Many of the Bible’s claims are inconsistent with the laws of nature. Most atheists believe that those claims are both wrong and harmful.
Science and the Laws of Nature
As a result of human observation and experience, a fundamental principle of science is that the laws of nature do not change, cannot be violated, and have acted uniformly over time. According to paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, this uniformity or constancy of natural laws is the “methodological assumption” making science practicable.
Indeed, without the assumption that the physical world operates according to unchanging natural laws, there would be no use studying the world, conducting experiments, or otherwise learning from experience.
In a world not operating under unvarying natural laws, those acts would be useless because knowledge of past events would not provide guidance about what will happen in similar situations in the future. There would always be the possibility of supernatural forces intervening to alter outcomes from what would otherwise be expected to occur based on past experience.
Overwhelming evidence shows that physical events occur according to immutable natural laws. And an increasing knowledge of those laws enhances humankind’s ability to predict future events and control human destiny.
The Bible and Supernatural Events
By claiming that supernatural beings intervene in the world, the Bible opposes the scientific principle of natural laws operating uniformly and unvaryingly. As a result, the Bible discourages a scientific approach to problems.
The Bible has stories about a talking snake (Genesis 3:4-5); a tree bearing fruit which, when eaten, gives knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:5-7); another tree whose fruit bestows immortality (Genesis 3:22); a voice coming from a burning bush (Exodus 3:4); a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28); rods turning into serpents (Exodus 7:10-12); water changing into blood (Exodus 7:19-22); water coming from a rock (Numbers 20:11); a dead man reviving when his corpse touched the bones of a prophet (II Kings 13:21); and other people rising from the dead (e.g., I Kings 17:21-22; II Kings 4:32-35; Acts 9:37-40).
There are also accounts of the sun standing still (Joshua 10:13); the parting of a sea (Exodus 14:21-22); iron floating (II Kings 6:5-6); the sun’s shadow going back ten degrees (II Kings 20:9-11); a witch bringing the ghost of Samuel back from the dead (I Samuel 28:3-15); disembodied fingers writing on a wall (Daniel 5:5); a man living for three days and nights in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17); people walking on water (Matthew 14:26-29); a virgin impregnated by God (Matthew 1:20); a pool of water that can cure ailments of those who dip in it (John 5:2-4); and angels and demons influencing earthly affairs (e.g., Acts 5:19; Luke 11:24-26).
These biblical myths support the belief, which has been held by primitive and illiterate people throughout history, that supernatural beings frequently and arbitrarily intervene in this world.
When examined in the light of experience and reason, the Bible’s claims about supernatural occurrences do not warrant belief. Our experience is that the natural world operates according to principles of regularity – which are never violated. We also know from experience that many people are often mistaken or dishonest. Thus, it’s far more likely the Bible writers either erred or lied than the laws of nature were violated.
Harms of the Supernatural Outlook
Because of believing that supernatural beings control the world, people have often misdirected their energies in attempting to solve problems. Instead of studying the world to discover scientific solutions to problems, they performed religious activities in an effort to obtain the assistance of benevolent supernatural beings or thwart the influence of malicious ones.
This misdirection of energies is seen, for instance, in the history of the attempts to prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases in Europe. The historian Andrew White relates that, during many centuries in the Middle Ages, the filthiness of European cities repeatedly caused great plagues that sent multitudes to their graves.
Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan. The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49; Jeremiah 21:6). And in describing Jesus’ healing miracles, the New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).
Those teachings led the early church leaders to promote the idea that demonic activity is the primary cause of disease. For example, St. Augustine, whose views strongly influenced Western thought for over a thousand years, said in the fourth century: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons. . . .”
With the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was little change in the Christian attitude toward the causes of disease. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, repeatedly attributed his own illnesses to “devils’ spells.” He also stated: “Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death.”
As a result of believing in supernatural causes of disease, theologians taught that plagues could be averted or stopped by seeking supernatural assistance. And the way to obtain God’s help, they thought, was to perform religious acts. These included repenting from sin; providing gifts to churches, monasteries, and shrines; participating in religious processions; attending church services (which often only increased the spread of disease); and killing Jews and witches (since it was thought Satan used them as his agents in causing illness). Religious leaders largely ignored the possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases.
Science Bests Supernaturalism
White states that despite all the prayers, rituals, and other religious activities performed throughout the centuries, the frequency and severity of plagues did not diminish until scientific hygiene made its appearance. In regard to the hygienic improvements instituted during the second half of the nineteenth century, White explains: “[T]he sanitary authorities have in half a century done far more to reduce the rate of disease and death than has been done in fifteen hundred years by all the fetiches which theological reasoning could devise or ecclesiastical power enforce.”
The superior results of using science instead of religion can be seen in many other fields. Most atheists in the West therefore accept the scientific view that this world operates under unvarying natural laws that cannot be suspended by religious rituals or other means.
And most atheists esteem highly those who study this world and provide a better understanding of it. Unlike the theologians who focus on influencing supposed supernatural powers, persons using a scientific outlook have enabled great progress to be made in reducing misery and increasing happiness.
Incorrect Ideas About the Structure of the Physical World
Most atheists also repudiate the Bible because of its mistaken ideas about the structure of the physical world. As is the case with the Bible’s statements opposing the laws of nature, the book’s views on this subject are similar to beliefs held by primitive and illiterate people throughout history.
Stationary Earth as the Center of the Universe
An erroneous Bible teaching caused Christian theologians to oppose Galileo’s proof that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun. In the sixteenth century, Copernicus proposed this theory about the double motion of the earth. In the following century, Galileo’s telescope proved that Copernicus had been right.
To oppose the Copernican doctrine and show that the earth remains stationary while the sun moves around it, the Catholic Church pointed to the tenth chapter of the book of Joshua. There we are told that Joshua, in order to have a longer period of daylight in which to carry out the Lord’s command to slaughter the Amorites, ordered the sun to stand still – not the earth.
Other passages demonstrating that the earth remains stationary include Psalm 93:1 (“The world is [e]stablished, that it cannot be moved.”); I Chronicles 16:30 (“[T]he world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.”); and Psalm 104:5 (The Lord “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever.”).
Because of Galileo’s support for the Copernican doctrine, the Inquisition threatened him with torture, forced him to recant, and subjected him to imprisonment. Additionally, for nearly 200 years the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books condemned all writings that affirmed the double motion of the earth.
Protestants weren’t much better. For generations the major branches of Protestantism – Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican – denounced the Copernican doctrine as contrary to scripture.
A Flat Earth Resting on Pillars
The Bible supports the primitive notion of a flat earth. In the sixth century, a Christian monk named Cosmas wrote a book, titled Topographia Christiana, describing the structure of the physical world. Basing his views on the Bible, Cosmas said the earth is flat and surrounded by four seas.
The prophecy at Revelation 1:7 was a basis for his conclusion. It states that when Christ returns, “every eye shall see him.” Cosmas reasoned that if the earth were round, people on the other side would not see Christ’s second coming.
Further support for the idea of a flat earth is contained in the verses mentioning the “four corners of the earth” (e.g., Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1) and the “ends of the earth” (e.g., Jeremiah 16:19; Acts 13:47).
Because of such Bible teachings, most of the early church fathers thought the earth is flat. In fact, the view of the world contained in Cosmas’ book was accepted for several centuries as orthodox Christian doctrine. Even in the fifteenth century, when Christopher Columbus proposed to sail west from Spain to reach the East Indies, the biblical notion of a flat earth was a major source of opposition to him.
As for the question of what holds the flat earth in place, the Bible indicates the answer is “pillars.” The pillars of the earth are mentioned in several verses in the Old Testament (I Samuel 2:8; Psalm 75:3; Job 9:6). These verses reflect the belief of the ancient Hebrews that the earth rests upon pillars.
Sky a Solid Dome Containing Windows
The Bible promotes the idea that the sky is a solid dome covering the earth. In the creation account given in the first chapter of Genesis, verse 17 says the Lord set the sun and moon “in the firmament” to provide light for the earth. The Hebrew word translated as firmament is raqia, which means “hammered metal.”
More support for the notion of a domed earth is found at Job 37:18 (where the sky is described as like a “molten lookingglass”); Isaiah 40:22 (God “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in”); and Revelation 6:14 (“And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.”).
This concept of the sky was common in the ancient Near East and taken for granted by the Bible writers. Based on the Bible, most of the early church fathers accepted the notion of the firmament. The same position was supported by Cosmas, and thus was part of orthodox Christian doctrine for several centuries.
Orthodox doctrine also contained the related idea that the firmament has windows – which are opened by angels when God wants to send rain upon the earth. Cosmas believed that when the windows are opened, some of the waters contained above the firmament (which are mentioned at Genesis 1:17) fall to the earth. Cosmas’ basis for this belief was the statement, at Genesis 7:11-12, that at the time of the Noachian flood the “windows of heaven were opened” and the rain fell.
Supernatural Signs in the Heavens
Bible stories led the Christian world to believe – for centuries – that God sends humankind signs in the heavens.
Christians thought comets warn of divine anger and imminent punishment; stars and meteors portend beneficial events such as the birth of heroes and great men; eclipses signify divine distress in response to events on earth; and storms and other destructive weather result from the anger of God or the malice of Satan.
Additional Errors About the Physical World
The Bible has verses mentioning dragons (Jeremiah 51:34), unicorns (Isaiah 34:7), and cockatrices (Isaiah 11:8). These passages led many naturalists in the Middle Ages to think such mythical creatures actually exist.
The Bible is also incorrect in saying the bat is a bird (Leviticus 11:13,19), the hare and rock badger chew the cud (Leviticus 11:5-6), and the mustard seed “is the smallest of all seeds” (Matthew 13:32).
Finally, it’s inconsistent with science – and ludicrous – to believe that God confounded the language of humans because he was afraid they would build a tower high enough to reach heaven (Genesis 11:1-9).
Overall Effect of Bible Science
White summarizes the historical results of relying on the Bible for answers about the physical world. It’s not a pretty sight: “[T]here were developed, in every field, theological views of science which have never led to a single truth – which, without exception, have forced mankind away from the truth, and have caused Christendom to stumble for centuries into abysses of error and sorrow.”
In view of the Bible’s numerous mistaken beliefs about the physical world, there’s no reason to think its writers were any more correct about unseen and abstract matters. Being so greatly in error regarding the tangible and observable universe, the Bible cannot be considered a reliable guide for spiritual and ethical issues.
Prophecies in the Bible further strengthen the atheistic view. Because many of the prophecies turned out to be false, they prove the Bible is not inerrant.
The Bible itself contains a test for determining whether a prophecy was inspired by God. Deuteronomy 18:22 explains: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
Applying this test to the Bible leads to one conclusion: the book contains many statements that were not inspired by God.
Old Testament Prophecies
Genesis 2:17 says the Lord warned Adam and Eve about the fruit contained on the tree of knowledge. He stated: “[I]n the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” According to Genesis chapter 3, however, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and didn’t die on that day.
Genesis 35:10 claims that God told Jacob: “[T]hy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. . . .” But 11 chapters later, the Lord’s own act proved his prediction to be wrong. Genesis 46:2 relates: “God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.”
At II Chronicles 1:12, God promised Solomon: “Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like.”
As Robert Ingersoll pointed out in the nineteenth century, there were several kings in Solomon’s day who could have thrown away the value of Palestine without missing the amount. And the wealth of Solomon has been exceeded by many later kings and is small by today’s standards.
Isaiah 17:1-2 prophesies that Damascus would cease to be a city, become a heap of ruins, and remain forever desolate. Yet some 27 centuries after the prediction was made, Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world and is still going strong.
Jeremiah 25:11 predicts the Jews would be captives in Babylon for 70 years, and II Chronicles 36:20-21 views the prophecy as fulfilled. But the Jews were taken into captivity by the Chaldeans when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C.E. And Cyrus of Persia issued an order in 538 B.C.E. allowing them to return from Babylon to Judah. Thus, the Babylonian captivity lasted about 48 years.
Examples of other unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies include the following: the Jews will occupy the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18); they shall never lose their land and shall be disturbed no more (II Samuel 7:10); King David’s throne and kingdom shall be established forever (II Samuel 7:16); no uncircumcised person will ever enter Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:1); and the waters of Egypt will dry up (Isaiah 19:5-7).
New Testament Prophecies
In applying the Bible’s test for identifying false prophets, the conclusion is inescapable that Jesus was one of them. For example, he was wrong in predicting the world would end within the lifetime of his followers.
At Matthew 16:28, Jesus tells his disciples: “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” The people who were standing there all died eventually, and they never saw Jesus return to establish a kingdom.
Similarly, Jesus is depicted at Mark 13:24-30 as listing signs that shall accompany the end of the world. These include the sun becoming darkened, the moon not giving any light, the stars of heaven falling, the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and angels gathering the elect. Then Jesus announces: “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” His generation passed away long ago without the predicted events occurring.
Jesus also erred in predicting the amount of time he would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40 he teaches: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on a Friday afternoon. But Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us he left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Either way, the amount of time was less than three nights.
Another significant false prophecy is at John 14:13-14. Jesus promises: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Everyone knows there have been millions of instances where Jesus failed to respond to Christians who asked for things in his name. And the graveyards are full of people who prayed to him for health.
As is the case with other incorrect statements in the Bible, false prophecies cast doubt on all biblical claims. If one verse in the Bible is wrong, it’s possible for many verses to be wrong.
Inaccurate Statements About History
The Bible’s false statements about history also bolster the atheistic position. Historians and other scholars have exposed many of the Bible’s claims as historically inaccurate.
History and the Old Testament
Historians have long known that the biblical story of a worldwide flood is a myth. For instance, Andrew White says nineteenth-century Egyptologists found that Egypt had a flourishing civilization long before Noah, and no flood had ever interrupted it.
The book of Exodus claims to contain a historical record of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But historians and archaeologists have been unable to verify any of the events described in the book. No known Egyptian records refer to the biblical Moses, the devastating plagues God supposedly inflicted on the country, the escape of the Hebrew slaves, or the drowning of the Egyptian army. Further, White tells us the records contained on Egyptian monuments show that the pharaoh ruling at the time of the alleged escape of the Jews was certainly not overwhelmed in the Red Sea.
The book of Esther purports to describe how a young Jewish girl named Esther was chosen by the Persian king Xerxes I to be queen after he had divorced Vashti. Although historians know a great deal about Xerxes I, there is no record that he had a Jewish queen named Esther or was married to Vashti.
Additionally, the book of Esther describes the Persian empire as having 127 provinces, but historians maintain there was no such division of the empire. Also contrary to the book of Esther, historians assure us Xerxes did not order Jews in his territories to attack his Persian subjects.
The book of Daniel describes events that supposedly happened during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. The fifth chapter states that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was succeeded on the throne by his son Belshazzar. But historians tell us Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was never king.
The book of Daniel also says one “Darius the Mede” captured Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. In contrast, historians know that Cyrus of Persia took Babylon.
History and the New Testament
In the New Testament, the second chapter of Luke asserts that shortly before the birth of Jesus, the emperor Augustus ordered a census throughout the Roman world. Luke claims that every person had to travel to the town of his ancestors for the census to be taken. He identifies the census as the reason for Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born.
In his book Gospel Fictions, Randall Helms says this type of census was never taken in the history of the Roman Empire. He points out it’s ridiculous to think the practical Romans would require millions of people to travel enormous distances – to towns of long-deceased ancestors – merely to sign a tax form. Likewise, in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov affirms that the Romans would certainly arrange no such census.
The third chapter of Luke contains a genealogy tracing Christ’s ancestry back only 76 generations to Adam. According to Genesis chapter 1, Adam was created along with the rest of the universe during the course of one week.
The Bible thus views the human race and the universe as having existed for a relatively short period, probably no more than several thousand years. In fact, for many centuries the orthodox Christian position – to doubt which was to risk damnation – was that the creation took place sometime between four and six thousand years before Christ’s birth.
Historians and scientists give a much longer historical record. They say the universe is between 10 and 20 billion years old, the earth’s age is approximately 4.6 billion years, and humans evolved from ape-like ancestors during the last few million years.
Matthew chapter 2 avers that shortly after the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the massacre of all male children two years of age or under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. In the book of Luke, which contains the only other New Testament story of Jesus’ birth, there is no mention of this horribly cruel order. It’s also not recorded in any secular histories from the time – not even by writers who carefully described many far less wicked deeds of Herod. The lack of corroboration means Matthew’s account was fabricated.
Matthew 27:45 alleges that while Jesus was on the cross, there fell over the whole land a darkness lasting from midday until three in the afternoon. Andrew White explains that although Romans such as Seneca and Pliny carefully described much less striking occurrences of the same sort in more remote regions, they failed to note any such darkness occurring even in Judea.
Robert Ingersoll wondered why the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, “the best historian the Hebrews produced, said nothing about the life or death of Christ; nothing about the massacre of the infants by Herod; not one word about the wonderful star that visited the sky at the birth of Christ; nothing about the darkness that fell upon the world for several hours in the midst of day; and failed entirely to mention that hundreds of graves were opened, and that multitudes of Jews rose from the dead, and visited the Holy City?” Ingersoll also asked, “Is it not wonderful that no historian ever mentioned any of these prodigies?”
Ingersoll’s questions are even more forceful when one considers that there still exist at least some of the works of more than 60 historians or chroniclers who lived in the period from 10 C.E. to 100 C.E. Those writers were contemporaries of Jesus, if in fact he ever lived.
Finally, the previously discussed contradictions can be cited as examples of historical inaccuracies. In each instance where the Bible contains a contradiction about an alleged historical event, at least one of the accounts is wrong.
The Bible writers were poor historians, let alone conveyers of messages from an infallible God.
Other Problems with the Bible
There are other reasons why the Bible should not be considered the word of God. They include, but are not limited to: the fact that we don’t know who wrote most of it; the fact that much of it was written many years – and in some cases many centuries – after the events it purports to describe; its obscene passages; and its promises of eternal rewards for the ignorant and credulous and everlasting punishment for skeptics and investigators.
Finally, the harm that the Bible causes in people’s personal lives should be mentioned as a reason for rejecting the book. It’s not uncommon to see media reports about Bible believers committing bizarre, injurious, and sometimes deadly acts.
Some people use Bible verses to justify beating children, withholding medical treatment, handling snakes, drinking poison, chopping off body parts, plucking out eyes, driving out demons, withdrawing from the affairs of this world, renouncing the pleasures of life, and expecting the world to end.
If the Bible were not viewed as God’s word, these acts would occur much less often.
Many compelling and morally sound reasons support the atheistic position that the Bible is not divinely inspired. Instead of being inerrant, the Bible has far more errors and immoral teachings than most other books.
By treating this mistake-ridden book as the word of God, humanity has been led down many paths of error and misery throughout history. In too many ways, the Bible continues to produce such results.
But in some cases, the errors caused by the Bible have been corrected and the harms have been stopped. This happened when a scientific approach was applied to problems. Science involves relying on reason, observation, experience, and compassion – rather than blindly accepting religious or secular dogma.
We should reject the views of those who say the Bible has infallible answers to today’s problems. As mosts atheists know, science has proved to be a much better source for answers.