Saturday, October 27, 2007

Happy Belated Bishop Ussher Day! A Walk through Genesis

It's a little late, but October 23 was Bishop Ussher Day, the day that Bishop Ussher, working backwards from Biblical texts, declared to be the day of creation. According to him, it happened in 4004 BC. Of course, the Chinese might have had something to say about that, since they have a history that precedes that date. However, we should be hesitant to be too critical of the good Bishop, for his work was impressive scholarship for his day.

However, there is no excuse for this in a modern society:

"The Bible opens with the description of God creating the universe in six days. That report is accepted as literally true by 60% of the adult population. This passage brought out major distinctions across people groups. For instance, while 73% of the adults who did not attend college believe this account to be literal, just half as many college graduates (38%) hold that view."

With what we know about the world, these results are nothing short of pathetic. To be clear, I am not talking about believing in gods. The Bible is not God. Some believe it is the word of the gods, but they could be mistaken. Criticism of the Bible is not necessarily criticism of god belief. Those beliefs may be lacking evidence, but rarely is there absolute proof that they are wrong (depending on how they are defined), as there is with certain passages of the Bible. Genesis is wrong, plain and simple, and since so many own the Bible, and so few read it, let's get into exactly how wrong it is. To wit (from the Revised Standard Version):

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters"

There was no water on the early earth, that came later. It was literally earth, not formless, not void.

"And God said 'Let there be light', and there was light... and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

Even the most basic of knowledge of astronomy refutes every bit of this. The sun is much older than the earth, so light preceded earth, not the other way around. Further, once the earth is formed and rotating, day and night are inevitable. Interesting, isn't it, that the difference is very arbitrary in the description above, rather than something like "God set the earth in motion, thus making day and night". The reason is obvious: the authors of Genesis didn't know the earth was spherical.

"And God said 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters'. And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."

As our space travels have demonstrated, there is no firmament above the water on earth, and consequently no water above it. Any attempt to interpret this as a description of the water cycle of evaporation and rain would have to explain what was different about the laws of physics then, and where the firmament went.

"And God said 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said 'Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth...and there was evening and there was morning, a third day."

The evidence is overwhelming that the first life forms on earth were single celled organisms, and this was the case for about a billion years. And again, the earth was molten rock first, then came water, not the other way around.

"And God said 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth...And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also...and there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day."

None of this makes any sense in light of what we know about the universe. Stars existed before the earth, as did the sun, they were not created afterwards. The sun of course is the only major light in our sky, with the moon merely reflecting sunlight. Further, the moon existed long before there were seeded plants and fruit trees. And if the sun was made to mark days and years, how were the first three days designated?

"And God said 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth, across the firmament of the heavens. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind..."

The evidence is quite clear that birds were late arrivers on the animal scene, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million years ago, long after the earth had been populated with living things.

"And God said 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures, according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so..."

Cattle too were a late arriver on the scene, along with the rest of the mammals.

There is no nice way to put this. Anyone believing this is literally true is either a moron, or profoundly ignorant, perhaps by not ever having really read the passages. I hope I've at least cleared that up for some. It is the sort of story that was plausible in the time that it was written, but in our modern era, it is the kind only a child could believe.

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