Is the Bible true?

Is the Bible true

This might at first sight seem a straightforward question. It is certainly an important one, since it is effectively the same as asking “Is Christianity true?” Now, I might be tempted to start this post by citing a few examples where it seems evident that the Bible has got things wrong. It would be fairly trivial to do – and you don’t have to search too hard to find lists of well-known and much-quoted points of apparent error. But I am well aware that for every example I might choose, there are works of apologists which aim to explain them away. I am also aware that if you are a Christian reading this, you might well have studied  the apologetics extensively, and have in your mind what you regard as a refutation for each and every one of those possible examples, or at least a rationalisation which satisfies you. Apologetics is a large and fascinating area of study, and I will of course need to come back to discuss it later on in this post – no attempt to address “Is the Bible true?” can reasonably avoid it.

So, although I will go on to cite some examples of statements in the Bible which I argue are incorrect, I want to address the question of “Is the Bible true?” on a wider front. To anyone who looks at this question honestly and openly, without predisposition to a conclusion that the Bible must be taken as true,  there are a number of possible approaches:

  1. We can consider whether a God necessary to explain the universe, and life on earth. Obviously any answer to this cannot in itself establish the validity or otherwise of the Christian God, but it would shed light on whether a God (or Gods) is (are) required to make our worldview coherent.
  2. We can look at the provenance of world religions, and examine whether we see a number of religions which are irreconcilable with others. If we do, then we must conclude that they cannot all be right. For one to be right, say Christianity, then all those which are incompatible with Christianity must be wrong. In order to hold that view, we would seek evidence to show that Christianity is true and others are wrong – otherwise all we have are many different and competing religions each asserting they have the “truth”, and that all the others, which are based on conflicting dogma, are wrong. It is (I hope) a statement of the obvious to you that a book cannot be used as evidence of itself, ie “It says in the Bible that the Bible is true, therefore the Bible is true” – all holy books can (and mostly do) make a parallel claim. We need to look for external evidence – something separate from the Bible itself. That said, it is surprising that many Christians on social media will indeed quote biblical text as evidence for God, Jesus, the truth of the Bible, or whatever. If you are someone who thinks that might be convincing, you have a problem with your understanding of the way evidence works. For example, “The Boy Who Came back from Heaven” is not evidence that Alex Malarkey did die, visit heaven, and come back, even though the book describes that event and asserts it to be true; and you probably wouldn’t be happy accepting that quoting from Tolkien proves the existence of Gandalf or Middle Earth.
  3. We can consider substantive statements made in the Bible, and examine whether there are any which do not accord with evidence. If it is found that the Bible makes statements which can be shown unequivocally to be false, and which lie at the core of the tenets of the Christian faith, then on an objectively reasonable interpretation of “true”, the argument is over: if we establish that the Bible is wrong in one substantive way, then its veracity overall is called into question. If we proceed to find more and more errors, then even a claim that the Bible is “essentially” true (ie a “true” message but one liberally sprinkled with fable and metaphor, with much of it not meant to be taken literally) is increasingly difficult to sustain. The work of the apologists would become more and more stretched and tenuous.
  4. We can look for substantive statements in the Bible which are mutually contradictory: if we find any internal contradictions, then the premise that the Bible is the “inerrant word of God” collapses. The word “substantive” is important here – if the Bible says in one place (Matthew 27:5) that Judas hanged himself, and elsewhere (Acts 1.18) Judas fell in a field and his intestines spilled out, it is arguable that the differences in the two accounts are not substantive, ie they don’t for me cast doubt on the veracity of the entire Bible. If you study how witness statements differ, even from two people when both have seen a recent event first hand, you’ll understand why I say this. An excellent book on the subject is “The Invisible Gorilla” [1]  If you take nothing else from this post other than read Chabris & Simons’ book, your time won’t have been wasted. Besides being an entertaining read, it might lead to a healthy questioning of how you decide what you will accept as “true”.
  5. We can look to the teachings of the Bible, and see whether they contain anything we cannot reconcile with what we would regard as acceptable behaviour. Since Christians seek to hold up the Bible as the basis of Christian morality, any Biblical teaching which Christians feel they should not or cannot follow would indicate that the Bible is not a true and accurate description of God’s law- in other words, that it would need to be read selectively, with certain parts being disregarded or heavily “interpreted”, to avoid unpalatable conclusions. This means that if “cherry picking” of the Bible is required in order for Christianity to function in the modern world, the Bible as a whole cannot be “true”. More hard work for the apologists!

These are broadly the areas of consideration which I want to use to examine the question “Is the Bible true?”

I should of course declare my starting point: I was brought up as a Christian in the Church of Scotland, went to Sunday school, and belonged to a family who were upstanding members of the kirk. So my starting point was one of religious belief – it’s what I was taught. In fact, Christianity was so much part of the fabric of life, that it was taken as read that it was true, not only in church, but in school and in the home. There were never any discussions around the meal table which even remotely called it into question. My mother, now in her late 90’s, still attends the same church I did as a boy, back in the Scottish town where I was brought up. The family Bible was a large volume bound in black leather, a King James Version. These days I use a much-thumbed New International Version, complete with Concordance and Maps, which I’ve had for over 30 years.

So, with that background, what was the trigger to make me start to question, at about 10 years of age, what grown-ups were telling me about God, and Jesus, and Christianity? Part of the answer I’m sure is in my nature – a tendency to be obstinate and curious (often infuriatingly so, I’m sure); to ask “why” all the time, and to keep asking hard questions and to not be put off by deflection or non-answers,  until I get to the bottom of what is being said. Part of it is probably also a residue of the “Santa Claus” effect: like most young children I had had the credulity of a child, so was aware that I had not so long before been a “Santa believer”, and that it was through applying common sense to the idea that I had seen through it as preposterous. (How big would the sleigh have to be to carry the presents for a whole town, never mind for all the children in the country, or the world? How much time would Santa have to deliver to each house? etc,  etc). Now all that seems very childish, and I imagine that most children would come to the same conclusion about the Santa story, though many would probably be cute enough to keep pretending to believe long after they didn’t, so that the presents would keep coming.  But it had a deeper message for me. Not so much that adults had lied to me: I saw that as quite innocent and benign – not really an attempt to deceive, but to make life for me as a young child more full of wonder and fun. Besides, do parents have a real option with the Santa story? Could you really have your 4 year-old telling his friends “My Daddy says Santa is made up”? No, the real lesson was  ideas can be challenged and evaluated, sometimes just by thinking about them, and it was up to me to do that, and to keep doing that, rather than just accepting what I was told. So I suppose I developed a rebellious attitude, on top of an intense curiosity about the world and how everything worked. All that set the scene for the most important trigger to make me start to question religious teachings, namely the content of what I was being told.

I remember a sermon on God testing Abraham by asking him to kill his only son Isaac. I suppose I was meant to take the lesson about obedience to God, but instead I felt suspicion and revulsion: what sort of God was this that we were meant to respect and obey? I remember a lesson on the Ten Commandments where God was apparently priding himself on being jealous, and threatening to punish successive generations for the sins of their fathers. Whoa, I’m thinking, is this an OK way to carry on? And doesn’t the Bible also say that jealousy is wrong? I was repeatedly told the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and a talking snake (yes, a talking snake) tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit. I remember being unimpressed to learn that we are all born sinners, however hard we try to be good; every Sunday, I found I had to pray for forgiveness of my sins – always the same prayer, whether I had spent the previous week being  good, bad, or really naughty. So what’s the point in trying to be good, if we’re all condemned anyway? All sinners, no matter how we’ve actually behaved? And what’s more, anyone could apparently behave as badly as they liked, and provided they “accepted Jesus” everything would be forgiven. To a young mind, it all seemed so arbitrary and unjust. Then the story of Noah and the flood, a popular theme for sermons.  I had two huge problems with that one. Firstly, God was supposed to have created man in his own image, created evil, then drowned the entire population of the earth, except for Noah and his family, for doing what he had set them up to do anyway. Really? And that’s a good and just God? Secondly, there was the preposterousness, the implausibility. Much as I’d seen through the Santa Claus story as a younger child,  I was thinking – a flood, over the WHOLE planet? “All the high mountains were covered”. How much water would that take, and where would it come from? And all the creatures in a wooden boat for 150 days. Think of the quantities of food, the size the ark would have to be – but we’re told it was only 450 feet long – about half a Titanic. What would the carnivorous ones eat? Would the ant-eaters have eaten the two ants, then starved, or would there be a larder of ants, with only a special two designated for survival? The whole thing seemed to me to be either “fairy stories”, or meant to be an allegory of some kind, to make a point. Yet it was being presented to me as a true story. By adults.

I found myself starting to think “What a load of nonsense. Do people actually BELIEVE this stuff?” So I started to read the Bible for myself, with an inquiring mind-set. The more I read, the worse the whole thing seemed to become. I read of a “chosen people” – not so nice if you happened  to be one of the not-chosen people – it seemed to me that this was written from a particular agenda, and not one that I could admire.  I read of God’s genocides, in particular in 1 Samuel 15 where God commands Saul to massacre the Amalekites, including women and children. I found I couldn’t reconcile the supposed Christian message of love and forgiveness with a God who seemed to be a capricious, nasty, genocidal maniac.  At 10 years old, I was well on the way to becoming an atheist, although of course at that time I had never heard the word. But I was struck by what seemed to me preposterously unlikely claims made by Christianity.

So, I was disturbed by what I read in the Bible: I was supposed to be worshipping an omnipotent , omniscient and perfect  being, yet the Bible seemed to show him to be cruel and  bloodthirsty – a being who had engaged in all manner of awfulness. And there was more: what I later came to  recognise as “the problem of evil” which many Christians struggle with: my inability to reconcile  the supposed existence of a benevolent and all-powerful God with a world full of brutality, disease, war, painful suffering of innocent people, and evil such as the holocaust, of which I had heard and read so much, and which had happened only  a few years before I was born: I had seen the shocking images from Auschwitz, and that is something I could never un-see. All things bright and beautiful? No! Many things are bright and beautiful, certainly, but also so much is grim and ugly, such as tribal violence, war, childhood cancers, bilharzia, leprosy,  parasitic wasps,  polio, bubonic plague, famines, malaria, and of course, the way nature works, “red in tooth and claw”.

As I grew up, though these doubts and worries greatly exercised me, I continued to attend church, as I was expected to. I found I couldn’t discuss my concerns meaningfully with anyone, so I internalised them, and continued to read the Bible – seeking some sort of reconciliation between  what I read and what was being presented as Christianity. But as a teenager and student, I grew away from the church, as it seemed to me to have little relevance to real life; I put religion to one side and stopped thinking about it too deeply. I suppose it was the excitement of approaching adulthood and relationships, and the “imperative” of doing well at school and university in order to make my way in the world.  And of course at university, I met a whole new set of people with very different and interesting ideas.

Later on, as parents of a young family, my wife and I became regular attenders at the local parish church in the Cheshire village where we’d settled. Fortunately there was a young curate who was happy to get involved in discussion, rather than just trot out the message, and we got on. I was able to articulate my doubts about Christianity, and to share why I found the whole Christian message unconvincing and conflicted. I attended Bible study classes, and was able to debate more and more, and learn from others, both lay and ordained, how they approached difficult topics. I read my NIV Bible extensively, and brought up in discussion areas which I thought were contradictory, or which I couldn’t reconcile with what made sense as a way to behave. This was important – it meant I wasn’t restricted to passages selected by others;  the whole thing, Old Testament and New Testament, was legitimate to tackle. Others, who professed a strong Christian faith, put their views and arguments, and sought to bring me round.

I was also increasingly aware of very different religious views and practices around the world, and was fascinated to study the origins of religion in general, since most if not all human cultures had developed a religion of some sort, which took a prominent part in their view of how the world worked. It is not hard to see why religions developed as they did: before more scientific explanations became available, the world would be a terrifying place, with threats such as disease, famine, drought, storms, fire, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. Superstitions arose to impose patterns on events, which over time became codified by leaders into ritual. Events were attributed to the moods and actions of supernatural beings, who would need to be appeased. In the absence of rational explanation, attribution to supernatural agency was the obvious recourse,  and if one believed that one’s rituals could affect outcome, they would be comforting and reassuring. So the earliest religions were born: a means to explain the world, and to try to control events. I discuss the origins of religion in more detail elsewhere – seem my post “Religions- what are they all about, and why are they as they are?”[2]

So, with this context, I was wondering why I should be focussing on the truth or otherwise of the Bible, when it seemed to me a geographical accident that I had been brought up as a Christian. A person of the same age living in India would likely have been Hindu or Sikh, or in Indonesia a Muslim. What was special about the Christian faith to make it “right”  – something I’d always been taught to believe – while other religions, adhered to by millions of people, were “wrong”. If the Bible was going to help with that, it hadn’t yet, despite a huge amount of study.

So I got more into reading about the provenance of the Bible – where and when it was written; who the authors were, how they related to the events they were describing; how the process of selecting what texts to include and what to reject was carried out, and by whom;  and what processes of editing, translating, and re-editing had been done. I also looked at the history of Christianity and how it grew from a minor sect to a world religion – of particular interest was the impact of Roman Emperor Constantine’s decisions in the 4th century AD, and how (serendipity) things might have turned out very differently.

The more I delved, the more precarious and flimsy the basis of Christianity appeared to be. Looking for evidence to support Christianity just produced more information to cast doubt, and no evidence to support adopting Christianity ahead of many other belief systems. At this point I had reached a conclusion that of all the competing religious belief systems in the world, none could present a claim for “truth” superior to all the others. My logical conclusion was that “they are all wrong”. I had reached a position of “atheist” – lack of belief in a God or Gods, for want of any evidence to convince me. I should point out that I remained agnostic, ie I was not convinced of a certainty that there is no God. I simply lacked belief, a position open to change if evidence became apparent at any time. But it seemed to me that the Gods of religion were all human constructs, rather than just all of them bar one. So in the seemingly unlikely event that a God that might actually exist, that God probably would be rather different from any that mankind has invented.

Having come to a view about how religion in general, and Christianity in particular, related to the reality of how the world works, the decision whether or not to have my children baptised became an easy one.  I could not honestly make any of the required undertakings and promises,  and my wife,  who had been brought up in a very strict Christian family, did not demur.  Our  children were brought up to think openly, challenge ideas, and make decisions for themselves about  what to believe.

But I found I couldn’t leave it there. I became intrigued by the work of various atheist scientists and authors, such as Carl Sagan, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Two books which seemed to articulate and develop my views most eloquently and clearly were “God is Not Great” , Christopher Hitchens [3] and “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins [4]. Suddenly in my 50’s I entered a world where I knew other people had similar views, and expressed them in a way which clarified and extended my thinking.  No longer need I struggle to reconcile the irreconcilable.

What I’ve just tried to do in this introduction is to describe my views on Christianity, and the journey which I have followed to get here. If you’re still with me, you’ll understand the context of what I’m going to say, and perhaps will humour me a little more than you otherwise might have.

But now, back to the top and the 5 approaches I suggested I wanted to take, when considering “Is the Bible True?”

1     Is a God necessary to explain the universe, and life on earth?

I have addressed just this question in another post “What about the origin of the universe – doesn’t that need God?”[5], so I’ll be brief here. While it seems intuitive that the universe (something) cannot come from nothing, the bizarre world of quantum mechanics suggests  this is not necessarily so; a fascinating book by Lawrence Krauss [6] explains rather well to the lay reader how this might be so. Nevertheless, we can pursue a line of thought on the basis that something cannot come from nothing. Most physicists now regard the beginning of the universe to have occurred in a “big bang” around 13.8 billion years ago. So what pre-condition or cause existed to allow the big bang to occur?

It is often claimed by theists that the only possible explanation is God, therefore God exists- the “first cause” argument. The immediate problem I have with this idea is infinite regression. If everything needs a pre-condition or cause in order to come into existence, then so does God. If an exemption is allowed for God, it can be allowed for any postulation you care to name. Now the theistic response to the problem of infinite regression is usually along the lines of God always existed, or He exists outside of space and time. In other words, the rules of physics apply except in the case of God, who gets a unique exemption. This sounds to me like another way of saying “Can’t explain, so I’m going to define the explanation to be outside of our scope to explain”. How is this distinct from just saying “it’s magic”?

But even if we go along with this line of theistic argument, the next problem is defining the characteristics of God. If the only thing we can say about God, from the argument of first cause, is that He is the cause or creator of the universe, then the concept of God does not require any meaning beyond just that. In other words, “God” in this sense could just be a phenomenon of physics. A soon as we start to attach attributes to this concept, such as a being who is omniscient and knows about and is interested in the lives of individual people, or a being whose involvement was confined to setting up the laws and preconditions of the universe, or a being who engaged himself in the specifics of design of the universe and everything in it, or whatever, we are anthropomorphising the concept, and attaching whatever attributes we want to in an arbitrary way, without the support of any evidence. Therefore the statement “God must exist, in order for the universe to be created” is actually saying no more than a precondition or cause for the universe must have existed, and I’m choosing to call that “God”.

The objection most often made to this point is to claim that the conditions of the universe we observe are so special they could not have occurred by chance, so that not only must there have been a “God” who caused our universe to come into being, but that this “God” must have applied deliberate design intent. This is sometimes called the “fine tuning” argument – if any of the constants in physics had been even a tiny amount different from its actual value, our universe, and life on earth, would not have been able to exist. The fallacy of this argument can be hard for some to accept, as the refutation is somewhat counter-intuitive. Consider the existence of any one individual who exists. That person is known to exist, so the chances of his existence are 100%. However, if one considers the chances of that particular person coming into existence, viewed from even a few generations before, they are infinitesimally small: one particular sperm, of many millions, fertilised one particular egg, for each and every ancestor. If any one of those occurrences had been slightly different, the specific person would not exist. The same applies to the universe that we observe- it exists, so the chances that it exists are 100%. In other words, the properties of our universe are self-selected by the fact that we exist. If our universe were different, we wouldn’t be here; but we are here, so it wasn’t different. The required physical constants and properties of our universe are inevitable. It must have been like that, or we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Another way of looking at it is to consider a lottery. In the UK it involves picking the right 6 numbers from a possible 59, a chance of about 45 million to 1. So if I take any ticket at random, its chance of being a winner is indeed 45 million to 1. But if I’m  a TV interviewer, talking to the lucky winner who’s proudly holding up his winning ticket, the ticket he’s holding started with the same odds, but now we know its chances of being a winner are 100%. Here we are in the universe we observe, where the chances of us existing are 100%.

None of this suggests we need to invoke a God in order to account for the universe; rather, it suggests that building a God into the explanation introduces a complication without providing any explanatory benefit. So my starting point is that we don’t need a God, whether the Christian God or any other, to explain our existence. While of course this does not show the Bible is untrue, it does for me remove one of the commonest arguments a Christian will use to say “God must exist”.


 

2              Comparing world religions

I have already addressed this topic in another post “Religions- what are they all about, and why are they as they are?”[2] so I’ll try to be a bit more concise here.

Of the many religions in the world today, most are monotheistic and a few are polytheistic. The oldest extant religion is probably Hinduism, from around 2,000BC, followed by Zoroastrianism and Judaism at around 1,800BC. Whichever one you pick, you will observe an early geographical reach. Religions grew up in times when worldwide travel, and communication between cultures, was quite rare. To this day, Hinduism is almost exclusively restricted to the Indian sub-continent. Christianity started in the Middle East and Europe, and originally spread to Africa by the work of Christian missionaries, and to the Americas by European colonisation. Although the world today is much more of a melting pot than it once was, with very significant migration of peoples, a map of the world’s religions today still shows marked geographical distinctions.

It is possible to try to count up the number of gods which mankind has believed in, or still does believe in. The number comes to something over 3,000, though if we count in Hinduism, there is an argument for saying it is many millions. Some Hindus would disagree, arguing that the question is meaningless, and the enormous number of Hindu gods all relate to a single supreme soul (Brahman).

A consequence of the different cultural/geographical origins of religions is that they aren’t mutually compatible; in fact, it is evident that many religions contain elements which are fundamentally irreconcilable with others, despite what Baha’i teachings might seek to claim. A logical conclusion is that they are either all wrong, or only one is right and all the others are wrong. Most religious adherents say that their particular religion is true, and that all other religions, which have conflicting dogma, are false. Often, a person making this claim will cite some aspect of his religion which makes it special and distinct from all others,  in order to sustain the argument that theirs is the right one.  Such views are expressed with seemingly equal conviction from all manner of conflicting standpoints, but none of these religions can present evidence which is able to convince more than a handful of people of a different religion, or no religion, to abandon their view and join theirs. So the compelling evidence of the truth of any one religion is absent – including Christianity.  To assert that “the Bible is true” therefore cannot be made based on evidence; it has to depend on religious faith shared only by Christians.

Another obvious feature of religions is their tendency to schism. Examples which come to mind immediately are the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, and the Roman Catholic/Protestant division in the Christian church. Of course, it is a great deal more complex than that, but these two examples account for a huge amount of vehement discord, sectarian violence, and even wars. Christianity is perhaps the most outstanding example of schism, with an enormous number of sects or denominations – so many, and with new schisms still arising, that it is difficult to count exactly. These sects are basing their views on the same holy book, yet often have very deep levels of disagreement about what it means, and about which parts are important and which parts can be dismissed. This means it is not only different religions each claiming the truth, it is also different sects within particular religions. A classic example current now in the Anglican communion is between the churches of East Africa, which take a harsh homophobic line, based on eg Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”) and the Church of England, which takes an opposite line, based for example on the Matthew 7:2 “Judge not, that you be not judged”. We might be currently observing yet another schism, this time of the Anglican church, demonstrating further that “the Bible is true” cannot reasonably be argued, since it supports  diametrically conflicting sincerely held views: if one part is true, the other is false.

3              Substantive errors in the Bible

Anyone who has looked at the topic will know that the Bible contains various statements that one might term schoolboy errors. For example, in biology and zoology, We have rabbits being deemed unclean and unsuitable to eat because they chew the cud (Leviticus 11:6); bats classed as birds (Leviticus 11:19); and the story of Jonah surviving 3 days in the stomach of a great fish (Jonah 1:17), demonstrating that the author lacked basic knowledge of gastric acids which would quickly digest a human body. There’s lots of this sort of thing if one cares to look, but I wouldn’t try to argue that such factual errors are substantive – they don’t really strike at the core message of Christianity, and anyway, apologists will usually be able to explain them away, for example by arguments about how the original texts were translated.

Another well-known Biblical error is the implied assertion that π =3. If you are used to such things being pointed out, then my quoting 1 Kings 7: 23-26 or 2 Chronicles 4:2-5 won’t impress you much – you might say those calculations aren’t meant to be accurate. But I struggle with this notion. If the Bible quotes inaccurate figures, not meant to be taken literally, how do we know that other parts are accurate? If the Bible were really the inspired word of God, wouldn’t He take the opportunity to reveal some useful and interesting truth, such as the nature of π, rather than include crude numbers which are not even a fair approximation? It would appear more likely that the text reveals the limited mathematical knowledge of the iron-age men who wrote it down: the presence of Biblical mathematical errors suggests against divine authorship. But again, I would find it hard to maintain that such an error in mathematics is substantive and undermines the core message of Christianity.

If the reader is really interested in following up biblical errors, there is a wealth of material readily available which does that, which can be found with a few clicks on Google. There are even books written on the theme, for example,  “Biblical Nonsense: A Review of the Bible for Doubting Christians”, Dr Jason Long. [7], which is a comprehensive approach written from a sceptical point of view. It tackles a wide field, from fairly trivial points of fact, right through to matters of fundamental Christian doctrine.

But here, in addressing “Is The Bible True?” I feel a need to make a distinction between two main Christian perspectives. One is the Christian Fundamentalist approach, and the other I choose to call “Scientific Accommodationism”.  The former holds that the Bible in its entirety  is the literal word of God. The latter seeks to maintain the essence of the Christian message in the Bible, while accepting that science provides by and large a source of real knowledge, which is growing all the time: where science shows unequivocally that the Biblical account is incorrect, then it accepts that such Biblical content cannot be taken literally. It will be very obvious why the distinction between Christian Fundamentalism and Scientific Accommodationism is relevant to addressing “Is The Bible True?”

Aside: I am not attempting here to discuss Intelligent Design, on the basis that ID is a non-Bible based form of creationism, and as such, it is not within the scope of this post to address. I might well get on to writing a separate post on ID, at a future date.

First, let’s look at the proposition that the Bible is true, taken from a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint.

3.1 Is the Bible literally true?

In order to take the Christian fundamentalist stance, one must accept the creation story of Genesis as literal truth. The fundamentalist view can be exemplified by the US organisation Answers in Genesis [8], who proffer a Statement of Faith which contains the following wording:

“By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.”

So the creation story of Genesis is held to be literally true, yet it is demonstrable nonsense if read literally: we have the creation of light, night, and day on the first day (Genesis 3). It then gets to the 4th day (Genesis 16) before two “lights” are created – the sun and the moon. As if that weren’t illogical enough, in effect an impossible order for things to occur – there is the matter of the reference to the moon as a “lesser light to govern the night” – showing ignorance that the moon is not a light source but merely reflects sunlight back to earth.  Then we have geocentricity – the idea that the earth is the center of the universe, it is fixed (i.e. immobile) in space, and that it is unique and special compared to all other heavenly bodies. The Biblical assumption of the unique and special nature of the earth as the centre of everything is clear from Genesis, which asserts that other heavenly bodies were not even brought into existence until the fourth day of creation. The idea of the earth’s immobility, with everything else moving around it, is a bit less explicit, but it’s there, for example in Joshua 10:13 where the sun “stopped in the middle of the sky”, in I Chronicles 16:30 where “the world…..cannot be moved”, and in Psalms 96:10 where “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”. There are also many references to the earth “having foundations”. Errors in the understanding of cosmology are not confined to the Old Testament. For example, in Mark 13:25, Jesus says “the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”: clearly based on a view that the stars are small lights hanging above the earth, in order for “fall” to be meaningful.

Christian fundamentalism also holds that the story of the great flood and Noah’s ark is true, despite its manifest impossibility within the bounds of physics – if all the water in the earth’s atmosphere were to be deposited as rain, it could cover the land to a depth of about an inch. There are other obvious impossibilities with the idea of a global flood, for example the proposition that representatives of  all creatures,  created immutable by God,  were sustained on a wooden vessel about 450 feet long, for nearly half a year. A few simple calculations on the amount of space available for each species, never mind space for food, shows that the idea is ridiculous. There are many other points one could cite to show that the story is utterly implausible: the authors, being located in the Middle East, had no knowledge of the variety and distribution of species across the planet – penguins in Antarctica, kangaroos in Australia, lemurs in Madagascar, and kiwis in new Zealand, just to name a few, could not have been brought to the ark, survived, then been distributed to their particular habitats, without arbitrary and pointless “miracles”: the idea of a global flood is preposterous and not credible. There might well have been significant flood(s) much more locally, for example in Mesopotamia, or (rather controversially the Black Sea) : there are flood stories in various human cultures predating the Bible. Geology too is categorically at odds with the creationists’ global flood model . Though most geologists don’t trouble themselves with discussing what they regard as irrelevant pseudoscience, there is literature on the subject if one cares to look, for example The Rocks Don’t Lie, David R Montgomery [9]. Inevitably, the apologists have piled in to try to rubbish that work [10] and for those without a scientific education and a predisposition to creationism, it might appear plausible. To a rational scientist, though, it is risible.

Then we have the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with the proposition that the human species started off with two members, created by God. But we know from modelling genome sequences [11] that our species never had a population less than some thousands: the biblical account of two tiny bottlenecks at Adam & Eve, then at Noah & family, did not occur.

From these few examples alone, one would already have dismissed the literalist view as nonsense, wouldn’t one? Adherence to this fundamentalist view looks crazy,  with its associated rejection of the Theory of Evolution, and belief in Young Earth Creationism . Here is another quote from the Answers in Genesis website [8]:

“The earth is only a few thousand years old. That’s a fact, plainly revealed in God’s Word”

To take the Young Earth Creationist view, it is necessary to reject every branch of science which has anything to say about the age of the earth, including geology, plate tectonics, cosmology, nuclear physics/radio-isotope dating, archaeology, palaeontology, biology /DNA analysis, climatology/ice core studies, even dendrochronology – the list is almost endless. Such a view is, astonishing as it might appear, very commonly held in the USA.  A Gallup poll in 2014 [12]  reported that more than 4 in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form, around 10,000 years ago. This is far out of step with other developed countries, as can be seen in the chart below. It is interesting to explore the reasons for this phenomenon, but not my purpose here. If you do want to read more, please look at my post “How Old is the Earth?” [13]

Belief in evolution by country

Although there is a great deal of Young Earth Creationist and Christian fundamentalist apologetics written to try to sustain their standpoint, as I have shown above,  it is at odds with the evidence anyone can easily access and understand, unless one’s mind is closed against it.

If you are one of the army of Biblical literalists, then any arguments I have presented here, and evidence I have referenced, to demonstrate that the Biblical account of creation is nonsense, that the Biblical flood could never have happened, that the earth is not a few thousand years old but about 4.54 billion years old, and that Evolution is an established scientific fact, will be to no avail – you have forsaken evidence and logic, and abandoned science –yet in all probability drive a car with a GPS satellite navigation system,  use a smart phone and computer, enjoy the benefits of modern medicine such as antibiotics, watch satellite or cable TV, travel around the world in jet aircraft, and have sophisticated heating and electric lighting systems in your home. So science works, except when it conflicts with the literal word of the Bible? Really? Such a view is incoherent and illogical. If you are of this  persuasion,  rejecting overwhelming and compelling evidence that much of content of the Bible is not literally true, then our ways must part here.

For those readers who accept the reality of scientific observation and evidence, you will be with me in accepting that there is straightforward and incontrovertible evidence that the Bible is NOT literally true.

I will now turn to what, numerically at least, is the mainstream Christian view of interpretation of the Bible, which I have chosen to call Scientific Accommodationism.

3.2 Is the Biblical message essentially  true?

Scientific Accommodationism can be summarised as a view that the Bible contains the essential truth of the Christian faith, but contains lots of allegorical material, couched in metaphor and fable; the development of scientific knowledge has shed much light on the way the world works, and this must be taken alongside the Biblical message, rather than seen to be in conflict with it.

The key to addressing this question is to look at what the essence of the Christian message really is. There are countless ways of expressing it, but it comes down, I think, to the following summary:

Essence of Christian message

This is my honest attempt to distil the Christian message into one paragraph, with no attempt to make it sound more or less plausible, or more or less preposterous. If you feel that this misses the point in some way, or is wrong, and you would like to propose a better view, then I would like to hear from you.

Whether or not one subscribes to the Adam and Eve and Garden of Eden story, the core beliefs of Christianity, and core messages of the Bible,  are

  • That man is a unique creation of God, distinct from all other creatures in having been endowed with an immortal soul, independent of the material body, which carries on into eternity when the physical body dies.
  • That through original sin, all mankind is born corrupt, as sinners.
  • God sent his only son Jesus to die on the cross and atone for all the sins of man.
  • A person’s immortal soul is condemned for eternity unless the person accepts Jesus Christ as his saviour. Only through following Jesus Christ can a person find God and have his soul saved from eternal damnation.

Without the concepts of “soul” and “sin”, the entire essence of Christianity falls away.  “Soul” is a thread throughout the Old and New Testaments, for example

Ecclesiastes 12:7 “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God, who gave it”

Mark 8:36 “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

 

Likewise “original sin”, for example

Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”

Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”

At the time the Bible was written, there was no knowledge of genetics or DNA, and no proposal of human evolution from earlier species, so it was entirely credible, even taken as self-evident, that man was special, unique, and distinct from other creatures. We had self-awareness, language, belief systems, culture, understanding of right and wrong, a capacity to ponder our origins: an apparent “life force” or “spirit” which separated us from “dumb animals”, who were assumed to operate out of instinct, rather than out of thought processes and morality. This “life force” or “spirit” seemed to be intangible, something separate from the physical being, in other words, our “soul”; Christianity offered an answer to the mystery of where it comes from, and what happens to it after we die.

Right from Genesis, the Bible never veers from this view of “soul” and our place above all other creatures.

Genesis 1:26 “Then God said “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”.

I have just mentioned “proposal of human evolution from earlier species”, and it is this which I want to focus on now. The contrast between Christian Fundamentalism and Scientific Accommodationism is brought into stark focus if we consider evolution. To the fundamentalist, as we’ve seen, the process of evolution of species must be rejected as not representing the way life forms  have come to be as they are, and much effort is expended by fundamentalist apologists to make just such a case.

I should draw a distinction here: “evolution” describes a process, while the “Theory of Evolution” (ToE) is a scientific explanation of how and why that process occurs. The fact of evolution, as described by Charles Darwin in “On the Origin of Species” [14], is exemplified in numerous observable ways, and is accepted by the entire scientific world. I exclude here from “scientific world” the considerable quantity of pseudo-scientific apologists’ work which sets out to dispute evolution, as it is not supported by credible research or data, and does not appear in peer-reviewed scientific literature. If you doubt this, read “The Greatest Show on Earth” [15], Richard Dawkins. The Theory of Evolution, Darwin’s explanation of how the process works, is described in detail in “On the Origin of Species” [14], though it has been refined and developed considerably since, for example by the development of DNA analysis. Nevertheless,  Darwin’s basic principle of natural selection has been entirely vindicated over the past 150+ years. [15]. To those who regard “Darwinism” as false, by and large religious fundamentalists, it is worth noting that Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin’s contemporary, had separately arrived at the same conclusions; Darwin had been vacillating for many years over whether to publish, and it was Wallace’s imminent intent to publish his own work which stimulated  Darwin into action. If Darwin had paused a bit longer, the religious fundamentalists might well have been aiming their fire on the “evils of  Wallace-ism”

Another point perhaps worth making here is the meaning of “theory”. In fact, “theory” is a homonym, a word (in common with very many in the English language) with more than one meaning. A common usage is a notion, a hunch or a guess. The scientific meaning, which is the sense used in Theory of Evolution, is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena. Any scientific theory must be based on a careful and rational examination of the facts. It is the highest form of scientific account: no “theory” ever becomes a “law”. A scientific law describes what happens (eg the law of gravity), while a theory describes why it occurs.   The meaning of theory is important to recognise, if only to debunk the surprisingly common howler of saying “evolution is only a theory”.

To the Accommodationist, the case for evolution of species is accepted as scientifically proven. This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church, which represents about half of Christians worldwide [16]. Over 65 years ago, Pope Pius XII set out his papal encyclical, “Humani Generis,” in which the Roman Catholic Church’s official position on ToE was declared. The statement said that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and evolution. The present Pope, Pope Francis, has reiterated the same view in 2014. [17]

If you don’t already accept that the evidence for evolution poses an insuperable problem for the Christian Fundamentalists, read my post “Atheism and the Theory of Evolution” [18]. I show that Christian Fundamentalists  are driven into the untenable position of denying incontrovertible evidence from numerous disparate branches of science, in order to hang on to their literalist view. But, somewhat more subtly, evolution also poses a problem for Accommodationists, despite, for example, the view of the Roman Catholic Church. [16], [17]. I want now to go on to explain why I say that.

There are some simplistic assumptions in the typically imagined model of the tree of life, and the position of man. This illustration from the 1870’s by Haeckel is an example, showing a simple tree with man at the pinnacle, as if man were the culmination, the apex, of evolution.

Haeckel tree of life

I should point out that I’m not advocating Haeckel’s ideas – there is a great deal of his work which has been shown to be wrong, particularly what might be termed “scientific racism” which  was picked up and used to justify a racist view of mankind, in a way sometimes targeted unfairly at the work of Darwin. No, what I want to illustrate is a commonly held impression that one can represent the evolution of homo sapiens as the tip of one branch on the tree of life, with the associated implications that  man is the peak of evolution, not subject to further evolutionary process.  With such a model in mind, it is just possible to hold on to the idea that evolution does not contradict the Christian view that homo sapiens is distinct from all other creatures, created in the image of God, endowed with a “soul”, and that it does not contradict the Christian concept of “original sin”.

However, the key point is that we now know that this simplistic model bears little relation to reality. DNA analysis has revealed a much more complex network of interconnections. Speciation, including the speciation of homo sapiens, is far from a clear single track road from one form to the next, all the way to ourselves.  From an origin in Africa nearly 2 million years ago, the ancestors of homo sapiens spread along different paths for long periods – measured in hundreds of thousands of years – then from time to time came together with a mixing of genes. The best known example is Homo Neanderthalis, where whole genome information has been obtained from bone fragments; present best estimates are that the lineages of Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalis spilt around 500,000 years ago, but there has probably been gene mixing much more recently. [19]. Modern non-African humans have an average of 2.5% Neanderthal DNA [19].

This recovery of ancient hominin DNA, first by Svante Pääbo [20] and his team at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, and later by other researchers, has brought other previously unknown populations into the picture of human ancestry.  Famously, a fragment of finger bone  from Denisova Cave, in southern Siberia, revealed a hitherto unknown population (now called Denisovans) who are as different from Homo Sapiens as Homo Neanderthalis. We know from DNA analysis that they make up about 5% of the ancestry of modern Australian Aboriginals. [21]

This work of geneticists provided important clues in how to interpret human DNA, so that it became possible to document more lineages  from the traces of their DNA in living populations.  These are referred to by geneticists as “ghost populations”, and were found to apply generally:  many Africans also carry a legacy of earlier unknown populations, and even ancient genomes contain evidence of ancient  ghost populations. The Denisovan genome bears the traces of ancient mixture, not only from Neanderthals but with another even more divergent group, which could even have been Homo erectus. The more  geneticists study and examine, the more they find evidence of ancient and different populations, different in genome from modern humans, all mixing together in small proportions. [21]

It is clear from the evidence that we do not arise from a single evolutionary path. Our evolutionary history is more like a braided stream [21]. There was no clear single emergence of a unique species Homo Sapiens; rather, a complex mixture of species of hominin, which, over time by merging, absorption, and extinction of other human species,  has led to the single species we recognise today.

The idea of a pinnacle of evolution, ending with man, is also wrong. From what we understand about evolutionary processes of all life forms, they continue to apply. Although time frames are often longer than the period in which we have been studying evolution, which can give an illusion of stasis -rather like staring at the hour hand on a watch for 10 seconds or so – in many case they are not, and they proceed very quickly indeed. An obvious example is pathogens acquiring antibiotic resistance.  It has been difficult to observe evolutionary processes in man, because of the problem of separating genetic and cultural effects, but not impossible. A study of an isolated island population in île aux Coudres, Quebec [22] has demonstrated naturally occurring genetic changes in a human population.

 So we know that the Biblical model of the creation of man as a unique species, distinct from other life forms and in any particular image (of God, or whatever)   is incompatible with the evidence. Man’s “creation” wasn’t an event – it was a gradual process of speciation, merging, and further speciation over many hundreds of thousands of years, and is still continuing today. There was no cut point before which homo sapiens did not exist, and after which, he did – that is not the way evolution works. The colour spectrum chart below illustrates the point graphically.

evolution red to blue change

With this understanding of the real nature of the evolution of man, it is no longer tenable to adhere  to an idea that homo sapiens is in stasis as a species, distinct from all other creatures, and created in the image of God.  Without any cut point before which homo sapiens did not exist, and after which we did, it is not possible pin a notion of endowing man with a “soul” and not other creatures. There is no “origin” per se at which we might attribute “original sin”.

The Biblical idea of the distinct nature of man, in terms of unique attributes of  self-awareness, thought processes, decision making (whether to cheat or not to cheat, steal or not to steal, deceive or not to deceive) are also now known to be false. We know that some animals grieve for their dead, and we know some cheat and lie to get what they want. Moral and immoral behavior is not unique to man[23]  I won’t go into this in any detail here – if you’re interested, an internet search will quickly yield links to many research studies  in this area, but I recommend Marc Bekoff’s work as a good place to start.

I have argued that while a simple model of evolution might just about be argued as compatible with a Biblical view of the origins of man, and the concepts of “soul” and “sin” unique to man,  it is a long way from the reality of how we came to be – a reality that requires extensive and modern understanding of the complex processes and long timescales over which  Homo Sapiens evolved.  Such an understanding is fatal to the concept of the uniqueness of man in stasis made in the image of any god, and to the concept of original sin and the need for salvation of the soul.  Thus the essential message of Christianity, and the Bible, falls away. In other words, the Bible is not true, even when reduced to its essential message.

4              Contradictions in the Bible

The Bible is riven with contradictions. A already alluded to one in my introduction, namely the account of how Judas died: Matthew 27:5 says that Judas hanged himself, and Acts 1.18 says he fell in a field and his intestines spilled out. We can find countless others of this ilk, eg in Matthew 2:1 the infant Jesus is visited by Magi (ie astronomers, or learned men)while in Luke 2:15 it is shepherds. It is easy to go on citing such fairly trivial inconsistencies, and an internet search will quickly produce lists of them. It is arguable that such inconsistencies are not germane to the message of the Bible, and the apologist can usually discount them as such, or even as quirks of translation. It is also arguable, however, that a holy book which purports to be the word of God ought to at least be internally consistent, and the fact that it isn’t gives credence to the view that the Bible is simply a collection of writings of various human authors with the usual human failings of error: if divine inspiration played a part, one might expect such human error to be eliminated.

But what exercises me more about Biblical inconsistencies isn’t these conflicts of narrative account; it is where the contradictions lead to genuine and deep differences of interpretation about what the Bible is telling us.

The point about whether we are all sinners, or some of us can be righteous, is one such.   For example, the idea of all man being condemned by original sin is clearly stated in Romans 3:9 et seq: “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written, there is no-one righteous, not even one

Yet we have

1 John 3:7 “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous

Job 2:3 “Have you considered my servant Job? He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil

Genesis 7:1 “The Lord said unto Noah ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation’

This contradiction strikes at the heart of the Christian message that we are all condemned as sinners and can only gain salvation through Jesus Christ, since we have examples of Biblical characters being righteous by dint of their own behaviour. The Bible cannot have its cake and eat it, with this sort of basic point of dogma.

A second example concerns what the Bible says about being peaceful. We have Matthew 10:34-36 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Yet in John 14:27 we read “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”. It requires imaginative mental and linguistic gymnastics to reconcile these two opposing statements.

A third example, hugely relevant to interpretation of scripture in our modern world, is the Bible’s attitude to homosexuality. Most people will be only too well aware of Leviticus 20:13, which I already referred to above: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death”. This passage is cited by many devout Christians as a clear condemnation of homosexual activity, and has been translated in many countries into the law of the land. There over 70 countries with anti-homosexuality laws, some of which are predominantly Christian countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This causes enormous disagreement amongst Christians, and the dispute is presently threatening to cause a schism in the Anglican communion. There are those in North America and Europe who say that we mustn’t interpret the Bible in that way – Leviticus contains all sorts of prohibitions (eating shellfish, wearing clothes made of different kinds of thread) and we don’t take those seriously. They also cite Romans 10:4 “Christ is the end of the law…” and Matthew 7:2 “ Do not judge others…” as justification for a much more liberal approach to homosexuality. Back comes the retort Matthew 5:17 “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them”

Each school of thought thinks that it has the right interpretation of the Bible and the other is wrong. It is not an arcane matter of academia and theology – it directly affects lives and families. It is an egregious example of a contradiction in the Bible’s teachings. Both views cannot be right, and the Bible supports both. Those who seek to argue that “the Bible is true” need to come to terms with this dichotomy.

 

5              Teachings and passages of the Bible we regard as unacceptable

It is often argued by Christians that morality comes from the Bible, and without it, we’d all be engaged in all manner of unspeakable behaviour. I have addressed that particular issue elsewhere [24]. Suffice to say here that we appear to have no difficulty taking a personal view of which Biblical passages must be taken at face value, and which can be ignored; and that though one person’s take on some of these passages  often differs substantially from someone else’s (my example above of the attitude to homosexuality is a case in point) , in most cases the vast majority of people will converge around broadly the same view, that what the Bible says shouldn’t be regarded as a guide to how we ought to behave today.

Here are a few examples

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

1 Timothy 2:11-13 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent

Deuteronomy 21:18-21  If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you.”

1 Samuel 15:3 et seq (Samuel to Saul) “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”

Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ doing the will of God from your heart”.

These rather well-known passages are examples which show that the Bible cannot be taken at face value, as an acceptable guide to behaviours which we ought to adopt today. Slavery, stoning disobedient children to death, carrying out genocide, hating ones family, and demanding that women keep quiet and never teach a man, aren’t what most Christians today would advocate – but they’re there, written down in the Bible. So in the sense of being a reliable guide to moral and decent behaviour, the Bible fails miserably. That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t contain very sound advice – of course it does. But the reader has to cherry pick – to decide which is good advice and which isn’t, or requires “interpreting”: in that sense, the Bible cannot be regarded as true – some of it unequivocally is not.

6              Summary

I have shown that

  • It is not necessary to invoke a god to explain the world and the universe; in fact, bringing a God or gods into the equation is a complication which brings no explanatory advantage.
  • Comparing world religions leads to the conclusion that none offers evidence in its favour, in comparison to others. There is no evidence ( in the accepted sense of the word) to prefer Christianity to any number of competing religions. Which religion one follows is most often a product of geography, and the prevailing religion of the culture into which one was born and raised.
  • Christian Fundamentalism, or taking the Bible as the literal truth, is incompatible with what science teaches us about how the universe came to be as it is, how the world works, and how life forms have developed.
  • An accommodationist view of the Bible, accepting modern scientific knowledge alongside Biblical teachings, also does not work. The essential Christian message of man as a creation by God in His image, with the unique attributes of an immortal soul and original sin, cannot be reconciled with what we know about how we as a species came to be, namely a gradual process of speciation, merging, and further speciation over many hundreds of thousands of years, still continuing today.
  • The Bible contains many internal contradictions. Whilst many are fairly trivial, some strike at the heart of the Christian message, and drive diametrically opposing interpretations as to what the Bible is saying. It cannot be both contradictory and true.
  • The Bible contains teachings and passages we regard as unacceptable. Since it is not a reliable guide to how we would want to behave, it cannot be taken as true.

If it were a simple matter of looking at those things as an evidential case, then the Bible would be confidently discarded as wrong, unreliable, full of errors, and not a credible basis for a coherent religious faith. There are several reasons that things don’t work like that. One is that many Christians have never studied such matters, and take their view of Christianity from the sermons and teachings of the religious leaders to whom they listen – the vicar, minister, priest, or whatever; they have never taken it upon themselves to read the Bible at any length. Another is indoctrination: for someone who has been indoctrinated with a particular religious viewpoint, especially from a young age,  any point of view which contradicts their firmly held beliefs is likely to be rejected. This quote from Carl Sagan is telling:

Carl Sagan Bamboozled quote

But it would be arrogant and wrong to suggest that Christians only believe either because they don’t really know what the Bible says and so have never wrestled with its errors and contradictions, and/or because they’ve simply been indoctrinated and have closed their minds to other views. Though many do fit that categorization, it ignores the significant number of Christians over the centuries who have been exercised by problems with Biblical text, or matters such as the problem of evil, and have sought to to explain and justify in such a way that the Bible can still be claimed to stand as the “word of God”. Many of those Christians have been highly educated scholars,  and have contributed to  a huge array of writings, which we term Christian apologetics.

If we look back a few hundred years, Christian apologetics might be regarded more as a theological or political exercise, rather than a defence of Christianity per se;  scholars argued and debated the finer points of scripture, often from one side or other of a major schism, for example between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. While most people  were illiterate or semi-literate,  and depended on the spoken words of their local clergyman for their understanding of scripture, there was not too much in the way of populist dissent. In such circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine the Bible holding sway, and Christianity, in the UK for example, being accepted as right, true, and proper : the clergy were erudite, literate, and respected; there was a general culture of deference to authority; the content of every sermon could be selectively chosen , to present a “sanitised” Biblical view without ever needing to address any of the difficult bits; there were no mass media such as TV to expose people to other viewpoints;  and most ordinary people were born, lived and died within a very small local area, with little cross-fertilisation from other cultures.  As Christian missionaries set forth into the wider world, there was an assumption – an insufferably arrogant one as it seems to some people now – that the Christian message was automatically right, and we had a duty to spread it across the world, and “civilise” the “savages” we encountered.

How different all that looks today. We have widespread education and literacy; many of us live in multi-cultural societies, where people of different religions and cultural backgrounds live side by side, exposed to each other’s views and practices; we have TV, radio, and film;  we have opportunity, for those of us in the developed world at least, to travel and experience other cultures; we do not, by and large, have a culture of deference to authority – the reverse seems more the case, as anyone in the public eye is fair game for criticism and exposure for their peccadillos and failings; we have the internet, so that anyone with a PC, or even a tablet or smartphone, can access pretty much the sum of all human knowledge with a few keystrokes; and not least, we have a myriad of voices expressing different views, often taking a strong and principled stance against religion. Many books, including two I have already referred to [3],[4], have been influential in a process of religion becoming questioned, and even discarded, by significant numbers of people.

In such circumstances there is no shortage of motivation for apologists to do their best,  since the validity and even survival of Christianity could be seen to depend on it. The library of Christian apologetics is thus being added to today, and we are observing a battle of ideas. Arguably, the battle is swinging inexorably away from Christianity, whose position as a true and reliable belief system is being discarded by more and more people. These two references relate to the UK: [25][26], but the trend is evident in the USA as well. Here is an excerpt from Pew research as quoted by CNN in 2015: [27]:

Pew US religiosity trend

The arguments I have cited here, showing that the Bible is not true, and that it cannot therefore be a credible basis for a coherent religious faith, are compelling. More and more people are exposed to these arguments, and coming to the same inevitable conclusion.

 

References

  1. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us, Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons
  2. Religions- what are they all about, and why are they as they are? Blog post http://www.jims1world.com/?p=59
  3. God Is Not Great, The Case Against Religion, Christopher Hitchens, 2007
  4. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006
  5. What about the origin of the universe – doesn’t that need God? Blog post http://www.jims1world.com/?p=89
  6. A Universe From Nothing, Lawrence Krauss, 2012
  7. Biblical Nonsense: A Review of the Bible for Doubting Christians, Dr Jason Long, paperback
  8. https://answersingenesis.org/
  9. The Rocks Don’t Lie, A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, David R Montgomery, 2012
  10. https://answersingenesis.org/geology/basic-geology-disproves-creationism/
  11. https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/how-big-was-the-human-population-bottleneck-not-anything-close-to-2/
  12. http://www.gallup.com/poll/170822/believe-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx
  13. How Old is the Earth? http://www.jims1world.com/?p=78
  14. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin, first published 1859
  15. The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins, 2009
  16. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/02/13/the-global-catholic-population/
  17. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/comment , 31 October 2014
  18. Atheism and the Theory of Evolution, http://www.jims1world.com/?p=76
  19. Neanderthals: Facts About Our Extinct Human Relatives, http://www.livescience.com/28036
  20. https://www.ted.com/talks/svante_paeaebo_dna_clues_to_our_inner_neanderthal?language=en
  21. Human evolution is more a muddy delta than a branching tree, https://aeon.co/
  22. Humans Are Still Evolving, http://www.livescience.com/16358-human-evolution-natural-selection.html
  23. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, 2009
  24. Without God there can be no Morality, http://www.jims1world.com/?p=85
  25. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2586596/Just-800-000-worshipers-attend-Church-England-service-average-Sunday.html#ixzz3y6PRI8pO
  26. Religion in the UK: Diversity, Trends, and Decline, http://www.vexen.co.uk/UK/religion.html
  27. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/

5 thoughts on “Is the Bible true?”

  1. The Title “IS THE BIBLE TRUE” itself is controversial because of the simple reason that the “BIBLE IS A BOOK” having truth in it that can only be brought up when one studies, searches that would bring its TRUTH to the light.

    When we say “Bible is true” then there’s no need for a man to think and break his head, let him simply read the truth and accept that it’s true, there’s no need to understand, thus there’s no need to have unique faculty called “thinking”. There’s no need of Critical thinking as men strives.

    Whereas man is not an animal though he’s classified in biology as an animal but he never like an animal that never think like man. Why do humans have such higher level of thinking? What’s its purpose? Who we are? Where are we heading? Where are we from? As this sort of thinking animals never do, though it thinks as part of its own process of life, not purpose of life.

    Now, men’s mind was closed to the knowledge of God and universe, what we have an account of creation and the history of the Past were only an information that can led one to find an ultimate answers of an unanswered questions, that needs critical understanding, when an understanding reaches to the higher level that’s where the knowledge of God shall be found, that’s where the mind of man was opening and the HOLY BIBLE was written by men inspired by God keeping in mind of such purpose. Simply reading Bible one cant come to know the truth or simply understand the BIBLE doesn’t lead one to know the truth unless or until those studies and understandings led to open the closed mindedness. Even children can read Bible and understand some extent, similarly adult can also read and understands but all those effects are not contribute to open the closed mindedness, then there’s no point for such studies and understandings.

    What is it called closed mindedness?
    Closed mindedness is something unable to understand higher level of knowledge as it was meted out to man when he was deceived in the garden wherein his knowledge was restricted to the knowledge of the world, not to the knowledge of God and universe, his position was restricted only to be a mortal but not to be an immortal, he was allowed only to think about this life but not to the purpose of life, when someone try to break those restrictions then there’s a threat to his life as the thinking was taking place in a closed system in the brain, such a way the brain was built and no power can challenge the stability of the brain through thinking, but the Bible can only challenge and modify, though the stability of the brain can be challenged by external impacts, if anyone attempts knowingly or unknowingly to break the stability of the brain that would result by reckless hyperactivity, coma etc., As these has been well documented in the very beginning of the Bible as “flaming sword that run every direction” that’s not point a particular place but point to the closed mindedness of mankind anywhere in the world, thus understanding the knowledge of God can only be possible through belief in God, not because God demands belief but belief in God is the way of methodology that takes one to the momentum wherein penetrating through the flaming sword that run every direction is possible as such is called opening of a closed mindedness, thereafter there’s no need to have beliefs in God rather one would become a witness of God.

    The Holy Bible is a scale applicable to the times of past, present and future in the way of Father, Son & Holy Spirit, a book of motivation, guiding as a light to the darkness of the unknown knowledge, in the past there was a flaming sword that run every direction, preventing to become an immortal but there’s also a present that the Bible provides a methodology to go through the flaming sword that run every direction, so as to Prove an evidence of God of the Holy Bible in the future.

    1. You haven’t addressed the points in my post, just taken the opportunity to throw your spiel out there. You just make unsubstantiated assertions cloaked in obfuscatory language.

  2. Nobody that knows the Father would give the time of day to rebute the pointless amount of ignorance you’ve displayed.
    You would do better with a closed mouth and opened ears & an open heart.

    The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord – and seeking wisdom is the wisest thing you can do.

    Were our God real, you admit you’d fear Him for His soveriegnty & power.
    Killing those He deems unworthy & evil. You show potential to receive His everlasting love.

    1. I’m very happy for people to express disagreement with the arguments I put, by making coherent counter arguments. That’s civilized debate, and generally very useful. But instead you make assertions unsupported by argument, and are insulting to boot: “pointless amount of ignorance you’ve displayed”. I completely get it that you are convinced of the existence of your god, and of the validity of your beliefs, but you do your case no credit by being abusive and not offering any actual points in an attempt to refute mine. You certainly convince me of nothing, except perhaps that you are yet another religious person incapable of justifying your belief system.

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