Sunday, September 29, 2013


“I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night.
—The Book of Proverbs
Late summer sunset  [Flickr page]
With its moody poetry, captured wonderfully in the King James translation, the seventh chapter of Proverbs puts the setting for a foolish young man’s seduction away from wisdom “in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night.” Those who look back on the Hebrew Bible through Christian lenses can easily see in the passage a warning against descending into sin, which Christianity compares to a sense of spiritual darkness. Ephesians 8 makes that connection, urging readers to “walk as children of light” and avoid the “unfruitful works of darkness.” Jesus is depicted as telling followers to let their light shine before men, and promising that their bodies will be full of light if they avoid having an evil eye. The first Epistle of John speaks of walking in the light, as God is in the light. In all of this, the darkness is where evil lurks, where goodness and God, or at least Wisdom, are absent.

Alcatraz under a darkening sky  [Flickr page]
Another ancient specter in the dark recesses of human imagination is death. Long has it loomed, along with the animals and enemies that could induce it prematurely, outside the feeble circles of firelight that people erected against the night. The hero of the 4,000-year old Epic of Gilgamesh admitted his fear of death, lamenting that he would someday enter the Netherworld and “lie there sleeping all down the years.” So, he cried,
Let my eyes see the sun and be sated with light!
The darkness is hidden, how much light is there left?
When may the dead see the rays of the sun? [Tablet IX]
It is reminiscent of the way King Hezekiah lamented his death in Isaiah 38. “From day even to night wilt thou make an end of me,” he complained to God, facing the wall from his bed. Hezekiah knew what awaited him, and his conversational relationship with the God of Israel did nothing to make him relish the prospect:
I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world. [Isa. 38:10-11]
God gave him an extra fifteen years, but night came eventually regardless. He went to the same place as Job and the billions of others whose brief candles have burned out, “to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness” (Job 10:21-22). As Gilgamesh had put it long earlier, “Only the gods dwell forever in sunlight” (Yale Tablet).

Big Dipper at dusk  [Flickr page]
Now we sit in our evenly lit houses before glowing screens and drive through bright cities, and we forget the impact of the darkness on our ancestors. For them, the flickering glow of fires and fat lamps did little to keep away the terrors of the night.

I mused about these things last night while driving through dark woods and fields of my rural home in the Inland Northwest, where the lights are pinpricks dotting hillsides, glimmering faintly behind trees. Fall Equinox is now just past, and the nights are as long as the days, soon to be longer. The stove is already burning wood that I harvested from dead trees in the hot bright forest of just a few months ago.

But we have lights, a good generator for when the power fails (as it does at least a few times per year), plenty of backlit screens to engage our attention and soak our brains and retinas in brightness. The coyotes sometimes shriek and howl outside, but there are sturdy walls between us. As for evil, it now stalks well-lit boardrooms and halls of power much more than the forests.

Even the primal force that spawned religion and keeps people in its thrall, the fear of death, has largely abated in my imagination, and in those of many others. We have come full circle with the Preacher of Ecclesiastes: “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Love, hatred, and envy all perish, says the Preacher. “Go thy way,” he advises his fellow mortals, “eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart” (Eccl. 9:5-7).

And so, even without any wine, the inky gloom feels peaceful, embracing, calm. Summer went on long enough; it is time for the light to abate, for the cool to creep back into the air.

The lights of West Maui from Molokai  [Flickr page]
Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out the entire set (and others following the “darkness” theme) on Flickr. All are Copyright © 2013 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Invitation to Understanding

Book review: Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Chris Stedman. Beacon Press (Boston, 2012).

While walking through a lava tube in Hawaii, I came across a family alternating between English and a language that sounded completely unfamiliar to me. Two young men in their teens or early twenties were guiding their elderly grandfather, and they thanked me when I shone my flashlight on the various rocks and puddles in their way.

I watched and listened as they spoke in respectful tones to this frail old man, and as their father asked how grandpa was doing on the walk. What culture is this, I wondered. From the hair and features, I wondered if they might be Italian or Romanian, but the language had not the slightest resemblance to anything I’d heard. The young woman in the family cast her eyes down demurely as she walked past me, but she was dressed in Western fashion, modest but with nothing covering her beautiful black hair, so I dismissed my fleeting thought that they might be from the Middle East.

As they walked to their vehicle, I could not help myself. I nodded and smiled to the father and walked over, saying I wondered if he might answer a question for me. He smiled back and said sure. “I was admiring how respectfully your sons treated their grandfather. Would you mind telling me where you are from?”

“Previously?”, he asked, grinning. We’re from Cleveland, you moron, he might well have been tempted to say. I nodded. Then he hit me straight in the soft underbelly of my prejudices with his answer: “Iran.”

Trying not to show my surprise, I repeated how evident it was that his family treats its elders with respect. “Absolutely!”, he said, “That is the time of life when they need our attention the most.” We wished each other a good day, and I walked away just a little bit wiser than I had been.

Were they Muslims, or just immigrants from an Islamic country? I’ll never know. But, despite that and my clumsiness, I think this is the sort of interaction the interfaith dialogue advocate Chris Stedman would applaud. He spent some years getting to know and love Muslims like “a young woman who was motivated by her Muslim faith to work for the economically disadvantaged” in Chicago (p. 8). “After years of witnessing the ugliness that arises when rejection-based beliefs lead to the rejection of people,” Stedman now seeks “out ties that will bind us together” (p. 15).

He is gay and carries the scars of self-loathing from some years of trying to reconcile his sexuality with a conservative Christianity he once held dear. He is not naïve about “the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world,” nor does he dismiss the role that religion has played throughout history (p. 8). But the great insight that he reveals in this book, along with a gripping personal story, is that religion is part of what makes us human, not just an abstract concept to be dismantled and discarded.

I fear that some atheists are doing what I used to do in my antireligious days: engaging in monologue instead of dialogue. After years of dismissing religious people outright, I realized that I was so busy talking that I wasn’t listening. I was treating religion as a concept instead of talking to people who actually lived religious lives. [p. 9]

I’ll be honest: This was a challenging book for me. I have a deep and lingering contempt for the way fundamentalist Islam degrades and constrains the people under its thumb, for its intolerance of dissent and pluralism, for its backward, demeaning view of women. The sight of masked black-clad Saudi women walking (because they cannot drive) while their husbands attend the local university fills me with dread, both for them and for the damage being done around the world by the toxic ideology foisted on their families.

But I will acknowledge that Stedman has one important advantage over me in his approach to Islam: He actually knows and respects some individuals who believe in it. “These were people I cared about,” he says of the Somali immigrant neighbors and co-workers he encountered in Minnesota, “and their beliefs mattered deeply to them” (p. 97). So Stedman, despite having become an atheist and gone through a period where he viewed all things religious with scorn, made those beliefs matter to him, too.

At a signing, smiles all around. Photo provided courtesy of the author.

Some of the religious people I care deeply about are the handful of friends I’ve managed to hold on to from my old fundamentalist church. A while back, one of them told me almost apologetically how he still believes in God and a savior sent for the forgiveness of his sins. The preachers call it confessing your faith, alluding to the difficulty of the task.

I assured this dear old friend that I respected his beliefs as much I enjoyed our candid discussions. He knows my own contrary perspective, of course. That’s one advantage to writing books and blog postings: When people can just look online to see what you think, you become much less compelled to say so in person.

The encounter was not that different from the one Chris Stedman had with “a deeply committed Christian staff member” at the Interfaith Youth Core where he worked, as an atheist, in Chicago. She told him, respectfully and carefully, that she did worry about his salvation at times. Yet she admitted that she was glad to have his perspective in the organization: “I feel like I’d lose out on something if you became a Christian again” (p. 132).

It was quite an internal conflict for her, and one I remember myself as a struggling believer who was seeing friends leave our childhood faith: Good for them for acting on their sincere convictions, but what about their salvation? What about mine? What really made us any different?

Stedman’s response was a gleaming alloy of grace and honesty: “Thank you. I mean, you could’ve kept that to yourself, but I’m glad you didn’t. And you must know that I, as an atheist, think your beliefs are probably wrong, too” (p. 132). Sure she did, but the two of them agreed that they had an amazing amount in common.

It turns out, really, that we all do. Stedman’s engaging combination of a great story and gentle invitation to understanding gives all of us, myself included, a much-needed reminder to focus on that instead of our intangible differences about invisible things.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Evolution Exposure

This June, during a quick trip to Seattle, I had lunch with Valerie Tarico. She is an ex-Christian psychologist who works to “heal a world that is being fractured by cultural and religious zealots,” as she puts it on her website. Also joining us at the table were two other refugees from religion, Rich and Deanna Joy Lyons of the Living After Faith podcast. These are smart, loving, delightful people, and our time together was a memorable one full of laughs, ideas, and shared experiences.

On the shoulders of giants. And these
are just some of the print books we cite.

Now Dr. Tarico has published an article about my faith story and the background of Evolving out of Eden, a book I co-authored with Dr. Robert M. Price about the conflicts between evolutionary science and Christian theology. Her introduction and questions in the Q&A that follows were insightful and thought-provoking, and the article is getting wide exposure on,, and the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Between them, the article has nearly 2,000 Facebook “likes” and 300 tweets.

And there are a lot of comments by readers, too. These three links go to the different editions of the article with their respective sets of comments: Alternet, Salon, and the RDFRS. I’ll get back to those in a minute.

The book is also getting attention from John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity blog. It is running an excerpt that goes into some theological depth about a nuance to the evolution vs. Christianity conflict, significant but little discussed: How could the half-human, half-divine nature of Jesus possibly be rationalized scientifically?

The problems aren’t just scientific: An evolved or even half-evolved Jesus would’ve had all the supposedly sinful natural inclinations that Christianity gives humans so much grief about—lust, anger, etc.—because he carried Mary’s human DNA and a supposedly divine portion that would have needed to be defective by design in order to match up with it. Besides all that, there is the issue of divine deception: Jesus wouldn’t be a man without a Y chromosome faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of human paternal ancestors. What a mess, and that’s just from this one small part of the overall problem that makes this book cover 340 pages and eighteen chapters.

Now, about those comments. I am amazed at how much people will say based on so little actual information. And I’m not talking about the silly “I didn’t come from some monkey” or “you weren’t there when the world was made” nonsense that pervades all public discussion of evolution in the United States, including in the pages of comments that follow these articles. That is easily disregarded by anyone who has honestly read a real science book on the subject. More vexing are the assumptions people flippantly make about all the solutions to the Christanity-vs-evolution puzzle that I must have missed, the sophisticated metaphorical reading of the Bible that muffles its inconvenient passages into a mystical, benign chant thrumming in the background.

The current top comment on the Alternet edition is representative of this. It complains, “One of the most frustrating aspects of ‘conversion’ stories like these is the lack of understanding of Biblical exegesis even after the conversions. In other words, even after a conversion from Christian to atheist, the converted still do not understand the Bible and the literalists’ misinterpretation.”

Hmmm. Perhaps my co-author’s two PhD degrees—one in the New Testament and the other in systematic theology—provide some counterbalance to the two Bible courses the commentator says he took in college, if not some glimmer of understanding about biblical exegesis. Certainly reading our book, skimming its Table of Contents, or even glancing at this paragraph from page 9 would address his concerns about our being trapped in literalism:

The Bible, of course, is the beginning of sorrows for the theistic evolutionist. In many cases (indeed it is fast becoming the rule) Christian evolutionists are not merely accommodating the reading of the Bible to the facts of science. They seem ready to accept Bultmannian demythologizing of the Old Testament, admitting it is marked by obsolete cosmology and mythical tales from the ancient world. (Rest assured, they comfort their readers, who can see what ought to come next; the gospels are in no such danger. But aren’t they?) In this way they claim (as Rudolf Bultmann did) not to be rejecting scripture but rather to be reinterpreting it. This distinction, they hope, will enable them to “sell” evolution to their evangelical brethren, suspicious as they are of the product. But one must suspect also that they are trying to cover their own posteriors, rightly sensing that their evangelical membership cards are in imminent danger of being canceled.

Another commentator (“Mike V” on Salon) is concerned that we former fundamentalists “think that the only legitimate form of religion is essentially the fundamentalist one. That is why they just can’t grasp the sophisticated and interesting theologies that are out there. It’s nice that he actually took the time to even look at [John] Haught, but his cavalier dismissal of it speaks volumes.” This is another article-skimmer who I would love to see become an actual reader of the book. Or perhaps just a glance at our index would help his own cavalier dismissal of our work: We have twenty separate index entries for Haught, John, citing his works on about as many pages. Haught is just at one end of the spectrum of science-savvy theologians we’ve identified, with, for example, the “evolutionary creationist” Denis Lamoureux near the other. (He gets 33 index entries, in case you were curious.)

Most baffling of all are those commentators who think I somehow co-authored a book subtitled Christian Responses to Evolution without being aware of, well, Christian responses to evolution. Like “kenkapkk” on Salon: “But why is Suominen desperately clinging to an attempt to reconcile creationism with evolution? It’s the THEOLOGY that’s a mess. Has he taken time to read the plethora of progressive Christian scholars or studied the evolution of the New Testament as a literary-historical document that is primarily mythological?”

Uh, yes. Yes, we have. I conclude this posting (below the update) with a copy of our References section. It’s in really small print, because there are 180 entries, but you get the idea.


Update—April 30, 2014: When Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist podcast shared a link to the article on Facebook, the comments from his audience were a pleasant contrast. My favorite, from Sara Greenwood: “I’m such a sentimental sap. I was relieved when I got to the part about his wife. Apparently they are very well suited to each other.” Yes we are, Sara, and I’m a sentimental sap, too.

I sent Seth a note of appreciation and, to my delight, that wound up resulting in an appearance on his April 29, 2014 episode with co-author Bob. With a million downloads of his podcasts every month, a full travel schedule, and a regular career besides, Seth is a very busy and prominent figure in the secular movement. I was truly honored to be a small part of his show.


Al-Khalili, Jim. 2004. Quantum: A guide for the perplexed. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Alexander, Denis. 2008. Creation or evolution: Do we have to choose? Oxford: Monarch/Grand Rapids: Kregel.

Aus, Mike. 2012. Conversion on mount improbable: How evolution challenges Christian dogma. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. (accessed May 2012).

Babinski, Edward T. Interpretations of biblical cosmology. (accessed June 2012).

———, ed. 2003. Leaving the fold: Testimonies of former fundamentalists. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2010. The cosmology of the Bible. In Loftus 2010, loc. 1298-1848.

———. 2012. Personal communication.

Balantekin, A.B. and N. Takigawa. 1998. Quantum tunneling in nuclear fusion. Rev. Mod. Phys. 70, 77-100.

Barbour, Ian G. 2000. When science meets religion: Enemies, strangers, or partners? New York: HarperCollins.

Barr, James. 1977. Fundamentalism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Beegle, Dewey M. 1963. The inspiration of scripture. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Blackmore, Susan. 1999. The meme machine. Oxford University Press.

———. 2010. Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind. The Guardian. September 16. (accessed February 2013).

Blish, James. 1970. Spock must die! New York: Bantam Books.

Bishop, Robert. 2009. Chaos. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. (accessed December 2012).

Boardman, William W., William W. Boardman (Jr.), Robert Frank Koontz, and Henry Madison Morris. 1973. Science and creation. N.p.: Creation-Science Research Center.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1962. Letters and papers from prison. Trans. Reginald H. Fuller. Ed. Eberhard Bethge. New York: Macmillan. (Orig. German pub. 1951 by Christian Kaiser Verlag.)

Bright, John. 1971. The authority of the Old Testament. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Bultmann, Rudolf. 1958. Jesus Christ and mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

———. 1960. This world and the beyond: Marburg sermons. Trans. Harold Knight. London: Lutterworth Press.

———. 1961. New Testament and mythology. In Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. Ed. Hans Werner Bartsch, trans. Reginald H. Fuller, 1 44. New York: Harper & Row Torchbooks.

Burton, Robert A. 2008. On being certain: Believing you are right even when you’re not. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Carroll, Sean B. 2005. Endless forms most beautiful: The new science of evo devo. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Collins, C. John. 2011. Did Adam and Eve really exist? Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Collins, Francis S. 2006. The language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Collins, Robin. 2003. Evolution and original sin. In Miller 2003, 469-501.

Coyne, Jerry. 2009. Why evolution is true. New York: Penguin Books.

———. 2009. John Haught’s “sophisticated” theology: Evolution is God’s drama. Why Evolution is True website. (accessed August 2012).

———. 2011. Making religious virtues from scientific necessities. Why Evolution is True website. (accessed May 2012).

———. 2011. How big was the human population bottleneck? Another staple of theology refuted. Why Evolution is True website. (accessed July 2012).

———. 2012. Science, religion, and society: The problem of evolution in America. Evolution, doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01664.x.

Craig, D.P. and T. Thirunamachandran. 1998. Molecular quantum electrodynamics. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Cunningham, George C. 2010. Decoding the language of God: Can a scientist really be a believer? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Cupitt, Don. 1988. The sea of faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection. London: Murray.

———. 1888. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. 2nd ed. London: Murray.

Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The selfish gene: 30th anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2008. The God delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

———. 2009. The greatest show on earth. New York: Simon and Schuster.

de Waal, Frans. 2002. Evolutionary psychology: The wheat and the chaff. Current Directions in Psychological Science 2, no. 6 (December): 187-91.

———. 2006. Primates and philosophers: How morality evolved. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

DeBruine, Lisa M. 2002. Facial resemblance enhances trust. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 269, no. 1498 (July 7): 1307-12.

Deméré, T.A., M.R. McGowen, A. Berta, and J. Gatesy. 2008. Morphological and molecular evidence for a stepwise evolutionary transition from teeth to baleen in mysticete whales. Systematic Biology 57:15-37.

Dennett, Daniel C. 1995. Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

———. 2006. Breaking the spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon. New York: Penguin Group.

Dillard, Annie. 1974. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: HarperCollins.

Distin, Kate. 2005. The selfish meme: A critical reassessment. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Domning, Daryl P. 2001. Evolution, evil and original sin. America: The National Catholic Weekly. November 12. (accessed June 2012).

Ebeling, Erich. 1915-23. Keilschrifttexte aus Assurreligiösen Inhalts. Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der deutschen orientgesellschaft 28. Leipzig: C. Hinrichs.

Ehrlich, Paul R. 2000. Human natures: Genes, cultures, and the human prospect. Washington: Island Press.

Eliade, Mircea. 1969. Yoga: Immortality and freedom. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Bollingen Series, vol. 61. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Enns, Peter. 2012. The evolution of Adam. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Everett, Daniel L. 2008. Don’t sleep, there are snakes: Life and language in the Amazonian jungle. New York: Pantheon Books.

Fagan, Brian. 2010. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age gave birth to the first modern humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Fairbanks, Arthur, ed. and trans. 1898. The first philosophers of Greece. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Fairbanks, Daniel J. 2007. Relics of Eden: The powerful evidence of evolution in human DNA. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Flew, Anthony. 1950. Theology and falsification. Reprinted on The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive. (accessed April 2012).

Foley, Jim. 2008. Comparison of all skulls. Fossil Hominids: The Evidence for Human Evolution. (accessed October 2012).

Ford, Kenneth W. 2005. The quantum world: Quantum physics for everyone. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Forster, Lucy, Peter Forster, Sabine Lutz-Bonengel, Horst Willkomm and Bernd Brinkmannet. 2002. Natural radioactivity and human mitochondrial DNA Mutations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, no. 21 (October 15): 13950-13954.

Freud, Sigmund. 1964. The future of an illusion. Trans. W.D. Robson Scott. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor.

Fry, Iris. 2000. The emergence of life on Earth: A historical and scientific overview. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Gibbons, Ann. 2007. The first human: The race to discover our earliest ancestors. New York: Random House.

Giberson, Karl W., and Francis S. Collins. 2011. The language of science and faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Giovannoni, Stephen J., et al. 2005. Genome streamlining in a cosmopolitan oceanic bacterium. Science 309 (August 19), 1242-45.

Gish, Duane T. 1973. Evolution: The fossils say no! San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.

Goren-Inbar, Naama, Nira Alperson, Mordechai E. Kislev, Orit Simchoni, Yoel Melamed, Adi Ben-Nun, and Ella Werker. 2004. Evidence of hominin control of fire at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel. Science, New Series 304, no. 5671 (April 30), 725-27.

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1857. Omphalos: An attempt to untie the geological knot. London: John van Voorst.

Graves, Leslie, Barbara L. Horan, and Alex Rosenberg. 1999. Is indeterminism the source of the statistical character of evolutionary theory? Philosophy of Science 66 no. 1 (March): 140-57.

Graves, Robert. 1960. The Greek Myths. Vol. 1. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Haarsma, Loren. 2003. Does science exclude God? Natural law, chance, miracles, and scientific practice. In Miller 2003, 71-94.

Haarsma, Loren and Terry M. Gray. 2003. Complexity, self-organization, and design. In Miller 2003, 288-310.

Ham, Ken. 2011. The pope on the big bang. Around the world with Ken Ham. (accessed May 2012).

———. 2012. Beware of those who want the church to compromise. Around the World with Ken Ham. (accessed August 2012).

Harris, Sam. 2005. The end of faith: Religion, terror, and the future of reason. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Haught, John F. 2000. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

———. 2009. Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Washington Post, November 30. (accessed August 2012).

———. 2010. In Atoms and Eden: Conversations on religion and science, ed. Steve Paulson, 83-98. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Hawks, John. 2011. Mailbag: Y chromosome Adam. John Hawks weblog. (accessed July 2012).

Horn, Stephan Otto and Siegfried Wiedenhofer, eds. 2008. Creation and evolution: A conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Hulsbosch, Ansfridus. 1966. God in creation and evolution. Lanham, MD: Sheed and Ward.

Hurd, James P. 2003. Hominids in the garden? In Miller 2003, 208-33.

Hyers, M. Conrad. 1984. The meaning of creation: Genesis and modern science. Atlanta: John Knox Press.

Ingersoll, Robert G. [1833-1899]. All cited lectures and interviews are from The Complete Lectures and Interviews of Robert G. Ingersoll. Kindle edition.

James, William. 1958. The varieties of religious experience: A study in human nature. New York: New American Library/Mentor Books. (Orig. pub.  1902.)

Jaspers, Karl. 1953. The origin and goal of history. Trans. Michael Bullock. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kitcher, Philip. 2007. Living with Darwin: Evolution, design, and the future of faith. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kobe, Donald H. 2004. Luther and Science. Leadership University. (accessed July 2012).

Kolts, Russell. 2011. The compassionate mind approach to managing your anger. London: Robinson.

Koonin, Eugene V. 2011. The logic of chance: The nature and origin of biological evolution. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press Science.

Kouwenhoven, Arlette P. 1997. World’s oldest spears. Archeology Newsbriefs 50, no. 3 (May/June), (accessed February 2013).

Korsmeyer, Jerry D. 1998. Evolution and Eden: Balancing original sin and contemporary science. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Krauss, Lawrence M. 2012. A universe from nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing. New York: Free Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1996. The structure of scientific revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lamoureux, Denis O. 2008. Evolutionary creation: A Christian approach to evolution. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

Lanz von Liebenfels, Jörg. 2001. Theozoologie: Das Urchristentum neu Erschlossen. Was lehrt die Bibel wirklich? N.p.: Deutschherrenverlag.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1955. The structural study of myth. Journal of American Folklore 68, no. 270, 428-44.

Levine, Joseph S. and Kenneth R. Miller. 1991. Biology: Discovering life. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company.

Loftus, John W, ed. 2010. The Christian delusion: Why faith fails. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2011. The end of Christianity. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books.

Lovecraft, H.P. 1926. The call of Cthulhu. The H.P. Lovecraft (accessed April 2012).

Luper, Steven. 2009. The philosophy of death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Luther, Martin. 1535-1536. Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1. George V. Schick, trans., 1958. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Mark, Joshua J. 2011. Enuma Elish—The Babylonian epic. Ancient History Encyclopedia. (accessed January 2013).

McFadden, Johnjoe. 2002. Quantum evolution: How physics’ weirdest theory explains life’s biggest mystery. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Mendez, Fernando L., et al. 2013. An African American paternal lineage adds an extremely ancient root to the human Y chromosome phylogenetic tree. The American Journal of Human Genetics 92, no. 3 (February 28): 454-59.

Meyer, Klaus-Dieter. 2005. Zur Stratigraphie des Saale-Glazials in Niedersachsen und zu Korrelationsversuchen mit Nachbargebieten. Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart 55, no. 1, 25-42.

Meyer, Marvin, ed. 2007. The Nag Hammadi scriptures. New York: HarperCollins.

Meyers, Stephen. 1989. A Biblical Cosmology. Th.M. Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary.

Miller, Keith B., ed. 2003. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Miller, Kenneth R. 1999. Finding Darwin’s God: A scientist’s search for common ground between God and evolution. New York: HarperCollins.

Monod, Jacques. 1974. Chance and necessity: An essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse. London: Collins Fontana Books.

Mohler, Albert, Jr. 2011. False start? The controversy over Adam and Eve heats up. (accessed May 2012).

Morris, Henry M. 1969. Evolution and the modern Christian. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

Murphy, George L. 2003. Christology, Evolution, and the Cross. In Miller 2003, 370-89.

Münzel, S.C., F. Seeberger, and W. Hein. 2002. The Geißenklösterle flute: Discovery, experiments, reconstruction. In Studien zur Musikarchäologie III; Archäologie früher Klangerzeugung und Tonordnung; Musikarchäologie in der Ägäis und Anatolien, eds. E. Hickmann, A.D. Kilmer, R. Eichmann. Orient-Archäologie 10, 107-18. Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH.

Noll, Mark A., and David Livingstone. 2003. Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield on Science, the Bible, Evolution, and Darwinism. In Miller 2003, 61-71.

Nowak, Martin A. 2012. Why we help. Scientific American, July, 34-39.

Otto, Rudolf. 1924. The idea of the holy: An inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational. Trans. John W. Harvey. London: Oxford University Press.

Paget, James Carleton. 1994. The Epistle of Barnabas. Tübingen: Mohr.

Pittenger, Norman. 1979. The lure of divine love. New York: Pilgrim Press.

Polkinghorne, John C. 2005. Science and Providence: God’s interaction with the world. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Price, Robert M. 1980. The return of the navel: The “Omphalos” argument in contemporary creationism. Creation Evolution Journal 1, no. 2, 26-33. As republished at (accessed June 2012).

———. 2006. The reason-driven life. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2007. Biblical criticism. In The new encyclopedia of unbelief, ed. Tom Flynn, 123-134. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2009. Inerrant the wind: The Evangelical crisis of biblical authority. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2010. Apex or Ex-Ape? The Humanist, Jan./Feb. (accessed July 2012).

———. 2011. Myth in the New Testament. Christian New Age Quarterly 20, no. 1.

Price, Robert M., and Reginald Finley Sr. Heaven and its wonders, and earth: The world the biblical writers thought they lived in. (accessed May 2012).

Prothero, Donald R. 2007. Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ramachandran, V.S. 2011. The tell-tale brain: A neuroscientist’s quest for what makes us human. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Ramm, Bernard L. 1954. The Christian view of science and scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Reinikainen, Erkki. 1986. Näin on kirjoitettu (Thus it is written). Oulu, Finland: Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistys. (Quotations translated by Ed Suominen based an anonymous English translation.)

Ridley, Matt. 1996. The origins of virtue: Human instincts and the evolution of cooperation. New York: Penguin Books.

Roach, Jared C., et al. 2010. Analysis of genetic inheritance in a family quartet by whole-genome sequencing. Science 328 (April 30), 636-39.

Robinson, George L. 1913. Leaders of Israel: A brief history of the Hebrews. New York: Association Press.

Robson-Brown, Kate. 2011. Hominins. In Evolution: The human story, ed. Alice Roberts, 56-173. New York: DK Publishing.

Roughgarden, Joan. 2006. Evolution and Christian faith: Reflections of an evolutionary biologist. Washington: Island Press.

Ruse, Michael. 2000. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? New York: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2010. Science and spirituality: Making room for faith in the age of science. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, Robert John. 2003. Special providence and genetic mutation: A new defense of theistic evolution. In Miller 2003, 335-69.

Schaff, Philip, ed. 1886. Recompiled for Kindle as The collected works of 46 books by St. Augustine. Amazon Digital Services. Unless otherwise indicated, source for Augustine: On marriage and concupiscence (loc. 154472-156915); A treatise on the merits and forgiveness of sins, and on the baptism of infants (loc. 167511-170865).

———, ed. 1885. Ante-Nicene fathers. Kindle version: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Unless otherwise indicated, source for Barnabus, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus (Vol. 1); Tatian, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Vol. 2); Tertullian (Vol. 3); Minucius Felix (Vol. 4).

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. 1958. On religion: Speeches to its cultured despisers. Translated by John Oman. New York: Harper & Row Torchbooks.

Scholem, Gershom G. 1941. Seventh Lecture: Isaac Luria and his school. In Major trends in Jewish mysticism. Jerusalem: Schocken Publishing House. Reprinted frequently by Schocken Books, New York.

Schroeder, Gerald L. 1997. The science of God: The convergence of scientific and biblical wisdom. New York: Bantam Doubleday.

Shanahan, Timothy. 2003. The evolutionary indeterminism thesis. BioScience 53 no. 2 (February): 163-69.

Shingledecker, Charles P. 2013. Personal communication.

Slevin, Peter . 2005. Teachers, scientists vow to fight challenge to evolution. Washington Post. May 5. (accessed August 2012).

Sparrow, Giles. Cosmos: A field guide. London: Quercus.

Stamos, David N. 2001. Quantum indeterminism and evolutionary biology. Philosophy of Science 68 no. 2 (June): 164-84.

Stark, Thom. 2011. The human faces of God. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

Stenger, Victor J. 2009. Quantum gods: Creation, chaos, and the search for cosmic consciousness. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

———. 2011. The fallacy of fine-tuning: Why the universe is not designed for us. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Stern, David P. 2005. Quantum tunneling. From stargazers to starships. (accessed December 2012).

Strong, James. 1979. Strong’s exhaustive concordance of the Bible with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. N.p.: Royal Publications.

Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistys (Finnish Associations of Peace). Päivämies weekly newspaper, from translations published in the Laestadian Lutheran Church’s Voice of Zion newspaper unless indicated otherwise.

Suominen, Edwin A. 2012. An examination of the pearl. Published by the author (also available at

Taylor, Arch B. Jr. 2003. The Bible, and What It Means to Me. In Babinski 2003, 153-68.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. 1933. Christology and Evolution. In Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague. 1971. N.p.: Harcourt. (Kindle ed., pub. 2002).

———. 1934. How I believe. In Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague. 1971. N.p.: Harcourt. (Kindle ed., pub. 2002).

The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium. 2010. A map of human genome variation from population-scale sequencing. Nature 467 (Nov. 28), 1061-73, doi:10.1038/nature09534.

Tillich, Paul. 1958. Dynamics of faith. NY: Harper & Row Torchbooks.

Velikovsky, Immanuel. 1950. Worlds in collision. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Wade, Nicholas. 2006. Before the dawn: Recovering the lost history of our ancestors. New York: Penguin Group.

Wellhausen, Julius. 1957. Prolegomena to the history of ancient Israel. Translated by A. Menzies. Cleveland: World Publishing Company/Meridian Books.

Wells, Spencer. 2006. Deep ancestry: The landmark DNA quest to decipher our distant past. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Wheless, Joseph. 1926. Is it God’s word? An exposition of the fables and mythology of the Bible and of the impostures of theology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

White, Andrew Dickson. 1895. History of the warfare of science with theology in Christendom. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Wilcox, David. 2003. Finding Adam: The genetics of human origins. In Miller 2003, 234-52.

Wiley, Tatha. 2002. Original sin: Origins, developments, contemporary meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Williams, Sam K. 1975. Jesus’ death as saving event: The background and origin of a concept. Harvard Dissertations in Religion 2. Missoula: Scholars Press.

Winston, Robert and Don E. Wilson, eds. 2006. Human. New York: DK Publishing.

World Health Organization. 2012. Lymphatic filariasis: Fact sheet no. 102. (accessed August 2012).

Wright, J. Edward. 2000. The early history of heaven. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wright, Robert. 2009. The evolution of God. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Young, Stephen. 1989. Wayward genes play the field. New Scientist, September 9, 49-53.

Zimmer, Carl. 2001. Evolution: The triumph of an idea. New York: HarperCollins. ———. 2011. A planet of viruses. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cascading Wonders

In sunlight,

ancient starlight,

the cold dim light of the moon;

Sunset from Haleakala, Maui  [Flickr page]

Gathering silent photons,

noticing and here conveying

beauty we often are too busy to see;

Milky Way between Ponderosa Pines  [Flickr page]

I am a witness

to cascading wonders

of a life being richly lived.

Predawn Moonset at Waikiki  [Flickr page]

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Eden was a choice garden in comparison with the magnificence of the whole earth, which itself also was a Paradise compared with its present wretched state.
—Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis
Tropical rainforest north of Hilo on the Big Island.  [Flickr page]

After co-authoring a book entitled Evolving out of Eden and spending three weeks in Hawaii, I’ve given a thought or two to the idea of paradise. For much of our existence on this planet, it seems that humans have been longing for such a place.

Life supporting life, in vivid green abundance.  [Flickr page]

A variation of this theme is that of lost innocence, a time when everything was wild and simple and good. One of our earliest recorded creation myths, the Epic of Gilgamesh inscribed onto Mesopotamian clay tables over 4,000 years ago, describes a primeval superhero who was happy and at home with his friends the wild animals. Alas, this “child of nature, the savage man from the midst of the wild” (Tablet I, line 175) is seduced by a harlot down at the watering hole, literally. After a week-long sex marathon, he was a weakened shell of his former self, a stranger to the gazelles and beasts of the field. “Now he had reason, and wide understanding” (line 195).

The story far better known to us, though almost entirely ignored in the rest of the Hebrew Bible, is the one based in large part on the Mesopotamian epics and set in the same region. Actually, it’s two accounts, written with different agendas in mind. According to Genesis 1, the Gods (whoops, leftover polytheism) create the first man and woman in their image (v. 26), and tell them to get busy having babies and taking over the place, enjoying a varied diet of pretty much everything that grows or moves. (None of the Jewish dietary laws had been invented yet.) The account of Genesis 2-3 is the one where the First Couple munch on fruit in Eden, naked and innocent, until things go terribly wrong, and we get Paradise Lost.

Maui: Green, beautiful, and very humid.  [Flickr page]

The religion of the early Hebrew Bible was just a step away from its polytheistic roots. Yahweh was a tribal war deity who showed favor and displeasure in crop abundance or famine, battles won and lost, loot from conquering and the horrors of being conquered. As this God evolved and became more of a remote abstraction, however, his divine judgment took on less immediacy. Promises of a paradisaical life after this one finally began to emerge.

At first, we see the barest glimmer of eternal sunshine in the gloom of the lifeless, neutral Hebrew Sheol: Job expresses the hope of seeing God even after worms destroy this body, though the rest of the book paints the usual muted and bleak picture. The Psalms provide a few mentions of glory afterward among lots of talk about a dreaded, forgotten nothingness in the grave.

Eventually, Isaiah would offer a clear indication of the dead being resurrected. They, God’s dead at least, “will live, their dead bodies will rise. The dwellers in the dust will awake and shout for joy! For your dew is like the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isa. 26:19). Interestingly, Isaiah seems to hint at the change in viewpoint by contrasting this promise with a statement a few lines earlier about God’s previous disposition of the dead: “The dead will not live, and the departed spirits will not rise. You punished and destroyed them, and imprisoned all memory of them” (Isa. 26:11, both from the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible).

Molokai’s lush east end.  [Flickr page]

As evidenced by the mountain of grave goods that were crammed into King Tut’s tomb in 1323 B.C., the Egyptians had a detailed view of the afterlife much earlier than the Israelites. The Greek pagans were ahead in the Mediterranean afterlife game by many centuries, too: Elysium was their eternal resting place for the gods and some favored mortals. According to Wikipedia, Homer’s Odyssey mentions an “Elysian plain … where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.”

Clouds Over Maui, from Molokai  [Flickr page]

The Old Testament would have to pass to the New before those monotheists along the Mediterranean’s eastern shore would really come to embrace the idea of life eternal. The most famous Jew of all time (whether he existed as an actual man or only in the hazy memories of devotees writing decades later) came along and raised the post-mortem stakes, warning that “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:9). Of course, it was eternal life he was promising. When the penitent convict turned to him on the cross, according to Luke’s account, the words he chose to speak as a comforting response were, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The new Jesus sect had its main earthly champion in another Jew, Apostle Paul, who promised a wondrous reward for God’s beloved. He could offer no details, though: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Clouds Swirling on Maui Mountain Slopes  [Flickr page]

These things awaited the faithful somewhere above the great blue dome of the sky. Mark and Matthew tell their readers that Jesus will come in the “clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30 & 26:64, Mark 14:62). It was an unattainable place far overhead. When the writer of 1 Thessalonians assured an unexpected new generation of Christians that their dead relatives also would attain this ethereal reward, along with the living, he was looking skyward. And it would happen, he promised, real soon now. “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

The idea had evolved to the point where this life was a mere prelude to the next. It had a certain comfort to it: God would finally wipe away the tears of a difficult life, at last right the injustices of a beggar foraging scraps at a rich man’s table. The rest of Judaism seems not to have paid much attention, though. To this day, they focus much more on how you live your current life than what might happen to you afterwards. That’s surprising in a way: Jews have more reason than most to complain about the way things have gone for them, historically.

Beautiful above the water, and with a paradise of fish and coral below.  [Flickr page]

Even without regard to Rome, Masada, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust, most everybody throughout history had reason to yearn for some sort of better existence after death. Life basically sucked, and for all too many, still does. There is and always has been slavery, famine, disease, and war. In the natural state of things, observed the 16th century pessimist Thomas Hobbes, the life of man was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” No wonder the promises of heaven have maintained such appeal.

And no wonder the hereafter was envisioned as a marked contrast with what was being experienced in the here and now. The Revelation of John, written for people in the sun-baked islands of the Mediterranean, promised that there would be respite from the sun, heat, and thirst in heaven (Rev. 7:16-17). Luther’s extensive complaints about paradise lost have the distinct sound of a cranky old man tossing and turning on a filthy straw mattress in late medieval Europe. An obedient Adam, he laments, would have had access to the Tree of Life and

would have eaten; he would have drunk; and the conversion of food in his body would have taken place, but not in such a disgusting manner as now. Moreover, this tree of life would have preserved perpetual youth. Man would never have experienced the inconveniences of old age; his forehead would never have developed wrinkles; and his feet, his hands, and any other part of his body would not have become weaker or more inactive. Thanks to this fruit, man’s powers for procreation and for all tasks would have remained unimpaired until finally he would have been translated from the physical life to the spiritual. [Lectures on Genesis]

The Finns of my own ancestry and Laestadian faith tradition longed for a “homeland shore in heaven.” That has no biblical basis; the closest maritime parallel is the lake of fire and brimstone. But it was a compelling picture for exhausted fishermen out on their boats, and it’s still heard in Laestadian sermons today.

Paradise often looks best with a little trimming…  [Flickr page]

As a mere mortal who has probably lived about half his life already, I do understand the appeal. And having a wonderful life full of light, love, and beauty actually doesn’t change that too much. There is so much to experience, so much to see. Yet someday, as it did for King Tut and Homer and Paul and Luther, it will end for me. My paradise will only remain in these pictures, and the others I take in my remaining days filled with blue and green.

…and mowing.  [Flickr page]
Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out the entire set (and others from Hawaii) on Flickr. All are Copyright © 2013 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.