Biblical Chronology, part 3

The chronology of the Old Testament is convoluted and difficult to reconcile with known historical events. In the article titled “Biblical Chronology – Part 2” I presented a mapping that puts the date of the creation of Adam at 4117 BCE. That mapping is based on the known historical date of the invasion of the Levant (which we know as Lebanon today) by the Pharaoh Shishonq I in 925 BCE.

But there are other historical events to which we could have pinned those in the Old Testament. Ideally we would like to match all of the following historical events to their corresponding events in the biblical timeline:

  • The conquest and sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:1 – 7
  • The battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, described in Jeremiah 46:2
  • Defeat of Josiah, king of Judah, by the Pharaoh Nekau II in 609 BCE, mentioned in 2 Kings 22:21 and 2 Kings 23:28 – 30
  • The conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser V in 722 BCE, described in 2 Kings 18:10 – 11
  • The attack of Jerusalem by the Pharaoh Shishonq I in 925 BCE, described in 1 Kings 14:25

There are portions of the biblical chronology related to all of the above to be found in 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Haggai. In addition the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke have genealogies for Jesus. Matthew’s goes back to Abraham, and Luke’s goes back to Adam. But there are several problems with these various timelines:

  • Luke’s list includes a man, Cainan, son of Aphraxad, who is nowhere to be found in any Old Testament book.
  • Luke’s list matches Matthew’s list between Abraham and King David, but Luke lists Nathan rather than Solomon as the son of King David– and their two lists disagree on all but two names (Shialtiel and Zerubbabel) between King David and Joseph the father of Jesus. This means that Matthew and Luke disagree about the identity of the father of Joseph.
  • Between King David and Joseph Matthew’s chronology lists 26 generations; Luke lists 41. That represents a difference of roughly 300 years.
  • The names in Matthew’s list between King David and Zerubbabel don’t always agree with histories found in the Old Testament.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles record the histories of two different kingdoms– Israel and Judah. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah; Samaria was the capital of Israel. The lists of the kings of these two kingdoms reference each other. For example, 1 Kings 16:28 says that Ahab became king of Israel when Asa was in his 38th year of kingship over Judah. These cross-linked relationships are difficult to untangle, and they have gaps.
  • Some of the times reported in the Old Testament books could not possibly work. For example, 2 Kings 15:33 says that Jotham reigned Judah for 16 years. But 2 Kings 15:30 says that Hoshea killed the King of Israel in the 20th year of Jotham’s reign, which would be impossible if Jotham only reigned for 16 years. And 2 Kings 17:1 says that Hoshea began his rule in the 12th year of the rule of King Ahaz of Israel, which would put the date of his ascension to power 7 years later.

Given these various constraints it is simply not possible to map the 5 key historical events listed above to the biblical timeline with absolute assurance. The following list is, I think, about the best that can be done. It starts at the time of the Pharaoh Shishonq I and works forward in time. This is an abbreviated listing, as it only shows the kings of Judah. To get a full understanding of the overall timeline you need to show the timeline of the kings of Judah alongside those of Israel. Another issue to keep in mind is that the names in this listing are specific to the Revised Standard translation. Bear in mind that there are some differences in the spellings of proper names from one translation to another.

  • 925 BCE: Invasion of the Levant by the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishonq I in the 5th year of the reign of Rehoboam, King of Israel. (1 Kings 14:25)
  • 913 BCE: Abijah began his reign as King of Judah in the 18th year of the reign of Jeroboam, King of Israel. (1 Kings 14:31)
  • 911 BCE: King Abijah is killed by God andAsa began his reign as King of Judah in the 20th year of the reign of Jeroboam, King of Israel. (1 Kings 15:9)
  • 869 BCE: King Asa died after ruling for 41 years and Jehoshaphat began his reign as King of Judah in the 4th year of the reign of King Ahab of Israel. (1 Kings 22:41 – 42)
  • 844 BCE: King Jehoshaphat died after ruling for 25 years and his son Jehoram began his reign as King of Judah in the 5th year of the reign of King Joram / Jehoram of Israel. (Should be the 7th year.) (2 Kings 8:16 – 17)
  • 839 BCE: Ahaziah began his reign as King of Judah in the 12th year of the reign of Joram / Jehoram of Israel. (2 Kings 8:25 – 26)
  • 837 BCE: Athaliah killed her son Ahaziah and took control of the throne of Judah after Ahaziah had ruled for 1 year. (2 Kings 11:1 – 3)
  • 831 BCE: The temple guards killed Athaliah and put Joash / Jehoash on the throne in the 7th year of Jehu’s reign as King of Israel. (2 Kings 12:1)
  • 811 BCE – 809 BCE: GAP of 2 years with no King of Israel
  • 791 BCE: The servants of Joash / Jehoash killed him in the 40th year of his reign and his son Amaziah began his reign as King of Judah in the 2nd year of Joash King of Israel. (2 Kings 14:1)
  • 764 BCE: King Amaziah died 15 years after the death of King Joash / Jehoash of Israel. (2 Kings 14:17)
  • 763 BCE – 750 BCE: GAP of 13 years with no King of Judah
  • 750 BCE: Azariah / Uzziah began his reign as King of Judah in the 27th year of Jeroboam III’s reign as King of Israel. (2 Kings 14:21)
  • 736 BCE – 712 BCE: GAP of 24 years with no King of Israel
  • 698 BCE: King Azariah / Uzziah died after ruling for 52 years.
  • 698 BCE – 696 BCE: GAP of 2 years with no King of Judah
  • 696 BCE: Jotham, son of Azariah / Uzziah, began his reign as King of Judah in the 2nd year of Pekah, King of Israel. (2 Kings 15:32 – 33)
  • 681 BCE: King Jotham died and his son Ahaz began his reign as King of Judah in the 17th year of Pekah, King of Israel. (2 Kings 15:38, 2 Kings 16:1 – 2)
  • 678 – 669 BCE: Hoshea killed King Pekah of Israel and began his rule as King of Israel. (There are three different reports of when and how this happened in 2 Kings 15:30, 2 Kings 15:33, and 2 Kings 17:1. Several of the following dates are calculated from this date. I believe that the only date that makes sense in the context of what follows is 669 BCE.)
  • 665 BCE: King Ahaz of Judah died after ruling for 16 years. (2 Kings 16:2)
  • 666 BCE: Hezekiah began his reign as King of Judah in the 3rd year of Hoshea’s reign as King of Israel. (This only makes sense if we use the date of 669 BCE for the killing of King Pekah.) (2 Kings 16:2, 2 Kings 18:1)
  • 660 BCE: King Shalmaneser V of Assyria attacked Samaria in the 7th year of Hoshea’s reign as King of Israel. (2 Kings 18:9). The historical date for this event is 722 BCE.
  • 637 BCE: Hezekiah died after ruling as King of Judah for 29 years. His son Mannaseh began his reign as King of Judah. (2 Kings 20:21; 2 Kings 21:1)
  • 582 BCE: Amon began his reign as King of Judah when his father Mannaseh died after ruling for 55 years. (2 Kings 21:18 – 20)
  • 580 BCE: Josiah began his reign as King of Judah when his father Amon was killed after ruling for 2 years. (2 Kings 21:26; 2 Kings 22:1)
  • 549 BCE: King Josiah was killed at Megiddo by Pharaoh Nekau II. (2 Kings 22:21; 2 Kings 23:28 – 30) The historical date is 609 BCE.
  • 549 BCE: King Josiah’s son Jehoahaz reigned as King of Judah until he was taken captive by Pharaoh Neco after 3 months.
  • 549 BCE: Eliakim, the second son of King Josiah, was made King of Judah by Pharaoh Nekau II and was renamed to Jehoiakim. (2 Kings 34 – 36; I Chronicles 3:15)
  • 545 BCE: Pharaoh Nekau II was defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon at Carchemish in the 4th year of King Jehoiakim’s reign. (Jeremiah 46:2) The historical date for this event is 605 BCE.
  • 538 BCE: Jehoiachin became King of Judah following the death of his father Jehoiakim after 11 years of rule. (2 Kings 23:36)
  • 527 BCE: King Jehoiachin and the officials and artisans of Judah were carried off to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in the 11th year of Jehoiachin’s reign. (2 Kings 24:10 – 17; Jeremiah 24)
  • 527 BCE: King Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah king of Jerusalem and renamed him Zedekiah. (2 Kings 24:17)
  • 516 BCE: Nebuchadnezzar laid seige to Jerusalem and took it in the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign and carried off all survivors as captives to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:1 – 7) The historical date for this event is 587 BCE.

The key differences from the above list are as follows:

  • 660 BCE: King Shalmaneser V of Assyria attacked Samaria in the 7th year of Hoshea’s reign as King of Israel. (2 Kings 18:9). The historical date for this event is 722 BCE, a difference of 62 years.
  • 549 BCE: King Josiah was killed at Megiddo by Pharaoh Nekau II. (2 Kings 22:21; 2 Kings 23:28 – 30) The historical date is 609 BCE, a difference of 60 years.
  • 545 BCE: Pharaoh Nekau II was defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon at Carchemish in the 4th year of King Jehoiakim’s reign. (Jeremiah 46:2) The historical date for this event is 605 BCE, a difference of 60 years.
  • 516 BCE: Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and took it in the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign and carried off all survivors as captives to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:1 – 7) The historical date for this event is 587 BCE, a difference of 71 years.

So there is a difference of between 60 and 71 years. That’s about a 17 to 21 percent error over the 338 years between 925 BCE and 587 BCE. But 41 of those years can be accounted for by the gaps in the biblical chronology that I have highlighted above. If those gaps are simply errors in the record, then that would reduce the discrepancy to a range of 19 to 30 years, or a 5 to 9 percent error. Another possibility is that they actually do represent periods of time when there were no kings of either Israel or Judah.

Part of that difference might be due to a confusion of names. At one point a king named Joram or Jehoram ruled as King of Israel at the same time that another man named Joram or Jehoram ruled as King of Judah. And later, a man named Joash or Jehoash reigned as King in Israel while another man named Joash or Jehoash ruled as King of Judah.

Copyright (c) 2020 by David S. Moore

All rights reserved.

Rahab’s deceit and betrayal

According to the book of Joshua God made it possible for the Israelites to conquer the city of Jericho by tearing down the city’s high walls:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus they shall do for six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him.”

Joshua 6:2 – 5, Revised Standard Version

As the following passages relate, Joshua did exactly as God directed, and indeed the walls did collapse on the seventh day when the whole army gave a shout.

On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times: it was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”

Joshua 6:15 – 17 RSV

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.

Joshua 6:20 – 21, RSV

Notice that the story states that the prostitute Rahab and all of those in her company were to be spared. The reason given is that Rahab hid the “messengers” that Joshua sent to Jericho prior to their attack. But just who were these messengers? The Bible tells us in the following passage:

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”

Joshua 2:1, RSV

So! The “messengers” were spies! They weren’t sent to convey a message from the Israelites to the people of Jericho; they were sent to gather intelligence on the city!

Once the spies arrived at Jericho they quickly found out that the people of Jericho were afraid of the Israelites.

Before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Joshua 2:8 – 10, RSV

The people of Jericho were terrified of what the God of the Israelites might do to their city. They knew what happened to the Pharaoh’s army, and to the cities of Sihon and Og. So with the entire city of Jericho on the lookout for Israelites, how did the two Israeli spies escape from Jericho without being caught?  The Bible tells us exactly how they managed it in this passage.

Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she dwelt in the wall.

Joshua 2:15, RSV

So!  Rahab’s house was part of the mighty walls of Jericho– and all that was needed to scale those walls was a simple rope thrown from the window of her house!  The book of Joshua makes it very clear that the walls of Jericho were destroyed by the power of God. As appealing as that narrative might be, a much more likely possibility is that Rahab simply threw a rope from the window of her house– and the Israelites climbed up the rope, perhaps the night before the attack, and brought a strike force into Rahab’s house. Then Rahab and the others of her family were let down the rope to safety. And the next day, when the Israelite priests blew their trumpets, the strike force fought its way to the city’s main gate, threw it open, and caught the city by surprise.

That version of the story explains how the Israelites could have brought down the walls of a great city without the use of siege engines. It accounts for the need of the spies. And it fully explains why the Israelites would have been so willing to grant safety to Rahab and the others of her household. Rahab made the conquest of Jericho easy.

Rahab betrayed her entire people– the residents of Jericho.  The two Israeli spies guaranteed her safety (and that of the members of her family) in exchange for their lives.  And all she had to do to obtain a new life as a member of Israelite society was to throw a rope out her window.

Copyright (c) 2020, David S. Moore

All rights reserved

No one is a true libertarian

Libertarianism is a philosophy that says, in effect, you take care of you and I’ll take care of me and everything will work out fine. On the surface this philosophy seems perfectly reasonable. As I go through life I am faced with choices that I make every day. When I get paid by my employer I have money in my pocket. I can spend that money on housing, transportation, food, or education– or I can spend it on drink, drugs, or partying. If I make good choices throughout my life I am likely to be rewarded for my good behavior. If I work hard, most employers will recognize that and are likely to give me greater responsibilities, more opportunity, better pay. But if I make bad choices, if I fritter away my money on frivolity and hedonistic pleasures, I am very likely to wind up with no savings, no family, no home, no future. So if I am honest and hard working and if I save money for my future why should I pay to help those who make bad choices? Everyone should be responsible for his or her own livelihood. Those who fail to take responsibility should expect that society will not reward them for their failure.

This is a perfectly reasonable argument, so far as it goes. But it does make some underlying assumptions that aren’t obvious, and that most people don’t actually believe. The first such assumption is that everyone has an employer. The fact is that some people just aren’t employable. Persons with severe physical or mental disabilities generally fall into this category, though the boundary of this group has been eroded by advances in technology and public toleration. For example, Stephen Hawking suffered from a debilitating neurological disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS) and yet he was able to make tremendous contributions to physics and to the public understanding of science generally. But some people, through no fault of their own, are born with conditions that make it impossible for them to work in any capacity whatsoever. Some people develop conditions such as heart disease or stroke that incapacitate them. Most people, myself included, believe that society has a responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Another problem with the libertarian view as I have outlined it above concerns the fact that some people are in fact capable of change. I once met a man who was a recovering alcoholic. He told me that he had once been an IBM systems salesman. At that time (the mid-1980s) that would have been a position at the absolute pinnacle of the American workforce. But he was a drinker, and his drinking consumed him. He lost his job, lost his wife and family, his house– everything. Finally– when he had reached rock bottom– he realized that he had to change his life. He joined AA, worked at it, kicked his habit, and got back into the workforce selling PC software. People sometimes can turn their lives around, can decide to remake themselves, to make amends for their poor choices. And sometimes that works. I think that society owes such people a second chance, and a helping hand up.

Mind you, I also recognize that there are some people who can never be changed. Ted Bundy is, to my mind, the quintessential example of this sort of person. He was addicted to killing. He enjoyed it, enjoyed the power he felt over his victims, and he was never going to stop killing until society put him away. Differentiating between those who are earnest in their desire to change and those who will never change is hard. My general rule of thumb is that I’m willing to give anyone a first chance to earn my trust. And I’ll offer most people a second chance, so long as they can demonstrate to me that they’re sincere– but the burden of proof is on them, not me.

Where libertarianism completely falls apart is in the broader context of society generally. Consider pollution. Suppose we have two businesses A and B, both of which manufacture the same product. Suppose further that Business A is mindful of its impact on the environment and disposes of its waste responsibly. But Business B is owned by a true libertarian who believes that businesses should only consider their own interests and profits without giving any consideration to the general condition of society at large. So Business B simply dumps all of its solid and liquid waste into the nearest river or stream and pumps all of its gaseous waste into the atmosphere. Business B will therefore have a lower cost of operation and will therefore be able to undercut Business A on price. And in the long run the market will reward Business B with more sales and profits. The inevitable end result is a race to the bottom in which responsible disposers of waste are forced out of the market and those businesses that remain are the worst polluters.

A libertarian apologist might argue that this is all perfectly reasonable since consumers can choose which products they prefer. If they want clean air and water then they can elect to purchase only from corporations that properly dispose of their wastes. But that assumes that consumers have enough information to make such choices. The fact is that businesses lie, and they have the means to make their lies seem reasonable. Cigarette manufacturers lied for decades about the relationship between tobacco and cancer. They even hired people with advanced degrees to argue that the science on the matter was not definitive. Consumers were confronted with two completely different narratives on tobacco products. The Surgeon General argued that tobacco products increase the risk of getting cancer while the tobacco companies claimed that the science was not conclusive and that cigarette smoking does not cause cancer. Only later was discovered that the tobacco companies had known for decades that everything the Surgeon General had said about their products was true. When consumers have deeply flawed or incomplete information on which to base their purchase decisions they can’t be expected to make sound choices.

No one– not even the most strident libertarian– wants to breathe polluted air or drink poisoned water. There is only one way to prevent businesses from spewing their waste into our rivers, streams, and atmosphere, and that is by enacting and enforcing regulation. Businesses that pollute should be punished for the harm they do to society. The marketplace generally cannot do that and therefore it is the responsibility of society as a whole to provide the punishment that capital markets cannot.

The ultimate problem that libertarianism cannot address is climate change. The planet’s climate is being radically altered by human behavior– that much is now undeniable. Limiting or reducing the adverse effects of climate change is something that will require the cooperative efforts of all societies on the planet. It is not a problem that can be addressed by entrusting each individual to act in their own self interest.

In contemporary discourse libertarians often argue that the regulation of business violates libertarian principles. The libertarian philosophy that applies to individuals, so the reasoning goes, should also apply to businesses as they are simply agglomerations of individuals. That philosophy holds that individuals should be held accountable for their own failings. Since the marketplace holds businesses accountable by punishing mismanagement there is no reason for society– or the government– to impose additional constraints. But that reasoning fails to account for the kinds of problems that can only be solved by moderating social behavior generally. Pollution and climate change are two of the best examples of such problems, though there are others as well. No one– not even the most strident libertarian– wants to breathe polluted air, drink polluted water, or live in a locale that is too hot or too wet for human life. And therefore no one is a true libertarian.

Copyright (c) 2020 by David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

On the Transcendence of God

Religions that promote the reality, or existence, of the divine generally insist that the divine transcends reality. That very idea is self-contradictory. If the divine exists or is real then it is part of reality and so can’t transcend that which is real.

This conundrum illustrates a difficulty we have in thinking about the world around us. We speak of reality as something all-encompassing. Everything I experience is part of reality. Everything I can imagine is part of reality. Everything I dream or feel is part of reality. Everything that I or anyone else could possibly know or believe or understand is part of reality. So how is it possible for that which is all-encompassing to not include that which is beyond our capability of knowing– namely the divine?

Let us for the moment assume that there is a domain that we shall call “the Divine” that in some yet-to-be-defined sense transcends reality. Why should we expect it to be possible for beings trapped within the confines of reality to perceive or know or comprehend or understand anything that thrives in the realms of the Divine if those realms are truly “beyond” reality? There is in fact no reason to believe that any avenue to such knowledge exists.

But if there were such knowledge– if it were indeed possible for the residents of reality to apprehend the Divine– then that knowledge must be in all respects real or it would not be knowable to beings who dwell in our reality. This means that there must exist some mapping of the Divine onto apprehensions that are fully real. And do we have any certainty that such a mapping is in any sense comprehensive, or even representative? For example, imagine that beings of the Divine inhabit a realm of 100 dimensions, and imagine further that a human living in our four dimensional space-time were to gain knowledge of these Divine beings. Can we be sure that whatever vision the human has is representative of the true complexity of a being that resides in a realm of 100 dimensions?

The Judgment of Paris illustrates this problem perfectly. Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, was asked by Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera to determine which of them was the most beautiful. But as the three beings whose beauty he was asked to judge were all goddesses, they could make themselves appear to their human judge however they liked. And they could offer him anything he might desire. Hera offered a kingdom. Athena offered him knowledge and skill. Aphrodite offered him possession of the most beautiful woman in the world– Helen, the wife of Menelaus. Rather than judge on the basis of beauty, Paris accepted the gift of Aphrodite and thereby precipitated the Trojan War.

The idea that humans, bound as we are to our four dimensional space-time, can know with certainty the nature of that which is beyond the reality of our four dimensional existence is at best a hypothesis. And it is one for which no proof is possible. We are incapable of perceiving anything in 100 dimensions, though we might be able to imagine it, and we are therefore incapable of measuring the degree to which our perception of a 100 dimensional being deviates from that being’s true nature.

Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Regardless of whether it is greater than or less than knowledge, imagination is certainly not the same thing as knowledge. I can imagine a unicorn with blood of liquid gold, but such an imagining does not guarantee its reality.

We have a language that includes a word– transcend– that allows us to describe a state in which a thing or a being is “beyond” our knowledge, our experience, and our reality. The possession of this word doesn’t mean that there is any such thing as a transcendent being.

A religious apologist would argue that we have all the proof we need of the reality of the Divine. A Jew would say that we have the Torah. A Christian would say that we have that and the New Testament. A Muslim would say that we have the Koran. A Mormon would say that we have the Christian Bible and the Book of Mormon. All of these writings are considered by their advocates as proof of the reality of God as each is assumed to have been delivered directly by God.

It is important to note that the followers of these separate faiths view their scriptural writings as being exclusively the Word of God. When a Jew says that the Torah is the Word of God he or she really means that the Torah and only the Torah is the Word of God. The New Testament is not; the Koran is not; the Book of Mormon is not; the Mahabarata is not; and in fact no other religious writing on the planet is the Word of God.

The fact that the followers of these separate religions point to different texts as proof of the reality of their God is evidence that they do not perceive the divine in the same way. Hence we have every reason to reject the notion that humans are inherently able to experience or understand that which transcends reality.

But they can imagine it. A temple or cathedral or mosque or synagogue is a monument to the very human yearning to capture and experience the divine. Salvador Dali’s painting Last Supper conveys the transcendence of Jesus and God through the translucence of their physical forms. Alan Hovhaness’s Fra Angelico portrays the intercessions of angels with a series of trombone glissandos. Art of all forms has long sought to convey the transcendent through media that humans can experience in the real world.

There is an even more radical way in which humans can envision that which is truly transcendent– and that is through science and mathematics. The science of cosmology tells us that the universe was created about 13.8 billion years ago. That event began with a moment of quantum instability. And exactly what gave rise to that instability? We do not know with any certainty, but human imagination has framed a number of possibilities in the language of mathematics. Several of these explanations are based on spaces of more than four dimensions. It is even conceivable that one day these imaginings may be subjected to a test that could prove them either true or false. But until one of these hypotheses passes such a test they remain merely imaginings and cannot be regarded as real.

That, I assert, is the only avenue to the apprehension of the truly transcendent– through imagination, whether expressed in art, architecture, or science. It cannot be characterized as either knowledge or experience of the transcendent. But it may one day lead us to such knowledge.

Copyright (c) 2020, David S. Moore

All rights reserved.

It’s going to get a lot worse

Climate change is going to affect those nations of the world that are least able to contend with it. The people of those nations will be beleaguered by rising temperatures, extended droughts, rising sea levels, and ever more powerful storms.

In the United States, most of the state of Florida will eventually be submerged. At present rates, and with the present lack of concern about the future, the ocean’s waters are expected to rise four to eight feet by the end of the century. The highest point in Miami is about seven feet above sea level. So the likelihood is that most of Miami will be submerged by the end of this century. That means that trillions of dollars of real estate equity will be wiped out. The homeowners who lose their properties will become refugees. The United States has the resources, though not necessarily the will, to absorb many millions of climate change refugees.

But similar catastrophes will play out in slow motion all around the world, but the developing countries where they will strike with greatest severity won’t have the resources to absorb millions of displaced refugees. And where will those refugees go? They will head for the richest countries in hopes of gaining entry to a better life.

The refugees that fled the Syrian civil war inundated Europe and precipitated a massive wave of anti-immigrant fervor. In the United States Donald Trump fueled anti-immigrant sentiment with a torrent of hateful and misleading rhetoric. The people of Central and South America who left their homes and headed toward the United States were fleeing violence in their home countries.

But the Syrian civil war was partially fueled by a drought that was the worst in 900 years ( And the violence in Central America follows a drought that created massive food shortages across the region (

These problems are all going to get worse. Climate change assures that. The nations of the world could make herculean efforts to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than another degree Centigrade or so. But at present the world’s leaders are not demonstrating the necessary resolve.

More and longer lasting droughts will mean more refugees. More flooding will mean more refugees. More refugees will fuel more anti-immigrant sentiment. All of this will inexorably lead to more calls for limits on immigration, for tighter and more expensive border security, and for limits to the rights of asylum seekers.

Climate change assures us that refugees will flee poorer countries in ever greater numbers. And where will they go? They will naturally gravitate to the rich nations. And those rich nations will do everything they can to protect themselves from a massive influx of poor, homeless foreigners.

These are the conditions that paved the way for Donald Trump to win the U.S. presidency, for Bolsonario to become president of Brazil, and for Boris Johnson to become the Prime Minister of Great Britain. But climate change assures us that this problem will be far worse in the future. The natural impulse of world leaders will be to protect national interests and to defend against the incursions of refugees. And the simplest and easiest way to accomplish those objectives is by invoking martial law.

President Trump has shown future despots the way. Inflame nationalist fears. Warn of the ill intent of refugees. Denounce them as immoral and depraved. Declare a national emergency– or several. Divert funds to defending border security. Do everything you can to limit or remove the civil rights of immigrants, migrants, and asylum seekers. Accuse anyone who stands in your way of disloyalty. And inundate the electorate with an avalanche of lies and obfuscation.

There is only one possible defense against such an attack on democracy, and that is vigilant resistance. It means calling out the lies of our leaders and retorting with the truth. It means standing up for the rights of climate refugees, and for people made homeless by war and famine. It means telling the public again and again that it was our own lassitude that brought us to this extreme and that we only have ourselves to blame. And above all it means not giving up. The problem of climate change can be solved. Yes, it’s too late now to prevent the loss of large regions of human habitation. But the problem of human caused climate change is self-limiting, to an extent. When the numbers of human beings to succumb to the ill effects of climate change are so great that only a few humans remain on earth, those who remain will be less able to produce the greenhouse gasses that make climate change the great terror of our time. Humanity will survive, though many millions are sure to be ruined, financially, physically, or spiritually by the depredations of climate change.

Written 2019-09-29.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

Orderly Abandonment

The world is on track for a four to eight foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century. (The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, pg. 59.) The highest point in the Miami city limits is about seven feet above sea level. The Mayor of Miami recently had huge pumps installed to push water out of downtown during days of high tides. But that won’t save the city in the long run. The land on which Miami is situated is resting on a bed of limestone– which is porous to water. Miami could never build a seawall high enough to keep the oceans out.

The average elevation of New Orleans is one to two feet below sea level. When Katrina hit the storm surge inundated the Ninth Ward to such a depth that most houses were covered to their rooftops. And these are only two of the coastal cities in the United States that are destined to become uninhabitable when the waters rise.

We all know that American political and business leaders are too selfish and cowardly to call for the prevention of climate catastrophe. Some have argued that snowfall is proof that the world’s climate isn’t getting hotter; others that the climate has changed many times in the past and that therefore it’s not a human problem to solve; others that even if the climate is warming and humans are responsible for some portion of it, global warming is a problem that humans cannot solve because it would cost too much.

These various arguments all have an element of truth, but they are all completely wrong in the broader context of the present scale of climate change. Yes, it does indeed continue to snow in many parts of the world today– but that’s an example of weather, not of climate. Yes, the climate has warmed dramatically many times in the past, and often due to massive increases of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gasses) being injected into the atmosphere. What’s different today is that the carbon that is being spewed into the atmosphere is for the first time being produced by processes that are under human control. Yes, the costs of addressing the changing climate are likely to be immense. But the costs of doing nothing will certainly be even more immense. The loss of massive regions of human habitation will inevitably result in the liquidation of trillions of dollars of real estate value. That will inevitably result in the impoverishment of millions of property owners all around the world. The vast majority of those property owners will become refugees who will be forced to flee to more habitable regions of the planet, thereby creating what is certain to be history’s largest and most violent mass migration.

The time to have saved Miami and New Orleans– and the many other low lying great cities of the world– would have been 40 years ago. There would have been ample time then to develop long term plans that could have minimized the effects of climate change. But we are well past that point now. We are now at a point where it is too late to save low lying cities like Miami, or sweltering regions of the world like sub-Saharan Africa. Our best option at this point is to plan for the orderly abandonment of the regions we know cannot survive rising sea levels and burning heat. Step one of such a plan would be to halt all new construction and refurbishment of existing structures in these regions– immediately. Step two would be to disallow the resale of any existing buildings that rising waters or excess heat have rendered unusable. And step three would be to sell off buildings for scrap as they become unusable. These steps at least offer the possibility of limiting the scope of financial ruin that will inevitably engulf those who own property in hazardous regions. Such a policy may seem cruel, but at least it would be more honest than to hope for a salvation that has virtually no likelihood of materializing.

Written 2020-02-02.

Copyright (c) 2020 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

Biblical Chronology, part 2

As described in Part 1 of this blog the events of the bible can be given chronological dates relative to the time of the creation of Adam. To associate that biblical chronology with historical chronology it is necessary to find one or more narrations in the bible that clearly correlate with known historical events. The most obvious of such common events would be the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, which is known to have happened in 587 BCE. The problem with using this date as an anchor for the biblical chronology is that the biblical narrative loses chronological consistency well before Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of the city. I will write another article to explain how and why this part of the chronology went awry. The following passages describe the attack of the city of Jerusalem by the Pharaoh Shishak:

In the fifth year of King Rehobo’am, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; he took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house; he took away everything.

I Kings 14:25, Revised Standard Version

In the fifth year of King Rehobo’am, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem with twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen. And the people were without number who came with him from Egypt– Libyans, Suk’kim, and Ethiopians.

2 Chronicles 12:2 – 3, RSV

The date of this event is known from historical sources to be 925 BCE, as seen in the following quotation:

After more than a century of passivity on the part of Egyptian rulers, Sheshonq I intervened aggressively in the politics of the Levant to reassert pharonic prestige there. His Karnak inscriptions record a major military expedition c.925 BC against Israel and Judah and the principal towns of southern Palestine, including Gaza and Megiddo. The Old Testament records the same event, stating (I Kgs. 14:25-6) that, in the fifth year of Rehoboam, ‘Shishak, king of Egypt’ seized the treasures of Jerusalem, and adding (2 Chr. 12:2-9) that he came with 1,200 chariots and an army that included Libyans and Nubians. These sources indicate that the campaign was launched in support of Jeroboam, an exile in Egypt who claimed the throne of Judah.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, pg. 337

Fortunately there is just enough chronological detail in the bible to provide a complete timeline from the fifth year of Rehobo’am’s reign to the creation of Adam. The following listing traces the evidence from the bible, starting from the sacking of Jerusalem by Sheshonq I and working backwards to the creation of Adam.

  • 925 BCE – Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq I invades the Levant and sacks the city of Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam’s reign. (1 Kings 14:25 – 26; 2 Chronicles 12:2 – 9)
  • 930 BCE – Rehoboam succeeds King Solomon as King after Solomon had reigned for 40 years. (1 Kings 11:42 – 43)
  • 968 BCE – King Solomon breaks ground for the temple in the second year of his reign and 480 years after the Israelites leave Egypt. (1 Kings 6:1)
  • 1448 BCE – The Israelites leave Egypt 430 years after entering it. (Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17)
  • 1878 BCE – The Israelites settle in Egypt at the invitation of Joseph. (Genesis 47:7 – 9)
  • 2008 BCE – Isaac fathered Jacob, who was later renamed Israel by God, when he was 60 years old. (Genesis 25:26)
  • 2068 BCE – Abraham fathered Isaac when he was 100 years old. (Genesis 21:5)
  • 2069 BCE – Abram is renamed Abraham by God when he was 99 years old. (Genesis 17:1 – 5)
  • 2093 BCE – Abram leaves Haran when he is 75 years old and settles in Canaan. (Genesis 12:4 – 5)
  • 2168 BCE – Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran when he was 70 years old. (Genesis 11:26)
  • 2238 BCE – Nahor fathered Terah when he was 29 years old. (Genesis 11:24)
  • 2267 BCE – Serug fathered Nahor when he was 30 years old. (Genesis 11:22)
  • 2297 BCE – Reu fathered Serug when he was 32 years old. (Genesis 11:20)
  • 2329 BCE – Peleg fathered Reu when he was 30 years old. (Genesis 11:18)
  • 2359 BCE – Eber fathered Peleg when he was 34 years old. (Genesis 11:16)
  • 2393 BCE – Shelah fathered Eber when he was 30 years old. (Genesis 11:14)
  • 2423 BCE – Arphaxad fathered Shelah when he was 35 years old. (Genesis 11:12)
  • 2458 BCE – Shem fathered Arphaxad 2 years after the Flood. (Genesis 11:10; note that this passage says that Shem was 100 years old when he should have been 103 years old.)
  • 2460 BCE – End of the flood one year after it started. (Genesis 8:13)
  • 2461 BCE – Beginning of the flood in the 600th year of Noah’s life. (Genesis 6:9, Genesis 7:6)
  • 2561 BCE – Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth when he was 500 years old. (Genesis 5:32)
  • 3061 BCE – Lamech fathered Noah when he was 182 years old. (Genesis 5:28)
  • 3243 BCE – Methuselah fathered Lamech when he was 187 years old. (Genesis 5:25)
  • 3430 BCE – Enoch fathered Methuselah when he was 65 years old. (Genesis 5:21)
  • 3495 BCE – Jared fathered Enoch when he was 162 years old. (Genesis 5:18)
  • 3657 BCE – Mahalalel fathered Jared when he was 65 years old. (Genesis 5:15)
  • 3722 BCE – Kenan fathered Mahalalel when he was 70 years old. (Genesis 5:12)
  • 3792 BCE – Enosh fathered Kenan when he was 90 years old. (Genesis 5:9)
  • 3882 BCE – Seth fathered Enosh when he was 105 years old. (Genesis 5:6)
  • 3987 BCE – Adam fathered Seth when he was 130 years old. (Genesis 5:3)
  • 4117 BCE – Adam was created by God on the sixth day of the creation week. (Genesis 1:26 – 27)

It is important to remember that the above calculations cannot be regarded as absolute. The majority of these dates are based on the Hebrew calendar which was a lunisolar calendar and was therefore subject to intercalations that did not follow a predictable rule.

A key assumption in these calculations concerns the time at which the Israelites settled in Egypt. Here is what Exodus says about their leaving:

The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:40 – 41, RSV

But exactly when did the Israelites enter Egypt in the first place? Some have argued that when Terah and Abram entered Canaan in (roughly) 2093 BCE they were settling in Egypt because Egypt controlled the Levant. The chronology above instead assumes that the 430 years is to be counted from the time that the Israelites entered Egypt at the invitation of Joseph in 2239 BCE, roughly 146 years later. This is more plausible since God didn’t rename Jacob to Israel until 2008 BCE, after the death of Abraham. So prior to that time the Israelites– the followers of Israel– didn’t really exist.

The above chronology is, I believe, the most generous possible in the respect that it represents the greatest possible antiquity for the time of the creation of Adam. And that we know is false, given that humans of a fully modern physiology have existed for at least 200,000 years.

Written in 2019-09-14.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

Biblical Chronology, part 1

The bible has sufficient clues to enable one to reconstruct a religious timeline that stretches back to the time of the creation of Adam. There are chiefly three kinds of clues that contribute to this timeline:

  • Genealogical lists
  • Regnal dates
  • Statements of elapsed time

Some of the old testament genealogies include the age of the father when his son was born. Here are some examples:

When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. …

When Seth had lived a hundred and five years, he became the father of Enosh. …

When Enosh had lived ninety years, he became the father of Kenan. …

Genesis 5:3 – 9, Revised Standard Version

Such genealogies enable us to reconstruct a continuous series of relative dates; but not all of the genealogies in the bible provide the age of the father at the time of the son’s birth. So this method only works for a portion of the time between the creation of Adam to the birth of Jesus.

An example of both a regnal date and a statement of elapsed time can be found in this passage:

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD.

1 Kings 6:1, Revised Standard Version

A regnal date is a date from the beginning of a king’s reign. “…The fourth year of Solomon’s reign” is such a date. Regnal dates were used widely throughout the ancient world, including in Sumer, Babylonia, and Egypt. The statement that Solomon began building his temple 480 years after the exodus from Egypt is a record of elapsed time.

There are several ambiguities in the biblical text that require one to make assumptions about how some of these three types of dates in the bible are to be interpreted. So any chronology resulting from a study of biblical text alone will necessarily involve some key assumptions. In the text that follows the dates I provided are based on a chronology I have developed from my own study. I have documented the assumptions I have made in developing this chronology in Part 2 of this blog.

Another important consideration is that the Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar. An additional month was added to the Jewish calendar every two or three years to bring it into line with the solar calendar. The precise times when intercalary months were added in the ancient past is not known. The “years” in the bible do not therefore necessarily correspond to years in the Gregorian calendar.

According to the bible God created the universe, the earth, all living things, and the first man Adam and the first woman Eve in six days in about 4117 BCE. Noah, the man whose family was chosen by God to survive the flood, was born in 3061 BCE. The flood took place in 2461 BCE. The flood wiped out all human beings and all traces of their civilizations– except for the 8 people on board the ark. The descendants of Noah dispersed all over the planet and repopulated it. The great civilizations of the ancient world– Egypt, Sumer, Akkadia, Babylon, Assyria– were all founded after the flood by the sons and descendants of Noah.

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

Genesis 9:18 – 19, RSV

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Genesis 10:6, RSV

So Egypt was a grandson of Noah who traveled to the Nile river valley and founded the entire Egyptian civilization.

Sometime between 2168 BCE and 2093 BCE Terah left the city of Ur of the Chaldeans with his son Abram and headed west toward Canaan, but they settled in Haran.

Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Genesis 11:31, RSV

Ur was a great city of Sumer that was destroyed by the Elamites in roughly 2000 BCE. So Terah and his son Abram were likely refugees of the destruction of Ur.

In 2069 BCE God renamed Abram to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”.

No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.

Genesis 17:5 – 6, RSV

The bible traces a line of descent from Abraham to King David over a total of 13 generations. The time from the birth of Abram’s son Isaac to the time that King Solomon broke ground for his temple was 1100 years.

In addition the new testament books of Matthew and Luke provide genealogies that trace the lineage of Jesus. Matthew’s traces his lineage back through Abraham, and Luke traces it back to Adam.

There is almost nothing about this chronology that is actually true. The creation of the universe did not happen about 6,100 years ago; it happened roughly 13.5 billion years ago. That’s more than 2 million times longer ago than the bible says. How do we know this? Oh, many ways– but for starters we can actually see galaxies that are as far away as 10 billion light years. Since a light year is the distance that light travels in one year (in a vacuum) the light we are currently seeing must have been in transit for at least 10 billion years. Biblical apologists respond by claiming that modern physics and astronomy are completely wrong.

Let’s consider the story of the flood. The whole point of the story is that God had concluded that the people of the earth were bad because they had all deserted the worship of God. All, that is, except for Noah and the members of his family. So God decided to wipe all of the bad people– the ones who refused to worship Yahweh– from the face of the earth. So he told Noah to build an ark and to put himself, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and two of every kind of animal (and fourteen of every kind of “clean” animal) on board the ark.

After the waters of the flood receded the descendants of Noah were dispersed across the entire earth to rebuild the population. The bible specifically mentions a grandson of Noah’s by the name of Egypt:

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Genesis 10:6, RSV

And it names a great grandson of Noah named Nimrod who ostensibly founded Babel, and the Akkadian and Assyrian empires:

Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nin’eveh, Reho’both-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nin’eveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Genesis 10:8 – 12, RSV

But curiously none of the inhabitants of those empires ever erected a single temple or monument or even a stele to Yahweh. In Egypt the descendants of Noah erected temples to Ra, to Amun, to Ptah, to Hathor, to any of a number of of Egyptian gods and godesses. But not one temple to Yahweh. The whole reason that Yahweh wiped all of the bad people from the face of the earth was to ensure that only the worshipers of Yahweh would be left. But the descendants of Noah strayed from the worship of Yahweh within just two generations. The Sumerian city of Ur had a ziggurat that was a temple to the moon god Nanna, but throughout ancient Sumer there was not one temple to Yahweh. The Zhou dynasty of China and the Olmecs in Central America and the Incas of South America– not one of them worshiped Yahweh. So when Yahweh decided that he was going to wipe all those who had failed to worship him from the face of the earth and replace them all with devoted followers, he obviously blew it.

Surely an omniscient God who knows absolutely everything about the behavior of his greatest creation– human beings– would have known how to prevent the descendants of Noah from worshiping any god other than him.

Modern archaeology asserts that the unification of Upper (i.e. Southern) and Lower (i.e. Northern) Egypt took place sometime between 3100 BCE and 3000 BCE. That’s at least 550 years before the flood would have taken place, according to the biblical chronology. Biblical apologists respond by claiming that all of modern archaeology is completely wrong.

The man named Nimrod was a great-grandson of Noah. As shown in the citation from Genesis 10 above Nimrod was described as the world’s first “mighty man”. But that couldn’t possibly be true. The bible actually lists all of the men who would have been alive at the time that Nimrod was founding his empires in Genesis 10. The main lines of descent are as follows:

  • Ham’s son Cush would have migrated south toward what is now Ethiopia
  • Ham’s son Egypt would have migrated to the Nile river valley
  • Ham’s son Put would have migrated toward what is now Libya
  • Ham’s son Canaan would have migrated to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea
  • Genesis 10:5 says that the sons of Japheth became the “coastland” people, presumably living on the coast of either the Mediterranean Sea or of the Red Sea
  • Genesis 10:30 says that the sons of Shem migrated toward the Jordan river valley

The only person who is specifically named in Genesis 10 as a descendant of Noah who migrated to Mesopotamia was Nimrod. So this “mighty man” Nimrod would have ruled over a population of just one family– his own.

The books of Matthew and Luke have genealogies of Jesus. These genealogies are at odds with each other. They have 16 names in common, but Luke lists 38 names that are nowhere to be found in Matthew’s list. And the lists are different in length for the period of time between King Solomon and Jesus. They differ by a total of 15 generations. That’s around 300 years.

Matthew says that there were 14 generations between Abraham and King David, 14 more between King David and the Babylonian exile, and 14 more between the exile and Jesus. But his own list actually has only 13 generations between Abraham and King David.

The genealogy that appears in the book of Luke extends back to the birth of Adam. But Luke’s list includes someone that is mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament. Luke says that Aphraxad was the father of Cainan who was the father of Sala. But Genesis 11 says that Aphraxad was the father of Salah. And of the 40 names that Luke lists between King David and Joseph the “father” of Jesus only two are mentioned anywhere else in the bible.

Both the genealogies in Matthew and Luke trace the lineage of Jesus through Joseph. But if Mary was a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus then Joseph would have had no blood relationship to Jesus. Why was the lineage of Jesus not traced through Mary rather than Joseph?

These are some of the more obvious internal problems of the chronologies in the bible. There are many more external problems, including the following:

  • The oldest rocks of earth have been dated (by radioisotope dating) to about 4.2 billion years. That’s about 700,000 times older than the bible says the earth is old.
  • The oldest fossils found on earth have been dated to about 3.5 billion years old.
  • The Big Bang theory is a far better explanation for the observed current state of the universe than is any other hypothesis. It predicts the distribution of elements that should have been created– and the actual distribution fits the predicted value almost perfectly. It explains the existence of the Cosmic Background Radiation and the corresponding average temperature of the universe. And it accounts for the observation that the universe is expanding. The bible makes no such predictions.
  • There is evidence of the existence of human activity and settlements throughout the world going back long before 6,000 BCE. There is evidence of human activity in the Nile river valley going back more than 100,000 years.

Of course biblical apologists claim that all of the above evidences are false.

Written in 2019-06-30.

Copyright (c) 2019 David Seldon Moore. All rights reserved.

On the Efficacy of Prayer

Many claims have been made for the power of prayer– that it can provide comfort and healing; that it can answer spiritual questions; that it can help with finding one’s way through the challenges of life; and that it can answer questions about the true nature of the universe.

Humans have been praying to gods of many sorts for at least the last 5,000 years. Those many years of history tell us of the limits of prayer. Prayer cannot possibly provide answers to questions about the nature of the universe since if that were true then humans would have learned thousands of years ago that the atomic and molecular theory of matter is true– and they didn’t. Humans would have learned that the heliocentric model of planetary motion is true– and they didn’t. Humans would have learned that the sun is a star and that the other stars of the universe are immensely far away– and they didn’t.

So we know for certain that prayer is never going to provide any answers to questions about the natural world. But is it possible that prayer might be able to answer spiritual questions? Let us consider that possibility.

How would one go about determining whether or not such a claim were true? To answer that question we would need to know generally what constitutes a spiritual truth. And that is unquestionably the province of religion. So we must determine what religious questions can be answered by prayer.

But this poses a problem in that most religions claim exclusive knowledge of spiritual truths. Judaism has one set of spiritual truths; Christianity another; Islam another still; Buddhism yet another. And each of these religions claims that its spiritual truths are more perfect than are those of any other religion. How are we to determine which set of spiritual teachings is true?

The only way to resolve a question of this sort is by way of an experiment. And here is an example of how such an experiment would be conducted:

We get volunteers from 4 religious groups: fundamentalist Jews, fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, and fundamentalist Mormons. We will ask them 3 yes or no questions, and then we will give them whatever time and space they need to pray to their God to obtain the true and correct answers to these questions. Then we will ask for their answers and compare.

We should note that fundamentalist Jews believe that they pray to the God of Abraham. And that fundamentalist Christians believe that they pray to the God of Abraham. And that fundamentalist Muslims believe that they pray to the God of Abraham. And that fundamentalist Mormons believe that they pray to the God of Abraham. So they all pray to the same God. And they should therefore get the same answers to any spiritual questions we might ask.

What questions should we ask our subjects? The questions we ask must be specific to the spiritual claims of each of the four religions, and they must be definitive in the respect that a given set of answers must tell us unequivocally which of the spiritual messages of the 4 religions is actually true.

Here is my proposed set of questions:

  • Is Jesus the Messiah?
  • Is Mohammed the greatest prophet of God?
  • Is the book of Mormon the word of God?

I think we already know exactly how the experiment I’ve proposed would turn out. The answers I think we’ll get from this experiment are as follows:

  • The fundamentalist Jew will say that No, Jesus is not the Messiah; that No, Mohammed is not the greatest prophet of God; and that No, the book of Mormon is not the word of God
  • The fundamentalist Christian will say that Yes, Jesus is the Messiah; that No, Mohammed is not the greatest prophet of God; and that No, the book of Mormon is not the word of God
  • The fundamentalist Muslim will say that No, Jesus is not the Messiah; that Yes, Mohammed is the greatest prophet of God; and that No, the book of Mormon is not the word of God
  • The fundamentalist Mormon will say that Yes, Jesus is the Messiah; that No, Mohammed is not the greatest prophet of God; and that Yes, the book of Mormon is the word of God

That is to say that we will get 4 completely different sets of answers from our 4 subjects.

How can that be? All 4 of our subjects pray to the same God, so they should get exactly the same answers to each question.

There’s only one possible explanation for this result: Prayer cannot possibly provide true answers to spiritual questions.

This method can be extended to all possible religious groups. We would only have to extend the list of questions to include queries about the most fundamental beliefs of each religion.

This makes sense because prayer is simply talking to yourself. And when you talk to yourself you generally just reinforce whatever thoughts or desires you had in the first place. So there’s really no possibility that prayer is going to answer any questions about the natural world, or about spiritual questions. But it may make you feel good.

Written 2019-06-19.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

Response from a reader:

sherijkennedyJun 20, 2019·realitywithatwistbooks.wordpress.comUser Info

I’m interested in your experiment for the efficacy of prayer, but I’m confused on why the answers are a foregone conclusion and how, even if your supplied answers were correct it would conclusively prove that prayer was not effective in answering spiritual questions.
Certain the doctrine of each of these fundamentalist religions would dictate those answers, but that’s exactly why prayer is part of what the devotees to each are supposed to practice. Documents and dictates are static, but prayer is meant to be dynamic – to help the person who prays come to understanding of how the writings and traditions apply to them in their circumstances and their time.
In your experiment, if the subjects are truly praying, they must have an open heart to the voice of their God. If they are open to whatever answer is given, it may be quite different from the traditional doctrine and fundamentalist ideas they have been taught to believe.
I know this because I’ve done this experiment in my own life. I found something rather than nothing. I was not talking to myself because I gained deep understanding that I hadn’t had prior to the exercise. I also gave up affiliation with my fundamentalist Christian church and adherence to the traditional doctrines because I reached a different conclusion than their interpretation of the writings central to that religion. But my actions and ‘faith’ if you will are still deeply aligned with the spiritual and moral teachings of that religion, and scholars I’ve spoken with in depth usually try to conclude that I am as much or more in line with Biblical teachings and principles than most Christians.
So my point is, until you try the experiment with people who are willing to listen to and report what they learn and hear instead of reaching foregone conclusions, you can’t reach your foregone conclusion about the efficacy of prayer.
I’m sure you’ve heard the quote of ‘Seek and you shall find…’ I sought and I found, though it wasn’t quite like I would have expected. But part of seeking is setting aside expectation and letting the answer come freely and having an open mind and heart to accept and follow the answer when presented.
Thanks for the provocative topic and for stating your views clearly here. It’s interesting to contemplate and to continue to listen and learn.

My response:

Very well, then let’s add one additional question: “When you pray, do you open your heart to whatever God tells you?” But I’m pretty sure that Michael Ben-Ari, head of Jewish Power, Pat Robertson, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Russell M. Nelson, president of the Mormon church, would all answer “Yes, absolutely!!”

Creationist Geology, part 2

In Part 1 of this blog we found that the creationist geology must have the following structure:

Figure 1 – Creationist Geology with Pre- and Post-Diluvian Layers

The diagram seems to indicate that the Pre-Diluvian, Diluvian, and Post-Diluvian layers are all about the same thickness. But is that what the bible says?

The bible has its own internal chronology, which I have documented in this blog entry:

Based on that chronology we can assign some well known dates to some of the boundaries of the diagram, as shown below:

Creationist geology with some well known dates

The only boundary to which we cannot immediately assign a date is that between the Pre-Diluvian and the Diluvian layers. To know how thick the Pre-Diluvian layer must be we would have to know how long it takes sedimentary rock to solidify, according to the bible.

We can answer that question by considering this passage:

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Genesis 10:6, Revised Standard Version

Ham was one of the sons of Noah. So this passage means that according to the bible the nation of Egypt didn’t exist until after the flood.

Mainstream archaeology says that the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt happened sometime between 3100 and 3000 BCE. That’s at least 500 years before the time of the flood.

Of course creationists don’t accept any of the claims of modern archaeology– they regard the findings of archaeology as every bit as suspect as those of modern physics. So let us now investigate the Step Pyramid, constructed by the Pharaoh Djoser. According to mainstream archaeology this building was constructed at around 2650 BCE, though of course creationists do not accept that date as it predates the flood, according to the biblical timeline.

Let us for the moment entertain the possibility that both Egypt and this building were created after the flood and see if that leads to any complications.

The key fact about the Step Pyramid that makes it so important to this discussion is that it is made of stone. That means that by the time this building was built the sedimentary materials deposited by the flood must have solidified to become rock.

So according to the bible Ham, the son of Noah, had a son Egypt, who would have had to travel from the mountains of Ararat (probably in modern Turkey) to the Nile river valley. Then his descendants would have had to populate the valley and effect the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, and after a period of time that was at least 350 years, according to mainstream archaeology, the Step Pyramid would have been built. Here’s the sequence:

  • Ham’s son Egypt is born
  • Egypt and his family migrate to the Nile river valley
  • The entire Nile valley is populated with about 100,000 people
  • Upper and Lower Egypt are unified to form the nation of Egypt
  • Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom make Egypt the greatest nation on earth over a period of at least 350 years
  • Pharaoh Djoser commissions the construction of the Step Pyramid, using stones quarried nearby

We can’t provide an estimate for the times of the first two events in the above list. There is nothing in the bible that specifically dates either of these events. The third event– the population of the Nile river valley– would have taken about 500 years. And according to mainstream archaeology the sixth event would have happened about 350 years after the second.

What we need is some way to correlate the above sequence of events to the timeline of the bible. Conveniently there is this passage in the bible:

In the fifth year of King Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; he took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house; he took away everything.

I Kings 14:25, Revised Standard Version

The date of this invasion is established by external sources as 925 BCE. So now we have the following approximate chronology for the events leading up to the invasion of the Levant:

  • The flood ends in 2460 BCE
  • Ham’s son Egypt is born
  • Egypt and his family migrate to the Nile river valley
  • The entire Nile valley is populated with about 100,000 people over a 500 year period
  • Upper and Lower Egypt are unified to form the nation of Egypt
  • Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom make Egypt the greatest nation on earth over a period of at least 350 years
  • Pharaoh Djoser commissions the construction of the Step Pyramid, using stones quarried nearby
  • A great many pharaohs rule Egypt over a period of 1725 years
  • The pharaoh Shishak / Shishonq I invades the Levant in 925 BCE

So there is a total of 1535 years between the end of the flood and the invasion of the Levant in 925 BCE. But the events listed above would have taken a minimum of 2575 years, according to mainstream archaeology. The only way that Creationists can make this work is by scrunching 2575 years of events into a 1530 year period. Doing so will of necessity move the time of the construction of the Step Pyramid closer to the time of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Mainstream archaeology says that took about 350 years. Let’s say that Creationists scrunch it down to 250 years. Well, that gives us the date we need. 500 years to get Egypt son of Ham from the mountains of Ararat to the Nile river valley and to populate it with about 100,000 people; and 250 years to prepare the way for the construction of the Step Pyramid. That’s a total of about 750 years– the minimum time it would take for sedimentary material to solidify and become rock, according to the bible. And now we can redraw the diagram to show the relative sizes of the layers of rock:

Completed Creationist Geology

The diagram is not to scale, but here are the relative sizes of the 3 non-primordial layers:

  • Pre-Diluvian Layer: 907 years; about 14.7% of the total
  • Diluvian Layer: 750 years; about 12.2% of the total
  • Post-Diluvian Layer: 4479 years; about 72.9% of the total

The upshot of this discussion is that the Diluvian layer is the only layer that could possibly be hydrologically sorted; yet it accounts for no more than 12.2% of the total fossil record. All of the rest of the fossil record– by far the majority– should be chronologically sorted. So hydrological sorting cannot possibly account for the sequencing of the fossils in the geological record, and creationist geology doesn’t even accord with the creationist interpretation of the biblical narrative.

Written 2019-06-10.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.