Ecclesiastes book review

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl 9:11 ESV)
Ecclesiastes is a difficult book. I found this sermon by Brian Morgan interesting. Here is a quote from it.
By stating that all of life is hebel (meaningless), Qohelet (the author) is not suggesting that all life is “meaningless or insignificant, but that everything is beyond human apprehension and comprehension.” Every time a tragedy occurs, our immediate reaction is to attach “meaning” to the event, as if we know how this finite moment in time will work out in the grand scheme of things. We have a very terrible time living in the tension of “unknowing.” We want rock bottom clarity. And when the event is extremely complex and baffling, we just babble on and on, hoping to land on some thought bordering on significance. But Qohelet explains that when we insist on multiplying our words to bring definition to what we do not know, all we succeed in doing is creating more “smoke” (hebel - “vanity,” “a puff of wind”), adding more contradiction and confusion. “The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” (6:11 NIV).
In summary, Ecclesiastes seems to state that fortuitous things and shit just happen. We are supposed to plug on, sowing seeds and reaping at appropriate times, but in the end, earthly endeavors don't amount to much. What is important is to simply obey God's commandments and trust that all will be revealed someday.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Eccl 12:13-14 ESV)
In the end, Ecclesiastes poetically implores us to have blind faith admitting that on the surface of it, life seems pretty random but if we continue to have faith, we will eventually attain reward of an eternal life with meaning. It pushes fear of God's judgment should we not have blind faith. The beautiful writing of Ecclesiastes sugar coats this bitter pill.

Instead, I'll accept the Darwinian view that yes, life is random. Rewards (offspring) do not always go to the swiftest because being swift might come at other expenses (like not being charming or stupid -- either way, the result is not getting the babes). But bad things also happen to good people. It's called dumb luck, and that happens too. I don't have to trust that all will be revealed someday when my little human mind has had a few million years of hand-held tutoring by the Creator to finally be capable of understanding the answer to my question "What the fuck?"

First benefit of atheism

If there is no supernatural God, then there is no supernatural devil either! No devil, no hell!

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In dog's image

I have a dog who loves life. This was not always the case. He almost seemed wild when my wife and I picked him up from the pound. He abhorred any transition. He spooked easily and did not trust me at all. In fact he bit me within the first hour of having him when he felt threatened by me even though all I was trying to do was get him inside the house from the blizzard outside.

Eventually, my dog grew to trust me. Now he gets bright-eyed when I enter the room and he seeks my attention. He loves going to the park and fetching his Frisbee, making an extra effort to catch it in the air. When he is not at the park, he gets board. When strangers come to the door he barks to protect me. If I scold him, he feels remorseful, fearful, or guilty – whichever it is, he knows he has done something that I am not happy about. He apparently knows what might upset me because if I come home and he is acting somber or nervous, I am sure to find the trash has been gone through.

My dog seems pretty smart as dogs go, too. He can differentiate between his toys if I tell him to get his Frisbee vs. a particular stuffed toy, tennis ball, or stick. If I tell him to find his Frisbee, he seems to remember where he placed it. If I tell him a new toy is for the kids, he leaves it alone, but if I say it is for him, he’s all over it.

He shows he can recognize people as well. He only barks at strangers. He responds to the basic commands of “sit”, “heal”, “down”, “come”, “stay”, etc.

My dog likes to socialize as well. He likes to be around other dogs and play with them. Sometimes he is rather bossy with other dogs in order to establish a top-dog status right off the bat. If only people are around in the house, he will hang close to us.

My dog’s physiology is rather familiar. Like nearly all animals with a vertebra including reptiles, horses, whales, birds, humans, and bats, his skeletal forelimbs have a humerus followed by a radius and ulna leading to the carpals, metacarpals, and (typically) five phalanges. Like all mammals including the giraffe, he has seven cervical vertebrae in his neck. He has two hind legs descending from a pelvis. He has a heart that pumps blood. He has a liver that performs protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism. He has a digestive system starting with a mouth, tongue, and teeth, descending through an esophagus to a stomach and then to the digestive tract. He has two kidneys whose function is to remove toxic waste from the blood in the form of urine that gets stored in a bladder before it is expelled on a fire hydrant or car tire. He has genitals for urination and sexual reproduction. He has two lungs for breathing. If he gets cut, he bleeds. He has two eyes that even have eyelashes that differ from his regular fur. He has two ears and a nose. He also has a brain housed in his skull.

The reason my dog’s physiology is familiar is because it is like that of nearly all vertebrates and certainly like that of most mammals. Underneath all that fur is skin encapsulating the generic body plan of all vertebrates, especially mammals. This body plan goes much further than merely possessing all of these similar organs and tissues. It specifies the relative positions of them. The ears are on the side of the head. As advantageous as an eye might be to have in the back of the head or down some limb, the vertebrate’s eyes are always in the front of the head above the nose and mouth. Fingers are always at the end of the hand and not some place else. Organs and tissues are in relative position to each other. For example, the heart is encased in the rib-cage close to the lungs. Below the lungs are the liver and kidneys.

It is quite easy to imagine different, workable body plans where these same organs were simply rearranged. The skull could house the brain in the thoracic chest region and eyes could be on wrists. While this sounds monstrous, it would certainly be a valid design. The heart could easily replenish the brain with oxygen in the blood and the brain would be better protected by more tissues than simply just the cranium. Eyes on wrists could allow for a myriad of views and angles that would be advantageous for experience and survival. One such creature could simply rotate its arms in such a way as to see behind and in front at the same time and cover all sides easily.

It is also easy to imagine other vertebrate body plans with the addition of features. Extra limbs, fingers, and eyes seem rather obvious. Wings on land-crawling creatures is also easily imagined. These kinds of creatures are not seen, however. The flying horse, Pegasus, is the subject of fantasy and flying monkeys only appear in the Wizard of Oz.

My dog developed his brain, temperament, and body through his genetic makeup. He has a particular DNA makeup that is similar to many mammals, but unique enough to make him a dog. From the time he was conceived, he has had particular genes activated or deactivated. As his genes are turned on or off, his body makes proteins that culminate in making him a dog with particular markings and with his limbs and organs in their particular places. He became this way through the merging of a single sperm cell from his father and a single egg cell from his mother where he grew in her womb developing until the day he was born. He then nursed from his mother’s breast and he continued to grow and develop, like all animals, through adolescence and on into adulthood where, had he not been fixed, he could reproduce another dog with another unique set of DNA.

My physiology differs slightly from my dog’s, but with some nice advantages. I only use my hind legs for walking. This allows me to use my arms for other things while standing. My fingers and opposable thumbs are also a lot more useful than his paws for building things and typing on the computer and communicating to the world through this blog. Furthermore, I can also use my tongue for talking which he cannot do. Talking allows me to plan, design, collaborate, argue, and learn from other humans in a way my dog cannot. At best, he has various pitches of whining, barking, and growling that roughly state his interest, annoyance, boredom, hunger, or mood to me and other dogs. He can use his tail, of course, to indicate his enthusiasm and his eyes and ears might perk to show interest and excitement. These are often reflected in his posture and gait as well. While he can demonstrate these moods, he is a long shot from being able to communicate with me or other dogs in a way that results in collaborative planning and learning that I am able to do with other humans.

Yet, with all these similarities, anybody would say he has personality, dare I say “soul”?

Missing links

As I drive down the road, I have faith that the driver in the opposite lane will hold his course and pose me no threat. That's faith. I have no previous experience with him on the road. I'm just simply assuming that he knows the rules of the road, respects his life, and respects mine.

It takes faith to believe in creation or evolution. The ramifications of either decision are discussed in a previous post. The previous discussion of faith posed it as irrational. Assumptions are not necessarily irrational. While I might have faith that the driver in the other car will not do anything stupid, and while I might have faith in my car and my driving abilities to avoid disaster, it is perhaps more accurate to say that I "assume". I make such an assumption through knowledge and experience. I assume that the other driver wants to live, has passed a driver's test, has a modicum of experience on the road, and no ill will against me. With these assumptions, I forge ahead.

This is how humans live. We continually draw on our memories and assumptions, sometimes pleasantly surprised when we are not correct, and sometimes unpleasantly surprised. In either case, we alter our future assumptions and carve future responses.

So let's substitute "faith in God" or "faith in science" with "assumptions about God" and "assumptions about science".

When we talk about "assumptions about God" we can say generic things like "He has my best interest at heart" and "He has a master plan." If we talk about "assumptions about science", we have to admit scientists are not evil. They are not out to prove God does not exist. Perform this exercise. Go to Pubmed and type "[dp] 2007" for the search term. This selects biomedical articles for the year 2007. Look at the first item. Mine was "Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) provide co-stimulation in positive selection along with survival of selected thymocytes." Look through the list and you'll get a sense about what scientists do. They deal with minutia, and they do it in a very systematic, empirical way.

Do scientists have faith? No, but they have assumptions. They assume previous results were accurate or inaccurate and they formulate hypotheses to test assumptions. That's what science is. It's not so much the acquisition of knowledge, but the challenge of assumptions.

Challenging an assumption does not have to be confrontational. The hypothesis can be set up as "Assuming X was true, then Y should follow. In this paper, we test Y...." If Y is true, then X is supported implicitly. If it is not, then X may be unsupported implicitly. The ramifications of the results are discussed in the "Discussion" section of most papers. Future research must then explain findings in terms of X and Y. This is science. Call it knowledge, but really it's the quest for a cohesive story. Certainly opinions come into play, but it is data and our interpretations of the data that really constitute the resulting knowledgebase and it is a work in progress.

The beauty about science is that it is testable. A finding can be debunked or supported as more advanced techniques to acquire and analyze data arise. Similarly, theories can be expanded or pigeon-holed. Some competing theories may coexist for some time before evidence either proves one right or can explain how they can be bridged by describing how both are correct under certain conditions.

Evolution is often criticized for its missing links, the lack of transient forms in the fossil record. (See this Scientific American article for common critiques and sensible responses).

What is uncomfortable for the Creationist is the notion that evolutionists can be comfortable without knowing everything. Indeed, there are many "holes" in evolution. We don't know how it all works. Sure there are genetic changes, but how many do you need for a system to be co-opted and take on a new function? What about epigenetic changes? "Fittest" really is ill-defined in "survival of the fittest".

Yet, time and time again, when biology assumes evolution, the pieces fit. In fact, you cannot find one study that refutes it. You can try and throw the complexity argument at it, and I'll hand it right back to you -- many genes that regulate cell division in my body are the same as those in plants. Pop quiz: How many cervical vertebrae does a giraffe have? Seven -- the same as all mammals including whales, pigs, and us primates. You want to know where a lot of our understanding about our own biology comes from? A number of other critters, especially mice. We can create drugs and cures for cancer because we share a same biology (i.e. common ancestor).

Creationists cite that this similarity illustrates a single creator. I especially like this link's mention that if we were dissimilar biochemically, then we couldn't eat our fellow creatures. Was that part of God's original plan?

When you start looking at evolution and see natural progressions, life starts making sense. If you assume a supernatural, you build assumptions riddled with holes because they are fleeting and untestable. What might be real and good for you might be killing somebody else. Don't talk to me about the splinters in evolution until you get the log out of religion.

Want to talk about the lack of finding a missing link? The biggest missing link is God. He's not there!

Where there's smoke: ID in Schools


Many Mapuche Indians of Chile live in or frequent thatched huts called rucas. (Image taken from http://www.cholchol.org). Mapuches are known for their strong resistance to Western culture and the fight to maintain their own. At the core of their culture is the ruca, where even if they do not live in the hut, Mapuches will likely have a hut next to their house where they tell stories, as much as possible in their native language, mapudungun. In the center of the dirt floor is a fire, and smoke is allowed to vent through a hole in the center of circular huts with a cone shaped roof, or out two vents as shown in the "A-frame" style.

Once while I was in Chile visiting a Mapuche family, I was sick with a cold. I was ushered out of the house and into the hut where I was told to breathe the smoke. This happened to me on another occasion when my allergies were flaring up.

It is not too crazy to think that smoke could be good for you. Obviously, fire was the source of warmth in the hut and the tool to cook food and kill off microbes in the water. So one could easily associate the smoke with all those healing things fire does and infer that the smoke itself was also a part of that.

But here's the issue: I've got scientific evidence that shows inhaling smoke over a campfire will exacerbate my illness. What is the responsible thing for me to do?

  1. I can politely tell them that I'm drowsy and I should leave.
  2. I can tell them I've got scientific evidence that goes against their beliefs.
Option number one is what an anthropologist (a scientist of culture) would do.

Option number two is difficult. Shouldn't I, in good conscience, for their health and the health of their children and their children's children, shouldn't I tell them to change their ways? As simple and basic as "don't breathe smoke" sounds to a Westerner, the gathering around the fire pit is central to the Mapuche. If you start telling them not to stand too close, you demean the mystique around fire.

I chose option 1. I was not about to get into it with a bunch of Mapuches.

For better or worse, Western culture -- MTV, gas guzzlers, medicine, this blog -- are accessible to the Mapuche. As they sit in their rucas, they also talk about what they saw on TV, and just like you and me sitting around a campfire, they squint their eyes and turn their heads when the smoke comes their way. Like all of us, they hold onto some traditions and incorporate others to make a new culture. This is a conscientious work in progress, performed formally and informally between groups of community leaders, families, and just kids. Many times there will not be agreement, but there is always discussion about what to hold dear balanced with what to assimilate.

I think it is naive of evolutionists to demand evolution to be taught in the classrooms without a debate on its ramifications. Yes, evolution is science and Intelligent Design (ID) is not, but you can't just tell a student "Your belief system is refuted by scientific evidence" and expect them to simply accept that.

My vote is that evolution should be taught in the science classroom and ID should not, but we need philosophy courses devoted to discussing the ramifications of any origin of life theory. Faith, by definition, is irrational. You will never get students to accept evolution when they are irrational. In this case, the science teacher will fail not only in teaching evolution, but can also turn students away from science itself.

Put ID along with other creation myths and evolutionary theory in the schools and let them duke it out in a philosophy course.

Faith in...

One definition needs to be made clear. Faith. Wiktionary defines it as "Mental acceptance of and confidence in a claim as truth without proof supporting the claim."

It is often perceived that faith is a good thing. Why? And should I build an ideology around it?

The danger of building anything on faith is that you gotta be prepared for the fallout if you are proved false. Given such proof, you need to accept it and change, live a lie, or have such pronounced faith that the proof, as plausible as it may be, you take as still wrong.

Put into the evolution/creation debate, these are the three options for the believer:javascript:void(0)
Publish Post

  1. Accept the proofs of evolution which mean either modifying your view of God, His plan, and the creation story.
  2. Choose to ignore these proofs, keeping your head in the sand, and going about your business.
  3. Believe that these evolutionary "proofs" are hogwash and going about your business.
Option number 1 is problematic. It means changing your religion at least partially and this may mean a complete ideological or cultural change including atheism. Option 1 requires the most work for the individual. It is the option I chose and its fallout are the subject of this blog.

Option 2 is the easiest and probably the path most people put themselves on. Joe Public is not so concerned about where we came from. He's probably not too concerned about God's master plan for him either. He's just meandering. If he hears something that makes sense, but it is out of line with what's for dinner, he's just going to go about his business. Simply said, he doesn't really care. If it was a priority, he would not live the lie. He couldn't.

Option 3 is the path most chosen by fundamentalists. Evolution is a challenge to their faith. If they defy it, they increase and validate their faith. This is especially true when they can show these "proofs" are not so "sound". (I put both of these words in quotes to indicate that 'proof' really is a bit squishy, but so are the anti-evolution arguments that indicate that they are not so 'sound').

But how do we interpret these options for the evolutionist? Doesn't it take faith to believe in evolution? If so, aren't the risks greater? If the risks are greater, should I just live the lie? Of course not. Atheists and pastors alike will tell you, "Don't live a lie". Atheists will tell you this simply because living a lie is stupid. Pastors would cite that the Laodecian who does not care and lives the lie will still be damned (Revelation 3:13-15).

So, you should choose Option 1 or 3 because option 2 is chickenshit and we all know it. Now, which option should we choose?

Let's summarize this into a little more binary terms of Best/Worst case scenario for the Creationist/Evolutionist. Worst means the creationist/evolutionist was wrong. Best means the creationist/evolutionist was right.

Worst case scenario-Evolutionist/Atheist: Finds he is wrong and burns in hell forever.
Best case scenario-Evolutionist/Atheist: Not living a lie, but life is random (and meaningless?)

Worst case scenario-Creationist: So what if evolution was right and there is no God. My convictions still helped me enjoy life, love my neighbor, yadda yadda....
Best case scenario-Creationist: You, my son, will have eternal happiness, love, and joy. (Obviously through acceptance of Christ's salvation....)

Hmmm....

This still does not paint a pretty picture for atheism. Let's compound the issue with some tough questions for evolution. "What good is half a wing?" "Where does original thought come from?" "Where does emotion come from?"

I will say that my atheism is largely built around this one thing -- evolution. If evolution does not have answers to these questions, why not let it go, or at very least come up with some balance of God and evolution?

Simple answer: I can't balance them and I'm not going to live a lie.

My world view built around evolution is sound. It's not always pretty, but it makes sense. The world built around a belief in God is inconsistent.

Mission statement and welcome

Hello. My name is Tom, and I'm a recovering young earther.

I grew up a young earth creationist. Along with this belief came a whole culture of religion where I was happy, had beautiful friends, and a world that had direction and meaning. I took up the study of evolution to challenge my faith and to adequately challenge evolutionists. What I found was that evolutionary theory made sense!

My world turned upside down.

For the fundamentalist, even though there is a degree of picking and choosing which parts of the bible really do apply, the creation story was not to be tampered with. Even if it wasn't a literal 6 day creation and the earth was a million years old, God still created us in His image, right? But evolution says that all creatures grew out of pond scum.

Which do I more likely want to believe?

  1. That I am a hand-crafted person by the creator of all the universe and that He has a master plan for me filled with love and meaning forever.
  2. I am the agglomeration of molecules that have occurred through random, naturally cooperative and competitive interactions and these molecules have been able to develop systems to form ever-more complex structures and to replicate themselves.
Option 1 sounds good. It has the answer already in place. You accept it, live it, and enjoy it. End of story. And you can bet people are going to want to protect that.

Option 2 sounds empty, hopeless, and meaningless.

Here is the dilemma. Can you believe in both evolution and God at the same time? Probably so for the non-fundamentalist. But the fundamentalist view is more binary. If evolution is true, then what does it mean to be created in God's image? Was there an Adam and Eve? If not, then what is original sin? If you do not have original sin, then who was Jesus?

This forum is not intended as a way of bridging evolution and fundamentalist Christian beliefs. No. It is to expose the issues and to have clear communication on the fears and frustrations with accepting each and to explain why they are diametrically opposed.

For me, I wanted to debunk evolution. When I could not ignore evolution, I found I could not substantiate a belief in God either. This left a hole. I had a whole culture that was upended. This blog will be my story, how I rationalize atheism, and what I hope will be a good discussion of how people can find the world makes a lot of sense when viewed through the eyes of evolution. Moreover, it is a forum to discuss the pursuit of life's meaning and purpose after shedding a belief in God.

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