Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Big Book of Multiple Choice, Pt. II

It's laughable, to put it mildly, when followers remark how the consistency and historical accuracy of the bible is what makes it infallible and proof of god. But let's return to Genesis for just a moment before moving on. 

It takes the learned reader mere moments upon opening the book to see the inconsistencies and ridiculousness of this fable. In nearly one breath you can read how god said, "Let there be light and there was," then days later he created the sun. Wasn't the sun from where the light came? Christians will say god was the first light, which is absolute nonsense, and creationists will also remark that the plants and all living things god created before the sun lived off of his light. 

By the way, I won't make too many references to creationism and its lipstick-on-a pig version called Intelligent Design because it is the most vile insult imaginable to the real intelligence in this universe. I'd like to thank the good people who sat on the Wallingford (CT) Board of Education in the '60s and '70s who recognized the importance (and fact) of evolution and had it taught in my school, not succumbing to religious nutjobs. But if anyone wants to defend ID, I've done plenty of research with Darwin, Dawkins and Einstein and am willing to debate.

I bring up such biblical discrepancies and hyperbole because there are millions of people, much of my family included, who actually believe this Genesis drivel as fact, despite their own religious leaders admitting god didn't create the Earth in six days (and don't try to interpret the bible's length of a day to square your circle; the book was written by men who meant 24-hour days) and people didn't live to be 900 years old, either.

In short, if god created the universe as a special place for humanity, he seems to have wasted an awfully large amount of space where humans will never make an appearance. He wasted a lot of time, too. Instead of six days, he waited nine billion years to make Earth (that's the amount of time from the 13.7 billion years ago when the Big Bang occurred to when the Earth really formed), another billion years or so to make life, and then a few billion years to make humanity. Humans have walked on Earth for less than one-hundredth of one percent of Earth's history, though most Christians think humans have been around the same amount of time as the Earth. 

But if you choose to still believe in Genesis, then gnaw on this for a moment: Why would an infinitely powerful god even need six days? Wouldn't he have the ability to create everything in an instant? And, why would he then have to rest when he was done? Omnipotent gods don't need vacations or lunch breaks!

There are countless inconsistencies, contradictions and alarmingly insulting ideas in the bible and I can point out most of them if pressed. But instead I'll remark on one or two of the bigger ones, the ones people rely on so heavily for their beliefs.

As stated in my last post (The Big Book of Multiple Choice, Part I), I promised to get to the gospels. The inconsistencies here are pure folly, though not surprising given the decades-old recollections and circumstances. Very quickly let's examine the genealogy for Christ, which is so contradictory it's almost insulting. Matthew takes 28 people to get from David to Jesus while Luke takes 43, and almost no names on the lists are the same. How can that be? Surely this family tree can be retraced, even if the recollections are only a few decades later.

Why do the gospel "authors" have such radically different stories about what happened? A good place to first explore this angle would be with Jesus’ resurrection, because the resurrection of someone (the messiah) is an important event, yet the gospels don’t agree on where and when he first appeared. 

Mark 16:14-15 - Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene but it’s not clear where (in older endings of Mark, he didn’t appear at all, but it was later embellished apparently).
Matthew 28:8-9 - Jesus first appears near his tomb. 
Luke 24:13-15 - Jesus first appears near Emmaus, several miles from Jerusalem. 
John 20:13-14 - Jesus first appears at his tomb.

You might think these are semantics, though "miles away" hardly seems irrelevant, so I'll delve deeper.

Who sees Jesus first? Mark says Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene then later to “the 11.” 
Matthew recalls Jesus appearing first to Mary Magdalene, then to the other Mary, and finally to "the 11.” (By the way, don't you just love how the mother of the "messiah" is referred to as the other Mary?)
Luke says Jesus appears first to “two,” then to Simon, then to “the 11.” 
But John remembers it differently than all three: Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, then the disciples without Thomas, then the disciples with Thomas.

The gospels agree the empty tomb was found by women (though not on which women), but what did the women do? 

Mark 16:8 - The women were amazed and afraid, so they kept quiet.
Matthew 28:6-8 - The women ran away “with great joy.” 
Luke 24:9-12 - The women left the tomb and told the disciples. 
John 20:1-2 - Mary told the disciples the body had been stolen.

I also find it interesting that women of this age were considered sub-standard (to be kind), lower-class citizens good for just bearing children and submitting to rapists, yet the entire foundation of who found the empty tomb is based on the testimony of women who wouldn't be allowed to even think/speak in public, much like it still is in the Middle East today.

Now, if someone rises from the dead, his actions should be significant, but the gospels don’t agree on Jesus' ensuing actions.

Mark 16:14-15 - Jesus commissions “the 11” to preach the gospel.
Matthew 28:9 - Jesus lets Mary Magdalene and another Mary hold his feet. 
John 20:17 - Jesus forbids Mary to touch him because he hasn’t ascended to heaven yet, but a week later he lets Thomas touch him.

When Jesus rose from the dead, how did his disciples react? 

Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11 - Everyone doubts and/or is scared at first, but eventually they go along with it.
Matthew 28:16 - Some doubt, but most believe.
John 20:24-28 - Everyone believes but Thomas, whose doubts are eliminated when he gets physical proof.

After Jesus "rose from the dead," he also had to ascend to heaven. But where, when and how did this happen? 

Mark 16:14-19 - Jesus ascends while he and his disciples are seated at a table in or near Jerusalem. 
Matthew 28:16-20 - Jesus’ ascension isn’t mentioned at all. 
Luke 24:50-51 - Jesus ascends outside, after dinner, and at Bethany and on the same day as the resurrection. 
John - Nothing about Jesus’ ascension is mentioned.
Acts 1:9-12 - Jesus ascends at least 40 days after his resurrection, at Mt. Olivet.

First, this is one of the biggest "miracles" of all; the entire Christian movement is based on this event, yet these four men can't consistently recall how it happened, in fact they contradict each other. Of course these stories contradict each other! They weren't there and the myths are entirely based on hearsay!

And second, if god is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (I told you in my last post these terms would make a lot of appearances), wouldn't he ensure these facts would at the very least be corroborated and edited by capable hands? If he gave us "commandments" carved in stone (twice by the way) you'd think he could have the stories of his son (or himself if you can believe that) told correctly. Wouldn't he want a unified peace/following on earth? But I'll get to god (and peace) in later posts.

This post is already much too long, so I will have to have more parts dedicated to what I found in the bible. But I also promised to write about a study done in the '80s on flash-bulb recollection so here it is, because it dovetails so well with the aforementioned inaccuracies and discrepancies.

This is an excerpt from "Atheism and the Case Against Christ" by Matthew McCormick that explains the study.

"Reports about important events taken right after the event vary significantly with our recollections of the event months or years later. But our sensation that the memories are accurate remains just as strong. Shortly after the news of the space shuttle Challenger disaster went out, Ulric Neisser and Nicole Harsch had students in a psychology class write an account of where they were and what they were doing when they found out. Then, 2.5 years later, they had those students write another record of what they were doing when they heard the news. Before they reread the earlier record, the students predicted their memories were accurate. But when Neisser and Harsch compared, the details matched in fewer than 10 percent of the paired accounts. More than 75 percent of the accounts had significant errors, some of them dramatic. Yet, even when confronted with this clear evidence to the contrary, many students refused to believe that their later memories were inaccurate."

What can we learn from this? These college-educated students witnessed the life-altering event (the flash-bulb analogy, meaning it's a brief highly significant moment that leaves an impression) and almost immediately wrote down their account of the incident. Then just 2.5 years later they are grossly inaccurate in their recollection and indignant to those inaccuracies. 

What does that mean for these gospels, which weren't recorded immediately, witnessed by uneducated, illiterate, poor desert dwellers (who thought the sun revolved around the earth, which was flat), told as anecdotes for generations, then written down sometime between 30-100 years after the fact, copied numerous times and edited and embellished (there are obvious additions that were made because the vernacular and style didn't mimic closely enough that of the age in which most of the gospel was originally written).

How accurate could these gospels be? Not very, as it turns out. And if these aren't accurate, then that means the entire Christian belief system is again resting on shaky ground. Historically accurate? Not so much.

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