A Daylight Atheism Public Service Announcement
I have some urgent news to pass along to my readers:
If you have any vacation time accrued, you may want to use it before May 2011.
Why, you may ask? Well, because the world is ending - again:
I learned this important news from a pamphlet that a street preacher was passing out at the Veterans' Day parade the other week. (You can read the full thing if you're really interested: pages 1-8, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7.) This information was brought to you by Family Radio, the "Bible-based Christian broadcasting ministry" whose founder, Harold Camping, has been slowly but surely getting crazier as the decades pass. One of his more notable eccentricities is his belief that the "church age" has ended and that all faithful believers should therefore stop going. Needless to say, this hasn't endeared him to his fellow Christians.
Camping last predicted the end of the world in 1994, as I wrote in "Coming Soon to an Apocalypse Near You" - but hey, we all make mistakes, and this time he's really sure he's got the date right. How can he be so confident, you ask? Well, Mr. Smart-Aleck Atheist, just you try to argue with this irrefutable logic:
See? All you have to do is take the date of Noah's Flood (which really happened, and the date of which Harold Camping knows precisely, down to the day), add 7,000 years, and there you are. Just try to find a logical hole in that!
Since he seems so confident about himself the second time around, I wonder if I could interest Mr. Camping in the purchase of a Rapture Bond, or otherwise making some sort of wager on his certainty. I tried, but failed, to find contact information for him on his website, which also looks like it was designed circa 1994. If you care to look and have more success than me, please do let me know.
If Camping was just one lone kook, I wouldn't bother discussing him. But he's still the president of a large ministry on dozens of radio stations nationwide, which means he must still have thousands of followers willing to fund him, despite his 1994 failure. That's the way it usually is: to believers enraptured by prophecy mania, even repeated failures of their prophet are no discouragement. When 2011 comes and goes and nothing happens, Harold Camping, if he's still alive, will probably just pick a new date, and his true devotees will faithfully follow for as many times as this charade is repeated.
A Brief Saturday Morning Thought
Shorter John Ensign: Gay marriage is going to take away my sacred, God-given right to cheat on my wife.
More on the Rapture
After writing "Life Goes On", I had some extra material that had been left on the cutting room floor. Since it was too good to pass up, I just had to write another post. How could I pass up the opportunity to share a belly laugh like this?
Because the tribulation will be hell on earth, there is hope that even the most stubborn of sinners will be forced to admit he or she needs a savior. In the following section, I’ve selected a group of celebrities who are known to be atheists, or who are hostile toward the Christian faith.
This article, from the reliably hilarious Rapture Ready website - which has been faithfully charting the signs of the end for almost twenty years, and has steadfastly refused to draw any conclusions from this - is titled "Future Employees of Rapture Ready" and lists some prominent nonbelievers whom the author fantasizes will become converted evangelical Christians in the days after the Rapture (which, as always, is due to happen any day now). A few examples:
Richard Dawkins - A biologist by trade, he has written several books that promote evolution and debunk the idea that there is a God. I've read Mr. Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion," and I was surprised to find him mention Rapture Ready. On page 254 of his book, he focused on a comment I made about the site, which is a perfect fit for this article. At the bottom of RR's main page is an announcement that reads, "If the rapture should take place, resulting in my absence, it will be necessary for tribulation saints to mirror or financially support this site." I don't understand why Dawkins found offense in an obligation that he believes will never come his way. Well, Dick, that obligation may soon be upon you, and I think it would be a very fitting end to have the money you earned debunking the idea of a God to someday be used to magnify His glory.
Penn Jillette & Teller - The team of Penn & Teller are most widely known as professional magicians. They also host a program on the premium cable channel Showtime that debunks pseudoscientific ideas, supernatural beliefs, popular fads and misconceptions. There will be plenty of falsehood in the days that follow the rapture, so Penn & Teller's skills would be very helpful in combating error.
I ought to write the author of this site and ask to be listed on that page. Granted, it would be a great honor to me, as I'd be among most illustrious company! Regardless, I find it greatly amusing that the author finds solace in daydreaming about famous atheists converting to Christianity - the outward sign, perhaps, of a tacit recognition that his arguments are unlikely to convince anyone without supernatural aid.
Another amusing commentary on the Rapture warns believers not to try setting dates, but seems to overlook an obvious implication of its own words:
The Word of God is clear on this subject of Date-setting. To set dates on the return of Christ is to err.
Does that mean Jesus will not return on any date when he is expected to return? Ironically, the perpetual date-setting by Christian believers may be what's keeping him from coming back!
And lastly, another excerpt from Rapture Ready, this time from their feedback. I'm surprised they chose to post this, without even a response, but it gives important insight into how the ceaseless frenzy of end-times anticipation does real harm to human beings:
I grew up in a rapture believing church. I was a premillenial dispensationalist for many years. I was sincere in this belief and found your site during that time of my life.
To make a rather long story much shorter, it was very spiritually damaging for me. I was so caught up in thinking the world was ending tomorrow or in the next moment that I was in a constant state of fear. The here and now became pointless. Would my unsaved loved ones make it in time? Was this or that particular political figure the next anti-Christ? Which poor deluded souls deceived by Satan would find themselves part of a group that thought they were Christian but were really part of the 'one world religion of the beast'? It was an awful and extraordinarily stressful way to live.
It's a tragedy that so many millions still lead lives full of stress and fear brought on by their belief in an imminent end. Contrary to the often-heard claim that religion brings peace and comfort, many variants of religion are intended to inspire terror and paranoia in their followers, the better to secure their unquestioning allegiance against the external world.
Do You Really Believe That? (Xenu/Thetans)
Although past installments of "Do You Really Believe That?" have skewered absurd beliefs from other sects, I doubt any religion has doctrines as laughably ridiculous as Scientology's beliefs about "space opera". Today's post will explore the most infamous of those.
According to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was an alien overlord who, 75 million years ago, was in charge of a "Galactic Confederacy" consisting of 76 planets, including Earth (which, according to Hubbard, was then called "Teegeeack"). This planetary confederation was desperately overcrowded, and to solve this problem, Xenu devised a genocidal plan. Luring billions of citizens to government offices under the pretense of tax inspection, he dosed them with paralyzing drugs, flew them to Earth, then unloaded their bodies around the bases of volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs inside the volcanoes, killing them all. (It's been speculated that this story was the inspiration for the cover art of Hubbard's Dianetics.)
The dead aliens' souls, which Hubbard referred to as "thetans", were then captured using an "electronic ribbon" and taken to "implant stations", where they were forced to watch a movie containing various misleading beliefs about the existence of God, the Devil, Jesus, and so on. After this process of brainwashing, the thetans were released and took up residence inside the bodies of living beings on Earth. According to Scientology, these "body thetans" still exist in each of us, causing all the physical and mental illnesses that human beings suffer from. (You can read this story in Hubbard's own handwriting at Operation Clambake; see also this mirror.) Naturally, Scientology claims to be able to exorcise these wayward alien ghosts - for a price.
Due to Scientology's pervasive secrecy, it's difficult to be certain how widespread the knowledge of this doctrine is within the church. Outside reports agree that the story of Xenu and body thetans is only told to high-ranking Scientologists, and church spokesmen have publicly denied that Scientology believes or teaches any such thing. However, when ex-Scientologist Steven Fishman submitted this material as part of his affidavit in a 1993 lawsuit against the church, Scientology lawyers claimed that it was a trade secret and protected by copyright - impossible, of course, unless it was genuine. In a rather different line of defense, L. Ron Hubbard himself claimed that anyone who read the Xenu story without the preparation of Scientology auditing would get pneumonia or some other fatal disease. (Readers are invited to judge the truth of that claim for themselves.)
Scientology's public denial of this story potentially serves any number of different purposes. Like many ancient religions, the church depends on its possession of alleged secret knowledge to reinforce the distinction between believers and outsiders. The leak of these stories threatens to break down these barriers, and to expose for mass consumption the holy secrets that are supposed to be revealed only to trusted initiates. (Ancient Gnosticism might not have done so well if we had had an Internet back then.)
But another reason, perhaps equally important, is that Scientology higher-ups are aware of how sheerly ridiculous these stories sound to a person not thoroughly enmeshed in the church's teachings. It's difficult, I would imagine, to maintain an aura of imposing mystery when everyone on the street knows you believe that the Earth was once called Teegeeack and was inhabited by hundreds of billions of alien beings who dressed exactly like humans in the 1950s. The similarity of this doctrine to laughably bad D-grade science fiction is just too apparent. Perhaps only a person who's already heavily invested in Scientology, who's spent too much and has too much to lose by walking away, can be trusted to hear these secrets without reacting in amusement and ridicule. But that makes it all the more important that lay Scientologists hear the story of Xenu, and that's why I ask: Do you really believe that?
Other posts in this series:
Announcements and Miscellany
• Daylight Atheism reader Juan Felipe has completed Spanish translations of two more Ebon Musings essays, "La sombra del cambio" (Shadow of Turning), and "Un juego de trile cósmico" (The Cosmic Shell Game). Please check them out and be sure to thank him for his fine work. And if you're interested in joining the effort to translate, into Spanish or any other language, please e-mail me and let me know.
Also, I have two announcements I was asked to pass along:
• First, Q Transmissions, a skeptical talk radio show from Canada, is sponsoring a contest for atheist-themed songs. Musically inclined freethinkers have until January 2 to send in an entry in MP3 or video format. Please follow the link for more information. (I rather like Chumbawumba's "Charlie", myself.)
• Next, nonbelievers who hail from Ireland may be interested in Atheist Ireland, a new freethought advocacy group active in the Emerald Isle. Again, visit their website for discussion forums and more information about their mission.
And finally, this was a parody too good not to share (HT: Positive Liberty):
Do You Really Believe That? (The Missing Pages)
Of all the major faiths in the world today, few surpass the bizarreness of Mormonism. The church was founded in the 1830s by Joseph Smith, Jr., who claimed to have been guided by an angel to a set of buried golden plates which he miraculously gained the ability to translate. These plates, supposedly, were the records of a lost American civilization, descended from a family of ancient Jews who had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and founded a large, advanced society in the New World. After disobeying the word of God, this civilization eventually tore itself apart in warfare and fell into ruin; the Native Americans are believed by Mormons to be their descendants.
This fantastic story, unsupported by archaeological or genetic evidence and contradicted by much of what archaeologists do know about pre-Columbian America, would provide material for many installments in this series all by itself. But today, I want to talk about something different: the process by which the Book of Mormon came into existence, and one of the most embarrassing events in the course of its composition.
One of Joseph Smith's earliest converts was a farmer named Martin Harris. Harris gave money to Smith to finance his translation of the golden plates (he would later mortgage his farm to pay for the first translation of the Book of Mormon, and lost it when the book was not a success). Harris also acted as Smith's scribe while the book was being written. With the two of them separated by a curtain, Smith would peer into a hat, which supposedly contained "seer stones" that gave him visions of the translated text, and dictate what he saw. (The physical presence of the golden plates was apparently not necessary.)
The incident in question came several months into the "translation," when Smith had produced about 116 pages of text. Harris' wife Lucy had grown skeptical of Smith and suspected that he was a con man seeking to defraud her husband. In an attempt to reassure her, Harris asked Smith for permission to take the pages home to show to her and other close friends. After several demurrals, Smith finally gave in and gave the pages to Harris.
Both skeptical historians and Mormon believers agree on the events so far. And they also agree on what happened next: when Joseph Smith finally asked for the pages back, Martin Harris confessed that he had lost them.
What exactly happened to those pages is not clear. In her definitive biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, the skeptical historian of Mormonism Fawn Brodie argues that Lucy Harris stole and destroyed the pages. According to Brodie, she also taunted Smith: "If this be a divine communication, the same being who revealed it to you can easily replace it."
And indeed, she had a point. After all, Mormon theology is adamant that Smith was not inventing, but merely translating by the gift of God. What would be so difficult about returning to the same place in the tablets and retranslating the parts that had been lost? A word-for-word reproduction of the 116 missing pages would have been powerful verification that Smith was actually receiving divine guidance and basing his work off of an actual text. He should have viewed the loss of the pages as, at most, a minor setback.
But this is not what happened. Instead, according to skeptical and believing histories alike, Joseph Smith went into an inconsolable frenzy, moaning that he had brought disaster on himself. Finally, sorrowfully, he announced that he had sinned by giving away the pages, and that God was going to punish him - although, according to the church's own history, it was God who granted Smith permission to give them to Harris. What was to be Smith's punishment? He would, he said, be forbidden to translate that section of the text again. Instead, he would translate a different section of the plates - one that chronicled the same events but was written by a different author, so the basic storyline would be the same but the wording would be different.
If you've just fallen over laughing, believe me, you're not alone. That was my reaction the first time I heard about this as well. What clearer proof could be imagined that Smith was just making up the Book of Mormon out of his own head? Possessed of only a normal human memory, he was unable to reproduce the story exactly as he first dictated it. Instead, he resorted to re-writing it from scratch and coming up with a contrived excuse for why it was different the second time.
Mormons who reject this most obvious of explanations are forced to believe that, regardless of whether Smith sinned or not, God passed up a perfect opportunity to prove his involvement with this new religion to the world, and instead forced his prophet to do the exact thing a fraud would be forced to do in that situation. That convoluted and contrived story is far less parsimonious than the alternative - that Smith was a swindler, and the Book of Mormon his own invention - which is why I ask Mormons: Do you really believe that?
Other posts in this series:
A Moment of Levity
I usually talk about heavy subjects on this weblog, but sometimes it's nice to shift gears and have a laugh. Here's one of my favorites, from an old post on the Usenet newsgroup alt.atheism:
While on a business trip to Rome, the CEO of Tyson Foods manages to be granted an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. After receiving the papal blessing, he says to the Holy Father, "Your Holiness, I've come with a business proposition for you. Tyson Foods is prepared to donate 100 million dollars to the church if you'll change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken'".
Taken aback, the Pope responds, "My son, we cannot do that. The prayer is the word of God. It must not be changed from how it is written in the holy scriptures."
"Well," says the Tyson man, "we anticipated your reluctance. For this reason, we'll increase our offer to 300 million dollars. All we require is that you change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken'".
Again, the Pope replies, "It is simply not in our power, my son. As I have said, this prayer represents the immutable word of God and cannot be changed under any circumstance. Not one jot or tittle may be altered."
Finally, the Tyson president says, "Your Holiness, we at Tyson Foods respect your adherence to your faith, but we do have one final offer. We will donate 500 million dollars — that's half a billion dollars — to the great Roman Catholic Church if you would only change the Lord's Prayer from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'Give us this day our daily chicken'. You don't have to give your final answer now, but please consider it." With that, he leaves.
The next day the Pope convenes the College of Cardinals. "There is some good news," he announces, "and some bad news. The good news is that the Church is about to come into 500 million dollars." "And what is the bad news, Holy Father?" asks a Cardinal.
The Pope replies, "We're losing the Wonder Bread account."
The number of different religions on this planet is vast, and all their associated arguments and apologetics form a library that's vaster still. No matter how well-read or well-traveled any atheist is, they're bound to run into claims every so often that they've never heard before. It happens to me at least once a month, on average. And I have to admit, when I first hear a religious apologetic or miracle claim that's new to me, often my initial response is to feel a little tremor, as I wonder, "Could that really be true?"
You would think I'd know better by now. Invariably, in the cases I've looked into, the fact being claimed is either false, unverifiable, or doesn't prove what the claimant thinks it does. And even if one such fact were to bear out, it would have to overcome a considerable weight of contrary evidence. Still, I'm glad of that momentary tremor of doubt. To my thinking, it's a reliable sign of open-mindedness.
Not everyone shares this trait. On more than one occasion, I've run into theists who are so arrogantly certain their beliefs are supported by the facts that they feel they don't even need to check what the facts actually are. When these smug and ignorant assertions are in conflict with reality, the results are always hilarious. Culled from the responses I've received on this blog and other sites, here are some of my favorite examples of arrogant apologists who don't let their ignorance get in the way of a good talking point:
Was Tyre destroyed and left barren as the Bible predicts? A commenter at Greta Christina's by the name of Rev. Cawley asserted, in contradiction to my essay "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists", that the Bible contains many miraculously fulfilled prophecies. Here was one of his examples regarding the ancient city of Tyre:
Of Tyre, God said through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 26: 4, 5, "And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations." Today, fisherman mend their nets on the barren rock where Tyre once stood. God also said in Ezekiel 26:14, "And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God." The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2, 000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.
In response to Mr. Cawley's claim that Tyre has never been rebuilt, I posted satellite photos of the city today. No doubt, the 115,000 or so inhabitants of Tyre would be quite surprised to learn that they're living in a city that has never been rebuilt.
In reality, although Tyre was fought over and conquered many times in antiquity, it has been inhabited almost continuously since 1300 BCE, and was an important commercial site and trading post for much of that time. Evidently, Mr. Cawley could not be bothered to check whether the city actually existed before asserting that it no longer does, because the Bible says so. His blithe willingness to erase whole cities from history in the name of an apologetic talking point is a superb example of invincible ignorance.
Did PBS put words in the mouths of creationists to make them look bad? Another of my favorite examples from Greta Christina's: a post where she discussed "Judgment Day," the PBS special about the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent-design trial in which the IDers were decisively defeated.
In her post, she quoted an exchange from the show in which plaintiffs' lawyer Robert Muise got the ID proponent Scott Minnich to admit he had never bothered to do any of the experiments that would have tested his ideas about ID. An offended creationist commenter named "blilley" huffily asserted that an exchange which paints ID in such a poor light couldn't possibly have been real, and must have been made up by PBS to make proponents of ID look bad:
I guess in instances where PBS doesn't have any real evidence to back up certain propoganda objectives they can always resort to using imaginary, made-up evidence confident that people like you will call it "overwhelming".
In fact, the reenactments in "Judgment Day" were taken directly from trial transcripts, and this "imaginary, made-up" exchange between Muise and Minnich actually happened in the courtroom. Clearly, blilley thought that Minnich came away from the cross-examination looking foolish. In the future, I suggested to him, he should consider why that is, rather than leaping to accuse scientists of inventing arguments to attribute to creationists that make them look bad.
Were the original twelve apostles "Earth shakers"? In my post from last year "How Did the Apostles Die?", I pointed out the curious fact that there are no contemporary historical records of the twelve apostles, neither of their lives, nor of their deeds, nor of their deaths. They vanish into obscurity almost immediately after being named in the Bible - a fact which fits with the conclusion that Christianity began with a belief in mythical figures that only gradually transmuted into belief about real people in history. A commenter took issue with this conclusion:
What you are forgetting here is that these 11 men, who were previously fishermen, carpenters and tax collectors, suddenly became Earth shakers. This group of nobodies were somehow able to convince thousands upon thousands that there is one true God and that his son Jesus came so that we may know the one who created this Earth and everything on it, in it, above and below it, on a personal level.
If the apostles were indeed "Earth shakers", then one would think that it would be trivial to list some of their mighty, earth-shaking deeds. Was this commenter up to the challenge? Manifestly not, because when challenged, he vanished without ever elaborating on this comment. Apparently, he felt no compunction in grandiosely claiming that the apostles were men of tremendous influence even though he didn't know of a single specific thing that any of them said or did. His blustery assertion only served to confirm the point that there are no contemporary historical records of how the apostles lived or died.
Did interracial marriage ever need to be affirmed by court order? This last howler comes from the apologetics website CrossExamined, whose author Frank Turek set up a post about same-sex marriage and the danger it poses to our society. It seems this danger is that allowing gay marriage will cause everyone to turn gay and cease reproducing, thus spelling the doom of civilization - clearly the conclusion Turek was putting forward, even if he didn't explicitly spell it out. But this isn't the howler I was referring to. In the comments, I and several others pointed out the similarity between arguments of anti-gay-marriage advocates now and anti-interracial-marriage arguments a generation earlier, and asked if this reasoning could also be used to prove that anti-miscegenation laws should have been allowed to stand. A commenter named "Plumb Bob" seemed bewildered by this point:
In response to:
"For Pete's sake, if we left all civil-rights decisions up to "the people" interracial marriage would probably still be illegal. This is one of the reasons the Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch in general exists in the first place."
This is simply and completely false. I don't know of a single instance where a high court ruling was required in order to allow interracial marriage.
This is slightly less ignorant than trying to erase the city of Tyre from history, but not by much. For someone who cares so deeply about marriage, Plumb Bob evidently had never heard of the landmark 1967 civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down all state laws against interracial marriage.
Obviously, a person is not required to have a comprehensive knowledge of American history before being allowed to argue against gay marriage. But one would think, at the very least, that a person lacking such knowledge would have the humility to approach the topic with caution - rather than pronouncing, as in this case, that assertions made by more knowledgeable people are "simply and completely false". Like many of the invincibly ignorant, he never even considered that the facts might not line up with what he preferred to be true, nor that others with whom he disagreed might know more than he himself.
I leave you with this gem of a classic - a creationist using one of the most hilariously inept variations of the second-law-of-thermodynamics argument against evolution ever seen:
One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.
This passage has been widely reproduced on the internet under the title "Creationist Almost Discovers the Sun".
Thanks to Daylight Atheism commenter Robert Madewell for the photo in this post.
A Letter to Jack Chick
Dear Mr. Chick,
You probably don't know me, but I'm writing to send you my thanks. I used to be a hardcore, evil, godless atheist, but after reading some of your wonderful Christian fundamentalist cartoon tracts, I've realized just how wrong I've been. Now I know that there is a God who loves me and who died for my sins, and that his name is Jesus Christ. I also now understand that playing Dungeons & Dragons too much will lead to you being initiated into a witches' coven and taught how to cast real spells; that Roman Catholicism is a Satanic cult and keeps its followers in line with demonic Egyptian death cookies; and that Jesus is the one who holds the protons together in atomic nuclei. (I always knew those godless physicists were just making it up when they talked about so-called "gluons"!)
Thanks to you, I'm ready to accept Jesus Christ's free gift of salvation and be washed clean by his precious blood. However, I can't do that just yet. There's one other thing I have to do first, but I'm having a problem. I thought I'd write to you in the hopes that you'd offer me some advice. Please allow me to explain.
One of your tracts which made the greatest impression on me was the one titled "The Contract". In this tract, an impoverished farmer makes a deal with the Devil to sell his soul in exchange for the money he needs to keep his farm. He receives the money, as promised, and uses it to do just that. Years later, he has a last-minute conversion to Christianity on his deathbed and goes to Heaven anyway.
I think this is a fantastic idea! Forget all those phony get-rich-quick schemes - here's one that really works. All I have to do is sign a contract with Satan, promising him my eternal soul in exchange for enormous worldly wealth and power, and then repent and turn to Jesus. That way, I can break the contract, get to enjoy eternal bliss when I die, and still get to keep all the cool stuff in the meantime! There's no downside! And I have you to thank for the inspiration. (That guy who told everyone not to "lay up treasures for yourselves upon the earth" was a real sucker! He went about this whole Christian thing all wrong. I guess he just wasn't as good at seeing these opportunities as us.)
Anyway, that's my foolproof plan - but it's hit just one snag. Namely, I can't get the Devil to show up and offer me the contract. I've tried everything I can think of to draw his attention - stamping my foot in public and audibly muttering, "I'd sell my soul for a billion dollars!"; listening to rock-and-roll music; reading demonic books like Harry Potter and The Origin of Species - but so far, I've had no luck.
Mr. Chick, I'm sure I'm not the first person to have this idea. I bet a great Christian evangelist like yourself has already thought of it - heck, you wrote the tract! I'm thinking you must know how to get the Devil's attention, and I bet you've already tricked him into giving you all kinds of free stuff. (Don't worry, I won't horn in your racket. I know the whole international, multimillion-dollar comic strip ministry was your idea. I'll ask him for something else!) Can you give me any tips? Pointers? What am I doing wrong?
If you get this letter, please rush your reply. As you can imagine, time is critical here - if I sign the Devil's contract but then die before accepting Jesus as my personal savior, I'll be eternally damned, and I don't want that. But I also don't want to get saved before getting my hands on all the worldly goods Satan can give me. The way I see it, Satan is God's enemy and I'd be cheating him out of all that stuff, so it has to be okay. I know I can't take it all with me, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it while I'm here, right?
Thanks in advance for your anticipated assistance.
Some Remarks on Biblical Prophecy
Recently, Greta Christina of Greta Christina's Blog invited me to comment on a post of hers in which a theist mentioned my article "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists". This person claimed that the fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible should be sufficient reason for atheists to believe in Christianity. That comment can be viewed here.
Below is the text of my reply:
* * *
Greta Christina invited me here, since Mr. Cawley was commenting on an article of mine. I'd like to address some of his claims about the alleged accuracy of biblical prophecy.
Let me be clear about one thing at the outset: some of the nations and cities whom the biblical authors claimed would be destroyed, were indeed destroyed. This, however, is hardly stunning proof of the foresight of the Bible's authors. Most cities and nations of antiquity have fallen, and most of the ones that are around today will probably fall eventually, also, if only you're willing to wait long enough.
This is especially true given that Mr. Cawley seems to allot infinite time for any of the Bible's prophecies to come true. Notice, for example, how he claims that the destruction of Ashkelon - in 1270 AD, for truth's sake - was a fulfillment of Zephaniah's prophecy of doom nearly two thousand years earlier. This is the stunning foresight that should so impress us all? If I predict that a great flood will strike Egypt, and then a thousand years later such a thing does happen, does that make me a miraculously gifted prophet? Hardly: it just means that if you predict a fairly likely event and are willing to wait forever, sooner or later your prediction will be fulfilled.
To prove that your prophetic powers are up to snuff, it's not enough to predict a likely event and then wait for eternity. Rather, as I said in my article, such prophecies should come with specific, falsifiable details about time, place and circumstance. In this case, Mr. Cawley has definitely fallen off the horse. Most of his alleged "fulfillments" are derived only by removing relevant context - stripping out specific details which show that the Bible's prophecies actually did not come true as written. I'm not going to address his every example, but as a sample of the kind of misrepresentation he repeatedly engages in, let's consider this point about Egypt:
Of Egypt as a whole, Ezekiel said in Ezekiel 29:15, "It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations." Egypt continued as a great and powerful nation for many centuries after the prophecy was written, but finally Egypt became a backward, impoverished, weak nation and has remained so ever since.
Mr. Cawley, you are blatantly guilty of out-of-context quotation. But that's not surprising, considering the full details of the prophecy show that, rather than a success, this was a conspicuous failure. Here's the full text of what Ezekiel said would happen to Egypt:
"Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries. Yet thus saith the Lord God; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered. And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom. It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations."
I think even Mr. Cawley can agree that this never happened. Egypt has never been desolate, much less for forty years at a time, and the Egyptian people were neither scattered nor later regathered. That entire string of predictions failed to come true. It's only the coda at the end, about Egypt losing its superpower status, that Mr. Cawley seizes on and elevates to prophetic status - and, again, history shows that most empires and superpowers decline in status given sufficient time, so this is hardly proof of divine foreknowledge.
For one more example, let's consider Mr. Cawley's claims about Tyre. Again, he's guilty of removing relevant context to disguise prophetic failures. Ezekiel didn't just predict that Tyre would be destroyed; he predicted it would be destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon:
"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers. By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach."
Again, this is a false prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar did indeed besiege Tyre for many years - but, as any history book will tell you, he failed to conquer it. (Tyre is a city on an island just offshore, with suburbs on the mainlands. Nebuchadnezzar conquered those, but failed to break into the island city.) Alexander the Great did conquer it later, but he was not the object of Ezekiel's prophecy.
But now comes the real howler:
God also said in Ezekiel 26:14, "And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God." The site of ancient Tyre is quite suitable for habitation, but the prophecy has stood fulfilled now for over 2, 000 years, and Tyre has never been rebuilt.
This is completely wrong. Tyre exists to this day, and plenty of people still live there. Here's some modern satellite imagery of this supposedly non-existent, never-rebuilt city:
When Biblical apologists resort to denying the existence of entire cities in an attempt to mangle history sufficiently to make their prophecies appear to come true, you know there's nothing more that needs to be said.