Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Problem With Eternal Security

Today, I'm going to talk about the Calvinist doctrine of Eternal Security, also known as Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), or Perserverence of the Saints. To define this concept briefly, Eternal Security means that if one sincerely accepts Christ at one point in thier lives, then it doesn't matter if they commit any degree or qulaity of sin, or even if they totally renounce God. According to OSAS, as commonly understood, they will still end up in heaven.

Let me first reiterate that one reason I was an agnostic for many years is because of the fact that I was told many lies about God, often by sincere and beleving Christians. I became immersed in atheist literature for a while. I honestly beleived that what Sam Harris had to say in The End of Faith was correct. Christians are rightly concerned with the rise of New Atheism today. But all to often their arguments against Harris, Dawkins, et al. misfire terribly.

Consider the oft-repeated arguement from morality. This holds that since atheism excludes God, there can be no objective basis for morality. It just becomes a matter of opinion. Indeed, atheists cannot measure morality as they can say, the age of the earth or break ethics down into quarks and nuetrons as they can with subatomic particles. Most atheists are strict materialists who believe that if a thing cannot be measured ina laboratory, that is made subject to scientific inquiry and investigation, then it must not exist. What, then, are morals other than cultural artifacts? How can the ethics of one cultural possibly be superior to another since this asseration cannot be tested scientifically? Our leading atheists realize, however, that true moral relativism refutes itself. Sam Harris asserts that morality is merely a question of "happiness vs. suffering." The degree and quality of happiness and/or suffering, is, however, often not easy to determine, and the athiest often runs into a moral quagmire while attempting to do so. A prime example of this would Peter Singer's proposal regarding hemophiliac infants. While happiness and suffering are often important components of morality, this is not always the case. Consider the scenario of a population of humans plugged into a virtual reality program. Imagine that they may experience any manner of pleasure they desire with no repercussions whatever. Their experience is one of utter bliss, yet remain wholly ignorant regarding the reality of their situation. Given the importance most of us hold for Truth, it really morally defensible to keep them in that state? Few would answer that it is.

I beleive that a moral compass should, and usually does, govern human behavior, and this is far more reliable than the approach of attempting to mdetermine the quantity of "happiness" vs. that of "suffering." Such a "rationalist" approach simply won't work when it comes to the thorny problem of morals. It is true that there are times when it is our human prejudices and fears (often the fear of change) which governs our actions, when we suppose it is our moral compass, and here we must be on guard. I rather beleive this to be the case when it comes to certain cases of biotech phobia. This is where our rationality must be used. Is our position on a certain issue liable to reduce human suffering and promote human welfare, not merely in theory but in actuality? I believe that "human welfare" is a much better term than than "happiness."

Back to the moral compass, though. Since we can't determine if a moral compass objectively exists, we must rely on--guess what?--faith. We must take the existence of objective morals as a faith article because there is no other way to do it. There is, however, a huge problem with the "argument from morality," as it is often called. This atheist blog offers the following quote by Francis Collins:

18:20: "This is a really important point here: If you want to accept the argument that this knowledge of good and evil, this moral law, is a pure evolutionary artifact, that it is basically an illusion — that there is no good and evil — then why do the atheists insist that we should get over religion and try to be good to each other? Who cares about being good? If they're right, we should all shrug off the whole idea and be just as darn selfish as we possibly can because there is no driving force behind this. We've all been hoodwinked by evolution into thinking that we're supposed to be good and we should rebel against this."

Now idea that Collins is an "anti-atheist bigot" is rediculous. Collins is a renowned scientist credited with his part in mapping the human genome. The athiests can't stand him because they the hate the idea that such a brilliant scientist, of all people, can also be a man of faith. Not surprisingly, Collins often takes it from both sides, even though his accomplishments far outwiegh those of any of his opponents, whether secular or religious. What he is saying here is NOT that atheists have no morals, but that their worldview is inconsistent with beleif in objective morality.

The fact is that all ideologcal athiests definitely have morals, and very strong ones at that, no matter how ideologically inconsistent they might be. If they did not, if they were believers in true moral relativism, they would not have written any of their best-selling books. They would not care about the supposed evils of religion, because true "evil" would be a fiction. they would believe in it no more than they believe in God. They wouldn't care a fig about racism, women's rights, homophobia, intolerance or equality. For the true moral relativist, such things would be not of the slightest moral import. A TRUE moral relativist would simply live it up, for the short time he had on earth, and not bother trying to make the world a better place.

But here is what's shocking. There are may people today who truely do subscribe to a worldview that really does allow for all manner of vice and immorality. What's worse is that they believe that there are no bounds to immoral behavior, and that literally NO act of depravity is too severe for condemnation. They beleive in little reason to behave morally, altruistcally, or to treat other human beings decently.

Social Darwinists? Eugenisits? Islamic Fundementalists? Worshipers of Moloch? Witches and Satanic cultists? What about Neo-Pagans and Druids?
Consider the following comments, gleaned from this site

"Simply defined, carnality is a spiritual state in which a born-again Christian knowingly, willingly, intentionally and persistently lives to please and serve self rather than Jesus Christ."

“Committed Christians may fall into sin, but a carnal Christian bathes in it. He has the mindset, motivation and methodology of sin."

The speaker here is no atheist or neo-Darwinst, but Dr. Anthony "Tony" Evans, a popular Christian apologist and a beleiver in the docrine of eternal security. He fully believes that such are "carnal" Christian will be in heaven. But to bad for any good percent who lived at decent life, contributed to human welfare, but just didn't happen to get "saved" somewhere along the way.

Or how about these, by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, another noted apologist:

histians can be deceived and live like the ‘sons of disobedience'...struggle with sexual addictions, or Christians who are greedy and idolatrous. We’ve all known Christians who live with these sins...Christians can do evil deeds and be caught in terrible sins. Some die in such a spiritual condition...If Paul meant that those who practice such vices will not enter the kingdom, our own assurance of final salvation would be in constant jeopardy. -Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward

"I am convinced that those who have trusted Christ are in Heaven today even if they died with the sin of murder on their conscience. -Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure That You Will Spend Eternity With God"

This is where a must add that a very many Christians do beleive in Eternal Security, and there are few, that I imagine, actually lead such grossly immoral lives. I do not even imagine that Dr. Lutzer and Dr. Evans do--but they are promoting the idea "carnal Christianity" is possible--all with the supposed endorsement of God himself! There is a common, and for the most part true, assumption, that once a person accepts Christ, they will be able walk away from sin. In fact, Darin Hufford, author of The Misunderstood God (a book I greatly appreciate, BTW) and who promotes a God is Love theology, states bluntly that Eternal Security DOES, in fact give us license to sin! But once that is done we will walk away from sin. If we experience the Love God has for us, will will no longer experience worldly desire. On the surface I agree with him. However, what about those who claim to have accepted Christ, and continue down a path of gross immorality? One common response from Eternal Security defenders is that such sinners were never saved to begin with. Perhaps. But if NO person who willingly and habitually sins will enter heaven (as the Bible clearly teaches), then ALL "carnal Christians" were indeed never saved. If Hufford's take on Eternal Security merely refers to free will, that we are not forced into obendience, then I agree. The acid test is: does he believe that even the most heinous individuals will be in heaven, or doesn't he? Evans, Lutzer, and many others do, and preach as much in their sermons and books.
I wonder.
Here is a site with an interesting story by an atheist:

The comment I found particularly moving was the one following:

"At that point, for a few moments I just stood there shaking my head. I’ve seen too many times the results of a good Christian upbringing. You see these ignorant people beating their children, while shopping in stores. Their children grow up believing they can do anything they want; as long as they repent their sins to Jesus. The prisons are bursting at the seams with Christians."

Hmmm. Wonder why? Notice that the author, an athiest, never questions why he thinks his own children have grown up moral and decent, and his friend's entire family seems consumed by vice and squalor. Prison? Drugs? HIV? What's really going on here? Naturally, the assumption he's making is that it must have something to do with religion per se, about beleiving in "irrationality."

But is it?

He'll never likely concede Christianity might possibly be true, so he won't bother delving deeper into the problem. If he bothered he just might find these are the "carnal Christians" Dr. Evans and Dr. Lutzer beleive will be enjoying the fruits of everlasting bliss, while freethinkers who have lived a good life while be tormented for eternity.

Now, reader, ask yourself. What sort of God, exactly, do Evans and Lutzer subscribe to? The answer is: not a moral one.

My point is that the real villain here, the one responsible for casting Christians in a bad light, fueling the fires of ideological atheism, is not Christianity. Eternal Security, however might well be the real culprit.

It is true, some defenders of Eternal Security may point out that may lose thier rewards in heaven, even though they are saved. Thus the God they beleive in is therefore not entirely morally indifferent. However, this morality is a marginal one to say the least. It is unlikely, that fear of losing these (intangible seeming) rewards in heaven is likely to dissuade many form a sinful life in the here and now, if they so choose. As said before, I'm not saying that simply believing in this doctrine will result in a ammoral or immoral lifestyle. On the other hand, it is certainly not impossible, as an example on the following page shows, of a man the suthor knew who beleived anything he chose to do was God's will:

There are two reasons I beleive people may wish to beleive in Eternal Security. One is simply the assurence that one is saved. That's perfectly understandable. I do NOT beleive that a "conditional" security means a single sinful act will cause one to lose one's salvation. How about repeated acts? They won't cause God to abandon one. But the thing is that sin deadens the heart to God, and therefore cause one to put oneself before others. I do not know exactly where the "cut off" point would be, but it would be when one was living one was living mostly or entirely for oneself, even if one still claimed to have faith.

The other reason for wishing to beleive in Eternal Security may in fact be a desire to sin without fear of losing one's salvation. Since were's all Fallen humans, why should this not be a core motive?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Faith and Works are Inseparable

Okay. Here is a post which deals with a truely spiritual topic. Since returning to Christianity, I have read materials, including the Bible itself, which pretty much debunk the picture of God I had before coming to Christ--namely that He is selfish, petty, narcisitic, and above all supremely discriminatory.
This is the picture of the Christian God promoted by the New Atheists. Previously, I had read and re-read Sam Harris's The End of Faith until my copy was pretty worn out. I've also read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and David Mills' Atheist Universe. Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great I couldn't really get into. It wasn't Hitchens' worldview that bothered me, it was just I didn't his writing style very engrossing. I don't much care for the the fact he's anti-Christmas, though. But here's the most important thing about my previous lack of faith, though I was nominally a Christian some years back. The New Atheists accuse God and Christianity of being the source of terrible human evils, and they often quote scripture selectively, while ignoring the great swaths of the NT which demonstrate Christ's compassion. I can point out the great errors in their arguments very easily now. But when the New Atheists attempt to protray God as a cruel tyrant, they very often are merely make more "blunt" statements that are basically the same as thsoe made by Christians.
What I am trying to say here is that my previous picture of God as a cruel tyrant came mostly from thsoe attempting to sell Christ to me. I could talk more here about the reasons, but I've come to the conclusion that much of what I've been led to beleive about God and salvation has been false or distorted.
Consider: when someone attemptig to bring you to the Christian faith, what is it they try to do? Typically, the emphasize hellfire, and your need to escape it. How are you to do this? By admitting you are a sinner and accepting Christ. And that's it. Believe the required facts about the Lord, say the magic words, and voila! you're saved for all eternity. There's nothing more you really need to do. Of course some may also mention James 2:20...that faith without works is dead." But not often. They're far more likely to mention Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Both passages are of great importance of course, and I don't intend to diminish the importance of each. Why, then, is the James passage regarding works so often never mentioned or downplayed? I have heard said that "we are saved by faith, not works" more times than I care to remember. In fact, those seeking to gain new converts continually emphasize the seeming unimportance of good works, while exhalting faith by grace as the one and only path to heaven.
Now this, I might add, is a far cry from the God I believed in as a child. I thought back then that Jesus was sent to earth to teach us how to live and to treat one another with kindness. And Christianity HAS, I beleive paved the way for altruism, compassion, and a democratic society, in spite of some evils done in Christ's name that were entriely antithetical to his teaching. Weren't most of us, as children, taught the importance of compassion and virtue, especially around Christmas time, when we were taught to celebrate the birth of the Savior. So why this denogration of good works?

I have since read the actual books of Mathew and John in their entirety, and there are a vast many references to the importance of good works. To give an example, John 3:18: He that beleiveth on him is not condemned: but he that bleiveth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed, because he hath not believed in the name of only begotten Son of God."
But let's read a little further down, shall we? John 3 19-21: And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness more htan the light, becuase their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hatethn the light, neither comethto the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
All these following passages pertain to works! How is this possible, for a God whom we are often told holds human works of such insignificance?
The plain truth is that we have been lied to about God. I've even heard that Dickens' A Christmas Carol taught a "works-based" salvation. In fact it does not. The character of Scrooge becomes capable of doing good works ONLY after he genuinely repents and experiences an actual change of heart. Only then he filled with the desire to do good. I remember seeing years ago a "looney Tunes" version of Carol, staring Yosemite Sam as Scrooge--a very poor choice, since Yosemite Sam is only good for portraying a "heavy". In this drastically abreviated verision, Scrooge is merely scared into repentence. When Sam/Scrooge DOES repent, we don't buy it for one second. When Sam tells the audience afterward that he was "only acting", it is only too obvious. A more recent version of Carol stars Daffy Duck--a far better choice for the lead, since Daffy is well-known for his veritality as a character. I know--it's just a silly cartoon version. But it demonstrates clearly why a salvation based merely on works IS wrong.
A works salvation basically amounts to a "credit-based" salvation. No salvation based on a credit system could truely be moral. To understand why, simply consider that one could attempt to work one's way into heaven for one'e one benefit without any change of heart or repentece at all. In other words, one might do a world of good for purely self-serving motives.
The problem is that most attempts to gain converts seem to promate what might be called "club membership" salvation, that is one based entreily on faith. It should be eas to see why belonging to membership within a specific club (in this case Christianity)should be a requirment to get into heaven. The reason being: there is simply nothing moral about knowing basic facts conncerning Christ by themselves--other than the fact that those facts should lead to a lasting relationship with Christ.
It is not even precisely true that faith + works= salvation, as I once beleived as a Nominal Christian. One might have faith, and still do good works in a purely self-serving manner.
The truth is that faith and works cannot ever be separated. A saving faith must of necessity involve a change of heart. Only then will one accomplish good works out of desire to serve the Lord.
I'll talk next time about how some evangelists do try to separate faith from works in order to sell Christianity, and why they take this immoral approach.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marsupial Carnivore Evolution Revisited

The evolution of marsupial predators in Australia and South America have been the center of controversy regarding their alleged “inferiority” to eutherian, or placental mammals. This latter group includes all other mammal species, including humans. Marsupial mammals are considered to be the more primitive group. They became isolated in the Southern reaches of Gondwana at the end of the Cretaceous. Gondwana included South America, Antarctica, and Australia, and subsequently split up into those three landmasses supposedly before placental predators had penetrated this far south. While little is known about the fauna of Antarctica for obvious regions, both predators and prey in Australia were represented by marsupials, while in South America the herbivores were represented by primitive placental groups, while their predators were the marsupial borhyeanids, descended from the opossums. Both these island realms developed unique faunas found nowhere else. According to orthodox paleontology (at least for many years) it was believed that the extinction of the South American borhyenaids, and many of the placental herbivore as well, died out as result of competition from the more advanced placental canines and felines who invaded the south after the establishment of the Panama land bridge. It is also widely held that the extinction the thylacine or Tasmanian wolf on mainland Australia occurred as a result of competition with the introduced dingo. The same factor is also attributed to the extinction of the smaller Tasmanian devil from the mainland.

Some of the notions of marsupial inferiority have been recently rethought. According to Robert Paddle, author of The Last Tasmanian Tiger: the History and Extinction of the Thylacine, much of the supposed inferiority attributed to marsupials can be attributed to what he aptly terms “placental chauvinism,” the instinctive human tendency to regard one’s own group as the superior one. While far less obvious than the human bias responsible for racism (the early twentieth century belief held by white eugenicists that the white race was most highly evolved), the bias to regard one’s own group as superior even applies to the animal kingdom where humans are even marginally a factor; we tend to regard humanity as the ripe flower on the tree of evolutionary progress. This same bias can be observed in the twentieth century depictions of dinosaurs as sluggish, swamp-bound behemoths destined for extinction and replacement with the smaller, wilier mammalia. Such images dominated orthodox dinosaur paleontology for many years and are undoubtedly the source of the word “dinosaur” as something old and outdated, or someone whose views are ultra-conservative and destined for extinction. Our tendency to favor our own is also the reason why King Kong is the “hero” while battling the saurian inhabitants of his native island. However, while the newer, sleeker public image of the dinosaur has gained much more respect recently, popularized by the recurrent Jurassic Park image of wily, pack-hunting raptors, it occasionally bleeds over into excess. Michael Crichton’s raptors, capable of chimp-link problem solving abilities such as opening doors for example, are, as every paleontologist will admit, purely creatures of fiction.
The same observations apply to placental chauvinism as well as to mammal chauvinism. Among the observations Paddle makes in his book are that the thylacine showed signs of intelligence which were often disregarded or overlooked. Thylacines were frequently raised as pets when they were very young. These animals, according to Paddle, proved to be affectionate and loyal pets. Their owners were attached to them as much as any dog owner would be. Obviously, no one today has ever then opportunity of a thylacine for a companion. Paddle also notes that the thylacine displayed signs of group hunting and cooperation, according to observers in the wild. While often regarded as a solitary hunter, such observations indicate that animals preferred to hunt in small family groups. The thylacine has often been described as dull-witted, but this seems to have been derived from observations of captive specimens, who were confined to poor and unethical environments; very many captive animals will act “dull-witted’ in such circumstances. Paddle gives a heart-breaking account of the last thylacine in captivity (who became known as “Benjamin” as a result of apparent misinformation, even though records indicate she was actually female) who was locked out of den when the temperature was below freezing. The same unethical treatment was also responsible for other animals in the Hobart zoo that winter, including a magnificent black leopard.
There are two additional facts in the paleontological record that have caused major dents in assumptions of the inferiority of marsupial predators. One if the recent discovery of a 55 million year old tooth in Australia which appears to have belonged to a small placental condylarth. It was previously believed that the placentals never penetrated this far south, and this is what allowed the marsupials such a great opportunity for diversity. Condylarths are an ancient group of predators unrelated to the modern Carnivora, and much closer allied with deer, sheep and goats. Though carnivores, they bore hooved toes, and are sometimes referred to as “wolf-sheep”. They appear to be the direct ancestors of whales and dolphins, and included the gigantic land carnivore andrewsarchus. While the Australian tooth came from a small beastie, most of the marsupials at this time were small as well. The other major fact involves the great faunal interchange following the Panamanian landbridge to South America, previously thought to have spelled doom for the South American borhyeanids. It is now believed that the ancient marsupial predators were already extinct by the time the true cats and wolves appeared, and thus the placental order could not possibly have ousted them. At the time the smilodon, the jaguar, and puma arrived on the scene from the north, the dominant South American predators were the phorusrhacids, giant predatory birds. The marsupials were absent by this time and had been absent for more than a few million years.
There is, of course, one major flaw when it comes to using this argument against placental chauvinism. The marsupials were apparently wiped out by competition with the terror-birds, who in term met their end in competition with smilodon fatalis and his ilk. This is hardly a scenario that speaks favorably of the marsupials. To be fair, the borhyenanids thrived as major predators for millions of years alongside the terror birds. The competition between the two orders was a long and gradual one, though speed and ferocity of the phorusrhacids finally won out. The competition between the terror birds and the cats however, was fast and furious. The monstrous birds undoubtedly gave the sabor-tooths stiff competition, and even made forays into the north, with one species, Titanis wallerii, holding out in Florida, dying out only 1.8 millions years ago. But the fight was ended in short order. In contrast, the marsupial predators thrived successfully alongside the terror birds for millions of years. Representatives included the great marsupial saber-tooth, Thylacosmilus atrox, which undoubtedly preyed on toxodons and giant capybara by driving its great stiletto-like teeth into their thick hides. It also incduded borhyena, which included species resmebling a wolf, or Tasmanian thylacine. Early representatives included prothylacinus, which , as its name implied, resembled a missing link between an opossum like predator and a modern thylacine, and proborhyena, a cattle sized, slow-loving predator/scavenger, Andrewsarchus-like in its proportions. All these predators thrived side-by side with their ancestral cousins, the American opossums, which still exist in a variety of small-carnivore niches today. These include the mountain dwelling Andean opossum, and the yapok, or water-possum, and otter-like animal common to South American waterways.

There is also one additional fact overlooked by both opponents of placental chauvinism. It has not been proved entirely that the marsupial predators had disappeared entirely from their old niches by the time the placental competitors arrived. Almost all the fossils discussed have come from the ancient pampas. While phororhacas is a predator supremely adapted for running down prey on the open grasslands, it would be ill-adpated to a forest or jungle setting. It appears relatively little is known about the rainforests which undoubtedly covered much of the South American continent in prehistoric times, just as they do today. Predators such as thylacosmilus or borhyena (or their relatives) could have held on in the jungles as the top predator species, and remained so until the Panama invasion. In fact, there is little reason to believe that this could not have been the case.
Also, it must be acknowledged that the thylacine has a much smaller brain than a similar-sized dog. And while brain size is not the only indicator of intelligence, it is certainly a major one, especially when dealing with such gaping brain to body size ratios. Paddle brings into question whether competition with the dingo truly spelled the demise of the mainland thylacine, indicating that the blame may well belong to the aboriginal people instead. This is a strong possibility. But the dingo is hardly off the hook. Paddle also cites the fact that the thylacine was an easy match for a dog of similar size, if the confrontation took place one-on-one. This is especially true because of the thylacine’s enormous jaw gap. But the highly efficient pack-hunting strategy of true canines would undoubtedly have easily one-uped the marsupial predators. It would have been easy for a pack of canines to have driven a single thylacine away from his kill. Paddle states that thylacines are believed to have hunting in groups more than commonly thought, but that possessed anything like the coordinated group-hunting techniques of canids is simply false.
The condylarth tooth in Australia may present a different scenario, however. Paddle, and other opponents of placental chauvinism may in fact be right, though not in quite the same manner as they supposed. It must be remembered that condylarths were a far cry from the order Carnivora when it came intelligence and hunting strategy. Members of this early predator group had small brains, and often enormous bodies, relying on size and ferocity to make a kill. Early marsupial predators, in contrast, may have smarter and more agile in capturing prey. The marsupials were the ones who had a huge evolutionary headstart on them, after all. Also, it was undoubtedly isolation itself which played a role in the demise of South America’s marsupial predators. The majority of herbivores (all of whom were placentals) died out as well when competitors arrived from the north, and these included all the ruminant-like beasts. Also, one family of true Carnivora was in fact already present in South America at this time: then procyonids or raccoon family. They are believed to have arrived by virtue of psossibly a single pregnant female on a raft of vegetation, or some other similar mishap. While smaller members of this family literally thrive today on both continents, early embers of family, such as chapamalania, evolved into bear-like forms alongside marsupial saber-tooths and phororhacas. But these beasts died out when true bears (of the short-faced Artocid family)arrived from the north.
In final analysis, it appears that many factors govern a species susceptibility to extinction as a result of competition, as well as what determines which group qualifies as more primitive. The reproductive system of the marsupials is merely a single factor. It appears evident that the marsupial predators of today appear to be more “advanced” by good measure than the early placental predators of yesterday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Return of Joe Kubert's Tor

The Return of Joe Kubert’s Tor
One of the most famous prehistoric themed comic books is Joe Kubert’s Tor. The series was originally published by St. John in the fifties, running alongside another famous dinosaur comic, Dell’s Turok Son of Stone. But while the latter was phenomenally long-running, the issues spanning over three decades, Tor was remarkably short-lived, spanning a mere five issues. This is rather surprising, giving the talent which Joe Kubert, one of the most celebrated authors in the comic world, infused into the series. Tor,subtitled One Million Years Ago,told the story of Tor, a Cro-Magnon caveman, who possessed a capacity for morality and ethics absent or buried in most of his fellow tribesmen. The first issue told how Tor rescued a small, lemur-like prosimian form the jaws of a hungry plesiosaur. This primordial conflict is depicted on the cover of the first issue, with Cro-Magnon hero rushing to the rescue of small helpless creature, stone-ax in hand. In fact, this looks a bit like he is rescuing one of his own distant ancestors to preserve the evolution the human species (prosimians were already up in the trees by the end of the Cretaceous, and they became bite-sized snacks if they ever ventured down)). Chee-chee (the lemur) could easily have been Tor’s ancient grandparent. Anyway, this illustrates one reoccurring them of the Tor series; Tor is moved to action by his compassion for a fellow being, something very rare in his era of self-preservation and survival of the fittest. Kubert made the point in this series that the primal instincts, so dominate in Tor’s world, still all too often determine human behavior today. Kubert claims that this idea first occurred to him during the Korean conflict. Looking back on Tor, it all makes sense. Human conflicts especially war, racism, and other manifestations of tribalism, are far older than the nations themselves. In fact, genocidal war campaigns have been observed and documented among chimps! Undoubtedly such were with us all through the millions of years of ape-to-human transition. But Tor represented the exception to the painful rule, the human who struggled against the tide of pure animal instinct and sought justice and compassion in an unforgiving world. Are things so different today? Not really. Human injustices are all too often justified for all sorts of ideological and religious reasons, but their causes are almost always rooted in the primal instincts of our distant ancestors.

When I first read Tor in the seventies I didn’t quite get the deeper, philosophical underpinnings of the series. What was great about it was the adventure—and of course the dinosaurs. To be sure, Tor was flawed science, as some of the readers pointed out at the time. It had Mesozoic reptiles, Cro-magon, Neanderthal, and ape-people thriving alongside mammals from the entire run of the Cenozoic, and even Permian finbacks and crocodile-like phytosaurs. Some readers suggested that they banish the dinos, that it would only reinforce falsehoods in kids. As much a valid a point as this is, I heartedly glad they didn’t! But the Human vs. Dinosaur thing was only the most obvious technical error ( Actually not so much an error as a deliberate ignoring of logic, as the writers knew better, even then). There were numerous “educational” features called “Animals of a Million Years Ago” in the fifties’ Tor, some of which were reprinted in the seventies. They all featured great artwork, and some amount of genuine fact, but there were also numerous errors scattered throughout: dimetrodon and eryops were incorrectly referred to as dinosaurs. In the feature on stegosaurus, a small picture shows the great saurian swatting a smilodon with its tail. And in the feature on T-rex, a small picture shows a tyrannosaurus staking a pair of triceratops with a youngster. The caption reads: “The appearance of Tyrannosaurus was a signal for instant flight or sure death!” Actually, a single rex would have little change of overpowering two fully-grown triceratops. And then, of course, was the fact that since this series was run in the fifties, dinosaurs were depicted as giant pea-brained sluggards doomed to extinction. This is something I found almost offensive whenever I read it, and seventies were a time when new ideas about warm-blooded, intelligent dinos were just beginning to get respect, and the dogma of the fifties still prevailed in most dino books. Getting back to Tor, in one of the Danny Dreams back-up features (a series about a fifties kid who experiences “dreams” of his Plesticene reincarnation), his class is on a museum field trip. This is before Danny Wakely dreams himself into the primodial past, where he witnesses firsthand a conflict between a cave bear and smilodon. Danny’s teacher, Mr. Black, explains that, “The word ‘dinosaur’ means ‘terrible lizard,’ and that’s exactly what they were!” Sorry, Mr. Black, but you’re completely wrong on that one.
The first series of Tor also featured some of the first 3-D comics complete with colored glasses. Reprints of the same issues (sporting brand new Tor dinosaur covers by Kubert) appeared in the early nineties. Comic writer Bruce Jones, in an intro to a 3-D edition of his own Twisted Tales horror series, fondly recalls how he first discovered 3-D comics with an issue of Tor. Kubert revived Tor a number of times since. The first was in the seventies, this time published by DC comics. The first issue was a new story, expanded from an aborted attempt at a comic strip version of the series. The remainder of the series was made up of fifties reprints.

Kubert next revived Tor in his own magazine Sojourn in the late seventies. This ran for only two issues, and featured a two-part Tor series. This was done in then pictures only format which has become mainstream in comics today. The Sojourn stories have Tor come upon a pack of small theropods scavaging an apatosaur carcass. He drives the carnivores off, but before he can make off with a slab of bronto meat, a deinonychus comes on the scene. Caught without his spear, Tor meats the flesh-eater in combat, and gets the worst of it. The last panel in the story shows Tor prostrate at the bottom of a ravine, with the deinonychus making off with his prize. The last caption reads “to be continued.” But this was to be the final issue. What happened? Did Tor really survive? Kubert did another short Tor feature in the nineties entitled “Food-Chain,” again as a silent comic. In it, Tor is spear-fishing for small, coelacanth fish. The fish are feeding on tiny water-beetles. Of a sudden, a tylosaurus attacks. Tor is able to kill the beast with his pear, and cut himself a slab of reptile meat. The rest of the carcass is eaten by the beetles.

In the mid-nineties Kubert launched a new full-ledged Tor series featuring all-new stories. Unlike the previous Tor series, this was concieved as a mini-series, lasting only four issues. It was magazine-sized format, published by Marvel’s Epic line of Heavy-Hitters. The story also appeared to ignore the previous Tor series as far as the character’s origin. Chee-Chee was absent, and Tor’s early boyhood (as told in the premier of the seventies series) was given a complete revamp. The story told of how Tor’s father, the generous chief of his Cro-Magnon tribe, made the poor judgment of taking in some exiled Neanderthal rogues. The rogues take Tor’s father’s generosity for weakness, and plot his demise. They accomplish this during a hunt of prehistoric long-horn bison, and Tor flees into the mountains. As a young adult, Tor returns, planning revenge, but he and a woman he has rescued from a sacrifice are captured by a tribe of creatures perhaps best described as “lizard apes.” The strange tribe ties Tor to their ceremonial totem, and their leader takes Tor’s woman as his mate. The lizard-apes force Tor to endure a trial that they claim will make him “one of them” should he survive, though they are confident that he will not do so. Tor descends into a “demon hole’ high in the mountains. In then pitch darkness, he discovers a breeding family of bizarre reptilians. These include a nesting female and huge male, which nearly kills Tor in battle. Tor then skins the female reptile, and wears her hide when he returns to the surface. Tor kills the lizard-ape shaman, and reclaims his mate. Tor and his woman return to his tribe, where he finds Klar, leader of the rogue Neanderthals ruling his people. Tor and his mate manage to kill each none of the rogues, leaving only Klar. The Neanderthal leader taunts Tor, and in a disturbing sequence, slays Tor’s survivng mother. The climax is a battle between Tor and Klar. While the huge Neanderthal nearly wins the battle, an earthquake ensues, and a gigantic monster, something like a cross between a serpent and a centipede, bursts forth and devours the gloating rogue, then becomes intent on gobbling up Tor’s people. Tor manages to slay the subterranean horror by toppling the monster back into the ravine whence it came. Tor is hailed as hero, but refuses his people as they did nothing to overthrow the villain Klar themselves. He sets out over the distant hills, answering the call to adventure. This short series also reprinted the Sojourn Tor stories as back up features, as well as the one shot with the tylosaurus. The final issue featured “The Making of Tor”. Here Kubert also told how the conclusion of the Sojourn sequence was supposed to end, though he had not yet finished it. Tor was found by a girl of another tribe, accompanied by trained cave hyenas. She takes Tor to her cave and tends the wounds inflicted on him by his battle with the dinosaur.
In the early twenty-first century, Tor was reissued in three hardback volumes. The first two featured reprints from the fifties series. The final volume included the premier issue of the seventies Tor, the ninties Tor series, the Sojourn reprints, and ”Food Chain.” Each of these volumes also featured extra Tor artwork, aborted Tor projects, and uncompleted Tor comics done in pencil only.

And now a new Tor series is with us. Like the previous one, it is a mini-series, this one spanning six issues. And also like it, Kubert appears once again seems to have totally revamped the character’s origin. Tor’s background seems totally different here than in any of the other series; it is if each series takes place in a slightly different reality than the one preceding it. This is not, for example, what became of Tor after the ventured over the far hills at the end of the nineties series. At least it doesn’t appear to be—perhaps Tor, who is already a young man at the beginning of this story, has joined another tribe after the events in the previous series and prior to his being banned. In this version of Tor, dinosaurs like brontosaurus and T-rex do not appear to be common among the fauna of one million B.C.; to make the series more credible, Kubert has his Cro-Magnon hero actually discovering lost world where saber-tooths, dinosaurs, proto-humans and other beasts and beings form past ages have not merely survived, but evolved into new forms. The new story has Tor exhiled from his tribe as a result of his isolating himself from his fellow tribesmen, and doing new and innovative things. Fearing Tor’s disregard for tradition, the shaman ousts Tor, who is given a violent beating and is exiled. Tor ventures into a cave leading into a forbidden mountain, and emerges in a new world, covered in dense jungle. He happens upon a young australopithicus-like creature lied helplessly to a log. When a crocodilian reptile attacks, Tor, dives to the rescue, in a scene reminiscent of that in his first issue back in the fifties. One caption reads “Tor drives the point of his shaft deep into the sauropod’s eye.” Sauropod? Maybe Kubert should consult his paleontology books.
After saving the furred youngster, Tor encounters the boy’s tribe of pithicine troglodytes. The tribal elders are displeased by Tor’s intervention, explaining that the boy was intended as a sacrifice to a fearsome giant who dwells in the forest. Subsequently, the selfsame giant appears on the scene, and attempts to drag the terrified youngster away. But Tor dares to defy the giant by tossing a boulder at him. To his surprise, the giant weeps, before retreating into the forest. Tor is them welcomed as a hero by the tribe of hairy men. The next day Tor and the young pithicus venture into the jungle for food. Tor observes animals unfamiliar to him, including pterosaurs, giant centipedes, and a proboscidian mammal resembling deinotherium, with its tucks pointing upward instead of down. This creature may in fact be a pyrothere or false mastodont, although they had teeth on their upper jaws as well. They attempt to scavenge the kill of a saber-tooth, when the owner of the kill returns. This beast is long-tailed, and thus does not entirely resemble smilodon, although it appears much larger than a modern tiger. In fact, it much resembles the striped saber-tooth tarags of Burroughs Pellucidar series (pay attention ERB fans). Anyway Tor is manages to kill the giant feline after an incredible battle that leaves him grievously wounded. When Tor finally recovers he finds he is in the care of the giant of the forest. The young pithicus tells Tor that the giant is not evil only outcast and misunderstood, and his intentions were not evil. The giant has been rescuing the outcast children of other tribes, and they have banded together in a secluded realm deep in the jungle. Tor finds a new love interest in a beautiful, dark-skinned member of the tribe. There is even a hint of racial tolerance here, as the woman is charcoal –skinned with strange white hair, and she and Tor explore “feelings beneath unmatched skins.” Tor and his new mate explore the depths of the jungle, and then happen upon the entrance to a hidden underground world, which is hinted is the home of the dark-skinned woman’s original tribe. They venture within, to be set upon by a horde of albino cavern dwellers with atrophied eyes and fearsome tusk-like teeth, who seem to share a hatred for Tor’s dark-skinned mate (Hmmmm…am I reading a further racial allegory here?) Tor and his mate are subdued and captured by the cavern dwellers when a bizarre creature arises from the depths of a subterranean river.

As I have not yet read the fourth issue of the series, I’ll summarize the events therein as they appear to have happed. After defeating the tentacled horror and cavern dwellers, Tor and his mate return to the surface, only to be captured by the shaman of the pithicine tribe, along with the outcast children. The shaman appears intolerant toward ‘differences” and feels threatened by them. The four-armed giant is slain. The fifth issue opens Tor, his mate, the young pithicus, and the other odd children are captured and bound as a sacrifice for “forest spirits”. They are garlanded with flowers and surrounded by gifts of fruit to entice the “spirits”. The tribe of proto-humans take to the trees to watch the spectacle. At first small animals, mammals and comsognathus-like dinosaurs appear for the food. But they are driven off when a pack of small theropods appear. These somewhat resemble velociraptor, but lack the formidable toe-claw common to all dromeosaurids. They may be coelurosaurs, or even troodon, though likely they have evolved since the Mesozoic, and can be identified with nothing precisely form the fossil record. The males are adorned with crests on their heads and running down their backs. In any event, they are evidently omnivorous, as the first gorge on the gifts of fruit, then turn on the helpless captives. Tor is able to trick the lead male theropod into biting through the restraining vines. He then using the vines to trip the animal. He manages to free the dark-skinned girl and the boy, but is apparently too late to save the other children. One of the observing hominids tosses Tor a club to defend himself against the theropods. The shaman admonishes him declaring that Tor is evil. But the tribe takes Tor’s side in the battle, seeing how he risks his own life to save the others. The shaman is knocked from the tree and set upon and devoured by the theropods. “The sounds of ripping flesh are not uncommon in this prehistoric world.” The caption reads above a scene of a small feathered dino-bird (not unlike the numerous feathered dinos recently uncovered in China) in battle with a snake, as Tor and his companions move off in the jungle. The pithicine tribe now accepts Tor as their leader, but he tells them he plans to return to his own land. The pithicines warn him about crossing the mountain and give him and his companions the supplies they need.

But before they can leave the lush valley a huge flesh-eating theropod attacks. This monster, featured on the cover of the sixth issue, somewhat resembles a T-rex, but has boney projections above its’ eyes, even though it has the two-fingered hands of the rex. Inside the issue however, the front arms are much more like those of an allosaurus, as are the boney pretruberances. The narrow toothy jaws of the great saurian, seem slightly too long for either species. Again, this may be what a t-rex, or allosaur-type theropod muight have evolved into in the last 64 million years of isolation. Anyway, it seems that this was the monster from whom the young pithicus has been stealing eggs. The enraged beast charges the group. Tor distracts the beast, and is able to trick her into falling over a cliff. Tor then smashes the dinosaur’s jaws with a boulder, and takes one of her teeth as a talisman. The tree companions then set off, and begin scaling the tremendous wall of cliffs circling the valley. A slip results in the death of the young pithicus (which was not really necessary), whom they leave in an unmarked grave. Reaching the snow-clad summit, Tor and his mate find themselves confronted by a hulking yeti-like man-beast. The shaggy creature leads them into a cavern, and into a hidden enclave within the hollow mountain. Other snow-creatures are, gathered on the shore of a volcanic-heated lake. It occurs to Tor why they have been brought here: there are no children among the tribe, and all the females are past reproductive age. The leader of the yetis challenges Tor for possession of his mate. In a scene worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs, a terrific battle ensues, and Tor manages to kill the yeti leader in the waters of the lake with his purloined dinosaur tooth. Tor and his mate continue on their way to his homeland. The final caption reads “the End…for now.”
All in all, a very decent series, and a triumphant return to the good old days of dinosaur comics.

Tor 1,000,000 Years Ago!

Joe Kubert, one of the most innovative artists in comics created the character Tor back in the fifties. Tor was a Cro-Magon caveman who inhabited mythical "prehistoric world" in which dinosaurs, mammlas and ancient humans thrived side-by side. The comic included some "educational" peices about evolution, prehistoric animals and humans which seemed out of place since the stories themselves were obvious fantasy, I imangine even to fifiteis readers. Kubert was inspired partially by the old B& W film one million B. C., which also mixed dinos and humans in the saem period, but had overlarge lizards playing the dinos.The initial run only lasted 5 issues, with some extra 3-d issues I beleive.

But Tor was rebooted during the seventies. The first issue was an all-new Tor story (well, technically, it was partially from a half-complete unpublished Tor story which Kubert had optioned for a comic strip), that told a tale from Tor's youth. The remainder of the series were the fifies comcis all over again. They technically weren't reprints, thought they looked it. They were traced form the originals. This Tor also didn't last long.

Tor also appeared in a continuous all-new silent tale in Kubert's onw magazine Sojourn. It had Tor coming upon the carcass of a brontosaurus/apatosaurus being devoured by a hord of small theropods. He chases the scavengers off, and cuts himself a huge slab of bronto meat. What he doens't ntice is he approach another larger carnivore (a deinonychus). Once alterted to the dinosaur's prescence, Tor and the beast battle for the meat. Our hero gets the worst of it, and the rator kicks him down a slope. The victorious reptile claims the meat. Tough the caption read "to be continued", as Sojourn ended with that issue, we didn't learn Tor's fate.

I had hopes that the story would conclude in the ninties Tor series, which did reprint the Sojourn stories as a backup feature. But instead of finishing the story, the final issue did a backup on how Tor was created. However, Kubert did tell how the story wpuld ended, though he hadn't finished yet. A cavegirl with trained hyenas finds Tor where he is wounded by the dinosaur and nurses him back to health.