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Dear Liberals, Moderates, and Non-Religious: Remain Strong

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I have almost stopped watching the national news.  It is so depressing.  Every day it seems our new president, Donald J. Trump,  does something stupid or something destructive to our environment, our nation, or our world.

Many of Trump’s supporters are even scarier than he is.  I cannot believe that neo-Nazis would be allowed to conduct a torch-light march on an American university campus in 2017.  I cannot believe the level of hate in this country towards people who are viewed as “different”.  I thought we had progressed as a country.  I thought that the wealth of knowledge and science now available to all on the internet would advance progressive, democratic values.

How did we get here???  Is this the new normal, or just a freak aberration?  Will sanity prevail in the next election?  It is hard to say at this point in time.  The uncertainty is unsettling.

So should we progressives despair and give up?  No.  Absolutely not.  Too many people before us in history have paid with their lives for the advances we have made; advances which have created at least some separation between government and the superstitions and unquestioned dogmas of religion.

We owe it to these forbearers of reason and science to persevere.  We owe it to our children and grandchildren to persevere.  We cannot quit just because the going has gotten tough.  Truth matters.  Illuminating the truth with knowledge, reason, and science, for all to see, is worth our continued struggle against the fear of invisible boogeymen, instilled into generation after generation of the world’s little children by pious churchmen and other practitioners of religion.

Don’t despair.

Don’t give up.

Keep up the struggle, my friends.

It is worth it.

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Bible Contradictions: Is Salvation by Faith, by Works, or by Both?

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 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

—Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, 2:8-9

 

Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.  Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.   You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  

—the author of the Epistle of James, 2:20-24

 

Vicious, bloody wars have been waged over these two passages in the Christian holy book.  Protestants champion the first passage, Roman Catholics the second.  Can they be reconciled?  No, not without twisting the meaning of the words contained in these passages until they have lost any meaning whatsoever.  Let’s look at a couple:

Gift:  If someone gives you a gift, do you have to do any “work” to receive it?  No.  If you must do something to receive it, it is a reward, a wage. It is not a gift.

Justified by works:   There is no way that Protestants can distort this passage to mean anything other than what the simple reading of the text states:  Works justify you before God.  Faith may also play a part in your justification, but “you are justified by works”.  Period.

Christians have attempted for the last 2,000 years to harmonize these two passages, concocting the most complicated of explanations for why “gift” does not mean “gift” and “justified by works” does not mean “justified by works”.

These two passages cannot be harmonized, my friends.  The theology of Paul and the theology of the author of James are in direct opposition to one another.

Some believe that the theology endorsed by the author of the Epistle of James represented the Christianity of the Jewish Jerusalem church, in which following much of the Jewish Law was still required, while the theology of Ephesians 2:8-9 represented the theology of the Gentile Christian churches, whom Paul had taught that they could ignore the Law.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, openly despised the Epistle of James.  That should come as no surprise.  The Epistle of James unequivocally supports the Roman Catholic teaching on the Doctrine of Justification.  The writings of Paul support the Protestant teaching on that doctrine.  And that is why Luther loved Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and the above passage to the Ephesians.

The above discussion demonstrates very clearly that the Bible is a man-made book.  No perfect, all-knowing deity had anything to do with its writing and compilation.

 

My Favorite Conservative Christian Scientist Imposes Strict Censorship of My Comments on his Blog. Why?

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Dr. Michael Strauss, university physicist, conservative Christian, and blogger:

Gary,
 You claim to be a seeker of truth but that is not true. You showed your true colors when you admitted that there is no evidence from the past that would convince you a supernatural event occurred.  Your comments and questions are disingenuous. You don’t care that I answer them or not because you are not really seeking truth. You simply want to state your opinion. You can do that on your own blog.
 I will no longer post any comments from you that:
1) Simply restate what you have stated many times before
2) Quote the Bible completely out of context.
3) Violate well-known rules of logic.
4) Do not understand the basic meaning of English words like “transcendent.”
5) Is critical of others or demeaning.
6) Use circular reasoning or no reasoning at all
7) Simply appeal to authority.
 Since most of your comments fall into those categories, I’ve quit posting them. It has nothing to do with whether or not you are critical of my point. Your comments are not real dialogue but posturing, and you have no desire to know the truth, only to restate your opinions.
 If you really want to help your cause, you need to take a class on logic, understand how to interpret literature within the literary context, learn to have a conversation without simply restating what you already have said, learn to follow a linear line of reasoning, read a dictionary so you know what words mean, and many more things.
Mike
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 Gary:
Hi, Mike,
Thank you for your kind attempt to “set me straight”.
I would first like to address this statement:  “You showed your true colors when you admitted that there is no evidence from the past that would convince you a supernatural event occurred.” 
So my comment that “no evidence from Antiquity would convince me of the historicity of a supernatural claim” disqualifies me as an objective seeker of the truth?  But wait a minute.  I hold the exact same standard of believing your supernatural claim (the resurrection of a first century brain-dead corpse) that the disciples of Jesus and Paul demanded before believing:   I want to see the resurrected body with my own two eyes and I want to touch it with my own two hands!  This is what Thomas, specifically, demanded to believe, and in a previous post on your blog, you PRAISED Thomas for demanding objective evidence.  Yet, you scold me for not believing the HEARSAY evidence of the Gospels.  And why do I state that the Gospels are “hearsay” evidence?  Answer:  Because the majority of experts (New Testament scholars) reject the fundamentalist Christian claim that eyewitnesses/associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.  Therefore, according to majority expert opinion, the Gospels are NOT primary source documents, therefore, they would not be accepted in modern courts of law as “eyewitness testimony”.   When I present this “majority expert opinion” evidence to you, you impose a new censorship rule:  I am not allowed to appeal to authority.  My goodness.  Do you see what you’ve done, Mike?  You have set up the rules of discussion so that you cannot fail.  Christianity wins!  Shame on you, Mike.  You are an educated, university professor.  You should know better than to engage in such dishonest, unprofessional behavior.
Why is it that the more fundamentalist the Christian blogger, the more uptight he or she is about allowing a free flow of discussion and debate on their blogs?  Christians frequently come onto my blog and use the same arguments, time after time, when attempting to refute my non-supernaturalist views.  I welcome such comments!  I do not impose gag rules upon them.
I think you should ask yourself this question, Mike:  Why am I so concerned about maintaining a tight control of the comments on my blog?  Are my positions so weak that they cannot survive close scrutiny and criticism?  Wouldn’t I actually be demonstrating strength and confidence in my views if I did not restrict skeptics’ comments?
It is your blog, Mike.  You can do whatever you want.  But if you want to have a reputation for HONESTY and INTEGRITY, you need to take down your homepage which currently states:
 “I welcome all comments that challenge or support my viewpoint. I moderate comments before posting simply to assure they are relevant and respectful. I do not filter comments based on content unless the content is abusive, an advertisement, repetitive, or far off topic.”
You should replace this statement with a notice that says:  I will only post comments which agree with my position.
 –
Gary
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What was Paul Thinking in the Moments Prior to His Beheading?

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 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 

—Paul of Tarsus, I Thessalonians 4:17

 

A reading of Paul’s writings on the topic of the Second Coming indicate that Paul believed that he would be alive when that event occurred.  However, tradition tells us that Paul died, by beheading, sometime in the sixth decade of the first century.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know what Paul was thinking as the executioner’s axe was being raised above his head!

 

 

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Failed Prophet

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 If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

—Deuteronomy 18:22

 

Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”   —Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 16:28

 

This prophecy did not happen.

This is a failed prophecy.

Jesus was a failed prophet.  Great humanitarian and human being, but a failed prophet nonetheless.

Jesus was not God.

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My Favorite Conservative Christian Scientist Claims that Good Biblical Interpretation has Much in Common with Good Scientific Inquiry. Really?

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Isaac Newton

Dr. Michael Strauss, university physicist and conservative Christian apologist:

As a scientist and a Christian, I have also observed that principles of good biblical interpretation have much in common with principles of good scientific inquiry. Here are some parallels:

Biblical Interpretation Scientific Inquiry
1. Human attempt to understand the Bible. Human attempt to understand nature.
2. Has well developed principles for how to determine what is true. Has well developed principles for how to determine what is true.
3. Any practitioner should follow these principles. Any practitioner should follow these principles.
4. There is a large body of knowledge accepted by the experts. There is a large body of knowledge accepted by the experts.
5. Some things not agreed on by the experts. Some things not agreed on by the experts.
6. Has some well established truths that will not be discarded though may be refined. Has some well established truths that will not be discarded though may be refined.
7. Our understanding can change with new facts. Our understanding can change with new facts.

I think this list is important because I hear claims from Christians and from non-religious scientists that seem to show a misunderstanding of the processes used in these two disciplines to determine truth. I actually notice many similarities in the respective disciplines, although such a statement might not be embraced by either my scientific colleagues or my theologian friends. The above parallels are true even though a Christian may be guided by the Holy Spirit when trying to understand the Bible. (Of course a Christian scientist could also be guided by the Holy Spirit when trying to understand nature, as well.)

Should Christians, in general, trust scientific findings even though future observations may modify the conclusions? I think they should.  In the same way Christians should trust their understanding of the biblical text but be willing to consider possible modifications based on new findings. The discussion should not be framed in terms of man’s interpretation of nature vs. God’s infallible word, but rather man’s interpretation of the facts of nature and man’s interpretation of the words of the Bible guided by the Holy Spirit.  In general, human interpretation of nature and of the Bible may not be completely correct and should have flexibility to be modified as new observations are made (emphasis, Gary’s).

Christians will often state that God is the creator of nature and he is also the author of the Bible so there should be no discrepancy between the two. However, some then go on to dismiss major findings of science which, in my opinion, reinforces the belief that there is really a large chasm between science and Christianity. In contrast I believe that the common features listed above can serve as a foundation to build a bridge between scientific findings and biblical statements. I’ll elaborate more on that in my next post.

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Geocentricity

Gary:  It is one thing to “modify” a previous Christian interpretation of the Bible where two or more plausible interpretations exist.  But what do you do with passages in the Bible such as those that infer that the sun revolves around the earth?  Do you “modify” them to “correctly interpret” their TRUE meaning, or do you admit that the people who wrote these passages were mistaken?  They did not have access to modern scientific advances.  They really did believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

Scientists can freely admit that Newton, though mostly correct, was still partially in error.  Humankind had to wait several centuries for Albert Einstein to see the errors in Newton’s formulations and correct them.  Can conservative Christians like Dr. Strauss admit that the original authors of the Bible were wrong?  They made mistakes??  Can conservative Christians admit that their perfect deity “inspired” a book with errors…or even more…that their GOD was the source of the errors?

I doubt it.

See, that is the difference between science and theology.  There are no “sacred cows” in science.  Any scientific “law” (which in reality, are just theories) can be overturned if convincing new evidence is presented.  Would Christians ever accept evidence that conclusively indicated that:

—Jesus had a human father, and therefore was not a god?

—Jesus is still dead?

I doubt it.

Biblical interpretation and scientific inquiry are NOT similar.

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Albert Einstein

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The Evidence is Overwhelming: A First Century Peasant really is the Ruler of the Cosmos

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the Cosmos

 

Erik, moderate Christian blogger: “You have understated the evidence again [for the Christian claim that Jesus was divine, the Son of God]. Jesus was reported as doing many miraculous things, far more than can be historically justified for virtually any other character, he made many believable claims beyond the normal…”

Gary: The Buddha is reported to have done many miraculous things, I would bet just as many miracles if not more than Jesus, including making a water buffalo speak in a human language for three quarters of an hour. Does that prove he was a god? No. History is full of “miracle workers” and their many (alleged) miraculous deeds.

Erik: “…he convinced people of the truth of his teachings and claims, he impressed people then and down through the ages with his sincerity and truthfulness, and no other hypothesis about him explains the fact better than that he spoke the truth”

Gary: What did Jesus really say? Are we certain he spoke the words of the Sermon on the Mount, or was this story a literary embellishment? We know that the story of the woman caught in adultery is an embellishment as it was not in the original Gospel. So how can we be sure that the original Gospels did not contain literary embellishments? The truth is, it is impossible to know exactly what Jesus said.

Just because someone speaks with great sincerity does not preclude them from being sincerely WRONG. Since not one single miracle has ever been proven with 100% certainty to be an historical fact, probability tells us that it is much more probable that Jesus was mistaken than that his belief that he was divine and possessed supernatural powers was correct.

Erik: It therefore makes more sense to believe him than to disbelieve him. That is my judgment and has been the judgment of billions of people.

Gary: And it makes more sense to a couple billion Muslims to believe Mohammad’s claims than to disbelieve him. You are once again appealing to a logical fallacy: Argumentum ad Populum. As has been true numerous times throughout human history, the overwhelming majority of the general populace may sincerely believe something and be sincerely wrong. The discovery of Heliocentricity is just one example.

Erik: And believing him fits in with so much else about the world, the things found by science, things covered in the philosophical arguments and the experiences of people…

Gary: The literal interpretation of the Bible does NOT fit with science. Only by twisting the plain text into pretzel-like contortions can one make the Bible agree with science. “Experiences of people”: I believe I have effectively demonstrated that personal experiences are NOT a reliable means of discovering universal truths. Using our “Toyota analogy”: It may make sense that you do not trust Toyotas after having had three Toyota “lemons”, but your experience in no way is proof that Toyotas are a poorly constructed automobile.

Erik: “…while atheism doesn’t fit all those things because it cannot explain most of them. So that is a bare summary of the case. No other conclusion fits all the facts.”

Gary: I am not arguing for atheism. Our discussion has not been about the origin of the universe, a subject about which even the top cosmologists in the world have not reached a consensus. I am arguing that your original claim that a first century man, named Jesus of Nazareth, was a divine (supernatural) being with supernatural powers, lacks any good evidence to support it. The only evidence you have is hearsay (the Gospels), your personal experiences, and the alleged personal experiences of others. I have demonstrated that none of these pieces of evidence are good methods for evaluating a universal truth claim.

Erik: The Roman emperors [whom many millions of Roman citizens believed to be gods, capable of performing miracles] are not a parallel – who believes them now? What do historians say about them? Who do they heal today? What philosophical proofs point to them?

Gary: Since Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons also claim that their prayers are answered, it is entirely possible, allowing for the supernatural, that ALL prayers are answered by…the Roman Emperor gods! Their divinity is not dependent upon how many people today believe in them. I’m sure you see this as silly, Erik, but that is how we skeptics see your claim that a first century Galilean peasant is still alive and Lord and Master of the Cosmos.

Think about this Erik: If only Christians experience rare health recoveries after prayer to Jesus, then you might be able to use this as evidence for the veracity of your belief system. But the truth is, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and ATHEISTS, living in the same country, in the same social class, all have approximately the same morbidity, accident, and mortality rates. So looking at actual objective evidence, your claims fail. Once again, you are forced to appeal to anecdotal claims that Christian healings are some how real, and the alleged healings in other religions are either fake, produced by an evil being named, Satan, or the silly ad hoc explanation that the Christian god is answering the prayers of everyone, regardless of which god the person prays to, or in the case of atheists, no prayers at all.

Isn’t it obvious, Erik? It is all one big superstition.

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