Sunday, 21 April 2013

Proving and disproving God

What follows is my response to Richard Bushey's post from


You can't ask a person to prove a position that he doesn't hold. If you're talking about people who actually say "no gods of any kind exist", you can ask them to prove it. Let me try to explain this.

There are really three classes of people who call themselves atheists. Note that I'm using my own labels (though not only my own) but it's not the labels that matter; it's the positions.

1. "Weak agnostic atheists" - those who simply lack belief that a god exists. They need to prove nothing. You have the burden when it comes to them.

2. "Strong agnostic atheists" - those who say that it's unlikely that a god exists but who don't claim to be certain. You can ask them to prove their position. You can't ask them to EXCLUDE THE POSSIBILITY that a god exists because that's not their position. But you can certainly ask them to prove that a god probably doesn't exist. I'm one of these people. You can certainly ask me to prove that it's unlikely that a god exists. And I'll try to prove it to you. You can find my proof here:

3. "Strong gnostic atheists" - these are the people (there's very, very, very few of these) who will categorically claim that they know that there's no god. You can, by all means, ask them to prove their position. What's more, they have to disprove any version of a god, and they have to disprove them beyond any doubt.

Now, let me move on to proving a negative. Just tell me what type of evidence you could expect to see if there's no god. Let's stick to it in the deistic sense in this case. How could anyone ever prove that the Universe wasn't created by some intelligent entity who then moved on to other things and does nothing to show its existence? You claim that such a proof is possible (and I disagree with you on this). Please show how, in principle, that could be done.


Naureen's Questions (@NaureenK16)

During a brief encounter with Naureen (a theist of unspecified species), I was asked the following two questions:

1. Name something that does not exist and its attributes don't exist in our reality; and

2. Name something in our human experience that ever came out of nothing.

I'll address these questions now and wait for Naureen to respond via comments.

1. Name something that does not exist and its attributes don't exist in our reality

I. What I exclude

a) Logical impossibilities

There are some things that (subject to assuming that logic is universal) I can say don't exist in our reality because they are logically impossible.

A square circle - in other words, an object which is a square and a circle at the same time. This object is logically impossible. the attributes of a square are such that they exclude the attributes of a circle. A thing can't be a square and a circle at the same time because it would breach the First Principles of Logic. In other words, it would be something while being something that it's not (the Law of No Contradiction). This is because a circle does not, by definition (it can't), have any straight lines. A square, on the other hand, has four straight lines that it uses for its sides. A square circle is a circle that's not a circle. It's a logical contradition. It can't exist in our reality or in any other reality in which logic applies.

I would agree with Narueen (we've had some twitter discussions after she posed the question) that the concept of a square circle can exist in our reality. While we can't conceive of the actual object, we can (if we really stretch it) imagine that there may exist some reality in which logic does not apply and in which an object that is both a square and a circle is possible. The concept then (although impossible for us to imagine) exists in our reality.

Some versions of gods are similar to a square circle. They are logically impossible. For example a truly (absolutely) omnipotent God is a logical contradiction: the good old stone paradox (can God create a stone that's so heavy that He is unable to lift it?) Of course, this is a sideline comment and I don't intend to go into a lengthy debate about this paradox (I've seen, and discussed at length, various proposed solutions).

Is it possible that, in our reality, there exist objects that logic doesn't apply to? Perhaps. I can't prove that logic is universal, even within our reality. Perhaps they are and we can't perceive them because they contradict our way of seeing the world. Perhaps some things that we see as circles are actually square circles? I can't say for sure. But assuming that logic is indeed universal within our reality, a square circle is my answer.

b) Empirically exluded things - theistic God

Another example, and closer to the topic of the discussion, of a thing that doesn't exist in our reality is a theistic God. In this case, I define theistic God as a god who intervenes in human affairs.

I can say that such a god almost certainly doesn't exist. We have solid experience of human affairs and we know from this experience that there's no evidence of the existence of a god who intervenes in human affairs. Everything that happens in our world, everything that we observe, appears to act according to laws that we call "laws of nature". There are no documented (ie, observed and established to exist, beyond fraud or hallucination) instances of things breaching laws of nature. There are, of course, some things we don't fully understand. One of these is ball lightening. But lack of understanding of a phenomenon doesn't entitle us to assume that it breaches the laws of nature.

What type of events would class as breaching laws of nature? For example a man who lost a limb, prayed, and the limb just suddenly reappeared. Or an car that's about to crash into another car but inexplicably is raised into the air, suspended in the air until the other car passes by, and then gently put on the ground.

Things like these do not happen. Instead, what we observe is that everything around us is acting consistently in accordance with natural laws. What we observe, in other words, is exactly what we would expect to observe if there was no God who intervenes in human affairs.

Insofar as this type of god goes, I'm a strong atheist. I deny (with almost complete certainty) that such a god exists.

That's not to say that I'm dogmatic about this. If someone presents me with credible evidence (or argument) that such a god exists, I'll accept that and become a theist.

II. What I don't exclude

What I don't (and can't) exclude, however, is the existence of some intelligent entity who created the Universe and went into hiding (or disappeared or just takes no active role in the Universe, or at least in human affairs).

While I can't exclude that such a god may exist, I don't start from an assumption that such a god does exist. Quite simply, there's no evidence (not even a sound philosophical or logical argument) that would allow me to conclude that such a god exists.

Insofar, as this type of god goes, I'm a strong agnostic atheist. I don't exclude that such a god may exist but I believe that this type of god is very unlikely to exist. That's because the more conditions a proposition contains, the more unlikely it is to be true. You can see me demonstrate it mathematically HERE.

That's not to say that I'm dogmatic about this. Not at all.

If someone successfully rebuts my mathematical proof, I'll be a weak agnostic atheist about this type of god (I'll simply lack belief, without saying that this god is very improbable).

Furthermore, if someone provides me with credible evidence that such a god exists, I'll accept that and become a deist. So far, no good.

2. Name something in our human experience that ever came out of nothing.

I now turn to the second question.

I don't know of anything that humans have experienced (or, in other words, observed) and which comes out of nothing. And yet, I don't propose that anything did come from nothing.

Insofar as I'm concerned, it's theists who propose that their chosen god (be it Yhwh, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) created all matter out of nothing. In my books, it's them that Naureen should be asking this question. As an atheist, I make an honest statement: I don't know where the Universe came from, I'm excited about the question, I think it's a fascinating topic to ponder and I think we should keep looking for the answer (which, coincidentally, we may never actually be able to find).

Theists claim to have some knowledge about matters that they have had absolutely no experience of (nobody has experienced/observed something being created of out of nothing, Naureen, even with the agency of an entity such as a god) while atheists don't.

There are some atheists, in particular some physicists (such as Krauss) who propose that the Universe came from nothing. But what they're proposing is just a hypothesis. They're not claiming that their model is verified by any observation. I have no problems with that. Equally, I have no problems with someone proposing a god (except for a theistic god; see above) who created the Universe out of nothing. I'm fine with that, so long as the proponent makes it clear that they're merely putting forward a hypothesis, that they have no evidence to support it and that they're not claiming that this is what in fact happened.

And again, as above, if I'm presented with solid evidence or a sound argument that such a god exists, I'll accept it and become a deist.

I can also add (as I've indicated on twitter during my brief exchange with Naureen) that the question is unusal for this topic. Naureen asks me to demonstrate something in our human experience that comes from nothing. But we both know (well, I know, and I hope she does too) that the generation of our Universe is very much unlike anything that we've ever experienced/observed. No matter how the Universe came to exist, that event will necessarily be something that's completely inconsistent with anything we've experienced/observed. If an invisible and powerful God created our Universe from nothing, it will be something completely out of the ordinary for us (no human has experienced or observed this type of event). If  another form of matter/energy changed into our Universe, that will also be something that we've never experienced/observed. And finally, if the Universe (without a god) came from nothing, we also have no experience/observation of things like that happening.

Creations of Universes are not things that we have experience of. They are necessarily things very much beyond the scope of our experience and, one way or another (no matter how they happen), they will involve things that we've never observed.

I hope that answers Naureen's questions. I tried my best.

Comments are welcome


Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Bible - Science or Mythology - second and third rounds

Note: This post contains the second AND THIRD round (scroll down to see third)

This post contains the continuation of my debate with Richard Bushey (@AChristianWord) about the Bible and apologist claims that it contains evidence of miraculously gained scientific truth.

To see the original post  (the first "Round"), as well as background info on the debate, go here.

What follows is Richard's response to my comment, followed by my counter.



Richard's response:

Sorry, I am detecting a little bias in your verdict. It sort of seems like you are making things up to support the conclusion that these do not work. I am very confused about your rebuttals, it honestly seems like in each like, you are trying to make it say something that it does not say. I really dislike the whole line by line type of argumentation style but oh well.

Isaiah: The way I see it, the only object that is a circle from every angle is a sphere.

Jeremiah: I do not see how saying “as innumerable as the stars in the sky” is not an indication that the stars are innumberable.

Job: I do not understand your rebuttal. I think it is incredible that the Bible indicates that beyond the northern skies, there is empty space. Secondly, suspended does not indicate that it is still. It indicates that it does not have anything hoisting it into the air.

Hebrews 11: It says very clearly that the visible world is constructed by that which is not visible.

1 Corinthians: Again, it is not saying what you are indicating. It says that they are all different.

Leviticus 17:11 What is remarkable here is that the Bible indicates what nobody on earth knew. The entire known world thought that sick people must be bled. But the Bible did not.

2 Sam 22:16 Your lack of theological understanding is present here. The Bible does not indicate that God literally had a nose that blows breath. Throughout the Bible when it speaks of “the breath,” it is referring to the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why we see phrases like “all scripture is God-breathed,” and so forth.

Leviticus: What is remarkable is that it very clearly says to clean yourself when the rest of the world did not.

I also noticed that you had no response to the passages that I posted. It should also be noted that your attempt to refute these passages suggests how remarkable it is that the Bible is the only book that teaches these things. The Bible is the only book that clearly teaches that the universe is in a continuous state of expansion, the earth is a sphere, the stars are innumberable. In fact, we can also add Jeremiah 33:25 which teaches that the natural laws of the universe are fixed, and Romans 8:20-22 which teaches that one of these laws is the law of decay.

Now at the moment I am not going to bother with your response to WLC’s argument. But I beg you, Martin, when you look at these, try to leave your presuppositions at the door. It really seems as though you are just making things up to avoid the conclusion that these Bible teaches these things.

My (@Allocutus) response:


 No, I'm not making any presumptions. In fact, where I've seen merits in your source's arguments, I concluded it as "Good Observation". Further, after a response on my own blog, I conceded that another one of these is a "Good Observation" (Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 noticing - as any child would! - that some stars are brighter than others). As for the line-by-line style, it makes it easier for me - and for any readers who want to follow the discussion - without having to jump back and forward, but I'm happy to do blocks instead :)

1. Isaiah 40:22

The problem is that the Scripture says nothing about "every angle". Here's a linear translation from Hebrew: "Who sits above the circle of the Earth inhabitants grasshoppers stretches a curtain the heavens and spreads a tent..."

See, there's no mention of seeing anything from many directions. Rather, it talks about God sitting ABOVE the "circle" (not sphere! The word is "circle") of the Earth. Is this consistent with an ancient mythology that the earth is a circular disc and God sits above it? Yes, it is. In order to take it any further, you have to play word games (and you are doing that, by claiming that circles from many angles are spheres etc) and you have to read into the text more than it actually says.
No, we have one interpretation that is consistent with mythology and is literal. We have another that is consistent with science and is NOT literal. Is there any reason why we should choose the latter one? No, there isn't. Can you therefore claim that Isaiah is consistent with science? No, you can't. At the very most, you can say that "a particular interpretation, which changes the meanings of some words ('above' and 'circle') would avoid inconsistency with science". Fine. But that's a far cry from claiming that Isaiah 40:22 is scientifically correct.

2. Jeremiah 33:22

I've looked at the Hebrew translation and it goes like this:

"my ministers after cannot be counted as the host of heaven cannot be measured and the sands of the sea so will multiply the descendants of David my servant and the Levites minister"
So, you're right. The correct translation would be "innumerable". Jeremiah doesn't use the word "stars"; uses the word "host" (Tsaba) instead. That word, a masculine noun,  means "army", "of the sun, moon, and stars", "of whole creation", "war, warfare, service, go out to war". "Host of heaven" does seem to suggest we're talking about the "army of stars".  So, I change my position. I agree with you that the word is "innumerable" in the sense that they cannot be measured. But is this really consistent with modern science? No, it's not. The size of the Universe (along with the approximate number of stars) HAS BEEN measured. And certainly, Jeremiah is not saying that the children of David and the Levites will be as many as the stars, is he? If he were saying that, he'd be saying there will be a billion billion or so of them. Rather he's saying "there will be a great many, too many to count". Are the stars "too many to count"? Yes. Look at the midnight sky in a secluded area, look towards the centre of the galaxy and try to count the stars. With a naked eye it seems impossible. In this instance, I would actually say this IS poetic language. In fact, we use this type of language all the time. How much do you love me? The world? No, the Universe!

Now, your source claims that the science in the day of Jeremiah believed that there were only 1,000 stars in the sky. Jeremiah is dated (his life, not his writings, which is yet another, much longer story) to some 600 BC. What WAS the current scientific position at that time? Who ARE these scientists that your source is talking about? Was there a scientific establishment in ancient Israel that was independent of the clerical establishment? I would doubt that.''

But let's get back to the biblical tradition about the numbers of stars. Go to Genesis 15:5. God is having a conversation with Abram. Linear Hebrew: "took outside and said look now the heavens and count the stars if are able to count said so become shall your descendants the Lord reckoned". God tells Abram that the number of HIS descendants will be as large as the number of VISIBLE STARS (visible with the naked eye!).

Now we both know that the number of VISIBLE STARS (with naked eye) is BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of times less than the number of stars in the Universe. So, it would seem that Abram is going to have billions of times LESS descendants than David. But that's impossible (even if we leave the actual calculations aside, which would make it ludicrous in any event; for example, there are only some 2000 stars visible with the naked eye and we know that there are many more descendants of Abram), given that David himself is supposedly a descendant of Abram! What does that mean? It means that if you interpret Genesis 15:5 and Jeremiah 33:22 LITERALLY, you end up with an anomaly.

So, what can we say about a literal interpretation of these verses?
For one, if we take them both literally, they make no sense.

Can we then take Jeremiah literally and Genesis figuratively? That would be ad hoc reasoning. But what if we did? Well, a literal interpretation of Jeremiah means that  the descendants of David will be too many to count. And that, if course, is nonsense. We are very much able to count the Jewish population and we will ALWAYS be able to count them (barring some disaster that takes us technologically back to the dark ages).

Our third option is to take Genesis 15:5 figuratively and take PART of Jeremiah 33:22 literally. In other words, when Jeremiah says that the descendants of David will be too many to count, he's being figurative, but when he says that there are too many stars to count, he's being literal. But that's SUPER AD HOC reasoning. That's interpreting the Bible selectively in such a away as to MAKE IT correspond with science. And that's NO PROOF that the Bible DOES correspond with science.

But let me go one step further about the biblical tradition. God in Genesis 15:5 says "go outside and count the stars IF YOU ARE ABLE TO COUNT THEM". Clearly, the author of Genesis took the view that it may not be possible to count even the stars that are visible with the naked eye! And if that's the case, it would make perfect sense for Jeremiah (who, no doubt, was very familiar with Genesis and with the biblical tradition and the literary style used in Genesis) to repeat the same metaphor.

To me, there's absolutely no doubt that these verses are purely figurative. They simply mean to say "you're gonna have heaps of kids and there are heaps of stars in the sky, too many to count". It's not about scientific knowledge at all.

The Bible COULD, if it was indeed inspired by God, give us a verse that would LEAVE NO DOUBT that there are too many stars in the sky to count them. It COULD say "Abram, I tell you, the stars that you see are nothing in comparison with the stars that are out there but too far for you to see. One day, your children will be able to see them but for now, you just have to take my word for it". There's NO REASON IN THE WORLD why the Bible (if divinely inspired) couldn't teach us science in an unequivocal and clearly inspired way. If such a verse appeared, we'd be having a serious discussion. But we find NO SUCH VERSES in the Bible. Not one. All you're left with is having to engage in selective, ad hoc interpretation.

3. Job 26:7

"Spreads out the Northern skies over empty space". What does that mean? What's "northern skies"? Where's the empty space? Just what is he spreading over this empty space?

As for "suspend", I don't understand what you're saying. What do you mean "it doesn't have anything holding it into the air?" What air? There's no air in space.

What does it mean to say that the Earth is "hanging on nothing"? If the Earth is suspended at all, it's suspended on the Sun's gravity. It's not suspended "on nothing". Otherwise, there's no point speaking of it as being "suspended". It's simply flying through space. Again, the Bible (if it were divinely inspired) COULD tell us "he makes the Sun hold on to the Earth with its sheer weight". Woah! Wouldn't that be awesome if the Bible had said that? But it doesn't.

Now, consider a flat-earth cosmology. You observe the "northern sky" above. And then there are only two choices. Either the Earth is hanging from above (suspended) or it's resting on something from below. If you opt for the former (hanging), you observe that it's hanging "on nothing". You don't see any strings hanging down from the sky. Consistent? You bet.

What if you choose the second option (the Earth resting on something from below)? And once again, Job comes to the rescue. In Job 9:6 we see the following: "he who shakes the earth out of its place so that its pillars tremble". The earth is shaken out of its place? What place? Trembling pillars? What pillars? Clearly, in that particular POETIC description (as opposed to the above POETIC description), Job has the Earth resting on pillars, from below (as opposed to hanging "on nothing" from above).

Again, it's all consistent with simple observation made in light or very primitive mythological beliefs. Again, the Bible COULD HAVE made a very clear scientific revelation and it HAS NOT. Again, what you're left with is to have to cherrypick through poetry.

4. Hebrews 11:3

Ok, I'll make a concession here. I have looked at the Greek linear translation and you're correct, Richard. It does clearly say that God's command has made the visible from the invisible. Does this mean atoms? Or does this mean that an invisible realm (of God and angels and other things of the invisible realm) has given rise to the visible realm? Who knows? There's certainly no mention of the atom in Hebrews. And there COULD HAVE BEEN. The author COULD HAVE SAID "For God has told me that everything is made of tiny little particles that we can't see". It hasn't. It's left us to cherrypick and to appeal to selective, ad hoc interpretation.

The book of Hebrews (unknown authorship and almost certainly not Pauline, but admitted by early church fathers who wrongly thought that it was) can be dated to medium-to-late 1st century CE. The Atomic Theory, in its earliest version, was proposed by Democritus in the 5th century BCE. While I don't know for the life of me why Hebrews was ever admitted into the canon (no serious scholars claim it was written by Paul; the letter is anonymous), I can't see any difficulty with its author being familiar with (and even a fan of) the Greek Atomic Theory. And that's if we ASSUME (for no reason at all!) that the verse indeed refers to the atoms, as opposed to referring to "unseen things" in the context of "a non-material world".

5. 1 Cor 15:41

1 Corinthians 15:41. As I've indicated in my blog (in response to someone's comment), I did not realise initially that "they differ in their glory" could simply refer to "their differ in their brightness". I accept that it does. But what's so special about that? Paul (who was not an astronomer, even if we were to assume that astronomy in that day claimed that all stars are the same; your source doesn't support these claims about ancient science) noticed that each star appears to be of a different size and brightness. I myself noticed this when I was three or four years of age. It's a very simple, very obvious observation. I don't see anything unusual about this.

6. Leviticus 17:11

Why do you say that nobody on earth knew that it's good to wash a wound with water? Do you have any sources to support that at all? Let's give the ancient Jews some credit. Folk medicine has been around for a long time and it has gotten a lot of things right. They just happened to get this one "right". I say this in quotation marks because they actually got it WRONG. You shouldn't wait for the wound to stop bleeding. You should attempt to stop the bleeding yourself. A God-inspired text would know this. Leviticus didn't. There's absolutely nothing remarkable about this.

7. 2 Sam 22:16

Richard, don't patronise me, buddy :)

I was a Christian for 20 years. Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Adventist, Assemblies of God, ecumenical. I've been around, my friend. I'm very much familiar with the CONTEMPORARY theological "understanding".

But we're talking about an ancient collection of books here, not about what current theologians say.
And the Bible clearly is divided on the issue of whether God has a corporeal body or not. As early as Genesis, we have God strolling through the Garden of Eden, we have people escaping from his presence. We have Exodus 33:22-23 where Moses wants to see God's "glory". God instead tells him to sit on a rock and he will get to see God's back. We have Genesis 18:20-21 where God says that he needs to come down to Gomorrah personally and check if things are really as bad as the cry told him. After the flood, we have God repenting and promising never to kill all the animals again. Why? Because he was pleased with the aroma of a burnt offering (Genesis 8:21). Do you really think that's metaphorical? I doubt that. I think that ancient Jews had a very different idea of God to what you do today. They were very much in-line with all the other surrounding religions in each respective period. And I think the biblical mythology illustrates that very well.

This is all of course ok. It's consistent with the everchanging ideas that people have had about their gods. Many scholars suggest that the Jews in fact believed in two separate Gods (one being Elohim and the other one Yhwh). These two gods had very distinct and differing characteristics, in particular in how they related to humans. Then somewhere down the track the two traditions amalgamated into one and we ended up with the mixture. If that's correct, it would explain the many apparent inconsistencies. It might not explain the corporeal body question. But this is just an example of how religion evolves. And it's beyond any question that it does. The medieval interpretation of Genesis was basically literal. Today only fundies interpret it literally; most (even very, very devout) Christians (and Jews) accept the Big Bang (itself the idea of a catholic priest).

8. Leviticus 15:13

Again, you assume that the rest of the world didn't know to wash a wound that's been bleeding. I don't know the answer to that but it would be interesting to look at, say, ancient Egyptian medicine. I venture you might be surprised. In any event, if that's the case (and we're far from establishing that; the blue table is not a source I'd be relying on for big claims like that), then it's impressive. Why? Because it gives the ancient Jews some credit. They discovered something interesting and useful. But there's nothing miraculous in this. People have invented folk medicine for millenia. They've done this in all parts of the world. Trial and error. Simple facts.

9. The Bible being unique.

I disagree with you. The Quran has a number of passages that the Muslims argue are evidence of their book being divinely inspired. They claim that these passages are clearly of divine origin because they are corroborated by modern science. You should read the #atheism hashtag more often and you'll see us coming up against these silly claims all the time! They are no different to the claims you are making about the Bible. When analysed, they are equally unremarkable and often just plain wrong.

10. Jeremiah 33:25 and fixed natural laws

Let's go to linear Hebrew:

"Thus says the Lord if not my covenant day and night not the fixed of heaven and earth have not established"

And just what is so remarkable about that? God doesn't say that all natural laws are fixed. What he does say is that HE is the one responsible for the fixed cycle of day and night and the establishment of heaven and earth. It doesn't take a PhD in science to work out that day and night are a fixed cycle (despite some young-earthers kicking up a stink about it). It's also not a big secret that heaven and earth are established. We have what seems to be a firm ground and we have a heaven above us that appears to be in a constant state. Firm and established. That's simple observation. Of course, it would take SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE to know that this is by no means the case. The heavens are changing all the time, with stars exploding, new stars being born etc etc etc. And this is something the Bible does NOT tell us.

11. Romans 8:20-22 and the laws of decay

Again, I don't see anything remarkable here. The author (in this case scholars actually agree that it was Paul) actually explains what he means by this 'decay'. Look at verse 22: "For we all know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now".

"WE ALL KNOW". Paul is referring to something that is readily observable to all. The pain and suffering (and the decay) of God's creation is clearly noticeable. We see it in the death of animals and of humans. In decomposition of dead bodies. We see it in what happens with abandoned dwellings; they grow in dust and mould and they fall to bits. Anything that you don't maintain tends to deteriorate. Paul isn't saying that there's a "law" of decay. He's just saying that we all notice that creation suffers from decay. He's stating the obvious and he's OPENLY ADMITTING that he's stating the obvious ("we all know").

12. Expanding Universe

a) Job 9:8 "He alone spreads out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea".

If you want to take this literally, you'll have to take verse 7 literally too. "He who commands the sun and IT DOES NOT SHINE and seals up the stars". The Sun does not shine? Science?

Let's not forget verse 9. "He makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, and the constellations of the southern sky". Do you notice that this is written in the present tense? And yet the constellations are not being created now. If they were ever created, it happened a long time ago. Clearly, the use of present tense in Job 9 is metaphorical. Verse 8, just as verse 9, simply says that God spread (past tense, CREATED) the heavens and the constellations. It DOES NOT mean that the Universe is expanding. Now, in the following verses we will in fact see a change to the present tense. A small inconsistency in the same poetic expression.

b) Isaiah 40:22

Again, the same applies here. Isaiah is using the same poetic language. In fact, looking at the style, you'd be forgiven for thinking that both were written by the same author. Could it be that one was copied from the other? It certainly could. We see this happening in the Old Testament (and the New, to be sure) all the time.

Now, if the Bible had said "The world is expanding all the time, and the stars are moving away from each other. It started as a small grain and then the expansion began. It will expand forever", that would be a different story. But "he spreads the heavens"?

Richard, I really don't see this as anything beyond a nice poetic way of saying "God is awesome, he created the world, he put the heaven above us, he put the ground beneath us etc etc etc" Indeed, if you look at verse 24, you'll see JUST HOW poetic this chapter is. It's like a song. Verse 24 tells us how God blows on rulers like they are young seed, barely planted. And he causes them to dry up and the wind carries them off like straw. Poetry in motion, my friend :)

Then note verse 21. "have you not understood from the time the earth's foundations were made?" Earth's foundations? Just what is that? I thought the Earth was "SUSPENDED on nothing" and not resting on some foundations. Science? No.

c) Isaiah 42:5

"...the one who created the sky and stretched it out"

Yup, God created the sky. And again, very, very poetic. Richard, do you SERIOUSLY find this poetry to be remarkable? Can you really look me in the eye and say that this is a sign of "scientific truth of the Bible"? Really?

d) Isaiah 44:24 - again same author, same expression. The poetry of this is even better illustrated in verse 27, which speaks of God talking to the sea and telling it to dry up.

e) Isaiah 45:12 - again same author, same expression.

f) Isaiah 48:13 - as above

g) Isaiah 51:13 - once again, same author, same expression. This really does seem to be a favourite expression of the author of Isaiah.

h) Zechariah 12:1 - again uses the same language (word for word) as Isaiah

j) Ps 104:2 - again, same language, same expression. And again, poetry

k) Jer 51:15 - as above

l) Jer 10:12 - "by his understanding he spreads out the skies" - again, same story. Very poetic, very nice. In verse 13, it goes on to say "when his voice thunders, the heavenly ocean roars". Yes, people thought there were waters in the firmament, a heavenly ocean. That's what caused the rain. "He unleashes the wind from the place where he stores it". The wind is stored somewhere? I thought the wind was just air movement.

Richard, this isn't science. This is poetry.

Besides, what word is the Bible using? The Hebrew word is "Natah". Natah does mean "stretch out" or "extend". It also means "to hold out".

So, are our verses saying that God stretched out the sky at creation, that he still stretches it (continually stretching bigger and bigger; you'd like THIS interpretation) or that he holds it out (holds it in place)?

Now, when you have a free moment, go outside, look at the sky. A vast expanse, isn't it? It looks like a ceiling hanging above us. It looks like we're covered by a tent (blue on a sunny day, black at night). The ancient Hebrews believed there was a firmament there and that it has waters above it (hence rain). And what do you do with tents? You spread them out ("Natah").

But what if the writers of the Bible really DID believe that the heavens are expanding?

In all fairness, if you think this bit of poetry is a sign if miraculously imparted scientific knowledge then you should have a chat with some of our Muslim friends. You WILL NOT BE ABLE to disagree with them that the Quran says things (in equally poetic and praise-like verses) that its writers could not have any idea about. Therefore, you'll be forced to conclude that Allah is the one true God and the Quran is his true revelation.

You would also have to give equal credit to the Hindu mythology. The Hindus believe in an expanding Universe, right down to the very concept of a singularity. IN fact, their mythology incorporates a version of the multiverse theory. And again, if you spent more time reading the #atheism hashtag, you'd see that occasionally a hinduist apologist comes online and runs the very same argument that you are running here.

Quite simply, there are only so many ways in which the universe can be structured. There are thousands of creation mythologies and the Bible is just one of them. Each mythology is likely to get SOME THINGS RIGHT. It's a simple game of chance. Now, if a single mythology were proven to be correct say 95% of the time in its Universe-related claims, its proponents might have a case that atheists (in the sense of those who don't believe in that particular mythology) would have to answer. But, as it stands, no mythology can come anywhere near to such a claim. The Bible is no exception.

Third round:

Richard (@AChristianWord) responds:

I apologize for my accusation earlier. I think I was overtired and overwhelmed by the long message. My mistake.


What you need to understand about poetry is that it is not a context. It is a genre. You cannot just throw a statement away because it is poetic, you need analyze it and see what the text is saying. Given the repetition of this statement and the fact that the three verb forms were used, it is very clear that this is an actual teaching.


I also see a lot of statement about what the Bible could have said. I agree, the Bible could say a lot more than it does to validate itself. However, these statements are not meant to validate the texts for the readers. They are meant to tell a particular story, sometimes poetically, with a certain fundamental backdrop given to them by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We can pick bits of what they believed out of what they were saying. But nobody here was outrightly teaching any profound scientific statement. If they were, you are right, we could expect a lot more.


Also, could you show me which of the Vedas teaches that the universe is in a continuous state of expansion?


The Expanding Universe:

I do agree that merely one statement that is true does not demonstrate that the entire document is true. In fact Christians often acknowledge that there are several elements of truth in other religions, but that obviously does nothing to say that the central teaching of the religion is true. The difference between this and my biblical argument is that I am not putting forth one discreet passage. There is array of biblical prediction about the nature of reality which have been confirmed by modern science. Now as I said in my concluding statement, it may be the case that this is a coincidence. However, I think it is difficult to ignore. Now onto this business about the expanding universe and the others.


The Circle Of The Earth:

The reason that I do not think that Isaiah literally means that God is sitting above the world is that God is not thought to be sitting above the world. This is phenomenal language; the angle that God is looking at the world is not from above. It is like when the earth is referred to as “God’s footstool.” So I do not think this is supposed to be taken as though God were literally hovering over the earth. As Luke 24 and Philippians 4 tell us, God is conceived of in Christian theology as having no bones; he literally transcends the material world.


The Innumerable Stars:

I think we pretty much agree about the interpretation of Jeremiah 33 and Genesis 15. God is not telling Abraham and Jeremiah that they will literally have an infinite amount of descendants. He is expressing that they will have so many descendants that it will be beyond counting, and likens that to the number of stars in the sky.


As for what the ancient world thought about this issue, according it “Ptolemy’s Almagest” Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales, the Roman Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote that there were 1,022 stars in the sky, and this work was based on the work of the astronomer Hipparchus who lived between 190 – 120 BC.


Suspension Of The Earth:

I was mistaken when I said that it did not have anything holding it in the “air,” because obviously there is no air in space. I was not thinking of that. I just meant that it is teaching that there is not anything holding it in space. Now I think there is an issue with the English translation of Job 26. It does not say “northern skies” in Hebrew. It just says north, which basically means the visible heaven that we can see. So the heaven that we can see is stretched out in front of us, and the earth hangs upon nothing (which as John Wesley pointed out, means no pillars).


As for Job 9:6 and the word “pillar,” I think we should look at the concordance to see how pillar is consistently used. In Job 20:11, phrases such as the pillar of heaven is used, in Exodus 20, the pillar of smoke and fire and clouds are used. Given the context of how it is used a number of times, theologians think that a pillar means the foundation or The deep and inward parts of it, which like pillars supported those parts that appear to our view.


The same book a few chapters later is the one that said that the earth is suspended atop nothing.


Visible/Invisible Elements:

It could also be taken to mean that there is a realm of angels and demons, and not necessarily that which is unseen.


The majority of church history has regarded Paul as the author of Hebrews. I am not familiar with the arguments against that. But it does have his style of writing, such as multiple quotations from the Old Testament, a strong emphasis on salvation by faith and an affiliation with Timothy (something exclusive to Paul). The only difference that I have noticed is the lack of salutation.


Differing In Glory:

Okay, I checked it out and I do not see anything about differing in size. I think it is just expressing that the stars are different in brightness or beauty. But I may be wrong about that.


Running Water:

Doctor William J Cairney in his book Prescience 2 explained on page 129 that the civilizations surrounding Moses did not commonly practice washing. In fact even in the 1800s, sanitation was not that big of a deal in many countries.


God’s Body:

I disagree that ancient Judaism thought that God could literally be encapsulated into a physical form, in fact even the Torah seem to contradict that. In Deuteronomy 4:15 God is explained to have no form at all; Judaism is strictly unitarian, with God having nothing even resembling a form with mankind. They even think that saying God’s name is beyond what they are allowed to do, so they will say G-d. In fact that is why the tetragrammaton is removed from the Bible; over 6000 appearances of the name Yahweh replaced with Lord or God.


As for those examples of God strolling around, wrestling with Jacob in Genesis 32, appearing to Joshua in Joshua 5, I believe the Jews think that these figures were angels. I, and most Christians, would say that they are the pre-incarnate Christ.


The Law of Decay:

I am not saying that Paul is expressing that there is a scientific law nor am I saying that Paul was pointing something out that mankind could not see for themselves. I am saying that Christian theology accurately reflects the world that we know in this way, because the universe is decaying; that is a scientific law (not that Paul was teaching it as one though).


Phew, that took forever. I think I covered everything.

I (@Allocutus) respond:



Wow, you did take quite a lot of effort there. Much appreciated :)

1. On Expanding Universe

I agree that you can't throw a statement away merely because it's poetic. But at the same time, poetic license allows the writer to say things that he doesn't literally mean. He resorts to various figures of speech. And in the "expanding Universe" the clear context is that the writers are speaking about GOD's GLORY. They are NOT trying to teach us facts. This is demonstrated by the fact that they speak of God treading the waves, blowing rulers down so that they can dry out and be blown by the wind.


And you and I agree on this. These teachings are not about the nature of the Universe. They are about something else and they use poetry to describe God's greatness. At the same time, they do use the phrase "he stretched out the heavens" and "he stretches out the heavens". The former would suggest that the action of "stretching" has been completed. The latter would suggest that it's either continuing or is not meant in a temporal context at all (sort of like he "holds the heavens", "he created the heavens and keeps the creation").


Does the fact that they were used mean that "he stretches the heavnes" denotes that the authors believed that the Universe is expanding?

We don't know that because there are other explanations.


a) It does sound like poetic metaphor for "God put the heaven above us" (stretched like a tent; heaven looks like a tent and tents are stretched)


b) The verses are right next to other verses that are CLEARLY poetic license (god treading on waters, blowing at rulers etc)


c) Christians have for 2000 years known about the "he stretches the heavens" passages. Has anyone in fact read it to mean that the heavens are currently (not to mention in the future) expanding? No. Despite the fact that Christian dogma has taken a literal interpretation of the Creation Story in Genesis and of the Flood Story and of many other stories, NOBODY seems to have taken a literal view of the "expanding heaven". And MILLIONS of very smart people had read the Bible, INCLUDING those very passages. From our point of view, this is a pretty good indication that we might be using hindsight knowledge to read something into a verse that (without that hindsight knowledge) doesn't actually appear anything more than figurative language.


But assume that the authors did in fact believe that the heavens are expanding. What would that mean to them? They clearly had a geocentric picture of the Universe (spoke of the Sun rising and setting, traveling through the sky, even stopping, thought the Earth was created before the Sun - see Gen 1). Is this consistent with our picture of the Expanding Universe (singularity, Big Bang etc)? No.


So, even if these authors (just like some other mythologies and speculations) have thought that the heaven is expanding, is this enough to infer that they were given this idea by divine inspiration? No, it's not. Not in the least due to the fact that the very same authors give other accounts that are clearly inconsistent with science and the whole thing is contained in a religious collection of books that talks about a man being created from mud and a woman from a rib. The Bible has HUGE numbers of typically mythological descriptions and a verse like this (even if it did denote some belief in an expanding heaven) is simply very insufficient to conclude that it was divinely inspired. Had the verses said "the heaven might look still to you but it's really expanding, starting off with an explosion", I would give the argument some credit.


Add to this the fact that we have no evidence of any divine inspirations that give us correct facts. There's no evidence that an entity exists that's capable (and willing) of inspiring factual truth into people.


In light of all this, I see this conclusion completely unwarranted. It's no better than the Muslim claims about the Quran. If they really did think that in some sense (though, as above, clearly not in the sense that Big Bang Theory tells us) the heaven was (or even is) expanding, this is clearly pure coincidence.


2. The Circle of the Earth.


I disagree with you, Richard. God was always thought to be up in the sky. Jesus (and some prophets too) ascended to the sky. God speaks from clouds. In the Gomorrah story, God says he wants to "go DOWN" to check if the cry is true. Burnt offerings consist of smoke going up to the sky. The Babel Tower is another example. God says "come on let's GO DOWN and confuse their languages" (Gen 11:7). Yhwh is a typical sky-god. And Isaiah says it clearly. "He sits above the circle of the Earth".


In fact, let's assume for a second that your argument is correct and the "circle" is really a sphere (seen from angles etc). "God sits above the circle of the Earth" would then mean that God is surrounding the Earth and sits "above it" from all angles. Still a sky-god, only in 3D.


The Biblical God is without a doubt a sky god.


Moving on, it seems to me that you want to claim that "God sits above the circle of the Earth" really means to say "God is everywhere and the Earth is a sphere". I think that's taking it too far, my friend.


But my position doesn't have to go all that far. It's sufficient that there are valid interpretations (literal, in fact) that are consistent with the passage being mythological. That's sufficient to show that there exists a natural explanation for the passage and therefore there's no basis to presume a supernatural one.


3. "Innumerable" stars


It seems like we're close to reaching some consensus here. God says that Abram's descendants will be as the stars in the sky, in that they cannot be counted (in this case, visible sky - Abram is told to count the stars "if he can", suggesting that the VISIBLE stars are too many to count = Innumerable). Jeremiah takes that further and says that David's descendants will be so many that they cannot be counted, just as the stars in the sky. Note that the word used by Jeremiah and Genesis isn't really "innumerable" but "cannot be counted".


Greek and Egyptian astronomers, according to you, believed that there are 1022 or so stars in the sky. Clearly, they were talking about the visible sky.


To me, all this means is that the ancient Jews thought it was impossible to count the stars (Genesis makes it clear that it would be very hard if not impossible). The Greeks and Egyptians tried to do JUST THAT (ie, count the stars) and counted some 1,000. Currently, it's believed that there are about 2,000 stars that are visible with the naked eye. The very fact that this is so difficult suggests that the visible stars pretty much CANNOT BE COUNTED. There are simply too many to be able to make an accurate count.


Is there anything unusual in a person (who, no doubt, has seen the night sky) to say that there are COUNTLESS stars out there? Of course there isn't. Look at the sky, Richard, and the countless stars. That's how many followers you’ll have on twitter one day, countless, just like the stars or the sands of the beach.


Finally, the scientists you talk about POST-DATE Jeremiah. Imagine an opposite scenario. Imagine that in 600BC the scientific view is that there are 1000 stars in the sky. Then Jeremiah (preferably aware of this view) says in his book "People think there are 1000 stars but they don't know that many more can't be seen. The stars are really countless". That MIGHT lead us somewhere. It probably still wouldn't because this would look as just a hypothesis about the stars. But it would definitely hold more merit than the current position. At present, all we have is an ancient story (Jeremiah) speaking about "countless stars" in the sky and subsequent to that we have scientists trying to count them (and doing so incorrectly). There's NOT AN INKLING of evidence that the stars Jeremiah was talking about were those that are NOT VISIBLE with the naked eye.


4. Suspended Earth


Well, Job DOES say the Earth rests on pillars. Of course, you can interpret that to mean something a little different, as you have. I actually take no issue with that. My issue is with it being suspended on nothing.


And you haven't actually addressed my point on this. But I can't blame you as I've written quite a lot :)


The point was that there are two possible scenarios to imagine in a primitive worldview. Either the Earth is sitting on something (like a turtle's back, for example, or an island in a huge ocean) or it's hanging from the sky. There is no real third possibility. In a culture that looks skywards (and the Jews, being a sky-god culture, are excused in looking skywards), the latter cosmology may be chosen. So you see the sky above you and that's where your creator resides. That's where that "first realm" is. And below that is the Earth. It seems to be hanging below the sky. What's it hanging on? Nothing. We can't see any strings. It must be hanging on nothing. It's suspended on nothing. This is a very consistent, and yet very mythological proposition.


Finally, it makes no sense scientifically to speak of the Earth as being "suspended on nothing". The Earth is NEVER spoken of as being suspended. It's a body flying through space. You don't talk about comets and asteroids and stars as being "suspended". This terminology is very inconsistent with science. "Oh look! There's a meteor! Can you see it suspended up there? Make a wish!" just doesn't make sense.


So what do we end up with? A sky-god mythology and its consistent Earth hanging under the sky. Sure, in a sense, it's more correct than a turtleback cosmology. But is it sufficient to claim divinely inspired knowledge? Of course not.


5. Visible/Invisible Elements


I agree that "Church history" has regarded Paul as the author of Hebrews. But I don't put any confidence in "Church history". Almost no contemporary scholars regard Hebrews as being Pauline. It's simply written in a distinctly non-Pauline language. And we both know that many of the epistles currently in the New Testament are very widely believed to be pseudography.


Anyhow, it seems we agree on this point. It could mean this, it could mean the other. On top of this, a version of the Atomic Theory was already known prior to Hebrews being written.


6. Differing brightness


Here we seem to again agree. The stars clearly appear to be of varying brightness and it doesn't take any special knowledge to make such a statement. I'm certainly not surprised that Paul has used it. I would have used it myself.


7. Running water


I agree that perhaps civilisations surrounding Moses did not practice washing. It might be interesting to note that Leviticus was most likely written over a long period of time and by a number of authors. In fact, it's believed that its writing has spanned between the 6th and the 4th century BCE, a long time after the alleged Moses (who supposedly lived about the 14th century BCE - note that the historicity of Moses is in itself a big, big question).


So, at the time of Moses, hands were generally not washed when dealing with disease. And hundreds of years later, the Jews developed the tradition of washing hands when dealing with disease. As I've stated before, it's an impressive achievement. Human history is full of impressive achievements. We have invented the wheel, build the pyramids, learned to wash hands and learned to deal with bacterial and viral epidemics. We have developed the steam engine and we have flown to the Moon.


It's nice that the Jewish culture came up with the idea. And it's an example of where they have embedded a good cultural/scientific discovery in their mythology/religion.

Also, note that there's nothing about "running" water in Leviticus. Your source (blue table) claims that the contemporary science was to use STILL water while Leviticus recommended RUNNING water. But you quote sources (in your last post) that claim that washing hands with water wasn't a part of contemporary (to Moses, but nevermind that) "science" AT ALL. It seems that you yourself are going against the blue table. This is not an attack on you, by the way. I'm simply pointing out that it becomes increasingly evident that the blue table can't be relied on.

8. God's body


Richard, I hear you. You disagree. Unfortunately for you, the Bible is LITTERED with various mentions of God's various bodyparts. Genesis doesn't speak of an angel strolling around. It speaks about the Lord strolling around. It's The Lord who tells Moses to sit on a rock to see his (the Lord's) back. It's the Lord who likes the smell of burnt offering after the Flood (and burnt offerings with smoke to please the Lord are rife throughout the Jewish mythology).


There's NOT A DOUBT on any truthful reading of the Old Testament that the ancient Jewish culture did contain an element of a corporeal God. A God who isn't corporeal can't "come down to check out Gomorrah", he can't come down to the Babel construction site, he can't walk around the garden, he can't show his back to Moses.


Genesis 3:8, Exodus 33:11-23, Exodus 34:5, Deut 23:13-14, Ezekiel 1:27, Ezekiel 8:2 and numerous other passages.



9. The Law of Decay


I agree with you, Richard, that in this case, Paul has accurately observed that there is decay in nature.




I stick to my original claim, which was that the Bible contains much mythology but also has some clever bits and accurate observations. I think in fact that we both agree on this. You seem to be admitting, for example, that Paul's words on "decay" are clearly an example of an observation that's open to humans (a "good bit" based on solid human observation). I think you'll probably agree that the bit about washing hands can easily be explained by an evolving culture, discovering (by trial and error if nothing else; and cultures discovering things are nothing new to us) that hands should be washed when dealing with disease. So, as far as claiming that "some messages in the Bible were useful and even innovative" we have no dispute. Equally, I would consider the "atoms" issue settled.


I think all that's left in possible contention is your (apparent) claim of evidence of divine inspiration in reference to the spreading of the heavens and (possibly) the suspension of the Earth. If I'm incorrect in my assessment of the scope of the dispute then please let me know. But if I'm correct then I'll ask you to address my specific arguments about those two aspects. Do you disagree with them? Do you say that those natural explanations can be excluded? If so, how?