Popular Map Temporarily Removed from Modern Warfare 2 Over Reference to Allah Offending Muslims

In what seems to have sparked a great deal of religious debate in the Call of Duty community is the sudden, unexpected removal of the Favela map from the rotation for Modern Warfare 2 by Infinity Ward and Activision. The explanation of the temporary removal of the map is to change some of the art assets that have attached a quote attributed to Muhammad.

The map in question is known as “Favella,” and depicts a run-down shantytown in Rio de Janiro—the controversy stems over some artwork hanging in one of the bathrooms that apparently contains an image of a tree but beneath it is displayed a quote from the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The quote, written in Arabic, reads: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”

The objection is not over the quote itself; but instead as to it being displayed in a bathroom, a place considered dirty by proponents of orthodox Islam.

Many religions contain customs and language that mark certain places and things (or people) as unclean and this is often used as a form of social control that denies these people/objects participation in religious rituals or honors. It is not unexpected that a bathroom would be considered an “unclean” place. As a result of it uncleanliness the presence of any reference to or quote from the Prophet Muhammad is considered disrespectful.

Gaming blog Kotaku contacted Activision for an explanation and received a message back:

We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.

We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.

Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.

As mentioned, they intend to keep the map offline until all the assets can be fixed; after that is completed the map will return with the offending content removed.

An overtly loud way to fix what could be a relatively minor issue

No doubt, this act by Activision is to show their sensitivity towards the expectations of a demographic of gamers who play their games. It seems highly likely that a notable population of their gamers happen to live in Middle Eastern countries (where Islam is dominant) and that no small number of Muslims in the UK and US also play Call of Duty games.

However, it’s also not impossible for them to contact those who complained to them and explain that it might take some time (a few weeks) to get the assets changed and then quietly publish new textures as part of a patch. The presence of this accidentally offensive picture and quote in a bathroom would have been quietly brushed away and mentioned in passing in a patch notes.

People not offended by the presence of this image (because they didn’t know) would continue to not care.

We’ve have seen this sort of thing highlighted before when City of Heroes was expanding into Germany and they had a group of villains who looked a lot like the Nazis and held the name “The 5th Column.” They were overtaken by a different villain group called “The Council” with a slightly different aesthetic (but similar powers and position in the narrative) and were eventually replaced in order to smooth over potential German sensibilities. Especially because in Germany, Nazi paraphernalia and imagery is strictly illegal.

Instead, Activision had made the very loud point of removing an extremely popular map, creating a great deal of attention to the fact that they’re fixing it, that Muslims complained, and that they’re doing something about it. By doing this the publisher is shining a bright light not just on their own loyalty to “multiculturalism” but they’re also spotlighting the complaints that have abbreviated the game experience for players.

As a result, it has generated a flare up of animosity from non-Muslims toward Muslims due in part to increasing news of violence and bad behavior by Muslim groups in reaction to perceived insults to their religion. Fortunately, none of this happened in relation to this image in the bathroom of a map in a video game.

The vanishing map itself has drawn great deal of criticism—no small amount of it directed at the Muslim complaints—and although it is temporary, this has become a sticking point in conversations arising from its removal.

Religion and the Environment

Today is Earth Day. We use this day to raise awareness of environmental issues and to encourage people to do something about them, but one thing that is often overlooked is the basic perspective that people have on the world. The perspective that may allow them to ignore the problems, or may force them to confront the issues. That perspective is often influenced or even entirely dictated by religious views, and it can differ dramatically from one religion to another, and even from one practitioner to another, based on the same set of scriptures.

It is not uncommon to hear Christians who follow “Dominion Theology” claiming not only a right, but a God given right to do anything they want with anything non-human on the planet. Whether it’s polluting or otherwise destroying the land, air or water, or using and abusing animals in any way they see fit, they have no remorse and no hesitation because they “know” that God himself said that it was okay.

Genesis 1:26
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

In an overlapping group, there are even large numbers of people who believe that what we do here today doesn’t matter because the end of the world is imminent, not through our own rampant destruction, but by God’s design. They believe that they are living in the “last days”, and the worse things are, the more they think they’re right. There is little reason for these people to be concerned about the long-term environmental impact that we are having, and it’s unlikely that many of them care.

Fortunately, some of the more reasonable Christians have seen the problems with these other views and have started calling for proper stewardship of our planet. This still seems to be a small minority view among Christian leaders, or one that most don’t care to stress, but as environmental awareness continues to spread throughout the population as a whole, more and more of these church leaders may be forced to lend their support to the environment.

Judaism, the originator of the Abrahamic Mythos upon which Christianity and Islam are also built, has its share of disputes as well. Most of the verses used in “Dominion Theology” are contained in both the Christian Bible and the Jewish scriptures, so it comes down to interpretation and good sense again. This of course leaves some Jewish sects being very reasonable, and some less so, but few if any Jews hold to the kind of “End Times Theology” that seems to have attracted so many Christians today.

Islam on the other hand, for all of its violent reputation, actually does go beyond Judaism and Christianity in its scriptures, officially enjoining some greater care for animals and the environment than either of its relatives. Sadly the potential environmental boon that Muslims could provide is currently lacking due to the lack of a concerted effort to make a difference in Islamic countries.

There are religions which more clearly teach responsible behavior. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to people who see all of history as a continuous march from less to more perfect forms, some of the more ancient religions provide a more modern progressive perspective on the environment and other life on Earth.

We do not have complete and accurate records of the most ancient spiritual beliefs of native Americans or others like them around the world, but from what we know of their more recent past, they appear to have led very sustainable lives using only the resources they needed rather than the maximum they could acquire as so many of us seem to do today.

In better documented ancient religions and philosophies such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, we see even more thought being put into our relationship with the world. Rather than seeing everything around us as being placed here under our dominion, all three see the interconnected world we live in, and look for our place in it. They recognize that we must relate to it not as a race of heartless dictators, but as an important part of the world, as is all life.

Jains in particular, along with many Buddhists and Hindus, believe in and practice “ahimsa” (doing no harm). Jains go so far as to avoid harming insects and even plants whenever possible. This may sound too extreme or too difficult to most modern people, but nevertheless it does have the least impact on other life and the environment as a whole.

Realistically, for most people living today, the best we can hope for is a reasonable middle ground. With as much as 2/3 of the world’s population believing in some version of the Abrahamic Mythos however, this task is made much more difficult. It has taken decades for the environmental movement to begin making serious inroads in mainstream Western culture, and for these gains to continue and garner the results we all need, religious leaders must either lead or stand aside.

We can’t afford to ignore dominionist ideologies any longer. Ideas promoted by religions are some of the most difficult to stamp out, and the idea that the world is our plaything is in desperate need of retirement. So please, discuss these issues with your friends and family, even your clergy if you are religious. Do your part to put ideas like this out to pasture along with slavery, the subjugation of women and all of the other terrible injustices which have been promoted through religion.

Preacher Posse Observations: First Friday Art Walk

These notes mostly apply to the preacher posse; the ones who are out there specifically to convert people to Christianity. They call this “street fishing”, witnessing, evangelizing, spreading the good word/Gospel; these are all different words for proselytizing.

As for the general public, there were some casual glances to our signs (many more simply enjoyed the music) and a few stopped to discuss what the signs meant and what the Resistance was about. Surprisingly, the majority of those we talked to were open to our ideas – several were actually favorable. More people were encouraging than hostile.

Usually, the believers have unique reasons why they believe, or they openly admit they aren’t looking to change their worldview any time soon. We always try to wish them well and thank them for speaking to us.

Unfortunately, a lot of the preacher types (those that are compelled to “share their faith” instead of exchanging ideas) appear to be exactly the same, spouting the same stolid lines and “arguments” that have little affect on people. Apparently, the Way of the Master camp tries to break out of this dowdy tack by their the use of fake million dollar bills and “The Good Person Test”. Clever.

This group also repeated their “Are you a good person?” quiz so often over the few hours I was there, I think I’ve memorized it:

“Do you think you are a good person? Have you ever said a lie? You’re a liar. Have you ever stolen something? It doesn’t matter how small, God will send you to hell for this sin. Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? That’s called blasphemy. Have you ever looked at someone with lust? Jesus says that’s the same as adultery. Do you know the 10 commandments? Most people don’t even know…”

Hm, how much does a preaching job pay?

Despite the constant litany next to us, mostly ignored and occasionally challenged by the passersby, there were some people who did actually engage us (mostly Kazz) to show us the error of our ways and how we should believe in Jesus Christ Lord.

So here are 5 things that struck me as I listened to them.

#1 Labeling “my people”

One of the preacher-types actually referred to all atheists as Kazz’s “people”. It’s kind of a low blow to use the “you people” label. We all fall victim to this sort of generalization. I’m doing it now with this post, but this is because many preachers ascribe themselves to groups like Way of the Master or The Door or other groups of “True Christians”.

Etymologically speaking, you’d think that a Christian is anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. There are certain sublayers that must go along with this, such as the historical existence of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. Otherwise, what’s the point? Apparently the jury is still out on this one. Most fundamentalists believe that you still have to believe in the Old Testament and pretty much everything that happened after Jesus that is documented in the New Testament of the Bible. Except for the parts that you don’t. That’s where it all gets tricky.

My point here is that there’s more to Christianity than Jesus – that’s what makes it a religion. Atheism is simply, only, solely, wholly, nothing but a lack of belief in a god or gods. We therefor don’t adhere to any principles of behavior or other specific beliefs. We have no leader who dictates what’s right and what’s wrong. Atheists are also not always complete skeptics. Not all of us believe in Science as the one true path. Sure, you’ll find all this and more, but that’s because we’re allowed to be different people with diverse beliefs. The only thing in common is that we do not believe in any form of gods.

This leads to my next observation…

#2 A Creator doesn’t automatically mean your god is real

Generally the first question that people have after you explain atheism to them is “Where did we come from?” Because every logical 5 year old knows that something comes from something. Without getting into the explanation of where the universe came from, know that this argument is used a lot by preachers who are unwittingly opening up the door to countless gods who can claim the honor of creating our world. Most cultures didn’t have a concept of “universe” so we usually are talking about where the world came from. The moon, sun and other stars play a really minor role in comparison to the Earth. Think of them as the aquarium background of your fish tank.

Say one of the preachers has brow-beaten you to accept that yes, there is a Creator. But which one? Luckily for us, Wikipedia has a list of 99 creator gods. So pick your favorite. Mine’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but Pangu is also cool: Tell them that they worship a false god, because that big hairy giant awoke from the cosmic egg to create the world with the aid of animal friends.

They will fall back on the Bible. Show them the Wikipedia article.

Modern Christians will talk about the universe somewhat but they are usually unprepared for knowledgeable exchanges on the age of the universe. They will more than likely talk about some bullshit “scientist” who discovered how the accepted laws of the universe worked differently back in Biblical times. Usually, however, the answer to any inconsistency between science and the Bible is Satan.

This argument often leads to …

#3 Ignorance of science, misunderstanding of statistics

Most of the preacher’s information about science doesn’t come from actual scientists. It’s collected (or made up) and disseminated through websites like the Way of the Master, Living Waters, Ray Comfort’s blog and others. Honestly, I don’t think that the preacher possse knows much about science and they have no resources to refute what they read. The preacher sites may know better but I think that they are more concerned about converting the masses than actual scientific exchange.

Much of this “knowledge” is based on what “sounds” true and really ignores a lot of the mysteries that make science alive and vibrant. They work with half-truths and they make scientists (and policy makers that support them) sound like the evil dictators of the scholarly realm. The movie “Expelled” comes to mind. Ultimately, they care about what supports their faith in the Bible. So they will read what is appealing to them and they will misinterpret most attempts that anyone makes, or has made, to educate them.

That’s why you get grossly inaccurate statements like the ones we heard on Roosevelt at the Art Walk:

Scientists say 2 rocks collided and made the world.
Scientists say a rock killed the dinosaurs and made cavemen
Life can’t create itself
How does life come from rocks?

Why Christian creationists have an obsession with rocks is beyond me. Their own mythos says that people were made from dust and a rib bone. LITERALLY.

We also encountered a strange misuse of statistics. This is found usually in the percentages and in the meaning behind what the numbers. One preacher alternatively praised high numbers while similarly dismissing them. “Most people will tell you there’s a God. It’s innate.” That line (paraphrased) was used to tell us that we have no hope of convincing people there are no gods. So his point was that the majority is right in this. However, later on the same man said “98% of Americans call themselves Christians.” This is probably wrong in the %, and it usually comes from conflating high numbers and percentages: There are a lot of so-called Christians, and 98% is a high number so let’s roll with it. In this case, a majority of people is a bad thing – they aren’t REALLY Christians. So he gets to appeal to the will of the masses and decry them at the same time!

Additionally, he believes that the evil gays also manipulate their statistics – he doesn’t believe that it’s 10% and that they over inflate their numbers so that people will be more inclined to accept them. Since there’s no reliable “test” for Christianity or homosexuality, I guess all of us unbelievers will have to rely on taking people at their word.

#4 Refusal to exchange

As Amerist reported in the Roosevelt Resistance Report for Friday, two of the preachers who appeared deeply offended by our ideas (or possibly just the Jesus Pwned shirt) refused to take or even LOOK AT one of our tracts. It explained what atheism is, and I handed it to them after they expressed confusion – “I don’t understand” – over the concept of atheism. One of them snapped, “You wouldn’t take one of our tracts since you don’t believe in God.” I said that I would, because I liked the exchange of information and open communication between people. They still refused the atheism tract but they seemed to think the one on the Nephilim (angel-human hybrids) was perfectly fine. It’s in the Bible, after all. However, one of their group who was a little more engaging was skeptical that it was in the Bible.

I’m glad they finally started looking at some of our stuff, but initially they refused to look at anything that might challenge their faith. I think this tendency, unfortunately, is what reinforces the other observations listed here.

#5 A story

Most preachers have a personal story of why they believe. Something that convinced them and continues to keep them tied to their beliefs. One man had his “scarred” eyes “cured” by God, and another woman had claimed that she should have “died several times” without the intervention of deity.

I suppose that this is the main reason they find their belief so powerful: it appears the only explanation for “miracles” such as being healed or rescued from harm. Many people truly feel this way. It’s not up to me to say such things didn’t happen, because everyone has a different way of interpreting things that happen in their life. However, I think that unbridled and unchecked belief in miracles further removes them from rationality and encourages a distrust of science and self-imposed ignorance regarding coincidences, albeit strange ones.

If you believe doctors are wrong and God will heal you if you pray hard enough, I hope you never get cancer. If you believe that only the power of God can save you if you are in a desperate situation, I hope you don’t give up if he doesn’t appear.

There are more dimensions to the preacher posse than this brief list. Their worldview seems unnecessarily narrowed by their beliefs. To me, it seems that despite their scorn of scientists, they are the ones that need an explanation for everything – right now. And so their explanation for life, the universe and everything is the God/Satan duality. And I think that’s unfortunate.

The Atheist Pope

“Breathe in…breathe out.

Focus your rage against God, and imagine pulling your ritual dagger across the helpless Christian baby’s throat, spilling its blood for our Lord Lucifer.

Breathe in…bre-”

A wild-eyed and wild-haired man in a Slayer t-shirt shook the Priest who had been leading our Atheist Meditation “Look! White smoke! The new Pope has been chosen!”

We were all on our feet in seconds, all thoughts of the sacrifice pushed to the backs of our minds by the burning question: who had the Cardinals deemed worthy of interpreting our sacred scriptures and creating the Atheist dogma?

We rushed off to the square below the palace, crowding in behind the throngs of thousands, all awaiting the news with bated breath.

The crack of a whip broke the silence and the masses cheered loudly when the deep bass drums pounded out the Papal March and demonic horns blew a loathsome dirge that filled our evil hearts with unspeakable joy.

I could almost see the fires of Hell burning when they pulled the curtains back. The black vestments of the Cardinals began to appear over the railing as they poured forth from the Papal chambers and onto the balcony, mad faces contorted with glee as the fruit of their wicked deal with the devil was revealed to the world.

The whip cracked again and an enormous jewel-encrusted golden litter was carried out onto the balcony by 13 naked slave girls, drenched in sweat and straining under the weight.

The music abruptly ceased, as did the movement of the litter. Cardinals drooled and leered at the girls as four of them got down on their hands and knees to make a staircase of flesh for their master. The curtains were soon parted by a stylish red Prada loafer, followed by the traditional blood red robes of the Atheist Pope.

“Ave Satani!” The Pope’s voice boomed across the square, and the cheering began anew. The swirling mass of red robes flew toward the railing and away again in a whirling dance passed down from time immemorial, from the devil’s own instructions to the first Atheist Pope. The cowl on his robe flew back, and as he came to rest standing proudly on the dais before his throne, leaning out over the railing to see the crowd, we finally knew.

With the mark of the beast burning brightly on his forehead above a gaunt face with skin pulled tight around his demon-sharpened features, it could be no one else. The new Atheist Pope Richard Dawkins graced us with his trademarked self-righteous smirk as he lifted his ceremonial dagger into the air and shrieked “Ad majorem Satani gloriam!”

The crowd screamed wildly in return and two cardinals carefully lowered the sinister looking red and black Papal Mitre onto his head while the cartloads of Christian babies began to roll into sight. In the third cart that passed me I could see that there was one little girl just old enough to know real fear. She looked straight into my eyes and I could see the terror on her face. I had found my sacrifice.

The Reality

There is no Atheist Pope, no atheist dogma or doctrine except that we don’t believe in gods.

I am frequently faced with people who believe that atheism is a religion, or at least a belief system, but it is merely a single belief or lack of belief. A religious person may say that everything in their life is based on their belief in gods, but the same is not true for an unbeliever.

Atheist Religion

One thing that is often used to “prove” that atheism is a religion is that US courts have ruled that it is one.

The reality is that while atheism is only a single belief related to religion, atheists should have the same rights, protections and privileges as religious people, and unfortunately legally defining it as a religion may be the only way to quickly and easily achieve that equality.

This ruling does nothing to change the fact that atheism simply does not fit into any reasonable definition of religion.

When I decide what I believe to be right and wrong, I don’t think “I can do this because there’s no God” unless it is something that specifically and only applies if gods do exist such as “thou shalt have no other gods before me”.

The main point is that I decide based in part on the beliefs of the society I live in, and on what I determine to be good based on my own observations and thoughts.

God doesn’t come into the picture at all. It’s not because I “hate Him” or because I “don’t want to follow his holy laws”, it’s because I really truly do not believe that any gods exist.

So please, if you are a believer, don’t imagine us to be horrible twisted monsters, and don’t try to tell us that we are part of an “atheist religion” or that atheism itself is a belief system. We do all have belief systems, whether they are taught to us or we create them ourselves, but atheism does not provide one.

Evidence For Jesus: The Anno Domini Dating System

It is true that today much of the world uses the Gregorian calendar with the Anno Domini dating system, and this fact is often brought up by Christians as evidence for Jesus, but this “evidence” would hardly even be worth refuting if it weren’t so commonly used.

Most people don’t know much about the history of our calendar, which is not surprising since it is not often important in our lives, but when it is brought up in this way it becomes necessary to explore it, and it’s actually more interesting than might be expected.

This is the basic premise:

  • We use a dating system based on the birth of Jesus.
  • Therefore Jesus existed.

To examine the truth value of this claim, we must break it down further:

  • AD, which stands for “Anno Domini” meaning “in the year of our Lord” did not spring into existence in 1 AD, or even 50 or 100 AD. The Anno Domini dating system was created in what we now call 525 AD by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus. This is more than 500 years after the monk believed Jesus to have been born.

    To make matters worse, we know that Dionysius made mistakes in his dating. This is a well established fact, and combined with the irreconcilable conflicts in Biblical accounts which attempt to date the birth of Jesus, it leaves us with little doubt that the Anno Domini dating system is not in fact accurately based on the year that Jesus was born.

  • About 200 years later, another monk and historian who is now called Saint Bede came up with “ante uero incarnationis dominicae tempus” (“the time before the Lord’s true incarnation”). This is what we refer to as “Before Christ” or BC.

    It should be clear why some monks would wish to create a dating system based on the year they believed their messiah to have been born, and it is not evidence for a historical Jesus, only for monks who believed in one.

  • Even in Bede’s day, over 700 years after the time Dionysius set for the birth of Jesus, this dating system was not popular. It wasn’t until later in the 8th century that it began to spread slowly across Europe after its endorsement by Emperor Charlemagne. Despite all of this it took nearly 700 more years to cover even Western Europe, finally reaching Portugal in 1422, and even today it is not used universally.

    If the whole world, or even just people in the vicinity of Judea, had immediately started to date things based on the same BC/AD system we have today, it would be a strong piece of circumstantial evidence for Jesus. Even if they had started within 50 years, it would have been impressive.

    Not only was the Anno Domini dating system not a rapidly spreading phenomenon exploding from Judea to the rest of the world in the first century in response to the birth of Jesus though, it was not invented until more than 500 years later and not popular for several hundred years more.

    This is weak evidence for Jesus indeed.

So what did people use before?

There have been many different dating systems, but most of them have been based on such things as the year an empire was founded, or the year of the reign of a specific ruler.

For example in Rome there were several different ways of giving a year based on such things as the year of the reign of an emperor, who the consuls for the year were, or the number of years from the founding of Rome.

In fact, when Julius Caesar instituted the Julian calendar (which our modern Gregorian calendar is a modified form of) in 45 BC, the year to him was still 709 ab urbe condita meaning “from the founding of the City [of Rome]“.

Even today in Japan there are three different dating systems. Anno Domini is used now, but there is also an era name based on the current emperor (Heisei 21 is 2009), and there is even an imperial year (currently Kōki 2669) based on the date Japan was supposedly founded by Emperor Jimmu whose historicity, like Jesus’s is questionable. The fact that there is a dating system based on the date he is said to have founded Japan does nothing to prove his existence as an actual person.

So despite its continued frequent use by some Christians as “evidence for Jesus”, the Anno Domini dating system is no more evidence of an historical Jesus than the Erisian calendar is evidence of an historical Eris.

- Kazz
January 1st, 3175 YOLD

Christian Video Response: Designer Regression

In this 5 minute video, Dr. William Lane Craig attempts to refute the argument made by Richard Dawkins that using a god to explain where the universe came from leads to an infinite regress of even more complicated gods. This argument can be found in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion, but it is introduced at the very end of Chapter 3.

The basis of Craig’s refutation is that “In order to recognize that an explanation is the best, you don’t have to be able to explain the explanation.”

It is true that explaining one thing doesn’t necessarily require explaining its precursor. For example evolution is perfectly acceptable even if we are entirely wrong about the origins of the universe.

It is also true that intelligent life on Earth does not necessitate an intelligent designer. If we believe that it does, then adding that requirement also adds the requirement of an intelligent designer to our designer because we have concluded that the best possible explanation for intelligent life is an intelligent designer.

Although he talks about intelligent design being the best explanation for the universe, his argument is not convincing. He compares the universe to an archaeological find on Earth and says that it would be ridiculous for archaeologists to attribute arrow heads to anything but an intelligent designer (in this case humans), and therefore it would be ridiculous to attribute what he sees as the appearance of design in nature to anything but an intelligent designer.

The problem is, unlike archaeology, we are dealing with something that we have a severely limited knowledge and understanding of.

We see arrow heads all over the world today and far back into history. We know that people make them, and we do not believe that any other life on this planet (apart from some of our closest relatives such as Neanderthals) has produced similar tools, so it is a reasonably safe assumption that arrow heads we find will be intelligently designed, usually by homo sapiens.

Even this has pitfalls though. It is not uncommon for people to find things that they believe to be ancient tools, and then find that the attribution of design is very questionable. Sometimes a strangely shaped rock is just a strangely shaped rock.

Crystals are another good example. If we hadn’t seen crystals before and we dug one up, we would be very tempted to believe that they were carved by intelligent beings, but they were not. They are formed by natural processes which we understand very well.

According to our understanding of the universe, there does have to be an explanation for everything, even if we have no idea what it is. However, to believe that we can find the truth through sheer speculation on what we feel is the best explanation for the entire universe is staggeringly arrogant and silly.

To say that God is so great in every way that we can’t even imagine what He is like is essentially to say that we have no idea what this God explanation really is or where it came from. That is no better than saying “The multiverse is infinite and has always existed.”

The root of this problem lies not in requiring an infinite regression of explanations for everything we explain, but in laying down the specific set of requirements that creationists (AKA intelligent design proponents) use.

If we say that something which has the appearance of design to us and which seems to us unlikely to form naturally is best explained by a designer, then that designer will also have the appearance of design and be unlikely to form naturally. This is the crux of the issue, and the place where Dr. Craig completely misses the point. From there on he is arguing against a straw man.

God For a Day

Boxing Day is an interesting holiday, widely observed across what was once the British Empire. Generally held on December 26th, it is a day when the wealthy would traditionally give gifts to their employees or to people of lower social classes. More interestingly, the wealthy would often trade places with their household servants for a day.

What better way to observe this holiday than to trade places with the boss of all bosses? Let’s take a little time to just imagine trading places with God.

We’ll use the most common Christian view of God as omniscient (knowing everything), omnipotent (being able to do anything), and omnipresent (being everywhere at the same time).

The Great Fruit Debacle

In the beginning You create the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1). You go on to create everything according to the primitive conception of the world that the authors of Genesis held, and then you create it a second time in Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, you perform your first and possibly most evil act.

Like babies off a cliff

This story is like setting your two little babies near the edge of a cliff, telling them “don’t crawl off or you’ll die”, and then leaving them alone.

After saying this you just watch, silent and out of sight, while one of your older and more knowledgeable children goads them into crawling off the edge of the cliff one at a time and falling to their deaths. This would be an easy task since the babies couldn’t possibly understand the meaning of your words.

Once they’ve both fallen, then you go down to see their shattered bodies on the rocks beneath and you say “You stupid babies, I told you this would happen! Now that you finally understand what I already knew, I won’t let you live even though I could save you. In fact, I will make you suffer before I let you die. Better yet, I’ll make every living thing in the world suffer and die, and I’ll blame it all on you. Now go away.”

You create Adam, you create the Garden of Eden, and then you create “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. You stick the tree right in the middle of the garden, and then you tell naive Adam (who can not yet know the meaning of good and evil) not to eat from that one tree or he will die.

Ignoring the fact that Adam could not have comprehended death in this deathless world, and the fact that he could not have understood the “evil” of disobeying your command, what possible reason could you have for putting this tree in the garden!? It could have gone outside of the garden, and it would never be a problem, or it could simply not exist, but you chose to put it there.

The only reasonable explanation for this is that you knew exactly what would happen, you intended Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, and you are as guilty of instigating this mess as a police officer entrapping a mentally challenged child. You knew what would happen, and you set up the circumstances to allow it to happen, and you never stepped in to prevent this outcome when the serpent tempted Eve.

Being omniscient and omnipresent you must have seen it, and being omnipotent you could have stopped it or at least reminded them not to eat the fruit, but you just sat there and watched them destroy the world with a bite of fruit.

You didn’t stop Eve when she put the fruit to her lips, and you didn’t stop Adam when she offered it to him. You didn’t forgive them or repair the damage, you became afraid of them and you set us all on the endless trail of horrible suffering and death that still plagues the world to this day, just because you were angry and afraid.

Not only did you punish the entire world forever for the mistakes of Adam and Eve, you set the whole thing up knowing exactly what would happen. If anyone is responsible for “the fall of man”, it is you.

Mmmm…Burning Flesh

Once you’ve kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden, Eve starts having babies and suffering through the painful childbirth you inflicted on her and all of her descendants (Genesis 4:1-2, 3:16). She has Cain and she has Abel.

The first thing worth mentioning that happens in their lives is that they each bring an offering to you.

Cain is a farmer, so he brings “the fruit of the ground”. Abel is a rancher and he brings you the fat little firstborn baby animals from his flocks.

Cain brings the products of his farm to you, probably burning them for you as is the later custom, but you are not impressed. You don’t seem to have told people yet that you prefer sacrifices that bleed, cry, fear and feel pain.

Abel soon finds this out though when he brings the innocent little baby animals and kills them and burns them all just for you. There’s no reason for him to slit the throat of that cute little lamb, there’s no need to bash in the head of the calf he’s just dragged away from its mother, no reason that is other than your desire for all kinds of animals to be killed and burned for you, apparently just because you like the smell (Genesis 8:21, Exodus 29:18, 25, 41, Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17, Numbers 28-29, etc.).

So you let them know you don’t like Cain’s sacrifice, but you sure are happy with Abel’s! After all there is nothing you love more than the smell of the burning flesh of animals needlessly killed just for you. It’s so great in fact that you spend more verses in the Bible talking about how burning flesh is “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” than you do about the creation of the entire world!

Cain just can’t understand this. He’s angry and confused because Abel’s offering made you happy and his didn’t. So what do you do? Do you clearly explain to him what you want and that you still love him and you’ll be happy when he comes back and kills and burns helpless baby animals for you? No, you say something cryptic about how he would be accepted if he did well and then you leave.

You don’t calm Cain down so he won’t do anything crazy, you don’t save Abel from being murdered by his brother, you just set up the conflict and watch it unfold. There seems to be a pattern here: You cause trouble, you watch it play out, and you punish whoever’s left standing.

So Cain goes out into the fields with his brother and talks to him, and then we’re not sure what happens. Maybe Cain is still just mad and already planned to kill his brother, or maybe Abel laughed at him because God didn’t like his sacrifice? Whatever the reason, Cain kills Abel.

Of course you show up at this point, late again, but being omniscient and omnipresent, you were hanging around and watching the whole thing anyway. So you get mad at Cain and you kick him out of the place that you kicked Adam and Eve out to, and Cain (the only living person yet mentioned in the Bible after Adam and Eve) runs off to live in Nod.

Apparently Adam and Eve had enough female children to go out and build the city of Nod, but you must have thought they were not worth mentioning in your Bible, probably because they were female and you view women more as chattel, the possessions of their fathers or husbands, than as valuable individuals (Genesis 19:1-8, Exodus 20:17, 21:4, 7-11, Numbers 5:11-31, 30:1-16, 31:17-18, Deuteronomy 20:14, 22:13-21, 22:28-29, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Peter 3:1, etc.).

So Cain goes to Nod and takes a wife, who would also have to be his sister, and they start having sons. Eve has another son, Seth, to replace Abel, and Seth has a son to finish up Genesis Chapter 4. If any of them have daughters, apparently you don’t care.

Once again, in this second tragedy the Bible describes, you have instigated the whole thing and done nothing to prevent the tragic outcome, but you have still convinced people to believe that you did nothing wrong. Bravo God, bravo.

The Rest of the Bible

So far we have only covered the first couple of pages of the first book of the Bible, but you have already created the world and engineered its demise, as well as inciting one of only four humans in the world to murder one of the other three and then you just watch it happen.

After a long list of Adam’s descendants in chapter 5, in chapter 6 of Genesis there are already half-human half-angel hybrids roaming the land (Genesis 6:1-4), and you already regret creating people (6:5). You decide this was all a big mistake and you should wipe out all life on Earth (6:6-7) which you do in chapter 7. You only spare 8 people along with 2 of each other unclean species of animal and 7 of each clean one.

This means that you kill nearly every man, woman, child, infant, dog, cat, cow, sheep, elephant, frog, bird, beetle, tyrannosaurus rex and every other species that has ever lived on this planet. Even if we discount the deaths of millions upon millions of innocent animals, how many people do you kill here? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

As soon as you’re done with Noah, in Genesis 11 you get scared that people building a tall tower will actually reach heaven, so you go down and change their languages so they can’t understand each other and you scatter them all over the world. At least you refrained from killing everyone for once, but that still isn’t nice, and isn’t all this fear unbecoming for an omniscient and omnipotent being?

The Bible goes on and on like this, book after book. You tell a Satan to torture Job, kill his whole family and take everything from him just to prove that he will still worship you. This is what the whole book of Job is about!

Here are just a few more of your many murders and commands to enslave, murder and massacre individuals, cities and even whole nations.

  • You command the Israelites to kill everyone in their way, every man, woman and child in many cases (Deuteronomy 3:1-7, Joshua 6:20-21, Judges 21:10-24, 1 Samuel 15:2-3, etc.).
  • You tell them to wage genocidal campaigns against the Babylonians, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Jeremiah 50:21-22, Exodus 23:23).
  • You condone slavery (Exodus 21:1-11, Leviticus 25:44-46, etc.).
  • You ask Abraham to kill and burn his own son as a sacrifice to you (Genesis 22:1-18).
  • You kill 70,000 people because King David conducts a census (1 Chronicles 21:9-14).
  • You kill a baby for the sins of its father, again King David (2 Samuel 12:11-14).
  • You kill all of the firstborn sons in Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to let your people go, but you don’t hurt the Pharaoh himself (Exodus 12:29-30).

This is just a small sample of the horrors you perpetrate in the Bible. Are you ready to go back to your “sinful” human self yet?

What would you really do?

If you were God, what would you do with the world? Would you help, or hurt? Would you create and responsibly maintain an earthly paradise, or would you continually set people up to be hurt and killed and fail in the most horrible ways?

This little role reversal is done in a humorous way, but it is intended to make you think seriously. Religious apologists will always be able to come up with some twisted exegesis to explain away the horrors of the Bible, but if you carefully read the entire Bible and honestly ask yourself each time God says or does something, “would I think this was right and good if I did it?”, you will find yourself answering “no” a disturbingly large number of times.

This idea will be scoffed at by many Christians because “we can’t know the mind of God”, but even our limited minds can see problems in the words and deeds of the Bible’s god. These are problems that do not appear less severe to more intelligent observers, they only become more abhorrent and disturbing when we see them as being done by a god who knows everything about everything and can do anything he wants to do with the universe.

In this light, the god of the Bible is a monster.

When Was Jesus Born?

When I was a child, I (like most children of Christian parents) was told that Jesus was born on December 25th in 1 A.D. This remains a common belief even among adults, but what reason do we have to believe it?

The first and most easily dismissed claim is that Jesus was born on December 25th, because there is simply no evidence for it. Even the Bible doesn’t give a birth day for him, and we know that December 25th was chosen by the Catholic church more than 300 years after the time Jesus was believed to have been born. The date seems to have been chosen in an attempt to replace the pagan Saturnalia and Solstice celebrations which were already set on or around that date.

There has been speculation from many different people about potential birth dates of Jesus, so much in fact that depending on who you ask it could be in any month of the year, but the truth is that we just don’t have very good evidence to place it at any specific time.

What is much more difficult to figure out is the year. It is difficult because the Bible gives information which can be historically dated to determine approximately when Jesus should have been born, but unfortunately for people who believe the Bible contains no errors, the historically verifiable facts simply do not match up.

To Egypt or not to Egypt?

In Matthew, Jesus and his family stay in Bethlehem for up to two years, and then in order to escape the "Massacre of the Innocents" they flee to Egypt where they stay until Herod dies. After all of this they finally come back and resettle in Nazareth.

In contrast Luke has Jesus taken to Jerusalem when he is just over a month old, and then the family returns to their home in Nazareth. There is no mention of the "flight to Egypt", and in fact no room for it in Luke’s time line.

There is no need to go through every point here, as those who are interested can read The Date of the Nativity in Luke, a very thorough dissection of this issue done by Richard Carrier, however it is worth mentioning some of the most basic facts.

  • Herod The Great died in 4 BCE.
  • Quirinius became governor of Syria in 6 CE.
  • The first Roman census of Judea happened in 6 CE. Prior to that, Judea was not under direct Roman control.
  • Matthew claims that Jesus was born when Herod was still alive, and elements of his account such as "The Massacre of the Innocents" place Jesus’s birth significantly before Herod’s death.
  • Luke claims that Jesus was born during Quirinius’s census of Syria, which as of 6 CE included Judea. This is the reason for Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem in his account.
  • Jesus could not have been born both in 6 CE and before 4 BCE.

If anyone can read through Richard Carrier’s work and still find a reasonable way to reconcile these dates, please let us (and more importantly him) know.

Unless someone manages to do that, we can only conclude that if Matthew and Luke are attempting to accurately describe the birth of a real historical person, they simply got their facts wrong. Perhaps it is more likely though, given these and other discrepancies in their stories, that the authors of the gospels were writing fanciful accounts of the birth of their religion’s messiah and putting in the details which they thought would be most appealing to their particular audiences.

In either case, given these seemingly irreconcilable differences, we simply have no way of knowing when Jesus might have been born.

Evidence For Jesus: Introduction

Even after I lost faith in Christianity, for years I continued to take the existence of Jesus, at least as a real person, on faith. It wasn’t until the last couple of years when I saw that there were people who doubted his existence that I began to seriously question it.

I believe I can look at this issue objectively, because for me it doesn’t matter whether or not a human being named Jesus (or Yeshua) existed as the basis for the Jesus character in the Bible. I don’t believe in the supernatural elements of the Bible for a multitude of other reasons, and although Jesus not existing would be critical for believers, for me it is not.

I can’t promise to be perfect in my search for and examination of evidence, and I may or may not be able to draw a definite conclusion at the end of the search, but I will do my best to research any evidence I find, and I will try to judge it fairly.

You can help by leaving comments giving more details and different perspectives or suggesting more evidence I should look at. I already have a short list started including the perennial favorites Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus along with a few others, but I’m still looking for more.

I have already started researching, so whenever I feel I have sufficient information on a subject I will post it. I do not expect to have a complete and perfect understanding, but through research and then discussion of the issues I believe we can come to reasonable conclusions, and hopefully in the end we will be able to answer the question “Was Jesus a real person?”

God’s Gift: AIDS

Have you ever wondered where HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, came from? Science does not have a definitive answer, but for a Christian who believes that God created everything, God has to be its creator.

Not only did He create AIDS, along with every other horrible affliction, but He made sure it would spread like wildfire.

How is God to blame for this?

If we assume that an intelligent being created everything, including us, then there are many ways in which that being is to blame for the spread of AIDS. Here are just a few of them:

  • To be the creator of everything, it would have to be the creator of AIDS.

    This can not be blamed on our “sin” or our “fallen world” as some believers would have us think. Viruses like HIV are no random accident, they evolved or were created specifically to attack living hosts like people and force their bodies to provide energy and materials to reproduce the virus.

    Sinning does not give you HIV, or murderers would be at least as likely to get it as homosexuals. It is a purely physical matter, and “sin” has nothing whatsoever to do with the existence of viruses.

  • Humans have sex drives from a young age, starting around puberty.

    While many people in western societies today believe that we should wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity, very few of them would support children getting married in their early teens or before.

    If we have a creator, we were created with the ability and desire to have sex young, before we are ready to raise a family or even to make informed, responsible decisions about our sexual activities.

    We can either assume that the intent of this creator is for us to have sex young and unmarried, to get married young, or to torment ourselves by waiting for many years after becoming sexually aware, until we are ready to settle down and start a family, to even begin exploring our sexuality.

    None of these options seems very reasonable for a creator, and points more to the standard evolutionary strategy we see in most animals, to be ready to reproduce as young as possible.

    Becoming sexually active early and unprepared can greatly increase a person’s chances of getting HIV/AIDS.

  • Humans have non-monogamous tendencies.

    It is true that in many societies today we promote apparently monogamous relationships, but we are not a truly monogamous species.

    There are certain animals who mate for life and are not remotely interested in having sex with other partners, but these species are the very rare exception, and humans are most certainly not among them.

    If our creator intended us to be monogamous, then why is it that so many people have strong sexual attractions to people other than their primary partners while the lowly prairie vole gets a chemical high that keeps it coming back to its mate and no other?

    The explanation here again is purely physical in both cases, and has nothing to do with a “sinful nature”.

    Other than intravenous drug use and blood transfusions, which are not natural activities, having sex with multiple partners is almost the only way to transmit HIV/AIDS.

  • Many Christians favor “abstinence only” education based on the Bible’s insistence on female virginity at marriage and fidelity to her husband.

    “Abstinence only” education has been shown repeatedly to have little positive effect, delaying the start of sexual activity little if at all, and leading to decreased use of effective contraception and disease prevention practices and greatly increased instances of oral and anal sex, which further increases the risk of disease transmission, when the uninformed teens eventually do start having sex.

    This can be largely blamed on the teens’ ignorance, but that ignorance leads right back to the Biblically supportable Christian advocates of “abstinence only” education, which lays it again squarely at God’s doorstep.

  • Many Christians discourage the use of condoms based on their interpretations of the Bible, and this seems to be a reasonable way to interpret it when you look at instances such as Genesis 38:9 where God kills Onan just for using the “pull out” method of contraception which God disapproved of (Gen 38:10).

    Despite their apparent Biblical backing, this is one of the most egregious of wrongs done by “abstinence only” proponents and others who believe that God only allows sex for procreation and that the use of birth control and disease prevention devices such as condoms are sinful.

    It is undeniable that the majority of people will have sex with more than one person in their lives, with at least one partner very often coming before or during (and outside of) marriage. Not only does discouraging condom use endanger the person who refuses to use it, it endangers everyone they have sex with, even if they are married, as well as their future children.

    No matter what your religious beliefs are, no matter what you choose to do in your own life, discouraging other people from using any reasonable means at their disposal to prevent any kind of disease is indefensible.

    The Bible’s God is again as much to blame for this as its followers though.

We could probably go on for pages about the way that God (or nature) is responsible for the creation and spread of HIV/AIDS, but let’s just look at one more current example of how religion is affecting AIDS related research. Circumcision as disease prevention.

In an attempt to make the barbaric Biblical practice of circumcision appear to be not only benign but beneficial, for the past few years many Christians have touted the supposed protection from AIDS that circumcision confers. While it may provide some benefits to some people in this respect, it is not reasonable to use these questionable studies to say that “this is why God told us to be circumcised, and He was right” or that circumcision should be promoted throughout the world.

This is particularly dangerous when it is touted as being very effective at preventing HIV transmission because this can easily be misconstrued to mean that circumcision is as effective as condoms at preventing the spread of disease when it is in fact nowhere near as effective. People may have their supposedly useless foreskins removed in an attempt to avoid catching HIV and then end up getting it due to their unfounded confidence in the efficacy of circumcision in disease prevention.

If foreskins are just harmful and useless for us to have, then why did God give them to us? Just so he could demand that we cut them off of our screaming infants, potentially seriously mutilating or endangering them with infections or diseases?

It is true that foreskins are not absolutely necessary parts of our bodies, but then neither are the outer parts of our ears, or our finger nails. In fact our finger nails often harbor dirt and disease, and they are susceptible to fungal infections and other problems. Do we rip them off of infants and prevent them from growing back for their health?

Of course not, because as with many of our body parts, there are benefits and dangers in having them, but it is not reasonable to start mutilating ourselves to prevent problems which are preventable in another way.

Even worse, while male circumcision may have some benefit for heterosexual men in preventing HIV infection, it may not work for newly circumcised men and it has no benefit for women or for homosexual men. Perhaps, as some famous preachers have suggested, AIDS is God’s way of punishing gay men? Having it spread to straight men and women must have just been an unforeseen accident.

Much more effective than circumcision are abstinence and condom use. Since abstinence only education is an abject failure, the consistent use of condoms must be promoted to people around the world from an early age, and condom use must never be stigmatized, demonized or have its efficacy lied about.

This is a largely social issue, but Christian leaders in the west and Christian missionaries around the world have a grave choice to make. They can encourage people to use effective methods of birth control and disease prevention, or they can follow their faith and discourage these methods while ineffectively promoting abstinence, thereby helping to spread God’s gift of AIDS.