Keep going.”

    ~Legend of the Warrior/Keep Going~

    Joseph FireCrow & Joseph Marshall lll

    John, you and I may never see eye to eye, but when all our differences are aside do we not both want the same things? To see and create a better world as the Creator God wishes one day we can realiize…?

    Peace to you my brother.


  • I couldn't get a good opening paragraph for a new post, so I will just link to one of my related older blog posts for those interested in continuing the discussion. John, Leonardo and Christian: hopefully I will see you over there (at least briefly). Of course any of the rest of you are welcome there too

  • Bravo Julia,

    Your 'letting go' of what you did certainly puts you on a better course. I would only suggest going one eensy-weensy bit further and let go of just one more thing. ….your almost there already.

  • "Bravo Julia."

    Thanks, Mike.

    "I would only suggest going one eensy-weensy bit further and let go of just one more thing. ….your almost there already."

    And, what would that one thing be, Mike….?

  • It seems, Julia, that you have let go of or dismissed all the judgmental aspects of theistic belief. You also recognize that the natural world is the natural world and that good and bad things happen in that world and that we can't credit or blame any actor for those things. You have dismissed enough of standard Christian doctrine and seen that nothing really changed in your life beyond having a new clarity of thought. These are clearly positive things and, I would suggest, you recognize that your worldview is more in line with how the world works.

    Having successfully let go of all that you have (and finding it rewarding, effective and clarifying); is there still a need to hold onto the concept of a god at all? Many can tell you that nothing will change in your life when that happens (other than much additional clarity).

    Struggling for an analogy; I would posit that some feel that giving up that last concept is cutting the off the branch upon which you believe you sit. But once that branch is cut and tumbles to the ground, you find yourself still sitting high and were actually sitting on another branch the whole time.

    Best to you…

  • I understand, Mike. And I have no probs with that.

    Oh, and dont worry about me 'letting go of too much'. For clarity the I was never a Christian. I was never an anything really. I really dont know what box I would fit in. I nveer have and still dont really subscribe to any one faith or religion. If you absolutely /have/ to put me in a box it would be -barely- Native American (Lakota) but only just.

    Besides, I dont like boxes. Makes me look fat…..

  • Hi Mike.

    You said: “Having successfully let go of all that you have (and finding it rewarding, effective and clarifying); is there still a need to hold onto the concept of a god at all?”

    For myself the best explaination I can give is that I do not have so much as a ‘need’ to hold onto the conept of god as much as I’ve been aware of the Creator/Divinity/Grandfather/God since before my first breath.

    I know, I know, that sounds corny and new-agey (and self-delusional to some I’m sure), but there it is. I could tell you stories of how the Divine has manifested in my life, the things I’ve experienced, the beauty and wonder I’ve felt beyond the senses and this world, but, I wont. Not now for I wouldnt know where to start!

    How do you begin to explain over 50 years of living with Divinity in All Things…?

    I cannot explain this awareness for there simply is not words adequate enough to express it. I cannot prove it for you would have to walk my life and you cannot. I cannot produce evidence enough to convince you for the proof is in my heart. If I could take out my heart and splay it open and point to this awareness I would. If I could have you walk my life for a time and witness all I have experienced I would. If I could pull it all out and place it on the table for all to see I would. But I cannot.

    All I have are my pitifully limited words, my meager artwork and heartfelt passion.

    And what is absolutely fine is that you dont have to believe a single word I said. You dont /need/ to have a concept of god to live and function in this world. Each finds their own path. Each of us are responsible for our own path and how it relates with the world and each other.

    As it should be.

    Peace to you, Mike.


  • Tis all well and good Julia. Everyone needs a personal framework to make the world work for them and the supernatural actor is a characteristic device that the human animal typically uses to answer the unanswerable. My only concern is that too many claim liberal beliefs and ‘let go’ of so much, yet still cling to the nastier portions of standard doctrine such as homosexuality being an abomination, or women something less than equal, or that intelligent design should be taught in science class…and then inculcate our children with that.

    The framework that I find the most rewarding and effective is understanding our world as inquiry and science can reveal it. I find it much more rewarding and stimulating than the ‘God did it’ explanation that too many believers default to.

  • I think that problem we have here is that too many people are claiming "God did this" or "God did that". Or that "God is this" and "God is that". However one thinks of "God", even if one thinks there is no "God", it is merely just a mental concept.

    What Julia seems to be saying is that "she who knows does not speak and he who speaks does not know". She is not compelled to convert nor chagrined that others may have completely different ways of seeing (or not seeing) "God" than she does, even if those ways may at times generate toxic ways of thinking. Everyone does have a personal concept ( framework) but it is not that concept that makes the world 'work'. More often than not our concepts are not working, hence the state the of the world that we have made.

    Of course this is one way to conceive of the 'Way' of Jesus. It is also the way of the Buddha and the way of many faith traditions. It can also be the way of science. Religious legalism (theistic or atheistic) coupled with self absorption and an intolerance of other perspectives is one example of a 'way' that does not work.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Christian…though I would have some quibbles with some of what you said. One nit to pick…I fully agree that God (or Buddha, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Osiris, or Ra) is a mental concept, but I would, at the very least, categorize non-belief quite differently. If gods are created mental constructs; non-belief would have to be the absence of creating that mental construct [or discarding it]. To dwell on this would probably result in unending debate of semantics. I mention it because the distinction for me is quite important in that a good many apologists would like to have non-belief equated equally with belief so that they can use the same rhetoric (i.e. labeling non-believers as dogmatic).

    What I see in both you and Julia is what I see in many tolerant, inclusive, non-judgmental believers (the majority I would like to believe). Some have successfully discarded sooo much of standard doctrine (Christian doctrine in this case), that they, under close examination, are much closer to deists/atheists than anything I would recognize as Christian…yet they still cling to the Christian moniker. I presume this is for traditional or social reasons. I am a bit flummoxed when someone can dismiss the divinity of the bible, dismiss miracles and dismiss a personal God yet still maintain that they are 'Christian' and even attend services. Are Jesus' teachings noble and good?…for the most part, yes. But in this pseudo-Christian interpretation, you can pick any character from fiction and build a good life around it. You could do worse than George Baily or Atticus Finch.

    My concern is that by not fulling 'letting go' of a holy book, one is always [metaphorically] carrying around a tome that demonizes homosexuals, other faiths and non-believers, subjugates women, and exhorts flawed knowledge our of world.

  • I think you are "flummoxed" for a variety of reasons, and most of them can be blamed on institutional Christianity.

    The things that you see being dismissed by myself and others (biblical divinity, miracles a personal God etc) have not necessarily been dismissed. For example, I can see that the bible is divinely inspired – meaning written by men and women who were inspired by their 'faith' in God – but that doesn't mean that I believe that the bible IS God or dictated by God. This is only a recent understanding of scriptures.

    I call myself a Christian (hesitantly, these days) because I believe that the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth contain the wisdom necessary to travel on the "Way" towards the Kingdom of God, a 'kingdom' that is accessible here, now, on this earth and in this life – not a place per se that we go to when we die. Though this afterlife obsession may be Christian doctrine, it is not something that I see in my study of Jesus. In fact, IMHO, almost all Christian doctrine has been added on to the teachings of Jesus and most of it runs counter to his message of the Good News (particularly the idea that he was the blood sacrifice necessary to appease a wrathful, uncompromising and judgmental God)

    This available 'kingdom' is not only for Christians. Jesus was a Jewish teacher working within the tradition of Judaism among Jews. He was not establishing a new religion- he was showing the religious (and non-religious) what a life living in the "kingdom' looks like. Other teachers in other traditions – other "masters" – have uncannily similar teachings. Enlightened Buddhists see Nirvana in much the same way as many Christians have come to see the "Kingdom of God".

    But I am not Hindu or Navajo. I was not born in China, India or Kenya. I was raised in the "Christian" tradition and have come to encounter God through the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and have come to see him as the "Son" of God, just as a Buddhist might see the Buddha as a son of God. It makes no sense at this stage in my life to go shopping around for other teachers to follow (especially as this one's teaching has been so enlightening to me). Nor would I feel compelled (any longer) to persuade another person of faith (or non-faith) to give up their way of living.

    If asked I would certainly speak highly of Jesus. I would certainly say that in some way he is "God" to me that in some way Jesus is alive to me and has become central to my existence. But I would not expect them to understand this, not from anything that I could ever say. Which is why, I think, so many neo-evangelicals resort to the persuasive 'stick' of hell because the Way of Jesus cannot be explained so neatly and concisely. Jesus himself spoke in parables and cryptic sayings that eerily

    resemble Zen koans.

    All Christian theology is pseudo-Christian. Which one tradition can you hold up as being the one true authentic practice? One of the problems lie in the fact that so many claim this for themselves, to the denigration of all others. Kind of nuts. And unlike George Bailey and Atticus Finch, neither Jesus or Gautama or Lao Tzu are fictional. But George and Atticus, both had an understanding, though imperfec, of the Way they taught.

  • Julia,

    I think you need to set the time on your clock. Your comments pop up in the middle of the thread..

  • You're missing the point. Why don't you try and get all the cosmologists out there to agree on some sort of unified theory? Or the beginning of the universe. Or is light really a particle or is it a wave? (Is it chocolate or is it peanut butter? It's both!) Is the universe flat, spherical or a torus? String theory, anyone?

    But heck, they are all deserving or the term 'cosmologist' even though they can't agree on what the cosmos 'is'. A problem occurs when one scientist becomes dogmatic about his theories and insists that the discussion is over – no need to look further. That is not science – that is religion. Or when someone recognizes that there are flaws in their theories (or the ones they ascribe to) and make up fantasies to fill in the loop holes (like Crick did with his intergalactic seed pods) – that's superstition.

    So I can't dismiss science because just because there is not a solid consensus on what 'is' really is. And even then, all scientists are not universally opposed to the idea of God. I think the problem here is that it is not very satisfying for humans to develop a philosophy based upon what is 'not' (there is even a school of theology built along these lines) At some point we all want to know what 'is'. Theologians and philosophers and artists and scientists are all, in some way, working towards this. To me it seems that their lines of inquiry are not parallel, but converging.

  • I didn't mean to get under your skin Christian…my certification idea was in jest.

    An important distinction, though, is that science does not claim to know what it doesn't know. Is light a wave or particles? It behaves like both and, depending on circumstance, our predictions/calculations are very accurate. That is not the same as claiming there is some 'fundamental light controversy' where physicists are split into battling 'wave' and 'particle' camps. All physicists (and beginning physics students) know that light can be described various ways depending on the circumstance. Of course this indicates there is some fundamental understanding of light/energy/matter that we do not yet understand and the lab coats will be absolutely giddy whey they figure it out. Importantly, though, they do not claim to know the answer to that problem so continue to look for the real answer.

    To claim that Crick's hypothesis that life was delivered from mars (or elsewhere) enter into the fantasy world is a poor characterization. The fact is life appeared at some point and we are free to speculate on how that happened. two examples: Some hypothesize deep-sea thermal vents. Some hypothesize that life was cast here after some massive collision in our solar system. On the former; we know that the basic building blocks of organic matter can self assemble under various conditions. On the latter; we know that pieces of Mars have been ejected after some collision and landed on earth (I don't know the status of the research as to whether a microbe can survive the trip, but I know that bacteria can be revived after 45 million years). It is the scientific process to look at the unknown and speculate on what happened leading up to it. We then start looking for evidence to support or refute those speculations…no matter how fantastical. [An aside: It would be fun to know whether we are Martians, but the more important question is how did life begin in the first place. Whether it was Earth, Mars or elsewhere is immaterial to me. ]

    All cosmologists assemble the evidence that we have to gain understanding of our universe. Where that evidence is ambiguous we are free to speculate and continue searching. That is [part of] the scientific method. Religion, for the most part, begins with a claimed truth and tries to make the evidence fit what they already claimed as true. Like Mr. Jefferson said…it is better to not know than to be wrong.

  • Mike, sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. Nothing gets under my skin anymore. (Well, OK, my wife is still pretty good with the old bamboo shoots if she puts her mind to it 😉 ).

    You are still missing my point, though. I am not criticizing science or the scientific method. Crick's hypothesis, IMHO, falls into neither – he knows it is evidentiary unsupportable and essentially unprovable (unless the aliens come back!). It's an act of desperation akin to how hard the Creationists work at 'proving' the Flood carved out the Grand Canyon. He might as well say the Great Spaghetti Monster left life here. Now let's just start looking for 4.3 billion year old strands of pasta…..

    I do not want to get into a futile science vs. faith debate. The problem with some theists and some atheists is that they think that science and faith are ALWAYS at odds with each other and they are not. Religion does not begin with a claimed truth – it was a search for the truth which resulted in religion – no matter when or where. Religious people begin looking for causes and, in the early stages they anthropomorphize nature and come up with their own particular concept of God. And science helps us to see where we were wrong, yet again, about our concept of God.

    That does not prove that God is ultimately a false concept, other than to say that too clear of a concept of God is bound to have many false qualities. Our environment shapes our image of God and as our environment changes, as our culture evolves, so does God, or at leas our concept of God. To assume that eventually we, as a species, will evolve ourselves out of faith in something beyond the material world has not been supported by recent history. In my case, it was (admittedly a layman's) introduction to quantum physics that got me interested in the idea of God.

    If Thomas Jefferson had studied the more obscure and ancient elements of Christianity (or at least the Orthodox Church) or some of the Eastern mystical traditions, he might find that other people of faith would agree with him. John will remember the old Zen line: "When you find the Buddha – kill him". The Church in Jefferson's day (and today) would not understand this.

    The thing is Mike, science and mathematics are uncovering 'facts' every day that are no more fantastical, no more miraculous to the finite human mind, than the idea of God itself. In order for science to grow, in order for faith to grow, it must die and be reborn every day. Because only by being willing to let go of an idea, a concept, can we ever continue to learn. Any concept. Any idea. We hold on to anything too tightly then that becomes our stumbling block. Even if this concept is God. Or "no god". We can't move up the ladder without allowing ourselves to step away from the first rung.

  • please make that " no less fantastical, no less miraculous to the finite mind" . Sorry.

  • Can all the self-proclaimed Christians out there get together and establish some objective, minimum standards for one to be allowed to use the name ‘Christian’? On this thread alone we have representatives of Christianity that run the gamut of ‘just believing a preacher named Jesus existed’ to…well…the other obvious extreme.

    I think a certification program is in order.

  • because just because just because -jeesh!

  • No., that would be pretty cool. It just seems obvious to me that Crick has just moved the problem off site. It could very well have happened that way – that's not my issue. (Although I had heard, perhaps incorrectly, that he did postulate some advanced civilization was in on the act.). My understanding is that the estimated age of the earth does not allow enough time for organic materials to develop, so rather than re-examine the theory, let's have life being introduced from an outside source. Yet some mathematicians have argued that the universe is not old enough for life to have developed within the narrow parameters necessary for (what we know about) life.

    Either way, I don't think that the relative meritsof any of these theories about life (which I do find to be fascinating) in any way threaten the authenticity of faith. At least not my faith which is by no means deistic – it just, by it's nature, defies description. I don't feel compelled in any way to convince anyone that my faith is the 'right' thing for them.

  • Leonardo

    "simple life (i.e. microbial life)"

    Oh how microbiologists would like that this sentence be true! The complexity, the perfection, the engineering!!!

    "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,"

  • Leonardo

    First, what a honor: "scripture-quoter". Thanks

    Secondly, What?!

  • Christian said: “That does not prove that God is ultimately a false concept, other than to say that too clear of a concept of God is bound to have many false qualities.”

    This is an excellent argument for the deistic stance.

    In any case; the two of us are not that far apart at a fundamental level, so it is not worth quibbling on some of these matters. I would like to focus briefly, though, on Crick’s hypothesis, what it really says, and your characterization of it. You use ‘desperate’ and ‘superstition’ when referring to Crick and his hypothesis of life being delivered to earth from some place else, but I fail to see how one can reach such a characterization even if one does not believe it.

    For clarity; Crick’s hypothesis suggests that simple life (i.e. microbial life) may have formed elsewhere in our solar system. Given that our early solar system was like a bumper car ride with much debris and many collisions; it is easily arguable that debris from a collision with a neighbor like Mars might have landed on a young earth and, potentially, bringing microbial life with it. He certainly does not postulate that any civilization delivered life (complex or otherwise) to seed our planet. Indeed, Martian debris almost certainly did land here and did Earth’s debris land there. Moreover, the Earth is continually being bombarded with interstellar debris to this day. I also contest the characterization that his hypothesis is unsupportable and unprovable as false. There are many pieces of the puzzle that we can put together (and have put together) that shows material transfer from one planetary body to another. We, at present, may not be able to show whether a Martian microbe or a home brewed microbe begat all life here…but who knows what will pop up. If we were to find identical microbes on both Earth and Mars, that in itself would be quite compelling. I just watched a show called Naked Science that talks about the fingerprints that we can find from our ancient solar system: .

    Now if you are arguing that it is fantasy that complex life arose from simple life (I don’t think you are), well there is no controversy in the scientific community. Every biologist in the world recognizes Evolution by Natural Selection as fact [if anything can be ‘fact’ in science].

  • For starters, Christian, let me say that I am enjoying the dialogue while Mr. Shore permits us to go on.

    Christian said: ”My understanding is that the estimated age of the earth does not allow enough time for organic materials to develop”

    I should start by saying that no scientist of any repute could/would make any such statement (as you related it to me). If anyone did make that claim; it is invalid on its face. To claim that there was insufficient time for process ‘A’ to take place, they need to know precisely what process ‘A’ is…and nobody does know what process ‘A’ is (in this case abiogenesis). Abiogenesis is rare, to be sure (at least from our species vanishingly brief time here when compared to the universe as a whole). That said, we have already shown that fundamental compounds of life can spontaneously occur in nature.

    Any of the arguments of improbability are just that…improbability…not impossibility. It is improbable that I will win the lottery…but people win lotteries all the time. If the odds are 1 in 1 billion for an event, but there are 1 billion billion opportunities for the event, then it would be almost unavoidable that the event will come to pass.

    Obviously life occurred somewhere in the universe at some point. How it got spread around (if it did) is merely an ancillary question and will probably never be answered satisfactorily before our extinction. We (an ‘advanced civilization’) have already sent space probes to planets and comets and beyond. NASA is scrupulous (where appropriate) to be sure space probes are clean so as not to contaminate the subject environment (i.e. Mars), but we could have already sent microorganisms beyond our solar system. Maybe in some many millions of years chance would deliver those microorganisms to a celestial body that would be hospitable for them. If Crick was postulating that life came from another advanced civilization, it is conjecture to be sure, but it has probably already happened once…and we were that ‘advanced civilization’.

  • You need to re-read what I said Leo.

    Microbial life is certainly more complex than first life. Unfortunately for the scripture-quoters, every bit of evidence indicates that we are all descended from a single microbe.

  • I won't take the time to go into detail Leo, but the boundary between non-life and life is not as clear as one might hope. I will concede that microbial life is actually quite advanced compared to proto-life (and it was biologists that teased apart their complexity. The holy books never mention their existence despite being 60% of earth's biomass) . Microbial life, though, seems the intuitive transportable form of life that could seed other celestial bodies…which was a point in the discussion.

    Re: quoting scripture…

    Quoting scripture does not make any argument more true and is worse than ineffective when discussing matters with a non-believer. In important ways, it is the definition of dogmatic.

  • Leonardo

    Dear Mike

    Scripture is effective with a non-believer because it has something that make us believers.

    Jesus never lied and He said "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth".so arguments based on Scriptures are true. And it is important to you and me to know because Jesus, who never lied, said: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

    The holy books, well named by you, never intended to teach us microbiology, rather to show us that the problem of man is a spiritual problem and then teach us the way to go back to God. While we can enjoy the Creation and all its blessings so we can be grateful to the Creator using it to well doing. But because Jesus said that His Word is true we can expect to be correct when is talking about Creation. So you can believe the statements of the Son of God or the suppositions of men.

    "He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct, He who teaches man knowledge?"

    "The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, But He overthrows the words of the faithless."

  • The way you describe 'truth', it could have just as well been the 'truth' espoused by Jesus' next door neighbor. The 'overarching truth' of Jesus would not be materially different than the 'overarching truth' of any thinking person at the time. Indeed the same stuff was espoused myriad times in history with merely a different cast of characters. There is no appreciable difference between anything Jesus said and what any compassionate thinking person would say.

    You seem to care not at all whether Jesus was the son of God, but rather that his teachings were compelling. Lots of teaching were compelling, yet you bestow some very special reverence on Jesus to the exclusion of any other compassionate, thinking person of that time or this time. I am either missing some important nuance in your missive or you have so diluted you beliefs as to be utterly arbitrary.

    Mr. Shore demands that Jesus was born of a virgin to warrant reverence and I am sure others here require some minimum 'miracle points' to distinguish him from all the other desert preachers. Unless I missed something; you require nothing but a name and a narrative to hang onto.

  • It's not that I've diluted my beliefs (you sound like a fundamentalist) but that you are trying to distill my beliefs into some sort of one line slogan or motto. I can understand why – this is what many religious people insist upon doing. That's why they have the creeds. But if you ask, I mean really ask believers who recite the same creed what the creed really means to them you will come up with many different answers. You yourself say things like: "You seem to care not at all whether Jesus was the son of God" What do you mean by "the son of God"? What do you think this means? Because there are almost as many meanings for this as there are Christians. (Even though biblical historians understand the first century Jewish definition of this phrase – it means someone who has the character and the spiritual nature of God. Someone like Jesus and yes perhaps others.)

    Most Christians see this in terms of the theory of Penal Substitution – that the "Son of God" is somehow God himself, in the flesh, presented as a perfect (sinless, unblemished etc ) loving sacrifice necessary to satisfy God's perfect sense of justice. And in some sense this is 'right'. But it is not the only way Christians have come to see Jesus (check with the Orthodox church in your neighborhood) and it not universally held among the mainline Protestant traditions (or with many Catholics) who have all been accused of diluting their faith.

    Just because a person cannot reduce their faith into a soundbite does not mean that they are watering down their faith.

    Not every other compassionate person of that time or any other has come close to the teacher that Jesus was. His life was the lesson. Others have done this, yes. And they have often said that Jesus was their inspiration. And their have been others who have spread a very similar message and are still doing so, and they are not Christian. Christians do not have the patent on the Way. But , like I said before, I encountered this Way through Christ. Why switch?

  • By 'Son Of God' I meant (in the general sense) that he was something more than human or 'of the supernatural'. It seems to my feeble mind that if you dismiss all the supernatural/divinity, then Jesus merely a really nice guy. It's all cool to do so, I just don't see how one can elevate a really nice guy above every other person in history.

  • Leonardo

    Well, Jesus affirmed: "your Word is truth". For Him there's no doubt about what the Word says. He couldn't believe that the world was flat because the Word of His Father says:"When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep," in Proverbs; or "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,…" in Isaiah.

    The problem of the man started (better is showed) in Genesis. And Jesus cites it in different moments as other parts of Scripture, to give foundation to His answers and prophecies and thus show the way of salvation. It was a need that our Saviour must be made according to the image of God, according to His likeness; in other words a man, never a kind of ape or proto-man.

    "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

    And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name"

    He was in the earth Emmanuel, God with us. He called himself the Son of Man.. Man with all failures deserves respect, because is made to the image of God, and it was that image that Jesus took and even sacrificed for humanity. What a mistake and what ugly consequences is just to look a human being as a kind of higher evolved animal.

    "For You (God) have made him (man) a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands (Creation); You have put all things under his feet (development of science)"

  • Cool. That's not precisely how I see it, but I believe that Jesus was, or became (or always was -eternally- it depends upon how we think of 'time') much more than human. I actually think that Jesus is one persona of God, since God is beyond conception, or imagining or knowing this is one way he encounters us. To me Jesus is God. But I can't tell you what that means. If you can describe God it's not God.

    But the superhuman thing – there are a lot of problems with that. Like Jesus is Clark Kent who could turn into God with the snap of his fingers. He was holding himself back on the cross – could've called down angels and wiped out the Roman garrison. Returning on a white charger, robe dipped in blood, brandishing a sword. Right. This kind of stuff is pretty much what many people have developed as their theology. And it misses the point of his life, his death and especially his teachings.

    Jesus is the most important person in history. To me. To a Jew it might be Moses or Elisha. A buddhist it is the Buddha so on and so forth. Is God so narrow that he would only work through Jesus of Nazareth?

  • I think Leonardo is absolutely correct when he says: “The holy books, well named by you, never intended to teach us microbiology, rather to show us that the problem of man is a spiritual problem and then teach us the way to go back to God. While we can enjoy the Creation and all its blessings so we can be grateful to the Creator using it to well doing.”

    But I think the following line needs a little unpacking: ” because Jesus said that His Word is true we can expect to be correct when is talking about Creation. So you can believe the statements of the Son of God or the suppositions of men”

    To a non-Christian, just because Jesus said his words are true is hardly sufficient evidence that they actually were. For someone such as myself, when Jesus is talking about the truth he is talking about his teachings – that we no longer need to be held in bondage to ourselves but can encounter God and enter his ‘kingdom’ both here and now. If we believe that Jesus, prior to his resurrection, was omniscient then we can no longer see Jesus as a man, because a man cannot know everything about the universe. So as a Jewish first century man, Jesus certainly held to the conventional wisdom of his time, which put forth a six day creation. (He probably thought the world was flat, too.) On the other hand, being the ‘son’ of God ( a Jewish term used for others in scriptures) he understood that certain elements of his tradition no longer served God (if they ever did) such as the priestly and sacrificial systems.

    But should these little bones of contention have that much impact upon our faith? Personally, I never felt it was important one way or another whether Jesus was born from a virgin, in Bethlehem, actually walked on water etc. etc. I see the value in these stories – I can even understand the truth contained in most of them. So, if Jesus took Genesis literally and was ‘wrong’ about the events of Creation – how does that damage the truth of his Good News, which is discovered only through experience, practice and faith?

    Whether or not every event described in the Bible actually took place should in no way obscure the overarching truth contained within. Both sides in this debate (not just Leonardo and Mike) should step back from scriptures and look at the overall picture (the meta-narrative ) and stop looking so intently at individual scripture as if they were ‘clues’ that support their positions.

  • Interesting! I am pretty sure we are done here.

  • Leonardo

    Well, first sorry, I was in out.

    Yes, as you say: "If you can describe God it’s not God". Even is called a mistery: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh,…" But yes, He is God, He can do whatever. In fact He said: ""Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" But then He added: "How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" There was a purpose, to fulfilled the Scriptures, so important they are.

    About the question: "Is God so narrow that he would only work through Jesus of Nazareth?"

    Jesus said: ""I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." That's the importance to the Adversary to discredit God as the Author and Creator. because if He is the Creator He has the right to establish the way, the law. And it shows Himself a superior intelligence, and our flesh can't stand that. So we need a conversion, that's the calling of the Lord

    "Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."

    Life is plentiful, better in His ways.


  • Tom

    This sounds ridiculous. In essence, what you’re saying is that god put humans on earth to figure out how not to die, either by the hand of other men or in god’s natural disaster obstacle course.. Sounds like the plot of Saw or Hunger Games…

  • Bones

    Where Was Man

    My private battle with God.

    You know I hated You oh Lord

    I cursed your blessed name

    I needed help a sign a word

    And there was no one else to blame

    Because Your silence drove me mad

    I climbed the walls and tore my hair

    My lungs were spitting blood and yet

    You wouldn’t listen to my prayer

    I called on You in torment wild

    And desperately cursed Your name

    Then I was nothing but a child

    And the was no one else to blame

    But now I feel God wasn’t dead

    And WHERE WAS MAN I ask instead

    Sonia Schreiber Weitz
    Holocaust Survivor