Are all rulers wise?

The eighth chapter of Proverbs is all about wisdom and understanding. It portrays Wisdom as saying that all who rule on earth reign and govern by her, by Wisdom. So all rulers on earth must be wise.

But the Bible mentions some rulers who were not wise. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a wise man, or he wouldn’t have tried to get all the wise men in Babylon killed. Saul did such a foolish thing that God decided he couldn’t be king anymore. Even Solomon wasn’t wise when he first became king.

Speaking of Solomon, he certainly didn’t seem to think all rulers were wise when he wrote Ecclesiastes. And he ought to be an expert on these things. Solomon doesn’t say it’s impossible to be a foolish old king, only that it’s not the best thing you can be. He contrasts wise people with rulers, which would make no sense if rulers were always wise themselves.

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The Story of Elisha and the Mean Boys
God Rescues His Servant From Persecution

The life of Elijah the prophet ended when God took him up to heaven in a whirlwind. He was succeeded by his servant Elisha, who gained the ability to do miracles like Elijah had done. As Elisha was walking along, a bunch of boys saw him and started making fun of him because he was bald. This bothered Elisha, so he stopped to put a curse on them. Then God sent two bears out of the woods to maul the mean little boys, so the bald prophet could continue on his way without anyone reminding him that he was bald.

The end.

The moral of the story

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God Rescues His Servant From Persecution
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Will the sun and moon last forever?

They will last forever.

Solomon equates “forever” with “as long as the sun” continues. So does God, who also says something will be established forever like the moon. The Bible says God established the sun and moon for ever and ever, with a decree that will never pass away.

There’s also a verse in Isaiah that says Jerusalem’s sun will never set again, and its moon will wane no more.

Then they will be destroyed?

The verse just before that in Isaiah, though, makes it sound like it might actually be talking about God, not the actual sun and moon. And in any case, that verse says at that time the sun and moon will no longer shine on Jerusalem.

But won’t they still exist forever, even if Jerusalem is cut off from them somehow? No, Joel says by the time the day of the Lord arrives, the sun and moon will be darkened. The sun will turn to darkness and the moon will turn to blood. And Revelation says after the sun turns black and the moon turns red, an angel will darken a third of both of them.

Then they will still exist.

Apparently they won’t be completely destroyed at this point, because after that a woman will wear the sun and put her feet on the moon. And an angel will even make the sun more powerful.

And then they won’t be needed.

Then there’s the new Jerusalem, which won’t need the sun or moon either.

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Why it makes no sense to pray for anything

Jesus says believers can ask him/God for anything they want, and he will do it. As long as you have even the tiniest amount of faith, nothing will be impossible for you, not even moving mountains. Whatever you ask for in prayer will be yours, if you believe it will be.

(Well, as long as you ask in the name of Jesus. And as long as somebody else agrees with you on what you’re asking for. The Bible says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, so just make sure you have a clear conscience, and you can get anything you ask for. As long as it’s God’s will, anyway…)

Actually, the Bible says God gives generously to all without finding fault, so forget about all those supposed conditions (belief, righteousness, agreement, asking in Jesus’s name, aligning with God’s will, etc.). None of those things are even required before God will give you what you ask for. If you don’t have what you want, it’s only because you haven’t asked God for it. Jesus agrees: he taught that everyone who asks receives. God even gives good gifts to evil people if they ask.

Of course, Jesus and the Bible are wrong, as usual. In reality, nobody ever gets what they want because they prayed for it.

Testing the claim

Scientific experiments

Since Jesus makes such a strong claim, that you can ask for anything in prayer and God will always give you what you ask for, all it takes to disprove that claim is to observe one single case of someone not getting what they prayed for. But we can do better than that. Even the weaker claim that prayer sometimes gets results can be disproved. When people have tried actually rigorously testing the hypothesis that prayer has a healing effect, most of the studies have found no healing effect.

Why only most? A few false positives are to be expected by chance, even if there is no real effect. But usually when a study seems to show that prayer works, it’s because that study is flawed. The more a study is well-designed, the less effect of prayer it finds.

In some of the studies, the subjects all knew they were being prayed for, which is the only reason they felt better afterwards. As shown by other studies that found that people felt better when they thought people were praying for them, not when people actually were praying for them.

(Although not even that placebo effect consistently works. Some well-done studies have found that the patients who didn’t know they were being prayed for had worse outcomes than the ones who weren’t being prayed for at all, and the people who knew they were being prayed for ended up even worse off than that. Maybe that knowledge gave those patients performance anxiety. Or maybe there’s no real effect here either way, just minor random variation.)

Then there’s this study, where there weren’t enough subjects involved, and the statistical analysis was done by a biased person without sufficient blinding (a problem other prominent prayer studies have had as well), and they claimed success based on outcomes other than what they were originally supposed to be testing for, and they failed to control for which patients had health insurance, and they didn’t distinguish between prayer and other supernatural healing methods, and it’s not clear whether actual prayer was even involved at all.

And that’s not the worst one that has been done. Another study on prayer had an even smaller sample size and no control group, and was not double-blinded. And it was funded by the Templeton Foundation, which gives the researchers a corrupt incentive to report results in favor of religion regardless of what they actually find.

Even the few prayer studies that are pretty well designed and still get so-called positive results show much more limited effects than you’d expect from an all-powerful God. If the difference in outcomes between groups in those studies was really caused by God and not chance, why would that difference merely be something like 14% of patients in the prayer group getting a bad outcome vs 22% in the control group? And why would most of the outcome variables measured show no effect of prayer, including variables like “recovering quickly” and “not dying”, which were outcomes that people were specifically praying for?

There was one study on prayer (for increasing fertility) that did find quite a significant effect size… but that study turned out to be completely fraudulent.

Keep in mind that these specific studies I’m mentioning here are just the few where prayer appeared to get fairly good results. The vast majority of studies on prayer have found no significant effect at all.

Anyway, maybe studies on prayers for sick people shouldn’t be taken as evidence for or against the effectiveness of prayer, because prayer is awfully hard to control for. Most people who are sick are already going to be praying and/or having others pray for them, so it would be hard to be sure you actually had a non-prayer group of patients to compare with. It’s probably better to assess the effectiveness of prayer by looking at something that people aren’t going to be praying about already.

Informal experiments

Most people don’t even bother keeping track of which of their prayers were or were not successful, and as a result they only remember the times when they got what they asked for. But if you do try keeping track, you’ll find that most of your prayers actually go unanswered.

You can also try keeping track of the same things you would have asked God for, but without praying. Or you could try praying to a jug of milk or something instead. It won’t make any difference. You will get about the same success rate as when you prayed to God, because all the “answered prayers” you’ve experienced were just coincidences. (Of course, to make it a fair comparison, you have to make sure that the way you evaluate the results of praying to the milk jug is just as biased as the way you evaluate the results of praying to God.)

An even easier way to test whether prayer has any effect is to try asking God to do something that unambiguously could not possibly happen without supernatural intervention. After all, if you believe you have access to an all-powerful prayer-answering God, why limit your requests to things that can happen without God’s help? Jesus promised that believers can pray for things that seem impossible, and will get what they ask for.

So ask God to do something like moving a mountain, or restoring an amputated limb, or eliminating all cases of a common disease. And to make sure that what’s happening is unambiguous, ask him to do it instantly and without help from humans. (God still wouldn’t be the only possible explanation if something that seems undeniably supernatural happened, but we don’t need to worry about that, because we’re never going to get that far.)

When you ask for something unambiguous like that, you never get it. It doesn’t matter how good a reason you have for wanting the miracle to happen. (In fact, unimportant prayers are way more likely to be “answered” than important ones, which is the opposite of how it would be if it was actually God doing it.) It also doesn’t make any difference if you make sure to fulfill all the conditions that the Bible sometimes says (and sometimes doesn’t say) are required for your prayers to be answered.

If the only way it can happen is with God’s help, it will never happen. You only get “results” from prayer when you ask for something mundane, something that can happen even though there’s no God listening to you.

Consider the massive amount of evil that is constantly happening in the world. There must be so many people praying all the time for God to stop those things from happening, yet they continue to happen. God clearly isn’t answering prayers. And if he’s not willing for whatever reason to do anything about all the world’s big important problems, do you really think he’s going to take your trivial personal requests? The little things you ask for and get are just things that would have happened anyway.

When one or a few people pray during a disaster and end up being the only survivors, this is taken as evidence that prayer is effective. But were those people really the only ones who prayed? Most people are religious, so probably not. You just don’t hear about the rest praying, because dead people don’t get to talk about what happened when they prayed, so everyone ignores them. But most of the people affected by the disaster likely did pray, and most of those people who prayed didn’t survive. So no, that is not evidence that prayer is effective.1

Similarly, lots of extremely ill people pray for recovery, and lots of them don’t recover. But the few who do recover are the only ones you get to hear talking about what happened when they prayed. So if you don’t actively look into the numbers, you can easily get a very distorted impression of the effectiveness of prayer. In reality, prayer has no effect on death rates.

You don’t even have to test it to know that prayer won’t get results

Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?

God

What happens if two people pray for incompatible outcomes? They’re not both going to get what they asked for. Jesus’s claim that all prayers will be answered isn’t even logically possible.

But why should prayer even be needed? A good God would protect everyone from harm all the time, not just when they prayed. So why pray? Do you think God doesn’t already know what you need? If an all-knowing God hasn’t helped you already without you praying, it’s because either God is not good, or helping you isn’t actually the right thing to do. Either way, praying isn’t going to make any difference.

They say God has a plan, and everything that ever happens happens for a good reason, since it’s all part of God’s perfect plan. This idea is incompatible with the idea of a prayer-answering God. Not everything people want is going to be part of God’s original plan, so any prayers that don’t happen to fit into the plan are going to have to go unfulfilled.

What else could God do? Do you really expect God to change his plan just because a human asks him to? Why would you even want him to? Do you think you know better than God? To ask God to do what you want is to say that you think his own plan isn’t good enough. Prayer is blasphemy.

Either he was already going to do what you think he should do, so asking him to do it is pointless, or he already decided it wasn’t the best thing to do, which means you are asking God to do something bad. Do you think God is going to agree to do something bad for you? Do you think just because you think the alternative course of events would be bad, God is going to prevent it, and thereby prevent all the greater good consequences that he knows it will have?

Because according to a popular theistic argument, every seemingly undesirable event that ever happens was planned by God for a reason. It must have some awfully important planned consequences, if God was willing to intentionally plan for that unpleasant event to happen, just so those consequences could happen. So God is certainly not going to let you disrupt his perfect plan and prevent all the good that was going to happen because of that event, just because you said so. He’s going to ignore your prayer.

If God is all-knowing and all-good, then he doesn’t need you to tell him what to do, and he isn’t going to let you. Or, if God does let imperfect humans influence his actions, then God is imperfect.

Making excuses for God

Believers have plenty of explanations for why God doesn’t answer prayers. It’s easy to come up with excuses for God when you’ve had so much practice because God has been constantly disappointing you all your life.

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Was the last supper before, during, or after the Passover?

According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the “last supper” happened on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. These gospels all equate the Festival of Unleavened Bread with the Passover, and say the last supper was the Passover meal.

But the Passover meal is eaten at the beginning of Passover, and Leviticus says the Festival of Unleavened Bread starts the day after that. So the last supper would have to be the day after the Passover meal.

And then there’s the gospel of John, which says the last supper happened before the Passover festival. After Jesus was arrested, the Passover meal was still to come. And when Jesus was brought before Pilate, Passover still hadn’t happened. Passover certainly didn’t start the day before the last supper, according to John.

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The Story of the Two Prophets
An Expensive Meal

During the reign of Jeroboam, God sent a prophet to deliver a message to the king. After ignoring the prophecy, the king invited the prophet to his home for a meal. But the prophet refused Jeroboam’s offer, because God had told him not to eat or drink until he got back to his own home.

On the way home, the prophet met an old prophet. The old prophet also invited him to have a meal, and the younger prophet explained again that he had to wait till he got home to eat. But the old prophet lied and told him that God wanted him to eat and drink with him. So the younger prophet went to the old prophet’s house and ate and drank. Then the old prophet declared that the younger prophet had disobeyed God and would be punished. The younger prophet tried to go home, but God sent a lion after him, and it killed him.

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An Expensive Meal
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Will it be dark on the day of the Lord?

The prophets keep talking about this terrible day in the future called “the day of the Lord“. They say it will be a dark day: Isaiah says the sun will be darkened and the moon and stars won’t show their light. Similarly, Joel says the sun and moon will be darkened and the stars won’t shine. And Amos says that day will be darkness and not light, pitch-dark without a ray of brightness.

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How long before Jesus crushes everyone to death?

The book of Revelation reveals that one day, angels are going to harvest the grapes of the Earth and gather them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. Then someone (identified later in the book as Jesus) is going to trample those grapes until he’s surrounded by an enormous flood of blood from the grapes.

So that’s kinda weird. Why would grapes have blood in them? Is this supposed to be some kind of miracle or something? I don’t normally do this, but let’s assume the Bible is making a metaphor, and see where that takes us. Maybe when it says blood, it means grape juice!

…Or maybe when it says grapes, it means people. Yeah, that one’s more interesting. And more likely to be what they intended, I guess. So, how many people would Jesus have to murder to get that much blood? Let’s find out…

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Did Joshua completely destroy Debir?

The book of Joshua says Joshua attacked the city of Debir, putting it and its villages to the sword. He and his people totally destroyed everyone there, leaving no survivors.

The chapter after that mentions that Joshua totally destroyed the Anakites from Debir and some other places, along with their towns. That’s either a contradiction of the statement that they were already destroyed, or just part of a recap. But there’s definitely a contradiction later.

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The Bible’s questions, answered—part 3: Answers to questions from pre-monarchy Israel

The Bible contains a lot of questions, and it doesn’t always provide satisfactory answers. So I’ve been answering some of the Bible’s questions myself. This time, I’m looking at questions from around the time the Israelites first settled in the promised land.

The son of a priest asks the tribes that chose to stay on the other side of the Jordan: Are you now turning away from the Lord? Answer: No.

Deborah and Barak ask: Why did the tribe of Reuben stay among the sheep pens, and why did Dan linger by the ships, etc.? Answer: Because God only told Barak to take Naphtali and Zebulun with him.

Gideon asks: If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Answer: Because he hates you.

Gideon asks the Ephraimites: What have I accomplished compared to you? Answer: Much with little, compared to much with much.

Abimelek asks the people of Shechem: Which is better for you, to have all 70 of Gideon’s sons rule over you, or just one? Answer: Distributing the power among many people sounds good to me.

Jotham asks: Have you acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelek king? Have you been fair to Gideon and his family? Have you treated Gideon as he deserves? Answer: Abimelek is Gideon’s son, so what’s the problem? (Unless it’s the murder thing, in which case, why didn’t you mention that?)

An angel asks Samson’s father: Why do you ask my name? Answer: He just told you. So they can honor you when your word comes true.

Naomi asks: Why call me Naomi? Answer: Because your name’s Naomi.

Boaz asks: Who does that young woman belong to? Answer: Her husband is dead, so I guess that makes her free and owned by no one.

Samuel’s father asks his wife Hannah: Why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Answer: You know why. Because she has no children. Also because your other wife is tormenting her.

He also asks her: Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons? Answer: Apparently not. What kind of question is that, anyway?

Eli asks Hannah: How long are you going to stay drunk? Answer: Zero minutes.

Eli asks: If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them? Answer: Well, according to the Bible, Moses can intercede between God and humans. But there is no one who can intercede between God and humans. But prophets can do it. Like Samuel. And so can Job’s friend, whoever that is. But only Jesus can intercede between God and humans. And so can the Spirit. But only people who aren’t God can intercede between God and humans. Paul and Timothy can do it. And so can men everywhere, apparently.

Joshua’s questions

Joshua asks: Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? Answer: Uh… because that’s where the Amorites were! Where else would he bring you to deliver you into the hands of the Amorites to destroy you?

Joshua asks: What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? Answer: You can say “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?”

Joshua asks God: After the Canaanites have wiped us out, then what will you do to maintain your good name? Answer: Judging by the kind of thing God tends to say about Israel, I expect he would claim that Israel was evil and that he was a hero for getting rid of them.

Joshua asks Achan: Why have you brought this trouble on us? Answer: Because he wanted the plunder. But a better question is: Why did GOD bring this trouble on them by giving them that pointless rule in the first place, and then only revoking it after it was too late?

Joshua asks the Gibeonites who he would have killed if they hadn’t tricked him into promising not to: Why did you deceive us? Answer: Duh.

Joshua, the leader of Israel, asks the Israelites: How long will you wait before you take possession of the land God has given you? Answer: As long as you wait to tell them to.

God’s questions

God asks Joshua: What are you doing down on your face? Answer: Idolatry. He’s doing idolatry.

God asks his people: I said you should not make a covenant with the people of this land, yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Answer: By accident.

God asks Gideon: Am I not sending you? Answer: …Are you? I thought an angel was.

God asks Eli: Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Answer: He doesn’t, his sons do.

He asks Eli: Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel? Answer: Because God said the priests were to live on the parts of the offerings that weren’t burned up.

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