Is the Old Testament Trustworthy?
In this, the first of a series of articles that investigate the truth claims of the Bible, some of the extraordinary claims of the book of Genesis, are evaluated. Part two will address the reliability of the New Testament, and this will be followed by an investigation into the various other claims of truth and wisdom attributed to the Bible.
Do the truth claims of the Bible stack up against what can be proven empirically? Any honest evaluation of source material has to look at, among other things, the degree to which it is consistently accurate. If a physics textbook listed the speed of light as 768 miles per hour, as opposed to 186,242 miles per second, one might assume this is an honest mistake. Clearly wrong, but it could be an honest mistake as one is the speed of sound, and one is the actual speed of light. Both might be commonly referred to in a physics text. But if the book consistently makes mistakes of this nature, then the credibility of the entire text is called into question. One may point to all the correct answers in the same text, but a reference book does not have the luxury of being right much of the time. It must be consistently accurate. Being correct is especially important when the book is believed by so many to be a special book, unlike any other, and written by the creator of the universe to be perfect in every way.
Religious believers point out what the Bible got right, much of which is debatable, but it is rare indeed for them to point out the errors in the Bible. And it is improbable that those who make a living from religion are unaware of these shortcomings. Addressed here is what the Bible seems to have gotten wrong. Just a few of the most notable examples are chosen for two reasons. First, the easily discernible way in which these claims are disproven, empirically and undeniably, and second, the degree to which these claims are wrong, sometimes in orders of magnitude. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus only on the first book of the Old Testament.
On the age of the universe, a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis indicates an age for the earth somewhere in the range of six thousand years. This was the accepted Church position for a very long time and is believed by many fundamentalist Christians to this day. Scientific evidence has proven that the earth is over 4.5 billion years old, and the universe itself around 13.7 billion years old. This means that if one takes the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation myth, then science must not only be wrong but wrong by a significant amount. Science has estimated the universe at 2,283,333 times older than the creation myth of the Bible in Genesis would lead us to believe. Such a literal interpretation is advocated by organizations such as Answers in Genesis, sponsor of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. This position is like estimating the distance from Washington DC to Singapore (where I sit as I write this article) is less than half a mile rather than the actual 9,664. The scientific evidence is quite clear and persuasive on this subject. Not the least of the problems associated with the views held by young-earth creationists is that archaeological evidence exists for human civilization prior to the creation of the universe itself if God really did create the cosmos only just over six thousand years ago.
On human biology, the Bible offers many cases in which people like Adam (lived 930 years), Methuselah (lived 969 years), Noah (lived 950 years), and a great many others lived hundreds of years. We now know that this is not true according to all our understanding of natural laws and biology. It is, in fact, very rare live beyond 100 years of age even though average life spans have increased by 30 percent just since the 1900’s. And there is no reason to believe that anyone has ever lived well beyond that age, now or during Biblical times. The longest-lived human that we have reliable records of is Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122.
The order of creation in Genesis is problematic as well. According to Genesis 1, God created plant life before the Sun. This is something that a supernatural creator of the universe could cause to occur if He has the power to create the universe ex nihilo. Based on the paucity of reliable evidence in our physical world, however, it seems premature to assume the validity of supernatural claims of any sort. It seems there is really not enough evidence found within the Bible to lead a skeptical observer to accept the order of creation in Genesis. All available evidence would indicate that not only did the stars come long before any form of life, including plants, but the simple necessity of photosynthesis would also require that the Sun come before plants.
The question begging to be asked is this. What is more likely: That the seemingly specious claims of the Bible are more accurate than modern science, or that these are largely, perhaps wholly, apocryphal stories written by superstitious people at a time when better information was not to be had? When we consider that the Bible was written over many hundred years, at a time and by a people “…for whom for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.” to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris, the evidence seems clearly stacked against the concept of biblical inerrancy.