Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Genesis 1: Creation

Ah, one of the bits I’ve read before. Before I get into it, here’s a summary of what science has to say on our origins…

13.7 billion years ago there was a big bang, and shortly after that, everything was so hot and dense that it existed as energy, and high-energy exotic particles. Then particles like protons and neutrons formed, and later they combined to make hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen and helium collapsed under gravity to stars and galaxies. Heavier elements were formed in stars, those stars exploded at the end of their life. Those heavier elements went on to form other stars and planets. Our sun was formed about 5 billion years ago, and the earth about 4.6 billion years ago. The earth was initially liquid, molten metals, and as the planet cooled a solid, dry crust formed. Water was trapped as steam in the crust, which escaped to form clouds of water vapor. As the earth cooled, water rained down from these clouds to form oceans. (And possibly more water from comets?)

The first single cells appeared about 3 billion years ago. Multicellular organisms first appeared in the ocean about 580 million years ago. The oldest land plants and invertebrate animals date to about 400 million years ago. 300 – 65 million years ago were the dinosaurs, during this time there were also small mammals and birds. 65 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped out, and mammals began to diversify. The first tool-using hominids appeared about 2.5 million years ago; modern man has existed for about 100,000 years.

For more information, I suggest wikipedia.

Now, the genesis creation story goes:

Day 1: heaven and earth, then light
Day 2: firmament (the atmosphere?)
Day 3: separating the ocean from the land, then plants
Day 4: the sun and the moon
Day 5: ocean animals and birds
Day 6: land animals, then humans (male and female at the same time)
Day 7: rest

Amusingly, God talks to himself in the plural on day 6… “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” If this is really just one god, why is he talking to himself like there’s more than one person there? The first example that comes to mind of someone else who does that is Gollum, from lord of the rings. Maybe this is the mysterious trinity, which I’ve never had adequately explained to me…it’s just that God has multiple personalities.

So this clearly does not match up with the scientific account at all, if you interpret it literally. You could theoretically reconcile the two, if you assume that God set everything in motion, and then let it unfold according to science, that “day” doesn’t mean a literal 24-hour day, and if you reorder the events of Genesis…

God separated day from night on day 1, but he does it again on day 4, citing his desire to separate night and day as his motivation to create the sun and the moon…what? Cosmology tells us that the stars are formed before the earth; Genesis has the earth on day 1 and the sun on day 4. Genesis also has plants before the sun, which makes no sense because plants need sunlight for photosynthesis to survive. It is also likely that the first plants did not arrive until well after the first ocean creatures. And so on. The question is, why bother? Why not just assume that this story isn’t true?

Why would an all-knowing God invent natural laws and set the universe in motion, allowing future events to unfold according to those natural laws, then write a creation story where the chronology of it gets all mixed up? Didn’t he know what was going to happen?

If the creation story was written by a man, and not dictated by God, then maybe whoever it was just got it wrong. But if that’s the case, why take anything in the Bible seriously? If we assume that this part was written by a man who messed it up, how could we possibly know which parts (if any) are true?

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