Wednesday, 28 February 2007

More on Location

Here is a clever little video showing the historical and geographical spread of the major world religions. If Christianity is true, then lucky for Christians that they were born where they were huh?

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Location, Location, Location

John Loftus, in his book, Why I Rejected Christianity, makes an excellent point about religious adherence relative to geography. He asserts that people will adhere to a religion or a variation/sect of that religion based on where they were born. Simple statistics give his assertion definite credence.

Rather than reinvent the wheel by putting this in my own words, let me quote another blog.

..I'm with John on this one. From the atheist's perspective, it seems too coincidental that religions just happen to dominate certain geographic locations and culture.

Consider this map of world religions found here:

World Religions Map

Here's the key enlarged a bit in case it is too small in the picture:

Map Key

Now, from an atheist's perspective, it certainly seems reasonable to assume that, generally speaking, people adopt a religion because it is part of the culture of the geographic region they are from. In India, most people are Hindu. In the Middle East, most people are Muslim (though, some of the Christians here have made a good point that this is a state-imposed religion in much of the Middle East; I still think that it might be a stretch to assume that most Muslims in the Middle east only believe from coercion). In South America, most people are Roman Catholic. In the US, there is a close split between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but even these are geographically located.

I think that Christians, here, might even agree with this partially except in regards to their own Christianity. It doesn't seem unreasonable for a Christian to also assume that a person is Hindu because they grew up in a country of Hindus. I'm sure the reformed among us would say that these people have rejected the Christian god because they love their sin and that they have adopted a religion only to justify their rebellion, but it still seems reasonable to conclude that they adopted that particular religion because it was the popular religion of that geographic location.

I know that most Christians, here, believe atheism is a religion and we hold it like any other religious person holds their faith. I know that the Christians, here, believe that we are only atheists because we love our sin and we want to deny the Christian god's sovereignty over us. But I have to say, as honestly as I can, that it doesn't feel that way to me.

I feel that I am "unaffiliated" when it comes to religion. I feel that I am not a Christian because there is simply no good reason to believe and a lot of reasons not to believe. My moral life since leaving my faith is virtually unchanged. I have been faithful to my wife. I have a job that most people would not work that allows me to help poor, racial minorities in an infamously difficult inner-city setting. I have very close friends (all of whom are Christians, by the way--three career missionaries, two seminary students, one seminary graduate (i.e. aside from the career missionaries who are also seminary graduates)), a good family (who are also all Christian), etc.

My point is that it feels to me that, because I am unaffiliated, I am being "courted" by the various religions. The Muslims are recommending Islam, the Hindus are pushing Hinduism, the Christians are offering Christianity (in all of its various forms). . . Each of these groups say that theirs is the only "true" religion. I look at the map above, though, and I wonder if that same person would be arguing for a different religion if they had been born in a different place in the world.

In other words, it is hard not to dismiss a religious person's claim that their religion is the truth when it certainly seems, from my point of view, that that same person would be pushing another religion had they been born in a different part of the world.

...But can the Christians, here, not also admit that, from our point of view, it is certainly suspicious that world religions dominate geographically and that it is not unreasonable for us to conclude that religions are products of culture and geography, not products of "truth" and "falsehood"?

Monday, 19 February 2007

Farting Preacher

Robert Tilton, Pentecostal Televangelist and con man, has had someone take the piss out of him by making this (and other) videos. This is one of the funniest things I have seen in ages...

YouTube Note: This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Reverend Robert Tilton

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Stupid Design

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and Visiting Research Scientist and Lecturer at Princeton University. He is also a regular on PBS.

Here he responds to the standard assertion of the Teleological Argument that 'some phenomena within nature exhibit such exquisiteness of structure, function or interconnectedness that many people have found it natural - if not inescapable - to see a deliberative and directive mind behind those phenomena.'

A Talking Snake?

I found this article online. Here's one way around the talking snake problem. I will comment after the article...

A Talking Snake?

Q. This has driven me crazy and no one ever talks about it. Why didn't Adam and Eve think it strange that a serpent could actually speak to them? I would have been freaked out.

A. Great question, but one rarely asked. The Hebrew word translated serpent in Genesis 3:1 is used 31 times in the Old Testament and is never translated any other way. But it comes from a root meaning "to practice divination." As a noun this root is translated "enchantment" and in its verb form, "enchanter."

Whatever confronted Eve probably came to be called a serpent because of the judgment God pronounced upon it, that it would crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life.(Gen. 3:14) But what it looked like before its judgment is anybody's guess, except that it almost certainly didn't look like a snake. Satan himself is called "that ancient serpent" in Rev. 12:9 but nobody thinks of him as looking like a snake. Paul said that he masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)

We don't know what form the devil took on to have his chat with Eve, but whatever it was didn't frighten her. Nor did she appear surprised to find herself conversing with it, but was persuaded by it's logic, though flawed, and the authority with which it spoke.

Some have speculated that before the fall man and animals could talk with one another, but other than this event and the incident with Balaam's donkey there's no indication of that being generally so. It's more likely that Satan came to Eve as a familiar figure, someone she recognized and perhaps even admired. Remember, the angels had been created sometime earlier. (Job 38:4-7)

Great question, but one rarely asked? Hello? Even Ricky Gervais asked this one! But before I let him answer this one for you, let me point out that the text in Genesis says nothing about the devil or an angel of some sort and even calls the serpent 'the most crafty of all the animals'. It makes it clear that the serpent was an animal, not a supernatural being. Anyway, take it away Ricky...

Creation Scientists To Search for Talking Snake Bones in Africa

At what point in history did snakes lose their vocal cords and legs? Creation Scientists turn to the Bible and the continent of Africa for an answer.

Freehold, Iowa - Most True Christians™ acknowledge that the key to solving the greatest mystery of Creation Science may lay buried deep within the heart of African jungle. Creation Scientists agree that snakes lost their vocal cords along with their legs between 8,000 and 7,800 BC. Today, modern Christians, like those at the newly founded, Creation Studies Institute, are spending almost a million dollars, and investing countless hours to gather the evidence needed to prove, without a doubt, to the secular scientific community, that the planet Earth was once populated with walking, talking snakes. "Christians have The Talking Snake Theory, and Atheists have Evolution," says Creation Scientist, Dr. Jonathan Edwards. "Only one can be correct. Sadly, until us Creation Scientists can prove that snakes once had vocal cords, I expect that them silly old hell-bound evil-lutionists won't take us seriously."

Dr. Edwards is leading the first of many Creation Science expeditions to Africa. "We pick Africa because we know that Eve was in a giant garden the last time she saw a talking snake with legs," says Dr. Edwards. "The Genesis account of Creation describes something very similar to the pictures of Africa that I've seen in the National Geographic Magazines I have stuffed between my mattresses, so I'm fairly certain that Africa is where these fantastic creatures once resided. In addition, Eve's testimony and conversation with the last known talking snake is transcribed word for word in the book of Genesis. I'm sure it breaks the Lord's heart that unsaved secular scientists have stooped so low as to question her eyewitness account."

(You can exhale now. Yes, it's a joke!!! This article comes from the parody rich Landover Baptist Church website.)

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The Late Great Planet still here Hal!

For some time I was considering getting Hal Lindsey's 1970 version of The Late Great Planet Earth to read through and see what predictions he made (or said the Bible makes) that did not come true. Well, had I ordered it and got it sent to me here in China, it would have cost a fair bit and take up to 3 months to arrive. As keen as I am to read into it all, I am not keen enough to spend that much money, so I abandoned that idea. Instead, I did some digging online and it seems that there were many others, Christian and non-Christian, who came up with the idea long before me. Some Christians who don't share Lindsey's views on Biblical prophecy rip into him on theological or interpretative grounds while the unbelievers tended to just show what he said and what did or didn't happen after the fact.

I am going to go with the latter form and just put the first of his failed predictions in order as they appear in his book (which has not been revised and is still available). I will also provide some links for further reading.

Jesus will return by 1988

“When the signs just given begin to multiply and increase in scope it’s similar to the certainty of leaves coming off the fig tree. But the most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves.
Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then he said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.’ (Matthew 24:34 NASB).
What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs -- chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied the Bible all their lives believe that this is so.” pp.53-54.

The Jewish Temple will be rebuilt and desecrated

“The main points are these: first, there will be a reinstitution of the Jewish worship according to the Law of Moses with sacrifices and oblations in the general time of Christ’s return; secondly, there is to be a desecration of the Jewish Temple in the time immediately preceding Christ’s return.
We must conclude that a third Temple will be rebuilt upon its ancient site in old Jerusalem.
If this is the time that the writer believes it is, there will soon begin the construction of this Temple.” p. 57.

The USSR/Russia will be at war with Israel

“Shortly after the restoration of the Jews in the land of Israel, an incredible enemy will arise to its ‘uttermost north.’ This enemy will be composed of one great nation which will gather around it a number of allies. It is this ‘Northern Confederacy’ that is destined to plunge the world into its final great war which Christ will return to end.” p. 59.
“For centuries, long before the current events could have influenced the interpreter’s ideas, men have recognized that Ezekiel’s prophecy about the northern commander referred to Russia.
Dr. John Cummings, writing in 1864, said, ‘The king of the North I conceive to be the autocrat of Russia . . . that Russia occupies a place, and a very momentous place, in the prophetic word has been admitted by almost all expositors.’” p. 63.
“In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, such men as Bishop Lowth, Dr. Cumming, and Rev. Chamberlain, were ridiculed by many of their contemporaries. After all, who could have imagined that what we now see in modern communist Russia -- a country founded upon Atheism?” p. 65.
“You need only to take a globe to verify this exact geographical fix. There is only one nation to the ‘uttermost north’ of Israel -- the U.S.S.R. . . . General Dayan’s statement that ‘The next war will not be with the Arabs but with the Russians’ has a considerably deeper significance, doesn’t it?” p. 66.

The USSR and Iran Become Allies to give a strategic advantage
“All authorities agree on who Persia is today. It is modern Iran. This is significant because it is being wooed to join the United Arab Republic in its hostility against Israel. The Russians are seeking to gain footholds in Iran by various overtures of aid. In order to mount a large-scale invasion predicted by Ezekiel, Russia would need Iran as an ally. It would be much more difficult to move a large ground army across the Caucasian Mountains that border Turkey, than the Elburz Mountains that border Iran. Iran’s general terrain is also much easier to cross than Turkey’s. Transportation, however, will be needed through both countries.” p. 67.

Africa will be largely Communist
“The sobering conclusion is this: many of the African nations will be united and allied with the Russians in the invasion of Israel. This is in accord with Daniel’s graphic description of this invasion (Daniel 11:36-45).
The Russian force is called ‘the King of the North’ and the sphere of power which the African (Cush) force will be a part of is called ‘the King of the South.’
One of the most active areas of evangelism for the Communist ‘gospel’ is in Africa. As we see further developments in this area in the future, we will realize that it will become converted to Communism.” p. 68.

Libya will join the USSR in its attack on Israel
“The conclusion is that Russia’s ally, Put, certainly included more than what is now called Libya. Once again there are current events to show the beginning of this alliance.
The territory of Northern Africa is becoming solidly pro-Soviet. Algeria appears to be already Communist and allied with Russia.
As we watch this area in the next few years we shall see indications that it is destined to join the southern sphere of power which will attack Israel along with the ‘King of the North.’” p. 69.

Eastern Europe will back the USSR

“The conclusion is that Gomer and its hordes are a part of the vast area of modern Eastern Europe which is totally behind the Iron Curtain. This includes East Germany and the Slovak countries.” p. 70.
They will use a cavalry to invade the Middle East
“The conclusion is that Togarmah is part of modern Southern Russia and is probably to origin of the Cossacks and other people of the Eastern part of Russia. It is interesting to note that the Cossacks have always loved horses and have been recognized as producing the finest army of cavalry in the world. Today they are reported to have several divisions of cavalry. It is believed by some military men that cavalry will actually be used in the invasion of the Middle East just as Ezekiel and other prophets literally predicted. During the Korean War the Red Chinese proved that in rugged mountain terrain, horses are still the fastest means of moving a large attacking force into battle zones.
Isn’t it a coincidence that such terrain stand between Russia and the Israeli?” p. 70.

African nations will align themselves with the Arab nations
“From the standpoint of this study of alliances which make up the King of the South we saw a valuable link in the alignment of several black African nations with the Arabs in their determined plan to ‘liberate’ Palestine from Israel. This is another confirmation of prophecy as we have seen from Old Testament prophets.” p. 74.

Egypt attacks Israel
“Current events in the Middle East have prepared the stage for Egypt’s last act in the great drama which will climax with the finale, Christ’s personal return to earth.
We are not attempting to read into today’s happenings any events to prove some vague thesis. This is not necessary. All we need to do is know the Scriptures in their proper context and then watch with awe while men and countries, movements and nations, fulfill the roles that God’s prophets said that they would.” p. 77.
Our interest here is the revelation that Egypt will attack the revived state of Israel, which will them be under the control of a false Messiah. This man will probably be a Jew who works closely with the world dictator who will them come to power in Rome.” p. 77

Russia Invades Israel again
“This immediately triggers another invasion of Israel by Russia who is here called ‘the king of the north.’” p. 77.

Egypt unites the Arabs and Africans
“Are you discovering more pieces of this stirring prophetic puzzle? The Egyptian plan to unite the Arabs and black Africans into a ‘third world force’ seems to be fulfilling what the prophets have said.” p. 79.
The Nile River is diverted
“If you think the famous Aswan Dam, which diverts the main channel of the Nile River, will help the Egyptian situation, you’re mistaken. Somehow the headwaters of the Nile will be diverted and that important river will be a parched piece of real estate. Imagine the terrifying implications of this to an Egyptian.” p. 79.

The Antichrist takes Egypt
“Isaiah warns of a powerful dictator who will invade and take them over: ‘. . . I will give over the Egyptians into the hands of a hard master; and a fierce [merciless] king will rule over them’ (Isaiah 19:4 RSV). This refers to the Antichrist of Rome who will possess Egypt after Russia is destroyed.” p. 79

“We have seen that current events are fitting together simultaneously into the precise pattern of predicted events. Israel has returned to Palestine and revived the nation. Jerusalem is under Israeli control. Russia has emerged as a great northern power is the avowed enemy of revived Israel. The Arabs are joining in a concerted effort to liberate Palestine under Egyptian leadership. The black African nations are beginning to move from sympathy toward the Arabs to an open Alliance in their ‘liberation’ cause.
It’s happening. God is putting it all together. God may have his meaning for the ‘now generation’ which will have a greater effect on mankind than anything since Genesis 1. Will you be ready if we are to be part of the prophetic ‘now generation’?” p. 80.

Hal Lindsey's Prophecies: A Study of The Late Great Planet Earth

Further Reading:

Hal Lindsey: The Father of Apocalyptic Christian Zionism
Hal Lindsey’s Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle: Five Predictions that Failed!
Hal Lindsey Oracle (Lindsey's official website)

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Take Jesus to China

I was recently trying to answer questions about Christianity in China and while browsing some websites I stumbled on this poster. It is an advertisement for a missions group somewhere in the USA.

They obviously want to take Jesus to China.

I get the feeling that he is already here though. There are churches all over the place. One near my house has John 3:16 in large Chinese characters on the outside wall of their building. One of my Chinese co-workers went to an evangelistic rally a few weeks back and said that although she didn't, she wanted to respond to the altar-call and accept Jesus (I told her to be careful). She also told me that the pastor was telling them all about a 1 million Yuan donation some parishioner made (I then asked her why God needs so much money if he is, in fact, God).

I live in China and I would prefer it if believers in the USA just take Jesus to the movies.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

"...the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe....For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Cor 18-21; 25)

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:21-22)
Say the word philosophy to most conservative or fundamentalist Christians and you will probably get the above verses quoted to you at some point. If you raise philosophical objections to their faith or their belief in an inerrant text then they will probably feel these verses are an adequate enough response. They feel they do not need to enter the realm of the philosopher, as their Bible makes it clear that their religion is superior to philosophy.

The circular reasoning is almost comical. It goes something like this:
  1. The Christian message and the Bible are true.
  2. The Bible says philosophy is foolish.
  3. Therefore, philosophical objections to the Christian message and the Bible are foolish.
  4. Therefore, the Christian message and the Bible are true.
How easy for them. How convenient for them.

I remember arguing with Mormons about their 'proofs' for the Book of Mormon. They would quote the promise to those who wished to know if the book was true...from the book itself. There is something there about asking with a pure heart and then you get a 'burning in the bosom' or some other thing. To me though, the whole process seemed like asking a used car salesman if the car he was selling was any good. Of course he'll respond favourably to his product. The Book of Mormon isn't going to suggest a test of itself that will fail. That would just be self defeating for the Mormons. What I wanted from the Mormons was something outside of the Book of Mormon, not verses from within their book. They had very little.

Because of this experience, it unsettled me as a Christian when others would apply similar reasoning as an excuse to avoid philosophy or its objections to the faith. To reject philosophy simply because your religion or inerrant text teaches it is 'foolishness' is no different from what the Mormons do.

Here's my perception of what really goes on in the minds of many Christians:

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Can We Trust the New Testament We Have?

I remember being quite surprised to read books like those by Josh McDowell that were quick to dismiss charges that the New Testament was so old that the versions we have these days simply cannot be accurate. As I remember it, McDowell and those like him said we had thousands of very early manuscripts and the differences between them were minimal. This, it seemed to me at the time, was sufficient for me to place my faith in the accuracy of my KJV and NIV. After some of my own research, having left the fundy fold, I realised I was just a bit too hasty in accepting McDowell's arguments.

The following tidbits of information are the bits that McDowell left out and come from the course notes of The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon, a non-accredited university level course offered by The Teaching Company. The lecturer is one of my new heroes, Professor Bart Ehrman.

So Just What Do We Have?

  • We do not have the originals of any of the letters of Paul, the Gospels,or the Apocalypse - indeed, of any early Christian text. What we have are copies, the vast majority of them produced centuries after the originals from copies that were also centuries removed from the originals and that had themselves been made from earlier copies.
  • Dating back to AD 125-140, the earliest manuscript in existence is written on papyrus in codex form (like a book); it is called P52 because it is the 52nd papyrus that has been catalogued. (Of note is that this is a two-sided piece only about the size of a credit card. - Troy)
  • We don't have complete books of the New Testament (NT) on any surviving manuscripts until about the end of the 3rd century.
  • We don't have complete copies of the NT until the 4th century. 300 years after the books themselves were written.
  • Of the thousands of copies of the NT that now that survive, most are from the Middle Ages, and no two are exactly alike in all their wording (with the exception of the smallest surviving fragments).
  • Today we have well over 5,000 manuscripts available.
  • As a result we don't know how many variant readings survive; no one has been able to count them all. Perhaps it is easiest to put the number in comparative terms. We know of more variants in our manuscripts than there are words in the NT.

Changes and Variations
  • Some variants in the manuscripts appear to have been made by accident: others, intentionally (by scribes wanting to modify the texts).
  • Accidental changes would include such relatively innocent differences as changes in spelling, the omission of a word or line, or the accidental rearrangement of words.
  • Intentional changes would include places where scribes modified the text because they thought it contained an error or a reading that was problematic.
  • Some of the variants - especially the intentional ones - are significant for understanding the meaning of the text. For example: The woman caught in adultery (John 8); the last 12 verses of Mark; Jesus' prayer for his executioners in Luke; Jesus' reaction to the leper (some texts read 'angry' and others 'compassionate') in Mark 1.

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

On March 28, 2006, Dr. Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, and Dr. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, debated the status of the Christian claim to Jesus' resurrection from the perspective of historical data. The debate was sponsored by the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross and the Campus Christian Fellowship.

Professor Bart D. Ehrman

Professor Bart Ehrman is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a bit of a poster boy for us 'walk aways' and his CV is impressive.

More impressive though is his story of how he went from a conservative Christian, with a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, to an Agnostic, with no faith in the Christian message at all. The Washington Post did a story on him in March last year which I thought was worth noting.