Friday, August 21, 2009

The Mysterious Case of Adam and Eve

SKEPTIC: You mentioned in the previous post that you have recently decided that the creation account in Genesis is a literal account. (Did you not believe that before?) Does this mean that you believe that the story of Adam and Eve is the true account of how the human race began - talking snake and all?

PREACHER: I used to believe that the days in Genesis 1 were ages, now I believe that they are actual 24 hour days. As for the account of Adam and Eve, I have always believed that to be historical.

SKEPTIC: I'm always perplexed by how anyone could think that the story of Adam and Eve should be taken literally. I mean, why should this story be given any more credence than any of the dozens of other creation myths that have grown out of various cultures through the ages? Beyond that, why is it so important to believe that the story is literal? What would be so horrible if it was just meant to be symbolic in some way?

Besides, the story itself doesn't really seem, to me, to put God in a very good light. If we were to think of God as the parent and Adam and Eve as the children, it's essentially the story of a mother who told the kids "Whatever you do, don't eat those delicious cookies I just baked." But of course, kids being kids, when their big brother tells them, "Hey, you know how mom is. She just said that because she wants to eat the cookies herself. Go ahead. Go for it." So the kids chow down on the cookies, only to face the wrath of mom, who flies into a rage when she returns and throws the kids out of the house forever and puts a curse on all of their descendants. It's probably just me, but God doesn't seem to exhibit very good parenting skills.

PREACHER: To be consistent with the rest of the Bible, I need to accept the account of Adam and Eve as real history. Incidentally, Jesus and the apostle Paul accepted the account as real history. The account of Adam and Eve explains the origin of the problem of sin. Without it, Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection loses its complete meaning. If sin is only our natural immaturity or imperfection, doesn't it seem cruel that God would demand eternal death? Wouldn't He as a loving God be more patient with us? Satan or the tempter (who takes the form of a snake in the account) is hardly a big brother. He is an evil spiritual being who God created and then who rebelled against Him, to the point of desiring to becoming equal with God. It wasn't so much that the fruit of the tree was so tempting as that Satan promised that eating it would make Adam and Eve like God, knowing good and evil. When they accepted what the snake said and ate the fruit, they rebelled against God. In so doing they tainted all of their offspring and all creation with their rebellion against God. That is what started the process of death (both physical and spiritual) which humans can't reverse. All men are infected now with sin, that is like a cancerous disease that is so utterly detestable to their Creator that He has to cast us out from His presence. In His great love, God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place (both physically and spiritually) and rise from the dead, in order to reverse the process of death so that all who stop rebelling against Him and trust Him can have eternal life (spiritual immediately and physical later). In 1 Corinthians 15:22 the apostle Paul wrote that for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. God is a "parent" who willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice for His children. Sounds like a pretty good parent to me.

SKEPTIC: So Adam and Eve's rebellion against God is what "started the process of death which humans can't reverse?" So I guess that means that if they HAD obeyed God and NOT eaten from that darn tree, people would have never died. They would have just lived forever right here on earth. I guess then that we'd all be living in some pretty crowded conditions by now, considering that there'd be something like a 1000 gazillion people on the planet. So I guess we all owe a debt to A and A for biting into that apple and making our lives rather more manageable.

But I think you may have stumbled onto what's going on when you talked about the death of Jesus being a direct result of Adam and Eve's original sin. In other words, if they hadn't disobeyed God, that would have messed up the whole story. There wouldn't even be a need for religion. In fact, the reason Christians try so desperately to attack scientific evolution is because it proves that Adam and Eve is a fairy tale, therefore there was no original sin, and therefore there was no need for redemption through Jesus's death. Game over.

In any event, for me, the talking snake is a dead giveaway that what we're looking at is a very clever fairy tale. And if you expect me to believe that this is how the human race began and it had absolutely nothing to do with evolution, then you've got your work cut out for you. And by the way, how exactly is it fair that all mankind should be "tainted" because of Adam and Eve's taste in fruit?

PREACHER: You seem to have great difficulty even imagining that your Creator exists. An all knowing and all powerful God would have already had a solution for the problem of overpopulation. Actually, the world He created was very good and would have had no problems to begin with. Adam and Eve's rebellion was indeed what made religion necessary. Without their rebellion we would have been able to relate to God just as we would relate to another human being, seeing Him face to face and hearing His audible voice. There would be no need for faith. So, yes there would have been no need for religion.

There are other places where beasts have appeared to talk to men in the Bible, so I don't find the snake a problem. There are plenty of other supernatural happenings in the Bible that I know you can't believe, all because of your world view. You assume that the universe is a closed system and that without exception it has always been subject to the laws of nature that science recognizes today. You refuse to believe in the God who created those laws and is also able to circumvent them whenever He chooses.

Evolution (and what I mean is big bang-molecules-to-man so that a banana is my distant relative) is nothing more than a myth perpetrated by the secular scientific community. It is an attempt to explain the origin of the universe and life completely by natural laws that scientists have agreed do exist. The present system is always assumed to be absolute and used to explain the past. It is also assumed from the start that the existence of a Creator is unthinkable, or if He does exist, He is very disconnected with the universe. In so doing they have to rewrite history so it fits into their paradigm.

Adam and Eve knew and experienced only good until they ate of the tree. From then on they found out what evil was too for the rest of their lives. I see how you feel it is unfair that we should all be tainted by the choice that Adam and Eve made. But then, the choice that Jesus Christ (referred to as the second Adam) made, made it possible to be untainted by sin and have eternal life. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." We have a choice to remain tainted by sin or be set free from it through Jesus Christ. That sounds pretty fair to me.

SKEPTIC: When you say evolution is nothing more than a myth perpetrated by the secular scientific community," that kinda blows my mind and reinforces my belief that there really is no way to reconcile science and religion. Actually, I would agree with your statement with just a slight change - Creationism is nothing more than a myth perpetrated by the Christian community. Bottom line for me is if you've got two conflicting ideas about the creation of man, and one has tons of actual evidence to back it up, while the other one has no real evidence at all and is based on a book written two thousand years ago...well, you get my point.

And the fact that there are other animals who talk in the Bible doesn't really make me more open to the idea of a talking snake. It just reinforces my belief that the Bible is not to be taken literally. And the way that Christians always fall back on the "God can do anything" argument to try to explain things that make no sense is a pretty convenient escape hatch.

And yes, you're absolutely right when you say, "you seem to have great difficulty even imagining that your Creator exists." I guess that's why I'm The Skeptic and you're The Preacher.

PREACHER: You should know that both creationists and evolutionists use the same evidence (fossils, layers of sediment etc. ) to back up their very different views of how the universe came into existence. For more details please check out the sites of Answers in Genesis and True Origins. The difference is how they interpret the evidence. Creationists, many who are PhD scientists, accept the Bible as their final authority and evolutionists accept the current opinions of certain scientists who don't believe the Bible as their final authority. I see no conflict between true science and true religion. Evolution is an attempt by these scientists (many who are atheists) to explain the origin and history of the universe without any divine intervention. The only way to verify it would be to go back in time, which you can't do. True science is verifiable. Evolution is not true science, it is history. The Bible is history, too. Our disagreement is on which history we believe to be true. I am very happy with a God who can do anything, and sorry that you don't trust Him.

SKEPTIC: Well, first of all, you say that many creationist are PhD scientists. There may be some scientists in various fields who subscribe to the biblical view, but I seriously doubt that there are more than a tiny fraction, especially in biology, which is the relevant field of study when we're talking about evolution. Evolution is certainly true science. You only pretend it's not because it conflicts with your religious beliefs. One of the big differences between science and religion is that science has the ability to change and refine its findings as new evidence becomes available, so that we are able to get as close as humanly possible to verifiable truth. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are so set in stone that believers are usually unable or unwilling to change their beliefs even in the face of contradictory evidence.

As to your final sentence, I'm glad that you're "happy with a God who can do anything," but there really is no need to feel sorry for me. To my ear, that sounds just a tad condescending. And it's not that I don't "trust" God. I don't believe God exists, so the question of trust becomes moot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's the Deal with Billy Graham?

SKEPTIC: In a 2006 Newsweek interview, Billy Graham angered some Christians when he seemed to make a couple of major changes in his theological point of view. First, although he'd always been a literalist when it came to the Bible, he now says that he is "not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord." Also, even though he had always preached that you must be a born-again Christian to go to Heaven, he now seems to be open to the possibility that those of other faiths may also be granted entrance, saying that God "loves everybody regardless of what label they have" and "it would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't."

What is your take on these statements?

PREACHER: I have a profound respect for Billy Graham who has done an excellent job of keeping his humility and integrity. One thing he has tried very hard to do is to contend for the Gospel without being contentious, and that is a very thin line to walk. I hope and pray that I can do as well as he has. If in his younger years he had a tendency to err to one side, he has probably erred to the other in his later years. However, I think you are reading too much into his statements that you quote. I also keep in mind that they are quotes in an article that a Newsweek reporter wrote, who probably has views more similar to yours than mine, and whose bias is quite evident in the article. To say that "not every jot and tittle is from the Lord" may be just acknowledging that there are minor variances in the many manuscripts (copyist errors). To say that God "loves everybody regardless of what label they have" is in complete compliance with a literal understanding of Scripture. To say that "it would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't" is a humble acknowledgement that as a man he can't really know what is in the heart of men nor understand everything that God is doing. Some Christians have been labeling Billy Graham as a liberal for decades, but he certainly isn't becoming a post-modernist.

SKEPTIC: I'm not sure why you say the article is biased. I thought it was a very fair and largely favorable retrospective on Graham's life and the changes he's experienced. Can you point out examples from the article that you think are biased in some way?

Your attempt to minimize his change in thinking regarding the literalism of the Bible as a reference to "copyist errors" seems like wishful thinking on your part. The article gave no indication that such was the case. Indeed, it states clearly that Graham has acknowledged that this represents a change in his thinking and he now believes that some parts of the Bible should be taken figuratively, not literally.

And you must admit, his "hands-off" position on the question of who gets into Heaven is a big change from what he preached most of his life, i.e. that only Bible-believing, born-again Christians will get the "golden ticket" to Heaven. If his current position were so benign, you wouldn't have so many Christians screaming for his head on a platter (if I may invoke a John the Baptist reference). The same thing happened more recently, you may recall, when Joel Osteen took pretty much the same position and was roundly pilloried by true believers.

PREACHER: Doesn't everyone approaching any subject come with their particular bias? I would agree that the article was quite fair, but as demonstrated in the quote below, the author asks questions that are emotionally loaded revealing his bias.

When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved.

If Graham had said no those "good people" wouldn't get into heaven, he knows that the author and much of the media would have labeled him a narrow-minded bigot. So, he gave his answer in a more ambiguous way. That of course offended some Christians, but Graham has always made it a priority to reach out to those who are outside the Christian faith. If the author had asked him if he thought that salvation through Jesus Christ was the only hope for eternal life, I believe he would have said yes. His point would be that God loves everyone, and all are saved by faith in the grace of God through Jesus Christ no matter what label they may have had in this life. And, only God is the true and final judge.

Ok, so he did move away from Biblical literalism some. To a point that is a good thing as there are parts of the Bible that were not intended to be taken literally (i.e. certain phrases in "The Song of Solomon") Then there are parts of the Bible that he takes figuratively that I have recently chosen to take literally. Such examples would be the creation account in Genesis 1 and some of the prophesies concerning the future of Israel and the Millennial Kingdom. In reference to Genesis 1, I think he isn't up on the scientific and Biblical research that is recently being done. The prophesies? Time will tell. I don't agree with him completely (neither does his son nor his grandson who is also an evangelist).

So, I see that he has become more flexible in his beliefs and interpretation of the Bible in his later years, but any suggestion that he has radically changed his theological views is wishful thinking on your part.

SKEPTIC: I wouldn't characterize the question about Heaven being closed to certain people as "biased." To me, it's more of a bottom-line kind of question. My favorite kind. In any event, even though I don't agree with Graham's belief system, I do respect his willingness to re-evaluate his beliefs when something no longer makes sense to him (something most Christians seem unwilling or unable to do).

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's the Point of Prayer?

SKEPTIC: A Wisconsin man and his wife were recently convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of their 11-year-old daughter. When the girl, who suffered from undiagnosed diabetes, couldn't walk, talk, eat, or drink, the parents didn't take her to the hospital. They just stood around and prayed for her, believing that God would heal her. When she stopped breathing, someone finally called 911, but it was too late. What is your opinion of this case? Do you think the verdict (and a possible 25-year prison sentence) is justified?

PREACHER: The couple were obviously misguided and did what seemed right in their own eyes. I think that they failed to understand that God is Lord of everything and uses the medical proffession to heal, too. Reputable faith healers that I know of encourage the ones they pray for to also get medical help. I am reminded of one of the temptations that Jesus faced when the Devil tempted Him to jump off the pinacle of the temple. The Devil even quoted Scripture to Him, but He answered that you should not tempt the Lord your God. I really wonder what the underlining motive was for this couple to choose to not seek medical help. It could have been just to save money since medicine is so expensive these days. Was there an underlining mistrust of doctors? The Bible does teach to pray for the sick, but the apostle Paul prayed for healing of his "thorn in the flesh" and never got it, so doctor Luke was with him most of his journeys. It think the verdict is a bit harsh, but it should stand.

SKEPTIC: To me, this case is a good example of the danger of believing in prayer. If you believe that God will perform miracles or somehow change the laws of nature to accommodate your wishes, you're setting yourself up for a big fall. But on the other hand, why shouldn't the father rely on prayer? Doesn't the Bible say that God is able to do all things for those who believe in him? Is God not powerful enough to cure a small girl of her diabetes? Why should God need helpers in the form of doctors?

And what exactly is the deal with religious faith healers like Oral Roberts and others who claim to be able to heal folks of just about any physical malady through faith only? Are they for real or are they frauds? (I'm gonna go with the latter.)

To me, praying is just basically just the manifestation of the power of suggestion. And sometimes it even works. But it's just the power of your mind and not some mystical communication with the creator of the universe.

PREACHER: You have two assumptions that you can't prove. One, you assume that the Creator of this universe doesn't really exist. And, if He did, He would have to be one who would always be accommodating to the wishes of men. God listens to us, but has a mind of His own that doesn't always jibe with our thoughts whether we believe in Him or not. He may also choose to do things that seem cruel to us in our limited understanding. Two, you assume there has to be a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. Interestingly, that was the same mistake that the father of the girl made. He assumed that God (the spiritual) would not want him to use the work of doctors (the physical) who were also created by God to do His will.

SKEPTIC: Well, Christians have certainly done a good job at putting God in a win-win situation: If you pray for someone to get better, for example, and he does get better, it's an answer to prayer and proves how great God is. But if the person gets worse or maybe even dies, it's because God has a greater plan, or there's a reason for everything he does, or it's all beyond our "limited understanding." Win-win for the Big Guy. But here's the key point: You said that God has "a mind of his own." So if God's gonna do what God wants to do, no matter what, then there really is no point in praying, is there? God's already made up his mind.

As to your point that I can't prove that God doesn't exist, you're right - just as you can't prove that he does exist. Of course, normally, the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person making an extraordinary claim, doesn't it?

PREACHER: Since God is the creator and the Lord of the universe, He doesn't need to play games (win-win situation etc.) with us. He already knows about everything. Jesus even said that He knew our requests before we asked. So,what is the purpose of prayer anyway? It is more to develop our relationship with Him than to get something from Him. That relationship is so fulfilling and wonderful that even if all the people in the world had it, it would still be extraordinary. Since the majority of people who have ever lived on this planet believe in some kind of diety, simple belief in God is just ordinary. Unbelief should be labeled sub-ordinary. The burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person taking the greatest risk.

SKEPTIC: Of course God doesn't need to play games. I'm sure he's got better things to do. My point was that Christians are very good at justifying whatever happens in regard to God and prayer in order to put God in the best possible light. Of course, what they're really doing is just making excuses for God when things don't go their way or don't make any sense.

In regard to your contention that "the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person taking the greatest risk," that sounds suspiciously like something you just made up. And I find it interesting that you're willing to enlist the rest of the world to your side in their belief in a deity, but then you turn around and say to those other religions, "Sorry, but you all believe in the WRONG God and are going to Hell." In reality, though, as you can see from this pie chart, the number of "nonreligious" people in the world represent a pretty sizable chunk and, indeed, is rapidly growing larger.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Did Jesus Really Die?

SKEPTIC: Before he was crucified, do you think Jesus knew that he would be resurrected in 3 days?

PREACHER: Jesus knew that he was going to be resurrected in three days. In Mark 9:31 and Luke 9:22 He is quoted, saying that He would be killed and would rise again on the third day.

SKEPTIC: If Jesus knew that he was going to be resurrected in three days, what exactly is the sacrifice he made? How precisely did Jesus "die for my sins" if he jumped out of the tomb after 36 hours? That's not dying - that's more like being in a coma. If you're really dead, you're dead. Like forever.

PREACHER: Aren't you limiting reality to just this material world? A Biblical view of reality says that there is a spiritual world that transcends the material. When one dies he is only physically dead and the spiritual part of the person continues to exist forever. That eternal existence is "life" if you are in fellowship with your Creator, and "death" if you are separated from Him. Since all men are sinners and born separated from God they are facing that eternal spiritual death when their physical life ends. Christ died on the cross both physically and spiritually. Being the infinite God he was able to come back to life from that, also having suffered death (separation from God) sufficiently enough to have taken upon Himself the judgment of all who would believe in Him. Facing that terrible judgment, He was in fear of it in the garden the night before, but as it says in Hebrews 12:2, He willingly went to the cross because of the joy of the outcome, the salvation of all who believe in Him.

SKEPTIC: So are you saying that Jesus was resurrected spiritually, but NOT physically?

PREACHER: He was raised both spiritually and physically. What made you think that it had to be one or the other?

SKEPTIC: In doing a bit of research, it seems that Christians can't even agree among themselves whether the resurrection was physical, spiritual, or both. But nonetheless, my original point still stands. Jesus didn't really die. Death is permanent, unless you want to change the definition of the word.

PREACHER: I think you have a different definition of the word death than I do. As a materialist don't you see death as the final end, extinction with nothing after it, and any return to life is impossible? That is not my definition of death. Death from a biblical standpoint for humans is both physical and spiritual. Physical death is when this body quits working and can't start up again until God performs a miracle of new life. He promises that those who believe in Him will rise physically again to live forever with Him, and He promises that those who have rejected Him will be raised physically to experience eternal death (not cease to exist). Spiritual death is the state in which we are separated from our Creator. You can be spiritually dead and physically alive. Jesus experienced physical death. They took Him down from the cross and put Him in the tomb because He was obviously dead. He experienced spiritual death when He cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken me." That He rose again from the dead and then ascended to His Father is proof that He regained His spiritual life as well as His physical life. So, Jesus died and rose again both physically and spiritually.

SKEPTIC: My definition of death is the one from the dictionary: "the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism." Permanent. I understand the Christian theology that you talk about, but you really are changing the definition to suit your theology. If you want to be a little more honest, you should change the theology to something like "Jesus temporarily died for your sins."

Of course, the whole original sin idea is operating on a pretty convenient closed loop. Christianity invented the notion that we're all born full of sin, but Jesus saved us by dying on the cross. It's not much different than a doctor who makes you sick so he can make you well again and stay in business.

PREACHER: I am in compliance with the definition of death you give. "Organism" refers to only the physical. That is what happened to Jesus. It doesn't refer to the spiritual. The spiritual part of Jesus never ceased to exist, it was temporarily separated from the Father. After He paid the penalty for sin the spiritual gave life again to the physical and He was resurrected. Of course if you believe as typical materialistic atheists do, the spiritual does not really exist anyway. It is only conceptual.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and encouraged them to touch Him, saying that a spirit does not have flesh and blood, but He did. That in no way denies that He was also spiritually alive. Later on in the epistles of Paul He is referred to as a life giving Spirit. That does not deny the physical life either. You are insisting on a either-or-only view of spiritual and physical. I believe that both are parts of reality.

Materialistic atheism also works within a closed loop. It says that anything that man cannot sense or measure scientifically doesn't really exist. Therefore, there is no need to be concerned about the spiritual world. So, the reader of this blog can make the choice between your partially educated opinion that the spiritual doesn't really exist, or can consider that God has really spoken to us and revealed Himself in the man Jesus Christ, who both physically and spiritually died and rose from the dead.

SKEPTIC: Fine. You're right. The reader of this blog can agree with my "partially educated" opinion, based on science and reason, or they can agree with your apparently fully educated opinion, based on ancient myths and superstitions.

PREACHER: Ancient myths and superstitions don't recall history accurately nor do they tell the future accurately. The Bible does both of those, so I don't put it in that category. I am probably not as educated as you are. But, I place more stock in revealed Truth than someone's opinion. Do you really think that your opinion is infallible? Science and reason assume that the universe is understandable to the human mind. That makes sense to me because a God who communicates with us in an understandable way created it. A universe that started by chance and random events wouldn't be understandable to the human mind.

SKEPTIC: If God communicates to us in an understandable way, why are there so many different understandings of the Bible? You know, Nostradamus supposedly told the future, too. Maybe you should worship him, too.

(Go here for an interesting debate on the historicity of the resurrection.)

(Please join the debate by leaving your comments below!)