toxic thought waste site

Theological whimsy, metaphysical larks, and other spiritually radioactive waste products.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Infidel Links

Evolution has been banned in Kansas. Not the teaching of, mind you, the actual process of:

The "god who wasn't there" (60 min documentary)

Religion pie chart:

Returning to Wal-marts Biblical roots:

Even some evangelicals get tired of hearing about gay sex and abortion:

How could I have been so wrong? The real root of terrorism is [drum roll]:



Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How to be a critic

Some nice advice via one of my long time heroes, Daniel Dennett in this review.

"First, ... you must attempt to re-express your opponent's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says "Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way." Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."



Monday, November 27, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel - The Late Daters

There are predictably two main camps when it comes to explaining Daniel. The critical scholars consider it a pious fraud and the conservative scholars consider it authentic prophecy. In this entry I will summarize the late daters (higher criticism) case.

First of all let's re-cap Daniel so we know what we are attempting to explain. In about 600 BC the Jews were conquered by the Babylonians and many of them were taken back to Babylon as captives. The book of Daniel purports to be a memoir of one of these captives who quickly rose to great prominence in the government. Daniel is comprised of two main pieces. The first is largely heroic tales where the Jewish protagonists (Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) stay true to Jewish dietary laws and refuse to bow to false idols and are miraculously saved from harm (e.g the famous lions den of the main protagonist). The latter half of Daniel is comprised of a number of increasingly specific visions about the future. The visions describe the course of history from 600 BC up to the Maccabean revolution and the end of the world (establishment of god's kingdom on earth). Depending on how you read the prophecies the end of the world has already passed (in 2nd century BC) or is yet to come.

The critics claim is that this document is a pious fraud. (My wife thought it was funny that this happens enough that there is actually a term for this, but I digress). According to this theory, it was written midway through the events it claims to be predicting (Maccabean revolt) and was purely a propaganda document. It's aim was to show:

  • Jews who stick to traditional ways will be rewarded and protected
  • This current rebellion was predicted long ago so we know God is in charge and the prophecy says we win

The main reasons that Daniel is rejected as authentic prophecy is that:

  • It gets the "current" events of Daniel's time among the Babylonians wrong
  • It messes up the course of history between 600 BC and the Maccabean revolution
  • It is very accurate about the early details of the Maccabean revolution
  • It messes up how the revolt goes and the date of the end times

It's not too hard to see from the above why critics date Daniel as being written circa the mid-point of the Maccabean revolution.

Now let's look at some specifics of the above 4 points.

  1. Bad history of the Babylonian exile.

    • Wrong capture date and wrong king (contradicts other books of the bible and Babylonian records)
    • Claims that "Darius the Mede" (a character unknown outside the book of Daniel) conquered Babylon (actually was Cyrus a Persian)
    • Claims that Nebuchadnezzar is the father of Belshazzar (not even related)
    • Nebuchadnezzar was portrayed as mad. Babylonians don't record this but may just be a conflating with Nabonidus who was know to suffer mental conditions.
    • Claims that Belshazzar was king when Babylon fell to "Medes" and threw a huge party the night before he died and Babylon was captured. Actually he was never the king and was in jail for 4 months before Babylon was captured.
    • Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of Daniel in Babylon but for some reason Daniel is reading from his book (which appears to magically be part of Jewish canon already) rather than getting first hand account from him.

  2. Bad history from Babylonians to Maccabeans

    • Wrong number of Persian kings listed as ruling (claims 4 - actually there were 9). Coincidentally he names only ones mentioned in other parts of the Bible. So seems clear he was using the Bible to reconstruct the past.
    • Predicts the following order of kingdoms for the region: Babylonian, Media (maybe Lydia), Persia, Greece. After that god's kingdom will be established. Jeremiah had predicted that Babylon would fall to the Medes. But historically Media was subsumed by Persia and it was Persia that conquered Babylon.

  3. Very detailed accuracy about the Maccabean revolt

    • Accurately describes general order of victories and attacks by the "North" Seleucid empire and "South" Ptolemy empire.
    • Provides lots of information about Antiochus IV (the focus of the Maccbean rebellion):

      • forced Hellenization of Jews,
      • defilement of the temple
      • forbidding sacrifices

  4. Bad predictions about outcome of the Maccabean revolt:

    • predicts another attack from Egypt, with Palestine being the location of the last stand
    • predicts Antiochus will be victorious over Egypt and extend his territory in all directions
    • gets place of Antiochus's death wrong (claims near Jerusalem but was actually Persia)
    • predicts the end of the world and establishment of god's kingdom on earth within the next few years. I'm just going to have to put my foot down and say this didn't happen.

So that is a general outline of the late dater's case. If you need more details you can look up Daniel on wikipedia and find ample resources for early dating and late dating.

I will try to provide a rough outline of some of the rebuttals given to the above points (and they have almost all been addressed in one form or another). But I will put my cards on the table at this point. Perhaps I'm incapable of being open minded or maybe I just have a good dose of common sense, but the late dater's case seems very solid. But I am not a bible scholar (yet) nor an expert on the relevant histories and linguistics (yet). So take my opinion for what it is worth.

In the near future I will discuss some of the points made by the early dater's camp and then finally arrive at the reason for this entire journey - the Glen Miller Daniel essay (cue angelic choir).

Labels: ,


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Infidel Links

Bible stories the way god intended them to be told:
(for a good example go to genesis and look for Dinah's viginity)

Science and Religion free for all
(see video clips here:

A few little stocking stuffers:

We're never going to catch up at this rate:

It was only a matter of time until someone started going door to door:

Labels: ,


Monday, November 20, 2006

Dear God, it's me, that one guy

One of the challenges sometimes made by Christians is that if you are willing to open your heart to god he will make his will known to you.

Well I really, really, really don't want to go to hell so I don't know why god won't give me a revelation or two. Of course the problem is I can't say the sinner's prayer with any honesty. I'm assuming god would know that I still believe he is imaginary and it would null and void my prayer attempt. And furthermore, what if the sinner's prayer is directed to the wrong god or otherwise has the theological underpinnings all wrong? So to cover my ass here is my open ended prayer I came up with that I can say and mean:

Dear any one or anything capable of reading my thoughts,

If you care whether or not I believe in you AND have some sort of plan for me AND there will be some benefit to me for having this belief AND following this plan is not going to hurt anyone else AND for some reason I've missed the attempts to contact me in the past, then please give me some sort of non-ambiguous sign.

I recommend everyone pray this now just to CYA. You can at least say you tried. If anyone gets a response please let me know what you hear.

Labels: ,


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Infidel Links

Oh wise and powerful milk jug, grant me three wishes...

Actually I'm more of a metrosexual:

Who's ready to rock for our lord!?!?

There is no hell hot enough or deep enough for Deepak Chopra:

If chick tracts ( were written by Stan Lee:

In case you can't make it there in person, here is a walk through of the Creation Science Museum (click on the upper right panel to see previews of the rooms)

Some one is going to get some jihad action for portraying an image of the prophet:


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Too lazy (and stupid) to be evil

One of the advantages of being an atheist, as we all know, is having no conscience and no moral bounds. If I want to stomp on a puppy on the way home from burning down an orphanage, who cares? Nothing matters anyway, right? And sure I enjoy stealing the pension fund of little old ladies as much as the next heathen, but honestly I'm not sure I have what it takes.

The problem is that anyone can do *one* seriously evil act and the prisons are full of these people (well, sure they are almost exclusively Christians and Muslims, but there has got be at least one atheist). But what's the point of being evil once? Having no conscience is way too good to waste on one event. You've got to make it last, work towards big goals.

As I was working at the food bank this week I really felt it was time to re-examine where I'd gone wrong with my life. Of course I was merely there to give the illusion of goodness, to provide cover for my future campaign of nefarious deeds. But who am I kidding? Being evil, seriously evil, takes work and brains. I guess I'm finally ready to admit I don't have enough of either to follow through with even the simplest evil scheme.

Lets take stealing a million dollars. I barely even know how to begin to plan something like that. Even knowing how much suffering I could cause and the orgies I could throw isn't enough to motivate me to even start acquiring the firearms and learning how to read building plans and alarm schematics. And heaven forfend that I should plan sloppily and have to live in hiding for the rest of my life. I tell you it's a lot easier to just show up at work each day. Honestly, I'm "just phoning it in" with respect to my lack of morals lately. What kind of example I am setting for my kids?

Such a waste of atheism.

Labels: ,


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Desultory thoughts on belief and knowledge

When I first hear a new idea (e.g. Daniel is evidence of authentic prophecy) I either have a gut reaction one way or another or I remain neutral. Some ideas are so simple and easy to verify or come from a source so trusted you don't even bother analyzing it. E.g. if my wife tells me there is milk in the fridge I'll just take her word for it. There isn't much at stake even if the belief I form from this information is wrong. (She's never wrong about the milk, so stop thinking she is!).

Now if some one suggests that Daniel is an authentic book of prophecy this really gets my attention. Before I've even finished processing the statement I've already formed a belief regarding the truth content of this statement. In this case a claim is being made that is in conflict with the model of the world that I've been successfully working with for years. If I'm careful I can notice this reflexive belief creation occur. While I may not be able to stop if from occurring (my instincts usually work pretty well for me so why should I?) I can at least make a note of this for subsequent follow up.

When I hear this claim and an evangelical hears this claim we will both have a hunch as to it's veracity. Even though neither of us have been offered any proof yet, we have models of the world that either conflict or synchronize with this claim. At this point we have a choice, we either trust the source or we demand some evidence. If it matches your world view you probably aren't too motivated to critically analyze it. And that's not a bad thing. There are only so many hours in the day and you can't follow every rabbit trail that comes your way. Even if it conflicts with your world view, unless the source of this claim has a history of credibility or if you intuitively sense there is an important challenge to your world view, you won't normally care too much about claims like this.

Now we start looking at the evidence for and against the given proposition. Generally we will be attracted to evidence that confirms our initially hunch. If it doesn't have any gross failures of logic or factual content we'll probably absorb the reasoning and conclusions of "our" side and reject those of the other side. And I think this is how most people operate. I know I do. I have a bias to believe my intuition is pretty good. I tend to trust certain people more than others. I can read opposing views but unless my side can only produce inept responses I'll tend to keep believing what I believe, only more so.

From the above then we might assume that most people just stick with their biases and build an ever more secure fortress of defense against opposing views. And I think it is manifestly true that for most issues most people do a have a sort of inertia with respect to many beliefs in their life.

And yet occasionally one does completely flip on an issue. This is what I'd like to understand. How does one change a belief? You certainly can't choose to believe any arbitrary proposition. E.g. if someone one challenges me to believe the sky is red, I could mouth the words but I wouldn't believe it was true. I don't control my beliefs, they are just something I have.

The most memorable change of belief for me was changing from believing in god to not believing in god. As a quick aside this transition had an awkward phase where I didn't believe in god but I did still believe in hell and that the ground could crack open at any time and swallow me up. Yup, you guessed it, I was really off the deep end for a while. What's salient to me about this belief change is that it came almost entirely from within. I had decided to come up with a fool proof way to evangelize by coming up with a killer argument for the existence of god and his son. So I wondered how I would convince myself. Over the next few months of mulling this over it became clear that I couldn't even convince myself in any rigorous way. And it dawned on me that I had been deluded and had just accepted authority and really hadn't thought for myself on this issue before. And poof, I was an atheist.

So there's the rub. We all have biases. But sometimes we overcome them. How do you recognize that you have a bias and how to you overcome it when it makes sense to do so? That is the question that keeps me up nights. Well, actually I sleep pretty good, but I do wrestle with this constantly. Once burned, twice shy, I suppose.

Labels: , ,


Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 12

Oh boy, the final chapter!

We are really at the end now. Those who are dead will rise to heaven or hell. Two men talking over a river say that when the holy people's power has been scattered then all these things will have come to pass. But Daniel doesn't understand.

A very specific number is given (on the order of a thousand days) that will pass between the end of daily sacrifice and the abomination.

- I can't help but think that these are all prophecies that have already occurred, yet these are clearly prophecies that Hal Lindsey and his ilk believe describe the return of Jesus. It will be fascinating to see how different people map prophecies to various historical events

Labels: ,


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 11

We go from the surreal to more specific and earthbound predictions all of a sudden. A series of events involving a number of kingdoms at various points of the compass are described with enough detail that it's hard to imagine the author didn't have something pretty specific in mind. No more of that goat bumps into a ram stuff. It would be interesting to take the whole thing verse by verse and re-enact the movements of the armies from north to south and various other activities.

At one point we are told of a ne'er-do-well who does not "desire of women". This stands out like a sore thumb because I'm familiar with the prediction that the anti-christ will be gay. So that means that we are getting into prophecies that haven't actually come to pass yet. Unless of course the anti-christ has already come and gone and we missed it. Of course it is not at all clear from reading Daniel in isolation that this is the anti-christ. It will be interesting to see how people justify Daniel being associated with Revelations.


- Why are some prophecies mundane and specific whereas others are over the top symbolical?
- Even though it is much more specific and less symbolic, it's maddeningly vague. It's sort of like when you try to tell someone your dream just as it's fading from your memory. You have all sorts of stuff to say about it but everything is very general and there is very little plot.

Labels: ,


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 10

Daniel is completely overwhelmed by a vision. Though no one else can see anything, they can tell something is up and they run away. Daniel is really shook up by this one and has to be lifted off the ground by the messenger. After a big build up the messenger just tells him that the Babylonians are going to be over run by Persians and Greeks.


- For some reason this chapter strikes me as especially strange. Daniel really suffers when the vision and messenger come upon him. All of this for a one liner at the end. Why do visions have such a unhappy effect on the recipient?

Labels: ,


Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 9

Daniel implies that Israel is being punished for their sinful ways which is why the Babylonians conquered them. He now begs to have Jerusalem restored.

While praying, Gabriel comes to give him understanding. He provides a timetable outlining when Jerusalem will be restored and some machinations involving a Messiah.

- apparently Gabriel is the first angel in the bible with a name. I wonder why it is assumed he is an angel? Why not just a person with magical powers? It even refers to him as a man.
- Now I'm beginning to see why Daniel is important to Christians. It's not just foretelling the future of the local region, it's also mentioning the messiah.
- I wonder how Jews read this prophecy, since they clearly don't believe it was fulfilled.

Labels: ,


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 7, 8

For some reason we are back with Belshazzar again (we killed him off 2 chapters ago, right?). Daniel has a vision. It's a confusing jumble of beasts coming out of the seas and horns with eyes, etc.

Then in chapter 8 we have a ram and a goat smashing into each other and stars falling out of the sky. I'm not really going into details on either since I'm thinking I will be going over them in gory detail once I read the essay that this is all prep work for. Also I think they would be difficult to summarize since they are essentially just a bunch of strange things one after the other.


- I'm struck again by how strange it is that a vision would come in such a cartoonish way. Why not just give him the straight dope? What is the point of the mythical imagery? If you don't want us to think it's a myth then why make it look like one? Perhaps his contemporary audience had certain expectations of what a prophecy was supposed to look like.

- I'm curious why it is reported that Daniel is ill after the vision from chapter 8. Is this a particularly important vision or is it just the case that they are taking a toll on him?

- I wonder what the point of the visions is. Are people supposed to understand them and prepare for the future or are they just supposed to understand them after they come to pass and be amazed?

Labels: ,


The Passion of the Cat

So we just finished watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's interesting to revisit memories of reading it as a kid. I don't think I had any profound theological insights upon that first reading. Nothing more than, hey, Aslan is Jesus. Cool.

Watching the movie now I'm struck by how much more sense it makes than the Bible. The only flaw is that Aslan doesn't just kill the witch the first time they meet at the camp. That would be the practical thing to do. But not a very interesting story. Here's how TLTWATW makes more sense:

- Edmond has actually committed a sin/crime. He's a traitor. I'm not sure who created the Rube Goldberg universe that says he must die because of this, but there is at least some argument to be made that he should pay. This is a LOT more satisfying of an answer than "original sin". You couldn't write a story with a concept like original sin because it doesn't make any sense. No one would tolerate such an idea.

- Aslan is a true hero because: (1) he doesn't *have* to sacrifice himself he just does. It's not part of a divine plan, it was just a pure expression of love. (2) Aslan is bound by the magical laws of his universe. Presumably, if he could change the rules and avoid dying he would. It's clear from the story and dialog that he can't, so he doesn't. He does the next best thing and plays the rules in the wisest and most compassionate way. Jesus's sacrifice on the other hand doesn't make any sense. Someone earnestly tried to explain to me god's love for us with the analogy that god is driving a car that is about to hit us and is yelling for us to get out of the way. The point being the god is not accountable if we don't heed the warning. It seems unavoidable from this analogy that either god is incapable of stopping the car or made the universe to have such crazy rules in the first place. Either way I'm not impressed.

It also occurs to me that a universe where the outcome of the battle between good and evil is not known a head of time is a lot more interesting than one where the final chapter was written before the first chapter was even started. I'm guessing that C.S. Lewis was a closet Manichaean. This makes him a great story teller but would have gotten him excommunicated had he lived much earlier.

The ending where they come back home as kids again actually seems like a nightmarish conclusion to their adventure. Imagine being an adult with adult experiences, desires, beliefs trapped in a child's body. Awful, awful, awful.


Why I hate (sexy) atheists

I received in the mail the other day a little reading material for my train ride to hell: The God Delusion, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. I asked my wife if she was planning on reading any of these. She replied, "Probably only the End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation". When I asked why she said it was because Sam Harris was "foxy".

Let me tell you one thing, Sam Harris. If the fundamentalists don't find you first, I will be the one who helps you test your hypothesis about there being no after life. No one works their atheist wiles on my wife and gets away with it. Fortunately as any believer will tell you, if there is no god you can do anything you want. Since you have established that there is no god, I can hunt you down with impunity. So consider yourself on notice.

Or perhaps I can go another way and start seeking out my own paramour atheist hottie. So who is the most babelicious atheist? I'll start working my way through this list:


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Job, with pictures.

(via articlesofreason)


Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 6

Cyrus decides to do some delegation of authority. There will be 120 middle managers and 3 presidents over them. Daniel is one of these three and, in fact, he is preferred because of his wisdom.

This of course makes the other princes and presidents jealous so they conspire against him. They convince the king to sign an edict that says no one can pray to any god except for him (Cyrus) for the next thirty days. (You have to wonder how good a king he was if he doesn't even ask why). Of course the princes immediately go and find Daniel doing 3 times daily prayers.

The king realizes that he is powerless since of course his word is binding. So into the lions den Daniel goes. The stone door is sealed (literally with the kings seal) and the king spends the night upset.

The next morning they open it up and out Daniel comes. The king rounds up the rascals they got Daniel put in there and he feed them and their wives and their children to the lions.

Cyrus signs a law requiring respect for Daniels god. Life is now good for Daniel.


- Daniel is on his 3rd king. I wonder if we are to assume that he is *very* old or they are just having a big turn over problem with rulers.
- I wonder how often these family wide punishments were really executed. Were these just scary stories to keep people in line, or did they really do this?
- When you are a kid these are the interesting stories that they always talk about in sunday school. But reading it again as an adult you can't help be horrified by innocent people being thrown to lions. (Probably this is one of the parts that is typically left out, like how every other women in the OT is a prostitute).
- Sort of suspicious having all these kings talk about how great god is all the time. Sort of has an odor of propaganda.

Labels: ,


Friday, November 10, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 5

Now Belshazzar is the ruler. He has a huge feast using the plates taken from the temple that was ransacked by Neb. All of a sudden a hand appears and writes a message on the wall. This terrifies Belshazzar. He offers great riches to any who can interpret the message.

After no one steps forward, the Queen (his mom) suggests that Daniel could probably do it. He can do anything. He refuses any special gifts and starts interpreting.

Daniel explains that his father was humbled by god and learned how powerful he was, but Belshazzar has not learned anything from what happened to dad. Basically the "writing on the wall" (as it were) says that the kingdom is about to be split up and divided among other countries.

Well too late to learn the lesson: he is killed in his sleep that night.


- As a narrative the bible is really bad. It just jumps to new section/stories. Where did Belshazzar come from all of a sudden?
- In the bible I'm reading there is a fairly extensive critique (which I just glanced at for now) about the alledgedly confused history that puts Belshazzar as a king and as the son of Neb. *sigh* why can't you kids just get along and agree on some historical events.
- Another thing that I vaguely picked up is that some apologists apparently want to argue that Belshazzar wasn't really the son of Neb but only spoke of father as a general term for ancestor. I don't see anything to indicate that. It seems pretty obvious that they are using father in the every day sense.
- Darius the Median is also allegedly a fictitious figure. Will be interesting to see the back and forth between the bible scholars and historians on this.

Labels: ,


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 4

All of a sudden Neb himself is writing. He has Daniel interpret a dream about a huge tree that he is commanded by heavenly hosts to cut down. This is a warning that he will be made to live like a beast (long hair, long nails, eating grass) for 7 years, so that he can know how great god is.

You'd think that having watched the guys survive the furnace would have been convincing enough. Some people are really slow learners.

So sure enough after the seven years of grubbing around he's pretty enthusiastic about how great god is.

- It's interesting to learn that Daniel is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. You never really get a sense of these things unless you have bible commentary telling you that. I wonder what other parts of the bible are written in mixed languages.
- So there are a lot of things that strike me as improbable in the bible, but for some reason having Neb write a chapter just seems especially unlikely. It's more likely than talking snakes, but still seems like a stretch. I guess it comes down to the fact that something like a talking snake doesn't even have a chance of registering as non-mythical for me so I don't even consider it that way. On the other hand Neb actually existed so I take claims about him more seriously.

Labels: ,


Thoughts on missionaries

So I have this strange habit of listening to Christian news and talk radio. Glutton for punishment I suppose. Any way on my drive home today I heard a short article about funds being given to forward the cause of evangelism in Malawi (Central Africa) specifically on a couple of islands off the coast of Cape MacClear. The announcer proudly beamed that this would help with "preaching the gospel where it is seldom heard...".

I almost drove off the road laughing at this point. And the funny thing is I don't even have any scornful words for this guy. He did mispronounce the national language (Chichewa) and the name of the islands, but I can't fault him for a seemingly reasonable belief that deepest darkest Africa has yet to be exposed to missionaries. This is hilariously untrue. I can say from personal experience that if there is anywhere on the globe that missionary work has been almost 100% effective, it's Malawi. Unequivocal success as a matter of fact. Any day now they will be sending missionaries over here. Seriously, I've literally been around the world and I've never seen any where with a higher percentage of BAs (born agains - their term for themselves).

So please send food, teachers and medicine but keep the missionaries for those who need them. I hear Richard Dawkins needs saving. I could probably use a refresher myself.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A follow up on WWJD

Ummm.... Jesus is surprisingly fit.


Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 3

Man, the Neb is trouble. You'd think after witnessing the awesome power of god to interpret dreams he would have gotten a clue. But now he make a gigantic statue out of pure gold and commands everyone to bow before it. Anyone who doesn't bow will be thrown in a furnace.

Our Jewish friends remain true to their religion and don't bow. The Chaldeans (sorcerers) tattle-tale on the Jews to the king. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego state that god will protect them in the furnace.

This really pisses Neb off and he has the furnace heated to 7 times the normal heat. In fact it's so hot that the men who throw them in die from the heat. But when Neb looks in the furnace he sees 4 men. The fourth he says looks like the Son of God (but you have to wonder how he knows what he looks like - unless he just means some genericly godly figure).

Neb comes close to the fire (w/o getting burned somehow) and calls for them to come out. He decrees that any one caught talking ill of their god will get the house made into a dunghill treatment. Then he gives the 3 of them a raise.

Not bad for a days work.


- one of the notes in the margin mentions that the parameters of the statue make it unlikely that these numbers are correct/possible. There wouldn't have been that much gold in the world (above ground) at that point and certainly not in one place. Does seem like a *lot* of gold, but I wonder how much gold there is in the world right now?

- how do these guys know ahead of time that they won't be burned? Why is it that so many Christian martyrs that come later die by lions or in fires even though their faith is apparently as strong? I can imagine that these guys would have the strength of their convictions, but why assume you will live? Why not assume you are just going to become martyrs?

- Having the men who throw them in die from the heat is another nice touch.

- First the 4th guy is called the Son of God next he is called an angel. I wonder why people think this is Jesus? Says right here that it was an angel.

- It's strange that Neb decrees that no one should speak ill of their god since their god has clearly demonstrated that he doesn't need any help.

- Where is Daniel in all this? Was this story tacked on latter or from a different source?

Labels: ,


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 2

King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which freaks him out. He demands that his soothsayers tell him the meaning of the dream and just to make it interesting, they also have to tell him the dream. The king is a bit of a drama queen and declares that if they can do this they will get great riches. If not they will be cut up into little pieces. AND their houses will be made into dunghills. This freaks the magicians out and the king grows impatient with them and declares that they are all to be killed.

Daniel gets wind of this and prays with his cohorts. That night the dream and interpretation are revealed to him by god. He brings the dream and interpretation to the king, who is so overwhelmed by the revelation that he makes Daniel and friends a chief advisor and governors respectively.

The dream itself is about a large statue made of increasingly inferior materials with gold at the top (for Nebuchadnezzar) and working down to clay. A huge stone crushes the whole thing. The basic gist is that Nebuchadnezzar is a great king and those following will be less so. Essentially its a forecast of the history of the region.


- The twist of having the soothsayers tell him the dream as well as the interpretation is brilliant. It reminds me of the snarky observation I heard about clairvoyants once: if they are so good why do they have to ask your name when they first meet you.

- I'm hoping that this particular vision is not the *big* prophecy, because it's so vague that just about any series of events could be mapped to it. I dimly remember that there are more to come.

Labels: ,


Monday, November 06, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 1

Though I've read a few "spoilers" on Daniel (e.g. historical-critical objections) I'm trying to avoid seeing any more before I finish reading it so that I can see things as freshly as possible.

Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon comes down and overruns Judah. They take some sacred "vessels" from Gods house to put in their own temples. They also grab a number of princes and smart kids so that they can be taught the art of black magic and the local language. The training program is three years and they are supposed to eat the kings special wine and meat. The 4 that we care about right now are: Daniel (Belteshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), Azariah (Abednego).

Daniel decides that eating the kings meat and wine would defile him so he convinces the eunuch in charge of them that if he lets them eat their own food (pulse - apparently a legume) for ten days everyone will see that they are healthier (fatter) than those on the king's diet.

God gives these 4 knowledge and skill in all learnings. When they finally meet the king he says they are 10 times better than his own wisemen. And so Daniel becomes a councilor of sorts.

Some initial thoughts:

- Why does God let another kingdom come down and take over Judah? Where is his protection? Are they being punished? Is the protection contract lapsed?

- Life back then sucked. It would be unbelievably awful for some invading army to come in and take all the smart people to indoctrinate in their evil foreign ways. Its kind of strange how non-chalantly the narrative of conquest and capture unfolds. Seems like there could be a really interesting story if it was filled in more with details.

- There is something funny about these 4 kids eating vegetarian for 10 days and ending up fatter than the wine and meat eaters. Is this a general proscription for health? Are we supposed to be tea-totalling vegetarians or was this a special rule for them since they were living with Babylonians? Certainly doesn't seem to be the case any more that vegetarians are the plump ones.

- The story already smacks of legend. These kids are captured and they are 10 times smarter than the captors. How did they get captured if they are so much smarter?

- In the side notes I've already seen a hint of the debate I'm in for as far as the authenticity of the dates of events and so on. Apparently the reigns of certain kings presented in Daniel don't agree with non-Biblical sources. But I'm sure I'll get plenty of that once I've started the essay that this is all leading up to.

- I didn't realize how Abednego was spelled. For some reason that bugs me that N and D switched in my mind.

Labels: ,


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel

I'm having a conversation with an evangelical about various matters pertaining two our widely divergent world views. In a recent corespondence he suggested that if I gave an honest look at this I would see that Daniel was an authentic example of prophecy.

Not diving into this in detail, I did what I usually do and see if this claim can even pass the 5 minute google test. Sure enough the authenticity of Daniel as legitimate prophecy is far from uncontroversial. And of course I knew this is what I would find before pushing the search button. It's just simply true that believers and non-believers (and everyone in between) have studied these issues ad naseum for hundreds of years. As with most of this stuff if you view it with the eyes of faith then you see more evidence of the divine working in the world. If you view it w/o faith you see it as another document written by men, flawed, clever and otherwise.

Partly as a present to "L" (my evangelical interlocutor) and partly because I'm curious to see where believer and non-believer diverge, I've decided to give the above essay as honest and open a chance as I'm capable.

My plan is as follows:

- read Daniel
- read the above essay
- read a sample of the for and against essays
- make a summary statement

I plan to blog each part of the above as I'm going thru. This is related to a larger project I'd like to complete which is to read the Bible end to end. I've read much of it. Certainly alot more than many who call themselves believers. But I'd like to be able to say I've read it all the way thru.

I'm partly inspired by this awesome Bible blogging project. My original plan was to do the New Testament first since it's shorter and more familiar, but this Daniel project will provide a nice test case.

Of course I already know the answer I'm going to reach, which doesn't seem very open minded I guess. Not so much close mindedness on my part (I hope), but the power of induction. N times I've heard claims for proofs of the existence of God, of signs that he is working in the world and loves us, etc. And N times my invesitgation has supported my skepticism. So it's not a stretch to guess what will happen with N+1.

But you need your hobbies I suppose...

Labels: ,


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Religion TODO list

Recently in a conversation with a believer on religion it was proposed that if I wanted to advance my relationship with god (I'm at -1 right now) that I would need to start by admitting I was a sinner and powerless with out god. Etc, etc. Of course the problem with this is that since I don't believe in god, even if I said these words, he would know I didn't actually mean them so I doubt it would count for much. So even if the whole Christian world view is correct it doesn't matter since there doesn't seem to be any way to get from where I am to a position of belief.

But it's worse. Since there are N religions (and variations) that I could try in my quest to be spiritual I might spend my whole life test-driving various faiths and could die before I actually got to the *real* one. I wonder if god takes into consideration that you were on the trajectory of finding the true religion even if you didn't happen to actually get there before you die. Of course, my sense of fairness and god's apparently are not well aligned.

The above got me wondering in what order I would try-out the various religions. So here is my tentative list:
  1. Buddhism (zen or otherwise)
  2. Taoism
  3. Wicca / New Age crap
  4. Hinduism / Yoga
  5. Christianity
  6. Judaism
  7. Islam

There's obviously a lot left out but it gives the general idea. Buddhism seems very practical and the idea of meditating appeals to my empirical nature. Taoism has always appealed to me, especially after reading Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent". The book always puts me into some strange quantum mechanical state where I'm confused, enlightened, irritated and amused all at the same time. As far as chi and all that goes, seems like nonsense, but I could temporarily suspend judgment if necessary. Next comes Wicca/NewAge. I'm not sure how much enlightenment I'd actually expect from this area, but I have such a negative opinion of it even though I don't really know it in detail it would at least be interesting to test my prejudices. Hinduism/Yoga is another "practical" religion. I do some yoga now but there is no overt spiritual aspect in the classes just a semi-meditation cool down after the work out. I'm pretty skeptical of the theory behind yoga but it's a great workout so not too much of a risk. The polytheism seems a little weird but it's probably different than it seems from the out side. Of the Abrhamic traditions, I put Christianity first just because it's familiar and would be relatively easy to get back into. Judaism is next largely because it seems like Jews have influence in this world disproportionate to their numbers. They seem like smart together people so they'd be fun to hang out with. Islam is last mostly because it scares me. This is the religion I'd least *want* to be true so I save it for last. But once again it could be very different than the rap it gets from the competition.

So *if* I go shopping I now have a shopping list. Of course if I spend 30 years trying out Buddhism and discover it is *not* the true way, I'm pretty much screwed for getting thru the list. So I best get started....