Why do you trust a science book, but not the bible?
It may surprise you to learn that I have often become embroiled, on twitter and face to face, in debates about science versus religion, evolution versus creationism and the existence or non existence of “god” or “gods” in general.
If the conversation doesn’t descend into name calling or theistic salivation at the prospect of me facing eternal torture for the crime of remaining unconvinced, it may at last come to rest on the nature of the evidence we are supposed to use to determine the facts of the matter.
I point out that I try to only act on ideas for which there is evidence while they act on ideas that were written down for them from 600 to 8000 years ago.
I think the question hinges on the idea that, superficially, I get a lot of information from books. What makes my many books better than their single book?
The earth as an archipelago.
The questioner sees books as the source of facts rather than, as I see them, merely a record of facts as they are known at this point in time.
To the “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” crowd this seems back to front, because everything that they believe in comes from the bible and if it’s in that book it must be true.
If they think that way, the logic seems to go, then everyone must think that way. Therefore, atheists and scientists must think of their science books as “Darwin (or whoever) said it, I believe it, that settles it”.
They want to believe that there is a single science book, or collection of books that is to rationalists what the bible is to Christians.
That is to say: A foundational document laying down the dogma and operations for a way of life.
This is an example of a kind of misunderstanding that theists commonly have.
Once you have made the initial decision to disregard factual information and just believe whatever you want to believe it’s very easy to continue piling error upon error by assuming that is what everyone else has done – i.e. picked a side and stopped thinking about it.
Religious books are written once and intended to last forever. They are written to direct people towards a particular world-view, usually something along the lines of
there is a god
all the other gods are dicks or are not even real
this god made everything, including you, the reader, the laws of logic, fish, etc.
this god is in need of constant affirmation and submission from the intelligences (and, apparently, even the rocks) that it has created
it demands this affirmation and submission from us on pain of eternal punishment to be carried out in a place it has especially made for the purpose.
This nauseating and pointless message is usually interleaved with
stern lessons about diet and sex
contradictory or impossible instructions
the defining of normal human desires and behaviours as sinful.
Sin is a word that
enables us to attach our primal reactions to harmful or dangerous behaviour to behaviours that don’t necessarily harm anyone
distorts our understanding of good and bad enough to enable us to carry out actions we would otherwise see as unacceptable such as stoning, mutilating children or discriminating against random groups of people in general
is anything god says it is. (in reality it’s anything the man (it’s usually a man) writing the book says it is)
This man read a book, and look what happened to him.
Coincidentally, this world-view once adopted enables huge groups of people to be controlled by small groups of people, to the benefit of those small groups.
I can see my house from here!
Each religion has one or more of these books, the number and canonicity of which being determined by whichever putative earthly representative has the most firepower.
New books are rarely added and when they are they usually signify a split in the congregation.
Christians naturally accept the New Testament as a continuation of the old. The OT still serves as main holy book for adherents to Judaism and those of the Jewish faith in general have proved reluctant to accept the New Testament for anything more than its curiosity value.
When Mohammed cheekily released his sequel, the final Testament known as the Qu’ran, proclaiming it as literally the summation of god’s message to his people, Christians, unsurprisingly, were as keen on this addition as the Jews had been about any of the christian gospels.
There is, sadly, no objective way to tell which of these books is correct, if any.
Science, on the other hand, is not itself dependent on books. Science books are one of the results of science, not the source.
A scientist, yesterday.
Science does not come to conclusions about reality based on the contents of a book or books, it bases them on the results of carefully conducted experiments and observations.
The best any particular science book can hope to be is a summary of the most recent consensus, subject to change at a moment’s notice in light of new evidence and doomed to greater irrelevance with each and every dawn.
The “information” contained in the bible is final and we are expected to take it to be true as given. There is no external evidence that it’s contents are correct except in the most trivial ways. Some of the cities and historical characters mentioned do or did in fact exist, although not as many as you might think and not necessarily in the way they are said to in the bible. Much of the historical information has been seen to be false or lacking in external verification.
Our experience of the real world suggests in fact that most of the bible is false. The creation account in genesis is one example of a primitive myth made up by a group of ancient people, possibly future shocked by the invention of cooking or wheelbarrows, to give some context to their daily experiences.
The biblical equivalent of the International Space Station.
When we test the claims made in those chapters against our observations of the real world it quickly becomes clear that not one part of it stands up.
Yet the book remains, translated, copied, bowdlerised before that word was invented, in equal parts ambiguous and self contradicting, with huge chunks being either disregarded or obsessed on by believers depending on their interpretation, prejudice or whim.
In contrast there are very few science books that remain current for more than a decade. Not necessarily because they have been found to contain errors, more often because they rapidly become incomplete as new discoveries and refinements are completed.
When Isaac Newton formulated his laws of motion and gravity he and his successors may have felt that the issue of motion was more or less settled. The dual hammer blows given to this conceit by quantum physics on the one hand and special and general relativity on the other put paid to that complacent notion.
What is sometimes less heavily emphasised though is that at a particular level, Newton’s laws work just fine. If we are talking about billiard balls or railway trains or pendulums or weights dropped from clock towers Newton’s laws of motion will give an answer that is accurate for most practical purposes.
It is only when we start to get into billiard balls the size of planets or travelling near the speed of light or when we consider the stuff billiard balls, and us, are made of, tiny bits of not-stuff like electron fogs and such like, that Newton’s laws break down.
Spacey, futuristic looking, billiards.
So, to answer the question “Why do I trust a science book but I don’t trust the bible?” concisely, we don’t, and we don’t have to. We can perform experiments and make observations that either confirm, deny or modify the claims or assertions the book contains.
As for not trusting the bible, why would I trust a book that has been manifestly assembled with the purpose of trapping humanity in a mode of thought that originates with people who kept slaves, despite having been enslaved, who persecuted despite themselves having been persecuted, that reduces women to the status of property, that makes involuntary and ubiquitous emotions like lust punishable by death and damnation?
Why trust a book that instructs people to be grateful to an allegedly all powerful being that looks inside their mind to check if they are committing a thought crime, and not just to believe in all this against the evidence as a mere abstract concept but to submit to, and worship the sadistic concentration camp commandant-like being who put us in this awful predicament?
William Blake talked about “Mind forg’d manacles”.
Who in their right mind and given the choice would ever put them on?
A library. Try one today!