This post is part of an ongoing series. For more information on why I’m writing it, and for a listing of all posts in the series in chronological order, see An Atheist Reading the Bible: Prologue.
Discussing: The book of Genesis; Chapter 1, 2.
Genesis Chapter 1 is the story of the creation of the universe. Chapter 2 focuses more closely on the populating of the Earth with living things – especially human beings – and just some general fine-tuning to make sure everything was just so.1
I already knew the basic idea: God created the universe in six days, and then rested on the seventh. He made man, put him in the garden of Eden, and then gave him a woman. What had never occurred to me before was that he spent an inordinate amount of time on the details of the Earth, as compared to a few measly flicks of the finger in the huge expanse of space around it. What is that huge universe for, if all the action is on the Earth? It seems like the story of creation is told from the point of view that the Earth and outer space are the same length and width, and both are flat. Also, the story has a few logic issues, as I will point out below.
I have actually read a lot more than these two chapters (I’m reading the story of Joseph in Egypt, as a matter of fact, somewhere in the ballpark of Chapter 40), but there was enough discussion waiting to happen in the story of creation alone that I decided to focus just on that.
My personal perspective is as follows…
Who wrote the book of Genesis?
The Holy Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gene 1.1) Then it clarifies, “And the earth was without form, and void…” (Gene 1.2), and there is raised my very first really big question.
If the Earth was without form and void, then there was no one there to see it. In fact, we’re not even to the part where light is created yet. So if I approach the reading of the Bible from the most pristine, unbiased standpoint possible, then I ignorantly beg the question: If there was no one there to see it, how did the author of Genesis know what happened?
This isn’t just splitting hairs, either – this is a huge question. Who wrote the book of Genesis and how did he find out what happened during the formation of the universe? I mean, I’ve read the works of some really brilliant modern day people who can’t explain what started the universe. So who is this Bible writer who had it all figured out thousands of years ago?
So first things first, I did a simple Google search for “who wrote the book of genesis”. I found a nice collection of answers on Answers.com, a general question and answer wiki for curious people like myself.2
Conventional religious wisdom appears to credit Moses with authorship, but the words were given to him directly from God on Mt. Sinai – a story I haven’t reached yet and can’t judge for accuracy. However it appears that archaeological evidence suggests the book is actually a collection of cuneiform writings from multiple authors, possibly even Adam himself, with others.
No matter what, though, the story of creation was not witnessed by the eyes of man, and could only have been relayed to him directly from God. Which is fairly shaky ground to a guy who doesn’t believe in God. I proceed reading, trying to suspend disbelief. But the only possible way we can know that this story of creation is true is if God told us himself – I am forced to accept this as the only logical answer.
A flat Earth?
On the first day, God creates light. (Gene 1.3 – 1.5) That’s pretty straightforward.
On the second day, he creates Heaven – this is a little trickier for me to wrap my mind around. Referring to Gene 1.6 – 1.8, we find that God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” With this firmament, he “divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament”. This firmament is what he called Heaven.
I’m trying to picture the geometry of this. From top to bottom we have: water, Heaven, water. I’m not sure what the water above Heaven is supposed to be. On the third day, he gathers the waters under the firmament (i.e. under Heaven) together to expose dry land. (Gene 1.9, 1.10) This is the making of the Earth and seas. By this model, I’m picturing a flat Earth, with the rest of the universe a flat expanse of water just beyond the firmament of Heaven. So did the author of Genesis believe the Earth was flat?
I have too much ground to cover to research everything right now. I’m open to suggestions, but right now I’m thinking that the book of Genesis says the Earth is flat. Am I alone in this?
The seven-day problem.
The sun, moon, and stars (I’m sure no one realized the sun was just an average little star at the time, and considered it something altogether different and special) are placed in the firmament of Heaven in order to light the Earth, and to mark the days and seasons. (Gene 1.14 – 1.18) So if I’m reading this correctly, Heaven is outer space – the home of the sun and moon and stars. I bet Moses had no idea we would one day be able to travel there – it must have seemed positively unattainable. I have never been there myself, but I’ve seen some pictures that make Heaven look a lot less interesting than the stories I’ve heard.
Next God creates living things. The most interesting among them, of course, is human beings, whom he created on the sixth day. (Gene 1.26 – 1.31) Now I have another huge question.
I read earlier that Adam (the first human being) may have authored his own story around 3500 BC.2 If the Earth were created in seven days, and Adam were created on the sixth, and Adam was alive in 3500 BC, then the age of the Earth would be approximately 5500 years old by the year 2000 AD. My understanding is that scientific consensus has calculated the age of the Earth to be about 4.5 billion years, using a technique called radiometric dating on meteorites. Who to believe?
I Googled “age of the earth” to see what I could find. Please keep in mind that I’m perfectly well aware that internet research in five minute increments hardly makes me a scholar – but it’s a great start if you want to see what the world has to say, and I use it as a launchpad to identify subjects worthy of further study.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Age of the Earth explains a number of different techniques for dating the origin of the Earth, and explains how radiometric dating works.3 Note, however, that varying methods have yielded varying ages over the years. If one questions the effectiveness of radiometric dating (I don’t know enough about it to make any kind of claim for its accuracy – I want to put that out there right now), then one would hardly be unjustified. Numerous previous methods have apparently offered numerous previous figures. I’ll need to research this more closely.
On the other hand, I found what appears to be a compelling collection of evidence for a young Earth on a site called Creation.com.4 I haven’t put enough time into investigating this information to say how authentic I consider it, but I looked over a few articles, and I have to say this: I can’t dismiss this out of hand. The works cited here are the works of scientists. If nothing else, it warrants a look. It refutes the old Earth consensus with what appear to be an astounding number of observable, testable facts.
Here’s the thing: the young Earth hypothesis is the only one that’s compatible with the story of creation described in Genesis. If the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, then it couldn’t have been created in seven days at around 3500 BC. I have heard a number of people refute this with the vague statement that the seven days of creation are measured in ‘God’s days’, but that doesn’t work. If the Earth was 4.5 billion years old in the year 2000 AD, and Adam was created on the sixth of ‘God’s days’ in 3500 BC, then what is the length of one of ‘God’s days’?
First we calculate 4,500,000,000 – 5500 = 4,499,994,500. That gets us back to the time of Adam, which is the sixth day of Creation. Now we can say 4,499,994,500 / 6 = 749,999,083. Which is to say that one of God’s days would be about 750 million years. What’s wrong with that? Well, if the seventh day (the day of rest) began in 3500 BC, and is supposed to go on for 750 million years, then God is still taking a nap for a long, long time to come. So that doesn’t work, because none of the rest of the Bible could have happened yet.
Therefore an old Earth defies the story of Creation, but I’m not yet able to say that a young Earth is impossible – I don’t know enough about it. I need to study this, and your opinions are very welcome. This has the potential to be a deal-breaker for either side, I think. It’s an important question!
Adam, his world, and his woman.
In Chapter 2 we find God resting on the seventh day from all his hard work. I don’t blame him a bit, but I do want to put this out there: the image of God that I was sold by the church was of a being far beyond the need to rest. But since the Bible has yet to say so, I can’t call that a fault in the Bible, maybe my churches have all been wrong. And I’m not even joking there: maybe we just don’t know the God of the Bible as well as we think we do. I’m open.
Adam was created and given the garden of Eden in which to live. There are some geographic references (Gene 2.10 – 2.14) to where Eden is, by the way. I don’t know most of them, but the Euphrates river runs through Syria and Iraq, so the garden of Eden is somewhere in the Middle East. If you want to find it, my advice would be to look for the cherubim with the flaming sword… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I also learned that contemporary biologists have wasted a lot of time reinventing the wheel with their sophisticated taxonomies – all of the animals of the Earth have already been named. (Gene 2.19) Too bad the names weren’t written down somewhere; now we’re duplicating a lot of work!
I have numerous other notes in my Kindle, but this is going to be a long road if I keep going on about the little stuff, so I’ll try to stick to the more important questions.
Gene 2.21 – 2.23 describe the process whereby Adam was put to sleep, and God formed a woman from one of his ribs. I have heard throughout my upbringing that men have one less rib than women – I suppose I always took it for granted, and even when I found that I didn’t believe in God I wondered why men have fewer ribs. The answer? They don’t.5 I had never even questioned this before today. Mind you, I’d never had any reason to. It’s just one of those silly little things I was told as a child that I took for granted ever after. I wonder how many more of those I’ll find?
I know, I know. This is a long post and all we’ve covered is the first two chapters of Genesis. This isn’t how every post will go, I promise. I am finding my stride, and going forward I will try to raise questions in the post, then leave the detailed discussions for the comment section.
In summary: God was the only witness of the creation of the universe, so I don’t understand how we can have a book about it unless he wrote it himself. The book of Genesis suggests to me that its author believed the world was flat. The Earth cannot have been created in seven days and be 4.5 billion years old – the age of the Earth proves very important in deciding how true the Bible is. And according to Genesis, the original members of the human family were both born from men…
Okay, I’m sort of kidding about that last thing.
- International Bible Seminary (2011). SearchByVerse™ Holy Bible (KJV) [Kindle]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
- Answers Corporation (2012). Who wrote the Book of Genesis? Answers.com. Retrieved June 28, 2012, from http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_wrote_the_book_of_Genesis
- Wikipedia Contributors (2012). Age of the Earth. Wikipedia.com. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Earth
- Creation Ministries International (2009). Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe. Creation.com. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth
- Wikipedia Contributors (2012). Human rib cage. Wikipedia.com. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rib_cage