I’m doing a series on what I’d like to call “Bible dealbreakers,” reasons why I reject the Bible’s authority and therefore reject Christianity. This is part three of
If the Bible were revealed to people by a supernatural being who created and still controls the entire universe, I’d expect it to contain some important facts about science and nature unknown to people at the time the Bible was written. The germ theory of disease or electromagnetism would have gone a long way towards improving people’s standard of living several thousand years ago. That would also be a great way to make the authority behind the Bible more convincing. But perhaps the biblical God wasn’t interested in either of those things. Still, an omnipotent and omniscient creator god should have accurate knowledge about reality, so I would at least expect that that god’s revelations to humanity would not contain outright falsehoods. Yet this is exactly what we find.
As promised, I’m going to start where the Bible starts: the creation story (or, more accurately, stories). Genesis 1 repeatedly says, “And there was evening and there was morning, the [Nth] day.” Young-earth creationists interpret these words literally to justify their belief in a six-day creation. More liberal Christians argue that a day couldn’t possibly have the same meaning before the sun and the Earth were formed, so they must be metaphorical God-days of some kind, which could last an arbitrarily long time from a human perspective. This serves to reconcile (in their minds) the words of the Bible with the copious scientific evidence about the age of the Earth and the age of the known universe. Good for them for recognizing the strength of this evidence, but they don’t go far enough with it.
The Bible doesn’t just say “day,” the way that you and I might say “back in the day.” It says “evening” and “morning” too. That’s pretty specific. It’s conceivable that this was all meant metaphorically, but there’s no indication in the text itself that this should be so. It sounds a whole lot like actual days. And if God really wanted to tell people about how the universe and the Earth came into existence, he could have. The concept of one million was possible to express in ancient Hebrew (perhaps by saying “a thousand thousands,” I’m not sure). Surely, it would have been possible by similar means to say that the universe began about 14 billion years ago, or that the earth was 4.5 billion years old — at least that the universe began a great many years ago, the earth was formed a great many years after that but still long before today. One could even have used “forty” in the ancient Hebrew idiomatic sense, the way that we might say “a million,” to indicate some abstract large amount. God could have inspired the retellers and the transcribers of the Genesis story to use any of these phrasings. But apparently, he didn’t.
That’s not the only scientific problem in Genesis 1. God makes the Earth, and then makes “light” (vaguely), and then makes the Sun and other stars. He makes all the plants before there’s a Sun. (How do they photosynthesize?) These are specifically described as flowering plants, which did not in fact exist before there were any animals on the planet. God makes every animal that lives in the water and every bird before he makes any animals that live on land, which is not how it happened. Marine mammals like whales, seals, and manatees, for just one example, evolved from land animals. There’s also this very strange thing about heaven, sky, and earth being made in the midst of some continuous body of water — as though the Israelites (and God?) saw the universe as a giant ocean, with no concept of outer space. And then there’s the whole issue of the second creation story that suddenly begins in Genesis 2:4 with a different chronology altogether.
And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. Leviticus 11:5-6 (Cf. Deuteronomy 14:7.)
The Bible says that bats are a kind of bird. Bats are mammals, not birds.
And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind,the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. Leviticus 11:13-19 (Cf. Deuteronomy 14:11-18.)
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32 (Cf. Luke 13:18-19, Mark 4:30-32.)
There are many instances of the earth, sky, and heaven(s) being inaccurately described. As early as Genesis 1 there’s an artificial distinction made between our Sun (the “greater light”) and all the other stars, and Earth’s moon is called a “lesser light” alongside the Sun as if it is itself a source of light rather than a reflective surface. Stars are repeatedly referred to as little points of light in the sky, maybe just overhead (certainly not billions of light-years away), that can fall to the ground and be picked up. Language used to describe the Earth indicates that it is flat; even the verse that Christians love to cite as evidence that the Bible says Earth is round actually says “circle,” a two-dimensional shape, and describes the sky as something that drapes over that circle like curtains or a tent. Another thing in this category that gives me pause is how heaven is said to be a place one “ascends” to or “descends” from — so, what direction is that, on a round planet? We’ve been all the way around the planet in orbit, we have satellites looking all over the place, and we’ve sent probes out into deep space. No sign of heaven yet, in any direction we might call “up.”
The last science error I want to talk about is the Bible’s advocacy of faith healing. It’s not just something that Jesus can do, it’s something that’s supposed to work for all time, for any obedient believer who prays.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16
If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer. Exodus 15:26
The most charitable interpretation I can come up with to explain all the scientific errors in the Bible is that God didn’t want humanity to know the truth, that God was telling deliberate falsehoods in order to mislead us or at least keep us in the dark. After all, this isn’t definitive proof that God does not exist or that God is not omniscient; all it shows us is that the Bible contains many false statements, which an omniscient God might have decided to put there deliberately (leaving us with a text that looks suspiciously like what ancient, pre-scientific people might have made up to explain the world they observed). But at that point, if you’ve acknowledged that God might be lying outright and purposely sowing confusion, what basis is there for believing anything else he’s said? What basis is there to believe in him at all, when the only (already flimsy and question-begging) bit of evidence for him is this lie-filled text itself?