Monday, May 23, 2011

Debunking Woo: Text of 'Thinkers' Guide Fliers to offer to patrons of the next Psychic Fair

The thinker’s guide to Aura Photography

Aura photography is based on the idea that the body emits a supernatural glow that can be captured on film, and then used to provide insights into a person’s mental or physical health and/or personality.

In 1939, a Russian electrical technician called Semyon Kirlian noticed that if he touched a high voltage power source in a darkened room, a coloured glow could be seen around his body.

He and others interpreted this as‘life energy’ and the belief gave rise to a small industry using photographic paper to capture the images.

What Kirlian was actually seeing was a natural phenomenon of ionised air which circulates around moist objects that are subjected to a high voltage/low current. Colours vary according to the amount of moisture present. Testing has shown that aura images disappear when objects are in vacuums where there is no water vapour.

The notion of auras gained popularity among some New Age devotees and some ‘psychics’ claimed to be able to read auras without any electrical equipment. Now, in the 21st century, photography allows simple computer image manipulation to be used to produce coloured ‘auras’. People who do not understand the simple science involved can be paying for an analysis based on moist air!

Perth Skeptics


The thinker’s guide to Psychic Reading

When you consult a ‘psychic’, you may wonder how he or she appears to know things about you that you haven’t told them.

Psychics use a technique called ‘cold reading’. They may use your age, gender, dress, ethnicity, manner or speech and overall presentation to make a series of highly probable guesses.

You provide feedback each time a psychic fishes for details, which enables him or her to turn the things he/she got wrong from a ‘miss’ into a ‘hit’. This is why the psychic might ask, ‘Does that make sense to you?’ or ‘Does (for example, January) have meaning for you?’ If you respond, positively or negatively, the psychic's next move is to play off the response. For example, if you say, "I was born in January" or my mother died in January" then the psychic may say something like "Yes, I can see that." If you respond negatively, for example, "I can't think of anything particularly special about January," the psychic might reply, "There’s something painful about January; perhaps you don’t want to be reminded of it,” and then go on to the next fishing expedition.

The psychic knows you will try very hard to find meaning in the guesses they make, even when the guesses are way off target. You will then forget what they got wrong, and only remember the guesses they got correct. They may flatter you with such statements as,” Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others.” While that may very well be true, even if it is not, you will identify with it because it is flattering.

Another technique psychics use is to present you with statements which could apply to almost anyone, such as,’ sometimes you are outgoing, but at other times you like to be alone.’

Not all cold readings are done by malicious manipulators. Some readings are done by astrologers, graphologists, tarot readers, New Age healers, and people who genuinely believe they have paranormal powers. They are as amazed as you when they get a ‘hit’ and it reinforces their belief that their subconscious cold-reading is actually proof of their psychic ‘gift’.

Next time you visit a psychic, try not giving any feedback either by words or body language, and see how ‘accurate’ the psychic is. After all, if they have special powers, why do you need to answer their questions? They should be able to reel off your life story accurately to you without the need to go fishing.

Perth Skeptics

If it makes people happy, what’s the harm?

Holding certain beliefs may make a believer happy, or give them comfort.

But there are overwhelming reasons why any claims in the efficacy of alternative therapies or the existence of the paranormal should be examined critically.

“What’s the Harm” is a website that collects news articles about cases in which people have been ripped-off financially, told incorrect and hurtful things about missing loved ones or have died because they delayed or avoided conventional medical treatment in favour of alternative treatments.

For example, the website lists the story of Isabella Denley, a 13 month old baby in Kew Victoria, who was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed medication to treat it. Instead of using this medication, her parents consulted an iridologist, an applied kinesiologist, a psychic and an osteopath. Isabella was being treated purely with homeopathic medicine when she died.

Many children die because their parents believe that vaccines are ineffective or have harmful side effects. Some religions discourage their members from seeing conventional doctors and using conventional medicine. Some people have spent their life savings on or gone into debt to pay for alternative treatments – money that could have been spent on more effective and scientifically tested treatments.

Conventional medicine is not perfect, of course, but the scientific consensus is that it’s the best medicine available and is constantly being improved.

Disregarding it on the basis of superstitions, anecdotes or religious belief can lead to tragedy.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Astrology

Astrology, in its traditional form, is a type of fortune-telling based on the theory that the positions and movements of celestial bodies (stars, planets in our solar system [except Earth] Sun, and Moon) at the time of birth profoundly influence a person's life.

In its psychological form, astrology is a type of New Age therapy used for self-understanding and personality analysis.

Skeptics believe that astrology has no relevance to understanding ourselves or our place in the cosmos, and astrologers cannot explain how the positions of celestial bodies affect life on earth or our personalities.

Even so, astrology is believed by millions of people and it has survived for thousands of years. The most popular form of traditional Western astrology is sun sign astrology, the kind found in the horoscopes of many daily newspapers. The term is also used to describe a map of the zodiac at the time of one’s birth.

The position of the earth in relation to the modern signs has changed since the Zodiac was introduced. If you had been born on the same date in 11AD, years ago you would have been born under a different sign.

In fact there should be 13 signs, not 12. And then there is the recent discovery that Pluto is not actually a planet.
Astrologers emphasize the importance of the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, etc., at the time of birth. However, the birthing process isn’t instantaneous. There is no single moment that a person is born. And why are the initial conditions more important than all subsequent conditions for one’s personality and traits? Why isn’t the planet Earth—the closest large object to us in our solar system--considered a major influence on who we are and what we become? Other than the Sun and the Moon and an occasional passing comet or asteroid, most planetary objects are so distant from us that any influences they might have on anything on our planet are likely to be wiped out by the influences of other things here on Earth.

Astrology is probably the most widely practiced superstition in the world today. Nevertheless, there are many who defend astrology by pointing out how accurate professional horoscopes are. Astrology “works,” it is said, but what does that mean? To say astrology "works" does not mean that astrology is accurate in predicting human behaviour or events to a degree significantly greater than mere chance.

There are many satisfied customers who believe that their horoscope accurately describes them and that their astrologer has given them good advice. Such evidence does not prove astrology so much as it demonstrates that people will reject what doesn’t fit and only remember what confirms their beliefs about themselves, and that they will take as personal analysis, generalised statements that could apply to most people.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Palmistry

Palmistry is the practice of telling fortunes from the lines, marks, and patterns on the hands, particularly the palms.

Palmistry was practiced in many ancient cultures, such as India, China and Egypt. The first book on the subject appeared in the 15th century. It was used during the middle ages to detect witches. It was believed that certain spots on the hand indicated one had made a pact with the Devil.

According to palmistry, if you are right handed, your left hand indicates inherited personality traits and your right hand indicates your individuality and fulfilment of potential. The palmist claims to be able to read the various lines on your hand. These lines are given names like the life line, the head line, the heart line, the Saturne line. The life line supposedly indicates physical vitality, the head line intellectual capacity, the heart line emotional nature, etc.

Of course, the lines on your palms are wrinkles which were created as your hands developed in your mother’s womb. The lines reflect the structure of the hand muscles and the way in which you habitually curl your palms and fingers.

Although you can often tell a lot about a person by examining his or her hands; age, working background and wealth (rings!), there is no scientific support for the claim that the lines on the palms contain information about whether you will inherit money or find your true love.

But as with other ‘paranormal’ services, you may forget the things the palmist says that don’t fit, and only remember the things he or she tells you that you identify with. (Google ‘cold reading’)

It is hard to imagine what level of superstition would be required to believe that the way an embryo lies in a womb and the wrinkles thereby created on its hand will affect its future.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to crystal power.

A crystal is a structure formed by the solidification of chemicals. It has a regularly repeating internal arrangement of atoms and molecules, and is bound by external plane faces.

Crystals are pleasing to the eye and have long been used in jewellery. But they also have some properties that make them very important to the electronics and optical industries. Today, crystals are used in just about every type of modern technology.
For centuries, crystals and other gems have been desired for their alleged magical healing and mystical paranormal powers. This belief continues today among occultists and New Age healers, even though it is based on nothing more than anecdotes, the placebo effect and wishful thinking. There is no scientific evidence that crystals are conduits of magical energies useful for healing and protection, or for telling the future.

According to the sellers of crystals, crystals channel good "energy" and ward off bad "energy." They carry "vibrations" that resonate with healing "frequencies," work with the “chakras” and help balance “yin and yang” (more ‘paranormal’ terms). Crystals, they say, affect the emotions and can be used not only for physical healing, but for emotional problems, self-expression, creativity, meditation, and the immune system.

Unfortunately none of these claims is backed by any scientific evidence.
The New Age idea that crystals can harness and direct energy seems to be based upon a misunderstanding of one of the more curious characteristics of certain crystals, namely, that they produce an electrical charge when compressed. This is known as the piezoelectric effect and was discovered in 1880 by Pierre and Jacques Curie.

Other technological developments had to occur before the piezoelectric effect could be used, however, and it was not until the 1950s that the piezoelectric effect could be put to general use in record player needles and a variety of measuring devices. Nowadays, these devices "are used in almost every conceivable application requiring accurate measurement and recording of dynamic changes in mechanical variables such as pressure, force and acceleration."

The piezoelectric effect, however, does not give crystals healing or protective power, despite the claims of those who use and sell crystals in New Age and neo-pagan occultist shops.  Wearing crystals seems to give some people a feeling of protection, and they are certainly pretty.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Tarot

The modern tarot deck has been traced back to 15th-century Italy and a trick-taking game called "triumphs" The traditional tarot deck consists of two sets of cards, one having 22 pictures (the major arcana), such as the Fool, the Devil, Temperance, the Hermit, the Sun, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, and Death. The other set (the minor arcana) has 56 cards with kings (or lords), queens (or ladies) ,knights, and knaves (pages or servants) of sticks (or wands, cudgels or batons) , swords,  cups and coins.

There are many different tarot decks used in cartomancy (fortune-telling with cards).  The meanings of the figures and numbers on tarot cards vary greatly among tarot readers and advocates, many of whom find connections between tarot and cabala, astrology, I Ching, ancient Egypt, and various other occult and mystical notions.

Tarot cards are usually read by a fortune-teller, though anyone can buy a deck with instructions on how to discover your real self and actualize your true potential. There is something compelling about shuffling the cards, putting them on the table, drawing into the unknown and having your life laid out and explained by strangers who have the “gift” of clairvoyance.

People who do cold reading may use tarot cards, or crystal balls, or other paraphernalia to enhance the appearance that they are getting messages from ‘the other side’ to you by special delivery. They may use terms you don’t understand so that their presentation is hard to follow, but it reinforces the idea that they are an authority figure with secret knowledge. It encourages a sense of ritual that encourages co-operation and discourages any doubts or protests. The card reader can then pump you for information under the cover of revealing that “the cards” indicate a number of possibilities, and ask you which one fits best. You may be distracted by the jargon:

I see we’ve got the ‘Five of Swords,’ an important card within the lesser arcanum, traditionally associated with challenge and struggle in affairs of the heart. What’s intriguing is that in the same conjunction of the spread we’ve already had ‘The Hermit,’ originally one of the lower triad cards, but now generally regarded as indicating not only solitude …but also the accomplishment of personal goals…It’s as if the cards are suggesting your personal goals are, at this time, due to take priority over romance. I don’t know if this makes sense to you…”

Tarot card reading is cold-reading with props (Google ‘cold reading’) and there is no evidence to suggest readings are the result of paranormal “gifts” or powers.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Magnetic Therapy

Your local chemist may have “magnetic insoles” for sale that might help relieve foot pain. Your neighbour wears a magnetic bracelet and swears that it has cured his arthritis. On the internet, you can buy magnetic mattress pads, dog collars and knee wraps, all for alleviation of pain. A magnetic insole only costs $18. Should you spend your money on such “alternative treatments?” The simple answer is “No.”

Magnetic therapies have been around since at least the ancient Greeks, and survived through the Middle Ages. The most common claim for such therapies is that they promote blood flow and bring your body’s “electromagnetic field” into alignment with the Earth’s magnetic field. After all, the blood has a lot of iron in it, doesn’t it? Enough people fall for such claims to help make magnetic therapy a $300 million a year industry in America.

There have been several studies of the effects of magnetic fields on the human body. The way you scientifically study such a claim is to run a “double blind” test, in which you compare two sets of test subjects, one with the magnetic product and one without. It is important that neither group knows which set they’re in, and the laboratory assistants running the test are likewise without this information. This eliminates the “placebo effect,” in which people who think something will help them can easily convince themselves that it does. Tests run as a true double blind have consistently discredited magnetic therapy claims.

One sure sign that magnetic therapies are scams are their repeated misuse of scientific terms. “Electromagnetism,” “electromotive force,” and “polarity agent effect” all sound very scientific, but in the context of the ads for such products they make no scientific sense. The fact is that the human body has an almost unmeasurably weak magnetic field. If it were otherwise, medical devices using much stronger magnetic fields, such as MRIs (magnetic resonance imagery), would play havoc with your body.

No, pulling scientific terms out of thin air does not mean your product is based on sound science.

So if you want to go around with magnets in your shoes, or magnetic bracelets on your wrists go right ahead. Just don’t expect any improvements in either your health or your bank balance.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Reiki

Reiki is one of several nonsensical methods commonly referred to as "energy healing." These methods are based on the idea that the body is surrounded or permeated by an energy field that is not measurable by ordinary scientific instrumentation, called chi or qi or ki.

According to the International Centre for Reiki Training, Reiki has helped heal people with virtually every kind of illness including cancer. The Centre claims it helps to improve the effectiveness of all other types of therapy. It states, “A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance and has many benefits for both client and practitioner, including altered states of consciousness and spiritual experiences. . . . Reiki will improve the results of all medical treatment, acting to reduce negative side effects, shorten healing time, reduce or eliminate pain, reduce stress, and help create optimism.“

No special background or credentials are needed to receive Reiki training. To become a practitioner, one must receive an "initiation" or "attunement" from a Reiki Master. Training for the lower levels typically takes 1 or 2 days and begins with an attunement. Training to become a Master is said to take years.

The most comprehensive review of Reiki research was done by Edward Ernst, M.D., Ph.D. and his colleagues at the University of Exeter. After surveying studies published through January 2008, they concluded that most were poorly designed and "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition."

Reiki has no substantiated health value and lacks a scientifically plausible rationale. The power of suggestion may indeed lead to some people experiencing warm glows, but these are in the mind, and not physically manifested.

Perth Skeptics

The Thinker’s Guide to Reflexology

Reflexology, also called zone therapy, is based on the notion that each body part is represented on the hands and feet and that pressing on specific areas on the hands or feet can have therapeutic effects in other parts of the body.

Similar rationales are used employed by iridologists (who imagine that eye markings represent disease throughout the body) and auricular acupuncturists who "map" body organs on the ear.

Most reflexologists claim that their procedures can relieve stress, which is probably correct with respect to everyday stress, because the technique involves manipulation similar to massage, but there is no evidence that reflexology relieves underlying emotional problems, or that the pathways from feet to other areas of the body actually exist.

Many proponents claim that foot reflexology can cleanse the body of toxins, increase circulation, assist in weight loss, and improve the health of organs throughout the body. Others have reported success in treating earaches, anaemia, bedwetting, bronchitis, convulsions in an infant, haemorrhoids, hiccups, deafness, hair loss, emphysema, prostate trouble, heart disease, overactive thyroid gland, kidney stones, liver trouble, rectal prolapse, undescended testicles, intestinal paralysis, cataracts, and hydrocephalus (a condition in which an excess of fluid surrounding the brain can cause pressure that damages the brain). Some claim to "balance energy and enhance healing elsewhere in the body."

One practitioner has even claimed to have lengthened a leg that was an inch shorter than the other. There is no scientific support for these assertions.

One study examined the popular claim that reflexology treatment benefits bronchial asthma. Ten weeks of active or simulated (placebo) reflexology were compared in a controlled trial of 40 outpatients with asthma. Objective lung function tests (peak flow morning and evening, and weekly spirometry at the clinic) did not change. Subjective scores (describing symptoms, beta2-inhalations and quality of life) and also bronchial sensitivity to histamine improved on both regimens, but no significant differences were found between groups receiving active or placebo reflexology. The researchers concluded that they had found no evidence that reflexology has a specific effect on asthma beyond placebo influence

Claims that reflexology is effective for diagnosing or treating disease should be ignored. Such claims could lead to delay of necessary medical care or to unnecessary medical testing of people who are worried about reflexology findings.

Perth Skeptics

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Advertising the 'truth' of prophecy

Dear Christian

Before you waste any more of your hard-earned tithes on advertising, have the courage of your convictions to read the following information. If any of it makes any sense to you, take time to investigate further.

Each one of the 'prophecies' listed in your recent newspaper advertisement has been debunked or explained by scholars of history and the Bible.

If you regard yourself as an intelligent, reasonable, critically thinking person, you cannot simply accept that the Bible is the inspired word of God, no matter who told you it is, or how sure you feel. The Bible is full of indisputably wrong statements, bad science and gross contradictions. Some of these can be seen in the prophecies you cite as evidence that the Bible is true.

Because I am an ex-Christian, I know that your first instinct when you are challenged is to think that the 'devil' is trying to lure you away from Jesus. There is a good guy and a bad guy in most dramas and has been since humans first started telling stories – otherwise there’s no story. I don’t believe in Satan any more than I believe in God; my interest in reaching out to you is because you, and everyone else, deserve a chance to revel in reality, and to enjoy our finite existence in learning, growing and discovering our wonderful universe as it really is, and helping each other, because that is what we were born to do and because it is its own reward.

I understand that you are afraid of death – we all are to some degree – we are programmed to survive at all costs. But there is nothing to fear except living a life wasted on superstition and mythology.

So please, read on.

The first thing you need to know is that the gospels were written many years after the alleged death of Jesus. I am not making this up: it is supported by evidence. The gospellers had a vested interest in making the New Testament appear to fulfil the Old, and in doing so made a number of blunders. The New Testament authors were very familiar with Hebrew scripture. You may prefer to ignore it, but it is possible that the authors of the New Testament simply embellished or invented what they wrote of Jesus to resemble Old Testament passages. Consider the convenient 'misquoting' of passages like Isaiah 28:16 by Paul, in Romans 10:11, where "in him" is added.

The following is a brief summary of how and why the Old Testament ‘prophecies’ of the coming of Jesus the Messiah have been debunked. You can find much more information at the websites listed at the end of this document, from which much of this text comes.

Micah 5:2

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Some scholars believe that “Bethlehem Ephratah” refers not to a town, but to a clan. Ephratah was the name of a woman who married Caleb who was either the father or grandfather of Bethlehem, (see, 1 Chronicles 2:50-52 and 1 Chronicles 4:4) – in this context it is not clear whether Bethlehem referred to is a person or place, or one of each. (Note: Matthew left out the word ‘Ephratah’ in his telling of the story).

If the Bethlehem referred to in Micah is a person, Jesus does not qualify to be the ‘ruler’ mentioned, since neither of his alleged genealogies list either Bethlehem or Ephrathah. It’s not important though, as verse 3 says the person being discussed will be a ruler in Israel. Jesus wasn’t, and has not been ruler in Israel. And the text continues:

And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal men, and they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he comes into our land and treads within our borders.

Do you recall any part of the Bible in which Jesus goes on a rampage against the Assyrians and the land of Nimrod with seven shepherds, eight principal men and a sword? Neither do I.

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Some say that this verse is a prophecy of Jesus being born to a virgin. There are problems with this belief, however. Firstly, virgin in this verse is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word "almah", which actually means "young woman". A young woman is not necessarily a virgin, and of course in the time of Isaiah, girls were married at an early age. "Bethulah" would have been the correct word to use if the author meant virgin. ‘Bethulah” is used a number of times in Isaiah, so the writer was aware of the two different words. Secondly, nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus referred to as Immanuel.

The book of Mark, the first Gospel written, does not include the story of the virgin birth; neither does the Gospel of John, the last Gospel written. The entire nativity must therefore have been added later by Matthew and copied by Luke, and based loosely on a few Old Testament verses. The problem is that in trying to make the prophecies fit, and the genealogies work, the gospellers some awful mistakes of historical fact and some blunders with the supposed genealogy of Jesus.

You may not be aware that the gospels and ‘Acts’ were written after the Epistles. There is evidence that early Christians rejected mythical tales that may have been circulating of the virgin birth: ideas that perhaps Matthew and Luke included in their Gospels. For example, in 1 Timothy 1:3-4, the writer (who may or may not be the apostle Paul) advises that his audience to "instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith."

But the most serious problem with this alleged messianic prophecy is that it has been taken out of context. Looking at the entire seventh chapter of Isaiah, it becomes clear that the child in question is to be born as a sign to Ahaz, King of Judah, that he will not be defeated in battle by Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, son of the King of Israel. Jesus's birth was some seven centuries late to be such a sign. In Isaiah 8:3-4, a prophetess gives birth to a son--Maher-shalal-hash-baz--who is clearly described as the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.

Jeremiah 31:15

Thus said the Lord, a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

This is supposed to be a premonition of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, when Jesus is born. In context, it refers to Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin and wife of Jacob, crying for her sons who were taken to captivity in Egypt.

There is no evidence for the story of Herod’s slaughter of baby boys. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who carefully recorded the details of Herod’s atrocities does not mention any mass killing of babies. Matthew, in whose gospel this appears, has taken a random Old Testament verse and given it meaning it was never intended to have.

Isaiah 40: 3-5

The voice of him that cried in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Alleged prophecies about Jesus' life and ministry claim that he would be preceded by a messenger, John the Baptist. But Isaiah 10: 3-5 speaks not of a messenger for the Messiah, but of the Jews being released from the Babylonian captivity.
And did John the Baptist actually "clear the way" as a messenger for Jesus? The historian Flavius Josephus writes about John the Baptist, but makes no link of his name with that of Jesus. The earliest of Christian writings, the letters of Paul, make no mention of John the Baptist. The gospels (and the book of Acts, written by the author of Luke) are the only real indication of a link. But the gospel evidence does not hold up. The gospel of John shows John the Baptist explicitly recognizing Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:25-34) before being cast into prison by Herod (John 3:23-24). But the gospels of Matthew (11:2-3) and Luke 7:18-22) depict John the Baptist, in prison, sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if he claims to be the Messiah. If the story in John were true, John the Baptist would have had no reason to ask this question.

Isaiah 9:1-2...

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan - The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

If you read the book of Isaiah with an unbiased outlook, you would see that to believe little bits of it might refer to Jesus is to take things grossly out of context. As a whole, it is mostly about the kings and other personalities who lived in Isaiah’s time - around seven hundred years before the alleged birth of Jesus. If you had never been told that Isaiah contained prophecies about the Messiah, you probably wouldn’t have picked it them as prophecies. It is because the gospel writers decided that they were prophecies that you have also been told they are.

Isaiah 9:1-2, which we have just read, is portrayed by the gospellers as a prediction on Jesus' ministry in Galilee. This is surely another case of the gospel authors embellishing events to resemble scriptures they would have been familiar with. We can suspect this by looking at the four gospels. They all place emphasis on Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, but not all of them agree on the circumstances that led him there. According to Mark (1:14-15) and Matthew (4:12-17), Jesus begins preaching in Galilee after John the Baptist is imprisoned. According to John, Jesus begins his ministry while John is still roaming free (3:22-30).

According to Luke, Jesus' entry into ministry at Galilee has nothing to do with John, but comes right after his temptation in the desert (4:13-15).
And if you believe that God spoke through Isaiah to tell the world of the coming of Jesus, what do you make of this?

For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies I will gather you. In a little anger I hid my face for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. For this is like the flood of Noah to me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have I sworn that I would not be angry with you or rebuke you
(Isaiah 54:7-9)

Does that sound like an unchanging, omnipotent, stable Deity to you? This is God saying he won’t get angry ever again, yet some Christians still blame natural disasters on the wrath of God.

Psalm 78:2

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables. I will utter hidden things, things from of old.
After Matthew mentions that Jesus taught the crowd with parables (Matthew 13:34), we read, "So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet, 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world'" (13:35). Was this really a fulfilled prophecy?

The quotation comes from a psalm of Asaph, which starts out, "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables. I will utter hidden things, things from of old" Here Asaph claims that he is going to utter parables, and those parables are exactly what we find in the remainder of this very psalm, as Asaph recounts story after story about Israel's past (78:5-72). Asaph’s identity is not certain, but he may be the man referred to in 1 Chronicles 6:39.

From the context, then, it is quite clear that the comment in question (Psalm 78:2) was not a prophecy of Jesus telling parables! It is also notes that parables seem to have been a popular way of moralising and passing on stories in bible times.

Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

The ‘suffering servant’ that features in Isaiah 53 is not Jesus, but the nation of Israel. There are many reasons why this is so, not the least because the servant is referred to as Israel on a number of occasions in Isaiah.

But you, oh Israel my servant (Isaiah 41:8)

But now listen, O Jacob, my servant Israel, whom I have chosen…
(Isaiah 44:1)

Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel; I have chosen you, you are my servant (Isaiah 44:21)

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen… (Isaiah 45:4)

He said to me, you are my servant Israel, in whom I will display my splendour (Isaiah 49:3)

Isaiah 52 sets the stage for chapter 53 in more ways that point to Israel being the servant, subjugated under the Assyrian Gentiles.

In addition to the ‘servant reason’, which is only one of a number that point to Isaiah 53 not being about Jesus, Isaiah 53:5 states that, "he was crushed for our iniquities". Some texts say ‘bruised’, but ‘crushed’ seems to be accepted as an alternative. When exactly was Jesus ever crushed? If any of Jesus' body was literally crushed so that his bones were broken, it would disqualify him from another so-called prophecy beloved by Christians (Psalm 34:19 – 20, to be discussed later).

It should be noted that in many places, the Bible rejects atonement:

The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:20)

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16)

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. (Psalms 40:6)

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (Psalms 51:16)

All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3)

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:7-8)

So, despite the Gospels and the Acts and the whole premise of the New Testament being our redemption through the death of Jesus, the Old Testament says God will not accept the sacrifice of one human for another. The Bible is full of serious contradictions like these.

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is interpreted as prophesy of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Because of the way this passage reads, a humorous sort of slip up has made it into Matthew's telling of the story. Zechariah 9:9 refers to a king riding into town on a colt, which is the offspring of a donkey. While Mark, Luke, and John only mention a colt that Jesus rides in on, Matthew actually places a colt and a donkey in the story. It says very clearly that the disciples "brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them" (Matt. 21:7). I hope the animals were tied together, otherwise the Messianic personage may have hit the floor.

Zechariah 9:10 also serves as further evidence against the passage's relation to Jesus:

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus did not usher in peace between nations and Christianity still does not dominate the entire globe. Zechariah 9:9 has been plucked out of its context by the gospel authors and by modern Christians. And you’ll note Isaiah, like all the other people of his era, thought the world was flat (‘ends of the earth’). Why did God not impart knowledge to him about the true nature of our globe?

Zechariah 13:7

Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!' declares the LORD Almighty.’ Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

God will allow his shepherd to be struck and the sheep will scatter. Imaginative minds will have no trouble thinking this is about Jesus' crucifixion and how his followers forsook him, but does it really say anything about this? How many shepherds did God have? For the nomadic Israelites, a shepherd was a leader of the people, and that could be almost anyone.

Anytime an authority figure is struck (dead or just with scandal), his/her followers will scatter for at least a short while, before new leadership can step in to regroup and reorganize. Even if this prophecy was incontrovertibly about Jesus, it would still not necessarily amount to anything beside basic common sense on how sects or cults operate. And ‘the man who is close to me’? What sort of reference is that to someone who is not merely the son of God, but IS God?

Zechariah 11:12-13

And I said unto them, if you think good, give me my price, and if not forebear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised of at them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

Matthew's gospel is the account most closely resembling this 'prophecy'. In Matt. 27:3-8, Judas experiences remorse upon seeing the condemnation of Christ, tries to return the thirty silver pieces to the priests and elders, throws them on the floor of the temple after they refuse, and then storms out to go and hang himself. Afterwards, the priests and elders use the money to buy a potter's field. The big problem arises in Matt. 27:9-10 though...

Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me.

First of all, the quotation isn't even close to the original Old Testament passage, but Jeremiah is also not the prophet who delivered the prediction, Zechariah is. Christians have attempted to resolve this error by pointing to similar verses in Jeremiah, where the speaker is told to go to a potter's house (18:1-3) and commanded to buy a field (32:6-10). However, the payment for the field is 15 shekels in Jeremiah's story, not 30, and Jeremiah's purchase of the field is actually good, and not as sign of despair, since God tells him to buy. No matter how hard the gospel authors and modern Christians try to make Jesus fit Old Testament prophecy, there are still wide, gaping holes. It is also worth noting that nothing in the first 11 verses of Zechariah or the last 4, bears any resemblance whatsoever to the events surrounding the crucifixion.

Isaiah 50:6

According to Christian interpretation, Isaiah 50:6 prophesied that Jesus would be beaten and spat upon while on the cross.

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Isaiah 50:4-9 is one of the four ‘servant songs’ found in the book of Isaiah. The other songs are Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-13, and chapter 53, which has already been discussed. In these songs, we read about an unidentified servant of God, who suffers for his devotion and is eventually redeemed. Traditional Judaism believes the servant is a metaphor for the Jewish people and many contemporary bible scholars also share this view. Once again, it is worth noting the ambiguity of this 'prophecy'. Christians will tend to associate vague descriptions of suffering with Jesus, the person whose suffering they are perhaps most familiar with, but all we can gain from reading the passage is that it speaks of a servant who allowed himself to suffer for the sake of God. Such generic information can apply to Moses, Abraham, Noah, David, the people of Israel, amongst many others.

Isaiah 53:10 states:

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, he has put him to grief; when you shall make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

‘Seed’ is a biblical euphemism for children. Jesus had no children, and his days on earth were most definitely not prolonged. If you believe that chapter 53 is all about Jesus, you must somehow make it all fit. If you need to tweak it, or explain it with far-fetched ideas, ask yourself why God would make his messages to the ancients, and ultimately to us, so cryptic.

Psalm 22:6-8

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Jesus calling himself a worm is the first red flag this throws up. He was known to declare himself the son of God in scripture, but never anything as lowly as a worm. This is taken by some as a prediction that Jesus would be mocked on the cross, but the book of Psalms already has an original context as the poetry of David. Jewish scholars have never recognized Psalm 22 as messianic prophecy, because it contains no characteristics of it.

Psalm 22:16

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and feet.

Psalm 22:18

They part my garments among them, they cast lots upon my vesture.

Christians often point to the mention of pierced hands and feet in verse 16, the casting of lots and dividing of garments referred to in verse 18, and the words in verse 1 that Jesus echoes in the gospels, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", as allegedly predicting the death of Christ centuries in advance. there are numerous references to events and persons in David's own life.

Is this really evidence? Claiming that it doesn't come out and say crucifixion, but still means it anyway? Depending on what translation or bible you read, Psalm 22:16 may be translated as "they have pierced my hands and feet", "like a lion they are at my hands and feet", "my hands and feet are shriveled", etc. A very thorough examination of the verse is available at

Suffice it to say that the reference to pierced hands and feet is disputable. And with that goes the only vestige of resemblance to crucifixion, which was not a very good one to begin with. If prophecy is inspired by God, couldn't God just have said crucifixion when he meant it?

The Psalms are David’s retelling of events which happened to him. In 2 Samuel 22, David delivers Psalm 18 after being saved from his enemies and Saul. So given this context, it would make much more sense for Psalm 22 to relate an experience of David instead of the experience of Jesus.

Psalm 22 depicts a person struggling with suffering by reassuring himself that God is in control and will deliver those who remain faithful. While this would be perfectly suitable for David, it's a little puzzling why Jesus would be speaking of God in such a way if, according to most Christians, Jesus and God are one and the same. Some references are more ambiguous, like the dividing of garments and attacking lions, but these are most likely metaphor. When was Jesus ever surrounded by "strong bulls of Bashan" (verse 12)? Clearly there is metaphor in Psalm 22, but it should be unsurprising to find from a poet like David.

This brings up another problem with the Christian interpretation as well, that the Psalms are not prophetic books. The traditional Hebrew title for Psalms, Tehillim, reflects this, as the word means "praises".

As already mentioned, Psalms is a book of poetry. Messianic prophecies typically are accompanied by several signs. A sense of finality is expressed in the future tense, using phrases like "the days are coming" (Jeremiah 23:5), "in that day" (Isaiah 10:20), and "it shall come to pass" (Isaiah 66:23). Messianic prophecies also usually reference the "branch of David", "root of Jesse", or the general kingdom of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 30:8-9, Isaiah 11:10). The messianic age is prophesied as one with total peace between nations and animals, when all Jews will return to Israel (Hosea 3:4-5, Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 11:6-9). Psalm 22 has none of these signs connected to it.

Psalm 34: 19-20

He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

Apologists claim that Psalm 34:20 predicted that none of Jesus' bones would be broken. The preceding verse explains that God delivers any generic righteous man, and though he may have troubles, his bones will not be broken. This is a poetic statement to communicate that for a righteous person; God will always come through and not let them suffer beyond what they can bear. There is no demonstrable connection to Jesus here, and once again the traditional understanding of Psalms prevails.

Psalm 69:21

They gave me also gall for my meat and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

By now you should understand that the gospellers added items to the crucifixion story that they assumed were Old Testament prophecy, using a lot of wishful thinking and poetic licence. They have the Roman soldiers giving Jesus a sponge soaked in vinegar to drink, but there is nothing about feeding him gall.

Zechariah 12:10

Zechariah 12:10 places emphasis on the piercing of Jesus:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

The surrounding context of this passage mentions that God will seek to destroy all nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech. 12:9), and a great mourning will go out for the individual who is pierced, mourning that will involve all God's children, including Jews (12:11-14). Obviously, these are things that did not happen during the time when Jesus was supposedly crucified. There was no such war against the enemies of Jerusalem, and Jesus was not mourned by the Jews, who did not believe he was the Messiah. Not even after the thunder and lightning, torn curtain in the temple and the dead coming out of their graves when Jesus died.

Jonah 1:17

But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

How does this have any relevance to Jesus? Jesus, according to the New Testament, died on a Friday and rose on Sunday. That’s two nights and one full day (Saturday).

Psalm 16 8-11

Did Psalm 16:8-11 prophesy that Jesus would be raised from the dead? Christian apologists may say yes, but let's take a close look at the text:

I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

This is yet another ambiguous verse. The passage speaks of someone who is close to God, and whom God will not abandon to the grave or allow to see decay. As we've seen before, Psalms is a book of poetry that is fond of imagery and metaphor, so the remarks about the grave and decay may not necessarily mean death. The famed 11th century rabbi known as Rashi has the following to say in one of his commentaries:
"...I am confident that You will not forsake my soul to the grave. Since, concerning the iniquity of a grave transgression which I committed, You sent me the tidings (in II Sam. 12:13): 'Also the Lord has removed your sin,' certainly from now on You will not forsake me [to cause me] to turn away from You."

Psalm 16:8-11 is David expressing his thankfulness that, even though he had committed a serious offence against God, God would not turn his back on him. The original context beats out the Christian interpretation once again. Wishful thinking and active imaginations play quite a large role in most of the Hebrew prophecies allegedly concerning Jesus.

It’s not easy accepting that our faith is flawed: I gradually came to realise it over a few years. Even now I learn things about Christianity that make me wonder how I ever took it seriously. Mostly it was because, like you, I was told the nice, comfortable bits, or the scary ‘believe or else’ bits. The parts in which god showed his horrendous, vindictive, spiteful nature, and the awful errors of fact and contradictions were never presented. I do remember suddenly seeing the absurdity of a 'loving god' condemning people he allegedly loved to an eternity of torture for a very simple 'crime'.

Life is just as good without god – in fact it’s a lot better. You can rid yourself of the guilt you feel about your human needs and wants, and concentrate on being good for goodness sake, because that is how we evolved to be. You do not deserve to be fed on superstitious bronze-age nonsense and scared into submission. We evolved to be social creatures who take pleasure in helping each other. We don't need a god or a religious code to be ethical and moral people.

There are plenty of atheists and skeptics in your community that you can reach out to if you are scared or puzzled or angry – a lot of us have been there. Read the bible! Learn as much as you can about what you have been told and evaluate it for yourselves!

I wish you wisdom, freedom, peace and the power that comes from knowledge.

Much of the text above came from the following excellent websites: