In a previous article titled I’m a believer!, I proposed we should swap the traditional definition of who’s a believer and who isn’t – I suggested that a believer is someone who believes that the laws of physics are immutable and a non-believer is someone who doesn’t.
In this post, I’ll take a little different approach. I’ll go on record and say that what people believe in is irrelevant. I don’t care what you believe in. Heck, I don’t even care about what I believe in myself! Simply having a belief in something does not make it true.
What if I go around the world and convince everyone that the universe is governed by a Grand Orange Duck. And what the Grand Orange Duck really wants is for everyone to donate their ear wax to the famed Diamond Crucible. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out ... I really believe this is the truth! Once we have ear wax from every person on Earth, and the Diamond Crucible is full to the brim, the Grand Orange Duck will reveal himself to us and we will be allowed to marvel at his magnificent wings. It will be a glorious day indeed!
Even if I can get everyone to believe in the Grand Orange Duck (let’s just call it “GOD” for short), and convince every single person on Earth that they need to contribute some ear wax to the Diamond Crucible, that still doesn’t make it the truth.
Is this scenario really that far-fetched? How about this: The Mormons are very good at getting people to believe that there were white people on Earth before black people (Mormon scripture says that Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was so evil that God "cursed" him with black skin), and that dinosaur bones come from other planets – which anyone with an intelligence greater than that of an average south pacific jellyfish would reject out of hand. The leaders of the Mormon church are making really good money promoting these ideas, as they also teach that you need to donate a higher percentage of your income to get into the highest levels of heaven.
Just like my idea of getting EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to believe in the Grand Orange Duck, getting people to believe in gibberish on a mass scale, as the Mormon church (and others) seem to be doing, does not make it true.
What I’m interested in, of course, is evidence. I’m not even interested in “belief” in the interpretation of the evidence, just the acknowledgement of the existence of the evidence as a starting point, as something to study and use to come to a rational conclusion. It’s the only way we can establish a logical grasp on what “the truth” is.
I know this example has been beat to death – but depending on which translation/interpretation you prefer, the bible says something to the effect of “The world is firmly established, it shall not be moved”. I would say that this was not a religious statement originally; it was a scientific observation based on the evidence available at the time. There’s a high likelihood that whomever first uttered these words would have very been happy to re-consider if other evidence had been available – but that evidence wouldn’t come for some 1600 years, when Galileo Galilei used a telescope to provide evidence that backed up the interesting theory of “planetary orbit” as proposed by Copernicus. Along the way, however, “the world is firmly established” was included as a passage in the bible ... and that made it into a religious statement. A religious statement implies belief. When Galileo proposed evidence to the contrary, it was rejected by the Catholic Church because it conflicted with established beliefs.
There are a myriad of scientific and non-scientific explanations, and many really crazy ideas, about the nature and age of the universe – is the universe only 6000 years old and ruled by the “Judeo Christian” version of god, or maybe the various Hindu gods? And of course, let’s not forget all the mighty Greek and Roman gods. Or how about the Scientology idea that Xenu, leader of the “Galactic Confederacy” brought billions of people to earth in a UFO that looks like an airplane? Maybe none of what we see around us is real and we’re really plugged into “the Matrix”?
Or maybe there really IS a Grand Orange Duck that wants us to collect our ear wax for donations to the Diamond Crucible ...
The most logical interpretation of the best evidence we have today indicates that the universe is some 13.5 billion years old, the earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and life on earth evolved starting with single cell organisms about 3.6 billion years ago, without any outside “supernatural” influence. I’m not saying that this is “the truth”. And I’m not even saying that’s what I believe – again, what I believe in is irrelevant. I’m saying that there is a truth to the universe. We have to study all the available evidence, and not religious texts, to put the pieces together in order to come to realistic conclusions about what that truth is.
We are still discovering new evidence, it’s a process that will probably never stop. Some of the evidence we discover lends credibility to established conclusions, and some evidence is contradictory. Just like the early observer who made the statement that the world is firmly established, we have to be prepared to accept new ideas when the overwhelming evidence suggest that the old ideas don’t tell the whole story.
And yes, goofball ideas that are obviously just crazy fantasy should be discarded out of hand!
Religious people love to play the game of “what if”. What if the Grand Orange Duck is real? What if we don’t collect all our ear wax, and the GOD doesn’t reveal his glorious wings to us?
So we studiously go around and collect ear wax from everyone on earth ... and damn it, GOD still won’t reveal himself to us. Shoot, we must have missed someone! Quack!
The “what if” game is a trap. It’s specifically designed to manipulate people by playing with their heads. It is always based on something impossible to do (like collect ear wax from EVERY person on Earth) or something impossible to know, such as what will happen after you die.
We have no evidence on which to base an opinion about what happens after you die – but the Christians will say that if you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior and repent your sins (and, of course, make a few small donations to the church along the way) you will go to heaven after you die.
“What a bunch of rubbish” a more intelligent person might say.
That’s when the “what if” response always pops up ... WHAT IF we’re right??? What if we’re right – then you will GO SPEND ETERNITY IN HELL because you didn’t accept Jesus Christ as your savior!!!
Don’t get trapped into the “what if” game. It’s always a dead end proposition that will never work out in your favor. Ask for some evidence that shows WHO has already gone to heaven by bending over and kissing Jesus’s ass, and who specifically has gone to hell for rejecting such idiotic notions.
If I want to explore what happens after we die, I’m certainly not going to seek advice from religious leaders – they have no interest in the truth, and they certainly don’t know what happens any more than you or I do, no matter how fervently and passionately they make their case.
Here’s one way to look at it: estimating how many Homo sapiens have been born in total, over the entire course of human history, is very difficult. But the best logical “guesstimates” usually come in at about 100 billion people1.
A hundred billion people is a lot. Are all these dead people split between heaven and hell? Is it getting crowded up there? And what about members of all the other species? Christian doctrine says that only human beings go to heaven or hell.
The various “pre-human” species we evolved from (Homo Ergaster, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo Habilis, Neanderthals, etc) were on Earth for about 6 million years – much longer than Homo Sapiens have been around. They used tools, cultivated food, raised families, protected each other from predators – were they really that much different from modern humans?
Was there a “cut off point” in our evolution where suddenly humans started going to heaven? We really have no evidence, or really any logical reason to suspect, that what happens to us humans after we die is any different from what happened to the “pre-humans” we evolved from.
And – we have no reason to suspect that what happened to the pre-humans after they died was any different from the great apes that THEY evolved from. You can take this line of reasoning back hundreds of millions of years to the time of the dinosaurs, and even billions of years to the single cell organisms that started life on this planet.
Is there a “soul” from every one of these quadrillions of organisms floating around somewhere out in the ethereal universe, or do we just die – our organic bodies shut down and decompose? The evidence we have strongly suggests the latter, no matter how many people want to believe otherwise. Again, I am not saying that absolutely there is no afterlife – I’m just saying that without any evidence, it’s counterproductive to try and convince people that there is.
“Do you believe in god?” is an irrelevant question as far as I’m concerned. Having a belief in something does not make it true. “Have you seen any evidence that god exists?” – now that’s a much more interesting question. If someone says they have evidence, we can discuss how credible the evidence is. Was it fabricated? Is it direct, or indirect evidence? Does the evidence appear to break the laws of physics as we currently understand them? Is it subject to open interpretation?
Equally irrelevant is asking if someone believes in something that obviously exists, like: “Do you believe in donkeys?”
Finding a donkey and showing it to someone is direct evidence, but we already know that donkeys exist. Discovering donkey poop, footprints, and half eaten carrots in your garden is indirect evidence that a donkey was probably snacking on the carrots in your garden.
But what if someone says it’s really unicorn poop and footprints that you’re looking at, and it's actually a unicorn that's been in your garden?
There’s the problem.
Religious people are always proposing indirect evidence, with very liberal open interpretation, and trying to use that as proof that god exists. Without credible evidence, the only logical conclusion you can come to is that it’s a fantasy that someone just made up for fun and prophet. Errr, I mean profit.
So what about the mother of all religious texts, the Bible – and it’s earlier incarnations, the Torah, etc. What real evidence do we have that any of it has any divine inspiration? None, of course. We do have plenty of evidence, however, which shows that almost everyone who had a hand in collecting and copying all these stories took many liberties and changed things whenever they wanted along the way.
Throughout modern history, for example, people have been afraid of the number 666 – the famed “number of the beast” as described in Chapter 13 of the book of Revelations. I’ve met people that really freak out whenever they see anything that has three sixes in a row. Indeed, we have no area code 666 in our telephone system, superstitious people would immediately move out of that state!
However, in 2005, a fragment from what’s known as Papyrus 115 was discovered in the archives at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum. The papers in this collection were taken from the Oxyrhynchus site about a hundred years ago, considered to be one of the most important archeological sites ever discovered. The fragment in question has been irrefutably dated as the oldest known written copy of Revelations, Chapter 13 (older by about 100 years2).
The text of Papyrus 115 is mostly the same as all the newer copies of Revelations, Chapter 13 that have been found at various archeological sites, except for one minor detail ...
Quite clearly, it states in Greek: ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ (hexakosioi deka hex) – which translates to "six hundred and sixteen".
Other early references to this passage corroborate this discovery; it is actually quite clear that “the number of the beast” was originally 616. Are all the people in Grand Rapids, Michigan going to hell?
Evidently, someone was copying this text and just randomly thought “616 doesn’t sound very beastly. I think I’ll change that to something that seems a bit more ominous” – and it stuck.
If the bible is supposed to be “the word of god”, how come everyone willingly accepts all these various changes?
There are stories attributed to Jesus that had been attributed to other people at least 500 years before Jesus was born. Before the printing press was invented, copying the bible was a manual Process. It was transcribed, translated into different languages and various dialects of each language, and it changed with every copy. Many of the biblical stories were taken from oral history – handed down from generation to generation, embellished and expanded upon along the way.
But once all these stories were decided upon and “the bible” was in common circulation, these problems stopped though – right? Not at all! In the early 1500’s, Martin Luther sparked a reformation of the Catholic Church which resulted in a new German translation of the bible with many changes (mostly deletions of things that he, personally, didn’t agree with). King James decided to commission another translation into English about a hundred years later. There have been literally hundreds of other variations along the way. And then, along comes Joseph Smith adding his own addition to the bible in 1830, when he decided to make up some crazy nonsense saying that Jesus came to America after he was resurrected (which in itself is such a silly story).
Think about it this way: what is the difference between the Christians adding the “new testament” to the Torah, versus Joseph Smith adding “The Book of Mormon” to the Bible? (which itself is made up of the Torah (Old Testament) and the Christian addition known as the New Testament.) The Jews feel exactly the same way about the New Testament as the Christians feel about the Book of Mormon – it’s an additional set of writings that are not officially recognized by the existing religious establishment.
Is there any “truth” to anything written in any of these books? Of course not, the bible holds absolutely zero credibility. Even a cursory analysis of the evidence indicates that the bible is a prime example of very early science fiction at best. What’s troubling is that throughout history, it has mostly been used by immoral people as a tool to control, pacify, and/or persecute anyone with a weaker mind or a weaker defensive position (the crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and various pogroms come to mind).
What evidence do we have about Jesus as a person? There does seem to be plenty of corroborating evidence, from various people of the day writing from different points of view, that Jesus was a real person and did actually exist; he’s not entirely fictional ... but most of the stories about him are. He had a girlfriend (and recent evidence indicates that he actually referred to her as “my wife” at one point3). He was likely a very charismatic orator, teacher, mentor to many people, and may well have said some very wise and insightful things. He made many friends, and it would appear that he made a few enemies towards the end as well. There is no documentation of his birth, just stories and rumors, and no one at the time documented the supposed “resurrection” that happened three days after he died. Somebody made up that part of the story about 60 years later. It’s the ultimate “urban legend”.
(And of course, all the evidence we do have says that there weren’t many white people in that part of Africa at the time; Jesus was probably black or “dark Arabic” and much shorter than the modern depictions.)
So how do we explain all these odd coincidences or reports of people predicting future events? People are always telling me how amazing it is that they ran into an old friend while at Disneyland, or some other coincidence that surely can’t be accidental.
I live in the Washington DC area, and we had an earthquake a few years ago that was felt throughout the entire region ... and later that day, at least six people called the local radio station and said that they dreamed an earthquake would happen. It can’t just be coincidence, can it? Surely that MUST be the work of a higher power?
Well – let’s take a logical look at this. I’m just over 50 years old and I’ve probably only dreamed about being in an earthquake maybe three or four times in my life. Let’s just say once every 7,500 days to be conservative.
If this is about average, and everyone has a dream about an earthquake every 7,500 days, that means that one person out of every 7,500 will have an earthquake dream every night (on average).
There is a population of 5.8 million people here in the greater Washington DC metro area. I’ll say 5 million – again, just to be conservative.
If we divide 5,000,000 by 7,500 we get ... 666 people who will have a dream about an earthquake each night in the Washington DC metropolitan area, and I’m sure they are ALL going straight to hell!
Seriously though – coincidences do happen, and sometimes they might seem very odd, but in reality coincidences happen just about as frequently as they statistically should.
So I’ll end this article with a really old joke: Jesus comes back on Sunday after his resurrection, and all his followers are begging to see one last miracle. They are at the edge of a lake, and someone asks Jesus to show them how he walked on water, since the first time was at night in a storm and all his followers were on a boat and couldn’t see very well. Jesus obliges, and walks out into the lake, where he promptly sinks to the bottom and drowns.
Everyone is shocked, many start to weep. A woman wails, “why did this happen?” when a wise gentleman offered up an explanation. He said, “Well, the last time Jesus did that trick, he didn’t have those holes in his feet.”