I was involved with several groups of predominantly Christian young writers throughout my teens, and we used to lament how difficult it was to put a Christian message into a novel without making it cheesy or annoying. Now I know why: it’s simply difficult to present a silly claim in a serious way without coming across as either a con artist or an oblivious simpleton. It’s hard to create the illusion of reality when you’re in denial about what reality even is.
Religion began long ago as a way for humans to explain the reality they observed. At the time, the idea of gods was more reasonable because nobody had the tools to learn the truth about many aspects of reality. That changed when the development of science repeatedly found verifiable answers to our questions. Now, scientific explanations have displaced religious ones thoroughly in most areas, and given us both the tools and knowledge we need to probe deeper into reality than any religion has ever reached. No religion has replaced an amputated limb, but science has. No religion has eradicated a disease, but science has. No religion has developed ways to keep younger and younger premature babies alive, but science has. No religion has accurately explained matter, energy, gravity, light, or anything else with fundamentally counter-intuitive traits…but science has.
At the same time, Christianity has modified itself as necessary to remain relevant even as science uncovers mystery after mystery. God used to be intimately involved with everything happening on earth, but now he has been relegated to merely explaining the existence of the universe, because that’s the only big mystery left. Even so, the existence of the universe can be explained in ways consistent with both logic and evidence without invoking a god. Yet religious people continue to remain stubbornly entrenched in their archaic opinions and keep religion alive by passing it along to their children. This only works well in areas that receive less education, however. Religion begins to evaporate in societies that provide good education, which is one reason Christians tend to oppose the public education system.
I could write a lot about the wacky anti-science ideas and hoaxes that many religious people believe and spread, but such credulity is not limited to the conventionally religious. It does seem, however, that the strongly religious people I know are unusually prone to believing hoaxes while distrusting verified science. I believe it’s a symptom of a mind that relies on confirmation bias to reassure itself, something religious people are often good at.
But I can write about the issue of pseudoscience another time. There is another more dangerous way in which some educated religious people approach science; they twist the words of their scripture to make it fit modern scientific knowledge whenever possible. Only when the disagreement is too blatant do they reject science outright.
I say this approach is dangerous because it results in a mixture of truth and lies that is much easier to believe than silly pseudoscience, and it attempts to modify the future path of scientific progress to align with falsehood. This is both contrary to the fundamental rules of science and a good way to sabotage your own species. Our long-term survival depends on cooperation and using science correctly, both to improve the condition of our world and to mitigate the threats we face from technology and human error. The correct use of science requires a commitment to question everything, and to discard ideas that are incompatible with the evidence. People who dogmatically reject overwhelming evidence simply because it contradicts their scriptures end up misleading the public, promoting divisiveness, and hindering our ability to improve the world.
So how does the bible contradict scientific discoveries? The creation myth aside, I think one of the biggest problems is that the “design” of the human body simply doesn’t make sense as the work of a perfect, all-knowing designer. Here are a few of the many “design flaws” in humans:
- Despite humans supposedly being designed to walk upright, the spine is not. It’s a strong link to our quadrupedal ancestors, being only slightly modified. The inadequacy of the spine is why a huge majority of adults will develop lower back pain, and why it deteriorates so quickly in older people.
- The complexity of our feet is another indication that we descended from tree-dwelling primates. The feet and ankles of large flightless birds are far better and stronger, since they descended from dinosaurs and thus have a much longer history of running around on two legs than we do. Our feet are plagued by painful conditions like plantar fasciitis, which result from the inherent weakness of supporting all our weight on a bunch of small bones.
- While people seem to think of human eyes as incredibly awesome and complex organs, the truth is that they’re hardly good examples of intelligent design. Many animals have better eyesight and don’t experience the numerous vision problems that result from the inherent flaws in our eyeballs.
- The recurrent laryngeal nerve runs from the brain to the muscles of the larynx, and is needed for speech and swallowing. Instead of taking a short trip straight to the larynx, this nerve goes down into the chest and wraps around the aorta near the heart before going back up into the throat. It follows this unnecessarily long path in all mammals, and in the giraffe it’s around fifteen feet long. Fish have the same nerve, but its path is direct because of the position of the heart. During the slow evolution from fish-like creatures to mammals, the heart moved farther down in the body and dragged the nerve with it.
There’s much more that could be said of the weirdness of the human body, not to mention genetics, which is possibly the most conclusive refutation of the Christian “origin of humanity” myth, as I mentioned before.
While the creation and flood myths are the most scientifically incorrect parts of the bible, there are plenty of other passages that are obviously the work of ancient humans:
- The sky is a solid dome: The Hebrew word raqiaà is used throughout the bible to refer to the sky, or “firmament”, and comes from a word meaning “that which is hammered out”–as in beating metal into thin plates. Many passages of the bible, and the history of the word, make it clear that the authors thought of the sky as a solid dome. In Genesis we are told that the purpose for this dome was to separate the water above, which was supposedly later released during the flood of Noah. Furthermore, the earth is said in many passages to be immovable, fixed in place, and resting on pillars or a solid foundation. These descriptions were obviously written by people who had no idea the earth is a tiny sphere among innumerable galaxies…and whose god never corrected them.
- The sun goes around the earth: Ecclesiastes 1:5 refers to the sun rising, going down, and then hurrying back to where it rose. Many other passages confirm the biblical authors’ view of the sun as a light source that moves across the solid dome of the sky. This was, of course, an extremely common idea in the ancient world, and it persisted long after the Greeks first proposed a heliocentric model around 3 BC.
- Pi = 3: In I Kings 7:23-26 and II Chronicles 4:2-5, a circular cauldron is described as being ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference, when in reality the circumference would have to be about 31.5 cubits. This would make sense coming from humans who didn’t have a very precise system of measurement, but it’s hardly a mistake you’d expect from an omniscient god who could have used the opportunity to give us the precise value of pi.
- Mold and leprosy are the same thing: In Leviticus 13-14, rules are given for how to deal with leprosy in both people and materials. Many English translations will translate it as mold in the latter case, but the word is the same in Hebrew. It seems that the Old Testament god thought mold and leprosy were the same thing, and prescribed basically the same cautious approach for dealing with both.
This is in no way a complete picture of the scientific problems with the bible. It displays such a superficial and flawed human understanding of the world that it is ludicrous to claim it was dictated by an omniscient being. I have examined all the passages that are usually cited as evidence of advanced scientific knowledge, and found such arguments absurd. They’re no more than a mind game; the conjecture is inconsistent with the language of the bible and based on nothing but a strong desire to keep believing.
In objective comparison to other religions, Christianity fares no better than most. The bible failed for millennia to bring about the social, moral, and technological progress that has been produced in mere centuries through science. It is too human-centric in perspective to be as god-centric as it claims. The omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent deity described by most Christians would have created a holy scripture far more advanced than the bible’s ancient attempt at understanding the world.
There are five articles in this series: