Christian Junk Science
Promotes Social Inaction
Ariel Cruz

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I have divided my response into three sections.

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Ariel Cruz"
Subject: Re: Xtian junk science and entropy.
Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 4:49 AM

Ariel:

I'm really glad you wrote.

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End-times studies prey upon human nature. They invoke fear and make that fear it seem realistic by finding coincidences between Bible passages and current events. The Evangelical Christians bolster this (thus separating themselves from the likes of Nostradamus) by trying to make the Bible appear to be historically accurate. If it can be trusted in verifiable matters (it can't) then, as the leap goes, we ought to trust its unverifiable claims.

They also exploit the common (almost universal) human desire to know the future, and thus resemble any number of prognostication cults such as astrology. Using the Bible as the prognostication tool somehow legitimizes the whole notion of prognostication, which was previously relegated to the realm of the occult and other forbidden crafts.

In my lifetime, the most blatant expression of this resulting irresponsibility was Reagan's Interior Secretary James Watt. He inverted the general historical trend by announcing that we don't need to worry too much about ecology because Jesus is returning real soon anyway. Socially responsible Christians point to passages such as Revelation 11:18 ("thou ... and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth) and urge ecological responsibility. Also, many sects are falling over each other to appear to help the poor, but all too often lately this trend has turned into a money grab for State funding.

I still hold out hope that there are enough sane Christians working toward the common good that we can work together and make a better world for ourselves. I have recently observed that the question of whether a god exists is one of the stupidest things to get into a fight over. I'd like to hear your views on my desire to actively promote cooperation between atheists and theists in mutually solving some of the pressing problems facing our fellow-humans and the non-human residents of this planet.

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I usually consider "Xtian" in its various forms to be an epithet of sorts, but I'll let this one pass. Please understand that we usually either silently change this or reject the letter entirely. But we note the humor intended in some of your other deliberate misspellings, and will retain your use of "Xtian" to keep the flow of this humor. In other words, a case can be made that you are spelling it this way as a part of your series of puns.

Also implied in your letter is a respect for what I will call the more responsible Christians, who will readily work hand in hand with anyone who is willing to try to make this a better world for us all. My hope is that atheist will do the same whenever the opportunity arises, and thus I normally don't like to alienate any Christians from that most crucial of our messages.

Let me ramble about Missler a bit because he embodies so many of the different (as you say) "quackeries" going on within many of the Charismatic (or "Praise") Evangelical circles that hover around Orange County California -- not just Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel (which has splintered off countless other groups around the world, such as Harvest). This rambling is neither systematic nor up-to-date. These are just some general reflections.

I haven't paid attention to Missler since about 1982, but I doubt he has needed to change his routine all that much. What I write here is about the late-1970s Missler, not the Missler of today (with whom I am almost completely unfamiliar). Perhaps you can gain some insight into the modern Missler (and similar preachers) through my memories and reflections of his former work.

Like Billy Graham, Missler is very good at avoiding the hot-button controversies, but he is still, for most Christians, so far out the trolleys don't run there. Missler was (still is?) what I call a Christian Symbolic-Mystic. He loved trying to decipher varous "secret messaged" in the Bible, but his "messages" always reflected orthodox Evangelical dogma. This is why I distinguis him from regular mystics: I doubt he goes into trances, and if he does, he'd never mention something that controvercial in Evangalical circles.

His biggest trips seem to be Biblical Inerrancy and Premillennialist Prophesy studies of the "Left Behind" school, though he does give lip-service to the Charismatic movement and to Creationism. (He rarely commits to such controversies as speaking in tongues or Young Earth Creationism, rather, letting you just assume that wherever your position is on either axis, he's in your camp.)

I used to listen to Chuck Missler when he was doing his Christian Symbolic-Mysticism routines for the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa (Chuck Smith's church). Gaud! He came so close -- close enough to hook a lot of people into his trip -- but he always fell so utterly short of actually producing significant cases for any of his (Symbolic-Mystical) claims. I felt this even while I was wishing that he was on to something. He would announce at the beginning of a 16-week course that he was going to prove (or "show" us) this and that -- a whole long list of things -- and always ended up just hinting around one or two of these things. He did stretch the credulity of a lot of people, though, preparing them to accept any number of different Christian and/or New Age trips, and especially priming them for the now-popular approach of trying to use science to justify faith (which is an inversion of the traditional understanding of the word faith).

Missler generally only took advanced "Gone-Dead-Train" believers in his classes, so he never had to grapple with hard apologetics: he never really needed to defend the basic Christian claims against a Skeptic, and he avoided the finer details that tend to provoke controversy. Thus, he had the luxury of spending most of his time floating in the general vicinity of Saturn and contemplating the braided patterns in her rings. Missler's stuff was way out there, as Evangelical Christianity goes.

He is the only one with the nerve to stand in an auditorium and boldly proclaim things that many serious Evangelical Christians could only wish they could see -- much less think were true. (In this he is not unlike Josh McDowell.) The problem with finding anything resembling a refutation against a guy like Missler is that he's so far out in left field that nobody really cares to bother with it.

He's got all the basics for a great California Evangelical leader, though, and this is where an atheist can gain some real ground against him. First, he's got a very sharp mind, to the point where I always wondered if he really believes what he teaches. Secondly, he is a Premillennialist, he gives lip-service to Creationism, and he stumps for Biblical Inerrancy (without really specializing in it). Thus, Missler's Jesus is no metaphor, but is a bona fide God-Man who will physically return within Missler's lifetime (perhaps as early as 1988!).

Much of the Premillennialism (the "Left Behind" model: the Rapture; the Great Tribulation; the Mark of the Beast; the Four Horsemen) is handled very thoroughly by rival groups of Christians known as Amillennialists (such as the Reconstructionists, who seek an Old Testament Theocracy for Christ and will call this occurrence the Millennium). Both groups are hard-core Fundamentalists, and watching this debate can be fun -- in a twisted sort of way. I doubt many atheists could break a sweat even thinking about the Premillennialist drivel. An outsider looking into the various end-times controversies would be akin to a sober person watching Alcoholics Anonymous members nit-pick over various aspects of Narcotics Anonymous. Premillennialism is very popular in America, though, and a few modern writers have had the attention span to tackle some of his work; typing "missler" into the search engine on Internet Infidels will reveal several such articles specifically on Missler's ideas, such as one by Jehovah's Witness arch-critic Derek Barefoot (who has documented dozens of weird images woven into the drawings in "Awake!" and "Watchtower" -- though I will fall short of suggesting that Missler and Barefoot are cut from similar cloth).

As for Creationism, there are some wonderful books that handle all the Creationists, which are mostly put out by scientists and philosophers of science. Most of the recent books are beginning to handle the Anthropic Principle, which is all the rage in Creationism these days; Victor Stenger has drawn a bead on that whole movement with several articles on his website; he also discussed it in the interview I did with him last year. I also discussed it in a conversation with a 12-year-old named Richard. Of course, we have an entire Science Index in our Web Guide with lots of great Creatinism and phony science links.

Bible Inerrancy is almost impossible to defend against a critic simply because if the critic finds one error, the Inerrancy position crumbles to dust. This topic handled very well by any of the recent Jesus Seminar and Historical Jesus movements, as well as the Jewish perspectives. Of course, any of the classic Higher Criticism studies will provide a solid case against Inerrancy. The most exhaustive source for Inerrancy studies is C. Dennis McKinsey's The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy for about $54 published by Prometheus. One of the earliest attacks against the concept of Biblical Inerrancy was American Founding Father Thomas Paine's The Age Of Reason. Mark Twain poked fun at the Biblical Literalism in his "Letters From The Earth." McKinsey is comprehensive enough that if someone were to excise the problem portions, it would still leave a hefty-sized book. I haven't had to go beyond the Fig Tree Enigma in years, though; biblical errancy is, to me, a pretty cut-and-dried matter due to the fact that it only takes one error to topple the whole thing -- and the Christian literalists know this.

My favorite new Jesus paradigm is the "Jesus Agnosticism" of Robert M. Price (which, after 15 years, has supplanted the model most lucidly described in Hyam Maccoby's "Revolution In Judaea"); Price's new book is called Deconstructing Jesus which, unlike many books of this nature, is exquisitely hip. This guy's on to everything in the Historical Jesus studies -- to the point where he can and does poke fun here and there! I noticed many little asides that will catch the eye of anyone who has read more then three or more Historical Jesus books. Very thorough. Most of all, his paradigm has supplanted a viewpoint that I have held dearly for almost 15 years. And Price did this within the few couple of chapters. Historical Jesus movements of all stripes: Be afraid. Be very afraid! Another great series, which casts serious doubt that a Jesus even existed, are the books by G. A. Wells. Wells sends even the most liberal Historical Jesus advocates running for shelter.

In summary, keep tabs on the basics of Creationism, Inerrancy, and the Jesus studies and you won't need to pay attention to any of Missler's weirder stuff. You won't even have to delve too far into the archeology claims, many of which are sponsored by the Israeli government and its supporters. Think about it: Israel's claim for nationhood vanishes if the Genesis and Exodus stories cannot be supported archaeologically. Their entire nation is at stake, here. Come to think about it, Evangelical Christianity's claim for validity also vanishes if this stuff cannot be supported. However, I've never really needed to spend too much time in archaeology because the other studies make such a strong case against Evangelical Christianity.

Missler's mysticism goes beyond his Premillennialism and Inerrancy views. Missler is into the Information Sciences, so he is always looking for a message of some sort. For example, he describes how the main core of the Gospel message is hidden many, many times within the Old Testament to protect it from tampering and degradation. Thus, Missler, like some of the pre-Gospel sects, sees "Jesus" in even the most mundane of Old Testament passages. Everything lines up to this or that symbolical or numerological significance -- all of which, of course, points to the Christ of the Evangelicals. (Never mind that the atoning sacrifice of Christ is never once mentioned in the entire Gospel of Luke!) There is a wonderful little book called Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms. This book suggests that many Gospel stories are actually based upon the "Jesus" that the early sects saw in the Old Testament. Though not directed at Missler or his movement, per se, it is a real eye-opener for any reader familiar with Missler's approach to the alleged Jesus symbolism in the Old Testament. As such, it is a complete inversion of Missler's approach.

Missler is very skilled at weaving the basic science with fringe scientific speculation and occultish-sounding symbolism and making it all point to his Savior. Going way beyond The Bible Code, Missler tries to find a unified theory of everything, and that theory (or "Word") is Christ. He repeats this angle so often that listeners soon stop questioning it, though he always falls woefully short of even making himself clear, much less making a case.

His presentation is so self-assured (though cloaked in a lot of maybes and pointed questions and trips around-the-barn) that many times I wondered if he actually believed this stuff or had just found a niche for himself in his ability to think this stuff up or find it in old, obscure books and sermons.

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I currently prefer the model presented to me by particle physicist Victor J. Stenger, which was summarized in his book Not By Design. The Inflationary Big Bang model, basically, says that the universe appears to have zero total energy, and appears to have begun with zero energy -- a quantum fluctuation escaping into a true vacuum. He says there is nothing in modern science to dispute this model, and that there is nothing to dispute the notion that our universe is just one tiny bubble in a much larger system.

The main point to remember is that the universe is not complex at all, but is almost entirely chaos. Our eyes can only see the order, but chaos and randomness is the basic state of the vast majority of the universe. The earth, for example, is constantly adding to the total entropy of the universe in the form of heat dissipation.

Because the universe is expanding, there is room for tiny pockets of order to form even though the general, overall trend is toward chaos. Until we detected the expanding of the universe, the entropy question posed a genuine problem for the naturalistic views. However, the entropy objection is now outdated by almost 100 years. The Creationists know this, but still exploit it to the hilt in their presentations whenever they can get away with it.

Another point is made by zoologist Richard Dawkins: if the universe is so vast and complex (it isn't) as to require a god to explain it, then that god would need to be even more vast and complex and powerful to be able to invent this complex universe (though it isn't actually all that complex). Thus, if the universe is complex enough to require explanation, then all the more does the god require explanation. Since the theist always wishes to rest at the god, calling it the "uncaused cause," there is no reason not to simply assume that the universe exists and that's all we know about the matter. While this doesn't really settle the question, it is a powerful commentary on the illogic of the Creationists who use this argument.

Like I suggested above, get a solid grasp of the issues involving the claims of the Creationists and the Inerrancy advocates, and understand the objections to the notion that Jesus was a god-man (or that a "Jesus" even existed), and you will have some powerful tools not only to steer people away from Christian fundamentalism, but will be able to speak sense to some of the more liberal (or marginal) Christians and point them toward active social responsibility. While I will rarely try to convert theists to atheism, I often try to meet them on their own perspective and urge social responsibility. True, the Christians you describe above have taken themselves out of the picture, but there are plenty of more reasonable Christians who feel the same way as we do about the Chuck Misslers of this world. Such Christians are getting their hands dirty trying as best they can to make this a better world. Methinks we do well to focus on finding and befriending those Christians, and ignoring the others whenever we can get away with it.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Ariel Cruz"
Subject: Re: Thanx a lot!
Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 2:50 PM

Liberation Theology is right in line with many Marxist basic tenets. Also, Liberation Christians tend to avoid fundamentalism and exclusivism that taints so much of Evangelical Christianity and some Roman Catholicism.

If you have any specific questions, I may be able to help you find material on those subjects.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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