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 ~

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why The Christadelphians Are Wrong

Pardon the provocative headline. In this article I will show why I believe the Christadelphian religion is founded on falsehood, using several distinct lines of evidence.

It is my hope that, even if you still remain a Christadelphian, you will take the time to look into each of these areas in detail, and enrich your understanding of what you believe, why you believe it, and how well it aligns (or doesn't align) with the nature of reality.

Built On A Faulty Premise


Christadelphians believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and that it is without error in all parts. They also believe that something called "faith" is required, which I will define as "belief without sufficient evidence". The reason they endorse faith is firstly because the Bible tells them to, and secondly because they realise, along with the Bible's authors, that many of the claims in the Bible are impossible to verify.

Some may object to my definition of "faith", but if you have sufficient evidence, then let's talk about that evidence. The moment you appeal to "faith" is the moment you have run out of evidence to discuss, and are insisting that the belief should still be adopted regardless of evidence. A more rational approach would be to apportion one's level of confidence in a belief to the available evidence, and withhold belief where the evidence is inconclusive or non-existent. However, this starkly contradicts faith, and thus faith is irrational by definition.

There is nothing you could not believe using faith. This makes it useless as a tool for seeking truth. Some may try to provide examples where something someone believed by faith was later discovered to be true. However this would be dwarfed by examples to the contrary, as well as examples of people who continued to believe the opposite on faith even after the truth was known. Such examples abound today.

The belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible rests primarily on faith, making it highly dubious to begin with. Further, there is direct evidence in the Bible that it was written by humans, and no evidence that it was written or "inspired" by anyone other than humans. In one particular instance the author states outright that they are giving their own opinion that was not via inspiration (1 Cor 7:12, 25-26).

Neither the Old nor the New Testaments claim to be divinely inspired. The New Testament claims the Old Testament was written by inspiration, but if the New Testament was not inspired then that claim is questionable. Likewise, although the Old Testament repeatedly claims, "Thus saith the Lord", if it wasn't divinely inspired then you are literally taking someone's word for the various claims. If all we have is human authors literally claiming to speak on behalf of a god, why should we trust any of them? Surely we should seek more evidence for these enormous claims rather than simply accepting them on faith.

For more detailed information on how we can be confident that the Bible was not divinely inspired, read my series of articles on The Bible's Human Origins.

The Bible Gets History Wrong


I will discuss cosmic and geological history in the next section. For the purposes of this section, "history" refers to the large sections of the Old Testament that claim to record historical events in some detail.

Firstly, and most well known, the story of the Exodus is not a historically accurate account. Not even close. Some scholars think that it may be the result of distinct and varied memories of earlier events being woven into a more coherent narrative. However many scholars agree that the stories were edited by later scribes and contain many anachronisms, further revealing the identity of the final authors.

"The question of historical accuracy in the story of Exodus has occupied scholars since the beginning of modern research," says Prof. Finkelstein. "Most have searched for the historical and archaeological evidence in the Late Bronze Age, the 13th century BCE, partly because  the story mentions the city of Ramses, and because at the end of that century an Egyptian document referred to a group called ’Israel‘ in Canaan. However, there is no archaeological evidence of the story itself, in either Egypt or Sinai, and what has been perceived as historical evidence from Egyptian sources can be interpreted differently. Moreover, the Biblical story does not demonstrate awareness of the political situation in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age – a powerful Egyptian administration that could have handled an invasion of groups from the desert. Additionally, many of the details in the Biblical story fit better with a later period in the history of Egypt, around the 7-6th centuries BCE – roughly the time when the Biblical story as we know it today was put into writing."
Exodus: History and myth - Tel Aviv University

But what about Archaeology more generally? Well, it appears that many Christadelphians turn to one particular Christadelphian Archaeologist and rest their faith on him, while ignoring all others. Having heard several talks given by this particular Christadelphian, I often came away with the impression that Archaeology overwhelmingly confirmed the veracity of the Bible, and was one of the strongest evidences for its historicity and truth.

Imagine my surprise when I later learned that Archaeological discoveries over the last century have long been known to contradict many of the biblical narratives, and only a minority of scholars still believe that the biblical stories are historically accurate in all details.

In the United States the biblical archaeology movement, under the influence of Albright, counterattacked, arguing that the broad outline within the framing narratives was also true, so that while scholars could not realistically expect to prove or disprove individual episodes from the life of Abraham and the other patriarchs, these were real individuals who could be placed in a context proven from the archaeological record. But as more discoveries were made, and anticipated finds failed to materialise, it became apparent that archaeology did not in fact support the claims made by Albright and his followers. Today, only a minority of scholars continue to work within this framework, mainly for reasons of religious conviction.
Amihay Mazar, "Archaeology of the land of the Bible", 1992

"Not only has archaeology not proven a single event of the patriarchal traditions to be historical, it has not shown any of the traditions to be likely."
Thomas L. Thompson, "The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives", 1974 
A review was published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies vol 36, no.3.
For more information on the discrepancies between Archaeology and the Bible, please see my article entitled, "Does Archaeology prove that the Old Testament is historically accurate?" as well as my article on Kings and Prophets (part of my series on The Bible's Human Origins).

The Bible Gets Science Wrong


If you interepret the early chapters of Genesis as an account of the history of creation, as most Christadelphians do, then you would surely be aware of the fact that this account is contradicted by almost every major field of science since the middle of the 19th century and possibly earlier.

The standard view of cosmology is that of a "Big Bang" (more rapid expansion than explosion) involving rapid cosmic inflation followed by an expanding universe. This is evidenced by such phenomena as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation and the observations of the motion of other galaxies relative to ours. Although many apologists have seized on the idea that the universe may have had a beginning, a closer reading of Genesis 1 shows their interpretation to be highly flawed and anachronistic. Genesis 1 mentions nothing about a universe, let alone galaxies or planets. Meanwhile, more recent cosmological models suggest that our universe may be just a bubble in a potentially-infinite multiverse, or perhaps the no-boundary proposal will turn out to be true (and thus there is no role for a creator).

The overwhelming majority of scientists from many different disciplines accept that life on Earth evolved via natural selection and random mutation. There are several lines of evidence all pointing to the same conclusion. This is a lot of evidence and basic facts of science that one is forced to outright deny (once again, on faith) if one wishes to believe in the Bible's account as historically accurate.

I have detailed some of the major evidence in my article entitled, "What is the evidence for evolution, and why do people believe it?"

It is not just evolution that the Bible gets wrong. The flood story is also contradicted by everything we know from Geology as well, not to mention Palaeontology.

You can read more about the evidence against the flood in my article entitled, "Problems with the Flood Story."

Some will object by saying that the Bible is not a science textbook and never claimed to reveal scientific facts. I partly agree and partly disagree. It is clear from other quotations within the Bible that later authors interpreted the Genesis accounts as history. Also we know from parallel accounts in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures that the Bible borrows its worldview from the surrounding nations. Sure they may have polemicized the mythological aspects, but they saw no reason to disagree with the general understanding of the day.

While you may well claim that the biblical authors never intended to "do science" as we understand it today, it would be absurd to argue that those authors somehow did not share the primitive worldview depicted in Genesis, or that their readers would not have interpreted it in similar fashion. In fact one could argue that the stories in Genesis only properly make sense in light of such a worldview. In any case, there is no sense in which the Bible gets science "right". If it truly was inspired by an all-knowing, all-loving being, perhaps some basic understanding of the germ theory of disease might have saved a few million lives throughout history (or you know, perhaps don't create the germs to begin with).

Gratuitous Suffering Disproves God


While we're talking about saving lives, a quick Google search to find out the number of children who die each year from starvation and disease should be enough to convince any moral human that we are not in the presence of an all-loving, all-powerful being.

I am not arguing that suffering disproves the existence of any gods. For all we know there might be a god who enjoys it. I am arguing that the existence of gratuitous suffering in the world basically rules out certain attributes, or collections of attributes, of a god. Any of us can imagine a world in which poor or sick people are much better off than at present. Thus God is not "all"-loving. To argue otherwise is to destroy the definition of "love". Any of us, if we were omnipotent, could (and no doubt would) instantly close all hospitals across the world and make them forever redundant. Any being that invents suffering is not morally good.

By far the most common resolution to the problem of gratuitous suffering is that God has given us free will and thus humanity has the freedom to do good or evil. Apparently God could not take away the evil without limiting our free will, or some such thing.

There are (at least) two major problems with this. The first is that it is not at all clear why us having free will is seen as a greater virtue than children being saved from death and disease. Surely all of us would give up some amount of free will if it meant living in a safer, healthier world. Why is the free will of a murderer more valuable than the life of a child?

The second problem is that Christadelphians look forward to a future time when things will be better, and yet presumably they will still have free will. If it is possible then, why not now?

The garden of Eden story is given in the Bible as one reason for the existence of suffering in the world. However, even it fails to give an adequate explanation, since in that story it was God who created the fallen world. You can try to blame Adam or Eve, but they had no ability to change their physical state. It gets worse. If God is truly all-powerful and all-knowing, then there was no experiment. God was simply playing with humans like pawns in a chess-game. Free will? At best Adam and Eve would have merely had the illusion of free will. An all-knowing God would have known exactly what would happen well before he created them. He would also have known exactly what was required to produce a different outcome. Being all-powerful, he could have modified the initial conditions in such a way as to influence the outcome in any way he wanted.

The bottom line is that if one wishes to believe that some powerful being created the Earth and all of us, then at the very least that being is not all good, nor all loving.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Epicurus, 341-270 BCE

I have written other articles on this topic, for example, "Why would a good God allow children to starve to death?"

Prayer Doesn't Work


Apologists of all religions may be quick to give thousands of anecdotes of prayers that appeared to yield positive, even seemingly miraculous, results. However, the plural of anecdote is not "data". It may well be that those same people would have seen the same results with or without prayer, and it is also evident that many people are not healed despite having been prayed for.

But what if there was a way to test the results of prayer in a way that was statistically valid? Think about it. If prayer really did work, not only should it be blindingly obvious and easily tested, but we should be able to verify it using large double-blind controlled studies. If confirmed, it would be the clearest evidence for the existence of a god ever found.

Well, many studies have been done, and the results speak for themselves.

As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit.
Abstract (Aviles, 2001)
Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.
Abstract (Benson, 2006)

While consistently answered prayer may not have been sufficient to deduce that a particular god was behind it, consistently unanswered prayer is certainly enough to rule it out.

Given that prayer appears to be answered at exactly the rate of chance, why not accept the obvious and conclude that it is simply chance at work? We may not like this conclusion, but once we accept that prayer doesn't work we can all begin putting our energy behind medical treatments that do work, and fund more medical research.

You can read more about prayer in my article entitled, "How Effective Is Prayer?"

Prophecy Fails Every Test


Perhaps the favourite evidence cited by Christadelphians for the divine inspiration of the Bible is that of prophecy. They claim that events were foretold in the Bible sometimes thousands of years in advance and then came to pass exactly as predicted.

It sounds far fetched, but Christadelphians appear to be genuinely puzzled by the fact that very few people find their claims convincing. I discuss this in my article entitled, "Why prophecy fails to convince people."

By far the most common fulfilment of prophecy alleged by Christadelphians is that of the re-establishment of the nation of Israel and the return of the Jews. Unfortunately very few Christadelphians are familiar with the actual details of the relevant prophecies (few could even list more than 3 relevant Bible passages), and so they are unaware of the discrepancies between the prophecies and the events of the mid-20th century. The bulk of their information comes instead from propaganda in the form of lectures by charismatic speakers who emphasise the bits that seem to match and ignore everything else. These speakers and their audiences are not interested in understanding the texts in their proper context or in the manner intended by the authors. In a nutshell those who attend the talks do so in order to reinforce their beliefs and hopefully quieten any doubts they may have. The speaker's job is simply to fill that need.

The result is that many Christadelphians have an over-inflated sense of prophecy fulfilment and will excitedly quote this as apparent proof that the Bible must have been inspired by God. The watered-down version of this is basically that the mere fact of Israel occupying roughly the same plot of land as the ancient nation from 2000 years ago somehow could only have happened by divine miracle. The bizarre part of this is that I personally attended Christadelphian talks where they listed in great detail the large number of humanly-orchestrated events leading up to the re-establishment of the nation, only for them to turn around and call it a miracle - as if any one of the people involved somehow wasn't (or couldn't have been) acting of their own free will (isn't it interesting how free will takes a back seat when prophecy is involved!).

On closer inspection however, it appears that although the events of the 19th and 20th century were quite momentous for all concerned, there was nothing miraculous about any of it. If anything it shows what can be accomplished when a large number of people work together to achieve something they desperately want. The fact that several world leaders were Christian and believed they were fulfilling prophecy certainly helped as well. This was also not the first attempt to re-establish a Jewish homeland. There had been many attempts by Jews in the past. Some of those occasions were even celebrated as fulfilments of prophecy at the time as well.

For those who feel that my skepticism about these prophecies is too extreme or somehow unwarranted, I would ask you to please read my article on The Return Of Israel. In it I list virtually every instance of a related prophecy and show that in every case the author was writing about events in their own time, not events 2500 years in their future. I also show that when you read the alleged prophecies in more detail, not one of them actually matches the events of the 20th century.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise. The ancient prophets were not writing to us. They were writing to their contemporaries. The prophecies were written to give hope to an exiled nation that God was still with them and would eventually bring them home. When read in that context, everything fits and makes perfect sense. But what hope would it have given them if all it did was predict events 2500 years in the future, long after they were all dead? What purpose would such a prophecy serve? When we look at it this way, we can see how hubristic this exercise really is. Modern believers simply interpret everything to be relevant to themselves, and ignore anything that doesn't fit.

Moving on to other prophecies, it is perhaps ironic that despite prophecy being a favourite topic of many Christadelphians, it is also in my view one of the clearest ways to disprove divine inspiration.

You can read my article on the Failed Prophecy Against Tyre, where I show that not only did the prophecy not come to pass, but I also rebut any attempt to claim that the prophecy was only speaking of the mainland city. There are so many references to Tyre being an island that it gets quite repetitive pointing them all out.

Finally, and the nail in the coffin for Bible Prophecy, there is the Failed Prophecy Against Egypt. This one claims that Nebuchadnezzar would not only utterly defeat the Egyptians, but that Egypt would then be uninhabited for a period of 40 years. We have plenty of historical records to show conclusively that this never happened. Unfortunately for this prophecy the mention of Nebuchadnezzar gave it a definitive time limit. There is no way around it. The prophecy failed.

The Promise Is A Lie


The above is only a tiny summary of the major areas in which the Bible (and hence Christadelphians' belief in it) is false. There is much, much more, from the existence of forgeries in the New Testament, to the fact that all we ever had for the resurrection was a collection of anecdotes at best. We have far more anecdotes for other resurrections and other miracles, which most Christadelphians summarily reject.

This leads me to what I feel is the key to this article, and indeed the whole blog and others like it. My goal is not to mock or throw stones at Christadelphians. Rather, the reason I care so much about exposing the issues with the religion is this:

What you may see as an amazing promise of eternal life that's worth giving up pleasures in this life for, could just as well be a poisonous lie that robs you of the only life you had. It all hinges on whether or not it is true, and yet most Christadelphians never bother to check!

I don't think the Christadelphian beliefs are true. After growing up as a Christadelphian I started to question some of the beliefs in my early 30's, and what I found did not agree with what I had been taught. It was extremely difficult and took a long time, but I feel it was worth it. The world makes a lot more sense to me now and my life and worldview have opened up so much I feel like a new person. Ironically I started this blog to share everything I discovered with other Christadelphians who may be heading down the same path.

I thought of all of the Christadelphians beating themselves up for not meeting the ridiculous demands placed on them by the religion, getting criticised by other Christadelphians for not living up to some arbitrary standard of piety, and I wondered if all of those perfectly fine human beings would still remain Christadelphians if they knew what I know. Would they still struggle on trying to please their fellow Christadelphians and ABs if they knew it would all be in vain? Would they keep shutting their eyes every Sunday and pleading for forgiveness from an imagined being who exists only in their mind?

If you could know whether your beliefs were true, by testing them against reality, would you do it? Do you actually want to know whether your beliefs are true? And if the religion turned out to be false, how else might you spend the rest of your days? Life is precious, because it is finite. That's why we make every day count, and make the most of our time with loved ones. Life without an afterlife doesn't become meaningless. It becomes meaningful. It becomes everything we have!

Even if you don't change your beliefs after reading my blog, I hope you can allow yourself to freely question what you believe and to spend time researching the history of the Bible and the science of the natural world.

Stay curious.