Archive for the ‘God’s Truth’ Category
The Test of Truth
What better test of truth do we have than the ablest men’s acceptance of it?
So asked the historian J A Froude in his 1851 essay, “The Philosophy of Christianity”. He was defending Christianity against the accusation of being intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune. In essence, he was arguing that the best minds could not have been wrong for 1800 years. Or, if they were, then we have no basis for believing anything, for whatever it is might turn out to be just as absurd, offensive and unfortunate.
Well, for good or ill, that is nevertheless what science does teach. Science has to be corrigible or it cannot make progress. So what is true today, may not be true tomorrow. Science determines what is true by testing its ideas against reality. If they can predict reality—if the ideas work—then they are considered true, but not otherwise. A Christian has the idea that there is a mighty personal power in the universe that can do what it likes. Science would want to know how that can be tested.
One way would be to say, God answers prayers and therefore changes reality. We can test that. Yet no such test of the effectiveness of prayer has ever produced a convincing result. When they have seemed to, a fault in the method has been found skewing the results. So the idea of God has not so far been confirmed by science, and consequently scientists cannot accept the idea of God. For the corollary of testing is that we do not believe what is not shown to be true. It is called skepticism. The Christian understands it for they are skeptical of all other claims of divinity other than those of their own gods.
So, by this process of incremental testing, science accumulates knowledge. The increments are most often small ones, but sometimes a basic idea might need to be changed and then a large step is necessary, called a paradigm shift. But rarely is any new truth far removed from an older one, and always it must be a better one, more precise or comprehensive.
Religions are not generally corrigible, but, on the contrary, claim to be permanently fixed by the all encompassing power of the universe called God. It is not strictly true, of course, authorities like the pope or some council somewhere do change religions, and, besides that, they evolve from generation to generation, therefore imperceptibly to each in its day. As it is fixed by God, at least notionally, it needs no criterion of truth. A religion is accepted by a child or convert as being true—they are assured it is the only truth—and thereafter there can be no basis for questioning the truth of it.
Even so, Christians are allowed and perhaps encouraged to doubt, as long as the doubt is not itself allowed to change belief. It is not therefore a genuine doubt, for a real doubt can be resolved in one of at least two opposite ways. To be genuine, doubt must frequently lead to a loss of faith, something the local priest or pastor cannot allow to happen for that is to let a church member fall into sin and hell fire, a serious matter, they think. Consequently, the doubt of the Christian is to be countered by a firm application of faith bolstered by the assistance of the ablest of church men in accepting “the truth”. In short, Christian doubt is spurious. It is a mere test of a faith which once applied generously should cure the patient.
Knowing No Better
As churches have no criterion of truth other than faith, Froude’s criterion is the one they always have used. It is the reason why religions base themselves on authority—the judgement of the ablest of the men among them. It is not therefore an objective criterion of truth, but the opposite—these able men accept the truth they have been taught, and have no other criterion than what they have been told. It is biased, and there is no way of rebutting the bias in it except by contradiction. Yet throughout that 1800 years, it was the only “truth” available, so even the ablest did not notice the bias or felt unwilling to contradict it, probably for love of their mortal lives, the lure of heavenly bliss notwithstanding. Had we been in the same situation, with no alternative to the “truth” offered us besides death, we would have been the same.
So, the modern skeptic ought not to scoff at the Sumerians “feeding” their gods because it was their duty as god’s slaves to do so, and if the priests always looked well fed, it was because the gods looked upon them favorably! They ought not to scoff at Abraham being willing to sacrifice a child to his god because that is what Canaanites did, according to their beliefs, and as many were poor and could not afford to support large families, they might have been grateful that their gods were pleased to take back a child. Nor ought we to scoff at a medieval Catholic peasant brought up to the “absurdities” of Christianity for those were all they were allowed to know, for they could not read their bibles for themselves, unlike the modern Protestant who chooses not to and therefore believes everything except what Christ taught them. We are entitled to scoff at them.
The modern skeptic scoffs at those who now should know better, but prefer to put their heads in a bucket because Christ sounds more like a liberal than a libertarian. These people do not want to know the truth but still want to profess “the truth” as they define it. Today we have proven methods of investigating the truth of things, and we have criteria for truth so as to test that it indeed is. It is those who are perverse and refuse to consider the progress we have made in investigating reality who deserve the disdain of the scoffers. Whatever the ablest once thought, though wrong, was excusable then, but it is inexcusable now.
Possibly primitive people took it for granted that the earth was flat, but by the time of the Greeks of Alexandria, it had been proven to be a sphere. We are justified perhaps in scoffing at those after then who still believed in the flatness of the earth, depending on their level of education, but we are led to believe that many even of the ablest men still believed it. Of course, a reason for the lamentable education of everyone except the very rich, and even some of them, was that the Church had refused to copy any books it deemed superfluous—most of them except Latin and Greek grammar books for priestly education, bibles and devotional books. It suggests how dangerous and destructive mere faith is.
Contrary to Froude therefore, the ablest men are not necessarily right and can be utterly wrong en masse when alternatives are forbidden and scholarship is considered subversive. It is those who were willing to speak up for alternatives to “the truth” whom we can thank for the modern world’s achievements.
Good and Evil
Yet “the truth” persists in the face of truth, and we are held back by a large number of people who will not let go of medieval religion, even in the knowledge of the technological sophistication achieved in our world. Matter was the source of evil. The Persians had solved the problem of theodicy by conceiving a wicked god whose aim was to spoil everything the good God did. These were metaphors for the bad and good behavior that humans could choose between—we were meant to choose good and reject wickedness. We ourselves had to choose with every decision we made and act accordingly. Given sufficient people choosing “good”, the world would be good.
Unsophisticated people cannot understand abstracts and have to think they are like real solid, perhaps living, beings, albeit supernatural—they are out there! So the metaphors always became actual entities for the simple. As is the inevitable rule dictated by opportunism and human selfishness, the simple creed, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”, was changed. The individual was not directly to blame by making the wrong choices, instead the wicked entity had infected the material world, which was therefore contaminated with wickedness. Choices still had to be made, but the presumption was that worldwide pollution left everyone compromised. In Christianity, it became “Original Sin”.
The ablest men could now have little or nothing to do with the material world. They were safer withdrawing from it rather than trying to make the right choices while living in it. They had to be devout, had to exercise their minds with prayer and incessantly praising God, so as to leave no room for anything but God, and thereby cease to be a normal human to ensure entry into God’s angelic kingdom after death. Real life and the real world had no purpose, unless ceaseless other worldly devotions are considered it. Needless to say, if everyone did that, then we should all die. But many of the ablest did just that, albeit many with an utter lack of sincerity, paying lip service to piety while fully enjoying the temptations of the sinful world.
The crucifixion of the good God while visiting the earth as a man had saved all believing Christians from the wickedness around them, so they might as well seek high office, palaces, good food, fine wines, seraglios, and so on, while they were here, content in the knowledge they already had the key to the Pearly Gate. Though their own God while on earth had blessed poverty and damned the rich, they saw no incongruity, continuing to think they had been saved by their belief, even though they made no effort to act upon the moral instructions the incarnated God had issued from his own mouth.
The material world was a world of disease, decay and death, a world in which entropy inevitably increased, but another world free of entropy awaited simply for accepting “the truth”. Matter is the cause of evil, and Christianity is the cure. Mere belief in Christ, a savior, is the magic salvific thought. No choice of good deeds over evil ones was necessary, and so nothing in the wicked world could, in fact, change. There was no will to do it, as there had once been. Reward came after death. That was it.
Christ taught an admirably practical philosophy, but Christians sidelined it. Now, not only is Christianity intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune, it is the ultimate scam.
The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Its roots can be found in W F Albright’s assault on the Wellhausen School in the early 20th century, an assault that biased archaeological, biblical and historical research for decades. This trend—in different guises—has resurfaced sporadically in recent years, with archaeology serving as a weapon to quell progress in critical scholarship. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin
During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, professor Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and colleagues, uncovered assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. Three large rooms were revealed that Garfinkel says were cultic shrines corresponding in their architecture and finds to the time of King David. He adds that this discovery is extraordinary for it is the first time that shrines from the time of the first biblical kings—Saul, David and Solomon—have been uncovered, and shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. These shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years.
The discovery is indeed extraordinary, about as extraordinary as finding the Bat Cave of Batman and Robin under the streets of New York City, which was, of course, called Gotham City in those days, as everyone knows from the popular myth! Saul, Solomon and Solomon’s famous temple are all myths with not a single piece of material evidence for any of them, and king David, the father of the mythical Solomon, has the equivocal testimony of an highly contentious piece of a broken inscription. So all three of the earliest kings of Judah are as real as king Arthur, Dr Faustus and William Tell… they are not!
The expedition to Khirbet Qeiyafa has excavated the site for six weeks each summer since 2007, with co-director Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Located approximately 30km southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Elah, Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city of the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath. The city, which was dated by 10 radiometric measurements (14C) done at Oxford University on burned olive pits, existed for a short period of time between ca. 1020 to 980 BCE, and was violently destroyed. The revolutionary results of five years of work are presented in a new book, Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah, published by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The architecture found at Khirbet Qeiyafa at this date is quite refined, and is interpreted by Garfinkel as evidence of royal activities, and therefore of state formation. An elite social level and urbanism existed in the region eleventh century Judah. Garfinckel seems convinced that it strengthens the historicity of the Jewish scriptures, and that their description of the architecture of the palace and Temple of Solomon is authentic:
This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong.
The Jewish bible relates how the people of Israel had a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East, being monotheistic and aniconic—free of human and animal figures—and having an aversion to pork. Garfinkel continued;
Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found.
No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.
It suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult from that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.
However, the Hebrew Univerity press release is clear that no one is sure when these aniconic and monotheistic practices began, during the Israelite and Judahite monarchies (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras. The claim that images of humans or animals were absent in the three shrines is, on the face of it, evidence that worshipers here differed from the Canaanites and the Philistines, who made images of their gods.
The three rooms, part of larger building complexes, are supposed to have been separate shrines. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. Garfinkel supposes that because the bible speaks of the portable ark being stored in private houses (2 Samuel 6) that it was worshiped in private houses. Yet there was only one such ark at a time, so it could hardly have been worshiped in three separate rooms. Indeed, three separate shrines in one larger building suggests polytheism, the different rooms being devoted to different objects of worship. Indeed cult objects found include five standing stones (Masseboth), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. Canaanites commonly worshiped masseboth, stones, and even the bible suggests the Judahites and Israelites did, though they were not supposed to according to Moses. It is deeply entrenched. Jews today still worship stones!
Two portable shrines or “shrine models” were found, one made of pottery, c 20cm high, and the other, 35 cm high, of stone. These are boxes shaped like miniature temples, which could be closed. The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements—seven groups of roof beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the “triglyph”, is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone. The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of door or window is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. It was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.
Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5;31-33) and in the description of a temple in Ezekiel 41:6. These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia.
For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.
Now, the stone model helps us to understand these obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7:1-6. The text uses the term “Slaoth”, which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as triple recessed doorway.
Most of these injudicious claims of Garfunkel’s have been severely criticized as biblicist nonsense, even by biblicists! I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin have slated the interpretations and the amateurish methodology of the excavation. Thomas Verenna commented on this reporting of Garfinkel’s excesses:
“Will these finds settle the debate over the historical David? Garfinkel would like to think so. ‘Various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong’.”MSNBC coverage on Qeiyafa
Really? Because you found a couple of regional house shrines in a fortified city? Because you have an ostracon with some writing on it? What hubris this is, when someone can so blatantly claim that certain scholars are wrong because you’ve found common ancient Near Eastern artifacts (which have been misidentified) at a dig in the Near East. if anything this only shows the lengths that certain individuals will go to try to prove their presuppositions. They are willing to fabricate whole cultural contexts that never existed so long as in the end they can say they’ve found the facts behind their biblical truth. It is both tragic and disgusting: tragic because most people will never question the validity of the article or the claims therein, and disgusting because it is permitted to happen.
J C Flugel, an eminent psychologist of the mid twentieth century, pointed out (Man, Morals and Society):
When those who assert the existence of God, at the same time reveal that they ardently desire Him to exist, we are justified in feeling a little skeptical.
The skepticism arises because one has to suspect “wishful thinking” is the basis of their assertion. The desire that God exists burns so furiously in the believer’s busom that they convince themselves it must be so. It is a self deception.
There is another, a better reason for skepticism, that of the scientist. The scientist is skeptical on principle about any claim that is not tested until such time as it is adequately tested and shown to be so. It is a principle that excludes all self deception and gullibility, which otherwise would lead us to accept whatever we choose or prefer out of the many available explanations whether possible or impossible.
Added to the skeptical principle in science is the principle of Ockham’s Razor, introduced in the later middle ages by a cleric in an attempt to eliminate what might be called Sufism—the multiplication of “explanatory” entities—from Christian theology. It found its most valuable place in science in successfully keeping scientific hypotheses to a minimum of complexity.
So, for example, the believer will say the postulation of God explains inexplicable things like the existence of the universe, why we are here, what we do after death, and so on. It does no such thing, and violates both the skeptical principle and Ockham’s Razor.
Take the case of the creation of the universe. We can certainly observe the world in which we live, but we cannot observe a God. The believer invents an entity, God, for which there is no direct evidence, to explain a very large and evident entity that we know does exist, then says that the nonentity created the large and evident entity, QED. On the skeptical principle, we have to reject the argument because there is still no evidence for the imaginary entity, God, other than our new conjecture that He created the universe. That is circular. God is a fudge! His imagined supernatural nature is another fudge, one which explains why God cannot be detected!
And we now have two entities to consider, the universe which we confirm in our daily lives, and God, which is a fudge to explain the universe, but otherwise leaves no traces anywhere. We are actually no better off, because, even if we are convinced by the fudgy explanation, we still have something to explain—God. Contrary to the clerical Razor of Ockham, we have mutiplied entities from one to two, and are left as badly off as before with an explanation for one of them still needed.
That, of course, is no problem to the Christian, devoid of any need for principle, but overflowing with Sufi answers. The existence of God needs no explanation because He is eternal, He lives forever and is the Prime Mover of everything else. Yet God is explained by introducing a new principle, that of an eternal life for God. But, if God, the imaginary entity, can be eternal, we are left with the question of why the universe itself could not be eternal, again using Ockham’s razor to cut out the superfluous entity with the astonishing properties it has to have for it to perform all these miracles.
The universe is before us. If it were eternal, then that would suffice to remove the need for the postulate of God. The believer will jump forward full of agitation, telling us that science has shown the universe has a beginning in the Big Bang. It is not eternal, so we must go for the believer’s hypothesis of God. Well, if believers could formulate God mathematically, we might begin to be convinced, but so far they cannot. Science however has found and tested a large number of mathematical theorems that can still offer us naturalistic explanations, even if they are getting more and more wonderful, beginning to look like Sufi science, perhaps, with the difference that these mathematics work!
The discovery of complex numbers allows physicists to postulate virtual events, events that take place in complex time. Maybe complex time is God, for the Big Bang has been explained as no bang with the use of complex time. We think of time as being linear, starting from the Big Bang, but complex time yields a multidimensional time, not just the linear one, and that means time need not begin at all. The linear time that we experience is an illusion, and what seems like a bursting forth of vast amounts of energy in linear time is more of a continous pulsation in virtual time.
Then again, there is the theory of quantum mechanics which has led to truly wonderful things, not least of which is the notion of the multiverse. It seems that all events possible can happen somewhere in this multiverse which therefore is indeed conceptually infinite, though there may be a limit set by the graininess of space and time themselves, but even so there could be so many universes withing the multiverse, that even God would need assistance. Unless of course we postulate a multitude of Gods serving each possible universe, and perhaps a multi-God in change of the lot!
Science is apparently confirming that something transcends the universe we can observe directly, just as believers have believed. It is the multiverse. Perhaps that is God, but it is not a personal God at all. If anything, it is like the God of the Stoics and the Deists, a set of transcendent laws that even the believer’s local God must be subject to.
Archaeologists digging at Tel Shikmona, on the southern edge of Israel’s city of Haifa, starting only at the start of 2011, have uncovered signs of settlement from the late Bronze Age (sixteenth century BC) to the Moslem occupation of the seventh century AD, including a well preserved “four room” house from the time of the Kingdom of Israel (900-700 BC), a Persian city (about 400 BC) and a Byzantine town (about 500 AD). The site was excavated about 40 years ago by the late Yosef Algavish but neglected and piles of rubbish, and construction waste were piled over the site for the decades, and vehicles have ploughed over it. Dr Shay Bar and Dr Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, explained:
We had seen the structure in the old photographs, and were sorry that such a rarely preserved finding had disappeared due to neglect. We were not even sure that we would be able to find it again. It was practically a miracle that we managed to locate and uncover it and that it is still so well preserved.
The photographs of the 1970s excavations he speaks of show a “four room” house dating around 700-800 BC. It is a house typical of Canaanite houses of the time, but which biblicists all too often assign exclusively to Israel, taken to be the “Ancient Israel” of the bible. The state of Israel in that period was itself typically Canaanite with an essentially Phœnician culture and language, Hebrew being a Canaanite dialect. Evidence is a personal seal found in the same excavation, showing an inscription in Hebrew or Phœnician. The archaeologists hope to determine whether the inscription is Phoenician or Hebrew, a bit like wanting to know whether a recording of a New Yorker’s accent is Bronx or East Side.
Hundreds of murex mollusc shells were also found at the site, the source of the purple dye called “Tyrean Purple”. Sherds of purple colored ceramic from pitchers evidently used to store the dye extracted from the snails. Imported luxuries from Cyprus and the coast of Lebanon arrived in fine, delicate vessels of high quality ceramic, evidence of extensive trade with neighbors in the region and even overseas. It was the Canaanites of the coastal towns of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Arad who were the seamen, not the Israelites, but for a short period before it was annexed by Assyria, Israel was prosperous, perhaps because it controlled trade between the interior and Arabia and the coastal cities.
The Phœnicians (a Greek name for them) were noted traders and merchants and accomplished sailors who traded throughout the Mediterranean and provided the Mediterranean fleet for the Persian shahs. Elsewhere on the site evidence of the Persian settlement of the area was found including a Persian building (fourth century BC) with an oven, clay loom weights and storage pitchers. It was only with the arrival of the Persian colonists towards the end of the fifth century that the Jewish temple state based on Jerusalem began. The colonists identified themselves with, the now defunct but once prosperous, state of Samaria (Israel) to give themselves a mythical history, as the Askwhy website explains.
Above the Persian layer on the eastern side of the tell were Byzantine terraces (fourth-seventh centuries AD) bearing houses with mosaic floors and storage rooms. Dozens of ceramic vessels there were found intact, and many coins, ornaments, pendants, weapons and glass vessels also, suggesting a wealthy people. It seems the area was wealthy from Canaanite times until the Moslem conquest. When Pompey arrived in Palestine in the first century BC, it was still a prosperous, fortified city, but after the Bronze Age and before the ninth century BC it was sparsely settled. It was a long period of drought.
Jewish and Christian Fundamentalists think God wrote their bibles, and as God is perfection, the bible cannot be wrong—it is inerrant. Even less extreme Jews and Christians think the Torah or Pentateuch, the five books of Moses were written by Moses. Others think the various books were written by the authors cited—Daniel wrote Daniel, David wrote the Psalms, John wrote John, and so on.
Modern biblical scholarship suggests biblical text was written by different authors whose work could be identified by seemingly different ideological agendas and linguistic styles, and such idiosyncracies as the different names they used for God. Some of the books were written by priests after the temple had been well established, and they were keen on maximizing their revenue and influence. Other parts reflected a period before the temple was properly established, and before the state of Judah had been set up as a temple state. The Christian part of their bible was obviously written with a view to establishing Christianity.
A computer program for analyzing text—a subset of artificial intelligence known as authorship attribution—developed by Israeli scholars led by Moshe Koppel of Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, shows the joints in the bible where the different authors texts joined together. It picks out differences in style and word choice to show which parts of a single text were written by different authors.
The program confirmed that the Pentateuch could be split into two parts internally related but different from each other, that 90 percent matched the scholars’ division into priestly and non-priestly authorship. Thus it confirmed in minutes what had taken the scholars one to two centuries of meticulous study, effectively recreating years of work by multiple scholars in minutes. The program indicated differences with scholarship in about ten percent of the text, a notable example being Genesis 1. Scholars had called this priestly but the program did not agree. Similarly, scholars had long believed that Isaiah consisted of three texts concatenated, with the join between the first two being at Isaiah 39. The program points to the join being at Isaiah 33. Of course, it might be the program that is wrong!
The program recognizes Hebrew equivalents, and synonyms. It will notice the use of the word “makel” for “staff” as distinct from “mateh” with the same meaning. As a test, the developers of the program randomly jumbled Ezekiel and Jeremiah into one text. The program sorted out the two components “almost perfectly”, undoubtedly an excellent performance, though the styles and language of the two books are very different.
What the algorithm won’t answer, say the authors, is whether the bible is human or divine. Three of the four authors, religious Jews, belief that the Torah was dictated to Moses in its entirety by God. He just chose to write in a mixture of different styles! For academic scholars, arbitrary changes of style—changes for no good reason such as to suggest a change of mood—indicate cutting and pasting human authorship. Koppel insists:
No amount of research is going to resolve that issue.
He serves to show that belief in God destroys all reason, even in otherwise intelligent people.