53. Is the Bible divinely inspired? Or did it evolve over time?


Another argument that is made to demonstrate the Bible’s divine inspiration is the argument from consistency, which goes something like this:

It [the Bible] is truly an amazingly consistent document. The messages of approximately 40 different writers of the 66 books of the Bible, written over 1,500 years, in three different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—God’s plan of salvation from sin won for the whole world by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of this book.
~ FaithFacts.org

But is a miracle the only possible explanation for this consistency? Or is it possible that such a story could develop over time?

While it’s probably ill-advised to tell a creationist that evolution also explains the origin of his religion, evolution provides us with one of the best metaphors for explaining how complex religious stories might arise over time.

The Meme

In his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, the infamous Richard Dawkins coins the (now famous) term “meme,” which is just an idea or concept that gets passed around and becomes subject to evolutionary forces. (His original intent was to show that genes are not the only things that evolve. But the meme, ironically, became a meme unto itself, evolving into internet memes and the new science of memetics).

In short, if an idea or concept is useful (like language, or instructions for catching food), or interesting (like a funny story), or has some explanatory value (like how the world came to be), it tends to get repeated. When these ideas are repeated, they are like living organisms making copies of themselves.

Memes are similar to genes in that the most useful ones will generally get copied more often. As they are copied, their content is inherited, they face competition, and they may adapt to changing conditions. When a gene or meme reproduces more rapidly than others, it is considered more fit. 

However, unlike biological evolution, memes do not derive their adaptations from small random changes, their changes are usually intentional.

The Gospel of James (T. Kirk)

Let’s use Star Trek as a modern example of how a cultural meme might evolve.

star trek tosThe “Star Trek meme” began in the 1960s inside the head of Gene Roddenberry. His idea for the teleplay faced competition from other shows, but was selected because it was believed it would have more mass appeal. This new meme quickly copied itself with the help of the story-retelling medium of television.

Over the years, the story has evolved in the minds of many writers, artists, directors, and fans. The core themes remain the same, and the characters, philosophies, and technologies became more flushed out. Gene Roddenberry’s idea has spawned over 726 episodes, a dozen movies, hundreds of characters, and thousands of books. 

We might even go so far as to say that:

Star Trek is truly an amazingly consistent story. The messages of hundreds of different writers, writing over 50 years, in many different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—exploring strange new worlds, going where no one has gone before, while adhering to Federation law and the prime directive. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of Star Trek. 

Well… obviously Star Trek is no miracle, nor is it divinely inspired, but it does show how one simple idea can grow into a highly complex story with consistent themes. Is it possible that religious stories might also do likewise?

[Note: Some non-Trekkies have argued that Star Trek contains contradictions, errors, and inconsistencies, but I can assure you that all of these issues have been explained away by faithful Trekkie apologists.]

The Evolution of Religion

Like Star Trek, Christianity also began with a small cult following. But let’s go all the way back to the beginning and consider the possible evolution of God himself.

From its earliest days, “The God meme” (if you will) has been under attack, not only from other religions, but also the idea of God in general. And in nature, when an organism faces threats, it must adapt or risk extinction. The God meme may have undergone a similar process of refinement and adaptation.

While the idea of God provided an explanation for how everything came to be, the idea wasn’t without its problems.

For example, when the idea of God was first suggested, people may have asked, “Why can’t we see God?” There may have been many answers, but the most effective explanations — those that worked well enough to get repeated — were naturally selected out. In this case, the best defensive answers were: “Because he’s invisible,” and “If you saw him, it would kill you.”

Satisfied with these answers, people went on to ask, “Well… if we can’t see him, can you have him lift that rock? Or do something else to prove he’s really here?” And again, the best defensive answer became, “God’s creation should be enough evidence, and God desires that you believe with no more evidence than this.”

Job-redeemerlivethAfter following God for some time, people noticed another problem, and asked: “Why does God treat us the same as the non-believers? We both suffer and prosper equally.” The story of Job answers this question, essentially saying: “Never question the meme! It knows better than you, so just believe.”

When it came to competition, the meme said: “You should kill anyone who tries to introduce foreign memes. If you continue to believe in this meme, good things will happen, but if you believe in other memes, horrific things will happen!”

And so the meme gradually increased its fitness, by: 1) providing unfalsifiable answers, 2) discouraging questions, 3) eliminating the competition, and 4) offering a slew of promises and threats.

By far, the greatest adaptation to the God meme was Jesus, who took a primarily Jewish religion and made it accessible and applicable to everyone. Christianity also brought with it powerful new threats and promises, and commandments to spread this updated meme:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
~ Mark 16:15

For mellina, the authors of the Bible built upon the foundations others had laid. They were able to do this because they all spoke the same language (mostly Hebrew and later Greek), lived in the same vicinity, and shared the same stories, culture, and history.

The Evolution of Biblical Themes

When we look at the Bible, it does appear as if many of its core themes have evolved.

  • The character of God evolves. The God of the Old Testament is strikingly different from the God of the New. The God of the Old is primarily interested in the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He is jealous and angry; he wipes out sinful cities, floods the world, sends plagues, and kills millions; and he repeats ad nauseam that he is one God. The God of the New Testament is three Gods in one! He extends love to everyone, Jew or gentile. He preaches forgiveness instead of vengeance, and sends healing instead of plagues or floods.
  • michaelangelo adam and eveThe character of Satan evolves. He begins as a very literal snake (Gen. 3:1-14), but is eventually replaced by a fallen angel.
  • The role of the messiah evolves. We go from a literal king who will save the Jews and restore Israel, to a metaphorical king who doesn’t save Israel, but saves the world by being executed. 
  • God’s salvation plan — the most commonly cited example of Biblical consistency — also evolves. In Noah’s day, God’s plan wasn’t to save the world, but to flood it. Much later, God makes a covenant with Abraham, but it wasn’t for salvation, it was for land and offspring in exchange for ongoing loyalty and penile mutilation (Gen. 17:1-14). Under Moses, this covenant was extended to include a torrent of new rules, and the people did begin offering sacrifices for forgiveness, but this wasn’t done for salvation from hell, but for the ongoing safety and prosperity of Israel. In fact, God even plays down the importance of sacrifices, and says that they are not a prerequisite for obtaining forgiveness (more on this later). It’s only after Jesus arrives that the importance of sacrifice is played up again, and the nearly heretofore unmentioned idea of hell comes to the forefront, along with a new requirement to believe that God has a son in order to escape torment. 

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
~Hosea 6:6

The character of Jesus has continued to evolve over the centuries, as thousands of denominations experiment with new twists on an already successful meme.

[Note: Apologists have spent centuries reconciling these inconsistencies, but are these accurate and fair explanations? Or do they represent new adaptations evolved by the meme in order to protect itself?]

The Exponential Power of Memes

Perhaps the most profound aspect of this evolutionary metaphor is this: if tenacious extremophiles (like those that can survive in acidic waters, or under Arctic ice, or at the bottom of the ocean, or miles below the earth’s surface) can randomly adapt their way into the most inhospitable environments, then how much more should intelligently designed memes be able to adapt to the eager environment of the human mind? And have we grossly underestimated this potential?

If we assume for a moment that God is not real, and is just a meme that we ourselves have created, then consider how our minds have turned absolutely nothing into everything we need. We have convinced ourselves that God is invisible, and does not need to be tested, and that it is wise to believe without any evidence. We’ve managed to excuse God’s indifference towards his followers, and we’ve promised ourselves everything we could ever want… in the afterlife.

Through centuries of trial and error, the God meme has developed both offensively and defensively. It has learned how to provide its host with what it needs, in order to get repeated, and how to protect itself from attack. The meme “knows” what works, because what works gets repeated. The meme knows the mind, because it is born of the mind. It knows what we hope for and what we fear, and it uses these things to its advantage.

It’s as if the meme enters the mind and asks: “What does it take to survive here? I see this environment has hopes and fears; if I can provide solutions to these things, I can make a home for myself here, and make copies of myself into other minds that need the same things.”

Our meme supplies us with interesting stories to tell and “good news” to share. It provides us with hope, reassuring answers, explanations, and a feeling of certainty. It gives us a way to cheat death. It promises to protect us from our enemies and to heal our bodies. It gives us purpose and makes us feel loved. It gives us a community — one we can trust, and a social safety-net. It allows us to believe we are behaving as we ought, and it allows us to relinquish our guilt. It gives us a father-figure to cry out to in times of need, and a feeling that everything will be okay, and that someone is in control.

But reject this meme, or refuse to spread it, and it threatens us with eternal suffering.

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
~ Matthew 10:33

v3fwVkHAnd so, when we’re born into this world, this highly evolved meme stands ready to be poured out onto our brain, filling in all its cracks. “Ahhhhhh,” sighs the brain, “That’s exactly what I needed!” And it is! Because it has evolved to be. And from that point on, the brain and the meme share a kind of symbiotic relationship: the meme reassuring the brain, and the brain protecting the meme (regardless of which religious meme it may be). The religious meme has become like the Borg in Star Trek, warning us: “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”


It’s possible that the Bible was divinely inspired, but it’s also possible that religious memes have evolved to meet our needs.

If God is just a highly evolved meme, then the only thing that can stop it is competition, competition from another meme whose fitness exceeds that of the meme currently occupying the same space in our brain. However, I’m doubtful that any natural view will ever trump religion’s ability to fill the desires of our heart, for the same reason that eternal life will always be more appealing than eternal death. Religion has evolved to meet our needs, atheism has not.

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament | Tagged , , | 25 Comments

52. Why did the Israelites worship a golden calf? (Exodus 32)

Golden CalfWho would’ve thought that a casual conversation between a man and a burning bush would lead to some of the most spectacular miracles the world has ever seen? But that’s how the exodus began, and the Hebrew slaves who lived in Egypt became firsthand eyewitnesses to many of these amazing miracles, including:

  • The ten plagues of Egypt: the Nile turning into blood, the toads, the gnats, the flies, the locusts, the boils, fire raining from the sky, and the death of all the firstborn of Egypt;
  • Moses’s staff turning into a snake and back again;
  • the parting of the Red Sea;
  • God appearing as a magical pillar of smoke and fire that led them day and night;
  • bitter water that was turned sweet;
  • God appearing as a cloud on multiple occasions, with a voice like thunder;
  • manna that magically appeared on the ground each morning, and
  • water that came flowing from a rock.

And 70 elders even got to meet God in person!

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.
~ Exodus 24:9-10

Yet after meeting God and witnessing all these amazing things, these men did something utterly inexplicable, they disobeyed a direct order from God and worshiped a golden idol. Why?

How the Israelites turned against God

After God had performed all these miracles, he led the Jews around the desert for a while, and then appeared at the top of Mount Sinai. 

Baby GoatFrom there, God called to Moses, and began to chat with him for forty days about the kind of sanctuary he wanted. God described to Moses exactly how it should look, and how the ark should look, and the bread table, and the lampstand, and the tabernacle, and the tabernacle court, and the curtains, and the alter, and the basin, and the priestly garments; and then he told Moses who should make this stuff, and how the priests should consecrate themselves, and what sacrifices should be offered, and what blood and guts should go where, and what anointing oils and incense should be used, and how much the Israelites should pay in taxes, and how everyone should conduct themselves during the Sabbath day, and — somewhere between explaining how to make quality men’s undergarments (Ex. 28:42Ex. 39:28) and why it was okay to kill and eat adorable baby goats but not delicious pigs (Ex. 23:19, Lev. 11:7), God glances down the mountain and exclaims, “Holy Moses! Those nimrods are making a… a… holy cow!”

Moses was taking so long in returning that the Israelites began wondering if he was ever coming back. So they turned to Aaron and said, “It appears as if your little brother is not going to return, would you fashion some new gods for us to worship?” And Aaron (who was second in command and had met God in person) did the unthinkable:

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”
~ Exodus 32:2-5

Aaron was an idiot.

By this point, God is fuming (though he surely saw it coming). God told Moses he was going to slaughter the lot of them for their insolence (Ex. 32:10), but Moses reasoned with God, and God realized Moses was making some valid points, and so he relented.

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
~Exodus 32:14

“Fine,” God said, “you handle this. I’m in no mood to speak to them right now, anyway. I just — I just can’t believe it! And after I specifically told them not to do that, then they go and do it anyway! What a stiff-necked people!”

So Moses departs and descends Mount Sinai, careful not to damage the heavy stone tablets that God had written upon, so that he could smash them in full view of everyone.

The Israelites had made a graven image, and this was a clear violation of God’s second commandment (Ex. 20:4-5), so in an effort to teach them the importance of obeying God’s commandments, Moses violates the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not kill”), and kills 3,000 of them. God then strikes them with a plague, just to make sure they got the message, and they did: some of God’s commandments are absolute, while others are… well… more subject to interpretation. 

(Fun fact: Moses did not kill his brother Aaron, the person who was actually responsible for making the idol).

Was it all just one big misunderstanding?

After everything they’d witnessed, why would these Jews disobey God and worship a golden calf? Or to put it another way, why build a cow when you can get God’s milk (and honey) for free?

One possible explanation is that they saw this as a tribute to the god who did these miracles, and that the Jews just didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong. After all, Moses never said God wasn’t a cow…

But the Bible is clear that God had warned the Israelites about making idols (Ex. 20:4-6Ex. 20:22-23Ex. 22:20) and that they understood this warning (Ex. 24:3-7). God also makes it clear that this was an intentional violation of a commandment they’d been given:

“They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’”
~ Exodus 32:8

This wasn’t just a simple misunderstanding.

Golden CalfThe only reason the Bible gives for this dissent is that these men were prone to doing evil (Ex. 32:22), but this answer isn’t very satisfying. These Jews had just witnessed spectacular miracles and were terrified of God (Ex. 20:18-19), and they were also ordered not to serve other gods under penalty of death (Exodus 22:20). A rebellion under these circumstances would equate more to lunacy than evil.

Today, many (if not most) Christians would be willing to lay their lives down for God, without having observed anything like these great miracles, so how much more would they believe if they had witnessed these things? How much more should the Israelites have believed? Would you run off to find some other alternative god to worship?


So to sum up, God performs a bunch of fantastic miracles, leads his people out of Egypt, feeds them bread and water, gives them direct orders not to make other gods, and so they rebel and make other gods. Even Aaron, a man who’d seen these mighty works and saw God in person (or at least his feet), was willing to fashion this false idol, and build an alter to it, and order a festival in honor of it!

Do these sound like the actions of a people who have just witnessed such events firsthand? Like the crowd that chose Barabbas over Jesus, these eyewitnesses do not appear as impressed as one might expect.

That’s not to say there are not some grains of truth to the story. Some Jews may have been enslaved by Egyptians, and they may have even thought God had rescued them. These stories may have become exaggerated over time. I imagine if we were to travel back in time to witness these events firsthand, we would probably return with a much different version of this story.

So what was the author’s motive? How does the author(s) benefit from writing this story? We all like to tell and hear stories, especially stories that have explanatory value; but the author(s) of Genesis and Exodus also benefit by using these stories as a way to place a lien against a particular piece of land, long before property liens existed. In essence, the story says, “The God who created all things has personally promised us this specific piece of land.” But this lien only works as long as the people believe in the God who established it, and so the story insists that only this one God be worshiped, and strict penalties are imposed for those who stray from the official state God.

The goal of Exodus 32 may have been to stop any thoughts of dissent before they started. The author is saying: “Don’t bother worshiping other Gods, because this has already been tried, and it didn’t end well. Also… we’ll kill you… so don’t.”

Posted in Miracles, Old Testament | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

51. Was David prophesying of Jesus in Psalm 110?

god-jesus-holy-ghostThe book of Psalms is a collection of songs, most of which are usually attributed to King David. Many of the Psalms sing God’s praises, many plead for protection and blessings, and a handful are cited by Christians as inspired messianic revelations. I want to take a close look at these messianic verses (here and under future questions) starting with the bomb that is dropped in Psalm 110:1:

A Psalm of David.

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for you.”
~Psalm 110:1

Few words in the Bible have stirred up more controversy than, “The Lord says to my lord.” Who was God speaking to at his right hand? And why was David calling this mysterious person “my lord” (or “my master”)?

For Christians, the obvious answer is the messiah. Surely David wouldn’t call himself “my lord,” and God couldn’t’ve been talking to himself, and so David and God must’ve been addressing someone else of great importance: the messiah!

And so for Christianity, Psalm 110:1 is an important verse, because it suggests that the messiah is more than just an earthly king in the line of David; he’s someone who existed prior to his own birth, and he comes from a position of authority in heaven. (Fun fact: Psalm 110 is also the most frequently cited Old Testament chapter in the New Testament.)

Jesus also assumes that Psalm 110 was referring to the messiah:

Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
~Luke 20:41-44

And Jesus makes it clear that it is he who sits at God’s right hand:

And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
~ Mark 14:62

Notice that Jesus also describes himself as “I am,” an unmistakable reference to the Godhead:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’
~ Exodus 3:14

Charles Haddon Spurgeon sums up David’s “divine revelation” this way:

Though David was a firm believer in the Unity of the Godhead, he yet spiritually discerns the two persons, distinguishes between them, and perceives that in the second he has a peculiar interest, for he calls him “my Lord.”
~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

If David was indeed referring to a second person in the Godhead, this verse would represent a colossal shift in Jewish thinking. But was this really what David was implying?

Who were the two lords?

The Godhead

There’s no question that the first Lord is God, as it’s the Hebrew world “Yĕhovah.” The second lord is much more ambiguous, and is the Hebrew word “‘adown,” which is usually translated as “lord,” “master,” and occasionally “Lord.”

In the early days of Christianity, Jews were of the mind that this second lord was David. We know this because Peter had to combat such thinking (Acts 2:29-34). According to Peter, since Jesus rose from the dead to sit at God’s right hand, and David was still dead, Psalm 110 must be referring to Jesus. This argument works so long as you accept Peter’s literal interpretation of Psalms 110, and his claim that Jesus rose from the dead, and his claim that Jesus now sits at God’s right hand. In other words, it works as long as you’re already a believer.

While Christians still insist this second lord was Jesus, Jews and critics have suggested a few other possibilities: 

  1. According to Rabbi Tovia Singer, the second word used for lord in Psalm 110:1 “never refers to God anywhere in the Bible” and “is used only to address a person, never God.” Rabbi Singer suggests that David wrote this Psalm so that it could be sung by others at the temple, who would understand it to mean: “The Lord [God] said to my lord [King David] ‘Sit thou at my right hand…’”
  2. Others suggest that this was a Psalm of (or about) David, but not by David (not all Psalms were authored by David), so “my lord” is simply a reference to David. 
  3. Another suggestion is that David was quoting a prophecy that was given to him early in his administration, where the prophet refers to him as “my lord.”
  4. There’s a small chance that David is calling Melchizedek his lord. Melchizedek was once the king of Salem who is described as a “priest of God Most High” in Genesis 14:18. David mentions him in verse four, and his name is held in high regard: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You [presumably David] are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’”
  5. There’s the possibility that we’ve simply misunderstood what David was saying. Perhaps David was putting a poetic spin on this phrase, and the meaning of the expression has been lost to time.
  6. And finally, there’s the possibility that scribes copied this verse incorrectly, or mistakenly labeled it “A Psalm of David,” or that someone retold the story using the words “my lord” in reference to David.


The Missing Psalm

If David meant what Christians think he meant, I mean, if he really did have a spiritual revelation about a second person next to God who was worthy of being called lord and master, I find it wholly inconceivable that David would not elaborate on this massively important spiritual revelation. Perhaps by writing another Psalm about him, perhaps something like this:

Psalm 110.5 (The Missing Psalm)
A Limerick of David

There once was a God named Yahweh,
who had a son in an odd way;
he was fully Him, yet he was also his kin,
and the son of God was known to say:

“I do as my father pleases,
I even sneeze when my father sneezes,
we walk the same walks, and we think the same thoughts,
but I am not him, I am Jesus!”

“I love you,” said God one to God two,
“Because of you I can get things done faster;
so you go and die, while I watch from the sky,
and they can call me ‘God’ and you ‘Master.’”

So to sum up this song, we Jews have had it all wrong,
there are TWO persons in heaven, not one;
the Lord on the throne is the Lord we’ve always known,
and the lord to his right is His son!

Even a crappy Psalm like this one would’ve helped to clear things up. But David doesn’t elaborate, which suggests to me that he didn’t feel any need to, because what he’d said wasn’t revolutionary, and didn’t require any explanation.

Whose enemies? David’s or the Messiah’s?

Rather than elaborating on this new second person of the Godhead, David spends the remainder of Psalm 110 elaborating on how God would help this person defeat his enemies.

If you’ve read the Book of Psalms, you know that one of the most prevalent themes is how God helps David deal with his enemies, so it stands to reason that Psalm 110 is an extension of that same theme. It seems less likely that Psalms 110 represents a departure from this theme into a nearly identical, but spiritual, version of this theme, about a heretofore unknown second lord in the Godhead who also, incredibly, needs help defeating his enemies.

Whose feet? David’s or the Messiah’s?

We also find verses that seem to collaborate the idea that it is David whom God delivers from his enemies, by placing his enemies under his feet:

You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great
I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
~ Psalms 18:35-38

“You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the Lord his God until the Lord put his enemies under his feet.”
~ 1 Kings 5:3

Is being at the right hand really such a big deal?

The expression “right hand” is used 35 other times in Psalms, without any of the literal or legalistic fanfare Christianity seems to place upon it in Psalm 110:1. For example:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
~Psalm 16:8

With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.
~Psalm 109:30-31

So sometimes God is at your right hand, and sometimes you’re at his.

And just because a person happens to sit at God’s right hand doesn’t necessarily mean this person is ruling with God, or is a part of the Godhead. Rather, it appears that the person in this case is being asked to sit only to exaggerate how little effort they will need to exert in order to defeat their enemies. God is not saying, “Sit here and rule with me as father and son.” He’s saying, “Kick back, relax, and have one of these fruity blue drinks with an umbrella in it while I deliver your enemies on a silver platter.”


While it’s possible that Psalm 110 is a spiritual revelation about the messiah, there are a number of issues that serve to undermine that conclusion.

First and foremost, we’re placing a tremendous amount of importance on a verse that’s very ambiguous.

Second, David’s failure to elaborate about this second person suggests he didn’t believe he was revealing anything that warranted further explanation.

Third, war is an ongoing theme in Psalms, along with David’s defeat of his enemies who are placed under his feet, so there’s little reason to believe that Psalm 110 departs from this theme to introduce a spiritual metaphor about a second god who also needs defending.

Finally, even if David came right out and said, “God has a son, and the two rule together in heaven, and God’s son will one day be born as my human offspring,” all Jesus has to say is, “Okay then, I’m that guy.” In other words, this isn’t a prophetic proof-text, it’s just a description of the messiah, and one that’s easy for anyone to lay claim to. It’s one thing to say, “I existed before I was born at the right hand of God,” it’s another to say, “Did I ever tell you twelve about the ice ages? Or how giant lizards once roamed the earth before they all died off?” Jesus doesn’t express anything that would help us to place him before his time.

I wish I could travel back in time and ask King David: “When you said ‘The Lord says to my lord,’ were you implying that the second lord was a second person in a triune Godhead? And that this second person, while separate from God, was also mysteriously one with him, as to still allow for one God? And that one day this second person would be born as your great-great-grandson, who separates himself from God, but still remains one with him?” I imagine David would give me a puzzled look and ask, “What the Sheol are you talking about?”

Posted in Jesus, Old Testament, Prophecy | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

50. Did Joshua really get the sun and moon to stand still?

image21In the book of Joshua, God was really intent on helping Josh (as I like to imagine his friends called him) defeat the five kings of the Amorites (who were probably a bunch of gay liberals). So rather than just offer his usual brand of silent esoteric support for wars waged in his name, God actually helped out, pelting the enemy with large hailstones (Joshua 10:11), and stopping the rotation of the earth at Josh’s request, just so he could finish the battle.

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.
~Joshua 10:12-13

Proof of a miracle?

Back in the 1980s, I’d heard an evangelist tell an audience that NASA had actually discovered Josh’s missing day. According to the story, NASA had been performing some calculations for satellites and inadvertently discovered a day missing from earth’s history. If this is true, it could be evidence of a spectacular miracle, and the existence of God. 

Is it possible to detect a missing day?

Long story short, no.

The only way that the computer would know that a day was missing would be if it had the actual astronomical data from millennia past to compare to. Obviously we have no such data. So even if we it were true that there is a missing day in history as the Bible claims, there would be no way to verify this using computer simulations. We don’t, and will never, have the data needed to confirm that specific claim.

So where did the NASA story come from?

Turns out, the origin of this urban legend is now well documented.

Harry Rimmer

Harry Rimmer, Creationist, Liar

The original version of the story goes back to the late 1800s, and it was popularized in Harry Rimmer’s book The Harmony of Science and Scripture in 1936, in which he claimed that British astronomer Sir Edwin Ball had somehow calculated a missing day in earth’s history.

This story reemerged in the 1960s when Harold Hill, who worked as a plant engineer at NASA, began claiming the story as his own, but revised it so that it was NASA that’d made the discovery. Harold Hill’s version was then passed around and preached from the pulpits for another 30 years, until it began showing up in email inboxes.

In 1997, NASA finally squelched this urban legend, denying that such an event ever took place, and denying that Hill would’ve had access to any of their computers. They also explained that such a calculation would be impossible. 

To their credit, many popular Christian websites now try to dispel this hundred-year-old legend, though most agree that the Biblical legend itself is still true. 

If it can’t be proven, is it theoretically possible?

According to NASA, it’s physically impossible. But if you believe in a God of miracles… well… anything goes; so let’s move on.

Corroborating eyewitness accounts?

If this miracle left no physical evidence, is their any other evidence? Many Christians say yes, in the form of ancient eyewitnesses.

…there appears to be solid evidence from the Bible and from folklore around the world that there was one day which, depending upon geographical location, presented the inhabitants of the earth with an unusually long span of daylight or night… Agnostic or atheistic scholars choose not to deal with the ancient witnesses.

Well… if it’s true that agnostics and atheists choose not to deal with these ancient witnesses, it is probably because so many things can potentially go wrong when trying to prove an extraordinary claim by way of myths, legends, and folklore.

First, teasing out the fact from the fiction can be a subjective process.

Second, we’re dealing with a 3,500 year-old event. It’s hard enough to get accurate eyewitness accounts of events that happened yesterday. 

Osiris sun worshipThird, as one might suspect, the sun is an extremely popular topic in myths, legends, and lore, and so it’s not uncommon to find parallels. For example, both the ancient Lithuanians1 and Aztecs2 have legends about a time when the sun did not emerge for many months/years. And there are Polynesian1 and New Zealand3 legends that say the sun used to move much faster across the sky than it does today. There are also many stories about catching the sun1 and tethering it to the ground (no doubt inspired by the sun’s rays). But just because these parallels exist, doesn’t prove any of them happened. 

Fourth, the large number of sun myths makes it possible to “pick the winners” that corroborate the Biblical account (i.e. confirmation bias). For example, a believer might choose to ignore the Lithuanian myth of a very long night because it should’ve been a long day. 

Fifth, dating these stories can be difficult. And even if a myth was first told hundreds of years after the event, it might still be said to be corroborating a much older story.

Sixth, it’s possible to loosely reinterpret these legends to match up with the Biblical details. For example, it doesn’t seem to matter if the sun stops for ten days or ten years; as long as it stops, it is said to corroborate the Biblical event.

And finally, these legends are sometimes difficult to track down to their original source. These legends often come to us only by word of mouth, or the original sources are missing, or (in some cases) the stories are outright fabrications.

Confirming the legends

Skeptical as I was, I did investigate a few of these alleged parallels.

I found numerous Christian books and websites citing the same collection of legends, which I traced back to none other than Harry Rimmer. Harry writes:

In the ancient Chinese writings there is a legend of a long day. The Incas of Peru and the Aztecs of Mexico have a like record, and there is a Babylonian and a Persian legend of a day that was miraculously extended. Another section of China contributes an account of the day that was miraculously prolonged, in the reign of Emperor Yeo. Herodotus recounts that the priests of Egypt showed him their temple records, and that there he read a strange account of a day that was twice the natural length.
~ The Harmony of Science and Scripture, pp. 269-270.

Harry Rimmer’s work has since been discredited and criticized by both scientists and creationists. As early as 1955, Christians like Bernard Ramm were already finding problems with some of these legends. He writes in A Christian View of Science and The Scripture that he was unable to “track down nor confirm” the validity of “Egyptian, Chinese, and Hindu reports of a long day.”

We’ve already learned about the Aztec legend of the long night (that actually lasted for several years), let’s look at a couple of others.

Rimmer cites the story of Emperor Yao. This story first appeared in 1733 in a book by J. Hübner (Kurtze Fragen aus der Politischen Historia) and has been cited by Christians ever since. 

Chinese history speaks of Yao, their king, declaring that in his reign the sun stood so long above the horizon that it was feared the world would have been set on fire.
Nelson, David, 1793-1844The Cause and Cure of Infidelity, pp. 26

There are several problems with this story. First, the sun was on the horizon for ten days, not two. Second, Emperor Yao lived approximately 800 years before Joshua. And third, this legend is mysteriously absent from all the manuscripts we have today.

Sunrise_at_CreationRimmer also mentions Herodotus, a Greek historian in the fifth century B.C. who wrote about a trip to Egypt. Reading his account, I wasn’t able to find any mention of a day that lasted twice as long. The closest thing I found was a claim by the Egyptian priests that the sun would occasionally change where it rose or set, but this does not represent a long day:

In this time [the past three hundred generations of men] they [the priests] said that the sun had moved four times from his accustomed place of rising, and where he now sets he had thence twice had his rising, and in the place from whence he now rises he had twice had his setting…

If this was what Rimmer was referring to, it’s been deceptively reinterpreted. If this isn’t what he was referring to, then why does he ignore this solar miracle?

Moving on, I found other Christians citing the fact that five North American Indian tribes all have tales of a long night. This isn’t actually five independent accounts of a long night, but one legend shared across five tribes (with different variations).

IMG_0244According to these legends, someone catches the sun (often a young boy) and tethers it to the ground, causing the sky to remain dark. A small rodent (either a mouse, a beaver, a mole, or a rabbit) manages to free it by chewing or cutting through the tether, getting burned in the process. These stories all emphasize the importance of these animals and how they got their physical traits. 

I’d feel pretty uncomfortable about building my faith upon stories that also feature heroic beavers and moles. I mean, if this is what qualifies as good evidence, then I’m pretty sure I’d also have to accept all the anecdotal evidence for things like ancient aliens, Bigfoot, and chemtrails. 

I could go on, but I don’t think this kind of evidence is going to convince anyone who isn’t already a believer.

Did the sun stop, or the earth?

I should also mention that there is a lot of debate over why the Bible says that the “sun stood still” instead of “the earth stopped turning.” Didn’t God know better?

I’m willing to accept that God could’ve been speaking to us in terms we’d understand (e.g. we still call it a sunrise and sunset, even though we know better), so I won’t make a big fuss over it. But some Christians are less forgiving, and follow their literal views to jaw-dropping conclusions:

God wrote in verse 13 that the “sun stood still and the moon stayed.”  God either meant what he wrote, or he did not.  There is no excuse for God because he is the God of truth; therefore all things he says and does must reflect that fact. So God cannot utter an untruth and we must conclude that the Bible teaches, in Joshua 10:13 and else where, that the universe rotates around the earth once per day, carrying the sun, moon and stars with it, regardless of what introductory astronomy texts may say.

Seriously? The earth is stationary? And the entire universe revolves around us? Whoa.

Other Christians prefer to just dismiss the story as poetry, but this also means dismissing the miracle.


When I began researching this question, it was in hopes of finding some legitimate evidence that could confirm a miracle. The quality of this evidence quickly dwindled, and it’s time to move on.

While we can’t prove nor disprove this event, we can show that inventing sun myths is a popular human pastime. The only thing that sets this myth apart is that it appears in the Bible, but is that enough? Unless God is willing to perform an encore, we have no reason to believe it’s anything more than an ancient urban legend, not unlike those more recently concocted by Rimmer and Hill.


1. Olcott, W. T., 1914.  Sun Lore of all Ages: A Collection of Myths and Legends Concerning the Sun and its Worship, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons), p. 205-220.

2. Caso, A. 1937.  The Religion of the Aztecs, (Mexico City: Popular Library of Mexican Culture, Central News Co.), pp. 15-16.

3. Pappas, Stephanie, 2012, Live Science website, Fiery Folklore: Dazzling Sun Myths 

Charles A.L. Totten (1890), Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz

Rimmer, Harry (1936), The Harmony of Science and Scripture, (Berne Witness Co.).

Ramm, Bernard (1954), The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Snopes.com (2009) , The Lost Day

Posted in Miracles, Old Testament | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

49. Why did the crowd choose Barabbas over Jesus?

-----PILATE-ASKS-ISRAEL-JESUS-OR-BARABBAS------1According to the gospels, Jesus was a charismatic figure who was constantly attracting crowds wherever he went. People wanted to be healed, see a miracle, or hear what Jesus had to say. Often there were so many people it was difficult to get close to Jesus, and people literally climbed trees (Luke 19:3-4) and cut holes in rooftops (Mark 2:4, Luke 5:19) just to get closer. The gospels are filled with stories like these:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. Mark 3:20

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. Mark 4:1

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. Luke 7:11

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Luke 8:19

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another… Luke 12:1

These crowds also traveled long distances and to remote locations just to see him.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.
Mark 3:7-9

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” Luke 9:12

These lucky crowds got to witness some of the most amazing miracles in history. They saw Jesus feed 5,000, heal the lame and the blind, cast out demons, raise people from the dead, and perform so many other miracles that “even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The Bible gives us a snapshot of what these crowds saw:

A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. Matthew 12:15

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14

…the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen. Luke 19:37

…and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. John 6:2

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. John 12:17

Jesus vs. Barabbas

But when it came time for the public to choose between freeing Jesus “the miracle worker” or Barabbas “the murderer” — the choice should’ve been clear, and yet… they chose to free Barabbas.

This ancient public opinion poll tells us that Jesus’s approval rating was, somehow, even lower than that of Barabbas’s… who didn’t exactly set the bar very high. The crowd didn’t even free Barabbas because they liked him, but because they disliked Jesus. Luke 23:23 says, “With loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified.” That really doesn’t sound like the actions of a crowd who were deeply impressed by the miracles of Jesus.


Where were all of Jesus’s supporters? Where were the crowds that traveled long distances to see him? Or even just the local fans? Where were the apostles? Where was the blind man saying, “Free Jesus, for I was blind and now I see!” Where was the deaf man? The lame man? Jesus’s mother and brothers? The centurion? The bleeding woman? Mary Magdalene? Where was the father whose son was possessed? Where was Lazarus saying, “Free Jesus! For I was dead and Jesus made me alive again!” Where was Zacchaeus saying, “Free Jesus! For I was a short, nerdy, tree-climber and Jesus hung out with me anyway!” Where were the large crowds that spread cloaks and palm branches and sang to him as he entered Jerusalem? Where were the droves that were healed? Or the thousands that were fed? Where were the legions of sick crying out, “Free Jesus so that we too may be healed!”? Where were all these people? If crowds gathered wherever Jesus went, where were they now?

Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to go back in time and observe the miracles of Jesus, but thanks to this informal public opinion poll, we know that the people who were there at that time didn’t seem to think much of him. In fact, if they could see all of the cathedrals and mega-churches dedicated to Jesus today, they might say, “What…? You mean that guy? That guy we passed over for Barabbas?! Well, I was there, and I saw what he did, I saw it with my own two eyes! So you can wipe off that grin, I know where he’s been, it’s all been a pack of lies!” (Sorry — Phil Collins humor.)

The Chief Priests: The reason for the crowd’s change of heart?

According to the Bible, the reason the crowd turned on Jesus was because the chief priests and the elders “persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas” (Matt. 27:20, Mark 15:11).


The gospels paint the chief priests as antagonists, and I don’t doubt that some of them were corrupt, but they were still probably the best qualified to identify a potential messiah, and they seemed to be doing as God had instructed.

The scriptures clearly warned them that God would be testing the Jews by sending false prophets, who would try to impress them by accurately predicting the future and performing signs and wonders. God also instructed them to kill such prophets if they ever tried to lead people away from the one true God. 

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul… That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God…
Deuteronomy 13:1-5

So along comes Jesus, making prophecies, performing signs and wonders, inciting rebellion, and leading Jews to follow an unfamiliar God (one with a child, who came from a human woman), and so the chief priests did exactly as God instructed. If God didn’t want them to kill Jesus, perhaps he should’ve been more specific about what they should expect, so there would be no misunderstanding about who to kill and who to worship.

On top of all this, Jesus wasn’t exactly matching up with a number of messianic prophecies (as the Jews understood them). So there are many possibilities here:

  1. The chief priests were correct about Jesus being a false prophet.
  2. The scriptures were man-made, and therefore useless for predicting anything about anyone.
  3. Barabbas was a more impressive character than Jesus.
  4. The crowds didn’t believe the stories about Lazarus and the other miracles.
  5. God blinded all Jews (because of past sins), and prevented them from recognizing their messiah.
  6. God permitted Satan to deceive all the people so they would kill Jesus.

Most Christians would probably opt for one of the last two explanations, but if either are true, then the Jews (and mankind in general) are not responsible for killing Jesus — God made it impossible for us to recognize him. And strangely, even after the resurrection, we have to presume God continued to prevent the overwhelming majority of Jews from ever recognizing him. (Poor Jews.)

Why did the crowd listen to the chief priests?

If Jesus had healed me or my family, or raised me from the dead, I wouldn’t give a flying fig what the chief priests said. And according to the gospel of John, the crowds didn’t care. They recognized that these miracles meant that Jesus was something special, even if he didn’t exactly fit their messianic expectations:

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is fromwhen the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”
~ John 7:25-32

So the crowds were (reportedly) impressed with the miracles of Jesus, and were willing to overlook a few inconsistencies. And really… who are you going to believe? The guy who can literally walk on water… or the chief priests… who can’t?


Whatever may have happened that day, it’s clear that the crowds were not impressed by the works of Jesus, at least not enough to spare his life. And it’s difficult to imagine that the chief priests were so persuasive that they could talk people out of a miracle worker and into a murderer. It’s also difficult to believe that of all those who were healed, that they would all abandon Jesus in his time of need. As impressed as we are today with the works of Jesus, those who lived with him did not seem nearly as impressed.

Hypothetically speaking, if the story of Jesus were just a legend (based upon an actual person), the size of the crowds and the miracles performed could’ve been exaggerated one generation after Jesus, and it would’ve been difficult to confirm or deny these details. However, you couldn’t lie and say Jesus did so many great miracles that they made him king of the Jews (people would know that was bullshit). The gospel writers had little choice but to excuse his execution by insisting these witnesses were ignorant and blind. But… what if they weren’t?

Posted in Jesus, New Testament | Tagged , , , , , , | 54 Comments

48. Does homology infer design or common descent?

If you’d asked me ten years ago what homology was, I probably would’ve answered, “The study of… homos…?” I had no idea, because I’d never bothered to explore any evidence in favor of evolution. But it was evidence from homology — the study of similarities in animals due (allegedly) to common descent — that first prompted me to have second thoughts about evolution.

While Darwin may have been clued into evolution by birds, my personal journey began with man’s best friend: dogs. This was because, ironically, most creationists openly accept that all dog breeds originated from a single pair of dogs, and that this “kind” of dog was aboard Noah’s ark.

While you wouldn’t think creationists would be too eager to believe in such a rapid “micro-evolution” of dogs, this kind of variation is well documented, and it also helps to reduce the number of animals that would’ve been required to be aboard the ark, helping the ark story seem all the more plausible.

Even though today there are more than 350 variations of dogs, Noah only had to take one pair of dogs on the ark. Over time, during the 4,400 years since the flood, this one kind of dogs, through normal genetic variation, has given us the different varieties of dogs we see today. This isn’t evolution, it is normal genetic variation.
~Bob Knopf

Geneticists agree that all dogs descended from a single kind, and specify it was some type of wolf ancestor. All dog breeds carry the genes of their wolf ancestor, and even continue to exhibit a few wolf-like traits (e.g. howling). 

It was my curiosity about these rapid “genetic variations” that drove me to examine a few canine skulls, and I found the diversity among dogs to be quite extraordinary. It was amazing to think that from one type of dog, you could actually derive hundreds of very different skull shapes and sizes, and after just a few centuries of artificial selection.  

Pug skull (foreground) and gray wolf (background).

Pug skull (foreground) and gray wolf (background).

Granted, these dogs were still dogs, but their ability to change over time did suggest that our skeletons were highly malleable. I began to wonder… if a wolf can become a pug or a chihuahua after just a few thousand years, how much more might an animal change if given a few million?

A visit to the California Academy of Sciences

With these dog skulls on my mind, I paid a visit to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and it further changed the way I perceived evolution.

T-RexIt started with the T-rex skeleton. In my mind, humans had absolutely nothing in common with tyrannosaurs. And yet… I couldn’t deny the existence of similarities in our body plans: we both had vertebrae and a rib cage, arms, legs, knees, shoulder blades, hands, feet, and a skull with two eyes, a nose and mouth all arranged in the same general order.

Next came the museum’s blue whale. Again, its skeleton was also different from our own, but it too had ribs, a spine, and… arms. Arms? What was a whale doing with arms? I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never really noticed how similar a whale’s arms are to our own… the fingers, the wrist bones, the radius and ulna, the humerus… even the shoulder blades were located in the same position.


Again I wondered… why would God create flippers out of arms and hands if he didn’t have to? It seemed like an odd choice. It was as if God had already testified by every fish in the sea that fish-like pectoral fins were the de facto standard for ocean dwellers, yet when it came to the whale, he decided, “Eh, I guess arms could work too.”

Later that day I perused their display of human skulls. As any good creationist knows, there are no “transitional” forms, there are only apes and humans with minor variations within each kind. But clearly, these skulls suggested that we humans could also undergo changes to our skulls, just as the dogs had done. 

SF Skulls

Lastly, I came across something I found even more compelling: the skeleton of a ring-tailed lemur.

LemurOn the outside, lemurs look very little like us, but under the skin, they are surprisingly similar. The arms, the legs, the shoulder blades, the pelvis, the ribs, and especially the tiny hands and feet… it’s all there, just shaped slightly different. Admittedly the skull was pretty different, but from what I’d seen in dogs and humans, I knew that skull shapes could change dramatically.

Upon returning home, I pondered these similarities, and began looking at pictures of other primate skeletons. There were some, like the spider monkey (below), that already had a skull that was much more human-esque than the lemur’s. In fact, just drop the tail and stand the spider monkey upright, and it appears almost human.


I wondered more… if dog skulls can change so drastically, and monkey and human skeletons were already similar, how can I argue that it would be impossible for (at the very least) the skeletal system of a primate to take on the shape of a human? This wouldn’t make it human, but it would have a nearly identical infrastructure. Just upgrade the brain, and you’re pretty much there. 


Tetrapod Limbs

Since then, I’ve learned what I’d inadvertently “discovered” was a branch of evidence for evolution known as homology. The great thing about homology is that you don’t need to be an expert in comparative anatomy to see these similarities. You can look at the forelimb of a human, a lizard, a cat, a whale, a bat, a frog, or a bird and see the same bones performing different functions.

Human vs. Dog skeleton

And it doesn’t end with forelimbs, you can take any two mammals or reptiles and find equivalent structures throughout each.

Forelimbs of people, porpoises, bats and horses provide the classic example of homology in most textbooks. They look different, and do different things, but are built of the same bones. No engineer, starting from scratch each time, would have built such desperate structures from the same parts.
~ Stephen J. Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History, 1980

Creationist explanations for homologous relationships

So why do different species share such striking similarities? According to biologist and creationist Jerry Bergman, God created “systems” of animals, like mammals and reptiles, and then modified them so they could survive on land, in the air, and in the sea:

The many similarities that exist among members of the animal kingdom is the result of the fact that a single designer created the basic kinds of living ‘systems’, then specially modified each type of life to enable it to survive in its unique environmental niche. Examples of major environments for which organisms must be designed include the air, ground and water.
Jerry Bergman, Ph.D., Biology

Assuming this is true, it’s curious that God should equip some animals for one niche, and then place them in another. Why equip flightless birds with wings for the air niche, but then place them in the ground niche? Or why modify mammals and reptiles (e.g. whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, etc.) to live in the water niche, but then equip them with the lungs of an animal intended for the ground niche? With evolution we expect such nonsense, but with a designer?

Also, if God did adapt these animals to survive in these niches, why then have so many  failed to survive in the niches God prepared them for? Did God design them to go extinct? Was he unaware of the environmental changes they would surely face?

And finally, a full transition from sea-to-land and back again is time-consuming. If evolution did occur, we should expect to find very few mammals and reptiles occupying the open ocean compared to all other types of marine life, and this is the kind of thing we observe. It would’ve been no trouble for God to populate our oceans with mammals or reptiles, but he didn’t, once again making his creation frustratingly consistent with evolution.

Transitional forms

While evolutionists focus on similarities, creationists focus on differences, often claiming that some of these differences are impossible to explain via evolution.

Even similarities among somewhat similar creatures reveal that the differences are more important than the similarities.
Answers in Genesis, March 1, 1992

Creationists add that no fossils exist that show a transition from any one kind of animal to another. Evolutionists object, and point to fossils like Tiktaalik, Archaeopteryx, AmbulocetusDarwinius masillae, Australopithecus, and so on, but creationists counter by saying that because no one observed these transitions, God may have created them in the form they were all found in.

Homologous vs. Analogous similarities

Marsupial Tasmanian Wolf

I should also note that not all homologous similarities stem from common decent. For example, marsupial moles, wolves, and anteaters resemble their unrelated placental equivalents, but did not descend from them.

Creationists say these similarities exist because God (who must’ve been running out of ideas) remade similar animals in different classes. Evolutionists say these analogous similarities are the result of convergent evolution, and that these animals developed similar features because it helped them to accomplish similar tasks (e.g. long noses are beneficial to all ant eaters).

Barbara ManateeAn interesting example of homology vs. analogy can be seen in whales, dolphins, and manatees. Whales and dolphins share homologous similarities with each other, but analogous similarities with manatees.

The distinctive homologous traits that suggest whales and dolphins had a common ancestor include the shape of their flukes, the bones in their flippers, and their trademark blowholes. Meanwhile, the manatee is also believed to have returned to the sea (or was modified for the sea), but seems to share only analogous similarities with whales and dolphins.

All three have traded in their hind legs for flukes, but the manatee’s fluke has a distinctively different shape. All three have also traded in arms for flippers, but the bones in the manatee’s flippers remain much more hand-like in appearance. And while whales and dolphins share the same tell-tale blowhole, the manatee has retained his nose.

Whale, dolphin and manatee fin/flipper.

Whale, dolphin and manatee fin/flipper.

Was the blowhole not good enough for God to reuse on the humble manatee? If God is modifying mammals for the water niche, why not equip them with the same equipment? If he’s not going to give the manatee gills, the least he could do is give him a blowhole.


In the same way I can see the familial relationships in dogs, I look at the blowholes on whales and dolphins and see a familial relationship. Likewise, I can look at the trademark pouches on all the marsupials stranded on Australia and infer that they too must all be related. And if all of those animals are related, it’s not too difficult to look at the similar skeletal structures of monkeys, apes, and humans and infer a similar familial relationship.

If evolution did occur, we would reasonably expect to see these kinds of relationships, and we do! Homology by descent is not only consistent with the evolutionary model, it is also easily falsifiable: if all animals are not homogeneously related, then evolution is patently false! But they are. 

But is homology also consistent with a designer? We can never be sure, because no one knows if a designer would need (or want) to design homologously. And unfortunately, we cannot falsify homology by design, because no matter how similar or dissimilar two animals may be, or how oddly designed, or how many may go extinct, the creationist can always claim that this is the way God wanted it.

In the end, I think evolution does gain some credibility from homology (alone) simply because it’s consistent with what we’d expect to see if evolution were true. God was certainly under no obligation to design every single animal homologously (especially those created in his image), and it might even be considered somewhat deceptive for him to have done so. Homology by descent can also be falsified, while the nature of homology by design does not allow for potential falsification or even criticism (beyond citing a few seemingly inept designs).

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47. Can we “just know” that God exists?

I just know God existsI often hear believers (including my beloved wife) say that they “just know” that God exists. This seemingly innate awareness of God’s existence is often used as grounds to override and dismiss any and all evidence to the contrary.

And admittedly, this sense that God exists can be a difficult feeling to shake, especially for those (like myself) who are experiencing serious doubt for the first time.

If it is true that God is communicating a message of his existence to us, can we prove it? And if he’s not, can we disprove it?

“Deep down, everyone knows that God exists!”

Believers sometimes claim that, deep down, everyone knows that God exists (see Romans 1:18-32). The most frequently cited evidence for this is that many diverse cultures have independently come to believe in some form of god, gods, or spirits.

While this is true, these disparate cultures came to drastically different conclusions about what “god” was: very often there were plural gods, sometimes they were ancestral spirits, sometimes they had physical bodies (male and female), sometimes they were animals or natural objects (like idols, planets, oceans, trees, mountains, volcanoes, the sun, etc.), and some cultures had no gods at all (such as some Eastern philosophies — which should make us wonder why God didn’t prompt them into thinking theisticly).

While these gods were all very different, what they did have in common were the humans who’d invented them — humans who were all sharing a similar experience.

Surely our ancestors must’ve wondered where the first humans came from — and they all must’ve logically deduced that the first humans couldn’t have given birth to themselves. Something else must’ve created them; ergo, god(s).

They also must’ve wondered what happened to people when they died, or why nature behaved the way it did; ergo, invisible spirits.

(Similarly, many cultures also invented monster stories, but we don’t use this commonality to try and support the claim that monsters exist.)

If God did impart knowledge of Himself to these cultures, it’s curious that he didn’t also universally impart basic details about Himself — information that could not be logically deduced (such as his name, his 10 commandments, or that he was three gods in one).

Can we objectively test a feeling?

There may actually be objective ways that we can prove God is revealing hidden truths to us.

For example, we could place a Bible inside a box, alongside 99 other boxes filled with something more sinister… like copies of the Satanic Bible… or The God Delusion… or Harry Potter… or gay porn… or whatever else God detests. If believers can consistently demonstrate that they “just know” which box contains the “Word of God,” then we might have evidence that spiritual insights exist, and they can provide us with reliable information. (Assuming no trickery was involved.)

But these experiments would surely fail, and believers would retreat to the claim that God refuses to be tested. (If you can pull this off, The Amazing Randi is still willing to pay $1,000,000 for a controlled demonstration.)

What else might God reveal to us?

People also have very strong feelings about their particular religion. They “just know” that God exists, and they “just know” that their religion is true.

I once asked a young Mormon missionary, “How do you know the Book of Mormon is true?” He answered, with a contagious zeal, “I just know, that I know, that I know! I prayed about it and felt God’s peace — a peace that Satan cannot imitate — and I knew that God was telling me that the Book of Mormon was true!”

But can I trust his feelings? Watch these three short testimonials about how people feel about reading the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Quran:

All three of these people “just know” that their religious text is correct, because of how it makes them feel and how it has changed their lives for the better.

But if these religions are mutually exclusive (i.e. you’re not allowed to be all three), then what some of these people “just know” must be “just wrong.”

At least two of these men (and possibly all three) are being mislead by their feelings. This tells me that I can’t trust my own feelings when it comes to religious matters, because it can be logically demonstrated that feelings suck at determining real truth.

Are you certain you’re certain?

And there are other, more philosophical, problems with having certainty about God’s existence. 

According to Hebrews 11:6, it is impossible to please God without faith. If we are absolutely convinced, can we still please God? Is our free will destroyed once we obtain this high level of certainty?

Also, is it possible to “just know” something and then un-know it? There are former Christians, pastors, preachers, priests, etc. who also once “just knew” that God existed, yet these convictions didn’t prevent them from later concluding otherwise. 

“If God isn’t giving me this message, then why do I feel so strongly that he exists?”

These feelings may exist and persist for a number of reasons:

1) Natural selection may favor the religious brain

Geneticist Dean Hamer postulates that a more religious disposition can be be triggered by a single God gene, which seems, to me, like a bit of an oversimplification. However, there may be something to his idea that spiritually minded individuals are favored by natural selection (an idea first postulated by Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man).

Inheritable traits that foster empathy, compassion, cooperation, optimism, and an ability to learn, may have helped us to survive, but they may have also made us more susceptible to adopting any religious dogmas that happened to be a part of our culture. This ability and willingness to embrace communal and cultural thinking (religious or otherwise) may have helped to ensure our survival.

“The human mind evolved to believe in the gods.  It did not evolve to believe in biology.”
~ Edward O. Wilson

2) Cultural indoctrination

If we are raised from childhood to believe that something called “God” exists, that perception becomes our reality.

If our entire worldview is wrapped around the idea of God, it can be a difficult idea to erase. Years of indoctrination, repetition, Sunday school classes, sermons, Christian schools, emotional songs, the perception of answered prayers and religious experiences, and even casual conversations about God, can all serve to reinforce the conclusion that God must exist.

Eventually, we come to “just know” God exists because our brains are hardwired to believe it. And because this idea cannot be easily disproved (which shouldn’t be mistaken for actual evidence), the idea is not readily dispelled.

These literal wrinkles in our brain are not easily overwritten, and won’t be, unless we willfully and actively seek out alternative explanations. However, doing so goes against our instinct to conform to cultural beliefs, and so we may feel uncomfortable about rebelling against our culture, and possibly against God himself.

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.
~ Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain, 2012

On a loosely related note, our cultures teach us many things that we just take for granted. For example, we all “just know” that words like “shit” and “fuck” are “bad” words. But what makes these words any worse than words like “poop” or “sex”? Nothing really, they’re only bad because someone in our history decided they were, and eventually everyone came to accept it. But the opposite could’ve just as easily been true; “shit” and “fuck” could’ve become the socially acceptable terms, while words like “poop” or “sex” may have become curse words. When we are raised to believe certain things, we can feel strongly that we “just know” they are true, but this has more to do with how our brains were programmed than what may actually be true. 

3) When it comes to God, we may be thinking intuitively, not analytically

New research suggests that people who rely more heavily on intuitive kinds of thinking are more prone to draw religious conclusions than those who rely on analytic thinking. The Huffington Post reports:

Psychologists often carve thinking into two broad categories: intuitive thinking, which is fast and effortless (instantly knowing whether someone is angry or sad from the look on her face, for example); and analytic thinking, which is slower and more deliberate (and used for solving math problems and other tricky tasks). Both kinds of thinking have their strengths and weaknesses, and they often seem to interfere with one another. “Recently there’s been an emerging consensus among [researchers] … that a lot of religious beliefs are grounded in intuitive processes,” says Will Gervais, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada and a co-author of the new study, published today in Science.

One example comes from a study by neuroscientist and philosopher Joshua Greene and colleagues at Harvard University, published last September in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. They asked hundreds of volunteers recruited online to answer three questions with appealingly intuitive answers that turn out to be wrong. For example, “A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” Although $0.10 comes easily to mind (it’s the intuitive answer), it takes some analytical thought to come up with the correct answer of $0.05. People who chose more intuitive answers on these questions were more likely to report stronger religious beliefs, even when the researchers controlled for IQ, education, political leanings, and other factors.

In short, nature readies the brain to learn from and conform to social norms; our cultures then define what these norms are, and our brains embrace these ideals, especially when they can protect us and are not easily disproved. We come to intuitively “know” that God exists because that is what our brain has been programmed to believe.


While it may be possible to prove the existence of special knowledge, such claims have never met the burden of proof. While many (but not all) diverse cultures did believe in gods, this may have been an obvious deduction (evolution was not nearly as obvious). And beyond the initial consensus that they were created, these cultures had no idea who did it, and they don’t share any other universal beliefs that could not also be reasonably deduced.

Meanwhile, we can demonstrate that our feelings and intuitions suck at revealing other hidden truths, and religious truths.

The bottom line is that feelings are not reliable evidence when it comes to determining truth; if they were, we wouldn’t need science, or juries — we would always “just know” the truth! The inherent danger in assuming you “just know” anything is that it hinders you from learning any more about it, and developing a more fully informed opinion.

Instead of saying, “I know God exists,” it’s probably more accurate to say, “I strongly believe that God exists,” or “I have faith that God exists.” But as Friedrich Nietzsche said, “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

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