Feb 10, 2011

19 Are gays the cause of earthquakes

Biblicists may state that gays cause earthquakes. These religious people have determined it’s so. 

Skeptic says: So, supposing gays do cause earthquakes. Just which gays were behind for the following ancient ones?

c.1250 BC. The Old Testament Book of Exodus says that when Moses went up to Mount Sinai to talk with God, the presence of God was accompanied by fire, smoke, thunder, lighting, and earthquakes (Exodus 19:16-19).

760 BC. The Old Testament Book of Amos opens with “The words of Amos in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1).

The Jewish historian Josephus mentioned a great earthquake in the seventh year (31 BC) of the reign of King Herod of Jerusalem. It was “such a one as had not happened at any other time, and which earthquake brought a great destruction upon the cattle in that country” (c. AD 78, Antiquities XV, Ch. 5, v.2). And according to Josephus, about ten thousand people perished in the devastation caused by that quake.

And around AD 350, a severe earthquake demolished the Galilean city of Sepphoris, not far from where the Lord Jesus came.

Recap: Some religious people have determined in their minds that gay behavior causes quakes. And we’re suppose to believe, too, that gays have been responsible for seismic activity throughout time (cough). 

Feb 9, 2011

18 So, what did Jesus look like

Okay, Jesus was uncomely 

The Acts of John (c. AD 180) is an apocryphal work; the New Testament doesn't include it.  It tells us what Jesus looked like: “Oft-times he [Jesus] would appear to me as a small man and uncomely.” (v. 89)  

Irenaeus, a Christian writer, in his work Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 33, c. AD 200) tells us the prophets depicted Jesus as weak and inglorious 

Tertullian, a Christian writer, writes (c. AD 200) v. ix: “[H]e would not have been spat upon by the Roman soldiers if his face had not been so ugly as to inspire spitting.” Although perhaps it’s a note on bruises after flogging. 

And Cyril of Alexandria (c. AD 415) didn't think that Jesus was "the fairest of the children of men” but "the ugliest of the children of men.” 


Okay, Jesus was comely

Origen, in his book Against Celsus (c. AD 245), points to Psalm 45 to describe his savior as a beautiful-looking man: 
45:2 You are the most handsome of men. 3 Buckle on your sword, mighty king; you are glorious and majestic. 

St. Augustine (AD 400) lamented that "we have absolutely no knowledge of His appearance.” For Augustine, however, he was "beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven.”  

Saint Jerome (AD 400) argued that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body.  

Epiphanius Monachus, an 8th century Christian writer, depicts Jesus as six feet tall, golden haired, with black eyebrows, light brown eyes and swarthy skin “like David's.” David was the Jewish King David in the tenth century BC.  

Later, Nicephorus (1084-1090) quotes a description of Jesus as tall and beautiful with fair wavy hair and dark eyebrows that met in the middle. He had an olive-tinted complexion, "the color of wheat.” 

Lastly, Nicephorus Callistus, 14th century, introduces his description of Christ’s looks with the words, “as we have received it from the ancients.” Jesus was impressive thanks to his healthful appearance, his stature, sea-blue eyes shading into brown, his beautiful glance, and his olive and somewhat ruddy complexion of an oval face. 

Recap: A number of completely contradictory descriptions make claims about what Jesus looked like.  

Feb 8, 2011

17 I’ll pray for you non-believers

Believer says: I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray for you skeptics and atheists (often a believer’s parting words).

Skeptic responds: We'll do you a favor, too. We’ll think for you. 

Related post:
16 Does it take more faith not to believe

Feb 7, 2011

16 Does it take more faith not to believe

Believer says: It seems to me that it takes more faith not to believe in Jesus.

But skeptic says: That’s one way of expressing the lack of belief. But one may ask, similarly, “Does it take more faith to disbelieve the claims about Big Foot than to believe them?”

Related post:

Feb 6, 2011

15 Is proof of the existence of God all around us

Believer says: All around us there is proof of God’s existence. Non-believers just won’t accept the proof. Just as a rival footfall fan won’t accept that another football team is dominant, so a non-believer won’t accept the proof all around us.  

Skeptic says: There should be evidence for why a rival football team is dominant rather than its team spirit alone. For example the record may show that the rival football team has won every game of the season. And so that’s why it's the dominant team. The lesser wins team fans would know, yes, grittily, about the game record. Given that there are facts that prove God’s existence around us, which facts are there to work with? Or are no such facts available?

Feb 5, 2011

14 What created God

Believer says: Just because we cannot understand how God is eternal, it doesn’t mean that he never existed for eternity.

Skeptic says: Just because we cannot understand how the universe is eternal, it doesn’t mean it never existed for eternity.

Believer says: Just because we cannot understand how God can exist without something creating God, it doesn’t mean that something created him.

Skeptic says: Just because we cannot understand how the universe can exist without a supernatural creator, it doesn’t mean a supernatural creator made it.

Related post:
25 What's the cosmos’ source of creation

Feb 4, 2011

13 Was Jesus born under an astrological sign

Believers may assert that Jesus was born under an auspicious astrological sign.

But skeptic says: Well, there was a rare conjunction of the planets in 7 BC. It was around the time Jesus was supposed to have been an infant. Soon after the conjunction--it involved Jupiter and Saturn--Jupiter went into retrograde motion. It's an optical illusion, actually. So the planet moved backwards and passed Saturn again. 

Jupiter resumed forward motion, so it passed Saturn a couple months later again, and so there were three passes.  

The conjunctions were in Pisces the Fish. Astrologers may say the triple pass had special significance for Israel since Pisces was its zodiacal sign. The list given below gives the rarity of triple Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions in Pisces

980-979 BC Pisces
861-860 BC Pisces
821-820 BC Leo
563-562 BC Taurus
523-520 BC Virgo
146-145 BC Cancer
7 BC Pisces  

Other evidence suggests that Pisces was Israel's sign but only after AD 300. The author Michael Molnar drives this claim, saying Aries the Ram was the sign of Israel before AD 300. He says Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon were in Aries in 6 BC, and it was the portent for the infant Jesus (The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, Michael R. Molnar). But in order to see it, the observer had to stare towards the rising sun--ouch, my eyes. 

The sign happens about every 60 years, but this time Mars went through it, which bode well, too. 

The catch was, there was a portent for nearly each year from 11 BC to AD 1. One year there was a comet, the following year a planetary conjunction, next a nova, and so forth. I say the author of Matthew had heard reports of several astrological signs and had trouble choosing one. So he wrote an ambiguous story about a miracle star and described it just a little bit and when it appeared. 

Recap: Christians may believe that a conjunction was the portent for the nativity of Jesus. But there was a variety of signs, which might not have had anything to do with his birth.

Related post:

Feb 3, 2011

12 Did a crowd of five hundred see the risen Jesus

Believer asks: How can one realistically discount the testimony of over five hundred witnesses to a living Jesus following his crucifixion? 

Skeptic answers: Well, there were no five hundred witnesses if the writer exaggerated or made it up. He might have misunderstood a report or rumor, but a supposed big crowd hadn't actually seen the risen Jesus. 

Consider the ancient Greek tale of Perseus who turned Phineus into stone during a tussle with him. The story claims that a wedding reception witnessed the astounding incident, but it’s merely a claim. That is, just because the story says the wedding reception witnessed everything, that doesn't guarantee it's true. 

There isn't a way to tell if Paul's report is fact or fantasy, either.

Source for ancient tale of Perseus:

Further, Paul says he wasn't there himself but only heard about the five hundred witnesses to whom the risen Jesus appeared.

1 Corinthians 15:3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 

Paul repeats the story he received from other Christians, so he passes along hear-say, second-hand information. He doesn't say where sighting was supposed to have taken place. And he neglects to say the women were the first ones to see the risen Jesus. 

Recap: Other New Testament books don't say anything about a crowd of five hundred witnesses. Only Paul's letter does and it was something he heard. Even the book of Acts, the book that takes up Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, doesn't mention the crowd of five hundred witnesses. It sounds as if unsubstantiated rumors were circulating and Paul heard one of them.

Related post on my other blog:
Didn't Luke know the women saw the risen Jesus

Feb 2, 2011

11 Were the four Gospels predicted in Revelation

Believer states: The four living creatures around the throne in Revelation (4:7) are said to symbolize the four Gospels. 

But skeptic says: If you ask me, Bible interpreters have already turned the Book of Revelation every which way but loose. In fact some Biblicists have the opinion that the Book of Revelation should've been excluded from the biblical canon thanks to people making loose interpretations galore.

As for Revelation's four living creatures representing the four Gospels, it’s just one take on the verse. I like to include the Book of Acts among the Gospels. So I might just as easily say there should be five Gospels and thus five living creatures in the Book of Revelation. Not just the Man, Lion, Eagle, and Bull as the four living creatures. 

Irenaeus (c. AD 200), an early Christian writer, paired the Man (or Angel) with the Gospel of Matthew and the Lion with the Gospel of John. 

But Augustine of Hippo (c. AD 400) paired the Man with Mark and the Lion with Matthew. So his pair of creature with Gospel was different from Irenaeus'.  

And Jerome (about AD 400) paired the Man with Matthew as Irenaeus did, and the Lion with Mark as nobody else did. These interpretations remind me of the proverbial fiddle on which you can play any old tune.

There's another "ole tune," the interpretation which associates the four creatures with the seasons of the year. The four seasonal constellations of two thousand years ago were Aquarius the water bearer (a man), Leo the Lion, Aquila the Eagle (which lies above Scorpius the Scorpion), and Taurus the Bull. Four “living creatures” for four seasonal constellations. Should we buy it?

To further the mystery, the author of the Book of Revelation might well have drawn on the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of four creatures, the same four in the Book of Revelation:  

Ezekiel 1:10 Each living creature had four different faces: a human face in front, a lion's face at the right, a bull's face at the left, and an eagle's face at the back. 

Biblicists say the Ezekiel passage (about 550 BC) is a mystery or it’s something to do with representations of God's qualities. Meanwhile believers see it as an expectation of the four Gospels. Of course this view is a relative one, just more Christian interpretation. 

Feb 1, 2011

10 Do the Gospels show the pattern of legend

Ex-Christian, ex-preacher, Dan Barker explains how the Gospel became a whale of a tale. He writes "A legend begins with a basic story (a true or false one) that grows into something more embellished and exaggerated as the years pass."

D. Barker further explains that the documents of the resurrection of Jesus started with simple accounts, but the later retellings got more complex. Thus they got bigger as a typical legend would.  

Mr. Barker makes a viable point but its weak spot is the New Testament letters. It’s true that Paul’s letters date to before AD 68 and they say precious little about the miracles of Jesus.   

But it’s true, too, that the other New Testament letters date to the time when Gospels were composed, but those letters also say zip about the miracles of Jesus. So they fail to support the idea that the legend became complex as time went by. 

So actually I’m skeptical about the Gospels getting more complex.

Recap: Yes, I say the Gospels are legends. But on the whole the Gospels and letters don't support the proposed pattern of legend.

The web on Dan Barker's pattern-of-legend thesis: