Bryan’s Story: From Missionary to Almost Atheist to Present Day

The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four years he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.

He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.

I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”

Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite jive with my experience… but I admitted my intuitions could be wrong. So instead of arguing, I decided to dive down the rabbit hole. I resolved to get to the hard truth, and follow it wherever it carried me.

Our argument in the back of a Chinese bus led to a book that took six years to write, a technology prize, and a quest for life’s origin that now includes some of the world’s most renowned scientists at top universities. You can read the rest of that story in Evolution 2.0.

But… what about Bryan?

Recently we held a business seminar where we presented Evolution 2.0 and the technology prize as a case study. Everyone at the seminar was asking Bryan “OK, so what’s your story?”

Here is Bryan’s story…

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Perry: Everybody at this conference has been coming and asking Bryan: “So you and Perry had all these debates and arguments and everything. So what’s up with you?” Bryan said to me, “Why don’t I take the microphone and talk about it.” I said, alright – let’s have you talk about that! So without further ado, Bryan, you’re up!

Bryan: Thank you. I did have at least ten people yesterday come up to me and say, “So, Bryan, how does your story end?” So I will get to that. You’ll indulge me in a few minutes of storytelling if that’s ok… 

I have a question for you, which is: How do you know when you’ve gotten a good education? One of my answers to that question goes back to the seminary I graduated from.

Perry knows I’m a guy that likes certainty and crispness and clarity and nice definitions. So when I went to The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley California in 1995, I was going to get my certainty in the world, and that’s what I did.

It’s an arch-conservative fundamentalist seminary where they do not admit women to the program. That’s how arch-conservative it is.

Their motto is: We train men as though their lives depended on it. And that’s the whole mindset. It’s a three or four year program. Guys would get up–and it was always guys—they would get up for their senior testimonies prior to graduation and they would, almost to a man, they would say–you go to seminary usually fresh out of college often fresh out of Bible college–you’re cocky, you’re young and you think you know everything–

And the guys would say I arrived at seminary thinking I knew the answers. Now I’m graduating and I realize I don’t even know what all the questions are yet.

So, Perry, you actually got a tiny bit of the narrative wrong yesterday. The seminary doesn’t give you a spreadsheet full of answers. The seminary gives you a mountain of questions, questions and more questions because– everybody learns Hebrew. Everybody learns Greek.

Everybody you know learns to parse your verbs and decline your nouns and so on and you’re doing stuff in Genesis and you’re dealing with all of these historical questions and interpretive questions and exegetical questions.

You’re picking apart the historicity of the Book of Genesis and you’re picking it apart–you’re dealing with questions of the archaeological evidence for or against the ten plagues in Egypt and stuff like that.

And you’re dealing with the Gospels and the Q theory and do we follow the Textus Receptus or the Alexandrian, and the apparent contradictions between the Gospel narratives and so on.

And Paul in the book of Romans in chapter 6 verse 5 and this use of the genitive and the thirteen possible meanings of this particular use of the genitive case and so on.

And that’s the education you’re getting so you get questions questions questions and you graduate with a mountain of them.

Perry: Google AdWords is simple by comparison!

Bryan: Yes, it is! And the thing about an arch fundamentalist seminary like that is: the answers you are allowed to come up with must fall neatly within some very well-defined boundaries.

So any answer you come up with is fine as long as the Bible is still inerrant, and Jesus is still Deity, and you still believe that all of its records are fundamentally historical grammatical and so on.

So that there was a real Jesus and there was a real apostle Paul and there was a real King David and a real king Solomon and a real Moses and a real Noah and a real Cain and Abel. And a real literal Adam and Eve who were created in six literal 24 hour days by the hand of God. And so on.

So, that was my background. And when I graduated in 1999 I had all of this exposure to all of these mountains and mountains and mountains of questions.

And that, in my view, is a good education.

So I got the opportunity to go to China. It just dropped in my lap. In January of 2000 I went and I took a teaching job at a luxury hotel in southwestern China. Beautiful mountain city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

And since I enjoy language I was going to throw myself into learning Chinese, and I did make great friends. This was totally unexpected, and it was a marvelous experience.

One of the things I was not prepared for was just how secular a culture China actually is.

Secular secular secular to the hilt. There’s something about living under Communism and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has a tendency to wipe all religious influence away from a culture. And this is a part of the world that had really never in any significant way been touched by Christianity.

And so I’m dealing with this very secular culture and in my time there–I had four and a half years–I had one mostly convert I guess. This despite the fact that I was there to be a missionary. I was supported by the church back home in Los Angeles.

My evangelistic efforts were not all that super effective, let’s be honest. But it was a marvelous experience and very eye opening. It was the very first time that I had ever just been out, completely out of my Christian bubble. And cultural reinforcement of my Christian beliefs on every level–I was finally out from under that. And I had free time that I hadn’t in quite some time.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 4th, 2001 which is exactly one week before 9/11. I was one of the few people in town that had CNN because I worked for a hotel, so I had it in my dorm. I come home from an afternoon of teaching, and I turn on CNN, and they’re playing a replay of LARRY KING LIVE from the previous day and on LARRY KING LIVE are two people with very often opposite views of the world.

This particular day there is Sylvia Browne. If you’ve ever heard of her she’s the psychic who can contact your relatives and loved ones who have crossed over. Opposite her that day was James Randi the atheist skeptic former magician kind of–he had replicated a bunch of Houdini’s old stunts.

He was in the Guinness Book of World Records and he was a psychic and paranormal de-bunker.

It was him versus her on LARRY KING LIVE, and I was absolutely transfixed. He was challenging her. He was saying, “Miss Brown, if you can come to our center in Fort Lauderdale Florida and, following our protocols under proper observing conditions, demonstrate that you actually do have paranormal ability, then the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay you one million dollars.”

I saw this and I was blown away by this because I thought I had a pretty good education, but I had never been exposed to this particular way of testing truth claims because I had a seminary degree and I had graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a degree in history and Spanish which tend to kind of bypass engineering and the scientific method and so on.

In fact, two days after I graduated in 1994 with my degree in history and Spanish I started a job scooping popcorn for minimum wage. That was my career path.

Well anyway I’m watching this and I’m fascinated. As soon as the as soon as the episode is over I run to my computer and go look up Randi.org and discovered that every week he would blog on Fridays. He would talk about people who had come into the center who claimed to have paranormal abilities and he would give a narrative of how they tested them.

I was blown away by this because this was a great education. Like here’s how you test someone who claims that they can do dowsing. Here’s how you test the girl whose parents say that she can read completely blindfolded. Here’s how you test when a person says that you can draw a card and they can tell you what the next card is going to be in the deck.

Every week he would he would talk about these different tests and this was an amazing education.

And so I started following this and all of a sudden a bunch of questions started popping up that really started causing me some trouble. And mind you I am a missionary supported by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, and I’m here in China to make disciples and do church planning. That’s what I’m here for.

But week after week I start I’m reading these blogs and I’m starting to ask questions that are deeply troubling me. Such as: I’ve always believed my entire life that if you need something you get on your knees you pray, you ask God for it, and then God answers you. And how do you know that God answers prayer? Well, you keep a journal.

I asked for this on such and such a date. And then two days later three weeks later I got this. Therefore, we know my prayers were answered.

And all of a sudden as I am and I’m reading Randi’s stuff then I start clicking on other hyperlinks and reading some other skeptics’ stuff. I start finding new methods to question whether maybe that’s not the most scientific approach to answering how whether you get your prayers answered or not.

And this really started bothering me. And September turned into October and October turned into November and the questions got deeper and more painful and scarier. And I suddenly by December I found myself in a serious crisis of faith.

Remember: I had a seminary education. I like the metaphor you used yesterday, Perry, it’s like you learn where all the bones are buried. When you have your bible in front of you, you know all of these places where there are serious interpretive problems, serious archaeological questions, serious textual questions serious ambiguities and philosophical contradictions and so you know all this stuff.

And here I am more or less alone. In China. As secular a place as you’ll ever find. And by December I was sick. And terrified. In fact the last week of December 2001. Something weird with my stomach. And it just stopped digesting food for a few days.

I would eat stuff and it would just sit there. I could not digest what I was wrestling with. And this was terrifying. Because as much as a person could leave everything and throw themselves into ministry and missions. This is that was exactly what I had done.

And suddenly for the first time in my life and question “is there anything out there” Hello. And I couldn’t digest food. And I’m cold because it’s winter and there’s no central heating where I live. It’s late at night and I’m curled up in a fetal position in my bed and it’s dark and it’s quiet and I’m like Hello Is there anyone out there. Is there anything out there.

Perry: That’s a Pink Floyd song.

Bryan: Well, so you can understand a little bit of existential hell–I’m 30 years old. Did I just throw away the last 30 years of my life for nothing. Thankfully a doctor had some nice herbal stuff that cleared up my stomach.

Right after first of the year 2002–and Perry will remember this–I thought about this and I’m like I need some help. And the last thing I’m going to do is e-mail the guys in the missions department for the seminarian and say, “I’m here, I’m an evangelist church planter in China, and I’m having serious doubts is all of this…”

Perry: Because that never happened to anybody else anyway.

Bryan: Right. But I’m saying, well, who? Is there anyone neutral?

Perry!

Who–and when I say neutral I mean, Perry’s clearly Christian, he’s committed to his Christianity. But I attended one of your coffeehouse theology meetings with you. Perry can deal with this. OK.

And Perry understands my upbringing. And we have our secure email connection and so on. So I think the first question I shot you is OK let’s start with this one, Perry, because I’m really struggling. Why do you believe the Bible?

Which is not the greatest question you could ask, but it’s a good starting place.

Perry and I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and Perry gave the best answers he could find. And it honestly wasn’t working for him. Because it just seemed that every answer and reply you gave me on historical questions or philosophical questions.

It was always as though–OK if you are committed to Christianity being true, then that answer will satisfy you. But if you’re starting with a blank slate. I don’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion.

But Perry was a very very good sparring partner. I had no idea until 10 years later what my questions were actually doing to you, in terms of moving you to the edge. At one point you sent me a bunch of books you sent me some William Lane Craig and I think there was some Geisler in there as well. Big armful of books that wasn’t cheap.

Perry: [Laughs] No.

Bryan: Very helpful, but I’m watching as my whole belief system is just more or less eroding. By the end of 2002 I was like I just don’t believe this Christianity thing anymore. At all.

I came back for a visit stateside. I ended the relationship with the church in L.A. Turned around and went back to China where I spent an additional year and a half. Now I was just a guy in China teaching English at a hotel and was not a missionary church planter anymore. And I’m watching.

As my whole life and my whole world view is changing. Well, something started–I started to become aware of something that became a real issue and that was: I was angry. I was really angry about a lot of stuff. Angry that I had given up 30 years of my life for something that I decided was empty. Angry that all of those dogmatic preachers and all those dogmatic professors all those years had just been feeding me a bunch of bull.

So fast forward to 2004. Perry brought Tannah and came out. I was already planning on going home which was why you were doing that trip. “Oh, I got to get Tannah to China before Uncle Bryan moves home.”

Perry came out to visit, spent a few days. I’m not sure we spent the whole time arguing, like you said yesterday, but there was the conversation in the van on the way to Leaping Tiger Gorge which we all remember the falcons and the mutations in the eyes, eyesight and so on. And that was a good conversation. I don’t know if you remember that same evening.

Perry: Yeah, I do.

Bryan: We went to Richard’s family’s house, and they fed us this wonderful dinner, and somehow you and I ended up in this conversation I think about homosexuality. I was angry about the subject of homosexuality because–it wasn’t an issue I had struggled with myself, but one of my best friends all through college had. And had been fed the fundamentalist line about homosexuality.

And I just watched it torture him and torture him and torture him.

Somehow that subject came up, and I just lit into Perry. We’re sitting in these people’s living room, having been fed a meal, and here I am. Just going off at Perry.

Perry: Of course, they don’t understand what we’re talking about at all.

Bryan: No, they don’t. Not at all! One of the one of the other ironies about that particular evening is we watched we all watched the movie “The Truman Show” which is–it’s this funny little comedy that is one of the most disturbingly profound journeys into human epistemology that has shown up on film in the last 50 years. Seriously.

Perry: Next year we’ll have an epistemology seminar.

Bryan: We should!

Audience: What’s epistemology?

Bryan: Sorry I used the word epistemology. Epistemology is basically the study of the question of how do you know what you think you know? Or how do you come to believe the things that you come to believe? And so on. And what’s your basis for believing things. So ‘The Truman Show.’ That was actually my story.

It’s like, “holy crap is this whole thing just a giant construct? This just man-made construct?” So you told me, Perry, maybe a couple of years later, you told me “that night at Richard’s house I could tell something inside of you had died.” You said it was really really scary.

Perry: Yeah. He was turning into one of them. Namely the furious militant atheists. Whose happy plug fell out and are now furious at the world and spewing their venom on everybody. Oh no. It really scared me.

And I thought: Yeah, I know there’s all these questions, and we can argue about homosexuality and whatever else, but, man, Bryan just went over some dotted line. That really scared me. It all kind of jerked me back.

I almost felt like I was following him in a sense but then suddenly realized: I don’t want THAT. I’ve seen a whole bunch of that. There’s nothing healthy about it. I don’t know where this thing is going. But this is going to be an interesting ride.

Bryan: So, Perry, as a result of that day you launched on your evolution journey. I moved home to Lincoln after nine years away. And for the next five and a half years. I was on a journey of anger.

What I will say about your evolution journey was I’m really grateful for it because you know what you learned about the brilliance of cells? And how they how they engineer evolution and so forth? You’ve had lots of Christian people tell you that you gave them a rational reason to continue to embrace their faith. And not be at odds with science. Right?

I was thinking about this yesterday. What this new model this Evolution 2.0 model also does is, for the person who doesn’t have a religious commitment, it gives us the ability to accept evolution as true without feeling really stupid. When you raise honest questions like:

Seriously that tree is just the result of accident upon accident upon accident? Cuz I had decided that evolution has to be true–and then I would walk outside, and I would see these trees, and something deep deep down inside of me would be like Really, Bryan? Seriously? Just random mutation plus natural selection, rinse and repeat? Seriously?

And then I’d just shake my head and be like No no no no, this is SCIENCE people. This is SCIENCE. And always somewhere in there is like really Bryan? Seriously?

Perry: And everybody experiences that, and that’s why this topic is so volatile. Because that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about on the secular side.

Bryan: So you supplied me with a way to accept evolution.  And not have to be beholden, for example, to the old traditional interpretation of the biblical narrative.

And that was very very helpful. And so there was never much of a debate about evolution. Not after that. I was very interested in what you were doing, although I was not crazy about your eagerness to just tie it intimately into Christianity so quickly.

But.

I spent several years very very angry until one day in 2010. We had hired Drew Bishof to come be our operations guy. He and Jessica and all of us became very good friends. I don’t know how many of you here know Drew Bishof, but Drew and Jessica were a couple, they were living in Austin Texas at the time and they had grown up in an arch fundamentalist community in California that was almost identical to ours except that it was worse in a lot of ways.

Perry: A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Bryan: A little bit louder and a little bit worse. And their particular thing–there had been all this grotesque sexual repression and shaming and all that stuff that was part of their fundamentalism.

And they invited me, since Drew and I were working on a Facebook project at the time, Drew said, come down to Austin and spend New Year’s with Jessica and me. So I did. And we had a blast. And literally from the first night there we get to talking about some deep stuff, and we’re up until 3:00 a.m. talking and laughing and crying and sharing stories of life under fundamentalism, the pain of this and the pain of that, and how we’ve dealt with this issue, and how we’re working through that issue and so on.

The following Sunday they said, “You can sleep in if you want Bryan, or you can come to church with Jessica and me. It’s up to you.”

Do church. That’s cool. That’s great. I have no problem with that. So we go to their church service. And. I’m sitting there and their big worship center is this 21st century modern evangelical urban kind of Christianity.

They have the worship team, they have the pastor who gets up and talks.

I remember precious little about what the service was about except for this: That the worship team really irritated me.

It was all it was all the classical stuff that has irritated me for years about 21st century evangelical Christian worship. They have the PowerPoint up on the screen. They have the band playing some song that was written a year and a half ago.

And the PowerPoint is misspelled. And the song doesn’t make coherent grammatical sense. In the same sentence you’ll use “thee” and then “you” and then go back to using “thee” again.

And I’m like this is supposed to be transcendently supernatural and we can’t even get the PowerPoint right?

And it was it was all stuff that had just irritated me just to the nth degree about Christianity and modern Christian worship.

And then I look out of the corner of my eye and standing over here is Drew. And Drew has one hand in his pocket and one hand in the air. And he’s just kind of swaying very gently to the music. And I see that and I’m like you idiot. A room full of people having a made up experience with song lyrics that don’t even make sense. And this is supposed to be supernatural worship? I just hate this.

All of a sudden, a thought hits me that I had been reflecting on over the previous couple of years because I had been doing some self-help stuff that was very very good and very very valuable. And the thought was this–Perry quoted this yesterday, although you got one word wrong, I’m thinking to myself how much I hate this and have always hated this Christian modern worship stuff–and the thought was:

Hate is just another word for “Want, but cannot have.”

And that is a truth.

I’d invite you to go reflect on that and reflect on it deeply. You cannot hate another person unless you have at some point expected something from them. Thought that they should behave a certain way. You wanted something from them. Loved them, needed something from them.

You cannot hate another human being up to and including someone you met 30 seconds ago, and you see them and you just feel this resentment. You cannot do that without some deep subconscious unconscious other than conscious part of you having wanted something first. Otherwise it is impossible to experience hatred.

And so if you are feeling hatred, then you know there’s something inside of you that you want. OK? And I realized in this moment. Sitting there with Drew doing his thing that this was true of me. And I’m like. Oh crap. And I started crying.

And I’m thinking I’m angry because I want something. What is it I want? I want this whole Christianity thing to be true. Or: I want this whole supernatural experience to actually be real. I want this, but I’m convinced it’s not. But I want it to be real.

And I started crying. And I start sobbing. And the worship band is still playing. And Drew is still there. And Jessica sees me, and she puts her arm around me. And I continued, and I’m thinking through this, and I suddenly realize: This is what all of those atheist people are so pissed about. There not pissed because it’s not true. They’re pissed because they wanted it to be true.

And I’m just crying and crying and the worship band continues playing and eventually they finish their song. The pastor gets up and he delivers his benediction and the service is over, and I’m still sitting there crying. Jessica has her arm around me, and eventually Drew comes around and he sits down, and they don’t know what’s going on.

They just know Bryan’s here sobbing. And it continues for five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes.

Eventually the pastor comes over, and he sits–is it OK if I pray over you Bryan? Between sobs I’m like fine fine yeah it’d be good.

And then it’s like… why are people who have come out of religion so angry about it? Because it’s as though you were told that daddy, who’s away at the moment is going to be home by Christmas time and when Daddy comes home at Christmas time we’re going to be together as a family and he’s got lots of gifts. He’s got gifts for you and gifts for you and gifts for you.

And daddy’s going to be home at Christmas and Christmas comes and Christmas goes and daddy doesn’t show up.

And you find out there never was a daddy in the first place.

And it was just a story and people people’s narratives of their lives are like this.

I believed daddy was coming home for Christmas with an armful of gifts. And there was no daddy in the first place. Who would not feel angry and betrayed if that was your narrative? And some of the most angry miserable people you will ever meet are people with daddy issues. Right? Male and female both. And I realize this was what I was so angry about.

All these years. I was so pissed. Not just because of the funny grammar on the slides and the arm waving and all that. I was pissed because really I wanted this to be real. And it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff. But I wanted it to be real.

Somewhere 10 or 20 minutes after the service is over I’m finally done crying. And Drew said, are you good? So can we go home? And I say yeah we can go home.

And in the car on the way home… well so the elephant in the room here, and I got to ask: Are you a Christian now?

And I said, to be honest Drew, no. I don’t think my actual views about the historicity of Christianity have changed.

All I know is: What I was so angry about was I just wanted this to be true. And it turned out it wasn’t. As far as I could tell, and that’s why I was so pissed. And I know this I’m not angry anymore. There’s not a drop of anger left. Because I got it–what I really needed was just to acknowledge the child inside that wanted it to be true.

And if you just let the child say it, and experience it, and feel it, then even if it’s not true the child can be happy. Because the child can acknowledge what the child always wanted. And Drew says: It’s a little complex but ok, I can understand that.

And that literally was seven and a half years ago. That was one of the major turning points in my life. It was like the anger was gone because I knew what it was I had always wanted.

If we can fast forward fast forward to 2016.

Perry, your 30-day reboot. It was really, really super valuable. And I think I think he did a show of hands yesterday, all the people who’ve done 30 day reboot. So if you have not done 30 day reboot please do. Because we’re going to we’re going to offer it again some point in the next month or two or three.

It’s really really important that you understand why ancient literature is so valuable, and why it’s worth your time in 2017 and beyond to be spending your time every day in old and ancient writings.

OK so you talked yesterday about the libraries burning and people keeping this stuff in the clay jars to save it from the Marauders and so forth because it was valuable to them.

The great old works of literature are valuable because, of course they were meaningful to those people and kept them around and they’ve survived and all that, but another really important reason which I didn’t really understand until this year when I–like a whole bunch of us here–discovered Jordan Peterson, Professor at University of Toronto, who explains that the oldest and greatest works of literature are archetypal.

Jordan Peterson’s “Psychological Significance of the Genesis Stories” lecture series led Bryan to say to me, “Jordan’s videos gave me permission to no longer feel stupid for being fascinated with the Bible.”

In other words, they tell stories that reflect the deepest most relatable experiences we have and that reflect our internal hard wiring almost perfectly.

Why did Harry Potter sell so well and become this mega sensation? Was it because J.K. Rowling is just a really nifty storyteller?

She is a really nifty storyteller. But that’s not why Harry Potter just hit this massive international nerve. It’s because J.K. Rowling–what did she study at university–she studied Latin Greek and the classics. And immersed herself for years of her education in the oldest most enduring classical works of Western literature.

As the story goes, that one day on the train when she’s either heading from London or to London, and suddenly gets this inspiration where it’s as though this entire story just appears in her head. That came from her years and years of deep immersion in old classical literature.

The old stories of classical literature resonate with us because they reflect something deep inside our soul. We all I think know the story of Cain and Abel, it’s chapter four in Genesis probably, and I understood this just within the last month or two for the very first time.

Why do we all resonate with the story of Cain and Abel? I mean it’s this tiny little snippet of text. But you go around and you just mentioned Cain and Abel to any person on the street and they’ll recognize it and they’ll remember it.

The atheist version of Cain and Abel, which if you listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, he’ll give you that. (I have great respect for Sam Harris but I think he’s completely bankrupt on this particular point.)

The atheist version of Cain and Abel goes like this:

“Two brothers believe in a magical fairy in the sky. And brother one believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky and brother two believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky. And their ideas conflict. And because my magical fairy in the sky doesn’t match your magical fairy in the sky therefore I’m going to kill you. And that ladies and gentlemen is what happens every time you let people believe in magical fairies in the sky.”

  1. That’s the Atheist Narrative of things and it is so drained of life and meaning and vitality and in my view it’s ugly. It’s just an ugly ugly thing.

Why does the story of Cain and Abel resonate with us?

Because it says:

“I am making a sacrifice, I am giving up something of value, because I want to please someone important to me. I have a sibling, the sibling is giving up something of value to him, and he wants to please someone who is important to him. The authority figure, for whatever reason unknown to you or me, decides that he likes your sacrifice, and mine is not acceptable. We don’t know why. I don’t know all the reasons it’s just you’re accepted by the beloved authority figure, I’m not and that’s enough to make me hate you enough to kill you.”

OK now that’s not a beautiful narrative. In a sense, it’s not anymore beautiful than the Atheist Narrative. But it’s a narrative with meaning that we can all relate with.

Have we all experienced deep jealousy over someone who has accepted and we weren’t? We all have. And so you tell a kid the story of Cain and Abel once and they’ll remember it for their lifetime, right?

And all kinds of stories that make their way through our culture are that way. I can’t tell you how many different people of different cultures have asked me: Bryan do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf? I’ve had people in Chinese come up to me and ask:

Have you ever heard this story? There was a boy who was a shepherd… So, we all recognized the narrative of the boy that cried wolf and I don’t know where the very first boy that cried wolf story ever originated.

Was it in the Middle East? Was it Far East Asia? I have no idea. But everywhere I’ve been people know this story because they read, they respond to it.

Everywhere I’ve been people know the story of the emperor who had no clothes. Which as far as I know is was just the Hans Christian Andersen story from the 1800’s.

But I’ve had Chinese people tell me “Bryan do you know the story of the emperor who had no clothes?” Because this is a narrative that just catches on everywhere you go.

Why do people love the stories of Jesus so much?

I have several answers to that but I’ll give you one of them that I think is really important. How many how many of you have spent time reading the Tao Te Ching which is Laozi’s… Well Taoism basically. It’s an ancient piece of Chinese literature very very well known in the Far East. I can, if I want, read the Tao in Chinese.

I’ve given it the old college try, I don’t know how many times, and it just doesn’t do much for me. Because it’s just selection after selection after selection of these incredibly profound sounding but utterly non-concrete bits about life and existence.

I’ll give you something concrete. Pull open the Gospel of Luke and you’ll get concrete concrete concrete. Real living breathing concrete narratives. They are so full of grit and life and reality.

Jesus arose before dawn and went up the hillside to pray. Afterwards he came down and he and the disciples got in the boat and went across the lake to Gennaseret. This is so concrete, right? It’s living breathing people and they had names. And if you want to get on a plane you can fly to the Holy Land, and you can you visit these exact sites. I mean it’s just so real.

And I think the late film critic Roger Ebert said years ago, he said the most specifically local stories you’ll ever find actually end up being stories that have the most universal relevance.

So a story about a Jewish man and his followers in first century Palestine actually resonates more universally with people than an Asian story that is nowhere near as specific as that.

Let me just highlight three things from the gospels that have spoken to me in the last year.

Story number one: Jesus is invited by some religious leaders to go eat dinner at the home of one of the religious leaders. He goes in, he sits down, he’s eating with them and somewhere in the middle of the meal in comes a woman.

Everybody in the room knows this woman. She’s got the reputation. She comes in, she goes to Jesus feet, and she starts crying. She’s crying and she’s crying on his feet and she’s wiping off her tears with her hair.

And the men in the room are saying, “Jesus, do you know who this person is that you’re just letting touch you like this?!” And Jesus says, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s say a guy has two people who owe him money one owes him $5000. The other guy owes him $50,000. He forgives the $5000 guy; he forgives the $50,000 guy. Which one of these guys do you think might be a little more grateful?”

The guy says: Well, probably the $50,000 guy.

He says, thank you, that’s the good answer. He says, for the record, Mr. Pharisee religious leader, when a guy comes to your home, normal protocol around here is you wash his feet. I noticed you didn’t bother washing my feet when I came in. But this lady has not stopped washing my feet with her tears. The person who has been forgiven little loves little; the person who’s been forgiven much loves much.

I don’t care whether you believe–this is now Bryan talking–I don’t care whether you believe there was a historical Jesus or Jesus was a complete myth, you cannot read that story and not be moved to the core by it. And recognize that this is a beautiful piece of spiritual religious and moral thought. You cannot, if you have a soul inside your body.

You cannot read the story of the Prodigal Son and not be moved almost to tears by it. Young man, goes to his dad. Basically says–forgive the French—F*** you, I wish you were dead. Give me all my inheritance money–I’m gone. He leaves. He squanders it. He has no money. He’s broke. He’s feeding pigs.

He decides: hey you know what, even the even the slaves that worked for my dad have it better than I do. I’m going to go back to dad, and he says make me a slave. And when he comes back Dad doesn’t want his son to be a slave.

He celebrates–he wants to kill the fatted calf and invite his son willingly back into the family.

Perry, if I’m not mistaken one of the more profound moments of your life in the last 10 years riveted on the story of the prodigal son. With you seeing yourself in the narrative for the very first time.

No matter what you think of Jesus and whether he was really historical or not, you cannot read the story of the prodigal son and not be moved by it.

Third story. I spent time in the Gospel of Luke this year. And had the bizarre experience that when we got to the end of chapter 23 — Jesus has now been delivered up and he’s been crucified and he’s dead and he’s buried. After, I don’t know how many years away from Christianity, I’m reading the story of Jesus.

Who is this very complex contradictory irascible Jewish guy who seems to have not very modern views on slavery and so on and so forth. And I’m reading this story and at the end of the chapter I’m broken hearted. This is bizarre. The hero of this story is dead and I’m crushed.

Fortunately, there is one more chapter, and it has a very happy ending. But I but I realized after reading about the crucifixion of Jesus for the very first time–I had the bizarre thought where I’m realizing I think I might actually love this guy. Now I ‘get’ it. Like all those people all those years that I thought were so corny “I just LOVE Jesus!!!”

And suddenly here I am I as a couple of months ago I guess–I just finished the narrative where he’s being crucified–and for one of the very first times in my life–I’m heartbroken.

And I’m like, OK maybe the “I Love Jesus” people aren’t so crazy after all.

Do I believe the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God? I don’t think so. I think that’s a no. Do I believe there was a historical Jesus? I don’t think there’s much question about that. Do I believe he’s the Jewish Messiah? I don’t know.

Do I believe that immersing yourself in these old stories and learning more about yourself is immensely valuable? Yes absolutely.

Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the big bang and the origin of life and so on? I don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully liberating to not know the answer for me at this stage in my particular life.

But that is my story and I think there’s nothing more valuable than just diving in and reading the literature of old and looking at your soul and being challenged. And knowing there are some really hard questions out there that we don’t know answers to yet.

~

RELATED: Bryan and I debate miracles

125 Responses

  1. Larry Iles says:

    Bryan and Perry,

    I can identify with a lot of your background as once upon a very long time ago I was a student at LABC (Masters Universities original name, pre-MacArthur). As you began talking about your background I found myself wondering what a conversation with Dr MacArthur about all of this would be like. Interesting I’d bet.

    I mention this because of a long-ago article in the Masters newsletter back in the 80’s. It was an interview with a Physicist from the Soviet Union that revolved around pure science and intelligent design.

    For anyone who may not be familiar with the Soviet system, in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution they began the immediate and systematic eradication of any and all references to God and religion in Soviet society and culture. All books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc… that made any reference to God or religion were purged from the public domain in order to fulfill the Marxist dream of eradicating the “Opiate of the Masses”. The Russian Orthodox Church existed as an edifice to mollify the outside world, but no public or private mention of God or Religion was allowed outside the physical walls of the church.

    Within a single generation they erased God from Soviet society, so there was no knowledge of God to “unlearn” or teach against. They created a vacuum.

    This Physicist was born into this vacuum, as were his fellow Scientists from every discipline of Soviet Research and Academia. They were completely free to study and research all the Sciences with a complete absence of presuppositions or lingering prejudices for or against the existence of a Creator, as the science was expected to be “perfect and pure” in the Marxist model.

    It was within this environment that he and his fellows came to believe that Intelligent Design was the only logical conclusion for the existence of the Universe and life, but they had no idea how to define the “designer”. They had no concept of “God” to whom to ascribe any of this, so rather than become religious it only served to drive them deeper into their research into the unknown.

    Fast forward to his first trip to a scientific conference outside the Soviet Union, where he had his first chance encounter with a Gideon Bible in a motel room. He had no idea what it was, but he opened it and began reading the words “In the beginning God created…” He found his science being justified, not nullified, by what he read.

    Obviously there’s a lot more to the story, but I don’t want to belabor that point or become preachy because that isn’t the point.

    The point, at least to me, is that if you strip away all of the prejudices and look for unadulterated facts that stand on their own two feet, they can lead you to a more complete understanding of it all. While I’ve never experienced a “crisis of faith” like you, I’ve still had to deal with a crisis of reality. The details have to add up, and putting God inside a 6,000 year old box doesn’t add up any better than Darwinian happenstance.

    I find the honesty and openness of your research both enlightening and refreshing, and I thank you for it. I think one of the most refreshing things is the fact that you haven’t arrived at a final conclusion. It has been my experience that most of the time, when people “arrive at a conclusion” it isn’t because they have found the best answer. They’ve just stopped thinking…

    • Excellent comments, Larry.

    • Eddy Newman says:

      I, along with five other men/ministers were some of first allowed into Russia after communism collapsed (through mime, we ministered the gospel). It is true there was a vacuum. We were treated as celebrities, even allowed on Soviet television. The people WANTED to hear about God! They we’re like people starved. If someone started to protest, the listeners would silence them (even to the point of knocking them out). Later, I was told, because of what we accomplished while we were there, over a million people have been “born again.” And, the work continues.

    • Dwane Porter says:

      Intelligent Design…..why do men have nipples since they do not breastfeed their young?

      • Stephen Hale says:

        Why do men have nipples? Might be because God only got a rib from Adam’s side to make the woman who is man’s complement, and the nipple part of what could be made into a woman from man in that rib was no big deal for God to retask. The big task was to make that womb and invert and retask the penis to provide that tunnel for another man and his complement to come out of a mother. Of course God made man so it was no big deally for God to make a body for His spirit to enter as Jesus…and have him come virgin born.

        • Jon Peters says:

          It’s not the male nipple that is the problem for creationist attempts to accommodate science and Genesis. Men have breast tissue. About 2,000 men in America get breast cancer yearly – and like with women it’s deadly. Why would The Great Designer give men breast tissue they would never need? Why is the only rational way to explain the recurrent laryngeal nerve to look at fish anatomy and see how we carry the entrapment with us today? Why is your outside ears (pinnas) attached by many vestigial muscles that can no longer rotate your outside ears like a cat or dog can? The evidence for evolution, “macroevolution”, is voluminous and grows every year. However Christians form their origin narratives, they must include evolution. Evolution really is true.

  2. Hi Bryan, I left a conservative Christian fold, but didnt become angry nor feel let down by the church. I simply read a lot of theology and science and debated some others who left before me, and finally reached a point where I could no longer recite something like for instance the Apostles Creed as though I still believed it. I wound up like yourself, someone with more questions than answers, and definitely not a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible. Nor can I say that I believe the Bible is inspired cover to cover. I eventually edited a book of testimonies, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, and started a blog titled, Scrivening, where I analyze I.D. arguments, the New Testament, Christian history, and religious psychology.

  3. Wesley Mahan says:

    I found this blog post at 1:30am and confess up front that I haven’t digested every word of your story. But enough that I want to leave this with you:
    I got a Bachelor of Theology from Multnomah Bible College at the age of 21, then was a missionary in Europe. I finally gave up my faith 8 years ago, at the age of 60. I am a full-blown atheist now, which means that I doubt the existence of a deity, though will not rule it out completely, if sufficient evidence is presented. I was not an angry de-convert, though the longer I live back here in America, the more angry I become, day by day, at the evangelical church, in which politics (and voting 100% GOP) is way more important than following their Jesus and his teachings. I am becoming more anti-Christian with every passing election campaign. I really don’t see how anyone with de-conversion stories like ours cannot be angry at their former faith, especially if you live in America.

    • I’ve been interacting with atheists in a major way for 25 years.

      I suspect that, much like Bryan, after some period of exploring the charms of atheism, you will discover that, while initially attractive (especially to angry people) it’s threadbare on every level.

      I think a productive middle ground – a DMZ if you will – might be Jordan Peterson’s Biblical lecture series. There’s a video in the lower half of this article.

      • Wesley Mahan says:

        Sorry Perry, I’m scratching my head at why you think everyone’s journey out of supernatural belief must be the same.
        First, it’s been nearly 9 years now without belief in God, and life has never been fuller and more intellectually and emotionally liberated.
        Second, there is nothing about “atheism” to explore. It’s nothing but a word and a single perspective on the existence of a god. There is no standard, systematic teaching, scripture, or required belief in anything. The only thing we agnostics/atheists have in common is this: we just don’t consult a deity any more. Outside of that, we’re all over the place; no defined, unified worldview at all.
        I tried your “middle ground” for a year or two immediately after leaving faith, but it was even more unsatisfying than my previous evangelical faith. If you subjectively interpret and choose what parts of the Bible you’re going to believe (and making the ancient Hebrew history narratives basically some kind of grand metaphor), then all you’re proving is that many people such as yourself can successfully make a previously harsh and judgmental faith into a spongy, one-size-fits-all, benign worldview. And more power to you, if it brings you satisfaction.
        But please stop telling people like me that our rejection of organized religion and belief is “threadbare on every level”. You haven’t travelled my journey. I don’t even think about myself as an “atheist” as if it’s a label I decided to wear and see if it fits. No, I’m just a happy, generous and fulfilled person who does not need or require a belief in God. Pretty simple, actually. You’re overthinking this way too much.

        • Wesley Mahan says:

          It would have been nice for Perry to address the points I made in my previous comment. But I guess Perry is either too busy, or in fact had no answers to why my particular journey out of faith is valid. He just can’t admit that it could be valid.

          • Wesley,

            If are happy now as an atheist, then that’s your decision. But I have never encountered an atheist who provide a substantive answer to any of the following questions:

            1) Why is the universe controlled by orderly mathematical intelligible laws?
            2) Why is there anything at all instead of nothing?
            3) Why is the universe and its constants so incredibly fine tuned? (The force of the big bang for example had to be fine tuned to 120 decimal places or else stars would not have formed.)
            4) Where did life come from?
            5) How do you establish objective grounds for morality?

            So far as I can tell, atheists abdicate cause-and-effect entirely… then play elaborate shell games to avoid admitting it. A prime example being Lawrence Krauss’s book “A Universe from Nothing.” Same thing with Sam Harris’s assertion that we can ground morality in measurement.

            In 25 years of conversations I’ve never met an atheist who has satisfactorily addressed any of the above questions. Have you?

            • Wesley Mahan says:

              In 25 years, I’ve never met a Christian who could give any answer to those questions, except for resorting to a one word explanation, “God”. To me that’s one of the most convenient, easy, intellectually careless and sloppy answers one could give. It certainly isn’t intellectually satisfying.

              So, let’s posit that I am: 1) even bothered by those questions, and 2) convinced that I too should resort to believing “God” is the answer; then which God are we talking about? If God of the Bible, then He is insanely jealous of other gods and religions, and will punish me forever for not picking him. If some other god, then you would probably reject that solution, because your blog here is all about defending the Christian God concept, even if it’s more implicit than explicit.

              Notwithstanding, the theist STILL has to take one MORE step backwards and explain where God came from. Face it, the question of origin is a philosophical one, not one that either side can deal with in any kind satisfying – or verifiable – way. If you want me resort to the God answer, then I certainly wouldn’t want to embrace any of the world’s religions, ALL of which are deeply, deeply flawed and have caused much suffering and death in human history, with Christianity and Islam being the worst of them.

              No, I spent 46 years as a believer with a theology degree and years in ministry. I know both sides, and my soul and intellect are much more satisfied and peaceful now, without obeisance to any human construct of a deity, or earth-bound religion. (Now, ask me if I could ever believe in a supernatural force of some kind that binds or infuses the natural universe and it’s “laws”, then I would say I am open to that. But I would still need evidence, way more than some error-riddled holy book.)

              • If you’re not bothered by such questions, then you’re on the wrong website.

                • Wesley Mahan says:

                  OK, I’ll leave then. (Such a simple and cavalier dismissal of my response to those cosmic questions of origins. I’m disappointed.) But before I leave, I’d love you to reply to my reply to your “no objective morality” that ALL Christians seem to level against ex/non-believers. I’m honestly curious at how you think your supposed objective, unshifting morality (actually NOT found in the Bible) is in any way better or more noble than the innate, subconcious and subjective morality that the non-religious generally adhere to. Please refer to my previous reply about this. Whether you reply or not, I won’t return to this website, as per your wishes, though I will read any response you give.

                  • Wesley,

                    You want to talk about objective morality but you won’t even deal with much more basic questions cause and effect first. I’m seriously astonished that the first questions on this list don’t seem to phase you.

                    My original suggestion that you would eventually become dissatisfied with atheism was because I thought you ought to care about such things.

                    You should. You are engaging in self deception if you don’t. The fact that you seem uninterested in such questions is the reason you’re on the wrong website.

                    Objective morality:

                    “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

                    An impartial arbiter will judge our actions against the same standards we use to commend or denounce others. In other words, nothing is more damnable than hypocrisy.

                    This is objective morality.

            • Wesley Mahan says:

              Oh, and I see you still cling to that old, tired canard, “How do you establish objective grounds for morality?” Seriously? If I followed the morality of the Bible, I’d be in prison for the rest of my life, if not executed by the justice system. No, if you knew anything about the science of animal behavior, you’d see that moral, altruistic behavior is not only ubiquitous in the animal kingdom (what is their scripture?), it also pretty subjective for humans, depending on context. Don’t tell me morality is a rigid, objective thing in the Bible: it is riddled with stories where lying and murder is wrong in one situation, but justified in another. Was Bonhoeffer wrong to have plotted to kill Hitler? Most decent human beings would say no. Where is your “objective” standard now? It’s in shreds, according to your holy book.

            • Jon Peters says:

              I’ll try some answers, but I suspect you’ve watched or read Carroll’s and Stenger’s responses:

              1. Because if it were not, we would not be here having this discussion. And of course the Multiverse may be the ultimate answer to this.
              2. Recent studies have shown that the universe may actually have emergent properties. Something may actually be the default.
              3. Fine tuned for what? Life? Black holes? Have you looked at the universe and seen how the immensity of it is really anti-life? The universe as a whole
              4. We don’t know yet, or maybe we’ll never be able to crack this mystery. Meh. Even if we don’t know it all get started we can still know that species evolved from previous species. And even if scientists eventually do create viable cells from basic chemistry, the creationists will just claim that it took intelligence to do it.
              5. At least you did not write “absolute vs. relative” standards for morality and instead wrote “objective”. We DO have moral standards, handed down to us via million years of evolution (we can see altruistic and other behaviors we would deem moral in many other animals besides humans and they become more sophisticated as one gets closer to humans evolutionarily), and culturally refined. They are provisionally objective, transcending the individual and various societies. Even Collins has given up CS Lewis’s moral argument for God.

              I have not looked at your main arguments, but obviously they are heavily ID. How do you explain all the evidence against ID? The recurrent laryngeal nerve, vestigial ear muscles, 45% of our genome being viral derived (ERVs, SINEs, LINEs, other transposons), and the shared ERVs and LTRS (up to 200,000 of them) between chimps and humans – and the other great apes, fused elytra with some beetles and underneath are perfect wings they never use? If The Great Designer set all this up, why five great extinctions where 99.9% of species have been wiped out?

              Are you against abortion? Up to 50% of human zygotes fail to implant. Up to 50% of implanted embryos fail to make it to birth. Before modern medicine, another 20 – 50% of humans born died before age 5. This is a great design? About 90% of all fertilizations never make it to age10. Evolution and natural selection explains it beautifully and consistently. If God designed this or ALLOWED it to bed this way does this not make God the greatest abortionist ever conceived? If robbers rob a bank, is not the driver of the get-a-way car who never went into the bank also guilty?

              I am curious, do you accept “macroevolution” like Behe does, but reject a naturalistic mechanism? If so, what is YOUR mechanism briefly? How did all these species get here? Over what period of time?

              • You’re on an airplane at 40,000 feet and even though it’s 60 degrees below zero outside you’re comfortable in a pressurized cabin.

                Someone asks “How did this come about?” and you reply: “Well if it weren’t warm in here with a pressurized cabin we wouldn’t be alive and having this conversation, would we?”

                what kind of answer is that?

                If you consider yourself a reasonable intelligent person, I should think you would want a better answer. I should think such questions should elicit a better response from you than “Meh.”

                Don’t you think you (along with Wesley Mahan) should raise your standards? You evaded every single one of these questions. Don’t you think such questions matter?

                Yes I absolutely accept macroevolution. I encourage you to read Evolution 2.0, all my arguments are there.

                • Jon Peters says:

                  It appears your comment only was in response to #1. What about the others?

                  • Let’s deal with #1 first.

                    • Jon Peters says:

                      I find the multiverse a good possibility (for me it would complete perhaps the last leg in a three legged stool – first mankind finds it’s not the center of the universe, then not the end product of evolution and the pinnacle of nature, and now not even the only universe). And if that’s not in the realm of possibility to you, then I would suggest we don’t know. But how is it that your number one allows a person to insert another God of the Gaps argument (let alone the Christian god?) As a matter of fact, your ID approach it appears to me just boils down to one God of the Gaps argument after another. Meh.

                    • I’m totally fine with a multiverse hypothesis as long as it’s used for legitimate reasons – like a detailed mathematical model of the universe that specifically implies the existence of other universes, and such models exist.

                      “The universe LOOKS fine tuned, but there are 500 billion other ones and we just happen to live in the lucky one” is hardly a scientific response.

                      Positing an uncaused cause is not “god of the gaps” because that’s not a gap. It’s rigorous logic of cause and effect. It had to come from something. Is it not necessarily true that there has to be an uncaused cause?

                • Jeff Dixon says:

                  An obviously manufactured environment is hardly a comparison to a completely natural one.

            • Michael Keller says:

              Perry, right now, there are men and women standing in their doorways sobbing, wanting to be dead, because their wives and husbands are leaving them. There are people screaming in agony, beyond the reach of any drug. There are people shooting and knifing other people, cutting them apart while they’re still alive. There are little children minutes from death from starvation, after weeks or months of agony from having no food. There are people being torn to pieces in accidents in cars, in industry, in nature. If you could hear everyone on Earth, you’d hear a cacaphony of screaming, crying, begging.

              Yet “God loves us” and “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

              We know what we mean by the word ‘love.’ When you love someone, really love him or her, you would, by definition, not allow anything bad to happen to them to the extent you could prevent it. If my child is playing in the street and a car is about to kill him, I will, without thinking, run into the street and push him out of the way if it means my death.

              So here’s the problem: If God really loved us, he would not allow bad to happen to us. If he does allow it, then he does not love us as we understand what ‘love’ means.

              Ah, but “God’s ways are not our ways.” Sorry, wrong answer. Lewis said that if God means something different when he uses the word ‘love’ than what we mean when we use it, then, Lewis says, all we can then say is that “God is we know not what.” For if we mean different things with our words, there can be no communion, no fellowship.

              Someone put it this way: If God loves us, considering the condition of existence, he does not love. If he loves, then, he is not omnipotent. This was first articulated in antiquity.

              To me, trying to explain this is no different from the question What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? The answer is that it is a nonsense question. If one of the two exists, the other, by definition of their descriptors, cannot.

              God loves us.
              God can do anything.
              Human beings are poorly designed, and suffer.

              Those three lines cannot all be true at the same time.

              • Michael,

                If your logic is correct, then why, despite this, do the scripture writers NEVER flinch from the pain, suffering and hardships of life?

                What might you be missing?

                • Wesley Mahan says:

                  That’s not an answer, Perry. It’s a non-sequitur.
                  (Lots of non-theists, atheists, and non-Christians NEVER flinch from the pain, suffering and hardships of life. What’s your point?)
                  Please answer Michael’s question with something thoughtful and worthy of your intellect.

                • Michael Keller says:

                  Perry, what has that to do with the monstrous contradiction between the assertion that God loves us / when you love you never allow harm to come to the loved one to the extent of your ability to prevent it and the fact that the central fact of existence is pain and death? Thanks.

                • Jim Lea says:

                  Perry, I just finished “Evolution 2.0,” and I thought it was a real find, a great tool in the debate about God & evolution. I just discovered your website today and thought I’d reply to Michael Keller’s 12/22/18 comment about the cruel world and God’s love and your comment in your book.

                  Perry, on p. 265, you said: “I don’t know why the world is the way it is.” I have a unique answer to Keller’s and your comments on this subject that perhaps neither of you ever considered. Over 40 years ago I received a theology degree, so I know all about Bible & Christian arguments, but I’m not a Christian. I believe in reincarnation based on metaphysical books on near-death experiences, hypnotherapy, and books by psychics. (I am not Buddhist or Hindu.) Some of these sources I’ve studied offer a different take on the way the world is.

                  They teach that Earth is a training ground where souls can come to evolve and grow spiritually and learn how to apply all the aspects of love. They teach that coming to Earth is a soul’s personal choice—souls have free will—and the soul knows what the planet is like before reincarnating—its cruelty, wars, injustice, etc. God does not force a soul to reincarnate or to choose a horrible life. It is the soul’s individual choice. My sources say each soul pre-plans general aspects of its life such as one’s talents, proclivities, and the time of one’s death. Groups of souls choose what roles they will play in the life of other soul group members. Soul A and Soul B may decide in discussions with souls C, D, and E that souls A and B will be parents of souls C, D, and E, for instance. This way a soul will know the genetic characteristics it will inherit and places the future family will live.

                  Some souls choose lives with disabilities, some choose to be in wars and be killed, some choose a life of abject poverty, while others choose a life of riches, fame, or both. Some choose to major in electrical engineering, theology, or business, while others select hard lives, etc. Souls make these choices based on their specific needs for spiritual growth. Upon death, each soul returns to its eternal home in heaven in the spirit world and assesses its progress. A soul doesn’t need to be saved or become Christian to return to heaven upon death because the soul isn’t lost in the first place but just came to Earth for training. It’s sort like a professional has to get a certain amount of continuing education credits for his/her profession. As a CPA, I had to receive 80 hours of continuing education over two years to retain my license.

                  There is no devil, no hell, no resurrection, no rapture, no cruel God casting unrepentant victims who reject him into a lake of fire, and there is no final judgment before some new heavens and new earth arrive. Instead souls work with God and their mentors to enhance their development.

                  I’ve read over 100 books on this subject over the last 35 years. Here are some of my sources: “Journey of Souls” and “Destiny of Souls” by Dr. Michael Newton,
                  “Messages from the Masters” and “Same Soul, Many Bodies” by Dr. Brian L. Weiss
                  “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander M.D.
                  “Life after Life” and “Reflections on Life after Life” by Raymond Moody M.D.
                  “Transformed by the Light” by Melvin Morse M.D.
                  “Your Soul’s Plan” and “Your Soul’s Gift” by Robert Schwartz
                  “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” by Ian Stevenson M.D.
                  “The Afterlife Experiments” by Dr. Gary E. Schwartz
                  “Talking to Heaven” and “Reaching to Heaven” by James Van Praagh

                  The above is my philosophy. It is not a religion! I think, if it is accurate, it makes much better sense than the Christian religion, which limits the saved to only its members and which can’t really explain why a God would allow such cruelty on Earth. Christians, as you know, do not believe you choose your type of life before birth because they do not believe in reincarnation.

                  • Tom Godfrey says:

                    Jim Lea,

                    Thanks for sharing your interesting philosophy, but I remain unconvinced that you are on the right track. Of course, everyone gets to decide for himself what to believe, even though one’s upbringing and culture often have a huge impact. By sharing your thoughts and exposing them to scrutiny by people who disagree, you can find out whether you can defend your ideas with confidence, or whether better and more reasonable ideas could be substituted.

                    You claimed that members of the Christian religion “can’t really explain why a God would allow such cruelty on Earth.” Well, so what? What bad consequence does mankind face—or even just an individual face—if no satisfactory explanation for what God allows can be proposed or imagined? The “problem of evil” has been used to argue that God does not exist. I assume that you do not buy this argument, because you said, “…souls work with God and their mentors to enhance their development.” Michael Keller evidently does buy it, so I recommended that he read this article:
                    http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa105.htm
                    As a student of theology, you probably had passages like Isaiah 29:13-16, 45:9-12, and 55:7-9 called to your attention. What kind of God would allow only what his creatures can explain?

                    I hope that you and everyone else who reads our comments here realize that we can believe whatever we want, but there is an underlying truth that does not depend on our imagination or personal preferences. That is, just because someone decides to believe that there is “no devil, no hell, no resurrection, no rapture, no cruel God casting unrepentant victims who reject him into a lake of fire, and there is no final judgment before some new heavens and new earth arrive,” reality does not necessarily match these specifications. The true is what it is, and this is what really matters, whether it makes sense to us or not.

                    You may indeed feel that your philosophy, “makes much better sense than the Christian religion,” but this may be an illusion due to a failure to confront problems with it. What questions have you asked? Have you wondered how, when, and why the cycles of reincarnation are supposed to have begun or whether they will ever end? Is God any less “cruel” for allowing this arrangement to continue so long, in theory? If repeated cycles of reincarnation tend to enhance one’s development, shouldn’t we expect to find human nature as described two or three thousand years ago noticeably less enhanced than what we observe today? Are you surprised by the comparison? Can you explain why God decided not to make souls without any need for enhanced development in the first place? You recommended a number of books, but do any of them compare favorably with the Bible in your opinion, so much so that you prefer to trust what their modern authors teach more than the Bible? What makes you so sure that they have not been fooled?

                    • Jim Lea says:

                      Tom Godfrey,
                      Thanks for responding to my post (12/27/18) with some well-thought-out and fair questions. You wrote that I claimed members of the Christian religion “can’t really explain why a God would allow such cruelty on Earth.” Then you declare: “Well, so what? What bad consequence does mankind face—or even just an individual face—if no satisfactory explanation for what God allows can be proposed or imagined?”

                      Based on my belief in reincarnation supported by dozens of books on near-death experiences (NDEs) and hypnotherapy and books by psychics, I can offer hope with my philosophy to those who believe God has abandoned humans on earth because of all the wars, natural disasters, and cruelty on our planet. I can assure people that God is not evil, sadistic, or incompetent because I explain that souls “choose” to reincarnate on earth, they make a free-will choice to accept the barriers and challenges earth offers, and they are not forced to come to earth by an uncaring God, as some atheists believe God is.

                      Since Christians do not believe in reincarnation, nor do they believe souls pre-plan major events in their life as I do, they cannot explain to atheists and agnostics that souls chose many of their horrible conditions, such as major disabilities in life like blindness or deafness, for instance. These souls did not have these disabilities imposed on them behind their back, so to speak, without a say in the matter by a weakened or distant God. Because of Christians’ poor response to the cruel earth question, many people become agnostics or atheists because they think God could have made things better but he didn’t because he was negligent or too weak. These unbelievers don’t realize it is actually God’s great plan that we do meet challenges and disasters on earth that we choose to participate in via our free will.

                      Tom, you wrote: “…just because someone decides to believe that there is ‘no devil, no hell, no resurrection, no rapture, no cruel God casting unrepentant victims who reject him into a lake of fire, and there is no final judgment before some new heavens and new earth arrive,’ reality does not necessarily match these specifications. The true is what it is….” Tom, I based my decision on the nonexistence of the devil, hell, resurrection, etc. on dozens of books, of which I listed 14 in my first post, so this wasn’t just a whim. None of these sources are based on an organized religion. Rather most of the conclusions come from thousands of individuals all over the world of all beliefs who have had near-death experiences or have undergone hypnotherapy. These sources, often written by medical doctors or psychologists plus books from leading modern-day psychics, reveal these things as factual. These authors are generally highly educated, they have current books available, they have websites, and you can see many of the proponents of reincarnation and NDEs on YouTube.

                      Contrast this with the sources of Christianity. There is great debate about which manuscripts and which gospels are valid. The Jews have only the Old Testament (OT), while Catholics and Protestants have different books in their Bibles. Christians essentially tell the Jews they don’t really understand their Hebrew scriptures because Christians read things into the OT that Jews say aren’t there, such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the alleged references to Jesus the Messiah. No one can say for sure if the apostles’ writings are genuine, heavily edited, or made up 2,000 years ago, and there are no news clips or YouTube interviews with Jesus or the Apostle Paul. So I believe if you want to look at reality, there is much more real, credible evidence for my philosophy than there is for the Christian religion.

                      Tom, you stated that I may indeed feel that my philosophy “makes much better sense than the Christian religion, but this may be an illusion due to a failure to confront problems with it. What questions have you asked? Have you wondered how, when, and why the cycles of reincarnation are supposed to have begun or whether they will ever end? Is God any less ‘cruel’ for allowing this arrangement to continue so long, in theory?” Frankly, Tom, I have confronted alleged problems with my philosophy for the last 35 years and am satisfied it is based on a sound, defensible foundation. My sources reveal that reincarnation started on this world as soon as there were hominids available for a soul to incarnate into. Souls are not required to reincarnate, but they realize they can develop faster by reincarnating, so most choose to do so as they enjoy the challenge and the adventure. I view the Creator’s plan as helping each immortal soul to develop its character, knowledge, wisdom, and ability to respond with love in all situations so each soul will become more like the Creator in wisdom and love. This takes a lengthy period of time and many lives. I don’t believe God is cruel at all—especially for allowing reincarnation—because he doesn’t require it. On the other hand, I consider the Christian belief, where most in this world are not saved and are sent to hell, to be cruel. In my philosophy a soul doesn’t have to worry about being saved or rejected because the Creator creates each soul as immortal, and if the soul reincarnates, it goes to earth for training and returns to its eternal home in heaven afterward. I believe the Source of All That Is (the Creator God) is an entity of unconditional love.

                      Once a soul has attained a certain level of spiritual growth and wisdom, that soul no longer reincarnates. As older souls stop reincarnating, newer souls take their place, so human nature doesn’t seem to disappear, nor does the world seem to be less warlike.

                      You asked another relevant question: “Can you explain why God decided not to make souls without any need for enhanced development in the first place?” God made animal souls without any need for enhancement, but they have intrinsic behavior and don’t have the capability to grow spiritually. Humans do have this capability because they have free will in their actions, and they have a self-awareness, an ability to consider and learn right from wrong, which animals do not have. Apparently, the Creator didn’t want 7 billion robots on earth or he could have created humans as marvelous, mechanical robots. Look at the human model. Would parents want to give birth to a robot who would parrot everything they believe and act exactly the way they do? I don’t think so. Our children, which are not robots, can grow up to be great scientists, innovators, educators, etc., but they make a lot of mistakes and give us a lot of challenges, surprises, and learning opportunities on their way to success. That’s how you develop. I believe strongly that our Creator wants fully developed, self-actualized, thinking, innovating, loving beings like himself, but it takes longer for this to occur. But who cares? We have eternity!

                      Your last question: “You recommended a number of books, but do any of them compare favorably with the Bible in your opinion, so much so that you prefer to trust what their modern authors teach more than the Bible? What makes you so sure that they have not been fooled?” I believe every source I listed in my last post compares favorably with your view of the Bible. I have noticed an amazing consistency between the various sources from NDEs, hypnotherapy, and psychics, as well as after-death communications. I find, however, that the Bible has caused major disagreements for centuries, and Christian denominations can’t even agree on its correct meaning. Need I mention the fundamentalists, the Baptists, the Mormons, the Quakers, the Pentecostals, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Seventh-day Adventists as evidence? Christians can’t even figure out if Genesis 1 is literal, figurative, myth, full of contradictions, or needs a total re-translation to make it fit with evolution, the fossil and geological records, and the Big Bang. I challenge Christians to read some of the well-written sources I have listed, many written by doctors, psychologists, and Ph.D.’s, and then ask if perhaps they have been fooled or just taken many things for granted because no one ever challenged them on the subject.

                      Tom, thanks for a great discussion. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year!

              • Tom Godfrey says:

                Michael Keller, you should find this article interesting, and I would appreciate your comments on it.
                http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa105.htm

                • Michael Keller says:

                  Tom Godfrey, I cannot read that post. The eye cannot be asked to stay on lines of such length. That article needs to be set in three columns – two at the absolute least – and the type’s point size needs to be at least 12.

                  • Tom Godfrey says:

                    Michael Keller,

                    That is not my website, so I have no control over the format of the article. I have a workaround for you though. Follow the link, click on the page, press Ctrl-A to highlight the entire article, press Ctrl-C to copy it, open a blank Word document (or your favorite text editor), press Ctrl-V to paste the copied article into the blank document, and adjust the font size and margins as desired.

                  • Wesley Mahan says:

                    (The coding is responsive: whatever the width of your device, and/or browser window, the text line length reduces to that width.)

                • Jon Peters says:

                  “When all four of these premises are maintained, there is no logical contradiction to be found, not even an apparent one. It is precisely part of the Christian’s walk of faith and growth in sanctification to draw proposition 4 as the conclusion of propositions 1-3.

                  “Think of Abraham when God ordered him to sacrifice his only son. Think of Job when he lost everything which gave his life happiness and pleasure. In each case God had a perfectly good reason for the human misery involved. It was a mark or achievement of faith for them not to waver in their conviction of God’s goodness, despite not being able to see or understand why He was doing to them what He did. Indeed, even in the case of the greatest crime in all of history — the crucifixion of the Lord of glory — the Christian professes that God’s goodness was not inconsistent with what the hands of lawless men performed. Was the killing of Christ evil? Surely. Did God have a morally sufficient reason for it? Just as surely. With Abraham we declare, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). And this goodness of God is beyond challenge: “Let God be true, though all men are liars” (Romans 3:4).”

                  We traded some posts on John Appleton’s FB page. I hope sometime you can let me know when you get that article written about your God that loves to kill innocent children, and sometimes torture them before they die.

                  You will never see the issue in Job if all you do is talk about Job. What did the servants do to deserve to be killed (many)? What did Job’s 10 children do to be crushed inside their house? God Command Theory? They deserved to be killed because of original sin?

                  It’s not about Abraham. It’s not about Job. It’s not about Pharaoh. It’s about all the collateral innocent lives your God repeatedly kills in the OT narratives. So even if you claim metaphor or hyperbole, you still have these stories characterizing your God as a deity that should be destroyed and not worshiped. And all the pregnant women at the Flood – your God the greatest abortionist every imagined? Think, man, think. Stop rationalizing and think. Man made morality through secular humanism far exceeds anything in the various scriptures of the world, especially the Abrahamic ones.

              • Michael,

                This video / transcript deals with your questions:

                https://evo2.org/why-christians-have-failed-to-reckon-with-good-and-evil/

    • Barry Sudduth says:

      If God doesn’t exist, there is no objective right or wrong. However, you get angry at hypocrisy. Why? On what basis?

      • Joe Cogan says:

        Barry Sudduth, are things right or wrong because God says so, or does God say things are right or wrong because they are inherently so? In the former case, morality is arbitrary, in the latter, God is unnecessary for morality.

      • Michael Keller says:

        Barry, hi. From what I have read, moral systems that work can be constructed without including the supernatural.

    • Dan Eumurian says:

      I’m the son of a preacher and a teacher. My dad called himself a “thinking fundamentalist,” and he and I became, if you will, “thinking evangelicals.” Mom read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Don Richardson, a lot of poetry, and more. I’ve gone from six day, 24 hour, 6,000 years ago creation to somewhere between evolutionary creation and intelligent design. I have a master’s in theology. YouTube videos from RZIM.org, BioLogos.org and elsewhere have edified my mind and heart. I write songs and poems critiquing both sides of the political aisle and trying to build bridges. I’m probably moving from a church with some good points but a narrow vision and cold, authoritarian style, to a church with intelligent Bible teaching, passion for God, willingness to listen, and helpful programs–along with a discussion group/Bible study/music forum in which we attempt to know God and understand his love for us; meet people where they are in terms of science, intellect, gifts, needs and life situation, and respond together to God’s call.

  4. OMAR JOHNSON says:

    I found Bryan’s (anti?) testimony both engaging and moving. I also have rejected my fundamentalist upbringing, but I will give the Ken Hams of the world this: “inerrant” Bible Christian apologetics only needs to deal with 6,000 years of creation, not 14 billion. They get to postulate while “fallen” now, the world/universe was once perfect. The Evolution 2.0 model makes sense to me, even as it also makes me wonder what was behind this information-embedding Creator, who or what encoded the meta-programming that resulted in a God capable of jump-starting and micro-managing evolution with barely a Sistine Chapel finger extension? Off track. What I wanted to point out is that 14 billion years of the universe evolving, whether jump-started and cleverly managed by unfolding layers of information or not, is a pretty amoral place. Now we have to somehow come to grips with insanely surreal amounts of dying and death, of individuals, species, whole ecosystems, possibly on other worlds as well as our own. Way before Eve, and the Fall, the great Novelist was killing off his darlings left and right. I think scientists have at least tentatively identified over ten hominid precursors to Homo Sapiens. Fundamentalist Christianity posits Original Sin, and looks forward to the Second Coming, Redemption, etc. That’s all that’s on their plate. It’s nuts, but it’s internally consistent.

    • Omar,

      In the Genesis story, the serpent is prowling around from the word go. And God doesn’t even explicitly warn them. Picture “sexual predator on the loose and all he tells the kids is ‘don’t talk to strangers.'”

      If you stop and think about it, why should anyone be more horrified about sharks and bacteria than we are about Satan?

      I don’t think most Christians have ever stopped and thought about this at all. Conflict is baked into the universe from the beginning and that is a naked fact.

      It’s time for Christians to grow up and face this.

      But what is equally interesting is the Sermon on the Mount, which is the Anti-Darwinian Manifesto. There is nothing about it that conforms to the unusual rules of survival of the fittest. It turns the whole thing on its head. A massive right-angle turn in the history of humanity.

      Today we are so accustomed to the Jesus ethic that even Charles Darwin 150 years ago was slightly horrified at the implications of his theory.

      But what Jesus has shown us is that what got us HERE won’t get us THERE. And “human evolution” post-Jesus (=equality, affordable health care for as many people as possible, human rights, agape love etc.) means something entirely, utterly different from what was ever meant by “Darwinian evolution.”

      Evolution 1.0 is Neo-Darwinism. Evolution 2.0 is the ingenuity of cells. Evolution 3.0 started 2000 years ago and it continues to the present day. It’s a work in progress.

      Thanks for your comment, I think I’ll make this a blog post.

      • OMAR JOHNSON says:

        Thanks for you thoughtful reply, which leaves me with more questions. I thought I understood what you were about with this Evolution 2.0 business, but maybe not. I, too, have marveled at the Sermon on the Mount, and how it constitutes a major fulcrum of change–a “massive right-angle turn in the history of humanity,” as you wrote. Are you repackaging Teilhard de Chardin? My parents were missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ecuador, and now a large percentage of this very small tribe of Native Americans identify as Christian. If humanity is evolving forward spiritually and morally toward some Omega Point, that’s cool, but if there’s always been a God behind all of it, and all the ancestors of the tribes people my parents “saved” by giving them the Bible in their own language are just collateral damage on the way to Christian Nirvana, I’m not sure I approve. In fact, I heartily detest the idea. Yes, they were pagan moon worshipers, their shamans allegedly capable of many things my parents regarded as demonic influence, but it was what they knew. The word about Jesus on the Cross took a long time arriving. I’m not explaining myself very well. Basically, if humanity is in a hit or miss way inventing God, good; but if God has been there all along, leisurely evolving existence forward, starting over (with the Flood), ignoring whole swaths of humanity for eons, not to mention humanity’s precursors, then I have turn my back on it out of principle. Radical agape going forward eats up what passed for Christian care in the past. (I’m thinking of the Inuit as well as the tribe where my parents lived and worked; and the Japanese–who come to mind because I taught in Tokyo for a few years–and who are famously resistant to Christian conversion because they honor their Shinto ancestors, I think; and basically anyone alive or dead who either was never touched by Christianity or who had their culture destroyed by so-called Christians.)

        • Am I repackaging Tielhard? Maybe, but that was never the particular intention. I think his ideas have some merit.

          You raise a lot of questions I’m really not sure I can answer. What I can say is that the conservative protestant evangelical idea that all those unfortunate people who weren’t lucky enough to hear about Jesus, are all gonna burn, is a construct of Christian theology, not something you would infer by closely studying Jesus or even the rest of the Bible.

          I hopefully take a swing at some of this here:

          http://www.coffeehousetheology.com/top10/#8

      • Edward T. Babinski says:

        Perry, Satan was never a serpent. Genesis does not say that. Even John Walton admits that.

        And the Garden of Eden doesn not seem like a place where animals were tearing each other apart. It was a garden, not a battlefield. God created Adam as a gardener to tend it, and he gave animals and humans plants to eat. The word paradise used in Genesis is of Persian origin, and refers to quite a pleasant place.

        As for your understanding of the Sermon in the Mount, look up the term “interim ethics,” and how a soon coming final judgment led to the belief that one should not take judgment into ones own hands because God will do so soon.

        Nor is the message to love neighbors new. See Hector Avalos’ book, THE BAD JESUS, to understand the context of loving enemies and to recognize some less than stellar teachings of Jesus the apocalyptist.

      • Edward T. Babinski says:

        Contra your denigration of Darwin and Darwinism I think he should be nominated for sainthood.

        SAINT DARWIN

        On Darwinism, I think you are disregarding Darwin’s writings concerning the large role sympathy played in the evolution and survival of our species. Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species (opening pages of chapter three), the “struggle for existence” can often be described just as well as a mutual dependence. And harmless coexistence as parts of the same eco-sphere is also a very common relation.… Among social creatures, positive gregariousness, a liking for each otherʼs company, is the steady, unnoticed background for the conflicts.

        Darwin’s writings inspired liberal improvements in society. Google this article: “Social Darwinism and the Poor” by Peter Dobkin Hall, School of Public Affair, Baruch College, City University of New York

        Ironically it is today’s pro-creationist, pro-religious Republican Party in the U.S., who continue to pursue the most draconian “Social Darwinistic” legislation, removing safety nets from the poor, sick and hungry. 

        Scientists are today studying the full gamut of positive human genetic and environmental potential, i.e., mental elasticity and social cohesion, via a new new discipline called “Social Neuroscience.” And medical science is slowly discovering how to re-arrange genes to avoid or even heal diseases/weaknesses of mind and body. Darwin would be immensely pleased to see these modern day developments judging by his belief that sympathy played such a large role in human evolution and in the survival and flourishing of our species. 

        “As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions… This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually through public opinion.”
        –Darwin, volume I, chapter III: “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals — continued”, pages 100-101

        Disinterested love for all living creatures, the most noble attribute of man.
        –Darwin, volume I, chapter III: “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals — continued”, page 105

        Note also how Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) reacted to Herbert Spencer’s (another evolutionist’s) proposal that all social welfare programs be cancelled:

        ‘By the time of the Romanes lecture, however, Huxley’s views had changed considerably. Herbert Spencer, who had coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which Darwin later adopted to describe the ongoing struggle for existence resulting in natural selection, had articulated the advantages of applying evolutionary theory to social behavior, espousing an ethic that became known as “Social Darwinism.” Spencer and his followers argued that one’s moral obligations should be to promote this struggle for existence in the social realm. Thus, he was against any sort of safety net such as the poor laws, for they only contributed to the survival of the least fit. Huxley could not abide such an ethic that was counter to all common decency, that claimed the state had no obligation to the less fortunate members of society. The Romanes lecture was written specifically in response to the extreme individualism and the harsh social policies Spencer was advocating in the name of evolution. In it Huxley claimed that “laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community…Let us understand, once and for all that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it… Huxley, like many later critics such as G. E. Moore, attacked evolutionary ethics on the grounds of committing the naturalistic fallacy. Just because nature is a certain way does not mean nature ought to be that way. However, Huxley’s critique actually goes far deeper than this… Implicit in the various versions of evolutionary ethics was the idea that nature was progressive. Huxley denied this. For Huxley, one of the strengths of Darwin’s theory was that in addition to explaining how organisms change and progress, it also explained how many organisms do not progress, and some even become simpler. Thus, why should we assume that applying the principles of evolution to the social realm would result in the progress and improvement of society? Huxley realized that “fittest” had a connotation of “best,” but as he correctly pointed out, if the environment suddenly became much colder, the survival of the fittest would most likely bring about in the plant world a population of more and more stunted and humbler organisms. In such an environment, the lichen and diatoms might be the most “fit.” Furthermore, the strict definition of Darwinian fitness is reproductive success. However, surely no one would label a mad rapist who successfully impregnates hundreds of women the “best” or “most fit” member of society.’
        — S. L. Lyons, Thomas Henry Huxley [a biography], 1999

        What else did Darwin’s Bulldog have to say about evolution and ethics? See this… 

        ‘We are told by those who assume authority in these matters, that the belief in the unity of the origin of man and brutes involves the brutalization and degradation of the former. But is this really so? Could not a sensible child confute by obvious arguments, the shallow rhetoricians who would force this conclusion upon us? Is it, indeed, true, that the Poet, or the Philosopher, or the Artist whose genius is the glory of his age, is degraded from his high estate by the undoubted historical probability, not to say certainty, that he is the direct descendant of some naked and bestial savage, whose intelligence was just sufficient to make him a little more cunning than the Fox, and by so much more dangerous than the Tiger? Or is he bound to howl and grovel on all fours because of the wholly unquestionable fact, that he was once a fertilized egg cell, which no untrained power of discrimination could distinguish from that of a Dog’s fertilized egg cell? Or is the philanthropist, or the saint, to give up his endeavors to lead a noble life, because the simplest study of man’s nature reveals, at its foundation, all the selfish passions, and fierce appetites of the merest quadruped? Is mother-life vile because a hen shows it, or fidelity base because dogs possess it? The common sense of the mass of mankind will answer these questions without a moment’s hesitation. Healthy humanity, finding itself had pressed to escape from real sin and degradation, will leave the brooding over speculative pollution to the cynics and the “righteous overmuch” [a phrase Huxely took from Ecclesiastes 7:16, “Be not righteous overmuch.”]’
        –Thomas Henry Huxley, “Evidence As to Man’s Place in Nature.” 

        Darwin was also one of many secularists of his day, including John Stewart Mills, who argued against slavery.  See, Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution, which explain that one of the reasons Darwin espoused common ancestry was to help people recognize that Black people were people, and we are all cousins. (In contrast, the creationist views of Agassiz, Darwin’s contemporary, were that Blacks were created as a separate race from white people.) 

        Here’s a quotation from Darwin: 

        I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have staid in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master’s eye. … And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty… .
        –Charles Darwin, “Mauritius To England” (second edition, 1845), chapter XXI, pages 499-500

        And here are excerpts of Darwin’s views on slavery from letters Darwin wrote home while on the Beagle Voyage:

        “The Captain does every thing in his power to assist me, & we get on very well – but I thank my better fortune he has not made me a renegade to Whig principles: I would not be a Tory, if it was merely on account of their cold hearts about that scandal to Christian Nations, Slavery.”
        — To Revd. John Henslow 18 May 1832 from Rio de Janeiro.

        “What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it. I was told before leaving England, that after in Slave countries: all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negro character.”
        — To his sister, Catherine, on 22 May 1833 from Maldonado, Rio Plata.

        “It does one’s heart good to hear how things are going on in England. Hurrah for the honest Whigs. I trust they will soon attack that monstrous stain on our boasted liberty, Colonial Slavery. I have seen enough of Slavery & the disposition of the negros, to be thoroughly disgusted with the lies & nonsense one hears on the subject in England.”
        — To John Herbert on 2 June, 1833 from Maldonado, Rio Plata.

        England passed a law that emancipated all slaves in the British colonies in August of 1833.

        Darwin, as well as his friends and family, were also very much in favor of the Great Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights to millions of formally disenfranchised citizens.

        • Darwin is too easily confused with the Neo-Darwinists, who took a reasonable but very loosely constructed theory and turned it into an atheistic pop religion.

          In my previous post I didn’t mention that Darwin 0.0 (1859) was considerably more consistent with what we now know to be true than Neo-Darwinism a.k.a. the Selfish Gene theory, which has now been shown to be roughly 2/3 wrong. (Noble, 2017 – see http://www.voicesfromoxford.org/video/physiology-and-the-revolution-in-evolutionary-biology/184)

          • Edward T. Babinski says:

            Atheistic pop religion? Evolution has multiple interpretations from I.D. to theistic evolution to a more deistic approach in which God simply sets the initial parameters of the cosmos which then evolves naturally, and there are also those who argue for supernatural influences inside animals and plants rather than external supernatural influence, i.e., vital forces and the belief was called Vitalism.

            As for selfish DNA, what would you call viruses? They are mere strands of RNA or DNA in a protein coat whose sole purpose appears to be to try and make more viruses. And they are the most successful and most widespread replicators on earth, and they don’t even have copy-reading capability, they mutate more than any other replicators. But quite successful at what they do. There are even viruses that invade other viruses in order to replicate. And inside bacterial cells and larger more complex eukaryotic cells you see jumping genes that act like viral DNA strands, jumping around inside the nucleus making copies of themselves.

            • There is no such thing as a genetic algorithm, which does anything useful, which actually follows the evolution model described in the selfish gene, or as defined by traditional neo-Darwinism. All successful GAs have modular systems which generate permutations similar to the biological systems of transposition, horizontal gene transfer, symbiogenesis etc. They are not merely random copying errors. I devote a chapter to this in Evolution 2.0.

              If you know of any exceptions, by all means let me know.

          • Edward T. Babinski says:

            I have read about the views of Noble, Shapiro and other proponents of the “Third Way,” which is advocating something other than either I.D. or Neo-Darwinism. I also have a dedicated search engine on every page of my blog so people can look up what evolutionists are saying about the Third Way or Noble’s views, or Shapiro’s, or I.D. arguments, or creationist arguments.

      • Dan Eumurian says:

        In the little I know about relational theology, conflict was indeed baked into the universe from the beginning. It’s called the Trinity. Victoria Brooks, in _Delighting God_, suggests that the Members of the Trinity love each other passionately, yet respect each other implicitly. I might add that perhaps they debate each other deeply, just as other good friends do. (See also Balswick & Balswick, _A Model for Marriage_.) It’s not a direct analogy, but I say in the revised version of my song “We Need Each Other,” “…Thru respect and listening, we finally agree, and form a stronger partnership than one found easily.” Look at Jesus in Gethsemane. Also, I take Matthew 5:17 as not dismissing the need to work for a living if we can, etc., in favor of free lunch for all. Instead, I see it as a continuation and fulfillment of God’s plan. The world is headed downstream for the waterfall. The “ingenuity of cells” and all good human efforts are “rowing like crazy” upstream. Your “Evolution 3.0” is “putting up a sail” and discovering that God is with us in our struggle.

  5. Curt Pennington says:

    I’m a former Pensacola Christian College representative, and it was my reading knowledge of the scriptures in Greek and Hebrew that ultimately led me away from the fold. It’s interesting that my timeline follows yours pretty closely. I’ve recently returned to reading the scriptures from an agnostic viewpoint, and the anger I have felt in years past is completely gone. This article was worth the price of admission if for no either reason to see your definition of “hate.” Thanks for the insight.

  6. Tom Godfrey says:

    Perry,

    Thanks for posting this interview or testimony. It interested me partly because of coincidences. Bryan is a former missionary. So am I. He is interested in languages. So am I. Besides this, his topic both interested me and stirred up an emotional reaction that is not easy to describe. I decided to write a separate comment for him.

    Thanks, too, for including a transcript of his talk. There is one thing I noticed about it that you may want to fix. It has “church planning” and “church planner” where I believe Bryan said “church planting” and “church planter” instead. You can check with him to verify this. There is one later occurrence of the latter term where the transcription meets my expectation.

  7. Tom Godfrey says:

    Bryan,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have often thought that one can easily believe all kinds of nonsensical ideas if only the problems with it are ignored, dismissed, disregarded, or somehow set aside. We all have to be selective in what we read or hear. There is simply too much stuff out there to take it all in, and much of it is nonsense, but if anyone really cares about the truth, there ought to be a willingness to consider key and relevant facts or ideas that have been ignored.

    Your brother Perry encouraged me to read a book about the Grand Canyon, even though it was written from a perspective rather different from mine, and I am glad I took his advice. As I read the book, I had the same thought, that people can easily be blinded to whatever does not mesh with their old way of thinking. To see what I mean, when you have time, you may want to read the book review that I wrote a couple of days ago.
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0825444217/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1
    There is a link to reviews beside the stars under the title. Reviews are not necessarily in date order, so if you have trouble finding mine, please try this direct link to it.
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2KKL798XSO5LD/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_viewpnt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0825444217#R2KKL798XSO5LD

    At 1:40 in your video clip, you said that Perry knows you are a guy who likes certainty. At 52:33, you summarized your beliefs and mentioned this at 53:03:

    “Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the Big Bang and the origin of life and so on? [I] don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully, wonderfully liberating to not know the answer — for me, at this stage in my particular life.”

    It seems fascinating to me that a man who likes certainty could ever be satisfied with the label “Almost Atheist” (used in the title for this thread) or feel wonderfully liberated by not knowing something. In between those two snippets of your testimony, I think you made it rather clear that (1) you were brought up and well educated to believe strongly that there really is a “supernatural cause behind … the origin of life and so on” and that (2) you deeply wanted this to be true and real, but you eventually came to feel for certain that “it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff.” In other words, first you were certain that a claim is true, then you were certain that it is false, and now you have ended up not knowing whether it is true or false. What a journey!

    If you still like certainty, maybe I can help. Of course, certainty is a matter of degree, and absolute certainty may be quite out of reach. Not being omniscient gods, we ought to recognize a measure of fallibility and uncertainty, but this does not mean that we have no way to attain even a comfortable measure of certainty. For example, notice what we may know with some certainty, according to 1John 5:18-20.

    Maybe the first step is to ask yourself a question like the one you asked Perry. You wanted him to explain why he believes the Bible, so you may want to ask yourself why anyone believes that the Bible is “just made up human stuff,” as you evidently once did. This is where your epistemology comes in. Maybe it needs to be a bit more complicated than the one you have adopted.

    This is just a guess, of course, but I think that James Randi may have talked you into thinking that science is the ticket to knowledge, that it’s all about theories, repeatable experiments, observations of physical evidence, and a resulting ability to make predictions that come true. You realized that your unbiblical prayer journal idea did not cut it.

    Science certainly has been useful to mankind. Think of all of our modern technology that depends on past advances in scientific knowledge. However, this approach clearly does have its limitations. Is any claim of science ever supposed to be final? No, right? Scientists should realize that adjustments might be needed later as more is learned. Nothing is quite final. For example, Newton’s laws of motion seemed to be correct at the time of discovery, and they are still quite useful even today, but Einstein figured that they needed to be adjusted to cover special cases, and modern scientists agree. As Perry may tell you, biologists already knew a lot about living cells 50 years ago, but it has since come to light that plenty remained to be learned. Our understanding of them is surely far from complete even today.

    All of that is old news to you, surely, but consider it background for a more important point. Science is not a good tool for investigating the origin of the universe or of life on earth. Now we are talking about history, not the laws of nature. Think about it. If someone had a theory about what caused the Big Bang and wanted to run an experiment to test it, should we let him do it? Only if we were certain it would fizzle, right?

    Maybe more to the point, what about a safer theory about the origin of the first living cell? If the experiment ran in a laboratory environment thought to be consistent with theories about primitive conditions on earth, and it worked — a living cell appeared through the operation of purely natural processes — would it be safe to conclude that this is what actually took place in real history? While you are thinking about this, suppose another scientist tested a different theory, and it worked too! Now which experiment do we say was a repeat of real history? It might depend on what environmental conditions were truly realistic, but how could we possibly know what those were for sure? I say we could never be certain that our story about the first living cell must be correct. A later discovery could overturn our tentative history at any time, right?

    Consider another issue with using science to concoct a history, especially one about an event that might have involved a curse, miracle, or supernatural intervention. Scientists presuppose that none of this kind of thing is ever real. This is called methodological naturalism. The no-miracle presupposition makes sense to me whenever the purpose of a scientific study is to understand an ongoing law of nature. But what about origins?

    If we want to know whether God performed a miracle, especially one in the distant past, and we go to a scientist for an answer, what experiment or observation could possibly lead to a positive answer? The answer has to be no because of the no-miracle presupposition alone. In this case, physical evidence is irrelevant, so why bother with observations or experiments? If a miracle really was involved, physical evidence left behind in its aftermath is guaranteed to be either misleading or uninformative anyway, right? Think of the twelve baskets of leftover food collected after Jesus Christ fed a multitude (John 6:1-15). If a scientist studied this evidence and wrote a story about the origin of the food, could he possibly report that it was miraculous without being laughed out of his lab coat?

    Can we agree that science is great for learning about the laws of nature, but not so suitable for illuminating history or what happened in the unobservable past? If we do, and we have questions about out origins, we certainly ought to rule out science as the ticket to knowledge in this area. Forensic science may well be useful in an investigation of a crime, but a study of physical evidence is much less likely to be helpful if we already have a credible eyewitness narrative of an ancient event. For example, how likely is it that a study of available physical evidence could be used to validate or correct the history recorded in Gen. 29:1-14?

    In general, I think you will find that almost everything we think we know about history is based on a study and collection of testimony deemed credible, not on observations of physical evidence or the results of scientific experiments. A given witness might lie, get mixed up, forget something important, or leave out something embarrassing, leading us astray, of course, but I say we can usually settle on a story that allows a comfortable measure of certainty that it is true.

    Another point to make in this regard is that a mistake in our understanding of a law of nature may be much easier to detect and correct than a mistake in a history or our understanding of what happened in the unobservable past. Nevertheless, a history mistake can still have huge consequences. Just ask anyone on death row who is actually innocent of a crime, but the jury believed lying witnesses. In the case of origins, if you get your history wrong and live as though there is no God who created the universe and life on earth, and no final judgment of your life after you die, this could have a huge impact on your outlook on life, the way you live each day, and possibly even your eternal destiny.

    You may still think that it is nonsense to believe that Genesis or Exodus can be true, because archaeologists have proven that its testable claims about history are false. If Genesis is wrong, what else in the Bible can be trusted? After all, Jesus Christ spoke as though Genesis is right (Matt. 19:4-6). You ought to realize that those modern “proofs” are as tentative as any other scientific claim. They also could be overturned later as more is learned. I encourage you to consider the work of Gerald E. Aardsma, who has fresh, testable ideas about the historicity of the Flood and the Exodus. You might find renewed confidence in the Bible. Here is his website, if you are interested:
    http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/

    Of course, even his theories might also need to be adjusted or even replaced as more is learned, but the point is that one can still have faith that the accounts in Genesis will eventually prove to be true regardless (John 20:29; Rom. 3:3-4). Believers do not have to trust scientists to figure out the true history of our origins by interpreting physical evidence under their no-miracle presupposition and then try to reconcile Genesis with their tentatively proposed story. The other side of the coin is that one can instead have faith that Sam Harris or Stephen Hawking got it right — never mind Genesis.

    It is your choice, of course, and it can involve seriously evaluating the credibility of alternative authorities. If you go with the Bible, you can have certainty to the extent that its text is fixed and well understood. If you go with Hawking, you know that he is no eyewitness to the Big Bang or even the first appearance of life on earth, but you can still have certainty to the extent that you think he deserves recognition as a trustworthy expert on origins anyway. I recommend going with the Bible in any case where Hawking disagrees with it.

    • Bob Wall says:

      What an excellent reply friend! I would concur with Perry that an epistemology conference is in order! Of course with an obligatory attendance from Alvin Plantinga and Swinburne amongst others. But the replies here and the entire project of Evo 2.0 (though I find it extremely fascinating) tend to lean toward the empiricist approach of the scientific community. (With all the short comings that you so eloquently laid out.) A community sworn apriori to methodological naturalism that often swings effortlessly into the philosophical naturalism bantered about so effortlessly (and cross discipline no less) by the likes of Harris, Dennett and Dawkins.

      I think it’s a short coming of seminaries that like William lane Craig says ought to focus more of philosophy and a little less on theology. These guys can parse verbs in Greek at a glance but can’t see “appearance” of design as a philosophical, non-scientific assertion. In Dawkins “Blind Watchmaker” the assertion appears as an Amazing Randi level “sneak” of “Non-scientific” philosophical presupposition into what is otherwise portrayed as a “white lab coat” science discussion on biology. Trained thinkers like Craig suggests would never fall for these slight of hand circularities. Like, “not knowing” what caused the Big Bang (from the academy) equivocates to “having no naturalistic knowledge” of what caused the Big Bang. Asserting that knowledge must always needs be naturalistic is circular and question begging AND par for the course.

      On miracles, one can hardly ignore similar errors by Krauss in physics/cosmology. How can one simply not raise an eyebrow at a rant he offered at an early (a few years ago) debate with WLC where he says something like, “if God stopped the planet from spinning as the Bible suggests do you know what would happen, tsunamis and people flying into space…” The rant qualifies as a naturalistic- theistic quagmire. A philosophical peanut butter-Apple butter sandwich????.

      Anyway, like you said, science is hardly the arbiter of truth. It’s problematic to lean too much to its musings without acknowledging its shortcomings. Shortcomings easily demonstrated by JP Moreland in his treatment of the existence of the soul for example. I’ve oft put it this way. “Science is a great tool as it helps draw the line between efficient and material causation.” For example, God established the hydronic cycle in order to effect the watering of the earth. Absent any specific revelation of God’s non-concurence with its regular operation we are rational to believe that it is operating as intended. We therefore have no need to lend an ear to those who claim that this hurricane or that flood is divine judgement. Storms and floods are merely byproducts of the “means” God established to water the earth.

      I think that some of the most interesting phrases in Genesis are “God said let the earth bring forth living creatures…” and “God formed man from the dust of the earth.” What would this look like to a time machine toting 21st century scientist? Man, I don’t know. I’m willing to follow the methodological naturalist on the “means” of Gods creation of millions of species. I want to know how God has orchestrated it. Silly philosophical assertions about self ordering information etc begs the question on naturalism! It’s why I applaud the challenge issued here! I find the points discussed here interesting as I expect those “means” to end up being mind shatteringly complicated.

  8. Kris says:

    Up front disclaimer: I can’t follow all of the arguments posted in this highly interesting thread.
    Someone posted…”but the point is that one can still have faith that the accounts in Genesis will eventually prove to be true regardless (John 20:29; Rom. 3:3-4).”
    (Consider the next sentence, a given)
    Truth exists outside of “proofs.”

    The existence of Genesis and the Bible may prove nothing except that books were written. The original poster mentioned the personal impact of the scriptures; noting in them he found a quality of truth in Bible stories, that I shamelessly summarize with the phrase; “The Word rings true.”

    I agree that the scriptures have this quality. I believe they possess the quality because of their author, who I also recognize to be the same entity who (mysteriously) gave me life and the consciousness that I employ to consider things.
    Jesus is Lord, no apologies, and little apologetics given.

    The Bible says that one must be born again to believe that Jesus is Lord, and that the Spirit of God will convince the believer of all these truths. None of this can be proven, we are called to accept it as truth and live it by faith.

    If you get stuck on the proofs, maybe you should consider our position and time of arrival in the universe and all of the other unknowns that we are awash in to realize some things can’t be figured out from where we, and Heisenburg, and Job exist.

    The Book says to live by faith. Embrace our fate boldly, or not.

  9. Michael Sexton says:

    I have personnally seen Jesus…what an awesome experience, so there is no doubt for me, but I can also agree that who would believe me, right?…I also had some predictions come true which were recorded down by the then Stockton -Modesto Newscenter. 1) John Lennon would die in Dec. by a guy named Mark…came true, 2.) Hostages would return on day 444- came true. 3.) Next President would be shot – Reagan became Pres and was shot, came true. I couldn’t possibly known these things without the Power of God’s Holy Spirit, you can check the facts at Stockton – Modesto Newscenter ask for the tape for Lynyrd skynyrd’s “Freebird”.

  10. James Wilson says:

    Suppose the bible is true to the extent of the level of comprehension of the original intended audience (what else would make sense?). Suppose that those who mock the outdated communication of that bronze age era are really doing nothing more then demanding an updated revision in their own familiar tongue for their benefit. And suppose that if God were to give a new revised edition at the level of His understanding, who would comprehend it?

  11. Colby Baruch says:

    I really appreciate your video, I‘ve been an atheist for a while and have noticed how angry I have become. It is a good exercise realizing the reason for my anger, is that it’s really grief. I’m a person that loves surprises, and wondering what’s around the corner. I want there to be magic. I kind of need it. And the revaluation that there’s not, is heart breaking. I have felt betrayed for some time , like my whole family was in on it, that they keep saying dads’s just got some work to do, and when he’s done he can be with me and be my friend and understand all my problems, and he won’t have to go back to work ever again. But Dad’s not coming home. He didn’t leave for work, he just left. I don’t believe that God has left. I don’t believe there’s any evidence for his existence. But in my life, he did leave, and it hurt. There is value in understanding that. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  12. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thanks for your greetings and detailed response. I extend the same greetings to you and yours. Frankly, this is the first serious discussion I have ever had with anyone who believes in reincarnation, so you are stretching me, drawing me into unfamiliar territory. I hope you don’t mind continuing our discussion.

    I stand by my claim that the truth is what it is, regardless of beliefs, even if those beliefs are based on not “just a whim” but rather on the claims of trusted modern experts.

    If you believe that Christians have at best only a “poor response to the cruel earth question,” I recommend reading the article by Greg Bahnsen that I linked last time.

    Your answer to my question about a comparison of human nature, past and present, was a surprise that raises more questions. It was a surprise, because I had imagined that you believe everyone on earth already existed on earth at least once in a prior life. If God has been creating new souls throughout the history of mankind and even today, and if the population of earth keeps increasing dramatically, I think this must mean that the number of new souls must tend to exceed the number of souls that decide that they are already good enough, no longer needing further enhancement and ready to remain in their “eternal home in heaven.”

    If I got this much right, according to your philosophy, shouldn’t we expect a general decline in the overall level of spiritual growth and development, especially when the world population explodes? Do you believe that every soul starts out at the same level upon creation? If so, the level would have been at its absolute minimum in the beginning, right? No one would have had any time for enhancement. Now when people die off in large numbers due to war, plague, or epidemic, do the ones who choose reincarnation for further development have to wait in line as the population slowly rebounds? Has anyone studied actual human behavior and population growth by nation in a way that is sufficiently objective to test whether your expectations match reality?

    You mentioned “the Source of All That Is (the Creator God),” and this description resonates with Bible-believing Christians, but what do you believe about his effort, if any, to reveal the story of our origin? You said, “… reincarnation started on this world as soon as there were hominids available for a soul to incarnate into.” How was this information about our history revealed to your sources? You specified “hominids available” as though animals were not available, but you must know that plenty of people who believe in reincarnation have been led to believe that people can reincarnate even into animals. What makes you so sure that your sources are better informed about this than their sources are?

    I understand that you believe that your books compare favorably with the Bible, but let’s reconsider your points of comparison.

    You are impressed by “an amazing consistency between [your] various sources,” but I think you could be even more amazed by the consistency among the various books of the Bible, also written over a long span of time. I know that skeptics claim inconsistencies, but I also know that they tend to dismiss or overlook reasonable resolutions or explanations. I think that whatever mysteries remain can easily be dismissed as inconsequential.

    One of the books in your list, Life After Life, by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., is in my personal library. In my November 1976 Bantam edition, Moody addresses a question relevant to our discussion: “What bearing, if any, do the experiences which you have studied have on the possibility of reincarnation?” If your listed sources are all in agreement, I think we should expect unqualified support for your philosophy, but here is the first paragraph of his answer (pp. 141-42):

    “Not one of the cases I have looked into is any way indicative to me that reincarnation occurs. However, it is important to bear in mind that not one of them rules out reincarnation, either. If reincarnation does occur, it seems likely that an interlude in some other realm would occur between the time of separation from the old body and the entry into the new one. Accordingly, the technique of interviewing people who come back from close calls with death would not be the proper mode for studying reincarnation, anyway.”

    He then wrote most of a full page describing other methods that “can and have been tried in investigating reincarnation” without ever taking a clear stand pro or con. Does this sound to you like an authority whose word on reincarnation should be trusted more than anything in the Bible? His answer struck me as a frank admission that he does not know whether reincarnation actually occurs or not. He may know as much about reincarnation as anyone else who relies on his method of “interviewing people.”

    This leads me to your point about “major disagreements for centuries” that you blame on the Bible. The Wikipedia article on reincarnation lists a wide variety of religions and smaller groups within larger religions that embrace a doctrine of reincarnation. Are their adherents any more unified in their beliefs than Christians of various denominations are? I think the Bible is the main reason for the fact that so many of us can recite the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed with conviction in spite of disagreements about peripheral details.

    In general, however, we ought to agree that argumentum ad populum is a fallacy. At least I am not impressed by your claim that “most of the conclusions [about reincarnation] come from thousands of individuals all over the world of all beliefs …” Besides this, I need more than argumentum ad verecundiam to convince me that modern “medical doctors or psychologists plus books from leading modern-day psychics, reveal these things [about reincarnation] as factual,” regardless of how “generally highly educated” these trusted experts may be and regardless of whether they have written books or offer websites or YouTube videos. Why do you consider such people to be qualified to pontificate on this topic?

    I turn next to your point about “7 billion robots.” You said, “God made animal souls without any need for enhancement.” Are they robots? We agree that they lack the image of God and a spiritual nature, but do they really lack free will and self-awareness? You know that cats and dogs can be housebroken, right? Have you seen this?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-awareness#Animals
    Well, if animals are not robots programmed or controlled by God to be always on their best behavior, why do you suppose God did not create human souls with the same advantage of not needing multiple lives to achieve a satisfactory level of enhanced development? Can you imagine what an eternal home in heaven must be like if non-robotic souls have an option to skip the trouble of a hard life on earth, happy enough with their initial, God-given “level of spiritual growth and wisdom”? Intuitively, I suspect that many would prefer to exercise this option. Remember Eph. 2:1-10.

    Someone has convinced you that people “make a free-will choice to accept the barriers and challenges earth offers” even before they are born. This may be easy to say, but is it true? Does it make sense in view of actual life experiences? Do you think that people living in terribly desperate circumstances would agree that they actually brought their troubles on themselves as planned before birth? How can anyone on earth possibly know that “most [souls] choose [to reincarnate] as they enjoy the challenge and the adventure”? Can you cite a survey or credible authority to support your claim? I hope you can forgive me for not just taking your word for this.

    I need to bring this contribution to a close soon, because it is growing too long, but let me squeeze in just a little bit more. God is by no means distant, too weak, or negligent (Acts 17:24-31). The Bible describes God as loving, gracious, and full of mercy (Ps. 25:6-7; Heb. 2:17, 4:14-16), not cruel or unfair in his dealing with mankind, considering the big picture of eternity. You should already know all about this from your study of the Bible (Job 42:1-6; John 3:14-18; Rom. 3:4, 5:8; 2Peter 3:9; Rev. 22:16-17).

    • Jim Lea says:

      Subject: Reincarnation, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), Hypnotherapy:
      Tom Godfrey,
      Due to modern technology & modern science over the last few decades—coupled with new information from hypnotherapy, NDEs, and psychics—the world has been given the opportunity to discover new details about the afterlife, heaven, the spirit world, God, and his plan that were unavailable and unknowable to the Christians in the first century A.D. Perry Marshall has discovered the same opportunities in modern science for discovering the origins of the universe and life on earth. Darwin and Christians living in his time and before him had no idea that living creatures had DNA and marvelous little conscious cells. They had no idea DNA was a complex, superbly designed code, but now, because of these discoveries, we are able to peer more deeply into the mind of God.

      Thanks for responding to my reincarnation post (12/28/18) with some well-thought-out and fair questions. You comment that you stand by your claim that “the truth is what it is, regardless of beliefs….” We can both agree that the truth is what it is, regardless of beliefs, but we obviously have different versions of what the truth is on religious and philosophical subjects. When we meet in the afterlife, then, and only then, will we both agree on what the truth actually is.

      You wrote: “If you believe that Christians have at best only a ‘poor response to the cruel earth question,’ I recommend reading the article by Greg Bahnsen that I linked last time.” Tom, I read “The Problem of Evil” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen (https://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa105.htm) and right up front he admits: “The ‘problem’ of evil has not always been properly understood by Christian apologists,” which does indicate, as I claimed, that Christians have had a poor response to the cruel-earth question. Bahnsen wanders all over the map trying to explain “evil as a logical problem” and “for whom evil is logically a problem,” rather than getting to the point. Finally he writes: “The problem of evil is thus a logical problem for the unbeliever, rather than the believer. As a Christian, I can make perfectly good sense out of my moral revulsion and condemnation of child abuse. The non-Christian cannot. This does not mean that I can explain why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world.” So, again, even Bahnsen admits he can’t explain “why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world.” I can.

      While it took Bahnsen about 3 pages in Ph.D.-thesis language to say he doesn’t have the answer, I will again state the simple answer I gave previously. Because souls abide in their eternal home in heaven, they develop a life plan and contract before coming down to earth for training. Having been to earth before many times before, they are totally aware that earth is a cruel planet on which to grow and develop wisdom, and they realize they don’t have to come to the earth at all or they can reincarnate, if they so choose, on another gentler planet. Apparently, those who come to earth enjoy the extreme challenges and fun experiences our planet presents. A soul’s general life plan includes its time and manner of death. Based on karma and a soul’s spiritual leaning needs, a soul may choose a horrible death by torture, war, or cancer. But these matters are a soul’s free-will choice. God doesn’t force these choices on a soul. Christians do not explain this to their followers, so agnostics/atheists can assume God is persecuting certain unlucky individuals because they undergo undeserved cruelty when a God could have prevented it. Little do these agnostics/atheists realize that the souls had agreed to undergo the cruelty in pre-birth planning during which they had free will to refuse it. So God is not to blame as atheists claim.

      I’ll us the U.S. armed forces draft as a further example. Back during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, men could be called up and drafted whether they liked the idea or not. Some men avoided the draft through alleged disabilities, favoritism, or studying for the ministry, and this made the system seem all the more arbitrary and unfair to most men. Now we have a much more enlightened system. Men can sign up for the armed forces if they so choose based on their free will. They get a salary and educational benefits, etc. They know what war is like to a degree and realize they could be maimed or killed. So a soldier can’t blame the government to the same degree if he is injured because he volunteered and was not forced to fight against his will. The same is true with souls. If they volunteer for earth duty & training knowing the challenges and consequences, so to speak, and tragedy befalls them, they can’t—and no one else can—blame God for being uncaring, distant, incompetent, or sadistic. Don’t you think this makes total sense and a lot more sense than Dr. Bahnsen’s rambling article on evil?

      Concerning “new souls” on earth, the hypnotherapists and psychics don’t give us any head counts or statistical surveys like we’d like. Dr. Michael Newton has stated that based on his case studies of over 7,000 life-between-life regressions, he estimates maybe 75% of souls on earth may be in their first few incarnations, while older souls may have been here for many more lives. One psychic claimed some souls have been here 50 to 100 times. I have seen no counts on how many new souls God creates every year and how many of them come to earth after some training in the spirit world, so I can’t even speculate.

      You ask if, according to my philosophy, we should expect a general decline in the overall level of spiritual growth and development when the population explodes. That might hold true if the mix of souls of lesser and greater experience remained the same, but if the spirit world sends more older souls to earth to change the direction of life on the planet, hopefully we’d see a more peaceful planet. When souls first started incarnating on earth, there could have easily been a mixture of older and newer souls because souls come from other worlds in the cosmos to incarnate on earth. I suppose if large number of individuals die in wars or plagues, their souls might have to wait in line if they wanted to return to earth right away, but there are other planets available. You asked: “Has anyone studied actual human behavior and population growth by nation in a way that is sufficiently objective to test whether your expectations match reality?” I am unaware of any such study, and I doubt if such an “objective” test could ever be conducted.

      I stated earlier that “…reincarnation started on this world as soon as there were hominids available for a soul to incarnate into.” For instance, hypnotherapist Dr. Michael Newton’s discussed this based on hypnosis of 7,000 clients. Psychic medium Anslie MacLeod commented: “When I talk about there being billions of souls throughout the universe or that humans on Earth only began to have souls 55,000 years ago, I can’t prove any of that. I’m simply quoting my spirit guides” (“The Instruction—Living the Life Your Soul Intended,” p. 13).

      You mention that I must know that “plenty of people who believe in reincarnation have been led to believe that people can reincarnate even into animals. What makes you so sure that your sources are better informed about this than their sources are?” The Buddhists and Hindus have claimed that to be the case for thousands of years, but none of the modern-day books by hypnotherapists or psychics or those having near-death experiences I’ve read state we reincarnate in animals on earth. I believe the modern-day witnesses from thousands of people are more accurate than unprovable tradition from thousands of years ago. I can’t prove or disprove it, any more than a Christian can prove only fellow Christians go to heaven, while Buddhists who don’t believe in Christ (I assume none do) all go to hell unless they acknowledge Jesus. But the sources who do discuss the subject state that human souls are much more complex than animal souls, and it is God’s plan that human souls grow to be like the divine, whereas that is not the purpose of animal souls. Several psychics such as George Anderson, Concetta Bertoldi, James Van Praagh, and Silvia Browne claim all of our pets go to heaven on death and have a separate area of residence in the spirit world. Your pet often meets you when you cross over at death.

      Tom, you declared: “I think you could be even more amazed by the consistency among the various books of the Bible, also written over a long span of time. I know that skeptics claim inconsistencies, but I also know that they tend to dismiss or overlook reasonable resolutions or explanations. I think that whatever mysteries remain can easily be dismissed as inconsequential.” I hate to say this, but I am amazed at the inconsistencies among the various books of the Bible’s Old Testament (OT) & New Testament. I have a 64-page research paper listing perhaps up to 1,000 Bible contradictions. As you know, Christians don’t even agree on which books belong in the Bible (Catholic vs. Protestant), and Christians read a virgin birth and prophecies about Jesus into the Hebrew OT that the Jews—who, by the way, wrote the OT—claim is a total misinterpretation of their Bible. If God really inspired the Bible and it is accurate, why do Christians have to write such lengthy books explaining hundreds of problems and contradictions? What do you think?

      Christians can’t even agree on Genesis 1’s meaning. Some try to take it literally, others claim it is figurative, partly figurative, or maybe poetic, others try to claim the creation “days” are longer than 24 hours, and others, attempting to force Genesis 1 to reflect the Big Bang and the geological and fossil record, have to retranslate and reinterpret Genesis 1 to force it to clumsily fit their latest theory. It is impossible for me to believe an omniscient God inspired such a sloppy, inconsistent, unscientific translation of Genesis 1 and has allegedly been unable to correct it after 3,000 years.

      Tom, you stated: “One of the books in your list, Life After Life, by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., is in my personal library. In my November 1976 Bantam edition, Moody addresses a question relevant to our discussion: ‘What bearing, if any, do the experiences which you have studied have on the possibility of reincarnation?’ If your listed sources are all in agreement, I think we should expect unqualified support for your philosophy, but here is the first paragraph of his answer (pp. 141-42): ‘Not one of the cases I have looked into is any way indicative to me that reincarnation occurs. However, it is important to bear in mind that not one of them rules out reincarnation, either….’” You added: “Does this sound to you like an authority whose word on reincarnation should be trusted more than anything in the Bible?” Tom, you are correct about the 1976 quote, but I don’t claim each source I consult or cite contains all of my beliefs, any more than a Christian book you would quote would contain answers to all questions about God and the Bible. However, Dr. Raymond Moody Jr. kept studying the subject and in 1991 wrote the book “Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys.” In his book he presents the startling findings of research conducted on psychologically healthy patients who under deep hypnosis could describe in vivid detail episodes from other historical periods they could not have possibly known—unless they had lived before. So Dr. Moody does now believe in reincarnation.

      You feel that I am using the argumentum ad populum fallacy, which concludes that a proposition must be true because many or most people believe it. I believe very few in the Western world, where most of the NDEs and hypnosis results were documented, believe in reincarnation. Most of the witnesses who had NDEs were shocked at what they saw in the afterlife as it contradicted their Christian worldview. The same was true for clients who went to a hypnotherapist to find out about childhood phobias and discovered some of their problems arose from past lives—which they didn’t even believe in. I am simply stating there are thousands of independent witnesses who discuss out of body experiences, and there is an overall consistency to their claims—most of which were unexpected. The NDEs don’t originate from one or several churches or organizations at all.

      Christians tend to use these types of arguments too, but the alleged writings of a few apostles—unlike the thousands of modern writings—can’t be verified to have come from the apostles, nor can anyone prove these alleged manuscripts haven’t been heavily edited or rewritten. No one today, however, questions whether Dr. Raymond Moody wrote his books, no one questions his manuscript as inauthentic, and no one doubts that Moody is Moody when you see him talking on YouTube. So my modern sources have much more credibility than 2,000-year-old manuscripts.

      Animals have less complex souls than humans. While some or many animal souls apparently have some self-awareness, ingenious methods of communication, a degree of built-in intelligence, and even the ability to use primitive tools, God is not trying to elevate them to his level by giving them opportunities to grow in knowledge, wisdom, love. No animal is preparing to write books or symphonies or to build computers, software, skyscrapers, or airplanes as humans do. No animal is worried about its moral or ethical behavior or trying to grow in grace. God gave humans free will and with that the ability to use free will to evolve upward in wisdom and spiritual knowledge. This takes many lives because humans learn by experience. No human soul can in one life overcome all of its undesirable characteristics such as anger, jealousy, lust, greed, hate, selfishness, love of materialism, etc. And remember, thousands die young, so they don’t even have a full life. If God programmed all of these characteristics out of people, they would be little more than robots who could never explore, innovate, or chart their own course. What parent would want that in their offspring? I wouldn’t!!

      You claim that “Someone has convinced you that people ‘make a free-will choice to accept the barriers and challenges earth offers’ even before they are born. This may be easy to say, but is it true? Does it make sense in view of actual life experiences?…I hope you can forgive me for not just taking your word for this.” Tom, forgiveness is one of the major characteristics we are supposed to learn on earth, but you don’t need forgiveness for asking an intelligent question. Actually, if I was in your position, having never read books about NDEs and the results of life-between-life regressions and probably never having read a book by a famous psychic, I say it doesn’t make sense. You honestly believe the facts you have had access to, and you have heard almost nothing on this subject before reading my comments. I have a degree in theology and have studied the Bible exhaustively and written about it, so I know where you are coming from as a Christian. If you really want to understand where I am coming from, you need to at least read few of my well-written sources. Otherwise, everything I say will seem odd and heretical.

      But if God’s purpose is to help each soul build character by gaining practical life experiences on an earthly training ground—and God gives us as many lifetimes to accomplish this as we choose—it begins to make total sense that we would plan our lives before incarnating, and we would have learning goals and experiences. While this is a totally alien concept to a Christian, who believes you are saved by grace and don’t need any works or character building, I find this concept unacceptable and simplistic. Just because God forgives our sins doesn’t mean we now have flawless character. We have to develop that character by experience, not by some genetic transplant.

  13. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thanks for another detailed reply. I like the tone of this discussion and appreciate your continuing it.

    On the Bahnsen article, thanks for taking the time to read it and share your comments on it. We agree that “the ‘problem of evil’ has not always been properly understood by Christian apologists,” as Bahnsen admitted, and we probably also agree that the statement applies even to many Christians in general, not just those of us who specialize in apologetics. Does it follow that Christians have a “poor response to the cruel earth question”? Well, I concede that some of us may have such a response, but I think a great response is available to every Christian. I like the one Bahnsen proposed. I know you disagree. Let’s reconsider it together.

    You complained that “it took Bahnsen about 3 pages in Ph.D.-thesis language to say he doesn’t have the answer” and that he “wanders all over the map trying to explain ‘evil as a logical problem’ and ‘for whom evil is logically a problem,’ rather than getting to the point.” Was it really a “rambling article”? I admit that it was lengthy and written in an academic style, as claimed, but neither attribute necessarily makes it rambling. I judge that it is well organized and that every paragraph is relevant to his topic, including those in both sections mentioned in your complaint. Besides this, I think he does get to the point, and you even quoted it (“The problem of evil is thus a logical problem for the unbeliever, rather than the believer”).

    So what is the real problem with the article from your point of view? Please correct me if I misunderstood, but I think you consider Bahnsen’s response poor because he failed to explain “why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world,” and as far as you are concerned, any real solution to the “problem of evil” from a Christian perspective must include a satisfactory answer to that question.

    From my point of view, his response is a great one because of the main point he made, quoted above, in spite of his admission. After all, no Christian should ever think that we must be able to provide a satisfactory explanation for what God does (Is. 55:8-9), and this issue is no exception. Should we feel some obligation in this regard or feel ashamed if God does things we cannot explain? We cannot always provide a satisfactory explanation for what other people do, even people we know well. Frankly, I sometimes have trouble explaining what I have done. So what?

    Stop and think about it. While you may believe you found a good reason to call Bahnsen’s response poor, I think your own solution to the “problem of evil” has exactly the same alleged defect. You have also failed to explain “why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world.” Well, God does no such planning, but people do it instead, according to your philosophy, right? Should you therefore be excused for not answering the question that you hoped Bahnsen would answer? I think your approach requires only a slight modification of the key question. Why does God arrange for people to enhance their development by planning misery in this world? Almighty God surely ought to be able to invent some other system without robots and without requiring multiple lives filled with such misery, cruelty, and wickedness, right? Why not?

    Next, let’s consider your claim that “agnostics/atheists can assume God is persecuting certain unlucky individuals because they undergo undeserved cruelty when a God could have prevented it.” They can assume whatever they please, of course, even this, but what is our best response to them?

    You might rely on your military draft analogy, but I think they could see this as a non-starter, because an Almighty God still “could have prevented” every bit of this “undeserved cruelty.” Why not? Those people who, according to your philosophy, choose the “challenge and the adventure” of reincarnation can still be considered unlucky, because “the Creator’s plan” just happens to involve such evil, cruelty, and injustice as the only way “[to help] each immortal soul to develop its character, knowledge, wisdom, and ability to respond with love in all situations so each soul will become more like the Creator in wisdom and love.” People did not establish this arrangement, but God did, right? In other words, one could still blame God for the cruel world. I think this kind of response from an atheist would take your side right back to square one. What problem have you solved, really?

    Now what about the Christian response? I think it can be stated very simply and in much less than three pages. Skeptics may admit that evil is real and relevant, but they cannot think of any good reason for God to allow such evil, cruelty, and injustice in the world, if he really is both almighty and benevolent, and so they jump to the conclusion that no such good reason can possibly exist. Rather than feeling obligated to find a good reason on God’s behalf, a Christian can point to a logical fallacy in this line of reasoning. Technically, it is called argumentum ad ignorantiam. Christians believe that God has a good reason for allowing whatever he allows, whether he chooses to disclose it or not. This is the missing premise that Bahnsen added to the skeptic’s syllogism. Now what problem remains from a Christian perspective?

    You gave me detailed answers to almost all of my questions, and I still appreciate your taking the time, but to keep this comment from ballooning, I want to focus on just two more related issues. Next up is the question of credibility. I admit that we Christians believe the Bible by faith, in spite of questions raised by skeptics. You listed a number of them that undoubtedly do trouble many honest people. Thanks for agreeing that the truth is what it is, regardless of what people believe. We also agree that people disagree about what the truth is, and we are no exception. This may be because we trust different authorities. If all we had to go on was what we have personally verified to be true, our knowledge would be quite shallow, right?

    Nevertheless, even child-like faith can be reasonable faith. You walk by faith too, but your preferred authorities are experts in “modern technology & modern science” who, “over the last few decades—coupled with new information from hypnotherapy, NDEs [(near death experiences)], and psychics—[… have discovered] new details about the afterlife, heaven, the spirit world, God, and his plan that were unavailable and unknowable to the Christians in the first century A.D.” Let’s compare reasons for considering our preferred authority credible.

    You said, “No one today … questions whether Dr. Raymond Moody wrote his books, no one questions his manuscript as inauthentic, and no one doubts that Moody is Moody when you see him talking on YouTube. So my modern sources have much more credibility than 2,000-year-old manuscripts.” Those reasons for credibility may all be valid and important, all right, but I still see a huge problem here. Why should any of those experts know more than God does about “the afterlife, heaven, the spirit world, God, and his plan”? Frankly, I doubt that they know what they are talking about. I look to God instead and what he has revealed in the Bible as my trusted authority on all of these matters. I care what he has to say about them.

    Within your own philosophy, you should wonder why God would have hidden for so long the truth about such matters of high importance to creatures made in his image, and why, even now, “very few in the Western world, where most of the NDEs and hypnosis results were documented, believe in reincarnation.” Just think how long God’s people have believed that Hebrews 9:27 rules out reincarnation and more generally that the Bible is a trustworthy authority on the truth about the afterlife.

    I also see a logical problem with your confidence in “NDEs and hypnosis results.” Well, let’s set NDEs aside for now, since I think you need to be more specific before we discuss them, but your point about hypnosis results is already clear. Think of a conditional statement of the form, if P then Q, where P and Q are propositions with a truth value (true or false). Now let P be the proposition that a person is actually a reincarnation of a person who lived earlier and died, and then let Q be the proposition that this same person can report details that could have been known to the person who lived earlier but not to the present person without hypnotism. It does make sense to say, “If P, then Q,” in this scenario, but logically, all that can really be documented is Q. Assuming that Q is true, can we logically conclude that P must be true too on this basis alone?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirming_the_consequent

    You may ask, “What other possible explanation for Q can possibly exist?” Even if we could not think of any, this would not justify concluding logically that P must be true. After all, we need to avoid both affirming the consequent and the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy too.

    As it is, another possible explanation for Q comes to mind. We have been warned that “even the elect” might be seduced or deceived (Mark 13:22), perhaps even by spirits (2Cor. 11:14; 1John 4:1; Rev. 16:14). In other words, hypnosis might involve putting a person in contact with “spirit guides” familiar with the formerly living person in question. Can you rule this out? I admit that I cannot prove that this is the true explanation for Q, but this is beside the point. Do we have any rational basis, apart from faith, that P is the true explanation for Q? What other reason can you offer for trusting your authorities on the matter of reincarnation?

    Now what about the Bible? While anyone can simply believe it as a child would, by faith and without question, I can think of at least two features of the Bible that encourage this faith, namely accurate history and fulfilled prophecy. I concede immediately that skeptics challenge both, and I understand that neither one constitutes absolute proof or a logically watertight support for credibility, but I believe they give the Bible the edge over other holy books that I have considered. If you have come across one that should be considered competitive in these areas, I am interested. How do your modern experts or spirit guides stack up in this regard?

    Finally, for this comment, which is already long, I move on next to your short list of reasons to doubt the Bible. Let’s start with Genesis.

    We agree that Christians do not agree on the proper interpretation of the first 11 chapters in particular. I think you will agree that the rest of the book is much less controversial, and this is obviously because the stories about the patriarchs, from Abram on, present no problem to people with a modern ideology that needs to be reconciled with the Bible. I reject the idea that Christian’s can’t agree. It’s just that we chose not to, and I think the reason is often obvious. It has nothing to do with the clarity of what was revealed in those opening chapters of Genesis. It’s all about a willingness or even eagerness to twist what was written to suit modern or somehow preferable ideas.

    You asked, “If God really inspired the Bible and it is accurate, why do Christians have to write such lengthy books explaining hundreds of problems and contradictions?” It’s because we live in a fallen world with people in it who oppose the truth (2Tim. 2:23-26). I remember having an email discussion years ago with someone, who, like you, had been convinced that the Bible is full of problems and contradictions. I invited him to pick one or two instances for discussion, preferably ones that he could defend with confidence. He gave me a few, and I was amazed how easy it was to resolve them. He could easily have found answers on the Internet, but he had evidently never even bothered.

    Let’s consider one that you picked out for my consideration. You said, “Christians read a virgin birth and prophecies about Jesus into the Hebrew OT that the Jews—who, by the way, wrote the OT—claim is a total misinterpretation of their Bible.” You did not give much detail, but I suppose it concerns the proper interpretation of Is. 7:14. The Hebrew ha’almah (5959 in Strong’s) is translated as “The virgin” (NIV) or “a virgin” (KJV). The meaning of the Hebrew term is admittedly ambiguous with regard to virginity. The RSV even has “a young woman” in the main text, with “Or virgin” in a footnote. But what about Jewish scholars? What is their take on the intended meaning? In my 1985 edition of The New JPS Translation, the translation is “the young woman” without any footnote. Is this the last word from the Jewish scholars? Well, maybe so, but these are scholars who may well hold an anti-Christian bias and are eager to discredit our claims based on Matt. 1:18-23. What about Jewish scholars who weighed in on this question before the advent of Christianity? We turn to the Septuagint, of course, and there, the preferred translation is a Greek word that is not ambiguous at all, one that supports the NIV and KJV rendering. I rest my case.

    You may have another alleged contradiction to discuss. If so, please pick one of your best, not one that is easily resolved with just a little thought and research.

    It is past my bedtime. Good night.

    • Jim Lea says:

      Subject: Reincarnation, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), Hypnotherapy:
      Tom Godfrey (your 1/5/19 reply),
      Since we have discussed these subjects for a while, I want to introduce myself. I majored in theology, graduating in 1970, but after a few years abandoned Christianity. I was an editor for “Business Week” magazine for 10 years. I received an MBA, became a CPA, and audited for the Defense Department at Caltech, JPL, Jacobs Engineering, & Parsons Engineering in Pasadena for almost 30 years before retiring. Tom, you write too well and too logically to be an average Christian layman, so I was wondering if you are a professor, a doctoral candidate, minister, an author of Christian publications, or perhaps a lawyer.

      On the Dr. Bahnsen article, I’m glad we agree that the problem of evil has not always been properly understood by Christian apologists, as Bahnsen admitted, and we agree the statement applies even to many Christians in general. You ask: “Does it follow that Christians have a “poor response to the cruel earth question”? You conceded that some of us [Christians] may have such a response, but you liked the answer Bahnsen proposed even though you stated you knew I disagreed. You asked what the real problem with the article was from my point of view. You then said you thought I considered Bahnsen’s response poor because he failed to explain “why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world,” and any real solution to the “problem of evil” from a Christian perspective must include a satisfactory answer to that question.

      Tom, you are basically correct. My feeling is why does Dr. Bahnsen have to write a long-winded thesis-like article to say he doesn’t have a real answer. His paper seemed to me to be much ado about nothing. Since I told you I believe the Christians don’t have a satisfactory answer in the first place, his answer admitting the fact didn’t surprise me but it confirmed the fact that Christians do not have a satisfactory answer to why the earth is such a cruel place. You asked me if his article really was a “rambling article” and admit that it was lengthy and written in an academic style. As an ex-editor, I believe many articles and papers by scientists and theologians are written to impress other academicians in a form of stilted legalese, so perhaps his style didn’t ramble from his perspective. Yes it was organized and pedantic, but I still think because of his weak conclusion it was overkill. You state from your point, “his response is a great one because of the main points he made….no Christian should ever think that we must be able to provide a satisfactory explanation for what God does (Is. 55:8-9), and this issue is no exception.”

      My original point in our first discussion was simply that I believed metaphysical literature I read has a much more satisfactory answer for the cruel-earth question than does Christianity, which I believe can’t offer a convincing explanation. You claim my reason for the problem of evil is as defective as I thought Bahnsen’s response was. I disagree. Bahnsen didn’t offer a convincing answer to why God allows a cruel earth in a lengthy dissertation. I gave a short, precise, defensible answer as follows: God is not trying to save each of us like Christians claim. We are already immortal souls with our home in heaven, and we don’t need salvation. Apparently God wants us to have the opportunity to grow in knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding to approach his level. We can accomplish this simply by learning in the spirit world, but apparently one can develop faster by incarnating on various inhabited planets or training centers, including earth. Earth is a cruel but challenging, hostile but rewarding training center. Souls are given the free-will option to reincarnate or not. If they want a challenging experience, they can select earth. They know ahead of time what they are in for. They can select several “bodies” in which to reincarnate. They can review an overview of that future life in that body. If they don’t like what they see, they don’t have to select that body or life. They choose their time and manner of death. Again, Tom, Christianity doesn’t explain or understand any of this, and it is not in the Bible. So I believe my answer offers some real substance and insight, unlike Bahnsen’s response. The issue is not whether you agree with my answer but whether I have an answer whereas Bahnsen does not. And the conclusion is that I did indeed offer a unique answer to why a cruel-earth.

      You commented that I failed to explain “why God does whatever He does in planning misery and wickedness in this world” and you claim “God does no such planning, but people do it instead, according to your philosophy, right?” No religion on earth and no philosophy, including mine or yours, knows for sure why God chose to do things exactly the way he does. We haven’t interviewed God or done surveys of the souls in heaven. I never said God plans misery or wickedness. I did emphasize that he gives us free will to live our life on earth, and that free will results in cruelty, evil, misery, and war. I assume God knew this would occur because when humans learn tasks, be it driving, walking, playing golf, shooting a gun, swimming, etc., they make major mistakes as they learn. Actors, manager, editors, CPAs, ministers, Catholic priests, popes, politicians, judges, etc. all make big mistakes (plural), but they learn by doing. It takes many lives to overcome all the works of the flesh like greed, anger, hatred, etc.

      You declare: “Almighty God surely ought to be able to invent some other system without robots and without requiring multiple lives filled with such misery, cruelty, and wickedness, right? Why not?” I think we both believe an omniscient and omnipotent God could develop many other systems that don’t require multiple lives filled with such misery, cruelty, and wickedness. But if he is omniscient and we are not, who are we to say God didn’t choose the best design for life and the best design for developing souls. I believe he did choose the best way to fulfill his grand purpose, whether we like or understand his plan or not. As I said, a soul doesn’t have to reincarnate. A soul could choose to incarnate on a mild planet with no war and almost no challenges. But my main argument to begin with was that souls are aware of what they are getting into to a large degree. They are not dumped by an uncaring God into a life of disability, war, torture, and cruelty without their permission and consent—something an atheist doesn’t understand and a Christian can’t explain.

      Tom, you explained that “we Christians believe the Bible by faith, in spite of questions raised by skeptics. You listed a number of them [questions] that undoubtedly do trouble many honest people. Thanks for agreeing that the truth is what it is, regardless of what people believe. We also agree that people disagree about what the truth is, and we are no exception.” Yes, Tom, we all take many things on faith to some degree, religious and secular. I can’t “prove” reincarnation, you can’t “prove” the Bible, and neither of us can “prove” Armstrong landed on the moon, but we are forced to rely on evidence from sources we trust, some of which are always unreliable.

      I identified my sources as books by hypnotherapists and psychics and numerous accounts of near-death experiences publicized by various writers such as Dr. Raymond Moody. I believe the fact that my sources give an overall consistent message. The fact that my sources are current, known writers gives my sources a higher degree of credibility when compared to the Bible writers who allegedly existed 2,000 to 3,000 years ago and the Bible manuscripts, which may have been heavily edited or rewritten. You ask: “Why should any of those experts [of mine] know more than God does about the afterlife, heaven, the spirit world, God, and his plan? Frankly, I doubt that they [my experts] know what they are talking about. I look to God instead and what he has revealed in the Bible as my trusted authority on all of these matters. I care what he has to say about them.” Answer: None of my experts know more about the afterlife or heaven than God. However, I do not believe God inspired the Bible(s), nor do I believe it is his word. In fact, as I said before, the Catholic Christians believe in one totally different Bible than do the Protestants, so Christian churches can’t even agree on the Bible, much less what it teaches and requires. The Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists even have their own “inspired” books. And the Christians take the Jewish Old Testament and claim it means what the Jews (who wrote it) say it doesn’t say. So based on what I just said, the Bible can’t be a trusted authority at all. Christians just can’t show God inspired one set of manuscripts, one set of gospels, or one Bible and then had them accurately translated without error or scientific contradictions.

      So where is our omniscient God in the Bible controversy? If he is omniscient and omnipotent, why was he unable to make it obvious to the world which bible and which bible books were inspired by him, assuming any were? Why did he leave so many contradictory manuscripts, and why does the Bible have so many contradictions? After all, if a perfect God inspired it, the Bible should be an example of godly perfection, not a book filled with hundreds of fairly obvious contradictions that Christians write whole books trying to refute. The first book of the Bible (Genesis) starts out contradicting science and appearing to be little more than repetitions of Babylonian myth. It portrays a harsh, impatient God who kicks his new children out of Eden after their first mistake. This god is obviously an unfit parent and needs to learn a little patience and compassion. This same impatient god later repented himself that he had made man, meaning he just didn’t count the cost and understand what he was getting into, and to cover up his mistakes, he wiped out all of mankind—instead of teaching and parenting humankind as a loving god. But this murderous solution didn’t work either because he goofed again when he chose Noah’s sons and wives to survive the flood. Their offspring turned out to be just as evil as the alleged pre-flood humans were. So Tom, I have a major problem with a Christian’s total faith in the Bible to accurately reveal the nature of the true God and Source of the universe.

      You declare: “Within your own philosophy, you should wonder why God would have hidden for so long the truth about such matters of high importance to creatures made in his image, and why, even now, ‘very few in the Western world, where most of the NDEs and hypnosis results were documented, believe in reincarnation.’” God lets humans run their lives on earth and create their own confusing, false religions to control one another. There were psychic mediums on earth for thousands of years that could have helped mankind with their understanding of God, but, as you know, Christians murdered psychics and alleged witches and anyone else who discussed a belief contrary to Christianity, so that might give you a partial answer. The Old Testament also condemns psychic mediums—because they were competition to the Jewish priesthood. God apparently also allowed a man-made Bible not inspired by him to masquerade as truth for thousands of years? Why? Free will! Why did God allow Christian crusades where Christians murdered others? Why the Inquisition? Why were heretics burned at the stake? Why did Christians praying to the same God kill each other in world wars I and II? The best answer is the answer I gave you: God gave us free will to learn lessons of character, and we abused it trying to control and conquer others. Besides, when you soul returns to the spirit world after each life, it immediately realizes the answers to all the above whys.

      Tom, I read your paragraph on assuming P and Q, etc., and you totally lost me. If you can simplify your language or give me an example, I’ll be happy to respond. Later you say: “We have been warned that ‘even the elect’ might be seduced or deceived (Mark 13:22), perhaps even by spirits (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 16:14).” Yes, I am familiar with the warnings, especially the one about Satan (who is a myth) appearing as an angel of light. I don’t believe the Bible reflects truth as a whole, so I disagree with the premise. But if there were such a satanic deceiver or demons, they could just as easily delude Christians as to the truth as they could delude me. Since Christians fight about the books of the Bible and the meaning of scripture and war with one another, logic would indicate that the evil spirits are very successful in deceiving Christians.

      You mentioned that hypnosis might involve putting a person in contact with “spirit guides” familiar with the formerly living person in question. If you’d read Dr. Michael Newton’s excellent books on life-between-life regression, you’d see that the client under hypnosis often has conversations with his spirit guides (or mentors) during the hypnosis. These spirit guides tend to be older, highly developed spirit beings who guide and help develop the younger souls. These beings know about the past lives of the souls they mentor, plus the past lives of all the other souls in each soul’s soul group or family. These guides often explain to the person under hypnosis why that soul chose his current life based on events in his past life or lives. Perhaps in a past life a soul was greedy and used his power and wealth to ruin fellow humans, so in this life the soul chose to live in poverty.

      You said you “can think of at least two features of the Bible that encourage this faith, namely accurate history and fulfilled prophecy.” You “concede immediately that skeptics challenge both, and I understand that neither one constitutes absolute proof or a logically watertight support for credibility, but I believe they give the Bible the edge over other holy books that I have considered.” I am unaware of any holy book that I feel is inspired or accurate, including the Bible. The Bible’s prophecies aren’t always accurate or even provable. The bible often exaggerates history or presents myth as history (e.g., the book of Genesis, 6 days of creation, a universal flood that was not universal, a talking serpent, the Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Joshua’s day). Jesus claimed his generation would not pass away until all the events of Matthew 24 came to pass, and the apostles of the NT fervently expected Jesus’ 2nd coming was imminent and so taught it in scripture. But the prophecy failed and Jesus never showed up.

      You asked how do my modern experts or spirit guides stack up in this regard. I’ve never met or talked to my spirit guides. I have never read anything about a spirit guide making prophecies. That’s not their function.

      Tom, you reject the idea that Christian’s can’t agree. You state “it’s just that we chose not to, and I think the reason is often obvious. It has nothing to do with the clarity of what was revealed in those opening chapters of Genesis. It’s all about a willingness or even eagerness to twist what was written to suit modern or somehow preferable ideas.” I think it has everything to do with the clarity of what was revealed in the Bible. The Protestants proclaim their interpretation is correct and all others are wrong. The Catholics claim to be the true church, the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches fight with each other, the Mormons teach a totally different slant to the Bible, and the SDAs keep the Sabbath and claim the Bible teaches vegetarianism. I feel because of the Bible’s lack of clarity that it is impossible for all Christian groups to agree even if they somehow agreed to sit down together. Even the Episcopals and Catholics can’t agree, and they are very similar.

      I wrote: “If God really inspired the Bible and it is accurate, why do Christians have to write such lengthy books explaining hundreds of problems and contradictions?” You responded that “It’s because we live in a fallen world with people in it who oppose the truth (2 Tim. 2:23-26).” Tom, I sincerely believe you want the truth and so do I. I don’t oppose the Bible because I oppose truth. I oppose it because Christians can’t agree on what the Bible means, because there are Protestant and Catholic bibles teaching different things, the Bible contradicts science, and it portray an angry, jealous, impatient God who shoots first and asks questions later—a god who murdered millions in a flood because they didn’t meet his vague standard. I am not going to get into an argument over each little alleged contradiction, one by one. Since the authenticity of the whole Bible is in question, there is no reason to get into the weeds. Christians first have to prove they have the right books, the right manuscripts, and that they are accurate and inspired by God, and Christians can’t even come close to doing that.

      While I doubt you will ever agree with me unless you read some of my best sources, I do hope I have shown you reincarnation presents a defensible alternative view of God and the spirit world and that there are different valid ways to understand the world and God that are not found in the Bible. We both believe in a great loving Creator God who created and designed the universe and all life, as well as an afterlife, and those are the two most important things to believe. Peace to You! —Jim 1/9/2019

  14. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jon Peters,

    Thanks for taking the time to read the Bahnsen article and to share your comment on it with me. You raised issues that interest me.

    Let’s consider this one first. You said, “So even if you claim metaphor or hyperbole, you still have these stories characterizing your God as a deity that should be destroyed and not worshiped.” I reject your idea that stories in the Bible characterize God that way. I assume you really meant that, in your opinion, people who read and believe the stories of interest ought to characterize God that way.

    From the point of view of anyone who believes there is no God, the very idea of destroying God is nonsensical. From the point of view of a believer, like me, God, who created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) and even “all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11), will never be destroyed. Satan may imagine that this is possible, but apart from him and his fallen angelic allies, I doubt that God’s creatures are foolish enough to suppose that they might have the power to do such a thing. Refusing to worship God is another story altogether, of course. We believe that God wants willing, not robotic, worshipers (Ex. 35:5; 1Chr. 28:9; John 3:36, Rev. 22:17), so we do have a free will option to withhold our worship, regardless of how foolish it may be to exercise it.

    In any case, we believe that God is eternal (Ps. 90:2, 102:24-28; Is. 45:17; Luke 1:33; Eph. 3:21). He will never be destroyed, not even by his own power. Your statement was about “a deity that should be destroyed,” which is a different issue, but this idea makes no sense to me either, since in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In theory, destruction of God would entail destruction of everything in all of creation (Col. 1:17). Besides this, we are in no position to condemn our Maker to destruction (Is. 29:16, 45:9; Rom. 9:19-20), even if we presumptuously imagine a way to justify this.

    Moving on to related issues, let’s consider next your idea that “[my God] loves to kill innocent children, and sometimes torture them before they die.” You also said, “It’s about all the collateral innocent lives your God repeatedly kills in the OT narratives.” This suggests that it makes sense to believe not only that God kills innocent people but also that he loves to do this. We are told that the death of saints is “precious in the sight of the Lord” (Ps. 116:15), but this does not say that he kills them, let alone that he loves to do this, so where did you get this part of your idea?

    On the other part of it, who killed Job’s servants and children? You seem to believe that God gets all of the blame for this. The Bible reports what four different messengers told Job (1:12-19). They put the blame on various agents of death: Sabeans (v. 15), “fire of God” (v. 16), three parties of raiding Chaldeans (v. 17), and a mighty wind sweeping in from the desert (v. 19). The “fire of God” might suggest that at least one messenger blamed God, but the part about God was evidently only a theory based on the observation that the fire “fell from the sky.” The context suggests that Satan was actually the responsible agent in every case, including the ones involving fire or wind.

    One might reason that Satan was behind each of those deaths, even though to human observers, the direct agents were either fire, wind, or human attackers, so maybe the indirection could be extended, ultimately, all of the way back to God. In the case of the Flood, God (not forces of nature) certainly should be considered the most directly responsible agent of death. If this is what you are thinking, it is a mystery to me why you specified, “God repeatedly kills in the OT narratives.” Why limit this to the Old Testament? We may die at different ages, but we are all doomed to die (Heb. 9:27), and it is reasonable to recognize God as the Judge who has pronounced the sentence of death on mankind (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12, 8:18-22).

    Nevertheless, it is a sentence that we all deserve because of our sin, whether it is sin that we have already committed or sin that we would commit if allowed to do so (Rom. 3:22-24, 6:22-23; 1John 1:8). I see no exception to this rule but believe that God has mercifully and graciously provided a way to be saved, in spite of the death to which we are all doomed and regardless of our age (1Cor. 15:50-57). God loves us (John 3:16; 2Peter 3:9), and Jesus saves (Col. 1:10-14).

    • Jon Peteres says:

      “I reject your idea that stories in the Bible characterize God that way. I assume you really meant that, in your opinion, people who read and believe the stories of interest ought to characterize God that way.”

      It’s not just Job; it’s a pattern we see throughout the bible. What justification is there for killing Job’s children? What did they do to deserve to be killed? What about scores of servants? Let alone all the animals (animals suffer and many have a level of consciousness and awareness – dolphins, apes, elephants). The issue is between God and Satan. How is the murdering of innocent servants, animals and Job’s children not just as bystanders, just collateral damage? Just in the wrong place at the wrong time? And in the end God just replaces the children 7 boys, 3 girls like they mattered little. Just easy to replace – no problems. How is that not the take away here? Stop reading the book of Job like it’s about Job. Rather, look around it and see how God just allows killing of innocents in the great duel. What about Job 42:11 and 2:10? God surely is the cause of the evil upon Job. Either directly or indirectly through Satan. If someone is involved in a bank robbery and just drives the get-a-way car but does not enter the bank, are they still not also put on trial and complicit with the robbers who shot and killed the guard inside? And God does not allow Satan to just kill Job’s children, but He allows Satan to crush them with their own house – the children suffered unless they died instantaneously (unlikely).

      Look at the Flood narrative. He wipes out the entire human race instead of 8. Does he snap His celestial fingers? No, He drowns them. He makes the infants and children suffer a horrible death before they finally die. What about the thousands of pregnant women at the time? God becomes at that instant the greatest abortionist imagined. Are not Christians against abortion?

      What about Pharaoh? Instead of punishing him directly, God kills every first born. What did they do to deserve this? In the narrative do you think the Hebrews were the only non-Egyptian slaves there? What did those other families and firstborns do to deserve to be killed? And if Pharaoh even wants to end the clash, He hardens Pharaoh’s heart to make sure those firstborns ARE killed in the end. What justification for this is there – in ANY other religion or secular system of ethics?

      What about David? Instead of punishing David, the person who has wronged God in the story, God kills David’s son. What did this child do to deserve to be killed? And does God do it quickly? No, he makes that child suffer for a week in agony before He kills it.

      Are you a father? What about Abraham and Isaac? Does your God the “all knowing” not know the outcome beforehand? And yet He makes Abraham go through the motions all the way to gutting his son and then frying his body on a pyre anyway? Can you imagine the horror Abraham must be suppressing? And Isaac? (read the text again) The confusion and the horror of realizing what his father is about to do as he sees the knife raised about his head? What kind of horrible evil monster does this to various people throughout the bible? What do we do today with parents who hear voices that tell them to kill their children? Repeatedly. It’s not just an isolated case – it’s a pattern over and over again.

      I’m not taking anything out of context. I’m not reading it incorrectly. These are your scriptures.

      “We may die at different ages, but we are all doomed to die (Heb. 9:27), and it is reasonable to recognize God as the Judge who has pronounced the sentence of death on mankind (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12, 8:18-22).” Yes, that’s the only recourse you have to fall back on, Divine Command Theory, is it not? It’s a feeble, shallow attempt at saving the scriptures because for one it does not address HOW He kills. He tortures them sometimes before He kills them.

      “Nevertheless, it is a sentence that we all deserve because of our sin, whether it is sin that we have already committed or sin…”

      No, an unborn fetus does not have original sin, nor a 1 week old infant that God kills in the Flood and in Egypt. Neither has had a chance to sin and to say an unborn fetus already carries sin? Are you listening to yourself? And if your great, great, great grandfather killed 100 people in a church by locking the doors and burning it down, YOU are responsible? The idea of original crime or sin is nowhere to be found in our court system; our justice is far superior to your God’s. Christianity makes no sense nor is it fair and rational when viewed closely.

      And BTW, my background is in science and we now have three independent lines of DNA evidence that there could not have been 2 or 8 to found the present population of the earth. The Adam and Eve story is pure myth, as if we needed science to weigh in on the topic. We know there was no flood, no ark, (through geology, etc.) no Exodus from history and science (Google the path they took – it takes 8 days to walk nonstop!! Millions or tens of thousands wandered around a small area for 40 years and never left a trace??). You should be overjoyed that the killing machine called God in your scriptures actually never did what is written. Of course if it’s just stories, what message is it saying to us anyway? The bible has so many errors, contradictions, corruptions – let alone immoral horrible narratives about proscribed commands -that we are more than justified in dismissing it’s claims about reality and history. And the NT cites the OT over 300 times so it rests on the claims of the OT also.

      We ran into each other on John Appleton’s site and you said you were going to write an article addressing the evil God of the Bible, as characterized by it’s own scriptures. All I see here is Divine Command Theory, which fails to impress anyone outside the Christian echo chamber or bubble. Really, if you have something better that won’t get people laughing or crying for the rationalization I’d like to read it? And DCT fails because it does not address why your God makes them suffer before He kills them.

      I’m still waiting for a rational, compassion, cogent and robust defense of the reading of your scritpures. Your scriptures convict themselves internally through Higher and Lower Criticism in the 1800’s and more recently externally through science. Science, history and your own scriptures negate the basis for your faith since the only source for your faith is in the Bible – it’s claims. Unless you’ve had visions I guess. To say that Satan did the actual killing for example in Job just kicks the can down the street. God allowed it. God knows the outcome and future but still allows it, or one can say in Job and other areas He actually does the killing Himself or brings evil directly into the world by His own hand.

      I just don’t see how apologetics solves anything here for the Christian.

      • Jim Lea says:

        Jon Peteres (reply to your 1/14/19 post [subject: Errors in the OT]), you are being too hard on the OT god. Although he was reputed to be omniscient, he had never had children before. He had no idea how difficult just one or two children could be, but after creation he was stuck with Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel and a talking serpent with an attitude, and none of these individuals were in a worshipful attitude 24/7, so the OT god cracked and expelled his children from his garden (though perhaps the serpent was allowed to remain in the garden). Instead of working on his parenting skills and developing a relationship with his children, god retreated to the spirit world and repented that he’d made man. While doing this, he developed a bad anger management problem, and before he knew it, he’d accidentally wiped out all his children except for Noah and his 3 sons & their 3 wives. But being blinded by his anger and failures, god didn’t foresee that Noah’s descendants would become just as wicked as the flood victims. This made him even angrier because he promised he’d never use a big flood again to punish his wicked children, and by doing so he realized he’d deprived himself of a convenient form of annihilation.

        Okay, Jon, I’m sort of joking with you. But the above paragraph does fairly accurately depict how the OT god actually behaved, even though Christians refuse to acknowledge what is actually said. That’s where you have your problem in discussions on this website. You read what the Bible actually says and means, and others pretend the Bible isn’t as illogical & bloodstained as it actually is.

        As a result of discussions with Tom on this website, I had been compiling a list of Bible contradictions, errors, false prophecies, cases where god is out of control, and passages in the Bible that are unscientific, like when god moved the shadow of the sun backward on the sundial as a sign to Hezekiah. I noted from your discussion that you are a scientist and you mentioned DNA. I’m wondering if you are a biologist or maybe a physicist. Did you ever major in theology or attend church? I live in the Pasadena, Calif. area and majored in theology almost 50 years ago, but switched careers, got an MBA, and became a CPA and an auditor. I’m retired now. I noticed this website after reading Perry Marshall’s fine book “Evolution 2.0.”

        I thought you had some good, enlightening points I hadn’t considered such as: God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so he couldn’t change, and then used that as an excuse to murder all the firstborn. And what about all the innocent animals, women, and children who were drowned in the flood? You’re right about David. Why kill his son and not David? Why does Acts 13:22 claim David was a man after God’s own heart? He was a murderer and an adulterer. According to I Samuel 27:8-12, at one stage in life, David and his gang members raided the local population and killed all, plundering their goods. In verse 9 it says “he smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the asses, the camels, and the garments.” If David did this today, he’d be a serial killer on death row.

        I assume you most likely aren’t a Christian so you might be an atheist or agnostic. I am a firm believer in a God of love, but I rejected Christianity 40 years ago. While this might at first glance seem contradictory, I believe in reincarnation (but not the Buddhist or Hindu religion or its version of reincarnation).

        I believe there are answers for the cruel world we find ourselves in that Christians and Jews have never considered or probably never even heard of. I believe they are found in current books on reincarnation, near-death experiences, past-life and life-between-life hypnotherapy, after-death communications, and books by noted psychics. You may be thinking, “This guy is even crazier than I thought.” Fine, give me a few more sentences to explain my philosophy:

        Our eternal home is in the spirit world (i.e., heaven). God wants each individual soul to grow in knowledge, wisdom, and character. This earth and many other planets in the universe are a training ground for the immortal souls God has created. Most souls choose to come to earth and other planets to learn certain lessons by incarnating in a human body. Since souls have free will, they can elect to come to earth or decide they do not want to. That is their decision, and they know the conditions on earth. Most decide to come, and they choose the type of body they will receive, their gender, their aptitudes, their parents, etc. So there is no evil God forcing souls to reincarnate. Some souls for various reasons choose lives of disabilities such as deafness, blindness, being crippled, etc. Others may select one life as a peasant and the next one as a rich land owner. Souls also choose their means & time of death, so if a person was killed in, say, Vietnam, that person’s soul made that choice before reincarnating. A cruel God didn’t secretly impose a Vietnam death on him.

        A Christian would never agree to what I just said or think I am correct. Christians, as you noted in your comments to Tom, can’t explain why there are floods, wars, disabilities, torture, etc. My paragraph above at least offers you a better explanation as to why the world is the way it is. It doesn’t ask you to believe in a blood sacrifice of a god (Jesus) or ask you to believe on faith. With my belief, when you die you return to your home in the spirit world and enjoy spirit life and review your past life. All humans return to the spirit world, not just a few lucky Christians who were supposedly saved. As a result of reading books on the subjects named above for the last 35 years, I believe there is no hell, no devil, no demons, no blasphemy of the holy spirit, no final judgment, no lake of fire, no trinity, no savior, and no need for one.

        There is no way I can explain in detail where I acquired all these beliefs and why I believe them in a few paragraphs. In discussions with Tom Godfrey I gave him three lengthy write-ups explaining a little more of my philosophy. If you are interested, I’ll refer you to them. In the right-hand column under “Bryan’s Story: From Missionary to Almost Atheist to Present Day,” you will see my post (the 3rd one from the top labeled Jan 9 2019 Jim Lea Subject: Reincarnation) or see: https://evo2.org/bryan/#comment-55988.
        My other 2 posts on this website were dated Dec. 26 & 28, 2018. If you choose to comment on my post, I’d be interested to know if you think my overall philosophy seems like it “might” be plausible. Obviously, you have only a few sentences to go on. My sources are all based on current books available on Amazon. Almost all the authors have their own websites, and many are on YouTube, so mine sources are current and observable, whereas, with the Bible, you can’t be sure which manuscripts are valid or how heavily they were edited, or whether the apostles wrote anything. And my philosophy doesn’t have a mindless, cruel, vengeful, jealous, angry god forcing humans to submit against their will to a cruel life on earth and a hell in the hereafter. Jim Lea

  15. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Peace to you too! Thanks for yet another detailed, thoughtful response (dated 1/9/19, at 1:39 pm), including a more personal introduction, and also for your generosity with your time.

    Your guesses about my background are interesting. I have no degree in theology or even a related field, but I earned two bachelor degrees in 1969, so we might be about the same age. I later earned two other degrees, a Ph.D. (1981) and a master’s (1993). There may be thousands of people who have four degrees, even if honorary degrees do not count, but I suspect that only a small fraction of them are like me and have theirs in four different fields. I served a few years with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Guatemala and, after leaving Wycliffe, even longer here in Virginia as a developer or software engineer, but now I am retired.

    Nevertheless, I see my academic credentials and professional experience as irrelevant to our discussion. I make my appeal to you on the basis of common sense, good judgment, and what God has revealed in the Bible, not as an authority you must trust because of my credentials. I am a sinner saved by grace when I was only nine years old. I am no good at holding onto God and living as I should, but God has never forsaken me. He has always been great at holding onto me and guiding me toward the path I should follow, graciously giving me hope of eternal life in glory through faith in Jesus Christ. For all of this, I rejoice, but my joy would be even greater if you ever decide to share this faith with me.

    Back on the Bahnsen article, I don’t agree that “he doesn’t have a real answer,” or that he wrote “a long-winded thesis-like article to say he doesn’t.” I think our difference of opinion here is due to different ideas about what question he should have answered, if possible. He didn’t give you an answer to your question—why does God allow a cruel earth—but so what? What would we do with this information if we had it? We might decide whether it is understandable and good enough to suit us, in our expert opinion, right? I like Bahnsen’s decision to address a more important question for God’s people. Is “the problem of evil” truly a logical problem for the believer? This is a yes-no question that is not simply a matter of guesswork or opinion. I think Bahnsen made a good case that the answer is no, but it is a problem for unbelievers instead, provided they acknowledge that evil is both real and relevant. Bahnsen has an answer, all right, and he took the time to explain it carefully and in detail. I don’t see anything weak about his conclusion.

    It might help to put yourself in Bahnsen’s shoes, and imagine being criticized for not answering a question that you were not even asked. He could ask you, “Why does God want us to have the opportunity to grow in knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding to approach his level?” After all, you believe “We are already immortal souls with our home in heaven, and we don’t need salvation,” right? Why not leave well enough alone? Is our home in heaven really so boring that someone would prefer adventure elsewhere, even “a cruel but challenging, hostile but rewarding training center”? What benefit might reward a soul for deciding to undergo this training, and what useful purpose would it serve? Why bother?

    After describing your philosophy again and in perhaps more detail, you concluded, “Christianity doesn’t explain or understand any of this, and it is not in the Bible. So I believe my answer offers some real substance and insight, unlike Bahnsen’s response. The issue is not whether you agree with my answer but whether I have an answer whereas Bahnsen does not. And the conclusion is that I did indeed offer a unique answer to why a cruel-earth.” Now you and Bahnsen both have answers, but they are answers to different questions, as I explained above. Do you indeed offer “some real substance and insight”? I suppose it all depends on what the truth is. Your answer may indeed be unique, but if it is not true, who cares whether it is unique?

    Thanks for admitting that “No religion on earth and no philosophy, including mine or yours, knows for sure why God chose to do things exactly the way he does. We haven’t interviewed God or done surveys of the souls in heaven.” Amen to that. No problem. I had asked specifically whether you could explain why God arranges for people to enhance their development by planning misery in this world. Is there any end to why questions? You replied, “I think we both believe an omniscient and omnipotent God could develop many other systems that don’t require multiple lives filled with such misery, cruelty, and wickedness. But if he is omniscient and we are not, who are we to say God didn’t choose the best design for life and the best design for developing souls. I believe he did choose the best way to fulfill his grand purpose, whether we like or understand his plan or not.” Yes! Amen again, but do you realize how similar your answer is to the way Bahnsen might answer your cruel world question? Can’t we agree now that those answers are equally satisfactory?

    I wondered recently about your thoughts on abortion. I guess, according to your philosophy, a child aborted in the womb, perhaps quite painfully, would also be a person who had chosen this fate in advance. What sort of spiritual enhancement might result from such training on earth? Why would this alternative experience suddenly become so popular in our time?

    You said that “souls are aware of what they are getting into to a large degree. They are not dumped by an uncaring God into a life of disability, war, torture, and cruelty without their permission and consent.” Who are we to say that God is “uncaring”? How do your experts know what souls knew about what they were getting into before reincarnation? Why should forgetting about this pre-reincarnation decision be part of the deal?

    This brings us back to the issue of the credibility of our authorities. You explained again why you recommend not trusting the Bible to provide credible, trustworthy information about the topics it covers. You even said it “can’t be a trusted authority at all,” but you must admit that many have trusted it in the past (evidently, you included), do trust it now, or will trust it in the future. Let’s reconsider your recommended alternative while applying the same criteria that you used to reject the Bible.

    First, you pointed out that Catholics and Protestants disagree on the canon of scripture, while Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists consider additional books to be inspired and authoritative. Okay, but what about people who prefer a philosophy that embraces a doctrine of reincarnation? Do they have a common “bible” or agree on a fixed set of writings that should be considered a final authority on matters of origins, life, the afterlife, and the flow of human history? If so, where does one get a copy? Into how many languages has it been translated? You listed a number of trusted books earlier, but are they really anything more than your personal selection? As you know, the Christian biblical canon may remain a matter of debate for some of us believers, but it is in the context of a relatively high degree of unanimity that has stood the test of time for many centuries. Do you and your folks have anything close to matching it?

    You said, “Christians first have to prove they have the right books, the right manuscripts, and that they are accurate and inspired by God.” If this is the case, then, to be fair, I think your side has to meet the same standard. I still have my doubts, and until they are settled, I don’t have much incentive to start reading “some of [your] best sources.”

    Next, you brought up again the idea that the Bible is “filled with hundreds of fairly obvious contradictions that Christians write whole books trying to refute,” while you believe that your sources “give an overall consistent message” authored by “current, known writers.”

    Let’s start with the “hundreds of fairly obvious contradictions.” This is no place to review them all, of course, but maybe we can handle one or two of the hardest ones to resolve or explain. In three separate comments now, you have mentioned, either directly or indirectly, the difference between modern Jewish and Christian interpretations of Is. 7:14 (your comments dated 12/28/18, 12/30/18, and 1/9/19). I tried to handle this one already, and you have not yet refuted what I wrote about it. Can we finally cross this one off your list? If not, why not? You did explain, “I am not going to get into an argument over each little alleged contradiction, one by one. Since the authenticity of the whole Bible is in question, there is no reason to get into the weeds.” Good point. It would be silly to take such an approach, but if you can’t find even one or two contradictions that stick to the wall, does it really make any sense to press a case against the Bible based on contradictions?

    For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that unsolved problems in the Bible really should cast doubt on its credibility and trustworthiness. This should not be the end of the story. We should apply the same standard to your trusted authorities too, right? Could it be that your idea of consistency is actually no more than an illusion made possible by a general lack of interest in searching for discrepancies, assuming that a fixed and widely recognized set of writings is even available for scrutiny? I already brought up the issue of reincarnation in the form of an animal, and you recognized inconsistency on this point. Are there others? For example, what about the idea that multiple habitable planets are available for a reincarnation experience? Is your side all on board with this idea?

    On the matter of history, you are convinced that the Bible “often exaggerates history or presents myth as history (e.g., the book of Genesis, 6 days of creation, a universal flood that was not universal, a talking serpent, the Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Joshua’s day).” I am convinced that every one of those stories is accurate. They may well be twisted or misunderstood by many, but is this a good reason to reject the Bible as untrustworthy? As you know, not everyone agrees that the earth is shaped like a ball and that Armstrong landed on the moon, but we should agree that it is still possible to discover the truth about these things. What trustworthy history of origins and life on earth or other planets can we find in the sources you trust?

    We may agree that many reject biblical history and prefer trusting the tentative speculation of modern experts who rely on their interpretation of currently available physical evidence, but since this approach involves assumptions that cannot be scientifically verified or falsified, should their stories really be considered more trustworthy than what God revealed in the Bible? You claimed that the Bible contradicts science, but I suspect you are confusing science with history, which is not in the domain of ordinary science.

    Should an honest seeker doubt the Bible because Jesus has not come back yet, in spite of early expectations and some interpretations of “this generation” (Matt. 24:34, in Greek, ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη)? You could do you own research on this verse, but I think you will find that it is actually a poor example of a prophecy that has allegedly clearly failed. The following article is long and covers much more than the specific verse of interest, but I believe the astronomer Danny Faulkner handles it well.
    https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/stars/reflections-september-23-2017/

    On my paragraph about P and Q, I am sorry I lost you. Did you read the Wikipedia article on affirming the consequent? It includes several examples. I would be glad to try to help you understand the logical problem with concluding that a person is actually a reincarnation of a person who lived earlier and died (P), simply because this same person can report details that could have been known to the person who lived earlier but not to the present person without hypnotism (Q). Rather than trying again from scratch, risking even more confusion, I will wait for you to explain where you get lost after having read up on the type of fallacy involved.

    In my previous comment, I suggested that people who believe in reincarnation may have been deceived by “spirit guides” who do not want them to know the truth about salvation and the afterlife. You explained what you believe about “older, highly developed spirit beings who guide and help develop the younger souls,” but I saw nothing in your description that should dispel my concern about possible deception. What else do you have?

    In closing (for tonight), yes, “We both believe in a great loving Creator God who created and designed the universe and all life, as well as an afterlife.” I have learned about these matters through reading the Bible. What about you?

    Good night.

    • Jim Lea says:

      Subject: Reincarnation, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):
      Tom Godfrey (response to your 1/11/19 reply), I originally posted on this website on 12/26/18 because Perry Marshall, on p. 265 of his book “Evolution 2.0,” said: “I don’t know why the world is the way it is.” I replied that I had a unique answer on this subject that perhaps he was unaware of. I stated that I believed in reincarnation based on dozens of metaphysical books on near-death experiences, hypnotherapy, and books by psychics. (I am not Buddhist or Hindu.) I explained many of these sources I’ve studied offer a different take on why the world is the way it is.

      They teach that Earth is a training ground where souls can come to evolve and grow spiritually and learn how to apply all the aspects of love. They teach that coming to Earth is a soul’s personal choice—souls have free will—and the soul knows what the planet is like before reincarnating—its cruelty, wars, injustice, etc. God does not force a soul to reincarnate or to choose a horrible life. It is the soul’s individual choice. My sources say each soul pre-plans general aspects of its life such as one’s talents, proclivities, and the time of one’s death. Groups of souls choose what roles they will play in the life of other soul group members. Some souls choose lives with disabilities, some choose to be in wars and be killed, some choose a life of abject poverty, while others choose a life of riches, fame, or both. Some choose to major in electrical engineering, theology, or business, while others select hard lives, etc. Souls make these choices based on their specific needs for spiritual growth. Upon death, each immortal soul returns to its eternal home in heaven in the spirit world and assesses its progress. A soul doesn’t need to be saved or become Christian to return to heaven upon death because the soul isn’t lost in the first place but just came to Earth for training.

      Tom, I never intended to get into a lengthy debate over the Christian Bible and the meaning of specific scriptures. I just intended to explain to Perry that there is a logical alternative to his Christian belief that he didn’t know why the world is the way it is. I think I answered the topic succinctly and clearly, but I want to emphasize why I believe I did so.

      Atheists and agnostics will say they don’t believe in a God because the world is a cruel, horrible place to be and either it is that way because there is no God or because this God doesn’t care, is powerless to change it, or some form of these arguments. Christians pretty much tell these unbelievers that they must endure to the end and believe in Jesus, and they will be saved. Unsurprisingly, the atheists & agnostics don’t think this is a very good answer because they want to know why God needs a cruel Earth and/or why he, being all powerful, doesn’t just change it. Atheists & agnostics have a valid point, but my sources provide a more palatable answer than does the Bible/Christianity. (And just because my answer is palatable or Christianity’s answer is a palatable answer does not prove either answer is true, but I think my answer is more palatable.) Here’s why:

      My answer says God planned training centers on various planets to allow souls—which are immortal to start with—to develop and grow in wisdom, love, and spirituality. The Bible is silent on this issue, and many Christians believe Earth is the only inhabited planet in the universe. My answer says souls choose to come to earth of their own free will knowing the planet is a cruel planet. Christians, on the other hand, assume we are just born here on earth, and our main goal is to become Christian and be saved. Otherwise hell awaits the unconverted. And the Bible teaches you have to be called and chosen by God, or else salvation isn’t even available.

      My answer says God is a God of unconditional love, and all souls on Earth will return to the spirit world at death. The Bible claims God is a God of love, but if you aren’t saved, you go to hell and perhaps get tortured forever, depending on what your church teaches. My answer says souls choose their means and time of death before coming to earth, so there is no uncaring God blindsiding them with some form of torture they didn’t choose. Christians, on the other hand, struggle with why God allows wars, the Holocaust, and innocent children to die.

      So in conclusion, at least I can tell an atheist or agnostic that there is a purpose to this cruel world the way it is, that God allows and uses this world to train and develop souls who choose, of their own free will, to come to this training center to evolve and learn wisdom and learn the multiple aspects of how to apply love. I can say many other souls train on other less cruel planets or stay in the spirit world. The souls who come here accept the challenge and are not blindsided. I can tell atheists & agnostics that a loving God doesn’t discriminate against non-Christians or sponsor a hell. I find my philosophy to be a message of hope, purpose, and love, whereas I find the Christian message to be a message that only certain lucky people get chosen by the Father and then hopefully get accepted into the kingdom upon belief in Jesus, while all others who reject Christianity or don’t know about it get tortured in a hell run by a fallen angel named Satan.

      Tom, you attempt to compare my philosophy with the Christian religion. I will do that. First of all, let me emphasize that my philosophy is an eclectic philosophy—not a religion. I said that up front. My philosophy is based on books from several unique areas: NDEs, psychics, hypnotherapists, and after-death communications. While these disciplines are separate from each other, I was stunned to find an amazing consistency and overlap among their explanations of God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works. My philosophy is not based on any holy book, church, or organization. The metaphysical source books I have studied are all current and available. Almost every author I’ve read has a website telling more about them, and many are interviewed on YouTube. For instance, nobody questions whether Dr. Raymond Moody ever lived or whether he wrote books on NDEs—because they are contemporary with us. Nobody questions whether some outsider wrote and edited his books or thinks they were tampered with and his meaning changed. Does this mean everything he says is true and accurate? No, absolutely not. But at least I can rely on my sources being current and written by the person on the book cover. You can hear their philosophy on YouTube.

      Now, let’s compare this to Christianity, which includes a wide range of churches and denominations differing from each other on many key points. While apologetics attempts to explain Bible contradictions, it doesn’t explain the vast differences in belief Christians derive from their Bibles. Some Christians believe in Sabbath keeping, some keep the Jewish holy days, Catholics believe priests should be celibate, some Christians emphasize speaking in tongues, while others, such as Grace Community Church, say speaking in tongues the way the Pentecostals do it is against scripture. Some require immersion for baptism, while Methodists approve sprinkling, and some churches marry gays and others condemn the practice. Some allow divorce, and some don’t. So even if there were no biblical contradictions or absurdities, Christians still are extremely divided in belief.

      Another major problem is the Catholics have a Bible and the non-Catholics have one. If God inspired a Bible, which one? They can’t be different and both be true. The Catholic OT has 46 books vs. 39 for the Jewish Bible. Although some debate occurred about which Gospels or Epistles should be included, all Christians eventually accepted all of the same 27 books over several centuries. However, it is not transparent how the Christian gospel & epistles were written, chosen, and edited. Even though a perfect God allegedly inspired these NT books, there is controversy over translations, which books should have included, and the meaning of the books, so God did a substandard job of inspiring the PT & NT books—assuming he played any role in the process.

      The Hebrew OT was written by the Jews, but the Christians came along and claimed the OT supported Jesus as born of a virgin and Jesus as being the Messiah. The Jews, who wrote the OT, claim the Christians are misinterpreting their book, and if the Jews are correct, Christianity is a hoax, since it relies totally on the OT for its authenticity. Christians claim Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Jude all wrote NT books, but there is no real proof or even evidence of this. You take this on faith. You also take on faith that if they did write the books with their name on it, their meaning was not corrupted or edited over the centuries. There is no way to know for sure, whereas with my philosophical sources, at least you can know the stated authors actually wrote the book.

      Tom, I could write another 3 pages on the immoral god I see reflected in the OT and why I believe parts of the OT are unscientific, erroneous, and either outright myth or gross exaggeration, but I won’t now even though I have compiled a 7-page paper on the subject. Tom, we both believe in a loving, all powerful God and in an afterlife. That’s a major agreement. We don’t agree on God’s purpose and how he implements it? Some day we will meet in heaven. Then maybe we can brag about our earthly knowledge. You will probably say you were right on 6.5% of the issues, and I can crow that I was correct on 6.6% of the issues, so there! But I assume we will have a good laugh at our speculations.

      We can’t prove Jesus died for our sins and we must believe in him to get to the afterlife. We can’t prove reincarnation. If Jesus did die for our sins, why did God choose a human sacrifice? He could have done it another way. If God chose reincarnation and a cruel world for training & developing souls, why? For accelerated spiritual growth? Maybe, but why not cut out much of the cruelty? Several sources claim Earth is one of the most difficult & challenging training grounds, and other planets are not, so a soul could choose a nicer environment without the challenges. But is the soul’s goal is to learn and advance rapidly, he may prefer the harder testing ground. Was the cruelty due to free will, so if God gave us free will, he knew we would develop a cruel world as we learned? Perhaps? Does this seem to be a logical reason? Yes. Can I prove it? No, but there is strong evidence that it occurs this way. Could he have stopped all the animal sacrifices, Jesus’ crucifixion, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the cruel warlike world we inhabit? Yes. Then why didn’t he, assuming he chose that way? We don’t know. Did he not stop these horrors so we could experience what we had sown (karma)? Possibly. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and I haven’t interviewed him. Was the method he chose in his wisdom the best plan for soul development? If he is omniscient, I would assume it was? Does that prove it? No!

      You asked my thoughts on abortion. According to my philosophy, if the mother doesn’t want the child, the soul knows it in advance and doesn’t join the woman’s fetus. The soul may elect to wait until another time when the woman is pregnant, and then the soul could join with the fetus. According to psychic medium James Van Praagh (he was a co-producer of the hit series “Ghost Whisperer” on CBS) in his book “Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey through Life and Death”: “When an abortion takes place, a spirit has not fully invested the body and returns to the God world. It will wait there for another appropriate opportunity to reveal itself. Abortions occur for the mother’s spiritual growth. Before incarnating, a spirit will set up a situation like having an abortion to work through lessons of self-worth, guilt, failure, and self-love” (p. 84). While you may dislike the answer, I think you would have to admit it is theoretically plausible.

      You asked: “How do your experts know what souls knew about what they were getting into before reincarnation?” In two of my books by Robert Schwartz (see his lengthy interviews on YouTube), psychic mediums accessed the client’s Akashic Records or his/her pre-birth plan and planning sessions, and in hypnotherapy the therapist regressed the client thru hypnosis back to his/her life-between-life planning sessions with his spirit guides and council of elders. You wondered: “Why should forgetting about this pre-reincarnation decision be part of the deal?” Van Praagh wrote: “First, by not knowing, we are less homesick for our heavenly existence. Second, if we knew all our past mistakes and failures, we might obsess over them to the point that we would not be able to progress and get our present work done. By forgetting, we start with a clean slate” (pp. 81-82). Upon return to heaven at death, our soul remembers all of its lives.

  16. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jon Peters,

    Thanks for your patience in responding. Discussions here are slowed down considerably, because our comments have to await moderation, often for days, after we have posted them, but maybe this is a good thing. Life goes on, and I suppose we all have other priorities.

    I have no memory of running into you anywhere else or promising to write you an article. Can you still access John Appleton’s site? If so, can you also give me a link to the promise? My memory is certainly not perfect, but maybe the promise was actually made by someone else.

    You said, “All I see here is Divine Command Theory,” but this is a surprise to me. Neither Bahnsen in his article nor I in this discussion have even mentioned it, so it certainly is not “the only recourse” either one of us has to fall back on. We could discuss DCT, of course, but let’s not get distracted. Our current main topic is Bahnsen’s article on the problem of evil, right?

    Your most recent comment is mostly devoted to reminders of biblical stories where people die, in many cases after suffering for some time or when complete innocence with regard to past, deliberate sins should be assumed. Are any of those reports in the Bible in dispute from a Christian perspective? I understand that you do not believe that they are true, but should believers and Christians be upset by them?

    Correct me if I misunderstand your position, but you cannot think of any moral justification for what the Bible says God has done and that one can easily judge to be horrible. You challenge Christians to explain why God would do such things, but you get no satisfactory answers, right? So what? Is it logical to conclude that no moral justification exists, since we don’t know of any? This would be a great example of the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy. You may commit this fallacy whenever you please, of course, but no one has to do this. Christians ought to accept Bahnsen’s fourth premise, that God has a morally sufficient (but possibly undisclosed) reason for the evil which exists.

    This may indeed fail to answer your questions about what God has done but seems to be immoral, but so what? It resolves “the apparent paradox” of God being both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. What problem remains for us? There may be some why-questions that have an objective and discoverable answer, like, for example, “Why do we see eclipses?” Your questions about God are not like those. An ability to give true answers would involve knowing what God knows. Your call for such answers is a preposterous fool’s errand for mortal humans, so no Christian should feel embarrassed about an inability to meet your challenge.

    If Bahnsen ever saw your comment, I think he might be pleased that you recognize evil as a real and relevant concept, one that horrifies you. Evil should horrify all of us, but if there is no God, and we all just evolved, then who gets to say what is good and what is evil? Can’t it be just anyone bold enough to make a statement?

    You said, “No, an unborn fetus does not have original sin,” in response to my comment with no mention of “original sin.” You referred to a theological concept that need not detract us from my original point, which should be relatively easy to grasp. We all deserve to die because of our sin, whether it is sin that we have already committed or sin that we would commit if allowed to do so (Rom. 3:22-24, 6:22-23; 1John 1:8). You may disagree, of course, but can you prove that you are right about this? Or is it just your word against the Bible? You mentioned “our court system,” but this is an irrelevant analogy. God is omniscient. Human judges are not.

    On your response to my question, “[W]ho killed Job’s servants and children?” Job 42:11 does state that God had brought evil or trouble upon Job, but this needs to be understood in the context of Job 42:1-6. I suspect you are still mystified. Another thought experiment may help. Your son goes into timeout for making a bad choice and misbehaving. (By the way, I have four children. You should understand this whether you are a father too or not.) Suppose the boy complains that his punishment is unjust, because his brother could have stopped him but failed to do this. In this scenario, which of the boys deserves to be punished? Or suppose the guilty boy complains that his parents are the ones who should be punished, because if they had never brought him into the world, he would never have misbehaved. Do you agree? If so, could the parents complain that they should not be punished either, because they would not have brought the guilty boy into the world if God had not created Adam and Eve?

    Moving on, let’s consider your remarks about the credibility of the Bible. You said, “Your scriptures convict themselves internally through Higher and Lower Criticism in the 1800’s and more recently externally through science.” This claim makes no sense to me, maybe because I am taking it more literally than you intended. Every means of conviction you listed is external to the Bible, so this is no reasonable basis for a claim that it convicts itself. Obviously, many people have tried to rationalize their rejection of what the Bible says. Meanwhile, many of us remain unconvinced and continue to consider the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. Nevertheless, I understand that you found at least some of the higher or lower criticism convincing. You gave me no further specifics, and that’s fine with me. I think it would be a great distraction at this point to go there.

    There is one aspect of your rationale for rejection—“more recently externally through science”—that does particularly interest me, so I do want to comment on this at least. Like Perry Marshall, you blur the distinction between science and history, at least the ordinary kind of science that involves observation, hypotheses, and repeatable experiments to test them. The past history of events on earth cannot be observed. Nevertheless, one can study currently available physical evidence, make assumptions, and speculate about what happened, even in the far distant past. However, if the underlying assumptions are wrong, any speculation based on them is not necessarily correct, even if all of the “scientific” work is otherwise perfect. This is why I do not recommend trusting modern experts to reveal the truth about history based on their tentative speculation.

    Nevertheless, a big question remains. Are the stories in the Bible, especially those in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, true stories of real history? You say no, right? Well, I believe our answer should be yes, and our confidence in this answer can be, but does not have to be, because the Bible tells me so. Even a child can accept this by faith, of course, but in our time, external support for belief is also available. Anyone who is determined to discredit the Bible can simply ignore or dismiss it, but it stubbornly remains regardless.

    You mentioned in particular the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel following their exodus from Egypt, but I suspect you committed the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy by concluding that since no trace of this is known to you, no trace can possibly exist. You could be wrong. Gerald E. Aardsma, for example, has claimed that great evidence exists in the form of pottery shards discarded along the route. They were not recognized as Exodus evidence because of their age, thought to be about a thousand years too old. He has argued that the Exodus happened in 2450 B.C., which aligns nicely with this circumstantial evidence. I believe he has found even more impressive evidence of the Flood of Noah, which he argues happened in 3520 B.C.

    This is no place to delve into the details. He has written books about those two events. He has written another book on aging. You can get this one as a free PDF download (http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/products/Aging_book.php). It explains his discovery of an experimental vitamin, thanks in part to his study of life span information included in Genesis genealogies. These examples should help you understand why I reject your sweeping claim “that we are more than justified in dismissing [the Bible’s] claims about reality and history” because of “many errors, contradictions, corruptions … immoral horrible narratives …” I hope you will reconsider with a more open mind. Let’s be reasonable.

  17. Jon Peters says:

    You are correct that I may be confused about a previous interaction between us. That may have been a different “Tom”.

    No, Jewish and American archaeologists gave up looking for evidence for the Exodus long ago. 40 years of wandering along a course by millions or tens of thousands that can be walked in 8 days has left no evidence that should be there. There was no Exodus, no Hebrew slaves in Egypt. We know from the geological column and fossil distribution that there was no global flood and a local one does not fit scriptures. We know from newer DNA findings (see the Christian site founded by Francis Collins, Biologos) that the present human race could not have come from two or eight off an ark. We know from shared ERVs, LTRs and pseudogenes that chimps and humans shared a common ancestry about 6 million years ago and common design as an explanation for our chromosomes and phenotypes matching chimps and other other great apes as Venema has written, “is dead”. We have hundreds of transitional fossils. Evolution is fact and does not fit the bible (that’s why there are so many different apologist interpretations of Genesis – they can’t be all right but they can be all wrong).

    The ending of Mark is a contamination. The narrative of the woman at the well is a later insertion – often in two different NT places in ancient manuscripts. The gospels are really anonymous. Six of the 13 Pauline epistles are forgeries. The beginning and endings of Ecclesiastes are forgeries. We KNOW Moses did not write the Pentateuch from linguistics analysis and a computer program run by Jewish researchers, and it talks about his death. No, I am correct that the Bible contains so many contradictions, errors ( the sun did not stand still in Joshua or go backwards in Hab. No other society notes a day of darkness or light and one does not stop the earth spinning at 1,000 mph without earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. that have not been discovered by science and historians.) If you claim God can do anything than you are invoking irrational faith and are dismissed from using evidence to support your views.

    But that’s not want I want to talk about. I want to return to my first assertion and hear your defense that the God of the bible is a horrible immoral monster. Christians claim that God is all loving, powerful, knowing and wise.

    1. He kills the first-borns of Egypt in the Exodus narrative. And hardens Pharaoh’s heart so the murders go on.
    2. He drowns infants, children in the Flood
    3. He kills David’s son slowly, over a week
    4. He drowns pregnant women in the Flood, thereby committing abortion by Christian’s standards. What else would it be according to you?
    5. He kills Job’s 10 children to test Job (or allows it – same thing). All the servants are killed but one.

    What did ANY of these children, infants, adults, and the unborn due to deserve being killed, sometimes in great pain? He could flicked his finger but no, He has to kill them slowly.

    I could go on. Is not the God of the OT the same as the God of the NT?
    Then what is your response? Why do you worship a child killer?

    Possible answers:
    1. The children are not innocent due to original sin. Really? It’s OK to kill a 1 week old infant? And what about the ones not born yet during the Flood? How can they have “original sin” if they are not original yet, born?
    2. God is all powerful and who are we to judge. That’s DCT according to my reading. But He not only kills them, he torture them first. Drowning, suffering of David’s son for a week before He kills them
    3. God by your definition can’t do wrong be immoral, so your objections don’t apply. Nice try. By ANY measure, the God of the Bible is an immoral monster. If one appeals to #3, are you not saying the the justice and ethics derived through progressive human development is superior to the Biblical standards?

    I haven’t mentioned killing your children because they backtalk, killing people who do some work on the Sabbath. Really, death is appropriate for those “crimes”? Or instead of telling His children about germ theory and how to save millions from malaria and diarrhea He says don’t eat shrimp or wear clothing made from two threads.

    Given how your scriptures characterize your God, why do you worship Him? Why would anyone want to be a Christian after not only reading the bible but studying it? And the NT references the OT over 300 times, let alone Jesus supposedly saying that He had not come to destroy the OT but to fulfill it. How can you use the bible to support your views and refer to it like it is something worth bringing forward given the horrible God of the bible and it’s corrupted source? If your faith comes from the Bible, why are you not suffering from incredible migraines due to overwhelming cognitive dissonance?

    A Christian made a film about God killing the innocent. A rational explanation is? And even if you agree with me that none of this happened, what message are we supposed to take away from it? Reportedly the event of the film did happen. Here’s a 10 minute vignette from near the end of the movie. You actually should watch the whole thing; it’s very good.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yveO8-nTcc

  18. Jon Peters says:

    Again, I’m more interested in why Christians would read their Bibles, study how it portrays God as killing innocent children and even the unborn, and still say He is worthy of worship. Anyone? Any new reasons besides DCT and “original sin”?

    Actually, I watched the movie last year. I readily admit I’m hardly one to critically examine the documentary. So I looked for others that have a background in archeology and other fields that could drill down on the film. The fact that many on this site hold to a historical Adam/Eve, flood, ark, Moses writing the Pentateuch, and an Exodus means despite the intelligence of those on this page they have compromised true searching for truth for a religious agenda. Exodus? Below are two articles you may find interesting. But really, do I care that he moves the date by 200 years or so? The evidence is STILL missing for the Exodus. And if it happened, the evidence must be there. Tons of it. What if Einstein’s predictions were not found? What if they had not found the Higgs? Do you really think the scientists would be rationalizing and putting out excuses for why it was not there? No way, they would go back to their models and throw them out or modify them. Time to think like a scientist and stop the religious rationalizations.

    Anyone here have someone in the military? Ask them about moving 20,000 to 2 million people (depending on the apologist) with all their belongings around an area the size of West Virginia for 40 years and not a trace of the wanderings located. Google it on your smart phone as I did – it’s 8 days a walk if no stopping!! No latrines, broken pottery, trash pits, graves, etc. And the Bible tells us their route. It’s no wonder Jewish and American archeologists gave up looking for evidence of the Exodus decades ago.

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2015/02/first-of-all-there-is-no-conspiracy-a-review-of-patterns-of-evidence-exodus-1/

    http://www.debunking-christianity.com/2016/01/patterns-of-poor-research-critique-of.html

  19. Jon Peters says:
    • Watch Patterns of evidence.

      • Jon Peters says:

        If one is going to posit a historical event of the magnitude of the Exodus then the predicted evidence must be there and it is not. Nearly all the apologist readings I’ve done consistently discusses reasons why there is no evidence in the desert. That’s not evidence; that’s highly functioning excuses and rationalizations. Just like the sun standing still in Joshua and going backwards suddenly in Hab. would leave a hell of lot of incredible footprints that are not there. Paleontologists can find fossils millions of years old. Archeologists can find all kinds of evidence for ancient civilizations 10 – 20K old – arrowheads, sewing needles that are 40K old, graves, etc. But they can’t find evidence for the Exodus. And the Bible tells them where to look. Sorry, this kind of thinking is why apologetics is really for the believer and never makes it in the real world of academia. I’ve watched the movie. Go read my links. Your turn to open your eyes. And mind. If anyone starts from a point that they could not be wrong (theists), they will never grow in wisdom. I don’t care if there is a god, afterlife or the supernatural. Would be amazing and neat. But the evidence that must be their given the claims is not. Some of us choose to follow the facts wherever they lead, whatever the cost.

      • Jon Peters says:

        STILL waiting for some replies for why anyone would worship a God as portrayed in the Bible that does not include DCT. Innocent children, pregnant women. And kills by drowning, crushing, or in the case of David’s baby a slow painful death over a week when He could get the same result as snapping His celestial fingers without the torture. Ever think about what it would be like to drown? Ever look into the eyes of a 1 year old and see terror as you are sewing up their chin laceration? I have, many times.

        BTW – that movie “God On Trial” is worth watching all the way through. It was made by a Christian and the film presents all sides fairly and evenly. Last time I checked one post said it actually occurred. It’s a Masterpiece production, done very well. Even my Christian friends said it was worth the watch since it stimulated discussion and thinking.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNQJ6kqbmFs

  20. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jon Peters,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply and the “Atheist Digest” video clip, which closely parallels a case against the God of the Bible that you have presented here in various forms. Was the movie actually your source? I don’t see any really new material here to bolster your case, but let’s go over what we have on the table.

    At 7:51 in the video clip, the character who has been leading the kangaroo court comes to his verdict, the climax of this part of the movie, positioned as an answer to a question about what the Amalekites learned as they faced the wrath of God. Was it a good answer? I suppose atheists would argue that there is no God, and for them, the question is about as silly as asking what Little Red Riding Hood learned about the Big Bad Wolf. Bible-believing Christians should give an entirely different answer, one consistent with the teaching in Ex. 20:4-6; Ps. 104:10-35; and Rom. 2:2-11, 11:22-24. We sing about God’s goodness. We may even enthusiastically recite, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.”

    An atheist might challenge believers to face your list of biblical examples in an attempt to convince us that it is reasonable to judge God independently, more or less as in the video clip, and to reach exactly the same suggested verdict without having invited God into the courtroom, figuratively speaking, for an opportunity to defend himself. Why do we praise and worship God anyway, instead of “suffering from incredible migraines due to overwhelming cognitive dissonance”? I already told you. We accept Bahnsen’s fourth premise, that God has a morally sufficient (but possibly undisclosed) reason for the evil which exists, but let’s reconsider the three alternative answers you listed.

    1. We agree that some children are completely innocent of past sins that God is obligated to punish, but it does not follow that God must exempt them from any suffering until they have actually committed such a sin. In a human court of law, only actual commission of a crime, followed by conviction, should ever result in a fine or other punishment, but now we are talking about what God can do in a court over which he presides. Big difference. We aren’t just talking about “a 1 week old infant” either, but rather about any man or beast that has lived, is alive, or will live in the future (Rom. 8:18-25). Death has reigned ever since Adam sinned (Rom. 5:12-21; 1Cor. 15:21-22), and it should be obvious that this is because God is holy and has to treat sin as a serious matter. You seem to be horrified by the story about David’s infant son in 2Sam. 12:13-20. Are you even more horrified by the millions of children aborted before they are even born in our own time? Everyone dies. God allows this for sure, but I wouldn’t say that God kills us all. He is the one who gives us life and an immortal soul (John 3:16; Acts 17:24-28; Rev. 21:3-8, 22:1-5).

    2. Yes, God is omnipotent. Right, we are not qualified to judge God, though I admit that people sometimes do feel free to do this, as illustrated in your video clip. We should all realize how foolish it is to exercise this freedom. We would be foolish to sass or insult a judge in a human court, as though we were in a position to judge him instead of the other way around. Imagine how much worse it must be to behave like this before almighty God!

    I do not see any connection at all to DCT. What do commands have to do with God’s right to judge us instead of the other way around? I admit that I am no DCT expert, so if I am missing something important here, maybe you can explain it better or provide a link to a helpful article. Otherwise, I think we can stick to basics.

    At 4:58 in the video clip, we hear a hostile retelling of the story of David’s infant son. You used it as an example of torture and suffering. I admit that the Bible is not clear about the nature of the child’s experience. We are told that the child “became ill” (NIV) or “was very sick” (KJV). The Hebrew word (’anash, 605 in Strong’s) literally means to be frail, feeble. I suspect the term could apply even if the child was in a coma that whole week. Classifying this illness as torture seems to me to be pessimistic speculation or exaggeration for dramatic effect. The focus in the text is on the suffering that David experienced, just one part of the chastening he received for his sin. Was David’s analysis of God’s response (Psalm 51) anything like the one featured in the video? The movie analysis strikes me as one that only an enemy of God might propose.

    For comparison, see Job 42:1-6 for Job’s final analysis of the suffering he endured. What was Job talking about in verse 3? Chapters 16-17 and 19 might be good examples, but see what Job says in 19:23-27 even in the midst of his suffering.

    Your mention of drowning must be a reference to everyone who perished in the Flood. If this is supposed to be yet another example of torture, we should at least agree that death in this case would have come relatively rapidly—in minutes, not days or a week. But what happened to these people after they were drowned? I don’t know either. That judgment was up to God, as always. If the victim was an unborn child, should this count as abortion? Certainly not. An abortion involves killing a child during a pregnancy without any intention of killing the mother too. Let’s not get confused.

    3. This one is a straw man, from my point of view. I believe that God can do whatever he wants to do, but he chooses not to do anything contrary to his holy nature. He may be “an immoral monster” by your “measure” or by the measure of God’s enemies, but many of us do not pretend to measure God. He measures us, but how can we honestly measure God? I am certainly not saying that “the justice and ethics derived through progressive human development is superior to the Biblical standards.” What gave you this idea?

    Why would you want to align yourself with God’s enemies by insulting God and passing judgment on him? Why do you refuse to accept Bahnsen’s fourth premise? You seem to be eager to convince believers that we have misunderstood the true nature of God, but if you deny that he even exists and do not believe the Bible is a trustworthy source of information about anything, let alone what God has done, why should we consider you a well-qualified expert on the proper way to understand how the Bible characterizes God? Why even bother to try to talk us into ignoring the guidance in Rom. 3:3-6?

    You want a “rational explanation” of “God killing the innocent,” right? At 8:20-38 in the video clip, the character portraying the judge and prosecuting attorney asks, “Oh, at the beginning when, when [God or Adonai] repented that he had made human beings and flooded the earth, why? What had they done to deserve annihilation? What could they have done to deserve such wholesale slaughter? What could they have done that was so bad?” No answers intervened before the verdict was pronounced (again) less than two seconds later.

    What are your answers? I guess your answer to the why-question would be that it was because God is a horrible monster, but this is really just a conclusion based in part on your answers to the three what-questions, right? I guess your answers to those are all the same. You don’t know, right? Do you then go on to conclude, since you do not know any moral reason for annihilation, that there must not be any? Anyone who does this falls for the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy. You don’t have to be fooled any more.

    The Bible actually answers all of those what-questions in Gen. 6:5-7 but without including all of the gory details. We can only imagine what they might be. God spared us the horror of being specific, but we can assume that those details were suitably terrible. You may still wonder about the innocent children. Did God not know how they would behave later if their lives had been spared? Do we know what their eternal destiny was after they perished? Even the people on the ark eventually died. It was only a matter of time in either case. Besides this, Noah was called “a preacher of righteousness” in 2Peter 2:5. For all we know, many of those who perished in the Flood were given an opportunity to repent but refused the invitation. There might have been other preachers who were not mentioned, evangelists not on the ark because they perished before the Flood came. Who knows?

    This comment is already long, but I want to squeeze in comments on your second and third paragraphs too.

    It may or may not be true that “American archaeologists gave up looking for evidence for the Exodus long ago,” but so what? Should a reasonable person conclude that there must not be any such evidence? Nonsense! Have you even considered the evidence Aardsma covered in his book on the Exodus? I have the book and even helped with proofreading it, so it is going to take more evidence of careful scholarship to convince me. Even if believers had nothing at all to support belief in the biblical account of the Exodus, this would be no proof that it never happened. I have a similar comment about the Flood. I helped proofread Aardsma’s book about the Flood too.

    Your take on evidence for a human/chimpanzee common ancestor also seems to suffer from insufficient consideration of important evidence. Have you seen these articles?
    https://creation.com/did-humans-evolve-from-apes
    https://creation.com/human-chimp-dna-similarity-re-evaluated
    https://evolutionnews.org/2011/09/critically_analyzing_the_argum/

    You said, “We have hundreds of transitional fossils,” but so what? In theory, every single fossil should be a transitional fossil, and we have gazillions of fossils. Those fossils should be an embarrassment to people who believe in evolution, because so few of them can be arranged in a credible sequence that might be considered documentation of dramatic evolutionary changes in body design over millions of years. Relatively few transitional series are considered suitable for propaganda purposes, and you ought to notice something suspicious about even those few that pass muster.

    Most of the fossil record represents the remains of marine invertebrates. Plants and insects are also plentiful but substantially less well represented. Even fewer fossils represent the remains of terrestrial vertebrates. How are these groups distributed among the presentable series? I think you will find that terrestrial vertebrates predominate, while no high quality series represents any of the other kinds of living organisms. Why is this? Could it be because using the poorest part of the fossil record justifies convenient appeals to imagination to fill gaps and identify fragmentary remains? I think the bottom line is that the fossil record shows that any “evolution” that took place in the history of life on earth was probably entirely within kinds, what one might call adaptation or microevolution.

    You mentioned nothing on astronomy this time, but I thought you might be interested in this article, which could help broaden your perspective:
    https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/solar-system/neptune-monument-to-creation/

    You claimed, “We KNOW Moses did not write the Pentateuch,” and you went on to list two reasons. The Bible does not actually state who wrote any of those books, and everyone should recognize that Moses did not write Deut. 34:5-12 posthumously. As for evidence based on linguistic analysis, it should always be considered tentative speculation subject to revision as more is learned. Even if Moses was not the human author, and even if its actual human author is never positively and conclusively identified, this would be no reason to conclude that those books are not actually the inspired word of God. The same goes for the book of Hebrews in the New Testament.

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