Noah and the Flood: The Historical Impossibility

Noah’s Ark/Flood Story:

Recently there has been an aggressive push by the media to include stories in their coverage about the flood and the Ark.  Here are a few stories from the past few months:

None of this is new.  A Google News search indicates that people have been searching for Noah’s Ark since as early as the 1940’s.

Every attempt has led to failure or abuse of information.  Why?  Because the Ark is not on Ararat.  It’s not anywhere.  It never was.  The story of the Ark is a theological story.  It is not a history account.  Let’s break the narrative down into increments:

1. Men were mating with giants (yes, giants lived on earth, according to Gen.  6)

2. ‘Sons of God'(?) ( בְנֵי־ הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙) took human women as their wives (‘the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose’ – this line looks remarkably Greek to me, as if this were from Homer about the sons of Zeus) and bore mixed offspring.

3. Angry at this, God wishes to ‘undo’ humanity, but decides in his mercy to save a remnant through Noah who was upright and perfect in his eyes.  So God commands Noah to build an Ark for his family and seven pairs of every clean creature and one pair of every unclean creature on earth.

4.  Noah does this.  God floods the world.

5. God makes the water recede.  Commands Noah to leave the ship, which he does.

6. Noah builds an alter to God and makes a burnt offering of some of the animals he just saved from being swept under in the flood.

7. God feels bad and says, after smelling the pleasant aroma of the animal sacrifice, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’

8. Noah decides to build a vineyard and become a drunkard.

Now, just from this summary, where in it can we find history?  The part about the giants?  Do we find it in the demi-God offspring between the sons of God and the daughters of men?  In the flooding of the world?  That Noah rounded up every creature, across continents, and stuffed them in his ship?  No, none of this story is historical.  Then why would someone believe the flood narrative is historical?  As Bob Cargill aptly points out (and please read the whole article, it is very good):

The worldwide flood described in Genesis 6-9 is not historical, but rather a combination of at least two flood stories, both of which descended from earlier Mesopotamian flood narratives. Note that this does not mean all of the claims made in the Bible are false (or true for that matter); I am dealing here only with the biblical stories of the flood. (Also understand that the “slippery slope” claim of “all of the Bible is true or none of it is true” is simply an unnecessary rhetorical device designed to keep readers from doing precisely what scholars do every day: analyze each claim in the Bible on a case-by-case basis. It is not necessary to accept an “all or none” stance towards the Bible.)

Most biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholars argue that the flood is a mythical story adopted from earlier Mesopotamian flood accounts. These earlier accounts include the 17th century BCE Sumerian flood myth Eridu Genesis, the 18th century BCE Akkadian Atra-Hasis Epic,and the Epic of Gilgamesh, which are some of the earliest known examples of a literary style of writing. The most complete version of the Epic of Gilgamesh known today is preserved on 12 clay tablets from the library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (685-627 BCE). This extant Akkadian version is derived from earlier Sumerian versions. In the story, Gilgamesh and his companion, a wild man-beast named Enkidu, travel the world on a number of quests that ultimately displease the gods. After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh embarks on a journey to learn the secret of eternal life by visiting the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh how the god Ea (equivalent to the Sumerian god Enki) revealed the gods’ plan to destroy all life with a great flood, and how they instructed him to build a vessel in which he could save his family, friends, and livestock. After the flood, the gods repented for destroying the world and made Utnapishtim immortal.

But it might also have roots in an Egyptian narrative known as Legend of the Destruction of Mankind, where Râ sends Hathor out to destroy mankind for blaspheming him.  When Râ sees what he has done he seeks a way to cease the massacre:

But having tasted blood, Sekhmet would not
be appeased. For three nights the goddess Hathor-
Sekhmet waded about in the blood of men, the
slaughter beginning at Hensu (Herakleopolis
Magna). Ra now realized that Hathor-Sekhmet
would destroy the human race completely. Angry
as he was, he wished to rule mankind, not see it
destroyed. There was only one way to stop
Hathor-Sekhmet — he had to trick her.

He ordered his attendants to brew seven thousand
jars of beer, and to color it red using both the
mandrakes and the blood of those who had been

After he has tricked Hathor into a drunken stupor and the massacre stops, Ra remarks:

Now, although the blasphemers of Ra had
been put to death, the heart of the god still was
not satisfied. The next morning he confessed to
Hathor his true feelings: “I am smitten with the
pain of the fire of sickness. Why did I have such
pain? I live, but my heart has become exceedingly
weary because I still have to live with those men.
I have slain some of them, but worthless men still
live, and I did not slay as many as I ought to have
done, considering my power.”

Then the gods who were in his following said
to him, “Don’t worry about your lack of action, for
your power is in proportion to your will.”

Ra, the Majesty, said unto the Majesty of Nut,
“My members are as weak as they were at the
first time. I will not permit this to come upon me
a second time.”

What makes this narrative so interesting compared with that the of the Akkadian, Sumerian, and Jewish flood narratives?  The simple answer has nothing at all to do with the historicity of the events; the answer is plain, that is to say, it has to do with the theological message, God’s mercifulness.  Some will of course quibble with the value of mercy when multitudes of creatures and people are killed in brutal ways, but the story held a certain place in the ancient mythic mind.

Taking the additional content surrounding the flood narrative out of the story of Gen. 6-9 not only fractures the narrative and removes context, the emulative quality of the narrative, and its theological purpose, but it ignores the rich literary tradition from which the narrative derives.   Pseudo-archaeological attempts to illustrate the historicity of the flood also ignores volumes of scientific and mathematical data which not only suggests its impossibility as a historical event, but demonstrates the ignorance of the narrative by those wishing to impose their modern bias anachronistically onto ancient literature.  The value of these stories rest in their theological meaning, which would have held a much more valid function for ancient readers of these texts.

Some Additional Reading Information:

T.L.Thompson, The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel: The Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23 (JSOTSuppS 55; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1987), pp. 74-83.
T.L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (New York: Basic Books, 2000), pp. 75-93
P.R. Davies, The World of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives (JSOTSuppS 257; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998), pp. 24-44
P.R. Davies, Memories of Ancient Israel: An Introduction to Biblical History–Ancient and Modern (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), pp. 27-35

Playing ‘Catch-Up’

I realize there has been a lack of posts here lately; I have just finished some indexing work and final manuscript reviews for certain projects I am working on and have not had a chance to catch up on blogging.  Now that some of my projects are (finally) complete, I can concentrate on writing some overdue book reviews and focus on the my next project currently in the works.  Expect some new content here soon!

Gerd Lüdemann has a New Book Out!

I like Gerd, he’s a brilliant scholar and has produced some excellent publications which continue to challenge scholars in New Testament.  The blurb from the book, though, is a little troubling for a minimalist like myself:

Biblical historians have long held that the New Testament abounds in sayings incorrectly attributed to Jesus. In order to assemble as complete a collection of authentic sayings as possible, they have, for the most part, been intent on seeing how the sayings deemed authentic are connected to one another, and attempting to picture their specific contexts. In What Jesus Didn t Say, Gerd Ludemann flips the coin and focuses on the inauthentic words of Jesus not only those thought to be clear inventions, but also sayings that exhibit noteworthy alterations to their original form and intent. For his selection, he uses sayings that: are attributed to Jesus after his crucifixion; presuppose a pagan rather than a Jewish audience; involve situations in a post-Easter community; reflect the editorial influence of the author. According to Ludemann, the sheer abundance of inauthentic Jesus-sayings demonstrates that, soon after his sudden and dramatic death, he became the center of a new faith. From the very beginning, Christians imagined what answers Jesus would offer to the questions that arose among them. When the words they recalled no longer seemed adequate, they revised or invented new sayings to suit the existing situation.

One has to wonder how anyone can locate ‘authentic’ vs. ‘inauthentic’ sayings from a figure of which we have no historical record.  We have theological narratives of the figure, which might constitute a layer of historical evidence, but these wouldn’t be valuable as historical data, not like a biography or a history might be–and even in those cases, such as with the biography of Apollonius, problems abound for historian seeking ‘authentic’ sayings or deeds!   I would be interested in reading about his methods, but I suspect that his method involves utilizing a lot of the same resources that produced the Jesus Seminar, and led to a lot of the same poor conclusions.   For example, did he lump all ‘testimony’ to a figure of Jesus, dated in the first two centuries CE, into one pile and search for similar sayings attributed to him?  And if so, how did he determine that a saying, which might appear in almost every ‘testimonial’, was an authentic saying vs, one that was part of the kerygmatic tradition of the church or if it wasn’t an intertextual emulation of something from scripture or another source?  Does he have methods which can demonstrate this or did he just continue along the same sort of ‘party line’ as other historical Jesus proposals which have utterly continued to show their narrowed focus?

I would be interesting in a copy, and perhaps so should my readers.  Amazon lists it, and you are encouraged to go investigate these questions for yourself!

(h/t to Jim West!)

Astrophysicist Discusses Gods and Aliens

When I first saw the interview title (‘Is there a God? Aliens? An Astrophysicist answers’), my instinct was to say ‘Well, here’s another case of a person speaking on matters they have no expertise in.’   But I was pleasantly surprised when I read the following:

“What I tell people is that science in general and astronomy in particular do not address the question of whether or not there is a God. In science, conclusions are made based on evidence and confirmation of predictions, and that’s what differentiates scientific knowledge from unscientific knowledge.

“Recently Pope Benedict said something like this: ‘The Big Bang theory is proof that God exists.’ Actually it’s not. It’s only proof that something happened at the beginning of the universe, where there wasn’t space or time and then there became space and time. For many people, astronomers’ discoveries confirm what they thought was true all along: that God is there. And then for many others, the discoveries of astronomers confirm what they thought all along, and that is that God is unnecessary — that God doesn’t exist.

“So the Big Bang doesn’t really prove whether God or the gods are real or not, or whether the flying spaghetti monster is real or not; it’s just really, really cool — and what you believe follows from it is just a leap of faith.

via Is there a God? Aliens? Astrophysicist answers – Technology & science – Science – LiveScience –

His answer, in sum, is simply ‘Why are you asking me whether God exists?’  He isn’t saying God does or doesn’t exist, nor does he offer any theological advice.

Jim West has posted up some thoughts on his blog about this:

Theologians don’t dive into science and opine on topics like physics and mathematics and chemistry, so why do sciency people think they have the tools to speak about theology?  Instead of answering questions they can’t, why can’t they just say ‘that’s not my field, I think it best you ask a theologian’.

But I think Jim might have misread the article (very unlike him).  He doesn’t offer a single comment related to the study of God–and in fact is rather dismissive of it, which is precisely what Jim is asking of him.  Saying ‘Science doesn’t address God’ is precisely what we’d expect to hear from a scientist when asked about God.

Jim continues:

Or perhaps theologians should babble on about science.  Let’s see how the sciency people like that.  [And we know they don’t.  Just start a conversation on intelligent design or creationism and their little sciency heads explode in rage.  Well here’s some rage back at ya!]

But the thing is, Jim, if more theologians said ‘well religion doesn’t address science’ more often, I think scientists would be less inclined to cringe every time a theologian (dilettante) states the world is only 6,000 years old, that multi-celled organisms don’t spring from single-celled organisms, or that evolution is a myth–all things that are outside their field of expertise.  What this scientist said is what you want scientists to say (essentially):

‘We don’t know, we don’t deal with those sorts of questions.  Ask me about quarks or something.’

When he was asked his opinion, he stated it.  But he was quite clear about his agnosticism and, in my opinion, quite appropriate in his answer.

In any event, the article is worth the read.  And to all of my atheist friends, take heed!  Using science as a device to say ‘well, God doesn’t exist’ just doesn’t work.

Calvin and Hobbes on War

Simcha and Goodacre on the Crucifixion Nails of Jesus

Joe Zias was goodly enough to post that Simcha Jacobovici had posted up an article on James Tabor’s blog in response to the critics (really, those ‘critiques’ are the actual academic response to his sensational ‘find’ of the ‘crucifixion nails’ of Jesus.)  You can read Simcha’s response (if you are feeling particularly masochistic or if you feel like throwing up a little in your mouth) here.

Mark Goodacre wrote up a reply on the Biblical Studies message board (cited with permission) in response to this which I feel is quite astute as it is erudite (and polite–more polite than it should be):

Simcha’s response (now published on James Tabor’s blog) illustrates
something quite interesting about strategy, to my regret. Although he
spends much of the essay berating the ad hominem nature of the attacks on
him, the fact is that on this occasion he *has* posted a detailed response
to his critics. And this is the frustration: those of us who have, in the
past, engaged in a kind of patient, calm, detailed response to his claims
have been ignored. It is only now that abuse and ridicule have been
directed towards him that he has responded. To illustrate further: I
listed seventeen errors and inaccuracies on the “Jesus Family Tomb website”
over four years ago on my blog. From time to time, I draw attention again
to the list. They include serious, egregious errors, nonsense,
misstatements and so on. To this day (and I checked again last night),
every single one of them is still there on the site.

I say this with regret because I share that naive belief that academics
sometimes have that non-academics might respond to correct errors when they
are pointed out in a patient and friendly way. Sadly, and on repeated
occasions, this is not the case.


So true, Mark.  SO true.

Must-Read Additional Links:

2010 Debate on Reliability of Scripture « XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Thanks to Bob Cargill, you can watch the whole debate between Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans on the reliability of the Bible.  Do check it out!

If you have an hour, you really ought to listen to the 2010 debate between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Craig Evans on the reliability of scripture. Below are the YouTube videos in 9 parts.

I’ll let you decide whose argument is more compelling. However, I agree with the moderator, Pastor Jerry Johnston, who states after one of Dr. Evans’ responses (Pt. 3, @ 3:37), “Sounds like an evangelist.”

The key questions are as follows:

1. Are the gospels reliable? (Pt. 1 @ 3:50)

2. Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 2 @ 3:42)

3. Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 3 @ 3:42)

4. Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition? (Pt. 4 @ 4:25)

5. Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources? (Pt. 5 @ 4:05)

6. Have the gospels been accurately preserved down through the centuries? (Pt. 6 @ 6:22)

7. Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching? (Pt. 7 @ 7:33)

8. Final Remarks (Pt. 8 @ 7:01)

via 2010 debate on the reliability of scripture between bart ehrman and craig evans « XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill.

Noah’s Ark in the Media

Oh Media, when will you learn that you shouldn’t mess with the past?  You can’t ‘recreate’ something that never existed in the first place.

While Noah will likely always remain the first name in arks, tourists are chomping at the bit to climb aboard “Johan’s Ark,” an ambitious re-creation of the biblical boat that’s attracting gawkers galore along a waterfront shipyard in Dordrecht, a city in the western Netherlands.

via Meet the man who’s re-creating Noah’s Ark – TODAY People –

Abortion: Taking the Plunge into the Discussion

In the local paper (online) today, I read an interesting perspective on the abortion debate by Paul Carpenter (you can read it here, and please do).  Mr. Carpenter got me thinking (a herculean feat by any stretch!); I haven’t weighed in on abortion in some time.  As I started thinking about what to write (οἷς κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς, as St. Paul might say, is the product you are reading), I was surprised about how torn I was about such a divisive and hostile issue.  The more I thought about my feelings on the matter, the more I felt disgusted on the black and white polemical attacks from both sides.

Like many Americans, I am split on the discussion of abortion.  I am aware of the arguments on both sides of the debate, and for the sake of discussion and fairness, I’ll explain the difficulties on both sides, if only to extrapolate my divided feelings on the matter.  I can completely understand the pro-life movement (though I cannot agree with all of what it stands for).  However, it has a religious overtone that has completely taken over the discussion.  Religion clouds this issue, in my humble opinion, and turns off a lot of people to the recognition of the emotional part of the discussion.  Sure, firm rationalists might find emotional arguments unpersuasive.  But such a rationalist might as well be a logical dogmatist; if we so swiftly disregard our emotional reasoning, we might as well give up on our humanity.   But I also see the problems inherent in pro-life campaigns, and completely abolishing abortion has terrible and tragic consequences, and is certainly not necessary.  So allow me to work through this, piece by piece, and when all is said and done, I shall express my concluding thoughts.

It might behoove the reader to know that I am not religious, so my reasons for finding fault with abortion have nothing at all to do with faithful convictions or a literal interpretation of scripture (Read a debate between two secularists arguing both for and against abortion).  From a secular perspective, I can appreciate the desire to preserve life, the concept of personal responsibility, and the value of adoption to those who cannot conceive.   Parenting appears to be one of those gargantuan tasks which can lead to incredible, if not devastating, consequences if the parents are not completely devoted to their roles in it.  But often those roles are not well perceived by the young, who engage in sexual promiscuity, servants to their hormones and to society.  As a result, those who are whimsical with protection (condoms, if used correctly, prevent pregnancy 98% of the time), whimsical with their choice in mates (care little for the type of person they might be—for example, if they hook up with someone who has motives to sabotage a condom or might forgo contraception), whimsical with the amount of partners they have, or whimsical about being on narcotics or alcohol while engaging in sex (ahem, Bristol Palin), will most likely end up pregnant without a valued understanding of what it means to be a parent.  Personal choice has a HUGE role to play.

Jim West often reminds his readers that abstinence is 100% effective (except if you happen to be named Mary, living in Roman Palestine, some 2,000 years ago), and that is true.  But staying abstinent is not easy.  Sure, moving against peer pressure is like trying to wade through a river against a strong moving current, but the urges we have to have sex are biological (and as Hamby points out in the comments section, also socially necessary).  The drive starts young, that is to say, it starts at a time when we are not mentally ready to have children and parent.  Whether Jim likes it or not (he can call it the Devil, if he so wishes), we have an evolutionary drive to reproduce; it’s a survival mechanism that we cannot rid ourselves (and if we did, our species would no longer exist!).  This is why Catholic campaigns in Africa for abstinence aren’t successful and why they aren’t successful here either (and in fact are failing exponentially).  They fail because abstinence isn’t in our genes.  Every fiber of our being urges us to have sex, and many of us are slaves to that urge without realizing it (the way we dress, what type of car we drive, what status we achieve or hope to achieve—all contribute to our end goal: to attract a partner and reproduce).  According to the Guttmacher Institute:

A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work,” says Heather Boonstra, a senior public policy associate at the New York City–based organization. “Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end with the enactment of a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative that ensures that programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly, based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.” Among teens who were not heeding the abstinence advice and were sexually active, about 15% became pregnant, down from a peak of 22% in 1990.

In the end, this implies that those who are becoming more educated about the practice of safe sex have staved off pregnancy better than those who are not.  But while I firmly believe in personal responsibility, there are some parts of this argument that are very problematic.  The truth is the highest age risks for sexual promiscuity are children only 14 year olds.   Why?  Well, it’s simple.  Most children (and this includes teens) are not yet capable of making mature decisions about the rest of their lives.  It’s an unfortunate side-effect of youth—that is, being completely and totally oblivious.   This also means that many also lack complete sense of responsibility.  But the drive to have sex is still there and it is at one of its peaks around the age of puberty.  Of course there are other mitigating circumstances, which factor into this discussion.

For many children, particularly in low-income families, or from families without the care or attention of loving parents, who become delinquents (miscreants, deviants, what have you) are more likely to engage in sex, often without STD or pregnancy prevention .   Without guides–and by this I mean parents—to explain sex, to explain what it is and what it isn’t, to encourage responsibility and demonstrate that responsibility (to avoid confusion, I mean that parents shouldn’t say one thing and do another), children will have sex without a sense of the consequences, and they will do so especially if they are often irresponsible about other things (and many kids are).   Having a stable home is necessary towards the promotion of responsible actions (and therefore responsibility towards sex).  By this, and to be clear, I do not mean to imply that single parent family homes cannot be stable—they certainly can be and have been demonstrated to be just as stable as a two-parent household.  But responsible parenting is especially key to responsible children.

Susie better watch out…

Yet the amount of young women impregnated every year seems to be on the rise.  This leads to a problem: now you have a situation where a child without grasp of responsibility is bearing a child.  Hopefully the reader will recognize the cycle.  And it is a vicious one.  Delinquent teens giving birth to children who will, in turn, likely become delinquent teens, and continue the trend.  And it is precisely because household life contributes to the development of the child; irresponsibility breeds irresponsibility.  But this is also an argument that is often used by those in support of abortion rights for first term pregnancies.  According to Time:

In 1990, 43.9% of pregnant white teens terminated their pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher report. In 2006, 29.3% did. Among Hispanics, the rate dropped from 28.1% to 22.9% in the same period. But among black teens, the rate has not moved much in 15 years — holding steady at about 41%.

Nearly half of all irresponsible pregnancies were aborted.  While this might disgust some, it has actually provided some interesting statistics, provided by the (now well-known) Donohue-Levitt hypothesis.  Popularized by the recent book/documentary Freakonomics, this hypothesis demonstrates that the legalization of abortion contributed to a dramatic decrease in crime (see the hypothesis above, but also this article on Freakonomics for full details).  ‘Why had this happened?’ you might be asking.  The answer is surprisingly concrete: unwanted pregnancies which were aborted did not lead—as it had in the past—to unwanted births, to unwanted children (coalescing in disruptive or violent or abusive family life), to delinquent teens, for the process to repeat itself.  The cycle, effectively, had ended.  According to the study (in brief):

After abortion was legalized, the availability of abortions differed dramatically across states. In some states like North Dakota and in parts of the deep South, it was virtually impossible to get an abortion even after Roe v. Wade. If one compares states that had high abortion rates in the mid 1970s to states that had low abortion rates in the mid 1970s, you see the following patterns with crime. For the period from 1973-1988, the two sets of states (high abortion states and low abortion states) have nearly identical crime patterns. Note, that this is a period before the generations exposed to legalized abortion are old enough to do much crime. So this is exactly what the Donohue-Levitt theory predicts. But from the period 1985-1997, when the post Roe cohort is reaching peak crime ages, the high abortion states see a decline in crime of 30% relative to the low abortion states. Our original data ended in 1997. If one updated the study, the results would be similar.)

And if we look at statistics, in 2010, crime rates continued to fall, especially in big cities.  Now, the fallacy of argument should not follow that I think that more abortion rights would lead to lower crime rates.  That is not at all what I am getting at.  In fact, while this statistic in quite interesting (and it does account for other mitigating factors, like drug abuse, if you read the research), I would not want to strengthen our existing abortion laws.  But it would benefit the reader to recognize, at least, that abortion has led to a surprising result.

I am not so sure that pro-life advocates have a way to handle the fallout of illegalizing abortion.  For example, how do they intend to handle in increase of unwanted pregnancies?  What contingencies do they have to appropriate handle, and with what sort of care, the increased stress to foster homes (already brimming with inhabitants and, moreover, often in impoverishment) and the increase in crime?  I would be especially interested in hearing solutions from them, since pro-life advocates tend to be those who also want to limit government control in our lives (and there is the argument that, if they really wanted less government control, why are they advocating for government control in this instance?  It is a little hypocritical—but this is neither here nor there).

And while I support the concept of foster care and adoption agencies, the truth is that they don’t work as they are structured currently.  Indeed, it seems as though there is an epidemic of unwanted pregnancies among young women who are in foster care!  The system is not only failing, but it is proving to be a haven for that same vicious cycle that was just discussed above!  So while I think that there should be a means to develop a better system for those who seek another option rather than aborting their child, the current system will likely destroy that child, emotionally and physically, probably just as terribly as if the unwanted child were to be raised by their own parents.  The current pro-life movement, with their heads predominantly in the heavens, believes that more religion will do the trick, as if bringing their children in closer to God will protect them from the desires of sexual intercourse.  But this is wishful thinking at best, which can lead to dangerous consequences.

Aside from the fact that parents who replace parenting duties with religion ultimately are no better than delinquent parents who replace parenting duties with television or drugs, it is simply not supported by the facts.  In truth, states with highest number of conservative Christians tend to be the same states with the highest number of teen pregnancies.  Why?  Because when you teach your children it’s bad to use condoms and to have sex, when they have sex, they won’t use condoms; which leads to unwanted pregnancies, which leads to unwanted births (because abortion laws are more strict in those states or because peer pressure from their family and church forces the adolescent to have the child rather than to abort it), and the cycle repeats.  And if that doesn’t really prove it to you, I’m not sure much else will.  With the rash of perverse ministers, preachers, pastors, and clergy, how anyone can really think that more religion will lead to less sexual activity leaves me completely baffled (it didn’t work for Ted Haggard).  It seems the most religious are the most at risk.

But while I do not think abortion is the answer, finding solutions to these problems—real, serious, worthwhile solutions—appears to be the furthest thing from the minds of the pro-life activist community.  Removing funding from Planned Parenthood, for example, will only flood other clinics with more unwanted pregnancies (because both information and contraceptives will be more difficult to get), result in more STD transmission (because people won’t know where else to get tested), and will ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy for a pro-life movement (which will claim, hands down, that safe-sex education doesn’t work, even though statistically it works better—and is healthier—than their methods!).

When you limit options, and unwanted babies are still being conceived, you are only making the situation worse.  So instead of helping people, they make them desperate, and when you make people desperate they are likely to do unthinkable, terrible things.  You’ll start to see people spending extravagant amounts of money to fly to other countries, set up abortion clinics on ships in international waters, or build their own illegal underground clinics with subpar equipment.  It may even get to the point where people take their lives in their own hands and attempt to abort their own children still inside of them.  People (re: sick people) do it today, even when appropriate medical care is provided; take away the choice all together and who knows what might happen.  Indeed, there might be a link between “successful” campaigns for pro-life (like in the 1990’s, where abortion rates dropped in all but 15 states) and infanticide (which rose exponentially in the 1990’s, and has since declined a lot since that time—60% of all known cases of infanticide were committed by parents, another 7% by other family members).  This is something that needs to be studied more thoroughly, but it would not at all be surprising to find that this were the case.

Some might now argue that killing an infant and abortion are the same thing.  Perhaps in some circumstances, yes, it might very well be the same.  But in most circumstances, and with the laws we have in place, they are not the same.   I think back to what I once read in Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation on the issues of embryonic stem cell research and abortion:

A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembered, in this context, that when a person’s brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst.

Perhaps you think that the crucial difference between a fly and a human blastocyst is to be found in the latter’s potential to become a fully developed human being. But almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings. (p. 30)

And when one considers the use of contraception, like a condom (where conception doesn’t even happen!) or with a birth control pill (where again, contraception is prevented when the pill releases hormones that stops a woman from ovulating), one must wonder why it is considered so bad?  I believe Paul Carpenter handles the situation well enough, citing, for example, Gen. 38.  But using this verse to support anti-conception measures is problematic, and the reader might wonder why the religious would attempt to argue moral authority from a verse where God demands a man to impregnate his sister (and killing him when he doesn’t abide).

This is perhaps my biggest concern in the whole abortion debate.  I would perhaps be less opposed to abortion regulations if pro-choice advocates were better educated about the differences between contraception and abortion, rather than dumping them together in odd ways like this.  Restricting both contraception and abortion makes little sense (since one prevents pregnancy and another terminates existing pregnancies).  In the end, it does seem to me to be an attempt to subjugate what people can and cannot do with their own lives (i.e., utilizing ‘free will’), which once more raises the question ‘Do you want more government control in people’s lives or less?’

To be clear, I think that it is perfectly acceptable if a certain religion says that, theologically, it is a sin and if anyone participates in a sexual act which utilizes contraception or they have an abortion, they will be banned from the church and doomed to a spiritual damnation—that is religious prerogative and as Americans, they have a right to preach what they want and, as private organizations are welcome to accept or dismiss any member from it without recourse.  But when it comes to public law and policy, well, I wouldn’t want someone telling me how I can and cannot live in the privacy of my own home.  I certainly agree with Carpenter when he writes:

I am sure people can find just as many passages in the Bible that support the argument that abortion is immoral or unholy, and if individuals or churches preach against it on that basis, I shall not object, as long as they do not try to impose purely dogmatic views on others by force.

After all, how can I take responsibility for my actions if I have someone telling me how to act?  Again I think back to the hypocrisy of it all, how completely backwards it is, and am reminded of Harris’ words again:

Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral – that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians … expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year. (p. 25)

Still, as I’ve said before, I am not advocating for abortion, nor am I suggesting we limit it in any way as it is.  Instead I think that the conversation, as it stands, is old and unhelpful, reiterating old arguments that produce zero solutions and work to make more enemies than compromises.  The religious trends in the pro-life movement, those that control the rhetoric, argue that life starts at conception—if that is the case, then why limit the use of tools which prevent it?  I certainly don’t know where they get the idea that life starts at conception, in any event, as the Bible is a little vague on it, as Carpenter points out in his article:

Even if Santorum and others are right about forcing all Americans to fall in line according to Judeo-Christian theology, we need to at least consider what the Bible actually says about abortion and related issues. I am not a biblical scholar. Far from it. But I can read, and some biblical passages get a little confusing about that. For example, if we want to make laws conform to ecclesiastical doctrine (assuming Roe gets overturned), and if we say abortion is murder because “personhood” begins at conception, how about Genesis 2:7, which says “man became a living soul” only when he took his first breath?

Deuteronomy 12:23 is about eating, but also says life depends on blood. The human fetus does not have a circulatory system for a few weeks after conception, so how can the holy claim it’s a live human being?

Exodus 21:22-24 says that if somebody injures a pregnant woman, causing an abortion, it warrants only a fine, not the standard “eye for eye” penalty for murder.

So the Bible calls for only a fine if it’s abortion, but it says the death penalty should be imposed for a man who spills his seed instead of depositing it where it can make somebody pregnant.

I believe these are interesting concerns; it should raise the level of conversation a notch, however, and I think that is what I am attempting to do here.

In conclusion, as someone with no definitive position, I am looking to be persuaded, but not by the same old arguments.  I don’t want to hear ‘well it constitutes the death of a person’ when the data shows something different.  I don’t want to hear ‘abortion is a fundamental human right’ because I simply don’t agree.  Abortion is at times practical and necessary, but not something of which to take advantage.  Perhaps the development of a program whereby sexually active individuals can get checkups regularly to determine pregnancy earlier rather than later might solve the troubling issue of early development abortions (after week 4, for example)?  Perhaps better access to contraceptives to prevent pregnancy would be a better goal?  Indeed, if the pro-life/anti-abortion groups were more active towards preventing pregnancy than advocating for celibacy (completely unrealistic, as demonstrated above), lost the religious rhetoric, and started advocating for stricter laws rather than the complete illegalization of abortion, I might jump on board.

But it certainly depends, and some might argue that I am coming from a biased position. That position of course being that I’m alive!  Though, I suppose my problem with abortion is much more introspective.  That is not to say I was about to be aborted (nothing of the sort), but I was born.   And my life, its success and its failures, stands as a testament to that birth.  I think of all the hardships and all the triumphs I’ve had, the various emotions and the experiences, and I wonder what I’ve shared with the world—whatever small contribution it might be—and where others around me might be had I not been.

Though I also am very privileged; I’ve always had a great deal of luck on my side.  I come from a large, happy, middle-class, white, suburban family.  I don’t have the sorts of complications that others might have and therefore my position might very well be skewed by my position on the social chain.  At this point, I see the arguments on both sides.  I just feel that the conversation is losing its grasp on reality—it needs a good swift kick in the pants, a refresher course on the data.  Maybe that would help?  Who knows for sure.  But isn’t it worth a shot, before it’s too late?

Analysis of Possible Coptic in New Images

I’ve taken a number out of the Steve Caruso book and came up with a simple analysis sheet.  These images come from the new pictures which Jim West put up on his blog.  Click to enlarge.

See background here, here, and here.

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