Tag Archives: Creationism

Part 7: The Religion vs. Science War

This is an article in a series written to create an unambiguous, complete understanding of Genesis 1:1-1:19, and continues from Part 6: The World of Genesis versus the World of Science.

The religion versus science debates of today

There is currently a war of sorts being waged between Theism and Atheism, both in forums of the people and in forums of philosophers, where both sides are trying to point to fallacies in the theories of the other; to crush the faiths and foundations of either. While wars have no winner, it seems this is one golden age of questioning established knowledge and doctrine. It is one in which a wealth of knowledge about the world has crystallized and solidified, many disciplines have been backed up by evidence, and where this knowledge and evidence is instantly available.

I originally intended a short article to wage a war in the same manner; I had found the fallacies that would weaken the faith and foundations of religion, and it was quite clear to me that I had truth on my side. Instead, the very few sentences of knowledge that these few verses represent became weeks of analyzing sources from all camps with the intent to destroy my original article, interspersed with pauses of reflection and introspection. This may not sound like fun to some, but for me, it was a summer holiday well spent. Regularly finding time to find this philosophical mood I get in sometimes trigger something in me that makes me more happy, calm, and confident; more contented about life — even pondering something depressing such as death, when I do it in this mood, it is helpful to me.

If I had the power to influence the warring sides, I would like them to fight their battles this way instead. They might find that that prohibits them from fighting the war as forcefully, but that the small battle won without losing the understanding of the other side is more permanently won, and that they haven’t sacrificed a part of themselves in order to win it.

Taking both sides

In this series then, I have taken both sides in the Religion vs. Science debate of today, and in the previous part, I tried my best to defend the attacks on this part of Genesis and hopefully clarified what arguments will not further the debate. I’ve done this to show that there is an alternative to the polarized debate with both camps attacking the opponent and supporting their own. I think there needs to be more philosophers who write in this way in order to create a better debate climate. Not because I think it too much of a fight or because I shy away from fierce argumentation, but because I’ve discovered that not only seeing both sides but actively taking both sides “kills your bastard darlings”; rids you of arguments that the opponent sees clearly are wrong but that you mistakenly see clearly as being valid. In doing so, it does leave your remaining arguments all the more solid, it gives you a deeper understanding, and your opponent sees this deeper understanding in you.

While much harder work, I found that the act of doubting yourself leaves you not with self-doubt, but with a stronger, tempered self-confidence. It also helps in predicting counter-arguments of opponents; not that you couldn’t predict them almost as well before, but in responding to them you will convey thoughts that speak to the opponent in way similar to how they speak to himself. It will lend you the leverage to perhaps convince some of the already convinced.

Conclusions

There are some conclusions (as they apply to the debate on topic) that can be drawn even from summarizing these relatively few attacks and their attempts at reconciliation:

Reconciliating the understanding of the texts to reality can break your heart. It requires of the believer the same burden of proof amassed by tens of thousands of self-critical, rigorous scientists that is found in thousands of books, already peer-reviewed, revered, and attacked over the centuries, with the believer himself only having a few texts and scholars available to develop a reconciling theory. This exposes him to a debate climate in which he finds himself attacked skillfully on all sides, and the pressure of this may make him feel like he’s fighting a war that is over before it’s begun. It would take a stronger man that I think exists to fight such a war and not cave in under this pressure.

A few reconciliations are impossible to maintain. Many reconciliations were possible, but the remaining few suggests that an inordinate amount of time will be spent on developing the required new reconciling theories of the meaning (text) and knowledge (understanding of what the text claims) that does not yet exist and which does not match mainstream beliefs, even within your own faith. These new theories will be perceived as “tailor-made to make the holy texts work”, which will bring suspicion of their level of accuracy and intent. Science hasn’t worked to understand the world to undermine religion, but simply to understand the world. In this educated age, new religious interpretations of the texts and what they say will be said to not have been developed to understand the world better, but to stop religion from losing credibility, and will at the same time fall short of undermining well-supported scientific theories.

Intermediate explanations to reconcile texts with reality takes you out of the frying pan and into the fire. If these show the texts describe reality as well as scientific theories, but only after scientific theories had been developed that say how things really work or came to be, the explanation will be perceived as a construction after the fact; after its inventor had been educated to the point where he saw that the text posed a contradiction to Science. By believers it may be seen as an attempt to “validate scripture through Science and not through faith”. However, these are the insincere intermediate explanations. Certainly, intermediate explanations that are found or developed that do not fall into this category are highly interesting and of the same worth as scientific explanations, but that does not mean they won’t meet the same fire of criticism from your peers and opponents both.

Yes, parts of this summary are unnecessarily generalizing. The reason is that it’s intended as general advice to guide debaters into fertile areas of discussion that have a chance of reducing polarization and producing new truths.

Descriptions in Genesis 1:1-1:19 that contradict reality

These are the statements of knowledge that were attacked and which could not be reconciled in order to keep the text as a true description of the creation of the world:

In Genesis, we are not told that land was formed by God, but instead that God somehow gathered the water into seas to make land “appear”. That’s simply not how it works, and you don’t have to be a geologist to show that. Moreover, there is no reason why it should be mentioned as an act of creation, since this process is ongoing.

I’d love to see a classroom experiment in which this is demonstrated!

Yes, barring removal of water such as by evaporation or ice or snow forming on land, it is only the transformation of the Earth’s crust that can make surface water gather and form seas, both if the Earth is covered with water and if it isn’t.

It’s simply a description that demonstrates a misperception of reality that could not be the word of God.

If you wish to accuse Genesis of not being a holy text, but simply the ignorance of the Bronze Age put in writing by scholars doing their best, this is one of the strongest arguments.

If you wish to defend Genesis as a holy text, you must somehow make the removal of this demonstrably false description not seem insincere editing of the Truth.

The Moon doesn’t rule the night, it sometimes isn’t even in the sky at night! In some parts of the world, it’s below the horizon for months at a time!

It’s a mystery to me why scribes would write such a description, when surely they could see, as could any other man in the Bronze Age, that there were moonless nights and even that the Moon was in the sky during the day. Therefore, this does not point to ignorance on the part of the scribes, but a human, if perplexing, mistake or embellishment.

The Sun and the Moon aren’t in the sky under the rainwater and above the earth! They’re in space, far from the Earth and its sky.

This is an even stronger argument for Genesis not being the word of God but descriptions written by the best scholars of the age who yet were ignorant of, in this case, Astronomy.

Implications of the unsuccessful reconciliations

It would seem to me it’s immensely hard to defend not only these verses as the word of God, but by the fact that the rest of Genesis 1 is written as a part of the same creation account, to defend that Genesis 1 as a whole is the word of God.

Considering that there are 3 errors in these mere 19 verses, perhaps the best recourse for believers intent on keeping their holy books unassailable would be to deem Genesis not one of the holy books, as we know has been the fate of other books once considered holy accounts of events in the Old and New Testaments.

Implications of the successful reconciliations

For non-believers, I hope I’ve shown which types of attacks reveals crudeness and ignorance on their part, and also in what way other types of attacks will not appear convincing to believers.

For believers, I hope I’ve given you valid defenses for many of the attacks on holy scripture that non-believers commonly wage.

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I realize that the detail of this analysis might have caused some believers to doubt their faith. Even though I’ve never found any of the mainstream religions persuasive despite my interest in spirituality, and therefore never lost my religion, I think I can yet understand the very human questions that would arise.

Religion has given me so much — faith in what I do and the future, and a sense of worth and belonging. How do I keep my faith?

If you feel all those things are dependent on you subscribing to certain religious ideas, first consider why that should be so.

The answer I’ve arrived at is that those things are very human and common to all of us, and that religion has arisen naturally as an attempt at fulfilling those needs in us. Should you suspect yourself of wanting the answers and everything else religion offers in place of finding out for yourself how to have faith in what you do, the future, that you are valuable, and how to belong?

Perhaps you fear that if you do lose your religion, you will be in the same place that Man found himself in ancient times, looking up at the stars in awe of the mystery, and on all the parts of the world, both the wondrous and the horrifying, and at human behavior, both inspiring and despicable. And there is only you, wanting, needing, to make sense of it all.

Certainly, this is the abyss of a lonely feeling you share with philosophers and scientists who through the ages attempted to make sense of it all.  But you perhaps feel that gaining enough knowledge to do the same is out of your grasp. The most knowledgeable among us feel the same way. The good news is that the times have changed, and today there are so many sources of established knowledge to learn from that the world will seem even more wonderful and at the same time less of a strange place. There are more senses in which you can belong, and we are more in control of our future, than ever before.

This leaves the spirituality side of us that I think we all possess: what is this sense of awe and wonder that this world evokes in us in different forms? I wish I had an answer to that. My personal experience is that this comes naturally to us in reality, dreams, ideas, poetry, music and art; everywhere except in religion, where it for some reason requires to repeatedly be externally imposed on you. This is just my experiences from taking part of three religions, but if you can remember feeling this same way, you should not fear losing your religion and try to discover for yourself whence comes your spirituality.

Assuming it were even possible at this stage to change what is commonly taught in religion, how can we change the religious text to better match reality?

I can see two recourses:

1. Edit out or somehow create new interpretations of these descriptions to match reality.

2. Not consider Genesis an answer to the ageless and very human question of how the world and Man came to be.

For Young-Earth movements and Creationists, revisions are already taking place. Hopefully, my views are useful for you to revise more carefully and perhaps successfully.

I am a scientist and believer. Can I hold holy scripture true even if parts of it contradict science?

It’s a difficult question. While this poses no problem in some sciences, when claims of knowledge of holy texts overlap established knowledge in hard sciences, it would seem to me it’s a question of being honest with yourself. For myself, this is a hypothetical question, since I rely on science in my work but do not work as a scientist. But where conflicting knowledge overlaps, there can’t be two truths; it seems to me that while it’s certainly possible to take two views into consideration for a while, eventually you will have to make a choice.

You can tell yourself that the problem is restricted to the areas of Astronomy, Biology, and Geology pertaining to the three errors in Genesis and any scientific truths they build upon, but in the light of that these are the disciplines that offer scientific explanations that clash even more severely with the larger account of the entire holy texts, I really think it would be staving off the inevitable, that is, in order to keep your faith you must dismiss the foundations of these scientific disciplines.

If you rely on these foundations in your daily work, I think this must eventually cause you to ask what you are doing, holding them as true and yet favoring another world view which has no bearing on your work.

If you do not rely on them, there is naturally no conflict. But you may yet ask the question, suspecting that one is more well-founded than the other.

One option is attempting to disprove or develop alternative explanations for the conflicting descriptions. This is what we see Creationists and others doing today. I wish that all such attempts should be met with welcome as well as sincere criticisms by the scientific community, even though they and I might ask of you whether you develop the arguments to really find the truth or just in order to be able to cling to your faith.

What do you hope to achieve with this analysis targeting Abrahamic faiths?

The original analysis or the withheld precursor to this article series was foolheartedly intended to cause doubt in those who considered this text the word of God and the true account of creation.

While that might have been the eventual outcome, I started this series with the opposite – to destroy the original analysis. In the process, the articles grew into finding ways for more productive debates in the current “religion vs. science war”. I hope you agree that this at least, is a good intent despite of the results of the analysis.

I hope to suggest to Atheists, Christians, Jahwists and Moslems which battles can be left out of the debate wars as either impossible to win (for either side), are losing battles (for Theism), will not convince (for Atheism) or have no bearing on issues previously considered conflicts between science and religion.

I hope that this will lead to less polarization of debate and a movement toward a desire to understand the opponent.

I hope to have shown Young-Earth believers, Creationists, and other revisionists that newly developed theories weaken faith if they serve as intermediate explanations, especially if they show signs of being developed in response to or as a consequence of scientific findings that expose conflicts between scripture and reality.

I hope to have shown that reading Genesis symbolically is untenable, and that hard sciences have a bearing on some of the claims.

I hope my method of a partisan trying to take the opponents’ side for a temporary yet extended period of time and sincerely exploring the knowledge the other has to offer catches on. It has many merits, not the least of which is sincere intent.

While mine might not be a new kind of dialectic, I hope this two-sided process will become the preferred method to prepare for debate, to:

1. Weed out “waste of time” arguments: the indefensible, the untenable, the irrelevant, and the pertinent but equally valid,

2. To almost automatically lead the debater to such deeper understanding, and in this persuade him to form debate topics as earnest questions into the others’ knowledge.

Where do you stand on religion and science and the current war being waged?

I’m a non-believer who currently do not identify myself completely with Atheism or Antitheism. I think Science has brought the greatest knowledge and understanding of this and previous ages and think Science, rational thought and logic will eventually guide us to the great truths, whether or not they are truths that we need, want or like.

I think religion has filled these needs in the past, but are starting to not be enough, now that Science has expanded into the realm of what used to be metaphysics and as education makes people see that Science is a solid source of truths. I think religious world views and doctrine are beginning to show signs of the age in which they came about and as a natural consequence are becoming increasingly irrelevant to modern life. Secular law has now shown us that it works as a generic moral code for a society of independent citizens in a complex world on a level that religious authority alone could not hope to reach.

I think I see the signs of an emerging danger that since the conflict between Science and Religion is becoming so apparent, debate will become even more polarized, and even though we all are educated, knowledgeable humans with the potential of compassionate, rational thought, this conflict will instead bring out the stubborn child in us; the achieved scholar (on either side) who just wants the other to concede and admit he’s right about everything he says.

As we have to grow up in the Universe, I think we have to grow up in the arena of debate and make them arenas of sincere curiosity instead of arenas of attack and defense. As we ask of others intellectual honesty, we should see in our new claims the foundations for them that we have not yet built.

What books inspired you to write this?

While proper references will be added for the sources I consulted for the translation, I have purposely not read any analytical attacks on religion by established philosophers on the topic of my series, in order to not subscribe too eagerly to established arguments. Now I can, and if you have particularly excellent book recommendations, please mention them to me :)

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Part 6: The World of Genesis versus the World of Science

This is an article in a series written to create an unambiguous, complete understanding of Genesis 1:1-1:19, and continues from Part 5: Knowing the Origins of the World.

Background

Why would someone spend so much time and effort on a tiny portion of the holy books, a mere 19 verses? The frank answer is that I started this article series with the intent to show absolutely irreconcilable differences between the world of science and the world of Abrahamic religions.  But as I delved into the translations and scholarly work that others had done on Genesis, I grew more and more uncertain as to whether I would succeed in this. On many occasions, discoveries made me unsure that the way I had read Genesis was universally unambiguous or would be the scholarly accepted way to read it. I decided to learn enough to feel sure I had read it without error.

I saw that certainly, parts of Genesis provides an accurate account of the world we live in, and decided, instead of a single attack, to alternately attack and reconcile the text and to leave the account as accurate and strong as possible.

(It seems to me that I have always been this way; unable to see one side without seeing the other. I am a confirmed Christian by family tradition and have been an avid and open “seeker” since 15 years of age, and though I’ve found many good and wise philosophical thoughts in old-age and new-age belief systems, none of them have yet shown me a way of life in some way wiser than the way of  reason and educated compassion. Today, I consider myself a non-believer and identify myself most closely with humanism.)

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In the previous part, we confirmed that my Comprehensive Translation indeed stood up to scrutiny, both etymologically and epistemologically, and that it matches extremely well the overwhelmingly common understanding in Abrahamic religions of what was created in the first four days of Genesis.

I will now continue this, going from understanding what the account states about the origins of the world to determining whether those statements are accurate about the world, and attack all the parts of the account that can be said to be contradictory to modern science, in the most petty and vicious manner possible, as an aggressive Atheist would.

I will just as viciously reconcile these attacks. If I’m successful in this, I will have shown that there is no conflict between religion and science concerning this part of creation. If it turns out it cannot be successfully reconciled, a believer would have to show that the sciences that refute those parts pervert reality; certainly, simply declaring that the divinely inspired scribes “just got a few things wrong” or the believer picking and choosing what parts of the word of God are the truth would make him a hypocrite and would weaken the word of God.

In other words, where there is a conflict between reality and the world of religion, religious accounts can be reconciled to fit reality, but reality cannot be reconciled to fit the world of religion (or all the different religious accounts of creations could be “made” valid; you could not claim Genesis was “especially” valid).

To someone who dismisses reality and sees as true only the parts of reality that happen to fit with his religion, simply nothing can be said until this person agrees with the following:

Reality is here, where you and I are, and what we together can show is true about it, is true.

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What follows is a hopefully to a high degree representative dialog between miscellaneous attackers on my Comprehensive Translation of Genesis 1:1-1:19. These are the arguments I can foresee will be brought against it and my attempts to defend this part of the holy texts as true, in the light of our knowledge of the world.

General dismissive and non-argumentative attacks on Genesis:

It’s all a hoax; there’s nothing official or holy about Genesis; it’s just a random collection of poetry and fiction over the centuries, put together on a whim, as random people calling themselves inspired writers saw fit.

That may be your personal suspicion, but my translation is a best effort of interpreting it as non-fiction and non-poetry. Please attack my translation. Since you can’t prove a negative, all you can do is try to convince people. This means that this attack is on equal terms with religious views and will lead to a war of opinion and debate that will likely be a losing battle, if history teaches us anything.

We must tell everyone that the Bible is a bedtime story for children.

Hm. I think this is only usually assumed by people who haven’t read the Bible, let alone to their children, which, by the way, I don’t recommend doing. Apart from it not being very exciting for children most of the time, it also contains horrible stories of abuse and suffering. Your children might be more excited by adventures of Greek myth or the world of Tolkien. You can probably tell that I think this can be dismissed as an insincere and uninformed attack.

Their creation story reeks of bronze age desert tribesmen trying to explain the world by making things up, that’s why there are so many mismatches between their story and the world. They didn’t know better then.

While I must grant the argument that some phrases indicate the knowledge of the natural world at the time (see follow-up on this below), I will claim that even inspired writers would not, and in fact could not express any widened grasp of the world in terms other than those their fellows would understand.

The celestial mechanics described herein is the same-old, laughable pre-Copernican Astrology that persisted through millennia in absence of Astronomical evidence, yet would make the ancient Incas point to their temples.

I agree there is much to be learned from the history of Astronomical theories, not least of which is the eventually losing battle faiths have fought against Science and the despicable way the Catholic Church treated scientists of the Middle Ages. However, this article deals only with Genesis 1:1-1:19, and while translations containing “fix-stars” and “firmament” are certainly an embarrassment to scientist believers, you won’t find them in my translation.

Genesis doesn’t explain the origin of the Universe or God, so it’s useless.

Neither does Science at the present moment. Does this mean Science is useless? I recommend to not use this argument in a Science versus Religion attack.

As you see, these attacks bring nothing specific to address, which is why they are not useful in debate. I have listed them here because they are attacks, in order to show that these attacks are simply monologing without expecting rational response. Some of them can be dismissed, however, and some poignantly show that in every debate there is a symmetrical line of pointless bickering that must be left behind in order to create understanding.

Religious attacks:

The word of God must be read symbolically. You must read all of the holy scriptures, and all of the great thoughts of the Prophets, before you can even read what the creation account in Genesis says.

I have a problem with this, as should any believer, since any collection of texts could be made to describe anything by reading them symbolically and seeing selected passages as proofs of passages written a millennium later by readers of the original passages. Critics may in fact rightly argue that holy scripture has been selected by the degree in which they agree with previous texts and that this collection has formed the Holy Books of the major religions. Even believers will want to know why certain texts, also considered holy at their time, were deemed unfit and on what grounds. It also exposes each religion to renewed attack on their lack of consensus on who the righteous prophets are; if it cannot be known by the word of God which prophets are true, how can it be known which holy texts are true? I recommend believers abandon this defense and strengthen it instead with translations that are close in meaning to original texts.

You should read Genesis this way, not that way.

If you use this argument, you are saying that there is no Genesis but what each religion reads into it; saying, in effect, that there is no such thing as the word of God. Therefore, this is to the detriment of those who believe what you believe.

Sub-attack: Genesis should be read in blocks.

I have researched and am dismissing the reading of the 6 days of creation in two 3-day blocks as proposed by some, on these grounds:

1. Blocks inevitably compare the Genesis account to the poetry of the age, which is surely unthinkable for a believer. If so, the account either sacrifices reason for rhyme as poetry does and is therefore not accurate (as addressed previously), or the knowledge therein passed to Man about his origins is ‘important, but not important enough to require complete accuracy’.

2. The idea of division into these separation-creation blocks falls grotesquely on the creation of light in 1:3 and the lack of acts of separation on the third day.

It’s important to understand that dismissing or embracing this unsuccessful interpretation of course in no way affects the order of creation during the first four days; there could be no sky if there was no water to split, the earth could produce no vegetation until God made land appear, and so on.

Biologist attacks:

If a day of Genesis is much longer than a normal day, God would have shriveled the plants for eons and then left them in blackness for eons.

Plants thrive in the presence of sunlight; most of them cope with absence of sunlight for brief periods. The only thing to say against plants not surviving for eons in the sunlight (if there was a constant supply of well-spring water as Genesis 2:1 says), is that there wouldn’t be enough local nutrients for each plant to survive that long. This water could certainly have brought such nutrients.

There is no mention of an eon-long night in which God performs acts of creation. After each set of acts of creation, “there was evening and there was morning”. Therefore, the assumption that it’s eon-long is solely the attacker’s.

Geologist attacks:

These things couldn’t have been created in 4 days. We can see the evidence in the rocks, we can measure how slowly the Earth’s crust transforms, and we have carbon dated trees that are very nearly 10,000 years old.

Correct. It’s untenable to counter the weight of evidence of these three disciplines (archaeology, geology, biology), with a claim similar to the perhaps familiar, age-old “these things you measure were created already very old”. Certainly, believers support biologists’  dating original holy texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, I’m sure. Together, this means that any believer claiming that Genesis days were similar to 24-hour days faces an impossibly steep mountain to climb.

Interpreting the days of Genesis as not being actual 24-hour days can’t be accused of being vague, like the word rule is. Elsewhere in Genesis, there is great support for reading “in the day of” as “in the generations of”.

In summary, the reconciled translation already interprets days as eons, and so this attack doesn’t need further reconciliation but can be dismissed completely on these grounds.

Interpreting days literally as days is what Young-Earth proponents (and others) do. They have no arguments to help them climb this impossibly steep mountain of contrary evidence, and they must keep such a belief against most believers and against reality.

Land isn’t formed by “gathering water together”, but by magma escaping between tectonic plates.

Certainly, recent and historical evidence shows this is how new land emerges. Does the Genesis description of events demonstrate the ignorance of 6th Century BC man?

To any thinker, I should think this description stands out as notably naive; the water gathering somewhere wouldn’t  lower the sea level. If the Earth is already covering all the land with water, where in the water would the water be gathered? It’s the land that must rise. You need to know nothing about magma or tectonic plates to understand that.

Speculating a little, land could appear if water evaporated or was somehow led inside the Earth and then never leaked out into the seas, but Genesis doesn’t say that. It says God gathered the waters unto one place.

I see one possibility: that someone would infer an intermediate explanation, such as that “God gathered the water unto one place by raising the land“. But this is what happens automatically when land rises, and we’re being told God gathered the waters directly and the raising of land is not mentioned. This, to me, is a theory constructed after the fact and requires support from outside Genesis, but that’s not its worst problem: it would never have been constructed unless and until secular science discovered what really makes water gather. Intermediate explanations such as this opens up a sub-attack: “But land-raising is an ongoing process. If you attribute land-raising to the creation of earth in Genesis, it no longer describes an act of creation that took place eons ago.” And this leaves for you to explain what the scribes would have meant by including it, if your intermediate explanation should be true.

No translational reconciliation to suggest removal of water (such as withdraw instead of gather) helps matters, because the place where the water was gathered were the seas, not some as yet undiscovered pocket in the Earth’s crust or similar. The entire act of creation is the explanation why there are seas – because that’s where the water gathered.

For these reasons, I cannot reconcile this attack, neither in the domain of translation nor understanding of the text.

There are no geological theories supporting that the Earth was at any point in time completely covered with water. There are theories suggesting it had a cover of ice in its early history, but that’s not what Genesis says.

While geology is a hard science with many stable theories of how the Earth developed, I would say that this kind of “There never was an X” is similar to “Y does not exist” in that it requires proving a negative. If, however, a theory was developed that shows that “There never could have been an X” or “Y cannot exist” and demonstrates the impossibilities involved – in this case, to prove that the cover of ice could not have melted until after land had risen above the ice – it would be “science as usual”. But until then, such “never happened!” arguments for geology (and indeed other sciences!) are untenable and can be dismissed without requiring reconciliation.

Astronomer/cosmologist attacks:

Genesis does not tell of the creation of the planets, the stars, or the Universe.

Correct. By making use of the wealth of information supplied by neutral scholars, atheist critics, defenders of the faith, and modern, alternative interpreters of the original holy texts examined here, I have shown that this is true. Should defenders of the faith worry about this, however? The answer is: only if they wish the holy texts to compete with the explanatory power of the amassed scientific texts on cosmology and astronomy. I would say that such a wish is hopeless. It’s simply impossible for one book to be so succinct as to explain all the knowledge we have gathered in thousands of scientific books –  not because the holy books aren’t great enough, but because there are so few, and you can describe only so much of the Universe in one book.

That is to say, if you do say that the holy texts explain how everything came to be, this is not only counterproductive, but also a completely unnecessary claim to make in order to keep your faith or to feel that there is no conflict between science and religion. If you claim this for your religion, it will do more harm than good in persuading others.

Where did the light that made God see that what he created was good, and the light that made the plant sprout, come from — before the Sun was put in the sky?

God lit the earth each day for the first three days, and put out the light each day, as the text clearly states. Then, he created the Sun and put it in the sky. Now, the only natural light we know comes from stars and other hot substances, which is a conflict. But it’s not helpful to speculate that God is demoted to someone who merely guides such to shine on the earth. Instead, if we believe he could create the expanse, so he could create light itself or a temporary light source. The simple answer is that we are not told in Genesis what kind of light shone on the Earth during the first 3 days. It is unmentioned and cannot be inferred. Regardless, he saw by this light.

How did the plants get water on the third and fourth day? It says later in Genesis that it never rained until after the creation of Adam, and all the other water was seawater.

This is a question that goes beyond the creation account, and so we can look beyond the account to find the simple answer. In Genesis 2:1, we are conclusively told that the earth was watered from a well-spring until it rained for the first time.

The Moon doesn’t rule the night, it sometimes isn’t even in the sky at night! In some parts of the world, it’s below the horizon for months at a time!

As previously demonstrated, this comes down to the choice of the word rule. I’ve shown that its vagueness is a problem, and that choosing any like word that is more specific leads to a conflict with Science, and indeed common sense. I will concede this attack. I’ve made a best effort, if you wish to reconcile this you must make a better effort still to find a replacement word.

The Sun and the Moon aren’t in the sky under the rainwater and above the earth! They’re in space, far from the earth and its sky.

It has already been established where the expanse of the sky is according to Genesis. I will have to concede this point also. This part of the account is so reminiscent of millennia of common belief in astrological concepts such as the firmament and fix-stars, that it confuses and depresses me.  I am unable to find any explanation for why this is the case and for this grave mismatch between the world of Genesis and the world of Man, and, more seriously, I heavily doubt any conceivable reconciliation on this point can be made.

The planets weren’t formed before the Sun! What would the Earth orbit around in the absence of the Sun? The elements that constitute the Earth and everything on it are created in stars.

Certainly, orbiting stars is what planets do. But recently, several planets have been found that orbit no star. This means that the “orbit” part of the attack can be summarily dismissed.

The account states that God created the Sun on the fourth day, after the Earth already had plant life growing on it. Furthermore, the Sun was created to meter out years, which means that the Earth was “started in its orbit” on the fourth day. We know that stars are the sources of every element heavier than hydrogen and helium. Now, however unlikely in the light of what we know of solar system formation today, this still leaves the possibility that the material for Earth came from stars other than the Sun. Without an account in holy text for the source of the material for the Earth, this is the only possibility left and therefore what believers must claim (if they hold Genesis as a true account).

So, there is a reconciliation for this attack, and even cosmologists will have no conflict with belief on this point, so long as they claim that the Earth was not formed as part of the physical process that formed our solar system, including the other planets.

The Sun is recognized as something separate from the stars, revealing the old belief that stars were something else than suns.

We have found a reconciliating synonym for firmament and vault, which removes at least the “just ancient astrology” connotations in the wording of the text. But what about the understanding of the text? Certainly it can be said that “God created the Sun to shine on the earth” suggests Tellus-chauvinism and that at the time, people didn’t know that the Earth was a planet, that there were other planets (that the Sun shone on), and that the reason the Moon is visible at all is not because it shines but because the Sun shines on it. The reconciliation is easy: Genesis is the account of the creation of the sky and the earth, in other words, the Earth (i.e. not of the creation of the Universe or even our solar system).  He told it to us who live here, so why should he tell us about the rest of the Universe? We might want an account that explains more about the Universe to put our minds to rest now that we have discovered so much about it, but if God speaks to scholars today, such a modern account has not yet surfaced.

Philosophical attacks

I’ve not been able to find any meaningful philosophical attacks! Why? Well, the text really is very short and is already rid of ambiguities when I try to make the attacks. This rules out the expression and perception of language aspect of philosophy. Also, we to some extent enter the metaphysics of creation a bit too late for philosophy to have much to call into question there. The knowledge expressed in the text is compared not to the nature of reality but reality as Science shows it to be, leaving only generic attacks on Philosophy of Science, which would not be topical.

So, in some ways, Philosophy is not the tool to use for this type of analysis, and in some ways, it has been made toothless by previous (to some extent philosophical) work to get the text in the shape it is before the attacks begin.

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I will end this part now, perhaps leaving you “dangling”, as it were. But I prefer to think of this as leaving you room to reflect on what has been said.

In the next part, I will list the conclusions that can be drawn from this analysis, and clearly state where I stand on “religion vs. science”, and whether the analysis has strengthened or weakened my views on these exciting topics of creation. I would like to ask you – whether you’re a theist or an atheist – have yours changed?

I will also examine the implications of those parts of the Genesis account that were not possible to reconcile with reality, as well as the parts that were, and share the goal I hope to reach in sharing such an extremely detailed analysis of 19 verses out of over 23,000.


Part 5: Knowing the Origins of the World

This is an article in a series written to create an unambiguous, complete understanding of Genesis 1:1-1:19, and continues from Part 4: Reconciling the Analyzed Literal Translation,

This part goes from understanding the account to understanding what it states about the origins of the world.

Standing on the shoulders of many researchers, I have perhaps been able to make the account of Genesis universally comprehensive. If you have persevered with me through this series, you have seen that after a barrage of attacks and reconciliations, what I have ended up with is very nearly identical to the modern, widely accepted account.

The original text has stood up well against the attacks, and the reconciliations have become understandable, elucidating, and specific, rather than poetic, vague, or smoothed over. All through the analysis and etymology, the big picture of what God has created has remained the same as what is believed generally.

It would seem that the only ones who manage to deviate from this common meaning of Genesis to make the word of God serve their own purposes are desperate Creationism and Young-Earth advocates. Even the most vicious Atheists gets the same meaning from this text as do the vast majority of believers.

I think this points to the stability of the ideas in the text. The few uncertain terms we’ve found haven’t shaken the big picture.

Examining the text is one thing, but how does it stand up when we examine the actual knowledge about the world that the account passes to Man? Can we make an attack of sorts and write down the creation account simply and tersely to convey the precise knowledge? (That is to say, the where, when, and why of the creation of these things.) Perhaps when we write down the creation account simply and tersely, we will find some weak points, not in the meaning of the words but in the knowledge the words convey.

I made two attempts and found that weak points do exist, and that I therefore can attack the knowledge. This means that I must prematurely specify some things in the text, something I would have liked to save for the next article. But it must be concluded that if you want to understand unambiguously exactly what is created, you must point out a thing in our world that God created (only worldly things are created up to day 4), and be able to produce a concise and concrete version of its creation in Genesis, or admit Genesis is simply a vague poem that praises rather than explains our origins. That is not very reconciliatory, in fact it removes the foundation of belief from Abrahamic religions. Allowing this to happen is to shrug and not think your religion is important for knowledge.

This, then, is my Terse Comprehensive Creation Account:

In the beginning, God created the sky and the earth
On the first day, when the Earth lay in darkness and was covered with water, the spirit of God moved above it, and God created light.
On the second day, he created the sky to split the water-cover into seawater and clouds.
On the third day, he gathered the seawater that covered the land into seas, and in the earth that appeared, he created plants that reproduced.
On the fourth day, he created the Sun and the Moon and put them in the sky under the clouds, to shine on the earth and to be able to tell signs, festivals, days and years — the Sun to rule the day and the Moon to rule the night and the stars.
Summarizing it like this, in clear language, reveals a few hurdles to overcome:
Rule‘ is vague
Firstly, an attack on what is meant by ‘ruling’ the day, or the night. Reading this again and again, a notion arises of this being as a way of associating the Sun with the daylight, and the Moon with the light of the night, and to explain what they’re for, as a sort of strengthening of the knowledge of origins.
While certainly the Sun “rules the day” (that indeed the Sun’s daylight is the only source of light and defines what we mean by day) the Moon is often up at night, but sometimes not, and sometimes up during the day.
It would be all too easy to jump ahead of ourselves and grab the scribes’ intended meaning: the day is the Sun’s domain, and the night belongs to the Moon and the stars. This describes roughly what we see in our world. But this is the word of God. He would not pass a roughly correct account to Man. What we’re after is what relationships he is describing “through” the scribes.
Now, if we were to assume that 6th Century BC Man didn’t know that the Moon is sometimes up during the day, that would weaken the account; it would then not be the word of God, but a vague attempt at explanation by someone who reveals the lack of knowledge in those times.
I don’t like that, because that would indeed mean that the account is vague and poetic. Surely God would know that the Moon sometimes isn’t in the sky at night. God would surely not resort to a vague word to describe the where, when and why of his creations! We must face this contradiction bravely and conclude that using the vague word goes against the word of God.
Upon revisiting the original translations, there is an AI of rule: regulate. This more specific words suddenly makes the meaning less vague and charged, and gets support by the surrounding verses in that the Sun and the Moon are part of a clockwork, regulating the passage of time. Certainly, this is how the celestial bodies have been used by Man throughout the ages and still are; as clocks and calendars.
This different translation inevitably creates an attack on my previous translation: the perplexing appendix “the stars” in 1:16. This verse now ends with “…and the small light to regulate the night and the stars.” Ruling the stars with relative light intensity is one thing, but now that we have found that this point must be relinquished, we face a world where the Moon regulates all the stars, surely an absurd world in the light of all we’ve learned of the world to this day.
Again revisiting the original translations, there are alternative glue words for and: with, together with. Using with ends 1:16 with “…and the small light to regulate the night with the stars.”
While we are now rid of the vague wording, we are faced with something of a dim proposition: “The day belongs to the Sun, and the night belongs to the Moon and the stars.”
I’m trying my hardest to not see this as an error on the part of the scribes. But I cannot find any explanation for not recognizing that the Moon is sometimes up in the day and sometimes not up in the night, without accusing them of inserting a mistaken world view of 6th century BC Man in a divine account.
What can we do to stave off attacks on religion and keep the word as written as the word of God? The answer is not pleasant. To stave off attacks on the correctness of the word of God, we must deny errors on the part of the scribes, or else face questions of the type, “what else did they get wrong?’. And to do this, we must go back to the vague word, ‘rule’. To stave off scientific attacks on the word of God, we must then choose the most reconciliatory meaning of rule, the vague ‘relative brightness’ meaning.
This, in turn, forces us to admit that some passages are vague and not to be understood fully by Man. This is the recourse that we are left with, until someone proposes a new original meaning of the verse or the word ‘rule’.
I had hopes that analysis might clarify the verse, but it has not. While this means the attack was fruitless, and that the Comprehensive Translation stands, we’re not really better off. It’s the most wretchedly disheartening conclusion I’ve found in this analysis.
Clouds‘ is not what it says in scripture!

That is true, but at the same time, saying so is nonsense. It is what is meant by ‘water above the sky’, and translators have known it to mean ‘rainwater’ for as long as the text has existed. Below the sky is the sea, and above it, rainwater. Certainly I see this account as the explanation of how water could fall from the sky. If we would look at it from a planet-dweller’s perspective, it’s certainly wondrous that something could fall from the sky, when difference we see is just some gray clouds where there used to be clear sky. They would perhaps wonder, “The gray isn’t falling, and what is falling is vital to our plants and our own survival, so what could cause it; how does it work?”

‘Light’ is not light itself

We can’t know the above from the way it is written, but an omnipotent God can certainly create light itself, as he would create the matter for the water-earth. In this account, he certainly creates light and sees that it is good. This, to me, is not related to any previous creation of conditions for electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum being emitted by the processes in the stars. We are already told that he created the Sun; anyone who can create a body that emits light can surely create light itself. The important thing that the account conveys is that God created light in 1:3 to shine on the earth until the Sun was created and put in the sky, or else no vegetation could sprout on the third day.

In summary, then, it can be concluded that while settling on the ‘rule as in relative light intensity’ leaves us wanting for the reasons stated above, the Terse Comprehensive Creation Account, too, stands scrutiny.

What about the even bigger picture?

Arguments over the purpose of the account (such as imagining it was expressed through concept that 6th Century BC Man could understand, and we must only see it as an “approximate” creation account) is wholly unrelated to the understanding of the knowledge it can be said to convey,, for this reason:

Certainly, if you believe in God, you must believe that the Genesis account is knowledge of creation passed to Man from God, and not merely a poem scribes composed to praise God’s glory. If we’re told how God created the world and Man, and the account cites God and describes his acts of creation, what room is there for merely accepting it as a hymn; a Psalm? Poems and songs choose rhyme over reason every time, so no believer would want Genesis to be one such mere composition.

No, if you believe in God, you believe in him as the answer to “Why are we here?” — as an originator of the world, Man, and religious ideology — and Genesis is the answer to that first question. If someone else made the world, he’s the God you would believe in, and any omnipotent later God would be an impostor in your opinion.

Certainly, you wouldn’t consider a religion an alternative to science if it didn’t answer this very human and basic question, “Why are we here?”

Thus far, science gives answers that attempt to answer this question a very long way, but currently falls short of the very final one; how could the Universe come about?

As we have seen, this part of the Genesis account certainly doesn’t answer this, or indeed the Atheist’s favorite cheap shot question: “Well, who created God then?”

Genesis 1:1-1:19 tells us of the creation of light, the sky, plants, the Sun, and the Moon, and their purpose — but not where matter and light itself, or the stars, or the Earth came from. Is it important? I certainly would think it intriguing and awe-inspiring to know the answer, even though it can be argued we might not have a worldly or spiritual use for a ‘final answer’ to get along in this world. Ask yourself: must you know?

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In this part, we have summarized the acts of creation in Genesis 1:1-1:19 and seen that the summary holds up under scrutiny and agrees with what is believed to be the origins of the world of Man by the vast majority of believers.

The attempt to put it in terse, clear language did not cause any changes to the Comprehensive Translation.

In the next part, we put the summary in the background, as the big picture, while investigating whether the Comprehensive Translation accurately describes the world we live in. In other words, we are going from understanding what the account states about the origins of the world to determining whether those statements are accurate about the world.