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Petitionary prayer, put simply, is a type of prayer where a believer specifically asks ‘God’ to intervene in a situation and change the course of events.

prayer_thumb2

Here is a nice response by a person called Wilstar in the comments section of the article “Governors Urged to Observe National Day of Prayer, Ignore Threats” appearing the Christian Post online, with regards to the apparent futility of petitionary prayer:

Petitionary prayer can’t work anyway and I can prove it. Not by relying on empirical evidence, which also shows that prayer doesn’t work, but by the bible itself. It goes like this: Christians claim that God has a divine plan. The bible also says that the will of God will be done. His divine plan is consistent with his will. So if you pray for something that is already God’s will, the prayer will be answered, but even if you had not prayed for it it would be done if it is the will of God, Regardless of your prayer, God’s will will be done, so why pray? Does prayer change God’s mind? It can’t if God has a divine plan, unless he changes His divine plan, and if he does that for prayer, then his plan is totally capricious. Therefore, prayer doesn’t work by the rules of the bible.

The notion of petitionary prayer does indeed contradict any idea of the omniscience of ‘God’. It is strange that most Christians do not realise this. Their philosophers, however, do recognise that there are serious problems with it:

There is certainly something very strange about the idea of God changing his mind. As God is omniscient, every decision that he makes he makes in light of all of the facts; there cannot arise any new information that God failed to take into account that might cause him to revise his decision. God, then, should never change his mind.

This means that telling God of our needs and asking him to meet them is a waste of time; God is fully aware both of our needs and of our desires, and will have taken them into account in making his original decision. Whatever decision he has made, whether it is in our favour or not, we should not question; our judgement as to what God should do will surely be inferior to his, and so we should let him get on with doing what he is going to do.

It therefore seems that Christians ought not to pray petitionary prayers. Prayers of worship and adoration are understandable, of course, but requests for divine intervention seem to be futile; whatever God is going to do he will do, whatever he is not he will not. Our prayers won’t change that.

[See: Problems With Petitionary Prayer]

So petitionary prayer is a waste of time!

…not that there’s any good reason to think a ‘God’ even exists, in the first place.

Just sayin’


Related Posts:

I’m a big fan of the Atheist Experience TV Show. I normally listen to the podcast version, every week.

This past week, Christian apologist Ray Comfort (famous for the wrong reasons) called into the Atheist Experience Show to have a chat with hosts Matt Dilluhunty and Russell Glasser.

(Download the audio version here)

An interesting discussion ensured, with Comfort displaying his usual ignorance of the theory of evolution, and trotting out fallacy after fallacy. Matt and Russell have a field day correcting him of his many misconceptions about atheism, the theory of evolution, and other things. The conversation remained civil the whole time, though.

Enjoy.

Homeopathy Homeopathy

AcupunctureAcupuncture

 

Reflexology chart 

Reflexology

On Freethinkers’ Night this month, we’re going to tackle Alternative Medicine.

From Wikipedia:

In Western culture, alternative medicine is any healing practice "that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine",or "that which has not been shown consistently to be effective." In some instances, it is based on historical or cultural traditions, rather than a scientific (e.g. evidence-based) basis. Critics assert that the terms “complementary” and “alternative medicine” are deceptive euphemisms meant to give an impression of medical authority.Richard Dawkins has stated that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t work."

The American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) studies examples including naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, meditation,yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, and nutritional-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices.

One common criticism of alternative medicine from the scientific community is that many of these therapies tend to show results no different from what you would get by administering placebos. (A placebo is a substance containing no medication and prescribed or given to reinforce a patient’s expectation to get well.)

Placebos do not have any direct pharmacological effect on a patient, and is often given to the control group in experiments when testing the efficacy of a drug during clinical trials:

In one common placebo procedure, however, a patient is given an inert pill, told that it may improve his/her condition, but not told that it is in fact inert. Such an intervention may cause the patient to believe the treatment will change his/her condition; and this belief may produce a subjective perception of a therapeutic effect, causing the patient to feel their condition has improved. This phenomenon is known as the placebo effect.

See: Placebo

The scientific approach to evaluating the pharmacological efficacy of a drug or particular medical treatment is by subjecting it to randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies, whose results should be published in a journal. The studies should then be replicated by independent parties, in order to corroborate the results.

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE IN UGANDA

Traditional Medicine:

Many forms of alternative medicine thrive in Uganda. The most obvious one is, of course, traditional herbal medicine.

herbalist

There seems to be some good scientific evidence that some of these herbal remedies actually work, for example those used in the treatment of malaria.

In Uganda there exists an organisation that speaks on behalf of all traditional healers in Uganda, known as, the National Council of Traditional Healers and Herbalists Association of Uganda (NACOTHA). From their website:

A large proportion of the population in a number of developing countries, still rely on traditional practitioners including traditional midwives, herbalists and bone-setters, and on local medicinal plants to satisfy their primary health care needs. In Uganda, there is at least one traditional health practitioner for every 200-400 people compared to one orthodox medical practitioner for every 10,000 people. The World Health Organization estimates that traditional midwives assist in up to 95% of all rural births and 70% of urban births in developing countries. The reason for such reliance on traditional medicine is its accessibility and affordability in comparison with allopathic medicine.  Eighty percent of the population in Uganda will resort to traditional medical practitioners for their health problems because of its cost effectiveness, local availability, and synergistic activities. Moreover, not only can traditional medicine be properly used in cases of communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and in maternal health through traditional midwifery, it also plays a role in this country where people are becoming affected by non-communicable, chronic illnesses and diseases, such as type II diabetes and high blood pressure as the result of adopting a western lifestyle. Therefore, a correct use of such therapies and practices could very well lead to the self-socioeconomic and cultural development of African people worldwide.Traditional healers, encouraged and sensitized by NACOTHA are now documenting and recording their findings on medicinal plants, disease prevention, management and research.

There is, unfortunately, a thin line between practicing herbal medicine and mysticism/divination (sometimes referred to as juju, or witchcraft), with many local herbal mediciners known to be dabbling in the latter from time to time to complement their herbal business. The unfortunate result of this blurring of the lines is that, on account of certain herbal medicines registering some effectiveness in dealing with certain ailments, unsuspecting people will also go on to believe the more outlandish claims of mystical power made by these practitioners.

Seemingly cognizant of this fact, an organisation called Uganda Traditional Healers Association (it is not clear if they are they are affiliated to NACOTHA), in 2008, called on the government to come up with a regulatory policy that would require “all traditional healers are registered by address and specialty in order to avoid activities of masqueraders.”

It would appear from this that the herbalists would like the public, and especially the government, to see a distinction between their activities and those of the mystics/diviners. This distinction, sadly, is never really clear, and many Ugandans often take it for granted that the two are the same. This can be seen from what we ourselves witnessed recently, when a diviner was invited to help someone catch a car thief. The diviner in question did use herbs as part of his ‘magical’ concoction.

The correlation between traditional herbal medicine and divination therefore remains very strong in the minds of many in Uganda, and much of Africa.

Ambilikile Mwasapile:

On a related note, a faith healer in Loliondo (Tanzania) called Ambilikile Mwasapile, is currently making news headlines for serving a mysterious herbal concoction to thousands of desperate people, and allegedly curing them from all manner of diseases.

Ambilikile Mwasapile

loliondo4 Thousands line up in queues stretching over 20 miles to be treated by Mwasapile

The exposure that this retired Evangelical Lutheran pastor has received in the local media has prompted many Ugandans to consider crossing the border into Tanzania in order to receive treatment from him.

According to the Tanzanian Minister of Health, tests are now being conducted to see if Mwasapile’s herbal concoction has any medicinal properties.

Reflexology:

Just last week, Uganda’s Ministry of Health, outlawed a form of alternative medical therapy known as reflexology. The New Vision reports:

The Government has ordered the closure of reflexology centres all over the country. It has also banned reflexology practitioners and quacks who call themselves doctors and professors and administer herbal concoctions to patients.

The report goes into the reasons that went into banning reflexology:

Announcing the ban yesterday, health minister Dr. Stephen Mallinga said a study had shown that practices in the reflexology centres could be putting unsuspecting patients’ lives at risk.

Reflexology is a physical technique of applying pressure to reflex points on the feet and hands using thumb, finger and hand without the use of oil or lotion.
Though the ministry does not know the actual number of reflexology centres in the country, it said they were estimated to be over 100.

Mallinga said the study had also discovered that those practicing reflexology were not trained, used medical tools they had no knowledge of and claimed to treat all ailments, including cancer.

He said many perform procedures, including enema and drawing blood, which he said, could endanger a patient’s life through perforation of the intestines and spread HIV/AIDS.

The minister added that many deaths could be attributed to those practicing reflexology because they delayed patients from seeking proper medical health care with promises of curing them.

Well done, Dr. Mallinga and team!

But please don’t stop there. Medical quackery runs rife in Uganda!

hips enlargement    manhood enlargement 

Strange signs like these are all over the streets of Kampala

And then there is the (in)famous Bio Disk:Bio DiscJoin us on Thursday

Many people, out of desperation, are trying out all kinds of unconventional medical modalities in order to recover from various illnesses afflicting them. In this month’s Freethinkers’ Night, we want to look at the viability of alternative forms of medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, traditional herbal medicine, herbal food supplements, the bio-disk, and others.

Do they work? Are they all a sham? What does the scientific literature say?

How should we be evaluating the testimonies of those who claim to have benefited from such treatments to know if they are true?

All these and related issues will be explored at this month’s meeting.

If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are welcome to join us at the meeting.

The March 2011 Freethinkers’ Night is going to take place on Thursday, 31st March at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.


Worth reading:

Worth checking out:

tissotresurrection_thumb4_thumb114This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.

Christian apologists are known for arguing for the authenticity and reliability of the bible based on the existence of alleged prophecy fulfilments – that is, that things predicted in the bible have come to pass. We are often asked to accept Jesus as the divine ‘Messiah’ on account of numerous prophecies and predictions in the Old Testament that purportedly attained fulfilment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Such prophecies are called Messianic Prophecies.

The Septuagint as Reference: 

One fact that is not in dispute by biblical historians is that the writers of the New Testament all had access to the SEPTUAGINT (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated in stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE).

The gospels were all originally written in Greek, and the writers of the canonical gospels used the Septuagint as their point of reference for the old Jewish writings, and were thus able to‘manufacture’ prophecy fulfilments, as they composed their accounts of the life of Jesus. Having the Septuagint at their disposal, they were free to pick and choose what messianic prophecies they could from the Old Testament, and mould their accounts of Jesus to fit the archetype of the anticipated Jewish Messiah.

The writer of the gospel according to Matthew, as with all the others, often exploited old scripture to authenticate his ‘Jesus’. Scholars agree that Matthew’s gospel was targeted at a Jewish audience, which is why he, more than any other gospel author, repeatedly goes to great lengths to prove the messiahship of Jesus by attempting to demonstrate parallels between the old messianic prophecies and his account of the life of Jesus.

He begins is gospel with a highly suspicious, and highly disputed genealogy of Jesus (which contradicts Luke’s), attempting to prove to his Jewish audience that Jesus was in fact descended from King David (the Jewish Messiah was expected to be descended from the line of King David, after all).

He can also be seen employing such phrases as:

Matthew’s technique, as is apparent, was to look for messianic prophecies in the Septuagint, and create events in his account of the life of Jesus that could demonstrate fulfilments of these same prophecies. He could then turn to the Jews, whom his gospel was written for, point to the ‘prophecy fulfilments’ in his narrative and make a case for why the Messiah had to be Jesus. Anyone with a copy of the Hebrew Old Testament for reference, and a bit of imagination, can just as easily compose such stories and attempt to authenticate them using this same technique.

There is nothing supernatural going on here.

The writer of Matthew does this throughout his gospel, even to the extent of cutting and pasting from Psalms 22:1 in order to show prophecy fulfilment in his account of Jesus’ famous last words in which he says, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Never mind that this makes no sense whatsoever; for if Jesus is ‘God’, why is he pleading with himself? And since he was aware of the divine plan, and kept telling his disciples he was going to die and be raised from the dead, what was he complaining about? By trying to beef up his gospel with manufactured ‘prophecy fulfilments’ such as these, he sacrificed the internal logic of his account of Jesus’ death.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies?

Incidentally, it is also possible that this character called Jesus, if he actually existed, modelled his life to match the messianic prophecies well known in his day by anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey

But since the only accounts of the life of this character are found in the gospels, we can’t know for sure that the events described in them even happened. Corroboration from neutral, contemporaneous, third-party sources would be required to lend credence to these stories. Such corroboration, however, does not exist.

The Isaiah Prophecy:

baby jesus

On what is regarded by Christians to be the most significant messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, Matthew writes in his first chapter (KJV):

(20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

(21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

(22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

(23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Here, the prophet that Matthew was quoting from was Isaiah. Isaiah wrote in Chapter 7 Verse 14:

(14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The word virgin, as it appears in the King James Version of Isaiah 7:14, is a mistranslation of the word ‘almah’, which appears in the original Hebrew texts. The Greek translators mis-translated almah, which in Hebrew means ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden’, as ‘parthenos’, which literally means ‘virgin’ in Greek. The writer of Matthew then applied this mistranslation in his gospel to imply prophetic fulfilment in Jesus being born of a virgin. [This mistranslation remains in many older versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version. However it has since been corrected in later Bible versions such as the Revised Standard Version, and the Good News Bible, where it ‘almah’ has been correctly translated as‘young woman’]

Had Isaiah intended to say ‘virgin’, he would have used, instead of almah, the word ‘betulah’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘virgin’. It can be seen in several other Old Testament passages where when the writers, including Isaiah, intended to refer to a virgin, they used the word betulah:

Genesis 24:16, Exodus 22:15, Exodus 22:16, Lev. 21:3, Lev. 21:13 & 14, Deut. 22:19, Deut. 22:23, Deut. 22:28, Deut. 32:25, Judges 19:24, Judges 21:12 , 2 Samuel 13:2, 2 Samuel 13:18, 1 Kings 1:2, 2 Kings 19:21, Isaiah 23:4, Isaiah 23:12, Isaiah 37:22, Isaiah 47:1,Isaiah 62:5, Jer. 14:17, Jer. 18:13, Jer. 31:3, Jer. 31:12, Jer. 31:20,Jer. 46:11, Ezekiel 44:22, Joel 1:8, Amos 5:2, Amos 8:13, Psalms 45:15, Psalms 78:63, Lam. 1:4, Lam. 1:15, Lam. 1:18, Lam. 2:10,Lam. 2:13, Lam. 2:21, Esther 2:2, Esther 2:3, Esther 2:17, Esther 2:19.

Matthew’s reference to the Isaiah prophecy was therefore erroneous. When you look at the correct Hebrew translation of the text, the woman Isaiah was referring to in his prophecy was not a virgin, but a young woman.

Furthermore, this specific prophecy made in Isaiah 7:14 was, according to the bible, fulfilled during the life time of King Ahaz, for whom the prophecy was originally intended.

To understand this, we must first look at the passages before and after Isaiah 7:14 to appreciate the context in which the prophecy was made:

Isaiah 7:1-13:

(1) When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

(2) Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

(3) Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub,[b] to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.

(4) Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

(5) Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying,

(6) “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”

(7) Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘It will not take place, it will not happen,

(8) for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

(9) The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’”

(10) Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz,

(11) “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

(12) But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

(13) Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?

THEN you get the famous Isaiah 7:14 passage:

(14) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The young woman will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

But the prophecy does not stop there. It continues into the next several verses; Isaiah 7:15-25:

(15) He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right,

(16) for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

(17) The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

(18) In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.

(19) They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes.

(20) In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also.

(21) In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats.

(22) And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey.

(23) In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns.

(24) Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns.

(25) As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.

It is quite obvious that the prophecy was directed at King Ahaz, and was pertinent to his situation at the time, not some kind of prediction about a future ‘messiah’. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the ‘prophecy’ appears to have been fulfilled in the lifetime of King Ahaz, according to the bible itself:

(29) In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.

(30) And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.

and..

(5) Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.

(6) At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.

(7) So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me.

(8) And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.

(9) And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.

Double Prophecy?

Interestingly, in order to explain this anomaly, some Christian apologists argue that this was double prophecy, foreshadowing both the fate of Israel against its hostile neighbours during the rein of King Ahaz, and also the birth of the messiah. In making this claim, however, apologists unfortunately create another dilemma for themselves – for if it was a double prophecy:

  • were there TWO virgin births?
  • did the Messiah eat curds and honey when he knew enough to reject the wrong and choose the right? Or did he not know enough to reject the wrong and choose the right prior to the time the land of whichever two kinds were laid to waste? (As per the continuation of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:15-16)

By invoking double prophecy to escape the fact that the prophecy was already fulfilled in the time of Ahaz, apologists will end up having to cherry-pick verses in the Isaiah prophecy they imagine support the gospel narrative while neglecting the ones that would result in absurdities if accepted as having been fulfilled. For if they were to accept the notion that there was a time that Jesus did not know enough to reject the wrong and right (which would be the result if double prophecy is to be applied consistently) then that would render the omniscience or the eternal divine nature of Jesus refuted.

And that is exactly what apologists do – cherry-pick Isaiah 7:14, declare that a prophecy fulfilled only in as far as a virgin birth is concerned, and then pretend the rest of the chapter is non-existent or irrelevant.

So then did Isaiah’s prophecy partly come true, at least as far as Ahaz was concerned?

Throughout this post I’ve been analyzing the bible for its own internal consistency – that is, to see if the bible is consistent within itself. We have seen that even accepting, for the sake of argument, that Isaiah really made that prophecy, it cannot be said to have been about Jesus, because according the bible’s own narrative, that prophecy fulfilment occurred in the life time of King Ahaz, approximately 700 years before Jesus was born.

As it is, there is no extra-biblical evidence that the prophecy fulfilments described in the second book of Kings actually happened.

To make things even more interesting, the book of Chronicles tells us the opposite of what Isaiah prophesied is what actually happened:

(1) was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father:

(2) For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.

(3) Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.

(4) He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.

(5) Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.

(6) For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.

So, as opposed to the second book of kings that says…

Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.…  2 Kings 16:5 

…we are told in Chronicles that…

…Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.… 2 Chronicles 28:5-6

…which is a clear contradiction.

So not only do we lack extra-biblical evidence in support of the events described in the prophecies of Isaiah and their ‘fulfilments’ as described in the second book of Kings – we also have the bible flatly contradicting itself in its description of these same events that Christian apologists claim is a fulfilment of one half of a ‘double prophecy’.

As far as the Jesus story is concerned, the book of Isaiah, and its (failed) prophecy is completely irrelevant. It has simply been distorted to suit the needs of Christian propagandists – starting with the author of the gospel according to Matthew, to your modern-day apologist.


Related Posts:

tissotresurrection_thumb4_thumb[11]This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.

Jesus Christ

Christians believe that about 2,000 years ago a Jewish teacher called Yeshua (Jesus) roamed across Palestine healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, making the crippled walk and raising at least one man from the dead. It is also believed that he himself was raised from the dead after he was crucified by Romans.

Famed Christian apologist William Lane Craig offers the following reasons as to why he thinks the gospels should be assumed to be reliable until proven wrong:

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.

2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends." Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the "vanishing hitchhiker" rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.

3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.

5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.

From: The Evidence for Jesus

The few historians of antiquity who are claimed to have written about Jesus include Josephus Flavius (93AD), Pliny (110AD),Suetonius (110AD) and Tacitus (107AD). The writings of these historians are often presented by apologists as extra-biblical confirmation of the accounts of the gospels. There are many reasons as to why these writings do not constitute evidence of the reliability of the gospels (see: Examining The Extra-Biblical Evidence for Jesus).

It is on the basis of the alleged ‘reliability’ of the gospels (as claimed by Christian apologists), and the writings of the aforementioned historians which mention Jesus, that Christians believe that Jesus Christ not only existed, but was also divine, as the gospels suggest.

Sathya Sai Baba:

Let me now introduce you Sathya Sai Baba… 

sathya sai babaAccording to Wikipedia:

Sathya Sai Baba , born Sathyanarayana Raju on 23 November 1926, is a popular, South Indian guru,spiritual figure and educator. He is described by his devotees as an avatar, godman, spiritual teacher and miracle worker. The apparent materializing of vibuthi (holy ash) and small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches by Sathya Sai Baba has been a source of both fame and controversy – skeptics consider these simple conjuring tricks, while devotees consider them evidence of divinity. Sathya Sai Baba has claimed to be the reincarnation of the great spiritual guru, Sai Baba of Shirdi, whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.

There is no real reason to doubt the existence of Sathya Sai Baba. He is very much alive today, with tens of millions of followers in over 178 countries:

 

Some of the alleged miracles attributed to him include:

  • Magically materialising a surgical knife out of thin air, and performing an appendectomy on a patient (link)
  • Demonstrating omnipresence (link)
  • Healing a crippled boy (link)
  • Performing a delivery on a pregnant woman in her dreams, only for her to wake up to find beautiful twins by her bedside (link)
  • Brings a man back to life (link)

Many, many more independent accounts of purported miracles of Sathya Sai Baba can be found here, here, here, and here – and there is no shortage of devotees alive today claiming to have been first hand witnesses to his miraculous acts.

But is there any reason to believe that these claims are true?

Fortunately, some have taken the trouble to investigate these claims and have found them to be fraudulent:

 

Even in an age of advanced scientific knowledge, and the availability of digital technology to capture and analyse images (like the above video), there are millions who believe in the miracle claims of Sathya Sai Baba despite there being no record of him performing the alleged miracles under controlled conditions.

If people can be this credulous today, despite there being in existence the tools to verify claims of alleged magic (which has so far never been demonstrated to be real) – imagine how much more credulous people must have been 2000 years ago, around the times the gospels were written.

Applying the same standards of evidence:

Here is a recap of Craig’s reasons for accepting the reliability of the gospels (inane as they are), contrasted with how they could equally be used to defend the claims of divinity of Sathya Sai Baba:

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts.

Well, Sathya Sai Baba is alive today. And so are his followers who claim to be ‘witnessing’ his alleged miracles even today.

2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends."

Again, Sathya Sai Baba is alive today. And so are his followers who claim to be ‘witnessing’ his alleged miracles even today.

3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable.

Stories of Sathya Sai Baba’s life have been covered by the BBC, which has a reputation for being fairly reliable by today’s rigorous standards. It certainly has a more highly developed method of transmission of its information (electronic and digital), than the Jews did 2000 years ago!

4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision.

First of all, there is no way of verifying this.

Secondly, the apostles of Jesus are not disinterested third-parties, but stake-holders in the popularisation and propagation of a religious tradition. Supervision by the apostles is precisely what would lead to embellishment of stories of Jesus, and that is what we see when the gospels are examined. Embellished accounts of Santhya Sai Baba’s life are also exactly what we are getting from his followers today, many of whom claim to have witnessed Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles themselves, first-hand.

5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.

How so? This is ridiculous. 97% of Mark’s Gospel is duplicated in Matthew; and 88% is found in Luke. The Gospel of Mark, meanwhile, was written 40 years after the events it describes, and there is no knowledge of where the author of Mark (by the way all the canonical gospels are anonymous, with the names ascribed to them later, arbitrarily, by the Church) got his information from.

Compare this with Sathya Sai Baba, meanwhile, whose exploits have been reported by people who are still alive today, who can be contacted for more information or corroboration.

We can even go talk to the man himself if we have to, so the ‘historical reliability’ of the accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s magical exploits aren’t an issue at all.

consistency

Going by the standards of evidence Christian apologists are willing to use in defense of the divinity of Jesus, if they are consistent, they would also have to conclude that Sathya Sai Baba is who his followers believe he is… a ‘Godman’…

But of course we don’t believe that Sathya sai Baba is a ‘Godman’, and nor can any rational person. By the same token, we can’t believe in the divinity of Jesus either. The reason is simple. The evidence being offered is simply not good enough.

As a critical thinker, when faced with a claim, before accepting it to be true, one must float as many possible explanations for that claim. These proposed explanations must then be analysed to see which one is most consistent with the available evidence. Out of all the possible explanations, the one that is best supported by the available evidence is the one that should be deemed the most likely one.

As it is, claims of this nature (miracles by religious figures) have many possible explanations… fraud, misinterpretation, superstition, etc.. which are much more likely, when compared to supernatural explanations for them. We have numerous verified instances of religious fraud. We have numerous verified instances of people being mistaken about phenomena they thought were supernatural. We have numerous verified instances of superstitions flourishing and growing into religious movements. But we do NOT have verified instances of supernatural events occurring in the world.

Conclusion:

Maybe there was a man called Yeshua 2,000 years ago roaming through Palestine antagonising the Romans and religious elites of his day with highly controversial socio-political views. As far as we know there were many such people in the region during that time, and he could have been one of them. But to say this person, if he existed, also performed miracles, walked on water, and rose from the dead, is another matter altogether.

Fictitious magical stories are told/written all the time about people who have existed historically (or exist even today), just like the examples we’ve seen of Sathya Sai Baba, and others. 

For claims of the divinity of Jesus and Sathya Sai Baba to be taken seriously, the quality of evidence should be exceptionally good. Hearsay (i.e. unsubstantiated claims) from the followers of the the people in question cannot suffice – even if reports of such hearsay appear in the news.

And because hearsay is all we have, we are justified in not taking the claims of the divinity of either Jesus or Sathya Sai Baba seriously.


UPDATE: Sathya Sai Baba died on Sunday April 24th 2011.


Related Posts:

tissotresurrection_thumb4This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.

roman empireThe Roman Empire

The following are names of some of the Roman historians of antiquity who lived in and around the Mediterranean region, including some of the very places that Jesus and his apostles are said to have moved about.

Not a single one of these historians ever even mentions the existence of Jesus Christ, a man who was supposedly performing miraculous wonders and drawing crowds by the thousands, inciting the Jewish populace, aggravating the Roman authorities, and resurrecting from the dead. For if there were such a man, and he did the things the gospel writers claimed he did, is it possible for him to have gone unmentioned in Roman records? It is noteworthy that Jesus is not even mentioned anywhere in the official Roman historical records of the events in Palestine during the time of he is said to have existed.

As such, there are no contemporaneous (i.e. within his life time) historical records of Jesus.

The only historical records in existence having to do with Jesus were written several decades after the events of the life of Jesus as alleged in the gospels. The funny thing is, those records aren’t even really about Jesus at all, but about the followers of a Jewish religious sect that came to be known as “Christians”, in the Roman Empire. 

The few historians of antiquity to whom writings about this Jewish sect have been attributed include Josephus Flavius (93AD), Pliny (110AD),Suetonius (110AD) and Tacitus (107AD). The writings of these historians are, strangely, presented by apologists as extra-biblical confirmation of the accounts of the gospels.

Josephus Flavius:

Josephus’ passage regarding Jesus is part of his historical document entitled ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ which he wrote in 93AD (over fifty years from the time of the supposed life of Jesus). From this document is derived the famous passage, known as Testimonium Flavianum. It reads:

About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvelous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.

(Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3)

There are two reasons why this passage cannot be treated as proof of Jesus’ existence, or proof of the veracity of the gospel accounts of this person called Jesus (assuming he existed).

First of all, being a document written well over half a century after the events of the gospels, Josephus writes not as an eye-witness of the supposed events, but as someone simply reporting the fact that there existed people who were called Christians, and that they believed in a resurrected Jesus. He is reporting what he has heard regarding Jesus, from the early Christians. No one disputes that in the first century there were Christians in the Roman Empire. What is in dispute is whether what early Christians were saying about a person named Jesus is true or not, which Josephus cannot, and is in no position to corroborate.

For example, imagine receiving a letter from your cousin in Nairobi that says:

Hi Gerald, Nairobi is the same as always. Oh, guess what? Last week an American evangelist was in Mombasa. People saw Jesus standing right next to him throughout his crusade…

The cousin who is writing this letter is clearly not an eye-witness, and is merely reporting what he has heard. Therefore when he says people saw Jesus standing next to the preacher – it cannot be regarded as fact – but merely hearsay. The same can be said of the Josephus passage. The same can also be said of those that Josephus heard about Jesus from, for even they could not have been eye-witnesses to the events themselves, but were only reciting what they had also heard from tradition.

Secondly, one needs to look no further than the Catholic Encyclopedia. It says of Josephus Flavius, regarding Testimonium Flavianum, ‘the passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations. (Interpolations are later insertions made by other writers to an original text). In other words, even the Catholic Church concedes that this complementary passage about Jesus in Josephus’ document, were added on later by Christians. Its authenticity has been disputed since the 17th century, and by the mid 18th century the consensus view was that it was a forgery.

Suetonius:

In Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Roman Historian Suetonius (c. 69–140) wrote about riots which broke out in the Jewish community in Rome under the Emperor Claudius:

"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome"

Here, Suetonius is describing events that took place about 30 years after Jesus’ death. He himself was not even born by then.

No one disputes that in the first century there were Christians in the Roman Empire. What is in dispute is whether what early Christians were saying about a person named Jesus is true or not, which Suetonius cannot, and is in no position to corroborate.

Tacitus:

Tacitus writing c. 116, included in his Annals a mention of Christianity and Christ. In describing Nero’s persecution of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome, he wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt [of starting the blaze] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius [14-37] at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

This passage is from a document written in the second century, over 70 years since the time Jesus is said to have been killed. Again, similar to the passages of Josephus and Suetonius, Tacitus is simply reporting the fact that there existed Christians, and how they got their name. He says, ‘Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin….’. This cannot be used as evidence that the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are true, but rather as evidence that there were people at the time who believed in someone they claimed to be called the Christ, and from whom the term ‘Christian’ was derived.

No one disputes that in the first century there were Christians in the Roman Empire. What is in dispute is whether what early Christians were saying about a person named Jesus is true or not, which Tacitus cannot, and is in no position to corroborate.

Pliny the Younger:

In a letter to Emperor Trajan (who ruled the Roman Empire from the year 98 to 117), Roman lawyer, magistrate, and author Pliny wrote:

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

Even though there seem to be reports on the activities of the early Christians by these historians, it cannot be assumed that the Christian tradition required a historical Jesus to have actually lived in order for it to exist. Otherwise by virtue of the fact that there also exists in the historical record traditions of the worship of pagan gods Horus, Zeus, Perseus, Hercules, Osiris,Dionysus, Attis and Mithras – these pagan gods were real also, and must have existed.

OsirisOsiris

Of course, no one today believes that these gods ever existed, or exist today in reality – and with good reason.

There isn’t evidence to justify such beliefs.

While it is, in principle, possible that a socially and politically controversial Jew called Yeshua or Jesus existed, had followers during that period, and died at the hands of the Romans (there were many such individuals and movements in the region during that time in history), it still wouldn’t mean the stories about him written in the gospels are true.

Even in this day and age there are numerous alleged ‘first-hand eye-witness accounts’ of miracles performed by ‘Godmen’ and witchdoctors (see: Jesus Christ vs. Sathya Sai Baba and The Banda Witchcraft Saga) but we do not believe them to be true, with good reason. The reason being that we are aware of the human propensity to lie, fabricate (whole or in part), exaggerate, misreport, misrepresent, misinterpret, mythologize, etc.. and the evidence at hand simply isn’t sufficient to rule these out, in favour of a supernatural explanation.

In fact, the evidence available points to the strong likelihood that stories like these are the result of either lies, fabrications (whole or in part), exaggerations, misreporting, misrepresentation, misinterpretation, mythologizing, etc.. rather than anything supernatural.

Issue of Historicity:

The majority of biblical scholars believe that there was a man called Jesus who existed, though they do not think he was divine. The most common theory among bible scholars today is that Jesus was a teacher of some kind, and there are others who consider him to have been an apocalyptic prophet. The minority view among bible scholars is that the Jesus depicted in the gospels is the actual Jesus.

More here.

Conclusion:

The most we can learn from what these Roman historians (Josephus, et al) wrote is that there existed a Jewish religious sect that came to be known as “Christians” during the first and second centuries. History tells us that there is nothing particularly unusual about this, as there were several other Jewish religious sects also making waves at the time.


Related Posts:

… and what Freethought Kampala is doing about it.

Click to view larger, read-able, imageThe online version of the article can be found here. (You can also click the above image to view a larger, read-able, version)

Well done Hassan!

Freethought Kampala

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