Sunday, August 18, 2013


This was from a post over at Atheism and the City about how he believed in irrational things in the past. It's a very common experience I imagine, there are so many crazy things out there and as a kid we don't know how to sort through it all. I know for myself, I believed in all kinds of crazy stuff when I was little. I do remember stumbling across the James Randi Education Foundation website and learning about skepticism, I was hooked pretty much right away.

That actually followed really well from the previous one. This is from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe Podcast #418 (at about 45 minutes in). Jamy Ian Swiss being interviewed along with James Randi.

I recently found this guy's youtube channel, I have really been enjoying his stuff. This particular quote was from one of his 5 stupid things videos. What originally caught my attention was his series reading apologetics books from an atheist perspective, I have been enjoying his other stuff as well.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Exodus 4: Free Will Is Overrated

Today's Podcast


Moses fled from Egypt after killing a slave driver and started a family in Midian. Then God appeared to him in a burning bush and told him he needed to go back to Egypt and save the Israelites from slavery.

Moses Given Powerful Signs (v. 1-17)

Moses complains to God that people might not believe that God has talked to him. God responds that he will allow Moses to perform signs for them. He will be able to turn his staff into a snake, he can make his hand look leprous and back to healthy, and if that doesn't work he can pour some water from the Nile onto the ground and it will turn to blood.
Those do sound like some pretty cool tricks.

Moses continues to complain, saying that he is not an eloquent speaker, he begs God to send someone else. God gets a bit angry, and says that his brother Aaron can accompany him. God will help them know what to say.

Moses Returns to Egypt (v. 18-31)

Moses got permission from his father-in-law Jethro and then gathered up his wife and child and headed for Egypt. God instructs Moses to do the miracles for Pharaoh and threaten to kill Pharaoh's first born son unless he releases the Israelites. God will then harden Pharaoh's heart to prevent him from letting the Israelites go.

What is the point of this? God apparently just wants to punish the Pharaoh, why not just do it? Why the pretense? If you tell someone you will punish them unless they do x, but you prevent them from doing x, it's all on you. This story pretty much ruins any apologetic argument about free will as far as I'm concerned. 

From Guzik
Who really hardened Pharaoh's heart? We might say that it was both God and Pharaoh; but whenever God hardened Pharaoh's heart, He never did it against Pharaoh's will. 
Horse shit! If it was Pharaoh's will, he wouldn't have needed his heart to be hardened. God hardened his heart to make him do what he wanted to do anyway? Ridiculous! By the way, I looked up a few other bible commentaries, and they didn't even try to explain this away. I guess they either thought it was indefensible or uninteresting.

God met them on the way to Egypt and sought to put him to death, Zipporah quickly cut off her sons foreskin and touched it to Moses feet and declared he was a bridegroom of blood. God then didn't kill him.

First, I put him in bold because I don't know who it is referring to. Is it Moses or his son? In either case, why did this satisfy God? Why would God send them on this quest and then immediately want to kill someone in the party? Is this more evidence of polytheistic roots of the bible? Perhaps it was supposed to be a different God who was trying to kill him.

Apparently God was trying to kill Moses for not circumcising his son. Zipporah set it straight by doing it on the spot. Fine.

Moses and Aaron went to the wilderness and discussed what God had told Moses. Then they did went to the elders of the Israelites and spoke the words which God commanded and performed the signs. The people believed and worshiped God.

This just feel slightly out of order to me. Moses packed up his family and started travelling. Then he met with Aaron and discussed the plan. Then they were just suddenly in Egypt. Maybe this isn't a big deal, but it's weird. 

Verses of note:


Exodus 4:14 God gets angry with Moses

"Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses..."

--Free Will--

Exodus 4:21 God hardens Pharaoh's heart to prevent him from complying with God's orders

"And the LORD said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why is it so Hard to Admit You Have Made a Mistake?

Yesterday I wrote a post about a conversation I had on twitter about slavery. I posted a link to my slavery in the new testament post, several verses mentioned there instruct slaves to obey their masters. @trellus argued that these don't endorse slavery in the same manner as turn the other cheek doesn't endorse violence. This was my response to his analogy.
Clearly I missed what he was saying when I wrote that tweet. His point is that both are instructions on how to respond to something someone has done to you. Responding to violence by turning the other cheek doesn't endorse the violence, it simply is telling you how to respond to it. @trellus was arguing that an analogous thing is going on with slavery.

My Initial Reaction
What I found really interesting when I thought about it later is that once I sent that tweet, part of my brain was totally committed to this perspective. "The point he made was stupid, the analogy is terrible, violence in one verse and slavery in another are incomparable" etc. Rereading his tweet later and reevaluating my response was more difficult than I thought it should have been. I had already decided that he was wrong, and had stated so publicly (and people favorited my tweet), I didn't want to now go back and change my answer. Ultimately I did reevaluate and wrote him a tweet saying I saw his point, but it was somewhat difficult to do.

Now don't get me wrong, this wasn't a huge feat. I'm obviously overstating all of this for effect, it wasn't extremely difficult for me to change my mind here, but it wasn't nothing either. There was a little twinge in the back of my brain that didn't want to admit I was wrong, that I had spoken too soon, that I hadn't really understood the point he was making before responding to it. Ideally this wouldn't be the case, and I was a little bit surprised when I recognized that twinge in myself. We should always be willing to reevaluate evidence, to listen to new arguments, and be ready to change our opinions if we are given good reason to do so.

So what do we do? First, for ourselves, we should be aware of these kinds of tendencies and take extra care to reevaluate arguments of people who disagree with us. You don't even have to agree with them wholesale, but look for points of argument they have made. Even if they don't wind up changing your mind, this is a great avenue toward understanding each other better. As for dealing with other people, recognize that even if you make a valid argument, they won't necessarily even hear it, let alone change their mind right away. Especially if you are arguing about a deeply held belief of theirs (instead of a random tweet they sent). This is part of the reason why we have to keep repeating our arguments, it takes repetition to get it into people's brains. Furthermore, even if they do recognize that you have made a valid argument, it's likely that they won't want to admit it to you.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Slavery and Turn the Other Cheek

I have been on twitter a lot recently (I find it fun when you have to burn like 5 minutes), and I was recently arguing about slavery in the new testament. I was arguing that slavery isn't only endorsed in the old testament, but in the new testament as well. @trellus disagreed with me and I challenged him as you can see here.
It took me a bit of thinking to come around to his point, partly because I was reading it at about 5 in the morning and partly because the situations seem so different. But he does seem to have a point, Jesus tells people to respond to violence by turning the other cheek, don't respond with violence, instead let the person strike you again. This is certainly not an endorsement of the violence, it is just a way to respond to violence. Using the same logic, couldn't we say that telling slaves to obey their masters doesn't necessarily endorse the slavery? You're a victim of slavery, you should respond by being a good slave. Don't try to escape, don't try to get out of your situation, just obey. As in turn the other cheek, this doesn't necessarily endorse that slavery, but it is responding in a similar way.

What this conversation did though, was remind me of my previous thoughts about turn the other cheek. From my post on Matthew 5:
Seems good as a general philosophy, although if you follow it too much you are asking to be taken advantage of. 
I do like the idea of nonviolence in many situations. If everyone is always trying to fight back with what they perceive is equal force, things can escalate quickly. Having people respond to violence with non-violence is a great way to break this. Being willing to take a couple extra hits could go a long way toward getting peace. In this way turn the other cheek is a great message.

On the other hand, you wouldn't want it to get out of control. If some sadistic person knows that you will never fight back they might just use you as a punching bag. Or if the other person is more interested in taking your stuff than peace, a turn the other cheek philosophy can be very bad for you. As with many things in the bible, they are good rules of thumb for a variety of situations, but there are also instances where they are a very bad idea. It's honestly hard to think of a better example of this philosophy gone awry than slavery.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Exodus 3: Moses and the Burning Bush

Today's Podcast

Previously in Exodus

Given that it's been so long since I did a post on the bible (I had to go read my last two posts), I figured I would briefly remind everyone of the relevant stuff that happened in the last 2 chapter. Actually, I should probably just do this from now on. Why did I not think of this before?

The Pharaoh was afraid of the Israelite population explosion and tried to kill all of their male children. Moses escaped this fate and was adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter, putting him in a position of power. But he killed a slave driver and had to flee. He wound up in Midian and started a family.

The Burning Bush (v. 1-22)
Pic source

Moses was tending to his father-in-law's flock and saw a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. He went to look and heard God's voice coming from the bush. He told Moses to take off his shoes as it is holy ground, and told Moses who he was.

I'm not sure what to make of the idea that it is holy ground. I guess God has performed a miracle here and so it's holy ground, or perhaps since God's presence is there. Anyway, I'm wondering if there is more significance to it than I am aware.

haha, in Guzik's commentary he points out that Moses didn't see anyone, it was just a presence of God, yet he still insists that this is an instance where Jesus is appearing in the old testament. He cites 1 Timothy 6:16 which claims that no man has ever seen God. Instead of seeing the obvious contradiction here, he retrofits every instance of people seeing God to be them seeing Jesus instead.

God tells Moses that he has seen his people's suffering, and he is going to deliver them into a land of milk and honey, he's sending Moses to go do that. Moses says he's nobody and asks how he will accomplish the task, God says he'll be with him.

It's interesting that an all powerful God would use Moses in this way. Why not just snap his fingers and make it happen? Perhaps it's to teach Moses a lesson, but that seems to be causing a lot of pain and suffering for that end. If God were just a powerful being, but not all powerful, then this seems like a pretty cool thing to do to help his people. If he's all powerful it's honestly just confusing. It would seem that there are many better ways to accomplish his goals.

Moses asks what he should say to the Israelites. God says "I AM WHO I AM" and tells Moses to say "I AM has sent me to you"


Apparently this is related to the name Yahweh.

God tells Moses to say God has sent him to take them to the land of milk and honey.

Again, I have questions about the methods of an all mighty God here, but bottom line he's helping his people, so good on him I suppose.

The king of Egypt won't let you simply leave, so God says he will strike them with wonders. He also will have the Egyptian women take valuables and give them to the Israelites, they will plunder the Egyptians as they are leaving.

Well this seems a bit unnecessary.

Guzik points out that they are not stealing from all of the Egyptians, but they are instead getting proper payment from years of slavery. This seems like a valid point, but the last verse says that they will plunder the Egyptians. This suggests more than just getting a fair price for their work.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is the God of the Bible Really Supposed to be Omnipotent?

Last week I was reading Exodus 3 (that post should go live as soon as I can find 20 quiet uninterrupted minutes to record a podcast) where God talks to Moses through the burning bush. Within his speech to Moses, God says that he sees his people suffering and wants to help them get out of their current situation. He wants Moses to go help them, and God will be there with him to help him be successful. I have been having trouble interpreting passages like this for a while now.

I'm trying to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as much as I can, I don't want to just always look at things in a negative light, I want to try to consider a positive interpretation whenever possible. In this case God sees a group of people dealing with extreme hardship and takes steps to help them out. He seeks out Moses and tells him to go help those people, and God will even be there with him to make sure he's successful. That sounds pretty good right? He's helping people.

pic source
On the other hand, he's omnipotent. He supposedly can do anything. Is he doing enough to help these people? He could just blink them out of their slavery. He could put the Egyptians in prison long enough for his people to get away. Hell, given that he is also omiscient, he could have made sure they were never put in slavery in the first place. Early on when the king of Egypt was screwing them over and putting them on the path toward slavery he could have put a stop to it somehow.

You might say God is doing all of this for the benefit of Moses, to teach him that he can be a powerful leader. That seems to be a lot of suffering happening to a lot of people for the benefit of one man. And as far as I can tell, any other rationalization will have the same problem. Whatever God's aims, it is hard to imagine that an omniscient and omnipotent God couldn't come up with a better way to do it. But what if God wasn't originally supposed to be so powerful?

We know that the surrounding people all had their own gods, my understanding is that everyone around back then were polytheists. I have my god, you have yours. My god could come and help me out when I am fighting against you with the help of your god. From this perspective Yahweh looks so much better in this story. His people are slaves of the Egyptians, of course the Egyptians have their gods. Yahweh asks Moses to go help his people and he will use what power he has to make sure Moses is successful. This would show real bravery on Moses' part, and even on Yahweh's if there could be a potential battle of the gods.

This goes for other stories that we recently saw in Genesis, consider the whole story of Joseph (Genesis 37-Genesis 46). One reason given for the whole episode is so that Joseph can save a bunch of people from starving during the 7 year famine. How much sense does that make? An all powerful god could have just made the famine not happen, or he could have warned someone already in a position of power, or even with the famine he could have given everyone a magical pantry that refills with food whenever it runs out. However, if he's one god among many with a limited amount of power, he could be setting up some very delicate events to save as many people as possible.

There are many other stories like this, if Yahweh is one god among many with limited power it is easy to imagine that he is doing the best he can with the situation in front of him. He can't save everyone but he can push things one way or the other and help large groups of people. If he's the one and only god with unlimited power and ultimate knowledge his actions are inadequate at best and psychotic at worst.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Highlights [Cross Examined, Demon Haunted World, Geeks Without God]

This one is from the cross examined blog. Brilliant stuff.

This is another quote from The Demon Haunted world (kindle location 4116). I've been reading it to my one month old son, I've been trying to decide what to read to him next, maybe hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, that's supposed to be good.

This is from the podcast Geeks without God episode 54. I've often thought that it is a shame that so many people are unwilling to believe in evolution because I find it so fascinating and cool, they are really missing out. When he succinctly said as much on the show, and included the other side of the coin (that creationism is completely uninteresting) it seemed a perfect fit for a meme. It was said at about 13 minutes in, and what followed was a discussion with PZ Myers about how theistic evolution misses the point about the role randomness plays in evolution. Interesting stuff.
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