Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why the Bible Is False


The Bible is false because it asserts the occurence of events that could not have occured, events that were – and are – impossible. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us the title character was visited by the ghost of his father. Do we believe this? Tolkien’s The Hobbit is set in a time between the dawn of fairies and the dominion of men. Do we believe this? The Bible tells us of many things that happened, and for millennia people have believed that these things actually happened.

Creationists and religionists think, incorrectly, that skeptics bear the burden to “disprove” the Bible. In fact, they are the ones who need to come up with more than “the Bible says so” as support for the claims of their belief, particularly claims relating to divinity, miracles and divine inspiration.

Now, I should say unequivocally that I support the right of people to hold whatever beliefs they do. If someone wants to believe religion is true, that’s fine. If someone wants to practice religion, then I say go ahead in peace. But I will not have these beliefs entered into a public arena that I share without counters being offered. So, as is common during post-Thanksgiving in America, if people want to carp about “keep Christ in Christmas,” then I want to mention that the evidence for Jesus is highly flimsy and that Jesus is over-rated anyway.

It’s important to understand truth as best we can. I have no illusions about my own intellectual capabilities and limitations. Understanding truth means trying to consider matters while also recognizing these capabilities and limitations. In the end, all we can do is make questions and formulate hypotheses. For me, the idea of faith has become increasingly repugnant. I view faith as an attempt to seduce the intellect into motionlessness. I can only see faith as the reason for not giving due skepticism to the outrageous claims of the Bible, claims that would be challenged heartily in any other intellectual domain.

In what follows, I will present ten impossible things from the Hebrew Scriptures and ten from the New Testament. None of these things could actually have happened. If someone were to claim that these things happened just today, no one would believe it without more than a book’s say-so. I offer these examples as a representative sample of what makes religion factually and morally wrong, in my opinion.

Religion tells people that these things are true, and religion's collective bodies of interpretation do everything in their power to cover over the bare absurdity of what the Bible says. I have explained before my low opinion of interpretation, so I’ll refer the interested reader to that article. Religion also insists that its texts and its interpretations are superior; indeed, religion falsely and maliciously claims that one cannot be good without belief. This contemptuous insistence places religion in a morally dubious hoop, a zone of totalitarian oversight on free inquiry and expression.

Here, then, are ten impossibilities in the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ll try to keep the commentary to a minimum.
(1) Genesis 1:1 (and following) – The creation story, one of two non-identical accounts. A literal six-day creation and completion of the Earth and/or the universe is impossible.

(2) Genesis 5:5 – Adam lived 930 years. Methuselah (Genesis 5:27) lived 969 years and holds the record. Such life spans for human beings are impossible.

(3) Genesis 7 – The flood. A worldwide flood. WORLD-wide. The entire fucking planet, including animals. That’s just mean. And what are we to make of all the millions of species somehow getting to the ark, living there together, and then dispersing? Sorry, it’s all gotta be BS. Speaking of which, how many tons of manure had to be shoveled off the ark every day?

(4) Genesis 32:25-31 – This is a beautiful and strange passage. Jacob wrestles all night with “a man.” But this man seems to have super-human power. He also re-names Jacob as Israel. Jacob seems to think he has wrestled with God, or an angel, or some other emissary of God. I admit this may not necessarily seem an impossible story, since maybe Jacob wrestled with a talented guy. However, it sure is a mysterious story – in a good way – that to my mind smacks of legend. Despite my sense of the story's factual impossibility, I admire the doggedness in the character Jacob to pursue a blessing.

(5) Genesis 37:5 – This is the first of Joseph’s dreams which prophesy the future. That’s impossible.

(6) Exodus 14:15 (and following) – This is the parting of the sea episode. It’s stirring (no pun intended), but impossible.

(7) Exodus 16:15 (and following) – Manna from heaven. Nope. See also the impossible water from a rock, Exodus 17.

(8) Exodus 17:8 (and following) – This is where Moses’ upraised hands cause Israel to win the military battle, while his lowered hands cause the opposite. It’s impossible.

(9) Numbers 16:31 – God has the Earth open up and swallow some men, their wives, their little children, and their possessions. Everything goes. It’s a terrifying, impossible story.

(10) Joshua 10:12-13. One of the biggies for me: The sun stands still for a whole day. The moon stays too. Im-pos-si-ble, no doubt about it.
Christians seem to hold the tacit impression that even if the Hebrew Scriptures are false, or have some falsity, the truth claims of the New Testament remain unharmed. After all, to them the New Testament supersedes the Hebrew Bible.

I suspect this is one reason that Christianity doesn’t relate the Mount Sinai story as Judaism does. In the Jewish account, God speaks directly to all the people. In the Christian account, Moses mediates between God and the people. The difference here is absolutely essential because the Christian account better prefigures the Jesus model, which is the view Christians want presented. If Christians had to talk about God speaking directly to the Jewish people, some clever fellow might wonder why Christians now need an intercessor.

However, the New Testament is rife with its own impossibilities, to say nothing of its own contradictions and historical inaccuracies. H.L. Mencken characterizes the matter brilliantly in his Treatise on the Gods:
The simple fact is that the New Testament, as we know it, is a helter-skelter accumulation of more or less discordant documents, some of them probably of respectable origin but others palpably apocryphal, and that most of them, the good along with the bad, show unmistakable signs of having been tampered with.
And now, here are ten impossibilities in the New Testament. As with the Hebrew Scriptures, I’ll not add much commentary.
(1) Matthew 1:18 – This is the virgin birth, or not quite. Apparently Mary is impregnated not by Joseph her husband but by “The Holy Ghost.” So, we have a double impossibility. Mary becomes pregnant, but no sperm entered her: that’s impossible. The second impossible thing is this “Holy Ghost.”

(2) Matthew 10:1 – Jesus gives his disciples “power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” It’s the last bit that’s concerning, that these twelve random dudes now get to claim the power to cure sickness and disease. Yeah, right. They didn’t get any magic healing power. That’s impossible.

(3) Mark 16:6 / 16:12-13 – Jesus apparently dies and then reappears alive three days later. Sorry, that’s impossible. Real dead folks don’t come back to life.

(3.5) Matthew 27:50-53 - After Jesus dies, "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." However, nobody else seemed to note this rather unusual event and record it for posterity. Since we've already mentioned that real dead people don't come back to life days after having died, let us now mention that it's really really impossible for dead people, even holy people, to return to life because of someone else's death.

(4) Mark 7:32 (and following) – This one is plain gross as well as impossible. Jesus heals a deaf and dumb guy by this weird finger, spitting, tongue touching thing. Sorry, real deaf people can’t be healed by putting fingers in the ear.

(4.5) Luke 1:44 – Fetal John leaping for joy, in the womb. I know babies kick and all, but this one still gets BS points because it’s Mary’s voice that causes John to jump for joy. You get it, right? The whole Jesus-John-save-the-world thing is a carefully crafted, fore-ordained plan. It’s hard to find something that seems more contrived than this story.

(5) Luke 4:5 – There’s an honest-to-goodness devil here showing Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world.” All of them. Really. The devil. The de-vil. Riiiiiiight.

(6) John 2:9 – This is the water into wine bit. We know, however, that the molecules of water and wine are quite different. Do we believe in magic, in the power to change one substance into another by hoping it will come true? No, sorry, we don’t buy it.

(7) John 6:19 – Jesus walks on water. Levitation, ooooh. But really, we know this is BS. We really do.

(8) John 14:14 – “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Liar, liar, pants on fire.

(9) Acts 16:26 – Earthquake on demand.

(10) 1 Corinthians 15:39 – This is kind of a science one, but the verse basically suggests that all life on Earth is of different flesh. Factually, it’s just wrong. Thus, it’s impossible.
I have much more to say, but I’ll close with a few observations.

One, I have focused exclusively on the things these Bibles say. I’ve simply related text-content. Why should we believe that the universe was created and completed in six regular days? Why should we believe that a man could be born of a virgin? These claims are made plainly and straightforwardly. Given modern knowledge, we might try to resolve the disconnect between text and fact by arguing that the texts are speaking metaphorically. But the literal readings are surely to be preferred because they match with textual precursors from other cultures and the original listeners/readers/authors would not have been privy to our modern knowledge anyway.

Two, I have avoided discussing the really stupid content of the Bibles, such the near-sacrifice of Isaac and Jesus' insistence that families be broken up to follow him. The Bibles - yes, I'm using plural - reek with the fecal scent of ancient tales and outdated petty morals. Much in the Bibles is actually interesting and even wise, but plenty-plenty more is no better than boring garbage that we best remember only to avoid thinking that way.

Three, and this is related to the first point, I have not discussed any of the considerable difficulties to faith presented by archaeology, history, or textual scholarship. These disciplines overwhelmingly support the idea that the Bibles and their religious traditions have decidedly human origins. Mutually reinforcing lines of evidence argue against the god hypothesis and doctrines such as Biblical inerrancy. Indeed, the Bibles are often the best witnesses against a pro-supernatural argument.

Four, I have not discussed any of the teachings and commentaries on the text-content problems. Talmud, kabbalah, Catholic church father writings, and so on: these are all earlier attempts to render sense from the non-sense of the Bibles. Indeed, these interpretations come to supersede the original texts because otherwise we are faced with some really goofy tales and strictures.

In this fourth realm we start to get the dubious claims of unbroken chains back to Sinai, in the case of Talmud, and “divine inspiration” in the case of Church writings. When I talk of religion as a collection of solutions to made-up problems, this is what I mean.

27 comments:

  1. Quick question, if G-D exists isn't anything possible? Isn't your assumption of the bible's events being impossible stem from the fact that you believe there is no G-D?

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  2. Shalmo3:11 PM

    "Genesis 32:25-31 – This is a beautiful and strange passage. Jacob wrestles all night with “a man.” "

    Its even more interesting in that a plain reading of the passage supports the christian version much more than the jewish version. That it was Yahweh Jacob wrestled with, not an angel. The older parts of the bible are filled with an anthropormorphic Zeus/ Odin type deity rather than the abstract sufi god of Maimonides.

    There is a reason Abraham met 3 angels and then later on in the story Lot gets to meet 2. Abraham met Yahweh face to face. While Yahweh stayed with Abraham, the other two angels with to sodom. Not to mention Yahweh is father to the angels in Genesis. Making him appearing as one all the more obvious. And of course this all runs counter to jewish tradition, despite it being the obvious meaning in these texts

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  3. E-man,

    If God exists....nothing. I fail to see how God is relevant at all.

    Does a belief in God make a human lifespan any longer? Does a belief in God make dead people stay dead? Does a belief in God make the sun and moon "go"?

    No,

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  4. Shalmo,

    I understand your point, but it's an interpretive one. How one interprets the passage depends on one's frame. For example, apply a 'Christian' frams and any number of Christian readings become possible. Apply a "Jewish" or a separate "not Christian" frame, and you can generate interpretations that will align nicely.

    But the more we interpret, the farther we get from the conditions that produced these texts, and that's the part I think is real, and really interesting.

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  5. Larry, let me try to be clearer. You are asserting that the bible is false based on events that it says happened that you say are impossible. If this is correct, which correct me if I am wrong, then your basis seems to be that any force outside of nature does not exist. My point is that if G-D does exist and can act as a separate force from nature then aren't the "impossible" things in the bible really possible if G-D does exist.

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  6. E-Man,

    Your point is very clear. The problem is that neither you nor I know whether any force outside of nature exists. Is there some positive evidence to suggest the existence one or more forces outside of nature (whatever "outside" means)?

    Yes, if God existed he could theoretically do anything he wanted with the universe. But this makes an assumption about the nature of God that I don't think we have any reason to make.

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  7. My problem with your post is the first sentence.

    "The Bible is false because it asserts the occurence of events that could not have occured, events that were – and are – impossible."

    You say the bible is false based on the fact that it has events in it that are impossible. However, the bible also has in it the existence of G-D. Now, true if the bible never mentions G-D then the events would be impossible. However, if the G-D that the bible speaks of is in fact a reality then the events that you speak of that are impossible would then be possible. Especially since the bible itself says that G-D can perform these miracles.

    If, however, you would say the bible is false because the G-D of the bible does not exist, that would be an arguable position. That is because there is not definitive proof that He exists. However, I do not see how impossible occurrences inherently make the bible false, since the bible does say an all powerful G-D that created the world does exist.

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  8. E-Man,

    Let's agree that the Bible asserts the existence of a being, let's call her or him "God," who can cause the occurrence of the impossible things I list.

    Now, just because a book asserts the existence of a being - any being, really - does not mean that the being actually exists or has existed. Can we agree on this?

    If so, we might want to list any external or physical evidence that independently posits or suggests God's existence. I am not aware of anything specific that would qualify, but perhaps you can educate me here.

    So, can we agree that, really, we do not know whether or not such a being as "God" exists or ever has existed?

    Now, in this contexts let's look at the list of impossible things. I gave 20, but I think we could find many, many more.

    Do the impossible things point us toward the idea that God exists? Or do they point us toward the idea that the Bible is a work of imagination and reason who didn't and couldn't yet know much better?

    I'm willing to discuss if you think I'm making a false dichotomy, but to me Occam's Razor leads us to prefer the second explanation because the first requires us to throw away most everything we have learned about the universe and its physics.

    You keep saying "if God exists." This is a very big if, much bigger than you seem willing to admit. The question becomes, how do we - all of us - come to know if God exists? How do we do it? I am not aware of a good answer to this, so we're stuck back at the earlier assertion, "we do not know whether or not such a being as 'God' exists or ever has existed."

    If we have to reside in this frozen realm of knowledge, then the impossible events are one collection of data that push me to the "no gods exist" side of matters.

    But then there's also the picture of the world being continually developed through such various disciplines as history, archaeology, textual analysis, anthropology, biology, genetics, mathematics, and physics.

    To me, this picture increasingly looks like one without gods. More and more, it looks like a picture that eventually has human beings struggling through self-awareness to account for how and where they came to be.

    Sorry if this is long-winded. I get your point about my pre-formed bias against the existence of God, but I think you're off-base in this case because my goal is to ask whether the impossible things point us towards God's existence or non-existence, given that we cannot know whether God exists or not and given that we have no external evidence pointing us toward "God exists."

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  9. I understand what you are saying. However, your argument's two sides would be like this, if the bible contained only things that could have happened, then you would be inclined to believe in G-D. On the other hand, if the bible has things that are impossible then you are inclined to believe there is no G-D. Is that correct?

    If that is correct I would argue and say that the existence of G-D should not be contingent upon the occurences that are in the bible for a few reasons. The main reason being that if the bible had only possible occurences that still does not prove that any G-D exists, nor does it bring any rationale for believing in G-D.

    My point is simply that the impossible things stated in the bible do not point us to G-D's existence nor against G-D's existence. At least that is my opinion. This is mainly based on the fact that if G-D does exist then he works as a separate force outside of nature. So the laws of nature stand, however, when G-D wants to intervene he is not confined to the laws of nature. So our understanding of the universe would be sound, but G-D would not work inside the laws of the universe.

    This whole thing is just theoretical. THe bible states that a G-D exists and can do unnatural things. This is neither verifiable or falsifiable unless G-D shows up and tells us He or she or it is G-D and does something against the laws of nature. However, I do not understand how it is falsifiable.

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  10. E-man,

    I'd put your argument differently, and it would make a big difference.

    Here's what I'd say: "If the Bible contained only things that were reasonably plausible - even if improbable - then I would have less reason, perhaps much less, to be skeptical of the Bible's veracity."

    After all, my original argument concerns the reliability of the Bible as a text that reports things that actually happened in the way they actually happened. You and I have gone around about the existence of God, which can be interesting philosophically, but my OP really concerns the Bible.

    You keep asking me to imagine "if God exists," but on what reasoning SHOULD imagine this?

    This is tangential, but do you read the New Testament assuming or imagining that Jesus was the son of God born of a virgin born of a virgin and sent to save us from sin and death? Do you approach the doctrines of Islam with "if Mohammed was who he claimed to be"? Do you reflect upon the world asking if the Greek deities still reign?

    If not, what makes you reject these claims to the super-human divine and not to question the claim of the Bible that God exists?

    Of course, I'm assuming you don't question the existence of God, but please correct me if I am in error.

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  11. But an essential part of the bible is the existence of G-D. Separating G-D from the bible completely changes the bible.

    If you want to know how I feel about the existence of one G-D and Judaism vs the other religions I wrote a little something about that on my blog. I don;t know if it is as eloquent or addresses all your points, but I don;t have time right now to go over everything. Maybe when I am on winter break.Here is the website http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-do-we-believe-judaism-is-correct.html. Read it or not it's up to you.

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  12. E-man,

    By the same token, combining (as opposed to separating) the Bible with the notion that God exists also changes the Bible.

    Our perspective of the Bible - the way we see it, perhaps respect it, perhaps revere it - is historical and not necessarily the way it always has been.

    Do you think the way we see the Bible today is the way it's always been seen and understood? Do you think the Bible's earliest readers and commentator's saw the Bible as we do?

    If I may recommend a book to you, try James Kugel's "How to Read the Bible." Kugel is an Orthodox Jew with an encyclopediac knowledge of the early history of the Bible and it commentary.

    I read your post and respect your desire to make your reasoning explicit. That's a good thing. But I don't see it as good thinking to infer a deity from scientific hypotheses and laws, as you try to do.

    You use expressions such as "there must be a God" before establishing that there MUST be. Much of what scientific hypotheses seem to indicate is that there need not have been a God or a supreme being. For example, the universe could indeed have come from nothing.

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  13. I do not understand how one can read the bible and separate it from G-D. The bible itself continuously states G-D's existence as being what the Bible relies on. The flood happened, according to the bible, because G-D did it. The plagues happened because G-D did them. Sodom was destroyed because G-D did it.

    I am confused as to how one can separate G-D from the bible and expect to have a correct reading of it. That is like taking homer out of the odessy and trying to understand what happened. Does Kugel address this point?

    To address your second point, the reason I believe scientific ideas help me is because I see an intelligence in science that can't be random, from my perspective. I probably should not have used such absolute language when writing it, but it is a blog and not a journal.

    I have never heard of any scientists claiming that they can explain that the universe came from nothing. If you know of any theories please let me know about them.

    In truth, I do not expect an atheist to believe there is a G-D because there is no absolute proof. It is not like saying 1+1=2. There is clearly some faith involved. You choose to say that man came into being randomly. I can respect that. However, I am not at all convinced that man could come into being randomly, nor the universe as a whole.

    My theory is actually very basic and based on a statement from Rabbi Akiva. When you see a shirt or a chair you immediately assume someone made it. Here we see man and the universe as a whole. It seems to unique for it to have happened randomly.

    If you could show me a monkey typing on a computer and eventually writing shakespears hamlet, then I would concede that it is possible for the universe and all the living creatures in it to have come about randomly. Until then, I use evolution and the big bang theory, to enhance my resolve.

    To me, the idea that the big bang happened and that evolution occurred makes me think there is an origin. An origin means a beginning. A beginning means something had to start somewhere. Otherwise, why hasn;t man existed forever? Why hasn't the universe existed forever? That is just my thinking.

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  14. E-man,

    I don’t understand what you mean by “separate it from G-D.” If you mean you don’t get how one can read the Bible and not assume that God wrote or inspired it, then perhaps the best thing I can do is suggest you read up on the intentional fallacy, which basically says that it is a mistake to suppose than an author’s personal opinion about the meaning of a text holds more sway than, say, the reader’s opinion. We see this type of conflict play out in real life whenever people are offended by a comment made – perhaps offhandedly – by a figure in the news or in the media.

    For “something coming from nothing” in science, see http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-everything-came-from-nothing-no-god.html

    Although you don’t believe the universe and life within it could come about “randomly,” your incredulity is not itself an argument based on evidence. We do almost certainly live in a universe and on a planet that are both improbable. But improbability, even great improbability, need not lead us directly to “God did it.”

    Here is part of a review of Kugel’s book, from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

    “At a rough estimate, James Kugel's class on the Bible and its interpreters enrolled about 15 percent of the undergraduate student body of Harvard College at any one time. One of the enrolled, some time in the early to mid-nineties, was my Roman Catholic roommate; no stranger to reading the Bible (either testament) himself, he spent most of the semester in a constant state of, one should excuse the expression, revelation.

    Kugel's encyclopedic knowledge of how early Jewish and Christian thinkers transformed the Biblical texts into the "interpreted Bible" we all know today - the one in which Eve is holding an apple, in which David wrote the Psalms, where Isaiah's mention of a young woman's pregnancy becomes a proof of virgin birth - showed his students how the Bible has been read for the better part of two millennia. But beyond that - as I learned myself when, under the influence of Chris' raves, I took a seminar with Kugel - by focusing on the logical discrepancies, grammatical curiosities and ostensible extraneities that served as grist for the ancient interpreters' exegetical mill, he (masterfully) taught his students nothing less than how to read the Bible itself. With attentive, loving, but critical care.

    I mention all this not only to get the mandatory full disclosure out of the way, but to point up the tension at the heart of Kugel's latest (and, perhaps, greatest) book on the Bible intended for a popular audience. True, those traditional interpreters' "four assumptions," as Kugel puts it - of the Bible's fundamentally cryptic nature, its eternal relevance, its internal harmony, and its divine nature, have been the working standard for centuries of how to read the arguably central text in Western history.”

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  15. I do not think that because the world was improbable that G-D must exist, but because it is highly improbable and it clearly has an origin. But you are correct, they need not bring us to G-D did it.

    I watched the video. I am unsure how the universe coming from quantum fluctuations means that it came from nothing. In order for quantum fluctuations to occur, something has to exist. So one can not claim that something came from nothing. Otherwise, I found his ideas very enlightening.

    Ok here is my take on the Bible. Either G-D exists and the Bible is true, or He does not exist and it is false. However, if you take the approach that the impossible acts found in the bible disproves the bible's veracity, this opinion I do not understand.

    I will read Kugel's book and I will see if that helps me understand this idea that you are talking about.

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  16. E-man,

    Sounds good. One clarification, though:

    You say "if you take the approach that the impossible acts found in the bible disproves the bible's veracity...."

    Part of my point is that the Bible's veracity cannot be taken for granted a priori.

    If we open a Bible not knowing whether it is true or false, what is the effect of reading about some of the events and circumstances related in the text?

    Imagine opening a book and reading, "When Ganesh began creating the heavens and the earth...."

    So, I'm not thinking in terms of prove and disprove. I'm really not. But I am thinking in terms of demonstration and consistency and integration with other facts as we know them.

    Kugel's a good read for anyone. I took a class with him once and found him to be an extraordinarily nice and learned man.

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  17. Anonymous1:54 AM

    Larry-what do you have to respond to E-man's "I am unsure how the universe coming from quantum fluctuations means that it came from nothing. In order for quantum fluctuations to occur, something has to exist. So one can not claim that something came from nothing."

    Thank You

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  18. An answer to this can be found in another post, http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2009/12/beginning-of-universe.html

    It turns out that the Big Bang itself may not be the begining-beginning of the universe. Or at least, we may be able to talk ever more confidently about the 'history' or 'pre-history' of the Big Bang.

    Interestingly, some seem to think that the laws of physics existed before our universe. So the natural question is where did these laws come from and how did they get "put into place," as it were?

    It doesn't seem to me that we have any license whatsoever to claim that a god or an intelligent designer "put" these laws "there." In fact, it seems rather foolish to try and assert any kind of claim off the cuff about where those laws come from.

    It seems to me that once we talk about events that occurred 13.7 billion years ago, we are well out of range for anything like the desert god of the Israelites or the sun god of the christians. If there were a god, he would be completely unrecognized and unrecognizable to the practitioners of humanity's thousands of religious faiths.

    What do you think?

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  19. Just because there are things that you don't understand, doesn't make them impossible.

    Just because you are looking at something from a limited viewpoint, doesn't make your viewpoint correct.

    Maybe the ages in the Bible are correct, maybe they are operating on a different calendar. Maybe in the way WE understand TODAY 939 years is equivalent to 70 years by our calendar today.

    Haven't you ever had a dream that you swear felt so real, and that it moved you in a very real way?
    Maybe it moved you so deeply it changed your mind on something you were staunchly for, or against. If something can move you that greatly, is it not real?

    I wonder if you've had any miracles in your life, things that you can't explain. Or if you've ignored them because you are so against this idea of God. I hope that's not the case.

    And I'm not saying this because I am against you being an atheist, or questioning any of this. I feel what you are doing is very healthy, but don't forget to remain open just in case you are wrong. Don't let this quest to prove or be right consume you because this is your life, right now.

    And I hope you don't let anything get in the way of the myriad beautiful possibilities that are out there. But first you've got to be open to them.

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  20. L,

    You have three or four "maybe" statements in there. How many of those will it take for your to start thinking your position might be untenable?

    How dare you lecture me on being "open" to possibilities! You've obviously not read other parts of this blog.

    Now, honestly, how "open" are you to the possibility that the claims of your religion range from exaggeration to speculation to pure untruth? Riddle me this....

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  21. In your (Larry's) original post, you use the term "impossible" where most people (even atheists) would use the term "miraculous". Why is that? Do you believe that miracles are logically impossible? Physically impossible? In some of your follow-up comments, it appears that you don't really believe these events to be "impossible" in the usual sense of the word. Philosophers often talk about "possible worlds" which are quite fantastic. Given quantum mechanics, even a strict naturalist must concede that miracles aren't really impossible, just extremely improbable.

    Your argument for the falsity of the Bible seems to rest on the premise that miracles do not happen. Of course it's true that if you assume that miracles don't happen, then the conclusion that the Bible isn't true is pretty trivial. Most of the text of your post seems to be devoted to demonstrating that the Bible has miracles, something which is probably obvious to most people.

    It seems like your time would be better spent by developing an argument to demonstrate that miracles are impossible, or improbable, or that we shouldn't believe in them, like David Hume's famous argument about believing in miracles. (Of course, David Hume didn't really believe in anything, not even the existence of the outside world, so his argument against believing in miracles is not significant in the context of his philosophical system as a whole.)

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  22. MC

    In general, I use the word "impossible" in this post to mean practically impossible or very highly improbable. I use the term rhetorically rather than scientifically.

    You should ask yourself: Why clutch at the "miraculous"? Why take events we know don't happen--and specific events for which there is no evidence of them having ever actually happened--and use the nano-sliver of their possibility as the basis for action in our live today?

    In other words, even if these events are "possible" in a technical sense (which I don't necessarily grant in every case), why exactly should we consider them to be anything but fiction? Should I believe that the shield of Achilles was really made by the god Hephaestus? Should I accept as true that Paul Bunyan dug the Grand Canyon?

    Now, I'm well aware of how to spend my time, o blogging troll. Your concern is noted, and I fart in your general direction.

    Perhaps instead of dancing around in third-rate philosophy, you might want to address this part from the OP: "Creationists and religionists think, incorrectly, that skeptics bear the burden to 'disprove' the Bible. In fact, they are the ones who need to come up with more than 'the Bible says so' as support for the claims of their belief, particularly claims relating to divinity, miracles and divine inspiration."

    On my supposed "presupposition" that miracles don't happen or my "anti-supernatural bias," see http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2009/12/god-has-no-rights-on-me.html

    and

    http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2010/03/if-atheism-is-false-then.html

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  23. I feel very guilty that I offended you. I didn't mean to. I guess that the phrase "a better way to spend your time" was unfortunate. Please accept my apology.

    I don't think that skeptics "bear the burden to disprove the bible". But sometimes they try to do it anyway. Also, creationists and religionists do come up with much more than "the Bible says so". You may think that their arguments are fallacious or absurd, but they do have arguments that they take very seriously.

    I really really did not mean to imply that you have "presuppositions" or an anti-supernatural bias. I just was saying that once you accept naturalism -- and you may have very good reasons for doing so (most contemporary philosophers do) -- rejecting the Bible is pretty trivial, and on the flipside, those that accept the Bible are not naturalists (in the philosophical sense), so they're not likely to be swayed by an argument where naturalism is a premise.

    By the way, what were you referring to as "third-rate philosophy"? David Hume? Who, in your opinion, is an example of a first-rate philosopher?

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  24. MC,

    No need to feel guilty. Apology accepted and please accept mine as well.

    My post is not meant to "disprove" the bible so much as explain why I think it's false. By "false," I mean that it's human invention, not from gods or by gods. It's literature, and no more a guide or model for living than any other text.

    To implement this intention, I introduce the impossibilities. What one should get out of this post is that the bible contradicts reality in a number of places. Again and again, the bible describes things that we're pretty sure could not have happened.

    How many of these descriptions does it take to get one to question the assumptions of biblical authority?

    This is the real question I want to ask, and this is the question that should be asked by everyone. Yet, notice that I am not asking anyone to be persuaded by my atheist arguments, etc. I am asking people to question the assumption that the bible is divine or divinely inspired. I am asking them to question just how they would go about formulating a test for their assumption and sing that text with their own sacred scriptures as well as others.

    For example, my post suggests that if the bible says that things happened that probably could not have really occurred, then we have reason to be skeptical of its truth (assuming there is no other evidence of the thing happening). We can use this same test for the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and so on.

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    Replies
    1. Larry,
      How can you say you are not trying to disprove the Bible, but then say you think it is false. If you believe it to be false, your objective of writing this blog is to disprove it. If I am wrong please explain why.

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    2. Kerr,

      A little nuance helps. My primary aim -- my focus -- is on explaining why and how the Bible is false. To my understanding, disproof requires a careful sifting of historical and other facts. I am operating at a more general level to avoid having to be as ponderously rigorous as disproof would require. Th Bible contains several self-evident falsehoods, and that's really what I am discussing here.

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  25. Greetings.
    Not being sure what I am, I tend to think of myself as an agnostic.
    I do not adhere to any religion because it is made by, and therefore limited, by men.
    I think ANY attempt to explain te origin of the universe is naive, including the Big Bang, because I am convinced that we will be unable to phrase the ultimate answer to the circular question "...and before that?..." in our lifetime.
    Thus, precisely the same rationality that prevents me from believing in a God/Superpower, however we humans name it, makes me believe in a life hereafter. I simply cannot accept the fact that we are conscious of our marvelous existence and that we can put the most difficult questions, and that all ends without our knowing the answer.
    It is like the horizon: unquestionably, it is there, but we never reach it. Discussions like these are fascinating.
    Federico

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