Overview:

Christianity has changed. Its canon of books has changed, its doctrines have changed, and the Bible itself records changes to the story such as the character of God.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christianity has changed over time. If God’s message is timeless and unchanging, Christianity must not be it.

This is the next clue that we live in a godless world (this list of 25 reasons we don’t live in such a world begins here):

23. Because Christianity evolves

Parchment manuscripts were expensive, and outdated manuscript pages were sometimes scraped or washed to remove the ink and then reused. This is called a palimpsest. In some cases, the pen marks from the previous (older) document can still be read.

We find a metaphorical palimpsest with the Bible, with current Christian ideas shadowed by earlier, different ideas. Taken by themselves, some passages make little sense. For example, what does it mean that the water for Noah’s flood came from “the springs of the great deep” and the “floodgates of the heavens”? We can put the pieces together when we realize that the ancient mythology of Genesis was built on still-older cosmology from the Sumerians and other Mesopotamian civilizations.

Of course, realizing that Yahweh worship was built on the religion of the guys down the street pretty much rules out any historical foundation, but the point here is how the biblical story has changed. For example, God evolves through the Bible. In his youth, he wasn’t distant and omni-everything, he was rather like Zeus. He walked through the Garden of Eden and spoke with Adam and Eve like an ordinary man. He visited Abraham. He spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). He also wasn’t omniscient, and he needed scouts to check out the rumors about Sodom and Gomorrah that he heard. He regretted creating man before the flood.

By the time of the New Testament, things are remembered differently. “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). It tells us that God knows everything (1 John 3:20) and doesn’t change (James 1:17).

For an omniscient, unchanging god, he sure has changed a lot.

See also: Because the Bible story keeps rebooting

The most recent change to God is his retreat in the face of science. God used to cause lightning and drought, but not anymore—science provided a better explanation that could be tested. God used to cause cancer and plagues, but science explains them better, too. How about miraculous cures? Sorry—labeling a surprising remission as a medical miracle is wishful thinking. Only science has evidence that it can improve health outcomes or even eliminate disease.

See also: Christians Move the Goalposts When They Can’t Win Honestly

And what is “Christianity”? That, too, is a moving target. Christianity is like bacteria in a petri dish, and new denominations are now splitting off at a rate of two per day.

Consider Christianity in the early days and the long way it’s come. There have been 21 church councils, and the conclusions of each council were declared infallible (because magic?). Then there are the schisms within the Christian church. The Protestant Reformation may come to mind as the most interesting, at least from the standpoint of Christians in the United States, but there have been dozens of schisms.

Nothing objective grounds the evolution of various doctrines and the declaring of some as orthodox and some as heresy. Imagine someone living centuries ago, doing their best to conform to Christianity as it was preached in their church. Christianity might have changed enough that some denominations today would consider their worship heretical. So then was that person a heretic or not?

Even the canon (the set of books considered authoritative scripture) has been a moving target. It took until the Council of Rome (382) to get the canon more or less defined, but that list was amended within the Roman Catholic church by the Council of Trent (1545). Different Christian denominations still have different canons today, so therefore no infallible hand guided its selection. Here again, there is nothing objective to ground it. The canon was a popularity contest, and theologians would argue for whatever set of books was in vogue in their part of the world.

If we lived in God world, it would look like it. God’s a smart guy, and his message would be simple and unambiguous.

See also: The Argument from Simplicity

Realizing that Yahweh worship was built on the religion of the guys down the street pretty much rules out any historical foundation.

And a bonus reason:

24. Because of Shermer’s Law

Michael Shermer observed, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

Suppose someone absorbed a false belief during childhood—a superstition, a bias, or even a worldview. As they got older, they discarded some of these beliefs that weren’t supported by good evidence, but they held on to some, particularly those beliefs integral to their self-image. And here’s the interesting part: because they’re much smarter as adults, they can put together a plausible defense for those false beliefs, even if they actually hold them for no better reason than that they were indoctrinated in them as a child. The appeal of Christian apologetics is that these are smart-sounding arguments that satisfy the need to have plausible defenses for their beliefs, not that they’re true.

This isn’t like defending a belief that you know is false—such as, just for fun, creating the most compelling argument that the Earth is flat. Shermer’s Law applies to people defending a false belief for reasons that they believe. There is no self-deception going on. The unpleasant alternative is to admit to themselves that they’ve believed a false belief for years or even a lifetime, but the subconscious protects one’s self-esteem and prevents this.

If God existed, belief would be defended with evidence.

See also: Word of the Day: Shermer’s Law

To be continued.

Christians can see science and technology deliver nine times
but still doubt it the tenth time,
and they can see religion fail nine times
but still expect it to succeed the tenth time.

Avatar photo

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...