A Tribute To Edward Fudge For His 70th Birthday

Photo of Edward FudgeCoinciding with the occasion of Edward Fudge’s 70th birthday, a historic theological conference is being inaugurated in Houston, TX on July 11-12, 2014. It’s called the Rethinking Hell Conference, and is organized by the outstanding group of Bible scholars who run the Rethinking Hell website and podcast. If you’re anywhere within driving distance of Houston and have a high regard for the Bible, I wholeheartedly recommend you considering attending this conference.

I wrote the following tribute to Edward for the conference. I’m sharing it here in the hope of exposing you to him and his work, and also to invite you to attend the conference and meet Edward yourself.


The Bible says that the eyes of the Lord go back and forth across the earth, looking for those whose hearts are truly His (2 Chronicles 16:9). When God was looking for someone to lay the foundation of the desperately needed reformation on the doctrine of final punishment, He certainly started with this in mind: a heart that truly loved God and His ways.

However, for this task, God needed more than a true heart. He searched for someone with a brilliant mind, paired with the ability to persevere and use that mind tirelessly for decades in service to the Lord. God knew that only the pairing of talent and tenacity would accomplish what He had in mind.

God needed someone who could handle the notoriety that would come from the bold declaration of scripture. This person would need the ability to endure critics who would claim that anyone who questioned the traditional view of hell deserved to suffer eternal punishment themselves. Equally challenging, the reformer would need to remain humble during seasons of wide acclaim, even when made the subject of a feature film.

The one for this task would need the grace to enter a global debate with courage but without pride. God also expected someone with the character to remain true to all of the other teachings of scripture, who would “walk the talk” and live a life that honored the Lord in every way.

Most of all, God needed someone who would cry at the thought that people would reject God’s gracious gift of eternal life and end up eternally lost. In this way, God’s servant would truly share His heart, who does not rejoice in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23), but does everything short of breaking the free will to invite everyone to share eternity with Him. (John 3:16)

God found the man for this calling in Edward William Fudge. Edward exemplifies God’s heart, and brings his world-class gifts and talents to the challenge of reformation with dignity, graciousness, and a true servant’s heart. Only in eternity will we know the true impact of Edward’s life-long devotion to God’s eternal purpose.

For me, Edward is a wonderful role model, a man like the one I hope to become. I want my heart to grow into one that, like Edward’s, beats with love for the Lord and concern for those who God wants to reach with His grace, love, and truth.

Edward, on your 70th birthday, I pray that God will grant you the satisfaction of hearing “well done, good a faithful servant,” along with a renewed strength and vision that says “you’re just getting started, My son. In fact, you haven’t seen anything yet!” (Ephesians 3:20)

Why Evolution Is True: A Pragmatic Theist’s Response

Cover: Why Evolution Is True
In an earlier post, I claimed that the popular definition of the debate between advocates for creation and evolution is incorrect. The debate is not religion vs. science, but it is actually religion vs. religion. Both systems of origins have a faith-based worldview through which they interpret the world. Those on the naturalistic evolution side tend to use a more scientific vocabulary but nevertheless show passionate religious fervor in defense of their position.

Several readers posted thoughtful and challenging comments, including one by Brett who said I might be “unaware of huge swaths of data that might help [me] make a better informed conclusion.” He suggested I read Why Evolution Is True by Dr. Jerry Coyne. I am very grateful for Brett’s suggestion, as Dr. Coyne’s book really seems to encapsulate the case for naturalistic evolution in a comprehensive, yet approachable manner.

As I interact with Dr. Coyne’s book, all page references come from here: Coyne, Jerry A. (2009-01-22). Why Evolution Is True. Penguin Group, US. Kindle Edition.

For the purpose of this article, I will define “evolution” as Dr. Coyne does:

Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species—perhaps a self-replicating molecule—that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection. (p. 3)

The creation vs. evolution debate is a deep world of its own. As with almost any field of study, the deeper you go, the more you learn you don’t know. With so many brilliant scholars on both sides, it almost requires a PhD for admission. Even without a PhD, people like me can begin to understand the issues when explained clearly, as Dr. Coyne has done.

Praise For Dr. Coyne

I can see why evolutionists like Dr. Coyne would be frustrated with creationists who have no understanding of the immense amount of work that has gone into studying evolution from so many scientific disciplines. Decades of research by brilliant minds, millions of scholarly pages written, and rigorous attention to minutia are regularly disregarded and disrespected by clueless creationists. Evolutionary scientists are justified in dismissing most creationist input as uneducated, irrelevant blathering.

Dr. Coyne is an excellent researcher and communicator. I found his voice engaging, bold, and articulate. Kindle tells me I made 313 highlights and 251 notes. I found myself as a creationist debating with him, even while knowing that I am far outclassed in both my knowledge and experience. I’m a software developer, amateur theologian, and musician. Coyne is a prominent professor who researches fruit fly species on remote islands. What capacity do I have to engage in a debate at these levels?

None, to be sure. Nobody reading this response will be impressed by my credentials, experience, or eloquence. Black-belt evolutionists like Coyne have sparred with inferior creationists for decades, deftly ending matches using ninja-like techniques to brush off unintelligent ID proponents as quickly as Chuck Norris trounces an alley full of thugs.

Why This Matters

Even so, I must respond. Here’s the thing: one group is seriously wrong. The truth or error of either view of origins has serious implications upon human understanding of life and our place in it. Coyne’s tries to salve this concern in his final chapter, where he takes issue with “alarmist” claims that the theory of evolution causes a breakdown of morality or promotes other societal ills. He says that people fear evolution not because of the theory itself, but because of the fearful consequences of accepting a worldview that does not need a Creator.

Nevertheless, the stakes are very high, and both views cannot be true at the same time. Even reading through the amazon.com reviews of Coyne’s book, people say they used to be creationists, some raised in conservative Christian homes, who upon accepting the teachings in Coyne’s book rejected their faith and turned to atheism. Atheists like Richard Dawkins ascribe their lack of belief in God to their confidence in the theory of origins advocated by Coyne. It seems that theists may be justified in their concern about the widespread teaching of naturalistic evolution and the impact on other areas of thought and life.

Yet, if naturalistic evolution really is true, as Coyne and his colleagues assert, then the fear of those who disagree is irrelevant. The truth is the truth, and the consequences are not the fault of those who write what is true. Those who cling to a creation myth just because they don’t want to let go of familiar religious beliefs are on the wrong side of the debate, if naturalistic evolution is true.

Science By Another Name?

So, is evolution really true? Did Coyne make his case?

Before I answer that, I have a few more observations. First, I continue to be disturbed by atheistic scientists who claim they are objective while clearly being the opposite. These scientists use the vocabulary of the scientific method to appear unbiased, willing to follow truth wherever it leads. However, in reality they want naturalistic evolution to be true so desperately they are heavily biased in its direction. Coyne’s quote of Darwin’s own fears illuminate this point very well:

I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of complaint and now trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick! (p. 145)

It’s not that the evolutionist is searching for validation of their theory out of a noble, altruistic, objective search for understanding, but because they passionately want to be right and are sick with fear over being wrong.

As an amateur theologian, I have read many apologetics books advocating doctrines of many religious faiths. I’ve seen arguments made from multiple sides of various issues. Each advocate of a view is typically passionate about their position. They see their way as right, their arguments as balanced and fair, and the claims of those who they disagree with as illogical, unfounded, and foolish.

In most denominations, there are doctrines that are considered “essential,” meaning that you must accept them to be considered a follower of God as they define it. If you don’t accept the teachings, you are outside orthodoxy, a heretic, and outside of the faith and fellowship.

Experience in this realm gives me the ability to see Coyne’s book as clearly apologetic in nature. This is an evangelistic book. Look at these quotes from his introduction, where he enumerates his frustrations with the “unscientific” American public:

You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion. (intro)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans feel that if evolution is taught in the science classroom, creationism should be as well. (intro)

Perhaps the most frightening statistic is this: despite legal prohibitions, nearly one in eight American high school biology teachers admits to presenting creationism or intelligent design in the classroom as a valid scientific alternative to Darwinism. (intro, emphasis mine)

The claims he make are so “obvious” to an enlightened, “scientific” mind, that if you don’t accept them, you’re simply not a scientist. You are “religious,” and therefore, outside of the orthodoxy of the scientific establishment.

Today scientists have as much confidence in Darwinism as they do in the existence of atoms, or in microorganisms as the cause of infectious disease. (intro)

What about the scientists that don’t have this confidence in Darwinism? They aren’t scientists? What about the many physicians, biologists, geneticists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, archaeologists, physicists, chemists, and scholars from many other disciplines who don’t accept the dominant theory? Even though they passionately research, document, and teach using their vast education and knowledge, they aren’t scientists because they reach different conclusions?

One of Coyne’s most obviously biased statements is in his suggestions for further reading:

With the exception of some articles in Pennock (2001), I omit references to the writings of creationists and advocates of intelligent design (ID), for their arguments are based on religion rather than science. (p. 254)

Even if you are someone who agrees with Coyne, are you OK with him squashing dissent by marginalizing them? Ridiculing their education and intelligence? How does this make you more objective, scientific, and open-minded in your search for truth? If you were in the minority, would you want to be similarly disregarded?

Lessons From The Distant Past

For any student of the Protestant Reformation, the behavior of the evolutionist establishment is very familiar. From the time Luther’s 95 theses were nailed to the Wittenberg church’s door, powerful religious forces worked relentlessly to silence debate, marginalize critics of the status quo, and assure that only the official message would prevail. Fortunately for the world, the reformers were able to overcome years of persecution and bring needed changes. Unfortunately, some of these reformers used the same power-mongering tactics to silence “heretics” in later years. Many atheists look at these inexcusably awful periods of religious history and rightly decry the horrible injustices. Then, they fail to see that they are doing the same thing today to scientists that bring valid criticisms against to the evolutionary status quo. Coyne’s repeated assertions of near unanimity in the “scientific” community and regular jabs at “creationists” for their “foolish” ideas are examples of this line of thinking.

Chutzpah

Let’s now consider whether Coyne demonstrated Why Evolution Is True. If I had a one-word summary of the entire book, I’d choose “chutzpah.” Incredibly bold and demonstrably false claims, apparently borne from deep frustration from having to defend what he sees as so obvious, regularly assume near unanimous support of Darwinism and universal distain for the possibility of intelligent design. Here’s one of many such claims:

The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it. Creationists simply pretend that the evidence doesn’t exist. (p. 88)

The reader who is really open to following evidence wherever it leads must take care not to be swayed by Coyne’s authoritative and persuasive statements like this. It only took me a short time to find several articles that challenge his biogeographic arguments, including this, this, and this. I’m not sure who is pretending or avoiding the subject, but I wasn’t able to find evidence for that.

Coyne regularly uses phrases that claim naturalistic evolution is an “indisputable fact.” Here is a summary argument that exemplifies this tendency:

These mysteries about how we evolved should not distract us from the indisputable fact that we did evolve. Even without fossils, we have evidence of human evolution from comparative anatomy, embryology, our vestigial traits, and even biogeography. We’ve learned of our fishlike embryos, our dead genes, our transitory fetal coat of hair, and our poor design, all testifying to our origins. The fossil record is really the icing on the cake.(pp. 209-210, emphasis mine)

His evidence is only “indisputable fact” if you start with the presupposition that naturalistic evolution is true. If you are open to other logical and more probable explanations, you can see very valid alternative explanations for each of the claims listed above.

Reasonable Dispute?

Other much more well-educated and capable people have devoted their lives to studying these things, earning PhDs in scientific disciplines that qualify them to address these point-by-point. One of the best responses is “Why Darwinism Is False” by Dr. Jonathan Wells, PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley.

Here are some challenges to Coyne’s “indisputable facts.” Estimated fossil timeframes are in constant flux, and not nearly as fixed and unchangeable as Coyne suggests. Comparative anatomy only proves common ancestry if evolution is your starting point; if you start with design, it is just as easy to see common design traits. Embryology is extremely controversial despite Coyne’s bold claims to the contrary. Vestigial traits and dead genes are regularly shown as neither vestigial nor dead by new research that reveals previously unknown purposes. The transitory fetal coat of hair (lanugo) is actually critical for the baby’s development of healthy skin. Arguments for “poor design” are purely religious conjecture based on a straw-man idea of Coyne’s caricature of a deity’s design intentions.

Despite the repeated claims of indisputable evidence, a core requirement for evolution, speciation, has never been observed. Coyne attempts to prove speciation by describing a bacterial experiment that supposedly showed new species emerging over time. However, the definition of species is specious, and becomes narrow or broad depending on the context. Coyne makes a devastating admission about species definition in Chapter 5. After describing the diversity of all the different breeds of domestic dogs who presumably share a common ancestor in the Eurasian grey wolf, Coyne says:

Think of the diversity you’d see if all these dogs were lined up together! If somehow the recognized breeds existed only as fossils, paleontologists would consider them not one species but many—certainly more than the thirty-six species of wild dogs that live in nature today. (p. 126)

This statement alone should call claims of “indisputable fact” into question. How can we interpret sparse fossilized remains with such certainty when if we found the equivalent Chihuahua and St. Bernard remains in prehistoric layers we’d be completely confused about their origins?

Human Evolution Indisputable?

Consider the boldness of Coyne’s description of human evolution:

We are apes descended from other apes, and our closest cousin is the chimpanzee, whose ancestors diverged from our own several million years ago in Africa. These are indisputable facts. (p. 192, emphasis mine).

Later, however, this certainty seems to wane:

But first a few caveats. We don’t (and can’t expect to) have a continuous fossil record of human ancestry. Instead, we see a tangled bush of many different species. (p. 196)

Like theology, paleoanthropology is a field in which the students far outnumber the objects of study. There are lively—and sometimes acrimonious—debates about whether a given fossil is really something new, or merely a variant of an already named species. (p. 197)

The problem is that there are simply too few specimens, spread out over too large a geographic area, to make these decisions with any confidence. New finds and revisions of old conclusions occur constantly. (p. 197)

But then there is a two-million-year gap with no substantive hominin fossils. This is where, one day, we’ll find crucial information about when we began to walk upright.(p. 199)

That last quote is clear evidence of unshakable faith in the theory: “one day,” all of the gaps will be filled in.
Coyne’s confidence returns in reference to “Lucy”, the famous “transitional form”:

One could not ask for a better transitional form between humans and ancient apes than Lucy. From the neck up, she’s apelike; in the middle, she’s a mixture; and from the waist down, she’s almost a modern human. (p. 202)

Yet even evolutionists aren’t so convinced of Lucy’s “indisputable” utility. Consider this quote from the abstract of the Journal of Human Evolution, where Dr. M. Maurice Abitbol says:

The conclusion is that Lucy’s erect posture is unlike that seen in modern humans and is still a mystery. Not enough fossil data are yet available to make a final judgement on the nature of her erect posture.

Conclusion: Confirmation Bias

Overall, I think Coyne’s book is clear and convincing proof that confirmation bias is amazingly powerful. People find what they seek. Starting with a purely materialistic view of the world and a powerful passion to prove that evolution is true, the observations of the real world can be filtered and put into a story that makes sense from that point of view. It is still a faith-based view, with a hope against hope that men will eventually find materialistic answers to questions like the origin of life itself, the origin of the 1GB of DNA data, and the millions of transitional forms missing from the fossil record.

Ultimately, it is up to each person to discern their real motives for studying any subject, whether scientific or theological. Do you really want to follow the evidence wherever it leads, or just validate your worldview? Do you filter out certain evidence or distort things to avoid having to consider bigger questions?

Do you share Darwin’s “sickness” when you consider something like the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, that transforms from a caterpillar to a cocoon to one of the most beautiful flying creatures, then migrates thousands of miles to the same trees its great-grandparent chose? If so, why?

If you are led away from faith in God because of reading books like Coyne’s, your faith was not grounded in reality. Evidence for a Creator is much stronger than Coyne and his friends relentlessly claim. While they mock intelligent design advocates and creationists (equating debates with them to “playing chess with pigeons”) they are actually exercising extreme faith-based tunnel-vision dressed in scientific language. Don’t reject the Creator based on their confident, peer-reviewed, yet flawed reasoning. Faith in the Creator is actually much more reasonable than faith in no Creator.

I don’t go so far as to ask that atheists change their minds today, but simply to recognize their biases, religious views, and the unproductive way they dismiss valid arguments from those with whom they disagree.

If you are open to considering other interpretations of the facts of nature, consider the following books:

By Design, by Dr. Jonathan Safarti
Darwin’s Doubt, by Dr. Steven Meyer
The Mysterious Epigenome, by Dr. Thomas Woodward
The Design Revolution, by Dr. William Dembski

The Curriculum Battle Is Not Religion vs. Science; It’s Religion vs. Religion

Brian Boyko, a candidate for Texas state representative, recently posted an article on his website entitled “Why Are Some Hell-Bent On Teaching Intelligent Design?”. A self-described “geek,” Boyko criticizes people of “faith” for interfering with “science” instruction. He makes some interesting points that I believe represent the arguments of many people who believe the universe came into being without a Creator.

I interact with Boyko’s post as a fellow “geek,” with over two decades of software engineering experience. I affirm and share his desire to look at the world through a pragmatic lens informed by experience in the world of high technology.

We find these questions at the heart of the debate over the teaching of origins: Who has the power to define the vocabulary? Who gets to decide what certain words mean?

For example, see how Boyko uses the words “scientific,” “evolution,” and “evidence”:

The problem is, within any scientific body of merit, evolution is not under controversy. Certainly the methods by which evolution manifests can be; but to say that evolution isn’t real is to be blind to the mountains of evidence that support the theory; while “intelligent design,” or “creationism” isn’t supported by any scientific evidence at all.

The dictionary definition of “scientific” cites the word “empirical” as a synonym, which means “based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.”

By that definition, any truly “scientific” evidence for “evolution” is limited to the micro-evolution we can observe in creatures who adapt to changes in their environment. Verifiable “mountains of evidence” do show that both plants and animals respond to significant environmental stresses by either producing offspring more suited to the different environment, or by dying off.

In contrast, Boyko’s use the word “evolution” asserts that everything in the universe came to be without a Creator’s involvement cannot be described with the same meaning of “scientific”, since nobody has observed that process, nor does any evidence for that exist. Instead, that theory of origins stems from a statement of faith like this: “Since micro-evolution is true, spontaneous generation of new species with no designer must also be true. There is no need for a Creator.”

I think a more appropriate synonym for the word “scientific” as it is used by Boyko is the word “orthodox”. While they often criticize organized religion, those who call their view of origins “scientific” actually behave as an organized religion themselves. They have statements of faith that define what is orthodox or heretical. They include a priesthood with ecclesiastical hierarchies like peer-reviewed journals and college tenure systems. While they ridicule theistic people for insisting that their faith inform how they teach their children about origins, their view is really a competing system of faith. It is a faith without a Creator.

The debate over the teaching of origins is not “religion vs. science.” It is “religion vs. religion.” It is a battle of priesthoods. The atheistic, secular humanistic priesthood is currently winning the day in most of public education. They have stolen the word “science” and redefined it according to their orthodoxy. Their statement of faith forbids mention of a Creator, since it is unorthodox to them. They fight heretics by insulting their intelligence (no intelligent person could look at the “evidence” and think there was a Designer, right?), ridiculing them as old-fashioned, out of touch, or not enlightened.

Imagine this: a PhD Astrophysicist who is also a Bible-believing Christian applies to be a professor at UCLA. She wants to teach her view that the organization of the galaxies points overwhelmingly to an Intelligent Designer. Will she be hired? No way! Why? While they’ll say she is “unscientific,” the truth is that she is unorthodox to them. Her views are heretical in their faith system. She will be rejected for exactly the same reason that an atheist would not be hired to teach a New Testament class at Liberty University—non-conformance to the statement of faith.

Further on, Boyko asserts:

Let’s be frank for a second: Faith is a powerful motivator. It is very hard to convince someone that they’re wrong on the facts when they believe it is a moral duty to insist their side is right.

I couldn’t agree more. The irony is that while those in the atheistic origins camp deny they are operating in faith, this statement applies directly to them. Their naturalistic faith insists that since we understand small things, the big things will be explained the same way. Since they have figured out many things about how life works, they believe they’ll eventually solve every other mystery without need of a Creator. What a leap of faith!

Boyko continues:

Because to a believer, faith is a virtue. Indeed, the highest virtue. And evolution may not challenge God’s throne, but it challenges a highly held belief that God created man as the apex of life on Earth. To suggest that man holds no special place amongst the beasts—that our rationality was not the spark of divine creation but the machinations of blind terrestrial navigation belies the idea that God places us first among all his creations.

Is it verifiable, with empirical, observable evidence that “man holds no special place amongst the beasts”? Of course not. This view is another article of atheistic faith. The place and value of mankind in the world are religious ideas, theistic or not.

This quote underscores the problem that creationists have with godless teaching of origins in public classrooms. A faith position is being advocated, one that makes a religious claim about mankind’s “place amongst the beasts.” No real observable science teaches this; it’s a doctrine of secular humanism. (Observable evidence actually leans towards mankind’s superiority. What other species is having this debate?) By capturing the language of the debate, calling their faith “science” and heretics “unintelligent,” they change the playing field and convince lawmakers to establish their religion under their redefined meaning of “science.”

Here’s how real science becomes secular humanistic faith. First, an actual fact is observed, such as the discovery of fossilized animal bones. These bones are brought to the PhD university priests—I mean, scientists—and their story of faith is overlaid on the discovery. They explain how these bones show that this animal evolved from other bones we’ve found that are millions of years older. Observable? Nope. Scientific? Not by the word’s real definition. Faith? Absolutely.

Boyko ended his post with the testimony he gave to the Texas State Board of Education. He argues that since theological concepts transcend human reason, they don’t belong in the science classroom. He invokes St. Aquinas to make a pious-sounding argument, that it is beneath us to assert there is a Creator in our teaching of origins:

And to attempt to force the Divine—which transcends reason—into the small confines of reason alone, not only makes a general mess of Science, but also diminishes the Divine. To lower the supernal to the study of the terrestrial is, well, blasphemous.

So, if you see evidence of design in creation and say there is a Creator, you are blaspheming? This is quite a stretch, one that has nothing to do with the teaching of origins. The idea that evidence of design in the world points to the existence of a Designer is not above human reason—it is actually very reasonable. It is only blasphemy to claim there is a Creator through the lens of an atheist’s statement of faith.

If you really are going to limit science to that which is observable, then you have to expunge the science curriculum of your religion too: no more hiding behind millions of years, no more contrived stories of unobserved spontaneous transformations of one species into another, no more assertions that men are no different than monkeys. Stop redefining words to make your religion sound secular. It’s faith, a godless faith, and it doesn’t belong in the classroom.

It’s time for the debate over origins to be honestly framed for what it is: a battle between religions. People who see evidence for the Designer must not surrender the vocabulary of words like “science,” “evolution,” and “evidence.” Let’s show the establishment of secular humanistic religion for what it is: an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of every American for the purposes of indoctrinating the next generation into secular humanistic faith.

Dialog with an Articulate Atheist

Last week, an editor asked to republish my article “A Christian’s Apology To Atheists”. My tweet of that news yielded quite a response from atheists on Twitter and as comments on this blog.

A thoughtful atheist by the handle of @CosmoBrony wrote such an articulate response to my post that it deserved more than just a threaded comment. So, I’m going to interact with his comment here in hopes of continuing a positive dialog. @CosmoBrony’s words are quoted before my responses.

I was compelled to write an answer to your post because I had the feeling that [you] grossly misunderstand and misrepresent the Atheist position.

@CosmoBrony, I very much appreciate your careful and intelligent response to my article. I am grateful because I received many other responses that suggested I should be locked up, get medical help, and other things I won’t mention here. Courteous, productive dialog is so lacking in our culture, especially in dialog between Christians and atheists, that I welcome the chance to interact with you in a positive way.

I also appreciate your willingness to help me understand your position. Having only been an atheist as a teenager, I don’t have a comprehensive or personal understanding of the reasons most people become atheists. Your articulate response is one that can spark a very helpful discussion that may help both of us come to a deeper understanding of one another.

Your whole post is based on the assumption that most if not all Atheists reject a religious view of the world because they are scared off by the eternal punishment in hell that Christianity “officially” teaches. Disregarding that this point ignores that there are numerous other religions who both teach and DON’T teach such punishment for sin – which tells me that you are consciously or subconsciously equate Christianity with religion, which I find somewhat egocentric – I can tell you that that is HARDLY a reason why people become or are Atheists.

I certainly recognize that not all atheists cite the traditional teaching of endless torment in hell as the primary reason for their atheism. In any belief system, there are many reasons people come to their conclusions. My assertion is not without basis, however. There are many atheists who, while they may not cite endless torment as their primary reason for rejecting the Bible, it is a factor. Others do cite it as a significant reason.

Bertrand Russell, noted 20th century English philosopher, in his “Why I am not a Christian”, says this: “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” Russell’s first moral argument against Christ is that he believed that Christ held the traditional view of hell, based on what he had heard from Christians in his day.

The famous author, Anthony Flew, was an atheist most of his life until he became a deist in his eighties. He is quoted in the NY Times as saying: “the God in whose existence I have belatedly come to believe [is] most emphatically not the eternally rewarding and eternally torturing God of either Christianity or Islam but the God of Aristotle that he would have defined.” Even though Flew ended up citing the evidence of design as a reason to believe in a Designer, he could not bring himself to Christianity in large part because of the “eternally torturing” God that Christians proclaimed.

Disregarding that you present as fact what is clearly belief – I don’t want that! I actually, consciously, do not want that. I don’t want the universe to be ruled by a all-powerful madman who thinks he has to torture and kill his son/himself just to forgive people who broke HIS OWN RULES! Why not JUST FORGIVE THEM?! “A tooth for a tooth”, or what?

I agree with you, and I don’t know any Christian who wants the universe to be ruled by an “all-powerful madman.” If things are the way you described, then I’d still be an atheist myself! If Christians have misrepresented God to you in this way, then you are right to reject that message.

The thing is, Christians don’t always represent God well. So you might ask, if God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he do a better job of managing his message so that it is more clear to everyone, and keep obnoxious “Christians” from distorting doctrine so significantly?

My belief is that the all-powerful God is content to allow human free will to play out as we desire it to play out. The Bible says we asked for the knowledge of good and evil in a way that God didn’t proscribe. We seem to be getting what we asked for. I believe God preferred that we learn good and evil without having to experience it as we do today. But alas, we are immersed in the effects of our good and evil choices all the time. More evil is done in the name of God than in many other names. Is that God’s fault? Or, is He giving us what we wanted, allowing us to see what grows from the seed we wanted to plant?

In Jeremiah 29:13, the Bible says: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” What does “all your heart” mean? Does it mean pushing past the foolish talk of people who speak for God to find the real thing? Could it mean looking beyond the hypocrisy of people who say they believe and yet behave very differently?

And I certainly don’t want to live eternally – I can think of nothing more horrible than that. Live long – yes. Forever – never! Sometimes the concept of heaven seems even more scary to me than hell. Think about it – a perfect, eternal life! Nothing could change, nothing could improve, you could not learn anything new, you could not help anyone because everything is perfect already. Eventually, after 100, 10000 or a googolplex years, you’d get bored – but you still have eternity before you. You’d get MAD! No, thank you!

Amen! If eternity is like that, “no, thank you” is right! If the impression you have of eternity is derived from movies that have people in white robes playing harps on clouds forever, that would be very boring. Christians haven’t done much to refute that idea, making it possible that our anemic teaching on heaven is confusing as many atheists as our errant teaching on hell.

Please indulge my Bible quotes. They may not mean much to you, but I use them because they show where I’m coming from. In 1 Corinthians 2:9, it says “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” The last book of the Bible, Revelation, in very symbolic language describes a future filled with the complete renewal of the heavens and earth. The eternity that is to come has no crying, pain, or death.

God would not go to all the trouble to create humans, invite them to freely choose His good ways, and then offer them an eternal life if it was going to be mind-numbing, boredom-inducing madness. Instead, the Creator who made everything we see and cannot see offers us eternity to join with Him in enjoying and learning and yes, helping each other to grow over all eternity.

Our best technology allows us to see galaxies that we cannot begin to fathom. A future era where only good things are done, where no evil exists, and where no dying or sickness exists, will bring about more learning, growing, adventure, fulfillment, and excitement than we can imagine.

I WANT to die eventually. And I WILL. That realization makes every second on this planet so much more precious and wonderful, every day you get up, every time you eat, every time you hug someone, kiss someone or meet someone new is such a invaluable thing because it will end one day, because it is limited. Every of your accomplishments is so much more valuable because if you’d have infinite time on your hands, you could theoretically do EVERYTHING (like, everything)!

There is good in what you say here. Time is limited. The Bible describes this life as a vapor that passes away, that is here for a moment and then gone. Many people forget this. We live like things will go on as they are forever, and we take people, things, health, opportunities, and life itself for granted. Your expectation of certain death, while I believe is a little short-sighted, drives you to a positive view of life, and that is to be commended.

And that is supposed to make me feel better than the view that I just die, skip the middleman and immediately go to the endless death part HOW? I’m not even going to mention how disgusting and repulsive the idea of an all-powerful, cosmic judge, who deems physical or psychological punishment – outlawed by most western cultures – an acceptable form of punishment, is!

Well, since you did mention this, it seems like it deserves some kind of response. I think your idea of God is disgusting and repulsive because you don’t know Him. If somebody told me something like, “@CosmoBrony is the kind of person who likes to torture small animals for fun,” I might be justified in not wanting to let you babysit my dog. But if that person is lying, then how would you feel if I base my belief about you on such a lie?

And I don’t want a “loving” god above me. I want to be the master of my own destiny. I want humanity to decide what it means to be a human being on its own. And want humans to decide what is good and bad on their own, without such “truths” being dictated from above. The idea of a loving “father” might seem consoling to many, but to me it is like a golden cage taking away our freedom and the yearning for it seems like the admission that humanity is weak, immature and needs guidance – to stupid for its own survival!

Your honesty is welcome, and your clarity is commendable. I like the saying “there are only two religions in the world: either God is God, or Man is God.” You have accurately described the “Man is God” option. It is an understandable view. May I ask: while you may not want Him now, what if He wants you? Could this dialog be a part of His call to you?

But here comes the kicker.

If you’d knew about the Atheist position, you’d realize that all the things I mentioned so far are not actually “reasons” for rejecting religion. No, they’re more like “assets”. If they’re reasons for something, they are reason for fighting religion and wanting to end it. But for being an Atheist, there is actually only ONE, valid reason:

There is not the tiniest amount of factual, scientific evidence for the existence of a deity.

This. That’s it. Period. I’d go so far as to assert that a vast majority of Atheists – more than three quarters – are nonreligious because of this solitary reason.

No evidence for X – no reason to hold X as true.

Thank you for so clearly explaining your own reason for being an atheist. While I don’t know you well enough to know that you can speak for 75% of atheists yourself, I do respect that it’s your view and likely the view of many other atheists.

I have been a professional software developer for over twenty years. Science, math, electronics, and computers have consumed most of my life. Reason, facts, evidence, and reality are at the core of my being.

As a teenager, I decided I was going to be an atheist because of the lack of scientific evidence. However, circumstances caused me to take another serious look at Christianity. During that evaluation, I refused to do or believe anything fake. I was compelled by my scientific mind to only accept what I understood to be reality.

After reading and considering things for some time, I realized that coming to accept any view requires some level of faith. You can stare at a chair for a long time, analyze its construction, engineering, and observe others using it, but until you sit on it yourself, you cannot know for certain that it will hold you. Sitting on the chair the first time takes a “leap of faith”.

Atheism also takes a great deal of faith. It requires you to believe that you have seen all of the possible evidence, and have interpreted all of that evidence accurately. You have to be certain that you are in no way deceived, and that the apparent silence of the deity or his invisibility means, conclusively, that no Creator exists.

Years ago, I helped a client set up an instance of an open source genome database. I was struck by the complexity of the data. Hundreds of megabytes are required to store the human genome, which is among the most complex natural data structures humans have observed.

As a programmer, I often make changes to other programmer’s work. I open a source file, make an intentional change, and the program behaves differently. Genetic scientists do the same thing in their work. They alter genetic structures in an attempt to make the genome produce a different output. I can confidently say, with over 20 years experience, that genetic modification is programming.

Bottom line: just as every source file I have ever edited was written by a programmer, every genome ever modified by a geneticist was designed by The Programmer.

I know there are numerous attempts at naturalistic explanations for the existence of the incredible order in creation. The desperate attempt to explain creation without a Creator requires a tremendous amount of creativity, ironically.

Where you see no evidence, I see overwhelming evidence. Have you ever seen a self-reproducing, self-healing system with countless symbotic sub-systems that didn’t have a designer? Computer simulations of possible explanations are just that, computer simulations! They were programmed by a programmer who made assumptions and directed the simulation’s design. Are these simulations evidence that undirected chaos produces the design we observe? No matter how many millions of monkeys you had writing code over millions of years, none of them would ever write Google.com, let alone design a living, breathing organism.

How much faith does it take to believe that naturalistic explanations will eventually overcome all of the “gaps” in our understanding? You have to hope it’s just a matter of time before all of the “magic” becomes provable by science, eliminating a Creator. I’m sorry, I don’t have enough faith for that. Instead, the more we learn, the deeper we go, the more evidence for a Designer is revealed.

What am I left with? Overwhelming evidence for X, overwhelming reason to believe X.

Now, like Flew, even if you were to accept the evidence for a Creator, it doesn’t necessarily lead you to believe that the Creator’s Son is Jesus Christ. That road is too long for a single blog post. But, as you know, that is what I believe, and I do so because of reasonable, factual, scientific reasons that are more plausible than any alternative I have yet discovered.

That simple. Everything else is secondary – the religious values, which are either obvious (kindness, generosity etc.) or disgusting (sin, salvation, all-powerful madman, …); the enormous political and social power churches gain from their “flock” which they almost always misuse; the continuous hindrance of scientific progress that lasts to this day (“Teach the controversy”, anyone?); the enormous and almost uncrossable gap that religions create between people – all secondary.

Organized religion has often been the biggest stumbling block for faith over the millennia. I submit to you that this is not God’s fault. We may decide that we know what God should or should not do to correct what is done in His name, but alas, if He is God, we must expect that He may do things we don’t understand now.

Your apology seems sincere, and I think [sic] you for the effort of wanting to cross the gap between the religious and the nonreligious. But I think that you’d be much more effective at it if you would not grossly misrepresent the position of the side you are talking to.

I think most people are religious because of the moral guidance, social function and emotional support it gives and not because of the “truths” about the universe which it teaches – which are provably wrong. And the question whether or not one or more Gods exists is a matter of fact, not of emotion, preference or belief. When it comes to facts, science is our most powerful tool, and if there is no scientific evidence for the existence of a deity, then everything except nonbelief in such a thing is nothing but delusion at best, and madness at worst.

As I misunderstood your reason to be atheistic, you have clearly misunderstood my reason for faith in God. I hope that as I am working to understand your views, you will also work to understand mine. I reject the notion that I am “religious” by your definition, or by the definition of those who have misrepresented the Creator. Instead, I live my life by the reality I understand and experience. As you said, the question about whether God exists is a matter of fact, and I experience God’s existence as fact.

I would say that you are showing as much disregard for intelligent, thoughtful, rational, and scientific people of faith by asserting that they believe for weak reasons like the need for comfort, support, and social gatherings as you accuse me of “gross misinterpretation” of your atheistic convictions. I ask you for the same courtesy and consideration of my views as I have given yours in this response.

If you want to be a good person, you don’t have to swear eternal allegiance to an invisible cosmic force. If you want to be a good person, just be a good person.

True, and well stated. Although, this begs the question: what is a good person? Where does the understanding of what is good come from? Why is your definition of what a good person is superior to mine? If you are interested in honest inquiry, I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where he makes the arguments about the definition of a good person much more articulately than I can do now.

Again, @CosmoBrony, thank you for your thoughtful comment on my previous article. I hope my response to your comment becomes the start of an ongoing, positive, and respectful dialog that results in mutual growth.

One-night Screening of Hell and Mr. Fudge Coming to Nashville: March 21, 2013

Hell and Mr. Fudge Movie PosterHell and Mr. Fudge is coming to the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. The screening will be held on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 7:15pm.

A platinum award winner at the 2012 Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, Hell and Mr. Fudge is the warm, thoughtful, and sometimes humorous story of the trials and tribulations of evangelical scholar Edward Fudge. His groundbreaking work on hell and the hereafter has aroused fierce controversy. He’s either a hero or a heretic, depending on who you ask. Both friend and foe can appreciate the movie’s authentic revelation of his character.

Readers of this site know how important we believe this movie is. If you are interested in Christianity at any level, from skeptic to devoted disciple, this movie is for you. The hell doctrine is almost secondary to the character of Edward and his tenacious spirit. His desire to follow the truth wherever it leads is a value anyone should desire to emulate.

Producers will also attend and will answer questions following the screening.

Tickets are $8.50, and are available through the Belcourt’s website. We’d love to see you there!

Visit the movie’s official website to find screenings in other cities.

Moses Lard’s Foretelling: May It Be!

Edward Fudge shared the following in his latest GracEmail:

MOSES LARD’S FORETELLING — Moses Lard was an influential 19th-century leader within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, which is my own faith tradition. In 1879, Lard published a 50-page book titled “Do the Holy Scriptures Teach the Endlessness of Future Punishment?” in which he foretold the future in these words:

“Belief in endless future punishment is destined to wane. With it, moreover, is doomed the present tyrannous orthodox sentiment which denies to dissent freedom of speech. Men dare not now utter aloud their conviction on the subject. But the day is at hand when they will be free. Manly independence will, at last, assert itself; and intolerance will grow gentle. Mark the course of coming events, and remember this foretelling.”

One hundred years later, in 1979, with no knowledge of Lard’s foretelling, I was hired by Australian Robert Brinsmead to thoroughly research the origin and evolution of the doctrine of final punishment through the Bible, intertestamental literature, and through church history. The research project led to my writing The Fire That Consumes, first published in 1982. The year 2011 saw the publication of the revised and enlarged third edition by Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock, with foreword by Richard Bauckham of Cambridge University. The feature film Hell and Mr. Fudge now showing in selected cities across the USA, is based on the “people-story” behind the book The Fire That Consumes.

Afterlife Contribution: Why care about the Bible and what it says?

Bible PhotoI know there are many readers of this blog who doubt the validity of the Bible. When we make arguments that are based on the Bible, some readers may find those arguments irrelevant.

In my latest article on the Afterlife site, you’ll see a simple but though-provoking case to challenge you to consider the Bible. If you are skeptical, good! I was with you, and remain a science-minded, logically-thinking student.

Please don’t dismiss the Bible because of hearsay without learning for yourself. If you do, you’re as unscientific as some believe Christians to be!

The latest article is titled: Why care about the Bible and what it says?.

Afterlife Contribution: The Promise After Christmas: A Kingdom of Justice and Peace

Bethlehem Christmas. Star in night sky above Mary and JosephMy latest contribution to Afterlife, the website of the Conditional Immortality Association of New Zealand, has a Christmas flavor to it. It shows that Christmas was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises. Because of the promises that were realized on the first Advent, we can be confident that God’s future promises are certain to occur! Please read it, share it, and be encouraged!

Read it here: The Promise After Christmas: A Kingdom of Justice and Peace.

May you all have a very Merry Christmas, Merry with the hope that is shown in the coming of Christ!

Three New Discussions And A Contest!

Afterlife.co.nz is hosting a forum that is open for everyone to discuss the issues related to what happens to people after death. I have recently started three new threads and welcome your participation!

There should be something for everyone, so jump into the conversation and let us know what you think!