Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Big Picture

Something that occasionally crosses my mind is the thought that perhaps there is some detail I overlooked during my deconversion and that maybe the Bible is all true and I've been horribly mistaken. I'm sure such thoughts are common to all of us at some point, but it's actually a good opportunity to explore the kinds of things that might indicate that I'm mistaken, or the kinds of evidence we should expect to find if the Bible is in fact true.

Perhaps this is the flip-side of the doubts I once had as a Christadelphian, that what I believed was not in fact true, and the Bible really was just a book written by humans and nothing more. In that case, I imagined that if the Bible were not divinely inspired, I should find certain clues, perhaps a few mistakes and inaccuracies, things that would indicate human authorship, and also potential natural explanations for any seemingly miraculous elements. The problem is, I went looking for these things, and I found them. So I looked for more, and I found those too. I reached a point where I couldn't be certain that anything in the Bible required divine inspiration. At that point I was agnostic, and I didn't know how to put the pieces back together. Since then I've only uncovered additional reasons to believe that the Bible never was divinely inspired, and that no one ever did see or talk to a god, nor did they have any good reason to believe there was one. As far as I can tell, they made unjustified assumptions, and ended up fooling themselves and others.

But let's back up a bit. In this article I list several reasons why i don't think the Bible is divinely inspired.

Factual Errors

There are events recorded in the Bible that, so far as I can tell, never happened.

The Flood
  • There is no evidence for a worldwide flood, even though we should expect a lot of evidence.
  • Conversely, there is plenty of evidence that should not exist if there had been a worldwide flood in the last 10,000 years.

Slavery in Egypt
  • There is no record of the nation of Israel ever being enslaved in Egypt.
  • Likewise, there is no gap in historical records in which such a long period of slavery will fit.

The Exodus
  • The population numbers in the Bible's exodus story are almost certainly incorrect. If 2 million Israelites left Egypt, at a time when the population of Egypt was only 3.5 million people at the most, the resulting economic collapse would be crystal clear in the historical record - and yet we don't find any such thing. There just isn't any record of it at all.
  • Several of the places mentioned along the exodus route never existed in the middle of the second millennium BCE, but did exist in the first millennium BCE, which is when most critical scholars believe most of the Torah was written.
  • Jericho was already destroyed at least 100 years before the time when the exodus is supposed to have taken place.
Also see my previous article on the Exodus for more detail on the above and more.

The exaggerated reigns of David and Solomon

There is no evidence for a vast kingdom of Israel over which David and later his son Solomon reigned. In fact the evidence suggests that in the 10th century, Jerusalem was perhaps no more than a typical highland village, and that the wider region had a population of only about 5,000 people.

Similarity with other texts / cultures

The Bible starts out with a collection of stories that have strong parallels with other texts, notably the Babylonian Enuma Elish. Likewise it also includes a flood myth that sounds suspiciously similar to Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. There are several other parallels as well.

The Old Testament contains many references to the Canaanite god El, only it has been reframed as the Israelite god. The Bible also contains references to Asherah, who was actually a Canaanite goddess, and consort to El.

The Old Testament also attributes plagues, disease, bad weather and natural disasters to the wrath of a god, as was the view in practically all ancient cultures. Add to that the endorsement of slavery and genocide, and the attribution of success in war to their tribal deity.

The New Testament also gives us accounts of miracles, demons, and several references to divine beings.

It seems clear to me that the Bible is a product of the time(s) and culture(s) in which it was written.

Evidence in favour of the Bible?

There are a couple of pieces of evidence that believers, especially Christadelphians, typically point to in order to claim that their faith is based on a solid foundation. These are the resurrection of Jesus, and the return of the Jews to the land of Israel.

These are sometimes claimed to be the strongest evidence in favour of Christianity, and it is to these two pieces of evidence that I want to turn my attention now.

The Resurrection of Jesus

The Return of Israel