After having hundreds of conversations about Christianity I have noticed many people perform the “faith flip-flop” maneuver. In the beginning they start off being quite confident, boldly proclaiming that the Bible has been proven to accurately describe reality. After further examination, when confronted with various biblical errors and inaccuracies, they flip flop to saying “you can’t prove or disprove it, you just have to take it on faith.” Many simply reject the evidence by saying that it’s impossible to “disprove” the Bible, because it speaks in a spiritual magisterium, one that cannot be tested, analyzed, or examined by human methods like science and reason. “The Bible cannot be scrutinized,” they say, but is that really the case?
In part they are correct, the Bible does make a plenitude of claims and assertions that we have no way of verifying or falsifying. For example, the Bible says that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10). Is there any way we would be able to detect that? Can we look up in our telescopes and see angels rejoicing? Can we visit heaven? Are there echoes of angelic songs and dances that slowly ripple their way down to the earth? No, this claim is completely outside of the realm of verification and falsifiability, we simply have no way to examine it, rather it has to be accepted on faith.
Yet, there are other claims in the Bible that can indeed be tested, and are these we can falsify or verify. The Bible says that millions of Hebrews left Egypt in a mass exodus (600,000 men, not counting women and children; Exodus 12:37-38). We can examine the evidence for and against this historical claim. For example we can go to the described desert route and do archaeological excavations, seeking the physical traces of such a colossal emigration (which archaeologists assure us, would most definitely be there). We can also read the recorded histories of the ancient peoples in the region and time period to find corroborating evidence, if this massive migration is confirmed or mentioned.
It’s claims like these that interest me the most, the claims that can actually be inspected using an evidence based approach. If the Bible claims that a particular process cures cancer, let us employ this process and see if it works. If the Bible says that Belshazzar was the king after Nebuchadnezzar, let us can compare that to Babylonian historical records to see if it matches (nope, it doesnt.)
And so, with no more ado, let’s briefly examine just a few claims of the Bible (we only have time for a few) to see if they are an accurate representation of reality.
1. Prayer doesn’t really work
The Bible states that “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mat 21:22). We can test this claim, we can observe people who do believe and pray, and we can see as their prayers are unanswered. I’m serious, pray that God would reveal himself to me, like he did to Apostle Paul, the Bible says “whatever you ask for” and that surely applies. Okay. Prayed? Why hasn’t it happened? If prayer works, why do people usually have only one or two examples of miracles, out of tens of thousands of people uttering tens of thousands of prayers? Why doesn’t it happen consistently? And these exceptions are usually cases of random selection, which is when ten people pray for something that always has a 10% chance of happening, of course one person always get an “answer.” Any of the more concrete sounding miracles out there, are always unverifiable, always based on testimony alone, usually in unreachable countries, brought to us by the world’s longest game of telephone.
Where are the cases with hard evidence? Person with an amputated limb walks into a prayer meeting, and limb grows back after prayer? Why hasn’t that happened even once in the history of the world? Instead of giving me a documented case, I’ve only ever seen lots of post hoc rationalizations that try to explain away why it’s not working (“oh, it’s not Gods plan”, “well you didn’t have faith”, etc). Let’s be honest, you claim prayer works, and yet, deep down, if I ask you to pray for God to heal all the little children in Seattle Children’s Hospital, you KNOW, for a damn fact, that it’s not really going to happen. You know it won’t work, in fact, you’re already inventing up excuses that explain why “it doesn’t work like that.” Stop and look around your city, every hospital you see is a monument to the epic and consistent failure of prayer.
2. Obedience doesn’t work
The Bible states “honor your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6 :2-3). First I’d note that honoring ones parents is generally a good thing. However, claiming that it extends ones life is an erroneous way of describing how the real world works. There are thousands of examples of very elderly people who either didn’t have parents to honor, or failed to honor them. For example, the infamous killer Bradford Bishop, who killed his mother (obviously failing the “honor your parents” rule) and escaped to Switzerland, but is now 80 years old (Oh sure, you think, “but he’s gonna get it in hell soon,” but whether or not that happens is irrelevant to the fact that the Biblical claim that obedience is tied to longevity has failed). On the other hand, while walking through your local children’s hospital, you will find the utterly tragic and horrifying reality, hundreds of sweet and obedient children are dying from diseases that prayer can’t cure. An acquaintance of mine lost a kind little girl to cancer, and a parent-killer lives to be 80. The Biblical claim in question is utterly false.
3. Fear of God doesn’t work
The Bible also states that “the fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” (Prov 10:27) And yet, this is absolutely at odds with the reality before us. Third world countries without access to medical health, have significantly lower life expectancy than first world countries with better healthcare and sanitation. Are we really to conclude that all the people in Central African Republic are actually wicked Christians (having a life expectancy of 50, and a Christian population of 80%) while most of the people in Japan (having a life expectancy of 85, and a Christian Population of 2.3%) are actually obedient to God while being atheists? The Bible provides an erroneous description of reality, fear God as much as you will, but if you don’t treat Ebola you will die. What determines length of life is access to sanitation, healthcare, technology, nutrition, and simply having good genes.
1. There was no Global Flood
The Bible states that there was a flood wherein “the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” (Gen 7:19). First off, there are at least ten contradictions in the flood story itself (most scholars state it was two separate myths woven together. Second, a wooden ship the size of the ark is impossible to build, even by modern craftsmen, because wood warps at such sizes (which is why modern ships only increased in size after they were switched to metal).
Third, the logistics of loading the ark, living on the ark, and disembarking from the ark, are literally impossible, having one of every animal on board would produce so much excrement that eight people could not hope to clear it all, working 24 hours a day. Also consider other absurdities of the story, like that the kangaroos would need to swim from across the ocean to reach Australia, while the Amazonian tree frogs would have to hop all the way across an immense desert, and then cross an ocean.
Fourth, numerous civilizations lived and prospered right thought the middle of the date given for the flood, leaving tangible historical records. In fact Egypt has written history, going uninterrupted, that starts a thousand years before the date of the global flood. There is a written Indus script that was developed 200 years before the flood and was used four hundred years after, with no interruption. Famous conquerors like Sargon of Akkad ruled and conquered cities in the exact same time period as the flood. All of these historical facts completely invalidate the possibility of a global flood, but if that’s not enough, scientists say a global flood is physically impossible given our planet and our geological evidence.
2. There were no Egyptian plagues or Exodus
There is not one bit of corroborating evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt, or wandered through the desert. In fact archaeologists say that “no Egyptian text mentions the Israelites except the famous inscription of Merneptah dated to about 1206 B.C.E. But those Israelites were in Canaan; they are not in Egypt, and nothing is said about them escaping from Egypt.”
- Israel Finklestein, one of the leading archaeologists in Israel writes “there was no record of any Israelites being in Egypt at that time, and hundreds of thousands of people trekking the desert would likely not have been allowed by Egypt, which tightly controlled the area… There is also no evidence such a group camped for extended periods – including in the places mentioned in the Bible.”
- This is echoed by Ze’ev Herzog, Professor Emeritus/Director of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University who states: “This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.”
- Likewise, by William Dever, who is frequently referred to as the most prominent US archaeologist of the Ancient Near East. He writes: “archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus has similarly been discarded as a fruitless pursuit. Indeed, the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness.”
Also, obviously, if the Hebrews never left Egypt, then there was no Canaanite invasion, which is exactly what the records show, all the Canaanite cities were never razed or burned to the ground.
3. Solomon wasn’t the richest king
The Bible states that Yahweh told Solomon “And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:12). Is this accurate? The conservative Christian scholar Kenneth Kitchens estimated Solomon’s wealth (using a biblical description of Solomon’s annual income in talents) to be equivalent of 20 Billion USD. If that’s the case the King of Thailand has got Solomon beat, with his net worth of 30 Billion USD.
All that aside, seriously consider that Solomon’s Palestine was a tiny speck on the map, 10,000 square miles wide, and there were kings who ruled empires that comprised most of the world. In fact the Greek Empire ruled by Alexander the Great covered 2,000,000 square miles of land, which, ironically enough, included Palestine, but only as a small 0.5% of Alexander’s territory and resources. It is impossible that Solomon could have acquired more wealth than Alexander the Great with such a comparatively tiny land area with limited natural resources, limited citizens to tax, and a limited army.
1. A mythical creation story
The origin of the universe, God or no God, is a marvelous and fascinating thing, I will grant you that. In fact, there is nothing illogical about saying something like “God, the metaphysically necessary ground of all being is the source of all contingent being.” That is indeed a possibility, however, the Bible doesn’t say that, sophisticated philosophers do.
The Bible creation myth is very different. Besides the many contradictions in the story, it is written like a fairy tale, including talking snakes, magical trees, psychic relationships with all the animals, and includes all manner of scientific inaccuracies. For example plants existing before the sun (someone didn’t know about photosynthesis), a flat earth with a firmament (snow globe cover) above it, and sloppy categorization of the sun & moon as big lights (only one is a light, the other a dead rock) and the stars as little lights (of those, many are hundreds of times larger than the sun.)
In addition there are other descriptions that clearly show a lack of scientific accuracy, for example the story shows Elohim splitting darkness from light, which is a common mythical idea (dualism), but in reality, light is energy, darkness is the absence of energy, you cannot have both the absence & presence of oxygen in the same room, and then split “oxygen” and “no-oxygen” into two rooms, that is logically impossible.
2. An inaccurate cosmology
The Bible describes a wholly inaccurate view of cosmology. The earth is said to be a stationary and immobile flat disc with a protective shell on top, set on pillars that can be shaken (in case you are wondering, no this is not the case). The heavens are the realm on top of this firmament, just like in other ancient myths, the Bible shows this as a real physical place, just above us (Job 22:12)). God is depicted as hiding in the clouds and walking on top of heavens (Job 22:14), causing rain to pour out of heavenly windows (Gen 8:2), releasing wind out of special storehouses (Psalm 135:7) and shooting lightning at the earth. Today we have learned that these phenomena are not supernatural, but rather completely natural. We have discovered that the accurate answers include the rain cycle, global wind patterns, and pressure changes conducive to lightning storms. Likewise, as Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, said upon breaching the atmosphere, “I don’t see God up here.” Now, while I’ve included this mainly as a joke, the reality is that the Bible indeed says God is above the clouds, it literally says that, and that is an erroneous description of reality.
We have also discovered the earth is not flat, nor firmly and immovably planted on pillars, but rather flying through space at immense speeds. In the last few hundred years, we have discovered even more things that the Bible states in error. Stars are not really tiny lights that can fall to the earth (Rev 6:12-13), they don’t exist in a small firmament layer under heaven (Isaiah 14:13), but are giant suns, billions of light years away into the distance. Recently when we began building even stronger telescopes, we discovered that there were hundreds of billions of stars, not a few thousand, like the Bible states (Deut 28:62). In fact, when it comes to cosmology, the Bible describes almost everything incorrectly!
At this point you can probably say “well, that’s all metaphor” but the reality is, until we discovered it was false, everyone believed it was literal. It was believed by the ancient Hebrews as literal. Why would God write in such an imprecise way that is causes misunderstanding? If people can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s a metaphor, until we verify it apart from the Bible, what use is the bible anyway?
3. An erroneous view of mind
While solving the puzzle of human consciousness is not by any means reaching its end goal, we have certainly learned quite a bit about what kinds of things humans are. The Bible describes human beings in a way that’s not accurate. The Bible never alludes or even mentions the brain, even though this is the very organ that produces our ability to reason, think, and be self-aware.
Instead the Biblical texts place the mind as being located inside the heart. This is patently not true. We have conducted many heart replacement surgeries, and nobody lost their mind during such a procedure (except maybe the family members from worry.) The Bible doesn’t just associate the heart with the mind, it clearly describes all of our mental functions with the heart.
The Bible states that we use our hearts to remember skills (Ex 31:6), to love (Deut 6:5), to grieve (1 Sam 1:8), to write music (Eph 5:19), to keep secrets (1 Corinthians 14:25), to think (Mat 9:4) and ask questions (Mark 2:8), and make decisions (1 Corinthians 7:37). In actuality we know that all of these things are done by the brain. A person can survive with an artificial heart, but take out the brain, and they cease to be a person. The Biblical authors were completely ignorant of this, and this serves as yet another instance of a Biblical failure to correctly describe reality.