FYI: this 5,080 word article is what I promised to write in regards to Carrie’s post, Finding Atheism. In it you may find parts that offend you, but I kindly ask that you please DO NOT respond without reading the entire post.
I used to hate being told I was wrong. That’s not the case anymore. I contemplate what people say and am very open to change. More and more I realize how clueless I really am, and how clueless even the “experts” are. Some realize that. Many do not. So, please, take this for what it is: my thoughts for TODAY… thoughts which may change as early as tomorrow. And if they DO change tomorrow I WON’T apologize for that. I’m at peace with change.
And I’m also at peace with “faith”. All of us have faith. We’re (eventually) addressing Atheism with this blog post, and I’m going to state something very obvious: I’m not a scientist and neither are you (right?). But I don’t think it would be incorrect to say that you choose to believe (have faith in) the things [you are told] scientists have said in regards to naturalism, evolution… even oxygen. I think it’s safe to say that neither of us have conducted our own scientific research on a level that could possibly result in concrete evidence to prove anything at all. For example: I take scientists’ word on the percentages of gases that make up the air we breath, our atmospheric gases. I’ve never tested that for myself (and furthermore wouldn’t know where to start). But I have no problem believing nitrogen makes up approximately 78% of the air we breath while oxygen makes up 21% with other gases making up the remainder. I have faith that whatever scientists reaching this conclusion did so in a reliable fashion.
But I’m also aware that scientists make mistakes. Throughout my life I’ve heard story after story of new scientific theories disproving old scientific theories. As I get older and gain experience I’ve also become a bit more skeptical on, well, nearly everything. I wonder how often “studies” have reached conclusions based on pure scientific process rather than the need for the next infusion of cash in the form of grant money. Richard Dawkins will tell you that our modern understanding of evolution (don’t you just love how he says that word? Very cool!) only bears a minor resemblance to the thoughts of Charles Darwin. The point? Many people put their “faith” in our scientists despite the fact that science is constantly changing, with new “proof” regularly disproving old theories.
Unfortunately, religion doesn’t appear to be so flexible. It’s as if some of us (the creation) seem to think we have the Creator all figured out. Despite human failings, I have faith in God. I just don’t assume I know very many details about Him (pardon my reference to a particular gender – it’s a habit). From the blog post I’m responding to, it appears to me that you currently have faith in the writings of Richard Dawkins, trusting that he and those who agree with him have some sort of authority on the topics about which they’ve written. And that, dear Carrie, is okay with me. I’ll listen to (read) your opinions, and trust you’ll listen to mine as well.
So in starting this post: first of all I’d really like to thank you for the post you wrote that inspired this post of my own. I have so much to say on this topic and have been going back and forth since May 7th, the day you published your post, on how to do it. I’ve literally been typing notes in google docs since that day. The challenge will be keeping this post shorter than the average novel. 😦 I’ll probably have to add more thoughts via comments on this post, so I hope you check back on it from time to time.
Posting this letter on my blog, where it can be read by anyone who wishes to read it, may end up financially costing me. Potentially quite a bit, actually. Some of the things I’m about to write might anger some religious leaders. I’ve had private discussions about certain issues that will come up in this post, with Pastors, and have been warned that publicly voicing this would likely result in fewer speaking engagements (I’m paid to speak at churches and universities across the country) and jeopardize publication of the book I’m writing.
But I’m okay with that.
In my head I keep hearing the words of my dad… At the end of September 2006, when I called to tell him that I’d surrendered my life to God, one of the first things he said was, “Just be true to yourself.” For a former Pastor to say that seemed a little odd at first, but as time goes on I have begun to understand how deep that sentence really was, and I just would NOT be living up to “being true to myself” if I didn’t voice my thoughts.
I guess I’ll start with some doubts I’ve had regarding Christianity. Yes, yes, I know… your post is about atheism, so why go into Christianity or the Bible? Don’t worry, I’ll come back around to atheism eventually, but I feel it’s an important part of what I am trying to say to first delve into Christianity and the Bible for a bit.
It’s my fear, however, that those who begin reading might become discouraged by the length of this article, annoyed when I speak of my own strong doubts, and choose not to follow through to the end where I come to the best “conclusion” I can personally reach, in which I share why I very strongly believe there is a God after going through years of struggle.
If you’ve read my story you may already have a clue as to how much I used to hate Christians. If not, I’ll briefly summarize my bio:
I was raised a Pastor’s son, witnessed quite a bit of hypocrisy in dad’s churches, grew very bitter with the whole “Christianity” thing, and did some relatively cruel things on a regular basis in an effort to vent those frustrations. I not only hated Christians and thought Christianity was BS, I also looked for opportunities to “repay” Christians for the lies I’d believed growing up.
Coming from that perspective, I understand why you won’t respond to quotes from the Bible. That type of thing used to irritate the crap out of me, too. I hated (and still do) when people would try to prove the Bible by quoting scripture. In my opinion, that was similar to ME writing a book about myself in which I claimed to be God and when asked for proof of my statements I refer to my book with an “enough said” attitude. Such a stance makes no logical sense whatsoever and is a perfect example of circular reasoning.
What was especially frustrating is when I’d try to have a logical discussion with a Christian, and that Christian just could NOT get the fact that I didn’t view the Bible with the same level of respect they did. For them, the “circular reasoning” argument just did NOT sink in. “But it’s the Bible! It’s God’s word! etc etc etc”. Many simply couldn’t understand that I did NOT believe it was God’s Word (in fact, to this day I still have huge doubts on whether or not the Bible is “God’s Word”, but we’ll get to those in a minute).
My heart began softening when I met a group of people who came into the porn conventions, setting up their booth alongside our porn booths. XXXChurch wasn’t like those judgmental hypocrites constantly standing outside the building holding signs and screaming at us about the quick trip to hell we’d receive upon our deaths. These people were inside telling us there was nothing any of us could ever do to make God love us any less, and that he simply wanted more for our lives. Over the years I viciously attacked this group, yet they continued to respond with love. I started thinking differently and came to a revelation. To others, this might not be a big thing, but to me it was HUGE:
I discovered my real problem was not with God, but with those who claimed to represent Him.
There was no way I wanted to embrace any sort of Christianity, but the wheels had begun spinning in my mind. I decided that I’d start doing a small bit of spiritual exploring. I decided to give God a shot again. Sometimes I had strong doubts about whether or not God existed, but I prayed anyway. I had email conversations with a few Rabbis. Those Rabbis opened my mind a little more, and I began to realize that even the things I was taught about the Bible itself were often in conflict with Jewish perspective on scripture. I’m not just talking about the whole “Jesus” thing either. I’m talking about interpretation of events written about in the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament was written by Jews, how much audacity does it take for someone to tell them they misunderstand their own sacred writings?
The Jewish perspective on scripture made much more sense to me. I ordered a few thousand dollars worth of books. I discovered Jewish Mysticism. I read up on Kabbalah. These new perspectives were fascinating, even if I wasn’t ready to believe any of them. I love learning, there are few things I enjoy more, and I really felt a change inside as I learned a new perspective on “truths” I’d been taught all my life.
My love for learning is why I also listen to Richard Dawkins speak. Quite often, actually. I love finding videos of him on YouTube. There are dozens and dozens of them. Even though I disagree with Dr. Dawkins’ conclusion that God does not exist, I really enjoy his style. He is so well spoken. He is so academic. He is so passionate. He brings a smile to my face in many ways.
But I often wonder if even Richard Dawkins’ true problem is with the existence of God, or if it’s simply with Christians/other religious people. Like you and I, Richard Dawkins has a background in Christianity (in one of the videos I’ve watched he discussed his mother taking him to Christian churches). While MY frustrations greatly influenced my decision to destroy lives producing porn, I wonder if it’s possible Richard faced some of the same frustrations we’ve experienced, which resulted in following the paths that led him to the “atheist” conclusion. I’ve seen Richard Dawkins on more than one occasion mention the possibility that advanced alien beings may have seeded our planet. This doesn’t sound like a man who really rejects creationism, per se. Instead, it sounds like a man who rejects the “Creator” as religious people champion Him.
But I’ll get back to that later. I’d first like to voice more of those doubts about Christianity that I mentioned before.
CHRISTIANITY AND MY OWN DOUBTS
Some of them have been resolved. For example: I’ve received a satisfactory answer as to why a loving God would allow innocent people to experience hardship or death (free will explains that one – free will is very deep and very powerful). I’ve also reached a resolution within myself on all the violence that took place in the Old Testament. Doubts such as those now make sense to me and are no longer an issue.
But I’m still working on other doubts. Let’s start with authorship of the New Testament and the books ultimately chosen to make up the Christian Bible.
I enrolled in a Seminary program this past October. When I finish this program, I’ll receive my degree from Hope International University. The first assigned course of my education was Church History. Rather than settling for reading the two textbooks the class required I dug deeper, finding information I’ve never previously heard anyone address.
Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written (Mark is widely believed to be Peter’s interpreter while Peter was imprisoned in Rome). Most believe this FIRST book of the New Testament was written, at the earliest, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. A big red flag goes up inside my head when I think about the fact that the FIRST Gospel was written 40 YEARS AFTER Jesus’ crucifixion. I wonder how the author was able to quote word-for-word conversations after so much time had elapsed. Heck, I can’t remember word for word the conversations I had earlier TODAY.
Of course, there’s always the cliché “God authored the books and used men to pen them” answer, but that response just doesn’t satisfy me, particularly so when considering a bit of information I’ll soon share with you.
The Gospel of John is believed to have been written in 90-100AD, and many Christians believe John actually wrote it. That blows my mind. John walked with Jesus, after all. How old was he when he did so? 20? 25? Add another 60-70 years to that, and then research average life expectancy for that time period, and it seems to me that John would either be very dead or else he was a very, very, very, very, very old man for his time. He must have had a remarkable mind if he could recount the words of Jesus word-for-word after all that time.
I am also a bit peeved when I hear people make an Idol of the Bible, equating it to God and claiming it is infallible. Unless “infallible” means something other than what MY dictionary tells me it means (“incapable of error”) the Bible is NOT infallible, because the Bible most of us hold in our hands DOES contain errors. Here’s one of them:
Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? Remember the famous “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” quote? Well, that story probably never happened. Those readers who don’t believe me may want to check this out: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/aprilweb-only/117-31.0.html (or simply search google for the background on this).
There are several other small errors as well, but I’ll not go into them. Plenty of books exist that discuss such things, and basic google searches for errors in the Bible will provide a wealth of starting points for those looking to research them. Instead of discussing errors, I’ll move right along to the decisions on what books are included in our New Testament.
Have you ever wondered who decided which writings to incorporate into the Bible, and which to leave out? And why/how such decisions were made? I surely did! After all, there are literally LIBRARIES of “gospels” and “apocrypha” written during the first centuries following Jesus’ crucifixion. And while many religious organizations might want you to believe the Bible was put together by God in a very orderly, easy process, this simply isn’t true. Groups of Christians disagreed with each other right from the start, beginning with the Disciples/Apostles themselves.
There is strong evidence, for example, that Jesus’ own disciples, especially John and Thomas, were at odds with each other. There exists a “Gospel of Thomas” that predates the Gospel of John. Where the Gospel of John taught that we should believe in Jesus alone, the writings attributed to Thomas say Jesus taught us to know that we could seek to know God through our own divinely given capacity since we’re all created in the image of God. Just as there were many people who think the Gospel of Thomas is heretical, there were just as many (in those early days) who thought the same of the Gospel of John. I could go on and on about how differently our faith would look if we carefully considered all the gospels most of us don’t even know exist. Maybe some other time.
The Gospel of John also contradicts the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke on a handful of issues (such as the timing of when Jesus drove the merchants out of the temple – Matthew, Mark and Luke make it his LAST public act, while John makes it His FIRST). While I don’t want to go into all of them due to the fact that this article is already so long many people might refuse to read it, I’ll mention one of them I personally found interesting:
In Matthew, Mark and Luke it is said that Jesus appeared to the ELEVEN remaining disciples after his resurrection (one was dead: Judas), while in the Gospel of John it says he appeared to TEN (in John, Thomas was not there). The Gospel of John is also the only place you’ll see Thomas referred to as a doubter. There has been quite a bit of discussion (particularly amongst those educated in Ivy League departments of religion, as several Professors of Religion from those schools have written books on the “lost gospels”) that this is further evidence of a dispute between Thomas and John.
Disputes were very common amongst early believers. Opinions were split nearly 50/50 when it came to what was “true” and what was not true. It wasn’t until after the Nicene Council in 325 AD that we actually even had a “Bible” as we know it today. From the books I’ve read on the matter (several of them), that decision was very politically motivated. 1800 “Bishops” were invited to attend that Council, but fewer than 320 showed up. And those 320 decided what would be included in our Bibles and what would not. Many of the gospels they decided not to include were declared heretical and ordered to be destroyed (some of the writings ordered destroyed were instead buried and preserved, although there is no doubt the ordered destruction was successful in many ways and we’ll never read some very important thoughts of early Christians).
Emperor Constantine even gave political incentives that included land grants and financial gain to those who went along with the Council’s decisions. Some of those who did not agree were physically abused, had property taken and some even lost their lives. Over time we’ve been encouraged to believe this was all inspired by God and that things are as they were meant to be, but I often find myself questioning that line of thinking.
If one reads a broader account of literature that was written within those first centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion it’s impossible not to realize that even early Christians could not agree on what Jesus himself actually said. I’ve been reading on this topic since this past October, and many of the “heretical” writings paint a TOTALLY different picture than what is currently taught in churches.
DESPITE ALL OF THIS one thing IS certain: there is a TON of evidence, both inside and outside the writings of Christians, that indicated Jesus walked the earth. Even non-believers that lived while Jesus was here have written not only that he existed but that He is said to have performed miracles. And because of the evidence based on the writings of both Christians and non-Christians, I firmly believe in Him. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to share with you the literature I’ve read that has helped me reach this conclusion.
(As for my personal belief in regards to Jesus: I firmly believe Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and that He paid the price for all of mankind – past, present and future).
NOW I FINALLY ADDRESS ATHEISM
DESPITE all that I just wrote I want to point out to you that even if you feel the Bible is totally wrong about Jesus, about God’s “rules”, about how we should connect with Him, what we should or should not do with our lives, or anything else within its pages for that matter, that does NOT mean God does not exist. Personally, I don’t think humans are capable of comprehending God. I very briefly mentioned this earlier, but I want to reiterate it now, and I hope you take a moment to let this thought sink in:
It is IMPOSSIBLE for the creation to comprehend the creator. IMPOSSIBLE.
For God to have created everything we know, God would have to be way beyond our human understanding, and not bound by time or the dimensions we’re aware of (I’ve been told scientists have found evidence of at least 10 dimensions – yet most of us can only comprehend 3 of those).
In nearly every culture throughout history, there is some sort of belief in a “higher power”. And there are numerous belief systems to define the “rules” in regards to that higher power. Different names are used. Different stories are told. But human beings worldwide and throughout history believe in a “god” figure of some sort. Some may dismiss this as superstitious, and while there are many arguments to be made in regards to “superstition”, I am convinced humans know God exists on a subconscious level. We yearn to encounter God. We want to know God on a “personal” level. We want to “connect” with God. Humanity has tried to accomplish this in many different ways.
Why? Your answer to that question and mine may not be in agreement, but it’s a great question to ponder. I believe this is evidence that the knowledge of something bigger than ourselves is built into us by our Creator.
I also look at the world around me and see evidence of a Creator everywhere. Let’s simply consider SOME of the ingredients it takes to enable life to exist on planet earth (thank you, Rob Bell, for your “Everything is Spiritual” tour and the research behind it):
- Our sun provides more than 99% of the energy earth needs to sustain life. Over the course of an 11 year sun cycle that energy output varies less than 1/10th of 1 percent, all of this at a distance of 93 million miles. If we were a million miles closer or further away there would be no life on planet earth.
- The earth tilts on its axis at 23.5 degrees. Why? If it didn’t do so, earth would become tidally locked, meaning one side of the earth would constantly face the sun, which would make one side too hot to sustain life and the other side too cold to sustain life. Our MOON allows this to happen. Without the moon being where it is at, providing that gravitational pull to counteract the gravitational pull of the sun, earth would not have the exact, precise tilt required to sustain life. No moon = no life. If the moon was bigger or smaller: no life.
- Hydrogen on earth must CONTINUALLY convert one-seven-thousandths (.007) of its mass to helium for the earth to sustain human life. .008 = no life on planet earth. .006 = no life on planet earth.
- Our atmosphere is 21% oxygen. If it was 23% there would be no life. If it was 19% there would be no life.
- Our oceans are 3.4% salt (which also happens to be the exact same percentage as our bodies). 4% salt in the oceans (or our bloodstream) = no life. 2% salt in the oceans (or our bloodstream) = no life.
There are HUNDREDS of these unbelievably precise “dials” that must be fine tuned, that must totally work together, in order to make life on earth possible. Carbon levels… gravitational force… the density of particular minerals and elements… Hundreds, dear Carrie. HUNDREDS. Our world is SO complex! And life on earth is such a fragile thing. If EVEN ONE of these “dials” was out of tune, life would not be able to exist. Perfect, precision tuning is required.
I dunno about you, but I get the feeling life on planet earth is the result of perfect, precision DESIGN.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO EVOLUTION…
I believe in evolution, let’s get that out right away. Woah! How can that be, if I also believe in God? I get really sick of hearing people argue “science vs religion” as if it’s an “us vs them” situation. IT IS NOT. It’s my opinion that scientific discovery uncovers HOW God created everything. If the two are ever at odds it’s simply because one side is being stubborn and not paying attention. ALL truth is God’s truth. In many ways, the church in particular needs to learn that.
I find it very ignorant when I hear Christians argue a young, 6,000 to10,000 year old earth. What a bunch of crap! The Bible NEVER says the earth is that young. ANYWHERE. My ex-wife wants to put my son into a Christian private school. She’s been researching a few of them. Since I’ll be the one paying tuition (and since I’m his father) I have a big say-so in where he’s enrolled. I call the schools she is interested in and ask what they teach children on evolution or the “young earth” theory. If they teach the earth as being 6,000 to 10,000 years old they are OUT. I do not and will not approve of my son being taught such ignorant trash. Being a Christian does NOT mean I have to be ignorant. Many of the most brilliant minds throughout history were Christians, and some of them gave their lives because they chose to THINK.
But how can I believe in evolution and still be a Christian, you might ask? Well, let’s go back to Genesis and examine whether or not it REALLY says God created the earth in 6 literal days. In Genesis, the Hebrew word used for “day” comes from the word “yom”. Yom has three meanings: a twelve hour period, a twenty four hour period, or an INDEFINITE TIME (also known as an “age”). From other text in Genesis (and scientific evidence) it is quite clear that the “age” definition of yom is what is meant (for those interested in learning more about why I say that, the first website I found while searching google is this one – it does a pretty good job of explaining things).
Let’s compare the Bible’s account of creation to the theory of evolution, shall we?
In the Bible:
1. Everything starts with a “big bang”: nothing exists, then, **BANG**, God speaks it into existence.
2. God separates earth and water, land and sea.
3. Lower forms of life are formed (such as plants, etc).
4. More complex forms of life are formed (such as animals, etc).
5. Finally, man is formed.
Does this sound at ALL similar to evolution? I certainly think so. Evolutionists generally believe in a “big bang” to start everything. They believe lower forms of life eventually “evolving” to become more complex, eventually becoming animals, eventually resulting in mankind. Being that I believe the original word for “day” actually represents ages of time, I find the two explanations to be one and the same (the Genesis poem simply tells a very simple version). As more scientific discoveries are made, I think more people will reach the same conclusion.
But to believe random, unguided evolution resulted in all of life as we know it today is extremely ridiculous, in my opinion. I’ve heard some evolutionists state that if you sat a monkey down at a typewriter and gave him enough time (and he could live forever) he’d eventually type out the works of Shakespeare. This is sometimes used to illustrate the idea that given enough time, life could emerge on earth.
The problem with this is that the monkey would make a LOT of mistakes along the way. He’d type trillions of pages of paper full of gibberish. The garbage produced would be overwhelming.
Where is all the “garbage” on earth? Where is the evidence of nature’s mistakes? If evolution “just happened” without intelligent guidance the errors would exist in the fossil record and would, in fact, outnumber all living beings. Fossils of actual live organisms would be FAR outnumbered by these mistakes. There would be so much “garbage” we’d find it nearly everywhere we looked, don’t you think?
Read that last paragraph again, please.
Dear Carrie, I don’t think it’s possible nor logical to reach any other conclusion other than intelligent design as fact. I believe there is no other possibility. And, in my opinion, neither does Richard “aliens might have seeded life here” Dawkins.
Take a look at your own body. Study how it works. Take a walk along the beach or through the mountains and marvel at how amazing life really is. Contemplate the fact that our scientists can predict the exact distance our planet will be from the sun in X number of years. There is an order to existence, Carrie. Don’t you see it?
Where did that order come from?
Is it possible that Christians DON’T have God figured out? Is it possible that NO HUMAN BEING really comprehends the vastness of the Creator? I’ll stipulate that such arguments can be made, quite convincingly. But I do NOT think life and everything we know could exist without the Creator millions (billions?) of us refer to as “God”. And I don’t think you really believe that, either – not deep in your inner being, you don’t.
Please don’t take this next part wrong, ’cause I’m DEFINITELY not trying to insult you in any way, but as I read your blog post I saw this pattern (this is obviously very simplified):
When I was ___ and I knew ___ guy I believed ____.
Then when I was ___ and was dating ___ guy I believed ___ .
Then ___ did ___ to me and I no longer could believe ___.
Then I read Richard Dawkins’ book and I now have embraced atheism.
Do you see a pattern there? What makes Dawkins any more special than those other people in your life who influenced your belief system? He’s just another human taking a guess, gaining fame and wealth from the positions he voices (although I will reiterate the fact that he’s quite enjoyable to watch/read).
Are there unanswered questions with the “intelligent design” theory? Of course there are. Just as there are many questions atheist scientists cannot answer. But I’d like to propose to you that if you personally pondered the world around you, making an attempt to tune out the negative experiences that made you feel guilty or worthless, that if you tuned out the rules and regulations people told you that you must follow in order to have “everlasting life”, that if you ENTIRELY removed PEOPLE and their opinions from the equation and simply focused on the wonder and complexity of life… THEN, dear Carrie, no matter what label you ultimately chose to use, I doubt you’d reach any other conclusion than that there is indeed a Creator. Nothing else makes logical sense.
Should you be interested, I’d be happy to recommend some of the books and videos that I’ve been studying. I may, in fact, make lists of some of them as comments to this post.