On the Infallibility of Holy Scriptures

I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men; she must be silent. 1 Timothy 2:12

Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” Qu’ran 8:12

To become clean after killing an unchaste woman of any of the four classes, a man should give a Brahmin a leather bag (for killing a Brahmin woman), a bow (for killing a Kshatriya woman), a billy goat (for killing a Vaishya woman), or a sheep (for a Shudra woman). Manu’s Dharma-shastra 11.132, 137, 139

These are just few of the many examples found in the scriptures of various religions. Can someone, with a sane mind, seriously believe in the literal truth or derive morals from these verses? The scriptures are filled with such contradictory, ghastly and outright immoral statements. So how do one explain and believe in the veracity of the holy books?

Not surprisingly, the religious mind has found a way out. When a passage or verse in the scriptures doesn’t make sense any more (after genuine inquiry, or a scientific rebuttal, for instance), these moderate theologians would say “Oh, we don’t actually believe in its literal truth. It is symbolic. An allegory.” And beliefs such as “God made the universe in six days” or “Mohammed ascended bodily into heaven” are suddenly transformed into emblems of divinity. Other times, they would cling dearly to beliefs like “Jesus was born of a virgin” and “The human soul survives bodily death” because, although they defy common sense and logic, science hasn’t found any strong evidence to disprove them yet (or can never disprove them, given the nature of the belief or the times of its occurrence).

But such compromises (“It’s symbolic!”) or stubbornness (“Science hasn’t disproved this yet, so it must be true.”) conveniently ignore the fact that such scriptural claims were taken literally and believed firmly by our ancestors for centuries! So what makes them think that the religious beliefs that they hold so dearly today will stand the test of time (and science)?

What they can’t, or perhaps don’t want to, see is that science has been steadily reducing the sphere of religious beliefs and claims. It was science that showed us that the Earth is not the center of the universe (contrary what the Scriptures say). It was science that enlightened us with the amazing simplicity of evolution that explains the complexity of life on earth. It is generally accepted now that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old — not 6,000 years as the Bible claims (or, as Sam Harris wittily put it: “About 1,000 years after the Sumerians invented glue.”)

Yes, science has not yet explained everything, and one can argue whether science can explain everything. But only a duplicitous or disillusioned person will deny the fact that scientific discoveries, along with a raised conciseness of human beings over the centuries, has been consistently reducing the role of religion in our lives.

The progress in our moral instincts have taught us that we shouldn’t treat women as livestock or take slavery for granted (as the Bible often did). The abolition of slavery and emancipation of women owes everything to the changing moral zeitgeist, and nothing to the religious beliefs. We have moved on from the primordial laws of the scriptures that approved of – and even propagated – things like slavery, caste system, and polygamy.

Why don’t we realize and accept the fact that we have been adjusting and repudiating our religious beliefs to accommodate scientific discoveries and moral zeitgeist for centuries now? And if we do, then why not just stop this charade once and for all, and embrace rationalism (i.e. science)? Why can’t we shake off the religious dogmatism that’s obstructing our moral and rational progress?


9 responses to “On the Infallibility of Holy Scriptures

  1. Maggie Other

    I believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant in the original manuscripts.

  2. jigar doshi

    Read “what is Religion” by Swami Vivekananda. I am sure you will have all your questions answered.

    • Vishal


      I will give it a shot, but I am highly skeptical if that’s going to change my attitude towards religious dogma in any way.

      Just a quick note about revisionist/reformist views of religion in general: If only these nuanced, sophisticated and intellectually cohesive religions (like the one Vivekananda envisioned) predominated the world, we would be surely living in a much different and better place, and my issues with religions would perhaps be minimal. But unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. To the majority of the people religion means very different things than what these rose-tinted revisionist/reformist religions envisioned.

      My comments about religion are not directed towards these numerically negligible minority views of religions. They are directed towards religion as it is understood and followed by the majority.

  3. Kevin

    “progress in our moral instincts”
    Fascinating construct.

  4. I’d take Jigar’s suggestion and read Vivekananda’s book. But I know that you’re an avid reader, and I am sure you will publish something about that book soon. I will wait for that review. I trust your judgement.

  5. Hi,

    I just found your blog and am going through it. Very good reading.

    Here’s my simple comment on your underlying premise… When you read a good book do you take it literally? Do you just look to the surface words or look for deeper meanings that will become uncovered based on your understanding?

    If the Bible (or any scripture) was in fact authored by “God” then it will have many meanings and underlying understandings based on your own view of the world. To me, the fact the Bible has soooo many meanings and in fact every person that reads it takes away exactly what they want proves that it could not be authored by mere mortals. It was at the very least divinely inspired. I believe all great scriptures point to the one Truth, but can only use fallible words. (the opening of the book Tao says the Tao that can be described is not the Tao).

    That meanings go from the literalists, those who find secret mathematical codes, those who believe it is a book of prophesy (many of which they say have come true), those who think it is a good stroy with good principles to live by, those who say it is God’s work, those who say it proves God cannot exist, and those who say the true meaning can only be revealed when you come to know God personally but it gives guidance to get there.

    What other book ever has been able to be taken in so many vastly different ways, and each adamant they are right? Could a man (let alone a committee) write such a book?

    • @thirdobservation,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I am glad you liked my blog. 🙂

      >> To me, the fact the Bible has soooo many meanings and in fact every person that reads it takes away exactly what they want […]

      Imagine a road sign that reads ‘Turn Right’. For centuries, people have been coming to this point, they read the sign, ponder its meaning, and finally ends up doing what they want – turn left, make a U turn, whatever.

      Don’t you think that would suggest that the sign is completely redundant and irrelevant?

      On another note, how am I supposed to interpret a verse like “I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men; she must be silent.” [1 Timothy 2:12]? I really don’t see a potential for multiple interpretations here. It’s pretty clear, like that ‘Turn Right’ sign… no?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 66 other followers

On Twitter

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.


%d bloggers like this: