Saturday, September 22, 2007

Science vs. Religion; Reason vs. Confusion

Dawkins and Krauss on Religion and Science

Scientific American ran a bit on a debate between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, who debated the question of science and religion's compatibility. In effect they both argued from the same basic perspective, but argued mostly on approach and style rather than on substance of belief. In both cases they viewed Religion as "wrong", though Dawkins has a book entitled The God Delusion while Krauss is more content to allow for religion as an expression of our humanity. He, however, urges education as a means to combat the irrational responses to science.

While I can now understand and even somewhat appreciate Dawkin's hard-line approach, the idea that we must eradicate the concept of God and religion is not only too severe for my taste, but is predicated on the idea that there is no God and that religion is totally false. In the absence of evidence proving the non-existence of God (impossible) and full documentation that all the tenants of religion are not only contrary to reason but have been empirically proven false, we must allow room for belief in the unknown. Science is all about speculation of the unknown in order to better understand the universe and to uncover previously unknown truth.

Science - unlike religion - is interested mostly with testable and falsifiable claims. So, the postulation "God exists" (or the antithesis, "God does not exist") is not testable nor falsifiable. There is no way for us to fully investigate the infinite span of the time/space continuum nor to peer past the theoretical 11th dimension to search other universes for evidence of the existence of a divine creature. Due to our limitations and the impossibility of instant and complete knowledge (without in fact becoming or being god) we simply can not know if there is or is not a God. Science, then, should have no interest in the question.

Unfortunately, however, science is too willing to suggest that since the question can not be tested it is therefore false. That is, since we can not test for God therefore he does not exist. This is a fallacy. On the other hand, religion is too eager to suggest that since the question can not be falsified therefore God exists is equally fallacious. The only honest question is a gentle agnosticism that allows both for the possibility of existence and non-existence, and is gentle to both those who cannot believe and those who must. The gentle agnostic allows operational room for both the man who chooses to believe as a result of Pascal's wager and the one who courageously presses forward in search of evidence and a full understanding of the universe. Both have made an honest choice and over the course of their life journey, both are likely to adjust or even totally reverse their position. Evidence and experience both will either reinforce their belief or change their perspectives.

Unfortunately prior belief has the effect of influencing or filtering events and facts. That two miles of ice has been drilled from cores in Greenland means something completely different to the Bible literalist and the scientists. The scientist views the core as a wealth of historical and statistical data for weather research while the literalist believer sees the great depth of the ice as evidence for the mountains of water laid down during Noah's flood. Yet when more data about the cores reveals more than superficial depth of the ice the Biblical literalist may well come to understand that there is more to the ice depth than water from the flood. The total absence of mud and other sedimentation throughout the ice beyond the dust we would expect from normal weather activity or volcanoes raises questions as to the accuracy of the Christian explanation of the ice presence. If the water and resulting ice were from the flood, and if the massively deep sedimentation in other parts of the world are explained as effects from the flood causation, then why is the ice so clean? Is it reasonable to expect that the water carried massive amounts of sedimentation in other parts of the world, but that only clean and clear water was present and circulating in and around Greenland? Further, what of the ice in Antarctica, on mountain ranges and in other parts of the world? If the age of the ice can be no more than some 6,000 years and if a world-wide flood occurred, would we not see extremely muddy layers in the ice? Further, would any ice pre-dating the flood exist since it would have been washed away and melted by the flood?

From this we can see that even though the prior belief of a person has the effect of initially skewing the interpretation of data by the Biblical literalist, as more information about the ice is understood the honest and gentle believer is forced to acknowledge the difficulties with his position. It is precisely at this point that the person stands at a crossroads of thought and is forced to choose. Will he adjust his prior belief given the new knowledge or will he struggle to force the new knowledge into his current belief system. In the former case he must ultimately do some violence to his belief system; in the latter he must do violence to the data and his reason. His choice and his resulting behavior will effect all of his future activities and influence his very way of and ability to think. If he is honest with the data and allows it to correctly influence and mold his model of the world and of history he will continue to be able to properly think and analyze data. However if he ignores any number of facts that refute his position and continues to dogmatically assert his previous position (against the data) he will begin to lose his ability to think. The practice of denying reality and of continuing to view the world through the model and lens of his faith will destroy his ability to honestly and fully understand reality.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Loss of hope, loss of joy?

The recurring theme that my family tosses my way is "What has your new belief done for you? Has it made you any happier?" The truth is, it has not. Where ignorance is bliss, it just might indeed be folly to be wise. In fact, the question that pops into my head especially while I'm sitting in my beautiful backyard in the evenings is, "So this is it?" The question has more profundity now that there is no hope of a glorious hereafter.

Previously, whenever I'd have one of those weeks and would wonder if there was more to life than the rhythmic echos of a mundane existence I would console myself in the knowledge that but for a time we suffered but had heaven to look forward to. True, this life sucks but the next will be be filled with perfection, love, and joy. The very fabric of heaven and the universe will be woven in harmony and laced with the sensation of ultimate belonging and acceptance only that being with God can achieve...

If only. Bummer to realize that it is all the stuff of poets and dreamers. Would have been nice. I guess the insightful philosopher was correct: "Life sucks, and then you die." Bummer.

It's not all that, of course. There is much to be happy about and to enjoy. In fact there are many times that I'm filled with laughter and just plain having a grand time. It doesn't last. A story about suffering in other parts of the world or just the normal miasma oozing from the zealot determined to suck you back into the Matrix.

But I guess it's always been that way. There are those who have set themselves to live life here and now, and those destined to ignore this life in hopes of spinning a better number in the next. Yet for my part I enjoyed the idea that the worst that this world could roll my way paled in comparison to the matchless charms that awaited us of faith.

If only. Bummer.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

God's a gang banger?

He was kidding - he had to be. Of course this is a guy that says, "Hope you didn't pay more than $2 for those classes." I paid about $4 and they are just for reading. He asks, "You still worshiping Satan?" "Ya", I reply. I still think Christians are full of it.

He tells me about a pastor from back in his earlier years who was the real deal - living it. The genuine article. He loved this pastor. Why do they always need to turn the guy into a saint before they quote him. Credibility, I guess.

Seems this pastor used to say, "If the Big Bang happened God banged it." Must have been a really, really old pastor to have known that. I wasn't there so I don't feel qualified to unequivocally declare that God, or anything else, was the cause of the effect of the expansion of the Universe.

And that was pretty much it. I said a few things, but he wasn't really listening. It was a one way conversation. He'd done his duty. He'd spoken for God working for my salvation. It wasn't a discussion. It wasn't an inquiry into the ultimate nature of the universe or how we determine truth. It felt like I was wrong and he was right and I needed to be told something.

Why is it always that way? Why do they never want to actually discuss the facts or hear any sort of criticism of their position - of their flawed arguments? It's drive by philosophy. Bang, bang you're wrong. Here, let me unload a clip and drive off. Hope that did the trick. See you in heaven...if you make it. Good thing we are friends.

Scientific unreasoning

I still get emails forwarded to me by Christians who think that I still subscribe to their nonsense. The truth is, all these sorts of emails irritated me all along - they just are more foreign in their "though process" now.

This was one of the stories in an email entitled: "7 reasons not to mess with children."

7 reasons not to mess with children.
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.
The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.
The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah".
The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"
The little girl replied, "Then you ask him ".

I'm sure that Evangelical soccer moms just love this little story. It, and the other 6 stories, are probably not true but written by some Pastor who feels that he's being clever with his illustrations. Perfect fodder for and most certainly urban legend. It is offensive and expresses the judgmental attitude toward actually thinking about an issue with any amount of rationality. We should be horrified that this attitude is transmitted into children; what is more likely is that it engenders pride and satisfaction.

What is frightening is that not only children think this way, but adult Christians can also fall into this line of thought. My Christian friends loved to sidestep issues in a debate and redirect the conversation away from a fact debate and into a religious or spiritual one. A discussion over the age of the Earth is deviated into a faith and trust one. Rather than examine the evidence from science the issue is reframed into the role of the Bible and our relationship to its authority. Authority of the Bible is exactly what is in peril should the evidence from science and observation be allowed to stand. The evidence refutes a part of the Bible or at least an interpretation of it.

But then again I also like the T-Shirt I saw recently related to the above story:

I may be going to hell, but at least you won't be there.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The issolation of education

Over the past months I've read a number of books in an effort to "catch up". I've read:

  • The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change, Paul Andrew Mayewski
  • Potassium-argon dating, G. Brent Dalrymple
  • Age of the Earth, G. Brent Dalrymple
  • Science Held Hostage, Howard J. Van Till
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of Ancient Egypt (read only the first few chapters)
  • Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism, Andrew J. Petto (Editor)
  • The God Who Wasn't There [DVD] (dumb)
  • The Two-Mile Time Machine, Richard B. Alley
  • The Creationists, Ron Numbers

This, in addition to watching innumerable Science Channel programs, "The Tomb of Jesus", and many articles from Scientific American (online) and other journals. I've read many article from Talk.Origins as well as some from Reasons to Believe. I've gone through most of a course from The Teaching Company on scientific discoveries that gave a good survey of physics, astronomy and quantum theory.

I've also had both my parents, my wife and friends try to pursuade me that I'm wrong with some of the most inane arguments - but ones that I used to use also. I've had my dad tell me that a world noted expert on DNA has declared that he can't believe in evolution due to his research on DNA, but also seen that he's (my dad) has failed to forward me the researchers name or where he has published. I've had him argue that Greenland can not possibly have 110,000 years of ice since it was a green land at the time of the Vikings; hence the name. Yet this reflects a total lack of understanding of where the Norse lived on greenland, when they settled there and why they ultimately faded out. (They lived there only during the warm period just before the recent "Little Ice Age".)

In the end I've come to two conclusions about the Christians/creationists around me:

  1. They are more ignorant than I was about all things science and historic that is not a part of the Christian "talking points" and tradition.
  2. They are wrong, dead wrong but refuse to listen to any illumination that might "deceive" them from their world view

I have shot right past the "anger" stage, through the disgust stage and currently really don't know what to make of all of it. I note that for centuries now honest and educated scientists and students have been forced to accept the antiquity of the earth and the evidence of evolution; they have generally adopted the "theistic evolutionist" position so despised and derided by fundamentalists, or have simply come to view religion and the Bible in terms of alegory and myth.

Presently I find it impossible to discuss science with any Christians or to attend any Christian function. Given my new perspective much of what they say now sounds ludicrous to me. Either I am more aware of what is false or have been deceived into a way of thinking that is unable to detect truth. Either way, the spell is broken.

I also, however, find the virulent Atheists anoying as well. While "The noble lie" of Plato might explain the beginnings of religious thought insisting that we must now stamp out all religion as lie falsely assumes that we've proven all religious thought is indeed a lie. Finding flaws and suspecting that religion was created and promulgated to control the masses does not disprove the existence of a diety. Neither does it explain why Hutchens and other Atheists look simply miserable and angry. Give me happy Christian ignorance over obnoxious Atheist anger any day.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Creationists, Ron Numbers

I picked up Ron's exhaustive survey of creationism this weekend. Exhaustion well describes how I felt carrying it back to the car. It's a giant book and I'm looking forward to reading it.

I've read the first two chapters and they are enlightening. My narrow up-bringing is reflective of Seventh-day Adventism - the conservative type. It's illuminating to discover that may theologians readily and honestly accepted the factual findings of science in favor of the great antiquity of the earth and of evolution.

It strikes me that the real questions are not in the details but in the broad categories that are easily discernible. That the world is 4.5 billion years old, or 4.5 million years old matters little in a discussion regarding a 6,000 year old earth and recent creation. That we descended from a common ancestor naturally or through the divine guidance of God matter's little when compared to the words of Genesis 1 and 2. That the early theologians in Darwin's day felt free to interpret the "days" of Genesis as eras or long periods reflects the credibility of the findings of science and the honesty of those theologians. That modern theologians refuse to acknowledge an old earth or any type of evolution apart from within species or other than "micro evolution" (Um, does the theory say that many, many little mutations over time produce the larger changes we like to label "macro evolution"?) - that they take such a dogmatic stance is fully understandable.

Modern thinkers understand the end result. If Darwin was correct, and if other branches of science are correct, there are many teachings in the Bible that are unsubstantiated. If the origins of this world are not correct, who's to say that the eschatology can be trusted? This really is a case of "give an inch, lose a mile." If theology were to concede, at this late stage of the game, that Science has a solid case they fear that the entire house of cards that is the religion of Christianity will come thundering down.

That the modern theologians are more dogmatic and more loudly proclaiming the inerrancy of the Bible should come as no surprise. They, of necessity, must continue to turn up the volume of their rhetoric to counter what is an ever increasing flood of evidence that refutes the young earth model and the global flood (which produced the geological effects that are purported to be caused by eons of time.) Should they seek to be balanced and honest with the evidence they would concede ground that they can ill afford to concede.

So, what does this mean to me? I'm still not sure. Suffice it to say I'm a little surprised at the numbers of theologians, in the 1800's, that were all to ready to accept an ancient earth and evolution. Guaranteed: SDA's were not among them.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Humble yourself"

It didn't take long. My wife's family is now reported to be praying for me. The line from a prayer went something like this, "...and help him to humble himself before the eternal god..." or something like that.

I had wondered how long it would take someone to repeat that line to me. Humble yourself. As if I've erected myself into the position of god and am following my own wisdom over his. How did I know that this would be said of me, or to me? I said it myself many times. The logic goes something like this. We know that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. In it we find exactly what he wants us to understand in order to attain salvation and glorify him. Those who question the Bible are in effect questioning the wisdom of God. Those who dare to suggest that some part or all of it may be wrong are treading on hollowed ground, and are following their own wisdom rather than God's. They should humble themselves in the presence of God and declare their error and recognize his perfect wisdom.

Isn't that what every cult leader has told his followers over the centuries? Hasn't that logic been used to control the followers of some sect or religion and keep their most crucial ideas alive in the collective minds of the followers? And, have we learned nothing by history?

Mormons are taught not to question the Book of Mormon or the prophets. Should we all simply accept that Mormons are correct and Joseph Smith is indeed a prophet of God? Should we ignore the abysmal lack of archeological evidence supporting the stories and claims of the Book of Mormon, and should we ignore the DNA evidence that proves that the American Indians were not the lost tribes of Israel who migrated from through Europe, but rather are descendants of Asians? Should we ignore all the evidence against that book and simply accept it as true?

We as Christian scholars use the rigors of logic, science and history when examining and refuting the claims of other religions. Yet, when those same rigors are employed to disprove a claim from the Bible then we insist that men should humble themselves before God and leave behind their own logic and follow God's instead. Never mind that there is evidence upon evidence insisting that there was not, and could not, have been a global flood. Never mind that without the flood dynamics the geological formations require time orders of magnitude beyond 6000 years (even a global flood does not explain the geological formations). Never mind that there are mountains of evidence of a very old and very active Earth. Are we simply to humble ourselves and ignore what we see and what we know to be true and accept something without question and examination just because it is purported to be from God? Can we apply logic and investigation to refute cult leaders, but not mainstream religious ideas and foundations?

Humble myself? What is so humble about ignoring truth - and how does that glorify an eternal and omnipotent God? Did God created a wonderful fairytale, deliver it to his people, and insist that they believe it and not what they clearly see around them? Did the God who commanded, "Thou Shalt not Lie" lie to us? Does he want us to believe a lie? Is that our definition of "humble"?

I believe that Christians should re-examine their beliefs. Jesus Christ sounds like a wonderful person. But if Noah's flood can not stand up to examination, how am I to believe that Jesus was resurrected and promises to give to me eternal life if I believe in Him? Paul insists that He is superior to angels in every way, and one of the evidences is that through Him the universe and the world was created. If Christians insist that this creation was a very recent and very instantaneous event, do they not stand in danger of invalidating the credibility of Jesus entirely?

Humble myself? Let popes, cardinals, priests and pastors take off their smugness and their ceremonial and pompous robes and let's see them give their all to the redemption of the people of Africa who are starving and suffering the worst drought, and the most beastly in-fighting in recent history, and let them humble themselves to the teaching of Jesus. "Love one another." It's not a trick question. The world is very old. The flood did not happen. People are starving in Africa. These are facts. Humble myself? Remove the Redwood Forest from your own eye and then you'll be able to see well enough to help me flick out the specks or two that I have in my own.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another debate; another dissappointment

What I expect is for people to discuss ideas with an open, but active mind. It'd be nice if people could discuss a topic the way they do in the old movies. An exchange of ideas where each endeavors to hear the other's perspective and offers their own thoughts. Reality falls somewhere short of this ideal.

People become vested to ideas - married to them. When those ideas are religious in nature they become even more charged. They are not only just ideas, but they are what we are - we become the sum of our religious beliefs. Rarely do we change them, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

An interesting thought emerged, however, from this lively debate. He asked me if I wondered why or just how. He was attempting to move the discussion from the how (science and empirical knowledge) to the why. Religion and philosophy live in the realm of the why; that is its proper scope. Science, by definition, usually is concerned with the how. How did this mountain with all these layers get here. How did life come to be. How did the universe come about. How does a light particle travel across space and time. Indeed, what is light? The how, and the what are the playground of science. Making sense of it all is philosophy and religion's court.

The problem was, he was not concerned at all about the what and the how; he only wanted to discuss the why. I sensed that he felt that it was in they why that he could win the argument. The what/how he referred to with words like "minutiae", "details", and trivia, but he referred to the why as much more important. In fact, however, it is the what and the how that reflects most importantly on the conversation and provides the raw materials to understand the why. Should our model of how the universe and world was formed is wrong, our understanding of why could also be flawed. If our understanding of how life emerged on this planet is wrong, our understanding of why we are here could also be wrong.

To say that we are here for the glory of God sounds harmless enough. To say that the purpose of our life is to glorify God has more implications. How do we glorify God? God is referred to as spirit and truth: does it glorify God to believe and teach something that we suspect or know is false - that is not truth? If fundamentalist Christians want to believe that the world is only 6,000 years old I say let them. However, if they want to teach my child that I have a problem with that. If they are urging congress to halt funding for some astronomy program because it conflicts with their Young Earth Creationist model - no we have to have a lively discussion that may involve some pointing out the errors of their understanding. This is inevitable. If the native living in some bush village in Africa wants to believe something, that has no impact on me. If that person somehow becomes president of NASA, however, his belief system is important. His understanding of what is important, and the "why" of life is tainted by a lack of education and thought.

Truth matters - but not to everyone. To many, including my Christian friend from today, what matters most is their own version of truth based on their own understanding of the Bible and how it should be regarded. He sees the Bible as fully true, inspired and protected by God and inerrant. If the Bible says that there was a flood of water that covered the entire world, then it happened just like it says. If we can calculate that it happened around 4000 years ago, then it did - and the presence of evidence that refutes this, or the lack of supporting evidence is immaterial. The fact that the Bible teaches it ends the discussion. Should I offer some evidence that does indeed refute the world-wide flood, that evidence is simply details of fact that are trivial: what matters is the why and what the message of the flood is: God was displeased with mankind and destroyed it.

I'm saddened by this type of conversation. I genuinely wish that I could have been more peaceful and open minded in my conversations with people who knew things that I did not. I wish we could be less attached to our pet ideas - even the religious ones that promise us eternal life - and more honest with the facts that we find. I wish that we could be as truthful about what we find in the field as we are with our assessment of the human condition. Unfortunately, given the human condition this is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Questions of Life

In the excellent movie The Truman Show Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, is having a crisis of identity and perception. His whole life he has been told that the world operates a certain way, yet he is noticing strange anomalies; His observations often don't match how other people relate, and tell him to relate, to the world. Ultimately, he comes to understand what everyone has been trying to hide, namely, that he lives a sheltered and artificial life where much of what he thought he knew about the world was false.

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with how to best understand reality for as long as we have recorded history. The proposals have ranged from the bizarre and mystical to skeptical ideas such as Solipsism, which denies that we can know anything outside of our own minds. Rationalists debate with Empiricists, and skeptics argue with believers. The question of how to understand our existence has occupied our consciousness and after many thousands of years of debating we wonder if we ever will fully understand our existence and how we view and interpret it.

Religion stakes out its territory through means of "revelation". While many have decided that we understand through a process of investigation and discovery, religions insist that we also must consider the possibility of divine revelation and of truths that originate from God himself (or herself). Where there is a conflict between what is observed and what is revealed, the revealed is believed to preempt the observed (or even reason) since the latter depends upon our ability to correctly and clearly observe and process what we see. Our own deductive powers are considered no match for God's divine revelation since He ultimately knows and sees all from an unrestricted perspective.

For those of us who were brought up in a religion-dominated culture, realizing that there are empirical truths that directly contradict what we were taught is unsettling. We were told to view reality through the filter of Scripture and church dogma and were taught to regard Science and reason as suspect. God had taken the responsibility of teaching us exactly what we needed to know in order to help us navigate this evil and deceptive life.

Christian pastors and theologians insist that the spiritual doctrines of Christianity can not be subjected to reason; what is expressed in terms of faith can never fully satisfy the inquiry of reason. The difficulty with this idea is that where empirical data contradicts facts presented in the Bible Christian apologists object to both the data and the method of deriving the data. When observers began to suggest that the earth was round and orbited around the Sun, the Church objected to the ideas and to the people and methods. (So tradition holds - I suspect the issues were much deeper.)

I find it interesting that my own, and many other, denomination used science to disprove other religions. For example, mainstream Christians use the disciplines of archeology and biology to disprove the claims of the Book of Mormon. They show in solid terms that there is simply no evidence to support the existence of the Nephi and other Mormon civilizations and Joseph Smith claimed existed. They use DNA evidence to demonstrate that the native American populations came from Northern Asia rather than from Europe and so could not be the lost tribe(s) of Israel. Science solidly disproves the claims of Mormons, and is used to refute the credibility of the Book of Mormon and of Joseph Smith and the subsequent Mormon prophets and scholars.
When the same types of techniques are applied in verifying the claims of the Bible, however, they are considered evil. They are, in that context, the tools and the attacks of the Devil. When biology and archeology and geology make discoveries that seem to -- or solidly do -- run contrary to what the Bible teaches, it is Science that is attacked. This is obviously a double standard.

For my part, I feel like Truman in a way. I've discovered that there are a number of scientific observations that negate the possibility of a world-wide deluge. More disturbing is that my laundry list of creationist refutations and "proofs" have dissolved one-by-one as I've researched them.
  • Footprints in Paluxy
  • Carbon 14 dating wildly inaccurate
  • Radiometric dating inaccurate and based on flawed assumptions
  • Principle of uniformatarianism flawed
  • Grand Canyon carved by receding floodwaters
  • Polonium halos

There are many more than these. I've discovered that most scientists are guided by three things: First, they are very smart and well-informed and educated. Second they are honestly searching for truth. They want to understand. Finally, science has a built in checks-and-balances system where a scientists reputation depends on his accurate description and interpretation of the data. Even if the scientist is evil incarnate he is still motivated by selfish ambition to make sure that his data is accurate and his interpretations are logical and sound. While this peer pressure can, and does, work against the facts, the blanket statement that all of science is tainted with evolution and the dogma of billions of years does not address the core question: Are evolution and the dogma of billions of years false?

And so the journey continues...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Discovering old earth and ancient geology

We Americans don't care much for traitors. We teach our children about Benedict Arnold and the Rosenbergs, and more recently still, about Aldrich Ames who spied for the Soviet Union during the cold war. Arnold especially is onerous to us since his was a time in our history when we were vulnerable to the more powerful Great Britain. People who change sides, or who work for the "other side" while claiming to be on "our side" are despised by both sides.

Christians strongly teach that faith must be preserved at all cost. The phrase "hold the faith" could well be the rallying cry. When someone becomes discouraged we encourage that person and urge them to keep their faith. People are urged not to sin or fall out of favor with the church or with God for fear that they may abandon their faith. When children are old enough to make their own decisions and live lifestyles that are offensive to their parents they are said to have left the faith.

I well remember a time in about 1995 when I felt that I was strong and even immovable in my faith in Christ and in the Bible. I was listening to a preacher who was speaking about how the Devil's only job is to shake the faith of Christians. I felt that I was solidly out of reach and safe in Christ, and without a sense of pride. It was not that I felt that I was so strong, but that I felt that God and the truth that I had accepted were strong. I knew that the Bible was literally the word of God and that in His wisdom he had preserved it to serve as our solid foundation. I knew that the Seventh-day Adventist church had been called into existence to serve as His messengers to the last generation, warning this world of the judgments to come. Though I understood already at this early date that there were theological battles and were even problems in the methods employed for evangelism and teaching, I felt that fundamentally the Seventh-day Adventist church was a divine organization.

Over the years I would discover what I had never been taught in school, and my study and questions would eventually result in a rejection of Adventism. Frankly, many of the truth claims failed to be substantiated by history, logic and the Bible. People love to say that if you leave the Adventist church you have left God and will eventually become Atheist. There is some evidence to support this idea. Yet, their goal is to retain members and to scare them from venturing away.

I learned a few things about myself and my pursuit of truth in my experience through Adventism. First I learned that every issue has at least two sides, but that each side generally only communicates their own side and either overtly or subconsciously takes steps to both silence and discredit the other side. I can only assume that Adventist theologians write such strong books defending Adventism because they strongly believe her truth-claims. I find it difficult to impute any malice especially since I've personally met some of the most vocal proponents of the denomination. Yet strong belief does not establish truth. Mormons and Muslims strongly believe their perspective. Catholics and Lutherans both feel that they are right and ordained by God. Each side of any debate feels strongly about their position, and the better they are at defending the better they are at discrediting any opposing views. For the faithful who mostly listen to their champions, they primarily hear what the champions want them to hear.

The second thing I learned is that it is too easy to become comfortable with ones own position and avoid looking intently at any opposing views. I never looked deeply at the systematic arguments against Adventism. I knew they were there, and I deduced what they were by listening to our champions -- and practicing to be a defender myself. Yet I never looked at the arguments against Ellen White due to their sensitive nature and for fear of being deceived. She had warned us that the Devil would work to undermine her, so I steadfastly held to my supporting position - even though secretly I had my own issues with her. I never looked at the arguments against keeping the seventh day Sabbath, or why other confessions taught that we go directly to heaven after we die. I never looked at any other views of origins and never considered for a moment that the Bible was anything other than the infallible Word of God. I argued that any attempt to question the Bible was placing ourselves above Scripture, which was a dangerous and slippery slope to journey down. As a result, I never looked at any "liberal" views on Scripture or the higher critical method.

My study uncovered evidence that I had never been exposed to and which changed my mind entirely on the Seventh-day Adventist history, mission, and even existence. They, to me, occupied the same broad space as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, namely, a false religion that was a perversion of truth.

I have been applauded both in person and through private emails and letters for my journey and for helping people understand what the issues are. Even those who have not left Adventism have come to understand the problems more clearly. It is doubtful, however, that these same people would continue to approve of my search for truth and the evidences that I have found that has drawn me toward a much more disturbing position.

Some number of years ago I was asked by some friends to help them understand how to answer their Atheist friends who believed in Evolution. They wondered if I had any books or materials on Creation Science (the field, not the church) and on Intelligent Design. I had some and shared them; I also still had some materials from seminary. I also went on one of my favorite binges, namely, buying more books. I bought some very excellent books on the subject including Michael Behe, Morland, and Johnson. I emerged from my study even more in wonderment at how complex and sophisticated the universe and our bodies really are. Intelligent Design made a great deal of sense to me. Irreducible complexity seemed to be a good argument, and it baffled me how one could believe that chance and necessity could result in the tremendous complexity and beauty we find today.

But one thing changed: The Big Bang not only emerged as a more plausible picture of the origin of the univers, it appeared to be the only good explanation. Even the ID authors I read accepted this hypothesis. The little research I did at the time made me feel comfortable that radiometric dating and other methods indeed supported the view of a very old universe and of very old rocks. While this was a bit unsettling, my view of creation still worked. I (unknowingly) came up with a sort of Gap theory where God used the Big Bang to create the universe and allow it to mellow and settle, and when it was ready he created life 6-10,000 years ago. Like baking a cake, when the foundation was done he then added the icing, life.

And that was that. I told very few people my thoughts since even those I did mention it to were very uncomfortable with it. At the time I did not pursue it an further, and instead was immersed with my study of Adventism.

Flash forward several years. While we were warned in the 1970's of a soon-coming ice age recently the news is full of reports of the immediate danger of Global Warming. As former Vice President Al Gore began to insert himself into the argument and produced his highly controversial movie An Inconvenient Truth I decided to research this so-called Truth myself. I began to search the Internet for solid and credible data. I wanted to see the temperature trends. I wanted to hear the voices in opposition, and attempt to understand their motives. Were they simply shrills for the oil industry or were they serious scientists who had different data or less of a liberal political agenda? I found a number of resources including temperature data - data that I did not have a chance to look at much, but I noticed that there was definitely trends and patterns.

It was while watching one of the Science Channel programs on the subject that a fact hit me funny. The scientist was arguing that the best data that they had showed a certain repeating trend over the past several hundred thousand years. In fact, as I recall the data went back some 400,000 years. "That can't be true", I thought. The world is only 6,000 years old - 10,000 at the most. My Gap theory held that there was nothing here but rocks, and maybe water. But no Sun, no warmth - just a cold dead rock. In the program he mentioned ice core data that extended back in time and so I ventured to understand what ice cores were, how the data was extracted, and more importantly, how solid was the view that the ice core layers each equated to a year.

What I discovered is the reason this blog entry is being written. Every debate has more than one side, and the people on each side have their reasons for holding their position. It is the task of the observer and investigator to hear the sides, evaluate the claims, investigate as much as possible the validity of the claims and attempt to draw logical and correct conclusions. What I have come to understand is that the Earth is indeed about 4.5 billion years old (4.5 ga) and the same goes for the moon and for the various meteorites that fall within our reach. The idea that the universe is from between 8-12 ga also has a high degree of credibility (some argue more, some less). No serious scientist believes that the Earth or the Universe is only 6-10,000 years old, and even a large number of Christians who otherwise believe in creationism have also accepted that it can not be that young.

I discovered that I had grown up in the epicenter of the YEC's - Young Earth Creationists. I also discovered that I suddenly found myself faced with the possibility of becoming a traitor and of losing my faith. I discovered that suddenly what had been so rock-solid sure previously as a YEC now had plummeted into the murky depths of uncertainty. I discovered that I had been lied to on yet another subject, and the feeling was not pleasant.
You may find yourself just now asking the question my wife, mother and others have asked: "Oh crap, are you going to be an Atheist now?" The answer is "I don't think so", but here is where I presently am today:

  1. I am not Atheist. Such a position is illogical. To posit that there is no God is to declare oneself God. To know for sure that there is no God in the universe means that I must be able to look everywhere in the universe at the same time (omnipresent) since God could simply be quick and nibble. It means that I must be able to search each "place" in time/space and to be able to instantly and fully understand that place and determine that God is not there. (omniscient). Naturally to travel to all these places at the same time I'd need to be infinitely powerful (omnipotent, and ultra tough). If this is not a good definition of God I don't know what is.
  2. I presently feel I must (for now) be reverently agnostic. More on this later.
    There is no question that the record stored in ice layers, lake bed and ocean layers or varves, and in earth sediment layers are testifying to a much older earth than 6,000 years. The GISP2 project itself has 110,000 years easily demonstrated with many more layers beneath the 110,000 year mark.
  3. That there was a world wide flood not only has failed to be substantiated by geological evidence, but soundly refuted by it. Ice layers alone provide disturbing evidence against the flood. The YEC theories on how the 2 miles of ice could have accumulated in the years between the flood and now still fail to explain the observed layers themselves.
  4. Most disturbing to me: the archaeological, geological and paleontological evidence of very old living -- and dying -- organisms older than 6,000 years old is unsettling. Unless credible proof can be advanced that the age of the sediment and lower levels is not what science has proposed, the presence of fossils indicates that something died many millions of years ago. The proposal that all the sediment and all the death occurred as a result of the flood seems preposterous.
  5. I still find Darwinian evolution beyond belief based solely on my intuitive estimation of the statistics. It seems too much of a long shot. I don't play the lottery for a very good reason: my odds would not be much better if I buy the ticket than when I don't.
  6. I find theistic evolution to be more in line with the observations of Intelligent Design, but theologically and philosophically unsound. Death before Adam and Eve's fall is difficult to explain (though not impossible).
  7. I find the Christian explanations and "science" to be absurd in light of the credible evidence. To continue to bad-mouth Carbon 14 dating and radiometric dating on the suggestion that the uniformatarian principle might not be true is bad science and bad thought process. When data challenges Christian positions they simply question the data and the scientists. That is disturbing. They continue to repeat already-discredited data as fact (i.e., footprints of humans with dinosaurs at Paluxy.)
I fully understand the implications of not literally accepting the testimony of Genesis 1 and 2, and the flood story. This has the appearance of placing reason over revelation. Yet, I also understand that Evangelicals routinely exercise their powers of reason and science in refuting the claims of Mormons and other religions; they do not want the same critical investigation of their own truth claims. If the creation story can not be believed, and if the flood story can not be believed, the question that Christians have been battling ever since the time of Charles Darwin is, "can any of it be believed then?"

The real question that is back on my desk - a question that has been here many times before - is this: What is true? Because I do not know the answer to this question, and because I do not wish to "over react" or to vent my anger back at the religion that appears to have "lied" to me for most of my life, I have decided to adopt the position that I heard another use: Reverently Agnostic. I am not ready to join Nietzsche and declare God dead. Yet I find myself unable to continue to trust in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God with a blind faith, for faith in obvious error is not faith, but foolishness.

My Christian friends do what we always did when we are confronted with these types of evidences: deny that what I've discovered is actually what scientists say it is, and means what they say it means. I feel compelled to highlight that there are very smart people on all sides of this issue. Scientists are, by definition, intelligent people. The field in which they work won't tolerate foolishness or lack of intellect. Many of the proponents of Intelligent Design and of Young Earth Creationism hold post graduate degrees from well-considered Universities. Most are published and have established reputations. However, reputations do not settle truth; truth is and it is left for us to discover it -- to coax it out of the body of evidence with patience and persistence.

For my part, I am totally convinced that there is a whole field of study that, for most of my life, I had not been properly exposed to and as yet still do not have a clear picture of the implications. Is the evidence for Evolution compelling and complete? Must we accept Darwinian evolution or might theistic evolution be an option? Given the problems with the Christian story of origins, is the Christian story of meaning and salvation still correct? Historically there seems to be no real debate that Jesus existed; was he who he and his disciples said he was or is there also a mythical aspect to him and to the salvation story? These questions and more have emerged not only from my study of origins, but also from a deeper study of and pondering over a view of inspiration and revelation and of Scriptural authority that emerged both in coming to Christianity and in questioning the position of Adventists.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A wise man once said, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Unfortunately, I find it impossible to remain blissfully ignorant for too long. It's that indication that there might be a problem with my world view or some item of belief that sends me into a search to strip back the layers of error and clouded perception and view reality it full frontal clarity.

My journey, then, has so far taken me from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing into an Atheist/Agnostic period, to a search for meaning that resulted in returning to my fundamentalist denomination and becoming a Christian. However, my search did not end there and my journey sliced through the fundamentalism and into the more mainstream evangelical culture. Warning flags were constantly raised as I observed what I felt was overhyped programming and music and a tendency toward "selling" that bordered on manipulation. With the fall of a leading Evangelical leader and pastor, and the on-going parade of other Christian leaders attempting forays into politics and the influence of public policy, I've again become concerned. What exactly have I become a part of? What exactly are the objectives of these leaders when they lead boycotts of Disneyworld and Walmart because of homosexual friendly policies? What will become of the world should these leaders achieve their goals?

My recent - and more alarming - discovery is that science does indeed have a point: there are evidences that are unsettling to a fundamentalist, or Evangelical understanding of the Bible. Time does extend beyond 6,000 years. Way beyond. Not just a few thousand more years, but billions of years.

This blog has been started to chronical some of my experiences, discoveries, and conclusions - and to provide a vent outlet. Already I can detect in myself a growing anger and resentment, two very unhealthy and unproductive emotions. Yet the anger grows out of my discovery that much of what I have been taught in certain categories is simply unsustainable given the available scientific data.

I realize that this is going to be an interesting journey. Some might suggest that it is a descent rather than progress for me, but what it most certainly is is a journey from the darkness of age old misconceptions and beliefs into a more clear understanding of the facts. What will remain I can not at this time predict.