News: Bible to justify killing – Texas, US

According to Amnesty International a Texan jury consulted a Christian bible to justify the death penalty in a murder trial. It is good to see Christian scriptures being put to a humane use – perhaps not.

Alex McCullie

News: Karen Armstrong – Conservative Christian Blow-Back

Conservative Christians fight back against the religion-lite of Karen Armstrong and other progressive Christians.

I mentioned previously that Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong contributed articles to the Wall Street Journal about God, evolution, and God’s new role, if any. Now Albert Mohler, Author, Speaker, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees with Richard Dawkins that Karen Armstrong is an atheist in disguise. He further accuses her of being loose and dangerous with her theology.

Demonstrating the point that this exchange is really not a meaningful debate, Karen Armstrong begins her essay with this amazing statement:  “Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course — at least in one important respect.  Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived.  It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive.”

Statements like these lead to Mohler’s assessment that Armstrong “offers a superficial and theologically reckless argument that comes down to this:  Until the modern age, believers in God were not really believers in a God who was believed to exist.” And, later, he claims that, “she makes statements that amount to elegant nonsense.” Amusingly Mohler agrees with Dawkin’s statement that:

Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: “Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn’t matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism.”

Like Dawkins, Mohler clearly puts Armstrong and other progressive theologians into this group of sophisticated modern theologians and comes to the conclusion that:

So the exchange in The Wall Street Journal turns out to be a meeting of two atheist minds.  The difference, of course, is that one knows he is an atheist when the other presumably claims she is not.  Dawkins knows a fellow atheist when he sees one.

Perhaps surprisingly, many atheists and other non-believers have sympathy with Mohler’s conservative view that progressives like Armstrong, Borg and Crossan are being ‘too clever by half’ in promoting a very benign, slippery non-god God.

Alex McCullie

News: US – More Evangelicals & Non-Believers

USAToday reports that the biggest US churches are modern and evangelical – no surprise there. In an older related article USAToday describes a 20 year comparison of religious profiles in the US with a survey of generational religious changes over last 20 years.

Most religions lost ground with significant state-by-state variations. The broad non-believer category increased significantly (8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008).

One big casualty has been the mainstream Protestant churches, experiencing sharp declines. As discussed before, progressive Christian leaders present more credible religious beliefs (or perhaps  better described as non-beliefs) and progressive social attitudes to essentially the disenfranchised, liberal-minded, Christians. However the overall push towards evangelicalism and non-belief does appear ominous for progressives and liberals to compete in that  US religious market-place.

One article goes on to suggest the willingness of non-believers to declare themselves with today’s more tolerant society and as a rejection of the perceived irrelevance and destructiveness of organised religions. Child-sex scandals have dug deep into the churches’ moral standings. As an aside, modern religious people rightfully talk about the importance for religious tolerance but often do not apply that thinking to non-religious beliefs.

Alex McCullie

News: Approved UK Science Schooling – Christian Faith Style

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.


Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.”

Extract from Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc. (1995). (see full article with this quotation at Fundamentalist exams on a par with A-levels TES Connect)

This beggers belief but, unfortunately, it is likely to be true… (Would moderate Christians please speak up in opposition instead of their usual muted responses). Religion is this form, lamentably all too common, continues to threaten the health of our societies. Governments in the name of pluralism seek to pander to their distortions and excesses.

Alex McCullie

Comment: Is Atheism the same as Naturalism (Materialism)?

In September last year Engaging Peachers posted a comment questioning the automatic relationship between atheism and naturalism (or physicalism or materialism). This came from a debate by Michael Shermer (of Skeptic magazine fame) and John Lennox where Lennox apparently assumed atheists are materialists (with all the pejorative undertones of course). Instead of responding directly, I am a bit late, here is my little contribution.

Atheism is variously defined as non-theism (non-belief) or anti-theism (“dis-belief”) in a god or many gods. An atheist may simply not believe in the existence of god (as with many other things) or she can actively deny the existence of god. The concept has developed within cultures where the prevailing religions venerate conscious, supernatural god or gods. So it is not surprising that atheism is conceived of in those terms.

With the dominance of the monotheistic religions over the last 2000 years, religious beliefs have moved to worshipping a single conscious supreme being that exists outside of the known physical world and, importantly, takes a personal interest in our lives. An interesting reflection is to think about atheism in light of some Eastern religions that posit no particular divine entity. So atheism is saying something about our conception of reality. Of all the things that may exist an atheist does not include a god – a conscious, supreme non-physical being – in that mix.

It is also quite reasonable for an atheist to hold both non-theist and anti-theist views at the same time. We can simply not believe in any form of non-physical conscious entities (non-theism) – there’s no supporting evidence – while actively denying the classical Christian conception of the all-… god as inherently illogical (anti-theism) – I do!

Naturalism, as a world-view, takes a much broader perspective on our view of the world and reality than subscribing to atheism. Also I see that naturalism subsumes materialism and physicalism even though philosophical sites and writings will discuss the subtle differences. Naturalism like other world-views addresses the fundamental questions of existence: (1) what is reality – metaphysics; (2) how do I know – epistemology; (3) how should I behave – ethics. Underpinning the approach of Naturalism is the core belief that there is only a physical reality and that there is no other “stuff”, especially supernatural “stuff”. This contrasts dramatically with most religious world-views that posit a supernatural reality of separate “stuff” that exists outside of our physical world.

To address the proposition that atheism is the same as naturalism (read the pejorative materialism), I would ask a similar question of religious believers. Is a belief that some sort of conscious non-physical entity the same as holding a Christian world-view? I think not.

Alex McCullie

Comment: The Bible, Historical Criticism and Truth

Prior to the European Enlightenment most people accepted the Bible’s account of history. There was no question that the world was created in six days or that the 600,000 or more Hebrews escaped from Egypt after God had orchestrated a series of plagues on the hapless and arrogant Egyptians. Since the Enlightenment we have come to expect a more scientific world-view where truth and actuality are in some way associated with verifiable evidence. Claims of revealed knowledge are seen as more and more embarrassing to modern Western sensibilities.

So what has that done for biblical scholarship? Over the last 200 years many biblical scholars have, at least nominally, applied techniques of historical research to the biblical texts – Jewish scriptures (Old TestamentTanakh or Hebrew Bible) as well the Christian scriptures (New Testament). Firstly, the historical perspective has been applied to the construction of the texts themselves. Scholarship tries to identify multiple authorships, editors and copyists from earlier-sourced documents and oral stories. They also apply historical research to the social and political settings of the authors to understand their worlds and motivations better. So would this be the same as examining any other historical document? No and that is the problem.

Whether scholars are in strictly religious institutions – many are – or attached to secular universities, they are typically seeking greater theological meaning from their scriptures: that is why they started their studies in the first place. They are hardly disinterested researchers. Many biblical scholars today malign historical methods as being either ineffectual or moving too far away from the messages of the divine word. Much of their understandings come from the supernatural aspects of the biblical histories and historical methods like those of science do not recognise any non-physical events. So commonly these scholars promote literary or theological methods as more effective. I see this as coded language for less threatening. Even those advocating historical research (and they are getting fewer) seem to be less dispassionate and seek to approach their research with “sensitivity”.  This isn’t surprising as truly critical scholars of the past have lost their teaching posts in retribution.

Am I too cynical? Apparently not, for John Barton in Historical-critical approaches (The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation p14) says

“… the general impression an ordinary historian is likely to form after reading books dubbed ‘historical-criticism’ by theologians is that they are predominantly literary in their interests.”

Ironically, though, I too believe that biblical historical research has been relatively ineffective, though for quite different reasons. It is the case of asking too much from too little. Apologists often claim that there are more surviving manuscripts, whole and partial, of biblical texts than other historical texts. And that’s true. However theologians often seek draw highly detailed interpretations from the word-use nuances that we do not with other historical texts. I regularly come across optimistically detailed interpretations, such as Paul used this Greek word here while Luke used a similar but slightly different one here and that also differed from Mark’s use here and all this means that…. This is all on the amazing assumptions about the accuracy of particular manuscripts as well as our detailed understanding of language usage and writer motivations at the time. It is worth commenting here that we have no original manuscripts of even the last books written in either scripture, only copies of copies of copies and so on.

From an historical perspective there is very little extrabiblical evidence supporting the detailed (or in many cases even the broad) claims made by either scriptures. The historical reality is that the Israelites were of little importance in the ancient world and therefore not written of by others. Their lands were surrounded or invaded by the true superpowers of the day – the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires. We may see the Jewish and Christian as history important today through our religious education, but that is far from the reality of the ancient world. Their achievements seem insignificant compared to their neighbours.

Jesus is a good example. The evidence outside of the Christian sources confirms that people subsequently believed that he existed and was executed as a criminal. Followers believed he was divine. However we have no records of birth or execution and no contemporaneously written accounts of his deeds that appeared so momentous according to Christian scriptures. So, if he did exist, then the best we can say is that he was one of many self-declared prophets who raised the ire of the Jewish leadership. The rest comes from the Christian scriptures that were written thirty to eighty years after his death and by people who wanted to promote his divine status. I must say in fairness that many biblical scholars have designed criteria to assess the potential reliability of scriptural text. Does the story come from multiple sources? Is it unpleasant for Christians? Is it consistent with first century Middle East and so on? However, often, these criteria are ignored when there are other overwhelming needs to include the text. The liberal Jesus Seminar is often criticised in this regard.

Ultimately biblical scholars may be better not pretending to do historical research or at least acknowledge the inherent limitations applying it to scripture. The theologians continue derive detailed interpretations from the biblical texts “as is” regardless on any historical reliability – that’s what they do. Ultimately they face the dilemma that Christianity considers itself a religion based on historical fact. Either way historical research is never going to get them closer to their God.

Alex McCullie

News: Homosexuality is Wrong : Christian Blog

Here’s a link to a Christian blog that represents a commonly held view amongst evangelists that homosexuality is inherently evil. This article uses Christian bible quotations to refute an earlier Newsweek article that says Christians can rightfully believe that it’s okay to be gay. Well perhaps it’s not!

I think some religious people need to deal with their own sexual hangups rather than demonising others.

Alex McCullie

News: Homosexuality Opposite of Holiness

Some Christian groups continue to pump out messages of hate.

A recent Times OnLine article describes the organisation Exodus International that ‘exorcises’ homosexuals by driving out their unholy same-sex attractions with faith in God. From the article:

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality,” says Chambers, sagely. “It’s holiness.” Speech over, he asks people to come forward to be prayed for. A boy of no more than 16 steps up, hanging his head. When he returns from the stage to the sound of applause, his stony-faced father nods in approval. His mother weeps.

Welcome to ex-gay boot camp.

Alex McCullie

Comment: look at this crazy Christian site

If you want a laugh, then have a look at http://www.theamericannightmare.org/. I particularly enjoyed the blasphemy section! Admittedly I found its shouting style (large bold fonts) tedious after a while. Of course I wouldn’t recommend too much time on this site any way. I’m sure you have better things to do.

To be balanced here is a more reasonable Christian-based site: http://templeton.org.

Alex McCullie