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Meditation 1105
Some Mistakes of Moses

IX. Thursday

by: Robert G. Ingersoll

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AFTER the world was covered with vegetation, it occurred to Moses that it was about time to make a sun and moon; and so we are told that on the fourth day God said, “Let there be light in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.”

Can we believe that the inspired writer had any idea of the size of the sun? Draw a circle five inches in diameter, and by its side thrust a pin through the paper. The hole made by the pin will sustain about the same relation to the circle that the earth does to the sun. Did he know that the sun was eight hundred and sixty thousand miles in diameter; that it was enveloped in an ocean of fire thousands of miles in depth, hotter even than the Christian’s hell. Over which sweep tempests of flame moving at the rate of one hundred miles a second, compared with which the wildest storm that ever wrecked the forests of this world was but a calm? Did he know that the sun every moment of time throws out as much heat as could be generated by the combustion of millions upon millions of tons of coal? Did he know that the volume of the Earth is less than one-millionth of that of the sun? Did he know of the one hundred and four planets belonging to our solar system, all children of the sun? Did he know of Jupiter eighty-five thousand miles in diameter, hundreds of times as large as our earth, turning on his axis at the rate of twenty-five thousand miles an hour accompanied by four moons, making the tour of his orbit in fifty years, a distance of three thousand million miles? Did he know anything about Saturn, his rings and his eight moons? Did he have the faintest idea that all these planets were once a part of the sun; that the vast luminary was once thousands of millions of miles in diameter; that Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars were all born before our earth, and that by no possibility could this world have existed three days, nor three periods, nor three “good whiles” before its source, the sun?

Moses supposed the sun to be about three or four feet in diameter and the moon about half that size. Compared with the earth they were but simple specks. This idea seems to have been shared by all the “inspired” men. We find in the book of Joshua that the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.”

We are told that the sacred writer wrote in common speech as we do when we talk about the rising and setting of the sun, and that all he intended to say was that the earth ceased to turn on its axis for about a whole day.”

My own opinion is that General Joshua knew no more about the motions of the earth than he did about mercy and justice. If he had known that the earth turned upon its axis at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, and swept in its course about the sun at the rate of sixty-eight thousand miles an hour, he would have doubled the hailstones, spoken of in the same chapter, that the Lord cast down from heaven, and allowed the sun and moon to rise and set in the usual way.

It is impossible to conceive of a more absurd story than this about the stopping of the sun and moon, and yet nothing so excites the malice of the orthodox preacher as to call its truth in question. Some endeavor to account for the phenomenon by natural causes, while others attempt to show that God could, by the refraction of light have made the sun visible although actually shining on the opposite side of the earth. The last hypothesis has been seriously urged by ministers within the last few months. The Rev. Henry M. Morey of South Bend, Indiana, says “that the phenomenon was simply optical. The rotary motion of the earth was not disturbed, but the light of the sun was prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection by which the sun now appears to be above the horizon when it is really below. The medium through which the sun’s rays passed may have been miraculously influenced so as to have caused the sun to linger above the horizon long after its usual time for disappearance.”

This is the latest and ripest product of Christian scholarship upon this question no doubt, but still it is not entirely satisfactory to me. According to the sacred account the sun did not linger, merely, above the horizon. but stood still “in the midst of heaven for about a whole day,” that is to say. for about twelve hours. If the air was miraculously changed, so that it would refract the rays of the sun while the earth turned over as usual for “about a whole day,” then, at the end of that time the sun must have been visible in the east, that is, it must by that time have been the next morning. According to this, that most wonderful day must have been at least thirty-six hours in length. We have first, the twelve hours of natural light, then twelve hours of “refracted and reflected” light. By that time it would again be morning, and the sun would shine for twelve hours more in the natural way, making thirty-six hours in all.

If the Rev. Morey would depend a little less on “refraction” and a little more on “reflection” he would conclude that the whole story is simply a barbaric myth and fable.

It hardly seems reasonable that God, if there is one, would either stop the globe, change the constitution of the atmosphere or the nature of light simply to afford Joshua an opportunity to kill people on that day when he could just as easily have waited until the next morning. It certainly cannot be very gratifying to God for us to believe such childish things.

It has been demonstrated that force is eternal; that it is forever active, and eludes destruction by change of form. Motion is a form of force, and all arrested motion changes instantly to heat. The earth turns upon its axis at about one thousand miles an hour. Let it be stopped and a force beyond our imagination is changed to heat. It has been calculated that to stop the world would produce as much heat as the burning of a solid piece of coal three times the size of the earth. And yet we are asked to believe that this was done in order that one barbarian might defeat another. Such stories never would have been written, had not the belief been general that the heavenly bodies were as nothing compared with the earth.

The view of Moses was acquiesced in by the Jewish people and by the Christian world for thousands of years. It is supposed that Moses lived about fifteen hundred years before Christ, and although he was “inspired,” and obtained his information directly from God, he did not know as much about our solar system as the Chinese did a thousand years before he was born. “The Emperor Chwenhio adopted as an epoch, a conjunction of the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which has been shown by M. Bailly to have occurred no less than 2449 years before Christ.” The ancient Chinese knew not only the motions of the planets, but they could calculate eclipses. “In the reign of the Emperor Chow-Kang, the chief astronomers, Ho and Hi were condemned to death for neglecting to announce a solar eclipse which took place 2169 B.C., a clear proof that the prediction of eclipses was a part of the duty of the imperial astronomers.”

Is it not strange that a Chinaman should find out by his own exertions more about the material universe than Moses could when assisted by its Creator?

About eight hundred years after God gave Moses the principal facts about the creation of the “heaven and the earth” he performed another miracle far more wonderful than stopping the world. On this occasion he not only stopped the earth, but actually caused it to turn the other way. A Jewish king was sick, and God, in order to convince him that he would ultimately recover, offered to make the shadow on the dial go forward, or backward ten degrees. The king thought it was too easy a thing to make the shadow go forward, and asked that it be turned back. Thereupon, “Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord, and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.” I hardly see how this miracle could be accounted for even by “refraction” and “reflection.”

It seems, from the account, that this stupendous miracle was performed after the king had been cured. The account of the shadow going backward is given in the eleventh verse of the twentieth chapter of Second Kings, while the cure is given in the seventh verse of the same chapter. “And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.”

Stopping the world and causing it to turn back ten degrees after that, seems to have been, as the boil was already cured by the figs, a useless display of power.

The easiest way to account for all these wonders is to say that the “inspired” writers were mistaken. In this way a fearful burden is lifted from the credulity of man, and he is left free to believe the evidences of his own senses, and the demonstrations of science. In this way he can emancipate himself from the slavery of superstition, the control of the barbaric dead, and the despotism of the church.

Only about a hundred years ago, Buffon, the naturalist, was compelled by the faculty of theology of Paris to publicly renounce fourteen “errors” in his work on Natural History because they were at variance with the Mosaic account of creation. The Pentateuch is still the scientific standard of the church, and ignorant priests, armed with that, pronounce sentence upon the vast accomplishments of modern thought.


Next: X. He Made the Stars Also

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