|Chapter 10. The scriptures–written by men and fixed
There’s no surer way to make an atheist than to get someone to actually read scripture. PZ
The Christian’s Bible is a drug-store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice
changes. . . . During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded
that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church . . . gathered up its halters,
thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it
night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged and burned whole
hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One
does not know whether to laugh or to cry. . . . There are no witches. The witch-text remains;
only the practice has changed. Hell-fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is
gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law
books, but the texts that authorized them remain. Is it not well worthy of note that of all the
multitude of texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made
the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? Mark Twain
Changes in my lifetime.
Although I have lived only a short time, the world has changed enormously. When I
was born, a dark-skinned man would have drunk at a “coloreds only” water fountain in
some states, now a dark-skinned man, Barack Obama, is the President of the United
During my lifetime, laws limiting access to birth control were overturned and birth
control changed from a crime to a right. Similarly, homosexuality has gone from being a
crime and a disease, to a valid alternative lifestyle, with gays and lesbians having the
right to marry in five states and the District of Colombia.
The role of women has changed in my lifetime. I remember it was odd to see women
driving trucks or working in certain jobs. Now women are entering leadership roles in
all areas of life.
Doctors have gone from promoting cigarettes to condemning them. An old ad used to
cigarette! Family physicians, surgeons, diagnosticians, nose and throat specialists,
doctors in every branch of medicine, a total of 113,597 doctors, were asked the
question: ‘What cigarette do you smoke?’ And more of them named Camel as their
smoke than any other cigarette! Three independent research groups found this to be a
fact. You see, doctors too smoke for pleasure. That full Camel flavor is just as appealing
to a doctor’s taste as to yours, that marvelous Camel mildness means just as much to his
throat as to yours.
Carbon-dating methods now allow scientists to estimate with great accuracy the age of
man-made artifacts. Genetic testing has proved the innocence of hundreds of people
wrongfully convicted of crimes, and shown links between the tribes of man.
Telephones have gone from being rotary dialed boxes to mobile devices. Computers
have shrunk from room-sized to pocket sized. The Internet has developed into a
significant source of information and socialization.
When we look back at movies from 50 years ago, they seem quaint and antiquated.
Many of the morals, values and ideas of 50 years ago are out of place today.
The same factor is multiplied when the time period is not fifty years, but thousands of
years. The Torah, Bible and Koran are products of their times. Each was written by
men and is fixed in time. The scriptures reflect the knowledge and values of their
authors, and when they are used for modern guidance they act sort of like a time
machine, inappropriately dragging outdated knowledge and values into the modern
The scriptures, written by men and fixed in time.
The scriptures that define the “people of the book” were written by men and remain
fixed in time. For example, if two thousand years ago, the Bible recorded facts not then
known, there might be reason for inquiry into whether it contains some otherworldly
knowledge. But in fact, two thousand years ago people believed the sun rotated
around the earth and the men who wrote the Bible recorded the belief of their time.
Other stories demonstrate that the Bible’s authors thought the earth is flat like a
pancake. When the scriptures were written, there were no airplanes, no spaceships
and no meteorologists. Flying was the stuff of legend, reserved for characters like
Mohammed and his winged horse. Clouds looked fairly solid from the ground and the
bearded man lived somewhere above them. The Bible says a tall ladder could reach
heaven, and god “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like
grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like
a tent to live in.” Just as one would expect from a book written by men, the earth was
perceived as the center of the universe with the sun circling it. God lived in the sky
above the earth. Very few Americans act as if the earth is the center of the universe or
that god lives above the clouds, yet almost three quarters of them follow a book written
by men who thought that way.
Similarly, in accordance with the knowledge and values of men at the time it was
written, the Bible endorses slavery. The Bible says:
may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you
and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for
life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
* * *
If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she
does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be
redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with
her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he
marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and
marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free,
without any payment of money.
* * *
If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result,
he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two,
since the slave is his property.
The biblical endorsement of slavery is not only found in the Old Testament. It
continues in the New Testament:
respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have
believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers.
Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service
are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.
Perhaps progressive when written, the Bible verses about slavery are abhorrent today.
The Koran similarly endorses slavery. Slavery is now universally condemned.
Religionists would like to ignore the endorsement of slavery in their scriptures,
however, it remains there, a product of the men who wrote the book and the beliefs of
The Bible also endorses human and animal sacrifice. Many people are familiar with the
story of Abraham and his son, found in Genesis 22:1-18. In that story, god supposedly
told Abraham to, “take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the
region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will
tell you about.” At the last minute, the story goes, god let Abraham off the hook and let
him burn a ram instead of his son.
But not all human sacrifice stories in the Bible end up with cooked animals. In the story
of Jephthah, in a trade for a victory in battle, the “hero” agrees to sacrifice the first
thing that comes out of his house on his return. In this case, it is his only child, whom
he grants a reprieve of two months before making the human sacrifice:
passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,
whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from
the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his
hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel
Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but
his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for
her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried,
“Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a
vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”
“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you
promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But
grant me this one request,” she said, “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep
with my friends, because I will never marry.”
“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into
the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to
her father and he did to her as he had vowed.
This story exhibits the fact both that the Bible was written by men and that it is fixed in
time. Human and animal sacrifice are not accepted in modern culture, neither is
treating girls as little better than animals to be sacrificed in the name of god. But
religionists are stuck with these inflexible tales.
Another example is that when the Bible stories were made up, genetics was an
unknown science. So the authors had little trouble having all human life originating with
a single human, Adam, less than ten thousand years ago. Further, the story tellers had
no problem wiping out all humans on earth other than Noah, his three sons and their
spouses, again limiting the gene pool around four thousand years ago. Little did the
authors know that the stories would be disproved by genetics.
The Noah story raises some fun issues. In that story, god, being angry, had no
problem killing all life, including children and animals. But he apparently liked fish,
since they would have been spared in a flood. In addition, Noah took no plants on the
boat, so what happened to the trees? In fact, the oldest dendrochronology (tree ring
dating) now goes back 12,000 years–long before Noah’s supposed flood, and long
before the Bible admits to the earth’s creation. The animals Noah supposedly brought
on his boat included “every creature that moves along the ground . . . and every bird . .
. [and] everything with wings” The authors of the story were unfamiliar with the vast
array of life in the world, such as creatures in distant places like Australia and the
Americas. How did the kangaroo and slow-moving koala get from Australia to the
Middle East? Speaking of slow-moving animals, how did the sloth cross the ocean
from South America? How did Noah collect and house god’s favorite creature (since he
made so many of them) the beetle, of which there are more than 350,000 species?
What provisions were made for the millions of species of microbes–unknown by the
men of that time?
All fun aside, the holy books were written by men and reflect the knowledge and values
of their time. The Torah, Bible and Koran act as a kind of time machine. They drag
forward knowledge and values that belong in the past. Provisions about slavery and
animal sacrifice are selectively ignored, but scriptural sexism, homophobia and
tribalism are alive and well. It is crazy to allow books written years ago and limited by
the knowledge of men of that time, to have so much power over life today.
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