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If you’d like to watch the debate between Kyle Butt and Dan Barker tonight, it will be on live here:

http://www.justin.tv/darwindaydebate

Here’s a flyer for the event:

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Mormon Meetings: Part 1

I had my first meeting with the mormons last night, so I thought I’d give a bit of an overview of the study.   I’m gonna try to do this during the course of our studies, though I have no idea how many studies there will be.

The LDS missionaries had shown up at our house two Fridays ago asking for a study, so I accepted.  They showed up again this last Friday, I believe it was, to confirm the meeting would take place.  On both occassions, it was only the two young men.  However, I was interested to see that last night, it was the two young men and an older man who had come with them (probably late 40s or early 50s).  I was a bit surprised to see a third individual, though he said he was their ride.  He was also the head of the missions program at the local ward.  Incidentally, he had been raised a Methodist and had converted to Mormonism, so I suppose it worked pretty well for a couple such as myself and my wife, with a background in Christianity.

After some brief discussion about the Red Sox (the older man was a Red Sox fan as well), we started our meeting.  Though I had been through it before, it had been a while, so I got them to give their general speech again.  One thing that I was impressed with is that they really laid out a lot of doctrines that I would not have anticipated before I even had to ask about anything.  This was mostly at the doing of the third man.  He actually talked quite a bit – as much as, or possibly more than, the main missionaries did, though not in a commanding way.  He seemed genuinely interested in talking to us about this stuff.

After going through their main deal about how Joseph Smith got his revelations, having prophets and apostles, and things of that nature, I took some time to get some definitions.  This was really my whole intent for the evening to begin with.  I should add that I think it’s important, especially when talking to people of other religions, to make sure that you know what you’re talking about.  And I should also say I find it advisable to go to the people who you are dialoguing with for definitions, before running all over the internet to find what Mormons supposedly believe.  This is what I did with the last couple of missionaries who came to my house, and they could tell, and it probably did not leave me with a great impression on them, and frankly it could not have helped me reach out to them for Christ either.  But it’s also good strategically, if you will, to get definitions set in place.  I don’t really like to look at the situation as a game of strategy, but I can assure you the Mormons are prepared strategically when they come into your house, so it seems fair to be prepared in your own way as well.

Anyway, here is the list of defintions that I wanted to have by the end of the meeting, along with the notes that I wrote down.

Prophets – Used to lead & guide.  Prophets give scripture.  Amos 3:7 – God reveals his secrets to the prophets.  Dispensation = time of prophet.  Apostles were a back up system.  Apostles rejected –> Doctrine is distorted.

God – Father, Son, Holy Ghost –> separate persons/beings.  Father & Son have bodies, Holy Ghost does not = spirit.

Jesus – “we believ everything in the NT”  (concerning him).  Suffered in Gethsemane for our sins, killed on cross, rose on 3rd day.  Savior.

Salvation – Mormon 7:8-9.  Only through Jesus Christ.  Thru his grace.  Keep his commandments.  Atonement – 1st Adam & Even sin, we all die, etc.  2nd Accept Christ, repent.  Took on our sins in Garden of Gethsemane (we don’t understand how).

The Bible – Articles of Faith.  The Bible is the word of God if translated correctly.  KJV is the best.

Christianity – Articles of Faith 13. Follow example of Christ.

Children of God – Spirit children of God.  Father of our spirits.  Jesus is physically begotten of God – we are created.  We lived before we got here – pre-existence to this life.

Faith – Alma 32:21.  Know something ≠ faith.  Faith has power.  Learn things by exercising faith.  Faith precedes miracle.  Free agency is involved.  Violated if Christ came in person.

Sin – Break commandment = sin.  Contrary to will of God.

Resurrection – Jesus is first person ever resurrected.  Spirit leaves body of Christ – come back to body.  Perfect form.  Different types of resurreciton.  Resurrection at end, though others have already been resurrected. = James, Peter, John.  Moses. John the Baptist.  In General when Jesus comes back.

Authority Structure – Eph. 4:11ff.  Different priesthoods.  Elders (older), Deacon (12-13), Teachers (14-15), Priests (16-17).  Mel. Priesthood: Elder, etc.

Scriptures – Bible, BoM, Doctrines and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price.  D&C = Joseph Smith, as well as some other prophets. Pearl of Great Price = Ancient Papyrus with things from Moses, Abraham, etc.  Anything given by a prophet is scripture, but usually scripture refers to the standard works.

Obviously there is some interesting stuff just within my notes.  I found in particularly interesting that they emphasize the ability to know that Mormonism is true, simply by the feeling inside.  In fact, towards the end of the meeting, the older man told me specifically not to go at it with an academic thought process.  He later said that he thought it is very logical, but he still encouraged the inner experience, as it were.

Here’s a list of verses from the Bible that they brought up for consideration.

2 Timothy 4:3ff, 2 Thess. 2:2-3 – The apostasy of which the Mormons speak.

James 1:5 – Asking for wisdom from God to know what is right.

Eph. 4:11ff, Amos 3:7 – Authority structure of the church.

Ezekiel 37:16 – Apparently a prophecy about the Book of Mormon (one stick is the Bible, the other stick is the BoM).

Well, that’s basically it.  I’ll keep you update as I study some.  We’re meeting again this following Monday at the same time, and I’m going to have some questions prepared.  I’ll try to lay those out here as I get them together in an organized fashion.

Saint Obama

Notice any similarities?

It’s possible this was coincidental, but I would not at all be surprised if it were not. Especially after watching the way the crowds/media cheered for him on inauguration day.  The only other time I’ve seen someone cheer for a single individual like that before was at the Vatican when the Pope was coming up to speak.

I wonder when we’ll start putting our worship in the right place.

(HT: Scott Adams)

NewScientist Article – Born Believers

Ah, science.  The use of our intelligence to explain away our intelligence.  Don’t misunderstand – I’m not trying to bash science, but I am certainly a foe of the way science is tossed about these days in an attempt to force naturalistic explanations upon every aspect of the world.   God, the scientists say, is not a scientific question.  What they mean is, God is not a scientific question unless they’re trying to explain it through naturalistic means.  You see, science has a very convenient position these days.  While preaching in words that science can’t prove or disprove certain things, scientists nevertheless make statements of superiority through intellect which infer the opposite.  This article is a prime example of this.

Early on in the article we are told:

It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

So without really getting into the article, you basically have their summary.  Religious belief is clearly inferior to the vast intellect of those who have overcome their silly inclinations.  And in fact, if we see a rise in belief right now, it should be no surprise since we’re going through tough economic times.  But wait! Lest you feel offended at their snide comments, they’ve left a nugget of joy – all centered around the words “finely tuned.” We’ll get back to that in a minute.  First, let’s examine some of research they’re talking about.

Notice what we’re told from the beginning:

“There’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired,” says Bloom.

Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a “default state” of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. “Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life,” says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

So how does the brain conjure up gods? One of the key factors, says Bloom, is the fact that our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things – things with minds, or at least volition – and inanimate objects.

This separation happens very early in life. Bloom and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.

I find it absolutely fascinating that from childhood, human beings have an inclination to believe that there is more to the world than just natural laws and physical elements.  They can tell that there is a difference between animate and inanimate.  Now, while I’m sure I’ve had some influence on my baby girl in these first 4 months of her life, there’s not much I can do to teach her the difference between a block and myself.  I can imagine it now:

Me: Here’s a box – see? No life! Now look at daddy! Life! Do you get it?

Baby: *puke*

The fact is, on her own, she can tell that there’s something different about me – something that says that I can choose to do things, while a block should do things in a fairly consistent nature.  But Dr. Bloom takes it even further – he is willing to state that we have a “common sense dualism.”  In other words, it is naturally within us to assume that there is an innate separation between mind and body.  After all, we’ve all probably had some type of imaginary friend.  The fact that we can even attribute a personality to something that is otherwise inanimate is pretty fascinating in and of itself.  Of course, this must be an evolutionary adaptation:

…Without it we would be unable to maintain large social hierarchies and alliances or anticipate what an unseen enemy might be planning. “Requiring a body around to think about its mind would be a great liability,” he says.

On the other hand, the idea that someone can be planning anything seems to be based upon the idea that they have a mind that I cannot predict.  The idea that I have an alliance with someone seems based upon the idea that we have chosen to work together.  Even if their body was around me 24/7, how could I possibly know what they were planning unless they tell me?  Forcing the bottom-up approach can really end up being problematic in these kinds of areas.

The interesting thing is, these defaults about how we view minds carries over into our defaults about God:

Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain. Education and experience teach us to override it, but it never truly leaves us, he says. From there it is only a short step to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and, of course, gods, says Pascal Boyer, a psychologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Boyer points out that people expect their gods’ minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people.

The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none.

I love that line – “education and experience teach us to override it.”  Recall that I mentioned earlier this notion of religious inferiority to “scientific” superiority.  That same bias shows up again here.  Sure – it’s our natural, inborn inclination to assume that there’s more to life than just physical things working in physical ways according to physical laws, and that there really is design and purpose in life, but that’s just something you overcome, if you’re smart enough.  I guess they’ve got a point – Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, and so many others in history who have contributed to science were educated and experienced enough to realize that we’re just matter in motion and God is just a delusion.  Wait a second…

Furthermore, we all know how much the God of the Bible is like the pagan gods.  Yes, existing eternally, expecting holiness, rewarding the righteous, condemning evil, loving everyone, etc. – it’s pretty similar to how human minds work.  You would think Isaiah 55:9 would be enough to disprove that theory.  No point in confusing scientists with the facts though, I suppose.

As we go through this article, things become clearer and clearer:

Olivera Petrovich of the University of Oxford asked pre-school children about the origins of natural things such as plants and animals. She found they were seven times as likely to answer that they were made by god than made by people.

These cognitive biases are so strong, says Petrovich, that children tend to spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention: “They rely on their everyday experience of the physical world and construct the concept of god on the basis of this experience.” Because of this, when children hear the claims of religion they seem to make perfect sense.

Two things are clear here.  Firstly, Romans 1:20 is proven correct.  Secondly, Romans 1:21 is proven correct.  Rather than come to the obvious conclusion that something within us leads us to God – that we naturally search for God even outside of our supposed indoctrination – we must conclude that all this is just an accident of nature.

As the article draws to its close, they expound on something we saw earlier:

So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.

Indeed so – researchers would not want to commit the genetic fallacy, so they are hasty to admit that their findings say nothing of the truth or falsity of the claims.  Yet, what does the rest of the article really tell us about how they feel?  It’s a blatant inconsistency.  While they admit they cannot disprove God, they really seem to feel that this is just what they are doing.  And they look down on the believer for his ignorance on such things.  But in the end, what have they really proven?  Only that the reality of God should be obvious to man.

Just think about it for a second.  Does a person suddenly decide to climb up something large without proper safety equipment, or must he first overcome/ignore some innate concerns about his safety?  Does a person randomly decide to deprive themselves of food, or must they first feel there is a good reason to ignore their innate needs?  Point being, it takes a lot of work to ignore those things that are naturally within us.  But the ability to ignore those things does not necessarily make us better off for it.  Safety is important, and it can be achieved.  Our bodies need food, and hunger/thirst can be quenched.  So why is it that suddenly this one great part of who we are is the one thing which we must persist in ignoring?  Do you think you will wind up any better for it? Why are we told this is the one natural desire that cannot be quenched?

I will leave you with the wonderful words of a wonderful man – C.S. Lewis:

Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.

The Good SamaritanGood Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37

Ahh, a good parable taken directly from God’s word.  Many of us will read this story and be shocked that the religious leaders of Jesus’ times would simply ignore another human being who needs immediate help and care.  The question that comes to mind is, shouldn’t it be the religious that are the most caring!?  Why didn’t they help
this man?

Are we really that shocked to learn that it’s very easy for a “holy” man to ignore the needs of others?

 

Consider the The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973) conducted by John Darley and C. Daniel Batson.   They decided to experiment to see if religion (kind of) has any effect on helpful behavior.

http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html

 

The results:  only 10% of people would stop and help someone who appeared to need help.    Is the Good Samaritan parable THAT shocking to us?!  How many times have you passed by someone with a flat tire? Or see smoke rolling from the hood of a car by the side of the road?

Well, we say, they may have some help already coming, or it’s a trap!  They just want to lure someone like me so they can kill me and steal my car.   There are plenty of excuses we can make up to avoid doing God’s work, but think about how we’d feel if we were on the side of a busy highway trying to change a tire…wouldn’t we want help?

 

So are we the type of people who will stop and help, or will we “Go and do likewise” ?

 

Jehovah: God’s Name?

In the past few months, my wife and I have had visits from a very kind woman from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  We’ve been reading the material she leaves and talking with her when she’s visited.  So far the most interesting thing is how they stress the necessity of knowing God’s name.

It’s true.  Where most people call Him by His general name, “God;” God has a specific name.  God’s name in Hebrew is transliterated YHWH (since Hebrew does not use vowels), called the Tetragrammaton.  It is very different than the Hebrew word for “Lord” (adonai).  Many current translations translate YHWH as Jehovah or LORD (note the capitalization).

I went to the Jehovah’s Witness website and found what they had to say about the importance of God’s name.  The article[1] states that the today’s proper form of YHWH is “Jehovah”.  I must ask: who made that decision?  The truth is that Jehovah is a tainted rendering of YHWH.  Early translators did not know what vowels to use when translating YHWH.  They decided to use the vowels from Hebrew words adoni and elohim (both meaning “Lord”) to come up with Jehovah.  Even with this, Jehovah has changed over the years from “Iehouah” (1530) to “Iehovah” (1611) to “Jehovah” (1671).

YHWH appears 6,521 times in the Old Testament and does not appear at all in the New Testament.

All this is well and good, but the question is whether knowing God’s name is necessary to have a relationship with him.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that one must know God’s proper name before one can have a relationship with him.

They make the following arguments in the article[2].  (These have been directly quoted from the article.)
“Concerning the name of Jehovah our God we shall make mention.”  Psalm 20:7
“If we have forgotten the name of our God, . . . will not God himself search this out?  For he is aware of the secrets of the heart.”  Psalm 44:20-21
“Give thanks to Jehovah, you people!  Call up on his name.  Make known among the peoples his dealings.  Make mention that his name is put on high.”  Isaiah 12:4
God said, “They will have to know that my name is Jehovah.”  Jeremiah 16:21
God said, “I shall certainly sanctify my great name, which was being profaned among the nations, . . . and the nations will have to know that I am Jehovah.”  Ezekiel 36:23
“I shall protect him because he has come to know my name.”  Psalm 91:14

I ask that you, as the reader, will look up each one of these verses and their context.  I suggest using many different translations.  With the exception of Psalm 91:14, all these verses do not address whether a person must know God’s name, YHWH, in order to have a relationship with Him.  Most of the verses speak of bringing glory to the great name of God or that the nations will come to know God’s name after He has crushed the nation because of their sins.

I like to interject myself by saying that the Jehovah Witnesses say that there is far more than just knowing His name.  The article references Psalm 9:10, “Those knowing your name will trust in you.”  They do not put their whole weight on the need to know God’s name but that it is the first step.

Interestingly, the article[3] mentions Exodus 3:14 where Moses asks God for His name so Moses could tell the Israelites who sent him.  God replied, “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be…. This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘I shall prove to be has sent me to you.’ “.  God did not pass on to Moses His proper name, YHWH, but His purpose.  God’s purpose is to make Himself known to mankind, not informing the world that His name is YHWH.

If mankind were to curse and disrespect God, the mention of God’s name would remind people of profanity and worthlessness.  If mankind honored and glorified God, the mention of God’s name would remind people of power and majesty.  God is concerned with how we view Him.  The way we treat God in our worldview is going to be the way we treat His name in public.  We are to bring glory to both.  By this the nations will come to know God and respect Him and His name.

———-

[1] http://www.watchtower.org/e/20040122/article_01.htm

[2] http://www.watchtower.org/e/20040122/article_03.htm

[3] http://www.watchtower.org/e/20040122/article_04.htm

Mine are as follows:

In defense of God’s existence?
–modal cosmological argument
–the rise of conciousness

In defense of Christianity?
–general success of Christianity despite a very hostile environment from both the Jews and the Gentile world.
–“wild” and “fantastic” miracle claims that were open to public scrutiny especially from the Jews (miralces associated with the crucifixion and the day of pentecost in Acts 2).
–conversion of many prominent members of Judaism, despite the radical claims made by the Christians.
–the empty tomb of Jesus