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An Agnostic Defense of Religion

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You may not know it to look at me, but I am an enemy of religion.

Well, some people say that anyway based on two simple facts: I’m agnostic, and I believe the government should stay as far away from religious speech as it can.

This seems to be a sectarian version of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” To true believers, even a declared neutral on religion is an adversary. By such logic, there is no such thing as neutral. “Neutrality” is simply code for “doesn’t support,” which of course means “opposes.”

That may be helpful when trying to construct an “us against the heathen hordes” mindset, but it doesn’t really comport well with reality. I send my children to Lutheran preschools; I have written frequently about Abdul Rahman, and will write about other religious freedom cases in the future; I strongly support individual religious liberty. I respect the role of religion in society. I have tossed change into Salvation Army kettles.

I just happen to think that religion is not a government concern. It’s one of a whole host of things — like, say, clothing styles — where government should not have a role. As citizens, we all have a right to practice our religion as we see fit. What we do not have is the right to use the government to promote our religion.

An agnostic who supports religion
I was raised Presbyterian, so I have more than a passing familiarity with Christianity. But I’m an agnostic for the classic reason: I don’t believe the existence or nonexistence of God can be proven, so why waste time on an unsolvable puzzle? It’s fun to noodle on, but not really worth the investment of serious study. If He exists, great. If He doesn’t, okay. I guess I’ll find out when I’m dead.

Same thing with “Is there an afterlife?” Nobody knows, so any attempt to reason it out or “prove it” inevitably devolves into finding an explanation that is comforting to you. I sincerely hope there is an afterlife, and we all owe religion a “thank you” for coming up with the concept; but believe in it? Can’t do it.

Does that mean I think believers are gullible, easily deluded saps? Hardly. Just because they cannot prove to me that God exists doesn’t mean that they have not had His existence proven to their own satisfaction. Perhaps they’ve had a personal experience with God. Perhaps they see God’s presence in the structure of the world around them. Who am I to say they’re wrong?

So though I’m agnostic, I’m not hostile to religion. We discuss religious topics with our children, including the main tenets of the major religions. Why? Because I want my children to be able to make their own religious choices. As they get older, we’ll discuss religion in greater detail, even take them to church/synagogue/temple if they want. I see my role as providing information, not telling them what to believe.

Government, belief, and public policy
I think people should be free to worship as they please. And I respect religion’s role in society. Why, then, do I think government should be studiously neutral on religion?

Two reasons: public policy must have a rational, logically defensible basis; and government is for all people, not just the adherents of any single religion or group of religions.

Public policy: Personal, untestable, unprovable beliefs have no place in formulating government policy. As an individual, I’m free to believe that redheads are agents of God’s evil twin. Does that give me the right to enact anti-redhead laws? Not in a country that respects individual rights. In order to discriminate against a group or behavior, I must mount a logical public-policy case for doing so. Religious belief may inform my views as a voter or a legislator, but it cannot by itself be a basis for law.

Government for all people: If the government expresses a preference for certain religions, it is by necessity excluding those who believe differently. Our government belongs to all of us, in all our myriad beliefs or nonbeliefs; and thus it should not express a preference for any particular religion.

Blue laws — which force businesses to close on Sundays — are a perfect example of laws with no rational reason for existing, and which put government muscle behind one particular religion. If you don’t believe in working on the Sabbath, then don’t — but don’t use the government to force everyone else to take the day off, too.

Does this mean I’m trying to push religion out of the public square? No. Because individuals are free — nay, encouraged — to keep religion in the public square. Only the government should remain neutral and silent.

An analogy: If I don’t want cars driving on the sidewalk, am I anti-car? No. I just believe they belong on the road, not on the sidewalks. Similarly, religion belongs in individual discourse, not government discourse.

There are gray areas, of course. Religion should not be discriminated against, either. Religion plays a role in our society; its contribution can be recognized and acknowledged by the government just like the government recognizes the contributions of other groups. But the emphasis should be on recognizing the contribution, not the religion.

This, by the way, is why I generally support Bush’s push to make faith-based organizations eligible for government grants. Religious groups should be treated just like everybody else; they should receive neither favorable nor unfavorable treatment merely because they are religious.

As the above example demonstrates, trying to find the proper place for religion in a religiously diverse society is not an “attack on God.” It’s common sense, the accommodations that allow us to coexist peacefully with our neighbors as equal citizens.

Religious issues
Being agnostic, or defending everyone’s right to believe what they want, doesn’t mean I lack opinions on religious issues. I frankly enjoy religious discussions because of the big questions they raise. But these are debates about the shape of religion, not its existence.

For example, I’m not a huge fan of organized religion. Organized religion is all about claiming stewardship of the One True God. Since that’s an unprovable claim on the face of it, they have to resort to secondary measures to attract and keep a following. Eventually the church’s continued existence becomes an end in itself — an end that, while not totally separate from honoring God, is at least distinct from it.

The whole concept of Hell is a great example. Many religions claim something along the lines of “we are the one true faith; believe in us or suffer for all eternity.” This has always struck me as a transparent organizational tactic, not something that God would do. What kind of God would create a world that contains thousands of religions, and then say to each of us: “Pick wisely, because only one of them will get you into heaven”? If that is indeed the kind of God we have — petty and sadistic — then I for one choose not to worship Him even if He exists. No God worth the name plays shell games with people’s souls.

I choose to believe that if there is an afterlife, and the entrance requirement is based on what you do on earth, then the criteria will be things like living a good, honorable life, regardless of what particular creed you subscribe to.

(To be fair, I think the common depiction of Hell is a distortion. The most reasonable definition of Hell I’ve come across describes it simply as “the absence of God.” That’s simply a truism: If I don’t believe in the Christian God, then when I die, I will not go to the Christian heaven. It does not imply, however, that Hell is unpleasant: fire, brimstone, devils, demons. And it leaves open the possibility of me going to a different heaven, or the Elysian Fields, or Limbo, or whatever. Or being reincarnated.)

Or you can get into a discussion of why we should worship God. Doing so voluntarily out of simple joy or gratitude makes sense. But few religions present worship as merely an option; it’s the whole point, and often demanded by the God in question. Yet it seems to me that any God worth having wouldn’t care a whit about being worshipped, and thus Gods that demand worship probably don’t deserve it.

Is evolution opposed to God? Only if you think God couldn’t have chosen evolution as one of the mechanisms of creation. Is science opposed to God? No; science looks at the how of things, not the who or the why behind it. It’s only a conflict if your faith requires belief in easily disprovable things.

The questions go on and on. They’re great; they’re interesting; they make us think. They are why religion exists: to try to tackle the big questions, explain the unexplainable. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and it produces some first-class philosophy. And the redemptive power of religion has transformed lives and societies.

That is what religion does for us, and why it is valuable.

But religion, like any social tool, can also be used for ill. The religious wars that wracked Europe, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch burnings, Islamic terrorism, and militant Jewish settlers all show belief being twisted to bad ends. And it usually occurs when one religion gains undue influence in secular government and starts using that government to further its own agenda.

So let each religion compete in the public marketplace of ideas. Let us build a society that knits together fervid and disparate beliefs into a vibrant whole. But let us agree that for any of us to be free, all of us have to be free. And that means keeping the government out of religion. For the government that today promotes your religion can tomorrow suppress it — and society will be the poorer for that.

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About Sean Aqui

  • Excellent article! Very well written and thought out. Persuasive.

  • zingzing

    wonderful. let’s see how they disagree with this… it’s amazing how if you put something logically, without yelling about it, how persuasive it becomes. i couldn’t write something like this. i think the way you do, but i write like some raving lunatic, yelling and cursing and insulting as i go. it’s beautiful. i love riling them up. but… it doesn’t get me anywhere.

    i can’t wait to see how they (“they”) react to this. part of me wouldn’t be surprised if they try to poke you a new asshole. part of me wouldn’t be surprised if they just leave this alone, because there is nothing they can say.

  • gonzo marx

    ok…time for some quibbles…

    “faith based initiaives” – sorry…they don’t get a fucking dime of government money as long as they remain tax exempt…fair enough?

    i differentiate betwen “Faith” and “Religion”

    the Author does well to define his differences as well when speaking of organized religion as opposed to personal observances…this differnce needs to be more pronounced in our national discourse IMO

    probably some more, but those are the first things that jumped out at me…i will re-read this one more carefully as time allows

    thanks to the Poster for a thoughtful read


  • Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Gonzo, the issue of whether churches should be tax-exempt is a separate one to me. I agree with you in general. A special tax-exemption for churches doesn’t make much sense, though I think they should be able to qualify for tax-exemptions the way any other nonprofit does.

    But that particular issue doesn’t have to be injected into the faith-based initiatives debate. As long as the government is dispensing grants using religiously neutral criteria, religious organizations should be as eligible as anyone else. After all, the purpose is to help people. Do we really want to hamper that help because of quibbles about the tax status of some of those groups?

    There have to be restrictions on proselytization so the government isn’t indirectly funding a “souls for soup” exchange — but if we’re helping the homeless, for example, I don’t care whether that help comes from a church or not.

  • gonzo marx

    fair enough…but what about hiring discrimination of said organizations?

    is it ok for our government to give money to said organizations who won’t hire gays? for example

    or..taken to the extreme to make a point…

    a soup kitchen with NO evangelizing, owned by the KKK that will not hire jews or blacks….do they get money too?

    you see where i am going with this…a very dangerous place

    treat them like any other non-profit…fine, but make them live up to the standards and regulations that those organizations do (including filing their tax returns, even those that are exempt) as well as hiring practices, safety issues and so on

    then i am ok with it, but everything i have read on the subject is all one way…FOR the “faith based” and screw the secular rules that go along with the cash

    and there’s the problem

    your mileage may vary


  • Those are all issues to be addressed, I agree.

    This is a bit radical, I know, but I’m less concerned with the organization’s internal hiring practices than their service practices: the KKK-backed group is free to hire only whites, but they have to equally and fairly serve anyone who walks through the door. If they can’t do that — and their hiring practices could be taken as at least partial evidence that they can’t — then they can be denied money.

    The key here is to focus on what the purpose of the grants are: to get aid to needy people.

  • gonzo marx

    i must Respectfully disagree with you here, Sean…

    as Yeshua proved in his Passion…the Ends NEVER justify the Means…the Means are the End unto themselves

    this is evenmore important when you speak of a representative Republics spending of public cash gathered via involuntary taxes

    so far…nothing in the last 5 years has shown me the current Regime can be trusted with a lollipop, much less how to spend the citizen’s Wealth

    hence my innate distrust of ANY plan they utter to “privatize” ANYTHING!!!

    follow the money anbd see who’s pocket’s it winds up in…no matteer how noble sounding the Cause, or how nice it looks on paper…

    example: who woudl vote against something called the “Patriot Act”?

    nuff said?


  • Well Zingzing, you wrote,

    wonderful. let’s see how they disagree with this…

    See who disagreed with the agnostic author? Another agnostic quibbling over hypotheticals – and winding up quoting a religion!

    You can’t win sometimes…

  • gonzo marx

    well Ruvy…where have i ever said i was an agnostic?

    and i Quoted an Idea put forward by a Teacher of a Philosophy

    please note the differnces, then you might understand where i am coming from a bit better

    for the record: i am vehemently AGAINST US federal money going to ANY “religious” based institution …see the seperation clause in thye First Amendment

    but i am silly that way


  • gonzo marx

    oh yes, and most of my Quibbles are NOT “hypotheticals” tho i did use one extreme example to make my point..

    for instance, Catholic charities, which do great work mind you, will NOT hire gays or jews…a clear violation of federal anti-dicrimination practices…and thus should render them ineligible for federal money by the Law’s own guidelines

    just an example to illustrate a point


  • zingzing

    i’m still waiting for a religious person to try to tear this apart. i noticed you, ruvy, didn’t have much to say… but you’re not one of the zealots i worry about. you’re religious… but you’re not absolutely insane with it… not all the time…

  • Hey Gonzo, I’m not disagreeing or agreeing with you one way or another. I am just utterly amused, that’s all. So you’re not an agnostic, eh, just a heretic.

    Okay, that’s cool.


    The only religious person who might attempt to tear apart an agnostic’s defense of religion is a fool. It’s called biting the hand that feeds you.

    You may remember Mr. Ed. He kept quiet when he had nothing to say. Wise policy, that.

  • gonzo marx

    awww…Ruvy..i never said i wasn’t either…

    you might note i’ve NEVER stated anything about “belief”

    but i digress…

    /end highjack


  • zingzing

    ruvy- i’m more interested in the religion in politics portion of this. not in the “religion’s okay” bits.

  • “Is evolution opposed to God? Only if you think God couldn’t have chosen evolution as one of the mechanisms of creation.”

    Well, I think the issue here is that evolution explains itself, does not need some supernatural-mighty-beign behind it, you don’t need God to explain evolution.

    Why God would have chosen evolution instead of popping up every form of life in a couple of days, beign IMPOSSIBLE to be explained with sience?

    Saying God CHOOSE EVOLUTION, is the same as saying green hornets from pluto choose it.

    Occam’s Razor
    principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explantory hypothesis or theory.

  • RedTard

    “you don’t need God to explain evolution.”

    And you don’t need evolution to explain god.

    “Why God would have chosen evolution instead of popping up every form of life in a couple of days, beign IMPOSSIBLE to be explained with sience?”

    Perhaps he did pop everything into existence and set it in motion during the big bang (that’s nanoseconds, not days). Your small mortal mind is just not capable of grasping the beauty of the plan.

    “Saying God CHOOSE EVOLUTION, is the same as saying green hornets from pluto choose it.”

    Not really, perhaps you should read the link you provided and apply the razor yourself. The second statement makes many more assumptions.

  • I see… you are proving that God exists assuming it exists, interesting.

    Oh, maybe you are not trying to prove.. it’s just a matter of faith…in that case I have the same right to believe green hornets from pluto created life, cause it has the same EVIDENCE, NONE.

    You see, I’ll explain it to you carefully cause I think you did not understand:

    Evolution of the species, is as truth as Newton laws, there is DATA, PROVE, scientific method behind it.
    Planes fly based on Bernoulli principle, not on same magic or external super-beign, you don’t NEED a God to explain it.(Maybe in ancient times rain was God’s gift, not now for sure).
    Well, you don’t need a God to explain life either.

    I’m sorry to tell you is as ridiculous as saying planes fly cause an invisible spirit is holding it from below.

    Give it a think before answering please….

    You sould read a little about evolution too, maybe you grasp the beauty of the NO PLAN!


  • Bill, you’re correct in saying evolution doesn’t need God. But it doesn’t exclude God, either. We don’t know how life first sprang up; evolution only describes what happened to life afterwards. Perhaps life just came into existence spontaneously; that’s plausible. Or perhaps a God created it.

    The Big Bang tries to explain how the universe began.It doesn’t really get into why the universe began at that particular moment, or what started it. It’s like writing a description of an explosion, but starting at a point after the explosion has already begun.

    Occam’s Razor applies to science and the observable universe, not God. And arguably it implies the existence of God, anyway. For life to spontaneously arise requires lots and lots of little steps, whereas “God did it” requires just one — if you’re willing to overlook questions like “Who made God?”

  • RedTard

    I’m not trying to prove anything exists. I know nothing about why we are here and I don’t claim to. The title of the post is an Agnostic defense of religion, not proof that god exists.

    You do have the same right to believe in green hornets as anyone else does. The question is what is it about your personality that makes you want to attack someone else’s beliefs as ridiculous without provocation? Does it give you pleasure to insult a ‘fundy’?

    Someone earlier in the thread wondered aloud how long before “they” (the religious types) would get riled up over the post. I think the more appropriate question is how long will it take the religion intolerant left to jump on the thread?

    It is popular to demonize and attack anyone of faith these days. The fact that religion is openly attacked is a sign that it has become weak, even though it is portrayed as exactly the opposite. Oh well, it’s no skin off my back, as long as the intolerant aren’t coming for me I shouldn’t make a fuss.

  • Well, obviously I’m not able to explain myself.

    I did not say evolution exclude God. I say life could be explained with evolution, without God.

    Maybe a God does exists, and maybe green hornets exists in north face of pluto.

    What I’m saying is that there is no evidence and no reason to believe a God exists indeed.

    As Friedrich Nietzsche said it…

    What is it: is man only a blunder of God, or God only a blunder of man?

  • RedTard, I’m sorry if you feel insulted, I didn’t mean to.

    Maybe victimizing yourself excludes you from opening your mind and discussing religious issues(what this thread is about).

    And let me remind you, I replied to the original post about some issue it didn’t seem right to me, then you came after ranting about small mortal minds…

  • Steve

    That’s what’s so interesting about the current debate about evolution. If it weren’t for the atheists constantly suggesting that evolution removes the need for God (which it doesn’t, it’s quite compatible with a number of other religions actually), there would not be so much debate over intelligent design in the classroom.

  • Bill, cool; then we agree. Evolution neither requires nor excludes God.

    Steve, there are plenty of believers who say the same thing without goading from atheists. It’s an equal opportunity misconception.

  • Well Zingzing,

    Looks like you sparked a debate after all. the faithists – atheists in this case – have come to crow their case. Were those the religious fanatics you were talking about, Zingzing?

  • JP

    Red, the left isn’t all “religion intolerant.” I respect this position as advocated here, particularly:

    “There are gray areas, of course. Religion should not be discriminated against, either. Religion plays a role in our society; its contribution can be recognized and acknowledged by the government just like the government recognizes the contributions of other groups. But the emphasis should be on recognizing the contribution, not the religion. This, by the way, is why I generally support Bush’s push to make faith-based organizations eligible for government grants. Religious groups should be treated just like everybody else; they should receive neither favorable nor unfavorable treatment merely because they are religious.”

    This post shows a rational and sane level of separation without an extreme fear or intolerance of religion. Nice work.

  • ss

    Nice post, Sean. I liked your distinction between organized religion and God, and your contention that God and science can easily coexist. I’ve never heard a chemistry or engineering teacher/prof/instructor claim otherwise.
    Organized religion and science seem to have a slightly more antagonistic relationship, for all the reasons you describe (correctly, IMO) as the shortcomings of organized religion.
    I would put it in another, cruder way.
    Science, at its best, is not a collection of known facts but a method that seeks to increase people’s ability to sniff out the difference between shit and shinola. Organized religion, on the other hand, has a vested interest in protecting a dogma based on sentiment and tradition, and so, to often, actively seeks out people based on thier inability to tell the difference between shit and shinola. On matters of public policy, then, generally science is most harmful when it functions improperly, and organized religion is at its most harmful when it functions just as it was made to.
    If that sounds antagonistic, I’d have to ask all followers of organized religions: Who has never proven to be able to keep their religious beliefs out of the realm of public policy?

  • Thanks, SS. To be fair, since many personal values arise from religion, it can be hard for believers to separate those values from their public policy interests. But for their beliefs to become enshrined in law, they must make sound public-policy arguments first.

  • ss

    This is true Sean. But I do live in a country where one group of adults (gays and lesbians)recently had to ask permission from other adults to marry a spouse. And they were denied.
    The reasons for maintaining this inequity included claims that marriage is a special right, claims that this would alter the definition of marriage so drasticly as to allow for polygamy, and claims that this would encourage pedaphelia.
    If someone can’t smell which arguement is based on equality among adults, and which is based on spurious bullshit, I suspect organized religion (which actively organized this denial of equal personal liberty) has dulled this ability in them to the point where their participation in determining public policy could be detrimental not only to gays and lesbians, but, on other issues, to the public at large.
    It’s hard not to view organized religion as a threat to personal liberty and sound public policy in view of these, and other, recent events.
    Also, looking back at organized religion’s continued failed attempts to deny scientific findings about the natural world, starting with it’s denial that the Earth orbits the sun, and continuing until very recently with the outright denial of evolutionary theory, the ‘personal values’ derived from religion seem to be derived from an irrational view of the world. Coupled with the harm to other members of society these irrational values have been used to justify, organized religion is obviously harmful when used as a basis for public policy.
    Which is a long way of saying: We’re in agreement. I just think a strident tone on this issue is completely justified.

  • zingzing

    ruvy–turn your nose back down, now, kid… sigh…

  • Just passing by

    Interesting comments.

    Just thought I would give my “2 cents”

    Charles Darwin himself (the inventor of Evolution many years ago) admitted that “if it could be proven that and organism could not have slowly evolved with small gradual changes, then my theory would be completely foundationless”.

    Those aren’t the exact words, but the essence.

    Anyways, for anyone who is interested a book entitled “Darwin’s Black Box” discusses the “flagellem motor” (spelling?). Basically it is a cell that defies Evolution. If Charles Darwin had the scientific knowledge we have today, we would have thrown his theory in the bin.

    Furthermore, one of the strongest evidences that an intellegence exists is the discovery of DNA. DNA = Data/Information. Data/Information ALWAYS comes from some form of intellegence. That is an undisputed SCIENTIFIC FACT. What book or computer code doesn’t have an author ? Evolution will NEVER be able to explain the source of DNA, because Evolution is about how life got here without the influence of intellegence. Now that Scientists have discovered “Biological Information” they will never be able to stick to the “true” concept of Evolution i.e. life beginning without outside intelligence.

    A DVD entitled “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” produced by http://www.illustramedia.com makes for interesting watching. Its basically a bunch of Scientists who are finally realizing they can no longer use Evolution to explain everything.

    Whether it be “God” or Aliens from some other dimension. However one looks at it, Intelligent Design is now a scientific theory here to stay. Whereas before it wasn’t even considered.

  • gonzo marx

    the problem here is that Darwin didn’t invent shit…

    he expanded on Lamarckian evolutionary theory

    try actually reading the work you are attempting to disprove




  • Re: #30.

    This isn’t an evolution thread, but I’ll take a quick stab at your comments.

    Intelligent design is not a scientific theory, because it is not susceptible to testing. At best it is a critique of evolution. And it’s a critique that relies on failure of the imagination: that something is “too complex” to have arisen naturally.

    First, complexity is a sign of trial-and-error design — i.e., evolution. Things designed by an intelligent being tend to be elegant and simple.

    The best critique of intelligent design is that the designer couldn’t have been very intelligent, since most organisms are needlessly complex, and many of their features don’t work as well as they would had they been designed by a second-year engineering student. The human eye and knee come to mind as examples.

    Your point about DNA is merely an assertion, and not a strongly founded one. All of existence is made up of encoded information. The rocks in a river encode the passing of the water washing over them. The structure of the universe encodes its history, allowing astrophysicists to see the afterglow of creation. A tree’s rings encode its life story.

    For a disassembling of “Darwin’s Black Box”, visit here.

    For a specific rebuttal of the flagellar motor, go here.

  • Bennett

    “Its basically a bunch of Scientists who are finally realizing they can no longer use Evolution to explain everything.”


    My bunch of scientists were NEVER lame enough to think that ANY single Theory ‘explains everything’.

    Plus, my bunch of scientists can beat up your bunch of scientists.

    But I digress.

  • Duane

    I didn’t know that scientists came in bunches. I thought they came in hordes. Live and learn.

    …Intelligent Design is now a scientific theory here to stay.

    I weep for the future.

    Whereas before it wasn’t even considered.

    Bah. It’s been considered since humans developed the ability to consider.

  • Vern Halen

    Y’know, in one disguise or another, this God/No God debate shows up here on BC every few months, and the same arguments get thrown around. One day, I’d simply like to see a thread where the various commentators explain their own PERSONAL experience that helped them draw their own personal conclusions – because although people can never convince one another about a point of faith using logic, a person can obviously convince oneself.

  • gonzo marx

    decent point Vern….

    i think a lot of it has to do with the deliberate confusion of Faith and Religion…

    i don’t think i have ever read anyone here who has a problem with people of Faith

    but i know i myself, and some other DO have difficulties with Religions and the snake oil salesmen who profiteer from those of their Flock who do have Faith

    just a thought


  • Steve

    Well, gonzo, I can appreciate that, not all those in the limelight are above reproach, but not all aren’t either…like anything else, a pulpit can be abused, but it can also be used well…all depends on who is using it.

  • Huh?

    Evolution is interesting.

    But no one can explain how it all began.

    How is one supposed to believe all this came from nothing ?

    Evolution discusses how something came from something. If that’s true, explain how the something came from nothing.

  • gonzo marx

    sure..i’ll be glad to..

    right after you tell me who created “god”


  • zingzing

    the nothing that the something came from can be found in the bible?

  • Steve

    Good point, Huh…

    They can’t…that’s why even many evolutionists are also religious.

  • Most theories of abiogenesis start with the idea that life, at its most basic, is merely a process. It’s organic chemicals that act independently of their environment; or its any organic structure that is able to replicate itself.

    The most recent theories actually suggest that life processes predate life. In the primordial soup organic chemicals mixed. As they sought equilibrium, structures emerged. And as those structures interacted, life emerged.

    It’s plausible, but there’s no actual proof for it. And none of it answers how the universe itself began.

    Go back far enough, and there has to be an agent. But it’s a chicken and egg question, because the next logical step is “where did the agent come from?”

    Even if we eventually prove that life on earth arose spontaneously, that doesn’t disprove God. Because there’s no way to prove that that wasn’t simply the method God chose, and it still doesn’t explain why the universe exists or where it came from or what existed before it. And what existed before that. And so on.

    As long as there are unanswerable questions, there is room for God.

  • And to be clear, theories of how life began are separate from evolution. They may use evolutionary mechanisms as part of their argument, but evolution is a theory of how life changes, not how it began.

  • That’s true Sean, but it still leaves the god hypothesis with zero supporting evidence at all.

    It’s up to faithists to prove the existence of this mythical creature not the rest of us disprove it.

  • They don’t have to prove His existence any more than atheists have to prove his nonexistence. Neither is provable; that’s why it’s a belief.

    Yes, atheists can turn to the “you can’t prove a negative” and do the logical “the person claiming positive existence has the burden of proof.” But while that may win a formal debate, it says nothing about whether God actually exists.

    The only time they have to prove His existence is if they want to use their religion as the sole basis for a secular law. Which is impossible, which is why I argue that they can’t do that.

  • Sean, listen to yourself, “that may win a formal debate, it says nothing about whether God actually exists”.

    You’re just refusing to accept reality. Who in their right mind would believe in fairy stories and base their life upon it? You might as well live your life by the doctrine of Disney!

  • Well answer me this: How did the universe begin? And what existed before it?

    Something set existence in motion. That something could reasonably be called God. I don’t see the point in worshipping something so abstract, but that’s beside the point.

    What can’t be proven is the existence of any particular god as described by any particular religion. And what especially can’t be proven is any sort of anthropomorphic God who looks a bit like Charlton Heston in drag.

    But just because a believer gets most of the details wrong doesn’t mean they have no justification for a basic belief in a creator of some sort.

    Except when believers demand belief in their particular version of God, I often think that the conflict between believers and atheists is mostly a matter of semantics.

  • Sean, we don’t need to make up creation myths, we can simply and humbly say, we don’t know – yet…

  • Agreed. But because we don’t know, how do you know we weren’t sneezed out of the left nostril of a giant space goat?

    For the sake of argument, let’s say God exists. Let’s say He, for His own unfathomable divine reasons, decided to reveal Himself to just 10 people, with whatever proof those 10 people required.

    Those 10 people know for certain that God exists. But there’s no way on earth they can prove it to anyone else.

    So feel free to explain to believers that there is no proof of their belief, which is why you decline to join their coven. But recognize that that doesn’t necessarily make their belief wrong; it only makes it insufficient basis for public policy.

  • Vern Halen

    Ontology – the theory or study of being as such; i.e., of the basic characteristics of all reality.

    I once had a philosophy professor present the class with a list of all that can be known – his version of an ontological list. Since God couldn’t be known (i.e., His existence couldn’t be proven), for all practical intents & purposes He did not exist. How do you argue with that? I asked him whether there shouldn’t be an additional category for things that can’t be known, to which he replied that would defy the definition of an ontology. But, I said, if you knew there were things you didn’t know, then by knowing that, it made another thing that you knew. He didn’t field that one well, and I asked, how about the spaces between the words & letters & lines in the list? With out them, there’s no list – perhaps they represent God in the list. By this point the whole thing degenerated into ridiculousness. Since then, I don’t worry too much about how many angels dance on the head of a pin – what is the nature of anyone’s reality? You can make up anything you want, and someone will argue about it.

    I guess for me the bottom line is this: God’s creation or the most highly evolved life form we know? I just wish we as a human race would start acting the part – either one.

  • Sean, there are millions of possible explanations for the origin of things, including your own charming Goat Nostril hypothesis! However, rational people consider the most likely explanations before looking at less likely possibilities.

    People who believe in the god idea have not considered other answers and stick to their little bits of dogma in the face of all reason. That is neither intelligent or worthy of respect, it is simply intellectual cowardice and spiritual corruption.

    Vern, there are other options; we may be the most evolved life form we know but I rather suspect that we’re not as highly evolved as we’re going to be, and soon…

  • JP

    Christopher, believing in god does not assume strict dogma – look at Buddhism and paganism, for two examples. It’s a diverse world out there, don’t be fooled by the limited view called Christianity.

  • I’m not fooled by Christianity or any other religious cult, JP. I’m also not trying to negate anybody’s innate sense of spirituality or awe.

    The question is more why do we need some fictional entity to invoke or command our feelings of reverence and worship when the true splendour of the secular miracle of life is all around us? Ain’t it?

  • RedTard

    The question is more why you need to insult and put down others beliefs while patting yourself on the back for how much more logical you are?

    Just like God your non-theory of where the universe came from cannot be proven or disproven so I view it simply as another religion, in this case atheism. You expect religious types not to come here to preach and try to convert people, I wish you atheists had that same kind of class.

  • Re.-#53

    “…when the true splendour of the secular miracle of life is all around us?…”

    Christopher, many people of faith will argue that the “splendor”, itself, is God.

    ….just a different perspective.

  • Steve

    Funny, I used to believe that human history was like a line on a graph tilted at a 45 degree angle, where we are constantly evolving into an ever higher lifeform. However, the more I study human history, the more cyclical it appears to be, as civilisations wax and wane.

    The thing I can’t figure, if we are just evolved creatures, why should we have a sense of awe about anything??…it should be as ordinary as mud. Just one of the many small indicators that there is more to this life, that simply don’t fit into evolutionary thinking.

  • gonzo marx

    i disagree Steve…

    Awe is about anything that touches us or moves us deeply…one can be awed by mathematics or a sunset

    simplicity to postulate that this emotion serves some evolutionary purpose without assigning any other value to it

    you denigrate the process in your thinking when you say “just evolved creatures”

    which causes you more awe…that we were created, full blown, 6000 years ago by some Entity with the patience and temper of a spoiled 6 year old who then required vast amounts of incest to populate the world after flooding it…

    OR…the subtle and shifting process of Evolution, changing and creating, experimenting and adapting over such a time period that if the earth’s history were the empire state building, the entire time of Man would be just a postage stamp at the top of the antenna tower?

    just a Thought


  • “…that if the earth’s history were the empire state building, the entire time of Man would be just a postage stamp at the top of the antenna tower…”

    what a great analogy…might have to use that myself one day, gonzo 😉

  • chantal: well, they would, wouldn’t they. I have viewed that particular perspective before but found it unhelpful and moved on.

    Steve: Huh? If you look around wherever you are right now, then your town, country, continent, planet, solar system and the entire freaking Milky Way and don’t feel a sense of awe, humility and amazement at the whole mindboggling spectacle of it all and wonder at how precious and fragile it all is then I’d have to question where your personal spiritual sense is hiding!

    Me, I’m gobsmacked about a dozen times a day although, as gonzo might say, your mileage may vary!!

  • gonzo marx

    for the Record..i stole that one from the Soprano’s on sunday

    can’t help myself sometimes….i wish i coudl take credit for it


  • Steve

    Well, gonzo, when one believes that people are created in the image of God, then obviously, simply being evolved creatures is hardly going to be anything but denigrating, is it??

    One thing about the OT is, you don’t get an adequate sense of the passing of time in many passages, (the fact that the Hebrew calendar is used does not help that!), if you did, you would have a better understanding about how patient God really is, certainly infinitely more than any 6 year old, any adult for that matter…but I suppose when you read it piecemeal, instead of in context, I can see why you might see it your way.

  • As far as people being created in the image of God, why does God have a need for genitals? He clearly didn’t use them when He gave us His ‘Son’.

    Why does God need to breathe air? Why does he need lungs, doesn’t he live in all of space and time?

    Does God have sweat glands? Does he get acne? Does he have a stomache and need to eat to remain alive? Is he a vegan or does he prefer McDonalds?

    To believe that man is created in the image of God is one of the most self absorbed dreams our human race has ever come up with.

  • Steve

    I notice no one is quarrelling with my point about history in #56!

    At the end of the day, Chris, we are nothing more than an accident according to evolutionary theory, a freak of nature. If that’s all we are, we shouldn’t react that way, the animals don’t. And yet, we still do…something missing in that theory of yours.

  • gonzo marx

    Steve, on the contrary…due to the historical lineage ( all those begattings) you get a perfect record of how old Man is on this world (see Bishop Usher’s calculations…as well as many Jewish works)

    comes out around 6000 years

    now, compare that to the carbon dating of the Iceman found in the italian alps a few years ago (approximately 7500 years old)…a european with acupuncture marks ( tattoos over them as well) a bow, fletching tools, brone axe head and worked copper….

    on and on

    my only point is that one can keep their Faith distinct from their Science…but organized religion, which by definition is centralized around accepted dogma, is anathema not only to the human condition, but ot personal growth as well

    the only good comes from those snake oil salesmen who tell you only they know the Mind of God, and that only they hold the Truth

    THAT is the postulate i remain apostate to

    and why i state….

    gnosis > dogma


  • SteveS!! good to see you on here!…..

    And you’re right…’man’ is very self-absorbed…which is why this debate is thousands of years old.

  • gonzo…..

    didn’t Ruvy give an explanation to the ‘Age of Man’ argument based on ancient Jewish text on another thread?

    crikey, now I’m going to have to do a little digging, it was interesting.

  • Steve

    gonzo, my reference to time was not in relation to how old creation is, but how God responds to people in the OT.

    Also, you should realise that any Christian should not be listening to any preacher that says ONLY THEY have the truth. If you or anyone thinks that’s how Christianity is supposed to work, you don’t know much about the New Testament at all. There are things that Christians are encouraged to test their leaders by, if the preacher is out of line, they are not to be heeded. Sounds to me like you are talking about cults, which are a whole other ballgame entirely.

    gonzo, if you knew how the dating process works, you would know that things that are tested generally give a variety of readings, the ones that are accepted and published are the ones that fit with the dogma that was dreamt up in the 19th century and popularised before any research had been done. That’s a long way from proof of anything, it has alot more to do with circular reasoning.

  • Steve

    Steve S, I’m sorry you can think of people only in terms of their physical characteristics, I guess that’s a symptom of a materialistic view of life, I suppose. I was referring to the spiritual attributes people have, not the physical ones. Like the Bible says, “God is a Spirit…” (John 4:24).

  • gonzo marx

    different Steve….

    and as for #56..i did raise a point, but perhaps i need to be more clear..

    it is my Thought that what seperates us from the animals you speak of is Logos…

    our ability to think and communicate in abstract Symbology

    in other words, using evolutionary Theory….we first became Man when Ug took a stick and drew figures of himself and other hunters…then a buffalo…and traced out the “play” of how they were going to hunt it

    see the french cave paintings as another example..there is NO doubt as to what those are, and their dating is way in the dawn of pre-history

    but they clearly communicate

    the Logos is the Key here…

    nuff said?


  • Steve

    Yes, gonzo, it is Thought that seperates us from the animals. But why should we evolve a form of thought that thinks the creation is so spectacular?? If we are from the creation and nothing else, why should we find it so amazing?? If our thought had an evolutionary source, I don’t see why that should be…like I said, the creation should be as ordinary as mud to us. I still think there is something missing in the whole evolutionary logic.

  • Duane

    I’m reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the ape-like creatures, called Sky-Watcher by the author, got into the habit of staying awake later than his fellow cave-dwellers, and looking at the sky, wondering about the moon and stars. Later, it is, in fact, Sky-Watcher that receives the message from the monolith, the mental images that gave rise to tool use, or weapon use in this case. The other apes were in the proximity of the monolith, but only Sky-Watcher was able to learn from it. Sky-Watcher had an innate sense of wonder, maybe not awe per se, but curiosity about things beyond mere survival.

    Once we strip away the sci-fi, this might be taken for an analogy for how evolution has worked. The human species survived competition for space and resources by having developed a brain capable of habitual wonder. Wonder leads to a search for knowledge, like quenching a thirst. This leads to experimentation and manipulation of the environment to further aid in survival against creatures who occupy various ecological niches owing to their specific physical advantages, which are often superior to our physicality. A brain with the capacity to pose questions was one of the advantages that evolved randomly. Sky-Watcher’s tribe goes on to dominate the neighboring tribes. The lessons are passed on. Heredity kicks in, and on it goes.

    So, why should humans feel wonder and awe? It could be an evolutionary advantage.

    Steve says: … we are nothing more than an accident according to evolutionary theory, a freak of nature.

    Yes. That’s right. Although “freak” isn’t necessarily the best way of putting it. We are a consequence of Nature. But Nature now has a lot of competition from us, now that we are developing the ability to interfere with natural evolution through technological innovation. Whatever we “evolve” into will likely be the result of our own intervention.

  • Actually Steve, I’m afraid to say it’s your logic that is lacking not evolution’s…

  • Steve

    Please explain your comment #72, Chris…what do you think is so illogical, exactly??

    Well, Duane, whenever I hear folks talking about ‘apemen’ I really have to laugh I’m afraid…because as far as I’m concerned, apemen are science fiction.

    God help anyone who tried to ascertain my evolutionary development by testing my art skills on a cave wall LOL. You’d never know my IQ was 126 if you had to go by my art lol. You would be REALLY misled if you had to go by that!!

    If you put people in circumstances where just surviving is key e.g. on the TV show, “Survivor”, what they have to do to survive may seem ‘primitive’ to us but they are just as human as we are.

    I think our intelligence has more to do with what we inherit from our ancestors’ traditions and the effect of accumulated knowledge, than any ‘evolutionary’ changes in the brain.

  • gonzo marx

    Steve…i did not say Thought…i said Logos…

    many creatures obviously “think”

    it is the ability to communicate abstract Symbology that seperates us…

    and i do think that the sense of wonder and/or awe ARE survival mechanisms in much the way implied by Duane


  • “I think our intelligence has more to do with what we inherit from our ancestors’ traditions and the effect of accumulated knowledge, than any ‘evolutionary’ changes in the brain.”

    I think that answers your question quite adequately, Steve.

  • Steve S, I’m sorry you can think of people only in terms of their physical characteristics,

    I don’t think of people only in terms of physical characteristics. My comment wasn’t directed on what I thought of mankind but of the phrase that we are created in God’s image.

    I guess that’s a symptom of a materialistic view of life, I suppose.

    What is it with religious people and their need to condescend and judge others?

    I was referring to the spiritual attributes people have, not the physical ones. Like the Bible says, “God is a Spirit…” (John 4:24).

    So people are spiritually like God? God exploits workers and cuts himself a nice stock option bonus? God lies and deceives? God creates war under false pretenses? God seeks to keep people in line via fear and threats?

    Okay, strike that last one.

    To assume that you are spiritually in the image of God (what a way to twist words), is even more egotistical than I assumed.

    And yes, I condescend and judge because I don’t put on a pretense of being holier than thou.

  • Duane

    Steve: … whenever I hear folks talking about ‘apemen’ I really have to laugh I’m afraid…because as far as I’m concerned, apemen are science fiction.

    OK, fine. Then I will use the term Australopithecus anamensis (circa 4 million years ago), just to take an example. Is that more to your liking?

  • Vern Halen

    Calculations from the Bible? The Bible is not a science text and says as much in Ch.1 & 2 of Genesis, a point I’ve brought up any number of times on BC. Wstern post-Newtonian culture doesn’t read literature (and the Bible has a literary component to it) the same way as the ancient Hebrews wrote it. And I’m too tired to find my post from a few months back and & copy it here.

  • gonzo marx

    Vern…you can look up good old Bishop Usher…he started with Adam, and did all the ages and begattings and added them up

    the 6000 year figure for the age of Man is not mine, but his…and is accepted by many literalist Fundamentalist sects as well as some Hebrew scholars

    i agree with you in part that the book known as the Bible IS Literature

    a large part of my difficulty is with those who try and persuade me that it is to be taken as the “literal word of god”

    nuff said?


  • Steve

    Hey, Steve S, the first step in becoming a Christian is to recognise one’s own sinfulness, something most non religious folks never seem willing to do (the “I’m OK, I don’t need God” syndrome). So I don’t know where you get off calling me holier than thou, at least I recognise I’m a sinner, so I can hardly be holier than thou!! Of course, God’s image in man has been tainted by sin, and so not everything man does is a reflection of God. But there are vestiges of the goodness of God in us, that God wants us to demonstrate whenever we can.

    Your comment #62 was very condescending, Steve S, I was merely responding in kind, so you could see what you sound like. Anyone who thinks condescention is the exclusive preserve of religious folk really do have blinkers on!!

  • Vern Halen

    Sorry, Gonzo – all that begattingn is just the way people expressed themselves back them – their idiom.

    When you were a kid and your mother said, “I told you a thousand times to clean this up!” she wasn’t actually counting that – it was a figure of speech. As is “40 days and 40 nights.” As is “going through the eye of a needle.” Jewish people would have understood that, and not have pulled out their abacuses (abacusi? or was that the Arabs?) and wasted their time on that.

    If people want to interpret the Bible literally – fine by me, but it’s richer to read it metaphorically – you’ll get way more out of it.

  • Steve

    Duane, just because scientists give something a fancy name, hardly means the matter is settled. It wouldn’t be the first time they gave a fancy name to an apeman that wasn’t actually something else in the first place.

  • So I don’t know where you get off calling me holier than thou

    You were condescending and judgemental. You made up stuff like, ‘I suppose that comes from a materialistic lifestyle’ or some such garbage. Scroll back up to remind yourself. YOu have no idea what you are talking about, my life is dedicated to raising a child, not gathering material things, I often rant about having no money on my blog. I provide food from the raw basics, flour, rice beans, cooking from scratch. I’m probably the most Spartan person on this board. But you have no idea about any of that, just making stuff up that I must be materialistic because I said that us being in God’s image is egotistical.

    THAT is being holier than thou.

    Your comment #62 was very condescending, Steve S,

    of course it was. Because believing we are made in God’s image is egotistical and I am not above being condescending when people go off spouting stupid stuff.

    I was merely responding in kind, so you could see what you sound like.

    But I already knew. Bless you in your attempt to educate someone who you feel doesn’t get it. If we all only had the wisdom of the righteous.

    Anyone who thinks condescention is the exclusive preserve of religious folk really do have blinkers on!!

    You mean blinders, I assume. Please point out EXACTLY where I said it is the exclusive preserve of religious folk. Actually I said I am condescending myself, when appropriate. Please do not put false words in my mouth.

  • gonzo marx

    Vern…check yer old testament…it is full of direct lineages of who begat whom…showing Family bloodlines generation by generation of the Tribes

    it is from these things and others that Bishop Usher derived his calculations…not me

    as i have stated, as wisdom infused literature, metaphor and allegory…it’s a fine book

    but as the Literal Word of God…well, that’s a horse of a different color…as i’ve tried to point out

    make more sense now?

    and for anyone to even attempt to criticize Steve S over the life he leads by example just shows how little they know and the lack of compassion inherent in being so judgemental

    “those with two good ears better listen”

    nuff said?


  • Duane

    Steve says: Duane, just because scientists give something a fancy name, hardly means the matter is settled. It wouldn’t be the first time they gave a fancy name to an apeman that wasn’t actually something else in the first place.

    Steve. OK, then. You may cling to your Piltdown hoax, and assume, therefore, that all paleoanthropology is full of mistakes and lies. Cling away.

    But this is a little off topic. Or is it?

    Anyway, I have to go and study up for my Alchemy 101 exam.

  • Vern Halen

    Think I understand you, Gonzo, or maybe not. Perhaps we are even making the same point? I’m simply saying that to take the Bible literally is to miss a lot of what it’s trying to say. Much of it was made to be understood metaphorically. Bishop Usher tried to use the Bible literally, like a science or history text – and the Bible is neither.

    Now, if you’re suggesting it’s not the inspired word of God because there is no God, that’s a different point – a point of faith, which as I’ve said before, can’t be proven or disproven using logic & language.

  • gonzo marx

    Vern…we are hitting the same points…the “Bible” is neither

    i am stating it is a work of Literature written by Men…and contains a decent amount of Wisdom, and some bullshit….as Bishop Usher’s calculations prove as compared to verifiable science…

    the rest, as you state….is a matter of Conjecture and/or Faith


  • Vern Halen

    Might be the first time I’ve ever (mostly) agreed with someone named Gonzo. Have a great day!

  • I’ve statyed out of this thread. There really isn’much for me to say.


    If you want to read the Hebrew Bible, remember it is written in Hebrew. Reading the text in the original gives a very different reading from any translation. It’s analogous to drinking strong Community coffee as opposed to a weak watered down tea. I have never found an English translation that can do it justice – including my own.

    When you look at the Hebrew in the Torah (the first five authoritative books), you see that there are loads of “mistakes” in the text. Wrong spellings, missing words, etc. The Samaritans looked at the Torah and made corrections. The Samaritan Torah reads like proper Hebrew.

    How many Samaritans are there in the world? A few hundred or so. Hmmm…

    We Jews looked at these same “errors” and assumed that because it was the Word of G-d, that there was a reason for them to be there – that they were flags to look for deeper wisdom.

    So at certain points we read the text literally. And at other points we consider the wisdom of our sages in understanding the text.

    How many of us are around in the world? Not that many. But for every Samaritan, there are about 17,500 Jews.


    I know that all you atheists and heretics and such will laugh and hoot, but since you almost always do, it doesn’t mean squat to me.

    I suggest that there is a reason for the disparity. Samaritans just don’t have a religion with their properly written book. We, with our “mistake” filled one, do.

    haReishít Hokhmá yir’át haShem.

    The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d.

    Shabbat Shalom,

  • gonzo marx

    now now Ruvy…not laughing, merely discussing…

    something for you to ponder when you talk about how many Samaritans there are per Jew…

    in Jewsish Tradition, if yoru mopther was a Jew, then you are a Jew…doesn’t matter what your Father was…

    in the Samaritan culture…it was a paternal line

    think upon this a moment…in the history of your geographical area, there are a plethora of documented wars, occupations and the like…

    if all the men are killed, and the women raped….in your Tribe, those children are Jews

    on the other hand, there are that many less Samaritans

    to my thinking, this has a MUCH greater impact on those numbers (add cultural assimilation, which Jews have always resisted)…and your numbers make much more sense…even without scriptural influences…

    Ruvy..with all due Respect….my only concern with folks like you who take much of this in a Literalist fashion, is your self admitted reliance upon “the wisdom of our sages”…

    while i truly do think many of these were Wise men trying to do their best, i do also think some were highly political and trying to do the best for the Tribe in a material , real world sense…and others were snake oil salesmen not wanting to live by the “sweat of their brow”…

    hence my skepticism, but deep interest in untangling much of this

    on another note….the Coptic Gospel of Judas Iscariot has finally been translated….

    oh boy, is this gonna be Fun!


  • I’m looking forward to that read gonzo. I saw it last night on ABC, the had Elaine Pagels on! Very cool to put a face and voice to the books of hers I’ve read so far.

  • Steve

    Steve S, ‘blinkers’ is the British term for ‘blinders’, sorry about that.

    Also, how you defined ‘image of God’ was EXTREMELY materialistic, in that you viewed it in a physical sense, when obviously it was not intended that way. I suggest you read those early chapters of Genesis again. Either you are ignorant of the text, or you are only capable of seeing things in a materialistic fashion. I was assuming the latter, because I was assuming you weren’t speaking from ignorance but from a disagreement over a worldview. My mistake. By the way, when I use the term ‘materialistic’, I in no way was implying you were greedy or anything like that, I was just referring to the worldview that the physical universe is all there is, nothing intended re. your personal spending habits. In my view, we were talking about ideas here, not lifestyles.

    You said –

    “What is it with religious people and their need to condescend and judge others?”

    The implication is non religious folk don’t. Just making sure you noticed, which you did point out later on.

    Of course, if I had made up the idea myself that I was made in the image of God, I could see why one would think me egotistical. However, that idea did not originate with me, it’s in the Bible. And I did add the qualification that I also agree with the Bible that I am a sinner. No room for egotism there, believe me!

  • Steve

    Certainly, Vern, I agree that science is not the focus of the Bible.

    However, even the NT apostles writing over a millennia after Moses viewed the OT as a historical document. Hard to imagine how you can miss that. But they also viewed it as a form of literature too. And Vern…they lived WAY before Newton! The fact is, both methods of reading the Bible have been used throughout history, it’s not a question of one being right, and one being wrong, they both have a place in understanding God’s Word.

  • Steve

    I saw the piece last night on TV re. the Gospel of Judas…they said it was a copy dated around 300BC. Which puts it in the same time frame as the rest of the Gnostic Gospels…and hey, how about that, from what was said about it’s contents, it most certainly is Gnostic. Case closed on that one.

  • Steve

    Whoops, I meant 300AD!!! LOL.

  • Vern Halen

    Perhaps they did see it as a historical document – but their definition & understanding of what exactly qualifies a document to be historical is different from our own.

    Genesis right off the top presents two creation stories that are at odds with each other. The first is the “let there be light” series of instant creations over a period of six days, culminating in the creation of human beings, the crown of creation so to speak. The second is the one where God creates man from the dust, then animals, and when the man names the animals but doesn’t find a suitable companion, God creates woman. The Jewish people, being people of the Word, would understand how you needed two stories: the first to express God’s power & greatness, the second to express his kindness & love.

    Or how about the two differing descriptions of the animals in the ark? Or the the fact that in the four gospels, only one has a thief that asks to be forgiven on the cross (two don’t mention thieves, one says, “..and they mocked him.”). How about the Book of John – “In the beginning was The Word…” and how it matches the way the world was crerated in one of the stories (“Let there be…)? Or the two differing Nativities?

    As far as historical details go, these examples often opppose each other. But to read them connected by metaphor makes them complement each other, and leads to a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness of the Bible – inispired, some would say, by God. Unless, of course, one doesn’t believe. Then I suppose it’s just a poorly written history text with some archetypal stories for instruction or amusement.

  • Steve

    Vern, I have never read the first two chapters of Genesis as contradictory. I view them this way –

    Gen. 1 / Gen. 2
    Chronological order / Topical order
    Outline / Details
    Creating animals / Naming animals

    Re. the four Gospels, any policeman will tell you, eyewitness statements re. an event will often have an element(s) in one or more of them that are missing in others of the same event. This is actually a point in favor of the historicity of the Gospels. If the Gospels were part of a conspiracy to change the truth of what happened, they would all be identical on every point. When dealing with eye witness accounts, that just doesn’t normally happen. So omissions in one or more of them do not mean they are mistaken. They just add details to the overall picture.

  • Vern Halen

    I have trouble accepting something as accurate because it isn’t – there’s too much of a sense of picking & choosing what qualifies as the “truth.” Instead, all of those bits I mentioned are better read metaphorically. For example, in the section about the crucifixion, one can see the presence or absence or mocking or repenting of the theives as a metaphor for each person’s own experience of God – sometimes we mock ther whole idea, sometimes we know what’s right and ask to be put right, and sometimes we’re just not even there.

  • Steve

    I wasn’t suggesting they were inaccuracies, Vern, just different sides of the same story, nothing inherently contradictory in what I mentioned. Even taking my view, does not exclude the possibility of reading the crucifixion your way, either.

  • Vern Halen

    Oh, well, I’m OK with that. I thought you were suggesting the only reason for the Bible’s existence was to support the literal, historical proof that God exists. That would kill it for me. It’s a book unlike any other, and needs to be read unlike any other, too.

  • Steve

    Cool, Vern.

  • gonzo marx

    Steve in #94 sez…
    *they said it was a copy dated around 300BC. Which puts it in the same time frame as the rest of the Gnostic Gospels…and hey, how about that, from what was said about it’s contents, it most certainly is Gnostic. Case closed on that one.*

    ok..you seem to be confusing the Coptic copies of some texts with a plethora of Gnostic sects and scriptures….some of which are christian, and some of which are not

    the dates you mention are concurrent with things like the Nag Hammadi finds, and are accurate dats of when these copies of said scriptures were created utilizing the Coptic written language (egyptian language with greek alphabet)…this was common after the burning of the Alexandrian library…and even more so after about 180AD when Bishop Iraneus edited together what is now known as the New Testament Bible but AFTER he wrote “the Book of 5 Heresies” to refute ANY other scriptures besides the edited versions of the ones in his “unified” (read:catholic) “Book”

    many historians, theologians and biblical scholars have made whole carreers out of establishing the variances betwen the 4 Gospels in the NT….some of which Vern has covered…(different Nativities, different Last Words on the Cross, different inscription on the plaque above the ccross…etc)

    that is one of the things that make the Coptic texts so precious…these come to us with no intermediaries…the Coptics were generally hired to produce exact copies of scriptures and scrolls utilizing the techniques of the first books…ie:codex

    i could go on a lot more here…those that are interested will look about for themselves…those who adhere to certain dogma will refer to such as me in the way i often describe myself…

    apostate and heretic

    nuff said?


  • Steve

    No, gonzo, I was referring to them as Gnostic, because of their content (though they do tend to date later than the NT Gospels). Gnosticism is all about secrets and the keeping thereof, about how only those who are ‘initiated’ can really know the truth. And that was what was mentioned about this ‘new’ Gospel last night, re. Judas and Jesus. In complete contrast to the NT we have today. That’s why I say, this Gospel does not really provide anything new…it is just the same old Gnosticism.

  • gonzo marx

    with all due Respect, Steve…

    might i just suggest that you don’t have the slightest Idea of what you are speaking of when it comes to Gonstics, gnosticism, or christian Gnostic scriptures…as well as being a bit confused at to your dating of scriptural materials as accpted by both modern scholars, Jesuits, the Vatican and most theologians today?

    example: the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, consisting of only Quotes from Yeshua…is referred to by Iraneus in his Book of 5 Heresies directly, as is the Gospel of Judas Iscariot and the Gospel of Mary

    this was approximately 180ad

    those texts are considered to have been originally written from sometime between 35 and 76 AD, whereas the earliest dating for the NT Gospels are between 76 anbd 100AD (the first and second uprisings against the Romans)…and the Gospel of John, well after 100AD

    note, these are the tentative dates of the writings, NOT the copies…

    as for gnosticism itself….

    gnosis is merely the greek word for Knowledge…

    in the context we are speaking , it is usually meant to describe a deep , personal knowledge of a spiritual nature…to grok in fullness (borrowing from Heinlein)…something known in both your head, and your heart…persoanlly known…and not forced via authoritarian dogma

    the Concept that such is “secret” has been around since the roman Valentinius argued with Ceasar..if not longer

    on and on

    but just for a side bit, since this is probably boring to most…

    were you Aware that the oldest continuing sect of Christians still existant are the dualist Manichean Gnostics?….very christian, very much alive today…

    and living in Iraq

    just a Thought


  • Steve – we’ve been here before…gnosticism and all…lotta good stuff to read out there.

    If you saw that thing on TV, then you saw the lady who’s books you might wanna read…before you get into a discussion on the gnostic gospels. That was Elaine Pagels…pretty smart lady.

    …oh…one more thing…I think gonzo groks it better than most…

  • and gonzo…it’s not boring…fasinates the hell out of me…

  • Steve

    Actually, gonzo, I was just watching an interview with the guy who was in that lawsuit with Dan Brown over the Da Vinci Code. Baigent (spelling?) was his last name I believe, co-author of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”. He admitted, by the way, that the reason he wrote his latest book, “The Jesus Papers” was political, concerns about religion entering politics. If only people would get into these issues without a political agenda, their ideas might not seem so suspect!!

    Anyway, he said that this Gospel of Judas does indeed fit into the broader Gnostic tradition, and he’s been writing about this stuff for 20+ years, and is far from being a fundamentalist!!

    I am somewhat familiar with Pagels’ work but it’s been a while. Is she one of the ones that says the Gnostic Gospels are more favorable towards women vis a vis the NT?? Because from what I’ve read of the Gnostic Gospels, she must be reading them awfully selectively.

    Re. the NT and the others and dating, I haven’t read anything convincing that the Gnostic Gospels were written before 100AD. After all, that’s a big swing to go from Iraneus in 180AD to 35-76AD.

    Re. the NT Gospels, I think it’s hard to argue that Matthew and Mark were written after 70AD. Re. John, I thought the majority was saying 90-100AD (maybe that was majority UK figures). You may be right about Luke though.

    Most scholars and theologians that are widely quoted are generally liberal in theology (e.g. the Jesus Seminar) as are the Jesuits, so I would probably disagree with their presuppositions that bring them to their conclusions.

    I’m not a Catholic myself, so I don’t worry too much about what the Vatican says.

    Not really sure what your point is about Gnostics in Iraq.

    So, gonzo, looks like we have a discussion ahead of us, though I wont be around much tomorrow.

  • Pagels is one of the people that says that the gnostic gospels are more favorable to women…kind of hard to argue that point based on the fact that one of them, the gospels that is, was written in the name of a woman. There’s one story in the GG’s where the story says Jesus said Mary had received the Word…

    And who’s to say they got it right in Nicea anyway? Maybe it’s all wrong. Maybe the Nag Hammadi scrolls are the real NT??? Think what it would mean to the church if like I’ve heard the Judas gospel says, Jesus was in on his own death…

    The NT gospels weren’t written by their namesakes anyway…it’s like finding out that the astronauts really did land on a lot in Hollywood.

  • onlooker

    “Or how about the two differing descriptions of the animals in the ark? Or the the fact that in the four gospels, only one has a thief that asks to be forgiven on the cross (two don’t mention thieves, one says, “..and they mocked him.”). How about the Book of John – “In the beginning was The Word…” and how it matches the way the world was created in one of the stories (“Let there be…)? Or the two differing Nativities?”

    Or how about two or more people describing an event such as a traffic accident?

    Exact copies leads to the conclusion that there is collusion between the writers.

    Better to have the viewpoint of each witness.

  • Gonzo, you appear to miss the points I made entirely.

    1. You cannot get a feel for a religious text by reading it in translation. Better to read the Coptic Gospel of Judas in the original language (if it is available) than in any translation.

    2. “Correcting” a text can denude it of all of its meaning.

    In sum, if you read a religious text, you must grant some level of belief in the Divinity that inspired it and read it in the original form.

    That’s work. Reading the Tana”kh in Hebrew requires knowing Hebrew. Reading the various Christian books in the original Aramaic or Koïne requires knowing Aramaic or Koïne.

    I would note that the Tana”kh refers to other books. Examples are the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch. You’re being told that there is more to the story in front of you than meets the eye at first face in the most obvious way possible. It’s worth the effort to seek out those books.

    Finally, the term “literal reading” means one thing to Christians and quite another to Jews. This is something you should bear in mind.

  • gonzo marx

    Ruvy..my apologies if i gave that impression…i guess there are times when i am just not clear enough…

    1. well do i understand how much it helps to read a text in it’s original language…and much do i dislike not being able to in many circumstances, so by comparing various translations…and attempting to examine the authenticity of the original documents as best as possible, i try and gather as accurate a “picture” as i am able to

    2. of course…see my points in number 1

    as to “literal meaning”…well am i Aware of the differences, perhaps you might want to keep in mind that i am quite familiar with the oncept fo esoterica in scriptural/philosophical writings…


  • Apteryx

    Sean, I know I am late to the party. Came across this site looking for something else. I find it quite interesting although I am not sure of the existence of agnostics. I do, however, agree with virtually all of your posting. The only comment I wish to make is the use of the phrase “the government”. The government is an institution of principles and ambitions. The people who comprise the government cannot be divorced from their faith or lack there of. I don’t believe it is the government’s job to ensure that all citizens (or illegals) are free from expressions that do not comply with their beliefs. For example, the fact that Judge Moore of Alabama had a monument with the 10 commandments engraved on it, which he paid for himself, placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building should not have been a subject for court action. It speaks only to the beliefs of Judge Moore and not to the State of Alabama and anyone who wants to read more into that is free to complain but should not have their way. As long it did not cost the citizens of Alabama any substantial amount of tax money to create and install the monument and there was no rule or ordinance that anyone passing by must look at or contemplate it, it should not matter. The rental value of the space it occupies, that people have to walk around it since it occupies space is what the judges call “de minimus”. If it offends you, avert your eyes. The fact that a judge, or any public official, is willing to put his guiding principles up for public scrutiny should be applauded and encouraged.

  • Apteryx: Thanks for the comments. I must respectfully disagree with your take on Moore. Government employees have as much right to express their beliefs as anyone else. Want to hang a copy of the 10 Commandments on the wall of your office? No problem. On the wall of your courtroom? That would depend on the legal status of the courtroom, but I’d generally be okay with that, too. The key is that he would be using his personal space to express his personal beliefs.

    But the monument was a whole different animal. He unilaterally decided to use a prominent space in a government building for his “private” monument. And the monument weighed 2.6 tons; it is not easily ignored. He crossed the line by appropriating public space to express his personal beliefs.

  • Mark

    An Agnostic Defends Religion in America
    (reprinted from http://www.politicallyright.com)

    Criticizing Americans as religious fanatics has long been a preoccupation of Europeans in general and the left in particular. It’s no secret that Americans are far more likely to believe in God than are people in most other industrialized nations. The latest Harris poll on religious trends in the United States reaffirms this. According to the poll, 66% of Americans are “absolutely certain” there is a God. Conversely, the World Value survey conducted earlier this year concludes that only 30% of Europeans share such strong religious beliefs. Most leftist critics of religion in the United States cite these polls to prove the inherent “shortcomings” of the U.S. These critics argue that religion in the U.S. is diminishing freedom and preventing Americans from acting “rationally.” My contention is that traditional religion as practiced in the United States today reaffirms individual liberty and does little to hinder rational thinking, while those who denounce religion pose a greater threat to individual freedom and are more prone to illogical views.

    Why do so many Americans profess such strong faith in God compared with people in other countries?

    First and foremost, Americans are religious because they can be. They are free to practice any religion and believe in any god they wish, from Islam to Wicca, from Allah to Argowen. American Muslims, for example, enjoy greater freedom than do their counterparts in Muslim nations. Even in Western Europe, certain religions are banned by governments. In Germany, the government has actually criminalized the practice of Scientology, the Los Angeles-based movement that has gained millions of world-wide followers since its inception in 1958. In Russia, legislation has been introduced to thwart proselytizing by Mormons and other foreign religious groups. Ironically, the Russian Orthodox Church is applying most of the pressure to ban these religions (it was a victim of government proscription for more than 70 years under communist rule). Recently, the Canadian government ruled that parts of the Bible amount to “hate speech.” But in the United States, religious practices are protected by the Constitution.

    Constitutional liberty, which extends far beyond religious freedom, impels many Americans to turn to God. Because the United States was founded on a belief in individualism, each American must decide for himself the definition of “morality.” Some Americans find this task daunting, so they turn to a higher “order” to deliver the guidance they seek. Often, they look to God and the church to provide them the structure not afforded by the rest of society, which emphasizes individualism over collectivism. Others look to God or their church as a safety net to keep them from the “temptations” pervasive in a society with such wide sweeping liberty. Still, many more look to God and church as a form of “protection” against what they may consider “bad influences” brought on by a nation with so many competing lifestyles, opinions, and beliefs. This widespread and deep-rooted individual liberty, both religious and otherwise, fosters a more “God-fearing” public than one would find in most other industrialized societies.

    But doesn’t this apprehension of extensive liberty combined with strong religious beliefs create a dangerous devaluation of individual rights?

    Conservative religious groups, both inside and outside American government, have long attempted to incorporate their religious views into public policy. Cases of citizens and public officials disregarding the Constitution in favor of religious doctrine is as old as the United States itself. Up until 1996, for example, students in the Pontotoc County, Mississippi public school system began each day with a student-led Baptist prayer broadcast over the intercom system. Students were also routinely exposed to religious teachings in their regular curriculum and had scheduled Bible classes. Public prayer before lunch and at school sporting events was also common.

    Another example occurred last summer when Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore displayed a Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building. Chief Justice Moore displayed the monument because, as Moore’s spokesmen Tom Parker said, he wanted “to acknowledge the very source of our rights and liberties and the very source of our law.”

    Such cases are utilized by critics who charge that the U.S. is a nation that merges church and state. But these critics fail to acknowledge one important, weighty detail: almost all of these cases, including the two illustrated above, have been found unconstitutional in American courts.

    In 1996, after a lawsuit was filed by a woman whose children were enrolled in the Pontotoc public schools, a Mississippi federal judge ruled that the school district, by holding public prayer and Bible classes, had violated the children’s Constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers, who presided over the case, justified his ruling in these terms, “the Bill of Rights was created to protect the minority from tyranny by the majority.”

    In the Alabama case, a federal court found that the Ten Commandments monument violates the doctrine of separation of church and state. For this reason, the court ordered the monument removed. When Chief Justice Moore defied the court order, he was suspended and the state of Alabama removed the monument. Americans, like any other people, have opinions; yet, unlike the citizens of most other countries, Americans are neither prevented from expressing their opinions nor permitted to force their opinions on others.

    Religious groups in the U.S. have been instrumental in keeping government from stepping on individual rights, perhaps more than any other group. Historically, religions in the United States have played a major role in community care taking. Through parishioner donations, charitable events and outreach programs, the church has provided for the needs of the community in a much more cost-effective, efficient and humane manner than the government could ever hope to accomplish. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this form of private civic-mindedness 170 years ago in his book Democracy in America. Americans see the role of their churches, Tocqueville wrote, in much the same way Europeans see the role of their governments. Tocqueville also noted that, because the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state, religion in the U.S. acts as a vital firewall between individual liberty and the tentacles of government.

    What about the “irrational” foundation of religious faith?

    Many leftists criticize the irrational nature of religion. When one peels back the layers of leftist rhetoric, however, it becomes evident just which group is more prone to fantasy and conjecture. Leftists have long leaned on the “scientific” theories of Karl Marx to support their ideology. Marx’s theory that a growing concentration of wealth in fewer hands will cause a frustrated proletariat to rise in revolt has simply never come to fruition. In fact, in the past 60 years, the living standards of democracies have increased substantially. (Anyone with eyesight can see that this is true.) Leftist mythology, however, insists that the gap between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots” has steadily widened.

    The list of untruths to which the left clings is endless. Traditional religious beliefs, on the other hand, are far more rational in concept. With traditional religion, one can neither empirically prove nor empirically disprove the existence of God (which is why one has “faith” in God’s existence in the first place). Socialist ideology, however, has been systematically and historically confirmed to be a catastrophic failure. So why would any reasonable human being still follow it? Even religious Americans are not so gullible as to believe in the long disproved political dogma of socialism.

    Critics of religion in the United States further claim that religion breeds contempt for scientific and technological advancement, and is leading to America’s supposed technological and scientific “decline.” Once again, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Despite a majority of Americans who profess strong religious beliefs, the United States continues to lead the world in technological and scientific innovations, and there is no sign that its lead is abating. Indeed, the U.S. is the most modern society on earth. Americans’ firm religious beliefs have done nothing to thwart modern advancement. In fact, more Americans hold patents and have earned Nobel prizes than the citizens of any other nation.

    Secular Europe, on the other hand, shows a far greater disdain for technology and science than does religious America. While Americans embrace new advances in agricultural biotechnology, for example, Europeans view such technological progress with an almost “religious-like” superstition and fear. Protests against America’s genetically-modified food have become commonplace throughout Western Europe. Even the European Union has placed moratoriums on the new American technology, despite repeated international studies that show genetically-modified crops are harmless. As Europe’s cries of protest against new technologies become more strident, it’s evident that Europe, not the U.S., is becoming increasingly embroiled in irrational, superstitious thought.

    Just how secular is the left, anyway?

    In Europe, traditional religious beliefs have eroded steadily since the onslaught of the French Revolution. Indeed, ever since a small group of ideological Frenchmen sought to create “heaven on earth,” secular political thought has taken on an almost religious-like fervor. In many ways, socialism in Europe – and throughout the world – has replaced the church. One of socialism’s founding fathers, Robert Owen, referred to socialism as a “new religion.” Owen actually had his own “church” in which followers, including the young Friedrich Engels, would flock for Sunday services. It is not uncommon for Europeans even today to refer to socialism or communism as “their church.”

    Socialist philosophy is jam-packed with Judeo-Christian teachings, from self-sacrifice to charity. Socialism’s inherent disdain for the “rich” comes directly from the Bible. Repeated Biblical passages describe the dehumanizing manner in which the rich treat the poor. And Matthew 5:5 proclaims: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Of course, 2,000 years ago the rich probably were a pretty despicable lot. But today in the United States, where even the most wretched immigrant can make a fortune, the Bible cannot be considered contemporary in all its views. Yet, this does not stop socialists from working to implement ancient Biblical lessons (a la Karl Marx) into modern government. In fact, the United States, with all it stands for— individualism, materialism, moral lassitude—earns the wrath of both socialists and traditional religious zealots. Ironic that both groups, although one sees the U. S. as too religious and the other sees it as not religious enough, are in compliance as to which nation is to blame for all the world’s problems: the devil incarnate itself, the United States of America.

    With well-known leftist leaders such as the REVERAND Jesse Jackson and the REVERAND Al Sharpton, it is difficult to see just how “secular” the left really is. A recent Harris poll shows that of all the Democratic presidential candidates, Al Sharpton is second in name recognition behind Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, once said that the Democratic Party should be more “God-fearing.” Roger S. Gottlieb, Professor of Philosophy at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and one of the left’s most ardent followers, actually wrote a book entitled: “Joining Hands: Politics and Religion Together for Social Change.” British Prime Minister and leader of the socialist Labor Party Tony Blair routinely quotes passages from the Bible, most notably: “I am my brother’s keeper.” This proves just how extensive the Bible and religious teachings have influenced even those who proclaim to be the most secular.

    The chief difference between the left’s philosophy of altruism and the principles of selflessness and charity taught by Judeo-Christian religions comes in the form of how the followers of these faiths seek to “proselytize.” While the majority of Americans who follow traditional religions keep their faiths a matter of private concern, socialists, by nature of their creed, do not. Socialists seek to make their ideology law of the land (i.e. forced altruism). Less obvious than with traditional religious infractions on liberty such as in the Pontotoc County school case, socialism seeps into the public lives of Americans everyday, as the nation’s schools, museums, libraries, and governments become pulpits for socialism. Stealthily clad in false secular garb, socialism is a cult that people are forced to join.


    The United States has a long tradition of honoring individual freedom. This freedom protects not only the religious, but the nonbelievers as well. As it stands, even an agnostic like me is free to think as he chooses in a nation where 66% of the population professes certainty in God’s existence. Unfortunately, this liberty is threatened by a secular religion, a religion based on irrational, false “sciences” and ancient premises. The Constitution can protect Americans from a chief justice who displays the Ten Commandments in a public court house, but can it protect Americans from Leftists who wish to force their penance onto the public in the form of government programs and other socialist sacraments?

    © 2003 Politically Right Magazine, LLC