Month: March 2016

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.

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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.

Is Hell perfect?

perfecthellWe are told that God is perfect. Let’s assume it’s true and do a thought experiment. Imagine the creator god of another universe who was starting from scratch creating his universe. And imagine this second god was perfect. Furthermore assume that this second perfect creator god was going to create sentient beings capable of worship but also having the free will to reject this second perfect creator god.

Now, ask yourself this:

What if the sentient worshipful beings failed to live up to the standards of this second perfect creator god? Is this second perfect creator god obliged by his perfection to create Hell?

The obvious answer is yes because perfection is a standard upon which there can be no deviation. 2 perfect beings must necessarily perform equivalent activities. Otherwise one would be slightly less than perfect. Of any specific endeavor, only one approach can be perfect.

There couldn’t be a better system of judgment than an eternal torture chamber for those who disbelieve? I’m not perfect but I can see very clearly that this is a less than perfect system. This system as defined doesn’t even try to have redeeming qualities. It’s merely unjust punishment. Is this the best a perfect god can come up with?