Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part IV)

In Part I and Part II we laid out some basic requirements we should expect any real prophecy to fulfill. In Part III we examined a single prophecy, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry”, which Christians claim is referring to Jesus. In Part IV we will attempt to draw some conclusions, not about the improbability of Jesus accurately fulfilling a long list of prophecies as Christians claim he did, but about the probability that he actually did.

Since Biblical prophecy is such a broad subject, because we have been dealing specifically with prophecies about Jesus, and because the prophecies about Jesus are the ones most often discussed by Christians, we will continue to focus on them.

Looking just at the prophecies related to Jesus, here are some of the basic things we should see before we believe that they were made and fulfilled:

What we want to see What we actually see
Prophetic manuscripts accurately dated in their current forms to some time BCE. There actually are some manuscripts of Jewish scripture dating to the 2nd century BCE.
Evidence that the events which were foretold actually occurred. We have no contemporary extra-Biblical evidence for even the existence of Jesus, let alone anything he may have done.
The prophecies should be identified as prophecies, or at least spoken by people identified as prophets. Many of the “prophecies” Jesus is said to have fulfilled actually came from non-prophetic material such as Psalms.
Furthermore we would like to see the following.
The prophecies should be clear and specific. At least some of the prophecies are reasonably specific, but many are not.
The prophet in question should have a high degree of accuracy. In the cases where a prophet is even identified, this is difficult to determine due to lack of extra-Biblical evidence for the outcomes of their prophecies.
The event should not be easy to intentionally fulfill. As we can see from our discussion of the “triumphal entry” prophecy, this is not always the case. Some events would be much more difficult to manufacture in reality, but all are trivially easy to write about whether they happened or not.

Although it is not a requirement, it would also be nice to see one or more prophets in the Bible laying out a clear and specific set of prophecies about Jesus, as they do with other subjects.

Cherry-Picking Prophecies

If all of these “prophecies” were intended as such then why are so many of them simply a single verse or small section of a larger passage that, when read in its entirety, does not seem the prophecy that it is claimed to be?

For example, Psalm 41:9 is said to be a prophecy of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. If you read the entire 13 verse Psalm though, it is one man’s song about how the Lord will aid and protect people, and verses 9-10 are asking God to have mercy and help him through if he is betrayed by a close friend so that he can “repay them.”

Unless this is supposed to be someone writing a song as Jesus long before he was born and asking God to raise him up so that he can punish Judas for betraying him, it just doesn’t make sense. The idea of Jesus asking to be raised so that he can get Judas back really doesn’t fit with his character either, and again, the Psalms are just supposed to be songs, not prophecies.

Again this prophecy fails miserably to meet even the most basic prophetic requirements.

The Bible’s “prophecies” about Jesus are unusually scattered and disjointed, and many are not prophecies to begin with. It makes little sense to scatter a verse or two, seemingly randomly at times, in the works of each of a number of prophets without clearly identifying the subject of the prophecies, but the Bible does this. It does not inspire confidence in their validity.

Conclusion

It is difficult to be precise and accurate when dealing with all prophecy in the Bible, or even when dealing with all passages identified as prophecies about Jesus, so again we must break it down to the individual prophecy level.

Looking at the “Triumphal Entry” prophecy we have already examined in Part III, we see that it fails on one of the three most basic requirements. There is no need to look further at that point because it can not be honestly viewed as a fulfilled prophecy, unless the Bible’s accuracy as a historical document is taken on faith, and this is not a defensible position. Considering the historical, geographical, temporal, prophetic and other types of inaccuracies it contains, that is far more trust than it has earned.

It is true that the Bible contains stories about many real people and places, but so do many works which we know are embellished or largely fictional. The works of Homer for example were used to find the lost, and otherwise unknown, city of Troy. Does this make the Greek gods and monsters real? Of course not.

Neither does the author of Matthew’s knowledge of Herod The Great make his description of “the massacre of the innocents” or the author of Job’s the fire-breathing sea monster Leviathan real. Pseudo-historical documents are not only possible, but common.

In future articles we will examine some of the known inaccuracies of the Bible and prove the veracity of our claim that the Bible is not inerrant.

So where does this leave us?

Sadly this leaves us with many unanswered questions, many of which may never be answered. However, we can say with confidence that supporters of Biblical prophecy have not even come close to proving the Bible is inerrant, even on the issue of prophecy alone.

Even if we take the 10157:1 chance of Jesus fulfilling 48 prophecies as an accurate measure of probability, we know that many of these “prophecies” were never meant to foretell future events, and the probability that some or all of these supposed prophecy-fulfilling events were embellished or completely made up by the authors seems to be approaching 1:1.

Unless or until prophecy proponents can produce some reliable, extra-Biblical evidence of their fulfillment, that leaves the improbability of fulfilled prophecies argument dead in the water.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part III)

In Part I we looked at the basic criteria for any prophecy, and in Part II we made the requirements a little more strict to differentiate the impressive prophecies from the mundane.

Today we will examine a single popular prophecy that Jesus is said to have fulfilled, and we will start with the passage describing the event in Matthew 21.

Matthew 21:1-7 (New King James Version)

1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”

4 All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.

First we should examine verse 5 which is a quote from Zechariah 9:9. Taken in context, this appears to be about the coming of a military king who would rule “from sea to sea”. This is often interpreted as talking about a future kingdom after Jesus returns to Earth, but the text does not appear to be a prophecy of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, dying, and then coming back to rule a kingdom thousands of years later. This prophecy is already on shaky ground and we’ve barely even started.

Next let’s examine the alleged fulfillment of the prophecy. It is told both in John 12 and Matthew 21, but there are several important differences between the two accounts:

  1. The author of Matthew makes a big deal of saying that this was all done not for any normal reason, like Jesus was already riding a donkey when he got to Jerusalem, but specifically to fulfill a prophecy (Matthew 21:4).

    For the skeptical reader, this verse is very telling. A prophecy (at least a good one) should not be foretelling something that will be done simply to fulfill the prophecy, as the author clearly states this was.

    Furthermore if the author says that this was done just to fulfill the prophecy, and we have no evidence that it ever happened, why should we not think it at least as likely that it was simply written to satisfy the prophecy and not done at all?

    The author of John is a little more subtle, tying his description back to the prophecy with a partial quote (John 12:15) and a description of people cheering as the prophecy said they would (John 12:13). The disciples are oblivious to the significance of this event until later though (John 12:16), which is itself strange if this were a famous prophecy about a coming Messiah and any of Jesus’s followers had any idea that he might be the Messiah.

  2. In John, Jesus looks for and finds a young donkey, then he sits on it and rides into Jerusalem. This makes sense.

    In Matthew on the other hand, having just arrived from another city and not having entered Jerusalem yet, Jesus already knows where a donkey and her colt are tied up. He tells his disciples to go get both of them for him, and when they bring the donkeys back they lay their clothes over them and put Jesus on both of them. He rides two donkeys into Jerusalem. This makes a lot less sense.

  3. As we saw above in Matthew 21:7, the author is so concerned with fulfilling the prophecy using a very literalistic reading of Zechariah 9:9 that he actually has Jesus ride into Jerusalem on not just one young donkey but 2 donkeys, the mother and its colt at the same time!

    One wonders how this might be done…perhaps something like waterskiing, standing with one foot up on the mother and the other down lower on the colt? Unless Jesus also had superhuman balance, he would have to be holding onto long sets of reins for each animal and comically swaying and jerking as they jostled him through the gate into Jerusalem?

    Maybe Jesus was flexible enough to ride into Jerusalem doing a straddle split? Perhaps they used the slightly less comical method of draping him over them like a sack of potatoes? Or maybe there is a more reasonable way. He could have ridden the mother sidesaddle while using the colt as a furry ottoman, but that may be stretching Matthew’s reading of the prophecy too far.

    John takes a more reasonable approach, simply putting Jesus “on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:14), but for those who take the Bible to be inerrant, this discrepancy is still a problem.

Throughout the gospels there are numerous passages where the authors have tried hard to fulfill a very literalistic reading of various prophecies along with passages they may have thought were prophecies but which actually were not.

The authors are even kind enough to pinpoint when they do this by stating that an action was taken “that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” or other similar language. They certainly draw attention to the supposed prophecy fulfillments, but they also show clearly that the authors were very aware of and concerned with the perfect fulfillment of these “prophecies”. The Biblical record of these events may smell like victory to the faithful, but a skeptic is likely to smell a rat.

If we ignore the discrepancies between these two accounts of the same event, and even ignore the fact that it is questionable whether or not the original prophecy could have been referring to Jesus as he is described in the gospels, we are left with yet more problems.

Let’s go through the criteria we set out in Parts I and II of the article, point by point, starting with the 3 most basic requirements:

  1. The prophecy was made before the event happened.

    The exact dating of this prophecy is not known, but it is known to have existed before the time of Jesus.

  2. The event actually did happen, in the manner specified, and at the time specified (if such was given).

    We have absolutely no evidence of this outside of the accounts in the Bible, and as we have seen they are highly questionable, particularly when you consider that they were written with the intent of convincing people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

  3. The supposed prophecy was actually intended to be a prophecy of this future event.

    Zechariah 9:9 does appear to be foretelling a future event, but does Jesus sound like the warrior king ruling a physical kingdom “from sea to sea” that this passage seems to be foretelling when read in context?

Using the most basic of criteria, already it fails on 1 or 2 of the 3 points! We need not go further to dismiss this as unproven, but while we’re at it we may as well examine it a little more using our stricter criteria:

  1. It must be specific.

    This prophecy is specific (a little too specific for the author of Matthew, apparently).

  2. The person who made the prophecy should not have made a large amount of failed prophecies along with the accurate one(s).

    Since we do not have exact dating for the book of Zechariah, because it can be difficult to pick out what is and is not intended as a prophecy, and because it is much more difficult to verify the events in most cases, we do not know exactly how accurate or inaccurate the prophecies in this book are.

    The fact that we only have to look a single verse away (Zechariah 9:8) to see a clear failure (saying that the Israelites would never be oppressed again) does not inspire much confidence though.

  3. The event should be something that a person reading and intending to fulfill the prophecy could not just decide to do to fulfill the prophecy.

    As Matthew 12:4 clearly states, this was not the case at all. Not only was it trivially easy to fulfill, but it says that it actually was done specifically to fulfill the prophecy.

Another 1 or 2 out of 3 criteria failed. This is quite an unimpressive showing for one of the most popular prophecies about Jesus!

If we simply take it on faith that Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies as many claim, or even just the 48 that Stoner used to get his 10157:1 odds, it sounds very impressive. If we break it down to the level of individual prophecy and examine each one though, we begin to see how hollow this claim actually is.

In Part IV we will wrap up and attempt to draw some conclusions about the supposed extreme improbability of these “accurate” prophecies.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part II)

In Part I we examined the basic criteria that every prophecy should meet. Today we will strengthen the requirements to a level that actually makes them impressive.

Using just the basic criteria of a prophecy, being made (with the intent of telling the future) and fulfilled, anyone can make prophecies all day long with nearly 100% accuracy. Even saying “I prophesy that within the next 10 minutes you will breathe” would meet the basic criteria, but it would also almost always be true for a living person, so it is very unimpressive. So what would make it more impressive?

To be truly amazing, after meeting the most basic criteria a prophecy would also have to meet at least three further requirements:

  1. It must be specific.

    Saying in 1920 “One day The Soviet Union will dissolve” would not have been much of a prophecy, just a statement of the overwhelmingly probable.

    On the other hand, saying in 1820 that the Soviet Union would rise in 1917, spreading from Russia through much of eastern Europe and Asia, and then it would collapse in 1991 following a failed coup against a man with a coffee-stain-like birthmark on his head, that would be much more impressive.

  2. The person who made the prophecy should not have made a large amount of failed prophecies along with the accurate one(s).

    Anyone can make hundreds or thousands of predictions about the future, and if they are trying then they are likely to get at least some of them correct. This is not impressive.

    If we assume that the Bible is actually a complete and accurate record though, it does not appear to have a huge number of failed prophecies along with the accurate ones. However, it does have failures.

    Ezekiel’s prophecies of the destruction of Tyre and Egypt by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for example. Despite the semantic games some apologists try to play to make them appear to have been fulfilled, they were not and can not be now that Nebuchadnezzar is dead.

    If we believe that the Bible is inerrant, as many Christians do, then it should have no failed prophecies at all, but even if we assume that the Bible is a completely accurate record of prophecies made by a series of real prophets, there are prophecies which have clearly failed, and in some cases we can see clear proof of their failures today.

    We can not know how many unrecorded prophecies were made, or whether or not they were fulfilled, but even looking only at prophecies recorded in the Bible, we can see that the Biblical prophets are not infallible.

  3. The event should be something that a person reading and intending to fulfill the prophecy could not just decide to do to fulfill the prophecy.

    An example of this is the difference between prophecies of a series of plagues as depicted in Exodus, which would have been far beyond the means of a person of that time to instigate, and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as Jesus is said to have done in John 12 (or on two donkeys as Matthew 21 claims).

    If you wanted people to believe you were the Messiah, and there was a prophecy saying that you would do something so simple, would you not do it? If a famous psychic said “The reincarnation of Elvis will ride into Graceland in a pink Cadillac.”, do you think there would not be a nearly endless parade of Elvis impersonators “fulfilling the prophecy”? And this isn’t the savior of the world, just a human celebrity!

Evidence of Jesus?

The most commonly used “evidence” of Jesus is the single passage about him in the works of Josephus (a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus is said to have died).

Unfortunately we do not have the original documents and in the copies we do have this passage has clearly been altered at least, or quite possibly just completely added by a later scribe.

One of the main reasons we know this is not Josephus’s original work is that the passage calls Jesus the Messiah, and since Josephus lived and died as a Jew, never converting to Christianity, this is not something he would have said.

The biggest problem we have when trying to determine the validity of Biblical prophecies is that we can not establish any of the most important elements in most cases!

It’s true, there is evidence that certain cities were destroyed at some time in the past, but proving that they were destroyed at the right time, in the right manner, and that accurate prophecies of these events were made before the events happened has proved to be much more difficult.

Jesus’s birth, miracles, death and resurrection fare worse still. Even his historical existence seems to lack any real evidence. (See Evidence of Jesus?)

It may be true that a single person accurately fulfilling dozens or hundreds of prophecies while not failing to fulfill any prophecies from “real prophets” would be a near impossibility, but we have no evidence to suggest that many (if any) of these prophecies were real.

Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of probabilities. The probability that the Bible’s authors simply wrote their stories to appear to be fulfilling prophecies is starting to seem like a much more plausible explanation.

Tomorrow in Part III we will delve further into just one of the prophecies of Jesus to see if we can determine anything about its authenticity, and then we will attempt to draw some conclusions about these probabilities.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part I)

Have you ever heard a preacher say that the odds against Jesus accurately fulfilling so many prophecies is essentially statistically impossible? They will happily tell you about as many supposedly fulfilled prophecies as they can remember, and they will probably expect you to take them at face value.

One of the most common sources used in this argument is from Peter Stoner who claimed in “Science Speaks” in 1963 that the probability of one man (Jesus) fulfilling 48 Biblical prophecies was 1 in 10157, and they make it sound even more impressive by stating that it is more than the number of electrons in the universe (estimated at 1079).

The main reason for this astounding number is that the believers are assuming from the start that these prophecies were all made and fulfilled perfectly. When we look at them in more depth though, how accurate and amazing do the prophecies really seem?

To consider a prophecy made and fulfilled, we should first prove that it at least meets these three criteria:

  1. The prophecy was made before the event happened.

    This is a simple demand, but difficult to prove. Unless manuscripts have been found which predate the supposed fulfillment of a prophecy, we can not know that the prophecy was written before the event.

    In cases where we do not have the original manuscripts and can not absolutely date their writing, it is also insufficient evidence to prove that a prophecy was not made prior to the event, but this should not lead us to just assume greater antiquity and credibility.

    Prophecies which can not be verified to have been written before the events they foretell must be viewed as suspect.

  2. The event actually did happen, in the manner specified, and at the time specified (if such was given).

    Again this can be difficult to prove or disprove in the cases of many Biblical prophecies, but the astonishing lack of evidence for even such monumental events as “the massacre of the innocents” and many other prophecy-fulfilling elements of Jesus’s life leads to the conclusion that these events are unlikely to have happened.

    If we have no evidence of the fulfillment of a prophecy other than the uncorroborated word of someone who has ulterior motives for saying that it happened, as the Bible’s authors and editors did, we are unwise to take it as definitively true.

    When there is no supporting evidence of an event, it can only be taken on faith. When evidence is expected but not found, or when contrary evidence is found, then belief in the event even pushes the limits of faith.

  3. The supposed prophecy was actually intended to be a prophecy of this future event.

    Strangely some New Testament authors inappropriately used certain Old Testament passages as if they were prophecies when they were never intended to be. Some of the best examples are the from Psalms where at least a dozen different supposed prophecies are made and later fulfilled by Jesus.

    Psalms is a book of songs, similar to a modern hymn book, and the songs included in it were never meant to be used as prophecy. Therefore, not being prophecies at all, they could not be fulfilled and the supposed fulfillment of these non-prophecies is only more evidence to support the idea that the New Testament authors were embellishing the truth or completely making things up.

Already the probability that Biblical prophecies are true and accurate is dropping rapidly, and the foundation of the “1 in 10157” chance is looking pretty shaky.

Tomorrow in Part II we will add the basic requirements for an impressive prophecy, and then finally in Part III we will examine a specific prophecy and then attempt to draw some conclusions.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

“There but for the grace of God…”

Phrases such as “there but for the grace of God go I” can be useful in reminding us that any of us weak and frail human beings can end up in a very unenviable state. If we look at it a certain way it can also help to remind us that we should not look down on less fortunate people, or even people who have made bad choices in their lives, as if they were inherently worth less because are still very much like us. Looking at it from this perspective, it can seem to be a useful and reasonable phrase, but sadly it has a dark undertone.

By saying things like “there but for the grace of God go I”, we are saying not only that God loves and blesses us, but that he is punishing people by letting horrible things happen to them, or even by causing horrible things to happen to them.

We are therefore, if we assume that the “grace” we receive is based on God’s love for us or our good works, saying that the people who bad things happen to do not have God’s love or that they are bad people not worthy of being rewarded. The other alternative, that God simply chooses capriciously who to bless and who to curse is even more abominable.

The idea that God’s grace is what keeps bad things from happening to us falls apart even further when we consider the exceptional people who suffer terribly and the horrible people who thrive. Although many of the worst examples of humanity are eventually brought low, there are also numerous examples of people guilty of the worst crimes imaginable who have died rich, old and unpunished for their deeds.

Where but for the grace of God then? To the best fate a mortal being can hope for? But even this usage is not the greatest irony available.

The greatest irony of the phrase lies in its likely origin. In 1555 Bishop John Bradford (of the Church of England) was in prison awaiting execution on trumped-up charges brought under the new Catholic Queen Mary Tudor. While in prison, he supposedly saw a group of prisoners being led out to be executed and said “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” Soon after he was burned at the stake.

Nearly five centuries on, perhaps it is time to choose a new phrase. It could be something as simple and true as “that could be me”, or perhaps we could look to a much older statement, made about 2,500 years ago by Siddhārtha Gautama (more commonly known as Buddha).

“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.”

- Siddhārtha Gautama

This is a much more profound statement encompassing not only the man hanging from the gallows and the little girl begging in the street, but the dog beaten for running away from her abuser and the calf that is led from his mother’s womb straight to the killing floor to become veal.

If we do not feel compassion for every one of these then we are lost. Morality is not about feeling smug and superior when Fortuna smiles upon us, it is about seeing the right and wrong side of every action and striving to come down on the right side as often as possible.

So no matter which phrases we choose to use, let us always remember that whether or not we believe in intervening supernatural forces, we all have both the ability to see ourselves in not only every human being, but in every living thing, and the responsibility to think and act compassionately toward all of them.

Religulous: Bill Maher’s Religulous Movie Opens 10/3

Religulous, a documentary film featuring political commentator Bill Maher, will open on Friday October 3. This new film from Lionsgate, directed by Larry Charles (Borat), explores the nature of religious absurdity the world over – hence the play on words in the title.

In the nature of Borat, this movie features real people in real situations. Bill Maher, host of Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO, leads the journey to find representatives from various religious groups and interview them about their beliefs. Based on Maher’s views on religion, the film is not likely to be kind towards the subject matter. Expect to be outraged or amused, depending on your stance.

Official Site:
Religulous @ Lionsgate.com

YouTube Trailer:
Religulous Trailer – High Quality

Pray for Bill

Spore: Proof of Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Since the release of Spore, there have been articles and discussions on whether or not it presents a pro-evolution or pro-creationism (often termed “Intelligent Design” to sound more rational and scientific) viewpoint. Many science elements exist behind the scenes (and much left out to improve gameplay), but for the most part, you, the player, are the god of your creation and you form your species as you see fit.

It’s interesting, then, to observe that proponents on both sides of the evolution issue see Spore as an example that “proves” the correctness of their points of view. Many scientists are pleased that it can get people thinking about the ideas behind the evolutionary process: the appearance of new features, increased complexity over time, the role of reproduction, etc. The linear process displayed in the game – the emergence of intelligence and social skills – is not a necessary step in evolution, but perhaps a necessary crutch in a goal-oriented game to simulate the growth of a mighty galactic power based on the progress of a simple cell organism over millions of game-years. In no way do any of the scientists mentioned in the articles endorse the Spore method of evolution as reality, but they do feel the experience of seeing your creature change from generation to generation is useful on a basic level.

Those on the other side, creationists (aka Intelligent Design proponents), see it differently. In this article, the writer(s) believe that Spore effectively dismisses any issues with I.D. theory. Simply put, because you can design creatures in Spore, a game that has no mechanism for natural selection-based evolution, they can extrapolate that our own world is a product of design. This is circular logic on the article’s points 1 and 2, since there is no requirement to comply with “common ancestor” functionality and as long as you have a mouth with which to eat, you are not going to encounter any negative consequences and your species never goes extinct. Point 3 is more of a philosophical objection to Intelligent Design and although the premise is tempting, not one that can be easily explored. The article also fails to demonstrate how points 4 & 5 even apply to Spore and are just thrown in to dismiss the ideas offhandedly.

Interestingly enough, if Spore were a measure of our own reality, then we live not in a unified creationist universe, but in a chaotic cosmic pantheon of “good” and “evil” gods battling for galactic dominance. Oddly, the article makes no mention of this obvious, inevitable conclusion. It is humbling to know our true place in the universe.

The fact is, Spore doesn’t prove or disprove the concept of natural evolution. It does have evolution – change over time – but as an artificial “hand of god” needed to engage players. That Spore performs this process via Intelligent Design doesn’t refute natural selection, it just builds a better game. In the same way that the gameworld of The Sims doesn’t reflect our real society and the complexity of our relationships with others, Spore does not represent the only possibility of how lifeforms evolve.

In essence, the game Spore is about having fun. It’s about perceiving science as fun, not stodgy, cold and boring. It weaves the elements together well enough that there are no clear answers here about the nature of evolution vs. creationism. The fact that Will Wright managed to “fool” both sides of the camp is precisely why Spore is a great game, not a science project or treatise on life. In his own words, “A game like this can actually generate interesting, meaningful conversations between people. I think that’s the best thing it can do.”

The Science of Spore: Evolution

Spore has been followed throughout its development by many people interested in science, evolution, natural selection and other topics. It did provide some hope for these people that it might turn out to be a realistic game accurately portraying evolution, but now that it’s been released, is the science of Spore accurate?

The more important question really is “Did the game’s creators intend the game to be scientifically accurate?”, and the answer to that seems to be no.

As stated in commercials for the game, it is not attempting to portray realistic evolution, but more of a guided evolution they call “Creatolutionism”. There is nothing wrong with this, although it may be a disappointment to some players, but it can become a problem if the point is not clearly made that this is not a realistic portrayal of the way evolution actually happens.

Creationists often make fun of scientists, claiming that they believe in things like animals just suddenly sprouting legs and lungs and walking onto land. This is the antithesis of evolution, not a fair description of it. Unfortunately in Spore, this does appear to be what happens. Once you have completed the “Cell Stage”, you simply sprout the necessary appendages and organs, drop the unnecessary ones and walk out of the water fully formed.

The reality is, no complex life form naturally undergoes such radical changes in one generation. Such dramatic and instantaneous changes are clearly the product of engineering, in this case by the player and the game’s designers.

If we believed that evolution happened in this manner we probably would have to turn to some kind of god or designer, so when creationists manage to spread the idea that the theory of evolution does claim such giant leaps in a single generation, they actually start looking like the reasonable ones to some people.

It is also possible in most places to manually produce generation after generation of slightly modified creatures, as would happen if they were actually evolving, but most players will be happy to skip to the end result they want rather than attempting to make it appear as if their creatures are evolving naturally.

There is nothing wrong with this, and it probably makes a more fun gaming experience for most users. We just have to make it clear to everyone who doesn’t correctly understand evolution that the redesigning of creatures in Spore is not even close to the same as evolution in the real world.

Be a Good Christian Hermaphrodite

Hermaphrodite Symbol

What does it mean to "Be a good Christian hermaphrodite"? How can we possibly know without consulting the Bible? Let’s do that now.

The Bible spends quite a bit of time talking about and legislating sex, and for many millions of people it is the single unquestionable source of perfect moral teachings. What then does the Bible say about the sexual relationships of intersexed people? Little to nothing.

This leaves the few Christians who even consider the question with a dilemma. "Do I try to find an answer hidden in other Bible verses, do I make up my own answers, or do I simply dodge the issue in a way that can’t be seen as sinful?"

While most seem to take the latter approach and ignore the issue or give meaningless answers, some of the more moderate Christians actually understand the issue and take a more reasonable approach, ignoring the "slippery slope" to homosexuality, and accepting gender reassignment surgery and sex with the opposite of the chosen gender.

Fundamentalist Christians on the other hand seem to have only one possible answer, as given by the infamous preacher "Brother Jed" to an intersexed friend of mine: Abstinence. He prescribed life long abstinence.

The reason that no other answer was viable for him is that he shares the common fundamentalist idea, which appears to be supported by the Bible, that homosexuality is a horrible sin. If a physically intersexed person is allowed to have sex with anyone then they would at least outwardly appear to be having homosexual sex, and there is no way a good queer-hating fundamentalist Christian could support such an "abomination".

Sister Pat, one of Brother Jed’s sidekicks, said that an intersexed person could get into heaven by "living as a good Christian Hermaphrodite", although what exactly this entails was never made clear. Brother Jed himself also opined that the reason some people are born intersexed is that their parents were bisexual.

Hermaphrodite Statue at the Louvre

Hermaphrodite at the Louvre

This shows a gross misunderstanding of genetics and sexuality, and basically punishes babies for their parents’ "sins" through the miracle of divine intervention. If these scapegoated children live their lives in complete devotion to God and abstain from (potentially homosexual) sex and all other sins to the best of their ability, will God, their omnipotent creator, perform the simple miracle of assigning them a singular, complete gender so they can then produce a family to worship him forever?

The answer seems to be no. Like the miraculous healing of amputees, miraculous sexual reassignment does not happen.

The reality is, like most people in general, many Christians do not know what actually causes people to be born intersexed, and they have just as little information about how these people should live their lives.

Intersexed individuals (formerly described as "hermaphrodites" from the Greek god Hermaphroditus who possessed both male and female physical traits) are those who are neither exclusively male nor exclusively female. They may have biological characteristics that are both male and female, expressing physical traits (phenotype) of one sex but possessing the sex chromosomes (genotype) of the other. Variations in physical expression occur, and it is possible that someone who appears physically "normal" is, in fact, intersexed due to their genetic makeup. The birth rate of all of these "hermaphrodites" is generally 1%, and while this sounds low, remember this is one out of every 100 births[1].

In most societies intersexed people have a hard enough time already without trying to live by the conflicting and often unrealistic expectations of Christians and their outdated and inadequate book.

The best an intersexed person can do is find what feels right, with the help of genetic testing and counseling if necessary, and with or without surgery just try to live life the best they can as the gender(s) that they feel they are.

1. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersexuality

Never Stop Thinking

Should you stop thinking and just believe?

That’s what many people would like you to do.

Faith in gods and religious books like the Bible is easily shaken by the simple act of thinking objectively about your beliefs.

Many find justification for their hatred within their religious beliefs. Rather than follow this example, we should look for truth wherever we can find it. The Bible and other religious books contain good ideas, and we can incorporate them into our lives without believing in anything supernatural, and without blindly accepting the hate, lies and suffering they also support.

Consider some of the actions attributed to gods – things that our own “religious tracts” like to point out – that most people aren’t aware of. Then decide whether or not you can support these actions as the “works” of a loving, caring, omnipotent god.

Many don’t know about the more disturbing contents of their holy books, things their churches are unlikely to ever mention, but you can tell them.

Break that taboo; think for yourself!

We don’t need to justify ourselves with belief and faith.

Realize that it is okay for us to question people’s religious beliefs just like anything else. We don’t have to respect unfounded faith in the imaginary, and given many religious people’s plans to force their ideas on the rest of us, it is not safe to ignore them.

Check out the articles, books, tracts and forums available at Better Than Faith. Look for truth wherever you can find it, but please be skeptical, demand proof for extraordinary claims, and don’t let yourself be hoodwinked by charlatans.

Question your political and religious leaders. Question your parents. Question your teachers. Even question yourself.

Never stop thinking and you will find the truth for yourself.