Octavo Dia

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ten Questions: Number Seven

Question #7: Why didn't any of Jesus' miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence? It's very strange, isn't it? You have created an excuse to rationalize it.


Let me ask you a question, what evidence could possibly have been left behind that would force the recognition that it was miraculously caused?

Example: we have the testimony of eye-witnesses who were willing to die rather than deny what they saw, and it is rejected.

Example: there was a global flood that created billions of fossils and created enormous quantities of sedimentary rock, as well as deposited vast coal beds, and it is all explained with uniformitarian processes.

Example: the creation of the life itself, in all its mind-boggling diversity and complexity, is explain with random chance processes.

Example: an apparently infinite universe is just "the way it is", with no other explanation than nothingness exploding.

Therefore, even if we were to find an Egyptian army buried on the bottom of the Red Sea, it would be explained as a "mythical interpretation of a historical event". Even if we found Noah's ark in the mountains of Ararat, it could be explained as a hoax, some religious shrine, or a shipwreck brought to the surface through natural uplift. In other words, short of a constant violation of the laws of nature, nothing would be sufficient evidence of a miracle, and even that would be consigned to the realm of as-yet-unknown science, and not accepted as a miracle at all.

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Ten Questions: Number Six

Question #6: Why do bad things happen to good people? That makes no sense. You have created an exotic excuse on God's behalf to rationalize it.

As was discussed in a previous question, there are no good people. All people are inherently evil. There is no dichotomy, no miscarriage of justice, when bad things happen to bad people. There is, however, a problem with good things happening to bad people. In that case, one has to appeal to divine mercy as an explanation.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ten Questions: Number Five

Question #5: Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible? Look up these Bible verses:

    - Exodus 21:20-21 – God says that it is OK to own slaves, and it is also OK to beat them.

    - Colossians 3:22-24 – Slaves need to obey their masters.

    - Ephesians 6:5 – Slaves need to obey their masters just as they would obey Christ.

    - 1 Peter 2:18 – Slaves need to obey their masters, even if their masters are harsh .

And so on…

And why do all intelligent people abhor slavery and make it completely illegal? You have to come up with some kind of weird rationalization to explain it.


I'll divide the slave question into Old and New Testament responses.

OLD TESTAMENT

First of all, remember that the law concerning slaves falls into the category of civil law, discussed in a previous post. Civil law, as all politics must be, is the art of the possible. This is why slavery in the Old Testament was the best of bad options:

Our view of slavery is strongly tainted by our society's experience with slavery, in which it was a greed-driven, racist, and permanent situation. Slavery in the Old Testament was considerably different:

Old Testament slaves came from three places: war, purchase, and poverty.

First, what do you do with prisoners in Ancient Near East warfare? We didn't have that wonderful invention called the Geneva conventions in the Old Testament. If prisoners were taken, they wouldn't be returned at the end of the war, because returning a prisoner was essentially rearming a defeated enemy. Returning prisoners was suicide.

Prisoners of war couldn't be simply kept in P.O.W. camps endlessly, mainly because of the grinding poverty of rain-fed agriculture economies. During good periods, they might have been able to support a few non-working mouths, but during the all-to-frequent lean periods, feeding prisoners would mean more would have to starve. Keeping prisoners was suicide.

Prisoners of war couldn't simply be released into the wilderness, as they would quickly be picked up by the roving bands and slave traders of the region. They would become slaves anyway, and slaves in conditions far worse than that of the Jews, who, having been slaves, had strong taboos against mistreating them. Releasing them made the prisoner's situation worse.

In short, the best possible solution for the ancient state of Israel was to keep P.O.W.s as slaves. As slaves, they would receive the best treatment available, while not endangering the Jews again.


Second, the slaves which were purchased were purchased from other nations, i.e., they were already slaves. Not only were they already slaves, but under the Jews their period of slavery was limited. Slaves were permitted to purchase their freedom. If they did not purchase their freedom, they would be released from slavery anyway at the year of the Jubilee (See Leviticus 25). In short, slavery by the Jews was a step up (especially considering the better treatment received). Slaves purchased from others were released from the burden of perpetual slavery which they had under their previous masters.


Third, poverty was a source of slaves and a cause of slaves. In modern societies, those who have been economically dislocated have a social safety net to fall back on. There are unemployment benefits, welfare, foodstamps, etc. Impoverished societies have none of those. The alternative to slavery was literal starvation. In this situation, slavery was essentially charity. The "owner" took on the risk of supporting the slave for a set period of time--until the year of the Jubilee--and could not sell such a slave to another. Furthermore, at the year of the Jubilee, the property the slave had sold prior to becoming a slave would be returned, so there was no perpetual poverty, and thus no perpetual slavery.

Therefore, in the Old Testament, slavery by the Jews was a practical solution to problems of war and poverty. It was also regulated to make slavery as benign an institution as possible. In short, it was the best of the bad options.


NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament verses cited are very practical advice. Go to wikipedia's "slave rebellions" page and read what happens. Almost always, the slave rebellion begins quite well, with the slaves scoring a few quick victories while the owners mobilize their military forces, and then the slaves are slaughtered until they stop fighting. The condition of the remaining slaves is always much worse than before the rebellion. Very few slave rebellions are successful. Given what happened to the rebels under Spartacus once he was defeated, not challenging the Roman institution directly was very wise.

However, if you read the context of the verses cited, the authors are attempting another solution to slavery. The slaves are to be the best slaves they can be--slaves so good that the masters cannot help but notice that these slaves are the best of the bunch. It is an attempt for the slaves to witness to their masters. For if the masters converted, and followed the advice given in Scripture (Timothy 1:10, Philemon 16, and Ephesians 6:9), slavery would rapidly fall away. The Ephesians 6:9 verse is particularly interesting: masters are not even supposed to "threaten" slaves. The other verses explain that, even if the masters never notice, and slavery is not abolished by conversion, God will reward those slaves for their actions.

So what is God such a huge proponent of in the New Testament? He's a proponent of not being slaughtered. He advocates love. He advocates moral persuasion. He is attempting to end slavery in the minds of men.


And why do all intelligent people abhor slavery and make it completely illegal?

Why thank you. As you might remember, the Abolitionists were almost always religious, and very often religious leaders, citing Scripture to support their case that slavery was evil.

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Ten Questions: Number Four

Question #4: Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense? You have a college degree, so you know what I'm talking about. You know how science works. You happily use the products of science every day: your car, your cell phone, your microwave oven, your TV, your computer. These are all products of the scientific process. You know that science is incredibly important to our economy and to our lives.

But there is a problem. As an educated person you know that the Bible contains all sorts of information that is total nonsense from a scientific perspective.

    - God did not create the world in 6 days 6,000 years ago like the Bible says.

    - There was never a worldwide flood that covered Mt. Everest like the Bible says.

    - Jonah did not live inside a fish's stomach for three days like the Bible says.

    - God did not create Adam from a handful of dust like the Bible says.

These stories are all nonsense. Why would an all-knowing God write nonsense? It makes no sense, does it? So you create some type of very strange excuse to try to explain why the Bible contains total nonsense.


First, "anti-scientific nonsense". Whenever you have a particularly acrimonious debate, it is usually a consequence of a failure to define terms. When "science" has been defined in a strictly material sense, an a priori elimination of the supernatural, then any reference to divine intervention--whether it happened or not--will be anti-scientific. If, for the sake of argument, we assume that God created, by this definition it would be anti-scientific despite being a historical fact. What if we define science much more strictly: "observation → induction → hypothesis → test hypothesis by experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge"?

If we accept that, very tight, definition of science, evolutionary origins science becomes "anti-scientific nonsense". Why? Because we cannot observe what has already happened. With regards to the past, the series then becomes "observation of what exists in the present → induction of what happened in the past → hypothesis → inability to test, as it has already occurred → failure of scientific method." See It's not Science? for more on this theme.


Second, the examples of scientific progress given above are a result of the Baconian scientific method, as also given above. A failure to accept evolution would not prevent the development of the microwave.


Third, examples:

- God did not create the world in 6 days 6,000 years ago like the Bible says.

Why not? Imagine you are an omnipotent God. Would it strain you to create the universe in 6 days? Not if you're omnipotent. It would not strain you to create it in six seconds, or milliseconds, or with no passage of time at all. Why did God take so long? He did it as an example for us: Exodus 20:11 "
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." If you want more, see The Parable of the Candle and How Old is the Earth?


- There was never a worldwide flood that covered Mt. Everest like the Bible says.

First, probably not Mt. Everest, because Mt. Everest probably didn't exist. The problem with a global flood is that it is so many degrees of magnitude above anything we've experienced that it is almost inconceivable. For example, if catastrophic subduction was the physical cause of the Noachian flood, if would mean that almost every geological feature we see today is entirely different than the pre-flood conditions.

Second, Christianity depends on there being a worldwide flood, because God promised that he would never send another such flood (Genesis 9:11, 15). Since there have been countless partial and regional floods since then, if it was not a global flood, God has lied endlessly.

Third, if there had been a global flood, we would expect to find, as Ken Ham said, "Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth." Surprisingly enough, that's what we find. Evolutionists cannot permit a flood of such scope, even though it would eliminate many geological problems, because such a flood would have created most of the geological column.


- Jonah did not live inside a fish's stomach for three days like the Bible says.

I cannot say it as well as they can, but this also questions the ability of an omnipotent God. A God capable of creating the universe is surely capable of keeping someone alive inside a fish for three days.

- God did not create Adam from a handful of dust like the Bible says.

As opposed to creating him on an oxygen and ozone free planet, when
CO2, CH4, NH3, and H2 were in heated water (from a shallow water vent), and struck by lightning, and then followed by an appropriate introduction of minerals and metal ions. Suddenly, the handful of dust doesn't look that farfetched.


In sum, it is anti-scientific only if the definition of science is expanded to include historical induction and expanded again to include an a priori exclusion of divine action. If historical induction is left to the historians, origins science is no more scientific than creation science.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Ten Questions: Number Three

Third question: Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible? Look up these verses:

    - Exodus 35:2 – God demands that we kill everyone who works on the Sabbath day.

    - Deuteronomy 21:18-21 – God demands that we kill disobedient teenagers.

    - Leviticus 20:13 – God demands the death of homosexuals.

    - Deuteronomy 22:13-21 – God demands that we kill girls who are not virgins when they marry.

And so on… There are lots of verses like these.

It doesn't make any sense, does it? Why would a loving God want us to murder our fellow human beings over such trivial matters? Just because you work on the wrong day of the week, you must die? That makes no sense, does it? In fact, if you think about it, you realize that it is insane. So you create some kind of rationalization to explain these verses.


As discussed in the previous question, this question also errs in its presumption of innocence. God demands the death penalty of so many guilty people. But for the sake of argument, we'll accept that these are very minor sins, and wholly unworthy of death. What kinds of sins are worthy of death? Think back to the first sin, the sin that brought death, in Genesis 3:1-6:

"He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."

Like all of Scripture, a child's reading is sufficient to understand it, but no matter how much you study it, there is always more meaning; it is always possible to have a greater understanding of God. Yet it is impossible to truly understand it, for to do so would require the wisdom of God. A child's reading of the fall of man sees the obvious problem: God told them not to take it and they did, thus they sinned. However, we can see that, that does not nearly exhaust the list of sins committed. For example:

1. Eve misquoted God. God actually said in Genesis 2:15-16, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Eve added her own "and you must not touch it" to God's commands. Why is this important? God is His word. As we see in John 1:1-5 "1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning." Since His Word is God, to change His Word is a form of idolatry, to put the creature above the creator.

2. Eve placed the word of the serpent above the Word of God. God said, "You will surely die." The serpent said, "You will not die." Who did she believe? Once again, it is a form of idolatry.

3. Eve also was not content with the perfect love and blessing of God. In this manner she was judging God. She was placing herseslf in the position of God, making her the judge of Him. Idolatry, yet again.

4. Adam also sinned. He committed a sin of omission in that he did not immediately call out to the Lord when the temptation began, but relied on his strength, not the strength of God. He also placed the word of Eve above the Word of God, committing idolatry also. (However, Adam thought he was an innocent bystander, as Genesis 3:17 says: "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.") He could have prayed at any point throughout the temptation. He could even have prayed for forgiveness immediately after sinning, but as we saw in the verse above, he compounded, and tried to cover, his sins with other sins.

So how does all this relate to whether we are working on the wrong day of the week? A "simple" sin, like "working on the wrong day of the week", involves much more than simply having a very full schedule. It involves a willful defiance of God. A willful defiance of God is a sin which is punishable by eternal separation from God, i.e., death and damnation.


The most obvious objection to the above answer is, "Why doesn't God demand that we kill people now?" The response to that is that there are three types of Law found in the Bible. The distinction being the difference between "What does God say," and "What does God say TO ME"? It reminds me of the pastor who illustrated this distinction, and why you can't take things out of context, with the passages Matthew 27:5, Luke 10:37, and John 13:28: "Judas went away and hanged himself." "Go and do likewise." "What you are about to do, do quickly." The three kinds of law, addressed to three groups of people, are commonly referred to as the civil, ceremonial, and moral law. The civil law was addressed to the ancient state of Israel, for the purpose of regulating their government and societal affairs. The ceremonial law, involving the sacrifice of so many animals, was addressed to the Jews prior to the coming of Christ, the last and perfect sacrifice. Finally, the moral law was addressed to all people for all time, and is summed up by the Ten Commandments.

The command to stone people for the myriad sins listed in the question was a civil law command, addressed to the state of ancient Israel. And of course, the next objection would be, "You haven't answered the original question: why did God demand their death?" Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of how he has "set apart" the Israelites, for example in Leviticus 20:22-23, 24b, and 26:

"22 'Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 24 I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. 26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own."

The admittedly draconian laws of the Old Testament were to serve God's clearly stated purpose: he did not want the Israelites to mix with the peoples around them, for whenever they did (as seen throughout the Old Testament), His Word would be lost among them, and if His Word were lost, then we all would be lost. Thus God commanded the state of Israel to kill those who deliberately and openly defied Him, (and who, we have been promised, would not have repented--as Isaiah 42:3 says, "3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." In other words, He will not destroy those who are weak in faith, no matter how weak they are.) so that there would be witnesses to the truth. In other words, God killed those who would not repent so that those would repent would hear the truth--He did it that He might be merciful to every Christian who will ever live.

The need for stoning has since been overturned, because believers are no longer set apart. In fact, we are commanded to go out into the world. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15). Once again, the importance of making the distinction between what God says, and what God says to me makes all the difference.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ten Questions: Number Two

So the second question is: Why are there so many starving people in our world?

Look out at our world and notice that millions of children are dying of starvation. It really is horrific. Why would God be worried about you getting a raise, while at the same time ignoring the prayers of these desperate, innocent little children? It really doesn't make any sense, does it? Why would a loving god do this?

To explain it, you have to come up with some sort of very strange excuse for God. Like, "God wants these children to suffer and die for some divine, mysterious reason." Then you push it out of your mind because it absolutely does not fit with your view of a loving, caring God.


This is the theodicy problem applied to a particular situation. The "divine, mysterious reason," as we'll see below, is quite well documented. However, one might as well ask, "Why is there ____ kind of suffering in the world" filling in the blank with whatever comes to mind. The short answer is "sin." Prior to sin, when people had not rebelled against God, there was no suffering. People are starving because they rebelled against God. In other words, God has provided for them, but sin has driven away that which he has provided. The suffering is caused by man, not God.

Why is there so much suffering? Why couldn't we be given a simple, "Yes/No" option and then be punted off to heaven or hell just like that? We were given that option. We all chose "No." Therefore, we should all be in hell--we should all be eternally separated from God. Since God is the definition of good, we should all be eternally separated from all goodness. One may argue that there is no good in the lives of the starving children in the example above. It is, however, a more apt description of what hell is like, for if life on earth can be that bad, or worse, a category into which I would place the victims of Unit 731, what then must hell be like? Returning to the question at the beginning of this paragraph, why is there so much suffering? Suffering is God giving us a small taste of what being eternally separated from Him is like; suffering is in itself an act of mercy.

Why would God be worried about you getting a raise, while at the same time ignoring the prayers of these desperate, innocent little children?

First, the easy part. The word "innocent" is entirely incorrect. In a verse which is typically cited with regards to the abortion controversy, Psalm 51:5 states "
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Or again in Romans 3:10-12: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Between these verses, the exclusion of anyone doing good, we can safely eliminate children as being innocent, and if we take the verse from Psalms literally, sin exists prior to conscious thought. Given the number of miscarriages, and that fetuses still suffer, we can be certain that infants, even at extremely young ages before birth, are suffering the consequences of sin, i.e., suffering and death, and are therefore sinful.

Second, does God ignore their suffering and pay attention to ours? God pays attention to all suffering, as is illustrated by Matthew 10:29-31: "29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." God even pays attention to that which all but the newly balding ignore. If, as we saw above, suffering is merciful, the question becomes, why does God seemingly show more mercy to some than to others?

In Matthew 5:45 Christ says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (By the way, as a people practicing rain-fed agriculture, rain was considered a blessing.) In Matthew 20:15 Christ also says, "15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" Are we then envious because God is generous? Horrific as it is, the millions of starving children are living in astounding blessing--God has not let them, or us, withdraw completely from him, as we wished to, and as we still may when they are judged.

So why are there so many starving people in the world? They are starving because God is merciful. Were He not merciful, he would have let us suffer the full consequences of our choice immediately--He would have done what justice demands.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh the humanity

Okay, this is weird. An Israeli court has just allowed a dead soldier's sperm to be used to impregnate a volunteer, so that his family line could be carried on. You know, if the soldier had advertised while he was alive that he was willing to impregnate a volunteer, I doubt he would have gotten any offers.

Surge Protectors

So the squirt has begun in Iraq. I recall a historical parallel. The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last gasp to seize a semblence of victory. He attacked on the western front because even Hitler, in his late, maddened stage, realized that the troops he could scrape up for the offensive would have been entirely lost on the eastern front. He surged into the smaller battle in the hopes that it would buy time/turn the tide/lead to negotiations so he could focus on the Soviet Union. We are apparently not that bright. We should have surged in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the extra troops would have made a tremendous difference.

No s***, Sherlock

"Critics of the president [Hugo Chavez] accuse him of trying to build an authoritarian regime with all institutional powers consolidated into his own hands."

Yeah, he only asked for the power to bypass parliament for 18 months. What's eighteen months? If take out sleeping, meals, and photo-ops, it's two months, really.

Giving credit where it's due

The Democratic Congress has gotten rid of $14 billion in oil subsidies. Now if only they didn't want to use the money saved for subsidies for their own pet projects.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How to torture

The trouble with torture is that we so rarely torture those who need torturing. When a state adopts torture, it ends up torturing political prisoners and people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, quite rightly, most states have banned torture.

However, were torture a necessity, as it may very well be with the dawning of nuclear terrorism, the impetus to permit torture will be overwhelmingly great. Therefore, one must regulate torture, disquieting as it is.

I believe I have the solution. It is derived from my solution to the freshman ethics question about lying to the Nazis. My solution was that lying to the Nazis was wrong, but that failing to lie to the Nazis, and thereby putting innocents in danger of liquidation, was more wrong. Using this, torture is wrong, but failing to torture in such circumstances would be more wrong. Therefore, when torture is committed, it should be treated as a crime, and placed before the courts. Thus a detainee who dies as the result of mistreatment would be counted as voluntary manslaughter, and the torturer would be punished accordingly. However, the torturer would also be able to plead that more good came of the torture than the harm inflicted. If the court agrees that, for example, by torturing one man we saved the lives of a planeload of passengers, the torturer would be exonerated.

In short, what this proposal would do is put the torturer's neck on the line. The techniques they use would be carefully selected based on the probability of success and the danger posed. There's nothing like facing prison to clarify the mind about who should, and should not, be tortured.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Torturers Wanted!

Never did I think I'd see this advertisement.

The winds they are a changing...

I have changed my point of view on Iraq. I know that Iraq is not a hopeless cause, and that with the right moves, Iraq can be stabilized. However, it is now my conclusion that the United States will not do what is necessary to achieve such an end, so we should cut our losses and withdraw. Here's a list, in no particular order, and by no means extensive, of things we should do, but won't, in Iraq:

  • Don't "surge" unless you mean it. Military force is like penicillin--a low level extended exposure does nothing but make it useless. The surge they're talking about is two to three divisions. If you count all our allies, all the countractors, and the troops currently in Iraq, two or three divisions forms a 10-15% jump. That's a blip, not a surge. If you want to surge, you should double our total forces.
  • Flatten the hierarchy. Our enemies live by the survival of the fittest. That which doesn't work kills them, and everyone else knows not to do that. Their tactics change constantly. For our tactics to change, it has to work its way up the chain of command, and back down. Our tactical changes work in cycles of decades, not days.
  • Get our logistics under control. American troops tend to bring their lifestyle with them, which means we have monster supply chains--and a tremendous number of supply officers. We may have a good number of "boots on the ground" but how many of them are actually patrolling? America needs to increase its effective strength, not just numbers.
  • Quadruple the pay of any soldier who speaks Arabic. They'd be a bargain at that price. Perhaps more of them would study.

Torture and new Torture Lite!

I recently read a print article that described wrapping prisoners in an Israeli flag and pretending to relieve oneself on the Koran as "torture". I hereby declare the word "torture" to be meaningless. When one hear's the word, "torture", one immediately asks, "What happened?" When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, I was shocked by how unshocking the images were. When I think of torture, I think of things such as these. Now pretended desecration is torture. At the rate we're going, three years from now, failure to provide therapists and Prozac will be described as torture.

The Universe

Two things that I read a long time ago that recently came together in my mind. First, I remember reading a person who argued that God would not have created the entire universe without a purpose, so therefore God must not exist.

The second thing I remember is that the human female has approximately 3 million egg cells. The typical human female will go through a maximum of about 650 eggs. That's three orders of magnitude less than the number available. Why so many eggs?

These things came together in the realization that God had not intended for us to stay on earth. In a perfect universe, in which people lived forever, and God upheld and sustained it, we would have rapidly acquired the technology to explore and settle the universe. God created the universe to be filled with people.