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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Update - New Edition!

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI've published a second edition to my book, Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays ($4.99 from LuLu). To paraphrase from my own review* of the book, this book is a collection of essays I wrote during and after my 'deconversion' from Christianity. I kept it to a length that should be informative without being overwhelming (~100 pages), so it could be a good primer on non-belief. I've given copies of the first edition to several friends, all of whom have said it was interesting. Obviously, you wouldn't expect friends to tell you your book was horrible, but one of them even went out and bought 10 copies of it so that he could give it away to other people.

This second edition adds two new essays that I thought filled some holes. The first of those additions is actually a review of the book, More Than a Carpenter. It was a nice way to address many of the arguments that Christian apologists actually use. The second addition was an essay on Standards of Evidence for Religion. Since I had the opportunity, I also fixed typos and made several small revisions throughout the book, but nothing that would have merited a new edition on its own.

In all honesty, I think this is a decent book to introduce people to atheism, and I think everybody should rush out and buy a dozen copies. (Well, metaphorically rush out. You can only buy the book online from Lulu or Apple's iBooks.)

Just in case you missed the other links to purchase this book, here's one you can't miss:
Buy the Book - Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays

All of the essays in this book are available for free on this site, in my Religious Essays section, incorporating all the changes made for the second print edition. So, you can read it all for free if you want to. I just think a print copy is nice (not to mention a great gift).

*That's not as pretentious as it sounds. I was reviewing all of the books I'd read that year, and threw that one in among many.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Samuel 21 to 1 Samuel 31

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapter 21 through 31 are the final chapters of 1 Samuel. They continue the story of the conflict between David and Saul, culminating in Saul's death. The stories in these chapters aren't as famous as other Bible stories, but I personally liked the one where a medium was able to bring somebody's spirit back from the dead.

1 Samuel, Chapter 21

In the previous chapter, David made his final exit from Saul's court, after it was clear that Saul was trying to kill him. The conflict between them is now in full swing, with David beginning to build up his own band of forces.

David's first stop was the priest Ahimelech in Nob. The priest fed them holy bread (all of David's men had "kept themselves from women" so that they were clean enough to eat the bread). David also got Goliath's sword while he was there, which the priest had been keeping. Unfortunately, Doeg the Edomite, who was the chief of Saul's shepherds, was in Ahimelech at the time. There was no incident in this chapter, but it was setting up a conflict to come.

After leaving Nob, David went to King Achish of Gath. However, the king was very afraid of David due to his reputation as a great warrior, so David was afraid of what the kind might do, and so pretended to be a mad man in his presence, after which King Achish sent him away.

1 Samuel, Chapter 22

Next David went to "the cave of Adullam", which the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) notes might be better translated as "the stronghold of Adullam". Numerous people gathered with him there, until he had a force of about 400 people. At the same time, he sent his parents to King Moab for their own safety. After a time, the prophet Gad told David to leave the stronghold and go to Judah, where he hid in the forest of Hereth.

Next, the story jumped back to Saul, who made a speech to his followers putting down David. Then, Doeg the Edomite relayed to Saul what had happened in Nob, so Saul sent for Ahimelech. After talking with Ahimelech, Saul told his guards to kill the priest, but the guard refused. So Doeg stepped up, and killed 85 priests, and put the city of Nob "to the sword", kill men, women, children, and livestock. I suppose this is all meant to make Saul look bad, but it's not too far out of line with how God told Saul to treat other cities. Perhaps this is meant to specifically contrast with that, and how Saul had disobeyed when it was God's command, but now he was doing that very thing against a city devoted to God.

One person escaped from Nob, Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, and went to David to tell him what had happened.

1 Samuel, Chapter 23

The Philistines were giving Israel a hard time again, this time in Keilah. So, after inquiring of the Lord what to do, David took his men and "rescued the inhabitants of Keilah." When Saul heard where David and his men were, he said, "God has given him into my hand; for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars." Apparently, Saul still thought he was in good graces with Yahweh. However, David used the ephod to question God, learned that Saul was planning to attack, and fled to the Wilderness of Ziph before he could be trapped.

Jonathan met with David in the wilderness, reaffirming their friendship and the loyalty between them, and also saying that both he and Saul knew that David would become the next king.

Next, some Ziphites informed Saul where David was, so Saul took some men to confront David. This section set up a scene you'd expect to see in an action movie. David and his men were on one side of a mountain, rushing to get away from Saul. Saul and his men were on the other side of the mountain, closing in on David. It looked as if the hero was going to get caught, when a messenger came to Saul with news that a Philistine raiding party had attacked Israel, so Saul had to abandon the chase and go defend the people.

1 Samuel, Chapter 24

David and his men took up hiding in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi. Saul pursued them there, but didn't know just exactly where they were. Well, Saul decided to enter a cave by himself "to relieve himself", and just happened to pick the cave where David was hiding. David's men tried to convince him to kill Saul while he had the chance, but David refused to kill "the Lord's anointed", and instead went and cut a corner off of Saul's cloak.

After Saul left the cave, David followed and revealed himself, and showed the piece of cloak he had cut off, as a symbol that he could have killed Saul, but didn't. He gave a speach about how faithful he still was, and how he would never harm Saul. Saul responded with a short speach of his own, acknowledging David's righteousness, admitting that David would one day become king, and asking David not to punish his (Saul's) descendents when that day came. After that, Saul returned home, while David returned to his stronghold.

1 Samuel, Chapter 25

After a single verse mentioning that Samuel had died, next came a story revealing the darker side of David. David came upon the property of a rich man named Nabal. The name Nabal in itself could be a sign that this is an allegory, as Nabal can mean fool. The name also has other meanings, all of which seem to fit into this story (for example, it sounds very much like wine skin). Nabal's servants were in the process of shearing sheep, which is supposed to be a time of celebration. So David sent some
of his men to ask Nabal for gifts. However, the asking was more like extortion, "I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel." It almost sounds like a mob boss.

Nabal told the men that he saw David as nothing more than a rebel, and refused to give him anything. Once the men relayed the story to David, he strapped on his sword and was leading his men to kill Nabal. But Nabal's wife, Abigail, heard what was going on and intervened. She took "two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs" to give to David. After apologizing for her husband and stroking David's ego, she said, "And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord." 'Present' is a pretty polite term under those circumstances. It reminds me of the Italian restaurant in the town where I grew up that forgot to pay their 'insurance' and had a little problem with a gas explosion.

So, David spared Nabal and his household, and not long after Nabal died after drinking too much at a party. With that, Abigail went to follow David, becoming one of his wives. The closing verse listed another of David's wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and mentioned that Saul gave David's first wife, Michal, to Palti son of Laish.

1 Samuel, Chapter 26

Chapter 26 contains a story that seems to be a different version of the one already told in Chapter 24. Some Ziphites told Saul where David was hiding, so Saul took a force to confront him. This time, David snuck into Saul's camp, rather than Saul stumbling into David's cave. David and his men found Saul asleep, and David's men tried to get David to allow them to kill Saul (by running him through with his own spear). Like in Chapter 24, David wouldn't let anyone "raise his hand against the Lord's anointed". Instead, he stole Saul's spear and water jug. Once he was far enough away on top of a hill, David called out to Saul's army. After taunting Abner, the leader of Saul's army, for a bit, there was a similar back and forth between David and Saul as in Chapter 24.

1 Samuel, Chapter 27

David decided to leave Israel completely so that Saul would quit chasing him, and went to King Achish of Gath. This time, there was none of the subterfuge with pretending to be a mad man like in Chapter 21, and no hard feelings from King Achish for that previous episode (perhaps because the stories come from different traditions). King Achish gave David the city of Ziklag. From there, David would launch raiding parties on the Geshurites and Amalekites, but told Achish that he was raiding Judah and Israel. To make sure Achish never found out about the actual raids, David would kill every last person from the towns he raided so that there were no survivors to inform Achish. In this way, David won Achish's favor, since Achish though David had abandoned his own people.

1 Samuel, Chapter 28

The first few verses of Chapter 28 were a closing to the story from the previous chapter, where Achish made David one of his bodyguards, and David responded with the rather cryptic statement (since the reader knows David's true intentions), "Very well, then you shall know what your servant can do."

After that, it moved on to what I consider to be one of the most interesting stories I've read in the Bible so far. The Philistines were gathering against Israel, so Saul tried to inquire of God what to do, but "the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." So Saul sought out a medium. He had to approach her in a disguise, as he had previously driven all the mediums from Israel, and she was afraid for her life since she was breaking the King's law. Saul asked the medium to "Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you." He asked her to bring forth Samuel. And she did. She brought forth Samuel, "a divine being coming up out of the ground." The medium was scared once she realized who Saul was, but he promised that she she would be safe.

Samuel was not happy with being disturbed from his eternal slumber, but Saul still explained his situation. Samuel rebuked him, explaining "the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy" (i.e. not utterly destroying the Amalekites). He ended his visit by telling Saul that he (Saul) and his sons would be with Samuel the next day.

Saul was understandably distraught by all this, but the medium managed to calm him some before he left, making him a meal of a fatted calf and unleavened cakes.

1 Samuel, Chapter 29

David was with King Achish while the Philistines were gathering their forces, but the other Philistine commanders weren't happy with David's presence. Achish tried to defend David as he thought David had been loyal to him, but the other Philistine commanders insisted that David not participate in the upcoming battle, lest he turn against them. So Achish reluctantly followed their wishes, and asked David to return to Ziklag before the battle, which he did.

1 Samuel, Chapter 30

When David and his men arrived back in Ziklag, they found their town burned down and all the women and children gone. While the men were off preparing for battle with the Philistines, the Amalekites had raided the city out of revenge for David's previous raids and taken captive all "their wives and sons and daughters" (This does call into question the claim that David and his men had left no survivors in their raids). So, David's men were furious and on the verge of revolt, but David managed to maintain control and prepare his forces to go rescue their women and children. David used an ephod to get instructions from the Lord.

During their pursuit, they found an Egyptian who had been a servant to one of the Amalekites, but who was left behind when he fell ill. After promising not to kill him or turn him back over to his prior master, the Egyptian agreed to take David's men to the Amalekites. They found the Amalekites partying
and attacked them without warning, killing all but 400 of them. And of course, they rescued everybody and got a little extra spoil for themselves.

A few of David's men hadn't been able to keep up with the main party, and had stayed behind with the baggage. Some of the men who had actually fought with the Philistines didn't want to share their spoils, but David insisted that everybody "shall share alike".

David also shared some of the soils with elders of Judah, winning support with them.

1 Samuel, Chapter 31

Samuel's post mortem prophecy to Saul came true. The battle with Philistines took place, and it didn't turn out well for Israel. The Philistines killed Saul's sons, including Jonathan. Then the archers wounded Saul himself. saul didn't want to suffer the humilition of being killed by a Philistine, so he asked his armour-bearer to kill him first. But the armour-bearer was too terrified to comply, so Saul fell on his own sword and killed himself. Once the armour-bearer realized what was going on, he did the same thing.

The Israeli army fled and the Philistines conquered their towns. Once they found Saul's body, "They cut off his head, stripped off his armour, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people." They kept his armor, but hung his body and his sons' on the wall outside Beth-shan. But the people of Jabesh-gilead learned what had happened, and traveled to Beth-shan to take the bodies back down. After cremating them (an uncommon practice for the Hebrews), they took the bones to Jabesh to be buried.

The NOAB made a good point about these chapters. The writer(s) made quite a point to show that David had nothing to do with Saul's death - from having opportunities to kill him and refusing, to being nowhere near Saul when he actually did die. The NOAB suggested it might be a case of protesting too much. Maybe according to some versions of the story, David had tried to kill Saul, or even had something to do with his death, so the compilers of this version went out of their way to show that David had nothing to do with it.


So, that's the end of 1 Samuel. However, 2 Samuel picks up right where it left off (they were originally the same book), so it's not the end of the narrative. The were some famous stories in 1 Samuel, particularly David and Goliath, but my personal favorite is the one where a medium was able to bring somebody's spirit back from the dead.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenOne of my habits when I'm getting ready to write a blog entry is to do a quick Google search to see if anyone's written anything along the same lines, before. If I find something that's very similar to what I was intending on doing, then there's no reason for me to repeat what's already been done. Sometimes I'll change direction on what I was going to write, and sometimes I'll just table the concept entirely.

Well, in the course of googling for the entry, Birds Are Dinosaurs, I came across a blog, Across the Fruited Plain, which had an entry, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution. Reading through the comments, I followed a link to another of his blog entries, Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. Despite it not being a particularly active blog, I caught a case of SIWOTI syndrome and couldn't resist commenting. Unfortunately, those comments are held up in moderation. My guess is because the owner of the blog just isn't very active in maintaining it (he's only posted three new entries so far this year). But, the only cure for SIWOTI syndrome is to see your comments get published somewhere, so I'm putting them here. So, if you just happen to be a regular reader of Across the Fruited Plain, here are some comments relevant to posts on that site.

First, here is my comment to his article, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution.

I tried leaving a comment to this article a couple days ago, but it didn't go through. If it's simply held up in moderation, then I apologize for being redundant.

I have a question for you, but first some background. Ignoring evolution, most people agree that organisms can be grouped into nested hierarchies. For example, there are prokaryotes and eukaryotes, with animals being one group of eukaryote, and then vertebrates as one type of animal, and mammals as one type of vertebrate, etc, etc. So, for example, in the group we call mammals, there are animals as diverse as whales, bats, platypuses, dogs, elephants, people, etc. These are all very different animals, but share common traits that are unique to mammals, so they all get grouped as mammals. Personally, I think that evolution is the best explanation for these nested hierarchies, but maybe that's just the way that a god/gods (depending on your religion) liked to create things.

So, if you look at say, a chicken, a deinonychus, and an ornithischian dinosaur like a stegosaurus, it seems that the chicken and deinonychus have much more in common than either does with the stegosaurus. They're bipedal, have feathers, hollow bones, an air sac respiratory system, etc. And if you pick a bird like archaeopteryx, then it has even more in common with the deinonychus, right down to the sickle claw.

So my question is, ignoring evolution, would you at least classify birds as a type of dinosaur?

Next, here is my comment to his article, Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata.

I know this is an old article, but I couldn't help commenting on it. Here are some responses to statements you made, grouped by the headings you used.

Lack of Transitional Forms Disprove Fossil Evidence for Evolution

First of all, why would you expect there to be countless fossils of every evolutionary transition? For example, the modern phylum of platyhelminthes, or flatworms, consists of thousands of species, yet there's scant fossil evidence of these organisms. If living organisms are absent from the fossil record, why would you expect all extinct organisms to be present? Fossilization is a rare event, and it's even rarer still for fossils to be exposed in a location where humans can find them.

How can you claim there are not transitional forms? What about archaeopteryx, tiktaalik roseae, pakicetus, rhodhocetus, dorudon, australopithecus? What would you expect of a transitional form?

Your understanding of punctuated equilibrium is very muddled. You've described what's known as saltationism, which simply couldn't work in sexually reproducing organisms - where would the 'hopeful monster' find a mate? Rather, punctuated equilibrium describes periods of relative stasis punctuated by periods of change rapid on a geological timescale - thousands of years rather than tens or hundreds of thousands. In reality, both punctuated equilibrium and gradualism are detectable in the fossil record.

Dating Methods

Ideally, the way dating works is to find layers of igneous rock above and below what you want to date. The igneous rock can be dated very accurately with radioisotopes (I know many young earth creationists don't trust atomic theory when it comes to radiometric dating, but this really is accurate). If no igneous layers are bracketing the sample you want to date, then you can rely on index fossils. These are species that were very abundant but only alive for only a very short time, and so only appear in limited stretches of the geologic column. In fact, these index fossils were recognized before radiometric dating, and used to establish relative ages of different layers. In modern times, there have been enough of these index species dated relative to igneous layers that you can be reasonably certain of the age of a sedimentary layer even if all you can find are the index fossils. But it's only these special index fossils that can be used to date layers, not any of the other fossils you happen to find in them.

Distinct Strata Identification

I'm not really sure what you're getting at, here. I don't know of anybody who would propose a date for a fossil based solely on finding it in limestone. As discussed above, you'd have to have at least index fossils, or ideally, igneous rock above and below the limestone layer you're looking at.

No Fossil is Conclusive Evidence for Evolution

Very true. A single fossil is not evidence. It's the pattern that emerges when you compare multiple fossils. For example, I cited a few examples above of whale evolution. Finding any one of them in isolation wouldn't be terribly strong evidence for evolution. But when you find multiple fossils like indohyus, pakicetus, ambulocetus, kutchicetus, rodhocetus, dorudon, and basilosaurus, it presents a much more cohesive picture.

The Fossil Evidence Supports the Biblical Worldwide Flood

First of all, most animal fossils are not of whole, complete animals. Most are fragmentary, the result of predation and scavenging. And the fossil record doesn't at all match what would be expected from a world wide flood. Organisms are found only in specific strata. Now, I know that some creationists like to explain this with 'hydraulic sorting', or positing that organisms got grouped by their ability to escape rising flood waters, but that doesn't match the reality of the fossil record. And that would still only be an average. Surely, if a worldwide flood had occured, some 'fast' animals would have died for various reasons before reaching higher ground. Yet there are no fossil rabbits in the cambrian, nor are there any ammonites that happened to make it to a higher strata (to pick just two examples). There are too many other problems with a global flood to list here, so I recommend googling "problems with a global flood talk origins" and reading that article.

Update 2015-02-23:My comment was finally approved on that site, and it spawned an entire debate. I also had a few follow-up posts on this site. For a summary of all the posts on this site dealing with this, take a look at Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Samuel 10 to 1 Samuel 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleI realize that I apologized in the previous installment of this series, but now I must do it again. The other project I mentioned in that previous post took up a lot of my time, so I fell behind in this series. And with the hiatus, I've lost my momentum a bit, so please bear with me as I get back into the swing of this. I fear I may have made this entry a bit too long (although there was a lot to cover), so hopefully next week I'll be back in better practice.

Chapters 11 through 20 of 1 Samuel continue with the story of Saul, and the beginning of his falling out of favor with God. They also introduce one of the most famous characters from the Bible, David, including the well known story of David and Goliath.

1 Samuel, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 continues the story that was introduced in the end of the previous chapter. King Nahash of the Ammonites is attempting to conquer the Gadites and Reubenites. But the elders of the city of Jabesh have managed to convince him to give them seven days to look for help among the Israelites. A conquering giving a city time to look for help seems odd, but I guess the reason Nahash would allow something like that is that the Jabehites promised to surrender without a fight if no help came.

Now came a passage showing that this story was independent of Saul's coronation in the previous chapter. Rather than a messenger going to inform him directly, the messengers simply spread the message in his town, and he didn't find out what was going on until he came in from the fields and asked what all the commotion was about.

Once Saul heard what was going on, he sent out messengers to all of Israel to gather soldiers, but he sent the message in a rather bloody way. He slaughtered a yoke of oxen and cut them up into pieces, sending the pieces with the messengers, along with the message that whoever didn't join with him would have their own oxen slaughtered in a like manner.

So a force was assembled and they beat the Ammonites in battle. There was a short section where Saul deigned not to kill the people who had previously questioned his kingship, and then there was more ceremony and sacrifices.

1 Samuel, Chapter 12

Samuel gave a speech to the Israelites, first establishing his own reputation, then giving a very brief summary of what the Lord had done for the Israelites, before getting to his main point. The Israelites had been wicked by asking for a king, since the Lord was supposed to have been their king. As punishment, God sent a thunderstorm to destroy their wheat crop. The Israelites asked Samuel to pray to God to ask Him for forgiveness, and Samuel told them not to worry because God would "not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself." If they would "Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart," they would be okay.

1 Samuel, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 began in a strange way, "Saul was ... years old when he began to reign; and he reigned for ... and two years over Israel." The footnote explains that the numbers were missing from the oldest Hebrew text, and that the verse was missing from the Septuagint.

This was the chapter where Saul fell out of favor with the Lord. After some small battles with the Philistines where the Israelites were victorious, both the Israelites and the Philistines gathered in larger numbers. The Philistines amassed a greater force, and some of the Hebrews went into hiding.

Apparently, Samuel had given Saul instructions to wait seven days, at which point Samuel would join Saul. But after waiting the appointed time, Samuel hadn't shown up, and Saul's troops were deserting him. So, he took matters into his own hands, and offered a burnt offering to the Lord on his own. As soon as he had, Samuel arrived, and told Saul he'd made a huge mistake, "You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever, but now your kingdom will not continue..." After telling Saul that God would find a new, more worthy ruler, Samuel left.

The chapter closed with a mention of Philistine raiding parties, and a description of how most Hebrews were unarmed because of Philistine laws that they weren't allowed to own weapons. Only Saul and his son, Jonathan, had sword and spear.

1 Samuel, Chapter 14

Jonathan snuck out of the Hebrew camp into the Philistine camp with his armor bearer, but without telling anyone where he was going. Trusting in God, they showed themselves to the Philistines, and started fighting. After killing 20 of the enemy, the Philistines began to panic.

The Hebrew camp saw what was going on, but not who was responsible. After taking a roll, they realized it was Jonathan. While this was going on, the panic increased in the Philistine camp, so the Hebrews rallied and charged into battle, defeating the Philistines.

Saul had made a rash oath that day, "Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies." So, all of his troops were famished and exhausted, and not able to slaughter as many Philistines as they would have, otherwise. However, Jonathan hadn't heard his father's oath, and ate a bit of honey before he was told of it.

That night, the troops slaughtered and killed some animals, but they didn't follow the Kosher rules and drain the blood. So, Saul had a large stone brought before him that he could use as an altar to slaughter the animals properly. After that, Saul wanted to go after the Philistines to complete the slaughter of the enemy soldiers, but first he had the priest check with God to see what to do. But God didn't answer, so Saul gathered the leaders to figure out what sin had been committed. Through lots, it was determined that the guilt fell on Jonathan, for the honey he'd eaten earlier in the day. During the course of casting lots, Saul had said that whoever was found guilty would be killed, but the people would have none of it once it was discovered that Jonathan was the guilty party. "So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die." The Israelites didn't chase down and slaughter the Philistines that night.

Just think about this story. Would an all powerful god really be so concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spririt. Jonathan had no idea he was breaking an oath when he ate the honey, yet God was willing to punish the Israelites for it, and it even required a ransom for Jonathan to not be killed.

The chapter closed by describing how Saul fought valiantly for Israel for the rest of his kingship, defending the Israelites from their enemies. This last part seems to be from a tradition where Saul was held in high esteem, not as the villain he becomes in the Bible.

1 Samuel, Chapter 15

Chapter 15 opened with Samuel relaying a message from the Lord to Saul, "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." Talk about holding a grudge - the Amalekites alive at the time had nothing to do with the Hebrews during the Exodus, but collective guilt is a theme of the Bible.

So, Saul attacked the Amalekites, but he didn't utterly destroy everything in the battle. He captured the king alive and took the best of the livestock, but killed everyone else and destroyed everything else. On his return, when Samuel asked him why he hadn't done as he'd been told, Saul said that he had brought the best back to be sacrificed to God in Gilgal. But Samuel told him that he was wrong, and that he should have followed the Lord's instructions exactly. At the end of the lecture, Saul was told, "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." (again, despite being told nearly the same thing in the last chapter).

So once again, this book indicates that blind obedience is more important than intent.

After Saul poured is heart out, Samuel agreed to worship with him one more time. Then Samuel took care of King Agag, he "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord".

The chapter closed by saying that "Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death," which will be contradicted shortly, and also that "the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel."

1 Samuel, Chapter 16

God sent Samuel to Jesse the Bethlehemite the find the next king of Israel. Samuel had each of Jesse's sons come before him, and each time God told Samuel that it wasn't the right one. After seven sons had been rejected, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons, and learned of David, who was out "keeping the sheep". Once David was brought before Samuel, God told him that this was the right boy, so Samuel annointed him the horn of oil he'd brought along.

After the Lord had left Saul, "an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." (Note that this evil spirit came specifically from God.) Saul's servants told him to look for someone who could play the lyre to comfort him. Well, it just so happened that a certain son of Jesse was well known as a lyre player. So Saul sent for him and David entered into Saul's service. "Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armour-bearer." David remained in service to Saul, and would play the Lyre to comfort him whenever he was tormented by the evil spirit.

1 Samuel, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 contains the famous story of David and Goliath. The Philistines had gathered for battle, and the Israelites gathered to confront them. A mighty Philistine warrior, Goliath, came out of the Philistine camp and challenged the Israelites to single combat, "If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), Goliath's description is a bit anachronistic - his armor didn't fit any particular period, but was a hodge podge of different items. Additionally, the description of his height as "six cubits and a span" (9'-9") is questionable. The Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous other versions describe it as "four cubits and a span" (6'-9") - still very tall, but more realistic.

Next, David was introduced - an indication that this story was originally independent of the earlier account of David. In this story, David was still taking care of his father's sheep rather than serving Saul as his armor-bearer.

Twice a day for forty days, Goliath repeated his challenge. One day, David went to the Hebrew camp to take some supplies, and while he was there he heard Goliath's challenge. He began asking around about it, "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" His brothers told him not to be rash, but eventually Saul heard of this youth. Once Saul saw that David was only a boy, Saul told David that he was too young to fight. But David responded that he had already defended his father's flock against bears and lions, so he was not defenseless. So Saul allowed David to go fight Goliath.

After a somewhat comical episode where Saul tried to dress David in his armor and David was unable to walk, David went out to face Goliath armed with only a staff, his sling, and his faith. After exchanging threats back and forth, they approached each other to do battle, and David used his sling to strike Goliath in the head with a stone, killing him. However, there's a bit of a discrepancy in this section, as this is immediately followed with, "Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it." So there are two verses saying Goliath had been killed, possibly from different traditions. According to Wikipedia, it's also possible that in the original story, David struck Goliath in the leg, causing him to stumble, after which he killed him with the sword.

With the death of Goliath, the Philistines fled, while the Israelites pursued and killed many of them. David took the head of Goliath back to Jerusalem, but kept his armor for himself. The chapter closed with Saul questioning David about who his father was - another indication that this story was independent of the previous chapter.

After thinking about this story a little bit, it seems even more improbable as presented here. Given the stakes involved in the battle, if David really was such an unlikely hero, what king would have allowed David to represent all of Israel against Goliath?

It's also worth mentioning that a much shorter version of this story appears in 2 Samuel 21:19, but with Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim being the one to kill Goliath. If I had to guess, I'd wager that the Elhanan version was the earlier version (more substantial than presented in 2 Samuel), and that in time it got attached to David's legend.

1 Samuel, Chapter 18

When David met Saul's son, Jonathan, the two became fast friends, "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." In fact, Jonathan even presented David with his robe, his armor, and his weapons - all symbols of the monarchy.

On the return from the battle with the Philistines, the women of the towns would sing, "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." This is another indication of yet another source. Whereas the previous chapter presented David as the young, unlikely hero who only fought with Goliath, this verse shows him as a mighty warrior who killed many of the Philistines. And of course, Saul was jealous with David over this, "So Saul eyed David from that day on."

The next few verses were a short aside, "The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul", and he actually tried to kill David with his spear, throwing it at him, but David was able to escape.

To remove David from his presence, Saul made David a commander in the army, hoping that he would die in battle, but David had great success in that and just made Saul even more jealous.

Next, Saul promised David one of his daughters in marriage, but then gave her to someone else instead (still with the sexism and ownership of women).

But another of Saul's daughters, Michal, was in love with David, and so Saul thought to use this to his advantage. He promised her to David, but only if David would obtain for a wedding present "a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king's enemies." Again, Saul was hoping that the Philistines would kill David. But of course, David was successful, killed the hundred Philistines, cut off their naughty bits and delivered them to Saul. The wedding went through, and Saul became even more afraid of David.

The chapter closed with a verse describing David having more military success against the Philistines.

1 Samuel, Chapter 19

Saul's jealousy against David was reaching ever higher levels. Now, instead of just putting David in dangerous situations, he was plotting to actively kill him. Initially, Jonathan was able to intervene and keep Saul from following through on his talk. But after another battle with the Philistines, "an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul" yet again, and he again tried to kill David while David was playing the Lyre. David wasn't safe even in his house as Saul had sent guards to watch him so that David could be killed in the morning, so David had to escape from his house in the middle of the night. His wife aided him by making a lump in his bed from an idol and decorating it with a head of goats' hair and some clothes to fool the guards into thinking he was still there.

After fleeing the city, David met up with Samuel, and the two of them went off to Naioth. When Saul learned where they were, he went to the city, but "fell into a prophetic frenzy" before Samuel, despite what was said in Chapter 15 about them never seeing each other again. Saul stripped his clothes and "lay naked all that day and all that night", giving another etymology for the expression, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

1 Samuel, Chapter 20

After fleeing from Naioth, David met up with Jonathan. But there's a bit of discontinuity here. Despite David being on the run for his life in the previous chapter, in this one, he's expected to be eating meals with King Saul in celebration of the new moon. However, David suspects that Saul is planning to kill him, so he decides to hide in a field until he's sure of what Saul is going to do. Jonathan is going to be the go between, making excuses for David's absence at the table, and then judging his father's reaction. They arranged a signal whereby David would know if it was safe to come out of hiding or not - in three day's time, Jonathan would return to where David was hiding to do some shooting with his bow and arrow. If he shot them short of the servant, it would be safe for David, but if he shot them long and told the servant to go retrieve them, David would know that it wasn't safe.

On the first day of the new moon, Saul wasn't suspicious of David's absence, assuming that he was just unclean and couldn't enter the city. But on the second day, his suspicions were raised. Jonathan made an excuse for David that he'd gone back to Bethlehem to be with his family, which greatly angered Saul that Jonathan would take David's side. Saul tried to kill Jonathan with his spear, but Jonathan escaped.

On the third day, Jonathan went to the field to give the signal to David that it wasn't safe. But immediately afterward, David came out, and the two had a long goodbye before David left. This last part must have been tacked on, as it makes their whole signaling system completely superfluous.


These chapters weren't as coherent as the previous ten chapters from this book. There were a lot of indications that they were made from combining multiple sources, and places where it just completely changed the continuity of the story. However, I suppose that is to be expected for a figure as important as David - there would be many legends associated with him, even if they were contradictory. The other aspect of these chapters that struck me was God's reaction to Saul - even though Saul often had good intentions, he wasn't obediently following the letter of the Lord's commands, and so he got into trouble for it.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Birds Are Dinosaurs

Birds are dinosaurs. At this point, that's not a very ground breaking statement, but I'm surprised by the number of people I talk to who don't know that already, or who balk at the idea.

So, let's get the basics out of the way first. Birds are definitely descended from dinosaurs. There may have been some question of this a few decades ago, but this is pretty much a settled question now. Just take a look at this figure from Donald Prothero's book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.

Non-avian Dinosaur & Bird Homology

Here's another similar diagram from Peter Wellnhofer's Archaeopteryx: The Icon of Evolution.

Comparison of Bambiraptor, Archaeopteryx, and a Modern Chicken

Both diagrams very clearly show just how similar early birds like archaeopteryx were to their theropod cousins. Here's another diagram I like from Wikipedia. It compares the hands of a deinonychus and an archaeopteryx. If you were just shown flash cards of one these at a time without the other to compare to, would you be able to tell which was which?

Deinonychus vs. Archaeopteryx Hand Comparison

And here's one more picture, also from Wikipedia, showing where birds fit into the dinosaur family tree. They're nestled right in among the theropods, in the Saurischian branch of dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Family Tree

So, that much, at least, seems to be settled. But many people still seem to have a problem with calling birds dinosaurs. For example, go read this posting on Yahoo! Answers, Are birds considered dinosaurs? (one of the answers there even linked to this website). Most of the answers there fell into the form of, birds are descended from dinosaurs, but not dinosaurs themselves.

Now, on one hand, I can appreciate this line of reasoning. After all, we are evolved from lobe-finned fish, and while I suppose that you could think of us as just very specialized fish, I don't think anybody but a cladist would actually call us fish.

So, the question becomes, are birds dinosaurs, or have they changed so much that they should no longer be considered dinosaurs? Or in technical terms, should dinosaurs be a monophyletic or paraphyletic term?

To answer this, let's leave dinosaurs behind for just a bit. Take a look at the pictures below, none of which are dinosaurs. (Click on any picture to go to the Wikimedia Commons source. Note that all have been touched up in some way, some more than others.)

Kangaroo Skeleton Horse Skeleton Baleen Whale Skeleton Dolphin Skeleton Fruit Bat Skeleton

That is a whole lot of variation. The first animal hops. The next walks on only one toe per foot, on a highly modified toenail only. After that is an animal that swims in the ocean and eats by using its mouth as a strainer. Next is another ocean dweller, but one that 'sees' through sound waves. And last, and perhaps most relevant to this discussion, is an animal that flies. Despite all this variation, these animals all share some common traits. For example, they all breathe air (even the ones that live in the ocean), and they all feed their offspring milk from a special organ in the females. So, these various animals all get grouped together as mammals.

Now, let's get back to dinosaurs. Here are a few more skeletons to compare. (Clicking on any of them will take you to the original source - some of these are copyrighted.)

Emu Skeleton Gallimumus Skeleton Eagle Skeleton Stegosaurus Skeleton (Outdated Reconstruction)

There's still a fair amount of variation here, but not as much as in the group of mammals above. There are three bipedal animals, one of which can fly. The real outlier is the stegosaurus in the bottom right (note that the image is an outdated reconstruction, but close enough for this discussion). Just to be clear, the two skeletons on the left are modern birds. The two skeletons on the right are non-avian dinosaurs.

So, considering how much variation there is among animals that are still all classified as mammals, and considering how much more similar the gallimimus above (top right) is to the emu and eagle than it is to the stegosaurus, I don't see how you can group the gallimimus and stegosaurus in one group, yet leave the birds out. I just don't see any reason to classify birds as anything but flying dinosaurs.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Own a Piece of History - DDWFTTW Car for Sale

Blackbird DDWFTTW DemonstratorAbout two years ago, I wrote about a very counterintuitive concept in the entry, Directly Downwind Faster Than the Wind (DDWFTTW). Also known by the slightly shorter acronym DWFTTW (for simply Downwind Faster Than the Wind), it's a vehicle that utilizes wind power to travel downwind faster than the wind is blowing. If that sounds impossible to you, go read my previous entry for an explanation of why it is, in fact, possible.

After arguing about it theoretically, and then building a small treadmill powered model, a team headed by Rick Cavallaro built a full scale manned vehicle to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept. This vehicle, named the Blackbird, set an official DDWFTTW record on July 2, 2010, certified by the North American Land Sailing Association (NALSA). Their top speed was 38.5 mph in a 13.5 mph wind - 2.85 times the wind speed.

Now, this vehicle is up for sale, and as of right now, it's not too terribly expensive. With just under 23 hours of bidding left, the current bid on e-bay is $5,120. If you're looking for an interesting, unique vehicle to own with a small place in aviation history, this is your chance. But don't wait. Bidding is over at 1:00 pm PDT on Saturday (tomorrow).

Here's the e-bay link:
Blackbird - Faster-Than-The-Wind vehicle

Where Would Newton Weigh a Newton?

Newton on a ScaleI got into a conversation about units the other day (yeah - some of my friends are as nerdy as me), and it got me to thinking about Newtons. They're named after the guy, but not based on him in any physical sense. But what is the physical relationship? Where would you have to go for Newton to weigh a Newton?

This is actually a pretty simple calculation. If you think back to your high school or college physics days, the force due to gravity is:

F = G*m1*m2/r^2

where G is the universal gravitational constant, m1 and m2 are the masses of the two objects attracting each other, and r is the distance between their centers of mass. G is known thanks to science, as are the masses and radii of various bodies in our solar system. That leaves just one more unknown - the mass of Sir Isaac Newton himself.

So just how big was Newton? To tell the truth, I doubt that anyone knows for sure. Doing a google search on "How much did Newton weigh" didn't yield anything concrete. But I did come across an interesting article on the blog, And Now You Know:

How tall was Isaac Newton? 5 feet 6 inches, perhaps shorter

So, the title of that article gives the answer in itself. Newton wasn't very tall by today's standards. In fact, he wasn't even very tall by the standards of his day. John Conduitt, who knew Newton personally and saw him on a regular basis (he was married to Newton's niece), described him as "he was short of a \middle/ stature & in \plump/ \in/ his later years inclining to be fat."

So assuming Newton was 5'-6" and on the 'plump' side, how much would he have weighed? Here's an interesting chart from the UK's NHS, Height/weight chart. For someone 5'-6", the middle range for 'overweight' is just over 12 stones (who actually weighs themselves in stones?). So, let's round that up to 12.5 stones, or 175 lbs.

Okay, so now we've got Newton's weight on Earth as 175 lbs, which is equivalent to 79.5 kg. With that in hand, let's go through one example calculation for Earth, just to double check that we're doing everything correctly.

F = G*m1*m2/r^2
F = (6.67e-11 m³/kg-s²) * (5.97e24 kg) * (79.5 kg) / (6,371,000 km)^2
F = 781.3 N

In normal units, that's 175.65 lbs - close enough to my original estimate once you account for rounding errors, so it looks like everything's being done correctly. But that means, on Earth, Newton would have weighed far more than a Newton. The moon's smaller. What about it? Well, once you go through the calculation for the Moon, it turns out to 29.06 N - still too much. Even the dwarf planet of Pluto has too strong of gravity. Below is a table showing various bodies in our solar system, and how much Newton would weigh on each one (I also included pounds for the people like me who don't have a good feel for Newtons). Just so you know, those last three bodies are moons of Saturn, and they're all more or less round.

Body Mass, kg Radius, m Newton's
Weight, N
Weight, lbs
Earth 5.97E+24 6,371,000 781.34 175.65
Moon 7.35E+22 1,737,100 129.28 29.06
Pluto 1.31E+22 1,153,000 52.12 11.72
Enceladus 1.08E+20 252,100 9.02 2.03
Mimas 3.75E+19 198,200 5.07 1.14
Janus 1.9E+18 89,500 1.26 0.28

So, you have to get down to something as small as Janus, which only has a diameter of about 180 km, before Newton would weigh roughly a Newton. That's not a lot of force.

Image Source: Photoshopped from IGS.net and Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for May 2013

Top 10 ListWhew. I just finished up with a hugely busy few weeks at work. I worked 85 hours last week, just to give an idea of how busy (I even took off Memorial Day since we had family visiting). If I wasn't working through my lunches, I was spending them mindlessly relaxing. So, I managed to get a few blog posts done in that time, but not as many as normal, and I certainly fell behind in my Friday Bible Blogging series. But the project is over, and there are no similar projects on the immediate horizon, so for now it's back to blogging as usual (though it still might take me a week to catch up on the Bible posts).

With the month over, I took a look at the server logs. There were a few surprises. A couple blog entries made the list for the first time, Book Review - The Tangled Bank and Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate). My entry on Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards maintained a spot on the list, actually moving up to number two. And one of my favorite entries finally made it back to the top ten list after a year long hiatus - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution.

Despite the decrease in fresh content, my traffic numbers continued to increase a bit from the previous month, but it still all depends on what metric you're using to measure it. For example, last month had my highest ever number of 'Unique Visitors', 'Pages', and 'Total Bandwidth', but lagged some of my best months on 'Number of Visits' and 'Hits' (those aren't scare quotes, I'm just quoting the exact terms from AW Stats).

Anyway, here are the top 10 pages for this site from last month.

Top 10 for May 2013

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Blog - Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards
  3. Autogyro History & Theory
  4. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  5. Blog - Book Review - The Tangled Bank
  6. Blog - Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  7. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  8. Blog - Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  9. Blog - VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"
  10. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution

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