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Let’s assume the creationists are right

Adam and Eve

I’ve recently been debating with a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) for the first time in ages. I’d forgotten how soul-destroying it is – locked in an argument with someone who will insist that the world was created in exactly six days, that all scientific investigation to the contrary is worthless, misleading or fraudulent, and if all else fails, that God created everything to look really old in order to mislead anyone who doesn’t have genuine faith.

It’s a bizarre belief, but once someone’s got to the point of taking the Omphalos hypothesis seriously, they’ve effectively and conveniently ruled out any evidence they don’t like. There’s no way of shaking their belief, because this sort of special pleading allows them to explain away absolutely anything. So I’m going to give up arguing – clearly, as they say, Genesis is literally and unambiguously true in every respect, and anyone who says otherwise is just wrong. Read More…

Why liberal theology isn’t the answer

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I don’t like conservative theology. If there is a God, I’d much rather believe in the cuddly, liberal type who opens heaven up to anyone who tried to be nice, rather than the angry, vengeful one who condemns people to eternal torment because they were brought up as Hindus, or fell in love with someone of the same sex, or liked to eat black pudding.

Reading through the Bible, it’s easy enough to interpret stories to fit in with your chosen viewpoint, in much the same way as we process facts according to our existing beliefs. But my liberal drift was significantly accelerated by some of the events in the Old Testament in particular. If God is like that, He’s a monster. If He isn’t, these accounts are the work of flawed humans, not divinely and perfectly dictated. Read More…

What does God need with a starship?

More theological wisdom from Captain Kirk, the best moment of the otherwise rather poor Star Trek V (useful rule of thumb: the odd-numbered films are bad, even numbers are good). It’s a question that’s worth asking about all areas of religious practice, even if the starships tend to be metaphorical, rather than literal. Read More…

Atheist Fundamentalism

No, that title doesn’t mean what people usually mean by the phrase. This isn’t about equating any outspoken opposition to religion with the sort of extremism that leads people to commit mass murder in the name of a God of love. Rather, it’s about how atheists often act as if literalist fundamentalism is the only game in town, and liberal belief is either irrelevant or non-existent.

A typical example of this might be countering Christian arguments by asking pointed questions about how Noah got all those animals on his ark, or dismissing a comment about the implausibility of a particular scientific theory (let’s say evolution) by observing that the questioner, being a Christian, believes in the much less plausible story of a magic tree and talking snake instead. Maybe “Atheist Straw-Manning” might be a more accurate title, but that rather prejudges the issue. Read More…

Pass the Virtual Wine

Ship of Fools, the rather fine Magazine of Christian Unrest, is running an experiment in online Communion, and the wider idea of virtual sacraments. It’s an idea that interests me, because I like the thought of playing around with different ways of expressing things, but it’s been causing quite a fuss, even among people who fit the Ship’s subversive, liberal mindset. It’s been described as shocking, ridiculous and even blasphemous. Being thoroughly awkward and contrary, this just makes me more interested.

Is true communion this…

A lot of the criticism comes from people who believe in some form of ontological change in the communion elements, either Transubstantiation or the slightly broader idea of Real Presence. There seems to be a fear, whether spoken or unspoken, that the magic won’t work if you do it wrong. I have no idea whether they think God can’t or won’t change the bread and wine, but I find either belief difficult to reconcile with church’s own description of God as loving and omnipotent. Read More…

Perry Mason and the Case of the Resurrected Man


I was recently introduced to an interesting phenomenon known as Perry Mason Syndrome, a term for a cluster of popular misconceptions about legal procedure derived from watching Perry Mason on TV, or more generally any legal drama. In particular, this can lead jurors to assume that defendants who are guilty will confess under questioning, or even that the prosecution case can only be adequately countered by forcing a confession out of a different witness, effectively reversing the burden of proof. This use of attack as the best form of defence, gaining an acquittal through confession, is sometimes known as the Perry Mason Method.

The reason why I bring this up is that I immediately found this reassignment of the burden of proof strangely familiar, having encountered something very similar several times in the last few weeks, especially over Easter. Jesus must have been resurrected, the argument goes, because the Bible says so and there’s no other plausible explanation for the recorded events. In other words, if you want to argue that the resurrection didn’t happen, you need to provide a convincing alternative explanation. Read More…

What’s so bad about heresy?

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Half of the people who attended the First Council of Nicaea were camera-shy

I am a man. I am also a woman. I am both married and single. I have two children, but I also have none. Obvious nonsense, but if I claimed to be God, this sort of self-contradiction would not only be fine and dandy, but it would be unacceptable to insist on one or other of the mutually exclusive descriptions given.

For example, Jesus is asserted by the church to be both “fully god and fully man”. There are a number of well-worn heresies that attempt to take this doctrine at face value and make sense of it, and which have been anathematised by the church as a result. Anyone who emphasises that Jesus was divine and suggests that in that case he wasn’t really human in a normal sense is “guilty” of Docetism. If you take the opposite tack and say that Jesus was basically human, and was “divine” in the sense that he was the ultimate man, a sort of perfection of mankind, your heresy of choice is most likely Socinianism. One or the other isn’t enough, you must believe – if not six impossible things – at least two contradictory things before being accepted as a Christian. Read More…

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