• James Buchanan’s niece was his first lady.
  • FIVE THOUSAND is the highest number name with no repeated letters.
  • Ardmore, Tennessee, borders Ardmore, Alabama.
  • 9306 × 2013 = 3102 × 6039
  • “So that’s what hay looks like.” — Queen Mary

If God exists outside space and time, then how can he be omnipresent, present in all places at all times? If he exists within it, how could he have created it? How could a creation (or anything) take place outside time?

Divine Wills

When Scunthorpe solicitor R.A.C. Symes died in 1930, his will specified that “in the event of the Second Coming of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ my Will shall (so far as may be legally permissible) come into operation and take effect as though I were dead.”

When retired London schoolmaster Ernest Digweed died in 1976, he left his whole estate, more than £26,000, in trust for Jesus Christ at the Second Coming. The estate was to be invested for 80 years, and “if during those 80 years the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to a reign on Earth, then the Public Trustee, upon obtaining proof which shall satisfy them of his identity, shall pay to the Lord Jesus Christ all the property which they hold on his behalf.” If Jesus does not appear, then the estate goes to the crown.

See Heaven on Earth.

An Atheist’s Credo

George P. Spencer of Lyndon Center, Vt., died in 1908 at age 83. His epitaph is inscribed on the sides of a granite monument:

Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to lead by a light above nature. Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false.

(From Charles L. Wallis, Stories on Stone, 1954)

Lightning Rods


On April 18, 1926, Sinclair Lewis mounted the pulpit of a Kansas City church, took out his watch, and defied God to prove his existence within 10 minutes by striking him dead.

God spared him.

George Bernard Shaw had once made the same challenge but gave God only three minutes. “I am a very busy man,” he said.

Quiet Study

Image: Wikimedia Commons

When French-American philanthropist Stephen Girard founded Philadelphia’s Girard College in 1830, he explicitly excluded religion from the campus:

I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary or minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any station or duty whatever in the said college; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises appropriated to the purposes of the said college.

“In making this restriction, I do not mean to cast any reflection upon any sect or person whatsoever,” he wrote, “but, as there is such a multitude of sects, and such a diversity of opinion amongst them, I desire to keep the tender minds of the orphans, who are to derive advantage from this bequest, free from the excitement which clashing doctrines and sectarian controversy are so apt to produce.”

The Golden Key

A monk was standing at a convent gate,
With sanctimonious phiz, and shaven pate,
Promising, with solemn cant,
To all that listen’d to his rant,
A full and perfect absolution,
With half-a-dozen hallowed benedictions,
If they would give some contribution,
Some large donation supererogatory,
To ransom fifty murder’d christians,
And free their precious souls from purgatory:
When (he asserted) they would gain
A passport from the realms of pain,
And find a speedy passage to the skies.
A knight was riding by, and heard these lies;
He stopp’d his horse, “Salve,” the parson cried;
And “Benedicite” the youth replied.
“Most reverend father,” quoth the knight,
Who, it appears, was sharp and witty,
“These martyr’d christians’ wretched plight
Believe me, I sincerely pity:
Nay, more–their sufferings to relieve,
I will these fifty ducats give.”
This was no sooner said than done;
The priest pronounc’d his benison.
“Now, I presume,” the soldier said,
“The spirits of these christians dead
Have reach’d their final place of rest?”
“Most true,” replied the rev’rend friar,
“(Unless Saint Francis is a liar;)
And, to reward the pious action
Of this most christian benefaction,
You will, no doubt, eternally be blest.”
“Well, then,” exclaim’d the soldier-youth,
“If what you say indeed be truth,
And these same pieces that I’ve given,
Have snatch’d their souls from purgatory’s pains,
And bought them a snug place in heaven,
No further use for them remains.”
He said thus much to prove, at least,
He was as cunning as the priest:
Then put the ducats in his poke
And rode off, laughing at the joke.

— “C.J.D.,” in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 1824

Heaven on Earth

In 1864, Peter and Hannah Armstrong deeded a tract of Pennsylvania land to God:

Containing four square miles of land of which we have redeemed about six hundred acres, and we do hereby set apart the balance of said tract at or before the redemption of the whole world, as the purchased possession of Jesus Messiah, together with all and singular rights, liberties, privileges and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging to us; we do grant, deed and convey to the said Creator and God of heaven and earth and to his heirs Jesus Messiah, for their proper use and behoof for ever. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seal the day and year above written.

The Deity failed to pay his property taxes, unfortunately, and the land was auctioned back to a human.

In an 1884 will, Charles Hastings deeded a plot of Massachusetts land “unto the Lord Jesus, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Perhaps learning from the Armstrongs’ experience, he gave it in trust, reserving the right as agent to “occupy and improve, make repairs, pay taxes, insurance policies, &c.” But Hastings’ heirs contested the will in 1897, and it was declared invalid.

The Greater Good


Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless. For there does not appear to be any greater good such that the prevention of the fawn’s suffering would require either the loss of that good or the occurrence of an evil equally bad or worse. Nor does there seem to be any equally bad or worse evil so connected to the fawn’s suffering that it would have had to occur had the fawn’s suffering been prevented. Could an omnipotent, omniscient being have prevented the fawn’s apparently pointless suffering? The answer is obvious, as even the theist will insist. An omnipotent, omniscient being could have easily prevented the fawn from being horribly burned, or, given the burning, could have spared the fawn the intense suffering by quickly ending its life, rather than allowing the fawn to lie in terrible agony for several days. Since the fawn’s intense suffering was preventable and, so far as we can see, pointless, doesn’t it appear that … there do exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse?

— William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16.4 (1979): 335-341.

Mr. Big


One Filmer, defending witches in England, is said to have made this ingenious defense. His clients were charged, as was usual, with being accessory to the devil. Under the common law there could be no accessory unless there was also a principal; and no accessory could be convicted until the principal was convicted; for if the principal be acquitted there is no guilty principal and hence can be no accessory. Consequently until the principal be convicted the accessory cannot be tried.

Taking advantage of this state of the law, Filmer argued that his clients could not be tried until their alleged principal had been tried and convicted, and how could this be done? Only according to the law of the land. In the first place how could the devil be summoned? The officer serving the precept would either be obliged to go to the devil and summons him personally, or, failing that, would be obliged to leave a copy of the precept at his usual place of abode. Although admiring friends of the officer may from time to time have advised him to do both, yet the practical application of such advice is an impossibility. Then assuming the respondent to be duly summoned, he would be entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers. But His Satanic Majesty has no peers, and even if he had, they would be certain to be in collusion with the respondent and would certainly acquit him. Under any circumstances therefore how could his accessories be tried?

— H.C. Shurtleff, “The Grotesque in Law,” American Law Review, January-February 1920


A table of signs used during hours of silence by the sisters in the Syon Monastery in Isleworth, Middlesex, in the 15th century:

Ale — Make the sign of drink and draw thy hand displayed before thine ear downward.
Bed — Make the sign of a house and put thy right hand under thy cheek, and close thine eyes.
Book — Wag and move thy right hand in manner as thou shouldest turn the leaves of a book.
Cheese — Hold thy right hand flatways in the palm of thy left.
Cold — Make the sign of water trembling with thy hand or blow on thy forefinger.
Drink — Bow thy right forefinger and put it on thy nether lip.
Eating — Put thy right thumb with two forefingers joined to thy mouth.
Girdle — Draw the forefingers of either hand round about thy middle.
Glass — Make the sign of a cup with the sign of red wine.
Incense — Put thy two fingers into thy two nostrils.
Mustard — Hold thy nose in the upper part of thy right fist and rub it.
Salt — Fillip with the right thumb and forefinger over the left thumb.
Sleeping — Put thy right hand under thy cheek and forthwith close thine eyes.
Water — Join the fingers of thy right hand and move them downward droppingly.

Giraldus Cambrensis, describing the monks of Canterbury in 1180, wrote that they were “so profuse in their gesticulations of fingers and hands and arms, and in the whisperings whereby they avoided open speech, wherein all showed a most unedifying levity and license,” that he felt as if he were sitting “at a stage play or among a company of actors or buffoons: for it would be more appropriate to their Order and to their honourable estate to speak modestly in plain human speech than to use such a dumb garrulity of frivolous signs and hissings.”