23 March 2011

Judaism and Christianity: Falsehoods in Sacred Texts

Stephen Kershnar
Judaism and Christianity: The Shame of the Bible
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 7, 2011

Judaism and Christianity are committed to the claim that what the Bible says is true or, at least, reliably true. There are two reasons for this. On one account, these religions are, by definition, a set of beliefs with a certain historical past. This historical past involves the Bible. For Jews, consider the centrality of Abraham, Saul, and David, and Moses’ receipt of the Ten Commandments. For Christians, consider Mary’s virgin birth, Jesus’ crucifixion, speeches, miracles, and so on. On a second account, these religions depend on knowledge that comes from the Old and New Testaments. On this account, even if these religions are not defined in terms of the Bible, they rely on knowledge that has been reliably passed down through the Bible, although perhaps not only through it. Both religions, then, depend on what the Bible says.

The problem is that some of what the Bible says, at least in its current translations, is false. University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer provides the following examples. First, some statements contradict each other and at least one of every two contradictory statements is false. Consider how one is saved.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works. [Ephesians 2:8-9]

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but no deeds? Can such faith save him? … Faith by itself, if it not accompanied by action, is dead. [James 2:14-17]

Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. [Revelation 22:12]

Consider whether God changes his mind.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. [Numbers 23:19]

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. [Exodus 32:14]

Second, the Bible makes scientific errors. Here are a few examples.

All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. [Leviticus 11:20-22]

You may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided into two and that chews the cud. However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit, or the coney [a small Middle Eastern mammal]. [Deuteronomy 14:6-7]

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim … It took a line of thirty cupits to measure around it. [1 Kings 7:23]

The problem is that no insects (including grasshoppers) are four-legged, rabbits don’t chew cud, and pi does not equal 3. For those who are tempted to claim that insects walk on four feet and jump with two, this still conflicts with Leviticus 11: 23. Cute moves about rabbits also fail.

Third, the Bible makes grave moral errors. It has a long list of who must be put to death. This list includes anyone who curses his father or mother (Leviticus 20:9), commits adultery (Leviticus 20:10), engages in gay male sex (Leviticus 20:13), promiscuous girls who lose their virginity (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), and those who do not keep the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).

The Bible also orders complete and total genocide in some cases (Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:10-17) and permits the keeping of slaves (Leviticus 25:44-45) and beating slaves (Exodus 21:20-21). There’s more, but you get the picture.

Jews and Christians have to admit that the Bible contains falsehoods. This is enough to show that God didn’t write it because he’s all-knowing. Worse, they involve big errors, specifically, how one is saved, the nature of God, whether one may commit genocide and keep slaves, and who should be killed for unpopular sex. Even if Christians and Jews want to retreat to the position that human beings wrote the Bible and were divinely inspired, the most that can be said is that they are an extremely unreliable source as to what is true and what God wants. This alone is enough to show that Christianity and Judaism is false when viewed in terms of their full set of doctrines (for Jews, Abraham, David, and Moses; for Christians, virgin birth and Jesus’ arising from the dead and role in salvation). Even the stripped down minimal doctrines (monotheism and Jesus’ divinity) are doubtful to the extent they are not supported by evidence that does not rely on the Bible.

One objection is that Bible as originally written was not stocked with such falsehoods, they crept in when it was translated. I’ve seen no evidence for this, perhaps there’s some of which I’m unaware.

A second objection is that the Bible was written nearly two thousand years ago and it is unfair to blame ancient people for not using modern science, morality, and logic. The objection is not that these people were blameworthy for what they wrote. Rather, it is that the Bible is so unreliable as to count as evidence against Judaism and Christianity.

A third objection is that belief in Judaism and Christianity should rest on faith (strong belief unaccompanied by adequate evidence) or these religions’ ability to make people’s lives go better. The data shows that religious people are happier and, a dated study, shows that they have better sex lives. It is likely reassuring for those who grew up with it and, for many, it provides a loving and supportive community. Even if this is true, believers are still in the awkward position of believing in and practicing what they do not know to be true and, more likely, know to be false. This is problematic for those whose job depends on their handling evidence. This includes scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, professors, and people in business. To the extent that one holds that self-interest is a good reason to believe something, regardless of whether it is true, religious people escape can live with the awkwardness. Perhaps this is why we see lawyers, physicians, and professors sitting slightly uncomfortably in Synagogues and pews.

In sum, the Bible contains a number of troubling falsities. In the absence of convincing philosophical arguments for religious doctrines, and here I just assume such arguments are absent, this is convincing evidence that Judaism and Christianity are false. This need not trouble those who are okay with holding false beliefs in limited areas, when doing so makes their lives go better. However, to the extent that politicians and religious leaders rely on the Bible to solve personal, moral, or political issues, they are arguing from false premises and should be ignored.

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