Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is the Bible Really the Word of God?

Is the Holy Bible the inspired word of God or isn’t it? Let’s look at the evidence on both sides of that question.

First, what is the evidence that the bible is, indeed, the actual word of God? Well, the bible itself says it’s the word of God. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” from 2 Timothy 3:16-17. So if the bible says it is the word of God then it must be the word of God, right?

Well, no, not necessarily. Believing that would be like going into a coffee shop in New York that has a sign hanging in the window proclaiming that it sells the “world’s best coffee” and congratulating the owner for his great accomplishment (from the movie Elf). It is a classic case of begging the question, or circular logic.

So what evidence is there that the bible is the word of God, other than the bible itself? The answer to that question is a resounding, nothing whatsoever, nada, zilch, nary a smidgen of evidence.

Oh, there are sources that claim that a plenitude of evidence exists. But they are either lying or mistaken. There isn’t any.

The Christian apologetic site claims there is plenty of evidence, both internally and externally, that proves the bible is God’s word. It says, “One of the first internal evidences that the Bible is truly God’s Word is seen in its unity. Even though it is really sixty-six individual books, written on three continents, in three different languages, over a period of approximately 1500 years, by more than 40 authors who came from many walks of life, the Bible remains one unified book from beginning to end without contradiction.”

Really? Did the author of this statement have a straight face when he or she wrote it or was the tongue planted firmly within the cheek? The bible is, today, a canon published as a single book, but those 66 separate writings it contains are about as disjointed thematically, grammatically, and rhetorically as a compilation that might include the works of Dr. Seuss and Karl Marx. Even God Himself is not consistent within the pages of the bible, at once destructive and vile while also being described as loving and just. And the number of errors and contradictions, some of them irreconcilable, number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

The article continues, “Another of the internal evidences that indicates the Bible is truly God’s Word is the prophecies contained within its pages.” Well, there are two types of fulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament: The kind that almost any knowledgeable person could make based on the political climate of the day. A modern example might be the lady who told presidential adviser David Axelrod that Barack Obama could be the first black president years before he entered the presidential race. The other kind of fulfilled prophecy is the self-fulfilling kind. All the writers of the New Testament had access to the prophecies of the Old Testament. It would be child’s play to write a gospel that made it appear as though the prophecies were fulfilled, because nothing in the New Testament can be historically verified as actually having taken place. There is no record of Jesus’ crucifixion let alone his resurrection. There is no corroborating evidence of anything at all, not even Jesus’ birth. also claims that the bible must be the word of God because it has so many historically-accurate verifications: “Through both archaeological evidences and other writings, the historical accounts of the Bible have been proven time and time again to be accurate and true.” This is just a false statement, plain and simple. There are some factual accounts of various cities and events in the bible. The Jews probably were taken captive by the Babylonians and Jesus probably was born, somewhere. But almost none of the “facts” stated in the bible can be historically verified. From the Exodus of the Jews to the Resurrection of Jesus, from Noah’s Ark to the Woman at the Well, nothing has been independently corroborated through archeology or through independent historical accounts. It just isn’t there. The claims made in are bogus. The author makes no attempt at all to document the claims. They are simply pronounced as being true.

So is there any evidence against the bible being the word of God? Yes, and plenty of it.

First of all, even IF the original manuscripts were written by God’s dictation, it doesn’t matter; we don’t have the originals. We don’t even have copies of the originals. We don’t even have third-hand copies of the originals. The best we can do is to translate century-old copies of copies of copies into our language and hope for the best. And there are mountains of evidence that none of our copies is even close to what the originals might have said. There are historical accounts of scribes complaining about the inaccuracies of the copies they were copying, because the scribes had multiple copies and none of them matched each other. So which one was the most accurate?

There are also surviving copies of works written by authors of antiquity complaining about the poor quality of copied works. There were no printing presses back then, and the bible is a big book, not to mention that it was not even a book in the days it was first being copies; it was just a collection of manuscripts from various authors.

Scribes even added their own verses in an attempt to make the original fit with their own theology or to perhaps replace what they think may have been lost. A good example of this is the story of Jesus telling the Pharisees that whoever is without sin should cast the first stone. This story, probably the most famous New-Testament story of Jesus’ ministry, was not in the original manuscripts. How do we know if we don’t have the originals? The story was not in the earliest Greek manuscripts we have, which are the ones that had been copied the least and, therefore, most like the originals. That story was added sometime later when the Greek manuscripts were being translated into Latin. And it was the Latin translation that was eventually translated into English, (Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus).

Logically, it seems odd that the creator of the universe would choose a backward time in history, a time when people were gullible and believed in superstitions, to reveal himself. It also seems unlikely that an all-knowing entity would find it so hard to convince everyone of his existence. It’s like the aliens who seem to only abduct and rape hillbilly rednecks in the swamp instead of showing themselves to the masses in the middle of Manhattan in broad daylight.

My conclusion: The bible is not the word of God but the word of man, from beginning to end.

It can certainly still be used for inspiration, if you’re in need of being spiritually inspired, and that’s what most modern Christians use it for. They know that almost all the stories in both the Old and New Testaments are apocryphal. Noah didn’t really build a big boat; Jonah wasn’t regurgitated from the belly of a fish, and Jesus was not really resurrected from the dead. It never happened.

For documented details of how the bible as we know it is not accurate and is, therefore, not the word of God, read: Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman, Why I Became an Atheist by John Loftus.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Electrons: Is there Anything They Can't Do?

When Ben Franklin went out in a thunderstorm and flew his kite, he knew he wanted to capture the power of lightning, but he didn’t know what lightning was made of. He had no idea about ions or electrons. He wanted to prove that lightning was a form of electricity. But he didn’t know what electricity was. But he was the first to recognize that it consisted of positive and negative charges.

A hundred years later, Thomas Edison still knew nothing of electrons, but that didn’t keep him from inventing devices that put them to good use. His electric light bulb, for example, used the flow of electrons in a wire to create a bright glow. The glow is caused by the intense heat produced by the resistance in the wire to the flow of electrons through it.

An electron is the negatively-charged particle that orbits the nucleus of an atom. The nucleus consists of positively-charged protons and neutral neutrons. Electrons have almost no mass. But because they orbit far from the atomic nucleus, they sometimes are able to escape their atomic home and flow freely through the environment. A flow of electrons en masse is what we call electricity.

The flow of electrons is called an electric current. And since Edison’s time, humans have learned how to control and manipulate that flow of electrons in order to accomplish things that neither Franklin nor Edison could have imagined.

We have learned that electrons can be made to move in a wire by exposing that wire to a moving magnetic field. We have also learned how to extract electrons from a chemical reaction, which is how we get batteries. Once electrons are set into motion in a wire, we can do all kinds of beneficial things with them.

One of the simplest things we can make electrons do is produce heat, by sending them through a wire or element that resists their flow. This is useful if we want to produce heat to cook with or to heat our homes. When heat is produced, light can also be produced, since both light and heat are radiation in different parts of the same electromagnetic spectrum. Edison’s challenge was to find a material that would get white hot without losing physical integrity. He found it in the element tungsten.

But electrons can do so much more than produce heat and light. Electrons, since they react to a magnetic field, can also be made to produce a magnetic field. And since magnets can be used to attract certain metals, electromagnets (magnets made by running electrons through a coil of wire) can be used to make metallic wheels spin. Arranging these wheels in a manner that causes them to do beneficial work makes an electric motor.

Using semiconducting elements such as gallium, arsenic, and silicon, we have learned how to control the flow of electrons. We can manipulate the flow of electrons using what are called logic gates. These are similar to switches that allow electrons to flow when turned on or stop the flow when turned off.

By arranging a series of logic gates in complex ways, and by assigning a value such as 1 or 0 to the output, we can use the logic gates to perform any mathematical function. This is the basis for how computers work.

When electrons jump around in an atom, going from one energy level to another in their orbits, they either absorb light or emit it. By causing electrons to absorb energy and then release it at a certain frequency, we can produce specific colors of light. This is how we get light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. We can also use LEDs to produce laser light.

We have learned how to use semiconductors to control how electrons respond to light. In a digital camera, for example, the light that enters the lens strikes an electronic component called a charge coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS). Photons of light striking either of these devices set electrons in motion in a particular way. This causes an electric charge which can be transmitted out of the capturing device and saved as a picture element (pixel) of a digital image.

Over the past 100 years we have tamed the electron and made it out slave. From the humble beginnings of electric circuits used only to produce light or heat, we now can manipulate the flow of electrons in many ways. We still depend on the flow of electrons to produce our artificial light and in some cases to cook our food and heat our homes. But now electrons do so much more for us.

We rely on them to provide our entertainment by running our television sets, video games, DVD players, and music devices. We also rely on them for our global communication needs. The precise control of electrons within a circuit runs our computers and our cell phones.

In fact, it would be difficult to imagine living in a world without the manipulated flow of electrons. Is there anything they can’t do?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

What Really Happened on the First Easter?

As with almost every other allegory in the bible, the stories of the Crucifixion and Resurrection also contain many incongruous and even contradictory details among the four Gospels. The Gospels were not written in the same order as they appear in the bible, and they were not written by the apostles whose names appear on them. Mark was written first, and therefore, closest to the actual events (if the events actually happened at all). Matthew and Luke were next and both authors used Mark as a reference. The Gospel of John came last and may reflect an evolution of dogma in the church as time had gone by and the expected return of Jesus had not happened. Let’s take a look at the conflicting accounts of the Easter story in chronological order.

Did Jesus carry the cross himself or did he get help with it? According to Matthew (27:32), Mark (15:21), and Luke (22:26), Jesus got help with the cross from Simon of Cyrene. But in John 19:17 it says that Jesus bore the cross by himself.

When was Jesus crucified? Mark 15:25 says he was crucified on the third hour. John 19:14-15 says he was crucified on the sixth hour. Luke and Matthew don’t say when the crucifixion began but the sixth hour happened sometime during the event. The Gospels are also not in agreement about which day of the week he was crucified. None of them actually state a day by name, but the varying accounts describe the events as taking “three days and three nights,” as per Matthew 12:40 or Mark 8:31, or that he arose “on the third day,” as suggested in Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22. So there is even confusion within the same Gospel times.

What about the two “thieves” who were crucified with Jesus? Mark mentions the thieves but does not say they spoke. Matthew 27:44 says that the two thieves taunted Jesus. Luke 23:39-42 says that only one thief taunted Jesus and was rebuked by the other thief. Jesus then promises the 2nd thief that they would be in Paradise that day. But John and Acts say he did not ascend to heaven for 40 days after the Resurrection. The two men are not described as being thieves in John’s gospel. The Romans did not, as a rule, crucify thieves.

What, if anything, did Jesus drink while on the cross? Mark 15:23 says he was given wine mixed with myrrh but he didn’t drink it. Matthew and Luke say Jesus was given vinegar and didn’t drink it. John says he was given vinegar and did drink it.

There was a Roman centurion present at the Crucifixion. What did he say? According to Mark 15:39, he said, “Truly this man was the son of God!” Matthew’s gospel also reports that the centurion proclaimed that Jesus was the son of God. But Luke 22:47 quotes the centurion as saying, “Truly this man was innocent.”

When was the curtain in the temple split? Luke 23:44-47 says the curtain was torn before Jesus died. Mark 15:37-39 says the curtain was torn after his death. Whether it was torn before or after Jesus’ death is symbolically important. Besides, how does anyone know the exact moment the curtain was torn compared to the exact moment Jesus died? They didn’t have chronometers back then. The only reason for including this in the story is for symbolic purposes, which means the gospel writers were writing with different agendas.

There are several other discrepancies in the story. For example, who found the empty tomb and what time of day was it? How many others were there besides the women who discovered the empty tomb? Were they angels or men, or was it only one man? The four gospels tell completely different accounts of the empty tomb.

One could try to combine all four of the gospels and come up with a reasonable scenario, but that would be equivalent to writing a fifth gospel, wouldn’t it? In my opinion, the most probable scenario is that none of it happened; it is a made up story. In other words, it’s an allegory, plain and simple.

The gospels were written down by educated men living in a different region of the world from where the events took place. And they were written decades after they supposedly happened. Before they were written down, they were passed down by oral tradition. It’s a wonder there is any agreement at all among the gospels. And there probably would be even less agreement had the authors of Matthew and Luke not used Mark as a source.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why I Don't Want an iPad

As I write this the Apple iPad is about to go on sale nationally. But instead of waiting in line to get one for myself, I’m here at the keyboard writing about it. Why? Because, as cool as it may be, I haven’t a clue what it’s good for. How would I use it?

First of all, I’m a huge fan of technology. Unlike my daughter who likes only the technology that she deems truly beneficial to her or to society and not the technology that replaces tried and true methods of doing things (such as eBook readers), I like pretty much all technology, even the kind that seems to be technology for technology’s sake. If it’s technological and cool, it usually gets thumbs up from me.

But most new tech gadgets have an obvious function, and usually one that is either new or that provides a different tip to an old hat. When the iPhone first came out, for example, I wondered what made it so much different from any other high-end cell phone. But its larger display, multi-touch screen coupled with its ability to run downloadable applications convinced me that it was truly something innovative.

The iPad, on the other hand, doesn’t convince me that it has anything new to offer other than packaging. It sort of looks like an iPhone, only larger. But you can’t use it as a telephone. It has a nice, large display screen, but it provides nothing new per se. You can download eBooks and read them, just like with a standard eBook reader. You can listen to music on it, just like you can with an iPod. You can send and read e-mail, just like you can with any Smartphone.

So, if you have an iPod (or other mp3 player), a cell phone, and a laptop, why do you need an iPad? I have an Android Smartphone that I use to surf the Net when I’m away from my computer, check my e-mail, listen to my music, take pictures, get directions, check the weather forecast, and even make phone calls. I can even watch Flash videos on it. The iPad has no Flash support. And, as mentioned earlier, it also can’t make phone calls or take pictures.

To me, the iPad is like an oversized Smartphone that doesn’t make phone calls or do many of the other things a Smartphone can do. So why do I need one? In fact, other than its “coolness” why should I even want one?

I love new tech gadgets, but in order for me to shell out $500 for one, it has to be more than just cool. Somebody tell me something significant that the iPad can do that my Smartphone can’t (other than doing it on a larger screen), and maybe I’ll change my mind about it. Otherwise, my Droid Eris will get me by. Besides, I can at least carry that in my pocket. If I owned an iPad, where would I put it?