Sunday, August 16, 2009

Doodlemastery Bible School: Part 1: In the beginning was a godless heathen and a book...

So, here's what I'm going to do every Sunday. My mom wants me to "try", basically put aside all the logic and evidence I find convincing and delve into stuff that makes no sense outside of a believer's context. If that's what she wants, so be it. I'm going to read the Bible from beginning to end, starting today, and verse by verse I'm going to indicate exactly what about this book (more like a collection of heavily-edited loosely-related manuscripts) isn't as good as the nickname suggests.

It's not that I look down on religious people or enjoy controversy, it's just that there are very good reasons to believe that this is not a good book, for historical, literary, or moral value. As long as people are detached from reality there will be conflict, and as long as books like the Bible and the Koran are deemed "good" or even appropriate in the mainstream, there are going to be problems. You can't marginalize fundamentalists and literalists from mainstream religion just for trying to understand these texts as they are, and I'll try to include as much citation as my laziness will allow. For those of you who are curious, this is from the Douay-Rheims Bible. I'm not using the King James Bible because a) I highly doubt the highly poetic Anglican edition could be any more accurate in capturing the original meaning of the text, and more importantly b) I don't own a KJB and would rather save my money on more important things. Like video games.

Why am I including the readers in this? Well, I thought I would share with you what it's like to appreciate what this highly influential text actually contains. Yay? I'll go verse by verse but spare you going over each and every word by skimming over unimportant or uninteresting bits. To keep it in context, I'll give you a sum-up from the perspective of a believer and the real-life implications. Come on, it'll be fun!

(It's not going to be fun.)

Now then, let's settle in with Genesis.


"God createth the Heaven and Earth, and all things therein, in six days."

You knew this would be the first issue to come up in a review of the Bible, and that fact is probably inducing some moans from people who didn't want to drag creationism into the reading, so bear with me.

What do you think when you hear the words "creation in six days"?

I bring this up because almost everyone I speak to seem convinced that I'm implying a fringe nutjob group is representative of the mainstream. "No, of course the universe wasn't created in six days, that's ridiculous to ask, you're making a strawman argument, it's supposed to be symbolic, don't be so condescending to religious people," etc. etc.

First of all, it's not a fringe belief. It's a minority, but it's mainstream all the same. By that token, I think it's condescending to say anything to the effect of "No one could be that stupid. You're trying to make religious people look like idiots." If that's the reaction to taking creationism seriously as a problem, then said person has unwittingly referred to a large portion of the population as hopelessly idiotic. I'm not that blunt and hateful, since I believed in the creationism mess at one time in my life. You don't have to be an idiot to be fooled. It could happen to almost anybody.

Second, without even addressing the intention of the original authors, consider the symbolic interpretation. What exactly is a symbolic day? What does the day represent? Eons? How many years is a symbolic day? How many millions? Has anyone thought this through? And then there's the issue of this creation supposedly taking place only 6000 years ago. What's a symbolic year? How are the years shorter than God's days? I've heard the claim that time is insignificant to God, and so a day to him would be eons to us, and a year to us would be a microsecond to him. But even this is moot on its own terms. What's a finite amount of time to an infinite being? Next to nothing. In fact, an omniscient and omnipresent being would perceive time a lot like Doctor Manhattan, with time being simultaneous and interconnected, despite human perception of time as being linear. So it wouldn't be a day to God. All of time to him would be next to nothing, an imaginary point in the midst of infinity. And actually, the use of the word "imaginary" could not be more appropriate when dealing with a being that's supposedly the foundation for everything, for whom willing something to be is enough for it to become so. We'd all be figments of a greater being's imagination... This is starting to sound too existential for most religious people I've known. In fact that's the sort of vision of despair I've heard being paired up with disbelief.

We haven't even gotten past the subtitle of the first chapter. God help us all.

In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. (Genesis 1:1)

For the sake of religious moderation, I'll just assume earth means all of material existence and that the beginning is the beginning of existence rather than the beginning beginning, before there was even a universe for nothing to exist in.

And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the waters. (1:2)

What waters? I thought the earth was void and empty. A glass can't be empty and full of water at the same time. And how can the spirit of God - "spiritual substance" not bound by time and space - move? Maybe there's some literary devices or phrases I'm not picking up on.

And God said: Be light made. And light was made. (1:3)

Yoda in this edition, God is.

And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. (1:4)

I'd say that God arbitrarily deeming light to be good and dividing light from darkness would be unnecessary, but presumably these are things that needed to be spelled out before anything existed in the first place.

I'm just getting the gears out of this God thing while we're starting, it won't continue later unless there's a particular problem I've got with something.

And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night. And there was evening and morning one day. (1:5)

OK, now we're getting somewhere. The first day of creation is over. But isn't a day a measurement of time based on the sun's exposure to a particular location on the Earth's surface? I thought this was when everything was starting out, and the planets and the stars weren't properly formed yet. There couldn't have been days, much less evenings or mornings.

Speaking of which, where was the light coming from? Light has to have a source, so there would have to be energy before there could be light. If God wanted people to be aware of the making of the universe, shouldn't he have pointed out to somebody, anybody, that energy would have to predate light? But then that would be too much scientific knowledge for humans to handle, and who the fuck needs science when we can have mythology?

That brings me to the symbolic interpretation of this so-called origin. This does not in the slightest resemble the Big Bang Theory astronomers take as the most likely origin point for space-time and matter as we know it. I've seen so many attempts to retell Genesis that have the words "Let there be light" and then there's a big explosion that supposedly links the two explanations together. Theists everywhere seem so proud of the fact that science has shown that existence has a starting point, as if that were integral to the claim that God is necessary for sanity or morality, or the Christians' claim that Jesus was God incarnate. There's nothing to suggest that this means an infinite being caused it to happen, or even that the Big Bang needed a cause. I've actually heard arguments that use scientific principles to explain exactly how something can come from nothing. Common sense doesn't matter for shit if it doesn't make any sense in light of evidence.

We'll get more into the inadequacy of this particular story later. We've still got a whole chapter to read.

And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament. And it was so. (1:6-7)

Ah, the firmament. The wall dividing the waters on Earth from the waters in the sky. This doesn't sound like old nonsense, does it? What waters in the sky, exactly? The natural water vapor in our atmosphere? There's plenty of that here near the ground anyway. Sounds a lot like some primitive mojo explaining how water can fall from the sky by having a deity open up celestial floodgates to let the blue water from the sky fall down. I'm glad people believe in a God who was nice enough not to tell us about something as simple as water vaporization cycles. Or the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and morning were the second day. (1:8)

God decreed that Heaven was literally in the sky, keeping the water from falling down. Anyone who's flown in an airplane should know this is not a good claim to make if you want to sound credible. Come to think of it, why do people still look up to Heaven and down to Hell? I'm pretty sure places that by definition can't exist in the material world don't... um... exist in the material world.

Then there's the separating of the waters on earth so that land could appear. Fine and good.

And he said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And so it was done. (1:11)

Wait, this isn't trying to say that plant life was the first on the planet, is it? Not bacteria? No, of course not bacteria, since the writers couldn't have known about it. But then that would put this book on par with mortal writers rather than the inspired word of God, so what do we make of this?

Professor Andrew Parker, a research fellow at Oxford University, actually wrote a book on this matter, reinterpreting the Genesis account to match the scientific explanation of origins. He describes this particular passage as being the development of lifeforms that rely on an early form of photosynthesis. Yeah, bacteria. That spread seeds. And bear fruit in trees. Right.

So the third day was a total fuck-up in orderly creation.

On the fourth day God made the sun and the stars to rule the sky during the day and the night.... Wha?

And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day: and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars.

And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth.

And to rule the day and the night, and to divide the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (1:16-18)

So after God created plants (or photosynthesizing bacteria, whichever you prefer) he made the sun and the moon. Oh, and the vast majority of the stars in the universe. But mostly the sun and the moon. Even if we blatantly ignore the fact that this does not even come close to resembling the truth that the sun and the stars formed long before the Earth and the moon, and that the Earth and the moon formed long before any life; even if we ignore all that, how in the hell is plant life supposed to exist without sunlight? In fact, how are light itself, evenings and mornings, night and day, supposed to be possible without the sun and the moon and the stars? Where was the light from the first day of creation coming from? How could there be night and day with no sun or moon?

Oh right, because God says so. Checkmate.

This is something else Andrew Parker wrote about, suggesting that this period refers to the evolution of sight, enabling creatures to become aware of the sun and the moon and the stars. Okay, what creatures are we talking about? Because at this point in creation, the only living things on this Earth are plants. Or bacteria. Goddammit, this is stupid.

And then on the fifth day, God created aquatic animals and flying creatures. WTF?

And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (1:21)

This presents another problem to the symbolic interpretation of Genesis: birds being created before land-roving animals, at the same time as sea-dwelling creatures. This is completely counter to everything human beings can possibly infer from the fossil record, which tells us that birds would have to develop from dinosaurs starting in the Jurassic period. Hell, I learned that as a kid from a Magic School Bus PC game. The "inspired" writers of this text could not have surpassed modern 1st grade level intelligence. Oh, and if we're going by Oxford fellow Professor Parker's logic, these animals came after plant-bacteria with eyes. I can see why he's so credible in religious spheres.

Also notice the use of the word "kinds". There's going to be some problems when making interpretations of this word later in Genesis. We haven't even gotten to the crazy part of this book. Yeah, this is the easy stuff. It's only going to get worse.

And he blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea; and let the birds be multiplied upon the earth. (1:22)

This little ditty will become an interesting counterpoint to a popular claim in a minute.

So, the fifth day: plants with eyesight evolve into whales and birds. Next.

On the sixth day God finally creates land-based animals, which should have gone before birds, but whatever, that's not even the stupid part. He also creates human beings on the same day.

And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness; and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. (1:26)

The word "us" here is interpreted as proving in the Old Testament that God is plural, that there are three persons in one God. Don't even get me started on this nonsense concept that is the Trinity, but even this verse has no biblical support for the plurality of divine persons. God seems to speak to his spiritual counterparts, the angels, on a regular basis, and it doesn't seem strange in an ancient Israelite context for God to speak with them as a group. Unless we're going to suggest that God "inspired" the Jewish authors to write about a trinity they didn't believe in, just to be sneaky.

And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them. (1:27)

I think this passage is trying to tell us that God created them. And that man and woman came about simultaneously, which from an evolutionary perspective is accurate, but from a biblical perspective... it's complicated. We'll see in Chapter 2.

What exactly is God's image, anyway? Apparently it's supposed to mean that we have reason and free will like him, but that's a stretch of infinite magnitude, literally. No mortal being could come close to comparing to an infinite being, at all. It's just not possible. On a scale of infinite standards, a saint is on par with both a sociopath and dirt. How exactly are we supposed to be in God's image? And how are we supposed to know what God's image is? Wouldn't an infinite being be impossible to comprehend? So then how can we talk intelligibly about it at all? The main reason why people try to talk about God's image in the first place is so that there's some objective standard of morality beyond what we perceive. I just don't see the point. Isn't happiness and contentment enough? Isn't altruism hard-wired into our minds enough to make us want to live together without appealing to impossible rationale from the sky? I guess not.

And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all the living creatures that move upon the earth. (1:28)

Anti-environmentalists bring up this passage all the time, as if we can't do a damn thing without consulting ancient myths written by ignorant men long before scientific knowledge. But I'd like to point out verse 22, which says that the animals should be able to multiply as they damn well please. So aren't we doing God a disservice by limiting their dominion and hunting and harvesting them for food? I know there's an obvious contradiction here, with both parties being told to multiply to no ends, but then what's this passage worth if there's another one within the same chapter saying the complete opposite? But that's something you get used to with the biblical perspective: contradictions are resolved entirely by personal preference, as long as you declare your personal preference to be the inerrant word of God. Brilliant.

Wait, if we're supposed to be fruitful and multiply, shouldn't we be having more open sex with everything and everybody? I guess with the Catholic Church the multiplying part is no problem. Just anecdotal evidence, but I'm from a family of 4 children. My father's one of 8. My mother's one of 11. Global responsibility pales in comparison to God's word.

And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all the trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat:

And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done. (1:29-30)

Wow! We're like kids in a candy store! We can have anything we want in this place! Every living thing on the planet can be used for our nourishment, and it's all for the taking! I'm sure that all of this stuff is edible and none of them are just dangerous and poisonous traps to catch many of us off-guard before we learn simple culinary techniques! And I'm most certain that none of the animals our God has created will suddenly be considered unclean and verboten under divine law! And I'm sure there isn't one tree in particular which will be placed inexplicably on the earth only for us to be forbidden under penalty of death from eating from it, essentially bringing the fall of our species into suffering and despair down to a decision about eating some otherwise harmless fruit, right?


And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And evening and morning were the sixth day. (1:31)

See? It's not just good, it's very good! There's nothing on this earth which could inevitably result in the misery and destruction of countless lives. And even if it did, our Lord God has decreed it very good, which renders the concept of good meaningless, but don't question his logic! After all, God created logic! Which proves... I dunno, something.

So, for anyone who's been keeping track, according to the inspired authors of God's word on Earth, the creation of all existence is as follows:

In the beginning: The spiritual realm of Heaven and the empty realm of matter. And possibly the planet Earth, which is empty and filled with water.
Day 1: Light from no source in particular. Or all the mass and energy ever. Day and Night and evening and morning despite the lack of a sun.
Day 2: An invisible wall keeping the monstrously large amounts of water in our sky, and Heaven again.
Day 3: Dry land and oceans, and plant life. Or photosynthetic microorganisms, the first lifeforms are kind of implied.
Day 4: The sun and moon and stars, 3 days after the light they should have been emitting along with the day and night they make possible were created, and 1 day after the plants (or bacteria) that depend on sunlight were created. Or eyes evolved... on bacteria.
Day 5: Sea creatures and flying animals. 1 day after the eyes they should have had first developed, and 1 day before the dinosaurs they evolved from were created.
Day 6: All the other animals on the earth, and humans. Everyone's told to multiply like crazy.

Aren't you glad we have people insisting on teaching the controversy? Not the controversy of the science, but just based on the views of anyone with a book they haven't read from beginning to end. I'd like to hear your interpretations.

Although it'd be easier if we just said the writers were wrong. Regardless, this is probably a better Bible School then you'll find for your kids. The fact that this is being taught to kids as truth, and that people are trying to push it into the public curicullum, is actually pretty scary.

See you next Sunday!