Your god is so small…

I’ve spent the last week or so listening to the ‘Symphony of Science’ music. Not unsurprisingly there’s a couple of lines within the songs that have got me thinking about a concept I’ve had for a while and I wanted to try to articulate it.

That concept, if you haven’t guessed from the title, is that the gods that man has invented are all incredibly small. The vast majority (and I’d say all of the older gods) are all limited by man’s thinking.

That’s not to suggest that we’re incapable of understanding these larger concepts and that’s why these gods limited what they tried to teach us, it’s that these gods seem to literally be limited to exist inside what man knew at the time.

To just throw a simple example out there, when Jesus ascended it says he was “taken up” into heaven (Luke 24:51, Mark 16:19). I’d be willing to bet this is because back then people literally believed heaven was in the sky. God sat upon clouds and watched the earth. Back then it made sense, because no one had been up that high before and it was reasonable to assume that’s where a god would reside (there’s a similar concept of demons living at the centre of the earth).

Since then however, we’ve visited not only the skies but space and we’re pretty darn sure there’s no one playing harps up there. Thus was born the idea of a spirit realm; an in-between world where us mere mortals cannot see without special powers. Now, there’s no good reason why people living around Jesus’ time couldn’t have understood the notion of a spirit realm. Yes, it’s possible that it’s something that was misinterpreted early on and it’s something we’re only just coming to understand, but it makes so much more sense that these gods were invented by man and that these misunderstandings were brought about by our limited knowledge of the universe at the time.

As a more modern example there is a group of people who believe a god exists just beyond the range of the Hubble Telescope. Exactly the same idea, just a little bigger.

The thing is you find this limited thinking within pretty much all religions. Almost all religions are concerned with man and earth. This is especially prominent in the older religions where it’s still suggested the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth. More modern religions start to break out of this mold (Scientology for example), but that’s not because they’re right, it’s because they were born in an era where they’ve been able to align themselves with up to date scientific information. Back when the Bible was being written it was scientifically sound to say the earth was flat.

All popular religions have the worshippers at the centre, whether that be the literal centre of the universe or just the centre of the gods universe. And that’s the problem, none of them account for the rest of the universe. There are literally billions of stars out there, most with planets orbiting them, and with moons orbiting them. And then you need to consider that something silly like >95% of the universe is empty space. That’s a fuckload of nothing. What’s the point of it all!? No religion accounts for this.

Pick a religion. Now assume that only the earth exists. That the rest of the universe doesn’t. Heck, not even our galaxy exists. Just the earth and the things on it. Stuff it, the moon, stars and sun can be painted on a rotating disk over our heads. Now ask yourself, does that religion still make sense? (Within itself obviously, they usually don’t make sense taken in the context of the rest of the world). Generally I’d say yes. The rest of the universe isn’t required for the religious story to make sense. Usually it isn’t even mentioned, everything revolves around the earth and humanity.

Why is that? For the same reason as Jesus ascending; it wasn’t known at the time so it was ignored. The universe isn’t required for a gods plan, so it is omitted from the stories. But that’s  just begging us to ask the question, ‘why the hell would the god bother making it then?’

You see, this is one of the prominent reasons I don’t believe. Gods are just too small. They don’t account for the existence of the universe. They tend to be infatuated with silly little things like our reproductive desires. A gods mind is just so small, so limited and so juvenile that I can’t see it explaining the 40 sextillion stars that we know of. (That’s a 4 with twenty-two ‘0’s after it. General knowledge these days, but there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the earth).

I want to do a little thought experiment. Take a look at this image. This is your home, and how small it is in the universe. Just take a quick look at the image, because once you have we’re going on a journey.

Imagine laying in your bed. Feel your body. This is your shell, this is where you live, feel it. Now imagine leaving your body. You float above your bed, just above your body. From here you can see yourself and your room. Take it in.

Now fly upward until you can see your house. The little wooden or brick structure where you spend a good chunk of your life. Maybe you were born here? Perhaps your family has lived here for years?

Zoom out further until you can see your town. Many of your friends live here. Can you see your school from here? Perhaps your place of work?

Going further we can now see your continent. A giant land mass stretching out in all directions.

Going higher we rise into the clouds. Our vision is blurred for a moment before we rise above them and burst into the sunshine above. From here we can see many landmasses and the life-sustaining water that is our oceans.

Things get slightly warmer as you penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. A moment later you pop through that and look down on your planet. The earth. Our little spherical ship that we sail through space on. Most likely you will spend your entire life here.

Out of your peripheral you spot a grey sphere, the moon. You blow past that in a moment and watch as it revolves around the earth.Behind the earth you can see Mercury and Venus, engulfed by a glowing ball that currently takes up your entire view.

Picking up speed now you zoom past Mars. You need to take a wide berth as Jupiter goes past you. It is so enormous that for a moment it takes up your entire vision, blotting out the other planets behind it.

You blink furiously as giant rocks whizz past you. You are travelling through the rings of Saturn. Suddenly the rocks stop to be taken up by another gas giant that takes up your vision. Passing Saturn you go through the other side of the ring before venturing into the blackness between planets.

Uranus and Neptune pass next. Smaller than Jupiter or Saturn you zoom past them in an instant.

For the first time the sun comes fully into view. A giant ball of heat, it eats up the blackness, solar flares bursting from its surface.

A small blip measures on your radar. It was Pluto, barely registering on this massive scale.

You can just make out the Earth from here. It is a fine grain of sand, unrecognisable from the other objects in the blackness.

Out of nowhere you are virtually blinded by a glaring light. As your eyes adjust again you realise you have blown past Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. It dwarfs our sun, being twice as massive.

Picking up speed again we leave Sirius behind, only to Pass Pollux moments later. Moving at the speed of light it would take 34 years to reach this giant star. Clearly we are moving much, much faster. Pollux dwarfs Sirius, being as large to Sirius, as Sirius is to our Sun.

Taking a photo at this stage of our journey would show the Earth at the size of a single pixel. An instant later it is gone.

But even Pollux is tiny compared to Arcturus, the next giant on our journey.

Rigel and Aldebaran pass us next, their brightness blocking out Arcturus. From here our solar system is only visible as a blur; a string of little dots barely visible.

Betelgeuse and Antares make a mockery of Rigel and Aldebaran’s size, engulfing the sky and blocking out the last glittering of our solar system in their wake.

A blur of giants stream past you as you fly at breakneck pace through the darkness. Yellow, pink, white, red and blue. V828 Monocerotis, V382 Carinae, V509 Cassiopeiae, KY Cygni and VV Cephei respectively.

But all of these could be consumed by VY Canis Majoris, the largest star in the known universe.

From here nothing you would recognise is visible. Not even our solar system is visible, let alone our Sun or the Earth. Congratulations, you have reached the end of the Milky Way Galaxy.

From here you slowly turn around, taking in our entire spiraling galaxy. As you turn 360 degrees you are greeted by a colossal sight.

That’s the rest of the universe, stretching on for 14.5billion light years in every direction. Each spec of light is another galaxy, many of which dwarf the one you have just passed through.

You are tiny and insignificant.

Your god even more so.

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

And I’m sorry, but these are just way too fucking pretty to not post. Thank you Hubble.

Advertisements

Beautiful Universe

Often times people feel that describing something, be it an event or a process removes the natural beauty that can be found in it. That somehow the world around us can only be wonderous if it is mysterious and unknown. I think it’s likely that’s where the idea of some things being ‘unknowable’ comes from. The desire to be kept in the dark. To keep some things unknown to fully appreciate their beauty.
To those people, I say look again.

All these songs are available for free here (Just click “buy now” and it allows you to enter ANY value you want):

melodysheep.bandcamp.com

Understanding opens our eyes to the universe and allows us to see further than we’ve ever seen before. And it’s beautiful out there.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

All opinions are equal

This is one I’m getting kinda tired of having to harp on. It just seems to come up fairly frequently and it’s so obviously wrong I can’t believe I have to figuratively bash people over the head with the idea before they’ll begrudgingly admit I’m right.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion”.

This one is true. And it’s a good thing too. There may be times when it becomes frustrating or inconvenient to have idiots running about fully convinced (and worse convincing others) the world is flat, but we need that freedom to be able to pursue ideas that not everyone agrees with. We don’t want our thinking to become stagnant with the idea that just because it works right now doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. So as much as it sucks to have flat-earthers still running about, we need that freedom so that people can pursue outlandish ideas like String Theory.

“Everyone’s opinion is valid”.

Now this is where the problem occurs. For some stupid reason many people have started to equate the first quote as being equivalent to the second. That just because you are entitled to hold whatever opinion you like that this somehow makes your opinion just as valid, accurate and worthy as everybody elses. It doesn’t!

Just because freedom of speech laws entitle you to hold a belief doesn’t make that belief worth holding. Just because thought crime is an abominable idea doesn’t make you thoughts equal to everybody elses. It’s entirely possible your thoughts might be inaccurate, based upon false data or just plain crap.

So when does this apply, and when are opinions truly equal. Generally when we’re talking about our personal take on things. No, “My god is real” doesn’t fall into that category, and I’ll explain why in just a moment.

Ironically as I’m writing this my housemate just sent me a YouTube clip. One of those “Worlds biggest idiots” videos of people doing stupid things on camera and badly hurting themselves. I don’t find these at all amusing. For me, it’s a combination of cringe factor and just plain feeling sad at how dumb people can be. For me, not funny. But there are TV shows that are dedicated to this kind of crap, so obviously there’s a market for it. Obviously it’s not universally funny, or universally unfunny. It comes down to personal taste, and probably has a lot to do with upbringing and maybe even genetics.

Other examples include literally, taste. There are foods I can’t stand, a few I can eat but don’t enjoy, and the vast majority I love. And those food groups don’t always match up to other people’s tastes. Again, a combination of upbringing (being exposed to variation at a younger age) and genetics.

What we need to remember is that these opinions are based upon facts, in these cases about the individual. It is a fact that my taste buds are adapted in such a way that I really like chicken. On the other hand I have an intolerance for squishy things in my mouth, which is why I can’t stand raw tomatoes (the outer flesh is okay, just can’t stand the seedy gooey bit in the middle).

Now, I’d argue that all opinions are based upon data. It is impossible to formulate an opinion without data input. That data may be true (in other words facts), or that data may be flawed. If you have flawed data it’s likely you’ll end up with a flawed opinion. And flawed opinions have the potential to cause harm. Take our flat earther’s for example. By itself, a rather innocent belief, even if it is completely stupid. But what if NASA were to give this opinion some credit and launched a space probe. They wouldn’t calculate for the curvature of the earth and would try to plow straight through the atmosphere (rather than hitting it at an angle). Wave goodbye to a couple of million dollars, or worse, a few lives if it were a manned mission.

Clearly the above example demonstrates that all opinions are not equal. If one opinion can get people killed while the other can lead to success and keep people alive, surely one must be greater than the other?

This also demonstrates how we come to good, factual opinions. By testing them. Hopefully NASA has a few better testing methods before they start launching rockets, but the principle remains the same. People who have put their ideas, opinions and beliefs to the test are more likely to have factual opinions. Because those opinions can be used to achieve goals they are more valuable.

So how do we create stronger, more valuable opinions? By putting them to the test. How do we test them? Education. We put ourselves through school, college, TAFE, or University. We discuss our ideas with others (and not just those that agree with us). We read books. We test those ideas through experimentation to see whether they hold up to the real world.

So no, your ideas on cosmology aren’t nearly as valuable as Stephen Hawking. Your opinion on biology is not worth as much to me as Richard Dawkins.

And if you don’t go to church, haven’t read your Bible, haven’t ever had a meaningful discussion with an atheist or at least someone of an alternative faith, your passionate belief in your god is pretty fucking meaningless too.

If you don’t know a Muslim, haven’t read their holy book and get all your information off the fear mongering news programs labelling them all terrorists your opinion isn’t worth dick.

Don’t think that just because you’ve watched Al Gore’s ‘An inconvenient truth’ it sudden makes you an expert on global warming. Seriously, can we please leave this discussion to the people with degrees? The weather man can’t predict what will happen next week, what makes you think you can predict the next 50 years!?

Until you have earned the right to have an opinion on a topic, don’t expect me to treat your opinion with reverence just because you had the compulsion to have one. If you don’t know enough about a topic, keep your mouth shut. Or at least have the decency to be polite and ask questions, rather than shoving an unfounded and untested opinion in my face.

So, to come back to the ‘My god is real’ idea. No, this is not something that falls into the ‘everyone’s opinion is valid’ category. Remember, even opinions like “Chicken is delicious” are based on facts, those facts just happen to be subjective. Chicken is genuinely delicious to me and it’s because of the way my body is made up. It may not be delicious to you, again because of the fact your body is different.

But ‘My god is real’ is a dichotomy; a boolean operation. It’s either true or it isn’t. And again the opinion you hold on your god (or lack of god) is based on data. If that data is inaccurate it’s likely your opinion on a god will also be inaccurate.

So if we want to actually make any headway in this discussion we first need to get rid of this stupid notion that all opinions are equal. Yes, people are allowed and should be allowed to believe whatever they want. But that doesn’t make their opinion worth listening to. It’s the people who have taken the time and effort to educate themselves and test our their opinions who we should be giving more time to.

Seriously people, don’t think that just because you hold a belief it’s automatically worthy. Put that baby to the test! And not just to your standards. Your standards might be crap (because let’s face it, your standards are also based on your opinions). If it makes it through to the other side, great! If not, then hopefully you’ll have a new opinion that will be stronger than the last.

 

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Did Jesus really exist?

I was linked an article in the comments of a previous post outlining some of the evidences for Jesus. Today I wanted to spend some time explaining why these examples aren’t good evidence and why further proof is needed to convince most sceptics and indeed myself. Here is the article:

http://www.gotquestions.org/did-Jesus-exist.html

Let me start by saying I think it’s more likely that a man named Jesus did exist around 2000 years ago and told some decent stories and explained some better morals. I’m not entirely convinced he existed, but I think it’s more likely. What I haven’t been able to find is any good evidence of Jesus Christ, a divine being. That is what I want to discuss today.

“Typically, when this question is asked, the person asking qualifies the question with “outside of the Bible.” “

The Bible should definitely be considered evidence for Christ. Unfortunately it is one of very few ‘reliable’ sources that claims Jesus was divine. It’s also not terribly reliable, as the Gospels disagree or omit important events, they don’t agree on the birth story, the birth story doesn’t line up with history, the Gospel stories don’t line up with each other, they often seem poetic in nature and may not have been intended as literal and there are no reliable sources to back them up. Just to name a few problems.

But that’s another post for another day.

“…writings less than 200 years after events took place are considered very reliable evidences.”

By whose standards exactly? I think when people start rasing the dead and healing the sick, people at the time would be writing about it. Considering the number of followers Christ is said to have had its unbelievable there are no first hand accounts of his feats.

“…the Epistles of Paul (at least some of them) were in fact written by Paul in the middle of the first century A.D., less than 40 years after Jesus’ death.”

Indeed this is true. What the writer forgets to mention is that Paul is not a first hand witness. He never met Christ. Nor did he have a great deal to do with the Apostles. And take this with a grain of salt as I haven’t read the Epistles of Paul, but I believe Paul never mentions miracles that Jesus performed.  This article appears to support that idea.

http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/paul.htm

“It is also important to recognize that in A.D. 70, the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem and most of Israel… much evidence of Jesus’ existence was destroyed. Many of the eyewitnesses of Jesus would have been killed.”

Again this is indeed true. But as we’ve discussed before, a lack of evidence doesn’t suddenly make the stories more likely.

Tacitus:

56AD – 117AD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus

Here is the text Tacitus wrote about Christians and Christ.

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Indeed rather gruesome. But take note that Tacticus only mentions that the Christians followed a man named Christus, who was executed under Pontius Pilatus. No mention of miracles.

Flavius Josephus:

37AD – 100AD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

Josephus mentions James, the supposed brother of Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus himself. We’ll cover them in that order. Mostly because that’s the order Wikipedia covers them in 😀

“The brother of Jesus…whose name was James”

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…”

There is a lot more to this quote and I encourage you to read the bulk on Wikipedia for your own understanding (and to make sure I’m not taking anything out of context 😉 ), but this is all that’s required for our purposes.

Let’s start with the obvious fact that once again this is merely a mention of Jesus, which although interesting does nothing to promote the idea he was a miracle worker.

The second point that needs to be brought up is that many Biblical scholars regard the bolded section to be a later addition. In other words a forgery. And considering the arguments put forth I’m inclined to agree with them.

Firstly Josephus was writing for a Roman or Jewish audience. He is not writing for Christians. Josephus only mentions Christ in one other passage, and that passage is considered by most scholars to definitely be a forgery. So what we have is a writer who, out of the blue mentions “Jesus, who was called Christ”. He hasn’t written about Christ in any earlier passages. His audience is unlikely to know who this Jesus character is. It is extremely random.

That is until you consider that in The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus, Arthur Drews points out that earlier manuscripts of Josephus’ writing didn’t include any mention of Jesus until around 300AD. It seems likely then that the writing is a forgery, and that this piece of ‘evidence’ for Christ doesn’t actually appear until 270 years after Jesus’ death.

John the Baptist

“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him.”

This quotation is considered by most scholars to be authentic. But…so what? It’s definitely interesting and shows it’s likely the Bible has some historical accuracy, but aside from that it’s pretty useless, at least in terms of evidence for Christ. There’s no mention of Jesus, man or divine. Interesting, but hardly proof of anything.

Jesus himself

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a 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. He was [the] Christ. 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; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

Wikipedia has a mass of information on this quotation and I encourage you to read through it. It is not an easy read though, and I will try to compact what I feel are the important points.

Firstly, the earliest copy we have of ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’ dates back to the 11th century. This itself is somewhat problematic, but what is more concerning is that all the early copies we have, have been copied by Christian monks. By itself not enough to reject the quote, but enough to raise an eyebrow at.

It needs to be noted that Josephus was a Jew, not a Christian. It is unlikely then that he would have referred to Jesus as “He was the Christ”. Among other sections, this line is considered a forgery or mistranslation and more likely read “He was called the Christ”.

As well as this there are many other sources that reference both Josephus’ writings about James and John the Baptist early on, however no one quotes the above passage until much later. Considering the passage would have been fantastic evidence for Christ it seems very strange it has not been quoted.

I encourage you all to read through the Wikipedia article (and hopefully others besides), as it goes into a great more detail than what I have here. What needs to be taken away from this is Josephus’ writings on Christ are extremely debatable, and when the most important passage is not backed up by other corroborating sources it becomes very weak evidence indeed.

Certainly though, this is the best evidence for Christ available.

Julius Africanus:

160AD – 240AD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sextus_Julius_Africanus

“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. For….how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?

“In fact, let it be so. Let the idea that this happened seize and carry away the multitude, and let the cosmic prodigy be counted as an eclipse of the sun according to its appearance. Phlegon reports that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth. Clearly this is our eclipse! What is common about an earthquake, an eclipse, rocks torn apart, a rising of the dead, and such a huge cosmic movement? At the very least, over a long period, no conjunction this great is remembered. But it was a godsent darkness, because the Lord happened to suffer, and the Bible, in Daniel, supports that seventy spans of seven years would come together up to this time.”

Obviously by his age Julius lived long after Jesus and this isn’t a first hand account. Julius does however refer to Thallus, who may have had a first hand encounter of Jesus’ crucifixion. He also mentions Phlegon, who we will also come to shortly. So Julius himself isn’t terribly interesting to us. He lived far too long after Jesus to offer us any useful information himself. It is the people he writes about that is interesting. We need to know more about Thallus and Phlegon.

I’d also like to note that if darkness covered the whole world we should expect many authors to have written about this, as eclipses cannot be seen from everywhere on earth. They are relatively localised.

Thallus:

Anywhere between 109BC – 180AD

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/thallus.html

Thallus is credited with writing a ‘brief compendium’, which covers the 167th Olympiad. The Olympiad dates between 112-109BC. Clearly Thallus was alive in a period after 109BC.

However the first time Thallus is quoted is by Theophilus, in 180AD. Considering Thallus could have written his Compendium any time after 109BC this leaves us with quite a gap where he may have lived and written. The above article goes into some details that may help shorten that large gap, but nothing is certain.

The above quote under ‘Julius’ is all we have of Thallus’ work. Thallus apparently mentions a darkness, however he does not mention (as far as we can tell anyhow) Jesus, man or divine. We don’t have the original quote from Thallus himself, nor do we know when Thallus was writing. Although Julius implies it, there isn’t any terribly strong reason to assume Thallus was an eye witness at all.

Phlegon:

~140AD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phlegon_of_Tralles

Phlegon is also credited with writing Olympiads, covering as late as 137AD. This means Phlegon had to have been alive and writing some time after this. Clearly Phlegon is also not a first hand witness, although once again you could be forgiven for thinking Julius is implying it.

The article at ‘Infidels.org‘ suggests that the quotation mentioning Phlegon may have been a later insertion. Remove the section:

“Phlegon reports that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth. Clearly this is our eclipse!”

And the trail of thought suddenly seems a lot clearer. However I’m going to gloss over this point, as there is another quotation from Eusebius that I feel is more important.

“Jesus Christ..underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 AD]. Also at that time in another Greek compendium we find an event recorded in these words: “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell.” All these things happened to occur during the Lord’s passion. In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: “Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 AD], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea.”

This quote clearly shows Phlegon saying an earthquake happened in Bithynia (over 500 miles from Jerusalem) and that an eclipse also occurred. It is implied the eclipse may also have occurred in Bithynia (which is unlikely to be seen from Jerusalem), although we can’t be certain. The only connection we have between Jesus’ execution, the eclipse and an earthquake is that they happened in the same year. We can’t even be sure it happened on the same day!

In conclusion to this section it appears that Julius Africanus has found some facts by earlier authors and brought them together himself, making a few assumptions along the way. It is certainly possible Thallus could have been a first hand witness to these events, but it is also equally likely he wasn’t. Unless further evidence is dug up this alone can hardly be considered strong evidence.

Pliny the Younger

61AD –  112AD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Younger#Epistle_concerning_the_Christian_Cult

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, but better known as Pliny the Younger did indeed write about Christians and their worshipping practices. And considering he thought of them as a cult and had many of them executed it is likely his writings are authentic. When your enemies are writing about you it’s likely you exist.

The Wikipedia article has several of Pliny’s quotes about Christians, briefly detailing their worship methods, that they believed Jesus to be a god and that of their executions. It is rather barbaric and completely intolerant. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer any information about the likelihood of Jesus’ existence, nor offer any reference to his divinity (outside of the Christians already believing this).

Here is one of Pliny’s letters in full:

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pliny1.asp

I find it interesting that Pliny says some of the Christians claimed to have been believers for 25 years or so. Theoretically this would put them as believers not long after Jesus’ execution. Sadly we don’t have any quotes or literature from them.

I also found it interesting to note that the earlier Christians were still sacrificing animals. The ‘lamb of God’ is still considered quite literal at this stage in history.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a)

This one actually gets somewhat confusing. Here’s the quote:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.”

‘Yeshu’ is one possible translation for ‘Jesus’. However Jesus was a very popular name at the time, so there is no guarantee it refers to Christ. Certainly the Gospels say nothing of a 40 day waiting period, although this does seem more likely. It also says he was ‘hanged’, however it is possible this is a translation for crucifixion.

The problem is, references to this text are difficult to find online and what is available doesn’t appear to come from reliable sources. I’ve read some articles suggesting this passage refers to a time somewhere around 100BC.

Certainly information on this passage is sparse and hardly conclusive, yet the authors of this article put it forward as if there is no debate and no confusion.

Lucian of Samosata

125AD – 180AD or later.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian

Now this one I really love. The authors at ‘gotquestions.org’ write as if Lucian was an historian and wrote glowing reviews of the Christians beliefs, devotion and rejection of material goods. In fact the work they are referring to is ‘The Passing of Peregrinus’ which is in fact a satirical story that happens to include Christians and makes fun of them for their naive devotion. Being a work of fiction everything in it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

On top of that we have the usual issue of Lucian being born far too late and not being a first hand witness. This is evidence that Christians existed. Nothing more.

Mara Bar-Serapion

~73AD – 3rd Century

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara_Bar-Serapion

What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.”

At first glance it appears this quote may be in reference to Jesus, and it is always possible it might be. However there is no guarantee as there were many ‘Messiahs’ (or people pretending to be) in the Holy Lands at that time. This letter was also written from prison, so it is unlikely Mara is an eye-witness anyhow. Again, this is a possible reference to Jesus, but at the same time it’s equally likely to have been someone else. We may never know.

And like so many other historical references, even if it does refer to Jesus it only speaks of his execution. There is no reason to think the ‘wise king’ being referenced was divine in any way.

Gnostic Writings

The Gospel of Truth

The Apocryphon of John

The Gospel of Thomas

The Treatise on Resurrection

These writings are long and detailed, and would require at least an entire post to cover each of them. I would prefer to take my time to read them individually before I make any comment on them, so for now I’m going to gloss over them as I don’t feel I know enough to do them justice.

Conclusion

So to try and answer my original question, “Did Jesus really exist?” I would tentatively suggest yes. It is quite likely a man called Jesus lived around 0-33AD. He may have been a teacher of some sort and it is even possible he was executed for his teachings. All of that is possible, although as I said, it is a tentative suggestion as the evidence is far from overwhelming.

But to answer the question posed by the authors at gotQuestions.org, “Is there any historical evidence of Jesus Christ?”, I would strongly suggest no. All the evidence they provide of a divine being appears to be inaccurate or a forgery. Even some of the evidence provided suggesting a man called Jesus existed is patchy.

So what do you believe from all this? Well, whatever you want. Certainly there is evidence of a mortal Jesus, and the Gospels may be enough to convince you he was also divine. But whatever it is you choose to believe, please don’t go around saying there is “overwhelming evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ”. This is a blatant lie. There is scant evidence and all of it is questionable.

And as for this stupid notion:

“Perhaps the greatest evidence that Jesus did exist is the fact that literally thousands of Christians in the first century A.D., including the twelve apostles, were willing to give their lives as martyrs for Jesus Christ. People will die for what they believe to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie.”

All I will say is, “Don’t drink the Kool-aid“. And that is why:

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Burundanga Drug Warning

Seems I’m getting a few silly emails lately. Fortunately this one isn’t as bigoted as the last one, but it’s still pretty ignorant. Here’s the email:

“this is actually a good one to be aware of, so many sicko’s out there…..

People are R E A L L Y crazy!  If you are a female, take heed! If you  are male and have a significant female in your  life who you care about, whether it’s your wife, your  girlfriend, your daughter, your sister, your niece,  your cousin, your next door neighbour;  whomever…………..pass this  along!    Always,   “Better safe than sorry!”

A man came over and offered his services as a painter to a female putting Fuel in her car and left his card.
She said no, but accepted his card out of courtesy and got in her car.
The man then got into a car driven by another gentleman. As the lady left the service station, she saw the men following her out of the station at the same time.
Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath.
She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station.  She then noticed the  men were  immediately behind her and she felt she needed to do  something at that moment.
She drove into the first driveway and began to honk her horn repeatedly to ask for help. The men drove away but the  lady still felt pretty bad for several minutes after  she could finally catch her breath. Apparently, there was a substance on the card that could have seriously injured her.
This drug is called ’BURUNDANGA’ and it is used by people who wish to incapacitate a victim in order to steal from or take advantage of them.
This drug is four times more dangerous than the date rape drug and is transferable on simple cards.
So take heed and make sure you don’t accept cards at any given time you are alone or from someone on the streets.
This applies to those making house calls and slipping you a card when they offer their services.

PLEASE SEND THIS E-MAIL ALERT TO EVERY FEMALE  YOU KNOW!!!!

Sgt. Gregory L. Joyner”

Okay, your first hint this email is bogus is the notion it’s come from a Police man. The police don’t use spam email as a way of getting an important message across. They have other media for that. The seven o’clock news for one!

However, it may have started as a rough quote from an officer and found its way onto the web from there. No reason to disregard it just yet.

As usual though, Google is our saviour. I punched ‘Burundanga’ into Google and the first two website links to come up were ‘Hoax-slayer’ and ‘Urban Legend’. Not a good sign.

You can find the two articles here:

http://www.hoax-slayer.com/burundanga-warning.shtml

http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/crime/a/burundanga.htm

Both articles warn that burundanga is a real drug and can have some nasty effects, including “drowsiness, dizziness, agitation, fever excitability, seizures or convulsions, hallucinations, coma, and death”.

Both articles also outline that burundanga is odourless and only has an effect on people if eaten or inhaled. There is no known way burundanga could be administered by touch alone.

These emails have been circulating for years and there is no good reason to believe them. That said, date rape drugs do exist and people (both sexes) should be careful when in unfamiliar territory. Always keep your drink in sight. Where possible use bottles or cans rather than an open glass. Always go out with a friend who you trust enough to get you home safely. Keep yourselves and your friends safe.
But please, don’t be so paranoid to not accept business cards from strangers. And don’t become part of the fear mongering by passing this one on. Please, delete it.

All choices in life involve some element of risk. This is one you should feel safe enough to risk.

 

Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Your turn

So I’ve got a bit of work to do over the next week or two (woohoo!). The down side of this is it’s unlikely I’ll have time to do any major posts during this time. The next couple of posts I have planned are going to require a bit of research on my behalf, so although they’ll be interesting and well documented they will take some time to put together.
In the mean time though I still want my dose of philosophical and theological thinking. My last post laid out my beliefs. Now it’s your turn. What do you believe, and more importantly, why do you believe it?
I’ve eluded to it before, but I want to spell it out more clearly now. What you believe is mildly interesting. But I think why you believe something is vastly more interesting and important.
There are any number of beliefs out there and some are more crazy than others. But it’s possible one of then might be right. I have no expectations of this universe. The answers we search for may not be fair. They may not make sense.
My point is that just because someone’s beliefs may seem outrageous at first glance and appear to insult the intelligence, that alone doesn’t make them untrue. And we’re all about finding the truth here at InquisitiveBliss.
So the belief itself isn’t terribly important. What’s important is how we go about reaching and justifying those beliefs.
As an example, I have an atheist friend. I’ve talked to him on numerous occasions about religion and it’s quite clear he has little to no idea about any of the major religions. When you need to explain who Moses was you can be pretty sure the individual is lacking some education.
I think he’s reached the right conclusion. He’s an atheist and doesn’t believe in a god. But he’s got very little idea of what he rejects.
Now if he’s a weak atheist then he is logically on solid ground. It’s not his place to provide negative evidence, which as we’ve previously discussed is impossible. But when we’re talking about the ultimate question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ I think sitting on your bum waiting for someone to spoon-feed you the answers is intellectually lazy. Even if you’re a weak atheist, pick up a book and see if you can’t be convinced to become a strong atheist. Or even better, pick up a book that challenges your position and see if you can’t explain why they’re wrong. And maybe, if there’s some truth to what they’re selling, you’ll be drawn to it.
I don’t think my friend has good reasons for being an atheist. I think a little more effort on his behalf would not go astray.
I mention this for a good reason. Part of finding the truth is pulling apart ideas, turning them inside out and seeing if they still hold water. So if you post a reply to this post, be aware that your ideas will be pulled apart, in the same way I gave you the opportunity to pull mine to pieces.
Don’t think that being an atheist makes you safe here. Your beliefs will be torn open just like everyone else’s and just because I agree with your conclusion doesn’t mean I agree with your logic or methods to get there. And if you’re serious about your skepticism you will be grateful for this. Having bad reasons for a good belief may be fine for your religious beliefs, but may land you in hot water with other beliefs. Having a good standard for our beliefs is a good thing, as it makes it more likely we will reach the truth in all subjects, as well as making it less likely we will hurt ourselves or others.

So…your turn.

 

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

 

P.S. On a side note, I’ve downloaded the wordpress app for my iPhone and I’ve typed this all up on a train trip. So I’m without a spell checker and many other features. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

My beliefs

Okay, I’ve been promissing it for a little while now, and I think it’s about time I started to lay out what I believe and what I don’t believe. I will try and keep this as sucinct as possible but it’s likely to be an on going piece. I’m pretty certain about some things I believe, but unclear on plenty of others. Still others I’m fairly confident of where I stand, but wouldn’t have a clue how to go about explaining it (for example free will). Some of this is likely to be me trying to find the best way to word my position and I ask for your patience in that.

I also expect that writing this out and having people comment is likely to lead me to change my opinions, so this is hardly an ending to my beliefs; more likely a beginning.

And finally (and I guess also my first belief), nothing I write here is sacred. I do no believe opinions, beliefs or even faiths are sacred and everything should be open to question. I intend to go to town on others beliefs and I hearby give permission for people to tear mine apart.

Let’s begin…

I wanted to start by laying out where I stand with my atheism. To be clear, weak and strong atheism aren’t exclusive of each other. I’d say most if not all strong atheists are also weak atheists, and I fit into both categories.

As we discussed previously, weak atheism is simply hearing a statement akin to “There is a god / there are gods” and rejecting it, usually because it hasn’t met it’s burden of proof.

As well as agreeing with this, I am also a strong atheist, which means I think there is evidence that suggests gods don’t exist.

Since becoming an atheist I’ve become a lot more skeptical, and one thing I’ve found is there are a lot of sayings out there that are wrong. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is one such saying. The fact is if we expect there to be evidence somewhere, and that evidence is non-existent it is in fact evidence of absence. Not proof of course, but evidence. Many people have been sucked into believing this saying and the fact is it’s not true.

With that in mind I would argue there are massive amounts of evidence we would expect to find that indicate the existence of a god, but that evidence is not there. Just to list a few:

  • The effectiveness of prayer. The studies have been done and there is little doubt that prayer has no effect. All studies done come back with a 50/50 success rate of prayer, exactly what we would expect from a coin flip experiment.
  • Increased happiness. One would expect that being closer to a benevolent loving god would make one happier. Apparently it doesn’t and atheists have been found to be just as happy as believers. Ironically it is those that are unsure where they stand that seems to be the least happy.
  • Increased wellfare. Surely communities that believe in a god would experience better living conditons. Better health from all the healings. Less crime from better morals. The fact is there is a negative correlation between community wellfare and religion. Areas with greater numbers of believers also have a decrease in wellfare.
  • A lack of evidence for a soul. Experiements have been done and so far we have no good reason to believe they exist.
  • Some sense of Karma, where good people have good things happen to them and bad people are generally punished. Although I would say this does in fact happen, it is due to obedience to the law. If bad people don’t break the law they seem to be able to get away with just about anything. Good people tend to attract good people and this seems to be the sole reason for good things happening around them. Any true sense of Karma seems to be completely random.
  • Evil acts commited by ‘gods’ people. The most obvious example being pedophile priests, but of course there are many others. Surely a benevolent god would only allow the best of humanity to represent him, rather than harming his chosen people. Considering how these acts can often drive people from their religion you would expect a god to interviene and assist those in trouble.
  • Specifically for Christianity: Better evidence for the existence of Jesus. There is no first hand evidence of Christ and there isn’t ANY evidence for his existence until at least a couple of decades after his death. Despite feeding 5000 people no one bothered to write it down. Apparently not important enough. Outside of his followers no one bothers to write about Jesus for ages. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but there are decades and possible centuries before anyone who isn’t a believer decides he is worth recording. This alone is unlikely, but when you consider it is meant to be a message to all of humanity and that the only way to God is through Jesus it seems odd that an all powerful god wouldn’t have made sure there was a better standard of evidence available.
  • A world wide religion. Again a little specific to Christianity, but applicable to others. There are many people who will never hear of the various gods or prophets. Considering that a belief in the deity is often required isn’t it a little unfair that these people are condemned to the various versions of hell simply because they were unlucky enough to be raised in an area without that knowledge?
  • The number of ‘dead’ gods. Throughout history there have been literally thousands, probably millions of gods. And so far they’re all dead. All of them have died with the civilisations that worshipped them. So far everyone has got it wrong. After these hundreds of thousands of failed attempts to find gods, what makes people think the modern religions will be any more successful?
  • Better morality. None of the holy books I’ve read or been told about have even a good example of morality, let alone a superior one. Certainly there are decent morals to be found in the Bible or Quaran, but there are an equal or greater number of bad morals. Gods don’t appear to hire very good editors.
  • A lack of consistency. My best knowledge comes from the Bible, but I’ve no doubt the same can be said about the other holy books. Even the Gospels are inconsistent, let alone the rest of the books. I heard recently that there is more consistency between all the books related to ‘Star Wars’, and I believe it to be true. Maybe Jedi should be a major religion?
  • Evidence of altered texts. There is no doubt that the ancient texts have been altered. Again, supposedly being the word of god why is this necessary? Why does a god not interviene and make sure the texts are kept consistent?
  • All the answers we have aquired to date point towards a natural explanation for our universe. Although there are questions still to be answered, currently we have no good reason to posit a god.
  • In all of history every time supernatural phenomenon has been explored we have found a natural explanation. Throughout all of history there is no definitive example against this. The answer has never been ‘God did it’.

I’ve no doubt I could go on, and that there are any number of arguments I might still miss. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the world is looking for some kind of god. After probaby 10,000 years (going back to the ancient shaman) we have no good reason to believe. How many years do we continue to look for something when after all this time we have nothing solid to offer? At what point do we throw in the towel?

As for strong atheism I am limited to Christianity. Given enough time I intend to study all the major religions and I expect to find similar proofs, but for now I haven’t had the years to dedicate this study.

  • There is zero evidence for Moses outside the Bible. There is no written or archiological record of the early Jews living in Egypt, nor is there any evidence of a people wondering the desert for forty odd years. To be fair, the Egyptians often didn’t keep records when their Pharoah was defeated (Pharoahs were considered gods, and nautrally a god could not be defeated), but this is hardly evidence for the exodus. Also,it rained frogs! I don’t care how strict their record keeping was, that gets written down by someone.
  • There is however evidence of Jewish people living in the holy lands around the time they should have been in Egypt. Jews were the only people of the time that didn’t eat pork, so spotting their campsites isn’t terribly hard.
  • Now, assuming Jesus is meant to be divine, shouldn’t he have know the story of Moses was just that, a story? Why they did he speak of Moses on multiple occasions then? He either knowingly lied, or he didn’t know. Neither of these are consistent with a divine being.
  • We have no evidence to think the Genesis story is true, and accepting evolution and the age of the earth suggests it probably isn’t. However the story of Jesus doesn’t make any sense except in the light of Genesis. Jesus was meant to die for our sins, but not just current sins. More importantly he was meant to have died for the one sin God hadn’t been able to forgive, original sin. But original sin isn’t only relevant if the story of Adam and Eve is true. Without Genesis, Jesus’ sacrifice is ultimately pointless. Taking this into account the entire Bible doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

These are just a sample of my atheistic position. I’m sure given time I’ll come up with better ones and think of better ways to phrase what I’ve so far written. I’ll try and keep people posted whenever I make an edit to the above.

As for other things I don’t believe in. Basically, if it’s a skeptical question I almost always side with the skeptics. I don’t believe in

  • The paranormal (ghosts, spirits, ghouls, weigi boards etc).
  • Astrology.
  • Cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Lockness monster, chipocarbra etc).
  • Psycic abilities.
  • Fortune/Future telling.
  • Speaking to the dead.
  • The vast majority of conspiracy theories (eg. 9/11 being an inside job).
  • Most alternative medicines, although not necessarily all. They need to be taken on a case by case basis.
  • Homeopathy
  • I’m unconvinced that acupuncture works, although I don’t know enough to be certain.
  • Aroma therapy (although I’ve no doubt it can be relaxing, not unlike meditation).
  • Karma
  • Magnetic healing
  • Hypnosis
  • Minds. There is no evidence that people have anything more than brains.

For all of these things I am a weak non-believer about, in the same way I could be called a weak atheist. I just don’t think these things have met their burden of proof. Like gods, many of these claims have been around for decades, centuries or even thousands of years and so far we have no solid evidence that any of them work. After all this time I would expect something!

I think rather than going into each of the above seperately I’ll wait and see what responces I get from you readers. If people have a particular interest in one of the topics I’ll consider dedicating an entire post to it.

What I do believe.

  • Meditation does work. Certainly there will be claims in this field that are just ridiculous, such as levitation. But we know that people can in fact lower their own heart rates. Obviously meditation can do something. For the most part I think it’s just relaxing ones body and brain to a point of light sleep. Especially in todays society, taking a moment of the day to relax and reflect has to have some kind of positive effect.
  • Thought crime is stupid. The idea that people should be punished for what they think, or that thoughts should be restricted is abhorent to me. This is another reason I reject a few Biblical passages. I think people should be allowed to believe what they want, I’d just prefer it if people had good reasons to do so.
  • As long as it harms no other, do as you will. The closest thing to an atheist creed, this is a general idea (although not a rule) that I try and live by.
  • People are inherently good. Most people seem to do the right thing. Although sometimes indifferent, when presented with choices people usually try and do the most good. The idea that humans are inherently evil or insufficient in some way doesn’t seem to be justified.
  • There is no meaning. Not only to life, but to anything. Not only does this not depress me, I find it infinitely more rewarding. There is no meaning to my life, therefore I get to make my own. I get to carve my own destiny. We all do. It’s not governed by any external force and the choices we make matter. This to me is more meaningful than completing someone elses, even a gods meaning to existence.