Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Response: An Argument from Inherent Value for God's Existence

My fellow seeker at Truthbomb recently made An Argument from Inherent Value for God's Existence.

The following is my response:

Against premise one: The defense of premise one seems to be presenting either 1. a false dilemma or 2. an argument from ignorance.  If self-consciousness and moral agency hasn't been explained by natural selection, or if it is not known how natural selection produces self-consciousness and moral agency, it doesn't necessarily mean God did it.  

Against premise two: The argument implies that every human is a self-conscious moral agent, but are babies? The mentally handicapped/disabled? The comatose? Psychopaths? The insane? No.

The argument makes two seemingly superstitious claims.
  1. Humans are self-aware and make moral decisions, therefore humans transcend the material universe.
  2. An eternal, ultimate person transcends the material universe and bestows self-consciousness and moral agency on human bodies.

    These seem superstitious for several reasons:
  1. The first claim is a non-sequitur (and vague)
  2. unfalsifiable
  3. Violate Ockham's Razor
  4. make no predictions
  5. lack objective, repeatable evidence
  6. incoherent – What is the causal connection? How does that ultimate person cause human bodies to have self-consciousness and moral agency? How does it “reach in” and bestow upon our human bodies, specifically? Just by magic?

I originally thought the argument made logically contradictory claims: Inherent value is value that does not come from something else, yet God gives inherent value to human bodies.  However, I misunderstood the claims - the former means "inherent value doesn't come from objects", and regarding the latter, inherent value comes from personhood, not God, and God did not choose for inherent value to come from personhood.

Friday, August 10, 2012


As I've gone through the process of deconverting from my previous faith-based religious views, I've often wondered what in the world I'm supposed to do with my life.  If I'm not going to serve God and devote my life fully to His will, then what am I going to do? How is one supposed to live after going through life thinking I'm a child of God, chosen by Him to accomplish His purposes on this earth?

At times I would think I'd devote myself to my job.  I'd do the best I could, learn the IT industry inside and out, learn to code, try to help a lot of people, make lots of money, give lots away, and live life for my work.  I've also thought about just living for what makes me happy.  To explore, go out, go on adventures, travel, eat, drink, and be merry.  I've thought about just living normally, having a few hobbies, getting three square meals a day, 8 hours of sleep per night, flossing at least once a day.  But, as the days go by, I continue to have the desire to do something big.  Something similar, in a sense, to what I used to do.

I used to live life as a child of God as best as I could.  I read the Bible a ton, studied religious books, prayed as much as I could handle, learned and taught Hebrew, moved across the country several times, traveled to places across the globe - all for my devotion to serving God as best as I could.  Now that I don't consider myself a child of God anymore, I do not live this way.  But I still have the desire to live that way for something.  And I think I have realized (again) what that something is.

The truth.

When I was living for the Lord, I was doing it because I really believed it was true.  As I learned and changed my mind both as a believer and then as a non-believer, I did so because I thought I learned more truth.  And so, as I find myself again contemplating my life's direction, I realize that I need to continue on the path that I've always attempted to travel: the path toward truth.

I need to get psyched up again about living as best as I can for the truth, about reading a ton, not the Bible and religious texts, but my new "bibles": logic books, science books, philosophy books, epistemology books, etc.  I need to be willing to move across the country again, to travel the globe, to take risks and live my life to the fullest - all for the sake of seeking the truth. 

So, in a sense, I should travel the the same path, and still serve my "god", just not see things exactly the same as I did before.  And that the whole point: to find out what is true and what is not true - and then change my life accordingly.  But what should never change is the goal: to seek and know and do what is true.

So, I hereby rededicate my life to the truth.  Let's get 'er done.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Properties of the First Cause: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

In the book Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair attempt to defend the claim that the cause of the universe "is plausibly taken to be personal." They give three reasons for this, the second of which is the following:
"Second, the personhood of the First Cause is already powerfully suggested by the properties which have been deduced by means of our conceptual analysis. For there appear to be only two candidates which can be described as immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings: either abstract objects or an unembodied mind. Abstract objects such as numbers, sets, propositions, and properties are very typically construed by philosophers who include such things in their ontology as being precisely the sort of entities which exist necessarily, timelessly, and spacelessly. Similarly, philosophers who hold to the possibility of disembodied mind would describe such mental substances as immaterial and spaceless, and there seems no reason to think that a Cosmic Mind might not also be beginningless and uncaused. No other candidates which could be suitably described as immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings come to mind. Nor has anyone else, to our knowledge, suggested any other such candidates."
I can appreciate the authors' line of reasoning here, as it seems logical to look for a potential cause among the things that have the characteristics deduced thus far, but I see some problems with it. First of all, I think abstract objects exist due to the universe. They are made possible because of the properties of space, time, energy, matter, etc. So, if there was no universe abstract objects wouldn't exist. Therefore, I don't think an abstract object is a good choice for the cause of the universe. However, Craig and Sinclair don't think it is either, so while we seem to disagree on the nature of abstract objects, we agree that they are not good candidates for the cause of the universe.  Secondly, the existence of disembodied minds seems to be related to the mind-body problem, and as previously mentioned, I've heard there's a growing scientific consensus against the dualist viewpoint, i.e. the mind is separate from the brain and exists independently of the brain. Therefore, I don't think disembodied minds exist. (I don't have any supporting sources to cite at the moment, but neither did Craig or Sinclair cite sources supporting the existence of disembodied minds.) However, the cause of the universe came from without or "outside" the universe. So, although I do not think disembodied minds exist within this universe, do I think disembodied minds exist "outside" the universe? I have no idea. We would need evidence for that, but what would evidence for something outside the universe look like? How would evidence within this universe point to something outside of this universe? I don't know of any evidence for anything whatsoever existing outside of the universe, let alone a disembodied mind, except for the unknown cause of the universe that I have granted in this discussion.

That brings me to another point against a disembodied mind as cause of the universe. If one is going to propose a cause that comes from outside of the universe, then Occam's Razor seems to nearly eliminate the plausibility of a disembodied mind due to the extreme complexity of minds and the lack of justification for the proposal.  In my opinion, to propose a disembodied mind is to introduce a huge amount of theoretical complexity far beyond necessity, and to be unable to think of any other possible causes does not justify it. Therefore, I do not think a disembodied mind is a good hypothesis.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Properties of the First Cause

In the book Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair present and defend the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
1.0. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2.0. The universe began to exist.
3.0. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
In this post, I will grant that there was a first cause of the universe.

The authors attempt to defend the claim that the cause of the universe "is plausibly taken to be personal."  They give three reasons for this, the first of which is the following.
First, as Richard Swinburne (1991, pp. 32–48) points out, there are two types of causal explanation: scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions. For example, in answer to the question, “Why is the kettle boiling?” we might be told, “The heat of the flame is being conducted via the copper bottom of the kettle to the water, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules, such that they vibrate so violently that they break the surface tension of the water and are thrown off in the form of steam.” Or alternatively, we might be told, “I put it on to make a cup of tea. Would you like some?” The first provides a scientific explanation, the second a personal explanation. Each is a perfectly legitimate form of explanation; indeed, in certain contexts it would be wholly inappropriate to give one rather than the other. Now a first state of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, since there is nothing before it, and therefore, it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.
I'm not convinced that these two types of causal explanations are actually different.  Rather, both seem to be scientific.  To wit, the personal decision to have a cup of tea is caused by one's desires, and one's desires are caused by our brain chemistry, genetics, environmental forces, etc.  These latter causes are all caused, in turn, by evolutionary forces, the sun, etc.  So, our desires can be traced back to scientific causes; they are caused by the materials in and around us.

The first cause, however, (if I grant that it originated from outside the universe) is not necessarily a scientific cause.  Originating outside of the universe, it originated outside the realm of cause-effect relationships, the laws of physics, and virtually everything we know about science.  So, all effects can be traced back to a first cause that isn't necessarily scientific.  This does not mean, however, that the cause is personal.

The idea of a personal cause as opposed to a scientific cause seems to be related to questions of free will and the mind-body problem.  If the case for free will is weak, then the case for personal causes is weak.  Likewise, if our physical brains cause our minds (rather than our minds existing separately and non-materially) then the case for personal causes is weaker still.  I don't have any sources at the moment, but I've heard there's a growing scientific and philosophical consensus against the existence of (contra-causal) free will, as well as support for the materialist, i.e. monist (as opposed to dualist), approach to the mind-body problem. While searching for evidence of free will, I found some quotes from a famous Jewish physicist:

Albert Einstein:  I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.”  From "My Credo

And: "I agree with your remark about loving your enemy as far as actions are concerned. But for me the cognitive basis is the trust in an unrestricted causality. 'I cannot hate him, because he must do what he does.' That means for me more Spinoza than the prophets." From a letter to Michele Besso quoted here.

And: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion."  From his address to the Spinoza Society in 1932.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Uncaused Causes

If a cause came from outside of this universe, then it came from outside the realm of cause-effect relationships. So, the cause can be said to be uncaused. Because it is outside this realm, it doesn't necessarily need a cause itself. To say otherwise would be to impose the rules of this system onto something outside of it. This would apply to all hypothetical causes from outside this universe. Therefore, an uncaused cause does not necessarily have to be God.

William Lane Craig has said that this hypothetical uncaused-cause would have to be timeless, changeless, immaterial, eternal, and personal.

It seems to me, however, that one could not necessarily ascribe to this uncaused-cause ANY characteristics  found within this universe because the cause is from without the universe. All of the characteristics we know are of things within the universe.  So, I don't think Craig is justified in calling it "personal".  To do so is to impose a characteristic found within this universe upon something without this universe.

Interesting to note is how this reasoning would also apply to describing other universes. I wonder how scientists have gotten around this problem in their theories of a multiverse.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cosmological Musings

Everything is the effect of a cause.  (This is the basis for scientific determinism.)  Following the chain of causes and effects back into the distant past leads us to the big bang.  What caused the big bang?

The big bang, to my understanding, is the beginning of the space-time continuum.  Causes and effects operate in this time-space continuum. Did the relationship between cause and effect hold true outside of or before the beginning of the space-time continuum? 

Most examples of different causes that come to my mind are material; a part of the space-time continuum.  But what caused the space-time continuum?  Before the space-time continuum existed, did any causes exist?

Maybe some "thing" from outside the space-time continuum caused it. 

Is such a hypothesis necessary?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Expanding Earth

A friend of mine said he's not sure the earth is the same size as it was millions of years ago, and this is perhaps one reason the biblical flood was global.

I looked into this idea a little bit, and found it to be the topic of this strange discussion with Neal Adams (starts at the 25 minute mark) on SGU.  I also found the idea on Wikipedia.  And, I found this website with positive arguments for an expanding earth.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Story: Part 10

My Story: Index
Continued from part 9...

As I intensified my examination of the Bible, I would often watch debates on Youtube.  One of the things I often heard the non-believers say was that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."  In particular, I remember having heard this from Christopher Hitchens, and that he credited that maxim to the ideas of David Hume and Thomas Paine.  Hitchens spoke very highly of those men, and of Thomas Jefferson, too.  I was really interested in Jefferson at the time, so I became very interested in reading what Hitchens, Hume, Paine, and Jefferson had written on the topic of religion.

Other than the eloquence and wit with which Hitchens wrote, I wasn't much impressed by him.  However, I did glean several important things from him.  First of all, his propensity to quote other religious thinkers (most of whom I hadn't previously heard of) led me to discover the writings of those individuals, most noteworthy being On Miracles by David Hume and The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine.  Secondly, Hitchens taught me that if a Christian was able to prove that there was a God (hypothetically speaking, of course), they would still have all their work ahead of them to prove that that God was the Christian God (or Jewish, or Muslim, etc., in the case of a Jew or Muslim), and that the Bible was inspired by Him.

This latter idea was a significant one for me to realize because previously I had thought that my belief in God somehow lent credence to the literal truth of the Bible; that God's very existence was a reason to believe in the Bible. I learned, however, that this was not the case, for, as I learned Jefferson, Paine, and Hume believed, perhaps there is a God, yet He didn't inspire the Bible (or, not all of it, at least).  Basically, I learned that the existence of God doesn't mean the Bible is true. That's a rather simple idea, but one that I hadn't given much thought to.

This exercise in logic led me to study quite a bit more on the topic of logic.  I listened to many podcasts and an Oxford University course on the topic.  I learned just how important logic was to the pursuit of truth, and, unfortunately, how little prior knowledge I had on the subject.  I grew to really love logic and the practice of identifying logical fallacies.

One logical fallacy I learned about in particular was that of "shifting the burden of proof."  Interestingly enough, this fallacy was at the heart of why I believed in certain stories of the Bible, e.g. the Exodus.  I believed in the Exodus, in large part, because I didn't know how to disprove it.  In effect, I was essentially shifting the burden of proof away from myself, and placing it on the person who didn't believe the Exodus, attempting to force them to give me the reasons not to believe it.  However, according to the fallacy of "shifting the burden of proof," this was incorrect reasoning.  Instead, I, as a believer in the Exodus, should have had to give the reasons to believe it, not the other way around.  In short, one should only believe something because of the evidence for that thing, not because of not knowing any evidence against that thing  (for another example, see Russell's Teapot).

This and similar realizations brought to light the importance of evidence in determining truth.  I learned that evidence, and the proper interpretation of it, is really one of the main ways (if not the only way) to know the truth about anything whatsoever, let alone the truth about the Bible.  This idea is known within the field of epistemology as evidentialism.  I learned that evidentialism forms, in large part, the basis of science, history, and really all fields of scholarship relevant to my questions.

Inherent in the philosophy of evidentialism is that, when analyzing any given claim, agnosticism is the proper starting point.  In other words, one should start by saying "I don't know whether x is true," and then proceed to analyze the evidence, and follow wherever it leads.  As I applied these ideas to my belief in the Bible, I found myself often saying I didn't know what parts of it were true anymore.

This was mainly the case for the parts of the Bible that were miraculous.  The reason for this was because of the aforementioned maxim "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." (which, later on I learned was mathematically grounded in the laws of probability, viz. Bayes Theorem).  In a nut shell, this idea says that (unlike the evidence we need for natural events) we need lots of extremely good evidence to believe that in the ancient past a Supernatural Entity intervened in the physical world and performed deeds that went contrary to the known laws of nature.  Without such evidence, the miracle stories shouldn't be believed.  Natural, more common stories, on the other hand, can be justified by only a little evidence.  Therefore, of all the stories in the Bible, the miracle stories need the most evidence in order to justify believing in them.

As time went on, and my belief in the Bible started to dwindle, I began to indentify myself as a Deist.  I soon realized that my belief in God was even more foundational to my faith than what my belief in the Bible had used to be (that seems so obvious now, but at the time it was a somewhat new idea for me).  So, in order to be consistent, I started critically examining my belief in God, too.

I can remember listening to hours upon hours of mp3s of debates and audio books during my night-shift job at the shop.  The nature of my work allowed me to physically go on auto-pilot so that I could almost fully mentally engage in whatever information I was listening to.  I would really try to put myself in the shoes of both the believer and the non-believer.  It was both emotionally draining and yet deeply satisfying, and I just knew, deep down, that I had to do it.  It felt right to seek for truth in a challenging way.  It was a struggle, though, and many times I didn't know who to side with.

I became fairly familiar with the popular Christian apologists (William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, Dinesh D'Souza, Alvin Plantinga, Alister McGrath, etc.) and their arguments (Kalam Cosmological, Fine-Tuning, Ontological, Intelligent Design, Argument from Objective Morality, Minimal Facts Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus, etc. By the way- other than various reformulations of the Kuzari principle, I didn't encounter many rigorous, Jewish arguments.  I wrote about one such formulation of the Kuzari here).  I also became familiar with the popular Atheist/Agnostic debaters (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Dan Barker, Richard Carrier, John Loftus, etc).

All in all, I began to see faith differently.  Years ago I used to think faith was just knowledge that was spiritual in nature.  Now, however, I've learned to see faith as the belief in something despite the lack of evidence for it.

Some people, I also learned, are OK with having this type of faith- perhaps because it makes them happy, or gives their lives meaning.  I, on the other hand, try to believe in that which there's evidence for.  So, while my journey has led me to agnosticism, I continue to search for evidence, wondering if one day I'll find enough of it to justify having faith again.

My Story: Part 9

My Story: Index
Continued from part 8...

As I pondered the question of whether or not I should keep more laws of the Torah, I would frequently review my beliefs and their foundations, starting with my belief that God exists, and progressing up through my beliefs that the Bible was the word of God, Jesus was the Messiah, the Torah was still valid, and so on.  I would also review my life of faith, and try to determine which strategies I had previously used to help me the most in my search for truth and God's will.

One thing I determined was that prayer and fasting had helped me a lot.  Not only did they force me to keep the things of God on my mind at all times, but they were practices that I really thought worked.  I truly believed God had been hearing me and slowly answering my prayers.

Another thing I determined was that my journey from evangelical Christianity to Messianic Judaism had shown me the importance of looking into ideas that were contrary to the ones I held at the time.  After all, I thought, had I not looked into contrary ideas when I was an evangelical, I may never have became a part of Messianic Judaism.

Thus, I started praying and fasting more, as well as opening my mind to ideas that were contrary to my own.

As I would pray and reflect on things, I was often confronted with the fact that my faith (aside from my belief in God) was based on the literal truth of the Bible.  I was also confronted with just how quickly and naively I decided to believe in the Bible in the first place.  These realizations began to concern me, and eventually caused me to start re-examining the Bible from a critical perspective.

My reasoning was that if the Bible could hold up to intense scrutiny, then it really was fit to serve as the foundation of my entire faith.  And if the Bible truly was worthy of my faith, then God would show me.  I was scared, but as long as I sincerely sought for truth, I was confident that God would lead me.

But before I really began to critically examine the Bible, I had a conversation with a good friend.

One early-fall day in 2010, David and I were outside shooting hoops on the driveway.  As usual, we were talking about life, the community, and what we were learning about at the time.  I told him that, aside from some questions I had been having, things were going very well.  I said that I loved the community, and felt blessed to be a part of it.  I told him that in Hudson, we had the "best of both worlds," by which I meant that we had the best of both Christianity and Judaism in one community.  He tended to agree, but asked me about the questions I was having.

I explained to him my re-realization that everything we believed was based on the truth of the Bible, and my concern about how quickly and naively I believed in the Bible in the first place.  I told him that since first believing in it, I had examined some truth of the Bible, but not as critically and intensely as I thought I needed to do then.  I said that I wanted to try re-convince myself that what we believed was true.  He responded by saying, "as long as you're after the truth, then I'll support you."

And that was all the encouragement I needed to proceed.

Go to part 10...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Story: Part 8

My Story: Index
Continued from part 7...

Community life in Hudson was significantly different than community life at Friend Ships.

At Friend Ships, life was secluded from the real word.  We lived behind a long chain-linked fence, and, if desired, we never had to leave the compound.  Our meals were prepared for us, laundry was done for us, job duties were assigned to us, and work clothes were given to us (via donations).  Thus, in my opinion (other crew members would probably disagree), we lived very easy, simple lives.

In Hudson, however, we lived mostly normal lives.  We lived in houses or apartments, sometimes located within walking distance of Beth Immanuel.  Everybody had to work, make money, pay bills, cook, clean, and basically live like normal people.  Except we kept the Torah.

Not all of us, however, kept the Torah at the same level.  Some members decided to keep the Torah at the level of orthodox Jews (while keeping faith in Jesus).  Others kept the Torah at the level they felt personally comfortable with.  Still others didn't keep much Torah at all due to the more common understanding that gentiles (most Hudson community members were gentiles) should acknowledge the importance of Torah in both interpreting the New Testament and informing one's own worldview, but should not be considered obligated to the laws of Torah in the same way that a Jewish person is.  Throughout my stay in the Hudson community, I had belonged to each of these different "camps."

When I first arrived in Hudson, my understanding was that all people, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, were obligated to keep the whole Torah.  This idea, colloquially referred to as "One Law," was informed by passages like Ephesians 2 (which talks about there no longer being a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but rather "one new man") and Numbers 15:30-31 (which can be interpreted to mean that both Jew and gentile are obligated to the same commandments in the Torah).  Not long after arriving in Hudson, however, I changed my mind from "One Law" to something akin to what is now colloquially referred to as "Divine Invitation."

According to "Divine Invitation," gentiles were not obligated to keep Torah at the level that a Jew was obligated, but they were "invited to participate" in the practice of Torah by the call of discipleship to Jesus.  This idea was informed by passages such as Acts 15 (which seems to imply that there was a different set of rules for gentiles than there was for Jews), the book of Galatians (which can be interpreted as being directed mainly at gentiles, rather than at Jews) and Matthew 28 (in which Jesus commands the apostles to make disciples, i.e. Torah observers, of all nations, i.e. gentiles).

One reason that I became part of the "Divine Invitation" camp was that it was similar to the stance that orthodox sects of Judaism have historically taken toward gentiles.  This stance is that gentiles are not obligated to keep the Torah at the same level that Jewish people are.  Rather, gentiles are obligated (according to orthodox Jewish understanding) to another set of laws that, while still being based on the Torah and having some overlap with the set of laws that Jews are obligated to keep, is different than that of the Jewish people.  This set of laws, based mainly on the laws given by God to Noah in the book of Genesis, is known as the "Noahide Laws."  As it turns out, the Noahide Laws are very similar to the laws listed by the apostles in Acts 15 as the laws that were to apply to the gentiles.  In fact, some scholars understand the Noahide laws to be directly linked to the laws of Acts 15.  However, according to orthodox Judaism, if a gentile desires to keep more of the Torah than they are obligated (perhaps due to a great love of the Jewish people or laws of Torah), then they can convert to Judaism (by a kind of "Divine Invitation"), and thus obligate themselves to the Jewish laws of the Torah. 

As a member of the "Divine Invitation" camp, I occasionally found myself living almost like an orthodox Jew: eating kosher, keeping the Sabbath, praying daily in Hebrew, wearing tzitzit under my shirt, letting my beard grow, etc.  At other times, however, I found myself living as a gentile who kept the Noahide Laws: basically, acting like a good person.  I would slowly go back and forth, always studying, praying, and believing in Jesus, trying to figure out which path was best.

I never did figure out which path was best.  I was prepared, though, to spend the rest of my life wrestling with such questions... until a different set of questions began to take over my attention.   

That's what I'll write about in my next post.

Go to part 9...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Story: Part 7

My Story: Index
Continued from part 6...

Debi and I talked quite a bit about our new-found realizations.

One thing that started to depress me was that, if all the commandments of the Torah were still valid, then everyone I knew was breaking a lot of commandments! (At the time, I thought that all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, were obligated to keep all of the laws of the Torah.  Later, as I continued to learn, I changed my mind about this.  More on that later.)  I knew that if I saw a fellow believer committing a sin, I should tell them about it, and help them to repent.  However, after I read Restoration, all I could see was how much my friends and I were sinning!  And I felt paralyzed to do anything about it.

Since I was still on the ship heading back to the States,  had a lot of time to read, pray, and reflect on this.  I read all of Lancaster's books that we had on board, and any other "Messianic Jewish" books by other authors, too.

I didn't tell many people the details of what was going on with me.  I felt too ignorant, confused, and, due to the knowledge of all the unknown sinning going on, even depressed about it.

When we got back to the States (January of '07), I couldn't wait to get on the internet and start researching.  I found that Lancaster was a teacher at a congregation in my home state of Wisconsin, and that his congregation had a website on which several of his teachings were posted.  I immediately downloaded all of them, and put them on my mp3 player to listen to while working. (This practice I'd been able to continue for several years, and it has been the source of much of my learning.)

Two of the most influential teachings that I listened to were Lancaster's series on the book of Acts and the book of Hebrews (and several years later, on the book of Galatians).  It appears that these teachings have been taken down.  However, many similar teachings can be found at and

Needless to say, I started keeping as many of the commandments as I could.  I stopped working on Saturdays, I celebrated the Feasts, I stopped eating pork and shellfish, I wrote commandments on my door (cf. Deut. 6), I threw away my clothing of mixed wool and linen fabric (cf. Deut. 22:11), etc.  My Christian friends and coworkers were a bit taken aback, but in general they let me do my thing.

At first, one difficulty of keeping the Torah was that I was lonely (and a bit bored) doing it alone.  Well, not completely alone, but almost.  What I really wanted was a community of Torah-keepers to belong to.  So, after doing a bit of research, I decided I wanted to visit Mr. Lancaster's congregation, Beth Immanuel, in Hudson, WI.  The only problem was that I didn't have any money, and thus no way to leave Friend Ships.

One day, however, I had received some cash from a friend that I had met in Virginia.  He'd heard that I was in need, and had the generosity to send me some money.  This allowed me to take a bus to a friend's house in Texas, where I was allowed to live and work for the summer of 2007.

I continued to try to keep the Torah, and became more convinced that I needed to belong to a Torah-keeping community.

When I saved up enough money, I took the bus up to my parent's house in Wisconsin.  I informed them of my plans to visit Beth Immanuel in Hudson, and prepared myself to leave.

On sort of a whim, I thought I'd look in the Hudson newspaper (online edition) for apartments and jobs near Beth Immanuel.  Surprisingly, I found a cheap room for rent that was 2 blocks from the congregation.  Not only that, but I was able to set up an interview for the following week at an aircraft component repair station in Hudson.

"Hm," I thought.  "Instead of just visiting Hudson, I could actually move there."

And that's what I did.  I got a ride to Hudson from somebody I found on Craigslist, and moved into the room on Orange St. in Hudson just as soon as I got in town.  A few days after that, I had gotten the job at the aircraft repair station, and was attending Beth Immanuel on a regular basis.  It was August of '07.

Wow, life can change so quickly.

Needless to say, the Beth Immanuel community was a little shocked at my arrival.  However, I think they soon learned that I was sincere and not too crazy to be much cause for worry.

For the next four years, Beth Immanuel and community life was almost all that I was really concerned about.  I immersed myself in learning, reading, Torah, etc.  (I had a lot of beliefs that I needed to un-learn, as well, and then learn again, only properly)  I developed some great friendships with people who were of like-mind.  One reason I was excited to live in the community was that there were several people living there who were much more educated in Torah than I was.  By spending lots of time with them, I was able to acquire lots of information (and inspiration) that propelled me toward greater understanding and observance of Torah.

That's what I'll write about next.

Go to part 8...

My Story: Part 6

My Story: Index
Continued from part 5...

It has been a while since I read Restoration, and I don't own a copy of it anymore, but I'll try to summarize it here.

Firstly, it mentions how all of the New Testament writers were religious Jews.  As religious Jews, the writers used specific words that have specific meanings in the context of 1st century Judaism.  Some examples include, "the word of God," "good deeds," "the commandments," "clean," "unclean," "the Sabbath," "the Law," and "righteousness."  To a 1st century Jew, Lancaster argued, all of these terms were defined in the Hebrew Bible, specifically the first 5 books, known as the Torah.

Lancaster really tried to hammer this home.  "The word of God" was the Torah.  "Good deeds" were obedience to the laws of the Torah.  "The commandments" were those of the Torah.  "Clean, unclean, and the Sabbath" were defined in the Torah, and "righteousness" came from obedience to the Torah. (however, he made the distinction that eternal righteousness was only from faith in Jesus.)

To illustrate the importance of understanding words properly, Lancaster wrote about Yankee Doodle.  "Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni."  Wait, macaroni?  Why?  What does a feather have do to with noodles?  Well actually, Lancaster taught, macaroni could refer to a style of dress or manners.  Nowadays, macaroni is a kind of noodle, but back when Yankee Doodle was penned it was something else.

And so it goes with words of the Bible.  Modern Christianity often has different definitions of the words that Lancaster said were defined in the Torah.   For example, in Modern Christianity "the word of God" is Genesis to Revelation, and, due to Jesus fulfilling some of the commandments of the Old Testament, there's an emphasis on the books of the New Testament.  This, however, was not how the writers of the New Testament defined "the word of God."  Rather, they would have defined the "word of God" with an emphasis on the Torah.

Another thing that Lancaster hammered home was that the "word of God will stand forever."  To a Christian, this point sounds entirely reasonable.  However, using Lancaster's specific definition of the "word of God," i.e. the Torah, his point sounds very different.  "The Torah will stand forever."  Implicit in this statement is that none of the Torah will be done away with.  None.  Not ever.  Not even by Jesus.  And not by Paul, nor by Christianity.  And Lancaster supported this idea with a passage from Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 13 talks about a prophet who may come in the future and lead the Israelites away from worshiping the true God.  How would that prophet lead the Israelites away?  By causing them to forsake the commandments of God.  And if such a prophet comes, the Israelites were to basically do two things.  One, they were to hold-fast to God's commandments.  And two, they were to put the false prophet to death.

Implicit in this passage is that true prophets lead the Israelites to obedience to the commandments of God.  Thus, Lancaster developed the following argument:

Premise 1: "The commandments" were those of the Torah.
Premise 2: True prophets lead the Israelites to obedience to the commandments.
Premise 3: Jesus was the Messiah and thus a true prophet.  The apostles were true prophets.
Conclusion 1:  Therefore, Jesus and the apostles led the Israelites to obedience to the commandments of the Torah.

That is the main argument in the book.

To Christians unfamiliar with the laws of the Torah, this argument may seem quite benign to typical Christian theology and beliefs.  However, it's actually not.  To illustrate, the argument implies that Jesus and the apostles taught to keep the Sabbath (from Friday night to Saturday night), the Feasts (Passover, the Day of Atonement, Pentecost, Hannukah (cf. John 10:22), etc.), the dietary laws (kosher and non-kosher), the sacrifices (bringing animals for ritual slaughter by the priests in the Temple), etc. etc.  As should be obvious now, these laws are not part of typical Christianity.  Rather, Christianity typically teaches that these laws have been done away with by Jesus' death and resurrection.  However, if Lancaster's main argument is correct, then Christianity is wrong in its teachings about these laws.

Most of the pages in the book are used to defend Lancaster's argument from objections that Christians may have.  For example, Acts 15 seems to do away with the food laws of the Torah.  Or, Colossians 2 seems to do away with the Sabbath, feast days, and food laws.  Or Hebrews 8 seems to do away with the Old covenant, the Sabbath, and the priestly laws.  There are several more.  Galatians comes to mind.  What do we do with these passages?

The answer, according to Lancaster, is that we need to reinterpret them correctly.  We need to re-examine those difficult passages in the light of their 1st century Jewish context, and in light of his main argument of the book (above).   Ultimately, those passages (and all of the New Testament, for that matter) needs to conform to Lancaster's main argument.  In other words, those passages need to be understood as promoting obedience to the commandments of the Torah.  If they cannot be reinterpreted and understood as doing so, then unfortunately those passages are wrong.  (Or, their correct interpretation has been lost, is unknown, etc.)  It's that simple.  "The Torah will stand forever."

Now, that's not to say that all of this is actually simple.  It's not.  And at the time, I became very confused.  My world was turning upside down, and I didn't know what to do.  Who could I talk to on a boat full of people with typical, Christian beliefs?  And what commandments was I supposed to do?  Was I to start keeping the Sabbath?  Eating kosher food?

That's what I'll write about next.

Go to part 7...

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Story: Part 5

My Story: Index
Continued from part 4...

The journey home from Israel was quite eventful.  We had some major engine problems, an injured crew member, an emergency stop in the Canary Islands, crew members quitting to fly home to the States, and some problems with the Spanish government, who put our crew on house arrest in the port of Tenerife.  When it was all said and done, the trip lasted about 2 weeks longer than it should have.

All that extra time wasn't a problem for all crew members, however.  Some of us (myself included) quite welcomed it.  I didn't have much else going on in my life, anyway.  Not until I started learning more about Messianic Judaism.

One evening, my friend Debi started talking to me about the Sabbath.  She said that she thought believers should keep the Sabbath.  I asked why.  She then gave me a book, and asked me to read it.  She said it had really gotten her to think about the commandments of the Old Testament, and how they might still be relevant for Christians today.

The book was called Restoration, by D.T. Lancaster.  I quite confidently took it from her and said, "Ok, Debi.  I'll read it."  But not at all did I expect it to influence me.

As soon as I began to read it, I realized that, if it was true, then I needed to undergo a significant paradigm shift.  Before I read that book, I understood that some of the laws of the Old Testament had been fulfilled by Jesus, and thus no longer were meant to be practiced.  Ever.  They were gone for good.  After I read that book, and several other similar ones, however, I understood that none of the laws of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the sense that they no longer were meant to be practiced.  How did this happen to me?

Just before reading that book, I had come to a very meaningful realization, which I had prayed quite a bit about.  My prayer was, "God, what's the one thing you want us to be concerned with?  What's the most important thing on Your priority list?"  The answer came when I understood the following argument (at the time, I didn't express the argument this way, but now, after having taken a course in logic, I try to form arguments like the following).

Premise 1: The most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (and the second is like it, etc. etc.)
Premise 2: To love God means to keep His commandments (1 John 5:3, John 14:15).
Conclusion:  Therefore, the most important thing is to keep His commandments.

In other words, I realized that God wanted obedience above all else. (keep in mind, I realized this before I read Restoration.)

This was a big realization for me.  First of all, to a charismatic, evangelical-type Christian, it sounds totally legalistic, and Christians usually avoid legalism like the plague!  Second of all, it wasn't what I had always been told was the most important thing, i.e. faith in Jesus.  However, I think I was able to reconcile and put behind me these two concerns when I reconsidered what faith in Jesus was.  I started to see it as a form of obedience in and of itself.  Faith in Jesus, I reasoned, could be seen as a form of obedience to the commandments "Repent, and accept Jesus into your heart."   According to this understanding, obedience was the foundation of faith in Jesus.  Obedience brought salvation through faith in Jesus; it was the root of faith itself!  So, after reasoning through these issues, I was even more convinced that obedience should be my highest priority.

However, (still before I read Restoration) something was really bothering me.  It was the question "well, what commandments do I keep?"  Surely, if obedience to God's commandments was the most important thing, then there had to be a list of them somewhere.  I didn't know of any list, per say, except for the commandments that were mentioned throughout the New Testament.  (I didn't really consider the commandments of the Old Testament)  So, I started reading a brand new New Testament with pen in hand, and underlined every single sentence or fragment that could possibly be considered some sort of commandment.  If the verb was an imperative, I underlined the sentence.  I also started to write out those sentences in list form, which grew to several pages very quickly.

As I did this, I noticed that many of the commandments of the New Testament were pulled from passages of the Old Testament.  They were direct quotes.  So then my question became, "what commandments of the Old Testament are still in effect, and which ones have been fulfilled?"  I was beginning to think that I should err on the side of caution, and keep more commandments than necessary, rather than keep less commandments than necessary.  Honestly, I wasn't really sure where to draw the line.  And that was about the time that I read Restoration, which spoke directly to that very issue.

One of the main premises of Restoration is that the New Testament has been grossly misinterpreted by the Church, mostly as it regards the commandments of the Old Testament.  Indeed, if the conclusions of the book are true, then the Church has been very wrong about the commandments.  But how was I convinced?  What arguments changed my mind?

Those are what I'll write about next.

Go to part 6...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Story: Part 4

My Story: Index
Continued from part 3...

I arrived back at Friend Ships in the summer of 2006.

When I got there, I was expecting to set sail for Israel almost right away.  However, it turned out we had a bunch more work to do before we could leave.

I was part of the loading crew.  I worked in the warehouse making pallet-loads of cargo and marking them for proper storage on the ship.  We loaded several hundred pallets of clothing, medical supplies, toys, building material, and other stuff.

The ship was an old ammo ship from World War II.  It was a bit longer than a football field, and housed a crew of 40-50 people.  We repainted it before we left, and finally set sail in the fall of '06.

I shared a small room with 3 other guys.  It had 2 sets of bunk beds and a small sink.  The bathroom was down hall.  Two of my roomies worked in the engine room, and the other worked on the bridge.  I worked out on the deck crew.

We worked 7 days a week.  The deck crew ran an 8am-5pm shift.  The engine room and bridge crews, however, ran 3 rotating shifts, 24 hours a day.  There was the 12-4 shift, the 4-8 shift, and the 8-12 shift.  Whichever shift you had you worked both the AM and the PM hours, e.g. the 12-4 shift worked both 12am - 4am and 12pm - 4pm.  So, you'd have 4 hours on, 8 hours off, 4 hours on, 8 hours off. 24/7.

It took us over a month to get to Israel.  The ship was slow, the weather was bad, and... the ship was slow.  I remember being out at sea and seeing much bigger cargo ships sail past us at 3 times our speed.  I think our average speed was around 10 knots, which is a little faster than 10 miles per hour.  Sometimes you'd look out over the rails and wonder, "are we even moving?"  However, the constant knocking of the engine assured us that we were at least trying to move.

Life at sea was very simple.  It was methodical.  It was slow.  It gave you time to read, to sit, to talk, to play games, to watch movies.  I did a lot of reading and praying.  Actually, I don't think I've ever prayed more than that in my entire life.  The vast, ocean views inspired much prayer and reflection.  I really loved that part about sea life.

When we got to Israel, it was sometime near the Day of Atonement, i.e. Yom Kippur.  I must admit, though I prided myself on reading and knowing the Bible, I didn't know much about the Day of Atonement, nor any other Jewish holiday for that matter.  I knew they were explained in the Bible, but they were in the Old Testament.  At the time, I didn't care much for most of the Old Testament laws.

I had been to a Messianic Jewish Passover meal once or twice before, but other than that, I was pretty ignorant about Jewish practices.  So, when the crew was allowed to get off the ship and do some site-seeing during the time of the Feast of Booths, i.e. Sukkot, I didn't know what to expect.  I do remember thinking, however, that if only the Jews believed in Jesus, then they could put away the laws and practices of the Old Testament and get on God's program for today, the New Testament.  Oh, how zealous and naive I was.

We spent about 40 days in Israel.  We had encountered some delays, and for the most part, everyone loved the opportunity to be there and help.  We got to travel, make some Jewish friends, eat at several nice, kosher restaurants, and, of course, spend time in Jerusalem.  Actually,  one of my most memorable experiences in Israel happened in Jerusalem.  But that story requires a bit of setup...

At that point in my faith journey, I was extremely interested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I had wondered if I ever was baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Some Christians said that all Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit when they first believed in Jesus and accepted Him into their hearts.  Other Christians said that not every Christian gets baptized in the Holy Spirit, but rather God gives it to those who ask and seek after it.  I found myself adopting the latter view.  So, I made it a top goal of mine to pray that God would baptize me in the Holy Spirit.  In the book of Acts, those who were baptized in the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues immediately afterward, as a kind of sign or proof that they indeed had received the baptism.  So, that's what I prayed for.  I can remember being down in the bowels of the ship somewhere, all by myself, and praying for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Then, I would let my mouth go limp and hope that God would take over and cause me to speak in tongues.  At one point, I thought it may have started to happen to me, but then realized my mouth was moving due to the swaying of the ship.  Dangit!  So close!

One day, a group of us were walking around Jerusalem, just bumming around and hanging out.  Somebody decided to take a turn down a street that very few people were walking on.  This led us to some stairs, a few doorways, and eventually to a big room where some people were gathered.  We asked around and found out that we were in the traditional "upper room" from the book of Acts.  The "upper room" is the place where the disciples were gathered when, during the holiday of Pentecost, i.e. Shavuot, they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit!  Surely, I thought, God was telling me that I'd soon be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  I can remember being very excited about it.  It never happened to me, however.

Go to part 5...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Story: Part 3

My Story: Index
Continued from Part 2...

I ended up going back home to Wisconsin.  I moved back in with my parents, and stayed in a room in the basement.  

Honestly, I wasn't really sure what to do.  Of course, I prayed.  And I read-- a lot.  But, I didn't know what else to do!  I would go to the library and to church, but all my Christian friends were in college, so I'd get bored and lonely.  It was a tough time for me.  I struggled with the party-life of my non-Christian friends, and of course, I struggled with the temptations of lust.  I had some wild life-swings from one end of the spectrum the other- from days of prayer, study, and fasting, to nights of drinking and revelry.  It was very emotionally draining...  I did a lot of repenting.

Eventually, my parents made me get a job.

While I was busy being all religious, they were debating whether or not to start charging me rent.  They eventually did charge me.  So, I got a job as a server at a local restaurant (I didn't have a car, so I needed a job close enough to walk to...).  I spent several months just working, praying, hoping, and looking for something, waiting for some sort of opportunity.

My mom was getting anxious.  She said I needed to make a change, that I needed to do something else.  She noticed my wild swings from uber-pious to hung-over and annoyed with life, and I knew she was right.  So, I re-examined my life and beliefs, and realized how much I looked up to the Bakers.  I told my mom about them, and she was intrigued.  Needless to say, however, it was a big surprise to her when I decided to go visit the Baker's ministry in Mozambique, Africa.  Not exactly was it what she had in mind, but it got me motivated and out of the house.

Africa came and went like a dream.  It was a three week trip, full of prayer, new friends, singing, dancing (during African worship services, of course), and new experiences.  I was hoping to see miracles, but I didn't see them.  One of my main motivations to go to Africa, actually, was to see miracles.  I longed to see them.  However, they didn't happen - well, at the very least, not that I noticed.

Nevertheless, I arrived back home with a renewed vigor and good memories.  I remember sitting on the couch in my parents house telling my best friend about the trip saying, "less than 24 hours ago, I was sitting in the back of a pickup with a bunch of African orphans, singing songs under the stars as a pastor drove us through the African bush."

Wow, life can change so quickly.

Not long after my return did I start working again - back at the restaurant, saving up money for my next adventure.  I got a call from a doctor I had met while working at Friend Ships.  He asked me if I'd be willing to house-sit and dog-sit while he and his wife did medical-missionary work in Africa somewhere.  He said he wouldn't charge me any rent, and I could work on his mother-in-law's horse farm on a mountain in the Appalachians.  I said "heck yes," and left Wisconsin for Virginia in a matter of weeks.  Life was exciting again, and I was glad to be out of my parent's house, doing something.

Unlike my time in Africa, time in Virginia passed more slowly.  It spanned a few months, and allowed me to gather my thoughts and explore more of life on my own, out from under the pressure and influence of my parents and old friends.  I continued to read and pray, and I worked (a little, on the farm), but not much was going for me.  As the end of my stay drew near, I was getting anxious for something to come up, some sort of opportunity.

It came when my friend Debi got a call from one of our Friend Ships friends (Debi had been in Friend Ships, too).  She was asked if she'd be willing to come back to Friend Ships and sail on the next mission trip to Israel.  She was super excited, and told me about it.  We both decided to go, and couldn't wait to leave.  We were packed up and out of Virginia in no time, on our way back to Friend Ships and, eventually, on to so much more.

Go to Part 4...

My Story: Part 2

My Story: Index
Continued from Part 1...

Working for Friend Ships was a truly life-changing experience.

It allowed me to be around fellow believers all the time, which really led me to study and practice my faith intensely.  I remember putting in long days of volunteer work while listening to sermons on my mp3 player, and staying up late nights while reading the Bible, Christian books, websites, biographies, etc.  I especially loved the real-life stories of answered prayers, healings, and living by faith.

At that time, my prayer life was really taking off.  Especially after I read authors like E.M. Bounds, I would set aside large chunks of time to lose myself in prayer.  In those days it felt easy to get up early before work and get on my face before the Lord.  I would pray about my friends, my family, miracles, provisions, lost souls, everything!

My theological views were getting increasingly more charismatic.  I preferred going to Pentecostal churches where the worship got a little wild.  I wasn't that crazy of a worshipper, especially in public, but I liked the emphasis on prayer and the acceptance of praying in tongues.

I was young and naive at the time, and I thought praying in tongues was quite great.  I hardly prayed in tongues out loud, however.  When I did it, I was quiet, unless I was alone.   At times it felt really good, like I was able to express things that were deep inside of me, things inaccessible by real words.  It was occasionally a very emotional experience for me.  I can remember times of being alone while doing it and sincerely laughing or crying.  It was powerful, and, looking back, quite strange.

Toward the end of my first 6 months at Friend Ships, I learned about Heidi Baker, and her ministry called Iris Ministries.  This woman just knocked my socks off.  I was truly inspired by her life, and that of her husband.  They were super charismatic, and totally on fire for Jesus and mission work.  And they lived by faith, which was big for me.  Not only that, but they lived by faith in Africa, and where it was poor.   That really got my attention.  I was living by faith in the richest country in the world.  How hard could that be?  We have plenty here!  But Heidi and Rolland (her husband) Baker were living by faith in the poor regions of Africa.  Now that took a lot of faith!

I decided I needed to live more like the Bakers.  So, I left Friend Ships.  I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, but I knew it was going to be faith-centered, prayer driven, and aimed at the goal of spreading the love of Jesus to the world.

Go to Part 3...