Isaac Newton’s famous Principia Mathematica was a foundational contribution to modern science. Compare it to the Bible. Guess which one is full of contradictions, errors, and immoral demands.
Isaac Newton knew what it was like to be in lockdown due to an epidemic.
In July 1665, Cambridge had its first death from bubonic plague, an epidemic that had been discovered in London a few months earlier. This would be called the Great Plague of London, and it killed roughly 25 percent of that city.
Cambridge University shut down in response. Newton had just received his bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, but he had more schooling planned. At age 23, he retreated to his family home 60 miles away.
Though he had been an unremarkable student, Newton used his forced solitude productively. He returned to Cambridge 18 months later after having developed the foundations of differential and integral calculus, the law of gravity, the laws of motion, optics, and more. This period has been called an annus mirabilis, a year of wonders.
This work culminated in the publication of Principia Mathematica in 1687, a work that has been called by Encyclopedia Britannica, “not only Newton’s masterpiece but also the fundamental work for the whole of modern science.”
Could you improve upon the discoveries in the Principia? Albert Einstein did with the theories of Special Relativity and General Relativity, but that was after more than two centuries of scientific progress. As important as Relativity has been for modern physics and cosmology, the Apollo program didn’t need it to land astronauts on the moon in 1969 and bring them safely home. Newton was enough.
Newton’s book vs. God’s book
But ask that question about God’s book, the Bible: could you improve upon the claims and demands in the Bible?
Any of us could. To begin, the Bible is full of scientific errors. Apologists claim falsely that the Bible documents science that was unknown to the people of the time. And the Bible is just wrong about many claims it makes about nature. If God created our reality, he was inept at explaining it.
The Bible doesn’t give the basics of germ theory or even the simple rules of hygiene that could keep people healthy. The highlight is to tell us that God is grossed out by poop: “Have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement…. Your camp must be holy, so that [God] will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:13–14). The Bible doesn’t even give the simple recipe for soap.
The Bible documents God’s demand for praise and worship. If it’s obnoxious when Donald Trump does it, how could it sound right coming from God?
The Bible is full of contradictions. For example, it tells us that everyone sins (but “No one who is born of God sins,” according to 1 John 5:18a). Women followers informed the disciples of the empty tomb (or did they?). No one can see God (but Moses did). The Bible promises terrible ordeals on the faithful (or does it promise that no harm will befall them?). God punishes people for their ancestors’ sins (or maybe not).
The need for the crucifixion of Jesus as a human sacrifice to satisfy God’s anger makes no sense. If humans are imperfect, it’s the fault of Maker. If humans make mistakes, God can forgive them, as we do.
God’s immorality deserves the most outrage. God demanded genocide. God demanded child sacrifice. God lied. God even supported slavery, both indentured servitude for fellow Israelites and slavery for life for foreigners.
God should reread his own Ten Commandments.
What does it say about the Bible that any of us could list many problems with God’s holy book or the religion it supports? Does it look like the result of the inspiration of an all-good, omniscient god, or does it look like just a manmade book?
Acknowledgement: Sam Harris suggested this comparison of Newton’s Principia Mathematica with the Bible.
[A God] who could have made every [child] happy,
yet never made a single happy one; …
who gave His angels painless lives,
yet cursed his other children with biting miseries
and maladies of mind and body; …
who mouths morals to other people,
and has none himself;
who frowns upon crimes,
yet commits them all;
who created man without invitation,
then tries to shuffle the responsibility
for man’s acts upon man,
instead of honorably placing it
where it belongs, upon himself….
— Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger