Archive for category Nature
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
As we asked in an earlier thread, The Murderous Root of Religion, how did Cain come to understand that God disfavored his offering of grain (or fruits or vegetables)? Did God expressly tell him this in a thundering message from the clouds? Or perhaps in a dream?
Or was it more likely that Abel was in some way better off than Cain ? That Cain was envious of Abel’s circumstances, and figured that God just wasn’t being fair. These were primitive people without all the trappings of modern humankind. So, I don’t think that Abel had nicer clothes or a bigger house or a more luxurious wagon imported from Germany. It’s also doubtful that money was a concept that they would be familiar with. So in what way did God bless Abel over Cain? What’s left to be jealous of?
One possibility that comes to mind is Abel’s health. After all, it’s always been said that if you have your health then you have everything. Maybe Abel’s family was healthier than Cain’s, suffering from fewer maladies and in better overall physical condition. Being healthier, perhaps they were also happier. To a primitive mind, what other reason could there be for this disparity, other than that God was smiling on Abel while punishing Cain. But why would God allow Cain to be healthier than Abel?
The answer might be found in their choice of offerings; Abel’s was made up of meat and fat as opposed to the vegetarian offering of Cain. Today’s conventional medical wisdom affirms that Cain’s high carb menu would certainly be healthier than Abel’s fatty one. But perhaps God knows something that the majority of our doctors, nutritionists and dietitians do not.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll have steak tonight. Again.
That’s right. I meant hearsay, not heresy.
Occasionally, in conversations with conservative Christians, I have been accused of embracing the Pelagian Heresy. I gave these claims little thought, not having known much about Pelagius or his teachings. (There are so many ‘heretics’ in church history it’s hard to keep track.) Besides, the other heretic I kept being linked to was Arminius, and I rather liked what he had to say.
Now I realize that these people were probably right. I am a Pelagian at heart. I have been reading a book called “Christ of the Celts” by J Phillip Newell and in it he talks a bit about Pelagius, who was a Celt himself. Rather than being incorporated in the burgeoning Christian empire that was based in Rome, the Celts were pushed out to the fringes and by the fouth century were mostly contained in what is now Scotland and Ireland. They embraced Christianity but were afforded some insulation from the empire-supporting church doctrines which have shaped the majority of western Christianity. This Celtic Christianity is much more in tune with nature, much less overburdened with doctrines and dogmas and has a reputation that is, in my opinion, much more in in accord with the true teachings of Jesus. Their theology relies heavily upon the thinking of Pelagius, who was a monk and a mystic that understood the underrated role that nature plays when encountering God.
This is what the conservative Christian Apologetics Research Ministry has to say about Pelagianism:
Pelagianism derives its name from Pelagius who lived in the 5th century A.D. and was a teacher in Rome, though he was British by birth. It is a heresy dealing with the nature of man. Pelagius, whose family name was Morgan, taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention. Pelagianism teaches that man’s nature is basically good. Thus it denies original sin, the doctrine that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. He said that Adam only hurt himself when he fell and all of his descendents were not affected by Adam’s sin. Pelagius taught that a person is born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam was when he was first made by God. He taught that people can choose God by the exercise of their free will and rational thought. God’s grace, then, is merely an aid to help individuals come to Him.
Which sounds pretty reasonable to me. Not having to rationalize ponderous and often inexplicable church doctrines allows the believer to focus more on the authentic Good News of Jesus Christ. Of course, freedom of thought and expression are not things that popes, bishops, kings and governments are fond of, therefore Pelagius’ ideas have been smeared by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The convoluted machinations of his theological adversary, Augustine of Hippo, were much more conducive to authoritarian Church control of the peasantry, and consequently Augustine is called a saint and Pelagius a heretic.
Again, according to CARM:
Pelagius has been condemned by many councils throughout church history including the following:
* Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418 )
* Council of Ephesus (431)
* The Council of Orange (529)
* Council of Trent (1546) Roman Catholic
* 2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)
* Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)
* Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)
* Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)
* The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)
* Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed)
It’s nice to see that the Catholics and Protestants do agree on some things, as the above list shows. Some church leaders have even gone so far as to claim that nothing authored by Pelagius is in existence, requiring that we make up our minds about him through the writings of his adversaries. (The winners always get to write history.) One of the common accusations pointed at Pelagius was that he denied the saving grace of God. Yet on that subject, Pelagius had this to say:
“I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ is not necessary not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavor to disannul it deserve everlasting punishment.”
Not too radical.
Fortunately, some of his works survive. His dissertation on Nature presents a concise summation of his theology and is well worth checking out. It’s a shame that the Church has done it’s best to deny its lay members the opportunity to hear from Pelagius and other daring thinkers.
If you would like to learn more about the Pelagian “Heresy” you can check out the links to these pages that attempt to refute Pelagian theology. You may find their criticism are not strong enough to convincingly condemn Pelagius and why it required the strength of empire to squash him. Don’t rely upon hearsay, decide for yourself.
A surprisingly liberal consideration of Evolution by Dinesh D’Souza from the fairly conservative Christianity Today:
The Evolution of Darwin
The scientist’s problem with God did not spring from his theory.
It was in 1859—exactly a century and a half ago—that Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. It is perhaps the most controversial book of the past millennium, and the work that has since made Darwin the patron saint of modern atheism. According to Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
Evolution does seem to turn many Christians into unbelievers. A famous example is the distinguished Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Evolution gave him a profound sense of intellectual liberation from his Baptist upbringing in the South. Evolution also makes some people secular evangelists for the Darwinist cause. Michael Shermer was an evangelical Christian studying at Pepperdine University when his study of evolution convinced him to give up his faith. Shermer is now the editor of Skeptic magazine.
So does a belief in evolution automatically lead to disbelief in God? Actually, Darwin didn’t think that. Darwin was not an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”; rather, he called himself an agnostic. Atheists say God does not exist, while agnostics say they don’t know one way or the other. Moreover, Darwin did not boast about his unbelief; rather, he approached it with marked public caution. Shocking the mores of traditional believers may be Dawkins’s thing, but it certainly wasn’t Darwin’s.
Here we must distinguish between Darwin the scientist and Darwin the unbeliever. Darwin, who was raised Anglican and even considered becoming a clergyman, did eventually relinquish his Christian faith. But he did not do so because of evolution.
The story is told in Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s authoritative biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. When Darwin’s daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin came to hate the God he blamed for this. This was in 1851, eight years before Darwin released Origin of Species.
Around the time of Annie’s death, Darwin also wrote that if Christianity were true, then it would follow that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and many of his closest family friends would be in hell. Darwin found this utterly unacceptable, given that these men were wise and kind and generous. Darwin’s rejection of God was less an act of unbelief than a rebellion against the kind of God posited by Christianity. A God who would allow a young girl to die and good people to go to hell was not anyone whom Darwin wanted to worship.
When Darwin published his work on evolution, the American biologist Asa Gray wrote Darwin to say that his book had shown God’s ingenious way of ensuring the unity and diversity of life. From Gray’s point of view, Darwin had deepened man’s understanding of divine teleology. Darwin praised Gray for seeing a point that no one else had noticed. In later editions of his books, Darwin went out of his way to cite the English writer Charles Kingsley, who described evolution as compatible with religious belief. To the end of his life, Darwin insisted that one could be “an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”
Some of Darwin’s followers, however, were attracted to Darwin’s theory precisely because they saw it as helping overthrow the Christian case for divine creation. Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, noted that evolution’s “complete and irreconcilable antagonism” toward Christianity constituted “one of its greatest merits.”
So why didn’t Darwin correct his overenthusiastic advocate? Here is where the story gets complicated. Over time, Darwin’s hostility to Christianity did play a role in his scientific views. While Darwin was originally very modest about evolution—a theory to account for transitions from one life form to another—he became increasingly insistent that evolution was an entirely naturalistic system, having no room for miracles or divine intervention at any point. When Darwin’s co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, wrote him to say that evolution could not account for man’s moral and spiritual nature, Darwin accused him of jeopardizing the whole theory: “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.” Darwin’s ultimate position was that it was disastrous for evolution to, at any point, permit a divine foot in the door.
This history is important because we can embrace Darwin’s account of evolution without embracing his metaphysical naturalism and unbelief. Dawkins and others like him are in a way confusing the two faces of Charles Darwin. They are under the illusion that to be an evolutionist is essentially to be an atheist. Darwin, to his credit, rejected the equation of these two stances as illogical, even if he didn’t always maintain, within his own life, a clear distinction between his science and his animus toward God.
Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, is author of What’s So Great About Christianity and other books.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today.
One of the more challenging issues for theists in their ongoing debate with skeptical atheists has been the Problem of Evil. Often referred to as the P.O.E., it asks the very reasonable question; if God is good then why would he permit evil? The typical Christian response says that it was man who, by his rebellion against God, brought evil into being. This has met with varying degrees of acceptance but it’s the answer that makes the most sense to me.
It’s hard to find any evidence of ‘evil’ that has not been the result of the selfish actions of men and women. Even natural calamities and physical aberrations can be rationally explained as the result of the untold centuries that mankind has lived out of harmony with God’s nature. When pressed, most moral people will admit to finding at least something repugnant about any ‘evil’ act. From office gossip shared at the water cooler to the pimp who beats the teenage runaway, they are all overlaid with a patina of dirtiness, what you could expect from something done against God’s will.
But, all seriousness aside, there is another question that is not quite so “easily” explained as the POE. What about those human habits and functions that are utterly vile, repulsive and disgusting but are natural and normal processes of life? You may be too polite to bring this up yourselves but each and every one of you knows exactly what I am talking about. Why are human (and most animal) bodies so filthy? If God is good why did he make us so…GROSS? Even the most adorable baby early on in life becomes quite the foul little thing. (My wife claims that as soon as my children were weaned off of baby food I could never be found at diaper changing time. This is patently untrue. In fact there is a photo of me changing their diapers, wearing over my nose and mouth a red bandana that had been thoroughly doused with Old Spice.)
I believe this to be a very relevant theological question and was going to call it the P.O.P. – the Problem of Poo. But the POP has already been taken. So instead I will call this the POO – the Problem of Odor.
Of course when God walked (perhaps very carefully) with Adam and Eve in the Garden there were no diapers to be changed yet (or were there?)– But they were still eating of “every seed-bearing plant… and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” to be found in the Garden (and we all know what a diet of just fruits and vegetables is like, right?). Perhaps prior to the fall they were somehow physically ‘different’ in that their bodily wastes were not quite so offensive (like a rabbit that has no problem eating its food more than once). Maybe they were 100% efficient when it came to digestion, their only waste products being a little H2O, carbon dioxide and a few grams of ash. Or perhaps their waste was like ours but somehow ‘nicer’ – not yet tainted by the fall.
But if their physiology was just like ours, how was this handled in Paradise? I don’t know about you but my vision of Paradise doesn’t leave any room for Port-A-Potties. Of course they wouldn’t have access to facilities as modern as that – they were still primitives living off the land. Though the Bible doesn’t say so, the first invention may very well have been a crude entrenching tool. Alternatively, perhaps they were allowed to venture out of the Garden a couple of times each day to take care of business, leaving their nastiness in someone else’s backyard (something that most of us have continued to do for centuries).
But back to my point; couldn’t God have come up with a better way of packaging our bodily effluvia and excreta? I mean, it wouldn’t have to be too fetching – that probably would’ve been counterproductive. Still, maybe something more along the lines of Brussel Sprouts would’ve made the point with a lot less nausea. Maybe sauerkraut. Or Kimchi, even. That’s all I’m asking. And I’m asking it for all of you people who have wondered about this yourselves but didn’t have the cojones to bring it up.
SHARP IRON – “Where we aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions”
What will those wily Koreans think of next? First kimchee, then the Hyundai and now this. Jeesh! I’ll bet it cuts into their mousing percentages, though.
(Wait’ll Buddy sees this.) http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20071212/sc_afp/healthscienceskoreacloning