Friday, March 30, 2012

The Book We Would Expect

I've dedicated one post to figuring out what world we would expect given the Christian God, and another to what God we would expect given the world we live in. But there are other elements of religion that we can examine using this method as well. For example, the way in which God interacts with us in most of the major religions: holy books. Given what we know about the world, and assuming a classical Christian God—omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and so on—would we expect him to give us the Bible, or something else entirely?

No Book At All?
Well, to start with, we wouldn't necessarily predict that God would communicate via the written word. This is especially true of ancient times, when reproductions were done by scribes who made mistakes and inserted their own biases into the text. Books are also relatively easy to forge: we do have methods for detecting forgeries (and the Bible has quite a few), but in principle all you have to do to avoid being caught is put the right words in the right order.

If God wants us to understand him, the best form of communication is one that would be direct, inimitable, and empirically verifiable. This could be as blunt and straightforward as appearing in the sky at regular intervals and proclaiming his commands in a booming voice for the world to hear. Christians at this point often object that this would conflict with our ability to choose or reject God, but to advocate this position is to deny the possibility of misotheism—and besides, as I've argued before, the Christian God doesn't care about free will.

In any case, let's assume for the sake of argument that God would communicate using a book. What would we expect from this holiest of holy tomes? Certainly we would expect God to distribute it universally, to all peoples and in all languages. If this information is so important, there's no sense in giving it only to a select few and waiting centuries for it to slowly spread across cultural barriers. We also wouldn't necessarily expect God to use humans to write it—and if he did, he would presumably find a way to make the canonization process simple and obvious, not seemingly arbitrary and mired in church politics.

And what of the actual content of the book? Well...

A Book of Clarity
I've noted in the past that while reliable methods of truth-finding like science tend to converge on an answer, religion tends to diverge into countless opposing dogmas. But it doesn't have to be this way: God could avoid most of the religious schisms and bloodshed by producing a book of maximal clarity. A benevolent God would communicate his message using unambiguous, easily understandable language—especially the parts of his message that are most important. For example, given the stakes involved in eternal salvation, we might expect God to devote a section of the book to describing, with pinpoint precision, exactly what he wants from us. If we don't start with the Bible, we would never predict the tangle of vague, scattered instructions that it provides.

This book, we might assume, would lay out plainly the answers to all the important issues God wants us to know about. For example, is abortion murder? For all the scathing condemnation from fundamentalists, the Bible never explicitly says a word on the issue, and may even suggest the opposite. Where do people who die without hearing the gospel end up? That's something that could affect billions of people, but since the Bible is silent on it, Christians' positions on the topic are all over the map. Perhaps God intends, for some reason, to keep certain issues a mystery—but even if that's the case, there's nothing to stop him from stating that intent outright.

That doesn't mean we'd expect everything in this book to be completely literal. Sometimes metaphor can be a useful tool for getting one's point across. But there's no apparent downside to denoting what's metaphorical and what isn't. When God does use metaphor, we'd expect him to be perfectly clear about that fact. We would not predict a book that begins with a completely inaccurate account of the creation of the universe—one that not only isn't labeled as allegory, but is treated as literal by other parts of the book, and offers no hint as to what its lesson might be.

An artist's depiction of Genesis.
Another aspect of clarity is applicability to the target audience. We would expect God's message to be applicable to all of us, not just a specific culture at a specific time. There are two ways God could accomplish this: he could use his book only to impart ideas that apply to everyone, or he could create multiple versions of his book, removing certain sections when they're no longer relevant. Ancient law, for instance, could be archived for reference, but there's little reason to include outdated material in newer editions.

A Book of Insight
If God expects us to accept a book as his divine word, it would need to stand out as something unlikely to have a human origin. One way to do this would be to offer predictions of the future or scientific insights that couldn't have been known at the time. Describing heliocentrism, evolution, germ theory or relativity many centuries before their discovery would go a long way toward getting the skeptics to sit up and take notice—and would greatly benefit humanity to boot. Describing specific future wars or natural disasters would have the same effect. Although apologist claim that the Bible does meet these expectations, the examples they use are dubious at best.

Given a benevolent God, we would also predict his book to be provide perfect insights in the realm of morality. At a time when various tribes and nations murdered each other freely, we might expect a strong denouncement of unprovoked killing. At a time when one man owning another was normal, we'd predict that God would state unequivocally that slavery is wrong. At a time when societies were patriarchal and women were treated as inferior, we'd look for God to establish once and for all that men and women are equal. Yet in the Bible we find God sanctioning or even endorsing all of these backward moral values.

A Book of Perfection
If God is absolutely perfect, it would be natural to assume his communication with us to be flawless as well. There are no benefits to allowing errors into the text, and multiple drawbacks: Every internal or external contradiction is not only another possible cause for confusion, but also another reason for skeptics to believe the book is not of divine origin. Of course, we see so many such conflicts in the Bible that we have websites dedicated to documenting them all.

We would also expect a book that originates from a single being to contain a thematically unified message. It could certainly tackle a variety of subjects, and even use different methods of delivery (poetry, prophecy, parables and so on) to get different concepts across. But what we would never expect to find are sections with ideas that clash starkly with one another—for instance, John and the Synoptic gospels, or the noble love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and the depraved, barbaric fury of Jeremiah 19:9.

Finally, if God didn't provide this book in all languages as I suggested above, we'd at least expect the translation process to be perfectly guided. It would make little sense for him to create a perfect message to humanity and then not bother to preserve it for the vast majority of his audience. While translations can't always be exact, God could easily have made the process smoother in a number of ways (for instance, miraculously preserving the original manuscripts). In the same vein, only a handful of translations should be needed in any given language, not hundreds of oft-conflicting versions.

A Surprising Book
So what can we say about the book we would expect God to hand down to humanity? Insofar as we would expect a book from him at all, we would expect that book to be...
  • Universally distributed
  • Easily authenticated
  • Optimally translated
And in terms of content, it would be...
  • Maximally clear
  • Thorough in tackling important issues
  • Applicable to all cultures
  • Prophetic and scientifically insightful
  • Perfectly moral
  • Internally and externally consistent
  • Thematically unified
Once again, the predictions we make are completely in conflict with what we find in the Bible (and with all other holy books, for that matter). How strange that God would communicate with us in a manner that's so contrary to our expectations!

Apologists might look at this list of predictions and say that the Bible lines up with nearly all of them, but I've already provided the counterexamples. What I'm interested in is their excuses for the predictions that even they must admit the Bible has failed to meet. Why is the Bible silent on some vital issues and less than perfectly clear on others? Why did God allow its canonization to be so muddled, its early distribution so limited? I'd love some real answers, although past experience tells me that any I receive will be remarkably unsatisfying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Powerful Thoughts, Vol. 4

Welcome to the fourth installment in this series! It's been a while since the last one, but I've amassed so many awesome quotes over the past few months that the fifth will be coming up very soon. Here are some on the topic of God:
  • "They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse." –Emily Dickinson
  • "I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him." –Albert Einstein
  • "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." –Galileo Galilei
  • "Would God give a bird wings and make it a crime to fly? Would he give me brains and make it a crime to think?" –Robert Ingersoll
  • "Is it not better to place a question mark upon a problem while seeking an answer than to put the label "God" there and consider the matter solved?" –Joseph Lewis
  • "If triangles invented a god, they would make him three-sided." –Charles de Montesquieu
On Christianity:
  • "Christianity, above all, consoles; but there are naturally happy souls who do not need consolation. Consequently, Christianity begins by making such souls unhappy, for otherwise it would have no power over them." –André Gide
  • "Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything—just give him time to rationalize it." –Robert Heinlein
  • "There is in every village a torch: The schoolteacher. And an extinguisher: The priest." –Victor Hugo
  • "The church is not a pioneer; it accepts a new truth, last of all, and only when denial has become useless." –Robert Ingersoll
  • "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." –Thomas Jefferson
  • "The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad." –Friedrich Nietzsche
  • "Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. ... It is then no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge." –Thomas Paine
On religion in general:
  • "Blind faith is an ironic gift to return to the Creator of human intelligence." –Anon
  • "Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable." –Ambrose Bierce
  • "Where knowledge ends, religion begins." –Benjamin Disraeli
  • "Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." –Albert Einstein
  • "The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence, from Jerusalem, of a lunatic asylum." –Havelock Ellis
  • "Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child." –Robert A. Heinlein
  • "If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again." –Penn Jillette
  • "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." –Seneca the Younger (attributed)
On reason, science and skepticism:
  • "Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice." –Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • "Skepticism is the first step towards truth." –Denis Diderot
  • "What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn't make it worse. Not being open about it doesn't make it go away." –Eugene Gendlin
  • "There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts." –Richard Feynman
  • "Don't swallow your moral code in tablet form." –Christopher Hitchens
  • "Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal." –Robert Heinlein
  • "Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men." –Robert Heinlein
  • "The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche." –Robert Heinlein
  • "It is a very odd world where people reject reason and yet benefit from the riches of reason." –Robin Ince
And finally, a few facepalm-inducing fundie quotes:
  • "No one...fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails...because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God." –William Lane Craig
  • "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them." –Jerry Falwell
  • "The fact that [John Kerry] would not support a federal marriage amendment [banning gay marriage], it equates in our minds as someone 150 years ago saying I'm personally opposed to slavery, but if my neighbor wants to own one or two that's OK." –Jerry Falwell
  • "I resist Islamic immigration into the United States. ... I think our immigration policies ought to be reserved for...Christians[.]" –Bryan Fischer
  • "What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them." –Martin Luther
  • "Reason is the Devil's harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does." –Martin Luther
It's always a bit of a shock reading the religious quotes after the skeptical ones. To plummet from insightful brilliance to the depths of intellectual desolation can be pretty depressing. I recommend going back over your favorite quotes from the other categories to cheer you up again. I'm partial to Montesquieu's three-sided triangle god myself: what a clear and powerful way to sum up the human tendency to create anthropomorphic deities.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Dullness

I'm a quiet and introspective person by nature. I'd rather read a book, for instance, than go to a party. But even then, I'm so dominated by my own thoughts that I find it hard to read books, because I'm stopping every few sentences to think about the implications of some character's actions, or how I would behave in that situation. I'm not saying that my thoughts are especially brilliant or revolutionary, but given how much I think, I find it surprising that it took me so long to really begin questioning religion.

As I was growing up, my religion was the one dull spot in my otherwise vivid internal life. It's strange looking back now, because I can recall my interest in topics like math and philosophy, in fantasy and science fiction, and the weird little doodles and notes I made as a result. Yet when I think of my religious schooling, there's a deep emptiness where the rich world of thoughts should be. I did my daily devotions and attended school chapel sessions just as I performed the various academic tasks of the day. I had no trouble doing "OIA"s in Bible class: observing the basic characteristics of a biblical passage, interpreting its deeper meaning and applying it to my life. But I approached it the same way I might approach an essay in my English class.

That's not to say I didn't care about my faith. I remember attending church each Sunday and chapel each Monday with a genuine desire that this would be the week when the sermon really spoke to me, inspired me to enrich my spiritual life. But it never did. In fact, I found it almost comical how virtually every message was related back to the gospel story of Christ's sacrifice. How many tiny variations, I wondered, could they possibly present on the same theme? Would I spend the rest of my life—the rest of eternity—forcing myself to feel awed by and indebted to this single act of Jesus, feigning interest in the same story told a thousand ways?

Most of the other students in my high school were no more enthusiastic than I was. We were all believers, but only a handful were what you might call "on fire for Jesus." Some of it was probably just the insouciance common in many teenagers, but the shallowness of the material was undoubtedly a factor. It was actually a running joke in my Bible classes that if you were asked a question but hadn't been paying attention, you could answer "Jesus" and have a fair chance of getting it right. There was rote memorization galore: learning the 66 books of the Bible in order, weekly memory verses, and so on. Intellectually stimulating topics were few and far between. Even my apologetics class had no discussion of some of fundamentalist Christianity's most difficult problems: the atrocities, contradictions and forgeries in the Bible, the inefficacy and illogic of intercessory prayer, the Euthyphro dilemma, et cetera.

Yet despite my discontent, it never even occurred to me for many years to question the most basic tenets of my religion. The reality of the spiritual realm was so drilled into me that it took its place among the basic, routine facts of life: the sky is blue, the grass is green, and God sits on his heavenly throne. I think it was largely this total immersion, combined with the eternal rewards and punishments that were ever fixed in the back of my mind, that held me back for so long.

Eventually, though, my natural curiosity overtook this area of my life as well. In some ways my current deep interest in religious topics is a reaction to this dullness, this dearth of serious thought about religion that dominated my first twenty years. It doesn't stop at spiritual matters, though: I've gained a new appreciation for biology and cosmology now that they're no longer shrouded in a fog of the divine. I resent the way in which fundamentalism discourages critical thought, and I hate the fact that other young minds are subjected to the same stifling influences that I was. That's one reason I look forward to the day when faith falls by the wayside: I want the seeds of curiosity to be planted in fertile soil.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quotable Me, Vol. 3

Occasionally when I have a quick thought and either don't have the time or the inspiration to flesh it out into a blog post, I jot it down on my Twitter feed. Credit for a few of these goes to the sources I was reading or listening to at the time, which I sometimes condense down into a sentence or two. Here's some of the stuff I've posted over the past few months. 

On Christianity:
  • Christians don't realize that each jump they make—from supernaturalism to theism to Christianity to fundamentalism—adds another layer of far-fetched assumptions.
  • "Not a true Christian" is meaningless from an outsider's perspective since Christianity has no clear, accepted, universal definition.
  • The idea that the earth is 6,000 years old causes serious problems for YECs, but the idea that the Flood was just 4,350 years ago is far worse.
  • I've come up with a fun game. I tell a lie, and others spend centuries trying to find a way in which it's true. I'll call it... apologetics.
  • Apologist (n.) – Someone whose livelihood depends on convincing you that genocide is actually a good thing when God does it.
  • I've found that many Christians judge how well others understand the Bible based solely on how much others agree with their interpretation.
On God, religion and atheism:
  • The rejection of this life in anticipation of a second one is the ultimate impediment to human progress.
  • Vagueness is among religion's most powerful tools. Believers can disagree on every point of doctrine yet still take solace in the same book.
  • Calling an unexplained phenomenon a miracle is not an explanation, but an admission of ignorance.
  • God-based morality isn't objective. It's still dependent on a particular person; that person just happens to be an omnipotent dictator.
  • Religion's most pervasive problem—and its greatest strategic advantage—is that for most people, it's "opt-out."
  • Some people try so hard to label atheism a religion due solely to atheists' passion... so can we call "labeling atheism a religion" a religion too?
  • If a god exists who punishes questioning and rewards blind faith, reason is the greatest curse he has ever conferred upon humanity.
On science and skepticism:
  • Acknowledging a gap in our knowledge is the first step toward filling it.
  • Once belief without sufficient evidence is permitted, everything is permitted.
  • As a family that has worked its way to riches is nobler than royalty, so is humanity's evolution nobler than special creation.
  • Denialists express parallel ignorance. Creationists: "Show me the transitional fossils!" Birthers: "Show me the birth certificate!"
  • Idea for countering bias: when you find an opposing argument that you don't know how to answer, add it to a list so you can't brush it off.
  • Three words that should never appear together: "required to believe."
Pretty soon I'll also post the fourth installment in my anthology of skeptical quotes from non-me sources.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Through the Pearly Gates (Part 2)

I posted part one of the story yesterday. Here's the second one.

*     *     *
Gabriel stared at Stephen, sizing him up for almost a full minute. The eyes covering his wings appeared to follow suit. Stephen couldn't meet his gaze and instead turned away to look at the lavish furniture and décor. Everything in the house was fashioned from some precious material: sapphires, gold, silk, pearls. The smell of incense was heavy in the air.

"Uhm... wonderful place you've got here," Stephen offered.

"You have one just like it, you know."

"I do? Well, that's... that's nice, I guess. But, uh... how do I put this. What's it all for?"

Gabriel frowned. "I don't understand. Don't you find it beautiful?"

"Well, sure. But you can't just look at shiny trinkets until the end of time, can you?"

He shrugged his wings. "To each his own, I suppose. But now I must be getting back to worship our Lord and Master. It's been far too long already."

"Wait! I came here to ask about my daughter. I can't find her, and my wife is... well, there's something wrong with her. She doesn't remember things properly, and she's acting very strange. Stiff. Very happy, but in an oblivious sort of way. It's hard to explain. Can you help me?"

"Very well," said Gabriel. "What is your daughter's name?"

"Sophie. Sophie Lane."

Gabriel walked over to a corner of the room and began rifling through a massive tome identical to the one Stephen had seen at the pearly gates.

He turned and said simply, "Her name is not in my book."

"I... I don't understand. What does that mean?"

"She chose the Pit."

The room was spinning. "She... what?"

"Sophie never accepted our Lord and Master, so she was sent to the other place."

The words clanged dissonantly in Stephen's head. "But... she was so young."

The angel shifted his wings. "I'm sorry, but all who are old enough to reject our Master's gift are sent to the Pit. Is there something else I can help you with, or shall I go?"

The floodgate opened and the tears came streaming down. How could it be? Sophie had always been an inquisitive girl, always asking why, but Stephen had never imagined that she hadn't accepted the faith she was brought up in. He remembered those innocent round eyes, that carefree smile, and he collapsed in grief as he realized that he had lost her forever.

*     *     *
When Stephen opened his eyes, his surroundings had changed. He was in a room that appeared to be fashioned out of glass, but he decided that given the divine obsession with pointless riches, it was more likely to be diamond. Through three of the thick walls he could make out blurry gold hues of heaven, while the one in front of him had a surface that reminded him of his featureless white cubicle. A pang of loneliness snapped him back into the moment, and he would have collapsed to the floor in sorrow again if not for two powerful hands that grabbed his arms from either side.

"This is exactly what I was talking about, Raphael," said Gabriel. "There is to be no sorrow or crying in heaven, and those are all this man seems capable of."

"Not surprising," said Raphael, maintaining a firm grip on Stephen's right arm. "He ended his earthly life so he could reunite with his family. It would certainly be a disappointment to learn that your daughter chose the Pit and your wife chose erasure."

Stephen let the heat of his anger burn through his tears. "What did you do to my wife?"

"Calm yourself," said Raphael. "When your wife learned the fate of your daughter, she reacted in much the same way you did. We had no choice but to erase her memories of Sophie. But before we could do so, she begged and pleaded with us, told us she would never think of her daughter again. I judged this to be a lie, and our Lord will not tolerate the presence of such sins any more than He will allow sorrow. And so to avoid having to send her to the other place, we removed her rebellious nature as well."

"But that's ridiculous!" cried Stephen. "As long as people have free will, everyone is going to sin eventually!"

Gabriel gave him a small smile. "You have spoken correctly. With our heavenly bodies and our closeness to the Almighty, it becomes easier to avoid sin, and some of us devote ourselves to the Lord so completely that we maintain our autonomy for eons. But in the spiraling depths of eternity, some act of disobedience is inevitable. In the end, everyone faces erasure."

Stephen looked hard into the two blue eyes fixed in Gabriel's head. "Have you?"

The archangel's smile disappeared. "Enough of this. It's been hours since I bowed prostrate before our Master. Raphael, would you mind—"

"To hell with you and to hell with your god," Stephen bellowed. "I want my wife and daughter back!"

Two groups of eyes looked at one another, then at Stephen. Gabriel offered his diagnosis. "This one is beyond help. He is so consumed with evil that after erasure there would be nothing left."

Raphael nodded.

A large gash opened up in the blank wall in front of Stephen. He had expected it to reveal a cavern filled with angry red flames, licking at the legs of people chained to the walls. Instead he saw... nothing. Blackness blacker than soot, so all-encompassing that he imagined at any moment it would burst from the chasm and swallow him up.

He had expected a cacophony of tortured screams. Instead he heard... nothing. In fact, the silence was so intense that it seemed to absorb sound from the room he was standing in. And then he heard it: a single bone-chilling cry, from what sounded like a great distance, that echoed continually but never completely disappeared.

There was a push from behind, and Stephen knew it was the end. During his fall into the Pit, it occurred to him that the wailing he heard was so inhumanly shrill that it would be impossible to identify who the voice belonged to. It could have come from anyone—even Sophie. Had his sentence been total isolation, his memories of her might eventually have been eroded away by the relentless waves of time. But those helpless cries would never allow him to forget what he had lost.

As the pinhole of light in the ceiling began to close, Stephen heard the last coherent words he would hear for the rest of eternity:
"As you writhe in the darkness, always remember: God still loves you. That's why He gave you a choice."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Through the Pearly Gates (Part 1)

Welcome home.
The following is a story I wrote about one man's experience in heaven. Christians make heaven out to be a place of eternal bliss, and I wanted to illustrate why the picture they paint glosses over some horrifying details. While my depiction will differ somewhat from how most believers understand heaven, it's all based (directly and indirectly) on the description provided in Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament.

*     *     *
"Stephen Lane?"

"That's me." Stephen gazed up at a radiant winged figure who was standing behind the lectern, flipping leisurely through an impossibly large book. The angel paused dramatically.

"You're in. Welcome to heaven."

The gates of pearl swung open, letting out a light so brilliant that it was almost blinding. Stephen could hardly believe it. At last he would enter into the realm of the Almighty—and at last he would be reunited with his beloved wife and daughter. He walked along the sparkling path in wonder, surrounded by gold and jewels that would put even the most glorious earthly kings to shame. Every now and then he would pass a fellow saved soul. Each one was smiling serenely, as though they didn't have a care in the world and never would again. After a while he came to a clear river with massive trees planted on either side.

And there, under a tree with pomegranates that glistened like rubies, was his wife.


How long it had been since Stephen had felt her warm embrace? It must have been... just over twelve years. He remembered because she had passed away when Sophie was only three. He had spent seven long years caring for their daughter on his own. Then she was hit by a pickup one rainy evening, and suddenly he was alone. He had spent another five years in isolation and misery, plodding to and from a featureless cubicle each day until he just couldn't bear it anymore. But now, now he would have the rest of eternity to share with his family.

"I'm so glad to see you, dear," said Rebecca. Her smile seemed to outshine even the divine brightness of their surroundings.

"And I, you," said Stephen. "So, where's our little girl? I can't wait to get us all back together again."

Rebecca tilted her head slightly. "I'm sorry, who?"

"Sophie. Our daughter. Where is she?"

"I don't know who you're talking about, honey. We never had any children, did we?"

Stephen just stared. "Look, this isn't a joke, Becky. I've waited five years to see her, and I didn't k—I mean want to see both of you. It's been so long, and I just need things to be how they used to."

"If you're looking for someone, you'd best go see one of the seven archangels."

Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes. "Why are you being like this, honey? Why won't you take me to her?"

"Don't do that, Stephen." Her tone was not angry or even stern, but merely flat. Seeing his confusion, she uttered, as if it had been seared into her mind:
"There shall be no more sorrow or crying here."
The words were so cold and lifeless that they could have come out of a machine.

"Wh... what?"

"Oh, I know!" said Rebecca, the music returning to her voice. "Let's go worship our Lord! No one could ever be anything but joyful in His presence!"

It was then that he noticed her forehead. It was marked with a word in Hebrew, יהוה, that he recognized as the unspoken name of God. From that single detail, he somehow knew that the woman in front of him would be of little help in finding Sophie.

"Come on, dear! I just know you'll feel better once you bow down before our Master! Besides, it's been over an hour since I last praised Him for His boundless love and glory."

"Becky... do you think you could point me to the nearest archangel? I need to find our dau—um, I need to find someone."

She sighed. "Suit yourself. I saw Gabriel leave from worship at the same time I did, so he's probably in his mansion right about now."

She pointed downstream to a golden house gleaming in the distance. And from there they parted ways.

*     *     *
Part 2 will be up tomorrow. [Update: Here it is.]

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible is a great resource for Bible contradictions, but as I've mentioned, it's a bit shallow, and it lumps all the problems together without letting any stand out. is a resource that addresses both those issues.

Two characteristics set this site apart. First, it categorizes Bible problems as either Weak, Minor or Serious. This allows readers to focus on those cases that have no plausible inerrantist explanation. You may not always agree with the author's assessment—I think he sometimes errs too much on the side of caution, and some problems are bigger than he thinks they are—but perusing the problems labelled "Serious" should make all but the most obstinate fundies think twice about their position. For instance, I have yet to see a single decent explanation for the failed prophecy that Tyre would be permanently destroyed.

Pictured: Biblical errancy in a nutshell.
The second great thing about the site is that it actually addresses the apologists' explanations for these conflicting passages head on. And that doesn't mean the author refutes them every time: sometimes he points out the obvious gaps in their reasoning, while in other cases he acknowledges that they could be right. It's a refreshingly honest approach—one that apologists themselves would never dream of taking—and in the end, it only makes the serious cases that much more serious.

True, the site does have drawbacks of its own: it only deals with a few dozen contradictions instead of the thousands supplied by the SAB, and the author is a layman rather than an expert in biblical studies. But all it takes is one irrefutable conflict to bring down inerrancy, and plenty of these issues come down to common sense and solid reasoning instead of a deep knowledge of ancient Greek. isn't perfect, but like the SAB, it's a great starting part for learning about contradictions in the Bible. Their two strategies are completely different, but ultimately both lead to the same conclusion: the Bible is demonstrably not a book that's divinely free from error.