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Sunday, 16 October 2011


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Another good book to read on this subject is "The Mark" by Maurice Nicol. It goes into detailed explanations into meta physical aspects of the Gospels. Much of them written originally in Greek and then badly translated.

Sure, God exists. He's an evolutionary adaptation of social instinct. Well, I may be wrong. But if I am right, what would be the point in not believing if it made me feel right, right?

Do I detect a hint of logic in your Sunday thoughts?

For the reasons not to take the Bible literally try reading any of Bart Ehrmans's books. He's devoted his entire life to studying the origins of the Bible, teaches at a university and has written numerous books on the topic.

Personally, I think religion could be explained as some kind of "transitional object" for those not able to maintain an abstract type of faith (what we could call existential optimism) in life and in others. We all need to expect something from life, to have hope, and that need cannot be satisfied through logic. So religion serves as a "tangible" support for an otherwise intangible and illogic concept, a wildcard of sorts.
So I came to say "don't fight it, if you need it, it's ok to have it, if you don't, it's ok too". It just doesn't make sense to be hopeless just to satisfy some obstinate logic crusade (that was what made Sartre such a sorry fellow).

Thanks for your Sunday topic Mike.

1. I always liked the first few words in the Bible; "In the beginning, God created..."
All photographers can use that as inspiration for their work in photography, to be creative themselves, and to try to capture God's creation.

2. Regarding evolution, I agree with your interpretation of "so that's how he did it".

3. God gave us free will, so one is free to choose to interpret the Bible as one wishes. We also have free will on choice of liking or not, a photo, camera, or web blog statement. People are free to choose, but that doesn't means the people are always correct in their choices.

Hi, Mike,

Were I a believer in God (which I'm not), I don't think I'd be too pleased with your notion that God's contribution to all of creation was simply to say, "Go!", and then step back to let it all evolve. I suspect believers are looking for a somewhat more participatory, not to mention interfering, God. That whole "Christ forgiving sins" thing, for example. That sort of implies a caring God who can, and does, do something about the things he cares about. In this case, he obviously passes judgement. Which, if his sole contribution to creation was saying "Go!" hardly seems fair.

Billy Graham believes in theistic evolution. Regardless whether we agree with him, it proves your point about religion and evolution being compatible.

What did Ctein say about the canopener and walking away from worms...?

For what it's worth, at some point in the mid 20th century the Catholic Church decreed that Evolution was not in disagreement with the Bible. The only condition they set is that Mankind evolved from a single pair of hominids, who would have been Adam and Eve, in a way.

I grew up attending Catholic schools and was always taught the Bible was an allegory, not to be taken literally. It seems it's other flavours of Christianity that are not getting with the program

It's a rather antagonistic topic for a calm Sunday. Anyway, my university professor is a religious man (he works and teaches in the field of biology). I once asked him about the contradiction between his personal beliefs and science. His answer was that he acknowledges the two different sets of laws separately: God guides his morals and social conduct while Darwin guides his understanding of the natural world. To him there is no blasphemy in knowledge.

I know this makes me an unbearable pedant, and that flies in the face of all that makes this site such a pleasure to read, but I must offer a correction: the King James Bible is not Elizabethan, but Jacobean. Sorry. I feel both better and ashamed for having typed that.

Two of my favourite bible resources:

The Skeptics Annotated Bible http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

The Bible done with Lego:

That's true, it's wholly Jacobean, and it's sloppy of me to write otherwise without explaining further; yet I think of it as culturally contiguous with all the Elizabethan literature from the first great age of translation, Holland, Florio, North, Golding, etc., just as the common Bible of Elizabeth's day, the Geneva Bible, was culturally contiguous with the eras just previous to hers despite dating to 1560, two years into her reign.


My two cents on the subject: http://roberts-rants.blogspot.com/2007/04/watching-over-us.html

Some of the articles found at quaker.org, such as this one have shed more light on the Bible and religion in general.

As a doubtist from way back, I agree about creationism. As far as the literary intent of the Bible's authors, it's more difficult to say. Certainly the beginning is pretty straightforward. God created this, God created that. Doesn't seem to suggest much except that God created everything in a hurry.


I know you have a thing for gifted musicians... So here is a song about the Good Book, I am sure YOU are going to enjoy it. Not sure about the majority of TOP-readers though :-)

Tim Minchin:

Greetings, Hannes

I wasn't born until after Vatican II was fully implemented, so the Latin Mass was never a routine thing for me. But as a small child, I liked the bits and pieces of Latin I learned, the way most Catholics pick up Latin at Church.

In my teens, I studied enough Latin to be able to understand a Latin Mass properly and (by side effect) I learned that I can read some things in Latin and enjoy the story, but I can't stand 'em in English no matter how good the translator. Not even if the translator is me. It forever altered my understanding of the Bible. And a lot of my favorite plays... so I also took up French. Because I needed to know how much funnier Moliere would be in French.

Mike, the idea of biblical inerrancy is apparently a relatively recent construct.

According to Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University and the author “The Rise and Fall of the Bible," the fundamentalist movement “was first and foremost a defensive reaction to . . . the rise of evolutionary theory in the wake of Charles Darwin’s publication of ‘The Origin of Species”’ . . . and the rise of German and English ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible, which championed a deductive, scientific approach” . . . and “used biblical literature not as the authoritative source for history but as data for reconstructing history. That is, it examined biblical literature in light of history rather than the other way around . . . . It was in reaction to this kind of dissecting and historicizing of the Bible that fundamentalism formed it’s doctrine of biblical inerrancy, which proclaims that the Bible is God’s literally inspired Word, entirely without error or contradiction, and therefore entirely authoritative.” [Beal T. The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. New York. Houghton Mifflin, 2011]

Whether you are religious or not, we Immunologists know GOD as the Generator Of Diversity.

Hi Mike:
I thought I'd point out that there's an early British edition of Ecce Homo! is available for free on Google Books—http://books.google.com/books?id=MDUAAAAAMAAJ—together with a few French editions. Thanks for the reading recommendations, great as usually!
(Disclaimer: I work at Google, although I have nothing to do with the Books project and I am only speaking for myself blah blah blah...)

Does this mean we can expect a post on politics next week and sex the week after?

Religion does serve to give hope and empowerment to the hopeless and unempowered. It works at least as well as prozac, alcohol and drugs and probably better than psychotherapy.

The problem as always is the side effects, especially when religion become politicised, which it seems to be more and more across the world at the moment.

It's fine to feel about yourself. It's not so good to start feeling that you are better than everyone else.

Good friend of mine found salvation in NA.

Man, I miss him

As a fellow skeptic and 'recovering Catholic' I greatly enjoy the commentary. I still think Ned Flanders said it best: "I don't understand! I did everything the Bible said! Even the parts that contradicted the other parts!"

It should be noted that while the King James version is brilliant poetry (and central to English language culture), it's a poor translation in terms of accuracy. The New (revised) International version is far more accurate, if rather tone deaf. And readers interested in a sympathetic but rigorous treatment of the Gospels may want to check out Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).

I also can heartily recommend Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It's a witty but sympathetic view of religion as a cultural artifact of tribal life that has evolved with humanity. Dennett demonstrates how over time religions evolve to become progressively more impervious to logical disproof. Great stuff.

Hi, Mike!

The Catholic Church (I'm Catholic, as it happens) has no trouble with theistic evolution either; and much of what you say about the nature of scripture (i.e., that it consists of a wide variety of kinds of writings, which must be interpreted accordingly) is a standard part of Catholic doctrine. As a Catholic, one begins interpreting scripture by starting with what it says, taking into account the literary genre and so forth. Genesis, for example, was not written to be a science text. And evolution might very well be how He did it.

You say,

If you believe in God, and God (who created us) gave us our brains, and the brains God gave us are capable of understanding the mechanism of how He made the world and everything in it, how could anyone plausibly refuse such a gift?

This is an extremely Catholic statement; it's what drove Gregor Mendel (a Catholic priest) in his studies on genetics, for example. And lest you think he was a maverick, I understand he began his studies on the orders (and with the resources) of his order.

It's all absolutely true. I've read it. I even read it in the original ancient greek in university. There's photography in there too. In 1 Corinthians 13, βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati) - translated in the KJV as "For now we see through a glass, darkly" actually means "calibrate your monitor and use the controls on your Nikon Coolscan 500 wisely".



"I've learned to my surprise over the years that many people who have argued religion with me haven't actually read the Bible, which I find curious."

Ignorance of this type is not limited to those of a religious leaning. The vast, vast majority of those who believe in evolution do so only because their teachers claimed it was so, or they saw a program on NOVA.

I strongly encourage individuals to make at least some effort at personally and objectively studying both sides. Unfortunately objectivity appears near impossible with some, and that too is not limited to just the religious.

God is an imaginary friend for adults.

Okay, just a quick question. If creationism does not explain how things got started, then how do you explain how something came from nothing?

Okay, two questions. Considering the Laws of Thermodynamics, which basically states, that, left alone, what is will deteriorate. You are then looking at a junkyard, over a period of time, creating a working 747. Is that what you would rather believe instead of a God who created all things from the beginning, as we know it?

Just playing the devils... err... God's advocate... :-)

Posted by Max:

"...We all need...to have hope..."

Around 30 years ago I saw a bumper sticker that said "I feel much better since I gave up hope." Twas my favorite such display in looking at them over the course of a recently concluded 800,000 mile commuting career. :-)

I'm astounded to find only eight comments so far. It's Monday here but with the time difference I suppose most of your readers are in church and haven't got to your weekly musings yet! Just you wait, Henry Higgins!

I enjoyed this site, until now. There's no reason for me to seevthis nonsense on a photo site - open mike or not.

Mike, stick to photography please. From this post alone, I gather your knowledge in this area is slim, calling the KJV a good translation, goodness. Smart and not so smart people can look at this and come to different conclusions and have. We can disagree without being disagreeable. I have investigated it and find evolution to be nothing short than the belief in the frog prince fairy tale except one substitutes the princess with time. You look at creationism and come to a similar conclusion. We could argue back and forth for hours on this. You seem like a smart person. This is an area that seems inappropriate for a photography blog. I like your comments on photography, I care not for your opinions on religion.

Hi Mike,
I love your paradigm of thought when i comes to photography, you inspire me to shoot.
I'm sorry you don't have a relationship with God, that's a big part of life you are missing out on.
It does take a lot more imagination to not believe in the bible and creation, and I challenge you to read Creation Science magazine (I dislike challenging people, however it is worth the read).
Do I believe in God, yes. Do I believe the bible is true, Yes. Why? Because it makes life better for me and for all society.
Bless you :-)

Whoa, are you really stepping into it. All sorts of 'true beleivers' are going into spasms and twitches and are piling up their spare firewood in order to have a good olde fashioned heretic burning.
But more seriously, you have brushed upon the real issue of your column. That the folks who are most likely to not like your comments are the ones who are least likely to read and understand what they read in the bible (or whatever holy book they happen to consider theirs). And unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there.
Maybe its better (or safer) writing about the merits of lavendar scented fixer (yes it did exist)than baiting wild or papal bulls.


I usually enjoy your blog, so it's a bit disappointing to see such viscous ad hominem and poisoning of the well to get things started, "For believers, I don't think logic enters into it, so logical refutations are sort of talking past the point."

But let's talk logic: you claim "Since you really can't understand much of anything about the world without understanding evolution..." but never support this. I'd like to know your reasons for this significant claim, since you hang your point on it. Take a look at creation.com or arn.org, two of the better sites on the "designer" side of this argument, and you'll find plenty of logical engagement on issues far beyond DNA, by secularly trained scientists. Not only do they not need evolution to understand the world, but they provide evidence that no scientists need that (search for "science need evolution" on creation.com). Might I humbly suggest that most of these guys know a lot more about science (and possibly logic) than you and I.

As for your claims on the genres of the Bible, I think there may be just a tiny bit of prejudice there. The normal view (ignoring the extensively refuted higher critics, who you might, understandably, be confusing with credible scholars) is that there are three main genres, broken down into history (the first part of the OT), wisdom literature (the middle, Job to Songs), and the prophets (which are partly historic). Some may need to read it allegorically to maintain their worldview, but that doesn't mean it was written that way. You might notice that the creation account is at the beginning of that history section.

I hope you take the time to engage at least minimally with my points (I don't expect a reply), at the very least to demonstrate that you are different from those "believers." ;-)

i used to really like reading dawkins until he went careening off the rails with his "god delusion" and its dogmatic insistence that all that's ugly in our world is the fault of the religious when it's glaringly apparent that the problem is with homo sapiens and our evolutionary heritage. which makes dawkins adamant insistence all the more difficult to accept. after all, isn't he an evolutionary scientist?

"that everything in the Bible must be literally true." Really?

The you better read a book which I have read for a decade on Bible and just last few days re-reading it (as a detective story). It is very thin, by academic about "Who Wrote the Bible". Must read if you think along the literacy line.

If no time to read this or buy a $10 books, at least tried this --

read Genesis 1 and 2 and you would see not only God and Lord God i.e. the two Gods with explicitly different names (even in English translation) created the world two times with different sequences.

Such doublet is throughout the Old Testament, there were two Gods not one. You have two flood (Noah), two covenant between God and Abraham, two story about Moses getting water from the rock (which is important to Moses as it may be the reason why he is not getting to the promised land?), ...

One is Yahweh and the other Elohim.

If nothing else, the ability to edit 4 sources (J, E, P and D) into 1 is a genius. This editor language skill may be even above you!

I comment on the literacy part. I am not comment on the religion.

More time you can get the "The Bible With Sources Revealed" show the several sources in different ways (colour) so that you can read one God's story independent of the others. One is God of the Universe and the other is God that is human enough to regret.

I'm a Christian and I share your surprise that so many say they believe the Bible without actually knowing what it says. Seems reasonable that I might take a parent or teacher's recommendation for a start but I would need to eventually (sooner than later) find out for myself to what I'm subscribing.

If you have occasion to talk to those who have read it for themselves, I think you'll find a good many that read the Bible normally and get the label "literalist".

The Bible is human literature and deserves the same treatment as any other literature. It is a collection of writings comprised of a variety of genre. Proverbs and poetry should be understood as such. Historical narrative and letters should be read accordingly. Properly understanding any section in particular requires consideration of the historical and literary context as well as other factors. Problems of interpretation typically happen when people fail to apply to the Bible the same rules of interpretation that we all use every day in language and literature.

When you do as I have recommended, you'll also find that Genesis falls into the category of Historical narrative. What ever philosophical conclusions one might draw about Christian Theism, if you stick to the text, I think you're bound to conclude that the foundational texts of Christianity teach a recent active creation by a personal God who remains involved in the world He created.

The authorial intent of Genesis and it's earliest commentators, including Jesus as quoted by the gospel authors, seem to be very clearly in support of this view. The whole of Christian theology as set forth in the collected writings of the Bible also strongly depend on the normal interpretation of Genesis. If there is no historical Adam who sinned (Romans 5:12), then there is no need for the second Adam, Jesus the Christ (Romans 5:17) to live a perfectly obedient life and voluntarily die as an atoning substitute.

It's definitely understandable that anyone who feels obliged to be compatible with philosophical naturalism might figure out how to fit evolution into their theology. However, if you allow yourself to simply take the text at face value (including appropriate use of all the various literary conventions where they are clearly used), the concept of evolution is incompatible with Christian Theism as set forth in Christianity's foundational documents.

Mike, I tip my Buddhist hat to you. Not just chutzpah for taking on so hot a topic, but also clear thinking about how people express their moral and existential ideas the only way they can, in figurative language. Being a Buddhist, of course, leaves me completely agnostic about any particular god or gods, and quite open to their use or presence as possible aids to understanding the human condition. But whether you use them in your moralizing or not, the basic problems are the same: how do I live? How do I act? How do I relate?



Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense. ~Chapman Cohen

I highly recommend the book "Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible", by Robin Lane Fox. The author is a historian of the bible, and takes a sympathetic but non-religious approach. It's quite amazing to learn how the bible came to be put together over the centuries. I was left quite clear that the bible can't be taken literally, but then I felt that way when I started reading the book.

Yeah, um, which creation myth? Genesis begins with two different, incompatible, creation stories.

"It's a rather antagonistic topic for a calm Sunday."

I'm certainly not feeling antagonistic. I'm feeling rather relaxed and cheerful, actually.


Regarding "In the beginning," the Hebrew lacks the definite article. Without the definite article, it is clear at the first reading that what follows is metaphor and cannot be taken literally.

What else can one actually say... Amen! Though I will pontificate just a little. To us outsiders looking in on your (formally?) great country, it's not too difficult to get the impression that your country - via your right wing politicians etc - has gone barking mad. The only other place I see rational written thought is the NY Times. A smart, rational America is good for us all. So... nice going. Denny F.

"Does this mean we can expect a post on politics next week and sex the week after?"

Heavens, no. What do you think I am, a controversialist?


This reminds me very much of something that I saw (I can't remember where) where a physicist explained his theory of God and the universe to be something like a game of The Sims. It sounds blasphemous from the outset; but having spent some time with it, there's really nothing that directly contradicts anything I learned in Christian schools.

Is that _actual_ catgut, or modern strings?

"I usually enjoy your blog, so it's a bit disappointing to see such viscous ad hominem and poisoning of the well"

Whoa, there. It's a post recommending that people read the Bible. How can you object to that?


"Mike, stick to photography please."


I often post off-topic articles on Sunday. It's limited to Sunday to help people who don't wish to encounter off-topic posts to avoid them. If you don't like them, just stay away on Sunday.

I'm making it as easy as I can for you, but the rest is up to you.


Mike: I think you are about to find out that your web-log attracts a wide, wide variety of readers from across the religious spectrum, and also the reason that religion occupies a space with money and politics as "not polite dinnertable conversation." But what the hell, it is your party. Me, I'll be getting out my asbestos undies and hunkering.


"I think you are about to find out that your web-log attracts a wide, wide variety of readers from across the religious spectrum"

And they're all welcome. No one is required to agree with me about anything. I enjoy many religious people; I have never noted any difference between the relative percentage of nice or smart or characterful or upright people amongst believers of Christianity or believers of other religions or unbelievers. In every group there is the whole spectrum, from truly disagreeable individuals to truly wonderful ones.


"There's no reason for me to see this nonsense on a photo site - open mike or not. Goodbye."

Too late. You've already been infected. You'll be an atheist within a year--nothing you can do about it.

Mike (with tongue in cheek)

Regarding the negative feedback of some readers, I find it fascinating that some readers feel compelled to lecture you on what is or isn't appropriate for topics on YOUR BLOG.

Last time I checked, no one asks for our credit card before we are allowed to read the posts here, and just like any other form of media (tv, radio, newspapers), if the reader begins to find the information or viewpoint offensive, they can always choose to not consume the balance of it.

Since the Sunday post is frequently "Open Mike" which has been fully explained, no well has been poisoned.

BTW, now that you're receiving "requests" for posts on sex, might I suggest an examination of photography related to the human form and how some folks can't resist equating it to sex?

It's your blog and open Mike Day so say what you will, absolutely rave on! To those offended, just skip it if it's not to your liking. For me I must say my favorite comment is the one that describes god as an imaginary friend for grownups. Brilliant!

"If one actually reads the Bible, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the literary methods employed are things such as allegory and extended metaphor, tales with morals, mythos, parables, symbolism, and poetic justice. In other words, you can't read it "literally"—or you miss many of the points entirely!"


Tell that to the millions of people labeled 'heretics' put to death over the centuries by Catholic inquisitors because they did not take the texts literally.

Tell that to the Vatican, and virtually every Christian denomination extant today, who adamantly maintain that their central truth claims - all rejected by science, btw - Adam and Eve, the Immaculate Conception, the Ascension and Resurrection of Jesus are historical documented events and decidedly NOT metaphorical.

There are something like 30,000 different sects in Christianity because none of them can agree on interpretation of canon, and a large part of the problem is that *no one* can agree on a rational schema for determining which parts are factual and which parts are metaphorical.

This metaphor vs. fact argument is pretty hot stuff in the atheist blogosphere at the moment. Here is a good place to jump into the fray for those interested:


I could get away with saying this stuff because I live in Australia where we're cynical from birth and retain a sense of humour, but surely in modern America you'll at least get burnt at the stake, before thay start getting really nasty on your ass.
If you're still alive tomorrow I'll have to assume America is more tolerant than I have been lead to believe.
All the best, really.

The bible is not a science book and personally don't understand how anyone could be a true biblical fundamentalist. There are too many contradictions in the books. They were written over many hundreds of years by different men all putting their own spin on things. Not to say there are not a lot of wise and useful teachings included.
God, The force, The powers that be, etc. if they truly exist (which I believe they do in some form or another) are vague and somewhat abstract in comparison to the angry, moody, loving, jealous, white bearded man in the sky version.

I was raised Catholic and probably because it was drilled into my head still hold on to some of the teachings but have been around the block long enough to put my own spin on things as you have. One of the most inspirational books written and #2 behind the bible is "The Imitation of Christ" which basically challenges you to be a litte Christ in your dealings with humanity. Remember Jesus said " The things I do you can do and more.)No preacher is ever going to tell you that. They prefer the super hero in the sky version. Not that you are going walk on water but it's a nice philosophy to carry around.

Mike I appreciate you thinking out loud on this subject but do have this reminder. I remember someone telling me not long ago to put down the can opener and step back from that can of worms. LOL. A bold post for sure.

The can opener and worms reference actually made me laugh aloud. I share your doubts, and a rather vague unsatisfied wonder of how things began. I'm not sure an airtight and perfect scientific explanation would wholly satisfy me, just as calling a beautiful sunset a precisely defined set of colors and levels would be a poor description of what the sight makes me feel. One always has to save room for wonder and awe.

I was a doubter until I became skeptical about it...

I do agree that there are limits to efficacy of logic and that, if God wanted to use evolution, it’d be okay with me. I also agree that the Bible contains lots of metaphors that can’t be read literally, but would submit that there are some bits ~ historical references, for example ~ that only make sense if taken at face value.

If the original question could be framed more as, “Where did everything come from?” rather than as, “How did each little bit of the process happen?” then the answer of the first lines of the Bible would be: “It came from God.” The logical (if you’ll pardon the expression) next questions would seem to be: “Why?” ~ “What went wrong?” ~ “What’s to be done about it?” and, ~ “How about you?” They’re what the rest of the Bible are about.

If you’d like an engaging intro by a top notch scholar, you might try N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. You could also just Google his name (or that book title) and find lots and lots of talks, articles, interviews and audio visuals by him to browse through.

Wright has had a brilliant academic career, teaching at Oxford, Cambridge and McGill Universities for 25 years or more. He has steadfastly gone where his research has taken him and has not been shy of upsetting conventional applecarts in the process. He has quite a different take on the material than does the previously mentioned Bart Ehrmans, incidently.

You should also study E.W.Bullinger, a man who cataloged every figure of speech in the Bible. As for the existence of God, we choose our own gods to worship. If you worship a silver statue of Diana, does god exist? Yes, as long as the statue exists. Likewise a golden calf. As Christians we worship an unseen spirit of love, life, light, and truth. Does love exist? Does life exist? Does light exist? Does truth exist. Does the truth make itself known? Does truth speak to you? If not, then what difference does it make anyway?

Hi, Mike,

Well, can you say, "Oops"? Gees, people have no sense of humour...or proportion. Or history. Or myth. Or intellectual curiousity. Ah, well.

One of the 2oth century's greatest evolutionary biologists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.". Pretty strong words coming from a deeply committed Catholic. Of course, he knew more than most about both topics, so maybe we can cut him some slack. And I'll refrain from mentioning J.B.S. Haldane's comment about God's fondness for beetles. Or, well, I would if I hadn't already, 'cause, heck...

I know you're loath to publish comments that are, um, excessively strongly critical of others commenting on your posts, so I'll just say that there are more than a few comments from folks who might want to not.

Ice is good for the sole(s).


"Tell that to the millions of people labeled 'heretics' put to death over the centuries by Catholic inquisitors"

Wow tough statement. I don't defend and only condemn all or at least unnecessary violence against humanity but I'd like to see that number validated. Who would have time for that many executions before modern methods were invented?

The first quantitative estimates of the number processed and executed by the Spanish Inquisition were offered by Juan Antonio Llorente, who was the general secretary of the Inquisition from 1789 to 1801 and published, in 1822 in Paris his Historia critica de la Inquisición. According to Llorente, over the course of its history, the Inquisition processed a total of 341,021 people, of whom at least 10% (31,912) were executed.

Gee, Mike, you really know how to stir things up! Why? Talking about religion with those of different beliefs has no upside that I have ever found.

Be that as it may, other than the fact you are a “Doubter” while I am a Catholic, I mostly agree with you. Being Catholic probably explains that. I went through 12 years of Catholic schools (graduating high school in 1971) and never read or was asked to read the Old Testament (though bits of it were brought up in religion and science class so I knew in general terms things like the Book of Genesis). We were taught Christ came to throw out all that old stuff as it had served its purpose for the time it was intended to serve a purpose. No more eye for an eye stuff. In science classes we were taught evolution and I didn’t know anybody took the Book of Genesis as literal till I came across some folks trying to shove their religion down my throat in college (spending my teen age years in south Louisiana, everyone was either Catholic or kept their thoughts to themselves).

Given all that, I suggest you stay away from religion. You won’t convince anyone who does not already agree with you, while causing anger in most who disagree with you. Why increase the level of bad feelings in the world?

Mike, greetings from Moscow, Russia! Yes, that's how far your fame spreads. Now, with Kirk's untimely departure from the Internet yours is the only photography blog I read on a regular basis.

I am with you on the "Go!" theory, although with a slightly different flavor. If I were Darwin's contemporary, I'd say "Ah, that's how he may have done it!" Just because Darwin's theory has its missing links and blind spots and thus can't be considered final or absolute.

What puzzles me, though, is how people in the West (as opposed to other parts of the world) only discuss Bible as the sole source of spiritual knowledge or Christianity as the sole religious tradition worth consideration. Needless to say, it's very far from the truth. There's an ocean of spiritual sources and traditions around the world, some of them much older than Christianity. There are zillions of cosmogony theories and myths to be found in those sources. If one wants to thoroughly understand the subject discussed in your article, he or she must take those other theories into account. Why just the Bible?...

As you've probably guessed by now, I am not a Christian. Well, I can't say I follow any particular religious tradition, although I have some favorites. I am a religious, or rather, spiritual-minded, person and I believe in common sense and open mind. Literal approach to scriptures is so dark ages to me. We live in an entirely different world now. How can some of us still think in such primitive ways? It's not even funny.

We, as earthlings, have a vast spiritual heritage to deal with and yes, God gave us brains to try to understand it and hearts to develop faith in what we discover. I believe in personal revelation about God, soul and creation as opposed to blindly accepting other people's revelations. Use your God given brain, follow your God given heart and be your own prophet. Amen.


The main argument against Adam and Eve that I know of is one of a simple geometric progression, aka compound interest - alas, a topic that is completely ignored in the US schools, despite the fact that the well-being of much of the citizenry depends on keen understanding of the fact that paying 30%+ interest is plain stupid... but I digress. If evolution is not false and all of humanity descended from a single pair of human beings a few thousand years ago, then explaining the rate of genetic diversity today requires rather astronomical mutation rates.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
― Galileo Galilei

“Eppur si muove.”
― Galileo Galilei

Brave post, this. How brave? Probably braver than unfavourably reviewing a Leica.


As it happens, I ran into these two videos yesterday.

3.3.3 Atheism: A History of God (Part 1)

3.3.3 Atheism: A History of God (Part 2)

There's also this interesting book by Sigmund Freud, Moses And Monotheism (ebook, several formats).

As to the veracity of the Bible, there's also the TV series by BBC, Bible's Buried Secrets

Yes, I'm anthropologically inclined. No, I'm not a believer. I'm not even an agnostic.

Dear Mike,
I am an accomplished pro photographer from Brazil and Canada.

I am a christian. I have read the Bible many times over 25 years, in different languages and studied a wide gamut of theologians from conservatives in south USA baptist seminars to liberals in Stanford.

My wife is a geneticist on tropical agriculture in one of the biggest labs of its kind in the world. She is also a christian.

If God created the universe in 6 literal days or 6 ages conforming billions of years, It is not relevant to me, in terms of faith. It is not relevant to the Bible itself nor to any fundamental doctrine in Christianity.

Christ dying in my place at the cross, out of his immense love and mercy is the only theme of the scriptures. Everything else are adornments pointing to the main theme.

Thanks for your post. And I pray that God will shed his light upon our sensors.

I likes Dawkins but hey I'm a trained evolutionary biologist. But I'm also a free thinker and so I believe in the right to be as religious in any way and as one pleases untill those rights are abused to opress other meanings and believes. I would opose to teaching non-science in science classes though since as such religion shares a podium it should not share. I would opose to teaching science in religious classes at the same ground.

BTW, brave action Mike, a strange but yet brave action.

When confronted with the avid religious, who will natter on with tales of discoveries made in "Bible study class", I always ask only one question - "which version of the Bible do you study?"

99.9% of the time, the answer, hesitantly, is "why, THE Bible"....and then we will talk of other things.

"If creationism does not explain how things got started, then how do you explain how something came from nothing?"

Science accepts "We don't know yet" as a perfectly good answer. That's why we still have scientists.

"You are then looking at a junkyard, over a period of time, creating a working 747"

Well, no. That will never happen. What CAN happen is that some chemistry can self-organize and replicate, given the proper conditions, raw materials, an energy source and plenty of time.

I think the Bible should be taken liberally.

The best "biography" of Jesus I know of is that of Earl Doherty:


Yes, he never existed. It is just an hypothesis, but a very interesting one. And it fits very well with the current evidence on the character. More on this:


Anyway, if he existed or not, we don't know any real thing about him.

Regarding religion, Dawkins' view is that of a rational scientist. Believing is something very strong and demanding. It should be a very exigent state. Believing means disconnecting the "doubting machine". You only should do that if there is enough evidence. You cannot "believe" something without evidence. That is absurd, childish. The normal state is not to believe. There is the same evidence for any God than for Santa Claus.

It is recommendable the Ortega y Gasset's Essay, "Ideas and Beliefs" (1940).

One thing I have against religion is this: it is an open door to irrationality. And that is dangerous.

It is a justification for hiding the head into the sand.

Well, it's out of the bag now, isn't it? The folks that brought you the "1001 Arabian Nights" starting in the 8th century, were also working on entertaining us with the story of creation. It's a good thing we haven't taken those tales seriously, or we'd now be going to church each week on our flying carpets.

In my extensive investigation of the bible, I have found conclusive evidence indicating that Lot's wife's name was Shirley.

Ha! Sunday School stuff. Lets have some real controversy. Where do you stand on iPhone versus Android?

Just a quick note about the religiosity of the United States, since it may be perceived that Messr. Johnston is about to get, ahem, crucified.

In pockets of the US, rather large ones, religion is terminally ill. It's just a matter of time. Among my contemporaries (I'm 34, not exactly wizened, but in our reproductive prime) almost no one believes in God. Really, virtually none. I can think of one that really beleives, some questionables, and everyone else who could really care less.

Granted, I'm in the Northeast where we all secretly root for a political coup headed by homosexual socialists, but still, that story never gets written. You hear a lot about the militant atheists but what you don't hear about are the ambivalent atheists. There are hordes of them.

"In other words, you can't read it "literally"—or you miss many of the points entirely!"

Sounds like a blanket statement, Mike, similar to "everything in the Bible must be literally true". Perhaps this was a slip of hyperbole.

Search hard enough for double meaning or allegory in anything and you'll find it, even if it was not intended.

Anyhow, big kudos for talking about religion and faith.

"Okay, just a quick question. If creationism does not explain how things got started, then how do you explain how something came from nothing?"

That is a disturbing question to ponder, but I can ponder a disturbing question without needing to make up an answer. Besides, attributing it to some higher power only begs the question: where did that higher power come from ?

P.S. ... I think much of the Bible is metaphorical and literal at the same time. There are prophets in the Bible who were acting out things that they thought were symbolic. And Jesus' words and actions seem to bless us on multiple levels.

Spectator I: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

Many years ago, at the height of the movement against teaching foreign languages in the public schools, a friend of mine went to a particularly contentious school board meeting in a small northern plains town. One woman stood up and said, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

The problem is not faith, but blind faith.

On the rare chance anybody is still reading this string of comments and is still curious about the original topic (that is a union of two small sets, I suspect) - here's something completely different and not yet mentioned.

I recommend a reading of "Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation" by Gordon J. Glover. It is written for a Christian audience, but not exclusively so.

Like myself, Glover doesn't think we are intended to view the first chapters of Genesis as a literal, newspaper style recount of events - but he does make an interesting argument of how we *could* view it - while holding to the inherent truth of Christian revelation. I'm not saying he's right or wrong - I will say his is one of the best arguments I've heard on the topic in 25+ years.

Christians run a very broad gamut (see, back to photography!) of views on the creation topic. Some are dogmatic, young earth, 6 day creationists and I'm not able to discuss my views with such brothers - it isn't productive for either of us.

At the other extreme some have a view of biblical truth that is so weak as to preclude them from my definition of Christian. By very definition, to be a Christian believer does require a divine Christ and a historically real resurrection.

However, in my opinion, the Christian faith does not require a young earth, it does not require a 6 day creation process and it does not require that we read literal-ism into texts that were never meant to convey it.

The Psalms (#96) tell us that "the earth is firmly established, it cannot be moved". If taken literally, this statement requires you to reject a helio-centric solar system. If taken as poetry, we see no reason to call poor Nick Copernicus a heretic, or that poor Italian fellow G. Galileo either!

Note: I don't claim early Genesis is poetry. But I think Glover might be on to something, if you focus on the first audiences for Genesis and what they already thought they knew about creation.

In short, think of early Genesis as intending to "revise" the history (standard Middle-Eastern creation mythos, flavored with about 400 years of Egyptian twist) that the Hebrews already thought they "knew".

It's main goal then becomes to introduce them to a single, all sovereign God, not to be a history lesson on "how things happened".

This is no perfect solution to the conflicts Believers have, btw. Modern DNA research (as I've read, anyway) now suggests not a single Adam / Eve, but a population, perhaps of 1000 to 10,000 as the start of "us". And if Adam and Eve are not single, literal beings, one has some very tough New Testament theology knots to unravel, for sure.

Even so, Science and Faith do not require the conflict that is often ginned up for them both.



Bravo for bringing this subject up. I for one, find belief in god as odd and silly as believing in Zeus or any other deity. As far as I can tell, from what I know about the world, we're a happy accident of existence...perhaps our whole universe is just a happy accident; perhaps one day, physics will tell us of what the universe is a consequence, but it could just be that there's no ultimate answer. I'm okay living with that mystery, and prefer it to unjustifiable and irrational belief in invisible deities. This is the 21st century after all, and we know a hell of a lot more about how the world really works than people did 2000 years ago!

I find funny that religious people tend to say "If you're not religious you don't have the right to state an opinion", as if their being religious didn't have an impact on the lives of the rest of us.

I share Mike's problems with fundamentalism, as distinct from religion or spirituality.

Unfortunately, these discussions are rarely fruitful. But it can be fun to see the participants wrangle. I'd rather watch zealots bombard each other with words rather than swords, guns, bombs or nuclear weapons.

At least today in the Western world we no longer have the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion, the Reconquista, the Inquisition, etc., etc. etc. Not to mention that little unpleasantness of the 1930s and 40s, which had at its core the desire of a pseudo-religion to wipe another religion from the face of the earth.

Even today many people are still fighting these and so many other wars, albeit sometimes with less lethal means. It's still all about establishing the dominance of somebody's cultural habits on how to encounter the Infinite, and to attribute divine sanction for nationalist policies. At least when we separate politics from religion (as much as we can), the results are often not quite as ghastly.


A book recommendation for you:
7 Days That Divide The World
John C. Lennox
ISBN: 978-0-310-49217-7

Only recently published, I bought mine through Amazon after attending a lecture by the Professor.

An excellent exposition of the argument for Creation from a scientist and mathematician of note. he is also a Chaplain.


George has an opinion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RT6rL2UroE

Mike - Thanks for taking a stand on this. I am not only an atheist, but one who believes that religion, taken as a whole, causes far more harm than good. After all, to cite just one example, 9/11 was a "faith-based initiative."

Mike, A fun way to thin the herd...

Love Pete's quote.....imaginary friend.

The question no one is asking: What camera would God shoot with; if she existed?

Dear Folks,

While I am indeed totally in agreement with Miserere on this column (Mike, what WERE you thinking?!), now that the worms are afoot, it's possible a few readers actually are interested in the intellectual intersection between religion and science.

Read "God's Mechanics:: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion" by Brother Guy Consolmagno


Guy's an astronomer and planetary scientist who got the calling and joined the Jesuit Order mid-career. He now does his astronomy out of the Vatican where he runs the meteor museum.

If you need to arm yourself with arguments against the zealots on either side, he's got the goods. (Brilliant expositions on why science makes for lousy religion and religion makes for lousy science. Yet there are some fine examples of really good science coming out of really bad religion.)

Not so by the way, the overwhelming majority of techies of every stripe are religious. That's a topic that's been polled and studied since at least 1950, and the results are consistent and large. The folks who decide to play science against religion, on either side of the fence, are a distinctly minor minority. They make much noise, and they are convinced of the utterly reasonable rightness of their views. They are not the dominant paradigms.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Thanks. Sounds like a good recommendation. Actually, though, religion doesn't figure on my reading list any more. I went through a period about eight to five years ago when I read a lot about the subject, on several sides of the argument, and arrived at a place where I'm provisionally comfortable, for the time being at least. I'm not really in that questing/questioning stage at the moment. But that does sound like a book I would have read back then.


Tom K.,
I love George, but when I watched that I couldn't help thinking of the old graffiti joke: On big letters on the subway wall: "GOD IS DEAD -- NIETZSCHE." In smaller letters underneath it: "Nietzsche is dead --God."

I miss George, but you have to admit, god did strike him dead in the end.


Amen, Mike!

Well, I read a lot of the comments until I became bored with them, but of course that doesn't keep me from wading in with my own comment. Your post makes perfect sense to me. As a Christian in my youth, then more of quitter than a doubter, I find myself coming back to belief in a deeper, more satisfying manner. What the fundamentalists can't grasp is that there are many people, like me, who not only don't believe in the infallibility of the Bible and in Creationism, but who CAN'T believe it (even though there is a museum dedicated to Creationism in my state). Why can't we believe? Because we use the brains that God gave us to recognize that the book is riddled with inconsistencies and stories that really make no sense if read literally. But not believing in God because of inconsistencies and stories that are clearly meant to be something besides history, or because of the real evils that have been committed in the name of religion over the centuries, really doesn't appeal to me either. I am currently reading a book called Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who appears to me to have both his heart and his head in the right places. As he describes it, he has gone from believing the literal story of Adam and Eve as a youth, to believing it a myth during mid-life, to believing the story on 10 levels but with none of them literal as he matured. Ah, maturity in a discussion of religion - who knew it was possible?

For what it is worth, I don't find your post all that "off-topic." Photography should be about life, including the beliefs of the photographer (above and beyond their beliefs in the Zone system, rules of composition, etc.)

I have no idea if God exists or not and neither really does anyone else. However, I have no reason to believe that God takes any interest in the day to day happenings on earth. Perhaps God will come back in a million or so years and see what happened to the seeds of life planted long ago. Or not.

One theory that doesn't hold water for me is "Intelligent Design". Anybody looking at the unused garbage we carry around in our DNA would realize there's nothing intelligent about the design.

'Too late you're already infected. You'll be an atheist in a year'. God... I love it!
Denny F.

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