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Mundane miracles

A miracle is a supposed event that is contrary to the laws of nature.1 The idea is that an event like that can only be explained as the work of a supernatural being like God. But what if it turns out that an apparently miraculous event can actually be explained in terms of ordinary natural phenomena? It may still be amazing, and it may be useful… But there’s no reason to think it’s a true miracle in that case, and it’s not very strong evidence of anything supernatural.

How many of the miracles reported in the Bible (supposing the stories aren’t entirely made up) have possible natural explanations?2

Knowledge

There are a lot of prophecies in the Bible. A lot of them have turned out to be false. A lot of them fail to specify a deadline for fulfillment, making it impossible to tell whether they’re false. Some of them seem suspiciously like they were written after the fact. Some of them predict events that are nothing out of the ordinary. Some of them are so vague that it’s no surprise that something happened that could be considered to fit the description. Some of them have only been fulfilled because people who knew about the predictions fulfilled them on purpose. And a lot of the passages that are considered prophecies weren’t even meant to be predictions at all. That doesn’t leave very many actual impressive predictions, if any.

Jesus and other prophets in the Bible are said to have been able to read minds and demonstrate inexplicable knowledge of other people’s pasts. It’s surprisingly easy to give the impression that you have abilities like that. When people want to believe that you’re psychic, they will perceive your readings as amazingly accurate no matter what you say. They’ll do most of the work for you, interpreting whatever you say as something meaningful and accurate. And they’ll ignore everything you get wrong.

Creation, destruction, and transformation

So, what’s up with that burning bush Moses found that wouldn’t burn up, before he started hearing God talking to him? Maybe it was some kind of Acacia. They can be easily flammable and slow to burn up, and they can even trigger religious experiences.

Moses and Aaron tried to prove that God had sent them by turning a staff into a snake. But the Egyptian magicians were able to do the same thing. So either they were prophets of God too, or that trick doesn’t prove anything. I’ve heard it’s possible to do the stick-to-snake trick by holding an Egyptian Cobra and applying pressure near its head. That makes it go stiff and motionless so it looks like an inanimate stick, until you put it down.

The Bible says during the first of the ten plagues of Egypt, the water turned into undrinkable blood and killed everything in it. That sounds a lot like a phenomenon known as a red tide, where a certain kind of algae causes water to turn red and toxic. That could explain some of the other plagues, as well. Frogs flee from the unhealthy water and die, bugs get out of control because of the lack of frogs, bugs spread disease among the people and livestock, etc. And the remaining plagues could be explained by food poisoning and a volcano.

The collapse of Jericho could have been caused by a convenient earthquake that the Israelites retconned as being a result of their own actions.

Why did the Philistines keep finding the idol of Dagon fallen over in the morning, bowing down toward the ark of the covenant, and eventually broken to pieces? Might one of the Israelites have snuck in and vandalized the idol during the night? It wouldn’t be the first time.

How could a crowd of over 5000 people eat and be satisfied if Jesus’s disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish to offer them? Well, it never says nobody brought their own food. And why wouldn’t they?

Some branches of Christianity consider the Eucharist ritual to be a miracle. They believe the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus… which just happen to be completely indistinguishable from ordinary bread and wine for some reason. Least impressive miracle ever! No explanation needed.

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The end of the world

This is a summary of what the Bible says will happen when the world ends. The predictions are scattered throughout various parts of the Bible, which makes it hard to tell how they’re all supposed to fit together. Some things just don’t fit together at all. But I’ve attempted to put everything in order and make a fairly coherent narrative out of it, using whatever chronology clues I could find in the Bible.

Fantastic beasts

In the end times, God will send many false Messiahs and false prophets. They will perform miracles, which can only be done with God’s help.1

Satan and his angels will lose a war in heaven. Then he will be thrown down to earth, where he will go to war against the Christians. A beast like a leopard with bear’s feet, a lion’s mouth, seven heads, and ten horns will come out of the sea. Satan will give the beast power over everyone for 3.5 years. All the people God arbitrarily decided not to save will worship the beast and Satan. The beast will speak against God and conquer his people.

Then a second beast with a lamb’s horns and a dragon’s voice will come out of the earth. It will perform great signs, confirming that its word is true. It will make a talking image of the first beast, and kill anyone who doesn’t worship the image. It will force all people to receive the mark of the number of the beast on their hands or foreheads.

An angel will preach the gospel to the world.2 Then Jesus will come on a cloud and harvest the earth. An angel will throw trillions of people into a winepress so Jesus can trample them to death, and a five-foot flood of blood will flow out of it. Seven more angels will bring seven plagues on the world. Festering sores will break out on the people who have the mark of the beast.3 The water will turn into blood and the Euphrates will dry up. The sun will scorch people, but the kingdom of the beast will be in darkness.

Then three frog-demons will perform signs, proving that God is on their side. They will gather the kings of the world for battle at Armageddon. God will send storms, giant hailstones, and an unprecedented, city-destroying earthquake that will split Babylon into three parts. All the islands and mountains will be removed.

The beast4 will be put in the Abyss and come back out. Then God will give power to the beast, which together with ten very briefly-reigning kings will burn down Babylon. With a sword from his mouth, Jesus will destroy the nations, the kings of the earth and their armies, and the beast and the false prophet5 will be thrown alive into hell.

God saves Jerusalem from himself

Satan will be locked in the Abyss for a thousand years, and God will resurrect Christian martyrs from every nation who have not worshiped the beast or received its mark,6 and bring them to Israel to reign alongside Jesus as priests. After the thousand years are over, God will bring unprecedented distress on everyone.

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The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt

Mass infanticide

The Israelites (the descendants of Jacob) were getting so numerous that the new Pharaoh was afraid of them. So he decided to enslave them and have all their baby boys thrown into the Nile River.

Jacob’s great-grandson Amram and his aunt Jochebed had a baby boy, so they put the baby in the Nile… inside a waterproof basket, with their daughter watching over it. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket while she was bathing in the Nile. She adopted the baby, named him Moses, and hired his mother to nurse him for her.

After Moses grew up, he was watching his fellow Hebrews working, when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So Moses killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about that, he tried to kill Moses. The other Hebrews weren’t happy with what Moses had done, either. So Moses ran away from Egypt and lived in Midian until that Pharaoh died.

The Israelites were still slaves under the next Pharaoh. So when Moses was 80, God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. On the way back to Egypt, the all-good God tried to murder Moses for some reason. But Moses’s wife touched his feet with their son’s foreskin, which convinced the never-changing God not to kill him.

Moses and his brother Aaron told Pharaoh that the God of Israel wanted his people to go out into the wilderness for a festival. But Pharaoh didn’t know that god, so he refused to let them do that.

God could have instantly overcome that obstacle in a peaceful way, like by making Pharaoh no longer want to keep his slaves, or by teleporting the people out of Egypt. But God cared more about showing off than about the freedom of his people and the wellbeing of all the innocent people of Egypt. So instead, God decided to cause a lot of unnecessary death and suffering, and to let his people continue to be mistreated in the meantime.

Continue reading The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt
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The Story of Noah’s Ark
The One Where God Decides to Kill Everybody

More than 1500 years after the perfect God created his perfect world, he realized that creating humans had been a bad idea, because humans are evil. To correct his mistake, God decided to kill all the humans, and all the animals too, for some reason. But there was one righteous man in the world who God didn’t want to kill, and his name was Noah.

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The One Where God Decides to Kill Everybody
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