Another argument that is made to demonstrate the Bible’s divine inspiration is the argument from consistency, which goes something like this:
It [the Bible] is truly an amazingly consistent document. The messages of approximately 40 different writers of the 66 books of the Bible, written over 1,500 years, in three different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—God’s plan of salvation from sin won for the whole world by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of this book.
But is a miracle the only possible explanation for this consistency? Or is it possible that such a story could develop over time?
While it’s probably ill-advised to tell a creationist that evolution also explains the origin of his religion, evolution provides us with one of the best metaphors for explaining how complex religious stories might arise over time.
In his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, the infamous Richard Dawkins coins the (now famous) term “meme,” which is just an idea or concept that gets passed around and becomes subject to evolutionary forces. (His original intent was to show that genes are not the only things that evolve. But the meme, ironically, became a meme unto itself, evolving into internet memes and the new science of memetics).
In short, if an idea or concept is useful (like language, or instructions for catching food), or interesting (like a funny story), or has some explanatory value (like how the world came to be), it tends to get repeated. When these ideas are repeated, they are like living organisms making copies of themselves.
Memes are similar to genes in that the most useful ones will generally get copied more often. As they are copied, their content is inherited, they face competition, and they may adapt to changing conditions. When a gene or meme reproduces more rapidly than others, it is considered more fit.
However, unlike biological evolution, memes do not derive their adaptations from small random changes, their changes are usually intentional.
The Gospel of James (T. Kirk)
Let’s use Star Trek as a modern example of how a cultural meme might evolve.
The “Star Trek meme” began in the 1960s inside the head of Gene Roddenberry. His idea for the teleplay faced competition from other shows, but was selected because it was believed it would have more mass appeal. This new meme quickly copied itself with the help of the story-retelling medium of television.
Over the years, the story has evolved in the minds of many writers, artists, directors, and fans. The core themes remain the same, and the characters, philosophies, and technologies became more flushed out. Gene Roddenberry’s idea has spawned over 726 episodes, a dozen movies, hundreds of characters, and thousands of books.
We might even go so far as to say that:
Star Trek is truly an amazingly consistent story. The messages of hundreds of different writers, writing over 50 years, in many different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—exploring strange new worlds, going where no one has gone before, while adhering to Federation law and the prime directive. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of Star Trek.
Well… obviously Star Trek is no miracle, nor is it divinely inspired, but it does show how one simple idea can grow into a highly complex story with consistent themes. Is it possible that religious stories might also do likewise?
[Note: Some non-Trekkies have argued that Star Trek contains contradictions, errors, and inconsistencies, but I can assure you that all of these issues have been explained away by faithful Trekkie apologists.]
The Evolution of Religion
Like Star Trek, Christianity also began with a small cult following. But let’s go all the way back to the beginning and consider the possible evolution of God himself.
From its earliest days, “The God meme” (if you will) has been under attack, not only from other religions, but also the idea of God in general. And in nature, when an organism faces threats, it must adapt or risk extinction. The God meme may have undergone a similar process of refinement and adaptation.
While the idea of God provided an explanation for how everything came to be, the idea wasn’t without its problems.
For example, when the idea of God was first suggested, people may have asked, “Why can’t we see God?” There may have been many answers, but the most effective explanations — those that worked well enough to get repeated — were naturally selected. In this case, the best defensive answers were, “Because he’s invisible” and “If you saw him, it would kill you.”
Satisfied with these answers, people went on to ask, “Well… if we can’t see him, can you have him lift that rock? Or do something else to prove he’s really here?” And again, the best defensive answer became, “God’s creation should be enough evidence, and God desires that you believe with no more evidence than this.”
After following God for some time, people noticed another problem, and asked, “Why does God treat us the same as the non-believers? We both suffer and prosper equally.” The story of Job answers this question, essentially saying, “Never question the meme! It knows better than you, so just believe.”
When it came to competition, the meme said, “You should kill anyone who tries to introduce foreign memes. If you continue to believe in this meme, good things will happen, but if you believe in other memes, horrific things will happen!”
And so the meme gradually increased its fitness, by 1) providing non-falsifiable answers, 2) discouraging questions, 3) eliminating the competition, and 4) offering a slew of promises and threats.
By far, the greatest adaptation to the God meme was Jesus, who took a primarily Jewish religion and made it accessible and applicable to everyone. Christianity also brought with it powerful new threats and promises, and commandments to spread this updated meme:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
~ Mark 16:15
For mellina, the authors of the Bible built upon the foundations others had laid. They were able to do this because they all spoke the same language (mostly Hebrew and later Greek), lived in the same vicinity, and shared the same stories, culture, and history.
The Evolution of Biblical Themes
When we look at the Bible, it does appear as if many of its core themes have evolved.
- The character of God evolves. The God of the Old Testament is strikingly different from the God of the New. The God of the Old is primarily interested in the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He is jealous and angry; he wipes out sinful cities, floods the world, sends plagues, and kills millions; and he repeats ad nauseam that he is one God. The God of the New Testament is three Gods in one! He extends love to everyone, Jew or gentile. He preaches forgiveness instead of vengeance, and sends healing instead of plagues or floods.
- The character of Satan evolves. He begins as a very literal snake (Gen. 3:1-14), but is eventually replaced by a fallen angel.
- The role of the messiah evolves. We go from a literal king who will save the Jews and restore Israel, to a metaphorical king who doesn’t save Israel, but saves the world by being executed.
- God’s salvation plan — the most commonly cited example of Biblical consistency — also evolves. In Noah’s day, God’s plan wasn’t to save the world, but to flood it. Much later, God makes a covenant with Abraham, but it wasn’t for salvation, it was for land and offspring in exchange for ongoing loyalty and penile mutilation (Gen. 17:1-14). Under Moses, this covenant was extended to include a torrent of new rules, and the people did begin offering sacrifices for forgiveness, but this wasn’t done for salvation from hell, but for the ongoing safety and prosperity of Israel. In fact, God even plays down the importance of sacrifices, and says that they are not a prerequisite for obtaining forgiveness (more on this later). It’s only after Jesus arrives that the importance of sacrifice is played up again, and the nearly heretofore unmentioned idea of hell comes to the forefront, along with a new requirement to believe that God has a son in order to escape torment.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
The character of Jesus has continued to evolve over the centuries, as thousands of denominations experiment with new twists on an already successful meme.
[Note: Apologists have spent centuries reconciling these inconsistencies, but are these accurate and fair explanations? Or do they represent new adaptations evolved by the meme in order to protect itself?]
The Exponential Power of Memes
Perhaps the most profound aspect of this evolutionary metaphor is this: if tenacious extremophiles (like those that can survive in acidic waters, or under Arctic ice, or at the bottom of the ocean, or miles below the earth’s surface) can randomly adapt their way into the most inhospitable environments, then how much more should intelligently designed memes be able to adapt to the eager environment of the human mind? And have we grossly underestimated this potential?
If we assume for a moment that God is not real, and is just a meme that we ourselves have created, then consider how our minds have turned absolutely nothing into everything we need. We have convinced ourselves that God is invisible, and does not need to be tested, and that it is wise to believe without any evidence. We’ve managed to excuse God’s indifference towards his followers, and we’ve promised ourselves everything we could ever want… in the afterlife.
Through centuries of trial and error, the God meme has developed both offensively and defensively. It has learned how to provide its host with what it needs, in order to get repeated, and how to protect itself from attack. The meme “knows” what works, because what works gets repeated. The meme knows the mind, because it is born of the mind. It knows what we hope for and what we fear, and it uses these things to its advantage.
It’s as if the meme enters the mind and asks, “What does it take to survive here? I see this environment has hopes and fears; if I can provide solutions to these things, I can make a home for myself here, and make copies of myself into other minds that need the same things.”
Our meme supplies us with interesting stories to tell and “good news” to share. It provides us with hope, reassuring answers, explanations, and a feeling of certainty. It gives us a way to cheat death. It promises to protect us from our enemies and to heal our bodies. It gives us purpose and makes us feel loved. It gives us a community — one we can trust, and a social safety-net. It allows us to believe we are behaving as we ought, and it allows us to relinquish our guilt. It gives us a father-figure to cry out to in times of need, and a feeling that everything will be okay, and that someone is in control.
But reject this meme, or refuse to spread it, and it threatens us with eternal suffering.
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
~ Matthew 10:33
And so, when we’re born into this world, this highly evolved meme stands ready to be poured out onto our brain, filling in all its cracks. “Ahhhhhh,” sighs the brain, “That’s exactly what I needed!” And it is! Because it has evolved to be. And from that point on, the brain and the meme share a kind of symbiotic relationship; the meme reassuring the brain, and the brain protecting the meme (regardless of which religious meme it may be). The religious meme has become like the Borg in Star Trek, warning us: “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”
It’s possible that the Bible was divinely inspired, but it’s also possible that religious memes have evolved to meet our needs.
If God is just a highly evolved meme, then the only thing that can stop it is competition, competition from another meme whose fitness exceeds that of the meme currently occupying the same space in our brain. However, I’m doubtful that any natural view will ever trump religion’s ability to fill the desires of our heart, for the same reason that eternal life will always be more appealing than eternal death. Religion has evolved to meet all our needs, atheism has not.
Nicely thought through. The question though has to be asked: what’s “consistent” about the murderous, interfering, rather chatty god of the Pentateuch, and the more fatherly god presented in the NT?
Thank you for another great article. I know you put a lot of time into these and I want you to know they are appreciated.
I do, and thank you for noticing. 😉
“I’m doubtful that any natural view will ever trump religion’s ability to fill the desires of our heart” We know that the world’s academic elite tend to be atheists, and we can assume that through better access to education and nutrition the human race will become generally more intelligent and knowledgeable over the next few hundred years. I think it’s possible that people will replace rational, observable fact for historical superstition on this trajectory.
Forgot to say – great post!
The problem is that religion can flex to meet the desires of it’s believers. Reality can’t. As long as that’s the case, religion has an edge.
I would also question “We know that the world’s academic elite tend to be atheists”. Quite a few great thinkers and academics are religious. On average, I would agree that atheists have a bit of an advantage, but that’s because of where the low end sits, not the high end.
Good post, very thoughtful. Memes can be replaced. All of us stop believing in santa claus at some point. There is no consistency that I can see in the bible except for the consistency of man made illusions that change over time.
Occam’s razor, given your conclusion, says that divine inspiration is not likely.
Thanks, and keep in Trekkin’.
on, not in
I like this Idea.
It’s just you can say something is real and provide Unfalsifiable claim then no one can prove that you are just telling a lie.
I have a friend. He lives inside the core of the sun.
Evolution you say?
Ash: Godsucks I choose you!
what Godsucks is evolving.
Congratulations! Your Godsucks evovled into DivineGod.
In science, we have the problem of the “Uncertainty principle” the “wave particle” character of subatomic entities, the entangles nature of two particles at a distance, and their inverse correlation function. These, have not been unraveled as yet, and Bells theorem has held true to date. The Manifest reality is no-local (i.e spiritual, and actualized instantaneously) Space, time, and material matter does not exists, proofing that just as the bible states that God is Spirit, science has also found that reality, is spiritual.
In Christianity, we have the problem of “evolution” and the seven day creation period. But, however scientists may want to prove the bible not true, it continues to prove itself. The reality is a paradox. Start from there.
Spooky action at a distance does not prove spirits exist. It proves that we lack a complete model of the universe; it does not prove that god exists. Even if it proved the existence of spiritual (“spiritual” is being stretched here a bit to mean “non-local and instantaneous”) universe, it does not prove the existence of Yahweh. It would prove a form of pantheism perhaps, but that is assuming that there is some additional proof that this ‘spiritual’ universe has agency. The jump to the bible-god from ‘spooky action’ is completely unwarranted. But, most importantly, it has nothing to do with the meme-god post that 500Q wrote above. Try to address the author’s argument.
P.S. Nice post 500Q.
You are making a “god of the gaps” argument. That is the argument that what cannot, currently, be explained by science must be the action of god.
However, unlike religion, science seeks new information, and continues to work towards new understanding. That is why lightning, and disease, and gravity, and the motion of the planets were once ascribed to godly power, but now we know them to be natural actions.
If you believe in a god, the god of the gaps limits your deity, and if you don’t it’s obviously an argument from silence.
Sorry, that should be argument from ignorance, not silence. Getting my informal logical fallacies confused.
You are looking at this in a deductive way. You are only satisfied with the answer to the question “Does god exists?” if the answer is definitive. I believe that’s inherently impossible, IF there is a God, since that would require you to map ALL the causal relations of this universe. In that scenario, knowing everything would make you all knowing, thus God. On the other hand, if God doesn’t exists , but let’s assume that, in that case we can try to reach to ‘all covering knowledge’.
But the problem is, IF God exists, you cannot answer if God exists in a deductive way because that would require you to be God. The only way would be to believe in God in a inductive (just like water boils at 100 degrees, because I have seen that happening 10000 times before and because experts are saying so) or abductive way (“I am wondering why everything is existing. Why is there information and are there systems that seemingly let’s life being ‘alive’. Of course, you can shift the problem to get with Ad Infinitum, but the difference is that we are looking at material causal relationships and God isn’t essentially material. Because of this I believe in God”).
BTW I’m very curious what 500Q thinks about this comment 🙂
I agree with what others have said: God of the gaps / argument from ignorance. It’s also known as “quantum mysticism.”
You just can’t get from “spooky action at a distance” to “therefore Yahweh.” It’s like arguing, “Lightning exists, therefore Zeus.” Lightning was also once a mysterious phenomenon, until we discovered it had a very natural explanation.
So while I’m fascinated by spooky action at a distance, and the idea that observation can change the behavior of particles, I also realize that there have been many things mankind didn’t understand, and every single one of them ended up having a natural explanation. So while we may not yet fully understand what’s going on, the odds are good that it has nothing to do with Zeus, God, or any other invisible supernatural being.
So that’s basically abduction (an explanation) based on induction (a list of x times science proved to gave answers to the original reasons for believing in a God/Something supernatural)?
So basically, in a formal way you are agnostic (because you can’t claim God does exist, nor God doesn’t exist), but pragmatically you choose to believe there is no God (because that seems more reasonable, until proven otherwise)?
BTW thank for your effort, you respond fast and I notice you put a lot of time into this.
May I suggest, you should totally make an article about the prophecy in Daniel 9, about the 70 (year)weeks (starting when the word got out to rebuild Jeruzalem) predicting the messiah in 29 AC. I’m as well trying to look at the information from both sides, but haven’t seen much convincing counter arguments yet. Would be nice to have that verified, or proven otherwise. 🙂
I’ll add the question to my list, thanks!
Partially. I would say that not only is a natural explanation more likely (given that we’ve proven it x times, and never proven the existence of the supernatural, and we know people like to invent gods), but even if this was NOT due to a natural cause, there no reason to invoke a specific god. If supernatural events DO exist, there are literally billions of other possible explanations (aliens, computer simulation, etc.).
An agnostic might say, “God may or may not exist, and we cannot know otherwise,” I would beg to differ. I don’t think it’s simply a lack of evidence that God exists, I think there is evidence to the contrary (as discussed here and in my other posts).
The moment an all-knowing God says something that can be proven patently false, we ought to know that he must be product of human imagination.
For example, if God says, “The world was once covered with water, and all the animals died except for two of each species, which all migrated outward from one point …,” we have more reason to doubt this God than if he said nothing at all.
But as I described above, beliefs have a strong hold on the brain, so whenever something is unexplained, the brain likes to insert God so we can keep believing.
Great and interesting look at this subject from a different angle than I have ever looked at it. You’ve also done well at articulating this from a very interesting angle. I try not to get annoyed when people continually throw in my face that the bible is without error, I have honestly stopped reasoning with people over the issue though. In my years of arguing I have learned one absolute fact, belief ALWAYS trumps intelligent thought, it’s really not worth the effort to try to teach people something contrary to their belief. Still having a blog like this and trying to grasp minds that are open to logic, is great.
Your posts are never statements of the obvious, but thought provoking, even life-challenging! How impossible it is for me to comment with two or three simple sentences! LOL
Therefore, I do not apologize for my lengthy comments! I blame you 500Q! 😉
The Bible and its purpose has most definitely evolved over time to avoid extinction!
It’s ridiculous to believe that in 325 C.E. the Bible dropped down from God/heaven in perfect literary form and infallible. The decades and centuries of debate & competition between non-canonical testaments and eventual canonical testaments are a testament to “evolution-to-avoid-extinction.” In fact, all the world’s major religions have morphed into hundreds of various sects or denominations further showing evolution. 😉
To borrow from a great journalist, poet, essayist, “Do not judge, be curious” as Walt Whitman says. Or curiously question everything. If mankind had not done this we’d still “believe” the Earth was flat and that bleeding-out the body of its blood removed illnesses. The Bible and its stories are certainly not immune to evolution because everything in existence is constantly changing and evolving to avoid extinction, if given the time-frame to do so — see next paragraph. Ironically, scientific data seems to increasingly show that all things eventually go extinct anyway…or rather transform into a more survivable entity, as you have alluded to 500Q.
The life of beings, concepts, or memes indeed adapt and change in order to survive better only IF given the appropriate time to do so — dinosaurs might still be around had they not be extinguished by cosmic forces. Catastrophic extinctions however, are not specific to cosmic forces only but also, as you mentioned 500Q, to competition by other humans. In other words, had the Allied Forces not stopped Hitler and his SS from wiping out a LARGE swath of the Jewish population, Judaism may have slipped into an insignificant religious group by population. Or if Roman Legions had not wiped out the earliest Jesus/James brother of Jesus orthodox Jews in 70 C.E. and their biblical testaments that were later extinguished (if you will), Christianity may be entirely different than the heavily Roman Pauline Christianity we now have today! The victors always write history, or in this case write canonical Scripture.
And I’m quite sure that if I had spoken or written these words BEFORE an age where it was normal to challenge or question all things, I would have been executed as a heretic or warlock. Perhaps humanity’s ability to find deeper compassion for its own species has evolved well? Or has it? Can we (or should we?) ever get rid of that genetic coding of competition and “survival of the fittest”?
Regarding your final paragraph in “Conclusion,” determining what is eternal or not eternal is sometimes WAY BEYOND our current capacity, spiritually or scientifically, but that doesn’t mean to stop questioning, examining, then embracing the results. Our current concepts of God and His/Her ‘revelations’ to us (be it scriptural or mystical) are not NEAR as important as the more immediate need of human collaboration for better survival — which ironically works against the concept of (healthy?) competition — is in my opinion a higher calling! Human fear should serve a very limited purpose. Perhaps thinking more about what joins us together rather than what separates us, would be more productive?
Great post 500Q! Thank you for your immense time and effort to articulate it and write it!
Thanks. And agreed.
While Darwin’s phrase “survival of the fittest” gets a lot of attention, I also understand he also wrote a lot about human compassion. After all, we didn’t evolve in a vacuum, we evolved together; and if ants can figure out how to do it, maybe we can too. Given enough time, I’m hopeful that humanity might be able to figure out better ways of living together.
I came across a great short series of cartoons on Humanism today (below), narrated by Stephen Fry. While I’ve never considered myself a Humanist, I do find I’ve come to a lot of the same conclusions. Who knows, maybe this is where religion is headed next.
Thank you 500Q for introducing that video series! I will check all of them out. I too am hopeful humanity figures out better ways to live together on a planet whose resources are finite. The challenges we are about to face as a species in the next decades will be CRITICAL! Our planet, our Universe, the cosmos all DEMAND change, flexibility, adaptation, compromise, etc, etc…not unwavering “infallible” laws and judgments which nurture competition and give rise to extinction.
I’m not sure this exactly germane, but “survival of the fittest” means “survival of those species which fit their environment the best”, those that are the “best fit”, the “fittest”.
p.s. “The infamous Richard Dawkins . . .”, infamous . . . really?
The argument from consistency is a blatant fallacy when you really analyze it. They say the bible was written over a period of 1600 years by many different writers living in different periods. That right there is the biggest clue to how the consistency could come about. Think about it: why should it be remarkable that a bible writer who would have had access to previously written bible books; and who would have had his thinking and beliefs shaped by reading them, to later pen his own book harmonizing with them? It’s not divine inspiration. It’s called education. DUHH!
Every bible writer was essentially a student of the bible books written before him. These books shaped his thinking and so he naturally went on to write his own bible book in a way that would be consistent with what went before! Also, if the books before his were highly respected as truth and the writer wanted his own writing to have credibility and regarded as truth, you can be sure that he would put forth effort to be in harmony with, and even imitate the writing style of, some of those books written before. It’s common sense, people!
To illustrate, if a student of philosophy read a particular philosophical work and was impressed by it, considered it truthful, and had his whole worldview shaped by it; and that student later went on to write his own philosophical work, would it be such a remarkable thing to find that his book harmonizes with many of the points made in the previously written book he read? It would be a remarkable thing if it didn’t!
For the argument from consistency to be convincing the bible writers would have all had to write their books at the same time without having access to each others books to influence their thinking.
Also, despite the general harmony between bible books, there are many inconsistencies when you get into the details. Any honest student of the 4 gospels can attest to this.
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Well thought and articulate! In itself the argument that the Bible is consistent is really not valid… as other people have commented have pointed out, there are inconsistencies in the Bible [although I guess the general message is the same]. And that’s a great cartoon, thanks for that. 🙂
Let me share one thing though I’m not really if it is related on this post. Here in our country there is a Religious Group called Rizalist who worships our beloved (of course deceased) National Hero. They believe he is the reincarnation of the Holly Spirit or Jesus Jesus Christ. See this part “The Iglesia ng Watawat ng Lahi believes that Rizal is the incarnation of Holy Spirit. They believed that Rizal was never truly killed during his execution in Bagumbayan. The point out that when Rizal’s body was about to be exhumed in Paco Park, Rizal was nowhere to be found and that a tree trunk and a pair of shoes was found at the site. They believed that Rizal is still living in Mount Makiling.”
This story resembles to the story of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rizalista_religious_movements
Our National Hero is not a God, I know how he live his life, we study him at school and he never claimed that he is a God. In fact he is a little bit womanizer, hehe. So I think his story also has evolved over the time. If he never claimed that he is a God then people sees him that he is and worships him isn’t it crazy? that we are just hunting down things, put some decoration, invent stories about it and TADA = GOD. Can’t we just live our lives without Praising someone (God) if there was good times and blaming someone (Evil) if there was bad times. Just stop dressing up the Kettle then worship it. It can’t even boil water on its own.
Fascinating, thank you.
Here’s a very interesting documentary that critiques the claim of biblical inspiration and inerrancy:
“Religion has evolved to meet our needs, atheism has not.”
Atheism fulfills our need to express our disbelief vis-a-vis to theistic claims.
Atheism is just a “minus” added to the “addition” of a God to our natural world.
My intent was not to say that disbelief has absolutely zero benefits, I’m sure there are a few; but rather to say that these benefits do not hold a candle to the number of empty promises and social solutions evolved by religion to deal with all aspects of our life. Religion comforts the mind and meets our needs, believing there is no god does not have nearly the same effect; it gives us an answer, but probably not the one we want.
To say that atheism has not evolved to meet our needs misunderstands atheism, I think. Although I will say that “atheist” and “atheism” are becoming more and more difficult to define or describe, atheism is not a “thing”, per se. It is more of a reaction to a thing. If no one believed in any gods, everyone would be an atheist (although the word wouldn’t have much significance at that point) and just go on about their day and not even think about it. Every person on the planet today is more of an atheist than not an atheist (which begins to show how tricky these words can be).
I agree many people need *something* to deal with aspects of life, even atheists. Wanna know the one thing that does not help atheists deal with aspects of life? Atheism. They find the things to deal with aspects of life elsewhere, family, friends, their therapist, music, sports, charitable secular organizations and foundations, etc. etc. etc.
Where was “Satan” during all this “inspiration”?
Inspiring all the competing religions. 😉
I would have been more articulate in asking:
“Did God maintain the writers of the Bible’s “free will” during it’s conception despite this allowing for influence from the Devil if he didn’t interfere?”