Yahweh's Evolution: A Look at the Israelite Pantheon and the Journey from Polytheism to Monotheism (From Chapter 20: The Vacuity of Christian Faith of The Swedish Fish)
We begin chapter twenty “Would a Most Perfect Being Have a Most Imperfect Church?” with the continued comparison of the Christian concept of God with the Greek concept of Zeus.
While Zeus was created by other gods, Christians and Jews always taught that Yahweh is the creator of all things … The difference between various concepts of God is important for eliminating certain descriptions of the most perfect being.
Remember my earlier objection to the method of assigning templates to your chosen God concept as a way to reject competing definitions as not compatible with your template? Holding up dissimilar God-concepts to your randomly selected template, and then saying this definition fits but that other one doesn’t, is easy. But in essence, all one has done is show that some definitions fit arbitrary religious templates better than others. This is to be expected. But one hasn’t proved anything yet.
As for Randal’s point about Christians and Jews always teaching that Yahweh was the creator of all things, as if the Christian concept of God and the Jewish concept of God were identical, I feel obligated to mention that Israel and its people were still a polytheistic peoples before the exile, roughly between the 10th century BCE and 586 BCE.
It’s no secret that the Israelites worshipped a pantheon of gods including El, Asherah, Baal, Moloch, Kaus, and Yahweh, just to name a few. Most scholars consider El and Yahweh separate gods even though it would appear that Yahweh later got hypostatized with El into one and the same deity by the time the Torah was composed.
Furthermore, an archeological find at Kuntillet Ajrud in the northern Sinai desert in 1978 uncovered three anthropomorphic figures dating back to 800 BCE at the end of the Iron age which referred separately to Yahweh, El, and Baal, implying they were three distinct but equally revered gods.
Despite everything, I think it’s worth noting that the god Baal was one of the sons of El, and represented the direct rival to Yahweh, which is why the Old Testament god admonishes his followers not to worship the other gods, such as Baal. By the ninth century BCE we see telltale signs of a gradual turn toward monotheism where the old gods of the Israelites were supplanted and/or rejected in favor of a single, supreme god—i.e., Yahweh.
The new god Yahweh was a warrior god from the northern region of Edom and Midian, near Judah, who grew in popularity until he eventually usurped El, the original God of Israel, and took himself a consort, Asherah (originally El’s wife) who is also referred to as the “Queen of Heaven” and who was worshipped alongside both El and Yahweh by early Israelites from roughly the seventh to ninth centuries BCE.
With Yahweh’s rise to fame, however, Asherah became the new Hebrew god’s consort (Yahweh isn’t an adulterer so much as the Hebrews liked to pair Asherah with their preferred god and the Canaanites liked to pair her with theirs, in this case the god El). Meanwhile, Yahweh, the warrior god of the Hebrews, and Baal (son of El),  the preferred god of the Canaanites, co-existed together for a time, but around the tenth century BCE a shift occurred when Yahweh worship eventually became the popular religion and fully usurped Baal worship, thus leading to what would become the world’s major monotheistic religion.
Evidently, history teaches us a different story from the one Christian apologists want us to hear. As it turns out, Yahweh didn’t create the other gods of the Israelite pantheon as Yahweh was a rather late addition, only solidifying into a monotheistic deity during the period of the United Monarchy (circa 1020 and 930 BCE). It was during this period that Yahweh assimilated the traits of all the other gods in the Israelite pantheon and, ultimately, became the final representation of the Israelite god.
Present day monotheism, and so too the Jewish belief that Yahweh is the one true god (a belief adopted by early Christians), however, is the end result of a long process of religious evolution from an earlier, more robust Israelite polytheism. A serious scholar, such as Randal claims to be, who writes on the history of the Jews and the Israelites and their God should probably know all this if he intends to be taken seriously as a scholar.
But instead, he seems to reject all of this, if he even knows about it, as is the way with apologists and inerrantists.
Concerns of ancient history aside, we find that Sheridan has a new bother, mainly the fact that Christianity frequently seems to sponsor rather imperfect if not completely immoral behavior in its followers.
Sheridan gives us an anecdote of a girl with liver cancer from Australia whose parents fled to El Salvador to avoid having to give her the mandatory medical treatment required by the Australian Law and so that they can, instead, pray for her recovery in accordance with God’s will.
The fact that God didn’t do anything to ease the young girl’s suffering is essentially a version of the Problem of evil, and it is a strong argument against the Christian God, but Randal doesn’t seem to think so. Randal counters Sheridan’s example by asking, “But how exactly does that work against Yahweh’s claim to be God?”
I don’t know what happened here, but if I recall correctly I thought we were talking about God being a so-called Perfect being of classical Christian theology. Not God’s claim to be divine. This is a dirty little trick apologists like to use whenever they have been bested and have no good or ready answer for the hardened skeptic. They quickly change topics, or raise other tangents (look over there, it’s a red herring!), so as to bog down the conversation in a quagmire of confusing and unrelated counterpoints, hoping to throw off the exacting scrutiny of the skeptic.
The question I would have asked Randal is, “Wait a minute, weren’t you claiming that Yahweh, the Christian God, is a Perfect God?” Subsequently, all one would have to do is reference the numerous horrific acts of Yahweh in the Christian Bible. End of debate.
Instead of dealing with these hard hitting issues, real world Randal has his atheist puppet do the same thing real world Randal likes to do, change topics. Sheridan, for whatever reason, switches gears and starts harping on all of the religious idiots which exist, saying that “as far back as you care to look your God has been trailed by an unbroken chain of idiots.”
Randal scoffs, “Idiots? The whole lot of us?”
No Randal, not all religious people are idiots. That’s not even implied in what Sheridan said (how can you misunderstand your own fictional character?), but there a many proud idiots who happen to be devoutly religious, as correctly stated by Sheridan.
Coming back to the suffering of the little girl, Sheridan points once again to the parents’ negligence and asks, “Is it part of his [God’s] perfect plan that children suffer agonizing deaths?”
Randal’s defense is rather lame, but let’s allow him to make it anyway. Randal assures us that “I don’t think those parents correctly understood God’s will…”
So, they’re idiots then?
Maybe they just misunderstand God some of the time. But what’s to say that Christians everywhere are not misunderstanding God all of the time? What is Randal’s criterion for separating the chaff from the wheat, so to speak, and discerning who is good at understanding God and who isn’t?
Randal dismisses Sheridan’s objection with a mere hand wave, informing, “Medical quackery has nothing to do with the Christian view of God.”
Really? So, does Randal consider the power of prayer medical quackery? Because many Christians ardently believe in it, and many children die because of it. Randal then comes back with a comment so baffling, so absurd, that it quite literally borders on the idiotic.
This tragic story could just as well have been about a couple of atheist parents who favored quackery to proven medical treatments. I am not sure why you’re blaming the Christian concept of God for the medical ignorance and foolishness of some deeply misguided parents.
That’s right. Because atheists have a devout belief in the supernatural power of prayer, a kind of medical quackery according to Randal, and firmly feel miraculous healing happens all of the time all around them. Further, these atheists hang on every word of an old religious holy text which instructs them on how to invoke the power of prayer to heal the sick if only they have enough faith in their God.
No, wait. That’s Christians.
Of course, we should be fair and assume that Randal possibly meant others forms of medical quackery—such as magic crystals, aura cleansing, astrology, and homeopathy. Regardless, I think it’s safe to assume that most atheists typically don’t believe in supernatural quackery because they don’t believe in the supernatural powers behind it all.
If atheists are being negligent in their lack of belief in the supernatural things, then they technically wouldn’t be atheists since lacking evidence for an overarching supernatural framework, no different from God in this respect, you would have to wonder what their criterion was.
It would be like an atheist not believing in God but believing in unicorns. It doesn’t make much sense because you have to ask why are they skeptical about God but not unicorns? The same could be said of atheists and magic. Why would they deny the supernatural powers of an almighty God but believe in magic?
Although there are uncritical atheists who believe in things like ghosts, conspiracy theories and other strange things, such as the unquestioning “village atheist” that Randal so loves to lampoon, most of the atheists I have met are atheists precisely because they are the kind of person that likes to critically evaluate their beliefs. So although there may be irrational atheists just as certainly as there are irrational theists, what we can say for sure is that it is always more rational to have doubts and that the person who never doubts never learns because they cannot see the folly of their wrong beliefs. As Bertrand Russell once quipped:
The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
As for those more spiritual atheists who may believe in a soul or spiritual essence of some kind but not believe in god, I really can’t say what would or wouldn’t constitute medical quackery for them. But according to The Center for Spiritual Atheism, we learn that
Generally, Spiritual Atheists are people who do not believe in a literal “God” but still consider themselves to be (often deeply) “Spiritual” people.… There is no consensus among Spiritual Atheists regarding the literal existence of one’s own “spirit” or a collective “spirit”; however, there is consensus that if any “spirit” does exist, it is not external to the universe and it is not “supernatural.”
They go on to add that “Spiritual Atheists believe that nothing that exists or happens violates the nature of the universe.” As far as anyone should be concerned, this suggests that these “Spiritual” atheists would probably be less inclined to believe in the sort of quackery Randal speaks about.
Personally, I place medical quackery and the “power” of prayer in the same boat. If you’ve ever wanted evidence for the inefficacy of miracles and the impotency of God, quite frankly, there is no better example than the irrefutable failure of prayer.
Raising the issue of negligence, Randal affirms, “Parents subject their children to abuse and neglect for all sorts of reasons, not just religious ones.”
Of course, it is easier just to blame the ignorance and callousness of the parents than to talk about the failure of their religious beliefs to be substantiated when it mattered the most, thereby alluding to the callousness and capriciousness of God which, consequently, directly contradicts Randal’s notion of a Perfect being who cares about forming a personal relationship with us because he loves us and so answers the prayers of his devoted followers.
In any case, people sometimes being negligent wasn’t actually the objection raised, was it? Remember, Sheridan’s example was a direct objection to Randal’s concept of a perfect God. If God was perfect, and benevolent, then he’d answer all of those people’s prayers, he’d heal the sick, and he’d work a few miracles to avoid all the needless suffering and a perfect being who was all loving couldn’t, by his own nature, permit suffering (this objection is known as the Problem of Evil).
The point Sheridan raised wasn’t to say there isn’t child abuse in the world or that parents don’t often act negligently; it was to say that if your preferred God is a Perfect being and a loving being, and thus perfectly loving, then as a Perfect being he would be obligated to ensure that all needless suffering be avoided at any cost and, in the process, answer more of his followers’ prayers, plain and simple.
Yet this we do not find.
This morbid notion that a perfect God who is also perfectly loving would allow for any modicum of suffering, and subsequently all the needless deaths as a part of his so-called perfect plan is not something a sane or rational minded human being would care to defend.
Which is probably why Randal denies that the religious beliefs had anything to do with the parents’ neglect.
Rather, he shifts the blame onto the parents, saying it was the backwards thinking of the parents which is as fault. Hold on a minute though, because we’d like to ask: don’t religious beliefs often influence the religious person’s thinking? Randal, it appears, is simply ducking the question.
Sheridan tries to bring Randal back on track and states, “The fact is that belief in God promotes fatalism.”
Quick to counter this claim, Randal relays:
The Christians I know believe God works through modern medicine and that he expects us to use our common sense … there’s no essential link between theism and fatalism.
There is absolutely no way that Randal can know God wants people to use common sense. That’s just a wild assertion on his part. Also, one has to wonder if Randal has ever heard of Christian Science, the Church of Christ Scientist, or Mary Baker Eddy?
Meanwhile, as to his claim that there’s no essential link between theism and fatalism, I have to wonder if Randal hasn’t ever looked into the theological tenets of Calvinist Christianity. Perhaps it would help to clarify. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. It leads to a bleak outlook, because without free will, without choice, what purpose is there to life?
At the same time, Calvinist Christianity of the Reformed Church preaches the doctrine of predestination, which holds that God predetermines certain events such as your salvation. The five points of Calvinism, which go by the acronym TULIP, also strongly suggest Calvinist theology is fatalistic in nature.
Randal and Sheridan continue to argue at some length until Randal finally asks to know, at least where depravity is concerned, “how often do Christians do these things compared to non-Christians?”
Aside from Randal’s inability to Google, he claims that the reason Christians frequently get caught doing abhorrent things is quite simple.
Christians outnumber atheists by multiple orders, so it’s not surprising we’d have more examples of Christians committing evil acts—just like we have more examples of Christians committing heroic and good acts…
Sigh. Yes, that explains the link between faith and faith based actions precisely. No, wait. No it doesn’t.
Christians may outnumber atheists in America, but not in Buddhist countries and cultures and certainly not in secular dominated areas like the Netherlands and Japan. If Randal’s logic is to be considered sound then we should expect to find the same rate of “evil acts” in predominantly atheistic cultures as well. But to the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t appear that we do.
In their book The Will to Kill (2000) James Alan Fox, Jack A. Lenin, and Kenna Quinet found that all the nations with high homicide rates were extremely religious, and that the nations with the lowest homicide rates tended to be relatively non-religious. Such a find was corroborated in a study led by Pablo Fajnzylber et al. (2002) published in the Journal of Law and Economics.
A 2005 study by Gregory S. Paul and a 2006 study by Gary Jensen published in the Journal of Religion and Society the authors state that, “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” and “In all secular developing democracies a centuries long-term trend has seen homicide rates drop to historical lows” with the exceptions being the United States (with a high religiosity level) and “theistic” Portugal.
Paul and Jensen’s studies each detailed the complex relationship that exists between religiosity and homicide finding that certain aspects of religiosity encourage homicide and other dimensions discourage it, but that on average homicide in religious countries far outweighed that of secular countries.
In his book Society Without God Phil Zuckerman blows up the idea that societies require God or religion for the people to live good, peaceful, happy and productive lives. In fact, his findings were that among all the nations of the world, the more secular the better. Secular nations, on average, were wealthier, happier, and had lower crime rates than religious nations.
Just to better illustrate how rare it is, I’ll use an example that happened here in Japan, in the very city I have lived in for practically a decade. In fact, it’s the only thing I can think of that comes close to the litany of Christian faith healings we so often hear about.
In 2011 there was a forced exorcism of a thirteen year old teenage girl by religious parents, Kazuaki Kinoshita and Atsushi Maishigi, which unfortunately ended their daughter’s life. A sad story for sure, but in the decade that I’ve lived in Japan this is the only time I’ve heard of such a shocking case of superstitious folly.
Randal goes on to say the thing every religious apologist ignorant of history has said, and continues to say, despite their being corrected numerous times by well-informed historians.
How many of the hospitals and orphanages built in the last two millennia were built by atheists? And don’t forget that the largest mass-murderer of the twentieth century was an atheist.
Ooh, yes. Evil psychotic mass-murdering atheists. I was wondering when he’d get to this old canard.
It’s not clear whether Randal means Stalin, Hitler or Pol Pot, as he fails to mention which mass-murdering atheist he has in mind, but it doesn’t so much matter since the comparison is completely invalid. It’s a fallacy of association used by the apologist to make atheists look morally void by invoking psychotic mass-murdering dictators and then citing their apparent atheism as the leading cause of their moral corruption.
This well-worn fallacy pops up everywhere in the religious debate, and it’s a shame that religious apologists must resort to such appalling cheap shots simply to make their position look that much better. Whatever else these cruel dictators may or mayn’t have believed in, it certainly wasn’t their lack of belief in things (including God) which compelled their heinous deeds.
A couple of things need to be pointed out here, I think. First, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were first and foremost mass murdering psychopaths, and their lack of faith in things whether it was unicorns, little green men, or God didn’t compel them to be mass murdering psychopaths, and secondly, they used religion to a great extent as a means to help carry out their evil ambitions.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that, as Richard Dawkins has so keenly observed, these detestable men also sported mustaches. Does this mean anyone who has a mustache is likely to be, in the immortal words of the British comedian Eddy Izzard, an evil mass-murdering fuck-head? No, of course not.
Meanwhile, it is quite well known by history buffs that Hitler was a Catholic and Stalin trained in the Russian Orthodox faith. If these facts weren’t enough to console the worried believer who hangs on every word of their favorite historically ignorant apologist, we can do even better. Probing the Iron Chariots Wiki page for details about Stalin, we learn that
As the de facto ruler of the USSR, he initiated many purges. Many clergy were killed and this is often cited as Stalin’s anti-Christian mark. However, like Henry VIII he did not simply remove clergy, he replaced them. He established a new national church of Russia, which of course answered to him. He considered the church very important to extending control from Moscow to the satellite nations. Stalin’s church was called the Russian Orthodox Church or The Moscow Patriarchate; and the suppressed church was called the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia…
Stalin was many things, a former theologian, the head of the national church, and one of the most brutal dictators ever. His own views on religion are difficult to guess. Many scholars think of Stalin as a ruler who envisioned himself as a god.
Furthermore, there is the concurrent claim that the USSR was an atheist nation. While the Communist Party suppressed religious fervor, it did so only out of jealously of loyalties. The Communist Party demanded loyalty to itself above all others, even above God. Russia has always been an intensely religious nation. They consider the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church to be equal to the Vatican’s Pope; or even above the Pope. To claim that Russia became atheistic overnight in 1917 only to emerge deeply religious in 1989 is incredibly ignorant.
One may also note that almost all of the leaders of the USSR, from Lenin to Gorbachev, except for Malenkov, were atheist or non-religious or did not have their religion documented. Yet only Stalin committed such historic atrocities. Gorbachev explicitly affirmed his atheism, but he nonetheless campaigned for religious freedom and was very friendly toward believers.”
Before concluding this chapter Randal informs us that
I certainly don’t find that the sins and errors of individual Christians—or people who claim to be Christians—warrant the conclusion that Yahweh isn’t God.
I suppose I can go along with this reasoning, but only if you view people at innately “sinful” and this seems to be specifically a Christian hang-up.
The point is this, if Christians had a direct conduit to God, and truly had access to a superior morality as they so often like to claim, then Christians would be growing morally superior whereas non-Christians would be stuck in a morally inferior state. But this we do not see.
Instead, we find that Christians are not any better behaved than anyone else, including atheists, so the idea that a person would lose his moral foundation without God is clearly false.
As a final point, before we move onto the next chapter, I have one nagging thought that has been bothering me during this whole chapter. Randal has never addressed whether or not a Perfect being would even require worship to begin with or, for that matter, whether God is worthy of worship (if we were to believe in Randal’s version of God). Although it wasn’t his intention to address this point, it seems a viable question to ask. Perhaps even an important one.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, the very notion of a deity requiring worship limits such a being to a realm of imperfection. Perfect deities, after all, have no reason to be lonely or desire exaltation through worship.
 See The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, pp. 241-42.
 The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses by Michael Jordan, pp. 31-32; 41-42; 88-89; 218; & 278.
 See The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel, location 375 and 1167-1269; 1302 Kindle, ff. part 4. Asherah/asherah Revisited, by Mark Smith (2002), Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan by John Day, p. 32, and Archeology and fertility cult in the ancient Mediterranean, pp. 237-38, edited by Anthony Bonanno.
 Ze’ev Meshel, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: An Israelite Religious Center in Northern Sinai, Expedition 20 (Summer 1978), pp. 50-55.
 Smith, The Early History of God, location 3098 Kindle.
Ibid, location 985-1096, and 1302 Kindle.
 To learn more about Baal and the numerous reference to him found in the Old Testament please see “The Worship of Baal” available online at:
 See the PBS interview with William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. See: “Archeology of the Hebrew Bible,” and can be read online at:
 Indeed, many have, and it has left us with even more reasons to be skeptical. If you still don’t believe me, please see critically acclaimed The Skeptic's Annotated Bible, compiled and edited by Steve Wells, published by SAB Books, LLC, 2013.
 In 2009 Dale and Leilani Neumann, who believed in the healing power of prayer, were sentenced to jail time for neglect and failing to give their children proper medical care for treatable diabetes. See:
In 2010 an Oregon state judge was forced to give the state custody of Timothy J. Wyland and Rebecca J. Wyland’s child and ordered medical treatment as directed by doctors at Oregon Health & Science University when they failed to do so for, you guessed it, their spiritual beliefs including the belief in the healing power of prayer. See:
In 2014 Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who believed in the healing power of prayer, were sentenced to seven years in prison for letting their eight month old baby suffer and die due to preventable medical complications. But perhaps the more shocking thing is that this was the second child they let die due to their religious beliefs. The parents were under a judge appointed court order to give all of their children proper medical care when a previous child died of untreated pneumonia in 2009.
This means the Schaibles conceived a whole new child from the time of the death of the first one and again failed to provide proper medical care, allowing another innocent child to die. See:
 Bertrand Russell, “The Triumph of Stupidity” in Mortals and Others, pp. 203–204.
 Visit The Center For Spiritual Atheism online:
 The John Templeton Foundation has made the 2005 Benson Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) readily available for free online at:
 TULIP stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.
 Here’s yet another example of child neglect for religious reasons; this time two parents drove their injured child to a Church for prayer healing instead of a hospital after a near fatal car crash:
 Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Japan consistently rank the lowest in murders per capita and are among the least violent countries in the world even though they are predominantly secular. See:
Meanwhile, as of 2014, Iceland and Denmark ranked 1st and 2nd while Japan ranked 8th on the Global Peace Index. See:
UNICEF’s 2014 State of the World’s Children report ranks Denmark, Sweden, and the similarly non-religious Netherlands and Japan as among the best countries in the world concerning “child welfare” (their safety, education, and health). See:
 Phil Zuckerman, Society Without God, pp. 5-6.
 Needless to say, such occurrences in Japan, a secular society with an impressively low crime rate, are extremely rare. But this just goes to show that it’s not only one kind of superstitious beliefs that are disadvantageous. You can read my initial thoughts and comments at:
For an English report of the 2011 exorcism incident in Japan please see the British online newspaper, the Telegraph, at:
 I’ve written in detail on whether or not Hitler was an atheist or not. If Randal means Stalin, then I recommend Christopher Hitchen’s book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in which Hitch tackles the subject of Stalin’s homicidal motivations superbly. My article can be read online at:
See the Iron Chariots Wiki at:
Also, don’t forget to check out Wikipedia’s in depth bio on Stalin at: