Was Jesus a great magician?

jesus-magicListening to the ‘Unbelievable’ podcast with Justin Brierley (“Unbelievable? Can Justin defend his own book?”) and then subsequently listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (Episode 1163 with Banachek) got me thinking.

I personally don’t think Jesus existed (at least the famous Jesus in the Gospels) mostly because no one outside of the Bible seemed to notice his notorious deeds while they were happening and because there are no hard dates, etc. But nevertheless, it came up in the Unbelievable podcast how much evidence Christians see for Jesus rising from the dead. Banachek (a mentalist) on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast mentioned how great he could be as an evangelist. For background, he’s the mentalist who discovered (along with James Randi) that Peter Poppoff was using an earpiece and radio waves to con his audience back in the day.

But what if Jesus was just performing tricks? Even now, with today’s technology and knowledge, Banachek convinced a bunch of scientists that his magic was real. How much more could people be fooled in the first century before all the modern technology. Jesus turned water to wine, he walked on water. Maybe final magic trick was convincing people he rose from the dead.

The Bible reveals it’s tendency toward magic in the Old Testament too. One of my favorite magic tricks was when the Pharoah’s magicians threw their staffs to the ground and they became snakes and then Moses threw his to the ground to become a snake and eat the other snakes (Exodus 7:10-12). I wonder if Penn and Teller could pull that one off.


Where did the writers of the Bible think Heaven was?

heavenI hear a lot of debate and discussion claiming people can reconcile the Bible and science. Many claim they can do it. I’m not so sure. I’ve noticed that as scientific knowledge increases, religions attempt to either co-opt the findings or deny them.

Ask any believer today where they think heaven is. Every believer I’ve asked told me it’s either in another dimension or some hidden realm – somewhere that’s inaccessible to our scientific instruments.

But what if I asked that question of believers 3,000 years ago? Would they answer, “Heaven is in another dimension”? It’s conjecture but I would venture to guess, based on my reading of popular holy books, they would say heaven is above the sky. After all, the tower of Babel was in danger of reaching heaven, manna fell from heaven and Jesus ascended into heaven. Now how could all of that happen in another dimension? The stories all claim it happened right here on earth in front of eyewitnesses.

Believers are forced to twist themselves into knots to keep the holy books true in light of evidence to the contrary. I have a hypothesis that the people who wrote the Bible wrote it with exactly the amount of scientific knowledge that humanity possessed at that time and God didn’t tell them to write anything to the contrary. If we wrote a holy book today, would we write that heaven is above the sky? No; we would write that heaven is in another dimension. And who is going to argue with us? God?

Atheists lack objective moral values


I’ve noticed in debates that Christians really enjoy taunting atheists with their objective moral values. After all, they say to the atheists, “Without our God and the Bible, you can do anything. Under your worldview of cultural relativism, if you had been around in Germany under Hitler, genocide was ok.” And they say this with a straight face knowing that genocide was sanctioned by God in the Old Testament when the Israelites were invading the Canaanite lands.

So let’s examine the difference in values by assuming it’s true and that Christians are guided by their objective moral values and the atheists are guided by subjective moral values. The first assumption you might make naively is that the atheists are the primary perpetrators of crime. That’s not the case statistically. And you would be hard pressed to think of a famous Christian who hasn’t been toppled by his moral failings. If they aren’t stealing from the offering plate, they are molesting children or having affairs with their secretaries. But don’t worry folks, atheists don’t even think these things are wrong under their subjective moral values. After all without an ultimate authority, it’s up to them to decide what’s right and wrong – and again, if you are a Christian in a debate with an atheist, insert your favorite Stalin, Mao, and Hitler argument here. And if you are an atheist, insert your counter that they didn’t mass murder in the name of atheism. <– See how dumb this debate gets?

So how do we as atheists handle this freedom of destruction we have been granted? Well, most of us including myself realize that the goals that I have in life are easier to obtain by refraining from bad societal behavior. If I want to succeed in society, I’m bound by the guardrails that society imposes. But what if that wasn’t enough? What if the Christians are right and if everyone stops believing in their God and the Bible, they run rampant killing and maiming with abandon? Well, if that were the case, the society would be forced to create some kind of system to restrict those people from the rest of society. They would probably construct some kind of restrictive mechanism – maybe jails. Yeah that’s a good idea, and furthermore there would probably be claims of injustice so they would have to create some kind of jurisprudence mechanism – I know! Maybe they could come up with a criminal judicial system. Hey wait a second, I’m noticing something, that’s exactly what we have here in America. Interesting.

You see folks, objective moral values aren’t enough given a god we can’t see or is seemingly uninterested in meting out his justice in this life. So whether you believe in objective moral values or not, you still need society’s mechanisms for handling bad behavior. Yes, the price you pay with moral relativism is that in theory you can do whatever you want, including genocide. But we did that anyway even when there was a Bible sitting there on our desks and in fact, we glorified genocide in that very same book.

I finished writing this article and then realized the real dividing line right now between atheists and Christians when it comes to “objective” moral values is homosexuality. Although they talk about it in terms of murder and rape, they are really focused on the real moral values question – sexuality outside of marriage. In my encounters with their preaching, Christians are completely beside themselves on the homosexuality issue. In the Bible, God handled the issue by completely destroying Sodom and Gomorra (a story where the only moral man then had sex and impregnated his daughters while drunk). Now, God is silent on the issue, again leaving moral relativists to decide how to handle it. In America, we have decided on the side of free exercise. In some other places where they are also bound by their holy book of objective moral values, they have taken to throwing homosexuals off roofs.



Creationists’ invalid excuse for not accepting evolution – it’s only a theory

sorry-its-the-lawIt’s very easy to understand the reason monotheistic religions reject the theory of evolution. If evolution is accurate, the religions are inaccurate. They can’t both be true at the same time. And if evolution is accurate, our worst fears are realized – we are indeed mere mortals. (Footnote – Catholics have fairly recently accepted evolution but I believe they have done so at the expense of ignoring their Bibles.)

The problem creationists face is that there is a lot of evidence supporting evolution and less than none supporting Noah’s ark/flood. In my experience,creationists do not argue against the evidence specifically and facts individually (or they would lose and have lost historically), rather they straw-man it. They talk about hoaxes and Piltdown man, etc. But they almost always revert to what they believe to be their best argument – evolution is ‘just a theory.’

Eugenie Scott has described this problem of theory vs law as follows:

“Theories are the most important things in science. What a lot of, unfortunately, textbooks lead people to misunderstand is that a really good theory grows up into a law. As if theories are refined and then become laws and laws are somehow more important than theories.”

But what if evolutionary theory did have as much weight as creationists apparently give ‘laws’ in science? Would they accept it?

Absolutely not! And I can prove it easily in one belief – miracles. Here we are in a universe acting perfectly in accordance with the laws of physics. We have no documented example ever in reproducible experiment of these laws being thwarted. But at will and on thousands of occasions, according to the holy texts, God has thwarted these laws of physics (and continues to do so every day). Every miracle, by definition, is a refutation of the laws of physics. And yet, religious believers almost universally easily accept miracles.

So if evolutionary theory did grow up to be a law – which of course it won’t by definition, that would that convince any creationist of it’s validity? No, again it’s just a straw man argument meant to denigrate the mountains of evidence science has discovered about the world.

If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.

Alan Dershowitz


We are all immortal (or are we?)

mortalsLanguage can be funny. Popular culture can be even funnier. Growing up in a religious society can sometimes blind people to the fact that their notions are very flavored by the language of that society.

Case in point, someone posted a verse on Facebook:

“In God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 56:4

It made me scratch my head a bit. I asked myself, given the beliefs of most of American society, who is mortal? After all, we are granted immortality at conception based on most Christian beliefs. The Mormons believe slightly differently in this regard but I’ll leave it to the reader to investigate that.

So we are all either going to Heaven or Hell depending on God’s proclivities. None of the Christians can really agree on the specifics of which tactics get people to either destination but they all agree that everyone is going to one of the two places when they die.

So given that we are all going to be eternally suffering or eternally blissful, who is left to be mortal?

The first definition of mortal in Google is:

“Of a living human being, often in contrast to a divine being) subject to death.

All men are mortal”

Apparently Google hasn’t read the Bible when it came up with this definition.

It could be that Christians think God will never taste death at all and that’s what makes him immortal. But then does that mean Jesus was a ‘mere mortal?’

Granted this is all semantics and language parsing. Some of the translations in the Bible don’t use the term ‘mere mortal’ in this verse. But nevertheless the people who post these types of things are people I know don’t think we are mortal.

To get back to my original point. We are so used to throwing around terms like mortal, eternity, God, angels, demons that I think we sometimes forget what they all really mean.

Of course I believe we are all mortal and all this talk of immortality is representative of the fear of that fact. We will believe in talking snakes and donkeys if it keeps us from facing our mortality.


Manna from Heaven?

mannaAnyone who’s been to church, especially as a child, knows the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years and how God provided manna from Heaven for them to eat when there wasn’t much else.

Let’s assume this story is 100% true as represented in the Bible and think about it as adults. After all, although we were taught these stories as children, we don’t have to continue to think of them as we did when we were children.

The main story is found in Exodus 16. There is a parallel story in Numbers 11 where God punishes the Israelites with too much quail.

In the story, manna rains down from heaven every morning on 6 of 7 days a week (skipping the Sabbath) for 40 years! So the first question arises, where is ‘heaven’ in this story? It can be inferred that it is ‘above’ the area between Egypt and Israel. Is heaven ‘above’ the whole earth in the story? If so, does that imply a flat earth? How can heaven be above a spherical object that is both spinning through space and orbiting the sun? Or on the other hand, is heaven in a geosynchronous orbit above the middle east?

Next question: why did manna rain down from heaven? Was there a manna oven in heaven cooking this manna up? Were angels madly working in a heavenly kitchen and then shaking the results over the edge of heaven to rain down on the desert? Why couldn’t it just manifest itself right there on the ground? After all, God spoke the universe into existence from nothing. We can assume he could just say to the universe or whatever mechanism does the implementation of his spoken commands, ‘manifest some manna down there!’ and it would be done.

There are a lot of fairly comical stories about the manna. Mostly about people complaining about it. They complained they were hungry and God provided manna. But then they got sick of the manna so God forced approximately 6 trillion quail on them (so many that it would come out their nostrils). But why was God angry about this? After all he created us to get bored and sick of eating the same thing over and over. I know I do and if I’m made in his image, he should understand. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be a much more impressive miracle to provide a menu to the Israelites and every morning, each of their favorite foods would just show up in their corresponding tent? Now that’s a god worthy of worship! I guess he was trying to teach them a lesson to be happy with little or something but I think they had a point. They had better meals in Egypt.

Finally, what did the livestock eat for 40 years? There isn’t much grass in the desert and the people were eating mostly manna so what did the livestock eat? I guess you could just say the livestock did eat manna. After all, God can perform a miracle wherein the animals can eat something other than their usual provisions. I believe that’s what he would have had to do on Noah’s ark after all.

As with most of these stories, when you really think about them, they dissolve in your thoughts the way the manna disolved when it was left in the sun.

The power of wishful thinking

13806-I-Wish-I-Was-A-BirdIt’s the beginning of 2016 and in the United States, we are in the heat of the presidential primaries. There has been a lot of consternation about Donald Trump as the republican nominee.

At one point during the process, a number of the candidates were asked, “If Trump is the eventual nominee, will you support him?” “He’s not going to be the nominee!” was the response 9 times out of 10. Fairly late into the campaigns, the remaining candidates were asked such questions and responded with, “I’m going to be the nominee!”

In a similar vein, Christians often discuss the “atheistic worldview.” Many times the discussion goes something like this, “Well if atheists are right and God doesn’t exist, then there’s no ultimate meaning!” The atheists typically respond with, “Well we make our own meaning. We don’t have our meaning dictated to us.” or “If your God is real, I wouldn’t worship him anyway because of his genocides and misogyny.” And the Christians respond, “Without a moral lawgiver, who are you to define morality? We are just molecules in motion according to your worldview.”

But many times I think these arguments miss the point entirely. On both sides we are arguing from a position of wishful thinking without regard to finding the truth of the propositions.

In the case of politics, the truthful answer would be something like, “Although I hope Trump doesn’t win and I think his chances are long given his incendiary remarks, there is a some percentage chance he could win. But boy I sure hope not!”

And in the atheist vs theist debates, the real scientific question is, “Is the proposition true? Do any of the gods proposed in the holy books have evidence supporting the claims?”

I like to turn the question around and ask, “What if science is right and we are in an uncaring universe?” Or on the other side, “What if Yahweh is God and he’s going to burn non-believers for eternity.”

But the outcome of these answers doesn’t dictate the truth one way or the other. What we wish to be true has absolutely no bearing on what is actually true.

Sometimes I think these philosophical debates about who’s better and who has a better moral measuring stick distract us from the real question being asked and that is, “Are any of the claims on either side measurable and testable?” And if so, let’s measure and test and get as close to the truth as we can (knowing we are fallible). And if not, we have no choice but to live with the consequences and if we can do it, do it with the best morality and bravery we can muster knowing that in the end, we have to live with each other.