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Karen Allendoerfer

Musings on Science and Classical Music (thanks to Al's thread)

April 10, 2008 at 11:39 AM

I got a Ph.D. in Neuroscience because I have always been interested in how the human brain works. I work now in a lab at MIT so I see and work with other scientists all day, all the time. Being steeped in that environment, I guess I'm a little shocked to realize (again) how science and scientific language appear to the non-scientists in this group in some of the discussion threads.

The aspect that surprises (and saddens) me the most is how dismissive and negative folks seem to be about scientific explanations for natural phenomena. Somehow, according to this view, science is dry, it's dead, it doesn't feed the soul. Similarly, I've always been somewhat taken aback by the contempt that much religious language shows for the material world: according to that view, this world is mired in selfishness and greed, it's "fallen." It's so irredeemably awful and bad that other worlds beyond our "mere" understanding have to be postulated to prevent us from sinking into the pit of despair.

Richard Dawkins, an atheist and a scientist, tried to take some of this on in his book, _Unweaving the Rainbow_, not entirely successfully from my point of view (and that of many reviewers). But one of his arguments I do remember quite clearly from the book: he says he gets these letters from people all the time wondering how he can be so sad, or angry, or pessimistic, or negative, or whatever--when he in fact is not that way at all. He's not the most tactful writer, and he likes to provoke. But even in his interviews he comes across as prickly, yes, maybe not the kind of guy you'd want to have over for dinner (or maybe you would), but also not wallowing in some kind of cesspool of despair and hatred the way he is often portrayed in the media.

At MIT too, I meet many non-theistic scientists on a daily basis. Geeky? Sure. Quirky? You bet. But overall, optimistic, generous, friendly, and hopeful about the human condition and its potential for improvement by our own efforts. Right here in the material, tangible world. Music also thrives in such an environment. The little violin- and piano-playing math geniuses grow up and work in a place like this. The beauty of the natural world and its laws finds expression in a multitude of different ways.

Scientific communication is important to me, and I take this as an example of how much work scientists have to do to make their work and worldview more accessible. There are a lot of parallels between the state of science and the state of classical music, as described in the other threads. With science, as with classical music, there is a sometimes earned perception that its practitioners are dried up, old, and out of touch, concerned with arcane trivia that don't matter to most people. The challenges of making both topics interesting and relevant to people who aren't highly trained in the practice are going to be with us for a long, long time.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 1:23 PM
"The aspect that surprises (and saddens) me the most is how dismissive and negative folks seem to be about scientific explanations for natural phenomena."

To me it seems that this is *mostly* a US American phenomenon. It is rather surprising (or puzzling) to most people in most other corners of the world, too. And that is regardless of whether they have scientific training or not.

From jake bush
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 3:22 PM
Wonderful blog.
I suppose most of it has to do with human pride. Many, when their beliefs are called in to question or shattered by scientific theory or evidence, are quick to simply discount it because it conflicts with their beliefs. Rather than suffer their pride and admit to incorrect assumptions in order to come closer to the "truth" (whatever it may be at that time based on current findings), they stick with the mystical.

I'd say the main problem is that most people (Americans especially in my dealings) hold very little adoration for the search of truth and knowledge, and are not willing to go through the process of disproving and proving their own beliefs in order to find more concrete ones.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 5:37 PM
You both make a good point that this is especially an American phenomenon. As reported in a 2006 article in Science, Miller and others asked adults the question, "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals, and respondents answered true, false, or not sure/don't know. Thirty-four countries were included in the survey and only about 40% of American adults answered true. About an equal number answered false, with the rest being not sure. Of the 34 countries, only Turkey had fewer "true" responses.

What has taken me a long time to understand is that most people apparently must have a good experience with religious myths when they are children. So they grow up wanting the stories to be true, or finding some emotional goodness that feels true and right in those myths even if the details don't all exactly make intellectual sense. But to me, many religious myths didn't make emotional sense from the start. I didn't want the stories of Noah's Flood, or the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac, or Job, or Jesus on the cross to be true, even when I first heard them and wasn't equipped to tell one way or another whether they were or not. The stories were confusing and creepy, populated by frightening, capricious characters who did scary things. People got hurt and killed, lives were destroyed. So learning about metaphor and myth and putting them in that context was a relief and a joy. On the other hand, the stories of vast geological time, of dinosaurs, of Darwin's finches and the Panda's thumb, didn't need so much deconstruction and just sheer emotional work to understand or want to get close to. Dinosaurs are creepy and mean, but unlike characters in religious myth, they're safe too, because they're extinct.

From Megan Chapelas
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 5:35 PM
Great writing, Karen! I think one of the difficulties with religious faith is simply that by definition, it cannot be explained or understood. Only felt or 'known'. Any discourse, then, is pretty much useless, since the argument just gets circular - and that's with those who are willing to investigate this from a 'scientific' angle.

I've had the privilege of having these discussions with several very intelligent religious men (yes, it seems to be a first-date topic for me...), and must say that my own leanings fall quite definitely in the same category as your scientist friends. Someone asked me once what I did believe in, if I didn't believe in God. I had to think, but then realised it was the human condition. What we as a species are capable of - art, science, music, nature, and more.

There's nothing dry or miserable about asking questions. And I think religion often blocks this exploration by providing ready-made answers, in the form of doctrine - or even dogma. I think it's a easy way out.

You mentioned you attend church - I'd be interested in your own views on unifying your religion and science.

From Megan Chapelas
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 5:52 PM
Oh, by the way, I knew I forgot something. One of the (many) classes I wish I'd taken while I was at McGill was a course entitled 'The Bible as Literature', taught by a very well-respected Chaucer professor, who was also involved in Catholic Studies, if I remember correctly. The course I did take with him sparked a serious interest in mediaeval philosophy, and particularly in the attempts to unify Aristotelian thought with the doctrines of the mediaeval Church, and the difficulties that arose. It really isn't that simple.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 6:13 PM

I attend a Unitarian-Universalist church. Similar in name but very different in belief from the Unification church. (I always add that corollary since one of my husband's German friends who had never heard of UU mistook the two!)

The website has a pretty good description: "Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with Jewish-Christian roots. It has no creed. It affirms the worth of human beings, advocates freedom of belief and the search for advancing truth, and tries to provide a warm, open, supportive community for people who believe that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion."

For someone who has an essentially non-theistic outlook, I'm pretty involved in the church. For example, I just became the co-chair of the church Religious Education committee. I was a member of the choir, too, until this year when I joined an orchestra instead and only had time for one rehearsal a week and so had to quit the choir. I have performed in church a couple of times a year on violin or viola.

Reconciling science and faith feels like a bigger topic than I can take on right now, especially in a blog, but it's something that I think about quite a lot. I feel like music plays a big role in that process, at least for me. It seems like one arena where everyone can come together, or at least work together in tolerance, regardless of their religious beliefs, their scientific knowledge, or lack thereof.

Albert Einstein was a hero of mine when I was growing up, as both a scientist and a violinist. His vision of the universe as a lord who is subtle but not malicious is one that always made both emotional and intellectual sense to me. In contrast to the many other visions of the universe (or the Lord) available.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 10, 2008 at 8:48 PM
Great blog, Karen. I worked as a scientist for many years, even did some research in neuroscience. Most nonscientists I've spoken to believe that science is dull because it's all black and white, yes or no, true or false. They don't understand the nature or process of science, which are both very dynamic, stimulating, and even stimulating to the mind. Part of the problem in our culture is that thoughts (brain) and emotions (heart) are considered to be mutually exclusive. If you're a scientist, you're a nerd with no feelings and no knowledge of or interest in the world outside of science, and you can't interact with other people. You read too many books and go to too few parties. You're the rational/analytical type. If you're anything but a scientist, you're emotional, warm and fuzzy, a tree hugger, etc. You're the sensitive and caring type. Everyone must be pigeonholed into one of these personality types. Most of the nonscientists are not aware that a large proportion of scientists, physicians, and mathematicians are amateur musicians or music lovers. What about the harmony of the spheres? I'm so d*mn irritated by the large number of people who insist on putting human beings into one or the other category. Personally, I've had too much contact with nonscientists who assume that I'm cold because I was a scientist.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 12:23 AM
The best reconciliation of science and religion that I'm aware of was written several centuries ago by St. Thomas Aquinas. He believed that God reveals Himself through nature, so to study nature is to study. He even used lunar eclipses as one argument for the existence of God.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 1:10 AM
Karen, thanks for your heartfelt blog.

I grew up among scientists in communist atheism. I’m a member of local sceptics group and some of my best friends are scientists (including a couple of neuroscientists) and CSICOP members. In my undergraduate years, there was nothing more exciting for me other than being part of the science vs. religion debate, or better, science vs. pseudoscience debate. I loved and still love some of the arguments made by David Hume, Bertrand Russell and a lot of contemporary atheist thinkers such as Dennett and Paul Kurts. I felt it was my duty as someone has committed to lifelong learning and pursuit of truth to be defending modern science whenever and wherever I could. I took every class and tutorial related to philosophy of science and history of science I could get my hands on. At some point in my graduate years though, I started to see the deep problem with the thinking that our entire world can only be explained and explained away by science. It first came as a theoretical problem for me but soon I felt intellectually suffocating to be pursuing along this line of thinking.

Nowadays, I don’t feel the huge need to defend science any more because, for one thing, science is doing fine just by itself. However, I do feel the need to point out that the worst ‘enemy’ of science is actually not religion or other non-science lovers, but those simple-minded and dogmatic thinkers who dismiss anything outside the realm of what they understood to be science. They are the ones who give science and scientists a bad name. I guess the same can be said about lawyers, philosophers and politicians. It's not what field one chooses to be in but how one would like to pursue in it.

From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 1:34 AM
Very well said, particularly Yixi's response.

FWIW, I grew up more or less agnostic (or rather more likely passively atheistic), probably somewhere along the lines of where Karen is now w/ the UU. I was also made vaguely aware of certain basic religious beliefs both in Christianity and in certain Eastern popular religions and superstitions (since I'm Chinese originally from Hong Kong). My position had more or less been the same as Yixi and various others in this blog thread throughout most of my educational life (though I wasn't exactly actively seeking to "defend science"), and I did not come to the kind of realization (and basically, a paradigm shift) that Yixi arrived at until my final year in college.

Now, yes, I'm an Evangelical Christian. However, I should note that becoming a Christian did not mean I stopped thinking, stopped considering what the "truth" really is, etc. etc. And indeed, I've changed sides and thoughts on various popular, hotly debated topics like Evolution vs Creationism, Free Will vs Election/Predestination, etc. etc. :-)

And at the end of the day (after more than a decade of being a Christian), I can only arrive at this about such things. Some of this apparently paradoxical stuff are simply beyond my capability to fully (or maybe even partially) know and understand. But then again, that's perfectly fine since that's really what I *should* believe as a fundamental aspect of the faith.

Now, I'm not suggesting that faith necessarily dictates that we should abandon all logic and reasoning, but quite to the contrary, IMHO. I don't *think* there's anything illogical about admitting that there are certain unknowable truths and that certain things will *seem* paradoxical or even contradictorial due to our lack of full understanding.

I'm a (admittedly mediocre-at-best) Computer Scientist, BTW, and there's this little theorem regarding NP Completeness, which is essentially the Comp Sci take on Goedel's theorem about certain mathematical truths that cannot be proven. Now, no, I'm not saying this exactly shows or proves that Christian truths don't need to be proven in order to still be true (as many aficionados like to point out :-) ). But reflecting upon that mathematical truth *should* lead a sincere seeker of the truth to consider more carefully about his/her stance on the validity of religious "truths".

And even as science itself has needed to evolve and grow (both to correct pass errors and to search out new truths), the scientically inclined skeptic *should* IMHO also offer the same courtesy to religion as well when also considering the long history of errors (and atrocities) in the religious search for truth. :-)

And finally, for anyone sincerely interested, might I suggest checking out this new book I recently came across by one fairly well respected, apologetics preacher of whom I'm familiar? The book is Dr. Tim Keller's "The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism". I have not actually read it yet myself, but do plan to read it in the near future. Seems like it could make very worthwhile reading for those who are sincerely interested in the subject at hand. Hope y'all find it to be so.

And now, may the peace of my God, who apparently has remained "unknown" to many of you (much as to the Athenians whom the Apostle Paul met in Acts 17), yet be w/ y'all some day...

In Him...


From Benjamin K
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 2:51 AM
"And even as science itself has needed to evolve and grow (both to correct pass errors and to search out new truths), the scientically inclined skeptic *should* IMHO also offer the same courtesy to religion as well when also considering the long history of errors (and atrocities) in the religious search for truth."

It would seem that the very reason why such debate gets so heated is the fact that religion is rather reluctant to corrective change whilst many critics are demanding precisely such change.

Let's look at a very straightforward example of a statement in religious scripture where you would be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't conclude that it is outright wrong, even among religious persons: Exodus 21:7-11 states that a father can sell his daughter into slavery to pay a debt. Can we agree with that? Can we justify that? Can we imagine a situation where such a statement could ever be justified? I personally don't think so, and I believe most religious persons today would agree with me on that. There are many other such examples where ethics promoted in old religious scriptures fall desperately short of modern ethical standards or violate those standards but they are still being taught anyway.

So, why is this still part of religious scripture? Why is there no editing process to remove it or at least clarify that it is wrong and only kept for historic reasons? Why is there not even any discussion about such a removal or editing? Why is asking for the removal of such obvious errors treated as blasphemy? (Christian/Islamic/Jewish) religious scripture itself says that "scribes made mistakes". Why then should it be so painful to allow some statements to be found erroneous and have them revoked?

In my view it is this dogmatic attitude that causes such a heated argument in the first place.

In science the debate can get very intense, too, but at least you can raise problems with a generally accepted theory, have them discussed and get the theory either modified or replaced when solutions to those problems are found. Einstein's theory superseded Newton's (in an additive sense), Darwin's theory superseded that of Lamarck. Even Darwin's theory has been superseded (in a consolidating sense) by the modern evolutionary theory developed in the 1940s. Further research will lead to further changes in the theoretic framework in the future.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am *not* arguing about whether or not there is a god or gods. I am talking about the process how obvious errors are being dealt with in the context of religious teachings, nothing else.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 5:21 AM

The Bible (Old & New Testaments) are historical records (especially the Old) of the way things were during various periods for Israel and surrounding nations and cultures. To delete historical records because they do not meet with modern, accepted cultural practices would be like changing all of the historical records when anything questionable, nasty, cruel or despicable and deplorable happened.

That, in fact, is one of the amazing aspects of the Bible — nothing is hidden.

I cannot believe that anyone would want to change historical documents unless the records themselves were found to be unquestionably false and that was therefore unquestionably proven.

As far as I know such situations as you mention in Exodus 21:7-11 are certainly not taught as something we should do in this day and age. If you read carefully, the daughter sold as a "maidservant" was well protected and provided for under various circumstances that could arise — whether staying as a servant, becoming the wife of the master, or even the wife of the master's son (to then be treated as a daughter by the master of the house), and she could return to her family, but never be sold to strange or other cultures. She was never to be deserted, but always cared for.

In Europe and many parts of the world in the 1800's some individuals were indentured to various trades and work periods — it was a contract. Was it ever abused? Probably. Abuses go on in the world today — whether the free work force, families, schools and all levels of society. We do not condone it, as we do not condone crime.

There are excellent, scholarly studies on the scriptures available in bookstores around the world — well worth picking up a few, or simply going to the library.

Thanks for the blog and I truly appreciate reading everyones thoughts. Some areas we agree on and some we don't.

I would love to possess the knowledge all of you have in your various fields, along with mine, but I can't convince nature to give me 48 hour days and 28 day weeks — I'll work on that — ha, actually wouldn't that be the job for the scientists:-)

This is not a ball game where one has to win — just play the game the best we can with the knowledge we have and then acquire even more knowledge.

What an amazing time in history that we are fortunate to be a part of — WOW!!!

All the best —

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 7:42 AM
That's not what I was talking about, I am talking about guidance rules in the old testament which are still being taught as guidance rules today even though they violate modern ethics. Such guidance is presented as god's word and god's guidance given to the faithful to live by.

Just this week we could see the news showing a case in Texas where a christian sect lives by this guidance and they abuse religious freedom to abuse women and children. Where is the rest of the christian world to say that this particular guidance is no longer valid, that it was an error of history? Which Bible is printed with an editorial note that says "This is clearly wrong, it cannot ever be taken as guidance, it is mentioned here only as historic reference to illustrate how bad people can behave against their fellow human beings when they think they are guided by god when they are in fact not" or something along those lines. I would very much like to see such a Bible if it does exists.

For as long as this doesn't happen, I have to reject the argument that this is kept only as a historic reference not as guidance and consider that argument to be a convenient excuse.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 7:57 AM
As for "nothing is hidden", are you talking about the texts in their Hebrew and Aramaic versions or later versions translated into Greek, Latin, English etc etc?

Certainly the English versions never distinguish between the plural gods (Elohim) and the singular god (Yahweh) mentioned, they conveniently map that all to a singular god. If that doesn't qualify as hidden, then I don't know what does.

This doesn't even count all the documents which were deliberately excluded and destroyed at and after the congress of Mycene. This was the last time in history when Christian clerics were allowed to discuss what should go into the scripture and what should remain outside, whether Jesus was to be considered a prophet or a god and many other such questions. The Christian Bible is a product of what the congress of Mycene and the powerful of the day wanted the Christian religion to be. Ever since, anything that would challenge the interpretation and manipulation of the congress would be supressed and this practise continues to this day.

And my point was precisely that the heat of the debate stems from that dogmatic stance and not as suggested from an unwillingness to grant them some slack towards gradual change.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 9:02 AM
THe religion / science fisticuffs is so 19th century. Nothing in religion is as religious as, say, the multiverse hypothesis of quanta. And, statistics (science) shows that we're more likely a reality simulated from the future than the authentic ancestor reality. And in a simulation anything is possible...
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 11:06 AM
Wow, thanks for these responses! I became a UU about 12 years ago, after having been raised as a mainline Protestant (non-Evangelical, in the US sense, although "Evangelische" in German translation).

It's interesting to read stories of how adults change faith traditions and how where they end up is different from where they started. Even though some of us have gone one way and some the other, in every case there seems to have been a reaction against perceived dogmatism and narrowness in the tradition one grew up in. I know I felt that very strongly; my experience was a lot like what Benjamin writes: how could we revere the Bible the way we do when it has so many confusing and scary things in it, so much cruelty and suffering? As a budding feminist when I was a teenager, I was especially sensitive to the treatment of women in the Bible and, even more so, in modern religions: the prohibition on women priests in Roman Catholicism, the menstruation taboos in Orthodox Judaism, the various rantings of Paul about wives having to submit to their husbands and women having to cover their heads. Lot offering up his virgin teenage daughters for rape in order to protect two visiting strangers--in the name of "hospitality."

At one point I got into a silly argument with my Confirmation class teacher about whether Peter had really done such a bad thing by claiming not to know Jesus three times. It seemed to me frankly quite sensible that Peter would hide his connection in that persecutory climate, bide his time, and live to fight another day. I made up a scenario in which Peter and the rest of the disciples could have hidden in the hills, rode into town on their donkeys, rescued Jesus, and then and ridden out of Jerusalem. I wanted that story to be true--and was disappointed and confused by what was actually written, which just made no sense, not intellectually, not emotionally. "He is risen"--what, like bread dough? And why do they keep using that archaic, German-like verb usage, "is risen"? In modern German the verb "to be" is still used for the past-participle of non-transitive verbs, but in modern English, it's not. Except there. What's up with that?

No one in my home church, or several that I attended later, addressed any of these concerns. They dismissed them and implied that *I* was the narrow-minded, dogmatic, and foolish one for bringing them up.

I agree very much with Drew's point about the Bible being an imperfect historical record and that it should be treated as such, "warts" and all, but at least in the Sunday schools I'm familiar with, it's not generally taught that way to children. It's taught as "the truth," and yes, it's taught as a guide to how to live. We wrestle with this issue on the RE committee in my church a great deal. How do we teach these stories to our children so that they learn ethical lessons from them and aren't scared and alienated by them instead, the way we were when we were kids?

I've since been fortunate to broaden my horizons and meet Christians who aren't like this. And so I agree with Yixi that the main problem is indeed dogmatic thinking. And for sure, no one group has a monopoly on that.

Man's point about paradoxes is interesting. I definitely don't understand the Goedel reference, but I will ask my computer scientist (atheist) husband if he can explain it to me. I have had a similar experience that it is valuable to learn to hold paradoxes in your mind. Especially in relationships with other people, accepting their paradoxical nature, accepting that their worst faults can also be their greatest strengths, seems the essence of compassion. But to me, the value is in *trying* to resolve these paradoxes as kind of a learning experience. You may never resolve them, and you have to accept that, but you need to at least try.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 11:46 AM
p.s. Benjamin, Thomas Jefferson made an edition of the Bible where he edited out the parts he thought were untrue: The Jefferson Bible

Also, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a group of other 19th century feminists revised the Bible to make it more friendly to women: From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 11:50 AM

The Women's Bible

Sorry, something appears to be wrong with my link above, and I can't seem to edit it!

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 1:08 PM
The trouble with the Jefferson text is that it has never been embraced by any christian community, instead his effort is often brand marked as blasphemy, which confirms what I said earlier.

Science is different in that you can challenge the teachings and have them changed. Religion does not permit this because it claims 1) the scripture is gods word and 2) god is infallible, from which follows that the scripture must also be infallible. Further, anybody who challenges the scripture is a blasphemer who must be silenced. This is simply unacceptable to more and more people today and that's the real reason why organised religion is in trouble.

Some people respond by considering religion a private matter which they keep to themselves. Some others become non-believers in the process. In my opinion this has little to do with science versus religion per se, but with methodology of science (verify and change if you find errors) versus dogma of religion (the scripture is always right and it must not ever be criticised).

Interesting though about the women bible, I like that. Unfortunately though, it will most likely share the fate of the Jefferson text.

And I am still waiting for the first bible which makes a distinction between Elohim and Yahweh and tells its readers that Elohim is plural for "the gods". Not going to happen any time soon, hahaha.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 1:37 PM
Apropos the comment "God is a woman" on that Women's Bible web site, this isn't actually so far fetched as it may seem. The original text on which Genesis is based comes from Sumerian clay tables which tell the story in far greater detail, the OT is only a summary of what's in those Sumerian records. According to the Sumerian original, the Elohim which created Adam and Eve was Ninti, the Lady of Life, a Sumerian leader, princess or goddess, depending on interpretation, but definitely female :-)
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 2:07 PM
Copy the url of one you can edit, substitute the response number of the haywire one, and paste in browser. Simple hack.
From jake bush
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 7:17 PM
I think to say that everything is simply given in the Bible is a way too hopeful.

Many texts by early Christian leaders were destroyed, and the number of alterations Biblical texts have gone through is nothing to be laughed at.

The New Testament itself is simply a compilation of the source materials of the time, and there is ample evidence that there were disputers against many of the foundations of Modern Christian.

The New Testament is plagued by falsehoods and romanticized myths. In Paul's letters, he talks about persecution of people who believed in Jesus Christ, and the crucifixion, as well as some other stuff. No details of Jesus's life were mentioned, and the events mentioned in the Gospels have not a single shred of textual evidence in history. 1&2 Timothy, and 2 Peter describe a historical Jesus, but the majority of the books in the New Testament have no information about a historical figure.

The only written testimonials of his life were not written until up to 70 years after Jesus's death, leaving 7 decades of oral transmissions, exaggeration, alteration, etc, to exploit any actual historical truth.

Not to mention the Jesus depicted in the Bible was basically a subject of a poplar Jewish mythology, and all the first writers who discussed him (long after his death) describe him mythologically, not historically.

Yet the Church often claims there's massive evidence for his historical existence despite the fact that there are only a 2-3 mentions of Jesus in historical texts, and the only one that mentions anything other than his name was proven as a fake long ago.

To have the Jesus mythologies perpetuated as divine truth and historical reality is a far, far, cry from 'leaving nothing out'

From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 8:33 PM
Benjamin (and others),

You may or may not feel my reply is adequate in addressing your concerns (or at least present a starting point for that).

RE: "elohim" and "Yahweh", actually, there *IS* at least one well regarded English translation/version of the Bible that does make the distinction though it may still not be that clear to the average layperson. The revised American Standard Version of the Bible specifically uses Jehovah for "Yahweh". In various other well regarded versions, the NASB in particular, "Yahweh" is typically translated as "The LORD" w/ caps.

In the Genesis account of creation, most English translations also do refer to God in plural form when it says "let us make man in our image". My understanding is that this refers to the Triune God being 3-in-1 (as we believe God to be in Christianity). I'm not aware of how exactly modern Judaism (in its various forms) and modern Islam (in whatever forms itself) handles that passage in Scripture since they do not believe God to be 3-in-1 like we do.

RE: the dogmaticism issue, one should probably take care to consider just *whom* one is leveling such accusations at and to what degree depending on the "whom". Not all parts of orthodox Christianity are equally dogmatic afterall -- and I'm sure the same is true in other religions as well, eg. modern Judaism has at least 3 main groups ranging from extremely conservative old tradition (ie. Orthodox) to moderate (ie. Conservative) to very liberal (ie. Reform) nowadays. Just as it is not wise to level stereotypical descriptions about scientists at the entire scientific community, so it is unwise to do such w/ the entire religious community. In fact, IMHO, due to the highly fragmentic nature of the religious community (even just w/in orthodox Christianity itself), it is even less wise to pigeon-hole the entire group w/ such large broad strokes than it is to do so w/ the more unified scientific community. At least w/ science, methodology and process have become more standardized w/ fairly well accepted practices across the most, if not completely all, of the community. This cannot be said for the religious community at all.

At the end of the day, IMHO, it is still best to take a more practical approach to dealing w/ religion due to its very nature. I do not currently officially belong to any Christian denomination. However, I would probably align myself most closely w/ what is often labeled as the Reformed Presbyterian tradition though perhaps in its more updated/modern form as can be found in the Presbyterian Church of America here in the NYC area -- and yes, Dr. Tim Keller has become one of the leading figures in that denomination here in the NYC area. And one key principle that this denomination strives for is what they call "practical theology" -- and I expect that one would find plenty of that in the book I suggested previously by Tim Keller.

BTW, yes, one may indeed get labeled "blasphemous" or "heretic" for challenging dogma in various religious circles. However, unlike the old days when the Spanish Inquisition and such things rule the day, we are not severely persecuted for such today at least here the USA and various other modernized countries. Sure, you may become an outcast or even excommunicated from a certain religious group for "heresy", but you're not likely to be thrown into prison, tried falsely for crimes you did not commit and then hung on a crucifix or the like. ;-) I suppose as a scientifically minded person, you might want to just consider "blasphemy" or "heresy" as just another term for "we simply cannot agree" and so may just need to part ways at least for the meantime until we can arrive at something new to resolve the dispute adequately. Such things are nothing new in both religious *and* scientific circles, no? In Acts, the Apostle Paul and Barnabus had to part ways over their differing assessment of John Mark's character after some bad incidents -- and eventually, Paul did adopt a radically different (and very high) opinion of Mark, who happens to be the writer of the Gospel according to Mark.

Basically, IMHO, just try to approach such things w/ a more logical, objective mindset (as a scientist would claim to possess ;-) ) and deal w/ it as best as you can. Afterall, even if others are not sincerely seeking the truth (and thus remain overly dogmatic and closeminded), that does not mean you (as a sincere seeker of the truth) should in turn follow suit and be equally dogmatic and closeminded about your own stance and your own method to seeking the truth. IMHO, one would do well to heed the wisdom of "taking the high road" in such matters and be true to your own self and your own search for the truth. Afterall, at the end of the day, w/ all such matters, IMHO, I must satisfy my own conscience and integrity, if nothing else. It does me no good to sink to some level far below where I actually aspire to go -- and for me, aspiring to know my Maker, if He is indeed real, is something that matters very much indeed...

In Him,


From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 9:12 PM
RE: the matter of the current state of the Biblical text, while I am by no means a scholar on the matter, I would like to submit this appeal to the matter and let God's own word speak for itself:

"A voice says, 'Call out.'
Then he answered, 'What shall I call out?'
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:6-8)

FWIW, I'm not entirely sure why the Lockman Foundation chooses this Scripture passage as a sort of forward/prologue for their NASB translation of the Bible, but I can imagine a couple different reasons. One possible reason that I personally hold would be the proclamation that God's Word, if it indeed is truly His divine word and not merely man's own imagination, stands forever regardless of its current presentation by man -- and the fact that one is just reading an English translation of a manuscript *copy* of the original ancient text must necessarily qualify that "presentation" anyway. However, if God is indeed who we believe Him to be, then why can we not accept that His divine word can also transcend whatever weaknesses reside in the text at hand? Certainly, the Bible text itself proclaims something like that in various places, including the quoted passage.

The other main reason for quoting this passage is that it is actually part of a famous larger passage that presents one major prophecy about Jesus Christ who is also sometimes refered to as the Word of God, including in the opening chapter of the Gospel according to the Apostle John. Christ Himself is refered to as God's Word -- and Jesus also refers to Himself in that way in various places in the NT, especially in John's gospel. And some of the other NT writers also refer to Christ in that way in the various epistles.

And in both cases, the message is of hope for humanity. That is, the Bible itself represents a primary way to seek God in spite of man's failings whatever they be. Also, it is a message of hope in reference to Christ as the prophesied Savior.

And BTW, I personally prefer the NASB over most other modern translations of the Bible precisely for the reason that Drew suggested earlier. That is, the rather literal approach that the NASB takes in its translation works better, IMHO, to make God's Word as "unhidden" as possible to us laypeople. Yes, literal translation can present some problems, but I think those "problems" can also provide great starting points to find out more and to understand better. And in that sense, I totally disagree w/ the suggestion that we should seek to actively wipe out what may *seem* erroneous to us at the moment. It is better to keep the source text as "pure" as possible so that we may better attempt to search the truth when we study it warts and all w/ our own best scrutiny, which itself may well improve as we grow and learn more. But yes, if one is very serious about it, it would be even better to go more directly to the source text and study it in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, if that's feasible. :-)

Anyway, hope that helps some...

In Him...


From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 9:42 PM

You are clearly oversimplifying how the Christian faith actually *should* and does work.

I would suggest to consider the Christian faith -- well, the Bible-based, reformed one anyway -- as one founded on a massive collection of circumstantial *and* eyewitness evidence *both* from the ancient days *and* today.

But you might protest what modern day eyewitness evidence do we have?? Well, you have that in the form of true believers who seek to be living testimonies of a faith that (we believe) began all the way back during the days accounted in Genesis. And even as the Bible itself testifies (and us reformed believers hold), there has always been a group of true believers of the faith throughout the known history of man, and more often than not until the past century or two, this group of "remnant" believers have needed to survive against all sorts of persecution and difficulties in order to grow into what we are today. And even today, we are actually not nearly as large in numbers as most people might think. And yes, the "remnant" is often refered to as the "invisible church" while the "Church" that people typically refers to is really just what *appears* to be the church -- and that often even includes things like consecrated church buildings and other such physical artifacts judging from some of the posts in the original discussion thread. :-)

And the fact that the faith (and God's Word) somehow has survived throughout history against all odds should say a little something for it, no? Of course, I do not mean this proves anything in a definitive way, but it certainly presents one more piece of circumstantial evidence (of sorts) for the argument in favor of the faith.

But yes, you are quite correct in your protestations *IF* Christians attempt to submit the faith as true on scientific grounds, which we most certainly should not. The Christian faith really works more like how truth can be verified and tested in a court of law, not by the scientific method. Some of the premises held by the scientific method itself necessitate that it can never hope to adequately prove or disprove the Christian faith. Well, IMHO, as a starter, you would probably need to at least be able to demonstrate and prove that you can create life w/out divine contribution before you can ever hope to disprove the Christian faith. ;-)

In Him,


From John Blakely
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 10:58 PM
Hi Karen

As primarily a scientist and technologist I found your blog interesting. To me science is alive all around in nature, gravity, electricity, chemistry and in the application of all these things via technology. In the same vein, music lives and vibrates all around. I love science and music as I love life. Many people feel the throb of life in other things like religion, literature (which I also love), finance and a myriad of other things. I'm no judge as to what has value and what hasn't. Musicians who are not scientifically aware are simply people who have focused on a particular aspect of being. If they have enjoyed and appreciated the one albeit at the expense of some others that is not necessarily a net loss. It takes many ingredients to make a good broth. And each ingredient has its own unique qualities!


From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 11:00 PM
One other thing I would like to add regarding evidence for the Christian faith is the Bible itself.

While it is indeed true that the Bible is really just a collection of ancient texts written by a host of various writers spread out across a very large number of years -- at least roughly 1600 years, if not more -- it is also interesting that the text can remain so internally consistent as it is, including the hundreds of prophecies about Jesus that were all written anywhere from 400 to 1500 years (or possibly more) before Jesus showed up on the scenes.

Yes, you may indeed protest that all that is really subjected to our interpretations (and there certainly are many). However, what I think we should strive for is high plausibility of interpretation (and the faith) built on a reasonable, logical framework. As in math, the point is not necessarily to prove that a certain model is true in the real world, but that it must be true w/in itself. IMHO, that should be the first main step to testing one's system of faith. And if it passes, *then* we need to decide whether to take that leap of faith needed to adopt it as the truth in reality (at least until it can be disproven or until some other "truth" shows itself to be much more plausible).

And in that light, I would also like to submit that a skeptic should also put to the test his/her own system of "non-faith" before going about so dogmatically in his/her attacks on other people's systems of faith (or "non-faith"). ;-) Afterall, this thing about proving what we do believe (and not believe) does work both ways. :-)

In Him...


From Man Wong
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 11:24 PM
And an AMEN to what John Blakely just wrote. ;-)

There are indeed so many "qualities" in life that we can enjoy and cherish. Variety is such a great thing, don't you think? Sure, that is why I'm constantly overbooked on time to spend on all the various interests I hold on top of having a family w/ 3 music-loving kids now! :-p I think I may need to start playing recordings of Bach more religiously for the little-est one so I can brainwash her into loving Bach on strings -- whether it be violin or cello (or somewhere in between). ;-)



From Benjamin K
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 2:04 AM
"While it is indeed true that the Bible is really just a collection of ancient texts written by a host of various writers spread out across a very large number of years -- at least roughly 1600 years, if not more -- it is also interesting that the text can remain so internally consistent as it is, including the hundreds of prophecies about Jesus that were all written anywhere from 400 to 1500 years (or possibly more) before Jesus showed up on the scenes."

Well, first off, it hasn't remained consistent, most of the OT is plagiarized from various different mythologies that were around in the Middle East at the time, going back all the way to Sumerian texts. In the process of being adopted by other cultures over the millennia, the stories have been altered following the beliefs of the day and the locals who adopted it into their own mythology. Often an existing base mythology were blended with influences from Sumerian texts and formed a new amalgamate. The OT is no exception to this.

One of the changes which scholars have observed is how over time the stories were changed from an attitude of equality between male and female in the Sumerian originals towards the male dominant women denigrating attitute found in later derived texts such as the OT. This is explained as a result of societal changes towards patriarch societies.

For example, in the Sumerian texts, the creator of life is a female and the male part (semen) is likened to water needed to nurture life. In fact in Sumerian the words for semen and water are the same. The male deity is the lord of water, the female creator is the lady of life. Over time as society changed into a patriarch one, the male deity was promoted to the all powerful creator god and the female deity was demoted to being first man's foolish wife (Eve). Semen is promoted to seed and the body of a woman is demoted to earth (=dirt).

I am not making this up, you can read this up yourself in the various mythologies of the ancient middle east, many of which have been translated into English and there are quite a few scholars who studied them and publish papers and books. The generally accepted conclusion is paraphrased by what I have described above.

The story of the creation of Adam and Eve even has got a translation error due to the fact that the translator didn't get a pun on a Sumerian homonym. In some uses the word "ti" means rib, but when used as a verb it means to give life and this was poetically exploited in the Sumerian creation story of Adam and Eve. This is the reason why in the OT, Eve is made from Adam's rib where it should have been "life essence" instead.

There are plenty of such examples where the authors of the OT have either got things wrong or they have conveniently changed things to make them suit their patriarchic world views.

The whole 3 deities in 1 god is yet again the outcome of making an existing scripture match a given belief, in this case monotheism. This was done at the nicene council in the 3rd century under the supervision of emperor Constantine. For this there are actual historical records. However, this later caused the schism between the western and eastern christian world, creating the roman catholic and the greek orthodox churches in the process.

Also, the original Sumerian texts weren't monotheist either, there are at least 7 main gods, and a whole bunch of rank and file gods. This is why the OT refers to a plural (Elohim), which is simply carried over, but eventually this clashed with the newly prescribed monotheism and so modern translators have conveniently mapped multiple gods (Elohim) into a singular god (Yahweh or simply "*the* lord" where it should have been "the lords" with a plural "s".

This cannot be called having remained consistent for centuries. It's only remained consistent after the Roman catholic church had become the only game in town and powerful enough to suppress critical voices, which they are still doing today, albeit with less brutality.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 4:25 AM
All of these religious arguments reminds me of when I was a very angry teenager. I too was out to prove the world that the bible was WRONG in so many ways, there were just too many contradictions in the Christian teaching with what was printed.

Finally, many many years later, I finally realized that religion and faith wasn't a matter of the printed word in a literal extrememe, but the intent. Once I accepted that my fundamental understanding, my eyes, opened to all the world's religions.

To each their own. We all struggle with some basic questions that science and faith seek to answer in their own ways. Will we ever have the answer to why we are here? Probably not. It is the exploration, in whatever form it may take, that is important.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 5:36 AM
Here,here, Mendy. Most of us did it during our teens or sophomore years and we move on, be and let be.

As much as I enjoy reading works by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, I can’t help feeling that it’s such a pity for a smart man like him to spend so much energy trying to destroy other people’s faith.

Although what I believe is really irrelevant to my point, but just to clear suspicion, no, I’m not a Christian, don’t believe god or gods, as I can’t be fit into any small boxes. Nor do I think it make sense to claim the non-existence of something that is utterly beyond human comprehension. Nor am I agonistic because I don’t think it is reasonable to assume there is nothing greater than we human being can perceive.

Jim, I'll say! Isn’t it boring to see that atheists today haven't come up with any new argument against the existence of god since, say, David Hume, a couple of hundred years ago? What’s worse, they are so busy with winning some clever little arguments by attacking easy targets such as obvious inconsistency in a text, all the while have missed whatever insights hidden under the metaphors and other obscurity they could have found, had they, er, taken some prunes.

From Man Wong
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 6:30 AM
I quite agree to a great extent w/ both Mendy and Yixi despite the fact neither of you are religious.


Thanks for the additional input regarding Sumerian beliefs. However, at this time, you will have to excuse me for not merely taking your conclusions (or rather the conclusions you seem to believe in) as the final authority on the subject ;-) regarding the validity of the Bible-based Christian faith as being in serious doubt.

Firstly, I will need to verify for myself how valid (and/or true) those claims are. Secondly, even if the claims are largely (or wholey) true that the OT text plagiarized Sumerian beliefs, as Yixi hinted, that does not necessarily invalidate the Bible-based Christian faith. Yes, it *might* indeed invalidate certain understandings we have arrived at so far (just as certain scientific theories can be proven inaccurate and either need revision or possibly even be tossed out completely, but does not completely invalidate the whole of science), but unless it fundamentally disapproves the most crucial aspects of our faith, it really hasn't done all that much than say how Darwinian theory has been updated/revised since about a hundred years ago.

Now, supposed for the moment, I take your word as the truth. Then what? Just how exactly would plagiarism of Sumerian texts/beliefs make the Christian faith any less valid when we already know that Christianity also *very* directly "plagiarizes" the Hebrews by appropriating the OT from the Hebrew Scriptures and that the NT writers also very clearly borrow very directly from the Hebrew Scriptures? If the Christian faith can adequately resolve its differences w/ the Judaic faith despite borrowing in whole the OT, then what is the big deal about the OT writers borrowing from Sumerian beliefs in the way they've shaped their own beliefs and then put it down in writing?

And really, I have already preemptively pointed out that the literal text (as Mendy suggests in her latest post) that we now have does not really and exactly equal the true essence of the Word of God as we (reformed) Christians understand it. What we have now (and even what the original writers had) is merely a representation, a version, of God's Word written down by imperfect people. And therefore, it is quite probable and understandable for there to be certain apparent errors in facts and such in the literal text.

For instance, one of the OT writers -- Moses, IIRC -- almost certainly misunderstood what a comet (or possibly meteor) is and wrote that he saw a shooting "star". So yes, there are indeed errors in fact right there in the literal text. However, is that really the point and intended meaning of the text? Obviously not unless the writer's intention was really to present a scientific thesis on the matter of comets (and shooting "stars"). ;-) In truth, there is nothing particularly wrong w/ that description as long as we understand it in proper context. Likewise, most of the objections raised regarding (more) difficult to accept descriptions and living rules/guidelines and such can also be explained adequately when understood w/in proper context.

And as I understand it, context is indeed king when it comes to one's attempt at understanding the text -- and really, this applies to our critical reading/understanding of *any* text of substance, not just the Biblical text. And extra-Biblical accounts and context as can be provided by outside sources like an accurate knowledge of Sumerian beliefs of the time, historical records of neighboring countries (whether friendly or hostile, eg. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome), etc. and even writings of those who might be considered "enemies" of the faith throughout various times in human history, does and *should* matter in how we arrive at a more complete and thorough understanding of the text as we seek to find out the "truth". And as the saying goes, let's also not miss the forest for the trees when we scrutinize various details about the text (and ultimately, the faith).

Anyway, as I mentioned before, if evidence (of all sorts) can be brought up to challenge certain aspects of the faith, then we must indeed seek to resolve whatever actual inconsistencies and contradictions, especially if they are critical ones. And failing that, then we must revise those aspects of the faith as necessary (or at least actively seek to ensure whether there is indeed error that needs correcting). This is really no different than how the scientific method works. What *is* different though is that people of faith are generally *allowed* to accept paradoxes and are by definition taking a leap of faith that includes accepting certain paradoxes. Also, faith by definition requires less rigorous demands on proof (of the empirical variety) than science -- but this does not mean faith should ignore other kinds of proofs and tests like that of a court of law (or of pure logic). A solid system of faith should really still follow certain rules (of logic) about internal consistency and such much like a mathematical model would. But as w/ math, not every model that one can come up w/ can actually be applied successfully to the real world (and be true to the real world like say a model based on "1=1 and 1+1=2" instead of "1=1 and 1#1=13 while 1#2=3" ;-) ), so likewise, the real world can be a testing ground for a system of faith (as I alluded previously) even though we may not require the same rigor as scientific proof.

Of course, I should also qualify all this by pointing out that this is all just *my* understanding of how it ought to work and may or may not reflect how much of the rest of the religious world actually works. Certainly, I have no doubt that I am indeed in the minority in this regard (at least when one considers how many people could actually be bothered to think about such things as I/we do). :-) Still, that does not really mean I'm wrong either. ;-)

And finally, here's the bottom line. *IF* God is indeed the Holy and Eternal One, the Almighty, Omniscient, Omnipotent and all that jazz as most of us Christians (and perhaps also some/most Jews and some/most Muslims and maybe some others) believe Him to be, then just as I suggested earlier, why would such issues as just a few complications here and there w/ the literal text really stop Him from conveying His true voice to us? It's quite important to fully realize (as near as possible) that we are not merely talking about someone who is fabricated by the imagination of a handful of people regardless of what the non-believers may think, but we are talking about that Someone who, if really is real, would then far transcend what us puny, imperfect humans (at least in our current fallable state) can possibly hope to comprehend of His fullness. Remember, the Biblical text does not speak of One who is likely imagined by man nor of One who can be fathomed by man, but of One who imagined man (and created him in some sense after His own image and ultimately for His good pleasure ... as well as ours)...


From Man Wong
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 8:21 AM
One other thing I would like to add for others to consider regarding whether God can speak to us through the Biblical text (despite whatever perceived problems w/ that text) as taken straight from the writings of the Apostle Paul (from 1 Corinthians chatpers 1 and 2). Try to understand it as best you can, but do also make a real attempt at heeding Paul's advice, if you really wish to understand it properly. ;-) FYI, in most cases, one can probably think of the suggested wisdom according to the "spirit" or "spiritual" wisdom (vs worldy wisdom) as something that requires a paradigm shift from preconceived notions about faith (and truth wrt matters of faith). :-)

"17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

"1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ."

Hope this has not been too cumbersome (nor offensive) of a read for all. My apologies if it is...


From Man Wong
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 8:59 AM
You know. I wish I can edit my posts here since it does seem like I probably way overdid it w/ that last one w/ the huge quotation (if nothing else). :-p

Again, my apologies if I've offended (or merely confused) anyone by posting such a huge quotation of that passage rather than being more directly relevant and maybe only paraphrasing it (and/or simply providing reference for those who might actually be interested enough to go through the text itself).

Hope y'all will still welcome me to occasional chats of matters music-and-violin -- the actual stuff that brought us together over here in this corner of the universe... :-}



From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 12:00 PM
Hi John,

I agree with you very much about the life of science and music. In fact, I think we're on the same page except for the comment when you say "I'm no judge as to what has value and what hasn't." That seems like a pretty strong statement, and I'm not ready to go there. I think it's important to have judgement, and to have values.

Instead, I would draw a distinction between "what" and "who". I'm no judge as to *who* has value and who hasn't. I take it as a given that everyone has value. The first UU principle affirms the "inherent worth and dignity of every person."

But all ideas do not have equal value. I believe in a marketplace for ideas, that some ideas are better, and they will win, and some ideas are worse, and they will lose. In religious terms, it's karma, or it's spiritual fruit. Good ideas lead to more goodness and growth. Bad ideas lead to a dead end. So I think there can be a place for trying to talk people out of bad ideas and into good ones. If done with kindness and respect, it's an act of love.

I still think, maybe as a minority of one at this point, that Richard Dawkins gets unfair treatment from the media. I don't see him as primarily a destroyer of other people's faith. I don't think that's what he spends most of his time thinking and doing--and he's said as much. Agreed, calling people "idiots" is a bad idea and is certainly not respectful or caring. But if you make the distinction between people and ideas, calling an *idea* "idiotic" is not the same thing at all. People can and do hurt themselves and others by embracing idiotic ideas. Someone once told me "don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out," which I still think is good advice.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 12:24 PM
Man, You've written so much that I feel I ought to say something in response, but I hope you won't be too hurt or offended if I admit I couldn't follow a lot of it. In many ways, that's emblematic of my problems with text-and word-based religion. With words, I usually just don't get it. I have to have music.
From al ku
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 12:54 PM
is it my computer or are most of the posts dipped in chocolate syrup?
From Benjamin K
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 12:16 PM
Knowing and pointing out that most of the sources in the OT go back to Sumerian texts does not invalidate christian faith. I don't believe that it does and I didn't mean to suggest that it does.

Knowing and pointing out that the gender equality in the original was changed into male dominance in the OT doesn't neccessarily invalidate christian faith either, and I didn't mean to suggest that either.

What I do believe this invalidates is claims that the scriptures are infallible by virtue of being god's word and that they must therefore not be challenged or criticised.

What it definitely invalidates is the claim that the bible shows everything as it is and hides nothing.

What it also invalidates is any claim by some christian groups who claim that the bible can be taken literally.

In my view all this means that the scriptures shouldn't be taken as the all-overriding magic bullet, instead it is the ethics which should take centre stage. If you look at Mendy's comment, I think in principle it says the same thing.

When we look at things in this way, that is, as long as we put the ethics first, it becomes unimportant whether we consider ourselves a member of a certain faith, agnostic or atheist, unimportant in the sense that it isn't worth arguing about.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 1:08 PM
@ Yixi

I think you are confusing the term "agnostic" with "atheist". An atheist is somebody who beliefs that there is no god. Agnostic means neither religious nor atheist. The way you describe yourself, you are agnostic.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 4:10 PM
Thanks Ben, for pointing out what appear to be confusing and incoherent sentence I wrote, but what I mean is this:

An atheist says there’s no god, and an agnostic says I don’t know, or the existence of god is unlikely, but I can’t claim one way or the other since either is knowable. People can call me agnostic if it makes them more comfortable, but I don’t agree because agnostic is just another category/label, like theist and atheist, being confined within the framework/dichotomy of Christian vs non-Christian and religion vs non-religion. To be fitted in such box or even to be part of this linguistic game (in a Wittgensteinian sense) is precisely what I refuse to. I know my position is not obvious without some explanation.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 4:39 PM
It's your computer, al! ;-)
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 4:39 PM
Karen, I like Richard Dawkins’s writing very much, and I agree that the media hasn’t portrait him fairly, but who does? I also don’t believe he is intentionally out there to destroy people’s faith, but the effect is nevertheless same.

There is a fine line that a lot of liberal thinkers won’t cross, but I see too often it’s been (unnecessarily) crossed by some of the finest people and thinkers I know. This is why I said a pity.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 5:10 PM
Agnostic is precisely that term used when you don't fit into any box, just that somebody might then consider this a box with the label "doesn't fit into any of the other boxes", but hey in a way that's what you wanted, simply imagine the walls of the box are made of air so nobody can see them nor have any idea just where they are ;-)
From John Blakely
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 5:18 PM
Karen, um, well, yes, I have to concede my statement on not being able to judge value was probably a bit strong. Must have been that second glass of wine. :-)

And many thanks Man for the vote of confidence.

I've always felt that Spinoza got fairly close to an answer when he says that everything in fact IS God (hope I'm not oversimplifying him too much there). Can't really improve on that idea. I also think Richard Dawkins provides some very convincing arguments which are hard to contradict from a logical perspective. Although maybe that's the challenge!


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 5:55 PM
Ben, Mary says there’s a god. Joe says no, there’s isn't. Tom says I don’t really know. I say, the sun is out so let’s go get some fresh air. Get it?
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 12, 2008 at 6:00 PM
John, now I know why I agree with your approach. I’m also happen to be a Spinoza fan.
From Benjamin K
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 3:14 AM
Yixi, you forget I am in a different time zone, when I posted it was night time and the sun was not out here, also it was raining heavily and still is raining today, not the right moment to go out and get fresh air ;-)
From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 2:42 AM

Absolutely no need on your part to apologize. I probably came across as suggesting that everyone needs to look at faith in such a critical way as I (and some of the others here) do. No, I don't really believe that. Your approach is equally valid, IMHO, and certainly, I do not forgo that aspect of my learning and growing in the faith. Indeed, I briefly mentioned earlier that the living testimony of believers today is actually very important as a part of the evidence in favor of the faith. Religion is dead w/out the living. And faith actually does require the "walking" (as in one should "walk the walk, not just talk the talk"), which is why we believe in what's called "practical theology" in the denomination I most align myself to.


I quite agree w/ you about not wanting to be boxed in. Personally, I have always prefered to not think of myself as a "Christian" nor to think of my faith as "religion". These terms tend to carry certain unnecessary baggage, but when one gets into a heavy discussion on such serious topics, it helps to make that compromise and use a few commonly accepted terms to help move the dialog along so we don't get stifled by problems w/ symmantics.

Personally, I believe in a "Christian" faith that is both whole and holy. That is, I believe that the truth, if it is indeed the truth, should be universally true *and* applicable across all space and times (as we know it). If one takes care to read the Biblical text for instance, one will find that the text claims that God is truly eternal and unchanging (and also orderly, etc. etc. etc.). What does that actually mean? I think it means He is absolutely consistent across all space and times (as we know it). Is it possible that He is more than what we are actually explicitly told in the Scriptures (as Ben and others might've hinted)? Yes, I actually believe He is very likely much more than what the Scriptures explicitly tell us (or that we can easily understand in our current state).

One model about God that I like to posit when considering such things is this. Suppose God is really just some N-dimension entity where N is so large that it might as well be infinite as far as we're concerned. Well, we humans generally only perceive reality in maybe 4 dimensions (space + time) and certainly no matter than 5 or 6, if you want to push it (or maybe consider something like faith itself to be its own dimension). IF that is indeed the truth of the matter, then isn't that a quite plausible explanation for a true God who also could fit the scientic reality that we know of? As far as I can tell, this model of God seems to fit reasonably well/consistent w/ what the Bible has to say. But no, don't quote me on this idea as I'm not sure that I'm ready to be labeled a "heretic" yet by 80-90% of the Christian world. ;-)

BTW, speaking of taking a break from all this serious chatter, I finally got around to revisiting a film I quite enjoy: The Matrix. OK, well, of course, watching this flick just reminded me of this discussion we've been having here. :-p And interestingly, if you're familiar w/ the movie, don't you find it's take on reality and truth to offer a helpful perspective on the matter? ;-)

Going back to my thinking on that N-dimensional God. During my early years as a Christian, I got into the thick of the free will vs predestination debate quite quickly (as it fascinates me very much). OTOH, it would seem that the Bible suggests very clearly that predestination is the reality and free will does not exist. But yet, there is still the issue of responsibility, if free will does not exist, and the exhortation for practical holy/ethical living, etc. etc. I don't know that I will ever be able to resolve this paradox in this lifetime, but I would submit that much of the problem w/ these kinds of debates involve a matter of difference in perspectives. Often times, I find that heated debates over seemingly minor details stem largely from merely a difference in perspectives (and approaches), not necessarily a real difference in the resultant "truth" being debated. If for instance the paradox of free will vs predestination can be boiled down primarily to just a difference in perspectives, then both can indeed be true at the same time despite what we might assume at first glance.

If you're familiar w/ the movie The Matrix, consider what Neo wants to find out from the Oracle. The Oracle tells him somethings in riddle/parable form w/out ever expressing them in ways he expected to be told. So what does he do? He arrives at the wrong conclusion. And yet, in the end, because the Oracle knew better and knew how Neo (and perhaps human nature) thinks and works, she provides just the right answers that eventually lead Neo to come to the right conclusion anyway. And in a related scene, a little kid teaches Neo how to see (and bend) reality w/in the Matrix because he still hasn't come up to speed yet w/ the paradigm shift that's needed (for him to defy what he normally understands to be the laws of physics when inside the Matrix). Interesting stuff, but hopefully, our truth is not really that of the Matrix. ;-) You know, there was one point in my life when I wondered if the real God is actually evil, not good, like most religious folk tend to assume-and-believe and is just playing us for His own pleasure. :-p

RE: Ben's suggestion that only the ethics matter, I must disagree there -- but I assume you probably got that idea from my various comments so far. ;-)

In my view, I indeed very much long for the day when I meet my Maker face to face and can ask Him about all these fascinating things (and paradoxes) and get the answers that I can actually comprehend in that "glorified" state that we're promised by the Scriptures. :-) I don't know about others, but my innate curiousity w/ searching out the "truth" and the real "meaning of life" are some very important things that drive me and motivate me (and I suspect also for a few others here). It is not satisfying at all to merely settle for a life of ethics that have no intrinsic value (and truth) upon whose foundation to build such ethics. Is it possible that that's really all there is to life, eg. evolution, random firings of electrical impulses, etc. etc. combined w/ a human ethics that's derived from evolutionary refinement? Perhaps so. But if that's really so, then I have to agree w/ the Apostle Paul's remark that we should simply "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" and there's nothing else.

And yes, many just want to feel secure about the "afterlife" and not much more -- and I certainly don't begrudge them of that simpler outlook -- but I really do want much more than just that. Call me selfish, if you must. ;-) But the Apostle Paul does promise towards the end of his famous passage on "faith, hope and love" that we will eventually see Him "face to face" and be finally revealed a great many mysteries for ourselves to understand. :-)

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a [dim, blurry, distorted] mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

And in that light, we can and *should* actually have both the ethics for good-and-right living now even as we look forward to a far better future in eternity when/where we meet our Maker face to face (perhaps in that N-dimensional space). ;-) But make no mistake though that we are urged not to glorify "ethics" beyond its rightful place, but merely to practice it for a great purpose, which is "love".

Jake (and a couple others) complained about OT laws and ethical guidelines before. Let me submit that the real point of those guidelines were *not* to define what is actually ethical and what is not nor to define what is truly good in the eyes of God. But rather, they were actually given as a set of rules to help maintain a *workable* semblance of order (and ethics) for the hard-hearted majority of the people so as to protect minority who represent the "remnant" of God. For instance, if you may recall, Jesus in the gospels point out that Moses gave the people rules regarding divorce *not* because divorce is ever a good thing, but because many men were wicked and would've done far worse things to their wives if they were not given some sort of workable rules to get what they wanted while still offering some level of protection to the wives they wished to divorce. Likewise, what is good is not "an eye for an eye", but that is precisely what the people demanded, and so Moses gave them certain guidelines so that some semblance of justice can be served and the people cannot as easily mead out whatever vengence (and evils) they wish. Furthermore, just as the Apostle Paul exhorted regarding "love", so Jesus pointed out that you can sum up the whole of God's laws as "love". The real point is to try to "love thy neighbor", not seek out self interests at our neighbors expense. And in every set of rules, people, if they allow their human nature to get the better of them, will very often find loopholes and ways around those rules to get what they really selfishly want. The OT laws, despite how incredibly large and thorough they seem to be, likewise cannot possibly prevent the wicked from exploiting all sorts of loopholes and such, if they really choose.

And in the end, we also learn that the other primary goal of the OT laws (and also other systems of ethics in other cultures/societies as they relate to this Biblical outlook, including our very own conscience for when laws and commonly accepted ethics to not speak) is to teach us how imperfect (and often wicked) we really are. Consider that no matter what set of ethics and laws of right-living you may have, I can guarantee that you've failed to live up to even those personal standards, let alone whatever bigger standards God may actually have, ie. the rule of "love". The laws given in the Biblical text are intended to show how inadequate human nature has really become since the Fall. And for those who do not belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition nor any other common tradtion, there is still the conscience (as the Apostle Paul points out). The goal is thus for the law to teach us somethings about ourselves and to point us toward something better and greater should we choose to take heed at all, namely Christ who has died, is risen and will come again all for those of us who would forsake our futile attempts to redeem our ownselves w/ our own failed works and ethics and to embrace Him who has already fulfilled all those things, including the payment of sin, so that we may be freed to live better lives in line w/ what God had intended all along...

Hope that too was not too preachy... :-p

In Him,


PS: Again, I am by no means attempting to prove that you should believe as I do, but just presenting what I personally understand to be the "truth" (at least at this point in time given my current perspective). ;-) Cheers!

From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 4:36 AM
Phew! That was too much, wasn't it? ;-p


If I were a drinking man, I would invite myself for a glass of wine w/ you while we enjoy some Bach or Paganini or whatever else. ;-)

BTW, it's interesting how so many non-Christians think that Christians do not drink. :-) Where in the world do they get *that* idea from? Must be too much exposure to all them (Southern) Baptists here in the USA. ;-) I guess people don't realize that most parts of the Christian world still take actual wine, not grape juice, for Communion. :-) I guess it's the same thing w/ dancing (to some extent) despite that dance (along w/ music) is often used as a form of worship in the Biblical text. :-p

Aaaah... Eat, drink and be merry (in a loving sort of way) for tomorrow some of us may yet meet our Maker... ;-)



From Benjamin K
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 5:49 AM
If the scriptures are more important that the ethics they are trying to convey, then we are walking on very thin ice and invite abuse. All you have to do to commit murder is claim that the scriptures told you so, which is precisely what islamist terrorists do.

Likewise, if the deities promoted in the scriptures are more important than the ethics, then we are walking on even thinner ice and make abuse even easier. All you have to do to commit murder is claim that this or that deity told you to. This loophole, too is being exploited by various unholy groups and the trouble is you can't argue with them because their commands "come directly from ".

I often wonder about the logic that "if god exists, we must worship him". The god Yahweh is portrayed in the OT as a very angry, revengeful personality, obsessed with self image and self promotion above all else. It doesn't match the idea of an omni-benevolent deity at all. If indeed Yahweh exists, he could be either way, he could be that narcissist personality often portrayed in the OT or a more benevolent character often protrayed in the NT. We should not ever surrender our ability and right to judge for ourselves if something is worth our moral support and never accept anything - including deities - lock, stock and barrel without an ongoing critical review of what they represent.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 11:08 AM
Back circa 1996, when I had more time for these types of discussions (pre-marriage, pre-kids, pre-job, ha!), there was a usenet group called alt.atheism that I participated in for a couple of years. It was there that I read of a distinction between "strong atheism" and "weak atheism." Strong atheism was defined as Benjamin defines it above--as the belief that there is no God or gods. Weak atheism was defined as a "lack of belief in a god or gods." I read that and while I don't like taking on a definition that includes the term "weak," necessarily, I thought that "weak atheism" came pretty close to my own beliefs or lack thereof.

Wikipedia has an entry on Weak and strong atheism that confirms some of this, and points out that "positive and negative" atheism have also been used historically. The wikipedia entry even mentions people called "theological noncognitivists," who "consider all God talk to be meaningless."

It's true that at this point I start to lose interest in all the parsing of terms and also feel like going outside in the sunshine, drinking a glass of wine, or watching The Matrix (or more than one of the above) . . .

And let me give a third cheer for the ideas of Spinoza!

Man, thanks again, I loved the Matrix too. But I did want to say something about this part of your post, because it reminded me of why I wrote the original blog: 'And in the end, we also learn that the other primary goal of the OT laws (and also other systems of ethics in other cultures/societies as they relate to this Biblical outlook, including our very own conscience for when laws and commonly accepted ethics to not speak) is to teach us how imperfect (and often wicked) we really are. Consider that no matter what set of ethics and laws of right-living you may have, I can guarantee that you've failed to live up to even those personal standards, let alone whatever bigger standards God may actually have, ie. the rule of "love"."

Why on earth do we need a book or a religion to be reminded or taught of our wickedness, imperfection, and failure? It's not as if such lessons are rare or precious. They are available to anyone, in any time and place. You just have to go outside and wait for the bus, or for that matter get up and look in the mirror.

What's rare and precious, and worth worshipping, in my opinion, is finding ways to pull oneself, and others, up from all that. If religious faith, or science, or music, is a way to do that for you, I think that's great, and I have no quarrel with any faith that has that as its goal. But I do quarrel with "faith" that looks at the abyss, and forces its believers to look at it too.

This is what distressed me about the original discussions I was reading on and the hate mail that Richard Dawkins says he gets: the elevation of human wickedness to a central place in the very fabric of the universe. Back in my alt.atheism days, there was a frequent poster to that group named Andrew Lias, and he sometimes signed off his posts with the tagline: “Christian Fundamentalism: The doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, universe spanning entity that is deeply and personally concerned about my sex life."

To me that captured both the absurdity of the position and the tragedy of it: while you're right that nowadays people aren't persecuted for heresy with crucifixion and torture, there's still a lot of suffering right in the here and now caused by religious positions, and actions, on issues of sexuality.

From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 3:01 PM

I agree w/ your complaint that certain parts of the Christian world may be focusing too much on the sin aspect (and probably overcompensating for when sin is completely ignored). For one thing, this is certainly one aspect where Protestants cannot agree w/ Catholics -- and is also partially related to why we use the cross (w/out the hanging Jesus) as a symbol and not the crucifix.

You are quite right that we do not need the Bible to tell us of human flaws. And I personally came to the conclusion that I needed something more than mere personal ethics and my conscience to live a meaningful life as that's how I was brought up (to just be a good person and not worry too much about religion and such), but still, I learned how miserably I fail at it by the time I was done w/ college. :-p

And yet, it's quite interesting that the Bible *does* speak to this matter (whether implicitly throughout or explicitly in places) as I pointed out in my previous post. This aspect of the Scriptures (and the overall universality and wholeness that I find as I dig deeper and learn to understand its meanings w/in proper context) is exactly what I find so compelling about the Bible-based faith.

RE: Ben's concern w/ loopholes, and yes, you are quite right that we walk a very fine line indeed. But isn't that how the truth *should* work? The truth is not about playing it safe and just going for the answer that feels most warm and fuzzy. Well, it *might* end up being that, but I sincerely doubt it. Certainly, for instance, if you altered the gravitational constant in the formula for gravity even by the smallest fraction you can think of, this universe will turn out to be very different (and possibly just be one virtually infinitely dense black hole or not exist at all!!). And the Bible itself describes the truth (and itself) as a double-edge sword that cuts both ways, and that we must search it and learn to understand it properly or risk "heresy" and worse (like terrorism, false messianic self-promoting and consequent murders and such, etc. etc.).

But you know what? You don't need the Bible for any number of those bad things to happen. As I (and Karen I think) surmised, *people* (or rather certain aspects of human nature) is the problem. We do not need whatever religious text to open up such "loopholes". People will find loopholes anywhere they want, if that's what they want. As I said in my last post, the point of the set of rules provided in the OT is *not* really to lay down a complete law for what is truly best for mankind (in the sense of what is absolutely best), but to provide something that is actually workable in the face of a wicked people and yet also strong enough to be useful in teaching people about themselves and how they need something more than just their own will (or lack thereof) to do good.

IOW, the bottom line there is not actually to condemn people for their flaws, but ultimately to teach people and guide people toward something else much better in the long run, ie. redemption and freedom from condemnation (and guilt) and the power to live freely for what is good and what God had originally intended before the Fall.

Consider this, if you look carefully at the OT, you will find that the promise for that something better is right there in the text throughout. When Adam and Eve fell, God already spoke of the "seed" of the woman that will one day crush the serpent's head:

"And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15)

It's a messianic promise. And when Abram was taken out of his former life and turned into Abraham, the father of the Hebrews, he too was promised more than just a son or a literal nation of Israel, but that his "seed" will bless all nations -- another messianic promise. And such promises can be found throughout the OT and do not merely speak of a messiah who is some sort of warrior king like Saul (who was the wrong choice made by the wisdom of men), but of a gentler king more in the fashion of David (though he too of course failed very miserably at times since he was afterall just human).

In any case, the point is we need to understand the text in properly context and be diligent to seek out the truth, not just something convenient to our personal agenda. If we only approach the text in order to meet our own personal agenda (whatever that may be), then we are more likely -- though not always -- to come to wrong conclusions. In the end, we do need to learn to be teachable and open enough to hear what the truth is -- that is something that most of us adults have forgotten how to do when we lost that "innocence" and youthful optimism from our childhood years in exchange for a mindset that is often a bit too pragmatic and cynical (rather than wisely critical)...

This is again of course IMHO. So YMMV and all that. ;-)


From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 3:57 PM
RE: Ben's complaint about the OT God being depicted as vengeful while the NT God being depicted as kind and loving. I suspect the when and where has more to do w/ the context/situation involved, not any sort of inherent split between OT and NT. There are indeed plenty of moments in the OT where God is depicted as merciful, kind and loving too.

But above all, the whole of the Bible -- in both OT and NT -- describes a God who is *both* just (as in one who absolutely demands justice, not merely whatever fallable human concept of ethics and fairness) *and* loving (and thus gracious enough to provide His own solution out of His own initiative time and time again and ultimately in the form of Jesus and his works).

Let me pose this question. Suppose you have a child. And your child grows up to disown *you*. Would you not be severely hurt by that? If we are indeed made after His image (and were called his "children"), is it not sensible that He too has been severely hurt by our betrayal towards Him?

Another question. Suppose you violated someone else in whatever small (or big) way. Should there not be some sort of retribution, if justice is to reign? Sure, we can talk about what seems to be reasonable and fair punishment or the like. But somebody will have to pay for a crime committed no matter how you slice it. Even if the victim simply forgives the offender and let the offender go w/out punishment, somebody has paid, namely the victim him/herself, in order for that forgiveness to happen. There is really no free lunch despite whatever warm and fuzzy truth we might desire to imagine, is there?

But as the Apostle Paul likes to say (and I paraphrase/expound now from his writings in Romans, Philippians, etc), because God is indeed so absolute (and yes, fierce!) in his justice, so all the more awesome is His love and gracious sacrifice in the work of Christ Jesus. And because of this example from God (and Jesus), how can we be anything but motivated to in turn love as He did (despite whatever personal flaws still remain to be worked out)?

And going back to Karen's approach on the matter, we are told that others "will know us by our love", if indeed Christ (and our faith) is real and true...


From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 4:24 PM
Ok, for something perhaps a bit more on topic, ;-) what do y'all think of music that's inspired by stuff like quantum physics? :-}

One of my early exposures to music (in a "serious" manner) back in my college day involved just that. Some grad students composed and performed a piece of "serious" music that's based on the seemingly random movement of photons at the sub-atomic level. Wierd stuff and nothing I found pleasant to listen to. :-) Although Bach more or less did similar things w/ his various (math inspired?) techniques toward composition, I can most definitely dig his music on multiple levels (depending on the interpretation approach), but not most of this modern/new age stuff that I occasionally hear. :-p

Anyone like Tangerine Dreams here? If you're a fan, can you honestly explain to me what about their "Moon" album works so well for you? Actually, it's not called "Moon", but the name escapes me now, but the album cover is simply dominated by a photograph of the Moon. Anyway, I bought that 2-CD album back towards the end of my college days, and I don't know, it just sounded like 1.5 hours of nothing but static noise that I suppose gives the impression that I'm listening to the Moon rotate and orbit around the Earth or something like that -- nevermind that one cannot actually hear sounds in outer space. ;-) :-p Well, ok, I must admit that I never actually spent the full 1.5 hours listening to it -- 10min of that was more than enough me thinks. ;-) Maybe I was just missing a couple glasses of good (or bad?) wine (or more likely something stronger, lol) to go w/ the "music". :-p


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 13, 2008 at 7:46 PM
I've never heard that album, or any music inspired by quantum physics, but I do really enjoy the "Cosmos" score/soundtrack: it ranges from Bach's Partita in E to Holst's Mars to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, to "Heaven & Hell, Part 1" by Vangelis. I suppose Vangelis could be considered new-agey, but you still might like his stuff.
From Benjamin K
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 1:45 AM
"RE: Ben's complaint about the OT God being depicted as vengeful while the NT God being depicted as kind and loving. I suspect the when and where has more to do w/ the context/situation involved, not any sort of inherent split between OT and NT. There are indeed plenty of moments in the OT where God is depicted as merciful, kind and loving too."

First of all you are being evasive. My point was that the ethics should come first and you said you don't agree with that. I pointed out that this is dangerous because it lends itself to abuse. Now you are nitpicking. You cannot have it both ways either. You have to admit that religion is about faith, not proof. This means there is a chance that your interpretation is wrong, the possibility exists, it cannot be denied. I said that if there is a possibility that a more benevolent interpretation is wrong, then that is a bad thing and that one must always put the ethics first in order to avoid excesses based on misinterpretation. That was my point and you evaded that entirely.

As for your criticism of my example, you might need some reading comprehension and read more carefully (I am assuming you are not doing this on purpose) because I always choose my words carefully and I also make use of other instruments in the English language to avoid making absolute statements that cannot be substantiated.

For example I used the word "mostly" in order to make it clear that I was talking about a general trend in how OT and NT portray Yahweh. Yet, your response doesn't want to acknowledge that. Instead you make it look like I made an absolute statement (A is always X, B is always Y) which I did not.

Also, you refuse to acknowledge that I was specifically talking about Yahweh and Yahweh only, I was specifically *not* talking about the Elohim. And Yahweh *is* mostly portrayed the way I described, you cannot deny this.

Your interpretation that Yahweh and Elohim must be the the same is based on the medieval practise to translate both as god or lord and thereby make them indistinguishable to a reader who cannot easily consult earlier texts in ancient languages. It is also based on christion doctrine which is based on dogma, there is no evidence that backs up this interpretation, it is faith based and therefore one has to consider the possibility that it is incorrect.

My interpretation is based on historic evidence of source material that predates christian scripture which says that Elohim and Yahweh are different entities, one is a council of gods, the other is one particular god from that lineup. One is part of the other, but they are not identical.

Now, even if you want to disagree with that despite the evidence, you are entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't mean the example I gave becomes meaningless. It still stands even if I had made it up because that's what examples are for, to illustrate some possible case and discuss the possible case.

You chose to ignore this entirely, thereby denying the possibility altogether. Yet I repeat it once more for you: WHAT IF (<---VERY VERY VERY BIG BIG BIG EMPHASIS ON THIS) it turns out you were wrong and Yahweh is not benevolent? The question I posed was this: Would you still worship him.

If this is just beyond your thinking capabilities as the dagger of blasphemy is imaginatively hanging over you while you read my WHATIF, then maybe it will help you to fill in some other name, so for example: WHAT IF god bobaloo turns out to be malevolent, would you still think it to be a good idea for people who worshipped him so far to continue to do so?

If the answer to that question is yes, then you are a victim of dogma and there cannot be any meaningful discussion.

If the answer to that question is no, then you indirectly confirm that ultimately it is the ethics which are most important.

From Benjamin K
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 3:04 AM
Karen, if you like the Cosmos compilation and music by Vangelis, you may also like Isao Tomita's synthesizer renderings of works by Holst, Mussorgsky, Ravel and Stravinsky.

Tomita doesn't alter the works. Only very rarely does he add an intro (for example a count down and rocket launch before the actual Holst Planets suite begins), or change an ending (for example fading out Ravel's bolero instead of the smashing end of the original). He generally sticks very very closely to the original score. Nevertheless, his interpretations are amazingly creative.

Tomita might be regarded as a musical grandson of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov in the sense that he is a master of synthesizer instrumentation similar to the way in which Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov were masters or orchestration and colouring.

From Man Wong
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 10:07 AM

My apologies for the misunderstanding. Yes, you are correct that I apparently overlooked your distinction of Yahweh from Elohim in that subsequent post. Admittedly, this is probably due to my own current understanding that the distinctions made between Yahweh and elohim w/in Scripture is due to the writer (and/or God Himself) wishing to use whichever term/name to infer something about God for a given context/situation.

For instance, it is interesting how names are *very* important and are typically used to infer something about the person (or place/thing) to whom the name belongs. And we cannot deny that this device is likely used quite often (if not necessarily always) to give more indication about who God is through various different kinds of references and names that the writers chose to use. For instance, there are a number of places in Scripture where God (and even Jesus, particularly in the Apostle John's gospel) makes reference or indeed calls Himself "I AM", eg. first use of this seems to be when God met Moses via the burning bush.

In any case, you're correct that I mistakenly overlooked that aspect of your point. I will need to look into that further to determine for myself since I had never noticed that particular distinction you made before. If true, then yes, that is indeed very interesting and very likely signficant to a proper understanding about the God of the Bible.

And also, as I mentioned momentarily in one sentence somewhere earlier, I did once upon a time wonder if God could not indeed be evil (and just playing us, etc.). No, I don't actually believe that, but yes, I will submit that the moral values that the God of the Bible (*both* OT and NT) displays should indeed be considered w/ care as you suggested. I did not mean to be evasive about that and had thought I offered a reasonable explanation for much of the complaints regarding that. If my response was not adequate (due in part to my misunderstanding), then please do let me know which part of the response is inadequate (besides the Yahweh misunderstanding of course).

RE: elohim being a council of gods, should not the understanding of Trinity (and given the context, timelines, etc) be adequate to address that? Yes, you had pointed out about the Sumerian origins. But off the top of my head (and w/out being able to verify anything at the moment), I would offer this speculation:

Let's suppose you're right that the term elohim came in some way from the Sumerian understanding about gods: that is, it's a council of gods. Yet, that is just the *Sumerian* understanding, not necessarily the Hebrew understanding in every respect even if the Hebrews borrowed the term and certain ideas related to that term. Consider this. What if the Hebrews came to know the one true God first through the Sumerian's understanding even though that understanding would *not* be accurate if God is indeed One, but also Three (as in the Trinity)? And while the Sumerian's council may consist of more than just 3, how do we know that they did not mistaken the various angels (who are not part of the Trinity) as gods? I really don't know this of course, but given what little I know right now, that is certainly a plausible explanation, no? Namely, suppose the Sumerians had a very inaccurate understanding about God (and His angels), and the early Hebrews (as depicted in the conversion story of Abraham from Abram) got it right (or at least close enough) and came to know God as One and yet somehow more than just one as indicated in the term elohim (but not necessarily understanding about Trinity back then like Christians do in the past millenia or two)? Does that sound reasonable/plausible at all *assuming* Christians have it right? ;-)

But let me also speculate this to be fair: maybe Christians also don't have it exactly right (yet?) just like the early Hebrews probably didn't know much about Jesus (other than a handful vague references as promised in Genesis) and the OT Israelites also didn't know much more until the prophet Isaiah came on the scenes, etc. and most likely none of the Jews recognized that Jesus would be the Only Begotten, not made, until Jesus (and John the Baptist) actually arrived in person. In fact, yes, certainly, given the various disagreements amongst Christians even today, it's pretty likely that at least a large majority of Christians don't have everything quite right -- unless the Catholics are actually right. ;-) Yes, all of the orthodox western church believe we have the Trinity right, but then again, if we're honest about, we also agree that the Trinity still remains something of a mystery. Afterall, the whole Trinity concept is one of various important paradoxes in our faith. And while my current stance would be to require any opposers of the Trinity doctrine to provide a very solid argument w/ a far more plausible explanation than what we have, I will not say that my faith must necessarily stand or fall based on that doctrine alone. Yes, I believe in the Trinity, but I will allow others to prove it wrong.

But you know what though. The concept of the Trinity, for me anyway, actually reaches far beyond the basics of the Christian faith. Assuming the Trinity is indeed true, then it leads me (and indeed, it already has) to speculate about things like the Golden Triangle, the Rule of Thirds, 3/4 time, triplets, 3 dimensional space, etc. etc. You see. I have this personal fascination and possibly innate sensibility for the concept of wholeness (on top of holiness) wrt God and His creation. I don't know if it's something prompted by God or if it's just a personal perspective that has nothing particularly related to God -- well, if God is the God of the Bible, then it most likely is somehow related and possibly inspired or molded by God (perhaps, not unlike how the Oracle indirectly taught Neo to be all that he could be in The Matrix movie). ;-) Anyway, if God is Trinity, then isn't it very interesting that there seems to be a relatively common human fascination/obsession/appeal w/ the number Three in various forms? I suppose part of that could just be coming from artists (and mathematicians and scientists) who have been influenced by western Christianity for roughly 2 millenia, but even if so, the special place that the number Three seems to hold in our consciousness cannot be denied. And whether it is Christianity leading to that or that being somehow indicative of the Trinity being true (or both), there is still no denying the beauty of it all (unless we really want to require scientific proof about "beauty" ;-) ) and that it could be yet another piece of small circumstantial evidence for the existence of the Christian God. :-)

Anyhoo... enough of this serious speculation before someone chimes in and calls me heretic already. ;-)


From Man Wong
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 11:38 AM

RE: the point about ethics and faith, I still disagree w/ your assessment there. Had forgotten to address that one.

You say I need to submit judgements of faith below ethics because you don't want the danger of such judgements to lead to evil excess. However, I remain unconvinced about your position regarding ethics. If judgement about faith cannot be trusted, then exactly who's ethics should we use to judge the fruits of such faith judgements?

IOW, where do these standards of ethics come from? If you ask the scientist, won't he say... errr... ummm... well, evolution. ;-) So we should base ethics on evolution? Hmmm... :-) Depending on how one tries to parse that one, you can end up w/ vastly different understanding about where evolution would really lead in terms of ethics. :-p

Well, if not science, then what? Faith? Yep, you got that right. Whatever ethics you seem to *believe* is a good benchmark (or fallback defense mechanism) still depends on faith. HOWEVER, I will give you this. The ethical standards you're probably relying on for benchmark (and defense) is probably quite strong and has come from ages of social refinement (and maybe a scientist will even claim micro evolution of sorts, which may or may not be true). However, I would also submit that it is not 100% bulletproof though. Who knows? Perhaps, 200 years from now, the Star Trek age will arrive and deem some of our current ethics to be archaic, obsolete and no good. Consider for example the notion of the Prime Directive. Yes, I think a lot of people today believe in some form of the Prime Directive, but they are not an overwhelming majority though nor are they anywhere near being absolute about the concept or necessarily being benevolent about that, ie. in case I'm not clear, consider the current situation in Iraq for instance or the situation in Vietnam a few decades ago (and various other cases, including Rhwanda). And clearly, this is a divisive issue that could very well go one way or another over the course of the next 100 years or so -- or maybe we will never get to the point of having something like the Prime Directive at all.

But anyway, fine, I'll grant you that we should definitely give strong consideration to ethics when evaluating "truths" that we derive from faith... well, at least when it comes to the Christian faith anyhow since moral values do seem so intrinsicly important to this faith. If we were talking about the faith/religion of certain aboriginie tribes, eg. cannibals for instance, then yeah, we could indeed have some serious clashes between faith/religion and commonly accepted ethics.

But you know though, as far as I can recall, the God of the Bible doesn't really mead out nearly as severe punishments, etc. on people in the latter days than in the former days even w/in the OT. The Flood was the most severe, and yet, that was early in Genesis -- and God also promised not to ever do that again. And we find that as one moves from the early days to the latter, God displayed more and more mercy (and love) instead of His wrath (in justice) too. And by the time of the NT, we have the various Apostles even exhorting for believers to submit themselves to whatever (God ordained) ruling government and the common ethics of the day -- perhaps, it's because contemporary society has generally improve a good deal in terms of ethics and government since early days of the OT (though the Apostles do believe that was God ordained). And likewise, today, we should generally submit ourselves to our (more or less) benevolent government and the fairly good body of laws and ethics we have (at least in various modern countries) w/ reasonably few exceptions. And yes, if we're honest about taking the Bible as a whole (on faith of course) and w/in proper context and not try to draw certain other imaginary distinctions to support some other agenda, then I think one would have to conclude that the Bible would not really lead us to some insane evils.

You see. In my view, ethics (as a defense mechanism) might not really be needed in actual practice. Sure, I guess it could be a contingency plan, if nothing else, then to be use to stall the situation until we can better discern and ascertain the truth of someone's potentially evil (and heretical) interpretation. But at the end of the day, we do really need to evaluate whether someone's interpretation is truly heresy, not just whether his/her interpretation is evil (and thus subject to our concerns and needing the ethics defense). OTOH, could we not actually boil it down this way? IF an interpretation indeed leads to evil and our existing orthodoxy demands something holy (and not evil, but something pure and good), then would orthodox teachings already be a good defense against the kind of heresy that leads to the kind of evil you're concerned w/? Yes, I suppose this evaluation would involve ethics in some manner of course, but it would involve the moral values of the existing orthodox faith teachings and not necessarily whatever common secular ethics of the day (though of course they are likely to overlap greatly in today's world).

So in essence, I suppose we really don't differ on this quite *that* much, do we? Perhaps, the source of our difference here is mainly due to perspective, and that the final result would still be very similar, if not 100% the same...


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 6:30 PM
I agree w/ your complaint that certain parts of the Christian world may be focusing too much on the sin aspect (and probably overcompensating for when sin is completely ignored).

You are quite right that we do not need the Bible to tell us of human flaws. . . .

And yet, it's quite interesting that the Bible *does* speak to this matter . . . (snipped for brevity)


I guess I'm not sure what's "interesting" about it. I find the sad litany of human wickedness and failure to be a pretty tedious subject. You say, above, that some Christians can focus "too much" on the sin aspect, and I'm inferring from that and your comment about "overcompensating" that you think there is some proper balance, some correct, non-zero, amount of focus on "sin."

I'm curious why you think that. I've never understood what was "good news" about the idea that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." To me, calling it good news sounds like Orwellian doublespeak. Do you think there is a benefit derived from talking this way in a religious context?

My experience has been really quite the opposite: that if you expect people to fail and fall short, that's what you're going to get out of them. One also brings out the worst in people by threatening them and humiliating them and making them afraid.

So where is the value in all that bizarre fire and brimstone thundering about sin and the apocalypse that scares kids in Sunday School classes and puts words in the mouths of fear- and hate-mongering politicians?

I basically concluded, at some point, to take it at face value when Jesus said he came for the sick, not the healthy. It doesn't seem like an act of kindness, or faith, to insist that everyone--even the healthy--is sick.

From Man Wong
Posted on April 14, 2008 at 10:34 PM

Thanks for getting back to me on this topic after I emailed you.

I hope you do find whatever you're looking for in your own search for the "truth". And I'll just leave this matter w/ that so it doesn't seem like this discussion died w/out any kind of resolution (on my end) and also so as not to steer your blog off track again.

My best wishes to you w/ all things stringed (and life in general of course). Maybe it's time for a touch of Hairspray (the movie) for something more cheery and fun (and musical) rather than The Matrix... ;-)



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