Knowing the Known Unknowns

Knowing the Known Unknowns

As the distraction of the family-centric Christmas week crashes to an end, I cannot keep my thoughts from straying ahead to the health-defining schedule for my next week.

Since last I wrote about my cancer, I have had a new biopsy, full-body CT scan and MRI scan. I was already on standby for a sooner surgery date, if one became available, based on the prior regrowth observations. It was unclear to me if this last round of tests might actually accelerate procedure timing, or if they were just for accurate diagnosis.

I was told quickly that the biopsy results were “inconclusive”. This was obviously the least-intellectually-satisfying possible answer, so it took others to remind me that inconclusive is medically better than conclusively bad. I accepted this with reluctance.

But weeks went by and I was not contacted with the scan results. I knew key members of my medical team were rotating away on year-end vacation and my calls were uncharacteristically going unanswered. Life and Christmas were marching forward, as they are want to do, so I made plans to take the kids to Saskatoon. I should have learned by now that making alternate plans is the best way to force a medical appointment.

Last Monday, I finally got the call to come in for results and further tests. Delaying my trip, I took the familiar road to the hospital to find a doctor I’ve never met before, reading to me tentatively from pages of notes. I let him mutter about nonsense for a few minutes before I point-blank asked him for the CT results that would tell me if I had only four remaining weeks on Earth. He flipped to the page that described my chest as cancer-free. I would indeed live to see February. “Maybe start with that,” I smiled.

With the news that my CT scan was clear, and that the cancer growth shown on the MRI is within pessimistic expectation, the young MD wanted to start in on a new invasive biopsy to shore-up the previously inconclusive one. My Christmas plans with my children were mere hours away, so I wondered aloud what practical impact such a test would have on my only-days-away surgery. A call to my vacationing lead oncologist confirmed my skepticism about biopsy usefulness, so I left the hospital unpoked and unprodded.

So… next Wednesday, January 6, I will arrive at the hospital before sunrise and be prepped for surgery. The first team will remove the flesh from the top of my right hand from my wrist up to the first knuckles of my fingers. They will cut out all the cancerous cells they find, which may well involve bone shaving, tendon snipping, muscle carving or even digit removal. As a side project, they’ll snip the silently ominous cancerous lymph node in my right armpit.

A second team will then attempt to reconstruct my hand from what is left. If it is determined that scarring will be too severe in the first pass, some repair may have to wait for subsequent surgeries. This might involve transplanting tendons from other parts of my body. Toe-tapping may lose out to 16-hour-a-day typing dexterity.

A third team will do a tissue graft, pulling flesh from my forearm to cover my hand and then harvesting thigh skin to cover my forearm. At least that’s the going-in plan as presented to me. I’ve given verbal permission to the plastic surgeons to make any improvements to any part of me they find time for, but they are mere humans.

I’ll need to remain in the hospital for three-to-five days while they monitor the grafts for infection. Immobile in the hospital will be a special torture. I hope to sample all of the drugs.

I’ve been craving the closure of this surgery for a while now, but as it nears, the thought of waking up to an unknown number of limbs, hands and digits is causing greater anxiety as the days draw near. I have trained myself to describe it unflinchingly when face-to-face with people, but it is an act.

If I’m honest, I’m scared. If I’m honest, I’m angry. But it’s equally honest to say that I’ll be OK.

While there are no guarantees, there is a chance that in a few weeks this could all be over. That’s more than many (including some reading this) can say.

(Photo credit: me)

 

Seven Thoughts on VII (Spoilers)

Seven Thoughts on VII (Spoilers)

I totally click-baited you. There are far more than seven thoughts here as I walk through my blatherings on the box-office-record-smashing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, roughly in screen order.

(I haven’t seen any of the supplemental or behind-the-scenes material, so perhaps some of this has been answered outside the film… let me know in the comments. Also, I’m aware many others share these thoughts and have expressed them already. Still, by request, my musings are now collected.)

  • Lack of Fox fanfare – for both of my screenings, the jump from the last trailer to the Lucasfilm logo was abrupt, leaving inadequate time for chills and a beat of black screen to soak it in. For future films, I wouldn’t mind a Disney logo before Lucasfilm’s to take the fanfare’s preparatory role.
  • Opening Crawl – great first sentence. “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” It’s on. Nothing about taxes or commerce. That said, I was annoyed by “most daring pilot”… and later on when Finn made a direct-to-camera comment about Poe being an amazing pilot. Show me, don’t tell me. (And we did see it… which made this even more annoying.)
  • First LineMax von Sydow (which is enough of a Star Wars name that we don’t need this Lor San Tekka name that I had to look up) starts the film with “This will begin to make things right.” I couldn’t help but think this was actually being said to the audience about the restoration of their film franchise.
  • Intro to Captain Phasma – I was so excited about the prospect of seeing Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth‘s Gwendoline Christie (not Spider-Man’s Gwen Stacy) take on the role of a GFFA warrior, and her appearance on-screen in the opening scene set me up for a much bigger role. I wish I’d have known that scene was her pinnacle of action. For the rest of the movie, she’s just powerless middle management. This was sub-Boba Fett.
  • Force Paralysis – Stopping humans and laser bolts in their tracks is new. I like the new mythology, along with grabbing thoughts through the dark side. It’s curious that Kylo can do these things, but can barely hack his way through a lightsaber duel with first-timers. But I also like this movie’s philosophy of not explaining everything, so I’ll leave it alone.
  • “So who talks first?” – While the first line may have been a message to the audience, this line was the tone establisher. Force Awakens is going to have fun, so set your expectations accordingly. No one will be losing the will to live here.
  • Space Bread – Forget blue milk, I want that instant powder-to-bread mix. In my mind, it comes out piping hot (probably due to exothermic chemical reactions, but still). Of all the moments of her introduction, my favorite is Rey slipping on the Rebel Alliance helmet and head-bop looking around.
  • Casting – Everyone on the new cast is great… Daisy Ridley is the brightest light, but John BoyegaOscar Isaac, and Adam Driver made the new characters more of a highlight than the returning.
  • Clone Army – Kylo Ren’s suggestion that they switch to a clone army was the only real reference to the prequel trilogy that I noticed. (Though I hear there were pod racer flags at Maz Kanata‘s place.)
  • Kylo Ren Temper Tantrums – Who has it worse, the First Order IT team or the Imperial choked-body-removal team? Kylo was the character that surprised me most, with a non-carbon-copy bad guy. All of the Sith we’ve seen in the past always carried themselves as confident and sure. This guy is a basket case, and I like it.
  • Snoke-a-Doke – I enjoyed how towering Supreme Leader Snoke wasn’t immediately revealed as a hologram, letting the audience assume the size difference. This is an echo of how hologram Palpatine towered over Vader. It will be fun to speculate if Snoke is actually that size, or perhaps shorter than Yoda. I assume Luke will fight Snoke in Episode IX.
  • Godwin’s Law –  Hux’s speech and the stormtrooper arm salute was a little Nazi-on-the-nose for my liking.
  • Rey Lightsaber Visions – Obviously, to me, there are two parts to the vision. The first is likely a flashback to Kylo Ren’s betrayal of Luke Skywalker that Han describes briefly. It is on some presumably-not-Mustafar lava planet. Luke’s mechanical hand that he grips Artoo with seems more advanced than the one Luke has in the last scene of the movie — so maybe it’s a flash forward? The second half of the vision is little-girl Rey being left behind on Jakku. It is cut such that we cannot see who is holding her back, nor who the family leaving her are. If the two visions are connected, that might support the theory that Luke is her father and left her there to protect her. I’d rather we not sing that song again, but maybe. Also, I hear that Ewan McGregor recorded a line of dialog for this sequence, and that it’s mixed with Alec Guinness and Frank Oz lines from previous films.
  • Hello, 3PO – C-3PO injecting himself between Han and Leia’s reunion was genius and hilarious… for a few seconds. Until the droid referenced his own red arm. The movie did such a great job of treating the past 30 years of history as “matter of fact”, and then that. Really bugged me. And then he referenced it again, muttering that he needs his old arm back. (Fresh from that, it bristled me that 3PO knew BB-8’s name… until I realized they probably hang out at the resistance droid break room together. Everyone knowing everyone makes the universe small.)
  • Han and LeiaHarrison Ford had life in his eyes and his performance was parsecs ahead of Indiana Jones IV. I felt like it was Han Solo on screen, and quite liked that life hasn’t all gone his way over the last 30 years. However, at no point did I really feel like Carrie Fisher brought Princess Leia to the screen. (OK, maybe her Force-intuition sitting down when Han died.) Her chemistry just didn’t work for me.
  • Safety is our Absolute Lowest Priority – like the Empire before them, the First Order sees no reason for safety railings on cavernous architecture… even half-mile-long family reunion bridges.
  • Ben Solo – At Lucasfilm, I had the pleasure of being part of the story group mailing list and remember Sue Rostoni sending out a note looking for suggestions for a name for Luke’s son in an upcoming novel. I immediately replied “Ben” before a slew of other suggestions were thrown around. Ben was ultimately used for the name and, despite the obviousness of it, I take credit for this no-longer-canon naming in my brain. (If anyone from the story group reads this, and remembers it differently, please don’t correct me.) I was so delighted that this name lived on.
  • Han’s Death – It is well known that Harrison Ford had wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi. He felt his character needed a proper ending. When I heard that he signed for Episode VII, I immediately assumed that he made a Solo death part of the conditions of signing on. I wasn’t spoiled, but seeing how relaxed and happy that Harrison was in the film promotion phase, I was even more convinced. I wasn’t spoiled, but I knew that death was coming. (And it played out a little slowly on screen.)
  • The Droid Awakens – So what triggered R2 to wake up exactly then? It’s not something in Luke’s lightsaber because it was on the base earlier with Finn. Does he now have a wireless midichlorian detector that triggers when a potential Jedi arrives? Or did Luke program him to wait for Rey specifically? Or something else?
  • Rey, I am your Father – I can’t tell if the audience is being misdirected to suspecting that Rey is Luke’s daughter, or if she is. Personally, I don’t think she is and I hope that she is not. Star Wars has been to that lineage well too many times. Rey and Ben being siblings is even more distasteful, because Han and Leia would know they have a daughter. You can call me wrong in three years.

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you think of the film? What did you notice?

The Force Wakes Up Spoiler-Free and Feeling Refreshed

The Force Wakes Up Spoiler-Free and Feeling Refreshed

1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was the last time I went into a Star Wars movie completely fresh.

For Return of the Jedi, I received a copy of the movie novelization a week or two before the premiere and my 12-year-old self couldn’t help but peek at pages… and I regrettably learned that Han Solo comes back, Yoda dies and a few other nuggets.

For 1999’s The Phantom Menace, I had spent the previous three years competing hard against the entire internet (it was smaller at the time) in a drag-out race to completely spoil every detail of the movie with my team at theForce.net.

For Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I had the immeasurable life experience of being at the first art department meetings long before George Lucas had even solidified the story and witnessed them taking shape week-by-week over years. Before the public premieres, I could pretty much quote the movies. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Throughout my life, it has long been a knee-jerk wish to be able to have my mind wiped of Star Wars knowledge and to see the films fresh again. Probably one wish ahead of world peace.

And so it came to the first public screenings of The Force Awakens and with great effort (given my social media crowd) I had managed to to see nothing more than the two trailers. I had made a few too many educated guesses and had an unfortunate tendency to mentally check off trailer scenes, but from the first few lines of the opening crawl, I got to be swept away in the way that the creators intended. And swept away I was.

As I was deliberately avoiding even people’s impressions of the movie, I will hold off further initial thoughts about the film itself… or maybe just keep them for lively in-person discussion for those who might want to see me ramble.

A huge thank you to everyone at Lucasfilm and Disney. I know how much work it was to get us here… and we never saw it coming.

Did you see Episode VII? Were you spoiled in advance? What are your spoiler-free thoughts?

This Country was Founded on Principles of Ethical Goat Boiling

This Country was Founded on Principles of Ethical Goat Boiling

While my personal faith journey snapshots have thus far been focused on my struggles to reconcile the Bible with science, I think the next few will look at my struggle with the doctrine that the Bible was written by human men through divine inspiration.

In the mean time, in the context of recent world violence I keep hearing that this country (meaning the U.S.A., even though I’m writing this from Canada, because part of my heart is still there) was founded on Biblical principles… or the Ten Commandments, specifically.

While everyone acknowledges that the Bible was written by human authors, did you know that there is one small section where God physically wrote the words himself?

The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. (Exodus 34:1)

Now there is some confusion here, in that verses 27-28 have Moses physically writing the words rather than God, but perhaps God forgot a chisel or it was more of a 50’s-secretary-dictation-style writing attribution. But the interesting point here is that these words are not the same as the first set of tablets from chapter 20.

Let’s compare the first and second drafts here.

Exodus 20 Exodus 34

1

You shall have no other gods before me. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

2

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

3

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Do not make any idols.

4

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

5

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

6

You shall not murder. Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

7

You shall not commit adultery. Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.

8

You shall not steal. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.

9

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.

10

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Some of these line up, so those must be the really important ones… have no other gods, make no idols and rest on the Sabbath. Are there federal laws for these founding principles?

If we are to interpret the Bible in such a way that latter revelation takes precedence over prior revelation, like the New Testament over the Old, then the chapter 34 set must be the more important set.

I’m doing OK on not putting Passover leftovers into the fridge, keeping my blood sacrifices yeast-free, and avoiding land treaties with prostitutes. I have been remiss on some festival celebrations (if you know me, you know I don’t take many holidays) and bringing my soil firstfruits (I grow only lawn grass, does that count?) to church.

Even among the first set, only two of the commandments are laws… murder and theft. And prohibition against these predates the Bible, and extends further back to many social animal species including wolves, elephants and primates. (Maybe the “false testimony” is a law, if you interpret that in purely a court-of-law setting as opposed to general lying.) It is difficult to see any of these tablet-inscribed instructions and lending significant unique foundation to any western nations.

But “do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” sneaks in at number 10. While that does seem cruel, was it a big enough problem to be in the top 10 items personally written by the hand of God?

Just imagine if “no human should own another human” had made the list. Or the lives that could have been saved with “wash your hands before you eat and after you pass waste from your body”.

The U.S.A. could have been a much better place much sooner, if not for all those sociopathic goat boilers.

Tell me again how Kangaroos Floated to Australia on Logs

Tell me again how Kangaroos Floated to Australia on Logs

When I began my earnest quest to find the evidence to support my belief in a literal, non-figurative (I understand those are the same thing, but it’s 2015 and this clarification is sadly necessary), inerrant, plain-reading view of the history presented in the Bible, the global flood of Genesis 6-9 was a top priority.

Along with the six-day creation, the curse of sin, and the scattering of nations at Babel, the flood is one of the key pillars for young earth creation. The scope and scale of the global destructive force from a world-wide flood defies precise study, and intuition is enough to imagine that the havoc wrought is adequate explanation for geological formations, continental positioning, species extinction, fossils, and oil deposits.

The power ascribed to the God of the Old Testament was adequate explanation, to me, for all of the story’s fantastical elements one might point to before the ark landed in the mountains of Ararat — the skill to craft a sea-worthy vessel several times larger than any wooden boat since, the gathering of the animals, or their feeding and care with just eight crew. The creator could compel his animals to modify their behavior and dietary requirements for a year in whatever way was necessary.

The questions that scratched my mind were about layers of the geological column, the number of animals needed on the boat, and the subsequent geographical distribution of species. At this point, I was doing nothing to look for evidence against a worldwide flood… I was seeking the best affirmation that creation science could provide.

Geological Layers

Having hiked the Rocky Mountains, driven through the Drumheller badlands, visited Yosemite National Park and been in awe of intricate scenic photography, I was familiar with the layering and distinct banding seen in geological features all around the world.

The mantra of Answers in Genesis, the group behind the Ark Encounter life-size ark theme park, is that the Biblical flood account predicts “billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.” They go so far as to have children memorize the phrase for group chanting.

This rock-layer-from-flood claim seemed like it would be straight-forward to validate. I was pretty sure I’d seen an experiment in a clear tank with water and dirt sloshed around and eventually settling into layers. Revisiting this procedure (vicariously via YouTube), of course the result is always a single gradient layer with lighter particulates at the top and heavier at the bottom in a smooth, continuous, gradual effect known as graded banding. In order to get hard-line layers sorted by material, one has to lay down the material one band at a time.

Diagram from theistic science group BioLogos

This disturbed me in two ways… the first was the ease with with my mind had been placated by false science. The second, and more impactful, was just how wrong the flood defenders were. Did they believe the misinformation they were yelling, or were they deliberately lying about it? And which scenario would be worse?

Admittedly, geology and rocks weren’t interesting enough to me to pursue that further at the time. I was a life-long dinosaur enthusiast and I was hungry to move on to the fossils.

Fossil Layering

I was aware that fossils of extinct species were generally found in some semblance of paleolithic ordering, but I was hoping that evidence bore out some combination of pre-flood deaths in layers and then something that could be the flood extinction event. The actual explanations presented to me by flood literalists were no more concrete.

While a vast over-simplification, if one is looking from bottom-to-top of the fossil layers, the oldest layers feature fish, then amphibians appear first in newer layers, then the first reptiles after that, then mammals and finally birds.

The creationists I was reading hypothesize that this is consistent with the order in which the flood water would have caught them and drown them. Fish were already in the water and would be swept up. Amphibians live close to water, so they got caught first. Reptiles and mammals live further from water and were more likely to be smart enough to scramble to higher ground. Birds, of course, would take to the air and be the last to succumb to the waters.

Diagram from theistic science group BioLogos

Like most of the explanations I was finding, this seemed intuitively reasonable for a general trend upon first consideration. But a second thought followed… this isn’t a general trend, but a rule. All elephants and sloths limberly scrambled to the highest ground? All flightless birds — the kiwi, ostrich and emu — found higher ground than tree-living mammals and pteranodons?

The consistency of the fossil ordering is so strong that finding a precambrian rabbit has become a common answer given by scientists who are questioned about what might defeat the theory of evolution. As Bill Nye (the science guy) answered in his recent famous creation debate, “We would need just one piece of evidence, we would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another.”

Another disingenuous flood defense.

Did the Animals Fit on the Ark?

You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)

Now things were getting interesting. At 300 cubits (estimated to be 510 feet) long, the ark was huge but not infinite. Could all of the species of the world, along with food stores, fit into such a confined space?

I soon learned about the power of the biblical phrase “kinds” and a new concept called microevolution.

Modern taxonomy breaks life down into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. (When you see me in real life, I will gleefully rapidly rattle off that list for you, as the thing I best retained from high school biology.) But you will note the absence of “kind” from that list. What is a kind? No creationist will give a definitive list or definition, some willing to narrow it down to something between family and genus.

The idea is that you didn’t need every species of dog on the ark… you just needed two wolves. The dog kind. And the cat kind. The chicken kind. And from these pairs, all the diverse species we know today would have descended with all their variations emerging in the subsequent generations of offspring.

But isn’t that evolution? The “change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations.” Well, given the established history that humans have selectively bred all the dogs in the world from wolves, it’s tough to deny that such changes can occur. So, creation scientists created (or embraced) a word called microevolution that describes variations within a kind. (As opposed to the equally vague macroevolution, which they deny can happen, that would describe one kind changing to another.)

This idea was new to me, and again, made intuitive sense. I wasn’t concerned with the micro-vs-macro subtleties at this point. I was still focused on the math — the animals in the boat and the world repopulation.

So the black-box estimates of the animals on the ark based on kinds, are anywhere from 8000 to 16,000. Theoretically a reasonable number for the boat size. That works. But can we start with so few animals a mere 4000 years ago and land where we are now?

Here, I throw again to Bill Nye’s analysis. “So we will take a number that we think is pretty reasonable, 16 million species today. OK, If these came from 7000 kinds, let’s say this is subtracted from 16 million, that’s 15,993,000. In 4000 years, we would expect to find 11 new species every day. So you go out to your yard, you wouldn’t just find a new bird, you’d find a different kind of bird.  A whole new species of bird. Every day, a new species of fish, a new species of organism you can’t see, I mean this would be enormous news. The last 4000 years people would’ve seen these changes among us, so the Cincinnati Inquirer, I imagine, would carry a column right next to the weather report, showing new species and would list these 11 every day. But we see no evidence of that; there is no evidence of these species; there just simply isn’t enough time.”

That level of evolution couldn’t be reasonable while marking evolution itself to be unreasonable.

Geographical Distribution of Species

Last, but not least, on my initial global flood cognitive dissonance hit-list was the phenomenon of certain animals found only in isolated geographical regions and no where else.

By the Genesis count, two penguins got off the ark in Ararat and waddled south for 8000 km. There are not a lot of good seafood places on the route, but the receding flood waters would have left some laying around, probably.

But I was most curious about the geographically unique marsupials of Australia — the kangaroo, in particular. How did they hop there?

Many of them could have floated on vast floating logs, left-overs from the massive pre-Flood forests that were ripped up during the Flood and likely remained afloat for many decades on the world’s oceans, transported by world currents. (AiG)

Yup.  Ignoring completely that there is no evidence of any kangaroo remains on the multi-generational hop from the Middle East to the tip of Asia… one of the best explanations posited by those to whom I was seeking intellectual freedom was the idea that all the marsupials hopped onto logs for some reason and floated across an ocean to Australia. Over 5000 km of ocean, shivering and hungry, clinging to logs.

I realize this isn’t as falsifiable as the previous items I mentioned, but it really struck me as particularly disingenuous.

Obviously, these do not begin to make a dent on the questions I investigated in relation to a historical global flood. (Do we have enough water? What’s this firmament? How did the plants live?) Nor do the above necessarily represent the finest in flood apologetics, but they were the best offered to me at the time.

Along with the unsatisfactory answers to my creation questions, my confidence in the literal, historical truth of the Scriptures was shaken… along with the respect for those who defend such a position.

Reduction to Allegory

Reduction to Allegory

Before I continue on with further snapshots of my faith(less) journey, I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge the significant population, including some reading this, who generally accept and acknowledge modern scientific conclusions regarding origins and find this no obstacle to their belief in a deity.

This group will say “of course” to my evidentiary findings about cosmology, geology and biological evolution, and perhaps be dumbfounded how such facts could be new to me. With them, I find some kinship in the embrace of reason and non-denial. If we can celebrate our ever-expanding scientific knowledge of the natural world together, then I consider any differences of opinion on the supernatural to be matters of taste and we have no quarrel.

That said, in the spirit of the internet, please allow me to expand on our narrow band of difference for just a minute.

At the risk of broadly generalizing in an area where no two humans hold identical positions, it seems to me that science-and-faith harmonizers interpret portions of the scripture as purely (or partially) allegorical rather than historical. They say the Old Testament tales are there to teach a divine truth to the original audience, in the same vein as the parables of Jesus. A historical good Samaritan isn’t important to the lesson being taught, and neither is a historical Adam. Or Noah. Or Moses.

Probably the best-known modern Christian allegory is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Certainly students and scholars interpret nuggets of “truth” and “spiritual insight” amidst the take of a lion who is killed in place of another. A comic series I wrote, Neozoic, is an allegory for Israel under the reign of Saul and David all told with dinosaur-kill-squads. On what basis can one say that the clearly-written-by-humans-as-a-product-of-their-time allegories of Genesis are any more divine than these?

The absurd opinions in the writings of Answers in Genesis played a key role in turning me away from Biblical literalism, but I find myself agreeing with them when it comes to the slippery slope of picking-and-choosing what parts of the Bible one chooses to accept.

Once Christian leaders concede that we shouldn’t interpret the Bible as written in Genesis, why should the world take heed of God’s Word in any area? Because the church has told the world that one can use man’s interpretation of the world, such as billions of years, to reinterpret the Bible, this Book is seen as an outdated, scientifically incorrect holy book not intended to be believed as written.

As each subsequent generation has pushed this door of compromise open farther and farther, they are increasingly not accepting the morality or salvation of the Bible either. After all, if the history in Genesis is not correct, how can one be sure the rest is correct?

And despite my skeptical view of the gospels, I’m particularly inclined to agree with these words attributed to Jesus.

“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

Since the gospels have Jesus speaking about Noah (Matthew 24:37-39), I can’t believe him on earthly things. (OK, that could maybe be Jesus talking about the legend of non-historical Noah, like we might talk about Sherlock Holmes as a common literary communication point. But Jesus also affirms the likely-allegorical Moses and Jonah, said the moon gave light, expected figs out of season, and came out against hand-washing a few times, to mention but a few shaky earthly details. And he may be allegory himself.) 

Why would anyone provide leniency on the earthly things that can be verified, but take the non-verifiable heavenly things at face value? If someone claimed to have a dog and a spaceship, but had no dog, would you still pack for his promised trip to Mars? And how could one begin to choose? Is the Bible a buffet where you load up your plate with only what is palatable? To me, such an exercise is to create a personal God in one’s own image.

If the falsifiable claims of the Bible are to be considered allegorical to be relevant, then one is left to rely on whatever remains without evidence… also called faith. (And Hebrews 11:6 applauds you.)

For me, I will start with that which can be demonstrated with evidence to be true and remain skeptical of the rest.

How do you reconcile? How do you choose?

A Little Signpost

A Little Signpost

I received this thoughtful message from Andrew, a man with whom I share much superficial and substantive common background, as a reply to my comment on his Facebook share (social media buzz!).

I am placing it here, with permission, for my own reflection.

I find this absolutely flabbergasting. How is it that in all your years of exposure and involvement in religious and faith organizations you never encountered a challenge to your suppositions and/or to those held by the group? Have you really exhausted all the professional holy men in all your st- er, province? Or did you just forestall and banish the untenable thought?

Amusing or not, it really does appear as if you’re having an intellectual adolescence- about 25 years later than you should have. You’re trotting out the talking points of Bertrand Russell like they’ve slammed the door shut (albeit with much more tact and cheer than his ilk is known for- possibly because you’re Canadian? Much appreciated.)

But intellect is probably not quite the sticking point for you- I sense it’s more knowledge. I’m fairly certain you’d engage quite readily and appreciably with the likes of Jerry Walls and Sandra Richter (to name two scholars I happen to know personally, and whose writings are readily available), and respect their thinking, but I’m doubtful their specific fields would satisfy your insistence on the absolute proof you demand (and assumed, it seems, was on your side when you still identified as a believer). Certainly there are other Biblical scholars who continue to believe and whose knowledge and expertise in the field far dwarf your knowledge or mine, but I imagine at this point you would not be satisfied by these either. Because I suspect you have chosen the dominant worldly narrative and are now requiring, as I’ve heard it said, “extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims.”

Knowledge is a cruel master. As I’m sure you’ve heard, you cannot derive Oughts from a mere Is.

(Honestly? In your mental calisthenics you remind me of the self-taught expert who has no need of school and makes sure everyone knows it. Which is an OK place to be for a little while, but no place to remain.)

I don’t know the details but I perceive an undercurrent of deep resentment and anger at the insufficient, inadequate and possibly willfully ignorant elements of your religious exposure and indoctrination. Maybe these stunted you intellectually; maybe you let them. Maybe the community betrayed you, no doubt you saw action at odds with belief. You may have good reason to be angry, and I myself am rather horrified at the (evident) shortcomings in your development… no one ever need be afraid of learning more. I pray that your children, and mine, are better equipped.

I do think you have to ask yourself, Where does this anger go? Who deserves it? What do I do with it? Most important: where does it come from, and why does it matter? The answers to those questions are the heart of this struggle.

Material evidence of spiritual truth will always be found lacking, falling short of the incontrovertible. The intersection between the two- their tenuous hold on each other -is the realm of faith. As ever thus.

(If you’re looking for an intellectually robust tradition, you should probably go Catholic. Or at least Anglican. I’m thankful for the C&MA and the Protestant tradition I grew up in, but it’s not so great for the deep thinker.)

[disclaimer: This is not an exhaustible subject, I am not an intellectual superior, and nothing here is sufficient.]

Do you agree?

(Links added by me, for convenience. Photo credit – me.)