First up is the beginning. Specifically Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. Those familiar with this passage will recall that God spends six days creating everything and generally admiring his own handiwork, then rests on the seventh. As a reader, we’re not given much context in how we should interpret the passage. Should it be taken as a literal account of creation or as a carefully crafted metaphor? Who knows? Maybe when we finally find and translate the preface we’ll have an answer. The good news is that there are plenty of other details that should raise an eyebrow or two and perhaps call into question the divine nature of Genesis.
Taking this passage literally is probably the holeiest approach possible. Believing the universe and Earth are only thousands of years old requires that you either completely ignore modern astronomy, paleontology, and geology, or that God is a bit mischievous and created the universe and Earth to appear old.
Interpreting the first chapter as a metaphor or allegory is an improvement, but remains unconvincing. Major events happen out of the order that we understand today. Light is created before there are any light sources (or even matter). The author clearly has a geocentric understanding of the cosmos since the sky, water (and seas), land, and vegetation (Gen. 1:1-13) are all created before the stars, let alone our Sun and Moon (Gen. 1:14-19). Any element heavier than Helium most likely originate from exploding stars. Soil (earth), oxygen and nitrogen (sky), H2O (water and seas), and complex carbon-based lifeforms (vegetation) all require elements that form through nucleosynthsesis. This can happen at the center of stars over millions and billions of years before being violently expelled in super novae or during those same super novae where conditions are present for the formation of even heavier element in a what’s called supernova nucleosythesis. Regardless, stars need to live and die (explode) so that heavier elements are expelled back into space where they can eventually form into planets, plants, and people.
The order of life is even confusing. The author does not make any attempt to metaphorically explain evolution in any way that makes sense. Yes, plants form before living creatures (Gen. 1:12), and fish and birds (Gen. 1:21-23) before land roaming mammals (Gen. 24-25), but I’m not so convinced all flying life jumped so readily from sea to sky before spending some time on land first.
Order is important because it would demonstrate that the author had some insight (even divine insight) into how life and the universe came to be. These errors are understandable if we assume the author is just another Joe Moses writing an origins story, however, I expect more from the supposed Word of God. Without a correct order of creation, this story holds no better authority on our origins than those from Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology.
The inaccuracy of the Genesis creation timeline leads to several possible scenarios:
- This is an error introduced by a human author. Regardless of whether the Bible is the literal or inspired word of God, you would hope that the author would have paid more attention to the details. What other important points did God make that his human authors didn’t quite get right?
- The god of Moses and Abraham is a liar. Either he gave his human author bad information or he created the universe with the appearance of age.
- There is no reason to prefer that the god of Moses and Abraham created the universe over any other creation mythology.
- None of our senses or understanding can be trusted. You are just a hologram.
Another possibility that plays off the first scenario is that God has a failing memory and didn’t get around to recording how things went down before the details got fuzzy. This theory can conveniently be used anywhere we find a contradiction in the text, though it does hurt the Almighty’s claim to omnipotence and omniscience.