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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Genesis 8 – 1.21 Gigawatts!

So we start out with Yahweh remembering Noah and the ark, which would sound reassuring if it didn’t also give the impression that his mind was wandering elsewhere, and that saving the ark was only slightly more important to him than playing his genocidal Fantasia routine with the flood waters. The language is slightly ambiguous, but I think the wind he sends is meant to calm the waves upon the water, not to cause the waters to recede.  After all, the gang is in for another six months of this business.

God turns off the water pumps and sky-spigots, which I think we hear about for the last time here.  I think it’s worth noting that “the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained.”  You could certainly bounce around with some mental gymnastics, but it seems clear to me that the author is referring to two different sources of water.

The boat comes to rest upon the mountains of Ararat, home of the tallest peak in Turkey, and it just kind of chills there while the mountains recede.  It chills there for seven months.  Can you imagine the agony, the frustration, of being trapped in that stinking boat for months eating the same crappy food, shoveling literally tonnes of waste, taking care of thousands of animals who would likely eat or at least seriously injure you if given the chance, all because you’re waiting for a God who flooded the planet to take his sweet time in draining all the water away?

And where exactly would he have drained this water to?  You couldn’t stuff it in the ground.  As I noted previously, only about 1.7% of the hydrosphere is in the ground, and we’re already talking about a volume of water that is several times the volume of the hydrosphere itself.  You couldn’t evaporate it either because the atmosphere holds even less water than the ground.

The only thing I can think of is that, since one can separate water into hydrogen and oxygen gases utilizing an electric current, Yahweh was channeling Zeus and cooking off the oceans with massive lightning storms.  This doesn’t seem unreasonable given that salinated water is highly conductive.  We’d end up with plenty of usable oxygen and hydrogen has escape velocity so we wouldn’t need to account for it.

(My earlier estimate of the volume of water necessary for this story was actually too low because I didn’t account for compression factors increasing the density of the deeper water, but I’ll continue to assume that the density of seawater is uniformly 1025 kg/m3)

Given that you need 237.1 kJ of electrical energy to dissociate one mole of water into oxygen and hydrogen gasses, it would take 237.1 kJ/mol(1.493 x 1023 moles)= 3.540 x 1025 kJ of electrical energy to get rid of all the excess water and bring sea level to what it is today.

As it turns out, there’s actually almost a name for this level of energy: the yottajoule!  It’s equal to 1024 joules and is approximately the amount of energy required to heat the entire hydrosphere by 1 °Celsius.  So we have 35400 yottajoules.  An average lightning bolt carries 500 megajoules of energy. No wonder it took so long to recede the waters!  This would take 70,000,000,000,000,000,000 lightning strikes!  (Fun fact: this is equal to 15 billion times the amount of energy of all nuclear weapons ever exploded of earth)

The waters started to recede after 150 days, so there were 3.6 trillion lightning bolts raging across the face of the planet at any given second until it was dry.  Where all this electrical potential came from is a mystery given that all the water was on the ground now.  The bigger problem would actually be, (aside from killing all the fish, of course) that hydrogen gas is highly flammable and would have created huge, Hindenburg-like explosions from the concentrations it must have been in, which would have recombined the gases back into water and made the tedious process even more lengthy.  All this would have had a profound effect upon the global temperature as well, likely steam-cooking the residents of the ark.

I’m sure there’s no mention of this because Yahweh kept all the storms and extreme heat away from Noah with that benevolent wind.

So the waters recede and Noah keeps tossing birds out the window after getting fed up at being used as their personal cage liner for the hundredth time, but they keep coming back!  Well, the doves do.  Who knows what happened to that raven?  But the dove comes back empty-taloned, then clutching an olive leaf seven days later.

Hold up.  So you’re either telling me that non-aquatic plants survived six months underwater with no ability to photosynthesize or respirate, or that an olive tree grew in the span of seven days.

Okay…

The next few months seem to be occupied with Noah and his family largely sitting on their asses and twiddling thumbs, except we already know they’d have to spend (more than) every waking second taking care of those animals which must have made the waiting that much more excruciating.

No wonder the first thing they did when they got off the ark was to sacrifice of every clean animal and bird.  They must have been quite the zoophobiacs at that point.  Cathartic, I’m sure.

Also, I can only imagine that the only reason the predators didn’t immediately kill and extinguish several thousand species from existence right then and there is that their muscles were too atrophied for pursuit.  How this didn’t lead to their later starvation and subsequent extinction we can only speculate.

Yahweh caught the smell of burning animal flesh and it appeased him.  He says in Gen 8:21 that he “will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing.”

Pretty sweet to get that agricultural reprieve, but wouldn’t it have been nice for all those bloated corpses if Yahweh had decided that humans being evil was just natural for them (not that that’s not an insulting and degrading idea by itself) and shouldn’t be punished en masse before the global genocide?

Was he really that capricious and starved for worship that a simple barbecue would have changed his mind?  Couldn’t he have asked for that instead of an ark?

Yahweh needs to work on his communication abilities.

Genesis 7 – Through Him all things are implausible

So Yahweh’s being indecisive about how many of each animal he wants Noah to pick up from the grocery store and says this time (as opposed to Gen 6:20) that he should take seven pairs of each clean animal and only two of each of the dirty ones.  He doesn’t really specify which is which, but maybe Noah’s a smart guy.  He’s got good interior design sense, he’s got this frigid-temperate-torrid zone theme in mind that god will just LOVE!

He’s also supposed to get seven pairs of each kind of bird, and at around 10,000 species that would be a task in and of itself that would take more than the seven days he gets.  Add to this the million of species that biologists estimate to exist on the planet (estimate because we haven’t even found or categorized the majority of them), and we have a bit of a logistical problem.

Okay, lets be generous and throw out the plants and the fungi.  Let’s suspend disbelief and not ask the question of how non-aquatic plants and fungi could have survived a flood as extended as this one.  He got a bunch of seeds and spores or whatever.  We’ll count that as free space.  We’ll toss out all the insects, arachnids, and invertebrates too because fuck ’em.  Keep in mind however that they occupy the vast majority of the currently identified species on the planet at over 1.3 million.

This leaves us with 62,305 vertebrates that we’ve classified, but we’ll assume it’s the total number for the sake of argument.  After all, why should we believe that those unidentified species even exist if nobody’s seen them?  Anyway, half of which are fish so we don’t need those.  41% of these are freshwater fish, though, and live in environments at a salinity less than 0.05%.  Considering that the ocean is currently almost 100 times that concentration,  a global flood would have drastically changed the salt balance of the fresh water and killed off most of those species due to osmotic pressure, but that’s some cognitive dissonance that we’ll just have to suffer through for now.

Another 6,433 vertebrates are amphibians, so we’ll give them the old defenestration treatment because they can survive in aquatic environments sometimes, too!  This leaves us with 24,572 vertebrates, but we can toss out the 34 aquatic mammals and 128 marine mammals because they’d be fine too.  Except we’ll take back polar bears, because if you expect them to be doing the doggie paddle during the whole flood, then we might as well just throw all of science out the window!

So that leaves us with 24,411 species, but we’ll throw out the 328 turtles and 23 alligators/crocodiles, too.  Every species for themselves!  Sink or swim, bastards!

Okay!  So 24,060!  Now we’re at a reasonable number!  To present the best possible case, we’ll presume that only birds get seven pairs each since they’re the only ones explicitly mentioned.  So Noah and his three sons had to collect 98,120 animals in the space of seven days.

…I didn’t know Noah’s family was such a phenomenal group of hunters.

But suppose that Yahweh leads all the animals to the ark like the church likes to depict in all the Sunday School books for children.  Granted this has no textual basis whatsoever and was likely imagined as the only possible way Noah could have completed this task.  I would call it ironic that the only way people seem to accomplish any of the tasks that god sets them to is with some sort of divine intervention arguably cooked-up ex post facto by fervent believers desperately trying to figure out how these stories square with reason and science, but it’s really what I should have come to expect by now.

Anyway, we’ll assume that too!

Occam’s razor is shitting a brick right about now.

Let’s look at polar bears for a second since I called attention to them.  You can assume one of two things: that two polar bears migrated about 3,500 km at minimum across climates totally foreign and hostile to their biology, or that all the animals in the world lived in or closer to the Middle East in the antediluvian past, also in environments that would have been totally hostile towards their biology (not to mention the likelihood that many species would have gone extinct from predation due to poorly adapted camouflage and escape mechanisms).

This would also mean that you believe that land animals now considered indigenous to North America and Australia (and the Galapagos Islands, for that matter) either traveled even farther across vast oceans or that they somehow spread out after the flood across those oceans. distributing themselves to make it appear as if they evolved from a common ancestor.  The marsupials, for example, all had several planning meetings before deciding upon Australia as their base of operations for this grand conspiracy.

So, if we divide the total area of the ark by all the animals we have, then that leaves a little over 15 cubic feet per animal.  This actually seems quite spacious for a floating zoo.  This is like having your very own garbage can to live in!

Granted many of the animals didn’t need this much space as they were much smaller, but the reverse is also true.  One would need to gather 6 elephants for the existent 3 species, as well as 16 bears, 10 rhinos, 10 big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards), 8 gorillas, and 2 giraffes (who for that matter at an average of 18 feet tall would be too tall for any of the decks of the ark unless one was specifically designed for them, a potentially huge waste of space, or they spent the whole time kneeling which would surely have caused their muscles to atrophy and made them the perfect targets for hungry predators upon exiting the ark) .  Keep in mind that’s just scratching the surface of the larger mammals.

And let’s go to the other end of the spectrum and look at hummingbirds.  They’d need approximately 4,500 hummingbirds to account for seven pairs of each of the 325 species, and each bird eats between 1/2 and 12 times it’s body weight in nectar every day.  The smallest hummingbirds weigh 2 grams, the largest weigh 20 grams.  Assuming that all hummingbirds weigh 2 grams and need 1/2 their body weight in nectar a day, Noah would need 1,700 kg of nectar to feed the smallest family of animals he had.

Using similar math, we can estimate that since elephants eat on average 200 kg of plant matter a day, Noah would need 450,000 kg of food for the elephants alone.  How could eight people move around this kind of weight every day?  It boggles the mind to think about how they’d be able to carry the weight of all the food for the 100,000 animals (not to mention the colossal amount of excrement), let alone how the ark itself could bear it.

And speaking of caring for the animals, how the hell would they have time to do it?  With the eight people on the ark and 98,120 animals, they’d have about seven seconds a day to feed and care for each animal, which doesn’t even factor in the time they themselves would need to eat and sleep.

…….I think I’ve beaten that horse long enough, but I feel that it is a nut worth taking a sledgehammer to.

I’ve even heard some arguments that Noah didn’t need to bring that many species of animals on the ark because the bible only specifies that he find two of each “kind.”  What is that?  A genus?  A family?  How far back up the genetic tree are we going?  You expect me to believe that zebras and horses diverged and evolved from a common ancestor via natural selection as recently as 6,000 years ago, but you yourself say that evolution is a lie!?

Don’t we think that biologists would have noticed such an extreme population bottleneck among almost all species on earth converging at the same time period!?  Does the fact that they’ve found exactly the opposite mean nothing?  Apparently!   If we’re going to abandon all pretenses of conforming with the physical laws of reality, why don’t we just say that god used quantum mechanics to store all the animals in interdimensional space!?  What the fuck!?

*Ahem*

In Gen 7:11 we get not only a start date for the flood, but also another great reference to that body of water god suspended in the sky.  Yahweh opened up the floodgates above and below to give the people of the earth the most excessive and overblown baptism in history.

It’s unclear if the 17th day of the 2nd month is referring to some calendar date or Noah’s age, but since it’s consistent with Gen 8:13 which says that Noah didn’t open up the ark and leave until the 27th day of the 2nd month of the following year, we can still deduce that they were trapped in that stinking boat for 375 days.  This is quite a bit longer than the 40 days and forty nights crap that the church tries to sell kids on.   Gen 7:12 only says that it rained for that long, and the church has deliberately misconstrued this passage to make it easier for this story to slip past the rational defenses of the mind, which are far less developed in the young who don’t yet understand all the physical laws of the world.

Genesis 7:19-20 notes that all the mountains under heaven were covered at a depth of (at least) 15 cubits.  The tallest mountain on earth is Mt. Everest at 8,848 meters, and so the water would need to be 7.5 meters higher than that.  Some quick and dirty math will tell us that the volume of water needed to cover the earth to this depth would be 510,072,000 km2(8.8555 km)=4,516,900,000 km3 of water.

To give some sort of comparison, that is more than three times the amount of water present in all of the oceans on earth.

Total groundwater stores only make up 23,400,000 km3, and there is even less water suspended in the atmosphere at just 12,900 km3?  Where would such a volume of water come from?  To where would it have receded?  Are we back to the flat earth model so that excess water could be drained off the edge?

Even if we assume that the world is as small as this tribe of ancient Hebrews thought and take Mt. Ararat (the alleged landing place of the ark) as the highest peak on earth, we’d still need 510,072,000 km2(5.1445 km)=2,624,100,000 km3 of water,  which still exceeds the total hydrosphere of the planet.

My analysis of this particular myth leaned heavily on the numerical and physical side of things, but to get a good look at the cultural and historical records surrounding it, take a look at this article.  It’s a Christian website, but the author actually argues against the literal interpretation of the bible given the cultural context, which is quite frankly (and sadly) refreshing.

And I didn’t even talk about the idiotic idea that dinosaurs were still around.  Some people…

Genesis 6 – Now with more maths!

We return to our story with angels in our midst!  It would seem that the sons of God (בני אלוהים (b’nai elohim) for the etymologically curious) have found the women of our species most comely and descended to the earthly plain to make some babies with them.  Yes, this was the time of the nephilim!  The half-human, half-angels walked the Earth and they were mighty indeed!

Does this remind anybody else of the demigods of Greek legend (i.e. Heracles)?

How this squares with the church teachings that angels are Yahweh’s servants who have no free will and therefore don’t share in mankind’s blanket condemnation because they had no original sin, or how that idea is even fair and just in this context, I leave for the discursively acrobatic apologists to stammer over.  Angels get to be individually responsible for their actions, but human beings are all damned from birth?  Does that seem right to you?

Yahweh also sets a limit on human lifespan to a more reasonable number, although this has recently been exceeded by a certain pot-smoking centenarian.  The fact that people in the bible continue to exceed this limit after God puts it in place must certainly have Christian “scientists” ready with another reasonable explanation at hand that has nothing to do with the fact that the technology to keep records and verify their historical accuracy slowly improved over time.

Yahweh then claims that all of humanity’s thoughts (save Noah’s) were continually bent upon evil, which seems like a rather unfair sweeping generalization to make, but I guess we shouldn’t be arguing fairness with a god who’s about to wipe out the entire population of the earth because they made him sad.

Noah is also said to have “walked with God” (the same phrasing used to refer to Enoch), which makes me wonder if this is not just a metaphor for being faithful and obedient to god’s dictates (though we haven’t heard what they are yet).

“All flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth,” and Yahweh decides that “the end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”  Horrific, but poetic.  I wish we could take this verse to mean that Yahweh is a god of peace who abhors violence, but alas this is not the case.  Utter genocide is the only solution.

The fact that Christians can assert with a straight face that Jesus was sent to redeem humankind from their sinful nature and an eternity of suffering but that the world had to be wiped out in a flood to cleanse humanity of it’s overwhelmingly corrupted population is astounding.

And from this chapter we learn that the best material for building vessels which are intended to save the species of the planet from extinction is gopher wood, a material so mystical and wondrous that we can’t even agree upon what it is.  Bet the dinosaurs wish they had one!

But here’s the best part: measurements!  Actual quantifiable data!  Granted we can’t know them with a significant level of precision, given the imprecise nature of the unit of measurement itself, but they are measuements nonetheless.

A cubit is a little more than half a meter long, but for familiarity’s sake we’ll use 1.5 feet.  The ark is 300X50X30 cubits, which works out to a volume of 450,000 cubits^3 or 1.5 million cubic feet.  This is admittedly pretty freaking huge for an ancient boat.  It’s a building about one and a half football fields long by half a football field wide and four stories tall.

It’s also assuming the ark was a perfect rectangle and ignoring the space occupied by the floors, walls of the rooms, and all the structural supports that would have been necessary to keep such a colossal construction from being shredded by a turbulent and violent flood.  But, let’s be generous.

Noah must have also been a very rich man to fund such an undertaking, but the question must still be asked of where he got the labor to build such a thing.  It never actually says how long it took him to build the ark, and the only measurement of time passing that we really have to go off of is the fact that chapter 5 ends saying that Noah was 500 years old, and chapter 7 asserts that the flood began on the 600th year of his life.  So, even considering the fact that Noah’s labor supply was likely limited to that of his own immediate family, they had 100 years at maximum to build this, which possibly also makes moot the problem of deforestation that might have occurred.

Of course, the other option for the labor is that they hired some of the local populace to help them build and then refused them entry when the waters came.  Cold.

Tune in next time for another exciting analysis of what this all means for physics and biodiversity!

Genesis 5 – Why don’t we just beat biology with a brick?

Thus we have the first of the myriad genealogical books of the bible, the existence of which are really only relevant to long-dead patriots of ancient tribes proud to see the long record of noble individuals among their heritage and young earth creationists trying to establish the age of the earth and the historical accuracy of the bible.

The only thing in this chapter more ludicrous than the ages that most of these descendants of Adam live to is the age at which most of them father children.  

Arguably, the only thing Christians are more certain of than Jesus’s infinite capacity to forgive even the most outrageous transgressions is humanity’s capacity to fall from God’s grace through the wicked opportunities of sin.  No sin preoccupies the mind of the modern American Christian more than of SEX.  It’s the most wicked and debasing thing in the world, and the veritable pink elephant in the room.

Certainly Adam and his progeny are supposed to represent the most righteous examples of nobility and virtue that humanity can muster up, but if you expect me to believe that Adam and his wife Eve were together for 130 years before they had sex enough times to have a third child, then you’re crazier than Abraham when he heard the voice of God telling him to kill his son.

After this, there are quite a few claims of nigh immortality as it lists off a dozen people who lived on the order of 900 years without being taken away by disease or wild animals.  We’ll just bypass the biological impossibility of such claims, because it seems pointless to bring them up now after already skipping by the fact that Eve was of post-menopausal age twice over when giving birth to Seth.  Perhaps most of these men’s wives were much younger than the men (not an impossibility especially considering the culture of arranged marriages of the ancient middle east), but I must admit that the ethical issues of a man 100 or more years older than his barely post-pubescent bride are far more disturbing to me to consider than anything else I’ve mentioned.

So, we get a bunch of admittedly cool-sounding names but not much else along with a woefully skeletal story about a man called Enoch.  There must undoubtedly be gobs of apocryphal stories surrounding this man because it is said that he “walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”  Notable certainly for having walked with God, a privilege that all the fervently religious in the modern world wish that God would bestow upon anyone so that all the non-believers could see he’s real, but also because the wording of this verse could be interpreted to mean that Yahweh took Enoch straight to heaven without him suffering death.

It could also mean any number of other things, such that God entirely erased his spiritual existence in an existential fit, or that Enoch got sick of all his family’s fanatical shit and wandered off into the desert where no one discovered his body so they assumed that God had whisked him away three-hundred-sixty-five years young for scotch and good company.

We also have the famous Methuselah notable entirely for his extraordinary ability to refrain from kicking the bucket for nine-hundred-sixty-nine years.  One has to admire his restraint.

Amid all the populating of the earth (which really still has yet to explain the population distribution of races on the various continents without invoking a rate of biological mutation that certainly would have killed off the entire species by now) Noah is born.  His father Lamech prophesies that Noah will relieve his people from the toil they’ve endured due to the cursed earth, which is rather a lot of responsibility to lay on an infant’s shoulder’s for a gut instinct.

And lastly, when Noah was five-hundred years old he begat three sons, but presumably not all at once.  That would be pretty unlikely.

(Your irony meters should be going off.)

Now, we all know what’s coming so I don’t think I need a spoiler alert to make a quick commentary on the chapters to come.  It says in Gen 9:28 that Noah lived to be 950 years old, which was 350 years after the flood.  That works out to make Noah (break out the calculators) 600 years old at the time of the flood.  Still with me?

Now, Methselah, Noah’s grandfather, was 187 years old when giving he fathered Lamech.  Lamech was 182 years old when he fathered Noah.  That means that Methuselah was 369 years old when Noah was born.  So Methuselah was 369+600=969 years old when the flood hit the earth.

This is exactly the age that Methuselah died.  This leaves one of two possibilities.  Yahweh waited until just after this man died to wipe away the pestilence of his own creation, or he killed Methuselah in the flood along with every other human being on the planet but Noah’s family, compassionate god that he is.

Just a thought.

Genesis 4 – God hates Veggies

We begin our story with the first human birth of the universe, which somehow passes without Eve mentioning, “Holy fuck, Lord!  You weren’t kidding about that whole ‘greatly multiplied’ pain thing!”

We meet Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd, and in time the two bring offerings of the fruits of their labor.  Cain brings veggies and such, while Abel sacrifices some young goats or something like that.  Thus we have Yahweh’s first real opportunity to showcase how much of a prick he is.

I just want to take a moment to note that shepherding, noble profession that it is, is nowhere near as difficult or labor-intensive as farming.  Keep the 6,000 year old context in mind when considering what agricultural crops, tools, and techniques Cain had at his disposal.  I even wouldn’t be surprised if he had to protect his fields from Abel’s flock upon occasion.

So, Yahweh was pleased by Abel’s gifts, but totally blew off Cain’s.  Cain gets understandably upset, considering that it should be the thought (not to mention all the back-breaking labor) that counts, so Yahweh comes over and consoles him.

Nah, just kidding.

He scolds him for the fact that he’s upset, and says that Cain wouldn’t be upset if he had actually done well.  Then he lectures Cain about sin waiting for him when he doesn’t do well.  This is an understandable warning in context, since you’re far more likely to deal out some horrible retribution when you’re upset, but I feel like it only really fans the flames when you just told someone who took the time and effort to make you an offering out of the goodness of their heart that their present is total crap.

From this we can surmise that Yahweh is a carnivorous god who desires blood, raises eyebrow and nose at leafy greens, and likes to shame people who already feel bad.

Cain gets all jealous and kills his brother in a rage.  An interesting question one might ask is if Christianity presupposes that humans have no innate moral compass and must be controlled by the edicts of a divine moral arbiter, could Cain have known that killing his brother is wrong since it mentions nowhere if Yahweh gave them commandments to follow after being banished from Eden?

In any case god asks Cain another batch of unnecessary questions (“Where’s your borther?” “What have you done?”), which leads me to believe that he’s either not omniscient or the most passive-aggressive god in all of mythology.

The phrasing of his curse upon Cain actually makes him sound more like a third party than anything else.  It seems as if Cain is cursed directly from the Earth because of the blood it has absorbed, and therefore refuses to yield it’s bounty to him further.  Terrible to be a farmer who can no longer grow food, but what Cain should have said was, “Yeah, well you never liked my veggies anyway!”

He’s understandably worried that anyone who finds him will kill him as he’s basically just been turned into a vagrant beggar.  Tribal loyalties were a bit thicker back then, as well as distrust of outsiders, especially cursed ones.  So Yahweh marks him to show that sevenfold vengeance will be taken against anyone who kills him.  Kind of a sweet caveat, really.  Sure, he’s cursed, but he’s still under divine protection.  Of course, that’s arguably just to ensure that his suffering will be prolonged as much as possible.

Except, full stop.  Who’s going to find and kill him?  According to the bible so far, there are a grand total of four three people left on the planet right now.  And then Cain has kids with his wife.  What!?  That’s really all the explanation we get?  So either he finds a wife if the land of Nod to which he journeys, or his wife is one of his sisters who doesn’t merit mention because the bible is as sexist in its genealogies as it is in its commandments.  As if incest didn’t have its own issues.

We get our first taste of polygamy with Cain’s great-great-great grandson, who claims that if anyone kills him he’ll be revenged seventy-sevenfold (what formula is he using to calculate this?) because he has killed two people.  He could be lamenting, but this really sounds more like boasting.  Since when does the divine give out protection for slaughtering people anyway?  Seems like the more people you murder under this protection racket, the less people would want to kill you for fear of incurring Yahweh’s wrath.  Not an inconceivable scheme.

We meet Seth, Abel’s replacement as the righteous child, as evidenced by the fact that his descendants “called upon the name of the Lord.”  Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that Eve’s only speaking parts here are to comment upon how grateful she is for the children god gives to her.  She gets no further commentary presumably because she’s just a wicked baby-factory.

Actually, we don’t hear from Adam at all.  Why isn’t there any sort of reaction on the parent’s part to one son being dead, one son a becoming a murderer?  No cursing, shaming, weeping, casting out?

Fratricide is a terrible crime, but don’t worry.  I’m sure god’ll sort it all out.

Genesis 3 – Be as I say, not as I am

Here is where the bible first displays its rampant anti-intellectualism.  I suppose it is an inevitable consequence of a faith-based paradigm to assert that knowledge and curiosity are evil and will only lead to your downfall, but it still saddens me that this parable informs the foundation of the vast majority of Western society.

From the get-go it says that the serpent is more crafty/cunning than any other creature (depending upon the translation), and immediately establishes intelligence as an evil trait.  Interesting to note, however, that were Eve wiser, she would not have been so easily fooled by the serpent.  Clearly the answer to free humanity from gullibility is education.

Except we all know that’s not the moral of the story.  One does not need knowledge to obey.  Obedience is key, regardless of one’s intellectual capabilities, to being a moral person in Yahweh’s eyes.

It is of significant note that Eve was not alive at the point that god commanded Adam to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree of good and evil.  This means one of two things: that there were extenuating circumstances outside the official narrative of the story (whereby god informed Eve of his commandment), or that Adam was the one who informed Eve of this command.  I myself am inclined toward the latter case, perhaps because it seems less likely that the literary work which purports to deliver the word of god would leave out the words of god.

In the latter case, Eve’s position as skeptic becomes even easier to identify with.  She’s dealing with some serious “he said He said” bullshit.

It’s also interesting for me to notice that there is never actually a passage talking about the conversation which Eve had with Adam about the fruit.  It merely says that she ate of the fruit and gave it to him, who ate it also.  I grew up with stories about the way that Eve persuaded Adam to disobey his creator, feminine wiles distorting the obedient and rational male mind.  I’m surprised to learn that it’s simply misogyny with no biblical basis.

Let’s consider the case of the serpent briefly.  He asserts that god lied to them because they certainly will not die if they eat of the fruit.  This is actually true in the literal sense, because Yahweh says that they will surely die “in the day that you eat from it” (Gen 2:17).  Certainly there’s an argument here that god did not lie because he condemned humans to death the day they ate the fruit, but the fact that Adam lives for another 900 years really should make one ponder who here is the trickster figure mincing words and telling half truths?

The serpent says that Yahweh doesn’t Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit because it will make them like god, knowing good and evil.  The message here is, of course, that ignorance is bliss, and learning and questions will get you into deep shit with the divine authority.  The moral of this whole damn chapter is that you shouldn’t trust your reason, curiosity, or intellect, because authority knows best.

The fact that Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil before eating of the tree is further evidence that this was not a moral test.  They could not have known the right thing to do because they had not the requisite knowledge.  This was a test of obedience.

Growing up, I’ve heard this called the “original rebellion.”  This seems totally disingenuous to me.  Rebellion is an act undertaken with at least the pretense of deliberate and violent rejection of a particular idea of system of governance.  At most, this was a toddler’s lapse of judgement due to momentary infatuation with a shiny.  To condemn them and their entire progeny to death and pain is extreme and unjust.  Do you beat a toddler to death because they steal from the cookie jar?

No.  You don’t.

You don’t because they don’t know any better.  To do so would be cruel, unjust, and totally out of proportion with the infraction.  Clearly this is an overreaction.  But why so extreme?  I’ll return to that…

Gen 3:7 begins the body and sexuality shaming inherent in Christianity.  Once they know of the difference between good and evil, they immediately clothe themselves because there is no more present evil than that of their nakedness.  If nakedness is evil, then why did Yahweh permit it while they were ignorant?  Is it because they only looked upon one another with lust (a sin) after they understood nakedness?  That’s just bizarre, because they’re for all intents and purposes married.  Clearly it must be concluded that there’s no rational basis for this belief.  Naked is just bad.  Don’t do it!

It’s also been pointed out to me that the phrase “good and evil” could be a merism, which would mean that the knowledge they gained was not of morality, but of “all the things.”  That opens up a whole can of speculative worms which I don’t really want to get into, but it still jives with the whole “knowledge is bad for you” or at least “undesired by god” theme.

Though clearly this could not have made Adam too intelligent if he thought it was a better idea to hide from god because he’s naked than to act as if nothing had changed to avoid punishment.  Perhaps this is an argument in favor of the inherent morality of humans since he was merely ashamed and did not actually lie to Yahweh and confessed when confronted (though Adam throws Eve under the heavenly bus, who in turn tosses the serpent under).

Anyway, Yahweh is wandering through the garden (which incidentally imbues him with a physical, arguably bodily presence found nowhere else in the bible), and asks Adam a bunch of questions which he should already know the answer to, being omniscient and all.  Yahweh then doles out a bunch of punishments which really sound a lot more like origin myths than a historical record.  The woman must submit to the man’s authority but simultaneously desire him (kinky!) and have really painful childbirth, the men must work the land to survive, death is introduced to the world, and the snake loses it’s legs and is set eternally at odds with humanity.  From an outside perspective, this really sounds more than anything else like “and coyote became trapped in the mortal realm.  He howls at his lover, the Moon, because he knows he can never return to the spirit realm with her.”

I’d like to just take a moment to point out a talking snake.  A talking snake!  Really?  Really?  There’s no explanation at all for this phenomenon, nor any reprise.  There’s no reason why animals no longer speak to people, no commandment from god.  It wasn’t part of the punishments.  One can only surmise that it is part of the cost of being expelled from Eden, but that is just baseless speculation.

And let us not forget that the modern church would have us believe that the serpent is Satan, but this is not supported anywhere in the actual text.  This could certainly be explained away by some supplementary material later in the bible, as I’m beginning to suspect that the holy book makes a habit of retcon.

Yahweh then makes them some leather clothes as a way to say, “Baby I only hit you because I love you.  Here’s some flowers,” and drives them from the garden for their disobedience.

Except not.  God takes a healthy dose of paranoia pills and says he better banish them since they’ve “become like one of Us, knowing good and evil”  This plural is damn confusing.  Is Yahweh actually saying that there are more like him, and that he fears the humans becoming like them?  Regardless, it is clear that he does not banish them for disobedience, but out of fear that they could eat of the tree of life and live forever.

God is afraid of them becoming his equals.

Think about that for a second.

Let’s skip past the whole “why did he put the tree of life in the garden in the first place?” business.  The fact is that there exists a tree which could have given Adam and Eve immortality which Yahweh would have implicitly been powerless to remove.  This is an argument supported by the fact that he explicitly says this is the reason they shall be banished.

He’s afraid.

Knowledge is dangerous because it makes you like god and threatens his power.

And to protect against his power being usurped, he places a cherubim with a flaming sword which “turns every way” to guard not the garden but the tree of life.

And I can’t help it, but the cherubim makes me think of this.

Genesis 2 – 2nd Draft

The first and easiest shot which one can take at this chapter is of course to ask the question of why an omnipotent deity would need a day of rest.  To admit that such an awesome act of creation could possibly drain away even the tiniest amount of power or energy from god would be admitting that he is in some way limited, which would be a perfectly acceptable assertion were the bible talking about any other god but this one.  Yahweh is by definition infinite, and any evidence to the contrary would unravel his entire character.

One could argue that this day of rest was intended for the humans he had just created, except that he makes no commandment as such, contrary to his personal style of authoritarian dictates.  Verse 3 notes that the sabbath is sanctified because Yahweh rested on that day, and not that people should rest because he sanctified it.

Verse 1 states “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.”  Perhaps this answers the question of when the host of heaven (i.e. angels) were created.  It’s possible that this confirms that the were no further acts of creation past this point, and the process of bringing the universe into being was finished which would seem to support the idea that the supernatural entities exist at this point.  Curious that they warrant no mention, though.

Verse 4, with its repetitious, almost incantatory style, reminds me of the fact that this and other portions of the bible were in fact chanted.  Perhaps the fact that this aspect of religious worship is missing from modern Christianity could go some way in explaining the need for the ecstatic, speaking-in-tongues experience that has become so popular.  Just a thought.

I hope I’m not the only one who senses a thematic shift at verse 5.  Perhaps it’s because we just went back in fucking time.  As far as I know, with the exception of the gospels, the rest of the bible goes chronologically, so it just strikes me as odd that within the first two chapters of this book it is deemed necessary that we must go back, strike the record, and revise previous statements.  Sloppy storytelling to say the least.

Suddenly there is no plant life and no human beings again, and Adam is created before the plants.  How did the 6th day happen before the 3rd day, I wonder?  Regardless, there is something more poetic about Yahweh creating humans by breathing life into the earth than apparating from thin air due to some incantation.

Adam is actually an interesting name because Yahweh never actually names him that.  The bible just starts referring to him as that in Gen 2:20.  It’s actually something of a pun, because the Hebrew word for earth is adamah (אֲדָמָה).  Also, tangentially related, autocthon is an awesome word.

So Adam is created, then the garden, and then, only then, are all the plants allowed to sprout and grow (and how this jives with the original timeline is left unexplained), including a couple of incredibly interesting trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But those come later.

The fact that we essentially get a physical location, at the mouth of four specific rivers, for Eden is far more interesting than if it was just said to be in some far off mythic land that nobody’s been to since.  It means that we can go there, take a look around, and note that, in all likelihood, “Yup. This place is crap.”

Now, the first commandment in first creation story is “be fruitful and multiply,” but obviously there is not yet anyone for Adam to be fruity or multiplicative with as of yet, so god commands him to eat anything but the fruit of the tree of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”  An important phrasing that I’ll return to in later chapters.

Adam’s first role is tender of the garden, but god also decided that this is a lonely planet with just just one naked guy staring dumbstruck around at a bunch of plants, most of which he can’t eat, and so brings all the beasts and birds into existence specifically because he’s looking for a helper for Adam. In the process, Yehweh decides he might as well parade all the creatures in front of Adam to have him bark nonsense sounds at them and use those as their names.  Personally I would have had some fun with it, given how vocal I was as a baby, and given them all ridiculous-sounding names filled with too many vowels and raspberry sounds.  After all, it seems Adam is only a few hours old, and I’m not sure what we can really assume about his cognitive abilities at this point.

Not to mention the mind-numbingly vast period of time it would take to actually name all the “beasts of the field and birds in the sky” on Earth, most of which don’t even reside anywhere near the Middle East, the glaring omission of the creation of the goddamn fish, which Yahweh spent the whole fourth day on, should be staring us in the face.  It’s almost as if this version of the story was created by a completely different culture, one which has never seen an ocean.  Oh, yeah, and this version puts the creation of the birds and beasts after the humans.

We can’t even go two chapters in without having internal contradictions, can we?

So there’s no suitable helper for Adam found among the animals, a result which is hardly surprising considering that this helper is supposed to be “corresponding to” Adam.  This sounds a lot like more shoddy guess-and-check work to me.

So Yahweh gets all MacGyver and says, “Aha, I can fix this!” and makes a woman from a rib that Adam probably didn’t need anyway.  Adam speaks his first words in the book and says that “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.”

Hold. the fuck. on.

I never really considered it this way before, but it really strikes me as no wonder that the bible is so misogynistic.  The origin myth comes right out and says that women were birthed from men.  How backwards is that?  Makes me think of Athena being birthed from Zeus’s head, but even then she had a mortal mother first.

In fact it reminds me more of a book that I admittedly haven’t read called When God was a Woman, which essentially argues that the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal cultures had a corresponding shift in their religious doctrines in which male deities claimed the roles of supreme creator and giver of life.  In most other creation myths, there is some original goddess from which the male god who eventually overthrows or kills her is birthed.  I suppose that for a self-begotten male god, it is internally consistent to maintain the male power of life within the origin of humanity.

So Eve is lesser because she is Adam’s helper and came from him, though I have also heard that Eve is merely human 2.0, the improved version.  It’s kind of humorous, if only for the anachronism, but ultimately flawed for the same reasons.  There was no male or female first; it’s like a more inane “chicken and egg” riddle.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s really more of an expression of cultural supremacy and values than anything else.

The chapter closes with an almost external-narrative-storytelling-parenthetical remark, in that all this is why men leave their mothers and fathers to take wives and be one flesh.  Adam and Eve would have no experience with this concept, having no mortal parents to leave, so it seems to be some sort of explanatory statement tagged on as the end point of this etiological myth.

And also they’re naked.  Just thought you should know.

Genesis 1 – Abracadabra

I once took a course in college titled “Approaches to Myth”, and one day a guest lecturer visited to speak about the genesis story.  Almost the entire lecture was spent discussing a few very specific intricacies related to the particular wordings and word choices in the original Hebrew of the script, such as the fact that the first name assigned to God is elohim (אֱלהִים), and can be an ambiguously plural word that incorporates both male and female aspects.

Such intricate analysis is fascinating to me, but ultimately a bit too in-depth for my purposes.  Since it seems most modern American Christians are unaware of the difficulties and losses of meaning involved in translating a book from another language, culture, and era, I think such an involved level of analysis is not very useful here.  I might as well be talking about how clever James Joyce is when writing puns in old Norse.  As such, I’ll try to stick mostly to the text as it has been translated, but there may be occasions when I pipe up like a rusty train whistle when I have something significant to add.  As I mentioned previously but not explicitly, one of the primary things I’m interested in is how the bible is, in many ways, self-refuting.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  What is most notable about the Hebrew God in comparison to other ancient Middle Eastern mythical figures is that he has no origin story.  The story begins with the creation of our world, whereas other cultures had Gaia or Tiamat being birthed from the void or something.  Tiamat, for example, was slain by Marduk and her body itself was used to create the heavens and the earth.  The Hebrew God seems more like a parlor magician:  *Poof* “Ta-daa!”

It’s also the only aspect of the creation story that was brought into being without speaking words.  All the other refinements that God makes are commands spoken aloud.

The fact that day and night precede the creation of the Sun, is kind of funny, but it also reminds me that this is an etiological myth.  It was a tale handed down from mouth to mouth for generations within a particular tribe to explain why the world is the way it is.  It actually makes me think of a lot of Native American and Greek myths which sought to explain particular phenomena such as the Echo.

The fact that the earth was “without form, and void,” a phrase which I originally took to be rather poetic, gains a rather surprising and concrete meaning when we come to verse 6.  God creates a firmament called Heaven to divide the waters above and below.  That’s when it hits me.  These people actually thought that Heaven was some sort of dome holding back the waters in the sky!  I’ve seen drawings of the concept of the “celestial sphere” before, but never not one that put actual water on the outside.  It is a rather easy answer to “why is the sky blue?” I suppose, but it also gives additional significance to the story of the great flood.  This sky god has power over the waters both above and below.

Then come plants which, it is also strange to note, come before the Sun.  No photosynthesis for you!  You’ll just have to go to bed without dinner!  To be fair, though, I’m getting a picture of a sort of dull diffusion of light permeating the day which the mythmakers saw as being gathered and shaped into the greater and lesser lights on the fourth day.  The fact that the rest of the cosmos gets such a passing mention as “He made the stars also” seems so disingenuous.  Of course, desert tribes 6.000 years ago could not know that all those tiny dots in the firmament, billions of them, were great lights just like our own.  It just seems so cheap and dismissive of how unfathomably large and vast the cosmos really is.

And what’s all this business with “and God saw that it was good”?  Was this a guess-and-check project?  Was god just splashing together another piece of artwork to hang in his living room? “Yeah, that’ll go real nice with my lampshades.”

When it mentions that God created the “great sea creatures,” I wonder if this is referring to creatures like whales and sharks, which actually exist, or to mythical creatures and sailor’s tales?  I’m inclined towards the latter, since I’ve heard that the bible affirms the existence of unicorns.  I’m sure I’ll get to that if it’s there, though.

Then on the sixth day, humans!  Male and female in Our image!  Wait, what?  There’s that confusing plural usage again.  Perhaps this could be chalked up to that Trinity nonsense, although it’s starting to seem like a god with multiple personality disorder that talks to itself using the plural is less and less desirable an object of worship.

And also, what exactly does “image” mean?  I’m sure theologians the world and time over have argued this point.  Could it mean the actual physical characteristics of God?  In which case is God male, female, a hermaphrodite, asexual?  In fact, why create male and female versions of anything at all?  If humans truly were made in the image of God, why the sexual dimorphism?  It’s not the only option; we can see that in nature.

Or does that phrase merely extend to the rough shape, i.e. the arms, legs, head, and torso?  This just seems more like the kind of God that primitive people would be able to conceptualize.  A more powerful version of themselves.  And it’s a tautological explanation of humanity’s dominance over earth’s creatures anyway.  “We rule over all the lands because this god that looks just like us told us we could rule over all the lands.”

I’ve also heard in my childhood that this reference “in Our image” is referring to the fact that humans have a spiritual aspect just as god does, which always begged the question, “then what’s all this fleshy business about?!”  Besides, the word image is inescapably bound up in the actual realm of the visible, and the spiritual realm is distinctly invisible.

There’s also a conspicuous absence of any other voices in this story.  Those first humans can’t even get a single word in edgewise to thank the guy for giving them so much dominion.

It must also be pointed out that the grammar of verse 27 does not limit those first humans to two single entities, a male and female.  It could be denoting an entire population of people, not unlike the way in which god is said to have created all the other animals on the earth.  In fact, their lack of voices makes them seem like just another pack of animals in the world, albeit ones with the divine blessing to be the dominant species on that spit of land between the waters above and below.

And then God rests, and he would be sleepy.

But, wait!  That’s it!?  What about all the choirs of the angels, and the heavenly host, and Lucifer, and the rebellion, and the fall from grace!  What about all that awesome metaphysical war?  When did all that happen?  Before the beginning of creation?  But there would have been no heaven to fall from or hell to fall to.  During the first day when the heaven and the earth were created?  Then Lucifer was either a really impatient and psychotic guy or it begins to smell like a set-up.  I thought Lucifer was supposed to be Satan who was supposed to be the snake!  When does he come into the picture?

I thought etiological myths were supposed to answer questions…

In the beginning, there was this post

I discovered recently that Penn Jilette, a rather outspoken atheist who you might have heard of, makes it a point to read at least a chapter of the bible a day.  I agree with Greta Christina that it’s infuriating to have to know more about a believer’s religion than they do, but it seems to be the most effective method for exposing people to the inanity of their professed beliefs.  Faith is a shield that protects from without, but doubt is a saboteur from within.  To support that end, I decided to take the so called “atheist challenge” and actually read the bible.

This undertaking is the product of many factors.  I suppose I started kicking it around in my mind while watching JT Eberhard’s incredibly cogent and eloquent speech entitled “Dear Christian“, where he respectfully draws the average Christian’s attention to how irrational all their apologetic artillery is.  In this talk, he mentions that less than 10% of professing Christians have read the bible, and that 3/4 of them believe that the bible is “the authoritative guide to faith.”  This struck me as astounding, but not totally incomprehensible.

I have long conceptualized the Christian paradigm and moral philosophy as one dominated by the unquestioning respect of and obedience to authority.  It is a totalitarian system in which “right” and “good” action are dictated and handed down from on high to be absorbed and enacted without debate or equivocation.  I could see the merit of this philosophy, in that it instills the faithful with an attitude of, “Fuck the world!  I’m going to do what I think is right!”  Except that it is not what you think is right.  It is what you have been told to think is right, and if you don’t toe the party line then god will send you to a place where they will torture you.  It has every aspect of a dictatorial regime.  And it is that absolute fear and respect for authority that allows most Christians to merely sit in church on Sundays, listen to their various preachers, and accept as fact whatever it is that those orators present as their interpretation of the bible.  It is lazy of them to do so, and certainly convicts them of gullibility, but it seems to me to follows logically.

I think I should mention at this point that I grew up a professing Christian in a Presbyterian church, so I have a fair amount of experience in this regard.  I, too, convict myself of laziness and gullibility because in the 20 or so years that I considered myself a Christian, I didn’t read the bible once.  In fact, the moment that I began to break away from the church was precisely when I started reading the bible.  I remember very distinctly sitting down with my black-covered New American Standard translation and saying, “Okay, let’s see what it is that I believe.”

What an appalling statement in retrospect!  My mind struggles to comprehend how utterly this drone mentality must have seeped within me to so discount and invalidate my individuality, my critical abilities, that I would claim to all the world that I believed any ridiculous thing, no matter what it was, within a book that I had never even read.

Needless to say, I didn’t finish it.  In fact, I believe I got as far as the book of Numbers before I had to put it down in disbelief.  I still went to church for a while, still went to my bible study classes, but the damage had been done.  A crack had been struck in the rock of my faith and all that was needed, like in geology, was pressure and time.  I had seen the hollowness of much of it for longer than I allowed myself to admit, and I couldn’t stand the cognitive dissonance any more.  Eventually I left the church over a dispute in my bible study group about biblical gender roles when I called out the leader on the “separate but equal” doctrine of the text, and he told me that I would “just have to accept it.”  It was at that moment that I decided that that was not good enough.

I have since become a staunch atheist, although this process took a considerable period of time where reason and reality slowly selected against a lot of the superstitions and fears left in my mind, remnants of a faith-based worldview.  Time and time again I have seen examples of the ways in which faith, the denial of evidence to preserve a particular belief, is harmful and deadly, particularly to the young and innocent.  As JT Eberhard says, “nothing canonizes irrationality as a virtue like faith.”  For that reason, I’ve become a bit more militant about questioning theist’s blind faith, although it’s been pointed out to me that I have no real claim to the term “militant” because the only thing I’m forcing upon people is critical inquiry, not violence, torture, and death for not believing the same things I do.  The Inquisition was militant; I’m a mild headache by comparison.

(It might be prudent to mention, since I don’t know who (if anyone) will read this, that atheism is the lack of belief in a god.  It is not the belief that there is no god, simply that one finds all arguments and evidence in support of a god to be in some way or another either invalid, insufficient, or unconvincing.)

Recently, I came across this blog on reddit.com/r/atheism.  The author is a theist (admittedly a non-traditional one) reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins for the first time, and chronicling their paradigmatic journey.  I thought the willingness to openly and deliberately challenge one’s own worldview was admirable.  Censorship of all kinds, especially the self-censorship which I imposed on my thoughts that kept me from doubting for so many years, is what allows bad ideas to fester and spread under cover of ignorance.  Humanity only advances and flourishes in realms of open exchange and inquiry, where bad ideas are allowed to be exposed to light, critiqued, ripped apart, and allowed to shrivel.

While human brains are certainly wired to be superstitious and find meanings and patterns that aren’t actually there, I think that, at their core, all people are rational.  We all live our daily lives on the assumption that the universe is consistent and operates under certain physical laws, but when metaphysical dogma gets thrown into the mix, reason often gets the defenestration treatment.  For whatever reason, whether a conditioned response or willful ignorance to preserve a comforting worldview, rational arguments seem to have little effect on most believers.  In some ways I think I’m searching for a way to reach people who have walled themselves off from the outside world and point out the cracks in their own foundation.

I’ve always been fascinated with the evolution of Christian mythology over time to suit the needs of the various times and cultures which practiced it.  There is a gap that has grown between what the bible actually says and what people think it says.  For example, most of what modern people think they know about Lucifer comes not from the bible, but from John Milton.  In some way, this project is my own attempt to collect the facts.  Facts are, after all, the currency of rationality.  Plus, I must deviously admit, I love the irony of an atheist apostate knowing more about the bible than the overwhelming majority of Christians.  Although, perhaps at the end of the day that’s not ironic at all.

So, after a very verbose and longer-than-expected introduction, I begin my project.  I plan to read at least one chapter a day, and update this blog accordingly on a fairly regular basis.

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