Jesus Christ and the Fig Tree

This post concerns a curious bible story, found in the book of Mark:

Mark 11:12-14

12The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:20-25

20In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Christians tend to look at this story as a lesson in faith.  While verse 24 is quoted often as an example to live up to in faith, I think there is another way to read this story.  It is a retelling of the original downfall of mankind according to Genesis.  The key fact that makes it so is that the fig tree wasn’t in season, something the story points out explicitly.   Jesus cursed it for not bearing fruit when it supposed to have no fruit.  There was no way the fig tree could have behaved any differently.

This parallels nicely the story of man’s downfall in Genesis.  God created Adam and Eve and told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge.  But without the knowledge the tree provided, how were they to know that was wrong to disobey?  How would they know that it was wrong to indulge curiosity?  Their ignorance secured in their creation, they acted in the manner that they were created.  God was not pleased, and he cursed them.

Christians read the story of the downfall as a lesson in disobedience, but I must disagree.  The actions of god in this case are mirrored by the actions of jesus: a curse on his creation for the way he created them!

Implicit Acceptance of Evolution as Fact

Hulu recently made Carl Sagan‘s famous PBS documentary series Cosmos available for free viewing online.  If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend watching it.  It is the best documentary series I’ve ever seen, and for me, it was a complete life changer.  There is a moment in the last episode of the series that completely shattered some cognitive dissonance that had been building up for months: the amount of evidence for evolution, versus my dogmatic rejection of it.  The moment is just a simple statement:  “[we] accepted the products of science, but not it’s methods.”  The intensity I felt in that moment has been rarely replicated.  It perfectly described my actions in a way that was undeniable, but also provided the solution: drop my dogmatic beliefs in favor of evidence based knowledge.

Since that time, I sometimes forget what it’s like for people who reject evolution.  Sometimes, as hard as it is to believe, I forget that anyone actually rejects evolution.  It’s so obvious to me now, that I forge that there are other perspectives out there.  There are probably many causes for this, but there is one that I want to focus on for this post:  Nearly everyone benefitting from modern technology has implicitly accepted evolution.

The theory of evolution was a breakthrough of truly monumental proportions, and today, it’s applications have extended well beyond just academic biology.  For example, it’s used in forensic science to help solve crimes.  How many people accept DNA evidence, but don’t realize that without the theory of evolution, we wouldn’t be able to analyze DNA?  How many people use materials everyday that were designed using principals derived from the theory of evolution?

How many people wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the theory of evolution?  Modern medicine depends on an understanding of evolution.  If the theory of evolution didn’t accurately reflect reality, modern medicine would not be successful at all.  Instead, we see life expectancy growing at an exponential rate.

Shouldn’t someone who truly believes evolution wrong and even evil, reject all these things? If they’re truly dedicated to their beliefs, they should.  Instead, we see their rational side appear when they need it.  If they’re sick, they ignore the man behind the curtain, and implicitly accept the benefits of evidence-based knowledge.  Next time I’m pulled back down to earth by someone who doesn’t believe in evolution, I just want to ask them this:  then why do you accept it’s products?

God is not Necessary

adamandgod

It was once nearly universal that people believed that god existed, and that without god, life would be chaos.  That time is in the past.  Recent data has shown that somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent of americans are non-religious, placing this group in second place in terms of population.  Only Christianity as a group can claim higher numbers.  But that’s tricky, because Christians are great at fighting between themselves.  Are the Catholics really Christians?  How about Calvinists?  Or Mormons?  Or Fundamentalist? Or evangelicals?  When you break down Christianity into incompatible subgroups that love to hate each other, the non-religious numbers more than many of them.  There’s all sorts of interesting things to consider about these statistics, but I’ll have to take those up in another post.  This post it aimed at posing a simple question:

In a nation where around one out of every six people are non-religious, why are things as ordered as they are?

While you’re thinking about that, consider these numbers as well.  If you don’t want to take the time to read it, it talks about the disparity between the religious percentages in society and in prison.  Outside of prison, the non-religious number one out of six.  Inside prison, the non-religious number around one in 500.  If it’s true that non-belief leads to chaos and anarchy, why aren’t the prisons overflowing with the non-religious?  Why are our prisons instead overflowing with people who claim belief in god?

Another example is Norway.  Norway is over 70% atheist.  According to the theory that god is necessary for morality and meaning, we would expect Norway to be anarchy and a hell hole.  But that is not the case.  Norway is one of the most responsible and peaceful nations in the world.   The hypothesis that god is necessary for morality and meaning is falsified by this evidence.

The fact of the matter is that god is not necessary for living a moral and meaningful life.

Is god necessary for you to love your family?  If you discovered that god did not exist, would you suddenly hate your wife, your husband, your sister, or your brother?  How about your children?  Would you kick them to the curb if you discovered Richard Dawkins is correct, and god was only a delusion?

Would you find your hobbies suddenly unfulfilling?  Would fishing become a chore?  Or hiking?  Or watching your favorite sports team?

Would you no longer donate to charity?  Would you ignore someone broken down on the side of the road?  Would you decide not to help your neighbor change their tire?

Would you decide that it’s now okay to steal whatever you want, to rape and murder whoever you want?

If you’re anything like everyone I know, your answer to every one of those questions is ‘no.’  And that’s my point.  God isn’t necessary for any of those things.  So let’s stop pretending that it is.  I know how the religious are stuck to their beliefs, but please, why don’t you reconsider this particular belief.

Book Review: The Shack

In the last month, I’ve heard several different people talking about The Shack, a book that supposedly has new ideas about god and what it means to have a relationship with it.  Last night, a friend loaned me his copy, and I sat down and read it.  At right around 250 pages, it’s a quick read, although the writing itself is not high quality.  For those of you in the know, think “Twilight.”  The writing is self-important, predictable, cheesy, and only thing good I can really say about it is that it’s sincere.  I don’t know how old the author is, but this is the level of writing I would expect from a junior high or high school student.

As for the content, there is nothing that’s really ‘new’ in this book.  It’s basically an anarchist’s reinterpretation of christianity using new age ideas.  The main theme is an attempt to solve the problem of evil by using an appeal to emotion.  There is nothing in the way of evidence or reason offered, and many parts of the book can be considered anti-intellectual.  The parts where it did mention something scientific, the author got it horribly wrong, including a bungling of quantum mechanics (to be fair, though, who doesn’t bungle quantum mechanics?), and the continuation of the idea of mind / brain dualism.

Important issues were brought up by the protaganist in the book.  The doctrine of original sin is re-interpreted as ‘humans wanting their independence and getting it.’  To his credit, the author seems to skirt the issue of hell, and seems to imply that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, and holds to the idea that justice and grace are completely incompatible.  That is a refreshing view from a christian, but nothing life-shattering.

Over all, I have to say this book really isn’t worth reading.  My evening would have been better spent finishing up Proust was a Neuroscientist (review to be posted soon).

What If? A Hypothetical Look at the Bible

The Friendly Christian was asking what turns us off from Christianity. I gave my answer there, but I want to expand a bit on one point.

One of the main reasons I can’t be a Christian is what I call the ‘non-uniqueness’ of Christianity. If Christianity was really the one source truth, and all other religions were wrong, wouldn’t there be some very obvious indicators for it? Having posed that question, the first thing that needs to be discovered is what would be an indicator of truth?

There could be a long discussion here about ‘what is truth,’ and/or ‘how do we know what truth is,’ but I’m bored of such discussions. Truth is a representation of realit y. In other words, a ‘true statement’ would be an statement that accurate reflects reality. We verify that something is true through logic, reason, and emperical evidence.

With that out of the way, it’s time to pose my hypotheticals about the bible. What if the following would have happened?

Hypothetical #1
What if the Genesis actually followed the path of creation we know to be true? For example, there was an explosion, and then gas formed, and the gas gathered into stars, and the stars formed into galaxies, and eventually our own star was formed, and around that star was our planet. Et cettera. It would not be difficult to describe this even to a primitive people roaming the desert four thousand years ago. They may not have understood at the time, but it would be something for them to marvel, and then eventually come to understand. And how glorifying that would have been for god! It would be a win-win all around.

Hypothetical #2
[EDIT:  This wording was terrible]
What if instead of portraying men as superior to women, the bible explicitely stated that all people were equal, without regard for gender, ethnicity, or anything else? What if god had given them a morality we could recognize today as ‘good’ instead of something that believers today try very hard to ignore and rationalize away?

Hypothetical #3
What if instead of burnt offerings and other ceremonies, god decided he wanted to have us show our devotion through service to others? You say that Jesus did that? Why the hell wasn’t it like that from the beginning? Some might say that the people weren’t ready, and God was just guiding them along with what they could handle. Can you honestly believe that? Are we better moral beings than what existed a few thousand years ago? The ideas simply hadn’t been invented yet, which is quite obvious when we look at how quickly democracy and similar ideas were adopted after their invention among multiple civilazations. It’s also interesting to note how opposed the church has always been to these ideas, which we know to be good, or at the very least, better than what we had before.

Ok, there are three examples of possible ‘truth indicators’ that could have been unique to Christianity/Judaism. Instead what we see time and time again is that both are copycat religions. They take ideas that have been in use elsewhere, steal them, and use them as their own. And even then, we can see that they still have bad ideas, with little verifiable truth to be found. Sure there’s lots of stuff they say is true, but can’t be proven, but those things are meaningless because of it.

The fact of the matter is that where Christianity has the opportunity to shine as a beacon of truth, it fails miserably. And that is cause for great consideration.

“But Science has been Wrong Before!”

Someone once argued with me, concerning evolution, “science has been wrong before.”

True enough. I didn’t reply at the time, for a variety of reasons. Today, I would challenge them to name something that science has been wrong about. There are several possible choices. One common answer is thinking the earth was flat (most people don’t know about Eratosthenes calculating the diameter of the earth around 200 B.C). Never-the-less, the fact remains that the argument is right. We have been wrong about things in the past. We’re still wrong about some things. We know that many of our theories are incomplete.

Given all of that, though, there is a better point to be made. Science is unique in the way that it is the only self-correcting field out there. All of those times science has been wrong about something, I can guarantee you, it was not the priest that fixed it, but another scientist.