Bryan’s Story: From Missionary to Almost Atheist to Present Day

The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four yeacrs he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.

He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.

I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”

Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite jive with my experience… but I admitted my intuitions could be wrong. So instead of arguing, I decided to dive down the rabbit hole. I resolved to get to the hard truth, and follow it wherever it carried me.

Our argument in the back of a Chinese bus led to a book that took six years to write, a technology prize, and a quest for life’s origin that now includes some of the world’s most renowned scientists at top universities. You can read the rest of that story in Evolution 2.0.

But… what about Bryan?

Recently we held a business seminar where we presented Evolution 2.0 and the technology prize as a case study. Everyone at the seminar was asking Bryan “OK, so what’s your story?”

Here is Bryan’s story…

~

Perry: Everybody at this conference has been coming and asking Bryan: “So you and Perry had all these debates and arguments and everything. So what’s up with you?” Bryan said to me, “Why don’t I take the microphone and talk about it.” I said, alright – let’s have you talk about that! So without further ado, Bryan, you’re up!

Bryan: Thank you. I did have at least ten people yesterday come up to me and say, “So, Bryan, how does your story end?” So I will get to that. You’ll indulge me in a few minutes of storytelling if that’s ok… 

I have a question for you, which is: How do you know when you’ve gotten a good education? One of my answers to that question goes back to the seminary I graduated from.

Perry knows I’m a guy that likes certainty and crispness and clarity and nice definitions. So when I went to The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley California in 1995, I was going to get my certainty in the world, and that’s what I did.

It’s an arch-conservative fundamentalist seminary where they do not admit women to the program. That’s how arch-conservative it is.

Their motto is: We train men as though their lives depended on it. And that’s the whole mindset. It’s a three or four year program. Guys would get up–and it was always guys—they would get up for their senior testimonies prior to graduation and they would, almost to a man, they would say–you go to seminary usually fresh out of college often fresh out of Bible college–you’re cocky, you’re young and you think you know everything–

And the guys would say I arrived at seminary thinking I knew the answers. Now I’m graduating and I realize I don’t even know what all the questions are yet.

So, Perry, you actually got a tiny bit of the narrative wrong yesterday. The seminary doesn’t give you a spreadsheet full of answers. The seminary gives you a mountain of questions, questions and more questions because– everybody learns Hebrew. Everybody learns Greek.

Everybody you know learns to parse your verbs and decline your nouns and so on and you’re doing stuff in Genesis and you’re dealing with all of these historical questions and interpretive questions and exegetical questions.

You’re picking apart the historicity of the Book of Genesis and you’re picking it apart–you’re dealing with questions of the archaeological evidence for or against the ten plagues in Egypt and stuff like that.

And you’re dealing with the Gospels and the Q theory and do we follow the Textus Receptus or the Alexandrian, and the apparent contradictions between the Gospel narratives and so on.

And Paul in the book of Romans in chapter 6 verse 5 and this use of the genitive and the thirteen possible meanings of this particular use of the genitive case and so on.

And that’s the education you’re getting so you get questions questions questions and you graduate with a mountain of them.

Perry: Google AdWords is simple by comparison!

Bryan: Yes, it is! And the thing about an arch fundamentalist seminary like that is: the answers you are allowed to come up with must fall neatly within some very well-defined boundaries.

So any answer you come up with is fine as long as the Bible is still inerrant, and Jesus is still Deity, and you still believe that all of its records are fundamentally historical grammatical and so on.

So that there was a real Jesus and there was a real apostle Paul and there was a real King David and a real king Solomon and a real Moses and a real Noah and a real Cain and Abel. And a real literal Adam and Eve who were created in six literal 24 hour days by the hand of God. And so on.

So, that was my background. And when I graduated in 1999 I had all of this exposure to all of these mountains and mountains and mountains of questions.

And that, in my view, is a good education.

So I got the opportunity to go to China. It just dropped in my lap. In January of 2000 I went and I took a teaching job at a luxury hotel in southwestern China. Beautiful mountain city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

And since I enjoy language I was going to throw myself into learning Chinese, and I did make great friends. This was totally unexpected, and it was a marvelous experience.

One of the things I was not prepared for was just how secular a culture China actually is.

Secular secular secular to the hilt. There’s something about living under Communism and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has a tendency to wipe all religious influence away from a culture. And this is a part of the world that had really never in any significant way been touched by Christianity.

And so I’m dealing with this very secular culture and in my time there–I had four and a half years–I had one mostly convert I guess. This despite the fact that I was there to be a missionary. I was supported by the church back home in Los Angeles.

My evangelistic efforts were not all that super effective, let’s be honest. But it was a marvelous experience and very eye opening. It was the very first time that I had ever just been out, completely out of my Christian bubble. And cultural reinforcement of my Christian beliefs on every level–I was finally out from under that. And I had free time that I hadn’t in quite some time.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 4th, 2001 which is exactly one week before 9/11. I was one of the few people in town that had CNN because I worked for a hotel, so I had it in my dorm. I come home from an afternoon of teaching, and I turn on CNN, and they’re playing a replay of LARRY KING LIVE from the previous day and on LARRY KING LIVE are two people with very often opposite views of the world.

This particular day there is Sylvia Browne. If you’ve ever heard of her she’s the psychic who can contact your relatives and loved ones who have crossed over. Opposite her that day was James Randi the atheist skeptic former magician kind of–he had replicated a bunch of Houdini’s old stunts.

He was in the Guinness Book of World Records and he was a psychic and paranormal de-bunker.

It was him versus her on LARRY KING LIVE, and I was absolutely transfixed. He was challenging her. He was saying, “Miss Brown, if you can come to our center in Fort Lauderdale Florida and, following our protocols under proper observing conditions, demonstrate that you actually do have paranormal ability, then the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay you one million dollars.”

I saw this and I was blown away by this because I thought I had a pretty good education, but I had never been exposed to this particular way of testing truth claims because I had a seminary degree and I had graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a degree in history and Spanish which tend to kind of bypass engineering and the scientific method and so on.

In fact, two days after I graduated in 1994 with my degree in history and Spanish I started a job scooping popcorn for minimum wage. That was my career path.

Well anyway I’m watching this and I’m fascinated. As soon as the as soon as the episode is over I run to my computer and go look up Randi.org and discovered that every week he would blog on Fridays. He would talk about people who had come into the center who claimed to have paranormal abilities and he would give a narrative of how they tested them.

I was blown away by this because this was a great education. Like here’s how you test someone who claims that they can do dowsing. Here’s how you test the girl whose parents say that she can read completely blindfolded. Here’s how you test when a person says that you can draw a card and they can tell you what the next card is going to be in the deck.

Every week he would he would talk about these different tests and this was an amazing education.

And so I started following this and all of a sudden a bunch of questions started popping up that really started causing me some trouble. And mind you I am a missionary supported by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, and I’m here in China to make disciples and do church planning. That’s what I’m here for.

But week after week I start I’m reading these blogs and I’m starting to ask questions that are deeply troubling me. Such as: I’ve always believed my entire life that if you need something you get on your knees you pray, you ask God for it, and then God answers you. And how do you know that God answers prayer? Well, you keep a journal.

I asked for this on such and such a date. And then two days later three weeks later I got this. Therefore, we know my prayers were answered.

And all of a sudden as I am and I’m reading Randi’s stuff then I start clicking on other hyperlinks and reading some other skeptics’ stuff. I start finding new methods to question whether maybe that’s not the most scientific approach to answering how whether you get your prayers answered or not.

And this really started bothering me. And September turned into October and October turned into November and the questions got deeper and more painful and scarier. And I suddenly by December I found myself in a serious crisis of faith.

Remember: I had a seminary education. I like the metaphor you used yesterday, Perry, it’s like you learn where all the bones are buried. When you have your bible in front of you, you know all of these places where there are serious interpretive problems, serious archaeological questions, serious textual questions serious ambiguities and philosophical contradictions and so you know all this stuff.

And here I am more or less alone. In China. As secular a place as you’ll ever find. And by December I was sick. And terrified. In fact the last week of December 2001. Something weird with my stomach. And it just stopped digesting food for a few days.

I would eat stuff and it would just sit there. I could not digest what I was wrestling with. And this was terrifying. Because as much as a person could leave everything and throw themselves into ministry and missions. This is that was exactly what I had done.

And suddenly for the first time in my life and question “is there anything out there” Hello. And I couldn’t digest food. And I’m cold because it’s winter and there’s no central heating where I live. It’s late at night and I’m curled up in a fetal position in my bed and it’s dark and it’s quiet and I’m like Hello Is there anyone out there. Is there anything out there.

Perry: That’s a Pink Floyd song.

Bryan: Well, so you can understand a little bit of existential hell–I’m 30 years old. Did I just throw away the last 30 years of my life for nothing. Thankfully a doctor had some nice herbal stuff that cleared up my stomach.

Right after first of the year 2002–and Perry will remember this–I thought about this and I’m like I need some help. And the last thing I’m going to do is e-mail the guys in the missions department for the seminarian and say, “I’m here, I’m an evangelist church planter in China, and I’m having serious doubts is all of this…”

Perry: Because that never happened to anybody else anyway.

Bryan: Right. But I’m saying, well, who? Is there anyone neutral?

Perry!

Who–and when I say neutral I mean, Perry’s clearly Christian, he’s committed to his Christianity. But I attended one of your coffeehouse theology meetings with you. Perry can deal with this. OK.

And Perry understands my upbringing. And we have our secure email connection and so on. So I think the first question I shot you is OK let’s start with this one, Perry, because I’m really struggling. Why do you believe the Bible?

Which is not the greatest question you could ask, but it’s a good starting place.

Perry and I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and Perry gave the best answers he could find. And it honestly wasn’t working for him. Because it just seemed that every answer and reply you gave me on historical questions or philosophical questions.

It was always as though–OK if you are committed to Christianity being true, then that answer will satisfy you. But if you’re starting with a blank slate. I don’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion.

But Perry was a very very good sparring partner. I had no idea until 10 years later what my questions were actually doing to you, in terms of moving you to the edge. At one point you sent me a bunch of books you sent me some William Lane Craig and I think there was some Geisler in there as well. Big armful of books that wasn’t cheap.

Perry: [Laughs] No.

Bryan: Very helpful, but I’m watching as my whole belief system is just more or less eroding. By the end of 2002 I was like I just don’t believe this Christianity thing anymore. At all.

I came back for a visit stateside. I ended the relationship with the church in L.A. Turned around and went back to China where I spent an additional year and a half. Now I was just a guy in China teaching English at a hotel and was not a missionary church planter anymore. And I’m watching.

As my whole life and my whole world view is changing. Well, something started–I started to become aware of something that became a real issue and that was: I was angry. I was really angry about a lot of stuff. Angry that I had given up 30 years of my life for something that I decided was empty. Angry that all of those dogmatic preachers and all those dogmatic professors all those years had just been feeding me a bunch of bull.

So fast forward to 2004. Perry brought Tannah and came out. I was already planning on going home which was why you were doing that trip. “Oh, I got to get Tannah to China before Uncle Bryan moves home.”

Perry came out to visit, spent a few days. I’m not sure we spent the whole time arguing, like you said yesterday, but there was the conversation in the van on the way to Leaping Tiger Gorge which we all remember the falcons and the mutations in the eyes, eyesight and so on. And that was a good conversation. I don’t know if you remember that same evening.

Perry: Yeah, I do.

Bryan: We went to Richard’s family’s house, and they fed us this wonderful dinner, and somehow you and I ended up in this conversation I think about homosexuality. I was angry about the subject of homosexuality because–it wasn’t an issue I had struggled with myself, but one of my best friends all through college had. And had been fed the fundamentalist line about homosexuality.

And I just watched it torture him and torture him and torture him.

Somehow that subject came up, and I just lit into Perry. We’re sitting in these people’s living room, having been fed a meal, and here I am. Just going off at Perry.

Perry: Of course, they don’t understand what we’re talking about at all.

Bryan: No, they don’t. Not at all! One of the one of the other ironies about that particular evening is we watched we all watched the movie “The Truman Show” which is–it’s this funny little comedy that is one of the most disturbingly profound journeys into human epistemology that has shown up on film in the last 50 years. Seriously.

Perry: Next year we’ll have an epistemology seminar.

Bryan: We should!

Audience: What’s epistemology?

Bryan: Sorry I used the word epistemology. Epistemology is basically the study of the question of how do you know what you think you know? Or how do you come to believe the things that you come to believe? And so on. And what’s your basis for believing things. So ‘The Truman Show.’ That was actually my story.

It’s like, “holy crap is this whole thing just a giant construct? This just man-made construct?” So you told me, Perry, maybe a couple of years later, you told me “that night at Richard’s house I could tell something inside of you had died.” You said it was really really scary.

Perry: Yeah. He was turning into one of them. Namely the furious militant atheists. Whose happy plug fell out and are now furious at the world and spewing their venom on everybody. Oh no. It really scared me.

And I thought: Yeah, I know there’s all these questions, and we can argue about homosexuality and whatever else, but, man, Bryan just went over some dotted line. That really scared me. It all kind of jerked me back.

I almost felt like I was following him in a sense but then suddenly realized: I don’t want THAT. I’ve seen a whole bunch of that. There’s nothing healthy about it. I don’t know where this thing is going. But this is going to be an interesting ride.

Bryan: So, Perry, as a result of that day you launched on your evolution journey. I moved home to Lincoln after nine years away. And for the next five and a half years. I was on a journey of anger.

What I will say about your evolution journey was I’m really grateful for it because you know what you learned about the brilliance of cells? And how they how they engineer evolution and so forth? You’ve had lots of Christian people tell you that you gave them a rational reason to continue to embrace their faith. And not be at odds with science. Right?

I was thinking about this yesterday. What this new model this Evolution 2.0 model also does is, for the person who doesn’t have a religious commitment, it gives us the ability to accept evolution as true without feeling really stupid. When you raise honest questions like:

Seriously that tree is just the result of accident upon accident upon accident? Cuz I had decided that evolution has to be true–and then I would walk outside, and I would see these trees, and something deep deep down inside of me would be like Really, Bryan? Seriously? Just random mutation plus natural selection, rinse and repeat? Seriously?

And then I’d just shake my head and be like No no no no, this is SCIENCE people. This is SCIENCE. And always somewhere in there is like really Bryan? Seriously?

Perry: And everybody experiences that, and that’s why this topic is so volatile. Because that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about on the secular side.

Bryan: So you supplied me with a way to accept evolution.  And not have to be beholden, for example, to the old traditional interpretation of the biblical narrative.

And that was very very helpful. And so there was never much of a debate about evolution. Not after that. I was very interested in what you were doing, although I was not crazy about your eagerness to just tie it intimately into Christianity so quickly.

But.

I spent several years very very angry until one day in 2010. We had hired Drew Bishof to come be our operations guy. He and Jessica and all of us became very good friends. I don’t know how many of you here know Drew Bishof, but Drew and Jessica were a couple, they were living in Austin Texas at the time and they had grown up in an arch fundamentalist community in California that was almost identical to ours except that it was worse in a lot of ways.

Perry: A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Bryan: A little bit louder and a little bit worse. And their particular thing–there had been all this grotesque sexual repression and shaming and all that stuff that was part of their fundamentalism.

And they invited me, since Drew and I were working on a Facebook project at the time, Drew said, come down to Austin and spend New Year’s with Jessica and me. So I did. And we had a blast. And literally from the first night there we get to talking about some deep stuff, and we’re up until 3:00 a.m. talking and laughing and crying and sharing stories of life under fundamentalism, the pain of this and the pain of that, and how we’ve dealt with this issue, and how we’re working through that issue and so on.

The following Sunday they said, “You can sleep in if you want Bryan, or you can come to church with Jessica and me. It’s up to you.”

Do church. That’s cool. That’s great. I have no problem with that. So we go to their church service. And. I’m sitting there and their big worship center is this 21st century modern evangelical urban kind of Christianity.

They have the worship team, they have the pastor who gets up and talks.

I remember precious little about what the service was about except for this: That the worship team really irritated me.

It was all it was all the classical stuff that has irritated me for years about 21st century evangelical Christian worship. They have the PowerPoint up on the screen. They have the band playing some song that was written a year and a half ago.

And the PowerPoint is misspelled. And the song doesn’t make coherent grammatical sense. In the same sentence you’ll use “thee” and then “you” and then go back to using “thee” again.

And I’m like this is supposed to be transcendently supernatural and we can’t even get the PowerPoint right?

And it was it was all stuff that had just irritated me just to the nth degree about Christianity and modern Christian worship.

And then I look out of the corner of my eye and standing over here is Drew. And Drew has one hand in his pocket and one hand in the air. And he’s just kind of swaying very gently to the music. And I see that and I’m like you idiot. A room full of people having a made up experience with song lyrics that don’t even make sense. And this is supposed to be supernatural worship? I just hate this.

All of a sudden, a thought hits me that I had been reflecting on over the previous couple of years because I had been doing some self-help stuff that was very very good and very very valuable. And the thought was this–Perry quoted this yesterday, although you got one word wrong, I’m thinking to myself how much I hate this and have always hated this Christian modern worship stuff–and the thought was:

Hate is just another word for “Want, but cannot have.”

And that is a truth.

I’d invite you to go reflect on that and reflect on it deeply. You cannot hate another person unless you have at some point expected something from them. Thought that they should behave a certain way. You wanted something from them. Loved them, needed something from them.

You cannot hate another human being up to and including someone you met 30 seconds ago, and you see them and you just feel this resentment. You cannot do that without some deep subconscious unconscious other than conscious part of you having wanted something first. Otherwise it is impossible to experience hatred.

And so if you are feeling hatred, then you know there’s something inside of you that you want. OK? And I realized in this moment. Sitting there with Drew doing his thing that this was true of me. And I’m like. Oh crap. And I started crying.

And I’m thinking I’m angry because I want something. What is it I want? I want this whole Christianity thing to be true. Or: I want this whole supernatural experience to actually be real. I want this, but I’m convinced it’s not. But I want it to be real.

And I started crying. And I start sobbing. And the worship band is still playing. And Drew is still there. And Jessica sees me, and she puts her arm around me. And I continued, and I’m thinking through this, and I suddenly realize: This is what all of those atheist people are so pissed about. There not pissed because it’s not true. They’re pissed because they wanted it to be true.

And I’m just crying and crying and the worship band continues playing and eventually they finish their song. The pastor gets up and he delivers his benediction and the service is over, and I’m still sitting there crying. Jessica has her arm around me, and eventually Drew comes around and he sits down, and they don’t know what’s going on.

They just know Bryan’s here sobbing. And it continues for five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes.

Eventually the pastor comes over, and he sits–is it OK if I pray over you Bryan? Between sobs I’m like fine fine yeah it’d be good.

And then it’s like… why are people who have come out of religion so angry about it? Because it’s as though you were told that daddy, who’s away at the moment is going to be home by Christmas time and when Daddy comes home at Christmas time we’re going to be together as a family and he’s got lots of gifts. He’s got gifts for you and gifts for you and gifts for you.

And daddy’s going to be home at Christmas and Christmas comes and Christmas goes and daddy doesn’t show up.

And you find out there never was a daddy in the first place.

And it was just a story and people people’s narratives of their lives are like this.

I believed daddy was coming home for Christmas with an armful of gifts. And there was no daddy in the first place. Who would not feel angry and betrayed if that was your narrative? And some of the most angry miserable people you will ever meet are people with daddy issues. Right? Male and female both. And I realize this was what I was so angry about.

All these years. I was so pissed. Not just because of the funny grammar on the slides and the arm waving and all that. I was pissed because really I wanted this to be real. And it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff. But I wanted it to be real.

Somewhere 10 or 20 minutes after the service is over I’m finally done crying. And Drew said, are you good? So can we go home? And I say yeah we can go home.

And in the car on the way home… well so the elephant in the room here, and I got to ask: Are you a Christian now?

And I said, to be honest Drew, no. I don’t think my actual views about the historicity of Christianity have changed.

All I know is: What I was so angry about was I just wanted this to be true. And it turned out it wasn’t. As far as I could tell, and that’s why I was so pissed. And I know this I’m not angry anymore. There’s not a drop of anger left. Because I got it–what I really needed was just to acknowledge the child inside that wanted it to be true.

And if you just let the child say it, and experience it, and feel it, then even if it’s not true the child can be happy. Because the child can acknowledge what the child always wanted. And Drew says: It’s a little complex but ok, I can understand that.

And that literally was seven and a half years ago. That was one of the major turning points in my life. It was like the anger was gone because I knew what it was I had always wanted.

If we can fast forward fast forward to 2016.

Perry, your 30-day reboot. It was really, really super valuable. And I think I think he did a show of hands yesterday, all the people who’ve done 30 day reboot. So if you have not done 30 day reboot please do. Because we’re going to we’re going to offer it again some point in the next month or two or three.

It’s really really important that you understand why ancient literature is so valuable, and why it’s worth your time in 2017 and beyond to be spending your time every day in old and ancient writings.

OK so you talked yesterday about the libraries burning and people keeping this stuff in the clay jars to save it from the Marauders and so forth because it was valuable to them.

The great old works of literature are valuable because, of course they were meaningful to those people and kept them around and they’ve survived and all that, but another really important reason which I didn’t really understand until this year when I–like a whole bunch of us here–discovered Jordan Peterson, Professor at University of Toronto, who explains that the oldest and greatest works of literature are archetypal.

Jordan Peterson’s “Psychological Significance of the Genesis Stories” lecture series led Bryan to say to me, “Jordan’s videos gave me permission to no longer feel stupid for being fascinated with the Bible.”

In other words, they tell stories that reflect the deepest most relatable experiences we have and that reflect our internal hard wiring almost perfectly.

Why did Harry Potter sell so well and become this mega sensation? Was it because J.K. Rowling is just a really nifty storyteller?

She is a really nifty storyteller. But that’s not why Harry Potter just hit this massive international nerve. It’s because J.K. Rowling–what did she study at university–she studied Latin Greek and the classics. And immersed herself for years of her education in the oldest most enduring classical works of Western literature.

As the story goes, that one day on the train when she’s either heading from London or to London, and suddenly gets this inspiration where it’s as though this entire story just appears in her head. That came from her years and years of deep immersion in old classical literature.

The old stories of classical literature resonate with us because they reflect something deep inside our soul. We all I think know the story of Cain and Abel, it’s chapter four in Genesis probably, and I understood this just within the last month or two for the very first time.

Why do we all resonate with the story of Cain and Abel? I mean it’s this tiny little snippet of text. But you go around and you just mentioned Cain and Abel to any person on the street and they’ll recognize it and they’ll remember it.

The atheist version of Cain and Abel, which if you listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, he’ll give you that. (I have great respect for Sam Harris but I think he’s completely bankrupt on this particular point.)

The atheist version of Cain and Abel goes like this:

“Two brothers believe in a magical fairy in the sky. And brother one believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky and brother two believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky. And their ideas conflict. And because my magical fairy in the sky doesn’t match your magical fairy in the sky therefore I’m going to kill you. And that ladies and gentlemen is what happens every time you let people believe in magical fairies in the sky.”

  1. That’s the Atheist Narrative of things and it is so drained of life and meaning and vitality and in my view it’s ugly. It’s just an ugly ugly thing.

Why does the story of Cain and Abel resonate with us?

Because it says:

“I am making a sacrifice, I am giving up something of value, because I want to please someone important to me. I have a sibling, the sibling is giving up something of value to him, and he wants to please someone who is important to him. The authority figure, for whatever reason unknown to you or me, decides that he likes your sacrifice, and mine is not acceptable. We don’t know why. I don’t know all the reasons it’s just you’re accepted by the beloved authority figure, I’m not and that’s enough to make me hate you enough to kill you.”

OK now that’s not a beautiful narrative. In a sense, it’s not anymore beautiful than the Atheist Narrative. But it’s a narrative with meaning that we can all relate with.

Have we all experienced deep jealousy over someone who has accepted and we weren’t? We all have. And so you tell a kid the story of Cain and Abel once and they’ll remember it for their lifetime, right?

And all kinds of stories that make their way through our culture are that way. I can’t tell you how many different people of different cultures have asked me: Bryan do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf? I’ve had people in Chinese come up to me and ask:

Have you ever heard this story? There was a boy who was a shepherd… So, we all recognized the narrative of the boy that cried wolf and I don’t know where the very first boy that cried wolf story ever originated.

Was it in the Middle East? Was it Far East Asia? I have no idea. But everywhere I’ve been people know this story because they read, they respond to it.

Everywhere I’ve been people know the story of the emperor who had no clothes. Which as far as I know is was just the Hans Christian Andersen story from the 1800’s.

But I’ve had Chinese people tell me “Bryan do you know the story of the emperor who had no clothes?” Because this is a narrative that just catches on everywhere you go.

Why do people love the stories of Jesus so much?

I have several answers to that but I’ll give you one of them that I think is really important. How many how many of you have spent time reading the Tao Te Ching which is Laozi’s… Well Taoism basically. It’s an ancient piece of Chinese literature very very well known in the Far East. I can, if I want, read the Tao in Chinese.

I’ve given it the old college try, I don’t know how many times, and it just doesn’t do much for me. Because it’s just selection after selection after selection of these incredibly profound sounding but utterly non-concrete bits about life and existence.

I’ll give you something concrete. Pull open the Gospel of Luke and you’ll get concrete concrete concrete. Real living breathing concrete narratives. They are so full of grit and life and reality.

Jesus arose before dawn and went up the hillside to pray. Afterwards he came down and he and the disciples got in the boat and went across the lake to Gennaseret. This is so concrete, right? It’s living breathing people and they had names. And if you want to get on a plane you can fly to the Holy Land, and you can you visit these exact sites. I mean it’s just so real.

And I think the late film critic Roger Ebert said years ago, he said the most specifically local stories you’ll ever find actually end up being stories that have the most universal relevance.

So a story about a Jewish man and his followers in first century Palestine actually resonates more universally with people than an Asian story that is nowhere near as specific as that.

Let me just highlight three things from the gospels that have spoken to me in the last year.

Story number one: Jesus is invited by some religious leaders to go eat dinner at the home of one of the religious leaders. He goes in, he sits down, he’s eating with them and somewhere in the middle of the meal in comes a woman.

Everybody in the room knows this woman. She’s got the reputation. She comes in, she goes to Jesus feet, and she starts crying. She’s crying and she’s crying on his feet and she’s wiping off her tears with her hair.

And the men in the room are saying, “Jesus, do you know who this person is that you’re just letting touch you like this?!” And Jesus says, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s say a guy has two people who owe him money one owes him $5000. The other guy owes him $50,000. He forgives the $5000 guy; he forgives the $50,000 guy. Which one of these guys do you think might be a little more grateful?”

The guy says: Well, probably the $50,000 guy.

He says, thank you, that’s the good answer. He says, for the record, Mr. Pharisee religious leader, when a guy comes to your home, normal protocol around here is you wash his feet. I noticed you didn’t bother washing my feet when I came in. But this lady has not stopped washing my feet with her tears. The person who has been forgiven little loves little; the person who’s been forgiven much loves much.

I don’t care whether you believe–this is now Bryan talking–I don’t care whether you believe there was a historical Jesus or Jesus was a complete myth, you cannot read that story and not be moved to the core by it. And recognize that this is a beautiful piece of spiritual religious and moral thought. You cannot, if you have a soul inside your body.

You cannot read the story of the Prodigal Son and not be moved almost to tears by it. Young man, goes to his dad. Basically says–forgive the French—F*** you, I wish you were dead. Give me all my inheritance money–I’m gone. He leaves. He squanders it. He has no money. He’s broke. He’s feeding pigs.

He decides: hey you know what, even the even the slaves that worked for my dad have it better than I do. I’m going to go back to dad, and he says make me a slave. And when he comes back Dad doesn’t want his son to be a slave.

He celebrates–he wants to kill the fatted calf and invite his son willingly back into the family.

Perry, if I’m not mistaken one of the more profound moments of your life in the last 10 years riveted on the story of the prodigal son. With you seeing yourself in the narrative for the very first time.

No matter what you think of Jesus and whether he was really historical or not, you cannot read the story of the prodigal son and not be moved by it.

Third story. I spent time in the Gospel of Luke this year. And had the bizarre experience that when we got to the end of chapter 23 — Jesus has now been delivered up and he’s been crucified and he’s dead and he’s buried. After, I don’t know how many years away from Christianity, I’m reading the story of Jesus.

Who is this very complex contradictory irascible Jewish guy who seems to have not very modern views on slavery and so on and so forth. And I’m reading this story and at the end of the chapter I’m broken hearted. This is bizarre. The hero of this story is dead and I’m crushed.

Fortunately, there is one more chapter, and it has a very happy ending. But I but I realized after reading about the crucifixion of Jesus for the very first time–I had the bizarre thought where I’m realizing I think I might actually love this guy. Now I ‘get’ it. Like all those people all those years that I thought were so corny “I just LOVE Jesus!!!”

And suddenly here I am I as a couple of months ago I guess–I just finished the narrative where he’s being crucified–and for one of the very first times in my life–I’m heartbroken.

And I’m like, OK maybe the “I Love Jesus” people aren’t so crazy after all.

Do I believe the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God? I don’t think so. I think that’s a no. Do I believe there was a historical Jesus? I don’t think there’s much question about that. Do I believe he’s the Jewish Messiah? I don’t know.

Do I believe that immersing yourself in these old stories and learning more about yourself is immensely valuable? Yes absolutely.

Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the big bang and the origin of life and so on? I don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully liberating to not know the answer for me at this stage in my particular life.

But that is my story and I think there’s nothing more valuable than just diving in and reading the literature of old and looking at your soul and being challenged. And knowing there are some really hard questions out there that we don’t know answers to yet.

~

RELATED: Bryan and I debate miracles

19 Responses

  1. Larry Iles says:

    Bryan and Perry,

    I can identify with a lot of your background as once upon a very long time ago I was a student at LABC (Masters Universities original name, pre-MacArthur). As you began talking about your background I found myself wondering what a conversation with Dr MacArthur about all of this would be like. Interesting I’d bet.

    I mention this because of a long-ago article in the Masters newsletter back in the 80’s. It was an interview with a Physicist from the Soviet Union that revolved around pure science and intelligent design.

    For anyone who may not be familiar with the Soviet system, in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution they began the immediate and systematic eradication of any and all references to God and religion in Soviet society and culture. All books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc… that made any reference to God or religion were purged from the public domain in order to fulfill the Marxist dream of eradicating the “Opiate of the Masses”. The Russian Orthodox Church existed as an edifice to mollify the outside world, but no public or private mention of God or Religion was allowed outside the physical walls of the church.

    Within a single generation they erased God from Soviet society, so there was no knowledge of God to “unlearn” or teach against. They created a vacuum.

    This Physicist was born into this vacuum, as were his fellow Scientists from every discipline of Soviet Research and Academia. They were completely free to study and research all the Sciences with a complete absence of presuppositions or lingering prejudices for or against the existence of a Creator, as the science was expected to be “perfect and pure” in the Marxist model.

    It was within this environment that he and his fellows came to believe that Intelligent Design was the only logical conclusion for the existence of the Universe and life, but they had no idea how to define the “designer”. They had no concept of “God” to whom to ascribe any of this, so rather than become religious it only served to drive them deeper into their research into the unknown.

    Fast forward to his first trip to a scientific conference outside the Soviet Union, where he had his first chance encounter with a Gideon Bible in a motel room. He had no idea what it was, but he opened it and began reading the words “In the beginning God created…” He found his science being justified, not nullified, by what he read.

    Obviously there’s a lot more to the story, but I don’t want to belabor that point or become preachy because that isn’t the point.

    The point, at least to me, is that if you strip away all of the prejudices and look for unadulterated facts that stand on their own two feet, they can lead you to a more complete understanding of it all. While I’ve never experienced a “crisis of faith” like you, I’ve still had to deal with a crisis of reality. The details have to add up, and putting God inside a 6,000 year old box doesn’t add up any better than Darwinian happenstance.

    I find the honesty and openness of your research both enlightening and refreshing, and I thank you for it. I think one of the most refreshing things is the fact that you haven’t arrived at a final conclusion. It has been my experience that most of the time, when people “arrive at a conclusion” it isn’t because they have found the best answer. They’ve just stopped thinking…

  2. Hi Bryan, I left a conservative Christian fold, but didnt become angry nor feel let down by the church. I simply read a lot of theology and science and debated some others who left before me, and finally reached a point where I could no longer recite something like for instance the Apostles Creed as though I still believed it. I wound up like yourself, someone with more questions than answers, and definitely not a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible. Nor can I say that I believe the Bible is inspired cover to cover. I eventually edited a book of testimonies, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, and started a blog titled, Scrivening, where I analyze I.D. arguments, the New Testament, Christian history, and religious psychology.

  3. Wesley Mahan says:

    I found this blog post at 1:30am and confess up front that I haven’t digested every word of your story. But enough that I want to leave this with you:
    I got a Bachelor of Theology from Multnomah Bible College at the age of 21, then was a missionary in Europe. I finally gave up my faith 8 years ago, at the age of 60. I am a full-blown atheist now, which means that I doubt the existence of a deity, though will not rule it out completely, if sufficient evidence is presented. I was not an angry de-convert, though the longer I live back here in America, the more angry I become, day by day, at the evangelical church, in which politics (and voting 100% GOP) is way more important than following their Jesus and his teachings. I am becoming more anti-Christian with every passing election campaign. I really don’t see how anyone with de-conversion stories like ours cannot be angry at their former faith, especially if you live in America.

    • I’ve been interacting with atheists in a major way for 25 years.

      I suspect that, much like Bryan, after some period of exploring the charms of atheism, you will discover that, while initially attractive (especially to angry people) it’s threadbare on every level.

      I think a productive middle ground – a DMZ if you will – might be Jordan Peterson’s Biblical lecture series. There’s a video in the lower half of this article.

      • Wesley Mahan says:

        Sorry Perry, I’m scratching my head at why you think everyone’s journey out of supernatural belief must be the same.
        First, it’s been nearly 9 years now without belief in God, and life has never been fuller and more intellectually and emotionally liberated.
        Second, there is nothing about “atheism” to explore. It’s nothing but a word and a single perspective on the existence of a god. There is no standard, systematic teaching, scripture, or required belief in anything. The only thing we agnostics/atheists have in common is this: we just don’t consult a deity any more. Outside of that, we’re all over the place; no defined, unified worldview at all.
        I tried your “middle ground” for a year or two immediately after leaving faith, but it was even more unsatisfying than my previous evangelical faith. If you subjectively interpret and choose what parts of the Bible you’re going to believe (and making the ancient Hebrew history narratives basically some kind of grand metaphor), then all you’re proving is that many people such as yourself can successfully make a previously harsh and judgmental faith into a spongy, one-size-fits-all, benign worldview. And more power to you, if it brings you satisfaction.
        But please stop telling people like me that our rejection of organized religion and belief is “threadbare on every level”. You haven’t travelled my journey. I don’t even think about myself as an “atheist” as if it’s a label I decided to wear and see if it fits. No, I’m just a happy, generous and fulfilled person who does not need or require a belief in God. Pretty simple, actually. You’re overthinking this way too much.

  4. OMAR JOHNSON says:

    I found Bryan’s (anti?) testimony both engaging and moving. I also have rejected my fundamentalist upbringing, but I will give the Ken Hams of the world this: “inerrant” Bible Christian apologetics only needs to deal with 6,000 years of creation, not 14 billion. They get to postulate while “fallen” now, the world/universe was once perfect. The Evolution 2.0 model makes sense to me, even as it also makes me wonder what was behind this information-embedding Creator, who or what encoded the meta-programming that resulted in a God capable of jump-starting and micro-managing evolution with barely a Sistine Chapel finger extension? Off track. What I wanted to point out is that 14 billion years of the universe evolving, whether jump-started and cleverly managed by unfolding layers of information or not, is a pretty amoral place. Now we have to somehow come to grips with insanely surreal amounts of dying and death, of individuals, species, whole ecosystems, possibly on other worlds as well as our own. Way before Eve, and the Fall, the great Novelist was killing off his darlings left and right. I think scientists have at least tentatively identified over ten hominid precursors to Homo Sapiens. Fundamentalist Christianity posits Original Sin, and looks forward to the Second Coming, Redemption, etc. That’s all that’s on their plate. It’s nuts, but it’s internally consistent.

    • Omar,

      In the Genesis story, the serpent is prowling around from the word go. And God doesn’t even explicitly warn them. Picture “sexual predator on the loose and all he tells the kids is ‘don’t talk to strangers.'”

      If you stop and think about it, why should anyone be more horrified about sharks and bacteria than we are about Satan?

      I don’t think most Christians have ever stopped and thought about this at all. Conflict is baked into the universe from the beginning and that is a naked fact.

      It’s time for Christians to grow up and face this.

      But what is equally interesting is the Sermon on the Mount, which is the Anti-Darwinian Manifesto. There is nothing about it that conforms to the unusual rules of survival of the fittest. It turns the whole thing on its head. A massive right-angle turn in the history of humanity.

      Today we are so accustomed to the Jesus ethic that even Charles Darwin 150 years ago was slightly horrified at the implications of his theory.

      But what Jesus has shown us is that what got us HERE won’t get us THERE. And “human evolution” post-Jesus (=equality, affordable health care for as many people as possible, human rights, agape love etc.) means something entirely, utterly different from what was ever meant by “Darwinian evolution.”

      Evolution 1.0 is Neo-Darwinism. Evolution 2.0 is the ingenuity of cells. Evolution 3.0 started 2000 years ago and it continues to the present day. It’s a work in progress.

      Thanks for your comment, I think I’ll make this a blog post.

      • OMAR JOHNSON says:

        Thanks for you thoughtful reply, which leaves me with more questions. I thought I understood what you were about with this Evolution 2.0 business, but maybe not. I, too, have marveled at the Sermon on the Mount, and how it constitutes a major fulcrum of change–a “massive right-angle turn in the history of humanity,” as you wrote. Are you repackaging Teilhard de Chardin? My parents were missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ecuador, and now a large percentage of this very small tribe of Native Americans identify as Christian. If humanity is evolving forward spiritually and morally toward some Omega Point, that’s cool, but if there’s always been a God behind all of it, and all the ancestors of the tribes people my parents “saved” by giving them the Bible in their own language are just collateral damage on the way to Christian Nirvana, I’m not sure I approve. In fact, I heartily detest the idea. Yes, they were pagan moon worshipers, their shamans allegedly capable of many things my parents regarded as demonic influence, but it was what they knew. The word about Jesus on the Cross took a long time arriving. I’m not explaining myself very well. Basically, if humanity is in a hit or miss way inventing God, good; but if God has been there all along, leisurely evolving existence forward, starting over (with the Flood), ignoring whole swaths of humanity for eons, not to mention humanity’s precursors, then I have turn my back on it out of principle. Radical agape going forward eats up what passed for Christian care in the past. (I’m thinking of the Inuit as well as the tribe where my parents lived and worked; and the Japanese–who come to mind because I taught in Tokyo for a few years–and who are famously resistant to Christian conversion because they honor their Shinto ancestors, I think; and basically anyone alive or dead who either was never touched by Christianity or who had their culture destroyed by so-called Christians.)

        • Am I repackaging Tielhard? Maybe, but that was never the particular intention. I think his ideas have some merit.

          You raise a lot of questions I’m really not sure I can answer. What I can say is that the conservative protestant evangelical idea that all those unfortunate people who weren’t lucky enough to hear about Jesus, are all gonna burn, is a construct of Christian theology, not something you would infer by closely studying Jesus or even the rest of the Bible.

          I hopefully take a swing at some of this here:

          http://www.coffeehousetheology.com/top10/#8

      • Edward T. Babinski says:

        Perry, Satan was never a serpent. Genesis does not say that. Even John Walton admits that.

        And the Garden of Eden doesn not seem like a place where animals were tearing each other apart. It was a garden, not a battlefield. God created Adam as a gardener to tend it, and he gave animals and humans plants to eat. The word paradise used in Genesis is of Persian origin, and refers to quite a pleasant place.

        As for your understanding of the Sermon in the Mount, look up the term “interim ethics,” and how a soon coming final judgment led to the belief that one should not take judgment into ones own hands because God will do so soon.

        Nor is the message to love neighbors new. See Hector Avalos’ book, THE BAD JESUS, to understand the context of loving enemies and to recognize some less than stellar teachings of Jesus the apocalyptist.

      • Edward T. Babinski says:

        Contra your denigration of Darwin and Darwinism I think he should be nominated for sainthood.

        SAINT DARWIN

        On Darwinism, I think you are disregarding Darwin’s writings concerning the large role sympathy played in the evolution and survival of our species. Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species (opening pages of chapter three), the “struggle for existence” can often be described just as well as a mutual dependence. And harmless coexistence as parts of the same eco-sphere is also a very common relation.… Among social creatures, positive gregariousness, a liking for each otherʼs company, is the steady, unnoticed background for the conflicts.

        Darwin’s writings inspired liberal improvements in society. Google this article: “Social Darwinism and the Poor” by Peter Dobkin Hall, School of Public Affair, Baruch College, City University of New York

        Ironically it is today’s pro-creationist, pro-religious Republican Party in the U.S., who continue to pursue the most draconian “Social Darwinistic” legislation, removing safety nets from the poor, sick and hungry. 

        Scientists are today studying the full gamut of positive human genetic and environmental potential, i.e., mental elasticity and social cohesion, via a new new discipline called “Social Neuroscience.” And medical science is slowly discovering how to re-arrange genes to avoid or even heal diseases/weaknesses of mind and body. Darwin would be immensely pleased to see these modern day developments judging by his belief that sympathy played such a large role in human evolution and in the survival and flourishing of our species. 

        “As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions… This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually through public opinion.”
        –Darwin, volume I, chapter III: “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals — continued”, pages 100-101

        Disinterested love for all living creatures, the most noble attribute of man.
        –Darwin, volume I, chapter III: “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals — continued”, page 105

        Note also how Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) reacted to Herbert Spencer’s (another evolutionist’s) proposal that all social welfare programs be cancelled:

        ‘By the time of the Romanes lecture, however, Huxley’s views had changed considerably. Herbert Spencer, who had coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which Darwin later adopted to describe the ongoing struggle for existence resulting in natural selection, had articulated the advantages of applying evolutionary theory to social behavior, espousing an ethic that became known as “Social Darwinism.” Spencer and his followers argued that one’s moral obligations should be to promote this struggle for existence in the social realm. Thus, he was against any sort of safety net such as the poor laws, for they only contributed to the survival of the least fit. Huxley could not abide such an ethic that was counter to all common decency, that claimed the state had no obligation to the less fortunate members of society. The Romanes lecture was written specifically in response to the extreme individualism and the harsh social policies Spencer was advocating in the name of evolution. In it Huxley claimed that “laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community…Let us understand, once and for all that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it… Huxley, like many later critics such as G. E. Moore, attacked evolutionary ethics on the grounds of committing the naturalistic fallacy. Just because nature is a certain way does not mean nature ought to be that way. However, Huxley’s critique actually goes far deeper than this… Implicit in the various versions of evolutionary ethics was the idea that nature was progressive. Huxley denied this. For Huxley, one of the strengths of Darwin’s theory was that in addition to explaining how organisms change and progress, it also explained how many organisms do not progress, and some even become simpler. Thus, why should we assume that applying the principles of evolution to the social realm would result in the progress and improvement of society? Huxley realized that “fittest” had a connotation of “best,” but as he correctly pointed out, if the environment suddenly became much colder, the survival of the fittest would most likely bring about in the plant world a population of more and more stunted and humbler organisms. In such an environment, the lichen and diatoms might be the most “fit.” Furthermore, the strict definition of Darwinian fitness is reproductive success. However, surely no one would label a mad rapist who successfully impregnates hundreds of women the “best” or “most fit” member of society.’
        — S. L. Lyons, Thomas Henry Huxley [a biography], 1999

        What else did Darwin’s Bulldog have to say about evolution and ethics? See this… 

        ‘We are told by those who assume authority in these matters, that the belief in the unity of the origin of man and brutes involves the brutalization and degradation of the former. But is this really so? Could not a sensible child confute by obvious arguments, the shallow rhetoricians who would force this conclusion upon us? Is it, indeed, true, that the Poet, or the Philosopher, or the Artist whose genius is the glory of his age, is degraded from his high estate by the undoubted historical probability, not to say certainty, that he is the direct descendant of some naked and bestial savage, whose intelligence was just sufficient to make him a little more cunning than the Fox, and by so much more dangerous than the Tiger? Or is he bound to howl and grovel on all fours because of the wholly unquestionable fact, that he was once a fertilized egg cell, which no untrained power of discrimination could distinguish from that of a Dog’s fertilized egg cell? Or is the philanthropist, or the saint, to give up his endeavors to lead a noble life, because the simplest study of man’s nature reveals, at its foundation, all the selfish passions, and fierce appetites of the merest quadruped? Is mother-life vile because a hen shows it, or fidelity base because dogs possess it? The common sense of the mass of mankind will answer these questions without a moment’s hesitation. Healthy humanity, finding itself had pressed to escape from real sin and degradation, will leave the brooding over speculative pollution to the cynics and the “righteous overmuch” [a phrase Huxely took from Ecclesiastes 7:16, “Be not righteous overmuch.”]’
        –Thomas Henry Huxley, “Evidence As to Man’s Place in Nature.” 

        Darwin was also one of many secularists of his day, including John Stewart Mills, who argued against slavery.  See, Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution, which explain that one of the reasons Darwin espoused common ancestry was to help people recognize that Black people were people, and we are all cousins. (In contrast, the creationist views of Agassiz, Darwin’s contemporary, were that Blacks were created as a separate race from white people.) 

        Here’s a quotation from Darwin: 

        I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have staid in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master’s eye. … And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty… .
        –Charles Darwin, “Mauritius To England” (second edition, 1845), chapter XXI, pages 499-500

        And here are excerpts of Darwin’s views on slavery from letters Darwin wrote home while on the Beagle Voyage:

        “The Captain does every thing in his power to assist me, & we get on very well – but I thank my better fortune he has not made me a renegade to Whig principles: I would not be a Tory, if it was merely on account of their cold hearts about that scandal to Christian Nations, Slavery.”
        — To Revd. John Henslow 18 May 1832 from Rio de Janeiro.

        “What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it. I was told before leaving England, that after in Slave countries: all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negro character.”
        — To his sister, Catherine, on 22 May 1833 from Maldonado, Rio Plata.

        “It does one’s heart good to hear how things are going on in England. Hurrah for the honest Whigs. I trust they will soon attack that monstrous stain on our boasted liberty, Colonial Slavery. I have seen enough of Slavery & the disposition of the negros, to be thoroughly disgusted with the lies & nonsense one hears on the subject in England.”
        — To John Herbert on 2 June, 1833 from Maldonado, Rio Plata.

        England passed a law that emancipated all slaves in the British colonies in August of 1833.

        Darwin, as well as his friends and family, were also very much in favor of the Great Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights to millions of formally disenfranchised citizens.

        • Darwin is too easily confused with the Neo-Darwinists, who took a reasonable but very loosely constructed theory and turned it into an atheistic pop religion.

          In my previous post I didn’t mention that Darwin 0.0 (1859) was considerably more consistent with what we now know to be true than Neo-Darwinism a.k.a. the Selfish Gene theory, which has now been shown to be roughly 2/3 wrong. (Noble, 2017 – see http://www.voicesfromoxford.org/video/physiology-and-the-revolution-in-evolutionary-biology/184)

          • Edward T. Babinski says:

            Atheistic pop religion? Evolution has multiple interpretations from I.D. to theistic evolution to a more deistic approach in which God simply sets the initial parameters of the cosmos which then evolves naturally, and there are also those who argue for supernatural influences inside animals and plants rather than external supernatural influence, i.e., vital forces and the belief was called Vitalism.

            As for selfish DNA, what would you call viruses? They are mere strands of RNA or DNA in a protein coat whose sole purpose appears to be to try and make more viruses. And they are the most successful and most widespread replicators on earth, and they don’t even have copy-reading capability, they mutate more than any other replicators. But quite successful at what they do. There are even viruses that invade other viruses in order to replicate. And inside bacterial cells and larger more complex eukaryotic cells you see jumping genes that act like viral DNA strands, jumping around inside the nucleus making copies of themselves.

            • There is no such thing as a genetic algorithm, which does anything useful, which actually follows the evolution model described in the selfish gene, or as defined by traditional neo-Darwinism. All successful GAs have modular systems which generate permutations similar to the biological systems of transposition, horizontal gene transfer, symbiogenesis etc. They are not merely random copying errors. I devote a chapter to this in Evolution 2.0.

              If you know of any exceptions, by all means let me know.

          • Edward T. Babinski says:

            I have read about the views of Noble, Shapiro and other proponents of the “Third Way,” which is advocating something other than either I.D. or Neo-Darwinism. I also have a dedicated search engine on every page of my blog so people can look up what evolutionists are saying about the Third Way or Noble’s views, or Shapiro’s, or I.D. arguments, or creationist arguments.

  5. Curt Pennington says:

    I’m a former Pensacola Christian College representative, and it was my reading knowledge of the scriptures in Greek and Hebrew that ultimately led me away from the fold. It’s interesting that my timeline follows yours pretty closely. I’ve recently returned to reading the scriptures from an agnostic viewpoint, and the anger I have felt in years past is completely gone. This article was worth the price of admission if for no either reason to see your definition of “hate.” Thanks for the insight.

  6. Tom Godfrey says:

    Perry,

    Thanks for posting this interview or testimony. It interested me partly because of coincidences. Bryan is a former missionary. So am I. He is interested in languages. So am I. Besides this, his topic both interested me and stirred up an emotional reaction that is not easy to describe. I decided to write a separate comment for him.

    Thanks, too, for including a transcript of his talk. There is one thing I noticed about it that you may want to fix. It has “church planning” and “church planner” where I believe Bryan said “church planting” and “church planter” instead. You can check with him to verify this. There is one later occurrence of the latter term where the transcription meets my expectation.

  7. Tom Godfrey says:

    Bryan,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have often thought that one can easily believe all kinds of nonsensical ideas if only the problems with it are ignored, dismissed, disregarded, or somehow set aside. We all have to be selective in what we read or hear. There is simply too much stuff out there to take it all in, and much of it is nonsense, but if anyone really cares about the truth, there ought to be a willingness to consider key and relevant facts or ideas that have been ignored.

    Your brother Perry encouraged me to read a book about the Grand Canyon, even though it was written from a perspective rather different from mine, and I am glad I took his advice. As I read the book, I had the same thought, that people can easily be blinded to whatever does not mesh with their old way of thinking. To see what I mean, when you have time, you may want to read the book review that I wrote a couple of days ago.
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0825444217/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1
    There is a link to reviews beside the stars under the title. Reviews are not necessarily in date order, so if you have trouble finding mine, please try this direct link to it.
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2KKL798XSO5LD/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_viewpnt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0825444217#R2KKL798XSO5LD

    At 1:40 in your video clip, you said that Perry knows you are a guy who likes certainty. At 52:33, you summarized your beliefs and mentioned this at 53:03:

    “Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the Big Bang and the origin of life and so on? [I] don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully, wonderfully liberating to not know the answer — for me, at this stage in my particular life.”

    It seems fascinating to me that a man who likes certainty could ever be satisfied with the label “Almost Atheist” (used in the title for this thread) or feel wonderfully liberated by not knowing something. In between those two snippets of your testimony, I think you made it rather clear that (1) you were brought up and well educated to believe strongly that there really is a “supernatural cause behind … the origin of life and so on” and that (2) you deeply wanted this to be true and real, but you eventually came to feel for certain that “it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff.” In other words, first you were certain that a claim is true, then you were certain that it is false, and now you have ended up not knowing whether it is true or false. What a journey!

    If you still like certainty, maybe I can help. Of course, certainty is a matter of degree, and absolute certainty may be quite out of reach. Not being omniscient gods, we ought to recognize a measure of fallibility and uncertainty, but this does not mean that we have no way to attain even a comfortable measure of certainty. For example, notice what we may know with some certainty, according to 1John 5:18-20.

    Maybe the first step is to ask yourself a question like the one you asked Perry. You wanted him to explain why he believes the Bible, so you may want to ask yourself why anyone believes that the Bible is “just made up human stuff,” as you evidently once did. This is where your epistemology comes in. Maybe it needs to be a bit more complicated than the one you have adopted.

    This is just a guess, of course, but I think that James Randi may have talked you into thinking that science is the ticket to knowledge, that it’s all about theories, repeatable experiments, observations of physical evidence, and a resulting ability to make predictions that come true. You realized that your unbiblical prayer journal idea did not cut it.

    Science certainly has been useful to mankind. Think of all of our modern technology that depends on past advances in scientific knowledge. However, this approach clearly does have its limitations. Is any claim of science ever supposed to be final? No, right? Scientists should realize that adjustments might be needed later as more is learned. Nothing is quite final. For example, Newton’s laws of motion seemed to be correct at the time of discovery, and they are still quite useful even today, but Einstein figured that they needed to be adjusted to cover special cases, and modern scientists agree. As Perry may tell you, biologists already knew a lot about living cells 50 years ago, but it has since come to light that plenty remained to be learned. Our understanding of them is surely far from complete even today.

    All of that is old news to you, surely, but consider it background for a more important point. Science is not a good tool for investigating the origin of the universe or of life on earth. Now we are talking about history, not the laws of nature. Think about it. If someone had a theory about what caused the Big Bang and wanted to run an experiment to test it, should we let him do it? Only if we were certain it would fizzle, right?

    Maybe more to the point, what about a safer theory about the origin of the first living cell? If the experiment ran in a laboratory environment thought to be consistent with theories about primitive conditions on earth, and it worked — a living cell appeared through the operation of purely natural processes — would it be safe to conclude that this is what actually took place in real history? While you are thinking about this, suppose another scientist tested a different theory, and it worked too! Now which experiment do we say was a repeat of real history? It might depend on what environmental conditions were truly realistic, but how could we possibly know what those were for sure? I say we could never be certain that our story about the first living cell must be correct. A later discovery could overturn our tentative history at any time, right?

    Consider another issue with using science to concoct a history, especially one about an event that might have involved a curse, miracle, or supernatural intervention. Scientists presuppose that none of this kind of thing is ever real. This is called methodological naturalism. The no-miracle presupposition makes sense to me whenever the purpose of a scientific study is to understand an ongoing law of nature. But what about origins?

    If we want to know whether God performed a miracle, especially one in the distant past, and we go to a scientist for an answer, what experiment or observation could possibly lead to a positive answer? The answer has to be no because of the no-miracle presupposition alone. In this case, physical evidence is irrelevant, so why bother with observations or experiments? If a miracle really was involved, physical evidence left behind in its aftermath is guaranteed to be either misleading or uninformative anyway, right? Think of the twelve baskets of leftover food collected after Jesus Christ fed a multitude (John 6:1-15). If a scientist studied this evidence and wrote a story about the origin of the food, could he possibly report that it was miraculous without being laughed out of his lab coat?

    Can we agree that science is great for learning about the laws of nature, but not so suitable for illuminating history or what happened in the unobservable past? If we do, and we have questions about out origins, we certainly ought to rule out science as the ticket to knowledge in this area. Forensic science may well be useful in an investigation of a crime, but a study of physical evidence is much less likely to be helpful if we already have a credible eyewitness narrative of an ancient event. For example, how likely is it that a study of available physical evidence could be used to validate or correct the history recorded in Gen. 29:1-14?

    In general, I think you will find that almost everything we think we know about history is based on a study and collection of testimony deemed credible, not on observations of physical evidence or the results of scientific experiments. A given witness might lie, get mixed up, forget something important, or leave out something embarrassing, leading us astray, of course, but I say we can usually settle on a story that allows a comfortable measure of certainty that it is true.

    Another point to make in this regard is that a mistake in our understanding of a law of nature may be much easier to detect and correct than a mistake in a history or our understanding of what happened in the unobservable past. Nevertheless, a history mistake can still have huge consequences. Just ask anyone on death row who is actually innocent of a crime, but the jury believed lying witnesses. In the case of origins, if you get your history wrong and live as though there is no God who created the universe and life on earth, and no final judgment of your life after you die, this could have a huge impact on your outlook on life, the way you live each day, and possibly even your eternal destiny.

    You may still think that it is nonsense to believe that Genesis or Exodus can be true, because archaeologists have proven that its testable claims about history are false. If Genesis is wrong, what else in the Bible can be trusted? After all, Jesus Christ spoke as though Genesis is right (Matt. 19:4-6). You ought to realize that those modern “proofs” are as tentative as any other scientific claim. They also could be overturned later as more is learned. I encourage you to consider the work of Gerald E. Aardsma, who has fresh, testable ideas about the historicity of the Flood and the Exodus. You might find renewed confidence in the Bible. Here is his website, if you are interested:
    http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/

    Of course, even his theories might also need to be adjusted or even replaced as more is learned, but the point is that one can still have faith that the accounts in Genesis will eventually prove to be true regardless (John 20:29; Rom. 3:3-4). Believers do not have to trust scientists to figure out the true history of our origins by interpreting physical evidence under their no-miracle presupposition and then try to reconcile Genesis with their tentatively proposed story. The other side of the coin is that one can instead have faith that Sam Harris or Stephen Hawking got it right — never mind Genesis.

    It is your choice, of course, and it can involve seriously evaluating the credibility of alternative authorities. If you go with the Bible, you can have certainty to the extent that its text is fixed and well understood. If you go with Hawking, you know that he is no eyewitness to the Big Bang or even the first appearance of life on earth, but you can still have certainty to the extent that you think he deserves recognition as a trustworthy expert on origins anyway. I recommend going with the Bible in any case where Hawking disagrees with it.

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