Sunday, April 14, 2019

Top five wrongest parts of the creation story in Genesis

I should not have to enumerate this. It should be obvious to the most casual reader of the beginning of the Bible that the creation story is a bunch of guesses by some ancient people -- and they got it wrong pretty much from top to bottom.

Which is fine. It can be read as a charming poem or metaphor or something if you're from a tradition that cherishes this story. The problem arises when modern people doggedly insist -- in the face of all evidence and reason -- that this story gives an accurate description of how life, the universe, and everything began.

So I will enumerate here the top five wrongest points in the story. They're not the only wrong bits, but these wrong parts are so egregiously wrong that I don't want to cloud the issues by nit-picking the lesser details like whether the two stories contradict each other, etc.

#1. Day four: God creates the Sun.

Yes, after having created daylight back on day one, and all of the worlds plants on day three, God finally gets around to creating the Sun.

This is game over. It is sincerely not possible to get the sequence of events of Earth's formation more wrong than this.

The only apologetic excuse I've heard for this one is that the Earth's atmosphere was originally so opaque that it wasn't until the Earth was covered with plants that the Sun and Moon and stars became visible, so -- to the observer writing this story -- it looked like the Sun and Moon and stars were created at that point.

There are several problems with this excuse. The first is that's not what it says.

There is nothing in the text to indicate that the other uses of "God created" something refer to Him actually creating the thing, but this one refers to the unnamed observer first noticing it. This interpretation comes from the popular Bible-literalist syllogism: 1. The Bible is not wrong, 2. The thing written in this Bible passage is wrong, therefore 3. What's written in the passage is not what's written in the passage.

This interpretation of this passage is a classic example of the "Who are you going to believe -- me or your lying eyes reading what's written on the page?" school of Bible study.

But, even if we were to grant that that interpretation is reasonable (which I don't), it's still wrong.

The Earth's atmosphere was not opaque (or cloud-covered) enough to block the view of the Sun. Probably not at any point in the Earth's formation, but certainly not continuously from the beginning of the Earth's formation to the point where the land was covered with plants.

And finally, if your own most charitable interpretation of this passage is that the author of the creation story can't tell the difference between God creating something and himself simply noticing the thing, why would you treat this story as accurate?

#2. Day four: God creates the stars

Yep, day four, as an afterthought to creating the Sun and Moon, God creates the stars -- which are described as lights that He placed in the expanse/firmament that He created to hold up the water when it's not raining (see below).

This one is (in an absolute sense) even more wrong than #1 because the stars already existed for several billion years before the formation of the Earth. Also, they are other suns -- they are not little lights embedded in the firmament.

I put this one after the one about creating the Sun, though, because it's not quite as bad. Ancient people couldn't really be expected to know that the stars are distant suns. Whereas, I would hope that even the most ignorant ancient person could be expected to figure out that daylight comes from the Sun -- it does not exist independently of the Sun. And hopefully they could also figure out that plants rely on the Sun, and hence wouldn't be green and growing before the Sun existed.

#3. Day two: God creates the "Firmament" or "Expanse"

At this point God created something that does not exist and never did.

This one is easy for modern Christians to ignore because there's no modern word for this thing because no modern people believe in its existence. So it's easy to (intentionally or unintentionally) misread this passage as just referring to the atmosphere or something.

In reality, this is a reference to an ancient belief that there was a solid physical barrier that "separated the water under the expanse from the water above it." In other words, this is supposedly the thing that holds up the rain except for on the occasions when God opens the heavens and makes it rain. It's also where He embedded the stars, as I mentioned earlier.

If you don't believe me, the footnote in the  "NIV Study Bible" that I am quoting from gives the following cross-references for the term for this thing God created: "Hard as a mirror" (Job 37:18) and "Like a canopy" (Isa 40:22)

#4. Days three, five, and six: God creates all living things in the wrong order

The short version is as follows: day three: all plants, (day four: the Sun??!!!??!), day five: all water-dwelling and air-dwelling animals, day six: all land animals.

The water-then-land part is kind of correct, but birds existing before any land animals is dead wrong. And the text says that each category was created completely in the above sequence -- which isn't true. New species of plants, water-dwelling animals, land-dwelling animals, and air-dwelling animals (along with other types of life forms) have continuously arisen concurrently from essentially the earliest days of complex cells.

The evidence for this sequence, by the way, does not depend on the theory of Evolution. The evidence comes from the fossil record -- the millions of fossils that are found in consistent strata around the globe. Let me emphasise this point: the evidence shows that the Biblical creation story's account of the formation of life is wrong all by itself -- no reference to evolution is required.

#5. God creates the first human by making a clay sculpture and then breathing life into it.

In the earlier segment of the story, the author is really vague about the mechanisms by which God "creates" things. So you can believe it says that He brought these things into existence with a poof of magic or through some mechanisms that roughly correspond to the evidence. This is the first time that we get some specifics about how God makes things.

And, unsurprisingly, the method described in the story does not bear any resemblance to any natural process that we have any evidence for.

Again, I would like to emphasise that the creation story here is wrong all by itself -- without any reference to evolution. A lot of Bible-literalists weirdly single out the theory of Evolution as something they don't want to "believe in" -- because it somehow threatens the Bible. But that line of reasoning misses the point entirely:

Even if we didn't have the weight of scientific evidence showing us that evolution of species by natural selection did occur and continues to occur, it still wouldn't mean that we have any reason or evidence to conclude that "blowing life into an inanimate statue" is even close to the way that human life arose. The Bible author's guess here is just wrong.

I'm not going to throw in the creation of Eve at this point because I guess that some Bible literalist could claim that God cloned Eve from DNA in Adam's rib -- which (unlike the animating-a-clay-figure idea) is at least in the same universe with something that is possible. Still, with all the incest coming up later in the book, it's a little horrifying to imagine that the parents in the story were actually clones of one another (not to mention the fact that if Adam is biologically male with a functioning male reproductive system, his clone would not be a female with a functioning female reproductive system).

Anyway, I hope this list is instructive. But I know it won't be because convincing yourself that the creation story in Genesis is literally true requires such a profound level of delusion that there's no hope that the light of reason will ever penetrate it.

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