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Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 1 to 2 Chronicles 10

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).

BibleAs I've written previously, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles were originally one book, and were only separated for convenience to make the manuscripts easier to handle. So, 2 Chronicles continues on in much the same way as 1 Chronicles. The first 9 chapters of 2 Chronicles summarize the reign of Solomon, and chapter 10 begins the summary of his son, Rehoboam. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out, the Chronicler (i.e. the person who compiled the book) felt the Israelite kings were illegitimate, so unlike the previous books of Kings, the history of 2 Chronicles focuses on the Judean kings.

And as I've written previously, since Chronicles is so similar to Kings, my summaries here will be brief.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 1

While Solomon was mentioned in the last chapter of 1 Chronicles, this is where his story begins in earnest. It includes him gathering all of Israel to make sacrifices to God at the "high place" of Gibeon, the dream he had while there where he asked for the gift of wisdom, and a bit of a description of how wealthy Judah was under his reign.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 2

This chapter began the start of the temple construction, "Solomon decided to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself." It included the trading with King Huram of Tyre for certain building materials (in Kings, it was spelled Hiram), getting a skilled artisan from Tyre, and Solomon taking "a census of all the aliens who were residing in the land of Israel" to force them into labor. Chronicles only had non-Israelites as forced labor, in contrast to Kings where Israelites were also forced to help on the temple construction.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 3

Solomon began the actual construction of the temple. Measurements were given for the temple, which matched those from Kings other than the height - 120 cubits here vs. xx cubits in Kings. The temple consisted of three rooms or chambers - the holy of holies in the very back that only certain priests could enter, a larger nave in the middle that wasn't as restricted, and a small vestibule in the front. The NOAB noted that this 'tripartite' design was relatively common in the ancient near east, and can be found in archaeological remains. On the more interesting side, this shows where the temple design evolved from. From the skeptical side, this calls into question why a divinely inspired temple designed by God himself would have merely copied surrounding temples.

This chapter also contained details of decorations and furnishings of the temple.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 4

This chapter contained more detail of the decorations and furnishings of the temple, including the large "cast sea" that rested on twelve oxen. It included the detail that "The sea was for the priests to wash in," which wasn't included in Kings. According to the NOAB, this was another instance of the Chronicler inventing an origin/justification for a practice that existed in his time.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 5

With the temple completed, Solomon had the ark of the covenant moved to its new home, along with sacrifices and celebrations. The final verses of the chapter noted, "the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God." The Chronicler really is showing an active involved God.

If I stop and take a step back, I realized how inured I'm becoming to sacrifice in the Bible. Consider verse 6, "King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be numbered or counted." Think about the bloodshed and slaughter that would be involved in killing so many animals. But there's so much of this type of thing that I just read over this sentence hardly noticing it, and it wasn't until I reviewed the chapter again that it struck me how barbaric it was.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 6

This was mainly one long prayer to God, very closely following 1 Kings 8, some sections verbatim (at least in the translation).

2 Chronicles, Chapter 7

When Solomon had finished with the prayer, there was again a miracle by god that wasn't mentioned in the older version of the story, " fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple." Then there was more sacrificing, consecrating, and a seven day long festival.

God came to Solomon and in a bit of a long passage promised to take care of his chosen people so long as they remained faithful to him and followed his statutes.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 8

This chapter gave short snippets summarizing portions of Solomon's reign - building cities, capturing other cities, taking Pharaoh's daughter for a wife, more sacrifices, organizing the priests, etc.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 contained the story of the visit from the Queen of Sheba. It was largely similar to the account in 1 Kings 10. There was a bit more praising Solomon, such as, " Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom." And in the last verse, "Solomon slept with his ancestors and was buried in the city of his father David; and his son Rehoboam succeeded him."

2 Chronicles, Chapter 10

Jeroboam's reign began, repeating the story of the elders coming to him to "lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us," and Jeroboam's subsequent refusal to do so, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions." This led to the breakup of the united kingdom, with most of Israel following Rehoboam, and Jeroboam leading the tribe of Judah, "So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day."


As I've noted previously, the Chronicler has idealized David and Solomon, removing details that portray them in a bad light, and adding some details that make them look better. But with that in mind, it is interesting that in some respects, the portrayal of Solomon in 2 Chronicles is more believable than that in 1 Kings. In that older book, Solomon's reputation and people's reaction to him was so over the top that it wasn't believable at all. Chronicles didn't play up Solomon's reputation nor his wisdom as extravagantly as Kings.

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.

Brief Thoughts on the Looming Government Shutdown

Republican ElephantI've had a busy week, skipping or working through lunch breaks, so I didn't have much time to devote to this blog. But there's something going on in the news right now that I couldn't resist mentioning - what in the hell is wrong with Republicans?

There's a simple problem with a simple solution. If Congress doesn't authorize government spending, then the government can't spend money on many programs, and many parts of government will get shut down. If that happens, many peole would be affected, from the employees who wouldn't be getting their paychecks, to citizens who wouldn't be getting certain services (for example, the parks would shut down, and passports would cease to be issued). Depending on how long the shutdown lasted, it could have significant effects on the already slow economic recovery (read more - CNN - How a shutdown could affect the economy). So, the simple solution is to pass a resolution to keep the government funded, even if it's only temporary, and let the politicians hash out their disagreements later in the normal manner with the government still running.

But Republicans, at least of the Tea Party variety, have chosen this as an opportunity to hold the government and the economy hostage, all because of the Affordable Care Act. It's crazy. The Affordable Care Act was passed through the regular democratic process. It was voted on by duly elected representatives and became law. The House has made numerous failed attempts to repeal the law. And even if they want to continue efforts to repeal the law, this sure as hell isn't the time, place, or manner to do it. I mean, it's not as if the Democrats are pushing some new law they want to get passed, or a law they don't like that they want to get repealed. They're not using this as an opportunity for enhanced gun control laws. They're simply doing the responsible thing, trying to keep the government funded. Why are Republicans setting an ultimatum that has nothing to do with the issue at hand?

I'm reminded of a quote by Mike Lofgren concerning the previous debt ceiling debate that I included in my entry, Thoughts from a Retired Republican:

Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might - the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was "bring it on!"

Now, I realize that Democrats are by no means perfect, but can't we as a nation decide to get rid of these Tea Party clowns and get some responsible, reasonable people back in charge of the government?

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Chronicles 21 to 1 Chronicles 29

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).

BibleChapters 21 through 29 are the final chapters of 1 Chronicles, finishing up the summary of David's rule and transitioning to Solomon's. In keeping with the manner that the Chronicler has idealized David and Solomon, these chapters completely omit all the fighting between David, his sons, and Solomon. There was no revolt by Absalom, no seizing the throne by Adonijah, and no retribution by Solomon against Adonijah. These chapters were split roughly evenly between narrative and lists.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 21

Chapter 21 contains the story of David performing a census, and then God punishing all of Israel because of it. While 2 Samuel 24 didn't give any reason for God's wrath for this action, the chronicler at least tried to give some justification - Satan told David to do it. However, even this is a translation issue, as the New Oxford Annotated Bible indicates that 'an adversary' would have been a better translation than 'Satan'. And this explanation still doesn't explain why God punished Israel for David's action. And the way David was able to head off God's full punishment by intercepting the angel of the Lord and sacrificing some animals in front of him is still odd. And as one final note, God didn't act subtly in this story - no working in mysterious ways. When David offered his sacrifices, "he answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt-offering."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 22

David chose the very location where he'd made those sacrifices as the future location for the temple. In a bit of a difference from previous books, he began stock piling materials for the temple to give to Solomon. This chapter also gave an explanation of why David wasn't fit to build the temple while Solomon was, "you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth," while Solomon was to be "a man of peace".

1 Chronicles, Chapter 23

The chapter started with a short verse where David appointed Solomon king over Israel, but then moved immediately into lists - how many Levites there were, who was to have what duties, heads of tribes and their sons, etc. Concerning the division of priestly duties described in this chapter, the NOAB had the following interesting notes, "Although attributed to David's initiative, this development, unattested in preexilic texts, is known only in the Second Temple period. It persists to the Roman period (see Lk 1.5). Thus, here the Chronicler is legitimating worship as he knew it by attributing it to David."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 24

More lists of people, their sons, how the lots fell, and their duties.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 25

More of the same.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 26

And more.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 27

And still more.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 28

This chapter began with David giving a speech to all the officials of Israel explaining that Solomon was going to build the temple. Then he addressed Solomon, gave him advice to stay faithful to God, and then gave him detailed plans for the temple, inspired by God, "All this, in writing at the Lord's direction, he made clear to me--the plan of all the works." Then it was a few more instructions on the duties of the priests.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 29

David gave another speech, this time requesting donations for the upcoming temple. And the people donated willingly. Then there was another speech by David, basically a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Finally, Solomon was crowned king. However, as I mentioned up in my introduction to this entry, the transition was peaceful with the fighting mentioned in other books, "...and also all the sons of King David, pledged their allegiance to King Solomon."

The end of the chapter dealt with David's death - listing the length of his reign, and mentioning other books with details of David, not all of which have made it into the Bible - "the records of the seer Samuel, and in the records of the prophet Nathan, and in the records of the seer Gad".


My impressions of 1 Chronicles remain largely the same as what I've written the past couple weeks. It's a rather brief summary of the history of Israel, pulling from previous sources, including a few books that made it into what is now the Bible. It contains a few contradictions to those earlier Biblical books, along with some supplemental material not included in those books. Perhaps some of the supplemental material is from the other sources, but much of it appears to be the Chroniclers theology shining through, and in so doing creating an idealized vision of David and Solomon. And while the summaries of the narrative portions aren't too bad, the lists and genealogies are rather tedious. It is interesting from a record-keeping standpoint, but not much fun to read.

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.

Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part II

This is the second part of my review of Ray Comfort's new movie, Evolution vs. God. Even though I embedded the video in Part I, I'm going to do so again here for anyone who's interested in watching it.

As stated at the end of Part I of this review, this portion picks up about halfway through the movie, just over 17 minutes into it. Comfort doesn't have much more to say about science. And if you thought that with a title like "Evolution vs. God", that the rest of the movie would focus on creationism or a Christian explanation for the diversity of life, then you're not familiar with Ray Comfort. The rest of the movie is almost purely religious, and mostly evangelism at that.

Famous Atheists

Here is one of the areas where Comfort pointed out a legitimate problem in the atheist community, though not a universal one. But even in pointing out a legitimate problem, Comfort's response was misleading.

Comfort asked people to name famous atheists. One person shown named Neil Degrasse Tyson, and another named Isaac Newton. And of course, Comfort pulled out quotes from these men to counter the idea that they were atheists. From Tyson, "I can't agree to the claims by atheists that I'm one of that community." And from Newton, "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."

Admittedly, Comfort was accurate when it came to Newton. Newton believed in a god of some sort, and even if there's a bit of controversy over just what exactly he believed (see Wikipedia), the consensus seems to be that he was an nontrinitarian monotheist - somebody who believed in God, but not that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were different manifestations of a single God.

However, when it comes to Neil Degrasse Tyson's religious views, Comfort's being a bit misleading. Consider Tyson's essay, Holy Wars. Here are a couple excerpts from that essay.

Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion.


But I do so knowing and accepting that if I propose a God beyond that horizon, one who graces our valley of collective ignorance, the day will come when our sphere of knowledge will have grown so large that I will have no need of that hypothesis.

Comfort's quote of Tyson is correct, but it's not implying that Tyson is religious. Rather, as he's said elsewhere, he prefers to be called an agnostic, if he's going to be categorized by religion at all. I don't know if Tyson doesn't like the implied certainty that goes along with the term 'atheism', or if perhaps it's the negative connotations, but there isn't really a huge difference between the two positions, and it's a bit like splitting hairs. Tyson could be included in the more 'umbrella' term of nonbeliever. (And of course, this assumes the more common uses of these words, not the more technically accurate definitions. For an explanation of why atheist and agnostic aren't mutually exclusive terms, see the article, Atheist vs. Agnostic.)

Comfort's next example was to show the poster below:

Misleading Atheism Poster

For those people still using Lynx, it's a picture of several famous people, with the caption, "Atheism: Good enough for these idiots". Unfortunately, most of the people shown weren't atheists. They included Earnest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sagan, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin. Hemingway is the only one in that group that would have called himself an atheist, while the others were agnostics, deists, or had beliefs that are a matter of debate.

But here's the first problem. Comfort's holding this poster up as an example of a popular atheist belief. Well, what about one of the most outspoken and infamous atheists on the Internet, PZ Myers? Here's his entry from a few years ago, An inspirational poster. His take:

I saw this poster and thought, "What? But most of these people weren't atheists!"

And that entry had a 500+ comment thread, with very few of the atheist commenters misrepresenting the beliefs of those on the poster. So, this poster is an example of isolated stupidity, not some universal problem.

Then there was Comfort's hair splitting over atheism and agnosticism. Perhaps the poster would have been more technically accurate if it said 'Non-belief in Gods' rather than 'Atheism', and dropped the deists from the picture.

But the worst was an especially despicable statement from Comfort, "Back in 1961, Hemingway quote 'pushed two shells into the 12 guage boss shotgun, put the end of the barrel into his mouth, pulled the trigger and blew out his brains' And there's your poster boy when it comes to atheism."

To be fair, Comfort at least pointed out that not all of those people were believers in the "one true God", and it is valid to call out the atheists that misrepresent the beliefs of famous and historical figures, but his presentation wasn't particularly representative, either.


Comfort's discussion on the atheist poster led directly to this ironic statement, "Then again, coming from those that claim morality is relative to each person, convenient dishonesty should not be a surprise." I think that 'convenient dishonesty' is something that Comfort is especially familiar with.

This transition to morality went on to discussing 'moral absolutes'. Comfort got into a discussion with PZ Myers on rape, and asked if it was "always wrong". He got Myers to say that it was, and then Comfort claimed that there were moral absolutes as if he had won that little debate. But let me give an absurd thought experiment. What if a sadistic madman had you and another person taken prisoner, and threatened to put poison into a city's water supply if you didn't rape the other person. And just to make it worse, the poison was of some type that would cause horrible, horrible suffering before finally resulting in death. Now, I'm not saying that this would be an easy decision to make, but (I'm shuddering as I write this because of how callous it sounds) would it be better to rape a single person or let an entire city of millions of people suffer agonizing deaths? i.e. There may be instances where even something as horrible as rape might be the preferable option. And in that sense, it wouldn't be 'wrong'.

As a sort of tangential consideration, if morals are supposedly absolute, is rape always wrong when other animals do it. There are several different types of insects, such as the Acilius genus of water beetles, that reproduce only through the males raping the females (more info: Wikipedia). Or take a look at this article on Cracked. Rape of guppy females is so problematic that the females will actively seek out predators to be near to deter males from approaching them. Female guppies will also seek out more attractive females, 'hoping' the males will go to the more attractive females. And for a few more examples, consider the following articles, Deep Sea News - A great day for a little Traumatic Insemination which focuses mainly on bed bugs, Spiegel - An Undersea Kama Sutra: The Disturbing Sex Lives of Deep Sea Squid which discusses multiple mating strategies in squid, or Wikipedia - Traumatic insemination which discusses traumatic insemination in multiple animals. Now, I can imagine Comfort saying that these are merely animals, not human beings, so they're not held to the same moral standards. But consider Comfort's common line that creation requires a creator, and that the existence of the creator is obvious just from looking at the world around you - what type of creator would intentionally create such horrid mating strategies.

Comfort quoted Richard Dawkins saying, "Evolution in its rawest is incredibly cruel," and used that to segue into a discussion of Hitler (of course), implying that Hitler was just practicing 'survival of the fittest'. Aside from the 'is vs. ought' fallacy (I don't go around pushing people off buildings because of Newton), the obvious reply is that Hitler was copying breeding practices that had been known for centuries, not natural selection. And it's not as if pogroms were an invention of Hitler. As horrible as the Holocaust was, it was carrying on an old tradition.

Comfort then began asking people if they had dogs, and presented them with a moral dilemma - if their dog and another person were drowning, who would they rescue. And he showed the handful of people who either hesitated or chose the dog (four people in total). A few of them mentioned that we were just animals. Comfort even got a couple of them to agree that it was 'survival of the fittest'. Now, this was a bit weird and uncomfortable that people would think that way, but it was only a few people, and you have to wonder about their motivation after spending a while talking with Comfort (were they just trying to get a rise out of him?).

Comfort took another dig at Dawkins, quoting him as saying, "Any fetus is less human than an adult pig." I'm sure Comfort was using this quote to try to make Dawkins look callous, but I think Comfort's looking at it in the wrong way. Comfort thinks it's so damning because he thinks so little of non-human animals. But considering that humans are just one branch of the grand family tree, it's clear that we're similar to the other animals in many ways. Something as intelligent as a pig actually has a pretty complex set of thoughts and emotions, even if they're not quite as smart as us. Dawkins' statement points out the hypocrisy in placing some mythical importance in an undeveloped cluster of cells simply because they have human DNA, while not thinking twice about slaughtering fully developed thinking feeling organisms.

Atheism & The Afterlife

Comfort moved on to discussing atheism, and showed one kid mentioning that when you die that's it. Comfort asked him, "How do you know?" He tried to tell the kid that he wasn't just a mechanical system because he had "life" in him, and that this was the soul. I'd like to see someone ask Comfort the same question he'd just asked that kid - "How do you know?" Where's Comfort's evidence for a soul?

Are You a Good Person?

Now ,just over 24 minutes in, Comfort got into his 'Are you a good person' schtick. "How many lies have you told in your whole life?" - therefore you're a liar. "Have you ever stolen something in your own life, even if it's small?" That's called theft, so what are you?" "Have you ever used God's name in vain?" "That's called blasphemy. It's very serious to use God's name as a cuss word."

That last one on blasphemy struck me as particularly odd since it wouldn't even be a moral consideration for anyone who's not a Christian, let alone atheists. Someone brought up basically that very objection, and Comfort responded, basically, that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Comfort went on to discuss lust, and Jesus's statement that even by looking at a woman with lust, you've committed adultery in your heart. This is stupid. Ask your husband or wife which would upset them more - that you looked at a person and momentarily lusted for them, or that you approached the person, talked to them long enough to form a relationship, possibly with several days, weeks, or even months of covert meet-ups and dating, took them back to a discrete location, took them to a bed, undressed them, undressed yourself, and had sex with them (compounded by the fact that you've probably been lying about it if it was an ongoing affair). Is lusting really comparable to adultery in any real sense?

Hell, Get Out of Jail Free

As if Comfort's tactics as described above weren't bad enough, this part gets to be just downright insulting. The examples below include scare tactics, attempted emotional manipulation, and Comfort blatantly telling people that he knows what they're really thinking about God, and it hasn't been what they've been saying out loud.

At one point, he made the statement, "Just not believing in Hell doesn't make it go away. A judge must see that justice is done if he's a good judge, and it's the same with God." Talking to a girl, he said "If you died in your sins and God gave you justice because he's holy and perfect morally, you'd end up in Hell and I'd hate that to happen to you." Really? Just consider those statements. Should 'holy and perfect' entail punishing people for eternity for finite sins? Is it really just to make someone burn in hellfire forever and ever just because they're skeptical of something that happened 2000 years ago and is only attested to in a book of questionable credibility?

Here was something Comfort actually told somebody.

Now let me tell you something you know intuitively. You know that creation is proof of the creator... I have an inside story. I have a whistle blower, and it tells me that you know God exists, and the reason you choose evolution is it gets rid of moral accountability.

The expression on the kid's face that he's talking to at this point is classic - like he can't believe this crazy guy is saying the things he's saying. But really, this is basically accusing atheists of being liars. Comfort is insisting that everybody knows deep down that God is real, and it's only because we want to be immoral that we choose to reject him. That's quite an insulting accusation. Speaking for myself, not only am I sincere in my belief that there are no gods, but I also strive to be a moral person, and struggle to determine the best course of action in tough situations.

Just a bit later, Comfort made a similar accusation to a different person.

Your struggle at the moment is because of your love of sin, because of the pleasure sin gives you and you don't want to give it up.

What an !#@%!#%. Does Comfort really think people are so shallow that they really do believe in this all-powerful being who can punish them in hellfire for all eternity, and they're just going to ignore that for the sake of a bit of carnal pleasure? Now, as I wrote in another essay, The Benevolent Dictator, there would be very real reasons to withhold worship from a deity like Yahweh if he were to exist, but temporary pleasure is not one of them.

And you know what God did for guilty sinners so we wouldn't have to go to Hell? Any idea?

Of course you do.

He suffered and died on the cross taking the punishment for the sin of the world.

Because that's how justice works. If one person commits a crime, it's just fine if somebody else goes to jail for them. I mean, as long as somebody gets punished, right? And of course, if you stole even one piece of penny candy when you were a kid and told your mom that you didn't, then you're a lying thief who deserves to rot in jail for the rest of your life with no possibility of parole. Only with God, it's even worse. The punishment lasts forever.

Then we got the Christian 'get out of jail free card'.

And then what God can now do is clothe us in the righteousness of Christ so that on Judgment Day, you're safe from God's wrath and his justice.
So because our fine was paid by another, God can legally dismiss your case.

This part of Christianity is one of the parts that bothers me the most now that I've left it behind. I realize that most Christians are still good people and don't see this aspect of their religion in the way I'm about to describe, but this aspect removes all moral accountability. It doesn't matter if you struggle your whole life to be the best person you can be, or if you're a lying murderous thug. The only action in your whole life that affects your eternal afterlife is a decision on whether or not you believe Jesus died for your sins.

The Bible says God is love, you know, and is kind and generous and merciful, and in his great kindness, he became a human being and suffered for us. Does that make sense?

No! It makes no sense at all. Scape goats are not a reasonable way to transfer guilt. A 'loving' god wouldn't threaten eternal punishment for finite sins. And an omnipotent god sure as hell wouldn't have to go through such a convoluted process to forgive people.

Scare Tactics

Comfort presented the following series of questions and statements to a girl - "How old are you?" "When are you going to die?" "Well God knows exactly the moment of your death. And it could be tonight, it could be tomorrow. I'm not using scare tactics. This is just straight reality." No, that's not a scare tactic at all. You're just reminding someone that they're going to die before trying to promote your point of view.

The Bible

Comfort began asking people if they had Bibles, and started preaching some more, especially the part about grace over works.

I've been reading the Bible every day for more than forty years. There's no mistakes in it, mate. Any mistakes that we think are in it are our mistakes.

I'm reading the Bible right now myself. You can follow along in my Friday Bible Blogging series. If there aren't any mistakes, then God sure has a weird way of inspiring people - contradicting details in different tellings of stories, breaks in continuity, stories that contradict each other. Really, if Comfort has been reading the Bible every day for forty years, it makes me further question his honesty to make a statement like the one above.

He went on to say, "and you can trust God's word. Think of how you trust professors and science books that tell you you're a, you're a primate." That word, 'primate' was practically dripping with condescension. I mean, that's a pretty uncontroversial fact. Even Linnaeus, a Christian who didn't accept evolution, classified humans as primates. We're mammals, too. Why would anyone doubt that?


Comfort pulled a little trick where he asked people to spell the word, 'shop', a few times, and then asked them what you do at a green light. When they answered with 'stop', he used that as an example to show how fallible we are, and by extension, that us evolutionists could be wrong.

We're all fallible. We make mistakes. So imagine if you can make a mistake when you say this whole of creation came together because some explosion of nothing that produced everything...

It's true that we're all fallible and can be mistaken. But what about when the tables are turned? Here's a conversation that took place that really illustrates Comfort's mindset.

Comfort: Peter, could you be wrong about God's existence?

Peter: Yes, and could you be wrong about God's existence?

Comfort: No.

Peter: Well, then. I think you're rather close minded.

Comfort tried to defend his position with some explanation about knowing your wife and being positive about her existence, and that's how Comfort knows of God's existence. But it should be clear to anybody that these aren't comparable. Comfort's wife is physical and tangible. He can talk to her directly, and get real, spoken responses. Nobody interacts with God in that way (because he's not there). It's a silly comparison.


Nearing the end of the movie, Comfort showed a woman saying, "You know, the problem with those who are unable to see evolution - I think it's they don't have imaginations." He then showed a series of headlines, presumably to show the 'imaginative' nature of evolution - "Anatomical clues to human evolution from fish", "Human ears evolved from ancient fish gills", "Heavier dinosaur arms led evolution to birds", "Proof that fearsome T-rex evolved into a chicken", "When whales walked the land". While a few of those headlines are a bit misleading, they're not hugely off the mark. The fact that Comfort showed them in an attempt to discredit evolution reveals more about Comfort's own ignorance than any problems in evolutionary theory.


The movie ended with the following monologue from Mr. Comfort.

Darwinian evolution rests on faith, and once again, according to Richard Dawkins, 'Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think, and evaluate evidence. Darwinian evolution requires great faith. The knowledge of God, however, is clearly seen by all mankind. But since the creation of the world and its invisible attributes are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, even as eternal power and godhead, so as thou are without excuse because although they knew god, they did not glorify him as god, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.

And with that, the movie closed by fading out on an image of a chimp. But even that final scene reveals a couple major problems in Comfort's position. From what he says, at least, it seems that he really does believe that God is clear to everybody, and that deep down, everybody does believe in him. It seems beyond Comfort's comprehension that people really don't believe in God. And by closing with a picture of a chimp, Comfort seemed to be making an emotional appeal - as if his problem with evolution is that it suggests that we're related to those damned dirty apes.

The remainder of the video was a commercial for LivingWaters.com and many of Ray Comfort's various products.

Final Thoughts

So, I managed to make it through the whole video, and it wasn't very good. I know that I probably shouldn't have expected any better, but Comfort really did a horrible job in trying to discredit evolution. And it was especially odd that in a movie titled "Evolution vs. God", that only about half of the movie was about evolution and the history of life on this planet, while the rest was pure evangelism. Oh well, that takes care of my obligatory coverage of Ray Comfort for a while, so I can ignore him until his next big stunt.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Chronicles 11 to 1 Chronicles 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).

BibleChapters 11 through 20 of 1 Chronicles are much less focused on genealogy than the first ten chapters. Rather, these chapters are the beginning of a summary of David's reign, which will be continued in later chapters.

As I stated last week, there are numerous discrepancies between the history given in Chronicles and the history given in earlier books. When it comes to David, many of these discrepancies come down to presenting David in a better light. In particular, many of the stories that reveal negative portions of David's character have been omitted. Also as I wrote last week, since there are so many discrepancies, I don't plan to discuss them all. I'll just list a few examples.

It's interesting that 1 Chronicles isn't exactly chronological. The genealogies I discussed last week went through the Babylonian exile, but then in Chapter 10 it was back in time to Saul. Granted, that particular break in chronology is really due to a break in sections - switching from a simple listing of genealogy to a more in-depth narrative. However, even once the narrative got started, there was still a bit of jumping around. For example, Chapter 9 described the death of Saul, but then Chapter 12 was back to David still in conflict with Saul, "The following are those who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul son of Kish..."

Since so much of what's in these chapters is merely summarizing what came before, I won't go into much detail in my review of each chapter.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 started off with the crowning of David as King over Israel. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out, this was one of the discrepancies with 2 Samuel. In 1 Chronicles, David was immediately crowned king over all of Israel, whereas in 2 Samuel, he first became king over just Judah, then Benjamin, and then had to struggle to gain control over the northern tribes.

After mentioning the conquering of Jerusalem, the rest of the chapter was a listing of key people in David's army - chiefs, warriors, several a "doer of great deeds" - along with a brief mention of the exploits of a handful of them.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 12

Chapter 12 also consisted mostly of lists - men that joined David and troop counts. There were a few brief details about what some of these people did, along with a short song from Amasai, chief of the Thirty.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 13

This chapter contained the story of when David first attempted to bring the ark back to Jerusalem, including the death of Uzzah and David's subsequent decision to leave the ark with Obed-edom. This story still strikes me for how unreasonable it makes God appear. Just to refresh your memory, while the ark was being transported, the oxen shook the wagon it was on, so Uzzah put out his hand to catch the ark and keep it from falling. But the ark was sacred, and wasn't supposed to be touched by human hands. So, even though Uzzah was merely trying to keep the ark from being damaged, "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark; and he died there before God."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 14

There was more summary from previous books - from King Hiram of Tyre sending David gifts to build his palace, to David fighting a couple battles against the Philistines. I was struck by how literal God's aid was in this instance. David could actually hear the heavenly host marching above them to go out to battle, "When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle; for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 15

David had his house built. Then he went to recover the ark, and again, there were lists of all the people involved in this endeavor, from the priests, to "the singers to play on musical instruments". There was a brief mention of Michal at the end of the chapter, but not the in-depth account from 2 Samuel 6.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 16

The chapter started off finishing up the account of the ark, then listing all the people involved with its care. Next came a long song of praise and thanksgiving from David to the Lord. The chapter closed with yet another list of people involved in care of the ark.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 was a summary of when David decided to build a temple to God, but God had the prophet, Nathan, deliver the message that that job was going to fall to David's son. This also included David's thanksgiving prayer to God, and the promise from God to create an everlasting house of David.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 18

This chapter was a summary of several of the battles David fought.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 19

The chapter began with the episode with Hanun, who became king of the Ammonites when his father, King Nahash died. This was the one where David sent emissaries to him, but Hanun was convinced they were spies, so shaved their beards and cut their robes and sent them back in disgrace. And of course, the proper response to a slightly worse version of playground bullying is to gather your army and start a war to kill thousands of soldiers who didn't actually participate in the initial bullying. This is what happened, and David was victorious.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 20

This was a rather short chapter, but there are two interesting aspects worth discussing here. The first part of the chapter dealt with the conquering of Rabbah. If you remember from 2 Samuel 11, David stayed behind from this campaign, and while he was back in Jerusalem, he had his affair with Bathsheba, recalled her husband from battle to try to get him to sleep with her so there wouldn't be any suspicion when she turned up pregnant, and then told his commander, Joab, to make sure that the husband died in battle. Since this story made David look especially bad, it was dropped entirely from Chronicles.

The other interesting aspect had to do with Elhanan. If you recall, 2 Samuel 21 described how Elhanan had killed Goliath, contradicting the story from earlier in the book where David had done it. The most likely explanation is that in the earliest version of the story, Elhanan was the hero, but then later, the story was transferred to David. Well, the Chronicler had to tidy up loose ends and fix the contradiction, while at the same time making David look good, so he changed the story such that Elhanan killed Goliath's brother, Lahmi.


After the first 10 chapters of 1 Chronicles, these subsequent chapters were much better. They were still a little heavy into lists, but at least there was a bit of narrative to interest the reader, even if it is abbreviated compared to earlier books.

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, September 12, 2013

Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding

Crescent Moon & StarI've just received another e-mail that I couldn't resist responding to. This one was entitled '1400 years of in-breeding', and tried to argue that Muslims are genetically inferior because of rampant inbreeding. For anyone interested in reading this lunacy in full, I've included the full text of the e-mail below the fold. It appears to be adapted from the article, A huge Muslim problem: inbreeding, by somebody named Bryan Fisher (http://action.afa.net/blogs/blogpost.aspx?id=2147498193). It's worth noting that in the e-mail chain I received, Nicolai Sennels himself confirmed the content of the e-mail (Sennels' work was cited in it extensively).

Marriage between first cousins does seem to be particularly high among Muslims, especially in the Middle East. However, there were several other aspects of this e-mail that were either misleading or not backed up very well.

First of all, marriage among first cousins has not been "prohibited in the Judeo-Christian tradition since the days of Moses". Nowhere does the Bible prohibit marriage between first cousins, and in fact, it has several examples of such marriages. If you go to that Wikipedia entry on 'Cousin Marriage' that the e-mail mentioned (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage), you'll find a good discussion on the prevalence of cousin marriage in different cultures and throughout history. Here's a good excerpt from the top of the article about social acceptance:

In western culture, they have been legal in most jurisdictions through most of history and were considered socially acceptable until the first half of the 20th century; indeed, they were the norm in royal families, with Queen Victoria-Albert and William-Mary being two of numerous examples.

And here's a good excerpt of the prevalence of cousin marriage throughout history. It seems that it used to be extremely common in the distant past.

According to Professor Robin Fox of Rutgers University, it is likely that 80% of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or closer.[9] It is generally accepted that the founding population of Homo sapiens was small, anywhere from 700 to 10,000 individuals, and combined with the population dispersal caused by a hunter-gatherer existence, a certain amount of inbreeding would have been inevitable.

However, the article also noted that by the 19th century, marriages between first cousins accounted for less than 5% of marriages in Western Europe and the U.S., and that it has dropped even lower in modern times.

The e-mail made a questionable declaration, "This practice of inbreeding will never go away in the Muslim world, since Muhammad is the ultimate example and authority on all matters, including marriage." By way of example, polygyny is also permissible according to the scriptures all three of the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And there are examples of polygyny in all of their scriptures, including Mohammed himself in the Quran. However, according to another Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygyny_in_Islam), polygynous marriages only make up 1-3% of all Islamic marriages. In other words, Muslims don't blindly emulate Mohammed in all regards, even in marriage, so there's hope that given enough education, first cousin marriages could be reduced among Muslims.

The writer doesn't seem to have a good understanding of genetics. The danger of marriage to a close cousin is that a deleterious recessive allele (damaged recessive gene) has a higher chance of finding a match in someone you're closely related to. According to that first Wikipedia article, in populations where first cousin marriage is rare, marrying a first cousin only increases the risk of a birth defect by "1.7-2.8% over an average base risk for non-cousin couples", so it's not a huge risk. To put it in perspective, that's about the same risk for a birth defect as when the mother is over 35. However, when marriage among close relatives is common, the danger increases. This is because the gene pool is reduced, so effects like genetic drift and the founder effect become more prevalent. A good example is the Amish. While marriage among first cousins is rare in their culture, the breeding population itself is small, and derived from a small group of founders, so the risk of birth defects among the Amish is quite high.

But understanding that the risk of inbreeding is deleterious recessive alleles, the following statement seems particularly ignorant, "The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool..." Inbreeding doesn't itself break genes, and aside from founder effects or genetic drift, it doesn't change the prevalence of broken genes. It just increases the chances that broken genes will find a match when two people have children. The problem in the Middle East right now isn't widespread damage to the gene pool. It's that all these family groups have isolated themselves into small breeding populations. If Middle Eastern Muslims were to stop marriage among close relatives and force everyone to marry outside their own families, they would be mixing their genes in the larger gene pool, and there would be a much, much lower risk of them marrying a person with the same problem genes. Basically, it would be the same risk as the rest of the world.

I didn't look into most of the stats, but the first thing I noticed is the misleading way that they're presented. For example, just consider the statement, "The risk of having an IQ lower than 70, the official demarcation for being classified as "retarded," increases by an astonishing 400 percent among children of cousin marriages." If the risk is low to begin with, even multiplying it by 400% is still a small risk. The webcomic XKCD has a humorous take on this (http://xkcd.com/1252/). To paraphrase, if you go to the beach 4 times instead of just once, you've increased your chance of being eaten by a shark by 400%. But it's still a small chance. It's not as if regular beachgoers are disappearing at an alarming rate. Likewise, even if the risk of lower IQ is increased with inbreeding, it doesn't mean that populations with high rates of inbreeding have huge amounts of low intelligence people.

It's also important to remember the old adage that correlation is not causation. There are many, many factors that affect how people develop and what they do with their lives. Even if it's true that "Seven out of 10 Turks have never even read a book", this article doesn't come anywhere close to making a case that that's caused by genetics and not social factors. Take a look at the literacy article on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy). To quote a caption on that page, "World illiteracy halved between 1970 and 2005." That's way too rapid of a change for it to be genetic. It must be a social issue.

As far as intelligence, that's notoriously hard to measure. Just consider the Flynn Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect). IQ tests are normalized such that the average score is 100, with a standard deviation of 15 or 16 points. However, IQ tests must be re-normalized on a periodic basis, because the raw scores tend to go up as time goes on. If the tests weren't re-normalized, then it would appear that average intelligence increased at around 3-4 IQ points per decade. Just as with literacy, this is way too rapid to be caused by genetics. This also must be a social issue. So, even if Middle Eastern immigrants don't perform well on Danish IQ tests, there's just not enough data to even suggest that this is a genetic problem.

So, while marrying first cousins is riskier than marrying only distantly related individuals, and this type of marriage is a problem more common among Middle Eastern Muslims, the broad conclusions reached in this e-mail aren't really backed up. The generalizations seem more like plain old racism than any type of real science.

Here's a related article if you want to read more:

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

For anyone interested, here's Sennels' response to a query on whether or not this e-mail was true. I can't be absolutely positive he wrote this, but I trust the chain of people this went through enough to trust that this was truly his response:

Dear Rebecca

Yes, unfortunately it is true. Find links in my articles on inbreeding here: http://nicolaisennels.dk/?page_id=211

All the best, from Denmark

And here's the full text of the body of the e-mail that prompted this entry:

very interesting ....

Subject: 1400 years of in-breeding. Food for deep thought.

Now you know the scientific answers to a growing problem within the United States. And for that matter the world. Facts are facts.

Wake up Americans.

Instructor pilot's experience in Middle East!
I've seen this first hand in my 3 employment trips to Saudi Arabia. During the pilot transition program with the KV-107 and C-130 with Lockheed, we found that most Saudi pilot trainees had very limited night vision, even on the brightest of moon lit nights. Their training retention rate was minimal, including maintenance personnel. Some had dim memories and had to be constantly reminded of things that were told to them the day before. Needless to say, an American, British or any other western instructor gets burned out pretty quick. It actually took C-130 pilots years before they could fly in the dark safely and then would be reluctant to leave the lights of a city. Ask any Marine, airman or Army guy who's been trying to train Iraqis and especially Afghans. Islam is not only a religion, it's a way of life all the way around. Yet another set of revealing facts about Muslim beliefs and traditions and ways of life.

1400 years of inbreeding.

I found this to be interesting--didn't know whether to believe it or not--To research I went to Wikipedia, "Cousin Marriage", and far down in the article "Genetics"--It seems there is a lot of truth here.

A huge Muslim problem: Inbreeding.

Nikolai Sennels is a Danish psychologist who has done extensive research into a little-known problem in the Muslim world: the disastrous results of Muslim inbreeding brought about by the marriage of first-cousins.

This practice, which has been prohibited in the Judeo-Christian tradition since the days of Moses, was sanctioned by Muhammad and has been going on now for 50 generations (1,400 years) in the Muslim world.

This practice of inbreeding will never go away in the Muslim world, since Muhammad is the ultimate example and authority on all matters, including marriage.

The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health.

According to Sennels, close to half of all Muslims in the world are inbred. In Pakistan, the numbers approach 70%. Even in England, more than half of Pakistani immigrants are married to their first cousins, and in Denmark the number of inbred Pakistani immigrants is around 40%.

The numbers are equally devastating in other important Muslim countries: 67% in Saudi Arabia, 64% in Jordan and Kuwait, 63% in Sudan, 60% in Iraq, and 54% in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

According to the BBC, this Pakistani, Muslim-inspired inbreeding is thought to explain the probability that a British Pakistani family is more than 13 times as likely to have children with recessive genetic disorders. While Pakistanis are responsible for three percent of the births in the UK , they account for 33% of children with genetic birth defects.

The risks of what are called autosomal recessive disorders such as cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy is 18 times higher and the risk of death due to malformations is 10 times higher.

Other negative consequences of inbreeding include a 100 percent increase in the risk of still births and a 50% increase in the possibility that a child will die during labour.

Lowered intellectual capacity is another devastating consequence of Muslim marriage patterns. According to Sennels, research shows that children of consanguineous marriages lose 10-16 points off their IQ and that social abilities develop much slower in inbred babies. The risk of having an IQ lower than 70, the official demarcation for being classified as "retarded," increases by an astonishing 400 percent among children of cousin marriages. (Similar effects were seen in the Pharaonic dynasties in ancient Egypt and in the British royal family, where inbreeding was the norm for a significant period of time.)

In Denmark, non-Western immigrants are more than 300 percent more likely to fail the intelligence test required for entrance into the Danish army.

Sennels says that "the ability to enjoy and produce knowledge and abstract thinking is simply lower in the Islamic world." He points out that the Arab world translates just 330 books every year, about 20% of what Greece alone does.

In the last 1,200 years of Islam, just 100,000 books have been translated into Arabic, about what Spain does in a single year. Seven out of 10 Turks have never even read a book.

Sennels points out the difficulties this creates for Muslims seeking to succeed in the West. "A lower IQ, together with a religion that denounces critical thinking, surely makes it harder for many Muslims to have success in our high-tech knowledge societies."

Only nine Muslims have ever won the Nobel Prize, and five of those were for the "Peace Prize." According to Nature magazine, Muslim countries produce just 10 percent of the world average when it comes to scientific research measured by articles per million inhabitants.

In Denmark, Sennels' native country, Muslim children are grossly over represented among children with special needs. One-third of the budget for Danish schools is consumed by special education, and anywhere from 51% to 70% of retarded children with physical handicaps in Copenhagen have an immigrant background. Learning ability is severely affected as well. Studies indicated that 64% of school children with Arabic parents are still illiterate after 10 years in the Danish school system. The immigrant drop-out rate in Danish high schools is twice that of the native-born.

Mental illness is also a product. The closer the blood relative, the higher the risk of schizophrenic illness. The increased risk of insanity may explain why more than 40% of patients in Denmark 's biggest ward for clinically insane criminals have an immigrant background.

The U.S. is not immune. According to Sennels, "One study based on 300,000 Americans shows that the majority of Muslims in the USA have a lower income, are less educated, and have worse jobs than the population as a whole."

Sennels concludes:

There is no doubt that the wide spread tradition of first cousin marriages among Muslims has harmed the gene pool among Muslims. Because Muslims' religious beliefs prohibit marrying non-Muslims and thus prevents them from adding fresh genetic material to their population, the genetic damage done to their gene pool since their prophet allowed first cousin marriages 1,400 years ago are most likely massive. This has produced overwhelming direct and indirect human and societal consequences.

Bottom line: Islam is not simply a benign and morally equivalent alternative to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Sennels points out, the first and biggest victims of Islam are Muslims. Simple Judeo-Christian compassion for Muslims and a common-sense desire to protect Western civilization from the ravages of Islam, dictate a vigorous opposition to the spread of this dark and dangerous religion. These stark realities must be taken into account when we establish public polices dealing with immigration from Muslim countries and the building of mosques in the U.S.

Let's hope the civilized West and the North Americans wake up before a blind naivete about the reality of Islam destroys what remains of our Judeo-Christian culture and our domestic tranquility.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part I

Ray Comfort's new movie, Evolution vs. God, is finally out on YouTube. I mentioned this movie a few weeks ago in the entry, Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God. At that time, the movie was only available by paying for a download, which I obviously wasn't going to do. Now that the movie's out for free, I actually took the time to watch it and write this review. By this point, I'm a little late to the party in my critique, and there are already pretty good reviews out there. But I figured I'd add my voice, especially given Comfort's special significance to this blog*. And since this review grew so long as I was typing it, I've decided to divide it into two parts. This first part covers the 'sciencey' portions of the movie.

But first, for anyone who's interested, I've embedded the video below.

My original expectations for the movie weren't far off the mark. Comfort still doesn't understand evolution, at all, despite all the years he's spent trying to debunk it. The movie also made extensive use of selective editing of interviews, arguments from semantics, misconstrued definitions, and Comfort's trademark series of leading questions on whether or not you're a good person. To be charitable, the movie did highlight a few real problems, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose. But overall, this movie is just one more example of Comfort's colossal lack of understanding of evolution, combined with his questionable ethics in trying to get his point across. And to be honest, I didn't particularly like the documentary style. The constant jumping from interviewee to interviewee, never showing any of them for long enough to give a detailed response, wasn't very engaging, and several times I found myself bored.

I'm going to try to review the movie pretty much chronologically, breaking up my review into the same topics that Comfort used. Since he didn't exactly use headings, and some transitions were a bit fluid, this will be a bit inexact, but still pretty close. I'll begin each section with a few examples before adding my commentary.

One note I'll add up here concerns Comfort's method of jumping so fluidly from one scene to the next. It was done in such a manner as to give the appearance of continuity, but without the viewer actually knowing what conversations were taking place. For example, he might ask one person a question, and then jump to several people giving answers. The impression is that he asked the same question of all the interviewees, but there's no way to be sure. Similarly, sometimes after a person gave a response, he would jump to another clip, where his statement or question seemed like a response to the previous person. And maybe he would have responded that way to the previous person, but you don't get to see their reaction, nor whether they would have had a reply of their own.

Meeting the Interviewees

The movie began by briefly displaying a Richard Dawkins quote ("Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence") with eerie background music, and then a short title sequence, before beginning in earnest by introducing the interviewees who would be shown responding to Comfort's questions throughout the movie. These began with the interviewees stating their religious positions - atheist, agnostic, or leaning that way, and confirming their belief in evolution. Next was a quote describing evolution, " 'Live Science' says of Darwinian Evolution: 'It can turn dinosaurs into birds, apes into humans and amphibious mammals into whales.' " with an authoritative voice over reading the quote verbatim. Following that was a professor giving a brief statement about evolution removing the need for the supernatural in explaining the origin of life, and then back to brief responses from interviewees, this time concerning whether evolution is a 'belief', when people started believing, their reasons for believing, the majors of the students he was talking to, etc. Just to give an idea of how fast all the cuts are in this movie and how superficial all the discussion is, everything mentioned in this paragraph was covered in just a little under 3 minutes.

Observable Evidence

Now it was time for another quote read by the authoritative voice, "A scientific method is based on 'the collection of data through observation and experimentation...' -Science Daily" Actually, that's not such a bad statement, but notice that he's quoting a popular news magazine. If you're going to play the definition game, here's another definition of science, this one from Wikipedia, "Science ... is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, 'science' also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied."

Here's where Comfort's mangling of science first comes into the documentary. He asked a man, "Could you give me some observable evidence that evolution is true, something I don't have to receive by faith. Some observable evidence." The man responded by saying to take a look at what happened 65 million years ago, and Comfort jumped in to say that something that happened 65 million years ago isn't observable. Fair enough from a strict point of view. That's not exactly evidence. But then the movie starts cutting to other interviewees, without showing exactly what questions they were asked, showing them discussing deep time, with Comfort periodically interjecting that that means it can't be observed. This was all followed by a quote from Richard Dawkins that our lives are too short to "see evolution going on", and a similar quote from Charles Darwin.

While talking to PZ Myers, Comfort described that there are different kinds - feline kind, canine kind, human kind. He then asked Myers, "Darwin said there'd be a change of kinds over many years, so could you give me one example of observable evidence of a change in kinds." Myers began discussing fossil evidence, and Comfort asked how long ago all these evolutionary changes took place. When Myers responded that it was around 60 million years ago, Comfort seamlessly jumped to another clip, stating "I don't want something I have to accept by faith. I want it to be observable." It wasn't a direct response to Myers, but it seemed to imply that Myers hadn't given observable evidence. He then moved on to showing students who couldn't provide any good observable evidence, and getting them to admit they had 'faith' in evolution.

Next it was back to PZ Myers again, who began discussing evidence from the genetics of stickleback fish. But when Comfort learned that they were still sticklebacks, his somewhat incredulous reply was, "They stayed as fish". He went on from there asking more people about 'observable' evidence of change in kinds, always objecting that since these changes take longer than a human lifespan, that they're not observable.

This whole section of the documentary is either dishonest, or Comfort really isn't thinking things through. Observable evidence of an event does not necessarily mean directly witnessing the event. And in no other aspects of studying history do we call it faith to accept something as true that we haven't directly observed. I'll use an example. Mesoamerican history really interests me. Civilizations like the Maya or the earlier Olmec are fascinating. But nobody has directly observed those civilizations. The 'observable evidence' that we do have is what archaeologists find when they go investigating sites. We didn't see the artist who made The Wrestler, nor did we see it in that distant time period, but it is an artifact that can be observed. Likewise, we never directly observed any inhabitants of Tikal, but the ruins themselves are observable evidence. It would be ludicrous to say that we accept the existence of those civilizations on faith. We accumulate the evidence we have to form the most likely picture of the past.

Evidence for evolution is similar. A fossil is observable evidence, even if we didn't see the organism while it was alive. Studying genetics is observable. Anyone can go out and replicate the procedures used by geneticists to verify that they get the same results. It may take a little reasoning to put all the evidence together into a coherent picture, but that's how science works. For example, have you ever directly witnessed the Earth orbiting the Sun? Nobody has. We're inside the system, and nobody has ever traveled 'above' the solar system to directly observe it. Heliocentric theory is based on studying the evidence that we can see, and then reasoning out the motions of the planets from that.

Besides, the type of direct observation Comfort is asking for is ludicrous. Evolutionary theory doesn't predict that one 'kind' will evolve into another 'kind' in any type of timescale that humans can directly observe. It's true that we have witnessed a few speciation events (see Talk Origins - Observed Instances of Speciation, but when Comfort talks of changing kinds, he's talking of much bigger changes. It's almost as if he wants to see a cat give birth to a dog. If I give Comfort the benefit benefit of the doubt here, maybe he's trying to argue that since a change of kinds can't be witnessed because it's such a slow process, it must therefore be taken on faith. He'd still be incorrect, but not so bad as expecting a cat-dog. Though, even giving him the benefit of the doubt here might be too generous, considering how ludicrous his arguments can be (for an example, scroll about halfway down this page for his strange interpretation of dog evolution.)

Darwinian Evolution

This is closely related to the above discussion, but I want to make a different point. A bit later, Comfort asked Myers, "Can you give me an example of Darwinian evolution? Not adaptation or speciation, but a change of kinds." When Myers replied that he had been giving examples of a type of fish evolving into multiple distinct kinds of fish, Comfort again went back to his retort that "They're still fish." Myers also brought up Lenski's famous e. coli experiment (see The Loom - The Birth of the New, The Rewiring of the Old), and Comfort had the nerve to say, "That's not Darwinian evolution," and then a seamless transition into the next scene where he says "That's not a change in kind." He went on to say, "To summarize, the observable evidence you've given me for Darwinian evolution is bacteria becoming bacteria." He kept on harping on this topic, asking for an observed instance of one kind becoming another kind. There was a discussion on the Galapagos finches, and of course, Comfort's reply was "They're still birds", and that it therefore wasn't Darwinian evolution. He spent a fair amount of time showing students getting stumped again, not being able to instantaneously offer observed evidence of one kind changing into another. After insisting on this unrealistic expectation of evidence, he said that evolution therefore wasn't scientific, and showed the students he was able to get to go along with that statement, and then just a bit later students that he was able to convince that they were going on 'blind faith', with a repeat of the Dawkins quote from the start of the documentary.

First, it's a bit strange to keep harping on 'Darwinian' evolution 150 years after Darwin. Modern evolutionary theory is the modern synthesis. It owes much to Darwin's theory of natural selection, but it's more than that. It takes into account genetics, which Darwin didn't have a good handle on. It incorporates genetic drift, kin selection, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and much that Darwin never even dreamed of.

Even if we were to pay homage to Darwin and refer to modern evolutionary theory as Darwinian evolution, Comfort doesn't seem to understand the real definition. Here's a biology professor's definition, "Biological evolution is the change that species (kinds of living things) undergo over time. More precisely, it is the change in the gene pools of living populations of species which occurs over time. A gene is a hereditary unit that can be passed on. A gene pool is the set of all genes in a species or population." That's pretty consistent with definitions I've seen elsewhere. All the examples described above, from the Galapagos finches, to stickleback fish, to Lenski's e. coli experiments, show changes in the gene pools of populations. Lenski's experiment is particularly exciting, because it shows an entirely new biochemical ability that developed in a population.

However, this is one of the areas where Comfort did highlight a legitimate problem - not enough people understand the evidence supporting evolution. However, contrary to Comfort's interpretation, this is not because the evidence doesn't exist, but rather because of the nature of our education system. So much of science education, especially in grade school and undergrad, is teaching concepts, with only a bit of the evidence of how we know those things. For example, I don't think that even Comfort doubts atomic theory, but how many people can explain the evidence for why atomic theory is true? How do you know we're composed of these weird particles called atoms, with a nucleus full of protons and neutrons, and electrons flitting about outside the nucleus?

Lungs AND Gills?

This next bit was actually part of the above discussion, but I wanted to pull it out on its own. Here's something Comfort actually said in the movie.

So did we have lungs or gills when we came out of the sea? ... If we came out of the sea, we had gills in the sea.

The reason this stands out to me is that he said nearly the same thing in a CD that I listened to years ago, the very CD that inspired me to start this blog. It's such an ignorant argument, implying that it would be silly for an animal to have both lungs and gills. But guess what, numerous such animals exist today, not just as inferences from the fossil record.

Here are a few animals with both gills and lungs:

And of course, many amphibians go through a metamorphosis, and so have gills and lungs at different stages of their lives.

Here are a few fish with vascularized swim bladders that can be used to breathe air:

And here are a few fish that have evolved independent means of breathing air:

Really, it seems quite useful for organisms to be able to breathe above and under water. And it's not as if it's a terribly rare trait. The list above contains quite a few vertebrates with that capability. And that's not even considering invertebrates (such as crabs). And further, some of the fish above, including lungfish and bettas, are actually required to breathe air - their gills can't get them enough oxygen to survive.

Intelligent Design

Just for reference, it's now just about 14 minutes into the documentary.

So, with his ludicrous demands for observable evidence of one kind changing into another out of the way, he moved on to discussing Intelligent Design (ID). He started off by asking people to make a rose. And when people responded that they couldn't, his inane response was "Hang on. Now it's not intelligently designed, so you should be able to whip me up a rose real quick." What type of sense does that even make? Simple vs. complex doesn't denote intelligently designed vs. natural. A hammer is intelligently designed. It's also very simple, and I'd have no problem making one. A geode is naturally occurring, but I couldn't make one of them.

He transitioned from that into saying that nobody can make something from nothing, not even a grain of sand. That's not what evolutionary theory even says. Creation ex nihlo is a religious concept. Evolutionary theory starts up with the universe already existing.

Next was another example of how badly he represented the scientific understanding of the history of the universe, "There was nothing in the beginning, a big explosion of nothing, it become something. It became into a rose, and giraffes and horses and cows." It's as if he's trying to represent the history of the universe as the big bang leading directly to fully formed organisms, completely ignoring the expansion of the universe, stellar evolution, the formation of our solar system, abiogenesis, and finally biological evolution.

Vestigial Traits

Next came a discussion of "vestigials". The student he was interviewing said it was a left over organ with no use, and Comfort jumped on that 'no use' part. In particular, he pointed out that tail bones anchor tendons, ligaments and muscles, and that the appendix is actually a part of the immune system. Since I've already played the definitions game once in this entry, let's do it again and take a look at how Meriam Webster defines 'vestige'. This is the second definition given, the one with the biological connotation:

a bodily part or organ that is small and degenerate or imperfectly developed in comparison to one more fully developed in an earlier stage of the individual, in a past generation, or in closely related forms

Where does that definition say no function at all? It doesn't, because that's not what vestigial means. Many body parts have multiple functions. For example, our larynxes allow us to breathe, but they've also been co-opted for communication (speech). Same with tongues, though for them it's eating and speaking. Our hands have many, many functions.

If you go back far enough, our ancestors had tails. Those tails did all the normal functions tails do - especially balance in our simian ancestors, and also providing an anchor point for tendons, ligaments and muscles. At some point, our ancestral line lost their tails - probably due to a change in locomotion through the trees where they weren't as important. But all those tendons, ligaments and muscles for our leg muscles still needed anchoring points. Evolution doesn't do a whole lot of creating new parts from scratch, but rather modifying existing features. So, as our ancestors lost their tails, they couldn't lost the parts that anchored tissues for the legs, so they couldn't lose those bones entirely. And we still have that vestige of the past - a short 'tail' that's not even long enough to poke out through our skin. It still has a function, but it is "small and degenerate" compared to our simian ancestors.

As far as the appendix, I'll direct readers to the TalkOrigins article, The vestigiality of the human vermiform appendix: A modern reappraisal. Comparing the human appendix to the caecum of other animals, it's pretty clear that the human index is greatly reduced. It also seems rather unnecessarily complicated for the limited functionality it might have (though even any functionality is disputed).

And of course, appendices and coccyges aren't the only examples of vestigial organs. While the following article may not be the scientifically rigorous, it does provide some good examples, Top 10 Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs).


At this point, just over 17 minutes into the movie, or about halfway through, Comfort's pretty much done with any discussion of science. So, that makes for a good breaking point for this review. Look forward to Part II, which will focus more on religion, in about a week.

Continue Reading: Part II

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Chronicles 1 to 1 Chronicles 10

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).

BibleThis week's entry marks a new milestone in this series. Assuming 1392 chapters in the Bible (it's actually a bit complicated, depending on what chapters and even what books you're going to include - see my update from 2013-03-22 to the Introduction to this series for a short discussion), and going by chapter count instead of verse count or word count, Chapter 10 of 1 Chronicles marks the 1/4 point of the Bible - 25% of the way through. It's taken me a little less than a year, so I have a little less than three years left to go, assuming I keep motivated enough to finish. To tell the truth, it's a bigger project than I anticipated. It's not so hard to read the 10 chapters a week, but it gets just a little tougher to go back and read all the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). And then it's even more of a chore to write the weekly blog entries. However, I believe that the additional chore of the blog entries is part of what's kept me going this long. Without that sense of obligation, I fear I might have already given up, or at least abandoned reading the footnotes and read merely the text itself, which wouldn't be nearly as informative.

A somewhat surprising aspect is the way this has cut into my other reading. It's not that I devote a tremendous amount of time each week to reading the Bible and don't have any time left for other books. Rather, when I have a bit of spare time, instead of picking up a good book that I'd enjoy reading and get sucked into, I feel obligated to catch up on my Bible reading. So, I'll either procrastinate and watch TV instead, or read just enough to get caught up and then feel burnt out on reading. In effect, I devote less time overall to reading now than I did when I wasn't reading the Bible, and my yearly book "consumption" has suffered noticeably. Anyway, on to the meat of this week's entry...


As with several other books, 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally one book, and later broken up into two books with the Greek translation, probably to keep the scrolls to a more manageable size for handling. Chronicles was written later than all the other books that have preceded it. To a large extent, it's a rather condensed summary of those other books. For the earliest history, much of the focus of Chronicles is on the genealogy rather than the narrative. For example, the Noachian Flood isn't discussed at all. Skimming ahead (and reading the NOAB and Wikipedia), it appears that later chapters that cover the same material as Samuel and Kings will focus a bit more on the narrative, but will still include quite a bit of genealogy.

While Chronicles is largely similar to those earlier books and seems to have used them as source material, it's not entirely consistent with them. However, given the tedious nature of the genealogy sections and the shear number of discrepancies, I'm not going to discuss them here. I've already discussed a few of these discrepancies in previous entries, and that's the extent of the coverage I'll give them. For anyone interested in seeing all these discrepancies, just skim through the sidebar of the Skeptic's Annotated Bible for 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles.

One aspect of the geneaologies worthy of note is that certain portions are more extensive than those from previous books. Those books focused on the priests and kings, and the line of David in particular. Chronicles was much more inclusive of all of the tribes of Israel. However, when it came to the kings themselves, Chronicles focused on Judah, without much emphasis on Israel.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 1

This entire chapter was extremely boring, being just one long list of genealogy. As an example, here's how the chapter opened.

1 Adam, Seth, Enosh; 2 Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; 3 Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; 4 Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

5 The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 6 The descendants of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. 7 The descendants of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim.

It lasted for 53 verses and closed with the clans of Edom.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 was just as bad - 55 verses altogether, starting with the sons of Israel, and closing with "the Kenites who came from Hammath, father of the house of Rechab."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 3

This chapter was just as boring as the first two, but thankfully only about half as long at 24 verses.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 4

Another boring genealogy chapter. This one at least had a handful more extra details, a sentence or two here and there. For example, "They journeyed to the entrance of Gedor, to the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks, 40 where they found rich, good pasture, and the land was very broad, quiet, and peaceful; for the former inhabitants there belonged to Ham."

1 Chronicles, Chapter 5

More genealogy with just a handful of details, starting with "The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel" and closing with "the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh" being carried off by the King of Assyria.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 6

More of the same, only longer - 81 verses.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 7

And yet more of the same.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 8

And even more.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 9

And still more. This time, it was post-Babylonian exile, so it was a time period not yet covered in the previous books. And this time it came with added bonus tedium, focusing on who was in charge of what accessories in the temple.

1 Chronicles, Chapter 10

Finally, a break. Chapter 10 described Saul's death, how the Philistines hung his head in the temple of Dagon, and how the people of Jabesh-gilead rescued his remains. As an example of the differences between this book and earlier ones, notice that this chapter described Saul's head being hung in the temple of Dagon, and makes no mention of his body except for the fact that it was rescued. But 1 Samuel 31 only says that Saul's head was cut off without describing what happened to it from there, but specifically mentioned that his body was fastened to the wall of Beth-shan. Now, this isn't exactly a discrepancy per se, but it is odd that different details were included in the different books.


Man oh man - that was probably the longest consecutive stretch of such boring, tedious material that I've read so far. It may have been valuable for being such a concise summary of genealogies, but it was about as exciting as reading a phone book.

Comparing this book to previous books makes it rather clear that the Bible isn't some cohesive whole. If it actually had been an inspired work from one source, there'd be no reason for the type of repetition between this book and previous books, or the weird splitting up of details like those discussed above for Saul's death. But, if you assume that these were works of different people throughout history, all of these books make more sense. Chronicles works much better as a standalone work, providing a summary of other works that that scribe would have known about.

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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for August 2013

Top 10 ListAnother month down, another month to check the server logs. Every page but one that made the list had made it at least once before, but it was still quite a shake-up. The first timer was the blog entry, Evolution No More a Fact than the Civil War. And several of the pages hadn't made the list in years, such as Book Review - Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters and Response to an E-Mail Supposedly Summarizing Dr. Charles Krauthammer's Views on Obama. The biggest surprise is that my Autogyro History & Theory didn't make the list at all, for the first time ever. As I wrote last week when it looked like it was slipping, it's not that it's getting less views, but rather that other entries are getting more.

As far as overall traffic, it's a bit crazy. A couple stats, such as Number of Visits and Pages were the highest they've ever been, the latter by around a 70% margin. I'm not sure exactly what's going on. I'm not getting a huge influx of spam comments, so I don't think it's spammers, unless the comments are all getting junked by my spam filter and I'm just not seeing them. Hmm, I just checked my spam folder, and it is pretty full, so maybe that has something to do with it. Oh well, I'm going to pretend that the world at large has finally discovered me and that the increased popularity is real, not a bunch of Southeast Asian Captcha sweatshop workers making $3 a day.

Oh well, here were the ten most popular pages on this site last month.

Top 10 for August 2013

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  4. Blog - Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire
  5. Blog - Response to an E-Mail Supposedly Summarizing Dr. Charles Krauthammer's Views on Obama
  6. Blog - Crazy E-mail - Cash for Clunkers
  7. Blog - Book Review - Voyage of the Beagle
  8. Blog - Book Review - Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  9. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes
  10. Blog - Evolution No More a Fact than the Civil War

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