Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gun Control

After reading a draft of the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Jefferson (then serving as minister to France), suggested that a Bill of Rights was lacking from the document, and insisted that one be added. Since he was living at the time in another land where a revolution was taking place for the lack of rights, he knew the new republic would not be able to last without one.

So, ten amendments were made to the Constitution in order to give people more freedom and lessen the power of the federal government, in the hope that if these rights were able to be maintained, the republic would not fall. The amendments are known to us today as the Bill of Rights.

Of the ten, one of the most controversial (at least today) is the 2nd Amendment which states "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Perhaps a little background into the state of mind of the men who wrote this would help. During the time prior to the revolutionary war, the colonists could not have their own militias, and British troops often stayed in their homes (against their will) and served as the common defense. This issue was such a problem to the Founders that they addressed it not only in the second amendment, but in the third amendment as well.

So in order that this would not happen again, the Founders (who were the intelligentsia of that era) decided that Americans should own guns and be trained in the art of using them, in case another time came when it would be necessary for a militia to be raised.

Today however, many people think this amendment has run out of usefulness. They now want to make it next to impossible to own a gun, and say that the only people who should have guns are people who are in law enforcement (I find it ironic that they hate guns but want to be protected by them). To give two examples, the philosopher Sam Harris has said "Getting a gun should be like getting a pilots license"  and the comedian Bill Maher has said "Guns are a religion in this country."

Then there is the other side of the argument, the side that argues that no one has the right to infringe on gun ownership, and that it is a right like unto freedom of speech. The NRA and other groups like them have lobbied in order to make sure that this right is not infringed upon.

Both sides of the argument have a valid points. It is very true that the right to bear arms should not be infringed upon, but is also true that guns have become a major problem in this country, with over 15,000 gun-related deaths last year alone.

Lets look at the text of the amendment once more "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

So, the argument from the Founders is that in order to have maximum freedom and security, gun ownership shall not be infringed upon. It really is that simple, at least according to the founders. And it make sense, government probably would not just waltz into your home if they knew you had guns and would shoot on sight.

Let's quote the founders : "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government"- Thomas Jefferson

"The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good"- George Washington

"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." - Alexander Hamilton

So, it appears that from the most conservative Founder (Jefferson) to the most liberal (Hamilton) there was a common agreement: Gun ownership is part of a free society.

"But the Founders could not have anticipated school shootings and gangs and all the horrible things that have come about  due to guns!" gun control advocates will say. To be fair, many grave and sad occurrences have happened because of guns. However, there is a slight flaw in this argument. Guns have not caused anyone; people have used guns to kill people. Guns don't do anything until someone pulls the trigger.

It is not right to infringe on a person's rights just because someone has abused them. People have abused every other amendment that is in the Bill of Rights, and yet no one is calling for there repeal. So why are guns different?

Because guns kill! Look, for the last time people , guns do not kill anyone. People use guns to kill people. I do not recall Cain having a glock in his hand when he looked sideways at Abel.

The real reason behind people wanting to restrict gun ownership is because they are scared that guns will fall into the wrong hands. What gun control advocates fail to realize is that most people who do bad things with guns did not buy them legally; they bought them on the black market. So background checks and restrictions would not stop them, they would only stop law-abiding citizens.

Some have said that owning a gun should be akin to getting a drivers license; only after having passed a test to get a gun could you get a gun. Two problems with this idea: One, owning a gun is a right, driving a car is a privilege.  Second, even if a person were to get a license to have a gun, this still would not stop a person from using it against a person.

This idea does have some plausibility  to it. It would be a good idea to have a person who wants to get a gun be trained to use the gun. However, that does not mean the person should not be able to own it. And it certainly would not stop them from using it illegally.

But 15,000 people died last year from gun use in this country! It is true that America is in the top four of gun related deaths by country. But if you take out Chicago and New York (the two cities with the strictest gun control laws) we would be in the bottom four of countries that cause gun-related deaths.

There is a practical solution to this problem: the answer is to own more guns. The more that we as a people understand how to use guns, the safer we will be. In order to prevent school shootings, all schools should have armed guards and teachers should have access to guns in the classroom as well. In public, more states should lessen gun restriction so that people can concealed weapons. Believe me, it makes a difference. Here is a fun fact: the man who dressed up as the Joker and shot up the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado went to the one theatre in the city where it was illegal to have a concealed weapon. Coincidence? I think not.

The Founders were quite right in suggesting that owning guns secured our freedom. Most people are appalled at the human rights violations in Nazi Germany, North Korea, Red China, and Soviet Russia. What did these nations have in common? No one could own guns. And what happened? The people had all their rights taken away, and many innocents were killed under these ruthless tyrants rule. Lets not follow their example.

At the end of the day, owning a gun is a right, just like any other right given to us in the Constitution. We should look for ways to improve out gun ownership, but restricting it is not a legitimate, life-saving option.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review of "god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything"

One of the purposes of this blog is to review literature. I read one book a month, and then I will write a review of it, outlining its contents, saying whether or not the book was interesting, and whether it is worth a persons time to pick up the book and read it.

This month the book I read was entitled "god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by the late Christopher Hitchens. For those who think that I made a typo error in not capitalizing the word "God", I did not make a mistake. Hitch detests God so much he does not once capitalize the word during the entire volume.

Hitchens narrative is a mix of history and his own personal life, beginning when he was about nine years old. He says that while his teacher was teaching him about God, he suddenly had a revelation (ironic, since he seems to despise revelation) that God did not exist. He then outlines that most of the problems in the world are tied back to religion, and that it must cease for mankind to live. He remarks that he would not wish to eradicate religion if it would "leave him alone", but since it won't he must seek to destroy it.

Hitchens then goes on to show how he believes that religion is man-made, and shows demonstrations of how the sacred texts show that. He mostly attacks the Abrahamic religions, but he does devote some time to Buddhism and Hinduism in his chapter "Their is no Eastern Solution".

At the end, Hitch calls the religious to a new era of enlightenment, and to begin using science and reason as the mode of establishing ethics and morality in civilization.

Hitchens is my favorite author, and I am a great admirer of him. However, he never really develops a thesis for his book, he just rants and rambles about the problems religion has caused. His book title would suggest that he is trying to disprove that God exists, but this is not actually dealt with in the book. He never even really defines what he means by the word "God".

One of the worst flaws of the book is that it shows very bad scholarship. Hitchens never gives any footnotes, so it is hard to know where he is quoting from. Some of his quotes show that he never read the book he quoted from, for example he quotes the great philosopher Thomas Aquinas as having said "I am a man of only one book." However, what Aquinas had really said was "Beware the man of only one book."

It is clear to me that Mr. Hitchens does not understand religion at all, and is very wrong in his assessment "Religion is a threat to civilization." Since the civilizations of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece were very religious and very advanced in science, literature, and philosophy, this can hardly be the case.

If one is wishing to convert to atheism, perhaps this book will be for you. I found it hard to keep reading and to be abuse of talent. I hope that someone has convinced Hitch that God is great and the religion does not poison everything. I am sure he will tell that story well.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

All Christians, whether they are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Mormon, etc, all disagree on some area of doctrine. As Dr. William Lane Craig said to the late Christopher Hitchens during his debate with him on the existence of God "These are differences among brethren. These are not differences on which we need to put one another in some sort of a cage." However, there is one area of doctrine that Christians unanimously agree on, and even the religion of Islam agrees with them on. This doctrine is known as the Virgin Birth.

This doctrine is simple: It claims that Jesus of Nazareth was born of his mother Mary without a sexual encounter, as is fundamental with our births. Thus, Jesus literally was the Son of God because no man had lied with her to produce her infant, which does not occur among humans except in this case.

The purpose of this article is to review the scriptures and history relating to this doctrine, observe whether such an event is compatible with the natural order, and to determine whether or not we should believe in this doctrine.

Let me make my claim perfectly clear: The Virgin Birth is not a true doctrine. It is not scripture based, and it violates the natural order.

Lets begin with the scriptures that talk about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. There are very few of them, but we will analyze all of them. They are: Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38, 1 Nephi 11: 13-21, 2 Nephi 17:14, and  Alma 7:10.   I will quote all of these scriptures and analyze them, giving a look at context and implication. I will quote using the King James Version of the Holy Bible and the 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon.

Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

This verse comes near the end of the Garden of Eden narrative, after Adam and Eve have partaken of the forbidden fruit and become mortal. God is speaking here to the serpent (whom John the Revelator informs us is Satan himself: Revelation 12:9) and letting him know that he will be successful for a season (as he successfully has brought death into the world) but that the seed of the Woman will eventually destroy and defeat death; which Jesus of Nazareth did by being resurrected. Notice that God says here "the seed of the woman" rather than the seed of the man and the woman. Clearly this seed will be somewhat different than the others, but that does not mean that it will be done without a sexual encounter or by violating the natural order.

Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

This verse is given by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz as he was being invaded by the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It is not clear why this comes up out of the blue, but it is the only mention of the "Virgin Birth" in the Old Testament. However, this word virgin does not necessarily translate to the word virgin in our vernacular, which means a person (male or female) who has not had sexual relations. Rather, according to Strong's Concordance, the word virgin here (almah in Hebrew) means young woman. Also, there is a word for virgin that agrees with our use of the word in Hebrew (bethulah). Isaiah is only saying here that Christ will be born of a young woman, which he was. He is not saying that this birth will happen without a sexual encounter or by violation of the natural order.

Matthew 1:18-25: "18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."

Here the apostle Matthew is writing a gospel which is directed to the Jews, who will be very familiar with the prophecies regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the Isaiah verse we have already discussed, which points to the fact that this was the main verse the Jews associated with the birth of the Messiah. We are told here that this child is of the Holy Ghost, or that God's power was involved in it. How Mary conceived the child we are not told. The main point was to emphasize to Joseph that his bride- to- be had not had intimate relations with another man, and that he should proceed with his plans to marry her. No mention of violation of the natural order is raised here.

Luke 1:26-38:"26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no bend.

 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

This text is the one most commonly used in the Nativity. Here Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her that she will have a son, who will be the Messiah. Pay close attention to the angels counsel on how this will occur. It is clearly implied that God himself will have a part in it, and it will be in such a manner that Mary will not be able to withstand without the aid of the Holy Ghost. It seems that God himself will be the man in this encounter, and Mary the woman. What encounter happens between a man and a woman that produces a child? I will let you do the math. It is interesting that Mary herself did not talk about it after the fact, but "kept these things in her heart".

This is the last mention of Christ's birth found within the text known to us as the Holy Bible. Of the four gospels, only two mention that Mary was some sort of a virgin. None of them say that the birth was out of the ordinary, except that there was no mortal man involved, particularly Joseph. Jesus himself says nothing about this process, just that he is the Son of God. The apostle Paul, who wrote more than 2/3 of the New Testament, is also silent on the matter. John and Peter, who were two of Jesus' closet confidantes, say nothing about the virgin birth in their gospels (the Gospel of Mark is Peter's memoirs). So, from this text we can assume that they knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but either had no idea of how he was born or thought he was born as they had been born, although he was the literal offspring of deity.

The last three scriptures I mention can only be used if one is a believer in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, because they come from this ancient American record.

1 Nephi 11:13-21: " 13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.

 14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?

 15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

 16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

 17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

 18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

 19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

 20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

 21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the aLamb of God, yea, even the bSon of the Eternal cFather! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?"

Here the young prophet Nephi is seeing the same vision that his father Lehi had seen in a previous chapter, although Nephi expounds on his experience in much greater detail. He is asked by an angel whether he understands what he is seeing, but he replies he does not completely. The angel then tells Nephi who this virgin is, and what she will do for mankind. It is not clear whether Nephi is told how the conception took place, but there is no indication here of a natural order violation.

2 Nephi 17:14 "Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Nephi is teaching from the book of Isaiah and is quoting the verse we have already referenced. We will not outline this one again, but I take note of it because it is contained in the text.

Alma 7:10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God."

Alma is teaching the people of Gideon about Christ in this Sermon. His language is very similar to Luke's, in that he mentions that Mary is pure, she shall be overshadowed, and Jesus is to be called the Son of God. Since the text is very similar, I give the same commentary that I gave on the Luke version of the encounter.

From the text of the scriptures, we find no definite doctrine of the virgin birth. These are the facts we do know:
  1. Mary was a young virgin at the time of the encounter
  2. Neither Joseph nor any other man (besides God) was involved in the encounter
  3. Whatever the experience, Mary could not endure it without being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost
  4. Jesus of Nazareth never spoke of how he was born, certainly never teaching the Virgin Birth doctrine himself
  5. Neither Paul nor any of the later New Testament writers said anything about the Virgin Birth
  6. The Book of Mormon prophets did not teach this doctrine
It should also be noted this doctrine was not taught universally until the 2nd century, where it was canonized formally in the Apostles Creed, which was written by philosophers like myself. Included in this text is another new doctrine: the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. This doctrine teaches that Mary herself was sinless, and not subject to the fall of Adam. This doctrine is not found within the New Testament text, but it is fully accepted in the Roman Catholic Church, which most churches borrow their doctrine from.

Thus we see that the Virgin Birth as believed by Christians worldwide today comes from philosophy, not scripture. 

The second part of my argument is that the virgin birth cannot be true because it violates the natural order. This is not my idea; it was thought of by great minds long ago. Perhaps the great David Hume said it best when he said "Which is more likely: that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a jewish minx should tell a lie?"

God created the laws of nature. When he created Man and Woman in the scriptures and the process by which other humans would be brought into the world he said they were "very good". This shows that God has no problem with sex, which is where the real heart of this issue lies.

In order to believe in the virgin birth, one must believe that God created the birth canal, but that he also eschews and is disgusted by it. It is to say that sex is a degrading, filthy practice that only humans would participate in. This correlates well with the false doctrine of the Trinity, which is also not found in the text of scripture. And it goes along well with the idea that the genitalia is something to be hated, especially the female genitalia.  I do not share this view.

Some will say that virgin births do occur outside of the human race in some animals in a process known as Parthenogenesis and that perhaps Mary had her birth similarly. Besides the fact that this never happens in humans and that it would reduce humanity to that of the common lizard, this denies the fact that is is not taught within the text of scripture. And this would reduce humanity to the same level as animals, which is dangerous, toxic doctrine.

Another argument is that perhaps God did some sort on in vitro fertilization. This could be bought, except that such a process would not require the Holy Ghost to overshadow and protect Mary. All God would have to do was put a sperm into one of Mary's eggs, a miracle not unlike many that Jesus of Nazareth would perform. If this were true, then there would not be even a hint of an encounter. But the text of both the old world and the new world say otherwise. Also, this again is an attempt to say that God eschews his creation and detests it, rather than regarding it as a sacred process which all should yearn to participate in.

A even sillier argument exists, this being that because it is not directly stated how the conception of Mary took place, we cannot know how it happened. There would only be reason to describe the conception of Mary if it was radically different than the natural order, not if it was in line with it. The authors of scripture knew that their audience would understand the birth process, thus only the parts that are different than ours were mentioned.

There is one final matter I want to bring to this argument, but it does not have to do with Mary per se. In the miraculous births of Sarah and Elizabeth, God does not violate the natural order to bring about his purposes. Rather, the text says that both women were known by their husbands, and God took charge in making sure that conception happened. If he did not violate the natural order in these instances where the participants were well beyond the child-bearing years, there is no reason to believe that he did so with Mary, who was in the prime of her child-bearing years.

God did not suspend the laws of nature to have his only begotten enter mortality, just as he never did to perform any other miracle. He used the natural order, which involved a sexual encounter of some sort with Mary, which she could not endure without the presence of the Holy Ghost. Thus when Jesus of Nazareth said that God was his father, it was as literal as me saying that David LaCour is my father. From his father he inherited the power over death, so that he could truly say that no man could take his life from him (John 10:18). From his mother he inherited mortality, or the ability to die. 

Those who believe in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth eschew the birth canal, hate the genitalia, are not proud of the way they were conceived, and do not believe the text of scripture. The scriptures point one way, this philosophy points to another way, and leads to more ideas that are also inaccurate. 

Let us praise and thank the God of Nature, who both loves and uses the processes he created for us.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Evolution and Religion

A war that has been fought since 1859, the year "On the Origin of Species"by Charles Darwin was published, continues to be fought. This war is not fought with bombs, missiles, and guns, but rather with ideas. It is a war that all are involved and that all takes sides upon. It is war that to some extent is over in Europe, but somehow continues to rage in the United States of America. What war do I speak of? It is the war between Evolution and Religion.

This week, a major battle was fought in this war in the great state of Kentucky. Commanding the side of science and evidence was William Sanford Nye (known popularly as Bill Nye the Science Guy). On the side of fiction and fantasy was Creation Museum head and young Earth creationist Ken Ham. They debated for over two hours, with Bill citing evidence that mankind can see and that scientists world wide agree on (whether religious or secular), while Ken Ham presented arguments only from the Bible, treating the creation drama and scenes from Bible stories literally. If you want to watch the debate itself, here is the link.

As a religious person, I am here to add my own voice to the fray. And I must be frank when I say this: Evolution as taught by Charles Darwin is a fact, it is not a "theory". When the word theory is used in science, it has a much different context than when we use it in the non-scientific way. This is the definition of theory as used in Science, according to the Oxford Dictionary :A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. This means that the scientific method has been used, that it has been looked at over and over again, and that all scientists (or a least a large majority) agree on it. Perhaps the science world should drop the word "theory" to stop confusing people.

When we usually use the word "theory" we are thinking of this definition : a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained: 

Notice the difference between the two. Scientific theories are tested over and over again until there is little or no doubt on the problem. A theory in the non-scientific sense does not need to be tested out and anyone can make one. Another evidence of fact vs. fantasy.

If recent polls are to be trusted, more people in this country doubt Darwin's theory of Evolution than any of the most modernized, industrial nations with Turkey being the lone exception. About 40% of people in this country believe in evolution, while 78% believe the Bible to be the word of God, with a little over 40% believe that it is to be taken literally.

So let's get this straight. 78% of people in this country believe God created the world in six days, in a talking snake, that a senior citizen built an ark and gathered literally two of every animal, that man and dinosaurs co-existed, that a man walked on water, that a man was born of a virgin, and a host of other hard to believe ideas. But they think that those who believe that men and apes have a common ancestor are out of their minds. Wow, no wonder this country is in bad shape.

I want to be a help, not a hinderance, to reason and rationality. Contrary to popular belief, one can believe fully in Charles Darwin and in Jesus of Nazareth. I do, Francis Collins (world renowned scientist and head of the human genome project) does, Henry Eyring (world-renowned physicist) did also.

But how can one believe that man and ape have a common ancestor and that the Bible (and in my case The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) is the word of God? Let's start out by defining our terms.

When I usually ask people, especially the religious, "Do you believe in evolution?" I usually hear this response "No, I don't believe I came from a monkey." From this response, we can see that most people do not even know what evolution really is, so of course they cannot truly believe in it.

Here is the Oxford Dictionary definition of Evolution: The process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the Earth. In other words, over time Man has adapted and changed over time according to his surroundings, as have plants and animals. Another large part of this equation is Natural Selection ; the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution, and Survival of the Fittest; the continued existence of organisms that are best adapted to their environment, with the extinction of others, as a concept in the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Notice that none of these say anything about Man being a descendant of the ape, the fish, the whale, or any other animal. Contrary to popular belief, evolutionists believe man has always been a Man, but that his state today is not his state 10,000 years ago.

Allow me to illustrate an example of all these concepts. Natural Selection allows us to be our best selfs, and contrary to popular belief, is not random. If it were random, we would have eyes in different places, and all of our organs would not work. But natural selection allows all of our vitals to be exactly where they need to be, unless there is a mutation. A survival of the fittest example can come from my own church. After having left Nauvoo, the Saints crossed the plains to the great basin. The strongest of them survived, the weaker died off. Apply that principle to the entire animal kingdom and that is why some species have survived and others have died off.

Ok, but how do you rationalize the Bible with that? Simple. We read the text, and no where in the text of the Bible does it claim anything about the age of the Earth, or how long it took for species to develop, or that God created the Earth out of nothing. These are things that people have read into the text. In the Genesis creation drama, water and materials were already clearly around before the creation itself started (Genesis 1:2-3). Also, time as we know it did not exist until the fourth day, since that is when God created the Sun the other stars, which man has always used to count time (Genesis 1:14-19). So no one can use the Bible text to tell how old the Earth is, and the idea that it is 6,000 years old is ludicrous.  If someone believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, it is equivalent to believing that the width of the United States is 8 yards, since the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That is the scale of the error.

Believers of the Bible must understand that the creation drama was given to men before man knew what an atom or a germ was, where the Sun went at night, or knew that the Earth was round. In other words, God explained to Moses that he had created the Earth, but he did not tell Moses the particulars and the origin of species because they were far beyond Moses' understanding. Had God explained to Charles Darwin the Origin of the Earth, it would be much different than the Genesis text.

Another fact that needs to be pointed out is the difference in what science and religion want to accomplish. Science seeks to know and understand the natural world, does not claim to know more than it does know, and is willing to change with current evidence. Religion ultimately is to do ones duty to the creator. These two need not be be in such conflict and turmoil.

For those who have not read "On the Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin, they need to read it as soon as possible. It will not take away belief in God, it will amplify your belief and make you appreciate more the grandeur of God. It will also show our non-believing friends that believers of God are not disbelievers in science and reason. One will find that there really is no conflict between modern science and religion, because science is neutral and is not concerned with the same things as religion. 

At any rate, religious people must have a new enlightenment. We must leave behind astrology for astronomy, fundamentalism for philosophy, and use revelation along with reason. We must use our minds and not simply believe the words of men who had no idea in the early days of the Earth what was really going on. We now know what was and is going on, and we need to improve life with what we now know.

Religion is starting to become an enemy to civilization, and we must stop it while it can be stopped. We must allow true science such as evolution to be openly taught in the classroom by itself, without letting religious ideas such as intelligent design interfere. We must allow those who know science to teach it, and not listen to pseudo-scientists. We must leave the creation myths in the past and embrace the scientific truths of the present and future. We can do it, I know we can.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl

Well, I am happy to see Pete Carroll, whom I believe is the finest coach on the planet, win a Super Bowl. Keep in mind that when he took over the Seahawks, they were coming off a horrendous 5-11 performance under the hands of Jim L. Mora, who ironically is now coach of the UCLA Bruins (I won't get started on that). Just goes to show you that any team can be good with the right coach and hard work.

On the other hand, what the hell happened to the Broncos? They looked like they had the after-party sex first, smoked pot, and had nothing left. Peyton Manning, a man who will likely go down as a top 3 all-time quarterback, looked like he was playing Pee-Wee league football. I guess now we know what Michael Jackson looked like after he got off the dipper-van.

In any event, that was by far the worst Super Bowl I have ever seen, and the Broncos should be ashamed of themselves. Luckily National Signing Day is coming up on Wednesday and I can forget all this in large part. College Football will always be better than the NFL. Always. Now on to the NBA season.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

10 Most Influential People

After writing several essays and sending them out to several of my colleagues, my mother suggested that I write something about role-models or people who have influenced me. After thinking about it, I found that it was a fine idea.

So, I thought about all the people who have influenced me in my life and narrowed it down to ten people. In order for the people to make the list, they had to have been a person who greatly contributed to my thinking, was successful, original, and inspired people in general. I will state in naming these ten people a short bio of who they are, why they influenced me, and some quotes that I love of theirs. So let us begin:

1. Jesus of Nazareth

I suppose that most people are familiar with Jesus of Nazareth, and more than likely most people of the Christian faith would have him at the top of their list. For those unfamiliar with who he is, let me give a brief overview. Before he came to this Earth, he was known as Jehovah, and was the God of the Old Testament. In the meridian of time, he came to this Earth as Jesus of Nazareth, and was the Savior of mankind. He atoned for the sins of all so that we can be like him, if we follow his commandments. After being betrayed by one of his own, he was sentenced to death and crucified. Three days later, he rose again and became "the first fruits of them that slept." (1 Corinthians 15:20) The account of his life, ministry, and mission are found today in the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, all which I consider to be inspired writings.

Jesus inspires me because he was the only perfect man who walked the Earth. While many good and great people walked the Earth before and after, Jesus only stands as perfect. His teachings would save and heal the world, if we would follow them. Even if I were not a Christian, I would still admire the teachings of Jesus and follow them, although I would not believe in his divinity. I know that he lives today, and that he loves us all.

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

2. Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith was a religious leader in the early 19th century, and the founder of the Mormon faith. He was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont on December 23, 1805. In the year 1820 while trying to find the correct faith and seeking a remission of his sins, he was visited by God himself and the Lord Jesus Christ, the latter who counseled to the young Joseph to not join any existing faith and forgave him of his sins.

Later, the young Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni, who was an ancient inhabitant of the North American continent. He told Joseph of an ancient record which contained the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity, and that Joseph was to be its translator. After being led to the record, Joseph translated it by the gift and power of God into the book known to us today as "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ".

Throughout the rest of his young life, the young prophet translated other records, received many revelations from deity, founded a church, and built great cities. On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in Carthage Jail, where they had been held on charges of destroying a printing press. He is held in high esteem among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a mighty and great prophet.

Joseph Smith is a man after my own heart. He is an example to me that God does love his children and answers their prayers, and I was introduced to him while I was very skeptical of this view. He was brave, bold, intelligent, rational, and was still a normal person. His life was one of faith and trust and being instructed from above. I hope I can be like him one day.

"Never be discouraged. If I were sunk in the lowest pits of Nova Scotia, with the Rocky Mountains piled on me, I would hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I would come out on top."

"Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing; the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault."

3. Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an American founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the founder of the University of Virginia, and the third President of the United States. He was born in Virginia, living the life of a southern planter. He was educated formally at the College of William and Mary, one of the few founders to be formally educated. A polymath and inventor, he spoke over 5 languages and was the architect of his mansion, Monticello.

A student of the era of enlightenment, he was a skeptic of organized religion, although he did believe in God.

Jefferson deserves the title of "Author of America". He was the man who gave us the Declaration of Independence, the first amendment, and founded the first university that was secular, a practice that all universities should adopt. More than anyone else, his writings and teachings framed what eventually became the Bill of Rights. Where would America be without Jefferson? The answer is there would be no America. Jefferson has been criticized lately for not being a Christian, and for having an affair with one of his slaves. However, these do not diminish the accomplishments he had and the great man that he was. I thank God every day for Thomas Jefferson, the greatest statesman of all time.

Thomas Jefferson's influence on me has been that most of my political views come from him. Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by this man and his work. I am convinced no man did more for this country than he, and he will be one of the first people I greet in post-mortality.

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend"

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

4. David Hume

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. He, along John Locke and Bishop Berkley, are known within philosophy as "The Fathers of Empiricism", empiricism being the belief that knowledge is gained through sensory experience. Hume himself is known as the father of Skepticism, which was his great contribution in this field. His views influenced many fields of philosophy including logical positivism, utilitarianism, philosophy of science, cognitive philosophy, and many other branches of thought.

Hume's greatest philosophical works include "A Treatise of Human Nature", "An Enquiry of Human Understanding ", "The Natural History of Religion", and "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". Hume strove greatly to understand the science of man, and it is amazing how he saw so greatly into the future without the aid of modern science. As Paul said, Hume "saw through a glass darkly." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I revere David Hume. He is my favorite philosopher, and what someone once said of Plato I say of Hume "He is the only philosopher; everything else is footnotes." I am sure some of my fellow philosophers will disagree but that is the beauty of philosophy.

I credit Hume for awakening me from a dogmatic slumber in religion and making me more skeptical of religious leaders in particular. For instance, before being introduced to Hume, I was a firm believer in the virgin birth. However, once Hume showed me that the virgin birth violated the natural order, I ceased to believe in it.

Hume had a very rational skepticism, which I think all people should have. He was not skeptical of all things, but he did ask questions until he got satisfactory answers. Chances are Hume would not like modern LDS leaders dodging of questions, and would be a critic of this. I can't say enough good about this man, and I look forward to talking with him hereafter.

"Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue."

"He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he Is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance."

"Which is more likely: that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a jewish minx should tell a lie?"

5. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens was a British-American journalist and author. He was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a host of other famous magazines. Known for his polemical and contrarian attitudes, he wrote long pieces excoriating popular figures such as Mother Teresa (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice), Henry Kissinger (The Trial of Henry Kissinger), Bill Clinton (No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton), and even God himself (god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything).

Hitch (as he was popularly called) was also a great orator and debater. He spent large amounts of time touring the world debating religious leaders, trouncing many of them. He drank and smoked heavily, which lead to his death in 2011 from esophageal cancer.

Christopher Hitchens is my favorite author and orator, has influenced my writing, and I cause me not be ashamed of being a contrarian and polemicist. He taught me that no one is above criticism, and that everything is open to debate. I also loved that Hitch was never offended, and was always sure of himself no matter what he did or said. I hope to carry that trait throughout my life. Like King Agrippa said of Paul "Almost though persuadest me to be a Christian", I say of Hitch "If it were not for the experiences I have had, though would persuade me to be an atheist." I miss you brother.

"Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." 

"I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness."

"To the dumb question, 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply, 'Why not?'"

"My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass." 

6. Bill Maher

William "Bill" Maher, Jr. is an American comedian and political commentator. He is the host of the show "Real Time with Bill Maher" and had been the host of "Politically Incorrect"before that. He is known for his sarcastic attitude and his criticism of lack of knowledge in the electorate. He is known to eschew political labels, calling himself "practical". He is a staunch advocate of the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, gun control, and a host of other progressive ideas.

Maher also does stand-up, and was voted the 38th greatest stand-up comedian of all time. He is also known to criticize religion, making the documentary movie "Religulous" in 2008.

Everyone loves someone who can make them laugh. Very few people who walk this Earth can do that for me, but Bill Maher is one of those people. I don't agree on many things with Bill Maher, but he has shown that people can disagree without being disagreeable, which is a wonderful trait to have. For instance, Maher is a very liberal , but he often has very conservative people on his show and is polite to their point of view. And while he is anti-religious, many of his friends are religious. He is a great example of tolerance

"Suicide is man's way of telling God, 'You can't fire me - I quit.'"

"Religion, to me, is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don't need."

7. Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was an english naturalist and biologist. He is the author of the theory of organic evolution, which is outlined in his book "On the Origin of Species". He is recognized in the world of science as one of the greatest scientists of all time, although the religious general have disgust for him.

Darwin influenced me in much the same way that David Hume did; by awakening me from "dogmatic slumber". Like many Mormons, I was a creationist and believed that God created the Earth in six days. Upon discovering Darwin, I understand that the world is billions of years old and that there was death on this planet long before Father Adam inhabited it. I have now come to love science, which I hated before I discovered Darwin.

Contrary to the belief that one can not believe in evolution and believe that God created the world, I am modern evidence that you can believe both, and I thank Charles Darwin for that.

"A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life."

"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth."

"The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts."

8. Bruce R. McConkie

Bruce R. McConkie was an influential apostle within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Writing heavily on doctrine, he wrote classic books such as "Mormon Doctrine", "A New Witness for the Articles of Faith", and "The Messiah Series". While McConkie was very popular during his lifetime and is today, modern general authorities tend not to talk about doctrine and talk more about generic things, sometimes even going back on what Joseph Smith and others had earlier said.

McConkie was criticized in his lifetime for his style of preaching, since his style was very "this is the way it is, or you are a heretic". While it is true this was overbearing in some instances, is it not the role of an apostle to preach the doctrine and be confident in what he is saying?

I love Elder Mcconkie, and he is a large reason I am a member of the church. His knowledge of the doctrine of the gospel is second to none, and he would have truth and nothing else. I don't see this characteristic as much within the general authorities of today. None testify of Christ and Joseph Smith in the way he did.

As Thomas Jefferson is the father of my political views, Bruce R. McConkie is the father of my doctrinal views, as I side with him about 90% of the time. I disagree with him on his views of evolution, interracial marriage, and a few other things. But for the most part I am with him.

"“Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths."

“People who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can't be gained in any way except by studying the scriptures. There's an increase in faith and a desire to do what's right and a feeling of inspiration and understanding that comes to people who study the gospel - and who ponder the principles, that can't come in any other way.” 

9. Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was a political activist in the late 18th and early nineteenth century. He inspired the American Revolution with his pamphlet "Common Sense", which helped inspire Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. He was a champion of reason, and was highly critical of religion. In his book "Age of Reason", he challenged the many of the claims of the Bible and advocated natural religion and deism, which I would advocate if I were not a Mormon.

One of Paine's best work was his "Rights of Man", where he discourses on the rights that all humans have, regardless of who they are and where they live.

Paine influenced me because he was a champion of reason and rationality. He taught me to think for myself and go where the evidence took me, not just listen to a person just because they had a title. I also credit Paine for his being outspoken about an opinion even when it was unpopular, something I do often now. And last of all, I credit Paine for influencing my anti-clerical beliefs.

"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall."

10. Adam Smith

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist, and perhaps the most influential mind in the world of economics. His book "The Wealth of Nations" is the the most heavily quoted book on economics and was owned by every founding father of the United States. Smith was an aggressive advocate of capitalism and the government staying out of economics. His theory of the "invisible hand of the economy" is one of the ideas that has spread to all fields of economics.

Jefferson is my political father, Hume my philosophical father, McConkie my religious father, and Adam Smith is the father of my economic philosophy. I have his book Wealth of Nations, and it is a fascinating read. It is amazing that a man so long ago could understand our problems today. I am a firm believer that all members of congress should have to read the book before entering office. God be thanked for Adam Smith, author of the American economy.

"The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations."

"Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this - no dog exchanges bones with another."

Some will say "But Tarik, you never personally knew any of these men!" Very much to the contrary. In my patriarchal blessing I was blessed to know that I was influenced by certain men in the pre-existence and that they would influence me here. I am sure I was acquainted with these men before, and I will renew that friendship hereafter.