“Myth is more important than history. History is arbitrary, a
collection of facts. Myth we choose, we create, we perpetuate.”
(
A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz)

2 Peter 1:16 says: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (NASB) In the past this verse gave me much comfort; but, how realistic is the claim? Let’s leave behind the general scholarly consensus that 2 Peter was not written by Peter and just look at the claim that Christians do not follow cleverly devised tales.

1. First of all, the “cleverly devised tale” of Jesus was not exceptional to the day. In fact, Justin Martyr in the 2nd century argues to the contrary: “When we say that the Word, which is the first offspring of God, was born without sexual intercourse, namely Jesus Christ our teacher, and that after he was crucified and died and rose up, he ascended into heaven, we are not saying anything new beyond those called among you the sons of Zeus. For you know how many sons of Zeus the authors honored among you speak of…” (The World of Jesus the Hero).

2. In addition, Jesus fits the “The Mythic Hero Archetype“. Out of the 22 elements that characterize heroes such as Aeneas, Arthur, Gilgamesh, Heracles, Odysseus, Oedipus, Perseus, and Romulus, Jesus fits 20 out of the 22 elements! This lead Robert Price to conclude that “The Gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last…it doesn’t prove there was no historical Jesus for it is not implausible that a genuine, historical individual might become so lionized, even so deified, that his life and career would be completely assimilated to the Mythic Hero Archetype… There may have been a real figure there, but there is simply no longer any way of being sure.

3. A fairy tale is defined as “a fictional story that may feature folkloric characters such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls,giants, and talking animals, and usually enchantments, often involving a far-fetched sequence of events…In cultures where demons and witches are perceived as real, fairy tales may merge into legendary narratives,where the context is perceived by teller and hearers as having historical actuality. However, unlike legends and epics they usually do not contain more than superficial references to religion and actual places, persons, and events; they take place once upon a time rather than in actual times” (Wikipedia definition). Hummm… Talking animals? Check. Far-fetched sequence of events? Check. Giants? Check. Yet, it’s not quite there. Maybe a legend is closer?

4. A legend is defined as a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of “possibility”, defined by a highly flexible set of parameters, which may include miracles that are perceived as actually having happened, within the specific tradition of indoctrination where the legend arises…” (Wikipedia definition). What a Christian actually has to argue is that the myths, legends and “fairy” tales of past gods were make-believe BUT the same type of miracles attributed to Jesus are true. Why? Because their bible tells them so.

How come you don’t believe what the Hindu scriptures clearly teach how Rama’s bridge was built? Didn’t Ram build this bridge with the help of an Army of monkeys? You laugh? You say that this is obviously ridiculous and no one believes that this happened? Wrong! Enough people believe it to attempt to get NASA involved and to halt a major construction project! (A Bridge Built By Monkeys?) Why? Because their scriptures clearly teach it.

Why don’t you believe that Dionysus was born of a mortal woman (Semele) whose father was god (Zeus)? Why don’t you believe he returned from the dead? Why don’t you believe that he changed water into wine? (see Dionysus) These stories are older than Christianity. Why don’t you believe them? You don’t believe them because they are obviously fictional. Why then are they fictional when similar Christian stories are obviously true?

So tell me, why is the Christian story true and all other ones are obviously false?

Stephen Roberts said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Today, Feb 12th 2009, is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and this year is the 150th Anniversary of the publishing of the Origin of Species. It isn’t hyperbole to state that the concept of the Evolution of Species by the process of Natural Selection may be the single most important concept in biology. It may also be the best supported fact in all biology and provides a grand unifying theory for looking at life on this planet. This Theory (not “just a theory” but a fact supported by many lines of evidence) also broke the church’s hold on the study of life and, as such, invites repeated attacks by various religious organizations. They rightly see that evolution is a dangerous idea when it comes to exposing their theology as simple myth and threatens to deprive them of the power they seek over the minds and hearts of their followers. This attack has come in the form of Scientific Creationism and, recently, the Intelligent Design movement both of which are scientifically bankrupt.

In order to help you get a good grasp on the wonder and excitement of Evolutionary Theory I am providing a list of brief list of basic resources. Enjoy!

Resources:

Origin of Species by Charles Darwin or download here PDF

Kitzmiller vs Dover Ruling (PDF)

The Devil in Dover by Lauri Lebo

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Ten Major Flaws of Evoution – A Refutation by Steven Novella

National Geographic UK – Professor Richard Dawkins on Darwin (5 Parts)

Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Integrity Displayed by John Rennie (Scientific America) There are additional links at the end of the article.

15 Evolutionary Gems (Nature, Jan 2009, PDF)

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism by Young and Edis (eds)

UnIntelligent Design by Mark Perakh

Recently John Armstrong has written three articles extolling the virtual of Pacal’s Wager as an apologetic tool for “defending the ultimate reality of Christ and the truth”. The articles can be found here:

Pascal: “The Wager” and the Modern Context

Pascal’s Wager: Not the Proof of God but the Way of Wisdom

The Criticism of Pascal’s Apologetics

Briefly Pascal’s Wager “is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should “wager” as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose” (From Wiki on Pascal’s Wager). I am really amazed, in this day and age, that anyone can take this wager seriously as an apologetic tool. While on the surface it may seem like a compelling argument, there are huge problems with the “wager”. I would like to examine just two of those problems.

The first problem is relatively obvious and one in which Pascal attempted to deal with, that of faith and belief, neither of which can be manufactured. If god only cares about simply acknowledging his existence then Pascal’s Wager might hold some force, but if god wants any type of commitment this is not something that can be “wagered”. In a recent book, Ronald J. Sider said: Slick evangelical marketers have offered eternal salvation as a free gift if you just say yes to a simple formula: “‘God loves you, humankind blew the relationship, but He has a plan for your life; just saying the magic words triggers the contract’ was what we told people:’ The response? “Boomers studied the offer and realized it was a no-lose proposition: eternal security at nothing down, no future payments, just simple verbal assent. The deal specified nothing about life change “‘ Why not accept a no-cost fire insurance policy? The result, Barna sadly notes, is “born-again” people living just like everybody else.” (Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, The: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?, Kindle Edition, location 395-99). Pascal’s Wager has often been used as cheap fire insurance. If there is a god, one would think this isn’t the type of believer he wants. If he wants real belief and real commitment, that is something that you can’t force and can’t compel yourself to do, hence the wager falls apart or at best can be used to start one thinking about the problem.

A more serious problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it is “Christ” centric. It assumes “Christ” or nothing and, as such, it ignores all other concepts of god. It assumes, a priori, that “Christ” is the correct god and there are no other choices. However, if you come to Pascal’s Wager without this bias then the next question has to be “which god”? There are 1,000s of religions with 1,000s of gods. Which god do you throw your lot or wage in with? (Here is a list of just some of the religions of the world.) The “Christ” god, isn’t compatible with most of these religions. How do you know that he is the correct god? And even if you decide on “Christ” as the correct god, which “Christ” are you going to bet on? There are from 34,000 to 38, 000 Christian denominations, many of which have incompatible notions of Christ. Do you pick your god based on how horrible their hell is? Maybe then Islam should be your choice. It has arguably, the worst hell (Islam’s Hell). Or maybe you should pick the “Christ” that doesn’t require a commitment so all you have to do is say a simple prayer? Maybe there isn’t one god but several? Do you have to throw your lot in with all of them?

It’s all so confusing because it isn’t an either or choice. You are simply making a guess as to which of the tens of thousands religions and denominations is the correct one. One person’s completely “rational” and “reasonable” god is another person’s obviously foolish and incorrect god. If god cares at all about truth, you better choose wisely. Make an incorrect pick and you’re toast! I’ll throw my wager in with non-belief. At least non-belief fits the evidence.

Jerry Coyne has a new article on “Seeing and Believing. The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail.” (The New Republic, Feb 4th 2009). It’s a very interesting article and well worth reading. It primarily deals with the attempts of Giberson and Miller to defend evolutionary biology while holding fast to their religion.

Coyne states that:

“A meaningful effort to reconcile science and faith must start by recognizing them as they are actually understood and practiced by human beings. You cannot re-define science so that it includes the supernatural, as Kansas’s board of education did in 2005. Nor can you take “religion” to be the philosophy of liberal theologians, which, frowning on a personal God, is often just a hairsbreadth away from pantheism…No, a proper solution must harmonize science with theism: the concept of a transcendent and eternal god who nonetheless engages the world directly and pays special attention to the real object of divine creation, Homo sapiens.”

I really appreciate this statement since, in an effort to minimize the difference between science and religion, both are often redefined and reinterpreted. Coyne rejects such a merger and insists that both must be defined properly. Doing so means that somehow evolution must show some purposeful drive to humanity since that is the apex of God’s creation:

“If we cannot prove that humanoid evolution was inevitable, then the reconciliation of evolution and Christianity collapses. For if we really were the special object of God’s creation, our evolution could not have been left to chance. (It may not be irrelevant that although the Catholic Church accepts most of Darwinism, it makes an official exception for the evolution of Homo sapiens, whose soul is said to have been created by God and inserted at some point into the human lineage.)”

I will go further than this. Since the Christianity most people believe in depends on a literal Fall that plunged the whole world into sin and which required a Savior, then somehow the evolution of man must explain this. It just can’t and without a Fall there is no Christianity. The Apostle Paul said:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:12-19)

This cannot be reconciled with evolutionary theory. So then, why is the attempt made to reconcile science and religion. Coyne points out a particularly candid comment made by Giberson:

“As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

Coyne comments on this statement:

“This touching confession reveals the sad irrationality of the whole enterprise–the demoralizing conflict between a personal need to believe and a desperation to show that this primal need is perfectly compatible with science.”

In other words, ones religious faith requires some type of reinterpretation of evolution to fit in with a belief system even though the facts don’t support it. It’s amazing how well we can fool ourselves into believing just about any nonsense. This is why science is so important because it is the evidence not a belief that speaks. It’s not that a belief can’t redirect research efforts, but eventually the evidence always wins. Religion has no evidence, just faith and belief.

Coyne concludes by saying:

“Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.”

Well said.

The February 2009 issue of Church & State Magazine has the following article:

In A Bid To Keep Religious Symbols On Public Land, Anti-Separationist Forces Have Declared The Christian Cross To Be Secular.

“But in July, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said the Latin cross sends a non-religious message of “military service, death and sacrifice.” Burns ruled the Latin cross could stay standing because it is not a religious symbol, but rather a symbol of American patriotism … Secularizing the central symbol of Christianity is the newest tactic by anti-separationist groups to preserve government displays of the cross and America’s “Christian heritage.” Americans United is trying to counter that legal movement, and hopes to stop it, beginning in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when the court hears the Mt. Soledad case.”

I find this simply amazing. In order to keep a religious symbol on public property Christians are claiming it is a secular symbol. Isn’t this like shooting yourself in the foot? How can a Christian, in good conscience, make such a statement? Isn’t there a commandment against lying? I guess you can break all sorts of commandments if you are doing it for god. So much for moral integrity.