God

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This is in stark contrast to the religious approach. According to religious dogma, God has already told us everything we need to know about our origins – the answers are already set in stone – so there’s no good way of updating it to incorporate new information. If new facts come to light that appear to contradict the biblical account, all you can do is deny them.

If you’re a biblical literalist, then, the only way to make sense of all the scientific and historical evidence is to say that God must have somehow falsified all of it (or allowed the devil to do so) in order to test our faith or something. Naturally, there are a few problems with this idea – not least being the fact that an omniscient God would already know everything and would have no use for such a test. But more importantly, the idea of such a deceitful God flatly contradicts the message so insistently promoted by the Bible itself, that God wants humans to know he exists and wants to do everything in his power to ensure that the maximum number of people come to know him personally. (After all, isn’t that supposedly the whole reason why the Bible exists in the first place?)

In truth, the reason why the Bible doesn’t provide any good explanation for all these scientific facts is because its authors simply didn’t anticipate them. It’s not that the biblical narrative tries to make sense of the scientific evidence by suggesting a deceitful God – nor does it try to explain the evidence in any other way, for that matter – it just shows no awareness that such evidence could exist. To the biblical authors, there would have been no reason not to believe that everything in the universe was created 6,000 years ago; how could they have known any better?

But of course, now that we do know better – now that we know that the earth has been around for billions of years, that modern humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and that the way we got here was through gradual natural processes – we can see just how far off the mark the biblical 6,000-year timeline really is. Richard Dawkins puts it succinctly: “To get an idea of the scale of this error, it is equivalent to believing that the distance from New York to San Francisco is 7.8 yards.”

To put things in perspective even further, if the biblical timeline were true, it would mean that Adam (who, according to the Bible, lived to age 930), would have been alive for the first one-sixth of the universe’s existence – and that Noah (who was supposedly born shortly after Adam’s death and lived to 950) would have been alive for the second one-sixth. So if you played out the entire history of the universe – from the birth of the first galaxies, to the formation of Earth’s oceans and mountain ranges, to the age of the dinosaurs, to the invention of the internet – by the time you were one-third of the way through that timeline, you would only have gotten through two people’s lifetimes.

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To say that the biblical story strains scientific and historical credibility, then, is putting it mildly. A 6,000-year timeline would place the beginning of the universe about 7,000 years after the Natufians built their first brewery, 10,000 years after the Jōmon invented cord-marked ceramics, and 20,000 years after the Gravettians carved their Venus figurines.

What’s more, aside from all the historical and scientific faults in the 6,000-year biblical chronology, the Genesis creation story just doesn’t hold up in terms of basic logical consistency. If the Bible were true, then it would mean that God created an entire world just for human beings… and then covered 70% of it in undrinkable salt water. And then turned most of the remaining landmass into uninhabitable deserts, mountains, tundra, etc. And then made most of the plants inedible and/or poisonous. And then made it so the world’s only source of light would give its inhabitants cancer. And then made it so the only way many animal species could survive was by violently killing other species (including humans). And then created deadly diseases and natural disasters that would kill millions more each year. And so on. Does this really seem like a world made just for us?

There is a biblical literalist response to this, of course, which is to say that all these flaws in God’s creation were actually the consequence of Adam and Eve falling into sin and causing the (previously perfect) world to become corrupted. But the story of Adam and Eve’s fall just introduces a whole new set of problems, as TheraminTrees points out:

In the Book of Genesis, the first humans – Adam and Eve – were expelled from the paradise of Eden for eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But if they didn’t know good from bad until after they ate the fruit, how could they be blamed for eating it? Yahweh seemed to accept that they were manipulated into eating it by the serpent, who told them it was okay – so why punish them?

The Adam and Eve story also said they heard Yahweh walking through the Garden of Eden. But I’d been told [as a child that] Yahweh was everywhere. How could you walk and be everywhere at the same time?

And why punish all of humanity for Adam and Eve’s actions? You didn’t jail the children of bank robbers for their parents’ crimes.

Commenter seabass341 adds:

God must have known that Adam and Eve would disobey him because he is all knowing, and it’s kind of obvious that they would disobey him since they didn’t understand the difference between right and wrong to begin with.

God was setting Adam and Eve up to fail and he must have known it, yet he punishes humanity for their failure which he has caused.

The equivalent is leaving a toddler in a room full of power tools and telling them not to touch any of them. Obviously the toddler would not understand your instructors or know how dangerous the tools are. However, it’s obvious that putting the toddler in that situation would yield negative results. If the toddler hurt himself who would be blamed? The toddler, or the person who put them in a situation where they knew the toddler would get hurt?

Each question just leads to more questions. Why would God have created a tree of knowledge in the first place, much less placed it right in the middle of the Garden where Adam and Eve would have had easy access to it, if he didn’t want them to eat from it? Why, given his omniscience, did he have such a hard time finding them after they hid from him? And why, once he found them, was he so surprised and upset at their disobedience? For that matter, why was God so adamant that the knowledge of good and evil be kept from humankind at all? What’s so wicked about knowing the difference between right and wrong? Did God just want humans to remain blissfully ignorant, like mindless dolls? Mind you, it isn’t just that God forbids Adam and Eve from eating the fruit; in Genesis 2:17, he also tells them that if they do eat it, they will die that same day – which is just an outright lie. Adam eats the fruit, and as previously mentioned, goes on to live another 900 years. So when the serpent approaches the humans in Genesis 3, his great transgression isn’t that he deceives them – all he does is tell them the truth, that they won’t in fact die from eating the fruit, but will gain the knowledge of good and evil. Why is knowledge such an awful crime in this story? Why is truth such a terrible crime that God doesn’t just punish the serpent, and doesn’t just punish Adam and Eve, but punishes everyone who will ever live? If you were all-knowing and all-powerful yourself, would you have done things this way?

(Incidentally, when I listed all those early Christian sects a few sections ago, I left out the Ophites – but they might have actually been the most interesting Christian sect of all. To them, there was only one reading of this story that made sense; they believed that it was actually the serpent who was the real hero of the Bible, since he was the one who first gave humans the gift of wisdom that God would have otherwise kept from them (sort of like how Prometheus, in Greek mythology, heroically stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind, enabling progress and civilization).)

Either way though – and I don’t want to sound too denigrating here, but it’s hard to avoid it – a story that features a talking snake is frankly just not one that we should look to for scientific knowledge and historical accuracy. Talking snakes are the kind of thing you see in fictional stories, not in real life. Sure, maybe you can get some allegorical value out of the Garden of Eden story if you treat the serpent as a metaphor for the devil rather than as a literal snake. But Genesis itself never suggests anything to that effect; it describes the serpent as just being a regular snake, and it describes God punishing him as a regular snake. The interpretation that the serpent must have been the devil in disguise was only invented by Christians later on – possibly because they were a bit embarrassed by the literal reading of the story. But the biblical writers themselves clearly shared no such reluctance; they had no trouble believing that a snake with vocal cords and human-level intelligence was something that really could exist. This is the same reason why the Bible describes so many other mythical creatures as actually existing – from dragons (Psalm 74:13, 91:13; Isaiah 13:22, 34:13, 35:7, 43:20, 51:9; Jeremiah 9:11, 10:22, 14:6, 49:33, 51:37; Micah 1:8; Malachi 1:3) to sea monsters (Job 3:8, 26:12-13, 41:1-34; Psalm 74:13-14, 104:26; Isaiah 27:1) to unicorns (Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21, 29:6, 92:10; Isaiah 34:7) to half-divine giants (Genesis 6:4; Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 2:11, 2:20, 3:11; Joshua 12:4, 13:12, 17:15, 18:16; 1 Samuel 17:4; Amos 2:9) to satyrs (Isaiah 13:21, 34:14) to behemoths (Job 40:15-24) to cockatrices (Isaiah 11:8, 14:29) to fiery flying serpents (Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 14:29, 30:6). In the ancient world, people genuinely believed in stuff like this – every culture had its tales of centaurs and hydras and griffins and gorgons and so on – and the biblical authors were no exception. Just as the ancient Chinese had a story of humankind being formed out of mud from a riverbank by the snake goddess Nüwa because she was lonely, and the Norse had a story of humankind being formed from the armpit sweat of the frost giant Ymir, and the Inuit had a story of a raven god filling the earth with pea pods and one of them bursting open to reveal the first human, the ancient Hebrew story of humankind being formed out of dirt in a garden with a magical tree and a talking snake was pretty much par for the course. The tribal societies of the time just didn’t have an adequate understanding of things like genetics and radiometric dating – nor could they have – so instead they relied on their own native legends to make sense of the world and provide an explanation for why things were the way they were. We know better now – which means that anyone who still follows these religious traditions has to come up with rationalizations for why these stories are actually metaphorical rather than literal – but the people who actually wrote these stories didn’t know better, and accordingly they really did believe that the legends were literally true. They were simply mistaken.

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