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A Ticket to Heaven

May 23, 2017 Leave a comment

When my wife arrived at her cafe a few days ago she found a whole pile of “tickets” stuffed under the door. Regrettably they weren’t tickets to the Ed Sheeran concert here next year (not a fan myself, but she seems to be) but they were for something even better: heaven!

According to the ticket: “Entry to Heaven requires that you have lived a perfect life and never broken one of the Ten Commandments. Have you ever told a lie? Or stolen anything (regardless of value)? If so, you will end up in Hell.”

This seems rather harsh, especially for people who have no idea what the 10 Commandments even are (less than half the world are Christians), but reading further it seems there is a certain amount of wriggle room, because “But God in His mercy provided a way for ALL sins to be forgiven. He sent His Son to take your punishment: God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

There seems to be a few odd aspects to this system. First, if God is so mercifull why didn’t he just forgive us instead of allowing His Son to be tortured and killed? In fact, God didn’t just allow it, he required it, or there would have been no sacrifice. After all, who requires the forgiveness? God does. So in order to allow that he needed Jesus to be horribly tortured. Very strange when you look at it logically, isn’t it?

But it gets a lot worse than that. It says here that anyone who sins (and since no one has a perfect life that would mean everyone) will definitely go to Hell, no matter how minor the sin. But everyone can be forgiven their sins, no matter how bad, if they make some sort of commitment to Jesus. Later on, the ticket recommends prayer to God listing your sins (that would be a long prayer for some people), stating that you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, and requesting forgiveness and everlasting life. After the prayer you must read the Bible every day and follow what it says.

So a person who told one small lie (even one which was for the good of the person being lied to) and didn’t pray would go to Hell, but someone who spent a life murdering, stealing, etc, then prayed just before his death would be fine. What kind of messed up god is this? This is not a ticket to Heaven, it’s a “get out of jail free” card – or should that be “get out of Hell free”.

There’s a URL (www.2besaved.com) on the ticket which leads to a web site which is one of the ugliest I have seen in recent times. Apparently God doesn’t believe in hiring good web designers. At the site you can “CLICK HERE IF YOU NEED TO BE SAVED” (I didn’t feel the need) or “CLICK HERE IF YOU’RE A CHRISTIAN” (I’m not) or “CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER STUDY” (that sounded like me). By the way, sorry about the all caps, it’s just that kind of site.

The further study was a bit disappointing though, because even the bizarre ticket made more sense than the material in that section. There was a complicated argument about which day is the sabbath, an even worse discussion on how to pronounce God’s name (Yahweh), and a rather alarming essay on the correct way to eat meat (hint: it’s best not to).

But I’m not even sure why all of this detail is so important, because I can do whatever I want, then get forgiveness from God later.

Now you might have noticed a rather flippant, facetious tone to this post so far. That is because the whole things is just so silly that it’s hard to take seriously. But many people do, and that’s why I like to write these “anti-religion rants”.

Many atheists, even really “strident” ones, like Richard Dawkins (I don’t really believe he is strident, of course), seem to back away from criticising the New Testament and the alleged teachings of Jesus in particular.

There’s a certain amount of sense in this because the New Testament undoubtedly has a more forgiving, accepting, and positive tone than the Old. But there is one thing about it which is at least as damaging and negative as anything in the Old Testament: the mythology regarding Hell.

Because in the OT, Hell is just a place with no particular function of punishment. In fact both the righteous and unrighteous go there (to two separate areas) and it is best thought of as “the underworld”.

It is only in the NT, with the teachings of “kind, forgiving, loving Jesus” that the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment is introduced. And that place is reserved for whom? Is it morally corrupt people like murderers? No, it is for people who fail to accept Jesus as their “saviour”. So Jesus seems to offer salvation but only from a hideous torture that he himself introduced. And not only that, salvation is not given to those of high moral standing but to those who are prepared to become slaves of his particular movement.

If any other leader of any kind resorted to these tactics would we celebrate him as a wise and loving leader or as a hideous despot? I think we all know the answer to that.

So I think it is fair to label Jesus (let’s just assume he actually existed for the purpose of this discussion) in that negative way, but we should also have some balance and admit that there is a lot of good stuff in his alleged thoughts too. In the end, he’s just like anyone else: a mixture of good and bad. And the New Testament is just like any other book of mythology/philosophy/theology: a mixture of good and bad.

The key thing is that the good doesn’t come from the religion. What good is there is recognised because humans, as a social species, have moral standards which are more or less consistent, although they vary to some extent across cultures and across time. We don’t get a ticket to heaven through mindless servility to a deity. We get that (metaphorically, because heaven doesn’t really exist) through doing the right thing.

The Opium of the People

January 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In this blog I have often portrayed the advantages I see in being an atheist compared with following a religion. But like all worldviews, atheism has some disadvantages as well. Religious people have three advantages over atheists, as I see it: they have a church which provides a benefit to their social life, they tend to donate more to charity, and they are happier.

All of these factors are documented in fairly credible studies so I don’t think they can easily be explained away. But, of course, I am going to try!

First, the social aspects of religion. There is no doubt that attending church helps bond people and gives them a group they feel they can belong to, get support from, and generally identify with.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping non-religious people from forming groups based on their shared values or interests, such as skeptics in the pub, atheist outreach, or groups based on any other activities (amateur astronomy, computer users, stamp collecting), but there is no doubt that church groups just seem to have an extra element the others lack.

There are negative aspects to this too, because being part of an in-group means that others are the out-group. So strongly bonded church groups do create a sort of “us and them” mentality. I have heard many members of one particular Christian sect ridiculing other Christians just because they belong to a slightly different group with almost indistinguishable beliefs. And their opinion of other religions and the non-religious can be even more extreme.

Another problem with these groups is that it discourages receptiveness to new ideas. If a person socialises with others who believe the same thing – however ridiculous those beliefs might be – they are unlikely to expand their horizons to encompass anything new. So a church group is like a trap which is hard to escape from.

What about charity? There are stats which indicate religious people do donate more than others. Unfortunately the stats don’t distinguish between donations which go to genuine charities and those which just go towards the church they belong to. Looking at the money involved in running some churches and the lavish lifestyles of some of the church leaders I would say that a lot of that charitable giving is wasted.

So now the big one: happiness. Research indicates that religious people are often happier. This observation is complicated by the fact that the most happy societies are those which exist in the least religious countries (Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, etc). What’s going on here? Well it seems thet religion gives some individuals greater happiness but it reduces the happiness of society as a whole.

Why are religious people happy? Research indicates it is almost entirely due to the social cohesion they get from belonging to a group, but surely some of it must also relate to blissful ignorance!

So religious happiness might be a bit like the state of euphoria some people get from taking drugs. It’s not real, but it’s good while it lasts. And also like using drugs or alcohol, some people become happy and good natured and others turn bad.

As Karl Marx said: “religion is the opium of the people”. He realised the good and bad aspects of religion. Here is the full paragraph containing that quote: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” And following that: “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”

So the analogy of religion as a drug leads to the idea that by being a “user” of religion the person avoids confronting real problems of the world and possibly improving the world to the point where real happiness is possible. Certainly denial seems a common attitude amongst religious people. And that is where the problem really arises.

But real happiness seems very difficult to achieve, so maybe the fake version provided by the opium of religion is the best alternative we can hope for. But that’s a rather unhappy thought!

Is Islam a Cancer?

December 1, 2016 10 comments

According to a recent news item I read, Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has called Islam a “cancer”. It’s an interesting claim, and one which most people would either agree or disagree with depending on their political persuasion, without really thinking about it.

But at this blog I like to think about a claim before passing judgement on it, so let’s have a look at the idea to see if it has any merit.

First of all, I don’t think anyone thinks this claim should be taken literally. I mean, obviously Islam isn’t actually a cancer, because a cancer is “a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body” according to the Oxford Dictionary. But there is a more metaphorical sense, which is “an evil or destructive practice or phenomenon that is hard to contain or eradicate”. Clearly, this sense is more interesting.

The next problem is what do we mean by “Islam”? Are we referring to the religion, or the political view, or the group of people who follow certain beliefs? And are we referring to the whole of those phenomena or just the extremes, or more literal parts? I’m guessing we mean the religious belief system based on the ideas attributed to Mohammed in the Koran, and supplemented by material in the Hadith, and to all parts of that worldview apart from where the ideas have been so liberalised that they are virtually unrecognisable.

So is the traditional form of Islam (the religion) an evil or destructive practice or phenomenon that is hard to contain or eradicate? I think a very good case could be made to say that this is true, although I probably wouldn’t use the word “evil” because it has too many religious connotations, but surely destructive isn’t over-stating the case.

The next question is, do the good parts of Islam (because every belief system has good and bad parts) outweigh the bad? That is difficult to evaluate because as an atheist from a country which has a small number of Muslims it’s hard to get a fair idea of what the good parts are. Clearly many people find it compelling because they base their lives around it, and in the past Islamic scholars have made huge contributions to the world, but whether that is enough is debatable.

Next we must evaluate whether other religions are just as bad, which might indicate that Islam is being unfairly singled out from the others. Interestingly there are a wide variety of opinions on this. Only a small fraction of violence in the US is initialed by Muslims, but if you look at the list of international terrorist incidents on Wikipedia the vast majority have a direct link with Islam (although I sometimes suspect that if Islam is involved in an act of violence it is more likely to be categorised as terror, therefore this isn’t entirely fair).

And not only do Islamic groups cause a large number of incidents, they also seem to be responsible for the most horrendous and violent acts. Groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Jundallah, Al-Shabaab, Taliban, and others, are not only mindless killers, they are also sadistic torturers of innocent people.

It seems very clear at this point that Islam is the source of far more problems than any other religion. I agree that it has not always been like that and may not be that way in the future, but it is now.

So I think that any religion – when taken too seriously – could be thought of as a sickness. But it is better to say what we really think, without the shortcuts, or memorable sound bites. Let’s say this: “any irrational belief, including religion, when taken to extremes, is clearly bad for both the individual and society as a whole.”

It’s not quite as catchy as calling a whole belief system a cancer, but it’s a lot more accurate.

Sinner or Saint?

September 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Giving a blog post a title like “sinner or saint” might seem a bit odd for someone like myself who thinks neither really exists, but I think in this case it is appropriate because the person I am posing the question about is Mother Teresa, or “Saint Teresa of Calcutta” as she will be known in future.

Recently Pope Francis (who, as fas as Popes are concerned, I quite like) canonised Mother Teresa (who died in 1997) after a process started by his predecessor. Was this justified? Many people just naturally believe that she was a great person who helped the sick and poor, but she also has some very vocal critics, one of whom was Christopher Hitchens, a person who I really admired (and who we unfortunately lost to cancer in 2011).

So which is it: sinner or saint? Well I think it was a bit of both.

First, let’s get the silly idea of her literally being a saint out of the way. A saint must have been involved with a miracle (specifically a prayer to her after her death must have resulted in a miraculous cure) and this must be checked by a special group from the church. Needless to say, the supposed miracle is totally absurd and no sensible person would take it seriously.

But the miracle is largely irrelevant. Was her well known work with the poor and sick in India genuine? Well fundamentally it seems that she did set up hospitals to treat the sick and organisations to help the poor. And she raised a lot of money to help fund these missions.

So that sounds quite good. Maybe she was a saint in some way, even if she wasn’t in the strictly religious sense. Well yes, maybe, but there was the dark side to her activities as well.

First, the miracle. The claim is that a Bengali woman, Monica Besra, saw a beam of light emerge from a picture of Mother Teresa and cure a cancerous tumor. But the woman’s doctor had a slightly different story, because there was no cancer. The problem was a tubercular cyst which was cured by a course of prescription medicine. But the church’s team didn’t even talk to the doctor, so it is not surprising they reached the wrong conclusion. Of course, if they thoroughly investigated every case there would be no saints.

Second, the money. A lot of the funding she gained was from very corrupt sources and it is quite unclear where a lot of it went. There were no good records of spending so this could not be investigated properly.

Third, the standard of care. Standards in the centers where the sick were treated were very poor, with stories such as syringes being re-used and other poor health practices being common.

Finally, her attitude. The ultimate motivation for her work seemed to be more conversion to Catholicism than anything else. And she did not support women’s rights, birth control, or other progressive changes India really needed.

Would the world have been a better place if Mother Teresa hadn’t existed? I don’t know. I’m tempted to be generous here and say that at least she made some positive difference, despite the clear problems. And maybe calling her a saint is OK too, but why not just make people saints when they do good in the world and forget the ridiculous pretence of these silly alleged miracles?

Mother Teresa was a human being like the rest of us. Not a sinner or a saint. Just a flawed person who did some good things but probably did a lot of bad things as well.

God Did It

June 17, 2016 33 comments

One of the most common tricks that religious people use to escape the fact that their beliefs have been refuted by scientific knowledge is to try to assimilate the new ideas into their own, but add the element of divine intervention.

Here’s an example: Traditionally Christians have believed that life was created by God in a few days and that nothing much has changed since then. But since the Theory of Evolution was developed and since the extraordinary amount of evidence supporting it has been discovered that original myth is no longer viable. So now a common response (apart from just denying the facts as many fundamentalists do) is to say “Sure, evolution is true. That’s how God works with life”.

Another example might be the origin of the Universe. The Bible gives an account of this in Genesis and that’s exactly what people believed until science uncovered the real facts regarding the Big Bang event about 13.7 billion years ago. So the Christians (again, those who don’t simply deny the overwhelming evidence) now say “But who started the Big Bang? Of course, it was God”.

In reality, this brand of believer (it’s not just Christians) could summarise their ideas in three simple words: “God did it”.

I recently heard an interesting analogy. When I walk into a room and turn on the light most people would accept that closing the light switch simply allows the electricity to flow to the bulb which then emits light. But using the “God did it” gambit I could say instead that the “Light Fairy” did it. Flicking the switch is simply a signal for the fairy to do her magical work and provide me with light.

What I’m saying is that God and the fairy aren’t necessary. Adding that extra element provides no extra level of knowledge we didn’t already have. It just makes things unnecessarily complex.

In addition to this it is entirely arbitrary. If we were going to add an extra layer of control to evolution (or any other phenomenon) why should it be God? Why not advanced aliens? Or psychic powers? And if it is a god, then which one? What’s so special about the Christian God? Could it be Thor or Zeus instead?

Some people say there are particular aspects of these processes which indicate a supernatural power must be involved. After all, how could a “blind” process like the naturalistic form of evolution lead to advanced life? Wouldn’t a “guided” form be more likely?

Well no. Let’s look at how evolution has worked. Over 99% of species which have existed in the past have gone extinct. Does that sound like how a god would operate? It seems very inefficient to me. But let’s just say that is a viable process for a god to use. What would have happened if we found the exact opposite: that every species was successful? That would have sounded even more like a god, wouldn’t it? And, no doubt, the religious people would be pointing out how their god was responsible.

So it doesn’t matter what the facts are, the “God did it” hypothesis can be invoked and it can never be proved wrong. It can’t be wrong, because it isn’t something that can be tested. But because of that, it can’t be right either. It’s actually worse than something that is wrong.

If we test evolution instead we can find many ways it might be wrong. If every species was successful evolution would immediately be disproved because elimination of some species while others survive is its main mechanism. If one type of life didn’t lead to another through gradual change evolution would also be disproved because small mutations being selected and eventually dominating is an evolutionary mechanism.

And what about the Big Bang? Well for it to be true there has to be some precise observations which agree with theory. The universe has to be expanding, there has to be certain abundances of elements, there has to be background radiation left over from the initial expansion, and several other more minor points. So what do we find? Well all of those requirements are satisfied, including a cosmic microwave background exactly as expected if the Big Bang is true.

But God could still be involved, right? Maybe the cosmic microwave background is just a remnant of the process he used. Sure, maybe. And if there was none then God could still be involved. And if the temperature had been 1 or 5 or 100 or 500 instead of 2.72548 then maybe that was the sign of God. Again, anything is possible because “God did it” is just not a theory.

Not only is it not a theory, but it is nothing. It’s a childish, meaningless inanity which isn’t even worthy of discussion – yes, I understand the irony in the fact that I have just used a blog post to do just that!

If anyone wants to use this in a serious discussion then we need a few details. You know, the sort of details which science gives us, like when, how, or where God did it. Then we can do some serious testing and see whether there really is any merit in the idea. Until then, these religious types should just keep the silly fairy tales where they belong and let the adults get on with the real discussions of reality.

Biblical Science Again

May 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Before I move on to a new topic I would like to finish off the discussion of the remaining “proofs” that the Bible contains scientific knowledge unknown to other people of the time. Despite Richard’s opinion that this is pointless (he’s probably right) it would be untidy to leave the rest of this material unanswered.

I don’t have the time or space to go into the same level of detail as before but I will quickly list the claims, give the Bible verse involved (I use the NIV because it’s the easiest to understand), and say why I don’t find the claims convincing.

I did a fairly thorough analysis of the first claim in my previous blog post so refer back to that if you are interested. All of the remaining claims follow the same general form. Here they are…

2. Bible says: Incalculable number of stars (Jeremiah 33:22). Science says: Incalculable number of stars. What was known: Only 1,100 stars.

The actual verse: I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.

My comment: Clearly this is meant as a poetic statement rather than any precise mathematical fact and nothing of any relevance can really be drawn from it. I also can’t find any reliable statement on how many stars were recognised at the time, except that Hipparchus made a catalog of over 1000 of them.

3. Bible says: Free float of earth in space (Job 26:7). Science says: Free float of earth in space. What was known: Earth sat on a large animal.

The actual verse: He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.

My comment: There were some cultures whose beliefs involved the Earth being balanced on various animals but there are many others with different views, including many involving the Earth being suspended in a void, so the description seems misleading.

4. Bible says: Creation made of invisible elements (Hebrews 11:3). Science says: Creation made of invisible elements (atoms). What was known: Science was ignorant on the subject.

The actual verse: By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

My comment: To claim that this is referring to atoms is rather disingenuous. The idea seems to be more to say that God used nothing to create the world and that humans should accept this on faith.

5. Bible says: Each star is different (1 Corinthians 15:41). Science says: Each star is different. What was known: All stars were the same.

The actual verse: The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

My comment: This seems to simply refer to the fact that different stars have different brightness. This would be apparent to anyone who bothered to look.

6. Bible says: Light moves (Job 38:19,20). Science says: Light moves. What was known: Light was fixed in place.

The actual verse: What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? What was known: Do you know the paths to their dwellings?

My comment: I can’t see how this can be possibly construed as saying that light moves, and I also can’t find any reference to say that anyone thought light was fixed in place anyway.

7. Bible says: Air has weight (Job 28:25). Science says: Air has weight. Air was weightless.

The actual verse: When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters,…

My comment: Everyone knew the wind has force. This would seem to imply that air has weight, but if it does then that knowledge was shared by everyone.

8. Bible says: Winds blow in cyclones (Ecclesiastes 1:6). Science says: Winds blow in cyclones. What was known: Winds blew straight.

The actual verse: The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

My comment: I can’t find any definitive evidence on what people thought about this subject but it only seems to make sense that if the wind blows in all directions that some sort of circulation is occurring.

9. Bible says: Blood is the source of life and health (Leviticus 17:11). Science says: Blood is the source of life and health. What was known: Sick people must be bled.

The actual verse: For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

My comment: What was known is that “sick people must be bled” and this verse is suggesting a blood sacrifice. This is science how, exactly?

10. Bible says: Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains (2 Samuel 22:16; Jonah 2:6). Science says: Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains. What was known: The ocean floor was flat.

The actual verse: The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils.

My comment: There is evidence that people were diving under the sea surface about 4500 BCE (yes, that’s before the world was created according to the “scientific Bible”) so it seems likely that they noticed that the sea floor wasn’t flat. Where the claim that people thought that it was flat came from is anyone’s guess.

11. Bible says: Ocean contains springs (Job 38:16). Science says: Ocean contains springs. What was known: Ocean fed only by rivers and rain.

The actual verse: Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

My comment: The word “springs” here is better translated as “source” or “origin” so the claim is again rather dubious.

12. Bible says: When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water (Leviticus 15:13). Science says: When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. What was known: Hands washed in still water.

The actual verse: When a man is cleansed from his discharge, he is to count off seven days for his ceremonial cleansing; he must wash his clothes and bathe himself with fresh water, and he will be clean.

My comment: This is clearly a reference to some sort of religious ceremony which was made if the person had recovered from a disease (probably leprosy) after 7 days. So you don’t wash your hands until the 7 days are done?

It seems fairly obvious that all of these claims are completely fatuous. The author really only succeeds in doing the opposite of his presumed intention. Instead of making the Bible and Christianity look credible it makes them look ridiculous.

Why is it necessary to justify the (alleged) truth of the Bible by using such obvious poor reasoning and flawed information? And (as I said above) why aren’t there genuine pieces of previously unknown knowledge in a book inspired by God?

The obvious answer is that the Bible is a book written by bronze age desert nomads and contains no special knowledge beyond their limited understanding of the world at the time.

Biblical Science?

April 28, 2016 Leave a comment

I was recently shown a small card which contained some religious propaganda. It was left at a lecture held in a science department at a university and purported to demonstrate how the Bible must have a supernatural origin considering it presented so many facts later shown to be real science where other sources of the same era got the same fact wrong.

Needless to say I was somewhat skeptical of the claim, but I decided to give it a fair chance and did some research on the subject. Because properly researching a subject like this takes a significant amount of time and effort I thought I should look at the first claim initially and then maybe move onto the rest later.

So here’s the first claim: according to the Bible the Earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22). And according to modern science the Earth is a sphere. But according to “science then” the Earth was a flat disk.

The phrase “science then” presents a few problems. First, science in its modern form has only existed for a few hundred years so what “science” thousands of years ago thought is very hard to establish. Next, when was “then”. The authors and dates of Biblical verses are not well known so the time we should be comparing the knowledge level of is hard to establish.

Then there’s the other, perhaps bigger, problem of Biblical interpretation. What do Bible verses really mean? Has meaning been lost in translation? Which meaning should we accept when many possibilities exist? And how literally should we take this material?

Well it actually doesn’t matter much because whatever criteria you use the claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Let me explain why…

First, here’s Isaiah 40:22 from the New International Version: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”

I looked at the translation of the verse in over 20 different Bible versions and 16 of them used the word “circle”, one used “disk”, one used “globe”, and the rest didn’t really specify any particular shape. So it seemed that the intention was to indicate a two dimensional shape (apart from the one which used “globe”, the Douay-Rheims Bible, which isn’t considered one of the more accurate translations).

But I wasn’t happy with that. I found the translation for the Hebrew word “chug” which seems to translate to circle, circuit, or compass. I also checked a few sources (all pro-Christian) for how the word “circle” is used in other parts of the Bible. In every case it is used to indicate a flat shape rather than a sphere.

Here’s a quote from a Christian site, the Christian Resource Institute: “We certainly affirm that Scripture is fully inspired by God… Yet what is interesting is that even with inspiration, God allowed these ancient ways of looking at the world to stand without correction. In other words, God did not reveal modern scientific knowledge to the ancient Israelites, or correct their ancient views of the way the world works.”

So this is saying that the Bible contains the deliberate error that the Earth is flat rather than spherical just to make it easier for the ancient Israelites. I thought the Bible was supposed to be a source of knowledge, but that hardly matters because the clear conclusion (from a pro-Christian source remember) is that Isaiah thinks the Earth is flat.

So from that perspective alone the original claim fails. But the problems for this claim go far beyond that…

The authorship of Isaiah is highly uncertain. Most modern scholars think there were at least two authors. The first was Isaiah himself (although the Biblical character almost certainly never existed) and the first 39 verses were written by him. But the rest were done by another unknown prophet many years later and those include the verse in question (40) as well as others containing the so-called “Prophecy of Cyrus” (which, of course, wasn’t a prophecy at all).

So the date this material comes from is unknown but the earliest date is likely to be around 500 to 550 BCE. What did “science” know about the Earth then?

The idea of a spherical Earth dates back to around the 6th century BCE, when it was mentioned in ancient Greek philosophy, and the Egyptians observed a phenomenon consistent with it around 610–595 BCE. So even if the Bible had stated the Earth was spherical (which it didn’t) that wasn’t unique knowledge at the time.

And even if both claims were true (that the Bible stated the Earth is a sphere and that no one else knew this) then the claim is still weak because, with all the claims made in the Bible we would expect some to be true and some false based purely on chance. Since there are undoubtedly hundreds of parts of the Bible (the creation myth, for example) which are false, finding one small part which might be construed as being true according to certain interpretations might not be surprising. But this even fails that rather minimal test.

Finally, plenty of other books (and other sources) claim to contain secret knowledge. Muslims use a very similar argument to support the Koran but I often see Christians ridiculing it. And various conspiracies exist claiming that the Egyptians, Dogon, Aztecs, and many others had advanced knowledge given to them by gods, aliens, etc. It’s all utter nonsense.

So the claim that the Bible contains unique science regarding the shape of the Earth unknown to others at the time fails in every way. I would hope that any intelligent person – like those likely to be at a science lecture – would recognise this frivolous nonsense for what it is, so the propaganda was pointless. It’s actually rather pathetic that anyone in this day and age would even have the slightest disposition towards treating this stuff seriously.

On the other hand, maybe some of the other 11 claims are more realistic. But I won’t really know that until I research those too. Sounds like a good subject for a future blog post!