Credibility of Genesis

In my previous post I went through the Bible weighing it in terms of its credibility, and I skimmed through the key topics. I wanted now to go into a little more detail on Genesis, especially given the obfuscation that has occurred by the related movements of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Photo Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Intelligent Design is something that I may get to in a future post. I will touch only briefly on it now. The idea is that we can look at something and determine whether or not it was designed. This may be a valid science to investigate in general terms, but the case that ID is trying to make is very far from proven. In fact the basic terms have not even been properly defined and not a single peer-reviewed paper has been published. However, while the movement has cobbled together an extraordinary diversity of views, the basic concepts are pseudo-scientific (or perhaps pseudo-philosophical) rather than biblical, so it cannot be used to assess the credibility of the Bible.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if the Genesis stories are taken as stories (and if we assume that the author was not writing them to be taken literally), then we don’t necessarily count it against the Bible from a credibility perspective. But if, as some people do, the stories are taken seriously, then we must count it as a serious indictment on its credibility (and theirs). This post will try to make this basic case.

I have read several books on Intelligent Design and Creationism. If you’ve read one, you’ve pretty much read them all. The arguments tend to be rehashed, with minimal variation. These arguments have been categorised and responded to in the talk origins web site, and some books on the subject are well worth a read. How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution is a history of the Intelligent Design movement, showing how the movement (dare I say) evolved. Nature’s Witness is a pastor’s (somewhat successful) attempt to reconcile Christianity with scientific understanding and evidence. Undeniable by Bill Nye the Science Guy lays out some of the science very clearly and readably, and was written in his response to a debate he had with Ken Ham (which according to a poll on Christian Today, Bill Nye won hands down (92% of vote when I looked)).

I don’t want to get into the science here in too much depth, though I pass over it with regret as there are some results of such astounding beauty as to (literally) defy belief – hearing these broad and deep scientific results airily dismissed is like watching a work of art being vandalised.  Rather I want to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by creationists and look at the actual verses of the Bible, to see what it is we are expected to believe. I will leave it to your good sense as to whether this is credible. Even when I was a Christian I didn’t find it to be so, and found it frustrating that Christians would present this as a serious view of our origins. It’s so small minded and parochial, while the view science presents is so grand and amazing.

Here’s

Genesis 1:1-9 (NIV),  which we will examine as though it were intended to be understood literally:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Here we see that the model for the Earth is based very much on what a primitive person would be able to see.  They believed that there was water under the earth and water above the earth, and that to get things going God started with the waters and separated them, putting a vault to hold the water up in the sky.  That made a nice little air gap (it doesn’t go into the details regarding the vacuum this would really make) in the water to work with.  Then he got the water at the bottom shoved over into one bit and brought out dry ground.

image

(The above image is from here, which I discuss a bit further down).

We know this was the ancient view of the world for other reasons too.  Genesis 7:11 says 

“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”

So the water for Noah’s flood came from both the waters below and the waters above, and the water from above came as a result of floodgates opening and allowing the water above the vault to pour through (unless we’re now supposed to take that bit metaphorically despite the lack of hint).  Even the ten commandments, which were supposedly dictated directly by God, support this world view.  The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-5) states:

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;”

The King James version states “the waters beneath the earth”, which didn’t make much sense to me as a child when I was learning them, but you soon learn that the answers that you get to such questions either leave it as a mystery or patch it with a hypothetical scenario that is not in the text (this latter being the very essence of pseudoscience – we know the right answer, and by God we’re going to get there). [I discuss the 10 commandments more here].

Here’s the Christian website I got the image from, that tries to reconcile Christianity and science making more arguments that this is indeed the model being described. It goes into the Hebrew word for “firmament” (translated above as “vault”), which is raqia, and is understood to be a solid dome-like structure. It is, rightly I think, dismissive of the idea that this can be understood literally. It enumerates seven arguments that demonstrate that this is the case.

Creation.com has an almost unreadable response to this here. My above definition of pseudoscience applies to this exactly: a bunch of ideas starting out with the phrase “it is possible that…” to reconcile the gap between what is and what should be.  Fascinatingly, the article basically ignores the actual bible verses in its discussion (which are pretty clear as you can see for yourself by reading them above), and focuses in on just that one word and meta-arguments about that word. Maybe you could do something like that if the Bible were so credible that it absolutely had to be true, but this credibility would need to be established by more than a fiat assertion contained within the Bible itself. Lacking this evidence there is no reason to ascribe it such credibility.

Some people believe that their experience of the Holy Spirit or whatever is itself the evidence required to validate the Bible. I may go into this a bit more later, but will simply say for now that (1) I’ve never seen any convincing evidence for any supernatural claim, (2) I’ve never heard of a spiritual experience that cannot be explained by psychology or similar, and (3) if you decided to take all these claims of a spiritual experience seriously then it would have to validate all the religions. Since the religions are mutually incompatible, it would, in fact, point towards a spiritual being who was, for whatever reason, into letting basically anyone think that they were really onto something with whatever they happened to believe or that there were multiple spiritual beings, who are all not as powerful as they are claiming. While these are possible, the simpler explanation would be that humans have a predisposition towards religion, and that religions are man-made. Obviously these are deep philosophical waters, so I’ll move on for now, trying to maintain my focus on the credibility of the Bible.

There’s much, much more on this than I can cover here. If you wade through the book of Genesis, it will become clear that some significant mental contortions are needed to take it at all seriously. It doesn’t matter whether you want the “days” to be literal days or ages – that’s just skating around the herds of elephants in the living room. Look at what was made on each day (the sun came on the fourth day – creation.com has to invent a temporary light-source for a few days (possibly with God himself playing the role)). Look at how man and woman were created twice (Gen 1 and Gen 2). Look at the flood story (did kangaroos really know how to get to Australia without leaving any traces of themselves along the way)? Answers in Genesis is an organisation dedicated to trying to perform these contortions. Reading them is enough to make your head spin. Here’s an example where they realise that the pyramids and all those sorts of things need to be built after the flood (despite the dating problems that brings). So they massage the dating, and build them 150-250 years after the flood. Then they need to rely on all the couples having 8 kids every thirty years (which they say is “probably quite conservative”), so that they could have 30,000 descendants ready. Why do they breed so prolifically and then spend all their time and energy building pyramids? They don’t say. 

Is any of it credible? Is there any evidence for it? Not at all.

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