Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Bible, Pt. 28: Leviticus, Chapter 25-27

OK, it's been awhile, but I'm finally finishing Leviticus. This post, of course, follows directly from Pt. 27 as I continue to read the Christian Bible, King James version. The entire series can be found here.

Chapter 25:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.

3 Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;

4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.

5 That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.

...

7 And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.

We're continuing with God's commandments, supposedly told to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and yeah, there's a lot of them. Here, he demands a 'sabbath' for the land.

Note that this isn't just a command that cropland be left fallow for one year out of seven, but that all land shall be left fallow in the same year. Later in this chapter, God promises that he'll greatly increase yields in the sixth year, so that there will be plenty of food to tide them over the sabbath year. (Note that this would be very easy to test - evidence for God that all could see.)

Otherwise, it appears that they can still butcher and eat their livestock. (And certainly, God won't do without his blood sacrifices and burnt offerings for a whole year! God doesn't like fruits and vegetables much, so those are OK.)
8 And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.

9 Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.

10 And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.

11 A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.

After seven cycles of this - 49 years - the following year shall be the jubilee. Note that, just like the 49th year, the land is to remain fallow in the 50th year, too. (I hope the yields are really big that 48th year! Again, this is something which could be demonstrated, if that were true.)

But in addition, every man gets his possessions returned, and every man is returned to his family. What does that mean? God explains further:
13 In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession.

...

15 According to the number of years after the jubile thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee:

16 According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee.

...

23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

This is God's land, so it can't be sold, but only leased - sublet, actually. The year of the jubilee, everything - or nearly everything - goes back to the original owner. (Well, not the original owner, because that would be the Canaanite they stole the land from in the first place.) Obviously, the price can vary, depending on how many years remain until the next jubilee, but God owns all the land, so no one can actually sell it.
24 And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.

25 If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.

26 And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it;

27 Then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession.

28 But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubile: and in the jubile it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession.

So you don't own the land, but you do possess it. If you sell away some of your possession, you or your family can always redeem it, once you come up with the money. But in any case, it will return to your family during the year of the jubilee.
29 And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it.

30 And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubile.

31 But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubile.

32 Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time.

33 And if a man purchase of the Levites, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the year of jubile: for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.

There's an exception to this - and an exception to the exception. A house in a walled city, if not redeemed in one year, is the buyer's forever. It doesn't return to the original owner during the jubilee,... unless that original owner is a Levite (one of the 12 tribes of Israel), in which case it does return to him.

And if the city isn't walled - if it's just a small village, in other words - then the houses are just like any other possession and will be returned to the original owner during the jubilee.
9 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant:

40 But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile:

41 And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.

42 For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.

Note that this contradicts what God commanded in Exodus (Chapter 21), at least in part. You can buy a Hebrew slave (and later in this chapter it's clear a Hebrew can sell himself, at least), but they must go free after seven years.

However, if he has a wife and children, they don't go free. So he must choose to either abandon his family or stay with them as a slave forever, with him and his family passed down as property from generation to generation.

Confused? Never mind, God has the obvious solution:
44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.

45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.

46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.

You see, all these pesky rules only apply to Hebrew slaves. If you buy foreign slaves, you don't have to worry about any of that. If they're not Hebrews, you can own them forever, beat them all you like, and pass them down to your heirs just like any other possession.

Well, no, actually. Every other possession must be returned at the jubilee. But not slaves, not unless they're of the Hebrew people. Because God doesn't give a crap about any of them. He's the tribal god of the Jews and only the Jews. What you do with other people is none of his concern.

Hmm,... I wonder when he changed his mind about all that, don't you?
55 For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

OK, this explains it, don't you think? The 'children of Israel' are already slaves - they're God's slaves. Just like you can't buy God's land, you can't buy his slaves, either. You can rent them for awhile, they can be your possessions, but it's God who actually owns them.

And God values his property, at least to some extent. After all, he expects to get some value from them. Who else is going to keep supplying him with blood and burnt offerings? Certainly not the worshipers of the other gods.

You can kill your own livestock, if you wish, but your neighbor will be unhappy if you kill his. This is the same thing. God owns the Hebrews. He has no problem killing them whenever he wants, for even the most petty of reasons (like burning the wrong incense when worshiping him), but he doesn't want anyone else to kill them. They're his property, after all.

Other people? He doesn't give a crap about anyone else. Do whatever you like to them. If they're not his property, why should he care?

Chapter 26:
3 If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;

4 Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.

5 And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.

6 And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.

7 And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.

Notice anything missing here? Yeah, there's no promise of an afterlife, is there? In fact, so far, there's not been one hint of an afterlife in the Bible (not one hint of Satan, either, but that's another matter).

God is talking entirely about this life. You'll still die, but if you do exactly what God wants, he'll make it a good life, with plenty of food, safety for your family, and death for your enemies.

And if you don't?
4 But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;

15 And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:

16 I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

17 And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

18 And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.

If you don't, then God will make you suffer. But only in this life. Again, there's not one hint of an afterlife here. There's no Hell. Hell hasn't been invented yet. God just threatens his people with a short, difficult life, if they disobey him. Well, what would you do to your slaves if they didn't obey?

Note that God spends 25 verses telling the Hebrews what he'll do to them if they disobey (including "And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat"), but only 9 verses explaining what he'll do for them if they follow his commandments. Funny, huh?

But don't worry, he still needs slaves:
40 If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;

41 And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:

42 Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.

If the Hebrews disobey, God will humble them until they come crawling back. They just have to remember who's boss. Everyone else? God doesn't care about them - not yet, at least.

Note how, conveniently, the priests have an explanation for everything. If things go well for the Hebrews, it's all because of God's help. If things go badly, it's all because God is punishing them - not necessarily for what they did, but because of what some other Hebrews did. (For some reason, God doesn't seem capable of punishing only the guilty. Odd, huh?)

But I really have to wonder what Christians think when they read this stuff. It's supposed to be their god, too, these days, isn't it? Of course, most of them don't read the Bible - not the whole thing, certainly. And they're faith-based, so they can probably rationalize away anything they don't want to believe, huh?

Chapter 27:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the LORD by thy estimation.

3 And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.

4 And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.

5 And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.

6 And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver.

7 And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.

8 But if he be poorer than thy estimation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to his ability that vowed shall the priest value him.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but I think it's how you can get out of temple service ('singular vow'?). If you're pledged to the temple - perhaps even as a baby - or you've made a pledge yourself, this is how much it will cost to get out of it again. (Note that women are valued far less than men at every age. Well, what did you expect? This is the Bible.)

That's just a guess, though, and this might be about taxes, instead, I don't know. The chapter continues with instructions on how to estimate the value of animals, land, and other property, which can also be redeemed (again, from the temple?):
9 And if it be a beast, whereof men bring an offering unto the LORD, all that any man giveth of such unto the LORD shall be holy.

10 He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then it and the exchange thereof shall be holy.

...

14 And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand.

15 And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his.

16 And if a man shall sanctify unto the LORD some part of a field of his possession, then thy estimation shall be according to the seed thereof: an homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.

17 If he sanctify his field from the year of jubile, according to thy estimation it shall stand.

18 But if he sanctify his field after the jubile, then the priest shall reckon unto him the money according to the years that remain, even unto the year of the jubile, and it shall be abated from thy estimation.

I just don't know what this chapter is all about. Maybe it is about taxes, rather than getting out of temple service, because note the following:
28 Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the LORD of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the LORD.

29 None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death.

Yeah, no devoted thing, "both of man and beast," may be redeemed, but must be put to death, instead. That's human sacrifice, isn't it?

There are still clues in the Bible that God used to command human sacrifice, and this seems to be one of them. As religious beliefs changed, the ancient Hebrews were able to substitute lambs for their first-born male children, and eventually, human sacrifice seems to have been written out of the old stories.

But not entirely. They seem to have missed a few spots. In this case, is it just about animals and slaves 'devoted' to God as a sacrifice? Or does it also include anyone pledged to temple service? I don't know, but I suspect that the former explanation is correct. Hebrews pledged to temple service could buy their way out, but if you were a slave given as a sacrifice, you were dead meat.

At any rate, one thing I am sure about is that I'm very happy to be done with Leviticus,... finally! This chapter hasn't been much fun at all. I'm hoping that things will pick up in Numbers, though. I guess we'll see.

___
Note: You can find links to this entire series here.

33 comments:

m1nks said...

Good on you for continuing to plough through this! Everytime I try to read the Bible I find my eyes glazing over. Religion! So dangerous and So dull!

WCG said...

I've had that experience before, too, M1nks, whenever I tried to read the Bible. But it's more fun when I'm blogging about it. And I pay more attention this way, as well. So I'm actually enjoying this.

Anonymous said...

The site ate my first post, so here I go with a re-type. That'll teach me for not saving my work first.

First, my apologies for commenting on a post two years old, but I really enjoyed your Layman's reading of the Old Testament. Rather disappointed you stopped with them, but such is life.

Secondly, my notes are at home, and I am not. Forgive the lack of book/verse, and paraphrases. If needed I will add citations later.

Before I continue, I am answering your desire for a Christian to comment on your observations from earlier in your series.. sort of. I was born to a Baptist household, raised as one, and I still identify as one, even though I disagree with them on many points. I believe that theologically they are the closest to the spirit of the Bible, but they suffer from both fence-post theology and over-evangalism.

For example of where I differ from the Fundamentalist bloc:

I support President Obama. Bibically, I am compelled to. Per both OT and NT, King and Rulers are chosen by God. I may not agree with everything they do, but I recognize they serve a vital role, and thus have my respect.

I support the homosexual community. To explain this, I need to clarify my views. I do not believe in the modern evangelical practices. Bibically, we are supposed to spread the Word. If the Word is not received, we are to shake the dust from our shoes, and move on. Further, I am NOT God. I do not dictate what is considered a sin. My job as a Christian is to spread the word. If a homosexual receives the word, then their shortcomings are between them and God. I can comfort and support, but not judge. Further, homosexuality is now endorsed by law, no matter how I look at it, I cannot condemn them.

I am partially Pro-Choice. To explain, I disagree with the ethics behind abortion. I believe life begins at conception, so the act of abortion (read: as a contraceptive) is murder. However, it is still a choice that is allowed by law regardless of my personal feelings, and as mentioned before, I am to follow the rule of law.

Anonymous said...

Gun control: There is no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life for a brother. By law and by dogma, I am allowed to arm myself. However I live in an area where that is not needed, and thus, I do not own a gun. If I were to purchase one, and the laws later changed, I would turn it in. Firearms are a tool, but like all tools, not everyone requires one. Just like I do not need an arc welder, I similarly do not need a firearm.

I could continue, but it all follows the same pattern. I am required to follow the rule of law. First God's, then the Secular law. I am not responsible for anyone else, nor can I judge them. I am to love my enemies, and be an example... not a zealot.

With that out of the way, I want to try my hand at apologetics, and see if I can address, refute, or offer differing opinions on your literal reading of Gen-Lev.

I have to start by stating the obvious: God Is NOT Good. Holy, righteous, just, and absolute yes, but not good. Modern viewpoints paint him as a loving father that forgives all wrongs, and this is true, but in a very limited aspect (more on this later). Picture him as a dictator with absolute power, and the OT makes more sense.

In response to God's cruelty in the Old Testament, keep in mind that God plays favorites. Even Jesus in the New Testament made a comment or two about not wanting to minister to certain groups, because he did not want to forgive them. Further, the theory or predestination remains valid, and it is also stated that nobody can come to God, without being called. In short, you can only be a Christian if God wants you. Nobody will seek his face without first being chosen. So those that are not chosen, are already doomed. So really, non-christians end up being the element that tempers those that are chosen, and tests characters, or prepares them for a future hardship. One theologian offers the idea that the reason God left the Hebrews in Egypt to be mistreated, was to both toughen them for future conflicts, and to instill a distrust of other pagan/tribal cultures. Also to instill a dependance on Him (a notion repeated throughout the Bible).

Anonymous said...

In response to all the heroes of the OT being 'dicks', I request this; please show me a great man in history, secular or religious, that was not in some way a dick. Even the most well meaning of leaders, generals, statesman, or other figures, has to be a dick to someone to get where they were. Also, I personally believe that the Bible emphasizes the dickish moments, to show that the heroes of the Bible were human. Jehovah has always been portrayed as a jealous God, and one could say that heroes were villianized to keep Christians from idolizing or worse, deifying them.

In response to Leviticus, Leviticus is the Old Law. It is how God set up his Holy Nation, and how he wanted it run. By the NT, the Old Law was thrown out, and the Law of Grace was instituted. I both agree and disagree with your comments on the book in general. I agree that Christians that profess God's grace have absolutely NO business citing laws from Leviticus, unless they want to follow them all themselves. That would be like a modern American citing old British colonial laws. They are no longer relavent, but they show where we used to be. I disagree with your dismissal of the laws in general. Yes most of them seem strict and ridiculous, however we are also comparing them to our laws. I would argue that the needs of the people in the setting given were different than those of modern day humanity. We are talking about a horde of people that were displaced from where they had law, to a setting where they had none. Worse, they had no civilization nor order. In a wandering caravan of over a million, how do you enforce violations? You have no prison, no police, no sanitation, no cohesion.. just a mob. So it could be argued that in this case, enforcing laws through fear via religion was the most effective way to maintain order.

I just want to say, like you, that is my layman's interpretation from the other side of the table. I am no theologian, just a believer.

WCG said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry you lost your first post (all too common with internet comments in general, I'm afraid), but thanks for persisting.

Your beliefs are interesting - you certainly seem to be an atypical Christian - but you don't say why you think that they're true.

Christians can't even agree with each other, even when they're all using the same holy book. So why are your beliefs the correct ones? What mechanism do you use to separate reality from delusion and wishful-thinking?

You've told me what you believe, but not why you believe it. Why do you think that any god exists, let alone a particular one, let alone that you know his nature and his thinking?

Do you have any reason other than the fact that you were raised to believe in this particular religion?

"I support President Obama. Bibically, I am compelled to. Per both OT and NT, King and Rulers are chosen by God."

The old Medieval "divine right of kings" idea? You're kidding, right? Has anyone believed that in recent centuries?

And it was never applied to democratically elected politicians, anyway. Quite obviously, 'God' didn't choose Barack Obama to lead us. We, the American people, did.

If you're just trying to say that you support secular leaders, secular government, in general, that's different. But that's not "Rulers are chosen by God."

PS. I'll write separate replies to each comment. They'll get too long, otherwise. Again, thanks for commenting.

WCG said...

"I have to start by stating the obvious: God Is NOT Good."

I grew up in a Christian household. I've been surrounded by Christians my entire life. Not one of them would agree with that.

So, again, why should I believe you? Out of all the Christians in the world, why are you the one who's got it right, while nearly everyone else is wrong?

Again, what makes you think that a god exists at all, let alone the Christian god, let alone that you know his nature and his thinking?

And second, why would you worship "a dictator with absolute power"? I can understand pretending to worship an all-powerful egomaniac, but if 'God' is all-knowing as well as all-powerful, that wouldn't work, anyway.

"In short, you can only be a Christian if God wants you."

But why would you want him?

Even if you thought that he actually existed, for some unknown reason, and even if you thought that you knew your god's nature - somehow - why would you worship such a being?

Again, you can't just pretend, not unless your conception of 'God' doesn't include omniscience. You would actually have to support the kind of god who would create human beings with the deliberate intent of "dooming" the overwhelming majority of them.

(You haven't mentioned Hell at all, so I don't know what kind of "doom" you have in mind. Still, if your god is not good, his "doom" certainly wouldn't be.)

"One theologian offers the idea that the reason God left the Hebrews in Egypt to be mistreated,..."

Of course, none of that actually happened. It's not just that we have zero evidence of it, but that we know enough about the history of Egypt to be confident that it didn't happen.

If it's just fiction, it doesn't need an explanation, right? In fact, I could say the same thing about the Bible in general. What makes you think that any of it - any of the magic stuff, at least - is actually true?

WCG said...

"I personally believe that the Bible emphasizes the dickish moments, to show that the heroes of the Bible were human."

I agree. Certainly, it's part of Christian mythology - and Jewish mythology, previously, I suppose - that human beings are bad by nature.

It's no accident that the Bible describes the kind of people who'll demonstrate the message it's trying to promote.

Of course, you believe that God himself is a dick, which sort of ruins that whole point. But your idea of God is certainly atypical.

"By the NT, the Old Law was thrown out..."

What makes you think that?

Where does Jesus say that the OT laws don't apply anymore? Didn't he supposedly say (Matthew 5:18), "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law"?

Doesn't he say (Matthew 5:17), "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets"? There are other, similar passages in other Gospels (Luke 16:17, John 7:19), right?

But where does Jesus actually say that the OT laws don't apply anymore, because he's substituted new laws?

I don't believe in the Bible, but you do, right? Of course, the book is contradictory, which is why Christians can't even agree among themselves about anything. But the fact that Jesus was not about abolishing the old laws is pretty clear, isn't it?

"So it could be argued that in this case, enforcing laws through fear via religion was the most effective way to maintain order."

All laws are enforced through fear, aren't they? There are consequences for not obeying them. That's why they're called "laws."

But the fact that laws exist isn't the important thing here, not even close. The important thing is which laws - and the penalty for disobeying them.

Of course, your god isn't good - by your own claim - so we shouldn't expect good laws, either. In fact, there's little you need to explain about the Bible, if you just posit a non-good god.

But now we're back to how you know that any of this is actually true. How do you know that a god exists at all, let alone the Christian god?

Your interpretation of the Bible differs from that of every other Christian I've ever known, so why are you right?

Bible verses won't help you there, especially since other Christians cite Bible verses, too. But what does the Bible mean to me? How do you know that the Bible is anything but an old book of primitive mythology?

What mechanism do you use, what process, what methodology, for separating reality from delusion and wishful-thinking?

And if you don't have an effective method of separating reality from delusion and wishful-thinking, why should I believe you?

Thanks again for commenting, Anonymous. I hope you'll continue by answering my questions - that last one, at the very least.

Anonymous said...

First, my apologies for taking so long to reply to this. I had a novella ready to post (and taking up a half dozen posts to do so) but upon re-reading, I realized I did not care for half of my answers.

So I started reading. First starting with the debates between theists and atheists, then with essays and blogs. Then I tried reading the Bible from the opposing point of view.

So while maintaining certain of my views on Christianity are correct, (Divine right to rule, not judging alternative lifestyles, Biblical stance is Pro-Choice rather than pro-life) I am not so confident in much else anymore. While I will not say that I have suffered a sudden de-conversion to atheism, I will confess that I am far more troubled than I was before.

So if I ever undercover answers to my questions, I will continue my rebuttal here. However as my questions multiply with every evasive answer, I predict I will likely die before that happens... and then it really won't matter anymore.

WCG said...

"So if I ever undercover answers to my questions, I will continue my rebuttal here."

You'll be welcome any time, Anonymous. But you needn't have answers. You can ask questions here, too, you know.

Your comment doesn't have to be a rebuttal. Conversations work fine for me. If you agree about something, disagree, or aren't sure, I don't care. If something bothers you about my arguments, ask questions.

In fact, I like questions better than answers. Questions make me think. Of course, answers are fine if they're the correct answers, but then you need to have evidence of that. But I often learn as much from questions as from answers.

Two things: First, you might include a name in your comments, so I can tell which "Anonymous" you are. No big deal, of course, but it's easier to continue a conversation that way.

And second, you might check out my Skepticism series. Most of that directly addresses religion, but it also talks about how I go about thinking in general. Again, I'd welcome comments or questions.

Good luck with your journey. Questions are good, whether you end up with the same answers as I do or not.

Russ said...

Actually, I have checked out quite a bit of your work. I stumbled across here looking for a hint/tip sheet to Distant Worlds, and I spent the better part of a couple afternoons just reading. (For that matter, you got me hooked on Cataclysm: DDA. Always have loved a good game).

While 90% of my questions are geared towards making the local New Testament pastors in my area label me as an Apostate (which has happened once already, the napkin gambit provoked more of a hostile reaction than I anticipated), I do have a few that I am still struggling with on the skeptical end.

For example: While I have found that Old to New Testament prophesy fulfillment is not what I thought it was, couldn't fulfillment of prophesy in modern days lend more weight to the Bible side? For example, I was raised to believe that Revelation was nigh. If they (US, major world power, etc) implemented a mandatory chipping program (which seems likely, given the amount of fraud out there) which a sizeable portion of the US Christian population would be dead set against, would that lend more weight to the Biblical argument? Or perhaps the better question would be: How does one tell the difference between prophesy that is legitimately fulfilled, and ones that are filled by the mere fact they exist?

I'd have a few more questions along that line, but nearly everything is tied up into Pascal's Wager. That whole 'what if I'm wrong' scenario.

Russ said...

Absolutely interesting, and slightly frustrating. I hit publish, I saw my post.. and it vanished. Ah well, response, round two.

I actually have read quite a bit of your work. I found your blog by looking up hints/tips for Distant Worlds (then went on to pick up Cataclysm: DDA on your recommendation) and spend several days just reading. Now I am killing my data plan with RationalWiki and the Skeptics Annotated Bible.

Now 90% of my questions are more geared towards making the local pastors of the Baptist churches in this area label me an Apostate (Has already happened, the napkin gambit was greeted with more hostility than I care to admit), I do have a question or three for the skeptical side.

Sadly, they all have Pascal's wager as a base. Though I suppose it could be debated if that sums up Christianity in a nutshell, "Do you really want to chance being wrong?"

*If Biblical prophesy came to pass in current day, would it because it was a legitimate prophesy, or because (insert any number of factors here). Ex: If tomorrow it was mandated that every citizen would be implanted with an RFID device, would that be because it was prophesied? Because someone read it and thought it was an awesome idea? To combat rampant fraud and identity theft? If it got passed through the lawmakers even with substantial with substantial resistance from the Fund. right, would it lend more weight to the authenticity of the Bible?

*Does the fact the Bible even exists offer any weight to it's claim to be truth? Or is it just the product of religion evolution? (Being that it was the best fit for what the powers that be wanted?)

*Is it possible that no evidence exists, to make those that believe the true believers? If religion could be proven in any way shape or form, everyone would subscribe to it (except for the hipsters of religion), and there would be no point to being subjected to the Stress test of life.

WCG said...

I hit publish, I saw my post.. and it vanished.

I'm sorry about that, Russ. Your first comment was flagged as spam, for some weird reason, so it didn't show up right away. I received it, but you couldn't have known that.

I'm sorry that you had to rewrite it, but I'm glad you persevered.

And I'm glad you enjoy Cataclysm: DDA. I haven't been blogging about games or books lately. Your comments make me wish I'd kept that up.

"Do you really want to chance being wrong?"

Do you? I could ask you the same thing. What if you're wrong?

Do you lie awake at night, worrying about going to Hell because you don't bow down towards Mecca and pray to Allah five times a day? Why not? The Islamic Hell is supposed to be just as nasty as the Christian one.

Isn't the only religion you worry about the one you were taught as a child? For Pascal, the choice was between Catholicism and non-belief. Pascal's wager might make sense if those were the only two options, but even most Christians would see the problem with that kind of thinking.

Certainly, Muslims would. And Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, etc. You can't just bet on a god existing. You actually have to guess the right god. And then, in most cases, you have to get the right sect. Christianity alone has thousands of different denominations which disagree about virtually everything, including how you avoid Hell.

(One thing you have to admit is that, if the Christian God does exist, he's the world's worst communicator. Supposedly, he's all-knowing and all-powerful, and he really really wants us to know him, yet he's so inept at communication that even his own worshipers can't agree about anything, let alone all of the other faith-based people in the world.)

PS. My comments are... smashing through the character limit in replies here - heh, heh - so I'm going to separate this into multiple replies.

WCG said...

How does one tell the difference between prophesy that is legitimately fulfilled, and ones that are filled by the mere fact they exist?

Good question. But first, how do you tell if something is a prophecy in the first place? Christians tend to be very imaginative at picking out excerpts from the Old Testament and calling them "prophecy." But in most cases, Jewish scholars say that those parts of the text weren't even meant to be prophecy at all (or were meant to refer to something local in time and place - a prophecy about the local king's son, for example).

And it's their holy text. These writings are holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, but they vehemently disagree about whether or not passages were even meant to be prophecy in the first place.

In many cases, according to Christians (but not Jews, certainly), Jesus was supposed to have fulfilled prophecy. However, please remember that the New Testament was written after the Old Testament by people who knew the OT very well.

It's like claiming that Harry Potter fulfilled prophecy by killing Voldemort, with your evidence being that it was written in the last book in the series. Well, of course it was. What else would you expect?

Christians who wrote the New Testament texts really, really wanted to demonstrate that Jesus had fulfilled prophecy. Is it surprising that their writings indicated he had? Would you find it surprising that Mohammed fulfilled OT prophecy, according to writings in the Quran? Or would you expect it?

(Ironically, the one "prophecy" Jesus clearly did not fulfill was the promise to return in the lifetime of his apostles. Later Christian authors, well aware of this unfulfilled promise, kept hedging it a bit, and that's one way you can date NT texts, in fact. But after 2,000 years, anyone but a diehard true believer would have to admit that this prophecy failed, don't you think?)

Other "prophecies," like the creation of Israel, were deliberately made to come true by believers. It would be like me prophesying that I'll eat Chinese food today and then going to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It doesn't exactly demonstrate my supernatural powers (just my appetite).

Finally, to be considered prophecy at all, a claim has to be specific and limited in time. Fortune-tellers are notorious for making vague predictions with no time limits. If they can find something to fit, great. If they can't, well, there's no way they can fail if they weren't specific as to what and when. But that only convinces the gullible.

Re. RFID chips specifically, maybe you could interpret that as being the "mark of the beast," I don't know. Obviously, that's the New Testament, not the Old, so what does that say?

Revelation 13:16-17:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Of course, that's hardly "the name of the beast" and unless you expect every RFID chip to include the number 666, it's not "the number of his name," either. Furthermore, it hasn't happened.

It's not only a vague kind of "prophecy," which didn't specify RFID chips at all, but it hasn't even come to pass. (And I see little chance of every person in the world - including slaves, note - forcibly implanted with RFID chips. That's only in Christian imaginations.)

Furthermore, even if it did happen - or something like it - what are the chances that, in 2,000 years, you could find something which would seem to match up with one of a number of vague prophecies? Have you ever listened to true believers of Nostradamus? The whole thing is just ridiculous, don't you think?

WCG said...

Does the fact the Bible even exists offer any weight to its claim to be truth?

You tell me. Does the fact that the Quran exists mean that it's true? Does the fact that the Bhagavad Gita exists mean that it's true? The Book of Mormon? The Book of the Dead? The Iliad and the Odyssey?

Lots of books exist. Is that evidence that they're all true? Then what's so different about the Bible?

The Bible is the claim, not evidence that the claim is true.

If religion could be proven in any way shape or form, everyone would subscribe to it ... and there would be no point to being subjected to the Stress test of life.

Why not? I don't get why not.

Christians usually claim that 'God' wants us to know him. As I said before, he seems to be the world's worst communicator, huh? Even his own believers can't agree about anything.

But apparently, God doesn't want us to use our brain. He doesn't want us to use evidence to separate reality from delusion and wishful-thinking. (Note that, by relying on evidence, scientists do come to a consensus about what's true and what isn't. Religions never do.)

Apparently, 'God' just wants us to believe whatever we want to believe (which, for the vast majority of human beings, mostly depends on whatever they were taught as children). How does that make any sense?

Again, through faith, even Christians can't agree among themselves about anything. Clearly, faith is a terrible way of determining the truth of anything.

And knowing that a god exists doesn't remove freewill, if that's your argument. We'd still have the choice of worshiping him or not. I don't know if you believe in Satan. (That's one of those things Christians don't agree about, even among themselves.) But according to the myth, Satan clearly knew that God existed, right? He still had the ability to rebel.

But, you know, I don't ask for proof, anyway. I've never asked for proof. I just want evidence.

I rely on evidence for everything else in my life, so why not for this? Do you believe in leprechauns? Why not? Do you believe in werewolves? Why not? Isn't it, in both cases, because there's no good evidence that they actually exist?

Do you think it makes sense to believe in leprechauns by faith? If I told you that you have to have faith in order to believe in leprechauns, what would you think about that?

It's not just Christianity, either. Maybe some religion has evidence backing up its claims, but if so, I've yet to hear it. If you don't believe in those other religions, because they can't back up their claims, why would you believe in yours?

Russ said...

~Isn't the only religion you worry about the one you were taught as a child? For Pascal, the choice was between Catholicism and non-belief. Pascal's wager might make sense if those were the only two options, but even most Christians would see the problem with that kind of thinking.

To be fair, I was using it in the basic sense of "It's better to believe and be right, than any other combination." But for the rest of your point, I agree. Further I will admit that I have several decades of 'hardwiring' to undo, which is the basis of most of my questioning. Everything I have regarded as 'proof' has to be debunked fully as such, or I will spend several more sleepless nights wondering.

~One thing you have to admit is that, if the Christian God does exist, he's the world's worst communicator.

No disagreement. It is one part of why I am where I am now. 1 Cor 14.33 For God is not the author of confusion. Yet we have nothing but just that.

~Ironically, the one "prophecy" Jesus clearly did not fulfill was the promise to return in the lifetime of his apostles.

Also a reason I am where I am. Also the one that said the Throne of David would be occupied forever by the line of david... (Except the 700 years the throne was empty... or the fact that technically, Jesus was adopted)

~Re. RFID chips specifically, maybe you could interpret that as being the "mark of the beast," I don't know. Obviously, that's the New Testament, not the Old, so what does that say?

To be fair, I used it as an example, the most well known and poignant one I could think of at the moment. For the purpose, I am borrowing the common translation of the pasage in question. If it were to come to pass, would that lend evidence to the authority of the Bible, or would it fall under a self-fulfilling prophecy? (Big IF there, I know...)

~Lots of books exist. Is that evidence that they're all true? Then what's so different about the Bible?

That's the question. Again, decades of hardwiring in effect here. One of the 'proofs' is that the Bible exists at all. Thousands of years, 40+ authors, etcetcetc. For my purpose, I have to remove all the pillars of the claims of truth before I can move past it.

~and there would be no point to being subjected to the Stress test of life. Why not? I don't get why not.

2+2=4. We spend years being taught that 2+2=4. By the time we get out of school, we KNOW 2+2=4. There is no question, it is simple truth. Now suppose instead of 2+2=4, we were taught that 2+3 does NOT equal 4. No one ever says that 2+2=4, but that 2+7 does not = 4. Who deserves a better grade, the one that recites the truth because it was laid out before them, or the one who took the problem, and divined the correct truth?

Same concept, which would be more valuable to God. Someone who believes because the answer was there, evident and proven, or the one who had to believe and trust the answer was correct?


~It's not just Christianity, either. Maybe some religion has evidence backing up its claims, but if so, I've yet to hear it. If you don't believe in those other religions, because they can't back up their claims, why would you believe in yours?

That's the problem, I don't think I do anymore. Hence my questioning.

WCG said...

I was using it in the basic sense of "It's better to believe and be right, than any other combination."

The key there is the "being right" part, of course.

Personally, my goal is to only believe what I have good reason to think is true. Undoubtedly, we all fail at that sometimes, but it's still a worthy goal.

I will admit that I have several decades of 'hardwiring' to undo

Absolutely. That can't be easy. I was lucky in that religion never 'took' for me. When I was a kid, it just seemed like a harmless fantasy. So I had nothing to break away from.

1 Cor 14.33 For God is not the author of confusion. Yet we have nothing but just that.

You said it!

Also the one that said the Throne of David would be occupied forever by the line of david... (Except the 700 years the throne was empty... or the fact that technically, Jesus was adopted)

And the two contradictory genealogies of Jesus, neither one of which would seem to be relevant if 'God' was actually his father. (There's no way in hell the ancient, patriarchal Israelites would have calculated a genealogy through the mother's side.)

You're better at this than I am, Russ! :)

If it [RFID implants] were to come to pass, would that lend evidence to the authority of the Bible, or would it fall under a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Neither one, I'd say. But it depends.

The Bible says a mark on your forehead or right hand. If it's on the left hand, that doesn't match. So it's possible that believers might push such technology, deliberately for the right hand, as a way to fulfill prophecy and bring about the end of the world (which many eagerly anticipate).

Of course, that hasn't happened and probably won't. The text says "all," too. Everyone on Earth? That's not going to happen. Everyone in Israel? It's possible, I suppose. But not unintentionally. This "mark of the beast" - on the forehead or right hand - would be deliberate, for one reason or another.

But here's the other thing about "prophecy." If you throw out enough open-ended predictions, some of them will seem to come true, just because of the odds. It's been 2000 years since this one, but there's no time limit, so there's no way the prophecy could ever fail.

It's "tails I win, heads you lose." A prediction that can't ever fail, no matter what, is useful for prophets,... but hardly for the rest of us.

One of the 'proofs' is that the Bible exists at all.

I don't understand that reasoning at all, Russ. The Iliad and The Odyssey exist. Does that mean the ancient Greek gods are actually real?

The Epic of Gilgamesh is more than 4000 years old. Doe that mean the ancient Sumerian gods are real?

Besides, we don't have the original texts of any book in the Bible. All we have are copies of copies of copies - at best. Why would a god let his word be lost and corrupted like this? (Bart D. Ehrman points out that there are more variations in surviving copies than there are words in the New Testament.)

Same concept, which would be more valuable to God.

I suppose that depends on which God. Note that God always agrees with his worshipers. They may disagree vehemently among themselves, but if you believe in a god, he always agrees with you.

If a god wants people to just believe whatever religion they were taught as children, he's a pretty dumb god, I'd say.

If he wants me to use my brain, to use evidence and reason (not just reason alone, since we know that doesn't work),... well, that's what I'm doing. But I'm not doing it because a god wants me to do it. I'm doing it because I think it's right.

Russ said...

~One of the 'proofs' is that the Bible exists at all.

~I don't understand that reasoning at all, Russ. The Iliad and The Odyssey ~exist. Does that mean the ancient Greek gods are actually real?

I agree with your point there. It is still one of the ideas being put out as proof, and one I have bought for quite a while. Thus, something I must find more than reasonable doubt for. However I will say, the case is building quite nicely.

For example, I read several of the rebuttals to the claims of Biblical contradictions. Some of the replies seemed well reasoned. Some seemed like they were verbally trying to lick their elbow. However when more than one source cited 'copyist error', I lost a little faith in the theory of inerrancy. If I were omnipotent, and I left a single book to convey what I wanted, being a scribe would become a hazarous occupation indeed.

Then in a test I shamelessly lifted from the internet, I tried the napkin test on a local Baptist pastor. With a napkin that simply stated "God is dead. The above is absolute truth." in ballpoint, I asked him to refute my Holy Napkin with his Holy Book. Which of course, came down to the origins of the writing. I could cite exactly when my Holy Napkin was scribed, complete with witnesses, could he do the same? No, then my Napkin had more validity than his book. Honestly, I meant it to prove the basis of my question, "How can we believe, if the basis (the Bible) is an unknown?"

Instead I became an Apostate Heretic. Alas, such is life.

Granted it may not have been fair, if I can't find that information online, the chances a small town Pastor would have it would have been slim.

~(Bart D. Ehrman points out that there are more variations in surviving copies than there are words in the New Testament.)

Ohh, references? I think I might enjoy reading that one.

~I suppose that depends on which God. Note that God always agrees with his worshipers. They may disagree vehemently among themselves, but if you believe in a god, he always agrees with you.

A point that is not lost on me. Though a counter-argument could be made that God is being forced to agree. The Cons of leaving behind a book to talk for you, instead of just speaking up once in a while. For example, I have yet to read anything that proves the Bible is Pro-Life. From the abortions in the Old Testament made using a magic potion that could tell between a bastard and a legitimate heir, to the exhortation in the New Testament that we are to follow secular law to the best of our faith and abilities.

~You're better at this than I am, Russ! :)

I would never go that far. I can only make two claims.. first being that I love the Truth. Often, Truth is far more entertaining than lies. Which makes History both a fascinating, yet fustrating study. Can never tell what is true, and what falls under the "Victors write history" clause. Second being that I think I always had doubts that I simply refused to act on. (Tower of Babel struck down, yet our space program is progressing nicely. Yahweh is cruel in Old Testament, yet his Son is bi-polar in the New Testment. Why God waited several thousand years before offering a plan for Salvation, couldn't have he done it at the beginning for a consistent message?)

WCG said...

I agree with your point there. It is still one of the ideas being put out as proof

I don't understand how that argument can make any sense at all. But since you don't agree with it, I won't ask you to defend it. :)

Ohh, references? I think I might enjoy reading that one.

Bart D. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and a very entertaining author. I've read two of his books: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and Forged: Writing in the Name of God - Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

I don't actually know which book I got that comment from. (I've watched YouTube videos of him speaking, too.) But Misquoting Jesus has an introduction that talks about his journey of discovery.

Ehrman was raised as an evangelical Christian, and he went to the Moody Bible Institute to study theology because he was certain that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But he learned otherwise. It really was quite fascinating.

The Cons of leaving behind a book to talk for you, instead of just speaking up once in a while.

Exactly. And he could do that, if the Bible is actually true.

If you believe his unsupported claims, Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians until Jesus appeared to him in a vision. But Jesus is supposed to be God. Why didn't he appear to every Roman who persecuted Christians? Did Jesus actually want all of them to burn in Hell?

One guy changing his mind - maybe because of a hallucination; maybe not - is something that happens normally, in every religion (and outside of religion, too). And that's assuming that his story was true, when we have no way to back it up.

Why let Paul's surviving letters - some of which are now known to be later forgeries - speak for God, when any halfway competent god could give everyone in the world the same vision at the same instant, if he wanted?

Again, he did it to Saul of Tarsus, supposedly. (And God appeared regularly in the Old Testament.) So there can't be anything inherently wrong with demonstrating that you really do exist.

I love the Truth.

Me, too, though I tend to be skeptical of anyone who capitalizes it. Heh, heh.

Why God waited several thousand years before offering a plan for Salvation

Yes, and then he came up with a "plan" that makes zero sense - especially if you don't believe in blood magic - and is immoral, besides.

For primitive people who did believe in blood magic, in scapegoating, and in people inheriting their father's crimes, maybe that "plan" seemed to make sense, but it certainly doesn't today.

And if you don't believe literally in the Garden of Eden story - as most Christians these days don't - Jesus dying on the cross really makes no sense. If you don't need a god's blood as a magical sacrifice to atone for "Original Sin," you've removed the whole point to the story.

Russ said...

~Me, too, though I tend to be skeptical of anyone who capitalizes it. Heh, heh.

Understandable. I suppose I tried to emphasize a point the wrong way. Subjective truth is a dime a dozen, yet what I seek is the literal truth. I suppose I should leave the Truth to the 9/11 Theorists.

~I don't understand how that argument can make any sense at all. But since you don't agree with it, I won't ask you to defend it. :)

Thanks for that, I doubt I could ;) For that matter, I am probably one of the worst Christian Apologists to exist. I enter a conversation to defend a point or two, and end up losing faith instead.

~Ehrman was raised as an evangelical Christian, and he went to the Moody Bible Institute to study theology because he was certain that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But he learned otherwise. It really was quite fascinating.

That actually sounds a little familiar. I went to Atlantic Baptist Bible College, and survived for a full year. It wasn't the curriculum (though I learned I have absolutely no aptitude for homiletics) and it wasn't the material... it was the people. The majority of them were completely miserable to be around, and I couldn't bear to go back for a second year.

In any case, time to load more funds on the Kindle. That should keep me going for the weekend.


WCG said...

Thanks again for the comments, Russ. If you have time, you might check out my Non-Belief series. Whether you agree with me or not, you're likely to have a different perspective, and I value that.

Bill

Russ said...

Thank you for the conversation as well. Apologies for being long winded with it, if anything it's given me a place to try and order my thoughts.

I will give that series a re-read.. Among the other joys of working 18 hour shifts, it gives me plenty of time to read.

Russ said...

Update:I just put "Misquoting Jesus" down. (Well, about as 'down' as logging off of Kindle gets)

Not as heavy a book as I thought it might be, but he presents a good case on the authenticity of the manuscripts behind the new Test. Even better, the first few rebuttals I found from the other side of the court are basically A: "Why do you hate God?" B: CONSPIRACY!! C: Goddidit/test of faith/Does't matter, God preserved his word despite the human errors.

All in all, a good recommendation. Thank you!

Bill Garthright said...

You're welcome, Russ. Yes, I'm a big fan of Bart Ehrman's writing. Admittedly, I've only read two of his books, and he's written plenty more that sound equally fascinating.

I've been meaning to try Robert M. Price, too. His podcasts are certainly entertaining (except for his very right-wing political views), and his story is similar to Ehrman's (although they disagree about a historical Jesus).

But I've got a pile of unread books here already. I play computer games too much, I guess. :)

If you like YouTube, you might check out Steve Shives' "An Atheist Reads" series, where he reads and comments on works of Christian apologetics. Matt Dillahunty is great, too. He's one of the hosts of the Atheist Experience TV show.

Russ said...

I would, but for the moment, my bandwidth is extremely limited. (4gig for my phone, 15gig at work..both of which I run down to the bare minimum at an alarming rate)So I am stuck with downloading books on my tablet.

New question that you could perhaps steer me in an appropriate direction for an Apostate-in-training. I have yet to find a good answer to the question of Soul/Consciousness.. By an Agnostic/Atheist/Evolutionist standpoint, why do we progress as a species in a manner inconsistent with other species? Why can't I argue the finer points of taxation or politics with my pet Labrador? (Language difficulties aside, of course)

At least with Religions, we have the "God/Allah/YHWH/Aliens did it", as silly as that is beginning to seem, it as at least possible.

Is there someone you could recommend reading up on that has a better explanation than "The great god of Evolution, Gygax the Great, threw multiple natural 20s when rolling our stats.."

Bill Garthright said...

By an Agnostic/Atheist/Evolutionist standpoint, why do we progress as a species in a manner inconsistent with other species?

We don't. :)

First of all, Russ, evolution is science. It has nothing to do with atheism/agnosticism - nothing.

I know that some religious people don't believe the scientific consensus - just like some don't believe the scientific consensus about global warming, either - but evolution really has nothing to do with whether or not a god or gods exist.

If someone could demonstrate that current scientific thinking about evolution is wrong, that wouldn't get religious people anywhere at all, because it wouldn't demonstrate that their claims were right.

Second, I'm not a biologist. I had one introductory-level biology course in college many, many decades ago. That's all. If you have questions about biology, you'd be much better off asking a biologist.

From my own perspective as an interested layman, I'd say that human beings have evolved in a manner that's perfectly consistent with other species. We differ from other species, just like other species differ from each other. What's to explain?

Evolution is the slow accumulation of minor mutations. There is no goal, so each of those mutations has to be beneficial - or, at least, not badly detrimental - to the species. And obviously, any possible change depends on what currently exists (which is why we get examples of what would be very bad 'design').

As far as consciousness goes, I have no idea what goes on in the brain of your Labrador. (Incidentally, my own pet Labrador has been dead for more than 30 years, and I still miss him.)

What we do know about consciousness - and about what religious people might call our 'soul' - is that it's completely dependent on our flesh-and-blood brains.

Brain injuries can change personality, memories, consciousness, preferences - everything that makes us who we are. They can even turn us into two different consciousnesses within the same brain.

Consciousness is certainly remarkable from the inside, so to speak, and we may not know exactly what it is. But we do know that it's brain-dependent. I don't know what it would feel like inside the brain of a Labrador, though. Maybe that feels remarkable, too?

Bill Garthright said...

I just thought of something else. (See what happens when you get me started?)

We're not close relatives of dogs. Our last common ancestor was tens of millions of years ago, and we've been evolving differently ever since.

Yet, you can tell that your dog dreams, can't you? You know that he feels emotions - fear and pain, certainly, and it certainly seems like they can feel affection, embarrassment, shame, confusion, etc.

Of course, it's easy to anthropomorphize dogs, even easier than for most animals. But despite tens of millions of years of evolution separating us, there still seem to be similarities, don't you think?

If you look at chimpanzees or gorillas, there are even more similarities. Now, our last common ancestor was still millions of years ago (10 million years ago, roughly?), and that's a long, long, long time to be evolving separately.

But if you look at recent research into our fellow apes, you'll find quite remarkable similarities. For example, it isn't just that gorillas can learn sign-language to a limited degree, but that they will also lie sometimes. Heh, heh. How human, huh?

I can't tell what goes on in a chimpanzee brain or a gorilla brain, either. I don't know what it feels like from the inside.

Of course, I don't know what it feels like to be inside your brain, either. But at least you can tell me what it feels like. And my experience is that other people seem to feel the same way I do, more or less.

Consciousness is remarkable, yes. But as far as we can tell, it's perfectly natural. And if a god is conscious, then it must be perfectly natural, unless you want to assume that something made him.

So a god doesn't really answer the question of consciousness. At best, it just pushes the question back a step. Unless it's 'gods all the way down,' with an infinite number of conscious gods creating new conscious gods (and, eventually, people), it's obvious that consciousness does not have to be deliberately created, don't you think?

Russ said...

~First of all, Russ, evolution is science. It has nothing to do with atheism/agnosticism - nothing.

Stick with me, I've only recently taking your satanic, demonic, (blahblahblah) skepticism seriously (sarcasm aimed at religion, not you of course). So when I lump Atheist with Evolutionist, it isn't because I am saying it's the same thing... just that they correlate. For example, I wouldn't expect an atheist to believe in the 7-day creation theory of Genesis. So in advance, my apologies for using 'scientific baby babble' as I catch up on a few decades of ignorance.

Back to my main question though. After mounds of reading (finished forged last night.. and Jesus, Interrupted, and a good chunk of the way through The God Delusion... and for sheer giggles, the Best God Damn Bible: Genesis) and the inability to find anything in my paygrade that refutes said writings... I suppose I've down(up?)graded to agnostic theist. And to be honest, the only reason for that is the fact that Humanity has managed to manipulate the world in a grand fashion. How many species are there on our small world? Millions? Yet only one has managed to fine tune our environment. We have gone from sticks and stones to microchips and solar powered flight... a fairly remarkable transformation by any standard.

Why us? What makes us the Mary Sues of mammals? To use your own analogy..
~it isn't just that gorillas can learn sign-language to a limited degree~
key there being -learn-. They had to be taught to do it, and by an outside intelligence no less.

I suppose it could be argued that if humanity died (or left), and we gave it another couple million years, we would eventually get to the point of Charlton Heston screaming at statues. But if current practice says that the creatures we descended from are only learning because we are teaching them, wouldn't it imply that someone taught us in return?

Russ said...

Also, I would (*mostly) recommend Jesus, Interrupted (By B. Ehrman) as a future recommendation to questioning Christians. Whereas Forged and Misquoting are scalpels attacking certain topics, Jesus Interrupted is more of a scattershot, tackling a number of problems in smaller segments, to get a better overview of his statement.

*I took issue with his last couple of chapters. It may have been me, but I felt like he was backpedaling, apologizing for speaking his mind, and giving out 'Participation' awards to believers.

Something about the (paraphrased) statement of: "I have spent numerous books, lectures, classes and articles pointing out what is wrong with the New Testament including (but not limited to): it being a forgery, mishandled, altered, unverified, etc... but if you want to believe in it still, that's okay too. I have friends that are smarter than me in everyway that agree with me completely, and they still have faith."

That aside, Jesus, Interrupted seems to be the best place to start reading his works (especially on a budget). From there you can better pick the topic that concerns you and go with it.

Russ said...

~Of course, I don't know what it feels like to be inside your brain, either. But at least you can tell me what it feels like.~

Considering where I am in my life right now?

Imagine The Bible as written by Jason Pollock, and translated by Picasso. While jamming out to Skrillex. With the Matrix playing in the background, stuck on the 'Red pill, vs blue pill' scene on infinite loop.

Confused and frustrated?

Yeah, me too. Just trying to make sense of it all at this point.

(At least I can say that I am having fewer sleepless nights over it all..)

Bill Garthright said...

How many species are there on our small world? Millions? Yet only one has managed to fine tune our environment.

Well, many species fine-tune their environment. And there have been other intelligent hominid species, but they're extinct now.

(Apparently, homo sapiens nearly went extinct once, too - down to maybe 5,000 individuals in the whole world. Intelligence isn't a magic bullet.)

Evolution doesn't work towards a goal, and intelligence has major disadvantages. Our big brains are calorie-hogs, which is why you see all of those pictures of starving children in Africa.

And huge brains require huge heads, which make childbirth very hazardous to both mother and child.

(Incidentally, both of those things are evidence that brains are required before you can have minds. If a brain wasn't strictly necessary, why would a god starve all of those children and kill so many women in excruciating pain? Just for fun?)

Human children take forever to raise, too, since they must be taught so much. Litters have to be small, again because of our big brains. There are just many, many consequences.

So what other species would benefit greatly enough to overcome those huge disadvantages?

It would have to be a social animal with hands, don't you think? Dolphins might be intelligent, but what can they do with that intelligence? And it would have to be an animal of a certain size, since a tiny brain wouldn't do it.

Language was probably both the result and the cause of evolving human intelligence, so you'd need the physical equipment for speech, as well. No matter how intelligent a gorilla might be, it can't talk, so it lacks our biggest advantage.

Remember, evolution can only work on what already exists. That's the whole point of the Panda's Thumb.(There are many other examples, but Gould's essay is still one of the best explanations of this topic.)

And once human beings did evolve, we spread out and filled up that niche. How many animal species do you think evolved to live on land, rather than in the sea?

It was relatively easy for the first species to do that, because there was no competition on land. Thus, even a very, very poor land-dweller had a huge advantage.

But later on, as that species spread out and diversified, it would have become nearly impossible for any other species to make the same leap. With competition from evolved land-dwellers, there would no longer be such a big survival advantage to living on land.

Well, once one species evolved intelligence, it would have been very, very hard for another, younger species to compete directly with them. (As I say, there were other hominid species, now extinct, but they were our cousins, at least.)

I don't know the answer, Russ, though I know of many different possible answers. Most likely, it's just a very unlikely possibility.

But what are the odds of a god existing - a god that can create human beings, and wants to? (And wants children to starve and women to die in childbirth, too.)

We know that human beings exist, and we know how evolution works (broadly, at least). We have abundant evidence in our own bodies that we evolved from other species (not to mention fossil evidence, as well). And we have zero evidence that contradicts that.

I understand why evolution is such a big deal for religious people. No halfway competent god - certainly, no good god - would use a bloody, wasteful mechanism like that to create his favored species.

Sure, most Christian denominations 'accept' evolution, for the same reason that they now accept that the Earth revolves around the Sun. They were pretty much forced into it.

But they don't like that much, do they? (Oddly enough, I find most Christians who reject evolution belong to denominations which accept it. Funny, huh?)

Bill Garthright said...

But if current practice says that the creatures we descended from are only learning because we are teaching them, wouldn't it imply that someone taught us in return?

I don't see why.

First of all, note that we're not descended from gorillas (or from chimpanzees or any other existing species).

Also, note that other species aren't learning "only because we are teaching them." True, gorillas only learn sign-language because we teach them (though we didn't teach them to lie), but what use is sign-language to a gorilla in the wild?

Chimpanzees in the wild have cultures - learned behavior passed down from mother to child that varies between 'tribes'. We didn't know that until fairly recently, because our knowledge of chimpanzees came from kidnapping their young and raising them in zoos. What would we learn of human culture if we did that with human babies?

Other animals, too, teach their young to survive - not nearly as much as we do, and for not nearly so long a time, but that's just a matter of degree.

And when we're "teaching" gorillas, we're not changing them genetically. We're just experimenting to discover what capabilities they might have (and the limits of those capabilities).

That's not evolution. You're talking about something quite different now.

If you want to claim that someone else had to teach us to keep slaves, kill disobedient children, burn women alive, murder heretics, kill homosexuals and people who picked up sticks on the Sabbath, etc., well, there's abundant evidence otherwise.

Also, I would (*mostly) recommend Jesus, Interrupted (By B. Ehrman)

Thanks for the recommendation, Russ. I've been meaning to read more of Ehrman's books, but there's never enough time for everything.

Bill Garthright said...

At least I can say that I am having fewer sleepless nights over it all.

I'm glad to hear that, Russ. This was easy for me, because I never had an emotional attachment to Christianity in the first place.

Although I was raised Christian - everyone I knew was at least nominally Christian - I don't ever remember believing it. I suppose I must have, when I was very young, but if so, it didn't last.

So I can't know what you're going through. In fact, religious belief tends to... astonish me. It's just very hard for me to accept that intelligent people actually believe this stuff.

Anyway, do you lay away at night worrying about going to the Islamic Hell because you don't bow down towards Mecca and pray to Allah five times a day?

Do you lay awake at night worrying about being reincarnated as a worm? (Or as a woman, which was also thought, traditionally, to mean you were being punished for a previous life?)

Probably not, I'm guessing. But why not? Why do you only worry about the one specific religion you were taught as a child?

The same people who think that the idea of cows being sacred - or Mohammed flying to Heaven on a winged horse - is just the silliest thing ever often believe in a talking donkey. And if they stop believing in it, that can mean sleepless nights.

I don't quite understand it. I mean, I understand it intellectually. I understand what early childhood indoctrination can accomplish. But I have a real hard time feeling it.

I tend to treat all religious beliefs in the same way. If you do that, it seems pretty obvious (to me, but not to other people, I know).

When I was a kid, I was crazy about ancient Greek mythology. Of course, it was called "mythology," but it was always obvious to me that it was religion - just a religion which no longer had adherents.

And although I didn't know anyone who wasn't a Christian, I knew that there were many other existing religions in the world. Those other people believed in their religions for the same reason my friends and relatives believed in theirs - because that's what they were taught as children.

That just never seemed like a good reason to me. Maybe if religious people all believed in the same thing,... but heck, even Christians can't agree among themselves about anything - even when they're all supposedly going by the same holy instruction manual.

No, it's just never been easy for me to understand. I guess that's why it interests me so.

Anyway, wherever you end up, Russ, I hope it makes sense to you and that you still sleep well at night. Good luck!