A Theory of Us
 

Philosophy and Religion

 

Christianity and Islam form the basis of the spiritual beliefs of more than half the world's population. Despite their popularity and long histories, there are good reasons to doubt their respective claims to truth. 

 
 
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The moral character of revelation

If god was the author of either the Bible or the Quran, we should expect them to express only the highest morals. While they both contain many examples of morally excellent ideas, these are accompanied by some truly horrendous moral claims.

 

The Bible on Women

Women were created beneath men (Genesis 3:161 Corinthians 11:3), and must submit themselves in obedience to their husbands (Colossians 3:18Ephesians 5:22–24). In times of war, it is morally permissible to subject women to rape (Deuteronomy 21:11–14). They are to learn quietness and submission, and are not allowed to teach or hold any authority over males. If they have faith and love and holiness, they will be saved in the end through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:9–15).

 

The Bible on Hell

Unbelievers are evil (Hebrews 3:12) and suffer from the wrath of god (John 3:36). God sternly warns that the accursed will be cast into the furnaces of hell (Matthew 13:41–42) where they will experience everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9), be tormented with brimstone (Revelation 14:10–11), and suffer eternally (Matthew 25:41–46John 5:28–29). As bad as hell is, god has “closed the eyes” and “deadened the hearts” of some so that they will never believe in him (John 12:37–412 Corinthians 4:4).  

 
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The Bible on Death

Among the list of people whose deaths are required, the Bible tells us to execute all homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), adulterers (Deuteronomy 22:22Leviticus 20:10), Sabbath breakers (Exodus 35:2), and blasphemers (Leviticus 24:16). It even goes so far as to demand the deaths of any virginal women who are engaged to be married and are raped in a city (Deuteronomy 22:23–25).

 
 
 
 
 

...it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the Word of God.

—Thomas Paine
1793

 
 
 

The Quran on Women

Men hold authority over women, for women were created a degree below men (4:34). They are to remain faithful and chaste, keep their gaze lowered, cover themselves in public, and avoid stamping their feet (lest their ankles and legs be revealed; 24:31). A woman’s value as a witness is half that of a man’s (for recording debts, at least; 2:282), and they may inherit only half of what a man is (4:11). Menstruating women should remain separate for the length of their menstruation (2:222), but at all other times may be used for sex (2:223). Capturing women as sex slaves during times of war is also permissible (33:50).

The Quran on Disbelief

Nothing is worse in the sight of god than those who do not believe in him (8:556:21). Not only are unbelievers liars (43:20) who should be kept away from places of worship (9:28), to god they are quite literally the worst of all people (98:630:45) and are unfit for friendship (5:519:234:89). Even most Jews and Christians (who are given special recognition in the Quran as “people of the book”) live terrible lives (5:59). Though god despises unbelief, he has set a seal upon the hearts of some people so that they will never believe in the truth of Islam (2:6–714:439:23).

The Quran on Hell 

Hell is a place of eternal punishment and torture with fire (4:144:168–1695:36–37). Those who reject god and “the revelations” will have yokes placed around their necks and will be dragged through boiling liquid while being taunted (40:70–76). They will have their skin consumed by fire, whereupon it will be replaced and then burned off again so that they may “taste the torment” (4:56). The inhabitants of hell will be made to drink boiling water (6:70) and will not be able to drive off the fire from their faces and backs (21:39). They will wear clothing made of fire, their skin and organs will melt, and they will be impaled upon iron hooks (22:19–22).

 
 

A ≠ B ≠ C

 

The story of the discovery of the empty tomb...

The Bible does not appear to be a self-consistent text. According to accounts it sets forward, for example, Jesus's body was taken down following his crucifixion and placed in a sealed tomb. Sometime thereafter, a group of women went to his body in order to anoint it with spices. Who went? It was either Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1); Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1); an unspecified group of women (Luke 24:1); or Mary Magdalene all by herself (John 20:1).

When whoever it was that went there got to the tomb, which had either been left guarded (Matthew 28:4) or unguarded (the three other Gospels), they found either that the stone covering the entrance had been rolled away already (Mark 16:4Luke 24:2John 20:1), or that there was an angel there to roll it away for them (Matthew 28:2). In the reports given in Matthew and Mark (Mark 16:5) there was a single angel waiting at the tomb. However, in Luke there was two (Luke 24:4), and in John there was none.

For those Gospels in which there were angels, the women were either told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Mark 16:7), to tell the disciples simply that Jesus had risen (Matthew 28:7), or just to remember what Jesus had told them while they were in Galilee (Luke 24:6–7). Since there were no angels in the Gospel of John to issue instructions or give reminders, the Gospel has Mary Magdalene go on her own initiative to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty (John 20:2).

Option A

 

Mary Magdalene + another Mary

 

Unguarded

 

Stone pre-rolled


 

Single angel present

 

Tell disciples Jesus would meet them in Galilee

 

Option B

 

Mary Magdalene + Mary, mother of James + Salome

 

Guarded

 

Angel to roll away stone

 

Two angels present

 

Tell disciples Jesus had risen

Option C

 

Mary Magdalene
 

 

 

 

 

 

No angel(s) present

 

Remember what Jesus said

 
 

The Quran and contradictions...

Egypt's Pharaoh (of Exodus fame) was both drowned (17:102–103) and not drowned (10:90–92),

Drinking alcohol is permitted (16:67) and not permitted (5:90),

Muhammad was the first Muslim (39:12) and Moses was the first Muslim (7:143),

God sends people astray from the message of Islam (17:97) and does not send people astray from the message of Islam (9:115).

It is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be

—Aristotle

 
 

The

structure

of

revelation

The Bible’s New Testament consists of a series of reports and letters detailing both the life of Jesus and important religious information.

Unfortunately, stringing together a collection of writings from different authors addressed to different people, about varying topics and themes, and without any scene-setting or introduction, doesn't necessarily result in the most systematic, coherent, and clear picture of what god allegedly wants from us. Indeed, as the Bible itself shows, it can produce the very opposite.

The Quran runs into the same problem. The book is composed of chapters called suras, yet these are not arranged in any meaningful order, such as by topic or chronologically from earliest to latest, but (with the exception of the very first sura) from longest to shortest.

This makes reading the Quran feel a lot like you've just walked in on a conversation halfway done between two people you don’t know, neither of whom bothers to stop and run you up to speed, and which flips randomly between different topics. It's rather hard to believe god would have wanted something like this. 

The 111th sura provides a good illustration of just how bewildering reading the Quran can be. Being one of the shortest in length, it appears without any context towards its end. Here is what it says:

 
 

111:1 The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish.

111:2 His wealth and gains will not exempt him.

111:3 He will be plunged in flaming Fire,

111:4 And his wife, the wood-carrier,

111:5 Will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre.

 
 
 

So what do we learn? His worldly demise aside, that some man we don't know and his wife were condemned to hell for doing something we're not told about. That’s it. End sura.

Who was Abu Lahab in fact? We know from other sources that he was Muhammad's uncle. His crime was failing to believe that Muhammad carried a special message from god. 

Regardless, the point here isn't so much what the Quran says as how it says it. Would any being wanting to be understood and convey important truths do so in such a contextless and terse manner?

 
 
 
 
 

The story behind revelation

As is widely known, the Gospels of the New Testament were not written by anyone who knew Jesus personally, but by unknown authors who wrote at least a couple of generations after Jesus died. While the Gospels all have names—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—these were people who were at one time mistakenly thought to been the authors. (Since we don’t have anything else to call them by, those names remained as a historical quirk.)

Whoever actually wrote the Gospels, their original writings did not form the basis of what is in the Bible. What did make it through were copies of the originals that were produced sometime later. Unfortunately, not only do all of them contain copy-errors (mostly harmless, but in some cases significant mistakes), it appears that scribes sometimes took it upon themselves to make additions to what they were copying.

The story in the Gospel of John (7:53–8:11) of Jesus saving the life of an adulterous woman (by proclaiming to those who would kill her that those without sin should cast the first stone) is one such example. Heart-warming as it is, this story doesn't exist in the earliest known copies of the Gospel. At some point, someone just added it in.

Even more of a problem is the fact that there are whole letters included in the New Testament that are known to be forgeries. For reasons ranging from considerations of style and content to forensic analysis of the language used, considerable scholarly agreement exists that Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Thessalonians were not written by the Apostle Paul, despite all alleging to have been.

 

 

If Christianity is right, it is necessary to believe that Jesus came to Earth to educate the world about god and save humanity from its sins without writing a single word of it down. Others would end up doing this on his behalf, but only anonymously, generations after he died, and entirely on the basis of what they had heard about him. 

The New Testament would draw these different accounts together in one place, but would be compiled from copies of those authors' original writings that included both errors and whole stories that scribes decided to insert along the way.

Stranger still, whole letters would end up making their way into the Bible that were forged so as to appear to be written by someone who did not write them. 

Though precious to the hearts and minds of billions of people, nothing about this is easy to believe for a spiritual mission of divine and everlasting importance.