, , , ,

As I hope I’ve made clear in previous blog posts this past month or so, I like Christmas. I enjoy it. I don’t put up a Christmas tree or go around singing Christmas Carols to my neighbors, but I do listen to the music of the holiday, enjoy the many stories surrounding it, and partake of the food and beverages which are associated with this time of year. There’s a lot of tradition to it. There’s warm fuzzy happy feelings behind Christmas. There are, when you wade past the trappings and commercialization, very important themes and concepts to remind elders and teach youngsters. In this case, I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t want to wage war on Christmas.

However, I also happen to feel we should be honest with ourselves; as individuals, as a community, as a society and as a species. There are some who think the jury is still out when it comes to religion. We can’t know with one hundred percent certainty that there is or is not a god, so we should “believe” it’s a push. It’s a stalemate. They believe we should call it a draw and to play it safe. We should ante in with Pascal’s wager and stop arguing about it, and that I just can’t do. Not any day of the year, and especially not this one.

43alley’s An Atheist Reads The Bible: Nativity Special

Above is part fourteen of a series of YouTube videos some guy who calls himself 43alley made with no budget, with the help of friends, as a hobby. Odds are his research consisted of reading online resources, and maybe the occasional trip to a library. I’m not one hundred percent certain 43Alley went to a library, but it’s an educated guess. He may have just used wikipedia for all I know, which many find less dependable than say a bible.

But is it? Far be it for me to compare the great ancient texts of the world’s most popular religions with a dorky nerdy online encyclopedia. How blasphemous! How arrogant of me! How insulting to both parties? I’ll do it anyway. After all, nowadays when people want to find the answers to something most people turn to one of two things: their bible, or their web connection. And oftentimes when I google something, the one website that shows up on the first page all the time is Wikipedia. Funny how that works. Not that I’m suggesting foul play. Perish the thought.

Although Wikipedia is editable by anyone, contributions to it are often held under intense scrutiny through a complicated system that Polybius would perhaps find quite amusing. Wikipedia’s editorial system is not quite a democracy, or an aristocracy, or a monarchy. I’m not even sure if you could call it a combination of all three. Below, I have specifically {painstakingly} and intentionally cued up a video to where author and awesome dude John Green talks about Polybius, who felt Rome was great because it’s a combination of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. If you want to understand the story of Jesus Christ, it wouldn’t hurt you to watch this entire video, because whether fictitious or real, Jesus Christ’s story takes place inside the Roman Empire, which is something we can prove existed both historically and scientifically.

Ancient Roman society I mean; not the baby Jesus.

John Green’s Crash Course History, the bit about Polybius

{I specifically painstakingly and intentionally cued up this video to play forty-eight seconds in when you click on it. However, it’s not doing that for me. Hopefully you’ll have better luck. If not, just wait a minute to get to the part about Polybius. Would that kill ya, huh?}

Anyway, back to Wikipedia. Its editorial system functions in ways that may emulate a democracy, or an aristocracy, or a monarchy all at the same time, but those who use it day in and day out would probably liken it more to a cross between a lunatic asylum and organized crime. I don’t understand it fully myself, and abandoned it long ago cuz I’m not interested in writing webpages about facts and figures. I prefer to write about my opinion of facts and fictions, which doesn’t survive in Wikipedia. WordPress doesn’t seem to mind my antics, so I play in this sandbox instead.

If you don’t believe in the dependability of Wikipedia for accuracy of factual information, I don’t blame you. I don’t believe in it either, but that’s cuz I don’t believe in belief. I use Wikipedia now and then as a tool myself, so even though I don’t believe in it, it tends to be more accurate and useful to my every day purposes than any ancient Abrahamic text. I charge you to go over to Wikipedia right now and attempt to save something you know to be false on any page in Wikipedia, and see how long it stays up there. I don’t know how long it will last. My educated guess: I don’t give it a day, but who knows you might get lucky. The end result of the Wikipedia process is like a constant firestorm of individual thought compounded by mob rule, tempered by arrogance and naivety. This firestorm may let some things slip through the cracks, but usually what you get, while perhaps not 100% factual, is about as close as human beings can get nowadays without blowing each other’s heads off violently.

What does survive on Wikipedia is generally a consensus of interested parties. How dependable is that? Well it depends on many factors. There are politics, policies, procedures, and finite resources involved, but one can compare how Wikipedia determines what stays and what goes with how the ancient abrahamic texts themselves were collected, edited, and otherwise canonized into an anthology.

From The Atheist Experience #483 – discussion of how the bible was put together

Most Believers are told their ancient texts are the inerrent word of god. However, the Quran was written allegedly by Muhammad who claimed to have merely channeled his god’s will into the book. Joseph Smith allegedly wrote the book of Mormon after allegedly receiving visions from his deity. The Torah and the New Testament have historical evidence which most seminary students are trained to understand; it was a painstaking process of human beings passing stories for several generations by word of mouth without writing it down, and then scribes started writing these stories down, and then people started collecting these stories, and after awhile the churches that were in power in their communities collected this information and eventually one guy decided to lay down the law of what should be accepted and a group of other people responded to that guy’s almost tyrannical approach and they found a consensus, based on what interested parties already deemed to be accurate and trustworthy.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer explains how he feels the bible was put together

One could argue the canonization process was predecessor to the Wikipedia project. Though not directly related, the people who put Wiki together initially may have learned a thing or two by observing how the Roman Catholic Church both succeeded and failed in its early efforts to control and manipulate humanity’s accumulated knowledge at the time. Today, this period of history is referred to as The Dark Ages; a time when the Roman Catholic Church held down an iron thumb on the accumulation and dissemination of information, and the vast majority of the public were kept in the dark about many truths, which were largely replaced by what’s now archaic and either disproved or unproved dogma.

People wanted to collect and preserve what they considered to be word of god, but it was men that did all this. We do not have a scrap of evidence that god did anything. However, we have a whole lot of evidence that few people dispute, which shows men were involved directly every step of the way in the process of putting together the accepted documentation of today’s Abrahamic religions. Sometimes these men claimed to have been inspired by their god, but we have no evidence their claims were true. We only have evidence it was the hands of men who were involved. It was men who told each other the stories. It was men who put these stories down on papyrus. It was men who collected and debated the stories and argued over which ones were more god-like than others. It was men who canonized and anthologized these works into what is accepted today as “The Bible.” And there is A LOT OF STUFF that didn’t get put in the final product. Many stories you haven’t read, many that have been forgotten; lost to the obscurity of history. Not unlike pretty much anything I once “contributed” to the Wikipedia project. Not that I’m bitter, but I know how Thomas must have felt when they kicked his gospel to the curb.

Is how the Bible got put together a better process than how Wikipedia works? Again, that’s an unending argument. However, Wikipedia is a creature that’s still alive now and it’s constantly growing and evolving, like that beast that John talks about in the book of Revelation. (Oooh! Aahhh! The Internet is The Beast! Run away! Godzilla is approaching Tokyo!) Whereas the ancient Abrahamic texts of the Torah, The New Testament and the Quran are pretty much frozen in time, like the fossil record of dinosaurs that many Young Earth Creationists pretend doesn’t exist. If anyone tried to change those books now, there would be an uproar. However, while they were being put together, we do have evidence some edits happened during that process. Look at the book of Mark for example.

TruthSurge’s critical analysis of The Gospel Attributed To Mark

I recommend TruthSurge’s “Excavating the Empty Tomb” series in its entirety of course, but for today’s purposes of this blog post, I wanted to shine a light on his taking apart The Gospel Attributed to Mark and how he compares it to Homer’s Odyssey. In parts two and three of TruthSurge’s criticism, he cites the last chapter of Mark as a clue as to how the bible was edited and changed by men in sometimes reactionary ways, to curb early criticisms of their validity. Verses 1-8 differ from verses 9-20 in many ways that can only be explained with the latter being added by other people long after “Mark” himself had finished his final draft. Very thought provoking stuff, whether you believe or not. We do have evidence that the bible is fiction, written and edited by fickle human beings. This much is not debatable. It’s in black and white. Again, this kind of editorial discretion and updating makes the canonization process of ancient Abrahamic texts look much like how today’s Wikipedia site gets put together. It also admittedly puts the legitimacy of Wikipedia’s validity as 100% accurate and truthful into question.

Any Wikipedia page you happen to visit will have a history you can look up, so you can see for yourself what edits were made to it and when. These are sometimes fun to geek out over, especially the ones vandals find funny to prank or topics that are hotly contested by multiple parties for their accuracy and legitimacy. In most cases, the page you visit will have been edited in some form or fashion within the past calendar year. More popular topics, within the past day. Multiple times a day, perhaps. So while you may question the accuracy of the information gathered, it’s going to be fresh. It will consist of what those most interested in this topic, who frequent Wikipedia for purposes of editing and contributing data, find to be the most accurate that they think they can get it, as close to your ‘now’ as is currently humanly possible.

The ancient Abrahamic texts have painstakingly been kept as close to the originals as realistically feasible, given translation problems, politics, finite resources, et cetera. Despite many discoveries and the furtherance of humanity’s education in multiple areas of study, the torah, new testament, and Quran have changed very little over the past several centuries to reflect these new discoveries. Interestingly, the Quran happens to have a few things in which the older works do not (astronomy references for example) that seem to indicate its writer(s) knew a little more about sciences than the older works. That would make sense, since it was written more recently. Also, about a thousand or so years ago, the middle east was the hot bed of knowledge regarding astronomy and other related sciences, so it’d make sense that would be reflected in the Quran, even tho its equivalent of “canonization” may predate the scientific renaissance of its believing populous. Not that I’d suggest foul play. Perish the thought.

NoFaithNoPain’s Unto Us a Myth Was Born

A god may allegedly be infallible, and his word inerrant, but human beings are demonstrably fallible and err all the freaking time. So am I suggesting you believe Wikipedia over The Bible? Of course not. However, please understand that both the offline work of the scriptures (available online by the way) and the online work of Wikipedia (and many other websites I coulda used as an example but Wikipedia was the most fun for me to poke fun at, in this moment), were/are scrutinized by interested parties who probably have the best of intentions while simultaneously having personal, human, sometimes selfish agendas and are very fallible.

Again, a chief difference between these two is that Wikipedia is being updated and improved upon even as you read these words. However, Abrahamic scripture has not been seriously updated or improved upon for many centuries, and if it were, such updates are greatly suspect. The book of Mormon being just one obvious example of an addition that the vast majority of believers do not take seriously. It’s like if I were to try to take my website and claim its an extension of Wikipedia. Nobody’s gonna believe me, no matter how many times I linked to it and made that claim.

Do you believe in Wikipedia? Why should you? It’s just a collection of information made by human beings for human beings, and if you don’t believe in Wikipedia, then why would you believe in Abrahamic scriptures? They’re the same thing. Just much older. And older doesn’t mean better. Older means more ignorant of everything we’ve learned since the doors closed on editing it.

If the makers of Wikipedia were to publish the online website as a physical “dead trees” book, they couldn’t possibly include everything. They’d have to decide what got included in the book and what got left behind. Once they published that book, it couldn’t be updated or edited without publishing it again under a second printing, making the first printing obsolete. So anything that was discovered to be correct in reality that contradicted Wikipedia’s “dead trees” publication would either have to be thrown out or someone would have to argue in favor of the old copy, so they could still keep selling copies of the old outdated version.

I think that’s why you haven’t heard of Wikipedia publishing a dead trees edition. Well that, and a lot of contributors would be pissed off if their words got used but they didn’t get paid for it. But copyright laws are a whole different argument. My point is, over the past few thousand years, we have learned the lessons of canonizing. It doesn’t prove authenticity. In fact quite the opposite. If you read the newspapers nowadays, and then compare them to your favorite news resources on the Web, you can see how just a few hours can make a big difference in terms of accuracy and authority.

Multiply that by several centuries, and I can’t imagine why you would still believe in an ancient bible over Wikipedia or anything that has been written in this century.

You should enjoy Christmas. It’s a lot of fun. However, you really have no reason to believe in it. That’s not my opinion. That’s evident.

My opinion is you shouldn’t believe in it. What you do despite all this knowledge is entirely up to you.

Hope you’re enjoying these “days of holly.” Have a safe and prosperous winter solstice, and a hopeful and joyous new year.