« March 2012 | Main | May 2012 »

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Book of Job

JobI can't remember the exact reason now, but I recently did a Google search on 'book of job' followed by a rude word to describe a rude person. I know - not the most polite of searches, but that's what it was. And I came across a link to this page on Yahoo Answers, Doesn't the book of Job show how unjust and cruel God is?

The first two chapters of the Book of Job are pretty short. If you're not already familiar with the story, I'd recommend reading them and the final chapter before going on with the rest of this blog entry:

If you're too busy for even that, here's the quick synopsis - Job was a very successful man. One day, when Satan was visiting with God, God bragged on Job, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan challenged God that Job was only faithful because he was so blessed, so God said, "All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Job lost everything he had (including his servants and children), but stayed faithful to God. In their next encounter, Satan got God to allow Job to be harmed physically, so long as his life was spared. So Job was afflicted with boils from head to foot. Then follows 39 chapters of Job complaining of his troubles, questioning why they befell him, his friends responses, and even God's responses. Finally, in Chapter 42, God restored Job to his former glory - more so in fact - with even more camels, oxen, donkeys, sons and daughters.

Reading through that Yahoo Answers page, I find it somewhat amazing the rationalizations that Christians go through in justifying this book and trying to make it consistent with a loving god. Here are just a few examples. (Note that the references to Job's wife are due to the original questioner stating that Job's wife died along with his children.*)

It was all a test that made Job stronger rather than cause him to rebel against The Loving and Caring God of the Universe. And the dead relatives and servants of Job are going to go to a better place. So God did nothing wrong and He never does anything bad. You can count on that because God gave Job much better things after his suffering.
you really are of the devil if you can read how the devil killed Jobs children and STILL blame God.

If I asked you to say something about satan I suppose you'd say what a good ununderstood chap he is.

He has YOU blinded, lets hope your children grow up to be better - when you are dead and gone maybe there will arise a better generation.

All Satan asked for was authority over Job. Job 2:4. Job's wife never died. He continued after this 'test' with the same wife. (You said you read the account. you should know). The fact his children died is an example of Satan going too far, not abiding by the agreement.

IT WAS ALL SATANS idea and God allowed it....pray for some wisdom and guidance...

God already knew Job was a man of outstanding faith and integrity, so he allowed Satan to try and prove his point. He did warn Satan NOT to kill Job. Notice, though, when all was said and done, God gave Job an additional 140 years, 10 more children, and increased his wealth. Additionally, in the earthly resurrection Job will receive back to him all 20 of his children, and those of his servants that Satan killed.
God did not allow Satan to harm Job, take his possessions or kill his children in order to test him. Satan made false charges against Job and all humans and God had faith in Job to be able to prove Satan's charges false. Job did not remarry. His wife did not die. She gave birth to more children.
The book may be entitled Job, but it's really about satan. It's about showing him that no matter what the circumstance, those that have a strong relationship with God cannot be removed or drawn away from it even when divine protection is temporarily removed.

First, I'm going to address something that wasn't even mentioned in most of those comments on the Yahoo Answers page. As I already quoted, in the first chapter, God told Satan to "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." And just a few verses later, the Bible describes how Job's servants were killed - some murdered, some by "the fire of God", and how his children were killed after a wind knocked over the house they were in. Stop and think about that. The Bible is putting Job's children and servants among his possessions - that he owned them. I've discussed the ambiguity of servant vs. slave in the Bible before, and this just reinforces that according to the culture in which the Bible was written, it was okay for a man to own other people.

Then there's the question of just how good Job was. For those 39 chapters following his misfortunes, Job went on and on whining about how unlucky he was. What a self centered man. What about his children, who were crushed to death? Or his servants, who were murdered? Or his servants' wives, who were widowed? Or his servants' children, who were made fatherless, or maybe even orphaned? All those people killed, and all those families affected, and all Job could think about was how unlucky he was. If he was what God considered "the finest man in all the earth", there must not have been very many fine men around at the time, or God had a warped sense of what constituted fine.

Okay, now let's get into how this book of the Bible reflects on God. Most Christians believe that God is all knowing, all powerful, and good and loving. So, when Satan challenged God about Job's character, God should have already known what was in Job's heart, and shouldn't have needed to put Job to any test. God already knew the answer. So what was the reason for allowing this test to occur? Was he merely trying to demonstrate to Satan Job's loyalty? That seems a bit callous, putting a man through such troubles just to prove a point to a fallen angel. And of course, God knew Satan's character before the tests were begun, so even allowing for free will and assuming God didn't look into the future to know exactly what was going to happen, God knew what Satan was capable of and how Satan would likely torture Job. But even assuming that Satan surprised God, God is still supposed to be all powerful. So even if Satan violated the terms of the deal, God sat back and allowed Satan to continue to torment Job. In the real world, when someone has the power to intervene and prevent the injury of someone else, especially when there's very little cost to the first person, at the very least we'd consider it immoral not to act, if not criminally negligent.

Just imagine any parent with a child. If a known criminal came up to them and challenged them about the character of their child, would it be okay to let the criminal torment their child to test the child's character? What if there were terms, and the criminal violated the terms, would you expect the parent to let the challenge continue? It's ludicrous when you put it in real human terms. I don't know what should make it substantially different in divine terms.

And the above assumes that it was Satan causing all the harm, but some people were killed by the "fire of God", and the end of Job 2:3 seems to indicate that God was responsible for at least some of Job's suffering, "And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause." That would be like a criminal going up to a parent, and convincing the parent to harm their own children.

Moving past the challenge itself, when God finally showed up to talk to Job directly, the Lord went on and on bragging about how powerful he was. It sounded like a 'might makes right' argument, not based on any type of real morality.

And then, when Job was finally restored to his glory, the manner in which it was done is still unsettling. After having lost all of his children, they were simply replaced, as if this made everything alright. I'm a parent myself, and I love my daughter intensely. If tragedy were to strike and my wife and I were to lose her (which I hate writing even as a hypothetical), it would be heart breaking. And it's an insult to even consider that she could be replaced with a new child.

I realize that this is where Christians quit looking at death as a bad thing, since they believe in an afterlife, but think about how people actually react to death. Nobody celebrates at a funeral. They're always sad affairs. Loved ones are gone, and they're going to be missed terribly. Pretending that there's a heaven doesn't take away the grief. And in the story of Job, there's also the manner in which everybody died. It wasn't the Angel of Death taking them peacefully in the night. Everybody died a painful, violent death.

I have to admit, that the Book of Job isn't entirely inconsistent with a notion of a god. It's just inconsistent with the mainstream Christian view. If you take away one of the following three assumed qualities of God, either loving, all-knowing, or all-powerful, then the Book of Job makes much more sense. A capricious god, or one who didn't care deeply about his/her creations, would have no qualms about putting a person through such a test. Even a god who didn't know how the test would play out might go through with it. But that's not the type of god most Christians believe in.

So, if the Book of Job reveals anything, it's not a God worthy of praise and adoration or worship out of love, but a God worth worshiping only out of fear, lest you be the target of his next wager with Satan.**

*Job's wife is mentioned only once in the Book of Job at 2:9, so according to the Bible version of the story, there's no indication that Job took a second wife. However, a later, slightly different version of the story, the Testament of Job, does give Job two wives. (Wikipedia)

**Of course, atheists recognize there's no need to fear the non-existent, so I guess what the Book of Job really reveals is the mindset of the culture that created it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A 3D Model of the Solar System

Solar System 3D Model Isometric ViewSpace is big. I've written about it before, but that was about distant galaxies. But even when you look in what's supposed to be our own 'neighborhood', the solar system, the distances involved are staggering. I don't think most people have a sense of scale of the solar system, such as how big the Sun is compared to the Earth, or how far it is between the planets. So, I did what any nerd with access to a 3D drafting program would do - I modeled it. And once I had it modeled, I figured other people might find it interesting, so I'm sharing it.

To explain the model a bit, I went to Wikipedia and looked up the diameters of each of the planets (all 8 of them - sorry Kuiper Belt objects), and their distances from the Sun. I averaged out their distances so that I could draw the orbits as circles instead of ellipses - not perfectly accurate, but it still gives a good idea of the sense of scale. I put all that into a spreadsheet, and then divided everything by 1,000,000, to get it in sizes that would work in Solidworks. And keep in mind that Solidworks deals in inches by default. So for example, instead of drawing the Sun at 864,900 miles in diameter, I drew it at 0.8649 inches in diameter. The Earth, instead of being 92,956,050 miles from the Sun, was drawn at 92.956 inches from the Sun. And the biggest distance, Neptune's distance from the sun, instead of being 2,798,310,157 miles from the sun, was drawn at 2798.31 inches from the Sun.

Actually, just stop and think about those numbers. If the Sun was less than an inch in diameter, the Earth would be almost 8 ft away (the standard height from floor to ceiling) and only .008" in diameter, while the most distant planet, Neptune, would be 233 ft away (23 stories).

Anyway, here's the model, in two different formats, along with that Excel file that I mentioned.

That first format is Solidworks. It's the better of the two 3D formats, but you need the right software to view it, and Solidworks isn't cheap (a couple thousand dollars a license - so not really for home use). The second format is an eDrawing. There's a free viewer that you can download. The third file is the Excel file. It has a few more ways of scaling that just what I discussed above, which should be pretty obvious from the text.

Here are a few images taken from the model. Each image has been scaled to fit on the blog. If you click on it, you'll get the full size version.

This first picture is the Sun and all of the planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. It's tough to see the inner planets (Mercury through Mars) because they're so tiny. They look like little more than a smudge in the image below, but they're a bit easier to make out if you click on the full size version. The vertical line just to the left of the terrestrial planets is the center of the Sun. In the model, all of the planets are aligned. The image below was made by first looking straight down all of the planets, then rotating the model just 0.04ยบ so that you could see each planet without it being obstructed by any other planet. Another way to think of this is that it shows the planet sizes to scale, and shows the distances properly relative to one another.


This next one is the same view as above, except zoomed in on the terrestrial planets. Again, the tick mark on the left shows the center of the Sun. You can see the Moon in front of the Earth (our Moon is the only moon I modeled).


The next three images are a kind of series. They're looking 'down' at the solar system from outside the ecliptic plane. To me, these really gets across sense of distance. The first is zoomed in to just the Sun and Mercury's orbit. The second one zooms out a bit to show the orbits of all the terrestrial planets. The third zooms out to show the orbits of all the 8 planets.

So first, here's the Sun and Mercury. Mercury's so small that it gets lost in the curve showing its orbit.


Next, here's the Sun and the terrestrial planets. You can still make out the Sun as a sphere and not just a point. The little tick mark at the Earth is because Solidworks shows tick marks at the center of all circles, and I drew a circle there to show the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. But even that orbit's too small to see at this scale.


Third, here's the Sun and all the planets. Zoomed this far out, even the Sun becomes just a point. You can really see just how far away the outer planets really are.


And finally, here's our own backyard - the Earth and the Moon. It kind of gives a sense of scale of just how far the Appollo astronauts went.


To me, this does help to put into perspective just how big the Solar System is. When you look at the farthest humans have ever traveled - to the Moon and back - and then see how even that distance gets lost in the immensity of the Solar System, it makes you feel tiny. And then when you consider the vast distances between stars and across galaxies - I just can't even wrap my head around it.

Anyway, have fun playing with the model.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I Am an Atheist

If you're at all familiar with the skeptical blogosphere, you've probably heard of PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, and you may even have heard of his 'Why I Am an Atheist' series. He put out a call for submissions for people to tell their own stories, and has been publishing those stories on a regular basis (here's an example of one of my favorites.) I sent in my own essay - we'll see if it ever gets posted on his site. It's a bit of repetition of things I've already said on this blog, but it brings them all together in one place, so I thought it would be nice to print it here.

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI grew up in a religious house. We went to church every Sunday; my mother was director of the CCD program; my brothers and I were even altar boys (with none of the controversy that has come to light recently). This wasn't all just ceremony. I sincerely believed in God and Jesus, and thought I could feel His presence when I prayed.

But as I got older, I began to question my religious beliefs, and eventually realized that I'd been mistaken. There was no moment of epiphany. The gradual realization came after several years of research and intense self-reflection. I didn't become an atheist just because I didn't like going to church Sunday mornings, or because I didn't want to have to follow the rules anymore. I don't "hate God" (it's a little hard to hate an entity you don't believe in). I read the Bible. I studied science. I read up on philosophy. I became an atheist because that's the way I think the universe really is. But don't confuse atheism with Postmodernism or Nihilism. I still think there's an objective reality. I still worry about how to be a good person. I just no longer see a god as being part of that.

While there were numerous initial seeds of doubt, the process began in earnest in an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the actual history of the planet as revealed through geology and biology. It was at the time Intelligent Design was making big headlines. I'd just recently learned how many people were creationists (prior to that, I'd naively thought most people accepted evolution and the ancient age of the Earth), and it made me wonder if I was being a bad Christian for not taking the Bible at face value. So, I looked into evolution and creationism in a lot more depth than I had before. The evidence for evolution and an ancient Earth are even more overwhelming that I'd already known, and there's really no doubt over them. But still being a good Christian, I vainly thought I'd be able to write a convincing essay showing how the Bible could be interpreted figuratively and still be accepted as true. However, by the time I'd finished researching the essay, I realized that the Bible couldn't have been divinely inspired. I didn't give up Christianity all at once with that realization, but it was a big first step, and within another year or two, I'd basically become an atheist. Obviously, there was a lot more to the process than just realizing that Genesis wasn't accurate, but that could take an entire book to write. [cough, cough - $4.99 from Lulu (or free online)]

This period is also when I took on the responsibility of becoming a father. In fact, once I began having doubts about my religion, this responsibility was one of the main things that drove me to research the issue further - how could I teach my daughter things that I wasn't sure of myself? At first, as a Christian, there was no question on how to address religion with her - respect everybody's views, but Christianity was the true religion. But once I started having my own doubts, things weren't so easy. I'm pretty sure I'm right in my atheism, but I want her to think for herself, and I don't want to indoctrinate her into any particular view like I was into Christianity. So, I make sure that she understands that she's going to have to decide these things for herself.

Until very recently, my daughter went with one of her friends to her friend's church every Wednesday night - kind of like Sunday school, except, well, on Wednesdays. So in addition to me trying to teach her about various religions, she got to hear about Christianity from actual believers. The thing is, without that strong pressure from parents to accept Christianity, it's not an easy thing for kids to swallow, especially when they're being raised with a respect for science. I don't mean to say that religion and science are necessarily antithetical, but science teaches you to question everything and look for evidence. In that sense, faith just doesn't cut it.

Now that I have questioned religion, there's no going back. I didn't simply choose to be an atheist. I studied all the evidence I could find, initially in an attempt to become a better Christian, and atheism was the unavoidable conclusion. I could no more choose to go back to being a Christian than I could choose to go back to believing in Santa Claus, or choose to believe that the Earth is flat. I opened Pandora's Box, and it can't be closed again.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Update

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisWell apparently, the link that I first got to sell my book on Lulu has changed, and I never realized it. So, anyone who clicked on the link in the sidebar of the blog homepage got an error message from Lulu saying that the product couldn't be found. I'm sure that explains why my book hasn't become a runaway best seller.

So, I fixed the link on the blog homepage, as well as in the Religion section of the site (where you can read the essays for free), and in all the blog entries that mentioned the book. I guess that now I can expect the profits to start rolling in.

Anyway, here are links to the various formats where you can buy the book.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for February and March 2012

Top 10 ListIt's the start of a new month, so it's time for me to do my top 10 list. I noticed that I'd completely forogotten to do it for February, so in this entry you get two for one. And while I'm at it, consider this my apology for not posting anything last week. I was just too damn busy at work.

February didn't hold any surprises. Every page that made the top 10 in that month had made it in previous months. March was a bit of a shakeup. Three of the pages hadn't made the list before, Debt Ceiling - Frustration With Politics, A Naked Ape, and Religion - Various Quotes on Free Thinking, Religion, and Science, and one of the pages had only made the list once before, Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas. I've previously bemoaned that my new blog entries aren't getting much traffic, but two of those entries were from 2011. I guess it really just takes some time for the entries to gain some traction. I am a bit surprised about the Debt Ceiling entry, though, since it's no longer very topical. I do admit to being a little disappointed that my Ray Comfort entry didn't make the list in March. Considering that he motivated me to start this blog, I have a bit of a soft spot for that entry.

Overall traffic is up. March was my third highest month for this site. February was pretty close, just a bit lower on a per day basis.

Anyway, here are the lists.

Top 10 for February 2012

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  5. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  6. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  7. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  8. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  9. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part IV
  10. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes

Top 10 for March 2012

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Debt Ceiling - Frustration With Politics
  4. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  5. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  6. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  7. Blog - Book Review - Voyage of the Beagle
  8. Blog - A Naked Ape
  9. Blog - Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
  10. Religion - Various Quotes on Free Thinking, Religion, and Science

« March 2012 | Main | May 2012 »