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Chapter Two: Problems with God

Section 1: In the Bible

Contradictions in the Bible do not disprove the existence of God, but they suggest that the Biblical version of God does not exist.

Moses: source to be confirmed

The Bible is a wonderful document, full of colourful characters and events. It's also full of inconsistencies and embarrassing revelations about the nature of the Jewish / Christian God.

2.1a Contradictions and queries

We have seen some of these inconsistencies already. Christians and Jews recognise only one God, but, the Bible itself tells us, Yahweh is only one of several gods at the dawn of time (Chapter One, Section Five). And there is a yawning contradiction between the petty, vengeful God of the New Testament and his later incarnation as the loving Jesus.

This section explores a few more of these discrepancies; anyone with a spare hour or two can easily find others.

At this point we are not trying to prove whether or not God exists. All we are doing is looking at one scripture - the Bible - to see if it is internally consistent. Does the picture it provide of God make sense? We may come to the conclusion that the Bible is waffle, but that does not mean it proves God does not exist.

Start with the muddled creation story in Genesis. In Genesis 1: 24-27 God ("the Gods" in the original Hebrew) creates man and woman on the sixth day after he has created all the other animals. In Chapter 2 , however, God first creates man (Genesis 2:7), then the animals (2:19); finally he creates woman (2:21-22). So which came first - man or the animals? And when did God make woman? Take your pick - and whichever version you choose, you will be right, because the Bible says so.

Later in Genesis (chapters 6 - 8), the story of the Flood has enough holes to sink Noah's Ark long before it was launched. Chapter 6, verse 4 tells us that the world was full of mighty men of reknown. Sounds as if everything was going ok. Then the very next verse tells us that man was wicked and his heart full of evil. Why are we not told what suddenly changed humanity from moral giants to despicable evildoers?

Other questions soon pop up. How did

Problems with God

Chapter One showed us that if there is a God, we cannot be certain about his nature. So let's look at the question from another perspective: Is there a form of god that can exist?

We start by looking at the god described in the Bible and Quran; does the information there support or reject the idea of God? Then we look at general concepts of God and see if they make sense.

2.1: In the Bible
Do inconsistencies in the Bible make it irrelevant?

2.2: The Jesus myth
Biblical evidence suggests that the Son of God never lived

2.3: Other scriptures
What do other scriptures tell us about God?

2.4: Forgotten tongues
Why can God not speak modern languages?

2.5: Male order
God's fondness for men

2.6: Compassion and bloodlust
God claims to be compassionate but frequently causes pain and death

2.7: Disease and disaster
Why do they happen?

2.8: Omniscience and free will
One or the other, not both

2.09: Miracles and prayer
How does God make his presence known?

2.10: Eternal life
Do we really want to live forever?

2.11: Alien beliefs
Do they know God on Betelgeuse?

2.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 3
God the creator?

God does not have to be the creator of the universe; in some religions the world comes first and then the gods apprear.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, however, God is the creator of the universe. How does he do it?

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Noah build a boat without the help of others? How did he gather the animals? What did the animals eat during and after the flood? And how did the animals return home after the waters subsided? (For a closer look at the contradictions and illogicalities in the story of the Flood read How did the koala get to Australia?)

2.1b This is your God speaking

Let's move on to the Ten Commandments. They appear twice in the Bible - in Exodus Chapters 33 -34 and Deuteronomy 5. Dictated by God, they appear to have been thrown together quickly rather than created with some thought (and there are actually fourteen or fifteen commandments depending how you count.)

Because they were written at a time when Yahweh was struggling for control of the Jews, who were still tempted to worship his siblings Asherah and Baal (Chapter One, Section Five), the first commandments (have no other gods, make no idols, bow down to no other gods, don't misuse my name, keep the Sabbath holy) are the equivalent of martial law. Your duty is to me, not to any other gods you might be tempted to worship. In other words, God's primary concern is himself, not humanity; like a human dictator, a Saddam Hussein, an Adolf Hitler, a Kim Jong-Il, this supposedly all-powerful being, is actually deeply insecure and he needs to be constantly reassured that he comes first in his follower's lives.

The remaining commandments are devoted to human morality. Four are admirably short (no killing, adultery, theft or false witness) and two (honour your parents and don't covet your neighbour's possessions) are unnecessarily long. These tell us that God may be perfect, but he's a poor writer and editor and incapable of setting down a simple list of rules.

For those concerned with sexual morality, there is also a surprising omission. Although adultery (where a husband or wife has a sexual partner outside the marriage) is condemned, the commandments do not refer to fornication (where neither partner is married). Does this suggest God approves of pre-marital sex? Christian teenagers of the world, take note!

2.1c This is the divine rear

When Moses collects the Ten Commandments, God grants him a vision of Himself. However, because the view of God's face would be more than a human could stand, the deity offers lucky Moses a glimpse of the divine backside; unfortunately - or fortunately - the Bible does not confirm whether the deity's posterior was covered or bare. This is another strange passage - since God is all-powerful and he appears to others elsewhere in the Bible without scaring them out of their wits, why can he not modify his appearance for Moses?

2.1d Snakes in the grass

Once back in Palestine, the Jews, repeatedly told that they are Yahweh's chosen people, ask him to remove all snakes from the land. God's response is curious. He could simply grant the request - as his follower St Patrick reportedly rid Ireland of snakes centuries later - but he decides not to do so. Nor is he interested in alternatives that would protect the people under his care, such as making snakes venomless or people immune to snake bites. Instead, he tells Moses to make a brass serpent that will cure any man who looks on it after a snake has bitten him. That’s fine for those in the vicinity, but unfortunate for anyone who happens to get bitten on the wrong side of a sand dune. (Numbers 21: 6-9) The Brazen Serpent by Benjamin West

2.1e Make up your mind, Allah!

There are many other such stories in the Old Testament (we look at the New Testament in the next Section). The Quran has fewer inconsistencies, but they still exist. The most glaring examples are the contradictory passages about the Jews. On the one hand, as "people of the book", Jews are as honoured as Muslims (eg The Smoke 44:30-33); on the other hand they are also reviled and described as apes and pigs (eg The Dinner Table 5:60). Although less frequent, there are similar contradictory references to Christians.

Many Christians, Muslims and others are aware of the many contradictions and inconsistencies in their scriptures. They generally respond with complicated explanations, which usually involve the rationalisation "God did it, but it wasn't written down." But such arguments weaken, not strengthen, the case for the Biblical and Quranic God. If scriptures are indeed the word of God, why do they make so many apparent mistakes and require so much explanation? And if God is perfect, why does his personality continually come across as imperfect? Why does he keep contradicting himself? Why does make so many mistakes in his narrative?

It's simple, believers say. The human beings who take down God's word were imperfect and often got it wrong. But that is no excuse. A perfect God would be patient and would help the poor prophet or scribe to get the story right. Yet this does not happen. Ask yourself why.

2.1f The agnostic's best friend

Reading the Bible, an open-minded observer with no preconceptions about religion or the existence of God can only come to the following conclusions:

a. the text is contradictory and frequently inconsistent or inexplicable;
b. the God of the Bible - and Quran - is imperfect, petulant, violent, obsessive and controlling.

These conclusions go on to suggest that

c. the Biblical God exists - but he is not an admirable character; or
d. God may exist - but he is not as described in the Bible; or
e. God does not exist.

It is not surprising that so many rational people begin their journey towards atheism after reading the Old Testament. It is indeed the agnostic's best friend.

In conclusion, contradictions in the Bible do not disprove the existence of God, but they suggest that the Biblical version of God does not exist. The same principle can be applied to the Quran.

Some of the issues in this section were covered in earlier articles on this site: The crumbling Bible and Good news for atheists, which both examine discrepancies in the Old and New Testaments, and In the beginning, which looks at the accounts of the Creation in Genesis.

Moving on

Three choices for further study . . .

Read the Old Testament as history. To understand it in the light of broader events in Palestine in the first millennium BCE, watch this series of videos from the Discovery Channel. It becomes particularly interesting around sections 4,5 and 6.

Review the Bible in detail (or Book of Mormon or Quran), to see its inconsistencies and contradictions.

Read the next chapter on this site on the evidence - or lack of evidence - for Jesus' existence. Chapter Two: Section 2
The Jesus myth

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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