30 October 2014

Experimenting with the Eucharist: Pope Francis vs. the Raëlians

Jerry Coyne has an excellent article on a recent experiment on the Eucharist that was done by the Raëlians. Yes, that's right, the folks who believe that life on earth was planted by extraterrestrials (the Elohim) and that human prophets (including Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith) were sent from the Elohim civilization to enlighten us here on earth.

Now beliefs like those can make Catholic beliefs about transubstantiation seem almost plausible in comparison. And yet the Raëlians have performed a nice experiment on Catholic beliefs about the Eucharist. They subjected consecrated hosts to DNA testing and found only wheat DNA. So if Jesus is really present, he's a plant.

Of course, Catholics will tell you that this result is consistent with their beliefs. Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist -- body, blood, soul, and divinity. It's just that it doesn't look (and taste) that way. The "substance" of the bread has been miraculously and completely changed into the "substance" of Jesus. Only the "appearance" of the bread remains.

Still, if Catholic doctrine is true, there should be some way to detect Jesus's presence in "the Blessed Sacrament." And there are many examples of Catholic "experiments" that claim to do exactly that. One of the most interesting of these involves Pope Francis.

Pope Francis's Eucharistic Experiment

The story begins in 1996 when Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio) was Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires. On the evening of August 16, a priest in Buenos Aires was distributing communion at mass, when a woman came up to him with a wafer (presumably consecrated) that she found at the back of the church.

Now the ordinary procedure in such cases is for the priest to consume the wafer, but he decided not to, since he didn't know where this wafer had been. So he did the next best thing: he placed it in a bowl of water and put the bowl in the tabernacle for safekeeping. (The idea here is that the wafer will dissolve in the water and the resulting solution can then be poured down a special sink in the sacristy which is plumbed directly to the ground instead of the sewer.)

Eight days later, on August 26, the priest opened the tabernacle and found this:


The priest contacted Bishop Bergoglio and asked him what to do. The future pope said to take a picture of it, and a picture was taken two weeks later on September 6. (The above picture is the one that was supposedly sent to Bishop Bergoglio.) In the meantime, the priest kept the whole bloody mess locked away in the tabernacle for three years, without telling anyone else about it.

Finally, in 1999, the now-Cardinal Bergoglio decided to have it scientifically analyzed. So it was sent to Frederick Zugibe in New York for analysis. Care was taken, of course, not to tell Dr. Zugibe where it came from to avoid prejudicing the analysis.

The analysis showed that the sample contained human DNA and was composed of human flesh and blood. Dr. Zugibe was able to show that the tissue was from the left ventricle of a human heart, and he found that it contained numerous white blood cells. From these results, he concluded that the heart was alive and under severe stress at the time the sample was taken.

What now?

So what in bloody hell is going on here? If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why would he hide from the Raëlians while exposing himself to the pope? And why, if the Buenos Aires miracle actually happened, doesn't the pope talk about it now?

I think it's time to repeat the Buenos Aires experiment.

Now we just need some material to work with.

28 October 2014

Guest Post: Apparent Contradictions #2, by Berend de Boer

This is the second guest post by Berend de Boer. For this post, I invited him to have the floor to discuss contradictions that he thinks I should remove from the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Berend created a website called "The Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered", where he has went through the entire SAB with his comments, alongside mine, explaining his stance on the relevant verses.

Here's an example page from his website.

It took him 7 years to complete, so it's pretty clear that although he's a believer, he does really know his Bible. So let's hear what he has to say. So far he's given me 5 explanations of contradictions. I'm going to post them one at a time so we can examine them here at the blog.

Is marrying or not marrying good?

Mr. Wells claims another contradiction in comparing 1 Corinthians 7:1 with Proverbs 18:22. 1 Corinthians 7:1 says:

It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

And Proverbs 18:22 says:

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing.

Let's turn this into a syllogism:

  1. All who marry do well (Proverbs 18:22).
  2. All who do not marry do well (1 Corinthians 7:1).
  3. Therefore we have a contradiction.

Hearing the conclusion, most people would say:
“huh?” This is an example where there is nothing wrong
with the premises. The problem is that the conclusion does not
follow. It's a so called “non sequitur.”

As an Euler circle it looks as follows:

The diagram demonstrates there is no contradiction: both things
are good, one does not come at the exclusion of the other.

To make this into an actual contradiction we would need premises like:

  1. All who marry do well.
  2. All who marry do not well.

And the corresponding Euler circle:

From this diagram it is immediately clear we would have a
contradiction. But this is not something the Bible claims.

EJ&T - Deuteronomy 8 - 10: Circumcise the foreskin of your heart

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Bless God when you finish eating.
  2. When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Deuteronomy 8:10

  3. Don't forget God.
  4. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 8:11

    Thou shalt remember the LORD thy God ... if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God ... I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. Deuteronomy 8:18-19

  5. Circumcise the foreskin of your heart.
  6. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart. Deuteronomy 10:16

  7. Stop being stiffnecked.
  8. Be no more stiffnecked. Deuteronomy 10:16

  9. Cleave to God.
  10. To Him [God] thou shalt cleave. Deuteronomy 10:20

    Cleave unto him [God]. Deuteronomy 11:22

27 October 2014

EJ&T - Deuteronomy 7: Genocide and intermarriage

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. When God takes away land from other people and gives it to you, you must kill, without mercy, all of the current land's inhabitants.
  2. When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them ... nor shew mercy unto them. Deuteronomy 7:1-2

    Thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them. Deuteronomy 7:16

  3. Don't intermarry with any survivors of your God-assisted genocides (or God will kill you too).
  4. Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. Deuteronomy 7:3-4

25 October 2014

The Mormon church finally admits that Joseph Smith had many wives (to "raise up seed unto God" by making big Mormon families)

Something strange is going on in Salt Lake City.

Last week the official website of the Mormon church (LDS.org) showed off its magic underwear; this week it admits that Joseph Smith was a polygamist.

And this is just the latest of their most recent public confessions. In the last year or so they have also: admitted they were wrong about race (while keeping their racist beliefs); pretended to deny (but didn't) that Mormon men get their own planets after they die; and admitted that Joseph Smith didn't translate the Book of Abraham.

Now, in a series of recent articles at LDS.org, the Mormon church comes clean on its dirtiest little secret -- that Joseph Smith Jr. was a polygamist. This, of course, is not news to anyone who knows anything about Joseph Smith. But it is news to most Mormons, since the Mormon church never mentions it to its own members. Not until now, anyway.

I suspect that there are two reasons for this new openness: the internet and the Book of Mormon musical. The embarrassing aspects of Mormon beliefs and history are readily available on the internet and are openly mocked in the musical. When the whole world is laughing at your beliefs, its time to face up to them.

In its article, Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo, the church begins by saying that monogamy "is the Lord’s standing law of marriage." But sometimes the Lord changes his standard and forces men to marry more than one woman.

Latter-day Saints believe that monogamy—the marriage of one man and one woman—is the Lord’s standing law of marriage.1 In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.2
Since I couldn't recall any biblical passage in which God commanded a man to have multiple wives, I checked their footnote. Note 2 refers to Genesis 16, which includes the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Sarah's female slave, Hagar. (Abraham and Sarah's names were "Abram" and "Sarai" until God changed them in Genesis 17 to celebrate Abraham's circumcision.)
Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived. Genesis 16:1-4
So the reference to Genesis 16 doesn't work. God didn't tell Abraham to have sex with (or marry) Hagar. Sarah commanded Abraham, and he did as she told him to do. God was an innocent bystander.

But then I checked out the other reference in note 2, the one from The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). Here are the relevant verses:

God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises. Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it. D&C 132:34-35
The discrepancy between these two Mormon scriptures is explained in the Mormon church's intro to Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
Section 132: Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831. See Official Declaration 1.
And that pretty much explains it. God changed the story in Genesis 16 to provide a justification for Joseph Smith's multiple wives.

Still, it wasn't easy for God to get Joseph Smith to take plural wives. Abraham was easy; he just did as Sarah God commanded. But God had to send an angel who threatened to kill Joseph if he wouldn't comply, as the article explains:

... Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

And that did the trick. Joseph Smith obeyed the sword-bearing angel, marrying as many women as he could. God only knows how many, since all of his marriages (except his first marriage to Emma Hale) were secret and illegal. But estimates run from 30 to 50, nearly all of which occurred within a few years (1841 to his death in 1844). Among his known wives were five pairs of sisters, one mother-daughter pair, and twelve women who were married to other men (Fawn Brodie, 1971, No Man Knows My History, p.336).

So Joseph Smith was just doing what God commanded. But why did God command it? For this reason, as the article explains:

God declared in the Book of Mormon that monogamy was the standard; at times, however, He commanded plural marriage so His people could “raise up seed unto [Him].”44 Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents.

Note 44 refers the reader to a verse in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:30, which contains a loophole for polygamy.

For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
God forced plural marriage on Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other Mormon men from 1843 to 1890 to make big Mormon families -- just like it says in the last verse of Joseph Smith American Moses from the Book of Mormon musical (begins at about 5:00).

For more information about Mormon polygamy, I recommend that you watch this excellent 4-minute video: