A Reasonable Atheist

a loose buckle on the bible belt

Atheist Bible Study - A Few Thoughts So Far

First of all, thank you guys very much for all your comments. Believe it or not, I am trying my best to learn something by doing all this.

One thing I have noticed people mentioning is a reference to "the truth" or "finding the truth". This is exactly what I'm after as well. However, when I say the word "truth", I can't help but thinking we are talking about something different. I can try to explain what I mean, maybe some of you can help explain what you mean.

To me, truth is what is true. What is real. For instance, I look around me at the physical world, I see rocks, trees, my computer, my hands, my house, all the real things. However, there are a ton of "unreal" things in the world, I'll list a few I don't believe in.

I don't believe in fairies, vampires, ghosts, dragons, gnomes, psychics, souls, magic (the real kind not the stage kind), Vishnu, Allah, Zeus, Spiderman, The Wizard of Oz... well, I could go on and on.

To me, these things are not "real" and are therefore, not "truth". This is the reason I cannot believe the literal stories in the Bible. However, if you are talking about something else when you say truth, if you can say something like, "In the Bible, you can find stories that teach you 'truths' that help you live your life", then I can almost buy that. However, I wouldn't use the word truth, I would most likely say "lessons", or "wisdom".

I am perfectly willing to concede that the Bible might have such things in it, that those things could be shown to be benefical to people, and that studying the Bible to learn these things is a worthwhile pursuit. However.. so far in my reading, I haven't gotten much of that. I also haven't heard any commenters bring up what the possible "lesson" to be learned from the two creation stories is.

As I move on into the stories of Cain and Able and Noah and the Ark, I have a feeling I'm going to have more questions about what "truths" these stories are supposed to be teaching. I'm hoping everyone can help me understand why people find these stories so compelling.

Again, thanks for the comments, keep the discussion going!


Atheist Bible Study - The Second Creation Story

One of the things I found out in reading Genesis, was that there are actually two creation stories. The first thing I noticed about the second one is that it seems to be written in a completely different style. It is almost as if the two stories were written by different people, and were sort of "glued" together to form the beginning of Genesis.

The second story does not follow the "7 days" approach to creation of the world, but instead quickly goes through the creation of the earth and the heavens, the animals and plants, and creation of Adam from the "dust of the ground". He also does the trick of making Eve our of Adam's rib. No messing about here, as the point of this story seems to be what happens AFTER creation.

Once man and woman are created in the Garden (naked mind you, this will be important later), the "serpent" shows up. It also tells us that God made the serpent. The serpent tells us that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a particular tree in the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So I'm going to assume that Adam and Eve do NOT know the difference between good and evil at this point. So the snake tempts Eve and she eats the fruit. So my first question is... how is Eve "tempted"? I mean, she has no idea what is 'good' or 'evil'. In fact, here we see something that seems to conflict.. The bible says...

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

So wait. She doesn't know what is good, but she can see that it's "good" for food, and that it is a "delight" to the eyes? Isn't that seeing the difference between good and evil? Let's take an apple for instance. We KNOW that an apple is pleasing to the eyes, and tastes good. In fact, BECAUSE an apple tastes good, we find images of apples pleasing. If we had no idea if an apple was good for you, or poison, we would have no opinion about the "goodness" or "badness" of an apple, the exact same state that Adam and Eve find themselves. They have no idea if eating the apple is a good thing or a bad thing. They know that God told them not too.. but how do they know God is good? How do they know the snake is evil? The point I'm trying to make here is that Adam and Eve cannot be held responsible for eating the fruit. If God doesn't give them the knowledge of good and evil, then they would not know how to behave at all. They wouldn't know who to believe or not believe. So, whose fault is it? Sounds to me like God can take the blame here, or maybe the snake... but God created the snake... it says so right in the scripture:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal hat the Lord God had made.

I guess the question becomes, is "crafty" a good thing or a evil thing? Why would God make such a crafty creature? Why would God create beings that cannot know the difference between right and wrong and then tell them NOT to do something? It seems like entrapment to me.

So anyway, Eve eats the fruit, then gives it to Adam who eats it as well. Then God gets all pissed (did he not know this was going to happen?) and throws them out of the garden. He also curses the snake and tells it "upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat". This is plain weird, as I have no idea why snakes should eat "dust". As far as I know, they don't do that.

He also gives women pain in childbirth (could they have children painlessly before this?), and kicks them out of the garden otherwise they might now "eat from the tree of life and live forever".

Is God worried man will become as powerful as God if he lives forever? How can God be worried, isn't he all powerful and all knowing?

Another curious notion is that Adam and Eve now suddenly realize that they are "naked" and they are ashamed and hide from God. Why is nakedness so important?

Now, during all of this, I haven't even mentioned the biggest question I have about this story. I can sum it up like this; Do you really believe this happened? But this is really most atheist's biggest problem with the Bible in general. We just don't believe that this stuff happened the way it is described. I hope that all of posts don't devolve into this, but so far it's not looking good. The next stories I'll be writing about are the Cain and Able story and then it'll be on to Noah and the Flood.

So, Christians, do you REALLY believe this stuff actually happened? Is this a huge parable or metaphor for something else? If so, I'd sure like to know what, as it seems fairly obfuscated.

In God We Trust License Plate, but it's okay, because it's for old people.

While at the Revenue Office (we don't have DMVs in Arkansas) renewing my driver's license, I noticed something interesting. Among the various custom license plates for sale (including the controversial "Choose Life" anti-abortion plate) was quite a nice plate depicting the State Capitol Building. We have a nice capitol building, it looks very much like the US Capitol Building. But, wait, what is this?


Wait. In God We Trust? Um. So.. my tax dollars paid for this? How did this ever make it through into a law without somebody calling out for separation of church and state? So, Google to the rescue.

Specialty license plate supporting senior citizens’ home-delivered meal program provided by Arkansas Senior Citizen’s Centers.

Oh, it makes perfect sense now. If it's to help senior citizens, then it can't be bad, right? I'm all for having a license plate to raise money to bring meals to older people, but this is pretty despicable. I don't know why the plate couldn't have said something like "Support the Elderly", "Meals for Seniors", or some other phrase that had something to do with the purpose of the plate.

Another interesting thing is that the records of this law have been removed from the link you get when googling for "Arkansas In God We Trust License Plate".

Here's the broken link.

But thanks to Google's cache, we can see the thing that's been removed:

Subchapter 49. In God We Trust License Plate.

§ 27-15-4904. In God We Trust License Plate Fund.

(a) There is created on the books of the Treasurer of State, the Auditor of State, and the Chief Fiscal Officer of the State a special revenue fund to be known as the "In God We Trust License Plate Fund".

(b)(1) All moneys collected as design-use contribution fees under § 27-15-4903 shall be deposited into the State Treasury as special revenues to the credit of the In God We Trust License Plate Fund.

(2) The fund shall also consist of any other revenues as may be authorized by law.

(c)(1)(A) The fund shall be used by the Division of Aging and Adult Services of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide quarterly cash grants to each senior citizen center in a similar method as is used in the State of Arkansas's current system for distributing United States Department of Agriculture money to the senior citizen centers to purchase raw food.

(B) All moneys in the fund shall be used exclusively by the division as provided in subdivisions (c)(2) and (3) of this section.

(C)(i) All moneys collected as design-use contribution fees under § 27-15-4903(a) shall be used exclusively by senior citizen centers for purchasing food for use in a home-delivered meal program.

(ii) No moneys collected as design-use contribution fees under § 27-15-4903(a) shall be used for administration expenses by a state agency, senior citizen center, or any other non-profit or for-profit organization.

(2)(A) The division shall distribute the moneys collected under this subchapter as cash grant awards to senior citizen centers in the State of Arkansas.

(B) The cash grant awards shall be based on the average number of meals served each day for the prior quarter within the senior citizen center's respective geographic area.

(3) Each senior citizen center that receives a cash grant award under this subchapter shall use the moneys exclusively for purchasing food for use in a home-delivered meal program.

Now, I'm not saying that this was removed on purpose, but I did find it odd.

In any case, I wonder why I haven't heard anything about this.


Highlights from my Trip to St Louis

This last weekend, my wife and I spent the weekend in St. Louis for our anniversary. We couldn't afford a huge vacation, but this one turned out to be just right. While there, I noticed quite a few differences in St. Louis and Little Rock.

  • Churches. I didn't see very many. There was one old church right by the arch downtown. That's pretty much it. I was restricted to what I could see from trains and buses (more on that below)

  • Proselytizing. I didn't see any of this. I didn't see any "In God We Trust" signs, I didn't see any overt signs of religiosity. I didn't even see a single Christian fish on any cars, but it's possible I was just in the right place at the right time. Today however, I was reminded once again that I live in the south. While renewing my driver's license I noticed the state of Arkansas was selling "In God We Trust" license plates.

  • They have a SCIENCE CENTER in St. Louis. We went, it was incredibly cool. While we were there we saw an exhibit called BodyWorlds. Basically it's real human bodies that have been persevered using a process known as plastination. They basically take these real human bodies and take all the skin off, and in some cases remove bits of the body and then turn them into works of art. The goal is to teach people about their own anatomy, and I must say, I was expecting for it to turn my stomach a bit, but I was so fascinated by the science of it, my mind was able to overcome any sickness I might have felt. If you get a chance to see this show, definitely do it.

  • The St. Louis Zoo has an exhibit on Evolution. It's the first thing you see when you come into the building, right as part of the entrance hall. They have an animatronic Darwin, and a model of "Lucy". You can check out all the photos on my flickr page here.

  • Public Transportation. We basically flew in to the airport, and took a train within 3 blocks of our hotel. Then we went to the Zoo, the Science Center, the Missouri History Museum and lots of other places, just via Train and Bus. Being from a city that only has buses and some cable cars that don't actually go anywhere, this was a bit mind blowing. Why can't Little Rock have something like this?

  • There are two, count'em two, memorials to Thomas Jefferson. One of them is the old court house, and the other is now the home of the Missouri History Museum. I took the opportunity to pick up a pocket Constitution, and a copy of Christopher Hitchens' biography on Jefferson.

All in all it was a fun and interesting trip. I would suggest if you are stuck in the deep south of the bible belt, it is refreshing to step slightly outside the belt from time to time for a breath of fresh air. You might be surprised at what you find.

Note: I haven't forgotten about the Bible Study Project, in fact I have two more posts in the works, one on the second creation story and one on the Noah story. They should be coming in the next day or so.



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