The Bible is false because it asserts the occurrence of events that could not have occurred, events that were – and are – impossible. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us the title character was visited by the ghost of his father. Do we believe this? Tolkien’s The Hobbit is set in a time between the dawn of fairies and the dominion of men. Do we believe this? The Bible tells us of many things that happened, and for millennia people have believed that these things actually happened.
Creationists and religionists think, incorrectly, that skeptics bear the burden to “disprove” the Bible. In fact, they are the ones who need to come up with more than “the Bible says so” as support for the claims of their belief, particularly claims relating to divinity, miracles and divine inspiration.
Now, I should say unequivocally that I support the right of people to hold whatever beliefs they do. If someone wants to believe religion is true, that’s fine. If someone wants to practice religion, then I say go ahead in peace. But I will not have these beliefs entered into a public arena that I share without counters being offered. So, as is common during post-Thanksgiving in America, if people want to carp about “keep Christ in Christmas,” then I want to mention that the evidence for Jesus is highly flimsy and that Jesus is over-rated anyway.
It’s important to understand truth as best we can. I have no illusions about my own intellectual capabilities and limitations. Understanding truth means trying to consider matters while also recognizing these capabilities and limitations. In the end, all we can do is make questions and formulate hypotheses. For me, the idea of faith has become increasingly repugnant. I view faith as an attempt to seduce the intellect into motionlessness. I can only see faith as the reason for not giving due skepticism to the outrageous claims of the Bible, claims that would be challenged heartily in any other intellectual domain.
In what follows, I will present ten impossible things from the Hebrew Scriptures and ten from the New Testament. None of these things could actually have happened. If someone were to claim that these things happened just today, no one would believe it without more than a book’s say-so. I offer these examples as a representative sample of what makes religion factually and morally wrong, in my opinion.
Religion tells people that these things are true, and religion’s collective bodies of interpretation do everything in their power to cover over the bare absurdity of what the Bible says. I have explained before my low opinion of interpretation, so I’ll refer the interested reader to that article. Religion also insists that its texts and its interpretations are superior; indeed, religion falsely and maliciously claims that one cannot be good without belief. This contemptuous insistence places religion in a morally dubious hoop, a zone of totalitarian oversight on free inquiry and expression.
Here, then, are ten impossibilities in the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ll try to keep the commentary to a minimum.
(1) Genesis 1:1 (and following) – The creation story, one of two non-identical accounts. A literal six-day creation and completion of the Earth and/or the universe is impossible.
(2) Genesis 5:5 – Adam lived 930 years. Methuselah (Genesis 5:27) lived 969 years and holds the record. Such life spans for human beings are impossible.
(3) Genesis 7 – The flood. A worldwide flood. WORLD-wide. The entire fucking planet, including animals. That’s just mean. And what are we to make of all the millions of species somehow getting to the ark, living there together, and then dispersing? Sorry, it’s all gotta be BS. Speaking of which, how many tons of manure had to be shoveled off the ark every day?
(4) Genesis 32:25-31 – This is a beautiful and strange passage. Jacob wrestles all night with “a man.” But this man seems to have super-human power. He also re-names Jacob as Israel. Jacob seems to think he has wrestled with God, or an angel, or some other emissary of God. I admit this may not necessarily seem an impossible story, since maybe Jacob wrestled with a talented guy. However, it sure is a mysterious story – in a good way – that to my mind smacks of legend. Despite my sense of the story’s factual impossibility, I admire the doggedness in the character Jacob to pursue a blessing.
(5) Genesis 37:5 – This is the first of Joseph’s dreams which prophesy the future. That’s impossible.
(6) Exodus 14:15 (and following) – This is the parting of the sea episode. It’s stirring (no pun intended), but impossible.
(7) Exodus 16:15 (and following) – Manna from heaven. Nope. See also the impossible water from a rock, Exodus 17.
(8) Exodus 17:8 (and following) – This is where Moses’ upraised hands cause Israel to win the military battle, while his lowered hands cause the opposite. It’s impossible.
(9) Numbers 16:31 – God has the Earth open up and swallow some men, their wives, their little children, and their possessions. Everything goes. It’s a terrifying, impossible story.
(10) Joshua 10:12-13. One of the biggies for me: The sun stands still for a whole day. The moon stays too. Im-pos-si-ble, no doubt about it.
Christians seem to hold the tacit impression that even if the Hebrew Scriptures are false, or have some falsity, the truth claims of the New Testament remain unharmed. After all, to them the New Testament supersedes the Hebrew Bible.
I suspect this is one reason that Christianity doesn’t relate the Mount Sinai story as Judaism does. In the Jewish account, God speaks directly to all the people. In the Christian account, Moses mediates between God and the people. The difference here is absolutely essential because the Christian account better prefigures the Jesus model, which is the view Christians want presented. If Christians had to talk about God speaking directly to the Jewish people, some clever fellow might wonder why Christians now need an intercessor.
However, the New Testament is rife with its own impossibilities, to say nothing of its own contradictions and historical inaccuracies. H.L. Mencken characterizes the matter brilliantly in his Treatise on the Gods:
The simple fact is that the New Testament, as we know it, is a helter-skelter accumulation of more or less discordant documents, some of them probably of respectable origin but others palpably apocryphal, and that most of them, the good along with the bad, show unmistakable signs of having been tampered with.
And now, here are ten impossibilities in the New Testament. As with the Hebrew Scriptures, I’ll not add much commentary.
(1) Matthew 1:18 – This is the virgin birth, or not quite. Apparently Mary is impregnated not by Joseph her husband but by “The Holy Ghost.” So, we have a double impossibility. Mary becomes pregnant, but no sperm entered her: that’s impossible. The second impossible thing is this “Holy Ghost.”
(2) Matthew 10:1 – Jesus gives his disciples “power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” It’s the last bit that’s concerning, that these twelve random dudes now get to claim the power to cure sickness and disease. Yeah, right. They didn’t get any magic healing power. That’s impossible.
(3) Mark 16:6 / 16:12-13 – Jesus apparently dies and then reappears alive three days later. Sorry, that’s impossible. Real dead folks don’t come back to life.
(3.5) Matthew 27:50-53 – After Jesus dies, “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” However, nobody else seemed to note this rather unusual event and record it for posterity. Since we’ve already mentioned that real dead people don’t come back to life days after having died, let us now mention that it’s really really impossible for dead people, even holy people, to return to life because of someone else’s death.
(4) Mark 7:32 (and following) – This one is plain gross as well as impossible. Jesus heals a deaf and dumb guy by this weird finger, spitting, tongue touching thing. Sorry, real deaf people can’t be healed by putting fingers in the ear.
(4.5) Luke 1:44 – Fetal John leaping for joy, in the womb. I know babies kick and all, but this one still gets BS points because it’s Mary’s voice that causes John to jump for joy. You get it, right? The whole Jesus-John-save-the-world thing is a carefully crafted, fore-ordained plan. It’s hard to find something that seems more contrived than this story.
(5) Luke 4:5 – There’s an honest-to-goodness devil here showing Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world.” All of them. Really. The devil. The de-vil. Riiiiiiight.
(6) John 2:9 – This is the water into wine bit. We know, however, that the molecules of water and wine are quite different. Do we believe in magic, in the power to change one substance into another by hoping it will come true? No, sorry, we don’t buy it.
(7) John 6:19 – Jesus walks on water. Levitation, ooooh. But really, we know this is BS. We really do.
(8) John 14:14 – “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Liar, liar, pants on fire.
(9) Acts 16:26 – Earthquake on demand.
(10) 1 Corinthians 15:39 – This is kind of a science one, but the verse basically suggests that all life on Earth is of different flesh. Factually, it’s just wrong. Thus, it’s impossible.
I have much more to say, but I’ll close with a few observations.
One, I have focused exclusively on the things these Bibles say. I’ve simply related text-content. Why should we believe that the universe was created and completed in six regular days? Why should we believe that a man could be born of a virgin? These claims are made plainly and straightforwardly. Given modern knowledge, we might try to resolve the disconnect between text and fact by arguing that the texts are speaking metaphorically. But the literal readings are surely to be preferred because they match with textual precursors from other cultures and the original listeners/readers/authors would not have been privy to our modern knowledge anyway.
Two, I have avoided discussing the really stupid content of the Bibles, such the near-sacrifice of Isaac and Jesus’ insistence that families be broken up to follow him. The Bibles – yes, I’m using plural – reek with the fecal scent of ancient tales and outdated petty morals. Much in the Bibles is actually interesting and even wise, but plenty-plenty more is no better than boring garbage that we best remember only to avoid thinking that way.
Three, and this is related to the first point, I have not discussed any of the considerable difficulties to faith presented by archaeology, history, or textual scholarship. These disciplines overwhelmingly support the idea that the Bibles and their religious traditions have decidedly human origins. Mutually reinforcing lines of evidence argue against the god hypothesis and doctrines such as Biblical inerrancy. Indeed, the Bibles are often the best witnesses against a pro-supernatural argument.
Four, I have not discussed any of the teachings and commentaries on the text-content problems. Talmud, kabbalah, Catholic church father writings, and so on: these are all earlier attempts to render sense from the non-sense of the Bibles. Indeed, these interpretations come to supersede the original texts because otherwise we are faced with some really goofy tales and strictures.
In this fourth realm we start to get the dubious claims of unbroken chains back to Sinai, in the case of Talmud, and “divine inspiration” in the case of Church writings. When I talk of religion as a collection of solutions to made-up problems, this is what I mean.