Chapter 14: God Again
Ted didn't work that Monday; instead he filled the day with immense sorrow and confusion. The sight of Cynthia lying dead in her coffin stared back at him in his mind's eye wherever he looked. She was there because of him: because he had introduced her to "the Truth". If he hadn't done so, she would've had that blood transfusion without delay. And so he was convinced that he had killed her.
At the same time he felt the guilt of wanting her to have the transfusion. Hadn't he been fully persuaded that to do so was to break God's law? This guilt was not alleviated even by the thoughts that streamed into his head which seemed to contradict the notion of blood transfusion being a sin. And then there were the many contradictions that Bill had brought up yesterday, and how neither Richard nor Arthur could answer them.
He had concentrated so fully on all his shortcomings and done so much soul searching lately that his depression was now bottoming-out.
The pain was no longer sharp, but numbing and apathetic. Oddly enough, it seemed to focus itself on his left wrist. Dull throbs continually assaulted his wrist; his sadness seemed concentrated there. He tried to figure out why this was so (his mind was still attuned to reasoning everything out in spite of all he'd been through). It was a mistake, though, for him to try to understand his psychosomatic pain because he came to the unbalanced conclusion that his wrist was calling out: aching for a razor blade.
He went to the bathroom and searched through the medicine cabinet for one. Fortunately, he used an electric razor and Paul had left no blades behind. He thought briefly about going to buy one at the drug store, but he had absolutely no money. As it turned out, his poverty saved his life.
Deprived of such drastic action, he merely brooded until the kids came up to go to bed. He seldom talked to them anymore. They each had their individual sorrows, and as Ted proved he wouldn't help them with theirs, he felt they couldn't help him with his. "Good night" was all the conversation they had.
He went to work the next day. Bill was wise enough to give him a lot of work to keep his mind occupied, and this helped a great deal in ridding him of his moroseness. Most of the morning he spent shoveling snow around the block that their building occupied. It was a frigid day and he had to work fast and hard to stay warm, with no time to think how sad he was.
"Do you like standing out in the cold waiting for late busses?" Bill asked him at the end of the day. When Ted responded with a negative, he offered him a ride home in his new car. "It's a concession I had to make to the oil companies," Bill explained as Ted viewed the subcompact and wondered how to crawl inside.
They rode along in silence for half the distance until Ted felt the need to speak, "I was very impressed with what you said on Sunday about the Bible. I never knew you had so much knowledge on the subject."
"Well, I used to be as involved with religion as you are now," Bill confessed, "till I reasoned my way out of it. But tell me, what conclusions did you draw from that encounter. You know I promised to prove to you that it wasn't the truth. Did I keep my promise?"
"I don't know. What you said made a lot of sense, and it showed me that the Bible wasn't very much like I thought it was. But I keep thinking to myself that if there's a God he must've given us a revelation of his will, and the Bible is the only book that comes close to filling the bill."
"Why do you say that?" Bill asked, "Even if there was a God, why should he automatically be an author?"
"Well, because for every desire God created in us he provided for its satisfaction: food for our hunger, water for our thirst, and so on. But we have a great desire to know the meaning of life and to know about him. So, judging from everything else, it seems reasonable to think that he gave us a revelation of himself to satisfy our curiosity, otherwise he wouldn't have created curiosity in us."
"That's fine reasoning from your first two premises," Bill agreed, "but I think the first two premises are wrong. But since I can't disprove God's existence, let me attack the second premise. How can you say that our every desire is provided for? What about the hunger of children in India? What about the desire for peace? What about the desire to cure cancer? What real knowledge does the Bible convey, anyway? It steered us wrong in astronomy, to say the least. And what does it even tell us, clearly, about God? That he doesn't regret except when he regrets; that he's vindictive except when he's love; that he hates lying except when he or one of his favorites lies; that he's impartial except for those he's partial to; that he wants to save everyone except all those he'll delight to destroy…"
Ted interrupted him and demanded: "Are you really trying to take advantage of my grieving state to pull me out of the Truth? How do you answer that charge?"
"Innocent." Bill responded firmly, "I asked you if you were ready to have me disprove your cherished beliefs, and you said you were. So there's no one to blame but yourself. If you'd rather not talk about it at this time, just say so. But I think it'll be helpful for you to do so; you need to get your head straight at this time before they lay a real heavy guilt-trip on you for trying to save Cyn's life. They'll disfellowship you for what you did, you know. And then where will you be? If you believe that it matters, you'll have nothing at all left. You'll have lost all self-respect as well as your love, and that will pile on top of your grief; and I fear the consequences."
Ted wondered if he should tell him of his suicidal thoughts of the previous day. But since Bill seemed to already suspect as much, he let it go. They reached the house and Ted invited him up. He needed company and was interested in hearing more of what Bill had to say.
As they walked through the entranceway, Richard poked his head out the door, "Hey, Ted -- oh, you're here!"
"Hello, Richard, nice to see you again," Bill greeted.
"So you've come around," Richard joked for some reason, "and you're going to study the Bible with Ted, huh?"
"I already put the Bible to its final resting place," Bill responded, immediately realizing the untimeliness of the comment, but adding, "Now we're going to do the same with God himself. Care to join us?"
"Ted," Richard said, mustering up his sincerest concerned look, "you might be in trouble, being considered for disfellowshipping and all, but this is really too much. You don't want to fall completely out of the Truth, do you?"
"No, I don't want to fall out of the Truth. But maybe I'm falling into it now. In any case, how can I know what is the truth without hearing both sides?"
"Just a minute, I’ll get my Bible and be right up," Richard said and disappeared again behind his door.
It was some time before he came up, though, and Ted showed Bill around his apartment in the meantime.
"I found the perfect quote for you," Richard boasted when he finally shouldered his way through the door with his arms loaded with books.
"Oh, really?" Bill said with a smile, "I see you came well prepared -- and they’re not even mostly Watchtower books. I'm impressed. Let's see, you've got Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, and Darwin's books -- have you actually read any of these, or have you just looked up the passages the Watchtower has referred to out of context?"
Ignoring the jibe, Richard sat down, spread the books on the coffee table, turned to the first mentioned book, and prepared to read. "Now this fits you in our last engagement perfectly because the Bible refers to itself as a mirror in that it's self-revealing. The philosopher Schopenhauer said:
"'Works like this are as a mirror: if an ass looks in you cannot expect an angel to look out.'
"And he also said:
"'When a head and a book come into collision, and one sounds hollow, is it always the book?'"
At this Richard forced himself to laugh, as Bill and Ted displayed polite smiles at the witticism.
"That's very clever," Bill replied, "but am I to accept that as your total answer to all my objections last Sunday? Because, unless you care to reopen the subject, I consider it closed; we want to move on to discussing the existence of God."
"Since I know how you like to impress everyone by quoting worldly philosophers," Richard replied, "have you ever read of Pascal's Wager?"
"How do you answer it?"
"Before you attempt to answer it," Ted intervened, "first tell me what it is."
Bill motioned for Richard to do the honor, since he seemed so eager. So Richard said: "Pascal pointed out that if you were to look at belief in God as a wager you had to make, all the odds would be on the side of belief, and so it would be the wisest thing to do. You see, if there is a God, and you make the wager there is, and thus believe in him and live your life accordingly, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose; you've got everlasting life on the one hand and death on the other. But, say there isn't a God and you bet there was; well, you're still no worse off; you'll just die like everybody else. But if there is a God, and you bet that there isn't, well then you're in the most miserable possible state; you've lost everything. So the most intelligent thing to do, when you weigh the outcomes, is to believe in God whether he exists or not, because the only really bad outcome is when you disbelieve and it turns out that you're wrong."
"That's simple, but brilliant!" Ted noted.
"It's also crass," Bill argued, "The philosopher William James made a good answer to Pascal's Wager. First of all he noted that it was a vile reason, and if a person were to base his faith in God on something so mercenary, God would destroy him at the Judgment anyway."
"What do you mean by mercenary?" asked Ted.
"I mean that you're believing in God for what you can get out of it. It sounds like a businessman trying to get the most profit out of a situation and avoid default at all costs. It has nothing to do with love for God or man, only with love for self, otherwise known as selfishness. Christ is even supposed to have implied that if you're so concerned with your own soul, you'll lose it.
"But the main objection James raised was this: you cannot will yourself to believe something; it's impossible. If I accepted Pascal's Wager as completely valid, and feared the consequences of disbelieving in his particular God, as he wants me to, I still couldn't make myself believe in his God."
"Why not?" asked Richard.
"Could you have made yourself believe in the gods of the Romans -- Jupiter, and the rest of that lot -- even if it meant your life (as it did for many Christians in the first century)?"
"Neither can I make myself believe in the God the Romans have today. But let's see what other uses we could make of the Wager. Look at hell, for instance -- I mean the fire and brimstone variety. According to Pascal's reasoning, you should believe in hell as well as one of the major religions that teaches it. The reason is simple: place the Jehovah's Witnesses' religion next to the Catholic's, for instance. The Witnesses tell us that if we're not one of them we'll merely cease to exist, in a word: die. But the Catholics state that if we're not numbered among them, we'll burn in terrible torments forever and ever in hell. Now, if the Catholics are wrong, it just means that we'll die as Catholics. But if they are right, and we became Jehovah's Witnesses, that would be the worst possible thing. So here again, in order to avoid the worst possible alternative, we become Catholics!
"That's really all the Wager does," Bill concluded, "it makes us choose the position which most threatens disbelievers of it.
"But isn't it indeed strange that we have all these different religions in dispute after God went to all that trouble to write a book for us, telling all about himself and how to worship him and live our lives? You'd think he'd have been smart enough to write plainly enough for us to understand it. For what sense does it make to give us a book with hundreds of possible interpretations? Then we're better off throwing it away and doing as Jesus says when he asks, 'Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?' (Luke 12:57).
"There are no sects in science or mathematics," Bill continued, "We do not hear some scientists saying 'I am a Newtonian' and others 'I am an Einsteinian' or other such absurd things. And why is that? Because the sciences are truths, and men agree on truths when they see them. As I told Ted before, no man can have the truth presented to him so as to understand it, and not believe it. Yet people cannot believe your religion, and you cannot believe theirs for the simple reason that they have nothing to do with truth. All your disputes about God are nothing more than what Voltaire calls 'Questions about light by men born blind.'"
"But we're not born blind," Richard insisted, "we're given a God-given conscience to know good from evil. And this moral sense that is prevalent throughout all humanity is clear evidence that God does indeed exist. We may not see him with our physical eyes, but we can see him in our mind's eye because of our conscience."
"According to your own Bible account," Bill pointed out, "this knowledge of good and evil was something man had to grasp for himself from an unwilling God who then punished him for it. But let's pretend you're right, and not self-contradictory (as always). You say this 'conscience' is universal, and thus it could only have come from God?"
"That's what I say," Richard agreed.
"Hand me your Story of Philosophy for a moment, and let me show you a part you obviously haven't read."
Richard did so, and Bill quickly turned to the section on Herbert Spencer, reading:
"'We find the most diverse, and apparently the most hostile, conceptions of the good. There is hardly any item of our Western moral code which is not somewhere held to be immoral; not only polygamy, but suicide, murder of one's own countrymen, even of one's parents, find in one people or another a lofty moral approbation. The wives of Fijian chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the death of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by Williams escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and presenting herself to her own people, insisted on the completion of the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly consented to forego; and Wilkes tells of another who loaded her rescuer with abuse, and ever afterwards manifested the most deadly hatred towards him. Livingstone says of the Makololo women, on the shores of the Zambesi, that they were quite shocked to hear that in England a man had only one wife; to have only one was not 'respectable'. So, too, in Equatorial Africa, according to Reade, 'If a man marries, and his wife thinks that he can afford another spouse, she pesters him to marry again; and calls him a "stingy fellow" if he declines to do so.'
"Such facts, of course, conflict with the belief that there is an inborn moral sense which tells each man what is right and what is wrong," Bill concluded.
"Now hand me Darwin's Descent of Man," Bill requested. And after Richard reluctantly turned the book over to him, he read:
"'BELIEF IN GOD--RELIGION.--There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary, there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travelers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed, and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their language to express such an idea. It is also probable, as Mr. Tylor has shown, that dreams may have first given rise to the notion of spirits; for savages do not readily distinguish between subjective and objective impressions. When a savage dreams, the figures which appear before him are believed to have come from a distance and to stand over him; or the soul of the dreamer goes out on its travels, and comes home with a remembrance of what it has seen… Mr. Herbert Spencer accounts for the earliest forms of religious belief throughout the world, by man being led through dreams… The belief in spiritual agencies would easily pass into the belief in the existence of one or more gods. For savages would naturally attribute to spirits the same passions, the same love of vengeance or simplest form of justice, and the same affections which they themselves feel… Yet we could never discover that the Fuegians believed in what we should call a God, or practiced any religious rites; and Jemmy Button, with justifiable pride, stoutly maintained that there was no devil in his land. This latter assertion is the more remarkable, as with savages the belief in bad spirits is far more common than that in good ones.'
"So much for the 'universality' of the belief in God," Bill commented. "Writing in the next chapter on the 'moral sense', Darwin has these interesting comments:
"'Even when an action is opposed to no special instinct, merely to know that our friends and equals despise us for it is enough to cause great misery. Who can doubt that the refusal to fight a duel through fear has caused many men an agony of shame? Many a Hindoo, it is said, has been stirred to the bottom of his soul by having partaken of unclean food. Here is another case of what must, I think, be called remorse: Dr. Lander acted as a magistrate in West Australia and relates that a native on his farm, after losing one of his wives from disease, came and said that "he was going to a distant tribe to spear a woman, to satisfy his sense of duty to his wife. I told him that if he did so I would send him to prison for life. He remained about the farm for some months, but got exceedingly thin, and complained that he could not rest or eat, that his wife's spirit was haunting him because he had not taken a life for hers. I was inexorable, and assured him that nothing should save him if he did." Nevertheless the man disappeared for more than a year, and then returned in high condition; and his other wife told Dr. Lander that her husband had taken the life of a woman belonging to another tribe; but it was impossible to obtain legal evidence of the act. The breach of a rule held sacred by the tribe will thus, as it seems, give rise to the deepest feelings, -- and this quite apart from the social instincts, excepting insofar as the rule is grounded on the judgment of the community. How so many strange superstitions have arisen throughout the world we know not; nor can we tell how some real and great crimes, such as incest, have come to be held in an abhorrence (which is not, however, quite universal) by the lowest savages. It is even doubtful whether in some tribes incest would be looked on with greater horror, than would the marriage of a man with a woman bearing the same name, though not a relation. To violate this law is a crime which the Australians hold in the greatest abhorrence, in this agreeing with certain tribes of North America. When the question is put in either district, is it worse to kill a girl of a foreign tribe, or to marry a girl of one's own, an answer just the opposite of ours would be given without hesitation. We may, therefore, reject the belief, lately insisted on by some writers, that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a God-implanted conscience… No tribe could hold together if murder, robbery, treachery, and so on were common; consequently such crimes within the limits of the same tribe are branded with everlasting infamy; but excite no such sentiment beyond these limits. A North American Indian is well pleased with himself, and is honored by others, when he scalps a man of another tribe; and a Dyak cuts off the head of an unoffending person, and dries it as a trophy. The murder of infants has prevailed on the largest scale throughout the world, and has met with no reproach; but infanticide, especially of females, has been thought to be good for the tribe, or at least not injurious… It has been recorded that an Indian Thug conscientiously regretted that he had not robbed and strangled as many travelers as did his father before him. In a rude state of civilization the robbery of strangers is, indeed, generally considered as honorable… We have now seen that actions are regarded by savages, and were probably so regarded by primeval man, as good or bad, solely as they obviously affect the welfare of the tribe -- not that of the species, nor that of an individual member of the tribe. The judgment of the community will generally be guided by some rude experience of what is best in the long run for all members; but this judgment will not rarely err from ignorance and weak powers of reasoning. Hence the strangest customs and superstitions, in complete opposition to the true welfare and happiness of mankind, have become all powerful throughout the world. We see this in the horror felt by a Hindoo who breaks his caste, and in many other such cases.'
"I might add here," Bill commented, looking up from the book, 'That I recently read a case where, in a shipwreck, the Hindus refused to use the same rope to climb to safety, and they all perished just because of their strict caste rules."
"Or how about," Ted offered, sadly, "letting someone die because of a superstition about blood transfusion. It seems the same thing to me now."
"Yes," Bill agreed. "Darwin concludes:
"'It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason.'
"I think that puts your notion of a 'God-given conscience' to rest," Bill concluded. "And if you can't prove God's existence through man, what does that leave you? You'll certainly agree that man is the highest being on this planet, so if you can't show God through him, you can't do it through anything else."
"Oh, but we can," replied Richard confidently, "the beauty of nature speaks of an artful God, and the harmony and order of the universe tell of a purposeful Creator. We can see from all of his creation that he is a God of love and tender kindness, and even that he has a sense of humor from the way young animals play. The fact that every little creature serves a purpose and has a place in the ecosystem shows that it must have been placed there by a purposeful God."
"How can you answer that?" asked a skeptical Ted.
"Like always," Bill quickly responded, "with the real facts in the case. The female fly known as the ichneumon has a long, needle-like tube called an ovipositor because she deposits the ovi, or eggs of her young with it. It is a very 'purposeful' and 'harmonious' thing, to be sure. But she uses it to deposit these eggs deep within the body of a caterpillar. When they hatch, these 'baby flies' start to eat their way out. But there is yet another marvelous sign of God's tender kindness in this arrangement; they have enough instinct to know not to eat the vital organs at first, they eat only the fat, connective tissues, and the like, till these are all gone. Only then do they eat up the rest from the inside out. The amount of suffering the caterpillars must undergo is unbearable even to think about; imagine a horde of rats inside you eating their way out!
"Fly-maggots that live within the noses of certain animals are a similar example of 'God's love and sense of humor'. Pain and suffering and gruesome death are the facts of nature, and if you choose to call it 'creation', I can think of no greater blasphemy to your God.
Snatching up the philosophy book again, Bill opened it and said, "You had applied Schopenhauer to me before, so I hope you won't object if I quote him too; he says of this matter:
"'The bull-dog ant of Australia affords us the most extraordinary example of the kind; for if it is cut in two, a battle begins between the head and the tail. The head seizes the tail with its teeth, and the tail defends itself bravely by stinging the head; the battle may last for half an hour, until they die or are dragged away by other ants. This contest takes place every time the experiment is tried… Yunghahn relates that he saw in Java a plain, as far as the eye could reach, entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles… which come this way out of the sea to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off the small shell from the stomach, and devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs… For this these turtles are born… Thus the will to live everywhere preys upon itself, and in different forms is its own nourishment, till finally the human race, because it subdues all the others, regards nature as a manufactory for its own use. Yet even the human race reveals in itself with most terrible distinctness this conflict, this variance of the will with itself; and we find man is a wolf to man. The total picture of life is almost too painful for contemplation; life depends on our not knowing it too well.'
"We humans get a very selfish outlook when we make the assertion that nature is a place displaying 'tender kindness'," Bill continued, "it is red in tooth and claw. It is true that we have eked out some relief from constant suffering at the expense of the rest of nature, but that shouldn't lead us to conclude the rest of the earthly creatures are as well off. The natural world is a bloody battlefield filled with unimaginable pain and horror. Where is your Godly 'harmony' when it comes to parasites, tapeworms, and vile diseases? It's not there; order is not there. The ecosystem you refer to points straight at natural selection – evolution -- but not at a loving God.
"Just look at ourselves -- how much pleasure is there in our lives? How much joy have you really had in your whole life? Does it add up to an hour? If so, you're fortunate indeed. We're built for pain; our skin possesses some 200,000 nerve endings for detecting temperature, half a million nerve endings for touch or pressure, and three million for pain! Our tongues are about 1,000 times more receptive to sourness than to sweetness, and 10,000 times more sensitive to bitterness! To go to the opposite end of the scale: plants are now believed to experience pain also. Scientists have recorded their 'screams' when injured."
"But what has all that got to do with anything?" Richard demanded, "How does any of that disprove God exists?"
"Well," Bill responded, "I just don't think a loving God would've made his creation like that; so capable of suffering and so many opportunities for it."
"But someone must've created it all," Richard argued, "The fact that there is a creation says that there must be a Creator. You once said yourself that every effect has a cause; so what is the cause of creation? It must be a Creator!"
"I agree that every cause has its effect," Bill replied, "you are the one who doesn’t believe it."
"But I just said that we do!" Richard insisted.
"But you don't believe what you just said," Bill said with a laugh. "Let me try to understand what you're trying to say: every effect has a cause, so every existing thing must’ve had a creator, therefore every existing thing proves God’s existence. That's what you're saying, isn't it?"
"And the whole purpose behind your saying this is to prove that God exists?"
"All right then, let's say that God exists. Now, let's apply your rule: God is an existing thing, right?"
"And every existing thing has to have a Creator, right?"
"Then God must have a Creator."
Richard smiled in reply. He couldn't agree, of course, but didn't know how to answer the logic. So Bill continued, after letting his point sink in, "And furthermore, since God's Creator must be an existing thing, he too must have a Creator, and that Creator a Creator, and so on ad infinitum. So, you see, when it comes right down to it, in order for you to believe in one Creator, you must deny the cause-effect fact."
"Well, all right, we deny it in God's case," Richard acknowledged, "because God is the exception to the rule. You have to have an exception to every rule, don't you? Haven't you ever heard that ‘the exception proves the rule’?"
"Yes, I've heard it and I understand what it really means. It's using the archaic meaning of 'prove', that is, to 'test'. As the expression 'the proof of the pudding' doesn't mean that the pudding is logically correct, but that it is 'tested' when eaten. A moment's thought will show that an exception could never in a million years prove a rule in the logical sense of that word, but that it certainly would 'test' it, and would mean that it would have to be thrown out if the exception was important enough. And since your whole argument centers on proving that God is the First Cause, you can't have God be the exception to your rule that would prove this. If you do, your statement is really meaningless. It's as if you said, 'God is the Creator because God is the Creator.'"
"Well, I admit that we can't entirely understand God;" Richard replied, "he's too far above us. We can't comprehend the infinite, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The only possible explanation for the universe is that God created it. Life doesn't come from non-life, therefore we must've come from a living God. And don't ask me where the living God came from, because I don't know. He was just always there. You've got to start with that, with God always being there before all creation; we can't comprehend it, but it's the only answer."
"It's not the only answer," Bill insisted; "There is a sensible answer that we can comprehend, and which fits all the facts of cruel nature. And the factual answer is that 'non-life', as you call it, is precisely where life comes from."
"Don't tell me you believe in evolution when it can be so easily disproved!" Richard exclaimed.
"Do you really believe that it's been disproved in your books?"
"I sure do. We've got quotes of actual scientists who don't believe in evolution because the facts just aren't there."
"Yes, I've seen the 'actual' real, true, why-don't-you-believe-me 'scientists' you've quoted. I see you've got the old Watchtower book Evolution Versus the New World," Bill said, grabbing it and opening to the back. "Here they quote and praise one Anthony Standen, because he said that evolution was 'much further from being proved than men are from flying to the moon.' Now, the fact is that men have flown to the moon since this was written, and that shows you how much this 'scientist' knew about science and its abilities.
"I've read that booklet," Bill admitted, "as well as your other book there, Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation?, and they both show that the writers did not bother to find out about their subject. They merely went looking for odd quotes they could use. They never bothered to discover that Darwin already answered the very ‘unanswerable’ questions that they raise.
"Take your statement, echoed from this book, that life cannot come from non-life. There is a justly famous experiment relating to this (which authors of such a book as this had no business ignoring or not knowing about). The experiment was first conducted by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago, and published in 1953. In the experiment, non-organic matter was used to produce organic matter! Miller induced electric sparks in an atmosphere of mostly hydrogen to replicate the conditions in earth's early history (lightning, that is, and a similar atmosphere). The result was that the atoms rearranged themselves to form amino acids: the building blocks of life!
"Since this is a scientific experiment, it is repeatable by anyone with the right equipment at any time. And since 1953 there have been numerous such experiments around the world using different model gasses, and producing a variety of organic compounds.
"One such experiment was conducted by a group at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego. They exposed sulfur-bearing molecules (like those thought to have been present before the Earth formed) to low levels of light. Just the presence of the light was enough to generate organic compounds: molecules containing carbon, which form the chemical basis of life as we know it.
"In other experiments, scientists have been able to induce replication at the molecular level. One such experiment was done by Manfred Eigen in Germany in the 1970's. In this experiment, RNA was observed to replicate itself spontaneously.
"And as soon as you have reproduction taking place, you have variation, and with variation comes natural selection, and with natural selection comes evolution.
"These are all facts, not 'theory' as your book claims. I wonder if the writers of your books bothered to conduct any of these experiments before making up their minds on this issue and deciding that they were qualified to write on the subject. What do you think?"
Since no one offered an answer, Bill continued: "It is a fact that life was on this planet long before your Witness chronology of 42,000 years or so. The fossils prove that, and you are in no position to question the scientific dating procedures in this regard. Even allowing a healthy margin of error, life -- even man -- has been around a lot longer than that. The bones of our ancestors are a fact you can't dispense with just because artists have drawn in their facial features differently or because of the Piltdown-man hoax. Your book tries to write these skulls off as ancestors of the modern-day ape rather than man, and some of them are, it's true. But in trying so hard to deny evolution for man, they therein admit it for the ape! But, really, judging from the size of the brain-case and other features, we know that the majority of these skulls were not forerunners of the ape; they were already superior to the ape; they were our forerunners."
"I don't believe that, " Richard said, "because evolution just can't happen. If it did, we'd see evidence of it today. There wouldn't be any apes; they'd have all evolved into men! Evolution just can't take place because everything is according to its 'kind' and reproduces itself exactly. Or if there is a genetic mistake, the result is a harmful mutation which often can't reproduce itself or survive."
"Once again you are ignorant of the facts," Bill rejoined. "Evolution is a proven fact. It's been done in the laboratory by the biologist Demerec. He placed a certain bacteria called Esxherischia coli in cultures containing a drug that is poisonous to these bacteria (namely, streptomycin). Now, bacteria reproduce very rapidly, and it soon became evident that the drug no longer harmed the bacteria. This happened not because individual bacterium had become gradually immune, but rather, due to the amazing rate of reproduction. Certain mutants were quite accidentally resistant to the streptomycin before they were even placed in it. Only these mutants survived out of the hundreds of thousand-million individual bacteria. But these survivors passed on their peculiar resistant trait, and soon replaced the last batch.
"This is how natural selection works. It is a fact of nature, and no amount of denying it will make it less of a fact. In nature, particularly the further down the scale you go, creatures reproduce far more offspring than can possibly survive and compete for the available food. So the ones best equipped to survive are the ones that live to reproduce and pass on whatever helpful characteristic they may have had."
"But how do these 'helpful characteristics' come about?" asked Ted. "What reason could there be, or how could it even happen that a thing like a mouse, for instance, would suddenly sprout wings and become a bat? And if it happened gradually, that's even worse, because a half-formed wing would be of no use at all. I just can't see how these things could change."
"And yet we do it all the time," Bill responded, "Or at least people who breed animals do it. At first they did it quite unconsciously; they merely selected the best cattle over the poorer specimens, and thus encouraged their breeding to produce higher quality stock. Darwin mentions the pigeon-fancying craze that was in England at his time. They had bred so many varieties of pigeons that if they were presented to an ornithologist who didn't know the facts ahead of time, he'd assume that they were all different species of birds, and would be astounded to learn that they were all descendants of the rock pigeon. So this is how evolutionary changes come about; it's this simple. No two offspring are exactly the same unless they're twins; just look at the variations in man. Now many variations are quite meaningless as far as survival is concerned, but those that are vital will have an advantage, and live to reproduce that advantage in their offspring. So a bear pup that has a little more fur than his siblings will be more likely to survive the onslaught of an ice age, and reproduce furrier offspring. A lizard who's coloring more closely matches the surrounding rocks will have less likelihood of being eaten by birds, and so a greater likelihood of reproducing more of the same camouflaged lizards.
"You might argue that these are small things, and are really adaptation rather than evolution, since your book tries to draw a line between them. That's a mistake; these things are nothing less than evolution, and as important as the rodent 'sprouting wings' to become a bat. But on these types of changes we might wrongly distinguish as 'big', let's say this: they were gradual, and the 'half-formed' changes were not detrimental. Looking at the bat, we wonder how he could've gotten along in the transition period when he couldn't yet fly, and why he should grow wings in the first place. But all we have to do is look in nature to find an answer in the 'flying squirrel'. Now, we have your regular squirrel, and we have the 'flying' variety, which of course doesn't really fly because it has something like 'half-formed wings', a webbing, really, which helps it glide from tree to tree. We can well imagine that this corresponds to the earlier stages of the bat. Those that just happened to have a little extra webbing were able (as the flying squirrel today) to glide somewhat when jumping from one place to another, and those who were better able to get away from predators in this manner survived. Further webbing was encouraged till eventually there was enough to allow them to turn their body in such a way as to maneuver themselves through the air somewhat, and this continued till full flight evolved.
"We can see similar transition periods between fish and land animals in the amphibians and reptiles. You have things like the lung fish, which evolved to breathe during periods of drought, and then developed legs to pull itself along to another body of water when its water dried up. You still have frogs that spend the first part of their lives as tadpoles under the water, and then emerge as air-breathing creatures. There is nothing so mysterious in all of this as a 'Divine Purpose'. When the thyroid gland (which controls growth) is slowed, we have a creature like the Mexican axolotl. This is a salamander tadpole that never metamorphoses into a land animal, but becomes sexually mature in the gill-breathing larval form. A simple meal of thyroid reconverts it into a land salamander.
"Change is not so hard to believe in, Ted, it's all about us, and in us, if I may quote Julian Huxley·(who has been the source of most of my comments, anyway):
"'Every butterfly was once a caterpillar; every oak once an acorn; every barnacle once a tiny free-swimming crustacean. You, like me and every other human being, were once a microscopic spherical ovum, then in turn a double sheet of undifferentiated cells, an embryo with enormous outgrowths enabling you to obtain food and oxygen parasitically from your mother, a creature with an unjointed rod -- what biologists call a notochord -- in place of a jointed backbone; you once had gill clefts like a fish, you once had a tail, and once were covered with dense hair like a monkey; you were once a helpless infant which had to learn to distinguish objects and to talk; you underwent the transformation of your body and mind that we call puberty; you learnt a job. You are in fact a self-transforming process.'"
"But all that points to a miraculous power bringing about all those changes," Richard argued, "How else can we account for them?"
"Through science. Through knowledge. Since we can control these growth-changes with thyroid, we know that it is this chemical substance that brings about these changes, not God."
"But He created the chemical substances," Richard argued.
"No, " Bill said, "remember the experiment in which the scientists brought about organic molecules from non-organic electricity and hydrogen? That's all it takes, natural occurrences --"
"But God created the hydrogen and the electricity," Richard insisted.
"Well, we could go back and back all day and never reach what was first," Bill replied. "Your short-cut is to say that it was God, and mine is to say that it was the 'big bang' which resulted in a spontaneous eruption of these molecules such as formed hydrogen (for hydrogen is prevalent throughout the universe; and lightning storms occur on our neighboring planets). There is no reason to call God into the picture once it's been proven that atoms can so easily combine and form the building blocks of life; and that was your whole argument, as I recall, that life had to come from life."
"What do you mean by the 'big bang'?" asked Ted.
"Just that all the matter in the universe was once held tightly together in an incredible mass, and that it exploded, forming the galaxies we have today. The proof of this is that all the galaxies are known to be moving away from each other, expanding out into space. So, if we 'run the film backwards', we see that they must've all been closer together in the past if they've been moving apart all this time; and going back as far as we can, they must've all been together at the beginning and had to have exploded out."
"But who created this lumped mass of a universe that exploded?" Ted asked.
"No one," Bill answered. "It may not have been in the form of matter, but of energy, or even anti-matter. It was just there, like space had to have always been there. I've never heard anyone say that God had to create space to put his universe in; we just can't imagine a time when there was no space, and it was in this space, or perhaps of it that the 'big bang' occurred."
"If you can say that," Richard laughed, "how can you object to our saying that God must've always existed?"
"I'd have no objection," Bill replied, "if you'd equate God with space."
"Okay, but listen, your evolution theory," Richard emphasized, "can't account for all of the facts. Look here in our book; it shows a picture of a Shropshire ram and a Dorset horn ram, the former is hornless and the caption reads, 'If sheep evolved horns because they aided survival, why are there many hornless varieties of sheep that survive just as well without them?'"
"When was the last time you saw sheep struggling for existence?" Bill asked, "This is a common fault with your book: it crosses important boundaries without taking their significance into account. Sheep have been domesticated by man for millennia, their breeding has been carefully controlled by man throughout this time. If one breed has horns and another does not, that's the way men wanted them to be. They have nothing to do with survival of the fittest in the sense the book is implying, and no one ever said they did.
"A better example would've been to look at something wild and ask the question about horns, or even better, about the very conspicuous coloring of some birds like the bird of paradise or the peacock, and ask how this could ever have helped them survive since it merely made them more apparent to their enemies. Well, Darwin discusses these things in his book in great detail, and it's obvious that the writers of your book never even bothered to read him. Darwin accounts for these things, not by natural selection, but by something even more obvious: sexual selection. It is the males especially who have the horns or the bright coloring. In the former case it is to do battle with the other males for the females, and the latter case is to attract the females. So, if a bird is particularly bright-colored, it is not due to natural selection trying to make him inconspicuous (since it does just the opposite) but it is merely because the females like it!
"Eventually, if a coloring or other sexual characteristic becomes too much of a danger as far as escaping enemies is involved, natural selection will cut back on sexual selection, and the two forces will have to reach a compromise. So, even though it's a weaker force in the long run than natural selection, sexual selection can bring about such great changes in the male that many birds and insects once thought to be distinct species are now known to be simply the male and female of the same species.
"But let's look for a moment (which is longer than it deserves) at your book, Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation?. Here on page 35 it quotes Darwin as saying:
"'To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.'
"That's all your book quotes of Darwin, and then it comments that a 'half-formed' eye would've been useless, so it had to have been created all at once. This is a common trick of theirs, quoting out of context. You'd almost think that Darwin didn't really believe in his own theory after all! The truth of the matter is that it is his writing style to state the most powerful objections against his hypothesis in the strongest possible language, and then to answer them. In fact, he answers the challenge he poses for himself right on the same page in my edition of Origin of Species; they didn't even have to turn the page to find it! Yet they dishonestly passed it over, and even contradicted the facts it sets forth. Here is what Darwin went on to say:
"'Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive to the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility… The simplest organ which can be called an eye consists of an optic nerve, surrounded by pigment-cells and covered by translucent skin, but without any lens or other refractive body. We may, however, according to M. Jourdain, descend even a step lower and find aggregates of pigment-cells apparently serving as organs of vision, without any nerves, and resting merely on sarcodic tissue. Eyes of the above simple nature are not capable of distinct vision, and serve only to distinguish light from darkness. In certain starfishes, small depressions in the layer of pigment which surrounds the nerve are filled, as described by the author just quoted, with transparent, gelatinous matter, projecting with a convex surface, like the cornea in the higher animals. He suggests this serves not to form an image, but only to concentrate the luminous rays and render their perception more easy. In this concentration of the rays we gain the first and by far the most important step towards the formation of a true, picture-forming eye; for we have only to place the naked extremity of the optic nerve, which in some of the lower animals lies deeply buried in the body, and in some near the surface, at the right distance from the concentrating apparatus, and an image will be formed on it… When we reflect on these facts, here given much too briefly with respect to the wide, diversified, and graduated range of structure in the eyes of the lower animals; and when we bear in mind how small the number of all living forms must be in comparison with those that have become extinct, the difficulty ceases to be very great in believing that natural selection may have converted the simple apparatus of an optic nerve, coated with pigment and invested with a transparent membrane, into an optical instrument as perfect as is possessed by any member of the Articulate Class.'
"Skipping over to another point your book is at some evident labor to repeat again and again: it tells us that hybrids cannot reproduce. And this, somehow, is supposed to disprove evolution. Don't ask me how it is supposed to disprove evolution, we'll just have to take the book's word for it, since it wastes so much space repeating it. The fact is, though, that many hybrids can reproduce. Experiments have shown that some can reproduce to the tenth generation or more. But what little this proves is shown from the fact that many varieties within a given species cannot reproduce together either. The whole theory of 'producing only according to its kind' is rather a moot question; as soon as a species develops its varieties to such an extent that one variety can't reproduce with another, it's automatically called a different species, or 'kind', and you Bible people forget as quickly as you can that they were originally wrought from the same 'kind'. But if you manipulate the facts like that, it's obvious that we could never prove that unlike 'kinds' can reproduce; as soon as we do, you'll just say they were of the same 'kind' all along. But none of this has any real effect on evolution; it just disproves the Bible, because evolution doesn't require the crossbreeding of species.
"Let's see," Bill said as he leafed through Richard's Evolution book, "Here's another illustration on page 58 showing a horse and a cow. Again, these are domesticated animals, so natural selection hardly applies to them; unnatural or man-caused selection does. It reads:
"'Both the horse and cow eat the same food, exist side by side, survive equally well. Why should one of them evolve with upper front teeth, the other without them?'
"This is laughable. I'm not a rancher, but I know I've never seen a cow and a horse grazing together like this. Don't they keep them in separate corrals? They've evolved differently because man has chosen the strongest horses and the fattest cows, just as today breeders pay enormous prices for stud services of a race horse or a prize heifer, and get faster and better breeds accordingly. As for the teeth question, it has nothing to do with the horse; cows don't really live 'side-by-side' with them in that sense; they don't compete for food. The cow used to have upper front teeth, but evidently lost them after long domestication since they were no longer really needed. And I'm sure cattlemen who'd been bitten encouraged this trend by preferring toothless cows. But here's a real interesting facet to this question: the teeth are still there under the gums! They just never develop and break through. All they do is rob the body of precious phosphorus; they serve no real purpose, and are thus actually detrimental, but not to a great enough degree to be effaced by natural selection. If we look at the cow through creationists' eyes, we do well to wonder why God put these rudimentary teeth in the cow. Since they do more harm than good, don't serve man in any way, are not beautiful (no one can see them), and basically do nothing; why did God create them? You see, when you really look at these facts, rather than the Watchtower's distortion of them, you see that they favor evolution and show how silly creationism is.
"We see other 'rudimentary organs' like this in the wings on beetles which are soldered to its body under a covering and are completely useless. Often, we can see long-lost characteristics return to an individual in a species. Such examples in our own species are: hairiness of the body, pointed and moveable ears, multiple digits, and the multiple breasts that sometimes occur in women (such as Henry the VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, who had three; others have had six or more, and sometimes gave birth to five or six babies at a time. Bigger litters are also a throw-back to the dim past). A thing that is sometimes mistaken for the same thing is rudimentary mamae in men; it isn't of the same nature because men never had breasts. They only have nipples now after millennia of breeding with females who had them. You see, after so much breeding together without any real evolutionary change, men and women are becoming more like each other. This also explains the primitive uterus in men called the prostate, and the rudimentary penis in women called the clitoris. I challenge you to come up with a creationist's explanation for nipples on men. What purpose do they serve? None. Here again, as in every case we've considered, evolution provides an answer for the way things are, and creationism does not.
"Showing a picture of a smashed up car, as your book does here on page 64, and asking if evolution is true, why the car doesn't evolve from this accident into a higher form, is really stupid. Is an automobile a living organism capable of reproducing? Then why use it as a comparison? The book just doesn't make sense at all! Just read some of it as an example, here from page 66:
"'If an organism did have a beneficial mutation (which is highly questionable), but then this same line had a host of harmful mutations, "nature", if it did anything, would reject this organism because it would be inferior. "Natural selection" would actually be the enemy of evolution just as mutations are.'
"Now I ask you, does that paragraph make any sense at all? It mentions a beneficial mutation at the start, and at the end it states that mutations are the 'enemy of evolution'. How can this be? If it's beneficial it certainly can't be an enemy. But look at the interior ‘reasoning’ going on in this passage: if there was one beneficial mutation it would be rejected because there'd be a lot of other harmful mutations. Why? It doesn't say. They're hoping to get a lot of words by your real quick before you have time to think and realize they're devoid of any meaning. If they mean to say (for they certainly don't actually say it) that the offspring of the 'beneficial mutation' will all be harmful mutations, I'd again like to ask why in the world they believe this (other than that they want to). A beneficial mutation should have no problem passing on whatever beneficial characteristic it has. Even using their own figure given in the first part of this paragraph on 'less than one percent' of mutations being helpful, and given the millions of years this less than one percent had to work with, we can well account for all the variety we see about us today.
"In the very next paragraph, though, they forget what they were just talking about and make a big fuss about how natural selection could never produce anything new:
"'Because a living thing has survived, that does not mean it evolved. If a hen hatches a dozen chicks, and some are killed by predators, does this indicate they evolved? No, all it indicates is that some chicks survived while others died. This "selection" by "nature" in no way changes the chick to something new.'
"But, you see, no one ever claimed anything else! Putting forth these straw man arguments, the Society makes it appear that they are successfully combating the issue of evolution, when they haven't yet addressed it. Of course natural selection of and by itself produces nothing new; who ever said it did? All it does is work in conjunction with variation in a species to preserve the favorable variations and make the unfavorable ones extinct. It itself cannot produce the variations; that's caused by the DNA."
"But if God doesn't exist," Ted wondered, "then what's the purpose in life? I mean, where's the incentive to do good? We may as well 'eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we are to die.' Life loses all its value if you look at it that-way. It's every man for himself without regard for the other person."
"Why is that?" Bill asked. "Why do you think that if you hold this certain idea in your mind that there's a Creator-God somewhere floating around heaven, you'll be a better person, an unselfish person? Why is that?"
Ted thought a moment and replied, "Well, you know that God, your Creator, is watching you, and you want to please him, just like your father, and do right."
"But why do you want to please him (assuming that he is pleased when you do what you call 'right')?"
"Because if he's happy with you he'll reward you with everlasting life."
"Everlasting life for whom?"
"For me, of course," Ted laughed.
"For yourself, you see? Doesn't it revolve back around to selfishness after all?"
"Yes, I guess it does."
"Then how can you say that believing in God makes you less selfish than a person who doesn't believe? In the end, you're just as selfish if not more so (wanting the greatest possible reward for yourself rather than settling for the puny immediate rewards like the other fellow you're so much better than)."
"I guess it doesn't," Ted responded dejectedly.
"Whenever you're expecting a reward (even if it's way in the back of your mind) for 'doing right', you're not practicing goodness at all; you're just doing a job for God: so much good work for so much everlasting life. It's just a business deal. But we atheists agree with Spinoza that 'Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself.' It is only when you really believe that no external or future reward exists at all that you can really be unselfish and good. You have to become an atheist before you can become a good person," Bill laughed.
"As for the purpose and value of life," Bill continued, "it's what you make it. We don't need God to give our lives value; we can get that from each other through love. And this means loving clergymen as well as politicians, Catholics as well as atheists. You Jehovah's Witnesses have a long way to go on that route. You still think it makes some sort of difference what a person believes: as if you were somehow a better person for believing that God is not a Trinity, and the world were a better place for it. That's a lot of nonsense, and you both should be grown-up enough to realize it. Beliefs make no pragmatic difference to the world unless they produce actions. They often don't produce actions unless they are fanatically held -- which means loving your beliefs more than the people around you, including loving God more than mankind. That leads to war, that leads to hate, and even to allowing those you love to die. That's when beliefs make a big difference, and that's why they shouldn't be fanatically held.
"You can believe anything you want, and more power to you. I don't care how absurd it is -- even believe in the God of the Bible if you like -- only don't cling to that belief more tenaciously than to people. Jesus was actually close, he only missed it by one: the first commandment should've been to love your neighbor, and after that he could've said love the devil for all the difference it would've made."
"That's a very lovely speech," Richard said sarcastically, "but nothing you've said today has persuaded me to stop believing in God."
"I didn't expect that it would. God is something people believe in if they want to, and don't believe in if they don't want to. It's as simple as that. All our knowledge comes to us through our five senses, and since we can't see, hear, touch, taste, or smell God, your saying that he exists or doesn't exist is all the same to me. We cannot know; it's impossible for us to know. It lies without our senses, and hence outside of our knowledge, where anyone's guess is as valid as another's. It's best to listen to your own guess. Mine is that there's nothing out there, but I don't expect that to change yours.
"I do think, though," Bill added, "that if you're going to believe in a God, you should at least find a set of attributes that are consistent and believable."
"Now what makes you say that?" Richard asked.
"Because the things you say about God are quite impossible. First of all, you say that he's omnipotent, which in itself is impossible, then --"
"Why is omnipotence impossible?" Richard interrupted, "Of course God is all-powerful; everyone believes that."
"Everyone thinks they believe that," Bill corrected, "but they can't. If God is all powerful, can he make a material object so heavy he can't lift it?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"A paradox. If you answer it either way it proves that God is not all-powerful; the question itself proves that omnipotence is impossible."
"But we don't say that God can do everything --"
"Jesus did. He said, 'With God all things are possible.'"
"Yes, but he didn't mean what you're saying."
"How do you know?"
"Because it doesn't make sense."
"Yes," Bill agreed with a wink; "Jesus said a lot of nonsense."
"No, listen," Richard shouted, "God cannot die, and he cannot lie, for a start. He has to follow his own laws. He has set limits to himself, and we take all of this into consideration when we say that he's all-powerful.
"In other words, what you're saying is that 'God can do anything except the things he can't do.' That's quite profound. But you could say as much of me or anyone else for that matter.
"Next, you say that God is all-knowing, do you not?"
"And knowing everything includes, naturally, knowing the future?"
"Well, no," Richard replied, "God can know the future, of course, when he wants to, in order to predict it or whatever, but usually he doesn't want to, and he chooses not to look into the future."
"That's very interesting indeed. So God doesn't usually know the future. But then he's not all-knowing. A prophet down here on earth might look into the future and know something God doesn't know then?"
"No," Richard replied, "no one can really predict the future but God."
"Then how do you explain accurate predictions?" Bill asked, "I thought you wrote them off to the Devil's power. How does the Devil come to know the future?"
"He doesn't. He just sometimes manipulates events to accord with a prophecy he's made."
"But then the future he predicted does indeed become reality?"
"Yes, but it wasn't a case of seeing it ahead of time and predicting it, but of forcing the events to take place."
"So God sees the events ahead of time without forcing them to happen?"
"And if God sees something he doesn't like, can he change it?"
"I don't know," Richard admitted.
"But remember, you said he was all-powerful."
"Yes, then I guess he could change it."
"And if he does so, how is he any different from the Devil?"
"I'm really getting tired of these arguments," Richard sighed.
"Well, let me help you out," Bill offered, "because it's another case of whichever way we answer this issue it proves that God cannot be what you say he is, namely omniscient. If he changes the future to accord with his desires, it means that there's no free-will. We're all just puppets on his string, and we shouldn't worry about 'doing right' or 'wrong', because we'll do whatever God directs since he controls the future. This, you see, is a frightening alternative. But, if he doesn't do anything about the future because he can't or he refuses to, that puts him at the mercy of fate. And fate would then be greater than God. The very fact that God can see into the future means that there's a certain set of incidents that will be followed, like it or not, and once again we have no free-will, only this time it's fate that pulls the strings as God sits idly by, perhaps watching a few acts ahead of where we're at."
"Why do you say that there's no free-will either way as long as God can look into the future?" asked Ted.
"Since it's possible for him to look ahead and see what will happen, everything must follow the pattern that he sees -- it's all fore-ordained, whether by him or by fate -- there's no longer any choice in the matter."
"That leads me to believe," Ted acknowledged, "That God cannot see into the future, and I'd get around having to admit that he's not all-knowing by saying that 'the future' is simply not something that a person can have knowledge of; it's not a subject for knowledge."
"That's a very fine answer," Bill complimented, "But unfortunately it leads to further complications. If God can't look into the future, how did he supposedly predict things and have them written in the Bible before they happened? This is one of your main arguments for the inspiration of the Bible, and I'm sure that if Mr. Olson had been feeling better he would've brought it up last Sunday. Of course, from our examination of historical facts we know the Bible books were all written long after the events they supposedly predicted, but this is still a favorite argument of those who ignore such facts."
"Well, maybe he just brought things about to fulfill his prophecy," Richard offered.
"Then he interfered with free-will," Bill pointed out, "and forced events just as you say the Devil did. And when you have God and the Devil using the same tactics, I think you'd better scrap the whole idea.
"The next thing you say about God is that he's very much like yourself. He gets mad, hates, loves, is happy, and so on. In short, he has emotions and thinks exactly like a primitive chieftain. It's interesting that this is so, since man is such an emotional and intellectual creature. I imagine that if a triangle, for instance, could think, it would conceive of a triangular God and make that shape its essential characteristic, whereas a peacock would have a god with the most enormous and beautiful tail. Even in the Bible we can see this projection effect: to the very primitive writer J, God appears as a man walking about the garden, smelling the sacrifices, and having to search for Adam when he hides. Throughout the Old Testament he appears as a vengeful king, patterned after the bloodthirsty kings of the time.
"It is not until the first or second century in the New Testament that we have God pictured as a father figure, and even changing his ways so radically as to become the personification of love. What is remarkable in all of this is that you can believe statements in there that claim that it's all the same God. And further, that this God doesn't change!
"Emotion itself is change. As Spinzoa says: 'All passions are passages, all emotions are motions, toward or from completeness and power.' There should be nothing that could make an all-powerful, all-knowing God angry or jealous or vindictive. Some modern Christians have come to such a lofty view of a passionless God, but the Bible hadn't quite reached it, what with pouring the seven plagues on the earth and all the rest."
Bill paused and seemed to be done. "Have you had your say now?" Richard asked.
"Well, Ted?" Richard asked his Bible study, his 'letter-of-recommendation'.
"Are you coming with us to the meeting? It'll be starting soon, you know."
Richard and Bill looked at Ted in anticipation. Bill, it's true, had most of the talking, but Richard was a closer friend for a longer time and knew he had all the studying and meeting attendance he'd done with Ted on his side.
"Do I have to decide right now between you two?" Ted asked.
"You'll have to decide sometime, Ted," Bill said gently.
"Well, I keep wishing there was some other alternative. Like when I first heard you, Richard, talking to Brother Olson about the Trinity. I felt there was some third possibility, and that you were both wrong. But I don't feel that now, although I wish I did."
"Ted," said Bill, "that third possibility was this. They were both wrong. God is neither one nor three; he doesn't exist."
Yes, that was it, Ted thought to himself. That fit perfectly; it was the elusive thought he was grasping for way back then, and now it was out in the open, visible to everyone. Now he had to decide between this possibility and what he had been calling 'the Truth' all this time.
"You know," Ted began, "ever since I came into the -- ever since I became a Witness, it seems I've been hearing things against it. Not mean things said to tear it down, but reasonable arguments that no one could adequately answer. I don't claim to know all the answers yet, but I think I'm going to have to find out for myself by looking even more fully into both sides. So I will go with you to the meeting tonight Richard, and I’ll pay closer attention than ever before. But all the same I intend to pay just as much attention to Bill's viewpoint. And soon, I hope very soon, I’ll know. But right now I'm still confused."
His answer seemed unsatisfactory to both men. Each had wanted a clear victory but had to depart on a draw for now. Bill left, and soon Ted was in the car with the Johnson family.
They didn't talk on their way to the hall. Vonnie especially seemed cold to everyone lately, especially her husband. What a change had come over her since the kids had come to live with them. Ted thought back to that fight he overheard the first night he'd slept there. Had she been right all along about the kids being a bad idea? He knew that Richard still was cruel to his children, but Ted had gotten used to it, and so had they apparently. All the spirit had gone out of them and they had conformed to a dignified silence as the only way of getting along in public. Ted knew that life together had turned out to be torture for them all, and that the 'Truth' didn't help them any. He wished he could do something to set things right and make them all happy and treat one another with respect and love. He knew that Vonnie and Richard never made love anymore because he used to be able to hear them down there as he lay in bed at night.
They no longer could stand one another.
"Why does it have to be this way?" He asked aloud to everyone's surprise as they rode along.
"What way?" Richard asked, keeping his eyes glued to the white snow falling in the darkness before the headlights.
"Why can't we talk about it to each other?"
"I think we've had enough talk for one day," Richard said sharply.
At the hall, while he was still removing his coat, David Nelson came up to him. "I want to talk to you, young man," he said, placing his hand on Ted's shoulder as his familiar sign of authority and rendering the coat-removal impossible.
"I’ll bet you do," Ted smiled weakly, noticing how he had called him ‘young man’ instead of ‘brother’.
"Before the meeting, too," David added, turning away quickly to talk to a passing brother. As it happened, though, David went off with a couple other elders and never got a chance to talk to Ted before Brother Garvias began the meeting. Ted had almost forgotten about his impending disfellowshipment until he saw David. He didn't want to be disfellowshipped. That interfered with his plan to delve more deeply into both sides of the issue. So he sat there through the Ministry School wondering what to do.
Could he really go any deeper into the issues than he had? It became evident to him that he could not. All the speakers on the platform were just rehashing the same things over and over that he'd heard a million times before it seemed. He was not likely to find better representatives of the issues than Brother Olson and Bill Jackson. And it was stupid to ask them to repeat everything again. He was rapidly approaching the dreaded decision that was to affect his entire life. His head spun from it all. The fence he was on was high, and he was losing his balance -- about to fall one way or the other into the Truth.
The second meeting had concluded, and the brother on the platform was introducing Brother Nelson for some 'special announcements'. Ted knew what that meant: his official disfellowshipping. Suddenly, blackness filled his eyes, he felt as if everyone was watching him closely, but he could no longer see them. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, almost falling. He knew he was about to faint. Grasping the chair in front of him he steadied himself as his eyes slowly began to clear just enough for him to see where he wanted to go: out the door for some fresh air. He stumbled out to the aisle just as David was shuffling his papers on the podium. He managed to grab his coat on the way out just as David began speaking.
Ted stood at the landing atop the steps outside the door of the hall, breathing in the cold, crisp air, with the snow falling heavily all about him. Ted's eyes cleared and he noticed some movement inside the van about twenty feet in front of him. He recognized the two embracing figures -- Richard Johnson and Julia Salvayez! He was too numb now to be shocked by this sight. He could write it off as the imperfections of a brother, especially since he knew Richard wasn't getting any affection at home. This convinced him, however, of the truthfulness of Paul Huberman's report concerning Julia and David Nelson, and concerning her sister Rita and Bob Morrow. That meant that Bob Morrow was an elder solely because he'd seen David Nelson doing exactly what Ted could see Richard doing now.
Ted now had three choices before him: 1) He could blackmail his way into being reinstated, becoming a ministerial servant, and eventually being appointed as an elder, enabling him to wield power within the congregation (just as Bob Morrow had done). 2) He could start a great purge of all these elders from the congregation, disbanding David Nelson, Bob Morrow, and Richard Johnson. The Society would probably reinstate him for that -- if he could prove any of it. He could also, going along these crusading lines, report Richard's child and wife beating to an appropriate agency. 3) He could just walk away, enlightened at last to the fact that everything added up to much more than just the brothers' imperfections: it added up to a make-believe "God's Organization". On this last option he could go as far as he liked, even as far as Bill Jackson, if he wanted. But he would be free to believe what he wanted; no one would punish him, turn his friends away from him, and prevent them from speaking to him because of his beliefs.
Inside the hall, Brother Nelson was not announcing Ted's disfellowshipping. Brother Garvias, who was an elder on the committee, had voted that they hold off on that course because Ted had actually done nothing wrong. Cynthia Rose was not a Witness, therefore, withholding blood from her was wrong on their part. So they all agreed to write the Society for advice since the problem was so complex.
Ted's story would've been quite different had he paid more attention to brothers like Dale Garvias: brothers who had nothing to hide and were exactly as they appeared: trusting and sincere in their faith. Dale was always there in the background -- but such is fate. This has been Ted's story, and nothing could have changed it.
Ted stood there grasping the railing, hypnotized by the falling snow, unaware of what David Nelson was really announcing: Arthur Olson had slipped into what would prove to be a swiftly fatal coma.
It was fortunate Ted didn't hear that announcement. Life was coming down too hard on him right at that moment. But gazing upward at the falling snow he had the illusion of ascending -- of climbing: climbing out of the hole he had so eagerly jumped into. It suddenly occurred to him that David Nelson and the Governing Body had only as much control over him as he allowed them to have. A year ago he did not know any of these people, so why did it matter so much what they thought of him now?
Richard and Julia had finished, and were approaching him on the stairs. He stared at them. Julia glanced over at Richard, laughed scornfully, and said, "We get more elders appointed this way!" then she ran past Ted and back into the Hall.
Richard stopped three steps below the landing and said, "What are you doing out here, Ted? Better come inside; you need all the spiritual food you can get."
Ted gave him a penetrating look.
Richard lowered his eyes. He tried to think of something more to say, but couldn’t come up with anything, so he slowly walked back into the Hall.
Alone again, Ted filled his lungs with a deep breath of frosty air, and came to a decision: this would be his last moment on the bottom.