Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The tyranny of certainty.

Recently I was paging through Charles Stross' book Accelerando* and ran across a line that really struck me. It was, with a small paraphrase that I don't think Stross would object to, as follows:

"To never harbor self-doubt is poison for the soul, and these people want to inflict their certainties upon us." (Page 76)


This would always have seemed to me to be a good turn of phrase and sound commentary, but it really hit me because I had previously been thinking about issues related to this. It all got started by a post by Brad Wright who recently commented on an article describing a secular summer camp called camp quest.** As a side note: how was that for a link-heavy sentence? I mean, damn! In any case, Brad makes the following observation about the camp:

The article frames these camps in terms of such kids needing social support, but what interests me is that it's another example of atheism being practiced in the same way that people practice religions.


Now, to an extent I agree with Brad but, to an extent, I think he's missing something. Where we agree is in acknowledging that as atheists start to become more and more public, we're also starting to try to forge communities. And to the extent that any community that includes a sense of identity and collective effervescence is like a religion, then atheism is indeed being practiced as a religion. This is, however, religion in a very Durkheimian sense. Given that atheists seem to be growing more common, I don't think this trend is likely to end any time soon. At the same time, however, I think there is a sense in which these camps involve a practice that is very unlike what most of us think of as religion. Read the following passage from the article Brad cites and see if you start to notice what I mean:

They are not pushy or preachy, but scepticism flavours nearly everything they do. Lunch comes with a five-minute talk about a famous freethinker. Campers are told that invisible unicorns inhabit the forest, and offered a prize if they can prove that the unicorns do not exist. The older kids learn something about the difficulty of proving a negative. The younger ones grow giggly at the prospect of stepping in invisible unicorn poop. There’s a prize for the tidiest cabin, too, because “cleanliness is next to godlessness”, jokes Amanda Metskas, the director.

Campers are not told that there is no God; only that they should weigh the evidence. They learn about the scientific method. An amateur biologist invites them to gather creepy-crawlies from a nearby pond. They are told how sensitive each species is to pollution, and asked to work out from this how polluted the pond is. They find several critters that can survive only in clean water, and conclude that the pond is in good shape. The kids are encouraged to explore ethical questions, too. The more argumentative ones sit in a clearing and debate the nature of justice.

The kind of people who send their kids to Bible camp are appalled. Answers in Genesis, a Christian fundamentalist group, berates Camp Quest for drumming a “hopeless” world view into young minds. But a humanist camp is less about indoctrination than reassurance that it is all right not to be religious; that it is possible to be moral without believing in the supernatural. Nearly all the kids at Camp Quest say they find it comforting to be surrounded by others who share their lack of belief. Many attend schools where Christianity is taken for granted. Many keep quiet about their atheism. Those who don’t are sometimes taunted or told they will burn in hell. [emphasis added]


See what I'm hinting at yet? The thing is, these camps don't appear to be designing their curriculum to drive home only one rigid set of things that are right and wrong. Instead, they're trying to instill a respect for critical thought and introspection. The message isn't a thunderous, "There is no god!" but, instead, a more contemplative "Is there a god?" Compare this emphasis on questioning, exploring and thinking to your average sunday school or, even better, Jesus Camp and I don't think you'll get them in the least confused. For that matter, read a chick tract or two and you'll see what I mean. I, of course, am aware that if you get that many atheists and free thinkers together in one place, the odd theist may feel out of place. Yet, all the same, atheists and free thinkers come in many stripes and I suspect there are substantial ideological differences at Camp Quest. The only doctrine, it seems, is that you shouldn't accept something as true without using your brain, and it's hard to label that kind of thing as dogmatic.

And this article, in turn, reminds me of the reflections of an agnostic father that I recently had the pleasure to read. See this father discovered that his wife, a Catholic, was teaching their sons that Jesus was god. The father was somewhat concerned about this and looked for something to do about it:

I called a friend of mine, who works for a humanist charity and is a parent, too, feeling sure he would have some sage advice. His response surprised me. Not only did he not know of any good humanist children's books, he said, he didn't like the idea of such a thing.

Rather than attempt to counterindoctrinate kids with explicitly anti-religious messages, he argued, far better simply to expose them to the widest range of reading as possible -- weren't Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss essentially humanistic? -- and expose them to the manifold religions and philosophies in the world in order to nourish their imaginations and sense of wonder about the universe and help them view religion in a comparative context.

The antidote I was seeking, he suggested, was to be found in books of evolution and science fiction, not didactic manifestos.

...

All parents must confront the prospect that if we raise our children to be free, self-confident individuals, they may make choices that we don't like. Tough. The companion volume to Parenting Beyond Belief bears the title Raising Freethinkers. Sounds appealing -- I'd like to raise freethinkers. But what if raising my kids to be truly free in their thinking results in their becoming religious? What if my efforts to instill skepticism in them lead them to become skeptical of my humanism? So be it.


His conclusions more or less match my own about what I should do when I have children. It would not be any wiser for me to indoctrinate them to disbelieve in god that it would be for me to indoctrinate them to believe. Instead, I see it as my role to try to help them learn how to think deeply and well about the world and to make decisions that are good for themselves and those around them. Do I hope my children turn out to be atheists? Of course I do! Because I believe that the atheistic perspective is correct and healthier than the theistic one. That said, will I love and respect my children if they aren't atheists? Of course! I ask only that they believe what they do because they have thought long and hard and made an informed decision, not that they believe what I do.

And that, folks, is how the practice of atheism is different from the practice of religion. Like most everybody else, I want my children to grow up to be healthy, successful, and good- and to achieve that objective I am willing to try very hard not to inflict my certainties upon them.


* Download your own copy here.

** As a side note: there is a similar camp known as Camp Inquiry in New York for anyone who is interested. It's run by the Center for Inquiry who also publish the excellent Skeptical Inquirer.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 1, Part 2

Welcome back, folks, to another exciting installment of Left Behind. Today, we're going to pick up where we left off following Buck's revelation that the Great Wall of China is long. I tell ya, you just can't sneak anything past that boy.

As an added feature to go along with this series, I've decided that each time I do an episode, I'll pick one of the comments to the previous episode as my favorite comment. Just a little something to encourage you to keep me amused throughout this ordeal. Favorite comments are disproportionately likely to be those that make me laugh but may also be insightful commentary. Basically, the criteria are entirely dependent on my whimsy. Our inaugural best comment comes from scripto who remarks:

"Rayford Steele? Why'd they give the hero a gay porn name? Something tells me he's not going to be touching the woman he's thinking about."


Indeed, an excellent question! And I admit, now that I've heard it, I have started picturing Rayford with a huge seventies-style mustache. Who will have the best comment to today's post? Maybe you! Get those creative juices flowing, or Rayford will get a completely different kind of juice flowing in their stead.

As always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotes from the text are in block quotes, and my commentary is in regular print. And you can navigate around the series with the helpful "Left Behind" tag at the bottom of each and every post.

Let's continue, shall we?

----------

Dramatis Personae

In no particular order, because I'm capricious and evil...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie.

----------


Chapter One, Part Two

Page 10- Line 12-13:
When Israeli radar picked up the Russian planes, they were nearly overhead.


Two points here. First, this has the unavoidable implication that the Israelis have shit air defense. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Israel, but I think anyone with half a brain would have to admit that they generally have their air defense screwed down tight. Secondly, however, what's sad about all this is while there's effectively zero chance that the Russians could get a gigantic fleet of jet aircraft overhead without warning, SLBMs would totally do the trick since Israel is right along the coast. From launch to detonation would be maybe five minutes. One or two typhoons would be more than adequate I suspect. So, ironically, the authors look like morons because they can't be bothered to do the minimal amount of research necessary to identify a weapons system with the performance needed to concoct their absurd scene. Bravo.


Page 12- Line 7-9:
The roar and the cacophony continued, the explosions so horrifying that veteran military leaders buried their faces and screamed in terror.


Yes, the authors have very little respect for the IDF indeed. Likewise, they have little respect for good writing. Might that passage not work better as a "cacophonous roar" rather than "roar and cacophony"? I mean, if you're going to use the big word (i.e. cacophony) you may as well use it elegantly.


Page 12-13- Line: 12:30-13:1-22:

No quote this time because it's too long. Basically, however, Buck left his bunker since he figured he'd be dead either way and saw a giant shimmering curtain of flame hanging over Israel, which engulfed and destroyed the Russian warheads and aircraft. Then a shitload of golfball sized hail came down for no apparent reason since, last time I checked, the only people on the ground were presumably folks god liked. So, you know, the hail seems a bit uncalled for. It's sort of like a cop saving you from a mugger only to come over afterwards and slap you around a bit. In any case, what with the curtain of fire and unnecessary hail, Israel is totally saved. The thing is, as ridiculous as all this is, I found myself feeling really angry by the end. See, we're meant to see this as some kind of miracle but, really, it just shows us what kind of an ass the god of Left Behind actually is. He doesn't help with the Romans, or the Turks, or the Holocaust, or the Six-Day War, or the Yom Kippur War, or the Intifada. And don't tell me that without god the Israelis wouldn't have won all those wars in the twentieth century- they won because they trained hard, went for broke, and got very, very lucky. My point is that through all of the bullshit the Jewish people have gone through,* god has never administered the smackdown. Then, when the Russians come sailing in we get a curtain of fire, a bunch of pointless hail and, hey, praise the lord! So, evidently, if you're Jewish god will intervene to save your home from nuclear (but not conventional) annihilation if it's in the right part of the world (i.e. the 'Holy Land') but you're on your own if the gestapo wants to gas your whole damned family to death. I do not find this magnificent, or awe-inspiring. I find it craven and evil.


Page 14- Line 10-15:
Daylight revealed the carnage and exposed Russia's secret alliance with Middle Eastern nations, primarily Ethiopia and Libya. Among the ruins, the Israelis found combustible material that would serve as fuel and preserve their natural resources for more than six years.


Okay, several points. First, I find it weird that Russia's primary allies were Ethiopia and Libya, neither of which would be particularly helpful if a nation like, say, Russia wanted to attack a nation like, oh, Israel. It'd be like sending planes from the U.S. to attack Denmark by way of New Zealand. Second, aren't there Ethiopian Jews? Why yes, I think there are! Moreover, Ethiopia and Israel are allies! This is some serious what-the-fuckery. Third, the Israelis found fuel in the wreckage of Russian warplanes? Like, actual usable fuel, enough to power the whole goddamn country for over six years? Were these nuclear powered MiGs? No, of course not, because you don't burn uranium on a campfire and the authors are quite specific that it is combustible fuel. So, apparently, Russia attacked with airborne fuel tankers that were all destroyed by the giant curtain of fire which somehow didn't burn their highly combustible fuel? And we're supposed to take this shit seriously? I need a drink.


Page 14- Line 23-25:
Editors and readers had their own explanations for the phenomenon, but Buck admitted, if only to himself, that he became a believer in God that day.


Aside from the obvious silliness of this line, please remember it for a few chapters from now. It will become relevant that Buck, upon witnessing something he believed to be divine intervention, started to believe in god.


Page 15- Line 5-10:
Christian friends wanted Buck to take the next step and believe in Christ, now that he was so clearly spiritually attuned. He wasn't prepared to go that far, but he was certainly a different person and a different journalist from then on. To him, nothing was beyond belief.


I love how the implicit argument is that when you're not Christian you're not "spiritually attuned" but when you are Christian you ARE "spiritually attuned". Sounds like the same horseshit "psychics" use to explain why they can't work under controlled conditions- skeptics are harshing their vibes. And unfortunately, the authors are not alone in their perspective on that. Additionally, does anyone really want an investigative journalist who regards nothing as beyond belief? I mean, he definitely became a different journalist. Specifically, he became a shitty one.


Page 15- Line 11:

No quote kids, we're just back with Rayford Steele and his throbbing male urges. Try to restrain the nausea... In any case, Hussie Hattie finds him and explains that a bunch of people are just missing from the plane. He doesn't believe her and she marshals a series of compelling arguments...


Page 16- Line 25-26:
"Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!"


This teaches us an important lesson: in the event of the rapture, free stuff for everybody!


Page 17- Line Whatever:

The search continues for the missing people though we know in advance they won't be found. Honestly, the authors try to wring some tension out of this but we all know what has happened since we're, you know, reading this book. It's like reading a locked-room mystery where the solution is given on the dust jacket. In any case, at the bottom of this page I originally scrawled a note which reads, "Now that I think about it, shouldn't there be a lot of born-once babies 'Left Behind'?" Indeed, this is a reasonable question since infants are clearly unable to say the right incantations and "accept Christ". As it turns out, there is an answer to this later in the book, and it can be politely described as "hella creepy".


Page 18- Line 1-6:
This was no joke, no trick, no dream. Something was terribly wrong, and there was no place to run. There would be enough confusion and terror without his [Rayford] losing control. Nothing had prepared him for this, and he would be the one everybody would look to. But for what? What was he supposed to do?


Get used to this degree of indecisiveness and whining. It's pretty much definitive of this book's "heroes." Also, get used to this degree of implausible writing. If anything, it's only downhill from here. In any case, passengers are realizing seat mates are missing and freaking out. Rayford takes time out of his busy schedule of not doing anything to tell Hattie to calm the hell down.


Page 18- Line 19-21:
She [Hattie] nodded but she didn't look OK at all. As he [Rayford] edged past her to hurry back to the cockpit, he heard her scream. So much for calming the passengers,... [emphasis original]


Well, she is just a weak woman, after all. Snarkiness aside, get used to the simple fact that few if any of the female characters in this book are ever treated with any respect. Often, this is at the hands of male characters and so can be chalked up to the authors' opinion that non-saved men are rude assholes. Fair enough, but other times it just appears that the authors think that women are supposed to just get out of the way and let men get on about working. I'll point out later events and y'all can make up your own minds.**


Page 19- Line 8-11:
He'd [Rayford] rather have faced an engine fire or even an uncontrolled dive. A crash into the ocean had to be better than this. How would he keep people calm in such a nightmare?


Well, for starters you probably shouldn't tell them that their pilot would rather the plane be diving out of control into the ocean with an engine on fire. That tends to make passengers... you know... anxious.


Page 19- Line 28-30:
The terrifying truth was that he knew all too well. Irene had been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind.


My exact comment at this point in the margins reads: "Melodrama fail!" Leaving that aside, do commit this moment to memory. Rayford is convinced, by the end of the first chapter, that people have disappeared because of the rapture. This will be important later. Sort of.


And with that, dear readers, we come to the end of Chapter One. Please join us next time when we venture boldly into Chapter Two where even less happens because we're still on a goddamn jetliner. Seriously, folks, for the first few chapters Left Behind is the exciting story of flying in a holding pattern.

I, for one, can't wait.



* I should note here that one of my best friends is Palestinian-American so, seriously, I'm not taking a position on the rightness of Israel as a whole. I think it fair, however, to observe that Jews have taken more than their fair share of crap over the centuries.

** Note that I am not accusing evangelicals, or even the authors, of sexism. Mostly I accuse them of bad writing and poor characterization, which is a pretty grievous sin in its own right.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I had planned a serious post today...

Then I saw this and was just too amused not to share:



Sometimes I am honestly quite content to be a part of the viral advertising.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Well, this is a pain in the arse.

Folks with an interest in the sociology of science and knowledge may have noticed this little gem that appeared in BMJ. It's an article by Steven Greenberg titled, "How citation distortions create unfounded authority: analysis of a citation network." The abstract, in somewhat abridged form, is nothing if not intriguing:

ABSTRACT
Objective To understand belief in a specific scientific claim by studying the pattern of citations among papers stating it.

Design A complete citation network was constructed from all PubMed indexed English literature papers addressing the belief that β amyloid, a protein accumulated in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, is produced by and injures skeletal muscle of patients with inclusion body myositis. Social network theory and graph theory were used to analyse this network.

...

Conclusion Citation is both an impartial scholarly method and a powerful form of social communication. Through distortions in its social use that include bias, amplification, and invention, citation can be used to generate information cascades resulting in unfounded authority of claims. Construction and analysis of a claim specific citation network may clarify the nature of a published belief system and expose distorted methods of social citation.


In short, Greenberg identifies several mechanisms that can impair the ability of the scientific process to reach an accurate result. "Citation Bias" is the preferential citation of supporting evidence (whatever supporting is in your case) and the discounting or ignoring of critical evidence. This is particularly the case with critical primary (i.e. using data) research. "Citation Diversion" is the citing of papers that say something relevant to your claim, but which do not say precisely what you imply or state they say. Note that this is not lying about what the citation supports but more akin to stretching it through interpretation. "Invention" relates to the use of citations to introduce new material. Often this is an over-statement of what is contained in the cited article. So, for example, the article says, "We hypothesize that x is related to y" while the citation of that article reads, "So and so demonstrated that x is related to y". The newer, and much stronger, claim has essentially been invented. Finally, "amplification" emerges when articles that lack primary data (e.g. review articles) are cited as authoritative sources for demonstrating that some particular thing is true. In that these articles are effectively just recycling and collating earlier work, they provide a sort of echo chamber that lends additional legitimacy to a claim without lending it additional substantive support.

In combination, the mechanisms above can generate chains of citation between papers that seem to produce tremendous legitimacy for a claim when, in fact, that claim may be unreliable. This is obviously a problem. Greenberg identifies a few reasons why this may be prone to occur, including the structure of rewards in science (e.g. successful grant proposals often must be built on existing work- in other words, existing citation chains), the natural truncation that follows negative results (e.g. you don't publish multiple papers on a negative finding, but can build a career on a positive finding), and on more mundane causes like the confirmation bias (e.g. you like your hypothesis/theory so you tend to discount the articles that imply it may be incorrect). In total, however, the paper casts a certain amount of doubt on the cumulative reliability of journal results.

So is this the death knell for science as we know it? Eh. Probably not, if for no other reason than that we don't have anything better waiting in the wings. Solutions, however, will be difficult. Mostly I think it's beholden on authors to be more careful with their citations so as to avoid this sort of thing. Doubtless it will continue, and maybe one of these days we'll figure a way to check every citation of every paper that is submitted, but I don't think reviewers have that kind of time right now and are unlikely to discover it in the near future. We could probably resolve at least some of these issues if the perennial joke publication, "The Journal of Null Findings," were to get off the ground. Then we might have an easier way to counter-balance some of the exciting new error-prone revelations that can get us all haring off in some random direction. Finally, however, I wonder if it wouldn't help if we all tried to de-emphasize the idea that each and every important paper has to produce some amazing new theoretical insight. It's hard for science to accumulate when we get rewarded for new conceptual leaps but not for the dirty, difficult work of sorting the wheat from the chaff. I, for one, would certainly be in favor of that if only because it would make life easier when I'm searching in vain for good empirical overviews of certain areas.

And as a final side note, if you haven't already felt amused at the fact that I cited an article that reports on the unreliability of citations, there's no time like the present to start.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Not a bang, but a whimper.

Recently, I was banned from Conservapedia. Specifically, I was banned from Conservapedia for five years. Oddly, however, I do not feel proud, or triumphant, or even wryly amused. I actually feel ever so slightly embarrassed.

To understand why, you need to know a few things about my history with Andrew Schlafly's beast. Back when Conservapedia got off the ground, I found myself compelled to track its odd behavior. This gave rise to what I have half-jokingly referred to as my Conservapedia addiction and, likewise, to a seemingly endless series of posts on same. Early on, however, I found myself tempted to poke the beast with a stick now and then, which is why I decided to try and become a regular editor for their page on atheism. This didn't last long, however, as I was forced to eventually admit defeat. The nutters over there are just too persistent for me, and they have the ability to lock pages. So, I was forced to bid adieu to the slightly prejudicial page that was there back in the day and gradually say hello to the ravenously hateful train wreck that exists now.

For a long time after that I was able to refrain from editing Conservapedia. Oh, I would leave the odd comment now and then, but I made no attempt to contribute to their actual "articles." Amazingly, throughout this period I managed to evade getting smacked with their "90/10" rule which requires that 90% of your edits be to articles and only 10% to talk pages. Sounds like a good idea, but it's used primarily as an excuse to get rid of people they don't like. In any case, I managed to avoid making article edits until I discovered their article on correlation.

Now, for those who are unaware, the correlation coefficient, aka Pearon's r, is a statistic used to determine whether or not two variables are related to each other. That's the short, simple version anyway. The long version involves a lot of caveats and a certain amount of math. It's a basic, simple statistic that is often taught in high school or college statistics classes. Now, what I discovered was that the Conservapedia article on correlation had no actual math in it. None at all. This is an issue since the correlation coefficient is, you know, a quantity defined by certain equations. Given that I know Schlafly uses Conservapedia as a resource for home school children,* I frankly found this state of affairs to be entirely unacceptable. So, being stupid, I went ahead and produced a major overhaul of the page. If my effort was imperfect,** I was content since it at least contained math. Since then people have edited my efforts in various and sundry ways. Schlafly himself, for example, added a confusing morass of conservative propaganda and a heading.*** Later, Ed Poor deleted all the math citing it as "distractions and propaganda," which was a new one on me. He then produced his own version, commenting that there was a "right way and a wrong way to do this." Sadly, the "right way" apparently did not include any math. HSpalding then "restored the maths," which is to say, restored what I had written in the first damned place.

And this brings us to the present. I recently checked in on the correlation article and discovered that the intro was poorly written and confusing- particularly since the first bloody sentence of it implies pretty strongly that correlation=causation. So, I spent a little time trying to clean up the intro into something accurate and informative. If you're curious, you can see pretty easily what I did. I should note that I made every effort to use much of the introduction that was there previously. And afterwards I was promptly banned and my edits reverted. How promptly? Well, take a look at this "recent changes" log from Conservapedia:



To sum up, I made my first edit at 16:23 and followed up with a second at 16:24 to correct a spelling error I missed. The editor TK then reverted my work at 16:45 and blocked me for five years at 16:47. So, basically, the changes made it about twenty minutes. The reason for my blocking? Well, his explanation was- and I quote: "(Troublemaker/Prevaricator)".

Now, on the one hand, there is a part of me that is happy to have finally earned a multi-year block from Conservapedia. At the same time, though, I didn't earn it for any of my random arguments with Schlafly or even for making snide remarks about creation scientists.**** No, folks, I managed to get banned from Conservapedia for making a reasonable and good-intentioned edit to an article about math.

And if that doesn't sum up what is well and truly screwy about Conservapedia, I don't know what will.


* If this doesn't scare the crap out of you, you haven't spent enough time reading conservapedia.

** And it was. Seriously imperfect, actually, but I was trying to provide detail without sounding so much like a scientist that I'd draw suspicion.

*** Like a dog, Schlafly feels the need to constantly mark his territory by pissing all over everything.

**** I did earn a short ban from that (about a month) but it was totally worth it.

As a final side note: for anyone who is concerned for my career- I do not spend hours on conservapedia during working hours. I do sometimes check-in for a five minute break between projects, however. I don't know how your brain works, but I find it hard to switch between papers/grant proposals/presentation writing/whatever without a brief mental cleansing of the palate first.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Faith based credit counseling...

I'd never actually seen this bit before, but the late Jerry Falwell, about whom I've blogged before, once gave some advice on what to do if your finances are all screwed up. On the plus side, he advocated that you work on your budget and see how much money you have coming in compared to how much you're spending on what. This is great advice for anyone, whether they're in financial distress or not. The somewhat weirder part, however, is that he makes it very explicit that if you want to get out of debt, you really need to be giving 10% of your income to the church. Seriously, he calls it "spiritual mathematics":



Falwell, of course, claimed that people would always come back and say that this advice helped. Maybe they did do that, although I have to point out that most people's economic downturns are temporary. So, assuming that tithing helped your finances because after you started tithing your finances improved is a classic example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Mostly, though, I just think it's a shame that the way Falwell talks about this makes it sound like god is running a protection racket. If he doesn't get his cut, he'll ruin your finances.

Sometimes the way religious professionals talk about god and the devil makes it sound less like theology, and more like a mob war.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 1, Part 1

Well, as promised and as implied by the title, today we begin with our new regular series on Left Behind. As always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotes from the text are in block quotes, and my commentary is in regular print. And you can navigate around the series with the helpful "Left Behind" tag at the bottom of each and every post. And as a special treat for everyone, in italics, right next to the chapter name, I'll give you a little summary so you're prepared for every "twist" and "turn."

Last time, as you'll recall, nothing had happened yet and I was just bitching about how boring the book is. Today, well, there will be words on a page, but I wouldn't be expecting action or adventure. What you're getting instead is a trans-Atlantic flight, and we know how dull those are. The only thing more boring would be reading about someone else on a trans-Atlantic flight and, as luck would have it, that's what we're about to do!

Chapter One: In which characters are introduced, flashbacks occur with disorienting frequency, and the authors display an atrocious grasp of effectively every field of knowledge.


Page 1- Line 1-2:
Rayford Steele's mind was on a woman he had never touched.


You know it's gonna suck when a main character is named "Steel." What's next? Jim Goodsoul? Also: do the authors find it odd that a man might be thinking about a woman he has never "touched"? Don't they remember junior high?


Page 1- Line 12-15:
Rayford used to look forward to getting home to his wife. Irene was attractive and vivacious enough, even at forty. But lately he had found himself repelled by her obsession with religion. It was all she could talk about.


Ah, yes. Another marriage torn asunder by religion. As a side note, however, it's page one and we already have a man wanting to stray from his wife. A wife who has found god. This is gonna be a loooong book.


Page 2- Line 4-6:
Hers was not a church where people gave you the benefit of the doubt, assumed the best about you, and let you be.


Well, that is about the size of it. This passage makes one wonder, however, if her church has baskets of rocks sitting out so that they're equipped should an adultress happen past.


Page 2- Line 11-13:
Rayford tried to tell himself it was his wife's devotion to a divine suitor that caused his mind to wander. But he knew the real reason was his own libido.


Hell, it worked for Mary, so why not Irene? Seriously, though, as we will see later in the book, there are clearly no reasons why her new religious obsession might be a little repellent to Rayford. Nope, none at all. I mean, she IS attractive and vivacious enough for a forty year old.


Page 2- Line 14-17:
Besides, Hattie Durham was drop-dead gorgeous. No one could argue that. What he enjoyed most was that she was a toucher. Noting inappropriate, nothing showy.


I like short declarative sentences. Short declarative sentences are awesome. I should write an entire book this way. It would be so nice. It would make Drek cry.


Page 3- Line 5-6:
He was no prude, but Rayford had never been unfaithful to Irene.


What the fuck? Being faithful to your spouse makes you a prude now? Oh, wait, shit! I'm sorry, this is how the authors believe non-evangelicals think. Oh, wow! What morons! More seriously, this introduces us to a central issue as we go through the book: given that the authors are telling the story of those left behind following the rapture it's difficult to tell in some places if they're offering a moral lesson or simply illustrating the manifest character flaws they believe to be emblematic of the unsaved. More often than not, I think it's the latter, but you can make up your own mind as we go. Regardless, however, this book has essentially convinced me that if many of us academic types don't understand evangelicals terribly well, they sure as hell don't understand us either. More on that later.


Page 3- Line 12-21: No quote this time. Ray is just thinking about how he necked with a girl while half drunk at a party. Lest we think he's really terrible, though, he then remembers a time when he had a few drinks in an airport bar while snowed in and then- after it unexpectedly cleared- voluntarily grounded himself as he was not fit to fly. The first time through, I thought the authors were just trying to keep Rayford likable. Now, I suspect it's part of their "God doesn't give a shit about good works" stance.


Page 4- Line 12-17:
"Can you imagine, Rafe," she [Irene] exulted, "Jesus coming back to get us before we die?"

"Yeah, boy," he said, peeking over the top of his newspaper, "that would kill me."

She was not amused. "If I didn't know what would happen to me," she said, "I wouldn't be glib about it."


Except you would, Irene, because it just sounds so darned stupid. Seriously, though, this is a common theme in the book: the misguided notion that those of us who don't believe are simply theologically ignorant. Okay, seriously, evangelical folks? Your theology is not so obviously awesome that if you just tell us about it, we're going to jump right aboard. Seriously.


Page 4- Line 27-29:
She [Irene] had pulled away in tears. "I've told you and told you. Saved people aren't good people, they're-"

"Just forgiven, yeah, I know," he [Rayford] said...


This bit is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. When I first read the chapter, it was because it reveals how nihilistic this religion is. It doesn't matter what you do- how good you are- just so long as you say the right spells and get saved. Having read the entire book through, I'm now amused at how often the authors are going to contradict this basic assertion. You bet your ass they make "saved" people better people.


Page 5- Line 10-13:
He didn't want to articulate it, but the fact was, he was brighter- yes, more intelligent. He believed in rules, systems, laws, patterns, things you could see and feel and touch.


Poor, stupid Rayford! He actually thinks the world is supposed to make logical sense and be consistent! Of course not! The world is supposed to be self-contradictory and utterly fucking nutty! How else would we feel god's presence? And I mean, hell, he wants to believe in things he can actually detect as opposed to invisible, insubstantial make-believe friends. What a dumbass!


Page 6- Line 1:

There's no text quotation because we're being introduced to a new character. This character, it's claimed, is the most hotshot-est reporter you could ever hope to meet. We're initially told his name is "Cameron Williams" I say initially because of what we're going to read right about... now.


Page 6- Line 7-9:
Both admirers and detractors at the magazine called him Buck, because they said he was always bucking tradition and authority.


I give you the exact words I scrawled in the margins at this line: "Oh, barf!"


Page 6- Line 25-27:

At this point we're in a flashback where Buck is musing about an editorial meeting where they decided to do a story on Chaim Rosenzweig, the nobel prizewinner in Chemistry. Chaim will be important enough shortly, but right now he affords us a way to date the events being depicted. See, Nobel prizes in science are usually only awarded after a delay. The delay is usually on the order of twenty years. So, if we assume Chaim did his work the same year this book was published, 1995, then the events of Left Behind itself can't be dated earlier than 2015. I more or less reject the "alternate history" explanation (i.e. the timeline of Left Behind deviated from our own at some point in the past) because the authors clearly want to imply that these sorts of things WILL happen in the future. Alternatively, the authors are incompetent jackasses who can't be trusted to check basic facts. As we'll see soon enough, the latter seems fairly likely.


Page 6-7- Line 6:29 7:1-4:
"Put the chairs on the wagon, the meetin' is over," Buck said.

...

"Not so fast, Cowboy," a rival said...


Why are we in a western all of a sudden? Shootout at the Pearly Gates!


Page 8- Line 3-6:

It's being explained that Chaim developed a fertilizer that allows the desert soil of Israel to bloom. And I mean, bloom like a motherfucker. I should also note that this is being explained in what I believe is a flashback within a flashback. Actually, no, sorry its a flashforward from the original flashback that still leaves us in a flashback relative to the original narrative. Okay, hang on, imagine a timeline with all three events moving from the oldest on the left to the most recent on the right. Events would go:

"Cowboy meeting" -------> "Interview with Chaim" ---------> "Buck on a plane"

Alternatively, Buck may be flashing back to the meeting, then flashing back to the events that made Chaim look so good for the meeting, then flashing forward to the interview, which is still itself a flashback. So we get a flashback, then a flashback within a flashback, then a flashforward to a point that is still a flashback from the perspective of the original narrative:


"Israel is teh awesome" ------> "Cowboy meeting" -------> "Interview with Chaim" ------> "Buck on a plane"

Okay, do you have all that? Great. Can you explain it to me, now?


Page 8- Line 11-17:
Rosenzweig's formula was fast making Israel the richest nation on earth, far more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors. Every inch of ground blossomed with flowers and grains, including produce never before conceivable in Israel. The Holy Land became an export capital, the envy of the world, with virtually zero unemployment. Everyone prospered.


And this, of course, makes perfect sense. Because, as we all know, agricultural producers are totally the rich countries. Fuck manufacturing, fuck industry, just give a country dirt and some seeds and it's totally rich. I mean, hell, Saudi Arabia is all like, "Sure, we got oil, but if we could just grow mangos in decent quantities? That's where the money is!" Yes, folks, these guys not only don't understand the Nobel Prize, they fail to grasp basic international trade principles. Also, I feel compelled to point out that they capitalize Holy Land but fail to capitalize "Earth." Because, you know, our only goddamn planet is clearly not worth the same respect as a tiny f-ing fragment of same that people have been fighting over for way too long.


Page 8- Line 19-20:
Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors.


So, what? The PLO takes checks? I'm pretty sure that isn't really what all the killing is about, you know?


Page 9- Line 12-16:

Here Buck is musing on how the miracle fertilizer formula could make a huge difference to Russia if only it could be adapted for frozen wastelands. Seriously, there are references to land blooming, "...though snow covered most of the year". Not to be an asshole, but I think all that snow is going to impose a pretty hard upper limit on agricultural production, you know?


Page 9- Line 20-27:

And here we're informed that the world has switched to three currencies, instead of the myriad we have now. These currencies are dollars, yen, and marks. Yes, marks. Not euros, the actual currency of Europe, but marks. We probably shouldn't give the authors too hard a time as the official adoption of the euro was in December of 1995 but, nonetheless, it sounds bizarre at this point in time.


Page 9-10- Line 9:30-10:9:
Frustrated at their inability to profit from Israel's fortune and determined to dominate and occupy the Holy Land, the Russians had launched an attack against Israel in the middle of the night. The assault became known as the Russian Pearl Harbor, and because of his interview with Rosenzweig, Buck Williams was in Haifa when it happened. The Russians sent intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-equipped MiG fighter-bombers into the region. The number of aircraft and warheads made it clear their mission was annihilation.


So much to talk about. First, can't you just hear the Russian premier screaming, "If ve can't have eet, no-vone vill!" Moreover, can't you just see him twirling his mustache and flourishing his cape at the same time? Absurd melodrama, ho! Second, it seems weird to call it the "Russian Pearl Harbor" when Russia is the aggressor. Maybe it's just because I'm an American but, seriously, isn't "Pearl Harbor" pretty much synonymous with "getting your ass kicked by surprise"? Seems like it should be the Israeli Pearl Harbor but, hey, seeing as how the Israelis might like their own damn metaphors, maybe they'd go with Yom Kippur War II? Third, leaving aside the fact that Israel and Russia do not share a border and, therefore, Russian planes would either have to cross intermediate airspace to attack in the first place or come in by carrier, there's the whole intercontinental ballistic missile thing. Seriously? They used ICBMs? Because, guys, Israel is well within Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile range and those things are faster and more accurate. For folks who are curious, the missiles we got all hot and bothered about during the Cuban Missile Crisis were essentially IRBMs. Perhaps this seems like a niggling criticism. In fact it is but, that said, as we will see they routinely fuck up technical details through sheer incompetence. This is just the beginning. Finally, fourth, it really doesn't sound like the Russians wanted to "dominate and occupy the Holy Land," so much as they wanted to turn it into a black-glass parking lot that would glow in the dark. So for all intents and purposes the authors contradict themselves within about ten lines. Classy.


Page 10- Line 10-12: [Before you read the following passage from the book, please keep in mind that Buck Williams is supposed to be the leading journalistic talent of his day. Think the second coming of H.L. Mencken here:]
To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.


I honestly don't know what annoys me more: that the writing is generally so poor or that when they attempt to mimic good writing, it still comes out as trite crap. Yes, indeed, "like saying the Great Wall of China was long". Great work, Buck. Best clear space on the mantle for your Pulitzer.



And at this point, boys and girls, I'm afraid I must draw this installment to a close. We are not, I'm sorry to say, finished with Chapter One but I am very busy right now and producing this episode has been taking longer than anticipated. I was therefore faced with a choice: either post only a partial chapter one, or delay this installment until the chapter was complete. Given the heckling I have already received from my Former Hypothetical Roommate over this series, I decided to do the former. This may well become policy since, if I'm not mistaken, later chapters are longer, and I'm not liable to get less busy in coming months. Lucky for you.

So, tune in next week when we continue Chapter One and learn that the authors consider the Israeli military to be totally incompetent, Rayford has an epiphany of sorts, and Buck sort of just sits around like the inaction hero he is.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And you thought I just talked about boobs...

Not so! Here at Total Drek, we're interested in all manner of sexually charged subjects, so long as they include the potential for some humor. And, failing that, are at least interesting. Today, I have a pair of articles for you that you may find to have a link, or you may not. In the latter case, however, you're just not trying hard enough.

The first is a report about what happens when you let religious doctrine determine your sex education program:

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush's critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.


So, not only did Bush screw our foreign policy, and screw our economy, he (metaphorically) screwed our kids. Lovely. Still, advocates of abstinence-only haven't given up, no matter how much we all may wish they would:

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values, which describes itself as a supporter of traditional marriage and "against liberal education and cultural forces", said the abstinence message is overwhelmed by a culture obsessed with sex.

"It is ridiculous to say that a programme we nominally invest in has failed when it fails to overcome the most sexualised culture in world history. Education that emphasises abstinence as the best option for teens makes up a minuscule part of overall sex education in the United States," she said.

"In every other area of public policy - food, drugs, alcohol - we tell children what is the best choice. It seems very bizarre that the sex education establishment rejects the idea that we should talk to kids about what is best for them. We don't take vodka to drivers education because children will drink and drive."


Which is all well and good, except that she's apparently never experienced an alcohol or nutrition education program before. My nutrition courses did not teach "abstinence only" when it came to saturated fats, for example. They did not put on skits about happy kids who never eat twinkies or have me sign a pledge, and wear a ring, to indicate that I wouldn't eat pringles. No, they explained how certain foods carry certain risks and taught ways to balance what I wanted against what was healthy. Likewise with alcohol which, as it happens, I do abstain from completely. Nonetheless, I abstain because of personal choice and I am perfectly aware of the pros and cons involved in various kinds of alcohol. So, in short, abstinence-only sex ed resembles nutrition or alcohol education not at all.

The second article also deals with sex, only this time it's a shade more positive. Specifically, it's an article that briefly outlines the Case for Choking the Chicken.*

Isn't it wonderful when science and religion come together? My Slate colleague William Saletan points out that a recent paper has laid the groundwork for a pro-life defense of onanism. According to obstetrician David Greening, a rigorous program of daily masturbation can actually improve sperm quality in men with fertility problems. (Samples collected at the end of the program showed less DNA damage and higher sperm motility than samples from control subjects.) Since masturbation can help you have babies, Saletan argues, it must also serve the "procreative and unitive purposes" described in the Catechism.

Let's take this one step further. If we've redeemed this dangerous supplement for man, what about the fowl of the air and the beasts of the field? Surely what works for God will work for Nature, too: Since masturbation improves fertility, then it ought to be a prime target for natural selection. That is to say, any animal that evolves the ability or inclination for self-pleasure will end up with healthier sperm, and more offspring, than its competitors. Indeed, if you take the theory of evolution seriously—as the Catholic Church has since February—then you might expect that all animals masturbate, or at least all animals with a reproductive system sufficiently like our own.

Sure enough, hairy palms abound in the animal kingdom. (Wikipedia offers a good summary of the evidence.) Dogs, cats, lions, bears, and a number of other mammals self-stimulate with their front paws; randy walruses use their flippers. Horses and donkeys, whose masturbatory habits have been particularly well-studied, engage in "rhythmic bouncing, pressing, or sliding of the erect penis against the abdomen" (PDF); male deer do the same. The 19th-century physiologist Karl Friedrich Burdach has even described something like female ejaculation among solitary mares, which "rub themselves against whatever obstacles they find, often spurting a white, viscous mucus." A bull, meanwhile, stimulates itself by alternately protruding its penis from a genital sheath, while some moose can ejaculate simply by rubbing their antlers on bits of vegetation. According to observations made at the University of Buffalo in the 1940s, both male and female porcupines manipulate their genitals with inanimate objects—they're also known to "seize, straddle, and ride sticks about the cage."


And these two articles together, of course, raise an interesting question: if we really want to deter kids from having sex,** and, when they do have sex, we want them to procreate because god loves that shit,*** then maybe we should convert "abstinence-only sex ed" into "masturbation-friendly sex ed". Seriously, folks, I think it's a win-win. We could reduce STD and teen pregnancy rates by encouraging our teens to dry hump for Christ!

Rick Warren? Call me. We've got plans to make!


* Eat your heart out, Strobel.

** Of course, we actually want kids to have sex, just not until they're married. Or so some people think. I would settle for "mature" myself.

*** But we don't want them to have kids until... you see where I'm going. Is anyone else thinking that the fact that we really DON'T want them to do certain things until, all of a sudden, we DO want them to do certain things is confusing?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An interesting approach to campaign finance.

So while cruising the old interwebs recently I ran across an exciting new political website. I refer, of course, to SarahPAC, the political action committee of Sarah Palin. Yes, that Sarah Palin. Feel free to flinch. In any case, it more or less looks like the typical PAC page except for one little thing. Now, in order to see what I mean, first look at this screenshot from SarahPAC:



See, that boxed in section reads:

Please note: There are many websites claiming to support Sarah Palin. SarahPAC.com is the ONLY political action committee authorized by Sarah Palin. [emphasis added]


Yeah, I hate those poser SarahPAC websites! I just want the real deal! Anyway, whatever humor can be wrung from this sentence is not my point. My point comes from scrolling further down the page, as captured in this second screenshot:



Now, the first box I inserted just reaffirms the above:

The Official Sarah Palin PAC


But the second... oh, the second is what makes my entire day:

Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee


Okay, so, let's sum up: SarahPAC is the "Official Sarah Palin PAC" and is the only political action committee "...authorized by Sarah Palin." Yet, at the same time, it is "Not authorized by any candidate." Seriously? We can do that? We can create "official" PACs oriented feeding our egos and eventual campaigns while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility? I think there is obvious potential here!

In light of these developments, I would like to announce that a group of concerned citizens has decided to start DrekPAC, the only official political action committee authorized by Drek the Uninteresting!* Check out this super awesome mockup they've already produced:



We accept cash, check, credit card, precious metals, and research grants. Operators are standing by!


* Not authorized by any blogger or blogger's committee.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Best. Press. Release. Ever.

I would like to stress that I am not making the following up. Seriously. It's a real press release:

POMPANO BEACH, Fla.– In response to rumors circulating the internet on sites such as FoxNews.com, FastCompany.com and CNET News about a “flesh eating” robot project, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets:CYPW) and Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) would like to set the record straight: This robot is strictly vegetarian.

...

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.” [emphasis original]


So, just to sum up, it isn't their mission to create "...futuristic robots feeding on the human population,". So that would make it, what, a bonus objective or something?

Seriously, no need to worry, but I never thought that I would ever be in a position to see a press release dealing seriously with the idea of man-eating robots. We live in a charmed time, indeed.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

The traditional wretched hive of scum and villainy.

No, not the GOP caucus- I'm talking about the annual ASA blogger's get-together aka Scatterplot party! For those who have never attended, once a year at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association we sociobloggers get together for drinks, snacks, and general merriment. And if that fails we can sometimes get Jeremy to do shadow puppets.*

This year Tina has organized it with her usual flair. It will be at:

Johnny Foley’s Irish House

243 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA

Sunday, August 9

6pm


C'mon down, have some drinks, mingle, and meet your favorite blogger.

And hey, maybe I'll be there too!


* To the best of my knowledge Jeremy has never performed shadow puppets at the blog party. Doesn't mean I have to stop hoping, though. "Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take shadow puppets from meeeeee!"

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Left Behind: Prelude

So as some of you may recall, a while back I mentioned that I had run across a copy of Left Behind, the first in a series of books that is supposed to tell the story of what happens after the rapture. I asked if people wanted me to read it and provide some sort of commentary, presumably for their amusement. The response was, overwhelmingly, yes. So, given that I routinely do what other people ask me to,* I figured, hey, why not? And so I read it.

As you might guess, this is the first installment in what will become a regular series. How regular, you ask? Well, there are twenty five chapters so if I do one a week (say, on Thursdays), we're good for about six months. Get comfortable.

Now, before we begin, we need to have a serious conversation for a moment. As I set out on this effort, I had to confront a few ethical issues. First, whereas most of the religious shenanigans I chronicle on this blog are brought to my attention by the believers in question, Left Behind is a different story. I chose to spend my own time reading this thing and did not do so at the behest of anyone except you, the readers, who apparently revel in my suffering. As such, is it really fair for me to be snarky? The answer I settled upon is, "Yes, but..."

The "but" part is that I don't consider this to be a review of the book. I am not a book reviewer and, in any case, I am not philosophically inclined to be fair. I'm serious about that- while I normally try to approach most things with an open mind, I have to admit honestly that I don't have a goddamn chance of pulling that off in this case. Moreover, y'all should be smart enough to realize that fact even if I were to claim to the contrary. So, my commentary should be taken as being specific to the book and only apply to born again faith in general to the extent that it mirrors this particular work of fiction. I will leave it to others to debate the extent to which it does mirror that faith in general. That said, the "Left Behind" books were planned to be aggressively mainstream, and so they're fair game for me to talk about.

Another issue I dealt with was that of the intended audience. Was this book meant for people like me?** Was it meant for mainline Protestants? Catholics? Or was it simply intended for the born again folks themselves? Were these books intended to preach to the choir, as it were? Having finished the book, my conclusion is that they were, indeed, meant for those who were already "born again," and, as such, I am really not in the intended audience.*** Nevertheless, I read the book and my commentary is therefore only a recounting of my personal reactions to what was written. So, basically, this entire series of posts should be regarded as my own, potentially jaundiced, set of opinions about the text.

Now, the way we'll proceed is as follows: each week we'll do a new chapter, unless I'm busy, bored, or whimsy leads me in another direction. When I comment on something I will include page and line numbers so you can see what I'm talking about. This information will be in bold. Quotations from the text, if necessary, will be in italics. My commentary will be in, you know, English. Keep in mind that I read the entire book while taking notes in the margins (yes, really) and so most of my comments will be taken from those notes. For those who want to follow along, I am apparently using a 1995 Tyndale House Publisher's, Inc. edition. It's big, paperback, and feels like it's printed on newspaper. I'm quite certain it isn't a first edition since the back includes advertisements for later books in the series and spinoff series,**** but there is absolutely no edition information in it. The ISBN number is 0-8423-2912-9. I will also include a special "Left Behind" tag for every installment in the series, so that you can navigate it easily. Don't say I don't try to be helpful.

So are we doing chapter one today? Oh, hell no. That comes next week. Today, though, I do briefly want to remark on two things that struck me before I even started reading and provide a basic overview of my sense of the book. Let's start with the overview: how do I feel about Left Behind? Well, in my opinion this book commits the worst sin a novel can commit. I don't mean that it's offensive, or that it's badly written,***** or that it's confusing, or even that the characters are not believable. These are all sins, true, but not the worst one that a novel can commit. No, that penultimate sin is simply this: Left Behind is boring. I mean, really boring. Hella boring. The first 150-200 pages can safely be described as "excruciatingly dull" and the following pages only seem less boring by comparison. This book is so goddamned boring that I would rather study for comprehensive exams than read it. It's so boring, I would rather grade student papers with titles like, "Anomie is bad"****** than read this book. It is that dull.

This is such a grievous sin in my view because I have a pathological fear of being bored. I am the sort of guy who, after packing four novels for a cross-country flight, contemplates whether or not I should have packed five.******* So, for this reason more than any other, reading Left Behind was a truly horrendous experience. I would compare it to flying from Washington D.C. to San Diego, non-stop, without even an inflight magazine to keep you occupied. And even then there's at least the faint possibility that you might crash to keep you alert. So, given my dislike of boredom, bitching about how dull Left Behind is will be pretty frequent over the next bazillion installments, so you may as well get used to hearing it.

My first specific point is, appropriately enough, aroused by the first page where usual books include favorable quotes from book reviewers. Left Behind carries on this grant tradition... sort of. I say sort of because the page looks like this:

"One of the best books I've read in ten years!"
Mark Blocher, Grand Rapids.

"What a great story! I really enjoyed the character development and felt I had made some new and personal friends."
Ray Bentley, San Diego

"A fictional thriller that illustrates one of the great truths of the Bible. You will have a difficult time putting it down."
Sammy Tippit, San Antonio


Now, if you're anything like me, what you're wondering at this point is, "Who the hell are these people?" We apparently know where they live, but their authority for recommending books is entirely mysterious. The above are actual quotes from the actual first page of the book so I guess they're important. Using the wondrous power of google, I was able to determine that Mark Blocher teaches at Cornerstone University, Ray Bentley is pastor of Marantha Chapel, and Sammy Tippit runs the appropriately named Sammy Tippit Ministries. Why was this information left out of the printing of Left Behind? Hard to say for sure, but my best guess is that they didn't want to frighten away us secular types by emphasizing how much the god fearing love the book.******** Put differently, by leaving off the affiliations those who were in a position to know these chaps already would be enticed, and those of us who weren't wouldn't be scared away. Win-win, indeed. And for anyone who is curious, it's this sort of thing that makes it so hard to decide what audience this book is really meant for.

The second thing that struck me before I began reading was one of these quotations in particular, but not one that was on the first page. No, this quotation was so good they put it on the back cover, and it reads as follows:

"Incredible! More intriguing that Clancy and Grisham."
Dave Tippit, San Antonio


As you might guess, I think Dave Tippit is Sammy Tippit's... brother? I'm not really sure, but he does seem to be involved in Sammy's ministry. In any case, while I have not read any Grisham I have read some Clancy and, to be honest, that dude can write. So, while Dave is certainly entitled to his opinion, is it really fair to say that Left Behind is more intriguing that Grisham or Clancy?

Well, to think about this let's consider another piece of information given to us by Left Behind, a sticker on the cover that reads: "Over 7,000,000 Sold in Series." Now, in the back of the book there are ads for four more in the series so let's assume that that seven million is evenly distributed over five books, for a per-book average of 1.4 million books. Sounds pretty darned good. Next, let's consider Tom Clancy who in 1996- one year after Left Behind was published- came out with Executive Orders. That book's first hardcover printing was two million copies. If this is more or less typical of the total sales of a Clancy novel (and the figures I found were only for the first hardcover printing of one book) then any five Clancy novels should accumulate at least ten million copies.

How about Grisham? John Grisham's novel, The Runaway Jury, was released in 1996, a year after Left Behind, with an initial hardcover printing of 2.8 million copies. Of those printed, in excess of 2.76 million sold. That novel is now ranked as number ten on a list of the top ten best sellers of the DECADE. Even if this is atypically successful for Grisham, we could cut the printing by half a million and still end up with 2.3 which, over five books, would add up to 11.5 million copies.

So, given that this approach to estimating popularity and sales is, if anything, skewed in favor of Left Behind (i.e. I'm accepting their figures as entirely accurate and assuming that there's only been a single printing of each book to produce that seven million figure) I think it safe to say that, whatever Dave Tippit's personal opinion, the market does not agree that Left Behind is "more intriguing than Clancy and Grisham." Having read the book, I'd prefer any Clancy you care to name and am forced to wonder if some of those seven million copies they tout have been achieved using a Bridge Publications like policy of buy-and-return. But that is, of course, idle speculation.*********

And with that, boys and girls, I reach the end of today's post. Tune in next week when we tackle the first "exciting" chapter of Left Behind.

Make sure and bring caffeine.


* Wow. Even I can't keep a straight face for that one.

** That is to say, atheists.

*** I could be wrong, though. Chick tracts are apparently meant for unbelievers like me but, from having read many of them, I would assess them as appropriate for mental vegetables with a lot of time on their hands so, hey, there you go.

**** Including, I shit you not, "Left Behind: The Kids." The description reads, "Four teens are left behind after the Rapture and band together to fight Satan's forces in this series for ten- to fourteen-year-olds."

***** It is badly written, though. In point of fact, when I started this little project I debated trying to coerce Tina of Scatterplot into accepting donations of books from the Left Behind series in my stead at the ASAs. In this original plan, I would then have offered to take those books and produce further reviews. Now that I've actually read Left Behind, however, I think folks would also have to contribute a hefty monetary inducement to convince me to ever read another one of these literary failures.

****** "Anomie is bad. My cousin stepped on an anomie once. It stung her foot and she had to go to the hospital. The End."

******* This is not a joke, I've actually done that. Ask my wife.

******** Yes, rather than scare us away with too many quotations from religious leaders, they decided to rely on their leaden prose to do the trick.

********* Technically, I'm not wondering if there was an organized buy-and-return policy for the Left Behind books. More what I wonder is whether there were such strong social pressures to read this "Christian fiction" within segments of the evangelical community that sales figures ended up much higher than the market would otherwise have produced.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Brings new meaning to the term "Gene Pool".

This one is so weird I'm not sure I quite believe it, but there's a source for it and everything:

A woman is suing an Egyptian hotel claiming her daughter got pregnant - from using the swimming pool.

Magdalena Kwiatkowska's 13-year-old returned to Poland from their holiday expecting a baby. Magdalena believes the teenager conceived from stray sperm after taking a dip in the hotel's mixed pool. She is now seeking compensation from the hotel. A travel industry source said: "The mother is adamant that her daughter didn't meet any boys while she was there.


Just a couple of quick points:

(1) Does this mean that Egypt is genetically engineering men with some kind of chlorine-proof super-sperm?

(2) Does this mean that Egyptian hotels don't use chlorine in their pools? If so- Ewwwwww!

(3) How much stray sperm do we think is in the typical hotel pool? Do most men find swimming that exciting?

(4) What does this mean about Sex Ed in Poland?

(5) Does anyone else find it at least a little funny that someone from Europe is criticizing a hotel in Egypt because they do have a mixed gender pool?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Man, this takes me back.

Anyone else go through health or sex ed class in the south? Then this may seem a tad familiar:



Thank you half-assed sex ed class!


As a side note: No this is not serious and yes I am aware of that. I am just reminded at the monstrously uninformative health courses I was compelled to take when I was younger.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

He's back and he's... well... um... he's still writing, actually.

Those of you with particularly acute memories may recall our old friend Paul Cohen. He runs an evangelical website and engaged with me in a sort of dialog about evolution and religion. I say a "sort of dialog" because, in all honesty, I'm not convinced that we're communicating terribly well. If you don't remember this, that's okay, because the last exchange was way back in July of 2007. Don't worry, I had to look it up too. As you might guess, I had come to the conclusion that Mr. Cohen and I had concluded our conversation since I hadn't heard from him in about two years.* It goes without saying that, in this, I was wrong as I recently received an e-mail from Mr. Cohen that rather circuitously pointed me to a page where he has been archiving his "debates" with a number of other internet personalities.**

CORRECTION: Mr. Cohen has sent me another e-mail asserting that he originally made me aware of this response back in 2007. As I said, I went back through my old e-mails and couldn't find it so I'm just going to assume that it got sucked into my junkmail folder and I didn't notice. Given that his most recent response to me (of today) also ended up there, I think this totally plausible.

In any case, I apparently have quite a prominent place on this website:



And, to quote the marked section:

Some evolutionists may not be lacking in intelligence, but all are lacking in spiritual life that comes from the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ. What follows is a discussion with professed atheist, Drek, about how his arguments for evolution collapse because essential components, beginning with God, are missing. Drek’s unbelief and other forms of entropy are no match for the power of Christ. By laying down His life and raising it from the dead, He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life.

“If He sets His heart on man, if He gathers to Himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to dust” (Job 34:14-15 MKJV).


Leaving aside the reference to "unbelief" as "entropy," a perversion of the concepts that makes my head ache, I was curious and hit the link for "The Organizing, Sustaining Power of God." As you might guess, it led to me a transcript of our discussion with one little difference: it includes a new response to my last post.

Now, at this point I found myself torn. On the one hand, after reading this response I am essentially convinced that any further debate between Mr. Cohen and myself is- in a word- futile. The reasons will become clear if you read his reply. For those without that kind of time, I will sum it up by saying that Mr. Cohen is so convinced of the worthlessness of human reason that there is simply no way to have a discussion about the subject of evolution with him. I rather suspect that he would claim that I am so blinded by sin that it's equally pointless to have the discussion with me but, hey, since he keeps coming along and bugging me I think I'm free to consider this discussion to be- as a whole- his fault.*** In any case, given the pointlessness of further engagement, I really wasn't sure I wanted to spend time reacting to his most recent commentary. On the other hand, my fetish for honesty and fairness leads me to think that if he has taken to time to respond, then I should at least post his response here. And if I do that, I may as well comment on it. And so, dear readers, you find yourself imperiled by the continuation of a conversation from two years ago. Goodie.

You pretty much know the drill- his stuff is block-quoted, mine isn't. If he is quoting my earlier comments I will attempt to bold within the block quotes but, hey, no promises. I'm nothing if not lazy.

And so it begins...

Drek,

Although we have different viewpoints, because coming from different places spiritually (Heavenly vs. earthly), I appreciate your civility, and the consideration you have given to the words and details of this correspondence, though you are spiritually impaired in comprehending (not a putdown). You are closer to the Kingdom of God than many professors of Christ.


Uh... thank you?

Yes, here is another long letter. You are laboring under misperceptions, and it is of great benefit to you and others to have them answered. I am glad to do this.

You say that your hope in this correspondence is that I “may be swayed to the position that faith and science need not be in conflict.” Let’s define what we are talking about here. Science is knowledge attained through study or practice, and the systematic use of that knowledge to explain natural phenomenon. As such, it is governed by men of fallible senses and motives.


I hate to disagree this early into your letter, but I... well... disagree. Science is not a body of knowledge so much as an approach to discovering knowledge. The information so generated- the theories, hypotheses, and facts- are the products of science rather than science itself. This is an important point that is often missed when we use the term "modern science" to mean "things we currently believe to be true because of scientific investigation". Put another way, science is to knowledge as a trial is to a verdict. That said, I agree that science is governed by fallible human beings but I would extend that to all domains of life. I would, for example, apply the potential for error to your confidence in your faith equally as well as to the products of scientific investigation.

True faith is the sure knowledge of what cannot be studied or observed by the physical senses, the spiritual realm of Heaven, which comes from within. Faith is an unmerited gift given by God through Jesus Christ, Who is the Express Image of God and His Mediator with mankind. Jesus Christ is the conduit between Heaven and earth, bringing man the knowledge of God, in Whose image man was made, and realizing this image in substance through the new birth from above, available in this present world for those He chooses.


Eh. You're using an unacceptably narrow definition of a common word. Most often "faith" means "belief that is not based on proof" although there are a variety of other meanings, including the one you suggest. When I use the word faith, assume I mean the broader definition I provided above.

God, in contrast to man, is infallible in motive, wisdom, and knowledge.


So we are told. Given that he's not accessible for testing, it's rather difficult to say for sure one way or another.

Now back to your statement. What is the relationship between faith and science, and is there a conflict?

Faith has no problem with science or any facts of truth derived therein. How could it? True faith is the domain of Jesus Christ, Who declared that He is the Truth, and He is. By Him, it is written, all things consist. Jesus Christ is the foundation and substance of all true science, being the Creator and Sustainer of everything. The only thing true science can do is reflect something of Him as its Creator. He is not in conflict with Himself, and neither are those who are truly with Him.

Conflict is born from beneath, coming from men, not science, and the so-called science that they believe in and practice.


In one sense, I'm forced to disagree with you: science as a method for uncovering knowledge is largely opposed to faith in the sense in which I use the term. It is for that reason that I usually view science and religion as occupying non-overlapping magisteria. That said, you then more or less invoke the enlightenment ideal that the study of the natural world should, itself, be the study of god (e.g. know the creation, know the creator). I have always found this notion appealing, which was in fact one thing that drove me from theism in the first place. The universe is a sublimely beautiful and complex thing and the most devout, in my experience, are often the most eager to deny it. In effect, by lowering their gaze from the natural world, they ignore what should be god's greatest testament. Alas, you seem to be on your way to saying that humans suck and therefore science sucks, so I think we have not really discovered common ground here.

Without faith, a man lives for himself and by himself. He is subject to his own prejudices and is driven by his own desires. He cannot surmount these things. They taint his being and all that he touches. There is nothing pure with him. He is out of harmony with the Law of God, and thereby with all of nature. That is how it ends up that man is such a destroyer. Man employs his science in destruction, wittingly or not.

We have an organic farm and health business. We are intimately involved in, and familiar with, what goes on in the realms of scientific agriculture and medicine, and we, along with many others, shake our heads in amazement at the stupidity and wickedness of men and what they do with their scientific knowledge. They use it to put toxins, destroyers of the first order, on the land and in people’s bodies. The harm done in the name of science has been very great. You say you have faith that man can understand the world he lives in. If you are satisfied with the results of man’s understanding, then your standards leave much to be desired. There is something much better, which is possible by the knowledge and understanding that comes from God and a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.


I find it amusing at this point that we are having this discussion- and you are advancing such an argument- via computers and the internet. If you truly believe that science has brought nothing but wickedness, I wonder about your continued use of its fruits. Why not follow the example of the Amish who, whatever you think of their theology, at least practice what they preach? More importantly, however, I should observe that life spans and standards of living have, on the whole, been improving for centuries. It is certainly the case that our technology has created new problems for us but, at the same time, its benefits have been dramatic. Were we to discard our science and technology we would lose one set of issues but return to another (e.g. endemic disease). On the whole, I believe that our science and technology have improved human lives and continue to do so. You are, of course, entitled to a contrary opinion.

Does that mean all science and what scientists do is bad? No. It means that man cannot tell what is good or bad, not knowing his right hand from his left, though he figures out advanced physics and biochemistry. Man lacks wisdom. Man lacks the ability to do the right thing for himself, whom he loves, much less others, whom he does not. Man lacks faith. Man lacks God.

That is the missing link.


We are in agreement that advanced capabilities cry out for wise application. Yet, I am unconvinced that moral doctrines developed millennia ago are the proper place to find that guidance. Perhaps they would suffice if I wanted to know how to go about selling my daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-11), but not if I want to know how to balance the needs of the environment against the needs of the economy. And, in any case, given that I am entirely unconvinced of the existence of god, deriving correct action by essentially seeing what you feel like strikes me as a singularly unwise approach.

Because you are disconnected from God, you stumble around in the dark trying to explain things that you do not comprehend, being deceived into thinking you do. Knowledge has given you a drunken man’s confidence. Though you have a grasp on many scientific terms and matters, you lack the basic wisdom and knowledge that comes from knowing the truth, which serves as a compass to know where to go and what to do with what you know. Your viewpoint is wrong because you are in wrongness. That will not change until you have faith, not a religion, but the authentic faith of God through Jesus Christ.


Well, I suppose trying to explain what you don't understand makes more sense than trying to explain what you DO understand. Flippancy aside, your claims really make little sense. Someone can be right even if for the wrong reasons. The sky is blue, things do fall, the world is round- these are facts regardless of the "rightness" of my "faith". Moreover, there is a difference between what is and what should be. For example, it may well be that we evolved from earlier species over millions of years. That may be a fact. Such a fact would not, however, tell us definitively what we should do in the future. Likewise, even if you believe that your god is the source of all morality that does not in any way alter the fact that evolution can, and does, occur.

You have become what the Bible calls a fool – one who says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1). You buy into evolution, which is total nonsense and is proven so, time and time again, though fools cannot see it.


As rhetorical strategies go, asserting that anyone who disagrees with you is a fool because they disagree with you is bush league. As a further side note, I have yet to see anyone "prove" to me that evolution is nonsense- and many have tried including yourself. Then again, given that you accuse me of being a fool, I suppose that is unsurprising.

Because I have the faith of God through Jesus Christ, I know the truth. I have no need to know all the latest scientific discoveries and controversies to know that God created the Heavens and the earth. It is not my faith in God that is irrational, and it does not come into conflict with science, but your faith in human intelligence and knowledge comes into conflict with both God and truth.


As an important point, I do not think that belief in evolution and belief in god must necessarily conflict. That said, you're right, I do have confidence in human intelligence and knowledge and I think that if god created us with such faculties, then they were intended to be used.

Is it more rational to have faith in the creature, who provably errs every moment, than to have faith in the One Who has proven Himself faithful and true and without error? While we do not use the Bible to trump scientific discovery, you use scientific discovery to support untenable theories to trump God.


The difference, Mr. Cohen, is we know fallible humans exist while god remains safely out of sight. Given a choice between trusting the scientific endeavour and something that is likely imaginary, I choose science and mankind. And your insistence that evolution is "untenable" does not make it so. So far your arguments against it have revealed that your comprehension of it is seriously flawed.

You are applying a limited human mind and knowledge outside of the Foundation laid by the Creator, and this has caused you to misplace the facts like the team of blind men that examine an elephant, each a different section, ending up with an absurd composite picture. They believed in the whole, as you say scientists do today, or they would not have tried to make a complete picture. They explained as accurately as they could the parts they examined, just as you and your fellow evolutionists are doing with the same result – no resemblance to reality. Showing that various fields of science are interrelated is very different from understanding how and what do to about it, and doing it. Your confidence in man’s ability to properly harness and use his scientific knowledge is entirely misplaced. The evidence of the harm done to nature by man and his science is copious and ever mounting.


We also did harm to the natural environment before science. The main issue has less to do with science and more to do with population size and density- consider the Mayas for example. Your use of the blind men and the elephant analogy is one I often invoke to explain why science is a collaborative endeavour. Where we differ is in my belief that we can assemble an accurate composite picture versus your belief that we cannot. This is, however, not really important. You present no arguments for why I should accept your faith claims as opposed to those of the Buddhist down the street. You doubtless feel that your faith is incomparably better than his. So be it, I suspect he feels his is incomparably better than yours. I, as an atheist, see little to allow me to choose between two equally devout persons who have no solid evidence to support their claims. From my perspective I am not choosing between human faculties and god, I am choosing among various human beliefs- your faith being simply one of a vast possible number.

You point out that “Nebraska man,” which turned out to be pig’s tooth, was acknowledged as an error in short order, as other mistakes and hoaxes have been, like the Heidelberg, Piltdown, Peking, Neanderthal, and New Guinea (usually exposed against the wills of the speculators and “discoverers”). The point that matters is that there are yet many scientists persisting in trying to prove men came from apes, seeing missing links when such do not exist except in their imaginations. So I do not agree with you that scientists are doing their job well. The definition of insanity is that you keep doing the same wrong thing over and over.


Science is a self-correcting system. It does not claim to never make mistakes, and explicitly includes features to help fix them as soon as possible. I remain of the opinion that the Nebraska man is a good example of such mechanisms in action. I feel I should point out, however, that there is at present no good reason to believe Neanderthal to be either a mistake or a hoax. No good reason, that is, unless your mind has already been made up for you by your faith. Moving beyond all that, however, your implication that scientists are insane because they continue trying to discover knowledge despite mistakes is simply ridiculous. One may as well accuse a child of being insane for continuing to try to learn to ride a bicycle despite many previous failures. Sometimes failures mean you should not attempt a thing, but often they simply mean that the thing you are attempting is very hard.

Evolutionists fit this definition as they keep looking for evidence of what never happened in the first place, which is proven over and over when the “facts,” as with Nebraska man, are exposed to the light of day. How did they lose their minds? By not being connected to God, the Creator, but actively denying His Person, Authority, and Ownership. Thus:

“It’s written, I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots. So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense?” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20 MSG)


I would answer the apostle Paul's final question with "No."

That wisdom and scholarship includes much of what you term “religious belief.” You have wrongly interpreted faith to mean “religious belief,” which is not the same thing at all. The faith of Christ, as I have said more than once, is the gift of God revealing Who He is and bestowing on man the power to believe and obey Him and to understand. Faith is focused on God. Religious belief is focused on man and includes whatever men believe, which is as varied as humanity. When these beliefs are generated by men, it is called “Babylon” by God, which indicates a whole lot of babble and confusion.


Intriguing. Would you then claim that all beliefs are flawed things focused on man and only certain types of feelings are pure and directed towards god? Because, I have to be honest, you're not making a ton of sense here.

Religious belief, as you note, is irrational, but that is because its propagators are irrational, and not necessarily because people have all their facts wrong. In this respect it is no different from evolution, which, although it has some facts right, is also a belief based on man’s wrong thinking and doing. There is a kind of perverted faith associated with all such beliefs, perverted because centered on man’s knowledge and ability to use that knowledge for good. It is a black faith based on darkness, which is irrational by the standard of true rationality, the faith of God that is light.


And it is this paragraph that makes me pity you. It appears that you actually believe that your own ability to think, to accumulate knowledge, and to try to do good is "a black faith based on darkness". This makes me tremendously sad. Your ability to think and reason is such a significant part of the human experience, to reject it as little more than a source of potential sin is heartbreaking to me. As a side note, however, I don't agree that religious belief is always irrational, nor do I agree that a belief is irrational simply because the mind that produces it is irrational. The madman sometimes speaks truth, even though he be mad.

Trying to persuade you by debate to forsake evolution is a vain task when you are steeped in, and fully committed to, this irrationality. That would make us no less foolish than you, putting our trust in man. What needs to happen is the opposite - the false confidence in what you trust must be destroyed.


And so far you're doing a lousy job.

Let me put it this way. You thought that I wanted to convert you to my way of thinking. I am not, however, at all interested in having you agree with me about evolution. That is not the issue. Beliefs, as I have just pointed out, are not synonymous with faith. The carnal man cannot give or receive the mind of God, Life Himself. The words that I am speaking to you are spirit and life. These do not come by believing in creation or joining a church or praying or studying or reading the Bible or witnessing or many other activities. They come from God through Jesus Christ, Who was raised from the dead. You, being dead, cannot resist Him Who is alive from the dead. He overcame your condition and has complete control over, and access to, your being. You can argue, yes, deny, and scoff. But He is doing as He will with you, and right now you are being seeded by the Word of God. You were made that way – like soil for plants; it cannot be otherwise.


Well, I'll let you know if I ever break into flower but- and I have to be honest- you are not the first to attempt to plant such seeds. I wouldn't hold my breath were I you. Curiously, however, if you do not wish to convert me, why engage in this discussion at all? That is to say, if you don't desire to have any particular effect, then why bother? Is it simply because your faith impels you, no matter the outcome? Doesn't that strike you as a little bit silly?

Thus far you have been exposed to religion but not Reality. You say you have been exposed to God’s word, but the Word of God is Jesus Christ, not religion or religious beliefs in a book, even the Bible. Religion and theology are man’s attempt to understand and imitate God, which is no better, and often worse, than your own conjectures about God and theories of evolution. You do not presume to know; you only conjecture and use logic, while others presume to know God when they do not. They act as if He is with them, even murdering in His Name, and they are held more accountable. That is what the Bible calls taking the Name of God in vain, because the one naming Him does not produce the results of a right relationship with Him by faith.


If we agree on nothing else, Mr. Cohen, then we agree that killing in the name of god should most definitely be viewed as taking god's name in vain.

You inferred from what I wrote in my letter that God is in complete control. That is correct. Your conclusions, however, as stated here, do not follow:

“If one dies a sinner then, logically, it was because god willed one to sin. Is it then logical for god to punish that which he intended to happen? Obviously not. Logically, then, a universe with an omnipotent, omniscient creator god is one in which either there is no sin, or god punishes sins that his creations had no choice about committing. If god is perfect and merciful, as is often claimed, then the latter option would appear to be untenable, leaving us with the conclusion that sin is impossible.”

You seem to be somewhat familiar with the Bible. Perhaps you did not know that this question is answered there. I am quoting a lengthy passage, but it is worth it. Please read carefully:

Romans 9:10-23 EMTV
(10) And not only this, but also Rebecca having conception from one man, our father Isaac;
(11) for the children not yet being born, nor having done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might abide, not of works but of Him Who calls,
(12) it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
(13) As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
(14) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Absolutely not!
(15) For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
(16) So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God Who shows mercy.
(17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very thing I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
(18) So then He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
(19) You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has ever resisted His will?”
(20) But indeed, O man, who are you to be answering back against God? Surely the thing formed will not say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”
(21) Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and the other for dishonor?
(22) But what if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make known His power, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath having been prepared for destruction,
(23) and so that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.

While man may have no choice as to what he has been made, it is not correct to assume that he has no choices in life. It is written:

“A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 HNV).


I actually find your interpretation of scripture to be at odds with scripture itself, which indicates that god may set a man up for the express purpose of being laid low. The man's choices in such a situation are rather constrained and, indeed, the notion of choice in the absence of alternatives is effectively meaningless. By way of example, imagine I were to breed terriers for aggressiveness. Eventually, I might end up with a particular dog, a sort of personal creation, that was given to being aggressive. Now, imagine that I were to train that dog to be aggressive until it was four or five years old. I now have a dog that is bred and trained to be aggressive as, indeed, many terriers were historically. Now, having reached this point, I spend several years faintly admonishing the dog for doing what I have bred and trained it for and, one day, when it acts aggressively, I beat it with a club. I suppose one might say that the dog had a "choice" as to whether or not to be aggressive but most observers would probably agree that the fault was in me, not the dog. Yet, you ask me to believe that god created us to be inquisitive, intelligent, and gregarious. Then, you ask me to believe that he "blinded us in sin," or created the conditions for us to learn certain lessons. And finally, if we act in a manner consistent with that creation and teaching, then we are the ones at fault and should be grateful for judgment? I cannot find this logic to be anything but flawed. It is, of course, the case that humans should not simply do whatever seems to be "instinctive" (as though that term has much meaning for a species with the ability to learn that ours has) but if an intelligent, responsible agent shapes a lesser being to have certain characteristics, then the fault for that is not the lesser's but the greater's. This is all beside the point, however. My issue is fundamentally not that god is or is not just- my issue is that god almost certainly does not exist in the first place. And the properties of a non-existent being are entirely irrelevant to questions of morality.

You are living in ignorance of the spiritual realm, though from there the entire course of your life is directed. Therefore, how much do you think you can understand of life when you are in the dark about Him Who is directing it? You are in death, where it is said, “The dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

You are also in error because of your knowledge of religion, which, once again, does not correlate with reality. You think that being subjected to vanity, to sin and loss, is not good, but God says otherwise. He says it is the only way you would ever come to know the hope of being set free from corruption and to have and appreciate the liberty that is in Him. There is no understanding or appreciation without disparity.


This reminds me of the man who smashed himself in the face with a hammer over and over because it felt so good when he stopped. I do not need to burn myself in order to understand that it is bad. Likewise, I do not need my children to play in traffic so that they understand that it is dangerous. Am I truly to believe that an all powerful god could not come up with a better way to show us darkness than by casting us into it?

How will you learn, also, if not through discipline? What you call punishment is what the Bible calls judgment, which serves to bring every sinner into correction, to learn and do what is right in the sight of God that good might result:

“If our evil deeds show how right God is, then what can we say? Is it wrong for God to become angry and punish us? What a foolish thing to ask. But the answer is, ‘No.’ Otherwise, how could God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6 CEV)

It is a privilege, not a curse, to be judged, a good thing and not bad. Though painful and not pleasant, it is still necessary and good. The Bible says that judgment begins at the house of God. You have everything backwards, being in your carnal mind that is at enmity with God, because sitting in His seat and acting in His place as God. That is what happens when men eat from the Tree of Knowledge. You, like the serpent, may ascribe evil motives to God, rather than recognizing and knowing those motives come from within you.


I ascribe no motives to god and couldn't as I do not believe in any such creature. My point is not that he or she is evil as depicted but, rather, that the depictions are inconsistent. This is as much a problem as a triangle with more than three sides.

Yes, I agree with you that “amateur philosophizing will get us nowhere,” but in this respect you will have to speak for yourself. We know whereof we speak. We are not giving opinion.


Using the royal "we" now, eh? Quite humble of you. Alas, having given me such a long lecture about the fallibility of men, perhaps you might take your own advice and ponder the idea that you may be in error despite your confidence to the contrary. Everyone, after all, believes themselves to be correct, which is why it's so damned annoying when we turn out to be wrong.

I also agree with you that a healthy disrespect is due men’s opinions, both yours and mine. But I am speaking here by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and I am telling you what He has shown us. At this time you have more respect for your opinion than for Him, the Truth. So if you think of yourself as dirt, what does that make Him and the Truth in your eyes?


At the moment, you should note, I have no way to distinguish the revelation of god from the ranting of a crazy guy who found me on the internet. That is to say, you claim to be speaking with the authority of god, but so does the Imam three houses over. Your confidence in your statements does not distinguish you from that Imam or any other religious person. Quoting the bible is no more impressive to me than quoting the Quran or the Torah.

I wrote that when repentance comes, you will be humbled as a little child in spirit, and I quoted the Lord Jesus’ words about how it is to such that the Father reveals Himself, to which you wrote:

“It always makes me nervous when people glorify the wisdom of a group that has to be taught not to eat paste. This is not to insult children, but rather simply to observe that the simple views of children are as often charmingly wrong as they are deeply profound.”

Neither Jesus nor I glorify the wisdom of children. You quite missed the point. We glorify the wisdom of God, which is given to those who are humbled to be like children, not ruled by pride, ego, and false humility that prohibit one from receiving the Truth. It is to the humble and lowly that the Father reveals the secret things of life, and to whom He gives wisdom in all things.


Well, I'm sorry if I misunderstood you. Perhaps you ought to consider whether you wrote it sufficiently clearly?

Therefore, this statement of yours is not true, “I think it rather obvious that creation does not prove itself, however, as quite a few people do not believe in it.”

The vast majority of people have not been humbled to be as little children to know or see God and believe in Him. Not knowing the Creator, many believe in evolution and other lies, having the Truth hidden from them. This is also the will of God:

“But we speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, those being brought to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, having been hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age has known. For if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 LITV).

Does that mean we ought not speak to those not perfect in heart towards God and man? As you note, we do preach to those not perfect. Is this preaching of truth therefore contradictory, as you suggest, to my declaration of the fact that the creation is already manifest to all? No, it is consistent with what I am saying. Men have been blinded by their self-reliance on knowledge, which came as a result of jettisoning God from their midst.


I think you are doing violence to the very meaning of "self-evident" but I see little use in arguing the point. I will simply say that asserting that anyone who disagrees you is simply deluding themselves is also- rhetorically speaking- bush league.

We are not telling people what they do not know, but rather something they have chosen not to know. There is a difference, and it is not a strange thing that people are in denial and ignorant of many things they can see and know, when they have chosen to be blind. This is a commonly known phenomenon and is the basis for interventions, for example.

God intervenes in the charade of men living as if He is not there. That charade is epitomized by the teaching of evolution. God sends men to speak the unpalatable truth. It is unpalatable because it calls people into account for their ways before God. They know He is there, because He made them and has not left them without a testament of His power and Presence. They do not know He is there, because He has blinded them in their sins. They have chosen their sins so that God may some day judge them for their good.


So, we know he's there, but we don't know he's there because he blinded us with sin, and we CHOOSE sin so that we may be judged for sinning? So, basically, we're in a sadomasochistic relationship with god? Have I got that right? Moreover, if we sin it's what god wants (because he blinded us) and if we don't sin it's what god wants (because sin is bad) so how is choice even at issue here?

That requires men of God laying their lives on the line for their fellow man, just as Christ did for them, to bring men out of their hideous unbelief and destructives. What man can figure out the wonderful ways of God? But we have witnessed His testimonies and His ways, beyond our understanding, as have many saints.

I will tell you this: Being fully submerged in it, you have no idea of the power and perniciousness of unbelief. You are as unaware of faith and light as deep-sea fish are of the earth and sky.


You do realize there's ground under all that water, right? Many fish are probably not unaware- on some level- of that fact.

When I pointed out how little scientists, including you (whether you call yourself one is not an issue), truly know about life, being unable to make a single cell, let alone a fully functioning organism, you made this observation:

“As for your contention about ‘duplicating’ cells- I rather doubt that you are capable of duplicating the computer you are presently working on. You have, after all, a working example; what’s so difficult about duplicating an integrated circuit? Does your present inability to duplicate your computer mean that the capability to do so is forever beyond your grasp? Of course not- it simply means you are presently incapable of it.”

You are actually making my point very well. I cannot make an integrated circuit, but the possibility exists that I could learn to do so. However, with living things, no man can duplicate what God has made. I am not even addressing the matter of also making your own raw materials. I would grant you, and all of your evolutionary scientists, to use all known elements at your disposal, and you still cannot and will not make a living cell. Perhaps you think millions of years would help, as in your theories? It won’t. There is nothing new under the sun.


My point, Mr. Cohen, is that many things seem impossible until we learn how to do them. It is, for better or for worse, notoriously difficult to know if a thing is impossible until you've actually done it- at which point you know it to be possible. Until a thing has been shown to be possible the set of things that can be done but haven't yet and the set of things that cannot ever be done are virtually indistinguishable. As I said in my last response to you, one of our differences is that we both have faith but I tend to have faith that we CAN (e.g. eventually learn to create cells) while you appear to have faith that we CANNOT. Nevertheless, both are on some level positions of faith. I appreciate your confidence that humans will never be able to make cells but you have given me no reason to believe you are correct aside from your vehement insistence, which is entirely unconvincing. There was a time when powered flight seemed to be impossible and yet, still, we now fly. What might now seem impossible that, a century hence, will have become commonplace?

You really don’t know what you are talking about, but instead of admitting it, you claim that you do not think too highly of your own opinion. Drek, you have a ways to go before you begin to learn that:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 HNV).

Is an opinion worth holding that cannot tell the difference between the Almighty Creator and physical processes? You ask:

“Do you know where ‘god’ comes from? If he/she/it can be eternal by your fiat, why then cannot physical processes?”

God is not eternal by my decree! He is! How revelatory a statement! It precisely sums up the position of those who exclude God from His world, His people, and creation. They do so by their own decree (fiat)! This is the physical processes reigning supreme, calling the shots. They are now God, eternal, all powerful, the creators of life. This is not humility; it is the very opposite. And you said you disagree with the Scriptures I quoted to you? Take another look; you are in agreement:

“For when they had come to know God, they did not give Him glory as God nor render Him thanks, but they became absorbed in useless discussions, and their senseless minds were darkened. While boasting of their wisdom they became utter fools, and, instead of worshipping the imperishable God, they worshipped images resembling perishable man or resembling birds or beasts or reptiles” (Romans 1:21-23).


My point was not that you could or could not make god eternal by decree. My point is that logically if we accept that one thing can be eternal then other things can perhaps be eternal as well. Nevertheless, that isn't the point. If you believe that efforts to understand are inevitably failures then we have little to discuss.

Dr. Prigogine is one of those, apparently, who also has supreme confidence in physical processes. But as I said about him, just because he is right about one thing, and I agree with that, does not mean that I am obliged to endorse his support of the unproven theories, to which he subscribes in order to circumvent acknowledging the Creator’s handiwork and Being.


That isn't the point, Mr. Cohen. I don't really care if you agree with him, I simply want you to correctly represent his statements and work. You now admit that Dr. Prigogine is not arguing against evolution. Thank you for finally being honest on at least that point. Whether or not you believe that his arguments are compelling is an entirely separate issue.

The original writer to whom I responded with Prigogine’s quote wrote this:

“Complexity is not only possible; it is unavoidable. Otherwise, snowflakes would be impossible, yet there they are.”

I answered with Prigogine’s quote because it correctly admits that the formation of snow crystals cannot explain the presence of living matter. From there, Prigogine may go on to speculate about the origin of biological systems, but that has nothing to do with the business at hand, and nothing else is implied or inferred.


As we agreed last time, yes, the formation of ice crystals explains snowflakes, not the emergence of life. Nevertheless, ice crystals do prove that what we often think of as "patterns" can emerge naturally and without deliberate design.

I credit you for trying to illustrate what you accuse me of doing:

“If I might illustrate the problem a bit more vividly, your colleague Victor Hafichuk in his treatise on evolution remarks, ‘He [a critic of creationism] speaks of ‘anxiety’ among religious people, and that their sad condition leads to reactions contrary to those things they find a threat. He is right.’ Were I to quote merely that section of Mr. Hafichuk’s work, it would appear that he agrees whole-heartedly with the critic of creationism. I might use this quote to ‘show’ to others that even creationists acknowledge that their faith brings them no joy, and that they strike out at others because of fear. However, your colleague follows his statement with: ‘But I know in Whom I have believed, and know that He will keep me regardless of the darkness and foolishness of this world. So it is with all those who have not dead religion, but true, living faith.’ These additional passages are key to understanding Mr. Hafichuk’s argument and honesty requires that they be included. Likewise, in order to understand Dr. Prigogine’s work you must present the full quote, not simply those sections that appear to agree with your own perspective.”

To make this situation equivalent, my intention in quoting would have been to deceive, which it was not, as explained. I am not leading others to the conclusion that Prigogine does not agree with evolution. That is not the issue, and one could not rightly assume that from my quote. It really does not matter what his opinion is regarding that. I am not appealing to opinion or theory. All I am pointing out is that conventional scientists admit that the mechanism by which snowflakes are formed is not a viable explanation for the existence of biological systems, which phenomenon my correspondent incorrectly treated as admissible support for such. I ask you not to falsely accuse me of deception, deception being abhorrent to us (not your accusation); however, if you insist, so be it; it is nothing new to us by any means.


I agree that I will not falsely accuse you of deception. However, I believe my accusation is not false, I believe your use of Dr. Prigogine was deceptive and continue in this belief. I will readily add that I think it quite possible that the deception was not deliberate, but you have continued trying to make his work fit with your views throughout this discussion and seem resistant to conceding that you were- intentionally or not- misleading the reader. Surely, given your lengthy criticism of flawed human nature, it is not too much to admit that you were possibly misleading your audience by presenting his quote as you did? I am content to let our audience- if indeed we have one- decide for themselves who is in the right. If, indeed, such can be said of either of us.

Furthermore, your understanding and conclusion about Mr. Hafichuk’s quote is in error. It can stand quite alone without the misinterpretation you attribute to it because it is not saying what you think it is saying. Taken at its plain meaning, it is not a criticism of, or disagreement with, creation. It is only an agreement with the observation one made of the anxiety that exists with the religious, who are threatened by ideas contrary to their doctrine, which is a sad thing. It is sad because their trust is not in God, Whom they profess, and instead of living faith, all they have is dead religion with doctrines, which, though true, do not bring life. As I told you in my last letter, many who profess the Creator do not know Him or believe in Him. They are “Christian” atheists.


Fine. It was intended only as an example. I disagree that your taking Dr. Prigogine at his "plain meeaning" produces a correct interpretation, however. You are, in my view, playing rather disagreeable games with language.

You ask if I am suggesting that God (Jesus Christ) sustains all life moment-to-moment. I am not only suggesting it; I am stating it as categorical fact, as testified many times in Scripture. Here is one instance of such:

“He is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation. He created all things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Whether they are kings or lords, rulers or powers- everything has been created through Him and for Him. He existed before everything and holds everything together” (Colossians 1:15-17 GW).

Here is another:

“For in Him we live, and move, and have our being...” (Acts 17:28 KJV).


I am fairly sure those passages are meant metaphorically rather than literally.

I did not say there is anything in thermodynamics that makes life impossible, only that thermodynamics cannot account for the existence of life.


There is nothing in thermodynamics that explains the existence of life, but we are in agreement that there is nothing in thermodynamics that makes life impossible. By the same token, thermodynamics is entirely consistent with evolution. By that I mean actual evolutionary theory, not the caricature you present on your website.

I wrote:

“The Bible, written by men of God (and sealed in many cases with the earnestness of their blood, unlike your careless case),” to which you ask: “So the bible was written by men, not by god?”

Yes, men of God:

“God, Who in various ways and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by the Son, Whom He has appointed Heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2 EMTV).

“For we are not as the rest, corrupting the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17 EMTV).

God is also speaking through us by the Son.


Okay then. The bible is the word of god as interpreted, and written down, by men. By extension, the bible- from which you draw many of your claims- is also fallible. I am pleased we've made this progress. Indeed, you imply that you view the bible as fallible above, yet draw much of your "support" from quoting it. How, then, do you distinguish the good bits from the flawed bits?

As for this observation:

“I think it inaccurate, by the way, to suggest that men and women have not died for science- they have and continue to do so. I could say that this is because they believe the learning is worth the price but, as likely as not, it’s frequently just because scientists are too curious not to poke puzzles with a stick. Every cause has its martyrs, Mr. Cohen, including human learning.”

I did not suggest that people have not died for their beliefs, but said that you are not putting your life on the line for what you believe, and are therefore careless. Nor am I suggesting, as you also say, that it would be worth it for you to do so. It would not. It is only worth it to die for the Truth, and that is even necessary.


I think you misunderstand- scientists can and do put their lives on the line in their work. I have not, it is true, but when was the last time you were faced with execution by lions for preaching? A microbiologist who goes into an area suffering an Ebola outbreak is most assuredly risking his or her life. I do not mean to diminish the sacrifice of christian martyrs, but it seems petty to brush aside the heroism of scientists so casually.

It is not worth dying, though, for what one presumes to be true facts. Galileo, for instance, relented before the brutal inquisitors who demanded, under threat of death, that he recant of his public stance that the earth revolved around the sun. Who can blame him for recanting (though supposedly he muttered under his breath, “For all that, the earth still moves”)?

But it is worth dying for the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, you must take up the cross and die in order to come to Him in the first place, and then, being dead to the world, physical death is possible to embrace, even joyfully. That is the big difference between scientists (along with others who have died because of their beliefs) and the saints of God. The martyrs of Christ knew what they were getting into, and gladly did so for the honor and privilege of identifying with Him. They were dying for Someone, because in and one with Him, loving Him because experiencing His love for them, which is much different than dying for a theorem or doctrine:


If you're arguing that what makes the martyrs different from scientists is that they were glad to die, then you're right, they are dissimilar from each other. I will refrain from making the unflattering comparisons that spring to mind at this juncture out of respect to many Christians I know and like. I must, however, point out that anyone who dies for a cause is always dying for what they believe to be true- whether they are correct about those things is quite another issue. Put differently, one who dies for a cause is always "dying... for what one presumes to be true facts."

“For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, says the Lord GOD: therefore turn yourselves, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32 HNV).

But: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (Psalms 116:15 KJV).

You ask me if thermodynamics was initiated with sin. I did not say that. I said the second law of thermodynamics is not greater than God, but the effects of it, degradation and decay, were visited on Adam after he sinned and was separated from God. Listen to this:

“The LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 HNV).

The very day Adam ate from that tree, death set in. What is physical death but the result of the inexorable process of the second law of thermodynamics?

Again:

“To Adam He said, Because you have listened to your wife’s voice, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns also and thistles will it bring forth to you; and you will eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19 HNV).

Death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). All men have sinned (broken God’s Law of Good, Right, and Life) and have fallen short of the glory of God (Who is eternal life). When sin is done away with, so is death:

“And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying out; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 EMTV).


You're splitting hairs here. The second law is about friction, not so much about breakdown. In any case, you now seem to be arguing that god shielded Adam from the second law while he was in the garden. In other words, the law existed but god didn't permit it to be applied. The difference between that and the beginning of the law is immaterial.

Jesus Christ brought mankind the forgiveness of sins, to put the sins away and to make the way for man to re-enter into union with God. As many as believe on Him and receive Him are reconciled to God and receive a new nature, which is eternal life:


Just to be clear, those are the sins that god uses to blind us and which we retain so that we can be judged, right? So, Jesus was doing a bad thing, then?

“Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 EMTV)

You blame God for this fall from life in the garden, at least you reason it this way (if, you presume, God exists, Whom you deny):

“...as we’ve previously discussed, sin cannot have been anything but a consequence of god. Therefore he isn’t above sin. Except he is, because he’s perfect. Except that we do whatever it is that god intends for us to do and, therefore, sin because we’re meant to. And... yes... the logical inconsistency just made my brain bleed.”

You need a new brain to have the true perspective. The view from above shows there is no inconsistency or unfairness whatsoever. It shows that everything God does is right and everything man does is wrong. That is the entire testimony of the Bible. God is not the one who sinned. Man sinned and fell into a perpetual state of wrongness. Is God therefore responsible? Certainly, inasmuch as He made man, He made the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and He made the serpent. It is all His work. He made these things knowing man would fall. Here is His purpose:


And this, as a side note, is why I believe further discussion between us is pointless. You believe that everything man does is wrong. How, then, could we ever have a productive debate if you believe a priori that I must be wrong? As a further side note, it must be terrible to loathe yourself with such passion.

“For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him Who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21 ASV).


Right. Hammer... face... feels good to stop. We've been over this before.

He is taking the object of His affection (man) through the process of learning both good and evil, reward and consequence, building it all into his nature as He forms man in His image. All things are necessary.

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36 MKJV).

I say that God is responsible. As the Creator of man, and the One subjecting him to futility, He must be. But His responsibility extends far beyond what you see. God has not left man to his own devices forever. He, in the Person of Jesus Christ, did what no man could do. He delivered mankind from sin and death by His own sinless sacrifice. There is not a single thing anyone could do to deliver him or herself from this condition. As all have been born in sin and sold out to it, so in Christ, the sinless One, will all be born again, made alive and delivered from the body of death, whether in this life, or in the ages to come.


This is roughly equivalent to spreading a horrible disease so that you can then be a good guy by curing everyone. I am less than taken by this as moral behavior. When I was a believer, it troubled me considerably that the differences between god and a petty, egotistical tyrant were effectively zero. I honestly think part of what drove me from faith, as you call it, is that it demanded my conception of god be too narrow and silly.

We have all been very willing subjects of sin, choosing our ways above God. No one can say he or she is innocent. Everyone has not only been born into sin, but has also sinned. Neither trying to cover over the fact by being religious, nor denying sin exists by becoming philosophical, nor admitting it and indulging it to the max gets anyone out of his or her damnable condition. There has been nothing we could do about it. And none of us has the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ coming to us, and we cannot do anything to get it. That is what makes it grace. It is purely God’s doing and call. You are totally at His mercy, whether you know it or not, like it or not. It is the way things are (Here Is the Way It Is).


Well, okey-dokey then. I suppose I'll just keep doing what I'm doing since I don't seem to have much choice. Kinda seems a bit pathetic to say we're just god's marionette's, though, doesn't it?

When God’s grace appeared to us, He turned us from our sins and the arrogance of thinking we were in charge. For a time He let us have our way, walking in delusion and deceit. We repented and believed, because He drew us to Himself and revealed Who He is and what we are, which is worthless “drek.” He did that for us, and He will do it for you and for everyone else, in his or her time. We are all made of the same material. If He died for one, He died for all. Isn’t that wonderful? That is why we are sent to preach the Word of God, the authentic Good News of Jesus Christ.


That's not a reason, that's a string of unrelated assertions.

So is He unfair? Hardly. Your eyes have just not yet been opened to see Jesus Christ as He is:

“Riding the clouds, He’ll be seen by every eye, those who mocked and killed Him will see Him, people from all nations and all times will tear their clothes in lament. Oh, Yes” (Revelation 1:7 MSG).

Not seeing Him, you do not believe He was raised from the dead or that He did any miracles. You say:

“I explain it the same way you explain Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, the faith of the ancient Greeks and other faiths: the miracles of Jesus are fictitious. Remember, Mr. Cohen, you and I are both atheists: it’s simply that I doubt the existence of just one more god than you do. This is not to say that the teachings of Jesus are foolish or useless- some of them are quite wise- but only that I strongly doubt the purported miracles of Jesus in much the same way that you likely doubt the existence of Sasquatch.”

There is a tremendous difference between any claims of miracles in the religions you mention and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You owe it to yourself to at least know what you are talking about before bringing up invalid arguments. The case for the resurrection is considered to be of legal quality (by many qualified legal experts – there are many articles and books on the matter if you care to read about it), not that we need men’s word for it, or take men’s word; the faith of Christ comes by knowing Him firsthand, from His appearing to us by His Spirit. That is how we know Him, and how He has confirmed His Godhood with many, many proofs and also the truths in Scripture. Someday you may read bookfuls of the proofs in our lives, if you wish, Lord willing we publish it.


Good luck on the bookfulls of proofs. More importantly, however, what do you mean about "legal quality"? The authorship of a number of books in the bible is quite disputed. Several of the Pauline Epistles, for example, are generally agreed to have not been authored by Paul. Moreover, the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus calls quite a bit into question, including the supposed resurrection itself. (You can see the Codex online here.) The bible contains much of merit but it is, nevertheless, a document that has been subject to considerable revision, embellishment, and probably creation from whole cloth during the millennia following the time of Christ. I have reason to doubt its veracity.

You question Paul’s assertion that over 500 people saw the resurrected Lord, saying Paul is only one witness vouching for the rest. But other writers of the Bible also testify to seeing the Lord with detailed reports of conversations and even of taking meals together. Where are the contrary witnesses to the fact that there was no body in Jesus’ tomb after the third day? Here they are:

“Meanwhile, the guards had scattered, but a few of them went into the city and told the high priests everything that had happened. They called a meeting of the religious leaders and came up with a plan: They took a large sum of money and gave it to the soldiers, bribing them to say, ‘His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping.’ They assured them, ‘If the governor hears about your sleeping on duty, we will make sure you don’t get blamed.’ The soldiers took the bribe and did as they were told. That story, cooked up in the Jewish High Council, is still going around” (Matthew 28:11-15 MSG).


Just to be clear: you're quoting a partisan of Jesus (i.e. Matthew) claiming that those who deny the resurrection were bribed. And this is supposed to be trustworthy? Even if every Apostle had a book in the bible asserting that a different 500 people saw Jesus, it would still be the word of 12 men, not 6000. Moreover, Matthew maligning the honesty of those who disagree with him is not the same as independent verification.

You may say the Gospel writers made this report concerning others, which you dismiss. I merely point out that the apostle Paul was not the only one testifying of Christ’s death and resurrection and the miracles. Furthermore, it is a matter of historical record that Old Testament prophets and writers prophesied by the Spirit of God hundreds of things that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, centuries, even millennia before the day of His coming, many of which were fulfilled in small detail. And the charge of tampering with Holy Writ is easily disproven as well, as with, for example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not to mention the reverence, skill, discipline, and determination of a great part of Jewry throughout over three millennia to keep the record as straight as possible. The record has not changed but for few, tiny, and insignificant details, which have not taken away from the truth and substance by any means. Of course, you can brush these things aside, excusing yourself as you choose; fine.


I made my case- in brief, I admit- for the flawed nature of the bible above. I do not repeat it here. Moreover, prophesy is a notoriously unreliable thing. I have not been impressed by claims that these prophecies have been fulfilled any more than I am impressed by the daily horoscope.

You do not have your facts straight about the Bible, the dates of authorship, and the alleged subsequent revisions. The Bible is by far the most studied and prevalent text of ancient times, and It is well documented and noted for Its consistency. It was written when It says It was written (the facts are there in the text itself). Your ignorance and unfounded conclusions in these matters work against you, as they must.


Again, I rely in part on the scholarship I referenced above.

No, Drek, there is no equivalence with Jesus Christ. Muhammad is still in his grave, as are Buddha and Krishna. Only Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, directing and communicating with mankind as He wills, and as He has done with us.

How do we know? We know Him; He lives today. No religion generally tries to make that claim of their religious founders, not even the Muslims, who teach the myth that Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a white horse. They never claim (that we have ever heard) that they hear his voice. We claim to hear Jesus Christ’s voice because we do hear it, as He promised (and which Muhammad never did):

“To Him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and He leads them out. And whenever He brings out His own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, because they know His voice. But they will by no means follow a stranger, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5 EMTV).

“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and hear the voice from His mouth’” (Acts 22:14 EMTV).

Many in Scripture have testified of the present, living Christ, as do we.


That must be nice for you. Or not. Who can tell? I believe there was a man named Jesus but, I admit, I do not believe that he rose from the dead and have seen no convincing evidence to the contrary.

I will not attempt to remember, as you ask, something not worthy of remembrance. There are many false gods but One True God. Atheism is the denial of His existence and not of any others that either do not exist to begin with or are not The God, though almost revered by fools as though they are.

If I believe in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you cannot call that atheism. Those who believe in many gods, are, in truth, atheists, as are those who believe in any one false god, like Allah (Islam) or the false “Jesus” (False Love - The Last Stronghold), which is so prevalent in this world. There is only one Name by which men can be saved, and that is Jesus Christ, the Truth, the Spirit of the living God.


Well you're an arrogant little git, aren't you? Are you entirely incapable of conceding the possibility of your being wrong, even after spending so much time claiming that humans are terribly fallible?

If you have not, please read my testimony (Paul Cohen), because you should know that I was not raised to believe in Christ. I was converted by and to Him, which is a miracle.


I have read your testimony. I am glad that you have found some peace in your life, though I feel great sympathy towards your (apparently former) wife who paid the price for it. I suppose this also helps me to understand you better- given that you apparently divested yourself of a wife because you believed god demanded it, the guilt you might feel if you permitted yourself to wonder if, perhaps, you were in error would likely be unbearable. And as long as we're sharing, perhaps you would like to read my "testimony"? You can find it here, here, here, and here.

At the end of your letter you write:

“Will my theories raise me from the dead? I actually hope not- that’s not really what they’re intended to do. Leaving aside the issue of whether I’m willing to die in order to advance the ‘cause’ of science, I will simply point out that a number of people were quite willing to sacrifice their lives for their religion with rather tragic results. A willingness to die for one’s cause, I am sure you will agree, should not be taken as the ultimate proof of that cause’s legitimacy.”

My point about your theories: If God raises from the dead, don’t you think that He is more worthy to be (and should be) consulted with, rather than you with your theories of life? He is Life.


And my point is that by knowing the creation one also may know the creator. And if there is no creator, as I believe, then knowing the creation is nevertheless important. I doubt very much any god would have created so much, so elegantly, and then expected us to ignore it entirely. Moreover, what I may or may not do if I were to be raised from the dead is an issue separate from what I do before I have such information.

Science, even if true, did not lay down its life for you. Hence, there is no reward in your laying down your life for it. There is no life to be had there. The same goes for Islamic jihadists, who provide an excellent contrast of what false religion does, compared to true. They take the lives of others in the wanton violence of men, as have Catholics, Lutherans, and many other religions; but the Lord Jesus Christ lays down His life for the unworthy in the purposeful love of God, as do those who are truly His. Those reborn in Christ bring life to the world, wielding a sword, but not one of carnal warfare. The sword of the Spirit penetrates within, removing illusions and every false thing that vaunts itself against the knowledge of God.


I believe in the worth of mankind, I believe we can make ourselves and our world better. I believe that science is a boon to this effort. I respect your beliefs, but I do not agree with them or find them compelling.

Paul


Drek


* I should note that I've reviewed my e-mail correspondence over that period and can't find any trace of a further exchange with Cohen. If I am in error as to when he last contacted me prior to this most recent episode, I am sorry.

** That is, of course, to the extent that you can refer to me as having a personality in the first place.

*** I am aware of the common wisdom as to the care and feeding of trolls, though I am not convinced that Mr. Cohen should be so classified.

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