The Truth of the Bible

This is an excerpt from my book, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. A bit of background: Jim is a wealthy, housebound, and somewhat obnoxious atheist, and Paul is the young acolyte of a famous pastor, doing his best to evangelize. It’s 1906 in Los Angeles, and they’re in Jim’s study.

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Do God and Jesus exist?“Let’s discuss the accuracy of the Bible.” Paul looked for approval from Jim, saw nothing, and continued. “Many say that the Bible contains the world’s greatest literature. It’s certainly the world’s most influential book—a book that has inspired mankind for thousands of years.”

“I won’t disagree.” Jim picked up what looked like a clumsily wrapped cigar laying on the sofa and put the soggy end in his mouth. It left a small dark stain on the seat cushion.

Paul wanted to continue but was distracted as the end of the thing bobbed up and down under Jim’s shaggy mustache while he chewed, making gentle crunching sounds. “Is that a cigar?” Paul asked finally.

Cinnamomum zeylanicum—cinnamon bark,” Jim said, his words garbled as he spoke while holding the cinnamon stick with his lips. “It promotes sweating.”

Paul had never considered sweating worth promoting. He tried to ignore the noise, deliberately looking down at his note card to avoid the distraction. “So what I’m saying is that the Bible is very accurate. Researchers have found thousands of copies, enough to convince them that errors introduced from copy to copy have been insignificant. And old, too—less than 400 years after the New Testament originals.* In other words, today’s English translations started with a copy that differed minimally from the original text. Aside from the different language, we read almost the same words as were originally written two to three thousand years ago.”

Jim shook his head. “That’s a foolish argument.”

Paul’s jaw went slack.

“I can say the same of Homer’s Iliad,” Jim said. “It’s quite long and very old—older than much of the Old Testament. We have many old copies of the Iliad, and today’s version may also be a decent copy of the original. Using your logic, must we conclude that the Iliad is correct? Must we say that Achilles really was invulnerable, that Cassandra really could see the future, that Ajax really was trained by a centaur?”

“But that’s not a good comparison,” Paul said. “No one believes the Iliad. Biblical fact is quite different from Greek mythology.”

“Don’t change the subject. You introduced the question of the accuracy of manuscript copies. Does your logic help us judge the accuracy of ancient books or not?”

“I don’t think the Bible and the Iliad can be compared is all.”

Jim sighed. “To your point, no one believes the Iliad now, but they once did. Achilles, Hector, Helen, Aphrodite, the Trojan War—the Iliad tells much of the history of the Greeks just like the Bible is a history of the Jews. And, of course, many of the places and people in the Iliad actually existed. Archeologists have found Troy, for example.”

Jim held up a hand as Paul opened his mouth to speak. “Of course I see the difference. While the Iliad and the Bible were the histories of their people, only the Bible is believed today. Here’s my point. Let’s assume that the Bible and the Iliad are both faithful copies. That doesn’t make them true.”

Paul said, “It’s not just the Bible—other sources confirm Bible stories. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, for example, writes about Jesus.” He glanced at a note card in his hand. “Also, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and other writers from that time.”

Jim jerked a hand as if dismissing a gnat, and his face showed an exasperated disgust. “I’ve read these sources, and they strengthen your case not a bit. They basically say, ‘There are people who follow a man named Jesus’ or ‘Jesus is said to have performed miracles.’ I already agree with that! I’d be interested if an eyewitness from the Jerusalem Times newspaper wrote a report the day after a miraculous event, but that didn’t happen. You’re left with four—not thousands, but four—written accounts that summarize the Jesus story after it had been passed around orally for decades, and they’re not even completely independent accounts. I need a lot more evidence than that.”

Paul thought for an instant how satisfying it would be to take their argument to the street, even though it would be an unfair fight. He rubbed his right fist against his left palm and strained the muscles of his upper body to drain away some rage. In five seconds he might remind this atheist of his manners. But he had to take the high ground and he pushed on, using a response that Samuel had given him. “Why do you need more evidence? You never saw George Washington, but you accept the historical account of his life. The Bible has the historical account of Jesus’s life—why not accept that?”

Again Jim shook his head. “We have articles from newspapers of Washington’s time published within days of events, and there are hundreds of accounts by people who met him. We even have Washington’s own journals and letters. By contrast, Jesus left no personal writings, we have just a few Gospels as sources of his life story, and those are accounts of unknown authorship handed down orally for decades before finally being written. They were even written from the perspective of a foreign culture—Jesus and his disciples would have spoken Aramaic, and the New Testament was written completely in Greek.”

“You’re overstating the problem. If you don’t like Washington, take Caesar Augustus—you accept the story of Caesar’s life even though he’s from the time period of Jesus.”

“How can you make this argument? Are you stupid?” Jim leapt to his feet. “The biographies of historical figures like Washington and Caesar make no supernatural claims!”

Paul opened his mouth to protest but retreated as Jim waved his arms as he stalked back and forth in front of the sofa like some hysterical prosecuting attorney.

“They were great men, but they were just men. Suppose you read that Washington was impervious to British bullets during the Revolutionary War or Caesar was born of a virgin—these claims were actually made, by the way. You would immediately dismiss them. Or what about Mormonism: Joseph Smith invented it just fifty miles from my hometown of Syracuse, shortly before I was born. We have far more information about the early days of his religion—letters, diaries, and even newspaper accounts, all in modern English—and yet I presume you dismiss Smith as a crackpot or a charlatan. In the case of Jesus, the most extravagant supernatural claims are made—why not dismiss those stories as well? The Bible has tales you wouldn’t believe if you read them in today’s newspaper, and yet you see them as truthful ancient journalism.”

Paul struggled to keep his hand steady as he glanced at his note card. He had no response but was not about to admit it. He decided to try a new line of attack and took a deep breath. “Okay, answer this one. The Bible has stories of fulfilled prophecy. Early books documented the prophecy, and later books record that prophecy coming true. There are hundreds about Jesus’s life alone. For example, the book of Isaiah details facts about the Messiah’s life, and then the New Testament records the fulfillment of that prophecy.”

“Show me.”

“Okay, let’s look at Isaiah 53.”

Jim walked to his bookshelf and pulled off a large leather-bound Bible.

Paul turned to his own copy. “Isaiah says, ‘He is despised and rejected of men’—Jesus should have been the king, but He was rejected by his own people. ‘He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth’—He could have proven that He was God with a word, but He chose to keep silent. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities’—this describes the beatings He endured before crucifixion. ‘With His stripes we are healed’ and ‘He bore the sin of many’—Jesus was whipped and took the burden of our sins when He died. All this was written hundreds of years before the crucifixion.”

“Unconvincing,” Jim said. “‘He is despised’ doesn’t sound like the charismatic rabbi who preached to thousands of attentive listeners and had a triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And I notice that you’ve ignored the part of this chapter that was inconvenient to your hypothesis: in the same chapter, God says, ‘Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.’ Jesus is counted as merely one of the great ones and must share with them? That’s quite an insult to the son of God. And who are these equals? Most important, note that there’s no mention of the resurrection here. How can this be a Jesus crucifixion story without the punch line? This chapter is actually a very poor description of the crucifixion because the ‘he’ in this chapter is not Jesus but Israel.”

“But the Gospels themselves refer back to this chapter as prophecy of Jesus.”

“I don’t give a damn—this chapter isn’t about Jesus.”

Paul felt blindsided, as if he were lying on the ground, wondering where the haymaker came from. Samuel hadn’t told him about this rebuttal. Paul said, “Well, what about Psalm 22? It describes the crucifixion experience and has Jesus’s last words, exactly. It even describes the guards casting lots for his clothes. And this was written centuries before Jesus’s day.”

“Come now, think about it! The writers of the Gospels were literate, and they would have read all of the Law—what we call the Old Testament. They could have sifted through it to find plausible prophecies before they wrote the Gospels. Don’t you see? It’s as if they looked at the answers before taking a test.”

Paul leaned forward. “You’re saying that they cheated? That they deliberately invented the Gospel stories to fit the prophecy?”

“Think of the incredible boldness of the Bible’s claims,” Jim said, “that Jesus was a supernatural being sent by an omnipotent and omnipresent God who created the universe. That’s about as unbelievable a story as you can imagine. Deliberate cheating to invent this story—that is, a natural explanation of the Gospels—is much more plausible than that the story is literally true—which is a supernatural explanation. But here’s an explanation that’s more plausible still: suppose Jesus was nothing more than a charismatic rabbi. The original facts of Jesus’s life were then told and retold as they went from person to person, each time getting a little more fantastic. Details might have been gradually changed until they matched a particular prophecy. If people assumed that Jesus was the Messiah, he had to fulfill the prophecies, right? The Gospels were passed along orally for decades after Jesus’s death before they were written down, gradually translated into the Greek culture on the way. No need to imagine the deliberate invention of a false story.”

“But there was no oral tradition. The Gospels were written by eyewitnesses.”

“Prove it.”

“Ask any minister!” Paul said with a chuckle that probably betrayed his unease. “It’s common knowledge. Matthew was an apostle, he was an eyewitness, and he wrote the book of Matthew. And so on for the other Gospel authors—all apostles or companions of apostles.”

“The names of the Gospel books were assigned long after they were written. No one knows who wrote them—each Gospel is anonymous, and the names are simply tradition. No Gospel begins, ‘This is an account of events that I witnessed myself.’ Even if they did, should that convince me? You take any fanciful account, put ‘I saw this myself’ at the beginning, and it becomes true? A natural explanation—that the Jesus story is just a legend—is far, far likelier than the supernatural explanation.”

Jim had been noisily worrying his cinnamon stick but now set it back on the sofa. “Besides, we have lots of examples of similar things in other religions—holy books that are really just myth. For example, we can probably agree that the Koran, Islam’s holy book, is mythology. Muhammad wasn’t really visited by the angel Gabriel and given wisdom from God. Did Muhammad invent it? Did a desire for power push him to create a new religion, with him as its leader? Through extreme fasting, did he have delusions that he interpreted as revelations from God? Any of these natural explanations and many more are much more likely than the Koran being literally true. Or Gilgamesh or Beowulf or the Hindu Vedas or the Book of Mormon. They all have supernatural elements and they are all mythology. How can you and I agree that these are mythology and that mankind throughout history has invented religion and myth, but you say that the Bible is the single exception? When you cast a net that brings up Christianity, it brings up a lot of other religions as well.”

“You can’t lump the Bible in with those books. It’s in a completely different category.”

“Prove it,” Jim repeated, and he slammed his Bible onto the table.

“Why should I have to prove it?”

“Because you’re the one making the remarkable claims.”

“Remarkable?” Paul paused, his mouth open, as he collected his thoughts. “How can you say that? You’re in the minority and you reject the majority view. Christianity is the most widespread religion the world has ever seen. Almost everyone in this country is thoroughly familiar with Christianity. They wouldn’t think the claims are remarkable.”

Jim smiled. “I wouldn’t make that majority claim too loudly. Within your own religious community, your views are in the majority, but your flavor of Christianity isn’t even in the majority right here in Los Angeles. Even when you lump together all the denominations of Christianity worldwide, the majority of people on the Earth still think you’re wrong.

“It’s true that the tenets of Christianity are widely familiar, but that doesn’t make them any less remarkable. A God who can do anything, who has been around forever, and who created the universe? Take a step back and see this as an outsider might. You’ve made perhaps the boldest claim imaginable. No one should be asked to believe it without evidence, and very strong evidence at that.”

Jim picked up his cinnamon stick and waved it as he spoke. “Suppose someone claims to have seen a leprechaun or a dragon or a unicorn. Next, this person says that, because no one can prove him wrong, his beliefs are therefore correct. And since they’re correct, everyone should adopt them. This is nonsense of course. He is making the bold claim, so he must provide the evidence. In other words, we are justified—no, we are obliged—to reject extraordinary claims until the extraordinary evidence has been provided.”

“I have provided evidence!” Paul said.

Jim leaned back on the sofa and looked at Paul, for the first time at a loss for a quick retort. “Son, this is what I expected from you,” he said quietly, almost gently. “But this evidence barely merits the name. What you’ve provided is a flimsy argument that might satisfy someone who wants to support beliefs that he’s already decided are correct. But don’t expect this to convince anyone else.”

Paul sat back in his chair as if hit in the stomach. He had been preparing for a debate like this with increasing intensity for two years, and he thought that he deserved more. He didn’t expect accolades for his cleverness . . . but something? He tried to salvage the discussion and glanced at his note card, almost used up. His voice felt shrill and unreliable as he began. “But you must adjust your demands given how long ago this was. You can’t ask for photographs and diaries when the events happened close to two thousand years ago. It’s not fair.”

“Not fair? Suppose you come to me and ask to buy my house. I say that it’s worth three thousand dollars. You say, ‘I’ll give you five dollars for it.’ I say, ‘No—that’s ridiculous. I must reject your offer.’ And then you say, ‘But that’s not fair—five dollars is all I have.’”

Jim leaned forward, staring at Paul and with his arms outstretched. “That would be absurd. But it’s equivalent to the argument ‘since proving the fantastic claims of the New Testament is quite hard, you’ll have to accept whatever evidence we have.’ No, I don’t! I won’t accept five dollars for my house, I won’t accept pathetic evidence for leprechauns, and I won’t accept it for God.”

Jim paused and then said, “And while we’re at it, neither should you.”

I am the punishment of God….
If you had not committed great sins,
God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.
— Genghis Khan

*Older copies have been found since 1906.

Photo credit: Sheba_Also

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1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

Cross Examined, a novel about Christian apologetics, Christianity, and atheism109-year-old Rose Cliver, the oldest survivor of San Francisco’s great earthquake, has recently died, leaving only two survivors of the event.  The Huffington Post article of the event includes some great photos of the aftermath.

While a little off-topic for this blog, this is squarely on topic for my book, set in 1906 Los Angeles in the aftermath of the earthquake.  The Azusa Street Revival, which launched the Pentecostal movement, began with a reasonably successful prediction on the front-page of the LA Times the morning of the earthquake.

Someone within the Azusa Street church saw the people of Los Angeles “flocking in a mighty stream to perdition” and saw “awful destruction to this city unless its citizens are brought to a belief in the tenets of the new faith.”

This was too cool an event to ignore, and I launched my story with this earthshaking and historic prediction.

Photo credit: Berkeley Seismological Laboratory

Related links:

  • Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey on Amazon.

Prayer Doesn’t Work as Advertised

Atheists, atheism, and Christian apologeticsThis is an excerpt from my book, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. A bit of background: Jim is a wealthy, housebound, and somewhat obnoxious atheist, and Paul is the young acolyte of a famous pastor, doing his best to evangelize. It’s 1906 in Los Angeles, and they’re in Jim’s study.

“Have you thought much about how prayer works?” Jim asked.

“The Bible tells us how: ‘Ask and ye shall receive.’”

“Does it really work that way? You just ask for things and then you get them?”

Paul breathed deeply to focus his mind. He had to think clearly. Jim’s arguments always seemed to trap him. “Well, no, of course not. And that frustrates some Christians. They don’t understand that they need to let God’s plan unfold for them. It may simply not be part of God’s plan to give you what you ask for right now. You can’t treat God as an all-powerful servant always at your elbow, fulfilling every whim that comes to mind. God isn’t a genie.”

Several white chess pieces—three pawns, a knight, and a bishop—lay on the center table. Though the table was not marked with a chessboard, Jim leaned forward and set them up on the table in their beginning positions. “Perhaps not, but ‘ask and ye shall receive’ is pretty straightforward. It makes God sound like a genie to me.”

“But that’s clearly not how prayer works.”

“I agree, but the Bible doesn’t. It makes plain that prayer is supposed to work that way—you ask for it, and then you get it. Prayer is a telephone call to God, and he always answers your call.”

“No—you’re misreading the Bible. It doesn’t say when you get it.”

Jim shook his head. “But it does say that you’ll get it.”

Paul tried another tack. “God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is No.”

“That’s not what the Bible says. Jesus said that if you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. Jesus said that prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Jesus said that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Jesus said that all things are possible to him who believes. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.’ No limitations or delays are mentioned.”

“Fine,” Paul said, clenching his teeth. “Fine.” He hated conceding ground, but he had no response.

“Okay,” Jim said, “let’s look at another aspect of prayer. When you pray, are you telling God something he doesn’t already know? That is, is prayer important because you’re informing God of some news, like ‘I’ve lost my job’ or ‘my brother has consumption’?”

“Certainly not—God is all-knowing. Obviously, he already understands your situation. It’s the asking part that’s important.”

“So you need to change it to ‘please help me get this new job’ or ‘please cure my brother’s consumption’?”

“That sounds better.”

Jim leaned forward. “But even this doesn’t make sense. God knows what’s best for you. For you to ask God to change his plans is presumptuous. It’s like an ant giving an engineer tips for designing a bridge. Will God think, ‘It’s best that you not get the new job, but since you asked nicely, I’ve changed my mind’? And maybe it’s simply part of his plan that your brother die from consumption.”

“But prayers are answered all the time! Lots of consumption patients can point to God as the reason they’re alive now.”

“Not with any justification. Let’s say Aunt May has an illness. She and her family pray, and then she gets well. She concludes that it was prayer and God’s intervention that cured her. But obviously there are other explanations, such as, that her treatment saved her. And if she had no treatment, perhaps it was simply her body healing itself.”

“And perhaps it was God!” Paul ached to pace around the room to burn off some of his tension, but he was a guest and thought better of it.

“Perhaps so, but you’re basing that on no evidence. I agree that we can’t rule out that it was God—or Vishnu or Osiris or a four-leaf clover. But we have no evidence that any of them did anything.” Jim was quickly running through different opening moves for his five chess pieces—tick, tick, tick as the pieces quickly struck the table, then a pause as he set them up again.

Paul wondered if his responses were so bland that Jim needed to play chess to keep his mind occupied.

Jim looked up and said, “The attraction of prayer in many cases is that it’s easier than doing the hard work yourself. Praying for a promotion is easier than doing what’s necessary to deserve a promotion. But let’s look at this from another angle. God has cured zero cases of birth defects—say, mental idiocy. We know this because zero cases have been cured by any cause, natural or supernatural. Millions of mothers have been devastated by the prospect of their children growing up with a disability or even dying an early death. Has God found none of their prayers worthy of an answer? Or amputations—there are probably men in your own church who have lost limbs due to war or injury. Has a single limb ever grown back? No. And since God has cured zero of these, maybe he has intervened in zero illnesses. That is, since God hasn’t performed any visible cures, maybe he hasn’t done any invisible ones, either.

“And think of the millions of people around the world who are starving. Prayers or no prayers, God apparently can’t be bothered to help them. If God is going to set aside the laws of physics and perform a miracle, is he to put my needs at the top of the list? If he won’t save a country starving during a famine, why should I think he’ll cure my rheumatism?”

Jim expanded his diversion, adding opposing black chess pieces to his imaginary board—three pawns and a knight from the other side of the table. He alternated moves from each side and held the captured pieces between his fingers so that the round bottoms embellished his hands like fat wooden rings.

“Consider smallpox,” Jim said as he set up the pieces for another mock game. “We don’t think of it much now, but it has been one of civilization’s most deadly diseases. In fact, the last smallpox outbreak in this country was here in Los Angeles, about thirty years ago. Suppose you have a large number of people who are vaccinated against smallpox and an equally large number who aren’t, and both groups are exposed to smallpox. Those who were vaccinated will do far better than those who don’t—regardless of who prays. You can look at this from the other direction—the high death rate from smallpox suggests that God’s plan is for it to be deadly. That is, vaccines interfere with God’s plan. Maybe we shouldn’t be using them.”

Every confident tick of a chess piece was a goad to Paul, a reminder that he was the novice in this discussion. Tick, tick, tick became “i-di-ot.” He said, “Maybe God doesn’t need to focus on smallpox anymore because science has stepped in. Maybe He’s focusing His miracle cures on diseases like consumption or cancer because that’s where the need still exists.”

“Did God ever focus on people with diseases?” Jim tossed away the chess pieces, and they clattered on the table. “Before vaccines, smallpox was life threatening. It killed hundreds of thousands of people every year. But in America, it’s now just a nuisance. Science has improved life expectancy; prayer hasn’t.”

Paul clenched the arms of his chair. “You can’t judge prayer with science,” he said, probably louder than he should have. “You can’t expect God to perform like a trained monkey at your command. It’s not our place, nor is it even possible, to judge God’s work. I agree that there are aspects of God’s actions that we just can’t explain. But I have the patience and the humility to accept God’s wisdom and wait for understanding. Perhaps I won’t understand until I get to heaven.”

“Fine, but if your argument is that you don’t understand, then say so. When asked, ‘Can we say that prayer gives results?’ the correct answer must then be ‘No, we cannot because we don’t understand.’ God might answer every prayer as you suggest, but we have no reason to believe that. A sufficient explanation is that prayers don’t appear to work because there is no God to answer them. The invisible looks very much like the nonexistent. Which one is God—invisible or nonexistent?”

Paul had no clever rebuttal, so he treated the question as rhetorical. “You’ve ignored praise,” he said. “That’s a vitally important reason for prayer. We humble ourselves before God and acknowledge that He can do what we can’t. It’s only appropriate to give thanks and praise to God.”

Jim snorted. “What’s the point in praising God? Surely God doesn’t need to hear how great he is. Is he that insecure that he needs constant reminding? Put this in human terms—do we curse insects for not acknowledging how important we are? Suppose we built a race of mechanical men. Would our first command to them be that they need to worship their human creators?”

“Are you unwilling to humble yourself before a greater power?”

“I’ll consider it when I know that such a power exists,” Jim said. “The picture of God that the writers of the Old Testament painted for us is that of a great king—a man with the wisdom of Solomon, the generalship of Alexander, and the physical strength of Hercules. And he apparently needs the fawning and flattering of a great king as well. You would think that God would be a magnification of all good human qualities and an elimination of the bad ones. But the small-minded, praise-demanding, vindictive, and intolerant God of the Bible is simply a caricature, a magnification of all human inclinations, good and bad. As Man becomes nobler, he loses these petty needs. Shouldn’t this be even more true of God?”

Jim leaned down and picked up a rumpled copy of a newspaper from the floor. “Let me show you something I read in this morning’s paper,” he said as he noisily flipped through a section. After a few moments he laid the newspaper on the table. “Here it is. It’s about a train accident in which eight people died. A woman was just released from the hospital, and here she says, ‘The doctors told my husband that I probably wouldn’t make it. But he prayed and prayed. And his prayers were answered—it was a miracle.’” Jim looked up. “So according to this, prayer works. But I must wonder if I understand the meaning of the word ‘works.’ Imagine if the utilities that we use so often—electricity, clean water, trains, mail delivery, and so on—worked no more reliably than prayer.”

“You’re mixing two different things,” Paul said. “You can’t judge the Almighty’s response to prayer in the same way that you judge something as artificial and profane as electricity.”

“Then don’t use the same word to describe their reliability. Prayer clearly does not ‘work’ as electricity does. And to compensate, the rules are rigged so that success is inevitable—if I get what I pray for, that’s God’s plan, and if I don’t get what I pray for, that’s also God’s plan. When a train crash kills eight people, and it’s called a miracle, how can God lose?” Jim slapped his hand on the newspaper. “But this makes praying to God as effective as praying to an old stump.”

Paul’s rebuttal lay scattered about him like a division of troops overrun by Jim’s argument. His fists were clenched, but he felt defenseless. “Are you saying that prayer has no value?”

“Many spiritual traditions across the world use meditation to clarify the mind or relax. Christian prayer can have these same benefits. A mature view acknowledges what you can’t control and can be an important part of facing a problem, but to imagine an all-powerful benefactor helping you out of a jam is simply to ignore reality. None of prayer’s benefits demand a supernatural explanation, and to imagine that prayer shows that God exists is simply to delude yourself. The voice on the other end of the telephone line is your own.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related links:

  • Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey is available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Post #100

Using fiction to explore Christianity and atheismWelcome to post #100!  It’s time to see how far this blog has come since I started last August.

Many of you know that this is actually two blogs.  Galileo Unchained (“For Those Who Have No Use for Faith”) is the doorway aimed at atheists, and Cross Examined (“Clear Thinking About Christianity”) is aimed at Christians.  The content is the same, so hang out wherever you feel more comfortable.

In December, I launched my novel, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey.  My goal with both the book and this blog is primarily to encourage Christians to think.  Whether they become atheists or stronger Christians isn’t the issue but rather that they think about the intellectual foundations that support their faith.  Too commonly, in my opinion, Christians act out their faith on autopilot, not thinking much about what they claim is life’s most important issue.

And, of course, I hope to have provocative content for atheists as well, both in this blog in the book.

If you haven’t poked around in the toolbar, that’s been gradually updated, with a page listing all the posts, a glossary (with each of the Words of the Day), and a summary of the book with the first couple of chapters.

Here are some of the stats for the blogs:

Alexa ranks web sites by global popularity, and a smaller number is better.  It says that 0.00034% of global Internet users visit  (Woo hoo—look out, PZ Myers!)

There’s no easy way to figure out word count, but all the posts add up to roughly 50,000 words.

So what’s next?  I’m thinking about podcasting the blogs.  That is, the same content, just spoken.  I hope that will provide a new audience.  I’m also thinking about consolidating the blogs, which would mean focusing on Cross Examined and no longer updating or creating links to Galileo Unchained.  (Your thoughts on these changes?)

Here’s where I need your help.

  • Who do you think would find the book useful?  Do you know of any thoughtful Christians comfortable enough in their beliefs who would be interested in exploring the foundations of Christianity?  Please pass on a link.  I’m also looking for blurbs (brief recommendations), so let me know of anyone with interesting credentials—a pastor or professor, perhaps—who might share my goal of encouraging Christians to think and who would like a free review copy.
  • Who would find the blog interesting?  Please recommend it to anyone you think would appreciate plain talk on Christianity.
  • What recommendations do you have for the blog?  Any changes in format?  Topics ideas?  Add your thoughts to the comments below or email me.

Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you find this a worthwhile destination on the internet!

Bob Seidensticker

Photo credit: kslavin