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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Today in the City of David...

In another post about the birth of Jesus, I try to address the issue of an apparent discrepancy between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon prophesies that Jesus will be born "at Jerusalem," while the Bible correctly Prophesies his birth in Bethlehem.

In that post, I mention the Amarna Letters, which were tablets bearing some correspondence between a few politicians of the day. In these letters, they refer to Jerusalem not only as a city, but as a district, or region, which would have included Bethlehem.

In others words, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are correct. Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem, in the district of Jerusalem.

In addition to the Amarna Letters, the Bible itself also supports this interpretation.

In Luke 2:11, an angel appeared to some shepherds, saying,

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

Here, we have not a mere prophet, but an actual Angel of the Lord, saying that Christ will be born "in the City of David," but the City of David is Jerusalem, not Bethlehem.

So if the Bible is correct, then Bethlehem must have been included in the land which was considered "Jerusalem." If not, then the Bible makes the same mistake that the Book of Mormon does.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2012 and the Mayan Calendar

"We have to be clear about this. There is no prophecy for 2012," said Erik Velasquez, an etchings specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico UNAM.L. "It's a marketing fallacy."

 The National Institute of Anthropological History in Mexico has been trying to quell the barrage of forecasters predicting the apocalypse. "The West's messianic thinking has distorted the world view of ancient civilizations like the Mayans," the institute said in a statement.

 In the Mayan calendar, the long calendar count begins in 3,114 BC and is divided into roughly 394-year periods called Baktuns. Mayans held the number 13 sacred and the 13th Baktun ends next year.

 Sven Gronemeyer, a researcher of Mayan codes from La Trobe University in Australia, who has been trying to decode the calendar, said the so-called end day reflects a transition from one era to the next in which Bolon Yokte returns.

 "Because Bolon Yokte was already present at the day of creation ... it just seemed natural for the Mayan that Bolon Yokte will again be present," he said. Of the approximately 15,000 registered glyphic texts found in different parts of what was then the Mayan empire, only two mention 2012, the Institute said.

 "The Maya did not think about humanity, global warming or predict the poles would fuse together," said Alfonso Ladena, a professor from the Complutense University of Madrid. "We project our worries on them."

Read Article Here

Friday, December 16, 2011

Death of Christopher Hitchens

English author, journalist and advocate for atheism, Christopher Hitchens, passed away on Dec. 15, 2011 of esophageal cancer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Upon hearing the news, the New York Times halted its presses in order to include a front page obituary the following day.

Fellow atheist, Richard Dawkins, posted on Twitter, "Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God."

I have to mourn the passing of such an intellectual giant, even if I did not always agree with him. He's one of a dying breed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ford Motor Company - Mormon Message

Following is an interesting article written by Ford Motor Company for its employees. It was presented by the ‘Ford Interfaith’ group as a message about the LDS Church .


 * Named “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”; informal nicknames are “LDS” or “Mormon” -named after the prophet-historian
* Believes it is the Lord’s restoration of original Christianity as foretold to occur before Christ’s Second Coming.
* Core focus is that Christ and His teachings bring happiness in this life and exaltation in the next.


 * For the last 15 years, every day an average of 800+ people worldwide joined the LDS church.
* Half of the growth is in Latin America, but the rate of growth is highest in Africa and the former Soviet bloc.
* Worldwide membership just passed 12 million, a tenfold increase in 50 years.
* In 1984 a non-LDS professor estimated 265 million members by 2080; so far growth has been faster.
* As this growth has been steady, it will be the next major world religion since Islam.”

Read Full Article Here

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mormons and the Wrong Jesus

Mormons are often criticized for teaching the "wrong" Jesus, or a "false" Jesus. This claim is one of the justifications used to classify the LDS church as non-Christian and is primarily based on our rejection of several points of the Nicene Creed, especially regarding the trinity.

The first Article of Faith of the LDS church states, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." However, while we do believe in the three members of the Trinity, we do not subscribe to the idea that they are one in essence. We believe that they are three separate personages, one in heart, mind, and purpose, but physically separate.

Regarding this view, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said,
 "As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient tradition, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes of the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved Son, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They spoke to him. He spoke with Them. He testified openly, unequivocally, and unabashedly of that great vision. It was a vision of the Almighty and of the Redeemer of the world, glorious beyond our understanding but certain and unequivocating in the knowledge which it brought. It is out of that knowledge, rooted deep in the soil of modern revelation, that we, in the words of Nephi, 'talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that [we and] our children may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins'" (2 Nephi 25:26).
So while the LDS church does have a different conception of Jesus, is that enough to disqualify them as Christian? After all, don't all churches have a unique view of who Christ was, even regarding the nature and attributes of the Christ?

For example, Catholics believe in a God that speaks through a Pope, Protestants do not. Logically, one of them must have a false conception of God. He can't speak and not speak through the Pope. One of their Gods must be false. Catholics believe in a God which provides Purgatory, allows prayer to Saints, and performs transubstantiation during Communion, while Protestants do not. Catholics believe that salvation comes through baptism and may be lost or regained by sin and repentance. Protestants believe salvation comes through grace and is unconditional. Logically, God can't do and not do these things. They are teaching two separate conceptions of God, one of which simply must be false.

Even among specific denominations, there are differences in how we define God. Catholics believe that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. Orthodox holds that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father only. Christ can't be and not be the source of the Holy Ghost. They are referring to two different conceptions of Christ. One must be false.

Some churches believe God sanctified Sunday as the Sabbath, some do not. One must be false. Some churches hold that God allows female clergy, some do not. One must be false. Some churches believe in a God who uses church leaders, such as Bishops and Popes, as sources of doctrine, others do not. One must be false.

If God is the source of all truth, then any instance of conflicting truths between two denominations is an indication that those two denominations do not teach of the same God. In other words, no two churches teach the same God.

So if anyone were to tell me that I teach a different Jesus, I'd ask, "Don't we all?"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You Can't Touch Mormon Jesus

Not an accurate representation of LDS doctrine, but hilarious nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Modest is Hottest

If you have ever felt like you need to be "sexy" to be loved, or if you have ever wondered why many Christian denominations discourage certain provocative modes of dress, then you need to watch this video.

You are more than this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Alma 36

A chiasmus is a form of ancient Hebrew poetry which is also known as inverted parallelism. In a chiasmus, ideas will be put forth until they reach a central, main idea, at which point, the themes will repeat themselves in reverse order.

An extremely simple example is found in Matthew 20:16:

(A) So the last
(B) shall be first,
(B') and the first
(A') last: ...

A little bit more complex, extended example can be found in Genesis 6:10 – 9:19. Here it is only summarized:

(A) Noah (6:10a)
(B) Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10b)
(C) Ark to be built (14-16)
(D) Flood announced (17)
(E Covenant with Noah (18-20)
(F) Food in the ark (21)
(G) Command to enter the ark (7:1-3)
(H) 7 days waiting for flood (4-5)
(I) 7 days waiting for flood (7-10)
(J) Entry to ark (11-15)
(K) YHWH shuts Noah in (16)
(L) 40 days flood (17a)
(M) Waters increase (17b-18)
(N) Mountains covered (19-20)
(O) 150 days water prevail (21-24)
(P) God remembers Noah (8:1)
(O') 150 days waters abate (3)
(N’) Mountain tops visible (4-5)
(M’) Waters abate (5)
(L’) 40 days (end of) (6a)
(K’) Noah opens window of ark (6b)
(J’) Raven and dove leave ark (7-9)
(I’) 7 days waiting for waters to subside (10-11)
(H’) 7 days waiting for waters to subside (12-13)
(G’) Command to leave ark (15-17 [22])
(F’) Food outside ark (9:1-4)
(E’) Covenant with all flesh (8-10)
(D’) No flood in the future (11-17)
(C’) Ark (18a)
(B’) Shem, Ham and Japheth (18b)
(A’) Noah (19)

This form of poetry was used throughout the Old and New Testaments. Since it's discovery in the Book of Mormon in 1967, it has fascinated Latter-Day Saints.

Many Latter-Day Saints point out that the use of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is proof that Joseph Smith translated a script that was Hebrew in origin, since the chiasmus had not yet been discovered when the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829. The most famous example of this is chapter 36 of the Book of Alma. The entire chapter is an exceptionally long, complex chiasmus (which can be found here).

Critics of the Book of Mormon are quick to point out that knowledge of chiasmus was actually widespread during that time and it would not have been exceptional at all for Joseph Smith to have been aware of this Hebrew literary style during translation.

Strangely enough, they're both wrong. Latter-Day Saints are incorrect because the chiasmus was actually discovered in the Bible almost one hundred years before Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. However, critics are also incorrect because knowledge of chiasmus was not widespread. During Joseph's life, it was very obscure and esoteric knowledge, just as it is today.

Bengel's Gnomon Novi Testamenti

Possibly the first occurrence of the word “chiasmus” is in 1742, in the Gnomon Novi Testamenti by D. Johannes Albertus Bengel of the University of T bingen. This work was written entirely in latin and was not translated into English until 1860-62. Bengel mentions and briefly describes “Chiasmus inversus” in a glossary of literary terms used in the Old and New Testaments.

Unfortunately, in addition to not being translated into English until about 1860, Bengel's work was also not very influential and did not have a great impact on his contemporaries. In "The Presence of Chiasmus in the Old Testament,"American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 46 (1930), Nils Lund says, “I am not in possession of any information that enables me to connect Boys's [a later scholar] work with the researches of Jebb or the still earlier observations of Bengel on chiasmus.” His work was not continued by German scholars or English theologians.

Lowth's Lectures

Just over a decade later, Robert Lowth of Oxford gave a series of lectures on Hebrew poetry, which laid down the basic principles of parallelism as the keys for unlocking the literary qualities of the Hebrew Bible. Lowth divided parallelisms into three categories: synonymous, synthetic, and antithetic. However, he indicates no knowledge of chiasmus or inverse parallelism in these lectures.

Jebb's Sacred Literature

However, in 1805, a man named Alexander Knox gave copies of Lowth's lectures to John Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, Ireland. Later, in 1819, Jebb sends a letter to Knox found in (Thirty Years of Correspondence between John Jebb and Alexander Knox 1:380). "Without you," he says, "I never might have read Lowth.” This is a testament to the obscurity of this knowledge in the early 1800's, in which the chiasmus was not only still unknown to the English speaking world, but also virtually unknown to European theologians. In a series of letters between Jebb and Knox, they begin to become dissatisfied with Lowth's definition and begin to delve deeper into Biblical parallelism.

In 1820, Jebb became the first English writer to describe the chiasmus as a distinct type of parallelism in the Bible when he published Sacred Literature, which was an amazingly comprehensive book, referencing both Lowth and Bengel. He set out to correct Lowth's widely accepted definitions of the species of parallelism. Because of this, Jebb's work met opposition from the outset. Lowth's fame was international, but Jebb's was hardly even domestic Jebb's attempt to criticize Lowth failed partly because of Lowth's established prestige in theological circles and partly because of mistakes that Jebb himself made.

Boys's Tactica Sacra

In 1824, the Reverend Thomas Boys (M.A., Trinity College, Cambridge, and Curate of Widford, Hertfordshire), further developed the theory of "mutual correspondence in the members of sentences," as he called parallelism.

Boys's first volume, Tactica Sacra, consists mainly of hard-to-follow tabular arrangements—complete with parallel-columned Greek and English texts—of the epistles of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, and Philemon. However, this work was not widely circulated. John W. Welch, at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship says,

“BYU's Interlibrary Loan office was unable to locate either of these books in any library in the United States at the time I wrote my thesis [1970]. I first saw these volumes in the Bodleian Library when I was studying at Oxford in 1970—72. I am aware of no evidence that these books or any knowledge of them reached America before 1829, although in theory that is possible. Recently one of my assistants found that Harvard's Hollis Library holds Key to the Book of Psalms (no acquisition date available) but has no copy of Tactica Sacra, 'which seems to be entirely unknown in America,' according to Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament, 38.”

Boys's A Key to the Book of Psalms

Boys's second volume was entitled A Key to the Book of Psalms and covered sixteen Psalms, but none of them in great detail. Nils Lund says,

“While Boys must be given credit for having uncovered many facts concerning chiastic structures in the Psalms, he failed to make the most of the principle with which he worked. He often observed terms and phrases which recur in a psalm, and rightly concluded that they had something to do with the literary structure of the psalm. He did not, however, subject each psalm to a minute analysis and made no attempt whatsoever to ascertain the principle of the Hebrew strophe. What he found of chiastic structures is, as the reader may suspect from the brief passages already presented, only a small part of what may be discovered in the Psalms by a minute analysis. The literary artistry of the Psalms is much more minute and intricate than Boys's method reveals.”

A 1890 edition of the work contained illustrations from all the psalms and was, according to E.W. Bullinger, the first time that such a comprehensive work had been laid effectively before the public.

This second volume was not widely circulated either. Lund says, in The Presence of Chiasmus in the Old Testament, that “Jebb was better received at first, but today the world still knows virtually nothing about Boys; copies of his Tactica Sacra and his Key to the Book of Psalms seem to be very rare or nonexistent in the United States.”

In addition, where they were available, their content was met with opposition or indifference, so much so that in in 1854, John Forbes, a Scottish theologian, wrote a book with the stated purpose "to attempt to rescue the study of parallelism from the disrepute into which it has fallen."

Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study 
and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures

Around the same time as Boys, Thomas Hartwell Horne wrote a vastly comprehensive work on almost every topic related to Hebrew poetry called Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures in 1818 in London by Cadell and Davies . The fourth edition of this book, published in 1825, was the first edition available in America, being printed in London and Philadelphia.

This book praises Jebb's work and describes chiastic inverted parallelism, but the examples used are either unremarkably simple (Proverbs 23:15—16, a-b-b-a), somewhat unclear (Isaiah 27:12-13, a-b-c-c-b-a, whose elements are not transparently connected: in that day / in Jerusalem; trump sound / bow down), or unconvincing (Psalm 135:15—18, a-b-c-d-d-c-b-a, which is presented in two alternative formats).

A sixth edition of the Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures appeared in 1828. The section on Hebrew poetry was then entitled "On the Interpretation of the Poetical Parts of Scripture," and although the type was reset, the text remained essentially the same as it had appeared in 1825.

Although the writing of John Jebb figured into Horne's 1825 and subsequent editions, the works of Thomas Boys, published in 1824 and 1825, were apparently too obscure to be mentioned in that publication. Even in Horne's discussion of the psalms in his 1836 edition, the concept of "structure" continues to refer only to "choral structure," so the work of Boys on the structure of the Psalms had evidently made no impression on Horne in this regard.

Availability and Other Issues

So the books which Joseph Smith could have gained this knowledge from are John Jebb's Sacred Literature, Boys's Tactica Sacra or Key to the Book of Psalms, or Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Scriptures.

Concerning the availability of these books in America at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, John W. Welch says,

“My research assistants have contacted, where convenient, most of the libraries that hold any of these titles to see if they know when they acquired them. The preliminary results support the idea that very few, if any, copies of Jebb or Boys actually reached America before 1829...
Regarding Jebb's Sacred Literature, Jed Woodworth, a student, found that the bookplate in the copy held in the Hollis Library dates its acquisition there to 1910. I thank Lance Starr for learning that the Columbia College Library holds a copy that bears the inscription, "To the library of Columbia College, New York, part of the legacy of the late Rt Rev John Jebb, DD, Bishop of Limerick, Ireland" (apparently Jebb still had copies at his death and bequeathed some of them to libraries); because the bookplate shows an address that was not used before 1849, one may conclude that Columbia obtained its copy after 1849; it was catalogued in 1885. Emory University holds a copy of the 1820 and 1831 editions of Jebb, the later of which could not have been in the country before 1831. The New York Public Library has unsuccessfully searched for evidence of when it acquired this title.
Concerning Boys's Tactica Sacra, one copy has been located at Dallas Theological Seminary, established in 1924. No accession information is available. The book is not listed at Harvard or the New York Public Library.
Harvard and Yale each hold a copy of Boys's 1825 edition of Key to the Book of Psalms, but no acquisition date is apparently indicated. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America has a copy of that edition that was acquired on 9 June 1918 for 2 shillings and 6 pence—evidently it was purchased in England near the end of World War I. This title is more common in libraries because it was reprinted in 1890 by Bullinger.
Both the bookplate and verso of the title page of Horne's 1825 treatise say that Harvard acquired its copy of that work in 1860. Nevertheless, Horne's treatise would have been available for purchase in bookshops or from traveling salesmen, and such merchants would have been the most likely sources for Joseph Smith to have obtained a fledgling knowledge of the five examples and a few pages about introverted parallelism buried in those two massive tomes.”

Many of these books were widely unavailable in America until after 1829. However, even if Joseph Smith had read Horne or Jebb, he still would have known little about structural chiasmus. In Jebb's work, epanodos, or introverted parallelism, played mainly a supporting role in the overall argument for which he was best known—namely, for extending the study of parallelism in Hebrew lines from the Old Testament to the New. From Horne's volume, Joseph Smith would have had available only a brief discussion of Jebb's work on "parallel lines introverted," illustrated by three examples from the Old Testament, and two short examples from the New Testament ten pages later. All of this was tucked into twenty-eight pages on the characteristics of Hebrew lines, with one reference to Jebb in the bibliography. In addition, the tabular arrangements of Boys (none of which was mentioned in 1825 by Horne) are technical and in most cases hard to follow. Even in later editions, Horne's summaries of the scholarship on each of the four New Testament epistles analyzed in Tactica Sacra completely ignore Boys.

In addition, if Joseph Smith were aware of the work of Jebb, Boys or Horne, it would be even less likely that he would have used the idea of inverted parallelism in his translation, given the indifferent to negative stigma this study had received in theological circles. If Joseph Smith were a con man trying to forge a convincing Hebraic text, he would not be likely to use literary styles which, even in his day, were seen as dubious.

Finally, if he had used these works as a guide, then the chiasmus in the Book of Mormon would have been structured differently. If he had read Jebb and Boys, he would have been misguided by their rule that these structures placed "in the centre the less important notion." Chiasms in the Book of Mormon typically do the opposite. And he might well have hesitated to use chiasmus in prose and not merely in poetry, where all varieties of parallelism were more acceptably located.

In conclusion, it is theoretically possible that Joseph Smith could have acquired and read one of these books before 1829. However, the obscure and esoteric nature of these books made them all but nonexistent in America until a few decades later. Even given the very slim chance that he had found one, the structural errors of Jebb and Boys, the dense, technical layout of Boys, the vague information given by Jebb and Horne, and the skepticism attached to the study of these structures make it difficult to guess which he would have been able to find, and if he would have used the information if he had it.

Therefore, while it is possible that Joseph Smith had been able to find, understand, and use one of these books, the probability is extremely low.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dawkins Central Argument

In Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, he offers the following as his "central argument" of the book, which attempted to show that evolution is a viable argument against design in the universe and against the existence of God. Here is the argument:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises. 
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. 
  3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. 
  4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. 
  5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics. 
  6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. 
          Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

There are a few problems with this argument, though. The biggest is simply that the conclusion does not follow the premises. It does not follow by necessity. It does not follow by probability. It just does not follow.  Even if the premises were true, the argument only attacks the Teleological Argument, or the Argument From Design. There are many other arguments for the existence of God, so the conclusion that follows such specific premises could not be so general as "God almost certainly doesn't exist."

The fifth and sixth premises are completely irrelevant to the issue of God's existence and do not lead to the conclusion.

The fourth premise is also irrelevant because Darwinian evolution does nothing to disprove the existence of God. At best, it disproves Young-Earth Creationism. Old-Earth Creationism is entirely consistent with the theory of evolution.

The first two premises only serve to set up the third, which is the only one that says anything meaningful about God's existence.

Unfortunately, while the third premise is the only meaningful one, it is also the most problematic.

Dawkins' first mistake is a technical one. When one offers an explanation for a given phenomenon, they are not required to offer an explanation for the explanation. This is because it would set up an infinite regress and make it impossible to know anything. One would be required to offer an explanation for the explanation for the explanation, and an explanation for the explanation for the explanation for the explanation, etc.

By this, I do not mean to say that one should accept God as an explanation even though we cannot explain God. I only mean to say that, logically, God's lack of explanation is not a valid reason to eliminate Him as a possibility.

A second problem with this premise lies with Dawkins’ assumption that God is complex, and therefore cannot be invoked to explain the design in the universe. Although he constantly claims throughout his book that God is extraordinarily complex, he never actually defends this assertion. In fact, many theologians and philosophers have plausibly argued that God is actually very simple. This argument fails to address any of these arguments (or any besides the Argument from Design), so once again, it cannot draw the conclusion it claims to draw.

Finally, even if God were complex, it does not follow that He would require a creator that is more complex and improbable. For example, despite the vast complexity of the universe, Dawkins argues that the existence of such complexity does not require design. Complexity, Dawkins argues, does not require design.

The main argument of this book is then self-refuting. The only meaningful part of it is the question, "Who designed the Designer?" Dawkins gives the answer himself: Nobody, because complexity doesn't need a designer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ben Stein Interviews Richard Dawkins

I'm mostly posting this so that it can be linked in another post, but some of the things Dawkins says are interesting. Usually, I don't really enjoy watching Dawkins' interviews or lectures, not because I'm a theist, but because I'm skeptical of anyone who makes money off their opinions, regardless of ideology. However, in this interview it seems reversed. Dawkins conducts himself pretty well and Ben Stein spends most of the interview seemingly screwing around.

To be fair, though, I haven't seen the whole documentary that this is a part of, so maybe Ben Stein had a purpose that was explained earlier or later in the film.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dawkins, What If You're Wrong?

"One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all." - Richard Dawkins

This is one point on which I actually agree, in part, with Richard Dawkins. I say "in part" because I don't believe this is a problem common to all of religion, but, unfortunately, I do see the tendency in many theists, when they are confronted with  a difficult question, to simply bury their heads in the sand.

To be fair, though, many atheists do this, too. I don't think this is a quality that we derive from religion. I think it is just human nature, regardless of ideology. I've mentioned elsewhere that many who sit and listen to Dawkins are satisfied with answers that are not really answers, but here is another example...

Here's a summary of that exchange:

Audience Member: What if you're wrong?
Dawkins: Oh yeah? What if you're wrong?
Audience: *applause*

I agree wholeheartedly with Dawkins. It is a big problem when we are encouraged to accept answers that are not really answers. This is includes a lot of mainstream Christianity and they're going to have to deal with this problem if they are to maintain some semblance of credibility or validity in an increasingly secular world. Unfortunately, this also includes Dawkins.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dawkins Doesn't Answer Question on Morality

In this video, an audience member asks Dawkins if atheists, who typically reject notions of absolute morality, are taking a leap of faith when they call something good or evil. Dawkins gives an answer and the crowd applauds. However, Dawkins's answer does not address the question at all. Not even a little.

The entire video can be summarized like this:

Audience Member: "Does an atheist's rejection of absolute morality prevent him from intelligibly making moral judgements?"
Dawkins: "I don't agree with religion's morality and would like a new, secular one."
Audience: *Applause*

I have to wonder what this says about the applauding audience. Are they really the product of an Age of Reason, listening intently to understand points and counter-points, thinking critically and assessing presented arguments? Are they really interested in truth and reason? Do they really care about the relationship between atheism and morality? Or are they just there to be fashionably atheist, mindlessly applauding an eloquently incoherent Dawkins?

I also wonder what this says about Dawkins. He is very intelligent, well educated and highly literate. I find it very difficult to believe that he did not understand the question. It is a fairly common issue in the philosophy of religion. He must have known that his answer was wildly irrelevant.

Even more disturbing is this: If he (rightly) thought he could get away with this, how must he view his audience? Does he see us as educated, rational, critical thinkers who would catch on if he dodged a question? Or does he know we're not even really listening? Does he think he can play us? Is he right?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Richard Dawkins Refuses to Debate With William Lane Craig

When I first heard that Dawkins refused to debate with Craig, I wasn't at all surprised. Dawkins has said in the past that we is very reluctant to publicly debate with creationists because it would give credibility to their cause, even if they lost the debate. In addition, Craig has been a pretty obnoxious thorn in Dawkins side for a while, hounding him and publicly trying to lure him into debate. However, his refusal of Craig's most recent invitation has caused such an uproar from Craig's followers and accusations of cowardice that Dawkins release an explanation. Dawkins says that the main reason he refuses to debate with Craig is because he is an apologist for genocide. Response to Dawkins’ article has been varied, from atheists praising his refusal to debate Craig to others criticizing him for his flawed reasoning.

He has such a moral aversion to some of Craig's explanations of the biblical God's edicts that he refuses to share a stage with him. I think this explanation is odd, though, because his absolute rejection of genocide seems to be contrary to his rejection of absolute morality in The God Delusion.

Furthermore, while I do think genocide is indescribably immoral, wouldn't an evolutionary biologist see one group of organisms wiping out another as Survival of the Fittest? Isn't that the basis of evolution? Adapt or die out?

Considering Craig's acceptance, and Dawkins's rejection, of absolute moral values, and Dawkins's background as an evolutionary biologist, I would expect Dawkins to be more accepting of genocide than Craig. Wouldn't Dawkins see it as no more evil than a male lion killing the cubs of a vanquished rival?

And this practice is not unique to the Bible or religion. For much of human history victorious conquerors would kill women and children in order to prevent them from rising up later to avenge the conquered. Wouldn't Dawkins recognize this as a normal behavior during pre-modern warfare?

In addition, I have trouble accepting Dawkins's explanation because the idea of Old Testament warfare is so common to all Christian (and Jewish) faith that Dawkins should refuse to debate any christian (or Jew), which is clearly not the case.

I don't think Dawkins is being honest about his reasons for refusing the debate. Do I think he's afraid? No. He has shown in the past that he can substantiate his views, and I do not believe that Craig is an exceptionally amazing apologist. In addition, other noteworthy atheists have debated with Craig, such as Bart Ehrman, Richard Taylor, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens without taking exceptional issue with Craig's view of the Old Testament God.

However, I don't think it's necessarily true that he's afraid of Craig. There's nothing exceptional about him. It may just be that he finds Craig annoying.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pastor Robert Jeffress and the Mormon Cult

Pastor Jeffress, a senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, recently made some waves by publicly referring to the LDS church as a cult. First of all, Jeffress points out that he distinguishes between a "sociological" cult and a "theological" one, and that the LDS church is a theological cult, not a sociological one. He roughly defines a theological cult as a religion which embraces "unbiblical" principles.

Going into more detail, he says, "Mormonism was invented 1800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and it has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and its own book, the Book of Mormon. And that, by definition, is a theological cult..."

But couldn't this be said of almost any religion? Pastor Jeffress admits that he also labels widely recognized religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, as cults, too, under this definition, but what about his own church?

Protestant churches, by which I mean churches which are not classified as Catholic or Orthodox, were invented 1526 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and they have their own founder, Martin Luther, have their own set of beliefs, first set forth in the 95 theses, and have their own book, The Luther Bible, which he translated and admittedly altered. Is that, by definition, a theological cult?

In addition, a similar argument can be made for Eastern Orthodox Churches. Orthodox Churches were invented 1054 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and they have their own founder, Micheal Cerularius, its own set of beliefs, especially regarding the Trinity, clergy, and the afterlife, and its own book, the Constantinople Patriarchate edition of 1904. Is this, by definition, a theological cult?

It seems like Pastor Jeffress considers all churches but the Roman Catholic Church to be cults, which is strange, since he is not Roman Catholic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

JFK on Mormons

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Free Will in Heaven

One issue frequently brought up against Christianity is that if there is a God, and Heaven is what we understand it to be, then the idea starts to not make much sense. If we cannot commit sin in Heaven, then what's the point of this life? If He's going to take away our free will in the end, then why bother creating us with it in the first place? 

I don't understand why this is an issue at all. In real life we have laws that must be followed or we get fined, imprisoned, or possibly put to death. Does this have any effect on our free will? If there is a penalty for murdering someone, then does that mean I cannot possibly murder someone? I am just as capable of murder as I would be if it were legal. The fact that there are consequences for our actions does not mean we are not free to choose those actions.

In other words, it is possible to sin in Heaven. A big part of the reason we're here in the first place is so that we can learn to live a life in accordance with the gospel. So that we can learn to choose not to sin. It's the reason some people won't be able to enter into Heaven, because they'd just screw it all up. It's why it's important to become a disciple rather than simply do what disciples do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mormon's Heavy Metal

One criticism of the Book of Mormon is that the plates that Joseph Smith found would have been way too heavy. The argument is described here.

The gentleman in this video actually makes some valid points. Joseph Smith says, "engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin.... The volume was something near six inches in thickness...."(Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, v3:9, March 1, 1842, 707.)

If the plates were the indicated size, represented by his replica, then it would have been much too heavy for Joseph to carry. Many people don't realize this, but gold is actually denser than lead, and therefore heavier. Many critics of the Book of Mormon claim that the plates would have had to weigh a little over 200 lbs., and that's actually pretty accurate. A solid gold block of 288 cubic in. would weigh just over 200 lbs.

However, William Smith, a brother of the Prophet who had handled and hefted the plates in a pillow-case, claimed on several occasions that the set of plates weighed about sixty pounds, as did Willard Chase, while Martin Harris said that they weighed forty to fifty pounds.

So how do we answer this criticism? The math is legitimate. The science is sound. Solid gold would weigh much more than Joseph Smith claimed.

The problem is that the plates were not solid gold.

First of all, it was not solid. There is a difference between a solid block and a stack of plates, especially engraved plates. In his article, “Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?”, Read H. Putnam says,
"A solid gold block of totaling 288 cubic inches would weigh a little over 200 pounds.... But the plates would weigh much less than a solid block of the same metal. The unevenness left by the hammering and air spaces between the separate plates would reduce the weight to probably less than 50 percent of the solid block."
But in addition to not being solid, the plates were also not gold, though they probably had gold in them. Joseph Smith never says that the plates are made of pure gold. He merely says that they "had the appearance of gold." This may sound like word twisting, but this interpretation is supported by the statments of others close to Joseph.

For example, William Smith, Joseph's brother, said that he understood the plates to be "a mixture of gold and copper". Other early church leaders gave other guesses regarding the composition of the plates. So while we may not know what exactly the plates were, and early church leaders could only guess, we do know that it is clearly not solid gold.

Heather Lechtman, in a 1984 article in Scientific America called "Pre-Columbian Surface Metallurgy", addressed the recent discovery of several large metal objects in South America. Most of these objects were made out of hammered sheet copper. When these copper sheets were first unearthed they were covered with a green corrosion. Once the corrosion was removed, however, they discovered that the copper had originally been covered with a thin layer of silver or gold so that these sheets “appeared to be made entirely out of those precious metals....”

Lechtman explains that the most important alloy discovered at these South American sites was a mixture of copper and gold known as “tumbaga.” When copper and gold (the only two colored metals known to man) are melted together they mix, and stay mixed after they cool and solidify. This alloy was known not only in South America, but in Mesoamerica as well.

Example of Tumbaga

 Tumbaga ranged from 97 percent gold to 97 percent copper with traces of up to 18 percent of other metals, impurities, or silver. Once the gold finish was applied to the tumbaga it would appear to be made of solid gold. Putnam explains that tumbaga “the magic metal, can be cast, drawn, hammered, gilded, soldered, welded, plated, hardened, annealed, polished, engraved, embossed, and inlaid.” Nevertheless, tumbaga will destroy itself if it is not stored properly. It is therefore interesting to note that the Book of Mormon plates were laid atop two stones which lay across the bottom of the stone box so that the plates would not be exposed to water or dirt.

 Too little gold in the Book of Mormon plates would have made them brittle, and too much gold would have made them too heavy as well as increasing the danger of distortion during engraving. Thus, according to Putnam’s calculations, the Book of Mormon plates (which were probably tumbaga) were between 8 and 12 carat gold and thus would have weighed between 53 and 86 pounds. To the eye, however, the tumbaga plates would have had the appearance of pure gold.

 The research of Robert F. Smith reveals that “if the plates were made of the tumbaga alloy, other details fit into place. Take the color of the plates: The plates are consistently described as ‘gold’ and ‘golden.’ When tumbaga (which is red) is treated with any simple acid (citric acid will do), the copper in the alloy is removed from its surface leaving a brilliant .0006 inch twenty-three karat gilt coating. Indeed, this process was used in ancient America. Plus, this surface covering is much easier to engrave. Likewise, pure gold would be too soft to make useful plates. But tumbaga is remarkably tough and resilient....”

So not only was the account of Joseph Smith plausible after all, but it was actually startlingly accurate, considering recent archaeological discoveries.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Einstein's God

The sometimes vague and ambiguous writings and speech of Albert Einstein have lead many to wonder whether or not he was an atheist. He is often quoted as saying,

 "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." 

 To be honest, this quote is not taken out of context, but just because he did not believe in a personal God does not mean that he does not believe in God. He also said,

 "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." 

 Of the way his quotes are typically used to portray him as an atheist, he had this to say,

 "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views." The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University, page 214 

 An example of this is a quote by Richard Dawkins,

 "Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own." The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins 

 This is exactly what bothered Albert Einstein. Dawkins either purposefully misleads readers or he has not done his homework. It is fairly common knowledge in academia that Einstein followed Spinoza's conception of God, but he did believe in a God. In fairness, he did not believe in the personal God of Christianity. In fact, he was rather critical of the idea, but he did believe in an intelligent force behind the universe. He was not an atheist.

 A few more quotes from Albert Einstein about God.

 "I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations." 

 "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." 
 "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." 
 "When the solution is simple, God is answering." 
 "God does not play dice with the universe."  
 "God is subtle but he is not malicious."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

Regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs, you simply must admit that the Bible, for better or for worse, is easily one of the most influential books in human history. In 2011, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of this book. Here's some info about this book. This post will grow over time, so don't try to read it all the way through. Just scroll through and hopefully you'll find something interesting. Also, if you have some information not listed here, let me know and it may be included.

KJV Facts

  1. The most popular Bible translation; an estimated 1 billion or more copies have been published.
  2. The translation was brought upon by King James I of England.
  3. First published in 1611 A.D. (some believe between May 2nd - May 5th).
  4. More than 169 original 1611 King James Bibles are in existance today.
  5. Gothic text and Jacobean spelling was used in the original 1611 version, which is noticeably different than 21st Century English.
  6. 80 books were included (39 in Old Testament, 14 in Apocrypha, and 27 in New Testament).
  7. Contains 788,258 total words, of which 14,565 are unique.
  8. The title was not originally called the "King James Version", but "THE HOLY BIBLE, Containing the Old Testament, AND THE NEW: Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties special Commandment".
  9. 1814 A.D. is the earliest recorded date of it being called "King James Version" or "Authorized Version".
  10. The original book was very large: approximately 17" tall, 30" wide when opened, and it weighed up to 30 pounds.
  11. The first 1611 Bibles were expensive and were chained to the front pulpit of churches, to prevent from being stolen.
  12. Prior to the 1611 King James Bible, most churches did not have Bibles.
  13. The King James Bible is the first English Bible ever printed in the United States- first printed by the King's Printer in England, then printing and distribution spread throughout the world.
  14. Public officials on all levels of United States government, including presidents, have taken their oath of office with the King James Bible.
  15. A committee of 54 translators worked for 7 years to complete the King James translation.
  16. The system of chapters was introduced in A.D. 1238 by Cardinal Hugo de
    S. Caro, while the verse notations were added in 1551 by Robertus
    Stephanus, after the advent of printing. 
  17. A Bible in the University of Gottingen is written on 2,470 palm leaves.
  18. According to statistics from Wycliffe International, the Society of
    Gideons, and the International Bible Society, the number of new Bibles
    that are sold, given away, or otherwise distributed in the United
    States is about 168,000 per day.
  19. The Bible can be read aloud in 70 hours.
  20. There are 8,674 different Hebrew words in the Bible, 5,624 different
    Greek words, and 12,143 different English words in the King James Version.
  21. A number of verses in the Bible (KJV) contain all but 1 letter of the
    alphabet: Ezra 7:21 contains all but the letter j; Joshua 7:24,
    1 Kings 1:9, 1 Chronicles 12:40, 2 Chronicles 36:10, Ezekiel 28:13,
    Daniel 4:37, and Haggai 1:1 contain all but q; 2 Kings 16:15 and
    1 Chronicles 4:10 contain all but x; and Galatians 1:14 contains all
    but k.
  22. The Bible is the best selling and most distributed book of all time. Estimated more than 6 billion copies published.
  23. Originally written in 3 languages: Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic.
  24. Written over a span of 1,000 or more years.
  25. Written by more than 40 authors, including kings, prophets, poets, musicians, and fisherman.
  26. Books include letters, poetry, songs, legal documentation, eyewitness accounts, biographies, historical literature and documents.
  27. Translated into 2,454 languages of the world's estimated 6,500 total languages.
  28. It is commonly believed that the writing of the Old and New Testament was inspired by God.

    Bible Translation Timeline

    1400 B.C.: Ten Commandment tablets given to Moses by God.

    500 B.C.: Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts completed.

    200 B.C.: Old Testament and Apocrypha Greek manuscripts completed.

    100 A.D.: New Testament completed.

    382 A.D.: Latin Vulgate manuscripts produced.

    1384 A.D.: First complete Bible ever reproduced. By John Wycliffe. A handwritten copy of all 80 books: the 66 old and new testaments, plus apocrypha.

    1456 A.D.: First printed Bible, the Gutenberg Bible. It used independently placed characters called movable type, which revolutionized book publishing.

    1560 A.D.: The first Bible in English, the Geneva Bible.

    1611 A.D.: The first King James Bible, commissioned by King James I of England.

    1769 A.D.: The English is edited and updated to reflect the evolving language.

    1885 A.D.: Apocrypha was removed, leaving 66 books.

    1947 A.D.: Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered which helped validate the accuracy of the Bible.

    1982 A.D.: New King James Version published to modernize the English.

    BIBLE STATISTICS (King James Authorized):
    Number of books in the Bible: 66
    Chapters: 1,189
    Verses: 31,102
    Words: 783,137
    Letters: 3,116,480
    Number of promises given in the Bible: 1,260
    Commands: 6,468
    Predictions: over 8,000
    Fulfilled prophecy: 3,268 verses
    Unfulfilled prophecy: 3,140
    Number of questions: 3,294
    Longest name: Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:1)
    Longest verse: Esther 8:9 (78 words)
    Shortest verse: John 11:35 (2 words: "Jesus wept"). This is the King James Bible. Some Bibles might be Job 3:2 (Job said.) but King James has that as "Job answered" which is longer than Jesus wept.
    Middle books: Micah and Nahum
    Middle verse: Psalm 103:2-3
    Middle chapter: Psalm 117
    Shortest chapter (by number of words): Psalm 117 (by number of words)
    Longest book: Psalms (150 chapters)
    Shortest book (by number of words): 3 John
    Longest chapter: Psalm 119 (176 verses)
    Number of times the word "God" appears: 4,094
    Number of times the word "Lord" appears: 6,781
    Number of different authors: 40
    Number of languages the Bible has been translated into: over 1,200

    Number of books: 39
    Chapters: 929
    Verses: 23,145
    Words: 602,585
    Letters: 2,278,100
    Middle book: Proverbs
    Middle chapter: Job 20
    Middle verses: 2 Chronicles 20:17,18
    Smallest book: Obadiah
    Shortest verse: 1 Chronicles 1:25
    Longest verse: Esther 8:9
    Longest chapter: Psalms 119
    Largest book: Psalms

    Number of books: 27
    Chapters: 260
    Verses: 7,957
    Words: 180,552
    Letters: 838,380
    Middle book: 2 Thessalonians
    Middle chapters: Romans 8, 9
    Middle verse: Acts 27:17
    Smallest book: 3 John
    Shortest verse: John 11:35
    Longest verse: Revelation 20:4
    Longest chapter: Luke 1
    Largest book: Luke

    Notable Quotes

    "That book [King James Bible], sir, is the rock upon which our republic rests."
    - Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States

    "The King James Version is a Magna Carta for the Poor and Oppressed: the most democratic book in the world."
    - Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

    "Indeed, it is an incontrovertible fact that all the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in that single book [King James Bible]."
    - Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States

    "The scholars who produced this masterpiece [King James Bible] are mostly unknown and unremembered. But they forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world."
    - Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of UK

    "There is no doubt in my mind that the King James Bible not Shakespeare set this language on its path to become a universal language on a scale unprecedented before or since."
    - Melvyn Bragg, British Broadcaster and Author

    "The King James Bible is a cornerstone of our culture and our language. Whatever our faith, whatever we believe, we have to recognise that the rhetorical power of this book, and in particular its power to fuse history with poetry, connects at the most fundamental level with our own history and poetry."
    - Andrew Motion, British Author and Poet Laureate

    "The translation was extraordinarily well done because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in different stages of culture, but the word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes. In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully artistic result...they made a translation so magnificent that to this day the common human Britisher or citizen of the United States of North America accepts and worships it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God."
    - George Bernard Shaw, Irish Author, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

    "Over the past several centuries it's been the single book in most households, an enormous force in shaping the development of the English language. Carried around the world by missionaries, it provided the base by which English is about to become the lingua franca of the world in the next century. Exploring it during this shoot [Ten Commandments] was one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my life."
    - Charlton Heston, American Actor

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Bible! A Bible! We Have Got A Bible, And There Cannot Be Any More Bible.

Many who reject the Book of Mormon do so on the grounds that the Bible is perfect, complete, and it is all we will ever need. This is part of the idea of Biblical Inerrancy. It is the idea that the Bible came to us through centuries of translation free of error or linguistic corruption. The Bible is allegedly free of error and it is all we will ever need.

However, one must wonder to which Bible they refer. Not all Bibles are the same, but are they all perfect and complete? There is the Armenian Bible, which includes books like Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles. There is also the Catholic Bible which typically includes apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles. Then there are two versions of the Ethiopic Bible (the narrower or wider canon) with several books not familiar to most Christians, such as Sirate Tsion (the book of order).

Even if we decide that a particular collection of books is somehow more perfect or more complete than others, we must face problems of translation. Once again, it becomes unclear which translation of these books is the most complete.

Bart Ehrman, for example, was a Biblical scholar and inerrantist at the start of his career studying the New Testament at the Moody Bible Institute. He eventually conceded that there were 200,000 to 400,000 variant readings of the New Testament. He wrote, "There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament."

Also, the Bible has no original manuscript evidence, just the word of the translators, and many changes have been made without checking with any original manuscript, since the originals were supposedly destroyed, lost, etc.

However, the majority of Bible scholars agree that 95% of the Old Testament is correctly translated, and 99% of the New Testament is correctly translated. That is, there may be many, many variations between manuscripts, but early Christians were able to tell which are more likely authentic versions. This is discerned by looking at correlations between other very early writings which directly quote the original texts, and whether or not the manuscripts agree with each other.

That means that 50 pages of the Old testament and 3 pages of the New Testament were mistranslated. And these are not 53 consecutive pages, but simply that much total material. Some say that these errors are simple spelling errors and word order variations with no effect on the doctrine. While that may be true in some cases, there are also widely recognized instances of doctrinal alteration.

For a milder example, various translations of 1 Samuel 13:1 run as follows,

1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

New International Version:
1. Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

New English Bible:
1. Saul was fifty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.

Contemporary English Version:
1. Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

The Jerusalem Bible:
1. . . . [The entire verse is missing, replaced by an ellipsis.]

New Revised Standard Version (here it is the same as the Revised Standard Version):
1. Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.

Good News Bible:
[The verse is missing: Chapter 13 begins with verse 2.]

It is explained in footnotes in some editions that the available Hebrew text for this verse is missing a couple words. The first number is missing entirely, and in the second number, it's clear that it ends with a two but the first digit is unknown.

What's important here is not the fact that the translations differ and involved some degree of apparent  guesswork, but that the available Hebrew text itself clearly has problems. How can it be maintained that it has been preserved without error, without any loss or corruption, when there are many examples like 1 Samuel 13:1 that clearly show corruption of the text, and even the loss of entire words?

Old Biblical manuscript. Clearly in perfect condition.

This verse is not of particular doctrinal significance, but if rejection of sacred scripture in modern times, such as the Book of Mormon, is based on the non-Biblical notion that the Bible is complete and perfect, and that no further guidance from God is needed, then such a position needs to be reevaluated.

A more severe example is a verse in 1 John 5:7-8, which reads,
" For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
The infamous Comma Johanneum, is accepted as a later insertion by virtually every scholar. It is most interesting that it is the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, yet it is not part of the original epistle, but dates from probably the fourth century. This is clearly an alteration of doctrinal significance.

A somewhat humorous example is Hebrews 1:3, which reads, "reveals (phaneron) all things" in the Codex Vaticanus, while most manuscripts read "sustains (pheron) all things". This is particularly interesting because there's a scribe's marginal note in the CV that reads "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it!", indicating contention over an intentional change in the passage.

A matter of smaller doctrinal significance is Matthew 5:22,
"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
The phrase "without a cause" appears in some early manuscripts and some writings of early church fathers, but this phrase does not appear in the earliest manuscript (Papyrus 67 dated AD 125-150) nor in the earliest church father writing (Justin dated about 165 AD) of Matthew 5:22. Virtually all scholars believe that this phrase was added by the third century. (It is notable that this phrase is in the King James Bible but it is not in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 5:22.)

There is also the controversial case of The Sinners' Bible. This was an edition of the Bible published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, which was meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The name is derived from the compositors' mistake: in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) the word not in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was omitted, thus changing the sentence into "Thou shalt commit adultery". This blunder was spread in a number of copies.

Verse 14.

The fact that this edition of the Bible contained such a flagrant mistake outraged Charles I of England and George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said then:
"I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned."

Latter-Day Saints are commonly derided for their belief that the Bible is not perfect and inerrant, but they must not be the only ones who feel this way, because every year it seems a new translation, or a new edition, of the perfect Bible is released, somehow improving on the past perfection. Every new work of translation and every commentary written is prima facie evidence that the translators or commentators believe the bible to be true only as translated correctly. If this were not so, then why would they bother translating it?

That said, I do believe in the Bible. I do believe it is the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly. My belief that the Bible is not inerrant is not an indication of my lack of faith in God. It is merely an indication of my lack of faith in people. Errors occur in translation, whether by accident or design, and plain and precious truths are lost in the process.

These significant errors are few enough that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has adopted the common practice of simply using an existing edition of the Bible (in our case, the King James Version) with a few explanatory footnotes. Nevertheless, those few errors are of some doctrinal significance and it stands to reason that if there is a God, he would want to rectify those errors.


Latter-day Saints do not rely on scripture—biblical or otherwise—for their knowledge of Christ. They rely instead upon that which provided the scripture in the first place: revelation by the Holy Ghost. They treasure the scriptural witnesses, but do not require perfection from any mortal or mortal work to have faith in the revelations of God.

And when we remember that, we might remember that God has never said that He will cease speaking to us. We might realize that it's possible that if there is a God, He can still send prophets and new revelation and new scripture just as He did in the past (like the New Testament, which was all new scripture to a people who thought they already had the complete word of God).

This is not something new. It is something old restored.

Mark of the Beast and the EES

A team of engineers today announced a discovery that could change the world of electronics forever. Called an "epidermal electronic system" (EES), it's basically an electronic circuit mounted on your skin, designed to stretch, flex, and twist — and to take input from the movements of your body.

EES is a leap forward for wearable technologies, and has potential applications ranging from medical diagnostics to video game control and accelerated wound-healing. Engineers John Rogers and Todd Coleman, who worked on the discovery, tell io9 it's a huge step towards erasing the divide that separates machine and human.

[Full Article...]

I'm not saying that this new technology fulfills scripture. I'm not saying that it is the mark of the beast or that those who receive it are evil or worship the devil, etc.

I'm just saying it's something interesting to think about. Rev. 13:16 says,
"16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:"

Again, not making any claims. Just something interesting to ponder.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bible Cosmology

Critics of the Bible often point out the fact that it promotes a primitive and inaccurate cosmology that would not be present in a book inspired by an omniscient god. Such an inaccuracy, they say, is certainly proof that biblical authors were not inspired by a god who created the universe and, therefore, since that is one of the central attributes of the christian god, that god does not exist.

However, much like the biblical account of the creation, a proper understanding of the Hebrew language goes a long way in answering some of these issues.

In this post, I am not attempting to answer every issue regarding Bible cosmology, and other issues will be addressed in future posts.

My Earth, it has four corners...

There are many verses in the Bible which refer to the Earth as having corners. If the Biblical authors understood the Earth to be a sphere, then clearly they would know that it has no corners. These verses seem to show their belief in a flat, squared Earth. One such verse is Isaiah 11:12, which says,

“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

Verses like this are most likely being used metaphorically for several reasons. First is the fact that the Hebrew word used for “corners” is “kanaph”. This word refers to compass points, meaning that the verse more likely refers to nations in all directions.

In addition, this usage of “four corners” must be intended as a metaphor because even if biblical authors did believe that the Earth was flat, other biblical verses make it clear that they would have believed it to be a circle, not a square, such as Isaiah 40:22,

“It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:”

Finally, this idiom, “the four corners of the Earth,” is one which is still in common use today, despite our modern knowledge of the universe. If we still use this phrase today, despite our relatively advanced knowledge, then it is not inconceivable to think that they would use it regardless of their cosmological views.

Pillar's and Foundations

The Bible also refers to the Earth's foundations and pillars in ways that seem to hint at geocentrism. It seems to teach that the Earth is stationary atop some kind of support system. In the entire Bible, there are only a few words used for “foundation”: Makown, mowcadah, yacad, and yecuwdah.

Makown is used to mean a home or living area, as in Psalms 33:14, which says,

“From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.”

Therefore, it is not used to refer to a physical support system holding up a structure.

Mowcadah is a word used to refer to a physical support structure, as well as being used in an abstract way, such as in Isaiah 58:12,

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”

Here, it is clearly being used in an abstract sense, meaning that there is no reason that this word must necessarily refer to a literal support system.

Yacad is also used in both a concrete and an abstract sense. In 1 Kings 5:17, for example, it is used literally.

“And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.”

And in 1 Chronicles 9:22 and 2 Chronicles 3:3, the same word is used in a way that is not only metaphoric, but also has nothing to do with the idea of a foundation.

“All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain in their set office.”
“Now these are the things wherein Solomon was instructed for the building of the house of God. The length by cubits after the first measure was threescore cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits.”

Here, again, we see that it is possible for this word to be used to imply a physical foundation, but the versatility of the word also means that this interpretation is not necessary.

Yecuwdah is also used literally and as a metaphor, such as in Isaiah 28:16,

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”

At first, this may seem like a literal usage, until one considers the implication that the city of Zion would then be built on the physical, tangible body of Jehovah. Clearly, this is not a literal use.

One of the two words used for “pillar” is “matsuwq”, which, like the words for “foundation” may be used for “pillar”, but a physical pillar is not necessary, such as 1 Samuel 14:5,

“The forefront of the one was situated northward over against Michmash, and the other"

Ammuwd is used in the Book of Job, such as Job 26:11,

“The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.”

However, this is very poetic, stylized language and unless we believe that a pillar can be “astonished”, we must conclude that these are, or may be, metaphors.

In any case, these verses are more likely used as a metaphor for the same reason as those referring to the four corners of the Earth. Other verses, which are demonstrably correct, describe the Earth as being without support in space. Job 26:7 says,

“He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”

Finally, this sort of language is also in common use today, despite our knowledge, so it is not inconceivable that it was used in the same sense by Bible authors.


It is on the critic to support the claim that the Bible teaches a false cosmology. While it is admitted that the words used by Bible authors may have been used literally, we have no certain reason to believe that this was the case, and we even have a few verses, such as Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:7, which appear to show otherwise.
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