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Doomsday, Apocalypse, and Rapture, Oh my!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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With the end of the world behind us and another soon to come this October 21st, I thought it would be fun to write about dear old Harold Camping and his erroneous end-of-the-world theories. This topic fascinates me as I am a Biology and Religious Studies double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. However, even I have to wonder how so many people could be fooled into thinking that the world was going to end back in May when the Bible does not even so much as hint toward an exact date. Quite to the contrary, the book itself clearly states that “only God in heaven knows” Matthew 24:36 and “let no one deceive you, for that day will not come” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). It is my humble opinion that the “Camping Incident” was the result of a mass brainwashing performed by an affluent speaker who happened to be in a position of authority, like the average politician.

As much as one would like to write the whole thing off as an obvious scam, in that Camping accumulated a substantial amount of money from his followers, there may be more to the story. What happened last spring was most likely a cult following of a religious fanatic who sincerely believed in his own theories. A large portion of the money was used to advertise the rapture and petition people to repent. In other words, the money collected was being recycled back into the group in order to expand the following and spread its propaganda. History shows no shortage of misguided leaders that sincerely believed their own lies, and Mr. Camping appears to be one of them. On the other hand, what about the rest of the bunch? What kind of person would readily accept an apocalypse message without any scientific cause or evidence?

Many neurologists have proposed the existence of a “God Spot”, a region of the brain linked to belief in the supernatural. Even though no such neural pathways were found that differed from those of non-believers, there is still much debate as to the origin of religion and its evolutionary significance. Several studies designed to determine the parts of the brain responsible for spirituality have had interesting results. In one such study, researchers scanned the brains of a group of devout nuns. The nuns were asked to recall an intense religious experience while their brains were monitored for any special activity (Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns, Belief and the Brain’s ‘God Spot’). It was discovered that thinking about religious experiences and God activates several areas in the brain, instead of just one. Even more fascinating, one of the many areas activated was a section that is typically associated with happiness and love. This could be why many people feel that they can enter into a “relationship” with God.

In addition to determining the source of religious belief in the present day, there is also a debate among scientists as to the evolutionary origin of belief. One hypothesis is that faith in God could have acted as a coping mechanism which enabled the primitive human to endure hardships that non-believers could not. Another theory posits that religion provided a way for our ancestors to explain natural phenomenon (Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief, No ‘God Spot’ in the Human Brain). Still a third possibility is that spirituality is a form of evolutionary baggage. It could have been the result of biochemical pathways that were once used in the primitive brain to establish rules and customs of early culture, but wreak havoc on society when their resulting ideas are taken too far.

Is it possible that religious individuals have developed their beliefs throughout life as a way to fulfill some psychological necessity? Spirituality is thus the manifestation of one’s need for a parental figure, guidance, hope, preservation of consciousness, and so on. With this in mind, a stunt like that of Mr. Camping would shock its victims on a much deeper, more personal level, unlike a pyramid scheme or email scam. In a sense, this is a manipulation of peoples’ hope and faith, intentional or otherwise.

It is easy to see why so many people sincerely believed that the world would end in May, but it is just as important to realize that the vast number of Christian believers do not accept apocalypse theories. Judaism, the foundation for Christianity, does not even have an afterlife in its doctrine. Consequently, it was really only the outliers of the religion that followed the false prophet; they may have been very desperate.

So what does the future really hold? Every generation of Jesus’s followers has claimed that they would be the last generation on Earth, and they have all been wrong. As for our own generation, we are facing environmental catastrophe, population increase, and potential epidemics the likes of which this planet has never seen before. Are we dooming ourselves into extinction by our own destructive habits? Or is this another example of the human tendency to only see the worst possible scenario?

Humankind has been obsessed with the end times for thousands of years, and it possibly began when we originally realized our own mortality. I can imagine the first thinking human to be asking himself “I will eventually die, does that mean everything around me will eventually die?” And the more advanced we become, the more we are able to postulate the exact methods employed by our bodies, our planet, and the universe around us to eventually decay into nothingness. But when will it happen? God only knows! I hear that the Mayan calendar is supposed to end in 2012.

Jessica Fostvedt About the Author: Jessica Fostvedt is a Biological Sciences Masters student at Durham University, Durham England. She studies plant cellular biology and hopes to work for a PhD in plant biochemistry or secondary metabolites.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 33 Comments

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  1. 1. MadScientist72 8:57 am 10/7/2011

    “Judaism, the foundation for Christianity, does not even have an afterlife in its doctrine.” – Yes it does. It’s called Sheol. It’s not a place of reward/punishment like Heaven/Hell, Elysium/Tartarus, etc., but it’s in the doctrine.

    Link to this
  2. 2. medimom 9:40 am 10/7/2011

    To complete the referenced scripture, 2 Thessalonians Ch. 2, Verse 3, “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, ” (New American Standard version).

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  3. 3. David N'Gog 10:12 am 10/7/2011

    It is easily explained. Everyone wants to believe they are special. It is why back in history everyone thought their nation was the centre of the world. The world the centre of the solar system- and the solar system the centre of the universe.

    It is no surprise to me that everyone thinks they will be the “special-last generation”. It is in our nature- our desire to be special. How many people believe if they keep playing they’ll be the one in 300million to win the lottery- how many actors think they will be the next Tom Cruise? Odds are against them- but people believe they are special and special things will happen to them.

    Most religious groups believe their religious group is the special “real religion” and the others are all destined for doom. Even though statistically to be the correct religion out of thousands is completely non-scientific.

    Believing you will be part of the end-of-days plays into the romantic belief we all have that we are special. That believe in being special has out-ranked science for the entirety of man.

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  4. 4. medimom 11:58 am 10/7/2011

    Considering oneself “special” because of believing the “last days” are near would be lunacy to one who is familiar with what must happen before and during the last days. Remember the four horsemen of the apocolypse? “Special” isn’t what people enduring that time period would feel.

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  5. 5. David N'Gog 12:17 pm 10/7/2011

    If you’re one of “the chosen” they believe they get to skip the worst of the apocalypse.

    - even if not. Special doesn’t always mean special in a good way. It is just that people place an over-reaching importance on their position in the universe.

    Believing to be one of those in the chosen generation- either to suffer through, or to triumph through, is an ego-stoking thought.

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  6. 6. andc39@aol.com 2:24 pm 10/7/2011

    Why do scientists continue to insist, so long after the heyday of logical positivism has passed, that spiritual matters must be framed and ‘proven’ in scientific terms? It;s just silly. Andrew Cort, Spirituality-and-Religion.com

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  7. 7. Postulator 7:37 pm 10/7/2011

    It would be nice to put religion where it belongs, in history text books. It is responsible for enormous amounts of suffering through history and in the present.

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  8. 8. scientific earthling 8:08 pm 10/7/2011

    This is a scientific magazine. Please keep religion out.

    Religion and culture keep us enslaved to the past and prevent our progress into the future. In an extremely overpopulated world, religion calls for more births and demands a ban on birth control. Their idea is to out-populate other religions.

    People claim religion provides a moral compass. Absolutely untrue. The Catholic religion claims children inherit their parents & ancestors sins, they can not claim otherwise, since their god sent his son to redeem us all of inherited sin. Pity he believed the only people in the world lived in the middle east. Religions dictate women are inferior to men, slavery is acceptable to religions, as is killing of those who don’t agree with religious dictates. Religion demands its followers vote as it dictates, destroys democracy and is responsible for the fascists governments that existed in Spain, Greece, across Latin America, the Philippines, almost worldwide.

    No this is not a religious forum. It is wrong to kill off thousands of species that inhabit this planet and fill it up with a plague of Homo sapiens; the worst species on the planet. Religion does this keep religion out of this magazine.

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  9. 9. jimfromcanada 8:11 pm 10/7/2011

    I think religious belief reassures people who are overawed by the universe, and that is a good thing. Religion is not likely to disappear and trying to get rid of it would generate the same kind of suffering that it is accused of causing. Religion does not cause suffering, but the use of religion to dominate and manipulate people does, like the use of economic theories(like Marxism and Capitalism) when they are used for the same purpose.

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  10. 10. JessicaFostvedt 9:06 pm 10/7/2011

    @MadScientist72

    Even though Sheol is thought to be the Jewish “afterlife” by some scholars, there is still speculation as to whether the word should have been translated to “the grave” or rather the state of no longer being alive.

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  11. 11. Bora Zivkovic 9:08 pm 10/7/2011

    Harold Camping says the end is nigh… again!

    http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/harold-camping-says-the-end-is-nigh-again

    Yes, this is a popular science magazine. Science definitely has something to say about culture, including about religion. It would be dishonest and cowardly to avoid discussing religion just because some people may not like what they read.

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  12. 12. medimom 8:14 am 10/8/2011

    When quoting, you must not deliberately extract portions of sentences to fit your purposes. This is a basic rule of proper journalism.

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  13. 13. JessicaFostvedt 3:05 pm 10/8/2011

    The remainder of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 simply states the conditions necessary for the apocalypse to occur (the falling away, the return of the man of sin…). One could argue that these conditions were not met in the Camping indecent.

    Also, since Camping primarily relied on numerology and the interpretation of certain Bible passages to predict the end of the world, instead of modern day events, a reference to the omens would have been irrelevant.

    Nevertheless, I apologize for not including the entire quote in my writing.

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  14. 14. Mal'achi 11:13 am 10/9/2011

    The article stated: “Many neurologists have proposed the existence of a ‘God Spot’, a region of the brain linked to belief in the supernatural…”

    JEREMIAH 31:33
    “… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts …”

    Alas, the scientific community gives the impression that they don’t believe in GOD. Yet; they talk about a “God Spot” and seek a “God Particle”.

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  15. 15. MikeB 9:36 am 10/10/2011

    One cannot blame the ancients for inventing gods a agents of creation and destruction, since this was the only agency available to them to explain observable natural phenomena. And it is understandable that this explanation — expanded, recorded and decorated with tradition — hardened into something resembling fact over the centuries.

    Now that science is beginning to offer alternative theories there remain several bars to general acceptance of them. One is that from the perspective of the average non-scientist science itself is (understandably) perceived as fallible; witness the whipsawing views on so many of the latest wonder drugs — yesterday they promised miracle cures, now they are dangerous and should be banned. And another factor which may be correlated is the declining rigor of our public academic systems which produce large numbers of students for whom scientific understanding is out of reach, making them moral equivalents of the ancients who had a psychological need for an easily definable divine agent.

    Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that both cosmologists and bible-thumping Baptists agree that there WAS a creation and that there WILL BE an end to the universe that we know. The only areas in which they differ are 1) when these events occurred and will occur; and 2) their controlling agency. The former may be irrelevant for any practical human purpose (we cannot repeal the law of entropy); and the latter is merely a niggling detail.

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  16. 16. christinaak 11:21 am 10/11/2011

    jessica, many years ago when i was an ardent fundamentalist christian i studied the bible ‘religiously’ (sorry about that). anyway, I tended to do a considerable amount of cross reading between the new and old testaments and I began to see a pattern. the jewish feasts provide the framework for the theology, and eschatology for christianity (at least the jewish component). for example the resurrection of jesus is an expansion on the passover, the receiving of the baptism of the holy spirit in Acts is associated with the feast of fruits (at which the first fruits are consecrated, as well as the first born), and the feast of ingathering is associated with the final ingathering of the faithful at the end of days when jesus has returned and everyone is brought before the throne of judgement. I should say that the theological framework associated with the jewish feasts along with the messianic tradition provided the jewish component of the synergistic amalgamation that evolved into Christianity. The pagan component was provided by the mystery religions (an example of which was Mithraism) which were ubiquitous throughout the asia minor region in the first century A.D. It is likely that Christianity actually originated outside of israel (which is why there are no early jewish writings concerning Jesus) with the influence of paganized jews (perhaps an essene influence as they were scattered throughout the region). the savior god mythology of the mystery religions meshed well with the messianic strain of judaism and it is not surprising that a hybrid could evolve. In any case, it became clear to me many years ago as I evolved, that all things are subject evolutionary principles including religion and are thus subjects worthy of scientific study and analsis. hence here is my general definition of religion: a metaphysical system of superstition with a mythological framework, that is perpetuated via cultural transmission for the relief of existential anxiety, and is epistemologically dependent on magical thinking and delusion. Another conclusion I came to over the years is that there may be receptors in the brain that have evolved a sensitivity to religious experience. further this sensitivity may have arose as a consequence of repeated stimulation over the millenia since the advent of religious thought and experience. In other words the euphoria experienced by the religious is in some ways similar to that of drug users.

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  17. 17. christinaak 11:45 am 10/11/2011

    I just wanted to add that it is no coincidence that paul’ letters are the earliest writings found (with the gospels appearing later). I think that the available evidence suggests that there was no historical Jesus. Instead I think it is more likely that the synergistic theology (combined from the savior god mythology of the mystery religions with jewish messianism) of Christianity was built around the figure of the ‘teacher of righteousness’ mentioned in the essene writings. It is very likely that the jews living in Israel never saw or heard of a Jesus of Nazareth until adherents of the new faith made pilgrimages to Jerusalem from regions outside of Palastine.

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  18. 18. psmall 12:24 pm 10/11/2011

    I have to agree with David N’Gog, I think he is on the right track. Every aspect of religion is really a factor of self import and arrogance.

    It amazes me that in a universe as vast and expaniusve as ours, where humans are so tinby and insignificant in th euniversal big picture. Our existence is just a brief flas of time that doesn’t even make a blip on the galctic time line.

    The truth of our existence is that it is meaningless. That by the time our sun becomes a red giant and consumes the inner most planets the only traces that we ever existed are going to be floating in space on Voyager like craft. Unless humans can leave the solar system all traces of us and our history will cease to exist as the earth is immolated in the corona of the sun. All traces that we or anything ewlse ever existed are going to be lost foever without a trace.

    That said, I find it absolutely amazing that people can still believe in a magical being that created this vastsness yet is concerned about who we sleep with and that we don’t malke statues depicting other gods. The arrogance of religion astounds me as well.

    Another point to make that supports his argument is how come every time you hear of people having lived “Past lives” they were always someone important, never some unemployeed homeless person they were either Napolean, Cleopatra or Joan D’Arc.

    Rdiculous, mass hysteria is what religion is.

    And While I am at it, all religions are cults, just becuase you have millions of mmebers does not eliminate the fact that Chriustianity, in all flavors, judaism, Islam and mormonism are all CULTS.

    Definition of a Cult: 1.A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

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  19. 19. psmall 12:25 pm 10/11/2011

    Also as a different footnote in the same vein as raligious delusion I have the following to add for Right Wing Christians in particular:

    Why republicans have to give up Jesus, cause if you couldn’t vote for him you can’t worship him either.

    Reasons a Republican can never vote for Jesus as a Presidential Candidate.

    1) He’s not really white.
    2) He believes in free medical treatment for the poor – Pro-Obama Care
    4) He is a socialist – he wants to feed the hungry – Pro Welfare
    5) He was a carpenter, so he would be pro-Union and a member of a Union today.
    6) He would be Pro-Life, obviously, including No Death penalty, can’t have that.
    7) He would be anti-Gun since he is the “turn the other cheek” guy (Probably would empty prisons having forgiven all criminals)
    8) He is against Tort Reform – If someone sues you give them the clothes off your back he says. (Look for turn the cheek)
    9) Jesus is Anti-Business and big banks based on his action in the Temple.
    10) Meek inheriting the earth is considered an increase in the death taxes.
    11) Being resurrected, again, he would not qualify for President without a valid birth Certificate showing him to be an American, he’s a For-in-er.
    12) He was born in a manger so he is too poor to represent the 1% of Americans that the Republicans really watch out for.
    13) He is too effeminate to be a manly republican candidate, he wears robs and has hippie hair and a beard. He looks too gay and liberal to be a real candidate for the republican party. Michele Bachman’s husband won’t stop hitting on him either.

    So WWJD? He’d be Democrat ad would vote for someone to the extreme left of Obama. He would be a complete and total socialist.

    Sad that it takes an atheist to teach christians about christianity. Especially considering that more than 90% of republicans are christians.

    PS… Partial Credit to Bill Maher for starting the list on New Rules a couple of weeks ago, I just ran with it.

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  20. 20. christinaak 1:22 pm 10/11/2011

    psmall, actually there is a combined reinforcement of psychological (egocentric), physiological (as discussed in Jessica’s article and my previous post) and cultural components that help to perpetuate religion. an individual is born into a specific culture and is indoctrinated into the dominant religion (generally speaking) from an early age (when the brain is developing and it is incredibly difficult to overcome early learning). the instinct for survival helps to reinforce the egocentric component. the euphoria (physiologically based)experienced during religious experience (which I have experienced myself a number of times in my distant past, as well as, the euphoria experienced under the influence of drugs)) assists in reinforcing the psychological attachment to one’s acquired religious belief’s (culturally based). Compartmentalization (psychological) permits the believer to simultaneously believe the irrational (which includes most religious beliefs) and the rational- that is accept an empirical, cause and effect relationship between anything that does not touch on the religious. the metaphysical component of religion provides the explanatory framework for the context of the individual’s psychological and cultural experience. Any attack on the metaphysical component becomes a threat to the psychological attachment of the individual who has also had physiological valdation of his/her beliefs through the experience of euphoria. for the fundamentalist any attack on the inerrancy of the bible becomes an attack on the validation of their own religious experience.

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  21. 21. christinaak 2:29 pm 10/11/2011

    another point I wanted to make is that the relationship between cause and effect is not a linear process and is always contextual. from general systems theory (ludwig von bertalanffy) we know that every system is both a system in itself(a whole) and a part of another system. also (I like Arthur Koestler’s notion of the ‘holon’), a whole ( a system) is more than just the sum of its parts. any system involved in a causal chain is the product of interaction between component parts, and it is impossible to predict beforehand the properties of the whole from its component parts. the more complex the relationship between interacting ststems the more difficult it is to predict what the effect will be in a causal chain (chaos theory). of course with hindsight one may analyze an event and discover the relationship between causal agents in producing a given effect. however, even the simplest events are not simple, linear cause effect relationships. in any case, my point is that it really takes an interdisciplinary approach to truly understand the phenomena of religion because of the complexity of causal relationship between the varios systems involved (for example: the brain of the individual which is composed of various systems involved in the physiological and psychological phenomena associated with religion, the family unit as a system within the larger system of a given culture to supply the religious tradition that becomes adopted by the individual). the cultural system also provides the metaphysical system and its attendant mythological framework (another system) that provides the context for the religios experience of the individual (another system). the irrational nature of the metaphysics associated with any religious system requires that the epistemological component (or system) be based on magical thinking which requires the rejection of an acceptance of an empirical cause-effect relationship when touching on religious metaphysical notions (hence the notion of faith). delusion is important epistemologically as well in order to accord reinforcement to the individual’s experience. for example one deludes oneself that they spoken with “God” or has received a prophecy directly from the overworked deity. in this case the individual knows that there experience is valid because of self delusion- a self delusion that has a purely egocentric basis (the ego is a system).

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  22. 22. psmall 3:17 pm 10/11/2011

    christinaak , What a great response, I actually had to read it twice.

    Let me translate it into one sentence, “Give up god and smoke pot.”

    Have all the euphoria without the guilt ;-)

    Seriously, I get what you are saying and it is all valid, but I was raised with religious beliefs and going to babtist churches, yet I figured out Santa wasn’t real on my own and my next logical leap was that God wasn’t either. I was probably about 6 also. I made this leap on my own without external influences, How do you explain that. I even got swats in public shool (mid 70′s) for telling a teacher that God wasn’t real.

    My wife, on the other hand, was raised Pentacostal (talking in tongues and such), and was an agnostic by the time we married, she has made her own leap (By running up thousands in Amazon charges on Books)and is now an even more militant atheist than I because she resents the brainwashing she suffered as a child, her words. In her words whe was raised to fear god, and not in a good way.

    (Like there is a good way to fear someone? How crazy is that?)

    How do you adress these?

    I see forcing religious belief on children as a form of abuse, I also see intentionally restriciting a childs education to magic and fantasy (ID/Creationism) as abuse.

    We have 2 small children and we are raising them with the belief that if they want to be religious that is their choice and their right, not ours. We are just exposing them to a wide variety of information and sources. I won’t hold it against them if they adopt a religion as long as it is of their own free will that they do so.

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  23. 23. christinaak 5:05 pm 10/11/2011

    psmall, actually it is funny that you would say that i.e. Let me translate it into one sentence, “Give up god and smoke pot.” Arthur Koestler suggested in his otherwise excellent book “The Ghost in the Machine” that world leaders should take drugs (by the way I highly recommend the book). Ironically prior to my conversion to Christianity I was an atheist, albeit an unsophistcated one. I was a psychologically vulnerable teenager at the time of my conversion otherwise it is unlikely I would have been converted. To free myself (which I did in 1987 at age 29) I basically had to deprogram myself. Under normal circumstances compartmentalization is quite successful in preventing the psychological as well as intellectual crisis that is needed to overcome religious addiction. I had a B.A. in the study of religion from ISU but I had also been exposed to scientific ideas (including neo-darwinian evolution) during my undergrad experience. It took approx. 7 years after my undergrad years for the crisis of cognitive dissonance to reach its peak. I’ll never forget the day in June 1987 that it all finally clicked and I was forever freed from the chains of religion. Incidentally, I did get high on pot that day to celebrate my new found freedom (although I have not smoked marijuana in many years I do think it should be legal). In your case I can only hypothesize that you never developed the psychological attachment (addiction to it as a coping mechanism) reenforced by the physiological experiences (euphoria), and this made it simple for you to reject religion out of hand. I can only say that I envy you, because I did undergo all of those feelings of guilt because of my naturally questioning attitude (as well as a natural desire to enjoy life). peace to you and your wife christina anne knight

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  24. 24. christinaak 6:07 pm 10/11/2011

    psmall, I am sorry I did not address your question(s) in your last post. I agree with you that indoctrination of children in religion can be a form of abuse in that it creates a situation in which the child will not be able to appropriately assimilate new information which is contrary to their religious beliefs. Some of the political problems facing society today (including abortion rights, gay rights, the adequate presentation of science education in our schools, separation of church and state) would not exist if children were not indoctrinated to accept religious beliefs unquestioningly. christianity has a built in mechanism to prevent a questioning attitude (fortunately enough people do not become fundamentalists to make our country a fascist state) and that is called faith. Faith declares that one must believe without regard to and often in spite of contrary evidence. also anything that is not of faith is SIN hence the guaranteed guilt trip if you question Christian dogma. My own feeling is that all children should be raised with a scientific world view, and that they should accord creedence to any belief or idea to the extent and degree that is supported by evidence and rational argument. As you have already surmised we all become our own arbiters of truth. If one can feel confident that he/she can intelligently defend his/her belief honestly to himself/herself then such an individual can be content. once again peace to you and yours, christina anne knight

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  25. 25. JessicaFostvedt 7:01 pm 10/11/2011

    I would like to thank all of you for contributing thoughtful and intriguing comments to this blog. I am sure many of you are atheists, but you have shown that the analysis of religious belief can be a scientific pursuit worth our time and scrutiny.

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  26. 26. collettedesmaris 8:39 am 10/14/2011

    Ms. Fostvedt,

    If one of your major studies at the university is Religious Studies, then it should be abundantly clear to you why so many people were fooled by this Mr. Camping, as you say they were.

    Your partial reference to 2 Thessalonians 2:3; followed by the allegation that Mr. Camping indulged in brain-washing people who followed him, infers the simple general theme that the end of the world is not imminent. Your quote, “let no one deceive you, for that day will not come” was an incomplete quoting of the Scriptures. As well, it is not appropriate to take a small part of the Scripture; quote it; and then run with it. Because to do so, is taking it completely out of context, and since you claim to be studying “Religion”, you in particular should know better than that by now. By quoting that very small part of 2 Thessalonians, you conveyed a very different message than the full message Paul delivered in that whole section.

    The questions you pose in your second paragraph are questions you should not have to ask; being a student of Religious study. Within the first two paragraphs, you made more than enough slanderous and defamatory statements about Mr. Camping, that you’d better hope you’re right about your allegations – people have been sued for less than what you have already said about him. I have never heard of the man, so I followed the link you provided, and read the article about him and his followers. As well, I have no idea if your accusation about Mr. Camping “accumulating a substantial amount of money from his followers” is valid or not; but I presume you abide by the Journalist’s Code of Ethics by testing the accuracy of your information from all sources; and that you’ve exercised care to avoid inadvertent error. And, as you should very well know, deliberate distortion is never permissible when gathering, interpreting, and
    reporting information for publication. But I would like to know, Ms. Fostvedt, what kind of a person do YOU think would readily accept an apocalypse message without any scientific cause or evidence? I’d really be interested in hearing your answer to that question.

    In your third paragraph, you state that “Many Neurologists have proposed the existence of a “God Spot”, a region of the brain linked to belief in the supernatural.” I don’t know where you got that bit of information, but it doesn’t exactly align with what two different Neuroscientists told me about the subject. Two Neuroscientists disclosed to me on two different & isolated occasions, that in their professional community, there is acknowledgment about a small region of the brain that is designated as simply, “God.” Not “God Spot” – just “God.” And, it is significant in fact; that they do NOT know what it’s function is; or why it is there in the brain. Subsequently, it is not a region of the brain that “links to belief in the the supernatural.” A “belief” is a conscious confidence in the truth or the existence of something; it is something believed;
    an opinion or conviction that is trusted in. In other words, it is a choice that is arrived at by coherent and conscious thought – not due to being hard-wired for belief in the Supernatural. Your theory that an area of the brain “that is typically associated with happiness and love” is a justification for “why many people feel that they can enter into a relationship with God” is absurd. Individuals who develop a sincere personal commitment to God, do not “feel they can” enter into a relationship with God. May I respectfully suggest that it would behoove you to pursue your religious studies at a different school; because they’re either not providing accurate information, or it’s on you, and you’re not learning your lessons well. Because everything you have said thus far is off target; and the questions you ask are
    the wrong ones to ask if you are well-versed in the Bible.

    It is somewhat doubtful that Primitive man had the mental faculties that were sufficient to permit him to grasp a concept such as God; or if he pondered on such things at all. When man developed consciousness, it was probably at that time that he became aware that he existed, and may have started wondering about such concepts.

    You state that: “we are facing environmental catastrophe, population increase, and potential epidemics the likes of which this planet has never seen before.” I’m here to tell you that I found this statement quite unsettling; to say the least. Please expound on what you know about the “potential epidemics the likes of which this planet has never seen before.” You have uttered a bold and disconcerting claim herein, and from my perspective, that’s what your article should have been about; since you say that with such confidence. Let the rest of us in on that information, please.

    In your closing paragraph, you said that you could imagine the first thinking human to be asking himself that question about his own death, and then wondering about everything around him dying. Again, the “first thinking human” was not capable of that kind of thought processing. You are describing the act of “thinking about thinking”, which requires a high level of consciousness that many humans today do not even possess. Better get back to school, or next time, write about something you are well-versed at.

    Primitive: 3. anthropol denoting or relating to a preliterate and nonindustrial social system
    . of or belonging to the first or beginning; original
    2. characteristic of an early state, esp in being crude or uncivilized: a primitive dwelling

    b. another word for primordial
    Of or being an earliest or original stage.
    1 : closely approximating an early ancestral type : little evolved
    . characteristic of an early state, esp in being crude or uncivilized:
    Belonging to or characteristic of the earliest stage of development of an organism or a part.

    Propaganda:
    Communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its effect. The organized dissemination of information.
    Dissemination:
    To distribute or scatter about; diffuse. Public exposure, dispersal, airing

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  27. 27. christinaak 9:12 am 10/14/2011

    ms. collettedesmaris in jessica’s defense regarding your criticism that she might be have written libelous (not slanderous) and defamatory statements (1) mr. camping is a public figure and therefore the law applies differently in this case, and (2) if you reread the first paragraph you will notice that she says that it is in her humble opinion that those misguided (my word) people were brainwashed by mr. camping. you will also notice that she is inclined to believe that mr. camping is probably sincere (as do i- although wrong) and that the money collected by his group was used to further spread his message. i also re-read the rest of her article and i think she can just ignore the rest of what you wrote. however, i do think you owe jessica an apology.

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  28. 28. collettedesmaris 9:35 am 10/14/2011

    I’ve just read a number of comments in this thread and noticed a common denominator that is unarguably the causation for the lack of understanding. You all find religion questionable and unbelievable because it is! Organized religion is not faith, it is not God. It is an institution, in a sense. If you want to learn about God, it is really quite simple: all you need to do is read and study the Bible. Organized religion is going through a “middle man”, and quite often they are in it for the money; not for the goodness. If you want to expose your children to God, just offer them the Bible to read. By reading the Bible, one can learn the story from the horse’s mouth, as it were. The Bible contains 66 authored books that combine together to deliver an integrated message from outside our dimension of time and space. I am currently studying the Bible from a scientific perspective; and what I am learning is amazing – you just wouldn’t believe it! There are a number of current day Scientists who are doing the same thing, and since we started studying the text from a scientific perspective, the discoveries we are making in an ongoing manner are astronomical, to say the very least.

    Christinaak – you say some sensible things, and you remind me of myself and the way I used to view religion. I now understand that my misconceptions were acquired by listening to people who never had it right to begin with – we receive input that is inaccurate from all directions to finally say, WTF??!! To hell with all of it! But I was always left wondering about the “God” thing – that there must be something to that book they call the Bible, because it’s been around so long and there has always been controversy about it. My basic question was: is it real, or isn’t it?
    You said: “christianity has a built in mechanism to prevent a questioning attitude”. I am not familiar with this built-in mechanism – what are you referring to? I have always questioned everything; my whole life, so I’m not quite sure what you mean there.

    As I read and study the Bible, I question everything.
    I am learning much from a man named Chuck Missler, who you can find on YouTube. He is a physicist who retired and then got into studying the Bible from this scientific perspective. What got me super interested in the Bible was his first video called “Beyond Time and Space” – you guys should do yourselves a favor and go watch just that one – if it doesn’t blow you away and give you a completely different perspective about this whole subject, then that’s okay – you just didn’t get it or weren’t ready to get it. It’s a little deep at first, but please try to hang in there. If you can get thru that one, then also watch “Beyond Perception”, “Beyond Newton”, and one other one.

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  29. 29. christinaak 10:00 am 10/14/2011

    collettedesmaris, the built in mechanism i refer to is faith. faith requires that you accept unquestioningly what the bible says even when it is contradicted by evidence (and there is a great deal in the bible that is contradicted by the evidence). faith requires that you do not doubt, because doubt is considered “SIN”. i am sure you mean well, but the only way to study religion from a scientific perspective is to treat it as natural phenomenon that is subject to natural explanation (something i do not think william james who wrote “Varieties of Religious Experience” truly understood when he suggested the need for a science of religions). as a natural phenomenon religion is subject to evolutionary principles, and one can see upon examination that religious ideas have evolved from the simpler notions associated with animism up to the more complex systems we call the world religions of today. in any case i wish you well and hope that you will read authors who are critical of religion as welas those you favor to get a more balanced understanding. yes i am quite familiar with all of the arguments presented by your side and have found them wanting (and i was a fundamentalist christian for 13 years and i have read the gospels at least 100 times although it has been 20 odd years since the last time i did so). peace to you

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  30. 30. christinaak 11:45 am 10/14/2011

    continuing the evolutionary theme, the sectarian evolution of christianity into various denominations (also found in other religions as well) can be seen as a form of adaptive radiation. you can also see natural selection at work in the evolutionary history of religion. an example is how christianity became the dominant religion in the western world through the politically motivated machinations of the roman emperor constantine. christianity was an intolerant religion and so won out by forcefully eliminating the competition of the more tolerant mystery religions. it is the intolerant nature of christianity that made it more fit to survive and so it did. ironically it did not offer anything superior in the way of doctrine or ethical content- it just killed the competition (or incorporated pagan beliefs and festivals into it to attract the pagan peoples of the time).

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  31. 31. christinaak 12:28 pm 10/14/2011

    thank you everybody, i am inspired. i have an idea for a new book that critiques “the varieties of religious experience” by william james, and at the same time presnts an interdisciplinary, scientific approach to understanding religious experience and phenomena. of course the book will totally trash mr james’ approach and at the same time it will achieve his dream for a science of religions. i even know what the title will be

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  32. 32. christinaak 4:49 pm 10/14/2011

    collette, i looked up chuck missler on wikipedia and this is what it says about him: “Charles “Chuck” Missler is an author, evangelical Christian, Bible teacher, former businessman and US Navy officer.” nowhere does it say that he has physics training, and after listening to several minutes of one of his youtube presentation it appears that he knows alot about the bible but very little about physics and astronomy. he does seem to bend over backwards to defend the bible as it is written. i have to point out that our milky way galaxy is approx. 100 thousand light years across (that is it takes light 100,000 yrs to travel the distance from one end of the galaxy to the other). light travels approx. 300,000 kilometers per second or roughly 10 trillion miles in a year. now if one accepts the genesis account one has to believe that the universe is only approx. 6000 yrs old. that would mean we can only view a small portion of our own galaxy and nothing else whatsoever (cosmology is one of my hobbies, by the way). astronomical evidence alone (aside from evidence from a number of other disciplines) indicates that to ascribe inerrancy to the genesis account absurd. you have to remember that the writers of the bible were relatively primitive men with a relatively primitive cosmology to work with.

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  33. 33. JessicaFostvedt 2:07 am 10/17/2011

    In response to collettedesmaris, there are different ways of interpreting the 2 Thessalonians quote. In one case, the person proclaiming the coming of Christ is right if his proclamation is preceded by the rebellion and lawless one. In a second interpretation, no one can foretell the coming of Christ as certain conditions must be met before Christ comes and only these will serve as proclamation. For the second interpretation, the conditions listed are irrelevant in emphasizing the main point that no man can predict the end of the world. To do so would take power away from God.
    As for my studies, I am focusing on the study of religion from a purely historical, cultural, and scientific perspective. My professors do not assume that the Bible is correct, only that it is an artifact left to us by an ancient Jewish civilization. There are many different ways of interpreting religion, and just because I decided to write this article from the perspective of an evolutionist does not imply that I have been lax in my studies. I knew that Scientific American would accept no less. I tried to make it clear, especially in my last paragraph, that I have no idea if the end of the world is imminent, only that man cannot predict it.
    You mentioned that you had never heard of Mr. Camping. Did you investigate any of the information I presented on him before you accused me of libel? As for the reference to the “God Spot”, I stated in my article that such an area of the brain does not exist. The studies I mentioned found that several areas of the brain were activated when thinking about God, which lead to a sense of euphoria or a unity with God. This was not stated clearly in my article; however, I do believe that a sense of unity with God is the result of pre-existing belief.
    As for my statement about potential epidemics, this refers to the disturbing number of drug resistant bacteria and viruses (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus for example) that we humans are creating due to the incorrect use of antibiotics. In-vitro genetic engineering also has the potential to create pathogens that would not be found in nature.
    I would also like to say that Chuck Missler is a fundamentalist creationist who does not believe in evolution, because life does not spontaneously generate in peanut butter (among other reasons, I’m sure).

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