Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Augustine on Genesis

Well, I was going to write a post about the Genesis story of creation, but I thought, what the heck. Let St. Augustine do the talking for me.

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "'they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.'"

- St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Bounds of Credulity

When discussing the historical reliablity of the Bible, the first and most obvious issue revolves around the supernatural. Unfortunately, it can also be the most difficult issue to resolve; most of these supernatural events were small scale and would leave no traces behind in any extra-biblical sources. The Biblical literalist is armed with an airtight defense: "God did it". The strangest events - such as Joshua praying for the sun to stop - can be explained and defended from this position. God is God. He can stop the sun. Umm... Earth. I'm sure the perfectly inspired and totally inerrant author of Joshua meant to say "Joshua stopped the Earth" when he wrote Joshua stopped the sun. It's odd how human perspective could over ride the physical truth in a 100% divinely inspired document. But nevermind that.

There are, however, at least two (and possibly three) stories that completely stretch the bounds of credulity.

The most fun of these stories is Samson killing 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Here's the NIV version.

So. Picture the situation. A supernaturally strong man. He was supposedly strong enough to knock down two pillars, destroying a large temple and killing himself the the process - so clearly he wasn't invulnerable.

There are two possible scenarios, one more belivable than the other. The first is a Neo/multiple Agent Smiths battle. In order for Samson to kill 1000 men without being injured, he would have to move like Keanu Reeves on meth. Didn't any Philistines bring along a bow? Or a slingshot? I figure after watching one guy kill 100 of my buddies, I'd start to think it was time to run away. How could one man lay hands on 1000 men, even if they couldn't fight him or hurt him? And how did the jawbone survive cracking 1000 skulls?

The second scenario relies on a dodgy interpretation of the text. It's possible that Samson killed these men over a long period - not in one single battle. This is a bit odd, however - notice that Samson is extremely thirsty afterwards, and asks for a miraculous source of water. This indicates the killings took place between two periods of rest. Also, Samson refers to it as a singular victory, not a series of them.

Maybe I'm not applying enough imagination to the story. Maybe Peter Jackson could come up with a plausible scenario?

The second story is even better. As far as I can see, it forever nails shut the coffin of literal Biblical relibility. This neat little story is Noah's Ark.

Samson's killing spree requires a cartoonish series of miracles; Noah's Ark requires a seemingly infinite number of extraordinary events that should leave one asking why God didn't use a more efficient method.

Why would God induce a catastrophic global flood, then remove all evidence of said flood, then alter the geological column to make it look like a flood was in fact impossible?

How did North American or African species get to Noah? Many of these species require specific enviroments and food. Certainly sloths in South America and koalas in Austrailia woudln't have survived the trip?

I've been told that the continents were not separated before the flood - that the flood itself began the breaking of the continents. Well, the Atlantic ocean is 1700 miles wide at its shortest point. Answers In places the flood at 2304 BC, which means the continents have had 4285 years to travel 1700 miles. The continents, apparently, could shatter any NASCAR record and still manage to stay intact.

Dinosaurs had to be onboard, too. And not dinosaur eggs - remember, Noah had to take male and female. He needed hatched specimens. Does anybody want to speculate on how Noah and sons would care for a 12 month old T-Rex?

Disease would be another problem. How many diseases can survive in a population of 8 for a full year? Would the measles have survived? I guess it's a good thing none of Noah's sons had chicken pox as children.

The number of miracles needed to make the story work is astounding. I advise everyone to look at this page, from Talk Origins. It's a huge archive of the seeminly endless problems with Noah's Ark and a global flood. The story is, in terms of a literal historical account, childishly absurd.

The third story is the Genesis creation itself, but I'm not going to get into that right now.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

3 Days, Three Concerts

3 Days, 3 Live Shows.

I suppose I should have posted this on Sunday or something, but I was just lazy.

Last week, I had the chance to see three concerts in three days. It made for an awesome weekend, and some of the most fun I've for as long as I can remember.

Thursday night, I saw Christopher at a local club, Call The Office. This was the 2nd time I've seen them live. Once the opening act - which consisted of a screaming high schooler - was over, the guys hit the stage and played some great music. The crowd size grew as they played. The Christopher song that qualifies as the most fun was an instrumental scottish reel, performed on a guitar.

If you want to hear some quality local music, look up Christopher, see when they're playing Call The Office next. And they've got a CD coming out sooner or later; I intend to buy it.

Friday night! Ah, Friday night. I saw my second Great Big Sea concert, and it was pure pleasure. The opening song, Beat The Drum, was a typical GBS crowd pleaser about how great it is to be "young and daring". The crowd, as seems to be usual, took a while to warm up. I think the turning point in the show was "Scolding Wife" - that's when the crowd really seemed to get into it.

The only regret of the night - it was too crowded. There was no room to dance, and what's a GBS concert without dancing?

Saturday night, I got my wish. Spirit of the West capped off the trinity of concerts with of all things a free show down at Harris Park. From the opening strains of "Political", I knew it was going to be a great show. They hit many of their crowd pleasers, like "Venice Is Sinking" and "This Old Sod".

Their newer material tends to be less popular with crowds; it's just not as much fun. Songs like "Be A Guy" didn't grab me at first, though the single from their newest album, "Small World", was a great rock tune.

Spirit of the West had the crowning moment of all three concerts, however. For their last song, they played "Home For A Rest." It begins with a soft instrumental of the chorus; anyone who had been sitting jumped up and ran to the front. The entire park belted out the lyrics to the chorus; then the band paused, we all took a deep breath, and the song really began. "Home" solidified its title as the most entertaining song ever written, hands down. By the third chorus, I had no breath to sing any longer. It was pure adrenaline.

So yeah, a great three days. Even if you didn't dance!