The Current Tsunamis

3 05 2008

I was thinking the other day about what we occupy our thinking energy with. Most of it is very futile stuff. Stuff that will not matter even in a decade. Quite naturally and very quickly, what we occupy our thinking with becomes what we occupy our physical energy and time with.
Can I earn more money? Are humans ruining the planet? Should we arrange a national lottery? Should I have kids? Where can I get a safe abortion? Which party should I vote for? Can I look younger? Am I pregnant? Can I get thinner? How can I make my staff more productive? How do I get an advantage over my competitors? How do I get to have more sex, safely if possible? Does this make me look fat? Do I have BO? Are we there yet? I wonder what they think about me? …
These are the kinds of questions we have been trained to ask. And we ask them all day long, and most of the night too… But they are the least important questions. The really important questions we do not ask, but why? Could it be that we unconsciously avoid the real questions? I think so, and, as I have said, we have been trained to ask the frivolous questions, and to ask them only.

We humans have always been open to abuse by religion, science, popular culture, peer pressure, the media, and a myriad of other things. It did not matter so much 100 years ago because ideologies were relatively isolated. Ideas would ripple slowly across the planet, doing an equal amount of good and evil. Today they travel with the force, speed and impetus of a tsunami; an ethos tsunami. Or rather an unending series of ever shorter wavelength ethos tsunamis.
Drip feeding new ideas at the rate of generational growth can be wonderfully stimulating, but to be smashed with wave after wave of ideas is devastating. We must force ourselves awake, to think; to look up from the little questions which threaten to drown us. I’m not suggesting that little questions are invalid; little questions are equally valid, they are just secondary. And as CS Lewis pointed out “you cannot get second things by putting them first. You can only get second things by putting first things first.

The word ‘tsunami’ is a good example. I remember about 10 years ago Leonard Sweet produced a book called ‘Soul Tsunami’. When I heard the title I had to look up the word, today very few people, who can read, need to look up the word ‘tsunami’, it has swept over the continents carried on the susceptible and fluid oceans of the world media.
Another example, with much more impact, is our liberal South African Constitution. Influenced and applauded by current ‘democratic’ super-powers. Yet lacking even the simple redemptive processes that would make it a truly democratic constitution (I wrote a post about it, if you don’t know what I mean: Cry the Beleaguered Country)

So, what are the really big questions?
Someone I asked recently said “Why me? More specifically, why am I so special? Why am I alive? What is the REASON for ME as a person to be here on this planet?
I would regard this as the fundamental question of all questions.
Steven Hawking in “A Brief History of Time” said about this question: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
Hawking’s problem here is that the knowledge he is speaking of is intellectual, categoric knowledge. But scientific ‘knowing’, as we have already established, is not the only way of knowing; and answering the question “what is the reason for me?” is hopelessly outside the self-confessed reaches of the scientific method.
If you have even the slightest inkling of an answer to the question “why me?”, the other questions would just about answer themselves.

Here’s another fundamental question: “What’s the point?”
I would rate this question as number 2 on the list of important questions to answer before you die. Let me give you a reason why.
At some point someone asked “Are humans ruining the planet?” Some scientists said, “we might be,” and activists and politicians said “that’s good enough for us and here’s a bunch of rules and guidelines to stop it from happening.” And the Bureaucrats and popular TV talk shows adjusted their song sheets to the key of the new tune.
Now if, instead of getting into a frenzy of activity, someone asked, “what’s the point?” we would have a very different set of behavioural responses.
The planet is doomed anyway, what is the difference if it is now or in a million years? Someone may answer that this may be be the only planet with life. To which the answer is again, “so what?… What’s the point?
It is not a long walk to the most depressing fatalism once we start asking this question. The Stoics and the Epicureans concluded that suicide was a legitimate means of exit… their answer to the question.
Augustine argued the case against suicide using the example of Lucretia the much lauded lady of Roman fable who took her own life after being raped “There is no way out of the dilemma.” Says Augustine. “If she is an adulteress, why all the praise? If chaste, why did she kill herself?” Fatalism is not an acceptable answer to the question. “There is no point” equally cannot be the answer.
Philosophy,” said Dr Michael Eaton recently, “is just an ever increasing scepticism… Post modernism simply means that we are sure that we don’t really know anything… The more you know the more you wish you knew nothing.
The grand conclusion of philosophy is that there is no point to be found in time and space. Possessing intelligence and consciousness is not an end in itself. But this asks more questions than it answers. Why then do we feel such a desperate need to be the object of some purpose larger than ourselves? Why is in not ‘OK’ to simply say “So what, let’s use up the planet ourselves, why restrain ourselves for the sake of some future generation who we don’t even know. The whole planet may be taken out by a meteor anyway and it is going to be destroyed eventually despite our best efforts“?
It’s all in Ecclesiastes if you want to read it, thought through by Solomon 4000 years ago. “There is nothing new, nothing to be gained, no advantage, under the sun.” (“under the sun” is Solomon’s way of saying “here on earth”) and he’s quite right there is no point here on earth, absolutely none. I challenge you to find one that cannot be refuted by logic alone.
Now here’s the clincher: If there is no point at all why do we behave as if there were? As if somehow our reputation will actually matter in a million years.
What’s the Point?” I want to tell you that more people ask this question that you imagine. Now you may be thinking, “didn’t you say that people don’t ask these questions, and this is number 2 on the list.
Yes I did say that, but most people only ask, “what’s the point?” from inside the dilemma of the other questions, they have been trained not to think outside of it. “What’s the point if I can’t earn any more money?” “What’s the point if I can’t have more sex?” “What’s the point if I am fat?” “What’s the point if they think I’m an idiot?” “What’s the point of saving the planet?
People seldom ask “What’s the point of me, us, everything?” We don’t take the question far enough.

Our view of science is the key here. Our view of science will either keep us asking the little questions or force us to ask the big ones (legitimate as the little questions are).
Science claims to deal only with what is provable, or falsifiable, which is a noble pursuit. And so scientists claim to say nothing about what is not provable, or falsifiable. But science does, all the time. There is always a lot of necessary assumption in the science world because of the issues that science is dealing with. Current science has metaphysical implications and requires metaphysical assumptions; and these assumptions rub off, through the current bombardment of idea tsunamis, on absolutely everyone.
Intelligent Design may not be what is defined as ‘science’ but neither is science within it’s own definition anymore. We don’t want intelligent design in the science classroom but are happy to give science as much metaphysical jurisdiction as it wants.
Science can not show how it is that life started nor how it is that reason evolved. How then can it show when a life ends? Yet it is necessarily assumed in science that biology is the same thing as life. Science cannot show how the universe came into being nor it’s purpose. So its beginning is necessarily assumed and it is assumed to be purposeless (I’ve always wondered why having a beginning to the universe is more important than having a purpose to it). We are trained to think in terms of assumptions, to accept them without requiring evidence.

Here are some other fundamental questions:
When I die (not if, when) is that the end of me?
Will anything I do matter in a million years?
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why are there many, not just one?
Is there a God?
Richard Dawkins attempts an answer to this last question, he says that God is “not very likely“. It is a singularly unhelpful and small minded attempt. Dawkins attempts to answer a big question as if it were a little one. He tries to use science in the form of statistics to answer something with is neither provable nor falsifiable, and for that he wins approval?!?
Every conception is also very unlikely, life itself is highly improbable, universal order is also extremely unlikely; yet here they all are, observable and measurable. The unlikelyness of God is utterly irrelevant to the question, it does not serve as an answer and the sooner we recognise that the better.

So you think that I am trying to convince you to believe what I believe. I am not. I am asking you to ask the questions we have been trained to believe there is no answer to; and to ask them sincerely. I am also asking you to ignore the noise and the distraction of the current idea tsunamis, to lift your head out of the chicken feed and imagine again, beyond your wildest dreams.

Dr RT Kendall said recently, “God offends the mind to reach the heart.
Here is a little question: “How can a just God let people suffer?” Now if God exists only a fool would deny that He does let people suffer, even ‘good’ people; maybe especially ‘good’ people. The Greeks attempted to answer that question by humanising the gods. They imagined their gods having all these powers but subject to their own character weaknesses, these weaknesses translate to the random doses of suffering and blessing we observe.
Dr Kendall’s statement is an excellent, experiential and relational answer to the question; and, like it or not, Kendall’s right.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter eight) he quoted the Ecclesiastes theme that the whole world, indeed the universe, is subject to meaningless vanity… If you discount God.
Someone once said” “God has the key of all unknown but He will not give it to you, So you had better trust him to open all the doors.
If we leave out God – we are just animals. When we take away from the human the image of God all you have left is animal.

From His hand” is the Ecclesiastical contrast to “under the sun“.





The delusion god

18 04 2008

This post is a bit of a rant, and not really in the spirit of debate. But I feel that I am justified in this case because I actually bought the book and I was expecting a whole lot more.

Anyway, I have decided to give up on Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” on page 122. If anyone can convince me that there is anything actually worth reading in the rest of the book I might give it a go. It really is the kind of book that once you’ve put it down, you find it very hard to pick up again.

It is hard to believe that someone with a professorship can produce something so utterly mindless, (perhaps it was just really rushed). It is badly researched, but it’s the lack of just plain thinking that really gets to me.

His initial observations on agnosticism are a little obvious, but fine, as are his collection of quotes leading to an opinion of religion and the religious mind. Both topics are handled in an unoriginal way, but I have nothing further to say about his understanding of either of them. But, as I said, it is the lack of plain thinking that really irks me. I’ll give you some examples:

In the footnote on page 122 (where I have decided to give my reading time to something a little more worthwhile; Job for instance, which is at least real speculation) “… the mistranslation of Isaiah’s Hebrew for young woman (almah) into the Greek for virgin (parthenos). An easy mistake to make (think of the English words ‘maid’ and ‘maiden’ to see how it might have happened), this one translator’s slip was to be wildly inflated and give rise to the whole preposterous legend of Jesus’ mother being a virgin!

Now, besides the bad exegesis, if the dear Professor had bothered to actually look up, read and (heaven forbid) THINK about the verse which causes him such offense this is what he would have found:

Isaiah 7:14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin (almah) will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Now I would love to know how it is that Isaiah would have expected that his readers could suppose a pregnant young girl who has lost her virginity to be a sign from God? Currently there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, how many million of them would be pregnant young women? There are babies born every second so I would guess a few million at least. Even in Mary’s day, which one of them would Isaiah’s readers have expected to be ‘The Sign from God’, where would they expect the sign to show itself? Mere pregnancy, though miraculous, does not qualify as an individual signal from God. Perhaps Dawkins is suggesting that reason only evolved in humans after Isaiah’s writings.

Obviously Isaiah means that she is to be a virgin, because a pregnant virgin would be a very obvious sign from God… hello?

Then, in terms of his exegesis, if he had done just the briefest of Hebrew studies he would discover that there is actually no instance where ‘almah’ is used in the Old Testament where it does not mean ‘virgin’, but in each case it also means ‘young woman of marriageable age’ ; ie. not a spinster who is a virgin, and also not a man who is a virgin; ‘Alma’ always means a young virgin girl and so we may make sense of Isaiah’s prophecy (what I’m saying does not prove it to be true in Mary; it just makes sense of it). I think it’s an insult to the brilliance of ancient Hebrew literature to suggest that Isaiah and his readers were that dense.

Dawkins’ thinking is a little like this: Imagine the writers of a major spy movie working on the part where the hero is going to break in to some government agency and steal a secret code. In the story his team need to wait for a sign from him after he has the code. So as they are planning the story the writers of the movie have him say this, “OK, as soon as I have the plans I will make sure that nothing out of the ordinary happens… OK? Any questions?” Obviously no one would write such a thing, a sign must be out of the ordinary… It’s just plain thinking Professor.

Another example is this: Dawkins suggests that there is a 4th option to the “liar, lunatic or Lord” options of who Jesus is. The apologetics goes something like this: Jesus must have been one of three things, a liar, a lunatic or Lord, as he claimed to be. Dawkins’ suggestion that a 4th option is this; that Jesus could have simply been mistaken.

I’m not sure how he came to that startlingly stupid suggestion, but he makes as if it is so simple that no Christian has ever thought of it before, presumably blinded by the ignorance of their religiosity. I think that very few people (let alone psychologists) would call a man who claims to be God, but is not, merely ‘mistaken’. People are put in the crazy house if they claim to be Napoleon; let alone God.

If Jesus was mistaken, would than not make him a lunatic?

Dawkins does seem to agree with Sam Harris in his opinion that all people of faith are actually lunatics, it’s just that there are too many of them to lock away (a situation they seem eager to change). It seems bizarre to me to suggest that all his disciples be committed to lunacy but to let the instigator of the faith off the hook, calling him merely ‘mistaken’.

I don’t know about you but I find that kind of thing disappointing in a book. If someone just said it off the top of their head that is one thing, but presumably someone actually edited this thing?

I would hate to think, but am lead to conclude, that this is the way Professor Dawkins does his research. Perhaps he commands such academic awe that he has advanced to some untouchable league and has been encouraged by his peers to believe that he can walk into a sphere he clearly knows nothing about and in one quick step, with no need for research of any kind, point out the obvious errors that no Christian in 2000 years could possibly have the wits to see (being the ignorant ‘faith’ people that they are); despite publications of the caliber of Augustine’s City of God being available to him since 1400 years ago. It is to me a picture of the state of science-academia that Dawkins gets to publish on a subject he has neither knowledge nor credibility and has clearly done less than enough research, and then wins an award for it! I am bitterly disappointed that I wasted my time and money on this book on the recommendation of it’s award.

Dawkins then has a brief glance at the gospels of Matthew and Luke and keeps repeating that they have these glaring and obvious contradictions. Yet he mentions not one of them. He tries, I think, to get Matthew, Luke and John to be contradictory with regard to Jesus’ birth place. The attempts are pitiful, and show that if he (and his editor) have actually read the gospels, they have certainly made absolutely no attempt to actually think about them. The whole thing is glaringly preconceived.

Only one issue of supposed contradiction is worth an answer; that is Robin Fox’s (equally un-researched) suggestion that Luke’s record of Quirineus’ census was a weak, but understandable, attempt to put Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth.

Apart from historical records, which I will get to last with the help of Dr Ernest Martin, just think for a moment: Luke was obviously not writing for the purpose of manipulating 20th century mass ignorance (as both Dawkins and Fox seem to think). The people Luke was writing to had no need of historical research; they were actually there. What possible reason could Luke have had to to either make up a fictitious Augustus-issued census or to get the dates so horribly wrong by putting the Quirineus census too early? More importantly, how did Luke’s record make it through its eye witness critics, copied as many times as it was, if it was as badly put together as they presume?

He says that Robin Fox “sympathises with Luke’s plight and his desire to fulfill prophecy of Micah.” But what he fails to recognize is that Luke was making no attempt to fulfill any Hebrew prophecy, it’s doubtful if he even knew of the prophecy and he certainly was not writing to convince any Hebrews. A plain read of his gospel makes that a very obvious observation.

Luke’s readers were either Greek or Roman (probably both), and certainly very well acquainted with their own recent history. Actually I go with the theory that Luke and Acts were written as a 2 volume pre-trial brief in Paul’s defense against Nero, no margin for eye witness error in that kind of document.

Dawkin’s suggestion here would be like Jacob Zuma’s legal defence trying to claim that there was never actually any European / South African arms deal… and then getting away with it! In 2000 years time that would be feasible because people would have forgotten about current South African politics, but how would Zuma’s case survive the ridicule and the courts of today so that it would be around in 2000 years? It is a silly suggestion.

But, besides the obvious, i.e.: what can be deduced by merely reading and thinking (preferably at, or almost at, the same time), here is the research:

Quirinius had more than one census. Luke says it so plainly, in verse 2 of the second chapter, that he seems to expect his reader to know of more than census under Quirinius and wants to be sure they know which one he’s speaking of: “(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” (emphasis added). His first census was under the orders of Augustus, it was empire wide and racial. Hence the men returning to their family towns. Joseph went to Bethlehem because that was where his family records were kept, it was not an ancient ancestor issue, as Dawkins again presumes.

Perhaps Professor Dawkins does not realize that at that time there was no such thing as a centralized database and bar-coded ID documents. Apart from that if Dawkins and Fox had just bothered to read the text they would see that Acts 5:37 describes the second census under Quirineus that Dawkins mistakes for the first Augustus-issued census; I think he could do a bit better than that. It’s not even like it’s in a different volume, Acts and Luke are both in the Bible.

Perhaps Dawkins doesn’t know that Luke was a Greek doctor, not at all familiar or interested in Jewish Messianic prophecy and almost certainly not able to speak or read Hebrew. But then what is the Professor doing writing such an opinionated book?

It is John and Matthew who wrote about Jewish prophecies being fulfilled, not Luke. As I said Luke was most likely writing a brief in defense of Paul in Rome. He was certainly not trying to fulfill Messianic prophecy. Though he was being thorough. The prophecy lines up with Luke’s record simply because the prophecy was true.

Dr Martin summarizes the literary and archaeological evidence for this:

A sixth reason for placing the nativity of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. is the coincidence of this date with the New Testament account that Jesus was born at the time when a Roman census was being conducted: “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the Roman world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Historians have not been able to find any empire-wide census or registration in the years 7-5 B.C., but there is a reference to such a registration of all the Roman people not long before 5 February 2 B.C. written by Caesar Augustus himself: “While I was administering my thirteenth consulship [2 B.C.] the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country” (Res Gestae 35). This award was given to Augustus on 5 February 2 B.C., therefore the registration of citizen approval must have taken place in 3 B.C. Orosius, in the fifth century, also said that Roman records of his time revealed that a census was indeed held when Augustus was made “the first of men”–an apt description of his award “Father of the Country”–at a time when all the great nations gave an oath of obedience to Augustus (6:22, 7:2). Orosius dated the census to 3 B.C. And besides that, Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience to Augustus was required in Judea not long before the death of Herod (Antiquities I7:4I-45). This agrees nicely in a chronological sense with what Luke records. But more than that, an inscription found in Paphlagonia (eastern Turkey), also dated to 3 B.C., mentions an “oath sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts.” And dovetailing precisely with this inscription, the early (fifth century) Armenian historian, Moses of Khoren, said the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was conducted by Roman agents in Armenia where they set up “the image of Augustus Caesar in every temple.”. The similarity of this language is strikingly akin to the wording on the Paphlagonian inscription describing the oath taken in 3 B.C. These indications can allow us to reasonably conclude that the oath (of Josephus, the Paphlagonian inscription, and Orosius) and the census (mentioned by Luke, Orosius, and Moses of Khoren) were one and the same. All of these things happened in 3 B.C.

The bit of The God Delusion that I have read leaves me with the distinct impression that its author has approached the subject of God with some massively obnoxious preconceptions; preconceptions that he obviously enjoys the company of. Because if he just used a little of the thinking capacity he clearly has, he would be obliged to send them on their way.