Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Conversions and De-conversions - weird science

During my years attending Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque, I longed to bring my friends and family into a relationship with Jesus Christ. But the humiliation I felt after leading a homeless man to Jesus Christ tempered my desire somewhat, and taught me a bit of much needed humility. My obnoxious and overt evangelizing at work mostly ceased. My revised tactic was to continue playing cassettes of my favorite Bible teachers at work, and playing them just loud enough for everybody to hear. I figured that this would be enough to convict them of their sin, and convince them of their need for a Savior. From there, I simply invited everybody I knew to church, with the hope that Pastor Skip’s charisma would win them over into accepting the conviction that the Holy Spirit was impressing on every Seeker’s heart.

Pastor Skip seemed to have endless stories of his evangelistic victories of winning his lost friends to Faith in Jesus Christ. I continued to pray and hope for such success, but everything I tried seemed to backfire. Sometimes my friends would actually accept my invitations to church, and I would sit next to them during the service and wait for Pastor Skip and the Holy Spirit to do their magic on them. Once an old friend of mine from San Ysidro, whom I will call E---, came with me to Calvary Chapel on a Sunday evening service. Sunday nights were typically reserved for Pastor Skip’s expositional studies, where he would simply plow through a Biblical book, verse by verse. Unluckily for me, on this particular evening, Pastor Skip was teaching through Genesis chapters 5 and 6 – the stories of the Patriarchs and Noah’s flood. Calvary Chapel teaches the legends of thousand-year-old Patriarchs, and a globe-covering Deluge as literal history. Pastor Skip was proud to show off a large model of Noah’s ark that somebody built for him. The model mounted behind him was at least six feet long, and as he began speaking of legend as history, I knew I had picked the wrong night to invite a non-believing friend. How was E---- going to be convicted of her sins from listening to the Noah story?

I don’t think I will ever forget that evening. Rarely had I ever been embarrassed as I was that night. Pastor Skip read to us all about Noah’s great-grandparents from Genesis chapter 5:

…and Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech: And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighy and two years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died. And Lamech lived an hundred eighy and two years, and begat a son:…

E--- could not take it any longer. Listening to a grown man tell a captive audience of several hundred people all about men who lived beyond nine hundred years old, and teaching it with the sober reflection of a history lesson, caused E--- to start laughing. It was not a quiet snicker. It was not a polite chuckle under her breath. E---- opened her mouth wide, reared her head back, and let out a full-throttled guffaw that was loud enough for everyone in the auditorium to hear. I sank. She caught herself, and bit her lip to keep from making a scene, but it was too late. Pastor Skip quickly jerked his head in my general direction, the direction that he heard somebody dare mock the Holy Scriptures. He quickly fired back, “and for those of you who may find these things hard to believe, please visit our bookstore after the service. We have books for sale, science books, that explain how these long lives were possible in the world before the Flood.” Again, E---- let loose with another loud laugh. Pastor Skip then craned his neck, squinted his eyes as he scanned the crowd, then found my offending friend and me and shot us a razor sharp glare. I sank as low as I could in my seat. I was embarrassed as I could be, not because of Pastor Skip’s reaction, or what the crowd might think of us. I honestly don’t remember the reaction from the crowd around me. I was embarrassed because of what E---- must have thought of me. She was a good friend of my younger sister! She and I went back many, many years! She was one of my ex-drinking buddies from my Hazy Years! What kind of nut outfit would she think I had joined?!!? Why didn’t I pick a service where Pastor Skip was teaching through the Gospel of John, or Romans, or… anything! Anything but 969 year-old Methuselah!

She obviously was not going to give her life to Jesus after that debacle, but I wanted her to think that my religious beliefs were reasonable, and that they really made perfect sense. I wanted her to know that we were all sinners and the only way to achieve salvation by God was through his Son Jesus Christ. The Gospel was such a reasonable, sound and simple idea, and I wanted her to experience it. I wanted E---- to meet Jesus and experience the same relationship that I had with Him. But that evening, I was embarrassed because she new that I expected her to believe ancient legends as if they were history. Did I really believe such things? Did I really believe that these legends of Genesis were history? Why did E---- have to come on this night, this night of all nights, to find out that I believed such childish things! Pastor Skip had not yet even launched into teaching us the history and science of the Worldwide Flood, and the laughter of E---- might as well have been laughter at me. This girl, this old friend of mine, was mocking the childish beliefs that I was forced to believe in, and I confess, it embarrassed me. To her, the whole thing was just ridiculous, and I felt like I had been seen with my pants down. I felt like a teenager who was caught by his friends still believing in Santa Claus.

E---- held any further laughter when Skip began describing the flood, but she constantly smirked and rolled her eyes. I drove her home when it was all over. I did not try to win her over. I knew deep down, I knew the whole thing was absurd. I knew that all the modern attempts to historicize obvious myths into some kind of plausible scientific structure was crazy. People do not live to be one thousand years old. There was never an ice canopy high in the atmosphere that covered the earth like a protective shell. Floods never covered the entire planet. There were no Nephelim or fallen angels who came to earth, had sex with women, and corrupted the human population with Demon spawn. There was no giant barge that held all the different ‘kinds’ of animals from the Deluge. In the modern world, these were children’s stories, and I was embarrassed that I had to admit that I believed them as literal history. Somehow there had to be a reasonable answer that would absolve these stories of their ludicrous character. Perhaps the great ‘years’ of the patriarchs were symbolic for something else. Perhaps they meant ‘months’ instead of years! But no… that would never work either since they would be 12 or 13 months old when begetting children. There must be an answer… somewhere.

I dropped her off at E---- off at her apartment. She smiled and shook her head at me “You don’t believe that stuff, do you?”

“Yes, I do. But I also believe Jesus is our Savior.”

“C’mon. Please. You know better than that.”

I could never admit, out loud, that I had doubts. I did not realize when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, in a time of my life when I just wanted to be happy, to live a responsible life, and to be forgiven of my sins, that I must also accept legends as history and absurdities as reality. I knew better! But to doubt the Deluge of Noah was tantamount to doubting the Resurrection of Jesus Himself! The Bible was accepted as a whole. Nothing could be left out, and not a word doubted. I did not realize how much baggage I had to drag around with me when I accepted Jesus. I was told that the only condition to Salvation was to repent and accept the Blood of Jesus Christ. But it turned into a huge bait and switch job, because I also had to believe in the literal, historical existence of every minute detail of the Bible, be it thousand year old patriarchs, world drowning floods, floating ax-heads, giant, man-eating fish or fiery, flying chariots. But since God could supposedly do anything, doubting any of these Bible stories meant doubting the power of God. So I embarrassed myself again and again, by outwardly affirming these legends as facts, but desperately trying to force myself to believe.

I had no trouble believing that Jesus died and was resurrected for my sins. I had no doubt that Jesus performed every miracle attested to Him. Jesus was never an issue. I never questioned that. But just from my library reading as a youngster, I knew too much about the Theory of Evolution and the age of Earth to seriously hold any beliefs in a literal, historical Adam and Eve. Too many hikes in the desert, too much science reading in the library, and too much curiosity had already spoiled my unquestioning Faith.

I did my best to make the unbelievable stories in the Bible somewhat plausible. Where the typical creationist distorted science by imagining things like atmospheric ice canopies to explain the Flood of Noah, I tended to view the stories in a more mystical and less literal manner. I believed, for instance, that The Garden of Eden was in some non-physical plane of existence, and was a pre-physical world which had not the yet been spoiled by the corrupting influence of Sin. My reasoning revolved around my attempting to reconcile things like God’s curses to Adam and Eve with what I knew of science. God cursed Eve with the pain of childbirth, which implied to me that had God not cursed her, she would not have had to endure such labor pain. But I also knew that a woman’s labor pains were due to the child trying to squeeze through the mother’s relatively narrow pelvis; an evolutionary compromise we have to pay in order to stand erect on two legs. So did God originally create humans to walk on four legs like dogs, only to stand on two legs as a result of the curse of Labor Pains? No, that is ridiculous. The only way I could see out was to place the Adam and Eve story on some higher, ethereal plane of existence, and The Garden of Eden would become a simple metaphor for something Bronze Age Semitic peoples would have no chance of understanding as literal. Adam and Eve were created as quasi-angelic creatures in the image of God, and their curse was to be cast into the mundane and corrupted world of mere physical existence.

This made perfect sense to me. Never mind that Adam was created out of the dust of the earth, or that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed out of Eden, which ruled out any non-corporeal meaning, I could pull what I could out of the Bible that would support my theory, and ignore the stuff I found troublesome. I figured that all these impossible stories in the Bible could be cast into some kind of plausible, ‘spiritual’ structure like this, just as long as I was a little selective in what Bible verses I used.

As silly as much of my theological rationale seems to me now, as I type this nearly 25 years later, I can sense a desire for some kind of consistency and rigor in my thinking. I was still uneducated in science, methodology or skepticism, but I think I had developed a desire to think that way very early on. I was just untrained and uneducated. And even though I had abandoned the science reading of my youth, the thought of real science and scientific thinking as applied to my Christian Faith was very appealing to me. That is why, one evening while watching the loathsome TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) on television, I was blown away by a real scientist who gave me Reasons to Believe.

Watching TBN, even as a devout Christian, was like watching a freakshow. True, I had been Slain in the Spirit in my youth, but the antics of Benny Hinn, who could regularly hypnotize entire mobs of devout believers, was just too much to be believed. Network owners Paul and Jan Crouch were disgusting displays of synthetic piety, and preached the worst forms of prosperity evangelism, which was similar to what I read from Oral Roberts. Country gospel singing and Pentecostal hellfire preaching abounded, along with programs devoted to Biblical finance, Biblical end-time prophecy, Biblical healthcare, and Biblical exercise. I vowed not to watch secular television, but the pickings on the Christian network was slim. The televangelist scandals of the late 1980s were still fresh in my memory, and I was wary of Jim and Tammy Faye clones on television, so I held my nose and watched what scraps I could from that horrendous network.

But one simple, humble, unadorned program on TBN appealed to me. Hugh Ross was a Christian astrophysicist, and his TBN program Reasons to Believe reminded me of the Dr. George Fischbeck science show I had watched as a child. And like those television scientists of my youth, Dr Hugh Ross appealed to me because I longed to think like he did, with logic, rigor and consistent methodology. He appealed to me because there was nobody in my life like him, and I had never met a real scientist. I loved his calm and unemotional manner of speech, as opposed to the Evangelistic ranting and crying of most TBN prosperity preachers. Just like Dr George Fischbeck, Hugh Ross stood behind a lab table and with simple props, demonstrated science in a way that was perfectly understandable to me. He explained how the Big Bang model of inflationary cosmology worked by drawing a few dots on a balloon and blowing it up. The dots all expanded away from each other so every dot is moving away from every other dot – just like the galaxies we observe, each moving away from each other. How do we know they are moving away from us? Well, there is this thing called redshift….

aahhhh. It must such perfect, beautiful sense. I loved this stuff.

Dr Hugh Ross told me about a Universe with more than 3 spatial dimensions. How could this be possible? He drew stick figures on an index card. “Meet Mr and Mrs Flat. They live in a 2-dimensional universe called Flatland. They cannot leave the index card. They cannot perceive anything outside their 2-dimensional reality. Now if I place my finger on the index card, Mr and Mrs Flat can walk around my finger, wondering what in the world had invaded Flatland. What would they see? A simple circle. My finger is penetrating Flatland, but they would not see my finger. Just a circle as they walk around the plane broken by my finger. Now what would happen if I poked three fingers through the plane of the 2-dimensional index card? Three circles. But all three are one. Three separate circles, yes Mr and Mrs Flat cannot perceive the whole reality that those three simple circles are just a mere shadow of the entirety.”

Wait a minute… 3 circles. But in a world of more spatial dimensions, those 3 are really an underlying unity? Three are One?

Wow – science does prove Christianity to be true!

Dr Ross explained to me what the Anthropic Principle was. That is, scientific observation demonstrates that the Universe appears to be finely tuned for life to exist, thus proving that a creating, loving and personal God exists. After demonstrating how the universe is observed to expand, he explained how the expansion rate was important. If the expansion rate of the universe were to be slightly less than what it is, gravity would have been the dominant force, and the universe would have imploded in on itself soon after the Big Bang. If it were to be slightly greater, gas would not have condensed into stars. Either way, if the expansion rate of the universe were slightly greater or slightly less than what was observed, there would be no life. I bought his book The Fingerprint of God, in which he gave dozens of examples of ‘finely-tuned’ parameters of the universe. The age of the universe, the amount of matter in the universe, the strength of gravitational, electrical and nuclear forces, the relative amounts of mass between protons and electrons, and dozens more variables, had they been slightly more or less than what they were, would have resulted in no life possible in the universe! Surely, the fact that all these physical parameters were tuned so perfectly to allow for life was sure evidence of a loving and providing creator, namely the God of the Bible.

Hugh Ross used the impressive sounding Anthropic Principle to demonstrate that Earth is a privileged planet, perfectly designed by a loving creator. Not any galaxy can hold life, only those with just the right mass, structure and age. Not any star can support life, just those of the right age, temperature, and stability. Jupiter is placed near Earth to act as a gravitational attractor to passing asteroids – instead of impacting Earth and killing us all, there is a greater likelihood that they will hit the strong pull of Jupiter’s gravity. We need just the right Moon. And we need just the right Earth. Everything from the tilt-axis of Earth to the salinity of sea water is exquisitely and perfectly adjusted to support intelligent life.

I ate the stuff up. I could think of nothing more fascinating than this direct and scientific evidence that the God of the Bible deed indeed create us, and love us enough to fine-tune the whole Universe. Just for us.

Carl Sagan was my first real introduction to science, but Hugh Ross was my second. But Carl Sagan’s television show Cosmos was a distant memory to me in 1990. Hugh Ross put passion into my interest in science because he tied it into my relationship with Jesus Christ. He gave me Reasons to Believe. I felt Jesus alive in my heart, but I knew that God was real because I could see that His powerful and loving hand designed our whole world.

As much as I loved the teaching of Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe ministry, I was even more bowled over by an itinerant Christian apologist who was a frequent guest speaker at Calvary Chapel. His name was Chuck Missler.

Today, Chuck Missler is probably best known to atheists and skeptics as the promoter of the bizarre and ridiculous theory of Peanut Butter Evolution. But back in 1990, to a young, na├»ve, and uneducated Christian who was starving for knowledge, Chuck Missler was manna from Heaven. I found him to be massively intelligent, an extremely charismatic and persuasive speaker, and with the authority of a sound Biblical basis. He seemed to know everything about the Bible, and could tie all sorts of scriptural esoterica into profound theological meaning. Missler taught me to believe that the Bible was, as he says, ‘an integrated message system’. Every word, again as he says, ‘every number every place name, every detail’ in the Bible was placed there by the explicit design of the Holy Spirit. Missler gave me a sense of wonder and awe about the mystery and majesty of the Bible.

Missler seemed to know and speak about nearly everything! Most of his talks were exegetical sermons of the type I was used to, but he expounded on minute details of the Bible, demonstrating to me that even the tiniest detail in the book of Leviticus could be an inference to Jesus Christ. He convinced me that the Bible contained hundreds of predictions and prophecies that were subsequently fulfilled in history. He even somehow managed to take the same Bible passage that my friend E---- laughed so hard at, the patriarchal genealogies of Genesis 5, and somehow turn that piece of mythology into a message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Oh how I wished E---- were there on that night, then she would not laugh, but would see the true meaning of scripture. You see, by taking the English meanings of the names, Adam = ‘man’, Seth = ‘appointed’, Enos = ‘mortal’, you could construct the sentence:

Man is appointed mortal sorrow, but the blessed God shall come down teaching that His death shall bring the despairing rest.

Absolutely mindblowing. Stunning. Revolutionary. I was convinced that Missler was correct. All these minute details in the seldom read and dusty corners of Scripture were there as keys, tiny treasures that glorified the person of Jesus Christ. Missler told us that we could pull the same trick with other Biblical genealogies. The sons of Jacob were listed many times in the Bible, and every time they are listed, it is in a different order. I rushed out to the Christian bookstore and bought a Strong’s exhaustive concordance of the Bible. Not only could I not figure out how to turn Rueben, Ashur, Issachar, Dan, and the rest into a secret message that glorified Jesus, I also learned that the names in Genesis 5 did not actually form the sentence that Missler claimed they did. Ah well, I thought, perhaps Missler has some kind of root dictionary of Hebrew names that I did not know about. Perhaps he had resources that were even more reliable than the Hebrew lexicon in Strong’s exhaustive concordance.

So in this way, I became not only an apologist for the Bible, but I became an apologist for my favorite Bible teachers. Whenever they told me things that did not stand up under any scrutiny, and there were many, I figured that they must simply know things that I did not. After all, they were professional Bible scholars who did this sort of work for a living. I was a simple short order cook. How could I question their knowledge?

Why is the Hebrew Tabernacle, as described in Exodus, described in such minute detail? Because every detail of the design of that structure points to Jesus. Why are the numbers of the tribes detailed in the opening chapters of Numbers? Because by adding the numbers and positions of the tribes up, then taking an aerial view of the camp would reveal that they camped in the shape of a giant cross, radiating out from the Tabernacle. Why are the numbers of days so detailed in the story of Noah’s Flood? Because then you could know that the events of the Flood occurred on key anniversary dates, for instance the Ark rested on Ararat on the anniversary of the Resurrection of Jesus.

Missler often claimed that there were ancient monuments on different locations of the Earth, that also pointed to the person of Jesus and the reality of the Bible. The Great Pyramid if Giza and Stonehenge were both examples. By taking precise measurements of the dimensions of these ancient structures, we could determine all kinds of peculiar mathematical properties. For instance, dividing the perimeter of the base of the pyramid by half its height gave pi, the transcendental ratio of the circle’s circumference to its ratio. ASTOUNDING! If one measured half the length of diagonals of the base of the Pyramid, then multiplied that by 1000000, it gave the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun. AMAZING! He stunned us with hundreds of similar examples that proved to us that the ancient people who built these structures were given supernatural guidance. These structures were also able to predict the future if their geometries were read and interpreted in peculiar ways. Missler was even able to give Scriptural support for including these pagan monuments into his sermons. He even included, as a possible conjecture, a monument on the surface of the planet Mars. The infamous Face on Mars was too symmetrical and uniform to be of natural origin. Somebody built it. The question is who? When? Why?

Such church sermons were nothing like what I heard in my youth. I was astounded by the implications of such sermons. My mind reeled. My imagination was gripped. I was awestruck. I was terrified.

Missler revealed the Bible to be a giant puzzle book of codes and gematria. All Hebrew and Greek letters had numerical values associated with them, and using this information, he could demonstrate all sorts of peculiar things. Two verses in the Bible summarized the spiritual conditions at the creation of the universe: Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. The opening verse of Genesis, when put through a certain mathematical function, revealed itself to be the magical number pi. Putting the opening verse of John through the same function revealed itself to be e, the transcendental base of natural logarithms. My mind reeled. What an astounding book this Bible was! What an amazing God who inspired it!

Chuck Missler could do what I have never seen any other person do – he could stand behind a church pulpit and speak about history, quantum computing, astrophysics, archeology, and any number of other subjects that I had never before heard spoken of in church. He could speak on these subjects in front of a captivated audience of hundreds for upwards of three hours, and then afterwards take random questions! It was part worship service, part university lecture. It was truly an exciting time for me. These Bible teachers gave me more than simple homilies. They gave me the keys to the Cosmos. For better or worse, they opened my mind and made me feel that I was learning privileged knowledge that was a key to understanding reality. I felt like I was getting the inside story to the true design, nature and purpose of all creation. Much like apocalyptic writers must have felt when they wrote of being carried by arch-angels into the Third Heaven, I felt like I was learning the very mind of God! It gave me the sense everything was part of a giant, grand design, and nothing ever occurred by chance – and by understanding the Bible and relying on my faith in Jesus, I had an inside scoop into what was really going on in the world. I was certainly privileged. Praise the Lord!

Where Missler amazed me with his brilliance, Skip Heitzig also continued to impress me. He could prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead and was the very Creator of the Universe. After all, the disciples were timid, frightened and ignorant when they were in the presence of Jesus, but suddenly turned into bold warriors for the Gospel after his death. How would that have been possible if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead? How could they have all died horrible martyr’s deaths at the hands of non-believers if they thought that the Resurrection was a lie? Jesus claimed to be God, which left me only three options in dealing with that claim, either he was lying, he was insane, or he was in fact correct and he was God!! No sane person would ever claim Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, so what other choice did we have? He had to be Lord! How could any fool not see this clear evidence and not follow this obvious logical conclusion? We were truly without excuse. Jesus Christ is LORD!

So for better or worse, I spent my years in Calvary Chapel learning from these people whom I esteemed so highly. I craved to learn more. I knew that there was more to life than the mundane world I knew in Albuquerque. I knew there a higher spiritual existence above my corporeal existence of restaurant work. I did not yet know about college, or the value of education. I had to teach myself about life, and people like Hugh Ross and Chuck Missler were my only outlets. At the time, I did not know any better. I did not know how to evaluate evidence, or how to scrutinize arguments. I did not know what logical fallacies were, or how to be a critical thinker. I was just unbelievably curious, crazy in love with Jesus, and the only source of knowledge that I found trustworthy was the Bible, and the astounding expository skills of my favorite Bible Teachers. I read their books, and devoured their teaching cassettes. I still have a box with hundreds of cassettes buried in a closet somewhere.

The more I read, the more I listened and the more I learned, the more spellbound I was by fraud. I was blinded by their charisma and dazzled by their bullshit.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Religious Skeptics demand proof

... and Skyline Baptist Church right here in El Paso has obliged:

Take that Skeptic!!

I saw this on the marquee driving home from work this evening and I had to fire off a shot with the camera. For the life of me, I don't know why I find this marquee so hilarious, but I do. I hope you find this interruption in the previously scheduled de-conversion story as funny as I did.

More in the Conversions and De-conversions series coming soon. I have been very busy in my home life lately, but I hope to get back to it soon. I am up to about the year 1989 or age 25 in my story, so I still have a long way to go. I find that the story is more difficult to write as the memories become more recent and the religious events become more convoluted. But writing the series has been good for me so far. It allows me to sort through all my history, and all my feelings, and teach myself a few things about how I got where I am today. I am really enjoying writing it. It is my hope that somebody out there may find some meaning and relation in my story, and that it will help them somewhat on their own personal journey. Be patient Dear Reader - loads more coming soon.