Graver still for the theistic cause, every year brings us explanations for what we observe in nature that are better than the explanations found in the Bible. We know now that epilepsy is not caused by demons; we know how to treat leprosy; we know the Earth orbits the Sun. Science has provided well-tested theories of nature that answer far more than the counterpart answers found in the Bible. Science gives us historical linguistics; mythology, the Tower of Babel. Mythology speaks of a divine column of fire and smoke at the top of a mountain; science speaks of a volcanic plume. The more one reads the Bible, the more it appears to be stuck in the Bronze Age. To credit the Bible as anything more than mythological literature produced by human beings at pre-scientific points in history would require abandoning robust explanations of natural phenomena in favor of superstition. The gaps in scientific understanding, those murky niches in which some of the faithful insist God may be hidden, are in fact already too narrow to conceal the Lord of Hosts. Like Victor Stenger, we must conclude the Biblical God is a failed hypothesis.
Many Christians do acknowledge that the Bible should not be read as history. They prefer it as divine poetry, or sacred metaphor, the moral excellence of which establishes its supernatural truth. Until I actually began reading the Bible myself, I was prepared to accept that whatever its truth content, it might have social or political utility as a moral guide. Indeed, there seemed to me no reason to doubt that the book might even contain useful insights about human nature, which presumably hasn’t changed much in the past few thousand years. I was therefore astonished to find God allowing, endorsing, even commanding the worst behavior of which humans are capable: genocide, slavery, ritual murder, capital punishment for innocuous offenses, etc. How can believers defend Jephthah’s sacrifice of his own daughter? Or the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Joshua at God’s command? Or the casual endorsements of slavery? Or God’s breathtaking insistence on the death penalty for a man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath? Moreover, I began to see the full moral implications of concepts like Hell or the flood of Noah. A God that could preside over such enormities is morally unworthy of worship. In my view, there are no sufficient answers to these objections. Clearly, the God of the Bible does not exist except as a creature of fiction. For that fact, having now assimilated the horror of Biblical immorality, I am grateful.
What are the implications of these discoveries? I cannot yet see. The more I reflect on the comparative dangers of liberal economic policies and conservative religious ones, the more the latter seem the greater danger. So long as conservatives promote Biblical values, they retard human progress. And even we secular conservatives must ask ourselves to what extent the picture of society we wish to conserve reflects religious values.
In my case, finding one answer has raised a whole new set of questions. Is there any point in retaining even the label “conservative?” With the historically unprecedented and burgeoning abundance allowed by science, to what extent do social and political traditions that grew up in an environment of scarcity remain relevant? Historical institutions may have been as beautifully adapted to the needs of our species as our pre-historical instincts were adapted to the African savannah. Now that we have grown beyond both environments, perhaps our historical institutions have become as poorly adaptive as our ancient nutritional strategies? We evolved to survive intermittent famine. The instincts that conveyed selective advantage in such times now tend to produce obesity. Perhaps insisting on old standards of conduct, even the virtues and social structure required for civic republicanism, merely produces unnecessary unhappiness. Worse, perhaps in battling to preserve the institutions of the past we are unwisely delaying the advent of a superior future.