Nuremberg Morality

The legendary Nuremberg Defense is generally accepted to mean “I performed these tasks under orders,” and it was used extensively by Nazi soldiers and officers during the Nuremberg Trials (trials after World War II to charge participants in war crimes). Why did you kill so many Jews? I was doing it under orders.

Where did those orders come from? They came from an authority above me.

Where did his orders come from? The totem pole is climbed until we arrive, eventually, at Hitler (conveniently at this time well and truly dead).

I think the true effects of this are far reaching. I am going to have a focus in this post, as I am not subtle; I have an agenda, and I won’t apologize for it. My agenda is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it, but to make any cake one has to break a few eggs.

Frequently throughout the Old Testament, innocents are murdered at the command of God. In Numbers, as I quoted in my previous post, men, women, children, animals, crops, everything except female virgins, were ordered killed. In Judges, the Israelites would kill anyone who stood between them and Jerusalem, as God not only told them to kill anyone who stands in their way, but to do it right. In Deuteronomy, the tale of the city of Jericho is told as an illustration of the might of the LORD your God, and God ordered the walls to fall and the people put to the sword. Why? Because Jericho stood between where the Jews were and where the Jews were going. To me, this seems odd; if the city was walled, could they not go around? Does it matter?

As per the Nuremberg defense, they were ordered to kill all inhabitants.

How does that relate to today? Now, as opposed to then, God is a God of love and mercy! Unless you worship other gods, or are gay.

The Bible is held as the moral code for just over 2 billion Christians, and for the most part the New Testament isn’t so bad, but you run into problems. The Golden Rule, the true commandment of Jesus Christ, is held in such low esteem, or pre-empted by Old Testament rules; where is homosexuality mentioned in the New Testament? Nowhere, that’s where.

So why do Christians hate homosexuals? We have mentions in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, of course, stating that homosexuality is an abomination to the LORD your God. But why? Who are homosexuals harming? As nearly as I can tell, no one; they engage in love in their way in the privacy of their home. Who is being harmed by Christian hatred of homosexuals? Millions of people who merely do not love how society says they should. Where does the Golden Rule apply here? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Do you want gays to hate and persecute you? Because if you do, you are working really hard to make them not like you very much.

And again, why do Christians hate the gays? As I mention above, it hardly seems to stem from the New Testament message of the Love of Jesus Christ, and it seems a blatant violation of the Golden Rule. They do it because God said so. Why did God say so? “Ours is not to know, but to do and to die.” (An interesting quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade that applies so heavily to any religion (admittedly out of context).)

It is what I term Nuremberg morality; if the Bible is the height of moral teaching, and it teaches hate of homosexuals, then “hate because I was ordered to hate,” reads just as “I killed Jews under orders.” Did I just compare people who hate homosexuals to Nazis? No, you did, reader! I was just telling two parallel stories. *Cough*

If anyone were to think about the morality of why hating homosexuals was… You know… A thing? I think the world would be a different place. Instead of Christians (or Muslims, as the case often is) applying Nuremberg Morality, imagine what the world would look like if an internal monologue of morality sounded like this:

“Should I hate this group of people? On the one hand, I find their beliefs weird. On the other hand, are they hurting anyone with their beliefs? No, they aren’t hurting anyone. OK. Would I want anyone to hate me based on my beliefs? No. So won’t hate them because of their beliefs, as their beliefs are not impacting the happiness of anyone else.”

As I’ve often said, in about one third of all of my posts, my goal is to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it. That is the basis of all of my moral internal discussions.

The next time someone is being persecuted, don’t lean back on the Bible. Ask why they are being persecuted. Have they hurt someone? Do their beliefs cause unspeakable evil? No? Then why are they being persecuted?

This can be applied in so many of life’s situations. The next time you ask yourself what to do in a situation involving other humans, don’t ask “What would Jesus do?”, because even the four Gospel writers had no idea what Jesus would really want in the long run. Ask “What can I do to make the most people the most happy?”

I guarantee you, if 10% of the world thought this way, the world would be a much better place within the month.

Or, you know, you could go looking through the Old Testament for a verse that says that women on their period are unclean (Leviticus 15:19), and then decide that because of this all women are far closer to demons than men are, and then persecute women for several thousand years. That’s cool too. But I like my way better.

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A Confused Narrative

Something crossed my mind yesterday, for reasons I can neither explain nor fully understand. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of the Old Testament Yahweh, and have certainly levied many criticisms of Him and His supposed omniscience, but all of my words are seemingly cast aside by the counter argument of “progressive revelation.”

Progressive revelation is, for all intents and purposes, boiled down to the idea that God gave us His Holy Word (capitalizing those three words in a row feels wrong, somehow) in pieces for various reasons; we weren’t able to understand it, or the time wasn’t right, so He waited. I think this is nicely encapsulated by the disparity between the commandments of Moses stating that divorce can be granted via proper papers (Deuteronomy 24) as opposed to Jesus specifically saying “Hey guys, I know Moses said you could get a divorce, and I know my Dad more or less said that was cool, but you know what? Not cool.” (Slightly paraphrased from Matthew 19:1-9.) That seems an odd thing for an omniscient deity with strict rules and laws to do, for Jesus explicitly said “They could get a divorce because their hearts were hard.” Does God seem like the kind of deity to allow for something along the lines of “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Their marriages aren’t working out well, so I’ll let them have divorces. But only temporarily.” No, God is generally pretty clear in His explicit (and timeless) rules. At least, insofar as I am able to understand Him/them.

You know what, though? That is small potatoes. That is a blip on the radar so small that it passes by unnoticed by the gaze of ten thousand watching eyes in comparison to the nearly blinding idea that I had never considered until yesterday. It is so obvious, why had it not occurred to me? It is so obvious, yet why is it that I get only sparse Google results when considering it on a larger scale? It is so large as to cover the entire screen of our metaphorical radar, and perhaps that is why so few notice it.

Why did an omniscient, timeless God have a Chosen People at all? In the Old Testament, the Jews are the chosen and beloved, they are commanded on more than one occasion to kill all the men, women, and children (except the female virgin children for… reasons… [Numbers 31:17-18]), kill the animals and crops, to make the land as though no one had ever lived there before the Jews. When they were slaves under Pharaoh (historicity aside), He performed amazing shows of force, and freed them, His people, from the lash and chains of slavery. Historically, there were other slaves at the time; God did not save them, only the Jews (this is an important distinction). God set aside land for His chosen people, though it is odd that an omniscient God chose such contested land (there are places the Jews could call home that would result in far fewer deaths, then and now). As far as the Prophets, the narrative in the Old Testament seems to indicate that the Messiah would come to save the “lost lambs of the tribe of Israel,” a phrase translated to mean “The Jews.” In other words, as far as the Old Testament prophets were concerned, the Messiah was coming to save them, not the world. This makes sense, in the grand scheme of things; God has shown a remarkable level of callousness to all people and races who were not Jewish; personally I find it odd that He, in His omniscience, would often show Himself to and have direct conversations with people of His own chosen race… Then punish other races for not worshiping Him. This seems a heavy handed approach, as other peoples would have had no reason to worship Him or know he existed, as He had not frequently spoken to (and presumably dislocated the hip of [go read Genesis 32. If that wasn’t written under the effects of hallucinogens, I don’t know of any way it could possibly have been inspired]) their leaders. Hey, speaking of Genesis 32, Jacob (whose hip has been dislocated by God) seems … Well, it is an odd chapter, for Jacob is wrestling with a man who comes out of NOWHERE (verse 23? No man. Verse 24: Jacob was wrestling with a guy. Verse 25: wrestling guy decides he can’t win, dislocates Jacob’s hip. Verse 27: RANDOM GUY WAS CLEARLY GOD!). That summary bears some explanation: in verse 25, the man (who later turns out to be God) decides he can’t win. Omniscient, all-powerful God cannot beat Jacob in a wrestling match on even footing, so He uses magic to dislocate Jacob’s hip. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?!

Got side tracked there. Anyway, yeah, God only talks to Jews, Jews are His chosen, and He will smite anyone who gets in the way of His chosen (sometimes). I mean, he actually makes His chosen do the smiting at His command, AFTER He commands that “thou shalt not kill.”

Then… Jesus! Chosen people? WHO CARES ABOUT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE! I am here to save everyone! Gentile and Jew, as many a popular hymn reiterate! Now, I know you might be bitter because my Dad commanded that your forefathers be killed and your virgin children taken as slaves, but HE CHANGED HIS MIND! Rejoice, all people! Rejoice!

My question, and the whole point of the post, is this: Why did God have a chosen people at all if He planned to eventually reveal Himself as the savior of all people? Why did He smite so many people, if He eventually planned to save their descendents? Were their forefathers just born at the wrong time? Was God just cranky that day (read: that several hundred years)? Why would a timeless God smite so many, only to save them later? Those are the actions of someone who can’t decide what they want, not the actions of someone who has a timeless, eternal plan. Like God is making it up as He goes along. Oh, I know the Bible says “Jesus was there from the foundations of the world,” (the Gospel of John, though to me the evidence of that is dubious, and the wording unclear at best), but that seems more like someone who trips into a somersault, bounces up, and says “I meant to do that!” This whole situation reeks of that same level of excuse to me; I chose a people, it didn’t work out, so then I chose ALL PEOPLE! Then, like the aforementioned person who tripped, we are informed “And that was how I meant to do it all along.

I won’t lie, if someone broke into my house, and killed my dogs and raped my wife, and took my children, and then told me “You are alive because I have chosen you!” I would not be like “Truly, you are an awesome person, great in mercy, and Just in decision!” I’d be like “Oh what the f*** dude, the cops are on their way, and I hope you share a cell with the biggest, most rape-happy prisoner in the supermax.”

And yet here we are, and it was when I was very young that I learned the jubilant tune of “Our God is an Awesome God,” and it is only now that I consider just how odd it is that He commanded the killing of so many, then proclaimed eternal, unconditional love for all. You say the word “unconditional”, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

Science by Press Release

Science by Press Release is a term that was coined very recently to describe the type of “fund-baiting” that many organizations have engaged in. In a bygone era, science was completed and published in a peer-reviewed journal, the math and evidence was done and combed for error by minds in the same field, the experiments run and rerun, the data poured over like a beach rumored to contain a treasure chest full of treasure. Lately, science funding has become admittedly more difficult to come by (as far as institutions have reported; I’m no scientist). Due to this, rather than engaging in the admittedly bureaucratic process of peer review, an experiment is completed then the institution performs a press-release claiming that they have revolutionized physics, cosmology, xenobiology, etc. Hey, spell check, get off my back! Xenobiology is totally a word. Jerk.

Anyway, in March some new evidence that could be possibly related to inflation theory (faster than light expansion of the universe in the wake of the big bang) was “published via press release”, and predictably came under attack by scientists claiming that the release was certainly premature (even the non-scientists among my news-reading friends recall the whole CERN/faster than light debacle), and quickly from every corner of the globe came alternate translations of the data, alternate possibilities, alternate theories. This is normal, and healthy; science by press release should not be a thing (though I believe all peer reviewed studies should be publicly made available; even if I don’t understand the mathematical underpinnings, it would allow a wider audience to critique the findings). That being said, some who stand in opposition of the study for reasons that are clearly out to lunch; I am about to make a complete hypocrite of myself by saying so, but standing against it for the wrong reasons in this case is just… Worrisome.

I recently came across another YEC science site that piqued my interest, and before long I had 20 open tabs and more reading to do than I could possibly finish in the next couple of days. I love burying myself in information; it is validation that I still have so much to learn, so much more to know. Then I came across Dr John Hartnett, and was violently reminded that being an incredibly learned person who is clearly highly intelligent does not mean the person is, in any way, above gross intellectual dishonesty. This is a hefty claim for a layperson like me to level, and I don’t level it lightly; a person who simply does not believe in science is not intellectually dishonest, just ignorant of data (which is, to me, a far more easily forgiven sin). John Hartnett (Must. Not. Call. Him. Josh………) shows a strong capacity to understand the science in question, but is either happy to ignore it, or thinks his readers too low on the intellectual totem pole to actually require substantive claims.

To wit: this article speaks about the aforementioned press release claiming evidence for inflation theory. In it, he claims (rightly, so far) that the science was released prematurely and bears close scrutiny. He then goes on, however, to claim that each scientist who claims it is possibly bad science is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, because (obviously) God created the world 6000 years ago. I agree, Dr Hartnett, that this science bears close scrutiny and that every claim against it should be sufficiently addressed, but I do not believe that every claim against it should be held up as a clear reason that the Big Bang theory is wrong. I was actually going to withhold this post, not post it at all, as I do not like to criticize people–only beliefs that I believe to be untenable–then I got to the list of references on the article, and saw that Dr Hartnett cited his own work as evidence for his current article, as though his personal beliefs are substantive to disprove this science. Again, as someone who loves science a great deal, citing your own personal grievances as evidence hardly seems intellectually honest.

The other portion of this article that irks me is his flatly delivered statement that Cosmology, no matter how much evidence is supported, would never have the power to overturn his beliefs in the literal 6 day creation model, as it is “a weak science.” This is a fallacious argument at the best of times; cosmology can never be perfect (unless we manage to witness the creation of a new universe), but it can give us incredible amounts of data. In fact, if it is such a weak (and philosophically worthless) science, why do you care to study and attempt to disprove it?

The scope of this blog post is much smaller than my usual attempts at criticism, but that is only superficial. While I have chosen a single example, it is more a critique of Creation criticism of science. Cherry picking one piece of data that is incomplete then making the claim that this invalidates not just a whole theory but in this case an entire field, shows that he is perfectly willing to engage in the logical fallacies that he (in this same article) accuses the Cosmology science team of committing. In this case, as far as traditionally defined logical fallacies, he has engaged in the Fallacy Fallacy (yes, that is its actual name, and refers to a claim in which a fallacy has occurred being called false only because there was a fallacy), as well as the composition/division fallacy (the idea that a fact about one part of a claim must be applied to all other parts [ie, in this case: this is a bad claim, therefore cosmology is bad and the Big Bang is false]). To a lesser extent, there is also the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy at play (cherry picking data), as well as anecdotal and appeal to authority (I am a scientist, therefore everything I say is valid).

Some of what you say is valid, Dr Hartnett, but I am making a plea to your own better nature and intellectual honesty; please stop leading people away from science by citing bad or nonexistent science. I do not want to dislike you, but you do wield far more power of persuasion than I do, and I am afraid the way you use it causes me a large amount of discomfort.

This is a very negative post, and I hate that, so I will try to think of something more positive to write before end of day so this one can go to its grave never having known popularity (though my body is braced for this to become, accidentally, my most popular post somehow because karma is a jerk…).

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, Creation, and Science

This will probably be my most negative post in a long time, but I would like to think that I have been fair and level-headed with my blog to this point. Many disagreements between Creation and Science have been highlighted here, as well as several instances of Creation Science, an unholy (IRONY!) merging of two wholly separate fields into something of a shambling husk, a cross between Frankenstein and something less substantive.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is in full effect here, admittedly on both sides, but far more vehemently on the religious side–don’t worry, that isn’t an assertion I’ll make without some definition and supporting evidence. The Dunning-Kruger effect explains the paradoxical inverse relationship between knowledge and confidence. Wait, what? Inverse relationship?

The Dunning-Kruger effect, in its simplest explanation, is the idea that a person of moderate skill or knowledge in a field will often rate their own skill more highly than an expert in a field; colloquially it is the effect described by “The more you know the more you know you don’t know.” TAKE THAT, ENGLISH! In any case, I promised supporting evidence, and I do plan to deliver. Let’s start with the Big Bang theory.

The Big Bang theory is an interesting case study from both sides, religion and science, because it is so simple when boiled down to a single sentence, but paradoxically impossibly complex when expanded to its own amazing scope. In a single sentence, it is the idea that our universe came from a singularity of impossibly dense matter that exploded into everything we see today. When you expand it, though, things start to get confusing, befuddled, almost magical, and difficult to understand (the thing about science is that a good scientist will admit when they do not know something). What came before the Big Bang? Well, at this time it is commonly believed that it is impossible to know; as explained in special and general relativity, time did not exist (as we know it) prior to the explosion of energy that was the Big Bang. In order to understand that, you have to go over and think about the idea that time and space are both a fabric that could be compared to a sheet spread out over… Nothing? Unfortunately, I am not qualified to give you a lecture on space-time and the fabric of the universe, but that is kind of the point; to even begin to understand the Big Bang, you have to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity… And while it has been expanded and simplified since Einstein originally published, and far more people understand it today than did for the first couple of decades after its formalization. It is still so complex that Arthur Eddington, a British Astronomer (read: spent his life studying the very body that Einstein described) was once posed the question “Do you really believe it when people say there are only three people in the world who understand Relativity?” His reply, whether accurate or anecdotal, still speaks volumes about the complexity of this body of science; after considering a moment, he said “I can’t think who would be the third.”

The problem is, we’ve only just scraped the surface; if Creationists are trying to bury The Big Bang theory six feet deep, understanding Special and General Relativity is only the first spade strike; you are just breaking ground. In order to get deeper, you have to begin to understand minute details of astrophysics, a notoriously complicated system of mathematics that is only just able to explain the movements of planets and stars, the idea of an expanding universe, the calculations required to explaining the increasing speed of expansion. Hell, if you were to compare the Big Bang to a cherry bomb, we are still so close to the beginning of the bomb going off that the explosion is still growing. That may not be an accurate analogy; the physics of our rapidly expanding universe are so complicated that they don’t make sense mathematically based on what we know, so we are forced to come up with educated guess-and-test scenarios to even make the math work. “Oh, well there you go! We found something you can’t explain in a science so young there are several people older than the entire body currently alive! GOD DID IT!” No, no I don’t think that is even in the realm of fair play; your God has said “I know everything,” for at least the last 2600 years (written records of the Old Testament). I think, given that case, science should be allowed to study the Big Bang for at least another 2520 years (the Big Bang was first formalized in 1927). If we still don’t have the answer in 2520 years, hey, I am comfortable saying that maybe God did it. Hell, let’s make a bet; I’ll bet we know how expansion theory works in 2520 years; if we don’t, and we’re both still around, I’ll buy you lunch.

Ah, but we’re still just a couple of feet into our six foot grave, friends. Now we start to venture into the wonderful, weird world of Quantum theory; quantum mechanics, to be precise. See, the weird thing about our universe is that things start to break down when you start looking at really, really, really small things; things on the subatomic level. When exactly do physics start to break down? No one is quite sure; we just know that at some point, when going from large to small, Einstein’s model of relativity starts to break down, physics stops working like we expect, and we have an entire field of study dedicated to this. Conversely, when going from small to large, things are weird then… At some point, they start making sense in a traditional way. Things in the small world don’t just move from one place to another, they pop in and out of existence (in a sense), and they can be entangled; changes to one have an effect on the other. The thing is, given the physics that we do know about the Big Bang, we have to begin employing quantum mechanics at some point after the explosion but prior to its existence as a body subject to traditional physics. The interactions, the odd physics, the unexplainable (currently) phenomena, they all make the Big Bang difficult to fully quantify. And, of course, we understand that even the idea of physics breaks down when all of space-time existed as a singularity; there may have been a universe before, or nothing at all, or the singularity could have been something we completely don’t understand. It could have been something akin to a god, I am not willing to rule it out (though someone with a much deeper knowledge of the physics of the Big Bang may have some knowledge that rules this out that I am not aware of), but certainly I feel comfortable saying it wasn’t the Christian idea of God.

Now we are starting to get fairly deep in our grave. Are you still ready to keep digging, after you have an in-depth knowledge of Relativity, Astrophysics, Quantum Mechanics? Or are you going to keep digging without understanding those fields?

Ah, but even if you understand the minute details of all of those fields and still believe that the God of Abraham was at the beginning of all things, we still haven’t dug our six foot grave to bury the Big Bang theory yet. In order to get deeper, you have to start to understand the idea of Quantum Chromodynamics, and here is where my own knowledge begins to drop off, so you’ll have to forgive me for my more basic descriptions of the following theories. Now, Quantum Chromodynamics is defined as follows:

“In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is the theory of strong interactions, a fundamental force describing the interactions between quarks and gluons which make up hadrons such as the proton, neutron and pion.”

I am afraid that I doubt I will have a working knowledge of this field of science before we get to the end of this post, but in order for you to dismiss the idea of the Big Bang theory, you first need to understand and find fault in QCD theory. Once you’ve done that, surely you are six feet deep, right?! No, no I am afraid you are not, though you are admittedly getting close. Still, there is more to understand, and things are only getting weirder.

We are now in the realm of the purely theoretical; the realm of almost pure math, where we are using numbers instead of words to describe things that we cannot actually observe. We are tearing apart the universe and using numbers to tell the universe how it works, DAMMIT! The problem is, when there are almost no ways for us to empirically test these mathematical constructs (YET!), we are left in the realm of best guesses. To be fair, thousands of scientists spend thousands of hours each every year trying both to describe the universe’s most odd fundamentals and then prove that their descriptions of accurate. This adds up to multiple millions of man-hours each year, where the brightest, most well educated minds on the entire planet are trying to describe how the very mechanics of the universe work; like tearing apart a watch to examine all the cogs and springs, only there are an innumerable amount of both cogs and springs, and they are all so small we can’t see them.

So when we get into the very depths of theoretical physics, we have come across literal billions of man-hours of science that can only, when added together, begin to describe the universe as though they were infants asked to describe the inner workings of a V6 engine. Imagine there are two children standing in front of a running V6, both asked to describe it. One says “It makes noise, then a car moves.” The other walks around it slowly, sees the pistons moving, see parts rotating, and says “I don’t know, but those moving parts have something to do with it, and I am going to spend the next few years figuring it out.”

Which one, then, better describes the approach of “God did it!” when working with science so complex that there is no mind in the world that could possibly understand it all?

Now here is where the Dunning-Kruger effect comes in at full force. The greatest, brightest minds in the world say “I don’t know, and I do not have the expertise to know.” Minds home schooled, with no formal education in physics, who hold government office are comfortable saying “Well, of course I know! I know all the answers!”

The very funny thing is that the Bible is 800,000 (or so) words long, and I would be surprised if the body of papers about the Big Bang alone measure only that many pages (seriously, I’d imagine there are far more pages than merely 800,000 out there). I have read the Bible; I’ve gone through it several times. I have seen strange contradictions, interactions, falsities, missed prophecies, historical inaccuracies, and even then I know that there are people who know far, far more about the Bible than me. That being said, there are people who know far less about the Bible, having never read it themselves, who would feel comfortable telling me that it is an inerrant document, the literal Word of God, having no contradictions, and that physical science and history is only correct when it aligns with the book they have never read, and here we have another almost egregious example of Dunning-Kruger at work.

The point is this; when you are going to parrot something that someone has told you, such as “God did the Big Bang!”, please at least make a strong effort to understand what you are saying. I am one man, but I have made a very strong effort to understand, as well as a layperson can be said to understand, the physics involved in the Big Bang. I have read a great deal about Relativity, about Astrophysics (even if I cannot do the math that this field requires), the various facets of Quantum Theory, and I am afraid that after having read thousands of pages, I have to extend my arms and offer something that I would describe as trust, but you might describe as faith. I do require some degree of faith that the math all works out in the end, because I find that I am incapable of doing the math myself at my current level of education.

The difference between my growing knowledge and the idea that the Bible is all you need is that I am constantly learning. Maybe some day I will know enough that I will not require faith, or science will understand enough that the theories describing the universe itself can be boiled down into forms that can be understood by the layperson.

The thing about your faith is that it is in a book that you have either read once, or from which you cherry pick verses, or that you have never read at all. If you are going to tell me that your Bible is inerrant and literally true, read through the entire thing, and tell me in your own words how you justify that. If you are just going to parrot people who have done it before you, saying exactly what they said to me, that shows a lack of understand, or a lack of comprehension, or a lack of having read the material at all.

What I have done here today wasn’t parroting information about the Big Bang; I told you about the theory in my own words, using my own understanding. I could do the same (and have, at some length) regarding the Bible and factual errors as well as inconsistencies… But the funny thing is, even then, I have done a ton of external research. A great place to start, and to start with an absolutely theistic leaning, is with the works of Reza Aslan. His book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is an incredibly in-depth look at the historical validity of the Gospels contained in the Bible. To clarify, the book does not aim to tear them apart, it aims to tell an accurate history of Jesus and the early Christian Church, to form a coherent single narrative out of the disparate tales contained in the Gospels. I mean, I find it odd that you can say the Bible is inerrant and free of contradiction when none of the four primary canonical Gospels seem to be able to agree on the life of Jesus. In any case, I would like to hear your refutations of the points made by Aslan in this book. Some of the points include the fact that no census was taken that would have required Joseph to go to Bethlehem, the fact that “going to the city of your fathers” in no way describes how a Roman census was conducted, or the fact that, as he was born of a virgin who was impregnated by God himself, Jesus would have had zero drops (that is 0%, none, nil, 0/1, 0/100, zip, zilch, nada) of blood that would tie him in any way to the lineage of David. To go even one step further, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke give two completely different genealogies of Jesus, and that barely matters because genealogies of the time were done through the male line, and it was Mary’s blood in him anyway. What was the genealogy of Mary? I don’t know, I don’t even know who her Grandmother would have been, let alone tracing back her history some 42 generations, let alone 76 generations. Another odd thing is that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both have David in Jesus’ lineage, but the generations between David and Jesus in the Gospel of Luke was some forty two, and in Matthew was twenty seven. Even more damning, these ‘detailed’ generations contain only two names in common.

There, a single paragraph. If you can tell me, in your own words, why the genealogy of Jesus is listed so differently between the two Gospels (and, while you are at it, why his genealogy matters at all, if he was born of a virgin), and how you still believe the Bible to be inerrant and literal, then we can continue this dialog forward. If you send me nothing but a quote from someone who never seems to be able to defend themselves in a public forum, I am afraid we have reached an impasse.

The Tight Ties of the Body, the Mind, and Nature

Warning: This post is new age philosophical bullshit, and I am not going to apologize for that. As I’ve done before, you can read only the first two and last two paragraphs to skip my nearly interminable (and nearly nonsensical) ramblings.

One thing that was always hard for me to understand, for a long time, was the angry, often violent reaction of theistic adherents to criticism of their beliefs. Whether it is a core doctrine or a minor verse, often the backlash seems to be wildly out of proportion to the attack; as a writer on the internet, I am familiar with that backlash (oddly, “writer on the Internet” feels as though it is completely adequate to explain why I have been targeted by this backlash). I am not going to blame anyone, I just want to explain what I have learned; unfortunately in hindsight this lesson feels painfully obvious, so if it has occurred to you feel free to skip it.

We all have multiple identities (please forgive me the philosophical leanings of this post), two primary of which are our physical identity and our ideological identity. The physical identity, the identity that people around us see and understand and interact with. The ideological identity is internal, it is a concept of ourselves we have formed in our own minds that contains our thoughts, feelings, ideas, our own perception of our own identity.

For some, these two identities are separate, and I would consider it a mark of emotional maturity to understand them as such. For what seems like the majority (though the study to give concrete numbers would be impossible by definition), these identities are tangled; whether atheist or theist, to attack the ideological identity is to attack the physical identity for the reason that the idea of the world view is used by the person to form their public persona. That bears some degree of explanation or example, as even my rereading it leaves me … Confused, at best.

To speak with many theists (and my experience is mostly with Christians, as a function of where I came from and where I live), the core of their world view is contained within the answer “I am Christian.” To be fair, it does give a very broad idea of what they believe; to speak with a Christian, one can make a vast number of assumptions about their political leanings and views, their understanding of the world, their purpose… These should, however, be tempered by the understanding that there are many levels of Christian, ranging from casual to fundamentalist. When the identities overlap (parts of their physical identity corresponding in a 1:1 relationship with their ideological identity), you have a sort of entanglement that results in damage to one identity being felt by the other.

When I say “I do not believe in the Christian God,” and list my reasons, this is not only blasphemy and apostasy, this is an attack on the ideological identity of some 2.18 billion humans (as per the 2011 Pew research forum on religion and public life). For many, my words pass over them like a gentle gust of wind; it may not always be pleasant, but it does not damage them. To others, it hits them (speaking from a hormonal level) with the same force as a strong punch to the gut. How does the human fight or flight instinct react? More often, when you have been physically attacked (as far as you are concerned), your fight instinct takes over.

The boon and blight of the Internet is that it does not allow for physical altercation, so people who feel assaulted respond in kind; they attack the ideological identity of their attacker. Often, as is the case with me, my ideological identity has no ties to my personal identity; attacks by the theist on my nontheism hurt me as much as the aforementioned gentle gust of wind.

If my body is the representation of my physical identity, and the soul the representation of my ideological identity, then there is a third identity outside of both that I believe is represented by Nature herself. Whether our body and soul are directly entangled or completely separate in our mind, they affect the way we see nature; for myself, an avid seeker of science, truth, and understanding of the nature we live in, nature is a mysterious entity to which we must bend. To an anti-theist, Nature is the avatar that represents god, whether they will admit it or not–it will garner the same reactions, when attacked, as a particularly blasphemous outcry towards a staunch fundamentalist.

Conversely, from a theistic point of view (and particularly from a very fundamentalist theist), nature is a beast of burden, one whose sole purpose is to host them until they achieve their True Nature, that of the soul. To that end, since the ideological identity is formed almost purely out of religion, Nature must be bent to their ideals. To study and understand nature, especially where it conflicts with the Word of God (The Bible), is to build a Neo Tower of Babel, to challenge the ideas of God. To that end, Nature is attacked, bent and bound, to fit the nature of The Bible. It is this attack on Nature that atheists (and, more vehemently, anti-theists) find so reprehensible that they will fall back into their baser instincts and attack with all the direction and thought of a bull who has had his testicles bound by the rope of a cowboy. It is not pretty, but (admittedly) it is certainly entertaining.

I think the way to bring this dialogue to an even playing field, we must understand where our ideological and physical identities tie together and disentangle the mess. When I attempt to use evidence to chip slowly away at the more reprehensible ideals of Christianity (such as the latent homophobia), I do not intend to attack the ideological identity of 2.18 billion Christians; I intend to remove the ugly parts of the soul whose sole purpose is to harm other souls. In order to ever achieve peace, we must recognize the parts of our own identities that inflict pain on others and look (deeply and thoroughly) at them, deciding if they are truly worth fighting over.

I am going to paint a picture, because I know this rant has made next to no sense and is mostly New-Age Bullshit.

Someone whose two primary identities are separate is like a man with a rope; the rope can be changed and shifted, tied into knots and untied, used for one purpose, restored, then used for another. When someone makes a statement that directly addresses your ideological identity, you can modify the rope to fit that idea, and you will not hurt yourself in so doing. If you do not like the way it has modified your identity, you can restore the rope to however you had it before, and move on.

Someone whose identities are tangled is like a man with a rope tied around him, looped and knotted. When someone makes a statement that directly addresses the ideological identity (the rope), pulling on any one thread will cause pain in another area of the body. Like a dog that is cornered, instead of accepting help, they will lash out at anyone who comes near, afraid that the only thing they could bring is pain. If they could disentangle themselves from the rope, we could speak freely, without hurting each other. I do not want to steal the rope and bend it to my will, I just want you to understand that changing the knots in the rope is not always a bad thing, and give you the opportunity to understand the joys of Nature and science as I do, without hurting you. So let’s all get along, body and soul, to forge a better, more peaceful world. Who knows, you may even like it.

The Strange Tale of Sodom and Gomorrah

Edit: This post got even more rambly than usual. If you want a short version of it, check out the last two paragraphs; they contain a summarized version of my points, though you will miss my stories and incomprehensible wordenings.

The reaction to my post The Personality of Gods was predictable, of course, but it takes the ability to ignore a lot of the Bible to believe that the Christian God is a loving, wise, parental figure. The idea that God was surprised when Eve and Adam (order chosen for Biblical order) ate of the fruit of knowledge of Good and Evil seems to indicate a lack of prescience, but that point has been beaten to the ground. For an even better, more comprehensive idea of how much God loves us and can totally see the future, guys, is to look at the tale of Abraham, Lot and the city of Sodom.

When God announced his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham stood and called into question God’s judgment. As per Genesis 18, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Read that a few times. That is a human standing up to God, and saying “You know, maybe I’m like… Not perfect, or whatever… But killing everyone, the good and the bad, just because there are lots of bad people? That seems like… Maybe… Kinda dickish. So… What say you tone it down a notch? Maybe?”

There is an extended bartering session between God and Abraham, then. God says he will save the cities if Abraham can find fifty righteous among the population, and Abraham eventually talks him down to ten. So God says “Sure. If you can find ten righteous people, I’ll let the people of the city live.” This always made me incredibly uncomfortable, as no matter which way I read it, this did not point to an omniscient, loving God.

Let’s take a look at it, walk around it a little, think about the implications. God lets Abraham, a person He … Loves? Is that the word? Anyway, he lets Abraham look for these ten people who are righteous. If he is omniscient, he will know two things: Whether those people are there, and whether Abraham will succeed. So what does that signify?

If God knows that there ARE ten righteous amongst the population of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham just has to find them, like some high stakes game of Where’s Waldo mixed with one of the Saw movies, then you are worshiping a God who seems almost sadistic. If God knew that there weren’t ten righteous, why would he let his chosen even search? Seems like a waste of time. Not only that, but God spares Lot, his wife (sort of spares his wife, I suppose? Gives her a chance? But why give her a chance if you are going to kill her in ten minutes? Again, seems almost sadistic), and his three daughters… So that is five people right there! Of course, God kills Lot’s wife who defies him and looks back at the destruction of the city (did he not know she would?). So we are now left with four. Aaaand… Lot gets pissed off his ass and has crazy Old Testament sex with his daughters. So maybe none of them are righteous?

So why did God save Lot and (most) of his family? That part isn’t suuuper explicit, but it is generally accepted in the reading that Lot was saved because Abraham asked God to save him. So it rounds out to something like God saying “Awww, don’t be mad Abraham. Hey, what say I save your nephew? Will that make you feel better? Huh? Yeah, yeah that’ll make you feel better. I’ll kill everyone in the cities except Lot. Can’t get a better deal than that, can you? But they’d better not watch me level those cities, or I’ll still kill them. I mean, fair is fair, right?” It sounds almost petulant, seems almost like God is trying to earn Abraham’s love, rather than Abraham worshiping him.

In the New Testament, we have the idea of The Rapture (while the word is never actually there, there is the idea that 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel are rescued from the end of the world). Oh hey, while researching this very topic, I read the etymology of the word Rapture. It comes from the Latin “raptura”, meaning “To seize, rape, kidnap.” That actually blew my mind a little, that the Christian population cannot wait to be seized, raped, and/or kidnapped…. BY GOD! Anyway, while the Old Testament God is usually very much on board with wholesale destruction, killing all people for the sins of some, and even explicitly sending all humans to hell for the sins of Adam and Eve, the New Testament God is willing to save 144,000 Jews! Oh, you thought He would save you, theoretical Christian? Given the stats provided in Revelations, you are probably out of luck. I am sorry to bring you this news. Where was I going with this? Oh right, God is willing to save some righteous while he burns the rest of us (the Rainbow Covenant in Genesis, at the end of the flood, said he’d never kill us all via flood ever again, so giving evil free run of the world, with burning, fire, demons, and gnashing of teeth is totally on board. But he’ll save a large group of people this time! Instead of 8, He will save 144,000, which admittedly is quite the improvement.

Now, using rough numbers, God saved 0.0000032% of the Earth’s population the first go ’round (given an estimate of 250 million people alive at the time, and having saved 8), and given the current world population of 7 billion and the number of saved at 144,000, that means he’ll be saving 0.002% this time, a thousandfold improvement! Such mercy! Such love! Such wise judgment!

I don’t know why, whether it be imagined or true, God is so willing to kill so many out of hand. He’s done it before, He promised to do it again. I do not understand why this is considered such a good thing, such a loving thing, such a wise thing. The fact that this is viewed with awe and reverence scares me, I suppose, because I think to believe in a God of Love requires being blind to so much of what is going to happen, what the Bible claims has happened.

It goes further than that; when science and modern Christians give Biblical Literalists a chance to escape, an excuse of “it was local”, or it was “Noah’s whole world,” for the flood, they stand in a position of defiance. “No, God killed everyone except 8 people! HE KILLED THEM ALLLLLLL!! AHAHAHAHAHA!” (I may have added the laughter at the end myself, but other than the laughter, that is an encapsulation of their belief, really.)

Their God of love did not feel he had to devise a targeted apocalypse; the God of Love just said “F*** ’em,” killed everyone, and started over.

And He plans to do it again.

And He loves us.

So, to summarize, I suppose; the God who can see all events of the future was surprised when Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, surprised when Adam did the same, surprised when His creation contained a bunch of jerks, surprised when Abraham tried to have the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah saved, surprised when people built the Tower of Babel (that is a story for another day, kids), and all of this surprise by the God who can see all things in the future as though they are happening before his eyes adds up to the fact that He thought it was OK to kill everyone, send them to a pit of eternal torture for the Sins of their forebears (Did you know that, according to the Bible, if a child is born out of wedlock that family line is cursed for ten generations to Hell? Deuteronomy 23:2. Seriously, if in the last three hundred years any of your family was born out of wedlock, you are going to Hell, even if you are the bestest, most worshippingest Christian history has ever recorded).

Anyway, please, tell me why you believe God is a God of Love in the comments. Please, please, please do. I do not understand, I really don’t. While you are at it, let me know why you believe He is omniscient, because he was pretty much perpetually surprised in the Old Testament, as far as I can read. That may sound sarcastic, but I really would like to have some level of respect for God, but the Bible makes it really, really difficult. =(

The Terrible Knowledge of Not Knowing

I am pompous in the things that I know, there is no way for me to deny it. I spend a lot of time reading, learning, trying to understand the world and my place in it. Astronomy fascinates me, as it shows me that the universe is not a lonely place. Even if there is no other life, there is so much to see, to understand, to learn about… We don’t know a tenth of the physics that make our universe go. There are nebula that contain so much information, that look so beautiful, I could never be bored looking into them. I stare at the Hubble UDF–I’ve probably spent 50 hours of my life looking at that picture, just looking at it, and it is one of the only pictures I keep on the bookmarks bar of every Internet browser I use, at home or at work. Actually, without context, the UDF might just be another picture of space to you, so I implore you to read up about what you are looking at, if you clicked that picture. You can find the information here.

I am comfortable saying I know, to the extent that a human can know, a lot. I am no Ken Jennings, who has made it his profession to know things. I am no Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whose business it is to bring The Cosmos to the masses. I am just a man who tries as hard as I am able to try, to know everything I can know.

Thanks to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, though, I know that there is so much I don’t know that I can barely be said to know anything at all. I will die before we understand what makes the universe tick, I will die before we make contact with extraterrestrial life (though our current understanding of physics makes it, at the least, incredibly unlikely we ever will), I will die before we escape the prison of our own Solar System. It doesn’t matter how long I live, either; if I die tomorrow, or if I die in 70 years, the above statements will still be true.

We are, admittedly, making more scientific progress daily than we have in the vast majority of the last 6000 years (that number was carefully chosen, as readers of my blog may note), so perhaps I am just a pessimist. But this lends itself to two things; my complete lack of fear in death, and my terrible sadness at how much I will never know. When I die does not matter, of course, especially in the grand scheme of things; even in the history of Earth (let alone the universe), my life is so short that the planet will never know i was here, like a human aware of the presence of one particular ant. The Earth, as much as it can be said to be conscious (that is a metaphor) knows there are humans, but the details of any particular one of us are likely lost in the wash of billions of us.

I find it odd that no matter how far I cast my net, and no matter how hard I try to learn all that I can, I will always “know” less than someone who is confident in their religious beliefs. To that end, it can be said that I am jealous of people confident in their religious beliefs, despite the fact that I feel the Dunning-Kruger Effect is in FULL force on both sides. I know, through knowing as much as I can, that I know nothing. They know, through ignoring any information that would damage their religion, that they know far more than I do.

Who is right? Does it matter? Will it matter?

As I said, I am comfortable in the prospect of my own death. Mark Twain, a man whose “old man syndrome” I aspire to one live up to (the man was codgier than Scrooge, and seemed to take the happiness of others as a challenge), famously quipped “I do not fear death. I was dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

That being said, to the outside observer, it looks like I am afraid–I scramble to know, to understand. I fight to find out the answers to the questions that drive the universe, and it has to look like I am scraping frantically towards something I will never reach.

The reason I want Heaven to exist is not to see my relatives, not to live forever. To me Heaven would be, in the last seconds of my life, knowledge. It would be knowing how the universe works, it would be knowing if there is other intelligent life out there. I mean, I have faith that there is other intelligent life out there, given the vastness of the universe, and the recent explosion of understanding regarding extrasolar planets, I find it mathematically unlikely that we are all there is… But I do not know.

Heaven to me, more than any other vision of it, more than the most romantic notion of the most imaginative religious adherent, would just be knowledge.

Hell is where I am right now, a permanent state not just of not knowing, but knowing that I will never know.

That, maybe, is why death is so easy for me to contemplate. Even if I never get to go to a Heaven (and, unfortunately, I believe I won’t), death is an escape from Hell.

This post is mostly just me organizing some thoughts in my own head. I won’t lie, the previous paragraph is a clearer understanding, for me, on my thoughts of death than I have ever had before. I get to leave hell when I die.

Isn’t that nice?