Bibletext

What the Bible Could Have Said

Via Slacktivist, I came across a post on the Christian blog Exploring Our Matrix that asks a perfectly reasonable question: Why Doesn't the Bible Contain Superior Medical Advice?

...you will look in vain in the pages of the Bible for a recommendation that people cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze and cough. You will find mentions of strong drink, but nothing about distilling the alcohol and using it to clean wounds or disinfect anything at all.

The author presents this as a problem for young-earth creationists, which it is. But really, this ought to trouble anyone who believes that the Bible was in any sense inspired by a benevolent being with intelligence superior to humans. The Bible plainly doesn't contain scientific foreknowledge beyond the ken of its human authors. But why doesn't it? Even if you don't believe it was meant to be a science textbook, if God had anything to do with its creation, he could have given us some simple scientific advice - or even just some basic moral guidance - which would have averted a vast amount of human suffering. At the very least, a few bits of ahead-of-their-time factual information could have persuaded people to take the rest of its claims more seriously.

It's in this spirit that I've written a list of things the Bible could have said but didn't. The Bible's authors might not have phrased these statements exactly as I give them below, but I think you'll agree that the concepts they convey are simple ones that could easily have been expressed in ancient Greek or Hebrew, even to people with a primitive, pre-scientific understanding of the world.

"Disease comes from tiny, invisible animals that live in water and dead flesh. Always cook meat before eating it and boil water before drinking it, especially if the water's source is stagnant or muddy, to kill these creatures so that you and your sons and daughters do not suffer the ravages of sickness."

The Bible does display a rudimentary understanding of quarantine, which is a principle that can readily be grasped even to people who don't understand the real cause of disease. However, if that book really was authored by the being who created the world, it could have given far more specific and useful advice on how to avoid sickness. John Snow, the doctor who discovered that cholera was a waterborne infection rather than a vague "miasma", saved thousands of lives. An omnipotent, benevolent being could surely have done at least as much.

"I freed you from captivity in Egypt because I hate slavery. Do not hold your fellow human beings in bondage or buy and sell them as if they were property."

This one should be self-explanatory, considering that the real Bible repeatedly and specifically endorses slavery by giving rules which govern the buying and selling of human beings.

"Do not strike your children with your hands or with the rod. Correct them with firmness when they do wrong, but treat them with kindness and not cruelty."

The real Bible endorses child-beating, a cruel and archaic practice that should not be tolerated. Punishing children with physical pain doesn't make them better behaved; it cows them into frightened obedience, while teaching that hurting someone is the appropriate response to them displeasing you, leading to more abuse down the line.

"The seed of the mother and the seed of the father join together to produce a child, but the seed of the father governs whether that child will be a son or a daughter."

This is one case where good science and good moral advice overlap. Considering the number of women who've been beaten or killed by their husbands for failing to produce a desired son, a clear teaching in the Abrahamic religions that the man's sperm, and not the woman's egg, decides the gender of a child could have averted untold suffering over the millennia.

"If a man seizes a woman and lies with her against her will, he has committed grave evil; he will surely be put to death."

I don't necessarily endorse the death penalty; however, this would be an improvement over the existing Bible verse which says that there are circumstances under which a rape victim can be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). This teaching would make it clear that no matter what, it's the rapist, not the victim, who bears the sole guilt for such a monstrous crime.

"Women are not the property of their fathers. They may decide for themselves who they will marry."

It should go without saying that the subordinate status of women in the Bible, according to which they can be treated as property to be passed from father to husband, is absolutely unacceptable. A book written by an enlightened author would have recognized the moral and intellectual equality of all genders.

"Four letters in combinations of three make up the book of life."

I doubt ancient languages could have expressed the concept of "deoxyribonucleic acid", but even so, the text could have described this or other concepts in ways that would leave no doubt what was meant.

"Comets are vast balls of ice and dust. They melt when they fly close to the sun, just as evening's frost melts in the morning, and their tails are the clouds of mist from that melting."

Many superstitious ancient people thought that comets were a dire portent. The Bible could have dispelled this fearful and ignorant mysticism by revealing their true nature as a natural phenomenon, no more a thing to fear than sun or rain.

"Mars and Venus are worlds of their own, worlds like the Earth is, and all of them travel in a great circuit around the sun. The moon is a smaller world that travels in a circuit around the Earth."

Endorsing the heliocentric solar system would have put the Bible worlds ahead of most ancient mythologies (although some Greek philosophers also got this right). A tidbit about the commonalities between Earth and other planets would be even better evidence that the Bible was authored by someone familiar with the real nature of the solar system. This list could also have included the other planets visible to the naked eye, since the Hebrews, like most ancient people, were almost certainly aware of them.

"The stars in the night sky are suns like the Earth's sun, but they seem small to you because they are a very great distance away. The nearest of them is as far from the Earth as light travels in four years."

Even more convincing than mentioning comets or the heliocentric solar system would be a discourse on the nature of the stars. If the Bible knew their real distances from the Earth, that would be compelling evidence that a non-human intelligence had a hand in its creation.

Now it's your turn. What else should the Bible have said?

Image credit: Savio Sebastian, released via Creative Commons

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