Ask from the Past: What makes science and history more true than religion?

“Once you stop looking for absolute certainty, you start to judge these things on their actual merit.”

(When the archived ATA site was restored, a short list of unanswered questions was found in the approval queue. I’m answering them here in Ask from the Past, and this is the last one.)

Question from Nym:

I was recently in a debate against something on the topic of religion (namely, Christianity) vs science. I was debating for the scientific side. It was going well, but then he brought up a couple of questions that I didn’t know how to respond to.

1. What makes science so accurate?

Here, he was explaining to me how science is “proven wrong a lot more than Christianity is.” He brings up the example where he claims that the Bible says the world is spherical (he says the word used in Hebrew means “spherical”), whereas science didn’t prove this until much later. He later goes on to say that since science is proven wrong so many times, how can we accept it as truth? I explain that we can’t completely prove anything, but then he says why we should accept science over religion if it is sometimes wrong. His final statement regarding this part of the debate is “[One] should spend less time arguing why religion is wrong and more time arguing why science is accurate.” The one thing I did not want to fall back on is the word “faith.” I mean we can reproduce experiments and get similar results, but how do we know that this is really the true nature behind what we are observing? The scientific method does exist so that it can adjust when something is proven wrong, but we can’t really be certain when we’ve reached the pinnacle of truth.

2. Is believing in history not the same as believing in religion?

I brought up how Jesus’ existence is disputable, using the 40 year gap between his supposed death and the story of Saul of Tarsus; how there was no historical account of Jesus in that gap of time. He rebuttals, “They were all persecuted.” I couldn’t respond to this one. Any more explanations I could use would be very helpful.

Something else he said included “How can you believe anything in history over the Bible?” I see where he was getting at. For example, how can we prove that Napoleon existed? History says that he did, but what can do to prove that? We may have historical accounts of people who were supposedly there during that period, but how do know if those are reliable; at least, any more reliable than accounts in the Bible? We can’t really prove anything other than what we observe, and even then, who’s to say that our eyes don’t deceive us?

Thank you very much for reading.

A lot of apologists think of using the “historical” Jesus and Biblical ties to modern science as bringing out the big guns. They’re tough to rebut if you don’t have the answers on you, especially if you’re not familiar with the Bible quotes they use.

I’ll tackle the spherical earth claim first: the passage is most likely Isaiah 40:22 which says, “He sits upon the circle of the earth…” The Hebrew word in the original text that translates to “circle” is gh, which unsurprisingly means “circle”. It’s rwd that means “sphere”. (I got that from a bible study site, mind you.) If this is what your opponent was referring to, he was wrong. The author of the Book of Isaiah (whether Isaiah or not) might have been referring to a flat earth, or the circle of the horizon as visible from a high place, or any number of things.

It’s true, scientific information is found to be false all the time. That information which replaces it is nearly always more accurate. Furthermore, it’s usually found to be false in small ways; that the Earth is 100 million years older or younger than was estimated last time, for example. That’s hardly a reason to chuck it all out and say it’s 6000 years old instead of over four billion.

While I’m on the age of the Earth, it’s been found to be billions of years old in many different ways. Whenever anything on the planet is dated to more than ten thousand years ago, a doctrine of Christianity (among others) is proven wrong again. Every generation that goes by without Jesus returning is a further contradiction of his supposed prediction that he’d be back within just one, unless he meant something out of the ordinary by “generation”. Christianity at least rivals science when it comes to being wrong.

Absolute truth is probably unattainable as long as the absolutes of the universe (if any) are unknown to us, but we can try to get closer all the time. Long before we reach that point, we reach a point where even if our underlying hypotheses are wrong, they approximate the truth closely enough to be useful. When science reaches that point, it’s able to make concrete predictions which can then be tested. This is one major area where it deviates from the Bible: what predictions can that be used to make which can be tested in the near future, as opposed to interpreting it in hindsight to match events which have already happened (much, much easier, and not just with the Bible)?

Getting on to Jesus, the authors of the New Testament were likely persecuted even after they’d written and distributed it. What I find more interesting is that they would have been very old when they did, as 25-30 years was the life expectancy at the time, or if later people wrote it then it was all second-hand.

While we can never be absolutely certain of history, a bit like science, evidence accumulates which can give us a great deal of confidence in it. Here’s a sample of what we have of Napoleon that we lack for Jesus:
– Consistent likenesses, from life-size statues to portraits for which he posed in person to coins which were minted and used during his lifetime.
– Writings by the man himself, starting from a manuscript he wrote at 17 and ending very shortly before his death in exile.
– First-hand accounts by hundreds of people, all of them undisputed real people, of personal dealings with him and his appearances before hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens, written within days of the events…rather than accounts mostly written in the third person by a handful of authors so disputed as to be effectively anonymous, of his appearances before hundreds, most of whom were illiterate (the literacy rate in first century Israel/Palestine was about 3%), written years or decades later.

Once you stop looking for absolute certainty, you start to judge these things on their actual merit. One can be far, far more confident in a historical Napoleon than a historical Jesus. It worries me that this was not plain to your opponent.


2 thoughts on “Ask from the Past: What makes science and history more true than religion?”

  1. I have heard this argument before “why choose history over the bible”This statement in itself shows how the person who offers this as an argument is either stupid, in denial or both. You can not reason with such people as they have closed minds, and do not wish to know the truth. What do they consider the bible to be other than an historical record of the people who lived in the past and the dealings of the hebrew god with those people. So, it comes down to; Not weather to believe history over the bible, but rather which historical records to believe. The writings and history of over 4000 years ago, or the writings and history of the last 100 or 200 years. I myself, consider “religion” or the belief in a god, or gods, a form of insanity, and one can not reason with insanity. It it just best, I have found to have no philosophical discussion with people of a religious persuasion, as all they want to do is convince you to follow thier insanity because if they can accomplish that, it will reassure them that they must be correct in what they believe.
    I am 70 years old and was raised as a church going christian in my youth. I was babtized into the church of christ as a young adult and spent the next 15 years in intense studys of the bible and religion in general. My eyes were finally opened at about age 40 and I could see religion for what it it really is and why it was invented by man. god did not create man, man created god. And man did it for control. Power over the masses and because his fear of death and the unkown. To me, the bible or any other god or religion is nothing more than a collection of lies,mythology, and a good dose of belief in a supernatural world that simply does not exist, no matter how much one wishes it did. I have never, in 70 years of life, witnessed anything which could be considered “supernatural” or “paranormal” It seems to me that apparently most human beings need this belief in gods or a religion to sustain them and give them peace of mind. I do not. I would rather know the truth, or at least the closest thing to it, than to blindly follow what I consider to be a lie . Science offers the truth more than religion ever could. But there is no reward in science other than knowing the truth, and certanly no after life, so most poeple choose religion, or faith in a god to deliver them from the predicament they find them selves in. That predicament is eventual death. Once they have made this choice, they can not go back on it as it will, they fear, cause them to unravel and become nothing more than an animal. which, by the way is exactly what they are. The latest and most sophisticated model of the great ape. Nothing more and nothing less. An evolved species that so far can trace its origins back to roughly 10 million years ago.
    Not the 7000 years the bible suggests , and not in some paradise garden of eden. This story itself is a plagerism of an older account of Gilgamish the assyrian , as is the ficticious story of Noah and the ark. It is hard for me to understand how reasonably intelligent people can buy this hogwash and the only reason I can come up with is “insanity”.

  2. I think it was apparent to his apponent. He was playing on the agnostics
    lack of knowlege of the bible. I have seen this tactic used many times by religious people in an effort to confuse a non beleiver who has not studied the bible closley. They will lie about what it does say, and if caught in a lie, will say well, it depends on how you interpret it . In short, a non beleiver wiil almost always lose an argument with a beleiver. even though he actually has won it. A true beleiver has a closed mind, and even if the truth jumped up and bit him in the butt, he would not concede to it or admit he was wrong. His religion demands that of him, and that is the main reason that religion is evil, and insane. I have studied the bible since childhood, and I know what it says and what it does not say like I know the back of my hand. And this I am certain of, the bible is mostly a collection on superstitious lies, mythology and stupidity in reasoning and logic. I am 75 years old and more observant then most of my peers and for sure the younger generations, and I have never, never in my life, seen hardly anything that can not be explained by logic, sound reasoning and science. In short, if one is after the truth, science, not the bible, will get them the closest to it.

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