Christians’ Favourite Delusions 14: You can’t prove God doesn’t exist

Santa-JehovahThere’s a difference between ‘proving’ something – technically this can only be done in mathematics and, arguably, the law – and ‘demonstrating’ it. Atheists can’t ‘prove’ God doesn’t exist, any more than believers can prove he does. But it is relatively easy to demonstrate how unlikely it is that there’s a God. We can apply the scientific method. Science doesn’t ‘prove’ either – it demonstrates the likelihood of something being the case by looking at the evidence and determining from it whether a phenomenon is probable or improbable.

This is in fact what Christians (and Muslims and Hindus and Jews) do when they decide whether the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and Zeus exist; from the evidence they conclude, quite rightly, that it’s highly improbable.

What believers don’t do, though atheists do, is apply the same test to their own god. They say, ‘well of course these other supernatural beings don’t exist. There’s no evidence for them whatsoever. But as for my God, well, I’m not going to apply the same rigour. I know he exists because, erm, I believe in him, I have faith.’

But faith and belief are not evidence. Warm fuzzy feelings are not evidence of God. Books written by ancient tribesmen and other superstitious people aren’t either. Even the universe itself is not evidence, when its existence can be explained without recourse to him. Similarly the development of life on Earth and human beings themselves; all are better explained by other means, none of which require God.

It is fairly safe to conclude as a result that the reason they don’t require him is because he wasn’t involved. And he wasn’t involved because he doesn’t exist, in just the same way Santa Claus wasn’t involved when you received your Christmas presents this week. This may not be the ‘proof’ Christians and others would like, but it does demonstrate, more than adequately, the improbability of God’s existence.

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Christmas Quiz Answers

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1. In what year was Jesus born?   a) 4 BCE (when Herod the Great was king)   b) the year 0     c) 6CE (when Quirinius was governor of Syria)

Matthew’s gospel claims Jesus was born when Herod the Great was king (Matthew 2.1) while Luke says it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2.2). But Herod died in 4BCE and Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until ten years later, in 6CE. So JC couldn’t have been born when both men were in their respective positions. Neither was he born in the year 0, because there wasn’t one (the Gregorian calendar goes from 1BCE to 1CE). Most scholars think Jesus was born around 4BCE, just before Herod’s death (as Matthew’s gospel suggests). Award yourself a splash of myrrh if you got this right.

2. When was Jesus born?  a) December 25th?   b) April 1st   c) in the summer

Not December 25th (see my post Jesus Is The Reason For The Season below) which was the date usurped from the pagan festival of Saturnalia; April 1st, maybe, as there’s something about this that takes us all for fools, but if the story is to be believed, it’s most likely he was born in the summer when shepherds would be out on the hillside with their sheep – if the story is to be believed. In short, we don’t actually know. If you said this, reward yourself with three hail Marys.

3. Who was Jesus’ father? a) God himself   b) Joseph, so that Jesus was descended from King David   c) one of Mary’s one night-stands

a) and b) rule each other out: see my post Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no was descended from David, er… below.  There were much later rumours that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier called Pantera, and certainly Jesus’ legitimacy is called into question by early critics of Christianity. This may be reflected in the gospels themselves where Jesus is referred to as his mother’s son, not his father’s as would have been customary (Mark 6.3). Treat yourself to Susan Boyle’s rendering of ‘Silent Night’ if you knew this.

4. How often did the Romans make people return to their ancestral home to be counted?  a) never   b) it was one-off   c) only when the gospel writer needed to get them to Bethlehem

Answer is c). While the Romans did carry out a census in 6CE, i) Jesus was born ten years earlier and ii) there is no record of the Romans forcing people to return to the home of their ancestors.

5. How did Mary get to Bethlehem?  a) on foot   b) on a donkey   c) by being a character in a contrived story

The answer is c). Luke’s nativity story, the only one to have them travel to Bethlehem, doesn’t say how she got there. Leave a carrot out for Santa’s reindeer if you answered correctly.

6. Where was Jesus born?  a) in a stable   b) in a cave   c) at home in Nazareth

Again, Luke’s Bethlehem account doesn’t say. Matthew implies Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem all along (Matthew 2.11 & 16) making the whole ‘no-room-at-the-inn’ scenario superfluous. Sprinkle yourself with frankincense for saying so.

7. According to Matthew’s gospel, how many wise-men visited the new-born babe?  a) none   b) three   c) they weren’t wise-men, they were astrologers

The answer is c) and the number isn’t specified.

8. What did the angels say to the wise-men when they told them of Jesus’ birth?  a) you will find him in a manger   b) nothing   c) follow that star

b) is correct. According to the story the angels spoke to the shepherds, not the wise-men. Deck the halls with boughs of holly if you fell for this one.

9. Where did the magic star shine?  a) over the stable where Jesus lay   b) over his house   c) since when do stars shine over specific objects here on Earth?

Looks like c) again, though Matthew, who is the only gospel writer to mention it, claims in Matthew 2.9-11 that it was b), over his house.

10. When did the wise-men visit the infant Jesus?  a) when he was a toddler   b) while he was still in the manger   c) after the Christmas rush

Matthew says Jesus was a child when the so-called wise-men visited him at home (Matthew 2.9-11 again). Given their encounter with Herod (Matthew 2.16), who thinks Jesus could be anything up to two years old, it’s likely JC was a toddler at this point in the fabricated story. Don ye now your gay apparel if you knew this.

11. When did Herod massacre all the little boys, hoping to kill the baby Jesus?  a) later that same week   b) a few years after the birth   c) there is no record of him having done any such thing

Yup, c) again.

12. How many shepherds visited the baby Jesus?  a) all of them  b) two old men and a young boy   c) none

The number isn’t specified, though Luke suggests all of them went (Luke 2.15-16). In fact it was ‘none’ because none of this actually happened.

13. What gifts did the shepherds bring?  a) a lamb   b) a lamb kebab   c) a pair of hand-knitted socks

It doesn’t say. You can have a new pair of hand-knitted socks yourself if you said so. Or a kebab.

14. Which animals were present at the birth?   a) a horse (c’mon, it was supposed to be in a stable)   b) an ox and ass   c) an ox, an ass, the wise-men’s camels and the shepherds’ sheep

No animals are mentioned.

15. After the birth, where did Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus go?  a) to Egypt   b) home to Nazareth   c) nowhere

According to Matthew (2.13-18) the family went to Egypt following the visit of the wise-men and, after hiding there until Herod died, made their home in Nazareth (Matthew 2.19-23). According to Luke, however, they lived in Nazareth before the birth (Luke 1.26) and simply went back there once they’d had the baby circumcised (Luke 2.38); no mention of the holiday in Egypt nor of Herod, who’d been dead for ten years according to Luke’s chronology. It’s kinda neat the way the Bible tells such a consistent story, don’t you think?

16. Where will you find the Christmas story in the Bible?  a) in Genesis (because the answers are always in Genesis)   b) in all four gospels   c) in only two of the gospels, which have conflicting accounts

The answer is c); only in Matthew and Luke, each having a completely different take on things.

Feel entitled to sacrifice two turtle doves for making it this far.

A short Christmas quiz…

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How well do you know the Christmas story? See how you fare in this exciting nativity quiz. Answers in the Bible (and posted soon here);

1. In what year was Jesus born?

a) 4 BCE (when Herod the Great was king)   b) the year 0   c) 6CE (when Quirinius was governor of Syria)

2. When was Jesus born?

a) December 25th?   b) April 1st   c) in the summer

 3. Who was Jesus’ father?

a) God himself   b) Joseph, so that Jesus was descended from King David   c) one of Mary’s one night-stands

4. How often did the Romans make people return to their ancestral home to be counted?

a) never   b) it was one-off   c) only when the gospel writer needed to get them to Bethlehem

5. How did Mary get to Bethlehem?

a) on foot   b) on a donkey   c) by being a character in a contrived story

6. Where was Jesus born?

a) in a stable   b) in a cave   c) at home in Nazareth

7. According to Matthew’s gospel, how many wise-men visited the new-born babe?

a) none   b) three   c) they weren’t wise-men, they were astrologers

8. What did the angels say to the wise-men when they told them of Jesus’ birth?

a) you will find him in a manger   b) nothing   c) follow that star

9. Where did the magic star shine?

a) over the stable where Jesus lay   b) over his house   c) since when do stars shine over specific objects here on Earth?

10. When did the wise-men visit the infant Jesus?

a) when he was a toddler   b) while he was still in the manger   c) after the Christmas rush

11. When did Herod massacre all the little boys, hoping to kill the baby Jesus?

a) later that same week   b) a few years after the birth   c) there is no record of him having done any such thing

12. How many shepherds visited the baby Jesus?

a) all of them   b) two old men and a young boy   c) none

13. What gifts did the shepherds bring?

a) a lamb   b) a lamb kebab   c) a pair of hand-knitted socks

14. Which animals were present at the birth?

a) a horse (c’mon, it was supposed to be in a stable)   b) an ox and ass   c) an ox, an ass, the wise-men’s camels and the shepherds’ sheep

15. After the birth, where did Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus go?

a) to Egypt   b) home to Nazareth   c) nowhere

16. Where will you find the Christmas story in the Bible?

a) in Genesis (because the answers are always in Genesis)   b) in all four gospels   c) in only two of the gospels, which have conflicting accounts

Good luck. Answers here soon.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 13: Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no, was descended from David, er…

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That most fallible of books, the Bible, often wants it both ways. Never more so than when it’s trying to add spin to its central character. It wants us to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, with no human male involved, and, at the same time, that he was physically descended from King David on his dad’s side.

He’s got to be born of David’s line, you see, because the prophecies say the Messiah will be just that. The writer of Acts (‘Luke’) knows this and tells his readers that God promised King David that through ‘the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne’. (Acts 2.30, KJV; my emphasis). The reference is to 2 Samuel 7:12, where Yahweh does indeed appear to tell David that he ‘will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his Kingdom’. This is to be a physical descendancy and is the reason for all those ‘begats’ at the start of some of the gospels; they are there to establish Jesus’ (supposed) royal descent on his father’s side. This is why, in his gospel, Luke contrives to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth: ‘Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David‘ (Luke 2.4). That’s Joseph who was descended from David. Not Mary, not Jesus’ uncle Charlie and not the Almighty himself. Joseph.

Perversely, it is also Luke who insists that Jesus is the product of divine impregnation and a virgin birth (Luke 1.32-35). Why doesn’t he realise that if Jesus was virginally conceived, he cannot be the fruit of any human male’s loins? Luke includes the virgin conception and birth in his nativity story while insisting, in both his gospel and in Acts, that Jesus is the Messiah precisely because he is a physical descendant of David (see, for example, Luke 1.27, 1.32, 1.69, 2.4, 2.11, 3.31, 18.38, 20.41). But Jesus can’t be both a physical descendent of David through Joseph and the result of the God helping himself to a nice young girl. Could it be the two conflicting accounts were written by different fantasists?

So, is Jesus the ‘Son of God’ because he was created by the Almighty’s impregnation of Mary or is he the Messiah because he’s King David’s descendant ‘according to the flesh’? Either Jesus is physically descended from David or he is a being conceived through divine rape, like other mythical god-men of the ancient world.

He cannot be both – though he could, of course, be neither.