August 31, 2010

Uncle Noah And His Magic Boat,

Guest post by Matt Hensley:
I am fascinated at the things people are willing to believe. Not the crazy, end of the world sign holding type person, or the I was abducted and anally molested by space aliens type person, but by your average, walking down the street living in the suburbs perfectly ordinary in every way individual. Ask an average person if they believe in Bigfoot. Or the Loch Ness Monster. Most people don’t. They have a hard time believing that these things exist, because of the lack of evidence. People are pretty sure that if a colony of giant hairy men and women (other than hippies or bears) were living in the forests of northern California, we would have found them by now. If a giant fish monster were really living in a lake, someone would have caught one. People like proof. We like explanations that make sense. We prefer to know that things are real before we believe them, because they add stability to our lives. We don’t like the thought of unknown elements, possibly dangerous, running amok in our world, because we like stability and normalcy. But ask that same person, your banker or lawyer, for example, if they believe in god and the bible, the answer is usually yes.

Noah’s Ark. One story from the bible. An amazing tale about a man who built an ocean liner, filled it with animals from all parts of the world, and used this to save the earth from total destruction. Roughly 500 feet long, 90 feet wide and 55 feet high, constructed of wood. About half the size of the Titanic, built thousands of years in the past, Using magical instructions from none other than god himself. Ask a Christian if they believe this, and the answer is yes. Ask them why, they will say because god is all powerful. God can make anything happen. Except, of course, Bigfoot. Because that would be ludicrous. And that’s where everything in the conversation goes crazy. The rational average person suddenly believes that a magical being in the sky, not an alien, not a space monster, not a visitor from another galaxy or planet, but an ALL POWERFUL BEING helped a guy like you or me build a giant boat in his backyard to save the world. That this god used magical helpers called angels to assist in all the logistical things associated with the giant boat. Ever seen Bigfoot? No. ever seen an angel? No, but they exist, unlike Bigfoot, who doesn’t, right?. What if I told you that I saw a modern day Noah three weeks ago? Would you believe me? Well, I did, and its exactly the same as I believe the story of Noah got its true origins from. I do believe that some stories in the bible may be true, to a point, without all the divine bullcrap. Here’s what I saw.

As you know, there has been a massive flood in Pakistan. Hundreds of miles of land, underwater. Filmed from a helicopter, I saw news footage of a man: some belongings, a few animals and family members, all floating on a raft made from what looked like the roof of a log home, awaiting rescue. Now imagine this, how ever many thousand years ago, in Noah’s time. The modern man is aware of the world. Its size, shape, the existence of other countries and cultures thousands of miles away. But what about ancient Noah? What was his knowledge of the world? Maybe a hundred miles? Up until recently, we were still exploring uncharted areas of the world, discovering tribes in areas who had no knowledge of us or anyone else in the world other than themselves. So it is perfectly reasonable to assume, that in Noah’s time, the world he knew was small. Along comes a flood, similar to the one last week. To him, the whole world would be flooded. He climbs on a raft, or maybe the roof of his home, grabs the family, some chickens and ducks and a goat, and off they float, for days and days. The raft is full, people try to get on it but he doesn’t let them for the sake of his family‘s safety. eventually, they are lucky enough to survive and float to safety, and tell the tale. And, like all good tales, it gets embellished, being told mouth to ear for years and years, until it evolved into the biblical story we know today. Isn’t that far more likely than what happened, than the whole magical biblical account? But say that to a devout Christian and you will have an argument on your hands. An intelligent conversation with a Christian about a bible story can be an insane experience, especially when you use the logic that they apply to other abnormal or paranormal beliefs to examine one story. In their view, If the bible says it exists or happened, it does, no matter what. And few are comfortable exploring it further, because it affects something, a deep seated fear, a need, a core belief that speaks out to their very existence: in a word, Heaven.

Sit and examine yourself. Your intelligent, self aware, and probably productive in some fashion. At some level, your creative, maybe with artistic ability, but most definitely imagination. But of these things, its self awareness that is the greatest curse man has. Because with that, comes the knowledge of death. Sooner or later, your going to die. And when it comes down to it, no one wants to. Why? Because no one knows, definitively, what happens after. In steps religion, with the claim of an answer. Religion is the same as the pursuit of easy, great wealth. Most people desire something easier and more valuable than what they have. Con men know this, and exploit people around the world daily. Ever been part of a pyramid scheme? Bet you know someone who has. Would you eat the ground up arm of an albino woman if it would bring you great wealth and power? Probably not. But right now, in Africa, there are people cutting off the limbs of albino people and selling them to witch doctors, who in turn make potions that supposedly will bring great wealth if consumed. Religious voodoo in practice today. In Christianity, it’s the same thing. Believe in a book, and all its magical stories, combined with following the rules written in the book, (and of course pay the required bills on time) and you get a fat juicy reward: a glorious place in the afterlife, even though we cant prove it exists. Religions prey on this daily. it’s a trillion dollar business. Look at Vatican city. How much did all those priceless works of art cost the average person afraid of dying? People want more. Its our nature. And we will do just about anything to get it. The problem with man is, we are men. We are all capable of lying, but we always want to believe others tell the truth, especially if its something we really want to hear. Like, there’s a magical place in heaven for you, for example. What does man want? IMMORTALITY. Where can I get it? Religion.

Lets say, for the sake of argument, I was new to all this, and wanted to find the right religion. How would I find it? How many years would it take me to interview all the leaders of each religion, and let them try to convince me that theirs is the absolutely correct one, in order to insure that I get what I pay for? Its not like getting a drivers license, after all. Most states require me to get training before I can get certified to drive. But if I look in the yellow pages and call them, all drivers instruction schools are the same. They follow the same rules from the same state approved books, based on state laws. The teachers may differ in style and demeanor, but in the end, it doesn’t matter , because they all will get me what I need. My reward, guaranteed. Christian religion can’t say this. In fact, they mostly do read from the same book, the same instruction manual, but they all read it differently. Different versions, with different interpretations and expectations. And lets face it, everyone thinks their religion is the right one. If I asked you if your religion was the one I should believe in, would you say yes? And by proxy, if yours is right, if I chose say, Buddhism, or god forbid (a little pun there in case you didn’t catch it), Islamic faith, wouldn’t I therefore be wrong and go to hell in your eyes? And that also begs the question, wouldn’t a Muslim or Buddhist think the same thing if I didn’t choose their religion to believe in? from what I can see, it would be virtually impossible to stumble across the right religion that would get me a place in the magical afterlife, unless of course, I chose YOURS.

Now you may dismiss me because I am an atheist, or don’t have a PhD or two like some, but the fact of the matter is this: I don’t need one. Things are far more simple in life, once you face certain realities. I’ve read the bible. Not studied it, or memorized it, or obtained any great fancy document that means I have mastered it or can argue against it by quoting others who have. I can say it’s a good book, with lots of very inspiring stories, promoting morality and documenting as best the writers can some semblance of ancient history and peoples lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a book, nothing more, and I am smart enough to think of rational explanations for the stories it contains. The Stand, by Steven King, was a great book, full of supernatural stories, prophets, self sacrifice, and even god and the devil, but I doubt we will be extolling that book thousands of years from now as something more than it is, a work of fiction with some real places and events mixed in. I’m just an average man, who asks himself a simple question, and tries to find the answer: “what’s more likely?”. I have accepted that we as a species have no idea where we came from, or where we are going. There are amazing things in our world and even in other parts of the galaxy and beyond that we do not understand, but we have developed the ability to try. The ability to put aside preconceived notions from our past and use our brains to conceive of theories and ideas that will help us find answers to our questions.

Throughout our history, we have searched for answers. Better ways to travel, new things to discover, sometimes for better or worse but always attempting to learn, to better ourselves, to create. We live in a golden age of discovery, and we need to embrace that, not fear it, by clinging to voodoo ideas about magic beings who judge us and control our entry into an afterlife. There is no shame in looking around at things and questioning if they are true, based on the facts, or discovering new facts that counteract the old facts. If there really is a god, prove it. Or let him come forth and prove it himself. Stand on the steps and show his power, prove his abilities, explain his motivations for the things he supposedly does, justify his expectation of servitude from me. According to the bible, he spoke to people before, why not now? I do not believe, nor shall I ever, that some magical being created everything I know. Its just not likely. There may very well be life out there somewhere, in another part of the universe, but I am willing to bet this being doesn’t call himself God, or want our cash in exchange for coming to live with him after we die. I believe that somewhere far away, this being looks up at his sky, ponders his existence, and wonders if he is alone, the same way we always have, and tries to explain it all with the knowledge he has at hand, just like us. The universe is a big, big place, so in fact, I think it’s likely.
Matt is a personal friend of mine who doesn't live that far away.


  1. Great post Matt. I agree with everything in spirit (and not the supernatural sense). I’ve just got one thing that I don’t think is quite right with it – that heaven or an afterlife is the lynchpin in the whole tangle of religious beliefs that we see (especially with belief systems like Christianity).

    Although researchers like Jesse Bering have uncovered some very interesting results about “natural” and spontaneous reasoning about an afterlife in children (who would be uncontaminated by cultural notions like Christian-specific Hell), I still don’t see this as the primary motivating factor for secondary beliefs such as Noah’s flood.

    Basically this would be a variation of the wish-fulfillment theory of religion that I nor really any cognitive scientists of religion buys. Yes, wish-fulfillment has some interesting insights to offer and add to the conversation, but it fails as an overall explanation.

    Starving people don’t start believing that there is a full plate of food sitting next to them to make themselves feel better (at least not in most cases).

    Nor do people believe, in my best estimation, in an afterlife simply because they want to live forever or not die. Of course, it works as a motivating factor that provides an emotional anchor, but I don’t think one can go from afterlife attainment motivation to why people buy into the whole god and bible-stories thing. (Besides, such a theory wouldn’t work in the cases of the many religions with non-existent or very vague or very neutral afterlives).

    As much as people aren’t realists in some aspects of their life, they are in many (and maybe even most)as you point out.

    As far as I have worked it out, the anchoring factor in religious beliefs is the deity or deities.

    It is plausible to people and it serves as the “base” from which other religious beliefs are derived. If you have a very plausible base for other beliefs, you can tolerate seeming absurdities flowing from such.

    For instance, if you are very sure that your wife is sane, intelligent, and not prone to telling lies or hallucinating, etc, yet she tells you that she saw a tiger in your Ohio backyard, you might be inclined to believe her outlandish claim in light of your previous beliefs about her.

    It is my contention that god beliefs are a very psychologically plausible belief.

    People are social animals first and foremost and agents are the most important features of our environment, both in our evolutionary past and our present world. Thus, our default thinking is in terms of the social - in terms of agents. Especially when it comes to emotionally salient and important events – we don’t invoke an agent when a cup falls off a balcony, but some people might if it is a heavy glass that falls three stories and kills a toddler.

    God, or really any supernatural agent, is the place filler in this pervasive heuristic that people utilize to think about the world and its events.

    Once we are aware of, infer, or think we detect an agent, we fill in the thoughts with our theory of mind. This is the very socially important skill of being able to understand what someone may be thinking, such as figuring out what your bartering partner is thinking as well as the same skill that gives us the myriad of deities around the world. What else explains why god’s beliefs and characteristics so often reflect those of their cultures and individual believers?

    So, in my estimation, people don’t believe in absurdities like Noah’s flood solely because they were told so by their culture, or because they are influenced to as part of accepting a larger suite of beliefs (like heaven) based on wish-fulfillment, but rather because they actually find the core of the entire belief system (gods) to be very plausible and the secondary things like the Noachian story are derivations thereof.

  2. I would add as well, that the worldwide deluge myth does provide a pseudo-explanatory frame to some people on top of what I outlined above (besides the professional creationists who do so with pseudo-science).

    It provides a type of naïve folk geological explanation.

    I remember being told by fundamentalist family members as a child (that I am fairly sure had never come across any professional pseudo-science) that the reason the Appalachian Mountains around our home were rounded while the Rockies were sharp and craggy was because “the flood” had shaped them that way.

  3. First. Nice post.

    You know...i used to think believing in alien life was crazy until I was educated about the probabilities.

    The Loch Ness monster and bigfoot really are compelling tales that deserve a little more merit. Our understanding of underwater life is lacking to the degree that to posit the existence of a plesiosaur is hardly ridiculous. Big foot is even more probable.

    Evolutionarily speaking N. California makes little sense,bio geographically at least, but a large primate in a remote locale that has yet to be discovered, is very possible. Let me remind you that Homo Floresiensis aka the hobbit, was recently identified in the caves of Liang Bua Indonesia[alive and kicking until at least 12000 BP]. Local folklore told of these hobbit creatures "Ebu Gogo" stealing children and generally behaving like wild animals. This mythology seems to have a grain of truth. It should be apparent to you now that Big Foot may as well.

    Btw, I'm a Hominid Paleobiologist...I'm not just talking out of my ass. All of this information is readily available to you anyway...should you look for it.

    Given the available evidence the existence of the Loch Ness monster[or a similar creature in a different location] and Big Foot, are much more probable than Noah's Ark. Only delusions confirm otherwise.

  4. I think that Noah's existence is much more likely than the existence of John Loftus the Christian.

  5. at t.a. lewis...thank you for the kind comments, your obviously highly educated, as it took me a while to decifer your comments lol. as far as an afterlife, what i was trying to say is that over time, as people became more thoughtful, somewhere the idea of something more became a concept for discusssion, and that christian religion used the idea as a reward concept to lock people in to the idea of following the rules of a particular religion.

    the con: theres a god who created everything, so give us gold,livestock, whatever, follow our rules as we say god wants them followed. why? the hook: because if you do, there is a place for you in our gods kingdom after your death. its the concept of preying on peoples ultimate desires, in exchange for a profit that i was trying to express. and a belief in the afterlife is belief in immortality, just in another physical or spiritual form. somewhere, somehow, your still alive, just transcended.

    starving people do not visualize a plate of food because they are hungry, mostly because they know it will not solve the problem in reality. but a dying person WILL believe in an afterlife, because there is no known reality that applies to the situation as a solution to the problem at hand, imminent death. so its easier to get yourself to believe that you will be going on to a good place in the afterlife, since you followed the rules and paid the appropriate bills. i used Noahs story as an example of what people are willing to believe,in order to acheive the reward at the end of the con.

    as far as would god exist in peoples mind without an afterlife, i would say probably not. there would always be exceptions to the rule, (some people do not believe the holoaust ever happened, for example), but without an afterlife,religion would not be what it is today, with so many followers. without the hook, the con doesnt work, in this day and age. thanks for reading, its been interesting and fun. matt

  6. at pink monkey...thank you for reading. I do not disagree with some of what you said, but i think you took what i wrote to a different place. could a pleasaur exist somewhere? possibly. does one or a group live in loch ness, scotland? we all know the answer is no, for a myriad of factual reasons. same logic applies to bigfoot. somewhere there could be a large primate discovered in this world,. but actual bigfoot in north america was what i was talking about. as far as the story of noah, i believe what i interpreted it to be is far more likely than any worldwide flood, and that the story just got "religionized" over time lol. anyway, thanks for reading!!!

  7. at theasaros. i think noah, or a person like him once did exist, but the story as written in the bible is dead wrong. and John Loftus the christian? actually it is well doccumented he once did exist, but has since moved on to a more realistic point of view. thanks for reading!

  8. at john loftus....thank you for posting my thoughts for others to enjoy and discuss on your blog. it's been a real treat for me, as always. i'm glad you enjoyed it enough to share.

  9. While I agree with your premise and point you're making about the difference in belief when it comes to faith issues... I personally think more and more Christians are becoming a bit "agnostic" concerning some of the stories in the Old Testament... for instance the localized flood is an example of that, some Christians may cling to the idea of "Noah" (because it's part of faith) but also rationalize that it might have been simply a local flood... (I was in that camp)...

    Same would go Inerrancy or the whole Young Earth vs Old Earth and Theistic Evolution...

    What I'm saying is I agree with you that some of the Christian Beliefs that people cling to are ridiculous when you put them side by side to comparable claims like Big Foot... but I'm also saying thank goodness for Liberal Christians... these small steps in thought (without forcing someone to give up everything) are necessary for people to wake up.

    And that may be as far as some people will be able to go... but I can live with that much easier than some Young Earth Fanatic trying to get Creationism taught in public schools.

  10. at dan demura....i agree, the whole creationism idea is simply another way for religion to keep inserting the god idea into peoples minds. as religion slowly falls by the wayside in exchange for realistic ideas and explinations, we are going to see each generation produce more atheists, and it will increase exponentially. religion, in my opinion, has a long history of taking science and mixing it in with religion, and will continue to do so, as it serves their purpose of keeping the masses coming through the doors. thank you for reading!!!

  11. hey Matt,

    I did take Big Foot and Nelly to a different level precisely for the reason you pointed out.

    On the flood though. I find it much more likely that there was indeed a [known] worldwide flood. With the end of the last ice age water levels would have risen and many catastrophic events would have ensued. Couple this w/ the fact that ancient cultures can always be found clustered around water, and that their knowledge of geography and eachother was lacking, and you have an explanation for the flood mythos in so many diverse cultures. The whole world was never flooded absolutely, but humanity was, relatively. This is my preferred explanation.

    Besides...WTH. A global Flood? A big boat? Logistically this is absurd for a myriad of reasons I can't even brush the surface of here. Not to mention that there is no observable geologic/biogeographic evidence that such an event ever occurred. In fact, it's quite the opposite.


  12. The story of the "Flood" is one of the pillars of the Bible; if the story is not 100% true then other elements in the Bible may not be true either. And if this happens, then the whole theological house of
    cards could tumble down. So a great
    deal of time, effort, and resources
    have been spent by the defenders of the creed to validate the chimera. In doing so, they have produced a wide variety of detailed
    feasibility studies, lengthy speculations, and a good old fashion: "With God everything is possible," in their unrelenting attempt to give credibility to that nonsense--no matter how many times they insult reason.

  13. I find that almost any time I read explanations of why people believe in religious myths, the explainer seems to miss the fact that non-believers just don't fit those explanations (they don't have the motives--desires, fears, etc.--attributed to believers). They often fail to mention that once the belief goes away, for whatever reason, you can no longer count the new non-believer as belonging to the profile being constructed for 'humanity' to explain why they believe or 'want to believe' or 'need to believe'. An example: Joseph Campbell's 'need for myths' ideas. As an atheist, I don't feel any need for these myths and don't understand why the explainer doesn't mention this (at least I don't think he did).

  14. Here's my explanation for how religion began: Some enterprising and intelligent parent was looking for a more effective way to control his kids. He/she noticed the obvious, viz' that little kids easily believe what their parents tell them. Now this parent did not hear or read about any religion yet so He/she made up a story of an invisible powerful all-seeing person that could keep his/her kids behaving reasonably well. At some point the parent thought of giving a positive spin to the story as well as the punishment idea, so they added heaven and a 'loving, caring, god who looks out for you (as long as you obey the rules set out by your parents).


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