By Vexen Crabtree 2003 April 06
This page is a few notes highlighting the shortcomings of the Genesis account of a seven day creation. It cannot be a literal event, nor is it a useful or logical metaphor or symbolic account. Most people do not need to read this website as common sense normally prevails, but, Christian fundamentalists exist even in the 21st century who hold to this creationist account.
“Genesis contains two stories which describe the creation of the world, the rest of the universe, and all of the forms of life, including humans. The first story is found in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3; the second in Genesis 2.4 to 2:25. Elements of an alternative, ancient eastern Mediterranean belief about the creation of the world is found in two passages of Psalms.”
Here we are looking at the first creation story, which is separated into days. The second recounting in Genesis contradicts the first on a few chronological details, but we are not looking at that nor at the older Mediterranean links. The following is therefore the most traditional 7 day creation account, the text which opens both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible.
“The authors of Genesis seem have picked up part of their story from Hindu legends of the creation and early history of humanity. Stories of Hindu heroes Adimo, Heva, Sherma, Hama and Jiapheta apparently were replicated into legends about Adam, Eve.”
Creationists are fundamentalist Christians who believe that the evidence is wrong, and that the Universe was created according to a literal interpretation of Genesis' 7 day creation account. The Liberal Interpretation is normally that the story is a metaphor designed to explain that God is all powerful. The secular belief is that the Genesis account is purely a result of myth and prescientific attempts to understand the Universe. The secular belief is the most sensible one, and, luckily for Christianity, modern Christians are generally accepting of the idea that Genesis is scientifically flawed and written by Human beings, not dictated by God.
There is a wealth of evidence from multiple disciplines of science that tell us tremendous amounts about the long and rich history of the Earth. Evidence for the great timespans of earthly geology comes not just from fossils (which are enough evidence on their own). Speeds of movement of continents, strata of rock, folds, breaks and contours all trace a very long history of geological slow movement.2
Creationists and intelligent-designers (two types of fundamentalist Christian) accept only that the 7-day creation of Genesis was indeed in 7 days (or rather, 6 days plus a day of rest). But Psalm 90:4 reveals that for God "a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday", and some creationists take this to mean that Genesis' creation account took part over 6000 years, not 6 days. However many Christians take note that the Psalms were written hundreds of years apart from Genesis under different cultural auspices, and therefore the author of Psalms cannot tell us what the author of Genesis "really meant". Therefore, a day means a day. Or if it means something else, the author(s) of the Psalms wouldn't have known what, or, probably were not talking about the Days of Genesis.
Some modern liberal Christians try to harmonize Genesis and history by saying that the "days" represent geological eras or astronomical periods of billions of years. Although no historical culture had a concept of such long periods of time so it is a rather dubious piece of exegesis to say that the authors of Genesis meant it like that. Many Christians believe that the last day of Creation is "the present", i.e., the period of time after creation during which God is "resting". So this clearly means that a "day" is not a simple, literal, or historical, period of time with a set length. It seems that it is impossible to find a Biblical basis to make the 7-day creation make any literal sense - it instead has to be subjectively cultural and symbolic.
Aside from the period meant by a "day", there are problems with the order in which the Genesis account says things were created. The evidence is insurmountable that the sciences of astronomy, geology, physics, evolutionary biology and genetics all contradict the sequence of events found in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
“The table below highlights some of the more important astronomical and paleontological events pertinent to our current study.
Event Years ago Big Bang 15,000 million Birth of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon 4600 million Emergence of Life (Pre-cellular Life) 3800 million Inorganic Release of Trace Amount of Oxygen 3700 million Origin of Photo-synthetic Bacteria 3200 million Advent of Oxygen-rich Atmosphere 2000 million Development of Sexual Reproduction 1100 million Spread of Jawless Fishes 505 million First Amphibians 408 million First Reptiles 360 million First Dinosaurs and Mammal-like Reptiles; Origin of Mammals 248 million First Birds 213 million Australopithecus 4 million Homo Habilis 2.2 million Homo Erectus 1.5 million Homo Sapiens 200 thousand Modern Humans 35 thousand
On the other hand, if we now construct a table on the Creation of the Universe and of life on Earth, based on Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 and the Liberal Interpretation thereof, then it would display the following results:
Creation of Day and Night "Day" 1 Creation of Heaven "Day" 2 Creation of the Earth, the Seas, and the Plants "Day" 3 Creation of the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars "Day" 4 Creation of Fishes and Birds [Beginning of Sexual Reproduction] "Day" 5 Creation of Land Animals (Cattle, Insects, Reptiles, Man) "Day" 6 No Further Emergence of Life Forms on Earth "Day" 7
"Is a Liberal Interpretation of the Creation Story Compatible with Science?" by Eugene Y. C. Ho.
Several illogical and impossible contradictions occur when trying to fit Genesis' separation of creation into 7 periods no matter how long you say those periods are. In particular I will examine the problems arising from the time at which the Sun was created.
According to the writers of Genesis, God created the Sun half way through the creation week. They also explain what God did during the first "days". But without a sun, there were no actual days. Without a sun to rotate around there were no "mornings" or changes in the time of day. Likewise, without natural sunlight, plants could not have grown and survived. Plants were created, however, before the Sun. If the length of time is billions of years per day, then it is very much impossible that plants could survive before the Sun was created.
“The Genesis writer(s) didn't understand the nature of darkness either. He said that God created light (somehow before the sun and stars were made) and then "divided the light from the darkness" (1:3-4). Light, however, is not something that can be separated from darkness. Light is an electromagnetic radiation from an energy source like the sun or stars, and darkness is merely the absence of light. Without light, there will automatically be darkness. No god is needed to separate or divide light from darkness. We know that today; the prescientific Genesis writer(s) didn't.”
We know, and would assume, that the writer(s) of Genesis clearly did not know that the Earth revolves around the sun, that days and nights are effects of the Earth's spin, that light is electromagnetic radiation, and that darkness is the absence of light. Whoever wrote the text of Genesis were clearly fallible, pre-scientific Human beings. If God had inspired these texts, although it could not have inspired a technical liturgy because the words did not yet exist, it surely would have dictated or inspired text that wasn't out and out erroneous.
“Why would an infinitely powerful God even need six days? Wouldn't he have the ability to create everything in an instant? And, why would he have to rest when he was all done?”
"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist" by Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)3
The seventh day is a sign of the mythical assumptions of those who wrote the genesis account. God is omnipotent and omniscient. Yet, it took the seventh day resting? And working out if its creation was good? It is not true that an omnipotent (all-powerful) being ever needs to rest. It is also untrue that an omniscient (all-knowing) being ever needs to wonder, ponder or think: It simply knows, and instantly. So, we immediately arrive at the conclusion that the seventh day is allegorical, symbolic and mythical: The reasons stated in the Genesis account are not direct recordings of real events, but stories and reworking of older myths.
The Holy Day
A common defence of the Genesis account of the seventh day is that the reason for the strange "resting" is that God wanted the seventh day to be holy; therefore it rested on it to make it a day of rest. However. God is the absolute truth, and it would not be necessary for God to rest in order to make the seventh day holy. To make the seventh day holy it could have had Moses inspired to preach "Take one day in 7, the Saturday, to rest" rather than using a non-logical seventh day of rest in Genesis. As an omniscient being it cannot be illogical, and therefore the Genesis seven-day creation must be false, or at least, non-literal.
A long seventh day
Some say that the first 6 days are metaphors for the first 15 billion years of the Universe's history and that the seventh day, where God is resting, is the present era. This would then account for why God is so silent and absent from world affairs - because it is resting. Resting would then be a polite word for 'hiding' or 'concealing' itself. The reason for this concealment, in my mind, is that God does not exist, and the myth is designed to explain why God isn't around during this long final day of creation: because it is 'resting'.
The Qur'an avoids some of these problems by limiting the precise statements it makes about the period of creation. Qur'an 7:54, 10:3, 50:38 and 57:4 all just say that God created the heavens and the Earth "in 6 days".
Genetic diseases afflict not only mankind, but also all other animal species, and all other forms of life down to the simplest bacteria and harmless single-cell lifeforms floating in the oceans. In all these species and in plants there are seemingly endless cases of genetic flaws and problems. Perhaps the best indicator of how badly life is 'designed' is the stark reality that 99% of all species have gone extinct. The food chain requires that nearly every living being survives by killing other creatures to eat for food, and species naturally expand to use up all local resources, limiting the success of other species. Everywhere in nature, predator-and-prey chains are central to life. This isn't a design for life, but a design of strife and violence. The genetic defects of nature, and the violence and strife of the natural world, indicate that life was not designed by a good-natured creator god but maybe by an evil one. My favourite phrase to describe all of this waste and bad design is one I picked up from Paul Kurtz in the Skeptical Inquirer:
“The existence of vestigial organs in many species, including the human species, is hardly evidence for design; for they have no discernable function. And the extinction of millions of species on the planet is perhaps evidence for unintelligent design.”
Paul Kurtz (2006)4
Given the mass of evidence from geology, physics, archaeology, etc, that the Earth is very old and the universe somewhat older, even some creationists have been convinced by the evidence. If you ever want proof that creationists are driven by some weird psychological factors rather than any sense of realism, it can be seen in the following book, described by Martin Gardner:
“Thousands of books were published in the nineteenth century, most of them in England, attempting to harmonize geology and Genesis. In this dreary and pathetic literature, one books stands out from all the others as so delightful and fantastic that it deserves special mention. It was called Omphalos (the Greek word for navel), and was written by zoologist Philip Gosse, father of the eminent British poet and critic, Edmune Gosse. [... He] admitted geology had established beyond any doubt that the earth had a long geological history in which plants and animals flourished before the time of Adam. He was also convinced that the earth was created about 4,000 B.C., in six days, exactly as described in Genesis. How did he reconcile these apparently contradictory opinions? Very simple. Just as Adam was created with a navel, the relic of a birth which never occurred, so the entire earth was created with all the fossils relics of a past which had no existence except in the mind of God!”
Despite this, there is a final argument that should put an end to such silliness:
The seven day creation is not literal, there are illogical and unscientific errors that would not have been apparent to the authors but which are highlighted on this page and by science. The shape of the Earth is not flat. The Sun does not revolve around the Earth. The creation of light and the sun happened independent of each other, and there were 'days' before the sun was created for the Earth to rotate around. The order in which animals, plants and other elements of life appear in Genesis contradict the order that appears in the fossil record and the order of creation of the stars, the sun, etc, also contradict what we know scientifically. The logic is flawed behind the 'day of rest', an all-powerful God does not need rest. In short, the separation of creation into a seven day period is a useless and outdated creation story riddled with errors. Such beliefs, now called creationism and fundamentalism, have set us back as a species through the (often violent) suppression of basic science.
Scientists had to suffer torture, silencing, imprisonment and death at the hands of Christians who didn't agree with newly discovered facts about the world. Christianity lost the first battle with astronomers who realized that, contrary to what Christians asserted, the Sun did not orbit the Earth, and that the Universe doesn't seem to be designed specifically for humankind. Copernicus (1473-1543), Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), Newton (1643-1727) and Laplace (1749-1827) all fought battles against the Church when they published scientific papers challenging religious orthodoxy. Bible verses were all the theories Christians needed; and Joshua 10:12-13, 2 Kings 20:11, Isaiah 38:8, Isaiah 30:26 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 all contradicted astronomers. But through intelligence and clever politics, truth gradually won out over dogma, and the Church retreated... only to go on to fight similar ignorant battles, and violently impose dogmatic errors, in the arenas of physics, biology and philosophy.
Without such interference from theists, science would have been more than a thousand years more advanced! Kepler in the 17th century only revived Greek astronomical knowledge that was condemned and hidden by Christians (Ptolemy et al) in the second century.
Genesis was written by fallible Human beings, not God, and is proven to be a false record of creation. It also shows many symptoms of being a piecemeal, fragmented myth that has been edited and rewritten over time so that it hardly even makes internal sense. It contains no moral teachings and nothing educational. It is an irredeemable anachronism that we ever teach our children its pointless myths and retain it as part of Christianity. It should be purged and forgotten.
By Vexen Crabtree 2003 April 06
Originally published 1998
Last Updated: 2012 Nov 28
The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]
Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957). Published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, USA. Originally published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1952 as "In the Name of Science".
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007). Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.