By Vexen Crabtree 2015
The Christian creation story can be found in the book of Genesis in the Bible. The story describes the creation of light and darkness, the Earth, plants and animals, and finally, of humankind. This all occurs in 6 days, and on the 7th, the all-powerful creator had a rest day (a big hint that this is a mythological story). By counting Kings and generations of ancestors in the Bible, it can be calculated that creation occurred approximately 4,004 years ago. In the modern world, it is accepted by most Christians and Jews that the story is mythical and should be taken simply as a story that demonstrates that God is all-powerful and that it was written by human beings, and not dictated by God. But many fundamentalist Christians still argue that the Universe really was created as described in Genesis (such people are called Creationists).
The difficulties with the story are insurmountable. The evidence from archaeology, palaeontology, human history, the fossil record, evolutionary biology, geology and physics all show us very clearly that the Earth, the Solar System and the rest of the Universe was created billions of years ago and not at all in accordance with the events listed in Genesis1. Not only that, but there are two Genesis creation stories - one at Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 and another in Genesis 2:4-25. Although they are similar to each other in scale, they manage to contradict each other in nearly all of their details. Some have attempted to extend what is meant by "a day" in the story to mean 1,000 years or even a billion years in order to harmonize the Genesis account with scientific evidence, but even then the stories still contradict reality in the sequence of events they describe and in the logic they use. The Genesis creation story has been used as an excuse to suppress and punish scientists who have contradicted it throughout the Christian era, and as such, has been an instrument in dementing human understanding of the world.
Genesis contains a creation story of the Earth and the first 2 people, Adam and Eve, and their incestuous (and murderous) family. It describes a version of the ancient Flood story where God, or the Gods, flood the Earth or at least a large portion of it, drowning all living creatures including all animals, men, women, children, infants, but saving Noah and his immediate family. Another period of incestuous family relations afterwards ensues. Genesis then tells the story of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, each of which acted sometimes as immoral tyrant and sometimes as holy spokesperson. They all end up, according to these stories, in Egypt, although historical evidence is clear that most Hebrews continued to live in their homeland. Genesis was written and edited by various authors from between the 10th and 6th century BCE, and some scholars believe it wasn't completely written until as late as the 2nd century BCE2.”
The two creation stories in Genesis were written by different people, each retelling Mesopotamian myth from a slightly different point of view as to what "god" was, and each features different elements, different symbolism and uses a different writing style. The first story (Genesis 1:1 to 2:3) says that "the gods" were responsible, and, uses that phrase (Elohim) 34 times3. The second story (Genesis 2:4-25) has a specific God in mind and names it as YHVH 20 times, although 3 times it does too name the creators as Elohim, "the gods". "YHVH is the tribal God of ancient Israel; and it is said in this second narrative that this god confers with two others (Genesis 3:22) about the danger of mankind acquiring immortality"3.
The order of creation is different in each story, and are in both cases written into the plot, so that it makes no sense to imagine that one story is told in a haphazard sequence - both tie the order of creation to the narrative, therefore, it is necessary that one (or both) arrangements were simply invented by someone who didn't know the true progression of events.
|Order||Elohim Version||YHVH Version|
|1||Water (Gen. 1:6)||Land (Gen. 2:4)|
|2||Land (1:9)||Water (2:5-6)|
|3||Vegetation (1:11-12)||Male man only (2:7)|
|4||Animals (1:20-25)||Vegetation (2:8)|
|5||Mankind (male and female) (1:26-27)||Animals (2:19-20)|
Biblical literalists for over a thousand years argued, violently and aggressively, that the 7-day creation story of Genesis was indeed conducted in 6 periods of 24-hrs plus a rest day. The scientific evidence accumulated decade by decade against this view, from biology, ecology, genetics, biogeography, evolution, the fossil record and many other data sources, but the church fought on, excommunicating advocates of science, punishing them, torturing them, ejecting them from positions of influence wherever possible, and in all ways possible, trying its best to retard the advancement of knowledge4.
Because of the problems with a 7-day creation, many Christians have been convinced that a way out exists in Psalm 90:4, which reveals that for God "a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday". Therefore Genesis' creation account took part over 6000 years, not 6 days. However 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, and, they probably were not talking about the "days" of Genesis anyway. The link is only tenuous.
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.
The historian William Draper summarizes some of the new problems with the idea of the 7-day creation being drawn out over indefinite periods of "day": "The six ages, with their six special creations, could no longer be maintained, when it was discovered that species, slowly emerged in one age, reached a culmination in a second, and gradually died out in a third: this overlapping from age to age would not only have demanded creations, but re-creations also"4. Draper doesn't mention other arguments against this view - the facts of geology, tectonics, biology, ecology and many other sciences have built up an insurmountable body of evidence that the creation of the Earth does not fit at all into the series of events listed in Genesis. The Christian creation story is simply a fable, invented by a people with no knowledge, and with no insight into God's knowledge, of how the Earth was made.
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)5
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, based on human imagination, and not on divine truth.
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.
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)6
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.
Copernicus (1473-1543)8,9, Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642)10,11,12, Newton (1643-1727)13 and Laplace (1749-1827)14 all fought battles against the Church when they published scientific papers that enraged the Church by writing that the Earth might orbit the sun, rather than the idea that it sat at a central position in the Universe. These and other scientists suffered torture, imprisonment, forced recantations and death at the hands of Christians12,15. The source of the Church's confidence was the Bible. Joshua 10:12-13, 2 Kings 20:11, Psalms 93:1, 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Isaiah 30:26, Isaiah 38:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 and Habakkuk 3:10-11 all contradicted the astronomers. It was not until 1979 that the Vatican "officially concede[d] that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not vica-versa"11.
Without interference from theists, science would have been a thousand years more advanced than it is now. Aristarchus of Samos taught that the earth moves, in the 3rd century BCE8. But Greek astronomical knowledge was condemned and hidden by Christians (Ptolemy et al) in the second century. The Ionians discovered the truth about the Sun, the Earth and the stars16, but their era ended when their last great scientist, Hypatia, was attacked by a mob of Christians and burnt in 415CE. The center of science, the Alexandrian Library, was also burnt and destroyed. Although the Church did eventually lose the battle against astronomy, it still went on to violently impose dogmatic errors in other arenas of knowledge, such as biology. Thankfully, today, most mainstream Christians accept scientific facts in many matters and Christian organisations have much reduced power to hinder research.
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. It should be purged and forgotten.
Current edition: 2015 Apr 1917
Second edition 2003 Apr 06
Originally published 1998
Parent page: Creationism and Intelligent Design: Christian Fundamentalism
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
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.
Draper, John William. (1811-1882)
(1881) History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. E-book. 8th (Amazon Kindle digital edition) edition. Published by D. Appleston and Co, New York, USA.
Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
(1957) Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science. Paperback book. Originally published 1952 by G. P. Putnam's Sons as "In the Name of Science". Current version published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, USA.
(2009) The Handbook of Astronomy. Paperback book. Originally published 2005 by D&S Books. Current version published by Kerswell Books Ltd, Bideford, UK.
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
Russell, Bertrand. (1872-1970)
(1935) Religion and Science. Paperback book. 1997 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Introduction by Michael Ruse.
(1995) Cosmos. Paperback book. Originally published 1981 by McDonald & Co. Current version published by Abacus.
Stanton, Elizabeth C.. (1815-1902)
(1898) The Woman's Bible. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Carrie Lorenz and John B. Hare.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.