Tag Archives: skeptic

Response to a LiveScience Article about Herod

LiveScience is one of a number of websites that report on current research. As such, LiveScience frequently displays various liberal biases. I sympathize with liberalism on a number of points. I don’t, however, sympathize with the abuse of science to serve prejudice — in this case, prejudice against religious belief. This post contains the text of a comment I posted on LiveScience, in response to an article about something reported in the Gospel of Luke.

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Jarus [i.e., the author of the LiveScience article] links to another LiveScience article that suggests Josephus may have declined to mention the slaughter of the innocents just because it would have been a small-scale event, involving only a handful of babies in a smallish town. Based on that LiveScience article, it appears that Jarus is misrepresenting the history. The present article would have been stronger if Jarus had provided actual support for his assertion, rather than merely quoting the opinion of some random professor.

Jarus further says that “there’s no evidence of a census occuring [sic] during Herod’s reign.” That’s an interesting slip. The Bible is, of course, a source of evidence on what occurred during Herod’s reign. Jarus’s evident unwillingness to treat it as such suggests a preexisting bias. I’m skeptical toward overblown claims about the Bible. But that would not justify intellectual dishonesty. The Bible is a source; it is a collection of ancient and, in many regards, historical documents.

Jarus appears to mean that there are no other sources supporting Luke’s timing of the census. There appears to be some truth to that. For instance, Wikipedia cites a Christian commentator for an admission that Luke’s timing of the census raises presently insoluble historical problems.

Yet if Jarus is correct in saying that Herod might have lived until several years after Jesus’s birth, those problems do not necessarily mean the story is false. In the vacuum left by this article’s superficial treatment, the reader might wonder whether perhaps Luke’s mistake was not in the timing of the census, but rather in its scope. For instance, is it possible that the 6 AD census was based in some instances on local data gathered in previous years? Maybe; maybe not. We aren’t told.

Questions of that nature may illustrate that it could be rather arrogant to declare an ancient source mistaken, when it is not clear that the author of such a declaration has engaged in any firsthand historical inquiry. For instance, Jarus would have us believe that the first readers of Luke’s gospel were ignorant of their own recent history. Wikipedia says that gospel may have been written as early as 80 AD. If someone handed me a document asserting that my parents gave me a false story about an event occurring in 1939 (i.e., 80 years ago, when they were ~20 years old), I would question that document. Jarus offers nothing to defeat the impression that the Gospel of Luke did pass the straight-face test at the time of its creation.

There appears to be a historical problem in Luke’s account. It would have been interesting to read an informed discussion of that problem, not to support a preexisting ideology, but rather to flesh out various possibilities. The result would still not be science — it is not clear what this discussion is doing in LiveScience — but at least it would be credible and open to the evidence.



Illustrations from the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible

Before I started this blog, I put a number of religion-related entries into my ideas blog.  I have gradually been moving them here.

This particular post contains the verbatim text of several of those posts.  They were focused particularly on the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB).  An inescapable conclusion from review of that work is that it is unrealistic — I have argued that, in fact, it is blasphemous — to blame God for the Bible.  Not to deny that the book contains literature, history, great stories, and so forth; but, clearly, the Bible is not what some have claimed, in their efforts to construct their religions and cults.

I might have continued with the exploration of the SAB — I did flip around in it, here and there — but eventually it becomes obvious:  the Bible is not, and does not even claim to be, a perfect work, inspired by God.  I certainly wanted it to be God’s divine word, but in the end, truth is not about what you or I want.  Unless we wish to spend our lives lying to ourselves and to others, we’ve got to face the realities, and open our minds to whatever God, or the gods, or the universe — whoever or whatever there is — may actually be trying to communicate to us.

So I did quickly decide not to make much of the SAB, beyond the few excepts shown here.  There just didn’t seem to be much point in going on and on about it.  People who are being honest with the facts will get the picture quickly enough, and those who don’t prioritize honesty that highly — preferring tradition, or hope, or some other virtue instead — will never get it, no matter what you put in front of them.

Given that perception of the situation, it did not seem necessary to spend time to weave the following texts together.  I am just presenting them, as I say, verbatim, in the form that I previously posted them in that other blog.  There assuredly is a great deal more where this came from, for those who have time and interest in exploring the SAB further.

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Previous Post No. 1:  When Was the Sun Created?


1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.


1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

Evidently there was no “light upon the earth” before this point.  So the division of light from darkness cited above, as well as the evening and the morning, were occurring somewhere other than Earth.


1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
1:18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
1:19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

The creation of the Sun (1:15) occurred on the fourth day.  How could there be three days before this?

From The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, which also provides the following link, among others:

In response to the theory that each so-called “day” actually represented an entire epoch, Dr. Jason Rosenhouse quotes Rabbi Natan Slifkin at length, including the following excerpts:

[A]lthough this approach reconciles the difference between a time span of six days and a time span of fourteen billion years, the events of those six days cannot be correlated with the scientific account of what took place during the fourteen billion years. . . .

There have been very ingenious attempts to make the content and sequence of Genesis concord with that of science, an approach known as “concordism.” Such efforts are, however, beset with serious difficulties . . . . [Among other things,] they render the true meaning of Genesis as something only comprehensible to modern man. And yet we see that, although the Torah is binding for all generations, God presented it in a form that would be meaningful to the generation that received it.  The laws of damages refer to donkeys falling in pits, not trucks ramming into cars. It is unreasonable to believe that God gave an account of Creation that mankind was completely incapable of understanding for thousands of years.

If Genesis can only be reconciled with science via obscure theories, reference to irrelevant phenomena, drastic and very difficult textual reinterpretation, and ingenious intellectual gymnastics, then it is not a very impressive scientific account. The most reasonable conclusion is that Genesis was never intended to be a scientific text . . . .

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Previous Post No. 2:  How Many Gods Are There?

Genesis 1:26
And God said, let us make man in our image.

Genesis 3:22
And the Lord God said, Behold, then man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.

Genesis 11:7
Let us go down, and there confound their language.

Exodus 22:28
Thou shalt not revile the gods.

Exodus 34:14
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

1 Samuel 28:13
And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

Psalm 82:6
I have said, Ye are gods.

Zephaniah 2:11
The Lord will be terrible to them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth.

John 10:33-34
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

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Previous Post No. 3:  Adam Didn’t Die That Day

Genesis 2:16-17:  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Genesis 5:5:  “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.”


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