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Thinking beyond Religion: Values and Moral Conduct for Life

[Part I]

 

Sin lies in hurting people unnecessarily. All other “sins” are invented nonsense–Robert A. Heinlein (Influential mainstream Science Fiction author, 1907-1988)

 

In this and the following Blog, I will attempt to answer two important questions one is likely to confront during one’s life: What is the meaning of life? And, How Does One Lead a Moral and Ethical Life? In this Blog I will address the first question.

Background

 Many years ago when I was in college I always appreciated and liked courses in science, the physical and biological sciences, but also the twentieth century social sciences of psychology and sociology. The one course I did take in philosophy as an undergraduate was Ethics. While discussions in my philosophy class were always interesting, and the instructor top notch, philosophy always seemed to me to be on a kind of circuitous merry-go-round. That is, the discussions never seemed to arrive at a final destination. Philosophy was to me a kind of word game where the object was the process itself, not an end product.

 As students we were always trying to get at the truth, but somehow we never arrived at the truth. Definitions resulted in defining other terms or words which in turn led to still more definitions. If one did enough defining of terms in search for that one final statement of truth, one found himself quite disappointed and often back to where one started the process. The word game in philosophy was much like infinity—it just seemed to go on forever.

 However, years later I began to develop a more sophisticated and appreciative view of philosophy and that process of “getting” at the truth. Philosophy asked many critical and important questions about ethical human conduct, knowledge, religion, and the world around us.

 That process of getting at the truth was an important consideration for study. Philosophy was good at providing many theories in areas such as Ethics, Political Philosophy, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion, the Theory of Knowledge, Logic, and Contemporary Philosophy.

 The science I loved was really not so different from philosophy in many respects. And in fact logic, and the use of reason, was a major tool in science as well as philosophy.  

 Scientists too posit many theories, but they also do something one might not find in a philosophy class; that is, scientists test the theories they propose with actual data from the real world. Having testable theories with data extends the reach of science to include drawing conclusions, however tentative such conclusions might be. I liked this because it got me off the word-game merry-go-round. Nevertheless, asking critical questions is important whether one is a scientist or a philosopher. So, how does one “get at” answering the question: What is the meaning of life? Actually, one needs to begin asking other critical questions before jumping into the “big” question of enlightenment; One must prepare mentally first for the journey to Nirvana.  

 

Connections: Finding the Meaning of Life and Seeking “Truth.”

 

Plato’s Socrates was right on the money when he said, “the unexamined life is a life not worth living.” To ask critical questions is essential to living a valid and authentic life. Needless to say (and this is not tongue-in-cheek) when people deny the need to critically evaluate and ask questions, it is both unreasonable and illogical. And, it is not an authentic way to lead one’s life. Do I make my point? What then is the connection between seeking the Meaning of Life and seeking Truth through reason and logic? That connection is intimately wound up with what are called Values.

 

How Values Influence Every Aspect of Life

 

 So, if there is no absolute truth, then what is there? And how is a consensus built around truth? And how do values relate to any process of consensus building?

 It is true that consensus building and truth go hand-in-hand. For example, scientific truth is always provisional and subject to change. And “truth” is what we agree it is. There is no final absolute truth whether one is talking about sub-particles of the atom, how the elusive neutrino behaves, how black holes operate, or whether one is debating science or the philosophy of religion. There is no absolute truth; absolute truth(s) are a cultural myth.

 What lays a foundation around life in general, and supports a consensus around what people agree that truth is, are values and/or value judgments (scientific values, social values, moral values, humanistic values, values of the enlightenment, etc.). So, what are values?

 Briefly, values are anything that is perceived to have worth. And the perceived worth of something is intimately tied to one’s personal needs and societal notions of what has worth collectively. It is anything that is evaluated for its usefulness, excellence, and is usually placed in a scale of other values. For example, the majority of people in American culture place the value of honor above riches, life over death, beauty over ugliness, education over ignorance, freedom and democracy over tyranny. Values basically form and shape everything we do, everything we say, and everything we believe.

 This is a sociological way of looking at questions of the meaning of life, or how one goes about leading an ethical life. The answers to the questions relating to meaning in life, or how to lead an ethical life, are not based on some sort of absolute set of values. Rather, all values are relative to the individual and to the culture or society one lives in. Thus, for a variety of reasons, values underlie how most of us think about the world around us, and how we think other people ought to behave. This notion of how people ought to behave or act toward one another is what ethics is all about. Leading an ethical life is also relative to the individual, and the collective way society tries to define behavior as either good or bad in a cultural context. 

 Exactly what behavior is defined as either good or bad? When assessments of “good” and “bad” conduct are evaluated at the societal level, the process becomes very political in nature. Values become politicized. That is, defining human conduct as either good or bad is as much a product of the “rule makers” as it is the “rule breakers.” Any kind of deviance from some norm is always based on the interaction of rule-makers and rule-breakers.

 Technically, values that are formalized within a society as rules of conduct are codified as Laws. Less formal rules, but nevertheless influential ways which impact people, are called Mores (morals). And common accepted habitual ways of doing things, normative accepted ways of acting or behaving, are called Folkways. Because of laws, mores, and folkways we all live in a very complex society. One day, should we ever discover intelligent life on other planets, one can be rather certain that conduct approval or disapproval will vary from planet to planet.

 There may be across countries and cultures what are called “universal values” (e.g., the prohibition against incest) but even the most famous rules (The Ten Commandments) are not universal values or value judgments. They vary by culture and different societies.  Although one can certainly appreciate the prohibitions against murder and stealing, even these prohibitions vary by cultural context as do several of the other commandments.

 

Lets Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty

 

Most of us are a product of growing up in a particular family, a neighborhood, a community, and a country. At every level values play a major role in forming and shaping who we are. Value neutrality is pretty much a myth in any culture or society. [Parenthetically, ever notice that politicians spend much more time, when making speeches, articulating “value-judgments” than they do presenting data, facts, figures, or concrete solutions to problems? This is because politicians understand the power of values rather than facts or figures when trying to influence people].

 Value neutrality is a myth primarily because values themselves play such a major role in all belief systems. Values influence what people want to do in life, how they derive meaning in life, and how individuals or groups go about codifying values into a set of rules or procedures to live by.

 We tend to call this latter activity, ethics. And ethics is defined broadly as “a code or set of principles by which men live.”[i] Complicating the situation of influential values (values of the enlightenment for liberals and moderates versus Christian values for conservatives and religious extremists) is Value Conflict.

 For example, there is a value conflict in the right to life versus a women’s right to choose, or the soldier’s conflict between not wanting to take life, versus one doing his duty by protecting his fellow soldiers and countrymen from harm. It is value conflict that makes ethical reasoning very difficult. When values collide with one another they provide the impetus to bring to bear all of the skills necessary to engage in ethical reasoning.

 What follows is an attempt to answer, despite persistent value conflicts: “What is the Meaning of Life?”  

 

What is the Meaning of Life?

 

 This sort of question is really ass-backwards. For it implies something external to the individual that will magically, or otherwise, convey meaning (and perhaps purpose) on an individual. A much better question is—what gives life meaning? Or, what makes life meaningfull?

 So, what does meaning mean? It is that which is meant, intended or aimed at. It is that which one intends to convey, especially by language. It is also the sense in which something is understood. It is accepted by a large number of writers and speakers as significant in how it’s conveyed or accepted and understood.

 Framing the question what gives meaning or makes life meaningful, is what humans bring to the table in the first place. Meaning implies something important to the individual (having value and worth) be it an act, something said or something written such as words or symbols. What is meaningful and what is perceived to be valuable often go hand in hand. But we must remember that one person’s bias is another person’s values and vice-versa. What has meaning for one person may or may not have meaning for another person.

 Humans first and foremost derive “meaning” because we are “social beings.” We are social because we yearn for close personal relationships; I care about you and you care for me. The greatest values we cherish and respect in this life are those having to do with people, those in our immediate environment but also those at a distance, i.e., humanity in general.

 

Social Meaning in Life

 

 It isn’t some anthropomorphic invisible entity (like a sky God who judges you) that gives meaning to one’s life. Meaning in life is derived primarily from the people around you, the people you love, and the people you care about. And, if you are fortunate in this life—you will find meaning from those who love you. People may derive meaning in art, science, beauty, careers, prosperity and good health, but the ultimate way individuals derive meaning in their lives is through the people one is close to.

 How does one prioritize those things that give meaning in life? In this author’s opinion finding meaning in life is very closely aligned to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Needs do not dictate specific values or meaning, but needs are intimately tied up with our perceptions of what is “meaningful.” Survival may be our greatest need but individuals often sacrifice their physical well-being in order to do what? That’s right, save other people. There are exceptions to this that do occur, but generally most individuals would rather “take a bullet” than let a loved one be injured or killed.

 Up till this point I have discussed the most important aspect of finding what makes life meaningful; namely, those we love, and those who return our love. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of falling in love, being in love in all its varieties throughout life has known perhaps the ultimate “experience” of finding out “what makes life meaningful.” Loving is more than an abstraction; it gets to the very core of our innermost feelings.    

 Probably the worst existence on earth are among those (for example, those suffering from a Bi-polar personality coupled with a Borderline Personality Disorder [BPD]) individuals who can’t relate to people at all. These individuals are simply not wired for sociability, and the relationships they do have are marginalized throughout life. These are the absolute worst forms of mental illness as far as finding meaning through other people and experiencing what makes life meaningful.

 There is a related connection for all of us between finding what makes life meaningful, and how one goes about leading a moral and ethical life.  Finding out what makes life meaningful is a “social act,” Leading a moral and ethical life is also a “social act.”

 Both involve consideration (or lack there of) of other people in one’s environment. Consideration of other people is significant  because it tells a lot about whether one will find what makes life meaningful on the one hand, and whether one will be (or not be) successful in leading a moral and ethical life on the other.

 In Part II of the next Blog I will discuss, How Does One Lead a Moral and Ethical Life? The answers forthcoming may not turn the world upside down, but I suspect it will make your life more meaningful.  

 

 

[i] Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll, Philosophy Made Simple, Made Simple Books (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1956), 17.


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This blog is the last in a series of articles about the influence of modern science on society. The emphasis is primarily about how science has contradicted religion, specifically Christianity.

 In the last blog, I reported that the following would be discussed in Part III: (1) scientific findings in the field of geology versus the God(s) of Polytheism, Paganism, and Christianity, and (2) the Bombshell that hit Christianity known as the Talpiot Tomb.

 

Geology versus the God(s) of Polytheism, Paganism, and Christianity

 

The scientific field of geology has, over the years, contradicted various aspects of polytheism, paganism, and Christianity. In polytheism and paganism there was the Helike Fault. In Christianity, these aspects included Constantine’s Vision and the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

 

Introduction

 

The predecessor and contemporary to early Judaism and Christianity was polytheism, the belief in many gods. Although polytheism lived side-by-side with Christianity for more than four centuries, polytheism lost favor. This was particularly true of the Greek and Roman empires. Also related to polytheism is paganism, a term whose meaning was used to initially separate and identify those who did not follow Christianity. People so identified were also called heathen, irreligious, or idolatrous. Since most pagans were polytheists, it is incorrect to have said that pagans were irreligious. It would have been better if pagans and polytheists were simply referred to as Non-Monotheists rather than the pejorative way they were characterized by Christians,  Jews, and those who follow Mohammedan and the Nation of Islam. 

 

The Greeks and the Romans had many gods as did Egyptian society. One of the sciences that has played a major role in deconstructing religions like monotheistic Christianity, polytheism gods, and paganism, is Geology.

 One of the important geologists of our time is the English geologist Iain Stewart. In a documentary for the BBC and the Science Channel, Iain described the geology of the Mediterranean and the world at large as a driving force in our understanding of everything from the extinction of dinosaurs to the existence of God. “The rocks beneath our feet force us to rethink our beliefs in how the world around us works.”[1]

During the course of the documentary, Dr. Stewart succinctly laid out several topics that showed how significant findings in geology have altered the belief system of peoples around the world. These geological findings included:  The Helike Fault, Constantine’s Vision, and the impact of the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which produced a crisis of confidence in Christian beliefs

These examples will be discussed as they relate to how natural processes can provide real answers as opposed to explanations and beliefs like supernatural religions such as  polytheism and monotheism.

 

Helike Fault

 

Throughout the ancient world citizens of Rome and Greece believed in a large range of Gods that were believed to be supernatural beings that ruled everybody and were responsible for everything from love and hate to harvest and death.[2]   The Greeks Gods were considered very powerful as they lived on high from Mt. Olympus. One god they feared and didn’t want to upset was the earth-shaker and ruler of the sea–Poseidon.[3]             

 

According to Ian Stewart,

 

Poseidon was notorious for his bad temper. Displeased, he could cause volcanoes to erupt, the earth to shake, and the sea to surge. The ancients bestowed lavish gifts on Poseidon in the hope he wouldn’t visit them with the wrath. Helike was an ancient and thriving city that was built as a sacred place to worship Poseidon.[4]

 

However, it appears that all the efforts to appease Poseidon were for nothing.

The Greeks were devastated when, on a winter’s night in 373 B.C. the classical Greek city of Helike was destroyed by a massive earthquake and tidal wave. The entire city and all its inhabitants were lost beneath the sea. What has amazed archaeologists about Helike is that it was engulfed just when ancient Greece was reaching its height; when the philosophy and art that inspired the western world for thousands of years were invented, Helike is considered to be behind the myth of Atlantis.

What was really behind the disaster? It turns out the real cause of the disaster was the Helike Fault. Scientists now believe that the real cause of the catastrophe wasn’t Poseidon’s fury but rather the Helike Fault itself. Religious beliefs had nothing at all to do with the disaster. In fact the whole region had been very susceptible to earthquakes.[5]  

 

Constantine’s Vision

 

Like the Greeks, the Romans worshipped a barrage of Gods but religion for the Romans was becoming complicated. In the decades following the death of Christ Christianity started to spread through the empire. But it remained a small and struggling religion practiced in secret in order to avoid persecution. But all this was about to change.[6]

 

In the early 4th Century A.D. the Roman gods and their assorted pagan gods were about to be dramatically overturned. It was a geological event that made this come about. “1700 years ago the Western Roman Empire was on the verge of civil war.”[7] A conflict ensued between Flavius Valerus Constantine and Marcus Aurelius Maxentius.

Before his battle in 312 A.D. Constantine had a vision described as a blazing light in the heavens that formed the shape of the cross in the sky. This vision of Constantine changed the views of western beliefs forever. Constantine took the vision as a sign from the Christian God–to go into battle, but more than that to gain salvation by fighting under the sign of the cross.[8]

What exactly did Constantine really see? Constantine had a vision described by Eusebius as a blazing light in the heavens which formed the shape of a cross in the sky. Constantine took the vision as a sign from the Christian God to go into battle which he won.

 Scientists have since discovered that what Constantine saw was the aftermath and mushroom cloud of a small meteorite hitting an area not that far away from where he stood. Evidence of the meteor’s crater has been found and, in addition, when a mushroom cloud rises into the sky it does in fact look very much like a cross. Again, one of the pivotal moments in the history of Christianity was better explained by natural causes than supernatural ones.      

 

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

    

     From the time of the Romans, Christianity grew and spread. People still thought catastrophes were driven by divine forces but these events were now believed to be dispatched by just one and only one Christian God. Christianity provided a framework within which the world could be explained. As far as the Bible was concerned, our planet had been created for mankind by God. Western scholars were rather unwilling to examine any natural origins of geological phenomena, as the Bible’s story of creation was beyond question.[9]

 

Dr. Stewart points out,

 

By the 15th century, long after the fall of the Romans, Europe was experiencing the Renaissance. It was during this time of artistic and intellectual enlightenment that people began to struggle to reconcile what the Bible said from that which they noticed around them. The idea was born that perhaps our planet wasn’t shaped by a series of God-driven catastrophes. But it was heresy to question God’s holy design. Exploration of the mechanisms of natural processes still very much remained uncharted territory. Once again, however, the geology of the Mediterranean would spring a surprise which caused a seismic shift in thinking. And it all kicked off right in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.[10]

 

In 1755, a catastrophe sent shock waves throughout Christian Europe. It was Sunday, November 1st, All Saints’ Day, and the city’s churches were packed with worshippers.”[11] Then at 9:30 right in the middle of morning mass, a huge earthquake struck measuring today what would be 9.0 on the Richter Scale. Three massive tremors hit the city in quick succession. The impact of the quake was devastating. The earthquake was so powerful it was felt throughout Europe and the Atlantic.[12] In many of the churches the roof came crashing down on the heads of those worshipping inside.[13]

 Of those who did make it out onto the streets, many were killed by falling debris. Devastation swept the city. If that wasn’t enough a great fire ravaged the city taking 6 days to put out.

 

The terrible disaster in Lisbon caused a crisis of confidence in Christian beliefs.  Why would God destroy his own churches, and on All Saints’ Day, of all days. Some people started to look for more earthly explanations for the cause of the disaster. Even from within the church, there was mention of a theory that the quake was caused by some sort of contraction of the earth’s crust. This wasn’t too far from the truth.[14]

 

The earthquake was due to movement within the earth rather than a contraction. The Lisbon earthquake was big, and so massive, that in the end some 40,000 people lost their lives. It was the most disastrous quake to strike Europe in recorded history.[15]

The spread of the event in Lisbon sent shockwaves throughout Europe and caused thinkers to further challenge the ideas of Christianity.[16]  

 

After the catastrophe struck, the idea gained momentum that the earthquake was indeed a natural phenomenon and not caused by the wrath of God. The Lisbon earthquake caused a direct assault on the way we believed the world around us worked. It certainly wasn’t an end to a belief in an all-perfect Christian God, but a belief in science was gaining momentum. New ways of thinking were emerging based on careful observation of the world and testable theories as to how it worked.[17]      

 

The Talpiot Tomb in Jerusalem

 

Biblical Archeology has made great finds in support of historical facts found in the Bible. And, archaeological excavations in the Middle East have been going on for more than a hundred and twenty years. Biblical archeologists are like other scientists in that they seek physical or other types of evidence to support their findings. Data is the cornerstone of all science, including archaeology.

On February 25, 2007 the world of theology and Christianity was rocked to its core when it was revealed that there exists a possible Jesus Family Tomb. It was found in the Talpiot Tomb in Jerusalem, the city where Christ had been crucified. The interesting thing about the interpretation of a Jesus Family Tomb was that it is based, not on one, but on three different types of data. The new scientific evidence consists of Ossuary inscriptions, DNA analysis, and statistical analysis. The three types of data together are providing an explanatory convergence of the evidence. The implications of these findings are far-reaching and potentially will finally set to rest the idea that Christ made a supernatural physical ascension into heaven.

This points out again that the “received view” of Christianity is not consistent with the historical or actual view of Christianity. This finding will have a profound impact on every aspect of revealed Christianity. The true believer buys into the received or revealed view of Christianity. I don’t think they had in mind that one day, what was going to be actually revealed, was that the Talpiot Tomb would throw into doubt the veracity of biblical scriptures. The Bible is now seen as pure fiction.

The immediate implications of the scientific research findings suggested that a 2,000- year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In fact, the findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have been husband and wife and produced a son named Judah.[18]

 

Details

 

         On March 28, 1980, a construction crew developing an apartment complex in Talpiot, Jerusalem, uncovered a tomb, which archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority excavated shortly thereafter. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson surveyed the site and drew a layout plan. Scholar L.Y. Rahmani later published ‘A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries’ that described 10 ossuaries, or limestone bone boxes, found in the tomb.[19]

 

During the period 30 B.C. to 70 A.D. it was not uncommon for people to wrap bodies in shrouds after death and place them in carved rock tombs where they decomposed. Later their bones would be placed in an ossuary.[20]  Of the ten ossuaries found five were found to have inscriptions. These inscriptions were names believed to be associated with key figures from the New Testament. These names include: Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph and Mary Magdalene.

A sixth inscription, written in Aramaic, translates to “Judah Son of Jesus.” Given the number of people who lived in and around Jerusalem 2000 years ago the probability that these names (key figures in the New Testament) would be found together in a family tomb has been estimated to be 1 chance in 30,000.[21]  According to Aaron Brody, associate professor of Bible and Archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, “such tombs are very typical for that region.” [22]

In order to let the public in on these momentous scientific findings, a documentary presenting the evidence, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” premiered on the Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007. The executive producer of the documentary was James Cameron and the director was Simcha Jacobovici.

 

At least four leading epigraphers have corroborated the ossuary inscriptions for the documentary…Frank Cross, a professor emeritus in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, told Discovery News, ‘The inscriptions are from the Herodian Period (which occurred from around 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.). The use of limestone ossuaries and the varied script styles are characteristic of the time.’[23]

 

 The Herodian Period was  between 30 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. This encompassed the time scholars believe Jesus died on the cross (around 33 C.E.) and was buried in the tomb.

 

Are the Inscriptions Important?

 

First and foremost, these inscriptions were important because, despite the fact many of the names were common in the ancient middle-east, statistical analysis revealed that the probability that these gospel figures would appear in the very same tomb together as part of Jesus’ family was 1 chance out of 600. The inscriptions included Jesus Son of Joseph, written in Aramaic. There also was Judah Son of Jesus in the tomb. This inscription was written on one of the ossuaries in Aramaic. Another limestone burial box bears a Hebrew inscription, “Maria,” a Latin version of “Miriam.”

 In English this meant the name “Mary.” Also, in Hebrew, was the inscription, “Matia,” the original Hebrew word for “Matthew.” Only one of the inscriptions was in Greek. It read, “Mariamene e Mara,” which cam be translated as, “Mary known as the master.” According to Francois Bovon, professor of history of religion at Harvard University, told Discovery News, “Mariamene, or Mariamne, probably was the actual name given to Mary Magdalene.”[24]

Professor “Bovan explained that he and a colleague discovered a fourteenth century copy in Greek of a fourth century text that contained the most complete version of the ‘Acts of Philip’ ever found. Although not included in the Bible, the ‘Acts of Phillip’ mentioned the apostles and Mariamne, sister of the apostle Philip. Bovon also said, “When Philip was weak, she is strong.”[25] She went on to point out that Mariamne was a great teacher who even inspired her own set of followers called Mariamnists. These followers existed from around the 2nd to the 3rd Century C.E.[26]

 

DNA Analysis

 

Both DNA and chemical analysis were performed on some of the ossuaries. There were two sets of samples. The first set consisted of bits of matter taken from the “Jesus Son of Joseph” and “Mariamene e Mara” ossuaries. The second set consisted of patina, which is a chemical encrustation on one of the limestone boxes.

Normally tombs contained either blood relatives or spouses. Based on the work of Carney Matheson, a scientist at the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, the “Mitochondrial DNA examination determined that the individual in the Jesus ossuary and the person in the ossuary linked to Mary Magdalene were not related.”[27]

 Jacobovici and his team suggested that it was possible Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple. In the Gospel of John the lad described as sleeping in Jesus’ lap at the Last Supper may have been “Judah,” the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.[28]

It will be remembered that also in 1980 the “James” ossuary was found. It subsequently disappeared and resurfaced in the antiquities market. When the filmmakers examined the tomb, they determined a space existed that would have fit the “James” ossuary. Robert Genna, director of the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory in New York, analyzed both the patina taken from the Talpiot Tomb and chemical residue obtained from the “James” ossuary. Discovery News was told by Genna that the two samples were consistent with each other.[29] “Given the patina match and the space in the tomb Jacobvici theorized the lost burial box could be, in fact, that of the “James” ossuary. James it will be remembered from the Bible was Jesus’ brother.

When statistical analysis was performed on the probability of including the lost ossuary of “James,” the result showed that the odds of having all these biblical figures in the same family tomb together, by chance alone, raised the odds from 1 in 600 to 1 in 30,000.

 

     Given the convergence of all the evidence (DNA and chemical analysis, inscription data, and statistical analysis of the data) the scientific findings indicate collectively, and point to the very real possibility, that the Talpiot Tomb contained Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The theological and secular implications of these findings will profoundly alter the interpretation of the Bible, and Christianity itself, in ways that haven’t even begun to be realized.

     On the positive for Christianity the research findings put to rest the notion that Jesus never existed; the data suggest otherwise. But the data also strongly suggest that there was no physical ascension of Jesus into heaven following his death on the cross. Once again, the “revealed” Christianity is invalid with the scientific findings from the Talpiot Tomb in Jerusalem.          

 

 

[1] Ian Steward, Hot Rocks: Geology of Civilization , BBC, Dish Network, viewed 11/26/2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, “Jesus Family Tomb Believed Found,” [online] ; accessed 2/27/2007; available on http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/02/25/tomb_arc.html?category=archaeology&guid=2007

 

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.


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THE INFLUENCE OF MODERN SCIENCE ON SOCIETY

Part I

    This blog follows up on a previous item posted three weeks ago on answering the question, “Will Christianity Decline in the 21st Century?” It provided supporting data showing that, indeed, Christianity has declined 13% since 1900 and that the rate of decline has increased dramatically since 1990.

   Nine causes of the decline were identified, including the growth of the first cause—secularism. The current blog addresses the second cause of the decline—The Influence of Modern Science on Society. Because of the extensive material on science’s influence on society, including its profound effect upon Christianity, four parts are needed to explain the impact of this cause. The four parts include: (1) The Age of Science Emerges, (2) How Science Contradicts Christianity, (3) Science Looks at Christianity, Polytheism, and Paganism, and (4) Christianity’s Myths and the Bombshell of the Talpiot Tomb.

 What follows is a chronological account of how science emerged, scientific discoveries, and the scientists who made them. The impact of their discoveries changed all modern societies and almost all cultures on earth. The influence of science has not only been far-reaching, but has socially and intellectually altered the way most societies and cultures think.

The evolution of science itself is about people and scientists who forever changed the course of history. Their lives are fascinating aside from their very important discoveries. It is interesting to note that scientific thought occurred long before the first scriptures of the Christian religion were ever written.

 Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat–John Morley (British Statesman, 1838-1923)

   The complete body of the article, “The Age of Science Emerges,” can be found within this blog as listed under Pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Will Christianity Decline in the 21st Century?

 

 

 

   It is a fact that there has been a 13% decline in the number of adherents to Christianity since 1900. And, it is very likely that the Christian religion will continue to decline as society moves further into the 21st Century.

  This decline will force people to face the reality that previous explanations for how the world about us works—just doesn’t possess the influence they once did. Many people will find this upsetting, especially because their belief in a supernatural “sky God who judges you” is now being questioned like never before. As Christianity declines, many people in the religious community will believe that their values are being threatened and their influence diminishing.

   I hope that such people will understand that social change throughout history is inevitable. Given the vast diversity of American culture today, I hope that most people will see both social change and diversity as an opportunity to redefine their perceptions regarding reality, and begin to focus on a more inclusive, rather than exclusive, set of values. Many people may wonder what caused the decline in Christianity. Over the months ahead, the causes of the decline will be explored. For now, nine general causes are identified.

 

    The reasons for this decline include:

    

  • the growth of secularism
  • the influence of modern science on society
  • social changes in beliefs
  • a more global awareness of differing cultures and beliefs
  • disdain for fundamentalism at home and abroad
  • increases in educational level of the citizenry, and an increasing unwillingness to buy into naïve supernatural explanations
  • a modern information explosion in all areas of knowledge
  • a more liberalized, democratic, and less dogmatic society
  • all values were up for grabs during the 20th century

 

   Future articles will discuss various individual causes of Christianity’s decline; present a famous quote of interest, and then present supporting data. The first cause to be presented is the growth of secularism, which I have included on a separte page.   

 

 

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. —Carl Sagan, (Astronomer and popular American Scientist, 1934-1996)

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MY STRUGGLE WITH CANCER AND ITS RELIGIOUS MEANING

 

(A Personal Journey)

 

 

Have you ever been diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease? If so, how did you deal with its uncertainty? Did you worry that you might die soon, and what was your mental attitude? Were you terrified all the time? Or did you embrace a more positive “kick-ass” attitude such as, “I’m strong and can deal with anything, including death.”

 

Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with cancer, a potentially fatal disease. For me, I chose to celebrate life and to think positively. I do not presume to know how you or anyone else would react. All I can tell you is how I coped with cancer and how I determined what, if any, meaning could be ascribed to the experience.

 

So, how did all of this come about and why did a brush with death turn into a broader journey of self-discovery and search for specific religious meaning?  Where and when did it all start?  In May of 2004 I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Through a process involving a Sonogram, a CAT scan, and an MRI, a tumor was discovered.  It was determined that the size of the tumor was very large, about eight inches long and approximately 5 inches wide. For about one month after the diagnosis I was discomposed. I didn’t know where to turn for answers.  Did I have Stage I, or Stage IV cancer, did I have any time left or was I already terminal?

 

At the age of 61, I was facing the very real possibility that maybe I wouldn’t live much longer. I might not live to see 62. After a month of worry and researching the net for answers, I had a three hour operation to remove one of my kidneys. I stayed in the hospital for 5 days during which I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. I was amazed to discover that no eating and no water (just lemon swabs), other than that delivered by IV, was worse than the operation itself. By the third day of recovery, I was allowed to eat ice chips. Being a middle-class American I can say unequivocally, that I hadn’t missed too many meals in my life and yet I found the ice chips to be exceptionally satisfying. The last major surgery I had, I was young and bounced back quickly. This time, recovering from a kidney cancer operation was not an overnight event and it flat out wasn’t fun.  

 

Most of my life I was not a religious person. In fact, during my undergraduate college years in the early 1960s, I was definitely in the atheist camp intellectually and heavily influenced by writers such as Eric Hoffer, Bertrand Russell, Paul Tillich, Albert Camus, and John Paul Sartre and the philosophy of existentialism. I also was influenced by the academic fields of psychology and sociology, taking my baccalaureate in the former field and a minor in the latter field of study. During most of my life, the question of religion and mortality didn’t really matter to me at all. Nevertheless, I am aware that there is a large segment of our society who firmly believes that “God” will take care of them in life and in death.  Facing the real possibility of death by cancer, I began to wonder if there was some truth to this. (Plus I didn’t want to leave anything to chance if I could do anything to influence the results.) I began attending church, listening to sermons, attending religious studies classes and reading the bible.  

 

It wasn’t until I was home recovering, and had a chance to better reflect on what had happened, that I could begin to assess what it all meant. For me, two important and significant events happened as a result of my experience. (1) I learned a lot about myself and my behavior during this crisis, and (2) I began to ask myself the same types of questions that have both perplexed and stimulated human thought since the dawn of time.

 

What I learned about myself was that I took a rather positive philosophical stance on the issue of life and death, and I found that I was mentally and physically one very tough individual. One never knows until a crisis occurs how one might react. Rather than worry about myself, I became more concerned as to how my cancer would affect my loved ones. How were they reacting to the knowledge that I had cancer? What could I do to help allay their fears and anxieties?

 

I experienced tremendous support from my family and friends. I knew realistically that cancer might take my life, but I was also determined to take a “kick-ass” attitude toward the disease. I wasn’t going to let anything prevent me from living a full and long life. Whether my attitude had any effect on the cancer, the operation or recovery, I can’t say.  But soon after the operation I learned from a barrage of blood tests, and another MRI, that there was no sign the cancer had spread. When the pathologist’s report came back two weeks after the operation I learned that my cancer was, despite the very large tumor, Stage I, treatable and highly curable. Although I had a positive philosophical stance, I was never more relieved than when I got that news.

 

Two things happened while I was recovering at home.  First, I wanted to believe that my experience with cancer had a reason or purpose.  I needed the question “Why me?” answered. And, I wanted assurance that if I died because the disease came back, and there was such a place known as heaven, I would find myself in it.  In the months ahead, I became baptized in the belief that I was going to be a follower and supporter of Jesus Christ. I attended a conservative Assemblies of God evangelical church every Sunday, enjoyed the camaraderie with my friends, thoroughly enjoyed the music, and listened to the sermons with enthusiastic interest. I was glad to be alive.

 

But, as the initial scare of having cancer receded, I began to ask myself questions. Questions such as: Was it God that helped me through this trying time?  What if it had not been a success, is there really life after death; a Heaven or Hell? How could I know?  As I looked around the cathedral, I asked myself why do so many people have a strong trust in and a belief in the existence of God and others not?

 

At this point I still had a very open mind as to the evangelical preaching of Christianity, and the belief that Christ died for our sins. And I fervently hoped there was life after death. But something was troubling me from the very start. I was uneasy in my quick acceptance of the Christian doctrines that I was now being taught. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.  I think my early years as an atheistic intellectual were beginning to influence my thoughts. The questions I asked myself then were once again popping up begging for answers. Gradually it became clear what was bothering me.  Where was the logic?

 

One Sunday morning I was listening to one of the sermons when the topic of evolution came up. The minister kept saying “evolution is just a theory.” Saying something that uninformed really awakened my researcher’s inquisitiveness. In fact, it really pushed my button. I was sure I knew much better than that. Evolution wasn’t just a theory but the very foundation of all biological life. It has 150 years of data across 20+ scientific disciplines. It is the most robust theory in all of science, and it describes the complex evolution of life on this planet. One would have to be completely blind to think otherwise.

 

In college I took science courses, and related methodologies, in physical anthropology, biology, calculus, physics, astronomy, and geology. But I also knew that much of my early college education in the sciences, and tools of science, was somewhat dated. My real strength and knowledge was in the twentieth century sciences of psychology and sociology.  Consequently, this wake-up call re-directed my thinking and re-kindled my innate curiosity. I soon began collecting books on science as well as religion. A researcher by career, I am not one to let important questions blow in the wind. I wanted to take responsibility for answering the questions for myself by myself. Being an intensely curious person, I began to investigate the nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. I read and listened and devoured knowledge wherever it was, including books, magazines, the internet, tapes and DVDs on Christianity and on Karen Armstrong’s book, The History of God.

 

I was determined to be objective and not let my emotional reaction to cancer continue to cloud my judgment. I began to question EVERYTHING in this world again like I did at age 20 or 21—all theories, facts, data, assumptions, values, and beliefs. Feeling foolish and stupid that I had allowed myself the luxury to think uncritically where religion was concerned, my appetite for analyzing and evaluating the important questions of religion versus science increased exponentially during the subsequent 2 ½ years. My voracious appetite for knowledge on religion and science had a direct impact on the tone and character of the second event in my life to come out of this experience—the writing of a non-fiction manuscript called, Trouble in Paradise: The Social and Intellectual Decline of Christianity and the Rise of Science..

 

So what conclusions have I come to during my struggle with cancer and its religious meaning? What “analytical insights” do I now have? By the way, I don’t like to use the term “belief” because beliefs are a dime a dozen and based on assumptions that lack the merit of evidence. I much prefer to use the term “analytical insight.” It too is based on assumptions, but it does carry with it the merit of logic and evidence.

 

In general, my analytical insight is that all religions, including Christianity, are cultural phenomena. My search for religious meaning and having cancer has no connection whatsoever. There is no meaning to it. Cancer is what it is, and its causes are very complex involving genetic and/or environmental factors. I really can’t personalize the experience of having cancer. Trying to derive meaning, or ascribing some sort of significance to cancer, was based on my egocentric need to believe that the physical and mental stress I endured had importance and value.

 

Once I got past this desire to connect meaning with my cancer experience, I began to use the “jeweler’s eye” to focus in on what religion and Christianity were really all about. After four years of study, and writing of the manuscript, these are my analytical insights: 

 

Up until this point I had believed in the idea of theistic evolution, i.e., the notion that religion and science need not be in conflict with one another, a position not unlike the position taken today by many mainstream protestant denominations. And, interestingly enough, this is also the position taken by the Catholic Church since Second Vatican II in 1965. Now I question my beliefs regarding theistic evolution.

 

The root of all religion goes back to Animism nearly 200,000 years ago. And monotheism grew out of the larger cultural experience of polytheism. That transition from polytheism to monotheism changed the emphasis from a spirit-centered world, reflective of many gods, to a human-centered world, reflective of just one god. Isn’t it amazing that a single god is ascribed with so many human characteristics and emotions?

 

Today, monotheism dominates the religious landscape worldwide. A human-centered world is really about culture with its never-ending collective Ego. Given human nature, I’m not surprised today that society (and the individual) puts itself at the center of the universe. Early cultures believed that the earth was at the center of the solar system , and along with it—mankind. No one back then  understood just how large the universe really was. This was what society believed for centuries before Galileo defended heliocentrism (the sun rather than the earth was at the center of the solar system) during the seventeenth century.  His defense of such a controversial theory violated biblical scripture of the times. But today heliocentrism is a widely held and accepted fact.

 

In such an egotistical social environment, culture got it wrong. God did not create man in God’s image, rather the opposite—Man created God in man’s own image. It is amazing to me that people use reason and logic all the time in their everyday lives, but somehow give religion a free pass from logical scrutiny. Many people believe in “a sky God who judges you” because they want to, not because they have personal knowledge behind supernatural hypotheses. They want to believe in an intelligently designed universe and designer. However, just ask people who have suffered from a lifetime of back problems and pain whether they think the human body was intelligently designed. My guess is you won’t find many takers with that proposition. And the concept of faith, rather than being simply reverential yearning, is really a “cop out” for not demanding evidence. Why does demanding evidence and promoting logic and reason trump belief and faith? I think the late comedian George Carlin summed it all up very well.

 

“Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades.  Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kinda (expletive) you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude.”

 

Please periodically return to this blog and stay tuned for future topics. One of the first to be presented soon is to answer the question, “Will Christianity decline in the 21st Century?”

 

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