SOME REASONS WHY HUMANISTS REJECT THE BIBLE
by Joseph C. Sommer
This article sets forth some reasons why Humanists assert
that the Bible is not the word of God. Humanists are convinced
that the Bible was written solely by human beings who lived in an
age that was ignorant, superstitious, and cruel. Humanists also
believe that, because the writers of the Bible were people who
lived in an unenlightened and barbaric era, they produced a book
which contains many erroneous statements and harmful teachings.
A lot of criticism is directed at Humanists because they hold
those positions about the Bible. Some critics of the Humanist
philosophy go so far as to say that Humanists are evil or are
agents of the devil. Hopefully, this article will provide some
clarification as to the real reasons that Humanists have the views
that they do about the Bible.
Importance of the Subject:
The importance of this subject results from the fact that in
the United States the Bible is pervasively hailed as a divinely
inspired book. Today, the television and radio media often
feature programs that praise the Bible as being the holy and
infallible word of God. Religious organizations that produce
those programs distribute vast quantities of books, magazines,
pamphlets, and other literature. The programs and literature
promote the viewpoint that, as televangelist Pat Robertson has
said: "The Bible...is a workable guidebook for politics,
business, families and all the affairs of mankind."
The Bible is also promoted by many politicians. For example,
in 1983 President Reagan signed into law a congressional act which
proclaimed that year to be the "Year of the Bible." The law
declared the Bible to be the "Word of God" and asserted that there
is "a national need to study and apply its teachings."
Thousands of other religious and political leaders in
communities throughout the United States engage in unabashed
promotion of the Bible. In most of those communities, a voice in
opposition to that view is rarely, if ever, heard.
The massive and incessant promotion of the Bible has a
significant influence on the beliefs of millions of people. A
recent Gallup poll showed that over thirty percent of Americans
believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and that its
teachings should be taken literally. Gallup found that an
additional twenty-five percent of Americans view the Bible as
being the inspired word of God but are of the opinion that some
verses should be interpreted symbolically rather than literally.
In addition to the persons identified by Gallup as believing
in the divine inspiration of the Bible, there are many people who,
while having doubts as to whether the entire Bible is the word of
God, still consider the book to be a source of great moral truths
and regard its teachings as deserving considerable respect.
Undoubtedly, such views about the Bible are responsible, at
least in part, for the fact that over two-thirds of Americans
belong to churches or synagogues and forty percent attend services
on a weekly basis.
Clearly, if the Humanist position concerning the Bible is
correct, the millions of Americans who are Bible-believers and
church-goers are wasting a great deal of time, money, and energy.
The condition of humanity could be greatly improved if those
resources were used to improve this world rather than being
employed in the worship of a nonexistent biblical God.
Moreover, because so many people have been taught to consider
the Bible to be the "Good Book," biblical teachings influence the
attitudes of millions of Americans on many subjects. When those
subjects involve political issues, all of us -- whether we believe
the Bible or not -- can be impacted as Bible-believers make their
views heard in the political arena.
Anyone who becomes politically active can soon discover that
Bible teachings strongly influence the opinions of many Americans
on issues relating to nuclear war, overpopulation, conservation,
women's rights, homosexuals' rights, corporal punishment of
children, state-church separation, sex education, science
education, abortion, censorship, capital punishment, and many
other important subjects.
When people accept the statements of their religious and
political leaders that the Bible contains absolute truth as
revealed by a just and omniscient God, and attempt to embed in the
laws and social practices of this country the teachings contained
in the Bible, there is great potential for serious error and harm
if the Bible is actually the product of fallible human beings who
lived during an unenlightened era. In that case, the Bible would
not be a guidebook for attaining human happiness and well-being,
but would instead be the means by which we perpetuate the ideas
and customs of an ignorant and superstitious past and fail to
progress beyond that level.
Such a result would surely be tragic because ignorance and
superstition, as even most supporters of the Bible would agree,
have caused humankind to suffer tremendous amounts of misery
The fact that the Bible contains contradictions is one reason
why Humanists consider the book to be an unreliable authority.
Clearly, if two statements in the Bible contradict each other, at
least one of the statements must be false. Because there are
numerous instances where certain biblical verses flatly contradict
other verses, it follows that the Bible contains many false
Contradictions appear in even the opening two chapters of the
Bible, where inconsistent accounts of the creation of the world
are set forth. * For example, Genesis chapter 1 tells us that the
first man and the first woman were made at the same time, and
after the animals. However, Genesis chapter 2 states that the
order of creation was as follows: man, then the animals, and then
In addition, Genesis chapter 1 sets forth six days of
creation, but chapter 2 speaks of the "day that the Lord God made
the earth and the heavens." Genesis chapter 1 states that the
fruit trees were created before man, but chapter 2 indicates that
the fruit trees were created after man. Genesis 1:20 says that
the fowl were created out of the waters, but Genesis 2:19 states
that the fowl were created out of the ground.
Also, Genesis 1:2-3 asserts that God created light and
divided it from darkness on the first day, but Genesis 1:14-19
says that the sun, moon, and stars were not made until the fourth
Contradictions also abound in the biblical account of a
worldwide flood. Genesis 6:19-22 says that God ordered Noah to
bring "of every living thing of all flesh, two of every
sort...into the ark." However, Genesis 7:2-3 states that the Lord
ordered Noah to bring into the ark the clean beasts and the birds
by sevens, and the unclean beasts by twos.
Genesis 7:17 says that the flood lasted forty days, but
Genesis 8:3 tells us that it lasted one hundred and fifty days.
Genesis 8:4 states that, as the waters of the flood receded,
Noah's ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat in the seventh
month, but the very next verse asserts that the tops of the
mountains could not even be seen until the tenth month. Genesis
8:13 states that the earth was dry on the first day of the first
month, but Genesis 8:14 reports that the earth was not dry until
the twenty-seventh day of the second month.
The Old Testament also contains a significant contradiction
in the story of the census taken by King David and God's
subsequent punishment of the Israelites. According to the story,
God was so angered by the census that he sent a plague that killed
seventy thousand men. II Samuel 24:1 says that the Lord caused
David to take the census, but I Chronicles 21:1 tells us that
David was incited by Satan to take the census.
In addition, there is a contradiction regarding the question
of whether God punishes children for the sins of their parents.
At Ezekiel 18:20, the Lord states: "The son shall not bear the
iniquity of the father...." However, at Exodus 20:5, God says:
"...I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of
the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation
of them that hate me."
Moreover, the Old Testament is contradictory as to whether
the Lord commanded the Israelites to sacrifice animals to him. At
Jeremiah 7:22, God says that he did not give the Israelites any
commands about animal sacrifices. In contrast, at Exodus 29:38-42
and many other places in the Pentateuch, God is clearly depicted
as requiring the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices.
Turning to the New Testament, there are contradictions
between the genealogy of Jesus as set forth in the first chapter
of Matthew and the genealogy given in the third chapter of Luke.
Both genealogies list Jesus' father as being Joseph (which is
curious, given that Mary was supposedly impregnated by the Holy
Ghost), but Matthew states that the name of Joseph's father was
Jacob, while Luke says that his name was Heli. Also, Matthew
tells us that there were twenty-six generations between Jesus and
King David, but Luke reports that the number of such generations
was forty-one. In addition, Matthew alleges that Jesus' line of
descent was through David's son Solomon, but Luke asserts that it
was through David's son Nathan.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, Matthew 2:13-15 says that
Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the baby Jesus immediately
after the wise men from the east had brought their gifts.
However, Luke 2:22-40 indicates that, after the birth of Jesus,
Joseph and Mary remained in Bethlehem for the time of Mary's
purification (which was forty days, under the Mosaic law), then
brought Jesus to Jerusalem "to present him to the Lord," and then
returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke makes no mention of a
journey into Egypt or a visit by wise men from the east.
As to the death of the disciple Judas, Matthew 27:5 states
that Judas took the money that he had obtained by betraying Jesus,
threw it down in the temple, and then "went and hanged himself."
However, Acts 1:18 reports that Judas used the money to purchase a
field and "falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and
all his bowels gushed out."
In describing Jesus being led to his execution, John 19:17
states that Jesus carried his own cross. In contrast, Mark
15:21-23 says that a man called Simon carried Jesus' cross to the
Regarding the crucifixion itself, Matthew 27:44 tells us that
Jesus was taunted by both of the criminals who were being
crucified with him. However, Luke 23:39-43 states that only one
of the criminals taunted Jesus, that the other criminal rebuked
the one who was doing the taunting, and that Jesus told the
criminal who was defending him: "Today shalt thou be with me in
As to the last words of Jesus while on the cross, Matthew
27:46 and Mark 15:34 assert that Jesus cried with a loud voice:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Luke 23:46 says that
Jesus' final words were: "Father, into thy hands I commend my
spirit." John 19:30 tells us that the last statement of the dying
Jesus was: "It is finished."
There are even contradictions in the accounts of the
resurrection -- the alleged event which is the very basis of the
Christian religion. Mark 16:2 says that on the day of the
resurrection certain women arrived at the tomb at the rising of
the sun, but John 20:1 states that they arrived when it was yet
dark. Luke 24:2 tells us that the tomb was open when the women
arrived, but Matthew 28:1-2 indicates that it was closed. Mark
16:5 states that the women saw a young man at the tomb, Luke 24:4
says that they saw two men, Matthew 28:2 alleges that they saw an
angel, and John 20:11-12 insists that they saw two angels.
Also in the resurrection accounts, there are contradictions
as to who the women were that came to the tomb, whether the men or
angels that the women saw were inside or outside the tomb, whether
the men or angels were standing or sitting, and whether Mary
Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus when he first appeared to
As a final example of a contradiction contained in the New
Testament, the conflicting accounts of the conversion of Paul can
be cited. Acts 9:7 says that when Jesus called Paul to preach the
gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man.
However, Acts 22:9 asserts that when Paul received his calling,
the men who were with him saw a light but did not hear the voice
that spoke to Paul.
The foregoing examples are just a few of the hundreds of
contradictions contained in the Bible. The presence of such
contradictions plainly shows that the Bible contains many
erroneous statements and is therefore far from infallible.
Humanists also reject the Bible because it both describes and
approves of the most outrageous acts of cruelty and injustice
imaginable. One of the underlying principles of our legal system
-- and the legal systems of all civilized societies -- is the
notion that the suffering of the innocent is the very essence of
injustice. Yet in the Bible we are told that God repeatedly
violated this fundamental moral principle by causing numerous
innocent persons and animals to be harmed.
Instances of cruel and unjust behavior by the God of the
Bible are seen in even the most basic teachings of the Christian
religion. Some well-known acts of the biblical God that are in
fact immoral because they resulted in the suffering of the
innocent include the following: he damned the whole human race
and cursed the entire creation because of the acts of two people
(Genesis 3:16-23; Romans 5:18); he drowned pregnant women and
innocent children and animals at the time of the Flood (Genesis
7:20-23); he tormented the Egyptians and their animals with hail
and disease because pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave
Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11,25); he killed Egyptian babies at the time of
the Passover (Exodus 12:29-30); subsequent to the Exodus he
ordered the Israelites to annihilate the men, women, and children
of seven nations and to steal their land (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); he
killed King David's baby because of David's adultery with
Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:13-18); he required the torture and murder
of his own son (e.g., Romans 3:24-25); and he promised to send to
eternal torture those persons who do not accept Christianity
(e.g., Revelation 21:8).
In addition to the injustice and cruelties contained in many
of the major teachings of Christianity, the Bible features
numerous other tales of violence that are in complete opposition
to all civilized standards of morality. Among the most shockingly
violent and unethical Bible passages are those in which God is
depicted as ordering or sanctioning the slaughter of various
persons, including children and the elderly. Some examples are
-- At I Samuel 15:3, the prophet Samuel gives King Saul
this commandment from the Lord: "Now go and smite Amalek, and
utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay
both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and
-- Ezekiel 9:4-7 provides the following account of a
message from the Lord: "And the Lord said unto him, Go
through...the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the
foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the
abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others
he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and
smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly
old and young, both maids and little children, and women: but
come not near any man upon whom is the mark..."
-- Hosea 13:16 sets forth this description of a punishment
from the Lord: "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath
rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their
infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child
shall be ripped up."
-- Deuteronomy 32:23-25 reports that after the Israelites
had provoked the Lord to jealousy by worshiping other gods, the
Lord said: "...I will spend mine arrows upon them....The sword
without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and
the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs."
-- At Numbers chapter 31, the Lord indicates his approval
of the following order which Moses gave, as set forth at verses 17
and 18, regarding the manner in which the Israelite soldiers were
to treat certain women and children captured in war: "Now
therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every
woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women
children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive
-- Isaiah 13:9,15-18 contains this message from the Lord:
"Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and
fierce anger....Every one that is found shall be thrust through.
...Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their
eyes...and their wives ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes
against them....[T]hey shall have no pity on the fruit of the
womb; their eye shall not spare children." Clearly, these verses
depict the biblical God as having the moral scruples of a
sociopathic mass murderer.
The God of the Bible also displays his sadistic tendencies by
employing a variety of other methods to torment the innocent. He
opens the earth so that it swallows entire families (Numbers
16:27-32); he causes fire to devour people (e.g., Leviticus
10:1-2; Numbers 11:1-2); he sends wild animals such as bears (II
Kings 2:23-24), lions (II Kings 17:24-25), and serpents (Numbers
21:6) upon people; he sanctions slavery (e.g., Leviticus
25:44-46); he orders religious persecution (e.g., Deuteronomy
13:12-16); he causes cannibalism (Jeremiah 19:9); and he requires
the killing of animals as expiation for the sins of their owners
(e.g., Exodus 29:36).
In addition to causing the innocent to suffer, another type
of cruelty that the biblical God is guilty of is the infliction of
punishments that are grossly disproportionate to the acts for
which those punishments were administered. In our legal system
today, extreme disproportion between punishments administered and
acts committed is considered a violation of the U.S.
Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual
Obviously, to punish persons who are completely innocent, as
is seen in the preceding Bible verses, constitutes punishment that
is outrageously disproportionate to the moral culpability of the
persons being punished. As an additional example of the biblical
God requiring punishments that are shockingly harsh in comparison
to the acts committed, we may look at a list of some of the
trivial acts for which he required the death penalty.
In the Old Testament, the Lord prescribes execution as
punishment for the "crimes" of working on the sabbath (Exodus
31:15); cursing one's parents (Leviticus 20:9); worshiping other
gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); enticing a friend or family member to
worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); being a witch, medium,
or wizard (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27); engaging in homosexual
acts (Leviticus 20:13); and not being a virgin on one's wedding
night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Certainly, to require the death
penalty for such acts is to completely reject the notion that the
severity of a punishment should bear some proportion to the
seriousness of the offense.
In the New Testament, the biblical God has not improved at
all in regard to his trait of inflicting excessively severe
punishments, and in fact has gotten worse. It would be hard to
imagine anything more cruel and disproportionate than requiring
the punishment of eternal torture for the mere disbelief that the
son of God was born of a virgin in Palestine almost two thousand
years ago, turned water into wine, cast demons out of persons,
walked on water, was killed at the instigation of God's "chosen
people," and rose from the dead. The refusal to believe that
story harms no one, and it has been disbelieved by some of the
greatest benefactors of the human race, yet the biblical God
promises to inflict upon such persons the most horrible punishment
that can be conceived.
A major problem with the violence and injustice contained in
the Bible is that, all too often, the example set by the biblical
God has incited and been used to justify the cruel acts of his
followers. Many of those followers reasoned that since God, who
is considered just and loving, committed and allowed the most
brutal acts of violence, good Christians need not have any qualms
about behaving in a similar manner. That reasoning process was
undoubtedly what the American patriot Thomas Paine was referring
to when he said: "The belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man."
An example of that type of reasoning is provided by the
historian Joseph McCabe in his work entitled The History of
Torture. McCabe states that during the Middle Ages there was more
cruelty and torture in Christian Europe than in any civilization
in history. He points to the Christian doctrine of eternal
punishment as one of the main causes of the extraordinary
prevalence of torture in medieval Europe. McCabe describes in the
following manner the philosophy that supported the willingness of
Christians to so frequently resort to torture: "If, it was
natural to reason, God punishes men with eternal torment, it is
surely lawful for men to use doses of it in a good cause."
Some specific historical examples of violent and unjust acts
that were incited or supported by Bible teachings would be the
Inquisition; the Crusades; the burning of witches; the religious
wars in Europe; the pogroms carried out against Jewish
communities; the persecution of homosexuals; the forceful
conversion of heathen people in Europe and America; the
enslavement of blacks and other persons; the beatings of children;
the brutal treatment of the mentally ill; the suppression of
scientists and other investigators of nature; the use of torture
in criminal interrogations; and the whippings, mutilations,
brandings, and violent executions of persons convicted of crimes.
Those actions were a regular part of the Christian world for
hundreds of years.
After reviewing the cruel and unjust teachings contained in
the Bible, and the effect that they have had upon the course of
world events, one can see why Humanists agree that Thomas Paine
was entirely justified in saying in regard to the Bible: "It is a
history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize
mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest
everything that is cruel."
Teachings Inconsistent with the Laws of Nature:
A further reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that it
contains numerous statements that are inconsistent with the laws
of nature. Humanists also believe that the promotion of those
statements as being true has caused tremendous harm to humanity.
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 the noted paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, this
uniformity or constancy of natural laws is the "methodological
assumption" that makes science practicable.
What Gould is referring to is the fact that, without the
assumption that the physical world operates according to
unchanging natural laws, there would be no practical benefit to be
derived from studying that world, conducting experiments, or
otherwise learning from experience. Those activities would be
useless in a world that did not operate according to unvarying
natural laws because, in such a world, knowledge of past
situations would not provide guidance as to what will happen in
similar situations in the future. There would always be the
possibility of supernatural or other arbitrary forces intervening
in events to alter outcomes from what would otherwise, based on
past experience, be expected to occur.
In this world, the evidence is overwhelming that physical
events occur according to natural laws that are immutable in their
operation. As a result, an increasing knowledge of the workings
of nature enhances our ability to predict future events and to
shape the course of those events.
The teachings of the Bible are, however, diametrically
opposed to the fundamental scientific principle of the uniform
operation of natural laws. Consequently, belief in the Bible is
inconsistent with a scientific outlook and has served to
discourage the development of a scientific approach to dealing
In the Bible, we are told stories involving 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 the
fruit of which gives 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 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); blindness cured by spit
(Mark 8:23-25); a pool of water that can cure the ailments of
those who dip in it (John 5:2-4); and angels and demons
intervening in earthly affairs (e.g., Acts 5:17-20; Luke
Clearly, such stories are totally at variance with any sane
person's experience of the way this world operates, and are
therefore completely at odds with the scientific view as to the
consistent and unvarying operation of natural laws. These
biblical fables are instead supportive of the idea, which has been
commonly held by primitive and illiterate people throughout
history, that supernatural beings frequently and arbitrarily
intervene in the affairs of this world.
When examined in the light of experience and reason, the
Bible's claims of suspension of the laws of nature do not warrant
belief. Our experience is that the natural world operates
according to principles of regularity which are never violated.
It is further our experience that people are frequently mistaken
or dishonest. Thus, it is far more likely that the authors of the
Bible either erred or lied than that the laws of nature were
violated as is alleged in so many nonsensical biblical stories.
A terribly harmful effect of the belief that supernatural
beings intervene in worldly affairs has been that people have
often misdirected their energies in attempting to solve the
problems of this world. Instead of studying the natural world to
discover facts that could be used to develop scientific solutions
to their problems, they engaged in religious activities in an
effort to obtain the assistance of benevolent supernatural beings
or to thwart the influence of malicious preternatural beings.
An example of such a misdirection of energies can be seen in
the history of the attempts to prevent the outbreak and spread of
diseases in Europe. The historian Andrew White states that,
during many centuries in the Middle Ages, the filthiness of
European cities repeatedly caused great pestilences that sent
multitudes to their graves. Based on the teachings of the Bible,
Christian theologians during those centuries believed that the
pestilences were caused not by lack of proper hygiene, but by the
anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.
Due to their belief in spiritual causes of illnesses, the
theologians taught people that the plagues could be averted or
alleviated by religious acts such as repentance from sin; the
provision of gifts to churches, monasteries, and shrines;
participation in religious processions; attendance at church
services (which often only increased the spread of disease); and
the killing of Jews and witches (since it was believed that Satan
used Jews and witches as his agents in causing illnesses). The
possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases was largely
ignored by the theologians.
White states that, despite all the prayers, rituals, and
other religious activities that were performed in an effort to
influence the activities of spiritual beings, the frequency and
severity of plagues did not diminish until scientific hygiene
began to make its appearance. In speaking of the hygienic
improvements that occurred during the second half of the
nineteenth century, White says: "[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 relying on the assistance provided by
science rather than on the supernatural aid promised by religion
can also be seen in other fields. As a result, Humanists accept
the scientific view that the world operates according to unvarying
natural laws which can never be suspended by the performance of
religious rituals or by any other means. Furthermore, Humanists
believe that those persons who have sought to increase
understanding of this world -- and not the theologians who focus
on influencing supernatural powers -- have enabled humankind to
make the greatest strides in terms of alleviating suffering and
Teachings Inconsistent With the Structure of the Physical World:
An additional reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that
it contains many teachings that are contrary to what science has
found to be the structure of the physical world. As is the case
with the Bible's teachings that are inconsistent with the laws of
nature, the Bible's views concerning this subject are similar to
beliefs that have been held by many primitive and illiterate
people throughout history.
A classic example of such an incorrect Bible teaching can be
seen in the account of the opposition that Christian theologians
mounted against Galileo's proof of the Copernican doctrine of the
double motion of the earth. In the sixteenth century, Copernicus
set forth the idea that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves
around the sun, and in the following century Galileo's telescope
provided strong evidence that Copernicus had been right. In
opposing the Copernican doctrine and attempting to 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, told the sun to stand still -- and not the
Other passages demonstrating that the Bible writers thought
that the earth remains stationary include Psalm 93:1 ("[T]he world
also 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 for ever.").
Because of Galileo's advocacy of the Copernican doctrine, the
Inquisition threatened him with torture, forced him to recant his
support for that doctrine, and sentenced him to imprisonment. In
addition, based upon the teachings of the Bible, for nearly two
hundred years the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books
condemned all writings which affirmed the idea of the double
motion of the earth. Moreover, for generations the major branches
of the Protestant church -- Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican --
denounced the Copernican doctrine as being contrary to scripture.
The Bible also grossly errs in upholding the viewpoint that
the earth is flat. In the sixth century, a Christian monk named
Cosmas wrote a book entitled Topographia Christiana in which he
described the structure of the physical world. Cosmas based his
conclusions on the teachings of the Bible and held that the earth
is flat and surrounded by four seas.
One of the reasons for Cosmas' belief in a flat earth was the
statement at Revelation 1:7 that, when Christ returns, "every eye
shall see him." Cosmas reasoned that if the earth were round
instead of flat, people on the other side would not be able to see
Christ's second coming.
Further support for the idea of a flat earth is contained in
the Bible verses which speak of 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).
As a consequence of such Bible teachings, most of the early
church fathers believed that the earth is flat. Also, the view of
the world as set forth in Cosmas' book was for several centuries
accepted as part of the orthodox Christian doctrine. In addition,
when Christopher Columbus proposed, in the fifteenth centruy, the
idea of sailing west from Spain to reach the East Indies, biblical
support for the notion of the earth's flatness was a major source
of opposition to his proposal.
The Bible additionally sets forth the ridiculous idea that
the sky is a solid vault. In the creation account given in the
first chapter of the book of Genesis, verse 17 states that the
Lord set the sun and moon "in the firmament" to provide light upon
the earth. The Hebrew word translated as "firmament" is "raqia,"
which means "hammered metal."
More support for the idea of a solid sky is found at Job
37:18 (where the sky is described as being like a "molten
looking glass"), 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
The notion of a domed earth, as contained in the preceding
Bible verses, was a common conception in the ancient Near East and
was taken for granted by the biblical writers. Based on the
teachings of the Bible, most of the early church fathers accepted
the idea of the firmament. That idea was also supported by Cosmas
and consequently was part of the orthodox Christian doctrine for
Included in that orthodox doctrine was the childish belief
that there are windows in the firmament that are opened by angels
whenever God wishes to send rain upon the earth. Cosmas believed
that when the windows were opened, a portion of the waters
contained above the firmament, which are mentioned at Genesis
1:17, would fall to the earth. Cosmas' basis for that viewpoint
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
The Bible also naively asserts that the earth rests upon
pillars. The "pillars" of the earth are referred to in several
verses in the Old Testament (I Samuel 2:8; Psalm 75:3; Job 9:6),
but no explanation is given as to what the pillars themselves were
thought to stand upon. Perhaps that issue was not even considered
by the writers of the Bible, as logic obviously was not their
strong point. In any event, such verses are a reflection of the
belief of the ancient Hebrews that the earth sits upon pillars.
In addition, the Bible contradicts modern medical science by
declaring that illnesses and other physical maladies result from
supernatural agencies, such as the activity of demons, rather than
from physical causes. In describing Jesus' healing miracles, the
New Testament states that the following afflictions were produced
by demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22), muteness (Matthew 9:32-33),
lameness (Luke 13:11,16), epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18) and insanity
As a result of such teachings, the early church leaders
generally discouraged the view that illnesses are caused by
natural processes and supported the idea of demonic agency as 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...."
Even with the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the
sixteenth century, there was no great change in the Christian
attitude toward the cause of diseases. Martin Luther repeatedly
attributed his own illnesses to "devils' spells" and taught that:
"Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is
the prince of death."
The Bible also contains verses which mention dragons
(Jeremiah 51:34), unicorns (Isaiah 34:7), and cockatrices (Isaiah
11:8). Based on such verses, many naturalists in the Middle Ages
believed that those mythical creatures actually exist.
Moreover, for centuries Bible verses led the Christian world
to believe that comets are sent by God to warn humankind of divine
anger and imminent punishment; that the appearance of stars and
meteors presages beneficial events such as the birth of heroes and
great men; that eclipses signify divine distress in response to
occurrences on earth; that storms and unpleasant meteorological
phenomena are caused by the anger of God or the ill will of Satan;
and that, even if the earth is in fact round, people do not live
on the other side.
Furthermore, the Bible is scientifically incorrect in stating
that the bat is a bird (Leviticus 11:13,19), that the hare and the
rock badger chew the cud (Leviticus 11:5-6), and that the mustard
seed "is the smallest of all seeds" (Matthew 13:32). It is also
inconsistent with science, and in fact absurd, to assert that God
confounded the language of human beings because he was afraid that
they would build a tower high enough to reach heaven (see Genesis
The effect of looking to the Bible to obtain ideas regarding
the structure of the physical world has been aptly summed up by
the historian Andrew White. He states: "[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 incorrect statements
concerning the structure of the physical world, there appears to
be no reason to believe that the biblical writers were any more
correct when they wrote about things which are invisible. Being
so greatly in error in regard to the observable universe, the
Bible cannot be considered a reliable guide for addressing
spiritual and ethical questions.
Also supporting the Humanist position that the Bible is not
the word of God is the fact that it contains prophecies that have
proved to be false. The nonoccurrence of biblically prophesied
events constitutes clear proof that the Bible is not inerrant.
The Bible itself sets forth a test for determining whether a
prophecy was inspired by God. Deuteronomy 18:22 states: "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." In applying that test to the Bible, we are
led to the conclusion that the book contains statements which were
not inspired by God.
At Genesis 2:17, the Lord is said to have warned Adam and Eve
regarding the fruit contained on the tree of knowledge: "[I]n the
day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Yet in
Genesis chapter 3, we are informed that Adam and Eve ate the
forbidden fruit and did not die on the day that they did so.
Genesis 35:10 tells us that God said to Jacob: "[T]hy name
shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy
name..." However, eleven chapters later, at Genesis 46:2, the
statement is made that: "...God spake unto Israel in the visions
of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I."
II Chronicles 1:12 alleges that God said to 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 the great American agnostic Robert Ingersoll said the
nineteenth century, there were several kings in Solomon's day who
could have thrown away the value of Palestine without missing the
amount. It may be added that the wealth of Solomon is small by
today's standards and has been exceeded by many kings who ruled
subsequent to him.
Some examples of other unfulfilled prophecies in the Old
Testament include the following: the Jews will occupy the land
from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen. 15:18); they shall never lose
their land and shall be disturbed no more (II Sam. 7:10); King
David's throne and kingdom shall be established forever (II Sam.
7:16); no uncircumcised person will ever enter into Jerusalem
(Isaiah 52:1); Damascus will be reduced to a heap of ruins (Isaiah
17:1); and the waters of Egypt will dry up (Isaiah 19: 5-7).
By applying to the New Testament the Bible's test for
identifying false prophets, we are forced to conclude that Jesus
made statements that were not inspired by God. For instance,
Jesus' prophecies concerning the time at which the world would end
are clearly incorrect. At Matthew 16:28, Jesus states to his
disciples: "...There be some standing here, which shall not taste
of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
Obviously, the persons who were standing there have all died, and
they never saw Jesus return to establish a kingdom.
In addition, at Mark 13:24-30 Jesus is depicted as listing a
number of signs that shall accompany the end of the world,
including 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 states, at verse 30: "Verily I say unto you, that this
generation shall not pass, till all these things be done."
Clearly, that generation passed away long ago and the predicted
occurrences never happened.
Analysis of the New Testament also reveals that Jesus was
incorrect in his prediction concerning the amount of time that he
would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40, Jesus states: "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." However, Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on
the afternoon of the day before the sabbath (i.e., on Friday
afternoon), while Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us that Jesus
left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. There
is no way that a period from Friday afternoon until, at the
latest, Sunday morning, can be made to equal three days and three
To give one more example from the New Testament, Jesus states
at John 14:13-14 that: "[W]hatsoever 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." There have been
millions of instances in which requests have been made in Jesus'
name, and Jesus failed to perform on his promise to deliver.
As an example of such an unanswered request, we may recall
the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. During the hours
immediately following the shooting, millions of persons prayed in
Jesus' name for the recovery of Senator Kennedy. If there ever
was a test for the power of Christian prayer, this was it.
We all know the result of that test. Contrary to the promise
contained in the fourteenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus did
not respond to the pleas for the fallen senator's recovery and,
tragically, Kennedy died. The same failure of Christian prayers
to produce any effect occurs over and over each day.
As is the case with other types of false statements in the
Bible, the existence of incorrect prophecies casts doubt on the
veracity of all biblical teachings. If one verse in the Bible is
wrong, it is possible for many verses to be wrong.
Inaccurate Statements About History:
One more reason that Humanists reject the Bible is that it
contains erroneous statements regarding history. The findings of
historians and other scholars indicate that many assertions in the
Bible are historically inaccurate.
In regard to the Old Testament, historians have determined
that the story of a worldwide flood, as set forth in the book of
Genesis, is a myth. For example, Andrew White reports that
nineteenth century Egyptologists found that Egypt had a
flourishing civilization long before the biblical Flood of Noah
and that no such flood had ever interrupted it.
In addition, the book of Exodus claims to contain an
historical account of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in
Egypt, but historians and archaeologists have been unable to
verify any of the events related in that book. No known Egyptian
records refer to the biblical Moses, the devastating plagues that
God supposedly inflicted on the country, the escape of the Hebrew
slaves, or the drowning of the Egyptian army. Moreover, Andrew
White reports that 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 tell how a young Jewish girl
named Esther was chosen by the Persian King Xerxes I to be queen
after the king had divorced Queen Vashti. Although historians
know a great deal about Xerxes I, there is no record that he had a
Jewish queen named Esther or that he was married to Vashti.
Additionally, the book of Esther insists that the Persian
empire was divided into one hundred and twenty-seven provinces,
but historians tell us that there was no such division of the
empire. Also contrary to what the book of Esther says, historians
state that Xerxes I did not order Jews in his territories to
attack his Persian subjects.
The book of Daniel contains an account of certain events that
supposedly transpired during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews.
In the fifth chapter of the book, we are told that the Babylonian
king Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded on the throne by his son
Belshazzar. However, historians tell us that Belshazzar was not
the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was never king.
The book of Daniel also states that one "Darius the Mede"
captured Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. In contrast,
historians inform us that it was actually Cyrus of Persia who took
Turning to the New Testament, the second chapter of the book
of Luke states that, shortly before the birth of Jesus, the
emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman
world. Luke states that every person had to travel to the town of
his ancestors in order for the census to be taken. He points to
the census as the reason that Joseph and Mary traveled from
Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born.
In the book entitled Gospel Fictions, Randal Helms states
that no such census was ever taken in the history of the Roman
Empire. He also says that it is ridiculous to think that the
practical Romans would require millions of people to travel
enormous distances to towns of long-deceased ancestors merely to
sign a tax form. Moreover, in Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Isaac
Asimov states that the Romans certainly would arrange no such
The third chapter of Luke contains a genealogy that traces
Christ's ancestry back only seventy-six generations to Adam, who,
according to Genesis chapter 1, was created along with the rest of
the universe during the course of one week. The Bible therefore
supports the idea that the history of the human race, and also
that of the universe, extends back in time for just a relatively
short period, probably no more than several thousand years. In
fact, on the basis of biblical teachings such as those set forth
in Luke chapter 3, during 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 the birth of Christ.
Today, however, scientists and other scholars agree that the
evidence shows a much longer historical record. They state that
the universe is between ten and twenty billion years old, that the
age of the earth is approximately 4.6 billion years, and that
humans evolved from ape-like ancestors during the last few million
The second chapter of the book of Matthew asserts 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 is also not mentioned in any of the
secular histories of the time, and not even by those writers who
carefully described many far less wicked deeds of Herod.
Clearly, such lack of corroboration is compelling evidence that
Matthew's account was fabricated.
Matthew 27:45 states that while Jesus was on the cross, there
fell over the whole land a darkness which lasted from midday until
three in the afternoon. Andrew White states that although Roman
observers 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.
Concerning the issue of the alleged historical accuracy of
the Gospel accounts, Robert Ingersoll wondered why it was that 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
arose 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 particularly cogent when one
considers that there are still in existence at least some of the
works of more than sixty 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 existed.
In regard to the subject of historical inaccuracies contained
in the Bible, the various contradictions mentioned above could
also be cited, such as those contained in the accounts of the
Creation, the Flood, David's census, the birth and genealogies of
Jesus, the Resurrection, Paul's calling, etc. In each instance
where the Bible contains a contradiction concerning an alleged
historical event, at least one of the accounts must be incorrect
and is therefore historically inaccurate.
Thus, the presence of historical inaccuracies is another fact
that gives the lie to the claim of biblical infallibility.
In summary, Humanists reject the Bible because it contains
contradictions, cruelties, assertions that are totally
inconsistent with the laws of nature, inaccurate statements about
the structure of the physical world, incorrect prophecies, and
historical inaccuracies. Other problems with the book could also
be cited, such as the fact that we do not know who wrote most of
it, the fact that much of it was written many years after the
events which it purports to describe, its many obscene passages,
and its promises of salvation for the ignorant and credulous and
condemnation to eternal torture for skeptics and investigators who
have bestowed innumerable benefits upon the human race.
All of these problems and others constitute clear evidence
that the Bible is not the word of God. Instead of being
infallible, the Bible has far more incorrect assertions and
immoral teachings than are contained in most other books.
As a result of treating such a mistake-ridden book as being
inerrant, Western civilization has been led down many paths of
error and misery throughout history. In addition, the Bible's
extensive track record in leading humanity astray is support for
the conclusion that, in today's world, the influence of biblical
teachings in the political arena could very well result -- and, in
the opinion of some persons, certainly does result -- in the
continuance of a large number of harmful social policies and
opposition to many progressive proposals for social improvement.
Moreover, reports carried in the news media make it clear
that Bible verses still lead some Christians to commit bizarre and
harmful acts such as beating children, withholding medical
treatment, handling snakes, drinking poison, chopping off hands or
feet, plucking out eyes, violently attempting to drive out demons
and devils, withdrawing from the affairs of this world, renouncing
the pleasures of life, and expecting the imminent end of the
Because the Bible contains many incorrect statements and
unethical teachings and has caused -- and continues to cause --
numerous mistakes and tremendous harm, we should reject the advice
of those persons who exhort us to turn to the Bible for the
answers to our personal, social, and political problems.
What has enabled humanity to correct many of the false ideas
that the Bible gave to the world has been the application of a
scientific approach to solving problems. That approach involves
reliance on human observation, experience, logic, and empathy,
rather than a blind acceptance of religious or secular dogma.
When the results of relying on the scientific method are
viewed in conjunction with the incorrect ideas contained in the
Bible and the harm caused by those ideas, it becomes clear that we
are far better off being guided by human reason and compassion
than by the teachings of the Bible.
* Biblical citations in this article are to the King James
Version, given that it is perhaps the most widely used of the
various versions on the market today.
The author of this paper is the president of the Humanist
Community of Central Ohio, a chapter of the American Humanist
(C) Copyright 1994 by Joseph C. Sommer
So long as profit is not your motive and you always include this
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