Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Well Said [31 December 2013]

This was from a post on the No Forbidden Questions blog about everyone's favorite apologist, William Lane Craig

This was a comment from Andrew Hall of Laughing in Purgatory on a recent post of mine

And another post about William Lane Craig, this time from The Thinker of Atheism and the City. I find this quote compelling because it applies perfectly to me when I was a Christian.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Even In an Infinite Regress, the Distance Between Any Two Points is Finite

 aleph_0, smallest infinite cardinal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today's Podcast (For a non-bible post? That's new!)

Let's start by considering the set of all positive integers {1,2,3,4,...}. Notice that there are infinitely many numbers in this set, and yet the difference between any pair of numbers is always finite. Even though we have an infinite set, there is no member of that set that is infinitely big, there is no integer of size infinity. Of course if we include negative numbers (and zero) to get all integers {...,-3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3,...} the same holds true. We have a set which limits to negative infinity in one direction and positive infinity in another, and yet every number in the set is some finite distance away from zero. This type of thing is very common when we deal with infinities and it demonstrates that precision and care is very important. Your first instinct when considering this infinite set is that there must be some point in that set which is infinitely far away from zero. However, by looking at it from this perspective, I hope it is easy to see that it's not quite right. (Although what you can say is that for any number N, there is some integer which is more than distance N away from 0)

While arguing with apologists, I will commonly see it very casually mentioned that an infinite regress is impossible. Although the explanation is typically quite sparse, I've luckily had a few good conversations with apologists lately where they have tried to explain themselves more fully on this topic. The first such conversation took place on my blog in a comment from The Rational Zealot
Let’s say the past is represented by negative numbers, zero is the present, and positive numbers are the future. Let’s say you never start counting but have been counting from an infinite past. An infinite amount of time later, you are still counting negative numbers. An infinite amount of time after that, you are still counting negative numbers. An infinite amount of time after that? Still negative numbers. To say otherwise means you haven’t really been counting from negative infinity, but have changed infinity into a number.
So the situation we find ourselves in is an infinite regress. Every moment has a moment before it. If we take the entire timeline at once we have an infinite number of moments. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with this, there is an infinite past, so what? Every moment has an infinite number of moments preceding it, and yet the distance between any two moments is finite. Strange for sure, but there is no contradiction here. Let's look at The Rational Zealot's argument one step at a time.
Let’s say you never start counting but have been counting from an infinite past.
I'm with you so far, we have been counting forever into the past, there was no start.
An infinite amount of time later, you are still counting negative numbers.
Here is where he loses me. An infinite amount of time later from when? It seems that we have assumed a starting point at negative infinity (we'll explore what this means in a moment). He continues
An infinite amount of time later, you are still counting negative numbers. An infinite amount of time after that, you are still counting negative numbers.
I believe this is the key problem to this conversation every time I have it. Every point on the timeline is a finite distance from the current moment. There is no point on the timeline from when I can count for an infinite amount of time and still land on the timeline. Again, every pair of points on the timeline are a finite distance apart. So what does it even mean to count for an infinite amount of time?

Sometimes for convenience we will compactify the space and put a point at infinity. In the case of a line we will probably put a point at negative infinity and another point at positive infinity. These two points are not standard, they are instead a mathematical abstraction. They are special points very different from the mundane numbers on the rest of the timeline. One way to look at this is that starting at negative infinity in the compactified space is the same as saying that you have always been counting without a start in the non-compactified space. Similarly, saying you will end on positive infinity in the compactified space is the same as saying that you will never stop counting in the non-compactified space. It is sometimes nice to translate "I will count forever" into a more manageable form.

If we do allow these points at infinity and we allow ourselves the ability to actually count an infinite number of moments, there are three possibilities as far as I can tell
1. You start on the timeline and after an infinite number of moments you are at positive infinity
2. You start at negative infinity and after an infinite number of moments are at positive infinity
3. You start at negative infinity and after an infinite number of moments are anywhere on the timeline
To say that we count for multiple infinities worth of counting and still are at negative numbers makes no sense.
To say otherwise means you haven’t really been counting from negative infinity, but have changed infinity into a number.
Ultimately, I believe that the mistake that has been made is to assume that this special point at infinity exists, but then treat is as a standard point in some ways. The easiest way to solve this problem is to not allow this point at infinity. Only consider normal points, even though there are an infinite number of points, there is no first point and any pair of points is a finite distance from one another. The complaint evaporates because there is no start, there is no point from which we can count an infinite amount of time and still be in negative numbers.

Humblesmith provided a very similar complaint over on his blog where he discusses an example of an infinite string of dominoes that is falling over. At first I thought the addition of physical objects would make things more complicated (where did the dominoes come from, etc), but if we ignore those problems, having dominoes set up does wind up being instructive. He was talking about various problems with such a setup and we get to his third point
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Third, as we observe this string of dominoes falling over, if it were infinite, we must ask ourselves “how did the falling get to me?”  If the line of dominoes were infinitely long, it seems the falling would always be an infinite distance away from me. The atheist might reply, “Well, the ones currently falling over have to be somewhere. It just so happens that it is next to you.” But this misunderstands infinites. If the line were truly infinite, then the falling would always, at all instances, be an infinite distance away from any one point on the line. Pick any domino, and the falling would have been an infinite distance away. Since the falling is happening in sequence, it is impossible to select a domino where the falling is not an infinite distance away. The dominoes are always falling, but never arriving anywhere, which is an absurdity.
This is essentially the same objection, we have an infinite string of dominoes, which have been falling forever, and therefore the falling cannot get to the current position. But we have a similar problem, it seems to me that what is happening is they are trying to put a domino at that "point" at negative infinity, flick it, and say it can never hit any of the other dominoes. But there is no domino at negative infinity, the fact that we have an infinite number of dominoes just means that every domino has one before it. To say that this string has been falling forever simply means that every domino has been hit by the one before it. Let's again, highlight the real misunderstanding here
If the line were truly infinite, then the falling would always, at all instances, be an infinite distance away from any one point on the line.
No, this is incorrect. Every domino is on the line, so if any dominoes are falling then the falling is somewhere on that line. If the falling is an infinite distance away from the domino that I am standing next to, then which domino is falling? Remember, every domino is a finite distance from the one I'm standing next to, if falling is happening it has to be happening to some domino. Either the falling is some finite distance from my domino, or no dominoes are falling and it doesn't really make sense to say that falling is happening at all. Falling can't be happening an infinite distance away because there is no domino at distance infinity from mine.

In both cases here, the key is to ask what is meant when things are happening "at infinity". If we count for an infinite amount of time and are still stuck at negative numbers, then when did we start? If a domino is falling an infinite distance away, where is that domino? The problem here seems to stem from the same counter-intuitive notion that we can have an infinite number of points such that every pair of points is actually a finite distance from one another.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

There Is No Cosmic Justice In Christianity

I was recently reading a Christian blog that was talking about trying to get into the heads of atheists. (An endeavor that I applaud, just as much as we should try to get into the heads of the religious. A better understanding of one another is always a good thing). He opened his post complaining about the lack of cosmic justice in the atheistic worldview.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The idea of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Lenin, and innumerable other evil dictators being morally blameless for their crimes gave me a sense of discomfort.
I agree, it is discomforting to think of those people never being punished for their crimes. There is definitely a part of me that wants justice for the people who commit horrible atrocities. I definitely don't like the idea that people can get away with things Scott free. It would be nice to think that justice is ultimately served, even if it had to be carried on in some afterlife. We don't have any good reason to believe an afterlife exists, so we should use this discomfort to motivate us to make sure justice is served here.

But he does make a valid point, if there are no gods and no afterlife then there is no cosmic justice. But suppose instead that Christianity is true, I would argue that there is no cosmic justice there either. Think about those horrible people in history mentioned above, suppose they are burning in hell. Is this really justice? They have done very bad things, but is any finite crime worthy of being tortured forever? Worse yet, those guys are suffering the same fate as every non-believer that ever lived, no matter how good they were in life. They will be there along with every religious person who subscribes to the wrong religion (according to some Christians, this includes other Christians in the wrong sects). Does that sound like justice? Doesn't to me.

But it gets worse, the problem is, Hitler isn't being punished for murdering millions of innocent people, he's being punished for (supposedly) not accepting Jesus into his heart. So if he were to simply accept Jesus, even in his last breath, he would get eternal paradise. Meanwhile, I'm still going to be doing laps in the lake of fire. This is not justice.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Podcast for Exodus 11

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some of you may have noticed that my recent post on Exodus 11 didn't include a podcast episode along with it. Given my new addition to the family I have been very crunched for time and have had to cut back on a lot of things. Recording the podcast is difficult, as it requires me to not only devote some time to record it, but that time actually has to be contiguous and quiet (unlike the blog which I can do piece by piece and with all kinds of craziness happening behind me). Plus, if I don't do the podcast, I can take that time and put it toward writing the next post, which would be nice as I get these out way slower than I would like. Given that I seem to have relatively few listeners anyway, it seemed like a reasonable thing to stop doing the podcast. I canceled my podbean account and called it done and published my Exodus 11 post.

Then I went to sleep, and I was a lot more bummed about it than I thought I would be. Turns out, I really like doing the podcast. Fuck those reasons I gave before, I'm still doing it. So I reactivated my podbean account and recorded my Exodus 11 episode the next chance I got (three days later). Anyway, here's the episode if you want to listen to it, or of course you can use the rss feed in the sidebar as always to get it in whatever podcast app you prefer. I also updated the original post so the episode looks like it was always there.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Exodus 11: This Plan Seems Excessive

Today's Episode

Previously:

God has dropped 9 plagues so far on Egypt in an attempt to get Pharaoh to let his people go and show off his power.

A Final Plague Threatened (v. 1-10)

God says he has one more plague to bring to Egypt, after which they will be let go, and driven away completely.

It occurs to me that when I was a Christian, this whole story would have been justified with a "no half measures" narrative. In the past, Pharaoh went back on his word and tried to set terms for their release. You don't send a message with a half measure, God needed to hit the Egyptians hard to make sure the conflict would be over, the Israelites would be driven out completely and without conditions.

 picture from fight club
How would I respond to such an argument? I suppose I would argue that an omnipotent God of love should be able to come up with a more elegant solution. But ultimately, it is hard to argue, as you can always say that any other action would not have been effective, that anything less would have not worked as well and had repercussions later on. I find it hard to believe that such death and destruction would really be the best of all possible solutions, but there really is no way to solidly argue that as far as I can see.

The Israelite people are then told to ask their neighbors for silver and gold jewelry. "The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians."

What does that mean exactly? God gave them favor? It doesn't sound like he's forcing them exactly, but he's got to be doing something to get these people to give their valuables to some former slaves. Is the argument supposed to be that it is fair payment for years of slave labor? I suppose there is an argument to be made there, if freed slaves from the south took gold from plantation owners I wouldn't have a problem with it. Is that the kind of thing we're talking about?

From Guzik
This was how the slaves of Israel received their "back wages" from their time of slavery, and how they did not leave Egypt empty-handed.
So yeah, he's saying that this is their payment for generations as slaves. It is not clear who exactly they are getting these valuables from, but I see no reason not to assume it would be people who have benefited from their work over the years. The more I think about this the more I'm okay with it.

Moses tells Pharaoh that God will kill every firstborn in Egypt at around midnight, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the cattle. But none of the Israelites will be harmed. Pharaoh's people will then bow down to God and beg for the Israelites and God to leave Egypt.

First of all, last chapter Pharaoh said that if Moses talked to him again he would be killed and Moses responded that Pharaoh would never see his face again. Now in the very next chapter they are talking again.

Anyway, seems like a lot of murdering to do for an all-loving God. Really, it seems like the only explanation I can come up is the "no half measures" mentioned above. It's just hard to imagine this is the only way to free his people.

Then God tells Moses that Pharaoh will not listen to him "that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt"

Not that we really need more evidence, it was pretty explicit in the last chapter that God was manipulating Pharaoh. But here is more evidence that God was messing with his free will. God says that Pharaoh won't listen to Moses and the purpose is that God can show off. If that is the purpose, I think it is a pretty hard sell that it was not God himself forcing Pharaoh to act that way.

Guzik affirms here that God is taking away Pharaoh's free will
If nine plagues had come from the hand of God, one might expect that the warning about a tenth plague would be believed; but Pharaoh's heart remains hard, and God strengthens Pharaoh in his hardness of heart.
Of course I'm sure he would say that he's helping Pharaoh fulfill his own desires or some such nonsense. Same argument we saw before.

Verses of note:

--Free Will--

Exodus 11:9-10 Once again, God points out that he manipulated Pharaoh's free will

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORDhardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land."

--Violence--

Exodus 11:4-5 God will kill all firstborn in Egypt

"So Moses said, "Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

But WHY Did You Leave Atheism for Christianity?

I recently saw a post on the Thomistic Bent blog about an atheist who converted to Christianity. It is definitely an interesting topic to me, atheists and Christians argue back and forth all the time, but people actually changing their minds is pretty rare. What would make someone actually change their mind is certainly something I would like to read about. Furthermore, the opening line of the post is the following
 (credit: 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team)
Another person has become Christian due to being faced with the message of the Bible and the strong evidence of Christianity.
Great! I would love to see what this evidence is. I of course expect that it will be the same apologetics that we typically see, but who knows. Perhaps it is something I've never seen before. Or maybe it's just put in a new way or something. I don't know, but I am definitely intrigued. He talks about how she fought to keep away from God but in the end God won out. Not what I'm looking for, but luckily he links to an article that she wrote about her conversion. Great! Now I can go find out what this evidence was.

There are a few ways this could go, as I said above it could be the standard apologetic arguments, another is personal revelation. But this one went the most annoying way (and unfortunately what seems to be the most common). She describes all of the strong evidence for Christianity that got her to convert, but she doesn't actual tell us what any of that evidence is. Here are some excerpts:
Tim Keller's sermon was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy.
Care to tell us what was in those sermons? Guess not.
Each week, Keller made the case for Christianity. He also made the case against atheism and agnosticism. He expertly exposed the intellectual weaknesses of a purely secular worldview.
What was the case for Christianity? What was the case against atheism and agnosticism? If he made the case so well why not repeat it to us?
After about eight months of going to hear Keller, I concluded that the weight of evidence was on the side of Christianity.
Care to tell me what a single piece of that evidence is?
Then one night in 2006, on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, "Here I am." It felt so real. I didn't know what to make of it. I called my boyfriend, but before I had time to tell him about it, he told me he had been praying the night before and felt we were supposed to break up. So we did. Honestly, while I was upset, I was more traumatized by Jesus visiting me.
 Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)
Is this the real reason she converted? It seems to be, it's the only reason she really described in detail. Anyway, she had trouble processing the experience and a friend told her to go to a bible study, this is what she said about it [emphasis mine]
I remember walking into the Bible study. I had a knot in my stomach. In my mind, only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies. I don't remember what was said that day. All I know is that when I left, everything had changed. I'll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, "It's true. It's completely true." The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.
So this bible study completely changed her view of the world, but she can't remember what was said in there at all. This completely betrays that her reasons for converting were largely (if not completely) emotional. How can it be logical and based on reason if you can't recount what those reasons even are? How can it be based on evidence if you don't even remember what the evidence was? If you want to change your entire belief system based purely on emotion and personal revelation so be it, but don't try to tell me it is based on reason, logic, and evidence.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Well Said [30 Nov 2013]

These are good lines I have either read or heard somewhere. My original idea was for this to be a weekly thing, but I've been busy lately, and some of these have been in my drafts for a while :)

This is from a post by The Wise Fool. I've been thinking about this type of thing a lot lately. Many atheists seem very interested in winning debates, or making theists look foolish. But I would like to change people's minds, and to do that we need to understand one another better.

This one is from Steve Shives at about 8:00 in a riffing on mail call video in response to someone bitching about insurance premiums going up because of Obamacare

This is what I don't understand about the people who want to repeal obamacare so bad. It's like they forget the old system was broken as fuck, and prices were rising like crazy. Obamacare is far from perfect, I wish the people who are against it would identify the shitty things about it and fix them rather than focus on repealing it. Or failing that, draft an alternate plan to put in it's place before repealing it.

This last one is from the Bitchspot Report #37 at about an hour in. Cephus was discussing the ridiculous talking point that people around the world hate us for our freedom.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is An Actual Infinite Possible?

I recently got into a conversation about infinities with humblesmith spanning a recent post on his blog and an old post on mine. He made some interesting comments on my post and it got my mind working a bit. As I was writing my reply, I realized it was a bit long for a comment so I thought it would be suitable as a post on it's own instead. It will actually spawn a couple of posts, as my long time readers will know, I love talking about infinities.

In this post, I want to address the claim made in the Kalam cosmological argument (and elsewhere) that "an actual infinite cannot exist". I'm not 100% sure what is meant by this, but it seems to be referencing the limit definition of infinities. So let's take a moment to discuss limits.

Infinity as a Limit

Let's say you have a series of numbers, for example:
1/2,2/3,3/4,4/5,...
The pattern here is simply that the nth number is n/n+1. There are a few interesting things about this sequence, first, no matter how large 'n' is, the fraction is less than 1. Secondly, you can get as close to 1 as you wish by picking a large enough n. (for example, if you wish to be less than 0.01 away from 1, you can do it with n=100). We say that 1 is the limit of this sequence, the fact that we never get there is irrelevant, what we care about is that we can get as close as we wish.

So that's how a limit to a finite number works, what about limits to infinity? Simply put, we say a sequence has infinity as a limit if it grows without bound. In other words, for every number A there is some integer n such that every number in the sequence past the nth is bigger than A. Take for example the sequence of the powers of 2 (2,4,8,16,...), no matter how big a number you pick for A, there is some point when the rest of the sequence is bigger than A. So the limit of the sequence is infinity.

We 'Never' Reach Infinity

I'm pretty sure that this is what people are talking about when they say actual infinite doesn't exist. To borrow William Lane Craig's example in the post that started this whole thing, suppose I am piling up baseball cards one at a time and I continue doing this forever. We can describe the number of cards in the pile as a sequence (1,2,3,4,5,6,...), it's a pretty boring sequence, but it's trivial to see that the limit is infinity. However, there is no point in time when there are an infinite number of cards on the table, therefore, infinity doesn't exist. I am pretty sure this is the idea that is referenced with the statement "an actual infinity doesn't exist".

There is something to this, and it is a very interesting topic for investigation. We say the limit is infinity, and yet we never reach it at any point on the actual timeline. But this is the way it has to be, because once you pick a specific time on the timeline and examine it to see whether or not there is an infinite number of cards, you have cut off the sequence. You have changed the situation to a finite limit of finite numbers, of course the result will be finite. So it is true that in this situation there is never a moment where we have a pile containing an infinite number of things. In this setting perhaps it is reasonable to say that an actual infinity doesn't exist, but to extend that to all situations where an infinity might come up is a bit hasty.

Part of the difficulty here is that infinities can do some crazy things, and you have to be really careful with them, especially when you have multiple infinities interacting with each other, and that's sorta what we have here. "Never" and "forever" are both words that may or may not contain an implicit infinity, depending on how they are used. When we say that we will continue doing this "forever", do we really mean forever or do we mean for an arbitrarily large finite amount of time? What about never, is this referring to an arbitrarily large finite time or a limit? My intuition suggests that never is talking about an arbitrarily large finite time and forever is really talking about in the limit, in this sense we have a disconnect. [Although I'm a mathematician, so who knows how my intuition will line up with yours :)]

Let's Dispense with the Cards

Using the example of piling up cards does seem to illustrate some points, but it also creates some problems (Where do we get the cards? Does this assume infinity from the start? Where do we put them? Will they collapse into a black hole eventually? etc) So let's shift our example to just counting up time that has passed. We will count up seconds "forever", much of what we said above with the cards will transfer over, do we ever get to a point where we have counted an infinite number of seconds? No, we don't for the same reason as above, once we look at a point in time we have restricted ourselves to the finite. What if we step outside of our own universe and look at the whole thing all at once? I would say that in this case we can say that an infinite number of seconds is possible.

One of the things that humblesmith challenged me with is that my argument is circular, and I think this is a good spot to address it. In a sense I have started by assuming infinity is possible (when I said that we could count seconds forever), and now I have concluded that infinities can exist. In a sense he is right, this only works if forever exists which we assumed from the start. However, the key here is that I'm just trying to argue that this is a possibility. As far as I can tell, there are two possibilities, the universe ends at some point in the future (like a big crunch) or it doesn't (heat death for example). If the big crunch happens then my argument wouldn't work, and even from a perspective outside of our universe with a broad view we would not be able to observe an infinity. But if there is heat death (or some less boring eternity in our universe) then we could see infinity from the outside perspective. But again, I'm only arguing for this to be a possibility, so even if it doesn't work in our universe, I think we can argue that it could exist in some universe. Arguing that something is possible is much easier than arguing that something is impossible.

Infinite Regress

 Turtles all the way down (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Often when this comes up the claim is that an infinite regress is impossible. As far as I can tell, the argument for this is some version of the baseball card example above. However, an infinite regress of causes is more akin to the infinite number of seconds than the infinite number of physical objects. The only difference is that we are talking about an infinity going backward in time rather than forward. This might seem like a bit of a leap, but it's honestly not that different. By looking forward in time, we can see that an infinite number of moments is possible, why can't we just orient causation backward and have the same thing. Once again, I am not claiming that this is how it is, or that this happened, just that this is a possibility. Remember, the apologist claim is that an infinite regress is impossible, the opposite claim is not that is did happen, just that it could have happened. My assertion is simply that an infinite regress is still on the table.

I have seen the claim that an infinite regress is impossible in many places. However, I have never actually seen it explicitly spelled out why that is the case. When it is hinted at, it always seems to be referencing the limit definition of infinity, so that is what I ran with. If there is a different argument as to why please let me know. I'd love to check it out, and if it gives me another excuse to write about infinities, all the better.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Exodus 10: Pharaoh's Free Will is Definitely Taken Away

Today's Podcast

Previously:

God has been showering the Egyptians with plagues so Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves.

The Eighth Plague: Locusts (v. 1-20)

God tells Moses that he has hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he can show off how powerful he is by plaguing the Egyptians so that the Israelite descendants will tell the tales and they will know that Yahweh is God.

The first 2 verses here are spelled out plain as day, God is keeping Pharaoh from doing what he commands so he can show off by continuing to plague Egypt. How can anybody argue that Pharaoh's free will is not being taken away here?

Looks like Guzik is going to give it a go:
In hardening Pharaoh's heart, God allowed him to have what he sinfully desired - a hard heart.
Are you fucking kidding me? Why would he desire a hardened heart, and where is it even suggested that he had desired this? On the contrary, Pharaoh is coming around. Why else would it be necessary for God to harden his heart? No, this is simply Guzik trying to justify something horrible that God has done.
God's work was not only for the sake of the generation of Moses and Pharaoh; it was also for your son and your son's son. God does mighty works among us so that we can encourage generations to come.
I suppose that is one way to spin it.
Getting to the heart of the matter, God warns Pharaoh to humble himself or the worst plague of locusts ever seen will come upon Egypt. Pride was at the heart of Pharaoh's problem; he simply didn't want to give into God.
Actually he did want to, but God refused to let him because he wanted to show off his power.

Matthew Henry and Jamieson, Fausset & Brown don't even acknowledge the free will issue.

 Desert locusts feeding. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At God's request, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh again and say that if his people are not allowed to worship God a plague of locusts will come and destroy what food remains in Egypt. Pharaoh asks who of the Israelites will go, and they say they will take everyone. Pharaoh says that only the men have permission to go, so the plague is sent to them.

This is pretty stupid of Pharaoh, although it seems very much like a politician trying to save some face. "You will do this on my terms!", very stupid but sadly believable.

Guzik interprets this as Pharaoh trying to keep the women and children as hostages. That wasn't what occurred to me, but it does seem like a pretty reasonable interpretation.

So Moses brings the plague of locusts and every plant that was not destroyed by the hail was eaten by the locusts.

For those keeping track, all of the fish are dead (plague 1) and all of the livestock are dead (plague 5). Also, much of the crops are dead (plague 7), but that is somewhat immaterial now as the rest have also been destroyed. Seriously, how is every Egyptian not dead at this point in the story? Perhaps they resorted to cannibalism?

Again, from Guzik
Now the LORD God shows Himself greater than the Egyptian god Seth, thought to be the protector of crops.
Ahh yes, the real reason for the plagues, a pissing match between gods.

Then Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron back, says he's sinned again God and wants to make it right. God removes the locusts, but hardens his heart again so he won't let the Israelites go.

How much clearer can this get? Pharaoh is apologizing to God, says he's made a mistake and tries to make things right and God hardens his heart again. How can anyone argue his free will has not been removed? I just don't get it.

Wow, the way this is spun by Guzik is actually impressive in its ridiculousness. First of all, his section title for verses 16-20 is
Another false repentance by Pharaoh
Then his comment on the text is
Pharaoh did the same thing in Exodus 9:27-28. He said the words of repentance but did not follow through with the actions. His heart was only hardened more after God relented and showed mercy.
No, his heart was hardened more after God hardened it. Interestingly enough, Matthew Henry doesn't seem to have an issue with God taking away Pharaoh's free will
Pharaoh's return to his impious resolution again not to let the people go (v. 20), through the righteous hand of God upon him, hardening his heart, and confirming him in his obstinacy
and Jamieson, Fausset & Brown completely ignore the issue.
 Seriously though, what's a picture of darkness supposed to look like?

The Ninth Plague: Darkness (v. 21-29)

God has Moses cast darkness over Egypt. It was so dark they couldn't see each other, and people didn't even leave their "place" for three days. This plague didn't affect the Israelite people.

Presumably this is targeted at another one of the Egyptian Gods, Ra perhaps?

This is the first plague where Guzik hasn't mentioned which Egyptian god it is aimed at, and it if the first one where I even have a guess. Perhaps I'm just easily amused but this made me laugh. He did point out something interesting here though
As was the pattern with the previous plagues, the third in this set of three comes without warning
Some plagues God has told Moses to warn Pharaoh, other times he just has him do the thing. Apparently there is a pattern. I'm not sure I really understand the significance of this pattern, but I suppose it is worth pointing out.

Pharaoh called Moses and said they could go worship and they can take their women and children, but not their livestock. Moses said that they needed their animals because they are going to sacrifice to God.

Same as above, Pharaoh is trying to negotiate. Dude, just let them go. I wonder what it could be that is keeping him from doing just that.

Go hardened Pharaoh's heart and he wouldn't let them go.

I am shocked. Shocked! To think, Pharaoh was acting irrational and it turns out that God was forcing him to act that way.

Pharaoh tells Moses to leave and never come back. If Pharaoh sees his face he will die.

Moral of the Story:
Same Moral as the last few chapters, worship God or else, nothing to see here.

Verses of note

--Free Will--

Exodus 10:1 Again, God says that He hardened Pharaoh's heart

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them"

Exodus 10:16,20 After Pharaoh tries to get right with God, God hardens his heart again

"Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you...But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go"

Exodus 10:27 God is hardening Pharaoh's heart again. It's almost like Pharaoh really wants to relent and God has to continually keep him from doing it.

"But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go."

--God's Ego--

Exodus 10:2 God is making the plagues severe so the word of his power will reach further generations

"that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Complain About a God I Don't Believe In?

There is someone on twitter that I have been having a friendly back and forth with lately (well, lately as of starting this post, took me quite a while to write it). He recently asked me an interesting question which touches on some topics I've been meaning to write up anyway, so I figured it would be a good time to get it out. First, here's a few of the tweets he sent me

I think this is a really good question, why do I bother complaining about a God who I don't even think is real? Ultimately it is the same reason any atheist would have a blog, or care about any of this stuff at all, it's because Christians think this God is real. Their belief in God affects their actions in ways that I believe are negative for society overall. A simple example is that we have to fight tooth and nail to get evolution taught in schools, it's a proven science, but people see it as a threat to their faith and do everything they can to prevent it from being taught to children. (I'm sure that's not quite they way they would put it, but that's the way I see it)

 (Photo credit: Tom Paton)
But this question is a bit more focused than the simple "why blog about atheism?" that we get so often. I tweet a lot of bible verses showing horrible things in the bible, much of which involves God directly. Why do I do that? Christians are more than willing to describe their God to us, they describe a God who is loving, merciful, generous, and just. They will also say that this is the God described in the bible, they are wrong. The God described in the bible is very different from the God typically described by the average Christian. The Bible God is a monster, and I think most Christians aren't aware of what is in that book. When I was a Christian I certainly wasn't, and if I had been confronted with these verses it would have prompted me to rethink things, and that is really what I'm after. In fact, much of what I do is aimed at a younger version of myself, these are the kinds of things that would have gotten my wheels turning when I was a Christian, so it is the kind of thing I like to put out there.

One last thing, when I say that the God described in the bible is a monster, I'm a little concerned that it might sound like I came in with this bias. I started this project with no idea what I was going to come across, I knew that Christians will generally reference good things from the bible and atheists will generally reference bad things, but I had no idea how how much of each there is in the bible. I honestly came in prepared for the possibility that the atheists were being super biased and the vast majority of the bible was really positive stuff, that's just not what I have found.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Exodus 9: What Are the Egyptians Eating at This Point?

Today's Podcast

Previously:

God sent Moses and Aaron to ask Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves, but God wanted to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so he hardened Pharaoh's heart to keep him from releasing his slaves and then sent plagues into Egypt. We have seen 4 plagues so far.

The Fifth Plague: Egyptian Livestock Die (v. 1-7)

 (Photo credit: Nottingham Vet School)
Moses asks Pharaoh to let his people go to worship God or a severe plague will hit the Egyptian livestock and kill them all, however, the Israelite livestock will all be spared. However, Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he did not let the people go.

From Guzik(along with the rest of the commentaries on this post):
Let My people go, that they may serve Me: In this appeal, it is clear that God wants Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go for the sake of the LORD Himself, not even so much for the sake of the children of Israel.
I've pointed this out before, but didn't highlight it this time. Pharaoh isn't being asked to let his slaves go free, just to be allowed to go worship Yahweh. I find it interesting that God isn't so much interested in helping them out, as much as he wants them to be able to worship him. It seems quite selfish of God. Furthermore, this fact seems perfectly find to the Christians here. He even goes on
We must treat each other well not only for the sake of our fellow brother or sister, but also for the sake of the LORD. We owe it to Him even more than we owe it to them.
We owe it to God more than we owe it to the people we are interacting with? What an insane way to view the world. This is one of those things that really bothers me about this religion. Suppose we are friends and then you fuck me over in some way, according to this philosophy, you have wronged me, sure, but more importantly you have wronged God. So if you go to confession and get yourself right with God is it over? I'm sure many Christians would argue that you also have to patch things up with me, but doesn't the fact that I am the less important person harmed mean I will be dealt with last, or possibly never? Especially if you really don't want to rectify things, but you feel guilty, this gives you an out. You can feel like you did something, alleviate your guilt, and I'm equally as harmed as I ever was.

I had to double check that. v6 "All the livestock of the Egyptians died". That is fucking harsh. So all of the fish in the Nile died in the first plague, now all of their livestock are dead. What are these people supposed to eat? Also, are we supposed to expect that starving Egyptians are not going to steal the livestock from their slaves?

I'm guessing the real reason for this plague was so that the Egyptians will have nothing to sacrifice to their gods rather than to simply punish the Egyptian people. As we have seen in the previous plagues, this really seems to be Yahweh's intent.
This plague was directed against the Egyptian god Hathor who was thought to be a mother goddess was in the form of a cow. In addition, Egyptian religion considered cattle sacred and the cow was often a symbol of fertility. God shows Pharaoh and all of Egypt that He is mightier than this imagined pagan god.
There you go, another pissing match between gods.

The Sixth Plague: Boils (v. 8-12)

God then instructed Moses to throw soot into the air and it would cause boils on all man and beast of the Egyptians. It was so bad the magicians could not stand. But the lord hardened Pharaoh's heart and he didn't listen.

First of all, what beasts? All of their livestock just died. Do they have beasts other than livestock? Between the fifth and sixth plagues did the Egyptians rush out to neighboring lands and get replacement animals?

Also, this verse had no ambiguity at all, this time God hardened Pharaoh's heart. He definitely took away his free will here.
This plague was probably directed against the Egyptian god Imhotep, who was said to be the god of medicine; even those who would be thought of as closest to the Egyptian gods (the court magicians) were stricken with this plague.
Again, I find the real reason for the plagues interesting, gods attacking other gods, the humans being hurt seem to just be an afterthought.

The Seventh Plague: Hail (v. 13-35)
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God had Moses warn everyone that huge hail would come the following day. Anyone who fears the word of God will go inside and be safe, anyone who ignores God will be hurt or have his livestock or slaves killed by the hail.

That's kind of interesting, he gave fair warning on this one, and anyone who wants to can protect themselves. It is certainly interesting that what God seems to what from the Egyptians is fear.

There was hail everywhere, any man or beast that wasn't under cover was killed. Also, every plant was destroyed. Except this didn't affect the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

I guess you could protect yourself unless you're a farmer, then it doesn't matter how much you fear God, you are screwed. Also, if you are keeping score, the plagues have now killed all of the fish, all of the livestock, and all of the grains in the field. Seriously, everyone in Egypt would have to die soon of starvation.

Pharaoh then told Moses that he was sorry and would let the people go, so Moses went out of the city and stopped the storms, but as soon as the rain stopped Pharaoh changed his mind (he hardened his heart).

Again, we have the same problem, is Pharaoh hardening his own heart, or did God do it? Based on the difference in wording from plague 6, it seems that Pharaoh did it to himself this time. In that case, what the hell is he doing? God is destroying his kingdom, just let the damn slaves go do their thing.
This plague was directed against several Egyptian gods. Notable among them would was Nut, the sky goddess.
Moral of the Story:
I guess the moral for all of the plague chapters is pretty much going to be the same, if you worship the wrong God you are fucked.

Verses of note:

--Free Will--

Exodus 9:12 God took away Pharaoh's free will so he could continue punishing his people

"But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them"

--God's Ego--

Exodus 9:1,13 The reason God wants the Israelites to be free is so they can worship him

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, "Let my people go, that they may serve me."

Exodus 9:16 God is plaguing the Egyptians so they will know he is powerful and spread his name

"But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Great Debate

 Streisand Estate (wikipedia)
I have declared in the past that I am bored with debates and will probably not be watching them anymore, but recently there has been a whole kerfuffle about a debate where the Christian didn't do very well and the church refused to post the video online. Well, they finally relented and released the video, and given the streisand effect, it's caught my attention and I'm going to check it out. You can watch the video here.

I watched this debate about a week ago now, and it has been sitting in the back of my mind a little bit. My first thought was that I don't see what the big deal is. I have seen plenty of debates where it seemed to me the Christian got destroyed way worse than this guy did here, and the other Christians all declared victory and went home. So what happened here?

Honestly, I was a bit annoyed at the atheist in the debate, I thought he agreed with the Christian's points way to quickly, all too often he said "I agree with that" while I was watching going "dude...no". But maybe that is the difference, instead of picking up and running with every point of contention that came up, he was willing to let a lot go by so he could make the points he really cared about, which just happened to be stuff that would resonate with that particular audience. Maybe by agreeing on some things that didn't really matter to him, he was able to get past the mental defenses of many in the audience and get them to really listen to what he had to say. (I wish I could go into more details, but I watched in a week ago, in the background while I was taking care of a screaming small person)

It also reminded me of the idea that we see floating around a lot that there isn't a "right way" to do these debates. There isn't a "best tactic", different things will be effective for different people, and the more diversity we have out there the better. I could never see myself arguing in the same way that he was in this debate, and yet it was clearly effective for some. If I was in a similar debate, I imagine the topics and tactics I chose to focus on would be effective (hopefully) for a completely different group of people in the audience.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

But I Want a Meatball Tree

This morning my wife was singing "On Top of Spaghetti" to my son, it was really fun to hear a song that I loved as a child but haven't heard in years. Neither of us could remember the last part and had to look it up. I found the ending of it interesting, in case you don't remember the ending like me, allow me to post the last 2 verses (for the whole thing, feel free to follow the above link).
The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.
So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Whenever you sneeze.
Wait a damn minute! The moral of this story is to not allow your meatball to get away? That's madness! If I could get a meatball tree simply by giving up one meatball I would do it in a heartbeat. Kids songs make no sense at all.

Oh wait a minute, this is an atheism blog, gotta bring this back around to atheism, think man, think. I got it!
 Original pictures

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Exodus 8: The Entire Egyptian Population is Collateral Damage

Today's Podcast

Previously:

God sent Moses and Aaron to ask Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves, but God wanted to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so he hardened Pharaoh's heart to keep him from releasing his slaves and then sent plagues into Egypt.

The Second Plague: Frogs (v. 1-15)
 Handful of Frogs (Photo credit: deanj)

God had Aaron use his staff to bring about a plague of frogs that would get into everything everywhere all over Egypt. Pharaoh's magicians were able to also being about frogs with their "secret arts". But Pharaoh pleaded with Moses and Aaron to beg God to take away the plague and he would let the Israelites go sacrifice to God. They talked to God about it and all of the frogs died and the land stank. Pharaoh's heart hardened and he didn't follow through on his promise.

Interesting that he's not asking for the slaves to be let free, he's still asking that they be allowed to go sacrifice to God. Also, is dead stinking frogs everywhere really better than live frogs?Perhaps he didn't keep his word because the from plague was taken away in a terrible way.

From Guzik
In His good mercy God gives Pharaoh another chance at repentance, but Pharaoh will not take it.
But not really, because as we saw before, God hardened his heart and prevented him from repenting. I think I will keep having this same disagreement with Guzik because he has tried to explain away God hardening Pharaoh's heart (which is central to this story) and I don't accept his explanation.
God threatened a plague of frogs for a specific reason. The Egyptian goddess Heqt was always pictured with the head of a frog. For this reason frogs were considered sacred and could not be killed.
Again, this is quite interesting, just as in the first plague, it seems that God is targeting the Egyptians gods more so than the actual Egyptian people. I think this really highlights the polytheistic roots of this book. If God was real, and the Egyptian gods were imaginary, why would God care that they are worshiping them? On the other hand, if the early Jews thought that multiple gods were real, then it makes sense for Yahweh to attack the other gods in their stories.

The Third Plague: Gnats (v. 16-19)
 Gnats (Photo credit: Andrew Coulter Enright)

Note: it seems that in some other versions it is lice instead of gnats.

Aaron then used his staff to turn all of the dust in the land to gnats, gnats were on everything. Pharaoh's magicians tried to replicate the trick but couldn't, and declared that this must be the work of God, but Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he refused to listen to them.

They really seem to be jumping to the conclusion that it is God really quickly. "That other guy has a magic trick that I can't do, it must be God!"

Again, from Guzik
The hardness of Pharaoh's heart is shown when he will not even heed the analysis of his own advisers. There is no rational reason why he insists on resisting the LORD God.
Why would there be a rational reason? God hardened Pharaoh's heart! Pharaoh isn't just refusing to listen to God because he's a dick, God has prevented him from doing so.
The Egyptian priesthood was extremely scrupulous about hygiene and ritual cleansing and an infestation of lice made them unable to worship their gods.
The plague of lice was also upon every beast. The gods of Egypt would not receive the sacrifice of lice-infested animals, so this stopped their sacrificial system.
Again, we see that the real purpose of the plagues seems to attack the Egyptian gods rather than the Egyptian people.

The Fourth Plague: Flies (v. 20-32)
 They needed a few of these (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then God sent swarms of flies into the land of Egypt so they would be covering everything. But he would set aside the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived so that it would be obvious that they are set apart and not being hit with the plague.

It seems like a good idea to set apart God's people from the plagues and therefore God's wrath. Why is this starting at plague 4?

Pharaoh said that Moses and his people could go sacrifice to their God as long as he took away the flies first. Moses said they needed to go 3 days away, otherwise the guards would be upset at them sacrificing to a God they don't believe in. Pharaoh said fine, so God took away the flies, but then Pharaoh changed his mind and didn't let them go worship.

Again, we have this ambiguous language about Pharaoh changing his mind. It says his heart was hardened, but the way it is written it seems as if he just changed his mind and he's an asshole. But, as we saw previously, God is the one hardening his heart. Given that we know Pharaoh's mind is being manipulated, it's pretty hard to blame him for the bad things he's doing right now.
the point of this plague was probably the same as the plague of lice. The Egyptian gods could not be worshipped amidst this uncleanness.
Again, the real purpose is to attack the Egyptian gods.

Moral of the story:
Unfortunately, this doesn't seem like it's terribly interesting yet, it is the same moral as last time as far as I can tell, worship God or else. So I guess it all boils down to obedience, Moses and Aaron are obeying God and doing horrible things to the people of Egypt, they will be rewarded. Pharaoh is not obeying God (although he's not being allowed to) and him and his people are being severely punished.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is X-men Bad for Science Literacy?

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Comic book characters often have super powers, which come from a variety of sources. Sometimes they are just aliens powered by our sun, sometimes they were bitten by a radioactive pest, sometimes they have been bombarded with cosmic rays. To me, these explanations essentially boil down to magic, it's a way for the writers to say "don't worry about it, just enjoy the story". But with X-men it is different, they try to make the explanation a little more credible by throwing in some science. X-men are the next stage in human evolution, homo-superior. They have some gene that has mutated and now they can fly, heal really fast, use telepathy, teleport, or whatever.

The problem is that this is completely different from how evolution actually works. Evolution is the accumulation of very small changes over a large amount of time. You don't have a regular human have a random mutation that makes their kid have powerful beams shooting out of their eyes. Those big jumps just don't happen. Of course this is further confused by somewhat controversial idea of punctuated equilibrium where large jumps in evolution happen in a short period of time. Of course, this is on an evolutionary time scale, in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 years. This is a far cry from a normal human having a child who has the ability to walk through walls.

Unfortunately, many people never learn what evolution really is. This type of thing is their only real exposure, is it really a wonder that they think evolution is ridiculous? Is it a wonder that we get questions like "who did the first wolf mate with?" They expect that there are these huge jumps, what are the odds that an incredibly rare jump will happen to two individuals at the same time so that they can mate and carry on this new species? "The odds are astronomically low!" Of course the odds are low for what you are describing, and that's not even close to how it works, so don't worry about it.

Of course X-men isn't completely at fault for these kinds of misconceptions, the real problem is the giant gap in our education system and the people actively spreading disinformation. But it seems to me that X-men plays a role, it gives people who haven't been presented with the real information an excuse to dismiss it out of hand. I was in that group when I was in high school, I never learned even the absolute basics of how evolution works and was told in church that it was nonsense.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the X-men, and I often enjoy other shows that are basically just X-men by another name (this post was actually inspired by The Tomorrow People). But it irks me when they explain the powers as evolution, because it is not evolution at all. I wish they would make up an explanation that involves things that don't exist, a science experiment that went wrong, a flying saucer that somehow gave random people these powers, or hell, just say it's mysterious where these powers are coming from.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Exodus 7: Let the Plagues Begin

Today's Podcast

Previously:

God sent Moses and Aaron to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to free the slaves, armed with a few neat sounding powers. Pharaoh responded to this request by punishing the slaves harshly. Moses was discouraged and wanted to give up, but God assured Moses that his people would be freed from Egypt.

Moses and Aaron Before Pharaoh (v. 1-13)

God says he has made Moses like God to Pharaoh and Aaron is like a prophet.

I'm not sure what this means, but I have two guesses. The first is that the powers that Moses was given in chapter 4 are what makes him like a God. The problem with this thought is that Moses had those powers in chapter 5 and Pharaoh didn't look at him as a God then (although I guess Moses didn't use those powers then, what's up with that?). The only other thing I can think of is the genealogy thing in chapter 6, since that happened right before this declaration perhaps it is related. My understanding is that genealogy played a big role in their lives back then, perhaps God telling Moses his true family line is supposed to make a difference to him and also to Pharaoh. Hopefully the commentaries will weigh in on this.

Guzik says that this means God will be talking to Pharaoh through Moses. Does that sound wrong to everyone else? It could just mean that I'm completely misunderstanding what is written in the bible (wouldn't be the first time), but shouldn't being like God to someone mean you have power over them, or perhaps that they are in awe of you? Not just that you are a conduit for God to talk to them.

Guzik goes on to say that if Pharaoh rejects Moses, that Moses shouldn't take it personally, because this will just mean that Pharaoh is rejecting God. He then makes the connection to Christians of today by saying
In the same way, God will make us "as God" to people we encounter who are rejecting God. If they harden their hearts or reject us, we shouldn't take it personally.
And there we go. Christians shouldn't take it personally if they can't convert people, they aren't rejecting you, just your God. I suppose I could put that in the morals of the story section if I didn't think Guzik was so far off base here.

Matthew Henry seems to agree with Guzik here somewhat, although he clarifies that it is not just that Moses is speaking for God, but that he has godly powers. This lines up with my first guess, and it also seems to mess up Guzik's moral of the story. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown have a similar interpretation to Matthew Henry.

God says he will tell Moses and Aaron what to say and ask Pharaoh to release his people, but God will harden Pharaoh's heart so he won't comply. Then God will multiply his signs and wonders throughout Egypt and bring his people out with great judgement.

So basically, God is going to prevent Pharaoh from releasing his people and then punish him for not releasing them. I thought God was supposed to respect free will. And how the hell is this just? It would be like holding a gun to someone's head and forcing them to commit a crime, and then punishing them for that crime.

We remember that God will not harden Pharaoh's heart against Pharaoh's own desire. It is not as if Pharaoh wished to have a tender heart towards Israel but God would not allow him. God confirmed Pharaoh in his wicked inclination against Israel.
Instead, Pharaoh revealed his heart when he refused the humble request of Moses back in 5:1-4; now, God will merely strengthen Pharaoh in the evil already chose.
This just makes no sense, if it is already Pharaoh's own desire, then God wouldn't have to harden his heart, his heart would already be hardened against God's people. Guzik then quotes from the text and continues
"So that I may lay My hand on Egypt … and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD": This explains why the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart - essentially, to bring righteous judgment upon Egypt: Pharaoh and the Egyptians said they didn't know who the LORD was; God is going to let them know.
Even if we give Guzik his ridiculous premise, it says that Pharaoh was coming around and God put him back on his original path, for the purpose of punishing him and his people more. Who in their right mind would classify this as "righteous"? Guzik also applies this logic to our lives
God can do the same today. In our rebellion, we may reach the place where God will strengthen us in the evil we desire
Why is this acceptable? Let's say I want to do something evil, (Oh I don't know, let's say my older brother died before he and his wife had a kid and I don't want to have sex with his wife so that he can have an heir). But then after some reflection, I realize that it would be something that God would really want me to do, but just as I am about to make the decision God "hardens my heart" against the idea and I don't wind up doing it. Then later, God punishes me for not changing my mind. Is that fair? God prevented me from doing the "right" thing here, how can he punish me? Even interpreting this in Guzik's way, the way God acted is still reprehensible.

Perhaps Wisely, the other Christian commentaries that I read didn't even address this as a problem. They just mention that God hardened Pharaoh's heart as a matter of fact.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When they went to Pharaoh, Aaron proved they were with God by throwing down his staff and having it become a snake. Pharaoh then summoned his wise men and magicians and performed the same trick with secret arts. Aaron's staff/snake swallowed the rest. Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he still didn't listen to them.

The snake trick is pretty cool, what is the deal with Pharaoh having people who are able to do the same thing? I guess that Aaron's snake eating the others shows his is more powerful, but you would think God would be more original. This really just boils down to being a better version of a trick the Pharaoh has already seen.

Of course, it was Satan (again Guzik)
In the midst of an unmistakable miracle, Satan provided Pharaoh with a reason to doubt - and Pharaoh seized on the doubt and hardened his heart.
Notice what he does here with Pharaoh's hardened heart, the way Guzik writes this, it sounds like Pharaoh hardened his own heart. He must have been reading ahead to the next section.

The First Plague: Water Turned to Blood (v. 14-25)

God tells Moses that Pharaoh's heart is hardened, and he refuses to let the slaves go free.

I noticed a bit of a change of tone here, previously God kept talking about how He was going to harden Pharaoh's heart, but now he's just saying that his heart is hardened. Compare these older verses:
• v3: I will harden Pharaoh's heart
• ch4 v21: I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go
to these verses
• v13: Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them
• v14: the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go
It's like God goes from "I will keep him from releasing your people" to "Hey look, Pharaoh's being a dick and not letting your people go".
 Aaron changes the water of the Nile into blood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God had Moses turn the water in the Nile (as well as all water in canals, ponds and pools of water) into blood in the sight of Pharaoh. All of the fish in the river died, and the Nile stank, so the Egyptians couldn't drink the water. They had to dig along side the Nile to find water to drink instead. But Pharaoh's magicians were able to do the same trick so Pharaoh's heart was still hardened.

Where shall I start? I suppose I'll ask why it was necessary for God to ruin all of the other water in the place. Doesn't turning the Nile into blood prove your point? Why ruin water that people had collected the day before?

Won't tons of people die here? Not only did they lose their water supply, but if all of the fish died I imagine a lot of people lost their food source as well, not to mention the fishermen's livelihoods.

Pharaoh's magicians could do the same trick? Who the hell are these guys, and why did God do generic tricks that any random magician can do? Also, how did they do the same trick? Moses turned all of the water in Egypt to blood, then the magicians also turned the water to blood? But all of the water is already blood, so that makes no sense. Are we to believe that the magicians had done this previously? Why the hell would they want to do that?

And finally, verse 22 says that Pharaoh's heart was hardened because his magicians could do the same trick, not because God hardened it. So which is it?

A few interesting things from Guzik here
God did not plague Egypt because Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel go; but because Pharaoh refused to recognize and honor God
Why do Christians find this kind of reasoning acceptable? Bring it down a few levels, suppose we have a father who has a couple of kids who are getting beat up in school. What if he was upset at the bullies because he felt disrespected instead of the simple fact that his children are being attacked? What would you think of that father? He's a piece of shit right? But for some reason it's acceptable when it is God.
Specifically, this first plague was directed against the numerous Egyptian river deities. The Nile itself was virtually worshipped as a god by the Egyptians, and the LORD God shows that He has complete power over the Nile, not some river god.
Now that is actually really interesting.

Moral of the Story

Apparently the moral of this story is recognize and honor God or you could face God's wrath. Essentially worship God or else. I'm sure it will come as a surprise to no one that I find this completely unacceptable.

For the Verses of Note post:

--Free Will--

Exodus 7:2-4 God hardens Pharaoh's heart to prevent him from following God's command

"..you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you..."

--Justice--

Exodus 7:3-4 God punishes the Egyptians because God prevent Pharaoh from listening to him

"But I will harden Pharaoh's heart...Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment."

--Magic--

Exodus 7:10-11 Aaron and Pharaoh's men all turned their staves into snakes

"Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts."

Exodus 7:20,22 Moses turned all of the water in Egypt into blood, as did Pharaoh's men

"Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood....But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts."