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Archive for December, 2010

Life and Death

The pastor of the church I grew up in died over the weekend. It’s sad. I really liked the guy. He was sincere and personable. He had been battling cancer for over a year. I would sometimes see their family’s updates on Facebook. Sometimes they would describe how he was getting some of the latest medical devices to shoot radiation into his brain, targeting the tumors. There was a string of bad news – they kept finding more tumors. The family would talk about how they needed to “fight the enemy”, by which they mean that this was a “spiritual war” against the devil who was attacking them. They had to keep praying for healing from God. The juxtaposition of modern medicine on one hand and the devil, prayer, and God on the other, seemed particularly bizarre. It was like the finest medicine of the 21st century meets a stone-age understanding of the world.

The notion of a “spiritual war” always seemed like an odd notion to me, since they believed in an all-powerful deity. How can you have a “war” when you have the ultimate trump card? At that point, it’s really just a “war” to convince God to arrive and do something.

Anyway, he died over the weekend. I listened to the eulogy that they posted online. The new pastor (who used to be the assistant pastor) said his last few days were painful – involving seizures and vomiting. When he died, they prayed over his body for God to bring him back to life. They called the new pastor on the phone, who had them put the phone the deceased pastor’s ear and prayed for God to revive him. It made me angry. I was angry that they are so deluded that they believed God would raise him from the dead. It made me angry that, despite praying for God to heal his cancer, despite praying for God to rescue him from his pain, seizures, and vomiting — none of which accomplished anything (which should’ve told them something about their God’s unwillingness to perform a miracle), they wanted to “bring him back” into this pain. I was shocked at their incredible level of self-delusion.

Then they said that he was in heaven now, happy and with God. Not only do I think that’s just another self-delusion, but I couldn’t help but think “if you really believe he’s in paradise right now, then why the hell did you pray over his body to try to bring him back into his painful life on earth?”

I’m still shaking my head over how delusional all of it is.

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I came home the other week to discover a package at my door. I thought it was odd, since I hadn’t ordered anything. I picked up the package and saw that it was from “The Berean Call”, a Christian book publisher. Based on the weight, I could tell it was a book. My first thought was that maybe my aunt had sent me a Bible. A few months earlier, she had asked me what church I went to, and I had told her that I don’t go. I thought, perhaps that answer had prompted her to send me a Bible. I opened the package and discovered that the book was actually, “Cosmos, Creator, and Human Destiny: Answering Darwin, Dawkins, and the New Atheists”, sent by my dad. Hmmm, this should be interesting. Then I noticed that the author was Dave Hunt.

For those not familiar with Dave Hunt, he’s big into televangelism and the end times. I don’t think he has a TV program, but he’s sometimes called to appear on Christian programs as a kind of end-times expert. I’ve seen enough of his stuff in the past to know that he’s kind of paranoid and not very knowledgeable (at least not outside his specialty of end times prophecy). On the scale of Christian apologists, he scores pretty low. Nevertheless, he’s a prolific author and sells lots of books (according to wikipedia, he’s sold over 4 million books).

It would be interesting to do a full book review, but I’m not sure that I can stomach writing a review of his entire 500+ page book. I will say this: if I didn’t know better, this 500 page hardcover book does look impressive and authoritative. I did write an email to my dad reviewing the first section of the book, if for no other reason than to point out that Dave Hunt is paranoid and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Here’s a review of the first part of the book, just to give you an idea of Dave Hunt’s work:

Preface

Anyone who sets out with an honest heart, an inquiring mind, and a sincere desire to find answers to the most important questions one can face in life will recognize a significant few that must be given priority. Does God exist? What is the origin of the universe and of the life found in such abundance on our tiny planet? What is life and what is its purpose?

Another vital question is whether or not our vast universe of astonishing complexity and order is all the result of a giant explosion commonly called “The Big Bang.” This theory is a radical departure from the conclusion that had been reached by the theistic founders of modern science. The undeniable order that they had observed caused them to look for laws that must govern the phenomena. Having discovered these laws, they concluded that the universe had been created by a “God of order”.

Thus was laid the theistic foundation of modern science, but that foundation is no longer accepted. Atheists have taken over and now claim the sole right to speak for science. They cannot deny the order evident everywhere but grudgingly refer to it as the “appearance” of order. Appearance? Such an oft-repeated half-admission ought to be an embarrassment to legitimate scientists. (Page 7)

So, modern science’s foundation was deeply rooted in belief in a monotheistic creator, but now the mantle of science was hijacked by atheists. What’s even more odd about the hyperbole that “Atheists have taken over and now claim the sole right to speak for science.” is the fact that the book sleeve contains a quote from Stephen Hawking: “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?… It is difficult to discuss the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God.” Of course, since the “atheists have taken over and claim the sole right to speak for science”, Stephen Hawking (along with Einstein) was promptly kicked out of the scientist club.

More importantly, the idea of Christians being oppressed by non-Christian foes is a common one among fundamentalists. It promotes a feeling of victimization, which helps motivate them to become more politically active and cling to their beliefs and Christian identity more tightly. It also fits reinforces a black-white worldview of Christians (who’ll go to heaven if they stay faithful) vs “the World” (who will go to hell, deserve to go to hell, and follow the forces of darkness in opposition to God).

It was principally two men, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, who attempted to quash any possibility that the God of the theists portrayed in the Bible could be the Creator. No creator was necessary. (Page 7)

I have to say, the addition of Sigmund Freud in that list seems like an odd addition. I had thought Sigmund Freud’s theories have largely been discredited, and are largely ignored at this point. There’s also the fact that Charles Darwin wasn’t the rabid anti-theist that they’d like him to be. I think the reason it’s useful to paint Darwin as “attempting to quash any possibility [of God]” is because, once you impugn his motives, you don’t really need to deal with the facts or details. It’s all about motives. There’s the god-loving and then there’s the God-hating. All leading up to the end-times when God will split humanity into two groups on Judgment Day.

Beginning with Darwin himself, atheists have left a plethora of false promises. Darwin’s first book was titled The Origin of Species, yet even his staunchest admirers admit that in spite of many pages filled with many words, Darwin never explained the origin of any species. Nor has any atheist yet succeeded in doing so. In spite of this undeniable fact, Darwin’s admirers continue to grow in numbers as desperate minds try by some means to support his original thesis. ( Page 8 )

I’m going to guess that Dave Hunt has never read the Origin of Species, and doesn’t really understand natural selection or geographical isolation leading to speciation.

Chapter 1: The Challenge of the Cosmos

Space has been called “the last frontier,” and its explorations the greatest challenge faced by mankind in its history… It is conceivable that within a few thousand years (if they were available) man could thoroughly explore and learn everything there is to know about our own solar system. What, then, would have been achieved at great cost in time, effort, money, and quite possibly, more lives? The obvious answer is that almost nothing in comparison to the overall cosmos! This is not what space scientists are leading us to believe, not is it what their supporters want to hear. It is, however, the uncomfortable truth.

The facts are simple. Estimates vary that there are from 100-500 billion suns in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and perhaps as many as one trillion other galaxies in the universe, many of them larger than ours. So, after learning all there is to know about our solar system, our descendants would have in their computers information from one-100-billionth or one-trillionth of a sample of the universe — statistically meaningless. ( Page 11, 12 )

Dave Hunt goes on for a number of pages about the space program and its futility. I couldn’t quite figure out where he was going with this. My first thought was that he was merely trying to paint space scientists (and all scientists, by extension) as idiots, wasting time and money on a quest they can’t possibly finish.

Five pages later, he gets around to it:

The underlying purpose of the “Space Program”

Much, if not most, of the time, money, and effort being expended on the “space program” is driven by the speculative hope of proving that belief in “God” is an outdated hypothesis that is no longer needed to explain anything. ( Page 16 )

Um, what? How is the space program supposed to prove that? It’s starting to sound like some conspiratorial “us vs them” thinking – where the space program is part of a hidden atheist agenda against Christianity.

How does life originate? Those who, like atheists, reject the biblical claim that God created every living thing including man, have no other way of explaining how life began. All they can say is that it must have spontaneously come into existence. Louis Pasteur had already proved that “spontaneous generation” was nothing but superstition. As a result, the law of biogenesis was firmly established as inviolable scientific fact. This law unequivocally declares that life only comes from life. Although atheists admit that they cannot challenge the validity of this established law, they object that unless there is at least one exception they are forced to acknowledge that life could have come about only through a supernatural act of creation. For atheists, this conclusion is of course unacceptable. They claim that there must have been millions of exceptions to this law that occurred all over the universe and that the origin of life on Earth was one of them. Of course, this is both irrational and unscientific. ( Page 17 )

The most obvious flaw in this argument is that Pasteur’s experiment did not establish a law of biogenesis. All it did was show that the common myth that maggots spontaneously formed from rotting meat was wrong. Flies are complex organisms with a genome roughly 1/10th the size of the human genome. To take the result: “maggots don’t spontaneously form from rotting meat” and conclude that “spontaneous generation can never happen” is a gross over-generalization. It’s certainly true that life comes from life the vast majority of the time, but you certainly can’t prove that using Pasteur’s experiment. Pasteur stated that “all life is from life” and “spontaneous generation is a dream”, and while he’s generally correct and he refuted the common examples of spontaneous generation, his experiments can’t actually prove spontaneous generation can’t happen.

Has it ever been shown that there is even one exception to the law of biogenesis anywhere in the cosmos? Never! Yet the only hope to salvage evolution would require millions, and possibly billions, of exceptions to this law, evidenced by life appearing spontaneously all over the universe. ( Page 17 )

To be fair, we haven’t looked all over the cosmos. For all we know, life is everywhere and we wouldn’t know it. Up until twenty years ago, we knew of no planets outside our solar system. We certainly aren’t in the position to check them for life. And while it would be surprising for atheist-evolutionists if we checked every solar system in the Milky Way and found zero instances of life, it still wouldn’t destroy evolution because spontaneous generation could be something that happens around only one in a trillion stars (the Milky Way only has 100+ billion stars).

Here we confront two problems … for all other evolutionists who claim to believe in God:

1) Doesn’t the belief that space has other intelligent, human-like occupants (a necessary corollary to the theory of evolution) do away with the entire idea of a supernatural act of creation and thus with the God of the Bible? If “spontaneous generation” could happen on planet Earth, why not on millions of other similar planets? The clear implication from Genesis to Revelation is that the creation of Adam and Eve was a unique event, never having occurred before nor would ever occur again, anywhere in the cosmos.

At this point, we are not arguing for acceptance of either the biblical account or of the atheistic account but simply showing their incompatibility with each other. How can any “believer” share in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence when such creatures could not exist except through a creative act of God? Yet what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation reveals that the search for human-like creatures outside of Earth, which is a large part of the space program, of necessity denies the existence of the Creator God in whom all Christians supposedly believe. ( Page 22 )

A lot to unpack there.
* “Doesn’t the belief that space has other intelligent, human-like occupants do away with the entire idea of a supernatural act of creation and thus with the God of the Bible?”
No. Christians could easily claim God told humans “what they needed to know” in the Bible, and did not include details about extraterrestrial civilizations just like he didn’t mention various laws of Chemistry. Christians could cite Galileo, who said: “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go” (“the heavens” in this case could be expanded from the planets to include extraterrestrials around other stars). Or, could cite C.S. Lewis as arguing that Christianity doesn’t have any problem with extraterrestrials: “In an essay Lewis wrote in 1958, he argued that the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life would not necessarily contradict Christian theology. And like Father Funes, Lewis said it was possible that such beings, if they exist, might have fallen from a state of grace and in that case might be redeemed through God’s mercy.” (Link) I’d also be willing to bet that if intelligent life was found elsewhere in the universe, that Dave Hunt would quickly backpedal and declare that extraterrestrials are compatible with Christian theology.

* “The clear implication from Genesis to Revelation is that the creation of Adam and Eve was a unique event, never having occurred before nor would ever occur again, anywhere in the cosmos.”
Not sure how much of a “clear implication” this is.

* “How can any “believer” share in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence when such creatures could not exist except through a creative act of God?”
So, if we ever found extraterrestrials, Dave Hunt would immediately declare “God made ’em!” Problem solved.

* “Yet what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation reveals that the search for human-like creatures outside of Earth, which is a large part of the space program, of necessity denies the existence of the Creator God in whom all Christians supposedly believe.”
First, “a large part of the space program” is not searching for human-level intelligence in space. NASA is not involved in that at all. At most, NASA is interested in finding microbial life on Mars or Europa. We already know that human-level intelligence doesn’t exist on other planets in our solar system. The only program looking for extraterrestrial intelligence is SETI, and that is not funded by NASA or government dollars at all; it’s funded by donations. Dave Hunt has no idea what he’s talking about if he thinks a large part of NASA’s budget is going to find intelligent life in the universe.

The second problem Hunt raises “for all evolutionists who claim to believe in God” isn’t a question for theistic evolutionists at all. It’s a question for atheist-evolutionists.

2) Moreover, one wonders why there should be any concern for the survival of man or any other species… If we are simply the accidental product of a “big bang,” plus chance, plus a billion years of something called evolution working through “natural selection”, of what importance could man’s brief survival be in the billions of years of evolutionary history? The cosmos doesn’t care, so why should we, a few unimportant creatures unknown to the cosmos, have any concern for our own survival. ( Page 22-23 )

Presumably there is no “grand importance” to humanity’s existence, but I prefer that we continue existing. I like existing. I don’t see the point of arguing that “the cosmos doesn’t care, why should you?” – as if we need something larger than ourselves to care in order to justify our own feelings. To turn the question back around on him, I suppose I could ask, “God doesn’t care whether you eat roast beef or turkey for lunch, therefore, why should you?”, and with that, Dave Hunt would suddenly collapse into indecisiveness and ennui about his lunch choices.

Did natural selection implant that concern [for existence] within us? If so, why?

It’s pretty obvious that natural selection would prefer creatures who cared for their own existence. If you had two groups of creatures: one group who wanted to continue existing, and another group that didn’t care whether they continued existing, I’m pretty sure the first group would survive and reproduce better than the second group. This isn’t a big mystery for atheist-evolutionists.

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