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My Take: Learn about the Bible, even if you don't believe it
April 20th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Learn about the Bible, even if you don't believe it

Editor's Note: Kristin Swenson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time.

By Kristin Swenson, Special to CNN

"True Grit's" stern little girl Mattie - shoot, the Coen Brothers’ entire movie - dramatizes a single line of biblical text. And the way the film interprets that particular text makes that biblical verse directly related to the governor of Illinois' recent decision to ban the death penalty, a decision which was reportedly informed by the Bible.

The movie’s and the Illinois governor’s conclusions - about capital punishment in this case - are exactly opposite. While Mattie's justice requires death for the man who killed her dad, the governor's has no place for such execution. Yet both have biblical precedent.

So knowing about the Bible not only makes the movies more fun and enables critique of public policy, but it also paradoxically encourages you to think for yourself.

The Bible's long history of development, reflecting many voices, and the fact that it’s usually read in translation invite our engagement with it not merely as passive recipients of a fixed meaning but as unique individuals bringing different points of view to bear.

The trick, of course, is knowing something about the Bible, even if you don’t believe in it. And the more you know, the more intriguing it gets.

If you're not biblically literate, you can get along all right, but you're missing out. It's like a cocktail party with raucous conversation. You're invited, but until you know something about the Bible, you'll be stuck talking about the weather at the punch bowl.

Yes, "True Grit" is entertaining no matter what, and you can take Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn at his word that his death penalty decision has biblical basis, but each invites a deeper understanding. And together, they reflect the Bible's ambivalence - in this case about crime and punishment.

"The wicked flee when none pursueth," a line from Proverbs 28:1, hangs auspiciously on the screen at the beginning of "True Grit."

Knowing that Hebrew (the original language of Proverbs) creates its poetry out a system of parallel lines, might lead you to check out the line after the one quoted in True Grit: "but the righteous are as bold as a lion."

Linking the criminals' running to the boldness of a lion, the biblical verse suggests a world in which courageous good guys chase down the yellow-bellied bad with the same determination, cunning and strength as the king of beasts.

That's our Mattie, at 14 years old a cub, but single-minded in her quest to bring to justice the man who killed her father. Mattie is "the righteous," of course, and the justice she seeks is death.

Because the Bible is sacred scripture, authoritative and instructive for millions of people, many people believe, like Mattie, that certain criminals should be put to death because of what it says.

After all, the Torah, or "law," prescribes execution in several specific cases, including murder.

Yet Illinois Gov. Quinn is said to have consulted the Bible while wrestling with his decision to abolish the death penalty. What gives?

People looking to the Bible for a single, clear, yes-or-no answer about the death penalty will be disappointed, just as they are when seeking a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to abortion or environmental ethics.

For one thing, another translation of torah is "instruction." So maybe those "laws" shouldn't be taken so literally.

Indeed, while the Bible allows for all sorts of killing and would seem to demand criminal execution in certain cases, it also commands "thou shalt not kill/murder," identifies God as the only ultimate judge, and praises forgiveness and mercy.

I don't know Quinn, but I suspect he knows enough about the Bible to know that he also had to think for himself. He wisely considered that our human systems, justice included, are imperfect - and that the wrong person might be pegged for a capital crime.

Knowing about the Bible, no matter what you believe, enables you see not only why Quinn would settle on the ban but also why it was such a difficult decision: sometimes the Bible says different things.

"God said it, I believe it, that settles it," is available for bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and posters. Yet the Bible's multiplicity of voices and complex history invite you to learn more and in the process to add your own voice, thoughts, and deliberations to the conversation.

First, though, you’ve got to learn about it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kristin Swenson.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Movies • Opinion

soundoff (1,814 Responses)
  1. Mario

    Jesus Christ.He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1)

    April 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      If I were to duct tape an audio recording of mindless religious prattle to a blind sheep, it would be just like having two of you.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      1 John 2:18-25

      18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
      19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
      20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
      21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
      22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
      23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
      24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
      25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  2. cmdvimes

    Reading the Bible in large chunks and not cherry-picked passages selected by the pastor is any thinking person's first step to atheism.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      The bible needs some editing. For instance, the old testament is just a waste of space.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Non-believers are a waste of space as they just suck up oxygen.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Roger

    How do you know the universe was created 13.7 Billion years ago? Were you there? Do you know someone that was? I would certainly enjoy meeting this person. I think it would be great to sit down and talk about the "good ole days"!

    April 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • KingOfErehwon

      Learning how scientists have discovered the age of the universe is a deep subject requiring some scientific intellect. I suppose if you haven't looked into how they did it by now, then there isn't much point in even trying to explain it to you. But, since you asked the question, take some time and use the Internet to do a little research. Your mind will be truly expanded.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      You need to cross reference the books in the Bible to read about the destruction of the first Earth Age as written in scriptures ...

      2 Peter 3:5-6

      5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
      6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:

      Jeremiah 4:23-27

      23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
      24 I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly.
      25 I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.
      26 I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger.
      27 For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Quag

      I hope you never sit on a jury with that logic because murderers would be set free. When a person is found murdered, detectives sift through evidence to identify a killer or killers...even without eyewitness accounts. So stop with the "were you there" arguement.

      April 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  4. James Michael

    Reading the Bible is the best possible path to atheism. I was told to read my Bible every day by the UPC church and I did and the questions it raised, coupled with the lame apologetics trying to explain contradictions and inconsistencies, helped me see the light and thus I am an atheist today. The age of the universe has been proven again and again through careful scientific tests, the same cannot be said for the existence of God.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      2 Timothy 3:13-17

      13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
      14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
      15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
      16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
      17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  5. y

    The bible was written by men. Men are full of it. Always have been always will be.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      2 Peter 1:21

      For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  6. One Happy Atheist

    Steve: An excellent post, so very well said – Wish I could express myselef as well.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  7. Awetmedic

    Okay, so everyone should read the bible. Why not a book from the many other hundreds of religions? To me Vishnu is the best god because he is smart enough to use his powers to give himself extra arms. You know, being a diety must involve doing alot of things, and those extra arms are a really god, oops good way to use your powers. Many of the other stories about gods have some great illustrations. This can help when skimming the religious doctrine of your choice. Hey, this is all religious based material, can we add another chapter to the bible? Why did the tradition stop? Who is qualified to add chapters?

    April 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Heh. I like your comment, but really if you are a deity why do you need more arms? you can probably already do things awesomely.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Although I am a Christian, I have studied other religious philosophies, including most of the Asian ones. If you really examined Vedic philosophy, you would note that though Vishnu worship is more prevalent among Hindus, Shivites see much deeper than the traditional view of Siva the Destroyer. As Nataraj he dances the universe into existence. As Shakyamuni he is the Lord of Nature and patron of Yogis (not Berra). Vishnu kept having to be reborn as different Avatars (such as Rama, Krishna, and Kalki) to do his works. Siva simply is. He does not need Avatars to accomplish his works.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  8. bp

    All this article is Pascal's Wager and thats been thourougly debunked

    April 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  9. Fuyuko

    Reading the bible was an eye-opener. I believe in Jesus and God, however not the God of the bible. I lean more towards the deist philosophy and I was truly repelled by the actions of the old testament people and God. There is some good there, but a lot of really genuinely bad stuff. I was repelled and disappointed that people would believe God commits atrocities or sanctions them.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  10. Baruch

    I've read it. It is a book that has been edited rewritten redacted and politicized for centuries. It is nothing to live by, as we see from all the hate coming out of the abrahamic religions.

    I think, in looking for the divine, I will stick with nature.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  11. The Jackdaw

    I agree with this sentiment, even though I am a staunch atheist. Western culture is largely based on Catholicism. It is important to know and understand what shaped our world. It’s also fun to see what some people actually believe to be true.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  12. Doesn't matter

    Well Steve at least you post was well thought out, but unfortunately your thought process is flawed...allow me to explain...

    You state that: "That the universe came into being 13.7 billion yrs ago is clear due to direct observation. " Let me ask you a question, who observed this?

    Also, you state: "That life emerged from naturally occuring complex molecular interaction is clear if not completely understood." How can this be clear if it is not understood?

    Also: "That evolution shaped life to the diversity we see today is clear due to mountains of evidentiary support." These mountains of eveidence that you speak of are spoken of often but I have yet to read see or hear any evidence that can be considered "rock solid". At best there is suggestive evidence of evolution...just as there is suggestive evidence of God. One could therefore say there is mountains of evidence that God exists. I have no problem with your belief in evolution, but please don't try to tell me that it is because of the "mountains of evidence", belief in evolution requires just as much if not more faith than belief in God. If you are, to use your term "intellectually honest" with yourself you will have to admit that the idea that there is a God is terrifying to you because then you may have to answer to Him as one day we all will have to. Steve perhaps if your mind and heart were more open you would be able to perceive Truth when you see and hear it...

    April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • KingOfErehwon

      Well, Doesn't matter, I know you are trying to keep an "open mind" about these things, but the fact is, you need to open your mind a bit more to the scientific method. If you do, you will find all that overwhelming evidence that Steve is referring to. It takes a lot of work, and is considerably more difficult than reading the bible, but it is very rewarding, albeit humbling. I cannot go into the details of the evidence here, but I only hope you consider what I am saying. He is dead-on correct on what he is saying, but it takes a lot of education and a special analytical way of thinking to understand it.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      Well, KingOfErehwon, I know you too are trying to keep an "open mind" about these things, but the fact is, you need to open your mind a bit more to the Truth. If you do, you will find all that overwhelming evidence that Doesn't Matter is referring to. It takes a lot of work, and is considerably more difficult than reading scientific papers, but it is very rewarding, albeit humbling. I cannot go into the details of the evidence here, but I only hope you consider what I am saying. He is dead-on correct on what he is saying, but it takes a lot of opening of the heart and mind and a way of being honest with yourself to understand it.

      Well, I did this to show you how easy it is to twist an argument against someone the way you tried to do to me...what I suggest to you is go and develop your own opions rather than saying, "yeah, what he said..."

      April 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • moakley

      13.7 billion years old. The age of the universe can be observed/measured today. For an overview see the Wikipedia article "Age of the Universe".

      As far as any argument you have against evolution is concerned I would recommend that you spend some time at talkorigins org. Your arguments have already been addressed.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      @moakley

      You state: "13.7 billion years old. The age of the universe can be observed/measured today. For an overview see the Wikipedia article "Age of the Universe"." You are aware that anyone can put stuff on wikipedia right? So just so I understand what you were saying, that because you read it in Wikipedia it must be true? C'mon dude...

      Then You went on to say: "As far as any argument you have against evolution is concerned I would recommend that you spend some time at talkorigins org. Your arguments have already been addressed."
      First of all I never stated any specific arguments with evolution so how can say they have been addressed? Secondly I am not really interested in going to a website that exists solely to propagate a belief i don't share...It would be like me telling you to go to "talk about God.com" and have your questions answered about faith...

      April 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  13. Dave

    I am an atheist. I own two versions of the Bible, both of them were given to me as presents.
    Every once in a while I like to read the Book of Acts. It reads like a great adventure tale.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  14. Benjamin

    I disagree with most everything posted in this deplorable blog, and thsi specific article is a poorly argued case. Though I must admit, the original thesis is correct: it's prudent to read the bible, if only because it's so entangled in culture. We learned greek mythology for this same reason; we need to learn Christian mythology as well.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Chris K.

    Yes, please read the bible. There is no greater method of persuasion to be become an atheist than reading the holy scriptures.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • KingOfErehwon

      How true!

      April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  16. abby

    "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) Some will say belief requires a leap of faith.
    Although Kierkegaard actually said a leap TO faith, a leap of faith (according to Kierkegaard) involves circularity insofar as a leap is made BY faith. He argues that God unconditionally accepts man, thus faith itself is a gift from God, and that the highest moral position is reached when a person realizes this and, no longer depending upon her or himself, takes the leap of faith into the arms of a loving God.
    As for science vs. faith, one must remember that "rationality" is belief based on reason or evidence whereas "faith" is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. Hence, I accept evolution based on reason and evidence. But I also believe in God - Father, Son & Holy Spirit - based on faith.
    Blessed Easter to all.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  17. Native American

    I think atheists have a LOT in common with fundamentalists. Both think that they can find an argument which proves they are infallible. So the Bible is full of nonsense? Fine. But if somebody wrote an ancient math book that is full of nonsense, does that mean math doesn't exist? The truth is that reality - both what we DO and DON'T understand so far - is just not that convenient.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • EvoDevo

      you are not a scientist, are you?

      April 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • ScottK

      "if somebody wrote an ancient math book that is full of nonsense, does that mean math doesn't exist?" Yes, if the ancient math book say's that 2+2 = 10 (being full of nonsense) then that kind of math is not math, therefore, it does not exist. And it leaves it purely in the realm of unprovable. You claim its true, and you can try all you want, but taking 2 oranges and adding them to another 2 oranges does not give you a basket of 10 oranges.

      "they can find an argument which proves they are infallible." Not true, an atheist says "I find no proof God exists, so I do not believe until proof is given" and a fundie says "I find no proof God exists, but I know for a fact he does and will violently defend my right to believe". So only one is claiming infallability with no proof of anything. The other is merely asking for proof before belief.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Ouch! Using logic to attack Fundamentalist arguments! Sounds like me when 40 years ago – of course, I still do the same thing today to them. On the other hand, reading the Bible can lead to inspiration when I am looking for "help". For about the last 1800 years, the compendium of legends, stories, prophesies, songs, etc. has served as a guide post for Western Civilization. Unfortunately, most people who refer to themselves as Christian would be unrecognized as such by the Nazarene Prophet. Most of them would come off more like the Pharisees or Saduccees than they would as followers of the Messiah, being more concerned with form than substance.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Robert Dennis

      Ahhh a voice of reason ANDfaith. Between you and abby below finally there is real evidence that some people really get it.
      You heathens are going to hell (j/k)

      April 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Scott, 2+2 does equal 10 in base 4, which is the next logical numerical sequence from Binary. Binary, Quadrary, Octal and Hexidecimal are the basis for modern computing!

      April 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Robert Dennis

      @EvoDevo science is only a methodology of testing, and two hundred years ago science said the earth was made out of air, water, filre and dirt. Science is only as good as our current understanding of the universe. Mankind is like a kid, we have grown to the rebelious child stage where we just know everything, hopefully we live long enough to grow up and learn more.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  18. Bob

    You should read the bible. It's the best collorabitive fable ever written.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • ScottK

      The best color-rabbit-ive story ever written are the Uncle Remus tales...

      April 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      John 8:42-47

      42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
      43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
      44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
      45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
      46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
      47 He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  19. sealchan

    @brad

    I think that AthiestSteve's argument is typical for atheists who think that their's is a purely rational, scientific and practical stance. Deeper self-examination will reveal that for humans (not Vulcans) this is a goal but not a reality.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • dustl

      Uh, are you referring to how you like to talk to God at night?

      April 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • sealchan

      @dustl

      Interesting comment...and a good place to begin. Tell me, when you go to sleep at night and have a dream, why is it that you dream what you dream?

      April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • EvoDevo

      Read "Origin of Species" even if one doesn't believe. One might learn something.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • sealchan

      @EvoDevo

      True, but it may have to wait. My current reading includes:

      In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric Kandel
      The Five Books of Moses translated by Everett Fox
      Willpower's Not Enough by Arnold Waston and Donna Boundy
      Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam by Omar Khayyam?
      The Restored New Testament translated by Willis Barnstone
      The Eyes of Hiesenberg by Frank Herbert
      God's Chinese Son by Jonathan Spence
      Fire in the Mind by George Johnson

      April 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Magic

      sealchan,
      "Tell me, when you go to sleep at night and have a dream, why is it that you dream what you dream?"

      It is the Leprechauns who live under my bed loudly replaying the videos of my life that they invisibly film. There are quite a few of them under there, each playing a different one... so I get a real scrambled version.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • sealchan

      @Magic

      A good way to dismiss a subject is to not take it seriously...there are always enough lepricauns around to side up with you...but some of the other lepricauns will eventually have their say.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Romans 3:1-31

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. AtheistSteve

    Ah yes...The Bible...worlds greatest book of multiple choice. Select from the salad bar of options to suit your particular needs. Want confirmation that capital punishment is ok, no problem, there's a passage for that. Decide you are against it, again no problem, there's a passage for that too. In fact whatever preconceived worldview you posses can be verified by whichever passages you choose to acknowledge and chuck the rest as irrelevant or metaphorical.

    God exists all right...just as numbers exist. As a concept, an abstract symbol of mental gymnastics. The big difference is that numbers are actually useful in helping us determine concrete things about reality. Numbers have been clearly defined using logic. There is complete concensus on this with nobody disputing the basic foundations of mathematics. The Principia Mathematica details 379 pages of first order logic and set theory before providing absolute proof that 1 + 1 = 2.
    God however is not clearly defined...at all. No consensus on the nature of God between faiths or even within faiths. There is no way to use logic to arrive at a proof for the existence of God. And puh-lease don't try to invoke Kalam...if arriving at the number 2 took nearly 400 pages of logical steps then defining an infinitely complex god using a few paragraphs of seriously flawed logic doesn't cut it.

    Thus the concept of God is more ana.logous to the concept of say a Unicorn. We can posit the existence of unicorns but we remain stuck with just the hypothetical concept. No logical steps to infer its existence and absolutely no way to assign attributes to it. No way to determiine its diet, mating habits, growth cycle, habitat, etc. How then is the hypothetical concept of God attributed with creating the universe, life, man, the soul, afterlife, etc.

    That the universe came into being 13.7 billion yrs ago is clear due to direct observation. How and from where it emerged is unknown but to invoke God is an illogical cop out. That life emerged from naturally occuring complex molecular interaction is clear if not completely understood. The particulars remain to be discovered but still outweighs the "magical" intervention of an undefined illogical God. That evolution shaped life to the diversity we see today is clear due to mountains of evidentiary support. How then do we ignore this to conclude God created Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. We can't...not if we're being intellectually honest.

    God doesn't exist. Thus Adam and Eve didn't exist. Thus no original sin. Thus no need for a redeemer. Thus no need for religion. So why are so many people still clinging to barbaric concepts originally designed to give some kind of explanation to things unknown? Perhaps fear, insecurity, ignorance and indoctrination are prime movers. I have no need for any supernatural excuses for any of it. The natural world is replete with awe and wonder without the need to find succor in the trancendant. It is enough to feel fulfilled with this one brief lifetime in an ordered understandable universe. No god required or wanted.

    April 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Kaitlyn

      Atheist Steve, God bless you!

      April 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • sealchan

      Thee is no truth without axioms, that is, without unproven statements of truth. But, of course, if one's ideas prove useful then there is truth in that as well.

      While I would likely agree with you that scientific perspectives are more useful than non-scientific ones, I still see an immense use for non-scientific views. Belief in God is a personal, emotional relationship with another being whose scope and integrity is whatever it needs to be (bigger, better, faster, stronger, etc...) to be a "higher" point of reference for the individual soul. It is an unproven scientifically, feeling-construct that can have a direct useful function for a person.

      To not allow your psyche to make use of its human relationship dimensions when addressing the Universe as a whole is to severely cripple the potential of human knowledge and fulfillment.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • One Sad Christian

      If your theory is correct, then you will not have any problems. But, lets say that what Christians believe IS correct. You would then one day have to answer for all your sins and unbelief in GOD. It would be at that time that you WOULD believe, but to no avail. A very sad day indeed.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • brad

      If you think the Bible gives mixed messages, consider what human nature itself can do. Emotion and ego, the enemies of reason, would govern human behaviour with or without the Bible.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • sealchan

      @One Sad Christian

      I would trust that God is just and that the unbeliever will not be misjudged for a simple lack of faith as so many so-called Christians are such poor and evil examples that many who go to Church will find themselves "left behind". Your statement suggests that your faith is placed in a creed and not in understanding.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • sealchan

      @brad

      I think that AthiestSteve's argument is typical for atheists who think that their's is a purely rational, scientific and practical stance. Deeper self-examination will reveal that for humans (not Vulcans) this is a goal but not a reality.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • ScottK

      I agree with AtheistSteve. I have read the bible, several times, and spent 30 years of my life dedicated to bible study. I've also now read the Harry Potter series and can say, there are no more moral codes learned in the good book than in the wizarding world. Both are fun to read if you take them with a grain of salt, and I don't have to believe in he who should not be named to understand his role in the story as a representation of evil, and that the hero's and heronines work hard to combat it. Aesop's fables are another good example of learning valuable moral guidelines that do not really require us to believe in talking rabbits.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Mario

      you will find out if you are right or wrong the day you have to cease to exist here.
      maybe use some logic to stop aging or remake yourself while you can, get a body that does not die and that does not need to die. after all, it is not logical that you do not use logic to fix it.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Mat

      @AthiestSteve. When you say universe is created 1.37 billions years ago, who proved it? Did some one see it and record it. If you say God hasnt been proven, then what you stated is also not proven but a theory. God bless you.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Alvin

      Hey Steve? When judgement days does come, where ya going to be? I love it when non believers get on here and slam the bible and GOD...

      April 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • James Swanson

      Please explain how you have "direct" evidence from 13.7 billion years ago. Direct implies that it was witnessed, recorded and then conveyed to the masses. There is only indirect evidence of anything for the creation of the universe. All thoughts are only theories explaining how we have arrived at the current scenario. I'm not saying I believe the universe to be only 6000 years old, or whatever, but I am saying that these theories cannot be completely 100% proved/disproved – just like the existence of God.
      As an example – Carbon dating.....We only have records dating back around 6000 years (give or take), so the only scientific data proving that carbon dating works is dating things that are 6000 years old or younger. Anything beyond that time period is speculation. I would argue that claiming there is an artifact/fossil from millions of years ago is borderline scientific her-esy (that means at best you are extrapolating a curve to ~1000 times its provable range) for any other science than to disprove Christian Creation or to prove evolution. Just some thoughts.....

      April 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Shirley

      So "One Sad Christian" it is better to be afraid if your don't believe God will be angry with you? I thought Christians were not supposed to judge and that God, because of Jesus Christ, was all forgiving. That in and of itself needs to be looked at. 🙂

      April 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Dimitri

      OneSadChristian:

      Ah, the what if game. What if there is a god, but it is the god of Islam, and he condemns you to Islam hell for not seeing the light. What if there is a god, but he expressly put you on this earth to see if you fall for the Christian nonsense, and if you do, he puts you in hell. What if there is a God, and to get into heaven, you must never step on a pavement crack. Have you stepped on any cracks? Oh goodness.

      I hope you now see the ridiculousness of your argument. If all you have is "what if", that is no way to live a life.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • KingOfErehwon

      Well spoken, Atheist Steve.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Sue

      And you know this because you were there?

      April 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Alvin

      NO GOD WANTED? Boy you are going to have some BIG ONES when you tell that to the LORD.....

      April 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • abby

      May I suggest this then - Pascal's philosophy uses the following logic:

      "God is, or He is not"
      A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
      According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
      You must wager. It is not optional.
      Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
      Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
      There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

      Pascal thus argues taht even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Believer

      I bet you, you don't actually with 100% surety believe that God does not exist. One thing you have to remember, just reading the bible does not mean you will gain true knowledge. Of course if you want to read the bible out of contest you will get varied interpretations. I will conclude by saying to you that it is foolishness on your part to say that there is no God.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Magic

      One Sad Christian,
      "But, lets say that what Christians believe IS correct. You would then one day have to answer for all your sins and unbelief in GOD."

      But, let's say that what Muslims, or Hindus or Taoists or Rastafarians believe IS correct. They do not agree, and some of those gods are very jealous and vengeful. Where are you then?

      April 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Scam Alert

      Organized religion exists in order to keep the masses under control. This is why priests and royalty were the only ones allowed to read in the early days of the church... you keep your followers stupid then they will believe anything you say. "What causes thunder? Why it's God and if God is big enough to create thunder he is big enough to thump you on the head if you do not follow me..." That is how religion works. It is a scam.

      April 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • moakley

      @OneSadChristian. That is Pascal's Wager another overly simplistic piece of flawed reasoning.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • max

      Praying for you, & all atheists. You are deceived. "Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." John 5:25

      April 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      Well Steve at least you post was well thought out, but unfortunately your thought process is flawed...allow me to explain...

      You state that: "That the universe came into being 13.7 billion yrs ago is clear due to direct observation. " Let me ask you a question, who observed this?

      Also, you state: "That life emerged from naturally occuring complex molecular interaction is clear if not completely understood." How can this be clear if it is not understood?

      Also: "That evolution shaped life to the diversity we see today is clear due to mountains of evidentiary support." These mountains of eveidence that you speak of are spoken of often but I have yet to read see or hear any evidence that can be considered "rock solid". At best there is suggestive evidence of evolution...just as there is suggestive evidence of God. One could therefore say there is mountains of evidence that God exists. I have no problem with your belief in evolution, but please don't try to tell me that it is because of the "mountains of evidence", belief in evolution requires just as much if not more faith than belief in God. If you are, to use your term "intellectually honest" with yourself you will have to admit that the idea that there is a God is terrifying to you because then you may have to answer to Him as one day we all will have to. Steve perhaps if your mind and heart were more open you would be able to perceive Truth when you see and hear it...

      April 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Get Over It

      I have to say that a comment that says "But, lets say that what Christians believe IS correct. You would then one day have to answer for all your sins and unbelief in GOD. It would be at that time that you WOULD believe, but to no avail. A very sad day indeed." potrays your god as an egomaniacal being.
      If indeed there is a heaven and we shall be judged at the end. Then what difference does it make if we believe in god and attend his ceremonies (literally thousands of different ones) to get into heaven? If I am a good person and pure of heart why would god be sooooo egotistical to say "well even though you were better than most of the others up here you never believed in me and for that you go to hel l" Secondly if god rejects me due to my non belief why would satan not have the same egotistical sense? Is the devil more emotionally stable than god? Keep religion where it belongs in your life and out of mine.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Alverant

      @abby
      Pascal's wager is a weak arugement because it assumes either god exists as described in the bible or no god exists whatsoever. That means no other religion can possibly be true which is intellectually dishonest. It also assumes that a god would perfer someone who worships and behaves themselves out of fear than an Atheist who is honest and moral out of his own free will. That assumption is morally dishonest.

      In any case, it's a bogus claim that demonstrates that the person making the claim is too scared to admit they might be wrong.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      James, the Big Bang is a theory in the same way that aerodynamics, gravity and evolution are theories – there is an enormous mountain of evidence supporting them. God is a theory in the way unicorns and leprechauns and intelligent design are theories – there is not even the slightest shred of evidence supporting them. Don't let the word "theory" confuse you – the difference is the evidence, or in your case, the complete LACK of evidence.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • EPOhio

      @abby: Pascal's Wager is a logically bankrupt argument. I can no more "force" myself to believe than I can "force" myself to love someone. So if I just simply don't believe, but pretend to, or live like I do, don't you think an omniscient god would see through my deception? Additionally, as others have stated, Pascal's Wager is based on the premise that there is one god and he is the "correct" god. What if he's not? And as to the "you have nothing to lose" bit, that's bunk. Of course I have something to lose. If it turns out that there's no god, I will have spent my life occupying my time with worrying/thinking/debating over whether there is a god or not, not to mention the time wasted worshiping said god. I'll keep my Sunday mornings and 10%, thank you very much.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Joe

      What is a bit comical to me is that an athiest would spend as much breath, time, effort, thought, braincells to communicate their anti-belief in something that supposedly doesn't exist. To the extent that there is a complete society, actualy an "ism" dedicated to prove that something that doesn't exist, doesn't exist! How freaking comical is that. Those poor, poor people... I have to say that the whole concept of God has caused such a debate throughout history and that the fact that people still can't convince one another of their cases (i.e. does He or doesn't He exist) logically seems to me that there might be some validity as to a God. How could nothing exist for so long...even if in concept only??? What's more is that non-believers have gone to beyond extraneous lengths to prove that there is no God! Athiest = Genius or Idiot? I am a believer in God and His son Jesus Christ, if for nothing else, for all of the tennants of Christ, which are meant for the goodness of mankind, meant to be a humble lifestyle, a samaritan lifestyle, for the advancement of man, fellowship and goodness toward all men. Atheism offers what in comparison, what are the tenants of atheism???

      April 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Alverant

      @Doesn't matter, @James Swanson, @Mat, and all others who made the "you weren't there" claim. Try learning about basic cosmology. The direct evidence is there, having an eye-witness is not necessary. We know things have happened even if no one is there to see them. If you get home tonight and find a pile of dog poo on your lawn, do you assume that a dog came by and did his business on your property or do you think angels left it there as a joke? How do you know if you weren't there?!

      April 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Richie King

      AtheistSteve makes some good points. But then again, most intellectuals who consider themselves atheists are adept and rationalizing their arguments. I must admit that Steve goes overboard trying to sell his intelligence to the "believers". Anyone can wax poetic, but it doesn't strengthen your position.

      AtheistSteve and the like can "posit" anything they wish. But the one glaring fact that noone can explain away is what happens at death. There is a spark of energy in each and every one of us. Some call it a Spirit, some call it a Soul. But science has proven that that energy exists and is measurable. Upon death, that spark of energy disappears. Now science has proven that you can neither create nor destroy energy, only change its form. Where does this energy come from....? Where does it go upon death....? Until you have those answers, AtheistSteve, your statement of "God doesn't exist" is just another theory....... good day to you, sir

      April 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • thinking

      I agree with Steve the atheist that there are many definitions of God, that don’t exist.

      So what does exist?

      Truth – as a quality, a concept, Truth exists. We may not know what is true, but something is. Something is true. Truth exists.

      Creator – as a cause, something is a creator. Please don’t tell me about the big bang unless you can tell me what created the scenario that created the big bang. We may not ever be able to understand an original cause, the ultimate why, but there is a cause, something that creates.

      Life – Some people claim it is nothing more than a complex random arrangement that defies entropy. Somehow it feels arrogant to me to try to explain life as temporary fortuitous order growing out of chaos.

      Love – Again, people will always try to build love out of matter – an emotion resulting from electrical impulses. I think this is like saying the branches swaying in the trees make the wind. Love is a force.

      So there’s a start. I believe there is a Creator – not a person, but something that was/is an original cause. I believe that life, truth, and love exist, and that they are evident in a material universe, but not dependent on it, nor caused or created by it. So I define this as God.

      I think the Bible is a history of man’s evolving concept of God. I think that the Old Testament reflects the struggles of an ancient people to move from worshipping golden images and many gods to just one god, whom they thought was a person. At that time, “an eye for an eye”, was enlightened thought. I think the New Testament reflects a higher concept of God that Jesus taught, and is evidenced by his statement, “But I say unto you, love your enemies …”

      It is no wonder that folks who think the Bible is literal truth handed down from some guy, have trouble finding consistency in it. I believe the Bible is a history, but also that it contains some very powerful insights into truth, especially the enlightened concepts introduced by the man Jesus. Those insights become available as one ceases to be afraid to search for the truth, instead of leaning on a dogma.

      So yes, in Steve’s sense, I am an atheist, but I find that a thoughtful study of the Bible leads me to a more profound sense of life, truth , and love, and points to some “whys” regarding the universe that seem more “scientific” to me than theories such as the big bang that are rooted in matter only theory.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Jason

      Atheist Steve, Psalms 14:1 says: The fool says in his heart,
      “There is no God.”

      Remember, you in all your majestic logic still said that you don't know how the universe was created. Loop hole...

      April 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      @James Swanson

      I said direct observational evidence. Everything we observe in the universe is flying away from us and the further it is the faster it's going. Running the cosmic clock in reverse tells us that everything was at one point in time in one place. Determining how long ago is just math. As for carbon dating it is useful only up to 58,000 to 62,000 years(do your research) There are 40 other radiometric isotope dating methods that cover much larger periods of time. eg. Uranium 235 with a halflife of 704 million years and Potassium 40 with a halflife of 1.25 billion years just to name a couple.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Dutchboy

      AtheistSteve: Along your lines of logic, math must also be instrumental in determining why a person enjoys a certain type of food or music. Or who they choose to fall in love with. I believe human emotion, not to mention spirituality, are a very real part of life's "equation." Just because you're unable to figure it out on a chalkboard does not mean it doesn't exist.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • DC from NJ

      There is a reason why people refer to belief in a "god" as "having faith". There is no evidence to support the existence of such a mythical creature and so, by definition, any such belief is "faith" as opposed to science. Atheist Steve is exactly right. I became an atheist in 8th grade when attending confirmation classes. When I was told that a "god" had created the universe, I asked who created that "god", and there was no answer, that I simply had to have "faith". Thanks, but I'll take logic instead.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Spew all the babble you want. Jude 1 stands for eternity as well as all His truth ... whether you stay in denial or not is irrelevant.

      Amen.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Quag

      @abby
      Pascal's wager is a logical fallicy. First of all, it's false to presume there are only 2 options. There are many god claims. If this decision was this simple, you would have to believe every god claim...because you have nothing to lose. Also, you have attributed the probability of each option as 50%-50%. How did you or Pascal determine this? The probability of a god, particularly a christian god, is much smaller than 50% based on the evidence that the scientific process has given us. And let me address the "nothing to lose" part. Believers who spend their lives adhering to meaningless rituals will have in fact wasted their lives. And to the believers who are outraged at atheiststeve's comment about "no god wanted", it is a simple statement about our human desire to be free, unchained from the slavery of religion. And once and for all, not feeling guilty about asserting that we are free.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      @Alverant

      I wasn't even going to respond to this but oh well sometimes I have to humour people who pose silly questions so here goes:
      You speak about dog poo on my lawn, well I live in a very forested area so the poop could have come from any one of a dozen different animals, but this is all apples and oranges...what you stated was ridiculous; comparing the orgins of the universe to a pile of dog poo...I almost feel silly even responding to your post, in fact to put it the way you did, why don't you try reading the Bible, what you find may surprise you.

      April 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • NL

      One Sad Christian-
      Which Christians might be right? Some from the original first century Jewish followers of Jesus? Members os one of the deemed heretical branches? Some from any of the tiny sects that died out because of too few numbers? The Mormons, or the Coptics? Which?

      April 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • James Swanson

      @ Steve
      "Potassium 40 with a halflife of 1.25 billion years just to name a couple."

      You are correct, I was making an example and "made up a number" for arguments sake. However, the same argument holds true to Potassium 40. Can you give me an example of when science extrapolates a curve from 6000 to 1.25 billion (outside evolution/creation)?

      This is over 20,000 times the "provable" range, which as I said before is only allowed for disproving Creation/proving evolution. Example – This would be like knowing how long a meter is and looking into the distance off a mountain and guessing what point is ~13-14 miles away. (In my opinion not a very good scientific tool and no, I don't know if you can actually see that far)

      About the Red Shift some of you all are talking about.....I am not saying that the Universe did not come from a single point. Maybe it did and maybe it was 14 billion years ago, I don't know. However, I think that most Christians will tell you it is God is not a scientifically provable concept and many of the negatives that our beliefs turn into. On the flip side, normally "scientists" talking about this stuff won't admit the flaws in their arguments. Like these are indirect speculations about what could have happened (albeit logical ones for what is observed at this point in history).

      About the dog pooping in the yard, I agree with you. However, we know the process of a dog creating feces in its GI tract and where the undigested material came from. So, this does not hold true for your argument when scientists are able to speculate that the laws of conservation, physics, etc. didn't hold true 14 billion years ago and momentum, mass, life, etc. magically appeared without the force, substance, cells, etc., respectively, that are required.

      I just believe the outside influence, whenever it happened was God, and its fine if you believe it is something else, but please don't act like my beliefs are crazy and yours are sane when there is just as little evidence for your belief in creation (not what happened afterward – like your argument for moving out from a single point) as mine.

      April 21, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • James Swanson

      About the dog example....

      I will run with that for a second. But to be fair, for arguments sake, we have to as-sume we saw the pile of dog poo in the yard and we didn't know what dog's were or what angels were. So both of these are completely unknown ent-ities, and the only difference is semantics (our connotations and thoughts on what they are and emotions about the two subjects). We know that things don't just show up out of nowhere, so something had to leave the poo behind. So I think your argument lends itself to mine in that there had to be an outside influence (in this case the dog) on my yard for there to be physical evidence to go back and look for (in this case the poo). We would be looking for an unknown ent-ity (dog/angel=God maybe?) that inserted its authority (poo=will/laws maybe?) into our world.

      And science by its very definition is about observation of our physical evidence, so in science, we can't consider outside influences, just the result of their actions or the variables would be overwhelming. Just a few thoughts...

      April 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |
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