Refuting the Abrahamic faiths

Sometimes, I feel sort of guilty for spending as much time on Christianity as I do. I knew that this would happen when I started the blog, because I live in the US and Christianity is the primary form in which I encounter religious belief, and the primary form in which religious zealotry threatens my freedom to be an atheist American. Still, I think that all the supernatural belief systems I’ve heard of are equally wrong, and I don’t want to imply otherwise with my tag cloud.

I might make a bit of an adjustment to my blogging priorities, though, because of something that occurred to me the other day. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — the three major Abrahamic religions — are very closely related. (“Well, duh,” I can hear you saying. Bear with me.) If you can demonstrate that the oldest of the three, Judaism, is not true, Christianity and Islam fall with it. Now, Christians and Muslims comprise around 2/3 of the world’s population. Jews make up only about 0.2%, so it probably sounds a little silly to spend any substantial amount of time addressing Judaism, but I really think there’s a lot of mileage to be gotten from it.

It’s pretty easy to see why Judaism being false implies that Christianity must be false. The Christians include the Jewish Bible as the Old Testament of their Bible. What if the god of the Old Testament doesn’t exist? The god of the New Testament, which is supposed to be the same god, can’t exist either. Jesus can’t be the son of that god. Jesus’ own religious beliefs would be wrong, and his supernatural teachings based on those religious beliefs, about those beliefs, would be wrong too.

The connection to Islam is a little trickier. After all, Islam holds that the Qur’an as revealed by God to Mohammed is the only book that has received God’s protection from corruptions and other errors over the centuries. Yes, Muslims believe that a number of significant characters in Jewish and Christian mythology were prophets of Islam and that much of the Christian Bible (including the Jewish Bible) was originally a message imparted by the Muslim God. However, they also believe that those books did get corrupted. The existence of errors in them wouldn’t necessarily show Islam to be wrong; if anything, they would seem to be evidence in favor of Islam.

But Islam claims as prophets many Biblical characters such as Adam, Abraham (of course), Noah, Lot, Moses, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. And they’re not just talking about dudes that happened to have those names. Adam is still believed to be the first human being, who ate the forbidden fruit with his wife Eve. Noah is still believed to have built an ark and to have saved many animals and a select few people from a worldwide flood. Jonah is still believed to have been swallowed by a big fish in whose stomach he sat praying until the fish coughed him up. If we conclude that there’s no reason to believe any of that happened, it’s just as big a problem for Islam as it is for Judaism and Christianity.

A detailed examination of the historicity of the Torah, then, would be a challenge to the beliefs of not just a fraction of a percent of religious people, but a majority of people on the planet. Of course, there is one serious problem with this: it’s all premised on the idea that an abstract logical argument against faith would actually change the minds of believers. I doubt most people would think far enough through the implications. But then … that’s probably true of almost everything I write here.

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17 Comments

  1. You are right about the common features, but I really don’t think you should feel guilty for focusing on Christianity. Like you said,

    …I live in the US and Christianity is the primary form in which I encounter religious belief, and the primary form in which religious zealotry threatens my freedom to be an atheist American.”

  2. I find NT Wright’s take on Genesis relevant here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BP1PpDyDCw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffWo7nzL66o

    I tend to agree with him. So I don’t really see your inquiry as doing much at all to undermine what any of these religions are really about.

  3. @vjack: No worries. It’s not like I lay awake at night tossing and turning about this. I just occasionally wish my posts about different religious traditions were a little more evenly distributed. Writing about the same old nonsense all the time gets a bit boring, anyway.

    @Seth:
    1. How do you think a person should judge what any particular religion is “really about”?
    2. Do you believe that Jesus was a Jew?
    3. Do you believe that Jesus’ understanding of the nature of God plays a role in his religious teachings?
    4. If Jesus was wrong in his understanding of God, doesn’t that pose a problem for the validity of his religious teachings? (Not to mention for anyone claiming that Jesus and God are the same, or even that Jesus and God used to be together in heaven before Jesus came to Earth.)

  4. Seth R.

     /  June 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    What does one’s views of the literal nature of the Genesis account have to do with whether one is viewing God correctly?

  5. Genesis describes a bunch of actions taken by God, and statements made by God. If you take it literally, that lends itself to one understanding (well, one set of possible understandings) of God. If you take it metaphorically, that lends itself to another understanding (set of possible understandings). If you see Genesis as an ancient tribe’s mythology that has no bearing on the true nature of any supernatural being or beings, you’re left looking elsewhere to guide your understanding of deities, if you believe in their existence at all. These three divergent views on Genesis lead to mutually exclusive views of the god that Genesis describes.

  6. Seth R.

     /  June 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t see that your image of God is improved much if you take the order to slaughter the Ammonites as metaphorical as opposed to literal. Either way, it’s saying the same thing about God, is it not?

  7. I’m sorry, I forgot about this comment thread.

    I do think that it can lead to different understandings about the nature of God, whether you believe that he literally commanded the utter genocide of a people, or whether he was communicating a metaphorical message that enemies must be defeated (not necessarily violently).

  8. Seth R.

     /  July 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    I kind of view the entire Old Testament as one big ongoing damage-control project on God’s part. With him working with an irreparably screwed up situation.

    You work with what you have.

    That can be ugly. But you take what you can get.

  9. I understand why you focus on Christianity so much. When most people think of religion in the US, Christianity is the first thing to come to mind. They are the “vocal majority” anyway.

    All religions have a naturally corrupting influence on common sense. I visited a mosque when they were having an open house inviting people to learn about their faith. One of the leaders doing the presentation was a SURGEON, who had a very advanced degree. I cannot remember exactly what he said, but he said he believed in Islam because of some obscure passage in the Koran which, if interperated liberally, seemed to describe something about the human body that which no one could have known when the Koran was written. Can someone say “confirmation bias?”

    I am sure his faith had nothing to do with the fact that it was taught to him before he was old enough to reason out of it, or the fact that it has been part of his culture all of his life and if he were to leave it it would mean leaving his comfort zone.

  10. David Evans

     /  December 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Seth R: I don’t see that damage control is a problem for an omnipotent and omniscient God. If he wants to get the Israelites to the promised land he can do so without all that genocide and enslavement, just by having the surrounding tribes move away. Just as he could have avoided many of the deaths in Exodus by not hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Or, much earlier, with a quiet word in Pharaoh’s ear.

  11. I seriously doubt a quiet word in Pharaoh’s ear would have changed his mind, given that much less quiet demonstrations didn’t make much difference.

    And the phrase that God actively hardened Pharaoh’s heart is King James language. The other Bible translations render it differently.

    And how was God going to get the surrounding tribes to just move away? Friendly suggestion, divine mind-control?

    We’re not talking about taking that job offer in California here. We’re talking about moving an agrarian society into inhospitable wilderness to starve to death. You’d never convince the Canaanites to do that.

  12. Aristarchus

     /  December 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Seth, I think you haven’t really internalized “omnipotent”.

    If God wasn’t capable of convincing Pharaoh, he’s not omnipotent.

    How was he going to get the other tribes to move away? Yeah, divine mind control seems just about right, though he also could have gone with teleportation. Either would have been better than bloody wars… And yeah, starving them to death in a desert would have been pretty awful too, but he could have turned it into a lush tropical paradise if he wanted. Or he could have made a new island rise out of the Mediterranean and put them there. Or he could have just put the Israelites there instead.

  13. Actually, I don’t view mind-rape of a single individual as preferable to “bloody wars.” I see a single absolute mind-rape as a far worse atrocity than the entire Jewish Holocaust put together.

  14. Aristarchus

     /  December 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Really? Hypnosis is worse than the holocaust? Does the Bible say anything forbidding this horrible crime against humanity?

  15. You simply cannot equate the sort of absolute force and compulsion a being like God could exert with hypnosis.

    And incidentally – hypnosis does not work in making a person do something they do not already want to do. That’s largely a myth of movies like the Manchurian Candidate.

    And for the record, I would not have supported the torture of a single terrorist to stop the World Trade Center disaster either – even if results could have been guaranteed.

  16. Aristarchus

     /  December 13, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Ok, but even if hypnosis generally doesn’t work like that, God could have made it work like that then… And I guess a being like God could exert compulsion that is massively greater than hypnosis, but I’m not advocating he do that. I’m just advocating an amount of coercion that is fully in line with that sort of hypnosis. Surely an omnipotent being can choose to exercise only a small amount of his power, right?

    But why not the other options? If he made the desert into a lush, fertile area with tons of food and no other people, I’m pretty sure he could have gotten people to move to it without anything other than a polite request. No coercion necessary.

  17. Yeah, but after a certain level of intervention, you kind of wonder what the point was in even letting us out of the house in the first place.

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