By Joseph C. Sommer – This article sets forth some reasons why Humanists assert that the Bible is not the word of God. Humanists are convinced that the Bible was written solely by human beings who lived in an age that was ignorant, superstitious, and cruel. Humanists also believe that, because the writers of the Bible were people who lived in an unenlightened and barbaric era, they produced a book which contains many erroneous statements and harmful teachings.
A lot of criticism is directed at Humanists because they hold those positions about the Bible. Some critics of the Humanist philosophy go so far as to say that Humanists are evil or are agents of the devil. Hopefully, this article will provide some clarification as to the real reasons that Humanists have the views that they do about the Bible.
Importance of the Subject:
The importance of this subject results from the fact that in the United States the Bible is pervasively hailed as a divinely inspired book. Today, the television and radio media often feature programs that praise the Bible as being the holy and infallible word of God. Religious organizations that produce those programs distribute vast quantities of books, magazines, pamphlets, and other literature. The programs and literature promote the viewpoint that, as televangelist Pat Robertson has said: “The Bible…is a workable guidebook for politics, business, families and all the affairs of mankind.”
The Bible is also promoted by many politicians. For example, in 1983 President Reagan signed into law a congressional act which proclaimed that year to be the “Year of the Bible.” The law declared the Bible to be the “Word of God” and asserted that there is “a national need to study and apply its teachings.”
Thousands of other religious and political leaders in communities throughout the United States engage in unabashed promotion of the Bible. In most of those communities, a voice in opposition to that view is rarely, if ever, heard.
The massive and incessant promotion of the Bible has a significant influence on the beliefs of millions of people. A recent Gallup poll showed that over thirty percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and that its teachings should be taken literally. Gallup found that an additional twenty-five percent of Americans view the Bible as being the inspired word of God but are of the opinion that some verses should be interpreted symbolically rather than literally.
In addition to the persons identified by Gallup as believing in the divine inspiration of the Bible, there are many people who, while having doubts as to whether the entire Bible is the word of God, still consider the book to be a source of great moral truths and regard its teachings as deserving considerable respect.
Undoubtedly, such views about the Bible are responsible, at least in part, for the fact that over two-thirds of Americans belong to churches or synagogues and forty percent attend services on a weekly basis.
Clearly, if the Humanist position concerning the Bible is correct, the millions of Americans who are Bible-believers and church-goers are wasting a great deal of time, money, and energy. The condition of humanity could be greatly improved if those resources were used to improve this world rather than being employed in the worship of a nonexistent biblical God.
Moreover, because so many people have been taught to consider the Bible to be the “Good Book,” biblical teachings influence the attitudes of millions of Americans on many subjects. When those subjects involve political issues, all of us — whether we believe the Bible or not — can be impacted as Bible-believers make their views heard in the political arena.
Anyone who becomes politically active can soon discover that Bible teachings strongly influence the opinions of many Americans on issues relating to nuclear war, overpopulation, conservation, women’s rights, homosexuals’ rights, corporal punishment of children, state-church separation, sex education, science education, abortion, censorship, capital punishment, and many other important subjects.
When people accept the statements of their religious and political leaders that the Bible contains absolute truth as revealed by a just and omniscient God, and attempt to embed in the laws and social practices of this country the teachings contained in the Bible, there is great potential for serious error and harm if the Bible is actually the product of fallible human beings who lived during an unenlightened era. In that case, the Bible would not be a guidebook for attaining human happiness and well-being, but would instead be the means by which we perpetuate the ideas and customs of an ignorant and superstitious past and fail to progress beyond that level.
Such a result would surely be tragic because ignorance and superstition, as even most supporters of the Bible would agree, have caused humankind to suffer tremendous amounts of misery throughout history.
The fact that the Bible contains contradictions is one reason why Humanists consider the book to be an unreliable authority. Clearly, if two statements in the Bible contradict each other, at least one of the statements must be false. Because there are numerous instances where certain biblical verses flatly contradict other verses, it follows that the Bible contains many false statements.
Contradictions appear in even the opening two chapters of the Bible, where inconsistent accounts of the creation of the world are set forth. * For example, Genesis chapter 1 tells us that the first man and the first woman were made at the same time, and after the animals. However, Genesis chapter 2 states that the order of creation was as follows: man, then the animals, and then woman.
In addition, Genesis chapter 1 sets forth six days of creation, but chapter 2 speaks of the “day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Genesis chapter 1 states that the fruit trees were created before man, but chapter 2 indicates that the fruit trees were created after man. Genesis 1:20 says that the fowl were created out of the waters, but Genesis 2:19 states that the fowl were created out of the ground.
Also, Genesis 1:2-3 asserts that God created light and divided it from darkness on the first day, but Genesis 1:14-19 says that the sun, moon, and stars were not made until the fourth day.
Contradictions also abound in the biblical account of a worldwide flood. Genesis 6:19-22 says that God ordered Noah to bring “of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort…into the ark.” However, Genesis 7:2-3 states that the Lord ordered Noah to bring into the ark the clean beasts and the birds by sevens, and the unclean beasts by twos.
Genesis 7:17 says that the flood lasted forty days, but Genesis 8:3 tells us that it lasted one hundred and fifty days. Genesis 8:4 states that, as the waters of the flood receded, Noah’s ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat in the seventh month, but the very next verse asserts that the tops of the mountains could not even be seen until the tenth month. Genesis 8:13 states that the earth was dry on the first day of the first month, but Genesis 8:14 reports that the earth was not dry until the twenty-seventh day of the second month.
The Old Testament also contains a significant contradiction in the story of the census taken by King David and God’s subsequent punishment of the Israelites. According to the story, God was so angered by the census that he sent a plague that killed seventy thousand men. II Samuel 24:1 says that the Lord caused David to take the census, but I Chronicles 21:1 tells us that David was incited by Satan to take the census.
In addition, there is a contradiction regarding the question of whether God punishes children for the sins of their parents. At Ezekiel 18:20, the Lord states: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father….” However, at Exodus 20:5, God says: “…I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
Moreover, the Old Testament is contradictory as to whether the Lord commanded the Israelites to sacrifice animals to him. At Jeremiah 7:22, God says that he did not give the Israelites any commands about animal sacrifices. In contrast, at Exodus 29:38-42 and many other places in the Pentateuch, God is clearly depicted as requiring the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices.
Turning to the New Testament, there are contradictions between the genealogy of Jesus as set forth in the first chapter of Matthew and the genealogy given in the third chapter of Luke. Both genealogies list Jesus’ father as being Joseph (which is curious, given that Mary was supposedly impregnated by the Holy Ghost), but Matthew states that the name of Joseph’s father was Jacob, while Luke says that his name was Heli. Also, Matthew tells us that there were twenty-six generations between Jesus and King David, but Luke reports that the number of such generations was forty-one. In addition, Matthew alleges that Jesus’ line of descent was through David’s son Solomon, but Luke asserts that it was through David’s son Nathan.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, Matthew 2:13-15 says that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the baby Jesus immediately after the wise men from the east had brought their gifts. However, Luke 2:22-40 indicates that, after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary remained in Bethlehem for the time of Mary’s purification (which was forty days, under the Mosaic law), then brought Jesus to Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord,” and then returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke makes no mention of a journey into Egypt or a visit by wise men from the east.
As to the death of the disciple Judas, Matthew 27:5 states that Judas took the money that he had obtained by betraying Jesus, threw it down in the temple, and then “went and hanged himself.” However, Acts 1:18 reports that Judas used the money to purchase a field and “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”
In describing Jesus being led to his execution, John 19:17 states that Jesus carried his own cross. In contrast, Mark 15:21-23 says that a man called Simon carried Jesus’ cross to the crucifixion site.
Regarding the crucifixion itself, Matthew 27:44 tells us that Jesus was taunted by both of the criminals who were being crucified with him. However, Luke 23:39-43 states that only one of the criminals taunted Jesus, that the other criminal rebuked the one who was doing the taunting, and that Jesus told the criminal who was defending him: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
As to the last words of Jesus while on the cross, Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 assert that Jesus cried with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Luke 23:46 says that Jesus’ final words were: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” John 19:30 tells us that the last statement of the dying Jesus was: “It is finished.”
There are even contradictions in the accounts of the resurrection — the alleged event which is the very basis of the Christian religion. Mark 16:2 says that on the day of the resurrection certain women arrived at the tomb at the rising of the sun, but John 20:1 states that they arrived when it was yet dark. Luke 24:2 tells us that the tomb was open when the women arrived, but Matthew 28:1-2 indicates that it was closed. Mark 16:5 states that the women saw a young man at the tomb, Luke 24:4 says that they saw two men, Matthew 28:2 alleges that they saw an angel, and John 20:11-12 insists that they saw two angels.
Also in the resurrection accounts, there are contradictions as to who the women were that came to the tomb, whether the men or angels that the women saw were inside or outside the tomb, whether the men or angels were standing or sitting, and whether Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus when he first appeared to her.
As a final example of a contradiction contained in the New Testament, the conflicting accounts of the conversion of Paul can be cited. Acts 9:7 says that when Jesus called Paul to preach the gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man. However, Acts 22:9 asserts that when Paul received his calling, the men who were with him saw a light but did not hear the voice that spoke to Paul.
The foregoing examples are just a few of the hundreds of contradictions contained in the Bible. The presence of such contradictions plainly shows that the Bible contains many erroneous statements and is therefore far from infallible.
Humanists also reject the Bible because it both describes and approves of the most outrageous acts of cruelty and injustice imaginable. One of the underlying principles of our legal system — and the legal systems of all civilized societies — is the notion that the suffering of the innocent is the very essence of injustice. Yet in the Bible we are told that God repeatedly violated this fundamental moral principle by causing numerous innocent persons and animals to be harmed.
Instances of cruel and unjust behavior by the God of the Bible are seen in even the most basic teachings of the Christian religion. Some well-known acts of the biblical God that are in fact immoral because they resulted in the suffering of the innocent include the following: he damned the whole human race and cursed the entire creation because of the acts of two people (Genesis 3:16-23; Romans 5:18); he drowned pregnant women and innocent children and animals at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7:20-23); he tormented the Egyptians and their animals with hail and disease because pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11,25); he killed Egyptian babies at the time of the Passover (Exodus 12:29-30); subsequent to the Exodus he ordered the Israelites to annihilate the men, women, and children of seven nations and to steal their land (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); he killed King David’s baby because of David’s adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:13-18); he required the torture and murder of his own son (e.g., Romans 3:24-25); and he promised to send to eternal torture those persons who do not accept Christianity (e.g., Revelation 21:8).
In addition to the injustice and cruelties contained in many of the major teachings of Christianity, the Bible features numerous other tales of violence that are in complete opposition to all civilized standards of morality. Among the most shockingly violent and unethical Bible passages are those in which God is depicted as ordering or sanctioning the slaughter of various persons, including children and the elderly. Some examples are the following:
– At I Samuel 15:3, the prophet Samuel gives King Saul this commandment from the Lord: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
– Ezekiel 9:4-7 provides the following account of a message from the Lord: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through…the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark…”
– Hosea 13:16 sets forth this description of a punishment from the Lord: “Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”
– Deuteronomy 32:23-25 reports that after the Israelites had provoked the Lord to jealousy by worshiping other gods, the Lord said: “…I will spend mine arrows upon them….The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.”
– At Numbers chapter 31, the Lord indicates his approval of the following order which Moses gave, as set forth at verses 17 and 18, regarding the manner in which the Israelite soldiers were to treat certain women and children captured in war: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
– Isaiah 13:9,15-18 contains this message from the Lord: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger…. Every one that is found shall be thrust through. …Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes…and their wives ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them…. [T]hey shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.” Clearly, these verses depict the biblical God as having the moral scruples of a sociopathic mass murderer.
The God of the Bible also displays his sadistic tendencies by employing a variety of other methods to torment the innocent. He opens the earth so that it swallows entire families (Numbers 16:27-32); he causes fire to devour people (e.g., Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 11:1-2); he sends wild animals such as bears (II Kings 2:23-24), lions (II Kings 17:24-25), and serpents (Numbers 21:6) upon people; he sanctions slavery (e.g., Leviticus 25:44-46); he orders religious persecution (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:12-16); he causes cannibalism (Jeremiah 19:9); and he requires the killing of animals as expiation for the sins of their owners (e.g., Exodus 29:36).
In addition to causing the innocent to suffer, another type of cruelty that the biblical God is guilty of is the infliction of punishments that are grossly disproportionate to the acts for which those punishments were administered. In our legal system today, extreme disproportion between punishments administered and acts committed is considered a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.
Obviously, to punish persons who are completely innocent, as is seen in the preceding Bible verses, constitutes punishment that is outrageously disproportionate to the moral culpability of the persons being punished. As an additional example of the biblical God requiring punishments that are shockingly harsh in comparison to the acts committed, we may look at a list of some of the trivial acts for which he required the death penalty.
In the Old Testament, the Lord prescribes execution as punishment for the “crimes” of working on the sabbath (Exodus 31:15); cursing one’s parents (Leviticus 20:9); worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); being a witch, medium, or wizard (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27); engaging in homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13); and not being a virgin on one’s wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Certainly, to require the death penalty for such acts is to completely reject the notion that the severity of a punishment should bear some proportion to the seriousness of the offense.
In the New Testament, the biblical God has not improved at all in regard to his trait of inflicting excessively severe punishments, and in fact has gotten worse. It would be hard to imagine anything more cruel and disproportionate than requiring the punishment of eternal torture for the mere disbelief that the son of God was born of a virgin in Palestine almost two thousand years ago, turned water into wine, cast demons out of persons, walked on water, was killed at the instigation of God’s “chosen people,” and rose from the dead. The refusal to believe that story harms no one, and it has been disbelieved by some of the greatest benefactors of the human race, yet the biblical God promises to inflict upon such persons the most horrible punishment that can be conceived.
A major problem with the violence and injustice contained in the Bible is that, all too often, the example set by the biblical God has incited and been used to justify the cruel acts of his followers. Many of those followers reasoned that since God, who is considered just and loving, committed and allowed the most brutal acts of violence, good Christians need not have any qualms about behaving in a similar manner. That reasoning process was undoubtedly what the American patriot Thomas Paine was referring to when he said: “The belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”
An example of that type of reasoning is provided by the historian Joseph McCabe in his work entitled The History of Torture. McCabe states that during the Middle Ages there was more cruelty and torture in Christian Europe than in any civilization in history. He points to the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment as one of the main causes of the extraordinary prevalence of torture in medieval Europe. McCabe describes in the following manner the philosophy that supported the willingness of Christians to so frequently resort to torture: “If, it was natural to reason, God punishes men with eternal torment, it is surely lawful for men to use doses of it in a good cause.”
Some specific historical examples of violent and unjust acts that were incited or supported by Bible teachings would be the Inquisition; the Crusades; the burning of witches; the religious wars in Europe; the pogroms carried out against Jewish communities; the persecution of homosexuals; the forceful conversion of heathen people in Europe and America; the enslavement of blacks and other persons; the beatings of children; the brutal treatment of the mentally ill; the suppression of scientists and other investigators of nature; the use of torture in criminal interrogations; and the whippings, mutilations, brandings, and violent executions of persons convicted of crimes. Those actions were a regular part of the Christian world for hundreds of years.
After reviewing the cruel and unjust teachings contained in the Bible, and the effect that they have had upon the course of world events, one can see why Humanists agree that Thomas Paine was entirely justified in saying in regard to the Bible: “It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.”
Teachings Inconsistent with the Laws of Nature:
A further reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that it contains numerous statements that are inconsistent with the laws of nature. Humanists also believe that the promotion of those statements as being true has caused tremendous harm to humanity.
As a result of human observation and experience, a fundamental principle of science is that the laws of nature do not change, cannot be violated, and have acted uniformly over time. According to the noted paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, this uniformity or constancy of natural laws is the “methodological assumption” that makes science practicable.
What Gould is referring to is the fact that, without the assumption that the physical world operates according to unchanging natural laws, there would be no practical benefit to be derived from studying that world, conducting experiments, or otherwise learning from experience. Those activities would be useless in a world that did not operate according to unvarying natural laws because, in such a world, knowledge of past situations would not provide guidance as to what will happen in similar situations in the future. There would always be the possibility of supernatural or other arbitrary forces intervening in events to alter outcomes from what would otherwise, based on past experience, be expected to occur.
In this world, the evidence is overwhelming that physical events occur according to natural laws that are immutable in their operation. As a result, an increasing knowledge of the workings of nature enhances our ability to predict future events and to shape the course of those events.
The teachings of the Bible are, however, diametrically opposed to the fundamental scientific principle of the uniform operation of natural laws. Consequently, belief in the Bible is inconsistent with a scientific outlook and has served to discourage the development of a scientific approach to dealing with problems.
In the Bible, we are told stories involving a talking snake (Genesis 3:4-5); a tree bearing fruit which, when eaten, gives knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:5-7); another tree the fruit of which gives immortality (Genesis 3:22); a voice coming from a burning bush (Exodus 3:4); a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28); rods turning into serpents (Exodus 7:10-12); water changing into blood (Exodus 7:19-22); water coming from a rock (Numbers 20:11); a dead man reviving when his corpse touched the bones of a prophet (II Kings 13:21); and other people rising from the dead (e.g., I Kings 17:21-22; II Kings 4:32-35; Acts 9:37-40).
There are also accounts of the sun standing still (Joshua 10:13); the parting of a sea (Exodus 14:21-22); iron floating (II Kings 6:5-6); the shadow going back ten degrees (II Kings 20:9-11); a witch bringing the ghost of Samuel back from the dead (I Samuel 28:3-15); disembodied fingers writing on a wall (Daniel 5:5); a man living for three days and nights in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17); people walking on water (Matthew 14:26-29); a virgin impregnated by God (Matthew 1:20); blindness cured by spit (Mark 8:23-25); a pool of water that can cure the ailments of those who dip in it (John 5:2-4); and angels and demons intervening in earthly affairs (e.g., Acts 5:17-20; Luke 11:24-26).
Clearly, such stories are totally at variance with any sane person’s experience of the way this world operates, and are therefore completely at odds with the scientific view as to the consistent and unvarying operation of natural laws. These biblical fables are instead supportive of the idea, which has been commonly held by primitive and illiterate people throughout history, that supernatural beings frequently and arbitrarily intervene in the affairs of this world.
When examined in the light of experience and reason, the Bible’s claims of suspension of the laws of nature do not warrant belief. Our experience is that the natural world operates according to principles of regularity which are never violated. It is further our experience that people are frequently mistaken or dishonest. Thus, it is far more likely that the authors of the Bible either erred or lied than that the laws of nature were violated as is alleged in so many nonsensical biblical stories.
A terribly harmful effect of the belief that supernatural beings intervene in worldly affairs has been that people have often misdirected their energies in attempting to solve the problems of this world. Instead of studying the natural world to discover facts that could be used to develop scientific solutions to their problems, they engaged in religious activities in an effort to obtain the assistance of benevolent supernatural beings or to thwart the influence of malicious preternatural beings.
An example of such a misdirection of energies can be seen in the history of the attempts to prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases in Europe. The historian Andrew White states that, during many centuries in the Middle Ages, the filthiness of European cities repeatedly caused great pestilences that sent multitudes to their graves. Based on the teachings of the Bible, Christian theologians during those centuries believed that the pestilences were caused not by lack of proper hygiene, but by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.
Due to their belief in spiritual causes of illnesses, the theologians taught people that the plagues could be averted or alleviated by religious acts such as repentance from sin; the provision of gifts to churches, monasteries, and shrines; participation in religious processions; attendance at church services (which often only increased the spread of disease); and the killing of Jews and witches (since it was believed that Satan used Jews and witches as his agents in causing illnesses). The possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases was largely ignored by the theologians.
White states that, despite all the prayers, rituals, and other religious activities that were performed in an effort to influence the activities of spiritual beings, the frequency and severity of plagues did not diminish until scientific hygiene began to make its appearance. In speaking of the hygienic improvements that occurred during the second half of the nineteenth century, White says: “[T]he sanitary authorities have in half a century done far more to reduce the rate of disease and death than has been done in fifteen hundred years by all the fetiches which theological reasoning could devise or ecclesiastical power enforce.”
The superior results of relying on the assistance provided by science rather than on the supernatural aid promised by religion can also be seen in other fields. As a result, Humanists accept the scientific view that the world operates according to unvarying natural laws which can never be suspended by the performance of religious rituals or by any other means. Furthermore, Humanists believe that those persons who have sought to increase understanding of this world — and not the theologians who focus on influencing supernatural powers — have enabled humankind to make the greatest strides in terms of alleviating suffering and increasing happiness.
Teachings Inconsistent With the Structure of the Physical World:
An additional reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that it contains many teachings that are contrary to what science has found to be the structure of the physical world. As is the case with the Bible’s teachings that are inconsistent with the laws of nature, the Bible’s views concerning this subject are similar to beliefs that have been held by many primitive and illiterate people throughout history.
A classic example of such an incorrect Bible teaching can be seen in the account of the opposition that Christian theologians mounted against Galileo’s proof of the Copernican doctrine of the double motion of the earth. In the sixteenth century, Copernicus set forth the idea that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun, and in the following century Galileo’s telescope provided strong evidence that Copernicus had been right. In opposing the Copernican doctrine and attempting to show that the earth remains stationary while the sun moves around it, the Catholic Church pointed to the tenth chapter of the book of Joshua. There we are told that Joshua, in order to have a longer period of daylight in which to carry out the Lord’s command to slaughter the Amorites, told the sun to stand still — and not the earth.
Other passages demonstrating that the Bible writers thought that the earth remains stationary include Psalm 93:1 (”[T]he world also is [e]stablished, that it cannot be moved.”), I Chronicles 16:30 (”[T]he world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.”), and Psalm 104:5 (The Lord “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.”).
Because of Galileo’s advocacy of the Copernican doctrine, the Inquisition threatened him with torture, forced him to recant his support for that doctrine, and sentenced him to imprisonment. In addition, based upon the teachings of the Bible, for nearly two hundred years the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books condemned all writings which affirmed the idea of the double motion of the earth. Moreover, for generations the major branches of the Protestant church — Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican — denounced the Copernican doctrine as being contrary to scripture.
The Bible also grossly errs in upholding the viewpoint that the earth is flat. In the sixth century, a Christian monk named Cosmas wrote a book entitled Topographia Christiana in which he described the structure of the physical world. Cosmas based his conclusions on the teachings of the Bible and held that the earth is flat and surrounded by four seas.
One of the reasons for Cosmas’ belief in a flat earth was the statement at Revelation 1:7 that, when Christ returns, “every eye shall see him.” Cosmas reasoned that if the earth were round instead of flat, people on the other side would not be able to see Christ’s second coming.
Further support for the idea of a flat earth is contained in the Bible verses which speak of the “four corners of the earth” (e.g., Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1) and the “ends of the earth” (e.g., Jeremiah 16:19; Acts 13:47).
As a consequence of such Bible teachings, most of the early church fathers believed that the earth is flat. Also, the view of the world as set forth in Cosmas’ book was for several centuries accepted as part of the orthodox Christian doctrine. In addition, when Christopher Columbus proposed, in the fifteenth centruy, the idea of sailing west from Spain to reach the East Indies, biblical support for the notion of the earth’s flatness was a major source of opposition to his proposal.
The Bible additionally sets forth the ridiculous idea that the sky is a solid vault. In the creation account given in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, verse 17 states that the Lord set the sun and moon “in the firmament” to provide light upon the earth. The Hebrew word translated as “firmament” is “raqia,” which means “hammered metal.”
More support for the idea of a solid sky is found at Job 37:18 (where the sky is described as being like a “molten looking glass”), Isaiah 40:22 (God “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in”), and Revelation 6:14 (”And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together”).
The notion of a domed earth, as contained in the preceding Bible verses, was a common conception in the ancient Near East and was taken for granted by the biblical writers. Based on the teachings of the Bible, most of the early church fathers accepted the idea of the firmament. That idea was also supported by Cosmas and consequently was part of the orthodox Christian doctrine for several centuries.
Included in that orthodox doctrine was the childish belief that there are windows in the firmament that are opened by angels whenever God wishes to send rain upon the earth. Cosmas believed that when the windows were opened, a portion of the waters contained above the firmament, which are mentioned at Genesis 1:17, would fall to the earth. Cosmas’ basis for that viewpoint was the statement, at Genesis 7:11-12, that at the time of the Noachian Flood the “windows of heaven were opened” and the rain fell.
The Bible also naively asserts that the earth rests upon pillars. The “pillars” of the earth are referred to in several verses in the Old Testament (I Samuel 2:8; Psalm 75:3; Job 9:6), but no explanation is given as to what the pillars themselves were thought to stand upon. Perhaps that issue was not even considered by the writers of the Bible, as logic obviously was not their strong point. In any event, such verses are a reflection of the belief of the ancient Hebrews that the earth sits upon pillars.
In addition, the Bible contradicts modern medical science by declaring that illnesses and other physical maladies result from supernatural agencies, such as the activity of demons, rather than from physical causes. In describing Jesus’ healing miracles, the New Testament states that the following afflictions were produced by demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22), muteness (Matthew 9:32-33), lameness (Luke 13:11,16), epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18) and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).
As a result of such teachings, the early church leaders generally discouraged the view that illnesses are caused by natural processes and supported the idea of demonic agency as the primary cause of disease. For example, St. Augustine, whose views strongly influenced Western thought for over a thousand years, said in the fourth century: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons….”
Even with the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was no great change in the Christian attitude toward the cause of diseases. Martin Luther repeatedly attributed his own illnesses to “devils’ spells” and taught that: “Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death.”
The Bible also contains verses which mention dragons (Jeremiah 51:34), unicorns (Isaiah 34:7), and cockatrices (Isaiah 11:8). Based on such verses, many naturalists in the Middle Ages believed that those mythical creatures actually exist.
Moreover, for centuries Bible verses led the Christian world to believe that comets are sent by God to warn humankind of divine anger and imminent punishment; that the appearance of stars and meteors presages beneficial events such as the birth of heroes and great men; that eclipses signify divine distress in response to occurrences on earth; that storms and unpleasant meteorological phenomena are caused by the anger of God or the ill will of Satan; and that, even if the earth is in fact round, people do not live on the other side.
Furthermore, the Bible is scientifically incorrect in stating that the bat is a bird (Leviticus 11:13,19), that the hare and the rock badger chew the cud (Leviticus 11:5-6), and that the mustard seed “is the smallest of all seeds” (Matthew 13:32). It is also inconsistent with science, and in fact absurd, to assert that God confounded the language of human beings because he was afraid that they would build a tower high enough to reach heaven (see Genesis 11:1-9).
The effect of looking to the Bible to obtain ideas regarding the structure of the physical world has been aptly summed up by the historian Andrew White. He states: “[T]here were developed, in every field, theological views of science which have never led to a single truth — which, without exception, have forced mankind away from the truth, and have caused Christendom to stumble for centuries into abysses of error and sorrow.”
In view of the Bible’s numerous incorrect statements concerning the structure of the physical world, there appears to be no reason to believe that the biblical writers were any more correct when they wrote about things which are invisible. Being so greatly in error in regard to the observable universe, the Bible cannot be considered a reliable guide for addressing spiritual and ethical questions.
Also supporting the Humanist position that the Bible is not the word of God is the fact that it contains prophecies that have proved to be false. The nonoccurrence of biblically prophesied events constitutes clear proof that the Bible is not inerrant.
The Bible itself sets forth a test for determining whether a prophecy was inspired by God. Deuteronomy 18:22 states: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” In applying that test to the Bible, we are led to the conclusion that the book contains statements which were not inspired by God.
At Genesis 2:17, the Lord is said to have warned Adam and Eve regarding the fruit contained on the tree of knowledge: “[I]n the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Yet in Genesis chapter 3, we are informed that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and did not die on the day that they did so.
Genesis 35:10 tells us that God said to Jacob: “[T]hy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name…” However, eleven chapters later, at Genesis 46:2, the statement is made that: “…God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.”
II Chronicles 1:12 alleges that God said to Solomon: “Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like.” As the great American agnostic Robert Ingersoll said the nineteenth century, there were several kings in Solomon’s day who could have thrown away the value of Palestine without missing the amount. It may be added that the wealth of Solomon is small by today’s standards and has been exceeded by many kings who ruled subsequent to him.
Some examples of other unfulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament include the following: the Jews will occupy the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen. 15:18); they shall never lose their land and shall be disturbed no more (II Sam. 7:10); King David’s throne and kingdom shall be established forever (II Sam. 7:16); no uncircumcised person will ever enter into Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:1); Damascus will be reduced to a heap of ruins (Isaiah 17:1); and the waters of Egypt will dry up (Isaiah 19: 5-7).
By applying to the New Testament the Bible’s test for identifying false prophets, we are forced to conclude that Jesus made statements that were not inspired by God. For instance, Jesus’ prophecies concerning the time at which the world would end are clearly incorrect. At Matthew 16:28, Jesus states to his disciples: “…There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Obviously, the persons who were standing there have all died, and they never saw Jesus return to establish a kingdom.
In addition, at Mark 13:24-30 Jesus is depicted as listing a number of signs that shall accompany the end of the world, including the sun becoming darkened, the moon not giving any light, the stars of heaven falling, the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and angels gathering the elect. Then Jesus states, at verse 30: “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” Clearly, that generation passed away long ago and the predicted occurrences never happened.
Analysis of the New Testament also reveals that Jesus was incorrect in his prediction concerning the amount of time that he would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40, Jesus states: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” However, Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on the afternoon of the day before the sabbath (i.e., on Friday afternoon), while Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us that Jesus left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. There is no way that a period from Friday afternoon until, at the latest, Sunday morning, can be made to equal three days and three nights.
To give one more example from the New Testament, Jesus states at John 14:13-14 that: “[W]hatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” There have been millions of instances in which requests have been made in Jesus’ name, and Jesus failed to perform on his promise to deliver.
As an example of such an unanswered request, we may recall the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. During the hours immediately following the shooting, millions of persons prayed in Jesus’ name for the recovery of Senator Kennedy. If there ever was a test for the power of Christian prayer, this was it.
We all know the result of that test. Contrary to the promise contained in the fourteenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus did not respond to the pleas for the fallen senator’s recovery and, tragically, Kennedy died. The same failure of Christian prayers to produce any effect occurs over and over each day.
As is the case with other types of false statements in the Bible, the existence of incorrect prophecies casts doubt on the veracity of all biblical teachings. If one verse in the Bible is wrong, it is possible for many verses to be wrong.
Inaccurate Statements About History:
One more reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that it contains erroneous statements regarding history. The findings of historians and other scholars indicate that many assertions in the Bible are historically inaccurate.
In regard to the Old Testament, historians have determined that the story of a worldwide flood, as set forth in the book of Genesis, is a myth. For example, Andrew White reports that nineteenth century Egyptologists found that Egypt had a flourishing civilization long before the biblical Flood of Noah and that no such flood had ever interrupted it.
In addition, the book of Exodus claims to contain an historical account of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but historians and archaeologists have been unable to verify any of the events related in that book. No known Egyptian records refer to the biblical Moses, the devastating plagues that God supposedly inflicted on the country, the escape of the Hebrew slaves, or the drowning of the Egyptian army. Moreover, Andrew White reports that the records contained on Egyptian monuments show that the pharaoh ruling at the time of the alleged escape of the Jews was certainly not overwhelmed in the Red Sea.
The book of Esther purports to tell how a young Jewish girl named Esther was chosen by the Persian King Xerxes I to be queen after the king had divorced Queen Vashti. Although historians know a great deal about Xerxes I, there is no record that he had a Jewish queen named Esther or that he was married to Vashti.
Additionally, the book of Esther insists that the Persian empire was divided into one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, but historians tell us that there was no such division of the empire. Also contrary to what the book of Esther says, historians state that Xerxes I did not order Jews in his territories to attack his Persian subjects.
The book of Daniel contains an account of certain events that supposedly transpired during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. In the fifth chapter of the book, we are told that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded on the throne by his son Belshazzar. However, historians tell us that Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was never king.
The book of Daniel also states that one “Darius the Mede” captured Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. In contrast, historians inform us that it was actually Cyrus of Persia who took Babylon.
Turning to the New Testament, the second chapter of the book of Luke states that, shortly before the birth of Jesus, the emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. Luke states that every person had to travel to the town of his ancestors in order for the census to be taken. He points to the census as the reason that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born.
In the book entitled Gospel Fictions, Randal Helms states that no such census was ever taken in the history of the Roman Empire. He also says that it is ridiculous to think that the practical Romans would require millions of people to travel enormous distances to towns of long-deceased ancestors merely to sign a tax form. Moreover, in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov states that the Romans certainly would arrange no such census.
The third chapter of Luke contains a genealogy that traces Christ’s ancestry back only seventy-six generations to Adam, who, according to Genesis chapter 1, was created along with the rest of the universe during the course of one week. The Bible therefore supports the idea that the history of the human race, and also that of the universe, extends back in time for just a relatively short period, probably no more than several thousand years. In fact, on the basis of biblical teachings such as those set forth in Luke chapter 3, during many centuries the orthodox Christian position, to doubt which was to risk damnation, was that the Creation took place sometime between four and six thousand years before the birth of Christ.
Today, however, scientists and other scholars agree that the evidence shows a much longer historical record. They state that the universe is between ten and twenty billion years old, that the age of the earth is approximately 4.6 billion years, and that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors during the last few million years.
The second chapter of the book of Matthew asserts that, shortly after the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the massacre of all male children two years of age or under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. In the book of Luke, which contains the only other New Testament story of Jesus’ birth, there is no mention of this horribly cruel order. It is also not mentioned in any of the secular histories of the time, and not even by those writers who carefully described many far less wicked deeds of Herod. Clearly, such lack of corroboration is compelling evidence that Matthew’s account was fabricated.
Matthew 27:45 states that while Jesus was on the cross, there fell over the whole land a darkness which lasted from midday until three in the afternoon. Andrew White states that although Roman observers such as Seneca and Pliny carefully described much less striking occurrences of the same sort in more remote regions, they failed to note any such darkness occurring even in Judea.
Concerning the issue of the alleged historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts, Robert Ingersoll wondered why it was that the first century Jewish historian Josephus, “the best historian the Hebrews produced, said nothing about the life or death of Christ; nothing about the massacre of the infants by Herod; not one word about the wonderful star that visited the sky at the birth of Christ; nothing about the darkness that fell upon the world for several hours in the midst of day; and failed entirely to mention that hundreds of graves were opened, and that multitudes of Jews arose from the dead, and visited the Holy City?” Ingersoll also asked: “Is it not wonderful that no historian ever mentioned any of these prodigies?”
Ingersoll’s questions are particularly cogent when one considers that there are still in existence at least some of the works of more than sixty historians or chroniclers who lived in the period from 10 C.E. to 100 C.E. Those writers were contemporaries of Jesus, if in fact he ever existed.
In regard to the subject of historical inaccuracies contained in the Bible, the various contradictions mentioned above could also be cited, such as those contained in the accounts of the Creation, the Flood, David’s census, the birth and genealogies of Jesus, the Resurrection, Paul’s calling, etc. In each instance where the Bible contains a contradiction concerning an alleged historical event, at least one of the accounts must be incorrect and is therefore historically inaccurate.
Thus, the presence of historical inaccuracies is another fact that gives the lie to the claim of biblical infallibility.
In summary, Humanists reject the Bible because it contains contradictions, cruelties, assertions that are totally inconsistent with the laws of nature, inaccurate statements about the structure of the physical world, incorrect prophecies, and historical inaccuracies. Other problems with the book could also be cited, such as the fact that we do not know who wrote most of it, the fact that much of it was written many years after the events which it purports to describe, its many obscene passages, and its promises of salvation for the ignorant and credulous and condemnation to eternal torture for skeptics and investigators who have bestowed innumerable benefits upon the human race.
All of these problems and others constitute clear evidence that the Bible is not the word of God. Instead of being infallible, the Bible has far more incorrect assertions and immoral teachings than are contained in most other books.
As a result of treating such a mistake-ridden book as being inerrant, Western civilization has been led down many paths of error and misery throughout history. In addition, the Bible’s extensive track record in leading humanity astray is support for the conclusion that, in today’s world, the influence of biblical teachings in the political arena could very well result — and, in the opinion of some persons, certainly does result — in the continuance of a large number of harmful social policies and opposition to many progressive proposals for social improvement.
Moreover, reports carried in the news media make it clear that Bible verses still lead some Christians to commit bizarre and harmful acts such as beating children, withholding medical treatment, handling snakes, drinking poison, chopping off hands or feet, plucking out eyes, violently attempting to drive out demons and devils, withdrawing from the affairs of this world, renouncing the pleasures of life, and expecting the imminent end of the world.
Because the Bible contains many incorrect statements and unethical teachings and has caused — and continues to cause — numerous mistakes and tremendous harm, we should reject the advice of those persons who exhort us to turn to the Bible for the answers to our personal, social, and political problems.
What has enabled humanity to correct many of the false ideas that the Bible gave to the world has been the application of a scientific approach to solving problems. That approach involves reliance on human observation, experience, logic, and empathy, rather than a blind acceptance of religious or secular dogma.
When the results of relying on the scientific method are viewed in conjunction with the incorrect ideas contained in the Bible and the harm caused by those ideas, it becomes clear that we are far better off being guided by human reason and compassion than by the teachings of the Bible.
* Biblical citations in this article are to the King James Version, given that it is perhaps the most widely used of the various versions on the market today.
The author of this paper is the president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, a chapter of the American Humanist Association.
© Copyright 1994 by Joseph C. Sommer
So long as profit is not your motive and you always include this copyright notice, please feel free to reproduce and distribute this material in electronic form as widely as you please. Nonprofit Humanist and Freethought publications have additional permission to publish this in print form. All other permission must be sought from the author through the Humanist Community of Central Ohio which can be contacted at the following address:
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