How My Mind Was Set Free

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

I learned early that I was not to question my religion. I was to simply have faith. And yet somehow the questions would still come. I would sometimes question the Bible. How did we know it was God’s Word? I would sometimes question Jesus. How did we know he was God? I never dared to ask these questions out loud, but in my own mind, yes, I asked these questions often.

The questions demanded attention. But simultaneously, there was always the nagging fear of what would happen if I died while I was in a state that questioned the faith. I simply could not take that chance. The consequences of dying in doubt could well be unimaginable.

So, I asked questions, yes, but I always knew what the answer needed to be. The side of my mind that argued for Christ had to beat out the side that argued against.

It is as if my mind included an advocate for the faith, an advocate against the faith, and a referee. The referee always sided with the advocate for the faith. And so, the advocate for the faith always won, two to one.

Those times were never fun. I longed to be free from doubts. And so, by sheer willpower, I pushed those questions aside.

But my mind was not really free.

Many years later, the dam would break. The questions would come out–gradually at first, then with a rush. And when it was all over, my mind was free.

I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. We didn’t listen to secular music, watched only a select few TV shows, and centered our lives on conservative religion.

When I was 14 years old, my family and I joined a fundamentalist church, one that did not question the Bible. Fundamentalism became a way of life for me. Everything that entered my mind had to come through its filter. I soaked it all in.

I was terrified of hell and would often lie awake at night worrying about it. Even in social settings, I would be sitting there thinking about hell. Fundamentalism offered a solution. It said that all one had to do was accept Jesus. So, I did it. Did I do it right? I didn’t know. So, I did it again. I still wasn’t sure that I had done it right. And so, I did it again and again in my mind. I prayed that God would be merciful to me a sinner. I invited Jesus into my heart. Over and over, I accepted him in any way I could think to accept Christ.

One day I read the tract, What Must I Do to Be Saved, by John R Rice. It told me I did not need to concentrate on getting the act of believing right or saying the right words. I just needed to choose to believe. That’s it? All I needed to do was choose to believe? Fine. I chose to believe. Case closed. Let’s move on.

And so, I proceeded in life as though the case was closed. What a relief! I thought that everybody else surely had similar worries and needed to know this news of deliverance from hell.

“Grace, my fears relieved”, the old song says, but before that, “It was grace that taught my heart to fear.” Religion offered a cure for my fears. But what had caused the fears? Religion. Does Christianity invent the fears it then relieves? Is it solving a problem that it created?

I found relief from my fears. But to tell you the truth, faith did not do a really good job of it. The fear of hell had finally become manageable, yes, but it was always in the background.

As a Fundamentalist Baptist

In college, I joined an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, which then controlled every aspect of my life. I went door to door on the streets of the Bible belt, witnessing to those who may have missed God’s plan of salvation. Everybody at this church was told to be a soul winner. The pastor boomed his message from the pulpit, yelling at those who stayed home on visitation night. We had to be out there winning souls.

We didn’t want anybody to die and go to hell without knowing the way of salvation. If somebody didn’t know, then we needed to tell them. I wonder now, why did God need us to tell that story? Didn’t he have all the resources he needed? If we failed to tell somebody, and as a result that person suffered for eternity without ever having known the escape plan, how could a loving God let that happen? I never asked those questions back then. I was winning souls.

The pastor also yelled at those that listened to rock music, gave less than 10% of their income to the church, had the wrong haircut, or attended a movie theater. We were told exactly how to live our lives, and we obediently followed. It was the only life we knew.

In my senior year of college (1978) the pastor [1] moved to another church, and the church [2] deteriorated into disarray. I was confused. This was all I had to live for, and it had fallen apart. I saw the dark side of the church. There was chaos at some church functions. Once when we were singing Just as I Am over and over as an alter call, people became so bored that the song died in the middle and we never finished it. I had thought that we were saving the world. Now I looked at the lives that had been saved and wondered if it had meant anything.

Meanwhile, I watched as the story of Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana appeared on TV. The story of those poor people following every command of their leader seemed all too real to me. I had been living my life much like they had. I could understand why they followed so obediently. Religion can do that to a person. Had I been deluded also?

There was something else that bothered me. I had been reading through the Bible every year since I was in 11th grade–every word of every verse–and was disturbed about what I was reading. Have you ever read the tales of killing, greed, and arrogance that fill the Old Testament? Do you ever question their relevance? I was not sure that I could trust the Bible any longer. As my confidence in the Bible withered, apathy set in.


I graduated from college with no meaning to life. My Christian hope had gone. I cannot begin to describe the despair that filled my life for the first two years after graduation. There was nothing to live for. I wanted to be happy, but I didn’t know why that would matter. Two hundred years from now, who would ever care if the bones left behind had supported a happy person or a sad person? Probably nobody would ever care.

But somehow, I cared. And I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to be happy. But instead, I knew apathy, bitterness, struggle, frustration, anger and confusion.

When my Christian hope had faded, why didn’t I look for something else? I didn’t know there was another way. I had grown up in Christian schools, Sunday schools, and Bible studies. The Bible was the only hope I knew, and it now seemed so inadequate. I never thought to look elsewhere–such is the grip that religion can have. I wish now that somebody had told me how to live the good life without the Bible. But I would not learn that until many years later.

Digging out

In desperation, I turned to Christian books. I had no intention of going back to my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist days. I thought that perhaps a milder brand of Christianity could help. As I read, I felt encouraged. Was God leading me back to himself? I thought that he was. And so, I made a commitment to walk close to the Lord again. I found that Christianity worked much better for me than apathy.

I would often go to a park and find a forsaken place alone with God where I could pray. I would pour out my heart to God, and I would leave refreshed. I took this as proof that Christianity was true.

I was soon to find the writings of C. S. Lewis. I found them fascinating. He did not just quote Bible verses. He used reason. I liked that. I read his books with enthusiasm and formed a new outlook on life.

I was back to seeing myself and others as rebellious sinners against God. I believed that I had rebelled against God, and that this had brought on the two years of depression. It was all my fault.

I saw others also in the same light as I saw myself. If somebody did something that hurt me, then I figured they must be doing it because they had given in to their evil, sinful nature. I would get bitter at those who had followed their inner sinful self in ways that hurt me. Sometimes I snapped at people and let them know how bad they were. That wasn’t good.

But I also found that religion helped me to keep my mouth shut. If inside I was bad, then I needed to keep that bad anger inside. It came from my fallen nature. I would not want my fallen nature to express itself like this. I wanted only my new positive nature, as produced by the Holy Spirit, to come out. So, the old, angry words were constrained. I set out to surrender my basic wants and desires to God.

I now was turning back to faith, not because I feared hell, but because I needed to avoid the despair associated with depression. I was no longer following the Independent Baptist tradition, but one thing I knew, I had had purpose and hope in those college days. And that was certainly better than the depression that had followed. So even if I was not convinced that my Independent Baptist days were on the right path, I figured that at least my life back then had been better. So I thought I needed faith to have purpose in this life. I just needed to make a few adjustments.

The Problem of Pain

I had a low view of human nature. Such views may look strange in light of what many now say in today’s Evangelical churches. These churches have often adopted a feel good, psychological approach to life that seeks to build our self-esteem and encourages us to accept ourselves and our feelings. Many Evangelicals do this in spite of the doctrine of human depravity that is still in Evangelical theology.

It was not long ago that the view of humanity as totally depraved was dominant, not only in fundamentalist churches, but in mainstream Protestant sources like the writings of C.S. Lewis. Since Lewis’s views were so foundational to me at that time, I will digress here to discuss the view of humanity that appears in his book, The Problem of Pain. He writes:

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom his words are addressed, [3]

Lewis thought that we are bad people, and that God was angry with us for being bad. Lewis thought that Christianity offered no hope to those who did not share this view.

He went on to say that some Christians might ask, “What call has God, of all beings, to be angry with us?” Lewis responded to his own rhetorical question, declaring it to be a blasphemous question:

Now at the moment when a man feels real guilt–moments too rare in our lives–all of these blasphemies vanish away… At such a moment we really do know that our character, as revealed in [some sinful] action, is, and ought to be, hateful to all good men, and, if there are powers above man, to them. A God who did not regard this with unappeasable distaste would not be a good being…When we merely say that we are bad, the “wrath” of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness. [4]

Guilt is far too rare? Really? Lewis was not merely telling us that our actions are bad, but also that our very character is something that God hates with unappeasable distaste. He was saying that God is justified in having wrath toward us. For after all, at our very core, we are guilty, bad people.

Why are we so bad? Lewis contended that it is because of Adam’s sin. Can God then blame us for Adam’s sin? Lewis responds to this question:

Theoretically, I suppose, we might say “Yes, we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.” But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit. [5]

So we find that we are born as vermin. And Lewis says that it is a shame and grief to us that we are vermin. What is the Christian to do? He continues,

Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator… In the world as we know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms…Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive…The human spirit will not even begin to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. [6]

Do you get the picture? Lewis describes us all as inherently depraved descendants of Adam, as evil rebels. We need to die to our own internal wants. Suffering, he claims, is the tool that God uses to effect this change. His books were the biggest influence in my philosophy of life at that time. I also knew of a number of scripture verses to support this low view of humanity (e.g. Job 42:6Is 64:6Lu.17:10, and Rom. 3:10-19).

I look at it now, and do not think that I had a very healthy perspective. But this philosophy was mild compared with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist tradition that I had come out of. And it certainly worked better than apathy. This outlook gave me a reason to live. At the time I assumed that it worked because it was right. Now, I think that it worked because it gave me a purpose. Other ways would have worked better.

C. S. Lewis showed me that life was rough, yes, but that was because we needed pain to change us from vermin to what we should be. Fine. Life is hard, but there was a reason for it. God was dealing with the old me, the vermin. I pushed onwards. And it seemed to be working.

I had found this one great pillar to support my rebuild of faith: Christianity is worthwhile because the path that I had found within Christianity works, at least it works for me.

That pillar would one day collapse on me when it was shown to be inadequate. The observation that faith made me feel better is simply not a good reason to say that the faith is true. But at that time the reasoning seemed solid.


There was a second great pillar on which I based my faith. This pillar had stood firm even during the days of despair. I was quite familiar with the teachings of Henry Morris and the young Earth creationists. I thought that this was the most logical explanation for how life began. They argued that the Earth was created by God a few thousand years ago, just as the Bible said. During the time of Noah, a great flood covered the Earth. This flood buried many animals, I was told, and these became the fossils we see today. Creationists argued that all this was supported by scientific findings.

Creationists argued that evolution was impossible. They said that creationism was consistent with true science, but evolution was pseudoscience. I listened to this side only and was convinced.

Other things in the Bible may perhaps be wrong. I was finding simply too many problems with the Bible. But I had these two great pillars of my faith: a belief that Christianity as I knew it worked; and a belief that Genesis was the best explanation of origins.

Exposure to Enlightened Views

In 1987 I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and found an exciting Evangelical church. I met many wonderful people and quickly became involved in many aspects of the program. I had found a home and was happy.

Some of the Christians at this church came from a range of religious backgrounds. This was new to me. Some people disagreed with the way I understood Christianity. Some did not agree with me that the Earth was only a few thousand years old, for instance, or that the fossils had come from Noah’s flood.

Others told me that my religious philosophy did not work, that other philosophies worked better. There were big differences. I thought that we should despise our evil inner self; they thought that we should love ourselves. I thought that we must work hard to keep the evil anger inside of us from coming out; they thought that anger was there because we had not vented our anger. I thought that the big problem was overestimating oneself and overconfidence; they thought that the big problem was low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. I thought that we needed to die to ourselves; they thought that we need to discover ourselves and self-actualize. I thought that God made us feel guilty about our evil feelings; they thought it was the devil that wanted us to feel guilty about natural feelings. I thought that God allowed people to mistreat us because that was his way of molding our character; they thought that mistreatment damaged our psyche, often requiring counseling to overcome the effects. They thought my philosophy was depressing.

Do you understand why this was a difficult pill for me to swallow? This was a main pillar of my Christian faith–the belief that my Bible-supported views worked. Now here were Christians telling me that my version did not work well. What did they mean it didn’t work well? It absolutely did work. It worked far better for me than the apathy and the depression I had been in. And I had scripture to back it up.

It was not easy for me to accept that my way did not work well and was not based on truth. So, I prayed about it and read the Bible. And what do you think happened when I prayed? That’s right. I was convinced that God was telling me I was right. Seriously, who was I to go against what God was saying to me?

My friends and I all agreed that Christianity had the best answers to life. My experience and prayers told me that my version worked better. Their experiences and prayers told them that their version worked better. Who was right?

Computer Debates

I was soon to have my eyes opened to many other philosophies that supposedly worked best. I would soon meet believers in Mormonism, Islam, Bahai, Judaism, Wicca, and Atheism. Each was sure that his way had worked for him, thus showing that it was the best.

I was going to also hear of many psychological solutions, again with testimonials for each claiming that it was better than other techniques. I was not the only one who had claimed that my experience proved that I was right. Lots of people were claiming that they had tried something, and this made them feel better. Do all philosophies work? Some researchers had looked at the conflicting cures within psychology and wrote, “Is it true that ‘Everyone has won, and all must have prizes’?” [7] Indeed!

I met these people of many religions in the CompuServe debate forum, back in the days when one used a modem to dial into a computer instead of using the Internet. I began to participate in the religion section. I actively debated religion and psychology with anybody that wanted to discuss them. This was to become an important focus of my life.

The biggest lesson I learned during these debates was how to form an argument. It was not enough for me to state that Jay Adams, C. S. Lewis, or Thomas Szasz had written something that agreed with me on a particular point. After all, one can find somebody who will agree with almost any religious viewpoint that he expresses. I needed a more effective argument.

My favorite resource was the Psychoheresy Awareness Ministry of Martin and Deidre Bobgan. They referred to psychological experiments to support their arguments, and often quoted scientific journals. I found that when I described experiments people often listened to what I had to say and were less likely to attack my writings. I developed a love for scientific experiments and the scientific journals that described them.

And so began a regular series of trips to the Philadelphia Public Library, and later, a university library. I would make lists of articles that favored my positions and would go to the library to get more ammunition for my side.

Cracks in the Foundation

These trips became time-consuming, and so, in 1992, I subscribed to my favorite journal, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. At $247 a year, this represented a major desire to learn the truth. Having made the commitment, I was determined to learn something from each issue. I began to read papers whether I thought they agreed with my position or not. This was a change for me. I was not merely reading to prove I was right. I was reading to learn.

I read some papers that were enlightening. I read that trying to suppress thoughts can make them stronger. [8] Were my efforts to keep my true thoughts under control making those repressed thoughts stronger? I learned more about the function of self-esteem. Was my viewpoint of myself as an evil sinner harmful? Did my Christianity really not work as well as I had persuaded myself it had? Slowly, microscopic cracks began to develop in this great pillar of my faith. It was slow and subtle, but the cracks were beginning.

The Creationism Pillar Caves

Meanwhile, a strange twist of fate put me right into the middle of the creation-evolution debate. That was not where I wanted to be, for these fights were often quite nasty. I couldn’t believe that I was there in the middle of it all. But I was not about to leave a good debate. I decided to let people know that evolution could not possibly happen.

I made some progress arguing that the complexity of genes made evolution difficult, but somebody wanted to know where all of those fossils had come from, if not from hundreds of millions of years of evolution. I suggested they might have been caused by Noah’s flood. My argument was defeated in one round. I was asked to explain how it is that we find rocks made of wind-blown sand in the midst of all these rocks under the earth. I had no answer. Wind certainly wouldn’t be blowing sand around under the floodwaters. I told myself the problem was that I was not familiar enough with that issue. So, I avoided the flood altogether until I could find better answers.

I never did find a satisfactory answer to this simple question, nor to many of the other problems with Noah’s flood. So, I concentrated instead on problems that I perceived with the mechanism of evolution.

To make a long story short, this led me to a moment of epiphany in which I found myself in a library completely overwhelmed with the evidence for evolution. In shock, it dawned on me that I had no convincing case for my young Earth Creationism.

After the dust had settled, 18 months later, I had switched to arguing for evolution. I describe this transition elsewhere, and won’t repeat it here.

It was a complete change. Many people have survived the switch to evolution, and they still have faith. But the switch to evolution was traumatic for me. For I had two strong pillars left in my faith, the supposed evidence for creationism, and the understanding that Christianity works. The creationism pillar was now gone. The building above was resting on one unstable column.

The Second Pillar Caves

Meanwhile the other pillar of my faith–the one that said conservative Christian philosophy worked–was severely cracking. When I had met people offering all kinds of psychological cures for the condition of the human heart, I had argued that some researchers had found that it was not just the specifics of the cure that helped people, but that it was the caring, nurturing relationship with a friendly helper that was doing more to build hope, and thus help troubled people. [9] I argued that, therefore, others could not force a view on me that they found had worked for them. Perhaps the fact that they felt better had nothing to do with their method. Perhaps they were feeling better only because they were making a cooperative effort with others to address the problem.

One day somebody turned that argument on its end. He asked me how I knew that Christianity worked. Perhaps people were helped within Christianity because they were in a nurturing relationship with caring people, not because of the specifics of the Bible. I had been caught by my own argument, and I had no answer. I knew I could not be sure that it was Christianity that made the difference.

As this was happening, I was also needing to deal with the errors in the Bible. I had known about these problems for years, ever since I had read through the entire Bible six times in my youth. But I had found those two great pillars of my faith, and thus could ignore the Bible’s problems. Those pillars were now in shambles. And I was seeing skeptics on the forum arguing that the Bible commanded massacres (e.g. 1 Samuel 15); praised terrorism (e.g. Psalm 137); and allowed slavery (e.g. Exodus 21). They pointed out contradictions in the Bible. I knew I had no chance against their arguments. It was no longer possible to ignore what the Bible said. My faith was crumbling.

What should I do?

I began to rapidly incorporate new ideas into my mind. I did my best to piece together a progressive philosophy of life that would keep my faith in spite of these problems. I experimented with ways to include evolution, an obviously errant Bible, a higher view of the self, and even Humanism into my Christianity.

Meanwhile, I moved on to other interests: country dancing, movies, and romance. Ah yes, romance. I fell in love with a very special lady, who has become my best companion in life. She has supported me through some tough times, and I am very grateful to her. She has a compassion and concern for others that I can only dream about. I had found somebody that I could love with all of my heart. We were soon to be married. She has not agreed with where my skepticism has finally led me, but she is always my best friend.

I had drifted away from participation in church. I now made one last effort to find my place again. There had been a radical change in my thought process. I was no longer the most conservative thinker on the block. Now I was perhaps the most liberal thinker at church. I persuaded myself that I could still fit in–after all it was the progressive element at church that started me on my journey–but I found it increasingly hard to identify with the church program. And I asked questions that surprised everyone.

There is no stopping the mind set free. It is like that first leak of water through the dam. It reaches a critical size, and then bursts free. My thoughts refused to stop. The dam had been broken. I read books that were critical of the Bible. I read the Bible from a whole new viewpoint. I found skeptical sites on the Internet. I asked many questions–many of which are on my website. I found it harder and harder to identify myself as a Christian.

Even the label of Liberal Christian was losing its appeal. I could no longer believe the basics of Christianity. If I still identified as a Christian, while sidestepping the problems, was I committing the sin of silence?

The Sin of Silence by Gerald A. Larue
What’s the Harm? Why Religious Belief Is Always Bad by Richard Carrier

Liberal Christianity Links

Where it All Led

In 2002 I decided that I could no longer identify myself as a Christian. What am I? I am now an Ex-Christian, an Agnostic, a Humanist, and a Freethinker. In September 2002 I created the website Questioning: An Examination of Christian Belief to discuss my questions and to explain what had happened to me.

I have not chosen an easy path. It is not easy to tell people that I no longer believe that this message is true. But I find the evidence overwhelming. If the weight of the evidence were marginal, I would follow the believing crowd and not raise the issue. I do not like to be different. I prefer to follow the crowd. All of my life I have been a follower. I have always wanted to fit in. But there are just too many problems with the Bible. I simply cannot unlearn what I have learned. Knowing what I know, I cannot be a Christian. So, I choose the road less traveled.

I am not asking you to follow me. You have a mind of your own. You can decide for yourself. But perhaps you could learn from me.

I now have a different perspective in life. I wrote earlier of how I once saw people that hurt me as being evil. If somebody hurts me now, I think they must do it because, from their perspective and current knowledge, it seems best for them to do what they do. Years ago, it was hard to forgive hateful vermin who did hateful things. It is much easier to forgive confused but well-meaning individuals. This change in perspective works wonders. Instead of concentrating on bridling the tongue, one can concentrate on understanding the person who did hurtful things. Rational questioning changes perspectives, and changed perspectives change lives.

I find that I am far happier without the bonds of a preset religion. My mind has been set free. I am free to explore the world without the need to fit everything into a predefined religious bias.

It is fine to question. It is safe to explore. There is always more to learn. I hope that neither you nor I will ever stop questioning.

The above is an edited copy of the story I shared on the web in 2002. Since then, I have enjoyed a life that is truly free. This story had been part of my Questioning: An Examination of Christian Belief website that was on the Internet until 2017. I have now brought that site back online with a major facelift. I have rebranded it as The Mind Set Free.

by Merle Hertzler, June 11, 2022

Is There Happiness without Jesus?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

Beautiful and happy dog

Perhaps to you, Christ is the only hope in this world. Your life is centered on him. He is your purpose in life. I understand. I have been there. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior many years ago. I have read the Bible from cover to cover six times–every chapter, every verse, and every line. I have spent literally hours a week in prayer, as I grew in my personal relationship with the Lord. In college, I never drank alcohol. Instead, I attended prayer meetings and went door-to-door witnessing to get my thrills. I have taught Sunday school, sung in the choir, and worked in the children’s ministry. I have been there and done that. I know what it is like to discuss all the details of my life with the Lord, believing that he was right there in my heart listening to me.

I know the excitement of doing God’s work all day Sunday. And I also know the emptiness that would come on Monday. I used to wonder why a person that was so committed to the Lord would feel that way on Monday. It seemed that the more I allowed myself to get excited on Sunday, the worse I would feel on Monday.

I am no longer a believer. I have found something different. I have learned to question, to explore, to think, to be free, to be me. I have the freedom to freely grasp life without the restraint of religion. I have found a purpose that is as good on Monday as it is on Sunday. Life without Christianity can be far more fulfilling than anything that I had ever found inside. And there are hundreds of others who testify to the same thing.

Religious Beliefs and Societal Health, By Matthew Provonsha
Into the Clear Air by Adam Lee Why are these people so happy?
When You Feel Like a Loser by Merle Hertzler Sad? Discouraged? I offer some advice.
The Crazy-Making in Christianity by Marlene Winell What faith can do to you, and how to recover.
Justin Brierley and the Folly of Christianity by Richard Carrier
The Bible and Self Esteem by Merle Hertzler

Happiness links

Have you found joy in Christ? I am glad that you are happy. But tell me something, please: Why do so many Christians struggle to find that joy? Where is their peace? Why are they so discouraged? Why are they so sad?

How do I know that many Christians are sad? Here is one way to see it: Fire up your search engine and search for “sad discouraged depressed Christians.” As I write this I find 9,570,000 hits.[1 ] Sure, not all of  those sites are relevant, but most of the top sites are. They are written by Christians to help sad, depressed Christians. Why are all these people trying to help discouraged Christians? It seems that there is a problem. There must be many thousands of sad, depressed Christians out there.

Let’s look at the solutions offered on these sites. What are Christians depending on to give them hope? Some Christians look to Christ alone as their source of happiness. Others look to other sources also, such as psychology, to help them find their way. What do the top Christian sites propose? I found the usual smattering of Bible verses, and then I found suggestions such as these:

  • Replace negative with positive thoughts
  • Keep a journal of what you think and feel
  • Give yourself affirmations
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Get more light or less heat
  • Change your normal routine
  • Seek professional help
  • Take St. John’s Wort
  • Try cognitive therapy [2]

We see here a variety of techniques. It would appear to me that these suggestions have little to do with Jesus. Can no freethinker ever listen to relaxing music? Can no atheist go into the sunlight or affirm himself? These things apply to unbelievers as well as Christians. The unbeliever is not missing out on any of this. In fact, many have found that it is easier to enjoy the good life without religion.

Does Jesus really give his followers peace and joy? Then why must Christians walk around giving themselves affirmations to avoid depression?

Do you see the hypocrisy here? Non-Christians are told that they need to accept Christ to have peace and joy in their life. Yet many believers are missing peace and joy, and Christians recommend that these believers turn to therapies such as cognitive therapy, a treatment that was developed in the secular world. Is this consistent? If cognitive therapy is the cure for the troubled mind, why do evangelists tell us that Jesus is the cure?

Psychological Testimonies: Anti-Witnessing the sufficiency of Christ.

Psychology vs Faith links

Do you need to give yourself pep talks to avoid discouragement? Do you have a daily struggle trying to find peace and joy? Then you cannot tell me that I need what you have to be happy. It seems to me that it would be hypocritical to claim on Sunday that one has peace and joy in life, and then visit the psychiatrist to deal with a life in despair on Monday. Wouldn’t it be better to face the facts? Wouldn’t it be better for one to admit that, in spite of religion, he is not really happy? Wouldn’t it be better for such a person to say that his Christianity has not really satisfied him?

Perhaps you have indeed found genuine happiness in Christianity. I am glad for you. I hope you understand that others have found happiness elsewhere. You may not need what I have to be happy, and I may not need what you have.

But not all Christians are happy. Many are very sad. Some tell me that it is only weak, carnal Christians who experience such prolonged sadness. They will tell me that mature Christians overcome and are happy. Then why is it that there are sites dedicated to helping depressed missionaries?

Missionary Care  A mental health ministry for Christian missionaries.
Psychiatric Wards for Born-Again Christians Only by Edmund D. Cohen

Christian Depression links

With so many missionaries in need of recovery from depression, it seems that one can be totally dedicated to Christ and not be happy. It is difficult for me to see that they can claim that their faith alone has the way to peace and joy in life.

Some will tell me that depression, as a medical condition, is outside the scope of the Bible. Fine, but psychologists commonly treat depression with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which originated from humanists such as Albert Ellis. If you turn to Cognitive Behavior Therapy in severe cases of depression, why would not quite similar principles used by humanists be good for mild discouragement?

There are many ways to happiness. As for me, I have found no greater joy than that of being free–free from the need to believe a religion that my mind has found to be false. I can explore the world around me and learn without the need to force my observations into a preconceived mold.

There is no experience quite like setting the mind free.

Albert Einstein once wrote,

The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.Source:

Do you have that holy curiosity? Are you free to ask questions–even about your faith? Are you free to take intellectual journeys away from the path that you have been taught? I think you will be happier if you choose to be free. 

Robert Ingersoll describes that experience:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural– that all the ghosts and gods are myths– there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself…

For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.Source: Why I Am Agnostic – Robert Green Ingersoll, offsite

I agree. I am glad that folks like Ingersoll have taught me how to have a good life. They have taught me how to be free. And now I am passing the baton to you.

Exuberance, an Affirmative Philosophy of Life by Paul Kurtz
20 Atheist Quotes about Joy and Meaning by Valerie Tarico
The Promise Of Humanism by Frederick Edwords

Links on the Good Life

I hope I have helped you to ask questions, that those questions lead you to answers, and that through it all, your mind is set free.

Is There a God?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

We come now to the key question: Is there a God? Here is my answer: I don’t know.

If you have been reading through this series, you have seen that, if God exists, I do not find him doing many of the things that have been claimed about him. He did not create the world in seven days. He did not inspire the Bible. He did not raise Jesus from the dead. He is not preparing a home for us. He is not in intimate control of our circumstances. He is not speaking to us. What is left for him to do?

Some will claim that he created the universe, and that he still occasionally responds with miracles and answers to prayers. Let’s look. If God exists, we certainly would want to get to know more about such a powerful being. So, let’s honestly look at the evidence.

We will begin our search in the present, and work our way backwards through time, looking for evidence for God. We will look for God in four places.

  1. The present.
  2. The first humans.
  3. The origin of life.
  4. The origin of the universe.

1. Is God working today?

Some might suggest that God is performing occasional miracles. Where is the evidence? In the past, many people claimed to have seen miracles, but a funny thing happened as time went on. More and more, people realized that there were scientific answers for the unexplained. In modern times, when people can search claims using science, miracle claims are readily debunked. Past claims of miracles could have been sheer fabrications, or misunderstandings from people who didn’t have the backgrounds to scientifically examine the claims.

Suppose God does work miracles. Why would he limit himself to occasional miracles? If he loves everyone, knows we suffer unjustly, and easily works miracles without getting tired, why do so many of our pleas go unanswered? Even if there were a few answered prayers, how can you explain a God who is so absent?

And why does he not readily display that power for all to see? If God can do anything, and wants us to believe in him, why does he not clearly show himself?

Do you remember the story about Elijah demonstrating God’s power? The Bible says Elijah gathered the people together and set up a contest to see who could call fire down from heaven. According to the Bible, Elijah won the contest. Fire came down and burned up a water-soaked sacrifice on an altar. Could you have God duplicate that feat? No? Why not? If God did it once in answer to prayer, why won’t he do it again?

You might say that you are not allowed to test God. Then why does the Bible say that Elijah was allowed to do that test? If he was allowed to do it, why not you? Why wouldn’t God want to make his power clearly known? Or is it possible he isn’t there?

Years ago, magician James Randi had a challenge where he offered a million dollars to anybody who could prove a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon. Over a thousand people tried to do this. All failed. When put to the test, all the claims of supernatural miracles brought before James Randi failed.

So maybe there are no verifiable miraculous events happening today.


You may tell me that you have personally seen God answer prayer. I once made similar claims. But it is not enough simply to say that you were once sick, prayed, and get better. After all, many people got sick and got better. Some of them did not pray. And so, you would need to show that prayers actually made a difference. Ideally, you would show that people that were prayed for were more likely to recover compared with those who didn’t have anybody pray for them.

In science, we verify claimed cures by testing them. Preferably, we set up a large study in which some people get the proposed cure, some may get alternate cures, and some just get a placebo. Ideally the patients and the examiners do not know who got which treatment. In the end of the study the researchers reveal who was in which treatment group. They compare the results and see which treatment, if any, worked best.

How would prayer work in a controlled study? Would it work better than a placebo? Recently, researchers did several such studies. When the methodology and statistics were examined, they found no good case for prayer. By contrast, new drugs regularly show evidence of being effective after such trials. Why does prayer not also show a clearly significant effect when tested?

Although your experiences may be very convincing to you, many of us see it as a case of special pleading. We would not allow a new drug on the market based solely on the testimony that somebody once tried it and got better. Why should we accept the claim of miracle with no better evidence for it than similar testimonial evidence for quack cures?

Does Prayer Work? by Dariusz Jemielniak
Have Christians Accepted the Scientific Conclusion That God Does Not Answer Intercessory Prayer? by Brian Bolton
Efficacy of Prayer by Irwin and Jack Tessman
How Christians Can Test Their Own Prayers Objectively by John W. Loftus This article is behind a paywall at Free Inquiry. Loftus explains how you can test for yourself if your prayers work.
The Science of Prayer by Victor J. Stenger
Debunking Medical Prayer Studies: Let Us Pray That People Stop Praying by James W. Williamson, M.D.
Miraculous Cures by Anthony Campbell
The Study of Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer by Jeffery A. Dusek, PhD et. al. How to properly study prayer.

Shall we pray? Links to research on the effectiveness of prayer.

In your heart

Others will tell me that they know he lives, for he lives in their heart. I understand. I was once there. I thought my experience proved that it was God working inside me. But I found out later there were many people with quite different experiences, with each thinking his experience proved he was right. Does this prove all are right? No. Simply trying something and feeling better does not prove that what you tried is best for all, or that it is based on truth. Sometimes simply trying, with the help of others, is already a huge part of what it takes to find a better life.

2. Did God create humans?

Many will turn to creation as their proof of God. They will look at something like the greatness of the human mind, and come up with an argument that looks something like this:

  1. There must be an explanation for why the human mind exists.
  2. One explanation is God.
  3. I cannot think of any other good explanations.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is faulty. There is indeed another good explanation for why the human mind exists: evolution. We met up with evolution back at the beginning of this series. There I explained how I became convinced that we evolved. You may perhaps agree that there is evidence for evolution, but you just don’t see how this could happen on its own. Something or someone must have been guiding it. Hence, God is still involved in the process.

What do we see if we look at the fossil record? If God is behind it all, gradually transforming life into the humans he wants, one would expect to see most incremental changes be specifically in that direction. Instead, what we see are widely diverging branches in all directions. It sure looks like evolution is trying many different approaches, some of which work, and some of which just branch out to a dead end. This does not look like anybody is actually guiding the process.

Why all the dead-end paths? Dinosaurs, for example, were a major branch of evolution that later died out. Only one small group of dinosaurs survived, becoming modern birds. All the rest died out with no living descendants. If God was guiding evolution to lead to humans, why bother with thousands of species of dinosaurs over many millions of years? Why did that unspeakable carnage in the struggle for existence need to occur? They all died out anyway. A small group of competitors to the dinosaurs, the early mammals, eventually took over and now rule the world that dinosaurs once dominated.

As another example, we talked earlier about the amazing mammallike reptiles that developed mammal features over many millions of years. If we look closely at them in the fossil record, we see this is not a guided evolution toward modern mammals. Rather, there were a whole series of trials and errors in many directions before the group we now call mammals evolved to dominate.

None of this looks like deliberate, guided evolution. We are not seeing the man in charge here.


Similarly, when we look at human evolution, we see many fossils, but we don’t see a clearly directed path to Homo sapiens. The lines branch out in many different directions.

We are often not sure which of those branches are our direct ancestors. In fact, since there were many species besides the ones we have found in the fossil record so far, then most likely it is one of these unknown species that is our true ancestor. Unknown species were cousin species to the ones we have found. By studying these cousin species, we can get a good idea how we got here. But what we are seeing may just be dead end species that are cousins to our true ancestors.

But aren’t humans so very different from other animals? Were earlier animals really capable of evolving into Homo sapiens? Yes. In essence, our anatomy is very close to the anatomy of other apes. We share 98.8% of our DNA with chimps. Even that part of our anatomy that we value most, our brain, has clear connections to all animal brains. Other animals experience thoughts, emotions and will just like we do. Their brains store memories just like us. There is a quantitative difference, yes, but the forerunners of all these functions are in the other great apes also.

How can an animal we would class as an ape walk out of the forest and become human? It’s a long story. It appears that, in The Great Rift Valley in Africa, a unique stretch of grasslands opened up as the continents moved. Certain apes ventured out of the woods, perhaps searching for food. They found a different world, one in which they could survive using the high intelligence inherent in all apes. Problem solving was so important out here, brains began to evolve for higher intelligence.

Likewise, out in the plain, there was an advantage to standing upright. One could travel more efficiently, look out over the tall grass to see predators, and use one’s hands for many tasks. The combination of increased intelligence with increased availability of the hands worked out quite well in this new environment, leading to strong evolution of these traits.

But intelligence and dexterity alone would have left our ancestors helpless in the vast grassland. They found that, like us, they needed each other. It’s true. We all need somebody to lean on. So, our ancestors, which we refer to as hominids, used their new brainpower for more than just individual problem solving. They used their brains to communicate with other hominids. This turned out to be quite difficult. Understanding others is hard. If you want to communicate effectively with me, you need a big brain. Likewise, our hominid ancestors needed big brains to communicate.

With effective communication, we learn from each other. You learn things from me. I learn things from you. Together, the combined knowledge can lead to new ideas. The end result can be far greater than simply adding two experiences. And so, there is a huge advantage to good communication. This requires a lot of brainpower.

As human cooperation and brainpower became ever more important, brains became larger, and that can be a big problem for the mothers. There is only so much head that can squeeze down the birth canal. Unfortunately, many hominid females must have died in childbirth–may they rest in peace–as evolution drove brain sizes larger.

But, once again evolution found a solution. If the skull can wait to finish its growth until after birth, then it is easier to give birth to a child who will have a large adult brain. For the mothers, this was good news. They could give birth to babies that then grew up with big brains capable of better supporting the mother, her other offspring, and her grandchildren. This solution was a winner.

But there was a big side effect to all this. Hominid babies are quite helpless while their brain grows. They go through a prolonged childhood before emerging as super-intelligent hominid adults. Other animal babies can walk and begin caring for themselves soon after birth. Not so with hominids or our close ancestors. Nevertheless, when intelligence is a primary necessity for survival, the sacrifice can be worth it. The mother devotes herself to her helpless baby, yes, but oh what a wonder this produces.

How can a mother afford to spend all this effort raising children? It takes a village. That’s right. Child raising requires a team: mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, anybody. And that is the beauty of the intelligence and social communication that had evolved. It allowed these hominids to develop as a team, caring for each other and for the young. That led to longer childhoods; to larger brains; to more intelligence; to better communication and cooperation; and back around to longer childhoods and still larger brains. It was an endless upwards spiral.

This led to all the wonderful adaptions of hominids: better tools to hunt and get the needed protein to feed these demanding brains; fires to scare away predators; fires to cook meals; loss of hair, which allowed more persistent hunting without overheating; clothing and blankets to stay warm without all that hair; language; structured social interaction; and yes, partying into the wee hours of the morning while sitting around the campfire. Keep that up for hundreds of thousands of years, and before long we see a big change.

None of that requires direct intervention of God. It is simply the working of nature, driving one evolutionary line in a unique direction after a number of prior adaptions had given that genus a unique survival strategy. No miracle was required.

Human Evolution –Encyclopedia Britannica
Introduction to Human Evolution–Smithsonian Institution
Human Evolution–Berkeley University
Why Are There Still Apes? A debate at Christian Forums site.
How Did Humans Evolve?—
Fossil Hominids— TalkOrigins

Human Evolution Links

3.Did God create the first life?

Years ago, when I was a Creationist, I was losing the argument attacking evolution, so I turned to the origin of life. Here it was much easier to make convincing arguments. For evolution, there was all that pesky evidence that shut me down whenever I tried to bring in creation. But as to the origin of life, here was a gap in which I could insert God. My argument went something like this:

  1. There must be an explanation for why life exists.
  2. One explanation is God.
  3. I cannot think of any other good explanations.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

That argument should look familiar. It is the same argument I wrote above about humans; except this time I changed the word in italics. It is the same argument from personal ignorance: I cannot think of another explanation; thus, the only explanation I can think of must be true.

This argument is also faulty.

It is true that there are limits to what we understand about the origin of life. It happened long ago and did not leave a lot of evidence. But we have learned a lot about this since the 90s, when I had argued for God as the originator of life. And yet, even back then, I could see that my arguments were losing.

Although we do not know exactly how it happened, we have many good hypotheses and understand how many of these processes may have happened. There are other explanations besides God.

A leading view suggests that self-replicating RNA molecules began to compete to be the best self-replicator, building more elaborate support until they put molecules together as cells. See The Origin of Life.

We don’t understand it all. Can we therefore insert God? What we have here is a God of the Gaps argument. We find a gap in our knowledge. In this gap, we conveniently insert God. The problem is that these gaps keep getting smaller as science fills in our previous lack of knowledge.

If you elect this defense of the faith, you keep on needing to back down as the gaps disappear. So, unless you enjoy doing a moonwalk, constantly going backwards while appearing to go forward, I would suggest avoiding arguing for a God of the Gaps. After several steps backwards, arguing for ever smaller gaps, you may eventually come to the point that I did, where I could no longer take myself seriously when moonwalking backwards while pretending I was making progress defending God.

From Soup to Cells: The Origin of Life at Berkeley University site
Biogenesis and the Laws of Evidence by Richard Carrier

Biogenesis links

4. Did God create our universe?

So maybe we just better go back further in time, back beyond the story of life on earth, and ask about the beginning of the universe. How could a universe pop up out of nothing? We might frame an argument for this based on the format we had used above:

  1. There must be an explanation for why our universe exists.
  2. One explanation is God.
  3. I cannot think of any other good explanations.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

You may only be able to think of one explanation for the universe–God. But God is not the only possible universe maker. Perhaps natural forces could also do it.

So, before tracing back to the ultimate cause of everything, let’s look at how whatever or whoever it was that made the universe did it.

Let’s cut to the chase and state how the universe began: with a Big Bang. Regardless of who or what caused the Big Bang, we know the broad overview of what it (or he) did. First there was no universe. Then boom, a Big Bang. And the rest is history.

How do we know there was a Big Bang? Well, for one thing, when we look at distant galaxies, we find that they are all soaring away from us at a high rate of speed. This is exactly what we would expect if they had all originated from matter that was concentrated at the same spot and scattered in the Big Bang. In fact, if we trace back the trajectories of galaxies, we find they all came from the same spot in space 13.72 billion years ago. (That’s right, we now know the answer to 4 decimal places.) They must have all left that location simultaneously at high speed in different directions.

One of the many galaxies out there.

As the galaxies spread out, gravity slowed them down. We can conclude that they must have been going quite fast when the scattering started and slowed down gradually as gravity pulled backwards.

If we trace back to the time when the universe was about 1 second old, they would have been bunched together in a huge mass of high velocity particles at 10 billion degrees C. At that temperature neutrons and protons would have been traveling far too fast to make atoms.

But as the universe expanded and cooled, there would have been numerous atomic “marriages”, as particles settled down to form atoms. Almost all of the atoms that were created at that time would have been one of the three lightest elements, hydrogen, helium, and lithium. We can even calculate the ratios of each element created at those high temperatures. Most protons would stay as single protons and unite with one electron to form a hydrogen atom. About 25% of protons would pair up with another proton and with neutrons to form a helium nucleus. And about 1 in a billion would join with 2 other protons, ending up in the nucleus of a lithium atom.

We can compare this to what we observe today. Obviously, those elemental ratios have changed as time marched on. Much hydrogen has fused in stars to become helium. We know how fast this is happening, and so, if we trace back into the past, we can calculate the ratios these elements would have had 13.72 billion years ago. We find, to a high degree of accuracy, that the ratios predicted by the Big Bang theory (the science, not the show) correspond to the ratios that physical observations today tell us must have originally been there. The two calculations agree to a remarkable degree.

So how can you explain this complete correlation between the physics of a Big Bang and what is actually there today? If a creator did it without that superheated mass of the Big Bang, and he could have used a different ratio, why did he pick that exact ratio that the Big Bang would have created?

It is similar to the conclusion we reached at the start of this series where we saw that the earth is either many millions of years old or was created deceptively to look old. Ruling out deception, we concluded that the earth was old.

Similarly, if we rule out a God that deceptively made the element ratios such that they matched a hot Big Bang, then we are left with the conclusion that the elements came from the Big Bang.

A third verification of the Big Bang is the fact that we can see the background radiation from the Big Bang, exactly as predicted.

I won’t explore all the details of the Big Bang here. There are many sources with more details if you are interested.

A Universe from Nothing book by Lawrence M. Krauss.
The Big Bang at NASA
Spontaneous Creation of the Universe from Nothing He Dongshan, et. al.
Quantum Fluctuations in Cosmology by Alan H. Guth

Big Bang Links

Could it be caused by nothing?

Our concern here is not so much the details of the Big Bang, but what caused it. What or who caused it to happen?

One obvious answer is, “God did it”. That is certainly a possibility.

Another answer is that “Nothing did it”. Wait, what? Yes, I said what I mean, maybe Nothing did it. Please note that I capitalize the word Nothing. For it turns out, in our universe, there is no such thing as a spot that is devoid of all forces, all energy, and all matter. Something exists everywhere, even if it is no more than the presence of certain laws of physics. So when I refer to Nothing, I am referring to the specific state of emptiness that is as close to true nothingness as is possible.

The emptiness of outer space is not truly a state of no-thing. For instance, there is that strange dark energy that permeates all of our universe. This dark energy acts in such a way that it tends to force the universe to spread out. Not only is this dark energy within our universe present at every point in space, but it appears to be everywhere, even outside our universe. As the universe gets larger, it contains more volume. Since dark energy is everywhere, the universe is constantly getting more total dark energy as it grows.

A strange thing happened as the universe grew and incorporated more dark energy. Dark energy now overwhelms the rest of the universe. In fact, the total dark energy in the entire observable universe is now 70 times the total energy in the familiar matter that we think of when we think of the universe.

Earlier, we said that the expansion of the universe had slowed down since the initial jolt of the Big Bang. But scientists have also found that, as more and more dark energy is being incorporated into the universe, and as this additional dark energy acts to accelerate the expansion of the universe, the universe is now accelerating. And as it accelerates, it incorporates dark energy even faster, and that makes it accelerate even faster. We keep going outward at faster speeds. Buckle up. We are off for the ride of our lives!

All that comes from the dark energy that inherently exists in all empty space. Empty space is not no-thing.

Not only is Nothing full of dark energy, but quantum mechanics predicts that Nothing regularly creates matter and anti-matter. And it turns out that, in every atom of your body, electrons and anti-electrons pairs are constantly bursting into existence, and then, almost instantly, annihilating each other. For that moment in time there is enough energy involved in this process to affect the energy state of atoms.

If we calculate the energy of atoms without taking these particles into account, our calculations are always inaccurate. But if we include these short-lived particles, we find our calculations reflect the actual energies of atoms to extremely high precision. Thus, they must really be bursting in and out of existence, just as quantum mechanics predicts.

So yes, even in empty space, matter and its evil twin, anti-matter, are constantly coming into existence. Most such particles quickly annihilate each other, but it is at least theoretically possible that some of them have continued to exist. The anti-particle could be swept into a black hole, while the particle itself lives on as a truly new something that came out of Nothing.

Yes, Virginia, in the cosmos there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch!

Similarly, at the Big Bang, we would have had these same quantum mechanics and all its weirdness at play. Quantum mechanics could have caused particles to come into existence.

In addition, we find that our universe in its earliest phases was experiencing a tremendous stretching of space-time itself, a period that we refer to as cosmic inflation. It was a brief period of time, far quicker than the blink of an eye. It lasted less than 10-32 seconds.

As the end of this inflationary period approached, inflation stopped in certain spots quicker than other spots. It was as though those spots had suddenly become frozen and no longer participated in the rapid cosmic inflation that was going on all around them. This caused immense quantum effects in these areas that were dropping out of the inflationary expansion. The quantum events associated with this sudden stoppage could have caused untold billions of particles, both matter and anti-matter, to come into existence.

As the universe continued to expand and cool, these spots multiplied. It was like popcorn: slow popping at first, and then popping everywhere. Eventually inflation stopped completely, and we were left with a boiling broth of matter and anti-matter.

It appears that, for every 1 billion particles of matter created this way, there were also about 999,999,999 anti-particles. As the universe expanded and cooled, most of these particles found mating anti-particles and annihilated each other. But the bachelors, so to speak, lived on to become the universe as we know it.

As mentioned before, the plasma started at temperatures over 10 billion degrees C. How did it get so hot? It appears that, when quantum mechanics creates particles, they start with a velocity equal to their escape velocity. The escape velocity is that speed which is just enough that, if a particle left the brew, it could continue to infinity before gravity finally stopped it. Any slower, and gravity would catch up to it and pull it back down where it started. Any faster, and the particles would easily sail away, to infinity and beyond!

So, the particles were traveling very fast. Since temperature is simply a measure of the average velocity squared of all the particles, that means the brew was very hot.

As the state of this plasma dropped below 10 billion degrees C, the particles then congealed into atoms. These atoms later combined into molecules, then lumps, and finally into stars and planets.

Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. See NASA’s Webb Delivers Deepest Infrared Image of Universe Yet.
This is a cluster of galaxies about 4.6 billion light years away.

It is possible that this interaction of cosmic inflation and quantum mechanics was much larger in extent than just our universe. Possibly, as our universe “froze” and no longer experienced this wild, inflationary stretching of space-time, all the rest of nearby space-time beyond our universe possibly continued to stretch. And events similar to the Big Bang could have then been happening all over that vast expanse of space-time. We call this a multiverse.

These events could have been separated so far that, if our entire universe were drawn as the size of a period on a map the size of our universe, the nearest neighboring universe might be on the other end of that map. And the total expansion of space time could be so rapid that even light could not possibly make it from one universe to the other. We would never be able to detect any of these other universes. For all we know, we might just be in only one of the possibly infinite number of universes that actually existed or will exist.

If there are many universes being created, they may all be different. They may actually have different physics. Some may be duds, quickly disappearing. Others, like ours, may expand to the point where they can support life. In the dud universes, there is nobody around to observe that space-time creates dud universes. In universes like ours, there are people that ask, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?”

So, scientists agree that something could come from Nothing in a process similar to that described above. Quantum mechanics produces particles. Empty space itself is full of energy. And a universe that quickly decelerates from cosmic inflation, as our early universe has, could experience a major creation of matter due to quantum effects. All this could have created matter that would be at high temperature and fly rapidly outward to form a vast universe.

This was a brief introduction to the Big Bang. We don’t know exactly how it happened, but we are learning more about it all the time.

What caused the cause of the Big Bang?

For our purposes, we are not so much concerned with how the Big Bang happened, as we are concerned with the ultimate explanation for it. Where did quantum mechanics, cosmic inflation, and all other physical actions come from?

Perhaps quantum mechanics and cosmic inflation always existed. Perhaps it could not be otherwise. Perhaps these physical realities just keep on creating universes.

Or perhaps other physical forces caused quantum mechanics and cosmic inflation to begin. Perhaps there is a multiverse of multiverses. Perhaps there is some innate source of multiverses that is creating multiverses with different physics. These multiverses could be creating universes, each with perhaps distinct versions of the inherited physics of the multiverse they came from.

Ah, but what caused the source of the source of the source of the multiverses? What is the ultimate thing that drove this all? We don’t know. Perhaps there is an infinite series of causation that never ends. Or perhaps, at root, there is a circular causation where A causes B that causes C that causes A ad infinitum. Or perhaps there is some root cause of everything, A, that simply is, and could not be otherwise. Perhaps the root cause is nothing more than, “Things happen.”

Regardless of whether the root cause is a distinct something (A) or a circular something (ABC), an infinite regress, or things just happening, let’s call this root cause of any physics the first cause.

This first cause could either have a mind or not have a mind.

If it has a mind, how could that mind remember anything before there was any matter that can be arranged to save the memories? All memories we know of (brains, computers, books, etc.) consist of an arrangement of atoms that document things. How can a creator’s mind do this, if there is not yet any matter to arrange to preserve those memories?

If the first cause, the process that started it all, had a mind, we should probably call it God. If it didn’t have a mind, we probably should not call it God.

Did the root cause have a mind? Would it be proper to call it God? Ultimately, we don’t know. Hence, regarding God, I am agnostic.

The Problem with Nothing by Richard Carrier
Multiverse Cosmological Models by Paul Davies
Six Arguments that a Multiverse is More Probable Than a God by Richard Carrier
Cosmological Arguments on the Secular Web. This has many counterarguments to the first cause argument.
The God Impossible by Richard Carrier. This explores the question of how a mind could exist if there was no matter.
Six Arguments That a Multiverse Is More Probable Than a God by Richard Carrier

Links about the multiverse and God

Is God knowable?

We could get into endless discussion of what or who is behind it all. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Even if a God exists, I find no way of knowing what He wants. I don’t find that the Bible or any book reliably tells us what God wants. And I don’t find that God speaks to us and tells us what he wants. So even if God exists, I have no way of knowing what he wants.

If it turns out the maker of the process that made our universe has a mind, is still alive, and wants to communicate with us, then yes, of course, I would love to be introduced. But as I find no evidence that such a being is communicating, I am not expecting to be contacted.

And besides, even if God did try to speak to me, how would I know it was God? Sure, something like a seemingly miraculous Internet feed could suddenly come through a wormhole in space, complete with unimaginable knowledge and the ability to do things we would see as miracles. Would that prove that the source created the universe? No. It could simply be a super-advanced space alien with powers far beyond human powers. How would we ever know it was the source of the processes that started the universe?

And for that matter, even if you went to heaven after you died, how would you know that the being in charge of this paradise in which you find yourself is actually the originator of the processes that made the universe? Could you prove that the ruler of your paradise was not simply a highly advanced space alien with amazing powers? You would not know. Even though this ruler of this paradise had a Scotty that had beamed you up to this paradise as you were dying on earth, how would you know that there is not actually somewhere a more powerful being than him? How would you know that there are not more powerful beings out there, who will eventually attack your paradise and conquer it? How could you be sure you are on the winning side?

And how would the ruler of this heaven even know that he was really the ultimate God? If a different, more powerful God existed in some other part of spacetime beyond his knowledge, how would he know? If he couldn’t know that which is beyond his knowledge, is it possible that within that “unknown unknown”, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, there was some being greater than him?

In summary, I find no convincing evidence that God exists. I find no evidence when I look at the present, at evolution, at the origin of life, or at the origin of matter. If God does exist, I find no way of knowing what he wants. And if someday a being claiming to be the omnipotent creator contacts me, I would have no way to know that he actually was the omnipotent first cause, the creator of all universes.

How COVID-19 Falsifies the God Hypothesis by Gary Whittenberger

other links

All of that is a diversion from the business of living life. We have all we need to make our own lives productive, to build meaning and purpose in life. If a powerful, all-knowing someone from space reveals himself, great, I will be first in line to ask to meet him and learn from him, regardless of whether he actually initiated our universe. But until then, I live my life based on the information I do have.

We need to ask one more question before I complete this series. Some would think we are lost in hopeless despair without our faith. Are we lost without hope? I will finish this series by looking at hope.

Does God Speak to Us?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

unrecognizable man praying in church in sunlight

There was a time when I was busy doing what I thought was the Lord’s work. I remember one church program that I was excited about. I was busy trying to get the program started. But other people at my church disagreed with me. They did not think God was on my side, so they worked behind the scenes to oppose my plans.

What did I do? I prayed. Do you know what God told me? That’s right, God told me that he was on my side. (It seemed to me that I was hearing a lot from God in those days.) And I read the Bible. God spoke to me when I read, or so it seemed to me. What did he say? He said he was on my side. He said that those that opposed me were wrong. I was right. God himself told me that I was right. Or so it seemed to me.

Across town there were other people who also talked to God. They also were serious about serving God. They didn’t like my plans. So ,they prayed to God. Guess what happened when they prayed? That’s right. God spoke to them. He told them that I was wrong. He told them that they were right. He told them to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. Surely, they were doing the right thing. God himself was on their side. Or so it seemed to them.

I look back on it all and smile. But it was not funny back then. It was quite frustrating.

I see it over and over. Why is it that God always seems to be saying exactly what people expect to hear?

God-and-country fundamentalists hear God in their prayers. He tells them to go to war and kill evil people–at least that’s what they tell us they hear. But then Mennonites also hear God. He tells them to condemn war and oppose the hawkish Christians.

Charismatics hear God in their prayers leading them to speak in tongues. Others hear God telling them to condemn the charismatic movement.

Gay Christians hear God telling them to build churches that support alternate lifestyles. Anti-gay churches hear God telling them to oppose gay churches.

A thought comes to mind. Perhaps at least some of these people are not really hearing God. Perhaps gullible people misunderstand when they think they hear from God. Do you agree? Good. So tell me: Should you and I include ourselves in that list of people who might possibly be deceived? If others are mistaken when they think they hear from God, maybe we are too.

You may tell me that you have had a wonderful experience of God’s Spirit. Perhaps you have felt a sweet inner peace, an unexplainable joy, a deep conviction, or an overwhelming sense of communion with God.

Please understand that many have had similar experiences. I doubt if you think they all were experiencing God. Catholics, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Anti-Charismatics, gays, anti-gays, hawks, doves, Messianic Jews, Neo-Nazis, Universalists, narrow-minded bigots, witchdoctors, and the robed guys at the airport have all claimed similar experiences. Do you understand how some of these experiences were only the result of the mental processes inside the minds of the believers, and were not the direct hand of God? If you can understand that the experiences felt in a cultic ritual may not be of God, then you should be able to understand why others might think that your experience might not be the direct act of God.

Surely God’s Spirit was not simultaneously inspiring both Catholics and Protestants to kill each other in Ireland. Surely you must agree that at least some of those combatants were mistaken.

It is interesting to talk to somebody who hears from God. He is not wrong. God is on his side. To change his mind would mean disobeying God. He has a personal connection with God, a direct line to the throne. If he doesn’t know what to do, he can just ask God. And God reportedly gives him an inner feeling that directs his paths. Once he feels God directing in his heart, how can he possibly listen to those who suggest he do otherwise? How could he possibly be wrong?

Hearing the Voice of God by Bruce Gerencser
Dear Christians, if the Holy Spirit is Your Teacher and Guide by Bruce Gerencser
Psychic Epistemology: The Special Pleading of William Lane Craig by John W. Loftus

LInks about hearing from God

I know what it is like. I used to be there. But things have changed. I no longer look for an inner feeling in my spirit to lead me. I no longer assume that feelings inside are directly caused by God. I now use the process of observation and reason to determine what is best. And I ask a lot of questions. I find that rational thought is better than trusting an inner feeling. And it helps to keep me humble.

Is God in Control?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

Collapsed buildings in the World

On September 11, 2001, millions of people watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Why did God allow it to happen? Many were praying for God to protect their loved ones. And yet they watched the dreadful destruction occur. Why did this happen? Did God not love those people in the towers and in the planes? Did God not have the power to stop it? Christians would certainly say he had the power to prevent it. But he did not.

What about the thousands that died that day? You might suggest that God had some mysterious purpose in letting them die. Perhaps their time on earth was done.

Imagine the details that God would have had to control to assure that only those people whose time had come were killed. What if the planes had hit several stories higher or lower? What if the flights had been delayed 10 minutes? What if somebody in the towers had gotten stuck in traffic that morning? What if the planes had hit at a different angle? All these things would have altered the death toll. If God had planned for certain people to die that day, then he must have guided all these details. He must have guided the planes to hit the buildings exactly where they did. In other words, God would have had to have been in control of those airplanes, and the terrorists were merely doing what God directed. All of this is of course absurd. Such a God is a micro-manager. Such a God wanted those planes to hit the towers where they did.

And so, I conclude that the reason these people died had nothing to do with God having a purpose in them dying. It just happened. Random forces were at work. God was not in control.

Some would tell me he allowed it to happen to punish people. Did all those that died that day deserve to be punished? How did God control it so only those who deserved to die were killed?

Why does God allow suffering? Why do 3 million children starve every year? Why is there so much disease? Why does God not stop terrorists? These questions have been asked many times.

And it is good to ask such questions. A good God would expect us to ask questions.

Somehow, God is said to have a reason for it all. If a car misses us, that must have been God’s protection. If it hits us, somebody will say God is trying to teach us something. Everything must have a purpose. Otherwise, we are left with a God who refuses to help.

You and I would not respect a policeman who sees a rape about to take place and did nothing. It would be hard to respect someone who could help and refuses to do anything.

Where was God on 9/11? People cannot bear the thought that God might have just stood back and not cared. So, we are told that God must surely have had a purpose.

If God was in control of what happened to the people in those planes on September 11, and if he wanted them to die this way, then this event was not a tragedy. It was God’s will. But we all agree that it was a tragedy. So, it therefore was not a good God’s will. Things happened that a good God would not have wanted. For whatever reason, God, if he exists, did not take control.

Now if God did not want it to be this way, and could have stopped it, how can you explain his actions? Many people have been blamed for that day. We have heard the pundits criticize the FBI and CIA. We have heard how airport and airline security was lax, and that airplane doors were not designed correctly. What about God? He apparently could have stopped it all, wanted to stop it, and did not stop it.

Likewise, disease has destroyed many lives throughout history. What did God think in the past when he looked down on children in polio wards? Did he look at the pain and suffering of innocent children, and think it was good? Did it have a purpose? No, I think not.

Many people were sure that this suffering was pointless. They thought that nature was acting by itself and causing this suffering. They wanted to stop it. They looked for a natural cause, and they found it. Then they looked for a way to overcome that natural cause, and they developed a vaccine. When the vaccine and other preventions became readily available, the illness was controlled. If God had a purpose for polio, were these people right to try to prevent it? Yes. They were very right. Polio was bad.

Did God cease to have a purpose for polio the moment prevention became readily available? Does God still have a purpose in allowing under-privileged children to suffer who do not have access to medicine? Isn’t it odd that the probability that God will have a purpose in a child being crippled by polio has a direct correlation with whether the child has access to modern medicine and sanitation?

Suppose that firemen arrive at a burning house with a child inside that they could rescue. Is it possible that God wants this child to suffer? If God wants the child to suffer, are they doing the child a disservice by rescuing her? Of course not. The firemen would not think that for a minute. They would do everything they could to rescue the child. They would assume that the suffering was bad.

Tomorrow, almost everyone will be doing something to prevent others from suffering. Nurses will care for the sick. Policemen will protect us. Road workers will fill in potholes. Researchers will look for cures for diseases. Truckers and sailors will bring us lots of cool stuff–all the way from China. We will go about our lives hoping to minimize the suffering of others. We all know suffering is bad. And so, we will try to stop it.

Which brings us to God. Suffering will happen tomorrow. God, if he exists, will not stop it. People will get sick. Accidents will happen. And where will God be? For whatever reason he will not stop it. But people will know that it hurts. They will know it is bad, and they will try to stop it. Even if you tell us that suffering has a purpose, we will assume it is pointless, and will try to prevent it. But God will not stop it.

You think that he sometimes helps? Fine, but why is there all that suffering that he does not stop?

Some would argue that God is there comforting the suffering people. But how does that solve the problem? Would a fireman be excused for ignoring a fire if he later comforts the survivors? It is a good thing to comfort the suffering, but when it is completely within somebody’s power to stop suffering, and he does not do so, his comfort is small consolation to the victims. Has God been demoted from Supreme Ruler to Comforter-in-Chief?

Is God Sovereign by Bruce Gerencser

Links for further study

It appears that God was not in control of the circumstances when those planes hit the towers. So why think that he is in control when somebody takes your parking space, a tree falls on your house, or a loved one has cancer? Why try to answer the agonizing question about why God did this? Is God trying to teach you patience? Is he trying to win people to himself? Is he punishing you, or teaching you to rely on him? No, it would seem to me that it just happens. And it seems that our minds can be much more at peace when we realize this.

I don’t think God has a purpose when bad things happen. I do not see a strong wind or a mighty movement of the earth when I need it. Random events cause random suffering. I accept that. God is not in control.

Or maybe God doesn’t even exist.

Some people might say that I should not be looking for God to intervene in might or power, but I should be listening instead for a still, small voice. I discuss that next.

Is There Life after Death?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

cemetery under the cloudy sky

You may have been told that you will live forever, but that seems quite unlikely to me. For our brains will one day be gone. All our lives those brains have been the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and memories. So, when the brain is gone, then the lights must go out. Surely then it is all over.

But some will tell me that something else lives on even after the brain has disintegrated. They often call this the soul. And ultimately, they say, the soul is the seat of the mind. And so, even if the brain is gone, the mind can continue as a function of a soul that survives death.

If the soul is really in charge, why do you even need a brain? If thinking is done by the soul, what is left for the brain to do? Some propose that the brain is simply an interface to the body. It gathers information from the senses and feeds it to the soul. There the soul processes the incoming data, saves memories, and makes decisions. The soul then somehow directs the brain to drive the muscles of the body. The soul is in charge, and the brain handles the interface with the body.

But science has shown that it is truly the brain that is in charge. We think with our brains, not with immaterial souls.

Have you got soul?

Let’s look at some evidence that the brain is in charge, and that there is no separate, non-material soul.

First, there is the evidence of amnesia. When elderly people suffer a stroke, or when trauma occurs to the brain, patients often lose the ability to remember things that happen after that tragic event. The person loses an important mental function, the ability to remember new things. But it was not the soul that had been damaged. The brain was damaged. Somehow damage to the brain causes that person to lose the ability to efficiently store new memories. If memories are actually a function of the soul, why would damage to the brain affect the functioning of the soul? Since damage to the brain affects the ability to store memories, then it must be the brain that stores the memories.

You might argue that what happened is that the brain stops giving the soul new data. Thus, the soul has nothing to remember. But that is clearly not what is happening. The essence of the person is still communicating with us. That person sees us, recognizes us, and communicates. The mind’s senses are still working. The mind is still able to observe, but the person forgets what was observed. Why? The brain is damaged. And this damage hinders memory storage. So, it must be the brain that is remembering. When the brain is affected, the mind is affected.

Second, when conditions prevent a brain from developing properly, the personality does not reach maturity. If the soul is distinct from the brain, why wouldn’t the soul go on to maturity?

Brain diagram png, vintage human

A third evidence that the brain is doing the thinking is the fact that, if the brain slows down and goes to sleep at night, the soul also sleeps. Suppose your soul is something different from the brain. Why does the soul go to sleep when the brain sleeps? Why can’t it just keep on being your soul, wide awake, even though the brain goes to sleep and has stopped giving the soul input from the world? It doesn’t work that way. When the brain is affected, the mind is affected.

The effect is even more pronounced under anesthesia. In such procedures, one loses virtually all contact with the world and does not sense even severe pain. After waking up, one is not even aware of the passage of time while he was unconscious. If the soul was distinct from the brain, one would think you could simply start counting as you go under and keep on counting into the thousands in your soul while contact with the world goes blank. It would be like losing the connection while on a Zoom call. The soul would still be awake. The person whose brain is sleeping would still be able to count or plan his next day, but the incoming senses of the world would temporarily be blank. This is not what happens.

Fourth, evidence shows that we inherit our basic personality through our genes. How is it that genes can affect our personality? Genes must surely be directing the brain’s physical development, which then influences the personality development. How could genes also change a separate, immaterial soul? That makes no sense. Personality must therefore be a function of the brain, not of a separate entity known as the soul. How else could genes have such a significant effect on the personality? 

Fifth, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease enters a period of altered mental capability due to brain disease. Is the soul of the Alzheimer’s victim also changed by his physical condition? That makes no sense. The disease affects the brain, not the soul. But if the soul is working normally, why are the thoughts so confused?

You may argue that the soul is still normal, but the connection of the brain to the soul is blurred. And yet we can still communicate with the essence of the Alzheimer’s victim, with the part you would call the soul. That spark of the inner person is still there. The communication still works. But we can see that the very essence of the inner person is changing. The part you would call the soul is deteriorating. Why? The brain is being altered. Since the mind is a function of the brain, it too becomes altered.

Are we to believe that death does for the Alzheimer’s victim what no medicine can do? Does death suddenly restore the mind to full functioning? How could that be? The disease gradually destroys the brain, and this deteriorate the mind. How then could the full destruction of the brain at death cause the mind to become restored?  

Sixth, if the soul is separate from the brain, exactly how does a soul interface with the brain? As far as we can tell, brain function consists of movements of electrons and chemicals. How could our soul communicate with this brain? Does the soul somehow start moving electrons around in our brains so that the brain knows to move a certain muscle or to command the mouth to say a certain word? How can the stuff of the soul push matter? Wouldn’t a soul push right through an electron, just like spirits supposedly pass through walls?

And if souls actually push molecules or electrons around, why can’t they push the molecules that are outside of the brain? If your soul can push molecules in your brain, why can’t it push molecules in my brain?

None of this can be observed in nature. Nowhere do we find evidence for souls deflecting molecules. So, how can a non-physical soul affect the movements of the body? It can’t. I conclude the mind is simply a function of the brain.

Seventh, as discussed earlier in my Dare to Question series, we have evolved from other animals. Do apes have souls? Do reptiles, fish and germs have souls? If not, exactly when was a soul inserted for the first time? Was the first being to have a soul raised by someone without a soul? It is easy to see how mind functions could develop incrementally through many generations as we evolved. It is difficult to see how an evolved creature would somehow suddenly get a separate, immaterial soul for the first time. And if apes don’t have souls, how do their brains partially duplicate some of the functions we require a soul to do?

For all these reasons, I conclude that it is the brain, not an immaterial soul, that stores memories and does the thinking. For more on mind-brain dependence see The Case Against Immortality  by Keith Augustine, Mind-Brain Dependence by Steven J. Conifer, and section III.6 of Sense and Goodness without God by Richard Carrier.


Yes, I know, you look inside, and you see your conscious mind is in there telling the body what to do. Your consciousness is in charge, or so it seems to you. And you equate that consciousness with a soul that is separate from the body. So how can you be perceiving this soul inside you to be directing the show, when actually it is brain molecules that are doing the heavy lifting? Good question.

Science has shown that the brain decides to do things before the person is aware that he made the decision. One experiment that verified this involved subjects who were told to decide to bend their wrist while watching a slowly spinning disk. They were told to tell the experimenters exactly where the disk was when they decided to bend their wrist. The experimenters used this information to determine when the subject was aware that he was making the decision. The subjects were also hooked up to sensors that could detect brain activity that occurred when the subjects decided to act.

It turns out that the brainwaves started before the subjects were aware that they were deciding. If you asked the subjects, they would tell you that they made the decision consciously at the moment that they were aware of it. But the instruments they were wired to indicate otherwise. The brain cells had begun to fire and started the process of commanding the hand to move before the person was consciously aware of the decision. [1]

Could it be that our brain cells are running the show, and that what we call the conscious mind comes along later and fills in the story after the fact? This kind of after-the-fact consciousness has been demonstrated in another experiment. Here is how it worked. A red dot was projected onto a screen. Then the red dot was turned off and, a split second later, a green dot was projected near the spot where the red dot had been. When people saw this, they reported that they saw the red dot start to move to the side, then change suddenly to a green dot as it moved along, and then continue to the new location as a green dot. Obviously, this is not what they saw. There was no moving dot that changed colors. The dot had never been in the middle. But the conscious mind told the story that the dot had traveled, and that the dot’s color had changed from red to green at the middle. The conscious mind was convinced that it had observed this happen. It was mistaken. [2]

And so, in that experiment, we find that minds rewrote history, just like the historians in the novel 1984 rewrote history to reflect what Big Brother wanted. A similar thing must have happened in the minds of the subjects. Their minds had known that objects don’t usually just disappear and immediately show up in a new location. They knew that, in such instances, the object probably moved from point A to point B. And if it changed colors, it had to change somewhere. The mind makes up the story that it observed the dot changing color when it was in the middle of its movement. The subject’s minds rewrote their memories and did it so well that they were confident the revised story was true.

Their conscious memory of seeing the dot change color as it moved was a sheer fabrication. The subjects “remember” it, but it never happened.

You have probably observed the mind rewriting memories. A significant event may happen to somebody, and immediately he tells us what happened. Ten minutes later you hear him tell the same story again, but it is a little different this time. An hour later, the story has been modified further. We hear the same story the next day and the next week. Each time we hear it, it is a little different. And often we can observe a trend in the rewrite. What the person thinks he should have said becomes a memory of what he did say.

True, sometimes the person modifying the story may be deliberately deceptive. But often the person is not trying to lie to us. He is an honest person, and yet his mind is changing the story.

Folks have probably observed a similar thing in you and me. Our minds gradually and unconsciously change the memories of the past so that they conform to what makes sense to us. Thus, we end up with memories of being conscious of something in the past, even though we never actually experienced it that way.

Notice that the memories of the person who saw a dot disappear and another dot appear are just like the memories of the person who truly saw a dot move. One memory reflects what was consciously observed. One is a fabrication. We cannot tell the difference.  Our minds are being misinformed about what we consciously experienced. We believe the lies that are being written to our memories.

Notice also that it is our memory of past events that is fundamental to our consciousness. Suppose that you had no ability to remember anything. You would be constantly aware of your current state at each moment, but you would be totally unaware of anything that had happened a microsecond earlier. It would be like listening to a music CD that was stuck on the same chord. Now that would not be real music. Music requires change, and so does consciousness. To really mean anything, our consciousness must consist of an awareness of the narrative that has brought us to the current state.

But as we have seen, this narrative is often freely being changed. We think we have conscious memories of how the story has unfolded, but somehow what we call our conscious memory is only the modified story that our minds create. What we call consciousness is just the story of how we got to where we are. The problem is, this story is somewhat illusory, since our minds are constantly revising that story, sometimes incorrectly.

So perhaps this explains how our minds can deceive ourselves into believing that there is a soul inside that is making the decision, even though experiments show that the decisions were made before we were aware of them. Perhaps our minds continuously create the story we call consciousness and write it in such a way that we think consciousness is making the decisions.

Where do your words come from?

Think about it. Where do your decisions come from? When you decide to speak, for instance, where do those words come from? You really don’t know, do you?

Think about all that is involved in creating spontaneous speech. Your brain contains information about thousands of thoughts that you could express. You have a vocabulary of thousands of words that you can use, and your mind knows the definition of each. And these words must be put together according to the syntax of your language. But you don’t remember sorting through your mental dictionary to look up the meanings of all relevant words to select the proper words to express the thought you chose. No, you just speak, and the right words present themselves to you. And you and your listeners both hear the sentence from your mouth at the same time. But where did the words come from?

If your soul is the speechwriter, why isn’t the soul aware of how the words came into your consciousness? Why isn’t your soul aware of looking up the meanings of all the words it could have used? Instead, behind the scenes, something must be working to look up available words and form those sentences for you. I contend this something is nothing more than the millions of neurons in your brain. They must be working behind the scenes to write your speech for you. You and I think that our conscious mind is speaking, but the conscious mind isn’t even aware of how the speech is being written.

Even when we slowly deliberate, weighing every word carefully before speaking, we cannot tell where those word options originated. The words just present themselves to us. Something looked through our mental dictionary and pulled those words up for us.

Many Christians seem to recognize that thoughts come to us fully formed. I have heard some ascribe different authors to the thoughts that stream through their minds. It is interesting to hear them describe the experience. They will tell me that Satan was saying something in their minds, and then they responded, and then God said something, and then the old nature argued, and then Jesus said something, and so on. It must be interesting being them! There are enough of people inside to have great conversation. But perhaps they are mistaken. Perhaps various thoughts originate, not from various competing spirit beings inside the mind, but from various competing coalitions of neurons in the brain.

Science indicates that there are millions of neurons working in our brains, and that this activity produces thoughts. It is a cacophony of voices, with many different ideas competing for dominance. But somehow the winning thoughts come to the top and present themselves as a string of conscious ideas. The real work, however, is done among all these competing neurons.

Often our language betrays the fact that things are going on outside of our direct conscious control. We say things like “I didn’t mean to do that,” “The words wouldn’t come,” “I couldn’t help myself,” or “I don’t know why I did that.” In such statements there is a subtle recognition that our consciousness is not really in charge.

The consciousness is along for the ride, observing the finished work that the neurons have put together. And the consciousness rewrites its memories in such a way that it seems to us that our consciousness is making the decisions.

For more on how our brains create consciousness see Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett and my essay, How Can Molecules Think?

I conclude that thinking is done by the brain, and these thoughts produce our consciousness. Consciousness does not come from an immaterial soul.

Life after death

We know that brain activity stops when we die. If our memories are in the brain, how could they remain after death? And how can the inherited personality survive if the very brain that produced it is destroyed? It seems that it too must be gone. If my memories and personality are gone, how can I still be said to exist?

Some will agree that the brain is doing the thinking here on earth, but there is a soul in there also. And the soul just so happens to want the same thing the brain wants and store the same memories the brain stores. So, though the brain is gone at death, the soul that works in parallel remains. How convenient. Seems implausible to me. So, I won’t waste time hoping that it is so.

Ah, but someone might ask if God couldn’t just make a copy of all that we experienced in our brain. When we die, God restores everything from the backup, just like we would do on a computer. Our mind would literally be backed up in the cloud.

If there is a backup of my mental database that will be used to drive a new body someday, how do we know it won’t happen to two bodies, or even a thousand? Will there be thousands of copies of me out there running off the same backup database of me? It is difficult to see how we can refer to any of those backups as “me”. They are copies, not me. The same thing can be said about the first copy made from a backup database of my memories. It’s not really me. Would it be fair to punish or reward a copy of me for what I have done here on earth?

Is it possible a God is making a backup copy of me that can live forever? Perhaps, but I can make hundreds of similar wild guesses as to what might happen someday. For instance, is there a possibility that aliens will land on Jupiter, transform it into a paradise for humans, and then offer free shuttle service back and forth to earth? Perhaps. But I don’t spend long hoping for that to happen. Nor do I spend long hoping that some backup copy of me lives forever.

So it appears that neither a soul nor a copy of the brain’s database survives death.

But what about bodily resurrection? Perhaps the brain lies dormant until God puts it back together and resurrects the body. But how could that happen? What about the bodies of people that died a thousand years ago? Their bodies have disintegrated, and the constituent atoms are spread throughout the world. Some of those particles could be in your brain now. Some atoms may have been part of many people’s brains throughout history. To which brain will they go in the resurrection?

If, on the other hand, I am reconstructed from a new set of molecules, is not such a reconstructed me just one of many possible copies of me that could be made? We are left with a copy, or even multiple copies, not a continued existence of my mind. A copy of me is not the same thing as me.

So, it appears that our minds will not survive death. Your mind is a function of your brain, and your brain will someday die. If you and I are going to find the good life, we will need to make the most of what we have here. Let us make this life count.

Where does this leave God if he exists? If he is not preparing a place for us, what is he doing for us in this life? Let’s explore that next.

Yes, what (on earth) is God doing?

Addendum: Q&A


In an online debate of this page, Mountainmanmike suggested that near-death experiences are evidence for souls. He contended that souls can somehow travel from the body and sense events happening remote from the body.

Near-death experiences are reported by less than 20% of people that were near death. If souls really do these things near death, why do not most people observe this?

There are many things that can cause such experiences. Oxygen deprivation, for instance, will restrict side vision, and make it appear like one is in a dark tunnel. Hence, the reports of traveling through a tunnel.

Did the reported experiences truly happen while physical consciousness was gone? We have no proof of that. There can be a rush of thoughts as one fades in and out of consciousness. So, the reported vague consciousness during the experience can simply be memories as one went in and out of consciousness.

What about the fact that people sometimes have knowledge of things that were happening in the room? Such knowledge can come while partially conscious, from later hearing about the events from others, or by simply making educated guesses about what happened.


Mountainmanmike also argued that twins can sense the death of a twin far away.

Although there are many such claims, none can be repeated in controlled studies. Yes, a twin may die, and the other twin may report having a strange feeling at that moment, but how does that prove that the soul of the dead twin travelled to be with the other twin? We are going strictly off the memory of the events. And memories change with time. We selectively remember things that match what we want. We ignore all those times when we felt uneasy, and there was no tragedy elsewhere, or when tragedy happened, and nobody reports this experience.

Such claims of remote sensing were never verified in controlled studies, where we would need to show that the knowledge supposedly transmitted was such that it was unlikely to have happened by chance.

And even if twins are shown to consistently know when a distant twin dies, how would that prove that a soul left a body? How would you know that is not just some yet unknown sense such as a bat’s radar that can sense things from a distance?


Anecdotal evidence is extremely unreliable. For years people were pitching snake oil and all kinds of claims based on anecdotal evidence. But people see what they want to see. So, if they invest in snake oil, for instance, they will often think they see fantastic things happen with snake oil. And they will tell stories of the success of snake oil. That is why scientists got away from trusting such anecdotal evidence and look instead for the results of controlled studies.

If we accept claims of remote sensing without having a controlled study to verify it, we are relying only on anecdotal evidence. Should we also go back to the days where all sorts of flimflam cures were promoted on nothing more than anecdotes? Should we abandon modern medicine based on controlled studies, and instead trust anecdotes? I prefer scientific evidence and controlled studies.

Does paranormal perception occur in near-death experiences? by Keith Augustine
How Not to do Survival Research by Keith Augustine
Beyond the BICS Essay Contest: Envisioning a More Rigorous Preregistered Survival Study by Etienne LeBel, Keith Augustine & Adam Rock

Links on Near-Death Experience Studies


Mountainmanmike continued with a long list of pseudoscience mixed with descriptions of science. Since all stories can be called anecdotes, is all evidence anecdotal?

He is confusing telling an account of the experimental procedure and uncontrolled anecdotal evidence. When scientists speak of anecdotal evidence, they are speaking of a claim with no scientific methodology to prevent bias from influencing the result. Real scientists use studies that are designed to discover the truth, regardless of any pre-existing bias that they may have. And when they do such experiments, they describe what they did. Such descriptions of experiments are quite different from anecdotal evidence.

Scientific observation is based on getting information that is not the result of the scientist’s bias. For instance, when testing new medicines, the medicine is tested in a controlled double-blind trial. Such studies, when properly done, minimize the effects of bias on the results. So, the studies give valuable information.

When Mountainmanmike reports that a twin had an odd feeling when a distant twin died, what controls were used to keep bias out of the claim?

There is a difference between a properly done statistical study and anecdotal evidence that has no scientific controls. The table listed at Learn How Anecdotal Evidence Can Trick You is a good description of the difference.


On this thread, Yaaten wrote, “The soul sleeps at night because the brain is asleep?…Don’t you dream when you’re asleep?” 

Yes, of course, I dream while asleep. We can go through stages of consciousness, especially when fading in and out of sleep. But clearly the conscious mind is not in the same state during sleep as it is while awake.

How can you explain that? If you are counting sheep when going to sleep, you will always stop counting when you go to sleep. If your soul or mind is the conscious part of you, and is distinct from the brain, why doesn’t it continue to be the conscious part in a fully alert state while your brain sleeps? Why can’t your independent soul just keep on counting, fully conscious, while the brain dozes?

If the soul is in charge, and the brain is just my connection to the world, why would the soul start dreaming when the connection gets cut off? But if instead, the brain is the seat of the mind, and it goes through various stages of sleep, it is certainly understandable that the brain could then act differently and cause the mind to dream.


1. Dennett, Daniel C., Consciousness Explained (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1991) pp. 162-163

2. Dennett, Daniel C., Consciousness Explained (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1991) p 114

Copyright Merle Hertzler 2002, 2005, 2006, 2022. All rights reserved.

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

The Mysteries of the Passion: The Resurrection

We turn now to the central issue of Christianity. Did Jesus rise from the dead?

First, can we agree that this is an extraordinary claim? People that were dead for several days don’t rise again. If your claim is extraordinary, I would like extraordinary evidence, please.

You may think I have just set the bar too high. After all, Peter didn’t have a smart phone or even a printing press. He could not take a movie clip or print a book. Give the guy some slack!

But I am not asking anything different then you would ask when faced with extraordinary claims.

For instance, consider the many tales about the legendary lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. People said that he could chop down a full forest with one swing of his ax, and that he personally dug out Lake Michigan. People have reported that he made the Grand Canyon when he drug his ax along as he walked. Do you believe these stories? I am sure you don’t. Why not? Have you personally reviewed the sources to see if they are credible? I doubt if you have. But you do know that the claim that he made the Grand Canyon by dragging his ax is not credible. It’s not worth taking the time to investigate. He didn’t do it.

When faced with such incredible claims, we would want very strong evidence before we believed it. We would want the evidence to be so overwhelmingly convincing that we would find no choice but to suspend our natural skepticism and accept the claim about Paul Bunyan’s ax.

One would think the same skepticism would apply when faced with the claim of a resurrection.

As I have explained earlier I don’t find the gospels to be reliable history. So if your evidence consists of what the Gospels say, you might not get far in convincing me.

The most likely explanation

Nevertheless, it would be important for us to ask what explanations for the phenomenon of early Christianity are more likely than an actual resurrection. So here I will lay out what I see as the most credible explanation.


Yes, I know you usually begin at the Gospels, but I find them to be written late and untrustworthy. So, I will turn to the most prolific writer of the early church, Paul, to see what the early Christians actually thought.

Paul says that Christ rose from the dead ( 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5). But the Christ of which he speaks seems to be a spirit. For instance, he writes, “I am crucified with Christ, “ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Obviously he does not mean that the body of the Jesus who walked on earth now lives in him. Jesus would not fit. No, Paul must be referring to some spirit being who somehow indwells him.

Colossians goes on to say that all Christians have Christ in them (Col 1:27). So, if Christ Jesus is now a spirit that dwells in many people, he really cannot now have an earthly body. So what need was there for the earthly body to resurrect? Would it not be better to leave the stinking body behind, and ascend in spirit?

After all, that is how Christians think they will live on after death. The body decays, but the spirit moves on.

So, when I read Paul I want to ask him, “How was Jesus raised? With what body did he come?”

Fortunately for us, Paul asks and answers those very questions:

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of mankind, another flesh of animals, another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.I Corinthians 15:35-44

What is his answer? Paul tells us the earthly body, the terrestrial body, is different from the celestial body. The terrestrial body perishes at death. The celestial body lives on. He compares it to sowing wheat. The grain that we planted never comes out of the ground. But somehow springing up from the inside of that seed comes another plant, with a different body.

Paul seems to be saying this is the way all resurrections work. So, he must also have been saying the same thing about Jesus. When he says that Jesus rose and was seen by witnesses (I Cor 15:3-8), he apparently is saying that the inner spirit of Jesus, the soul, ascended from the physical body, and moved on to glory. Then people supposedly saw visions of that risen spirit.

And that does not require an empty tomb, a missing body, or physical interactions with a human in a body.

Yes, I know, you have read all about a bodily resurrection in the Gospels, but remember, we are starting strictly with the early record. If we turn strictly to Paul, without forcing preconceived notions from reading the later Gospels, we are not seeing a bodily risen Jesus mentioned.

When Paul says Jesus “appeared to me,” is that convincing? According to Acts, that sight consisted only of seeing a bright light and hearing a voice. Is that enough to convince you of a bodily resurrection?

If somebody told you she saw a bright light and heard her deceased grandfather last night, would you take that as proof that the corpse of the grandfather was now alive? Or would you suspect that this person had been drinking too much?

So, if Paul tells us he saw a bright light and heard Jesus, does that make Paul a credible witness to the bodily resurrection? No.

What of the others that Paul mentions seeing Jesus? What did they see? Paul does not tell us. If we are going to read I Corinthians 15: 3-8 at face value, I think we need to conclude that Paul was claiming they saw the same type of thing he apparently was claiming: a vision.

Ah, but you have read all the stories of Peter and the other apostles interacting with a bodily risen Jesus. Yes, but those stories come from the Gospels, which come later. We will discuss those later. Here we are looking only at the earliest record, at Paul. It appears that he claimed nothing more than a vision of a spirit Jesus. One would expect that he thought the other apostles also saw nothing more than he did.

Then He Appeared to Over Five Hundred Brethren at Once! by Richard Carrier

We have several books of the New Testament that claim to be written by the other apostles. We don’t know if any of these are genuine. Let’s assume for now that 1 Peter really was written by Peter as claimed. If he interacted with a risen Jesus, we would expect that story to flow spontaneously from his writing. It doesn’t. Here is what he says about the resurrection:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;1 Peter 3:18-19

We find no passion of a man who had recently witnessed a bodily resurrection. Rather, we see a theological statement about Jesus being raised by the Spirit and going to preach to spirits. That sounds much more like a spirit Jesus than a Jesus in a body. So, this book does not confirm a bodily resurrection. We are not finding that confirmation in any of the earliest writings.

We have looked at the earliest record, at books by Paul and reportedly by Peter. All are consistent with belief in a spirit resurrection.


But what about the great explosion of resurrection-believers we hear about in Acts? Again, Acts is late, and is doubtful as history. If we turn to secular history for verification, we find no signs of a massive following of a resurrected Jesus in the first century. If the great explosion of resurrection-believers really happened, as Acts records, how is it that all these secular writers were unaware that this was happening? Earl Doherty wrote:

The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived until about 50 CE and wrote of unusual sects like the Therapeutae and the Essenes, has nothing to say about Jesus or Christians. Justus of Tiberias, a Jewish historian who wrote in Galilee in the 80s (his works are now lost), is reported later to have made no mention whatever of Jesus. Pliny the Elder (died 79 CE) collected data on all manner of natural and astronomical phenomena, even those which were legendary and which he himself did not necessarily regard as factual, but he records no prodigies associated with the beliefs of Christians, such as an earthquake or darkening of the skies at a crucifixion, or any star of Bethlehem. The first Roman satirist to scorn a sect which believed in a crucified Judean founder who had been a god was not Martial at the end of the first century, nor Juvenal in the first half of the second century, but Lucian in the 160s. Reports of Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher of the early second century who preached universal brotherhood to the poor and humble masses, record no knowledge on his part of a Jewish precursor. Nor does Seneca, the empire’s leading ethicist during the reign of Nero, make reference to such a figure. Other historians of the time, like Plutarch and Quintilian, are equally silent.Source: The Jesus Puzzle

There simply is no need to explain the surge of people preaching a bodily resurrection in Judea in the first century. If it happened, where is the evidence? Only the later book of Acts details it, and there are reasons to be skeptical about that book.

How successful was Christianity? by Richard Carrier

I contend that the early church was only proclaiming a spirit resurrection and was making no stir about a bodily resurrection.


All this changes around 70 AD with the writing of Mark. As we saw earlier, Mark believed Daniel’s promise about the Son of Man coming shortly after the Abomination of Desolation applied to his day. Thus, he was looking for Jesus shortly after the fall of Jerusalem.

Mark tells the story of Jesus on earth and the crucifixion scene. Where did he get his information? We don’t know. But we have no record of anybody saying much of anything about the earthly story of Jesus until he writes.

The original book ends at Mark 16:5-8 with 3 ladies visiting the tomb:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. But he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; see, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.Mark 16: 5-8

That may seem like an odd place to stop, but it fit Mark purposes well. He is telling his audience that Jesus will see them soon in Galilee. That is consistent with his interpretation of Daniel as found in Mark 13.

If the earlier Christians were only speaking of a spirit resurrection, as I contend, how can Mark explain to his audience that it really was a bodily resurrection? If it was bodily, why did nobody notice? Why was nobody talking about it? Mark apparently came up with a neat trick. He declares that an unknown man told some women that the body of Jesus was not there. The women told nobody. So why was nobody talking about it? Mark had a ready explanation. Nobody knew about it but these women, and they were too scared to tell anybody.

The theme of it all being a secret is consistent throughout Mark. Repeatedly Mark had Jesus tell people not to tell others what was happening. (e.g., Mark 3:12, 5:43, etc.) Could it be that Mark was just throwing this in to explain why nobody else had heard these things?

At any rate, we don’t see the original Mark as much evidence for the resurrection.


With these things in mind, we come to Matthew’s story of the resurrection. Matthew apparently thinks he needs a better witness than the stranger the women found at the tomb in Mark.

And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook from fear of him and became like dead men.Matt 28:2-4

Mark had said the women saw a man. This angel described in Matthew is not a man. This is not even an angel that looks like a man. No, this is an angel that looks like an angel. Had Mark been referring to this angel, how could he call this a man? But Mark had written only about a man. The accounts contradict.

Mark says the women ran with fear and told nobody, but Matthew says they ran to tell the disciples. Both cannot be correct.

Remember Mark had said the disciples would later see Jesus in Galilee. But he tells no story of them seeing him there. When we consider that Mark was claiming Jesus would triumphantly appear in power in Galilee a few years after he wrote, this could well be what he was talking about. His reported stranger at the tomb (a gardener?) could have been saying that when people find themselves scattered in the mountains of Galilee after the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus will arrive there to lead them to victory.

But Matthew, a decade or two after Mark, seeing that this did not happen, comes up with the explanation that the disciples actually saw Jesus in Galilee years before, right after the resurrection. A creative change to the story, but what is it based on? Seeing Matthew’s propensity to insert things into the story, such as many dead people rising and appearing to many, some of us don’t trust him.

So, we find creative changes to the book of Mark, but no reason to believe any of those changes came from an actual witness. We are again left empty.


Luke and John come along and add additional stories of resurrection appearances. The four gospels accounts however, are hopelessly incompatible.

Parallel Gospels- Resurrection by Glaises Baptist Church. See the gospels side by side. They contradict.

This has all the appearance of people adding stories decades later, rather than telling what happened.

Growth of a Legend
(Approx. dates. Actual dates are unknown)

So, I find this as the most likely scenario: Paul and the early Christians spoke of a spirit resurrection. Years later the gospel writers came along and added increasingly dramatic tales of a physical resurrection.

Other possibilities

Of course, it could be that there really was a story of a bodily resurrection in apostolic times. Let’s look at a few ways such a story could have originated other than through a physical resurrection.


One possibility is that the Easter story could have developed after some women had mistakenly searched the wrong grave, or if the body had been removed for some reason. “They have taken away the Lord,” exclaimed Mary after seeing the empty grave, “and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (John 20:2) Of course! Mary had street-smarts that is oddly missing in modern times. The body is not where she expected it to be? Who took it? Where did they put it? It could well be that Mary was right, that somebody did indeed take the body.

Some have argued that the tomb of Joseph could well have been a temporary tomb to hide the body during the Sabbath, and that the body was moved early the next day. If so, this would explain why the women could not find the body.

The story of the missing body could have passed on to others, who could have wondered about it and talked about it frequently. The story could have grown with each telling, until 40 years later the legend had grown to the point where it involved a physical resurrection, leading to the story found in Mark.


A second possibility is that Jesus might not have actually died but had been mistakenly thought to be dead. He could have revived and left the grave. Josephus tells us of a man who survived crucifixion (see this offsite link). The Romans were not experts in diagnosing death, and they could have been mistaken. Jesus could have revived and walked off, only to later die in hiding in the wilderness. The stories of the missing Jesus could have circulated and grew, until they developed into a legend of the resurrection.

Now the possibility of an unconscious Jesus that revived may be unlikely. Few people are ever proclaimed dead and then are found to be still alive. But it has happened. If you hear of a man in a third world country who was thought to be dead, and was later found to be alive, which is more likely: that the man was mistakenly thought dead, or that the man actually resurrected? It seems to me that the mistaken diagnosis is far more likely. So, isn’t a mistaken diagnosis of Jesus’s death more likely than the possibility that he rose from the dead?


A third possibility is that somebody could have stolen the body. No, it does not need to be an elaborate hoax in which all 11 remaining disciples were involved. We are told Joseph of Arimathea owned the tomb. He and a helper could have stolen the body and hid it to make it look like Jesus had risen. The disciples could have all been fooled. Only Joseph would have known, and he wasn’t about to tell.

So, we have listed four options here, all of which I think are more likely than a bodily resurrection.

  1. A perceived spirit resurrection.
  2. A lost body
  3. A resuscitation.
  4. A hoax.

I find Mark’s account was most likely not the result of an actual resurrection. The stories added by the other gospel writers appear to be nothing more than fiction.

Are there Creditable Witnesses to the Resurrection? by Merle Hertzler My favorite online debate.
Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story by Richard Carrier
Resurrection: Faith or Fact? My Bonus Reply

So, did the resurrection occur? If the first five books o the New Testament are seen for what they probably are, later fabrications, we have no real evidence for it. Since the evidence is shaky, and the story is implausible, are we not justified in doubting the story?

What if I am wrong?

What if I am wrong? I frequently am. Do you think that God will condemn me for using my intellect to arrive at this conclusion? I don’t think so.

Can you imagine that you and I will be confronted with a history exam at the pearly gates? Imagine that we are asked to tell what happened at that grave to gain admittance to heaven. Why would a question of history be so important? People differ about history. People differ about whether George Washington cut down the cherry tree; about whether the Trojan Horse story really happened; and about what exactly caused the collapse of the Maya civilization. And isn’t that okay? Can’t we still be friends, even though we may have different interpretations of the past record?

If somebody thinks all three persons of the Godhead remained in heaven, with the resurrection happening in spirit in the heavens, and his view turns out to be historically false, should that person be condemned forever for misunderstanding history?

And will the final exam ask how many persons are in the Godhead? If we answer four, one, or even zero persons, then what? Will people be cast from heaven if they have the wrong count? So perhaps it is okay for you and I to honestly look at history, and come to our own conclusions. I have done that, and I now do not believe in the story of the earthly resurrection.

Let’s move on. If there is no resurrected savior, is there any reason to believe that you and I will survive death? Let’s look at that question next.

Are the Gospels Historical?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

religious artwork

It is difficult to convince a skeptic to take the Bible as God’s Word. And so Christian apologists often take a different tack. Their goal is to convince unbelievers to first accept that the gospels are historical. Once this is agreed to, they argue that this historical Jesus–who is said to have risen from the dead–must therefore be God, and that the sayings attributed to him in the gospels should therefore be taken seriously. They argue that this Jesus believed the scriptures, including Genesis. But I must stop them at their first point. Are the gospels historically accurate?

Who Wrote the Gospels?

First, we don’t know who wrote the gospels. None of these authors identifies himself. Who were they? Were they honest? Did they have first-hand knowledge or accurate sources? We don’t know.

The first record we have of anybody clearly associating the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with these books was Irenaeus in 180 AD, a century and a half after the reported events. Is it possible that he was mistaken or made up the names of the authors? This was a long time after the events reportedly happened.

Yes, there was one earlier mention of books by a Matthew and a Mark. Papias mentions this around 130 AD. We have only an excerpt of his book as recorded by Eusebius centuries later. The books Papias describes seem to be very different from our copies of Matthew and Mark, so we don’t know what books he is talking about.

So, we really don’t know who wrote the gospels. If we do not know the authors, how do we know they can be trusted?

By convention we continue to name the books as Irenaeus did: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That does not mean we think these are the names of the authors. It is simply the names that we give to the books.

When Were they Written?

Not only are the authors unknown, but they appear to be writing long after the events they record.

The book we call Mark was most likely first. We have good reason to believe it was written after 70 AD. Mark 13 describes in detail the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD. How did Mark know about this? The skeptic would say he must have written after this event. Thus, he knew all about the fall of Jerusalem.

“Ah,” you might say, “but Jesus was a prophet. Mark was recording the words of one who knew all this before it happened.”

However, if we carefully read all of Mark 13, we can see that Mark is not writing as one that now accurately knows the future. Yes, Mark does say Jerusalem will be destroyed, but he also prophesies,

in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.Mark 13:24-26

Mark says this will happen “in those days”, that is, immediately after the fall of Jerusalem that he just described. Elsewhere in this chapter, he specifically says the disciples he is speaking to will see these things. He also specifically says these things will happen before the disciples’ generation has passed away, that is, in their lifetime.

Mark was wrong. These things did not happen. So no, Mark 13 was not reporting the words of an infallible prophet.

If Mark 13 was not reporting the words of an infallible prophet, how did he know the details of the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in 70 AD? The most likely answer is that he wrote after this date.

Up until 70 AD, the supposed prophecy of Mark 13 is accurate. After that, he is completely wrong. Why? Most likely the events of 70 AD were history to him, but the predictions of events after that were Mark’s failed predictions.

Other reasons for dating Mark after 70 AD include the fact that Mark has an anachronism about hand washing that would have been irrelevant 40 years earlier. And Mark’s portrayal of the crucifixion sounds far more descriptive of the turbulence of 70 AD rather than the peaceful period around 30 AD. All this indicates he wrote sometime after 70 AD.

I discuss all this further at When Were the Gospels Written?

So, there must be at least 40 years from the supposed time of Jesus to the writing of the gospels. Memories can change over time. When the gospels say that Jesus said something, how can we be sure they are quoting Jesus accurately? Did Jesus really say he was the way, the truth, and the life? Did he really state support for the Hebrew scriptures? Did he speak of the flood as though it really happened? Did he really promise heaven and warn of hell? We don’t know.

Another reason this late date is important is that it would now have been hard for anybody to disprove what was written. When the gospels were first circulating, the disciples probably were no longer alive. If they had actually survived the destruction of Jerusalem, they were likely scattered in the hills. If in the meantime the gospels came around with fictional accounts, how would anyone disprove them? Who would you talk to? Would you dig around for a 40-year-old corpse to prove it is still there?

So, the late date gives the opportunity to slip things into the story that never happened.

Kooks and Quacks

And by the way, why would one even want to bother to disprove these things? People would not have had time to disprove every myth that they heard. There were too many kooks and quacks. Would you be running around looking for evidence to show every kook wrong?

Even if somebody did find Peter and hear that this wasn’t quite how it happened, why bother to write that down? Would people be documenting the error in writing every time a quack said something? So, absence of an early rebuttal of the resurrection story is not proof that the resurrection happened.

Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: a look into the world of the gospels  by Richard Carrier


The book we call Mark, which was probably first, may have never been intended as history. Many have observed that his book appears to have been derived from the Old Testament and from previous epic tales. How do you know that Mark intended his book to be interpreted as history? Mark never tries to represent his book as history. He calls it a gospel. If Mark meant it as fiction, why should you and I think it is true? And if other writers expanded on his story, why should we think their accounts are true? So, unless you can show that Mark thought it was historical, it has limited value as history.

Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Richard Carrier. Evidence that Mark was writing fiction.

Matthew Copied from Mark

Matthew and Luke copy much of Mark, often word for word.

For instance, in Mark 13, Mark pauses in the middle of Jesus’s speech to say “Let the reader understand” (Mark 13:14). Obviously, this is Mark’s insertion. Had Jesus said this in his speech, he would have said something like, “Let those who hear understand.” But Mark here is putting in a comment to the readers –“Let the reader understand”. He thinks this is important, so he emphasizes that the reader needs to understand this.

Matthew repeats the same speech, complete with the same parenthetical– “Let the reader understand”. (Matthew 24:15) Why did Matthew decide to insert the same comment right where Mark did? Are we to believe that, at the exact same point in the speech, both Matthew and Mark decided to insert the exact same comment to the readers? It certainly looks like Matthew was copying Mark.

If you lay Matthew and Mark side by side, you find Matthew repeating 90% of Mark’s verses, often word for word. For instance, here is what it would look like if you took Mark 2:14-17 and edited it to make Matthew 9: 9-12. The base text below is Mark’s. Strikethroughs indicate where Matthew deleted from Mark, and brackets indicate additions.

Mark 2:14 And as he [Jesus] passed by from thence, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus [a man, called Matthew,] sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

Mark 2:15 And it came to pass, that [as] he was sitting [sat] at meat in his [the] house, and many publicans and sinners [came and] sat down with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

Mark 2:16 And [when] scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans [saw it, they] said unto his disciples, How is it that he [Why] eateth and drinketh [your Teacher] with [the] publicans and sinners?

Mark 2:17 And when Jesus [he] heard it, he [saith unto them] [said], They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

If Matthew and Mark were handing in their work as a school project, and the teacher saw this, he would know instantly that one was copying, or perhaps both were copying from a common source.

Matthew adds additional stories and teachings, yes, but where he tells Mark’s story, he basically copies with edits. He is not telling it from scratch from his viewpoint. He is copying. This seem to discredit Matthew as an eyewitness. Wouldn’t an eyewitness tell it from his own viewpoint?

If the writer really was Matthew, the very man being called to follow Jesus in these verses, surely this story would have been burned into his memory. This was the moment he personally was called to be a disciple of Jesus! Why doesn’t his own account flow freely here? Why doesn’t he tell it in his own words? But he does not do that. He simply copies Mark –“he [Matthew] arose and followed him.” Really Matthew? That is all you have to say about your life-changing event?

So, it is hard to take the book we call Matthew as a credible witness. The author is plagiarizing. The author hardly qualifies as an independent witness to what Mark says.

By the way, there are many reasons to think it was Matthew that copied Mark, and not the other way around. Matthew often cleans up needless repetition found in Mark. That’s a logical thing to do. Matthew adds stories about the birth and resurrection, and a lot of teachings of Jesus, which is also a logical thing to do. But it doesn’t make much sense for Mark to copy Matthew, completely leaving out much important content, while inserting needless redundancies. So, we think Matthew came later and copied from Mark.

Luke’s Sources

Luke, like the previous gospels, is completely anonymous, so we really don’t know who wrote it. We still call the book Luke, because that is what everybody calls it, but we don’t know the writer’s name.

Luke copies over 50% of the verses in Mark with minor changes. And so, just like Matthew, he must have written significantly after 70 AD.

Also, Luke shows signs that he was using Josephus, so that puts him after Josephus. The book is commonly dated at 80 – 130 AD by critical scholars. I put it after 95 AD. That probably puts the book too late to be a reliable document unless the author had good sources. What were his sources? Let’s look at his introduction:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us,

just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,

it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus,

that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed(Luke 1:1-4)​

Luke simply does not tell us his sources. He does tell us that there were many books about Jesus that had been written. He does not tell us whether he used any of the books we know, or even that he used any books. He just says that he knows and is writing to tell us the truth. This could be implying that the former accounts (e.g., Matthew and Mark) were not always truthful.

What books is Luke talking about? We know of the book of Mark, and the book of Matthew. The early church fathers have quoted a few other books, including Secret Mark, Gospel of the Narzoreans, and the Gospel of the Ebionites. None of these books exists today, but we know enough about them from quotes of the early church fathers to say that they were probably close to our Matthew and Mark.

Where did these books come from? Probably there was an original book of Mark that evolved into Secret Mark, Mark, and a Proto-Matthew. This Proto-Matthew then appears to have evolved into our modern Matthew and also the other two gospels listed above.

Likely Synoptic Gospel Family Tree.
There were probably many other intermediate stages and parallel variations.

Early versions of some of these may have been available to Luke. These may be what he is referring to. Or he could be referring to early versions of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, or other books. At any rate, we have the testimony of Luke that there were many books about Jesus.

One can easily see how the story would spread with changes. Matthew and Mark were apparently written to Jews who were scattered around Galilee and Syria, many of them having fled after the recent fall of Jerusalem. These books may have been available at community centers, where people clung to the idea of a Jesus coming to Galilee and leading them to a new age free of the Romans.

We don’t know if they thought the stories were even true. Perhaps those in charge knew that these were mostly religious fiction. But as these books built up hope, folks copied the gospels. As they copied, they made changes. We ended up with the many similar books of which the early church fathers spoke.

The copies likely experienced something similar to biological evolution. Many changes were probably being made to the copies. After all, these folks would have been amateur scribes on the run. Those copies that were the most popular were copied the most. Hence, we have “speciation” and “survival of the fittest”. We really don’t know which of the many copies were most like the original. What we have left are those popular copies that survived.

A book that wins in the contest to be copied and preserved by scattered folks in the hills fleeing the fallen Jerusalem is not necessarily the truest. It it the one that was most liked.


Luke had a unique purpose. He was writing to a more general audience of Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire. They were likely followers of Paul. Paul wrote little if anything about the earthly life of Jesus. It was not his concern. His later followers might have heard of the gospels floating around Galilee and would have wanted a book that gave them the straight scoop. So, Luke tells them that he is now giving them the real story. However, he does not tell us how he knows he has it right.

Luke ends up using some version of Mark as a source, but also uses a lot of the sayings of Jesus that are found in Matthew. The sayings are usually word for word, so some book must be the source. Some have suggested that both Matthew and Luke got these sayings from a proposed book we call Q. Recently this idea has been losing popularity. Instead, it is being recognized that Luke likely had been using both Mark and Matthew, or perhaps just an early version of Matthew. So, there is no need for Q. (See links table below). Luke appears to have selected Matthew and Mark, or something close to them, and set out to write his book. He could have gotten all the “Q” sayings straight from Matthew.

When Were the Gospels Written? I examine this issue in more detail.
Synoptic Problem by Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary. He argues that Luke and Matthew copied from Mark. I disagree with his early dates but agree with his analysis that Matthew copied from Mark.
The Case Against Q by Mark Goodacre. Luke may have known about Matthew, and wrote contradictory things anyway.
Why do we Still Believe in Q? by Richard Carrier
How Matthew used Mark’s Gospel This site lists the texts side by side for easy comparison.
Luke and Josephus by Richard Carrier. Why we think Luke and Acts were written after Josephus

Synoptic Gospels Links

Luke respects Mark and follows him fairly closely when he tells the same story. But he freely changes Matthew.

Matthew, for instance starts out with a genealogy, tracing the line of Jesus down through the kings of Judah, leading to the claim that Jesus is the rightful heir. Luke’s readers would not be looking for a Jewish king, so Luke traces Jesus through a different line, through a different son of David. Matthew and Luke cannot both be telling the truth. Luke likely knew what Matthew wrote, and flatly contradicted him anyway. That blatant contradiction, knowing that Matthew had written differently, leaves both Matthew and Luke in question.

There are other differences. Matthew interpreted scripture as saying Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Thus, he needed some way to get Jesus, who is reported to be from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem. And so, he tells how the family of Jesus in Bethlehem had to flee to Egypt, and later to Nazareth, as fugitives from Herod, who wanted to kill Jesus. But Luke will have none of that. Perhaps he knew, if such an event as the mass killing of babies by Herod had happened, he would have surely heard about it.

So, Luke, having found out about a census under Quirinius, decides the family was actually native to Nazareth, and had gone to Bethlehem specifically for the census. When they finished their trip, they had simply returned home.

Incidentally, the forced travel of everybody to the home of their ancestors as described by Luke is also historically bogus. The Romans would never do something like that. Such a disruption of everybody’s life would have had no purpose.

So, were Joseph and Mary fugitives coming from Bethlehem to Nazareth to escape Herod as Mathew writes? Or were they local natives of Nazareth, who, having taken a short trip to Bethlehem, were now coming back home, as Luke writes? Luke simply does not care that his story differs with Matthew. He writes a different, contradictory story to get the Bethlehem-born Jesus to grow up in Nazareth

As another example of Luke contradicting Matthew, consider that, if Luke is true, then Jesus had to be born after 6 AD, in the time of Quirinius. But Matthew has him born under Herod, who died in 4 BC. Both cannot be true.

Differing stories after Easter

Mark had promised that the disciples would see Jesus in Galilee to establish his kingdom shortly after the fall of Jerusalem (Mark 13). The original Mark, which ends at 16:8, says nothing about Jesus actually appearing before this promised appearance after the fall of Jerusalem.

Matthew, writing perhaps a decade or two later, sees that it did not yet happen as Mark wrote. So Matthew tries to explain the delay in the coming. (Matthew 24:42-25:13) He also adds a story of an appearance in Galilee a few weeks after Easter (Matthew 28:19-20). So, Matthew finds a way to write that Jesus had already appeared in Galilee as Mark had promised. How did Matthew know this? He doesn’t tell us. If it really happened, why did Mark say nothing about it?

But Luke has no need to discuss an appearance in Galilee. He is not writing to a limited set of Jews in Galilee. Instead, he is writing to the empire. He has no need to tell his diverse audience that Jesus is coming to the hills of Galilee. Luke has the disciples stay in Jerusalem until Pentecost, where, miraculously, they start speaking many different languages. Thus, they begin a ministry throughout the empire. Luke says that Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem on Easter day. There, he commands them to stay in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49). Luke continues in Acts to confirm that the disciple had indeed stayed at Jerusalem until Pentecost. This is a flat disagreement with Matthew, which says they went to Galilee.

So, how is it that Matthew speaks of the appearance in Galilee? If Luke is correct, the disciples had already seen him in Jerusalem, and had been commanded not to leave Jerusalem.

So, Luke adds details that simply are not in the earlier gospels, details that in fact contradict the earlier gospels. Yet he gives no source of information that he used to overrule the other books. Many of us conclude that he made up the stories that he adds about Easter.

So I don’t find in Luke the credible history we need.


Then we come to the book of John. It adds many fantastic stories and statements of Jesus that are not mentioned anywhere else.

Once again, we find the author of this book does not identify himself. He does however, hint at a source. John 21:24 says, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” In context, this refers to a mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved” that appears only in the book of John. We don’t know who he was, but the book of John claims him as a source. Some have claimed he is John, but they cannot prove that.

Note that the author is not saying “I am the disciple whom Jesus loved”. No, he says “he is the disciple that testifies these things”, that is, the writer of John claims to have a witness, a source, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Again, we will call the author by the name John since that is what everybody calls him, but we do not know the author’s real name.

Neither do we know when the book was written. Since the author appears to be aware of the other books, especially Luke, and the other books appear to not know of John, John probably was the last to be written. The concepts expressed in John are quite advanced. Critical scholars date John typically in the range of 90 -120 AD.

For most of his book, John at least speaks for himself rather than copy from Mark. John apparently reads the others and decides he can do better. Starting with a plain piece of papyrus, he writes a different gospel. John simply ignores much of the other gospels up until passion week. Instead, he inserts new stories. In John, for the first time, we learn that Jesus turned water into wine, that the first person getting into a certain pool after an angel stirred the water was healed, and that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But are these stories true?

Tall Tales

Let’s break here and talk about new stories. Mark had let the cat out of the bag. Not only were people copying Mark with changes, but people started to come up with all sorts of different stories about Jesus.

For instance, in the Infancy Gospel of James, we learn that Joseph won Mary’s hand in marriage because a dove flew out of his staff. We read that Salome lost her hand performing an exam to prove Mary a virgin, but it was later restored. And, in the Infancy Gospel of John, we learn:

At the age of 5, Jesus formed twelve sparrows out of mud, clapped his hands and told the birds: “Off you go!“. They flew away. Later, Jesus collected some water. Another boy, Annas, scattered the water. Jesus cursed Annas and he instantly withered up. Later, Jesus and Zeno were playing on the roof of a house. Zeno fell to the ground and was killed. Jesus restored him to life.(See The Gospels of Mary and Judas. The infancy gospels of Thomas and James )​

And in the Gospel of Peter we read, that the cross itself follows Jesus out of the tomb, and answers a question. (See Gospel of Peter – Wikipedia )

I mention these stories, not because I think they are true, but to illustrate the new phenomenon of people trying to outdo each other in their tales of Jesus. I think most Christians will agree that many of these new stories are simply wrong. And yet a new cottage industry has sprung up, and people are busy spinning tales about Jesus. In light of that, when we start to see new stories like we read in John that have never been told before, should we believe them?

Early Christian Writings by Peter Kirby. An exhaustive source of text and commentary.
Overview of the Gospels

Early Christian Writings

John’s Message

Getting back to John, not only are the stories that John tells very different from the other known gospels, but the message is very different. Whereas the other gospels have Jesus dispensing simple folk wisdom, as in the Sermon on the Mount, the book of John really has no moral teaching other than to love. Instead, we find John’s Jesus giving endless lectures on theology and his own greatness, proclaiming himself the way, the truth and the life; declaring himself the light of the world; and even claiming “before Abraham was I am”. And John has a constant emphasis that all one needs to do is believe. (e.g., John 3:16) Where is any of that in the other gospels?

One can understand how different authors might emphasize different things, but how can the other three authors show no interest in these grand statements of Jesus, while John shows no interest in their folk morality? It sure looks like people may have been writing that Jesus said whatever they wanted him to say, rather than accurately reporting what happened.

And what about the signs? Mark had reported that Jesus gave no signs. Matthew ups that to one, saying that they Jesus gave them the sign of the prophet Jonah. But when we get to John, we read that Jesus gave many signs. So how many signs were there? Was the story developing with time?

John writes a lot of comments about Jesus, which sound very much like what he quotes Jesus as saying. Since John is the only one that has Jesus making these claims, and since the quotes John gives for Jesus sound very much like what John himself writes, it looks to many like John is just putting words into Jesus’s mouth. That is not reliable reporting.

So, I don’t find John to be reliable history.

Why You Should Not Believe the Apostle John Wrote the Last Gospel by Richard Carrier

The book of John

Historical Consistency

The books are not verified by other sources. Other historians were writing during this time, but nobody seems to have noticed the life of Christ. Why do none of these secular historians note that Herod killed all babies up to two years old in Bethlehem? How could they miss it? Jesus supposedly did many miracles and preached to many. Nobody outside of the small religious group seems to have noticed. Could that be because these stories are just made up?

Josh McDowell’s “Evidence” for Jesus by Jefferey Jay Lowder
Historicity Of Jesus FAQ by Scott Oser
History’s Troubling Silence about Jesus

Historical Jesus Links

Matthew tells a fantastic tale: “The graves were opened,” he writes, “and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matthew 27:52-53) Think about it. This is not a claim of one isolated resurrection. Oh, no. Many dead people came out of their graves and appeared to many. Surely people must have been talking about it. Yet no historian mentions it. None of the other gospels mentions it. Only Matthew writes about it. Did other writers not notice that many people were reporting that they were seeing dead people walking?

By contrast, the book of Acts records the difficulty the apostles supposedly had in trying to convince the people of Jerusalem that Jesus had risen from the dead. If Matthew is to be believed, many in Jerusalem had just seen many of the other dead that arose when the graves were opened. Why was it hard to convince people of a resurrection? If you had just seen your grandfather rise from the dead, would it be hard for you to believe that Jesus also had resurrected that week? Jesus would have just been one of the many that resurrected. And yet the disciples in the book of Acts, as Luke tells the story, don’t even mention it. They ignored their strongest argument that resurrections occur. Everybody seems to be unaware that this mass resurrection even happened.

Are There Credible Witnesses to the Resurrection. I discuss the credibility of the gospels in detail in this online debate. I discuss much of the content of this page.

Implausible Stories

In addition, the accounts are often implausible. In John 8, for instance, we find Jesus having a conversation back and forth with the Jews. How can you hold such a detailed conversation with an entire crowd? With different people, yes, but with the crowd? Notice how the crowd responds in John 8:52-53 :

The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’ Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?”

Did they speak in unison?

Perhaps the author was merely writing a drama years later. Perhaps he made up this conversation to compare Jewish thought with Christian thought. It seems implausible that such a conversation ever took place between Jesus and a crowd of people. The author must have made it up.

Many other things are implausible. How could a star lead the wise men to a particular building? Look up at the night sky and tell me which building those stars are over. And as the stars move along as the night progresses, how can they continue to point to the same building? But Matthew tells us a star stood over the building where the baby Jesus was, and that it guided the wise men to this exact building. That is not plausible, is it?

Is it likely that many dead people got out of their graves and appeared to many? Is it really plausible that a swarm of demons would leave a man and enter a herd of pigs, causing the pigs to all stampede into a lake and kill themselves?

Later Edits

Even if the original accounts were accurate, we do not know what was changed in the gospel texts after the original writing. The four gospels were apparently never widely distributed until more than 100 years after Christ. Rather, they were passed along by people in the hills and in small communities. Outside documents seem to be unaware that the gospels existed. What changes were made to them in that period? We do not know. Could there have been major changes?

We do not know who had custody of these books. We do not know if any effort was made to keep them unaltered. But we have reasons to suspect that some people were changing them.

Ah, but what about the thousands of manuscripts we have? They are from the Middle Ages. Ten thousand manuscripts from the Middle Ages mean nothing. What is important is the line of transmission in the first two centuries.


What really happened? The gospel accounts were written late by unknown authors with unknown sources. They conflict with known history and contradict each other. They are often implausible. They were kept in unknown custody for years. There are good reasons to doubt that they can be trusted as accurate history.

This brings us to the resurrection. Despite the reasons for doubt, do we have enough evidence to at least establish the possibility of that story having a core of historical truth? We will ask that question next.

What Happens to Unbelievers?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

Christian friend, you may be open to questions about errors in the Bible. You might be open to exploring concepts like evolution. But suppose we were to turn to questions about Jesus. Are you open to questioning him? Can you question his life, as recorded in the gospels? Can we question the resurrection?

Some of you may hesitate at this point. I understand. There was a time when I tried to avoid such questions. I feared what might happen if I allowed my faith in Jesus to be questioned.

And yet there is tremendous benefit in allowing our beliefs to be questioned. Albert Einstein once wrote, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” I agree. When we entertain questions about our opinions, we sometimes find that our reasoning stands firm even under challenging questions, and our confidence increases. Other times we ask questions and find that our understanding could advance to a higher level. Either way, questioning has great value.

So maybe it would be okay to question even one’s belief in Jesus.

A Rule with Many Exceptions

But first, let us look at why some might be nervous about continuing. You are probably aware that the Bible has some stern warnings about unbelief. For instance, John 3:18 says, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” That’s a harsh warning. Should we be concerned?

I personally don’t believe John 3:18. Perhaps you do. Even if you do believe this verse, I suspect that you find ways to make exceptions to that rule, “He who does not believe has been judged already.”

For instance, are babies exempt from this rule? Most believers think so. They don’t think that God would condemn babies who had no ability to believe. So, they make an exception. Apparently, that verse doesn’t apply to everyone that doesn’t believe.

Are there other exceptions? How about those who do not ever reach the mental capacity to understand such things? Are they doomed? Again, many believers make an exception here.

How about folks in the Old Testament? Were they without hope because they were born too early? Again, many people make an exception here. There was hope for them, apparently, even though they never heard of Jesus.

So, we have already found three exceptions to the rule that dooms all who do not believe in Jesus. Many Christians acknowledge all three exceptions. They find other verses and various arguments to override this verse. It has exceptions, or so they say.

Then there is another possible exception: those that have never heard. What happens to them? There are many tribes that Christians did not even know about for the first 1500 years of Christianity. What happened to them? Were they doomed, no matter how sincerely they sought God? Many are uncomfortable saying that. And so, they find a way to add yet another exception.

It doesn’t matter if somebody tells us a few stories of spiritually hungry natives who somehow heard the story. What about the many that did not?

Christians differ on this issue. Some take the hard line and say that those who have not heard are lost forever. What kind of a God would do that? But others acknowledge that, if these uninformed people had sincerely sought God, God may forgive them, even if they had never heard about Jesus. So here we find many Christians make a fourth exception to the rule that without belief we are doomed. They will allow that the uninformed heathen have a chance of heaven without specific belief in Jesus.

The rule is leaking like a sieve. If there are so many exceptions, why wouldn’t there be an exception for the one that honestly thinks a particular story–the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels–never happened? Why would God condemn the one who honestly thinks the gospels were works of fiction? If God can accept babies and savages, why not accept the one who differs on a question of history?

And if God makes exceptions for those who differ on questions of history, then it would be okay for you to questions the gospels and go wherever the facts lead.

How correct must we be?

But suppose you take the hard line and say I do not get an exception. Then I would ask another question. Exactly what do I need to believe?

We need to define what it means to believe in Jesus. How far can you be from the biblical Jesus and still be safe? Let’s suppose you think Jesus died in Bethlehem. The Bible, of course, says it was in Jerusalem. Are you forever condemned for making this mistake in geography? Can God forgive you for this error?

Similarly, what would happen if you thought it happened in Damascus? In Rome? In darkest Peru? Surely God would overlook that mistake, wouldn’t he? What if you thought it happened in heaven? Should a soul be tortured for countless ages because he misunderstood and thought the crucifixion happened in heaven?

It seems to me that the location has nothing to do with it.

Similarly, suppose somebody is mistaken about the time of Jesus’ death. Most scholars say the crucifixion happened around 30 AD. (Some, however, think it never happened.) Suppose somebody thinks it was 100 BC. Is this person in eternal danger for making this historical error? How about 1800 AD? How about 4004 BC? How close does one need to be to the actual date? Is there a cutoff date, beyond which you are forever cursed? It seems that it would be silly to even suggest it.

Next let’s ask about the nature of his death. If we think the instrument of death was something other than a cross, are we doomed? Is a man a filthy heretic if he thinks Jesus was killed with a stake, a noose, a sword, or a grenade? Surely that detail cannot condemn one for eternity.

How about the pronunciation of the name? If we pronounce the name Hay-sus or Jay-thus or X-thus are we lost? What if we spell it Jethus or Jithus or Mithus or Mithas or Mithras? Are we doomed if we commit the social error of misspelling the name? I don’t think so. How close do we need to be?

How about the story of his life? Must we believe that Jesus walked on water? Must we believe that he told the women condemned in adultery to “Go and sin no more?” Probably not. After all, many Evangelical scholars now believe that this last story was inserted into the Bible many years later and might not have ever happened.

If we need to know the exact details of his life, all are in peril. For we can never be sure exactly which stories, if any, were altered. If today’s gospel texts were altered, how could we be expected to know what was in the original so we could believe it?

And if God just wants us to believe whatever is in the Bible today, what about those Christians who lived before John 8: 3-11 was inserted? Did they need to believe that story?

What about Jesus’ characteristics? Must we believe that his body was made of molecules? That he was of Jewish descent? Must we believe that he was physically male? Must we have the correct understanding of the nature of the incarnation? Surely, the answer is no. Surely these things do not condemn a person.

Now let’s put it all together. What if somebody believes that the Son of God was named Pedro and was killed with a sword in Peru in 1950? Can he be saved by trusting in Pedro? Or is he condemned forever because he got so many details wrong?

How many details can somebody have wrong without receiving condemnation? And why would it matter to God if a sincere person was mistaken on certain trivia? Would God cast a person out forever because he was mistaken on a question of history?

However, if you think that God could accept such a person, then it seems that your Christianity is not so exclusive after all. And it would seem that you agree that one need not believe the gospel stories to have salvation.

What if somebody mistakenly thinks that the Son of God was named Mithras or Horus and died in the spirit world? Is that close enough? If not, then exactly where was the line crossed? On the other hand, if these beliefs are close enough, then understand that, in ancient Egypt, many believed in Horus, a savior-god who supposedly died and rose again to bring salvation. So, did ancient Egyptians who trusted in the salvation provided by Horus truly receive salvation through Horus?

Some Christians will tell me, “No, Jesus saves but Horus doesn’t.”

In that case, what if those Egyptians had used the name Jesus instead of Horus? Would they then have received salvation by accepting that Jesus? Many will tell me that this would not be sufficient, that this would be a different Jesus.

But why is their Jesus not considered to be the same? Some will say he is different, for the details of the life of Horus differ with the gospels. And yet the story of Horus is surprisingly close to the story of Jesus in the gospels. Both are said to have had twelve disciples; both preached a Sermon on the Mount; both died of crucifixion; and both arose, according to the stories. So, if the ancient Egyptians had changed the name of the dying savior from Horus to Jesus, would that have resulted in eternal salvation?

Mithras by David Ulansey. The story of Mithras
The Virgin Birth by James Still
Were events in Jesus’ life copied from earlier saviors/god-men/heroes?by B. A. Robinson.
Were the stories of Jesus’ life copied from the Egyptian God Horus’ life?
by B. A. Robinson.

Mithras and Horus links

Many will tell me, “No, the real Jesus is the one from Nazareth. This Horus is from somewhere else.”

But is one to be condemned forever for getting the mailing address of the Christ wrong?

The story of salvation is losing all of its plausibility. It is starting to sound like believers are saying that whoever is close to their opinions of the savior will have eternal happiness, and those who have other views will be condemned. Why would God condemn people based on trivia?

On the other hand, if you allow that one could differ on the location of the savior’s life; differ on the name; differ on the date; differ on certain other details, and still have salvation, you have conceded salvation to the ancient Egyptian believers in Horus. Belief in the gospels would lose its importance.

It seems to me that a loving God, if he exists, could not condemn a man who differed on what happened in history provided he really wanted to be forgiven for his hurtful actions. How could God judge a man simply because he disagrees about whether a particular event is historical?

Was the crucifixion necessary?

Perhaps you will reply by saying that we do not need to believe all the details, that we only need to believe that God’s son died for our sins.

Think about what the requirement for a dying savior means. Surely this is one of the most unusual demands that anybody could make before he will forgive.

Let me illustrate. Suppose you do something that upsets a good friend of yours. You find out that he is angry. You do not want to lose his friendship. You go and apologize. Now suppose that this friend tells you that he would like to forgive you, but since what you did made him very upset, somebody will need to suffer. You watch as he pulls a whip out of his closet and asks his son to lean over a chair. Then he hands the whip to another man who begins to whip the boy. You beg for the man to stop. Blood is everywhere. You are horrified as the lifeless body of your friend’s son falls to the floor.

Then your friend retrieves the whip, puts it away, turns to you with a smile, and announces that you are now forgiven. He says that his son has died for you and has paid the price in full. Your friend tells you that his wrath is satisfied, and that you are now reconciled to him.

What do you do? Would you embrace this man? No, I don’t think so. You would not want to be friends with that man. He must be a lunatic.

And yet how does the gospel story really differ from this? Are we to believe that God needed to do something very similar to what this lunatic did? We are told that God could not forgive until he had left his innocent Son suffer and die. I thought God was supposed to be able to do anything. If I can forgive people without resorting to such an act, why can’t he?

How do you know that Calvary was necessary? Yes, I know it is in the Bible, but as I have discussed earlier, that book may be mistaken. Is there any other reason to believe this is necessary? I cannot think of any.

So, suppose somebody wants God’s forgiveness, but is not sure that the story of a bloody death was necessary. After all, demanding that one’s own innocent son be killed before forgiving somebody else is a demand that no normal human would make. Does God make this demand? Perhaps the divine world is so different from ours that this makes sense to him. Yet somehow, I doubt it. Why would God demand that we believe this story to be forgiven? Personally, I do not think he would make such a demand.

I conclude that you do not need to believe all the details of Jesus’s life to escape doom. You do not need to believe in a sacrificial death. You will not be doomed for sincerely asking questions. It is safe to get out of the bunker. It is safe to question–even the gospels. You can read Matthew and ask if it really happened this way.

And as you question, it is safe to go wherever the facts lead.

What about Hell?

There is a little word that is seldom heard in church anymore–hell. The concept of eternal torment in an inescapable fire does not fit well with the culture of self-esteem, unconditional acceptance, and a personal relationship with a compassionate God. Can you relate to a God who would treat his creatures thus?

Could you, for instance, hold a dog’s paw on a hot frying pan for hours, ignoring its yelps?

Could you torture a person with fire for hours? No? You are too compassionate to do that? So how could God keep a man forever in unimaginable fire?

If you were God, would you condemn your decent, moral atheist neighbor to eternal hell without chance of parole? Are you that kind of person? Or would you show mercy?

If you would show mercy, and you have a close personal relationship with a God who would condemn people forever, shouldn’t you tell him that you disagree with hell the next time you two have a chat? Do you have that kind of intimate, open relationship with God?

And if you tell God you disagree, shouldn’t you also tell your pastor you want your church doctrinal statement corrected? If, instead of objecting, you sign a document that says you will support a doctrinal statement that includes hell, then people will need to assume that you are the kind of person who approves of tormenting people forever without mercy. If you sign it, people will assume you mean it.

I hope you understand why I am confused when someone says belief in eternal torment without mercy is compatible with the teaching of unconditional acceptance that is so popular in the church today. To me, those are completely incompatible.

Just in Case?

You may have another question: What if I am wrong? Should I follow anyway, just in case it might be true? But if I were to do that, which way should I follow? Should I follow Catholicism, just in case? Should I follow the Eastern Orthodox practice, just in case? Should I also follow Islam, Mormonism, Satanism, Hinduism, Bahai, Judaism, and the long-bearded robed hippie at the airport, just in case they are right? I would never be able to follow all of these religions, for they conflict with each other.

Oh, do you want me to follow just yours? So, your way is better? How could I know that your way is better if I do not ask questions? So, I ask questions. And the answers I get do not validate dogmatic beliefs.

Some suggest that I should believe anyway. They will tell me I have too much to lose if I am wrong. The payoff for Christianity is infinite, or so I have been told. Should I follow it on the outside chance that it might be true?

This argument is known as Pascal’s wager. It is faulty.

Suppose I elect to believe just in case, and select your religious views–ignoring for the moment that many religions conflict with yours–and somehow, I manage to “believe,” even though I am not convinced it is true. What does it even mean to believe something you are not convinced is true? Would God honor this kind of belief? Would God honor me for going through the motions of belief and acting as though I believe, even though I doubt? Wouldn’t that be dishonest?

Does God honor dishonesty? If your God promotes such dishonesty about our opinions, then how do you know you can trust him? For a God who wants me to pretend to believe might himself be pretending when he makes a promise. A God who blesses lying might himself be lying. A God who loves intellectual dishonesty might himself be dishonest. If such a God exists, we are all in peril. Nobody could know what a dishonest God would do.

There is another possibility. Perhaps God, if he exists, desires intellectual honesty. Perhaps he wants us to examine things openly and truthfully, and then to be honest about what we find. If this describes God, then I am doing the right thing by being open with my views.

I would not want to face an honest God after living a lifetime of pretending to believe something I don’t. So, if I must step up to the table and place my bets, I will bet that, if God exists, he wants me to be honest. I will call it as I see it. I see no value in doing it any other way.

Pascal’s Wager by Alan Hájek
Pascal’s Wager by B. A. Robinson
Pascal’s Wager by Richard Carrier

Pascal’s Wager links

Can we choose to believe?

Let’s assume for a minute that it really is true that we have to believe certain historical statements to escape doom. Let’s assume that we need to believe these assertions, even if we think there is no evidence. What is the poor unbeliever to do? Can he force himself to believe something that he thinks is not supported by evidence?

By illustration, suppose I told you that you must believe that John F. Kennedy was the first president of the United States. Suppose I told you that, if you thought it was George Washington, you would be tortured. Can you believe it was Kennedy? Try very hard. Do you believe that John F. Kennedy was the first U.S. president? You can pretend to believe it. That’s not the challenge. Can you believe it?

If you have any knowledge of American history, you will not be able to believe it. It is like telling a leopard to stop having spots.

Even if an informed unbeliever wanted to believe Christianity, he could not truly do it. He would not believe it in his heart. The best he could do is pretend to believe it. And pretending to believe is hypocrisy and is not good enough according to most Christians.

So, the informed unbeliever does not even have the option. He could not believe it just in case.

Why would God demand that we believe something that we do not think is true? Wouldn’t he want us to believe the evidence, wherever that takes us? We have a mind. Why not use it?

As Robert Ingersoll put it, “If God did not intend I should think, why did he give me a thinker?”

So let us boldly question.

Some would tell us that there is indeed good evidence for Christ. Very well, let us look at the evidence. But let us do it with an open mind. Let us not worry that we will be lost if we misunderstand. Let us honestly search for the truth.

Is the Bible the Best Moral Guide?

Here’s the link to this article by Merle Hertzler.

Free hands praying on bible

So far, we have seen that the Bible is often mistaken. We haven’t seen good evidence that it was directly inspired by God. Now this does not necessarily mean that the Bible is bad. It just means that when we read it, it is okay to be on the lookout and question what we read.

You may be concerned where this is leading. Perhaps to you the Bible is the source of moral judgement. It is your only hope to find your way in life. You may wonder how anybody could attempt to chart his course through life without its moral compass. And you may be concerned that we are undercutting that hope. I can understand your concern. I once had similar views of the Bible. I still find passages in the Bible that are inspiring. But other passages? Not so much.

And I find other books that I find inspiring besides the Bible.

Perhaps you would claim that the comfort and guidance you receive from the Bible puts it in a class of its own, far above any other book. But is this really what we find in the Bible? Let’s see. Let’s take a few minutes to look at the guidance that the Bible offers. Do we need the Bible’s guidance to know what is right and wrong?

The Law of Moses

Let’s begin by looking at Deut 22:11. It says, “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.” Do you follow that rule? Did you check the labels before you dressed this morning? I think you ignored this commandment today, just like I did. Why do we ignore it? I neglect it because I think it is unreasonable.

Why did you neglect it?

If the Bible is your source of guidance, why do you simply ignore this rule, and live as though it doesn’t exist?

This rule is unreasonable. If you and I let reason override this rule, then it seems to me that reason, not the Bible, is our ultimate guide.

Many Christians have never read the whole Bible and are not aware of the moral teachings that are found in it. Let’s look at some.

Exodus 23:19 tells us we may not cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk. Do you worry about keeping this commandment?

Gen. 17:14 tells us a child is to be punished when his parents neglect to have him circumcised. Is that fair?

Ex. 20:8-1131:15-1734:21, and 35:1-3 tell us that no work may be done on the Sabbath (Saturday) not even the lighting of a fire. The penalty is death. Do you recommend that we kill people who light a fire in their fireplace on Saturday? [1]

Lev. 3:17 tells us that we may never eat fat. So how is it that we eat hamburgers without guilt?

Lev. 27:1-7 tells us that males are more valuable than females. I doubt if many of my female readers agree! These verses are mistaken, aren’t they?

Num. 5:12-31, tells us that if we suspect our wife has committed adultery, she is to be tested by making her drink water mixed with dirt from the tabernacle. The tabernacle! This is the place where animals were sacrificed, where blood was spilt. Imagine all the germs that would be on that dirty floor! But she is to drink water with some of that dirt mixed in. If she gets sick after drinking this dirty water, she is guilty. Do you recommend that we implement this test procedure? I don’t.

By the way, there is no such test given for men. Is this fair?

Deut. 22:5 tells us we may not wear clothing of the opposite sex. Do you think it is a sin for a woman to wear her husband’s shirt? No? Then you disagree with Deuteronomy.

Deut. 23:1 tells us that a man whose testicles are crushed may not enter the assembly of the Lord. Should we set up an inspection station at the church doors, asking every man to kindly drop his drawers for inspection. Should we keep the injured people out? Or should we just pretend this verse isn’t there?

Deut. 25:11-12 tells us that a wife who grabs her husband’s attacker by his private parts must have her hand cut off and is to be shown no pity. It does not matter that she was only trying to protect her husband. Do you agree?

I could give many more examples. [2]

Was the Old Testament Mistaken?

Many will quickly distance themselves from the above verses. They will object that these verses are in the Old Testament [3], and we no longer are required to keep them. But the issue here is not whether you are still required to keep them. The issue is whether these commands are good. Do they represent a high level of morality? Or are they mistaken?

If you say they are a mistaken morality of primitive people, then why are they in the Bible? If the Old Testament is mistaken about whether an injured person can enter the assembly of the Lord, or how to properly deal with the accusation of adultery, where else is it wrong? Is it wrong also on creation? Is it wrong in its theology?

Christians that are quick to distance themselves from the Old Testament are apparently unaware of how closely the Old Testament is tied to the New Testament. For instance Matthew 23:1-3 says,

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

So, do you follow these verses? They tell you to do all that the Pharisees command you from the Law of Moses. Do you do everything the teachers of the law teach?

And what about Matthew 5:18-20, which teaches that we should follow even the minor laws,

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Is the law that forbids the mixing of fabrics one of the least of the laws? According to these verses, if you ignore the least of the laws, you will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. So why do you ignore them?

Some say that Matthew 5 does not apply, for all “was accomplished” by Jesus. But if the author was trying to teach that this only applies until the death of Jesus, he used most unclear language. Besides, the book of Matthew was not written until years after Christ died. Why did Matthew even bother to write this? Is it not clear that when Matthew was writing this he expected his readers to believe they needed to keep the law if they wanted to be great in the kingdom of heaven?

And so, it appears that Matthew, writing long after the death of Christ, still expects that his readers need to keep the law in order to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

Even Paul writes, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom 3:31) He also says, “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” (Romans 2:13)

So, the New Testament simply does not distance itself from the Old Testament the way many hope. If you want to escape the problem by distancing yourself from the Old Testament, you will find yourself at odds with the New Testament support of the Law.

Was the Law just a Teacher?

I once discussed these things with a pastor. He told me I misunderstood. He said that these laws were not really about morality, but were simply there to show us our sinfulness, and bring us to Christ.

But how could a frivolous and immoral law prove we are sinful? If you want to measure moral character, do you not need a reliable moral standard? You surely must not think that the laws mentioned above represent a high standard of conduct. Or do you? If they are faulty, how can they be used to prove our sinful state? If the inspection gauge in the factory is faulty, you could not use it to prove the whole production run is flawed.

And isn’t this whole view of the-law-as-teacher callused to the needs of the people before Christ? Why would God leave them with an inadequate law for centuries just to prove a point to us that would follow later on?

Also, if Jehovah did give us the Law of Moses, and we find that this first system of his to be faulty, does that prove that his second plan, the gospel, is good? If an engineer gives you a defective design, and the building collapses, would you trust him with the redesign? If he told you he deliberately gave you a deficient design in order to prove that you really needed his improved design, would you buy his argument? I think not. You would look elsewhere.

So, if Jehovah’s was behind the first covenant, the Law of Moses, and it is not good, why not look elsewhere? If that is the case, why give Jehovah a second chance?

I find no reason to believe this law was given by God. It seems more likely to me that it was an early attempt by primitive people to define morality.


Let’s look at something more substantial than clothes or goat meat–the issue of slavery. Look at Exodus 21:2-7.

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. “If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. “If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Do you have an opinion on the morality of this passage? Is it right to buy slaves, even if the period is limited to six years? What do you think about the poor women slaves? If the men could go free after six years, why should the women be slaves for life? And look at the condition that was placed on these male slaves obtaining their freedom. If a slave had married while in slavery, his wife and children could not leave with him. Only the man could leave. Should a decent man accept this offer and abandon his family as slaves? What kind of family values is that?

Do you have an ounce of respect for the father who takes his little girl–the one that cuddles in his lap at night and calls him “Daddy”–and sells her into lifelong slavery? Why does the Bible allow it? Is it really moral to sell one’s own daughter, knowing that she and her children will become slaves for life? I can’t even imagine a person thinking this is acceptable. Help me out here. What am I missing?

You may suggest that conditions were different back then, so God had different rules. But do you really believe that? Suppose you are watching a movie. You see the story of a slave owner who buys young ladies and young men as slaves. You watch as a man sells his own daughter to be a slave. There you see the slave-owner give this young girl to another slave as his wife. You watch as her slave husband walks off after six years, free of all responsibility, leaving her and the children as slaves. On screen you see their wretched, abandoned lives as slaves without a committed father or husband. How would you react? Do you approve of these actions? I think not.

Would you approve if the movie was set in the 500 BC time frame, but disapprove if it was set at a later date? What does it matter when the movie was set? Slavery is slavery, no matter when it happens. And it seems to me that slavery is wrong.

Look, the movie is still playing. Here comes the slave-girl’s father walking down the path. Look closely, I think I see something. Yes, look at his coat. See it? It is pure wool! He has obeyed Deuteronomy 22. He has not mixed two kinds of fabric in his coat. Does this change your view of this man? Does the material of his coat change your attitude toward him? No? Then why does the Bible condemn people who wear the wrong combination of fabrics, while allowing slavery to continue? Do you really believe there was a time when slavery was fine but mixing materials in your clothing was sinful?

One of the worst practices conceived by humans was the act of owning slaves. And yet the Bible allows it. Although term limits were imposed on male Hebrew slaves, the same rights were not given to people of other nations. In Lev. 25:44-46 we read:

44’As for your male and female slaves whom you may have–you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45’Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46’You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.

Is not something very wrong with this book? How can you carry a book to church that allows slavery? Do you want your children to read this book?

Which of these is a better moral guide?
Hamanist Manifesto III


There is a long list of sins in the Old Testament that carry the punishment of death, including homosexuality, adultery, and cursing parents. For instance:

9’If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him. 10If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death…13′ If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. (Lev. 20:9-10,13)

Do you suggest that we follow these commands, and kill such people? Or are these verses mistaken?

Was the law intended to be temporary?

I do not think you follow these commands to kill the adulteress. I do not think you follow the law that says to not mix fabrics. You have a low view of such laws.

Then Isaiah has something to say to you. He says you have no dawn! In Isaiah 8 he calls us to the law saying, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”(Isaiah 8:20 )

Isaiah has diagnosed you. You don’t follow these commands? Ok, then Isaiah says you have no dawn.

You disagree with Isaiah, don’t you?

Yes, I expect you will tell me that Isaiah’s message to keep the law was only temporary, that the Old Testament system was given only to help people until the gospel would arrive. If the Old Testament was temporary, why doesn’t it say so? Repeatedly the Old Testament declares that this system is to last forever. For instance:

Psalm 119:60 The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.

2 Kings 17:37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever ; and you shall not fear other gods.

Of course the law referred to in the above verses is the only law they had, that of Moses. But you disagree that this law is forever, don’t you? You don’t think that the law against wearing mixed fabrics or the law commanding the killing of those who curse parents is eternal, do you?

What about those verses above that call these ordinances are everlasting? Are they wrong?

The New Testament

Let’s look at an example from the New Testament. Luke 6:30 says, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” Do you give to everyone that asks of you? If you do indeed follow this, and give to everybody that asks of you, then what if I ask you for everything you have? I suspect that everybody will refuse to give me everything they have.

But Luke says we are to give to everyone that asks.

It doesn’t matter what Luke says, does it? Common sense says this is not a good command. So we ignore the written code, and go by our common sense. This indicates to me that our ultimate source of moral guidance comes from reason, not from the Bible.

People tell me Luke does not mean to give to everyone that asks–even though he says so–but that he is only asking us to be generous. Well, I agree that we should be generous. If this was the point, then that is what the writer should have said. He could have said, “Be generous” instead of saying, “give to everyone who asks”. In that he must surely be mistaken.

New Testament morality has many problems. Luke 14:26 tells us we cannot be disciples unless we hate our father, mother, and children. What kind of family values is that? And no, you cannot get around that verse by telling me that it means “love less” instead of “hate.” If the author meant “love less” why didn’t he say what he meant?

Matt.10:34 says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Do you agree that the world needs yet another sword?

How should a guest treat a host? Some might respond by asking, “What would Jesus do?” Well, what would Jesus do?

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?” ( Luke 11:37-40a)

So, we find that, if Luke is to be believed, Jesus was sitting as a guest in a man’s home. His host was surprised that Jesus did not ceremonially wash his hands. And we are told that Jesus insulted his host. Is this the proper way to treat your host? If you were invited to dinner, you would not respond to your host with insults like this, would you? Is this the way you want your children to act when they are away from home?

And then there is the command of Romans 13:1-2 to obey the government, all government.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

If we were to follow these verses, then we would be forced to always obey our government. And so it would have been wrong for the Northern Alliance to defy the Taliban, the American revolutionaries to declare independence from the British, and the people of the Soviet Union to resist Stalin. But most of us seem to honor someone who rebelled against a government. It seems to me that we allow them to ignore the verses because we know reason is a better source of moral instruction than biblical literalism.

Some will tell me that these verses are only a general rule to follow government, and that the command to obey God rather than man can override this rule. But notice the language of Romans 13. “Every person is to be in subjection…There is no authority except from God…whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” That clearly includes everyone and every government.

Now, if the author had intended to say that most people should be in subjection to most governments, that most authority is from God, and that most people who resist the authority resist God, he could have said that. If he was trying to convey that idea with the words he wrote, then the author was incompetent. He should have said what he meant. He does not say there are a few authorities not from God. He says there is no authority except from God.

When he emphasizes the universality of the command multiple times, how can people just ignore it and say he is only referring to some authorities? If we read what it says, it must apply to all authority. It must be saying that the French Resistance to Hitler, and the American Revolution from England were wrong.

That is how it goes. People regularly ignore the Bible if it is not to their liking. They assume it must not mean what it clearly says. Wouldn’t it be more honest to accept that it means what it says, but it is wrong?


It gets worse.

Imagine that your child comes home from Sunday school and shows you the handout he was given. It says, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” It shows a picture of a baby being thrown against a rock with his head splitting open. How do you react? I am sure that you would be upset with that literature. You would never want your children to be taught this, would you? But, if your children carry a Bible to church, they carry those verses with them (Psalm 137:8-9). And those verses teach that the act of throwing babies against rocks is blessed.

Those are two of the verses your children carry with them in the big black book they carry to Sunday School. Don’t worry, your child will never actually be taught those verses in Sunday school. Those verses never seem to make the cut.

Regardless of what Psalms says, it is wrong to dash
a baby’s head against the rocks.

How can a holy book praise people that smash babies against the rocks? Yes, I understand that the writer was angry against his Babylonian captors. I can empathize with his anger against the soldiers, slave drivers, and political leaders. I understand the hurt. But how can he say it was blessed to kill Babylonian babies? You surely do not approve of going to your enemy and killing his baby as an act of revenge, do you? Isn’t that an act of terrorism? Why does the Bible praise this? I would say that this writer is morally confused. I would say he is praising something wrong.

If this were the only problem, I might be able to overlook it. But there are so many morally troubling verses. Do you doubt that? I have a suggestion. Tonight, start at Genesis and start reading. Ignore the commentaries. Ignore the chapter headings. I am asking you to do what your pastor would ask you to do. Get into the word. Read it for yourself. You will be surprised.

About the Holy Bible by Robert Ingersoll
Abraham and Isaac by Bruce Gerencser

Bible Morality Links

The Plagues of Egypt

As another example, think about the story of the Passover. Moses keeps asking Pharaoh to let the people go from their bondage. Pharaoh refuses. Finally, according to the story, God comes up with a plan that breaks Pharaoh’s will to fight. It involves sending an angel to kill all of the firstborn in Egypt. And we are told that this is exactly what happened–“There was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead.” (Ex.12:30) No home survived? What a slaughter.

Maybe I should not play Monday morning quarterback–I was not there–but an idea comes to mind. Wouldn’t it have been easier to threaten to kill Pharaoh? If he doesn’t respond, kill him. Suppose his successor maintained the evil bondage. Ok, then you kill the next Pharaoh. How many Pharaohs do you need to kill until one of them will listen and end the brutal slavery? How do you like that plan? Isn’t that more humane than killing thousands of innocent babies? Why not?

Imagine that you are watching the evening news. You see a picture of a missile being skillfully guided so that it misses the enemy bunker and slams into an orphanage. The reporter tells you that this is exactly where the missile was supposed to hit. The reporter describes the precision that was necessary to avoid the tanks and hit the babies. He tells you that these tactics will demoralize the opposition leaders and cause them to submit to our requests. How would you react? You would be outraged, wouldn’t you? When civilized countries fight modern warfare, they take special precautions to avoid killing babies.

But what happened in Exodus? If we believe the Bible, the big blow deliberately missed Pharaoh, missed the army command-and-control, and missed the slave drivers. Instead, we are told it was aimed specifically at the children. This is good? This is moral? Can you understand how I have come to the opinion that the writer of this passage was mistaken?

Slaughter of the Amalekites

The slaughter of babies was a constant theme in the Old Testament. Repeatedly we are told that God sanctioned the slaughter of babies. For instance, in I Samuel 15 we read:

Then Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. 2″Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3 ‘Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Can you imagine the gruesome scene (assuming it actually happened as recorded)? Hundreds of children would have been killed with the sword as they fled or cowered into a corner. Can you support such actions?

Suppose you had been a soldier in Saul’s army. Would you have willingly and gladly thrust your sword through a child’s heart? Would you have willingly chased a fleeing six-year-old girl from the scene, ignored her screams, and cut off her head? If you would not do this willingly, then deep inside you must know that the action described is wrong. Can you then see why many think the Bible is mistaken to sanction such things?

Some will tell me that the killing of babies was okay, for God sanctioned it. But how do they know God sanctioned it? Isn’t it possible that the writer was mistaken when he wrote that God said this?

Christian Moral Relativism

Defenders of the Bible often resort to extreme moral relativism when they try to defend such verses. They try to declare that there is no intrinsic difference between right and wrong, and that all that matters is obeying God. So, if the voice of God were to sanction rape, murder, slavery, or torture, they see no problem with doing those things. To them morality is all about obeying the rules and has nothing to do with what is best.

But if this is the attitude they have, then they would equally follow an evil tyrant God as they would a good God. For if there is no intrinsic difference between right and wrong, if all that matters is that we perform our duty as directed from above, if there is no value in questioning whether the act is right, one would then be forced to follow a God even if he commanded the most horribly depraved deeds.

No, it seems to me that some things are indeed bad. Killing innocent babies is bad. And 1 Samuel commands the killing of innocent babies. Is not this passage wrong?

If a friend told you he heard a voice from the sky claiming to be God and telling him to kill babies, you would not tell him to do it, would you? You would doubt that it really was God who was speaking, wouldn’t you? You would be skeptical of the claim that this was God. Why do you not have the same skepticism when you approach I Samuel 15? For we have found no reason to assume this passage is inspired by God. Is it possible that this writer was mistaken when he thought God was sanctioning the killing of babies?

Which is more likely? That the author was mistaken when he thought God was commanding him to kill babies, or that a sovereign God of the universe was commanding the slaughter of innocent babies?

Many of us have concluded that the writers of the Bible often presented a depraved morality.

The Good Parts

You may want to tell me that the Bible has many good parts. I agree. But much of the good teaching of the Bible is also found in other books that were written before the Bible. For instance, here is the Golden Rule as taught by others before Jesus:

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a – thirteenth century B.C.)

Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. (Analects 15:23 – sixth century B.C.)

May I do to others as I would that they should do to me. (Plato, fourth century B.C.)

So, we find that many people taught the Golden Rule long before Jesus. The Bible was not original when it proposed this idea. There have been many good books about morals.

I am for high moral standards. I am in favor of kindness, and love, and the rule of law. I am not convinced that the standard of morality that I see in the Bible is better than the standard that I reach by reason. That is why I choose reason.