Friday, 18 December 2015

A Virgin Birth?

With Christmas so near, I thought it would be interesting to review the evidence for the virgin birth.


The earliest writing we have is Paul, who says nothing of a virgin birth, but then again says nothing of Jesus' life at all, so we cannot really draw any conclusions there.


I think it is more significant that the virgin birth is missing from Mark, who, afterall, wrote a lot about Jesus' life. Mark is supposedly the account of Peter told through Mark. Peter was not there at the birth, so one might excuse Mark on this basis, but Peter was also not there at Jesus' baptism, and that is present in Mark.

The reason, as argued here, is that Mark believed Jesus was adopted the Son of God at the baptism. To Mark, Jesus' birth was of no great significance, and when Mark was writing it is likely that the story of a virgin birth had yet to appear in the Christian community.

None of the early texts mention a virgin birth because no one had heard of it at that time.

The Awaited Messiah

It is worth pointing out that the virgin birth contradicts the Jewish expectation. The JHews were awaiting a messiah, that is a new Jewish king. This man necessarily had to be a direct, male-line descendant of David. That means it could not be someone born of a virgin.

All the gospels agree that Jesus was of the line of David, and Paul agrees too.


Okay, so Matthew. You probably know what I am going to say here already. Matthew tries to link Jesus to Old Testament prophecies numerous times.

The Prophecy in Isaiah

 In Isaiah 7, as discussed here, two great kingdoms, Israel and Syria, are threatening Jerusalem, and Isaiah prophesies that both will soon fall - before the unborn Immanuel can tell right from wrong. That prophecy is the basis of the virgin birth, when you add in the LXX using the Greek for virgin, when the Hebrew said young woman.

This article by Greg Rhodea is arguing for the virgin birth, and yet concedes:

It seems that a majority of scholars, while acknowledging that ??? at times refers to a virgin (see especially Gen 24:43, cf. 24:16), hold that “virgin” is not the essential meaning. Rather, the central idea involves youth and nubility,with glosses akin to “marriageable girl”(Gen 24:43; Exod 2:8; Ps 68:26), “a girl able to be married” (Prov 30:19), or “youngwoman” here in Isa 7:14.

The time frame of Isa 7:14 is also pertinent. As Walton notes, ??? and thepredicate adjective ??? (“pregnant”) form a verbless clause, the timeframe of which is usually present or past, depending on the surrounding verb forms.28 In Isa 7:14 we only have the active participle (????), and the timeframe of participles is either action in process or about to begin.29 So the ???? may in fact already be pregnant at the time of the oracle, just as the TNK translation renders it: “Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son.”30

Matthew's Take

It is very doubtful the author was the apostle Matthew (see here). Instead we have an anonymous author writing a polemic perhaps 90 years after the birth. The author of Matthew's gospel likely got the virgin birth from a story that had been circularing since Mark published his gospel, likely borrowed from pagan mythology and certainly not from Jewish mythology. He then supported that with his own spin on Isaiah 7, based on a poor translation

As mentioned earlier, the Gospel of Matthew makes a big deal about Jesus being a descendant of David, even going so far as to include a genealogy, taking Jesus' lineage via Joseph! Christians have found various ways to rationalise this, but the most likely is that they were invented by different groups, and the author felt obliged to include it all.


The account in Luke is rather strange:

Luke 1:6 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[b] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[c] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
It was actually very common back then for virgins to become pregnant, all they had to do was have sex with a guy a few times. Did Mary really not know that?

Indeed, Mary was already betrothed to Joseph; her role in society was to bear him children. She would have expected to become pregnant, and yet when the angel tells her tha will happen, she is shocked!

Suppose we exclude that sentence from the account... Let us suppose she is not as dumb as a sack of hammers, and she had a clue about the birds and the bees. Is it possible the verse was added later, to agree with Matthew?

Without that one verse the virgin birth becomes less certain. The passage continues:
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[e] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
I see nothing in there to indicate sex was not also involved. No one thinks John the Baptist was the product of a virgin birth, and the angel is relating the two pregnancies.

I well may be wrong here, but the fact is that the gospel of Luke does not actually make Mary a virgin when Jesus was conceived; it only makes Mary look very naive about how babies are made.

Like Matthew, Luke offers a  genealogy for Jesus, and again this is via Joseph. This is vital to show Jesus was a descendant of David, but entirely contradictory tothe virgin birth,

Of course, the Gospel of Luke was written around the time the Gospel of Matthew was. Stories of a virgin birth were circulating in the Christian community sometime between Mark's gospel, and Matthew's and Luke's, and so both authors adopted it into their narratives.


There is no mention anywhere in Acts of the apostles talking of Jesus' virgin birth. They cite all sorts of evidence of Jesus' significance to the crowds they preach to, but none of them mention the virgin birth.

Perhaps because none of the disciples had heard of it.

Why Did Mary Claim A Virgin Conception?

The simple answer is that she never did. The virgin birth story only circulated after she was dead, and so unable to refute it, some time after Mark's Gospel was written.

Jesus might have been born out of wedlock, but if we believe the nativities, she was already betrothed, and in that culture betrothal was as big a deal as marriage. I am not aware of anything in the OT that prohibits sex between a man and woman once they are betrothed (and the story of Ruth gives a precedent even outside of betrothal). If it was not forbidden, it is sure to have happened, and if it happened, there are sure to be times when the girl ended up pregnant.

Mary's Reaction to Jesus' Ministry

 The evidence for the virgin birth is therefore pretty slim. Is there any evidence against it? The best evidence is from the Bible itself.
Mark 3:21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."
According to Christian doctrine, an angel appeared to Mary saying Jesus was the Son of God, and she conceived him whilst still a virgin. And yet when Jesus is healing people and casting out demons, she somehow forgets that, and declares he is mad!

Remember, this was supposedly the woman who was selected for her faith,and yet despite the appearance of an angel and having a virgin birth, she still does not believe Jesus is the messiah!

Perhaps we should hail Mary as the greatest skeptic ever...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Did the Author of Mark Believe in Adoptionism?

Modern Christianity asserts an eternal Jesus, existing through all time as part of the trinity, however, groups of very early Christians believed Jesus was adopted by God, originally around the time of his crucifixion/resurrection or ascension, and later at his baptism. The Gospel of Mark indicates that its author subscribed to the latter view.

The Adoption Account

From the first chapter:

Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
This is a description of the adoption. God is choosing Jesus, and then the dove descends to confirm or bestow Jesus' special status.

Bear in mind that Mark explicitly states that the beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ was John the Baptist preparing the way, quickly followed by the baptism of Jesus. The good news did not begin with Jesus' birth, according to Mark.
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,[b]
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare[c] the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The prophecy says the messenger, John, would be around before God appears. Jesus was already around before John was preparing the way, but it was only after that that Jesus as the Son of God appeared.

Furthermore, why would God incarnate even need to be baptised? The Gospel of Matthew gives an answer to that thorny problem. Because the author believed that Jesus was divine from birth, he needed to explain it. For Mark, however, no explanation was necessary; Jesus was just a man getting baptised until the dove descended.

Precedents in the Old Testament

This was not a one-off! The Ancient Hebrews believed all their kings were adopted by God as his sons (everyone had divine kings back then). This is made clear here:

2 Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.[c] Your throne shall be established forever.’”

 Look at Psalm 2:

2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you
 Here is Mark again:
Mark 1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.

God's Anointed, the messiah, is the King of The Jews, a man adopted by God as his son.

This parallel was noted by Paul, by the way, as recorded in Acts 13:33.
Acts 13:33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

How Jesus' Family Reacted

The fact that Mark says his family thought him mad indicates no miraculous birth, or indeed anything miraculous at all until his baptism.
Mark 3:21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."
If we believe the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an angel appeared to Jesus' mother and on another occasion to his step-father stating that Jesus will be God incarnate, and then Mary got pregnant from the holy spirit whilst still a virgin, and yet, when Jesus starts preaching, healing and casting out demons, his family think "He is out of his mind."

It only makes sense when we realise that, in Mark's gospel at least, Jesus become the Son of God at the start of his ministry, and his family had no hint of his divine destiny until then.

Other Verses

Some other verses of note:
Mark 2:10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—
Jesus forgives because he has been given that authority from God, not because he is God.
Mark 2:27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The connection between these two verses is the word ὥστε, indicating that the second verse is a consequence of the first. But the first verse is talking about a man not a god, and so that only makes sense if Jesus is human, rather than God Incarnate.

But Jesus Says "I have come..."

Some apologists point to verses in Mark where Jesus says "I have come...". They argue they only makes sense if Jesus has come from somewhere, specifically from heaven. However, this is the standard phraseology of the prophets. See here for example:
Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
In a prophetic sense, Isaiah was sent by God to the Jews, but he did not actually come from anywhere. In Jeremiah too we see that God "sends" prophets to his people (or at least false prophets are not sent from him):
Jeremiah 14:14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
When Jesus says "I have come..." he means he is here as God's representative, not that he has travelled from some distant place.

Differences in Early Manuscripts

It is pretty well established that the ending of Mark was a later addition, but there is evidence of other tampering. Some early manuscripts omit "the Son of God" from Mark 1:1:
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,

This could be a copying error, but it could reflect the fact that Mark did not believe Jesus was the son of God at that time, as this was before the adoption. Several early church fathers (eg Origen) quote Mark 1:1 without the "son of God" phrase (though Irenaeus quotes it with).

An Expression of the Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil is evidence against Christianity because it highlights a major inconsistency in the belief system.

Christianity posits a morality system in which rape is wrong, and in which it is wrong to stand by and allow evil
Christianity posits an all-powerful, perfectly good God who stands by and allows rape

These two claims are contradictory.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Werner Gitt, Information and Pseudo-science

No, not that information cannot be explained by evolution, but that, it points out to intelligent design. And no, intelligent design advocates had explained excellently on what is the issue:, I said I would address the points in the linked articles in another thread, so here it is. I am going to concentrate on the second article; I think the argument is pretty much the same, and both are by the same auther,

Dr Werner Gitt is described as a "Creationist Information Scientist" by, though his background seems to be in engineering. This is a take down of his article "Information, science and biology", which can be found here:
Here we will set out in a new direction, by seeking a definition of information with which it is possible to formulate laws of nature.
Information is the basis of a lot of ID arguments, and one of the big criticisms of ID is that it never properly defines what information is. As we will see later, the point here is that information can only be created by an intelligent agent. Or to put it another way in any process in which there is no intelligent agent the final information cannot be greater than the initial information. Mathematically:

   If no intelligent agent
   I(final) <= I(initial)
This is what Gitt (and others) is trying to prove, and to do that we need a way to determine I(initial) and I(final), a way to measure the total information in the system.

As far as I am aware no ID advocate has ever tried to measure the quantity of information in anything!

What is a Law of Nature?

Gitt proceeds to explain what a law of nature is. He seems a bit confused:
When we talk of the laws of nature, we usually mean the laws of physics (e.g. the second law of thermodynamics, the law of gravity, the law of magnetism, the law of nuclear interaction) and the laws of chemistry (e.g. Le Chatelier’s Principle of least restraint).
In the philosophy of science, the laws of nature can refer to two things:

"On one account, the Regularity Theory, Laws of Nature are statements of the uniformities or regularities in the world; they are mere descriptions of the way the world is. On the other account, the Necessitarian Theory, Laws of Nature are the "principles" which govern the natural phenomena of the world. That is, the natural world "obeys" the Laws of Nature."

Given Gitt is citing the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Le Chatelier’s Principle as laws of nature, he must be talking about laws that are descriptions of the way the world is. And yet he also says this:
Laws of nature know no exceptions. This sentence is perhaps the most important one for our purposes. If dealing with a real (not merely supposed) natural law, then it cannot be circumvented or brought down. A law of nature is thus universally valid, and unchanging. Its hallmark is its immutability. A law of nature can, in principle, be refuted—a single contrary example would end its status as a natural law.
This is not true! Newton's Laws of Motion are broken by the presence of a huge, nearby mass (eg the orbit of Mercury by the Sun) and at speeds close to the speed of light. The First Law of Thermodynamics does not apply below the Heisenburg Uncertainty Limit, and the Second Law also is not applicable at the quantum scale. makes a big deal about Gitt being a scientist; how can a scientist not know this basic stuff?

In fact, what characterises a law in science is that it can be written mathematically, not that it is universally true.

   F = ma                       ... Newton's second law

   E(initial) = E(final)        ... First law of thermodynamics

   S(initial) < S(final)        ... Second law of thermodynamics

Why is this important?

It should not actually matter what a law of nature is. If Gitt can prove information cannot increase without an intelligent agent, it does not matter how we label that. However, Gitt is unable to do that, and so he is engaging in some semantic trickery. If he can pass off his claim as a law of nature, then he say that it has no exceptions.

This is a common tactic in pseudo-science. Here are half a dozen examples of something happening. Therefore that something is a law of nature. Therefore it must always happen.

What is Information?

Gitt asserts: "Information is not a property of matter!" He then uses a thought experiment to show that: "The information itself is thus massless". Okay, yes, information is massless. But that does not mean it is not a property of matter. Colour and shape are both massless, but they are still properties of matter.

Indeed, every example of information we have is information recorded in matter. We have no examples of information existing in a non-material form

Gitt claims:
Because information is a non-material entity, its origin is likewise not explicable by material processes. What causes information to come into existence at all—what is the initiating factor? What causes us to write a letter, a postcard, a note of congratulations, a diary entry or a file note? The most important prerequisite for the construction of information is our own will, or that of the person who assigned the task to us. Information always depends upon the will of a sender who issues the information. Information is not constant; it can be deliberately increased and can be distorted or destroyed (e.g. through disturbances in transmission).

In summary: Information arises only through will (intention and purpose).
 There is a lot of nonsense in there, so no wonder he comes to such a dubious conclusion. I shall enumerate them.

1. It is based on his erroneous claim that information is a non-material entity.

2. He is asserting that non-material entities cannot by explained by material processes. This assertion is readily destroyed by an easy counter-example: Gravity is a force, so non-material, but is caused by the mass of a material entity.

3. He claims information always depends upon the will of a sender on the basis of a few examples of that. This is like saying it is only possible to make a table out of wood, pointing to an oak table and a mahogany table, and saying that proves it. Sure in the limited examples he has cited the will of the sender is required, but that is certainly not enough to prove that is always the case.

Remember, Gitt is trying to prove something has no exception, so this is very important.

In fact, we can use this same reasoning to destroy ID altogether. Information is always a property of matter. Whether it is writing in a book, or a file on a harddrive, or an e-mail passed across the internet, it is always dependant on matter. Therefore (using Gitt's reasoning) information must always depend on matter. Therefore it cannot come from any non-material entity!

Of course, all this flawed logic leads him to the conclusion he wants.

Which is the hallmark of pseudo-science.

A Definition of Universal Information

Gitt's definition of information is very cleverly formulated to include what he wants (any man-made information plus, implicitly, DNA) and to exclude what he does not want (anything else). But what is missing is a way to measure information. What he ends up with is a universe with two types of entities. Those he considers information and those he does not.

So what?

Remember, he is trying to show that information cannot increase without an intelligent agent. How can that be meaningful unless you can measure the information?

His definition is not wrong; it is his to devise how he likes. It just does not do what he needs it to do. Two points to note:
Every transmission of information is nevertheless associated with the expectation, from the side of the sender, of generating a particular result or effect on the receiver.
 The outcome on the receiver’s side is predicated upon the goal demanded/desired by the sender—that is, the plan or conception. 

His definition necessitates an intelligent sender of information. Recalling this is about evolution, the question is not about how evolution can create information, but whether it involves information at all. If evolution is an entirely naturalistic process then there is no information in DNA, according to Gitt's definition.

What is particularly sneaky is calling his definition "universal information". If you read the article you will find it is actually very specific information, but by labeling it "universal" it sounds like it should include DNA.

Gitt chooses not to point this out. His argument is predicated on the assumption that DNA contains information. In fact it could be summed up like this:
  • DNA contains information
  • I have a narrow definition of information that requires an intelligent creator
  • I label my narrow definition of information "universal information"
  • It now looks as though my narrow definition of information is universal and so encompasses DNA
  • I can then conclude DNA requires an intelligent designer

It is a semantic shell game.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Which was first: Matthew or Mark?

Modern Biblical scholarship generally holds that mark was written first, despite the church tradition.
The majority of NT scholars hold to Markan priority (either the two-source hypothesis of Holtzmann or the four-source hypothesis of Streeter).

Still, as we enter a new century, some form of the Two Source hypothesis continues to be preferred by an overwhelming majority of critically trained New Testament scholars as the theory that is best able to resolve the synoptic problem.

It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

Argument from Grammar

I am no expert in Koine greek, so will just quote a couple of web sites.

Stein lists three broad categories of Mark’s poorer stylistic abilities: (1) colloquialisms and incorrect grammar, (2) Aramaic expressions, and (3) redundancies. The first and second arguments are significant for pericopes which Mark shares with either Matthew or Luke; the third is valuable for considering material omitted in Mark.

But when the word usage of Matthew and Luke is compared with Mark, it is apparent either that Matthew and Luke have in large measure changed the colloquial or Semitic text of Mark into better Greek, and have done so in the same or similar ways, or that only Matthew or Luke has affected any such alteration: cf. the replacement of κραβαττος (Mk. 2:4) by κλινη (Matthew) or κλινιδιον (Luke), or the change of the difficult construction τι ουτος ουτως λαλει; βλασφημει (Mk. 2:7) in different ways by Matthew and Luke.

The Argument From Order

Again, I will quote a web site
To put this another way: in the narratives common to all three, Matthew and Luke agree in sequence only when they agree with Mark; when they both diverge from Mark, they both go in different directions. What best accounts for this? Most NT scholars have assumed that Markan priority does. Some have gone so far as to say that Lachmann proved Markan priority.

The Argument From Developing Godhood

The argument here is that the later work better recognises Jesus as god incarnate, being the product of a more developed theology.
But the best instance is the difficult passage about the purpose (or effect) of parables. Butler's treatment of this leaves me quite unconvinced. Matthew seems here to be trying hard to extract a tolerable sense from the intolerable statement that Mark appears to be making, namely that Jesus taught in parables to prevent outsiders from having a chance of understanding and being converted. He assumes that Mark's "all things are (done) in parables" means "I speak in parables." But recent commentators have suggested a line of interpretation of Mark's text which the present writer finds wholly satisfying; namely that the same teaching is put before all by Jesus, but whereas some by God's grace penetrate to its inner meaning, for others it remains external, a parable and nothing more; and herein the dark purpose of God, as predicted in Isaiah, is fulfilled. Mark may have partly misunderstood what he recorded; but it seems certain to the present writer that his words are closer to the original, and that Matthew's version is an unsuccessful attempt to simplify what he found intolerable.

In this context, it is worth noting that Jesus tends to be called Rabbi in Mark, and Lord in Matthew, consistent with his godhood become more obvious.

Mark begins with Jesus' baptism, which could easily be read as when God adopted Jesus as his son. The later works, Matthew and Luke, recognise that Jesus was divine from birth, so start at the nativity (while John, later still, has Jesus part of the godhead from creation).

The Historical Perspective

The primary evidence that Matthew was written first is the tradition started by the early church fathers, and this seems to stem from this statement by Papias (c. AD 60-140):

"Matthew composed the reports in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could."

This certainly points to a document written by the apostle, but is this the gospel we have today with his name? Modern scholarship suggests that it is not, as the gospel we have was almost certainly originally written in Greek.

It may be that the gospel we have draws on the Hebrew original, and perhaps was given the name it has for that reason, but they are two distinct works.


What Did Mark Omit From Matthew?

If we suppose Matthew was written first, then we have to wonder why Mark chosen to omit so much in his gospel. Fully 45% of Matthew's gospel has been deleted in Mark's editing, according to this hypothesis. Did he consider it unimportant? Some bizarre omissions:

1. Many Christians would say the Sermon on the Mount was an important event; why did Mark choose to omit it?

2. Was Jesus' birth, accompanied by miracles as it supposedly was, not important?

3. Did Mark really decide Jesus' post-resurrection appearances were not worth keeping when he was deciding what he could cut from Matthew's gospel?

4. Was the Lord's Prayer of so little significance to Mark that he felt it could be omitted?

5. The Great Commission was Jesus' instructions to the Christian church, and yet supposed Mark did not think it worth including.

What Did Matthew Omit From Mark?

On the other hand, if Mark was first, why did Matthew omit what he did? Firstly, of course, Matthew omitted very little of Mark. About 94% of Mark's gospel appears in Matthews; he only left out 6%.

While it is difficult to understand Mark's motives, if his gospel is the derivative, by and large we can understand Matthew's choices, as the next section will illustrate. 

Some differences

Let us look at some verses and see the actual differences. Here is an example of some text Matthew ommited (omissions in bold):
Mark 1:40 And a leper[g] came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus[h] sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
Matthew 8:2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
What we see here is Jesus becoming more God-like in Matthew, with his human emotions stripped away (and this fits with what we saw before, with Jesus being referred to as "lord" rather than "rabbi".
Mark 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 
Matthew 12:9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
Here again Matthew has removed the references to Jesus' emotions, and yet chosen to expand on the encounter in another way.

This verse in Mark is noticeably absent in Matthew:
Mark 3:20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
It is easy to understand why Matthew would choose to edit that out. But why would Mark, whose purpose is supposedly to condense Matthew's gospel, going to choose to add a statement by Jesus' own family that Jesus was out of his mind?

When Jesus exercises the demons into pigs, in Mark's account Jesus has to ask the demon its name.
Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 And when Jesus[b] had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
Not so in Matthew's account. It is also notable that Matthew's account is rather more succinct. If we assume Matthew used Mark, then we can see that Matthew has made the account more concise and chosen to delete the bit where Jesus is not all-knowing.
Matthew 8:28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[e] two demon-possessed[f] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.

If Mark was trying to make a shortened version of Matthew, why did he make this accout so long-winded? In fact, this is seen thoughout the gospel. Mark is actually [i]less[/i] concise than Matthew, which strongly argues against him choosing to write a condensed version of Matthew's gospel.

Mark 6:4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:57 ... But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

In Mark, Jesus seems unable to do much in the way of mighty works. Matthew here has toned that down to make it read as though Jesus has chosen not to.

This is the parable of the wicked tenants:
Mark 12:10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;[b]
11 this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Matthew has added something:
Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;[d]
this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 [b]Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.[/b] 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Matthew, written later, is recognising that the Jews have largely rejected Jesus, and it is with the gentiles that the future of Christianity lies (and this is why Matthew includes the Great Commission).

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Personhood in the Bible

When do you achieve personhood? Many Christians (but certainly not all) say a fertilised human egg is a person, and use this to argue against abortion.

Putting this in perspective, up to 75% of fertilised eggs - or "people" as these Christians call them - never make it to term; many never even get embedded in the womb. I am not talking about abortion, but nature taking its course. That means that for the 130 million people born each year, there are nearly 400 million "people" who die before they are even born. And if Christianity is right, this is a system God has engineered.

God is causing 75 "people" to die before they were even born every minute!

Of course, Christians argue God slaughtering million, billions even is perfectly moral - they have to to excuse the genocides like the Flood. I disagree.

What the Bible actually say

Let us see what the Biblical situation really is.

Exodus 21:22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm,[d] then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

If the woman miscarries, the man gets fined. If the woman is herself harmed, then the man pays, life for life, etc. The implication is that the unborn child is not considered a human, and so does not warrant the man paying the "price" he would otherwise.

Christianity has (again) distorted the Bible to mean something it does not (in fairness, the mistranslation actually predates Christianity, and is found in the LXX). They read it as meaning harm to the unborn. But see what Hebrew-speaking commentators make of this verse:

Intentional abortion is not mentioned directly in the Bible, but a case of accidental abortion is discussed in Exodus 21:22‑23, where Scripture states: “When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other misfortune ensues, the one responsible shall be fined as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on judges’ reckoning. But if other misfortune ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.”
The famous medieval biblical commentator Solomon ben Isaac, known as Rashi, interprets “no other misfortune” to mean no fatal injury to the woman following her miscarriage. In that case, the attacker pays only financial compensation for having unintentionally caused the miscarriage, no differently than if he had accidentally injured the woman elsewhere on her body. Most other Jewish Bible commentators, including Moses Nachmanides (Ramban), Abraham Ibn Ezra, Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael (Malbim), Baruch Malawi Epstein (Torah Temimah), Samson Raphael Hirsch, Joseph Hertz, and others, agree with Rashi’s interpretation. We can thus conclude that when the mother is otherwise unharmed following trauma to her abdomen during which the fetus is lost, the only rabbinic concern is to have the one responsible pay damages to the woman and her husband for the loss of the fetus.

The school of thought it represents he calls the Alexandrian school, as opposed to the Palestinian - that is, the talmudic [and thus Jewish] - view set forth above. The word in question is ason, rendered here as "harm"; hence," if [there be] harm, then shalt thou give life for life." The Greek renders ason as form, yielding something like: "If [there be] form, then shalt thou give life for life." The "life for life" clause is thus applied to fetus instead of mother and a distinction is made - as Augustine will formulate it - between embryo informatus and embryo formatus.

Thirty days after birth

So when is personhood? The Bible actually says at less than a month old, a baby has no worth:

Leviticus 27:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels[a] of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels
In Judaism in Jesus' time a baby was not considered a person until it was a month old:

We do not mourn for fetuses, and anything which does not live for 30 days, we do not mourn for it.
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 1:6

The infant, for 30 days, even including the full 30th day (if it dies), we do not mourn for it.
- Shulhan Arukh Yoreh De’ah 374:8

Quotes from here.

This is evident in the Bible - when the males are counted, only those over 1 month old are included:

Numbers 3:15 “List the sons of Levi, by fathers' houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.”
It is clear that in Biblical times personhood was from 30 dates after birth. Given high rates of infant mortality, this was probably a very practical position. A lot of babies would die before that time, and a custom that accepted that would make the loss of an unborn or new born baby easier to cope with.

Here we see another example of Christians ignoring what the Bible actually says to promote their ideologies.

Friday, 10 April 2015

"Jesus: Dead or Alive? Evaluating the evidence for the Resurrection (2013)" by Neil J Foster

This is looking at a paper I came across recently, and seems topic as it is kind of Easter or thereabouts. The paper can be found here:

We have almost exactly the same material to make a decision about the events of the first Easter. Of course that happened a long time ago, probably in 33 AD, nearly 2000 years ago. But we have a plethora of reports and evidence of the same sort- works written by eyewitnesses, works written by people who interviewed eyewitnesses, things we can dig up from the same era. And what this article suggests is that that evidence can be assessed and weighed up, and supported as reliable, by the legal principles used in courts every day to make key decisions about people’s lives.
Big claims. Do we really have "works written by eyewitnesses"? I think not. Do we have evidence anyone "interviewed eyewitnesses"? Not that I am aware of. Has anything that has been dug up from that era ever given credence to the resurrection? Not that I have heard of.
In[it] is submitted here that, when we apply the principles of evidence law to the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there is more than enough evidence to justify the strongest belief being given to the fact that this happened.
We shall see.
In relation to the documents of the New Testament, we have a large and absolutely convincing body of evidence that shows that we have access to the text of what was originally written, through the large numbers of copies of the documents that are available. We don’t have the “autographs”, the original pieces of paper; but then again no historical document from this era has survived intact. But we have enough copies, and enough copies from clearly different sources and places, to have confidence that we can read today what was written in the 1st century.
Really? I am dubious about that, but what is troubling here is that the author gives the impression that the gospels we have today are accurate translations of what was in them in AD 100. That is definitely not the case; the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman was not in John until centuries later and of more importance here the second half of Mark 16 was also a later addition.
We might summarise the issues at stake as those of the general reliability of the witness; whether or not there was some reason for him or her not to have properly observed the event; whether or not time has intervened to change the recollection; whether or not the events recounted are inherently improbable; and whether or not there is a motive to tell other than the truth.
Good points. He goes on to say:
But what motive did they have for telling the story of the resurrection other than that they believed in the truth of it?
The author is colouring this in black and white. I accept the authors believed the resurrection, nevertheless, I think it likely that they embellished the narrative for apologetic purposes. Let us go back to what he said earlier. Was there some reason why he did not properly observe the event? Absolutely! The NT authors were not present at the resurrection. Has time intervened? Absolutely! Mark was written 40 years later, the other gospels later still. Is there a motive to tell other than the truth? Absolutely! The author wants to get others into the faith, and so has a motive to embellish to counter anti-Christian sentiment (the addition of the guards on the tomb, Jesus eating fish, Doubting Thomas examining the wounds).

In all three ways the accounts tick the boxes for unreliable.

The paper then goes through each "witness".

The First Witness: John
So who was John? There seems no doubt that he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. This is so despite the fact that he is not named in the book he has written. But what we find is that, apparently in accordance with a literary convention, he talks of himself in the 3rd person, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
In fact, modern scholarship very much doubts the Gospel of John was written by the disciple of that name.

The first questions we must address are the questions of authorship and the date this Gospel account was written. Today most modern Biblical scholars do not accept that John (Yehohanan) the Apostle, son of Zebedee, brother of James the Greater, and Bishop of Ephesus is the author of the fourth Gospel despite the fact that the Fathers of the Church unanimously identified the Apostle John as the inspired writer.

See also here:
What seems clear from these passages is that it is regarded as important by John that the readers of his account know that these matters are presented by someone who was himself a witness to them, and who writes with the aim of conveying that truth. He is not writing a “religious fable”; he is claiming to present actually what happened.
Thus it is particularly damning that the author was not actually a witness.

A Second Witness- Matthew

The author says little of this gospel, but acknowledges:
But his account doesn’t read so strongly as that of an eyewitness.

A Third Witness- Peter

The author assumes the disciple Peter was the author of 1 Peter and 2 Peter, and this is far from established.

Furthermore, the only mention of the resurrection in 1 Peter and 2 Peter is this verse:

1 Peter 1:21 Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

It gives no indication Peter was present or indeed there were any witnesses at all; or that the resurrection was physical/bodily as the gospels claim, or even that it was on Earth rather than in heaven.

A Fourth Witness- Paul

The author puts Paul forward as a witness, but then admits:
Paul never puts himself forward as a primary witness of Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul did not witness the events the surrounding the resurrection, he supposedly saw something else entirely. He is not a witness, it is as simple as that.


The author goes on to discuss hearsay, to support Mark and Luke. The problems, however, are the same. Sure Mark and Luke believed the resurrection, but that does not imply that they were beyond embellishing the accounts to improve the apologetics. It is worth pointing out that in the original account, Mark 16:1-8, the figure in the tomb says Jesus has gone on ahead and will appear to the disciples in Galilee some days travel away, and yet we have accounts of Jesus being seen by the disciples in Jerusalem later that same day. To me it looks like the Jerusalem sightings were later additions to the narrative.

Documentary evidence

Then he looks at the documentary evidence, which he takes to be external documents.

We have clear corroboration of the events recorded in the New Testament from a couple of Greek and Roman authors. The historian Thallos (whose works are recorded in later sources, but seems to have been writing about AD 55) records a darkening of the sun when Jesus was crucified (as noted in three of the four gospels, Mk 15:33/Lk 23:44-45/Matt 27:45). He explained it away as an eclipse rather than as a supernatural event (but of course it could have been both.)
Actually it cannot be both an eclipse at the crucifixion, as this was at the passover, necessarily at a full moon. The moon was on exactly the wrong side of the Earth for an eclipse.

The author calls this "clear corroboration" but that is quite a stretch, given what we know about Thallos. This is from a Christian web site:

Thallos was historian of which little remain. His three volume work on the history of the Mediterranean from the fall of Troy to about 50 was lost as was the book by the Christian writer, Sextus Julius Africanus, in his own history (c.220) which was subsequently lost. The only reference we have to this book is found 7 centures after it was written as quoted by the Byzantine historian Georgius Syncellus. According to this historian, Africanus, in writing about the darkness at the death of Christ, refers to Thallos’ work:

In the third of his histories, Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, which seems to me to be wrong.

In fact, a fuller quote reveals that even Africanus realised there could be no eclipse at Jesus' crucifixion:

This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?

We really have little idea what Thallos was talking about. Where was the darkness seen? What year? What century even seems to be unclear.

More of Thallos here:

The author continues:
The famous Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals 15.44, writing sometime in the second half of the 1st century, notes in passing that there was a group of people called “Christians” in Rome, that they took their name from one “Christ” who was executed under Tiberius by Pontius Pilate, and that what Tacitus called their “superstition”, briefly checked, “broke out afresh” in Judea and then in Rome.
This is evidence for the resurrection how exactly? He cites Pliny the Younger and Seutonius, both give evidence that there were Christians, but there is no mention of the resurrection. Sure, it is likely those Christians believed the resurrection, but none of these Roman authors say that, and furthermore I do not dispute they believed in the resurrection.

The author quotes Josephus:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Evidence Jesus was crucified, but not he was resurrected.

Incidental archaeology regularly confirms the fact that Jerusalem in the 1st century was just as we see it described in the eyewitness accounts of the gospels.
Sure, because the authors were familiar with 1st century Jerusalem. But we do not think modern novels are true because the author got the setting right.

Circumstantial evidence

So much for "Things", now the circumstantial evidence. The author starts with the many supposed prophecies.
In Isaiah there is a prophecy of someone called the “Servant of God” who is clearly the promised Messiah of the family of David. In precise detail (astonishing when compared with what actually happened to Jesus hundreds of years later) Isaiah ch 53 speaks of this one as a “Suffering Servant”. And yet, after recording his death as a sacrifice, we read in Is 53:10-11
When his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days… Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see the light and be satisfied.
This, like so many supposed prophecies of Jesus, is a distortion of the original text. In this case, the "suffering servant" is the people of Israel, as early chapters make clear.

The author says:
The second type of prospectant evidence is this: that while he was still alive, Jesus, knowing the Old Testament, told his disciples that this was exactly what was going to happen- that he would die, and rise again (see for example Mk 8:31 and others.)
We know Jesus said this how? Because Mark, writing forty years after it supposedly happened, tells us it did. Again, the author is obliged to assume that Mark recorded everything accurately - despite Mark not being present when Jesus supposedly said it and having a clear motive to make it up.
The empty tomb itself is a massive piece of circumstantial evidence. Indeed, it is not often observed that in fact we don’t have in the New Testament a single piece of eyewitness testimony of the actual event of Jesus rising.
And the evidence for the empty tomb is what? Again, we are obliged to take Mark's word for it. Paul, the earliest writer, does not mention it. And Mark is quite clear that the women who found the tomb was empty never told anyone!
So, consider the question of the missing body. What are the other explanations if the resurrection is not the right one? ...
Mark made it up is the best explanation, and the later gospel writers copied him. He made up the woman finding it and not telling anyone to explain why no one until then had mentioned the empty tomb.
But the book of Acts shows the continuing impact of the resurrected Jesus on the 1st-century world.
No, the book of Acts show the continued impact of the belief in the resurrection. I do not doubt there was a belief in the resurrection. I doubt the resurrection.

The author presents his evidence as though this was a court of law, citing legal precedents every now and again. The fact is, however, that in a court of law his case would fail; his argument is based on unwarranted assumptions and weak evidence.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Science Links

A collections of links to interesting articl;es on the origin of life and other things, updated as and when I come across them.

Start of the Universe

Building blocks of life
In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they were able to map reactions that produced two and three-carbon sugars, amino acids, ribonucleotides and glycerol—the material necessary for metabolism and for creating the building blocks of proteins and ribonucleic acid molecules and also for allowing for the creation of lipids that form cell membranes.
In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they were able to map reactions that produced two and three-carbon sugars, amino acids, ribonucleotides and glycerol—the material necessary for metabolism and for creating the building blocks of proteins and ribonucleic acid molecules and also for allowing for the creation of lipids that form cell membranes.

Read more at:
In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they were able to map reactions that produced two and three-carbon sugars, amino acids, ribonucleotides and glycerol—the material necessary for metabolism and for creating the building blocks of proteins and ribonucleic acid molecules and also for allowing for the creation of lipids that form cell membranes.

Read more at:
In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they were able to map reactions that produced two and three-carbon sugars, amino acids, ribonucleotides and glycerol—the material necessary for metabolism and for creating the building blocks of proteins and ribonucleic acid molecules and also for allowing for the creation of lipids that form cell membranes.

Read more at:
In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they were able to map reactions that produced two and three-carbon sugars, amino acids, ribonucleotides and glycerol—the material necessary for metabolism and for creating the building blocks of proteins and ribonucleic acid molecules and also for allowing for the creation of lipids that form cell membranes.

Read more at:

The paper itself:

 Here are some more:
Experiments performed by ETH scientists have shown that it is remarkably easy for protein-like, two-dimensional structures—amyloids—to form from basic building blocks. This discovery supports the researchers' hypothesis that primal life could have evolved from amyloids such as these.
Experiments performed by ETH scientists have shown that it is remarkably easy for protein-like, two-dimensional structures—amyloids—to form from basic building blocks. This discovery supports the researchers' hypothesis that primal life could have evolved from amyloids such as these.

Read more at:
Experiments performed by ETH scientists have shown that it is remarkably easy for protein-like, two-dimensional structures—amyloids—to form from basic building blocks. This discovery supports the researchers' hypothesis that primal life could have evolved from amyloids such as these.

Read more at:
A team of researchers with members from Syracuse University and the University of California, has found that naturally forming peptides can self-assemble into catalysts. In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they designed seven peptides, allowed the resulting molecules to self-assemble into amyloids and then noted how many of them could catalyze the hydrolysis of esters.

 Research led by Kuhan Chandru and Jim Cleaves from the Earth-Life Science Institute at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, has shown that reactions of alpha-hydroxy acids, similar to the alpha-amino acids that make up modern proteins, form large polymers easily under conditions presumed prevalent on early Earth. These alpha-hydroxy acid polymers may have aided in the formation of living systems on early Earth.

Their work, which included samples from many stages in the evolution of feathers, bolstered the findings of other scientists who've suggested that dinosaurs (winged and otherwise) had multicolored and transparent feathers of the sort you might see on birds today.

Cult Psychology

This is quite different. it is a Wiki page about a group of social psychologists investigating how cults deal with failed prophecies.
The group of believers, headed by Keech, had taken strong actions to indicate their degree of commitment to the belief. They had left jobs, college, and spouses, and had given away money and possessions to prepare for their departure on a flying saucer which was to rescue the group of true believers. She claimed to have received a message from a fictional planet named Clarion. These messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954.

The prophecy failed, but within hours the group had rationalised that God had saved the world, and so became even more convinced that they were right.

Afternoon, December 21. Newspapers are called; interviews are sought. In a reversal of its previous distaste for publicity, the group begins an urgent campaign to spread its message to as broad an audience as possible.
Anyone else see a link to certain other religions?


This article has a list of scientists who have been fired for believing the evolution is true, as a contrast to the rather dubious claims made about scientists fired for denying evolution.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Chimps versus Humans: How come we are so smart?

When you look at all the great things mankind has done, it can be hard to believe we are closely related to chimpanzees. Is this a fair comparison? Thousands of years ago, mankind did not have any technology; people then had no wheel, no fire, let alone aeroplanes and the internet. But everyone still agrees they were still human.

If we are comparing chimps to humans, a more reasonable comparison is with primitive man, not modern man.

Clearly there are differences (language and abstract thought seem the most important to me), but modern science is doing a lot to understand exactly how we are different, and how those differences evolves.

Here is a fascinating paper on just that:

The human HARE5 and the chimpanzee HARE5 sequences differ by only 16 letters in their genetic code. Yet, in mouse embryos the researchers found that the human enhancer was active earlier in development and more active in general than the chimpanzee enhancer.
All told, human HARE5 mice had brains 12% larger in area compared with chimpanzee HARE5 mice. The neocortex, involved in higher-level function such as language and reasoning, was the region of the brain affected.
Proof here that a small change in the DNA has a dramatic difference in the brain, given more evidence that we are closely related to chimps.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Roots of Creationism

This is just a link to a very well-written article at Biologos about the origins of creationism in Seventh Day Adventism, and a supposed prophet called Ellen White.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Evolution of the Gospel Narrative

As I look at the account in the gospels, I see a process of embellishment. It is not a simple progression, I suspect the authors of Luke and Matthew were working separately, so embellished in different directions. Here are some examples, in no particular order.

The Resurrection

Mark's account is clearly the least elaborate. In the later gospels, we can see bits that look to have been added to counter specific objections:

Jesus was merely a ghost:
Luke 24:39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,[b] 43 and he took it and ate before them.
The disciples stole the body:
Matthew 27:64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”
Plus a general statement to disbelievers:
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Also, there is a contradiction here. In Mark, the man in the tomb tells the disciples to go to Galilee to see Jesus. This would be a journey of a few days, and if we believe the later gospels totally pointless, because Jesus appeared in Jerusalem first.

The Burial

The progression is see here too. In the burial accounts, Joseph of Arimathea is originally a God-fearing Jew, but progresses into a secret follower of Jesus. Jesus is originally wrapped in a linen shroud, but by the end of the process his body is anointed with 75 pounds of oils (about the weight of an eleven year old boy, by the way).

Mark 15:42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died.[j] And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph[k] bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Matthew 27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Luke 23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.[g] 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

John 19:38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[e] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[f] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

The Son of God

In Mark, Jesus keeps his identity as the Son of God secret.
Mark 8:29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Mark 9:9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This may well have been because when Mark was writing, there were people still alive who would remember that jesus never claimed to be the Son of God; Mark needs some contrivance to explain that.

By Matthew and Luke, we see some indirect claims and other people saying he is the Son of God.

Matthew 11:27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Matthew 4:3-7 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "`He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Matthew 16:15-17 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven."

Luke 3:21-22 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Then in John, Jesus is quite open about it.

John 5:25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

John 10:36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God's Son'?

John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

John 17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."

The Nativity and the Baptism

Mark starts with Jesus already an adult, being baptised. It is entirely possible that Jesus became the Son of God at this point in Mark's view.
Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
Matthew and Luke add nativities to the narrative (given how disparate they are, they must have worked in isolation to eachj other). By their time it was thought that Jesus was born the Son of God.

By John, the theology has developed. Jesus' birth as a human is less important than his divine status, so by way of a nativity, we read this:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John skips the Baptism altogether, though he keep John the Baptist in the narrative. Jesus as the divine does not need baptism. In fact, if you just read the Gospel of John you might imagine Jesus appeared on Earth as a fully-formed adult. Whether John meant it that way is not clear, but it is possible.