Friday, December 28, 2007

Some musings on old-earth creationism

Hugh Ross' The Creator and the Cosmos provides a fascinating overview of old-earth creationism. I’ve been thinking about old-earth creationism lately, and in my view it seems that this belief has theological problems. Moreover, old-earth creationism seems to limit the omnipotence of God.

On page 109, Ross writes:

The Bible declares that God has currently ceased from His work of creating new life forms. But in the fossil record era (God’s six days of creation), God was active in creating millions of species of life, introducing new species and replacing and upgrading all those going extinct by natural processes.

Ross argues that, for millions of years, God simply created life forms until, one day, he created humans. However, there seems to be, in my mind at least, a theological problem with this belief. Palaeontologists have found fossils of many creatures – such as dinosaurs that lived before the supposed creation of Adam and Eve – and these fossils show signs of death, disease, suffering and pain. However, according to traditional Christian doctrine, elements of suffering and death only entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. If we accept Ross' interpretation of creation, then we have to accept that elements of sin existed in the world before Adam and Eve existed. Is this a viable theological position?

Why did God wait do long to create humans? On page 116:

The answer is that, given the laws and constraints of physics God chose to create, it takes about ten to twelve billion year just to fuse enough heavy elements in the nuclear furnaces of several generations of giant stars to make life chemistry possible

Why these constraints? If God is truly omnipotent, wouldn't it have made more sense to simply create the universe with the right conditions to sustain human life from the very beginning? It seems a little strange that God would wait a whole 13 billion years before the real reason of his creation (i.e., sorting out humankind’s salvation) came about. That's a long time to twiddle your thumbs! Young earth creationism seems to make more sense when one considers the idea of an omnipotent creator. But even if we consider young earth creationism, why would God spend seven days, or any time at all, creating the universe if he could simply do it all in a single instant?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I choose honesty over belief

I watched Brokeback Mountain recently. It inspired many thoughts regarding homosexuality and about living life honestly. The two male characters in the movie fall in love, and the whole story revolves around their attempts to keep their love for each other hidden over a period of twenty years. They opt for living heterosexual lives: they each get married and have children; but they still can’t rid themselves of what they really are, and the love that they share for each other. The movie shows how easy it is to live a lie rather than dealing with the truth, especially if what you really are – in this case, being gay – is something that can attract hatred from others in society.

I've thought about homosexuality a lot over the years, and I often wonder if human sexual orientation is less rigid than we think. Is it possible that no one is 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual, that each human being has a mixture of both? Maybe
a number of factors – such as genes, upbringing, social context, etc determine if a person becomes dominantly (but not entirely) heterosexual or homosexual. I've often thought that extreme homophobes who brandish those "God hates fags" signs actually realise the homosexual part within themselves, but instead of accepting it they lash out at those who are comfortable with their sexual orientation. In other words, extreme homophobes don't hate 'fags'; they hate themselves.

I think that, if I had a slightly different life consisting of a slightly different set of life experiences, it is possible that I would have turned out gay. And I would have been totally comfortable with it, because I've learnt that one of the pillars of good psychological health is to be honest with who you are, and to be yourself despite what society may think.

And this last point applies to my lack of belief in God. My atheism is a part of who I am, and one thing that I decided long ago is that I won't pretend to be something I'm not. I think it is far more honest to live out what I really am, rather than trying to force myself to believe in virgin births, parting seas, talking donkeys, and people rising from the dead – things that are so alien to my natural way of thinking that I find them extremely difficult to accept. If the God Christianity really exists, and if I one day stand before his throne, would he not accept the fact that I lived honesty, over and above the fact that I did not believe in him? If he decides to send me to hell because of his bruised ego, is he truly worthy of worship at all? I find more value in honesty than in belief or in conformity, and for this short life I choose honesty.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pullman on power and religion

The movie, The Golden Compass, has caused some controversy of late. I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy earlier this year, and I watched the movie last week. I'm in the process of writing up my thoughts regarding the books and the movie, and will post them up as soon as I'm finished.

However, I came across a recent article in Time (December 10, 2007) about Philip Pullman, in which he discusses his books and the religious controversy that surrounds them. I found the following quote quite interesting, as it closely resembles my personal thoughts on religion. Like me, Pullman has no problem with religion per se, but he does have a problem when religion gets mixed up with too much power:

"Religion is at its best when it is furthest from political power . . . The power to send armies to war, to rule every aspect of our lives, to tell us what to wear, what to think, what to read – when religion gets hold of that, watch out! Because trouble will ensue."

I think that is one of the main themes that underlines His Dark Materials trilogy: the power of the Magisterium - the church in Pulman's books - represents, for Pulman, what can happen if religion gains too much power.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"God is petty" uproar

There has been some controversy in South Africa regarding 5FM’s DJ Gareth Cliff who announced on air the other day that “God is petty”, in response to the story of Gillian Gibbons who was arrested in Sudan for naming a teddy bear Mohammed. Some Christians are up in arms, and I was recently invited – by an old friend who apparently isn’t aware of my de-conversion – to join a Facebook group that aims to get Gareth off the air.

I can see Gareth’s reasoning behind his comment: why should the almighty creator of the universe (let it be Allah or Yahweh) get so upset over what mortal humans say? Surely God, if he exists, is more mature that that? Anyway, although I believe that anyone has the right to proclaim their religious views (after all, we live in a democratic society), I think Gareth displayed a show of distasteful arrogance when he responded via email to a listener who complained about his original comment. Gareth allegedly wrote back to the complainant: "Stop sprouting nonsense. There is no god. There is no tooth fairy and there is no Father Christmas." Now, I have no problem with someone openly declaring their religious views, but I do have a problem when things start getting personal. Question a belief all you want, but show some sensitivity when dealing with individuals. That’s my approach, at least.

While reading the comments posted on the anti-Gareth Facebook group, I had the following thoughts regarding issues of public ‘blasphemy’.

Free publicity?
All this fuss to get Gareth off the air – including all the email petitions, the Facebook group, letters to newspapers, complaints on radio – is somewhat self defeating. I don’t listen to 5FM, and before all the controversy I didn’t really know much about Gareth at all. But now I’m tempted to listen to his show just to hear what all the fuss is about. I wonder how many additional listeners are now tuning in to hear him speak. In their attempt to get Gareth off the air, Christians have simply given him a lot of free publicity.

Bigger fish to fry?
It’s amazing how many different denominations join forces and mobilise with such efficiency when something like this happens. Church groups join together to draw up petitions, preachers call on their congregations to boycott the media, churches march in protest, etc, etc. I often wonder how effective the Christian church would be if they put as much energy and zeal into fighting more pressing problems. I know some churches do good work in in improving society, but imagine if the same kind of mass mobilisation from different denominations was used to fight issues such as crime, unemployment or poverty. Imagine the difference it would make!

That’s my two cents worth on this issue. I think Gareth needs to improve his PR skills, but I also think he should not be punished for what he said on air. Christians also need to realise that all their efforts to get him off air are in vain – they are simply making him more famous.