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Requiring Interpretation Proves A Religion False

April 10, 2009

The Bible, Koran, Torah, Book of Mormon, and several others can be interpreted in such a way that thousands of sects have branched out from them. This fact, to me, is a perfect example for why these weren’t written or inspired by the creator of all things. This is the major problem with false religions in general. If a god has really inspired their book then he would have inspired them to write it in such a way that it would be true for all people and ages.

The range of how these texts can be read can lead one group of people to complete non-violence or to jihadists and the KKK. If these people can justify all kinds of cruelty through a misinterpretation then it was not written by a benevolent, omniscient, universe creating skyhook. A god who knows all things; what has happened, what is happening, what will happen, and shapes how the future occurs would be able to word a book more perfectly than those available. It would explain the reasons for why things were disallowed in detail enough to show the perfect wisdom of such actions. Instead we have “don’t do this, if someone does do it, kill them” and then later in the book it says “don’t kill anyone”.

If a book were really the will of a perfect mind then it could be five or ten thousand pages and people would still flock to it. Perfect wisdom would command such a thing out an individual. A book written by a god would not be open to interpretation, every dilemma we might face would be in the book somehow and there would be no contradictions. Anyone who read it would understand it so perfectly that the message wouldn’t be lost even when translated to another language, no matter the level of the reader’s intelligence or the time period in which the reader lives. If future predictions were made they would be in great detail with no ambiguity. I would expect nothing but the best explanation from something that wants to impose it’s own morality on another being and this is not what we have from any of the major texts.

Now this argument doesn’t rule out the possibility that a god exists, which was not my intent for this post anyway. My point is: either all of these gods are less intelligent than the average atheist, or these scriptures are not the divinely inspired word of supreme intelligence. If I had to pick one, I would prefer a disinterested god over one of these imbeciles. Thankfully, I can pick none.

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27 Comments
  1. April 10, 2009 7:00 am

    That always made me wonder. If it really is the perfect word of an omnipotent, omniscient being, why would interpretation be necessary? Why would there be translation difficulties? Why wouldn’t everyone, upon reading it, immediately be converted to worshipping properly? If you’re omnipotent, surely you can write a perfect document.

  2. April 10, 2009 7:06 am

    Nice blog Sisyphus – Couldn’t agree more – Since I posted the “Divine Evidence Laws” – NO holy book has come close to testing them! – http://tinyurl.com/dbzpdk

    • September 13, 2009 2:51 pm

      That’s because none of your proposed Laws account for man’s free will, as I just noted on your site.

      -Sirius Knott

      • September 13, 2009 8:07 pm

        I think you’d have to establish free will exists first.

  3. April 10, 2009 7:20 am

    This may sound silly, but the hordes of Christians on Reddit who automatically down-vote anything that contradicts their silly belief system has pissed me off so much that I make a point of up-voting atheist Reddits at least weekly. This post was a good example because it started getting down-voted as soon as you sent it to Reddit. I don’t even bother with Digg any more because of this.

    • April 10, 2009 7:29 am

      While I do normally get down-voted on Reddit, this post, I still get a lot of views. I have a fairly good network on Digg and I get some good diggs there but I fear most of them don’t actually read the article and are just power digging. I might be wrong though.

    • April 10, 2009 8:00 am

      That is why I gave up on Reddit…plus the comments it produces started to become trolls more often. It worked for traffic and comments, just not the kind I wanted.

  4. April 10, 2009 8:08 am

    Great topic btw. Surely a perfect god would not leave so much to chance realizing that it takes more faith to trust the word of another human than it would to believe in a creator. This mere fact renders all religion mute in my mind. How can I possibly trust the intentions of a group of men who compile a book and say it is the unquestionable word of god? Because other men tell me to trust those men? Sorry, I am not that gullible.

  5. April 10, 2009 8:24 am

    Good blog, SF. You might be interested in a very similar blog I wrote a while back, which still is one of my personal favs as well as one of my most popular, entitled Science Converges, Religion Diverges.

  6. April 10, 2009 10:53 am

    Not only that, but god supposedly only inspired his word in one particular language without providing any translations. How many of us really want to learn Hebrew and Greek or Arabic to read god’s original words? Really? And the book of Mormon was supposedly originally written in “reformed Egyptian” which is a completely bull$hit language – which tells you something about that book.

  7. Joel permalink
    April 10, 2009 11:52 am

    I think I mostly agree with you: the sort of truth many religious organizations claim to spread is a logical impossibility. However, I don’t think it is in the nature of religions: Russel & Whitehead seem to have suffered from a very similar sort of wrong-headedness when writing their Principia (or, for that matter, Newton when he wrote his).

    What a lot of absolutists miss, and perhaps you have too, is that interpretation is central to human nature. Our universe itself can be interpreted in many ways, leading some to relativistic physics and others to quantum mechanics. This does not prove physics false, it just points to the process by which we develop understanding.

  8. April 10, 2009 12:00 pm

    Obviously, I agree. But then “revealed religion” is not really religion at all, from an ancient polytheistic perspective. Religion is paying proper devotion to the gods, not trying to figure out what they want you to do or not do. Revealed religions typically embrace fear of the divine, which, as the Pagan Romans understood well enough, is simply superstition.

  9. April 10, 2009 8:06 pm

    One step further, if god is all powerful etc. why would he need a book? Shouldn’t you just be born with the knowledge, understanding and worship of that god? Why should we need to even learn about this being?

  10. allumette permalink
    April 11, 2009 4:11 am

    At the risk of being lynched by Bible-only Christians – Christianity didn’t come from the Bible. The Bible came from Christianity. So…God didn’t need a book. We did.

  11. Richard T permalink
    April 12, 2009 7:38 am

    So now you know why the roman catholic church fought against having the bible translated from latin – to avoid people reading it for themselves and then thinking for themselves. They introduced the holy inquisition for the same reason namely to enforce conformity with the church’s teachings and to put to death those who refused to conform.

  12. April 14, 2009 12:45 am

    With regards to the Bible, it’s funny how ‘the simple word of God’ brought to all people often seems to require bible-studies and about a library of interpretive texts and commentary to truly understand. I thought Christianity was supposed to be for the common folk.

  13. June 29, 2009 5:18 pm

    Well with any truth, people wish to deny it, so it only makes sense that there are different denominations and sects.

    There are essentially many different denominations to the Theory of Evolution, does that prove its inaccuracy as well?

  14. Ray permalink
    June 29, 2009 8:18 pm

    Garrett:

    Well with any truth, people wish to deny it, so it only makes sense that there are different denominations and sects.

    What a completely nonsensical statement. You’re actually saying that all the different religious denominations are denying the “truth” of the Bible, in case you didn’t notice.

    There are essentially many different denominations to the Theory of Evolution, does that prove its inaccuracy as well?

    Nice try. You know very well that a scientific theory does not claim to be the divinely revealed, eternally valid, word of the creator of the universe. If you want to be taken seriously, you’d better come up with a less laughable argument. To speak of “denominations” in this context shows complete ignorance at best, and malevolent intellectual dishonesty at worst.

  15. June 29, 2009 8:53 pm

    You’re actually saying that all the different religious denominations are denying the “truth” of the Bible, in case you didn’t notice.

    Well unfortunatelly, many do. They try to make their own interpretations. I am guilty of this too.

    You know very well that a scientific theory does not claim to be the divinely revealed, eternally valid, word of the creator of the universe.

    Well it doesn’t matter in this case.

    To speak of “denominations” in this context shows complete ignorance at best, and malevolent intellectual dishonesty at worst.M

    Well the different types of theories may as well be “denominations”. Call it whatever you want, but there are different groups, which was what I was trying to point out.

  16. Ray permalink
    June 29, 2009 9:31 pm

    Garrett: Then what, in your opinion, is the truth? And which human does not make his/her “own interpretations”? You seem to be saying that the Bible does proclaim the truth but basically nobody “interprets” it the right way. To me, that makes the whole thing pretty meaningless. And so we get back to what this blog post demonstrates.

    Well it doesn’t matter in this case.

    Without specifying why, that statement is vacuous. Either you’re copping out of your original claim or you’re employing the good old fallacy of Special Pleading. Either way, you’ve just blasted your earlier statement to shreds.

    Call it whatever you want, but there are different groups […]

    I’m not sure you know what you mean by “different groups”. Modern evolutionary synthesis is a pretty much standard framework that provides the basis for practically all scientists’ research. As with any scientific theory, there may be elements that need to be expanded, details that need to be revised when new evidence comes up, etc. That fact in no way invalidates the theory (and facts — make sure you read the previously linked article, for your own good) as such. This is what makes the scientific method honest, as opposed to simply claiming that words written by persons via “divine inspiration” (whatever that’s really supposed to mean) remain the unchallengeable truth forever, slap-bam-end-of-discussion. See the difference?

  17. duhsciple permalink
    July 7, 2009 1:46 pm

    You wrote: If a god has really inspired their book then he would have inspired them to write it in such a way that it would be true for all people and ages.

    I wonder: Why would a god “have to” to this?

    • July 9, 2009 12:16 am

      I think Ray pretty much nailed it, but your question just reminded me of a discussion I’ve had many times with theists – It’s WHO a person’s God is that matters, I think, at this point, more than whether they believe in God or not. The thing is, you’re right – a god wouldn’t ‘have to’ make sure that everyone would be able to read and understand his/her ‘holy book’, but the idea of a loving God who wants everyone to party with him in heaven and NOT burn eternally in hell for their temporary ‘transgressions ‘on earth (i.e. the God I learned about as a Christian) and a God who doesn’t make sure those very important things are clear to all he supposedly created, in love, isn’t a loving or a good God. That’s a God setting people up for failure, and finding pleasure in it too.

  18. Ray permalink
    July 8, 2009 10:32 am

    duhsciple:

    You wrote: If a god has really inspired their book then he would have inspired them to write it in such a way that it would be true for all people and ages.

    I wonder: Why would a god “have to” to this?

    You’re right, there’s no way of determining what a god would want/have to do, if he/she/it existed. But I’d say that if we grant the premise of a god who intends to make his will known to humanity via inspired writings, it is reasonable to expect him to formulate things in a way so that the message reaches his whole target audience and will be understood unambiguously, independent of age and culture. It seems strange that a god characterized by ominscience (such as the Christian concept of God) seems unable to do this, and that is one of the issues skeptics have with the claim that the Bible is the divinely inspired “Word of God”. It’s plainly inconsistent with the concept of a perfect Being that it would succumb to the pettiness of catering to only a small part of its “children” in a relatively short timespan. God would also be aware of the fact that this would cause countless disagreements, splintering his followers up into countless sects and movements and a whole lot of trouble, as can be witnessed to this day.

    A somewhat contrived analogy to illustrate my point: If I were to draft a modern constitution for a democracy, I’d do my best to formulate its principles in a way that leaves as little room for future guesswork or interpretation as is possible. If I intend it to be universally valid for all subjects of my nation, I’d make damn sure that everyone — regardless of regional or cultural peculiarities — would understand it. I’d try to make it as timeless as possible. In practice, that means the formulations will be of a more abstract nature so that the contents will not be bound to a certain age or cultural setting. If we look at some good examples of real-world constitutions, we find that they actually do a better job of reaching these goals than the Bible. If mere mortals are capable of this, then the question comes up: Why can’t a supernatural entity endowed with infinite wisdom?

  19. duhsciple permalink
    July 9, 2009 11:40 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses.

    Agreed on WHO god/God is matters a lot.

    Also appreciate the critiques of perfect, omniscient, and petty depictions.

    Re: constitution analogy. Notice that as time goes on, in terms of the American constitution, there are issues today that were not anticipated when it was written. And there are many contesting interpretations as to how to apply the constitution to these matters. And our current societal/cultural context impacts every interpretation.

    Re: Word of God. I am a person of faith, and I find that the Word of God is dynamic, not static. The Hellenistic concepts of perfect, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, omni-anything I find unhelpful, even damaging, to a contemporary life-giving understanding of Word. An authentic Word breaks forth into human existence, bringing forth goodness, justice, love and mercy. And, as a matter of fact, I see atheist arguments here as a helpful corrective, and perhaps controversially, Word bearing :)

    My bottom line… let’s move away from Newtonian (modern and mechanistic worldview) toward a theism/atheism that embraces mystery. Regardless of which side of the faith divide you find yourself, I hope we can recapture a sense of awe. Speaking from the faith side of the divide, I think we’ve lost this.

    Please forgive the rambling… shalom!

    • Ray permalink
      July 9, 2009 1:34 pm

      I anticipated that objection regarding the constitution analogy :) What you say is true, but keep in mind that I did emphasize that at least the attempt was made to keep it as universally applicable as possible (in contrast with the Bible). The point remains that if humans can do a relatively good job with that, then one should really expect much more from a deity. Why doesn’t God at least “update” his scriptures every couple of centuries to keep up with increasingly complex social issues? Surely that would not be beyond him?

      The Hellenistic concepts of perfect, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, omni-anything I find unhelpful, even damaging, to a contemporary life-giving understanding of Word.

      That’s an interesting point, much in the vein of what I hear often, and this is part of a greater problem that’s probably been my earliest issue with religion (as a child, long before I had the “intellectual equipment” to consciously call myself an atheist):

      Is God all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, all-forgiving, etc. or isn’t he?

      It’s really simple, either he is or he isn’t. Religious people often can’t seem to make up their minds about this, or qualify God’s “perfection” (to summarize the “omni-” qualities) using arguments and logic that my brain can’t handle. It may sound simplistic, and the fear of appearing simplistic is probably what keeps many Christians who “battle with the ‘difficult’ parts of faith” from coming to a consequential conclusion, but you can’t have it both ways.

      A truly all-forgiving God can’t send souls to Hell under any circumstances. A truly omnipotent God does have the power to prevent suffering, murder, rape, genocide, etc.; a truly all-loving and just God would therefore make sure these things don’t happen. The combination of true omniscience and omnipotence in a God is not compatible with individual free will (which brings down the whole concept of humans having the choice to do God’s will or not, including various consequences).

      Everything would be the will of God. If the universe is governed by an omnipresent being, there is no room for anything else, God would be everything, which would more or less result in what’s known as pantheism in the West or Eastern atheistic philosophies (by their own definition not religions) such as Advaita Vedanta or original hard-core Zen, for example. Clearly a complete negation of the concept of an independent (rather limited) divine entity with a suspiciously human personality that interferes in worldly/human affairs, such as we find in most mainstream religions. Incidentally, to then speak of “governing the universe” makes no sense anymore, since that implies a plurality of entities. In fact, to speak of any distinction between the divine and the mundane would be completely redundant. This line of thought is nothing new, many individuals (often forced to do so under the guise of orthodox religion) have postulated this in various forms over the centuries (see Plotinus, Spinoza, Meister Eckhard, Shankara, Huang Po, to name a few).

      If, on the other hand, God is not really, completely and truly all-powerful,-present, and -knowing, the question comes up: Why bother with such a limited being? Where did it come from? Who/what (if anything) governs the space where a non-omnipresent god is not? Et cetera.. For those of us who are interested in the authentic nature of reality (whatever it is), such a god would not be particularly impressive, even if his existence could be proved.

      So either of these options poses a “little” problem to anyone trying to justify or come to grips with a theistic view of reality.

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  1. Requiring Interpretation Proves A Religion False « The Sisyphus … | My Digital Ebook
  2. Why the Need for Interpretation Does NOT Prove a Religion False « DefendingGenesis.org

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