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10.31.2011

Ancestors

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I finished reading "Jesus Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman, a fascinating historical analysis of the Bible and the life of Jesus. I am not a person of faith, but it seems to me such truth seeking can only serve to strengthen and contextualize one's beliefs in the 21st century. Unless you are a 1st century Palestinian Jew, the literal contents of the Bible don't make a lot of sense today. But it has some good moral messages, when properly contextualized. It was also a well written book and easy to read (Ehrman's book that is...the Bible is a chore for me, anyway.).

Before I begin my next book, "Lost Christianities," which is about all the Christian books that never made it into the Biblical canon, and why, I am going to make some headway on Richard Dawkins' tome, "The Ancestor's Tale." In it, Dawkins take a backwards journey through evolutionary history, stopping at each branch point on the evolutionary tree that led to humans.

I just finished reading about rodents, one of the most adaptable groups of mammals. They evolved during the time of the dinosaurs, living nocturnally to avoid predation. After the dinosaurs went extinct, the rodents were able to explode because of the decreased predation and all the ecological niches left vacant by the dinosaurs.

But here's the crazy thing. There are mammalian ancestors more primitive than the ones that gave rise to rodents. These were called Laurasiatheres, and eventually gave rise to today's bats, polar bears, pangolins, and other creatures. I had kind of always thought rodents were very primitive. But their ancestors are pre-dated not only by Laurasiatheres, but also marsupials and monotremes, among others. These are predated again by mammal-like reptiles that far pre-date the dinosaurs.

I am not sure why Dawkins includes these reptiles, because they are extinct today, and he said at the beginning of his book he was only going to cover extant groups of animals (those whose descendants are still around today). But I am not to that section yet, so maybe he has a good reason, or covers them just as an aside.

10.21.2011

Cosmic and Geological Time

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"With the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter, 3:8)

As best I can figure, God works on a geological time scale.

Think about it. Humans relate to everything on really short time scales of a few decades or so. This is because we are mortal and have life spans of only a few decades.

But God has been around for billions of years, if both scientists and most major monotheistic religions are to be believed. (Not that they should, but that is the assumption here. Skepticism is best, even for science.)

To Him, human time scales whiz by in the blink of an eye. Statistically, 10 years is not significantly different from 1000 years or millions of years.

Compare...

10 (human)
1000 (culture)
10000000 (evolution)
10000000000 (cosmos)

Now, humans wrote the Bible stories. They may well have been inspired by God. Who knows? All we know is that humans relate to things on small scales.

If they believed God created the earth in 7 days, it might really be 7 billion days. That's approaching 20 million years. Seems like a reasonable amount of time to let the forces of nature (God's creation, after all) have their effects on the matter and energy in the cosmos, eventually yielding a small lonely blue world with His creatures on it.

This is just an idea. I am not saying it is this way or that we need God in order to have the forces of nature. I'm just saying, you can think up a lot of scenarios that are a lot more plausible than the earth being created in 7 days, which would defy everything we know about nature.

Sure, God can violate the laws of nature if he wants to, because He is God. But for the most part, and probably all the time, if scientists are to be believed, He doesn't. Why is that?

I think it is the same reason he doesn't interfere with humans - free will. The same cosmic forces that created all the harmony in the universe are the same forces that give us our free will and our ability to appreciate it.

Indeed, as I alluded to above, if we are God's ultimate creation and he created the cosmos (in 7 God days) with the intent to eventually create US, then he almost by definition had to choose to let the whole darn thing unfold naturally. All he did was set the laws of nature in motion, and they worked like a charm.

What do you think?

Next, let's talk about Jesus and the apocalypse. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He said to his disciples and others, if the New Testament is the be believed, that the Kingdom would come within the lifetimes of those listening to him. He believed salvation was around the corner.

But Jesus was also human (even if he was also God). So perhaps it is possible that he was speaking in terms of time that his followers could understand. But what got lost in translation was that a human lifetime (say, 40 years tops in circa 30 AD Roman controlled Galilee) was really several powers of magnitude longer than that.

That would certainly explain why the apocalypse didn't come as soon as he said, and still hasn't come. If this is true, then we have like billions of years before the apocalypse. This coincides well with the predictions science has for the eventual demise of our planet and the solar system.

Theoretically, we might have left the earth far behind by then. But there is another dilemma with this idea...the laws of nature support the idea of evolution, and it's required for the above creation plan to eventually generate God's creatures, if that idea is right.

The problem is that evolution (and all the laws of nature) doesn't stop with us. It's all still going full speed ahead, and in a few billion years we will have theoretically evolved into a much more advanced species (if we don't go extinct). This would mean we humans are not even God's ultimate creation, but that our future descendants are.

That's not a horrible thing, given a little massaging of the above ideas. Indeed, what if the apocalypse is really nothing more than the gradual evolution of our species into a God-like species (by today's standards...I am sure those future beings will probably think they are sinful wretches too, even though they are AWESOME!). We will eventually evolve into the children of God.

Here's the clincher. Jesus said this - THE SON OF MAN would eventually descend to rule the earth. He didn't say THE SON OF GOD, as you would logically expect him to, but rather the son of man. Translation...the descendants of MANKIND.

Just saying...

If geological time scales are at work, and things really take hugely long times to unfold, this seems plausible.

I mean, given a lot of assumptions that are clearly speculative and improbable, like the existence of God, and loose translations of things actually said in the Bible.

Yeah, it sucks to be a stepping stone on the path to God's ultimate creation. But consider how glad we all are that our past ancestors (say, the lemurs) survived 3.5 billion years of evolution to eventually produce US. Our descendants will feel the same way, I am sure.

So we are important, and it is important that we live our lives in ways that do not harm other humans or destroy our species or planet. Jesus said this too - Treat thy neighbor as yourself (better known as the Golden Rule). This is a strong argument for behaving morally and ethically, and protecting life and the planet Earth as best we can (at least until we can get off this rock!).

Because if we don't the SON OF MAN (our descendants) doesn't come. No Kingdom of Heaven. You see where I am going with this? Jesus knew that actions speak louder than words. He knew that humans had to act together to clear the way for the coming of the Kingdom. It's just that what he called a Kingdom was in the far distant future. Whether he knew this or not, we can't be sure. But we do know that PEOPLE, not Jesus, wrote the Bible and people, no matter how inspired, write things in people words, sharing people ideas.

Jesus and the apostle Paul (from the 7 books we know he actually wrote, not the other forgeries bearing his name) both emphasized the value of doing good deeds, and that accepting Jesus' death and rebirth was not as important as accepting his message to do good. The SON OF MAN depends on it.

This also jibes well with the idea of salvation for good people and damnation for sinners. If sin can be defined as not living a good life, and not living a good life is correlated with Darwinian survival (the wicked die earlier), then over geological time scales, the good will eventually prevail by the time the Kingdom comes.

Of course, this assumes "goodness" is genetic and often times it is learned. But that just supports the value of good moral and ethical education, and critical thinking.

The problem is that the wicked often don't do terribly badly in this world. They exploit good people and disproportionately consume resources and wealth (remember what Jesus said about the ability of rich men to enter the Kingdon of Heaven - requiring putting a camel through the eye of a needle?). This is why we must be vigilant and disenfranchise wickedness as a society.

I know I pulled this totally out of my arse, but I think it has some merit and maybe builds an albeit flimsy bridge between the moral/ethical atheist and theist. It allows for evolution and the laws of nature to not only exist, but be largely left alone by God, so he can enjoy the show on a tropical island somewhere. He hopes we make it, and in fact He relies on us to make it happen. When Jesus came, humanity graduated from the Old Testament laws to the New Testament guidebook. The latter says humans don't have to follow the Jewish Laws anymore, but we still shouldn't make total asses of ourselves. Use our better judgment and make good moral and ethical decisions to protect the Earth and humanity and whatever else (all things are related, this is why science is a great gift).

Share your thoughts on this.

10.14.2011

Who Wrote the Bible Stories?

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I am reading a book called Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman.

My sense is that fundamentalist Christians don't like him, even though he used to be one.

All he does is critically (scientifically) analyze what we know and don't know about the Bible.

Everything in his book is taught in every Protestant seminary school in the world, because ministers need to be educated in depth on everything Biblical. But most ministers don't take this message to the people, for a simple reason.

Membership.

If the truth were told as it is, a lot of people would get a rude awakening. Religious people would probably continue to be religious, but they would start to see the corruption in the institutions of religion (the very human power holders in the church). Then they would quit going and tithing to the church, and that wouldn't be good for business.

But that doesn't change the facts. One of which is that the Gospels of the New Testament probably were not written by the atrributed authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). In addition to being rife with contradictions both within and between Gospels, the apostles themselves were very unlikely to have been literate.

Literacy was about 10% back then and among that 10%, most could only read, not write. The literate class was also generally wealthy and had time to spend. The apostles were clearly not members of this class - they were poor and working class, unschooled. In addition, the geographical descriptions in the Bible, according to Ehrman, indicate the Gospels were written anonymously by people in foreign lands many years later, then attributed back to the apostles by church "fathers," who clearly had a vested interest in the church's marketing image.

One of the giveaways that the Gospels were not actually written by the authors they are attributed to is the simple and obvious fact that they are written in the 3rd person. That is highly unusual for any eye witness writer to do, even in these modern times, when composing an autobiographical work. So it is believed that other people wrote about the apostles based on secondary sources, word of mouth and other writings by eye witnesses.

Now, does this mean we should discount the Gospels? Of course not. I could write a book or a blog post like this one on my INTERPRETATION of another work, such as this book I am reading. It is processed by my considerable intellect and what you read is the distillation through my brain. You may not like what I have to say, or agree, but it's worth reading (I think).

By the same token, we need to be intellectually honest that the real authors of the Gospels were not the atrributed authors and whoever they really were, they had a literary message to convey about the life of Jesus (a point of view). Thus, they are not absolute truths, but inspired works.

Perhaps they were inspired by God. But in as much as these were not apostles, but rather (wealthy and literate, most likely Greek) humans with imperfections and no first hand knowledge, I think we have to accept that they are literature, not fact.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

10.05.2011

The Quandrous Geneology of Jesus

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Houston, we have a problem.

In both the book of Matthew and of Luke in the Bible, the authors make a point of tracing Jesus' prestigious geneology back from his father Joseph through King David to Abraham, the father of the Jews, and (in Luke) all the way back to Adam.

Here's the problem...

Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (via the Holy Spirit), and Joseph wasn't ever his biological father. Fact. So the geneology of Joseph, awesome as it was, is quite irrelevant to the geneology of Jesus that these authors praise. It is the geneology of Mary that should matter.

But neither Luke nor Matthew have anything to say about Mary's ancestors. Indeed, these are the only two Gospels that have anything to say about Jesus' geneology, and they both trace it through Joseph to Jewish ancestors.

They ignore his (relevant) bloodline through Mary completely.

Do you find that odd?

I do.

Set aside the fact that the two Gospels give different geneologies for Joseph, if Jesus, the Messiah, was (according to the Bible) supposed to be a descendant of David, Israel's greates king, then he isn't. Or, at least there is no evidence in the Bible that he is, since we don't know Mary's ancestry.

If we assume Mary and Joseph are both descendants of David, that could work. But it's an assumption, not supported by the literal Bible.

So while the Bible may be the INSPIRED word of God, it certainly does not appear to be inerrant.

SOURCE: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)