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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Conversations with an atheist

I've been having conversation with an atheist friend of mine from high school. I post them here, identities hidden, in the event that you or someone you know might find them useful. God bless!

Atheist (A): The bible is riddled with complete nonsense. It also says the world is less that 6000 years old, the world is flat and men and dinosaurs walked hand in hand so nothing is says really matters in real life. Believe that shit and you'll believe anything.

Me: I've read the Bible straight thru three times now (well, almost three; I'm almost done). I've studied specific books on any number of occasions. I have never seen the things you've cited as proof of Scripture's innanity, never read the word "dinosaurs" or that the world is flat or anything like it. What I do know is that scientists once claimed David never existed because they couldn't find proof of his existence. Until they did. I also read how the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was unhistorical, because supposedly there was no evidence any such towns existed. Then the Science Channel not only televises a documentary saying it is likely true, but even has scientists pinpointing a date based on archaeological finds: June 29, 3123 BC. But you miss the point: The Bible isn't a history book. Some of it is designed to be taken literally, some of it isn't. Even various books have a moral, allegorical, literal, and anagogical (i.e., spiritual) senses. So when Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches," He didn't literally mean He was a vine. Also, remember "Bible" comes from the Greek "Biblios," which means library. Are you going to tell me I should take, say, the poems of Emerson literally? What about the literature of Fyodor Dostoevsky? You've obviously never read it. Even atheists get something from it. It's why my "Bible as Literature" class was taught by an unbeliever. He just loved the beauty of the way it was written. In any event, I would humbly encourage you to consider whether I'm right in my contention that you've missed the point.

I should note I'm not saying all Scripture is on the level of Dostoevsky. Some is on the level of Encyclopedia Brittanica, some on the level of History 101, some on the level of a philosophical treatise, some on the level of self-help, etc. The point is that it's simplistic to take the view that all books of the Bible are equal and on the same level.

A: I believe the phrase is "the four corners of the earth", which are hard to find on spherical object, gives us the idea the world is flat. The dinosaurs did exist. I've seen the fossils and if god created man and animals around the same time, 4000BC, that would have them sharing the earth at the same time. As far as some of the events in the bible being found to have actually happened I don't dispute that. It's the causes of the events is what I have a problem with. For example ,the great flood, god was so mad he made it rain so much that he was able to kill thousands of people. Is it ok for god to commit mass murder in order to prove a point? Does every natural disaster come from a pissed off god or just that one. Doesn't this all seem just a little silly?

M: Thanks for an interesting and logical response. It was good. It got me thinking. I hope I can do it justice in my response, mate.

"The four corners of the earth" is an expression that's as old as, well, the Bible. But it's just that, an expression. We're not supposed to take it literally. (Note: Even in Columbus' day, despite what we're taught in school, it is likely that a majority of people did not believe the earth was flat, although some undeniably did. Even in Aristotle's time, though, they knew the earth was round.)

Granted, dinos did exist. No argument here that they didn't. To believe otherwise is to deny empirical evidence. Some do, however. They wrongly believe that unless something matches exactly what the King James *translation* (key word) says, it didn't happen. Most whol hold this position, though, (not all) either ignore or are totally ignorant of the Bible's original language(s).

For instance, there's a sense in the original language of Genesis that the creation episode being described isn't so much a *creation* but a *re*-creation. (I just learned that recently. It certainly makes sense, but then, what do I know?)

Many other examples in Scripture abound where our English language, as rich as it is, just doesn't have the ability to fully give the sense of the original tongue(s). No translation can. Can you imagine reading Shakespeare in Russian, Swahili, or Korean (languages grossly removed from our noun/subject-adverb-adjective-verb way of structuring sentences). Imagine "Get thee to a nunnery" translated with all its nuances into a remote dialect of Mongolia. You can imagine the difficulty. To see for yourself, play around with Take a complex sentence, translate it into, say, Urdu, then copy and paste that translation into the translation box, and switch languages (i.e., Urdo to English instead of English to Urdu). What comes back is sometimes wildly and often hilariously different.

And there were mammals who shared the earth with dinosaurs. Even though science tells us men weren't amongst those mammals, it doesn't mean they definitively weren't. We just haven't found evidence of it yet. I mean, science in the late 18th century told us people could regenerate limbs. I read sometime within the last few years that a few scientists have debunked Einstein's E=MC(squared). From what I understand, that's the whole foundation of modern physics!

So it is possible to imagine (however highly improbable at this juncture). After all, dinosaurs were reptiles. Reptiles are cold blooded. They can't withstand extreme cold temps. Humans can. Maybe there was a time of overlap, and we just haven't found the evidence yet? Look what Lucy, the skeleton found in Africa taught us. You can term anthropology BL and AL (before and after Lucy). She taught us so much. Why couldn't some future discovery do the same thing vis-a-vis humans and dinosaurs? I don't know. Maybe this is totally looped. I'm speculating. Still ...

If we assume dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago, it's not likely given the following from a secular university journal: "By simple mathematics, it follows that the human race is about 300 generations old. If one assumes a typical generation is about 20 years, this gives an age of about 6000 years." (

Also, if I don't have it wrong, science tells us the world is at least as old as the Big Bang, billions of years. The Big Bang theory was derived by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaître (look it up if you're skeptical).

The Great Flood is interesting. I'm sure you're aware practically every culture in the world has a flood account (maybe every one does, but I can't say for sure; I'm trying to be conservative here so that I don't overstate things).

Consider the following: (And I know you don't like the source, but it's the only one we have.) The Bible tells us there were 10 generations from Adam to Noah: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The Bible tells us that each of these men had "sons and daughters," but it couldn't have been a huge amount of people at the time.

So imagining that in the course of nine generations, humanity would have become unbelievably wicked and evil isn't hard to fathom. After all, Adam's own son was Cain who murdered his brother ... and that was one generation removed from the Garden of Eden! Also if the above is true and each generation is roughly 20 years, that's roughly 200 years from the birth of Adam's kids to the flood event. If we take the Bible at its word and assume that what constitutes human years now are the same as what constitutes human years now, it was actually 1,056 years.

Even if we assume 20 kids per couple (and 1-4 wives per man, although Noah and his three sons only had one wife each), we're still not talking about a terribly huge number of people. They probably would have all lived in roughly the same region in those early centuries, but who knows?

"But what difference does it make if it was two people who died in the flood or 1,002?" If that's your question, good one, but go with me here.

From the outset, "the sons of God married the daughters of men." Don't misunderstand: God wasn't having kids. The primogeniture here is that of affiliation not biology. The struggle between doing things in a God-pleasing way and in a way that pleases ourselves, "screw what God thinks," is as old as the creation of mankind.

We see throughout the Bible and, indeed, history that when good people mix with bad people, it's not uncommon for and not long that bad people and their ways hold sway. It's a lot easier to gradually melt into vice than it is to maintain virtue, especially when vice seems so much easier and more fun.

And so it happens in the period leading up to the Flood. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of [mankind's] heart was only evil continually." Did you catch that "every"? Not "some," not "many," not even most. "Every." Maybe this is hyperbole.

For the moment, though, let's assume it's accurate.

Because the writers of the Bible were/are human, and it is said God speaks to us in language we can understand, we're told this "grieved [God] to the heart" (keep in mind that God at this point was in no way incarnate) and that He basically resolved to start over again. "Noah [alone] found favor in the eyes of the Lord."

What could possibly have motivated such a judgment on God's part?

It says, "the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence... for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth."

What does this mean in concrete terms? We can't know. This is all the account says. Earlier in Genesis, we have Lamech, the really wicked son of Cain, saying "I have slain a man for wounding me [can you imagine?]. If Cain is avenged sevefold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold."

Maybe I'm misunderstanding this. What I hear him saying, though, is, "You tangle with me, I'll not only mess you up, I'll kill you."

What if that was the common sentiment after the "sons of God married the daughters of men"? Plato's says there was constant war-making at this time. If we can extrapolate from humans' later actions, we can presume there was human sacrifice, even the sacrifice of children. This is all speculation, however.

Wicked and evil and "every" are pretty clear cut, though, wouldn't you say? God had created mankind for relationship with Him. He wants a relationship with you and with me and with everyone on this planet to this day. A deeper relationship than we'll possibly even conceive of in this life (it's not for nothing that some mystics have called Him "this tremendous lover," which is mind blowing when you think about it).

And when "every" thought of mankind's was "continually" evil, that sort of relationship just wasn't possible. It isn't possible today. We can't say, F@!* you, to Him and expect that at some point, He'll not take us at our word. As an illustration, Catholic theology, at least says God doesn't consign anyone to hell. Rather, they effectively put themselves there by continually rejecting Him, His grace (which essentially means "gift"), and His love.

Your Facebook page doesn't indicate a relationship with anyone, but let's say you had someone you considered the love of your life. You poured out your love and affection to this person, but they constantly rejected you. Unless you were a totally insecure doormat, eventually you would come to your senses and basically say, "You don't want me to love you? You don't want to love me? OK, fine." And you'd be gone. You'd make a fresh start and move on to someone who actually wanted to love you and be in relationship with you.

It's a bad analogy, ultimately, I know. But that's sorta the way it must have been back then.

So He wasn't proving a point. I mean, it does prove a point to us, if we can recognize the point. But, in the flood, "God punishes  man's disobedience by undoing the order of nature that he himself had established for man's benefit.... The result is a return to chaos.... The situation calls for a new beginning following on a severe purification. The Bible is offering us here an impressive lesson about the destiny of mankind when it turns its back on God and rejects the laws that are stamped on creation itself."

Furthermore, it's not like God said, "OK, Noah, now that the ark's built, close 'er up. Here come the
rains. All outside are hosed."

He gives mankind an entire week to come to repentance.
(Incidentally, this shows the small global population if people have a week to reconsider their actions. Maybe it was all those wars and Lamech-like murders. It assumes that everyone is within some sort of figurative shouting distance.)

They don't. Even in the face of Noah's building something that the dimensions show would have been the size of an aircraft carrier, they're still recalcitrant in their disobedience and rejection of God and His mercy.

Let's get to your final question, because if I haven't lost you by now, I know I soon will.

"Does every natural disaster come from a pissed off god or just that one. Doesn't this all seem just a little silly?"

At the risk of coming off as condescending, I'm going to assume you don't have kids in your life on a daily basis. If you did, it wouldn't seem so silly to you. But let me back up.

No, it's quite likely that not every natural disaster comes from God's active will (there's also His passive will, but that's another rabbit hole for a different day). Some have, probably most haven't. The recent tornado that wiped out an Illinois village, I can't think of a good reason for that to have happened in the fashion of the flood (then again, if God exists, and if God is omniscient, and if I am not God, then it follows there are things I simply can't know ... just sayin', don't get me wrong).

On the other hand, the Philippine typhoon, I could see there being some measure of divine retribution in that, sure. The Philippines has been the sole Asian country where the light of Christ has shown in a significant way. Over the last 20 years, decision after decision shows the nation is gradually turning its back on Him. I don't know, obviously. God hasn't come to me on a cloud lately, ya know?

Again, however, I don't believe every or even most natural disasters come directly from His hands.

But even if I'm wrong, I'm OK with that. Why? Because, like God, I'm a father. I'm a father who loves his children and who longs and yearns in the deepest reaches of his heart to see them have a good life.

And every day, I see them do things that, if left unchecked, will spiral off into their making some really bad choices and thus having a really bad life.

I don't want that for them. So I discipline them. When they are younger and not prone to understanding either words or reason, sometimes a swift swat on the back of the leg suffices. When they're older, I have to take away electronics or other privileges. Sometimes I give them extra chores. Sometimes I ground them.

I don't do this because I'm not a loving father, bud. I do this precisely *because* I'm a loving father. I want them to take notice that they're on the wrong path. More importantly, I want them to turn around and get back onto the right one.

God disciplines not because He's some horrible, capricious monster. He does it because He loves us. Scripture tells us He can number the hairs on our heads. That image strikes so close to home for me, man. How many nights have I rocked my children to sleep and looked lovingly upon their locks, studying each hair, gazing at how the light reflects on this patch in this way and on this other patch in another? And, boy, does my heart swell with love in those moments.

That doesn't mean, however, that when they do something wrong the next day, probably in the morning ("You left the milk out again"), I'm not going to say something.

Does that make sense?

I'm sorry to go on for so long, dude. Asking questions, making assertions, that's the easy part, frankly. It can be done in a pithy manner. Answering those, however, takes time and space. Nonetheless, I apologize for taking up so much of your time, pal. I hope it's been at least a little worthwhile.

Cheers, mate.

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