Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Today's review: Genesis 1:1

It's time to review the first verse of Genesis. I don't know why this isn't done every month or so in school. It highlights, in stark, explicit, bright contrast, the difference between the world we live in and the world that the author(s) of Genesis did when the final text was set.

I personally assume that the Bible was (or contains) oral tradition that was recorded on media at some time in the past, and edited, compiled and eventually canonized as "The Bible". This is my non-believers view. What is commonly known about Genesis can be found at Wikipedia - sans the spin that gets applied in both apologetic and polemic texts. Authorship of the Pentateuch is assumed to occur over a wide period:
dates vary from the 15th century BCE to the 6th century BCE.
The documentary hypothesis (that there were Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D) and Priestly (P) sources) is apparently considered obsolete, having been replaced with the idea that
the books were combined gradually over time by the slow accumulation of "fragments" of text, or that a basic text was "supplemented" by later authors/editors
Additionally, dating of the document:
most recent proposals place it in 5th century Judah under the Persian empire.
and estimations as to Moses' life:
Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391-1271 BCE ... Christian tradition has tended to assume an earlier date
...lead the independent observer to conclude that Moses lived prior to 1200 BCE, the Pentateuch does not appear to be written before 800 BCE, and that Moses could not have authored any of these first five books of the Bible. Apologists and Bible literalists will, of course, take issue with this, but will provide no evidence of their claims.

...but I digress...

Assume a wise Middle Eastern tribal elder was responsible for the foundational claims and narratives that form Genesis. Let's look at the KJV text:
Gen 1:1 : In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Here we have some assertions that need to be supported and/or explained before we can understand the meaning of this verse.

"In the beginning..." The story starts at the beginning of what? We assume (or I assume, based on my mundane Episcopalian upbringing) that "beginning" means "prior to the formation of this earth on which we live". Some defenders of the faith insist this means the beginning of the universe, while others limit it to the creation of the world. It is a problem either way. Geologically, mankind understands that the Earth formed roughly four and a half billion years ago ... an accretion of dust and gas that was left around the sun Sol on the outskirts of an average galaxy that we refer to as The Milky Way.

Claiming that creation occurred in 4004 BCE (as the Ussher calculation does) does not jive with the physical evidence. Thermodynamically, you couldn't assemble the several septillion tons of material that's required and not have a boiling mass of lava 6000 years later. Forget about water, ice caps and solid land.

What are we left to assume? The author of Gen 1:1 was speaking of a time before history. That's all he or she was capable of doing.

Next snippet: "...God..." Here we get to my biggest problem with the Bible: the assertion "God". The author asserts that the subject "God" creates the creation that the author is about to describe, without any prior or subsequent explanation of the characteristics that would enable the power of creation. We are just thrown this bare assertion that God did it.

Not acceptable.

There are a handful of arguments for the existence of God, all of which have been debunked elsewhere, so I won't rehash them. The simplest way to envision any system is by the most plausible explanation(s) for it. If a "God" is required for the universe to exist, then that "God" requires a system in which it exists, and *that* system then requires a cause (creator?) ... and on and on. That may in fact be what we find out after years of research, but that speaks only to creation and creator - not to the anthropomorphic representation of, and alleged interactive nature of the God we are presented in the Bible. Further reading of the Bible uncovers the struggle between pagan deities ... one of which YHWH (God) appears to be, on his way to the monotheistic conception that prevails today (Father, Son and Holy Ghost not withstanding!!!).

"...created the heaven and the earth." Again, it's not entirely clear if the reference is to the visible stars, planets and the earth itself, or spacetime, energy, matter and the arrangement of forces that control their behavior. I have to assume this refers to the visible solar system, visible part of the galaxy, and the ground we walk on. To the previous point that a young Earth creation circa 4004 BCE is not plausible, likewise the simultaneous creation of the solar system and the nearby portion of the galaxy is not plausible. Since we know now that our star is one of approximately 10,000 billion billion stars in the visible universe, the scale of creation is unimaginably more immense than described in the Bible. The Bible appears to be the best guess that late stone-age, early bronze-age goat herders could make based on visual observation and not much else.

The fact that this verse spawned three major religions that have adherents numbering over half the species that lays claim to intelligence is remarkable.

No comments:

Post a Comment